Burning Down The Field in Order to Save It

The title pretty much sums it up. Sarah Hoyt pulls no punches. Go read the whole thing.

According To Hoyt

So, I thought I didn’t care about the result of the Hugos, because in making the establishment lose their collective sh*t at the “non approved” nominations, we’d proven our point: that there is a political color bar in SF/F; that the self-proclaimed elites of sf view what fans like as problematic and therefore view the supposed “fan” award as the toy of the glitterati; and that NATIONAL PUBLICATIONS marched in lockstep with the narrative of a tiny clique over an award that in the past has sometimes been given with hundreds of votes (after which display it’s pretty hard to claim that the left doesn’t have a death lock on the media. And btw nothing was weirder than being told by the National Media we were the ones wanting to drive people off the field, while nominee after nominee was hounded off the ballot by leftist who — since WE…

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In a place where there are no…

A brief vignette for the Sabbath:

During the long summer months, it is customary to read and study Pirkei Avot (freely: Ethical Maxims of the Fathers) following the Sabbath afternoon service.

This short tractate from the Mishnah has always been a source of inspiration to this writer. A full English translation can be found here, although I always would keep an eye on the Hebrew original.

One saying I will highlight today is at the end of Pirkei Avot 2:5: u-ba-makom she-ein bo anashim, tishtadel lihyot ish (ובמקום שאין בו אנשים תשתדל להיות איש). This statement, because of the multiple meanings of anashim, is almost as polyvalent as (l’havdil) that quintessential Southernism, “bless your heart”. I can think of at least three meanings:

  1. translating “anashim” literally as “men”:
    “and in a place/situation where there are no men, strive to be a man”. That is how the phrase is understood in modern Hebrew: in a situation where nobody has the required courage/cojones/beitzim, you should at least try to “grow a pair”.
  2. However, in Hebrew (which has no neuter gender), “anashim” can also refer to “men and women”, i.e., human beings. Or, in Yiddish, menschen (literally: human beings; idiomatically: upright, strong yet compassionate human beings). Then the quote becomes:
    “and in a place where nobody behaves like a mensch, try to be a mensch“.
    This is the reading beloved of liberal synagogues, but true to the “broken clock rule”,
  3. There is another reading that occurred to me the other day.
    When you see something that needs doing, it’s not obvious others are already doing it, and you can do something: take up your responsibility and do not assume others will do so in your place.

Shabbat shalom.

Dedicated to the speedy recovery of Sarah bat Sharon

RIP Robert Conquest, 1917-2015

Robert Conquest, the historian and Sovietologist whose “The Great Terror” and “The Harvest of Sorrow” left a lasting imprint on our understanding of the Stalin regime, passed away at the ripe old age of 98. Roger Kimball has an obituary, as do the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Telegraph, and Steven Hayward at Powerline.

The first book by Conquest I encountered was the Harvest of Sorrow, on the man-made famine in the Ukraine (a.k.a. holodomor). For somebody who still believed European left-wing pieties about the Soviet regime, it was extremely disturbing reading. Only later did its contents thoroughly sink in.

Conquest apparently had a rather cheerful personality at odds with the extreme seriousness of his historical work. He appears to also have been something of a ladies’ man, although apparently his fourth and final marriage was a very happy one. Poetry (some of it quite ribald) was an apparent outlet for his more puckish side.

He started political life as a Communist, then had a ‘Road to Damascus moment’ once he saw the “workers’ paradise” from up close and joined the staff of the IRD, a bureau inside the Foreign Office that was created (during the postwar Labour government) to counter Communist agitation. After a career in England on the seam line between academia and politics, he crossed the pond and spent the rest of his life in US academia and think tanks. He was most closely associated with the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

One of the more amusing quotes attributed to him was actually not his. When preparing an updated edition of his The Great Terror (drawing on newly available documents following the collapse of the Soviet Union), he was asked for a subtitle and allegedly suggested “I told you so, you f*cking fools!” Conquest himself clarified that the suggestion was actually by Kingsley Amis, who put it in Conquest’s mouth. (Hat tip: Ed Driscoll guestblogging at Instapundit.)

No obituary of Robert would be complete without Conquest’s Three Laws:

  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.
  3. The behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.

May his memory be for a blessing.