The Dartmouth Observer

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Friday, August 02, 2002
This is in response to John Derbyshire's latest post on National Review Online. I read NRO occasionally and I usually enjoy what Mr. Derbyshire has to say. This time, however, he's gone overboard. We do not want such unintelligent ranting on this website, or in this College.

His column is entitled "Unpleasant Truths," in which he elucidates a "conservative view of the world today" through a list of what he considers absolute facts. Before going into the details, he says, "This is stuff you don't want to hear, but that, if you are a true conservative, you cannot dispute." I find this absurd and also frightening. I thought such attempts to stifle discussion tended to be made by radical leftists. What does it mean to be a "true conservative" anyway? Conservatism is a multifaceted system of beliefs. I am quite sure Mr. Derbyshire's own colleagues would disagree with him. To use another example, Asian conservatives, the sort running my country right now, are in many ways very different from the conservatives running the White House. Singapore's leaders are politically-correct to a fault, and you'll never hear them talking about freedoms except when it's about restricting them.

However, when decontextualized, the phrase "This is stuff you don't want to hear" is quite true. I don't want to hear this sort of stuff from America's premier conservative magazine. In fact, I don't want to hear this sort of stuff at all.

Now, as for what he has to say (I cannot comment on every point that he makes):

1) Most of us will die in poverty. What does he mean by "poverty"? And what percentage is "most of us"?

2) Pop culture is filth. Here he had to chance to say something intelligent. Instead, he generalizes. "Why don't you hear anyone humming a current pop song anymore? Because none of them is hummable, or even worth bothering to remember." Now, while I have a great dislike of pop music, I will concede that they are hummable. They are meant to be hummable, and I hear people humming them all the time! "What is the main topic on TV sitcoms and "dramedies"? You know what." The answer is supposed to be sex. Except that The Simpsons has no sexual content. Mulder and Scully maintained a remarkably sex-less friendship for the good part of nine seasons. I could go on. And when I go out to borrow videos from Blockbuster, I do not say, "There isn't a single damned movie in here I want to watch." Just because Hollywood has produced some thin fare lately doesn't mean that the entire history of movies should be damned.

You're beginning to see where he's going (wrong).

3) The environment is collapsing. Glad that he recognizes this! Awareness is the first step towards an eventual solution, or, if the situation is that bad, a partial solution. Speaking of solutions...

4) Science has stopped. Oh my goodness. Need I point out the ridiculous statements made by people in ages past about the limits of science? Someone in the 19th century once said that all that needed to be discovered had been discovered, or something like that. History, as conservative historian Paul Johnson writes, and which I paraphrase, is an antidote to contemporary arrogance. I repeat, contemporary arrogance. Mr. Derbyshire should really start reading more frequently.

5) Conservatism is dead. By his antics, Derbyshire will fulfill his own prophecy! Or rather, maybe his sort of conservatism is dead or dying. Has he considered the effects of September 11th, which have led to an upsurge in conservatism? Again, he speaks about "genuinely conservative policy" without ever defining what "genuinely conservative" means? Perhaps he's running a sort of quasi-gnostic secret society in which only an enlightened few understand what he means. And if conservatism is dead, then why bother with publications like NR at all?

6) Only Anglo-Saxon countries can do democracy. I don't think that Derbyshire's a racist - he has a Chinese wife after all. But listen to what he says: "Other cultures can fake it for a few decades, as France, Germany, and Japan are currently doing, but their hearts aren't really in it and they will swoon gratefully into the arms of a fascist dictator when one comes along." Why aren't France and Germany democracies, or "consensual systems," as he calls them? The last I heard, both countries elected their leaders, as did Japan. Israel isn't Anglo-Saxon. Neither is Taiwan. India's a democracy, albeit a chaotic one. What about America? And to suggest that fascism is imminent in the places he mentions is equally stupid. Germany and Japan, the examples he uses, had dictators not too long ago. After having their asses kicked in World War II, one would think they'd have learned not to place their faith in the hands of fascist leaders. History is the antidote to contemporary arrogance.

I think I'll stop here. Reading it several times over, it seems to me that Derbyshire was possibly trying to be funny. That does not excuse the rhetoric, the lies, the sweeping generalizations, the ridiculous pessimism, the arrogance, etc. You can be funny without being wrong.