Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On The Nightstand

This edition of On The Nightstand is brought to you by Interlibrary Loan. Interlibrary Loan is my friend. For just $2.50 a book, it turns the novel-oriented Tooele Library into a reader's paradise of non-fiction books.

First up is #3 in the Honor Harrington series, The Short Victorious War by David Weber. Someone described this series as Horatio Hornblower in space, and I'd say that's a pretty apt description. If you like military science fiction that gives a realistic picture of human nature, try this series. Dale Franks of QandO got me started, and I think I'm hooked.

Next is Glenn Reynolds' Army of Davids. Not the best book ever written in the English language, but then again Reynolds (heh) is better known for his advocacy of ideas than for his lucid prose (indeed). And the ideas are interesting ones.

Finally we have Thomas Sowell's Conquests And Cultures. I'm a big Sowell fan and I was intrigued by this book, which explains the concept of "cultural capital." I've made fun of that concept before, but I have to admit that until I read this book I had a distorted idea of the concept; I will not make fun of it any more.

I first encountered the idea of "cultural capital" in a sociology class taught by an extremely left-wing professor. I think I got a distorted version of it because she didn't understand the corresponding concept of economic capital on which the cultural capital idea is based, and saw the theory only through her own very polarized filters. The version she communicated to me sounded more like "poor benighted darkies, they don't have museums and stuff so their culture is deficient and they can't achieve success as measured by high school graduation rates," and I thought that was a rather racist and odd attitude. I've encountered people from a lot of cultures, and I knew that cultures were adapted to the environments they developed in. While no culture was without its faults, you could not consider, say, the Native Americans' lack of museums to be some sort of debilitating problem, especially considering that lots of undeniably successful cultures don't (or didn't) have museums. And to use high school graduation rates as the metric of success just seemed so centered in our particular culture that I felt it was incompatible with her cultural relativism.

I can see now that my prof was conflating race with culture (as she frequently did in class, much to my frustration), seeing capital as consisting of the trappings of Western culture, and measuring success by inappropriate metrics. Sowell's theory is much better developed than that, and he shows how not only technology, but attitudes and cultural values can affect a culture's perpetuation, growth, and transmissibility over the centuries; he defines a "successful" culture as one that perpetuates itself and creates a higher standard of living for its members.

Next week on the nightstand is another Theodore Dalrymple book, Our Culture, What's Left Of It. I love Theodore Dalrymple's prose. It's so delicious! I would read dishwasher user manuals written by Dalrymple. He writes so well!