WHAT TO DO WHEN A NAZI KNOCKS! Where were you in 1997? One professor was living on air: // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2011
Did Carter really say that: We were intrigued by the highlighted part of Rick Perlsteins op-ed column in praise of Hubert Humphrey:
Did Carter really say that? Intrigued, we looked it up.
By the way: When did Clinton sa[y] almost the same thing? More on these questions next week.
EPILOGUEWHAT TO DO WHEN A NAZI KNOCKS (permalink): In many ways, 1996 was a very bad year.
Yes, Bill Clinton won re-election, but the mainstream press corps was already starting to transfer its enmity to his vice president. (Just this month, Jonathan Chait bravely explained where this enmity led.) Meanwhile, the crackpot wars against Clinton were still going strong, election results be damned.
There also was a bit of good news: In 1996, Gene Lyons described the journalistic corruption behind the Whitewater pseudo-scandal in his book, Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.
Predictably, there wasnt a lot of press coverage for Lyons book. When you write a book attacking the press, theyll disappear what you say every time.
(Fools for Scandal was published by Harpers magazine, one of our great publishing entities. Harpers promoted the book for years. Even with that kind of backing, the book got disappeared.)
Sad! We recall how pleased we were when Lyons turned up on C-Spans Washington Journal, sharing time with conservative Ben Wattenberg in July 1996. (To watch the program, just click this.) It was hard to find coverage of Lyons at all. We were thankful for what we got.
In academe, the royals were dozing. To this day, Sissela Bok seems to have no idea about the way Lyons and Joe Conason tore apart James Stewarts heralded but execrable book, Blood Sport, during those war-torn years (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/27/11). But then, what else is new? The press had its story lines down coldand the professors were sleeping soundly, sometimes in France. In the process, the public was pretty much told to go hang. As far as people like Bok were concerned, they could untangle the riot of political deception all by themselves!
At this point, lets offer an obvious observation. On a personal level, we feel quite sure that Sissela Bok is a thoroughly good, decent person. But what kind of philosopher is the professor? Beyond that: As a ranking academic, how has she discharged her duties as a high-ranking, near-royal citizen?
For years, weve been asking a basic question: Where have the professors been as our political discourse has become more and more illogical, distorted, bizarre? Boks peculiar review of James Stewarts new book brought all those questions to mind.
Lets return to the very bad years when the crackpots were chasing Bill Clinton aroundwhen the coming attacks against Candidate Gore were starting to take their form. What was Bok pondering during those years, when she should have been knee-deep in these matters? To consider the general worthlessness of the rest home once known as academe, consider the radio interview Bok did in the fall of 1997.
Ever since 1978, Bok had been the nations go-to academic expert on the subject of lying. Youd think she might have been intrigued by the endless claims that President Clinton, and Candidate Gore, were the worlds biggest known liars. But alas! In the modern world, our ranking professors dont dirty their hands with such matters, which simply stink of the-things-in-themselves. Instead, Bok was off on some very thin clouds, discussing some vacuous theory.
What were professors thinking about in the late 1990s? What is the stuff of philosophical work? Why did so few of these lofty beings intervene in the nations political wars? On October 26, 1997, Bok did a 30-minute radio interview with philosophy professor Hugh LaFollette, host of the weekly program, Ideas and Issues, on WETS-FM. To listen to the full session, click here. We thought you should see the things Bok was thinking about as the war against Clinton rolled on, as the war against Gore was starting.
Sissela Bok is an expert on lying! Shes also a world academic royalby birth, by marriage, by reputation. About ten minutes into her radio session, LaFollette asked this question:
Lying isnt always wrong? Was LaFollette trying to stump her?
Bok went on to explain her non-absolutist views. In the process, she showed us the soul of the academic elite which has relentlessly failed to serve the public in the past thirty years. Lying isnt always wrong? As Bok began to explain her stance, she noted one type of exception:
Interesting! According to Boks argument, its OK to lie to a Nazi who wants to murder your friend! But for minds of high academic distinction, such matters will rarely be that simple. As Bok continues, we see the problem under which weve all struggled for lo, these many years.
Yes, she really said this:
According to Bok, it would be better to bore the Nazi to tears, making him forget altogether that he was trying to murder your friend. (Kant himself could have done this with ease! His friend could have escaped, then hidden!) Question: Might this Nazi become suspicious when you behave in such oddball ways? When you stage a puppet show, lets say, in lieu of a simple denial? Not to the lofty minds of academethe lofty minds who avoided the political wars which have, by now, produced death and destruction in many parts of the world.
We knowyou think we invented that passage. You think that no one has ever said such strikingly silly-bill things. But you can hear the whole interview here.
Now, for Boks second exception:
Its OK to lie to a murderous Naziand when youre playing cards! Of course, our modern professors think long and hard. Bok had a third exemption:
All those three categories are such that it is very important to lean over backward not to believe that you are in one of them! Question: Whens the last time you mistakenly thought a Nazi was trying to murder your friend?
At any rate, there you have it. You can lie about your husbands necktiealthough its better to say something humorous. You can lie while playing cards, or if a Nazi is trying to murder someone. Bok was focused on these concepts as the wars against Clinton rolled onas voters were told about Bill Clintons murders, as a rioting mainstream press corps recited a blizzard of lies.
Beyond that, those thoughts help explain why Sissela Bok was asked to review James Stewarts new book about perjury. In the crackpot world in which you live, such thoughts establish lofty professors as high-ranking experts on truth.
Can we talk?
No Nazis knocked at the Harvard presidents home while Sissela Bok was in residence. But Jerry Falwell knocked on everyones door a few years later, telling wild tales about Bill Clintons murders. The New York Times landed on Boks front steps, including Jeff Gerths front-page reports inventing the Whitewater scandal. Dan Burton shot pumpkins in the back yard, showing that Vince Foster surely must have been killed.
And James Stewart wrote a garbage-can book, Blood Sport, which Lyons and Conason were soon debunking. Soon after, Rich and Dowd started making up lies and pretending that Gore had said them.
Where was Bok while these doors were knocked on? When she reviewed Stewarts new book, she praised his bungled 1996 book about the Clintons even as she noted the comically awful blunders in his latest offering. She seemed to have no earthly idea that there was a history here.
For years, weve complained about the moral absence of the nations professors. Where are the logicians, weve asked, noting the comically bollixed logic of our ludicrous public debates.
Bok is a high academic royaland shes an expert on lying. But uh-oh! Last Sunday, she showed no sign of knowing about the wars of the Clinton-Gore years. In fairness, she managed to notice Stewarts latest damn-fool blunders. But she seemed to have no earthly idea that this had all happened before.
Where were you in 1996? How about in 1997? Lyons was trying to get whistles blown. But like the bulk of her royal class, Sissela Bok was off in the clouds, offering massively vacuous thoughts. She was living on very thin air, on massively swollen tuitions.
By now, the detachment of this fatuous class has enabled many knocks on the door. Or do we still agree to pretend that we dont know how we got to our current mess? Do we agree to keep disappearing Fools for Scandal, and The Hunting of the President? Do we agree to keep playing it dumb about the war against Gore?
Do we agree that Blood Sport was riveting work? That Dowd and Rich didnt do what they did? Its a pretty world when we play it that way.
Many elites just keep playing that way. The professors are sleeping in France.