What’s wrong with this picture?

More dramatic than I imagined:

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.29 PM

(link) and

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.55 PM

(link).

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

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

First, a distinction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, because it forfeited any claim to my loyalty:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s why.

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

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

Psalm 146:3

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Disillusioned

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

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

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

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

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

In your heart, you know he’s wrong

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

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

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

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

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Lament

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

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

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

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

The Ghost and his Lizard

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

(David Brooks, Trump Has Made Us All Stupid)

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

‘Off so soon?’ said a voice.

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

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

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

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

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

‘I know it will kill me.’

‘It won’t. But supposing it did?’

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

‘Then I may?’

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

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

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

For a moment I could make out nothing ….

C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

* * *

Here endeth our parable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Who is Cultural Proximate to the U.S.?

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

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

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

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

Dreher came out first:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Our faves

It is quite likely that some of our faves are implicated ….

Christine Pelosi, about the indictment of billionaire glitterati ephebophile sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, on Twitter.

“Some of our [Pelosi family] faves.” I. Can’t. Wait.

Some day soon, I’m pretty sure, opposition to child molesting will be labeled some kind of phobia.

Yes, I mean that. Our putative concern for children is a fig leaf. Our overarching concern is the sexual gratification of adults, who thus are distracted from grim temporal and sublime eternal realities, alternating between orgasm and shopping on credit.

We will probably justify destigmatizing ephebophila and pedophilia as removing the taboos that keep children from the sexual pleasures they could be having. That will be the fig leaf.

Caveat: I have no idea how many Levis will get rises in them from the thought of kiddie sex. I’ve got to think it’s relatively few, but the fewness of the beneficiaries hasn’t stopped other aspects of the ongoing sexual revolution.

Caveat 2: And I can’t rule out a powerful backlash from normal people. The pendulum can only swing so far, but I’m not sure how much further in the current direction that is.

UPDATE: “I wonder what brought on this outburst?”, you might be asking (because I did).

It may, now that I think of it, be a delayed reaction to some late-night reading last night:

I received a call from a Scientific American reporter to talk about robots and our future. During that conversation, he accused me of harboring sentiments that would put me squarely in the camp of those who have for so long stood in the way of marriage for homosexual couples. I was stunned, first because I harbor no such sentiments, but also because his accusation was prompted not by any objection I had made to the mating or marriage of people. The reporter was bothered because I had objected to the mating and marriage of people to robots.

Sherry Turkle, Alone Together, pp. 4-5. She finished writing this book in 2010. This call came around 2006. If we think that “marriage” to a robot could ever be a real thing, and we think that at the elite level of Scientific American, surely we have lost our way quite badly.

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Toxic or Tonic?


What happened to our Arcadia? We stopped listening to it. We stopped dancing, we moved away, we started listening to the chant of the Machine instead. It is debt we chase now, not the moon. We are individuals, not parts in a wider whole. In a broken time, it is taboo to remember what was lost, and that fact alone makes Arcadia a revolutionary document. Look, it says. This is how it was. This is what was broken. At night, when you lie awake with your phone flashing under your pillow – do you miss it?

Paul Kingsnorth via Alan Jacobs (italics added).

I thought that was lovely, so I’m exposed as a monster:

This is where landscape writing sheds its leafy cloak and lets you glimpse its colder face – sounding like Steve Bannon, quoting Steve Bannon, black notebooks in hand, gazing from its bench at the little woodland of little England and trying to decide if “benevolent green nationalism” sounds too much like “…well, a nice kind of Hitler.”

We see you for what you are.

Warren Ellis also via Alan Jacobs, who closes with a few questions for folks like Ellis:

For these critics of Kingsnorth, is there any legitimate way to praise, and to seek to conserve, old rituals and practices? Can you love harvest festivals or Morris dancing or Druidic rites or for that matter Ember Days without being a racist, a fascist, a Nazi? Or is urban cosmopolitanism the only ethically acceptable ideal of human life?

And if you can love and practice those old ways without being a racist — How? What would distinguish morally legitimate attitudes from the ones that Kingsnorth is being pilloried for?

This inquiring mind would really like to know.

“Broken times” indeed.

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Cultural Marxism?

When I was a conservative Protestant 20+ years ago, I and others developed the bad rhetorical habit of labeling any liberalizing trend we disliked as “Secular Humanism” at work. That term was used every bit as imprecisely as the journalistic “fundamentalist” so often applied to us.

Today, many conservatives, both religious and secular, have developed a verbal tic of calling everything they dislike “cultural Marxism.” I rise to my own defense to note that (a) “cultural Marxism” has no home in my mental framework and (b) at least secular humanism was something that actually existed (and still exists, as does religious humanism of which I’m an adherent), whereas I’m not sure that there exists anything corresponding to the epithet “Cultural Marxism.”

My skepticism was reinforced last evening as I listened to an Orthodox Christian giving a talk at a symposium held at a Russian Orthodox monastery recently. His overall thesis (don’t essentialize the sexual passions) was attractive, and probably could have been stated in just a few minutes. But he was allocated 20 minutes, so he recounted his version of how sexual passions came to be essentialized, and Cultural Marxism kept popping up.

At one point, he said this:

The idea of individual customized sexual identities and rights to the same paradoxically grew from western legalistic tendencies, originating in the emphasis on Original Sin in the west, and the desire to replace in the Church the laws of the fallen western empire.

The type of disembodiment we see in current secular sexual ideology, based on a twisted version of that earlier western sense of natural law, oddly reflects the materialism of both Cultural Marxism and capitalism. Their common ethos encourages us to be what we will, what we conceptualize, to break down boundaries of organic physical form and mortal limitation by technology.

In this lies a utopianism ….

Immediately, the coin dropped. There’s nothing “odd” about materialism producing similar idiocy in Marxist bogeymen and our beloved-but-straying capitalist bretheren and sisteren: Indeed, one could as well describe all the baneful developments attributed to a conspiratorial-sounding “cultural Marxism” to the late-stage eventuality of consumer capitalism — with neither so much as one tin hat nor one hypothesis about smoke-filled rooms (in the Frankfurt School, presumably).

I’m going to be reading and listening critically hereafter to see if my new hypothesis fits the facts, as I don’t think the Cultural Marxism trope has fully run its course yet.

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You can read my more impromptu stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.