Nov 092003

How full of ourselves we bloggers grow:

Some might conclude from the above that, because I reject the solutions that [Steven] Den Beste and [Victor David] Hanson offer, that I’m implying that something more dire be done to “solve” this problem. I am not. Frankly, personally, I am increasingly resigned to the fact that these problems are without solution, to the point that I’m that close to simply giving up, mothballing this site, and accepting that yes, we’re watching Western Civilization self-destruct before our very eyes and there is nothing to be done about it… I’ll probably end my life in a Death Camp of Tolerance for expressing “divisive” views and making “insensitive” remarks.

Thank God for stalwart conservative bloggers! You might think that manning the barricades against the imminent fall of Western Civilization is a lonely job. You would be wrong; the barricades are crowded with Chicken Littles of all parties, although the smoke from all the shooting prevents them from seeing each other. For some of these brave soldiers Western Civ has already fallen and its revival is the consummation devoutly to be wished. The early Objectivists used to say of Atlas Shrugged, “if this book sells 50,000 copies, the culture is cooked.” Several million copies later, well, here we are.

The sky is always falling. The “new philosophy” was putting “all in doubt” in the 17th century (Donne); “Chaos and dread Night” were descending in the 18th (Pope); “the demons [of unreason] were let loose upon the land” in the 19th (Robert Bridges). Today’s featured blogger, one Porphyrogenitus, has found that it is impossible to persuade people with reason who deride reason itself. ‘Twas ever thus, dude. Derrida and Foucault are pretty small beer compared to Hume’s attack on induction, or Bishop Berkeley’s on the evidence of the senses.

Too many bloggers confuse civilization, or culture, with Zeitgeist, which is white noise. Culture does not consist, and never did, of what is taught in college, or what appears on television or in the newspapers. It is an underground stream, the product of a few dozen of the most intelligent people of each generation, and it always appears sounder retrospectively because time takes out the trash. It is opaque not only to statistical analysis but to all but the most acute critics of the time: there is too much to sort through, and it is too easy to read in the light of the pressing issues of the day. Edmund Wilson ventured in 1935 to guess which contemporary poets would survive, a fool’s errand, and came up with Edna St. Vincent Millay (OK, he was married to her) and several other people you haven’t heard of, for excellent reason. He found Frost dull and ignored Crane, Stevens, and Williams altogether. The point here isn’t that Wilson was a dummy — far from it — but that the state of the real culture, except from a very long vantage point, is extremely difficult to discern.

Is Western Civilization on the verge of destruction? I doubt it, but I don’t know, and neither do you. Ask me in a couple hundred years.

(Update: Marvin Long comments. Julie Neidlinger comments. l8r comments.)

  12 Responses to “Chicken Little”

  1. "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers."


    The world’s always coming to an end, it seems. 🙂

  2. Even 200 years might not be enough, since authors have their stock rise and fall with different ages. The whole business of finding thinkers to represent their time strikes me as pretty murky.

  3. And we are here as on a darkling
    Swept with confused alarms of
    struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by

    Matthew Arnold
    Dover Beach
    c. 1850

    And speaking of what lasts, can you think of many/any poets born after, say arbitrarily 1935, who have any chance at all of lasting?

  4. Eddie: Everyone is in his time, but often the greats are not of their time. Dickinson and Hardy are 19th century figures only nominally, and tend to be underrated, while Pope ideally represents his age and hence is overrated. He makes for more convenient history.

    Susan wants to send me on the fool’s errand. I am willing but unable, since I don’t read enough contemporary poetry to choose intelligently. Marvin undertakes it himself. Hendrix and Cohen seem like fine choices to me, but for drugs and depression Pink Floyd is tough to beat.

  5. Susan, who knows? The way things appear to be going, maybe ‘Fifty Cent’.
    If forced at gunpoint, I would say Sharon Olds…the poet of the body.

  6. Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Cohen

    Because people will always want to play with drugs, listen to music, and be depressed about it afterwards.

  7. Well, the proprietor of this website would suggest that the bard of the Jersey Shore would not be on that list…

  8. Of course, song lyrics — why didn’t I think of that?
    You tough guys will all laugh when I choose "The Day the Music Died" & "Romeo & Juliet" by Dire Straits

  9. Ian:

    The quotation is spurious. See link below.

  10. Hah! Serves me right for not reading my own link all the way through. 🙂

    Though I did first encounter a similar quote in some non-fiction book by Asimov, whom I generally trust as far as sourcing… I’ll have to see if I can come up with it.

  11. The quote may not come from Socrates, but I think it is generally accepted that that was the reason (or at least one of the major reasons) that he was put to death, for encouraging the youngsters to do those things. In fact it almost sounds like it could come from the Clouds, but I’m not going to look it up.

  12. There are any number of Roman writers who said nearly identical things to the pseudo-Socrates quote, like Livy and many others…

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