[Paleopsych] Sailer: Tom Wolfe: Clear Eye For The Different Human

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Tom Wolfe: Clear Eye For The Different Human 
    [12]Steve Sailer Archive

Tom Wolfe--Clear Eye For The Different Human

    By [15]Steve Sailer

    With the 1979 publication of [16]The Right Stuff, a brilliant
    non-fiction account of the men involved in the [17]Mercury program,
    [18]Tom Wolfe completed a titanic decade and a half in which he
    revolutionized American journalism.

    He then set off to become the greatest satirical-realist novelist in
    the English language since his idol, [19]Evelyn Waugh. With his third
    novel, [20]I Am Charlotte Simmons, he has attained that goal.

    It's the story of a brilliant hillbilly virgin's first half year at
    Dupont U. (primarily [21]Duke U., where Wolfe's daughter [22]Alexandra
    graduated in 2002) and the three seniors she attracts--Hoyt, the
    [23]George W. Bush-like alcoholic frat boy; Adam, the nice but dorky
    intellectual; and JoJo, the only white starter on the NCAA champion
    basketball team.

    I like to think that, in discussing human differences frankly, Wolfe
    violates many of the same taboos that I do. For example, I frequently
    defend sensible athletes like [24]Larry Bird, Paul Hornung, [25]Dusty
    Baker or the late [26]Reggie White from politically-correct
    sportswriters who want to lynch them for telling the truth about the
    link between [27]racial differences in physique and sport success. And
    in his latest book, Wolfe parodies the [28]tired spin on an ESPN talk
    show where:

    "... four poorly postured middle-aged white sportswriters sat slouched
    in little, low-backed, smack-red fiberglass swivel chairs
    panel-discussing the 'sensitive' matter of the way black players
    dominated basketball. 'Look,' the well-known columnist Maury Feldtree
    was saying, his chin resting on a pasha's cushion of jowls, `just
    think about it for a second. Race, ethnicity, all that--that's just a
    symptom of something else. There's been whole cycles of different
    minorities using sports as a way out of the ghetto.'"

    But Wolfe makes clear the obvious reason: Even the best white players,
    such as the 6'-10" 250 pound JoJo, generally are inferior in
    musculature to the best black players--such as the freshman power
    forward Vernon Congers, with "his mighty pecs, delts, traps, and
    lats," who is threatening to take his job.

    Wolfe has been noticing racial differences in muscularity at least
    since [29]Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers back in 1970. There he noted
    that white poverty program bureaucrats feared the hard-muscled black
    protestors, but were less afraid of the Mexicans and not at all scared
    of the Chinese.

    The Samoans, however, left them dumbfounded:

    "Have you ever by any chance seen professional football players in
    person, like on the street? The thing you notice is not just that
    they're big but that they are so big, it's weird... From the ears
    down, the big yoyos are just one solid welded hulk, the size of an oil
    burner... Well, that will give you some idea of the Samoans, because
    they're bigger. The average Samoan makes [30]Bubba Smith of the Colts
    look like a shrimp. They start out at about 300 pounds and from there
    they just get wider."

    Although there were no Samoans in the National Football League when
    Wolfe wrote this, today there are dozens.

    "A [31]Samoan boy, according to estimates, is 40 times more likely to
    make it to the NFL than a boy from the mainland," writes [32]Greg

    As in his 1998 [33]Atlanta-based novel [34]A Man in Full, Wolfe's new
    book drives the conventionally-minded crazy by ignoring his
    characters' facial features in favor of the visible markers of their
    muscle to fat ratios. He rightly sees that these indicate the hormones
    driving their behavior.

    Indeed, Wolfe's book is so "hormono-centric" (as he puts it) that I
    can guesstimate the body fat percentages of all his new novel's

    Using PBS fitness expert Covert Bailey's [35]table of recommendations
    for his clients, I'd say that lovely Charlotte is 22% body fat, while
    her snobbish and nearly-anorexic roommate Beverly is 16%. Exploited
    Adam is 21%, handsome Hoyt with his six-pack abs is 11%, jacked-up
    JoJo 9%, and virile Vernon 5%.

    Similarly, one of Wolfe's most important but least popular themes is

    In [36]his previous novel, Tom Wolfe describes how a high IQ corporate
    staffer, known as The Wiz, views his lower IQ boss, [37]Charlie
    Croker, real estate developer, good old boy, and ex-football star
    "with a back like a Jersey Bull:"

    "The Wiz looked upon [Croker] as an aging, uneducated, and out-of-date
    country boy who had somehow, nonetheless, managed to create a large,
    and, until recently, wildly successful corporation. That the country
    boy, with half his brainpower, should be the lord of the corporation
    and that [the Wiz] should be his vassal was an anomaly, a perversity
    of fate. . . . Or part of him felt that way. The other part of him was
    in awe, in unconscious awe, of something the old boy had and he
    didn't: namely, the power to charm men and the manic drive to bend
    their wills into saying yes to projects they didn't want, didn't need,
    and never thought about before... And that thing was manhood. It was
    as simple as that."

    During my long corporate career, I repeatedly witnessed exactly the
    same phenomenon--but putting it so baldly in words leaves most people

    Wolfe particularly doesn't [38]win any friends among male reviewers by
    pointing out that intellectuals, like Charlotte Simmons' Adam, tend to
    be less masculine than jocks like Jo-Jo, who, through sheer sense of
    alpha-male entitlement, forces his tutor (Adam) to stay up all night
    ghostwriting his history class reports.

    [39]Adam Kirsch in the neocon [40]N.Y. Sun was so unhinged by this
    that he threatened Wolfe with the [41]neutron bomb of
    accusations--anti-Semitism--although Wolfe's wife, the mother of his
    three children, is Jewish. (Kirsch got so many of the book's details
    wrong that it's hard to tell if he read it or just skimmed, looking
    for the naughty bits.)

    ([42]Here's another perfect example of a male reviewer--Theo Tait of
    the London Review of Books--criticizing Charlotte Simmons for
    everything that's true about it.)

    Likewise, Wolfe's message to young women--including, presumably, his
    daughters--that the [43]tighter rein they keep on their [44]sexual
    favors, the more power they have over men--has vastly annoyed the many
    women who don't want to be reminded about how they've [45]messed up
    their lives by[46] ignoring such advice.

    What's most striking about Wolfe's version of Duke U. is how, after 35
    years of institutionalized feminism, student sexuality hasn't
    progressed into an egalitarian utopia. Instead, it has regressed to
    something that a caveman would understand--a Hobbesian sexual
    marketplace where muscles are the measure of the man.

    This is exactly why I ended my 1997 article "[47]Is Love Colorblind?"
    like this:

    "When, in the names of freedom and feminism, young women listen less
    to the hard-earned wisdom of older women about how to pick Mr. Right,
    they listen even more to their hormones. This allows cruder measures
    of a man's worth--like the size of his muscles--to return to
    prominence. The result is not a feminist utopia, but a society in
    which genetically gifted guys can more easily get away with acting
    like Mr. Wrong."

    Wolfe has been ahead of his time for his entire career. Indeed, the
    reputation of his first novel, [48]The Bonfire of the Vanities, has
    suffered because its [49]plot is now often thought of as a pastiche of
    stories ripped from the headlines about Al Sharpton's [50]Tawana
    Brawley hoax, the arrest of the bond king [51]Michael Milken, the
    [52]Crown Heights anti-Semitic pogrom, the [53]Rodney King riots, and
    the [54]O.J. Simpson case.

    But Bonfire appeared in 1987 ... before all those events it seemingly

    America's most distinguished jurist-intellectual, Richard A. Posner,
    has admitted this in his book [55]Overcoming Law:

    "When I first read The Bonfire of the Vanities ... it just didn't
    strike me as the sort of book that has anything interesting to say
    about the law or any other institution.... I now consider that
    estimate of the book ungenerous and unperceptive. The Bonfire of the
    Vanities has turned out to be a book that I think about a lot, in part
    because it describes with such vividness what Wolfe with prophetic
    insight (the sort of thing we attribute to [56]Kafka) identified as
    emerging problems of the American legal system... American legal
    justice today seems often to be found at a bizarre intersection of
    race, money, and violence, an intersection nowhere better depicted
    than in The Bonfire of the Vanities even thought the book was written
    before the intersection had come into view."

    Moreover, "[57]Law & Order," perhaps the most successful franchise in
    television history, was clearly influenced by Bonfire. Lennie Briscoe,
    the late [58]Jerry Orbach's wonderfully [59]sardonic detective, could
    have come straight from its pages.

    But producer Dick Wolf drained the irony from Tom Wolfe's portrayal of
    New York City prosecutors. Bored and depressed by an endless stream of
    [60]black and brown lawbreakers, they torture the law to snag a Great
    White Defendant. In contrast, on "Law & Order," the [61]abusive
    prosecutors who concoct [62]patently nonsensical legal theories to
    justify arresting the [63]Park Avenue rich are the heroes.

    Although Wolfe resembles Waugh in his conservatism, they differ in
    important ways. [64]Waugh was a jealous, cantankerous snob who said
    that his Roman Catholic faith was the only thing that kept his
    behavior even marginally tolerable. Except when at his writing desk,
    Wolfe is a gracious man, perhaps the last of the old-fashioned
    Virginia gentlemen. He doesn't seem to feel any personal need for
    religion, but strongly [65]approves of it in others.

    Waugh used the most elegant English prose imaginable to limn the
    tawdriness of modern life. In contrast, Wolfe modeled his prose style
    on his subject: the sloppy, vulgar, and exciting America of the
    booming second half of the 20th Century. His sentences tended to be
    flat and functional, but studded with brilliant phrases. For example,
    "Radical Chic," "The Me Decade," and "The Right Stuff" have all become
    part of the language.

    Over the years, Wolfe's verbal inventiveness faded. But he improved as
    a copy-editor of his own prose, reaching a peak in A Man in Full,
    which features numerous showstopping set pieces. The chapter "In the
    Breeding Barn," a detailed description of the astonishing process by
    which thoroughbred racehorses are mated, is the most overwhelming
    thing he's ever written. (By nature a prim and private man, Wolfe's
    discomfort with writing about sex paradoxically makes his descriptions
    of its power so memorable.)

    But the quality of Wolfe's writing collapsed over the last 100 pages
    of A Man in Full--perhaps due to his open-heart surgery and his
    subsequent clinical [66]depression. This left me wondering whether
    he'd be able to recover at an age when most people are retired.

    Fortunately, in Charlotte Simmons, his prose style is back to a
    serviceable level. And his glee over finding this great topic--student
    life in a modern university--that nobody important had touched in
    decades is palpable.

    Additionally, making his main character a teenage girl solves one of
    Wolfe's old problems: his fascination with fashion and decorating is
    hugely important to his books, but in the manly men he normally writes
    about, it always seemed a little, ahem, [67]gay. Like many artistic
    geniuses, Wolfe's personality encompasses a wider range of the
    masculine to feminine continuum than is common among us mortals. Back
    in the 1960s, Wolfe wrote some brilliant essays about fashionable
    young women. But then he researched his [68]tremendous account of Navy
    pilots in combat over [69]North Vietnam,  "The Truest Sport: Jousting
    with Sam and Charlie," and became obsessed with male physical courage
    (which led to The Right Stuff and much else). He seemed to lose most
    of his ability to write about women--leading to the underdeveloped
    female characters in his first two novels.

    But his Charlotte is a painfully accurate depiction of a how young
    woman typically feels: i.e., acutely self-conscious. Wolfe has become
    the Beethoven of embarrassment. He orchestrates thunderous climaxes of
    social mortification every few pages.

    Although some have called I am Charlotte Simmons a can't-put-it-down
    book, personally, I had to put it down every 15 minutes or so. I felt
    so bad for the young characters as they heartbreakingly learn how the
    world works.

    Wolfe has been accused of lacking sympathy for his creations. But his
    empathy is infinite.

    As with Waugh, who was mostly dismissed as a dyspeptic middlebrow
    entertainer until after his death, it will likely be several decades
    before Wolfe's greatness as a novelist is uncontroversial.

    Maybe that will be when we are also allowed to be honest about the
    reality of human differences.

    [Steve Sailer [[70]email him], is founder of the Human Biodiversity
    Institute and [71]movie critic for [72]The American Conservative. His
    website [73]www.iSteve.com features site-exclusive commentaries.]


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