Return of the potpourri

1

Yet another unanswerable survey:

Do you think voting by mail is more or less likely to be accurate than in-person?

Axios-SurveyMonkey poll

What do they mean by “accurate”? E.g., reflecting (1) each actual voter’s choice, or (2) aggregate registered voters’ overall preference?

2

Are we really going to waste time listening to theme and variations on whether Kamala Harris is “really an African American“?

3

  • [T]here’s never been a great American political novel. The average French streetwalker in a novel by Zola knows more about politics than the heroes of the greatest American novels.
  • In the 1970s, the old Mainline Protestantism starts to break down. A question of what might replace its centrality in American culture emerges. There is a period in the 1990s and 2000s when it seems that Catholicism might provide the moral language that Mainline Protestantism no longer did. In the event, that project failed, primarily because liberal Protestantism did not disappear – it just shifted into post-Protestantism.
  • Walter Rauschenbusch [an American theologian and a key figure in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries] lists six species of social sin. If you go through the list, they are exactly what radicals are objecting to now: bigotry, the ignorance of the uneducated, power, corruption, militarism and oppression. It lines up so perfectly with today’s agitation.
  • It is an intense spiritual hunger that is manifesting itself more violently. Because to the post-Protestants, the world is an outrage and we are all sinners.
  • The trouble is that, unlike Original Sin, there’s no salvation from white guilt. But the formal structure of white guilt and Original Sin is the same. How do you come to understand that you need salvation? By deeper and deeper appreciation of your sinfulness.
  • The line that I use is that, if you believe that your ordinary political opponents are not merely mistaken, but are evil, you have ceased to do politics and begun to do religion.
  • [T]he young members of the Elect are winning against the old elite. Young staffers at the New York Times forced James Bennett, the editorial page editor, to resign. And that’s incredible. Every old newspaper editor I knew – in generations before mine – would have looked at a letter signed by hundreds of junior staffers criticising an editorial decision, and said ‘I’m sorry that you’re quitting’.

Collins: You refer to the post-Protestants who promote these ideas as the ‘Elect’. From a sociological perspective, why do you prefer to use the term ‘Elect’ rather than say the ‘elite’ or another designation?

Bottum: Ross Douthat, in a column in the New York Times, said that one of the things we need to take from An Anxious Age is the distinction between the elite and the Elect. I chose the term Elect because those people who are part of it are not elite in the sense of having a hundred billion dollars. They are not the elite in the sense of being political figures with lengthy careers, like Bill and Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden for that matter. They are not elite in the sense they control things in terms of ownership. So we need another term for them. They certainly have elite educations, but that elite education is not translated into the enormous wealth and power that the true elite has. I could have gone with a class analysis, and I do talk about Milovan Djilas’ analysis in The New Class, which is a fundamental book from the 1950s. There’s also the managerial class analysis that dominated American sociology for many years, and is still really informative. But I wanted to push in a slightly different direction.

Race is the problem that we have never solved in this country. After the Reconstruction era, in the aftermath of the Civil War, we lost the national will for solving the problem of race. Segregation was evil, second only to slavery, but not by much. And the Great Society welfare state of the 1960s has manifestly proven a failure. So, we have never solved this problem.

What I object to is the idea that deep feeling is going to solve the race problem. Or that absurdly utopian ideas like abolishing the police are going to solve the problem. We don’t live in a utopia, and those ideas are only going to cause more problems. The Elect has not been called upon to be responsible. Its members are simply objecting, and they are objecting for reasons that are at least half, and probably more, emotional. Which is to say, they are only objecting to feel good about themselves. To look at that in any objective way, it’s so irresponsible. All it does is create more unhappiness in the name of your own self-righteousness. This is what I call the self-love of self-hatred. It’s ‘I’m such a sinner and aren’t I wonderful for knowing that I’m a sinner’. The irresponsibility comes because they aren’t governing.

Collins: I’ve also noticed a tendency to avoid detailed analysis of economic and social conditions, or concrete policy reforms. Instead, the issue of race after George Floyd is a simple moral denunciation, or a vague reference to ‘systemic racism’. You hear ‘Why do I have to keep explaining this?’, ‘I’m so exhausted’, and so on, as if the issue was beyond debate.

Bottum: Right. But also it’s defining the Church. It’s a way of saying you either have this feeling or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re evil, and if you do, you’re good. Christian theology, and Christian spiritual practice, has dealt with this for millennia. This is the distinction Calvin would make between justification and sanctification. The idea here is that we no longer need to argue it, because any argument of it is engaging with people beyond the pale. They are outside the Church, they are the profane. They are just wrong. What are they wrong about? They are wrong in the central feeling of moral goodness. This is the attempt to get others to shut up.

We are living in the age of the ad hominem. The fundamental way to answer a claim is to say something about the person who said it. Whether it’s a tu quoque, or an abusive ad hominem, or poisoning the well – the ad hominem is a whole genus of different species of fallacy. How do we know others are wrong? They are wrong because some bad people have said it too. Bari Weiss [the former New York Times op-ed editor] must be wrong [about the illiberal environment at the Times], because Ted Cruz forwarded her tweet. That’s a wonderful ad hominem – guilt by association. It’s not about the content of what is said, it’s about the people who said it.

Wokeness: old religion in a new bottle – spiked (Joseph Bottum interview)

My old friend Jody Bottum thinks that the various Woke movements amount to a kind of post-Protestantism. I think this is wholly wrong. Wokeness is aspirationally Roman Catholic in its structure. It already has:

  • magisterial teaching that one must hold de fide in order to belong
  • the pronouncing of anathemas upon those who dissent from that magisterial teaching
  • a distributed Inquisition devoted to unearthing and prosecuting heresy
  • an ever-growing Index of Prohibited Books

Wokeness despises the fissiparousness of Protestantism and wants to replace it with Real, Substantial, and Visible Unity under its banner. It’s basically a secularized Counter-Reformation.

Alan Jacobs, wokeness as Counter-Reformation – Snakes and Ladders

On wokeness as religion, see also Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice – Areo (long read – I skimmed)

4

The trouble with Evangelicals is that too often we’ve been wise as doves and innocent as serpents.

Alan Jacobs, paraphrasing Mark Noll, author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll’s book is 25 years old, but somehow this aphorism seems truer than ever.

5

Are these trustworthy people to think with?

Alan Jacobs, suggesting a key life question (shortly after reflecting on C.S. Lewis’s Mark Studdock and his wife, Jane). If you know That Hideous Strength, that should resonate.

6

Incompetent narcissist is a really hard sell.

The Remnant, on the 2020 election as a referendum on President Trump, who is neither a competent narcissist nor a lovable bumbler.

7

Nobody wants to be on Team Lesser Evil. You want to feel like you’re on Team Good. (David French, guest-hosting on The Remnant. When you vote Lesser Evil, you’re emotionally joining the team.

8

[O]n June 22nd, the president suspended the arrival of new au pairs … Wealthier families … have begun poaching au pairs from households with lower incomes.

Au-pair wars – America’s au-pair programme is under assault from Donald Trump and the left | United States | The Economist

9

Recommended: The end of secularism is nigh – UnHerd. I thought the Atlantic’s article on the topic (or should I say on the same two foreign developments?) was inferior.

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About readerjohn

I am a retired lawyer and an Orthodox Christian, living in a collapsing civilization, the modern West. There are things I'll miss when it's gone. There are others I won't. That it is collapsing is partly due to calculated subversion, summarized by the moniker "deathworks." This blog is now dedicated to exposing and warring against those deathwork - without ceasing to spread a little light.
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