Sunday Potpourri, 10/3/21

Religion

A voice crying in the wilderness?

I am not asking Christians to stop seeing superhero movies or listening to pop music, but we need to be mindful of how we use our time. Many of the popular stories in our culture leave us worse off. Instead of haunting us, they glorify vice, distract us from ourselves, lift our mood without lifting our spirits, and make us envious and covetous of fame, sexual conquests, and material possessions.

Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Rawls’ secular convolution

[I]t took [John] Rawls several hundred pages of Harvard-level disquisition and ‘veils of ignorance’ analogies to restate Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Mathew 7:12.

‌Antonio García Martínez, in the course of an essay on why he is embracing Judaism.

First, I almost laughed out loud at Martínez’s summary of Rawls’ best-known, laboriously-constructed, moral (?) principle.

Second, Martínez makes a good case for fleeing secular modernity to a religion of some sort, and makes a good-enough case for Judaism — pretty movingly, actually. I could gladly have quoted much more.

But he makes no case for why he needed to leave Roman Catholicism, to which all of the Old Testament is likewise available, to secure the Old Testament for his children, nor did he even acknowledge that he’s leaving Catholicism, not secularism.

Is Roman Catholicism indistinguishable from secularism to him? Was he living as secular within the Latin Church?

PRE-PUBLICATION "UPDATE": Rod Dreher, who apparently is friends with Martínez, says he "was baptized Catholic [but] lost his faith in adulthood … AGM does not make a theological argument for Judaism, explaining why he chose it over returning to the Catholicism of his youth, or over any other religious option. It sounds like he’s taking a leap of faith that God really did reveal Himself to the Hebrews, and that unique revelation was not improved on by Jesus of Nazareth or Mohammed."

I had not heard of his loss of faith.

Good news, fake news

Nobody escapes suffering. Trite words, but true ones. I think the main reason I get so mad at happy-clappy forms of Christianity is because they seem to function to deny suffering, rather than help us to let it refine us. A Christianity that minimizes suffering is fraudulent; its gospel is fake news. Mustapha Mond’s phrase “Christianity without tears” applies here. Suffering is a sign of grave disorder in the cosmos — a disorder rooted in sin, and ending in death. These are heavy mysteries.

Rod Dreher, ‌Into The Darkness

Politics

For your prayerful consideration

barring a serious health issue, the odds are good that [Donald Trump] will be the [Republican] nominee for president in 2024

New York Times Editorial Board (italics added).

Consider adapting that italicized clause for your daily prayers.

I personally cannot presume to pray "Please, Lord, smite Donald Trump." But I can prayerfully share my concern about his toxicity, and that I like the USA well enough to lament it, and that our future worries me half sick when my faith is weak.

Chutpah

However the legislative gamesmanship playing out on Capitol Hill is resolved over the coming days, one thing is certain: The Democrats got themselves into this mess. They tried to enact an agenda as sweeping as the New Deal or Great Society though they enjoy margins of support vastly smaller than FDR or LBJ — and though their razor-thin majorities in both houses of Congress are themselves deeply divided between progressive and moderate factions.

The Greeks would have called it hubris. A Borscht Belt comedian would have talked of chutzpah. Either way, it’s hard to deny the Democrats have fallen prey to delusions of grandeur.

Damon Linker, ‌Why do progressive Democrats expect their agenda to pass with such a small majority?

Mutually-profitable kayfabe

Did you know that Russians hacked our electrical grid? Did you know that Trump was connected to a server communicating with Russians? Did you know that Russians were paying bounties for dead American soldiers in Afghanistan? Get his taxes—the answers are there. When The New York Times eventually got ahold of them and parenthetically noted, amidst a cloud of dire innuendo concerning profits and losses of his real estate business, that no evidence existed in them pointing to any ties to Russia, the narrative was already too well entrenched to dislodge.

The Russia hysteria served a psychological function for those at a loss as to how the country they led had slipped from their grasp. It allowed them to offload the blame for the serial failures through which they rendered themselves beatable by a carnival barker onto the machinations of a foreign power. It allowed them to indulge fantasies of the president’s imminent replacement. It helped media companies reverse a downward spiral and restore themselves to profitability as they turned all of public life into a mutually profitable kayfabe with the object of their obsession.

Wesley Yang (Hyperlink added because I had no idea what "kayfabe" was. Once you know, "mutually-profitable kayfabe" becomes an elegant distillation of much of our public-life-as-reported — though I get the feeling that a lot of the true political animosity between parties is all-too-real now.)

My remaining concern is: Isn’t "mutually-profitable kayfabe" at least semi-redundandant? What kayfabe is zero-sum?

Perspective

As far back as Leviticus, priests were given the power of quarantine (13:46), masking (13:45), and even the destruction of property (14:43-47) in the interest of managing and containing disease. Throughout history, political authorities have exercised all sorts of powers for the sake of protecting the health of those God has given them authority over. The interdependent nature of the created order means that there is hardly a law that can be passed which does not have some effect on health. The health of our bodies is not a penultimate summum bonum requiring slavish insistence on removing all potential hazards, but our existence as embodied creatures means that whatever other endeavors are going on, health is always somewhere nearby either as a constitutive process or an important outcome.

‌Biopolitics Are Unavoidable

Just a little quibble over whether one human can own another

Even during the Civil War—I think we’re more divided now than we were then. As Lincoln said, we all prayed to the same God. We all believed in the same Constitution. We just differed over the question of slavery.

Ryan Williams, President of the Claremont Institute, explaining to Emma Green how America is more divided now than in the Civil War.

"Just differed over the question of slavery." This man is too tone-deaf to be President of the Dog Pound, but he’s atop a big Trumpist-Right "think" tank.

What if there’s no omelet?

There’s a famous French Revolution-era maxim that declares that one does not make an omelet without breaking eggs. That maxim has served as a shorthand warning against Utopianism ever since.**

But what if there’s not even an omelet? What if the movement is simply about breaking eggs? What if “fighting” isn’t a means to an end, but rather the end itself?

David French, ‌A Whiff of Civil War in the Air

Culture and Culture War

Some limits of liberalism

The American Political Science Association was faced with the Claremont Institute wanting two panels that included John Eastman — he of the notorious memo on how Mike Pence could legally steal the election for Trump. It offered a sort of Covid-era compromise: those panels would be virtual (thus lessening the likelihood of vigorous protests of the live portion of the meeting).

I have not read what Claremont said upon withdrawing from the meeting, but I’d wager it invoked classically liberal values:

Liberalism stands for the free and open society. But does that mean it must make space for those who would destroy the free and open society? If the answer is yes, liberalism would seem to have a death wish. If the answer is no, liberalism looks hypocritical: Oh, so you’re for open debate, but only if everyone debating is a liberal! There really is no way to resolve this tension except to say that liberalism favors a free and open society, but not without limits. It can tolerate disagreement and dissent, but not infinitely. And writing a memo to the president explaining precisely how he could mount a coup that would overturn liberal democratic government in the United States crosses that line.

Damon Linker, ‌An academic scuffle tests the limits of free debate

Tacit misogyny?

It is striking that there is no … zealous campaign to abandon the word “men” in favour of “prostate-havers”, “ejaculators” or “bodies with testicles”.

The Economist, ‌Why the word “woman” is tying people in knots

Uprooted

Even if you are living where your forefathers have lived for generations, you can bet that the smartphone you gave your child will unmoor them more effectively than any bulldozer.

In all the time I have spent with people who live in genuinely rooted cultures — rooted in time, place and spirit — whether in the west of Ireland or West Papua, I’ve generally been struck by two things. One is that rooted people are harder to control. The industrial revolution could not have happened without the enclosure of land, and the destruction of the peasantry and the artisan class. People with their feet on the ground are less easily swayed by the currents of politics, or by the fashions of urban ideologues or academic theorists.

The second observation is that people don’t tend to talk much about their “identity” — or even think about it — unless it is under threat. The louder you have to talk about it, it seems, the more you have probably lost. The range of freewheeling, self-curated “identities” thrown up by the current “culture war” shows that we are already a long way down the road that leads away from genuine culture.

Paul Kingsnorth

Plus ça change …

We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories

Cecil Rhodes, quoted by Edward Goldsmith, Development As Colonialism.

More:

Throughout the non-industrial world, it was only if such conditions could no longer be enforced, (usually when a new nationalist or populist government came to power), that formal annexation was resorted to. As Fieldhouse puts it, “Colonialism was not a preference but a last resort”.

Slowly as traditional society disintegrated under the impact of colonialism and the spread of Western values, and as the subsistence economy was replaced by the market economy on which the exploding urban population grew increasingly dependent – the task of maintaining the optimum conditions for Western trade and penetration became correspondingly easier. As a result, by the middle of the twentieth century as Fieldhouse notes: “European merchants and investors could operate satisfactorily within the political framework provided by most reconstructed indigenous states as their predecessors would have preferred to operate a century earlier but without facing those problems which had once made formal empire a necessary expedient”.

What could possibly go wrong?

Back in 1991, I saw the late Professor Derrick Bell, a well-known Critical Race Theorist from Harvard Law School, talk about how proud he was that he got his students, including a specific Jewish woman, who did not think of themselves as white, to recognize and become much more conscious of their whiteness.

What strikes me about this literature is how it ignores what seems to me to be the obvious dangers of encouraging a majority of the population to emphasize and internalize a racial identity, and, moreover, to think of themselves as having racial interests opposed to those of the non-white population. I mean, what could go wrong? It would be one thing to note the obvious dangers of increased ethnonationalism, racial conflict, and so on, and explain why the author believes the risk-reward ratio is favorable. But the literature I came across (which admittedly is not comprehensive), the possibility that this could backfire is simply ignored.

David Bernstein, “White Racial Consciousness” as a Dangerous Progressive Project – Reason.com

A relatively harmless polarity

Some parents react to a child being a National Merit Scholar by saying "Woohoo! A shot at Harvard, or Yale, or Princeton!" Others say "Woohoo! Full scholarship to State U!"

[I]n 2018-2019, more National Merit Scholars joined the Crimson Tide than enrolled in Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Michigan the University of Chicago, and virtually every other top university in the land.

David French, ‌American Higher Education, Ideologically Separate and Unequal

Miscellany

I’ll have to take a pass

I want small businesses to succeed, but having just heard about a local Bourbon & Cigar lounge, I’ll have to take a pass.

I have no problem with the bourbon, but it took me about 16 years to kick tobacco, with pipe and cigar being my favored poisons. I haven’t touched tobacco during the subsequent more-than-half of my life, and I’m not starting again.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

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