The unspoken scandal of the Enron scandal is that the scandalmongers are boring us to death. That’s not to say this isn’t a big, possibly criminal, mess, but until someone can find a little more political there there, I’m done with it (see my syndicated column for my final take).
But, at the same time, there’s little else to talk about, so I thought this might be a good opportunity to turn inward and bring you a long-overdue corrections and clarifications column. If you don’t know what this is — and you can’t figure it out from the words “corrections and clarifications column” — maybe you should stop huffing the cleaning products under your sink. Or, you could consult one of the many out-of-date FAQs I’ve written in the past.
As I suspected, a great number of people were very angry with me over my tête-à-tête with Andrew Sullivan and/or the libertarian legions. I think we’ve all heard enough about all that for now, especially the libertoid stuff. That said, many readers — as I predicted — derided my “surrender,” “capitulation,” and general “bone-headedness” on the issue of gay marriage. By arguing from the perspective of temperamental conservatism — with its emphasis on prudence, patience, and muddling through — many readers thought I conceded the transcendent and fundamental arguments against gay marriage and homosexuality in general.
After rereading that column, I’m not so sure I did that. What I can be accused of is leaving the transcendent stuff out of my discussion. Fair enough. But my aim, in that parlay with Sullivan, was to argue on his terms. If you think the author of Virtually Normal hasn’t heard all of the Thomistic or, I dunno, Kantian arguments saying “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” you’re kidding yourselves. My “patience” argument is something relatively new to the debate and, while it may lack in Aristotelian catchphrases and impenetrable schema, it actually deals with the world as it is, as opposed to the world as “we” want it to be. That might be a surrender — I’m still pondering that — but I intended it to be an advance.
Gays are not Marxists or Fabian Socialists; they are people who, for all practical purposes, were born that way. Which means they cannot be argued away the way Marxists can be. And besides, as Rousseau noted, censorship is useful for the preservation of morals but not for the restoration of them.
“You can’t just assert that gays are just born that way,” declared scores of readers demanding evidence that homosexuals are born gay. Maybe they’re right. But I didn’t just declare that. I declared that “gays… are people who, for all practical purposes, were born that way.” You can ignore the phrase “practical purposes” if you like, but don’t give me a hard time as if it’s not there.
Yes, I do believe that the environment plays a role in determining sexual orientation for some significant fraction of homosexuals and some heterosexuals. But I also believe just as firmly that some people are simply born gayer than raspberries in the snow. That’s all beside the point.
The crux of the issue is that for all practical purposes, it doesn’t matter how some so-called “waverers” became gay. Because they are that way now. And unless conservatives are going to endorse some pretty draconian and, more to the point, unenforceable policies, gays aren’t going to go away or be “cured.” Accepting that gays are going to be around for the foreseeable future is not buying into the homosexual agenda. Denying it, however, encourages the most extreme and silly fringes of the gay-rights movement — and locks conservatives, of all parties, out of the relevant debate over the important question, “What should be done about gays?” I’ve hardly made up my mind on the question, but at least I’m thinking about it on the assumption that gays are here to stay. I can’t say the same for a lot of conservatives.
My position on homosexuality might lead some folks to charge that I am immanentizing the eschaton. Whether appropriate or not, that would be really convenient, because a lot of readers really want to know what that phrase means.
At the end of my column, “We Can See Clearly Now,” I chastised many of you for not being more zealous promoters of NRO. I wrote:
I’m not asking anyone to become the high-minded ideological equivalent of a Howard Stern listener, calling in to shows to ask Brian Lamb if he’s immanentized his eschaton lately, but it would be nice if you could swing the big foam finger with “NRO’s Number 1″ every now and then.
This elicited three types of responses: 1) people wanting to know where they could buy a big foam finger with “NRO’s Number 1″ on it, 2) ecstatic shouts of “Thank God someone remembers!” or “Nice Illuminati reference!” and 3) people who wanted to know, “What the hell does ‘immanentized his eschaton’ mean?”
It is this last category of readers who were ensnared by my conservative dork trap. And now that I have you tied up in curiosity, like Butch and Marsellus in Pulp Fiction, I can indulge myself at my leisure. “Immanentize the eschaton” is a hard-core conservative insider-thing. Sort of like saying “TK-421, where are you?” to a Star Wars freak.
In modern parlance, the phrase was coined by the late, great Eric Voegelin in The New Science of Politics in 1952. Voegelin doesn’t make for easy reading, and if you can get through The New Science of Politics you probably think I’m an idiot and aren’t reading this column anyway. One small example: Voegelin writes, “The problem of an eidos in history, hence, arises only when a Christian transcendental fulfillment becomes immanentized. Such an immanentist hypostasis of the eschaton, however, is a theoretical fallacy.” Now, if you can understand that the first time through, you probably need a tan.
Anyway, Voegelin believed that Western civilization took a wrong turn under those damnable Gnostics. Gnostics are small furry creatures with opposable thumbs and who tend to get into your garbage cans. Oh, wait. Sorry. Those are raccoons (whom Cosmo considers to be Gnostics — very long story there).
Gnostics were pre-Christian, early Christian, and various Jewish sects who believed that if you stood on one foot while saying the alphabet backwards, or some other silliness, you could release your soul from material constraints while you were still alive.
Actually, that may not be exactly right either. The problem is that Gnosticism took many forms, in many places, over many distinct periods (sort of like bell-bottom pants). The central thing to keep in mind is that Gnostics believed that personal enlightenment — or revelation to a specific truth or viewpoint — liberated you from the need to find salvation in the afterlife or through any conventional, institutional means. Instead of going to salvation, they brought salvation to them (a Muslim Gnostic, I assume, could have his 72 virgins delivered to his home — which, if true, would make Islamic Gnosticism the fastest-growing religion in the world, for men). It’s not surprising, then, that the Catholic Church was constantly putting out Gnostic fires through most of its history.
Because the Gnostics believed they — and they alone — had figured out God’s plan in the here and now, they tended to be very, very smug and more than a little annoying (except when they were on the rack, which tended to make them a lot less smirky). It also inclined Gnostics to argue that heaven could be established here on earth, that through material or political means they could perfect the inherently imperfectible.
If that sounds shockingly like Hillary Clinton to you, you deserve a door prize (“But I don’t need a door!” my couch just heckled). Voegelin believed that Gnosticism flourished in the liberal, leftist, Nazi, and Communist minds. These folks were hell-bent (heh, heh) on creating heaven on earth. According to Voegelin’s perspective, Ralph Nader is a direct descendant of — I am not making this up — such 9th-century crypto-Gnostic thinkers as Scotus Eriugena (if you are tempted to write me saying, “Eriugena was a pantheist, not a Gnostic,” I bet you need a tan too).
So: Immanentize means to make part of the here and now. Eschaton, like eschatology, relates to the branch of theology which deals with humanity’s destiny. You know, the end times, when all of that wacky, end-timey, Seventh-Seal stuff happens (oceans boil, the righteous ascend to heaven, Carrot Top is funny, etc). Hence “immanentizing the eschaton” means, in effect, trying to make what is reserved for the next life part of the here and now. You can see why all sorts of cults, heretical sects, Scientologists, and various flavors of Mother Jones readers — including the Fighting Illuminati — would be accused of doing precisely that.
So why do conservatives care about all this so much? Well, because in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks largely to William F. Buckley’s popularization of the phrase, Young Americans For Freedom turned it into a political slogan. Pale YAFers sported bumper stickers warning, “Don’t Immanentize the Eschaton.” I believe buttons were made for Mr. Buckley’s mayoral campaign when he ran against that renowned eschaton immanentizer, John Lindsay, saying the same thing.
Now that you know all that, I should apologize to Brian Lamb for suggesting that he’s such a person. However, you can hardly deny that some C-SPAN callers would dearly love to immanentize the eschaton.
Going to the Dogs
To date, I’ve received about 500 mostly thoughtful e-mails on the pressing question of “canine civilization.” I am incredibly grateful for the help. Lots of folks keep asking when I’m going to follow up on the subject. Truth be told, I want to do a really big article on it, but I need to find a magazine that would want it (does anyone at The Atlantic read my column?). Somehow, I doubt NR would want it at all, and certainly not at the length I would like to write. And, you conspiracy nuts should keep in mind, Rich Lowry is, well, a cat person.
Regardless, I owe some canine-corrections. In the NRO 2002 predictions symposium, I prophesied that a “proper hound will make it to the final round at Westminster for the first time.” For reasons I’m still trying to get to the bottom of, I had blocked out the fact that a bloodhound made it to the finals in 2001. You see, proper hounds, those who nobly trundle through the underbrush and view the entire world as a fascinating conundrum of smells — like bassets, bloods, and the like — have been getting the shaft at Westminster for so long, I guess last year just didn’t register. I apologize.
Also, in the column dealing with canine civilization, I referred to a “British police dog” who refused to leave the grave of his master and partner. The dog was actually Scottish — an important distinction since, as we all know, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap.” His name was Greyfriars Bobby. If you are a sucker for dog stories, click here.
Moving on to the most important dog in the world, many of you criticized me for suggesting that Cosmo had “botched” his interview with Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. All I can say about that is, Cosmo was unhappy with it, and who am I to question his instincts — journalistic or otherwise?
Also, several of you protested in response to my column where I said that Cosmo makes a funny face when I say foombalakachoomba to him. Readers noted, “If you said foombalakachoomba to me, I’d make a funny face too.” And therein lies the joke.
Lastly, many of you have voiced concerns that I have not offered a new picture of Cosmo in a long time. Some have even suggested something sinister might be a-paw. As you can see from this picture, Cosmo is in fine form and this is the front page of today’s Washington Post.
Flying Monkeys Ahoy!
In my column about William Safire’s “courage,” I ridiculed the notion that dissent, in and of itself, is admirable. I wrote:
If I declare that I have the holy grail in my pants, can bake 12-minute brownies in 4 minutes, eat kittens because vests have no sleeves, and that aardvarks tend to split their infinitives, I may well be a brave dissenter from bourgeois norms, but I’m [also] certainly a jabbering lunatic.
A graduate student at Carnegie Mellon wrote in response:
I was pondering the phrase “holy grail in my pants,” and I’ve decided that it’s not that insane. Sure, if you refer to the “Little Gentleman” as the “Holy Grail,” you’ll get some odd stares. But if you use it as the nickname for your athletic supporter (and lift a line from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), you may well have the most potent health-club pick-up line in all of human history: “I have the Holy Grail in my pants… and this certainly is the cup of the King of Kings.”
Frankly, I find this offensive.
I wrote in another column that 2002 was the last palindromic year of the century. Oddly, this confused some people who sent me other palindromic years — 2112, 2222, etc. Most of these people were embarrassed when I pointed out these years come in different centuries. But others had full-blown Kobiashi Maru-style responses (Kobiashi Maru is an “immanentize the eschaton” kind of thing to say to Star Trek fans). Here’s one:
To all those stuck in the dreary base 10 number system known as decimal, I suggest you expand your number theories to include, at the very least, base 2 (binary), base 8 (octal), and base 16 (hexadecimal) systems. No longer will you need to needlessly wait until 2112 to celebrate your next palindrome! Indeed, you would all be dead. 2007 to the rescue! — er, what? Quick, to the bat calculator! Change it to hexadecimal and BAMMO! 7D7 to the rescue.
I have no response to that, and I hope you don’t either.
I was simply wrong that Pakistan means “Land of the Pure.” The land of the pure would be MIT, since no one has sex there. It would also be Khalistan, which does mean “land of the pure.” I am hardly alone in making this mistake, as I was misinformed about the meaning of Pakistan by a Washington Post article. Regardless, the derivation of Pakistan’s name comes from a 1933 pamphlet written by a bunch of Cambridge students. The letters P-A-K come from combining the first letters of Punjab, Afghanistan, and Kasmir, which gives you PAKistan. Now, if you took the second letters from each place you’d get “Ufastan,” which is meaningless, except for the fact that “ooofa” is a funny sound and rhymes with loofah, which brings to mind Caddyshack. But that’s best not explored.
In the NRO war-movie symposium I suggested that the Gallipolli campaign was “Winston Churchill’s one great screw-up.” Several readers have argued that Churchill’s plan was utter genius, but the idiotic staff messed it up. As I think Churchill was the biggest hoss of the 20th century, I am willing to believe that.
Few people commented on my column, “War and Patience,” because by the time I finished writing it, it was proved right and made obsolete at the same time. That’s too bad, because I liked it.
Conversely, a zillion people were furious with me for my assertion on Thanksgiving Eve that “…from the moment the Declaration of Independence was signed to the moment you eat your turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day 2001, Americans have become more, not less free.” Much of the non-hysterical, non-black-helicopter criticism was very well argued. And, while I think lots of folks wanted to miss my point, I probably could have qualified the statement better. But since I want to come back to that topic in a normal column, let’s just leave it there.