The Long View 2005-02-21: Simpsons, Steyn, Schell, Holt, Lewis

I had remembered that Saturday Night Live used to make gay jokes for a long time, but I hadn't remembered the Simpsons still felt free to make fun of gay marriage in 2005.

Simpsons, Steyn, Schell, Holt, Lewis

Long before the stock market tech-bubble burst a few years ago, it was obvious that a collapse was going to come. Unfortunately it was obvious to me so long before it actually happened that I avoided getting into the market to take advantage of the pre-bust increases. I have the same problem with the gay thing. The whole cultural episode is inevitably going to go "pop," but I keep misjudging when this will happen.

Having expressed that caveat, let me suggest that last night's episode of The Simpsons could be the point where the gay-marriage movement, at least, jumped the shark. Whatever the writers' intentions (and they were plainly trying not to write a simple commercial for gay marriage), the effect of the episode was to make Springfield's enactment of gay marriage the equivalent of Springfield's attempt to build a monorail system, and of Springfield's ill-fated prohibition of sugar. And of alcohol. And don't forget the curfew for children.

The episode did not make gay marriage seem evil. It did make gay marriage look ridiculous, which is actually the national consensus.

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Speaking of ridiculous institutions, Mark Steyn has some characteristically disparaging things to say about the European Union in a column about President Bush's fence-mending trip to Europe. (Did anyone in Brussels know that this is President's Week, by the way?) The gist of Steyn's comments is that the EU is so irrelevant to all the really important things that are happening in the world today that Bush's chief challenge will be to keep a straight face when he speaks to its leaders. He goes on to add this cautionary note, however:

On the other hand, a new CIA analysis has predicted the collapse of the EU within 15 years. It's a bit unsettling to find that the guys at Langley who've got absolutely everything wrong for decades suddenly agree with me. If this pans out as most CIA analysis does, Europe is on course to be the hyperpower of the 21st century.

Perhaps a more ingenious search could find the report that Steyn is talking about, but this new summary is the best I can do:

The report by the intelligence agency, which forecasts how the world will look in 2020, warns that Europe could be dragged into economic decline by its ageing population. It also predicts the end of Nato and post-1945 military alliances.

In a devastating indictment of EU economic prospects, the report warns: "The current EU welfare state is unsustainable and the lack of any economic revitalisation could lead to the splintering or, at worst, disintegration of the EU, undermining its ambitions to play a heavyweight international role."

This is far too pessimistic. The EU has a place in the scheme of things, but not as a Great Power, or any kind of Power. Like the UN, and indeed the US, it is a transnational utility with peculiar competences of its own.

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On the subject of the transnational scheme of things, American Outlook was kind enough to pick up my review of Jonathan Schell's Unconquerable World. That's their edited version, and it's pretty good, as a glance at my self-edited text easily shows. I'm actually a fine technical editor, but every piece of writing should pass through at least two human neocortexes before it is unleased on a defenseless world. This is the one great flaw of the blogosphere.

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Even the best technical editors do not always edit for sense, as we see in Jim Holt's unfortunate piece in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, Unintelligent Design. I am no fan of the Intelligent Design hypothesis, but I most point out that Holt managed to miss all the real issues. He spends most of the essay regaling us with instances of the inefficient and accident-prone anatomies of animals; all very interesting, but that is not the sort of design that Intelligent Design addresses. He does eventually mention that Intelligent Design theorists claim only that some aspects of cell chemistry must have been engineered, but he remarks only that the motives of a designer who would do such a thing are obscure. That's true, but it is nothing to the purpose.

More serious is this objection:

From a scientific perspective, one of the most frustrating things about intelligent design is that (unlike Darwinism) it is virtually impossible to test. Old-fashioned biblical creationism at least risked making some hard factual claims -- that the earth was created before the sun, for example. Intelligent design, by contrast, leaves the purposes of the designer wholly mysterious. Presumably any pattern of data in the natural world is consistent with his/her/its existence.

This has the matter backwards. Intelligent Design could be refuted by a laboratory instance of the self-assembly of a simple cell. In contrast, as Karl Popper noted on one of his crankier days, no conceivable experiment could refute Darwinism. Natural selection theory says that the characteristics of living things are the characteristics that nature has selected for. Therefore, natural selection is demonstrated by the observation of those characteristics. Certainly evolution occurred, but the Darwinian explanation for it is almost a tautology.

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Finally, on the topic of how to think about God, Disney is about to capitalize on the market revealed by the Tolkien and Harry Potter movies by releasing a series of films based on C.S. Lewis's Narnia series. However, Disney fears that it may be walking a tight-rope:

But this time, the pros at Disney are wrestling with a special challenge: how to sell a screen hero who was conceived as a forthright symbol of Jesus Christ, a redeemer who is tortured and killed in place of a young human sinner and who returns in a glorious resurrection that transforms the snowy landscape of Narnia into a verdant paradise.

This concern is misplaced. C.S. Lewis's apologetic works owe their extraordinary appeal precisely to their whimsy. (Hence I could write this, secure in the knowledge that Lewis would have loved it.) When writing nonfiction, Lewis was as sober and careful as a scholar could be, but he understood that no man is on oath when writing a fairy story, even a fairy story that is an allegory of the Gospels. Santa Claus appears in the first Narnia book. Kids love it. If Disney proceeds in that spirit, we will have nothing to complain of.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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