On calling things by their proper names

  1. On calling things by their proper names
  2. Trump’s simple, binary rule
  3. Interstate Highways
  4. Pessimism is not an option
  5. Private Madrassas of Liberalism

1

They always call something by another name. I think it’s because people know. They know what’s right and what’s wrong. And they want to be good. So when they do something evil they say it was something good. It was justified.

(Andre Dubus, The Last Worthless Evening: Four Novellas and Two Short Stories) That’s fiction, so it must be true, right?

Our original sin was a failure to see things as they were. It was to believe a lie. If the shrewd Confucius is right, that the beginning of wisdom is to give things their proper names, then the beginning of folly is to put any stock in the wrong names. We have no choice now but to live in a world whose governments and most successful businesses are mills for the mass production of deceit.

We must not tell lies. We must not even speak the lie’s language.

Adolf Hitler was sincere: he believed what he said, and he was still one of the most thorough liars in the twentieth century …

The justices know quite well that it is all an elaborate pretense. They know they are building falsehoods upon falsehoods. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once admitted that the notorious Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion across the land was decided incorrectly, but she was loath to take back the lie. We had to continue to pretend that it really was a constitutionally licit decision, even though it was not, because a generation of women had predicated their economic lives upon it.

(Anthony Esolen, Out Of the Ashes)

The ACLU asserted … that the school board violated Title IX, a federal law, and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause when the district declined to allow a female student to use the boys’ restrooms. Title IX specifically authorizes schools to have single-sex restrooms and locker rooms.

(Alliance Defending Freedom statement on the Supreme Court’s remand of Glouster County School Board v. G.G.)

2

President Trump recently tweeted that President Barack Obama tapped Trump’s phones during the campaign. According to Trump, this is a scandal like Watergate, and Obama is a “bad (or sick) guy!” The media has gone bonkers covering the tweets, offering everything from detailed discussions of wiretapping law to stories on how different politicians have reacted to the tweets and how Trump is reacting to their reactions. According to one report, Trump was pleased that the media made his accusation the dominant news story of the cycle.

I’m not sure why those tweets have drawn so much attention. It seems really predictable. As I pointed out back in October, Trump’s view of events is governed by a simple rule:

Everything that breaks his way is proof that Trump is amazing. Everything that doesn’t break his way is proof of powerful, corrupt forces conspiring against him. There is no room for any other explanation.

Back in October, the topic was Trump’s unsupported claim that the election process was rigged. Trump expected to lose, so he offered foul play — without any basis — as the explanation.

When Trump won, the narrative of course flipped. Because everything that breaks Trump’s way proves that Trump is amazing, his electoral college win became “a massive landslide victory” and the “biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.”

(Orin Kerr, The predictable pattern behind Trump’s wiretapping claim, emphasis added, gleefully)

3

Trying to take a little break from the particular way things are broken in 2017, I’ve been reading a bit on a proposed Intestate connector in Shreveport, Louisiana — a vicinity I’ll be visiting in a few weeks. It illustrates something that’s been broken for a very long time: the Interstate Highway System.

That system will have no shortage of defenders, and I don’t intend a blanket indictment. My focus is the Interstates and our cities.

Let’s start with Vox: Highways gutted American cities. So why did they build them?

The 48,000 miles of interstate highway that would be paved across the country during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s were a godsend for many rural communities. But those highways also gutted many cities, with whole neighborhoods torn down or isolated by huge interchanges and wide ribbons of asphalt. Wealthier residents fled to the suburbs, using the highways to commute back in by car. That drained the cities’ tax bases and hastened their decline.

So why did cities help build the expressways that would so profoundly decimate them? The answer involves a mix of self-interested industry groups, design choices made by people far away, a lack of municipal foresight, and outright institutional racism.

“Highway engineers dominated the decision-making,” says DiMento. “They were trained to design without much consideration for how a highway might impact urban fabric — they were worried about the most efficient way of moving people from A to B.”

As a result, the official plans dictated that highways cut directly through the core of virtually every major city in order to bring commuters from newly growing suburbs in and out …

If you’re tired of charges like institutional racism, try to deny the entirely non-coincidental placement of the Interstates in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The city in the 30s had mapped “slums,” “negroes,” “gold coast,” “middle class,” “working men’s homes” and such, and the interstates in the 50s removed the “blight” of negro neighborhoods by injecting the neighborhood-busting blight of interstates.

It’s only by the grace of God and the remarkable labor of Jane Jacobs that we can enjoy Greenwich Village, SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan today, free of I-78 slicing through the city.

Today, they’re proposing the slice through Shreveport in the name of the fanciful -to-utterly-bogus economic benefits of building an I-49 connector. But before turning to a little micro, let’s think macro:

The only problem this project seeks to solve is, “How do we move more vehicles through Shreveport?” And thus, that’s the only problem it will solve. There is no room for the concerns of low-income Shreveport residents in this analysis as it’s been conducted.

Chuck Marohn attempts the death of a thousand micro-cuts (well, at least three) here, here and here, giving due regard to the realities under which cities work when they want federal funding for a highway:

While I’m going to show you, in a three part series, how the conclusions of this report are nothing but propaganda — outright fiction that should outrage everyone — I’m going to point out that this isn’t the fault of the report’s authors. They are merely following standard industry practice which, in this case, is largely determined by the federal government.

You can look at federally funded projects from around the country and they are going to contain the same fictions spun into a seemingly-rigorous narrative for project proponents to use. It’s an industry problem, so direct your outrage accordingly.

The history of how we got here, starting with GM buying and then dismantling streetcar lines, and why unlike Europe we ran our freeways through cities instead of past ring roads/beltways, is fascinating. I only wonder what mistakes we’re making today that will be equally appalling in 60 years.

4

As a committed pessimist, I was decidedly rebuked by his claim that pessimism is not an option for Christians, and that cynicism and despair are the besetting sins of our age. Hope is a virtue. Realism is appropriate. Pessimism and its counterpart, optimism, are irrelevant and illegitimate for Christians.

(Peter J. Leithart, Protestant, praising Abp. Charles Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land) More:

Here, for example, is one of the most profound statements I have ever read on the issue of purity, one that both brings the biblical concept into sharp focus and reminds us of how we have let secular sex trump Christian thinking:

Given the hypersexualized nature of today’s culture, when we think of purity, we usually think of sexual purity. And thinking of purity, we typically focus on abstinence. So purity somehow transforms into not experiencing a thing we want to experience. This is a distortion. Purity is about wholeness or integrity. It means that the body, mind, heart, and soul are rightly ordered toward God. Every element of who we are is doing its part to bring us to union with God, which is our ultimate happiness. Given the strength of the sexual desires we all feel, rightly acting on those desires is a key part of maintaining purity. For single people and celibates, … it means offering those desires up to God and seeking to channel them in our love and service for others.

In a world where sex permeates everything and where the dominant Reichian myth, preached with demonic plausibility by every movie, sitcom, and soap opera, is that sexual activity is what constitutes true existence, the place of single, celibate Christians is set to be a significant pastoral issue. Sound teaching on positive purity is thus both vital and—to be really countercultural—beautiful. Recent, ugly nonsense about those who supposedly cannot refrain from sinful sexual relations is pastoral cruelty disguised as kindness. The voice of Archbishop Chaput, by contrast, strikes a welcome and profound note of clarity and true compassion.

Do go back, re-read, and digest what Abp. Chaput said about purity.

5

So this is how I’ve come to understand the situation. Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion.

I should mention that when I was speaking about these issues last fall with a group of students at Whitman College, a selective school in Washington State, that idea, that elite private colleges are religious institutions, is the one that resonated with them most. I should also mention that I received an email recently from a student who had transferred from Oral Roberts, the evangelical Christian university in Tulsa, to Columbia, my alma mater. The latter, he found to his surprise, is also a religious school, only there, he said, the faith is the religion of success.

(William Deresiewicz via Rod Dreher)

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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