Here at The Feral Yawp we are beginning a new series in which one member kicks a topic off, and the other members join the yawping. Let’s call it “Feral Talk”. The conversation will be started by one member and then others will contribute (note the color coding). If you comment, we will respond in subsequent updates to the post.
So the opening yawp:
(Picture: Giovanni Battista Bugatti: chief executioner for the Papal States during the 19th century).
Fr. Dwight Longnecker is one of those fellows who started out evangelical, jumped ship for Anglicanism, and then swam the Tiber. He regularly spouts off Roman propaganda that flies in the face of historic fact and whitewashes the messiness of his own church and gives a false impression of the piety and holiness of his revered institution. Not surprisingly, Longnecker defends his pope’s politics against left and right because, you know, Francis just sat down in the middle of the road and we know the only thing you find there is roadkill (fellow wardog Clearly Mad pointed out yesterday). But the pope is Christ on earth for over a billion Catholics (no small amount of influence there), so when his holiness spouts off silly things, of course Longnecker must follow him into the breach of sophomoric claims about history, politics, and justice.
So it’s of little surprise that Longnecker stuck his neck out too far at Patheos the other day.
Toot the horn, bang the drum – Pope Francis is in town, and he’s got something to say. Because, like any self-styled intellectual you meet at your friend’s weekend party, Papa Frank has an opinion about everything. It seems like he even has opinions about his opinions – and everyone else loves to dissect his opinions. All of this, to him, seems like it’s worth a chuckle and a shrug. But to his critics, he’s an arbiter of destruction, a loose cannon, an anti-pope. He’s a socialist, a Marxist, a liberal. Or, from his followers and admirers, Frankie is a model of charity, a friend of the down-trodden, a breath of fresh air after almost eight years of stuffiness and Emperor Palpatine-esque brows under Benedict XVI. For some, Pope Francis’ ascent to the Seat of Peter wasn’t just announced with white smoke and a hearty “Habemus Papam!” but with Flyin’ Padre Pio and the Blue Angels sonic-booming over the Vatican, sprinkling the ecstatic throng with confetti and free Fit-Bits.
Jeb Bush has distanced himself from his brother’s decision to invade Iraq, and the Republican presidential candidates have joined him in this. Nevertheless, the Republican field still excoriates Obama for “not finishing the job” and pulling the troops out. Now there is talk of sending troops back in, of getting tougher on Assad, on re-instituting sanctions on Iran, and sending weapons to Ukraine. As much as this is “not the party of GWB” the bluster about existential threats emanating from different corners of the world and charges of human rights abuses are strikingly similar to the tone preceding our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. After a decade of grave misadventures abroad, you would think that the Republican Party would take a step back to reevaluate but not much seems to have changed. The party can’t seem to buck their George W cowboy.
There was a particularly nasty piece of drivel published on Salon yesterday, all about the myth of “meritocracy.” According to Ms. Cooper (AKA, “professorcrunk”), the entire construct of society as we know it is pejorative towards black people, tearing down any semblance of objectivity, and building its entire assumption about the world, emotion, feeling, and success around whiteness — in particular, MALE whiteness. Crunky gives no solution to the perceived slight from society, which means that, had she been born in Athens and run around in a white toga, she’d probably have been forced to take the hemlock.
I’m most fascinated by Crunky’s assertion that “The United States was not built on a system of meritocracy. It was built on a system of denied access.” The reality is that Crunky’s argument is old and gutless. She wouldn’t be happy unless Matt Damon had his money, cinema contracts, and good looks stripped and given to Tyrell Damon. But Crunky doesn’t need to pick on Matt Damon if she wants to point out celebrities who are steeping society in a furtherance of WHITENESS. Shaq recently admitted that he turned down a major business opportunity with Starbucks because he believed “black people don’t drink coffee.” This should actually make Crunky HAPPY, since Shaq is admitting that the “universal” – AKA, WHITE – assumption that everyone (again, WHITE PEOPLE) likes coffee actually destroys the individuality of demographics that prefer sweet tea, or Ovaltine.
At the beginning of summer I picked up David Halberstam’s The Fifties. Halberstam, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his journalism in Vietnam, put his research skills to work during the next four decades of his life writing books on history. The Fifties puts his talents on display as he effortlessly and colorfully takes us on a fantastic trip through one of America’s most storied decades. It’s a joy to read a work that is not only well-researched but well-written.
One thing about good history is that it has a tendency to surprise you. When a writer inhabits the past fully, leaving behind his 21st century prejudices, unique and unexpected things begin to pop out of the woodwork. One particular historical nugget caught my eye in Halberstam’s work: his account of Earl Warren. And then I thought of my whipping boy, Howard Zinn, and couldn’t resist taking him to task yet again.
Back in August, John Ellis Bush gave a speech at the Reagan Presidential Library where he addressed foreign policy and the growing threat of terror from ISIS. The language was cushy, and focused on “support,” “international aid,” and “diplomacy” as solutions to halt ISIS and remove Assad. Apart from a few fun memes about ISIS recruiters on Twitter, and the tragic thought of ISIS’ black flag rising from Iraqi cities where American soldiers once died, the speech was an utter bore, which seems to be Bush’s norm: boring, boring, boring. In one of the United States’ most predictable (and fascinating, depending on how you look at it, and depending on whether Russ Baker’s book is factual) first-families, Jeb somehow finds a way to be the worst of the entire lot.
With a father and brother whose administrations were primarily defined by an obsession with all things IRAQ, Jeb seeks to straddle two drifting positions. On the one hand, family ties and allegiance to neo-conservative hawks encourages delicate caressing of the IRAQ invasion, and the expansion of U.S. interest abroad. On the other hand, Bush seeks a Reagan-man reinvention in the hopes that he will be seen as a peace-broker: someone to tear down walls and bring about international calm — “peace through strength; trust but verify.” With unanimity across parties on the failure of the Iraq War, Jeb acts like there is little left in the Bush foreign policy coffers, when the polls say something quite different.
I had forgotten it was 9/11 today until a student wanted to know if we would have a shortened day. She was hoping the tragedy carried a holiday status. I found this rather disturbing: thousands of dead Americans and a Chinese student hoping to get time off school. But she’s a kid, so I cut her some slack.
I do not for a second, though, cut the American government slack for its actions post-9/11. This is the day that many will opine about the tragedy of that day, and while there is no doubt such reflection is well-deserved, it can easily blind us to the greater tragedy: what America has inflicted upon the world in the aftermath of 9/11.
I recently subscribed to Foreign Policy and just the other day got the first print edition. There is something pleasant and old-fashioned about getting a journal in hardcopy. Unfortunately this month’s issue isn’t online yet for some inexplicable reason, which is unfortunate because I was frankly startled and encouraged by an exchange between Joshua Oppenheimer and David Rieff. Both men have done work on the subject of genocide, international affairs, and humanitarian aid. While Rieff has written some books, Oppenheimer may be the better known of the two as his chilling documentary The Act of Killing was nominated for Best Documentary in 2012. All that to say, here’s some excerpts and thoughts from an exchange between Oppenheimer and Rieff.
Joshua Oppenheimer: The task of cinema in intervening in and exploring theses issues is to actually immerse us in these problems… Most human rights documentaries… replicate that most basic form of narrative escapism, dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. That is reassuring because we inevitably identify with the good guys. But it’s problematic because it makes it difficult to understand—not in the sense to excuse, but to understand how human being do these sort of things to each other … If we don’t accept the uncomfortable proposition that every perpetrator of virtually every act of evil in our history has been a human being like us, then we actually foreclose the possibility of understanding how we do this to one another and therefore make it impossible to figure out we might prevent these things.
Those in the West tend to favor the pronouncements of scientists too much. While works on theology written by scientists (e.g Dawkins, The God Delusion) are praised despite their theological vacuity, there is a general skepticism about non-scientists making any sort of claim on science that diverge from the scientific mainstream. This double-standard that privileges the scientist also permits that profession to write “reputable” histories as well; for example, the scientist Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel is widely acclaimed (by Bill Gates no less!) despite the fact that its thesis is historically dubious. This is not merely a science vs. theology issue. The conflict runs deeper: science has accrued such a bloated reputation that people too often thoughtlessly embrace books, articles, and shows merely because they feature a man with a Ph.D. in biology. Little else can explain the popularity of the New Atheists. They are scientists, so we must give them credence, even when they begin speaking to matters out of their field of study. This is an intellectual state of affairs that bodes poorly for culture at large. The minute one sort of knowledge begins to trump all others you get a myopic view that blinds more than it enlightens. (The writer would also like to point out that such a critique is equally applicable to religious fundamentalists).
The West’s embrace of science has led to the inability to identify the sketchiness of the New Atheists’ historical rhetoric (among other things), which is something I intend to explore here by considering their metahistory (a grand theory of history and where it’s going) and then a specific example of Christopher Hitchens’ specious historical rhetoric in support of that metahistory.