OK, Go Ahead. Confute Yourself!

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One way to assess our culture is to ask yourself how many times you hear or read something and think, “I can’t believe somebody said that!” You don’t mean, “That’s so wonderful! That’s so brilliant!” You mean, “How can anybody say something that stupid?”

I believe you’ll agree with me that this question arises much more often now than it used to, and that it arises in much more obtrusive ways. Some of this stuff is so brutal, and brutally dumb, that you can’t avoid noticing it (which is, I suppose, the major purpose of the dummies who utter it). Yet it is eagerly welcomed by the dominant culture.

“WAP” is a hit song performed by a woman who calls herself Cardi B. According to Wikipedia, and I have no reason to doubt the information, “the song received critical acclaim and was praised for its sex positive messages.” We are also informed that the “artist” is considered one of the most important cultural figures since the Sumerians, or before: “Recognized by Forbes as one of the most influential female rappers of all time,” she “is known for her aggressive flow and candid lyrics, which have received widespread media coverage.”

It’s filth, and it isn’t even coherent filth. It gives new meaning to the words “rave,” “shriek,” and “drool.”

What kind of a song is “WAP”? I am by no means opposed to pornography, and even if I were I would oppose any attempt to censor it. But I’m not going to make the common libertarian mistake of thinking that just because something shouldn’t be censored, there must be something good about it. “WAP” has nothing good about it. It’s filth, and it isn’t even coherent filth. It gives new meaning to the words “rave,” “shriek,” and “drool.” It isn’t erotic; it’s a vile travesty of eroticism. To say it demeans women is to choose the nicest verb one could possibly find. Yet the same politically correct culture that will cancel you for the slightest, even imaginary demeaning or neglect of a wide range of people made Cardi B the august political authority who achieved a very rare one-on-one interview with Democratic candidate and “good Catholic” Joe Biden. They liked each other a lot.

Candace Owens, the black conservative, said, “I would challenge Joe Biden to read the lyrics to her song aloud” (Tucker Carlson Tonight, September 8). I don’t think he’ll rise to the challenge, so if you want to read the lyrics, here they are.

By posing Biden next to Cardi B, his campaign intended to convey the message that he was not only so anti-sexist but so intelligent and sophisticated too! Clearly, that’s a self-confuting message. This year, such messages are coming thick and fast. Some of them, unlike anything having to do with Cardi B, are amusing.

A couple of exceptionally funny ones came up during the enormous political event of September 1 — “the defeat of a Kennedy.” Joseph Patrick (“Joe”) Kennedy III, a progressive “liberal,” was defeated by longtime progressive “liberal” Edward Markey in a primary race for the Senate. Markey’s qualification was 44 years in Congress. Kennedy’s qualification was being the son of a congressman who was the son of an attorney general who was the brother of a president who was the son of an ambassador to Great Britain. Regarding either candidate one might ask, Have you ever met people who came to your house and refused to leave?

Forced to choose between these two highly qualified job applicants, the voters chose the political hack over the petit prince. The only thing the 39-year-old boy had going for him was the Kennedy name. Only. Sole. Period. That’s it — unless you want to count seven years in Congress, which he obtained because, guess what? his name was Kennedy. You’d think that somebody who had nothing else to recommend him for political office would do what billions of other people do — seek some kind of job that would benefit the public enough to show a profit. Nah. Some of the Bushes tried that, but it wasn’t any fun, and they gave it up. Andrew Cuomo didn’t even try.

Regarding either candidate one might ask, Have you ever met people who came to your house and refused to leave?

I was interested in Little Joe’s concession speech. He mentioned his opponent as “a good man,” and so much for that. The rest of it was prep for the next time Joe Boy runs for office — lots of stuff about standing up for the poor and downtrodden in various localities in Massachusetts, which he lugubriously named — as if Markey, and every other Democrat, hadn’t been saying the same kind of thing for the past 44 years, at least. Any sensible person would wonder why, if Joey has such a passion for the poor, he doesn’t change his political party. After all, Massachusetts is the most liberal-Democratic state in the union, and has been for many years, but according to the evidence proclaimed by Joe Himself, the party still hasn’t adequately addressed the issue of poverty. Is this not a direct confutation of the idea that Democratic candidates — including and especially himself — have a divine right to be elected?

I do not admire Pete Seeger, but I like a couplet in one of the songs he used to sing:

Our leaders are the finest men,
And we elect ’em again and again.

That was one of Pete’s guaranteed applause lines — although I’m sure that most of the applauders went right ahead and elected ’em yet again.

What entranced me most about Joe’s concession speech — one of the most breathlessly pompous and in-yo-face self-promoting speeches I have ever heard — was his account of his family. After ominously proclaiming that “this campaign, this coalition, will endure,” because of the “immeasurable” help of the little people who worked in it — yeah, you can’t even measure their help — he toasted his fellow Kennedys. He had “no words to express [his] gratitude” to his campaign munchkins, but he had lots of eloquence for Kennedys like him. “To my family,” he said. “The Kennedy family. Whose name was invoked far more often than I anticipated in this race . . . You all are my heroes. You are my role models. You are my example of what public service should be, and can be. . . . Thank you for teaching me everything I know.”

Well, that’s for sure. That’s everything he knows. Then why was he surprised that the name was mentioned so often? He must have been shocked every time he opened his mouth. But I guess that happens a lot to smart people like Mr. Kennedy.

Maybe it also happens to righteous people like Jussie Smollett. On September 9, the irrepressible actor, singer, and moral leader gave an interview in which he repeatedly stated his regret that his attorneys did not allow him to make statements about his legal case: “So it’s been beyond frustrating, and I think that I’m certainly not going rogue, and I’m still taking the advice of my attorneys and everything like that. I just don’t see, honestly, what staying quiet has done, where it’s gotten me.”

How would you like to be one of this guy’s lawyers?

Anyway, Smollett’s motive for stating that he was unable to make any statements was apparently his desire to insinuate that he had the evidence to vindicate himself but for some mysterious reason wasn’t being allowed to utter it. Yet he had no trouble saying a lot of other things, including this masterpiece of self-confutation:

“What happened in these last two years, it has humbled me in a way that nobody could possibly understand. . . . Out of all these jokers in this entire situation, I am the only human being who has not changed his story one time.”

Now, that’s humility for you. And Smollett demonstrated that he has every reason to be humble. Discussing the two African former friends who accuse him, very plausibly, indeed conclusively, of paying them to administer a phony assault so he could claim he was attacked by white racist homophobic Trump supporters who knew he would be roaming the empty streets of Chicago at 2 a.m. on one of the coldest days of the decade, seeking a Subway sandwich, and attacked him with some kind of liquid and a tiny “noose,” he said, quite correctly,

There would be no reason for me to do something like this. There would be no reason for me to do something foolish . . . and I do think that if you look at all of the things that were happening for me, and then for all of the opportunities and all of the money . . . whatever, that I have lost at this point, if in fact what they said was true, the smart thing to do would be to admit that. At least there would be a place to work back from. This is bulls–t. It’s bulls–t.

All true! But he knows that the bulls–t is his own. If he had any capacity for consecutive reasoning he would understand that he is accusing himself, with perfect clarity and truth, of being an enormous fool. Again, I wouldn’t want to be the lawyer defending him from himself.

It’s one thing to make self-confuting statements. It’s another to condemn everyone who might disagree with you. Jussie veered into that territory with his idea that he is the humble one, and nobody else is. Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. staked a bigger claim. He who can’t get his personal history straight — he who has variously estimated American deaths from the coronavirus at 120 and 200 million — he who gave up while trying to recite the most famous lines of the Declaration of Independence — decided to lecture history teachers about the lies they’ve been handing out.

If he had any capacity for consecutive reasoning he would understand that he is accusing himself, with perfect clarity and truth, of being an enormous fool.

He is qualified to teach! And they are not! Maybe this is why Cardi B likes him so much — he also knows how to rave and screech. On September 3 he went to Kenosha, Wisconsin (wearing his silly mask, which means he’s a good, good person and not a hapless conformist) and delivered his latest report as National Historiographer:

Biden . . . insisted that “people fear” anything that’s different before launching into a critique of the American education system.

“We gotta, for example, why in God’s name don’t we teach history in history classes?” he told the crowd through a mask. “A black man invented the light bulb, not a white guy named Edison. OK? There’s so much. Did anybody know?”

Nope, none of us peons knew anything. If we’d read a book on the subject, we might have known that an ingenious and intrepid researcher named Lewis Latimer, an African American, discovered an improvement on production methods for the filaments of the electric light and went on to work for Thomas Edison, who had previously invented the electric light. What we didn’t know was that ol’ Joe Biden had snaked out the true facts. And why, in God’s name, don’t people teach history in the way that a person who is always ridiculously wrong about history wants it to be taught?

Even Sean Hannity isn’t this bad — which is saying something.

It was always culture preening itself on its intelligence but betraying its lack of intellect with every choice of words.

And far be it from Biden to correct his error. Far be it from this great teacher to tell the wonderful story of American inventions during the first great age of capitalism, inspiring respect for the individual contributions — Latimer’s as well as Edison’s — that are the life of real history, and disdaining the stereotypes that demagogues use to get themselves elected. Well, there’s so much. Did anybody know?

Biden is the platonic form and reductio ad absurdum of the class that has exerted political power in America for the past two generations — dumb people, people whom one would never want to live or work with, hacks who are financed by the rich and elected by the poor, if they’re elected by anyone. The pretensions of the political-intellectual culture sponsored by this class have decayed in a peculiarly ugly and noisome way, but they were always self-confuting. It was always culture preening itself on its intelligence but betraying its lack of intellect with every choice of words. Those who profited from this culture — in the universities, the media, the churches, the institutes of art — adopted modern-liberal assumptions as their means of asserting themselves and condemning others. It was always Mene, mene, tekel upharsin: you are weighed in the balances, and found wanting (Daniel 5:25–27) — so long as you believed in such antique and discredited notions as economic and personal liberty. Yet the same folks accepted the gifts of capitalist culture, very gladly. Capitalist money meant that they could be employed, that they could be endowed, that they could be paid to preach whatever they wanted to preach, telling the majority of Americans how their money should be taken away and their ideas should be consigned to the dustbin of “history.”

I’ve been rereading Richard Hofstadter’s influential American Political Tradition (1948). Hofstadter was a much better historian than Biden. And he was a good writer — a much better writer than researcher or assessor of evidence, but still a person you can read with a hundred times more profit than a current academic historian. Hofstadter was one of a handful of historians who set the modern liberal tone. In his introduction to this book, he says of the capitalist system, “In material power and productivity the United States has been a flourishing success.” Yet two pages later he says of the capitalist cultural framework: “In a corporate and consolidated society [whatever that means] demanding international responsibility, cohesion, centralization, and planning, the traditional ground is shifting under our feet. It is imperative in a time of cultural crisis to gain fresh perspectives on the past.”

I see. Here is the list of demands. And you, Professor of History, Columbia University (supported by capitalist profits and limited-government protections from the threat of intellectual “cohesion, centralization, and planning”), are the one who will give us those fresh, though self-contradictory, perspectives. A mere 72 years later, they are still being delivered fresh to us daily by people who, like Mr. Biden and his chief puppeteer, the New York Times, are presumed to know history. But what’s that funny smell?

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