Derbyshire, me, and the H-bd list
John Derbyshire explains
to his readers at The Corner why he doesn’t want to reply any longer to my criticisms of him (most recently, this
). His reasons consist of uncomplimentary descriptions of my personality, which he provides at some length, though he also compliments me for The Path to National Suicide
. (Jonah Goldberg briefly replies
to Derbyshire about me. Like Derbyshire, he does not deal with the substance of my criticisms of himself, which have consisted mainly of my direct quotations
of him, but refers to the fact that I “hate” him.)
While I won’t reply to any of Derbyshire’s purely personal attacks on me, he says things about my participation in Steve Sailer’s Human Bio-Diversity list that are not true and that need to be corrected.
(3) Life’s too short. (b) Larry and I were both founder members of the “human biodiversity” e-list back in the 90s. Larry got kicked off the list because other list members were driven nuts by his ill-natured, relentless, nit-picking, logic-chopping responses to their posts. (That, at any rate, is how I remember it. Larry himself says he resigned from the list because he could no longer bear to be among a crowd of shallow Darwinian atheists. Whatever, Larry.)
First, I was not a founding member of the h-bd list. I joined it at the beginning of November, 2001, when, I gather, it had already been existence for some time, and I left it six weeks later.
Second, I was not kicked off the list, nor did I simply resign, nor have I ever said that I simply resigned. Rather, as I told Derbyshire at the time, Steve Sailer pushed me to resign from the list by ceasing to post my e-mails, and by not replying to my repeated queries as to why he was not posting my e-mails. After this had been going on for a while, I finally wrote to him, “Since you’re not replying to me, I’m leaving the list.” To which he wrote back a one-word reply: “Ok.” I understood very well that I was an irritant at the list because of my continual disagreements with the group’s prevailing atheist reductionism. But it was stunning that Sailer, who had invited me to be on the list, did not have the decency simply to say to me, “Larry, you don’t fit in this group, it would be better for you to leave.” If he had said that, I would have understood and would not have minded. Instead he dealt with me in the manner described.
(I should add that I took up an e-mail correspondence with Sailer again a couple of years later, because of my interest in some of his ideas at his website. Our correspondence was courteous and respectful. However, because of my underlying distrust of him stemming from his previous behavior, I kept my own e-mails impersonal, never addressing him by name, and never signing my own name. The subject of the manner in which he pushed me off the list never came up.)
While I was certainly an intense debater, as everyone who knows me knows, I never used the kind of insulting language toward individuals that others did. In fact, Sailer admitted that he had a double standard in this area for people he favored. Thus Gregory Cochran, an active member of the list, wrote publicly to Derbyshire:
But in general, you’re a jerk.
To which Derbyshire replied:
What on earth is going on here? Is this how we talk to each other?
Steve, would you please remove either me or Gregory from this list? Thank you.
I then wrote privately to Derbyshire:
From: Lawrence Auster
Sent: Thursday, December 06, 2001 3:36 PM
To: John Derbyshire
Subject: Fw: NYT Op-Ed: Sharon’s War Cannot Be Won
Last week Cochran replied to a post by me about the war with the single word message:
I wrote to Steve and asked is this the way we address each other. He replied that Cochran is the most original thinker on the list, and that genius has privileges.
I further believe Steve has been censoring me for the last few days. Only a couple of my posts have gone through to the group, and only after a several hour delay.
Having just heard from me that Sailer seemed to be pushing me off the list, Derbyshire, far from saying (as he says now) that I deserved it because of my supposedly impossible behavior, shared with me his concerns about the underlying cause of the nastiness that was so noticeable at the group. He wrote:
From: “John Derbyshire”
To: “Lawrence Auster”
Sent: Thursday, December 06, 2001 4:31.p.m.
Subject: RE: NYT Op-Ed: Sharon’s War Cannot Be Won
Larry: I am really getting a strong flavor of antisemitism from some of these guys, and I can’t stand it. It’s all straining at gnats while swallowing camels, isn’t it? The merest transgression (yes, they transgress) or act of brutality (yes, they commit occasional acts of brutality) by the Israelis is a stupendous outrage, while the everyday operations of the so-called “Palestinian Authority”, which I characterized—I believe correctly—as “robbery and murder”—are passed by in silence, or condemned in very muted tones. As _____ said, the telescope’s on Israel: for the Arabs, the telescope is turned round. Why? Why do people approach the subject like this? I’ve really been trying to resist the idea that it’s just gut antisemitism. I know some of these people—well, I’ve had lunch with _____ _________—and they’re thoughtful and, of course, intelligent. But my resistance is weakening fast.
So, Cochran, who called other participants jerks and dismissed their statements as “tripe,” remained safely on the list, while I, who never used language like that toward any individual (I did use some tough language about God-haters generally) but engaged in impassioned debate on a variety of topics, was pushed off without even the courtesy of an explanation.
Another prominent member of the list was Ralph Holloway, a paleontologist at Columbia University, who described me at the list as a “know-it-all God Hopper.” I wrote to him privately, without mentioning to him that I am an alumnus of Columbia:
Mr. Holloway, I wonder if you have any conception of how silly you sound describing me as a “know-it-all God Hopper.” You sound as if your intellectual development stopped after you saw Inherit the Wind at some point in your early adolescence.
To which Holloway replied by repeating his pungent phrase:
With all respect Mr Auster, I believe it was you who showed rudeness first, not just to me, but several on the list. I have no time for know-it-all God Hoppers. As I said before, Adios.
Ralph L. Holloway
As for the quality of my arguments, which Derbyshire now describes as “ill-natured, relentless, nit-picking, logic-chopping,” and which he says drove other participants “nuts,” I’ve previously described my experience in the list as like being in a room with a bunch of atheists, in which I was single-handedly carrying on several debates on a variety of topics simultaneously. (Derbyshire was the only other member I can think of who vocally expressed some belief in religion, though he did not involve himself much in these particular debates.) Considering that it was one against an entire group, I felt I acquitted myself pretty well. Scott McConnell, who was a member of the list, agreed. He wrote to me:
From: Scott McConnell
To: Lawrence Auster
Sent: Saturday, November 17, 2001 2:28.p.m.
Subject: Re: Great news in Afghanistan, and Steinlight
Your activity on this list, and even more the range of subjects you have both well reasoned and passionate feelings about, is a marvel to me. —Scott
But what about Derb? How did he feel about my pro-religion, pro-transcendence arguments?
I wrote to him:
From: Lawrence Auster [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, November 15, 2001 6:39 PM
To: John Derbyshire
Subject: devastating confession by a materialist atheist
Oh, boy. Look at this answer from Steve Goldberg, a respected professor and author, to someone who commented, on his statement that there is no difference between life and non-life, that he must be unhappy. Goldberg admits my basic point, that if you don’t believe in transcendence, you ultimately won’t believe in meaning either, and thus you won’t really care about ideas. It’s all just an amusing game. What a devastating confession of the nihilism that does indeed lie at the heart of atheism.
From: John Derbyshire
To: Lawrence Auster
Sent: Thursday, November 15, 2001 6:45.p.m.
Subject: RE: devastating confession by a materialist atheist
The exchanges have been fascinating, though I don’t know what they have to do with H-bd.
Most of these guys believe everything I believed when I was 14.
What Derbyshire meant was, they still have the atheist beliefs that Derbyshire himself had briefly when he was 14 (and which he has subsequently returned to).
So, in November 2001, Derbyshire was still skeptical of the radical atheism that was the predominant view at Sailer’s hbd list. Instead of feeling that my arguments at the list against materialist reductionism and in favor of a transcendent dimension of reality were “ill-natured, relentless, nit-picking, logic-chopping responses,” he sympathized with my anti-atheist posture while finding other members of the group to be unpleasantly rude and anti-Semitic.
But now, in light of my recent attacks on him for his own turn to radical atheism and his repeated abandonment of conservative principles, he remembers things differently. Now, instead of criticizing people like Cochran as people who believed the silly things that Derbyshire believed when he was 14, he lauds them as the people who showed him the truth—that God is a fiction, and that Darwinian random mutation and natural selection explains all human things.
Finally, let me add that I wouldn’t care at all about Derbyshire’s atheism and non-conservatism—if he was posting his views at a non-conservative venue. It’s the fact that he keeps advancing these ideas at a prominent conservative website, and that no one at that site or elsewhere in the mainstream conservative movement seems to mind, that is remarkable and objectionable. And that is why I write about it.
It’s the same with Jonah Goldberg, the Animal House conservative, who in his recent comment about me casually remarks that he enjoys “being denounced as a champion of smut.” If Goldberg were posting at some other place, I wouldn’t pay him two thoughts. It’s his (very prominent) presence at a leading conservative website that is both highly objectionable in itself and disturbingly revealing of what “conservatism” has become.
- end of initial entry -
John Hagan writes:
The fact that Derbyshire keeps repeating that you, and by extension, VFR, are a humor-free zone is preposterous. There has been nothing more funny than watching Derb get his intellectual lunch handed to him on a platter by you and your readers. The best howler of the recent exchanges was Derb and Murray waxing ecstatic about moving to a Guatemalan ghetto !
What Derb and that nonentity Goldberg don’t like is being exposed for the lightweights that they are. These two especially, along with most of the others at National Review, have taken that once great conservative voice and put it on a level with the Weekly Standard.
I’m pleased to see you were able to produce several e-mail exchanges that quickly put the lie to Derb’s “memory” of events. And Derb thinks you have no sense of humor? Ha, his conduct these past several weeks has been a laugh riot. BTW, tell him to enjoy that Guatemalan ghetto experience, I’m sure he’s moving the family over there as we speak.
Bruce B. writes:
So your whole contribution to the conservative movement was a pamphlet. What a flippant a_____e.
I noticed that too. On one hand, according to him, I’ve written this really important work. On the other hand, according to him, apart from having written that one work, I’m some strange, sweaty type who grabs people by the lapel and won’t let go.
I recall that Robert Spencer tried to put me down me in much the same way, responding to my article, “Robert Spencer as a neoconservative,” by calling me a “dyspectic misanthrope.”
Also notice that it doesn’t occur to either Derbyshire or Goldberg to defend the actual things I criticized them for—Derbyshire’s interview-a-blond-in-hot tub fantasy, and Goldberg’s blond-with-power tools fantasy—or perhaps to ask themselves whether the criticism is justified. Instead, Derbyshire, switching from the soft-porn lust of his hot-tub fantasy to murderous anger at having it criticized, speaks publicly of having homicidal feelings toward me; and Goldberg speaks of his discovery that I “hate” him. They are children unable to deal with issues, only capable of responding to valid criticism on the lowest personal level. And this is now accepted behavior at the website of National Review.
If there were a single adult with authority at that website, he or she would have spoken to these two and told them that certain types of personal indulgences are not appropriate for posting at NRO. But there is no such adult, and so NRO, which will not publish articles outside a very narrow range of political and cultural opinion, continues to publish the semi-pornographic fantasies of Goldberg and now Derbyshire, both of whom are married by the way.
Justin T. writes:
I see you’ve experienced Gregory Cochran’s rudeness. When I was once a guest blogger at Gene Expression, Cochran would routinely make ad-hominem attacks against me and anyone who agreed with me, and when he disagreed with me he would rarely cite his sources as to why. It was just assumed by his fan club that “genius” has its privileges. He once sent me an e-mail after I replied to his ad-hominem attacks, and I promptly deleted it. I now keep any comments on that site to a bare minimum and rarely blog.
One time I posted a blog entry about arms sales based on an Internet source, and it turned out the source was wrong. But instead of attacking the source, he attacked me personally, even after I acknowledged the source was incorrect. This is what he does on a regular basis, and the vast amount of writing that he does consists of “I know everything” commentary.
The guy is an a_____e, and he has a cult following … literally.
Paul Nachman writes:
1. I haven’t followed your exchanges with Derbyshire closely. I’ve read some of them tonight. My first reaction is that I’ve appreciated him over the years. Here are articles that stick strongly in my mind:
My first source to show people that immigration-madness is a more generalized affliction of the West;
Particularly memorable for the Chinese attitude about living in America;
From a time before people such as I realized G. W. Bush is hopeless.
And in looking over recent pieces at his own website, I stumbled across his November Diary, which includes a section “Shallow Sentimentality on Immigration” which includes, among other things, this paragraph:
The great English immigration-restrictionist Enoch Powell had a slogan he tried to include in everything he said or wrote on the topic: NUMBERS ARE OF THE ESSENCE. Precisely. The Time essay has given us a number of one. Its information content, as regards what are and what are not sound immigration policies, is an even smaller number: zero. Immigration policy is a branch of mathematics, not weekend work for employees of the Hallmark Card Company.
His writing is good—you generally think it’s too long and self-indulgent, I mostly don’t agree—and the fact he injects about Powell is one that I didn’t know and that I expect to find useful.
Another new and useful-to-me one is this, which buttresses other readings about Muslim piracy.
2. I have the impression (and I’m not going back to look at the whole record) that some of what you’ve said about Derb is gratuitously insulting. Enough of this, and most people are going to react, substance be damned.
That Derbyshire has written worthwhile and useful articles is irrelevant to the subject—I haven’t been attacking his worthwhile and useful articles. Or rather it is relevant insofar as his veerings in a liberal direction keep undermining his useful conservative contributions. He’s all over the place now on immigration for example. He recently wrote a strong article for our side, then turned around and gave his 100 percent agreement to Charles Murray’s statement that he doesn’t care about the survival of Anglo-European America and would prefer to live in many Vietnamese and Guatemalan neighborhoods to many “white-bread” suburbs.
You know that one of my main targets is inconsistent and unsteady conservatives, or, worse, fifth-column conservatives, who do more harm than liberals. David Brooks for example, going back to his articles in The Weekly Standard in the mid 1990s, would criticize at length some negative aspect of the contemporary culture, and then at the end of the article he would turn around and say, “Well, it really doesn’t matter, it’s really ok.” This kind of approach, by giving conservative readers the encouraging feeling that there is a conservative side that is standing against the liberal side, and then tossing away the conservative side and embracing the liberalism, absolutely undermines conservatism from within and it needs to be exposed.
As for Derbyshire, his inconsistency of thought, his anecdotal and emotional approach to issues, his lack of any discernible principle, the lack of anything in him that one can depend on (all capsulized by his statement to me that his aim in life is to walk a fine line between earnestness and frivolity), is the main thing about him that I have gone after in the past. But it has become worse recently, with his outright embrace of anti-conservative positions, from expressing his disdain for Christian believers to his writing Playboy-type fantasies at the Corner.
In conclusion, the fact that someone has written good conservative articles is not a defense against the charge that he is undermining conservatism from within.
Re the “numbers are of the essence” line of Enoch Powell’s, Derbyshire brought that up in a dishonest attempt to cover over the fact that he had endorsed Charles Murray’s offensive statements about not being concerned about Anglo-European America, as I explained in the blog entry “Disingenuous Derb.”
You write: “[S]ome of what you’ve said about Derb is gratuitously insulting.”
Show me something you think is gratuitously insulting. My recent attack on his hot-tub entry, perhaps? I think my scorching treatment of it was just and correct. His statements ought to be condemned. If there were any responsible persons at NR who put a stop to these adolescent excrescences, I wouldn’t have to write what I write. Also, I don’t go looking to attack Derbyshire or anyone, I respond to the things I read. The other day I thought I would go over to the Corner to pick up some political information and discussion, and the very first thing I saw was Derbyshire expressing his wish to interview a babe in a hot tub. At National Review Online. And this is happening right in the middle of this period when I and others have been attacking Derbyshire for abandoning one aspect of conservatism after another. The blog entry was inappropriate in itself, and it was further evidence of my case against him and against NRO, so naturally I wrote it up, and I fit it with Goldberg’s own previous semi-porno writings at the Corner, describing Derb as Goldberg’s acolyte.
I gather you disapprove of my current entry on Derbyshire. But consider this. If instead of bringing up the totally irrelevant subject of the H-bd list and trying to make me look like a creep, Derbyshire had responded to my criticisms of his hot-tub fantasy—is it appropriate or not to write this kind of thing at NRO? Is it appropriate for a married man to write this kind of thing? Is it appropriate for anyone to write this kind of thing period? Is it appropriate for conservatives to express indignation and disgust at finding such things in a conservative publication?—there would have been a different kind of exchange. He brought up the H-bd list, not in relation to my criticism of him, not in relation to any published work of mine, but solely in an attempt to make me look like a bad, weird person. Naturally I had to reply.
From: Jeff in England
Subject: THEY SAY YOU LET THEM DOWN, THEY KNOW IT’S NOT LIKE THAT
Many conservative political commentators seem to resort to personal attacks and insults when the going gets hot; in other words when they are criticised. Was this always the case or is this a recent development? Of course the left has always been a hotbed of personal insults and even threats. But it seems so called conservatives are also good at it. Michael Savage is an extreme example of this, with his personal attacks bordering on parody within an entertainment paradigm.
However, the “personal” insults and accusations against Larry Auster by various conservative or conservative leaning columnists and commentators are far more dangerous as they take place in a supposedly intelligent intellectual arena. Larry Auster is a fierce debater who has strong views for sure and loves to put those views to the test in the debating arena. However, he is not interested in personally insulting anyone as I can attest myself. We have fiercely disagreed and truthfully he has never remotely come close to “insulting me.” At the most he can get a bit cranky. Rather the problem is that people “in the ring” with Larry get frustrated at his incisive arguments, and, feeling that they are losing the argument against him, resort to Mike Tyson bite-your-opponent’s-ear-off tactics or the “no mas” tactics of Roberto Duran in his second fight against Sugar Ray Leonard. These tactics support my theory that all too often people’s political agendas are a replacement for their negative psychological agendas, so to speak. Hidden guilt, submerged anger, repressed sexuality, under the surface anti-Semitism—all these and more come into the picture far too often.
Certainly we have seen this with the responses of certain of Larry Auster’s critics. Larry Auster welcomes intelligent criticism of his views and rarely censors it. But people have taken that to mean that if they don’t like the argument Larry is putting forth, they can respond with personal accusations and slanders. We have seen that with the likes of Melanie Phillips and Robert Spencer, both normally intelligent commentators. Well, it’s not on and I call on all good political analysts and commentators to leave their psychological agendas at home and stick to the issues. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the sauna. But don’t then play the victim and put the blame on Larry Auster. They are not only doing him a disservice; they are insulting the nature of civilised intellectual debate everywhere.
I thank Jeff very much for this, but I want to make one qualification. The worst that Melanie Phillips said about me publicly was that I was misrepresenting her views on immigration. It’s not a slander to say that someone is misrepresenting you, though, as has been clearly demonstrated, her claim that I was misrepresenting her was false.
Here’s the basic problem with being a cultural conservative. Until the 1960s and 1970s, there were agreed-upon norms of decency for public behavior, for writing, and so on. The Cultural Revolution threw that out, and by the 1990s a new, “anti-cultural” order had come into being. In place of the former, traditional norms, the new norm is that anything goes—except, of course, traditional beliefs. As a result, if a supposedly conservative writer at a supposedly conservative magazine jokes about interviewing a female entertainer in a hot tub, that is not considered objectionable. If another writer at the same magazine lasciviously informs his readers about a pornographic video featuring a scantily dressed blond playing with power tools, that is not considered objectionable. But if someone does object to these things, then he is the one who is violating the norms of society. He is the disruptive person who is out of step and must be reproved.
This is the moral inversion that the Cultural Revolution—implicitly or explicitly endorsed by mainstream conservatives—has wrought. It has turned conservatism against itself, by insisting that conservatism means accepting and upholding the prevailing order of society, even if, as at present, that order is liberal and decadent. A conservatism that remains silent in the face of the ubiquitous degradation of our culture is not worthy of the name. Genuine conservatism—which I call traditionalism—means resisting the liberal norms of our time, no matter how much we are attacked for it, because it is only through such resistance that a non-liberal conservatism can be restored or created.
Tom S. writes:
I don’t really get this “humor-free” stuff—there are a lot of things on VFR I find funny. Besides, this idea that every website and every magazine has to be a laugh riot strikes me as being pretty odd in itself. After all, one of the primary topics of discussion on this site is the potential dissolution of Western Civilization, and to me, that isn’t an inherently amusing topic. A society that believes that every topic should be made amusing is a society capable of laughing itself right into the grave.
I must admit, I find John Derbyshire a mystery. The ongoing controversy concerning his renunciation of Christianity led me to re-read some of his earlier writings, posted at his website. I find that JD was a much better writer five or six years ago, and his opinions were much sounder than they are today. The correspondence you cited in your discussion confirms this. The question is, what happened? I’m not sure, but there is no doubt that the whole evo-bio crowd has had a definite impact on JD, and not for the better. His writing is much more erratic these days, and the progression of his opinions is odd, to say the least. For example, he has stated that watching his children grow up has weakened his faith in God. I literally know of no one else who has had this experience. Whittaker Chambers cited his baby daughter as one of his reasons for moving away from atheism, and I could add several others. Derbyshire seems to believe that the existence of heredity refutes Christianity, in some ill-defined way. I just don’t get it, especially since the head of the human genome project, with which Derbyshire is so impressed, is a believing Christian.
The decline of Derbyshire doesn’t make me happy, to say the least. I really enjoyed his writing in the past, and, as several of your correspondents indicated, he has written numerous incisive articles that have been beneficial to the cause, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy. But over the last few years, he seems to have come to the conclusion that there is no God but Darwin, and Sailer is his prophet, and this belief is slowly poisoning the rest of his writing. Sad, actually…
Reader DH provides a more detailed analysis of Derbyshire’s blog entry attacking me. He writes:
As pointed out by you at VFR in response to his readers (I wonder how many he has), John Derbyshire at The Corner at NRO has written about why he has NOT responded to your comments about his ideas.
Below is his illuminating but not very intelligent response to why he does not respond, followed by my comments.
ON NOT RESPONDING TO LARRY AUSTER [John Derbyshire] Mr. Derbyshire’s reason (1) provides absolutely no substantive content at all for why he will not answer you and is simply a diatribe against paleocons in general and you in particular. He makes absolutely no defense of his ideas but, like a little boy, resorts simply to name calling. What’s the point?
Readers are curious as to why I haven’t responded to Larry Auster’s repetitive barbs over on View From the Right. How many reasons do you want?
(1) Larry falls out with everybody. You haven’t engaged with paleocons at all until you’ve been the subject of Larry’s scorn. Having Larry pronounce an anathema on you just isn’t a big deal. It’s going to happen to you sooner or later, like toothache, unless you rigorously shun the whole paleocon scene.
(2) Life’s too short. (a) Larry is the guy you get into an argument with in a bar. After half an hour or so, the desire to get as far away from the guy as possible overrides any interest you might have had in whether he’s RIGHT OR NOT. You leave the bar; but he follows you down the street, still pecking away: “Surely you must agree that…”
(3) Life’s too short. (b) Larry and I were both founder members of the “human biodiversity” e-list back in the 90s. Larry got kicked off the list because other list members were driven nuts by his ill-natured, relentless, nit-picking, logic-chopping responses to their posts. (That, at any rate, is how I remember it. Larry himself says he resigned from the list because he could no longer bear to be among a crowd of SHALLOW DARWINIAN ATHESISTS. Whatever, Larry.)
(4) Even setting aside his relations with the rest of the human race, Larry and I are such opposites we should not even attempt to engage each other. I can’t stand people who take themselves as SERIOUSLY as Larry, who have so little interest in science, and are so locked in to the meme about Western Civ being doomed unless we return to Christ. He can’t stand anyone as fundamentally un-intellectual, impressionistic, and irreligious as myself. If the two of us were marooned on a desert island, it would end in homicide—probably in hours, not days.
HOWEVER, having said all that, I still admire and respect Larry for his 1990 pamphlet “The Path to National Suicide “ which was far ahead of its time, which still reads well today, and which was a major inspiration to the current generation of immigration restrictionists, as I think they all acknowledge. Larry did a great service to his country there, and no-one should mention him without noting that.
In reason (2), Mr. Derbyshire admits that he is not even interested in whether your ideas and comments are “RIGHT OR NOT” but wishes to get away from the truth as fast as possible. What a closed-minded individual he must be!
In reason (3), Mr. Derbyshire again resorts to straight name-calling (ill-natured, relentless, nit-picking, logic-chopping) with no reasons given whatsoever for not replying to your comments. Your very apt description of him as a SHALLOW DARWINIAN ATHEIST has apparently stuck very solidly in his craw.
Finally, in reason(4), he admits that he himself is “fundamentally un-intellectual, impressionistic, and irreligious” and that he “can’t stand people who take themselves as SERIOUSLY as Larry, who has so little interest in science, and is so locked in to the meme about Western Civ being doomed unless we return to Christ.” How can a person who by his own admission is fundamentally un-intellectual, impressionistic, and irreligious and who can’t stand people who take themselves as seriously as you do (thank goodness, you do!), be taken as a serious commentator during these very serious times?
Furthermore, how can anyone respect or even be interested in his opinions and especially at a place like NRO. Or is NRO that far gone, too? I fear it is.
In my opinion, John Derbyshire and his ideas are not worthy of further comments by you or anyone else. He is just a little boy with no decency or sense.
I hadn’t thought of giving Derbyshire’s attack on me the kind of close reading that DH has done, because it wouldn’t be correct for me to reply to purely personal attacks. But it’s useful that DH has done so, as it reveals the thoroughly ad hominem nature of Derbyshire’s reply.
One other point. We should take seriously the problems we’re concerned about, the ideas we discuss, not ourselves.
Jacob M. writes:
Reading Tom S.’s comments about the decline of the quality of John Derbyshire’s writing, I was reminded of an entry on a blog called Three Hierarchies I stumbled across after Derbyshire’s much-discussed religion column came out. In the comments section of that entry, a commenter going by “Deuce” gave an excellent analysis of Derb’s beliefs, in the course of which he pointed out something glaring that I had not noticed: that while Derbyshire now says he believes religion does not necessarily make one a better person, and has no effect, “net-net,” as he puts it, on morality, the tone of his writing and his interactions with others have become noticeably meaner and nastier over the past few years, a period of time that coincides with that during which Derb says he lost his faith. His recent articles and Corner posts display a snarky, sardonic, contemptuous tone toward those he disagrees with (for example, his interactions with Ramesh Ponnuru on pro-life issues), something that was entirely absent from his writing when he first appeared in NR, which was warm and good-natured in comparison. Thus, in the very course of explaining how he now believes religion makes no difference in what kind of a person one is, Derbyshire himself serves as an example of loss of religion making one a worse person.
By the way, in response to Tom S’s “I don’t really get this ‘humor-free’ stuff”—I think by now it’s safe to assume that “humor-free” means “bereft of smutty jokes and lowbrow pop-culture references.” I note with irony—even more significant now after his hot-tub-interview jokes than after his “Playboy is conservative” article—that one can still buy t-shirts featuring Derbyshire’s visage with the quotation “Pop culture is filth.”
A female correspondent writes:
I am laughing out loud at your frequent mentions of Derb’s wanting to interview a babe in a hot-tub, as well as Jonah’s delectation of semi-naked babes with power tools, not to mention a reader’s representation of Derb and Murray ecstatically running off to live in a Guatemalan ghetto.
But are you being fair that Derb should answer your arguments about his semi-porno musings? You think they have no place at NRO and should be stopped, period. Why should he spend time trying to answer such questions as, “Is it appropriate or not to write this kind of thing at NRO? Is it appropriate for a married man to write this kind of thing? Is it appropriate for anyone to write this kind of thing period? Is it appropriate for conservatives to express indignation and disgust at finding such things in a conservative publication?”
Aren’t the two sides pretty clear? You think it’s not appropriate and I guess he does.
Well, I only said that answering my criticisms would have been a better road for him than launching a four-paragraph-long ad hominem attack.
But your point doesn’t even make sense. Since when does the fact that a person clearly has a certain belief relieve him of the need to defend it when it is criticized?
By your logic, there would never be discussion between opposed views, since everyone already knows what the respective parties believe.
Alan R. writes:
When Derb calls VFR a “humor-free zone,” I think if he were more accurate, he would say that he means “irony-free zone.” Irony, and its brother, cynicism, are the stock-in-trade of most non-conservative public thinkers these days, and Derb undoubtedly feels out of place in an earnest, serious environment.
Yes. After Derbyshire gave the interview in which he called VFR a “humor-free zone” and added that I (whom he has never met or spoken with, and whom he had been on friendly and confiding e-mail terms with for some time) am a person who goes through life without a sense of humor, I wrote to him about this, and he repeated that VFR and I were humorless. When I then said that it was not its supposed lack of humor that bothered him about the site, but its seriousness, because intellectual seriousness was alien to him, he confirmed my suggestion in spades, by replying that his aim in life is to walk a fine line between earnestness and frivolity, i.e., his aim is to be half-frivolous in everything he does.
Also, in case anyone is thinking that I violated confidences by revealing publicly what Derbyshire said to me in that e-mail conversation, I never said anything about it publicly until Derbyshire did so at the Corner, making false statements about my motives for criticizing him that required me to straighten out the record. (I had previously referenced the Derbyshire interview and my comment to him about it, but not his comments to me.) The same applies here to my discussion of the H-bd list. It was Derbyshire who brought up the H-bd list as part of his ad hominem attack on me, making it necessary and proper for me to clarify the record by quoting discussions from that list.
A reader writes:
Two regular “writers” for NR Online post lascivious, smutty “comments” (in addition to one musing off the top of his head about atheistic notions and the other writing additional smutty comments).
You criticize them in the name of conservatism and common decency—would any adult really want to read such nonsense as theirs? In response, they make no effort to defend themselves, instead making childish, rude attacks on your moral probity and seriousness.
Here we have in the boldest colors yet the destruction of NR as a serious—indeed, as an adult—journal of conservative opinion as a result of Buckley’s truly inexplicable decision in 1997 to make an unqualified young man the editor of NR and an even more unqualified young woman the editor of NRO. They are responsible for publishing regularly Derbyshire’s lazy musings and Goldberg’s trash (not to mention Lowry’s own callow “analysis”).
They have turned NR in part into a neocon magazine—which, as you have explained, in truth is a conservative form of liberalism. True conservatism is based on respect for the fundamental teachings of the Bible about human nature and sinfulness. Mr. Derbyshire and Master Goldberg obviously are secularists. Thus has Buckley weakened conservatism and undone much of his life’s work, the results of which are all around us—and which pollute “The Corner.”
As I leave the thought occurs I would like to add: When Mr. Auster criticizes Goldberg for publishing smutty comments, the latter responds like a self-indulgent child: “Auster hates me.”
Edward G. writes:
Derbyshire’s criticism of you is based on the fact that you are a consistent and logical thinker. The hallmark of a first class mind and the reason why I read your blog. Most atheists cannot be reasoned with because they know almost nothing about religion or philosophy. There is no place to begin the discussion since they are usually attacking a straw man constructed by a 12 year old mind.
Alan R. writes:
Regarding Derb: He is endlessly fascinating, because he is become a synecdoche for all of liberaldom. (Hope I phrased that right; I don’t use “synecdoche” very often!) In his inability or unwillingness to use substantial arguments against his critics, he is just a typical liberal. Reason #1 why I began to turn against liberalism is when I realized that they generally rarely use arguments to make their case.
It seems to me that a preference for style over substance is a characteristic of uncivilized people, that is, savages. I have heard that for most Indians of pre-European-colonization North America, the greatest feat a warrior could achieve was not to kill his enemies, but to “count coup” on them, that is, touch them without being recognized, somewhat as David did with King Saul. I heard of one warrior who donned the clothing of the enemy, entered their camp, and counted coup on several dozen of them. This was regarded as the greatest feat that the Indians had ever heard of.
In like manner, the non-conservative thinker would rather respond to his critics with a stylish bon mot than a substantial argument. This is an uncivilized attitude, and we should avoid it. (Of course, a stylish bon mot adds relish to a substantial argument, so let’s use it when we can!)
That’s a good point about bon mots in place of arguments. Bon mots in addition to arguments are of course welcome.
Also, I agree that Derbyshire is interesting and (in ways he doesn’t intend) significant. That’s why I’ve written about him so much. It’s not all about my pushing an agenda. In the case of Derb, his increasingly liberal attitude is both a fascinating phenomenon in itself and fits VFR’s larger purpose, which is to build up the understandings of a genuine conservatism, as distinct from the dominant liberal conservatism.
A reader writes:
Goldberg and, now, Derbyshire, have degraded NR just as Clinton degraded the Presidency, and for a similar reason—their immature, self-absorbed disregard of traditional standards of decency. The difference is that they publicly are unapologetic, whereas Clinton felt he had to make at least a pretense of an apology.
Of course, I’ve been pointing this out for years. I’m still waiting for one participant at the Corner, or one conservative anywhere other than at VFR, to say, “Do trashy, smutty comments like this belong at a conservative political website?”
Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 16, 2006 04:07 PM | Send