Thursday, October 2, 2008

In a little while I'll attempt to live blog the vice presidential debate, over a couple of glasses of wine, gin and tonics, and a couple of loud friends. In the meantime, let me post this excerpt from Adam Gopnick's review of a new John Stuart Mill biography:
[Mill] was often hooted, and became notorious for having once described the Conservatives as “necessarily the stupidest party.” What he meant wasn’t that Conservatives were stupid; Disraeli, who was running the Tory Party then, was probably the cleverest man ever to run a political party, and Mill’s own influences from the right were immense and varied. He meant that, since true conservatism is a complicated position, demanding a good deal of restraint when action is what seems to be wanted, and a long view of history when an immediate call to arms is about, it tends to break down into tribal nationalism, which is stupidity incarnate. For Mill, intelligence is defined by sufficient detachment from one’s own case to consider it as one of many; a child becomes humanly intelligent the moment it realizes that there are other minds just like its own, working in the same way on the material available to them. The tribal nationalist is stupid because he fails to recognize that, given a slight change of location and accident of birth, he would have embraced the position of his adversary. Put him in another’s shoes and he would turn them into Army boots as well.
This reminds me of that remark of F. Scott Fitzgerald's, drawn from Keats' theory of negative capability: the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. This calcifying of thought is the contagion with which politics, even in the purportedly febrile environment of the think tank and magazine blog, is afflicted. Which is why Scott's response to the scrutiny of Palin is where I'm at today.

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