What a normal human being looks like

The monasticism of the desert fathers is a major influence in Orthodoxy, and the Apophthegmata Patrum—the sayings of the fathers (and mothers) of the desert—range from remarkably practical advice to a startling sense of participation in the divine. Take these two selections, from Benedicta Ward’s translation in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian Publications):

Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Note the words, “the old man.” The idea is preserved in the Greek word for “an elder”—geron—still used of wise monks and spiritual directors, the idea being that it takes time and patience to get there.

At one moment, my friend pointed to where a group of young converts were sitting — all men and women in their twenties — and said to me, “Do you know why they are all here?”

“No,” I said, mindful that he had spent a lot more time talking to them than I had.

“They’re here because they came and found something deep, and real. They all came from Protestantism, which is falling apart. They were looking for something that they could stand firm on, that wasn’t going to collapse. They found it here.

“Look at me,” he went on. “Why do you think I’m here? Well, my wife and I came because you invited us, but we kept coming because we saw the same thing that they saw. That’s why we’re Orthodox. It’s real, more real than anything we had ever seen before.”

Rod Dreher, Abba Joseph’s Fingers (paywall likely)

Note: Abba Joseph is extraordinary only by the low standards fallen humanity has set. Sub specie aeternitatis, he’s normal — what God intended humans to be. It’s just that the rest of us are severely disabled.


The real irony of this past century of innovation is that the modern innovators are perplexed by the outcome which they themselves conditioned. The global pandemic has exposed the irony. COVID is surging and the conditioners cannot understand why people will not simply listen to the experts. Of course, they have ignored the simple question: which experts ought we to listen and why ought we to listen? You cannot derive an ought from an is. The entire foundation of their worldview is instinct, and they have built an entire ethic upon it. However, instincts are the “is” and they desperately want for us to derive from instinct their desired “ought.” Their answer to the question, why, is the paternalistic response, “because I said so.”

We decry the rise of QAnon and wonder aloud why people can no longer think critically. The conditioners built a system which rendered useless the very critical thinking for which they now plead. If there is no universal objective value, then by what measure do we think critically? We have access to endless facts and no mind with which to critique them. How can a student solve a math problem if conditioned to believe that 2+2 has no solution which is transcendent of and objectively discoverable by the pupil’s mind? Universal subjectivity of all truth has no limiting principle. In Lewis’ day, the conditioners came for language. The deconstructionists finished in the 70’s the work begun by Lewis’ contemporaries decades before. Now, the conditioners have come for everything. Subjectivity in biology. Subjectivity in mathematics. Each man is to follow his instincts. Each man has become his own epistemological center. Perception is reality.

Lewis foresaw this inevitability nearly 80 years ago. Now, in the midst of political polarization, rampant conspiracy theorizing, a global pandemic, racial injustice, and economic uncertainty, our conditioners make demands of the polis which they themselves have made impossible. “Follow the science!” “Trust the election officials!” “Do not fall prey to conspiracy theories circulating on social media!” C.S. Lewis provides the response to such demands, “In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

James Ranieri, The Restoration of a Thinking Polis Has but One Solution: Classical Education, Part One


Similar agencies of deceit, militarism and imperialism now robustly use this same branding tactic. The CIA — in between military coups, domestic disinformation campaigns, planting false stories with their journalist-partners, and drone-assassinating U.S. citizens without due process — joyously celebrates Women’s Day, promotes what it calls The Agency Network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Officers (ANGLE), hosts activities for Pride Month, and organizes events to commemorate Black History Month. The FBI does the same.

It’s so sweet that one is tempted to forget about, or at least be more understanding of, all the bombing campaigns and all the dictatorships they install and prop up that repress and kill the very people that they purport to honor and cherish. Like the GCHQ, how menacing can an intelligence agency be when it is so deeply and sincerely supportive of the rights of the people they routinely spy on, repress and kill?

Again, this does not make the CIA perfect — sure, they make some mistakes and engage in some actions that are worthy of criticism — but to combat real evil, you do not go protest at Langley. They are engaged in important work combating homophobia, racism and misogyny. Thus, real warriors against evil look not to them but instead go searching online for the Boogaloo Boys and boomers on Facebook who post Q-Anon and other problematic memes. That is where your focus should remain if you want to root out the real threats.

Large corporations have obviously witnessed the success of this tactic — to prettify the face of militarism and imperialism with the costumes of social justice — and are now weaponizing it for themselves.

Glenn Greenwald has quickly become one of my indispensible Substack subscriptions. He’s got a fabulous crap detector (sometimes it almost seems like a death wish), and you can’t even distract him by playing “woke” on liberal groin pieties.

Greenwald puts all the big-name media to shame with their lazy facilitation of diversionary tactics by woke capital and governmental power centers. They’re too busy chasing stick figures and, increasingly, simply making stuff up, to really speak truth to power.


What a piece or work Andrew Cuomo is! Revisiting Governor Cuomo’s Hostility Towards Orthodox Jews In Light of His “Fucking Tree Houses” Comment – Reason.com.

I wish the difference between him and me was one of kind rather than of degree. That’s all I’m going to say about that.


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.

The Equality Act

When I listen to news, I listen to NPR. I’m aware of its liberal bias, which manifests in how it covers news but also — and this is too rarely appreciated — what it considers "newsworthy" in the first place.

But NPR really dropped the ball on the Equality Act, which comes up for vote in the U.S. House today. Its story doesn’t even mention opposition based on the certain (not speculative) effect of requiring that male-to-female transgender persons be permitted to compete in athletic events against biological women.

A guest opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal identifies other problems besides the Act’s adverse effect on religious and conscience rights:

The Equality Act would threaten the existence of women’s prisons, public-school girls’ locker rooms, and women’s and girls’ sports teams. It would limit freedom of speech, freedom of association, accurate data collection, and scientific inquiry. It would threaten the rights of physicians who doubt the wisdom of performing life-changing, reproduction-limiting procedures, and parents who seek to protect their minor children from such treatment.

This isn’t hyperbole. Similar state laws have already resulted in such harm. In California, Catholic hospitals have faced lawsuits for declining to perform life-altering “gender affirmation” surgery in September 2016. In Connecticut, two biologically male athletes won a combined 15 girls state championship races, allegedly taking opportunities for further competition and scholarships from female runners in June 2019. Alaska’s Equal Rights Commission opened an investigation into a women’s shelter after it turned away a biological male in September 2019. H.R. 5 would impose the most extreme form of these laws on the whole country.

The bill is so broad that even some who support the measure in principle have called for Congress to carve out exceptions. Writing in the Washington Post in 2019, tennis legend and activist Martina Navratilova asked Congress to exempt athletic competitions. “The reality,” Ms. Navratilova wrote, “is that putting male- and female-bodied athletes together is co-ed or open sport. And in open sport, females lose.”

Women forced to compete against male athletes risk not only losing competitions, but also serious injury. Ask Tamikka Brents, whose orbital bone was fractured by transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox in the latter’s first professional fight as a woman. Ms. Brents said she felt “overwhelmed” by the fight.

The reason that some contexts require separation of the sexes is obvious: Women have unique physical vulnerabilities. Female inmates are kept separate from male inmates for just this reason. How can we possibly reduce the number of sex crimes against women if the law refuses to recognize such basic differences?

Under the guise of fairness, the Equality Act would forbid policy makers from ever taking into consideration the differences between men and women that are necessary in order to guarantee safety and equality of the sexes.

The Equality Act isn’t about protecting people from discrimination; it’s about compelling adherence to gender ideology. Don’t let its name fool you.

The Equality Act Makes Women Unequal – WSJ

Religious freedom was once held in such high esteem that Congress was almost unanimous on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act less than 30 years ago, and Bill Clinton supported it and signed it. Today, it generally appears in scare quotes, often with intensifiers (e.g., "so-called ‘religious freedom’"), and is to the cultural left a bugaboo like saying "George Soros" to the cultural right.

NPR mis-reported the primary objections to The Equality Act, a bit of liberal groin piety analogous to tax cuts on the right, and I can’t help but suspect that they did so to "poison the well." Selma envy is alive and well as a prime motivation of today’s progressivism.

Trumpist alternative facts don’t lead me where they want me to go

Let’s take Trump’s claims seriously, just for the sake of argument. I don’t think my conclusion is his conclusion.

As I understand it, in this alternate world, Team Biden:

  • secretly organized a huge, multi-state conspiracy,
  • consisting of Republicans, Democrats, virtually every pollster and presumably a few Libertarians and independents,
  • including Governors, Secretaries of State, County and City officials, volunteers who help with elections, and
  • including federal and state judges at trial and appellate levels,
  • including Trump appointees, both trial and appellate (who Trump boasted would reliably do his will),
  • without any leaks or defections, and
  • without leaving a trace of articulable evidence (other than statistical sophistry that competent authorities demolish).

Whew!

Team Trump, in contrast, succeeded in four years at:

  • picking names off a list of prime judicial nominees handed to him by the Federalist Society and then letting Cocaine Mitch work his bright magic
  • mis-managing a pandemic response at the cost of scores- or hundreds-of-thousands of lives
  • implementing a “no good deed goes unpunished” policy for officials who take too seriously their oaths to uphold the law and Constitution
  • mean-Tweeting one or two gross of power-hungry Republican dipwads at the federal level into repeatedly and vigorously humping Trump’s leg.

I don’t want to minimize the feral cunning it takes to reduce a lot of ambitious manicured and razor-cut Republican hotshots to abject sycophancy, but apparently all that takes is demonically tireless mean-Tweeting (or threatening to mean-Tweet).

Team Biden’s exploit, in contrast, ipso facto proves that they are prepared to unite and govern a diverse and complicated country, including things that must be done without fanfare or even in secrecy.

It also proves that peaceful resistance to election of Biden is futile, and I’ll be damned (literally) if I’m stupid and evil enough to take up arms for the Orange Toxin.

He’s not known for coherence, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Team Trump wants me to conclude.

(Reminder: This was an exercise in the eventuality of “alternate facts.” And remember that Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism.)

What do the two major parties really stand for?

There have been so very many arguments along the lines of the title of Politics Is More Than Abortion vs Character that I quickly abandoned it as unpromising.

Specifically, I stopped right after this:

The root problem is not that Trump is mean. The problem is that he is a nationalist, a problem that infects much of the right and thus will outlast Trump himself. Much of his meanness is not a character flaw so much as an ideological choice. Trump is mean because of what he believes about the world, about American identity, and about his fellow citizens.

I tend to disagree with that. I wouldn’t call it Trump’s meanness, but I think the “root problem” of the last four years has been Trump’s character, more specifically his toxic narcissism, which put us at risk of his fundamentally misunderstanding existential threats to the nation — understanding them in terms of how they make him look.

But then Winston Hottman, a thoughtful Baptist I’ve been following on micro.blog, quoted the conclusion:

The most urgent and most moral necessity in American politics is to dismantle the two-party system that artificially forces us into an impossible choice between two immoral options, neither of which represents a majority of Americans, embodies the aspirations of the American experiment, or articulates a vision of ordered liberty and human dignity. The American experiment is a miracle of political order, a miracle that is increasingly fragile and has no champions, no defenders, and no partisans in our contemporary political landscape except for the large and growing number of voters who reject the two parties who claim to govern in their name.

As an early recruit to the American Solidarity Party, I found that arresting enough to revisit the article.

The author, Paul D. Miller of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission elaborates his problems with nationalism, and makes plausible his belief that

[t]he political right has been prone to nationalism for decades; Trump only brought it out into the open. Trump’s bizarre and outsized personality make it seem like he is wholly unique and therefore that the nativism, xenophobia, and footsie-with-racism that has characterized his administration will go away when he leaves office …

Nothing in American history suggests that nationalism will simply go away. Racism, nativism, and xenophobia are persistent and strong tendencies in American political culture.

That’s more plausible than I anticipated when I stopped reading the first time. I will add to his comments four of my own:

  • The GOP has been mostly wandering, directionless, since the fall of European communism — trying to find some schtick that will stick with voters.
  • Where did birtherism come from if not from racism — Trump’s own or at least what he assumed about much of America?
  • Why did Trump malign a Hoosier-born judge of Mexican ancestry as ipso facto biased if not from xenophobia — his own or at least what he assumed about much of America?
  • What are the most prominent and vehement Trumpist Congressmen and Senators touting as they vie to become Trump’s successors? Josh Hawley, for instance (what a bitter disappointment he has been!)? Nationalism, that’s what.

As for the Left, its problem is

progressivism. Progressivism, like nationalism, is a totalistic political religion that is fundamentally inconsistent with the ideals of a free and open society.

Progressivism is best understood as a philosophy of history, a belief that history unfolds in the direction of progressive policy preferences. Today’s progressive elites act like a self-appointed vanguard commissioned by history to open up the next chapter in our story. Such a self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing narrative has no moral horizon or framework and no way to justify what its policy preferences are, other than vague appeals to “the children,” “the future,” and “the right side of history,” which means whatever they want those empty phrases to mean on any given day.

Shorn of any fixed moral commitments, the goals of progressivism deteriorate into the lowest common denominator available within the rhetoric of freedom: individual autonomy, personal discovery, self-expression, fulfillment, and empowerment. Progressivism is an endless pursuit of ever-greater liberation, freedom, autonomy, and self-discovery.

That indictment is familiar and comfortable to me, but Miller goes on to elaborate its fundamental problems (just as he did with nationalism — a critique much less familiar and comfortable).

I commend Miller’s article, which you can read in twelve minutes (if Instapaper is right). It further solidified my “none of the above” stance in the last two Presidential cycles (including the one that ends today).

Yes, friends, the two major parties, as avatars of nationalism and progressivism respectively, have served us up a shit sandwich yet again as we vote today with each pretending to represent something other than what Miller identifies and warning of the destruction of America or even the whole world if the other is elected.

I said in 2016, after Trump’s election and probably after his coronation as GOP nominee, that a big political realignment was under way. At the time, I was thinking of what was happening between and within the two major parties, but I see hopeful signs that more and more people are fed up with them both, ready to entertain third parties.

At the same time, I have become increasingly convinced that the Libertarian party is little if any better — and maybe the worst of both. Its laissez faire economics (it seems to me, but perhaps “Libertarian” now is a term of art that designations something miles and miles from Murray Rothbard) will further gut the middle class while its lifestyle liberalism further immiserates the poor by making family formation even harder (with all that entails).

I have too little knowledge, current or semi-recent, to speak of other third parties except my beloved American Solidarity Party, which has made great strides in four years. It was actually on the ballot today in eight states, and certified for write-in votes in twenty-four more. 20 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined supporting some of its positions, had it existed then, but what we’ve got is broken in more ways than I can count, and ADP points the way to something more humane.


Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

What’s wrong with this picture?

More dramatic than I imagined:

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.29 PM

(link) and

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.55 PM

(link).

Those are stunning contrasts. So why do I not feel tribal loyalty to the GOP?

A superficial answer would be that for a conservative, I rate shocking low on loyalty in Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. But I’m almost positive there’s something more important than that.

First, a distinction.

Dissatisfied with my superficial reading habits, I am currently reading Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book (revised and updated 1972). Chapter 8 is titled “Coming to Terms with an Author”:

[I]n the analytical reading of a book, coming to terms is the first step beyond the outline. Unless the reader comes to terms with the author, the communication of knowledge from one to the other does not take place. For a term is the basic element of communicable knowledge.

A term is not a word–at least, not just a word without further qualifications … [A] word can have many meanings, especially an important word. If the author uses a word in one meaning, and the reader reads it in another, words have passed between them, but they have not come to terms.

Second, a story, which may be apocryphal, but I did not make it up.

A conservative returned to his alma mater for a commencement address and opened thusly:

By a strange coincidence, I am a graduate of a vastly different institution which occupied this very site 40 years ago and even bore the same name …

For some 23 years now, I’ve been an adherent of a religion called “Christianity,” based on the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and glorious second coming of Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man. It was once, under the necessity of distinguishing it from a particular heresy, partially summarized in a Creed. To distinguish it from other versions, it’s called “Orthodox,” with a capital-O.

Meanwhile, my country is breathing the last few whiffs of an empty bottle labeled, by a strange coincidence, “Christianity,” which apparently is based on the intuition that God wants us to be nice and happy or, in its robust “Evangelical” versions, that Jesus Christ was very special and died a horrible death so that God would get over his anger issues with us and we could get on with being nice and happy.

Its proper name is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Although we share a mostly-overlapping vocabulary of words, I cannot come to terms with it, except in relatively brief and exhausting bursts of attempted empathy.

I remember from some 55 years ago an even more rigorous version, to which I then and for several more decades adhered, but it lives on today mostly notionally, in the scribblings of über-fissiparous “discernment bloggers.” I stay as far from them (and it) as I can, because I’m recovering from a mild-to-moderate case of that mindset and I’ve seen the harm it can cause, including when someone brings that mindset into Orthodox Christianity.

There were and are some other versions of “Christianity,” with some of which I have more or less come to terms, but they are not all that easily pigeon-holed politically.

So back to the question:  “why do I not feel tribal loyalty to the GOP?”

First, because it forfeited any claim to my loyalty:

In 2000 and 2004, it was Dubya. He was, we were told, a good Evangelical Christian. He cited Jesus as his favorite philosopher. He talked about America walking humbly in the foreign policy world.

Then 9-11 came, and he turned into a fierce Commander In Chief …

And then came, too, the second inaugural, when he declared as U.S. policy the eradication of tyranny from the world and the planting of democracy. If you don’t understand how delusional that is, read it again: eradicating tyranny from the world. As national policy.

(Conscientious Objector to the Culture Wars | War Correspondence ن)

Second, I have no confidence that was a blip, a lapse. In fact, the ensuing years have confirmed that endless war truly is the position of the party insiders (even though party voters chose a putatively antiwar mad, toxic and incompetent man for President in 2016).

Third, the Churches these Republicans so assiduously attend engage in worship that’s pure glucose and teach religion(s) with which I cannot come to terms sufficiently to form any kind of alliance. That Republicans are so much likelier to attend Church weekly is not all that interesting considering the Churches they attend.

I knew that 10 years ago (if not earlier, but I drove a stake in the ground then — a blog that’s held up surprisingly well) and they drove a stake though whatever remained of “Republican” in my heart on November 8, 2016.

That’s why.

* * *

Perhaps some day I’ll post a more nuanced version of why it’s difficult for a former-Evangelical, former-Calvinist, now-Orthodox, to “come to terms” with typical versions of contemporary American “Christianity.” I acknowledge painting here with a broad brush, but if there’s no glimmer of recognition, then you may to inattentive, gentle reader.

* * * * *

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

Psalm 146:3

* * * * *

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.

Disillusioned

This has been rattling around my soul, inchoate. Today, it came together. It’s nothing much, but maybe others will find it helpful.

I was a single-issue voter for a while in the 80’s, but then I notice some fools and rogues checking the “Pro-Life” box, and that most Republican “Pro-Lifers” were insincere and/or utterly tone-deaf to all overtones or undertones. So I now vote pro-life, but with more discernment.

I will not vote for Donald Trump just because he checks the “Pro-Life” box (and “Religious Freedom” box), especially since all he really means is “anti-abortion” (and “suck up to Evangelicals”). Same goes for Republicans more generally.

The Trump Party has destroyed even my presumption in favor of The Thing That Used To Be The GOP.

* * * * *

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.

In your heart, you know he’s wrong

Andrew Walker has written an excellent and sympathetic account of why many conservative Christians vote for Trump.

My critique has little to do with what he says about the objects he focuses on, more to do with his too-narrow field of vision:

  1. All the negative analysis of Trump is framed in terms of how wicked and intemperate his is. That’s secondary for me, as my top concern is how his extreme narcissism distorts his perception, cognition and volition. I don’t want a delusional man managing crises. I want someone who, when faced with a choice between doing right for the country and grabbing a benefit for himself, will know that there can be a difference, and is capable of putting the country first. In your heart, you know that’s not Trump.
  2. None of the analysis of the complexity of the choice mentions the possibility that our choice is not binary. Perhaps (as I think) both parties are so corrupt that it’s time to give up “let go and let God” on the short game — and by “short,” I mean the next few decades in all likelihood, and play a “longer game” politically by looking elsewhere.

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President.

* * * * *

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.

Lament

I keep on encountering reminders of conclusive reasons not to vote for Trump in November but keep on encountering “But Gorsuch! But Kavanaugh!”

I very occasionally wonder if I’m missing something, but generally I just lament what a low-down, dishonest, cowardly, sub-Christian post-Christendom we live in.

* * * * *

All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.

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.

The Ghost and his Lizard

This is Trump’s ultimate victory. Every argument on every topic is now all about him. Hating Trump together has become the ultimate bonding ….

(David Brooks, Trump Has Made Us All Stupid)

* * *

I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. ‘Shut up, I tell you!’ he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

‘Off so soon?’ said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

‘Yes. I’m off,’ said the Ghost. ‘Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap’ (here he indicated the Lizard) ‘that he’d have to be quiet if he came—which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.’

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit–an angel, as I now understood.

‘Be careful,’ it said. ‘He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams—all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent…’

‘Have I your permission?’ said the Angel to the Ghost.

‘I know it will kill me.’

‘It won’t. But supposing it did?’

‘You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.’

‘Then I may?’

‘Damn and blast you! Go on, can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,’ bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, ‘God help me. God help me.’

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken-backed, on the turf.

‘Ow! That’s done for me,’ gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing ….

C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

* * *

Here endeth our parable.

The Ghost doesn’t die. Neither, oddly, does the Lizard.

The Ghost turns into a solid man. The lizard turns into a beautiful stallion, on which the Ghost rides off into deeper heaven.

Let him hear who hath ears to hear. I’ve got smaller fish to fry.

We don’t know what life will be like without our lizard. He won’t go away gladly or entirely. I don’t even know if we can get back the status quo ante (“You can’t turn back the clock,” they say) or that doing so is desirable (we invited him onto our shoulder for some reason, however ill-considered).

But on balance, how much worse could the alternative be than living with this creature?

* * *

For what it’s worth, The Great Divorce played an important part in my departure from the Protestantism I’d known all my in favor of Orthodox Christianity.

That departure entailed greater and more glorious changes than I could imagine, but which I might have apprehended had I heard that the great spiritual conflict of our age is The Struggle Against the Normal Life. The linked podcast also could be called “Orthodoxy versus Protestantism from 40,000 feet in 11 minutes, 5 seconds.”

* * * * *

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.

Who is Cultural Proximate to the U.S.?

There is a genuine rift in conservative thought on immigration, illustrated by contrasting takes on the National Conservatism Conference speech of Amy Wax.

Much of the commentary on Wax’s comments have been reactive in the bad sense, accusing her of racism. I’ve looked at the most controversial parts (I’m having trouble finding a transcript or, now, even the video on the Conference’s YouTube channel) and I summarize it thus:

We should have an policy bias toward immigrants who are culturally proximate to us rather than culturally distant. That means a bias in favor of  Western European immigrants. And that — let’s face it — will mean a disproportionately white batch of immigrants, though race is not our real criterion.

My three representative conservative takes are those of Rod Dreher, David French and Mark Bauerlein.

Dreher came out first:

I can see some problems with Wax’s proposal. What does it mean to be “Western”? Russia is a European country, and a Christian country, and a country of white people … but it’s not really Western. Should we limit Russian immigration? Ghana is an African nation that is vastly more Christian than, say, Sweden, but it’s certainly not Western, and it’s in the Third World. Would America be better off with a policy that favored atheist Swedes over Christian Ghanaians? Asians — South Asians and East Asians — are not Western, obviously, not Christian, and many of them do not live in what we consider the First World. Yet they tend to be “model migrants,” in that their children obey the laws, study hard, and achieve professional success disproportionately. Is an immigration system that puts them at a disadvantage over Europeans better for America?

It’s certainly debatable, but one of Wax’s points is that we can’t even talk about it, because it is widely assumed that any immigration system that results in disproportionate racial impact is racist and therefore bad.

French came close behind. For him, Amy Wax’s speech wasn’t racist, but it was wrong:

  1. Western Europeans are not necessarily more culturally proximate because there’s “quite a bit of evidence that nonwhite immigrants (including nonwhite immigrants from developing countries) do very well in a key measure of American assimilation — economic industry.”
  2. Western Europeans are decidedly less culturally proximate insofar as “American culture and European culture have been drifting apart for decades on a key metric — religiosity. Secular nationalists may not care about this, but European-biased immigration is secular-biased immigration, and that will alter American culture in appreciable ways.”
  3. “[O]ne of the core, virtuous objectives of the new conservative nationalism [is] social cohesion [but] the most polarized population in America is the white population.”

Bauerlein just appeared in print on Wax, and he clearly implies that she’s right about Western European cultural proximity:

A cardinal premise of leftist thought is that cultural traits run deep. They reach down, past behavior, to unconscious values and concepts, shaping how we think. I went to graduate school in the 1980s, when critical race theorists and postcolonialists talked about “Western ways of knowing.” …

This is why we must take the outrage over Amy Wax’s remarks at the National Conservatism Conference in Washington earlier this month with a grain of salt …

What her detractors haven’t addressed, however, is Ms. Wax’s assertion of the deep acculturation that makes people who they are. This must be respected. The great divide Ms. Wax identifies is between peoples that have passed through the Enlightenment and peoples that haven’t. Immigrants from countries that don’t have a tradition of individual rights, free markets and fair elections must undergo a firm and steady induction if those mores are to sink into their souls. Social conservatives and identity-politics leftists agree on this: People can’t easily drop their heritage and adopt another one.

It is liberals and libertarians who think that migration is a smooth process. They imagine a world of free and flexible people who pick and choose the elements that will form their characters. Neither conservatives nor progressives trust this cosmopolitan faith. They know that culture molds character.

Ms. Wax’s great sin in the eyes of the left wasn’t her recognition of cultural differences and incompatibilities. It was, instead, her frank declaration of the West’s cultural superiority …

This outspoken praise for the West is anathema to the left, but not because the left hates the idea of cultural superiority. Far from it. The left most definitely believes in cultural superiority—but the kind that runs the other way. To them, the West isn’t a story of the advancement of rights and scientific knowledge, as Ms. Wax believes. It is a record of exploitation, enslavement, colonialism, environmental devastation and imperialism against suffering and benign non-Western peoples. When we speak of the West, the U.S. and whites, we must confess guilt.

This is a dogma in academia, advocacy groups and the Democratic Party. No, it’s a taboo. It has extraordinary force, too, having intimidated Republicans for decades. Amy Wax violated it. She’s not afraid. The left knows it, and if she isn’t punished, she may inspire others.

This debate doesn’t neatly fit the other rift, that between procedural liberalism (David French) and “virtue conservatism” or “substantive good conservatism” (Sohrab Amahri). Which group has which preference? I think Bauerlein and Amahri are converging in general, but would Amahri join French in prefering the black and brown Pentecostals?

For the time being, though, Amy Wax wins: we conservatives are talking, and disagreeing, about ideas that were taboo very, very recently.

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