Plus ca change
“So this is new: I’m used to my football fandom marking me as a cappuccino-damaged rootless cosmopolitan who would gladly sell his homeland to the Frogs for a pack of Gauloises and a muscular rub-down from a vaguely Slavic pool boy. Now, however, I learn that I am actually a jingoistic propaganda machine spewing ‘nationalist dribble.’ Well, times do change.
“Apparently my misty-eyed ramble about Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria — undertaken, as all good blog posts should be, after a couple of beers — marked an effort to elide America’s ‘history of slavery, genocide, and imperial expansion, as well as its present day reality of ongoing racism, war, impoverishment, and inequality.’ I’m glad I deleted the paragraph in which I wrote that we might as well just invade Iraq again! Now that we’re good enough at soccer to beat those Baghdad kids’ teams our troops were always playing for morale purposes.”
— Zach Dundas, writing on “World Cup: Oopsie! Did Team USA Turn Me Into a Rabid Nationalist?” on June 29 at the True/Slant blog Renegade Sportsman
“When we chronicle the struggle for literary freedom we too rarely give proper credit to the scandalous books, the salacious books, the truly outrageous books. We imagine that modern freedom was won by high-minded altruists devoted to human progress. A closer look reveals that much of the vast terrain on which literature and politics stand was in fact cleared by some dubious characters publishing books that no one, even the authors, considered respectable.
“Robert Darnton has spent many years nudging us toward an understanding of this reality. Most recently he’s instructed us that 18th-century French publishing had a well-known category, libelles, which covered many books that delighted newly literate readers by undermining the authority of the monarchy and the Church.
“Libelles helped create the demand for liberty. They were a major factor in the monarchy’s collapse. On shaky moral grounds, they founded French press freedom. In the 18th century, libel was a French industry. The books Darnton explores sometimes told the truth and sometimes spread vicious lies. … Unsurprisingly, the favorite victim of libelers was Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. ‘The avalanche of defamation that overwhelmed her between 1789 and her execution on October 16, 1793, has no parallel in history.’”
— Robert Cushman, writing on “Robert Fulford: French Dissing,” on June 21 at the National Post
“[Philosopher William] James was not unsympathetic to religion, and on occasion he was prepared to call himself a Christian, though in a thoroughly secular and untheological sense. His abiding intellectual passion was a love of open-mindedness and a corresponding distrust of dogmatism and metaphysics. We should never forget, he said, that all our opinions — even our ‘most assured conclusions’ — are ‘liable to modification in the course of future experience.’
“But he warned against allowing a distrust of dogmatic metaphysics to harden into a metaphysical dogma of its own, as seemed to be happening with some of the evangelizing atheists of his day. He admired the evolutionary biologist T H Huxley and the mathematician C K Clifford, for example, but when they used the idea of ‘science’ as a stick to beat religion with they were in danger of behaving like high priests of a new religion — ‘the religion of scientificism’ — and defending it with the same intolerant zealotry as any old-style religious fanatic.
“Knowledge, for James, was not so much the pre-existing premise of human inquiry as a hoped-for future product, and science was more like a tissue of fortuitous insights than a monolith of solid fact. We would not have much chance of stumbling into truth if we let ourselves get too anxious about falling into error, and the first rule of an unillusioned epistemology should simply be: Relax!”
— Jonathan Ree, writing on “Variety,” in the July/August issue of the New Humanist