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Staying Very Still

with 35 comments

So, it’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m having one of those days when I could sleep in the middle of the afternoon if I let myself, but I know that if I let myself I’m going to be up all night and a wreck in the morning.

And I’m having, you know, malaise.

It’s bad enough that this atheist book I’ve been talking about–The Age of Atheists, I brought it up a few posts ago–is a complete wash.  It’s not so much about atheists as it is about people who have spent their lives wandering around not accomplishing much of anything while nattering about authenticity and wholeness while sometimes taking prodigious amounts of pharmaceuticals. 

There’s real atheism out there, but none of the people this author is mentioning seem to be among them. Mostly what we’ve got is Spiritual but not Religious, which seems to require speaking vaguely about completeness and richness and joy.

I finally figured out what I disliked about all these people earlier this morning, and it wasn’t just that talking about “completeness and richness and joy” is gibberish.

Alhough it is, gibberish, and it doesn’t help.

What really struck me was that these were the most thoroughly self absorbed people in the history of the universe–self absorbed to the point of outright insanity.

There’s an AIDs epidemic in Africa.  There are nine year old girls across the Muslim world who are having their clitorises removed and being married to 40 year old men.  We could go to Mars if we put our minds to it.  The vast majority of us are only ill clothed, ill housed and ill fed relative to others of us who are doing better with all those things–

And we’re sitting around worrying about “microagressions” and “checking our privilege” and “triggering” caused by people acknowledging realities we don’t like.

I’m not saying that I don’t obsess about myself every once in a while, or even more than every once in a while.  I do, of course I do, we all do.  It’s natural. 

I am saying that, when I do do that kind of thing, I’m being a jerk.

I know we’re not supposed to judge anybody else’s pain–and there’s some sense in that.  We’re all different.  What really hurts me may not be what really hurts you, and vice versa.


The fact remains that there is an objective scale to these things.  Not all suffering is created equal. 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a wonder for surviving genital mutilation, child sex and marital rape and battery to become what she’s become–which is more than most of the people now nattering about “microaggressions” will ever manage.

But her suffering was objectively worse than those microaggressions.  And they presented a far higher barrier to a life of achievement than microaggressions ever will.

There has never been a perfect world, and there never will be.  The choice isn’t between Ali’s history and perfection, but Ali’s history and some that are less bad, and others that are less bad than that, and others that are yet less bad than that last one. 

And on all those levels, even the very worst, at least some people have managed to achieve anyway. 

That doesn’t mean that everybody can, or that everybody should be expected to.

It does mean that if you’re reduced to obsessing about “bossy” as a code word, you ought to be thoroughly embarrassed with yourself.  And then you should shut up and get on with it.

In fact, I’m beginning to think we should all shut up and get on with it.

As denizens of a First World country, where even the very poorest of us have access to resources undreamed of even by the generation that survived the Depression and won WWII, we ought to be able to find something better to do with our time than shrieking endlessly about how we’ll never accomplish anything or realize our potential because codewords like “bossy” and other “microaggressions” erect a wall that just won’t let us do anything.

They managed to do something in a world of Jim Crow, widespread discrimination against Jews and women, a legal regime that said you couldn’t be raped in marriage and that women who got raped at all were probably asking for it–never mind things like lynching.

And yet, that generation managed not only to survive the Depression and win WWII, but to end legal racial discrimination, find a vaccine for polio, expand the rights and opportunities of women past anything ever seen before on this planet, and land us on the moon as well.

Honestly, now.  What is it we think we’re doing with our lives?

I ran across two pieces of news yesterday.

One of them was an interview with a sophomore at Swarthmore who was indignant–just indignant–that anybody would think that just because she was at a liberal arts college, she ought to be required to hear different points of view.

It was part of a larger story about the fallout from an incident at UC Santa Barbara where a professor and her students stole a sign being held by a teenaged girl who was in a “free speech zone” protesting abortion.  The University wants it to be known that these outside agitators come onto campus and upside and divide the students and the faculty, so the stealing of the sign and the later vandalism and what seems to have been a physical assault were, well, we wouldn’t say justified, but…

Never mind.

The other was the cover story in the May 2014 issue of Discover magazine.

It was about a former Shuttle astronaut named Franklin Chang Dias, who has invented a new kind of rocket that might get us to Mars a lot faster.

Let’s ditch all the crap, and just get the job done.

Written by janeh

April 26th, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

35 Responses to 'Staying Very Still'

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  1. How well I agree. Both my parents were born around 1900. They lived through the First World War, the Great Depression, the Second World War, Korean War, the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, and the Vietnam War. I’m sure they would be laughing at the idea that we are having a hard time.

    I noticed an article in the NY Times a few days ago about a “public health crisis”. That turned out to be too much salt in processed food. I find it hard to think that a country with average live expectancy of more than 78 years has a public health disaster on its hands.



    26 Apr 14 at 5:39 pm

  2. Re the UC Santa Barbara episode. The students of the 1960s are now senior faculty and senior administrators. And in the 60s they took free speech to mean the right to howl down any one speaking in favor of the Vietnam War.


    26 Apr 14 at 5:52 pm

  3. You know, it doesn’t even evoke anger any more–just sadness, like reading about mansions burned by Sherman’s Bummers, or farmsteads in East Prussia abandoned since 1945. When you lose wars, it has consequences, and we lost two a generation ago.

    Colleges and universities spent about 20 years back in the 70’s and 80’s replacing retiring conservatives with left-wing nutcases who cared nothing for the traditional values of America or the West, and those people chose their own replacements from a similar pool. So now the more a university or department is liberal arts oriented and the higher up the academic food chain it is, the less there is any pretense of free speech and free inquiry. I do not think this condition will last–but it may last as long as the present system. We are not losing the battle on campus: we already lost, and very long ago. Professors stealing property and shoving kids to keep ideas out is the inevitable consequence of that long-ago defeat.

    Nationally–well, we turned our backs on the idea of an America which was “only” a free place where none could make us afraid–the place whose business WAS business–long ago. We’ve been the crusader nation which would make the world safe for democracy, win the Cold War and–very briefly–take humanity to the stars. But that’s gone too. Now we have assumed the impossible mission of ensuring not freedom but absolute equality. Hence the rising hysteria: forbid government-enforced segregation, and go immediately to government-enforced racial quotas. Permit homosexual wedding, and require private employers to recognize them, private adoption agencies to provide the couples with children–and private bakers to celebrate them. To some extent the purpose of the state is now to defy reality–to insist the plain have the same lives as the beautiful (“lookism”) and that different habits and beliefs have no consequences in the workplace (“multi-culturalism.”) When you go to war with reality, not only are you guaranteed to lose but you ensure lost of collateral damage.

    I heard some administration loyalist–it might even have been His Oneness–announce that the most important mission of the United States military was to look after the members of the armed forces and their families. If that is the case, we should never fight another battle, which gets people hurt and killed, or even have another foreign deployment, breaking up families. But how different is that from having a state which sees as its primary mission seeing that the “citizens” eat their vegetables, go to bed on time–and suffer no ill consequences from their behavior?

    We,, as a society, made those decisions years ago. The consequences–right down to the concept of “microaggressions” were and are inevitable. Until we, as a society, make different decisions about the nature and purpose of the university and the nature and purpose of the state, this is the world we will all live in.

    I see no sign of any such different decisions. Would anyone care to enlighten and encourage me?


    27 Apr 14 at 6:54 am

  4. Robert, university history departments in Australia are concentrating on how badly whites treated Aboriginal Australians.

    They never seem to mention the history of England. IIRC, the Romans conquered the native Celts, then Rome abandoned Britain and it was invaded by Vikings, then the resulting Anglo-Saxons were conquered by the Normans. I doubt if there are any places in the world where the current inhabitants are related to the inhabitans of 20,000 years ago.


    27 Apr 14 at 7:25 pm

  5. jd, I’d wager a smallish sum on the Basque provinces, I think–and do we have an estimated settlement date on Tasmania? But perhaps 20,000 years is far enough back to get you dislocations from the last ice age? Overall point quite valid, though.

    Britain. Pre-Celts–probably related to the Basques–conquered by the Celts, who may have conquered each other in multiple waves, followed by Romans, followed by Saxons–think Niedersachsen in northwest Germany–followed by Vikings–or anyway Norsemen–and then by Normans. It’s what makes the language so much fun. We’ve got twice the vocabulary of either a Germanic or a Romance language so we’re the only European language in which one can raise swine and eat pork, raise kine and eat beef and so forth–not to mention having a spirit of the age which is different from the ghost of a murdered man.

    Which is why I’m placing that smallish bet on the Basques. Their words for tools literally translate “the stone that does thus and so.” Now THAT’s an old language.


    27 Apr 14 at 8:30 pm

  6. Hijack One

    All over the news down here is the Sterling/Clippers thing. Now, while the mind simply boggles that such raw and savage racism still exists even in the US this far into the 21st century, the guy is in his 80s and obviously a throwback to another age. Not that this excuses his behaviour, but it does perhaps go some way towards explaining it.

    What interests me, however, is the reaction to what I understand was the release (by the girlfriend) of statements made in private and secretly recorded. The implications of the NBA’s actions in punishing Sterling (no matter how we might sympathise) for freedom of thought and speech particularly in what is already a highly censorious era such as this seem to me to be alarming.

    God only knows what they’d have done to him if he’d actually made those remarks in public as the news reports down here implied.


    30 Apr 14 at 5:54 am

  7. The BBC published an online article bringing up the privacy issues, which I don’t think CBC has, as far as I’ve seen yet. I haven’t been following the US coverage.

    I think the very idea that private opinions should be subjected to such public punishment is horrifying, no matter what the content of the opinions.

    I’m always a little suspicious of punishment that follows very rapidly on the heels of public accusations. It makes me wonder about the quality of the investigation. Of course, you aren’t really guaranteed due process in a private organization, but the idea that there should be an investigation and hearing before you are ostracized, charged vast sums of money, and forced to sell your property is important.


    30 Apr 14 at 6:32 am

  8. Granting the point about punishing what should have been a private statement, “vast sums of money” is relative. Since the fine must be paid in cash, I’m sure it’s a little inconvenient for the man — but his worth is, approximately, just a tiny bit shy of 2 billion.

    So, corrected for an average income of $50,000/yr, his 2.5 million dollar fine works out to a bit more than $50, relatively speaking.

    And of course he doesn’t have to pay it. He can sell the franchise (valued at north of $500,000,000) and tell the NBA to go F*k itself.

  9. Oh, and since he only paid 2.5 million when he bought the team, even if the NBA manages to somehow tap the sale for the fine (and I’m not sure they could), that would still leave him with a gross profit of ~$495 million, on which he would pay only capital gains taxes.

  10. So? I don’t think the fact that the man has a lot of money justifies either the fine or the forced sale of the team.

    This is, of course, because I don’t particularly want private individuals fining me or forcing me to sell my property because of my private opinions. Not even if the fine is $50 and I can easily afford it.

    Everyone, even the rich (and presumably famous, although I’d never heard of the man before) should be able to have private thoughts they are not answerable for in public, and the right to defend themselves against accusations and punishments from anyone or any group.


    30 Apr 14 at 8:17 am

  11. You’ve encapsulated my thoughts precisely, Cheryl.


    30 Apr 14 at 8:39 am

  12. I think you’re missing the point, Mike.


    30 Apr 14 at 9:38 am

  13. Mique

    30 Apr 14 at 9:42 am

  14. Well, a couple of things.

    The biggie is this–the article posted above makes mention of “illegally obtained evidence,” but it’s more of that than you think.

    In CT and NY, and I’ll bet CA, too, it’s illegal to record somebody without their knowledge.

    These laws are not aimed at the police, but at private companies and individuals. That’s why, when you call the phone company or the gas company or whatever, a recording tells you that your call is going to be or likely to be recorded.

    If they DON’T do that, they can get hit with fairly stiff consequences.

    I think this means that Serling can sue the ex girlfriend into the ground for not telling him she was recording, and it may be the case that he can sue TMZ who first put the recording out.


    30 Apr 14 at 12:59 pm

  15. Uh, Guys? You’re treating the normal as the extraordinary. Free speech in any absolute sense passed away about 40 years ago. You say the wrong things, you get punished–the nature of the punishment varying with the position you hold. The only way to avoid it is to be so low on the totem pole that the powers that be regard your life as sufficient punishment by itself. The time for excitement is when this sort of thing is new. That time passed long ago.

    As for privacy, that passed away somewhere between the Internet, smart (picture-taking) phones and “security” cameras in every store and on every street corner. Am I the only person who observes the modern West and thinks of the old “slow glass” stories from ANALOG? We do not have privacy. We have an understanding that certain information–or information gathered in a certain way–can’t be used in criminal proceedings. (That will pass. Eventually, people will get tired of everyone knowing all the pertinent facts except the judge and jury.) But in a world in which Presidents have been bugging their own offices for 80 years, and where people show up on talk shows to discuss other’s sex lives, it’s pretty late in the day to talk about privacy.

    If anyone has a plan to restore privacy and freedom of speech, I’d certainly like to hear it. But it’s WAY too late to be shocked by their absence.


    30 Apr 14 at 4:42 pm

  16. I’ve been following my normal policy of ignoring US news but I’m beginning to think of Victorian England. The list of taboo words or subjects that can not be used or discussed in public is almost Victorian in length.


    30 Apr 14 at 9:06 pm

  17. Yes, and our masters refuse to publish a list. Loose-leaf, or updated on a web site would do.


    1 May 14 at 5:09 am

  18. Ann Coulter has an interesting take on it here. http://tinyurl.com/m324sof

    Strange as it may seem, I remember following the Durocher-Day “scandal” in back issues of the old Saturday Evening Post I was reading when I was about 11 or 12 in the early 50s.


    1 May 14 at 8:31 pm

  19. Hijack alert! This is about history textbooks used in Australian schools. Read and weep!



    2 May 14 at 4:47 am

  20. I keep remembering an old TV police show–probably late 1950’s. One of the detectives is having an affair–I think adulterous, but it has been a while–and the police force is messing with him–changed rosters, odd duty hours and calls when off duty. He protests to his superior that “there’s no law against what I’m doing” and the boss replies that “there’s no law against the President of the United States going to the burlesque show and applauding his favorite stripper–but the dignity of his office prohibits it.” Well, THAT passed somewhere around 1993.
    Of course, I can also recall the US Ambassador to France informing President de Gaulle of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The ambassador offered to provide evidence, only to be told “the word of the President of the United States is sufficient. That passed somewhat earlier.
    People do a pretty good job of mocking both pagan and Christian virtues today. I wonder how many generations it will take before they realize you can’t run a civilization without things like dignity and honor?


    2 May 14 at 5:40 pm

  21. And today this appeared:


    We’ve just fought off a scurrilous campaign by the last Australian government to impose even more limits on such freedom of speech as we have down here in Australia and we’re not out of the woods yet with every ratbag leftist demanding among other things that people be punished for offending other people, and now the virus has spread to the US.

    There’s never been a truer statement that those who ignore history are condemned to relive it.


    2 May 14 at 7:29 pm

  22. The National Review article has a very misleading title. Here is the text of the First Amendment.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    The proposed amendment says nothing about religion, assembly or petition. It may or may not be a good idea to regulate campaign contributions but saying that it destroys the first amendment is hysteria.


    2 May 14 at 8:26 pm

  23. I can’t see why, John. Any amendment to the First Amendment has the potential to “destroy” it because nobody can tell just how the Supremes will interpret it in future. Nobody can accurately foretell the effect of any change, and to suggest they can is naive and/or dishonest.

    It’s the same situation we find ourselves in down here in re the debate about changing the preamble to the Australian Constitution to “recognise Aborigines” as the first people. At least one High Court Judge (Gibbs, iirc) has opined that any such change, indeed any change at all, in the preamble will inevitably have the effect of changing the Constitution itself.

    I’ve never been able to understand the left’s objection to corporations taking part in the political process. Inevitably, they always distinguish between corporations and favoured corporation-like entities such as unions and sympathetic NGOs which they insist must be allowed to participate. (Note the ALP’s objections to unions being brought under the ambit of laws governing behaviour of corporations and their directors.) The distinction is for most practical purposes non-existent except ideologically.


    2 May 14 at 8:38 pm

  24. Back to the proposed gutting of the First Amendment as regards free speech. As usual it was a LOT easier to find people talking about it than to find facts. But here’s the guts of the proposed amendment from Udall’s web site:

    1. Congress shall have power to regulate
    the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on—
    (1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to,
    Federal office; and
    (2) the amount of expenditures that may be
    made by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

    Note that Congress gets to decide who counts, and what constitutes an “in kind” contribution. There is also no requirement that the field be in any way level. It would be completely within Congress’s authority to limit someone they disliked–Conservatives, say, or Republicans or (more likely) non-incumbents–to a maximum contribution of $5, value my favorable mention in conversation of said candidate at $10 and fine or imprison me accordingly.

    Or does someone (waiting for you, Michael) want to tell me the government would never so abuse its power?


    4 May 14 at 10:04 am

  25. Robert, of course some future government will abuse it. But when all is said and done, the Constitution is a piece of paper with black marks on it. Its strength lies in custom and acceptance of the restrictions it places on government. I’m not sure those are strong enough when the Supreme Court has developed the dogma of a “Living Constitution”.


    4 May 14 at 3:36 pm

  26. jd, you’re quite right. And the proposed amendment won’t pass even Congress in the foreseeable future. But it’s a very troublesome sign when people can propose abolishing the free speech provisions of the First Amendment and still be within the political Pale, so to speak. The logical response to such a proposal would be to explain to the people backing it that they were no longer welcome in the Democratic Party. I see no sign of that.

    It’s no the direction which surprises me: it’s the pace.


    4 May 14 at 4:10 pm

  27. Hijack III:

    Lovely to watch the angels dancing on the head of the pin here, and atheists don’t even believe in angels:


    I think these sorts of cases demonstrate better than anything else why the practice of appointing politically partisan justices to the highest courts is corrosive to the credibility of the institutions. (Of course, these days finding suitable candidates who are not beholden to one political party or another would be quite a trick, but it would make a pleasant change to see justices deciding socially controversial cases on purely legal grounds as opposed to personal ideology. The overt racism of the Sotomeyers of this world is startling.)


    7 May 14 at 8:10 pm

  28. The High Church of Militant Atheism finally lost a case.

    They have 4 evangelists (Dawkins, Denning, Hitchens and Harris)

    Missionaries determined to force their beliefs on everyone (the people who file suits)

    A sacred dogma (Evolution)

    An inquisition to prevent anyone from challenging their dogma (the US Court system)

    Buddhism doesn’t have a God and its considered a religion so why not call Militant Atheism a religion?


    7 May 14 at 9:22 pm

  29. Well, jd, they are still working on assembling their sacred writings. Part of the problem is that they’ll have to go on-line and be updated more often than Microsoft sells a new operating system in order to accommodate shifting doctrine. I’m so old I can remember when Movementists thought racial discrimination in college admissions was a bad thing–and putting minorities in separate dormitories intolerable. THOSE comments have long since been dropped down the Memory Hole.

    Ah. Clarification. All Militant Atheists–as opposed to regular freethinkers–are Movementists, but not all Movementists are Militant Atheists. The rest can be “spiritual”–the sort of religion which lets them sit in judgment of everyone else and make up the rules as they go, instead of the more arduous business of actually trying to obey a known set of commandments. It’s pretty much what Jane was describing from her recent reading, only Jane was more polite than I am.


    8 May 14 at 8:06 pm

  30. Hijack. (Did we have a topic when we started?) Some one might find this interesting–a short essay on the “whys” of what I think is now called “climate change skepticism.”



    11 May 14 at 6:52 am

  31. None of those 5 reasons are good scientific objections.

    I am also a skeptic.

    First, because I belief that accurate models should include many mechanisms such as increased warming might produce more clouds which would reflect sunlight and I doubt that the models can properly simulate the complex mechanisms.

    Second, because there is good reason to believe that the sun is a mildly variable star and that we are at the beginning of a period (possibly centuries long) of reduced solar output. And that would produce global cooling.


    11 May 14 at 8:12 pm

  32. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/05/11/manmade-climate-disruption-the-hype-and-reality/

    That says about all that really needs to be said about this latest burst of Obamaista crap.

    To think that people actually voted for him and his crooked cronies TWICE simply confirms that the Apocalypse is looming.


    11 May 14 at 9:43 pm

  33. jd

    15 May 14 at 6:12 pm

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