- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Facts vs. ideas

“Not only have the past 50 or so years been largely bereft of grand ideas, but much of the best intellectual work of the period has been devoted to eliminating the major ideas, or idea systems, of the previous 100 or so years: notably, Marxism and Freudianism, with Darwinism perhaps next to tumble. The lesson seems to be that the accretion of new facts tends to undo ideas. …

“[T]he more facts one has at one’s command, the less is inspiration for ideas likely to arrive. Imagine the impressive ignorance of facts Rousseau required to come up with his two most famous ideas, those of the Noble Savage and of the Social Contract. Marx had Engels in Manchester supplying him with many of his facts for ‘Das Kapital,’ but given all the additional factual knowledge we have since acquired about industrial relations and the true interests of the working classes, it seems doubtful that even the always rage-ready Marx would be able to believe in the class struggle with the same certitude.

“The most fertile ground for the formation of ideas, in other words, is one relatively barren of facts.”

— Joseph Epstein, writing on “Ugly, Thorny Things,” Sunday in Opinion Journal at www.opinionjournal.com

Veiled tolerance

“For Westerners, the veil has long been a symbol of the oppression of women in the Islamic world. … In our multicultural age, many liberals are reluctant to criticize the subjugation of women in Muslim countries and Muslim immigrant communities, fearful of promoting the notion of Western superiority. …

“[U]sing the language of tolerance to justify oppressive practices is a grotesque perversion of liberalism. The veiling debate is a case in point. No amount of rhetorical sleight of hand can disguise the fact that the full-face veil makes women, literally, faceless. Some Muslim women in the West may choose this garb (which is not mandated in the Koran), but their explanations often reveal an internalized misogynistic view of women as creatures whose very existence is a sexual provocation to men. What’s more, their choice helps legitimize a custom that is imposed on millions of women around the world who have no choice.”

— Cathy Young, writing on “Women and Islam,” Monday in the Boston Globe

Weird Al rules

“‘Weird Al’ Yankovic first appeared on television in 1981, wheezing out ‘Another One Rides the Bus’ (his public-transport themed revision of Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’) in quilted Technicolor pants. Since then, he’s methodically dismantled our national soundtrack and rebuilt it, piece by piece, out of wretched puns [and] accordion riffs. … His new album has hit the Top 10 just in time for his 47th birthday, and its first single, ‘White & Nerdy’ … has become YouTube’s most popular music video of the month. …

“Weird Al’s essential service is to point out that, from the perspective of the middle-class suburban life world, pop culture itself is weird. This is the paradox of Weird Al’s weirdness: He’s actually Normal Al, a common-sensical, conservative force. …

“He mocks the pieties of our hipness, however trivial … and exposes the absurdity of overwrought pop emotions. Even at their silliest … his parodies do important cultural work: They defuse whatever seriousness clings to the ubiquitous megahit. … He has singlehandedly tutored the MTV generation in critical thinking.”

— Sam Anderson, writing on “Twenty-five years of ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic,” Monday in Slate at www.slate.com

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