Here's the moment that I've been waiting for: finding a conservative who isn't afraid to stray outside the proscribed areas usually inhabited by "conservatives" and to call cack-handed mendacity when he sees it.
So let me just introduce... John Derbyshire. And his article in the >gasp< National Review Online... "A Blood Libel on Our Civilization". Can you guess what it is? No, seriously... it's a review of Expelled (in all fairness, he hasn't actually seen it yet, by his own admission, but there's a vast trove [NB: not a "treasure trove"] of information out there from which to judge already). I wouldn't make this up. Take a look. If you're impatient, here's a key quote:
"No, Ben Stein is no crook. He must then be foolish; and that’s sad, because I now think less of a guy I once admired, and whom my friends admire. Life, it’s just one darn bubble bursting after another."
As readers may just have guessed, I'm not a natural conservative. To me, conservatism seems to be, in essence, the antithesis of seeking, probing, and testing the limits, looking for novelty, good or bad - to me, the latter descriptions are the essence of being progressive and liberal. Conservatism is often about standing still and looking backward, while progressive liberalism is about moving and looking forward. But at the same time, there are things that I respect about the conservative outlook - the feeling that the roots of culture and society should be given their due, the sense of the importance of history and precedent - and when that is the ground on which conservatives wish to meet, I'll certainly be there.
I think that it's important for conservatives and liberal progressives to be able to talk, seriously and civilly, without descending into name-calling and reputation-smearing shouting matches, and I know that there are conservatives who feel the same way. As liberal thinkers go, conservatives can play an important check and balance function - they can ask those questions which the traditional "devil's advocate" would ask, and make us examine our assertions and our certainties. And all of that, as far as I am concerned, is good and right and proper - it's part of a skeptical intellectual traditional.
What therefore bothers me (and I'm neither alone nor original in expressing this sentiment) is just how nasty the rhetoric has grown in recent years. Fostered, demonstrably, by the current American government and the neo-conservative and neo-Xian elements within and without it, the United States has continued its descent into divisiveness and incivility. I don't think that there is necessarily a "fault" to be assigned in that case, it just seems to have happened. Now, rather than pandering to the more unpleasant voices of the right (and, indeed, several unpleasant voices on the left), perhaps its time to find some common ground.
Which is where John Derbyshire's article comes in. Here is a man, writing for a conservative publication, who says things like this:
"Western civilization has many glories. There are the legacies of the ancients, in literature and thought. There are the late-medieval cathedrals, those huge miracles of stone, statuary, and spiritual devotion. There is painting, music, the orderly cityscapes of Renaissance Italy, the peaceful, self-governed townships of old New England and the Frontier, the steel marvels of the early industrial revolution, our parliaments and courts of law, our great universities with their spirit of restless inquiry.
"And there is science, perhaps the greatest of all our achievements, because nowhere else on earth did it appear."
Mr Derbyshire also endears himself to me for the parenthetical remark in this quote, which I think is absolutely priceless:
"This dishonesty showed up very soon after the creationists decided to don the mask of “alternative science” in the 1990s. A key episode was the Kunming conference of June 1999. In very brief — you can read the full story in Forrest and Gross’s Creationism's Trojan Horse (“A bad book, a very bad book,” shuddered the Discovery Institute’s Bruce Chapman when he saw it on my desk, like a vampire spotting a clove of garlic)..."
I have to be honest... nothing has put me in such a good mood for days as reading that. Check out the article for yourself, and consider that maybe, just maybe, things are not beyond all hope.