Tuesday, 12/6/22

It’s been awfully long since I flushed the pipes.

Politicalish

A not-so-great realignment

Alex Jones: The Nazis were thugs.
Kanye West: "But they did good things too. We gotta stop dissing the Nazis all the time."

@Rightwingwatch

So “Ye” is now to the right of Alex Jones?!

Viktor ticks me off

I know that Viktor Orbán isn’t running a liberal democracy. He says it’s an illiberal democracy. “If I could count on American post-liberals being as competent and honest as Orbán,” I thought, “I could tolerate illiberal democracy, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice.”

But now he’s pulled a stunt that bothers me even more than some of the other ways he’s manipulated things to keep winning elections:

In December 2020, when Hungary’s health authority set up a website for citizens to register for covid-19 vaccinations, it included a tick-box for those who wanted to receive further information. Gabor Toka, a political-science professor, found it odd that the box did not specify that future communications should be about covid. To see what would happen, he ticked the box for his own registration but left it unticked for his mother’s. Some months later, when Hungary’s general-election campaign swung into gear, he found that he (but not his mother) started to get campaign emails from the ruling party, Fidesz.

Mr Toka was not the only one. A report published on December 1st by Human Rights Watch suggests that Fidesz seems to have gained access to state databases and used them to send campaign messages to voters. In addition to emails, people got phone calls and text messages from Fidesz candidates urging them to vote and reminding them what a wonderful job the government was doing.

How Hungary used citizens’ covid data to help the ruling party (The Economist)

Thesis Statement

I was just reminded of the excellent capacity of Readwise to share a quote as an eye-grabbing image. Expect to see more.

What authoritarianism does to decent people

Yesterday a friend messaged me to say that one passage from Monday’s newsletter had rung his bell. It had to do with motives. Perhaps some conservatives who’ve moved away from right-wing policies during the Trump era have done so, I wrote, because they’ve begun to doubt the good intentions of leaders who support those policies.

If the average Republican says the law should be harder on drug dealers, you and I might eagerly agree. If an aspiring strongman in the mold of Rodrigo Duterte says the same thing, you and I might worry instead about how a more draconian legal regime would eventually be abused.

Authoritarianism brings out the libertarian in decent people.

All it took was a bare assertion without credible evidence that the election had been rigged against a right-wing president to flip Stewart Rhodes from freedom warrior to fascist goon.

Nick Cattagio

This is a remarkably thought-provoking piece. One more excerpt:

Years ago a fellow Never Trumper told me the great irony of the Tea Party era is that those of us who were viewed at the time as moderates and “RINOs” turned out to be the ones who took conservative principles seriously. We the squishes were told that conservatism was about X, Y, and Z, then suddenly Trump arrived and it wasn’t about those things anymore. So we left.

It was the firebreathing hyper-principled “true conservatives” and small-government radicals who were easily co-opted by a nationalist strongman. They simply adapted and carried on.

I’ve always taken pride in that. But it also feeds my insecurity that on a fundamental level I don’t understand how most people practice politics. I can cite chapter and verse on What Classical Liberalism means, but if 90 percent of those who used to—and maybe still—call themselves classical liberals are okay with an authoritarian personality cult so long as it’s advancing their interests by owning the libs, then how “real” is classical liberalism really?

Legalish

Balancing negative externalities

Free Speech

We still enjoy free speech in the U.S. partly because good people are willing to “sue the bastards” when the bastards try to punish or chill free speech. Eugene Volokh and F.I.R.E., for instance, are suing New York State (New York State Wants to Conscript Me to Violate the Constitution)

One reason why I’m not a Ron DeSantis fan is that his popular (for the GOP’s Florida base, at least) “Stop Woke Act” also violates free speech norms of not the letter of the 1st Amendment (which I think it probably does; caveat: I haven’t thought about that a lot.).

Getting the Analogy Right

SCOTUS heard arguments Monday on another case that people will incline to call gay rights versus religious freedom, though it was argued on free speech grounds. As is so often the case, the questions from the Justices were probing.

Remarkably, a non-lawyer comment aptly summarizes a key point:

[T]he right analogy is crucial here, and correct distinctions are critical. In order to justify racial violence and oppression, white people in America and Europe essentially invented a novel theology, baptizing white supremacy. It was racism in search of an ethic. Sexual ethics, by contrast, are named and addressed in religious scriptures in specific terms. Unlike white supremacy, religious teachings regarding sex, including prohibitions on extramarital and premarital sex, pornography, lust and same-sex sexual activity have been part of the Christian faith from its earliest days. This is not an aberrant view rooted in bigotry but a sincere belief that flows from ancient texts and teaching shared by believers all over the world.

Tish Harrison Warren, When gay rights clash with religious freedom

Culture

What I wouldn’t do if I had #1 billion

If you had $1 billion, what would you do with your life?

How about $190 billion?

The difference between those two seems academic to a middle-class schlub like me, as there’s not a lot one can do with $190 billion that one can’t do with $1 billion. Although if one of your highest ambitions is to make social media safe again for chuds with Pepe avatars, I suppose the distinction is meaningful.

I can tell you what I wouldn’t be doing if my net worth surged to 10 figures. I wouldn’t be spending much time online.

And to the extent that I did, I wouldn’t be using it to sh-tpost.

Nick Cattogio, Kanye. Elon. Trump. (The Dispatch).

Academics and Intellectuals

An academic or a scholar is a specialist in one area of knowledge, whereas an intellectual is a “specialist in generalizations.” That’s a line from one of my intellectual heroes, the sociologist Daniel Bell, and I love it because it’s so delightfully paradoxical. An intellectual is someone who isn’t necessarily a specialist in anything but who reads widely in many subjects and grasps enough of the important aspects of specialized knowledge to render illuminating generalizations about lots of topics.

Another way to put it is to say that an intellectual is a bit of a dilettante or an amateur. I know a little bit about a lot of subjects, and I use that little bit of knowledge to try and understand what’s going on around me in an informed way. But I’m not a specialist in anything—not even the intellectual history and political theory I studied in graduate school, because I finished my studies 24 years ago and haven’t kept up with the latest scholarship.

Damon Linker, Ask Me Anything

This was an interesting installment from Linker, who also deftly fielded this final question:

I would love to get your opinion on what you think Ben Shapiro is up to. He seems to want to be both a conservative intellectual and a purveyor of sensationalist clickbait. And he seems to get a pass from most of the responsible conservative media.

Ben Shapiro interacts with and retweets me from time to time on Twitter. I suspect if you asked him, he’d say I’m one of the few sane and honest liberals around. Because of that, I don’t want to be mean to him here. But I will say that my view of him is precisely the one you sketch in your question. He’s obviously very smart, and the kind of conservatism (in policy terms) that he pushes is continuous with the Reagan-Bush 43 era. That’s not my thing these days, but it once was, and I respect smart people who advocate for those views, even today.

But in style, Shapiro is very much a child of Breitbart—and he appears not to recognize how corrosive that approach to engaging in politics ends up being for the very things he cares most about. If you spend all your days treating the opposition as evil and highlighting only the worst, most ridiculous arguments they make, you’re going to produce an audience that thinks the opposition is evil, stupid, and a threat to the country. And that might get members of this audience to elect someone who views the opposition with so much contempt that acting to overturn an election seems preferable to letting that opposition take power.

So I’d say Shapiro should spend some time re-watching episodes of the old William F. Buckley, Jr. Firing Line and remind himself of a better way—a way that seeks to elevate one’s own side rather than merely denigrate and demonize the other side. (Though it’s also true that this “better way” would probably generate considerably less revenue for The Daily Wire.)

Jesse Jackson’s long-lost daughter?

Nellie Bowles’ crap detector failed her as she joined the world-wide mimetic soccer-flop about British Royal racism.

I didn’t think the exchange was very racist, but one reader knew some detailed backstory that casts it as even more benign:

Nellie, I think you need to do some more digging into the supposedly racist godmother of Prince William, Lady Susan Hussey. When someone shows up at a charity event in African garb and an African name on their nametag, it is neither racist nor offensive to ask about their birthplace.

When the querent is 83 years old, you answer the intent of her question politely: "I don’t know where in Africa my ancestors came from, because they were brought to the Caribbean as slaves, but I myself was born in London."

Considering that Ngozi Fulani has made a career of race hustling, including accusing the Windsors of committing domestic violence against Meghan Markle, I can’t take her obnoxious failure to communicate with an elderly lady as anything but an effort to make trouble.

Race hucksters live on, in Britain, too.

Liberal, but uncivilized

In the era of populism there is a lively debate about when a democracy ceases to be liberal. But the advance of euthanasia presents a different question: What if a society remains liberal but ceases to be civilized?

The rules of civilization necessarily include gray areas. It is not barbaric for the law to acknowledge hard choices in end-of-life care, about when to withdraw life support or how aggressively to manage agonizing pain.

It is barbaric, however, to establish a bureaucratic system that offers death as a reliable treatment for suffering and enlists the healing profession in delivering this “cure.” And while there may be worse evils ahead, this isn’t a slippery slope argument: When 10,000 people are availing themselves of your euthanasia system every year, you have already entered the dystopia.

Ross Douthat

SBF, barbarian

I think, if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.

Sam Bankman-Friedman, to writer Adam Friedman. (H/T L. M. Sacasas)

I hesitate to defend “SBF,” but I have read, or at least started to read, books that could, and perhaps should, have been a six-paragraph blog post. (Smarter people than me, though, aver that though one might convey the “facts” in six paragraphs, the nuances might warrant a full book.)

YouTube TV

I tried YouTube TV for about 15 hours, most of which I spent sleeping, singing, or otherwise not watching it. The low-definition images were annoying. That one must get in bed with Google again is really annoying. Trial ended.

Now maybe I need to figure out how to DVR late sports events on standard cable.

Just sayin’

If a team is going to beat a complete team with a lot of complemetary contributors like Purdue boasts, they’re going to have to catch the Boilermakers on the off-est of off days.

Garrett Shearman, Hammer and Nails, December 4.

Trumpish

A Bad Trip

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica in 1769, rose to become a French military commander and emperor, and died on the island of Saint Helena in 1821. If I encounter a person on the street in Philadelphia in early December 2022 who insists he is this same Napoleon Bonaparte, I will be quite certain he is wrong about this, which means he is either lying or truly believes it and is insane.

How do I know this? Because I know history. Because I know when the actual Napoleon lived and died. Because I live in a social (intersubjective) world in which widely trusted cultural authorities will vouch for these truths.

But what if other people on the street believe this man and respond to his claim as if what he says about himself is true? What if another set of “experts” emerges to proclaim that, actually, this man is correct? And what if this is followed by the belief spreading further and large numbers of people throughout the country coming to believe it? Before long, newspaper headlines and cable news chyrons scream, “Napoleon Bonaparte Alive and Well in Philadelphia,” as I stand back and observe the spectacle in disbelief and mounting horror.

At what point does this man become sane and I become the madman?

This is a post about a feeling. And the feeling isn’t one in which the whole world, except for you, flips from affirming X to affirming not-X. It’s about the feeling of living in a world in which some of the people—not all of them, but also not just one or a small handful—begin to affirm an alternative reality from within our still-shared world. I’m convinced the emergence and widespread use of the word “gaslighting” during the Trump presidency was an effort to name this feeling of our social world being invaded by elements of psychosis. That feeling repeatedly surged while Trump was in office, and it reached a peak on January 6, when the madness actually burst into physical reality and briefly tried to remake the concrete political world in its image.

Damon Linker, The Week America’s Collective Bad Trip Resumed

The Red-letter Day that fizzled

This ought to be a red-letter day:

Donald Trump called for the “termination” of America’s constitution, in service to the lie that he won the presidential election of 2020. On his own social-media network he said that revoking “all rules” might be necessary to reinstall himself in the White House (notwithstanding his new electoral campaign).

The Economist Daily Briefing for December 4.

I don’t know why I bother clipping these. He called for ignoring the freakin’ constitution and all it has gotten from GOP leaders is disapproving murmurs.

I guess it befalls me and those like me who do not covet public office to keep beating the drum: this man is not fit for Dog-Catcher.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 12/4/22

What is Religion?

In the next few chapters, I am inevitably going to have to use some much debated terms, such as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and Romanticism. To the left hemisphere these look like categories that should be definable; to the right hemisphere they are the products of experience of loose constellations of phenomena, which have a family resemblance.

Iain McGillchrist, The Master and His Emissary, Chapter 9 (The Renaissance and the Reformation).

I remember a cartoon in a youth-oriented Christian magazine 50 years or so ago, wherein an “educated” person was claiming that “All religions are fundamentally alike under their superficial differences. I’ll show you: just name any two religions.” The response was “Micronesian frog worship and Christian Science.”

I have been, and remain, a bit skeptical of the term “religion,” but I suppose major religions might fall into the category of “loose constellations of phenomena, which have a family resemblance.”

There are even mutually exclusive Christianities

There is a Christianity that tells us God plans to save us from our sins: To heal our passions, conform our character to His, and make us capable of union with Him. And there is a Christianity that tells us God wants you to be happy in this life. These two Christianities are mutually exclusive.

There are certainly times of happiness for the disciple of Christ – and at least seeds of joy which can be brought to bloom through the practice of gratefulness, humility, and love. But in 21st-century America, perhaps Christianity’s most counter-cultural message is that God isn’t really interested in making you happy; the Gospel is about the Kingdom of God, not about you, and Christ unconditionally promises His people, “In this world you will have tribulation.” (Jn 16:33)

Fr Silouan Thompson, Your Best Life?. (H/T John Brady)

In our post-Christian Christendom, though, ghosts live on, not merely between salvation Christianity and happiness Christianity, but in how people prattle about Christianity.

A pet peeve example is people mis-identifying important peripheral matters as the core of Christianity. Phillip Rieff captures what’s wrong, and what’s almost right, about a major example:

Rightly ordered sexuality is not at the core of Christianity, but as Rieff saw, it’s so near to the center that to lose the Bible’s clear teaching on this matter is to risk losing the fundamental integrity of the faith.

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

It drives me batty when people prattle that sexuality (or variants thereof) are “the very core of Christianity” (or variants thereof). It tells me that the prattler is merely a culturally Christian conservative, or that he has a very tenuous connection between brain and the various organs of expression (mouth, fingertips, etc.).

But I had forgotten this quoted sentence, which I think is a much more accurate formulation, and gives the prattler’s at least a little bit of cover.

Cremation and Christianity

I went to a funeral home visitation of a friend recently, and what quickly struck me was that there was no casket, only an urn, presumably with the “cremains” of my friend.

Cremation hits me like a gut punch, and that reaction is getting worse. It wasn’t always so, even though I never, even in my giddiest infatuation was all things modern in my youth, thought I’d like cremation.

And it’s not just that Orthodox Christianity is dead-set against cremation. I know full well that not all Christians are Orthodox. But I’d like them actually to be Christian, and to have a Christian anthropology.

Part of my reaction to this most recent visitation, I’m pretty sure, was that everything about my friend’s obituary and visitation bespoke that she and her spouse had ceased observing any form of the Christian faith they professed when I first got to know them. They became nice, comfortable, and secular.

But earlier this year, I went to a visitation for another friend whose body likewise wasn’t present in his big-box, bare-black-wall warehouse church. So why did that bother me?

I mentioned my visceral reaction to my Protestant wife, whose parents also chose cremation. She repeated a fairly standard defense of cremation, though neither of us will be cremated: that God is capable of resurrecting a cremated body (fair enough; of course God can do that), and that cremation today is not an effort to defy God and avoid resurrected condemnation (probably true, but only because a lot of Christians believe in the resurrection of something than yucky old bodies).

Cremation says “Our bodies don’t matter, and maybe even are evil. (Insert prooftext, like maybe Romans 7:18.) We’re really spirits.” You can see that same attitude in the way moderns and postmoderns almost all speak about death as being a liberation from the body.

I do not believe that. Death indeed separates soul and body, but we’re not meant to be disembodied, and the resurrection restores the body-soul unity that God intends. The separation of soul and body is not a liberation, but a violent insult, wanting redress. When the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ ascended to His Father, he ascended in the body and His glorified, incarnate body is seated at His Father’s right hand. That should bring us up short if we discount our bodies.

For that reason, the dead body should be treated with respect, treated as part of the person who has died, not as an apartment they’ve vacated, and laid to rest intact — not because God cannot resurrect a body from ashes, but because cremation symbolically reinforces a sub-Christian doctrine of man, one that is rampant in our culture and even in many of our Churches. It’s as much for the living as from respect for the dead that we treat bodies with due respect, not as trash.

Maybe I’ll fret my way to a clearer articulation of a feeling that’s pre-verbal, but that can do for now.

Salvation? (Yawn!)

Salvation is constantly associated with palms, crowns, white robes, thrones, and splendour like the sun and stars. All this makes no immediate appeal to me at all, and in that respect I fancy I am a typical modern.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

One reason for epistemic humility is that we are all, to some extent, creatures of our age, and our age will one day (here or hereafter) be recognized as full of errors.

The words of Judas

I grieve deeply when I hear the modern sentiment directed towards a beautiful Church “that money should have been given to the poor.” These are the words of Judas. And those who say such things rarely give anything themselves. Beauty is not a contradiction of generosity. The movement towards Beauty is a movement towards Goodness (which contains generosity at its core).

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Erotic Language of Prayer

Barbarians capture Wheaton, but a few escape

The real problem at Wheaton College runs deeper than culture-war effervescence: Few students care about or even understand the mission of Christian intellectual formation. At Wheaton, when students pick up a book for a course, they usually ask only two questions: “Will this help me get a prestigious job?” and “Will this further my personal relationship with my savior?” Wheaton students tend to focus on practical career training and individual spirituality, giving little thought to how liberal learning can enhance one’s spiritual life or the importance of intellectual formation in the Christian tradition.

[E]ven humanities students get caught up in the careerist mindset, talking about their education as if it was merely one consumer preference among many. Though these students enjoy their studies, they do not see intrinsic value in learning and passing down Christian culture across the ages. The humanities can be an edifying hobby, but non-professional intellectual formation has no claim to any special, protected, or elevated status for many humanities students at Wheaton.

Wheaton’s culture of ahistoricism is even more pronounced than its careerism. On the surface, there seems to be little appetite for experiencing one’s faith as an inheritance transmitted through thousands of years of Christian civilization. But the fact that many evangelical students who enter Wheaton denominationally indifferent end up leaving as converts to Anglicanism, Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy suggests that such an appetite is not whetted through the college. Its administration and trustees would do well to remember that the body of Christ isn’t merely alive in the present but transcends time and space. Full participation in the body of Christ requires knowledge of one’s place in that living chain.

James Diddams, The Real Problem at Wheaton College.

Of the many Wheaton students who leave as Anglicans, Catholics or Orthodox, I’d draw the opposite conclusion that Wheaton does, however inadvertently, however inadvertently, whet the appetite for what Richard John Neuhaus called “ecclesial Christianity,” defined as that Christianity in which faith in Christ and faith in Christ’s Church is one act of faith, not two.

The ephemeral pleasure of the in crowd

By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic. Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humour or learning or wit or any of the things that can be really enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.”

C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring, an essay in The Weight of Glory

Myth and epiphany

To the considerable extent that questions of value, of right and wrong, of justice and of beauty cannot be experimentally or rationally resolved, myth allows many individuals to share an epiphany, a vision of truth granting them a basis for accepting certain normative standards for which there are no clear or convincing proof … [M]yth assures mankind that certain values transcend reason to give human existence meaning within an unchanging frame of reference, while ensuring unity among the members of the community concerning these values. This unity of values is the hallmark of culture. Without this unity regarding the imponderables, civilized actions become impossible, and man is cast upon the shabby mythology of his own random dream-world and is at the mercy of state and natural religions.

David V. Hicks, Norms and Nobility

Conversion from paganism was a really big deal

When a gentile convert stood in the baptistery on Easter’s eve and, before descending naked into the waters, turned to the West to renounce the devil and the devil’s ministers, he was rejecting, and in fact reviling, the gods in bondage to whom he had languished all his life; and when he turned to the East to confess Christ, he was entrusting himself to the invincible hero who had plundered hell of its captives, overthrown death, subdued the powers of the air, and been raised the Lord of history. Life, for the early Church, was spiritual warfare; and no baptized Christian could doubt how great a transformation—of the self and the world—it was to consent to serve no other god than Him whom Christ revealed.

David Bentley Hart, Christ and Nothing, via Rod Dreher (emphasis added by Rod).

Dreher, touring Southeast Turkey, including ancient Ephesus, continues:

I had … prickly discussion with one of the members of our group, an American Christian who said he didn’t understand wars of religion, and religious conflict. He described religious difference as an unimportant matter of personal preference — and did this in a way that is very familiar in 21st century American life. He seemed to think that the pagans of Ephesus had no reason to fear the Christians, and were mean to them for no reason. I politely challenged him, but after a few barbed exchanges, we dropped the subject. For the early church in Ephesus, this wasn’t a potayto-potahto issue.

That other American could use a bit of epistemic humility, no?


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Florida Man Update

Florida Man is seemingly fading toward irrelevance, and I couldn’t be much happier about it. My metric is the ease with which I’m avoiding wallowing in articles about him.

But over a few weeks, I have collected a few, and if you just skip them, bully for you.

Counted cross-stitch

There was a lovely, classic prayer at a Eric Trump and Michael Flynn rally [a few weeks ago]. It went like this: “God, open the eyes of President Trump’s understanding, that he will know how to implement divine intervention. And you will not surround him with RINO trash . . . in the name of Jesus.” You know, I think I’ve seen that one sewn onto pillows.

Nellie Bowles

Media omens

“This is a baseball country,” Mr. Christie said. “It’s always three strikes and you’re out.” Mr. Trump struck out in 2018, 2020 and 2022. He never came close to a plurality of the popular vote. When Mr. Christie ended his tenure as chairman of the RGA, in 2014, there were 31 Republican governors. Next year there will be 26. The reason, he said, is that Mr. Trump weighs the party down and picks candidates based not on issues or electability but personal loyalty. It is an electoral narcissism that is killing the party.

How to convince Trump supporters? “Give him credit for what he’s gotten done . . . but they need to be told again and again: A vote for Donald Trump is a vote for a Democratic president.”

As to Mr. Trump’s speech, it was a wan, deflated enterprise. But something in the media coverage was interesting. No broadcast network carried it, none of the major cable-news networks stuck with it to the end, and one didn’t take it at all. All covered the announcement or reported it, but it wasn’t treated as an epic event, only a news event. This suggests that this time the media will be judging Mr. Trump by normal candidate standards, not Special Phenomenon standards. But when you don’t treat Mr. Trump like he’s special, you marginalize him. I don’t think the cable networks will be giving him the oxygen they fed him so freely in 2016, in part because none of their executives want to be accused of what Jeff Zucker was accused of that year: giving him unlimited airtime to get ratings, and making him president.

Worse for Mr. Trump, those executives may simply doubt his audience is still a huge one.

Peggy Noonan

Just peeved at his losing streak

Donald Trump is done. I keep hearing and reading that, and I have no reason to disbelieve it: Announcing his 2024 candidacy at Mar-a-Loco on Tuesday night, he was less a phoenix rising than a balloon deflating. I could almost hear the helium seeping out of him.

But while that should have been music to my ears, it wasn’t. The prompt for his sudden abandonment by many Republicans is all wrong. They’re rejecting him not because of the countless ways in which he inflamed and imperiled this country, not because he’s an offense to decency and an enemy of democracy, not because he degrades almost anything and anyone he brushes up against. They’re just peeved at his losing streak.

There’s no reckoning at hand, none of the necessary grappling with all that Republicans condoned under Trump, with how perilously close to the edge they pushed America. There’s no reclamation of rectitude by a party that once bragged of a monopoly on it.

There’s just a new calculation. Republicans talk of Trump as if he’s a stock that has lost value. But the values that they betrayed in their surrender to him? They ignore or gloss over that part.

Through two impeachments, countless examples of incompetence, the profoundly destructive claim that election results couldn’t be believed and the deadly violence of Jan. 6, Trump retained the party’s support because its leaders ran the numbers and deduced that the price of shunning him was too high. In the wake of the midterms, not shunning him seems to be the costlier play.

The party hasn’t changed any more than he has. Only the numbers are different.

Frank Bruni

I’d like to think that “he’s a loser” is is being used as a narrative to pry away from him primary voters who seemingly were undeterred by his “two impeachments, countless examples of incompetence, the profoundly destructive claim that election results couldn’t be believed and the deadly violence of Jan. 6.” But the ones saying it are not the usual suspects (The Lincoln Project, The Bulwark) there are rhetorical tics and mannerisms that suggest that “loser” really is the only reason these former supporters are abandoning him, and that winning outweighed all the evil.

Christian values

Resolved: Most arguments against Vladimir Putin being a defender of Christian values in Europe also argue against Florida Man as a defender of Christian values in America.

Anyone care to take the negative on this resolution?

Wishcasting?

… Biden likely wants to run against Trump again in 2024 because he’d be the easiest Republican to beat …

Excerpt from The Morning Dispatch

Every once in a while, I get the feeling that the Dispatch is wishcasting, but I’ve got to admit that Trump is looking smaller and smaller:

[U]nlike the last time Trump claimed political persecution—after the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in August—the Republican Party’s response has been far more muted. Former Vice President Mike Pence described the move as “very troubling,” Sen. Ted Cruz labeled it “Trump derangement syndrome … with a gun and badge,” and a handful of House Freedom Caucus members sent some angry tweets. But by and large, GOP leaders—either burned by their knee-jerk instinct to defend Trump after the Mar-a-Lago raid or quietly happy to see him bogged down heading into 2024—have kept their thoughts on [Special Prosecutor Jack] Smith to themselves.

How 2024 could go badly

Imagine a dozen candidates get in and all of them train their fire on DeSantis, this year’s frontrunner to be The One True Alternative. In order to supplant him and reach the one-on-one phase against Trump, a rival might reason that he first has to destroy DeSantis’ base of support.

That’s a recipe for a splintered field and another easy Trump primary victory. So much so that I suspect Trump will recruit a populist toady to run for president as a stalking horse and task them to attack DeSantis nonstop. Picture Marjorie Taylor Greene or Kari Lake laying into the governor of Florida at every campaign event in hopes of helping their patron to the nomination.

Nick Catoggio, Strength In Numbers

Legacy?

[Florida Man’s] legacy as the most popular right-wing leader since Ronald Reagan may lie in ruins.

It should already lie in ruins after he tried to orchestrate a coup against the duly elected president two years ago, and for roughly 52 percent of the electorate it does. But it’ll take more than merely attempting to end American democracy to shake the faith of that other 48 percent. To lose them, Trump will need to do something really bad—like harming the Republican Party’s chances of winning power.

Nick Cattogio, Trump Is About to Wreck His Legacy

Shall I compare him to a historic fiend

There are so many labels for Florida Man, such as “authoritarian,” “white supremacist,” and others. I’m not sure many of them hold up under even light scrutiny.

So here’s a reminder of what I think is the core problem with him: toxic narcissism. That’s the source of his reflexive cruelty to anyone who bucks him, his inability to let anyone capture limelight that he thinks belongs to him, and so much more. It’s what has rendered him incapable of admitting that he lost the election in 2020 — and I’m not convinced that his “stolen election” schtick is simply a calculated lie.

We got lucky last time that his big meltdown came only at the end. He is too incapable of seeing reality to let him near power again.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Tuesday, 11/29/22

Sam Bankman-Fried

I stopped reading Sam Bankman-Fried (“SBF” — hereafter, “the guy”) stories a week or two ago, and I really didn’t read many before that.

But I did listen to a somewhat penitent podcast, one of Malcolm Gladwell’s Pushkin podcast offerings, revisiting an insufficiently critical and probing prior podcast interview with the guy.

What struck me in the initial interview was how insouciantly reckless the guy was as a business strategy. Essentially, if a business takes $20 million to launch, has a 99% chance of failure, but has a 1% chance of becoming worth $2 billion or more, it’s an okay business plan.

If it might hit $20 billion, it’s a great business plan because the guy will get stinkin’ rich and can pour some of his riches into transformative (i.e. hubristic) charitable projects. And because he promises transformative charitable donations, we’re supposed to admire him. The initial podcast was pretty admiring. And because he was a top-tier Democrat Party donor, he’s got substantial political cover.

If he was playing entirely with his own money, I could ignore him, but because he gets investors, and may even go public, I consider his gambling, as most or all gambling-as-livelihood, contemptible. His investors surely are not told they’re buying into a 100-to-1 shot, where the guy keeps most of the loot if the long-shot bet pays off.

I do not think he is alone. If I understand his thinking, it sounds to me pretty close to some of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s musings about unlikely but huge payoffs — only I don’t think Taleb has sucked investors into his risky, big-payoff plays.

That the guy’s plays are in crypto only raises my concerns exponentially, though it also tends to make me think of his investors as marks who were hoping to get something for nothing in an investment they don’t remotely understand.

“David Frenchism” Redux

It apparently is part of David French’s lot in life to become a walking, talking, breathing, living litmus test among “orthodox” Protestants: “What think ye of David French? Hath he sold out to secular elites?”

The latest entry (as of this writing and to the best of my knowledge) from a respectable source is Carl R. Trueman’s avid French and the Future of Orthodox Protestantism on the First Things website.

Trueman’s argument assumes, without discussing, the wrongness of French’s endorsement of the Senate version of the Respect for Marriage Act. As I have previously noted, French “showed his work,” walking any halfway attentive reader through the logic that led him to support the Act. Trueman, not a lawyer, does no such thing, but just assumes that French’s position is toxic because the Act accepts same-sex civil marriages, at least in the limited sense that he does not want to see existing same-sex headed families broken up should Obergefell be reversed.

Why would Trueman do such a thing? I have my suspicions, but do not want to add my ad hominem speculations to a discussion already too full of them. I invite you to critically read his piece and assess for yourself what it does, overall, besides slinging innuendo at French.

Related:

  • Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel pulls out all the stops, except for the “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness” stop, in his opposition to the Act. Staver was an instructor at the ADF National Litigation Academy I attended 20 years ago, and he’s a journeyman religious freedom litigator. That makes the misleading hyperbole more lamentable.
  • My current take on RFMA: proponents of Religious Freedom give up almost nothing but also get very little in exchange. I think we get more than we give up, but this Bill is not a hill I’m willing to die on. And it’s mostly moot as long as SCOTUS says same-sex marriage and fairly robust religious liberty are both the law of the land.

Encounters with unlikeness

I believe that any significant increase in personal density is largely achieved through encounters with un-likeness.

Alan Jacobs, Breaking Bread with the Dead

Localism, f/k/a Distributism

In 1910, G. K. Chesterton wrote a book called What’s Wrong with the World. In it is found one of his most famous lines: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

But what did he say was wrong with the world? Four things: big government, big business, feminism, and public education. The first two, which he nicknamed Hudge and Gudge, were in cahoots with each other, and largely drove the other two. The feminists, while imagining themselves to be achieving freedom and independence, had merely abandoned their positions of power and influence in the most fundamental unit of society – the family – and become wage slaves in factories and offices. As Chesterton quipped, “Ten thousand women marched through the streets shouting ‘We will not be dictated to!’ and went off and became stenographers.” Gudge was only too happy to grant them their “liberation” from the home and use them for cheap labor.

… [T]]he state had less power over a man when it could send him to be burned at the stake than it does now when it sends him to public school.

While flirting with socialism as a young man (as so many young men do, being aghast at the inequity of wealth and the crassness of a commercially driven culture), Chesterton soon realized that capitalism and socialism were remarkably similar. Both involve the majority of people working as wage-earners and not owning their own land or source of living. There is little difference between a clerk sitting at a desk in a tall corporate building and a bureaucrat sitting at a desk in a tall government building.

The opposite of employment,” argues Chesterton, “is not unemployment. It is independence.

… Localism faces two major hurdles at present. First, people are not always allowed to do things for themselves. And second, people are not accustomed to doing things for themselves.

Dale Ahlquist, Distributism Needs a New Name

D.L. Schindler, RIP

  • [T]he judgments embedded in liberalism are lies about the human person—primarily because liberalism does not conceive of humans first as persons who receive their being from God but as individuals who are separated from the various relationships that are constitutive of the person.
  • [C]ontemplation and silence are not matters of inactivity. It is not as though contemplation signals a contrast with creative action, such that these are at root two different kinds of acts meant at best to alternate with one another. On the contrary, contemplative letting be is the inmost form of creaturely activity as such. Patience is not the absence of activity but, in the words of T.S. Eliot, the still point of the turning world, where the dance begins, and is.

D.L. Schindler, who died November 16, quoted by Conor B. Dugan.

Better late than never: I confirmed that there is a relationship between D.L. and D.C. Schindler, that of father and son. The legacy, or at least a part of it, lives on.

Pronouns

Displaying pronouns signals: I am part of the tribe and I know the rules.

Luke Burgis, Why Everyone Wants the Same Things.

This is a good reason for me to never display “my pronouns.” If people thought I was a member of the tribe, they’d be all the more furious when I expressed non-tribal thoughts.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Late Sunday fare

Bad Tipy! Bad bad Tipsy! I should have posted this about 10 hours ago.

Faith versus Ideology

She came from rough people but she had a natural love for poetry, history, and politics. She wasn’t ideological—ardent Catholics don’t need an ideology, they’ve already got the essential facts.

Peggy Noonan’s Thanksgiving Day reminiscence.

The tainting of Christian (perhaps others, too) faith with ideology seems to be a persistent risk, even if Peggy Noonan’s great-aunt escaped it. The relationship between religion and ideology is one I’ve been pondering for around 25 years now, and I’m not certain I’m any closer to an answer I can articulate. If only I were a fiction writer, maybe I could put it in a story! (I’ll bet others have.)

Not even half-converted

There is no point in converting people to Christ if they do not convert their vision of the world and of life, since Christ then becomes merely a symbol for all that we love and want already –without Him. This kind of Christianity is more terrifying than agnosticism or hedonism.

The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann (quoted elsewhere).

This is more or less what I always thought St. Paul had in mind in Romans 12:1-2.

Amuse-bouche

A couple years ago, my daughters and I found an online recipe for a raspberry swirl pound cake. Wishing to surprise my wife, we decided to bake one for her. We failed miserably. The inedible monstrosity that emerged from the oven bore no resemblance whatsoever to the cake photographed on the recipe’s webpage. What went wrong? After all, I found a recipe that was profitable for instruction on how to bake the cake in order that I would be complete and thoroughly prepared for this good work.

As sufficient as the recipe was, I had very little experience with baking, and no one with the necessary experience was around to guide me so that I would be able to apply these instructions correctly.

Dr. Amir Azarvan, How to Test the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura

Reading a different critique of sola scriptura was an eye-opener on my unexpected journey to Orthodox Christianity a quarter-century ago. But I found in this short piece several more very good points — beyond this appetite-whetter — points that make it worth reading even though it is not very well-written.

On my wish list

His Grace has taken theology … out of the[] hands of sterile systematic dogmaticians, and returned it to its proper artistic home. And as Mr. Gleason noted about the music of his day, this also “has begged to be done for generations”. This book is a work of theological art.

By “art” I mean the work of those who see a vision of beauty, truth, and insight, who are filled with wonder at what they have experienced, and who strive to communicate it to others.

Father Lawrence Farley, on Wonder as the Beginning of Faith by Bishop Maxim Vasiljevic.

You better believe it’s on my wish-list.

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.”

Mary Oliver

Wordplay

Thought and speech I used
as weapons.  My words are now
judges at my trial

To teach us union
and separation: this is
what bodies are for

Joshua Alen Sturgill, Eighteen Death Haiku


“The Hubriscene Age.” Substacker Caroline Ross’s characterization of our times.


We must believe in free will—we have no choice.

Isaac Singer via the Economist


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

We’ve Been Lucky Day

We’ve Been Lucky Day

What we are experiencing isn’t truly thankfulness, but only something like delight over good fortune. In this case, I wonder why we even call it thankfulness. Perhaps we should be celebrating a Gee We’ve Been Lucky Day, or, if times have been hard, maybe an It Could Have Been Worse Day. If a shorter name is needed, we could call it Okayness Day. I guess it would be something like Happy Hour.

J Budziszewski, wrested from context (i.e., this is not his position)

Eulogy — Mike Gerson

It’s nice to read Peter Wehner writing a eulogy instead of invective, however deserved.

Excerpts:

Mike [Gerson] was appalled at those who disfigured Jesus and used their faith for the purposes of dehumanization. It is one of the reasons why he was so thankful to publish an extraordinary essay in the Post before his death, lamenting Christians whose view of politics “is closer to ‘Game of Thrones’ than to the Beatitudes.”

Very few people knew the full scope of the health challenges Mike faced. He suffered a heart attack in 2004, when he was 40. Kidney cancer in 2013. Debilitating leg pain, probably the result of surgical nerve damage. The kidney cancer spread to his lungs. Then Parkinson’s disease and metastatic adrenal cancer. And finally, metastatic bone cancer in multiple locations, intensely painful. At one point he told me he was on 20 different medications. Mike and I joked that of all the figures in the Bible he could model himself after, he chose Job.

I am among those who had no idea of Gerson’s health problems. I admired his opinion pieces, but not quite enough to keep my Washington Post digital subscription.

Buying off the bloodhounds

[Y]ou don’t have to have a granular understanding of blockchain to understand [Sam Bankman-Fried] was a fraud. I think there are a lot of reasons he got away with it for as long as he did. Buying political cover from politicians with donations (Bankman-Fried was the Dems’ second biggest donor in the last cycle) and purchasing political cover from the media with woke gobbledygook about philanthropy is not a bad strategy. Also, hiding your malfeasance in the squid ink of technical jargon few people understand is pretty savvy as well.

But I think he had something else going for him. Democrats and the left love having billionaires in their corner. It’s a great way to blunt charges of “Marxism” and whatnot, and it’s also a fun way to advance the argument that there’s no real tension between progressive policies and profit. Having token billionaires is even better when those billionaires seem like they’ve broken the old paradigms of heavy industry and are on the cutting edge of innovation. Having dinosaurs who made their money the old-fashioned way—especially the ones who made their money from liquified dinosaurs—can trigger psychological or ideological second thoughts. Peddling ones-and-zeros just sounds so cutting edge.

One lesson from this is that new ideas and new technologies—not to mention getting rich off them—can blind you to the importance of due diligence. Say what you will about old-fashioned accountants and lawyers from prestigious firms—they at least have a vested interest in protecting their reputations and brands. Thinking that the rules of the past don’t apply to you is a great way to give yourself permission to break rules that definitely do apply to you.

Jonah Goldberg

I’d rather drink muddy water

My least-favorite series in the New York Times travel section is “36 Hours in [major city].” I would not enjoy dashing around and bar-hopping at night as they invariably describe.

Let me settle into a city for a bit, and give me time to catch my breath without liquor.

Is Orbán a Cosplayer?

There has always been a whiff of the fake about Mr. Orbán’s war on Brussels. That he never proposed the obvious solution to this impasse—Hungary’s exit from the European Union—exposed the limit of his gamesmanship. More fool the American conservatives who didn’t notice this sooner.

Joseph C. Sternberg, Orbán and the Collapse of the Trump Intellectuals

I don’t fully agree with Sternberg, but I welcome his pushback against Orbán if only because it doesn’t follow the usual script of name-calling and “everybody knows.”

Epistemic humility

Appealing to a higher, theological standard of judgment above politics can, in theory, act as a moderating influence that inspires humility, restraint, and even wisdom. But it often does the opposite—inspiring imprudent acts and judgments …

Of course, the religiously devout aren’t the only people who are prone to act in a way that fails to exemplify the spirit of liberality or civic generosity …

Liberalism is better off when these tendencies are tamed. The best way to accomplish that goal is to rely on civic education that instills lessons in epistemic humility and mutual respect for fellow citizens. But of course, such education will only receive political support if our fellow Americans already want to produce humble and respectful citizens in the first place.

Damon Linker, The Endless Skirmish Between Liberalism and Religion

I have a nit-picky disagreement with Linker. I doubt that we can maintain liberalism at all without the epistemic humility he commends, not just that “liberalism is better off when these tendencies are tamed.” Indeed, liberalism almost seems definitionally a polity of epistemic humility, a recognition that the other guy just might be right, and therefore can be worth close attention.

Florida Man and the Pro-life cause

The ethos of the Trumpist-dominated G.O.P. is fundamentally incompatible with the ethos of a healthy pro-life movement. The reason is simple: Trumpism is centered around animosity. The pro-life movement has to be centered around love, including love for its most bitter political opponents.

David French, The Pro-Life Movement Has to Break With Trumpism

An honest, full-cost accounting

[W]e need to replace fanciful dreams of endless energy from renewables with full-cost accounting, which an increasing number of experts are taking seriously. There are destructive environmental and social consequences to constructing the infrastructure for that energy production.

Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen, No Easy Answers: Facing Ecological Crises Honestly

I often post controversial or negative things with no comment. Not this time. I believe that Jackson and Jensen are right.

If wishes were horses …

[M]y friends at National Review plead[] with Republican hopefuls to clear the field for a Trump-DeSantis showdown.

That’s the right strategy if you’re a conservative whose goal is to maximize the GOP’s chances of nominating a superior candidate, but it’s eye-roll material if you’re an ambitious Republican politician who looks in the mirror and sees a president staring back.

That’s a great irony of the next cycle, incidentally. As selfish as Trump is in routinely placing his own interests above the GOP’s, the Chris Christies and Nikki Haleys who’ll end up piling into the 2024 field and splintering the anti-Trump vote will be guilty of having done the same.

Nick Cattogio, Trump Is About to Wreck His Legacy

Respect for Marriage Act

Yet the gains here are not negligible, either, and what is lost is—well, the answer to that depends on how realistic it is to think that Obergefell will be overturned within the next 10 years.

Matthew Lee Anderson, regarding the Respect for Marriage Act, quoted at The Dispatch (italics added)

I don’t think there’s a significant chance that Obergefell gets overruled for a long time. (Eventually, it probably will be overruled because it’s contrary to the nature of marriage and came about through an ideological mania. We’ll come to our senses eventually.) So, we (those concerned to preserve religious liberty) are getting something for essentially nothing.

Sounds like a presumptively good deal. Tell me how I’m wrong.

David French endorses RFMA, and has caught a lot of crap for it. Even Kristen Waggoner has misrepresented RFMA, but she’s now head of ADF, which may explain her factual flexibility.

Have I mentioned lately that my pen always totally dries up if I think of writing a check to ADF, but always works just fine for checks to Becket Fund?


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

A Little Sunday Fare (11/20/22)

Salvation, east and west

Whereas many Western treatments of salvation major in “not going to hell,” theosis gives tangible content and a goal that is more than avoidance.

But what is theosis? How should we think of it? …

Fr. Stephen Freeman

Context is crucial

Granted that not all Orthodox are saints, even so, to the extent that one enters into the Orthodox way of life, chastity becomes realistic, because it is the natural concomitant of everything else that one does.

I emphasize this point because one of the reasons that people have turned against chastity is that they believe it to be impossible. Countless stories in our literature and pop culture, from The Scarlet Letter to Animal House, have taught us to think that anyone who aspires to sexual purity must be a fool or a hypocrite, or both. Perhaps such a perception was inevitable once chastity was removed from the way of life in which it is naturally at home. But the right response is not to despise it, but to seek to recover that fuller way of life.

Healing Humanity: Confronting our Moral Crisis (Multiple Authors)

Healing or punishment?

[In] Dante’s poem the appropriateness of the torment is related primarily to the processes of healing, not to those of punishment. The souls are being taught to unbind the chains they have made for themselves, “solvendo il nodo”, loosening the knot of their sin by appropriate counter-measures.

Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars

It didn’t start with Junior

[Jerry] Falwell often exercised what he considered his right as a preacher to tell stories that—to use Dean Acheson’s phrase—were truer than the truth. In 1980 he regularly claimed that The Old-Time Gospel Hour had 25 million viewers, and he made up an exchange with Jimmy Carter in which he asked the president why he had “practicing homosexuals” on the White House staff, and Carter replied that he had to represent the American people. When confronted by the fact that the exchange never occurred, Falwell said that the story was a “parable,” or “an allegory.” In other words, it ought to have happened, even if it did not.

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals

I read it. I highlighted it. I forgot it. Then Readwise reminded me: The sleaze didn’t start with Jerry Junior.

What fundamentalists and “higher critics” share

Both the fundamentalist and the higher critic assume that it is possible to understand the biblical text without training, without moral transformation, without the confession and forgiveness that come about within the church. Unconsciously, both means of interpretation try to make everyone religious (that is, able to understand and appropriate scripture) without everyone’s being a member of the community for which the Bible is Scripture.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Public Affairs, 11/19/22

I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately, blogging daily. That’s not a goal, but I’ve just stumbled into it.

I’m going to try to separate any blogging about Florida Man into separate posts. If we are lucky, he’ll continue fading from memory and relevance anyway. Today is not a day when I write about him.

My (Other) Man Mitch

I’ve long been an admirer of outgoing Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who adopted Dubya’s praise of “my man Mitch” and made it his own when he ran for Governor of Indiana.

But I also respect the heck out of Mitch McConnell, and am pleased that Senate Republicans spared no time re-electing him as their leader over a Trumpier challenger.

McConnell is shrewd, stable, and flexible. He cooperated with Trump a lot without becoming a sycophant. He also criticized Trump without becoming an unhinged never-Trumper, and that even in the face of Trump’s racist attacks on his asian wife. He carefully assesses electability when parsing out dollars to candidates from funds he effectively controls, and I have little doubt that the Republicans would have a majority in the Senate come January if primary voters had picked his preferred candidates over Trump’s parade of grotesques.

In other words, he’s a grown-up in a city of petulant, limelight-seeking adolescent Republicans and soccer-flopping progressives.

Democrats like to demonize McConnell as Republicans demonize Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, but we’d put an end to the “do-nothing Congress” if we had more Senators and Representatives of his temperament and experience.

What does he know, anyway?

Reacting to an uncommonly silly pronouncement from Peter Thiel:

Wait. What? The three options for the liberal democracies of Western Europe are Sharia law, “Chinese communist AI,” and some kind of green energy state? And there are “no other doors?” The only thing that separates that comment from a light-night, weed-infused dorm room bull session is his few billion dollars. That’s the person who should reshape the GOP? 

I’ve come to your inbox less to condemn the gurus (though people who commit fraud should pay the price), but to ask a different question. Why do we fall for them time and again?

I’m not someone who tells celebrities to “shut up and sing” or athletes to “shut up and dribble.” And I’d never tell Elon Musk to “shut up and get to Mars” or tell Peter Thiel, “shut up and facilitate cashless transactions.” I like the marketplace of ideas. I’m open to interesting thoughts from unlikely sources. 

But I object to the presumption of insight from famous or successful people. I object to the hero worship (or greed) I’ve seen with my own eyes, where sycophants and fans won’t tell the wealthy and famous obvious truths because they hope to bask in their reflected glory or benefit from their largesse.

David French, America, Can We Talk About Our Guru Problem?

It used to be stars and starlots on whose every oracular word we waited. Now it’s billionaires, more than one of whose bubbles could turn them into mere millionaires by tomorrow.

Blake Masters

Speaking of Peter Thiel, the George Soros of the Right (and neither of those two is as dumb or evil as their detractors think), one of his boys, Blake Masters, lost in Arizona.

I don’t need to have, and don’t have, an overall impression of Masters. But I’ve got some litmus tests and one of them is “if a candidate quotes the late Sam Francis without caveats, don’t vote for him.”

Francis was brilliant, atheist, and deeply racist. I appreciated his brilliance until his racism became undeniable, and it is why he should be “consigned to the dustbin of history.”

Federalist Society at a Crossroad

Peter Cannelos thinks the Federalist Society was all about reversing Roe v. Wade and is adrift now. (“You get your white whale and what do you do? What’s the next thing?”)

“Not so fast,” say David French and Sarah Isgur on Thursday’s Advisory Opinions podcast. That was never the purpose of the Society and its actual purpose remains vital. The real question is whether the Society will stand by its principles when populist Republicans, not liberals or progressives, are the ones trampling on the Constitution, as the Society has become closely identified with the GOP and the GOP has become performatively populist at the state level in particular.

David and Sarah seem to think FedSoc will stand by its principles initially, but that losing its “conservative” friends when it does so will intensify long-term pressure to forsake principle for politics. It’s the nature of those long-term pressures that make Cannelos’s piece worth reading. And he’s not necessarily wrong that abortion is what FedSoc was about in public impression.

Begin listening at 46:33.

EA

Although SBF and the collapse of FTX have cast a pall over EA, that’s unwarranted.

(If you find the prior paragraph undecipherable, congratulations: you’re more immune to ephemera than I am.)

We really should think about how much our charitable giving actually helps, not about how virtuous it makes us feel. That doesn’t mean we all should suddenly start giving only to deploy mosquito nets against malaria, but:

Aw, heck! I wrote most of the preceding before Ross Douthat weighed in. He touched on some of the same themes but added other good stuff. This link is supposed to get you through the New York Times paywall to read his take.

Michael Gerson, RIP

Still, Gerson deserves high marks for his criticism of Donald Trump and, above all, for his readiness to call out fellow evangelicals for their abject obeisance. The day after the assault on the Capitol, he wrote a column holding them more responsible than anyone else for “unleashing insurrectionists and domestic terrorists.”

I come back to this group repeatedly, not only because I share an evangelical background and resent those who dishonor it, but because the overwhelming support of evangelicals is the single largest reason that Trump possesses power in the first place. It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

Nor did he hesitate to name names: Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Penny Nance.

Mark Silk, Two cheers for Michael Gerson

Gerson’s reasons for coming back to evangelicals in the Trumposene were closely akin to my reasons.

For what it’s worth, I don’t share Silk’s condemnation of him for his role in selling the Iraq war. I voted for Bush’s “humbler foreign policy” in 2000, but I understood on 9/11 that the pressure for a strong military response against someone-or-other was going to prevail, and better people than I backed it at the time. I don’t think I ever supported the war (God forgive me if I did), but relentless resistance was futile.

Remembering our collective sins

He asked me if I had been to Auschwitz, in Poland. I hadn’t. “Don’t go there,” he said, shaking his head. “People are all with their phones. It should be prevented. And they go”—he raised his hand a few feet from his face and looked at his palm, emulating someone taking a selfie—“ ‘Me in front of the crematorium.’ ‘Me in front of the ramp.’ I mean, it’s so obscene.”

In the United States there are 41 million Black people; we make up 12.5 percent of the population. In Germany, there are approximately 120,000 Jewish people, out of a population of more than 80 million. They represent less than a quarter of 1 percent of the population. More Jewish people live in Boston than in all of Germany. (Today, many Jews in Germany are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their descendants.) Lots of Germans do not personally know a Jewish person.

This is part of the reason, Steiner believes, that Germany is able to make Holocaust remembrance a prominent part of national life; Jewish people are a historical abstraction more than they are actual people. In the United States, there are still millions of Black people. You cannot simply build some monuments, lay down some wreaths each year, and apologize for what happened without seeing the manifestation of those past actions in the inequality between Black and white people all around you.

Steiner also believes that the small number of Jewish people who do reside in Germany exist in the collective imagination less as people, and more as empty canvases upon which Germans can paint their repentance.

Clint Smith, How Germany Remembers the Holocaust

The story was so long that I almost didn’t read it, despite some trusted person’s recommendation. I’m glad I did. It brought tears to my eyes in places.

The explicit challenge is “how will America remember its sins?”, but that feels like an afterthought, to add a touch of “relevance,” and few answers are suggested.

Superwoman

“I would just like to announce that I am in my third trimester and I am an absolute powerhouse that can create human life. I can do ANYTHING … except sit or stand or lie down or recline,” – Mary Katharine Ham. (Via Andrew Sullivan).

New Category!

Today, I’m introducing a new category, “soccer-flopping.” All honor to David French for introducing me to the metaphor. The bad news is that “grievance mongering” may fall into disuse


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Florida Man Rundown

Florida Man Makes Announcement, Wyoming Woman Does Endzone Dance

I love this

… and this

I’ll try to remember “Florida Man” as the perfect way to Voldemort/circumlocute him.

[O]f the Democrats who received Cheney’s endorsement this year, all won tight races.

Nick Catoggio, Liz Cheney’s Revenge?

Will a populist GOP without [Florida Man] be a big enough tent to accommodate disaffected Republicans like Cheney, or will they become Independents (or even, rarely, Democrats)?

Yes, but what about Paula White?

As [Florida Man] launches new presidential bid, will former faith advisers back him?

There’s always a danger of cherry-picking in ventures like this, but the answer appears to be “no.” (I note, too, how undistinguished this list of former supporters appears to me — even without prosperity gospel heretic Paula White on the list).

Too toxic for present company

Bret Stephens thinks Florida Man is Toast:

[Florida Man] is finally being abandoned by many of his usually unflagging apologists and enablers in right-wing media, whose influence will be felt downstream.

That includes Fox News’s Laura Ingraham: “If the voters conclude that you’re putting your own ego or your own grudges ahead of what’s good for the country, they’re going to look elsewhere.” It includes Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter: “[Florida Man] presents problems and we need to face them,” he admitted. “We owe [Florida Man] nothing. He’s a politician.” It includes Victor Davis Hanson: “Will an unapologetic [Florida Man] instead now escalate his slurs, bray at the moon, play out his current angry Ajax role to the bitter end, and thus himself end up a tragic hero — appreciated for past service but deemed too toxic for present company?”

They just don’t care

It’s not just that [Florida Man] doesn’t care about what’s good for the party (if it’s not also good for him), it’s that he wants the GOP to embrace strategies and messages that affirmatively hurt Republican candidates. [Florida Man] has infected the right with a suite of self-destructive habits—among them, defending the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, spreading the election fraud myths, rejecting early voting as somehow illegitimate, and thinking that being obnoxious is good politics.

This has long been obvious. If Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had picked Senate candidates for the 2022 midterms, without interference from [Florida Man], the GOP would have picked up several seats it lost.

The problem is that members of the [Florida Man’s] faction of the party don’t care. They’d rather be the leaders of a new minority party than risk that status in pursuing the power of the majority. That’s why they’re trying to scapegoat McConnell, even though McConnell-aligned PACs spent almost $250 million trying to salvage various MAGA races, while [Florida Man] mostly sat on his dragon’s hoard, refusing to help his hand-picked candidates.

Rachael Larimore, The Double Standard Driving GOP Dysfunction

Florida Bonaparte

There was also something decidedly Bonapartist in the attitude of [Florida Man]’s early partisans, who seized upon his rhetoric about “American carnage” with the same eagerness that supporters of Bonaparte welcomed an end to the chaos of the immediate post-revolutionary era. [Florida Man]’s avowal of socially conservative causes seemed to carry roughly as much conviction as Bonaparte’s rapprochement with the Catholic Church, but in both cases doctrinal purity was not the point. The consolidation of power was.

On this understanding, [Florida Man]’s defeat in 2020 was merely a kind of exile, with Mar-a-Lago as his Elba. Spied on by the federal government before the 2016 election, declared “illegitimate” as president by prominent members of the opposition party even before his inauguration, subject to a special counsel investigation (based on a patently absurd theory of Russian “collusion”) and two impeachments, announced as a loser in an election in which he won 11 million more votes than he had in 2016 (despite state-level rule changes that benefited his rival), [Florida Man] found himself assailed by a domestic counterrevolution that he could not overcome. “Stop the steal” was not a precise theory about voter fraud but an existential affirmation of [Florida Man]’s thwarted prerogative. Vive L’Empereur!

What [Florida Maniacs] have intuited is an essentially illiberal understanding of authority, one based not upon the deliberative processes of electoral majorities but upon a romantic conception of a leader who embodies the essence of a nation. They believe that he should be restored to his office because it belongs to him, regardless of who currently occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. His right to rule is not diminished by temporary abeyance because it is derived not from the Electoral College or the written Constitution but from something like history itself. [Florida Man] the emperor was the world-soul descending the escalator, the instrument of the Absolute who realized the unconscious aspirations of his age.

This, I think, is why for [Florida Man]’s most enthusiastic partisans, his faults are not merely excusable but appear beneath discussion or even notice. Those features most commonly derided by his opponents — his economical relationship with facts, his disregard for procedural norms, his ambivalent attitude toward the separation of powers, his rhetorical fixation on the supposed perfidy of his opponents — confirm that he is the man of destiny whose conduct cannot be evaluated by ordinary standards.

Matthew Walther, The Real Case for [Florida Man] Is About Justice

If you don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy

One of the things the [Florida Man]-aligned Republican populists are going to have to account for before they can move on from the midterm fiasco: They got took.

[Florida Man] epigones such as Steve Bannon and his acolytes think of themselves as hard-headed, cynical, scheming Machiavellians—you’ve heard all the stuff about “12-D chess” and thinking five moves ahead—but they are, almost to a man, suckers. And, like suckers everywhere, they always get took.

The Democrats rolled the dice in a big and bold way in the midterms, putting more than $40 million into the campaigns of the nuttiest nut-cutlets contesting the Republican primaries, hoping to advance the worst of the crackpots, coup-plotters, and conspiracy kooks to the general election …

The best kind of mark for a con artist is a dumb person who thinks he is smart—or a smart person who isn’t quite as smart as he thinks he is. The right-wing populists who got behind these Democrat-funded candidates knew what they were doing—it wasn’t a secret who was controlling the money that was deciding those primary races. But they went along with the con, turning out in the primaries to elect the people the Democrats spent tens of millions of dollars trying to support. That’s because they believe their own bull: that they are super-clever grandmasters of 12-D chess who can see five steps ahead of the Democrats’ gambit and then counter it to win.

And they got took.

Kevin D. Williamson


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thursday, 11/17/22

Embodied Perception

To emphasize the role that our bodies play in determining how we inhabit and therefore perceive the world, and to entertain the notion of cognitive extension, is to put oneself on a collision course with the central tenets of the official anthropology of the West. As we have already noted, embodied perception poses a direct challenge to the idea that representation is the fundamental mental process by which we apprehend the world.

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

I think Crawford calls this “the official anthropology of the West” because of our fetish that everyone must go to college to encounter more representations of the world, less actual world.

Long-term readers may justly suspect that, in my behavior, I am slave to this official anthropology. I tend to prefer reading to getting up and going for a walk or making something with my hands.

An opportunity, not a death knell

Let’s start with what the pro-life pessimists get right. Tuesday’s results confirm the anti-abortion movement’s fundamental disadvantages: While Americans are conflicted about abortion, a majority is more pro-choice than pro-life, the pro-choice side owns almost all the important cultural megaphones, and voters generally dislike sudden unsettlements of social issues.

You can strategize around these problems to some extent, contrasting incremental protections for the unborn with the left’s pro-choice absolutism. But when you’re the side seeking a change in settled arrangements, voters may still choose the absolutism they know over the uncertainty of where pro-life zeal might take them.

However, when abortion wasn’t directly on the ballot, many of those same voters showed no inclination to punish politicians who backed abortion restrictions. Any pro-choice swing to the Democrats was probably a matter of a couple of points in the overall vote for the House of Representatives; meanwhile, Republican governors who signed “heartbeat” legislation in Texas, Georgia and Ohio easily won re-election, and there was no dramatic backlash in red states that now restrict abortion.

In other words, Republicans in 2022 traded a larger margin in the House and maybe a Senate seat or two for a generational goal, the end of Roe v. Wade. And more than that, they demonstrated that many voters who might vote pro-choice on an up-down ballot will also accept, for the time being, pro-life legislation in their states.

For a movement that’s clearly a moral minority, that’s an opportunity, not a death knell ….

Ross Douthat

FTX

I have generally avoided getting into discussions about cryptocurrencies, because I am a perennial late-adopter who never understands how the big new thing is supposed to work or why anyone would even be interested in it. Aware of that bias, the fact that crypto always struck me as an elaborate Ponzi scheme wasn’t quite enough for me to be sure that it was an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Besides, even if I was sure, that wouldn’t be reason enough to confidently predict collapse; flim-flam operations sometimes get bought by companies with real businesses—or may even monetize their hype into real currency that they use to buy real companies—and thereby achieve something like an enduring presence in the business landscape that they might not have been able to achieve on their own merits.

So what interests me primarily about the collapse of FTX is this business could ever have been idealized. The premise behind FTX is that, even though nobody is totally sure what crypto is ultimately good for, people love to trade it, and to concoct ever more elaborate schemes for leveraging waves of investor enthusiasm.

Noah Millman

Priorities

My wife and I had a conversation one day with a pleasant couple who were much younger, and much more prosperous, than we were.  Husband and wife were both high-dollar attorneys.  She expressed strong frustration because the kids were in day care, but she wanted to stay with them herself.  “Why don’t you?” we asked.  They answered that they had expenses.  “Like what?” we asked.  Well, they had to keep up the payments on their big, expensive boat and their big, expensive house on the lake.

The difference between her facial expression and his were intriguing.  She became nervous.  He became alarmed.  There was some history here, and he didn’t want his wife going down this road.  She didn’t want to displease him.  We changed the subject.

To one degree or another, almost all husbands and wives divide labor, and they are generally happier doing so.  Obviously, not all women desire an exclusively domestic life, and there is nothing wrong with that.  But there is a great deal wrong with the fact that we force women to act against their domestic inclinations for reasons that have nothing to do with their fulfillment.  We call it being liberated, but it is really about serving the interests of men — and economic managers.

J Budziszewski I have seen another variation on this: high-earners who “can’t afford” to pay the tuition they agreed for private Christian education.

Letting the cat out of the bag

It is important that we start on time. We are training our children for the work force.

Remark from the school on a first-grader’s report card, via Jonathan Malesic, When Work and Meaning Part Ways

There’s another cat in the bag, too. We’re training our children in a second role of consumers. A hyperbolic account:

[S]trange to think that even in Our Ford’s day most games were played without more apparatus than a ball or two and a few sticks and perhaps a bit of netting. Imagine the folly of allowing people to play elaborate games which do nothing whatever to increase consumption. It’s madness. Nowadays the Controllers won’t approve of any new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.

This is one of the reasons I think Huxley far surpasses Orwell as a prophet of dystopia (although I’m pretty sure I had no opinion either way before the year 1984.)

Things they told you that weren’t, now that you think about it, true.

On a note related to the preceding item, this:

The transformation of work into a spiritual enterprise, the site of our highest aspirations—to transcend ourselves, to encounter a higher reality, to serve others—is the work ethic’s cruelest unfulfilled promise.

Jonathan Malesic, When Work and Meaning Part Ways

Speaking of truth, the Wall Street Journal’s Pepper & Salt cartoon is one of few cartoons I view regularly. Wednesday’s gave me a rueful chuckle:

Guilty and unashamed

Caffeine is so widely used and normalised that we don’t think of it as a drug or notice how it alters our minds. Research into its effects is often hampered by the difficulty of finding people who aren’t already dependent on it.

Sophie McBain, The psychoactive plants that change our consciousness, reviewing Michael Pollan, This is Your Mind on Plants.

A Hoosier teetotaler on the Isle of Islay

I opened my first-ever bottle of Laphroaig, “the most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies,” Monday night, as nightcap and to usher in the Nativity Fast that began Tuesday (a sort of personal “fat Monday”).

Wow! Now I think I know what Cutty Sark was trying to do when it produced a liquor that tasted like Listerine. In fact, that’s what the smell of Laphroaig reminded me of. Mercifully, the taste is not Cutty Sark.

Laphroaig is to every other scotch I’ve had as Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA is to Bud Light. It’s more — much more — but not just more. It’s different, too. From the label, that difference may be peat and smoke, but I’m forever hearing scotch afficianados talk about “peatiness,” so maybe I’m way off base. My palate and liquor vocabulary reflect my teetotaler roots.

Truth be told, I’m not sure how well I really like it. I’m not exactly alone. It was a shock. But I’ll know by the end of the bottle in a few months.

My last two items are about someone I hate even to name. Skip them if you like.

Trumpism without Trump?

Trumpism can survive without Mr. Trump.

Peter Wehner, Never-Trumper from the early days.

Isolating this phrase, I could hope that we get “Trumpism without Trump,” but that totally depends what one means by that phrase.

I could, and probably would, endorse the GOP continuing toward making itself the party of working-class middle-Americans of all races. Highlighting their plight is one of the (few, but consequential) good things Trump did.

Wehner, though, means by “Trumpism without Trump” a GOP that is malicious, dishonest and destructive. No thanks.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

It’s about time

Jonathan H. Adler, Trump Lawyers Sanctioned for Frivolous Lawsuit Against Political Opponents

There’s apparently no deterring Trump, but maybe his legal prostitutes (that’s what I consider lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits just because a client is willing to pay them to do so) can be deterred.