(Page 3 of 3)
Well, now at last a negative critique has appeared in, of all places, Wired, or at least the Wired website, and it does precisely that. It’s by a guy called Clive Thompson who bills himself as a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. He starts off with an ironic claim that all you need to do to understand international affairs is to spend a bit of time with a video game called Saints Row which, like other games (such as Grand Theft Auto) that are based on gang and criminal culture, has to do with acquiring and keeping respect. That’s also the subject of Honor: A History, which he claims to have read. Actually, that’s not true. He only claims to have “been reading” it, which may mean that he only picked it up for ten minutes before putting it back on the shelf. At any rate, he proceeds to skip over everything in the book concerning the ways in which the Western honor culture has to be distinguished from that of gangsters and terrorists — which is virtually everything in the book — to conclude that I am proposing we emulate gangsters and terrorists! “Is it just me,” he writes archly, “or are other people unsettled to discover that neoconservative thinkers are openly embracing the same sort of ethics contained in gangsta video games?”
Hmm. It’s maybe a little more sophisticated than the number Walter Kirn did on Harvey Mansfield in the New York Times, but not much. Yet his willful misunderstanding of the book may have been partly motivated by the following curious statement: “Say what you will about gamers, but we actually know that Saints Row is a fantasy.” Actually we don’t. In detail it’s a fantasy all right. The people you pretend to kill in it are only images on a screen. But in conception it is based on something real. It may be true as Mr. Thompson says — I’m not so sure myself — that the “middle-class kids” who play these games are “perfectly aware that in the real world, this macho kill-‘em-all carnage achieves precisely nothing….They know the relentless, violent pursuit of honor and respect rarely leads anywhere but jail, poverty, and epic levels of bloody retribution.” But even if they do know this, there are an awful lot of gangsters and terrorists in the world who do not or, if they do, who don’t care. It was about them that I was writing, not kids playing video games. He’s the one who brought them up. But the pretense that I was thinking of video gamers rather than real terrorists is presumably what’s behind his supposition that I am “so far down the rabbit hole” as to claim — as I do not — that “Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have actually worked — that they have stricken our global enemies with fear, and raised our respect meter to a juicy ‘full’.”
Here’s what I do claim. All wars are ultimately wars for honor. It’s just that some of those who fight them know this and some don’t. The point of my book was to show that we Americans (or most of us) don’t know this anymore, because we have lost our own honor culture — which, when we had one, was very different from the one we now confront in the Islamic world. That’s why, on the official level we have to make up impressive sounding moral (ending tyranny, establishing democracy) or prudential (WMDs) reasons for fighting while at an unofficial level we are always tending to slide back down into the same kind of primitive, street-level honor culture that the enemy inhabits, as at Abu Ghraib — where, by the way, as soon as the Americans moved out and the agents of the new and democratic Iraq moved in the other week, the torture seems to have re-commenced. You have to try real hard not to understand this, or to make it the equivalent of my advocacy of America’s adopting the Islamic honor culture, let alone my applauding our lapse into the custom of the country at Abu Ghraib. But then Mr. Thompson does try real hard. I’m gratified to see how hard he has to try to come up with his bogus critique. It suggests that he couldn’t think of a legitimate one.
Incidentally, I’m told that the podcast of my recent interview with the Wisconsin Public Radio show, “Here on Earth with Jean Feraca,” is now available to anyone who wants to download it for the next two months. I recommend it to Mr. Thompson. It’s probably a bit easier to understand than the book, and it’s certainly a lot shorter.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?