Sunday Edification

It’s a commonplace, I think, that if you don’t have a word for something, it’s hard to think about it.

Fr. Stephen Freeman points out that we have no good English words for three things vital to Orthodox spirituality: nous (adverb noetic), hesychia, and nepsis. The consequence of our ignorance of the nous is that we try to use the wrong "tools" to know God:

… [W]e have narrowed the focus of our attention and are probably among the least aware human beings to have ever lived.

Our narrowed focus is largely confined to two aspects: the critical faculty and emotions. The critical faculty mostly studies for facts, compares, judges, measures, and so forth. Emotions run through the varieties of pleasure and pain, largely pairing with the critical faculty to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. This way of experiencing the world is largely the result of living in a consumerist culture. We not only consume things – we are constantly under a barrage of information geared solely towards consumption. We consume everything. Information is more than information – it is information for the purpose of consumption. Even religious notions are governed by consumption. We “like” or “don’t like” Church. We find it useful, or of no interest. People are even known to “shop” for Churches.

The nous is not a faculty of consumption. It is a faculty of perception, particularly of spiritual perception. The modern struggle to experience God often fails because it is carried out by consumers. God, the true and living God, cannot be consumed, nor can He be known by the tools of consumption. Consumerist Christianity peddles experience and ideas about God. It has little or nothing to do with God Himself.

I can recommend no better Sunday reading than the full blog post, ‌A Noetic Life.

Legal defense funds, Bitcoin, and other rat-holes

January 6 Legal Defense Funds

If you are contributing for the legal defense of January 6 rioters because you think everyone is entitled to a good legal defense against criminal charges, I salute your intentions but caution you that some pretty fishy lawyers are stepping forward and may be snorting your money up their noses.

If you are contributing for the legal defense of January 6 rioters because you think they are patriot heroes being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, then by all means fulfill your evolutionary destiny by giving generously — maybe your entire IRA — and forget what I just said about fishy lawyers. I probably was lying.

Since when did the Italians become such prudes?

I’ve met a surprising number of Italian conservatives – not think-tank intellectuals, who are my usual crowd here, but normies – who startled me with their anti-Americanism. It’s the same kind of thing: they blame American pop culture for debasing their kids. They’re right to, in my judgment. What startled me, though, was how this sometimes went hand in hand with sympathy for Vladimir Putin’s government. The argument seemed to be that whatever Putin’s faults, at least he won’t force us to be woke. This was the same thing I heard from some Hungarians when I expressed concern about Orban’s flirting with the Chinese. Personally, I am far more worried about Orban and the Chinese than I am about Orban and anything else. I do note, however, that many ordinary Hungarians seem to be open to the Chinese for the same reason that Italians are open to the Russians: because they fear American cultural hegemony more than they fear whatever Russia and China stand for.

This is not something I had imagined before going to Hungary. And frankly, it blows my mind that this kind of thing is never reported on in the US media. The American people have no idea how much our country’s progressivist pop culture disgusts people in other countries, even European countries. Of course, the Hungarian woman I spoke to ended up conceding that her son’s generation may well be lost on these questions – which, if true, means that Hungary, as a democracy, will eventually become a Magyar Sweden. That might be inevitable, but I certainly understand why people like her – and she’s a Fidesz supporter – are angry about it.

Is Dreher wrong? Are we beloved? Are complaints about our pop culture some kind of prudery? From Italians?

Liberal Democracy versus traditional moral and cultural values.

Just as communism was not possible with families adhering to the feudal-patriarchal system, so liberal democracy is believed to be incomplete and unsuccessful with schools respecting traditional moral and cultural authoritarianism. The arguments are analogous. Just as a person coming from a noncommunist community could not become a full-fledged, dedicated, and efficient citizen of the communist state, so a graduate of a traditional school will never be a faithful and reliable citizen of the liberal-democratic state.

Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy.

So far, liberal democracy has not shut us down, but there’s battle going on for the soul of democracy. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." (Paraphrasing John Philpot Curran, who I have reason to believe is the true source of this oft-misattributed wisdom.)

Cybercurrency

Bitcoin, for the uninitiated, is a technology that purports to solve a host of problems with old-fashioned national currencies. It is designed to safeguard wealth against the depredations of inflation, public authorities and financial intermediaries.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Some products become popular because they’re useful. Bitcoin is popular despite being mostly useless. Its success rests on the simple fact that the value of a Bitcoin has increased dramatically since its introduction in 2009, making some people rich and inspiring others to hope they can ride the rocket, too.

It’s not really a virtual currency at all. It’s virtual gold, a vehicle for speculative investment made possible by some interesting technical innovations. It’s the absurd apotheosis of our financialized economy, an asset unmoored from any productive purpose. In the beginning were bonds and then synthetic bonds and then Bitcoin.

Binyamin Appelbaum, ‌Bitcoin Cosplay Is Getting Real

Bitcoin first really caught my attention when criminals were demanding ransoms paid in Bitcoin. "Oh, a special super-secret money for criminals. What won’t they think of next?"

But James Poulos now proposes that Bitcoin (and other cybercurrencies) can protect thought-criminals from the emerging American "soft social credit" system.

I can imagine myself a thought-criminal. Heck, I probably already am a thought-criminal since I believe some of the things one just doesn’t say. But I still don’t understand cybercurrency, and I tend to agree with Binyamin Appelbaum about it.

And anyway, if I’m forbidden to buy or sell because I’m a thought-criminal, how am I going to find sellers and buyers, respectively, who are criminal enough to do business with me but who insist on being paid in Bitcoin or Ethereum or something?

Maybe I’m out of my depth even trying to write about crypto, but I have no practical doubt that, failing to understand it, I’d be well-advised to stay the hell away from it.

The job of tenured federal judges — higher and lower

If anyone ever asks a Justice if they are concerned with public perception of the Supreme Court, the answer is simple: "No. I focus on my job. People can perceive the Court however they choose." The existence of life tenure presupposes the Court will be criticized. And life tenure is designed to insulate jurists from those criticisms. Often, it is difficult to resist that pressure. Indeed, protestors are demonstrating outside Justice Kavanaugh’s house! But judicial independence is essential to the judicial role. And preserving judicial independence is inconsistent with trying to monitor public sentiments about the Court.

Josh Blackman, Did Justice Barrett Say She Was “Concerned About Public Perception of [the] Supreme Court”? – Reason.com

Darkness — but a glimmer of dawn

[T]hanks to the lies of Donald Trump and the self-serving gullibility of millions of Republican voters, the GOP has actively embraced the position that American elections are systematically and unfairly rigged against them.

This is hands down the most dangerous political development in recent American history — a civic time bomb placed smack dab at the center of American democracy.

Damon Linker.

This was written of the California gubernatorial recall.

Important update: Though California Republicans were screaming ‘fraud’ as soon as the recall count on Gov. Gavin Newsom was running against them, their candidate — black conservative radio talk-show host Larry Elder — was quick to concede the loss.

As they said about this on the Bulwark podcast, it’s a heck of a note to have to congratulate a Republican for acting in accordance with long-settled norms, but congratulations, Mr. Elder. May your tribe increase.

Is Elizabeth Holmes on trial because she’s a "she"?

The Sexism That Led to the Elizabeth Holmes Trial
In tech, brash male founders are allowed to overpromise and underdeliver, time and again. Not so much for women.

Interesting take on the Theranos saga.

Bottom line is that the tech bros who overpromise and underdeliver, time and again, should also be in the dock.

Stress-testing Covid vaccine religious objections

In Arkansas, about 5 percent of the staff at the privately run Conway Regional Health System has requested religious or medical exemptions.

The hospital responded by sending employees a form that lists a multitude of common medicines—including Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Preparation H, and Sudafed—that it said were developed through the use of fetal cell lines.

The form asks people to sign it and attest that “my sincerely held religious belief is consistent and true and I do not use or will not use” any of the listed medications.

In a statement, Conway Regional Health President and CEO Matt Troup said: “Staff who are sincere … should have no hesitancy with agreeing to the list of medicines listed.”

‌Religious Exemption Requests Spike as Employers Mandate Vaccine

Because of my many decades as an ardent supporter of religious freedom, I feel liberated to say that my patience is being taxed by vaccine objectors with implausible claims that their weird tribalism is really "religious."

I know, abusus non tollit usum. And confabulation to explain one’s visceral reaction is not unique to religion. But bullshit exegesis of scripture and selective objection to benefitting from one type of medical research will give religious freedom a worse name than it has already gotten by legitimate (but countercultural) claims.

In related news, Yasmin Tayag at the Atlantic wants us to Stop Calling It a ‘Pandemic of the Unvaccinated’. For my money, her best argument is this paragraph:

It’s important to differentiate between the vaccine hesitant, who are on the fence for legitimate reasons, and the vaccine resistant, who flat-out don’t support vaccines. By one estimate, 8 percent of the U.S. population consistently identifies as anti-vaxxers. Bacon said there’s no use trying to persuade them. It’s the former group we should be careful not to push away with divisive policies, because they are key to getting the pandemic under control.

She fails in the end to dissuade me from calling a spade a spade. The vaccine-hesitant, too, are part of the pandemic of the unvaccinated.

No true leftist …

[T]hinking you know best does not qualify for making a better world. Unless you are willing to debate your ideas openly, you are by definition an authoritarian conservative.

The modern-day book-banners, no-platformers, deniers of free speech and opponents of universalism in the name of identity politics are not of the left, the liberal left or even the New Left of the 1960s.

Tor Hundloe, Emeritus professor, University of Queensland. I’m a bit surprised that an Emeritus Professor would commit a No True Scotsman fallacy, but there it is.

Elsewhere in this week’s Economist letters to the editor regarding last week’s take-down of wokeism was this:

One thinks of Michael Macy’s sociology experiments illustrating how, when faced with an illogical group consensus, individuals tend to publicly agree and even condemn dissenters, while privately expressing concern.

Unsupported theories, such as those of the illiberal left, that have taken root in societies require brave individuals to break the cycle and express their disagreement, regardless of the condemnation. But someone else can go first.

Of course, the first paragraph is as true of the Trumpified Right as it is of the woke Left, but the really priceless thing is that last sentence, and that the letter was, indeed, Anonymous.

Insignificant yet … telling

And there are the million goofy things that are insignificant and yet somehow feel . . . telling. The Met Gala the other night showed the elite of a major industry literally losing the thread. Google the pictures. It was a freak show. There was no feeling of a responsibility to present to the world a sense of coherence or elegance, to show a thing so beautiful it left the people who saw it aspiring to something they couldn’t even name. All this was presided over by a chic and cultivated woman who is cunning and practical. If freaky is in she’s going freaky deaky to the max. Follow the base, even if it’s sick. Do not lead. Leading is impossible now.

That’s what I see with leaders all over America’s business life. What follows the lost thread is go-with-the-flow. Even when you know it isn’t going anywhere good. Especially when it’s going nowhere good.

Peggy Noonan, ‌America Has Lost the Thread

What’s the plural of "conundrum"?

  • Why are arts expected to pay for their own venues while taxpayers pay for sports venues through tax abatements and other gimmicks?
  • Rooting for a professional sports team, a business, is like rooting for Coke against Pepsi.
  • Why is cock fighting illegal while boxing and MMA are legal?

(H/T Fran Liebowitz, Pretend it’s a City, on Netflix)

Give them better dreams

Little kids should not dream of being YouTubers when they grow up.

Give them better dreams: become like your grandma, your preacher, your teacher, like Dorothy Sayers or John Lewis or Yo-Yo Ma.

Do something beautiful with your life, even if you think no one’s looking.
— Jessica Hooten Wilson (@HootenWilson) September 16, 2021

I discovered Jessica roughly two years ago as a speaker at a symposium. She was astonishingly good — especially for (then) a professor at a "university" I attended for three semesters and left shaking the dust from my feet. She also was very conversant with, and friendly toward, Russian Orthodox giants like Dostoyevsky.

Of course, it’s small surprise that she left there and, I have reason to think, no longer adheres to the Evangelical Protestantism for which said "university" stands. Alas, I think she swam the Tiber rather than the Bosphorus, and not just because she went to the University of Dallas.

Is there nothing Fox News won’t stoop to?

I had no idea that anything could make me like Fox News less, but they found something:

Inbox: Piers Morgan is joining Fox News

Piers Morgan will join News Corp and FOX News Media in a global deal, launching a new TV show in early 2022. Morgan will also join The Sun and the New York Post as a columnist.
— Aidan McLaughlin (@aidnmclaughlin)
September 16, 2021

Ameliorative measure

If English Departments were shut down and their students given jobs driving cabs and given the classics to read while they wait for fares, this would be a step forward.

Garrison Keillor, ‌ Women: don’t read this, for men only

A periodic sorta invitation

A friend on micro.blog has new business cards describing himself as "Master Generalist." He says it’s easier than “Writer, Speaker, Technology Consultant, Home Restorer, Circus Rigger and a few other significant things I’m leaving off because brevity.”

No, he’s not typical. But micro.blog is a fascinating place which disproves the common judgment that social media are inherently toxic.


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.

War, education, leisure, Soros, Roe and more

Seven Days on the Roads of France, June 1940

Within the past few days, I finished Seven Days on the Roads of France, June 1940 by Vladimir Lossky. I should get to Lossky’s theological masterpiece, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, within the next few months.

Meanwhile, selected highlights from his account of fleeing Paris ahead of the Nazis, hoping to enlist and fight them. As indicated by my added emphasis, I thought his reflections on war, in the chapter "Day 1," were timely as, by some accounts, we’re headed into dark times or worse:

Preface to the original French edition of 1998, by Nicholas Lossky

To begin with, it must be made clear that for this Russian Orthodox theologian – who remained very authentically Russian in many respects – France was not, as it was for many émigrés, simply a land of asylum. To be sure, it was that; but above all, in this case it was a land chosen quite deliberately. Indeed his great love for the country began in childhood. It came first of all from his governess ….

On the notion of dogma from an Orthodox perspective, [Olivier] Clément writes as follows: “For Orthodoxy, Lossky insists, a dogma is not an attempt to explain a mystery or even an attempt to make it more comprehensible. Rather, it seeks to encircle the ineffable and to compel the mind to surpass itself by a clear minded sense of wonder and adoration. […] Thus a dogma is not a solution to a problem but the protection of a mystery, in the Christian sense of Revelation of the unfathomable, the inexhaustible, the personal. In defining a dogma, the sole aim of the church is to preserve the possibility for each Christian of participating in revelation with his whole being; that is, of communicating with the very life of the One who reveals Himself.“

Day 1: Thursday 13th June 1940

Those who resigned themselves to staying in their homes, their streets, their quartier, their city – now become a prey to enemy invasion – were right. Equally right were those whose conscience dictated that they should set out on the great adventure of the open road.

“We shall conquer,“ we were told, “because we are the strongest, because we are the richest. We shall conquer because we have the will to do so.“ As if bons d’armement in themselves could bring about victory. As if war were nothing other than a vast industrial undertaking, a mere matter of capital. Such a war – a war of equipment and weaponry, inhuman, materialistic – yes, we have no doubt lost such a war. We must have the courage to say so. What is more, France could never have won such a war. Otherwise, she would no longer have been France, preeminently humane. If she had won such a war – one without a human face, a war of equipment (the kind of war being presented to us) – she would have lost the most precious thing she possesses, the essential characteristic of her very being. She would have lost that which makes her France, that which differentiates her from every other country on earth. (emphasis added)

There was another heresy, too -spiritual, this time – one which sought to superimpose itself on the materialism of the ‘war of equipment’ argument, to infuse into it an artificial soul. This was the ideology of a ‘holy war’, ‘crusade’. It came in several varieties: the struggle for democracy, for freedom, for human dignity, for western culture, for Christian civilization, even for divine justice itself. I say ‘heresy’ because such ideas, often just in themselves, were not based on lived experience. They did not well up from a deep, wholesome spring, which alone could have transformed them into ideas having a motivating force. Moreover, such words rang false, like all abstractions. They rang false above all since they sought to present as absolutes, concepts and values that are secondary, relative … No, war is not waged for absolute values. This has been the mistake of all so-called ‘religious’ wars, and the main cause of the atrocities associated with them. Nor is it waged for relative value that one endeavors to turn into absolutes, nor yet for abstract concepts which have been lent a religious character. Even if one were to set against the idol of a ‘pure race’ the more benign idol of Law, Liberty and Humanity, they are still idols – concepts that have been personified and made into absolutes. This would still result in a war of idols. The only just war – in so far as a war may ever be styled just – is a war for relative values, for values known to be relative. A war in which man – a being destined for an absolute end – sacrifices himself spontaneously and without hesitation for a relative value that he knows to be relative: his native soil, his land, his country. It is the very sacrifice that acquires a value that is absolute, incorruptible, eternal. (emphasis added)

Day 3: Saturday June 15th

Suddenly I was struck by the sound of a hoarse, muffled voice. I was not alone, after all. A tall old man with a stoop, wearing an old-fashioned fin-de-siècle frock coat, was waving his arms about, threatening and cursing someone. He had a fine face, the look of a well bred provincial gentleman, a devout and God-fearing type. I drew nearer to see who he was so angry with. He was going round the cathedral, stopping before each statue of a saint. It was to them that he was addressing his curses, his cries, his threats. “Alors, quoi?” Damn it all, then! Don’t you want to help us? Can’t you help us?“

I left the cathedral, quite overcome. You really need to have a faith that was deep and sincere, a genuine inner freedom before God and his Saints, to be able to talk to them like that. No, he wasn’t a madman. Rather, a noble Christian soul, seized with despair and bitterness, pouring out his pain to the Saints, who remained motionless and silent, guides of the divine ways that are so painful for us to follow.

Day 4: Sunday 16th June

[R]evolutionaries are always in the wrong since, in their juvenile fervour for everything new, in their hopes for a better future and a way of life built on justice, they always base themselves on theories that are abstract and artificial, making a clean sweep of living tradition which is, after all, founded on the experience of centuries.

Conservatives are always wrong, too, despite being rich in life experience, despite being shrewd and prudent, intelligent and sceptical. For, in their desire to preserve ancient institutions that have with stood the test of time, they decry the necessity of renewal, and man’s yearning for a better way of life.

The Royal Court, grouped round the Imperial Chapel and, seized with theological fervour, sought to ensure the triumph of a novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. Pressure from the Frankish empire caused this strange teaching to triumph in the West. After resisting for a while, the Popes were in the end obliged to alter the traditional, sacred text of the Creed. From then on, schism from the Eastern Patriarchates became inevitable. (Byzantium, on the other hand, never experienced such an extreme case of Caesaropapism.)

Day 5: Monday 17th June

Faced with Latin Christianity and its tendency to abstractions, to homogenization and sterilization; faced with a pagan and only too concrete pan-Germanism founded upon a mystique of “blood and soil“ that seeks to refashion the world according to its creed, France could then become a focus of regeneration for Western Christianity in a Europe that is becoming de-Christianized.

"Not very concerned with how much money you make when you grow up … where you go to college"

Genuine red-pilling from a classical educator:

Welcome to your sophomore humanities class.

This year, we will be reading early modern literature, which is roughly the seventeenth century through the nineteenth century. I have some fairly lofty goals for this class and I hope you do, as well. To be honest, when this class finishes nine months from now, I won’t know if I have accomplished any of those goals. I will need more time. Perhaps when you are forty or so, which is how old I am, we will both know whether this class has done you any good.

It will take at least this long to determine if I have accomplished my goals because I am not very concerned with how much money you make when you grow up, which means that I am not all that interested in where you go to college. Many of my students still labor under the delusional belief that if they can just get into the right college, they will be successful. If you are primarily concerned about getting good grades so you can get into the right college, you’re worrying about the wrong things, because beyond the age of 22 or 23, what matters is not grades, but whether you’re good at doing something that matters and whether you can be content doing that thing for the next thirty years. If the only thing you’re good at doing is getting good grades, your life is going to fall apart after you graduate college ….

Joshua Gibbs. Read it all.

We get leisure all wrong

Leisure is useful—but only insofar as it remains leisure. Once that time is viewed as a means to improve employee morale and higher growth, then leisure loses the very quality that makes it so potent. As Pieper wrote, “Leisure is not there for the sake of work.” Leisure is doing things for their own sake, to pursue what one wants. We should fight the urge to reduce it to a productivity hack.

We yearn to “make the most of” our free time, so we are constantly giving our evenings, weekends, and vacations over to our self-advancement. Labor-market precarity and the growth of the gig economy have sharpened these incentives. Pure leisure now feels like pure indulgence.

If leisure is justified by its contribution to other social ends—innovation, productivity, growth—it stands to lose any perceived worth as soon as it comes into conflict with those goals. An eventual clash between the two will always be settled in favor of work. The result is 768 million hours of unused vacation days. And even when employees take time off, they feel an urge to log in to their work email between dips in the ocean.

Krzysztof Pelc, ‌Why Your Leisure Time Is in Danger

When all your colleagues are, by definition, prickly progressives

George Soros’ Open Society Foundations are restructuring:

The tensions boiled over at the all-staff meeting in early May. On the eve of the voluntary buyouts, executives took part in a video call, in which staff members shared their misgivings and grievances.

After looking at a series of slides prepared by Bridgespan, which painted the organization as less streamlined than Gates or the Ford Foundation, with large numbers of staff approving lots of small grants, employees called out executives for their handling of the restructuring, according to several staff members who participated in the call and transcripts of both the video call and the simultaneous chat, where things got even rougher.

One commenter in the group chat called the process “unaccountable, and unscientific.” Another referred to the “frustration with respect to racism and sexism and other forms of oppression that are alive and well within the institution.”

Lie down with progressives, rise up with vague charges against you.

How to overturn Roe

“It grinds my gears when people say what’s been done here is genius, novel or particularly clever — it was only successful because it had a receptive audience in the Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit,” said Khiara M. Bridges, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, referring to the conservative-leaning federal appeals court that also weighed in on the Texas law.

“If you want to overturn Roe v. Wade, you create a law that is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s precedent and someone will challenge it and you work it through the federal courts,” she said. “You don’t create a law that is designed to evade judicial review.”

The Conservative Lawyer Behind the Texas Abortion Law – The New York Times

The second paragraph is, in a nutshell, why the Texas law is a sideshow and the real action (currently) is the Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks.

Ah, California!

“Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra,” declares Assembly Bill 338, which passed both chambers by wide margins and now awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature. None of that is true. While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people. The lawmakers behind the bill drew their ideas from a single tendentious book written by journalist Elias Castillo.

Abp. Salvatore J. Cordileone and José H. Gomez, ‌Don’t Slander St. Junípero Serra

This sort of self-important nonsense, California, as much or more than envy, is why the rest of us make fun of you.

Shorts

  • Because of the divorce from the historic Church, Evangelicalism has sought for a new way to satisfy the need for materiality. This is why such believers have welcomed pop music and rock-n-roll into their churches. It is why emotion is mistaken for spirituality. It is why sentiment is substituted for holiness. Sincere feeling is the authenticator. Instead of icons of Christ, whose piercing stare calls you to repentance, the Evangelical can go to a Christian bookstore and buy a soft-focus, long-haired picture of Jesus. He’s a “nice” Jesus, but it is hard to believe that He is God. (Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy)
  • The project, begun at the time of Constantine, to enable Christians to share power without being a problem for the powerful, had reached its most impressive fruition. If Caesar can get Christians there to swallow the “Ultimate Solution,” and Christians here to embrace the bomb, there is no limit to what we will not do for the modern world. (Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens)
  • The perfect fictitious charity benefit, for "Rich People Who Wish To Help Poor People Without Having To Be In Physical Contact With Them," joins up with the perfect limerick for a well-nigh perfect blog post from Garrison Keillor.
  • Seekers of religious exemptions to vaccine mandates demonstrate that there is literally no limit to what folly you can "prove" from motivated reasoning recast as "personal bible study." Vaccine Resisters Seek Religious Exemptions. But What Counts as Religious?
  • It is a signal characteristic of “hermeneutic philosophy” to say we can no longer believe in something rather than arguing that it is false. (R.R. Reno, Return of the Strong Gods)
  • As parishioners, we believed that Christ had come to give us abundant life, yet the nature of that abundant life was conceived as simply more of what we already had as pleasure-seeking, comfort-loving Americans. (Robin Mark Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic)

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.

No Middle Ground

No Middle Ground on Some Things

Kevin D. Williamson’s maiden guest column at the New York Times builds skillfully to his conclusion:

The Trump administration was grotesque in its cruelty and incompetence. But without the coup attempt, it might have been possible to work out a modus vivendi between anti-Trump conservatives and Mr. Trump’s right-wing nationalist-populists. Conservatives were not happy with Mr. Trump’s histrionics, but many were reasonably satisfied with all those Federalist Society judges and his signature on Paul Ryan’s tax bill. Trump supporters, who were interested almost exclusively in theater, enjoyed four years of Twitter-enabled catharsis even as the administration did very little on key issues like trade and immigration.

In the normal course of democratic politics, people who disagree about one issue can work together when they agree about another. We can fight over taxes or trade policy.

But there isn’t really any middle ground on overthrowing the government. And that is what Mr. Trump and his allies were up to in 2020, through both violent and nonviolent means — and continue to be up to today.

When it comes to a coup, you’re either in or you’re out. The Republican Party is leaning pretty strongly toward in. That is going to leave at least some conservatives out — and, in all likelihood, permanently out.

Kevin D. Williamson, ‌The Trump Coup Is Still Raging.

Better late than never, Kevin. I was out at the delusion of "ending tyranny in our world."

The Woke Left gets pushed back

It was a month or so ago, I think, that I first encountered the hopeful suggestion that the woke Left had scored its victories largely via the element of surprise: many people thought wokeness was just another silly campus fad that would stay on campus, but like a zoonotic pathogen, it leapt into a "real world" that had acquired no immunity to it.

The hopeful part is that immunity is surging and that wokesters are starting to get smacked down without any government action. The antibodies are kicking in:

[I]f we can’t intellectually engage people on how critical theory is palpably wrong in its view of the world, we can sure show how brutal and callous it is — and must definitionally be — toward individual human beings in the pursuit of utopia. [HBO’s] “The White Lotus” is thereby a liberal work of complexity and art.

Another sign of elite adjustment: both The Atlantic and The New Yorker have just published long essays that push back against woke authoritarianism and cruelty. Since both magazines have long capitulated to rank illiberalism, this is encouraging …

Anne Applebaum links the woke phenomenon to previous moral panics and mob persecutions, which is where it belongs. She too begins to notice the obliteration of due process, individual rights, and mercy among her crusader peers …

[BLOCK-QUOTE OMITTED]

Applebaum’s Atlantic piece is a good sign from a magazine that hired and quickly purged a writer for wrong think, and once held a town meeting auto-da-fé to decide which writers they would permanently anathematize as moral lepers.

Similarly, it was quite a shock to read in The New Yorker a fair and empathetic profile of an academic geneticist, Kathryn Paige Harden, who acknowledges a role for genetics in social outcomes. It helps that Harden is, like Freddie DeBoer, on the left …

The profile also puts the following woke heresy into the minds of the Upper West Side: “Building a commitment to egalitarianism on our genetic uniformity is building a house on sand.” And this: “Genetic diversity is mankind’s most precious resource, not a regrettable deviation from an ideal state of monotonous sameness.” The New Yorker is also telling its readers that there are around “thirteen hundred sites on the genome that are correlated with success in school. Though each might have an infinitesimally small statistical relationship with the outcome, together they can be summed to produce a score that has predictive validity: those in the group with the highest scores were approximately five times more likely to graduate from college than those with the lowest scores.”

All of this is empirically true. But if this is empirically true, critical theory, which insists that absolutely nothing but white supremacist society leads to inequalities, is dead in the water. Refuted. Proven false by reality. Finished — even as it continues to be the premise of other countless pieces The New Yorker has run in the past few years …

And then, in the better-late-than-never category, The Economist, the bible for the corporate elite, has just come out unapologetically against the Successor Ideology, and in favor of liberalism … Money quote: “Progressives replace the liberal emphasis on tolerance and choice with a focus on compulsion and power. Classical liberals conceded that your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Today’s progressives argue that your freedom to express your opinions stops where my feelings begin.”

Andrew Sullivan, ‌Emerging Cracks In The Woke Elite

I had already read all but the New Yorker piece, and even on that I had read Freddie DeBoer’s comments. And Sullivan continues with more, if more minor, examples of the shifting tide. This is really a hopeful sign.

Now is there any way to smack down the intolerant Right (see previous item), which rivals the woke left in contempt for democracy and which appears more prepared to act in violent paramilitary operations when it doesn’t deliver what they want? (See previous item.)

Hopeful pessimism

Scialabba’s way of reading [Wendell] Berry is not uncommon. As with others whose thinking is hard to locate on the political map, we tend to assume that they must be proposing another map. On this view, Berry’s suggestion to Think Little must be a strategy by which to achieve a better world. Accordingly, we see the dichotomy between Thinking Big and Thinking Little as an alternative theory of how change works: not that way, but this way.

It is true that Berry, albeit always an urgent and sometimes an angry writer, does not hitch his prescriptions to the prospects of success. He is something of a hopeful pessimist. And so his “advice,” as Scialabba calls it, though not a strategy for winning, can be described as offering a vision for living with integrity whether or not one wins.

Brad East, ‌When Losing Is Likely


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.

Politically homeless (and more)

Where is my political home?

David French was at the top of his game as a socio-legal pundit Sunday. It’s hard to know what to excerpt, and you really should read it all.

But excerpt I feel I must.

After registering his concerns with the new Texas abortion law, he turns "meta":

I don’t think most Americans appreciate how much the debate over abortion has changed in the last thirty years of American life. Two changes are particularly important. One is profoundly negative, and the other is extraordinarily positive.

First, the legal and political debate over abortion has become purely partisan at exactly the time when our nation’s profound polarization means that party affiliation is becoming central to millions of Americans’ personal identities.

Thirty years ago there was a robust pro-life wing of the Democratic Party. Even 15 years ago, when I moved back to Tennessee, my congressman was a proudly pro-life Democrat. My heavily Republican district voted him out in 2010. It preferred a “pro-life” candidate who faced evidence that he tried to pressure a girlfriend to abort their child and supported his ex-wife’s two abortions.

And now? Elected pro-life Democrats are very, very hard to find. Even worse, as the parties move away from each other on a host of important political issues—and as the GOP continues to embrace Donald Trump and his ethos and contains an ever-expanding coalition of cranks and radicals—it is increasingly difficult to ask Democrats to lend any aid and comfort to a party that they find unmoored from even basic decency, integrity, and truth itself.

Or, as I’ve heard so many believers from many faiths say: “I’m pro-life, and I want the law to protect the unborn. I welcome refugees. I want to address the contemporary reality and persistent legacy of racism. I want politicians to be people of good character and fundamental integrity. Where do I go? Where is my home?

(Emphasis added) Abortion was not my personal breaking point with the GOP, but I spent at least a decade politically homeless, and my new home is a third party (and ipso facto quixotic).

Third Commandment?! Is that old thing still around!?

My plea to my fellow Christians: If you insist on refusing the vaccine, that is your right. But please do not bring God into it. Doing so is the very definition of violating the Third Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

Curtis Chang, Christian Exemptions to Vaccine Mandates Lack Sound Basis – The New York Times

The reader, the author, and the young traveler

I had meant to live like a tramp or a pilgrim or a wandering scholar, sleeping in ditches and ricks and only consorting with birds of the same feather. But recently I had been strolling from castle to castle, sipping Tokay out of cut-glass goblets and smoking pipes a yard long with archdukes instead of halving gaspers with tramps. These deviations could hardly be condemned as climbing: this suggests the dignity of toil, and these unplanned changes of level had come about with the effortlessness of ballooning.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water, which recounts one leg of his walk across Europe — this time, central Europe — in the 1930s, before storm clouds of war were mounting.

The passages describing his sojourns among the patricians of Middle Europe are among the happiest in the book, but among the saddest too: for we know, as the author knows, but as the young traveller never did, that all that happy, reckless and cultivated society, which answered his knocks at the door with such instant generosity, was doomed. Within Paddy’s own lifetime, it would be eliminated.

(Introduction to the book)

Unintended Consequences

Spotted:

Did Texas Hand Biden a Lifeline?
By Matthew Continetti The unpredictable politics of abortion in 2022 and 2024.

Good question. Since I let my National Review subscription lapse, I don’t know Continetti’s answer for certain. But Afghanistan was a blow to Biden, until our amnesiac press decided that the quirkey-to-the-Nth-degree Texas abortion law would sell more papers, get more clicks.

I’m no longer privy to high-level pro-life litigation strategy as I once was, but I very much doubt that any law like Texas’ was a part of it. This was Texas being contrary, independent Texas!.

Another possible unintended consequence of the Texas heartbeat law: if the Supreme Court upholds Mississippi’s ban on abortions after the 15th week in its upcoming Dobbs case (which would put us in line with Western Europe), the result may be hard to portray as extreme.

Takes a village

Not the village I’ve seen …

I have seen the village, and it don’t want it raising my child.

Spotted by my wife on Pinterest

… and sure as hell not Los Angeles!

It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.”

Cecily Myart-Cruz, head of United Teachers Los Angeles

Astonishingly, the reporter on this story, Jason McGahan, said of this woman

the following:

She doesn’t look much like a firebrand. Short and stout, with sparkling brown eyes, brightly painted pink lips, and copper-red, shoulder-length hair, she’s a Central Casting version of a kindly, cuddly school teacher.

McGahan must have gone to a really tough school. She looks to me like a Central Casting version of a villainous (villainess?) woman pro rassler.

Fundamentalism then and now

I am thinking about moving to Texas so that I can be in open disagreement with the powers that be and express this freely, instead of living in colonies of liberal progressives where I must put tape over my mouth except when among close personal friends. Freedom of speech is watched closely where I live and we all know it. “What exactly is it you want to say that you can’t?” you wonder. It is something that, were I to say it, I’d be kicked out of the Democratic Party and my library card would be confiscated and I’d be barred from Amazon and Starbucks and the Episcopal church would make me sit in the Penitents’ Corner. So I’ll keep it to myself.

I grew up fundamentalist so I’m familiar with the drill. We couldn’t join marching band because we believed that rhythmic movement would lead to dancing, which then led to fornication. We never sang uptempo hymns, only dirges. Women kept silent in church because the sound of their voices would lead men to think impure thoughts. So the rigidity of progressive righteousness is familiar to me. I can live with it. I know which friends can be trusted and which cannot.

Garrison Keillor.

I’m not so sure, Gary. Merely acknowledging that today’s progressives are every bit as prim and uptight as yesterday’s fundamentalists might get you cancelled.

Trump redux

I sure hope I’ll be able to drop the subject if the Orange One rules out a 2024 run, but meantime some reminders are in order:

Inglorious Bastards

The Bulwark is a website (news and commentary — mostly the latter) that arose to oppose Trump from a conservative (neocon, it seems to me) perspective. On January 4, Mona Charen (who I’ve loved for decades) righteously ripped into the Wall Street Journal for its record during the Trump years:

In the Trump era, the Journal’s editorial board has betrayed its readers. It has trimmed and hemmed and to-be-sured its way through the most sustained assault on truth and the American political order of our lifetime. Every now and then—usually on textbook economic matters like tariffs—the board has issued stern rebukes of the president’s policies. But rarely. For the most part, it has retreated into anti-anti-Trumpism, averting its gaze from the president and focusing disproportionately on his opponents.

Today, the Journal concedes, “too many Republicans refuse to accept Mr. Trump’s defeat.” They note that the Senators who have agreed to contest the Electoral College count this week cite no evidence of fraud, “Instead they cite ‘allegations of fraud and irregularities’ that feed ‘deep distrust’ of the results—distrust they and the President are feeding.” So far, so good. But then, in a typical misfire, the editors caution that “this is a . . . lousy political strategy for returning to power.” Ah. So that’s the main issue then?

The president of the United States is attempting to subvert the democratic process. He is calling on his followers to swarm Washington, D.C., on January 6. For what conceivable purpose?

I particularly loved "trimmed and hemmed and to-be-sured its way through the most sustained assault on truth and the American political order of our lifetime", which is pitch-perfect.

But the main point is that no good ever could ever have come from "calling on [Trump’s] followers to swarm Washington, D.C., on January 6" and the Wall Street Journal covered itself with feckless shame for not saying so.

Dehumanizer to the core

What is it that I want from government, exactly?

The answer my brain keeps coming back to is in reference to something my guy Jeb Bush used to say about education. He wanted every child to have the opportunity to live a life of purpose and meaning. And that’s basically what I want from our government and society.

Donald Trump created a party that didn’t even pretend to care about dignity and purpose.

Trump saw Republican voters as customers who needed to be attracted to his brand. And if his customers wanted a brand identified with being as cruel as possible to other humans, then it was cruelty he would sell. Banning people from entry into the country if they are Muslim does not have a pro-human dignity side to the argument. Neither does separating parents from their children at the border. Or cheering on killer cops. Or grabbing women by the pussy against their will. Or trying to cancel the votes of people who live in a city with a lot of blacks.

Trump’s entire essence is in direct conflict with the notion that people have dignity. He is a dehumanizer to his core.

Tim Miller at The Bulwark

Gore Vidal redux

I was a young fan of Bill Buckley’s polysyllabic erudition, and cheered when Buckley threatened to “sock [Gore Vidal] in the goddam mouth.” But is Vidal’s later conspiracy theorizing looking prescient?


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The moral horse and the doctrinal cart

Once again, Fr. Stephen gets my juices going:

In early centuries, [the catechumenate, that process by which we initiate persons into the life of the Orthodox faith,] lasted as much as three years. Surprisingly, it consisted primarily in “moral instruction” (teachings on how to behave). Instruction in the doctrines of the faith did not take place until after Baptism! The assumption behind this was (and still should be) that catechumens needed spiritual formation before they were ready to receive doctrinal instruction. This assumption has been greatly weakened in our modern culture.

We labor under the myth of being an “information-based” society. We imagine that we are deeply informed, have ready access to massive amounts of information on the basis of which we are able to make free and well-considered decisions. This over-simplification of our human experience is deeply flawed …

Catechumens, if given only a diet of information, … fail to thrive. Above all else, it is the practice of the faith that makes faith possible.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32)

“Abiding in the word” (keeping the commandments, engaging in the practices of the faith) is the necessary pre-condition for “knowing the truth.”

This suggests to me that we set our minds to become “perpetual catechumens” in which we give our attention to the softening of our hearts rather than inundation of our minds …

The heart’s learning is the true point of salvation. Information does not save us – but there is such a thing as “saving knowledge.” We speak of this, formally, as “holy illumination.” It is the consistent teaching of the Church that holy illumination is our desired path to God.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Perpetual Catechumen

Had I read this 25 years ago, I’d have wondered what kind of squishy Kum-Bah-Yah cult taught such things as "spiritual formation before doctrinal instruction."

Not a digression: I remember a rather fringe figure in my Evangelical years, Col. R.B. Thieme, Jr., teaching sometime in the 1976-79 range that "God loves nothing better than doctrine in the frontal lobe."

I didn’t believe him — but I lived as if it were true, or as if enough doctrine in my frontal lobe would eventually cure my disordered life. It never did, and it never would have. The trajectory it put me on was that of an irascible "discernment blogger" with a hot steaming mess of a private life. Only the lack of a consumer internet spared me that fate.

When I entered the Orthodox Christian faith some 20 years later, I did so expecting to get my doctrine straightened out, having seen a couple of fundamental flaws in my prior approach — the kinds of things you can’t un-see — and having somehow gained an implicit trust in the Church.

But for some reason, early in that same transitional period of my life, I saw in re-reading C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce that I needed to forsake one particular moral failing, lest it make me the kind of person who wouldn’t even like heaven had he inherited it. In that regard, Anglican Lewis — and his message to my imagination, not my intellect — was my Orthodox moral catechist.

And now, twenty-four more years down the road, Fr. Stephen makes perfect sense to me. To my surprise, "Orthodox" Christianity turned out not to be all that much about doctrine. Beyond the Nicene Creed, there are few doctrinal dogmas. We are conspicuously apophatic, a tendency that Col. Thieme presumably would have anathematized.

What it is about is — well, you’ll just have to come and see.


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Potpourri 9/4/21

Opening insights

  • The Bitter Truth: There’s Still No Rhyme or Reason to COVID-19.” Charles C. W. Cooke has a refreshingly sane analysis of which policies help mitigate COVID-19: “There’s no rhyme or reason to this pandemic. Vaccines help a great deal. That much we know. Beyond that, though, the coverage of the virus has mostly been partisanship and witchcraft.”
  • Don’t Quit Twitter Yet. You Might Have a Moral Duty to Stay.” Tish Harrison Warren names a real and intractable problem: “Our implicit requirement of emerging leaders for copious social media engagement is like requiring all of America’s young cardiologists to take up smoking. The means necessary to have a public voice in our culture is precisely that which undoes the kind of deep thinking, nuance, creativity, humility, and compassion we desperately need from leaders of any sort.”

Front Porch Republic

Faire de la merde

[R]ead Noah Feldman’s new column. He writes that the Court "made a point that is incorrect in my view, but that is legally plausible." Why was it incorrect? Feldman explains, "The better view is that the court should have been creative and found a way to block the law anyway." And why should the Court have gotten creative? Feldman writes, "if the underlying law is unconstitutional and injures basic rights, the courts must have the power to block its operation." If there is a really bad law, the usual rules of jurisdiction can be ignored, because the court "must" be able to do something about it. I always appreciate Feldman’s candor. He says aloud what others are thinking. Unfortunately, telling courts to be "creative" is to tell courts to–pardon my French–"make shit up."

Joshua Blackman, New Op-Ed in Newsweek: The Supreme Court Could Not “Block” Texas’s Fetal Heartbeat Law – Reason.com (The heading of this item is from Google translate, and my colloquial French is too poor to know whether the French have any such colloquialism.)

Priorities today

  • Classical liberals conceded that your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Today’s progressives argue that your freedom to express your opinions stops where my feelings begin.
  • Scotland, a cradle of the Enlightenment, abolished the crime of blasphemy in March. At the same time, however, it reintroduced it by creating new offences such as “stirring up hatred” and “abusive speech”—punishable by up to seven years in prison.

‌Left-wing activists are using old tactics in a new assault on liberalism (The Economist)

Then, contrary to script, it turned really bad …

So far, I remain grateful that Joe Biden rather than Donald Trump is our President. I voted for "neither of the above" because neither of them is really suitable and my fair state was not "in play"; it was going for Trump. Having gotten the lesser evil, I’m not going to spend four years berating him.

But his inept handling of Afghanistan led to his grandfatherly, compassionate mask coming off briefly.

The enlisted men and women of the U.S. military are the most respected professionals in America. They can break your heart with their greatness, as they did at Hamid Karzai International Airport when 13 of them gave their lives to help desperate people escape. But the top brass? Something’s wrong there, something that August revealed. They are all so media-savvy, so smooth and sound-bitey after a generation at war, and in some new way they too seem obsessed with perceptions and how things play, as opposed to reality and how things are.

A longtime friend of his once told me Mr. Biden’s weakness is that he always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. I asked if the rooms are usually small, and the friend didn’t bristle, he laughed. I suspect Mr. Biden was thinking he was going to be the guy who finally cut through, who stopped the nonsense, admitted reality, who wasn’t like the others driven by fear of looking weak or incompetent. He was going to look with eyes made cool by experience and do what needed doing—cut this cord, end this thing, not another American dead.

History would see what he’d done. It would be his legacy. And for once he’d get his due—he’s not some ice-cream-eating mediocrity, not a mere palate-cleanser after the heavy meal of Trump, not a placeholder while America got its act together. He would finally be seen as what he is—a serious man. Un homme sérieux, as diplomats used to say.

And then, when it turned so bad so quick, his pride and anger shifted in, and the defiant, defensive, self-referential speeches. Do they not see my wisdom?

When you want it bad you get it bad.

Peggy Noonan (emphasis added)

More united than they’d prefer

European decision makers have never lacked the ambition for [ambitious pan-European military] projects. (In 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President Jacques Chirac of France issued a portentous “Saint-Malo declaration” calling for an autonomous European strike force.) What they have lacked is a popular consensus for them. Creating an army befitting a superpower is a colossal expense. It makes sense to use the American one as long as it is on offer, rather than bankrupting Europe on a (perhaps quixotic) quest to duplicate it.

… Over the past 20 years, Europeans have watched as the United States first led Europe into wars Europe did not want to fight, and then succumbed to a passionate anti-elite politics that culminated in the election of Donald Trump. Frustration is to be expected. The Afghanistan collapse will surely sharpen it.

But the European Union is going to find it difficult to place itself at the center of Western defense arrangements, largely because it, too, has generated among its citizenry a distrust for elites as intense as the one that put the United States on its present path. In this respect, at least, Western countries are united, more united perhaps than they would wish to be.

Christopher Caldwell, ‌What the Afghanistan Withdrawal Means for Europe’s Future

A cure for despair

I found myself gape-mouthed that humanity was ever capable of producing urban spaces like this. We are far richer than the Veronese were at the height of their powers, but we can only produce mediocrity, or worse, ugliness. Verona is a palimpsest of Roman, medieval, Renaissance, and early modern architecture, all of it harmonizing in a gorgeous polyphony that ravishes the senses and elevates the spirit. If you despair of humanity, go to Verona, and see what we can be.

Rod Dreher, My Verona

Corporate "virtue"

Lyft wants me to know that it is "Defending drivers and women’s access to healthcare" by setting up a defense fund in case any of its drivers get sued for aiding and abetting an abortion under the now-famous Texas law. The tell is the domain from which they notified me: @marketing.lyftmail.com›. (Also they invited me to contribute to their defense fund.)

I’m unimpressed. I’m also unoffended by the substance of the action. But were I offended, Uber and Lyft are still the only ride-share services I know, and Uber is mostly smoke and mirrors.

Why people come to church for the wrong reasons

Undoubtedly, people come to church for a host of wrong reasons. But the pastor is able to help them find the words to acknowledge, sometimes to their own surprise, that they are here because God has willed them to be here, despite all their wrong reasons.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens


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One attorney’s 30,000-foot view of abortion in America

If there were such a cause of action as journalistic malpractice, the lawsuits would be gearing up rapidly this week. Pundits and reporters are skipping right over who, what, when, where, and why analysis of an interesting development and going straight to preening displays of tribal outrage. It’s what they call "moral clarity" in progressive journalistic circles.

If you are one of the millions outraged at what the Supreme Court didn’t do in the Texas abortion law case, you might benefit from (1) reading this important three-year-old law review article on "the Writ-of-Erasure Fallacy" and (2) pondering how the four Supreme Court dissenters sputtered and groped around for just how they could stop the law from going into effect.

In short, SCOTUS is not omnipotent, and there is always a Justice (or two or five) mindful of precedents on what it cannot legitimately do.

Mind you, I’m not a fan of the Texas law. I consider it "too cute by half," a conclusion I reached on my own only to hear it later, verbatim, from David French or Sarah Isgur on the Advisory Opinons podcast. (David and Sarah are very good at making things simple, but the Texas law was their Alamo. The Texas law defies simplification.) It’s one thing to forthrightly say "I don’t think abortion is a real constitutional right and I support intelligent laws to chip away at the illegitimate dogma that it is until it’s gone." It’s another to play games by coming up with a clever (and yes, the Texas law is clever) way of muddying the waters, delaying the day of inevitable reckoning for the law, and intimidating abortionists into taking a little unplanned vacation time.

But that’s not really the aspect of abortion I wanted to write about. Every so often, I think it’s good to revisit an under-appreciated aspect of what’s wrong with our overall Supreme Court abortion jurisprudence — that of the last 50 years, actually, more than of the present.

In very short order after Roe v. Wade (wherein only two justices remembered what the court could not legitimately do), John Hart Ely of Yale Law School published an enduring critique titled The Wages of Crying Wolf. Its most quoted passage is this:

Roe v. Wade seems like a durable decision.

It is, nevertheless, a very bad decision. Not because it will perceptibly weaken the Court-it won’t; and not because it conflicts with either my idea of progress or what the evidence suggests is society’s-it doesn’t. It is bad because it is bad constitutional law, or rather because it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.

Few real legal scholars (maybe I’m risking a "No True Scotsman" fallacy, but I don’t think so) disagreed with Ely. Indeed, one of Harvard Law’s big constitutional guns, Laurence Tribe, published a series of substitute theories on how the Supreme Court really should have reasoned its way to the civilized world’s most permissive abortion regime. He needed a series because other scholars made short work of each effort in turn.

Most of those other scholars supported a permissive abortion regime, even if they couldn’t honestly endorse any known legal rationale for finding it in the constitution. They wanted it done in legislatures, and no less an authority than the late feminist icon Ruth Bader Ginsberg lamented several aspects of the Roe decision, noting that democratic processes were in fact moving state laws fairly rapidly in a permissive direction.

And the 50 states is where the abortion issue belongs. The "right" Roe gave to women was taken away, zero-sum, from control of the states, and thus from democracy.

So much for Roe. Though she could not make Texas S.B. 8 simple to understand, Sarah Isgur did remind me that it’s dubious to speak of anything like "the Roe regime;" Roe‘s continuing relevance is historic: inventing a constitutional right to abortion. The details of that right are now loosely controlled not by Harry Blackmun’s wildly implausible Roe trimester scheme, but by Planned Parenthood v. Casey, authored by Justice Kennedy, whose mystical reasoning has been widely and openly derided:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Soaring rhetoric that has no limiting principle, but "not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be." Abortion history rhymes.

The failure to find a persuasive rationale is is not, of course, because Harry Blackmun, Anthony Kennedy and their colleagues are stupid. It’s because they are engaged, first, in a raw act of judicial power (Roe) and rearguard actions ever since to find a persuasive rationale for the precious bastard precedent. They overestimated Americans’ credulity as they attempted to short-circuit political processes and lay to rest a contested social issue.

As an attorney, and a respecter of the Constitution, that is what offends me about our abortion regime (as it offends, explicitly or tacitly, the squadrons of personally pro-choice legal scholars who are not having any of the extant constitutional theories for permissive abortion).

It offends me as much, I fear, as the ensuing millions of fetal deaths. Millions of deaths, especially engineered in private "medical" clinics, is an enormity that tends to leave me numb as much as outraged.

So when Casey (and Roe) finally fall, and the abortion issue is returned to the States (in most of them, to the legislature; I believe a few blue states may have enshrined a right to abortion in their state constitutions), I will feel a great sense of relief regardless of what the states then do. Anything they do will at least have a democratic legitimacy that our current system utterly lacks.

That’s how I think of the abortion issue as a lawyer (now retired), and if that marks me as a bad person, so be it.


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Disenthralling again

I probably had gone 18-24 hours without disenthrallment, and was going into a giddy mania.

Or something like that.

Then Paul Kingsnorth’s latest Substack post rescued me.


If we can convince ourselves that we live in ‘liberal democracies’, for example, we can tell a comforting story that such horrors as slavery, forced labour, colonialism and the mass destruction of nature for profit are either things of the past or are being steadily wiped out by ‘progress’. We don’t have to look at the reality: that our entire way of life is dependent on these things continuing – though usually at a convenient distance. What George Orwell wrote in 1942 of the British empire and its critics remains true of today’s empire, the ‘global economy’, and of the elite classes who shill for it:

We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are ‘enlightened’ all maintain that these coolies ought to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our ‘enlightenment’, demands that the robbery shall continue.

The Machine, in short, is a creature of the cities, and the cities are the creation of the Machine.

… The city provides opportunities for wealth that the village never could, but it treats its poor and marginalised with a contempt that the village would regard with incomprehension.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Great Wen


City: an impermanent collection of structures for making money. (Paul Kingsnorth)


‌I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

(Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias; H/T Paul Kingsnorth)


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Rebuttable and Irrebuttable

The good from the past abides

Whatever troubles the present can be fixed (we are told). The future is everything. It also has the advantage of not existing – it has no track record to defend. Whatever we may think of the past, be it blame or praise, it can make the singular claim to have actually happened. The past not only took place but cumulatively is gathered in what we experience as the present. As William Faulkner famously noted, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

Human beings matter greatly, and I think it is right that we confess ourselves to be the crown of God’s creation. Nevertheless, we do not exist apart from creation. St. Maximus called us the “microcosm” of creation (“the whole world in miniature”). But this is also to say that we cannot be truly human without at the same time being everything else. In the Creation story, human beings are created last of all, and that seems to be true even when science is the story-teller. To be truly and fully human, it is right that we know the story of the past (or some of them), and recognize that we are utterly indebted to them and that we exist only as the current temporary bearers of their lives and sacrifices.

… The present so-called “culture wars,” regardless of whether the voices are from the Left or the Right, are anxious and shrill, driven by their own inherent insecurity (and the inherent insecurity of modernity itself). Those who live a larger, deeper existence, understand that the past cannot be destroyed. It abides. That which is good within it abides, even if it is interrupted for a season of madness.

Living Large – And Long – Glory to God for All Things

Our season of madness

The women talked about the West’s LGBT ideology as deeply offensive to Africans. The first woman said, “We are at the point where you cannot get development aid, water aid, or any kind of aid from NGOs unless you affirm LGBT. What kind of message do you think that sends to us about what the West cares about?”

The second woman said, “China is making lots of inroads in Africa. We can see it all the time. The Chinese come and build things, and give us things, and they never tell us we have to change to suit their ideology. The Americans and the Europeans demand that we do. The Chinese leave us alone.”

I asked the woman to clarify. Is she saying that the West is pushing Africa into China’s arms because Western elites have made LGBT rights into a global crusade?

Yes, absolutely, she said.

I was reminded of something a semi-retired professor in Budapest told me this past summer, when I was there. I asked him if he wasn’t worried by the Orban government’s plans to allow the Chinese to build a campus of Fudan University there? Not at all, he said. He has spent most of his career teaching in Western universities, and have seen them take a totalitarian turn with wokeness. He said he would be much more worried if a prestigious Western university tried to open a campus in Hungary.

“Fudan University is a great university,” he said. “And the Chinese will respect Hungarian culture. They won’t force us to be woke.”

Rod Dreher, The West And The Rest

One of the journalists at the table said he just returned from vacation in the south of France. In the town of St-Raphael, he had been present for the annual ceremony on August 15 to commemorate the Allies landing there to begin the liberation of Provence. “Let me read to you what the woman from the US consulate said,” he remarked, pulling out his phone.

“No, you’re not going where I think you’re going,” I said nervously.

“I think you know what’s coming,” he said, snickering.

Sure enough, he read from what I suppose were his notes on the speech. According to this journalist, the consulate representative said that just as American troops fought Nazis there in 1944, today we all must fight for the liberation of LGBT people. The Italian was amazed that the US diplomat even shoehorned LGBT into a speech commemorating a World War II invasion. I haven’t been able to find a transcript or video of that speech, but this messaging is consistent with the recent “Emma” recruiting video from the US Army, in which a young female soldier likens her military service today to going to Pride marches with her two moms as a girl. It’s all about fighting for freedom.

‌Why America Is Losing In Africa

One of the hardest things for me to internalize is that I’m largely powerless to affect such madness, and I always have been because I’m just one person and I’ve never been fluent in the slogans, nostrums and mêmes that communication seems to require these days.

Moreover, I’m now a septagenarian dinosaur. I was writing something the other day about emotional, psychologically manipulative preaching designed to flood the Evangelical altars at “the Altar Call.” Then it dawned on my that I haven’t seen an altar call in decades. I’m fairly sure (now that I mention it) that they’re just not done any more. However it is that Evangelicals view “getting saved” or “getting born again” these days isn’t as it used to be, and I simply haven’t got a clue what it is today. (All I can predict is that Evangelicals will insist that it’s biblical and this is how it’s always been done.)

Oh, I guess I digressed. That’s because I have nothing to say about the madness. If you can’t see that it’s mad, I’ll never be able to show you.

Irrebuttable

These unheard, moderate minorities carry an almost unassailable authority in liberal politics because of the very simple fact that liberals tend to frame their policies in terms of race. If those same objects of your concern turn around and tell you to please stop what you’re doing, what you’ve created is perhaps the most powerful rebuttal in liberal politics.

Jay Caspian Kang, ‌When the ‘Silent Majority’ Isn’t White

Dervish Saint?!

Not a Hagiography I would have expected: ‌Holy New Martyr Alexander the Dervish

Republicans talk incessantly about other people’s violence. The rioters who burned buildings after George Floyd’s death. The criminals who make Chicago a murder capital. Immigrants who supposedly terrorize their host nation (they don’t).

Criminal violence is a problem, but the kind of violence Republicans are now flirting with or sometimes outright endorsing is political—and therefore on a completely different plane of threat.

Mona Charen, The Party of Violence. By “Republicans,” Charen includes jackasses like Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina:

Cawthorn’s work experience before serving in Congress consisted of a stint at Chick-fil-A and a part-time job in a congressional office. He dropped out of college after a single semester in which his grades were mostly Ds. But he was apparently active in that one semester: More than 150 of his classmates signed a letter accusing Cawthorn of being a sexual predator. One woman told the Washington Post that he drove her to a rural area only to become enraged when she rebuffed his sexual advances. He drove back at speeds of up to 80 miles an hour.

Averted gaze

There is this mythology surrounding the war on terrorism, and the F.B.I., that has given agents the power to ruin the lives of completely innocent people based solely on what part of the world they came from, or what religion they practice, or the color of their skin. And I did that,” he adds. “I helped destroy people. For 17 years.”

Janet Reitman, ‌I Helped Destroy People, quoting Terry Arbury.

I suspect that pointing out FBI wrongdoing is about 99% useless. I think people already strongly suspect it, but are more than willing to look the other way if they think that wrongdoing is protecting us from terrorism in our land — and if they personally aren’t on a no-fly list.

Is cancel culture getting a new name?

I skipped reading The New Puritans at first because I didn’t really want to read any more about cancel culture. But people I trusted recommended it, so I relented and spent a rather long time (interrupted) reading through it.

It’s interesting to read a center-left writer who has awakened and smelled the coffee. Ann Applebaum writes well, and she points out a few things about the cancel culture of the Right. But I think I spotted her looking over her shoulder a few times to guard against herself getting canceled for writing about cancel culture, which she is wont to call “modern mob justice.”

Rebuttable

In 2019 Disney’s CEO [said] that it would be “very difficult” for Disney to film movies in any state in the United States that restricts abortion access. But the company’s respect for women’s rights did not prohibit it from filming “Mulan” in Xinjiang, where Chinese authorities have embarked on a program of systemic rape — part of an effort to dissolve ancient family and communal bonds, and transform Uighurs into what Beijing regards as full-fledged, non-Muslim Chinese. Not only that: In the credits of “Mulan,” Disney gave “special thanks” to those same authorities.

Then there was the Ancient One, a character in Disney’s 2016 hit “Dr. Strange.” The Ancient One was supposed to be a Tibetan monk, but this upset Beijing, which, no doubt, worried audiences might think Disney was saying something good about another Tibetan monk: the Dalai Lama. So Disney made the monk white. Progressives, in the United States, howled that Disney had replaced an Asian character with a white one. So Disney did what it had to do to assuage the progressives: It made the monk a woman. This did the trick. White-woman-washing the Ancient One was good for China and Disney. Not so much for Tibet.

Vivek Ramaswamy, ‌Stakeholder Capitalism Is a Trojan Horse for China.

Rebuttable presumption: whenever a big corporation starts bragging about BLM or LGBT or other progressive obsessions, they’re buying social credit to distract us from their buddying-up with foreign tyrants.


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