Inauguration Day

  1. Music du jour
  2. A More Perfect Absolutism
  3. Read news like a defense attorney
  4. It’s more real onscreen
  5. Rahm’s lawless Chicago
  6. Land of the slave, home of the timid


1

What would Inauguration Day be without music?

But since we’re pretty deeply divided, I’ll give you a choice:

What do you mean you “don’t like that version of Happy Days Are Here Again”? Then go find your own version.

Personally, I’m voting for dies irae. I said several times that “Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton” has “God’s judgment” written all over it. I haven’t changed my mind, although the judgment was always a matter of Scylla or Charybdis, fire or ice, not two identical demons.

2

It is part of the absurdity of American life that we decide questions of truth under the guise of settling contests of rights. Which means that we decide questions of truth without thinking deeply or even very honestly about them. Thus, while it is obvious to many that we are living through a profound cultural revolution, it is less than clear just what sort of revolution it is—though with Obergefell and the Obama administration’s recent decree abolishing human nature in response to North Carolina’s “bathroom law,” it takes a real effort not to see. The sexual revolution is not simply an overturning of sexual morality or family law, but a revolution in our fundamental view of human nature that promises to reshape who we are as human beings. What previous generations took for granted—for example, that man, woman, mother, and father name natural realities as well as social roles, that children issue naturally from their union, that the marriage of man and woman is the foundation of human society—all this is now increasingly regarded as obsolete and even hopelessly bigoted.

We will need new archetypes of these basic human realities. Language will have to be purged, education reformed. A concerted effort at stupefaction must be undertaken to ensure that reality does not impinge on thought. Thankfully we have modern education and global media, each rigorously committed to not thinking seriously about the nature of things. We will need new rights and a new morality, rigorous policing of the bounds of acceptable thought and speech, and new mechanisms of surveillance and enforcement for punishing transgressors of the emerging orthodoxy by legal and extra-legal means.

We are unlikely to withstand a revolution that we do not understand, and yet I worry that our American habits of mind leave us unequipped to comprehend this one. Despite our native suspicion of political power, Americans believe deeply in politics as such. Because we have no common faith, history, or culture outside the decision to found the nation on eighteenth-century philosophical principles, we have always looked to politics and the law to perform the work of faith, culture, and tradition in giving us an identity as a people. Politics is first philosophy for us. All real questions are political, and the liberal pretense of excluding questions of ultimate meaning from public deliberation only reinforces this habit of mind. We do not look or think beyond liberal order because for us there is no beyond. There be dragons.

Technocratic absolutism relies less on the police power of the state and the coercive force of law than on an unaccountable bureaucracy and ubiquitous media that mediate what counts as the real world. This is arguably a more perfect form of absolutism than any seen heretofore, for its mechanisms of enforcement are internal as well as external. In a perfectly absolute society, whose rule was indeed total, no one would ever know he was being coerced. There would simply be truths that could no longer be perceived, ideas that could no longer be thought, experiences that could no longer be had, and no one would ever know what he was missing.

If manipulating variable x produces result y, and if result y further enables experiment z, then the results validate themselves. It is superfluous to ask what a cause or understanding or explanation is, or even what x, y, and z are. Strictly speaking, there is no room within technological reason for asking or thinking about what anything is. As John Dewey put it, “Things are what they can do and what can be done with them.” Little wonder, then, that there is no such thing as a profound question in American public life or that we can do things to ourselves and our posterity that we do not know how to think about. There is a disincentive to understanding, an inducement to thoughtlessness, at the heart of our prevailing form of reason.

It was a persistent theme of the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI that freedom ultimately depends on truth. The point is classical as well as Christian, and it is worth bearing in mind that in the classical view, the first and most intractable enemy of freedom was not tyranny but necessity. Our brave new world of technological necessity casts a fresh light on the ancient understanding. A society that is indifferent to truth or that reduces truth to technological possibility and pragmatic function cannot ultimately be a free society. Unable to see beyond the immanent horizons of liberal and technological order, its members will be unable to act in defiance of its necessities.

At a time when so many of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world are dying for the faith, it seems obscene to invoke the specter of martyrdom from within the safety and prosperity of the liberal West. Yet we face an absolutism that poses an unprecedented challenge to Christian faith and witness precisely because technocratic order diffuses its power quietly, almost imperceptibly, without spectacle or responsibility, slowly bleeding its victims by ten thousand bureaucratic paper cuts rather than by the sword or lions in the Colosseum. Not the least of these challenges is the very real possibility that in a world mediated by media, this witness may be visible only to God. If a tree falls in the forest and the New York Times doesn’t hear it, does it make a sound?

(Michael Hanby, associate professor of religion and philosophy of science at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America, in the October 2016 First Things)

3

Popehat, a lawyer of all things, may have provided the best guide yet for ferreting out fake news, including fake news that comes from “real news” sources, like the New York Tims, that decry fake news.

[W]ith a highly controversial and divisive President, such stories will probably multiply. We’ll be faced, daily, with more news that tells us what we want or expect to hear, that endorses our dim view of the political and social figures we don’t like.

Critical reading is essential. Skepticism of even one’s favored sources is important, unless we’re looking only to be entertained and affirmed. This is an hourly habit, not an occasional one. It’s a task I fail daily and will probably keep failing daily even if I try harder. But maybe I could fail a little less often.

Recently it hit me: what if I reviewed news stories with the skeptical eye I turn towards search warrant applications?

If that sounds too daunting and lawyerly, hold on: he walks you through it pretty well.

4

Allan Bloom, explaining the 60s:

[T]his was the first revolution made for TV. They were real because they could see themselves on television. All the world had become a stage, and they were playing leads.”

The screen is now in one’s pocket, and the television is Facebook, but the dynamic remains.

5

Rahm’s Chicago is about as lawless at Barack’s Washington. See here, and if you think “Well, that’s just David French and National Review,’ see here and here, too, for more scholarly treatment.

6

As ProtonMail has evolved, the world has also been changing around us. Civil liberties have been increasingly restricted in all corners of the globe. Even Western democracies such as the US have not been immune to this trend, which is most starkly illustrated by the forced enlistment of US tech companies into the US surveillance apparatus. In fact, we have reached the point where it simply not possible to run a privacy and security focused service in the US or in the UK.

Recently, more and more countries have begun to take active measures to surveil or restrict access to privacy services, cutting off access to these vital tools. We realize that censorship of ProtonMail in certain countries is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. That’s why we have created a Tor hidden service (also known as an onion site) for ProtonMail to provide an alternative access to ProtonMail that is more secure, private, and resistant to censorship.

(ProtonMail announcement) It simply is not possible to run a privacy- and security-focused service in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We’re too timid to allow ourselves freedom.

I sorta kinda understand Tor (unlike Bitcoin), so I’ve set up the Tor Browser, when I’m not up to anything, on the chance that in this tumultuous era, I may need to get up to something eventually.

If I use it much, maybe I’ll send them some Bitcoin in gratitude.

* * * * *

“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.