Friday, February 12, 2016

Cam Newton and the Agony of Defeat

After an uncharacteristically lackluster showing in a loss to the Denver Broncos in last weekend’s Super Bowl, a morose Cam Newton, superstar quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, went all monosyllabic in a post-game press conference before abruptly walking out, leaving reporters hanging.

For this he was roundly criticized as a sore loser in the media, who do not like being snubbed. Even Andy Griffith, the moral voice of Mayberry, chimed in posthumously to give Cam some gentle advice about his behavior.

Newton’s attitude seemed especially inappropriate and childish considering that he is not an especially gracious winner, either. He has acquired a reputation for what one disgusted football fan called “arrogant struts and ‘in your face’ taunting.” His unrepentant ego is reminiscent, for those of us who have lived long enough to remember, of arrogant superstar Joe Namath of the New York Jets. Super Bowl winner Namath irked many with what at the time seemed unsportsmanlike behavior; now his cool self-confidence seems tame by comparison to today’s commonplace trash-talking and end-zone dance celebrations.
In any case, it’s certainly understandable that one wouldn’t be enthusiastic about fielding annoying questions about one’s poor performance mere minutes after an embarrassing loss in one of the most-watched events in television history. But rather than draw on that as an excuse and apologize, Newton disappointingly chose to double down on his attitude, declaring Tuesday that “I've been on record to say I'm a sore loser. Who likes to lose? You show me a good loser and I'm going to show you a loser.” He added that if he offended anyone, “that's cool.”
But it’s not cool. Newton is wrong. A good loser is not the same thing as someone who takes losing lightly. Newton’s passion for winning isn’t uniquely intense, though he may like to think it is; no athlete anywhere at the professional level is not a fierce competitor driven to win. Fellow quarterback Tom Brady also is guilty of being, as he once put it, a terrible loser. But that’s not an excuse. As Newton said, “Who likes to lose?” No one. Being a good loser is about handling the agony of defeat like an adult rather than like a petulant child.
Newton also defiantly stated that his job is “not a popularity contest. I'm here to win football games.” It’s worth reminding him that while he may be paid the big bucks to win those games, in one respect it is most definitely a popularity contest as well: Newton is a very public figure and a role model, and popularity is a significant part of that larger responsibility. No matter how talented you are, arrogance and petulance are not the mark of a good man. They are not admirable traits or the qualities of a leader. And as the quarterback, Newton is the team leader.
Some argue that sports stars shouldn’t be role models for our children. Yes, ideally our children should be looking up to, and emulating, the good men and women in their lives: parents, teachers, religious leaders, etc. But there’s no denying that actors and athletes are the prominent faces of our celebrity-driven culture. Their seductive influence is vast and largely unavoidable. Whether Cam Newton likes it or not, as a pro NFL quarterback he is the ambassador for the team, and as the league’s 2015 Most Valuable Player, he is an ambassador for the sport itself, and will be for years to come since he is likely destined to rack up endorsements and Super Bowl rings. He is a role model whether he chooses to be or not; the only choice remaining to him is whether he will be a good one or a bad one.
Interestingly, on Super Bowl Sunday Cam did demonstrate the sort of good role model he could be and should aspire to. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said that immediately after the game, “Cam could not have been nicer to me. He was extremely humble. He congratulated me, wished me the best.” Good for him. That’s the Cam Newton our culture and our youth desperately need.
As for the subsequent press conference walkout, Newton’s coach Ron Rivera defended his player’s childish post-game behavior, saying that “he is still growing and maturing as a man in this world.” Fair enough. Cam Newton is young and immature and an extraordinarily blessed athlete who doesn’t yet know how to bear that gift with humility. But if I may paraphrase lines from Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” Newton needs to learn to meet with victory and defeat, and treat those two impostors just the same. Then he’ll be a man.
From Acculturated, 2/11/14

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Devil’s Pleasure Palace

For years now, many conservative writers, myself included, have increasingly urged engagement in the culture war against the radical left. The truth is that we have already lost that war. Having decisively lost the major ministries of culture – the media, academia, and the entertainment world – the right is now in a position of having to regroup, restrategize, and wage guerrilla warfare in order to dismantle the left’s hegemony and retake the culture. How did we get here? To understand the philosophical underpinnings of the left’s victory, you cannot do better than Michael Walsh’s most recent book, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West.
Walsh is an American Book Award-winning novelist, journalist, music critic, and screenwriter. He also writes political commentary for, among others, National Review and the New York Post under both his own name and occasionally his alter ego David Kahane (Rules for Radical Conservatives: Beating the Left at its Own Game to Take Back America). Full disclosure: Walsh is a friend of mine.
In The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, Walsh brings his substantial erudition to bear on his best nonfiction work so far, a tour de force about how the “new nihilists” of the so-called Frankfurt School and their philosophy of “Critical Theory – like Pandora’s Box – released a horde of demons into the American psyche.” Disguised as a utopian dream, it– like Satan, a key figure in the book – instead sowed “destruction, division, hatred, and calumny.”
This is not a casual beach read. It’s not even your typical political polemic from the likes of Coulter, Malkin, or Levin, valuable as those are. Though this slim volume runs only just over 200 pages, Walsh’s wide-ranging intellect ropes together grand themes of good and evil, creation and destruction, capitalism and socialism. The book is about, in his words,

God, Satan, and the satanic in men; about myths and legends and the truths within them; about culture versus p0litics, about the difference between story and plot. It is about Milton versus Marx, the United States versus Germany, about redemptive truth versus Mephistophelian bands of illusion and the Devil’s jokes. It concerns itself with the interrelation of culture, religion, sex, and politics – in other words, something herein to offend nearly everybody.

As a former music critic, Walsh has chosen to explore these themes through the lens of art and culture. He delves deep into the world of opera, for example, with side excursions into, inter alia, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Goethe’s Faust, Wagner’s Ring cycle, Beowulf, Biblical myth, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, and Rousseau – “one of those liberals who love humanity but couldn’t stand people” – not to mention day trips to pop culture touchstones like The Godfather, Chinatown, Independence Day, and Last of the Mohicans.

“The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” of the title comes from the name of the teenage Franz Schubert’s first opera. Like that palace, the left’s utopian vision is a satanic illusion that has dragged us into Hell. “What the West has experienced since the end of the Second World War,” Walsh writes, “has been the erection of a modern Devil’s Pleasure Palace, a Potemkin village built on promises of ‘social justice’ and equality for all.” But then, “lying is at the centerpiece of both the satanic and the leftist projects.”

And like Satan, “destruction fascinates [the left]; they find satisfaction and even consummation in the tearing-down, not the building-up. Creation is a bore; annihilation is a joy.” They are obsessed with death, a “constant feature both of their philosophy and their political prescriptions, which include not only abortion but, increasingly, euthanasia. Wearing their customary mask of solicitous compassion, they can’t wait for you to die to steal your stuff.”

The work of the Marxist Frankfurt scholars – Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse (whose notion of “repressive tolerance” drives political correctness), and Wilhelm Reich – “was grounded in an ideology that demanded… an unremitting assault on Western values and institutions, including Christianity, the family, conventional sexual morality, nationalistic patriotism, and adherence in general to any institution or set of beliefs that blocked the path of revolution. Literally nothing was sacred.” As they saw it, “[t]he system had to go because it was blocking the Marxist arc of history, that rainbow that would end somewhere, somehow, in a pot of gold in a humble proletarian field.”

The Critical Theory they produced is “the very essence of Satanism: rebellion for the sake of rebellion against an established order that has obtained for eons, and with no greater promise for the future than destruction.” The “serpents” of the Frankfurt school, having learned their lesson from Milton’s Satan, subverted Heaven rather than foolishly attempt a frontal assault. They launched their attack with perfect timing – not when American was weak, but when it was strong, in the post-WWII era, because “when times are flush, people are more inclined to a little social experimentation, especially if it contains a basket of forbidden fruit.” Like an airborne virus, Walsh, says, the “poison of Critical Theory undermine[d] at every step the kind of muscular self-confidence that distinguished Western warriors and leaders through the end of World War II.”

If I have relied too heavily in this review on Michael Walsh’s own words, it is because they cannot be improved upon. The Devil’s Pleasure Palace is a challenging but unique and rewarding work powered by sustained flashes of brilliance. More importantly, it is a rallying cry for conservatives to re-engage in the critical cultural battle which Walsh correctly calls the defining issue of our time. Its outcome will determine whether we who see ourselves as the conservators of the Western legacy – “the primary engine of human moral, spiritual, social, scientific, and medical progress” – will “succumb to a relentless assault on its values” or whether we will rally and crush the left’s “double agents, operating behind the lines of Western civilization.”

The good news is that “the only weapon they have is our own weakness… it is their cowardice that will be their undoing.” Fear is what they sell, and so what conservatives must sell is heroism: “Were we once more to unleash our shared, innate notions of heroism upon the Unholy and Unheroic Left, we would crush them.” After all, “only one side fights to preserve instead of destroy, to honor instead of mock, to improve instead of tear down – to maintain the fence between civilization and barbarism.”

From Frontpage Mag, 2/7/15

Sunday, February 7, 2016

What Kind of Male Role Model Would a President Trump Be?

No one in the public eye is currently driving more media attention and polarized debate than presidential aspirant, reality TV star, and billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump. His arrogance inspires rabid admiration and visceral disgust in equal measure. Many are horrified by the prospect that, as President, the bullying Trump might prove to be a Putin-style authoritarian; many find that same cocky aggressiveness to be electrifyingly, refreshingly virile. This raises an interesting, overlooked question: as a man, what kind of a role model would a President Trump be for our sons?
In her recent City Journal article “Coarsener in Chief,” Heather MacDonald addresses that very question. She is not a fan; after condemning Trump as “the most gratuitously nasty public figure that this country has seen in living memory” and “the very definition of a bully,” she urges his conservative supporters to consider Trump’s “effect on civilized mores”:
Boys in particular need to be civilized. That task will be more difficult with Trump in the White House... Any parent trying to raise a boy to be respectful, courteous, and at least occasionally self-effacing will have a hard time doing so when our national leader is so reflexively impolite, just as it is harder to raise girls to be sexually prudent when they are surrounded by media role models promoting promiscuity. The culture has been coarsened enough already. It doesn’t need further degradation from a president.
Amid quite a few uncivil ad feminam responses from Trump supporters that followed MacDonald’s article were comments along these lines: “For seven years, my family and friends have been waiting for a big, strong man to take center stage and say, "This way, men!" — a man who can provide inspiring leadership for America.” And this one, which seemed to sum things up nicely:
I wish Ms. Mac Donald had avoided making this into an issue where nasty, loutish boys must be “civilized.” Frankly, one of the problems we have been facing for the last half-century is the feminization of society... Because the pendulum has swung so far in that direction, a loudmouth buffoon like Trump seems authentic to a surprising number of people.
Those commenters won’t get any argument from me about the feminization of America, a half-century process (since the beginning of second wave feminism) which has left too many young American men in a state of confusion and helplessness about the definition and proper ideals of manhood. Nor would I deny that America is sorely in need of an inspirational leader in the White House who exudes strength and confidence and can restore American superpower. But are they correct that our current state of affairs makes a “loudmouth buffoon like Trump” seem authentically masculine? Is boorishness the mark of a leader of men? While I don’t think Trump’s quiet competition for the presidency, Dr. Ben Carson, is presidential material, is he any less manly because he doesn’t resort to bullying or trumpeting (pun intended) his impressive achievements?
Manliness is many things, and a fair subject for debate, but at its core, the basic ideals of manliness are simple: it is confidence, not loudmouthed cockiness. It is humility – not weakness, but humility – and service, not egotism and self-aggrandizement. It is chivalry, not bullying. It is leadership, not demagoguery. It is maturity and wisdom, not pettiness. Navy SEALs, whom no one would argue are feminized or unmanly or pushovers, are the epitome of such masculine characteristics.
These qualities today, along with manners and gentlemanliness, are too often considered old-fashioned and passé, and they are confused with weakness. Pop culture today, from the concert arena to the sports arena, sadly celebrates the brash, the egotistical, and the self-promoting, while the strong but quietly humble get overlooked. That doesn’t make the former manlier. Arrogance does not equate to masculine strength. If anything, arrogance proves to be nothing more substantial than bluster when the chips are down.
Heather MacDonald is correct that boys need to be civilized as they are raised (although these days girls, who are surrounded by all the wrong kinds of feminist role models, seem to need a strong civilizing influence themselves). But while our culture currently strives to sand down the rough edges of boys too far, there is a difference between civilizing boys and feminizing them. Too many of the commenters beneath MacDonald’s article, who seem eager to have a crass American Putin in the Oval Office, don’t seem to understand that, and that is an alarming commentary on our cultural confusion about manhood.
From Acculturated, 2/5/16

Friday, February 5, 2016

Creeping Totalitarianism at Harvard

In 1987, Allan Bloom’s bestselling book The Closing of the American Mind described how higher education was failing our students and “impoverishing their souls.” Bloom doubted that our colleges and universities could ever reestablish the ideal of a classically liberal education. Sadly, even as academically esteemed an institution as Harvard seems to be proving his skepticism right.
In a recent interview with political pundit William Kristol, former Harvard President Lawrence Summers complained that a “creeping totalitarianism” is casting a pall over our institutions of higher learning, Harvard included. As administrators and students obsess over safe spaces and microaggressions, educational excellence is being degraded by a “growing preference for emotional comfort over academic inquiry.” Schools are coddling a generation of militantly sensitive students while promoting a politically correct orthodoxy that stifles intellectual freedom.
In one example Summers mentions, “Holiday Placemats for Social Justice” appeared in a Harvard undergraduate dining hall last December. Created by the College’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the placemats promoted social justice talking points for students to share with loved ones over the holidays, no doubt making for many an awkward Christmas dinner. The talking points included such messages as “Racial justice includes welcoming Syrian refugees.”
The placemats outraged alumni. Eighteen representatives complained in a letter that “We do not think the offices of the university should be in the business of disseminating ‘approved’ positions on complex and divisive political issues.” University President Drew Faust weighed in as well, calling the placemats “a really bad idea”:
“I don’t think the University should be directing people—students, staff, faculty—what to say or what to think. The University is a place that ought to foster robust discussion and disagreement, and welcome all perspectives, and that did not seem to be consistent with the message of the placemats.”
Exactly. The administrators responsible for the placemats issued an apology, but the PC push continues at Harvard on other fronts because, as Summers complained, some administrators have been “emboldened” to see this as “their moment to establish a kind of orthodoxy.”  
One of those who is seizing that moment is Rakesh Khurana. Harvard’s undergraduate dean since 2014, Khurana seems determined to implement a social justice agenda. He brought an end, for example, to the decades-old title of “house master” – for a male faculty member who oversees a dormitory – over the perception that the term resonates of slavery (will “master of arts” be targeted next?). Khurana wrote that the change was made “to ensure that the college’s rhetoric, expectations, and practices around our historically unique roles reflects [sic] and serves [sic] the 21st century needs of residential student life.”
But Khurana seems to be determining for himself what those needs are allowed to be. Now he is angering alumni by pressuring – some say coercing – the school’s all-male “final clubs” to accept women. Final clubs are off-campus undergraduate social clubs that sprang up after Harvard banned traditional fraternities in the 1850s. They have no formal relationship with the school, but Khurana contends that they are exclusive, elitist, and not “appropriate” for the university. He has asked such groups to consider whether their values “align” with the school’s mission.
And what is that mission? According to its website, it is “to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society.” It seems more likely that Khurana’s issue with the clubs is not that they fail to align with this mission, but that – as an all-male tradition – they are an impediment to social justice.
“The role of single-sex groups on campus should be decided by students, not administrators,” said one alumnus. “Harvard should stand for intellectual freedom and open debate and should set a clear precedent of protecting minority viewpoints — especially those viewpoints with which the current administration disagrees.”
But at least two of the eight all-male clubs at Harvard have already bowed to Khurana’s reported “veiled threat” of expulsion and decided to accept women. No word on whether he will go after the five all-female final clubs.
Bartle Bull, a 1964 Harvard graduate and self-described liberal, said that the administration is “working against diversity, tolerance, and the freedom of association.” “Harvard as an institution has been more and more controlling in the name of liberalism,” said Bull. Another alumnus wondered, “What kind of values are they trying to impose on students?”
The answer is that schools now are passionately committed to tolerance and diversity in every way except intellectually. Political correctness enforces identity politics but is intolerant of debate, dissent, alternative viewpoints, and criticism. The Harvard College “About” web page boasts that the school encourages “intellectual risk-taking.” But the creeping social justice totalitarianism Lawrence Summers laments suppresses any intellectual growth at all, much less risk-taking.
Nearly 30 years after Allan Bloom’s book, our colleges and universities are no closer to reopening the American mind.
From Acculturated, 2/3/16