Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Tyrannay Of Cliches: A Closer Look

As we pointed out earlier, there is a strange diversion of style and content in Jonah Goldberg's work, in which he relates snippets of history in a somewhat formal, apparently scholarly manner but otherwise uses an informal and conversational style. Goldberg will start out informally:

After an eighteen-month campaign, all of the informed, conscious, and ideologically consistent voters have already made up their minds. All that’s left are the undecided centrists, who actually think they have the more sophisticated and serious position; their indecision comes, actually, by virtue of the fact they’ve either not paid much attention until way too late in the game, or more simply, they’re a**holes who think they must be at the center of the universe.
Now, hold on, I mean that in a fairly literal way. Let me explain.

As always, Goldberg states that people who don't agree with him are stuck-up and egotistical. Those leftists think they're so smart with their facts and arguments when they really are liars who think they know everything. Their liberal facts are wrong and Goldberg's conservative facts are right, because everything is a matter of interpretation, not actual historical record.

Behold and marvel, for nearly every word is a lie, smear, misunderstanding or irony. Meet formal, scholarly Jonah:

The notion that the center is a place of privilege and esteem has a very long pedigree, with a somewhat anti-Catholic bias.

This entire paragraph has nothing to do with political centrism. Goldberg wanted to cover the liberal lying cliche that the Catholic Church is anti-science. He is writing a handy-dandy debating manual for conservatives so they can defeat their neighbors and relatives in conversation. For the left are cheaters who win arguments and debates by lying.
For instance, you may have heard that Galileo dealt the Western, Christian mind a devastating blow when he confirmed that Copernicus was right. The Earth revolves around the Sun and the Sun is at the center of the solar system (i.e., heliocentrism).

Because the left rejoices in destroying Western civilization and Christians especially and everything, even the positions of the planets, must glorify the authority. When an alternate authority arises the authoritarian follower becomes confused and this threatens the power of the leaders.
John Bargh, a scientist at Yale, says in David Brooks' The Social Animal that Galileo “removed the Earth from its privileged position at the center of the universe.”

First, let us marvel at the use of centrist David Brooks to attack centrism. Or any use at all. Second, Goldberg cannot imagine that it is possible to look at a fact or truth impartially. Either the fact aids and flatters him and is therefore conservative, or it does not, and it is liberal.
The Britannica Concise Encyclopedia tells us that the “[d]ethronement of Earth from the center of the universe caused profound shock.”

Goldberg seems to think that people were upset because they were no longer, literally, the center of the universe. The little matter of whether Galileo had disproven the inerrancy of the Bible and Pope is ignored.

The less reliable but more relied upon Wikipedia agrees: “[T]he transition between these two theories met much resistance, not only from the Catholic Church, which was reluctant to accept a theory not placing God’s creation at the center of the universe, but also from those who saw geocentrism as a fact that could not be subverted by a new, weakly justified theory.” Get that? The Church opposed heliocentrism because it couldn’t handle man’s “dethronement” from the center of the universe; meanwhile, other, more sensible, opponents objected because they thought the science was weak.
Because people never declare that the science is weak to avoid unpleasant realities. Many astronomers refused to even look through Galileo's improved telescope to see if he was right.
Inconceivable that the Church might have thought the science was weak, too.

It's very odd that this brilliant conservative historical scholar does not think of looking at the Catholic Church's statement on Galileo. We don't have to theorize; we can see what they actually said:

Whereas you, Galileo, son of the late Vaincenzo Galilei, Florentine, aged seventy years, were in the year 1615 denounced to this Holy Office for holding as true the false doctrine taught by some that the Sun is the center of the world and immovable and that the Earth moves, and also with a diurnal motion; for having disciples to whom you taught the same doctrine; for holding correspondence with certain mathematicians of Germany concerning the same; for having printed certain letters, entitled "On the Sunspots," wherein you developed the same doctrine as true; and for replying to the objections from the Holy Scriptures, which from time to time were urged against it, by glossing the said Scriptures according to your own meaning: and whereas there was thereupon produced the copy of a document in the form of a letter, purporting to be written by you to one formerly your disciple, and in this divers propositions are set forth, following the position of Copernicus, which are contrary to the true sense and authority of Holy Scripture:
This Holy Tribunal being therefore of intention to proceed against the disorder and mischief thence resulting, which went on increasing to the prejudice of the Holy Faith, by command of His Holiness and of the Most Eminent Lords Cardinals of this supreme and universal Inquisition, the two propositions of the stability of the Sun and the motion of the Earth were by the theological Qualifiers qualified as follows:

The proposition that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture.

The proposition that the Earth is not the center of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically and theologically considered at least erroneous in faith.

But whereas it was desired at that time to deal leniently with you, it was decreed at the Holy Congregation held before His Holiness on the twenty-fifth of February, 1616, that his Eminence the Lord Cardinal Bellarmine should order you to abandon altogether the said false doctrine and, in the event of your refusal, that an injunction should be imposed upon you by the Commissary of the Holy Office to give up the said doctrine and not to teach it to others, not to defend it, nor even to discuss it; and your failing your acquiescence in this injunction, that you should be imprisoned. In execution of this decree, on the following day at the palace of and in the presence of the Cardinal Bellarmine, after being gently admonished by the said Lord Cardinal, the command was enjoined upon you by the Father Commissary of the Holy Office of that time, before a notary and witnesses, that you were altogether to abandon the said false opinion and not in the future to hold or defend or teach it in any way whatsoever, neither verbally nor in writing; and upon your promising to obey, you were dismissed.

And in order that a doctrine so pernicious might be wholly rooted out and not insinuate itself further to the grave prejudice of Catholic truth, a decree was issued by the Holy Congregation of the Index prohibiting the books which treat of this doctrine and declaring the doctrine itself to be false and wholly contrary to the sacred and divine Scripture.


We say, pronounce, sentence, and declare that you, the said Galileo, by reason of the matters adduced in trial, and by you confessed as above, have rendered yourself in the judgment of this Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having believed and held the doctrine—which is false and contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures—that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world; and that an opinion may be held and defended as probably after it has been declared and defined to be contrary to the Holy Scripture; and that consequently you have incurred all the censures and penalties imposed and promulgated in the sacred canons and other constitutions, general and particular, against such delinquents. From which we are content that you be absolved, provided that, first, with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, you abjure, curse, and detest before use the aforesaid errors and heresies and every other error and heresy contrary to the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church in the form to be prescribed by us for you.
And in order that this your grave and pernicious error and transgression may not remain altogether unpunished and that you may be more cautious in the future and an example to others that they may abstain from similar delinquencies, we ordain that the book of the “Dialogues of Galileo Galilei” be prohibited by public edict.
We condemn you to the formal prison of this Holy office during our pleasure, and by way of salutary penance we enjoin that for three years to come you repeat once a week at the seven penitential Psalms. Reserving to ourselves liberty to moderate, commute or take off, in whole or in part, the aforesaid penalties and penance.
And so we say, pronounce, sentence, declare, ordain, and reserve in this and in any other better way and form which we can and may rightfully employ.
The Catholic Church might or might not have doubted the science but they certainly squashed the scientist whose discoveries cast doubt on their authority.
It took a long time to make a scientifically persuasive case that the Earth isn’t the center of the universe and that it revolves around the Sun. If you can’t sympathize with that, please stop referring to the rising and setting of the sun across our sky, since we are the ones moving, not it. The theological reason men stuck with the old scientific paradigm had nothing to do with arrogance and everything to do with humility. And there’s the rub. The real arrogance here is on the part of those who see the past as populated with unsophisticated bumpkins, as if ignorance of scientific truth is the same thing as stupidity. But if in fifty years it’s discovered that there’s life on Mars, does that mean future generations can look at us today and legitimately say, “Look at those idiots, they didn’t even know there was life on Mars”?
It's not that the Church hierarchy was trying to preserve power in the face of the Protestant Reformation, it's just that nobody knows anything ever and it's only humble to admit it, unlike those stuck-up scientists who think ordinary, God-fearing Italians from the Heartland are stupid. 
We find the same sort of bias in glib assertions about “flat-earthism.” We’ve all heard about how Columbus proved to the skeptics that the world was round (the basis for one of my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons). It’s not true, as we will see in a moment. But first of all, is it really so crazy that people five hundred or a thousand years ago might have thought the world was flat? Really? Cut some slack for the people who lived without powerful telescopes, satellites, and the rest for at least considering this a somewhat open question. Anyway, it’s simply not true that medieval Christianity taught that the world is flat. This myth, like many others discussed later in this book, stems from the biases of Protestant historians in the nineteenth century, who were eager to paint the Catholic Church as a giant wet blanket on scientific and human progress (see Chapter 21, The Catholic Church). Hence the myth that the Church tortured and imprisoned Galileo for his confirmation of Copernicus’s findings. There’s a legitimate question of whether he was in a jail cell for three days—or not at all. But he certainly wasn’t tortured. More important, the people who most ardently clamored for the Church to silence and punish Galileo were his jealous, lesser, scientific colleagues, not the theologians. When Galileo’s heretical Starry Messenger was released, the Vatican threw a huge book party for him.

 Galileo was under house arrest for the rest of his life and forbidden to even discuss his work. Was he tortured?
[...T]he Pope informedthe Tuscan ambassador Francesco Niccolini that the new book did not discuss Copernicus in a hypothetical way but rather presented its case in an assertive and conclusive way (McMullin, 2009: 205‐207). The interrogation period during the trial had as its goal to get the subject to confess his errors. To aid the church investigators in this process, Finocchiaro (2004:11) argues that torture was probably used on Galileo. The Inquisition, he writes, “conducted a ‘rigorous examination’ of the accused. . . . The term rigorous examination was the standard inquisitorial jargon for torture.”14 Many authors (Kelly, 1995: 281) acknowledge that torture or the threat of torture was probably used on Galileo, but what type was utilized? Did interrogators use verbal threats, visits to dungeons where physical torture was performed, or was there actual infliction of physical pain? It suffices to say that given the general agreement that torture was injected in the trial process, we have to seriously question the truth value of Galileo’s responses to questions and his confession. After all, he was close to 70 years‐old and suffering from various ailments. He more than likely said things church officials wanted to hear.

Why does Goldberg choose to believe that Galileo wasn't punished by the authoritarian Catholic Church? Because the idea that the Church attacked and punished Galileo for his scientific observations and conclusions is unpopular with Catholic apologetics. Why does Goldberg care what Catholic apologetics think? Many Catholics are conservative and the right depends on identity politics as much as they criticize it. Religion belongs to the right, science belongs to the left. Of course Goldberg will support a pope dead for hundreds of years over historical facts. And right here, in The Tyranny of Cliches, is all the proof anyone needs that the facts are conservative, not liberal.

Stupid liberals think they're so smart. Jonah knows better. Robert Nisbet said that other scholars were jealous of Galileo so the Church did not persecute the astronomer. Medieval Christianity did not teach that the earth was flat so the Church was not anti-science.

And the Vatican threw a book party for Galileo.


Downpuppy said...

If my 6th grader used sourcing like Jonah's on a research project, well...

Actually, I can't imagine her going that low. Wiki is only allowed as a gateway to sources, and David Brooks? Sweet rubber Jesus on a pencil kick me through the goalposts of life!

Susan of Texas said...

Primary sources are liberal plots.

Quicksand said...

Say what you will about The Tyranny of Cliches -- at least it's shorter than Atlas Shrugged.

(It is, right?)

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

The proposition that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture.

That's pretty the same argument they are using today against homosexuality. In fact, change the subject to anything they oppose, and it could have been written yesterday. The Church certainly are traditionalists.

Landru said...

I am grateful that you think about this so I don't have to, and that you share it so I know I don't have to think about it, at least not in any original sense. Further, I marvel that you avoid letting this sap you of the will to live.

Susan of Texas said...

Goldberg was complaining that people were not addressing his actual arguments so I thought I'd look at the bits posted on the web and give my opinion. I'm very helpful.

Batocchio said...

That's the great thing about the Catholic Church. It can admit that it's wrong, as it did with Galileo, almost 400 years later. Those child rape victims just need to be patient.

What I've read in the past is that Galileo was shown the instruments of torture, an implied threat, but there may have direct threats as well, and certainly imprisonment would have been uncomfortable. Regardless, the basic narrative is hardly in doubt.

I suppose it's not surprising that Jonah would make such a blatantly counterfactual argument after Liberal Fascism, but he really does seem to assume that no one can read or research anything and prove his obvious errors wrong. The alternatives (not mutually exclusive) is that he's really dumb and honestly believes this crap (or has convinced himself of it) and that he knows his core audience

Thanks for posting the actual condemnation. This is just like the time Goldberg confessed he hadn't read Mussolini's piece defining fascism in several years (he probably never had) before writing a book purportedly about fascism. Next up, he'll write a scholarly analysis of the Old Testament cribbed from repeated viewings of The Ten Commandments. (Or more likely, VeggieTales.)

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

, but he really does seem to assume that no one can read or research anything and prove his obvious errors wrong

Actually, I think it's that he has found that it doesn't matter, he still has a book contract and the checks clear; as long as the liberals are laughing at him, he can present it to the paste eaters as "I must be doing something right if it pisses off the liberals" Also, 'proof' sticks of book-larnin', and being edumacated is now a bad thing.

Mr.Wonderful said...

but he really does seem to assume that no one can read or research anything and prove his obvious errors wrong.

Zombie R.M. quoted the same extract, but my angle is this: Goldberg is simply doing at book-length what he and his fellow winger "intellectuals" do in every blog, op-ed column, and letter to the editor: falsifying history for purposes of political propaganda and substituting "interpretation" for matters of settled fact.

To Jonah--the one-lobed man in the kingdom of the lobotomized--what matters is not what is true, but what "you can say." The Earth really, in fact, does revolve around the sun. But people who believed otherwise weren't really ignorant or in thrall to institutional doctrine, because it sure looks like the sun moves. So cut them some slack. "You can say" that they objected to the bad science of the new theory.

You can say these things because you want to say them, and your readers are too stupid to challenge them, and your editors and publishers too shameless and dishonest to care.

Of course, to you and me, the idea of the medieval Catholic church having rigorous and defensible standards for "good science" is blithering idiocy and unworthy of a tenth-grader.

But Jonah is in the business of writing advertising. The real hilarity comes when he gets pissy or wounded at not being taken seriously by intelligent grownups.

Anonymous said...