The return of Debbie Downer

I was kind of a “Debbie Downer” yesterday, wasn’t I? Well hold on. It may get worse.

Writing of Amazon killing Big Box which killed Mom & Pop, and what peril that leaves us in, made me reflect once again not only on our ugly places but on how readily we chase after attractive things — sex, lower prices, extreme convenience, etc. — oblivious of consequences.

I’d already been ruminating on such things after listening to the latest Kunstlercast, which made me aware of how fragile our whole existence has become because it’s all mediated electronically now.

I’ll be chatting with Rocky Rawlins who is the man behind The SurvivorLibrary.com, a phenomenal website that contains scans in pdf-file form of hundreds of books on basic technology and the skills for applying them, mostly dating from the late 19th and early 20th century. It’s hard to overstate the scope of this vast trove of practical knowledge — everything from bee-keeping to wagon and coach-building. In other words, what you need to meet The Long Emergency. The scientific elegance of these books and monographs is something to behold, the clarity of the language and precision of the instructions is breathtaking. I think you’ll like Rocky very much.

Why should we care? Three letters: EMP.

Electro-magnetic pulse damage was a topic of conversation in both of the Republican debates on Thursday night. Rick Santorum, one-third of the warm-up debate, warned of the possibility of an EMP being used as a weapon, a “devastating explosion” that would “fry out” anything with a circuit board. “Everything is gone,” he said. “Cars stop. Planes fall out of the sky.” If Iran got a nuclear bomb, he warned, they could explode one in the atmosphere over the United States and break every phone, car, computer and anything else electronic underneath.

During the main debate, Ben Carson raised the same issue. “[W]e have enemies who are obtaining nuclear weapons that they can explode in our exoatmosphere and destroy our electric grid,” he said, adding, “Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue at that point?”

(Washington Post) It doesn’t even have to be nuclear.

Or if you don’t like that, try Kunstler’s Long Emergency. If I had read Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I think I’d have something from him about now.

Then, for me, the piece de resistance: Rod Dreher reflecting on the painful accuracy of a New Yorker profile (he justifiably trusted the author, and let him tag along for a week as Rod promoted The Benedict Option). This stretch and what followed is very self-revealing:

OK, I have to share this passage about Andrew Sullivan:

The writer Andrew Sullivan, who is gay and Catholic, is one of Dreher’s good friends. Their friendship began in earnest in 2010, when Ruthie got sick and Dreher, moved by a spirit of generalized repentance, e-mailed Sullivan to apologize for anything “hard-hearted” he might have said in their various online arguments. Sullivan has a long-standing disagreement with Dreher over same-sex marriage, but he believes that the religiously devout should be permitted their dissent. “There is simply no way for an orthodox Catholic to embrace same-sex marriage,” he said. “The attempt to conflate that with homophobia is a sign of the unthinking nature of some liberal responses to religion. I really don’t think that florists who don’t want to contaminate themselves with a gay wedding should in any way be compelled to do so. I think any gay person that wants them to do that is being an asshole, to be honest—an intolerant asshole. Rod forces you to understand what real pluralism is: actually accepting people with completely different world views than your own.”

In “The Benedict Option,” Dreher writes that “the angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity” is the understandable result of a history of “rejection and hatred by the church.” Orthodox Christians need to acknowledge this history, he continues, and “repent of it.” He has assured his children that, if they are gay, he will still love them; he is almost—but not quite—apologetic about his views, which he presents as a theological obligation. He sees orthodox Christians as powerless against the forces of liquidly modern progressivism; on his blog, he argues that “the question is not really ‘What are you conservative Christians prepared to tolerate?’ but actually ‘What are LGBTs and progressive allies prepared to tolerate?’ ” He wants them to be magnanimous in victory; to refrain from pressing their advantage. Essentially, he says to progressives: You’ve won. You wouldn’t sue Orthodox Jews or observant Muslims. Please don’t sue us, either.

“What I really love about Rod is that, even as he’s insisting upon certain truths, he’s obviously completely conflicted,” Sullivan said. “And he’s a mess! I don’t think he’d disagree with that. But he’s a mess in the best possible way, because he hasn’t anesthetized himself. He’s honest about a lot of the questions that many liberal and conservative Christians aren’t really addressing.” Talking to Sullivan about Dreher, I was reminded of Father Matthew’s law: “You’ve got to love your dad even if he doesn’t love you back in the way that you want him to.”

Andrew is right: I’m a mess, but I hope I’m a mess in the best possible way.

I can’t let go of the story of my family and its fate …

We now live in a world that was made for somebody like me, with my aspirations and talents. It is a world in which people like Daddy and Ruthie, and what they stood for, can scarcely thrive. (I read Chris Caldwell’s piece on the situation in France, and it resonates with regard to the small places like West Feliciana.) The values and the customs and the way of seeing the world that meant everything to them is very hard to sustain. The great tragedy of my family is that my father and my sister held onto their vision so tightly that they made all those around them whom they catechized far too rigid to survive the shocks of their passing. And now the family that they revered above all else is shattered. What will happen to the land that my father acquired, cultivated, and revered, after my mom is gone? Ruthie loved the land as much as he did, and planned to live on it till the day she died. And she did — but she did not count on dying at 42. Everything that seemed so solid, so unbreakable, has dissolved, and is broken.

I’ve been thinking about how things might have gone differently had I been able to return to St. Francisville when Ruthie was first diagnosed. What if I had been there during the 19 months she lived, and had discovered the awful truth while there was still time to resolve things. Might everything been different? Maybe, maybe not ….

What the confluence of these thread brings to mind is a famous man’s famous aphorism:

Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote that the doctrine of original sin is “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” The evidence of ingrained sinfulness, he thought, is apparent everywhere in acts of violence, in the mistreatment of the vulnerable, and in the greed built into economic systems. Even human beings’ greatest accomplishments are inevitably tainted by sins of pride and self-interest, he argued. The problem is not just that humans commit sinful acts but that they are by nature sinful.

Yup. Individually and collectively, we’re a hot steaming mess. Lemmings. Pleasure-seekers. Idiots. Bundles of complexes and compulsions. If you think you’re an exception, you’re probably just uncommonly oblivious.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

* * * * *

Men are men before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers and physicians. (John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at St. Andrew’s, 1867)

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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