Decadent culture, self-esteeming selves, sloppy minds

Michael Walsh writes at PJ Media:

It’s axiomatic today that “mainstream” journalists are corrupt tools of the liberal ascendancy, ethical roundheels who finally found Mr. Dreamboat in Barack Hussein Obama and have spent the years since 2008 lying on their backs and moaning. And that’s partly true.

No, Mr. Walsh, if a statement is axiomatic, it is simply true, not partly true. For example, a proper use of “axiomatic” is: “It is axiomatic that the instinct for self-preservation is universal throughout the animal kingdom.”

I don’t think that if Walsh had written this article thirty years ago when he got his first job as a reporter he would have made such a gross error.

Conservatives speak of cultural decline. But one of the worst aspects of such decline is never spoken of: the laziness, lack of logical rigor, and just plain sloppiness of our intellectual and writing classes. From time to time I write politely to journalists and professors (if I can find their e-mail address) to point out factual or grammatical errors in their articles, and, while some have thanked me for the correction, several of them have cavalierly brushed off my point and said that it did not matter. They made it shockingly plain that they don’t care about standards. It seems a fairly common feeling among the mainstream intellectual classes today, including conservatives, is that they themselves are just great and can do anything they want.

As for Michael Walsh, he’s a career writer and presumably cultured. He started out as a reporter in 1972 and is a widely published classical music critic.

From Wikipedia:

Walsh was named chief classical music critic of the San Francisco Examiner in November 1977, where in 1980 he won an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for music criticism. He became music critic of Time magazine in the spring of 1981,[2] where his cover story subjects included James Levine, Vladimir Horowitz and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

From 1997-2002 he was a visiting fellow of the University Professors, Professor of Journalism and Professor of Film & Television at Boston University. He is currently Vice President of the board of the Wende Museum, devoted to East German and Soviet art, artefacts and scholarship, in Culver City, California.

He’s written seven nonfiction books, mainly on classical music, and several novels and thrillers.

- end of initial entry -

Sam writes:

I am acutely aware of the fact that I all too frequently use imperfect grammar. I was educated in the 1980s and 1990s, when liberal baby-boomer “theorists” were first starting to exact their toll upon the educational system. As I recall, at that time, it was a mark of enlightenment amongst educational “theorists” to dismiss the importance of things such as correct grammar. I am now trying to perform some remedial education upon myself as to how the English language ought to be used. That this is the case is an outrage; I have a PhD, yet I know that I have gotten as far as I have without having fully mastered the English language, and this is because my teachers decided that it wasn’t important to teach me grammar. And I seriously think that I am one of the better cases with respect to academics in my generation.

I also know that this is only getting worse. Every year, my students are writing at a more primitive level. I would surmise that a college freshman today writes at the same level as a 10th or 11th grader from 30 years ago. And I know many colleagues of mine in academia who are sub-competent in their use of the English language, and sub-competent in their ability to think clearly and do serious intellectual work. And yet this is no impediment to their continuing entrenchment in the institution. In the case of journalism, I suspect that the situation can only be worse than it was 30 years ago, and for the same reasons.

LA replies:

In addition to having a good education in grammar and writing, which I had in public schools and in college as an English major, one of the best ways to learn good grammar, good style, and lucid expression is to read deeply and be affected by authors who have those qualities. My own style, the way I form a sentence, has been influenced by authors I read in my teens and twenties. For example, the way I put phrases together in a sentence borrows from the distinctive, rather formal, and hyper lucid and exact style of P.D. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, which I first read at age 21. My sentences are also consciously influenced by W.B. Yeats’s poetry, which I first read and loved as a college sophomore, the distinctive way he constructs phrases.

At the same time, I am not at all a master of grammar. I’ve forgotten many of the things I learned in school, there are many rules I don’t know, or at least I don’t know them well enough to explain them but just know them instinctively, and I sometimes wing it and sometimes have to look things up.

It’s like spelling. Learning spelling—especially in English which is such a difficult language to spell because it’s so irregular and non-phonetic—is a lifelong task. One should not be embarrassed when one makes a spelling error or has an error pointed out by another person, but should just gratefully learn the correct spelling. The attitude should be one of lifelong learning and improvement. For example, until twenty years ago, I spelled “resistance” as “resistence” (I think I used the incorrect spelling in The Path to National Suicide). Until ten years ago, I spelled “dysfunction” as “disfunction.” David Horowitz pointed out the latter error to me when I made it in an article I had submitted to him.

Hannon writes:

The fact that you uphold excellent standards of writing is an important element in the political argumentation at VFR. If an educated person does not take writing seriously, right down to spelling errors, why should I take him seriously in his philosophy or politics? [LA replies: I agree.] Sloppy habits, sloppy thinking. My only quibble is that you sometimes use extra commas, as here:

I don’t think that if Walsh had written this article thirty years ago, he would have made such a gross error. [LA replies: I agree. I’ll take that comma out.]

Even though that is a minor quibble, one with which you may not agree, I suspect you will not disregard it, unlike the authors you have written to in similar fashion. About twenty years ago I was roundly criticized for my overuse of commas by a group of fellow writers and editors. I finally saw their point and now I am sensitized to the way others use commas.

Your observation of the responses from those you have criticized for their writing errors, in addition to what is produced by writers every day, begs the question: what is their motivation when cobbling together words and ideas? Commercial appeal— meeting market demand— is an obvious answer. I think it goes deeper than this, though. In popular writing today all is sacrificed to economy of words and not alienating an audience that has a five minute attention span. The finished piece must sound pleasing even if it is bereft of coherence or content.

After all, the upholding of demanding writing standards equates to a subtle form of oppression of nonwhites by literate whites.

Sam replies to LA:
This is an interesting comment, because my early intellectual formation was heavily influenced by the worst of the worst. It was most heavily influenced, first, by existentialists like Sartre and Camus, and then by beatniks like Kerouac and Burroughs and Ginsburg. This, along with postmodern philosophers like Foucault and Derrida. These are the people my liberal baby-boomer professors told me to read and to emulate. And so I assumed that this mode of “thinking” was normative and expressed some kind of liberating catharsis.

But as I slowly discovered more of the classical tradition, the more I realized that Kerouac and Burroughs and Ginsburg do not deserve to be read. Neither do Foucault and Derrida. They are mere intellectual ants in comparison with giants like Homer and Dante, Aristotle and Aquinas. They should only be read by people doing an intellectual autopsy upon mid-twentieth century intellectual pathology. If all of their writings were to disappear, humanity will have lost nothing. And yet, this what my intellectual “superiors” told me to focus on; intellectual detritus.

I have had to overcome slowly the crippling effects of my education. And this makes me all the more acutely aware of my own limitations, and of what has been lost in the upheavals of the last 50 years. And I want to do everything in my power to reverse this so that my children do not have to live in this kind of world.

Joe S. writes:

An “axiomatic” statement need not be true, or even partially true. If it is used as a basis for reasoning then it is an axiom, but some people have incorrect axioms. I read Walsh to be saying that it is axiomatic FOR CONSERVATIVES that journalists are corrupt tools, and that he, unlike them, regards that statement to be only partially true. He happens to be wrong both about the truth value of the statement (it is completely true) and its axiomatic status among conservatives (we have more than enough evidence for it so it doesn’t need to be assumed as

LA replies:

It simply stands out like a sore thumb for him to say that something is “axiomatic,” and then say it is “partly true.” That is poor writing.

Joe S. writes:

He should have said “axiomatic for conservatives” rather than “axiomatic,” and I agree that his writing was poor, I am just saying that I think I know what he meant.

Logic is VERY inadequately taught in schools, and I believe this to be a conscious and essential component of the dumbing-down strategy the Left has implemented so effectively. You complain about the poor teaching of grammar, and that is also related to the decline of logical skills.

At this point, liberals don’t even need to make coherent arguments, they merely need to pretend to be doing so, knowing that the media will pretend to find their arguments to be valid and the people in general will assume that they must be valid or else the media would have pointed out the fallacies.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 02, 2013 01:37 PM | Send

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