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Friday, July 28, 2017

Do We Really Want Men to Be More Vulnerable?



In a piece last week for Vanity Fair with a title that perfectly captures the magazine’s signature tone of grandiosity and giddy celebrity-worship – “Jay-Z, Prince Harry, Brad Pitt, and the New Frontiers of Male Vulnerability” – Monica Lewinsky praises the trio of celebs as refreshing examples of men liberating themselves from the straightjacket of traditional masculinity and embracing an endearing vulnerability. But is that really the kind of masculinity we want?

“[T]hanks to public declarations from these three men,” Lewinsky says of Jay-Z, Harry, and Brad, “masculine stereotypes [have] given way to something different—something soulful, engaging, vulnerable, and even feminist. Hallelujah.” Yes, thank goodness we have celebrities to lead the way to new frontiers!

She begins by celebrating Prince Harry’s recent openness about his personal struggle with mental health after the death of his mother, Princess Diana. Harry confessed to being unprepared not only for the loss of his mother when he was a mere twelve, but for the burdens of royalty. It was an emotional transparency that was out of keeping with the stiff upper lip expected of a royal.

Moving on to “the mature cowboy” Brad Pitt, Lewinsky states approvingly that he has “evolved.” In a recent profile in GQ, Pitt discussed “looking at my weaknesses and failures and owning my side of the street.” He’s in touch with his feelings again, he says: “[Y]ou either deny them all of your life or you answer them and evolve.”


Why You Should Pursue Meaning, Not Happiness



A recent article in The Washington Post identified a rising “sea of despair” among the white working class and a surge in suicides from 1999 to 2015, when a record high of 600,000 Americans took their own lives. In a country as free and as prosperous as the United States of America, where the pursuit of happiness is enshrined as an unalienable right in the Declaration of Independence, why do so many of its citizens seem so increasingly, desperately unhappy?
That paradox is what drove Emily Esfahani Smith to write the important new book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters. Smith, with a master’s degree in positive psychology, is an editor at Stanford’s Hoover Institution where she manages the Ben Franklin Circles Project, the aim of which is to build community and purpose across the country. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The New Criterion, and more.
Smith points out that the boom in positive psychology since the late ‘80s has spawned an army of personal coaches, motivational speakers, and celebrities pushing the “gospel of happiness,” but the “happiness frenzy” has failed to deliver on its promise. “Indeed,” she writes, “social scientists have uncovered a sad irony – chasing happiness actually makes people unhappy.”

The Left’s Next Step: Redefining ‘Hate Speech’ as Violence



An article in the Sunday Review section of the July 16 New York Times posed a question which, once upon a more innocent time, would have been considered nonsensical: When Is Speech Violence? The response of any person who cares about the clarity of language would properly be “Never,” but Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, asserts in the Times piece that the science is settled: speech that bullies and torments” is “literally a form of violence.”
It might seem obvious, Barrett begins, that “violence is physically damaging; verbal statements aren’t.” Yes, that should be obvious to anyone except illiberals, who know that whoever controls the language controls minds. So they are hell-bent on weaponizing words to advance their totalitarian agenda.
The left has spent decades successfully normalizing the intentionally vague term “hate speech” in the culture, even going so far as to insist that it should not be protected by the First Amendment. But what is “hate speech”? It’s anything the left wants it to be, of course. When the media elites of CNN or HBO or The View or late night talk shows openly bash Christians or the traditional values of flyover Americans, it is never, ever condemned as hate speech; but those same elites leap to denounce virtually everything the right says as such. It is a brilliantly effective way to delegitimize conservatives and their ideas, and to exclude them from the public sphere.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Justice Roberts’ Commencement Address Stresses Humility and Gratitude



Commencement addresses typically urge graduates to look to the future, and contain bland, predictable nuggets of inspiration such as “reach for the stars,” “change the world,” and these days, “#Resist Trump!” But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. upended expectations when he delivered the commencement address for an elite boarding school last month; instead, he wished the graduates failures and setbacks, and emphasized a couple of virtues that have fallen out of style in American culture: humility and gratitude.
Roberts’ address at the Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, New Hampshire, for boys grades six through nine, didn’t attract much attention at the time, but it has been gaining traction since being uploaded to YouTube. Even The Washington Post, no ideological ally of the conservative Chief Justice, recently published an admiring article about the speech.
What many are finding noteworthy about the twelve-minute talk is that Roberts touched on neither politics nor the law in it, although each of the graduates did receive an autographed, pocket-size Constitution along with his certificate, according to the Post. “Instead,” wrote the newspaper, “the address was personal, understated and popular probably because it touched on universal themes, such as a parent’s worry about whether he or she is making the right decisions for their child.”
He began by inviting the students to rise from their seats and applaud the parents for their sacrifice. He painted a touching picture of those parents dropping off their young boys at the beginning of their time at the school and returning home on a “trail of tears” to an “emptier and lonelier house.” That image was all the more poignant because Roberts’ own son was among the graduates that day, and that personal element is what gives this speech its moving, bittersweet edge.

The Compassionate Left and the Coldhearted Right



Shortly after Ronald Reagan first moved into the White House in 1981, a single-panel cartoon appeared in The New Yorker depicting an older, wealthy, white couple strolling down a sidewalk past a homeless man begging for change. Referring to the beggar, the female half of the couple – stereotypically wrapped in a fur coat, dripping in jewels, and nose in the air – said to her equally haughty husband something like, “To hell with him. There’s a Republican in the White House now.” I’m probably butchering the punch line but it wasn’t any funnier in the original, and in any case it wasn’t intended so much to be funny as it was to reinforce the left’s bigoted perception of Republicans as rich, old, white, and most significantly, heartless.
I was reminded of this old cartoon by a rather pathetic recent Huffington Post essay called, “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People,” which embodied this common misperception of conservatives as unfeeling, greedy monsters who hate the poor, the sick, the underprivileged, the nonwhite.
The writer of the article – Kayla Chadwick, described as an Emmy Award-winning video editor in New York – began by expressing her exasperation over trying to explain to conservatives “why they should care about other people.” I am skeptical that she has ever actually had a conversation with a conservative about this except perhaps with strangers in the disputatious realm of social media, but she clearly assumes that she, like her fellow Progressives, is a normal, decent, compassionate human being; that the right is inhumanly and incomprehensibly cruel, almost a completely different species; and that struggling to thaw a conservative’s frozen heart is a lost cause.

Friday, July 7, 2017

False Black Power?



Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House was the culmination of the black struggle to attain the pinnacle of political power. But decades of that obsessive focus on black political advancement has not yielded the results that civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson promised. Even after eight years of Obama, racial gaps in income, employment, home ownership, academic achievement, and other measures still exist, and many civil rights leaders both new and old– including Jackson – explain that by pushing the self-serving narrative that blacks in America are still the victims of systemic racism, and that continuing to pursue political power is the answer.
Jason L. Riley, a Wall Street Journal columnist and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, disagrees. The thrust of his slim but significant new book, False Black Power?, is the politically incorrect conclusion that black “political clout is no substitute for self-development”:
The major barrier to black progress today is not racial discrimination and hasn’t been for decades. The challenge for blacks is to better position themselves to take advantage of existing opportunities, and that involves addressing the antisocial, self-defeating behaviors and habits and attitudes endemic to the black underclass.
Riley argues in False Black Power? that the left’s politically useful argument of white oppression serves only the interests of the people making it, not blacks themselves, and that “black history itself offers a compelling counternarrative that ideally would inform our post-Obama racial inequality debates.”
Mr. Riley, also the author of Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed, consented to answer some questions about the book via email.
Mark Tapson:         When America elected its first black president there was widespread hope that he would accomplish everything from healing our racial divide to slowing the rise of the oceans. What was the actual legacy for American blacks of eight years of Barack Obama?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Should Megyn Kelly Have Interviewed Alex Jones?



Sunday night NBC’s Megyn Kelly interviewed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on her new show. The event was the anti-climactic culmination of an almost Shakespearian degree of ambition, manipulation, betrayal, and drama starring two media egos using each other to advance their personal agendas. In the end, not only did Jones dodge Kelly’s questions, but larger questions remained unanswered as well: should Kelly and NBC have given a platform to the controversial Jones in the first place? Would it have been wiser to ignore him than to expose him? Did it serve the common good or just further poison the cultural atmosphere?
A little background about the career journeys of our main characters. Megyn Kelly, formerly a Fox News superstar, is now struggling to establish herself at NBC News as a Barbara Walters-level household name. She saw an interview with the bombastic Jones as an opportunity simultaneously to boost her ratings and to discredit an influential critic of the embattled mainstream media, of which she is a less-than-beloved member.
Meanwhile, the buzzsaw-voiced Jones built a widespread, loyal online following, largely on the strength of his exploitation of sick conspiracy theories. His influential InfoWars website (slogan: “There’s a war on for your mind!”) has pushed claims that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, the massacre of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook was a hoax, and a Washington D.C. pizza parlor was the center of a Democratic Party-linked child sex trafficking operation. On occasion he has been legally forced to retract, and apologize for, outrageous lies.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Left's Obsession With Obscenity



“The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing,” declared George Washington, “is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.” Theodore Roosevelt concurred: “Profanity is the parlance of the fool. Why curse when there is such a magnificent language with which to discourse?” The answer is that profanity is a useful substitute for discourse when one is losing a debate and needs to trump reason with passionate intensity in order to win. That is what is happening in the current degraded state of our national political conversation.
I’m not talking about the cursing that the average American citizen may do in private, which is common enough on both sides of the political fence. I’m not talking about a careless slip of the tongue during a radio interview, or being caught on an open mic letting loose with a profanity. I’m talking about an entire political party which gleefully embraces swearing in speeches and protests, on social media and clothing slogans, in news media and entertainment. I’m talking about public figures from entertainers to talk show hosts to politicians intentionally and unapologetically hurling obscenities.
It should come as no surprise that that political party is the Democratic Party, which is in the grip of the far left, and that those public figures are invariably so-called Progressives.
Needless to say, the following examples come with a maximum-level language alert.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Daniel Greenfield Delivers Brilliant Ariel Avrech Memorial Lecture

I was honored to attend this event over the weekend. Reconnected with my friend, screenwriter and novelist Robert J. Avrech (of the Seraphic Secret blog), met the insightful Bookworm Room and Joshua Pundit bloggers, and witnessed a powerful speech about fighting anti-Semitism and defending Israel from my always-brilliant friend and colleague Daniel Greenfield at the memorial which Mr. Avrech organizes each year in memory of his son Ariel.

The lecture will be posted at Seraphic Secret (link above) and on YouTube in about ten days. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Industriousness as a Form of Worship

I've been invited to contribute blog posts to a Hoover Institution initiative called the Ben Franklin Circles, the purpose of which is to promote the values of Franklin’s 13 virtues to foster civic participation and ethics-based leadership. This is my first contribution...

“Be always employed in something useful,” wrote young Benjamin Franklin, promoting the virtue of industry and discouraging the wasting of time. “Cut off all unnecessary actions.” Surely, though, he did not intend that we maintain a perpetual busy-ness just for its own sake. After all, as Thoreau pointed out, “It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”
Franklin undoubtedly meant that we should keep engaged in activities that make us productive members of society, that advance our prosperity and improve our character. Probably of less consideration in his era was the more contemporary notion that our work should also be personally meaningful – in other words, it should nourish our soul.
“Idleness is an enemy of the soul,” reads The Rule of St. Benedict for monastic living, written twelve hundred years before Franklin created his list of thirteen virtues. Though we usually think of the monastic life as contemplative and spiritual, St. Benedict believed that ora et labora – prayer and work – formed a partnership of labor that not only engaged, but united both body and spirit.