Surprised by food for thought

… I was continuing to make my way through Shoshana Zuboff’s great new book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. It’s not an easy book to read, in part because the things Zuboff, a former Harvard Business School professor, talks about can be somewhat arcane, but also because it’s damned depressing. This is a book about how a business model pioneered by Google has come in less than 20 years to dominate everything, with consequences we can scarcely comprehend. I’m not going to get into the book’s weeds here; there are lots of weeds, and I am not sure that Zuboff is going to be able to offer a plausible way out of this mess.

The gist of it is that nearly everything we do and say is monitored by multiple corporations, who are taking that data — usually without our knowledge or permission — and using it to figure out how to sell us things and, more crucially, to guide us toward behaving in particular ways without knowing that we are being manipulated. There is no real way to opt out of the system. It is overwhelming — and Zuboff shows how the tech companies have spent ungodly sums to manipulate politicians and regulators in order to maintain maximum access to the personal data of everyone. (The Obama administration was in Google’s pocket, for example.) Zuboff likens it to the Spanish conquistadores arriving in the New World.

I bring this up in light of Brooks’s column because if you want to talk about the foundations of society being attacked, believe me, we should all worry about Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Silicon Valley on the whole a lot more than we worry about our buffoonish president. What the surveillance capitalists have done, and are doing, matters far more to the future of our democracy and its legitimacy than does Trump.

I find Donald Trump — lying, unstable, barely competent Donald Trump — to be less of a threat than I find the kind of progressive elites who hate him. He has the presidency, which is a powerful thing to have. But they control Silicon Valley. They command the US economy. They control major American institutions, including higher education and the media. And they trust in their own goodness.

Rod Dreher (Emphasis in original)

I continued reading Dreher’s blog entry, despite my initially thinking “not one of his better ones,” because I thought I might have missed something in the David Brooks column he quotes (of which I also thought “not one of his better ones”).

I’m glad I continued because, although I cannot praise his prose or pace, there’s nevertheless some nourishing if un-tasty “food for thought” in it, including a different vantage point from which to ask — yes, even 32 scant hours after release of the Mueller Report — whether Trump might actually be the lesser evil in 2020, both as a matter of self-preservation (as one whose Social Credit Score, as viewed by those who trust in their own goodness, is pretty low) and for the interests of America more generally.

As Freddie put it:

I have had a standing rule not to read anything with the word “Trump” in the headline since mid-2017. I have not kept to it 100% of the time, but I have been pretty compliant. But here’s something I know.

The Trump-Russia collusion story became a national obsession because of two matters of psychic convenience: one, the belief that someone (even a Republican FBI agent cop like Robert Mueller) is going to ride in on a horse and save us; and two, that our problems are the problem of an outside force, some malevolent international entity working evil. Only a child could believe that either of those is true.

No one is coming to save you. This is what the world is now, and this is what the world will be long long after Trump is gone. And more: this is the world we deserve. We are not broken because of Russia, or Donald Trump. We are broken because of the evil this country has done and the evil this country is. You can work to change that. But if you try to hide from it behind the Mueller report you will only fail. Because no one is coming to save you.

The 2016 election had “God’s Judgment” written all over it. 2020 may come packaged the same way. Lesser evils rather than affirmative goods may be all we’ll get to choose. Democrats: This is mostly up to you as a practical matter: can you nominate someone less evil?)\

Anyway, I point you to Dreher’s blog on the chance that you’ll find food for thought as well.

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Posted in Benedict Option, deathworks, Plutocracy, Technology, the worst are full of passionate intensity | Leave a comment

To build anew

I haven’t been closely following the story of the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral fire for reasons at least partly alluded to in my more casual blog:

There’s so much chaos and tourism associated with Notre Dame that my experience of it last May was pretty underwhelming …

[M]y favorite Paris Church is my surprise discovery: St. Julien le Pauvre, a Hobbit-Sized Church of great antiquity that also warms the cockles of my heart because it’s Byzantine rite. My next trip to Paris (if God grants me another after the other places I want to see) will find me there Sunday morning.

But people I do follow, either in column or blog, seem to think there’s something symbolic, even highly symbolic, about the fire, and its timing on Monday of 2019’s (Western) Holy Week. Of those, the best* so far seems to be that of Ross Douthat, datelined Monday but discovered by me only today.

Douthat had been writing a column about Emeritus (is that correct?) Pope Benedict XVI’s recent letter (encyclical?) when he learned of the fire. (My parenthetical questions reflect some of Douthat’s theme.)

Excerpt:

The problem of Catholic narratives that can’t find synthesis, of “liberal” and “conservative” takes that feed angrily off one another, of popes and former popes as symbols grasped by partisans, is not the problem of the sex abuse crisis. It is simply the problem of Roman Catholicism in this age — an age in which the church mirrors the polarization of Western culture, rather than offering an integrated alternative.

… I am … doubtful that anything so simple as a conservative “victory” will return the church to cathedral-raising vigor and make it feel, to outsiders, like something more than a museum whose docents all seem to hate one another …

The cathedral will be rebuilt; the cross and altar and much of the interior survived. But all preservation is provisional. The real challenge for Catholics, in this age of general post-Christian cultural exhaustion, is to look at what our ancestors did and imagine what it would mean to do that again, to build anew, to leave something behind that could stand a thousand years and still have men and women singing “Salve Regina” outside its cruciform walls, as Parisians did tonight while Notre-Dame burned.

What is the synthesis that could make that possible? What lies beyond the stalemates and scandal and anger of our strange two-pope era?

Ross Douthat, From the Ashes of Notre-Dame.

That’s not just a Catholic question. It’s a question for all of Western Christendom, and I suspect for Eastern Christendom as well (the resurgence of which in nations like the Georgian Republic, which I’ll be visiting in a month, may be tenuous).

Might even the Great Schism be healed in a new synthesis? Or must we await our eventual evangelization by the global South, where Christianity, writ large, is thriving?

(* Easily the worst was that of our President. They can retire that trophy.)

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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 Christendom, lifeworks, Roman Catholicism | Leave a comment

Forsaking lunacy, again and again

I have long thought that the best critique of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option is that he’s just asking Christians to actually act like Christians, and asking the Church actually to do the work of the Church. (Long? Well, the book has barely been out for a year, hard as that is to believe, but I watched it gestate on his blog.)

I also have long thought that the best defense of the Benedict Option is that Dreher’s just asking Christians to actually act like Christians, and asking the Church actually to do the work of the Church.

Dreher’s seemingly anodyne requests are important in part because too damned many professing Christians are interested in God’s minimum requirements, when His minimum requirement is, and always has been, everything. Too many Churches (I didn’t use scare quotes. You’re welcome.) are interested only in institutional survival, and will pander to the basest fads to keep the coffers full and tushies in the pews.

Maybe just-enough-to-not-go-to-hell Christianity is nothing new. If not, that would explain the emergence in so many ages of prophetic voices. Alan Jacobs makes the same substantive prophetic point as Dreher in rather unprophetically winsome garb, coming at it from a much different direction, too. I cannot improve on Jacobs, so I’ll not try. Just go read it.

But I’m persuaded that to become an idiot rather than a lunatic (and I’ve demonstrated my lunacy today by spending too much time on the ramifications of Julian Assange’s indictment), I must read Jacobs’ beloved Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, toward which I have taken the necessary first step of getting it onto my Kindle.

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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, Anodynes & Nostrums, Benedict Option, Civil Religion, lifeworks, Moralistic therapeutic deism, Sacramental Tapestry | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The place for broken souls

Our Orthodox Faith defines sin as an illness that is in need of healing, not as a crime that requires punishment. The Church is a hospital for the soul whose therapists (priests) first sought therapy and then became the therapists. As a healing institution the Church is the place for broken souls.

We come before Christ as tarnished images, far from that which God intended. Yet this very Creator God is patient and loving, quick to forgive. Our God invites us to holiness, to be made whole. His grace is sufficient to lift us up out of our mire and into the heights of a joy and gladness that is meant to be eternal. We need only to humble ourselves and ask for help and the Kingdom is ours.

Heaven and hell are not about location, but about relationship. All that is needed is our responsive word, followed by action. We say yes to God’s invitation while seeking out the therapy that is ours within the life of the Church.

Wholeness (holiness) is ours through this relationship with Christ, Who’s redemptive act upon the Cross, together with His having conquered death by death, delivers us from the depths of estrangement. We are lifted up to God, having been made whole, and eternal communion with God is our destiny.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

The Morning Offering, April 11, 2019

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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.

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Toxic or Tonic?


What happened to our Arcadia? We stopped listening to it. We stopped dancing, we moved away, we started listening to the chant of the Machine instead. It is debt we chase now, not the moon. We are individuals, not parts in a wider whole. In a broken time, it is taboo to remember what was lost, and that fact alone makes Arcadia a revolutionary document. Look, it says. This is how it was. This is what was broken. At night, when you lie awake with your phone flashing under your pillow – do you miss it?

Paul Kingsnorth via Alan Jacobs (italics added).

I thought that was lovely, so I’m exposed as a monster:

This is where landscape writing sheds its leafy cloak and lets you glimpse its colder face – sounding like Steve Bannon, quoting Steve Bannon, black notebooks in hand, gazing from its bench at the little woodland of little England and trying to decide if “benevolent green nationalism” sounds too much like “…well, a nice kind of Hitler.”

We see you for what you are.

Warren Ellis also via Alan Jacobs, who closes with a few questions for folks like Ellis:

For these critics of Kingsnorth, is there any legitimate way to praise, and to seek to conserve, old rituals and practices? Can you love harvest festivals or Morris dancing or Druidic rites or for that matter Ember Days without being a racist, a fascist, a Nazi? Or is urban cosmopolitanism the only ethically acceptable ideal of human life?

And if you can love and practice those old ways without being a racist — How? What would distinguish morally legitimate attitudes from the ones that Kingsnorth is being pilloried for?

This inquiring mind would really like to know.

“Broken times” indeed.

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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, eulogy, paganism, Thrown down gauntlet, Virtue signaling | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A stable dystopia

A dystopia is not a place that is threatened by genuine chaos — quite the opposite. It’s a moral horror because it actually stabilizes around evil things. The thing that was horrifying about Brave New World or 1984 was precisely that there could be no real challenge to an evil system. Indeed, most of the people living in those worlds do not see anything wrong with them, and accept them — compounding the horror further.

… I’m tempted to think that an ideology this blind to reality cannot succeed. But I’m chastened by the example of societies that are built on pretty terrible foundations that are nonetheless stable. China and North Korea both come to mind.

… [A]s an opponent of progressivism the Trump movement has utterly failed, in my opinion. Progressivism shows no signs of abating or losing steam …

I think the real, most urgent task is to understand what has changed, fundamentally, about the society we live in. Call it a post-industrial capitalist society — I can’t think of anything better. I think we’re only starting to find out what such a society really looks like. We still need to achieve a factual understanding of how this kind of society works, and to develop a really rigorous theory of whether or not it can be stable. I don’t see that anyone has achieved this yet. That’s the discussion I want to have. Then we can actually talk about how to prepare for, or exploit, its crisis tendencies.

Reader Jones (via Rod Dreher)

I’m not as sure as is Reader Jones that we’re becoming a stable progressive dystopia. (The preceding sentence is understated.)

But I think the label “post-industrial capitalist society” is fairly apt, inasmuch as capitalism-as-we’ve-known-it has dissolved civil-society-as-we’ve-known-it. And I find it arresting to think that our current polarized major party bases might resolve to some sort of stable dystopia, presumably with one side or the other zestfully suppressed.

Finally, I see little prospect that the resolution will be anything I would recognize as conservative or Christian.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here, but a bit here as well. Both 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 Christendom, Transvaluation of Values | Tagged | Leave a comment

Trump’s appeal to inner demons

Many (most?) of our deathworks bear a “progressive” imprimatur, but let’s give “conservatives” credit for besliming us on the matter of immigration.

It was never enough. Nielsen may have been willing to violate the dictates of morality, but she wasn’t willing to actually break the law. The New York Times reports that “the president called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the mornings to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum. She repeatedly noted the limitations imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations.”

… [T]he points earned for gassing women and children were insufficient to save Nielsen’s job. Trump demanded more and more. In California on Friday, CNN reported via Twitter, “Trump told border agents he wanted them to stop letting people cross the border, despite the fact that Central American asylum seekers according to U.S. law can do so.”

Someone had to be blamed for Trump’s failure to control the border, and Nielsen made a convenient scapegoat …

It is time to end the charade. Trump is agitated that Nielsen was not barbarous enough for his depraved tastes. She still retained some vestigial loyalty to the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Given that we are in a time of purported emergency, we can no longer afford such sentimental attachments. Rather than appoint another outsider who will never live down to his expectations, Trump should nominate as her successor the actual mastermind of the administration’s immigration policies: White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.

This is the 33-year-old wunderkind who orchestrated the Muslim travel ban, vast reductions in refugee admissions, efforts to build the wall, attempts to deport the “dreamers,” the deployment of troops to the southern border, and, of course, the family separations policy — along with the accompanying hysteria about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. He even went so far as to deny that the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty — “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — represents the spirit of America. Miller has further ambitions such as ending “birthright citizenship” and slashing legal immigration. He should assume formal, legal responsibility for this un-American approach.

Max Boot, End the charade. Appoint Stephen Miller to run DHS.

Trump has taken what should be the honor of a lifetime — serving the country at the highest levels of the executive branch — and turned it into a reputational black hole.

… [T]he separation of crying migrant children from their parents as a deterrent, and the housing of children in prisonlike conditions, will be some of the most enduring political images of the Trump era. It says something about Nielsen that she took part in such practices. It says something about Trump that such actions were apparently too moderate and restrained for his taste.

I have no doubt that Trump is using the issue of immigration in a cynical way to solve political problems. But the implications are disturbing. The president clearly regards resentment against migrants as the common, binding purpose of the Republican Party. And, so far, he has not been wrong. The success of Trump’s cynical ploy depends on the existence of genuine enthusiasm for exclusion within his party. His play only works if the party’s nativism is broad and authentic.

… Trump’s appeal to inner demons above better angels proved easier than many of us hoped. And that makes the political and moral damage harder to repair.

Michael Gerson, Trump takes an honor of a lifetime and turns it into a black hole.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here, but a bit here as well. Both 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, immigration, the worst are full of passionate intensity | Leave a comment

(Christian) School Prayer

Christian schools have largely failed to show students how to pray, for we have not taught our students the historic prayers of the Church. Rather, classical Christian schools prefer old books, old music, old art, and prayers thrown together two seconds ago …

The classical teacher who hastily invents a few banal sentences for God every day before class begins is sending his students contradictory messages. It may be de rigueur for 21st Americans to pray in this fashion, but classical education is committed to tradition, contemplation, reflection, and circumspection, none of which is modeled for students in glib, forgettable, and flimsy two sentence thank-you-for-this- day prayers.

The teacher who begins class with a forgettable post hoc prayer thinks he has communicated to his students that prayer is important, when he has actually communicated that prayer is easy, which is simply not true. Prayer is no easier than fasting and giving alms, both of which are nearly impossible.

Almost all student prayers are simply amalgams of stock phrases borrowed from post hoc teacher prayers: be together, learn about your world, glorify You, grow in wisdom, grow in You, grow together, have a good time, bless the community, and thank you for sending your Son. These are forgettable, disposable praise chorus prayers. If we are willing to admit that a pop Christian song can trivialize the Incarnation, we ought to be willing to admit that a prayer can do so, as well. Such prayers not only teach our students to ask very little from God, but to commit little and expect little from pious practices. “You do not have because you do not ask, and when you ask, you just kind of arbitrarily mumble something off the top of your head that you don’t really mean.” Compare the bringing-us-together-today-just- glorify-you prayer with a portion of St. Thomas Aquinas’s prayer of the student:

Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all being,
graciously let a ray of your light penetrate
the darkness of my understanding.
Take from me the double darkness
in which I have been born,
an obscurity of sin and ignorance.
Give me a keen understanding,
a retentive memory, and
the ability to grasp things
correctly and fundamentally.
Grant me the talent
of being exact in my explanations
and the ability to express myself
with thoroughness and charm.
Point out the beginning,
direct the progress,
and help in the completion.
I ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

This is a prayer which underwrites the possibility of great faith. It is a prayer worth remembering, worth repeating on a daily basis, worth meditating on. It is a worthy model for other prayers ….

Joshua Gibbs, Teach Classical Students To Pray Classically.

Every word of that resonates deeply within me.

As a Christian Reformed Elder, on those rare occasions when the Pastor was absent and Elders assisted the visiting Pastor in leading worship, I always labored over any prayer I was expected to give, borrowing surreptitiously from an old Book of Common Prayer. In a Reformed Church, that passed muster.

But the bane of “spontaneous prayer,” and being thought unspiritual if you pattern your public prayer on something as worthy as Gibbs’ example, are among the reasons I could never go back to frank Evangelicalism (Christian Reformed is not frankly Evangelical in its traditional expression). They are among the top reasons I reflexively view Evangelicalism as a frivolous religion-unto-itself.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here, but a bit here as well. Both 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 Education, lifeworks, Prayer | Leave a comment

Wrestling match

They gave the movie an “R” rating — which meant the trailer could only run before “R”- rated movies and no one younger than 17 could see it without a parent’s permission. A half-dozen major music labels refused producers’ requests to license music for the film. Many major television networks except Fox News and the Christian Broadcasting Network refused to run ads promoting it. Then, curiously, the movie’s Twitter account was suspended through no fault of its own during opening weekend. (Twitter restored the account after outraged filmgoers flooded them with complaints). Tens of thousands of users (myself included) mysteriously found themselves involuntarily removed from the account’s followers and/or unable to follow it in the first place.

Get the feeling someone doesn’t want you to see “Unplanned”?

The “R” rating didn’t stop “Unplanned.” Instead, it validated the film’s premise. As Ashley Bratcher, the actress who plays Johnson, explained, “We don’t have nudity, we don’t have sex, we don’t have language, so the only thing they could give us an ‘R’ for is violence. So that means they agree that abortion is a violent and disturbing act.” They would not give it an “R” if it depicted a tonsillectomy.

Critics dismiss “Unplanned” as propaganda, but this is incorrect ….

Marc Thiessen, The movie abortion supporters don’t want you to see, Washington Post.

I had no idea how the deathworks were so arrayed against this lifework.

But I can’t say I’m surprised. We wrestle not against flesh and blood ….

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here, but a bit here as well. Both 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). Twitter can’t shut down your account there.

Posted in Abortion distortion factor, deathworks, lifeworks | Tagged | Leave a comment

What Is It Like to Be a Monk?

A very respectful, even loving, account of a religiously ambiguous (Atheist? He says “not exactly”) philosopher’s brief visit to Mount Athos:

I have never seen a church seem so alive. At certain points in the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, it felt as if the whole church was glowing gold inside as the sunlight began to come up in the morning light. The physical discipline of the monks was hard to comprehend. They stood for hours on end without moving, twitching, fidgeting or biting their nails. No one drank anything or looked thirsty. At other times, all the candles were extinguished and there was a low droning chant in darkness. Toward the end of the five-hour vigil, around midnight, I noticed one or two stifled yawns, but nothing much. By this time, the monks had been awake for at least 24 hours. At the end, Ioanikios looked as fresh as a daisy. I was shattered, hungry and thirsty (I hadn’t eaten since the previous morning and had only a few hours’ sleep). But I felt such a lightness.

Simon Critchley, What Is It Like to Be a Monk?, New York Times

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here, but a bit here as well. Both 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 lifeworks, Orthodoxy | Tagged | Leave a comment