Thoughts on Complete Education

Your work and career are a part of your life,” he said when I met with him and the Santa Fe president, Mark Roosevelt. “Education should prepare you for all of your life. It should make you a more thoughtful, reflective, self-possessed and authentic citizen, lover, partner, parent and member of the global economy.” I love that assessment — the precision, balance and sweep of it.

Frank Bruni, writing about St. John’s College (emphasis added). During his visit to the Santa Fe campus and his eavesdropping on some classes:

Three dynamics stood out.

The first was how articulate the students were. Something wonderful happens when you read this ambitiously and wallow in this many words. You become agile with them.

The second was the students’ focus. A group discussing Homer’s “Iliad” spent more than 10 minutes on the phrase — the idea — of someone having his “fill of weeping.” If digital devices and social media yank people from one trumpet blast to the next, St. John’s trains them to hold a note — to caress it, pull at it, see what it can withstand and what it’s worth.

The third dynamic was their humility. They weren’t wedded to their initial opinions. They weren’t allowed to be. And they moved not toward the best answer but toward better questions. In the “Iliad” and in life, is there any catharsis in revenge? Any resolution in death? Does grief end or just pause? Do wars?

Jack Isenberg, a senior, told me that St. John’s had taught him how much is unknowable. “We have to be comfortable in ambiguity,” he said.

What a gift. What an education.

(Emphasis added)

It’s now official: if I get huffy and drop the New York Times again, Frank Bruni is part of what I’d miss, along with his more conservative brethren Ross Douthat and David Brooks. (Heck, I already miss Brooks because he’s on “book leave” or some durn thing.)


I added emphasis to the preceding item for a reason:

The end of education for the religious-minded person might be seen, depending on his or her particular religion, as, say, the salvation of one’s soul, the glorification of God, the attainment of holiness or enlightenment, that is, something distinctly transcendent or spiritual. For the secular-minded person, it might be career preparation, the material betterment of humanity, self-fulfillment, that is, something distinctly temporal and material … [B]oth extremes and those in between consider education as primarily a means to these all-important ends. For this reason, they tend to characterize the transmission of knowledge and skills as the right and only model for education, with right answers, whether spiritually or materially regarded, and the most useful skills, aimed at the good of the soul or the good of the world, the only proper curriculum.

In this view, questions and questioning are important, but only when they give rise to and are aimed at definite answers. And liberal-arts disciplines, such as logic and literature, are generally a good thing to learn, but only when directed to securing desirable spiritual or worldly goods. In this way, the priority of answers, especially the right answers, and useful skills, in a school’s curriculum and pedagogy tends to render other types of questioning and other, not-so-useful skills obsolete. Open-ended questioning, speculative contemplation, and philosophical enquiry, and those skills that are deemed “useless,” such as a capacity for wonder, an appreciation of the true, the good, and the beautiful, and a grasp of the world as a whole, are either a waste of time and money, or just mere means to obtaining “right” answers and useful skills.

Thaddeus Kozinski, Questions Are Better Than Answers: On the Socratic Method.

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Political Potpourri, 9/10/18

The Good

1

Heather Mac Donald, in “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture,” notes that, “as of early 2018, 79 judges had issued rulings against schools’ rape trial procedures” adopted in conformity with the Obama administration’s dictates.

She says a 2006 University of Virginia survey found “that only 23 percent of the subjects whom the survey characterized as rape victims felt that they had been raped” …

Mac Donald notes that campus sexual-assault policies often assign “wildly asymmetrical responsibilities and liabilities.” In campuses’ alcohol-saturated hookup culture, men are assigned the Victorian role as guardians of frail females’ virtue: If he and she are drunk, she typically is absolved of agency and he is accountable for both of their behaviors. Yet, contradictorily, a core tenet of academic progressivism is that the differences between men and women are not innate, they are “socially constructed,” having nothing to do with biology. Never mind various cultures’ centuries of experience with laws and courtship rituals developed to tame the male libido.

George Will, defending Besty DeVos’s revision of Department of Education rules on handling of campus sexual assault complaints — which have been widely mischaracterized so egregiously that “bad faith” is almost the only explanation.

 

2

I asked the senator from Kentucky if his record on judicial appointments, including the decision to hold open the seat vacated after Scalia’s untimely death in February 2016 until after the presidential election was the most important part of his legacy as a senator. “I think it’s the most consequential series of things that I’ve done that have the longest impact on the country,” he answered. “In the legislative process,” he continued, “there’s not much you can do all by yourself. The one thing the majority leader can do that no one else can do is the schedule, what you will do or what you will not do. I think the decision not to fill the Scalia vacancy was the most consequential decision of my career. And I think the follow-up on that, to not only fill the Supreme Court vacancies, but put in place men and women [on the federal courts of appeals] who believe that the job is to interpret the law into as many places as we can, particularly at the circuit court level, for as long as we’re in the majority is the most important thing I will have been involved in in my career.”

Hugh Hewitt, Mitch McConnell has saved the Constitution.

For the record:

  1. I’m deeply ambivalent about the precedent of sitting on a SCOTUS nominee without hearings. It doesn’t pass a smell test even if it’s not unlawful.
  2. But I’m grateful for the quality of Trump’s judicial nominees and that their judicial philosophies* are more congruent with my own than Merrick Garland’s presumably** is.
  3. “Saved the Constitution” is hyperbole, but the stakes were high, and the tendency to see SCOTUS nominees as having “an agenda” is a sad symptom of the how the court is perceived, with some justification.

 

3

The truth is that “settled law” is just a euphemism that jurists and legal scholars use to refer to Supreme Court precedent that is indeed binding – but only until a majority of the justices decide that it should be overruled. In the 2003 e-mail, Kavanaugh was largely right to say that the Supreme Court “can always overrule its precedent.” And that’s a good thing. The Supreme Court needs to have the power to overturn flawed constitutional precedent, as this is usually the only way to correct wrong constitutional decisions, short of using the extraordinarily difficult amendment process.

Few people, particularly on the left, pine for the return of Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 case in which a narrow majority upheld the constitutionality of anti-sodomy laws. The Court eventually overruled Bowers in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which has since become something of an iconic decision.

Ilya Somin (emphasis added). Somin doesn’t mention boring but binding precedent upholding anti-sodomy laws years before Bowers v. Hardwick:

The first challenge to a sodomy law to reach the U.S. Supreme court was Doe v. Commonwealth Attorney of Richmond in 1976. That case challenged Virginia’s sodomy law as a violation of the right to privacy. For technical reasons, the Supreme Court was required to consider the appeal of this decision upholding the law (in most circumstances, the Court only hears cases it selects). Although the Court accepted neither written nor oral arguments, its memorandum upholding the law is its first decision in a sodomy challenge.

ACLU, Getting Rid of Sodomy Laws. The one sentence summary affirmation was binding authority, and it meant in effect that there wasn’t enough merit to the case against sodomy laws to waste any time explaining why.

My own position long was that all jurisdictions should repeal sodomy laws, but I couldn’t find an acceptable constitutional rationale (a free-floating right of privacy just doesn’t cut it for me) for striking them down.

 

The Bad

4

Jay Sekulow, tried to argue to Robert Mueller that Trump could not be asked to give an interview because he is a compulsive liar. They literally explained to Mueller how they conducted a mock interview with Trump, and he was so unable to tell the truth that they considered him mentally disqualified from testifying:

Jay Sekulow went to Mueller’s office and re-enacted the mock interview. Their goal: to argue that Trump couldn’t possibly testify because he was incapable of telling the truth.

“He just made something up. That’s his nature,” Dowd said to Mueller.

It seems somehow unfair to let somebody remain on the job as president because he’s such a compulsive liar he can’t be allowed to testify under oath.

Jonathan Chait

 

5

Publicity is bad when it attracts the dogged scrutiny of a special counsel along the lines of Robert S. Mueller III. The man isn’t perfect. But he is deeply experienced and impervious to distractions. Trump has loosed a rabid and foaming Rudolph W. Giuliani on Mueller, to no more effect than a Pekingese yipping at a Greyhound bus. With his patrician wealth, his Bronze Star and his sterling résumé, Mueller neither wants nor fears anything Trump can bring.

On the other hand, Mueller has obtained certain things that, I’d wager, lie at or near the root of Trump’s mania. No, not the sordid details of a porn-star payoff. Trump has been known to spill dirt on himself to the tabloids just to stroke his own ego. He could be the emoji for shamelessness.

I’m talking about Trump’s bank records , turned over last year by Deutsche Bank, which also coughed up $630 million in fines in 2017 to settle charges of participating in a $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme. And I’m talking about the immunized testimony of Trump’s longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg . If anyone knows the details of money (Russian or otherwise, licit or not) moving through Trump’s privately held businesses, it’s this guy. And I’m talking about Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns, the ones he has been so determined to keep private, which Mueller almost certainly possesses .

This is the forest, I’ll bet, from which the president’s increasingly nutty behavior is being shaken.

David Von Drehle. Von Drehle also speculates that Jared Kushiner wrote The Anonymous Op-Ed, as even Jared and Ivanka need an exit strategy.

 

6

In nations that have known the horror of dictatorship or foreign occupation, there are often long traditions of what Poland’s national poet once called “patriotic treason” …

In occupied countries, large public events can spontaneously take on political overtones, too …

I am listing all these distant foreign events because at the moment they have strange echoes in Washington. Sen. John McCain’s funeral felt like one of those spontaneous political events. As in a dictatorship, people spoke in code: President Trump’s name was not mentioned, yet everybody understood that praise for McCain, a symbol of the dying values of the old Republican Party, was also criticism of the authoritarian populist in the White House …

There can be only one explanation for this kind of behavior: White House officials, and many others in Washington, really do not feel they are living in a fully legal state ….

Leading members of Congress might resist invoking the 25th Amendment, which would of course be described by Trump’s supporters as a “Cabinet coup.” The mob — not the literal, physical street mob, but the online mob that has replaced it — would seek revenge. There may not be any presidential goons, but any senior official who signs his or her name to a call for impeachment or removal will certainly be subjected to waves of hatred on social media, starting with a denunciation from the president. Recriminations will follow on Fox News, along with a smear campaign, a doxing campaign, attacks on the target’s family and perhaps worse. It is possible we have underestimated the degree to which our political culture has already become more authoritarian.

Anne Applebaum, Washington feels like the capital of an occupied country. This rang very true to me.

 

Elsewhere

7

In the wake of reports about his predecessor’s systematically harassing seminarians in a beach house, Cardinal Wuerl suggested that it was nothing that couldn’t be solved with more vacation time.

… Wuerl has announced a six-week “season of healing.” No penitence, no accountability. Just an announcement that in six weeks, he expects his image to be rehabbed, and everyone else will have to move on. You weren’t healed during my season of healing? That’s on you, bub. As for me, it’s time for another retreat with the lads.

Michael Brendan Dougherty

Footnote

* I say “philosophies” in the plural because Brett Kavanaugh says he is an “originalist” while others insist he’s a “textualist.”

** I say “presumably” because we never got the hearings that would have identified his reportedly moderate philosophy.

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Friday, 9/7/18

1

Evelyn Waugh’s gently satirical Scott-King’s Modern Europe follows the declining career of a classics teacher at Granchester, a fictional English public school. Granchester is “entirely respectable” but in need of a bit of modernizing, at least in the opinion of its pragmatic headmaster, who is attuned to consumer demands. The story ends with a poignant conversation between Scott-King and the headmaster:

“You know,” [the headmaster] said, “we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term?”

“I thought that would be about the number.”

“As you know I’m an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?”

“Oh yes,” said Scott-King. “I can and do.”

“I always say you are a much more important man here than I am. One couldn’t conceive of Granchester without Scott-King. But has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?”

“Oh yes. Often.”

“What I was going to suggest was—I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?”

“No, headmaster.”

“But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead.”

“Yes, headmaster.”

“Then what do you intend to do?”

“If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”

“It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.”

“There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.”

Richard Gamble, To Be Unfit for the Modern World.

2

Midway through Revelation, John sees a pantomime of the Gospel’s beginning, enacted in the sky (Rev. 12). There’s a woman clothed with the sun, standing on the moon, crowned with twelve stars, laboring to bring a boy into the world. Near her is a dragon, ready to devour the infant …

We’ve seen plenty of sea monsters over the past few centuries, from the de-Christianization purge of the French Revolution to the personality cult of today’s North Korea. Even cuddly liberal house pets can turn into monsters. But oppressive political regimes aren’t the only threat. The dragon always calls monsters from the sea and monsters from the land, monsters of the state and monsters of the church.

Easy examples come to mind: Compromised German churches under the Nazis; Orthodox priests double-timing as KGB agents. But there are land beasts closer to home: Churches that support the fascism of the new sexual regime and persecute traditionalists; churches that cheer on every American war without asking whether it’s just or unjust; churches that serve as court prophets of humanistic internationalism; churches that serve as court prophets of humanistic nationalism.

Revelation unmasks the satanic monsters that lurk behind the veil of power, and it reminds us that sea monsters are never alone. Whenever a thuggish state tramples on the faithful, there will be thuggish pseudo-saints nearby, piously cheering it on.

Peter J. Leithart

3

Any discussion of the family must presuppose that it can be defined. That definition until recent times has always been accepted to be the natural or traditional family. It’s not possible to talk about alternative families, different kinds of families without first having a primary model.

Family First (New Zealand) board member Bruce Logan, quoted by Carolyn Moynihan.

Family First faces loss of charitable status because it advocates for the traditional family, whereas New Zealand now has thrown open “family,” which means that Family First advocates (drum roll) discriminaaaaaation! How could that possibly be a permissible charitable purpose.

QED

4

Someone wrote the other day:

Unlike the many, many online commentators who are extremely performative in their iconoclasm (yet somehow always managing to comfort the powerful), [Fredrik] deBoer is truly orthogonal to established ideologies.

That packs in quite a lot, and it seems like a good description of why many folks want to encounter deBoer.

Thursday, he did it again, in self-care is just another set of expectations you’ll never realize. It defies my summarization, but it seems to me that we’d miss a lot if we thought only about self-care when we read it. It applies to more than that, as I assume he intended.

5

We sang many hymns together. For the most part, our hymns served collectively to frame what would prove to be the centerpiece of our Sunday services: the sermon that—I now recognize—replaced centuries-old liturgical worship with something akin to a classroom whose lessons were punctuated by a soundtrack.

The hymns employed within that frame, by and large, fell into two categories: preparation for the sermon and altar call. Most were sentimental and didactic, speaking to the choir—as it were—while pretending to speak to God. That is also how most of our public prayer worked—with the pastor overtly addressing God while more pointedly admonishing the flock.

In any case, one hymn stood profoundly apart from the others, as it seemed to me more like prayer than any other utterance we made; it was, moreover, a prayer that I found myself praying as I sang the words. That hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” therefore has always moved me.

Poet Scott Cairns, in Image Journal.

6

Deneen said he lead at Notre Dame a class on the idea of utopia, from ancient days until now. At the end, he polled the class to ask them which society of those he presented would they least want to live in, and which they would most want to live in. They all said 1984 is the one they wouldn’t want to live in. But which would they choose? A handful chose the world Wendell Berry presents in Hannah Coulter. But about half the class said Brave New World.

“It was stunning that they saw it as a utopia,” Deneen said. “That’s liberalism succeeding, and that’s liberalism failing.”

Rod Dreher (emphasis in original).

Notre Dame (My emphasis).

This came to mind as I read Nicholas Zinos, Erotic Love and the Totalitarian State, which agrees with me that Huxley got sex in dystopia better than Orwell, and who introduced me to One Evening in 2217, a 1906 classic available as part of a collection of Red Star Tales: A Century of Russian and Soviet Science Fiction, in English translation.

I find Brave New World scarily prophetic — so far, more so every time I read it.

7

It is perfectly necessary and routine for hired and appointed officials to give advice that runs contrary to a president’s wishes and instincts. It is perfectly legitimate to try to guard any president against his worst defects of judgment and character, and such stories are the stuff of all White House memoirs. And it is necessary for advisers and attorneys to warn a president about the constitutional and moral limits that should restrain his ambitions.

What is disturbing about the Times op-ed author is that he or she admits not to doing the above, but to actively subverting the agenda of the president on policy questions that were hotly debated and thrashed out publicly in the campaign, questions on which this adviser’s side arguably lost the popular debate.

And yet, one shouldn’t feel too bad for Trump. It is President Trump’s inability to hire and staff his campaign and his administration with competent and ethical people willing and able to translate the ideologically heterodox promises of his campaign into workable policy that gives this resistance staying power, and that constantly humiliates him in the press. Trump has not hired enough of the best people. He’s hired too many self-flatterers, grifters, and people who proudly identify with the swamp. If he can’t get out of his own way, no one else will either.

Kevin D. Williamson

8

If you prick him, does he not explode? If you stroke him, does he not purr?

The testimony of the tell-alls is remarkably consistent. Some around Trump are completely corrupted by the access to power. But others — who might have served in any Republican administration — spend much of their time preventing the president from doing stupid and dangerous things.

Michael Gerson, We are a superpower run by a simpleton.

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Monday Mélange 9/3/18

 

1

The narrator provides us with one final parcel of information that he has learned about Bartleby, a rumor he has heard that before the young man entered his employ, he worked in the dead letter office in Washington, D.C.:

Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames? For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:—the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:—he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to death.

Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!

James Gardner, in a “Masterpiece” review of Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener.

2

[E]ven a silent and secluded Benedict sends a message. Italian friends have told me that The Benedict Option has become for many in Italy a refuge from the Francis stuff. I find that discouraging, to be honest, because I did not write the book with an anti-Francis agenda in mind, and don’t want it to be taken as anti-Francis. Nevertheless, Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, a major Francis mouthpiece, and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago have both publicly denounced the book and the idea as counter to Pope Francis’s vision, so what can I say? My book is certainly infused with the spirit of Ratzinger, who I think of as the second Benedict of the Benedict Option.

An interesting blog of Rod Dreher, drawing parallels between the first Benedict’s retreat from a “dangerous and godless gulf” and the reported motivation behind Benedict XVI’s resignation — the loss of a Vatican battle over cracking down on the likes of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

However his resignation came about, there’s reason for hope in his continued relevance:

Years ago, when I was in college, I read Thomas Merton’s great autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. In it, Merton, who wrote it as a new Trappist monk, talked about the World War II years, and said that maybe the entire world was held together by the prayers of monks hidden away in monasteries.

3

Since the authorities announced on Aug. 22 that Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a farmworker from Mexico, was charged with first-degree murder in her death, politicians and pundits have used the arrest to push for stronger immigration laws.

In a column in The Des Moines Register on Saturday, her father, Rob Tibbetts, encouraged the debate on immigration. “But,” he added, “do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist.”

The Register on Friday published a column by the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., in which he blamed Democrats for Ms. Tibbetts’s death and said claims that conservatives and Republicans were politicizing her death were “absurd.”

Melissa Gomez, New York Times.

You might as well ask bears not to shit in the woods, Mr. Tibbetts. And that steaming pile? “Fake news!” “Absurd.”

4

Oh, the horror!

Rolling Stone accuses the Education Secretary of ‘listening to the men’s rights groups she’s met with’.

Cockburn at Spectator USA.

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Too interesting times

I’m starting light. I’ll end very heavy.

1

What is this? Pronoun pickiness run amok?

2

Signs of wretched excess: Pumpkins Spice in August.

Some pleasures are just meant to be seasonal.

(H/T Smokey Ardisson on micro.blog)

3

I’m sincerely hoping, and strongly suspect as I’ve not read of this elsewhere, that this is a small eddy in an already-small fetid swamp of AlexJonesish conspiracy theorists:

McCain conspiracists say his brain cancer was a hoax

4

Brett Kavanaugh Is a Mensch: When Bethesda, Maryland went NIMBY on a Synagogue, Kavanaugh pitched into the defense of the Synagogue.

5

Within 45 minutes of Ronald Reagan’s announcement that Robert Bork was his pick to replace the retiring Justice Lewis Powell on the high court, Kennedy introduced him to America this way:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”

Now compare this, for sheer style, with the attempt by Elizabeth Warren, current occupant of the seat once held by Kennedy, to do the same for Mr. Trump’s nominee:

“Judge Kavanaugh is part of a movement to twist the Constitution in ways that are deeply hostile to the rights of everyone but those at the top. He’s been a part of that movement for the majority of his professional life, both before and after he became a judge. And now, he has a record of 12 years of judicial decisions that demonstrate his loyalty to that radical ideology.”

Here’s some bad news for Sen. Warren. I remember Ted Kennedy. I watched when Ted Kennedy turned Robert Bork’s name into a nasty verb. And I say this to the woman who now holds the late senator’s seat: Ms. Warren, you are no Ted Kennedy.

After so many years of crying Bork, Democrats have forgotten an essential in politics: count your votes. Brett Kavanaugh will take his seat on the Supreme Court in the end. And yours truly is betting it will be with the votes of at least two Democratic senators.

William McGurn

6

Well, at Least Sheriff Joe Isn’t Going to Congress

Most heartening headline of the day

Cast aside and left to wallow in the knowledge that his moment has passed, he has a fitting end to the public life of a true American villain.

I’ll forgive Mike Pence the praise he lavished on this villain if he repents publicly and convincingly. That was a moment when I understood why many of my fellow Hoosiers contemned a man I felt was too great a cipher to warrant contempt.

7

President Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, announced Tuesday that the administration is “taking a look” at regulating Google’s conduct, given Trump’s complaints earlier in the day that the company’s search results suppress conservative views. Kudlow’s statement raises First Amendment concerns of the highest magnitude.

Floyd Abrams. Click that link to “taking a look.” That’s pure, venomous effort to chill a free press and its modern adjunct, the search engine.

What is potentially dangerous is the assertion in the president’s tweets that “This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” and Kudlow’s intimation that a regulatory response was actually being considered. Of course, Trump and Kudlow may not mean it. Or they may mean it and will not pursue it further. But one cannot tell, and so when such statements are made, it is worth responding immediately ….

And when Floyd Abrams responds this way on a First Amendment matter, it is a warranted shot across the bow of would-be tyrants. Don’t you think for a minute that Brett Kavanaugh will be so grateful to Trump that such nuances will be lost on him.

8

I close with sad but notable news.

I first became aware of Damon Linker when he was at First Things magazine around 16-18 years ago. “First Things” is pervasively Roman Catholic in its staffing, though not in what it publishes, so I sort of assumed that Linker was Catholic. I had no idea he was a new convert when he arrived.

Now he’s leaving. Although I’m skipping most news of American Clergy Abuse Scandal II, personal stories are likely exceptions. I’ve distilled what I find most compelling in Linker’s story:

The core of the church’s problem isn’t personal immorality, or institutional corruption, or hypocrisy. The core of the problem is ugliness.

People too often fail to appreciate the role of beauty in religion …

The singular importance of beauty or nobility to the most profound moral and religious experience was noted centuries before Christ in the dialogues of Plato, where the character of Socrates frequently asks his interlocutors searching questions about elevation. What do we admire? What acts stir us and move us to tears? Often it is those acts involving self-sacrifice, devotion to something loftier, something purportedly higher …

When I converted to the Catholic Church 18 years ago, I did so in large part because I was deeply moved by the act of self-sacrifice that the church places at its heart …

If I didn’t really believe in all of the theological precepts taught by the church, at least I wanted to — because I considered them beautiful, and because I wanted to be a part of the beauty, to elevate myself by assimilating myself to it.

That impulse seems very far away from me now. It began to fade in the church scandals that broke less than two years after I entered the church. The crisis deepened by working for a devout priest who responded to the scandals by circling the wagons against the secular press and its impertinent reporters looking to harm the church with their pesky attachment to uncovering the truth.

[T]o wade through the toxic sludge of the grand jury report; to follow the story of Theodore McCarrick’s loathsome character and career; to confront the allegations piled up in Viganò’s memo — it is to come face to face with monstrous, grotesque ugliness. It is to see the Catholic Church as a repulsive institution — or at least one permeated by repulsive human beings who reward one another for repulsive acts, all the while deigning to lecture the world about its sin.

No thanks. I’m done.

And I bet I’ll have a lot of company headed for the door.

The “devout priest” he worked for was the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, himself a convert, who I thought very highly of — and still do. But “circling the wagons” and whanging on people like Rod Dreher (“‘Shut up’, he explained”) was both wrong and ugly.

I don’t know if Linker is leaving Rome for another Christian tradition or if his entire faith is crushed, but his brokenness is a sad, sad commentary.

Millstone. Neck. Sea. Kyrie eleison!

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

Greg Coles.

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The Hermetic Decalogue

If he would leave the self alone,
Apollo’s welcome to the throne,
Fasces and falcons;
He loves to rule, has always done it;
The earth would soon, did Hermes run it,
Be like the Balkans.

But jealous of our god of dreams,
His common-sense in secret schemes
To rule the heart;
Unable to invent the lyre,
Creates with simulated fire
Official art.

And when he occupies a college,
Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
He pays particular
Attention to Commercial Thought,
Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
In his curricula.

Athletic, extrovert and crude,
For him, to work in solitude
Is the offence,
The goal a populous Nirvana:
His shield bears this device: Mens sana
Qui mal y pense.

In our morale must lie our strength:
So, that we may behold at length
Routed Apollo’s
Battalions melt away like fog,
Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
Which runs as follows:–

Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
Thou shalt not write thy doctor’s thesis
On education,
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before
Administration.

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.

Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much.

Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views.

W.H. Auden, Under Which Lyre, subtitled A Reactionary Tract for the Times, debuted as a Phi Beta Kappa Poem, Harvard, 1946.

The poem came to my attention (though I own Auden’s collected poems), by Ross Douthat riffing on a new book from Alan Jacobs.

During his visit, Auden met James Conant, then the president of Harvard and a man associated with the Apollonian transformation of the modern university, its remaking as a scientific-technical powerhouse with its old religious and humanistic purposes hollowed out. “‘This is the real enemy,’ I thought to myself,” Auden wrote of the encounter. “And I’m sure he had the same impression about me.”

Ross Douthat.

Lord, count me among the Hermetics when Thou comest into Thy kingdom (if I’m not too far gone already).

* * * * *

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.

If you promise, deliver

[John] McAdams, a professor of political science, wrote on his personal blog, Marquette Warrior, about a recorded interaction in which a graduate student philosophy instructor told her student that his opinions opposing gay marriage “are not appropriate.”

A month later, without presenting him with any formal charges, Marquette suspended McAdams, cancelled his classes, and banned him from campus. The college later insinuated that McAdams violated a harassment policy, and that his punishments stemmed from his naming the instructor in his blog post and linking to her own, publicly available, blog.

“As FIRE has argued since the beginning, Marquette was wrong to fire John McAdams simply for criticizing a graduate student instructor who unilaterally decided that a matter of political interest was no longer up for debate by students,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “This ruling rightly demonstrates that when a university promises academic freedom, it is required to deliver.”

Though Marquette is a private, Roman Catholic institution not bound by the First Amendment, the university promises faculty “the full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms,” and it explicitly guarantees that “dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

Press Release by FIRE. From their computers to God’s ear — and the ears of other university administrators:

“Administrators cannot simply decide that they do not like the results of certain faculty speech, and then work backwards to find a justification for firing them,” said Ari Cohn, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “The court’s decision recognized that allowing a university to do so is incompatible with any meaningful understanding of academic freedom. Colleges and universities across the country that are facing calls to discipline faculty members for their online speech should pay attention to today’s decision.”

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving.

Vignette

[H]uman freedom, properly understood, tries to resist the forces of utility that devalue human beings.

[Patrick] Deneen said he lead at Notre Dame a class on the idea of utopia, from ancient days until now. At the end, he polled the class to ask them which society of those he presented would they least want to live in, and which they would most want to live in. They all said 1984 is the one they wouldn’t want to live in. But which would they choose? A handful chose the world Wendell Berry presents in Hannah Coulter. But about half the class said Brave New World.

“It was stunning that they saw it as a utopia,” Deneen said. “That’s liberalism succeeding, and that’s liberalism failing.”

(Rod Dreher, emphasis in original)

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The secret of Dreherbait revealed

Rod Dreher has a propensity so notorious that he sometimes mocks himself for it. The propensity is commenting indignantly on certain types of stories that he calls “Dreherbait.”

Certain Dreherbait events at Dan Quayle’s alma mater caught his scornful attention a few days ago (here and here), and another, this from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, caught his attention in the wee hours of Sunday. Those all fell in the Dreherbait category “campus Social Justice Warriors.”

But in the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo indignation, he dove deeper, and explained why those stories are like flame to his moth, but without actually saying it that way.

Here’s why I fear and absolutely loathe the mob, especially racialized mobs. This really happened in my town. I know the identities of every white person involved (they’re all long dead), because one of them confessed on his deathbed to a friend of mine, who was shaken by the news. I do not know the name of the victim, and my attempts to discover his name went nowhere. None of this was publicly recorded.

Back in the 1940s, in my tiny Southern hometown, word reached the sheriff that a black man had been caught raping a white woman. The sheriff put out a call to some trusted white men to come help him track the rapist down and bring him to justice. The sheriff deputized two white men who showed up. They chased the black man through the woods, and upon catching him, bound him and took him back to the parish jail. There they lynched him. This was what they told themselves they had to do to protect the good order of the community.

A couple of days later, the truth came out: the black man and the white woman had been secret lovers. When they were discovered, she accused him of rape to protect herself. After his murder by the sheriff and his men, her conscience wouldn’t let her rest. She confessed all.

In their shame, the white family moved away. Of course no one — not the sheriff, nor his deputies — faced any kind of justice for their murder of an innocent man. That’s not how things worked under white supremacy.

The reason anybody alive today knows about it is because one of the murderers, as he lay dying decades ago, unburdened his conscience.

In a piece I wrote three years ago, “When ISIS Ran The American South,” I talked about what it was like to be a black person living under white supremacy, specifically in the sense of being powerless in the face of unaccountable power, a power that was eager and willing to inflict severe violence, even death, upon you. What prompted the comparison was the news that ISIS had burned a captured Jordanian Air Force pilot alive in a cage. I wrote:

No, the American South (and other parts of America where racial terrorists ran rampant) was never run by fanatical theocrats who used grotesque public murders as a tool of terror. But if you were a black in the years 1877-1950, this was a distinction without much meaningful difference.

I had the case in my hometown in mind when I wrote that. In that post, I quoted a recent report on lynchings in the American South, 1877-1950. One category of lynchings investigators identified:

Lynchings Based on Fear of Interracial Sex. Nearly 25 percent of the lynchings of African Americans in the South were based on charges of sexual assault. The mere accusation of rape, even without an identification by the alleged victim, could arouse a lynch mob. The definition of black-on-white “rape” in the South required no allegation of force because white institutions, laws, and most white people rejected the idea that a white woman would willingly consent to sex with an African American man.

In the case I’m talking about, the mob — in this case, the sheriff and his deputies, as well as the (false) accuser — did not require a dispassionate examination of the evidence in the case. The accuser’s word was enough. It was assumed by white Southern culture of the day that every black man sexually desired every white woman, and that no white woman was capable of sexually desiring a black man. Even black male desire itself was enough to merit execution; if a black man and a white woman had actually been caught in sexual congress, as in this particular case, that was even stronger evidence of rape. Or so that culture thought.

But again: white culture of that time and place was so racially paranoid that all it took was for white people to feel that a black man sexually desired a white woman for that man to be at risk of extrajudicial execution.

This surely is why he refers to analogous “the Social Justice mob” so often, and the analogy fits. But he’s not a dispassionate observer:

It’s important to me to say one more thing here. Back in the summer of 2002, I was reeling from rage over 9/11, and over the Catholic sex abuse scandal. I was so overcome by it that I had to see a dentist to get a mouthguard made for wearing at night, because I was grinding my teeth so fiercely that my wife couldn’t sleep. She was so worried about what was happening to me on the inside. I couldn’t rest. The injustices of these two catastrophic events was eating me alive. She compelled me to swallow my pride and go see a therapist.

The therapist was a Catholic, and, as it turned out, a quack. Long story. But he told me something in that first session that was offensive and painful to hear, and that I furiously rejected. But years later, I came to see that he was right.

What he told me was this: “You need to accept that under the right circumstances, you could have been flying one of those planes. You could have been Mohammed Atta.”

No effing way! I said. No way! I refused to admit that I have anything in common with that monster. What is wrong with this guy? I thought. What kind of relativist is he?

He was right about that. I do, in fact, have that capacity for evil within me. So do you. So do we all. Not too many of us are the kind of sociopaths who choose evil for evil’s sake. We first dress it up as good — as justice, perhaps. Read the final words left behind by Atta.  This is a man convinced that he was acting for the sake of God, of justice, and his tribe (Muslims), against infidels, which at one point he described as “animals” to be slaughtered. It is one long rationale for mass murder as an act of high and selfless virtue.

If you don’t think you have it within you to write the same sort of testament, you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do. Nor do you know history, or the human heart. The men of my town who lynched that innocent black man slept peacefully every night for the rest of their lives — except for the man who, in his final days on this earth, confessed to his wicked deed, in preparation for meeting the great Judge. But they all escaped justice on this earth, because they were all living under a system that held the maintenance of  white supremacy as justice itself.

What progressives advocated in 1964 was progress. What they advocate today is not progress, but returning to the older corruption, this time with different supremacists in power. It is still unjust. It is still evil. It always will be. The Social Justice Warriors and their fellow travelers in power at universities, in corporations, and even in government (see Mayor Harmon above), are summoning up demons that they cannot control.

(Emphasis added) The panics brought about by things like drunken frat boys and sorority girls in black face (or anything that can be so misrepresented) is akin to lynchings (later, mere felony convictions) based on fear of interracial sex. As Rod says,

I do, in fact, have that capacity for evil within me. So do you. So do we all. …

If you don’t think you have it within you to write the same sort of testament, you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.

And that elite college students, the pool from which disproportionately comes our top leaders, know themselves so little is special cause for alarm, which Rod sounds often.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Fear of the unknown

When I was a child, my late mother was well-nigh paranoid about electricity. I’m reminded of her every time I stick a knife in a toaster to retrieve a slice of toast too small to stick out the top after the toaster pops.

“Don’t stick a knife in a toaster!”

Well, no. Not while it’s, like, toasting things and those little heating elements are brimming with electricicals. The heating filaments are very fragile when they’re red hot and you might break one. Or something else bad might even happen, like getting a 110v “bite,” which is unpleasant. If you’re in a swimming pool at the time, it could be even worse.* But I’m not going to let the toast get cold while I go retrieve some insulator with which to go toast-fishing.

I think of my mother, too, when I think of guns. I learned decades later that she was petrified because, unknown to us children, my late father had acquired a handgun after being physically attacked by someone who intended to cause him severe bodily harm for helping some employer who was dealing with a union. This also may explain why solicitations from the National Right to Work Committee continued coming, addressed to him, for years after his death, and why my first recollection of the word “union” was adjectival, modifying “goon.” (My own views, for what it’s worth, include that the pendulum has swung too far toward the business of business, and away from unions, the business of representing workers.)

I don’t think, though, that my mother would have had any problem with some selected teachers in my school bearing concealed weapons against the remote prospect of someone, bearing unconcealed weapons, trying to do children harm within the school’s hallowed halls. Her fear was of snoopy children finding a gun hidden in home and becoming one of those sad stories in the newspaper.

Anyway, I can’t shake the idea that it might be a good idea to allow selected teachers to arm themselves, and to let it be known that such is the status quo in a school district.

At least one school superintendent and his board — in Texas, unsurprisingly — agree with me:

The program was simple: The school board would individually approve school employees who already held state concealed handgun licenses to participate in the program and the district would provide them with extra training. (In 2007, the district engaged a private consultant to develop additional training; in 2013, I worked with the Texas legislature to develop and pass Senate Bill 1857, which created a school safety certification course that could be utilized by schools opting to employ programs similar to ours — Harrold ISD Guardians are scheduled to complete this certification in the near future.) The names of our Guardians are kept confidential and they are paid a small yearly stipend in addition to their regular salaries to have them carry concealed handguns at school.

[W]e believed that if the shooter had thought it likely, or even just possible, that someone might be there to return fire, he would have been hesitant to move forward …

The participants’ anonymity is key to our program; no one in the general public knows the identity of the Guardian Plan team members. We don’t release numbers, but at all times there is an armed school employee, or employees, on site. Experts note that mass-shooting perpetrators look for “soft” targets — places not protected by anyone who can effectively resist attack. If a person planning an assault knows that he may meet resistance, he’s less likely to attempt to attack that venue.

I floated the idea on Facebook (without the Texas example, which I had not yet known of) and got a lot of push-back from teachers, some of whom said they’d resign if they knew that unidentified colleagues had concealed handguns with the school board’s blessing.

I don’t get that. There were no explanations proffered by those teachers, just hypothetical ultimatums in response to my hypothetical scenario.

If any reader of this blog has an explanation of the badness of my idea, I’d be glad to hear it. Just know that when the topic is deterrence, I’m skeptical of generalizations about whether guns are more likely to shoot bad guys or loved ones when actually discharged.

I’ve got some “skin in the game,” too. Though I was a Conscientious Objector and am generally pacific, I do believe in the right of self-defense, and nobody beyond a tiny circle knows how armed or disarmed my home is.

Care to try breaking in to find out?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to talk about such things, would we?

Does anyone live there?

_______________________________

* This is not a course on electrical safety, of course. I may have understated the risks. But I’ve been bit by 110v several times, and I have a friend who closed a circuit of 440v, I think, in an institutional kitchen (and somehow survived).

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.