Friday, 1/23/15

  1. Je suis un nihiliste
  2. Semitic Code Talkers
  3. The whisper, not the shout
  4. Just a different kind of authoritarianism
  5. The rhetoric of inevitability
  6. Head up, heels down
  7. A Culture of Millstones
  8. “Shut up,” he explained


To be sure, French standards of cartooning and “satire” are different than those in other countries, as a brief glance at a Charlie Hebdo cover (and especially those dealing with the Catholic Church, its people, and its beliefs) would demonstrate. Still, I don’t think it’s a matter of American prissiness to suggest that “satire” doesn’t capture the prevailing cast of mind displayed in Charlie Hebdo, which has always struck me as far more nihilistic than satirical.

If all that Europe can say in condemning the despicable murders of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists and editors is “We are all Charlie Hebdo,” then what Europe is saying is, in effect, “We are all nihilists.” And how, pray, is nihilism—nothingness raised to a first principle, skepticism taken to the last extreme—supposed to defeat conviction, however warped that conviction is? If all that Europe can say to murderous jihadism is “Why can’t we all just get along?” its fecklessness will make it an even softer target for the kind of lethal fanaticism that recently turned Paris into a war zone.

(George Weigel)

Maybe France, though, is pulling back from nihilism. There are reports of Christian revival (not to say Evangelical Revivialism) in France from, for instance, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry. If it is motivated at all by anti-immigration sentiment, or in reaction against other things like same-sex marriage (to which France has a surprising, and surprisingly youthful, secular antipathy), it may be or become a mixed bag with some ugliness included. But every conversion or reversion must start somewhere.


Armstrong deploys the old “they can’t be anti-Semites because they are (or in this case may be) Semites themselves” canard. There are only two sorts of people who make this sort of argument. First, there are those who are too ignorant to know that “anti-Semitism” doesn’t mean “hatred of all Semitic peoples,” but hatred of Jews.

(David Bernstein) Well then why not come up with a term other than “anti-Semitism” if it really means, in a term-of-art sense, hatred of a particular subset of Semites?


There’s a kind of nostalgia for the broader-brush Roman Catholic literary figures of the mid-20th century, in comparison to which today’s Catholic authors supposedly pale. Well, maybe it’s wrong:

Postmodernism questions any and all master narratives, favoring smaller-scale, intimate stories over epics and dramas. Secularism, pluralism, and hedonism have brought about a huge loss of trust in authority, not to mention the authority of the Catholic Church (and that includes its adherents). People have lost touch with the teachings and traditions of their faith. Many people are really starting from scratch.

What kind of fiction would someone write out of this experience of reality? Novels about heroic martyrs to Communist totalitarianism? No, they would be writing out of this confused culture—one where God is discerned only in the still small voice: the whisper, not the shout.

(Gregory Wolfe of Image journal; H/T Rod Dreher)


This has always been a conservative paranoia: that progressive talk of open-handed pluralism is really just a different kind of authoritarianism, one just as interested in coercing people to embrace their visions, and just as liable to.

Now, there’s nothing totalitarian about a going-nowhere proposal for a few tax credits. But it is still a reminder that contemporary progressivism is not about a neutral vision of securing people’s negative and positive rights; it represents a very specific political, moral, and — dare I say it — metaphysical worldview that, like every other one, contends for power over society.

(Pascall-Emmanuel Gobry on how Obama’s State of the Union vision to help families focuses on one kind of family and forces them toward one kind of help)


“The idea of making community college free,” wrote Gary Stix of the Scientific American about a proposal put forward recently by President Obama, “is one whose time has come.” A social-studies teacher last month told Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks that the introduction of an ethnic-studies requirement in L.A. schools is “an idea whose time has come.” And in a Washington Post article last summer about workplace-flexibility legislation, Joan Lombardi, a child-care expert, told the paper that, yes, “It’s an idea whose time has come.”

There is something else that rankles about the phrase. It’s that whiff of arrogance you always get from the rhetoric of inevitability. Those who use it claim to win the argument without having worked for it; they appeal to fate, which for some unstated reason is on their side. If you think their ideas are naïve or half-baked, that’s because you haven’t come to terms with reality. (Or are “on the wrong side of history,” as the president likes to say.) Of course, lots of terrible ideas once had their times come, too, and they were all promoted with the rhetoric of inevitability: communism, socialism, eugenics, racial hegemony of various kinds.

(Barton Swaim at the Wall Street Journal – pay wall) I deleted three paragraphs of block quote that started feeling like more than “fair use,” but you can use your imagination about today’s dubious “idea whose time has come.”


A neat lead to a story from the ElderLaw Prof blog:

If you have a loved one with dementia, particularly if you have watched him or her lose the power to communicate with words, perhaps you have wondered, what are they thinking?  What are they hearing when you talk with them? Are they happy?  Sad? Is confusion the dominant — only? — feeling?

You can sometimes get hints of how they feel, including recognition they feel profoundly trapped.  I knew one man who, when he could not find the words, would shake his head and howl.  I knew one woman who, when she was younger, used to have clever catch-phrases. By the time she was in her 80s, she had lost the ability to remember a favorite phrase but she would say two words — “Head up”–  over and over. She wanted you to help her complete the phrase.  Her caregivers did not know that she had given hundreds of children horseback riding lessons, and misunderstood her words as a warning perhaps motivated by paranoia. But, as one of her former students, when I heard her say “Head up” during my visit, I responded — almost automatically — with “Heels down.” And she smiled as if we had just completed reciting the Gettysburg Address together.

(Katherine C. Pearson, Penn State Dickinson Law) Pearson goes on to talk about Martin Pistorius, whose story I really need to learn more about, having until now assumes – incorrectly, it appears – that the story was some overwrought internet virus (if I can make a noun of “going viral”).


Contrary to the pose I am pleased to maintain in public, I am not truly Victorian. I wish I were; under the pressure of my college education, decades of cultural erosion and my own failings, my standards have slipped. I never expected to keep my children innocent for very long. For a while I was in a battle for “just a little longer,” and now that the dike has long been broken I am just trying to prevent a constant flood of trash. And I am failing—even in church.

All of these frank sermons I mentioned—from four different preachers—came from Southern Baptists, but I think Baptists are not alone in this weakness. I suspect this is a scourge of all the evangelical churches, and I suspect it is creeping into the more starched mainline church sermons, too, as it has infected our public talk in so many other places …

I find it remarkable, though, that it is not the difference in theology that is making Sunday mornings difficult (not being a Baptist myself), but the difference in cultural standards. I can understand why someone would regard communion as a symbolic gesture, or insist on a full-immersion believer’s baptism, even if I don’t agree with either view. But I cannot for the life of me understand how a grown man can have the stomach to look out on a congregation full of young teenagers and calmly say the word “whore.” Or how a preacher could come up to a mother afterward, as one did to me, and tell her that she should not have taken her sixth-grade daughter (and her daughter’s guest) out of the sanctuary during his description of pole dancing, because that meant the girls failed to hear from him that pole dancing was wrong.

(Katherine Dalton, A Culture of Millstones)


What I’m really trying to show her is that she can’t continue to say these kinds of things on a campus that’s so liberal and diverse and tolerant.

(Vanderbilt Muslim student Farishtay Yamin protesting an op-ed by Professor Carol Swaim, via James Taranto)

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.