Curtis Dahlgren
Democracy of the Dead; Chicago vs. Traditional style ("time flies")
By Curtis Dahlgren
November 7, 2015

"Bedfellows make strange politics." – Wall Street Journal

"Somebody who reads only newspapers or at best the books of contemporary authors . . is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else." – Albert Einstein

THE MODERNIST SNOB, according to Einstein, is like the nearsighted man who is too proud to wear glasses. These quotations were found in a WSJ dated November 1st – nor 2015 but – 2014. The paper sat on my disorganized desk for a year, like some of the other great quotations I've used on behalf of Olde Books and classic literature. The above quotations came from a piece that started out as a light-hearted one on daylight saving time. A friend from India told the author that it's impossible to turn back the clock ("you can't do that"); that produced a short essay on time – past, present, and future:

"What you will rarely encounter in our media's iCloud of Unknowing is the past or a sense of tradition . . We discover something surprising when we step away from the carny fairway of mass media and meander through the great works of the past."

Exactly! That's the theme to which I keep returning. The whole "point" of writing for me is, "An attack on your roots is an attack on YOU." And any old tree surgeon could tell you that. If you still don't get the point, here are a couple more quotes from somewhere:

- "Look down as well as up. No roots, no branches."

- "A rotting tree leans long before it falls."

The author of the Journal piece was the chairman of Burpee & Co., George Ball, a past president of the American Horticultural Society. It was satisfying to see that, as my career was in the arboriculture "branch" of the plant business. Ball said:

"The current vogue for mindfulness bids us to focus on the moment, rather than . . ruminations on the past or concerns about the future . . .

"As G.K. Chesterton wrote: 'Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around."

OUCH! I wonder what other words I could find on top of my desk, but speaking of fads, one of the first columns I ever wrote was on "Turning back the clock" – which arrogant oligarchs always accuse Traditionalists of trying to do. We're trying to learn a few things, that's all, so I want to post an excerpt from that column for my newer readers

Two analogies that describe today's teenagers:

(A) Scientists have discovered a tiny creature that lives in the lips of a North Atlantic lobster; it is unique because its brain completely disappears at the onset of adolescence and doesn't reappear until adulthood.

(B) A farmer was driving a horse and wagon down the road with a colt trotting along trying to keep up with his mother. After a few miles, the farmer noticed that the colt had gone through a gate on the left side of the road and was now on the other side of a high fence with no gate in sight.

The first version shows middle school students being turned over to public school officials at their most vulnerable time. Parents are told that, once kids reach age 13, any attempt by a parent to influence them won't have any affect one way or another (just leave everything to the school psychologist and the school nurse).

The second analogy shows the colt flexing newfound independence and going through a gate on the left. This often occurs at the onset of adolescence, but sometimes the brain doesn't disappear until age 18 or 19 during the freshman year of college. And, as Thomas Jefferson once noted, few in their after years have occasion to revise their college opinions.

The brain sometimes never reappears, but in the horse-and-wagon story, the farmer simply turned around and went back to the gate the colt had wandered through and recovered it; it was common sense. As a lover of the American West, I can visualize that scene right down to the worn-out cowboy boots nailed to the tops of a few fence posts.

Those of us who haven't forgotten our nation's cultural roots are accused of being "overly simplistic" and of trying to "turn back the clock"! Well, when daylight savings time ends, turning back the clock is "a good thing" and, if your colt has gone through a gate on the left, you just turn around and go back. No need for "parenting experts" to nag us about "how do you know the colt's way isn't just as good as your way?" Doing the right thing at the right time eliminates the need for "grief counselors" in the school later!

Don't look for a mass movement any time soon for "going back" to Leave it to Beaver families though. That kind of family doesn't provide any income for public employees in law enforcement or corrections, for courtroom stenographers or bailiffs, for lawyers or judges, for parole officers or psychologists, for remedial education tutors or psychiatrists.

Follow the money. I can remember when my county's "Human Services" department consisted of the sheriff and one volunteer who worked with a handful of "delinquents"; now it has its own multi-million dollar court house annex. And no one with "simplistic solutions" need apply for work there. And there are more social problems and crime than ever before!

That's the end of my excerpt, but speaking of fads and social psychology, Andrew Ferguson had an excellent column in the Weekly Standard:

Making It All Up: The behavioral sciences scandal; Oct 19, 2015

[an excerpt] On this August morning Science magazine had published a scandalous article. The subject was the practice of behavioral psychology. Behavioral psychology is a wellspring of modern journalism. It is the source for most of those thrilling studies that keep reporters . . in business. Over 270 researchers, working as the Reproducibility Project, had gathered 100 studies from three of the most prestigious journals in the field of social psychology. Then they set about to redo the experiments and see if they could get the same results.

These 100 studies had cleared the highest hurdles that social science puts up. They had been edited, revised, reviewed by panels of peers, revised again, published, widely read, and taken by other social scientists as the starting point for further experiments. Except . . . [the Project] "found something very disappointing. Nearly two-thirds of the experiments did not replicate, meaning that scientists repeated these studies but could not obtain the results that were found by the original research team". . . Describing the Reproducibility Project's report, other social psychologists, bloggers, and science writers tried out "alarming," "shocking," "devastating," and "depressing." But in the end most of them rallied. They settled for just "surprised." Everybody was surprised that two out of three experiments in behavioral psychology have a fair chance of being worthless. [end of excerpt, with apologies to Ferguson]

To those of us outside the ivy-covered ivory towers of Academe, of course, the only "surprising" thing about the whole scandal is that anyone could be surprised!

Oh by the way, there was a tiny story on page A3 of the WSJ the other day: "Government to Pay for End-of-Life Planning." They published it on Halloween! Where is Sarah Palin when we need her?

Now you may say "What's the big deal?" But there are at least two big reasons to be leery of all this "social psychology" and engineering:

1) The federal government's Reverse Midas Touch (you know what I mean by that)!

2) The conflict-of-interest is overwhelming; you are practically putting Zero Population Growth in charge of your medical prospects when politicians get involved.

Despite a stiff upper lip by your President and other liberals, they took it on the shins again this week from the Americans in flyover country backwaters. Pollsters and journalists had an absolutely wretched week, despite false smiley faces. Peggy Noonan's column last weekend mentioned Ted Cruz and that famous CNBC debacle debate:

"I don't know if fights like this win you anything, but the pushback was deserved, and instructive for future moderators: Be tough, incisive, follow up, dig down. But don't be a high-handed snot. Don't wear your bias on your sleeve. That helps nothing. Don't you get that?"

O U C H ! ! CNBC would probably like to turn back the clock, eh? And speaking of pushback, kudos to Dr. Carson. This column is already too long, but just have to say: obviously he could have gone to West Point if he hadn't had his mind made up on medicine. Having Gen. Westmoreland as a reference? No, Ben did
not lie. I can relate to his rough account from memories of long ago.

I was at the U. of Wisconsin ag short course in 1960-61 and had an economics professor advise me to stay at UW-Madison. I wasn't that interested, but clearly he implied that a way could have been found to make it possible (partial scholarship or other "help"). has convinced me that Carson deserves help now too.

© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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