Conservatives are Proud to be Stupid

Dare to Know Nothing

From the above linked essay by the Proudly Stupid Lee Harris*
*Lee Harris is the author of Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History and a frequent contributor to Policy Review, the Wall Street Journal’s “Opinion Journal,” and other publications, both print and online. 

‘In a world that absurdly overrates the advantage of sheer brain power, no one wants to be seen as a member in good standing of the stupid party. Yet stupidity has been and will always remain the best defense mechanism against the ordinary conman and the intellectual dreamer, just as Odysseus found that stuffing cotton in his ears was his best defense against beguiling but fatal song of the sirens.

Odysseus chained himself to the mast and had his men stuff their ears with beeswax so he could listen to the Sirens’ song while the boat safely rowed past. That’s the whole point of that episode of the epic. That Harris hammered his pro-stupidity argument’s final point home by hopelessly mangling one of the key scenes from the epic which is a cornerstone of Western Culture would be hilariously ironic enough; but one must truly read the whole screed to appreciate this punchline. His pompous defense of inbred aristos and sneering at John Stuart Mill are one thing, but when he argues to not listen to other people’s arguments and not to find rational justifications for cultural traditions you have to wonder at his capacity as an irony-generator and be staggered. Then you come across a line like this:

‘The stupid conservative, on the other hand, does not look for a higher authority than tradition itself. He is prepared to rest his case simply on traditional authority alone, without seeking to appeal to logic, or reason, or empirical data.’ 

What can be said to this? He is acknowledging that his beliefs cannot be supported by logic, reason or empirical data and that he is so cowardly that he would hand his conscience, his soul, and his mind over to anyone wearing the appropriate costume who sits in the appropriate office. That’s the difference between me and this guy. I am not a college graduate. I have an IQ of 87. I make less than $50,000 a year and remain unpubublished and unknown. But I own my conscience, my soul, and my mind and that is enough for me.

  Perhaps Lee Harris is actually terribly cynical and does not believe the things he writes. Perhaps he is generating propaganda noise that tells you to be ignorant and do what the man in the suit says. Perhaps that’s why his new book is unironically titled The Suicide of Reason:Radical Islam’s Threat to the West, because how could it be good for American conservatives to ignore reason, logic and evidence and bad for Fundamentalist Muslims to ignore reason, logic and evidence? Only those who know nothing could know the answer to that.  

****Update a few hours later****

I’m very busy today what with moving in to my new place, teasing Cuffy, and whatnot, but as I was attempting to assemble my bed it occured to me that I never even mentioned that Harris was arguing for the unthinking acceptance and transmission of culture while providing a glaring example of the sort of errors that crop up when one is unthinking in their acceptance and transmission of culture. Odysseus is one of the most significant literary characters in human culture because he is the first hero who is a thinking man. A man who solved problems with logic, reason, and evidence. The Trojan Horse was his idea, not some god-given object or divenely inspired tactic. He used cunning and guile to defeat Polyphemus the Cyclops. He would not want to shut his ears to new ideas. He represented the New Man of his age; a thinking, rational hero. So not only does Harris completely get the story backward, he gets the very nature of Odysseus wrong. This would be like relating the end of the first Star Wars movie to someone and saying, ‘And then Luke ignored Obi-Wan’s advice, used the targeting computer and blew up the Death Star.’ It’s the kind of detail that completely changes the meaning of the story. It would be like saying, ‘Then Jesus got in a kayak and met the Disciples on the water, and they were all really impressed with his kayaking skills.’ Okay, maybe it wouldn’t be just like that, but once you start with these, it’s a whole lot of fun. It would be like saying, ‘and then the Buddha met a thief on the road, and when the thief accosted him, Buddha used his Secret Vibrating Finger Touch of Death power on him and went along his way.’ Okay, that’s three. Any more, and this will have to become it’s own post…

2 Responses to “Conservatives are Proud to be Stupid”

  1. Oy. Didn’t this guy also say “Thou shalt not eat pork” was one of the Ten Commandments? Ummmmmmm…no.

    As for tradition for tradition’s sake…well, it used to be “tradition” (and law) that a woman was the legal property of her father and then her husband, or that female teachers had to retire when they got married, and were not to be seen in such unseemly places as pool halls and ice cream parlors.

    And why on earth ought we to listen to people who know more than us? (As it turns out, “common sense” is usually wrong.)

    I don’t believe for one second that you have an IQ of 87, by-the-by.

    Blessed be…

    the Prof

  2. Proffesah-
    Right now I’m listening to ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’ by Cream.
    ‘and his naked ears were tortured by the Sirens sweetly singing…’
    Damn. Even those stupid stoned hippies got that right.

    There’s no end to the stupidity that is tradition for tradition’s sake. Life is too short and our time is too precious to waste it in mindless repetition of the commands of the dead. It makes no sense to directly and literally apply the directives of the authorities of an ancient extinct culture as restrictions on ourselves in the here and now if those restrictions make no sense in this contact. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is a great ethical concept no matter what culture or era you find yourself in, and you can independently examine this idea and it’s meaning in a variety of contexts. ‘Don’t eat clams’ can be a very wise tradition if the local clams are toxic, or, say, you live in a desert and any clams you come across are likely to be toxic. It makes far less sense in, say, a contemporary Italian restaurant where the clams are amazing. If it were up to individuals like Mr. Hill, we’d all still be in the trees.

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