"Kids These Days," And Other Snipes

Billy Beck, the best blogger out there, brought Fred Hiat’s June 9 meditation on the "’Bush Lied’ story line" to my attention. Hiat argues or implies that

  1. The Rockefeller report, which has been taken by the "Bush Lied" partisans as clear-cut vindication of their claims, in fact shows that Bush did not lie, but rather based his pre-war claims on bad intelligence.
  2. "Bush Lied" partisans continue to make their claims apart from all evidence.
  3. There will inevitably be times when the president is called upon to make a judgement call based on imperfect intelligence.
  4. Once the president and his military advisors have judged that military action is necessary, it will be necessary to spin such imperfect intelligence until it appears to unambiguously demand a military response, in order to get the gun-shy American people behind the effort.
  5. The Bush administration may very well have spun the imperfect intelligence too hard in the lead-up to the Iraq war, but the "’Bush Lied’ story line" threatens to undermine the president’s future ability to spin intelligence to the American public.

Beck seems to have found point 2 above to be the most worthy of comment. He links to a commentary on the Hiat piece by a hand-wringing Catholic matron (Elizabeth Scalia) who sees bad omens in the pervasive Gen-Y perspectivism that is intimately familiar and obscenely comfortable with the partisans’ habit of making claims apart from all evidence.

Scalia’s take? Too much egoism in our young, combined with an infotainment diet saturated with satire and irony is leading to the Nazification of the U.S. (She doesn’t make her point quite this explicit.)

Since the U.S.A. is, in fact, a fascist police state, and since I myself have long had a habit of referring to Gen-Y as the "Hitler Youth," one might think I would find myself largely in agreement with Scalia.

Both Beck and she imply that all this perspectivism has something to do with the education American youth are not receiving.

One product of that "education" is Matthew Yglesias, a prominent leftist blogger and the very avatar of the Gen-Y public intellectual. Like a stopped watch, Yglesias has a small but regular chance of being right about something, and he hit the mark in his analysis of Hiatt:

No fair-minded person could possibly deny that the overall effect of the way the administration talked about Iraq was designed to get people to believe that there was a short-term threat that Saddam Hussein would transfer a nuclear weapon to al-Qaeda for use against the United States of America. It’s equally clear that this was not supported by the evidence.

What I find most interesting about this is that Yglesias, perspectivist extraordinaire, product of the corrupt education system (he’s a Harvard grad after all), is the one who gets Hiatt right, while the Scalia, ostensive champion of objectivity and critical thinking, tacitly endorses Hiatt’s cheerleader-for-the-state pablum, blaming those of Yglesias’s ilk for their inability, consequent of their corrupt educations, to grasp Hiatt’s reasoned arguments.

The problem is that the matron, Yglesias, and Hiatt are all perspectivists, just of different sorts. (Watch how the matron contorts her argument against perspectivism into an indictment of egoism. Why, one would almost think she were making claims apart from all evidence in order to suit her feelings about the world.) Reforming education to be more in line with her instincts, we must assume Scalia thinks, would result in a renaissance of critical thinking skills, and, consequently, of objectivity. This is false. If we suppose that Scalia herself is a product of the kind of education she prefers, her analysis of Hiatt should lead us to conclude that education of this sort is at least as useless as the mean mean.

I can predict with full confidence that, 20 years from now, if (as seems likely) American culture has become even more degenerate, if schools are even more harmful than they are now, young people of reason will be rising up in the same proportional numbers they are today, nauseous as the reasoned always are at their peers’ and elders’ entrenched insensibility.

The ability to reason at the level of abstraction requisite for objective political thought is exceedingly rare, and cannot be made less rare through cultural or educational reform. The feast of unreason that surrounds us is not the product of a decaying culture. It is nature taking its course.

It’s a question of sanctions. The fault lies not in our schools, but in ourselves.

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