Part 1—Dead horse beaten again: At the risk of (brief) repetition, we’ve become fascinated, in the past week, with the theme of “moral and intellectual paralysis.”
As a young man, Joyce thought he saw such a paralysis among the Irish people, who lived under the cultural, religious, political thumbs of the Brits and the priests.
Can a nation, can an entire people, find itself in the grip of “moral and intellectual paralysis?” In the opening paragraph of The Sisters, the first of his fifteen stories in Dubliners, Joyce announced his interest in exploring the paralysis he saw pervading the Dublin of his youth.
A young narrator describes the impending death of a priest he knows as a friend. In this opening paragraph, Joyce announced his desire to explore the “paralysis” gripping his nation and the “deadly work” it had done:
There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window: and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse. He had often said to me: "I am not long for this world," and I had thought his words idle. Now I knew they were true. Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears...But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.In Dubliners, Joyce explored that paralysis, and its deadly work. Our question:
Can anyone doubt that our own nation is caught in a type of moral and intellectual paralysis? In part, Joyce’s Dublin was caught in the grip of the priests. But our own tribalized society has many such groups of (secular) priests—fatuous beings whose work corrupts our moral and intellectual capacities.
We saw them this weekend, wherever we looked, the priests with their varied corruptions:
We saw Jim Lehrer on C-Span, offering his absurd canned recitations about past White House elections. (We saw a journalism professor affirm every word this high priest drew from the can.)
We saw Maureen Dowd on page one of the Sunday Review, presenting work so fatuous that many commenters stood to complain.
(Commenter from Edmonton: “Why did I read this cotton candy? Why was it written? And what did I learn?” Commenter from New York City: “When did the Times editorial page become Tiger Beat?”)
We saw Professor Williams in The Nation, inventing facts about a trial she plainly hadn’t watched. In our mind, we saw Katrina vanden Heuvel waving that shit into print.
We read this profile of another professor. It helped answer a question we have long posed—where have the logicians been as our clownish public discourse has been turned into a joke?
ZWEIFLER (7/1/13): Colin McGinn is towering above Miami Beach.Technically, this professor isn’t a “logician,” and, of course, he’s a Brit. But where have the greatest logicians been as our discourse has turned into a joke? Have they been on the nation’s 43rd floors, high above their cabanas?
The prominent British philosopher, who was considered a star hire by the University of Miami several years ago, is sitting on the deck of his penthouse condo as waves crash onto the shore 43 floors below.
To an outsider, it looks like paradise. Mr. McGinn's home is in one of the most sought-after high-rises on Miami Beach's "Millionaire's Row"; his cabana, where he stores paddleboards and surfing gear, is larger than some city apartments.
Who else did we see this weekend? On Sunday, we saw the third installment in the New York Times Potemkin series about the looting which virtually defines American health care. Next April, this series will be awarded the Pulitzer Prize. It has generated no discussion whatsoever—and it seems to have been written to accomplish that goal, to create an award-winning series which no one will ever discuss.
Silence invaded the suburbs! After that, it emanated from the 43rd floors. Then, the front page of the New York Times found a way to advance it!
Over the weekend, we also saw the various people who have refused to discuss the paralysis these priests have created. It’s easy to answer the question posed by that commenter to Dowd, but everyone has agreed that it must never be said:
The New York Times editorial page became Tiger Beat a very long time ago! This is the way that same columnist began her column in the Times on the Sunday before the Bush-Gore election, headline included:
DOWD (11/5/00): I Feel PrettyThat was also Tiger Beat, thirteen years ago.
I feel stunning
Feel like running and dancing for joy . . .
O.K., enough gloating. Behave, Albert. Just look in the mirror now and put on your serious I only-care-about-the-issues face.
If I rub in a tad more of this mahogany-colored industrial mousse, the Spot will disappear under my Reagan pompadour.
“The Spot” was Candidate Gore’s bald spot, with which the Tiger Beat pundit had been obsessed in recent years. In this column, Dowd had Gore singing “I Feel Pretty” as he stood before a mirror.
It was the sixth column Dowd had built around imagined conversations between Gore and his bald spot.
That produces a form of paralysis; it does deadly work. Two days later, Americans went to the polls and, by an historically narrow margin, a world disaster occurred. But to this very f*cking day, have you seen a single career liberal talk about Maureen Dowd’s conduct during that campaign, or in the thirteen years since? Krugman, Chait, Drum, Dionne? Robinson, Hayes or your darling Maddow? Can you name even one career player who has discussed this endless assault on your nation’s morals and intellect?
Maureen Dowd is a high priest who has dealt in paralysis. But among those who do their writing or clowning for pay, no one has ever been willing to say so! (We could note a few very minor exceptions.) This helps explain the moral and intellectual paralysis found all through our own paralyzed nation.
In our secular, tribalized world, different bands of secular priests surround us. All these priests are creating paralysis. But within each tribal preserve, their conduct is accepted and praised, no matter how crazy, dishonest and paralytic their conduct may be.
On Fox, they give free rein to Sean. In The Nation, they hail that august professor. And yes, the caliber of their work is very much the same.
This morning’s New York Times spills with nonsense from various sets of our own tribe’s pseudoliberal priests. All week long, we’ll sample the bullshit we’ve seen in the past few days, right up to and including this morning. And we’ll sample the bullshit to come.
“I longed to look upon its deadly work.” Borrowing from the young Bob Dylan, we think Abraham Lincoln said that!
Tomorrow—part 1: Where to begin?