Fantastic Mr. Faux

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Megan McArdle explains Why it’s wrong to rewrite Roald Dahl’s children’s books.

Few literary reputations have suffered as great a reversal as that of Thomas Bowdler, and even fewer so deservedly. The “family” edition of Shakespeare that he and his sister created, methodically stripping out the faintest trace of “profaneness or obscenity,” was for a while the best-selling edition of the Bard’s works. Over time, however, people noticed that he had removed some of Shakespeare’s most vivid and enduring phrases, such as “the beast with two backs.” Bowdler’s work fell out of print, his name forgotten except as a synonym for all the purse-lipped virtue vandals who would “bowdlerize” great books in the name of protecting children.

Let us hope a similar fate awaits the literary lobotomies recently performed on the works of Roald Dahl by Inclusive Minds, an organization that describes itself as “passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature.” Judging by the edits they recommended, their actual passion is altering books to suit the most oversensitive and historically illiterate lunatic imaginable.

Oops, I meant to say “person experiencing lunacy.”

The changes made, in conjunction with the publisher Puffin and the Roald Dahl Story Co., range from the predictable — the word “fat” has been effaced — to the stupid, such as changing “denizen” to “resident” — to the inexplicable: “She looked as though she was going to faint” was for some reason snipped out of “George’s Marvellous Medicine.”

I have a copy of Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox on my bookshelf. It's kind of beat up, but it's unBowdlered, and I'd be willing to part with it for an equally fantastic amount of money.

(I understand the new title will me Fantastic Mx. Fox. Or… see today's headline.)

[Update: The publisher has announced that it will make Dahl's original versions available as "The Roald Dahl Classic Collection". This will involve a certain amount of laughing all the way to the bank for them, I expect.]

Briefly noted:

  • A recent editorial column in my local paper (to which I no longer subscribe) proclaimed "I am woke — and proud of it."

    The author, Robert Azzi, accomplished this feat by his circular definition of "woke": essentially, an encapsulation of all of Robert Azzi's political opinions.

    It's a fun game! Anyone can play!

    But (seriously folks) slippery definitions are endemic in politically-charged environments. But Noah Rothman points out No One Is Confused by ‘Wokeness’ in Practice.

    Republicans have no idea what they’re talking about when they use the word “woke.” That is the premise from which the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Liz Goodwin begin in a report on the torturing of this loaded word by its detractors on the right.

    Aspirants for high office within the Republican firmament are quick to deploy the term, these reporters note, but its malleability renders the word meaningless. And yet, the term “originated in black culture before being co-opted by white people,” and conservatives only “began using ‘woke’ in pejorative terms to undermine black and liberal ideas,” according to the reporters’ restatement of Duke University professor Candis Watts Smith’s verdict. That was “not an accidental choice.”

    So, the word “woke” is nonsensical, and those who use it have no shared understanding of what it means. But it’s also a racist sleight deployed deliberately to broadcast and popularize bigotry. An irreconcilable contradiction is an unpromising way to begin a piece designed to indict Republicans for being unclear.

    Similarly with "Critical Race Theory": you'll see "That's only being taught in law schools" close by "It's a terrible thing to ban it from being taught in K-12."

  • Nate Hochman examimes another red-flag bit of terminology. DEI Is a Lie: Left Already Knows.

    As “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) spills out of the faculty lounge and euphemizes its way into the nation’s elite institutions, conservatives have begun to notice something’s amiss. “One Type of Diversity Never Seems to Matter,” Carrie Lukas declared in Forbes, pointing out that DEI doesn’t give a fig for “political or ideological diversity.” “‘Equity’ doesn’t mean what the left says it means,” a headline from Matt Clark, the president of the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty, argued. In the Washington Times, Everett Piper polemicized against left-wing “hypocrites” who supported censorship and illiberalism while invoking “inclusion,” “diversity,” and “tolerance.”

    Allegations of hypocrisy, of course, are merited. Scott Yenor’s recent report on the rise of the equity regime at Texas A&M (TAMU) provides a glimpse into the gap between DEI’s public claims and its real, material meaning. Formally, Yenor notes, “diversity” is portrayed as the principle that “everyone and every group should be valued” by “embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of difference”; in practice, it represents “an identity-based approach to society,” intended to box out “now-disfavored groups like whites and males through ‘political quotas.’” Formally, “equity” is allegedly aimed at “overcoming challenges and bias to achieve equal opportunity”; in practice, it redounds to “equality of outcomes plus reparations.” Formally, “inclusion” means “bringing the formerly excluded into activities and decision-making so as to share power”; in practice, it’s “enforced segregation of people by race” and “restrictions on speech” for disfavored groups.

    Yenor substantiates those claims with a startling statistic: As the DEI regime advanced through TAMU — to the tune of well over $11 million, and an array of new programs, departments and salaried sinecures for diversity czars — white, black, and Hispanic students all began to feel more alienated from the university. From 2015 to 2020, the percentage of white students “who agreed or strongly agreed that they belonged at A&M” declined by 10 points. Over the same period, the percentage of Hispanic students who said they belonged declined by 12 points. For black students, the percentage declined by a whopping 27 points.

    Googling for the terms "diversity", "equity", and "inclusion" in the domain gives (as I type) "about 11,500 results". (The University Near Here, like the Inclusive Minds folks mentioned above, seems also to toss in "accessibility" into the DEI triumvirate, because hey why not.)

    As near as I can tell, nobody's bothered to carry out a Yenor-style study of whether the DEI efforts at UNH have had any measurable benefit.

    Or maybe they have studied it and they're too scared or embarrassed to publicize the results.

  • Jacob Sullum notes some incipient cognitive dissonance at America's Newspaper of Record: 'America Has Lost the War on Drugs,' The New York Times Says, but Should Keep Fighting It Anyway. Sample:

    "Criminal justice still has a role to play in tackling addiction and overdose," the Times says. Why? Because "the harm done by drugs extends far beyond the people who use them, and addictive substances—including legal ones like alcohol—have always contributed to crime." The Times thus concedes that the problems posed by illegal drugs are fundamentally similar to the the problems posed by alcohol, which the government addresses without prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and possession of booze. Might that approach be extended to other drugs?

    The Times does not consider that option, despite the precedent established by its endorsement of marijuana legalization. Nor does it say exactly what role criminal justice should play in discouraging drug use, although the role it imagines clearly goes beyond punishing drug users who commit crimes against people or property, prohibiting reckless behavior such as driving while intoxicated, and enforcing age restrictions.

    There's a hardwired "Do Something!" instinct in the human political mind when it observes problematic behavior. And, to such minds, "prohibition" is usually Plan A. And sometimes Plans B, C, D,…

  • Another hardwired political instinct: "Maybe if we ignore the problem it will go away." That seems to be the prevailing opinion about Social Security. For those looking to not ignore that problem, Johan Norberg offers: How Sweden Saved Social Security.

    ‘There are few issues on which Sweden and the United States are not in perfect sync,” then-Vice President Joe Biden said here in 2016. Here’s one: Social Security. President Biden refuses to consider any reforms, and so do many Republicans. But that won’t save the program; it’ll doom it. In a little over a decade, the trust fund will be exhausted.

    Sweden faced the same problem in the early 1990s. The old pay-as-you-go pension system had promised too much. With fewer births and longer lives, projections showed the system would be insolvent a decade later. As Mr. Biden has said in another context, Sweden has “an ethic of decency.” Its politicians chose not to deceive the voters. The center-left Social Democrats acknowledged that the system “would not withstand the stresses that can be foreseen.”

    In 1994 the Social Democrats agreed with the four center-right parties to create an entirely new system based on the principle that pensions should correspond to what the beneficiary pays into the system—a system in which the contribution, not the benefits, is defined.

    Norberg further notes that Swedish pols "prepared their citizens with an adult conversation about costs, benefits and what was possible, instead of merely rehearsing slogans and ignoring the inevitable crash."

    Adult conversations! What a concept!

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:41 AM EDT