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Learning From ‘Bad’ Books & People

I’m still catching a lot of blowback for having linked [1] to an American Thinker column the other day by a former Peace Corps worker who said her time in Africa in the 1970s made her not want people with those cultural values as immigrants here. I quoted her, then asked readers:

It is a harsh column. Is McQuillan’s description of Senegalese life true? How generalizable is it to other impoverished countries? What she’s saying is that Senegalese culture is incompatible with Western culture at best, and radically deficient at worst.

I have never been to a country like that. I would like to hear from readers who have, and get their reaction to McQuillan’s column. I realized that my first heated reaction to Trump’s words — which I still consider to be at best crude and undiplomatic — was based on the sense I had that he was dehumanizing the people who live in poor countries. I still believe there is some of that in what Trump said.

I have no trouble saying that not all cultures in the world are equally healthy, equally good. “Different” doesn’t equal “bad,” but some places really are bad because the culture there is bad. Take the people out and put them in a different culture, and you should be able to expect different results over time. But not always.

Again, I would very much like to hear from people who have spent real time in countries like this, and get their opinions, no matter what they are. Whichever side you come down on, spare us the high-pitched moralizing, please. Let’s have a real discussion.

This was an invitation to people who have had experiences in Third World countries to share their experiences. Did they validate McQuillan’s experience? Did they contradict hers? What lessons can we learn from them with respect to the questions we’re dealing with on immigration policy?

I still think these are important questions to be asking. I know what the people who have lots of theory in their heads think, both Left and Right. I want to know what people who have lived and do live with this stuff think, based on their own experience.

It is depressing that so many smart people cannot or will not recognize that we are capable of learning things even from people we regard as bad, or deeply flawed. That nut Sarah Jones held my reading of the racist French novel The Camp of the Saints against me, as a sign that I’m a racist. In truth, I said from the get-go that the novel is undeniably racist, and that made it hard to read. But there were, and are, also some important truths to be minded out of the narrative, especially when it comes to the way progressive ideology in the European establishment institutions (state, church, media, academia) disarms people in the face of a hostile and alien culture.

More recently, I’ve become interested in the novels of the contemporary French author Michel Houellebecq. He is a dystopian whose novels are at times hard to read because the material is semi-pornographic and somewhat misogynistic. But Houellebecq is writing about some very deep themes — one literary scholar I read said Houllebecq is the only major European novelist today wrestling with the results of the death of God — and if you avoided him because his fiction and his views are distasteful at times, and even immoral, you would miss out on some important information.

I want to put a question to the room. Can you think of a book, film, or work of art that is seriously flawed from a moral point of view, and/or whose author is similarly compromised, that is nevertheless important to read because of the insights and wisdom to be gained from it?

Aside from the two I’ve mentioned, I also want to mention the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb. Back in 2003, I read this long piece in the NYT Magazine by Paul Berman [2], arguing that Qutb, who was hanged by Nasser in the 1960s, was indeed a fanatic, but that it is a big mistake to underestimate him. Berman wrote:

Qutb is not shallow. Qutb is deep. ”In the Shade of the Qur’an” is, in its fashion, a masterwork. Al Qaeda and its sister organizations are not merely popular, wealthy, global, well connected and institutionally sophisticated. These groups stand on a set of ideas too, and some of those ideas may be pathological, which is an old story in modern politics; yet even so, the ideas are powerful. We should have known that, of course. But we should have known many things.

Berman breaks down Qutb’s analysis of the crisis of the world, and of contemporary Islam. Excerpt:

The Muslim discoveries were exported instead into Christian Europe. And there, in Europe in the 16th century, Islam’s scientific method began to generate results, and modern science emerged. But Christianity, with its insistence on putting the physical world and the spiritual world in different corners, could not cope with scientific progress. And so Christianity’s inability to acknowledge or respect the physical quality of daily life spread into the realm of culture and shaped society’s attitude toward science.

As Qutb saw it, Europeans, under Christianity’s influence, began to picture God on one side and science on the other. Religion over here; intellectual inquiry over there. On one side, the natural human yearning for God and for a divinely ordered life; on the other side, the natural human desire for knowledge of the physical universe. The church against science; the scientists against the church. Everything that Islam knew to be one, the Christian Church divided into two. And, under these terrible pressures, the European mind split finally asunder. The break became total. Christianity, over here; atheism, over there. It was the fateful divorce between the sacred and the secular.

Europe’s scientific and technical achievements allowed the Europeans to dominate the world. And the Europeans inflicted their ”hideous schizophrenia” on peoples and cultures in every corner of the globe. That was the origin of modern misery — the anxiety in contemporary society, the sense of drift, the purposelessness, the craving for false pleasures. The crisis of modern life was felt by every thinking person in the Christian West. But then again, Europe’s leadership of mankind inflicted that crisis on every thinking person in the Muslim world as well. Here Qutb was on to something original. The Christians of the West underwent the crisis of modern life as a consequence, he thought, of their own theological tradition — a result of nearly 2,000 years of ecclesiastical error. But in Qutb’s account, the Muslims had to undergo that same experience because it had been imposed on them by Christians from abroad, which could only make the experience doubly painful — an alienation that was also a humiliation.

That was Qutb’s analysis. In writing about modern life, he put his finger on something that every thinking person can recognize, if only vaguely — the feeling that human nature and modern life are somehow at odds. But Qutb evoked this feeling in a specifically Muslim fashion. It is easy to imagine that, in expounding on these themes back in the 1950’s and 60’s, Qutb had already identified the kind of personal agony that Mohamed Atta and the suicide warriors of Sept. 11 must have experienced in our own time. It was the agony of inhabiting a modern world of liberal ideas and achievements while feeling that true life exists somewhere else. It was the agony of walking down a modern sidewalk while dreaming of a different universe altogether, located in the Koranic past — the agony of being pulled this way and that. The present, the past. The secular, the sacred. The freely chosen, the religiously mandated — a life of confusion unto madness brought on, Qutb ventured, by Christian error.

Read Berman’s piece in its entirety.  [2]

It compelled me to do some reading in Qutb. That man was a total fanatic — but he was onto something. If we are going to fight his ideas, and those inspired by him, we need to know why those ideas inspire. Previously, I thought Islamic fundamentalism was mindless, robotic hatred. It’s not. I got this from reading a bad book by Sayyid Qutb.

So, open forum: tell us about a “bad” book, or even a “bad” author or artist — I’m speaking of bad in the moral sense, not the aesthetic sense — from whom you learned something important, and who you would recommend to others, with a caution.

UPDATE: Please explain what you believe there is to be learned from this book or that author. Talk about what you learned.

127 Comments (Open | Close)

127 Comments To "Learning From ‘Bad’ Books & People"

#1 Comment By Aloevera On January 27, 2018 @ 4:42 pm

It is often said of the Abrahamic religions that Christianity is differentiated from the other two, Judaism and Islam, in that Christianity is a religion of “love” while Judaism and Islam are religious of “law”. That formulation is a bit of an over-simplification but there is much to this—particularly with regard to not the kind of civilizations spawned by the respective idea systems of Christianity (The West) and Islam.

A fundamental difference between Western (Christian) Civilization and Islamic Civilization is located in the nature of the relationship of the individual to society, and of the individual to the state (or to the “polity”, which is a more general term to use than “state”, as there are many scholars who claim that Islam never generated a “state” in the Western sense of the word). In the West—going very far back through the medieval era and even into Western antiquity, the individual was a unit of society—responsible and culpable unto itself—and (eventually) by the time of Locke, the individual was understood to have an internal property of selfhood: inalienable *individual* rights and individual freedom. There were some pockets in Christendom where collective identity prevailed and culpability was collective—as in villages along the northern Mediterranean—but for the most part, the individual was the basic unit of Western society and thus, the basic unit before the state. Further—while the Western states could certainly punish wrong-doers—which they did quite viciously before the advent of humanism—it was often up to the individual to maintain their own moral policing in private. See, for example, among many works on the history of Western individualism and individual rights, Phillip Cary’s book: Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist (2003), Oxford University Press. From the blurb of that book: “Phillip Cary argues that Augustine invented the concept of the self as a private inner space-a space into which one can enter and in which one can find God. Although it has often been suggested that Augustine in some way inaugurated the Western tradition of inwardness, this is the first study to pinpoint what was new about Augustine’s philosophy of inwardness and situate it within a narrative of his intellectual development and his relationship to the Platonist tradition.”

Of course, in actual practice—in different times and locations within the West—this individual-centered ideal was not always realized. There was plenty of conformity, formal or informal in the Western world. But ideally, Christianity (and by extension, the Western world) talked about—and concerned itself with—the *individual*, while Islam was concerned with the *organization of society*, in which the individual was subordinate and had to conform to the way that Islamically-guided society demanded. To this end, Islam was (like Judaism, but unlike Christianity) tremendously *nomocentric* (=law centered) and *orthopraxic* (=right action privileged over right belief). There are a massive amount of laws in both Islam and what I will call “raw Judaism” to cover almost every mundane action of life, all of which have to be practiced “correctly” so that society will be “correct”. The only reason that Judaism seems more flexible than Islam is that for centuries, Jews did not control their own polity and therefore could not impose “raw Judaism” on Jews (which certain religious Jews are trying to effect in Israel today). Meanwhile, starting in the modern era, a fair number of Jews took on more Liberal ways of life—influenced by the Liberalism of the West which itself was an indirect product of Christian-based individualism. Many Jews forged either (more relaxed forms of) non-Orthodox Judaism or they became entirely irreligious and just affiliated with Jewishness in a manner akin to ethnic, not religious affiliation. Some Muslims try to do the same and adhere to a kind of “cultural Islam”, but they have to battle the very Islamic world’s very formidable ideas and institutions regarding the societal/polity control over the individual.

It was what Qutb viewed as the West’s rampant individualism and the negative manifestations of this rampant individualism which bothered him. In Qutb’s view, the Western individual was not immersed in the protective (and paternalistic) cocoon of the The Law—and so was “too free”—and thus the Western individual was open to all sorts of dissipation and mental distress. The more negative manifestations of individualism were never known to internal Western critics—such as certain “Romanticist-based philosophers like Erich Fromm (“Escape from Freedom”), or the Communitarian philosophers (Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel), or various contemporary Catholic theorists who decry individual “atomism”. However—it is important to note that any antidotes to the more negative features of individualism do not have to be found via conversion to Islam, which can only offer a very suffocating cocoon—too suffocating for the expression of the more positive manifestations of individualism which most people in the West still want. Internal Western thinking and practice is capable of finding balances between the more negative features of individualism and the more positive, flexible and tolerant features of individualism which have allowed so many desirable developments—like individual human rights and the separation of Church and state—which many people from the Islamic world come to the West to enjoy and partake of.

Qutb could not recognize that what is needed—or, at least, what we want in the West–is some sort of balance between individual needs and freedom with community. . All Qutb could see was harsh black vs white–and The Law.

#2 Comment By KS On January 27, 2018 @ 4:51 pm

Easy. For this site:

Karl marxs communist manifesto. Who hear is brave enough to admit that Trumps message(whether he means it or not) of protecting workers from the ravages of capital movement would have received rapturous welcome in a late 19th century early 20th century marxist rally?

#3 Comment By Aloevera On January 27, 2018 @ 5:07 pm

Sorry–typo to my previous comment. I wrote:

“The more negative manifestations of individualism were never known to internal Western critics”

It was meant to be:

“The more negative manifestations of individualism were known to internal Western critics”

#4 Comment By Ain’t Ben On January 27, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

Adolf Hitler, in Mein Kampf, articulates a deep and unnerving truth that’s instinctively understood by all competent authoritarians:

”All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but… well, I really needn’t. You see it or you don’t.

#5 Comment By stephen cooper On January 27, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

To clarify an earlier comment, people who know Nietzsche better than I do could probably name passages where he wrote something true, to that extent those are good passages in bad books. I rely on people like C.S. Lewis and Coppleston to let me know what of positive value poor Nietzsche contributed in his better days.

Now that this comment thread is a few days old maybe I can write out a longish analogy (which I would never do on a new comment thread). Imagine you are older than you are, by a lot – and that you spent your life doing something valuable. That valuable thing was, say, becoming a cavalry general for a country that was often threatened and attacked by enemies, among whom were other cavalry generals – but now that you are old you realize you were a better general than any of the enemies generals. In your youth, you had studied the great generals of the past, been thrilled at the songs that had been sung in their day, and you knew their campaigns as well as anyone could, not having lived through them. But now – you are old – you have an idea that, as befuddled and unclear your own days as a general were, some day you too will be remembered as a general worth studying. Thinking about that, you sometimes completely lose interest in military history – all those stories are as “straw” (Aquinas) or a “handful of dust” (T.S. Eliot) – and you have done what you could and those stories are not yours, and they are not the stories of those you love and were ready to die for, again and again.

That is the story of everybody who dies following Christ. Your actions are what you were, they were actions nobody else could have performed, because they were yours to perform, and they are over. Now it is time to be more than a part of a story. It is time to rejoin God in the world he first created.

And for writers, the story is no different than it is for generals- they either lose interest in stories before they die, not only the stories in the bad books but the stories in the good books, or they die before their time. Shakespeare’s Tempest is interesting that way – “our revels now are ended” = and poor Prospero looks back on his days of trying to be magical, as an example of Shakespeare’s abandonment of any nostalgia for his youthful talent, and love between Miranda (in Latin, that means, precisely, ‘she who is about to be amazed’) and her husband is described in words that have nothing to do with plot and everything to do with leaving behind stories. Even the genius writers of the 20th century – the only ones any of us have any hope of really understanding in this world, due to the lapse of time between us and the earlier ones – always ended by abandoning stories. Balthasar (Hans Urs von) wrote that Peguy completed the project of Proust by writing THE epic poem of reconciliation between God and Eve (God spoke to Eve, Mary’s beloved ancestor, in a way that let her (Eve) know that the beginning of creation did not fail, that in that first garden the first steps to the only real world, the created world where God and his creation are once again, beyond miracles and beyond brave stories and beyond literary surprises and rhetoric of genius, once again, or for the first time, full of truth and love and the glory that flows from that.) Tolkien often remembered to put into his stories reminders that Middle Earth was never enough, that the Grey Havens were never enough, and that there was more to be expected than even a story that ended with the journey from the Grey Havens. Even poor Joyce, who was so angry for so long at people who he though mistaught religion, had the sense, towards the end of his life, to write about the feeling – a feeling we all have who are not saints – that one day we will do again something that we have enjoyed doing (again and again), even something as important as hearing the voice of a beloved relative or praising God at the first hint of morning light on the clouds above the oceans that we can see from far inland, among the beautiful trees of the house where we raised our children – and on that day it will be the last time we ever will do that thing. And, as Saint John said, for those who believe in Christ, even the worst days will go forward, before the end, while Heaven is full of simultaneous glories – the adoration of the Lamb, for example, or successful battles in Heaven.

#6 Comment By Jason C On January 27, 2018 @ 7:26 pm

I’m not sure why my suggestion of Mishima’s Temple of the Golden Pavilion got erased from the comments, but I’ll offer another terrible book that can also be instructive: Amos Oz’s Fima. I loathed this book when it came out and put it into storage as soon as I was finished with it. Like the protagonist in Mishima’s Golden Temple, Fima is a exasperatingly frustrating character. His mind is always observing, but unlike Mishima’s protagonist who gets mesmerized by the beauty he sees, Fima is constantly making the most petty observations that make the reading difficult to endure. Also in contrast to Golden pavilion’s protagonist, Fima doesn’t or rarely feels compelled to act on any of his thoughts. He is supposedly a writer but can’t even manage that. The book is a long document of a boring man’s boring life. That said, there is something to be learned from the book: constantly complaining and doing nothing about it will eventually lead to a unfulfilled life no matter how insightful your observations may be.

[NFR: It wasn’t erased. Everything here has to be approved first by me. Today is Saturday. I haven’t been on the computer all day. — RD]

#7 Comment By RevJonathan On January 27, 2018 @ 7:51 pm

Rod, I’m curious, what works by Qutb did you end up reading? The other year, I pushed my way through Milestones and so far through the first two volumes of In the Shade of the Qur’an. It makes for some compelling reading, I have to admit – he offers a forceful vision for the world, and I can readily understand why he’s had his fair share of disciples.

[NFR: “Milestones,” but I couldn’t get through “Shade.” I hated it, but like you, it’s easy to understand why a certain mind is drawn to it. — RD]

#8 Comment By Jason C On January 27, 2018 @ 7:56 pm

oops, I didn’t see that my suggestion was awaiting moderation until I posted my second comment. Also I would like to add that, while the Mishima book is an enjoyable read and the Oz book is a brutal slog, Oz is a celebrated writer today while Mishima is disdained. I think one should separate the work from the artist. Too often these days, the art itself is bypassed and judged by the virtues or [un]virtue of the artist. That really misses the point of art as a truly free creation to stand on its own feet.

#9 Comment By TR On January 27, 2018 @ 8:03 pm

This is a bright group of respondents. In case the subject is “above someone’s pay grade,” let me assure him or her that the discussion of de Sade is as good as you are going to get. Remarkable.

To a traditional Christian, Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell has got to be a bad book.

A few of the “Proverbs of Hell”:

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

Prisons are built with the stones of Law, Brothels with the bricks of Religion.

He who desires but acts not breeds pestilence.

Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.

Christians can decide for themselves whether they can learn anything from this work first etched in 1993

#10 Comment By karsten On January 27, 2018 @ 8:16 pm

“Can you think of a book, film, or work of art that is seriously flawed from a moral point of view”

This begs the question, “Which moral point of view?” Not to be pedantic, but I consider most works that are respectable from what passes as a “moral point of view” by modern diversity/tolerance-worshiping, virtue-signalling individuals (both those who are nominally “Christian” and those who are liberally “anti-Christian”) to be grotesquely immoral, because I find their “moral points of view” to actually be culturally ruinous. I consider Nietzche’s concept of morality, though incomplete, to be far more authentically moral than what passes for morality today.

With that disclaimer, I understand the spirit of the question. Therefore, I would submit Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Oswald Spengler as two profound thinkers from whom one can learn much, if one is open-minded, and who are likely considered “immoral” by the milquetoast modern mind.

Both, in their own ways, supplement and question (directly or indirectly) Nietzsche’s formulations in constructive ways. Furthermore, both vividly demonstrate that cultures arise as they do because of the essences of the peoples who give birth to them; that peoples and cultures have collective characteristics, unique to themselves, and irreconcilably different from those of other peoples and their cultures; and that there is indisputably an Order of Rank among cultures.

#11 Comment By karsten On January 27, 2018 @ 10:12 pm

For a more contemporary work, I would emphatically recommend The Culture of Critique, by Dr. Kevin MacDonald.

“Morally”? Well, undoubtedly it is antithetical to the so-called “morality” that prevails in polite discourse (which may as well be termed polite mendacity) today. And yet morality doesn’t factor into the matter — or shouldn’t — because The Culture of Critique is nothing more or less than an objective, clinical, and scholarly airtight examination of group-evolutionary strategy, which is the most powerful force in the world today.

The implications of the book’s findings could not be more consequential to the crisis of the West; nor more politically incorrect.

In truth, anyone who does not read this work, nor contend with the facts that it lays out soberly and straightforwardly, is akin to those who simply refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, to see the factual evidence of his assertions.

#12 Comment By grumpy realist On January 27, 2018 @ 11:09 pm

Rod–I remember someone saying some time ago that Heinlein was a good SF writer because he used to write his books and then take out most of the sex…until he stopped the editing-out-the-sex part, at which point he became unreadable. (In my experience Time Enough For Love was the dividing point between OK and Unreadable.) Heinlein did also have the integrity to admit that his cherished libertarianism wouldn’t work outside of small groups or under indifferent governments (as is what happens in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.) And he wrote a really good (if now somewhat naive) guide to political action and contacting one’s congress-critter. Heinlein definitely felt that if you didn’t engage with your government you had no reason to complain about enacted legislation. (As opposed to modern libertarians who whine like crazy but never do anything except complain on the internet.)

Unfortunately, a lot of SF writers really do stack the deck in their favor when they’re doing their world-building, which is why described SF societies which claim to have solved one or another social problem always need to be taken with a very large grain of salt. And the annoying thing is–the better the writer the more persuasive they are, so you have to be even more on your toes.

#13 Comment By JP Melville On January 28, 2018 @ 12:08 am

I hope that my recommendation is in the ballpark of this thread; a must-read is Karl Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation”. Except that this is neither a novel nor is it bad. The book nails the impact of capitalism and the necessity of destroying traditional cultures and reciprocity in order to create wealth.

I worked ten years in some of the poorest corners of the planet. My experience told (and continues to tell) me that the unpleasantness of other cultures was my own gut reaction to different peoples’ desperation and struggle to survive the atrocities which my own culture and tribe are perpetrating around the globe.

As for a bad novel that perpetrates misunderstanding, misconception, distrust, and alienates us from other cultures, I suggest Margaret Atwood’s “Bodily Harm”. Sadly a naive, waspy, Toronto centric world view of the author distorts from the outset what life is like in other countries. It starts from a premise of fear and ignorance. The problem is the main character’s world view, values, and assumptions and Margaret Atwood sets the reader up for fear of the “Other”.

If follows that any one of us needs to peruse Edward Said’s “Orientalism: The Making of the Other” 1978. It is a starting point for understanding that we ourselves are cause for fear and misunderstanding of our fellow brothers and sisters on this planet.

#14 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 28, 2018 @ 4:32 am

I wouldn’t recommend De Sade. Whatever you “learn” there can’t easily be forgotten once seen. That was precisely the Marquis’ objective – to reach across time, even through death, and corrupt those who would read him, and ruin them.

#15 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 28, 2018 @ 4:44 am

J.H. Yoder’s discoveries about the meaning of war and peace can’t be disparaged as bad because he did some wrong things, anymore than Einstein ‘s physics discovery of relativity can be debunked because he treated his wives so badly.

Oddly, though, that’s what’s happened – modern Mennonites are no longer much concerned about war, but instead follow SJW fads since tossing out the traditional faith along with Yoder.

#16 Comment By theMann On January 28, 2018 @ 9:48 am

Industrial Society and its Future by Theodore John Kaczynski comes to mind.

From what you are saying about Qutb, I imagine they understood each other perfectly well.

Society is sick….sick sick!

Only you and I understand this.

Lets kill everybody who disagrees.

Same old song.

#17 Comment By seven sleepers On January 28, 2018 @ 10:52 am

I worked in Barnes and Nobles. Two books were behind the desk: Mappelthorpe and Anarchist Cookbook. They were asked for by name, every single day.

Why? Mappelthorpes images are degenerate acts that will stay with you your entire life. And the anarchist cookbook helps insane people kill people, and teenagers lose limbs.

#18 Comment By connecticut farmer On January 28, 2018 @ 11:28 am

@Ain’t Ben

Good choice, but would suggest that you append the phrase “…and politicians” to your last sentence. The Big Lie, artfully employed, is by no means limited to tyrants.

#19 Comment By Matt Tordof On January 28, 2018 @ 3:15 pm

I don’t know if he could be considered “bad” or if his book in necessarily as “bad” as some books authors mentioned in the comments, but I would nominate Machiavelli the Prince-

His “virtu” that he defines in that book is not virtue. You would not teach your children to be manipulative in his way nor would most of us aspire to act in that stead either.

But people in the world of government, business, and even every day life do act in such a manner,his observations are descriptive, and you are going to operate in the world its best to understand how others are going to manipulate- whether or not you do so yourself.

#20 Comment By Dennis Crane On January 28, 2018 @ 4:08 pm

Rod, let me substitute some other nouns for the ones in the following paragraph

“It compelled me to do some reading in (Marx, Lenin, Mao, Hitler, Khomeini. Qaddafi). That man was a total fanatic — but he was onto something. If we are going to fight his ideas, and those inspired by him, we need to know why those ideas inspire. Previously, I thought (Marxism, Communism, Nazism) was mindless, robotic hatred. It’s not.”

No fanatic views his beliefs and world views as “mindless, robotic hatred.” All fanatics view their beliefs and world views the logical consequence of opposing corrupt forces. Yet, those fanatics will use “mindless, robotic hatred” to ensure that their views will become permanent in the societies they seek to control.

Just look at Lenin, for starters. He viewed state terror as the best means to radically transform Russian society. Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Castro, Khomeini and Qaddafi were no different.

Understanding why such ideas inspire is not enough. Such understanding did not result in the defeat of Nazism, Qaddafism, or Communism in Eastern Europe. Such ideas, once hardened into tyrannies, structure themselves to resist the kind of “understanding” you advocate. Only military effort (as in Nazism’s case) or internal collapse (the latter two that I mention) can lead to their defeat.

Besides, by attempting to rehabilitate Qutb, you are dangerously close to the Leftist tack of ameliorating the guilt of those who destroy the innocent by attempting to understand them.

[NFR: Attempting to rehabilitate Qutb?! What are you talking about? I think he was a very dangerous man, but if you think of him as nothing but a madman, you will miss why what he had to say appealed to so many people, and will be powerless in the face of it. — RD]

#21 Comment By KD On January 28, 2018 @ 5:11 pm

Fran Macadam:

I am not recommending reading De Sade.

The reality is that we are more-or-less living in his vision. The interesting thing is that you can find all the tendrils of modernity creeping out of his work, disguised within the obscenities, the whole progressive utopian emancipation project and its evil dark shadow that seems to follow it.

He truly articulated the philosophical framework of the culture of Death.

#22 Comment By P B On January 28, 2018 @ 8:01 pm

I would think that for Christians books by pagans, especially say Homer and the Greek tragedians would be “bad” writers, but also bad writers for progressives and liberals.

[NFR: St. Basil the Great said that it is profitable to read pagan literature if read with Christian discernment. [3] — RD]

#23 Comment By charles w abbott On January 29, 2018 @ 10:51 am

How about _Paved with good intentions_ by the race realist and white nationalist Jared Taylor?

I found that book on a library “free shelf.” My impulse was to say “Well this is a real piece of s**t” and put it back unread. The favorable blurb on the back by the economist Walter E. Williams prompted me to start reading. Give Williams credit for fearlessness!

I found the chapter toward the end on “The Underclass” to be especially effective. Maybe that’s just me.

BTW, I look at Unz daily and consider some of Steve Sailer’s writings there to be worth reading (I don’t read every thing he writes). He is probably not a “white supremacist” or “race realist” so much as a “noticer.” And a highly talented ironist.

Sailer has noted of himself that “he really does come across as a sarcastic bastard.” I am not saying his analysis is impeccable–only that it is analysis and not ranting. and not morally bad. Many of the commenters may be morally bad. Anonymity seems to be toxic in more than small doses.

Paul Gottfried wrote an essay half a year ago at American Conservative, “Why today’s conservatives are useless debaters.” It’s worth reading. Many true (or arguably true) things can be learned from people who have been labeled heretics and driven out of the “Conservative Movement.” Read that essay.

The blogger Bruce Charlton derives some of his psychological insights from Hans Eysenck. Apparently Eysenck thought the creative personality tended often toward a very cold-blooded form of analysis. I suspect that is part of the issue here. Some of the “bad books” we are discussing are morally bad. Many more are simply cold-blooded.

Herrnstein and Murray’s _The bell curve_ is not a morally bad book, though some commenters may feel it to be so. It may be an analytically flawed book.

See also Paul Graham’s essay “What you can’t say.” Charles Murray isn’t bad person, and his books aren’t morally bad. He has a habit of saying things you can’t say.

Someone (maybe Sailer or Derbyshire) invented the concept of the “hatefact”, which is the politically unpalatable empirically true statistic that is avoided in polite company.

Ideally we should speak the truth in love. It’s hard.

Thank you for this thread, Rod.

#24 Comment By Thaomas On January 29, 2018 @ 12:16 pm

“But Christianity, with its insistence on putting the physical world and the spiritual world in different corners, could not cope with scientific progress. And so Christianity’s inability to acknowledge or respect the physical quality of daily life spread into the realm of culture and shaped society’s attitude toward science.”

This sounds closer to Manichaeism than to Christianity that believes “the Word was made flesh and dwealt among us.”

#25 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On January 29, 2018 @ 1:18 pm

May I make a modest proposal and combine two contemporary Dreher topics? What would happen if we asked, instead, “What can we learn from books from ‘sh*thole’ countries and people?”

My answer: Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart.” A visceral character study of what happens to a man of social stature when society changes around him. It’s why I can’t take Dreher’s cultural millenarianism too seriously: every society had ended, and yet people remain.

I really hope you’re joking here, because there are a lot of things here that are deeply problematic.

On what basis would you consider the society Chinua Achebe was writing about a “sh*t hole” society? Let’s leave aside the assessment of Africa more generally, though for reasons I’ve made clear in the past, I strongly disagree with that characterization and consider it dismissive of the African experience: it’s no more reasonable to call “Africa” a sh*thole than to call Rod’s Louisiana one, and probably much less reasonable, since Africa is much more diverse and differentiated than the US, let alone Louisiana. That aside, the Igbo society outlined in Things Fall Apart is exactly the kind of “culture” that you would think US conservatives would emulate. Igbo society has traditionally been entrepreneurial, individualistic, relatively democratic, and focused highly on economic and material success as the measure of someone’s worth. Ethnic Igbo immigrants to England and the US (most Nigerians in this country are either Yoruba or Igbo in my experience) also do really well academically, to the point where a lot of the race realists consider them kind of a self-selected highly intelligent group, the African equivalent of Ashkenazim.

To look at, I dunno, poverty in Ethiopia or civil war in Rwanda and then go “Gee, Chinua Achebe’s book is set in Africa so it must be a portrait of sh*thole society” is even more superficial than dismissing, say, Senegal or Ethiopia as sh*tholes (and it’s worth mentioning in this context that Ethiopia has an Orthodox Christian history older than almost any society in the world). It’s like assuming that contemporary Sicily is an accurate guide to the world of Jane Austen novels, because Sicily and England are on the same “continent”. (Though really Ethiopia and Southern Nigeria are probably even much more distinct than England and Sicily).

#26 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On January 29, 2018 @ 1:21 pm

Also another point re: Things Fall Apart. Things did ‘fall apart’ to some degree, but they didn’t actually fall apart to any great degree. British rule in Igboland wasn’t anywhere near as destructive as, say, French or German rule in some other parts of Africa (never mind the Belgians), or for that matter European colonial contaxt with the Native Americans. Sometimes what we see as the end of the world is really not that horrible as we think it is, and I think that’s a fair summary of the situation in Things Fall Apart. Other times, and a lot of African and Native American societies were in this boat, it really is every bit as bad as the doom sayers think it will be.

#27 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On January 29, 2018 @ 5:14 pm

Herrnstein and Murray’s _The bell curve_ is not a morally bad book, though some commenters may feel it to be so. It may be an analytically flawed book.

It is a morally bad book in my opinion. Not because of the conclusions they draw about race and intelligence (which may or may not be true, and which in any case are shared by a lot of researchers in the field of cognitive science). Rather, it’s a morally bad book because of the moral and politcial conclusions that they draw (namely that we should make our peace with economic and racial inequalities based on differential cognitive skills and differing test scores). This isn’t a necessary conclusion (they state in the afterward that if differences between individual achievements mostly boil down to a roll of the genetic dice, then that’s a ready made argument for heavy state redistribution and for a nearly communistic economy). It’s one that they choose to go with for their own moral and ideological commitments.