Terry Eagleton: Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate
Listening to a Book Vs. Reading It

The First Resort of the Scoundrel

I've been going through scattered notes that exist as loose scraps of paper, disconnected sentences and paragraphs and whole pages in at least half a dozen notebooks, and text files on my computer, trying to get rid of the junk and put anything worth keeping in some place where I can find it again. The blog seems as good a place as any, better than most in fact, since I can search it.

I have occasionally thought about writing an essay on the whole topic of race and racism, and I think these two paragraphs were notes toward that. 


From the point of view of the character assassin the charge of racism is a wonderful thing. No evidence is required, much less proof. All that's needed is that the charge be repeated by enough of the right people.

It is a crime without degree--as if the law were to hold that to express dislike of a person's manners is the same as murdering him. The charge can be brought on some trivial basis, but the accused is guilty of everything. If the label sticks, you are morally indistinguishable from slave owners and segregationists.


Everybody knows the famous remark, which I think originated with Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." That was more true decades ago than it is now, as patriotism is a highly "problematic" thing among the enlightened of our time. More to the point now, demonstrated every day, is that the charge of racism has become the first resort of many scoundrels, many of them in high places--and their last resort as well. 

I abandoned the idea of that essay, by the way. It would be a lot of unpleasant work and in the end useless. There's no point in addressing madness with reason--or at any rate I no longer have the heart for it.



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"There's no point in addressing madness with reason."

Both extreme Trumpism and extreme Wokism are irrational. I've found it fruitless to debate with people of either mindset.

Good piece on race and racial issues:


Remember the line that occurred in too many old movies? "It's quiet out there. Too quiet."

I feel a bit that way about the current political-cultural scene. It's not really very quiet, but it's not as shriekingly hysterical as it was when Trump was in office. A lot of people seem to feel that we're sort of back to sort of normal, which is an impression you might get from the big media. But the craziness is revved way up on both sides.

Finally read that FPR piece. It's good. "Racism is a matter of attitude, a deliberate choice..." That isn't really a definition of racism, but it's an important component of one. I think it has, to be meaningful, to include those elements. I had a conversation recently with someone who accused herself of racism, in my opinion unfairly, because of something she had said which seemed to me no more than a lapse of manners, a conversational faux pas, though it did involve race. That touches the point I was making in this post: for "racism" to be a useful word it can't include everything from minor and unintentional slights to the KKK.

I think about the fact that I have slave-owning ancestors a lot, but I don't really think of that as "coming to terms" with it. What would that mean? It's just a fact that I can't do anything about.

Racism to me appears to be something like lust or greed, in the sense that the thought/temptation may arise unbidden, but once realized, can be squelched. The temptation is not the sin, in other words. It's like that old joke about the Irishman in confession who admitted to adulterous thoughts. The priest replies, "It's no sin to be tempted with adulterous thoughts, my son. The question is, did you entertain them?" The fellow was quiet for a bit, then said, "Well, father, I'd have to say it was more like they entertained me."

~~I think about the fact that I have slave-owning ancestors a lot, but I don't really think of that as "coming to terms" with it. What would that mean? It's just a fact that I can't do anything about.~~

I wonder about that too. Perhaps with Clavier it has to do with the fact that his discovery was related to having both black ancestors and slave-holding ones. In Wendell Berry's case it was the fact that his family was a farming family, and that he had an adult friend in his childhood, a farmhand who was a descendent of slaves.

I guess I don't know exactly what "coming to terms" means. Accepting and as far as possible understanding? In that sense, I've come to terms with it. The term always suggests to me some sort or degree of resolution which isn't possible.

Racism is a toxic development of a couple (at least) of normal instincts: generalizing and thinking of people outside your group (whatever the group may be) as at best lesser and possibly or probably dangerous. I think it's the case that the names by which Westerner explorers and conquerors learned to call the various tribes they encountered often turned out to mean, more or less, "the people." "Who are you?" "We are the people." So whatever means "people" in their language becomes their name.

There's a huge amount of ethnic humor that derives from those two instincts or tendencies. Up to a point it's harmless and often contains a certain amount of truth. I'm sure y'all have heard that joke about heaven being where the Germans do X (thing that requires order) and Italians do Y (thing that requires passion), and hell being the opposite. I think there are usually at least four nationalities involved in it.

"Accepting and as far as possible understanding? In that sense, I've come to terms with it."

That seems right to me. I have a situation like this in my own family. Without going into details, I have "come to terms" with it better than some other members of the family, who still seem to wrestle with it even though it happened decades ago and the last personally-involved person died in 2004.

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