Christmas Eve 2016

  1. Kristof and Keller
  2. Pieper on Sophistry
  3. Joel Salatin’s Benediction
  4. Unpollable
  5. Zero-Sum America

Secondary Things

1

I have soft spots for Nicholas Kristof and for Timothy Keller, both of whom, it seems to me, are sort of best-of-breed — secular humanist on the one hand, Evangelical Protestant on the other.

Kristoff interviews Keller on Friday (“Pastor, Am I a Christian?“), kicking it off with this question:

Tim, I deeply admire Jesus and his message, but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity — the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the miracles and so on. Since this is the Christmas season, let’s start with the virgin birth. Is that an essential belief, or can I mix and match?

This starts the genial sparring, wherein I get the sense that Kristoff is sincerely clueless — not just playing Devil’s Advocate (remember: the press just doesn’t Get Religion) — and Keller is dealing ably with questions substantially like those he’s dealt with many, many times before.

I’m reminded that we are a strange, strange race.

I’m also reminded how our professions shape us. Kristoff, a journalist, is shaped to be skeptical (at least about things that don’t fit The Narrative). Scientists are of virtual necessity, perhaps absolute necessity, methodological materialists (Keller deals with that, by the way) and sometimes become philosophical materialists.

By extension or analogy, lawyers like me are shaped initially to be sophists — advocates for cases good or bad. It takes effort for that not to dominate your life.

Since I wrote this early Friday, many other people, with judgment better than mine, have commended the published interview.

2

Speaking of sophistry, and making good on a promise from yesterday.

  • “All the evil deeds in this world since Adam and Eve have been justified with good reasons.”(Quoting Hegel)
  • The Cratylus dialog, which incidentally also discusses the problem of language, deals with a certain question that for us here is of no consequence, and Socrates remains silent. Finally they ask him, “And what do you think, Socrates?” To which he replies, “I have no opinion on this, for I could afford only the five-drachma lecture of Prodicus [one of those great sophists!]. His fifty-drachma lecture I could not afford: had I been able to, then perchance I might be knowledgeable.”
  • “Academic” must mean “antisophistic” if it is to mean anything at all.
  • Can a lie be taken as communication? I tend to deny it. A lie is the opposite of communication. It means specifically to withhold the other’s share and portion of reality, to prevent his participation in reality.
  • The dignity of the word … consists in this: through the word is accomplished what no other means can accomplish, namely, communication based on reality.
  • [B]ecause you are not interested in reality, you are unable to converse. You can give fine speeches, but you simply cannot join in a conversation; you are incapable of dialogue!
  • Mundus vult decipi.

Joseph Pieper, Abuse of Language – Abuse of Power

3

One of my folk heroes, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms (with it’s 24 x 7 x 365 transparency: “Trespassers will be impressed”), gave a talk to Google employees, introduced by one of Google’s Executive Chefs. After about 30 minutes of talk and 30 minutes of questions, he pronounced a benediction:

Now may all of your carrots grown long and straight. May your radishes be large and not pithy. May your drip irrigation never spring a leak. May your kitchens be places of aesthetic, aromatic, romantic sensuality. And may we all commit ourselves to making a world better than we inherited. Blessings on all of you.

That’s an interesting subversive touch. Salatin is one of many “nut fell far from the tree” graduates of the notorious Bob Jones University, from which I understand he well-nigh got expelled. He doesn’t talk much about his faith, assuming he still has one, but pronouncing such a benediction over a bunch of techno-geeks bespeaks that there is more to reality than they may notice day-to-day.

Back to the body of his talk. I hope Salatin is not violating Pieper’s “dignity of the word” in some of his comments (some plainly are hyperbole; that doesn’t count when the hyperbole is clear), because he keeps making connection between our current agriculture and our array of distinctly modern problems that make my head spin.

Tertiary Things

4

Soon after Nov. 8 I started asking people where they were on election night, and they’d tell interesting stories of how they heard and when they knew. I noted that people always reported they were with others. On a normal presidential election night some people will be alone at home watching TV, but this year everyone seemed to be with friends and family. My mind went to Carl Jung: Maybe there was something in the collective unconscious of the American people that told them an epochal event was about to occur and they must seek community. I mentioned my theory at a symposium in Washington and an academic called out, “I was alone.” He was traveling for work and was by himself in a hotel room. He was furiously emailing and texting with family and friends, however, so to preserve my theory I told him that no longer counts as alone.

I keep going back to the smartest thing a political professional said to me in all of 2016. The most amusing was the spirited remark of a Manhattan social figure who, when I asked in September if he knew who he would vote for, said he would be one of the 40 million people who would deny the day after the election that they voted for Mr. Trump, but had. But the smartest thing came from an elected official, a Republican who, when I asked what he thought would happen in November, got a faraway look. “This is the unpollable election,” he said, last July. People don’t necessarily want to tell you who they’re for. They may not be certain, but they don’t want to be pressed to declare.

I had seen the same thing around the country, a new reticence about who people were supporting. I quoted the official in a September column without attribution and called around to political pollsters: Is 2016, because of the nature of the candidates and the stigma of supporting Trump, unpollable? Two said no but one, Kellyanne Conway, who had recently joined Trump as his campaign manager, had a different view. “This thing is fluid in a way we don’t understand,” she said. She spoke not of hidden but of “undercover” Trump voters. “They’re undercover because they’ve gotten to the point they’re tired of arguing. . . . Some have been voting Democratic all their life, they voted for Obama, they’re tired of defending and explaining themselves.”

(Peggy Noonan)

Noonan’s first paragraph above shows just how totally out of touch I am: I was alone.

I was following the usual evening routine of reading and writing, but with a TV on for a change, mostly for local elections and to see how early and how big Clinton’s win was. My wife was upstairs doing her evening routine of crafts. I wasn’t even that active on social media, after shooting my mouth off plenty against Trump (though not for Clinton) all season.

I don’t think I quite believed what I was seeing. I didn’t exult. I didn’t vomit or cry. As I’ve said, I felt personal relief that my tribe — resolutely Christian, socially conservative (with or without political activism) — would not be a special target of shaming and coercion for the entertainment of the Democrat base. That’s about it.

My main optimism, humanly speaking, comes from the possibility that ordinary people in flyover country saw something that I missed in our President-elect.

5

After a long mea culpa about how utterly wrong she had been about the Presidential election, Sage McLaughlin at What’s Wrong for the World injects …

(A quick aside: All this makes the puerile hysteria of politically-attuned homosexuals all the more insufferable–it is explainable not by anything Trump has ever said against them, but only by the fact that they 1) skew young and have little experience of political defeat, and 2) have exercised such merciless retribution and denunciation against their political foes that they can only assume that that is how things are done in Zero-Sum America.)

That’s as plausible as any explanation for the LGBT hysteria about Trump, and tends to be my take, too.

* * * * *

“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.