The Corner

Nail on Head

In this line of work you sit alone tapping away for hours on end, coming up with things to say about this and that, sometimes thoroughly engaged, sometimes tired and bored, sometimes ill, or drunk, or hung over … in other words, pretty much like anyone doing any other job at this pay level. (Although I think it’s fair to expect a bit more from high-end guys like brain surgeons, hedge fund managers, or four-star generals. And here’s an apt Winston Churchill quote, from memory: “Most of the world’s work is done by people who are not feeling very well.”)

It’s what used to be called “fugitive journalism,” and not much of it is worth preserving. Once in a while, though, usually without particularly intending to, you write something that makes you think, on re-reading it: “Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted to say. I believe it, and it came out just they way I wanted, plain and clear. Put it on my tombstone if you like. Don’t change a word.”

Here’s one of mine. I said it a few months ago on NRO, and I’m pleased to have said it. It’s not particularly original; in fact there have been at least three books on the theme — this one I think the best known. I said it just the way I wanted to say it, though. I believe it, and I’m glad I said it. If you don’t like it, I couldn’t care less.

The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, and social. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the esteem of our peers. For most people, wanting to know the truth about the world is way, way down the list. Scientific objectivity is a freakish, unnatural, and unpopular mode of thought, restricted to small cliques whom the generality of citizens regard with dislike and mistrust. There is probably a sizable segment in any population that believes scientists should be rounded up and killed.

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