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Monday, March 13, 2017

The Commentariat Speaks (9)

Most of the time someone else chooses
what ends up on these.
We’d like to think we have a say in how we’ll be remembered, but it ain’t up to us.

Twenty years ago, Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve was a semi-controversial but methodologically orthodox exploration of the links between intelligence, class and race. In addition to providing hard data, Murray and his co-writer made public policy suggestions intended to mitigate socioeconomic differences in IQ, birth rate, crime, fertility, welfare, and poverty.

The book sold well enough, but failed to genuflect to the progressive racial narrative, and Murray was roundly taken to task for it.

Old news, right? Not so much. Last week, Murray and a professor who had invited him to speak at Middlebury College were attacked by rioting Leftists on campus.

Lesson 1: Groveling Doesn’t Work

The event marked Murray, who has a reputation as a conservative voice despite expending most of his efforts in the years since The Bell Curve forlornly attempting to court the Left. Murray was vocally pro-Clinton and anti-Trump in advance of November’s election.

It didn’t help. Groveling never does. Progressives cannot be placated.

The Zman comments on the awkward situation in which Charles Murray finds himself:
“Murray is fond of the label Establishmentarians to describe his peers. While it is true that they are forever defending the establishment, they have no say in what is and what is not the ‘establishment.’ ”
This is quite perceptive, and I believe Zman is right: most of the time, we do not get to decide how the world views us, no matter how craven we become in our attempts to gin up positive reviews.

Lesson 2: Success is Relative

Take the case of poor Hazael. Perhaps I should forgo the adjective: this was a pretty bad man, so much so that when the Elisha anointed him king of Syria, the prophet wept aloud at the evils he knew Hazael would perpetrate on his fellow Israelites.

At one point, Hazael had it all on a platter. Told by Elisha that he was to be king, he sped up the process by smothering his master Ben-hadad with a bed cloth and seizing his kingdom. Just as Elijah had prophesied, Hazael and his Syrian army had repeated successes in battle against Israel and thoroughly intimidated the smaller kingdom of Judah. There is even evidence outside of scripture of Hazael’s strategic brilliance: in 1993, at Tel Dan in northern Israel, a broken basalt stele was unearthed bearing a triumphal inscription in Aramaic that appears to commemorate Hazael’s victories over the “House of David”.

So far so good. Hazael may have begun as merely a court official, but his reign made Damascus into an empire.

So tell me, why would Hazael name his son after the man he murdered in his bed? Would you?

Lesson 3: You Can’t Play Them There Historians

Well, Hazael did. His son is also called in scripture Ben-hadad, which would make him the third Syrian ruler to bear that name (the second being the man his dad smothered):
  • One possible motivation is insecurity. Some commentators (Ellicott for one) believe “Ben-hadad” was a title inherited by all Syrian rulers, in which case conferring the title to his son may have been a claim to credibility for Hazael’s own dynasty. But if so, why was this same title never ascribed to Hazael despite his unequaled success? Why did he not take the name himself? Something doesn’t add up.
  • Another possibility is plain old political maneuvering. Maybe little Ben-hadad was born while Hazael still served the man after whom he was named, in which case it would remind us that sucking up to the boss can be politically profitable even if it sometimes makes you want to murder the guy. (Not the Christian option, I hasten to add.)
  • Or perhaps Hazael was being ironic in his choice of baby names, attempting to demonstrate his power over his old master. If so, he made a rather unfortunate choice: Ben-hadad III was neither as successful as his father nor as the other kings of Syria who bore the same title. He lost the cities his father had taken from Israel back to King Jehoash and may have only ruled Syria for as little as four years.
  • We should probably not rule guilt entirely out of the question, though it may seem unlikely.
Few of these possible motives reflect well on Hazael. In the end we can’t know why little Ben-hadad found himself slotted into some other family dynasty, but both scripture and secular history confirm it. And it reminds us of the fact that no matter how efficient we are at what we do (and Hazael was very efficient indeed), history will make of us what it pleases and the public will think of us what it likes.

Or as Charles Murray discovered, we have no say in what is and what is not the ‘establishment.’

What Does and Doesn’t Pay Off

What’s more important than how we are perceived is what we actually DO, and Hazael, while tremendously successful in his day, pitted himself against the people of God. He served as the instrument of God’s wrath on Israel and Judah, while simultaneously storing up the anger of God against his own name and family. Thus we read in the prophet Amos:
“ ‘For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron. So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. I will break the gate-bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven, and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden; and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,’ says the Lord.”
Faced with the choice of being venerated by historians or pleasing God, I know what I’d choose. At least I hope I do.

As Charles Murray is finding out, pandering to the court of public opinion rarely pays off anyway.

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