My Unacceptable Comment

It’s been over a week since my last post, though I have been far from idle… I’m in the process of writing a fairly detailed description of how the Rails 3 web framework works internally. Enjoyable work, but time-consuming. I will post the result online in the fullness of time.

Apart from that, I mentioned on my twitter feed that I had posted a comment on Brad DeLong’s blog and was waiting for it to be moderated. Well it’s clear after five days that he is not going to publish it. After my last experience I can’t say I tremendously surprised. However, let me make my point here instead…

DeLong’s post was a swipe at David Brooks from the NY Times, who had written what I thought was a fairly unremarkable article about a woman he met who was teaching Jewish philosophy in adult education classes. DeLong quoted some uncharitable remarks by someone called IOZ who said this about Brooks’ article:

David Brooks[‘s]… wide-eyed astonishment at the most basic principles of Jewish thought is actually incredible. Has no one ever taken this guy to shul before?…. A commenter notes, and la wiki confirms, that Brooks is, in fact a Jew. Well, Jew-ish. At this point, I really don’t know what to say. This is like a Catholic expressing surprise at the trinity.

DeLong then put his own boot in:

‘Let me second Ioz. It is remarkable–as if somebody got a Ph.D. in physics and then said with wonderment: “You know, you can make light go around corners if you force it through a narrow enough hole!” There is a strong sense of somebody having spent their life simply missing the point of something they were supposed to have understood before puberty…

Both of these comments struck me as just nastiness for the sake of being nasty, which sadly reflects a common tone in DeLong’s writing towards anyone who doesn’t measure up to his own view of liberal orthodoxy. I thought there was no good reason to slam David Brooks. So what if he has a Jewish background but is not deeply familiar with Jewish culture? It really doesn’t affect the point of his article. So I posted the following comment on DeLong’s blog, starting with a quote of part of what he himself had written:

‘It is remarkable–as if somebody got a Ph.D. in physics and then said with wonderment: “You know, you can make light go around corners if you force it through a narrow enough hole!”‘

No, it’s plainly nothing like that at all. For one thing, it’s quite possible that Brooks is deliberately writing from a non-Jewish perspective for the sake of those who make up the bulk of his readers. It’s pretty clear that his point (at least a large part of it) is to contrast the Jewish thinking taught by Brown with philosophies of life more common in modern society. For that purpose, whatever his own background, beliefs or personal knowledge of Jewish thought are is not particularly relevant. So it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if he deliberately avoided reflecting that background in the way he wrote the piece.

But even if that is not the case, if he is indeed ignorant of things you and Ioz apparently think should be well known to all Jews, a more natural interpretation is simply that his Jewish background is just not as deep as you’ve decided it must be. Is that the reason you’ve chosen to mock him? Or did you simply feel a need to be “just plain unpleasant.”

The final sentence was a not-too-subtle reference to DeLong’s own comments policy.

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