Tuesday 1/3/17

  1. A Common Metaphysical Vacuum
  2. Alt-Right, Alt-left
  3. Can This Political Union Be Saved?
  4. Treating one superbug


“The cult of the individual now places us outside divine and human community,” he writes. Disenchantment has, in the most important sense, left us homeless. Nothing frames our lives. Nothing calls us to go outside ourselves in love. I’m more and more convinced that this “nothingness” is driving widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo. It feeds the growing political restlessness that’s willing to take risks, perhaps imprudent ones, on leaders such as Trump—and, for that matter, Putin.

Plenty of commentators have linked the two. Few, however, will entertain the thought that the entire West shares a common metaphysical vacuum—“the cult of the individual,” or, as I have put it, a materialism that disenchants. Nor has our chattering class noticed that the working class in New Hampshire and elsewhere now features social pathologies akin to those that nearly shipwrecked Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, when alcoholism was rampant and life expectancies plunged. Someone unaware of twentieth-century history who visits an old steel town like Steubenville, Ohio, would have to assume either that America had lost a major war and suffers the burden of onerous reparations—or that is beholden to a particularly brutal and inhuman ideology.

(R.R. Reno, The Loss of Peace)


There’s lots of talk about the “alt-right.” It’s a term used to describe a range of hyperbolic figures who push the limits of political rhetoric by putting forward forbidden ideas about race and nationality that border on crypto-fascism. There’s an alt-left as well, though our liberal establishment doesn’t think of Che Guevara T-shirts as indulging a brutal political aesthetic. A recent New Yorker gave space to some alt-left expressions in a series of post-election commentaries. Hilary Mantel on the surprise victory of Trump: “For decades, the nice and the good have been talking to each other, chitchat in every forum going, ignoring what stews beneath: envy, anger, lust.” After meditating on William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, Toni Morrison gives a particularly dire description of what she regards as the obvious resurgence of “white privilege” signaled by Trump’s election: “Rather than lose its ‘whiteness’ (once again), the family chooses murder.” The always reliable Junot Díaz denounces Trump as “a toxic misogynist, a racial demagogue who wants to make America great by destroying the civil-rights gains of the past fifty years.” He then issues a call to action: “Colonial power, patriarchal power, capitalist power must always and everywhere be battled, because they never, ever quit.”

Mantel, Morrison, Díaz—I read them as indulging in moral-political preening rather than commenting on social reality. There’s something similar going on with the alt-right. Milo Yiannopoulos, a particularly flamboyant alt-right figure, is more performance artist and stand-up comic than journalist. That the New Yorker, a once-powerful guardian of liberal taste and decorum, traffics in this very postmodern use of dire political rhetoric as a personal aesthetic reminds us of how much things have changed in recent decades.

(R.R. Reno, While We’re At It)


While traveling a few months back, I ended up chatting with a divorce attorney, who observed that what we’re seeing in America right now bears a startling resemblance to what he sees happen with many of his clients. They’ve lost sight of what they ever liked about each other; in fact, they’ve even lost sight of their own self-interest. All they can see is their grievances, from annoying habits to serious wrongs. The other party, of course, generally has their own set of grievances. There is a sort of geometric progression of outrage, where whatever you do to the other side is justified by whatever they did last. They, of course, offer similar justifications for their own behavior.

By the time the parties get to this state, the object is not even necessarily to come out of the divorce with the most money and stuff; it’s to ensure that your former spouse comes out with as little as possible. People will fight viciously to get a knickknack neither of them particularly likes, force asset sales at a bad loss, and otherwise behave as if the victor is not the person who goes on to live a productive and happy life, but the one who makes it impossible for the ex to do so.

(Megan McArdle, Can This Political Union Be Saved?, via Rod Dreher) I haven’t done a divorce in something like ten years, and that was a special circumstance. But other in the firm do, and this rings true.


I keep looking at a saved article, wondering how to share it.

Let’s just say that if you’re interested in “superbugs” and unconventional treatments, this story just might suit you.

I am keenly interested in our perverse overuse/underuse of antibiotics.

On the one hand, we drug our food with antibiotics (routine antibiotics in feedlots).

On the other, our elderly nursing home residents with urinary tract infections get, courtesy of Medicare, one and only one round of antibiotics. No follow-up testing to see whether the infection is really gone. That seems like a dandy formula for making human petri dishes for breeding superbugs.

But what do I know anyway?

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“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.