Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Mendacity, the Human Trait

Well of course chimps are surely mendacious, and I also suspect the kitties, who profess to love us dearly but possibly love the fact that we love them more. Mokey, who is the most straightforward, will lovingly climb into your plate if there's chicken aboard, and makes a habit of flicking Libby on the lip with a claw if he would really like his bit bowl filled right now please. But then perhaps they've learned this particular behavior from us, as part of weaving of the bond between us.

Today we learn that Mother Teresa is now a Saint. This is a fact of culture, nothing more. A large group of people with like beliefs have had a ceremony. It's just one of those things. Mostly in the spirit of live and let live we just let it go. We likewise let go the dubious beliefs of other cultural entities, short of certain things we simply do not let pass, because they go "too far." The Taliban did itself no favors by executing women in soccer stadiums for alleged adultery. The Filipino President does himself no favors by executing drug dealers without trial. But mostly, things just go on, because we can't really be the world's policeman. There is no answer for Syria, but alternative strategies of death.

Still, Mr. Hitchens has a point:

I found the video on this very fine web page:


(It might play better if you go directly to Youtube.)

In other news of mendacity, Phyllis Schlafly died. Corey Robin has a nice piece on her at Crooked Timber:


He quotes a very elegant argument against Schlafly made by Catharine MacKinnon back in the early '80s, as the two debated about the ERA Amendment, namely that Schlafly's own anti-feminism actually worked against her personally by upholding the implicit sexism of the age. It's too bad mendacity can be so effective as a tactic. Would that the world were like chess.

In 1976 a genius chess player named Judit Polgar was born in Hungary. She had two older sisters, and all three were raised to be chess masters by their father Lazlo. He in fact succeeeded to a remarkable degree. When Judit retired from competitive chess at the age of 40 she was viewed as the greatest woman chess player ever, and one of the greatest chess players of all time. Judit and her sisters refused to compete in women's only matches, and faced through much of their rise in the sport the sexist criticism of noted masters such as Garry Kasparov, who believed that women by their very "nature" could not achieve the chess prowess of men. Something or other about not being aggressive enough. Ms Polgar defeated Kasparov in the late '90s, and there is some question of an earlier victory he posted against her being tainted by a move he made after briefly releasing a piece. I'll include a youtube of one her Judit's beautiful chess games, nicely annotated so you can understand her thinking.

In the case of Ms Polgar and her sisters, the argument is quite settled on the field of play, where the stench of mendacity is blown away by the sea breeze. A lot of folks could learn something. But it's not what Tom Wolfe apparently thought he learned when he wrote in his new book that human kind is likely not evolved out of the genus of mammalia, or at least that language suggests non-evolutionary explanations.


But see, as well:


As ever, the principle of Occam's Razor is a good one. Or as Polgar's annotator says, "she's not after the Queen, she's after the King, because that is the game." Not that language doesn't raise deep questions well worth a lot of thought.

Locally, Libby and I were over in the next county, in Liberty, last night. A trip to the laundro. There we found stacks of a little town paper called the Liberty Leader. It had, on page 2, an explanation of a mystery I've been noticing around these parts for some months. More and more homes are sporting a yellow and black yard sign which proclaims, in large type, "Thank You Jesus." It's a free country of course. But it's also felt a little like a modern Passover. There's a broad message in such signs, as well as the obvious one. Or maybe several messages, some friendly, some not so. There might even be a tipping point somewhere, if, say, nine out of ten driveways are sporting their sign. What's that tenth guy going to do? It reminds me of the old controversy about the the avocado mailbox on Randolph Road. Bobbie Thompson didn't want to paint her's avocado, even though the road as a whole somehow "decided" that was a mark of respectability and taste. As it turned out of course, Bobbie, a trained fine artist who taught intaglio print making at Duke, was right. Seen any avocado stoves lately?

Anyways, the Liberty Leader offers something of an explanation. Here it is. I photographed the story.

Prosperity Gospel, that's for sure.

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