We too often forget that the name “intellectual” itself is a French invention. There is a tendency, because the French exported the concept very successfully in the past, to try to interpret any thinking phenomenon as an “intellectual” one, and to believe that where there are no proper intellectuals, there is no thinking. However, as Stefan Collini brilliantly demonstrated in Absent Minds, it is France that is the exception rather than the other way around. The way it has promoted the figure of the intellectual is unprecedented in history, and it would be pointless to try to find the same patterns in other countries which have other traditions. British thinkers, in that perspective, have been sceptical of the term “intellectual” for two reasons: they felt superior to what they saw as French immaturity or grandiloquence, but at the same time inferior to them, because they watched the exceptional treatment given to intellectuals in France with great envy.
Just because a country remains reluctant to recognise its intellectual character doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one. Conversely, just because a country constantly boasts about its tradition of thought doesn’t mean that the tradition is still alive. Progressive thinkers such as Sartre have always preferred — isn’t it much easier? — to paint large abstract pictures, and then, when reality contradicted them, to turn a blind eye and blame someone else — the bourgeoisie, usually.
British thinkers, from Adam Smith and David Hume to Friedrich Hayek (Britain being his adopted country), from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and John Stuart Mill to John Gray, from Edmund Burke to Michael Oakeshott and Roger Scruton, have always started from the facts and the patterns of life and tried to make sense of them, without being obsessed by the fact that they were or were not thinkers. British people think because they don’t think they think. I wish the French would do the same.
The PMRC was less pro-censorship than the puritanical left, or pseudo-left or whatever. http://t.co/u93CR9FCnP
— Plexico Gingrich (@ruthlessreviews) May 28, 2015
In my community college days, I wrote a paper on censorship, using the then-relevant PMRC as a thematic center of gravity, so I think you’ll agree it’s fair to say that I’m somewhat of an academic expert on this topic. On that note, I have to disagree and suggest that Plexico is being seduced by rosy retrospection. Today’s priggish, progressive do-gooders will look just as ridiculous in hindsight as Tipper Gore and friends do today, and they already seem very close to achieving self-parody in the eyes of the mainstream. Here we have the latest example of someone finally getting brave enough to say what too many people have only dared to whisper about for so long: today’s social justice fanatics are setting themselves up for an inevitable reactionary backlash, and they’re either too stupid or too devout to adjust their tactics accordingly.
I’ve long been resigned to that happening. At this point, I’m just trying to look at the bright side: a reinvigorated right wing will make a much more stimulating opponent. I mean, I would like to criticize this piece, or at least make fun of it. But no matter how hard I tried to extract something like a tangible point for that purpose, I couldn’t find one. It’s as if she just wolfed down a bunch of half-baked intersectional feminist platitudes and quickly yurked them back up onto the page in an undigested lump. By the end, when she’s rambling like a drunken Jacobin about eliminating the inequality inherent in the commercial concert space and reimagining the power dynamics that privilege male musicians on stage, you’re almost tiptoeing away in embarrassment to allow her to preserve some dignity. These people were never rigorous thinkers to begin with, and the heavily-policed echo chamber of social media has apparently made them soft and flabby. A useful enemy should be like an intellectual whetstone. The edge of your thoughts is honed by engaging with them. This, though, is like trying to sharpen one’s wits against a blob of jelly.
Small stakes ensure you the minimum blues
But you don’t feel taken and you don’t feel abused
Small stakes tell you that there’s nothing can do
Can’t think big, can’t think past one or two
Brooks’s piece reminded me of my grandmother. She did not live a grandiose life. She rarely traveled outside her home state. She lived in a simple, yet elegant way: using every opportunity to beautify the world around her, to bless the people she loved. Work was important to her, and she worked hard. But she also was very involved in her church, a devoted mother and grandmother, a faithful friend. Her way of living was, as Brooks put it, that of a “small, happy life”—one filled with things like strawberry shortcake and Easter baskets in the spring, family grilling parties and homemade pickles in the summer, giant Christmas trees and hearty stews in the winter.
It’s worth reemphasizing the role that humility plays in giving us purpose: Brooks points out that it is those who live small, unrecognized lives with contentment who are often the most happy—while those who seek a grandiose and perfect sense of “purpose” end up unhappy and discontent. They may feel that all their efforts only amount to “not enough.”
Those who live a simple life, grateful for its blessings and significances, are liberated from that discontent. They don’t need great successes or accolades in order to feel accomplished: rather, the beliefs and relationships they hold dear bring them purpose.
The small life is often seen as unfulfilling. We worry we’ll get to the end of our lives and think, “All that ambition and dreaming wasted. All those opportunities not taken.” But really, what Brooks seems to indicate, is that there are few people who achieve positions of extreme passionate purpose and acclaim in the world. Rather, it’s those who find purpose in the sweet, small things that will be happiest in the end.
My first thought upon hearing about the arrests of FIFA officials was “What, only six?” But as I read some new posts and revisited old ones, I found myself feeling more skeptical about the moralizing zeal surrounding the whole thing. Eh, whatever will be, will be. Qatar 2022 was probably just a bit too blatant to be ignored, and nobody likes the nouveau riche anyway. The real takeaway is the escalating tensions with Russia. It amuses me to imagine trying to sell the Myrrhkin people on that: “We’re going to war over the fuckin’ World Cup?” If anything could cause this nation to suddenly discover its inner peacenik…