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April 23, 2018

Jonah Goldberg: I Don't Love Rock n Roll

First, George Will told us that jeans were The Devil.

Now, Jonah Goldberg tells us rock n roll is a tool of the pagan gnostic neo-Marxist conspiracy, and he cites lyrics from up-and-coming indie band Jethro Tull to prove this.

Like Ben Shapiro, Goldberg argues that part of the trouble with modern life is the elevation of feelings over facts. This is tied to Romanticism, which Goldberg describes as an "emphasis on emotion and the irrational, the significance of that which cannot be seen or explained through science but can be felt intuitively, is the tribal mind's way of fighting its way back into the centrality of our lives."

Isn't religious feeling felt intuitively and not rationally? Is he an atheist?

Does he not concede that "moral sentiments" are in fact sentiments? Does he think strict utilitarian analysis explains the value we place on a human life?

Is he not aware that strict utilitarian analysis is sometimes used to suggest that human life is subordinate to other interests, such as other people's pleasure?

Is he not aware how silly and naive this all is? We reason first from emotional feeling. Intuition is the first step of thinking -- then reason is used to, well, reason backwards and come up with a plausible explanation for that intuition.

If attempts to construct a logical defense of emotions and intuitions fail, we might reject those initial feelings as erroneous. Then again, we might not.

His idea that reason is our primary mode of thinking, and that it is separate from emotion or intuition, is, how do I put this, flatly contradicted by the latest scientific thought about how the brain works. The rational brain is the tip of the iceberg -- 90% of thinking is invisible or at least very hard to see, beneath the surface, a mix of emotion, instinct, and some occasional random neuron walks.

Reason is most useful to help figure out how to get more of something you've decided is valuable and good, or less of something you've decided is wortheless and bad. But the initial assignment of value to things or ideals is famously non-rational -- not exactly arbitrary, but extremely hard to explain by recourse to reason alone. Most moral arguments about the rationality of a particular moral value generally involve a lot of ipse dixit, appeal to authority, question-begging (sentences which start with "It cannot be argued that..." and then claim something that a whole lot of people have been arguing about for eons) and, ultimately, hand-waving.

If he's gonna yammer about reason, maybe he could pick up a pop science book on the science of cognition.

Instead of attempting to explain it all with his feelings and intuitions.

Goldberg adds that "popular culture gives us the clearest window into the romantic dimension that we all live in." The most powerful expression of this is rock and roll. "Rock and roll is romanticism," Goldberg writes, with emphasis in the original.

"What are the key themes of rock and roll and these other genres?" Goldberg continues. "Any list would include: defy authority and throw off the chains of 'the Man,'...

Rejecting unjustified authority used to be a rational conservative position.

Once upon a time King George was "the man." But then, later, David Frum, Jonah Goldberg, Tom Nichols, Bill Kristol and a raft of would-be thought-leaders got deposed and began trying to rehabilitate the image of the authoritarian Obey Your Betters regime. You know, back in the Good Old Days when they claimed the right of prima noctae with your hierarchy of values.

I'm also very amused by very emotional people who are clearly on tilt about Trump's election, and who piously recite received wisdom as if they were mullahs, telling the rest of us we should be more rational.

"... true love, damn the consequences, nostalgia for an imagined better past, the superiority of youth, contempt for selling out, alienation, the superiority of authenticity, paganism and pantheism, and, like an umbrella over it all: the supremacy of personal feelings above all else."

Nostalgia for an imagined better past? This is a progressive-type jibe. While there's some truth to the jibe, there has never been less truth to it right now: The "better past," which was just five or eight years ago, is not an imagined one, and we actually all were freer then.

We now live under a suffocating regime of thoughtcrime and mob rule.

Also, as far as personal feelings: A foundational document of our civilization does state that the natural rights of all men include "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Sounding like a 1950s preacher, he goes on: "Rock and roll is the primitive's drumbeat hooked up to killer amps. It ties together meanings we are taught to keep separate; it ratifies the instincts we are instructed to keep at bay. It tells us, in the words of Jethro Tull, 'Let's bungle in the jungle,' because 'that's alright with me.'"

I don't even know what to say.

I wonder if Jonah Goldberg was driven over the edge on the Great Rock N Roll Debate by this (mild content warning for profanity) song.

BTW, genuine rock music hasn't been particularly culturally significant for about 15 years now. What's the last big true rock hit you can think of?

I suppose if you count rock descendants like hip-hop as "rock" then it's still culturally relevant -- but in that case, why not quote Jay-Z instead of Jethro Tull?

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posted by Ace of Spades at 07:24 PM

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