The white Christmas blues

The idea that ideas have consequences has had many unfortunate consequences. They were never the intended ones. Disciples are a pain. They understand little of what their master is saying, and go off on tangents. This is why schemes for brotherly love always end in fratricidal warfare. The means to the end become the contention; the end quickly fades from view. Reductionist “prophets,” such as Marx to the Marxists, contribute only by getting the main point wrong. Anything they happen to get right will be twisted.

Schemes to eliminate oppression by “class,” “race,” “sex,” or whatever, lie behind most of our violent convulsions — which continue until there is no blood left to be shed between contending parties. Then we get a tentative truce.

A friend forwards an item from UK. It seems the authorities at University College London, in the course of promising that the campus would stay open despite snow, mentioned some prospect of a “white Christmas.” As Rod Liddle reports:

“Oh, the furore. Oh, the anguish and outrage.”

He quotes one of the deranged undergraduates: “You know who else dreamt of a white campus? Adolf Hitler, that’s who! Disgusting!” Another demanded an immediate retraction and apology, accusing the college of purposefully overlooking the whole history of suffering and oppression. Et cetera.

“And what did UCL do? Oh, come on. You know what it did. The cringing apology. …”

I blame George Steiner. He was the white man who, half a century ago, wrote Language and Silence. It became the standard account of how the German language and culture had led to Auschwitz; about how men who could enjoy Shakespeare and Goethe, Bach and Mozart in their leisure hours, could murder millions without compunction in the course of their dayjobs. Moreover, language was inadequate to describe the horror of it all. In order not to acquiesce, we must all (except Steiner) remain perpetually silent.

My mildly satirical précis is meant to emphasize that the book was nonsense. The idea that the German language carried some special virus was later expanded by Edward Said to indict all Europeans, then the chargesheet was spread to all whites. The cultural “evolved” into the genetic — an exact parody of Nazism — and now we are all instructed to shut up and be punished in the “narrative” of payback. The rest of the Indo-Europeans are being diligently added to the target list, by the academic crackpots who have noticed that the Sanskrit classics are also “supremacist”; soon someone may notice the Chinese. And it is true: every literature of which we have record contains the bitter seed of fallen man. Only those who can claim a cultural history that is completely blank, have some chance at exemption.

Rather, why blame Steiner? I only dismiss him as a posturing self-promoter and unscholarly buffoon. The trahison des clercs is an old story; there have been men like him on campus for centuries. The reduction of the welter of events to a single dominant intellectual absurdity was, after all, the theme of the Reformation. (That is my current single dominant idea.) Beyond, it is the blame game of the ages.

It is to be regretted that when Language and Silence came out, the majority of critics were obsequious. Some grumbled that in the area of their own expertise, the book was silly, but assumed it was solid in other respects. So far as I know, only Anthony Burgess had the guts to suggest (respectfully, of course) that the whole thesis, from beginning to end, was unrelieved bullshit.

Even then, fifty years ago, we lacked a janitorial infrastructure of the educated and courageous; and the disciples followed as a great wall of muck.