Wednesday, 12/13/17

    1. Angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house
    2. Evangelical domestic violence?
    3. What’s Wrong with Radicalism
    4. 90 Theses Short of a Full Deck
    5. Self-help Guru limitations

 

1

Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise. For we are sick at heart. Our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children and for thinking of that other Child of whom the poet Luke speaks. The infant was taken up in the arms of an old man whose tongue grew resonant and vatic at the touch of that beauty.

Fr. Daniel Berrigan, writing of the destruction of draft records as part of the Catonsville Nine. Quoted by Jim Forest, a friend and now biographer and memoirist of the late Priest. Be it remembered that Fr. Berrigan was a published poet.

More:

Is our morality in any sense superior to that of those ancient peoples who commonly exposed the newborn to death, as unwelcome aspirants to the sweet air of life? Can we help everyone walk into the full spectrum and rainbow of life, from womb to old age, so that no one is expendable? Especially in the religious pacifist community, we who believe no political idolatry can excuse the taking of life, can we help remind and symbolize the splendid range of nonviolence, from before birth to the aged? What is a human vocation anyway? Was not our first political act just getting born?

2

The good news, from Brad Wilcox‘s perspective, is that “churchgoing evangelical Protestant husbands were the least likely to be engaged in abusive behavior.”

His bad news, congruent with a surmise I published Sunday:

Although the empirical story of religion and domestic violence looks good for practicing believers, it’s much less rosy for others. My research suggests that the most violent husbands in America are nominal evangelical Protestants who attend church infrequently or not at all. The reasons are not entirely clear. It’s possible they believe Christian teaching about male headship gives them a hitting license. Or perhaps their class or culture—many of these men hail from parts of the South and Appalachia populated by working-class Scots-Irish descendants with a greater propensity for violent behavior —explains these results. Religiously mixed couples may also have a greater risk for domestic violence, especially theologically conservative men married to women who do not share their religious views. In these cases, religion is not protective against abuse.

3

David Brooks reflects on What’s Wrong with Radicalism of both left and right.

Most of our actual social and economic problems are the bad byproducts of fundamentally good trends.

Technological innovation has created wonders but displaced millions of workers. The meritocracy has unleashed talent but widened inequality. Immigration has made America more dynamic but weakened national cohesion. Globalization has lifted billions out of poverty but pummeled the working classes in advanced nations.

What’s needed is reform of our core institutions to address the bad byproducts, not fundamental dismantling.

That sort of renewal means doing the opposite of everything the left/right radicals do. It means believing that life can be more like a conversation than a war if you open by starting a conversation. It means collectively focusing on problems and not divisively destroying people. It means believing that love is a genuine force in human affairs and that you can be effective by appealing to the better angels of human nature.

4

Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy published Five Theses on Voting and the Alabama Senate Election early on Tuesday, but it’s really intended for political thought in days and years to come, not to influence the Alabama vote.

Meador admits that he’s relatively unfriendly to the American Right—a bias he offsets by publishing friends who don’t share it. That said, here’s some of his indictments of the American Right as instantiated in the GOP:

2. The GOP as a party is not actually interested in governing.

There are any number of examples you could furnish here to make the point . We might begin by the years of cynical obstruction the party engaged in under President Obama, to the point of torpedoing a healthcare agenda whose signature element was an idea taken from the Heritage Foundation! … Since the late 80s or early 90s, the GOP has been hardening and hardening, such that today the party’s agenda is divorced almost entirely from coherent governing policy.

The most recent example is the tax reform bill. First, they took steps with the tax reform bill that will, according to almost all third party organizations, increase the deficit …

That said, almost immediately after they passed this bill, … Paul Ryan turned around and said that the House agenda in 2018 is going to be cutting Medicaid and Medicare, specifically citing fear about the deficit as a reason for that agenda. … You either care about the deficit… or you don’t.

The GOP, as others have noted, has become a drunken caricatured version of Zombie Reaganism. And whatever else we might say about it, it does not have a coherent approach to governing.

3. We should not glide easily over the substantive problems with the GOP’s policies.

One of the unfortunate side effects of the Democratic support for abortion has been that many evangelicals essentially give the GOP a pass on policy issues. For many evangelicals in the past 30 years, voting Republican is a kind of natural default that is often done without taking the time to soberly reckon with the consequences of Republican policy. But because the GOP is, increasingly, unconcerned with character and unconcerned with actually governing, it is more important than ever that we learn again to understand and care about policy and factor it into our political choices.

I cannot find anything to disagree with in that because I excised what I didn’t necessarily believe.

The widely expected passage of the tax reform bill will almost undoubtedly cause significant harm to Medicare. And provocative statements by President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan declaring that “entitlement reform” will be next threatens Medicaid. Put these two together and, I think, one thing is clear: big Medicare and Medicaid cuts are coming.

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit, Ryan said in a radio interview last week. And, he said, “I think the president is understanding choice and competition works everywhere, especially in Medicare.” Last month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said: “We have to do two things. We have to generate economic growth which generates revenue, while reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future.”

(Bob Blancato, Why Big Medicare and Medicaid Cuts Are Likely)

But for an orthodox Evangelical like Meador, that’s not the whole story:

4. We should not pass over the abortion question as “a policy issue.”

That said, the larger moral emergency amongst the Democrats is their increasingly strident support for abortion. The Jones candidacy is, in fact, the perfect symbol of that emergency: According to Pew, 58% of Alabamians think that abortion should be illegal in all or most situations. Mississippi and Arkansas are the only states that top them on that metric. If there is any state where the Democrats would be incentivized to tolerate a pro-life candidate, it’d be Alabama. Yet even there, the Democrats have nominated an unapologetically pro-choice candidate of the sort that you simply did not see regularly in the mainstream Democratic party until Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy in 2008. Now this view is normal in the party, even in a state as staunchly pro-life as Alabama.

Abortion in America is a national plague and one that, alone, would be sufficient to merit severe divine judgment. Indeed, for Christians it should not seem intuitively crazy to suggest that the decline we are experiencing now may well be a product of God’s judgment on our country for the death of nearly 60 million people since 1973. To support abortion as dogmatically as the contemporary Democratic party has is not simply taking a stand on “a policy issue.”

Again, no dissent from me.

I’ve said that I think a epochal political shakeup is in the works. Beyond the possibility of the GOP becoming dominated by populist bomb-throwers and Democrats becoming a bit tent for everyone who benefits somewhat from the status quo, the I cannot imagine its contours. But my car now sports a bumper sticker for the American Solidarity Party, with some of whose policies I’m not thrilled but which avoids the abortion extremism of the Democrats and the Zombie Reaganism of the Republicans.

5

If you are one of those people in a big city who is feeling lonely or disconnected, I’ve got a nearly sure-fire way to change things. Go look for someone who is even lonelier and more hurting than you, and go be that person’s friend.

I’m always astonished that there could be so many lonely people in the city. This would seem to be an easy problem to solve; just go be each other’s friends. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. I think in part that’s because we’re always looking for relationships that are going to deliver value to us, instead of us looking for how we’re going to deliver value to others. We always want to network up. We seldom want to network down. (Though we often stay in our lanes on social media, as I noted above).

This is an area where I part ways with a lot of the secular self-help gurus. Most of those guys tend to recommend pruning the deadweight relationships out of your life, and purging the losers, energy drainers, etc. There’s a place for that if you’re in unhealthy relationships. But Christians simply can’t apply that as a rule for life. We are called to be there for those who have nothing to offer us (or at least that we think don’t have anything to offer).

(Aaron Renn in The Masculinist #16) I greatly admire Renn’s work as the Urbanophile and now on urban issues with the Manhattan Institute. I’m taking his The Masculinist newsletter with several grains of salt, but that third paragraph is right on (first two are there mostly for context).

* * * * *

As I schedule this for publication, the Alabama vote outcome is unknown, but there’s a margin that I, sitting many states to the north, have trouble imagining Jones closing. Let the festivities begin as the Senate GOP says “the 2016 vote is the verdict on Trump but the Alabama vote is not the verdict on Moore.”

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Some more on sexual harassment

In Monday’s Washington Post, Sally Kohn argues that “Sexual harassment should be treated as a hate crime”:

We have to stop seeing sexual harassment and sexual assault as some sort of flattery of women gone awry. In truth, sexual assault has nothing to do with sex, or sexuality, or flirting, or courtship, or love. Rather, sexual assault is a kind of hate. The men who gratify themselves by abusing women aren’t getting off on those women, but on power. These men don’t sexually assault women because they like women but because they despise them as subordinate creatures. We should call it misogynistic harassment and misogynistic assault, not sexual assault. These are hate crimes.

Had she stopped there, the column would have been another example of why “hate crime laws” are noxious weeds, but she didn’t stop:

I don’t mean this in the formal, legal sense. Hate crimes are already problematic ….

Whew! That’s a relief!

But then, what’s her point?

  • We need to fight the misogyny, sexism and the systemic marginalization of women and disproportionate empowerment of men. That’s what creates the society-wide dynamic in which men think they’re better than women …
  • the predictable dynamics of a society that hates women.
  • we need to see about how our boardrooms and stockrooms and classrooms and family dining rooms teach, incentivize and perpetuate misogynistic hate.
  • Employers also need to address misogynistic hate deep within corporate culture and rooted in business policies …
  • Whether we realize it or not, most men hate women. As do most women as well; studies show
  • we’ve all grown up inside the rotten barrel of a society that automatically grants men disproportionate power and privilege …
  • it’s the rotten air we’ve all learned to breathe. That’s the rot at the core of misogynistic harassment and assault — a rot within all of us, that has nothing to do with sex or affection and everything to do with hate.

My synthesis of that list of quotes is “our society is rotten, top to bottom and surface to core. Maybe even that nature is rotten.

I’ve complained that we’re not getting to the bottom of the sexual harassment revelations (and no doubt false accusations in at least a few cases), so I’ll give Kohn credit for trying to get more radical (that is, getting to the roots).

But her “woke” indictment is too sweeping to be of any use. It’s the secular counterpart to a generic Christian meta-explanation “Why? Because ‘sin,’ that’s why, dummy” or a Calvinist positing that it’s all fore-ordained to glorify God’s sovereign good pleasure.

The level of generality it too high to help. Only the “woke” will bite, and if they try to impose some specific top-down solutions to a society that is (according to Kohn) so fundamentally rotten, they’ll produce more populist backlash, more Donald Trumps, more Roy Moores.

Maybe there are a few nuggets in there, but I rate it, overall, “not helpful.”

* * * * *

Maybe I’m too pessimistic about progress on sexual harassment thus far:

There is a radical change in culture. Things which used to be tolerated by both genders are now increasingly defined as inconceivable. And I find it interesting that this case focuses on the margins: You said, but you didn’t touch. It’s a good place for the debate to be. It’s an interesting indication how the culture has changed.

(Amitai Etzioni) “Inconceivable.” Oh! Wait! That was written 26 years ago! Never mind.

(H/T Joel Mathis, who’s somewhat skeptical himself.)

* * * * *

Helpful—no, make that “Bracing”:

Sexual harassment is a filthy offense. However, it is impossible to restrain unless we acknowledge a standard of sexual morality.

To avoid conceding any such thing, workplaces have taken to defining sexual harassment as unwanted sexual attention toward another person. In other words, the point isn’t what one is actually doing, but how the other party receives it. It is entirely subjective.

Such a standard is unworkable, because the lecher cannot know whether his beastly attention is unwanted until he commits it. The rule merely encourages him to give it a try. If the other party is too intimidated to object, his behavior is not identifiable as harassment even then.

Suppose we define sexual harassment in the older way, as lewd attention toward another person. Whether attention is lewd does not depend on what the other party thinks of it.

Persisting in lewd behavior over the protests of the other person makes it still more despicable, of course. But it would have been despicable anyway.

(J. Budziszewski)

Note that the second paragraph is cognate with David French’s observation that for sex to happen, somebody must “make the ask.” French’s point was that consent is vitiated if the askor is disproportionately powerful relative to the askee.

Budziszewski is going a level deeper, and his definition would improve things. But even workplace flirtation strikes me as a problem when there’s a power imbalance.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

 

A haunting history

In the Indian state of Kerala, a 25-year-old Medical student, now named Hadiya, has had her marriage to a Muslim, and her conversion to Islam the year before that, disrupted by guardianship-type judicial proceedings brought by her Hindu parents.

[One] problem is the profound Hindu paranoia about religious conversion. For many centuries before the arrival of the British, Hindus of the lower castes converted to Islam in massive numbers to escape an oppressive religious hierarchy. Under the British, and even after independence, many hundreds of thousands converted to Christianity for the same reasons. Hindu revivalists today see an opportunity for a great and glorious reversal of that demographic loss. This has made them aggressively defensive of their faith, and of “their” people. Hadiya is but a pawn in their game.

(Tunku Varadarajan in the Wall Street Journal)

If Hindus were converting to Islam because it was less oppressive, then Hinduism is/was far more oppressive than I realized and/or Islam is/was, in its Indian setting, a far cry from the Islamist/Sharia advocates today in other parts of the world.

I can’t say much about the Hinduism side of that equation, but this is some circumstantial evidence, yet again, of how monolithic Islam isn’t—just as, sadly, there are multiple contending Christianities. Perhaps there is one true Islam in that mix, as I believe there’s one true Christianity, but I’m not competent to opine on which is it and I doubt that other Western non-Muslims are in any better position.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Shorts

Shorts:

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

 

Liars can figure

When the latest jobs report comes out Friday, look beyond the top-line number. For months now economists have suggested that the low unemployment rate—4.1% as of last month’s report—implies that America is at or near full employment. Yet the labor market is still below its prerecession peak, with about two million jobs missing. Many of those workers have joined the disability rolls. Others have simply dropped out of the workforce in favor of leisure time.

An[] indicator is the employment rate, defined as the proportion of Americans 16 and older who are working. It is always less than 100% because some people of working age are retired, in school, or in other nonmarket activity. Just before the 2007 recession, the employment rate peaked at 63.4%, meaning in that boom time over one-third of the working-age population wasn’t working. The rate reached a low of 58.2% in November 2010, and it has now recovered to 60.2%. Still, that’s more than 3 percentage points shy of the prerecession peak.

(Edward Lazear in the Wall Street Journal)

I have come to take “unemployment” rates not with a grain of salt, but with outright derision, because they don’t count those whose spirits got so crushed by a down economy that they stopped looking for work or hyped a minor disability (something they perhaps had been working through for years) into a successful disability benefits claim.

When the economy is strong, people work through their disabilities. When the economy weakens, people rationally decide to accommodate their disabilities, rather than continuing to work or to seek low-paying jobs.

(Lazear)

All Presidents manipulate numbers to make themselves look good. People dropping out of the job market during the recession Obama inherited made the recovery, through the lens of unemployment rates, look stronger than it really was. Trump is riding stock market indices, which may indicate something much more sinister than his mastery of the economic beast.

* * * * *

I would a thousand times rather have dinner with secular liberals of a certain temperament than with a group of religious conservatives who agreed with me about most things, but who have no sense of humor or irony.

(Rod Dreher)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

FrankenMoore

Mr. Franken is being run out of town by fellow Democrats in large part for their own political purposes. They want him banished so they can claim to have cleaned their own stables so they can attack Republicans who support Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and Donald Trump. Mr. Franken is political ballast who had to go.

We’d even have a little sympathy for him had he not chosen the disingenuous exit of claiming innocence but resigning anyway.

(Wall Street Journal) I’d say “it’s expedient that one should die,” but that would conjure up typology of which guilty Franken isn’t worthy.

People speak of mixed motives and say it’s all brute politics. The Democrats are positioning themselves for the high ground should Republican Roy Moore be elected. They’re aligning themselves with the passions of their base, while clearing the way for a probe into sexual-harassment accusations against the president. New York’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who led the charge that forced Mr. Franken’s departure, hopes to run for president in 2020 as a champion of women, so the move was happily on-brand. I don’t doubt all of this is true. Little in politics comes from wholly clean hands.

(Peggy Noonan, Al Franken Departs Without Grace) Noonan goes on to sound yet another call for Alabama Republicans to think twice, or thrice, about voting for Roy Moore.

“ ‘All this will I give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ ”

Matthew 4:9

The prospect of Sen. Roy Moore has been both horrifying and clarifying. It would be difficult to design a more controlled, precise test of the moral gag reflex in politics.

(Michael Gerson) For someone who is Biblically literate, that’s a really potent epigram, isn’t it? More:

In this political lifeboat dilemma, Republicans are being asked what principles they are willing to throw overboard in the interest of power. A belief that character matters in politics? Splash. A commitment to religious and ethnic inclusion? Splash. Moral outrage at credible charges of sexual predation against teen girls? Splash.

Those remaining in this lightened boat display a kind of shocking clarity. They value certain political ends — tax cuts, a conservative judiciary — more than ethical considerations. When it comes to confirming judges who oppose Roe v. Wade, the vote of a statesman is no better than the vote of a sexual predator — or, presumably, of a drug dealer or a murderer. This type of calculation admits no limiting principle.

So, in this view, it does not really matter that there is (as Ivanka Trump put it) “no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts” in Moore’s case. It does not matter that Moore’s explanations have been shifting and slippery. It does not matter that Moore has said that homosexual behavior should be illegal, or that he compared resisting gay marriage to resisting the Holocaust, or that he referred to Asians as “yellows,” or that he doesn’t believe former president Barack Obama is a natural born citizen, or that he believes there are communities living under shariah law in Illinois and Indiana.

Those willing to swallow all this — all the ignorance, cruelty, creepiness and malice — have truly shown the strength of their partisan commitment. A purity indistinguishable from mania …

The basic argument here — that ethics can be ignored in the process of doing great work in the world — is precisely what brings institutions into disrepute. The Catholic Church covered up sexual predation on the justification that it was otherwise doing great work in the world. Some evangelical Christians are now publicly playing down credible charges of sexual predation for the same reason. And they are doing tremendous damage to the reputation of the Christian church in the process ….

* * * * *

I would a thousand times rather have dinner with secular liberals of a certain temperament than with a group of religious conservatives who agreed with me about most things, but who have no sense of humor or irony.

(Rod Dreher)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.