Thursday, 10/12/17

  1. Nobel food prize goes to quinoa
  2. Rings
  3. Bell curves
  4. Chaplains to late capitalism
  5. Retweetables


Garrison Keillor is unimpressed with the Nobel prize winner in literature this year:

Once again the humorless Swedes have chosen a writer of migraines for the Nobel Prize in literature, an author of twilight meditations on time and memory and mortality and cold toast by loners looking at bad wallpaper. It’s not a prize for literature, it’s a prize for nihilism. The Swedes said he’s like Jane Austen combined with Kafka with some of Proust, three other writers you’d never invite to a party …

That Swedes give out the Nobel is like the Swiss deciding the Cy Young Award. We’re talking tone-deaf, people. The words “Swedish” and “comedy” seldom appear in the same sentence except as a joke. All the Swedes with a sense of humor came to America and so what the Nobel judges recognize is bleak, cramped, emotionally stunted, enigmatic, pretentious. Millions of people around the world understand the concept of reading books for pleasure, but the Swedes think of it as a form of colonoscopy. If they gave a Nobel Prize for food, they’d give it to quinoa ….


When I moved to New York and started writing a column for the New York Post, I started getting invited on cable TV a fair amount. I was not a good guest. I tried to listen to what my opponents were saying, and respond in kind. What the producers actually wanted was for me (and all the guests) to be combative, and to double down on our initially stated opinion. The point was not to argue as a means to understand, but rather to inflame one’s own side, and, with luck, humiliate the other …

One more thing: I am thinking at this moment of a well-known conservative Christian intellectual. During the Bush years, he was once asked — not by me — how he could support publicly the position of other public intellectuals on the Right (national security hawks, if memory serves) who believed things he opposed. How do you justify that? asked his interlocutor. The Christian intellectual’s response: people like me need to do that to get the things we want, politically, like pro-life legislation. There is a certain logic to that. The mutual friend of mine and this intellectual’s who repeated the story told it as an account of how political strategizing had corrupted our friend’s thought. And he was right, to a point. But I knew the Christian intellectual well enough to understand that the deepest truth about him was that he was a vain main who considered himself to be part of the Inner Ring — and loved it. I had a lot of that in me too back then, which is what this post yesterday concerned ….

(Rod Dreher, free associating off David Brooks) Not until Dreher’s column had the parallel occurred to be between the power of C.S. Lewis’s “inner ring” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s one great ring of power.


The implications of this graph take a while to sink in.

Look at that spread between median Democrats and Republicans now compared to a few years ago!

Damon Linker unpacks it further:

Yes, many Republicans are ideological, and the party has indeed been moving to the right in recent years. But the truth is that Democrats have simultaneously been moving to the left — and doing so with greater unity and, on some issues, more rapidly than Republicans have been moving right. … in most cases the growing gap is more a result of a shift in public opinion among Democrats than it is a product of changes among Republicans. … Hillary Clinton voters, by contrast, are highly likely to be both very liberal on economics and very liberal on questions of culture and identity. This coherence is captured in graphs based on the Pew data from 2017 showingthe “blue” Democratic bell curve as narrower and taller (more agreement within the party) than the “red” Republican bell curve, which appears shorter and broader (somewhat less agreement within the party). The upshot is that the Democratic Party as a whole has been moving to the left for quite a while, with the shift on some issues (race, immigration) accelerating rapidly over the past two years in response to the myriad provocations of Donald Trump.

(This is not a commendation of the Republican bell curve, which may just reflect incoherence.)

UPDATE: The questions Pew used to distinguish conservatives and liberals are horrid:

Compassionate social conservatives test “liberalish” because the questions are better suited to distinguish sanctimonious barbarians from thoughtful people than for distinguishing conservatives from liberals.

If you’ve got a history of asking that battery of questions, you would struggle to give it up, but Pew really should start something more nuanced — and perhaps they have already done so, in parallel with this, but this one was released, so it’s the “news” this week.


We are not going to be a source of political or social renewal anytime soon, because we have allowed our own inner lives, and the lives of our church communities, to become deeply compromised by modernity. As a conservative theologian friend told me the other night, the “sociological reality” of the American church today is “a façade of capitalism and emotivism.” He was talking about Evangelicalism, his own tradition, but it is also true of the entire church.

I spoke recently to an Evangelical pastor about what he’s seeing play out in the church. We were generally discussing the claims I make in my book. He said that he’s dealing with this stuff in his congregation. Folks may sense that there’s something really wrong with things in the world today, and also in the church, but they resolutely refuse to do anything about it, other than what they’re already doing, because that makes them comfortable. They can’t even bring themselves to talk about it. They may actually believe what Christianity teaches, but they cannot articulate it to their children. Many of them believe that it’s the church’s responsibility alone to teach and form their children. Many are just as absorbed in popular culture as any non-believer.

Listening to the pastor, I thought of G.K. Chesterton’s line: “A dead thing can go against (sic) the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” The congregation he’s talking about means well, it seems to me, but they are, in effect, a dead thing, carried down the stream of liquid modernity towards the falls. To be clear, I am not judging their souls; I am judging their sociological state, particularly with regard to being able to pass on a living faith to their children. A congregation that does not regard itself as actively in rebellion against the Empire is going to lay down and die. (I define “the Empire” as the hedonistic, individualistic, relativistic, post-Christian social order.) The days of a comfortable compromise are over. You cannot let the Empire into your soul, and have to fight to expel it.

If the church — I’m talking about all Christians in America — is so compromised that it can only serve as a chaplaincy to late capitalism, then it cannot be the leavening that society needs …

[W]ithout realizing what we were doing, we American Christians have allowed ourselves to be catechized by the post-Christian culture, such that we are rendered inert, and unable to pass the faith on to our children ….

(Rod Dreher, bold in original, underlined italics added)

I attribute a substantial part of whatever moral sanity and wisdom I possess to having lost interest in popular culture decades ago. That means I stopped watching prime-time comedies and dramas and virtually all televised sports.

It wasn’t a boycott. I’ve gotten mad enough to boycott things a few times in my life, but that wasn’t what happened this time. It was simply “I’ve got more important, and more interesting, things with which to fill my hours.”

But it may have spared me from absorption into a culture that’s increasingly sick.



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“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)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.