Saturday, March 19, 2005

I love Arts and Letters Daily; it's my homepage. It links to just about everything you might want to read, and the articles it calls to its readers attention are as good as anything on the Web. In case you're a furriner, the website is run by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is the university teachers' trade journal. I just thought I'd go through a few issues discussed in the Nota Bene section.

Here's a piece on the relationship between Sartre and Camus ( My first reaction was who gives a crap. My reaction after reading the piece and being reminded of a few things is that Camus was by far the more attractive personality, a nice guy who behaved honorably, and that Sartre was a prick as well as being on the Wrong Side of history. Camus, in his liberal constitutionalism and his French patriotism, was on the Right Side. He opposed the Nazis, Vichy, the Communists, and the FLN, and he actually put his money where his mouth was. For the lowdown on Stalin-loving Sartre, read Paul Johnson's Intellectuals. Besides, Camus was a good writer and a bad but merely naive philosopher while Sartre was an awful writer and a philosopher of evil, of violence, of revolution, of nihilism. Camus is still read. Sartre, except for No Exit, is forgotten, and No Exit won't stand the test of time any more than, say, Marat / Sade.

Here's Timothy Noah bullshitting about the word "bullshit" ( If I understand Noah, bullshit is when you say something without caring whether or not it's true. It's not lying: if you lie, then you are intentionally saying something false. Lies are always false. Bullshit could be either true or false, it doesn't matter. Noah's examples are the stuff that the Bush Administration said before the Iraq War, the stuff about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's trying to buy uranium in North Africa and Saddam's links to international terrorism. All that stuff turned out to be true, of course, but Noah maintains Bush was bullshitting anyway because Bush really didn't care whether it was true or not. Well, here's where Noah begins to bullshit himself. Noah's claim is IT DOESN'T MATTER whether the things Bush said about Saddam turned out to be true, because, assumes Noah, Bush didn't know or care that they were true when he said them. This, Mr. Noah, is bullshit, because you don't know what Bush knew or thought at that time any more than anyone else but Bush himself does. And it is cynical bullshit to label what is usually called "truth"--Saddam did have WMDs, Saddam was trying to buy uranium, Saddam was linked to international terrorists--as "bullshit".

By the way, I'd define "bullshitting" as "talking when you don't know what you're talking about." It's very dangerous to assume that Mr. Bush doesn't know what he's talking about. Several people have already misunderestimated him and look where they wound up.

Now, here's where bullshit hits Camus. Here is a piece by the guy interviewed in that first bit on Camus and Sartre ( The author claims that Bush misquoted Camus when he stated, "Freedom is a long-distance race." Evidence: That particular quote comes from an internal monologue by a generally unattractive character. Bush took it out of context. Now, come on. Would you claim Bush was misquoting Shakespeare if, in order to illustrate a point, he took a line out of the mouth of such an unpleasant character as Macbeth or Othello or Shylock or Brutus or Antony or Hamlet, all of whom are murderers and half of whom are psychos? Of course you wouldn't. That's why that statement by the author is bullshit; he accuses Bush of ignorance when he actually doesn't know how deeply Bush has read into Camus. I would personally not be surprised if Bush actually has read a book or two by the guy, being married to a librarian and hanging out with all these intellectuals all the time. Camus isn't difficult at all to read, it's not like we're talking Milton or someone like that.

What really pissed me off is the precious line right at the beginning of the piece about how all the Europeans are laughing at us uncultured gringos now. First, a total of zero people until this guy came along knew exactly where that quote came from. Most Europeans are much more interested in soccer and car racing and TV variety shows starring slutty broads with plastic boobs and getting loaded and going to Cuba to screw twelve-year-olds for a dollar than they are in the fine points of analyzing Camus. Second, why should we care what the Europeans think about us anyway? My attitude is if they like us, fine, and if they don't like us, well, that's their problem. If they're determined not to like us nothing's going to change their minds anyway, not even if we find the cure for cancer. (Which we just might do.)

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