Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

The great Jane Austin read-through continues with her final published work, Persuasion, which hit the public in 1817 some six months after Austen’s death.

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of a minor baronet Sir Walter. Sir Walter is a widower who doesn’t care much for Anne at all, devoting most of his time and attention to his eldest daughter Elizabeth. But the handsome and vain Sir Walter, more concerned with appearances and being thought of as a member of high society, is also a bit of a spendthrift. In addition to shunting off his parenting duties to Lady Russell, his late wife’s friend and Anne’s godmother, he’s burned through the family fortune.

But Lady Russell has a solution: The Elliots should rent out their estate, Kellynch Hall and retire to more modest lodgings in Bath until their debt is paid off. Like Northanger Abbey, the city of Bath is one of Persuasion‘s main settings–in fact, the two books were originally published together. And like Northanger Abbey, and pretty much every single Jane Austen book, marriage is a central theme.

I understand it: in early 19th century England marriage was one of the few ways in which a young woman could improve her lot in life. Every single work of Austen’s is a variation on this theme. That said, she does such a good job with the characterizations and in setting up her problems and resolutions that these stories never get stale. Continue reading “Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen”

What Owns You

Hands in chains

Compulsion. We think it’s a disorder–OCD. Most of us, we say, are above it. We’re in control.

But really, that’s a delusion. So many things control out lives. And adding more irony is that we are keenly aware of it.

The device you’re probably reading this on: How many times a day do you check it? If you’re an average person, the answer is 80 times per day. Eighty! Who’s in control?

It’s no great revelation that the stuff we own ends up owning us. But it’s helpful to occasionally remind ourselves of this.

Tyler Durden Fight Club quote the things you own end up owning you
People knock Fight Club, but the book and movie resonate for a reason.

Lots of these things are vampires, leeching us of or time, money, and energy. Time, money, and energy that could be put to more productive use. It’s bad enough that we don’t really own much of the stuff we think we do . . . and then, this stuff turns around and owns us.

I know that I myself have several things that own me, physical good or otherwise. These keep me from doing what I really want to do and know that I should do: write, read, pray, work out, play music, think, and so on.

Bela Lugosi Count Dracula

A caveat: These things don’t interfere with family time. When I’m with my family, the screens are out of sight. That’s an iron clad rule, and it’s one that’s easy to follow, because my wife and I keep each other in check (this will be important later on), and quite frankly it’s embarrassing wasting so much time on this stuff. Continue reading “What Owns You”

Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days

The logo from the Marvel comics The Inhumans

What is it about tragedy that brings out the worst in people?

I know what you’re thinking: Tragedies can also bring out the best. We have seen how America has banded together in the wake of the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.

But then, there’s the recent Las Vegas shooting.

I’m not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say an incredibly evil man shot a bunch of people at a music festival, killing close to 60 and wounding hundreds of others before turning the gun on himself.

Once again, the reaction to this act of inhumanity is nearly as inhuman as the act itself.

No, you see, it wasn’t the killer who bears responsibility. It’s the NRA. It’s NRA members. It’s the Republican Party of the United States of America. It’s any lawmaker who didn’t vote to enact laws (that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway).  It’s anyone who supports the Second Amendment. It’s anybody who likes country music. It’s anybody who voted for Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump himself (for God’s sake, the man is living rent-free in 60,000,000 people’s heads. Why does anybody let a politician control their thoughts and emotions?!).

The impulse to immediately start casting blame at people who had nothing to do with an act of violence instead of blaming the actual perpetrator is terrifyingly inhuman and evil. 

It’s sick and it’s wrong and it explains so much of what is going on in this country.

This attitude explains why there seems to be no hope of communication, no hope of reconciliation. One group of people wants the other to actually die.

How do you overcome this? How do you get over hatred, which seems to be one of the easiest, most enjoyable emotion to succumb to?

For starters, you have to imagine the other person as a human being with a soul and inherent worth. This might take a hell of a lot of imagination, but it can be done. And once it’s done, you start to extrapolate what would happen if this person were to die:

  • Do they have wife? Children? A family?.
  • Do other people enjoy spending time with them? Are other people relying on them?
  • How would other people’s lives be impacted if this person were to die?
  • What about the important people in your life? How would they be affected if you died?
  • How would you feel if someone that you cared for were murdered merely for their beliefs or opinions?

Really, it’s no different than the old cliche of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are really basic, human questions to act. And yet humanity seems in such short supply. Continue reading “Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days”

The Dangers of Staying “Above It All”

Is there an “artistic temperament”? Do people of only certain political stripes go into the arts more than others?

Both Brian Niemeier and Rawle Nyanzi have discussed these recently, with Brian focusing more on the traditional Right’s refusal to fight as the Left fights, with Rawle concerned more with why conservatives don’t go into the arts despite lamenting that they have no influence in the arts.

Rawle believes that the temperament is informed by politics:

Art is not immediately useful; it neither grows your food nor supplies your energy. Except for a handful of megastars, art is low-paid. Most artists rely on either a job or on other people to support them in their endeavors; “don’t quit your day job” is a cliche for a reason, as is “starving artist.” It requires the mind to break with conventional modes of thinking and spend much time speculating on bizarre possibilities. Art requires one to focus on emotion.

This is as far from the conservative mindset as one can get.

Brian, for his part, is quite harsh in his assessment of conservatives’ unwillingness to fight:

. . .conservatives are cowards. They talk a good game about standing on principle, but the inescapable conclusion is that they don’t really believe what they’re saying. People who truly believe in and are informed by principles act on them.

I’m inclined to agree with Brian, but this refers especially to a certain type of conservative. The kind that’s probably a midwit at best but wants everybody to think they’re smart, so they parrot what the culture at large tells them is the right thing to think–a culture that is against everything they purport to stand for, mind–while offering some nominal opposition.

This is yet another reason why the “conservative/liberal” dichotomy is inaccurate and outdated, and the real distinction is globalist/nationalist. Great men and women of the past who’d be considered on the Right today fully understood the importance of emotion and rhetoric. Modern “conservatism” feels artificial and soulless in a lot of respects.

But let’s stick with the terms that we have.

Does this all mean that conservatives are at, as Rawle puts it, a psychological disadvantage when it comes to the arts?

I say no. Continue reading “The Dangers of Staying “Above It All””

Feature Their Hurt

There’s this song by Frank Zappa called “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin.” One line in it,

If Simmons was here, I could feature my hurt

refers to former member of Zappa’s band, Jeff Simmons–often the butt of Zappa’s jokes–who wanted to play more of his own material so he could “feature my hurt”; that is, bare his soul in the grand, Romantic tradition of artistes like Byron and Beethoven . . . at least, in Zappa’s terminology.

Not that there’s anything wrong with conveying emotion in art. That’s one of art’s core functions, after all. And although we see ugliness, inscrutability, and contempt for the audience as an intellectual shorthand for what makes art “art,” there is also a component of giving the audience what they want. And contra the sensitive types, there is no shame in this whatsoever. Most artists actually want to make a living, after all. Luckily for them, a lot of what the audience wants is for our artists and entertainers to feature their hurt so we can reflect on it, commiserate, and hopefully work through it.

Another apropos line of the Zappa song, itself a parody of teenage angst, is the end refrain:

I wanna be dead,

In bed please kill me

‘Cause that would thrill me

It might have just been a bit of Zappa-esque off-hand humor, a throwaway line that just sounded funny (Zappa reportedly hated writing lyrics), but it actually runs deeper than you think.

Look at the word “thrill.” That’s what we get when we can “bare our soul” and “feature our hurt.”

Because you see, it’s not really about other people. It’s about us. Continue reading “Feature Their Hurt”

Unique to Death

Check out this “Generic Millennial Ad” a friend of mine passed along:

Pretty funny, right? And accurate. “You’re so special . . . just like everybody else.”

Hold that thought for a moment.

Back to the ad: While I do think it’s a bit unfair to target Millennials as if they’re the first narcissistic generation in American history (I mean, you’ve heard of Boomers, right?), the ad, joke though it may be, raises some interesting questions about individuality.

I am generally to the right-of-center when it comes to things like the role of government in our daily lives. And much like the Founding Fathers who enshrined the primacy of the individual in the Bill of Rights, my belief, based on experience and observation, is that the government which governs best is that which governs least. Generally.

But we all grow up. We all change. And we all re-examine our beliefs. If you are not doing this, then you’re stagnation. What I thought was axiomatic at 20 doesn’t ring quite as true at 36.

Most of us generally go through phases in our thinking, from incoherence to ideological purity to a more pragmatic approach that discards that which does not work. Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman made more sense to me then than they do now.

Oh, I think Rand’s warnings against collectivism are as vital as ever. But to claim that all altruism, charity, and religion are soft, weak, and destructive struck me as incorrect and harmful then, and it does even more now.

And Friedman . . . I think we’ve seen where profit-over-all, society be damned has got us. If you still trust big business and think they’re always working for our best interests in an unfettered, purely voluntary free-market where competition reigns supreme, please pass me some of what you’re sipping on.

The point is, people change. So back to the ad.

Individualism is the best, according to American tradition. Go out on your own. Leave home. Make your fortune. Self-reliance.

I agree with this. Self-reliance is paradoxically one of the best things for a society, at least if you want it to be relatively free. Otherwise, we need a huge nanny state to provide for all of our needs, and who wants that?

About 65,000,000 people, actually.

Here’s the thing: Being unique, special individuals in charge of our own destinies with not a care for the world at large may have lead us into this quandary of depression, atomization, isolation, and eventual loss of moral confidence as a nation.

What are we, anyway? Continue reading “Unique to Death”

Beige Evil

Nobody sets out to be evil. And nobody thinks that they’re evil. But would we even recognize evil when we see it?

I’m not just talking cartoonish, Pennywise the dancing clown evil, but the more insidious kind that often comes wrapped in the mantle of goodness and virtue.

I’m no Hannah Arendt scholar, but she is the philosopher who coined the phrase “the banality of evil.” In interviewing the architects of the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews and other undesirables, she was shocked to discover that these people weren’t the garishly sinister figures she expected. Instead, they were ordinary, nondescript, and even kind of boring.

Weird, right? But then again, so few set out to be the villain. Other people use that term. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” might have been a stupid thing to say after 9/11, but it actually describes how people see themselves.

(Now, taken out of context and as a blanket generalization, ignoring questions of who or what is actually right and good, the statement is obnoxiously relativistic, but I digress.)

Evil seeks to come in two main varieties: cartoon evil and beige evil. The former is rare and easier to detect. The latter is, sadly, far more common.

Cartoon Evil is big, bold, and knows it’s causing–and reveling in–mayhem and bloodshed. Think ISIS. Of course, they think they’re doing Allah’s work or whatever, but they totally enjoy the killing and the torture and the rape. Hey, they’re just doing what their Prophet says, so why not have fun?!

The thing is, most functioning human beings recognize ISIS for the evil that they are. They’re an easy one. Both the Nazis and the various horrific communist regimes (Russia, China, Venezuela, Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba, and so on) are a bit trickier to classify because they cloaked themselves in a mantle of faux-sophistication and academic-sounding justification. But they’re still evil.

Beige Evil, on the other hand, is creepier. It worms its way into you to eat you from within. And Beige Evil is usually pushed on you from without. Comedian George Carlin commented that when fascism comes to America, it’ll be in “Nike sneakers and smiley shirts.” He was on to something. Continue reading “Beige Evil”