Monday Potpourri, 8/27/18

1

I tend to think of the encyclical Humanae Vitae (which I’ve never finished reading) as all about the evils of artificial contraception. That’s a blind spot.

Carl Trueman points to its prediction of the moral and social chaos sexual revolution would leave in its wake, and to contemporaneous commentary by Dietrich von Hildebrand that entails “a moving account of human love and a critique of a society that reduces love to sex and sentiment.”

In this volume, von Hildebrand clearly draws upon earlier arguments from his 1927 book In Defense of Purity: Love is ecstatic and joyful, transcending rational analysis. Von Hildebrand’s key text is Song of Songs, the biblical poem that captures the mystery, power, longing, and exuberance of erotic love. Much conservative Protestant writing on marriage typically neglects the Song for a prosaic, patriarchal focus on male authority and female submission. Those tempted by such a drab view of love ought to read von Hildebrand, for whom passion, mystery, and ecstasy all play their biblical parts.

Still, the part of Humanae Vitae that leaves me leery is the insistence that every marital act instantiate both the unitive and procreative purposes of sex. I’m willing to admit mistakes in how I’ve lived my life (my blogs are not my confessional, but I’ll not deny here what I confess there), but I’m not conscience-wracked — even now, when I know so much more about the Christian tradition on contraception than I knew then — that my wife and I tooks steps to prevent pregnancy during our first year of marriage so she could complete her college degree.

Granted, the same contraceptive technologies, by Supreme Court decisions of half a century or so ago, must be available to fornicators and adulterers as well as married couples, but to put it in reductionist terms that the encyclical presumably avoids, is delaying or spacing pregnancy in marriage a slippery slope to all the evils of the sexual revolution?

Apart from the possibility that I’ve thought more about that than most people, my response lacks any authority, but here goes: that’s not my lived experience.

2

Alan Jacobs, who doesn’t write all that much about matters political, musing on two heads of state, the U.S. and the Vatican:

Norms are created by institutions, and we live in an age of weak and despised institutions. This is how populist leaders arise: when a great many people believe that institutions exist merely to serve themselves, they come to despise not just those institutions but also the norms associated with them, and applaud leaders who scorn and seek to tear down the whole edifice. And if those leaders make their disdain known in sufficiently charismatic ways, few will notice when they are guilty of the very sins they decry.

He’s not expecting either The Donald or Pope Francis to be “forced out” or to change course.

So why do we get the vapors so badly when news breaks?

The big social-media companies function as what I have called the Ministry of Amnesia, and the result is that we lack temporal bandwidth. Unless we work hard to cultivate that temporal bandwidth, we won’t have the “personal density” to resist the amnesia-producing forces that make us think that whatever happens today is more important than anything that has ever happened.

Increasingly, I think, the people who rule our society understand how all this works, and no one understands it better than Donald Trump …

[T]he greatest of social changes tend to happen, as Edward Gibbon put it, insensibly. Even when they seem sudden, it is almost always case that the suddenness is merely a very long gradual transformation finally bearing fruit. There’s a famous moment in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises when one character asks another how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” the man replies. “Gradually and then suddenly.” But the “suddenly” happened because he was previously insensible to the “gradually.” Likewise, events are always appearing to us with extreme suddenness — but only because we are so amnesiac that we have failed to discern the long slow gradual forces that made this moment inevitable.

Alan Jacobs again, elsewhere. Do read it all. There’s a payoff.

3

Jeffrey Bilbro, Learning to Distinguish between Demonic and Redemptive Technologies, at Front Porch Republic responds to a Christianity Today essay that tends to reduces Agribiz to “genetic seed modification and GPS-guided harvesters,” ignoring assaults with on crops and earthy by chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Bilbro’s most important contribution, it seems to me, is a not-too-vicious debunking of what the CT author seems to think is the only alternative to Agribiz in the manner Monsanto pursues, and some allusive hints we may just be cruising gradually toward sudden calamity.

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Wrong language for the job

The most radical influence of reductive science has been the virtually universal adoption of the idea that the world, its creatures, and all the parts of its creatures are machines – that is, that there is no difference between creature and artifice, birth and manufacture, thought and computation … As a result, we have a lot of genuinely concerned people calling on us to “save” a world which their language simultaneously reduces to an assemblage of perfectly featureless and dispirited “ecosystems,” “organisms,” “environments,” “mechanisms” and the like. It is impossible to prefigure the salvation of the world in the same language by which the world has been dismembered and defaced.

(Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle — emphasis added)

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We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Sabbatical

I’m not a misogynist. I don’t judge women on their looks. You can trust me that I didn’t sexually assault any of these women because they’re all ugly. (Donald Trump)

Thanks for clearing that up, man.

Of course, I made up that exact quote. You can tell because it strings together three complete sentences, even though they’re internally inconsistent. There’s no “word salad.” There’s so self-aggrandizing asides.

Trump couldn’t read it if it was put in front of him on a teleprompter.

Hillary’s not as easy to mock because she does not manifest (n.) manifest (adj.) concurrent severe personality disorders.

The best diagnosis of Hillary I’ve heard is that sometime between the mid-70s and now, someone flipped off the idealism switch and flipped on the corruption and self-enrichment switch.

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Face it, Republican Trump supporters (i.e., excluding newcomers supporting Trump’s independent campaign under the Republican umbrella) and rueful Hillary supporters: if 2016 isn’t enough to get you looking at third parties, you never will. You’re a slave. You’ll continue, in saecula saeculorum, eating whichever party’s Shit Sandwich looks less shitty, and it’s relatively easy because you’ve limited the choice to two.

A Facebook friend couldn’t believe I won’t support Trump, because (when you stripped away all my friend’s bombast) unlike Hillary, Trump truly does not care about people like us beyond securing our votes (and therefore won’t persecute us).

I agree with that. I will be a direct target for Clinton, collateral damage for Trump.

However, Trump is so unstable and so eerily demagogic that for the sake of the world, I’ll risk a direct Hillary hit over a Trump holocaust by voting #NeverTrump, #NeverClinton.

I’m moving beyond 2016 toward a more realistic, human-scaled vision of America’s future than either party is pushing or willing to push.

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The debasing tone and meager substance of this campaign, aside, I’m rejecting both parties because on a very important issue, they’re both (or all) out of touch with reality.

  • The Democrats and establishment Republicans are selling substantially the same economic Ponzi Scheme.
  • Trump and his followers, insofar as they have a coherent economic message instead of a bundle of understandable grievances, are dealing in nostalgia for post-war America (the beginning of the Ponzi scheme).

None of that is going to work any more. The fuel of the ever-growing economy is literally fuel: petroleum. We’ve used up the economically viable petroleum sources. Only a zero-interest, hyper-financialized economy, funding unprofitable shale-oil shell games, has let us ignore that reality thus far. The alternate energy sources are not yet in place and when they come along (if they do), they will not allow our present physical configurations, dependent on carefree automobile trips, to survive.

Contrary to the American religion of endless progress, the techno-industrial age is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and we are closer to the end of that chapter in human history than to the middle of it. By the 1970s, the USA began to feel the bite of competition from other parts of the world that had rebuilt their industrial capacity following the debacle of World War II. Our factories, which had not been bombed during the war, were old and worn out. Environmental consciousness produced stringent new regulation of dirty industries. Third World nations with rising populations offered ultra-cheap labor and lax regulation. So, we “off-shored” US industry, which for a century had been the major source of our economic wealth.

Industrial production was replaced mainly by two activities. First, after being constrained by the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, the suburban sprawl build-out resumed with vengeance in the 1980s. Secondly, and connected with sprawl via the mortgage racket, was the expansion of the financial sector of the economy from five percent to over 40 percent. The suburban sprawl part was easy to understand. It was the preferred template for property development, an emergent process over the decades. The local zoning and building codes had evolved to mandate that outcome by law. The separation of uses became more extreme: housing tracts here, office parks there, shopping somewhere else, connected solely by cars. You couldn’t build a popsicle stand anywhere in the USA without supplying fifteen parking spaces. The new laws for handicapped access had the unintended consequence of heavily discouraging buildings over one story. The tragic part was that suburban sprawl was a living arrangement with no future. The oil crises of the 70s had portended that, but both the zoning codes and the cultural conditioning over-rode that warning. Anyway, Americans simply couldn’t conceive of living any other way.

Back when finance was a mere five percent of the economy, banking was boring and didn’t even pay so well. It was based on the 3-6-3 formula: borrow money at 3 percent, lend it out at 6 percent, and be on the golf course at 3 o’clock. In the 1960s, bank presidents and stock brokers might have a color TV instead of a black-and-white, and they might drive a Cadillac instead of a Chevrolet, but they didn’t live on another planet of ultra-wealth. The role of banking in the economy was straightforward: to manage society’s accumulated wealth (capital), and re-deploy it for productive purposes that would produce yet more wealth.

The computer revolution of the 1990s helped take finance to a whole other level of hyper-complexity with astonishing speed and, because the diminishing returns of technology always bite, this venture produced some ferocious blowback — namely, that many of the new “innovative” financial instruments created by computer magic enabled swindling and fraud on a scale never seen before. This was especially true in the securitization of mortgage debt into fantastically complex mutant bonds, many of which were notoriously designed to blow up and reward their issuers with bond “insurance” payouts. That bit of mischief led to the crash of 2008. The systemic damage of that event was never resolved but simply papered over by taxpayer bailouts and massive Federal Reserve “interventions” that continue to the present.

(James Howard Kunstler, The Future of the City) Even Mark Levinson’s Weekend Essay in the Wall Street Journal admits that “the economy doesn’t roar any more.”

The U.S. presidential candidates have made the usual pile of promises, none more predictable than their pledge to make the U.S. economy grow faster. With the economy struggling to expand at 2% a year, they would have us believe that 3%, 4% or even 5% growth is within reach.

But of all the promises uttered by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton over the course of this disheartening campaign, none will be tougher to keep. Whoever sits in the Oval Office next year will swiftly find that faster productivity growth—the key to faster economic growth—isn’t something a president can decree. It might be wiser to accept the truth: The U.S. economy isn’t behaving badly. It is just being ordinary.

Historically, boom times are the exception, not the norm ….

It’s no fun to think about that. The era of happy motoring, our half-acre mini-estates (on formerly-tilled land), and the dream of endless progress are much funner.

We Boomers were much closer to the truth when we were all reading E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful — but then our switches flipped like Hillary’s did. She was just better at ferreting out the possibilities of personal enrichment by racketeering.

It’s no accident that the Clintonistas were trash-talking thus according to last week’s Wikileak:

They can throw around ‘Thomistic’ thought and ‘subsidiarity’ and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.”

Subsidiarity is soooo “Small is Beautiful.”

The day is coming when we’ll have a choice between (a) the war of all against all over the bits of real wealth that remain or (b) cooperation on far more localized and pedestrian (literally and metaphorically) scale. Kunstler’s declinist essay and most of his corpus for several decades now go into greater detail.

It’s heartening, though I too rarely pay heed to it, to note that people are starting to vote with their feet, motivated by market forces if not conscious conviction. It’s too little, too slowly, I fear, but I could be wrong about how long the combined efforts of our plutocrats can keep the bubble from bursting.

I’ve aligned with a party  that believes in things the Democrats despise, as do the Republicans, though their emails haven’t been leaked, and though they’ll despise some parts the Democrats like (and vice-versa). But I’m aware that we’ll lose this year, that our candidate has the thinnest of political credentials and that there are limits to politics fixing all ills.

* * * * *

With that, I begin a brief (at least) blogging sabbatical. I’m going after dinner to a place where I fully expect to be off-grid for a while.

Prayer and worship and maybe some (offline) reading will be my likely routine, though I’ll be happy if I meet someone in a black robe who credibly says “I think I know how to cure what ails you” and takes me some different direction.

Yes, I’ve been ailing (dare I suggest we all are?), even if the ailment is only frenzy over how few people sense the truly perilous position we’re in. In fact, it’s probably much worse than that, and if I’m going only to “pray away the gay frenzy,”  I’m unlikely to accomplish even that. They don’t really know how to do partial soul-cures, after all.

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.