Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Senator Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything

Al Capp had an acronym for anti-war protesters, back in the days when John Kerry was just another smart-aleck liar swelling the crowds. It also brings to mind something Tom Wolfe said in his graduation day speech at Boston University in 2000:

Starting in the early twentieth century, for the first time an ordinary story teller, a novelist, a short story writer, a poet, a playwright, in certain cases composers, in certain cases artists, could achieve a tremendous emminence by taking on a moral indignation about some subject without any intellectual effort whatsoever.

Suddenly you are elevated to a plane from which you can look down upon ordinary people.

Conversely--this fascinates me--conversely, if you are merely a brilliant scholar, merely someone who has added immeasurably to the sum of human knowledge and the powers of human insight, that does not qualify you for the emminence of being an intellectual.

I’ll give you an example, right across the river... there’s the amazing figure of Noam Chomsky.

Noam Chomsky on his own did an extremely brilliant thing: he’s a linguist, he’s a scientist, and a scholar. He figured that speech, grammar, the human capacity to record in memory is literally physically built into the human nervous system. It is not something learned, it is built.

That is why a child can take a new word like"chair" and immediately drop it into a sentence at the age of two, can say, "my doll fell off the chair," with a subject, a predicate, and objects and all the rest.

It’s only in our time, the end of the twentieth century, the beginning of the twenty-first, that neuro scientists have the instruments by which they are beginning to prove that Noam Chomsky was right. A brilliant, brilliant human being.

Did anyone call him an intellectual merely because he was one ofthe most brilliant people in the United States?

No. When did he become an intellectual?

When he finally spoke out about something he knew absolutely nothing of: the war in Vietnam.

When he denounced the war in Vietnam, suddenly Noam Chomsky became a leading American intellectual.

One of the things that I find really makes it worth watching all the AcademyAwards, all the Emmys, all those awards ceremonies, is to see the fact that today actors and television performers have discovered the fact that, if you become indignant this elevates you to the plane of "intellectual."

It is a fact, incontrovertible. It’s never been contradicted by experience or history, and watch these awards ceremonies from now on with this in mind: that when an actor or a television performer rises up to the microphone at one of these awards ceremonies and expresses moral indignation over something, he is illustrating Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that moral indignation is the standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity.

And listening to John Kerry the last couple of days indignantly criticizing the U.S. Army for not finding one-tenth of a percent of the ammunition they did find and destroy, makes it incontrovertible that it's now the standard strategy of the idiot on the campaign trail, too.

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