Something nice about Evangelicalism?!

[W]hen people whose parents loved them and expressed that love, cared for them and prayed for them, encouraged them in goodness and consoled them when they were hurt, tell me that their upbringing was terrible because those same parents were legalists and fundamentalists, well … let’s just say that I have a somewhat different perspective. I am not referring, of course, to those who suffered genuine abuse, and I see how abuse done in the name of God can be especially traumatizing. But those whose parents were merely legalistic and moralistic, narrow in their views, suspicious of mainstream culture, strict about movies and music — sure, all that’s not cool. But it could have been so, so much worse.

To those people, I say: While you’re rejoicing in your discovery of a more gracious and merciful God than your parents taught you to believe in — which is indeed something to rejoice in! — try to extend to them some of the same grace and mercy that you’ve received. And while duly noting what they failed to teach you, seek to have some gratitude for what they managed to provide. It was more and better than a lot of us get.

Alan Jacobs

Yes, I blogged about another part of this little essay recently, but in my haste to engage with Hannah Anderson’s claim, I had failed to engage Alan Jacobs’ reflection on it.

Then I decided that my thoughts could be a good stand-alone Sunday posting.

It occurred to me that one seed that eventually bore Orthodox fruit, may well have been the (inconsistent, but frequently) solid hymnody in the church of my youth and childhood.

Above all others, I remember this (which we could count on singing as the opening hymn every time a particular Purdue Professor (the late Paul Stanley) was picking the hymns:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

Maybe I could find fault if I fly-specked it, but I’m not even going to try.

Apart from that, a hymn I adored, but we rarely sang, was Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Apparently, it is an Advent hymn in whatever corners of Western Christendom still know it, and from the words, that’s understandable:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand.
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descending
comes, our homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of heaven now incarnate
in the body and the blood,
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heav’nly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
streams before him on the way,
as the Light of light descending
from the realms of endless day
comes, that pow’rs of hell may vanish,
as the shadows pass away.

At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the Presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
“Alleluia! Alleluia!
Alleluia, Lord Most High!”

But it is extremely ancient, dating back to the Liturgy of St. James, and sung in solemn Byzantine chant — and is appointed in Orthodox Churches of my acquaintance not for Advent, but for Great and Holy Saturday, where it surely is predicated on Christ’s descent into Hades and Harrowing of Hell, alluded to in the third verse.

Such hymnody captured the imagination of this no-longer-young man, but it’s my impression that you’ll have an exceedingly hard time finding either of these in any Evangelical Church today. For that, you’ll need to go to some "high" (and yes, disconcertingly liberal) church like the Episcopal Church. (And that insight made me understand how some Evangelicals might end up in liberal "high" Churches: they can ignore the doctrinal laxity of Episcopalianism, but not the debased worship in most of Evangelicalism.)

Or come to the Orthodox Church, where hymnody is held in such regard that several hymnographers are canonized Saints.


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.

Mostly from news and commentary

Chickens coming home to roost

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker on Thursday ordered nine attorneys—including Sidney Powell and Lin Wood—to pay $175,250 to the state of Michigan and city of Detroit in response to their participation in the frivolous “Kraken” lawsuits seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The Morning Dispatch

U.S. Sportsball vs. Chinese Communist Party

In an interview on The Lead With Jake Tapper yesterday,  veteran sports broadcaster Bob Costas offered a measured, but forceful, condemnation of the coddling of China by some international institutions and prominent athletes. Tapper asked about the Peng Shuai situation and why the Women’s Tennis Association and International Olympic Committee have taken such different approaches to it. “The IOC is in bed with China,” Costas said. “It’s very troubling, their affinity for authoritarian regimes. … Meanwhile, you’ve got not just the IOC, you’ve got the NBA, and you’ve got Nike, and various individual sports stars in the United States who have significant investments in China, where the sports market is huge. And some of those people are very outspoken—as they have a right to be, and maybe in general you and I would agree with their viewpoints—very outspoken and sometimes offer sweeping condemnations of their own admittedly imperfect country, the United States. But when it comes to China—perhaps the world’s leading human rights abuser given its size and its wherewithal—they’re mum. Very, very few have anything to say.”

The Morning Dispatch

The Families Roe

We can’t shake the picture of the wholesome 1950s and ’60s as a time of American innocence. But no country is “innocent,” and so many of the central players in the [American abortion] drama came from some kind of deep dysfunction—sadness, family chaos, sirens in the night. Norma McCorvey, the Roe in the case, was a remorseless, compulsive liar who variously claimed to have been raped, gang-raped, beaten, shot at, preyed on by lesbian nuns. As I read her she was a sometimes charming, often funny sociopath, always uninterested in the effect on others of her decisions.

There is the brilliant lawyer who brought the first case and wound up destitute in a heatless house in East Texas; the prickly, eloquent pro-life leader who wound up unappreciated, alone and a hoarder. There is the writing of the Roe decision itself. And there is the idealism of many on both sides who were actually trying to make life more just.

Peggy Noonan, source from Joshua Prager’s book The Families Roe

Getting and spending

It is something of a cliché to suggest that the world outside is preoccupied with getting and spending. We have to put a lot of time and energy into those activities here on the island. I think the difference is that it would not occur to us to think of such activities as the main, let alone the sole, reason for our existence.

Peter France, A Place of Healing for the Soul: Patmos

Without comment

What a fast swimmer: A University of Pennsylvania swimmer who competed for three seasons at the college level as a man is now absolutely dominating the sport as a woman, breaking record after record in women’s swimming. “Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding,” Lia Thomas said.

Nellie Bowles via the Bari Weiss Substack

Ray Bradbury, prophet

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.

Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

Projection

We always have to remember that how we see the world about us is but a reflection of the state of our own inner world. Ultimately, it is because we see ourselves as existing apart from God that we also see nature as existing apart from God.

Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature


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.

December already?

I continue, with surprisingly little effort, to cease wallowing my mornings away with doomscrolling the news. It makes for less frequent blogging, but I hope it’s a bit more interesting.

Did your November fly past as quickly as mine?

Foretaste

Maybe you should sit down to read this and then mark your calendar in anticipation: on Sunday, I’m posting something nice about the Evangelicalism of my youth.

It may have boogered-up formatting, as WordPress seems incompetent at handling markdown other than paste-it-and-publish; save it and go back for edits and it incorrigibly inserts literal > before every blockquote.

Realism

People who discuss lowering the voting age – not only those for it but also those against – assume that it would mean a transfer of political influence to the young.

That is absurd. It would mean no such thing.

… It would only mean increasing the political clout of those who have influence through the young.

Pop stars. Sports coaches. Schoolteachers. Writers and editors of media aimed at teens. Especially people in such groups who have no children of their own to take up their time and attention.

… So one could expect further politicization of entertainment, primary and secondary education, youth athletics, children’s and “young adults” books, and teen magazines and media.

J Budziszewski

Ascetic abstention

Sondheim’s work was at its strongest when it lingered in the pain of the dawning realization that no ever after ever lasted long. His music and lyrics looked squarely at life and insisted, gently and eloquently, that of course it was never going to be exactly how we wanted it to be, that messiness and ambiguity were to be expected, and could even be part of the beauty.

Amy Weiss-Meyer, ‌What Stephen Sondheim Knew About Endings

I’ve pretty much stopped reading about Sondheim — though every new article is a temptation. An especially lovely surprise was John McWhorter’s heartfelt tribute.

"Earth Alienation"

“Should the emancipation and secularization of the modern age,” [Hanna] Arendt wondered, “which began with a turning-away, not necessarily from God, but from a god who was the Father of men in heaven, end with an even more fateful repudiation of an Earth who was the Mother of all living creatures under the sky?”

I thought about Arendt as I listened to Jeff Bezos talk about space exploration at a recent event held at the National Cathedral, a setting that will strike those of you familiar with the late David Noble’s work in The Religion of Technology as altogether apropos. The thesis of Noble’s book was that “modern technology and religion have evolved together and that, as a result, the technological enterprise has been and remains suffused with religious belief.” In this light, a cathedral is an altogether appropriate setting for the annunciation of a not-so-novel message of technologically mediated salvation and transcendence.

To be sure, Bezos makes a number of statements about how special and unique the earth is and about how we must preserve it at all costs. Indeed, this is central to Bezos’s pitch. In his view, humanity must colonize space, in part, so that resource extraction, heavy industry, and a sizable percentage of future humans can be moved off the planet. It is sustainability turned on its head: a plan to sustain the present trajectories of production and consumption.

L. M. Sacasas, Earth Alienation As A Service

This merits full reading, as the infatuation with space travel and colonization is not the only way in which our technological advances correlate to alienation from our actual situation.

In a related vein:

I kept thinking about Jesus’s admonition that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. The point is not that rich people are wicked. The point is that if you have money, it is much easier to believe that you can control things, that your money and the technology it can afford (as well as living in a relatively wealthy society) buffers you from contingencies. We forget our dependence on God, but more to the point, we forget to cultivate awareness of Him.

Experience of the natural world does not generate faith. (Christianity is not a so-called Nature religion.) But surely it can encourage a certain psychological orientation favorable to some brands of religious faith; and this suggests the correlative possibility that reduced experience of the natural world might do just the opposite.

It is probable that no one has yet created a cataphatic theology grounded in technological analogies because it cannot be done. Technological artifacts point us to the wrong creator — to the human race, not God; so they seem bereft of real signals of transcendence. Further, as they become our environment, they imprint in the collective subconscious the message that things exist in order to serve us. That is the very last thing we need to intuit.

despite its undeniable defects, asceticism was "positive, not negative" because it "fundamentally aspired to liberate the highest powers of personality from obstruction by the automatism of the lower drives."

Rod Dreher, ‌‘The Luminous Dusk’

Call me a bigot, but everyone who expresses enthusiasm about space colonization (or Zuckerberg’s Metaverse) as a solution to some problem sinks in my estimation (unless they were alread rock-bottom).

RSVP Hall of Fame

Late in life, during the Second Vatican Council’s alleged golden dawn, Waugh received an invitation to a book launch by self-consciously “progressive” Catholics. He shot back by postcard his unforgettable RSVP: while he would not attend a social meal in the progressives’ company, “I would gladly attend an auto da fé at which your guests were incinerated.”

Bacevich et. al., The Essence of Conservatism

Pro-life feminism

As humor writer Dave Barry put it, “Critics allege that [Amy Coney] Barrett belongs to a harmful non-secular cult that subjugates ladies by forcing them to turn into Supreme Court justices.”

We need to broaden the tent of feminism. If, in order to be a feminist, one cannot simply be against the oppression of women but also must affirm abortion or other left-of-center causes, then feminism does not actually exist as a movement. It is merely pro-choice progressivism marketed for ladies.

And that ultimately weakens the cause of feminism because it excludes a lot of women, especially young women ….

Tish Harrison Warren, ‌Why the Feminist Movement Needs Pro-Life People

Fox-No-More

Fox broadcasts Seth Rich conspiracies? Memory-holed. Fox gave airtime to Kraken lawyers? Well, they were just asking questions. Its streaming platform airs a deranged Patriot Purge documentary that re-imagines the reality of January 6? Nobody watches Fox Nation anyway.

The cultural and political consequences in the right-wing grassroots are considerable. Politically engaged citizens can cite to you chapter and verse of (very real!) mainstream media scandals, yet they’re often completely shocked at the idea that the alternative institutions they follow are often substantially less reliable than the MSM they despise.

But honestly, how would they know? They’re inoculated against criticism of the right by the left, and how many voices on the right are reliably independent and free of Fox’s influence?

Mainstream media is still often plagued with groupthink and intolerance. Unfortunately, the right surveyed years of problems with legacy outlets and then built a media industry that was somehow even worse.

David French.

Despite Fox’s dominance, The Dispatch’s Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes resigned as contributors after Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge insanity,

Consider supporting The Dispatch. And getting off Fox News. All network news stultifies, but some stultifies more than others.

Unintended consequences

I don’t know why we don’t think more deeply and consistently of consequences of public policies and programs:

[T]he intentions behind a given policy tell us little about its likely effects ….

Tyler Cowen, commenting on a paper by Boaz Abramson in When Lawyers Make Things Worse.

Some meat:

Policies that make it harder to evict delinquent tenants, for example by providing tax-funded legal counsel in eviction cases ("Right-to-Counsel") or by instating eviction moratoria, protect renters from eviction in bad times. However, higher default costs to landlords lead to higher equilibrium rents and lower housing supply, implying homelessness might increase.

Early to bed, early to rise

My early jobs as a dishwasher and parking lot attendant began at 6 a.m. and I remember this dimness well. It changed my life. I stayed home at night and went to bed early and postponed debauchery to my mid-twenties and then, at the age of 27, I got a job on the 5 a.m. shift and postponed it again. A dear friend of mine, whose parents subsidized her fully, went out late one night and fell in with some fascinating strangers who introduced her to hashish and some other substance and she fell into a psychotic state and had to be hospitalized and spent some time in a drug program where she met more fascinating troubled people and it changed her life. She never found a vocation. Instead, she became fascinated by her own disability and made a career of being troubled, married a troubled man who abused her, and today she’s in a nursing home somewhere, a faint replica of the witty woman she once was, and I am waiting for the coffee to brew so I can get back to work on a novel. Early to bed and early to rise makes for a life that, if not wealthy and wise, is at least pleasant and sensible.

Garrison Keillor

Lies the Atlantic told me

Ending legal abortion in America, though, has long been the main goal of the conservative legal movement.

Adam Serwer.

Serwer is wrong if he means that literally, sloppy if he doesn’t.

Ending the pretext that the Constitution mandates legal abortion has been the goal. It remains after that to persuade legislatures of the appropriate restrictions on abortion.

I will be surprised if more than 5 states fly their progressive flags by legislating abortion on demand throughout pregnancy; if more than 10 states ban all abortions initially; if more than 5 states that initially banned all abortions continue to do so 5 years after Supreme Court success; if a majority of states don’t allow abortions in the first trimester.

A lot of politicians have gotten by with feigning pro- or anti-abortion purity on the cheap for almost 50 years now. We’ll see how much dross the legislative crucible throws off.

(There was another Atlantic item even worse than Serwer’s.)

Why I don’t rush to give 5 stars to new podcasts

Can anything good come out of the now-Trumpified Claremont Institute?

I’ll leave it for you to judge, but my hopes for Spencer Klaven’s Young Heretics podcast (held out as classical education for adults who weren’t classically educated) turned, for my tastes, into propaganda as the young, bright podcaster would "apply" the lessons of antiquity to modern U.S.A.

Sad. But at least it’s one less podcast I feel obliged to audit.

And it confirms the wisdom of ignoring pleas of new podcasts to "visit Apple podcasts and give us a 5-Star rating." Give me a dozen or so episodes, folks; I’m not your Junior Marketing Assistant.

Afterthought

I would be remiss if I failed to ask — How ’bout them Boilermakers?!

The Purdue Men’s basketball team bodes well to get a number 1 ranking if it can win its next road game. It’s 7-0, averaging over 90 points per game, and (if you hadn’t heard) 10-men deep. A lot of good teams will drop to Purdue, as Villanova did, simple because Purdue wears them out by rotating in fresh legs all game long, and getting solid production off the bench.

I hope the NBA knows how to reward team play — but that they don’t get Jaden Ivy to bolt after just two years. His mom, a WNBA veteran and Notre Dame coach may be able to steel him against the blandishments.


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.

Endings … and religious beginnings

All The Presidents’ Lawyers is no more

Josh Barro and Ken White are ending one of my favorite legal podcasts, All The President’s Lawyers, loosely based on the premise that "all Presidents have legal problems, but some [read: Donald Trump] have more than others."

The podcast, I admit, was getting more than a bit repetitive if one was looking to learn about how the law operates, but it had turned into sort of a serial low-key comedy routine, with stock questions and caricatures like

  • Ken, is this RICO?
  • Ken, is Michael Avenatti a good lawyer?
  • … thumb-headed henchman Lev Parnus …
  • And just "Roger Stone," with no adjective needed,

that I found amusing.

The occasion of ending the podcast, though, is that Barro is leaving KCRW, the public radio station sponsoring ATPL. Since I don’t like being a freeloadeder, I once or twice sent KCRW a financial token of appreciation for ATPL and for a second Josh Barro podcast, Left, Right and Center (to which I ceased listening a while back). It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the emails and letters from KCRW to cease, since I now have no reason to send it money. If the mailings from the National Right to Work Committee to my dead father (who had a pretty good reason for disliking labor unions; I, in contrast, think we could stand to see their renewed vigor) for years after his death are any indication, it may be a long time.

Barro and White are concocting some kind of new podcast independent of KCRW, and I look forward to giving it at try.

Individualism is not the solution

Tocqueville, unlike so many of his current conservative and progressive readers, understood that individualism was not the solution to the problem of an increasingly encompassing centralized state but the source of its increasing power.

Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

Professional restraint

The prosecutor in the Ahmaud Arbery killing trial surprisingly did not dwell on race, racism, or sending any message to … well, whatever you care to call people like the Defendants.

In her rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument — the last word before jurors were sent off to decide the fate of thee three men — Ms. Dunikoski made an appeal to common sense, offering up a general rule of life that she said the defendants had violated: “Don’t go looking for trouble.”

She had already told them that Mr. Arbery was killed because he was Black. Now she was telling them that the case wasn’t about whether the men were “good or bad people.” Rather, she said, it was “about holding people accountable and responsible for their actions.”

How a Prosecutor Addressed a Mostly White Jury and Won a Conviction in the Arbery Case

This prosecutor seems to have a very solid professional focus. She has declined interviews so far, too.

Despite our shared profession, something in me very much wants to see the defendants as "bad people," not just as people who need to be held accountable, but I know her way would be better for my soul — and I’d venture there’s a fair chance it struck a chord with the jury.

Self-Flagellation Day

Thanksgiving Day is here, and as is the fashion, it’s taking a beating. “What is Thanksgiving to Indigenous People? ‘A Day of Mourning,’” writes the onetime daily Bible of American mass culture, USA Today. The Washington Post fused a clickhole headline format with white guilt to create, “This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later.” Even the pundits who didn’t rummage in the past in search of reasons for Americans to flog themselves this week found some in the future, a la the Post’s climate-change take on Turkey Day menus: “What’s on the Thanksgiving table in a hotter, drier world?”

MSNBC meanwhile kept things festive by reminding us, with regard to the now-infamous Pilgrims, that “Instead of bringing stuffing and biscuits, those settlers brought genocide and violence” …

Where’s all this headed? In the space of a generation America has gone from being a country brimming with undeserved over-confidence, to one whose intellectual culture has turned into an agonizing, apparently interminable run of performative self-flagellation.

Matt Taibbi, ‌Thanksgiving is Awesome

Not Making This Up

1492 needs a trigger warning: The Women’s March issued an apology so perfect that I cannot summarize it. It has to be printed in full. This is a real apology sent out by the Women’s March.

We apologize deeply for the email that was sent today. $14.92 was our average donation amount this week. It was an oversight on our part to not make the connection to a year of colonization, conquest, and genocide for Indigenous people, especially before Thanksgiving.

Nellie Bowles

Escaping a flawed religious heritage

Alan Jacobs throws down a gauntlet:

Hannah Anderson in Christianity Today:

Just as we do not choose our biological families of origin, there’s a sense in which we do not choose our religious families of origin either. Those of us who have been birthed or shaped by evangelicalism will never not be affected by it. You can be a former evangelical or a postevangelical. You can be a neo-evangelical. You can be a recovering evangelical — even a reforming evangelical. But you will never not be defined by your relationship to evangelicalism.

At the same time, acknowledging your evangelical roots does not mean turning a blind eye to the challenges facing the movement, nor does it mean defining evangelicalism so narrowly that you can absolve yourself of responsibility for it. To extend the family metaphor, evangelicalism may be comprised of your crazy cousins, embarrassing uncles, and perhaps even dysfunctional homes, but it’s still your family.

One thing that I almost never see in the current Discourse about evangelicalism is an acknowledgement by people who were raised evangelical that their upbringing might have provided something, anything to be grateful for. When I hear people denouncing their evangelical or fundamentalist “family,” I often think of something Auden said about Kierkegaard: “The Danish Lutheran Church may have been as worldly as Kierkegaard thought it was, but if it had not existed he would never have heard of the Gospels, in which he found the standards by which he condemned it.”

As an Orthodox Christian, formerly Evangelical, I appreciate his point — and bits of Hannah Anderson’s comments as well. But I do not call myself exvangelical, former evangelical, postevangelical or even recovering evangelical. I think the claim that "you will never not be defined by your relationship to evangelicalism" is self-congratulatory if not delusional. I am an Orthodox Christian, and there’s just too little point of contact between truly historic Christianity and evangelicalism for the latter to be much of my Christian identity, though it’s part of my history.

But amidst much criticism of Evangelicalism, I’ve given credit where credit is due. See, most notably, the material in the section "Epiphany 1" in this longish blog post. My status as evangelical was tried and tested (see "Epiphany 2") but survived unequivocally to my late 20s or early 30s, when I embraced Calvinism (see the first seven paragraphs of "Epiphany 3").

And, yes, in evangelicalism I found the standards by which I now condemn it — including a lot of scriptures that evangelicals don’t underline in their Bibles if they notice them at all, and the clear context of some they do underline.


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.

Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey is essentially my contemporary, and he has been writing (Evangelical) Christian books from our early adulthood if not before we were 21. I’ve been familiar with his name from his early books, but for whatever reason, I’m not certain I’ve read even one of them.

Maybe I thought someone our young age would have nothing to teach me. Then in a few years my convictions turned Calvinist and I read few mainstream Evangelical books. Then in a few more decades, I was Orthodox and read almost no Evangelical books.

But Peter Wehner has placed Yancey back in my field of vision, and I’ve learned his backstory. It ain’t pretty. He was a product of a racist church and a broken family (his Father essentially killed himself by leaving an iron lung against medical advice, thinking he’d be miraculously healed) that was probably even sicker than the Church (his mother was vicious and mentally unstable). Then he went to a Bible College with 66 pages of detailed rules and taboos — far more legalistic than I’d ever heard of (any my Christian schools did have some extrabiblical taboos).

Yancey didn’t finish that Bible College, but instead transferred to Wheaton College, which his mother treated as an apostasy. He probably would have been my classmate had I not left Wheaton after my Freshman year.

Over then ensuing 50 years, he has written 25 books, and though I have read few if any, I had the impression that he wrote thoughtfully, betraying no lingering craziness from his youth.

Now, motivated by his survival of a grievous auto accident, has added a 26th, a memoir, Where the Light Fell. He explains:

I had written two dozen books, but they were all idea-driven books; they’re things that helped me come to terms with what I believe about Jesus, about grace, about prayer, about the Old Testament. And I wanted to write a book that explains why I believe those things. I call it a prequel. And it’s not a prequel that I could have written until all these other books were written, because I had to work through the ideas, figure out what I did believe, where I did land on some of these issues before I could go back and understand that backstory that relates all the way to childhood.

(Italics added)

There’s a big gulf between even the best Evangelicalism and Orthodox Christianity, but I think this brother’s memoir is one I’m going to want to read.


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.

Relatively reflective

Today, I have deliberately avoided politics or focused commentary on particular current events — and that involved cutting maybe 60% of what I’d clipped. I may be old, but I haven’t given up doing better.

Wisdom from the Vietnam era:

For the Student Strikers
By Richard Wilbur

Go talk with those who are rumored to be unlike you,
And whom, it is said, you are so unlike.
Stand on the stoops of their houses and tell them why
You are out on strike.

It is not yet time for the rock, the bullet, the blunt
Slogan that fuddles the mind toward force.
Let the new sound in our streets be the patient sound
Of your discourse.

Doors will be shut in your faces, I do not doubt.
Yet here or there, it may be, there will start,
Much as the lights blink on in a block at evening,
Changes of heart.

They are your houses; the people are not unlike you;
Talk with them, then, and let it be done
Even for the grey wife of your nightmare sheriff
And the guardsman’s son.

Recommended by A.M. Juster, the pen name of Michael J. Astrue, a conservative who has served in high government roles in Washington, in a PBS interview. This poem, which I hadn’t read before, is a keeper.

That about sums it up, doesn’t it?

21st-century American political culture has become an ever-widening suckhole of cringe.

Matt Taibbi‌

Asking the right question

Alan Jacobs suggests an introspective question for Christians who aspire to political power:

How must I be formed as a Christian in such a way that I can be worthy of the power and influence I desire?

The question comes in a context that makes the next sentence apt:

That the integralists and Christian nationalists I read don’t seem to be asking that question is, I think, cause for concern.

It should concern us all.

Part of Dubya’s charm in the 2000 election was (a) he seemed to have a real (if fairly shallow) love of Christ and (b) his demeanor conveyed that he could take or leave political power. They don’t make many like that.

Serendipitous misreading

You see, the thing about movies is that they’re usually ninety minutes or so long.

Ted Lasso and the Temptation of “Aww, Shucks” Idealism – Front Porch Republic

I misread the quoted portion as “You see, the thing about movies is that they’re usually ninety minutes too long” and agreed heartily. I’m also noticing all the padding in even very good nonfiction books, like 4000 Weeks. It’s hard enough to identify key parts when skimming that I have little choice but to go ahead and read the padding, resenting it even while understanding that what I’m reading might fail as “a book” if 75% of the pages were edited out.

What we can do

[W]e cannot literally believe or disbelieve things at will, but for better or for worse, we can willfully place ourselves in situations or courses of action that may produce change in our beliefs …

[I]t’s true that we can’t shut off unwanted feelings like a switch.  It’s also true that the very effort of trying to suppress them can stir them up.  Even so, our control over our inward life is much greater than we like to admit, just like our control over our beliefs.

J. Budziszewskizi, ‌Can We Believe and Feel Things at Will?

I have taken this to heart yet again. The things I obsess about, the things I wallow in, require careful consideration.

Artistry

Bowls From an One Hundred Year Ash Tree – The School of the Transfer of Energy

News-adjacent

This commentary was encountered as I was reading about current events, but it has a long, or nonexistent, sell-by date:

Fox News boosters, inside and outside of the network’s offices, like to describe this business model as “respecting the audience.” Defenders of Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio program used to say much the same about it — that all it was doing was tapping into an underserved audience and taking its concerns seriously. But that account is almost comically one-sided. Just as the capitalist economy doesn’t simply give people what they already wanted but actively creates new desires and shapes consumer tastes, so right-wing media doesn’t just respect the pre-existing views of its audience. It also actively intensifies and radicalizes those views by flattering the prejudices that underlie them and providing an endless stream of provocations designed to confirm their validity.

That’s how the model works: Ratings rise and profits increase by giving viewers more red meat than they knew they wanted — a process that, over time, moves the Overton Window among American conservatives ever further to the right. Fox News is a machine for generating ideological extremism, in other words ….

Damon Linker, Fox News was toxic long before Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 movie


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.

Amazing: No Politics

Innovation then and now

Henry Ford happily allowed his children to be chauffeured around town in the mass-market vehicles he pioneered, but today, Silicon Valley executives protect their children from smartphones and send them to schools without screens—a telling sign of their opinion of their own products.

Gladden Pappin, Advancing in Place

Pappin is an integralist or integralism-adjacent, so I read him guardedly. Still, it’s hard to resist that little ad hominem.

Pornification failure

Much later, Playboy magazine came along, in which girls removed their underwear and a boy could drive to a drugstore in a part of town where he was not known and tuck a copy into a Wall Street Journal and peruse it And later came Tropic of Cancer and Portnoy’s Complaint and now porn is freely available online though to me it has all the erotic allure of watching oil well pumps pumping in North Dakota.

Garrison Keillor

Le mot juste is "shibboleth"

I generally don’t like "why didn’t he write about this?" objections, but I think John McWhorter missed the boat by not using the term "shibboleth" in this piece.

Put not your trust in jury verdicts

There is a dissonance between what we invest in a trial and what it resolves. We rely on the criminal-justice process for the airing of important aspects and arguments around many public controversies that deeply divide us. The trial and its attendant litigation become our historical record. But in the end, a criminal proceeding settles only a very narrow point: Did the state present proof beyond a reasonable doubt to support the charges it alleged?

In the Rittenhouse trial — in what I continue to believe is a case that should never have been a criminal prosecution — the state did not meet its burden. That narrow finding is critical, and the jury made it.

Still, the trial has very little to tell us about the unrest on the streets, what caused it. It doesn’t address how the government dealt with, or rather was derelict in, its duty to provide security. It has nothing to say about prudential or moral questions unrelated to the proof vel non of charged crimes — e.g., should Kyle Rittenhouse have been on the violent scene in Kenosha that night, should he have been armed, and what does the fact that we can’t agree on these questions — indeed, can’t even seem to discuss them civilly much of the time — portend for our society? Nothing, because we’ve always been a rambunctious bunch, or disaster, because our disagreements are growing more fundamental?

Verdicts in a criminal case do not begin to address those matters.

But they are essential just the same. We can’t address anything effectively without the rule of law. Today, the rule of law won.

Andrew C. McCarthy, *‌Thoughts on the Rittenhouse Not-Guilty Verdicts *

Two paths of the novel

If the novelist cannot provide a window into reality, then he must ultimately write about himself; and his technique, or politics, or personal problems come to the forefront of his work. Like the postmodernist Pompidou Center in Paris, with all its pipes, wires, and elevators on the outside, the postmodern novel refuses the “hidden” artistry of the realistic tradition in order to flaunt its bag of tricks.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

A charitable surmise

One of the reasons that Pope Francis sometimes seems so frustrated with the state of the Church today may be that, in his experience, too many Christians tend to confuse doctrine and law and rituals and structures with the real experience of faith.

Abp. Charles J. Chaput, Strangers in a Strange Land

If Archbishop Chaput’s surmise is correct, I’ll give the Pope his props for a change — with a caveat: the "real experience of faith" can be absent even in a saint, and even for long "dry" spells. Witness St. Theresa of Calcutta, who suffered depression for decades, rarely if ever feeling God’s presence.

Deep paradox

In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory in The Weight of Glory

Tell me why I’m wrong

Having avoided the divisive topic of politics, I turn to the divisive subject of religion.

When I consider a story like David French’s The Moral Collapse of America’s Largest Christian University, I think that public-facing Evangelicalism is almost entirely religiopreneurs getting ego strokes and money, lots of money, and lots of — oh, never mind. This is a family blog.

Oh, those guys plus followers who will follow their leaders anywhere, including perdition, if the metrics are good (since good metrics are confused with God’s blessing).

I know there are faithful pastors laboring away far from the limelight, but the tone is set by the bozos, isn’t it?

Thinking much about politics

A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion; to ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for the one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.

C.S. Lewis, Membership, in The Weight of Glory


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.

Still recovering from politics

Not political

Hygiene Theater

[I]f detractors mock these measures—temperature checks before concerts, QR codes instead of paper menus at restaurants, outdoor mask wearing—for being useless and performative, it’s worth remembering that not everything we do need necessarily have a use, and that not everything performative is without merit.

Colin Dickey, In Defense of COVID Hygiene Theater

Science Today

Highly recommended: Matthew Crawford, How science has been corrupted. H/T @ayjay

I have no axe to grind except to wipe the smugness and censoriousness off some politicized "follow the science" faces.

Abortion polling

Most abortion polling is meaningless because most people have no idea what the abortion status quo is, what Roe held, or how Casey effectively replaced Roe. Witness this.

An apparent exception: How Americans Understand Abortion: A Comprehensive Interview Study of Abortion Attitudes in the U.S. (PDF)

NFTs

Gotta say this massaged my smug nerve (though I had been thinking more in terms of tulip mania): NFTs are the new Beanie Babies H/T @Cheri on micro.blog

People went batshit for these things. They would scour the internet to try and guess which Beanies would be discontinued when, and which ones would likely shoot up in value a little bit later. Demand for these "collectables" sky-rocketed because, well, demand sky-rocketed.

Yes, this

To believe in medicine would be utter madness, were it not still a greater madness not to believe in it.

Marcel Proust, quoted in a letter to the Wall Street Journal

Ivermectin

Scott Alexander of Astral Codex Ten offers up Ivermectin: Much More Than You Wanted To Know — a very accurate title for a very long Substack posting.

The Summary (Alexander’s own words)

  • Ivermectin doesn’t reduce mortality in COVID a significant amount (let’s say d > 0.3) in the absence of comorbid parasites: 85-90% confidence
  • Parasitic worms are a significant confounder in some ivermectin studies, such that they made them get a positive result even when honest and methodologically sound: 50% confidence
  • Fraud and data processing errors are of similar magnitude to p-hacking and methodological problems in explaining bad studies (95% confidence interval for fraud: between >1% and 5% as important as methodological problems; 95% confidence interval for data processing errors: between 5% and 100% as important)
  • Probably “Trust Science” is not the right way to reach proponents of pseudoscientific medicine: ???% confidence

I believe these conclusions not because I read the whole article but because this is the kind of thing Scott Alexander writes and he is pretty trustworthy.

You got a problem with that? Maybe you should think about how much you (and everyone else in the world) believe based on trustworthy sources.

"Independent journalism"

Substack says it has more than 1 million paid subscriptions – Axios

When Substack appeared and had a run of success, news executives treated it as something traitorous and horrifying, being sure now the independents were to blame for their audience crop failures …

They were making the same mistake they nearly all made with Trump, confusing symptom with cause. Yes, a few independents have done well, but that’s mainly because the overall quality level of mainstream news plunged so low so long ago, audiences were starved for anything that wasn’t rancidly, insultingly dishonest.

… If they really wanted to wipe us out, of course, they could just put out a New York Times that sucked less. In a million years, that won’t occur to them. Which, God forgive me, I still find funny, even if there are surely more important things to worry about today.

Matt Taibbi

What do you expect?

When police are ineffectual in riots, what’s a neighborhood, or a property owner, to do? David Bernstein, ‌A Reality Check for Progressives on the Rittenhouse Case is very good and pointed.

Uneducated

When conservatives complain about the state of higher education, they typically point the finger at the deterioration of the social sciences and humanities into critical theory, identity politics, and “grievance studies.” I sympathize with the complaint, but the number of students actually majoring in those areas is tiny compared to the army marching through business, communications, engineering, and medicine. The university is being taken over by future accountants and lawyers more than social justice warriors.

Paul Miller, ‌We Are Less Educated Than We Think

Miller is not trying to reassure us with future rule by accountants and lawyers. They’re no better educated than the lefties who spend their 6-8 years of college nurturing identities and identity-based grievances,

Political — National Conservative Conference

In Wednesday’s G-File, Jonah responds to a Christopher DeMuth op-ed from last week making a “Flight 93”-style case for national conservatism. “Things are complicated,” he writes. “But what is obvious to me is that the threat to the country is not lessened when conservatives think the answer to that threat is to emulate progressive tactics and categories of thought.”

The Morning Dispatch

Another voice:

Listening to Hawley talk populist is like listening to a white progressive Upper West Sider in the 1970s try to talk jive. The words are there, but he’s trying so hard it sounds ridiculous.

The NatCons are wrong to think there is a unified thing called “the left” that hates America. This is just the apocalyptic menace many of them had to invent in order to justify their decision to vote for Donald Trump.

They are wrong, too, to think there is a wokeist Anschluss taking over all the institutions of American life. For people who spend so much time railing about the evils of social media, they sure seem to spend an awful lot of their lives on Twitter. Ninety percent of their discourse is about the discourse. Anecdotalism was also rampant at the conference—generalizing from three anecdotes about people who got canceled to conclude that all of American life is a woke hellscape. They need to get out more.

Sitting in that Orlando hotel, I found myself thinking of what I was seeing as some kind of new theme park: NatCon World, a hermetically sealed dystopian universe with its own confected thrills and chills, its own illiberal rides. I tried to console myself by noting that this NatCon theme park is the brainchild of a few isolated intellectuals with a screwy view of American politics and history. But the disconcerting reality is that America’s rarified NatCon World is just one piece of a larger illiberal populist revolt that is strong and rising.

David Brooks on the National Conservatism Conference. It’s foreboding.

One figure in National Conservatism is Rod Dreher, who I’ve followed since his first book, Crunchy Cons. Brooks’ quote from Rod ("We need to unapologetically embrace the use of state power") corroborates the opinion of another friend, Orthodox Christian as are Rod and I, who says Rod has started putting his "trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation." Psalm 145:3 (146:3 in Western Bibles). That verse, of course, starts off "Put not your …."

Here’s my fear, evoked by Brooks’ take-down of Amanda Milius:

Another speaker, Amanda Milius, is the daughter of John Milius, who was the screenwriter for the first two Dirty Harry films and Apocalypse Now. She grew up in L.A. and wound up in the Trump administration. She argued that America needs to get back to making self-confident movies like The Searchers, the 1956 John Ford Western. This was an unapologetic movie, she asserted, about how Americans tamed the West and how Christian values got brought to “savage, undeveloped land.”

This is about as dumb a reading of The Searchers as it’s possible to imagine. The movie is actually the modern analogue to the Oresteia, by Aeschylus. The complex lead figure, played by John Wayne, is rendered barbaric and racist while fighting on behalf of westward pioneers. By the end, he is unfit to live in civilized society.

But we don’t exactly live in an age that acknowledges nuance. Milius distorts the movie into a brave manifesto of anti-woke truths—and that sort of distortion has a lot of buyers among this crowd.

(Emphasis added) It’s not at all hard for me to envision these NatCon crusaders being "rendered barbaric and racist while fighting … [b]y the end, … unfit to live in civilized society."

So the remarkable realignment of the major parties — who really thinks the Democrats are still the "party of the working man? — leave me no political home outside my dear, so-far-ineffectual, American Solidarity Party.


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.

November 16

Not political

Amish demurrals

My apologies if I’ve quoted this before:

These observations dismiss the popular belief that the Amish reject all new technologies. So what’s really going on here? The Amish, it turns out, do something that’s both shockingly radical and simple in our age of impulsive and complicated consumerism: they start with the things they value most, then work backward to ask whether a given new technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Quantitative metrics – meh!

Please don’t email me about my position on the Substack leaderboards. 100% of such emails have been in the way of encouragement and congratulations, so of course I’m not mad about it. But I saw those when I first set up this newsletter and said “nope nope nope.” I’ve never intentionally checked the leaderboard since, though I’ve blundered into it a couple times. It’s just exactly the kind of quantitative metric I don’t want to care about. I want to pay the bills and write for a passionate audience, not climb some status ladder. You can reference it in comments if it’s germane to your conversation, but in general please let me stay in the dark.

Freddie deBoer. By "writ[ing] for a passionate audience, not climb[ing] some status ladder," deBoer has created a Substack some very smart people are calling names like "indispensible" — and I welcome them to Freddie fandom.

Godless Middle Earth?

Musing about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and its lack of religion, priests, and such:

For the Extremely Online Discourse Police, the sole purpose of language is to declare allegiances and repudiations, and you can’t do that effectively if you “tell the truth but tell it slant.” The good news is that this moment will not last, and (again) in the long run Dickinson is exactly right to say that “Success in Circuit lies.”

Alan Jacobs

Valorizing a loser

I’ll have to take David French’s word that Kyle Rittenhouse is not just defended, but valorized in significant parts of the Right, because I don’t watch or read them even for purposes of vigilance.

But I agree with French that valorizing Rittenhouse will produce copy-cats. He should be left to live with his folly and shame, but bad actors will try to put him in the limelight for their own profit or dubious ends.

Political

"The Progressives made us do it"

Of J.D. Vance’s transformation as an Ohio Senate Candidate:

Progressives who lament the loss of another “genteel” conservative ought to ask themselves whether their own uncompromising politics have played a role.

Sean Speer, ‌What elite commentary gets wrong about J.D. Vance

This is sort of interesting, because it makes explicit the sort of "the other guys are an existential threat and must be defeated by any means necessary" that is tearing our country apart.

David French is the bane of the new right for good reasons. One reason is he’s not having any of the macho bullshit that passes for masculinity today, and neither did wise voice of an earlier era, like Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise …

It may indeed be impossible to reconcile the hard, progressive left and the allegedly white nationalist right, but even in the aggregate they’re not a majority in the country. The problem is, the extremes are riled up, active, colorful and "newsworthy." The majority is none of those.

Not mutually exclusive

In Friday’s G-File, Jonah uses the latest developments regarding the Steele dossier to make a point about both-sides-ism. “Going by what we know, the Steele dossier was a travesty. It was an outrageous, indefensible, dirty trick,” he writes. But on “the other side of the ledger,” Donald Trump openly called on the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election, his campaign held a meeting with a Russian woman promising to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, gave internal polling data to Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik. “Now you can make as much or as little about all of this as you want—and many people have, in both pro- and anti-Trump tribes,” Jonah concludes. “My only point is that just because Team A misbehaved, that doesn’t mean Team B’s misbehavior didn’t exist.”

The Morning Dispatch, 11/15/21

And they did both misbehave, which reinforces my unwillingness to pledge myself to either of them.

It’s 1968 again

Of Steve Bannon’s Contempt of Congress indictment, David Frum says Bannon knows exactly what he’s doing:

It’s a political strategy, intended, like the Chicago Seven’s strategy in Judge Julius Hoffman’s courtroom all those years ago, to discredit a legal and constitutional system that the pro-Trump partisans despise.

The Trump partisans start with huge advantages that the Chicago Seven lacked: They have a large and growing segment of the voting public in their corner, and they are backed by this country’s most powerful media institutions, including the para-media of Facebook and other social platforms.

Thanks to that advantage, the Trump partisans don’t need to convince much of anybody of much of anything. It won’t bother the Trump partisans that their excuses are a mess of contradictions. They say that nothing happened, and that it was totally justified; that Trump did nothing, and that Trump was totally entitled to do it. Their argument doesn’t have to make sense, because their constituency doesn’t care about it making sense. Their constituency cares about being given permission to disregard and despise the legal rules that once bound U.S. society. That’s the game, and that’s how Bannon & Co. will play the game.

Gerrymandering

When I was young and ignorant, I had the same dumb opinion about gerrymandering as almost everybody else does: I was shocked by it. The process was politicized, and I was scandalized. As a veteran state legislator in Texas explained it to me, redistricting isn’t politicized — it is political per se, “the most political thing a legislature does,” as he put it. It does not have to be politicized because it is political by nature, and to “depoliticize” it, as some self-serving Democrats and a few callow idealists suggest, would be to change its nature and its character. The Democrats who lecture us about the will of the people would, in this matter, deprive the people’s elected representatives of one of their natural powers.

The gerrymander — like the filibuster, the earmark, the debt ceiling, and other procedural instruments of power — is something that people complain about only when it is being used against them. The Democrats were perfectly happy with gerrymandering for the better part of 200 years, understanding it to be an utterly normal part of the political process. They began to object to it when Republicans got good at it. And, in a refreshing bit of candor, their argument against partisan redistricting is that Republicans are too good at it.

Seriously — that is the Democrats’ argument: that gerrymandering was all good and fine until Republicans figured out how to make the most of it. Republicans, in clear violation of the ancient Republican Party tradition, embraced cutting-edge technology and availed themselves of the best experts’ help in order to methodically and intelligently conduct a long-term program of serious and profitable political action. “Never before have party strategists been armed with sophisticated computer software that can help them carve districts down to the individual street and home,” Hedrick Smith wailed in a 2015 essay.

Detail-oriented Republicans with an attention span exceeding that of a meth-addicted goldfish — angels and ministers of grace, defend us!

Go look at an old district map of Texas during that state’s 130 years of Democratic legislative control, and what you will see is not exactly a hard-edged display of Euclidean regularity. Democrats made the most of their redistricting power in the Texas legislature and — bear this in mind, Republicans — it wasn’t enough to save them. Not nearly enough. Once Texans decided they were no longer buying what Democrats were selling, there was no procedural shenanigan that was going to save the[m].

… in spite of Republican manipulation of House districts, the Democrats quickly rebuilt their congressional majorities with the assistance of Donald Trump.

Kevin D. Williamson

Sometimes I just post stuff, but I substantially agree with this. "Agree with" does not mean "exult in"; I haven’t considered myself a Republican since January 2005.

Metrics, algorithms and more

Not politics

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

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

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

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

Late in Episode 11, there was this quote:

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

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

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

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

Just sayin’.

Thinking Locally

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

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

Guilt by free association

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

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

Things one couldn’t say 30 years ago

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

Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue.

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

It’s the algorithms, stupid!

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

Jaron Lanier on the Sway podcast.

It’s still the algorithm, stupid!

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

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

(Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess)

Ummm, I don’t think so.

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

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

Rant over.

Anything that fits the narrative will be accepted tout suite

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

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

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

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

Politics of a sort

Summit for Democracy

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

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

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

"Polite" has never been so flexible a term

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

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

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

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

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

I. Don’t. Get. It.


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