Gleanings

From Deschooling Society

  • Hope, in its strong sense, means trusting faith in the goodness of nature, while expectation, as I will use it here, means reliance on results which are planned and controlled by man. Hope centers desire on a person from whom we await a gift. Expectation looks forward to satisfaction from a predictable process which will produce what we have the right to claim. The Promethean ethos has now eclipsed hope. Survival of the human race depends on its rediscovery as a social force.
  • Classical man framed a civilized context for human perspective. He was aware that he could defy fate-nature-environment, but only at his own risk. Contemporary man goes further; he attempts to create the world in his image, to build a totally man-made environment, and then discovers that he can do so only on the condition of constantly remaking himself to fit it. We now must face the fact that man himself is at stake.
  • I know a Mexican village through which not more than a dozen cars drive each day. A Mexican was playing dominoes on the new hard-surface road in front of his house – where he had probably played and sat since his youth. A car sped through and killed him. The tourist who reported the event to me was deeply upset, and yet he said: “The man had it coming to him”. … At first sight, the tourist’s remark is no different from the statement of some primitive bushman reporting the death of a fellow who had collided with a taboo and had therefore died. But the two statements carry opposite meanings. The primitive can blame some tremendous and dumb transcendence, while the tourist is in awe of the inexorable logic of the machine.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society.

This is the first Ivan Illich I’ve read. It’s mind-expanding, but my mind is not yet capacious enough to find many of his proposals for alternatives to "schooling" realistic.

Perhaps that means that my mind is captive to the schooling mentality, but I can’t help but note that the suggestion is both ad hominem and circular.

On at least one thing do Illich and I agree: As one who identifies as auto-didact (one much provide one’s identity these days, right?), I agree that most of what I know I learned outside of school. And that goes double for important things (beyond basic learning skills).

That should disabuse us of any servility to schooling.

A Counterworld

The Church’s function is not to adapt Christianity to the world, or even to adapt the world to Christianity; Her function is to maintain a counterworld in the world.

Nicolas Gomez Davila, Escolios a un Texto Implicito, via John Brady’s Rags of Light e-newsletter.

And if you understand that, you should understand:

  • The case for The Benedict Option; and
  • That The Benedict Option is, as many have said, "just the Church being the Church."

How badly must Trump botch this notion to disenthrall his acolytes?

DWAC, the Trump Social-Media SPAC, Soars in GameStop-Like Frenzy
Shares of Digital World Acquisition more than doubled to $94.20 Friday after trading as high as $175; have risen nearly tenfold in two days

Maybe losing beaucoups bucks will disenthrall Trump’s sycophants. Something needs to.

Decadent Jazz & Journalism

Jazz has been compared to “an indecent story syncopated and counterpointed.” There can be no question that, like journalism in literature, it has helped to destroy the concept of obscenity.

Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences.

Even the greats can be wrong sometimes — about jazz, not journalism, of course.


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.

CRT! (and some other stuff)

I’m trying out a new theme for the appearance of this blog. I often want to do quotes-within-quotes, and my current theme not only doesn’t do that (at least with Markdown files as the source), but makes the attempt look amateurish. I hope the new theme does better.

Mediocrities everywhere!

The 1984 film, Amadeus, tells the story of the child genius, Mozart. IMdB describes it in this manner:

The life, success and troubles of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as told by Antonio Salieri, the contemporaneous composer who was insanely jealous of Mozart’s talent and claimed to have murdered him…

Mozart’s genius is so profound that it is little more than a toy in the hands of a very spoiled and immature boy/man. Salieri feels that, in Mozart’s existence, God is mocking him. He has dedicated his life to his work, even “to the glory of God,” and nothing he produces can be compared to the slightest trifle of Mozart’s irreverent gift. In the last scene of the film, Salieri, now confined to a mental institution (from where he is relating the tale) blesses the world:

“Mediocrities everywhere! I absolve you!”

Salieri implicates the whole of the world in his crime, describing himself as the “patron saint of mediocrities.” It is one of the most deeply affecting scenes I have ever encountered.

His crime is driven by envy. It is a story that brilliantly exposes the reality that envy is the product of shame and our inability, or unwillingness, to bear it …

[M]ost of the time throughout history, there is a slow and steadfast persistence of grace that, on the one hand, sustains us in our existence, and, on the other, constantly makes the fruit of our lives exceed the quality of our work. We offer him what is mediocre, at best, and He yields back to us thirty-fold, sixty-fold, a hundred. Indeed, we fail to understand that what some might judge to be “mediocre” is itself a work of grace.

… We are beloved mediocrities who have been commanded to become gods (by grace).

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌Mediocrity, Envy, and Grace

CRT! CRT! CRT!

CRT is far from the most important topic in this blog installment (see above for something far more important), but it seems to be click-baity.

Seriously, I’m trying for more than click-bait here. We have too much of that on this topic.

The “zero-sum” race mistake

Virulent racists and anti-racist activists would seem to have little in common, but in fact they tend to agree on one mistaken premise: Race relations are a zero-sum game. If whites are doing well, it’s at the expense of members of other races. If members of other races are doing well, it’s at the expense of whites.

On the racist (or “white nationalist”) side, this assumption means that members of other groups need to be subordinated so that whites can thrive. For anti-racists, this means that since whites have benefited at the expense of other groups, whites will now have to give up their “privilege” and reduce their own standard of living to allow other groups to thrive.

In fact, whites, as a group, don’t benefit from discrimination against, or oppression of, other groups, except perhaps psychologically if such discrimination and oppression make them feel superior and such feelings of superiority make them happy. But from a purely economic perspective, wealth comes from gains from trade, and the wealthier your trading partners, the more wealth you can accrue.

David Bernstein, Racists and (Many) Anti-Racists Make the Same “Zero Sum” Mistake – Reason.com

Stumbling over their own anti-CRT feet

I think my point is clear at this point. The defenses of anti-CRT laws are time and again running aground on the rocky shoals of … the actual anti-CRT laws. Welcome to the incredible difficulty of drafting speech codes. For decades, some of the smartest minds in higher education, Big Tech, and elsewhere have been trying hard to draft laws that ban the ideas they don’t like without sweeping too broadly or creating unintended consequences.

The allure is obvious. If we have the power to ban harmful speech, why not ban harmful speech? But the execution is always clumsy and dangerous if it’s broad, and narrow to the point of irrelevance if it’s precise. Another National Review pal, Ramesh Ponnuru, put things well in his own contribution to the debate in Bloomberg. “But regulation can be defensible in principle,” he says, “without a particular regulation being wise in practice. Some of the provisions in these bills are vague and sweeping.”

Yes, yes they are. But then Ramesh makes this vital point: “The more precisely these laws are written, though, the less they will proscribe and the easier they will be to evade.”

Yup. And that’s exactly why I circle back to my proposal—better curriculums and civil rights litigation. Thus you give teachers the confidence to teach something concrete and real without creating a fear that even their own course materials might suddenly be illegal …

David French, Even the Defenses of Anti-CRT Speech Codes Show the Problems With Anti-CRT Speech Codes

What’s really inflaming the CRT fights?

Again, I want to start with what the new progressivism is interested in changing. One change involves increasingly familiar terms like “structural” and “systemic” racism, and the attempt to teach about race in a way that emphasizes not just explicitly racist laws and attitudes, but also how America’s racist past still influences inequalities today.

In theory, this shift is supposed to enable debates that avoid using “racist” as a personal accusation — since the point is that a culture can sustain persistent racial inequalities even if most white people aren’t bigoted or biased.

… [T]he basic claim that structural racism exists has strong evidence behind it, and the idea that schools should teach about it in some way is probably a winning argument for progressives. (Almost half of college Republicans, in a recent poll, supported teaching about how “patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other institutions.”) Especially since not every application of the structural-racist diagnosis implies left-wing policy conclusions: The pro-life and school choice movements, for instance, regularly invoke the impact of past progressive racism on disproportionately high African-American abortion rates and underperforming public schools.

What’s really inflaming today’s fights, though, is that the structural-racist diagnosis isn’t being offered on its own. Instead it’s yoked to two sweeping theories about how to fight the problem it describes.

First, there is a novel theory of moral education, according to which the best way to deal with systemic inequality is to confront its white beneficiaries with their privileges and encourage them to wrestle with their sins.

Second, there is a Manichaean vision of public policy, in which all policymaking is either racist or antiracist, all racial disparities are the result of racism — and the measurement of any outcome short of perfect “equity” may be a form of structural racism itself.

The first idea is associated with Robin DiAngelo, the second with Ibram X. Kendi, and they converge in places like the work of Tema Okun, whose presentations train educators to see “white-supremacy culture” at work in traditional measures of academic attainment.

Ross Douthat, ‌The Excesses of Antiracist Education (bold added)

CRT dissent

I don’t even think the far left’s attempt to dismantle liberal democracy through critical race theory has been entirely a bad thing. It has revealed a consensus too: that we need to do better in telling the brutal truth about our white supremacist past. It’s been encouraging that even Republicans now agree that the Tulsa Massacre, one of the darkest moments in American history, should be taught without any attempt to disguise its evil. If this helps historians — and not critical race theorists — to uncover more of this shame, and to reckon with it, we will be a stronger country for it. It’s a real gain to have bipartisan support for a new federal holiday celebrating Juneteenth. And it’s also clear that the stealth campaign to indoctrinate children in the methods of CRT has begun to meet a real obstacle: parents of all races and backgrounds appalled by its racism.

Andrew Sullivan, Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part III. This one was near the top for me personally: Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media – Axios

Angels on the head of a pin

A glib speaker in the Brains Trust once entertained his audience (and reduced the late Charles Williams to helpless rage) by asserting that in the Middle Ages it was a matter of faith to know how many archangels could dance on the point of a needle. I need not say, I hope, that it never was a “matter of faith”; it was simply a debating exercise, whose set subject was the nature of angelic substance: were angels material, and if so, did they occupy space?

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning

Elusive expression

The humanists felt that literature was closer to life, that it provided a better lens onto the moral and spiritual life of man. In short, they elevated imagination to its rightful place alongside faith or reason as one of the fundamental faculties of human nature. Erasmus often vented his frustration when his comic and satirical works were attacked and misunderstood. Those “whose ears are only open to propositions, conclusions, and corollaries” are deaf to the more subtle literary techniques of irony and ambiguity.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

Propositional truth, once a hallmark of evangelicalism, is making way for more elusive means of expression, such as narrative, image, and symbol.

Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation

Trump’s legacy

Wehner: What do you think is the most important legacy that Trump will leave?

Rauch: In the world I’m thinking and writing about, it’s that he has modeled for all time to come how to apply Russian-style disinformation in U.S. politics. And although he may have particular genius at doing that, this is an art that lots of people can practice. The KGB practiced it very successfully for a long time, not because they were geniuses, but because they had technicians who knew how to do it.

So it’s not just Trump anymore. I think he’s transformed the Republican Party into an institutionalized propaganda outlet; I think he’s had the same effect on conservative media, and that’s very hard to pull back in. Because once people start doing that, and they know it works, they continue to do it. And also the Republican base is in on it. They like it.

Disinformation is a participatory sport, not a spectator sport. It’s fun to tell yourselves narratives about how you really won; the other side cheated; you’re heroically taking back democracy; you’re in an existential fight against evil; you’re saving the country. This is way more fun than the boring truth. So the base now has picked up this style of spinning conspiracy tales, telling them to itself, acting on it; and the base is now leading the politicians. I don’t know how you put that genie back in the bottle. I think that’s maybe his most important contribution.

Peter Wehner, Jonathan Rauch on America’s Competing Totalistic Ideologies

Politics of loneliness

Work more often involves analysis of symbols (ideas and numbers) and takes place mostly within our own heads, mediated by technology, with remote work also becoming more common in recent years.

Damon Linker, ‌The politics of loneliness is totalitarian.

Linker lists several likely culprits for the surge of friendlessness over the past 30 years, but this one converged (I think) with other reading I’m currently doing.

Giving up on prohibition

Michael Pollan, whose writing about food I’ve admired, is turning to the “D” in FDA these days, advocating (with some nuance) for legalization of may currently illicit drugs. He’s especially fascinated by hallucinogenics, but hasn’t overlooked opioids:

Many people (myself included) are surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of people who take hard drugs do so without becoming addicted. We think of addictiveness as a property of certain chemicals and addiction as a disease that people, in effect, catch from those chemicals, but there is good reason to believe otherwise. Addiction may be less a disease than a symptom — of trauma, social disconnection, depression or economic distress. As the geography of the opioid and meth crises suggests, one’s environment and economic prospects play a large role in the likelihood of becoming addicted; just look at where these deaths of despair tend to cluster or the places where addiction to crack cocaine proliferated.

Two findings underscore this point, both described in Johann Hari’s 2015 book on drug addiction, “Chasing the Scream.” Much of what we know, or believe we know, about drug addiction is based on experiments with rats. Put a rat in a cage with two levers, one giving it heroin or cocaine, the other sugar water, and the rat will reliably opt for the drug until it is addicted or dead. These classic experiments seemed to prove that addiction is the inevitable result of exposure to addictive drugs, a simple matter of biology. But something very different happens when that experimental rat is sprung from solitary confinement and moved to a larger, more pleasant cage outfitted with toys, good food and companions to play and have sex with. This is the so-called rat park experiment, devised by a Canadian psychologist named Bruce Alexander in the 1970s. He and his colleagues found that in this enriched environment, rats will sample the morphine on offer but will consume a small fraction of the amount consumed by rats living in isolation, in some cases five milligrams a day instead of 25. Dr. Alexander came to see that drug abuse isn’t a disease; it’s an adaptation to one’s environment and circumstance — to the condition of one’s cage.

The second phenomenon Mr. Hari recounts took place at the end of the Vietnam War. Some 20 percent of U.S. troops became addicted to heroin while in-country. With the war coming to an end, experts worried about tens of thousands of addicts flooding America’s streets. But something unexpected happened when the addicted service members got home: Ninety-five percent of them simply stopped using. It made no difference whether or not they received drug treatment. This is not to minimize the harm done by heroin to those who couldn’t quit; it is only to suggest that there is much more to addiction than exposure to an addictive drug

Michael Pollan, How Should We Do Drugs Now? (The New York Times)

I think Pollan is right that legalization of a lot of drugs is where the country is headed. I’m far from convinced that it’s a good trend, but am leaning toward “opposed but not distraught”.

Pollan:

We shouldn’t forget that two of the most destructive drugs in use today — alcohol and tobacco — have long been perfectly legal. Having wisely given up on prohibition, we’ve worked hard as a society to regulate their use, deploying both laws and customs. Recognizing the dangers of tobacco, we’ve desocialized its use over the past 50 years, devising rules and taboos about when and where one may smoke. Along with high taxes, these expressions of cultural disapproval have substantially reduced tobacco use …

There’s enough libertarian in me for that to sound pretty good, and that’s without getting into how enforcement of drug laws disparately affects some minority groups — part of the “systemic racism” that’s hard to deny.

New construct: “Luxury Surveillance”

I am not without sin when it comes to Luxury Surveillance, the willingness, if not eagerness, to adorn oneself and one’s life with tools of surveillance capitalism.

On the good side, I shut off the microphone on my Amazon Echo so Alexa can’t listen in on daily life. (A lot of people say Amazon started sending ads for things that had been discussed in Alexa’s hearing.) On the bad side, I was drooling over Apple Watch this week — an itch I ended up scratching with a $30 Casio dumb watch.

But really, read the article Luxury Surveillance and see if you want to play in this game. Or if you can’t change your life without getting furious, you can read ‌Delete Your Amazon Prime Account. Now..

Debriefing Covid

The last thing I would say is sort of a core failure is Zoom. I think many people think Zoom is what liberated us—were it not for Zoom, how bad would this pandemic have been? But my counterfactual is different. Zoom allowed a lot of upper-middle-class white-collar people the ability to work and make money and not lose their jobs, and to exclude themselves from society. That fundamentally changed the pandemic. If you went back 15 years ago, and you didn’t have Zoom, you would be facing unprecedented layoffs of wealthy, upper-middle-class people. I think a lot of businesses would have had staggered schedules and improved ventilation. Schools would have pushed to reopen. Amazon Prime and Zoom and all these things in our lives allowed a certain class of people to be spared the pains of COVID-19, taking them out of the game, and making them silent on many of the issues that affected other communities.

The closing of those schools doesn’t have a relationship to the spread of the virus, or the hospitalizations, or the deaths. It’s only really related to the political valence of the town, and the strength of the teachers union. Strong union towns that are left-leaning were far more likely to be closed than right-of-center places that have weaker unions. What sense does that make? That’s certainly not a virus driving that decision. It’s a policy decision. It’s playing politics with kids.

Vinay Prasad, associate professor in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, interviewed (along with others) by Emily Yoffe in ‌What We Got Wrong (and Right) About COVID-19

Orbital obliquity

SciTech Daily:

Planets which are tilted on their axis, like Earth, are more capable of evolving complex life. This finding will help scientists refine the search for more advanced life on exoplanets. […]

“The most interesting result came when we modeled ‘orbital obliquity’ — in other words how the planet tilts as it circles around its star,” explained Megan Barnett, a University of Chicago graduate student involved with the study. She continued, “Greater tilting increased photosynthetic oxygen production in the ocean in our model, in part by increasing the efficiency with which biological ingredients are recycled. The effect was similar to doubling the amount of nutrients that sustain life.”

“Orbital obliquity” is one of those scientific terms — like “persistence of vision” and “angle of repose” — that just cries out for metaphorical application.

All of the writers and thinkers I trust most are characterized by orbital obliquity. They are never quite perpendicular; they approach the world at a slight angle. As a result their minds evolve complex life.

(Alan Jacobs, orbital obliquity – Snakes and Ladders)

Weary of hearing what he has never heard

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 at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Norms

The main difference between Trump and his predecessors is that the professional class / deep state / neoliberal order / whatever-you-want-to-call-it is fluent in a language that imposes a kind of regulative fiction on that chaos. Their fluency gives them a patina of legitimacy and not a little power over the less fluent, which comforts some normies but also drives conspiratorial thinking. Trump and a lot of the people around him lack this fluency and have no interest in cultivating it.

Mark Hemingway, quoting an unnamed friend.

I came across this via Wall Street Journal’s “Notable & Quotable.” I don’t regularly visit Federalist.com (not affiliated with the Federalist Society; I’d be worried for the Society if it were), but this column from there really is very good because:

  1. It gives me a plausible version of why 40% of my countrymen are adamant Trump voters without inviting me to despise them.
  2. It articulates my suspicions about the brokenness of our system being hidden by one aspect of what Hemingway’s friend calls “regulative fiction.”
  3. In so doing, it clarifies the stakes in the 2020 Election.

I mean all of that sincerely.

But there are big problems when you sit with the column a while.

First, Hemingway too easily elides our system’s brokenness into corruption. Then he compares the pre-Trump system’s brokenness to Trump’s corruption, though I think the two are incommensurable. And he poses a false dichotomy intended to favor Trump (or at least to muddy the waters about his awfulness).

Hemingway puts the choice in 2020 thusly (and this is some of what the Wall Street Journal quoted):

So then, do we live with Trump, who lays bare all the problems with what happens when naked self-interest collides with power? Or do we tell ourselves some “regulative fiction” that pretends those who populate our sprawling administrative state are somehow above their own selfish impulses and can be counted on to act in the best interests of voters, when that is plainly untrue? …

If you’re wondering how Trump voters can continue to ignore Trump’s issues, it’s not even obvious to lots of voters that Trump opponents and D.C. institutionalists … are an obvious contrast to Trump even as a matter of personal corruption.

Q: “Lays bare all the problems with what happens when naked self-interest collides with power” has the (sole?) virtue of avoiding the passive voice, but what does its odd active voice actually mean?

A: It means that Trump is nakedly using his power to advance his own self-interest. “Nakedly” turns it into a relative virtue, I guess.

Q: Why must I tell myself some “regulative fiction” if I reject Trump?

A: I need not. I can (I did it before, and can do it again) allow that corruption happens even when a toxic narcissist sociopath fraudster isn’t in the White House.

The only alternative to “no government corruption” ultimately is “no government,” and Hemingway must learn the craft of distractive hand-waving much better if he wants to make me forget that.

In a similar vein, Victor Davis Hanson played whataboutism with Democrat sexual misbehavior to distract us from Trumpian sexual, financial and political corruption:

Again, why the unadulterated hatred? For the small number of NeverTrumpers, of course, Trump’s crudity in speech and crassness in manner nullify his accomplishments: the unattractive messenger has fouled an otherwise tolerable message.

While they recognize in the abstract that the randy JFK, the repugnant LBJ, and the horny Bill Clinton during their White House tenures were far grosser in conduct than has been Donald Trump, they either assume presidential ethics should have evolved or they were not always around to know of past bad behavior first hand, or believe Trump’s crude language is worse than prior presidents’ crude behavior in office.

“Nullify his accomplishments?” I think not. I’m grateful for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh and many lower-court Federal judicial appointments as well, and I regard the good economic news the same way I regard it under other Presidents who get lucky.

And it’s not crude language versus crude behavior; it’s crude language and crude behavior versus crude behavior.

Oh: Plus the matter of open versus secret.

  • JFK didn’t commit adultery with Marilyn Monroe on national television. Bill Clinton had Ms. Lewinsky service him in private, and hotly denied sexual relations with her until a now-famous blue dress exposed his hair-splitting. Both louts conducted themselves in public with a modicum of dignity.
  • I am relatively un-scandalized by our leaders discreetly enriching themselves and their family members. I am appalled when a leader brazenly announces that the G-7 Summit will be hosted at his resort, or claims that a smoking gun phone conversation transcript was “beautiful,” or “perfect,” or whatever terms he used to gaslight us.

This world is fallen. Our rulers are flawed (as are we). The adulteries and corruption are inevitable, but I do not consider it good to have my nose (and everyone else’s) rubbed in dirty realities by a sociopathic narcissist. It is not better to put them on open, defiant, norm-shattering display. “Regulative fiction” seems like a fairly benign way of saying “humankind cannot bear very much reality,” or “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.”

I prefer a flawed ruler who feigns virtue to one who blatantly makes a virtue of vice and brags that he has never asked God for forgiveness because he hasn’t done anything wrong enough to need forgiving.

If you think brazenness makes vice more virtuous, you’re not my idea of a conservative. You’re a bomb-thrower — a tearer-down of what millennia have built up.

Thanks for helping me clarify that, Mark.

Of course we do still face the prospect that the alternative to Trump will be the furthest Left President we’ve ever elected, with all that entails (including the execrable “Equality Act,” which has legitimately become a factor to weigh seriously). But if politics is downstream of culture, the Hemingway and Hanson whataboutisms fall short of making Democrats sound culturally worse than Donald Trump.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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.

Potpourri, 2/11/19

1

So since I know that [government or other establishment] infiltration and manipulation [of dissident media and movements] happens, but I don’t find other people’s whisperings about “controlled opposition” useful, how do I figure out who’s trustworthy and who isn’t? How do I figure out who it’s safe to cite in my work and who to avoid? How do I separate the fool’s gold from the genuine article? The shit from the Shinola?

Here is my answer: I don’t.

I spend no mental energy whatsoever concerning myself with who may or may not be a secret pro-establishment influencer, and for good reason. There’s no way to know for sure if an individual is secretly scheming to sheep dog the populace into support for the status quo, and as long as government agencies remain opaque and unaccountable there will never be a way to know who might be secretly working for them. What I can know is (A) what I’ve learned about the world, (B) the ways the political/media class is lying about what I know about the world, and (C) when someone says something which highlights those lies. I therefore pay attention solely to the message, and no attention to what may or may not be the hidden underlying agenda of the messenger.

In other words, if someone says something which disrupts establishment narratives, I help elevate what they’re saying in that specific instance. I do this not because I know that the speaker is legit and uncorrupted, but because their message in that moment is worthy of elevation. You can navigate the entire political/media landscape in this way.

Since society is made of narrative and power ultimately rests in the hands of those who are able to control those narratives, it makes no sense to fixate on individuals and it makes perfect sense to focus on narrative. What narratives are being pushed by those in power? How are those narratives being disrupted, undermined and debunked by things that are being said by dissident voices? This is the most effective lens through which to view the battle against the unelected power establishment which is crushing us all to death, not some childish fixation on who should or shouldn’t be our hero.

There’s no reason to worry about what journalists, activists and politicians are coming from a place of authenticity if you know yourself to be coming from a place of authenticity.

Caitlyn Johnstone. A very sensible answer, from a writer who might be controlled or manipulated for all I know, though under criteria (A), (B) & (C), I find her pretty reliable.

2

Wilders regularly refers to a supposedly tolerant set of “Christian values” that contrast with allegedly savage Islamic ideals, but in reality, Islam and Christianity, like Judaism, derive from the same Abrahamic roots and draw on similar Greek philosophical traditions.

Khaled Diab, A far-right politician converted to Islam. It’s not as surprising as it sounds.

Yeah, it’s not totally surprising, but that sentence is sheer blather:

Wilders regularly refers to the unreliability of Yugos, but in reality, Yugos derive from seminal 19th Century inventions and are manufactured similarly to Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Lexus.

I don’t know whether Diab was obliged by his employer to mute any criticism of Islam or if he did it free gratis, but he fails Caitlyn Johnstone’s criterion (C).

3

From the Enquirer’s perspective, Mr. Bezos’ pockets are superhumanly deep. He controls the Washington Post. Mr. Pecker, already in legal trouble over Trump dealings, might well find it worrying to have someone of Mr. Bezos’ heft pounding away at the narrative that the Enquirer was not doing what it always does, and is legally entitled to do, shamelessly trafficking in the scandals of the rich and famous. Instead, it was conducting a character assassination on behalf of Mr. Trump or the Saudis, possibly in cahoots with official hackers of Mr. Bezos’ phone or message traffic.

… The paper’s story about Mr. Bezos’ philandering and sexting …, compared with a lot of what’s published as “news” these days, [is] extremely well supported with documentary evidence. Whereas the narrative Mr. Bezos is promoting is speculative. Even if the pro-Trump brother was involved, the story would have been delicious to the Enquirer if there had been no Trump connection. Every story has a source, and sources have motives.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Bezos vs. the Enquirer Could Be a Watershed

4

When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.

Alan Jacobs, about 19 months ago. He returns to it now, which prompted me to think about the Democrats’ Dilemma.

I was puzzled by the nearly unanimous Democrat demands that Democrat Ralph Northram resign as Governor of Virginia, but The Daily podcast helped me make sense of it (and gave me a bad case of schadenfreude).

You see, they wanted to put an impassible gulf between their party, the patent sleaze of Donald Trump and the alleged super-creepy mall-trolling of young Roy Moore. So they set a zero tolerance policy, expelling Al Franken and others (from safe Democrat seats). Now it seems that they’re discovering the ubiquity of sin: not every Democrat sinner is in a safe seat.

I don’t know which is worse: the usual hypocrisy or a foolish consistency. But the foolish consistency feels more consistent with our damnable callout culture — which ironically puts the heroic caller-outers in bed with Donald Trump, who like them never asked God for forgiveness because he never did anything wrong.

5

Another very slick technology I won’t use because it’s from one of the companies that most flagrantly monetizes me: It’s the Real World—With Google Maps Layered on Top.

(No, now that you mention it: I can’t get over the death of privacy.)

6

Three months getting a new Tesla 3 bumper to the body shop:

The upstart car company has created a coveted luxury brand but is still learning some of the basics of the auto business.

Thou shalt not covet.

(“Thou also shalt not smirk about not drinking Elon Musk’s Kool-Aid,” he reminded the mirror).

7

The self-proclaimed socialists are actually seeing the world through a rear-view mirror. What they are really talking about is divvying up the previously-accumulated wealth, soon to be bygone. Entropy is having its wicked way with that wealth, first by transmogrifying it into ever more abstract forms, and then by dissipating it as waste all over the planet. In short, the next time socialism is enlisted as a tool for redistributing wealth, we will make the unhappy discovery that most of that wealth is gone.

The process will be uncomfortably sharp and disorientating. The West especially will not know what hit it as it emergently self-reorganizes back into something that resembles the old-time feudalism ….

I almost don’t need to say who wrote that, do I? It’s JHK.

8

Speaking of socialism, I may be parting ways with Rod Dreher for a while, as he is writing a new book:

The gist of the book will be a warning to the West about the re-emergence of socialism and the totalitarian mindset that accompanies it. The warning will be in the form of “lessons” told by people who lived under Soviet-bloc socialism, and who are alarmed by what they see happening now in the West. An American college professor who grew up in the USSR told me last week that it shocks her and her emigre parents to see the same mindset that they ran away from manifesting itself in US academia. It will not stay confined to the academy, either.

That sounds much better than some of the foreshadowings in his blog, which seem blind to how equivocal the term “socialism” is today.

By the time I read his Benedict Option, with which I substantially agree, the arguments and anecdotes were very familiar to me — almost stale — from his blog, which for many month felt like a test kitchen.

I’m skeptical enough of the emerging “socialist” demonizing (I think Dreher even will say “cultural Marxism” unironically) that I may have to check out for a while — while continuing to pray for Rod and some others who are on the polemical front lines of the culture wars.

Hey! Maybe Rod is a secret pro-establishment influencer!

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How Conservatives are deviant

1

Conservatives React Differently to Disgusting Pictures

Differently that who? Differently than normal people? Isn’t “normalcy” an invidiously discriminatory concept?

No! That kink of question brands me an enemy of the people — not Donald Trump’s people, but the ones who really matter:

In social science and popular writing about social science, liberal views are always the norm and conservative views are always deviations from that norm, deviations in need of explanation. Liberal views don’t need to be explained — after all, they’re so obviously correct.

Alan Jacobs.

2

They aren’t smearing Tulsi Gabbard as a Kremlin asset because they don’t want her to be president … [T]hey fear … allowing her anti-interventionist ideas to take hold within the mainstream consciousness of a nation whose nonstop military interventionism is the glue that holds the empire together.

Let’s stop allowing the mass psychosis of these paranoid cold war feeding frenzies to be the new normal, please. If we keep going this way it’s only going to get worse for everyone.

Caitlyn Johnstone. I don’t know whether there really is a concerted effort to brand Gabbard a Kremlin asset or if this is just a tempest in blogger Johnstone’s teapot. But I love her illustrations:

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 8.54.44 AM

That one was an animated GIF. This one really captures the mentality of some of these people:

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 8.50.36 AM

3

Our politicians reliably fetishize two constituents of American life: the middle class and small business. The Democrats used to talk a bit more about the poor before they became the Harvard party — poor people are lousy donors, as it turns out — and the Republicans used to be a lot warmer toward Big Business before the GOP became a right-wing farmer-labor party and Big Business came to mean Howard Schultz, Mark Zuckerberg, and Lloyd Blankfein.

Kevin D. Williamson. That’s a pretty good snapshot of our current stage of political realignment.

The rest of the column is in praise of Big Business, debunking Small Is Beautiful mythology.

I can’t deny Williamson’s numbers, but I deny that numbers tell a plausibly “whole story”. The reflexive premise that they do is part of what is deeply wrong with movement conservatism (for lack of a better term; “conservatism” without adjectival modifiers is totally useless). Here’s another part of the story: a community that works to live (and pray) rather than living to work.

4

As the Epiphany season draws to a close, one is forced to conclude that the “woke” Episcopal Church of 2019 stands firmly with Team Herod.

Kari Jenson Gold

5

If bigotry is repugnant, why not demand the resignation of Vice President Pence for his ugly views on homosexuality? And while they’re at it, why not insist that Pence’s wife Karen resign her position at a school that discriminates against gays and lesbians?

Pence has long been criticized as being hostile toward LGBTQ issues. He has linked same-sex couples to a “societal collapse” and even once seemed to support conversion therapy, which is a form of torture.

Richard Cohen.

The second paragraph is the entirety of Cohen’s evidence that Pence has ugly views on homosexuality. Read it slowly and shudder.

Cohen needs no evidence, as all the bien pensants agree with him.

I was not thinking of this sort of thing — at least not consciously — when I signaled several days in a row my incredulity at the calls for Virginia’s Governor to resign over a 35-year-old yearbook picture. Perhaps it was in the back of my mind, though: The callout culture is really toxic, and orthodox Christianity is now worse than faux pas.

Further, although I though I do not consider Cohen’s question bona fide, a sufficient answer were it bona fide would be that the voters knew when voting for him that Mike Pence triggers people like Cohen, and that his alleged sexual atavism is the ostensible reason, whereas the Governor’s secret was, well, secret.

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Plus ça change …

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose:

A recent story about Leonard Leo, who advises the President on judicial nominees and is connected to the ascent of judges such as Kavanaugh, was even more hysterical. The author worried about a “secretive network of extremely conservative Catholic activists” who are stacking the federal courts with conservative jurists. Leo’s membership in the Knights of Malta, his public work in defense of religious freedom around the world, and his connection to Catholic-educated nominees such as Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, all caused the author to fret that Leo is “shaping the federal judiciary according to his beliefs, with very clear ideological consequences.” The article asserts that the conviction that human life begins at conception is a religious belief. And it laughably attributes to Catholics the view that natural law “trumps any secular law that humans (or legislatures) might dream up.”

The American tradition of constitutionalism abhors inquiries into the particular creeds espoused by candidates and nominees for public office. The Constitution of the United States prohibits religious tests. And anyway, religion is not the issue. Fidelity to the rule of law is what matters. Anyone can determine to follow the law, even Senators Feinstein and Durbin.

There is no reason to think that someone who accepts on faith the teachings of the Bible or the Roman Catholic Church is any less capable of correctly interpreting and applying the law than someone who accepts on faith what scientists tell us about global warming. Faith in something must precede reason—at the very least, faith in reason itself—else we could never know anything.

Adam J. MacLeod, Why Judge Kavanaugh’s Religion Should Be an Issue.

The other liberal complaint is that since the Catholic position on abortion is religiously derived, if it ultimately becomes law, that constitutes an imposition of religion. This argument is nonsense, too. Under American concepts of political pluralism, it makes no difference from where a belief comes. Whether it comes from church teaching, inner conviction or some trash novel, the legitimacy of any belief rests ultimately on its content, not on its origin. It is absurd to hold that a pro-abortion position derived from, say, Paul Ehrlich’s overpopulation doomsday scenario is legitimate but an anti-abortion position derived from scripture is a violation of the First Amendment.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, March 23, 1990 (part of his collection Things That Matter).

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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. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Simpler than “as simple as possible”

We are back to Paul Valéry’s maxim: “Everything simple is false. Everything complex is unusable.” In the world of computer modeling, this is known as Bonini’s paradox: The more realistic a model is, the more it becomes as complex and difficult to understand as the real world; the simpler and more user-friendly a model becomes, the less accurately it represents the underlying system. Mass democracy and mass media on the American model work to impose on the complex reality of American public life the simplest possible model of politics, aggregating all of political reality into two variables: Us and Them.

Another way of putting this is that the unstated task of cable-news journalism on the Fox/MSNBC model — along with practically all political talk radio, 99.44 percent of social media, and a great deal of inferior writing about politics — is transmuting intellectual complexity into moral simplicity. Even that isn’t quite right: The moral simplicity offered by the “Everybody Who Disagrees with Me Is Hitler” school of analysis is a false simplicity — simplicity for the truly simple, as opposed to what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. described as “the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”

(Kevin D. Williamson)

Of course, Williamson has examples, including from “inferior writing about politics” from two of our premier national newspapers.

UPDATE: Immediately after writing the above, I turned to another article which, if true, is rather terrifying in light of the more obvious truths Williamson notes.

The leader of the free world still begins his day by binge-watching cable news until 11 a.m.; still spends official meetings nattering on about anything other than the subject at hand (even when said subject is how to ensure that this year’s hurricane season does not result in mass death this time around); and, most critically, still cannot be bothered to learn the pertinent facts about a given situation, before dictating a policy response to it.

One of the president’s chief complaints about H.R. McMaster was (reportedly) that the former national security adviser had the temerity to brief him with “a PowerPoint deck dozens of pages long, filled with text” — rather than “simple, short bullets, or a graphic or timeline.” White House aides have grown so desperate to get the commander-in-chief to ingest the most remedial information about the geopolitical affairs he’s mindlessly disrupting, they’ve whittled the bullet points in his briefing book down to “basically slogans,” one administration source told Axios.

(Eric Levitz, Trump’s Briefing Book Includes ‘Screen Grabs of Cable-News Chyrons’, New Yorker)

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Phobias coming all-too-soon

Occasionally, someone writes something very good, but with deep flaws. Such, it seems to me, is Joseph Pearce’s Does Love Have No Boundaries? at the Imaginative Conservative.

I listened to Pearce for several hours in January at the Eighth Day Symposium, and he rose considerably in my previously neutral estimation as a result.

But having provided a link to the original, and having given Pearce his props, I’m going to be presumptuous enough now to bowdlerize him to elide both the flaws I perceive and the parts that intrigue me without yet convincing me, leaving only that with which I agree.

Caveat emptor. Pearce is smarter and/or more mentally disciplined than I.

There are liars; there are damned liars; and there are those who peach evil in the name of love. Take, for instance, the mantra that love has no boundaries, which is one of the soundbites of the homosexist lobby. As with John Lennon’s mantra that all we need is love, it is difficult to argue with a sentiment that seems to make so much sense. Of course we all need love. We wither and decay in its absence. And, at first glance, it’s difficult to argue with the claim that love has no boundaries. …

The irony is, however, that the homosexists are neither liars, nor indeed damned liars, when they claim that love has no boundaries. They really believe that it is true. They are, however, preaching evil in the name of love because the “love” of which they speak is not really love at all. It is something entirely different. What they call “love” is … sexual attraction. It might indeed be true that sexual attraction has no boundaries. It is entirely possible that one’s passions and feelings can become so corrupt that we can be sexually attracted to all sorts of people and things … [I]f we’re going to be true to the mantra that love has no boundaries, why should we accept the boundaries imposed by age or species? If it’s all about sexual attraction and the gratification of our sexual desires, why should we temper those desires on the grounds of ancient taboos against sex with children or animals? If we recoil in horror at the thought of such things, aren’t we guilty of bigotry? Worse still, are we not guilty of some sort of psychological pathology? Are we not “pedophobic” or “bestophobic”? Should we not be getting in touch with the pedophile or the bestial within ourselves so that we can be liberated from our hang-ups?

Although this line of reasoning will no doubt be dismissed by some as going too far, being nothing more than the rhetorical use of the reductio ad absurdum to make a point, we should be aware of where the logic of the “no boundaries” philosophy actually leads. Previous generations would have thought it unthinkable that the demand for sexual “liberation” would lead to the legalization of infanticide. It would have been inconceivable to our grandparents that governments would condone the killing of babies so that people could fornicate freely. It would have been inconceivable to our parents that governments would destroy the very institution of marriage so that homosexuals could have equal rights. One day, if the “no boundaries” tyranny is not resisted, our own children will live with the reality of legalized pedophilia which we might find inconceivable.

….

(Emphasis added)

For the proposition “love knows no boundaries,” Pearce’s reductio is 100% apt, and screams of “he just compared gays to child molesters and sheep-sleepers!” are either hysterical or deliberate efforts to change the subject.

* * * * *

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.

Rhetorical Alchemy #Fail

With astounding cynicism, Democrats rushed to capitalize on dead teens, while ineffectually dragging out the same fatigued arguments they’ve been making since the Clinton era.

(Kimberly Strassel, The GOP’s Gun Temptation, Wall Street Journal)

Braun’s ad was a shock to the Uber driver’s widow, Deb Monroe. She told The Washington Post in a phone interview on Thursday that Braun did not seek permission to use her husband’s photo or politicize his death.
“I would never let anybody use my husband’s name that way,” she said. Regarding the accused man, she added: “I don’t think his immigration status had anything to do with my husband’s death.”

(Samantha Schmidt, Widow says Republican candidate’s immigration ad politicizes her husband’s death, Washington Post)

The parallel is imperfect. Deb Monroe presumably is not a pro-immigration crusader. But the take-homes are the same:

  • People exploit tragedies to promote their goals.
  • Proximity to tragedy doesn’t transform a leaden argument into gold.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.