Archive | December, 2013

The “War on Christmas” As Blowback

I spent my last two years of elementary school in Idaho Falls, a town that was at that time 70% Mormon. In the public school the only Christmas songs that were permitted were purely secular ones with no religious references.

I spent high school in Hanover, NH, a town dominated by Dartmouth College and thus by liberal humanists. In the public school we sang the full range of Christmas carols, including religious ones.

This may initially seem surprising; one might expect religious songs to be more tightly restricted in the liberal humanist community rather than in the Mormon one. But upon reflection it makes perfect sense.

In Idaho Falls there was a serious danger of a religious takeover of just about every institution, public education included. For example, my Boy Scout group met in the Mormon church and was taught Mormon propaganda, contrary to the national organisation’s rules. (Though we also watched Dracula: Prince of Darkness in the church basement, so there’s that.) Hence the secularists were motivated to fight tooth and nail to keep religious references out.

In Hanover, by contrast, there was no serious danger of a religious takeover of the public schools, so the carols were experienced as a cultural tradition rather than as the nose of a proselytising camel, and so were embraced.

I leave the moral as an exercise for the reader.

Brave New Words

At the time I wrote about the transubstantiation model of the state I had forgotten Orwell’s very similar description of doublethink:

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them …. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it … to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself – that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. … To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. … The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt ….

I probably did remember the following passage from Rand:

He was doling his sentences out with cautious slowness, balancing himself between word and intonation to hit the right degree of semi clarity. He wanted her to understand, but he did not want her to understand fully, explicitly, down to the root – since the essence of that modern language, which he had learned to speak expertly, was never to let oneself or others understand anything down to the root.

Whether Rand’s description of “that modern language” was influenced by Orwell’s account of Newspeak I don’t know, just as I don’t know whether Orwell’s Newspeak was influenced in turn by the similar device in Rand’s Anthem.

Pink Is the Colour of Justice

Pink Sari Revolution

I have a book review up at Reason, about the pink-robed, staff-wielding feminist vigilantes of India.

Two out-takes from the review:

I strongly suspect that the pink-skinned, staff-wielding, Indian-accented character of Peppi Bow in the Clone Wars television cartoon is inspired by Sampat.

Perhaps the Pink Gang could be seen as a low-tech, and non-anonymous, version of Anonymous.

My favourite line that survived into the final version: “Picture, if you can, Ayn Rand as an illiterate altruist.”

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