Friday, October 23, 2009

On Saturday, We Are Doomed

On this Saturday's NARN First Team broadcast we'll be interviewing John Derbyshire of National Review, about his new book, We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism.

Despite the impression the title might give, it's a highly entertaining read, infused with Derb's dry British wit, which only serves to support his scientific perspective and historical approach to analyzing the vexing cultural issues of our times.

A few excerpts to whet your whistles:

This book is addressed to American conservatives. Its argument is that things are bad and getting worse for our movement, for our nation, and for our civilization. A large part of the reason they have gotten so bad is that too many of us have fallen into foolishly utopian ways of thinking.

Those ways of thinking are false because they are too optimistic about human nature and human affairs. The proper outlook of conservatives, I shall argue, is a pessimistic one, at least so far as the things of this world are concerned. We have been misled, and the conservative movement has been derailed, by legions of fools and poseurs wearing smiley-face masks. I aim to unmask them.

I have both a diagnosis and a prognosis to offer. The diagnosis is that conservatism has been fatally weakened by yielding to infantile temptations: temptations to optimism, to wishful thinking, to happy talk, to cheerily preposterous theories about human beings and the human world.

Thus weakened, conservatism can no longer provide the backbone of cold realism that every organized society need. Hence my prognosis, hence my title. We are doomed.

By abandoning our properly pessimistic approach to the world, conservatives have helped bring about a state of affairs that thoughtful persons can only contemplate with pessimism. If we'd held on to the pessimistic outlook that's proper for our philosophy, the future might be brighter!

This looks like a paradox, but really isn't, as I'm using the word "pessimism" in two slightly different senses: to indicate low expectations of one's fellow men, and to name a belief about the probable future. If we expect too much of people, we'll be disappointed, and our schemes will fail. Heady optimism about human nature leads directly to disaster. To put it in the style of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress: the Road of Denial leads to the Precipice of Destruction. Didn't the great utopian experiments of the twentieth century teach us that? We've repeated those experiments — in a less brazen way, to be sure, but with the same inevitable result now coming upon us.

By embracing a proper conservative pessimism, we may yet rescue something from the coming ruin. At the very least, by returning to cold reality after our recent detour into sunny fantasy, we'll put ourselves in the right frame of mind for our new life in the wilderness.

The winning candidate in the 2008 presidential election promoted something called "the politics of hope." Ladies and gentlemen of conservative inclination, I call you to our true, our proper home. I call you to the politics of despair!

This from his chapter on the evidence available for the effect of diversity on a culture's social capital:
In September 2006 political scientist Robert Putnam was awarded the Johan Skytte prize, one of the most prestigious in his field. The prize is awarded in Uppsala, Sweden, by a Scandinavian scholarly association. (Skytte was a 17th-century Swedish grandee.)

As usual with such events in the academic world, Putnam presented a research paper to commemorate the event. The paper is titled "E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century," and can easily be found on the internet.

That paper has a very curious structure. After a brief (2 pages) introduction, there are three main sections, headed as follows:

  • The Prospects and Benefits of Immigration and Ethnic Diversity (three pages)
  • Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation (nineteen pages)
  • Becoming Comfortable with Diversity (seven pages)

I've had some mild amusement here at my desk trying to think up imaginary research papers similarly structured. One for publication in a health journal, perhaps, with three sections titled:

  • Health benefits of drinking green tea
  • Green tea causes intestinal cancer
  • Making the switch to green tea

Social science research in our universities cries out for a modern Jonathan Swift to lampoon its absurdities.

And that's just a sample of the provocative and politically incorrect ideas he brings forward in We Are Doomed. Looking forward to talking with John Derbyshire about the book. The show starts at 11 AM, Derbyshire at noon, Saturday on AM1280 the Patriot.

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