The G-File


Courage: The Greatest of Virtues

Police patrol the area outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following the school shooting incident on February 15, 2018. (Zachary Fagenson/Reuters)
There's a lot of room on the right for different policy principles — as long as we operate in good faith and tell the truth, always.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Or Listener),

As the reporter assigned the job of writing the article about all of Sidney Blumenthal’s friends and supporters told his editor, I’m going to have to keep this short.

I’ve spent most of every day this week in a studio recording the audiobook version of my dead-tree/pixel book. It has been exhausting — far more exhausting than I remember it being when I did it the last time.

I’m going back into the studio at 9:30, and I still have to perambulate the canines and perform all manner of other rituals.

So I’ll be brief and, let’s be honest, fairly random, slipshod, sanctimonious, arrogant, and entirely too glib. In other words, I’ll be just like the rest of the media, only with infinitely more talking couches — remember, all increases from zero are infinite. (“I was told there’d be no math” — The Couch.)

Let me start with the sanctimony.

Last night, the news broke that the sheriff’s deputy assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School stood outside the school and listened to the gunfire within. The instant responses to this revelation on Twitter were fascinating. On the right, the general response ranged from righteous disgust and condemnation to humble and understanding disgust and condemnation. On the left, there was a lot more empathy for the guy.

I can certainly understand the empathy. I can easily see myself paralyzed with fear, looking for an excuse not to run in: Maybe I’d think that I needed to wait for back-up, secure the perimeter, etc. But, then again, I didn’t put on a badge or take an oath. I didn’t stand as a living promissory note in front of those kids every day, giving them the illusion that help would be on the way. Kids rushed to the rescue of other kids. A football coach gave his life by putting his body in front of bullets. But a cop with a gun did . . . nothing.

(And his boss, until last night, was quite willing to rain blame, scorn, and sanctimony from a great height on parties who had, at best, an abstract connection to the shooting.)

Empathizing with cowardice — if that’s what it was — is not the same as excusing it.

Look, however you come down on the issue of guns, the point should be the same: None of this works if cops can’t be relied upon to do their job. The whole argument for gun control hinges on the idea that, in a modern society, people don’t really need guns for self-defense because we have the police to protect us (and because the government will never become tyrannical). Therefore, guns are dangerous toys, tools, and luxuries that can and should be heavily regulated — or banned.

Well, if the police cannot be counted on to engage mass shooters — as protocol dictated in this case — that argument is in trouble. (It’s in even more trouble when it turns out that the FBI and virtually every other official agency dropped the ball.)

That raises the second interesting thing about the reaction. People who hate the idea of arming teachers or, more generally, the “good guy with a gun” argument, insisted that this cop’s failure proved those ideas were dumb and wouldn’t work. “See, there was a good guy with a gun, and he did nothing!”

Meanwhile, people who support training and arming teachers, or the good-guy-with-a-gun argument, looked at the same event and said, “This proves that we’re right!”

Confirmation bias is a helluva drug.

But back to this empathy thing. All week, I’ve been hearing people say that anyone who took money from the NRA or who disagrees with the kid crusaders has “blood on his hands” and is on the side of “killing children.” And when someone offers even the slightest skepticism about this rhetoric or the desirability of using traumatized kids as political props, a river of sanctimonious rage pours forth.

But when you criticize a cop for doing nothing, it’s suddenly “Who are you to judge?” for as far as the eye can see. I think that’s weird.

Three Cheers for Truth-Telling

Okay, let’s stay on sanctimony for a bit longer.

But first, as promised, randomness!

The other day, I got into a little tiff with the robot running The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary Twitter account. I wrote:

One of my peeves is when the burrista at Chipotle clips his fingernails over the black beans. But that’s not important right now. (Oh, and please advise the lawyers for the Sheinhardt Wig Company or whoever owns Chipotle that I was joking.) Another peeve of mine is how dictionaries all seem to be jumping into the neologism game like it was the Bushwood Country Club swimming pool on Caddy Day. The Oxford English Dictionary declared that the 2017 “Word of the Year” was . . . “Youthquake.” So now people can use “youthquake” un-ironically for all time. Yay. What a glorious time to be alive.

A third peeve of mine is how all the dictionaries and linguists are constantly giving people permission to use old words in new and technically incorrect ways. I say “technically,” because the argument seems to be that in spoken English, at least, there is no such thing as incorrect usage — once it becomes popular. (Please, don’t send me ponderous lecture-y emails about all this. I know many of you want to.) The battle for “decimate” is lost. The battle for “beg the question” lives, but we happy few Butches and Sundances know the Bolivian Army will win in the end.

The truth is that I don’t object to new words or even new meanings being breathed into them. I know that will happen. What bothers me is that no one seems to appreciate that the new meanings destroy the old ones for all time, and sometimes those meanings are worth keeping. If you use “decimate” to literally mean “kill one in ten,” it will now arouse confusion. Once everyone accepts that “beg the question” now means “raise the question,” the original meaning begins to die, fading away like an old Norse god no longer worshipped, but vaguely remembered in books no one reads anymore. Celebrating new meaning is fine, but it comes at the cost of old meanings, and sometimes those had value, too.

Old-World Sanctimony

And so, as they say at MSNBC when the commercial break is over, back to sanctimony. I’m told we have Shakespeare to blame for sanctimony’s modern meaning of hypocritical, self-righteous, and false virtue or piety. (Lucio in Measure for Measure: “Thou concludest like the sanctimonious pirate, that went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but scraped one out of the table.”)

But originally it was un-ironic and sincere. Sanctimony used to mean straightforward righteousness, so let me just throw my support to two pieces of work that make me very proud to work at National Review. The first is by Rick Brookhiser in the magazine, the second, by Kevin Williamson, went up on the site Thursday night.

Rick may be a bit too Old Testament in his smiting and wrath, never mind the finality of his pronouncement that the conservative movement is “dead.” Then again, he might not be.

What he isn’t doing, however, is lying. He’s not trying to spare anyone’s feelings or look the other way for political or personal expediency. It’s a lovely, heroic piece of writing. I particularly liked this bit about Bill Buckley:

In addition to being a celebrity pugilist, Buckley was an institution-builder. He cared both for the magazine he founded and for the conservative movement of which it was a part. He wanted a conservative party — in the sense of a tendency, not an electoral organization — that would think both realistically and correctly. This is why he picked fights on the right with those he deemed out of this world or crucially wrong: Robert Welch and Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and George Wallace. This is why he recanted his own segregationist views.

More on that in a moment.

And then there’s Kevin’s essay on the riot of dishonesty on the right. He spikes the football at the end:

Dinesh D’Souza should be ashamed of himself. David Clarke should be ashamed of himself, and not just for his ridiculous hat. And conservatives should be ashamed of them, too, and for bending the knee to Scott Baio, Ted Nugent, and every other third-rate celebrity who has something nice to say about a Republican from time to time. And we should be ashamed of ourselves if we come to accept this kind of dishonesty in the service of political expediency. If conservative ideas cannot prevail in the marketplace of ideas without lies, they do not deserve to prevail at all.

I love this last sentence so much, I want to take it home after the prom and get it pregnant.

There is a whole chorus of baboons and mandrills out beyond the tree line of Twitter, chattering and laughing at me, daily, for talking about principles. “But muh principles,” they often mock, sounding like uneducated and uncivilized teenagers in some post-apocalyptic society making fun of even the pretense of decency. “Bonk bonk! Blah blah! Muh principles!

But the only real principle I’ve harped on is honesty. A remarkable number of people want me to lie. Few say it so bluntly. But that’s the upshot of it.

There’s a lot of room on the right for different policy principles. I think sometimes there’s too much room. But, sure, if you think protectionism works, you can still be a conservative, and you can certainly be a right-winger. Lord knows, there’s no law of the universe that says a right-winger can’t also be wrong.

But the only real principle I’ve harped on is honesty.

The only real litmus test for me is whether you take a position because you think it will advance conservative ends and that you are making your argument for it in good faith — i.e., that you’re not lying.

Telling the truth is a form of courage, arguably the first form, and courage is the greatest of virtues. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Physical courage is more impressive, to be sure. But as Thomas More could attest, many tests of physical courage begin as tests of honesty first.

NR always styled itself a kind of umpire of the right. It’s easy to play that role when all is quiet and little is asked of you save to fight liberals. Telling the truth about your opponents isn’t only easy, it’s fun. It’s a different matter when the same is asked of you for your friends and allies.

At a time when so much of the Right is demanding that everyone fall in line, go with the flow, get on the team, and get with the program, National Review is still following Bill Buckley’s example and following his call, not because it’s easy and certainly not because it’s fun. But because it’s right.

Various & Sundry

This week’s Remnant podcast is out. Because of my schedule this week, we couldn’t have a guest. That was fine, but because Murphy’s Law is real, the technology started going cattywumpus on us. I’d been up since 4 a.m., and I was trying to preserve my voice — and yet, I was eager to scream at Jack Butler to make the stupid machine work now. Anyway, I dabbled in some punditry, vented some frustration, and gave into my misanthropy. 

Canine Update: Last weekend, we took the beasts to St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore. Zoë liked. There were bunnies to chase and woods to explore and comfy digs to hang out in with the family. But Pippa loved it. L-O-V-E loved it. It had been raining a lot, so there were mud puddles everywhere. The Inn at Perry Cabin is dog-friendly, so most of the strangers she gave her tennis ball to were inclined to be the sorts of people to humor spaniels.

Back home, the beasts have been troubled by how little they’ve seen me, making Zoë a little pensive and both of them a little needy. Yesterday morning, before I recorded either the podcast or the book stuff, we saw a herd of deer on our block. This enraged the Dingo, and she took it as a profound personal failure that word had not gone out in Deer World that the last place you should congregate is Zoë’s home turf. Further enraging her, I did not let her off-leash to give chase. According to The Fair Jessica, Zoë spent the rest of the morning bouncing of the walls with frustration. Meanwhile, Pippa found the first snake of 2018. Okay, gotta go.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Race had nothing to do with media attention on the Parkland shooting.

Trump’s administration has been tougher on Russia than Obama’s.

Murder is bad for moral reasons, not environmental ones.

Trump’s campaign was (probably) too incompetent to have colluded with Russia.

The latest episode of The Remnant

The children of the gun debate

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Indonesian volcanic explosion

The man with two hearts

The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store

The selfie that led to a diplomatic incident

The mysterious Windsor hum

How dogs’ relationship with humans evolved over time

You can have the world’s largest pizza delivered to you

How Credence Clearwater Revival became the soundtrack to the Vietnam War

The production secrets of 2001: A Space Odyssey

The mystery lake of the Himalayas

An edible banana skin

What ever happened to Brendan Fraser?

George Washington celebrated the completion of the Constitution with a wild party

A walk through a flooded nature preserve

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