A couple of years ago I began writing in this space after I stepped into a row with an old friend at a group blog that has since gone stagnant. It's not much of a story. My friend made an offhand comment suggesting that my interest in Larry Arnhart's outpost for "Darwinian Conservatism" signaled a dangerous — or was it merely lamentable — capitulation to something he called "Bell Curve apologetics." Since I had read Murray and Herrnstein's seismically controversial bestseller (and since I was fairly certain that my friend had not), I responded, perhaps too glibly, by stating that the book represented a solid contribution to social science that scarcely merited apologetics (or apologies). The discussion soon took several heated turns until I ended up stepping out of the pool for good.
It's all very silly. Trust me, I know. But this microcosmic web-secluded episode really did result in the loss of a once-valued friendship. That much is true. There is only fleeting regret, fueled by the knowledge that I might have handled things differently. I remember seeing an old interview with George Carlin where he said something about how he hated people but loved individuals. It's easy to condemn a voting bloc, but when the unwashed voter offers you a light, things aren't so clear-cut. Perhaps a modicum of face time was all that was needed. A long chat over a few too many beers on the patio of the Red Carpet Lounge.
I still don't know. Nor do I worry about it. At the time, I was just bristling and intense and pathetically preoccupied. Specifically, I was irked by my friend's lazily confident reliance on these dated and gratingly shrill Google-facilitated junk polemics. Such borrowed low-rung Mismeasure of Man rehashings must pop up every time some teenager trolls for an easy thesis. (The Pioneer fund does not bother me. Does your conscience bother you?) I knew this guy well enough. I felt sure that he wouldn't buy and sell so cheap in any other context. And that suspicion alone was clarifying, even if it meant that I was missing everything that should have mattered. When you are accused of being a racist, it can be strangely disorienting. I'm never offended, mind you. I know my business and I know when I've set the bait. But I wanted to reorient myself. The impulse seemed worthwhile — to prod at the particulars where emotionally charged beliefs collide with inconvenient shapes and facts, or with other beliefs. I knew I couldn't let myself off the hook. I knew I wasn't a scholar. I knew I was a coward. So I decided to keep it personal, because it was. It was never a gimmick or a game.
When I resuscitated my old zine, The Hoover Hog, as a web journal, my first substantive postings predictably served up a rather superficial treatment of The Bell Curve controversy, ten — or was it twelve — years on. Even then, my project was animated as much by thudding nostalgia as by intellectual curiosity. Everything falls short always, and I am certain only of my limitations. I absolutely didn't expect — and didn't want — anyone to notice. And almost no one did. Yet I kept running into this one pseudonymous initialism, this character calling himself "TGGP." A peripatetic web traveler who seemed to exist for the sole purpose of cross-pollinating url-tagged cogitations across the churning din of a cacophonous blogscape, TGGP was a smart gadfly who probably never slept. He was a pack-rat collector of ideas and facts and mental models. And he was ubiquitous. Everywhere, there he was with his impertinent questions and terse correctives. Like a teacher's foil. His comments were reliably short and sharp. He was an unflappable accidental iconoclast who might have been chewing gum as he pricked at ideological canker sores. And for some fucking reason, he read The Hoover Hog. Not only did he read it, he promoted it as if it were a dangerous but charming dive bar just outside city limits. I would like to thank him.
I don't believe things come full circle. There are just these spiraling loops, and the imposition of meaning that latches as sentiment permits, wherever. But I think TGGP's recent commentary on The Bell Curve may be the best thing he's yet written, and I would say so even if it weren't dressed with allusions to precious Hog history. Readers of Entitled to an Opinion will be familiar with the dense rapid-fire layering of peripherally relevant proper nouns and back-matter. That's the way he signs it: the TGGP MO, as it were. You have to unload the sheetrock before you lay the mud. But read this one through, and follow the links. You'll soon fall into a deeper and somewhat unexpected trap. It almost caught me off guard. It may not rise to the occasion of essay (that wasn't the intention), but the argument is strategically nested and drip-fed. Biography intersecting with a crisis of faith that bottoms at tightly framed suspicion. A man is changed by reason. The rest is personal.