Sunday, 7/17/22

Poetry and Myth

Christianity and Poetry

The Incarnation requires an ode, not an email.

Poet Dana Gioia, Christianity and Poetry commenting on the poetry of the Magnificat.

More:

  • For most believers, the truths of their faith have become platitudes taught in catechism or Sunday school. The mysteries of faith—those strange events such as the Incarnation, Transfiguration, and Resurrection—have lost their awe and wonder and become replaced by sensible morality and proper reverence. There is nothing wrong with morality or reverence, but pious propriety is a starvation diet for the soul. Modern versions of the Bible, which translate verse passages into prosaic language for the supposed sake of clarity, are mistranslations, since they change the effect of the text.
  • When Jesus preached, he told stories, spoke poems, and offered proverbs. The Beatitudes are a poem about the merciful Kingdom of God in contrast to the selfish world of mankind. Jesus was not much concerned with theology. He left that to posterity. He did not ask his listeners to think their way to salvation; he wanted them to taste and see the goodness of God. He told them stories in which they could see themselves. He spoke to people as creatures with both a body and soul. He addressed them in the fullness of their fallen humanity, driven by contradictory appetites, emotions, and imagination.
  • When the Second Vatican Council dropped these sequences from the Catholic missal, it demonstrated how remote the Church had become from its own traditions. The new Church wanted to reengage the broader world and get rid of the musty traditions of the past. Vatican II wanted to be practical, positive, and modern; its motto was aggiornamento, Italian for “bringing things up to date.” The poetic sequences, which had seemed so splendid to the old Church—rapturous artistic vehicles for the contemplation of divine mysteries—felt too pious, formal, and elaborate for modern worship.
  • William Wordsworth was a religious man who saw the poet’s role as prophetic, but his Christianity expressed itself most eloquently in pantheistic Deism. He grew more devout and conventional in middle age, to the detriment of his verse. His pious Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1822) marked the lowest point of his career. Read any page of it outdoors—the stupefied bees will stop buzzing and the birds fall senseless from the trees.
  • Minor poets with major minds, Chesterton and Belloc were smart, brash, and wickedly funny. Unintimidated by their intellectual foes, they swaggered when others would have taken cover. For the first time since the Elizabethan Age, there was an outspoken Catholic presence in English verse.

And then, in conclusion:

Christianity has survived into the twenty-first century, but it has not come through unscathed. It has kept its head and its heart—the clarity of its beliefs and its compassionate mission. The problem is that it has lost its senses, all five of them. Great is the harvest, and greater still the hunger it must feed, but its call into the world has become faint and abstract. Contemporary Christianity speaks mostly in ideas. Potent ideas, to be sure, but colorless and hackneyed in their expression …

A major challenge of Christianity today is to recover the language of the senses and to recapture faith’s natural relationship with beauty. There is much conversation nowadays about beauty among theologians and clergy. They seem to consider it a philosophical problem to be solved by analysis and apologetics. Those are the tools they have. Their relation to beauty is passive rather than creative. Even the clearest thinking can’t close the gap between how people experience their existence—a holistic mix of sensory data, emotions, memories, ideas, and imagination—and how the Church explains it—moral and spiritual concepts organized in a rational system. The theology isn’t wrong; it’s just not right for most occasions. It offers a laser when a lamp is what’s needed.

These things matter because we are incarnate beings. We see the shape and feel the texture of things. We instinctively know that the form of a thing is part of its meaning. We are drawn to beauty, not logic. Our experience of the divine is not primarily intellectual. We feel it with our bodies. We picture it in our imaginations. We hear it as a voice inside us. We are grateful for an explanation, but we crave inspiration, communion, rapture, epiphany.

It probably will come as no surprise to you that I do not think that Orthodoxy has "lost its senses."

But I am one man, formed in the West, which has lost its senses, so I face extra hurdles acquiring the mind of the Church.

(A "brilliant and substantive new essay" like this pops up just often enough that I still subscribe to First Things.)

Deep magic

I read more on Saturday of his first book, A Branch from the Lightning Tree, and it was so overwhelming that despite having had two giant cups of coffee, I had to come back to the room to sleep. There is deep magic in his words. I see now why Guite, an Anglican priest, told me that only Orthodox Christianity will be able to contain the immensity that is Martin Shaw’s imagination and sensibility.

Rod Dreher.

I’m experiencing Martin Shaw that way, too, though I’ve only caught snippets and haven’t yet read the book I bought.

C.S. Lewis, reacting to the claim that society was returning to paganism, said something to the effect of "Would that it were so! The pagan is an eminently convertible man." Paul Kingsnorth and Martin Shaw may be the first fruits that add "prophet" to Lewis’ encomiums.

What Athos has on offer

Why have western scholars virtually ignored this experiential form of mystical Christianity at a time when numerous Westerners have turned their gaze toward Hinduism and Buddhism? What does Mount Athos have to offer to the Western world today that is not available within the mainstream churches?

Kyriacos C. Markides, The Mountain of Silence

What myths mean

However nonrational myths were, they betrayed man’s urge to explain what he found in himself and in the world, as well as his belief that explanation was somehow possible.

David V. Hicks, Norms and Nobility

Analysis

Hypocrisy or Mimesis?

Remember that old saw "hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue"?

Gilbert Meilander, with help from C.S. Lewis throughout, reminds me that a charge of "hypocrisy" ought to be used very sparingly. Excerpt from the introduction:

Discussing his experience as a soldier in the Great War, he writes of a fellow soldier who was not only (like Lewis) a scholar from Oxford, but also—alarmingly to Lewis—“a man of conscience,” committed to adhering to taken-for-granted moral principles.

Embarrassed by the contrast with his own life, Lewis did his best to conceal the fact that he himself had not taken moral obligations so seriously. “If this is hypocrisy,” Lewis writes:

then I must conclude that hypocrisy can do a man good. To be ashamed of what you were about to say, to pretend that something which you had meant seriously was only a joke—this is an ignoble part. But it is better than not to be ashamed at all. And the distinction between pretending you are better than you are and beginning to be better in reality is finer than moral sleuthhounds conceive. . . . When a boor first enters the society of courteous people what can he do, for a while, except imitate the motions? How can he learn except by imitation?

Belonging, truthing

For human beings, the ability to belong is more [evolutionarily] adaptive than the ability to see what’s true.

Alan Jacobs citing Jonathan Haidt.

I’m thinking of an American-made religion with (1) what strikes me as an unusually implausible founding story, but (2) a very strong sense of community. That religion was still growing rapidly last time I looked at the stats (though that has been a while). Score one datapoint for Haidt and Jacobs.

Tonic

You’re churches, for God’s sake. Quit fighting for social justice. Quit saving the bloody planet. Attend to some souls. That’s what you are supposed to do. That’s your holy duty. Do it. Now. Before it’s too late. And the hour is nigh.

Jordan Peterson via Aaron Renn

Well, that’s bracing — unless your church was already doing that.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thursday, 7/14/22

A bit Snarky

Not since Jefferson dined alone

For several hours on December 18, 2020, some of the greatest legal minds of a generation gathered at the White House for a meeting that would change the course of history. Sidney Powell was there, as were onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne. Rudy Giuliani showed up, as did Mark Meadows. Shortly after it concluded, then-President Donald Trump sent a tweet.

“Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election,” he wrote. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

The Morning Dispatch.

It’s a bit of a false note for the Dispatch to lead with such snark, but I like that false note this time.

Church and State

Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert caused a stir in late June when she denounced the separation of church and state as “junk” and proclaimed that “the church is supposed to direct the government, the government is not supposed to direct the church.” Bettering her usual performance, she was half-right.

William Galston, Lauren Boebert Is Half-Right on Church and State.

We don’t care. We don’t have to.

Is the ACLU’s Chase Strangio the weirdest, and least truthful, highly-placed person on the Left in America today?

It’s kind of "We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the ACLU."

The limits of prediction

People can’t predict how long they will be happy with recently acquired objects, how long their marriages will last, how their new jobs will turn out, yet it’s subatomic particles that they cite as “limits of prediction.” They’re ignoring a mammoth standing in front of them in favor of matter even a microscope would not allow them to see.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan

Politics

Submission to whom?

As I watched Ms. Barrett fielding questions from senators [at confirmation hearings], I realized two things.

First, it is amazing how deeply this erasure cuts, how much I have subconsciously internalized that there is something defective about me as a woman because I do not share certain feminist tenets. … Second, I realized how many women I know—most who would not identify with the moniker “conservative”—share Ms. Barrett’s pro-life position and have felt chastened into civic silence and submission. … Too often, I keep my views quiet not out of tact but for the sake of my social life and career. In this, I submit not to the patriarchy but to the oppressive, mainstream feminist vision of myself and my peers and what we are worth to society.

Jane Sloan Peters, I See My Own Pro-Life Feminism in Amy Coney Barrett

Smash the political duopoly

Nothing says "Our political duopoly is rotten to the core" like Democrats spending tens of millions of dollars to support the most extreme, Trumpist, election-denying Republican primary candidates they can find.

You can help smash the duopoly.

Profiles in Poltroonry

Regardless of whether the committee proves Trump legally culpable for January 6, at least one top Trump adviser held him morally responsible for that day. After police shot and killed Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt as she attempted to breach the Capitol, Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale texted Trump operative Katrina Pierson. “This is about Trump pushing for uncertainty in our country,” Parscale—who worked on both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns—wrote, in messages provided by the Committee. “A sitting president asking for civil war. This week I felt guilty for helping him win [in 2016].”

“You did what you felt right at the time and therefore it was right,” Pierson replied.

“Yeah,” Parscale wrote. “But a woman is dead.”

“You do realize this was going to happen,” Pierson said.

“Yeah,” Parscale said. “If I was Trump and knew my rhetoric killed someone.”

“It wasn’t the rhetoric.”

“Katrina. Yes it was.”

One month later, Parscale tweeted: “Statement to Trump: ‘If they only impeached you twice, you need to run again… I’m in, are you?’”

Normal bad, not existential threat

Since it’s clear (at least for now) that Ron DeSantis is the Republican most likely to unseat Donald Trump, we’re starting to see a predictable line of pieces online. Trump is bad, but DeSantis might be worse. Trump was incompetent authoritarian. DeSantis is ruthlessly efficient. You can read versions of that argument in MSNBC, the Washington Post, MSNBC, New York Magazine, and MSNBC.

I started reading many of these pieces earlier this morning, and I finished just as today’s January 6 Committee hearing got underway. The contrast, quite frankly, was jarring. One the one hand, DeSantis’s critics were describing a politician who played by the rules to enact policies they didn’t like. On the other hand, I watched yet another account of a politician who came within one Mike Pence “yes” (to his harebrained electors scheme) to plunging America into the worst constitutional crisis since 1861.

Let me make this analysis as simple as possible. Donald Trump presents an existential threat to the continued existence of the United States as an intact republic. Our nation may not survive a second Trump term. Ron DeSantis has his flaws, but he’s absolutely within the bounds of a mainstream American politician.

David French.

I was tempted to stop there, but I read on. French is not happy with DeSantis and spells out clearly why he’s not. Progressive Democrats won’t like his analysis, though.

Introduction to the analysis:

My critique of DeSantis has less to do with Donald Trump and more to do with Kamala Harris or Gavin Newsom. By that I mean that DeSantis is more like a California Democrat than he is like Donald Trump. Specifically, both DeSantis and Harris are culture warriors who are prone to fight the culture the wrong way—by deploying state power at the expense of civil liberties.

Portraits in Credulity

Can you believe that 38 percent of Democrats are LGBT? And that a whopping 44 percent of Republicans earn over $250,000 per year? Those stats are from a 2018 study published by the University of Chicago based on 2015 data, but I may have messed up the delivery a little. Actually, it’s that Republicans in the study reported that 38 percent of Democrats are LGBT and Democrats believe that nearly half of Republicans make a quarter-million dollars a year. In truth, 6 percent of Democrats identify as LGBT and 2 percent of Republicans earn that high a salary. Democrats, themselves, also overestimated the number of LGBT members in their own party. But out-group members were far more likely to misperceive the opposing party’s makeup.

And aside from partisanship, interest in politics was also a great predictor of who was more likely to be wrong, i.e., consuming more political news and social media made a respondent more likely to misjudge the makeup of either party. “Interest in political news will be positively correlated with beliefs about the share of partisans belonging to party-stereotypical groups,” the authors reported.

I’d suspect these biases have gotten worse since 2015. But as I keep seeing surveys about young people refusing to be friends with someone who doesn’t share their political beliefs or people who don’t understand that social media curates their feed to show them political content that is most likely to agree with and shield them from alternative viewpoints, it’s worth a reminder that there’s no substitute—not even this newsletter—for striking up a conversation in the grocery store line, calling up a potential new friend for a beer, or asking someone a question about how he views the world and actually listening to the answer. Good luck!

Sarah Isgur, Andrew Egger, and Audrey Fahlberg, The Sweep (a publication of The Dispatch, my very best media expenditure).

Turning the tables

New York Governor Kathy Hochul recently allocated $35 million to provide special assistance to abortion providers, and there is a proposal to subsidize women’s travel to New York to procure abortions. In New York City, homeless men urinate in doorways and drug addicts shoot up in public at midday. In the face of these realities, Hochul’s commitment of resources to ensure the wide availability of abortion services seems more than a little perverse. The contrasts are even starker in Illinois. As the death toll of gun violence increases on Chicago’s South Side, Governor J. B. Pritzker has called for a special legislative session to address, not the murder rate, but “reproductive rights.”

R.R. Reno.

It’s a dubious form of argument, but the temptation to turn it against those who’ve used it for 49 years is powerful. In other words, who’s obsessed with sex now?

GOP Gift-in-Kind to Stacy Abrams

What I like to do is see it and everything and stuff.

Herschel Walker, Republican nominee for Governor of Georgia, responding to a CNN reporter’s question about whether there should be new gun legislation in the wake of the Uvalde shootings. (H/T John McWhorter)

Consider his candidacy the Republican contribution to Stacy Abrams’ campaign.

Locus classicus

"I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” “In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.” “All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 6/26/22

Observing a metaworld

When I’m not wowed by a Fr. Stephen Freeman blog, I often wonder if my head just isn’t on straight that day, so often has he wowed me in the past.

He wowed me again today. Fr. Stephen Freeman, Healing the Soul and Unbelief:

The Church describes human beings as made in the image of the Logos. On that basis, we are sometimes hymned as “rational (logikos) sheep.” Human beings think and speak. There is a relationship between the thing that we perceive (say, an Auroch) and its depiction (a wall painting). The walls of the caves are covered in logoi, “words,” if only we knew how to read them!

When human beings speak, we inadvertently offer a world-beyond-the-world. There is the experience (my vacation), and there is the telling of the tale (“you won’t believe what happened on my vacation”). Were someone to insist that only the thing-itself mattered (“therefore, I don’t want to hear about your vacation”), the world would soon collapse into a muteness that even the animals transcend.

In our modern period we see far less of the sky and animals, much less the plants and the movement of the seasons. Our houses are much the same temperature year-round. We are, instead, observant of a meta-world, the narrative of the endless news cycle, driven by disaster, fear, speculation, and distraction. Our advertising (always present) bathes us in oil, sugar, salt, and sex while promising an endless supply of dopamine.

Then he almost seems to change the subject:

I am struck by the preponderance of unbelief in our day and time. Frequently, the “problem of evil” is cited as an overwhelming obstacle to belief. I think of this in particular when I consider that antiquity was dominated by far more suffering on a daily basis than our present age. Our lives would seem magical in their easy dismissal of childhood diseases, our caloric intake, and the unending variety of all things offering themselves for consumption.

I have an aside that is worthy of note. I have been particularly struck over the years of my pastoral ministry at the abiding interest in the Church within the ever-shrinking community of young couples who are starting families. My experience is anecdotal, such that I can point to no statistics. But those conversations point me in the direction of transcendence. Few things in our modern lives are as primitive as child-bearing … So much can go wrong. To raise a child attentively, is (and should be) awe-inspiring. They are examples of transcendence embodied.

The experience of belief begins, I think, with the experience of transcendence, the questions of meaning and significance. It is a conversation that struggles to find its way in a sea of commodities and mundane pleasure. We are not immune to the transcendent – but simply distracted.

In Jesus Christ, we confess, Transcendence became flesh and walked among us ….

Smack-talkin’

I’ve recently begun enjoying the Unbelievable podcast, downloading a few back episodes to get started. This one was outstanding; another was immediately suspect from the teaser:

Shane Claiborne: "The cross and the gun give us two very different versions of power, and one of them says ‘I’m willing to die,’ the other says ‘I’m willing to kill.’"
Kyle Thompson: "If somebody comes in there — an evil person wants to come in there — and kill people, you and people like you will be some of the people who hide behind people like me, hoping I take that guy out before he gets to you."

I was fairly confident after that brief teaser that I would find Kyle Thompson, new to me, unbearable — and something about Shane Claiborne (who I’ve encountered before) often grates a bit, too. I really don’t want to listen to American fundagelicals calling each other hypocrites or fascists on a British Christian podcast.

I still recommend the podcast. I’ve sort of drifted into following a lot of podcasts that are occasionally good, but then deleting two-thirds to three-quarters of new episodes base on a summary that is either uninteresting or not interesting enough to edge out something else. I recommend the approach, at least for free podcasts.

Boundaries

A "God-fearing" person is one who recognizes boundaries, and that when one reaches one, one should go no further.

(I failed to record the source of that bit of wisdom.)


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Potpourri 6/9/22

January 6, with us forever

After Mr. Pence was hustled to safety, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, is reported to have told colleagues that Mr. Trump said that perhaps Mr. Pence should have been hanged.

Maggie Haberman, ‌Pence Staff Feared for His Safety Amid Trump’s Pressure Campaign Before Jan. 6.

That’s at least triple hearsay (someone says that Mark Meadows told colleagues that Trump said) plus a "perhaps," but with Trump, it seems sufficiently credible — and yes, I’ll plead guilty to confirmation bias if you can get an indictment.

The most astonishing part of this whole story is that Mike Pence finally said "no" to the Orange God. I thought he’d taken leave of his senses when he agreed to run with Trump, but it was only his principles that he was abandoning.

I’m assuming that the public "hearings" that begin this evening will be agitprop. I assume that it will be the kind of anti-Trump agitprop that I’m predisposed to believe. But the very fact that they brought in a storied documentary producer to help stage it counsels that I avoid it and rely on multiple secondary sources (probably WSJ, NYT and the Dispatch — which culpably leaves out stellar sources like Alex Jones, Breitbart Steve Bannon’s War Room "television show," Think Progress or other emetic productions).

Surely the gist will be something like this:

This was a violent assault on the United States Capitol, and it was provoked by a sitting president of the United States,” Cheney said. “He oversaw a multipart plan, [the] objective of which was for him to stay in power, to overturn the results of an election and stay in power. And I would say to people, as you’re listening to some of my colleagues and others who think that the way to respond to this investigation is with politics and partisanship—those people are not acting in a way that is healthy for the country.

Liz Cheney on the Dispatch Live

Defense/Defiance

Spend much time at gun shows or at gun shops, and you’ll quickly become familiar with something called the “tactical” or “black gun” lifestyle, where civilians intentionally equip themselves in gear designed for the “daily gunfight.” It’s often a form of elaborate special forces cosplay, except the weapons (and sometimes the body armor) are very real.

Something has changed in the streets as well. It’s now common to see men and women armed to the teeth, open-carrying during anti-lockdown protests and even outside public officials’ homes. This is when the gun is used to menace and intimidate. It’s displayed not as a matter of defense but rather as an open act of defiance. It’s meant to make people uncomfortable. It’s meant to make them feel unsafe.

David French,‌Against Gun Idolatry.

I’ve noticed increasingly that I "learn" things by reading other than what the author directly intended. In this case, French helped me put my finger on what I, an enthusiast neither for guns nor for gun bans, find obnoxious about open carry regimes: they enable performative assholery and political intimidation.

Knock-on celebrity

Some individuals reach the unfortunate but not entirely irrational conclusion that the best way to be remembered is by assassinating somebody whose long-lasting fame is guaranteed. There is something very modern about this approach. In the celebrity culture where we all live, nothing is worse to some people than the idea of dying unknown and staying that way. Shooting your way out of this box is a method of leeching off of someone else’s celebrity. In the celebrity culture, a negative reputation for all times is better than no reputation at all. John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln because he (Booth) was a Southern partisan. John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan because he wanted fame, like Travis Bickle in the movie Taxi Driver—or at least an opportunity to touch fame.

Michael E. Kinsley, Old Age

Social Media in the unreal world of celebrities

Somehow, this seems related to the preceding item:

[I]t is difficult for me not to have some level of sympathy for [Amber] Heard. She has not only been found by the jury to have testified falsely as to critical issues of fact—to have lied—but been so pilloried throughout the nation that she has become a public face of falsehood. We have had public figures at the highest level of national authority who have routinely lied about far more important matters and have never been subjected to anything like the level of opprobrium she is now enduring.”

The rage against her—and the worship of him—has been primal. And there was no escaping it. Over the course of the trial, it felt like the algorithms that drive social media were programmed to stoke hatred of Heard.

Famed attorney Floyd Abrams via Bari Weiss.

The delusion of quantification, mastery and management

You likely read or heard about Jonathan Haidt’s big April essay in the Atlantic, “After Babel: Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” The thesis is pretty straightforward: social media is ruining America. In the New Yorker, Gideon Lewis-Kraus takes an admirably fair and honest look at Haidt’s claims. Frankly, Lewis-Kraus is to be commended not only for his analysis but for the spirit in which it was presented. Basically, he found that it is difficult to support Haidt’s most dire claims with existing data.

Lewis-Kraus, and the scholars he consulted, are probably right. Haidt’s case is difficult to defend given existing research. Interestingly, however, they all seem to approach this in similar fashion: they grant that Haidt is right to be concerned, but they’re simply not sure if he is concerned about the right things and in the right measure. Lewis-Kraus is also to be commended for the running acknowledgement that it may be difficult to measure and quantify the kind of effects we’re looking for. I remain skeptical that we can rely merely on social scientific data to ground our action. That may very well be a symptom of the deeper (Babel-like!) delusion of mastery and management. But along those lines, this was a particularly interesting observation:

“Gentzkow told me that, for the period between 2016 and 2020, the direct effects of misinformation were difficult to discern. ‘But it might have had a much larger effect because we got so worried about it—a broader impact on trust,’ he said. ‘Even if not that many people were exposed, the narrative that the world is full of fake news, and you can’t trust anything, and other people are being misled about it—well, that might have had a bigger impact than the content itself.’”

Well, that’s kind of the point isn’t it? I mean, that consequence Gentzkow describes is a consequence of social media, which acts as a massive assortment of feedback loops from the social body to the collective consciousness, such that it generates all manner of distorted and disordered actions.

Finally, on this score, I’ll say that the allusion to the Babel narrative amounts to little more than window dressing (curiously, the Atlantic seems to have removed the reference from the title). When Haidt writes, with reference to the tower, that social media platforms “unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together,” he seems to be overlooking the fact that in the Hebrew story the destruction of the tower was not something to be lamented. The destruction of the tower was an act of judgment on the hubris of the builders. I think there was an interesting direction in which to take that story, but I’m not sure this was it.

L.M. Sacasas, ‌Readings and Resources (emphasis added because I share his skepticism about our collective delusion).

Writers shouldn’t talk

Who in their right mind would want to talk, much less listen, to a person who has contrived to spend as much of her life as possible crouched over her computer in isolation, deleting unsatisfactory variants of a single sentence for upwards of an hour? Nothing in my daily practice has prepared me for the gauntlet of a tête-à-tête. Writing is an antidote to the immediacy and inexactitude of speech, and I resent any attempt to drag me back into the sludge of dialogue …

Books and essays are the product of long bouts of thinking, which makes writers fantastically ill-suited to summoning opinions instantaneously …

To be adept at honing sentences for weeks or months is no guarantee of any aptitude for improvisation. Nor does skill at fictionalizing life or theorizing about it correlate with any facility for entering into the thick of things.

Becca Rothfeld, Writers Shouldn’t Talk

From my subjective core, this is almost too obvious to say write. I’m myself in Rothfeld’s camp. I’ve labored way too long over relatively short speeches I was expected to give, and then delivered them as closely to the written text as I could manage while maintaining reasonable eye contact. I don’t trust my spontaneous utterances to be worth the attention of assembled auditors. Obviously, I’m less inhibited about the written word.

Celebrate the First Amendment

An Australian court on Monday ordered Google to pay $515,000 to former Australian politician John Barilaro for failing to take down from YouTube a campaign of “relentless, racist, vilificatory, abusive, and defamatory” videos attacking him, which the court ruled “drove Mr. Barilaro prematurely from his chosen service in public life and traumatized him significantly.”

TMD. I do not know the details behind this, so I won’t call Mr. Barilaro a snowflake, but I’m having trouble imagining any possible details that would support liability in U.S. Courts. And with due allowance for familiarity, I like it that way.

Dreherisms

Smart to have a dumb home?

The business rationale for the smart home is to bring the intimate patterns of life into the fold of the surveillance economy, which has a one-way mirror quality.

Matthew B. Crawford, Defying the Data Priests

Librarian cosplay

I’m tired of hearing about supposed book bannings in the U.S.

  • Deleting a book from a curriculum while leaving it in the school library is not a book banning.
  • Someone trying to get a book removed from a public library, which tells that someone to go take a hike, is not a book banning.

What’s going on, I think, is bored librarians (is there another kind?) engaging in ritual cosplay ("You can have To Kill a Mockingbird when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers!").

Wordplay

From the Economist:

Word of the Week: écoponts, “wildlife bridges” in French. France is building overpasses for animals to reduce roadkill and help them roam more freely. Read the full story.


You have to be educated into cant; it is a kind of stupidity that surpasses the capacity of unaided Nature to confer.

Anthony M. Esolen, Out of the Ashes (Kindle location 411)


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

It’s Havel’s Greengrocer Month!

SBC’s numbers fetish

“a satanic scheme to distract us from evangelism.”

Augie Boto, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Council general counsel and former vice president, characterizing reports of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist pastors and church employees.

Evangelicalism, of which the SBC is a member in very good standing, had a problem with seeking numerical growth above all else for as long as I was part of it. Psychological trickery and deception were part of the deal (e.g. "Every head bowed and every eye closed. … I see that hand. Is there another?" when nobody had raised a hand.)

The EC’s publishing arm, the Baptist Press, “was also used to portray victims in an unflattering light and mischaracterize allegations of abuse,” according to the report. For example, in 2019 Jennifer Lyell—an abuse survivor and employee of SBC-affiliated Lifeway—was asked to write publicly about her sexual abuse by an SBC seminary professor, but the article was changed before publication to suggest a consensual relationship and only corrected months later.

(Emphasis added)

Hauerwas strikes again

Both the fundamentalist and the higher critic assume that it is possible to understand the biblical text without training, without moral transformation, without the confession and forgiveness that come about within the church. Unconsciously, both means of interpretation try to make everyone religious (that is, able to understand and appropriate scripture) without everyone’s being a member of the community for which the Bible is Scripture.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens.

Not-quite-rank speculation

Maybe Mainline Protestantism is less prone to pervasive sex abuse partly because it has far fewer young people for predators to target. Not many Mainline churches have vibrant youth ministries or large programs for children. But Mainline churches do have a genuine institutional advantage with wider systems of accountability that are likelier to address sexual abuse.

In contrast, most of evangelicalism is effectively congregationalist with fewer authoritative structures beyond the local church. Self protective pastors or congregational governing boards can more easily evade accountability than congregations within denominations. Mainline denominations have bishops, superintendents, presbyteries and synods that oversee congregations and clergy. Often this oversight fails to work effectively, but it can be better than no oversight at all.

Perhaps more importantly, there is culturally less deference toward and trust for clergy and for church governance in Mainline Protestantism. As I recall growing up Methodist, critiquing and tearing down the pastor is often the local church’s most fervent sport, sadly. Preoccupation with pastoral flaws obviously is deeply unhelpful and may help explain part of Mainline Protestantism’s dysfunction. But Mainliners are typically not intimidated by clergy or distorted ideas about pastoral authority.

The typical Mainline cleric is not invested with the spiritual authority that many evangelicals accord their pastors. And of course Catholic priests have more spiritual authority than do Protestant clergy. The reasons are ecclesiological but also maybe sociological. Wealthy Ivy League educated parishioners at an Episcopal parish who belong to country clubs, have many lawyer friends, and know the mayor, are less likely to defer to their cleric or congregational leaders than maybe less culturally privileged members of an evangelical church.

Evangelicals maybe are more prone to idealize their pastors than Mainline Protestants, who are more prone to see clerics as the hired help.

Juicy Ecumenism, ‌Mainliners, Evangelicals, Catholics & Sexual Abuse – Juicy Ecumenism (Italics added)

This seemed timely, but don’t think that I’m siding with the Mainline. I have history in Evangelicalism, and write reactively against it, but I can’t say one way or the other whether the Mainline is healthier overall. I will, however, unequivocally endorse accountability — be it bishops, synods, presbyteries or whatever — over congregationalism, or what I call "fiefdoms."

Also, for what it’s worth, I’m skeptical of the claim I italicized, but it’s been a long time since I spent time around Protestants talking about their pastors.

Gun nuts, pro and con

Respected philosopher James K.A. Smith emotes:

We’ve taken too long. Habitualities built up over a 200 year history will not be undone by tweaks on policy and half measures.

We need the collective will to repeal the 2nd Amendment and confiscate guns.

Only Mammon and our idols prevent us from doing so.

Burn them down.

But Mark Tooley has some cautions:

Christian realism always counsels against ambitious absolutist solutions that override precedent, ignore human nature, and downplay the complex social factors that foster the conditions for catastrophe.

Tooley also has cautions for gun hobbyists, too (and by implication, for us all):

Christianity traditionally argues not only against malevolent violence, of course, but also against vain amusements. The vast, vast majority of gun enthusiasts are mainly devoted hobbyists. For most, their pursuits are benign. But traditional Christianity cautions against unhealthy enthusiasms for worldly hobbies, however benign. This is especially the case where a prurient fascination with guns bleeds over into the macabre.

For more than 2,000 years, Christianity often has preached against theaters, salacious literature, dancing, festivals, bear-baiting, carnivals, card playing, horse racing, and other recreations that many Christians see as mostly harmless in themselves. The argument against passions for such pursuits is that life is short and that Christians are called to redeem the time and be sober, alert, and focused on God’s work.

Life under soft totalitarianism*

If I gave in to the Inquisitors, I should at least know what creed to profess. But even if I yelled out a credo when the Eugenists had me on the rack, I should not know what creed to yell. I might get an extra turn of the rack for confessing to the creed they confessed quite a week ago.

G.K. Chesterton, The Established Church of Doubt, in The G. K. Chesterton Collection (Kindle Location 19750)

I had to read that a few times to get it when Readwise coughed it up this morning. It’s as true today as when Chesterton wrote it, though the actors have changed:

  • "Conservatives" who abandoned bog standard conservatism for Trumpist populism, but pre-eminently …
  • Wokesters, who positively make a cruel game out of cancelling anyone who still believes, say, that marriage is between a man and a woman (or other offenses again liberal groin pieties or racial identity politics).

* Soft totalitarianism is that totalitarianism that doesn’t command by pointing a gun barrel. Not yet.

Havel’s Greengrocers

Speaking of liberal groin pieties, it’s Pride Month, and more and more restaurants and other businesses are playing Havel’s Greengrocer.

It’s actually kind of nice of them: it tells me who to avoid this June and, conversely, what courageous little dissident shops I might want to patronize.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday Potpourri, 3/13/22

I’m publishing this a bit later than most Sundays because I don’t want you to lose my points in morning worship or, worse, lose morning worship because you’re agitated about something I said.

Russophobia

I may be living dangerously by saying or citing some of these things. I really don’t know because I don’t get some of what’s going on, but there are questions that need to be asked, challenges that need to be made.

"My favorite (Russian) things

[P]eople can be excused for reacting viscerally to a powerful nation attacking a smaller, weaker neighbor, with all the human misery that entails. Still, there’s something especially insipid about today’s social-media-led, H.R.-department-backed anti-Russian drive. Yesterday, it was anti-maskers and Black Lives Matter skeptics getting un-personed; today it’s anyone and anything associated with the Bad Country.

Sohrab Ahmari, These Are a Few of My Favorite (Russian) Things.

Note that title, and read the whole thing for a reminder of Russian contributions to our musical, literary, philosophical and cinematic cultures.

I’m increasingly convinced, however (as I jumped the gun on Ahmari’s advice to learn more about Russian culture), that Russia and the modern West are always going to be at least somewhat adversarial. There is a deep vein of Russian conservatism (in contrast to a shallow vein in the West) that spurns our commercialization and our other unacknowledged and unflattering novelty values. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said in his epochal (I will not call it "notorious") Harvard Commencement address, "these worlds are not at all evolving toward each other and … neither one can be transformed into the other without violence. Besides, convergence inevitably means acceptance of the other side’s defects, too, and this can hardly suit anyone."

Russian teens

Ken Lima-Coelho is on the board of Canada’s Honens International Piano Competition, and he’s “proud” of the organization’s decision to ban Russian teenagers from the 2022 competition just for being Russian. Honens’s statement reads: “Honens abhors and condemns any form of violence and is deeply disturbed by the Russian government’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine. Such blatant acts of aggression and greed have no place in our world.” Are these bans of Russian artists motivated by principle or rather by anger at the fact that “aggression and greed” are inescapable parts of the world we live in, as Putin’s invasion shows, no matter how much we might like to deny it? I wonder.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock

Lima-Coelho explains and justifies nothing. I’m not sure he’s smart enough to suspect that acts of aggression and greed are inescapable, or whether he’s smart enough, but prefers that they remain concealed rather than "blatant."

Malicious and inconsistent, but the herd demands it

Boycott of all things Russian picks up pace: To paraphrase a joke, all the people who decried the lab leak theory as SO RACIST! are now doing something actually xenophobic: Boycotting anything and everything Russian they can find. They are boycotting Russian music and restaurants, never mind that these spots are often owned by Ukrainians, or that most of the musicians now banned from stage have decried the war. All Russians have to suffer for the sins of Putin. “Russian society is to blame” is an actual argument made quite often.

Some headlines for you:

Montreal Symphony Orchestra drops Russian piano prodigy from concerts amid backlash

Cardiff Philharmonic removes Tchaikovsky from programme in light of Russian invasion of Ukraine

War in Ukraine: Netflix shelves Tolstoy adaptation after criticism

Collective guilt is bad, un-American and it simply doesn’t help the cause of Ukraine to boycott Russian cats. Yes, the International Cat Federation actually did this.

Nellie Bowles

These are the signs that maybe, sometimes, "Democracy" needs to be unresponsive to the fickle and foolish will of the people.

Facebook’s supreme morality oligarch

Meanwhile, Facebook and Instagram have suspended their terms of service to allow calls for violence against Russian soldiers, though they claim this would not extend to prisoners of war. I’m no pacifist. I believe Ukrainian soldiers have a right to defend themselves violently. But I dislike this sort of elaborate tech puppetry. I dislike the implied presumption of control over which people groups we are allowed to hate. Since when did Mark Zuckerberg become our supreme morality oligarch? I missed that memo, just like I missed the memo that all things Russian have been suddenly and mysteriously tainted. Yet here we are, in a timeline where we will literally cancel Tchaikovsky before entertaining the possibility that perhaps all men are “tainted,” not just the ones who are part of the hated group du jour.

Bethel McGrew, Russians, who also links to (and quotes) a Wendell Berry poem from a time when writing sanely wouldn’t get you side-eyed by the neo-McCarthyites.

Declaring victory

Minute by minute the collapse of Russian capitalism is coming through in Telegram alerts. Apple leaves Russia, Netflix suspends operations, so has Louis Vuitton, brand after brand after brand pulling out until, even though my job is to analyse this stuff, I can barely make sense of the sanctions and capital controls that have cut Russia off from the world.

Ben Judah, ‌The Russia we have lost

This may sound cryptic, but it feels like an interesting hypothetical as I learn the Russian mind: With most of the American woke corporations pulling out of Russia, why doesn’t Putin could close the doors to their return, declare victory, withdraw from Ukraine, and win plaudits of tens of millions of a certain kind of Russian conservative?

(Don’t ask me the mechanics of how Putin could pull this off or even if he’d want to do it to his kleptocrat pals.)

If you want to get a taste of what I’m talking about, listen to this unusually riveting episode of the GetReligion podcast, where Terry Mattingly expatiates on ordinary Russians’ ambivalence about the West.

Conclusion

… canceling Russian culture only confirms Putin’s claim that the West despises not simply the Russian regime but Russia itself; targeted sanctions on Putin enablers could be more effective.

Gladden Pappin, ‌You Are Entering the American Sector

Other stuff

City Journal

The libertarian-leaning City Journal has lots of plaudits to its name, but its continued employment of Christopher Rufo, who wrote these brazen declarations of dishonest intent, made me skeptical:

I’m not a fan of cancel culture, but to my mind Rufo pissed away all credibility on CRT with those boasts, yet City Journal continues to publish his CRT stuff.

(Required disclaimer: I’ve got problems with what schools are doing with CRT-inspired concepts, probably overlapping with some of Rufo’s problems; misdirection only works if you’ve got a truthful core, after all.)

Now they published a hatchet-job on a New York Times deep dive into W.H. Auden’s poem ‌Musée des Beaux Arts.

It’s not that City Journal‘s Lee Siegel disagrees with New York Times‘ Elisa Gabbert about the poem; it’s that he blatantly misrepresents Gabbert’s wonderful (and wonderfully web-formatted) analysis.

In short, he lies, particularly when he makes claims like this:

Gabbert tells us that Auden’s poem is a straightforward exposure of people who let bad things happen …

I’ve given you the links should you want to check out my claim; just don’t be distracted by a few plausible but peripheral points Siegel makes toward the end.

Downsides

If I were still working, I think I’d love the opportunities for telecommuting that have been mainstreamed by Covidtide. But those opportunities can be used destructively:

North Georgia … was always something to behold. Small, narrow valleys defined by creeks and rich bottom land, low ridges rising a few hundred feet on either side. Old farms and barns dotting the tidy and loved landscape. …

The ridges filled in with outsized monstrosities for undersized households. Even then the farm valleys remained somehow inviolate, left in a hopeful time. Until inevitably, with land prices, property taxes, or death, and no ridges left to colonize, the valleys filled in with clusters of behemoths to accommodate the malignancy that is Atlanta.

… This economy at rising tide doesn’t lift communities; it washes over them, destroying countryside and culture in its wake. And when it ebbs, what remains is a fractured landscape instead of topsoil. A debris field of trash and eroded gullies where once flourished fields, crops, and a rural people.

The South Roane Agrarian, ‌Building on the Heights

"I know a guy …"

One of the problems with screaming “How could you be so stupid?” at people who behave stupidly is that we too often think of the question as rhetorical when it isn’t. Though vaccine hesitancy is often seen as purely political, that’s not necessarily the case. It also correlates to lack of health care, which means that when public-health officials urge the unvaccinated to consult their family doctors (on the assumption that they might be more persuasive than government agencies), they’re assuming facts not in evidence. If you can’t afford health insurance, you probably can’t afford a doctor either, and if this is how you’ve been living for the past decade, chances are good that surviving without sound medical advice has become part of your behavioral DNA. Your strategy will be much like my father’s: keep working, save what you can (not much) for the rainy day you know is coming, and hope for the best. Maybe you’ll get lucky and know a guy.

… He tells you where to go and what to do when you get there. He lets you in on the secret handshake. Knock three times. Tell them Jimmy sent you.

Richard Russo, ‌How I Found Sympathy for Covid Skeptics. Excellent, empathetic and humane.

Are we secularizing?

…if secularization is taken to refer to some kind of “decline of religion,” then we need to figure out what we mean by “religion.” “If one identifies this with the great historic faiths, or even with explicit belief in supernatural beings, then it seems to have declined. But if you include a wide range of spiritual and semi-spiritual beliefs; or if you cast your net even wider and think of someone’s religion as the shape of their ultimate concern, then indeed, one can make a case that religion is as present as ever”

James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular

Material boy

What I needed was to touch the real world. I needed an antidote for the idiotic pixelated simulacrum we live in. We are not even materialists anymore. We are a post-materialistic society — whatever that means — where even materials are simulated and virtual. What I am going to do with this I do not know. What I do know is that it’s impossible for me to reenter the Machine.

Hephaestus. Ever wondered why a trade would have its own god? With blacksmithing I have come the closest to the Eye of Contemplation — or to what I think it is — I have ever been. Writing about it kills it, obviously. We, the Moderns and especially the Westerners write. We rationalize things by writing. We use words as sharp weapons that blind the Eye of Contemplation.

A friend of Rod Dreher, who lost his white collar job and took up apprenticeship with a blacksmith.

Algorithm failure

Readwise opined that "Based on your highlights, we think you’ll love this book recommendation …". Readwise is almost certainly wrong.

Heterodox Podcasts: the New NPR

William Deresiewicz apparently kept on listening to NPR long after I’d stopped, but ended up "hate-listening" to the new, cocksure and woke version. His ‌Escaping American tribalism tells the story, and how he discovered heterodox podcasts as an alternative to his unfaithful first love.

I was already listening to several of those podcasts; I’ll soon sample the others.

What I hadn’t done was to make the mental connection that podcasts like this were my unacknowledged substitute for an NPR that wasn’t yet even as bad as what Deresiewicz endured.

Wordplay

Ectopic: One kind of pregnancy the abortion of which would become a class A felony under a pending Bill in Missouri (see lines 14 & 15 on the first page).


Potlatch: a ceremonial feast of the American Indians of the northwest coast marked by the host’s lavish distribution of gifts or sometimes destruction of property to demonstrate wealth and generosity with the expectation of eventual reciprocation.

Use in a sentence: "Corporate cancellation culture has quickly become a type of potlatch." (Gladden Pappin)


Kinetic military action: The American-troops-over-Libya equivalent of Russian-troops-in-Ukraine’s "Special Military Operation."

Eternal stuff

Undue confidence

Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

It also can rationally object to confidence in the "diverse and far-ranging possibilities" of denying teleology.

Wisdom

The future in its entirety cannot give you so much as a kernel of good, unless it borrows it from Me.

The One born of the Virgin, speaking in Prayers by the Lake LVII


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Newsfasting

We Orthodox Christians have just started Lent yesterday, and I’m already irritable from not being able to stuff my face promiscuously! Or from something.

There are always dozens of reasons for irritation.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Ukraine

I find that some news just kind of splashes up onto my pants legs even when I’m limiting news consumption. Believe me that I’m limiting news:

  • Reading the Economist World in Brief and The Morning Dispatch for top news, but rarely click through the Economist.
  • Entirely skipping the Wall Street Journal.
  • Limiting New York Times to obituaries, religion (almost never anything good or even new there), a glance at the Opinions page, and maybe sports and travel.
  • Investigative reporting is higher-quality than regular news, but I still can’t do anything about most of what I see in The Intercept, ProPublica, and bellingcat, so I skip them most of the time.
  • When someone I respect recommends analysis by someone else that I respect, I’ll usually click through if the topic is of interest.

This is still a work in process. I may, at the risk of irritability, cut back further.

Ukraine sues Russia

Last week the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes individuals, launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine. On Monday the International Court of Justice, which judges governments, hears allegations of genocide. But these are not accusations against Russia. Rather, Ukraine wants the court to rule that Russia’s own allegations of genocide against Ukraine in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are false and contrary to international law.

Russia accepts the authority of the ICJ (unlike that of the ICC). But Ukraine does not expect its neighbour to bow to the court’s verdict. Russia did not even turn up to the court on Monday (their defence was due on Tuesday). Instead, Ukraine hopes that a verdict in its favour would strip Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, of any vestige of legal pretext for an invasion, which, he claims, was launched to stop the supposed genocide.

Economist World in Brief.

How interesting to ask a court to rule that your invader’s excuse for invasion is a lie — and the invader has no answer to your “put up or shut up” challenge.

How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia

Ross Douthat, How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia is a brilliant distillation of nuclear wisdom, it seems to me.

In short, our conventional forces are so vastly superior to those of Russia that if we directly engaged Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, we’d quickly put Putin’s back to the wall and he might, quite literally, go nuclear.

I guess not all problems are answerable with technology, huh? I’ll take a wise man over a technocrat (almost) any day.

Longfellow was right

A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.”

George Will via the Morning Dispatch

Private Sanctions and Cancel Culture

The Bulwark chronicles how private companies and other non-government actors are punishing Russia for the Ukraine invasion.

I am not entirely amused because this sort of private war is also being waged against Wrongthink in America. For instance, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin and her husband have been banned from AirBNB for associating with Nick Fuentes, of whom AirBNB (and almost everyone else, including me) does not approve.

It may come to the point that making “exercise of free association or free speech rights” protected classes will be a better choice than letting cancel culture commit a kind of economic terrorism.

Fourth Generation War

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we face Fourth Generation war, not against state militaries similar to our own but non-state forces that fight very differently. While the next conservatism favors a strong defense, it should also question the hundreds of billions of dollars we pour annually into legacy forces and weapons suitable only for fighting other states. A strong defense requires military reform, not just heaps of money.

Andrew J. Bacevich, J. David Hoeveler, James Kurth, Dermot Quinn, Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind, et al., The Essence of Conservatism

Russia may be about to experience this in Ukraine if they seek to occupy.

(I’ll bet William Lind wrote this item. He’s always talking about Fourth Generation warfare.)

Gallows humor?

Olha Koba, a psychologist in Kyiv, said that “anger and hate in this situation is a normal reaction and important to validate.” But it is important to channel it into something useful, she said, such as making incendiary bombs out of empty bottles.

Maria Varenikova, ‌Hate for Putin’s Russia Consumes Ukraine, H/T Claire Berlinski via The Morning Dispatch

Patriotism in its purest, loveliest form

After more than 24 years away, Washington Post correspondent Isabelle Khurshudyan finally returned to Odessa, the city where she and her parents were born. “Now that I’m finally here, I wish I wasn’t,” she writes in her dispatch from the coastal city, where she’s been able to reconnect with her 81-year-old great aunt, Baba Zina, who refused to evacuate. “When I asked why that was, she scolded me, telling me to not get distracted from driving. Then she explained that she was born in this city. It’s her home. She visited the United States four times. Four of her siblings moved there, but she returned to Odessa each time. There’s something about this city—with its roots back in imperial Russia, its classic architecture, its appreciation for artists and its Black Sea beaches—that make people romantic about it. Peak Odessa: The opera and ballet theater is the most fortified building in town, surrounded by a wall of sandbags. ‘I visited the Vienna opera house just to see how it compared to ours. Ours is better,’ Zina said as we drove by the theater. ‘I went to the one in Paris, too. It was nice, of course. But ours is nicer.’”

via The Morning Dispatch

Three items from Protestants

Choosing a story

I haven’t quoted Jake Meador in a while because I stopped following him because I was too busy wallowing in “news.” because reasons.

The core problem facing the western church today is that virtually everyone, including many of us, believes that the most basic, elemental right a person has is the right to self-designate. This means that, as we are cast adrift in the world, trying to make sense of who we are, where we are, and what we ought to do, we mostly do not turn outward and allow the need of neighbor and nature to answer our questions. We do not look to culture for guidance or to family or to faith. In the words of Hauerwas, *“we have no story except the story we chose when we had no story.” And so to answer the question of who we are, we look inward toward our own ambition and aspiration, desire and need. We act according to that, with scant attention paid to the costs such action will have for the world or for our neighbors.

Jake Meador, touting his new book, What Are Christians For?: Life Together at the End of the World (emphasis added).

You could do much worse than Jake Meador on the internet.

Put on the whole snappy comebacks of God

[W]e’re not really after understanding, I [] think, but rather the maintenance of a certain way of life which is sustained not necessarily through ordering affections and desires toward good ends, but rather simply through a kind of automated acquiescence to authority figures.

One gets the idea from a fair bit of Christian worldview literature (especially when some conference or course is being advertised) that a worldview is almost like a set of categories you can download, and then march out into the world equipped with the right answers and knowing in advance how to refute the wrong answers. But this is not how people learn—not how they learn real meaningful knowledge and wisdom at any rate. This kind of pre-packaged knowledge turns out to be awfully flimsy and brittle when confronted with the complexities of the real world.

Jake Meador again (quoting Brad Littlejohn), but a different blog post.

I’ve been around smart Evangelicals who thought “Worldview camps” and such were really good and really cutting edge. I had figured out pretty early on that they were pretty much as Brad Littlejohn says. Plus you can’t overcome the effects of six daily hours of public school and three daily hours of television with a one- or two-week camp.

Grokking ‘Sin’

It wasn’t until college that I ever really thought about the Christian doctrine of sin. I had grown up in a Baptist church hearing about how Jesus *“died for our sins,” but it seemed that sin was the breaking of certain rules — drinking too much, sleeping around, lying, murder and stealing …

In college, through a string of failed relationships and theological questioning, I came to understand sin as something more fundamental than rule breaking, more subtle and *“under the hood” of my consciousness. It was the ways I would casually manipulate people to get my way. It was a hidden but obnoxious need for approval …

This is the slow dawning that I had about myself in college, and with it came liberation. Far from being a crushing blow of self-hatred, the realization of my actual, non-theoretical sinfulness came with something like a recognition of grace. I saw that I was worse than I’d thought I was, and that truth knocked me off the eternal treadmill of trying to be better and do better and get it all right. It allowed me to slowly (and continually) learn to receive love, atonement, forgiveness and mercy.

Tish Harrison Warren

Seeing sin as mere rule-breaking is, in my personal experience, the worst thing about Christian fundamentalist taboos (smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards and secret societies) of the 50s and 60s, which my Evangelical boarding school aped. It certainly gave me a skewed view, which was harmful to me and others spiritually — even though 14-to-18 year-olds have no business smoking, drinking or joining oath-bound secret societies anyway.

Other stuff

SCOTUS Opposition failure

When Kevin Williamson, a bright guy, can do no better than this in opposing a Democrat SCOTUS nominee, you know you’ve got a pretty good nominee.

Summarizing:

  • She’s part of the meritocracy, the ruling class. (He’s convincing on that.)
  • Dick Durbin and his ilk insinuating that she’s got some hardscrabble backstory is bunk. (He’s got a point.)
  • She does not believe in the rule of law. (He doesn’t deliver one single iota of evidence for that. Not one. And that’s the only one he says should disqualify her.)

After watching one-after-another Republican-appointed justice disappoint, I’m done with making predictions about actual future performance of a nominee.

Truth in Journalism

The nonconformists over at The Postliberal Order set us straight on journalistic terminology:

  • Democracy and liberalism
  • The difference between American philanthropists and Russian Oligarchs
  • Fact-checks
  • The difference between military interventions and invasions
  • Propaganda in general

You’ll appreciate the next item even more if you read this one. It’s short.

This is not propaganda

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act

The Senate passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act by unanimous consent on Monday. Once signed into law by President Biden, the legislation will amend the U.S. Criminal Code to designate lynching as a federal hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The Morning Dispatch.

My immediate reaction was that lynching isn’t much of an issue today, and I think I was right, but there’s this so you can gauge the problem for yourself.

And if you think it’s enough that Ahmaud Arbery was “essentially” lynched, be advised that (a) you can’t prosecute for “essentially the same thing” and (b) his murderers got life without parole, which is longer than 30 years.

Buildings for nomads. This is how the late Sir Roger Scruton described “various financial district glass-pane shoeboxes—structures.” (H/T Anthony DiMauro). Some might consider that a commendation; I don’t.

Wordplay

United in diversity:

“The EU’s quite vapid motto.” (Ed West)

Ostpolitik

From the Economist:

Ostpolitik (noun): a decades-old strategy of dealing with Russia based in part on the hope that gas pipelines could promote mutual dependence and therefore peace. Read the full article.

Spelling bees

Congratulations to [Name], an [School] student, who is heading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., May 29 to June 3. [Name] won a 10-county regional bee Saturday at [Site] in [City]. His winning word: Archetype.

Spelling Bees aren’t what they used to be.

Simile of the day

One of the guests was a retired Hungarian art historian. She had the most delicate Old World accent. It was like listening to audible porcelain.

Rod Dreher

Mal mots

In a piece for National Review, John McCormack notes how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has diminished America’s already fledgling neo-isolationist movement even further.

The Morning Dispatch (italics added).

Someone at the Dispatch misapprehends “fledgling.”

(And once again, I’m glad I don’t write for a living and to deadline.)

Servants of their servants

For all drunkards and gluttons I weep and sigh, for they have become servants of their servants.

St. Nicholai of Zicha, Prayers by the Lake XXIX, via Fr. Stephen Freeman (italics added)

How we think

Intellect confuses intuition.
Piet Mondrian

The Economist World in Brief


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Ending a chapter

Changing direction

I thank the modest number of people who still follow this blog, which has been evolving for just over twelve years now.

Within the past 24 hours, I’ve renewed my personal commitment to stop wallowing in "the news." That’s made easier by the news being full of war-talk these days, which for 55 years or so has been distressing to me, even more than to others I think.

But war-talk isn’t the only reason I’m kicking the news habit.

A cyber-friend recently published what I think is a completely original analogy:

The Ukraine crisis is huge: it may end us all. Naturally it’s all over the news. But I’ve been thinking that, before there was an actual world crisis, the 24-hour news feed wasn’t much different in tone. Something really important is happening right now, and you need to read about it here! “World Order Collapses!” isn’t presented much differently than “Sleaze Accused of Sleaziness!”

I thought, oddly, about the takeover of “compression” in contemporary music recording. Audio technology can easily handle variations in volume from a delicate whisper to ear-splitting sound. (A good recording of the William Tell Overture is an example.) But more and more, people are half-listening to the music while they jog through city traffic; they can’t deal with these variations. So the solution is to flatten the dynamic range so everything sounds kind of loud all the time. (People used to blame CDs for this and say that vinyl was better. In fact, CDs are much better at capturing dynamic range; it’s just that producers in the CD era chose the compression path. Now of course, there’s nothing but audio streaming, with its even worse distortions.)

In the world of audio, these are choices that we as consumers made, or at least allowed, and the result is only an impoverished experience of music. When we apply the same mentality – keep everything at 11 all the time – to the news cycle, the results for our minds and souls are a bit more serious.

John Brady, ‌Compression and the news. My own "soul reason" is that I think I read the news out of vainglory, a/k/a vanity. Smartypants lawyers, after all, are supposed to be sophisticates and to know what’s going on in the world. Reading the news helps me fake that by giving me a wide choice of tendentious narratives (from A to C or D) to choose from. But I think it’s healthier not to be vain, right?

A fairly good list of reasons is in Rolf Dobelli’s book Stop Reading the News. There’s a lot in there that I haven’t mentioned.

This matters for the blog because, to a sorry extent, I’ve let Tipsy Teetotaler become largely a news and commentary aggregator. If I stop reading news, that’s got to change.

I suspect I’ll blog less often. Since this isn’t substack and nobody’s paying to read me, that shouldn’t matter much. I also suspect that I’ll blog a bit more about books and long-form journalism — things that actually explain how things came to be this way, or to put them in context. And maybe, if I stop doomscrolling the clickbait, I’ll regain some of my lost cognitive capacity and produce some original thoughts.

That said, I’ve collected some news before my new news resolve, and I share it now with you before the blog undergoes its metamorpohosis.

Ruso-Ukraine

Not about us

Comments like [the examples] above seem so transparently self-promotional (look, look, here’s how a war across the globe is really about the thing I’m always talking about already!) and beyond gross.

Now is not the time for petty culture war grievances and personal grifts. Yes, life—and news—in America goes on, but maybe the day Russia starts bombing Ukraine isn’t the time for your critical race theory rant or your masculinity-crisis paranoia, you know? And it certainly isn’t the time for you to try and tie whatever you would be on about anyway into the war news cycle.

I promise, the culture war and all its brave keyboard warriors will still be there next week. So will COVID-19, and climate change, and border battles. Just let it go for a minute. Show some respect, empathy, and perspective.

If you’re tempted to post things like: Russia is doing this because Americans use too many pronouns! At least Putin isn’t woke! How will the murder of Ukrainian civilians affect gas prices? Stop. Go outside for a walk. Call a loved one. Cuddle a pet. Do anything real and good and tangible while counting your blessings that you will very likely never know the fear and pain of having your country invaded by a warmongering dictator.

This isn’t about us. Stop making it about us.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, ‌Stop Trying To Make Ukraine About Your Culture War

Civil Religion versus Political Gnosticism

From a longish, provocative, 30,000-foot view of the tensions between Russia and the West, these passages haunt me. Maybe they make sense only in context (which I invite you to read, but only when you have time to really wrestle with it):

[E]ven were Soviet communism defeated, the Russian roots in a more modern form of Civil Religion would remain. It would need to be combatted, but on a different footing and understanding.

[T]oday the old and new “neo-cons” are the newest incarnation of “right gnostics,” right liberals who are comfortable with a slower liberal revolution, yet always listing leftward in their accommodation to the “blessings of liberty.” They are the pawns of the “messianic gnostics …”.

Patrick Deneen, Russia, America, and the Danger of Political Gnosticism

(This is the kind of commentary that likely will carry over as the blog changes.)

A Truism

It is a truism in moral reasoning: To will the end is to will the means. One cannot have a duty to perform an act one lacks the capacity fulfill. Can Ukraine prevail without more direct military support from the West? It’s possible, but most analysts consider it very unlikely. Would Ukraine prevail with full NATO backing? Almost certainly. That implies NATO must be prepared to take up arms on Ukraine’s side, to ensure the supposed moral commandment is fulfilled. To hold otherwise — to claim the West should stop short of joining the fight, when that might be the only thing compatible with fulfilling the commandment — sounds appalling.

Damon Linker.

Us versus them

… a country fast turning totalitarian, one where a law which allows a 15-year-jail sentence for “spreading fake news about the actions of the Russian armed forces” will soon be rubber-stamped by parliament …

The Economist. If keeping a nation’s people in the propagandistic dark is your metric of totalitarianism, I can’t deny it’s a decent metric.

We in the USA have enough confidence that I can still read RT, Al Jazeera, The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, Pro Publica, Bellingcat, Gilbert Doctorow and the like as a check on mainstream media’s lazy repetition of our government’s line. But it’s very time-consuming (another reason not to read the government’s line in MSM in the first place — see above), and I don’t have a very reliable heuristic on who’s closer to the truth.

Learning in War Time

The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.

C.S. Lewis, Learning in War Time, an essay in The Weight of Glory. The essay also appears to be available from several sources on the web.

Collateral Damage

Russia House—a D.C. restaurant—was targeted by vandals last week who smashed windows, broke a door, and tagged walls with anti-Russian rhetoric. The restaurant’s owners are American and Lithuanian.

The Morning Dispatch

Paul Kingsnorth continues to deliver

I started really paying attention to Paul Kingsnorth last Summer or Fall when I learned that, to his own immense surprise, he had left Paganism (his last waystation) and become not just a Christian but an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I’ve appreciated him a lot since then, though he was on my radar even before that.

Baptized into Progress

  • I was about a quarter of the way into What Technology Wants before I realised I was reading a religious text. It was quite a revelation. What Technology Wants is a book published a few years back ago by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine and a significant spokesman for what we might call the Silicon Valley Mindset. It takes us on a journey through the historical development of technology and into a future in which, Kelly believes, technology will be living force which controls our destiny.
  • Techno-utopianism is a subset of the contemporary religion of Progress, into which we are all baptised at birth. If Progress is God, technology is the messiah come to do His will on Earth.

Paul Kingsnorth, Planting Trees in the Anthropocene. This predates Kingsnorth’s conversion, by the way.

Tell me the new old story

[I]t hasn’t escaped my attention that all my writing, in whatever form, is basically just a reiteration of the same story, which seems to be the only one I’m capable of telling: human-scale life versus the Machine culture that is overwhelming it.

Paul Kingsnorth

"In science", as Joseph Needham put it, "a man is a machine, or if he is not, then he is nothing …."

Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature: Modern Science and the Dehumanization of Man

Other stuff

H.L. Mencken, Prophet

A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in. The men the American people admire most are the most daring liars; the men they detest most are those who try to tell them the truth. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will get their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H.L. Mencken, quoted by Garrison Keillor.

Important people

Manually laboring drudges might work long hours without sacrificing productivity, but businessman could not. Their work required imagination, thought, calculation.

Americans, [Andrew Carnegie] remarked to his cousin, “were the saddest-looking race … Life is so terribly earnest here. Ambition spurs us all on, from him who handles the spade to him who employs thousands. We know no rest. … I hope Americans will find some day more time for play, like their wiser brethren upon the other side.

‌David Nasaw via The Octavian Report

Sounds as if Carnegie (Rockefeller, too) made a virtue out of what Marx saw as capitalism’s central defect.

Charmed lives

Playwright Tom Stoppard made some extended remarks recently at an awards presentation, including acknowledging his charmed life:

[I]f politics is not about giving everybody a life as charmed as mine, it’s not about anything much.

Tom Stoppard, H/T Alan Jacobs. More:

Perhaps you will recall that in the summer of 1968, England had its dissidents, too. Thousands of young people of student age, egged on by not a few of their seniors including some of my friends, occupied buildings and took to the barricades to overthrow the existing order. The disdain of the revolutionaries for bourgeois democracy, aka "fascism", was as nothing compared to my disdain for the revolutionaries. They were living in the same England, as a birthright, as I was living in as an accident of history.

(italics added)

I’m seemingly a pessimist. I rarely see myself in the mirror without something that looks like a scowl. My morning prayers have a fairly long list of American sins that I keep trying to leave in God’s hands (and then keep taking them back).

So it’s good for me to be reminded, especially as beautifully as Stoppard does, of just how much freedom we have, and of how much millions in the world would love to be here — and surely it’s possible to remember that without becoming some kind of jingoist.

Neo-Manicheanism

Discussing race relations in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, Walker Percy once told William F. Buckley that “From a moral point of view, it’s very simple. It’s either right or wrong, and there was a lot wrong. From a novelist’s point of view, human relations are much more complex than saying the white racist is wrong and the black protestors are correct.”

What does it tell us about our appetite for ambiguity that Walker Percy could not say that today without being chased out of his local public television studio.

Prufrock 3/3/22

Republic of the People

We took the United States Capital. We are the Republic of the People.

Guy Reffitt, January 6 insurrectionist, texting his family exultantly on 1/6/21.

Reffit has now pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. As explained by former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review, it’s going to be tough case to prove all elements of that crime at trial, so don’t be surprised if there are few such guilty pleas or even if there are acquittals at trial.

What science "allegedly" shows

Science allegedly showed trans women had larger hands and feet, bigger hearts and greater bone density and lung capacity.

Sports Illustrated, writing about Lia Thomas, quoted incredulously by Nellie Bowles.

I’d cross-index this under "you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing."

SOTU response

Rashida Tlaib, speaking for the Working Families Party, delivered the left’s response, and even she was relatively muted. She pushed back on Biden’s calls for more police funding and called, as usual, for canceling all student debt.

Nellie Bowles.

There is no regressive policy among Democrats quite so blatant as the call for blanket cancellation of student debt. I have no doubt that many students got in over their heads, but wiping out the student debt of those (by definition) lucky enough to go to college or beyond show how little the Democrats care for people less fortunate.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Curated for 10/27/21

The cure for out-of-parental-control public schools

Terry McAuliffe may have been too candid for his own good, and Republicans may have "pounced" on his statement (“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”), but his statement parallels the state of the law:

[T]he state does not have the power to “standardize its children” or “foster a homogenous people” by completely foreclosing the opportunity of individuals and groups to choose a different path of education. We do not think, however, that this freedom encompasses a fundamental constitutional right to dictate the curriculum at the public school to which they have chosen to send their children.

1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Brown v. Hot, Sexy, and Safer Productions, Inc., via David French.

Since public school parents are not a homogenous bunch, how could any other rule work?

National Review’s Andy McCarthy addresses a bolder claim than a parental constitutional right to dictate public school curriculum, namely that public schools are unconstitutional:

Professor [Philip] Hamburger is right to highlight this project’s offensiveness to the parents of schoolchildren as among its worst features. That said, parental dissent, which is widespread but not unanimous, is just one reason why the project should be resisted. And Hamburger strains mightily not only to portray this dissent as the dispositive objection to progressive curricula, but to portray such curricula as a violation of the constitutional right to free speech.

It is an ill-conceived theory, and reliance on it will only disserve a critical cause by giving progressives an easy target to shoot at.

Hamburger asserts:

Education is mostly speech, and parents have a constitutional right to choose the speech with which their children will be educated. They therefore cannot constitutionally be compelled, or even pressured, to make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination.

It would be generous to describe these propositions as dubious. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that most pedagogy, like most human interaction, takes the form of speech, and therefore that the whole of education is, as Hamburger maintains, covered by the First Amendment. Even if all that were true, what he is arguing for here would not be freedom of speech, but freedom from speech.

Essentially, he posits that the First Amendment gives one party to a protected communication a veto over the other. By this logic, if parents wanted their children to be taught that two plus two equals five, teachers would be expected to comply. Ironically, moreover, Hamburger’s suggestion that public schools are compelling parents to “make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination,” or at least pressuring them to do so, is belied by the very legal authority that he offers in support of his specious First Amendment claim.

The best solution for parents who don’t like what’s going on in public schools is to get their kids out of public schools.

Two final, somewhat tangential, observations:

  1. I sympathize with public school board members. They are almost always (so far as my experience goes) well-meaning volunteers, dependent on educational professionals for their information, and, realistically, serving these days mostly as lightning rods for those educrats.
  2. Phillip Hamburger’s piece was so flawed that I’ve got to suspect the Wall Street Journal of high-class clickbaiting.

Time to descend from the pulpit

Elections are not prayer meetings, and no one is interested in your personal testimony. They are not therapy sessions or occasions to obtain recognition. They are not seminars or “teaching moments.” They are not about exposing degenerates and running them out of town. If you want to save America’s soul, consider becoming a minister. If you want to force people to confess their sins and convert, don a white robe and head to the River Jordan. If you are determined to bring the Last Judgment down on the United States of America, become a god. But if you want to win the country back from the right, and bring about lasting change for the people you care about, it’s time to descend from the pulpit.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal

As if on cue, Damon Linker on wokeness:

Then why does wokeness nonetheless drive me crazy?

The beginning of an answer can be found in the fact that wokeness makes me feel like I’m attending Sunday school in a denomination and parish I never chose to join. I just turn on the radio or open the paper or scroll through Twitter — and the next thing I know, a finger-wagging do-gooder with institutional power behind him is delivering a sermon, showing me The Way, calling on me to repent, encouraging me to be born again in the moral light.

Do not underestimate Russians

Napoleon at last occupied Moscow as he had occupied the capitals of Austria and Prussia, but instead of surrendering, as those countries did, the Russians retreated and fought on. Suddenly Moscow burned down and Napoleon, facing the Russian winter in a destroyed city, was forced to make a rapid retreat. Assuming that history is made by decisive actions, historians asked whose idea it was to incinerate Moscow. Some credited the city’s furiously patriotic mayor, Rostopchin; others picked other Muscovites. Nonsense, Tolstoy replies. No one decided to burn the city down. No one had to, since a city made of wood, where scarcely a day passes without a fire, “cannot fail to burn when its inhabitants have left it and it is occupied by soldiers who smoke pipes, make campfires . . . and cook themselves meals twice a day.” Likewise, no one ordered the inhabitants to leave—Rostopchin in fact tried to stop them—but the civilian equivalent of “the spirit of the army” led them to feel that they simply could not remain under French rule. By leaving, they unintentionally made the city burn and, without intending it, saved Russia. Tolstoy concludes: “Moscow was burned by its inhabitants, it is true, but by those who abandoned her, not by those who stayed behind.”

Gary Saul Morson, ‌Tolstoy’s Wisdom and Folly

An organized vehicle for neurotic progressivism

But even accounting for their courage, Martin Luther King Jr., who began his career in ministry as a staunch liberal inspired by Unitarian Pastor Theodore Parker, felt compelled to renounce the flimsiness of unitarian liberal theology in a 1960 essay: “liberalism’s superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin. … Liberalism failed to see that reason by itself is little more than an instrument to justify man’s defensive ways of thinking.” The delusional optimism of liberal theology, according to King, could not stand up against the hard, grim reality of human chauvinism and cruelty.

From its inception in 1825, the American Unitarian Association—formed from a schism within the Congregationalist church, with the Unitarian contingent leaving behind those committed to Calvinism—was as much an institution for social reform as a religion. Theologically, however, it could never really get its act together.

… in lieu of having commitments to theology or anything identifiable as the divine, the Unitarian Universalist church has functioned for decades as primarily an organized vehicle for … neurotic progressivism ….

‌The High Church of Wokeism

Seeking status and significance?

[I]n the United States, a record nearly 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August, according to the Labor Department, and more than 10 million positions were vacant — slightly down from July, when about 11 million jobs needed filling …

… [T]here might also be something deeper afoot. In its sudden rearrangement of daily life, the pandemic might have prompted many people to entertain a wonderfully un-American new possibility — that our society is entirely too obsessed with work, that employment is not the only avenue through which to derive meaning in life and that sometimes no job is better than a bad job.

… They’re questioning some of the bedrock ideas in modern life, especially life in America: What if paid work is not the only worthwhile use of one’s time? What if crushing it in your career is not the only way to attain status and significance in society? …

Farhad Manjoo, ‌Even With a Dream Job, You Can Be Antiwork.

So the goal is "status" and "significance"?

I don’t think so:

if a man lived in obscurity making his friends in that obscurity, obscurity is not uninteresting.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

And don’t forget that leisure is the basis of culture.

Beta male smackdown

I’m old enough to remember when John Zmirak was bragging to his friends about hanging a picture of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in his Manhattan office. He had much better taste in right-wing strongmen then. They were actually, you know, strong.

Rod Dreher, responding to Trumpkin "failed writer and professional ankle-biter" John Zmirak who called Rod (and others outside the asylum) "beta males." Rod’s response is pretty devastating — especially if one’s familiar with Zmirak.

Empathy failure

Came across this from last year, as I was still reading anything from any plausible source to explain why my fellow-American Trump supporters weren’t patently wrong, but had reasons I could apprehend with enough effort:

…as preposterous as it may sound given Trump’s penchant for exaggeration and sarcasm, a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for truth against the overt political propaganda of the corporate media.

Robert Hutchinson, Why so many voters support Donald Trump: a letter to baffled non-Americans

For the record, I highlighted this for the outlandishness, not that it helped me understand. It is not logical to vote for a terrible President because the media lie about him, and Trump’s lies and cruelties were not mere "exaggeration and sarcasm."

I just cannot get into the mind of Trump voters, and their own explanations have more drollery and trolling than plausibility. I only hope that the madness somehow — ummmmm — dies down before 2024, and the only obvious way for that to happen is something that I, not having rightful power over life and death, dare not pray for.

Shithole University

“The Liberty Way”: How Liberty University Discourages and Dismisses Students’ Reports of Sexual Assaults — ProPublica

Is anyone really surprised? My only surprises are:

  • that Liberty hung on to a handful of very good people, like Karen Swallow Prior, as long as it did; and
  • at Liberty, as elsewhere, almost all of the young women who got sexually assaulted were partying and drinking, as were the louts who assaulted them.

But we’re not supposed to notice the nexus between getting blasted and getting sexually assaulted, because that would be blaming the victim. So the only effective preventive — sobriety in comportment and drinking — is off-limits for discussion.


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 saved the country from “Stop the Steal”?

Truth be told, guys, it was [Federalist Society] members who disproportionately saved this country during the Stop the Steal movement. Everyone pays attention to the FedSoc lawyer, John Eastman, who wrote the memo that was horrible, that was dreadful, that … legally ridiculous, that tried to provide Mike Pence a pretext to overturn the results of a lawful election and plunge us into an extraordinary constitutional crisis — yeah, he belonged and belongs to FedSoc.

But up and down the chain, it was FedSoc lawyers who declined to participate, the top-end lawyers declined to participate, protested these actions. It was FedSoc member judges who ruled against the Trump administration time, and time, and time again.

So stop it with this notion that FedSoc is somehow is inherently problematic institution. It was people who were raised in the FedSoc who stopped Stop the Steal in court.

David French, on the Advisory Opinions podcast