Shoring up the Fundaments

  1. Answering like Jesus
  2. Being There
  3. The Primal Scream of Identity Politics
  4. What are we conserving
  5. Confess with Augustine, live like Rousseau

These came to me somewhat randomly. They are rearranged purposefully. I didn’t write the transitions, as Ken Myers might in gliding from one Mars Hill track to the next, but I’ll bet you can write them after you’ve read all three.

1

I don’t think this will be a spoiler: The Gospel in the following video reading involved “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” The question was posed to Jesus by strange bedfellows, Herodians and Pharisees.

Today’s equivalent, also posed by strange bedfellows, it “do you support gay marriage?”

If you have ever struggled in discussing “gay marriage” with others, this 16 minute analysis will help you. If you have sometimes stumbled in saying what you meant, so that you made something confused that isn’t really confused, or opened yourself for attacks that you didn’t need to do, Fr. Lankeit’s presentation might help avoid that. He is crystal clear, in a simple and easy to follow analysis, which is also well formed and stated in terms of not saying more than what is necessary.

(What’s Wrong With the World?)

2

Ms. Komisar, 53, is a Jewish psychoanalyst who lives and practices on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. If that biographical thumbnail leads you to stereotype her as a political liberal, you’re right. But she tells me she has become “a bit of a pariah” on the left because of the book she published this year …

Christian radio stations “interviewed me and loved me,” she says. She went on “Fox & Friends,” and “the host was like, your book is the best thing since the invention of the refrigerator.” But “I couldn’t get on NPR,” and “I was rejected wholesale—particularly in New York—by the liberal press.” She did appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” but seconds before the camera went live, she says, the interviewer told her: “I don’t believe in the premise of your book at all. I don’t like your book.”

(James Taranto)

How could her book be so controversial? Well, the title is Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. Does that help?

3

Mary Eberstadt writes The Primal Scream of Identity Politics at the Weekly Standard.

It’s a long-form piece, the first half or so of which is about identity politics, the signs that selves really are getting fragile (strong anecdotes of increased mental illness, for instance), and other folks’ efforts to describe it or explain where it comes from. Then she turns to her own analysis:

The legalization of same-sex marriage, as observers both for and against the 2015 Obergefelldecision came to agree, owed most to one factor: empathy for the moral claim that attraction to one’s own sex is like pigmentation or DNA, immutable and immune to change. Yet a split cultural second later, exactly the opposite case has come to be made for the intersex, transgendered, and other sexual minorities: that identity is fluid, indeterminate, perhaps even recalcitrant, rather than born that way.

In this head-on collision of purported creation stories about sexual and gender identity that cannot possibly both be true, we see once more that the question Who am I? is the most fraught of our time. It has become like a second skin: something that can’t be sloughed off, or even scratched, without excruciating pain to the subject—reason and logic and the rest of persuasion-as-usual be damned.

P.D. Eastman’s famous children’s book Are You My Mother? was published in 1960. In it, a baby bird goes from one creature to another trying to find one like him, finally to be re-united in a happy maternal ending. Imagine playing something like that game today.

Is That Your Stepsister? Maybe yes—if your mother is still married to that person’s biological father. If instead this parental unit has split up and her father has moved with his daughter to a new state and acquired a new stepmother and new stepsiblings, likely no.

Is That Your Uncle? This too depends entirely on what other adults in the picture have decided to do. If your so-called “uncle” was your mother’s boyfriend several boyfriends ago and she hasn’t seen him in years, then you and he are probably not “related” anymore—or anyway, would be unlikely to describe yourselves as such. On the other hand, if that “uncle” is your biological father’s biological brother, then likely the bond still holds—even if your biological mother and father never married.

Is That Your Niece? If she’s your sister’s biological or adopted child, you’d probably say yes. But if instead she’s your sister’s new live-in boyfriend’s child from a previous liaison, you’d hesitate. By similar logic, say, the adult children of a man who takes a trophy wife their age are unlikely to refer to her as “Mom.”

And round and round the game of musical identity chairs goes.

The result of all these shifting and swirling selves is that many people no longer know what almost all of humanity once knew, including in the great swath of history that was otherwise nastier, more brutish, and shorter than ours: a reliable circle of faces, many biologically related to oneself, present during early and adolescent life. That continuity helped to make possible the plank-by-plank construction of identity as son or daughter, cousin or grandfather, mother or aunt, and the rest of what’s called, tellingly, the family tree.

For many people, for all kinds of reasons, the roots of that tree no longer hold. Whether you miss Ozzie and Harriet or are instead Modern Family’s biggest fan—as the previous president claimed to be—is immaterial. The relative stability of yesterday’s familial identity could not help but answer the question at the heart of today’s politics—Who am I?—in a way that many of us can’t answer it anymore.

[Of protests over “cultural appropriation”] Maybe that cultural scream of “mine!” is issuing from souls who did have something taken from them—only something more elemental than the totemic objects now functioning as figurative blankies for lost and angry former children. As of today, less than 65 percent of American children live with both biological parents, even as other familial boughs have broken via external forces like the opioid crisis, criminality and incarceration, and globalization. Maybe depression and anxiety have been rising steadily among children and teenagers for a reason. Maybe the furor over “appropriation” unveils the true foundation of identity politics, which is pathos.

Did anyone really think things would turn out otherwise—that the massive kinship dislocations of the past 60 years wouldn’t produce increasingly visible, transformative effects not only in individual lives and households, but on politics and culture, too?

After all, it defies common sense to believe that the human surroundings during one’s formative years have no effect on the life to come. There’s also a library of social science, now over half a century in the making, tracing the links between fatherless homes and higher risks of truancy, criminality, psychiatric trouble, and the rest of the ledger suggesting that ripping up primordial ties hasn’t done society any favors. It’s all there, no matter how many of us have deep reasons for wishing otherwise.

No-fault divorce, out-of-wedlock births, paid surrogacy, absolutism about erotic freedom, disdain for traditional moral codes: The very policies and practices that chip away at the family and drive the subsequent flight to identity politics are those that liberals and progressives embrace.

Then there are related family-unfriendly social realities that they also deem benign … In the end, asking liberals and progressives to solve the problem of identity politics is like asking the proverbial orphan with chutzpah who murdered his parents.

Yes, conservatives have missed something major about identity politics: its authenticity. But the liberal-progressive side has missed something bigger. Identity politics is not so much politics as a primal scream. It’s the result of what might be called the Great Scattering—the Western world’s unprecedented familial dispersion.

Anyone who’s ever heard a coyote in the desert, separated at night from the pack, knows the sound. Maybe the otherwise-unexplained hysteria of today’s identity politics is just that: the collective human howl of our time, sent up by inescapably communal creatures who can no longer identify their own.

4

Matthew Loftus. is a guy who “walks the walk” as a Family Practitioner in Baltimore — among the poor of Baltimore, if memory serves. Punditry is not his main gig.

He says last NRO October 20 “White Minstrel Show” by Kevin Williamson as “in many ways represents mainstream conservatism’s highs and lows,” finding Williamson’s central premise especially perverse.

But I’ll let you read that part yourself. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from Loftus, every word of whom is worth reading:

[Y]ou can find any number of well-written essays from this past year reckoning with this disappointment and cursing the alliance of fools, cowards, crazies, and racists that have come to dominate right-wing institutions. Less plentiful are the conservative authors willing to say that ideological conservatism has been degraded because it didn’t have anything useful to say in the first place.

If all conservatism has to offer is a stern message about personal responsibility and a repetition of something conservative-sounding you heard from that one black friend of yours, it’s no wonder nobody wants it. It’s simply not a political philosophy you can govern with, win votes with, or even communicate with. The reason why the vast majority of Republican voices are emulating Donald Trump’s gutter-speak, Paul Ryan’s incoherent fantasies, or Roy Moore’s fever dreams is that they’re filling in the very large blanks that movement conservatism can’t fill in.

Conservatism rejects the deterministic economics that denies people their agency, but the modern conservative movement has preached an atomizing freedom that eviscerates the structures and relationships that help people to exercise agency. This is why the eloquent ideas of politicians like Mike Lee or Ben Sasse ring hollow: They are only willing to tinker with a handful of policies that might stop the tidal wave of atomization our society is experiencing …

The most prominent right-wing writers at various outlets … are always suggesting the old wineskins of 20th-century conservatism, which is part of why their reformocon ideas have never taken off. Conservative health care wonks are constantly trying to repaint the burning Hindenburg that is our employer-based health insurance system. No conservative publication had any mention of focused deterrence until yesterday. Conservative education policy is oriented around using vouchers to help a larger percentage of kids get good grades so they can get a useless college degree. The few good ideas (like E-Verify for immigration or closing prisons for criminal justice reform) get drowned out by the populist rabble or lobbied to death.

More importantly, conservatism needs to decide what it is we’re trying to conserve and rewrite everything else around that. Conserving the institutions that help people to flourish – churches and families most prominent among them – is more fundamental than “liberty” or “small government”. A focus on the family will almost certainly require, though, that we buck the individualist-atomist elements of conservatism that have become ideological orthodoxy.

(Emphasis added)

5

When we train there are all kinds of things we have to add to our regimen: stretching, weight-lifting, and so forth. But there are also things that we have to subtract: sweets, drinking, and other things. When you’re training, what you take away is just as important as what you add, but when you talk to Christians it’s all about what their faith adds to their lives and never about what it takes away. And the thing with college students, and the reason why they’re Moralistic Therapeutic Deists is not just because they haven’t been trained properly in certain practices, it’s because there are too many things they don’t want to give up, especially sex and drinking, but also their desire for material success. And so they think about God in a way that allows them to do things they want to do but not be held morally responsible for them, nor be required to take things out of their lives. In my Bible study I am constantly arguing with them about their claim that God wants us to be happy. “Where are you getting that from? That’s not in the Bible. God wants us to be holy, not happy.” But you can’t get anywhere with that argument.

(A very perceptive student interacting with her prof after Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option lecture at Notre Dame)

[L]ast year I was teaching a senior seminar class, which I organized around the theme of “Confession” and had the students read Saint Augustine and Rousseau side by side. “We confess with Augustine, but we live like Rousseau” I said, “for it is Rousseau’s moral universe we largely inhabit.” My contention was that the exercise would be clarifying for the students, help them understand the demands of the Christian life, and move them toward a more coherent understanding of the faith.

I was stunned by what happened. Over the course of the semester, as Saint Augustine in his book is healed — made more integrated and whole — and Rousseau in his book becomes more fragmented and dissolute, about half the students turned against Augustine (“too extreme”) and became more sympathetic to Rousseau. As it played out in class discussions the discussions concerning a dissolute and “disordered” life became more acute and generated more conflict …

In our conversation last night some of the students expressed some confusion as to what the Benedict Option actually entailed. I said:

1) the culture is increasingly anti-Christian;

2) It’s not going to leave Christians alone;

3) Christians have accommodated too much to the culture, and don’t have the resources to defend themselves;

4) Much of it will get swept away, but that which will be left is purified.

That, I think, is in part what was going on in that senior seminar. Rather than standing up for the faith, these students (who are very likable) were so busy trying to fit into the predominant ethos that they “went along” as far as they could, and then apologized for not going farther. “What will enable us to remain standing while these winds blow?”

(The perceptive student’s perceptive professor)

* * * * *

“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.