Thursday, 11/16/17

  1. Fractal dysfunction
  2. Repudiating the perverted fringe
  3. Tutoring Congressman BlueBlazer McEntrepreneurship
  4. Trump is John McCain’s fault
  5. How certainty-seeking empowers predators
  6. No misfortune too great to bear
  7. Man up, boys!

1

Republican dysfunction is fractal. Every problem is caused by an even deeper problem.

The GOP’s bills are bad. They’re bad because they try to do a bunch of incompatible things all at the same time. But let’s go down one further level.

Why do they try to do that? Because Republicans aren’t making choices …

But let’s go down another level. Why are Republicans unable to choose?

Because they don’t have a leader …

Yet leadership vacuums can be shockingly easy to fill. Of his takeover of France, Napoleon famously commented that all he had to do was to pick up the crown that was lying in the gutter … The crown is in the gutter.

So why won’t anyone pick it up? To answer, we have to go one level deeper.

The leadership vacuum is there because nobody knows or agrees what the Republican Party is for …

So why doesn’t anybody have a good answer? Let’s go another level down.

The reason nobody has a good answer to these questions is that nobody asked them, or nobody listened to the few voices that were asking them. The GOP has been suffering from an identity crisis since at least the second half of the Bush 43 administration, and arguably since the end of the Cold War, when anti-communism stopped being a unifying reason for the GOP’s existence.

But Bill Clinton’s foibles and later the Sept. 11 attacks preoccupied the party. Then Barack Obama’s unpopularity gave the GOP enough victories to pretend that things were all right. Mitt Romney’s narrow loss was followed by the party’s infamous autopsy report, which was not a real exercise in soul-searching, let alone soul-finding. And because nobody in the establishment asked existential questions about the party, nobody paid attention to the growing disconnect between the GOP’s base and its elites which made Trump possible. The GOP has been at war with itself for years without admitting it.

“Ideas have consequences” is a famous conservative motto. The GOP’s self-immolation shows the absence of ideas can be very consequential as well.

(Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The GOP’s fractal incompetence problem)

Every step of this seemed true, and then came the zenith: the observation about the cold war as a unifying reason for the GOP to exist—long a pet theory of mine. As Rusty Reno has argued, the versions of liberalism emerging after 1989 leave something to be desired.

And any glory due the GOP for its role in ending the cold war has passed its sell-by date. What have you done for us lately, GOP?

I don’t think the Democrats are in very good shape, either. They just weren’t Gobry’s focus.

It’s probably a good time to repeat that we’re in the midst of some real tectonic political shifts. I can’t recall reading any compelling description of how it ends, though there are some dystopian descriptions that come close, and I’ve not come up with one on my own.

2

We tell ourselves this has nothing to do with us, that it’s bad manners to speak too loudly about religion, that it is more than enough each imperfect day simply to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

But we have reached a point where silence is no longer enough. A growing number of Americans have no religious affiliation and only a passing interest at best. Unless they hear otherwise, they may draw the conclusion that flamboyant radicals such as [Roy] Moore are the essence of our faith.

Despite our imperfections — “our manifold sins and wickedness,” to borrow from the Book of Common Prayer — we are better than that. We are a church for the likes of William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr. A church for Michelangelo and J.S. Bach. A church for Anne Bradstreet, Flannery O’Connor and Annie Dillard. We are a church that builds great colleges and universities and hospitals. A church that ministers to gang members in East L.A., Ebola victims in West Africa and dying neighbors in places large and small around the world.

Mainstream Muslims have been hearing for years that they must repudiate the hateful fringe perverting their religion; surely the same applies to us Christians. Stirring up hatred for gays, liberals, Muslims and other supposed infidels, Moore bears a familial resemblance — the nonviolent side of the family — to the jihadists of the Islamic State. He brandishes a revolver instead of a broadsword, but he shares their delight in condemnation, division and (evidently) fantasies of virgins.

It’s a travesty that Moore and his sanctimonious ilk have been allowed to hijack “conservative Christianity.”

(David VonDrehle, emphasis added)

3

Of Tuesday’s stultifying congressional hearing into sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill:

My favorite special guests were Barbara Childs Wallace of the CAA-OCC and Gloria Lett of OHEC, surely two of the dimmest bulbs in the not exactly radiant ceiling of previously unknown federal acronymed agencies. Asked what was the most important step that could be taken to prevent sexual harassment by members of Congress and their staff, Childs Wallace, whose actual job title is “chairwoman of the Office of Compliance’s board of directors,” without blinking, held up a piece of paper.

“There is no law that requires anybody in Congress to post these notices,” she said.

She then proceeded to explain why putting up posters full of legalese written in tiny print is the surest way of making it absolutely clear to Rep. BlueBlazer McEntrepreneurship that he should not under any circumstances be showing his penis to members of his staff or his fellow representatives …

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) also seemed to be very keen on notices and “guidelines.” “We really don’t have current guidelines that say that a member [sleeping] with a 19-year-old intern is inappropriate,” she said. “It doesn’t say you cannot have that.” …

We need to stop pretending that the circumstances described in a recent CNN report, in which the halls of Congress are a flesh market in which it is unremarkable for legislators to flirt with and grope members of their staff and even one another, in which a list is circulated samizdat-style of “creeps” who have to be avoided, can be dealt with using posters and bureaucratic legalese.

Being part of Congress isn’t sexy. It’s very boring, frequently unrewarding work that involves lots of numbers and acronyms and pointless hearings. All of which is fine, unless that machinery is getting in the way of doing something about the sexual exploitation of women, as it did on Tuesday, when two make-work professionals complacently defended the broken system that gives them a paycheck and jokes were made about ’90s sitcoms.

We don’t need more “compliance” training or clearer “guidelines.” We don’t need special displays of “leadership,” “from the top” or otherwise. We just need people to behave with honor and decency. If you don’t know what that involves by the time you get to Congress, a piece of paper isn’t going to be able to help you — or punish you when you do something evil.

(Matthew Walther, Congress has a pervert problem, emphasis added)

4

A thought, perhaps interesting, snatched by me from How American politics went batshit crazy by Jim VandeHai.

Many have tried, unconvincingly I think, to paint Donald Trump as the eventuality of everything the Republican party has done since, say, Nixon’s southern strategy. But it strikes me as quite plausible that he is the eventuality of one particular, more recent event, perpetrated by a Senator who is now one of Trump’s relatively fierce public critics:

  • John McCain picking Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, celebritized rage politics. Until that moment, Republicans typically picked conventional, next-in-line candidates. Palin, made for cable and social media, was the precursor to Trump.

5

I responded unfavorably a few days ago, though not at this blog, to an argument that Evangelicalism is particularly likely to foster sexually predatory men. For all I know, it was a bad argument; I just didn’t get in deep enough to know how bad—or maybe surprisingly good—it was, since I try to reserve a little life for things other than blogging.

But David French, himself Evangelical, makes a solid case for how it happens in Evangelicalism in The Enduring Appeal of Creepy Christianity at National Review:

[A] second temptation is one that attracts the theologically orthodox: the temptation to run toward a form of hyper-legalism as a firewall to protect your family from the sins of the world. Mothers and fathers are desperate for a way to guarantee that their children will grow up to love the Lord. They want to build high walls against sin, so they seek to create distinct communities that are free of the world’s filth and moral compromise.

This second temptation is pernicious. Theologically, it fundamentally denies a very uncomfortable scriptural truth: that this side of heaven we can’t eliminate uncertainty or temptation. We “see through a glass darkly.” We simply don’t have all the answers — for raising children, for sustaining a successful marriage, for thriving in our careers, or for responding to sickness and adversity.

… But rather than seeking God prayerfully and with deep humility and reverence, we want answers, now. And thus we gravitate to those people who purport to offer more than the Bible.

Read this book to discover how, by nursing, regulating their babies’ sleep patterns, and teaching their obedient young children how to silently express their desires through hand signals, you can help prepare them for happy, godly lives. Read that book to discover that if you control every aspect of your child’s education and dating lives, they’ll learn more, avoid sin, and launch into lifelong, happy marriages. Watch this sermon to discover the formula for health and wealth.

This is the world of Roy Moore, the world of conventions and meetings where religious speakers and leaders purport to unlock the secrets not just of the Bible but also of our history and Constitution. Just as pastor-champions and teacher-heroes can lead the people to righteousness, it implies, righteous politicians can restore the nation to greatness.

A powerful Christian can have an almost Weinstein-like hold over the young women in his orbit. He starts to act entitled. He becomes an aggressor — then, a predator.

I’ve seen it happen so many times that by now I almost expect scandal when the popular, legalistic figure rides into town ….

French cites some examples by name, including one man, then just a weird little bachelor with some nostrums, for whom I was once one of 250 guinea pigs.

But I’m still not convinced that this certainty-seeking vulnerability is worse in Evangelicalism than elsewhere. Maybe the Unitarian-Universalists are so free of patriarchy and/or the desire for certainty that they avoid it, but the desire for religious certainty is not confined to Evangelicals or even non-ecclesial Christians generally.

I would have found French’s essay on my own, but Rod Dreher pointed me to it before I did. Dreher concludes thus:

In an essay on the 1960s published in her collection titled The White Album, Joan Didion wrote that “the narrative on which many of us grew up no longer applies.” … This is the first time that I, born in 1967, have felt so strongly that the narrative on which many of us grew up no longer applies. Didion’s work has always had in it a sense of impending social collapse … If you’ve ever seen a Didion quote, it’s likely this one from The White Album:

We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.

We have to learn to tell ourselves a different story in order to live through this time without losing ourselves. Or, to put a fine point on it for us Christians, we have to learn how to tell ourselves the old stories in a different way, if we want to hold on to them at all. The story that sustains faith in Roy Moore despite everything is a lie. There is no future to be built upon it. But that’s not the only contemporary narrative that contains within it a fatal delusion.

6

Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust. The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men—to feel whether this time the men would break. The women studied the men’s faces secretly, for the corn could go, as long as something else remained. The children stood near by, drawing figures in the dust with bare toes, and the children sent exploring senses out to see whether men and women would break. The children peeked at the faces of the men and women, and then drew careful lines in the dust with their toes. Horses came to the watering troughs and nuzzled the water to clear the surface dust. After a while the faces of the watching men lost their bemused perplexity and became hard and angry and resistant. Then the women knew that they were safe and that there was no break. Then they asked, What’ll we do? And the men replied, I don’t know. But it was all right. The women knew it was all right, and the watching children knew it was all right. Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.

(John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, via The Masculinisist #1)

7

In addition to The Masculinisist, I’m going to make a qualified recommendation of The Art of Manliness, which I haven’t really explored yet. I’ve just got a feeling that they can help heal one of the things that ails us men—call it an honor and decency deficit.

The Masculinist comes from Aaron Renn, who you may know as the Urbanophile. I’ve known him and respected him there. This is a side experiment, explicitly intended for Christian men, and is kind of in-your-face:

This is not a “safe space.” This is not an “irenic” newsletter.  In part that’s because the church has gotten a number of very important things wrong, which I intend to critique and correct (see Masc #3, 5, 7, 9, and 11).  I fully expect that many of you will decide to unsubscribe. In fact, if I don’t get enough unsubscribes, I’m probably repeating too much conventional wisdom. Nobody needs me for that.

This newsletter is written for Christian men. Others are welcome to subscribe and read, but I am not catering to anyone else’s sensibilities.

I also want to stress that I am a cultural critic, not a theologian or Bible teacher. (And I’m a good one too – one who, for example, saw that Trump was a legitimate contender as far back as November 2015). I do not claim to be an authoritative teacher on Christian doctrine. Since this a Christian newsletter, obviously I have to deal with scripture and doctrine. But this newsletter is in the genre of cultural criticism.

This newsletter follows several guiding principles:

  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s famous dictum: live not by lies.  We must have the courage to tell the truth, even where uncomfortable. (See Masc #1 and Coda below)
  • Build up, don’t just tear down. To that end, every other issue is devoted to practical tips to help you become a better man, or to improve in other ways. My agenda is positive not just negative.
  • Only critique people in the public square. I’m not going to tear into people who have not held themselves out as public intellectuals or commentators. I tend to pick on big name people who can defend themselves. And it helps to pick household names most of you already know about. And so on.
  • Skin in the game. I’m not going to recommend anything I am not personally doing or did not personally do in similar situations. I may note other items, but explicitly without endorsement.

[A]s the great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody’s got a plan till they get punched in the face.” Some people haven’t (yet) been punched in the face, so they still retain a high sense of their sovereignty over life. If that punch ever does come for them, they might feel differently.

This is also why I’m not afraid of critiquing the biggest names out there. I realize that their success, much like my own, was random. They are certainly talented people, but they aren’t unique geniuses.

 

That, from Masculinist #15, kind of captures the flavor. Renn was ready to shut down the project, which hadn’t achieved the subscribers he had set as evidencing sufficient evidence, when a grey swan (not really black) quintupled his subscribers in a few days. I like the way he spun that in Masculinist #15, too.

I’ve enjoyed the issues I’ve read so far. More than enjoyed, I’m inspired to get a bit of my own skin in the game.

The Art of Manliness is a much bigger and better-established project, not explicitly aimed at Christian men. I’m recommending it because:

  • I visited it for a while a few years ago and was not repelled.
  • Aaron Renn recommends it in The Masculinist, and for now I trust Renn.

Just remember: Aaron Renn is a fallible human being, and you shouldn’t expect undue certainty.

* * *

Today is the 20th anniversary of my reception to the Orthodox Church.

* * * * *

“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.