The left and right hemiblogospheres are presently linked – if at all – by a corpus callosum of profound mutual contempt. Countless linky axons of aggravation transmit negative affect side to side. I won’t bother demonstrating this obvious fact with links, though I discuss it a bit here.
And so, in the interest of entente – or at least to preclude the need for split-brain surgery to prevent the equivalent of a interwebs-wide grand mal epileptic seizure, as the storm moves left to right and back – I propose … a contest! Awards! For outstanding and meritorious achievements in the field of contempt. I think we will call these awards … The Contumelys! (I imagine sort of a golden turd-looking thing on the head of an human figure, on a pedestal.) I haven’t really worked out all the details because I haven’t worked out any of them. There must be awards for Left and Right. And I think, though I can’t imagine how I could enforce this, that lefties should nominate righties and vice versa. I’m certainly not prepared to be judge, jury nor executioner. Except for executioner. I’m more than prepared to delete comments to this thread mercilessly. Because mostly your contempt isn’t worth much to me. Unless you find some way to profit yourself, or others, by it.
UPDATE: Apparently there are problems with comments not showing, even after waiting, even after multiple attempts to post. Sorry about that. What can I say? Be aware there’s a problem and try again later. Maybe it’s temporary. Kieran?
As Nietzsche writes [I’ve changed one term to suit the age]:
The fool interrupts. – The writer of this blog post is no misanthrope; today one pays too dearly for hatred of man. If one would hate the way man was hated formerly, Timonically, wholly, without exception, with a full heart, with the whole love of hatred, then one would have to renounce contempt. And how much fine joy, how much patience, how much graciousness even do we owe precisely to our contempt! Moreover, it makes us the "elect of God": refined contempt is our taste and privilege, our art, our virtue perhaps, as we are the most modern of moderns. (Gay Science, §379)
(Don’t worry, right-wingers, you won’t get gay science cooties, let alone gay science married, if you read that all the way through before noticing where it was from.)
Why is there no verb, ‘to x something’, meaning ‘to have and exhibit contempt for something’?
But why draw attention to this semantic space, however vast and central to our emotional lives? Why dig down for bitter roots, which sprout as hardy volunteers soon enough?
Not to raise a crop of Timons, gentle reader. Rather, it seems to me we should not (as the servant puts it) ‘walk, like contempt, alone’. For one thing, if fifty truly exemplary specimens from both sides could be exhibited for all to judge, at least one line of complaint would be reduced to shamed silence: aggrieved noise to the effect that it is down to the terrible, awful, unprovoked incivility and hostility of the other side.
What I am looking for, you see, are the artistic, witty, insightful, thoughtful, well-turned, educational expressions of contempt. The contempt should be, at least in part, reality-based. Elegant and brainy if you please. The sort of thing that might raise a grudging smile if you were behind a veil of ignorance, watching the mud wrestling yet unable to tell which westler – is you. In short, we seek the better angels of our contemptuous natures. (Nothing from Adam Yoshida, obviously. Or those slack-jawed morons Kieran quotes below. Please stay well within the bounds of human decency.) A few gem-like paragraphs maximum, perhaps with a link to the original. I’m hoping that the effect of concentrated, high quality volleys, back and forth, will produce a higher – hence deflating – sense of the absurdity of the emotional exercise.
Hence, contemptuous catharsis.
Probably I’ll just provoke a vicious undignified mess. In which case I’ll close the thread and pretend it never happened.
But I hope I don’t have to, for I hope no one will have to write of me, as Melville did of Ahab (chapter 34):
He blogged in the world, as the last of the Grisly Bears lived in settled
Missouri. And as when Spring and Summer had departed, that wild Logan
of the woods, burying himself in the hollow of a tree, lived out the
winter there, sucking his own paws; so, in his inclement, howling old
age, Holbo’s soul, shut up in the caved trunk of his body, there fed
upon the sullen paws of its gloom!
I confess a partisan agenda as well, before I declare the games open. Russell Arben Fox has an interesting post up about the hazards of left condescension to religious folk. Namely, it ticks them off, causing them to vote Republican, doing nobody any good. "The left doesn’t have to flirt with theocracy … it just needs to show some respect." I think there is something right about this analysis. But there is also something wrong with it. Anyway, I find myself semi-agreeing with Jim Henley, on the other side. (Oh, I see Kieran got there first. Well I won’t make a link. Just scroll down, you lazy bastards.) Henley rather strongly maintains this ‘moral values’ dog don’t hunt. To think so is "naive and even condescending." Damn. This is bad, if true, because then Democrats are condescending if they do, condescending if they don’t. But how can that possibly be right? Pardon, but it is false that there is anything inherently condescending about being a Democrat. Quite the contrary. We’ll get back to that. Henley writes:
Conservative, values-minded Christians aren’t looking for validation.
They’re looking for specific policy outcomes that their strongly-held
beliefs entail – among them, the prohibition of abortion and the
marginalization and if possible elimination of homosexuality. They are
not empty urns waiting to be filled with liberal policies dissolved in
honeyed words about faith.
Mmmm, liberal policies dissolved in honeyed words. Oh, wait, just me sucking my paws, dreaming of spring. This brings me back to my initial skeptical reaction to Russell’s post.
It seems to me there is an assymetry between left and right in terms of sensitivities and respect, the latter being a two-way street in any well-designed status traffic system. The simplest way to see the assymetry is to turn Russell’s formula around and offer it as advice for the right (imagining that the percentages had been just a little different.) You don’t have to flirt with gays, just show them some respect. But, of course, this isn’t a proposal of a diplomatic means to an end, as Russell’s proposal is for lefties, who have nothing against religion. (Or if they do, that has nothing to do with being a lefty.) For the right offering simple respect is abject surrender, since the whole point is NOT to show respect.
1) Bainbridge is sensitive to, and upset by, perceived liberal airs of superiority, leading to disrespect for his Middle American, conservative, religious dignity, sensibilities, values and virtues. (So he indulges in what I have come to call ‘the narcissism of small diffidences’. His antennae are exquisitely attuned to sleights. Or maybe he’s just ticked off this week, a real sore winner. I can’t honestly say.)
2) Bainbridge feels no compunction about disrespecting liberals – lobbing insult for insult at Eric Alterman, which is fair enough. But beyond that, he not only exhibits airs of moral superiority himself (who doesn’t think their own morality is superior? You would change it otherwise.) He actually assumes his own moral superiority over liberals as a premise in his argument to the conclusion that the conservative majority should legislate to reflect "their morals and values" because these are the true moral values.
As Randy Barnett notes, in a post Bainbridge singles out for criticism: "Assuming morality is an objective matter, majority opinion does not make something immoral." Not without the additional premise that this majority – conservatives – is inherently and certainly morally superior to this minority – liberals (and libertarians).
Again, everyone is a little elite of one, in that we all assume our own morality is superior (in some sense). But we don’t all go and insert a claim to personal, inherent moral superiority as a premise in our arguments. From the fact that I am better, what I say must be true? If some liberal argues like that, you can ask him to cut it out. For Bainbridge, this argument form is indispensable.
In short, dammit, its conservatives who can’t help be condescending. Bainbridge rails against elitism, but it is his position that is not just elitist but inherently elitist. He rails against revolting elites, while participating in a revolt of the elites. At least Russell Kirk – whom Bainbridge quotes as a cudgel against libertarians – is unapologetic on behalf of the elitism he shaires with Bainbridge. "Civilized society requires orders and classes," etc. Well, there you go.
Back to the Contumelys. I have this naive notion that despair at the spectacle of absolute ludicrous quantities of mutual contempt on all sides breeds tolerance and mutual respect – due to laughter at the absurdity of it, or weariness at the endlessness of it. Like in Doctor Marvin Monroe’s Family Therapy Center.
And tolerance is good. It erodes the bad, causing Democrats to win in the long run. As Burke writes, "nothing aggravates tyranny so much as contumely." Lets purge it clean out of our systems.
So what were the clever, wise, insightfully contemptuous things both sides said about the other, all electoral season long?
I’m really trying to be even-handed here. It’s been a bad week.