Thursday, September 22, 2005

Luke Ford To the Rescue!

I seem to recall reading somewhere, maybe it was on the Luke Ford Family of Blogs™ (I couldn't find the exact quotation), that when Dennis Prager enquired if he could write for the Jewish Journal he was turned down because of his writing style, or lack thereof. Luke Ford is also, apparently, less than impressed with Mr Prager the wordsmith:

There are so many examples of poor writing on the jacket [of Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A human nature repair manual] that I do not have the time to list more than a few:

* The sentence that begins "However ..." The word "however" means "yet" EXCEPT at the beginning of the sentence, when it means "in whichever way," which is not the way the word is used (misused) on this jacket.

* Then there are the sloppy phrases like "in order to be happy." Why not just say, "To be happy?"

* Then there is the phrase "make you personally happy ..." Why do we need the word "personally?" We don't.

By contrast to the jacket, Dennis Prager's writing is the triumph of substance over style. Through his use of the passive voice and numerous modifiers, he violates many of the canons of good writing in his pursuit of ideas. But it works.
I'm not entirely sure what point Mr Ford is trying to make here. (Making coherent arguments is not one of Luke Ford's strengths. Nor apparently is criticising someone else's violations "of the canons of good writing" without also violating "the canons of good writing.") He might be saying that Dennis Prager should have written the material on the book's dust jacket, because it was so poorly written by the publisher. Or Mr Ford might be saying that Dennis Prager did write the material on the jacket (as indeed Mr Ford does for his own books), and it's even more poorly written than the book itself. Let's assume that it's the latter, which is the more insightful of the two assertions, and thus probably not the point Luke Ford was trying to make, and agree that Mr Prager thinks better than he writes.

Dennis Prager reminds me of Thomas Sowell. Both write like men: simple and direct. They make their point, and then stop. They are not long-winded. They are not interested in having a relationship with their readers. They seek merely to persuade through the power of their ideas.

Mr Prager's latest column is an illustration of the use of simple prose to make a profound argument. He contrasts the Judeo-Christian moral system with that of the left:

Judeo-Christian values believe the road to a just society is paved by individual character development; the Left believes it is paved with action on a macro level. Many parents, for example, measure their child's character by the child's social activism, not by his or her behaviour toward fellow students. If the child has walked for AIDS, or marched for breast cancer, or works on "environmental issues," the child is deemed -- and the child deems himself -- a fine person. That he or she might mistreat less popular kids in class is not considered ... [L]eftist ideals, being overwhelmingly macro, will always be more appealing to the less decent who want to feel good about themselves. That helps explain those Hollywood celebrities who lead narcissistic, hedonistic personal lives but nevertheless feel very good about themselves by raising money for "peace" or by demonstrating against global warming.
Note Mr Prager's assumption that one can't be a good Christian or Jew and be a leftist. It's profound observations like this that have made the Great Dennis Prager the world's number two moral leader -- behind, of course, the Great Luke Ford.

Kenneth Minogue covers much of the same ground, but in a more elegantly written essay, in the current special issue of the New Criterion devoted to Britain. Mr Minogue explores "two concepts of the moral life," one of which (the Establishment's, i.e., the left's) has led to a self-defeating moral inversion:

We have observed a pretty clean sweep of important moral convictions in the collapse of the virtues of chastity, loyalty, and thrift. Is this merely to be recognized as a case of moral decline? Or have these virtues been replaced by something else? And if so, what? The moral life has clearly evolved -- but where has it gone? The evident answer, I think, is that moral sentiments now focus on benevolence, philanthropy, and charitable causes ... As a new morality, this development prides itself on releasing judgment from a narrow concern with sex in order to bring ethical standards to bear on the really serious decisions made in government and commerce ... The new morality thus incorporates both multiculturalism and "political correctness," in that both basically respond to a solicitude for the sensitivities of people different from "us" ... It has above all identified the people who need help, both those victimized by disease or misfortune in our own society and those afflicted in other parts of the world. Morality has thus liberated itself from the merely personal element of being true to oneself and become a program for perfecting the world ... the transposition of bad moral conduct into the language of social acceptability and social capital removes it entirely from the innerness of the moral life ... The new politico-moral order imposes on us duties to strangers, people we have never met, and for the most part never will. Particular duties to family and friends, much less that central duty of integrity to ourselves on which the older moralists laid so much stress, hardly enter the picture ... Could it be, however, that our very greed for social perfection has destroyed our grip on the real moorings of human life?
Perhaps when Mr Ford returns from his London holiday he can update us on Britain's decline from the religious, peaceable land that it once was, and that I remember, to the secular, violent wasteland of today.

-- by the Luke Ford Fan Blogger