On the Tuesday of last week the Associated Press broke a major story: “Scientists Say Men, Women Not Alike.” On Wednesday, AP topped its own scoop by blaring the news, “Study: Parents Can Affect Teen Sex.” Then on Thursday, Reuters blew both stories out of the water with this blockbuster: “Women Want Security, Men Want Sex.” But wouldn’t you know it? Before the Pulitzer committee could file the pro forma paper work, Reuters stepped on its own story by releasing the ground-pounding news: “Parents’ Sexual Orientation Matters, Study Finds.”
The reason you didn’t read much about any of this in the New York Times last week was that they were too busy managing the firestorm over their major exposé: “School Bullying Is Common, Mostly by Boys, Study Finds.”
Because I have an indomitable faith in the power of science to unravel the mysteries of the universe and an even greater faith in the press to stay on top of the situation, here are the top ten headlines I am looking forward to in the not-too-distant future:
10. “Dumb People, Children, More Likely To Eat Poison By Mistake”
9. “Study’s Disturbing Discrepancy; Africans Less Likely to Get Sunburn than Scandinavians”
8. “Dogs Continue to Smell Butts at Alarming Rate: Solutions Remain Elusive”
7. “Men Think Fart Jokes Funny; Women Less Likely, Survey Reveals”
6. “Gamblers, Pimps, Whores Lack Health Insurance, Pension Plans”
5. “Religious Conservatives Refuse to Ride Rent-a-boy Float at Gay Pride Parade”
4. “Movie Stars Likely to Be Dumb But Attractive, Extensive Testing Shows” (Sidebar: “Alec Baldwin Dies, Thought Electrodes Would ‘Taste Good’)”
3. “Wolverines Don’t Like To be Teased, Researcher Learns at Great Cost”
2. “Drunk Women with Low Self-Esteem Choose Sexual Partners Poorly”
1. “Children From Stable, Two-Parent Homes More Successful Than Children Raised By Wolves”
A Neoconservative’s Society
Now, all joking aside, there’s a serious point to be made here. What does it say when the media and society generally consider common sense to be news and the existence of human nature to be a revelation?
Well, one of the things it illustrates is the degree to which modernist ideology saturates our thinking. For much of the 20th century, enlightened intellectuals argued that the past has nothing to teach us. Science and liberationist ideology conspired to teach us that the past and tradition were so much social ballast keeping us down.
Along came the conservatives. They said, “no, no.” They denounced the arrogance of intellect of social planners who believed they could slay the dragon of social complexity with a slide rule. They denounced those who would throw away our heritage without a reliable replacement. They fought the good fight. But, in the end, the conservatives needed some help.
Along came the neoconservatives, the mostly Jewish public intellectuals from the old Partisan Review, the Public Interest and Commentary. As we all know, the greatest contribution to the conservative movement by the neoconservatives is that they brought really excellent deli food. Prior to their arrival, conservative catering amounted to American cheese, Ritz crackers, and lots and lots of mayo.
Okay, just kidding — although, as Maimonides said, “pastrami doesn’t help every problem, but it never hurts.” Seriously, as William F. Buckley has noted, the neoconservatives brought social science to conservatism. Prior to the neocons, conservatism was a bit preoccupied with metaphysical abstractions. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in the second half of the 20th century, using Thomistic arguments didn’t win many converts in a society swooning over scientific advances, material prosperity, and the authority of “experts.”
What the neocons did was fight social science with social science. The new cons published studies proving what the old cons had said all along was true. Indeed, you could argue that the neoconservative project, domestically, was an effort to prove through regression analysis and reams of data that everything your grandmother told you was true.
Of course, today it’s not just a bunch of eggheads talking about “maximum feasible misunderstanding” and the “law of unintended consequences.” Today, we’re all neocons in a certain narrow sense. We’re all “discovering” that the accumulated wisdom of hundreds of generations actually contains a lot of useful information. As science reconfirms human nature, and as the radicalism of identity politics and post-modernism decay into self-parody, common sense is getting a new lease on life.
Consider, for example, the story reported today in The Times of London: that American researchers have concluded that “Adolescents with tattoos are much more likely than other teenagers to be involved with drugs, alcohol or even gang violence.”
Shocking! Though we are still waiting for the results of a study attempting to establish a link between kids who steal hubcaps with getting low grades in algebra.
Still, there’s something sad about a society of neoconservatives, too. The fact that so many Americans need a study to tell them tattoos aren’t merely a form of self-expression is deeply depressing in the sense that it shows how far we have to go (People say “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” as if this is the wisest thing in the world. But the truth is, short of reading a book, looking at the cover is the best way to judge it. The cover tells you what the author and the publisher want you to know about the book).
Or take a famous headline from the New York Times in 1997: “Crime Keeps Falling but Prisons Keep on Filling.” The author and the editors of the Times seemed to think this was some sort of paradox when in fact it’s like saying, “I keep eating pizza, but my belly keeps getting bigger.” For most of human history, it wouldn’t even be remotely shocking that crime went down as prisons filled.
The same thing holds true for these oft-cited studies that show that religious people live longer. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, but 100 years ago few people would be shocked by a study saying so. It is a fact that people who are in good enough shape to go to Church on Sunday morning are less likely to occupy that cohort of Americans who spend their Saturday nights eating a whole wheel of brie while jacked up on coke and hookers at Robert Downey Jr.’s latest intervention.
Indeed, if you were to read any one of the stories I cited at the beginning of this column — men and women aren’t the same, men dig sex while women like security, having two dads but no mom has an effect on the kids, etc, — to my great-grandmother, she’d say “I need a newspaper to tell me this?” (of course they’d have to be translated into Yiddish first). But today, and for the foreseeable future, we’re gonna be treated to headlines that say, in effect, “Your Father Was Right: Bears Do Sh-t in the Woods.”