Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Sunday, July 09, 2006

It's Not Much, but Nerf™land Pushes Back

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about schools in England that were banning the paper airplane because of fears of student injury, another school that had removed its swingset because it "faced the sun" and they were concerned about kids blinding themselves, and other similar idiocy.

Well, it looks like somebody over there has had enough, and they're not alone. Wendy McElroy, proprietor of and a Fox News columnist, has written a piece about a book recently published there:
New Book Revives Lost Notions of Boyhood

The Dangerous Book for Boys by the British brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden is a practical manual that returns boys to the wonder and almost lost world of tree houses and pirate flags. It celebrates the art of teaching an old mutt new tricks and accepts skinned knees as an acceptable risk for running through fields with the same dog yapping along.

As of July 3, The Dangerous Book is the number one seller on Amazon UK and it is holding steady at about 7,000 on Amazon in the U.S., where it was published on June 5. The Australian News reports that the book "has made it to the top five of…Amazon [Australia], after just a week."

Those results make publishers take notice. But social commentators are also reacting with both applause and condemnation.

Condemnation arises because The Dangerous Book breaks the dominant and politically correct stereotype for children's books. It presents boys as being deeply different than girls in terms of their interests and pursuits. Although it is highly probable that bookstores will sell the book to girls who then will go on to practice skimming stones, nevertheless the genders are separated within the book's pages.
Read the whole thing. Wendy isn't your typical feminist.

An interesting note, Clayton Cramer (not a fan of reports that Amazon here in the U.S. no longer lists The Dangerous Book for Boys on its website. The excuse is beyond lame.

Other media sources have responded to The Dangerous Book, for example this op-ed from the The Sunday Times, June 17:
Every so often the lofty minarets of publishing find themselves shaken by a seismic crack from down below. The sound — deeply liberating in the age of the pre-digested blockbuster — is that of the book-buying public spontaneously making its presence felt: one of those infrequent but hugely intriguing instances of word-of-mouth buzz picking up on some hitherto under-publicised item and sending it storming up the bestseller list without the people who administer the book trade really noticing.

The latest example of this encouraging trend is a work entitled The Dangerous Book For Boys by the brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden — Conn is a well-known historical novelist — which was overlooked by the literary editors and the three-for-two promotions but is currently number one on the Amazon chart.

Undoubtedly it is being bought not only by boys but by their fathers as a splendidly politically incorrect guide to both boyhood and fatherhood.

Got up in gilt and scarlet covers, stoutly hardbacked and looking for all the world like a juvenile Christmas present from around the time of King Edward VII's coronation, The Dangerous Book For Boys declares its intent from the opening page.

"In this age of video games and mobile phones there must still be a place for knots, tree houses and stories of incredible courage," the authors maintain. "Men and boys today are the same as they always were, and interested in the same things . . . We hope in years to come that this will be a book to dig out of the attic and give to a couple of kids staring at a pile of wood and wondering what to do with it."
I liked this part particularly:
Clearly, over the next few months The Dangerous Book For Boys, however misleading the promise of its title, is set to play a bumper role in Taylor family life.

Behind its success lurk some shrewd cultural deductions that, here in the bright dawn of the technology-driven 21st century, hardly ever occur to people down at the sharp end of the child-rearing process.

The most obvious is the absolute feebleness of what gets taught in schools these days.
The drawback to the Iggulden project, of course, is that it is completely opposed to practically every development (and developer) currently at work in the British educational process. Not many modern curriculums, after all, feature lists of British kings and queens, troop deployments at Balaclava and the nature of the pluperfect tense.

On the practical side, it goes without saying that the average headmaster would probably have a fit if anyone suggested that his male pupils ought, for the purpose of drawing them closer to their fathers, be taught how to gut a rabbit.

He (or she) would probably be deeply disturbed, too, by the sight of the Oxford historian Niall Ferguson — quoted by the Igguldens — summarising the achievements of the British Empire (downsides are mentioned too) or a list of recommended reading that includes the original James Bond books and the Flashman novels of George MacDonald Fraser.
Even Al-Guardian can't be too negative about the book:
The book is beautifully accomplished, from its instructions about hunting and cooking a rabbit to its diagrams explaining how to wrap a parcel in brown paper and string. ("Not a very 'dangerous' activity, it's true, but ... extremely satisfying.") But does the chord it has struck also reveal the stubborn prevalence of some rather foolish and deluded fantasy vision of British boyhood? Of a past less noble and less real than it may seem in hindsight, a past which those books and comics that inspired this one would have us believe?

I suppose the answer is mostly yes. I'm old enough to have grown up in a time when the sorts of virtues championed here - wholesome curiosity, diligent teamwork, pluck and decency - still enjoyed some currency, especially in schools and in the cub scouts. However, while boys of my generation enjoyed a freedom to roam and to construct bows and arrows and to play football until dusk, those good-egg moral virtues were often scarce in reality. Boys who were not "hard" or sporty got picked on by boys who were, just as happens now. Bob Cherry, the brave and hearty hero from the Billy Bunter series, was very much a fictional character.

Is this book, then, purely romantic? That's quite a tricky one to call. I'm wondering why it is called "dangerous". Does the choice of adjective simply express that hankering after a time when parents were less fearful about their children? Or is it some sort of a comment being made to the effect that it is dangerous these days to insist that boys are totally different creatures from girls? A chapter called The British Empire (1497-1997) repays careful rereading. It's all battles and rebellions and good intentions that didn't always work out, but were still good intentions anyway. It is hard to see this as anything other than a conservative reading of the imperial centuries, which makes me inclined to see The Dangerous Book for Boys and its popularity as of a piece with a modern lament about the loss of an old gender order under which a chap knew what a chap was meant to do and the world was a happier place.

I don't believe it ever was that simple, and pining for it will do none of us much good. Yet there remains much that is admirable here. Some more advice from Sir Frederick Treves: "Don't swagger. The boy who swaggers - like a man who swaggers - has little else that he can do ... It is the empty tin that rattles most. Be honest. Be loyal. Be kind. Remember that the hardest thing to acquire is the faculty of being unselfish. As a quality it is one of the finest attributes of manliness." Not much to quarrel with there.
The June 13 Telegraph story on the book is equally interesting. Note the opening:
A book of old-fashioned, adventurous pastimes for lads and dads has become a surprise bestseller. Christopher Middleton watched his 11-year-old son transformed into a Middle Earth warrior

It's amazing that The Dangerous Book For Boys ever got published, really, given the deeply unfashionable connotations surrounding two out of the five words in the title (the ones that aren't "The", "Book" and "For").

The very thought of an educational volume that sets out both to exclude a specific gender and to promote activities with questionable health and safety implications is enough to bring the ultimate condemnation that the world of mealy-mouthdom has to offer - that of being "inappropriate".
It's not like Political Correctness is going unnoticed in England, as natural as breathing air. They're apparently choking on it, too.

Is this a backlash against Political Correctness? Undoubtedly. Does it signal the beginning of a popular movement against it? I doubt, but I can hope. British doctor and writer Theodore Dalrymple, author of several books and numerous essays on the decline of British society, said this in an interview with FrontPage magazine after the publication of his book Our Culture, What's Left of it: The Mandarins and the Masses:
Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.
And I think he's absolutely correct.

It's past time for a backlash against it, both here and most especially in England. The Dangerous Book for Boys isn't much, but it's a start, and it's aimed at exactly the right target.

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