A common baseline of facts and information?

I’ve been a fan of Matthew Crawford since he wrote Shop Class as Soulcraft. His second book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, was solid, too.

Now he has published a terrific longread article at American Affairs Journal: Algorithmic Governance and Political Legitimacy. I got pointed to it from here, and I don’t think I could improve on that as a summary of a dense, dense, but rewarding article.

The “density” isn’t from political theory jargon (Crawford has his doctorate in political theory), but from plain-English descriptions of things that have been so far off my radar that it takes a while to apprehend a few of the implications.

My personal take-away, at least tentatively, is to deeply distrust any politician who proposes to unite us with “a common baseline of facts and information” (Barack Obama’s locution). That seems to cash out as “persuade us to trust whatever Google’s opaque and proprietary algorithms serve up in response to our searches,” and I cannot grant that trust since I know that humans wrote the algorithms, humans have biases, and the biases of the humans at Google are of the sort that gets James Damore branded a monster and rode out of town on a rail.

That personal take-away does not do justice to Crawford’s long discussion, so be warned. Be warned, too, that you may need a few hours of punctuated reading to get through the article, but I think you’ll find it rewarding.

Frankly, the “common baseline of facts and information” conceit will probably be that of liberal or progressive politicians. On the other side, we have a narcissist who thinks anything less than fully flattering is “fake news.” The work of citizens in democracy is harder than ever now that we’ve been disenthralled. Heck, I “see through” so much stuff I’m in danger our not just plain seeing anything.

But I do believe that reality is out there (I think that was a tag-line for something but I’m too out of pop culture to tell you what it was), and the real work of politics, in the traditional sense, is persuasion, not surreptitious curation.

(I’m classifying this as “lifeworks” because it’s about Crawford. I’d class it as deathworks if it were about the curators.)

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Posted in liberalism, lifeworks, Political Matters, populism, progressivism | Leave a comment

Trump in Evangelical Texas

Wahington Post’s Elizabeth Breunig went to Texas around Easter to visit Evangelical family and try to figure out the Trump-Evangelical bond.

“I give to everybody,” [Trump] declared in 2015, during the first Republican primary debate. “When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me.” For a frustrated conservative wondering why Republican presidents had never seemed to make good on their promises to evangelicals while their cultural cachet continued to slip, Trump’s blatant indictment of corrupt, money-driven politics must have seemed refreshingly honest — even if part of his admission was that he himself participated in it.

“I really think one of the things that’s changed since I did my fieldwork at the very end of the Bush administration is a rejection of politics in general as a means to advance the common good, even in a conservative vein.” In that case, politics “becomes a bloodsport, where you’re punishing and striking back at people you don’t like” without much hope of changing anything.

(Quoting Lydia Bean, a researcher who devoted her graduate sociological work at Harvard to studying the comparative politics of evangelicals in the United States and Canada.)

“We’re deplorables,” the [Baptist] Collinses intoned in unison, when I asked them what messages they had heard from Democrats. “We cling to our religion and our guns,” Coleman said, mocking the famous Barack Obama remark from 2008. “I don’t think there’s much room in the Democratic Party for evangelicals like me,” [Pastor] Barber added.

Is there a way to reverse hostilities between the two cultures in a way that might provoke a truce? It is hard to see. Is it even possible to return to a style of evangelical politics that favored “family values” candidates and a Billy Graham-like engagement with the world, all with an eye toward revival and persuasion? It is hard to imagine.

Or was a truly evangelical politics — with an eye toward cultural transformation — less effective than the defensive evangelical politics of today, which seems focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture? Was the former always destined to collapse into the latter? And will the evangelical politics of the post-Bush era continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes? And if hostilities can’t be reduced and a detente can’t be reached, are the evangelicals who foretell the apocalypse really wrong?

Elizabeth Breunig, In God’s country, where she asks “Evangelicals view Trump as their protector. Will they stand by him in 2020?” and does an outstanding job of qualifying her answer. Someone at the Post, though, thought her answer was “Yes, they will,” and that tipoff crept into the page title in my browser.

Breunig opens with an implied question and the four frankly condescending theories/answers she knows:

Theories about Trump’s connection with evangelical voters have long been dubiously elegant. The simplest, and perhaps most comfortable for Trump’s bewildered and furious opposition, is that evangelicals are and always were hypocrites, demanding moral rectitude from their enemies that they don’t expect from their friends. Others held that evangelicals must simply be ignorant, taken in by a campaign narrative that attempted to depict Trump as privately devoted to Christ, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Some argued that evangelicals just wanted an invincible champion to fight the culture wars, even if he didn’t share their vision of the good life. And then there was the transactional theory: Their votes were just about the Supreme Court.

I ended up thinking the “invincible champion” theory, condescending or not, was the most plausible of the theories (though I’m not sure any of the four suffices) based on a couple of portions of the article that surprised me:

  • “‘It’s spiritual warfare,’ Dale Ivy added, emphasizing Trump is the only man in the field who seems strong enough to confront it.” My first reaction was “You’ve got to be kidding! Donald Trump as Spiritual Champion!?”
  • But then there was this second synthesis: “By voting for Trump — even over more identifiably Christian candidates — evangelicals seem to have found a way to outsource their fears and instead reserve a strictly spiritual space for themselves inside politics without placing evangelical politicians themselves in power. In that sense, they can be both active political agents and a semi-cloistered religious minority, both of the world and removed from it, advancing their values while retreating to their own societies.”

The idea of sending up an adulterous pagan to do spiritual warfare in your stead really is unhinged. Evil spirits would chew him out an spit him out faster than the eye could follow. But if “spiritual warfare” is hyperbole, as I suspect it is, the theory of “invincible champion” becomes more plausible.

Rod Dreher had to bring this to my attention because I deliberately allowed my Washington Post subscription to expire. If my experience holds for you, you can get a year of digital-only access to the Post, which has the best religion coverage of any major newspaper I know, for $40. I couldn’t resist that offer. Just sayin’.

 

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Posted in Christianity generally, Evangelicalism, grievance mongering, Journalism, Political Matters | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Inviting Jesus into her heart

Today, both Latin (Roman Catholic) and Greek (Orthodox) Christians remember the falling asleep of the Mother of God.

THE_PLATYTERA_DETAIL-web

Using some of the terminology from our revivalist friends, Mary became the very first to accept Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior, and invited Him thus into her heart (which is exactly what the Platytera Icon shows).

Fr. Jonathan Tobias.

You cannot get any more “lifework” than a young virgin saying, in the Latin version, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, in response to the Archangel’s invitation.

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Posted in Christianity generally, lifeworks, Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism | Leave a comment

Job’s Comforters

I’ve never recoiled from Job’s Comforters. At least they were “there for him” after a fashion, right?

Maybe I’m on the Autism Spectrum, or haven’t shaken off the last of my “former delusion,” repudiated when I entered Orthodoxy.

But the promised blessings and cursings in Deuteronomy were not sui generis in the Old Testament henotheistic millieu. That gods reward their followers and punish deviants was hardly an outrageous or (if I may wax anachronistic) Pharisaical worldview before Christ.

Some of the Psalms presented a more equivocal view, and we’ve learned from the highest of authorities, through pericopes like the man born blind, that into each life some rain must fall.

But the lessons that grief is not the time for theodicy, and that “I’m so sorry” is generally the best thing we can say when we’re tempted to something more “pious,” are not learned and remembered easily.

I’ve even heard dubieties coming from the mouths of the putatively grieving, trying to comfort their comforters. I’m thinking especially of a Calvinist father whose young adult son wrapped his car around a tree while home on leave. “We prayed that God would keep him from apostasy, and this apparently was the answer.”

That seemed very pious at the time. Now it seems reptilian. Another of his children did apostatize, and wrote a kiss-and-tell book about growing up in that household. I couldn’t bear to read it, but it sounded all too plausible from the reviews.

I guess Job wouldn’t have been much of a story if three guys showed up and just kept saying “we’re so sorry, Job.”

And we can always be grateful for Bildad the Shuhite as the punchline for “Who’s the shorted man in the Bible?”

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Posted in American Folk Religion, Calvinism, deathworks, Faith & Ideology, Heretics | Tagged | Leave a comment

How To Avoid Being Called A Russian Agent Online

Caitlin Johnstone, a down-under very-lefty, waives copyright. Her offering today made it irresistible to copy her, wholesale:

Continue reading

Posted in Heckler's Veto, Humor, Journalism, Naked Emperors, Plutocracy, Russia, Speech & Press, Virtue signaling | Tagged | Leave a comment

We’ll need another scapegoat now

So Jeffrey Epstein is dead by “suicide,” and the sighs of relief in high places are audible all the way over here in flyover country.

That’s all I’m going to say about my suspicions. There will be no shortage of conspiracy theories, and considering Epstein’s list of celebrity bros, I’ll be all-too-tempted to go down one or more or those rabbit-holes.

Judging from the uproar, most of us would like to see Epstein spending a very long time upstate, as we New Yorkers say about the state prisons. At the same time Teen Vogue -target audience girls, 11 to 17—publishes an article on the pleasures of anal sex: “It is often described as a feeling of fullness, which can be delightful…It’s NOT a big deal.” Do we condemn Conde Nast, or applaud them for “empowering … young adults to do what they want with their bodies” or pretty much ignore the whole thing as, with a few exceptions, seems to have happened. Similar questions apply to Desmond Napoles, a pre-teen “drag kid” who has performed in gay bars and has been the subject of an admiring profile on “Good Morning America” as well as a celebratory blog post by a convicted pedophile. When is a child fully capable of autonomy? Age of consent is inevitably arbitrary—you may have in mind a mature, thoughtful 16 year-old and her long-term 17 year old boyfriend while someone else is thinking of a manic-depressive, boundary-pushing girl with a daddy hang-up of that age. How, in this post sexual-revolution era, do we etch out laws and policy, not to mention norms, that apply to both?

Most people are not ambivalent about Jeffrey Epstein’s case. The same cannot be said about the many questions it puts before us.

Kaye Hymowitz, Jeffrey Epstein and All the Others: An Explainer.

One of the things that makes me want to puke is the coastal progressives who hear racist dog-whistles from Red America but who avert their eyes from Teen Vogue and deny that pre-teen drag queens like Desmond Napoles, valorized of gay bars and network TV, are in any way sexualized. Pas d’ennemis à gauche.

So Jeffrey Epstein is dead. We’ll need another scapegoat now.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Posted in deathworks, Sexualia | 2 Comments

Mother Nature winds up

I have a sinking feeling that Mother Nature is gearing up to show us, yet again, that it’s not nice to try to fool her or to abuse her. The toll could be billions.

I’m not just talking about climate change. I’m talking about the moving human pieces, and the pushing-back human pieces, too.

Like this: the global south gets hot first; its residents mass-migrate north; authoritarian personalities in the north are mightily alarmed. Mayhem ensues.

Did I just accidentally paraphrase Camp of the Saints? It’s not a rhetorical question. I think mass-migration is a key element of that profoundly racist (I’m relying on Rod Dreher for that characterization) book.

Instead of just wondering, I looked it up: Dreher says the feckless official response to mass-migration was a key plot element in Camp of the Saints, too, and I’m not sure that climate change was the migration’s impetus. But those are indifferent details, aren’t they?

We’ve got feckless governments galore, and our choices seem to be between authoritarian and feckless. And if we got the happy medium of resolute government blocking excessive immigration, the agent of death would be heat and famine — the poor dying for our sins again, but not so directly as by armed anti-immigrants. (I’m not hyperlinking to Camp of the Saints, by the way, because I only looked at it once on Amazon and now Amazon bombards me with unwanted offers of various right-wing books.)

We could use a deus ex machina about now, couldn’t we? Or ex anywhere.

I’d say I’m waiting to finish Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism for my final judgment, but I never reach certainty on such complex things.

Final Judgment isn’t mine, anyway. It’s, uh, “Mother Nature’s.”

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Posted in Creation Care, deathworks, domestic terrorism, Foreign Affairs, Literature, Poverty, terrorism | Leave a comment

Housekeeping

I have been migrating selected records from an obsoleting database manager (Bento, a flat-file dBM for Mac from FileMaker) to DEVONthink. I’ve been unable to figure out a way to mass-migrate 4000+ records.

It’s surprising how little from 20-30 years ago feels worth copying-and-pasting for preservation. But I’ve preserved quite a few things from the period when I was learning a lot online about Orthodoxy (not recommended, by the way).

And then there was this:

Kenneth Offner works with Intervarsity Christian fellowship at Harvard. He has his work cut out for him. But recently he’s been wondering whether evangelicalism is up to the task.

In his newsletter he says he finds himself enjoying First Things ever so much more than Christianity Today, and is intensely interested in books from Ignatius Press while having zero interest in the Top Ten Evangelical Books of the Month.

Is Offner on his way to Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy? Not necessarily, but he thinks American evangelicalism is in deep detritus. “We are drifting so far from our Reformational roots that were Luther or Calvin to appear today they might see more things they recognized in Catholicism than in evangelicalism. (Which is not to imply that they would become Catholics!)”

Offner includes his own taxonomy of what is meant by evangelicalism today. It is a question often asked. Most students of the subject come up with at least three criteria that define evangelicalism: belief in absolute authority of Scripture, a born again experience, an eagerness to evangelize others. But Offner says there are twelve different evangelicalisms, although not all of them have a brand name. Here they are, followed by the themes that characterize them.

(1) Reformed Evangelicalism — thinking Christianly, transforming culture, changing institutions, opposed to dualism.

(2) Anabaptist Evangelicalism —  community, countercultural, pacifist, servanthood vs. authority.

(3) Neo-Orthodox Evangelicalism — knowing God vs. knowing about God, narrative theology vs. propositional theology.

(4) Charismatic Evangelicalism — expecting Signs and Wonders, personal experience, God speaks afresh today.

(5) Theonomist Evangelicalism — God’s unchanging law, salvation as God’s lordship, postmillennial, America as Christian country.

(6) Fundamentalist Evangelicalism — antiliberal, biblicist, seriousness of (external) sin, everything is black and white.

(7) Dispensationalist Evangelicalism — nondenominational, pro-Israel, grace vs. works.

(8) Pro-American Pietist Evangelicalism — America as Christian country, civil religion, personal piety, power of politics.

(9) Anti-American and Anti-Pietist Evangelicalism — sinfulness of capitalism, anti-rules, anti-Right, anti-Fundamentalist, freedom is what counts.

(10) Therapeutic Evangelicalism — inner healing, sin as sickness, evil as dysfunction, self-knowledge.

(11) Social Action Evangelicalism — priority of the poor, physical-spiritual unity, works vs. faith.

(12) Liturgical/Sacramental Evangelicalism — tradition, sacraments, ordered worship, respect for the mystical.

Offner goes on to say that only the last is Trinitarian, the others focusing almost exclusively on the Father or the Son (with the Reformed including both Father and Son).

From Richard John Neuhaus’s “While We’re At It” Coda to his monthly rambling First Things review of the cosmos, this time from the November, 1993 issue (reformatted for readability, emphasis added).

That was about 3 years before I discovered Orthodoxy, which is Trinitarianism’s ne plus ultra. I had no recollection of this item, though I recorded it contemporaneously with the magazine’s arrival.

To say that only Liturgical/Sacramental Evangelicalism is Trinitarian surely is a statement about the reality of Evangelical praxis, not about the content of its nominal doctrine. But it is a true statement about praxis, or so close to categorically true that any orthodox Evangelical should feel a sad recognition upon reading it.

I wonder if it was working at me during those 3 years?

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Posted in Evangelicalism, lifeworks, Nominalism and Realism | Tagged | Leave a comment

True, not faux, pluralism

I blogged a few days ago on Our Great Death Struggle. A key part, at least in my intent (if I didn’t covey its centrality, blame the writer), was this:

Brooks’ counter [to anti-pluralism] — a hymn to pluralism — sounds just a little too much like whistling past the graveyard, but I’ll give him credit for this introduction to his hymn:

The struggle between pluralism and antipluralism is one of the great death struggles of our time, and it is being fought on every front.

(The Ideology of Hate and How to Fight It)

If I admit some ambivalence, so long as the antipluralism is rigorously nonviolent, both physically and rhetorically, will you think I’m a monster? Read Brooks’ hymn to pluralism (not quoted) and see if you find it completely satisfying.

Frankly, I was feeling pretty down by the time I got done.

Then it occurred to me that pluralism versus anti-pluralism isn’t a binary decision. These are tendencies, and to some extent, political positions — and thus susceptible of normal political give-and-take.

I had in mind things like an immigration policy that is enforced and that protects our relatively unskilled workers from wage-depressing unskilled new immigrants. In other words, between closed-and-locked-down border and wide-open border.

Well, Damon Linker, like me, was impressed with Brooks’ framing of “struggle between pluralism and antipluralism,” and had some additional ideas for give-and-take:

It is not always entirely unreasonable to be unhappy with the consequences of pluralism. It may well be that, for some, human flourishing is incompatible with the “diversity, fluidity, and interdependent nature of modern life.”

… A productive response to the anti-pluralists might … involve backing off on the progressive insistence that every corner of the United States must affirm the moral outlook of its most liberal cities under penalty of social and economic censure.

This second item is especially important because it would demonstrate that progressives are willing to put their proudly proclaimed pluralism where their mouths are. Ask a progressive why she cheers on a lawsuit seeking to bankrupt an evangelical Protestant baker for refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding, and she’ll likely talk about the scourge of bigotry and discrimination and explain that pluralism demands that they be stamped out everywhere they exist.

But, as paradoxical as it may seem, that conviction is itself another form of anti-pluralism, albeit one that believes itself to be acting in the name of pluralism …

Progressives have no problem … pronouncing the dignity of … differences, when it concerns people who are non-white, especially when they are non-Christian, and even when their metaphysical convictions entail a rejection of pluralism. But when it comes to the distinctive outlook of, say, conservative white Christians, that acceptance and even affirmation of difference vanishes in an instant. Now the power of the state must be marshaled to force these anti-pluralists to embrace the comprehensive moral outlook of progressivism, with those who resist shamed and penalized into submission.

If pluralism really is our ineradicable reality and a social and moral good worth defending (it is both), then it needs to be applied equally to all — to those who substantively affirm pluralism as well as to those who do not (as long as they refrain from incitement to, and acts of, political violence).

Among its other benefits, extending pluralism equally to all just might have the effect of giving parts of the country more resistant to pluralism the time to catch up to changes in the broader culture (though there’s no guarantee that they will). Pluralists may wish the anti-pluralists would get with the program sooner, but pushing too hard and too fast has a way of generating a backlash — precisely the kind of backlash that is roiling the nation (and much of the world) at this very moment.

I wish I’d said that. Occasional gems like this are why I still follow Damon Linker.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Posted in antipluralism, lifeworks, Pluralism | Leave a comment

Instrumentalizing God

For decades, I endured periodic sermons and political rants disguised as prayers. Because of who and where I was, and the few loose political affiliations I had, those sermons and rants almost all ranged from right to further right.

And because I thought God shouldn’t be instrumentalized and that prayer shouldn’t be pretext, I hated them, much as I hated “worship” that was really pep-talk-cum-pop-concert.

I’m pleased to report that who and where I am has changed, that my political affiliations are even fewer, and that it’s much better now. That’s a separate story.

I say all that to note this: A “letter to God” in the New York Times Opinion section. That letter struck me in places as being a left version of those pretextual prayers. But it’s not. Whatever its faults are, they seem outweighed by its merits, especially this week.

(Be it noted that George Yancy is not George Yancey.)

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Posted in Christianity generally, Civil Religion, lifeworks, Prayer, Worship | Leave a comment