[lit-ideas] Re: A Genuinely Useful Thought

  • From: "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 8 Jan 2007 11:34:15 +0900

Dear Lawrence,

When you have nothing but disgust, irritation and annoyance to communicate.
No one listens. In a world where even the likes of George Will and David
Brooks can change their minds, Lawrence and George are immovable. I guess
great minds are alike.


On 1/8/07, Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

 No point in going too deeply into this.  I have expressed my disgust,
irritation, and annoyance over Leftist who can't argue.  I have expressed
annoyance that all they seem to know how to do when in receipt of an
argument they don't like is engage in personal invective.  John's is more
sophisticated than Simon's or Irene's but I see no reason to put it in a
different category.  Quite a crusher there at the end.  Someone I haven't
heard of or read has received a Pulitzer; therefore I should either be
ashamed of myself, change my ways and become a follower of John McCreery or
abandon my Conservative Philosophy.  Perhaps all three.  John asks me to
listen carefully to Ellis' voice; so I Googled "Ellis" just now.  The first
entry was a Wikipedia article which used up most of its space describitng
Ellis scandalous behavior.  The second entry: "Joseph Ellise, Veitnam
 then one called "Has Scandal taken its toll on Joseph Ellis?"
http://hnn.us/articles/8656.html .  You should choose your examples with a
little more care, John.  Ellis has been dismissed from his teaching position
for cause. This example that you use, this Ellis you ask me to listen
carefully to would appear to have been better off if he wasn't quite so
ambitious for fame.



*From:* lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:
lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] *On Behalf Of *John McCreery
*Sent:* Sunday, January 07, 2007 5:20 PM
*To:* lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
*Subject:* [lit-ideas] Re: A Genuinely Useful Thought

On 1/8/07, *Lawrence Helm* <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

If you were supporting my position with your quote then I would say 'hear,
hear,' but knowing you and your sympathies I suspect you are aiming it at me
rather than those I am accusing of being unable to explain themselves.

Dear Lawrence,

To use a famous political expression, "I have no dog in your fight." As
you may have noticed, I have ceased to participate in the regular
Punch-and-Judy shows that you and Irene provide for us. The reason is
simple. Neither of you has demonstrated the slightest willingness to change
your positions for several months now. You are each in the grip of your own
fixed ideas, I know what they are, I learn nothing new from either of you.
In our brave new world where the electronic either is filled with millions
of voices all clamoring for attention, the signal to noise ratio in what you
both say is now too low to be worth the bother.

This is not, I hasten to add, an accusation that either of you is
illogical. Given the premises that frame your positions the output is
incommensurable. You talk past each other, only growing angrier that the
other fails to accept the conclusions implicit in your assumptions. "Oh
that, again," one sighs and hits the delete key and moves on to something

Nor is this an accusation that either of you is insane, outside this
particular discussion. In your particular case, you are saved from a twit
filter by the grace of your poetry, which I often find quite moving.

The annoyance that moved my posting the quote from McCracken is one that
many on many different email lists, blogs, etc., provide. Who knows, it may
be the fault of the lawyers from whom we have all been taught to be
reflexively litigious. It could be the fault of education so focused on
getting kids to express themselves that the values of self-reflection and
open-mindedness are degraded. What ever the cause the effect is everywhere,
people who assume that every discussion is about them, that simply asserting
an opinion makes the opinion valuable, and that labeling people Left or
Right, kikes or wogs, pink or purple add value to what they say.

But you, Lawrence, are far from the worst of offenders. I hold in the
highest respect the fact that you have gone out of your way to read a lot of
books about the Middle East and read them seriously. When you note
disagreements among your sources, what you say is often interesting. I am,
however, concerned that you depend on a relatively limited range of authors
who share a similar point of view agreeable with your own assumptions. I
could easily recommend a similar list from "the Left" that would be equally
biased in other directions. Thus, to me, the disagreements you note sound to
me like theologians debating the differences between transubstantiation and
consubstantiation, or Freudians or Marxists dissecting fine points of
difference in their own authorities.

I am, as you know, a professional propagandist, a modern sophist trained
in the wicked arts of advertising. Please consider my professional advice.
If you want to break through and actually change the minds of the people you
are writing for, eschew name-calling and blunt confrontation. Both arouse
resistance and leave you with no one listening but your partners in the same
folie a' deux. The rest of us will get on with our lives and find more
interesting games to play.

You might, by the way, find it interesting to look up a series of articles
in the Los Angeles Times. I have no URLs handy since I am reading them on
paper on page 12 of the Japan Times where they are reprinted. By eminent
historians Harold Holzer, Joseph Ellis, and Adrian Goldsworthy, they address
the questions what would Lincoln, Washington, or Caesar do about Iraq. Ellis
on Washington comes closest to my own appreciation of the current situation

"It's a ridiculous question: 'What would George Washington do about Iraq?'
"Well, if you plopped him down in the Iraqi capital, he would be utterly
lost. He couldn't find Iraq on a map. Show him a cell phone, a helicopter or
a Humvee and he wouldn't order them into action, he'd be mesmerized.
"He is simply unavailable for a conversation about Iraq.
"But suppose you could contact Washington, and suppose you posed a
question to him that never mentioned Iraq yet described the dilemma facing
the United States.
"It might go like this:
"'Can a powerful army sustain control over a widely dispersed foreign
population that contains a militant minority prepared to resist subjugation
at any cost?'
"Washington would recognize the strategic problem immediately, because it
is a description of the British Army in the colonies' War for Independence.
"And, more than anyone else, Washington's experience during the war as the
leader of an American insurgency allowed him to appreciate the inherently
intractable problems that faced an army of occupation in any protracted

"The administration never appreciated the odds against its success, and it
disastrously confused conventional military superiority with the demands
imposed on an army of occupation.
"No leader in American history understood those lessons better than
Washington, who viewed them as manifestations of British imperial arrogance,
which he described as 'founded equally in malice, absurdity and error.'"

That to me is not "a Leftist" speaking, but rather someone with a deeper
than usual understanding of history and the ability to grasp both its
tragedies and ironies.

But the lesson of the day is not about George Washington; this is, after
all, no more than a hypothetical argument. It is my personal  and
professional recommendation that you listen carefully to Joseph Ellis'
voice. You are a poet; you know what I mean. With a bit of careful study,
you may come to understand why  Ellis goes from strength to strength and has
won a Pulitizer prize, while Lawrence is increasingly ignored.


John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324

John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324

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