News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

To Dr. D.:

> i like to think of myself as an allrounder and am amazed at how incompetent others are or just plain uninterested in certain fields. not that i am competent! it's sad how much specialized background in a certain area you have to have to be competent. <

If by competence you're referring to the mastery of various minutia, then I'm sure you're right. On the other hand, if you mean a reasonable grasp of how things work, then I don't think it requires that much time. Particularly for people like you and me. I have a new book on the boxer uprising of the late 19th century and one reason I was willing to spend more than a thousand NT on it is that, though I disagree with the author's politics, she did compare sources in at least four languages and, more importantly, gave perspective to the events by referring to historical parallels. This is key.

To bring perspective to the Nanjing Massacre, last night I bought what appears to be a fascinating book on allied prisoners, their treatment under the Japanese, the revenge killings undertaken by allied soldiers, the way in which the men on both sides adapted, fit into cookie-cutter portraits or failed therein. Plus, I'll be reading what appears to be an insightful book on Lincoln and which goes into the illegal arrests of northern editors, the illegal imposition of martial law on Baltimore, the repeated massacres of civilians by northern soldiers, and the deliberate orgy of destruction which was the march down to Atlanta of 1865 (a sort of musket and cannon edition of the atom bombs used on Japan, both adopted as terror tactics to end the war and both, as far as I can tell at this stage, worked.)

One problem with many scholars of the Nanjing massacre is their guild-supported comfort zone of ignorance with its resulting myopia, sanctimony, and indifference to the evidence or countervailing views. They make claims such as the Nanjing massacre was the world's worst and that the pain-and-suffering its victims went through is ineffable. Clearly this is self-serving nonsense of the type: my daddy's bigger than your daddy.  But this is not an isolated incident, and instead to me it's reflective of their elemental childishness.

I suggest that instead of viewing such foolishness as an excess of enthusiasm or as a temporary giving in to the universal weakness for self-righteousness, that you see it as part of a deeper problem.  People who operate this way, in my experience, have a set of flawed precepts at the base of their thinking which skews their perception and judgement. Unless you have the time, patience, and skills required to counsel someone and get to the root of serially defective thinking, followed by the investment of time and energy required to overhaul it, short of said person enduring a sort of religious conversion, there ain't no hope.

Back in eastern Canada, it was initially a mystery as to why certain friends, people I cared about and tried to help, yet displayed poor judgment in almost everything they did. They chose the wrong clothes, the wrong restaurants, the wrong bands, the wrong girlfriends, etc. I concluded that many, many people have a sort of pathology of the intellect. Ergo, the common phenomenon of the moving violation of common sense: the amateur gambler, the get-rich-quick enthusiast, the charity fundraiser dupe, the devourer of newspapers.

I see much of the same in these punishingly dumb academics. Particularly given that a formal paper or a book has undergone repeated revision. A temporary misstep is unlikely to survive. And they make so many of these missteps in their writing. I.e. their misteps are chronic, ergo there's a fundamental problem with their judgement. There is good news however. Very good news I think, and it is this which keeps me banging away on my keyboard despite my own repeated (chronic? haha...) failures to date.

Beating these haughty prudes at their own game isn't difficult for all it requires is looking at other areas of research for historical parallels, which is not only rewarding but also invigorating and empowering. As we both know, research is an adventure when you take it seriously; when one looks into other fields one enjoys a sharp learning curve with it's complement of surprise, shock, and mystery. By continually probing one makes a run of discoveries, one after the next, which bring things back into an excitingly crisp focus and which often reorients our way of looking at things in general. This is what makes the academic effort enjoyable. The present crew of philosopher-kings are stuffy paper-shuffling bench-warmers who, on a pleasant afternoon, give thought to little more than exchanging the present secretary for a fresher edition with a raunchier perfume; they yearn, at the end of a day grading bad papers and fending off fraudulently overeager sophomores, not for more quality time pursuing  research but to be at home watching the football game or their favorite sitcom.

It's no wonder post-modernism appeals to savants snoozing at the wheel: it brings an end to the dismaying chore of tackling the new and improved theories that appear every year like fresh strains of swine flu.  Post-modernism is a high-sounding excuse for doing nothing, for a safe and undemanding chasing of the same tails every year. Assessing a novel theory takes effort, requires a sharp eye, and means offending someone somewhere, no matter if you take to it or trash it.  And if its a really new theory, then there is no precedent, no safe rut, no easy parroting. What if you find yourself out of step with the herd? Trouble lies awaiting, in ambush at every stray footfall out into the weeds. 

But perhaps I overstate my case...

Biff

7 comments:

  1. Hi there biff,
    Just to give you a heads up, you're probably going to get some more comments on this post: this post. I found you when I was out looking for the latest info about kissing tips products, and even though this doesn't relate to kissing tips, I still had to stop and tell you that you're doing a great job. You're about to get some visits from my brother and sister. I told them about your blog so I hope you don't mind.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi biff,
    My excitement grows as I read more of what you have here...
    I'm a little embarrassed to say it but when was out looking for french kissing technique information I found your post: this post and had to stop for a read. I sicerely appreciate you blog topic... I'm considering making a blog about french kissing technique and I should probably stop by here more often to watch how you do this great job.. I always love looking through other poeples blogs and reading the posts (especially yours!) I don't know if you like other blogs or want to check out mine, but I think you've done a quality job.

    It's great to be here on your blog, thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Aloha biff,
    I'm a visitor from Hawaii and just found your post this post. I like it... it's interesting so I decided to read and say hi. Although my interests are mostly about french kissing related information right now, your blog got my attention and was a nice change. Thanks for your nice blog biff, I think I'll tell my cousin to stop by if that's okay.
    ~ Aloha ~

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi there biff,
    Just to give you a heads up, you're probably going to get some more comments on this post: this post. I found you when I was out looking for the latest info about french kissing technique products, and even though this doesn't relate to french kissing technique, I still had to stop and tell you that you're doing a great job. You're about to get some visits from my brother and sister. I told them about your blog so I hope you don't mind.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi biff,
    My excitement grows as I read more of what you have here...
    I'm a little embarrassed to say it but when was out looking for making out information I found your post: this post and had to stop for a read. I sicerely appreciate you blog topic... I'm considering making a blog about making out and I should probably stop by here more often to watch how you do this great job.. I always love looking through other poeples blogs and reading the posts (especially yours!) I don't know if you like other blogs or want to check out mine, but I think you've done a quality job.

    It's great to be here on your blog, thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Howdy biff,
    I'm impressed with what you wrote here in your this post post. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I was searching for french kissing information, but found you and I'm happy to be here - you have done well with topics that interest me. I might make a blog that looks like yours but about french kissing related stuff, (don't worry I wouldn't try to compete with you). You're doing a great job biff.
    You got a great thing going... by friend.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi there biff,
    Just to give you a heads up, you're probably going to get some more comments on this post: this post. I found you when I was out looking for french kissing tips product info, and even though this doesn't relate to french kissing tips, I still had to stop and tell you that you're doing a great job. You're about to get some visits from my brother and sister. I told them about your blog so I hope you don't mind.

    ReplyDelete