How to deal with two conservative problems

David Hines takes a stab at answering How Do You Solve a Problem Like QAnon? | The American Conservative, and it was one of the better things I’ve read today if only because it doesn’t suggest that Q adherents aren’t wicked racists or antisemites that just need to be made dead. Indeed, without sugar-coating the problem, has has what seems a sensible solution that wouldn’t even be all that difficult to implement:

Not to put too fine a point on it, Righties have a weakness for believing stupid shit.

We’re not the only ones … But nobody on the left is as enthusiastic as deeply or as long about stupid shit as are people on the Right. When Lefties do employ stupid shit, such as gleeful pee tape rumors, the origins are typically elite Lefty circles. Our stupid shit comes from the base, tends toward the wildly implausible, and of late tends to promise imminent glory on earth: the end of a story, in which we win.

This divide exists because Left and Right are different outlooks and different cultures. Accordingly, Lefties have a different failure mode than we do. The failure mode of right-wing is kook. The failure mode of left-wing is puritan …

The central fantasy of QAnon isn’t adrenochrome, or cannibal cults, or mole children, or any of the myriad lunacies of the outlandish dystopia it presents. The central fantasy is the idea that things will be better because somebody is going to do something.

Any attempt to rein in Righty conspiracy theorists and make them actually useful will have to consider their actual interests and aptitudes. And they have them. Many of them are backbone-of-America types: they have jobs, have family lives, and are actively engaged in their communities in various ways. They turn out to events and meetings. They’re genuinely enthusiastic. They’re hard workers. They’re curious about the world and passionate to make a difference in it. They are genuinely interested in learning about things that aren’t immediately obvious. It’s just that they learn them from random YouTube videos because they don’t know how to use PACER to find court records, or how to file FOIA applications to get government documents, or how to look up Form 990s to learn about how nonprofits are organized and funded.

The Righty base desperately wants to do something, but doesn’t know how. And that’s because the elites don’t want it to learn. The root of our real problem on the Right is that elites and the base want different things. So elites don’t train the base in how to actually produce change. QAnon is what you get when a naïve, untrained base tries to fill that vacuum. What they fill the vacuum with is a story where somebody is doing something, and the end of the story is a great big WE WIN.

… It’s often noted that the Right has a surfeit of pundits; what we lack are diggers, the dedicated researchers who do the boring work of poring through documents to find news. But maybe we’ve had them all along — they’re just naive and untrained. What if we trained them, empowered them, and turned them loose?

People turn to conspiracy theories to explain a world they can’t understand. Giving them the tools to explore the real world could keep them more grounded — and turn up some interesting things for the rest of us.


For the senators who will try the impeachment, a thought: It’s time to demystify Donald Trump. He leaves the presidency disgraced. He is a diminishing asset: postpresidential power always wanes, and will especially in this case …

In running in fear from him you are running from a corpse. And you’ll never be safe anyway. Something wild has been let loose. So be brave. The Democrats want you tied to Mr. Trump forever. Stop, now.

Peggy Noonan, Liz Cheney Shows What Leadership Looks Like – Peggy Noonan (January 14)


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

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (PDF)

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

First and Lesser Things

First Things

The invisible God painted his own portrait on the canvas of the incarnation.

Father Patrick Henry Reardon, The Visible Revelation of the Father


I’m on the Board of a classical Christian School that my grandchildren attend. I sometimes wonder whether parents substantially understand the ramifications of classical education. A classical educator has stated my concern well, starting with how the misunderstanding manifests in students:

Our students desire to learn the material, gain cursory knowledge, earn a high grade, get into an elite college, receive a lucrative job offer with a competitive salary, all in order to master themselves and the world around them. Classical educators desire for our students to love truth, goodness and beauty. We yearn for them to be men and women of virtue and moral character. We want them to love what God loves and to steward the world gifted to them by their Creator. Wendell Berry, American essayist, describes well the dilemma of modern education:

“Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. Its proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible… A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.”

… Ours is a counter-cultural revolution, which explains a tension often experienced between classical educators and parents. We not only need classical teachers and classically-minded students; we need classically-minded parents. The job of the educator is not to replace the parent but to partner with them. Partnerships do not thrive if the partners are unequally yoked.

The Formation of Classical Parents | Circe Institute

The essay has three steps for The Formation of Classical Parents.


Donald Trump didn’t invent misinformation and disinformation; they have been around for much of human history. But Trump—by virtue of his considerable skills in this area, aided by social media and capitalizing on “truth decay” and diminishing trust in sources of factual information—exploited them more effectively than anyone else has in American history.

Believing that the toxicity in our politics will quickly and easily be drained would be silly; in fact, in some quarters, things will get worse. (We see this in Trump supporters who are migrating from Fox News to Newsmax and One America News because Fox was deemed insufficiently pro-Trump, as startling as that seems.) But not having a president who wakes up every morning thinking of ways to divide Americans by race, region, and religion, by class and party, will be a move in the right direction.

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command,” George Orwell wrote in his masterpiece 1984.

“[Winston Smith’s] heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s center. With the feeling he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote: Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

For four long years, that important axiom was denied by the president of the United States and almost everyone in his party. But last month, more than 80 million Americans declared that enough was enough. What many of them were saying with their vote—what I was trying to say with my vote—was that it’s time to reaffirm that stones are indeed hard, that water is indeed wet, that objects unsupported do fall toward the Earth’s center. That two plus two does make four.

Maybe the road out of the epistemic crisis that Barack Obama correctly identified runs not simply, or even primarily, through the realm of politics or social-media reforms, as important as they are. Perhaps the path requires us to order our lives well, remind ourselves and others to love what is worthy of our love, and affirm that “one word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.” We won’t get there tomorrow. But each of us can begin to take steps on the journey tomorrow, a journey out of mist and shadows toward the sunlit uplands.

Peter Wehner, Trump’s Most Malicious Legacy – The Atlantic. I had it in the back of my mind that history had vindicated the vision of Brave New World over that of 1984, and I still think it does. But I re-read Brave New World a week or two ago and recognized that it, too, does not really fit the condition we’re in.

Walker Percy’s Prescient Dystopia, Love in the Ruins, fits all too well, though it’s a much different sort of dystopia than Huxley’s or Orwell’s.


Lesser Things

  • Fact of the day: “Of the 265 counties most dominated by blue-collar workers—areas where at least 40 percent of employed adults have jobs in construction, the service industry or other nonprofessional fields—Mr. Biden won just 15, according to data from researchers at the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan policy research group.” Lisa Lerer, New York Times.
  • Per David Catanese at McClatchy: “Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has launched an investigation into a collection of groups, accusing the New Georgia Project launched by Stacey Abrams of sending registration forms to people in New York and citing evidence of other operations trying to convince college students to temporarily change their residency to Georgia.”

The Sweep: Georgia Heats Up – The Sweep


Natural law theory has received renewed attention among Protestants in recent years. The natural law tradition posits that a God-given, self-evident universal moral order exists that human reason can grasp. The natural law defines and identifies which actions are reasonable and worth pursuing—even apart from an immediate appeal to divine revelation.

The Gospel and the Natural Law | Andrew Walker | First Things


In 2017, the situation was different, but in its own way dire. I testified:

“I have sharply criticized President [Barack] Obama’s policies, but my concerns pale in comparison with the sense of alarm I feel about the judgment and dispositions of the incoming White House team. In such a setting, there is no question in my mind that a Secretary Mattis would be a stabilizing and moderating force, preventing wildly stupid, dangerous, or illegal things from happening, and over time, helping to steer American foreign and security policy in a sound and sensible direction.

Marshall did indeed reassure the American people, and Mattis did indeed block, or at least slow down, some of the wild fancies of Donald Trump.

Eliot Cohen, This Is No Job for a General – The Atlantic


Nothing is sadder than the question posed indignantly, “Do you know who I am?” I first heard it when I was 17, on a flight back from Europe (my mom had won a trip in a church raffle, and sent me). I was seated near the back row, and heard a man from Louisiana arguing with a flight attendant, who kept telling him not to hang out near the galley.

“Do you know who I am?” the man huffed. I thought, wow, a real celebrity, I wonder who he is? I learned from their touchy dialogue that the supposed dignitary was a friend of the Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner’s, who had been leading a tour of Europe with his political supporters, and was seated up in first class. Here was this guy telling a Delta Airlines attendant on a flight to Atlanta from Brussels that she’d better back down, because he’s a friend of a provincial minister of agriculture. It’s a thing of beauty, if you look at it from a certain angle.

Thoughts About Celebrity | The American Conservative


In 1908 G.K. Chesterton penned Orthodoxy to confront the idiocy of the motto “Believe in yourself”:

“Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Supermen. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”

Through a Looking Glass Darkly | Comment Magazine


If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,” I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.

Justice Antonin Scalia via Josh Blackman, Why rewrite Brown, Roe, and Obergefell?


“Those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principle of journalism and what do we do about that,. As reporters, we kind of march into this war with our facts nobly shouldered as if they were going to win the day and what we’re seeing that is because of the scale of this alternative reality that you’ve been talking about, our facts, our principles, our scientific method–it isn’t enough. So what do we do?”

Jonathan Turley, “Free Speech Is Being Weaponized”: Columbia Dean and New Yorker Writer Calls For More Censorship

The elite consensus is rapidly repudiating free speech, which bodes ill for the future.


The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 335-78, a wide enough margin to override the veto President Trump has telegraphed. The bill, which directs military spending for the upcoming year, includes pay raises for troops and is filled with bipartisan priorities, but Trump has demanded an unrelated provision—the repeal of tech platforms’ Section 230 liability protections—be included.

The Morning Dispatch: House Powers Through Veto Threat on NDAA


Seriously, the main use of Bitcoin is to allow people to smuggle money, buy illegal items like kiddie porn, and speculate on the price of Bitcoin. They had to create an entire new Stable coin class just to get around how slow Bitcoin is when actually used. The energy use to run the system is amazingly awful. The entire market is beset with crooked exchanges and a million different Ponzi schemes. But other than that, sending your cash to strangers on the internet for beanie baby equivalents is a great idea.

Poliorcetes, commenting on Bitcoin Is Back and Booming. Will the Rally Last? (The Dispatch)

I’m 90%+ sure that Bitcoin is an hysteria, a bubble inflating (though the bursting point is uncertain), because we’ve collectively lost touch with reality.


[T]o understand how social conservatives feel about [HHS nominee Xavier] Becerra, imagine if a Republican president elected on a promise to heal partisan wounds and deal with a pandemic nominated Rick Santorum as his first secretary of Health and Human Services.

Rod Dreher quoting Ross Douthat who’s quoting John McCormack of National Review in turn.

More:

there is a chasm between what Trump’s team is telling the public about the case, and what is actually in their legal filings. The court filings are pathetic, the lawyers said. Clown-car stuff. But see, this is the kind of thing that ordinary people — that is, people without legal training — can’t easily understand. One of the lawyers said that voter fraud might well have happened, but if you can’t show evidence in court, you’ve got nothing. That is the problem here, for Team Trump.

Unlike Eric Metaxas, I don’t believe that it is clear that God is on Trump’s side, I don’t believe that Trump will be inaugurated, and I certainly don’t believe that Trump is worth dying for.

Look, I believe that soft totalitarianism is coming, and though I believe Covid is a real crisis, I also believe that powerful people are going to take advantage of it to push for bad things. But the idea that Donald Trump is our only hope — really? Really? The idea that he has the mandate of heaven, and that Christians should be prepared to see the Constitutional order destroyed for the sake of Donald Trump — it’s just beyond crazy. I would never, ever submit to the dictatorial rule of Donald Trump, and it is utterly appalling that Christians would say that doing so is what God would have us do.

Yappy Catholic crazy person John Zmirak likens me and other Christians who don’t sign on to the Trump post-election crusade to Nazi collaborators. And Eric Metaxas, who has been a friend of mine for over 20 years, promoted that column to the skies. This is where the heads of a lot of Christians are these days: Donald or death.

I think the “Stop The Steal” movement is mistaken, but I would not be so alarmed by it were these leaders not tying it to fidelity to God. The progressive Left in this country is bonkers; that we know. Must we on the Right show ourselves to be every bit as shipwrecked on the reef of ideology? Every minute we spend on trying to salvage Trump’s pride is a minute we are not spending on building a meaningful, substantive resistance. And it is de facto helping people like Xavier Becerra by neutralizing conservatives and Christians who would be open to fighting against whatever the Biden administration attempts, but who don’t want to be associated with sedition and religious extremism.

I never thought that yappy Christianist right-wingers like Zmirak would be the first to loudly label sane, observant traditional Christians as traitors.


Kelly’s lawsuit raises an interesting question of Pennsylvania law: Were the commonwealth’s 2019 election reforms that expanded mail-in voting consistent with the Pennsylvania constitution? But note the date of the reforms. Kelly could have raised his challenge well before the election. He should have raised his challenge before the election. So it was no surprise that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected his lawsuit as filed too late.

It was even less surprising that SCOTUS refused to engage. Why? Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the final authority on the meaning and interpretation of Pennsylvania law and the Pennsylvania constitution, not SCOTUS.

Everything I’m telling you in this newsletter is elementary. It represents basic election law, basic constitutional law, and basic rules of evidence. So why does the GOP belief that the election was stolen persist even through repeated, decisive legal defeats?

There’s a complicated answer and a simple answer. Let’s ignore the complicated answer for the moment—it’s based in the enduring human vulnerability to conspiracies compounded by widespread and increasing distrust in institutions. In short, to greater and lesser degrees conspiracy theories will always be among us.

In this case, however, the challenge of human nature is compounded by the fact that multiple trusted conservative and Republican voices are making arguments they know—or should know—aren’t just wrong, but frivolous.

In normal circumstances, a legal personality like Mark Levin would shred the arguments in the Pennsylvania case. Instead, he promoted it. Ted Cruz has the legal skills to know the case has no hope. He offered to argue it at the Supreme Court. And I know the attorney general of Texas well enough to know that this lawsuit is far beneath his level of legal expertise.

In other words, lawyers who should know better are conning their own fans and constituents. Credentialed charlatans are telling frightened and sad Americans exactly what they want to hear about topics they have no reason to understand. Is it any wonder they believe?

The Kraken Is Lackin’ – The French Press


Texas’s stunningly stupid statistical proof that the election result can’t be right:

That, believe it or not, is it. (A) If the 2020 voting population had precisely the same party preferences as the 2016 voting population, Biden could not possibly have won; and (B) if the mail-in and in-person voters had precisely the same party preferences, Biden could not possibly have won.

Wow! Man bites dog!! Who would have believed it!! If the 2020 voting population had the same Repub/Dem split as it had in 2016, Trump must have won!! If mail-in voters had the same preferences as in-person voters, Trump must have won!! And if my aunt had four wheels, she’d be a motorcar!!

Dr. Cicchetti, in other words, has falsified two hypotheses that nobody in his/her right mind could possibly have believed might actually be true. Garbage in, garbage out.

I would remind Dr. Cicchetti—and, more importantly, Texas AG Paxton—that we periodically conduct “elections” precisely because voter preferences may change over time, and some people who voted for the Democratic candidate in one election might choose the Republican in the next, or vice versa. Were this not the case, I suppose we’d still have a Federalist as Chief Executive. [“Your Honor, the chance that Thomas Jefferson carried Maryland in 1800, as has been reported, is less than one in 8 million billion quadrillion!! (assuming that voter preferences haven’t changed since the 1796 election …)”]

David Post, More on Statistical Stupidity at SCOTUS


Eventually, her beliefs radicalized further: She became convinced that trans women are men ….

TERFs and The Donald: The Future of Reddit’s Banned Groups – The Atlantic

Oh: biological fact is now “radical”?


Perennial wisdom:

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

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

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

Potpourri 9/3/20

Kyrie
Because we cannot be clever and honest
and are inventors of things more intricate
than the snowflake—Lord have mercy. 

Because we are full of pride
in our humility, and because we believe
in our disbelief—Lord have mercy. 

Because we will protect ourselves
from ourselves to the point
of destroying ourselves—Lord have mercy. 

And because on the slope to perfection,
when we should be half-way up,
we are half-way down—Lord have mercy. 

R.S. Thomas, Mass for Hard Times

Thomas has not been on my radar as a poet. This one blew me away (there’s a great deal more to it), as did Tell Us.

* * *

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

* * *


“The universities now offer only one serious major: upward mobility,” Jackson writes. “Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in. There is no such thing as a ‘homecoming’ major.

Wes Jackson via Wendell Berry via Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry.

* * *


In Pittsburgh on Monday, the Democratic presidential nominee responded forcefully to President Trump’s charge that “no one will be safe in Biden’s America.” … “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected?” Mr. Biden asked. “He can’t stop the violence—because for years he has fomented it.”

Trump’s 1980 Strategy for 2020 – WSJ

* * *


… Christopher Lasch is someone you cite a lot in this book, and in his work there’s a real sensitivity to the importance of these cultural issues. For educated people, the conflicts over busing or religion or sexuality or whatever reinforce the sense that working people are not really worthy of our concern because they’re authoritarian, behind the times. And then for the working class, it really drives home this perception that they are held in contempt. And Lasch seemed to believe that this tension was baked in because the values of the managerial elite were precisely the values of liberal-capitalist meritocracy: individual autonomy, self-development, personal liberation, etc., the flip side of which is a suspicion of working-class values like solidarity and thick ties like family and religion and neighborhood. The working-class view is more conservative, in a sense, but it’s also a product of a real class difference in how people see their place in the world.

Well, yes, I totally agree with that. I thought you said you were pushing back.

What I’m trying to get at is: There’s a sense in which this is a very real dividing line between more affluent, college-educated Democrats and members of the white working class and even sections of the non-white working class, where the former are often socially liberal and economically conservative/centrist and the latter are often economically liberal but more conservative on issues like abortion, immigration, crime, etc. How do you think Democrats or the left more broadly should try to navigate this divide? Do you think that open conflict over these issues can be avoided if you just focus on economics? Or does something eventually have to give — working-class whites moving left on culture or educated liberals deciding that they need to accept people with more conservative social views — say, a pro-life, gun-owning Catholic — as a part of the coalition?

This is a problem, of course, but I also think it is possible for people to come together on a common cause without agreeing on everything. The problem is getting the Democrats to acknowledge that common cause. Up until now, the Democrats have spent all their resources reaching out to those affluent white-collar people in rich suburbs. Those are the only “swing voters” they’re interested in. This bunch gets everything. It’s all crafted to please this group — economic policies, culture-war stances, everything. I happen to think a really robust program for reclaiming middle-class America from the forces that have wrecked so many people’s cities and lives and health would be immensely popular. It would be so popular that lots of people would be willing to overlook, say, one’s views on gun control in order to get behind it.

What’s the Matter With Populism? Nothing. (metered paywall – New York Magazine)

* * *


Baron Trump looks like the world’s most miserable child.

* * *


[A]nother narrow Trump victory, especially one in which the popular vote goes for Biden, is going to kick off civil unrest that will make this summer look tame. Trump’s opponents will ping-pong even harder between the two fever dreams of the first term. The first, that Trump is a foreign pawn and opposed to everything that makes American great. This charge comes with a complimentary retweet of James Comey standing near the Liberty Bell. The second, that Trump is the final, rotten fruit of a rotten American tree that must be uprooted altogether. This one comes with a retweet of 1619 Project impresario Nikole Hannah Jones explaining that arson isn’t violence.

My assumption, however, is that Trump’s second term may prove to be more difficult than the first for him. While some progressives are trying to moralize themselves for the November election by predicting a second term flowing with dictatorial power aimed at undermining democracy forever, I predict more slapstick incompetence.

Instead of hiring the best people, Trump has relied on whoever is nearby. This cast of characters has included people with their own firm agendas (such as John Bolton) or people who just seemed to have the Trump vibe (such as Anthony Scaramucci). Many of these people have had short careers in Trumpville — and leave it quickly to write scathing memoirs of their time within. About a dozen former White House officials or other flunkies have left Team Trump to write hair-raising tell-alls.

Trump already had problems with hiring enough people to fully staff the Executive Branch. His inability to do so is part of what allows the “deep state” to undermine, dodge, or contravene his authority as president. His reputation for administrative neglect, sudden reversals, and micromanaging has dissuaded qualified people from joining the administration. It leaves the presidency weakened.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, Donald Trump Second Term: What to Expect | National Review

* * *


Reporters standing in front of scenes of arson, flames billowing behind them, not very far from scenes of shooting and murder, insist that the protests are “mostly peaceful.” National Public Radio and a multi-billion-dollar global media conglomerate team up to bring you an illiterate “defense of looting.” The president comes to the defense of a dangerously stupid teenager who went looking for trouble illegally armed with a rifle in his hands and, to no one’s great surprise, found the trouble he was looking for.

But if there is a case to be made for looting, how about we start with NPR and its affiliates? The NPR Foundation reported holding $342 million in assets in 2018, and NPR’s management and on-air talent are splendidly compensated, many of them in excess of a half-million dollars a year. You can commission a shipload of lectures on income inequality and the salubrious effects of looting for that kind of “just property.” NPR’s headquarters on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C., is “just property,” too — property NPR isn’t even much using at the moment, because of the epidemic. Would NPR object to someone burning it down to make a political point? Would looting NPR’s property be defensible? Yes? No? Why or why not?

… The same people burning down grocery stores today will be complaining about “food deserts” in 18 months.

… the petulant children in Portland want only to play-act at being Jacobins, and the petulant child in the White House requires a full-time culture war lest he be forced to run for reelection on his record of spotless administrative excellence and confidence-inspiring leadership. If ever two clutches of fools deserved one another, these are they.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, A Clutch of Fools | National Review

* * *


Peter Viereck: American Conservatism’s Road Not Traveled | Front Porch Republic was very good.

* * * * *

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

You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

* * * * *

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

Cliché

If I weren’t so compulsive, I’d probably say of my reading this late-morning, “That’s enough! Time to stop and chew on this for a couple of hours.”

Educated cynics suspect that all uses of … stock phrases are empty of thought; like a college professor whom I admired, they feel a burden to respond to every “How are you?” with a seven-seconds’ pause and measured reply. But imagine the strain, the impossibility, of trying to invent a unique response to every “How are you?”, a unique phrase for each circumstance needing “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “You have my sympathy”, a unique creed for every Christian. In this latter case particularly, pursuing freshness of expression would be _wrong. _A creed is not meant to express individual or innovative understanding and belief, but to give voice to communal, traditional understanding and belief. It is not expression but identification, not communication but communion.

That pedantic college professor is me, which is why I should chew on the rest of this very thoughtful and humane author’s insights.

And so the educated person must reassess, or risk the irony of his scorn of clichés becoming yet one more: the cliché of overeducated cynicism. Without denying Orwell’s point, could there still be an acceptable place for the cliché? Not in things meant to present and provoke fresh thought, but in circumstances that call for identification and communion? In circumstances when the rhythm of exchange, and not the reasoning of language, bears more weight?

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

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. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

When the Ideologues Come for The Kids

I’ve been very active lately on my blot blog, where I mostly link to things with minimal comment, and it has been four days, I guess, since I found anything (other than fulminating about Donald Trump) that might involve enough original input to be worth writing here.

But now the first item in Andrew Sullivan’s weekly column for September 20 (metered paywall), When the Ideologues Come for The Kids, sounds all the right notes on a topic I’ve been fretting about a lot, right down to his retreat from previously endorsing Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH).

I am relatively disinterested in the identity politics and the picking on White boys (capitalization is from the Minnesota Teacher of the Year Sullivan dismantles), but this is a solid observation:

The forces involved — “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” “heterosexism” — are all invisible to the naked eye, like the Holy Spirit. Their philosophical origins — an attempt by structuralist French philosophers to rescue what was left of Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s — are generally obscured in any practical context. Like religion, you cannot prove any of its doctrines empirically, but children are being forced into believing them anyway … Having taken one form of religion out of the public schools, the social-justice left is now replacing it with the doctrines of intersectionality.

I have come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to eradicate “religion,” broadly construed, from education. Again and again, I’ve seen crypto-religious ideologies slip into public schools. Intersectionality is just the latest crypto-religious fad.

Religious neutrality is a myth, though delusions about it abound. The best thing I can say for public educators who profess it is that that few of them are perceptive enough to be cynical rather than credulous in that profession.

When Sullivan starts with his retreat from DQSH, he enters territory I’m familiar and very, very frustrated with: the mad destructiveness of gender ideology. If he missed a major point, it doesn’t come readily to mind:

  1. Drag Queen Story Hour is a conscious effort to indoctrinate kids into the glories of queerness, “not campy encouragement for reading and fun.”
  2. Kids who defy sex stereotypes are being told that they’re probably the opposite sex trapped in the wrong body. Consequences, in the form of hideous medical malpractice, may follow.
  3. Claims of transgender identity are skyrocketing. This is neither a natural phenomenon nor a mere matter of closeted people finally coming out. In kids, it’s a combination of adult suggestion and social contagion.
  4. Girls have proven more susceptible than boys to adult suggestion and social contagion, and virtually their only defenders are “a few ornery feminists.”
  5. Most gender dysphoric kids, if not forced to “transition,” will grow up gay.
  6. Don’t like #5? Move to Iran, where homosexuality is so loathed that the Mullahs pay for a world-leading rate of sex-reassignment surgeries: gay boys must be turned into girls, lesbian girls into boys.

Sullivan takes this last point personally:

I remember being taunted by some other kids when I was young — they suggested that because I was mildly gender-nonconforming, I must be a girl. If my teachers and parents and doctors had adopted this new ideology, I might never have found the happiness of being gay and comfort in being male. How many gay kids, I wonder, are now being led into permanent physical damage or surgery that may be life-saving for many, but catastrophic for others, who come to realize they made a mistake. And what are gay adults doing to protect them? Nothing.

Read it. Chew on it. Speak up. Get over your sex stereotypes: a “tomboy” isn’t a boy and a “sissy” isn’t a girl.

Don’t let them bully you into silence with charges of “homophobia” or “transphobia” as they take children and commit “transitioning” atrocities on them or merely screw them over over psychologically. In Sullivan’s words, “this is not progressive; it’s deeply regressive.”

UPDATE: I should have known better than to say he had hit all the major points. He missed the extent to which observant parents are fighting back alongside ornery feminists, and how the ideologues are savaging both.

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I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

(Psalm 72:15-17, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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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).

Leveling and conformity

Anthony Kronman, former Dean of Yale Law School, got triggered by an episode at Yale that to a lesser mind would have provoked merely a bit of tongue-clucking about “precious snowflakes” or some such thing. In his mind, it triggered deeper reflection, which I missed on first reading of Bret Stephens’ review column of Kronman’s forthcoming book:

Yale has been ground zero for recent campus unrest, including … the decision to drop the term “master” because, to some, it carried “a painful and unwelcome connotation.”

It’s this last decision that seems to have triggered [Anthony] Kronman’s alarm. The word “master” … means … a person who embodies achievement, refinement, distinction — masterliness — and whose spirit is fundamentally aristocratic. Great universities are meant to nurture that spirit, not only for its own sake, but also as an essential counterweight to the leveling and conformist tendencies of democratic politics that Alexis de Tocqueville diagnosed as the most insidious threats to American civilization.

What’s happening on campuses today [is] a reaction against this aristocratic spirit … It’s a revolt of the mediocre many against the excellent few. And it is being undertaken for the sake of a radical egalitarianism in which all are included, all are equal, all are special.

“In endless pronouncements of tiresome sweetness, the faculty and administrators of America’s colleges and universities today insist on the overriding importance of creating a culture of inclusion on campus,” Kronman writes.

“They stress the need to respect and honor the feelings of others, especially those belonging to traditionally disadvantaged groups, as an essential means to this end. In this way they give credence to the idea that feelings are trumps with a decisive authority of their own. That in turn emboldens their students to argue that their feelings are reason enough to keep certain speakers away. But this dissolves the community of conversation that the grown-ups on campus are charged to protect.”

I said earlier that Kronman’s book is brave, but in that respect I may be giving him too much credit. Much of his illustrious career is now safely behind him; he can write as he pleases. Would an untenured professor have the guts to say what he does? The answer to the question underscores the urgency of his warning.

Bret Stephens

The urge to pick on Ivy League schools often is itself a leveling and conformist tendency, but not when picking on them is for their squandering a tradition of rigor and excellence, and that’s what Kronman apparently has done.

It boggles my mind to imagine someone smart enough to get into Yale sheltering in place, avoiding the storms of real challenge and growth, as if the transaction were merely commercial, a pricier version of buying a degree at an online diploma mill. Who wants to live a life of fraud and humbuggery with bought credentials?

More disturbing, I think, is the answer to “where else in our millieu do we see Tocqueville’s leveling and conformist tendency?”

It’s bad enough that we are competing in a marketplace full of people who are “the real deal,” who work their tails off to attain mastery. Worse still is that we’re selling our souls for some damned pottage.

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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).

(Christian) School Prayer

Christian schools have largely failed to show students how to pray, for we have not taught our students the historic prayers of the Church. Rather, classical Christian schools prefer old books, old music, old art, and prayers thrown together two seconds ago …

The classical teacher who hastily invents a few banal sentences for God every day before class begins is sending his students contradictory messages. It may be de rigueur for 21st Americans to pray in this fashion, but classical education is committed to tradition, contemplation, reflection, and circumspection, none of which is modeled for students in glib, forgettable, and flimsy two sentence thank-you-for-this- day prayers.

The teacher who begins class with a forgettable post hoc prayer thinks he has communicated to his students that prayer is important, when he has actually communicated that prayer is easy, which is simply not true. Prayer is no easier than fasting and giving alms, both of which are nearly impossible.

Almost all student prayers are simply amalgams of stock phrases borrowed from post hoc teacher prayers: be together, learn about your world, glorify You, grow in wisdom, grow in You, grow together, have a good time, bless the community, and thank you for sending your Son. These are forgettable, disposable praise chorus prayers. If we are willing to admit that a pop Christian song can trivialize the Incarnation, we ought to be willing to admit that a prayer can do so, as well. Such prayers not only teach our students to ask very little from God, but to commit little and expect little from pious practices. “You do not have because you do not ask, and when you ask, you just kind of arbitrarily mumble something off the top of your head that you don’t really mean.” Compare the bringing-us-together-today-just- glorify-you prayer with a portion of St. Thomas Aquinas’s prayer of the student:

Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all being,
graciously let a ray of your light penetrate
the darkness of my understanding.
Take from me the double darkness
in which I have been born,
an obscurity of sin and ignorance.
Give me a keen understanding,
a retentive memory, and
the ability to grasp things
correctly and fundamentally.
Grant me the talent
of being exact in my explanations
and the ability to express myself
with thoroughness and charm.
Point out the beginning,
direct the progress,
and help in the completion.
I ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

This is a prayer which underwrites the possibility of great faith. It is a prayer worth remembering, worth repeating on a daily basis, worth meditating on. It is a worthy model for other prayers ….

Joshua Gibbs, Teach Classical Students To Pray Classically.

Every word of that resonates deeply within me.

As a Christian Reformed Elder, on those rare occasions when the Pastor was absent and Elders assisted the visiting Pastor in leading worship, I always labored over any prayer I was expected to give, borrowing surreptitiously from an old Book of Common Prayer. In a Reformed Church, that passed muster.

But the bane of “spontaneous prayer,” and being thought unspiritual if you pattern your public prayer on something as worthy as Gibbs’ example, are among the reasons I could never go back to frank Evangelicalism (Christian Reformed is not frankly Evangelical in its traditional expression). They are among the top reasons I reflexively view Evangelicalism as a frivolous religion-unto-itself.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here, but a bit here as well. Both 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).

Meritocracy or virtue?

I’ve noticed something odd about the (still relatively early but) angry commentary over the college admissions scandal, whereby celebrities, “ethical fund” managers, parenting book authors and others crossed legal lines to get their slacker children into elite colleges (or at least more elite than they could get into on true merit). The odd thing is the trope that these parents are arranging for their children to “get ahead” unfairly.

But what is this “getting ahead” in the first place? What virtue is there in it? So far as I can tell, there is none whatsoever.

“Getting ahead” means superficially looking like a meritocratic success. And America is all about superfice.

What is the reality for these slackers? So far as I can tell, it’s going to hell in a delusional cocoon — or whatever sad fate awaits those lacking virtue.

So it seems to me that the most fruitful discussions that can arise out of this chapter in the annals of American superficiality are, as has always been the case, what it means to be human, and more particularly what it means to be a person of virtue — a prize infinitely more valuable than glitz and glamor.

And if you happen to favor deontological or consequentialist ethics, as the commentariat appears to, what these parents did will still fail your ethical tests. It’s unethical all the way down.

But it’s all these parents know in their bones, whatever platitudes pass their lips or gets printed in a child-raising book or fund prospectus.

So why would any sane person want their child to join their ranks?

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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.

The Cyruses we need

The sexuality scholars of the time fancied themselves edgy characters exploding bourgeois norms. They took pleasure in deriding older scholars, the “dead wood” who devoted their careers to such square projects as the Standard Edition of John Dryden. They, by contrast, wrote books with such titles as Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault; Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities; and Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety. The key words of the day were “subversive” and “transgressive.”

Paglia showed them what subverting and transgressing really looked like, mocking the tenured radicals’ bogus cultural politics—bourgeois lives in leafy college towns and hip urban neighborhoods—and inept handling of bohemian, illicit material.…

… It was taken as a sign of profundity, not incoherence, that few people could untangle sentences such as this from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990):

Once the incest taboo is subjected to Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis in The History of Sexuality, that prohibitive or juridical structure is shown both to instate compulsory heterosexuality within a masculinist sexual economy and to enable a critical challenge to that economy.

Rather than labor to translate such a sentence into English, Paglia mocked it. Why take these writers’ half-baked “readings” and low standards seriously, she asked. They come from dilettantes, not creative minds.

In 1991 Paglia spoke at Harvard, where she accused the university of hiring “trendy people in cultural studies centers who believe that the world was created by Foucault in 1969.”…

… Since those professors were too ensconced and comfortable to improve, or even to carry out the basic pedagogical duties, the students must take charge of their own education:

First, make the library your teacher. Rediscover the now neglected works of the great scholars of the last 150 years, who worked blessedly free of the mental pollutants of poststructuralism. Immerse yourself in the reference collection, and master chronology and etymology. Refuse to cooperate with the coercive ersatz humanitarianism that insultingly defines women and African-Americans as victims. Insist on free thought and free speech.

The critique struck home. Under Paglia’s raillery, the theorists of sex and politics looked like small ignorant figures in spite of their knowing demeanor. All they really understood was academic politics, which they played very well. Paglia demonstrated that they had erected a social network that operated on cronyism and prestige, which would collapse as soon as a few genuinely erudite and courageous critics challenged them.

In Provocations Paglia declares that the heart of the ’60s movements was “a new religious vision,” whose votaries cared about political reform, but “were also seeking the truth about life outside [existing] religious and social institutions.” The truth came before politics, sex, rebellion, or drugs. The truth Paglia identified long ago is that in all human beings there is an “emotional turmoil that is going on above and below politics, outside the scheme of social life.” Great art touches it, and so does religion. Individuals who respond to art and religion understand that when politics and social life presume to replace them as right expressions of that turmoil, they falsify it instead…and Paglia won’t countenance a lie. That puts her at odds with every institution liberals have managed to seize, from academia to the Democratic Party. But if you mentioned that to her, she would shrug and get on with the truth-telling. She has nature on her side.

Mark Bauerlein, Force of Nature, Claremont Review of Books.

A lot of Evangelicals reportedly believe that Donald Trump is kind of like King Cyrus in Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament (pick your preference), sent to rescue Real Christians® from liberal captivity.

I’m more inclined to think that Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson, neither of them Real Christians® but with extraordinary crap detectors, are doing the Lord’s work, probably unwittingly, in demolishing parts of the deathworks. (They are two reasons I believe in common grace and natural law.)

It remains to us to walk out of the rubble.

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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.