Metrics, algorithms and more

Not politics

If you can’t measure it, it’s not "God’s Blessing"

I have been listening to Christianity Today’s podcast series The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which of necessity focuses on the doings of pastor Mark Driscoll. Episode 11, a really long one, is playing as I type.

I can’t decide if this is a complicated story or a really simple one:

  1. Much of Evangelicalism is congenitally more interested in numerical growth than in discipleship and true Christian growth.
  2. That propensity, combined with a narcissistic pastor who produced numerical growth for a number of years, completely broke down any pastoral accountability or Christlikeness.

Late in Episode 11, there was this quote:

If the goal is Church growth and not Church health, one way to do it is get a really charismatic, dynamic personality that attracts a large number of people and let him do whatever he wants. And then he’ll never leave. And the people will say "I go to so-and-so’s church. So-and-so is my pastor."
"Have you ever met him?"
"No, I never met him. He’s my pastor."

The speaker was Mark Driscoll, the disgraced Mars Hill pastor, himself.

A simple story, I think. And it’s being replayed, a bit more softly and in a lower register, throughout Evangelicalism today.

Because in much (most?) of Evangelicalism, numerical growth is per se "God’s blessing on pastor so-and-so’s ministry."

Just sayin’.

Thinking Locally

  • II. … Unless one is willing to be destructive on a very large scale, one cannot do something except locally, in a small place. Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. …
  • VIII. The balance between city and countryside is destroyed by industrial machinery, "cheap" productivity in field and forest, and "cheap" transportation. Rome destroyed the balance with slave labor; we have destroyed it with "cheap" fossil fuel.
  • XII. Industrial procedures have been imposed on the countryside pretty much to the extent that country people have been seduced or forced into dependence on the money economy. By encouraging this dependence, corporations have increased their ability to rob the people of their property and their labor. The result is that a very small number of people now own all the usable property in the country, and workers are increasingly the hostages of their employers.
  • XVII. Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found. The abstractions of sustainability can ruin the world just as surely as the abstractions of industrial economics. Local life may be as much endangered by "saving the planet" as by "conquering the world." Such a project calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know, and so will destroy, the integrity of local nature and local community.

Wendell Berry. This was written 1991, before the internet revolution, but I’m not sure he’d change a word of it today.

Guilt by free association

The only motivation for the invocation of Schlafly seems to be that, as [Linda] Greenhouse notes, she was the subject of a television mini-series in 2020, and that both were lawyers with large families. "Forty years later, more than a few people looked at Amy Coney Barrett and saw Phyllis Schlafly," Greenhouse writes, with no indication of who those people were. "And how could they not, given the similarity in the two women’s biographies?" This isn’t even guilt by association. It’s guilt by free association.

Noah Feldman, reviewing Linda Greenhouse’s new book, Justice on the Brink, via Josh Blackman.

Things one couldn’t say 30 years ago

I was and remain deeply indebted to Marx’s critique of the economic, social, and cultural order of capitalism and to the development of that critique by later Marxists.

Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue.

Caveat on the headline: the first edition of After Virtue was published in 1981. I don’t know if it included this acknowledgement. In my neck of the woods, acknowledging learning from Marx in 1981 would at least get you the side-eye. I personally didn’t learn from him until later, after Communism fell, and sensible people stopped obsessing about it.

It’s the algorithms, stupid!

I think it would be preposterous to deny that there are good things [about social media]. My favorite thing is people with rare diseases finding each other and being able to compare notes. That wasn’t possible before. But it has to be said that all of those good things could happen without this algorithmic overlord. You could have all of the good of the internet and all of the good we associate with social media, which is real, without this crazy-making business model. And that’s why I find a fallacy in a lot of thinking that’s like, well, we just have to deal with Facebook making the world darker and crazier because we need this or that. That’s not true at all.

Jaron Lanier on the Sway podcast.

It’s still the algorithm, stupid!

Readwise suggests something it thinks I might like to read at the end of each day’s review of things I have read. Friday’s suggestion was this:

Goddess worship, feminine values, and women’s power depend on the ubiquity of the image. God worship, masculine values, and men’s domination of women are bound to the written word. Word and image, like masculine and feminine, are complementary opposites. Whenever a culture elevates the written word at the expense of the image, patriarchy dominates. When the importance of the image supersedes the written word, feminine values and egalitarianism flourish.

(Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess)

Ummm, I don’t think so.

It probably is selling briskly in a niche market of which I’m not a part. But it reminds me of some crazy PhD. thesis in a world where a high proportion of sane ideas have been explored by prior doctoral candidates. After defense of the thesis, the newly-minted PhD will have become heavily, heavily invested in the thesis, howsoever absurd, and will carry it into the academy with him/her.

The most baneful effects of this pattern are in theology, where an original contribution to the literature will be very likely heretical.

Rant over.

Anything that fits the narrative will be accepted tout suite

The MSM took the ludicrous story of Jussie Smollett seriously because it fit their nutty “white supremacy” narrative. They told us that a woman was brutally gang-raped at UVA (invented), that the Pulse mass shooting was driven by homophobia (untrue) and that the Atlanta spa shooter was motivated by anti-Asian bias (no known evidence for that at all). For good measure, they followed up with story after story about white supremacists targeting Asian-Americans, in a new wave of “hate,” even as the assaults were disproportionately by African Americans and the mentally ill.

We all get things wrong. What makes this more worrying is simply that all these false narratives just happen to favor the interests of the left and the Democratic party. And corrections, when they occur, take up a fraction of the space of the original falsehoods. These are not randos tweeting false rumors. They are the established press.

Andrew Sullivan, decrying the deceitfulness of mainstream media — to which media, nevertheless, sensible people have no good alternative.

(I increasingly think we do have a good alternative: tune out the news almost entirely. What good does it do me in Indiana, for instance, to have any opinion whatever about the interaction of Kentucky Catholic School boys and an older native American in DC?)

Politics of a sort

Summit for Democracy

Tensions are indeed rising between the U.S. and China, but that’s not primarily because the former is a democracy and the latter is authoritarian. It’s because America is a global hegemon that projects power into China’s near abroad, and China is a rapidly rising power seeking to expand its influence across East Asia. That places the two countries on a collision course, and whether they’ll prove able to avoid armed conflict will have very little to do either country’s form of government.

Damon Linker, The anachronistic vision behind Biden’s Summit for Democracy.

Biden’s vision may be anachronistic, but he’s not alone in that.

"Polite" has never been so flexible a term

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted out the 13 representatives’ office phone numbers and urged Americans to “politely say how they feel about these traitor Republicans voting to pass Joe Biden’s Communist agenda.”

Morning Dispatch, ‌Did ‘Republican Traitors’ Save the Filibuster?.

MTG’s "Politely address traitors who voted for Communism" does not pass the plausible deniability test when things like this were the response:

They did. “You’re a f—ing piece of s— traitor,” one voter said in a voicemail left for GOP Rep. Fred Upton, vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus. “I hope you f—ing die. I hope your f—ing family dies. I hope everybody in your f—ing staff dies, you f—ing piece of f—ing s—. Traitor!”

Even National Review, in a descent almost as steep as that of the Claremont Institute, was outraged at Republicans voting for the the infrastructure bill.

I. Don’t. Get. It.


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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