Sunday, 8/7/16

  1. Conservatives & Liberals both catastrophically wrong
  2. Wasted votes? Hardly
  3. Acid-testing beneficence
  4. Who we are, what America has become
  5. A successful national project
  6. “Higher education”

1

Gregory Wolf argues with the part of himself that thinks he’s copping out by refusing to tackle political issues, “preferring to swan about in your palace of art.” The questions are from that part of him; the answers are his own:

A. The utopian aspect of ideology has so infected our politics that we know no other form of rhetoric than that of the unlimited. With enough technology, know-how, money, political will, what have you, we can make everything infinitely better. When is the last time you heard a candidate for office say that there are inherent limits, trade-offs, and compromises needed to maintain a civil society that’s still in touch with reality? No, there are always more landscapes to frack, always more Wall Street bankers to shake down to make everyone comfortably well off. When’s the last time you heard a policy wonk say that politics is inherently tragic, that it frequently involves the conflict of two goods rather than ideology’s black and white scenarios?

Q. Now you’re waxing mystical. Just answer me this: are you still a conservative?

A. Yes. No. Maybe. Look, the older I get the more I see truth on both sides of the political fence. And don’t say I’m getting soft, because I’m crankier than ever. Conservatives over the last half century have been catastrophically wrong about such central issues as civil rights, the environment, and the consequences of playing world policeman by intervening with inexcusable cultural and historical insensitivity in the affairs of other nations. They’ve lied to themselves about the effect capitalism has on the values they tout as sacred: community, tradition, mediating institutions. Capitalism has been the great universal solvent that has broken bonds that offer people meaning and solidarity.

Q. So you’re a liberal now.

A. No. Yes. I don’t know. Liberals have been catastrophically wrong about the ability of the state to solve human problems; they’ve forgotten the principle of subsidiarity, the idea that “matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized competent authority.” Liberals have largely bought into capitalism as well, just in a different way. They are so invested in expressive individualism that they are in danger of becoming oppressors of any minority that doesn’t agree with their definition of human flourishing. In many ways they’re the new Puritans, which is ironic, given the moralistic antics of fundamentalist Christians over the past half century.

Your assignment: Stop rubbing your hands in glee at the analysis of the other side and re-read, carefully, what he says about your own side.

With a caveat or two about equivocal terms, I agree with Wolfe completely. I even have my own demonic little sub-personality that seduces me away from one of the saner things I’ve written. It even concluded well: “Better we should lose honorably than win by selling our souls.”

2

“Voting third party is a waste of a vote,” is the current conventional wisdom on the topic. “Why would I vote for a third party candidate? They could never win!” a skeptical Democrat or Republican voter might say. Statistically and historically, you’re right. Third party candidates will not win the election in this round (2016). However, third parties take the popular vote very seriously. Just 5% of the popular vote grants them more resources, and a much better chance in the next election.

In the next election cycle (2020), any third party that received 5% of the popular vote:

  • Is able to collect federal funding: $9.5 Million from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund
  • Can collect donations through Super PACS
  • Can participate in the debates
  • Allows that party’s candidates equal ballot access
  • Diversifies the election and gives Americans more than two choices of candidates.

(Clearcongress.com, Don’t Live in a Swing State? Maybe You Should Vote Third Party)

3

The commodification of genome-reading rides upon the same fears of the future that palmistry and phrenology rode upon.

We may say with some confidence that the most apparently beneficent products of science and industry should be held in suspicion if they are costly to consumers or bring power to governments or profits corporations.

(Wendell Berry, Our Only World)

4

Among my tribe — conservative Christians — we are faced with bitter-enders who believe against the evidence that America Can Be Reclaimed For Christ if only we double down on what we’ve been doing, and get more Republicans elected. It’s simply untrue. I mean, we can never say that America cannot be converted; that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that many of us do not have a realistic sense of who we are, what America has become, and the distance between those two things. A Lutheran pastor wrote me this week to encourage me about the Benedict Option, and to say that he struggles to get his congregation to understand the world that we’re all living in now, and the one that we are soon going to be living in. They prefer their comfortable illusions to unsettling truths.

(Rod Dreher, The Right-Wing Media Bubble)

5

The movement of people off the land and into industry, away from local subsistence and into the economy of jobs and consumption, was one of our national project after World War II, and it has succeeded.

(Wendell Berry, Our Only World)

6

[T]he median nineteen-year-old in our country today is in some college or university somewhere. He or she is surely pursuing a higher education—see The Chronicle of Higher Education! But as I tell my students, if it’s all about textbooks, PowerPoint, standardized tests, and group projects, that’s not higher education in Tocqueville’s sense.

Higher education is about studying the best that has been thought and said in the languages in which it has been written, theoretical more than experimental physics (and the other natural sciences), and the art and music that graces what has been called high culture. There is still some of that going on. But it’s also true that many of liberal arts general education programs are being emptied out. Many of our colleges that retain the liberal brand are surrendering the traditional substance of higher education, and the percentage of student majoring in history, physics, philosophy, literature, and such is on the decline.

Let me explain why there’s little more countercultural in our middle-class democracy than genuinely higher education ….

(Peter Lawler) Do let him tell you (if you don’t already know).

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.