Scott Atlas “friendly for a change”

In February Hillsdale College, which more and more not only supplies speeches for me to examine but also appears to be an oasis of sense in a desert of academic lunacy, hosted a talk by Dr Scott Atlas.

Dr Atlas is preceded by two introductions, or more accurately an introduction and a speech. The preliminary welcome and introduction is, I believe, from Timothy Caspar. It is clear and workmanlike, though read. He is followed at 1:55 by the President of the college, Larry P. Arnn.

I like this man. I like his style and approach, his banter with his colleagues and assistants, his apparent approach to running a college, and of course his relaxed through clear shooting-from-the-hip speaking style. I also happen to share his views on most things. All this is just as well because his introduction is a mini-speech, and not so mini being more than a quarter of an hour long. He doesn’t actually get to the matter of Dr Atlas till ten minutes in, but it doesn’t matter because what precedes that is so absorbing. And the actual introduction, when it comes, appears beautifully unorthodox till you realise it’s actually leading up to the presentation of an award.

Atlas begins at 18:45 and during his opening preamble he tells the audience “It’s great to be in a crowd that is friendly for a change”.

He is script-bound which I regret but understand. He almost certainly believes, as do many, that a script ensures that you tell your story more precisely and concisely; and that therefore it is safer. I don’t share that belief, but can understand that in his circumstances he has become seriously risk-averse. This is a man under persecution.

As his story unfolds his passion builds, first below the surface but eventually becoming overt. He is angry, and in danger of falling into a trap that we’ve met before… speak when you are angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret... and his story makes it very clear why he is angry. Nevertheless he keeps his passion in check enough to remain coherent while making it clear to us that he is accustomed to having this message resisted ferociously.

I’ve been around the block a few times – I believe I am officially classified as ‘elderly’ – and there are a few reliable guidelines I’ve learnt over the years. One of them is that when any government policy receives bipartisan support it will probably fail the sniff-test. A close relative of that, originally learnt in the school playground, is that when someone makes a statement and then refuses to argue it and instead resorts to name-calling it is a safe bet that they have no argument and are lying through their teeth. Combine those two guidelines, in fact reinforce mere name-calling with government edicts by mainstream-media-muscle and police activity, and you have something dangerous. We have seen such a scenario being acted out during this pandemic and this is exactly what Dr Atlas is describing.

It is a hugely important speech and warrants close attention. It ends at 43:45, and shortly before the end his demeanour relaxes as the friendliness of the audience cheers him. In his closing he actually pays tribute to precisely this.

The speech is followed by Q&A; and this is when he really relaxes, raises his eyes to the audience, is not one jot less coherent now that he is speaking spontaneously, and becomes even cheerful. One of the early questions enables him to explain that his last words of the speech, “Rise up!” did not mean street rebellion but applying electorate pressure to political and official representatives across the field from local to federal.

I commend the entire video.

Victor Davis Hanson, classicist.

For obvious reasons there aren’t many speeches around on the internet at the moment, which is why I have been pondering on spreading the terms of reference of this blog, but meanwhile I did happen upon an interesting recent talk by a man who has been featured here before, almost exactly a year ago – Victor David Hanson.

I watched this largely for self-indulgence. I find the man interesting because he’s unusual in many ways. Merely being an academic who is openly conservative is out of the norm, but it’s more than that. He’s a walking, talking, thinking, writing, speaking, broadcasting intellectual who doesn’t inhabit an ivory tower, but gets dirt under his fingernails on his farm in California. That makes him feel more than most professors like a real person. I periodically dip into his podcast, The Classicist, where he discusses current issues against a background of his academic specialities, classical civilisations and warfare.

Here he is a guest of Pacifica Christian High School in their Great Conversations series, delivering in October last year a talk entitled The Demise of Classical Education, the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, and its Significance Today (not the catchiest title).

My rhetor hat is never far away so I immediately find myself trying to spot his Hump symptoms. Every speaker experiences the hump, but they get better at disguising it. It’s better for audiences’ enjoyment of speeches that they should not recognise the more subtle signs, so I’ll merely point out that he unnecessarily adjusts the microphone a couple of times. I am amused to see that I made the same observation on his previous appearance on this blog.

But I mentioned it really to point out to all speakers that they are not alone: everyone experiences the Hump – even speakers as good as this. The better the speaker the pickier I get and they don’t get much better than this.

Look at him speaking with his audience in the style of a fireside tutorial! Obviously he has no script or notes, because he’s a proper speaker, so nothing gets in the way of his relationship with his audience. Whether or not we agree with him he displays all the right speaking qualities like sincerity, honesty, command of his subject, and so on.

I’m enjoying it too much to allow myself to get picky. I’ll just leave you to enjoy it.

By the way, he speaks till 38:30, and then there’s about the same amount of time for Q&A which is every bit as interesting.