Status Update

I think I mentioned a serious computer crash and consequent problems in an earlier blog. It appears that the problems cannot be resolved and 15 months of data were lost from a database. Mercifully, the database was kind of a hobby,  where I put clippings I read in the news mostly to be doing some thing and theoretically to be able to access them later. 

Such is life

For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

II Corinthians 4:18

I may actually have a hardware problem on the computer, which I will try to have diagnosed before too long, though that is complicated by the distance of the nearest Apple store and by Covidtide.

Meanwhile, my loss of data got me thinking about alternative approaches to florilegeum, and based on its prevalence among some nerdy social media friends, I decided to download and learn about Obsidian, a relatively new database manager — no, make that freeform relational database manger — for plain text markdown files.

Obsidium is not transparently friendly, but once I took a YouTube tutorial, I got fired up about the possibilities to take a more disciplined approach to what I clip and save, and to pause for some thought as I collect things. And the learning curve isn’t all that high.

So to make a long story short, I’ve spent considerable time this week learning some new software and putting it (and myself) through our paces together.

I suspect that the consequence for my blogging will be that it is less frequent but much more thoughtful, as I’m forcing myself, I hope, to become more thoughtful.


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.

A banquet of tasty morsels

No man or woman is an island, and no one should aspire to be one, either. That, at the core, is the claim of illiberalism, post-liberalism, or any of the other names given to the movement that pushes back against individualism as an ideal. The liberalism of Locke, deeply woven into American culture and political philosophy, takes the individual as the basic unit of society, while an illiberal view looks to traditions, family, and other institutions whose demands define who we are.

It always confuses me that illiberalism is taken as a belligerent ideology – both by its detractors and some of its proponents – as though it were rooted in strength and prepared to wield that power against others. It is con temporary liberalism that begins from an anthropology of independence, and presumes a strength and self-ownership we do not in fact possess.

A world that holds up independence as the ideal offers us two rival duties: to obscure our dependence and to be resentful of it. No woman can lightly assent to the illusion of autonomy. Because a baby is alien to the world of self-ownership, every woman’s citizenship in that imaginary republic is tenuous. A world of autonomous individuals can’t acknowledge both woman and child simultaneously. The sheer amount of work it takes to stifle fertility, put eggs on ice, or pump milk for a baby not welcome outside the home makes it clear that there is something untruthful and sharp-clawed at loose in the world.

Fear and hatred of weakness and dependence wound the dependent most obviously, but are poison to all, even the people who are strong at present. Without repeated reminders that the broken are beloved, how can we remember who God is?

Our physical weakness is a training ground for our struggles with moral weakness. There is no physical infirmity we can endure that is more humiliating than our susceptibility to sin. The elderly woman with tremors that leave her unable to lift her cup to her lip is not, in the final sense, weaker than any vigorous young man who finds he must echo Paul and admit, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19).

To give an honest accounting of ourselves, we must begin with our weakness and fragility. We cannot structure our politics or our society to serve a totally independent, autonomous person who never has and never will exist. Repeating that lie will leave us bereft: first, of sympathy from our friends when our physical weakness breaks the implicit promise that no one can keep, and second, of hope, when our moral weakness should lead us, like the prodigal, to rush back into the arms of the Father who remains faithful. Our present politics can only be challenged by an illiberalism that cherishes the weak and centers its policies on their needs and dignity.

Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dependence: Toward an Illiberalism of the Weak, Plough Quarterly.

I admire the heck of of Leah and expect to read her with pleasure until the day I die.


[I]t is her “Declaration of Conscience” speech for which [Margaret Chase Smith] is best remembered. It was 1950 and she was increasingly disturbed by Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist crusade. In February he’d made his speech in Wheeling, W.Va., charging communists had infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels. He claimed to have 205 names of known communists; in later statements he put the number at 57 and 81.

The base of the party found his opposition to the communist swamp in Washington electrifying. His wildness and disrespect for norms was seen as proof of authenticity: He’s one of us and fighting for us.

Smith was anticommunist enough that Nikita Khrushchev later described her as “blinded by savage hatred,” and she was certain communism would ultimately fail. But you don’t defeat it with lies.

She always listened closely when McCarthy spoke. Once he said he was holding in his hand “a “photostatic copy” of the names of communists. She asked to see it. It proved nothing. Her misgiving increased.

She didn’t want to move against him. She was new to the Senate; he was popular in Maine. She waited for her colleagues. They said nothing.

Finally she’d had enough. On June 1, 1950, she became the first Republican to speak out. On the way to the chamber Joe McCarthy suddenly appeared. “Margaret,” he said, “you look very serious. Are you going to make a speech?”

“Yes,” she said, “and you will not like it.”

When history hands you a McCarthy—reckless, heedlessly manipulating his followers—be a Margaret Chase Smith. If your McCarthy is saying a whole national election was rigged, an entire system corrupted, you’d recognize such baseless charges damage democracy itself. You wouldn’t let election officials be smeared. You’d stand against a growing hysteria in the base.

You’d likely pay some price. But years later you’d still be admired for who you were when it counted so much.

Peggy Noonan, Who’ll Be 2020’s Margaret Chase Smith?

I also admire the heck out of Peggy Noonan, but we’re too close to contemporaries for me to expect her writing to outlive me.


I don’t know if I was oblivious, or just too avoidant of National Review during his tenure there, or if being there forced him to write things he didn’t entirely believe, but I am rediscovering Jonah Goldberg since his co-founding of The Dispatch. This excerpting captures the full gist of what I think is a powerful argument:

You aren’t a conservative if you believe in conspiracy theories.

[T]he incompatibility of conservatism with conspiracy theories is … fundamental. One of the central tenets of conservatism is the idea that society is too complex to be easily controlled by a despot or even cadres of well-intentioned social engineers and bureaucrats, or what Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, dubbed “sophisters, calculators and economists.”

The “sophisters, calculators and economists” had real power. They had the power to make laws, and to order police and armies to enforce them.

And yet we’re supposed to believe that conspirators—globalists, the deep state, lizard people or, as QAnon would have you believe, blood-drinking pedophiles—can pull off whatever they want in total secrecy and with no formal power?

Here’s a simple fact: The more you know about how government actually works, the less likely you are to believe anyone is actually in control. The idea that secret cabals could blow up the World Trade Center or steal the election, with the active participation of hundreds or thousands of conspirators, is beyond laughable when you consider that passing a budget is often beyond the capabilities of those “in charge.”

One of Buckley’s top priorities in fashioning modern American conservatism was that it be a worldview grounded in realism. Conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in anything beyond the vaporous phantasms of paranoia. They can certainly be “right-wing.” But conservative they’re not.

Jonah Goldberg, Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism


There was no chance in the world that in the autumn of 2001, I would have seen the towers fall and thought, ah-ha! this was a sign to us that we should behold the evil capacities inside ourselves, and repent. Would anybody?

Rod Dreher, Why Does God Show Us Evil?

Yes, some would. I know because I did. Then in January 2005, I repudiated the GOP when Dubya did an anti-repentance, declaring as President of the World’s Savior-Nation that we were going to eradicate tyranny from the world.

That others did not see this was the source of my now-consistent belief that the self-willed blindness of our land leaves us past the point of no return: that nothing will bring us to repentance, and that nothing good will come of our hubris. (The 2016 Presidential Election was another warning we refused to heed.)

The only open question is how our decadence will play out. For instance, who foresaw a pandemic playing out as this one has? (Some foresaw pandemic, and warned of it, and prepared plans that Trump seemingly ignored, but did they foresee the economic shut-down, the isolation, the acedia?)


I’ve been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I’ve never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that’s not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don’t believe in getting “in the moment” and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding “the moment.” I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a “good man.” But I am prepared to be an honorable one.

Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates is, I believe, an atheist. I have never understood where atheists find bedrock on which to build their ethics. But I’m glad most do find it. The world would be a grimmer place if they didn’t.


We long ago gave up the wish to have things that were adequate or even excellent; we have preferred instead to have things that were up-to-date.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

We live in a time when technologies and ideas (often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship, and fashion. Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels, intent on “doing us good” according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication. These salespeople are now with most of us, apparently, even in our dreams.

The first duty of writers who wish to be of any use even to themselves is to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues. But, then, this is also the first duty of everybody else.

Wendell Berry again.


As Nietzsche put it, “no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself.”

My Journey from Born Again Christian to the Church of Woke—And Halfway Back Again – Quillette

This tickled me because “owning yourself” (a/k/a “self-own”) is the eventuality of following Nitezsche’s advice.


The term “democracy,” as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike—it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.

T.S. Eliot, via The Crack In The Tea-Cup

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).

Miscellany

Surveillance capitalism creeps me out.

I don’t control my lights, door locks, or anything else by speaking commands to my 1st-generation Amazon Echo. Indeed, I shut the microphone off about a year ago and I only use it like a table radio — direct streaming or bluetooth from my phone — and controlled from the Alexa app on my phone, not by voice.

When Echo dies, it will either not be replaced or will be replaced with a streaming radio with better sound quality (though Echo isn’t too bad). And no voice control.

There is no way I’m going to wear a pair of Alexa-powered Bose earphones, wandering around in “public” but in my own little world inside my head, isolated from the world except for asking it “how do I get shiny hair?” when I see a slick Afghan Hound.

Nor Echo frames.

* * *

I’m partial to the hypothesis that living in unreality (in which I’d include virtual reality) creates ennui.

I noticed recently, though, that most articles of the “digital detox” genre are focused on productivity, not on humanity let alone holiness. I’m told that Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism is different. I hope so, because after I catch up on a little backlog of magazines, it’s my next book (on Kindle, of course — so sue me).

Indeed, much of my reading lately seems to evoke gentle regrets: “Gosh, I could have lived this better way if only I’d been wiser.” There’s a reason for the saying “Too soon old, too late smart.”

Notice I said “gentle,” not “bitter.”

A magazine that frequently gives me gentle regrets is Plough, from the Bruderhof community. I think Mother Jones and my secular “alternate lifestyle” magazines will be going unrenewed, Plough renewed.

* * *

Meanwhile, I’ve taken a deep breath, installed Freedom, and instructed it to help my self-control by cutting me off from the internet and from various apps at times of day when I am resolving to do something other than sitting on my arse with a computer on my lap.

* * *

I had an Impossible Burger once. It was surprisingly burgerlike.

But Michael Pollan says “if it comes from a plant, it’s food; if it’s made in a plant, it’s not food.” Heck, you don’t even save calories and fat grams with Impossible Burger. If I want burger taste, I’ll buy a burger.

Except maybe when I’m dying for meat in Lent. Once or twice, tops. I think it was Lent 2019 when I tried one.

* * *

Did I mention that I came of age in the 60s? And was an Audio-Visual Dept. geek?

* * *

I just saw San Francisco 49er defender #2 helping a Green Bay Packer runner to land on his back rather than the top of his helmet when undercut by San Francisco 49er defender #1.

There is magnanimity in the world. Especially from teams that are up 20-0 in the first half.

 

* * * * *

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

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

Surprised by food for thought

… I was continuing to make my way through Shoshana Zuboff’s great new book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. It’s not an easy book to read, in part because the things Zuboff, a former Harvard Business School professor, talks about can be somewhat arcane, but also because it’s damned depressing. This is a book about how a business model pioneered by Google has come in less than 20 years to dominate everything, with consequences we can scarcely comprehend. I’m not going to get into the book’s weeds here; there are lots of weeds, and I am not sure that Zuboff is going to be able to offer a plausible way out of this mess.

The gist of it is that nearly everything we do and say is monitored by multiple corporations, who are taking that data — usually without our knowledge or permission — and using it to figure out how to sell us things and, more crucially, to guide us toward behaving in particular ways without knowing that we are being manipulated. There is no real way to opt out of the system. It is overwhelming — and Zuboff shows how the tech companies have spent ungodly sums to manipulate politicians and regulators in order to maintain maximum access to the personal data of everyone. (The Obama administration was in Google’s pocket, for example.) Zuboff likens it to the Spanish conquistadores arriving in the New World.

I bring this up in light of Brooks’s column because if you want to talk about the foundations of society being attacked, believe me, we should all worry about Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Silicon Valley on the whole a lot more than we worry about our buffoonish president. What the surveillance capitalists have done, and are doing, matters far more to the future of our democracy and its legitimacy than does Trump.

I find Donald Trump — lying, unstable, barely competent Donald Trump — to be less of a threat than I find the kind of progressive elites who hate him. He has the presidency, which is a powerful thing to have. But they control Silicon Valley. They command the US economy. They control major American institutions, including higher education and the media. And they trust in their own goodness.

Rod Dreher (Emphasis in original)

I continued reading Dreher’s blog entry, despite my initially thinking “not one of his better ones,” because I thought I might have missed something in the David Brooks column he quotes (of which I also thought “not one of his better ones”).

I’m glad I continued because, although I cannot praise his prose or pace, there’s nevertheless some nourishing if un-tasty “food for thought” in it, including a different vantage point from which to ask — yes, even 32 scant hours after release of the Mueller Report — whether Trump might actually be the lesser evil in 2020, both as a matter of self-preservation (as one whose Social Credit Score, as viewed by those who trust in their own goodness, is pretty low) and for the interests of America more generally.

As Freddie put it:

I have had a standing rule not to read anything with the word “Trump” in the headline since mid-2017. I have not kept to it 100% of the time, but I have been pretty compliant. But here’s something I know.

The Trump-Russia collusion story became a national obsession because of two matters of psychic convenience: one, the belief that someone (even a Republican FBI agent cop like Robert Mueller) is going to ride in on a horse and save us; and two, that our problems are the problem of an outside force, some malevolent international entity working evil. Only a child could believe that either of those is true.

No one is coming to save you. This is what the world is now, and this is what the world will be long long after Trump is gone. And more: this is the world we deserve. We are not broken because of Russia, or Donald Trump. We are broken because of the evil this country has done and the evil this country is. You can work to change that. But if you try to hide from it behind the Mueller report you will only fail. Because no one is coming to save you.

The 2016 election had “God’s Judgment” written all over it. 2020 may come packaged the same way. Lesser evils rather than affirmative goods may be all we’ll get to choose. Democrats: This is mostly up to you as a practical matter: can you nominate someone less evil?)\

Anyway, I point you to Dreher’s blog on the chance that you’ll find food for thought as well.

* * * * *

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).

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!

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items. Frankly, it’s kind of becoming my main blog. If you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly.

Clippings and comment, 1/22/19 pm

1

David Brooks:

[I]n the age of social media [polarization is] almost entirely about social type. It’s about finding and spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own.

It’s about finding images that confirm your negative stereotypes about people you don’t know. It’s about reducing a complex human life into one viral moment and then banishing him to oblivion.

You don’t have to read social theory on this phenomenon; just look at the fracas surrounding the Covington Catholic High School boys.

… [I]t’s important to remember that these days the social media tail wags the mainstream media dog. If you want your story to be well placed and if you want to be professionally rewarded, you have to generate page views — you have to incite social media. The way to do that is to reinforce the prejudices of your readers.

… The crucial thing is that the nation’s culture is now enmeshed in a new technology that we don’t yet know how to control.

It’s hard to believe that people are going to continue forever on platforms where they are so cruel to one another. It’s hard to believe that people are going to be content, year after year, to distort their own personalities in service to a platform, making themselves humorless, semi-blind, joyless and grim.

I want Brooks’ story to “be well placed” and Brooks “to be professionally rewarded” for his synthesis of the weekend incident and his framing of the problem it reveals.

2

[T]he vilification of Mrs. Pence makes prophetic Justice Samuel Alito’s prediction in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision throwing out all state laws against same-sex marriage. Justice Alito saw a perilous future for those who still embraced the view Mr. Obama once claimed to hold. “I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes,” he wrote, “but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

In the larger sense the faith-shaming of Mrs. Pence exposes an inversion of tropes. In history and literature, typically it has been the religious side that can’t tolerate the slightest disagreement from its dogma and behaves like outraged 17th-century Salemites when they think they have uncovered a witch.

Now look at the Immanuel Christian School. Those who run it know they and those who think like them are the big losers in America’s culture war. All they ask is to be allowed, within the confines of their community, to uphold 2,000 years of Christian teaching on marriage, sexuality and the human person.

When Obergefell was decided, it was sold as live-and-let-live. But as Justice Alito foresaw, today some sweet mysteries of the universe are more equal than others. In other words, it isn’t enough for the victors to win; the new sense of justice requires that those who still don’t agree must be compelled to violate their deepest beliefs ….

William McGurn

3

A very good point:

But for the sake of arguing let us assume that the boys did just what the initial story alleged them to do. They went and harassed a Native American while that Indian made his protest. What then? Is what they did terrible? Yeah. Should they be punished? Absolutely. Should that punishment be that they are doxed, tarred as a racist, and casted out of respectable society for the rest of their lives? Once again, have you ever been 16? Or to put it another way do you want to be judged for the rest of your live by the worst thing you have ever done?

My point is that even if the initial story was correct this overreaction says a lot about what we have become. Do we really think that we should not forgive them? Criminals who break into our homes can get forgiven, but not 16 year old kids. Assault them? Dox them? Did people actually listen to what they are saying, or read what they are writing, when they decided to dehumanize these boys? Or did it just feel good to have a villain that we can treat like dirt?

[L]et us not let the elephant in the room go unnoticed. The boys made for convenient villains because they were wearing MAGA hats. They also white males who are likely heterosexual and Catholic. For certain groups in our society individuals with such characteristics should not have a place in our public square. Therefore, we are allowed to dehumanize individuals with these characteristics. There is a narrative whereby we should not be concern with “white tears.” After all even if whites are mistreated, it is nothing compared to how they have mistreated, and continue to mistreat, other right? This argument gives some people license to ignore any complaints from white Christian males.

4

While the petition now before us is based solely on the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, petitioner still has live claims under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 … Petitioner’s decision to rely primarily on his free speech claims as opposed to these alternative claims may be due to certain decisions of this Court.

In Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872 (1990), the Court drastically cut back on the protection provided by the Free Exercise Clause, and in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U. S. 63 (1977), the Court opined that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion does not require an employer to make any accommodation that imposes more than a de minimis burden. In this case, however, we have not been asked to revisit those decisions.

Statement of Justice Alito, joined by Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, respecting the denial of certiorari in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, 586 U.S. ____ (January 22, 2019). Eugene Volokh thinks this signals willingness of these justices to reconsider Employment Div. v. Smith, and

What’s more, Justice Breyer had earlier (in City of Boerne v. Flores (1997)) made clear that he thought Employment Division v. Smith was indeed wrongly decided and should be overruled.

Reading the two first-quoted paragraphs in context, I emphatically agree with Volokh about what they signal. So there may be a majority ready to restore a more robust free exercise clause, which I’ve supported ever since Employment Div. v. Smith emasculated (can one still say that?) free exercise (or at least lowered its testosterone level dramatically).

Unlike either of the stereotypes Volokh describes regarding who favored broad free exercise right in the past versus now, I have always favored them, with little concern for government efficiency (is that an oxymoron?). But I must admit that the people getting the short end of parsimonious free exercise rights these days are more like me (Christian, traditional on sexual behavior and marriage, etc. — see item 2, above) than free exercise claimants used to be, and that would make broadening particularly congenial.

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News roundup

1

In July, Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the “constitutional originalist Federalist Society,” as RealClearPolitics phrased it, told Fox News:

“Any Supreme Court confirmation is transformative. This is a court that is often equally divided. At the end of the day, I think what’s really important to remember is that there’s been a movement on the court toward being more originalist and textualist. In other words, the idea that law means something, it has determinate meaning. And that’s the trend that I think this president wants to continue.”

But, when I think of originalism, I think this: Many of the founders owned slaves; in the Constitution they viewed black people as less than fully human; they didn’t want women or poor white men to vote. The founders, a bunch of rich, powerful white men, didn’t want true democracy in this country, and in fact were dreadfully afraid of it.

Now, a bunch of rich, powerful white men want to return us to this sensibility, wrapped in a populist “follow the Constitution” rallying cry and disguised as the ultimate form of patriotism.

Charles Blow, declaring scurrilous “war.”

Would it be entirely unfair to satirize this as “because the founders tended to own slaves, and because of the 3/5 clause (since abolished), we can ignore what they wrote and just make up whatever progressive shit we feel like?”

If it would be entirely unfair, I won’t do it. Nope. Never.

 

2

“Kavanaugh’s confirmation deepens country’s divide” (USA Today Headline 10/8/18, emphasis added).

I don’t believe it, and the story doesn’t support it. I would be just as skeptical if they said the confirmation laid the issue to rest.

The Wall Street Journal make it fairly clear what’s really at stake: both parties intend to milk this episode for all it’s worth in next month’s election. And both sides are saying the other overplayed its hand and face an electoral bloodbath.

Time will tell us whether and which.

Meanwhile, I’m sorry to report that there really are some conservatives I have heretofore respected who are converting from Never Trump to Trumpista just because he didn’t withdraw Kavanaugh (they mercifully haven’t praised him for trash-talking Dr. Ford). I’m not going to name names because some of them are not exactly public figures (e.g., a sharp law professor at a second-tier school who I happen to know, Tweeting his Trump re-assessment), but I initially thought such reports were a kind of semi-libel, a total straw man. Then I saw it with my own eyes, in my own Twitter feed (filtered to feature the more reliable sorts). #Sad #RepentanceLikelyInDueCourse

A putative conservative at the New York Times cautions against GOP gloating in a column I endorse (though I’m unfamiliar with the author, David Marcus):

Whatever one believes about the allegations leveled against Mr. Kavanaugh, it is clear that millions of Americans are in real pain. The widespread feeling that the voices of women are being ignored — once again — is leading to a rage that many on the left are increasingly embracing as the necessary counter to Trump-era conservatism.

The anger on both sides has already shut down communication and compromise among our politicians. Now it threatens the ability of average Americans to talk to each other.

The task for conservatives in the wake of these ugly two weeks is not to point and laugh, but to show care and compassion that may build trust in Mr. Kavanaugh and the court among those who so bitterly and sincerely opposed him. There is plenty of blame for the tribalism in our country to go around. Ending it, however, is a task best undertaken by the side that is winning.

 

3

A cultural division is illustrated by the difference between Wall Street Journal and New York Times most viewed stories: the former, “Friend of Dr. Ford Felt Pressure to Revisit Statement“; the latter, “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father.”

I find both stories “interesting,” but the Times really busted its butt on its major investigative journalism piece fleshing out what I already suspected.

The Wall Street Journal responds with a column that is unmistakably in the category of sour grapes: Dogs Bite Men and Trumps Duck Taxes.

 

4

American political discourse gets worse by the day, a lesson we’ve seen first-hand again this weekend. The Twitter mob on the political left is claiming that our Saturday editorial headline, “Susan Collins Consents,” was intended as a sly “rape joke.”

The editorial praised Maine Senator Collins for her thoughtful speech on Friday explaining her support for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. We said her thorough consideration was an exemplary case of fulfilling the Senate’s “advice and consent” duty under the Constitution. Senators are supposed to offer their advice and then offer or withhold their consent for a presidential nominee. The editorial mentioned advice and consent no fewer than six times.

Yet for some on the political left the editorial wasn’t about the Senate’s constitutional duty or praising Sen. Collins. They said we were making fun of rape ….

Wall Street Journal

 

5

“We don’t work as Democrats or Republicans, and I think it’s a very unfortunate perception that the public might get from the confirmation process,” Chief Justice Roberts said at a New England Law-Boston event in 2016. The near party-line split on recent confirmations “increases the danger that whoever comes out if it will be viewed in those terms,” he said.

Chief Justice John Roberts

 

6

JUSTICE KAGAN: Starting with Justice O’Connor and continuing with Justice Kennedy, there has been a person who, er, found the center, who people couldn’t predict in that sort of way. … It’s not so clear that, you know, I think going forward, that sort of middle position — you know, it’s not so clear whether we’ll have it.

… [I]t’s rather revealing in this clip that Kagan never considers herself for the role of the unpredictable jurist — or Sonia Sotomayor, who’s sitting next to her and never bothers to interject either. Kagan’s argument is that it should always be conservative jurists who go towards Kagan’s wing of the court, and not the other direction. Why should that be the case? Why shouldn’t Kagan take her own advice?

It’s also amusing that Kagan almost explicitly assigns herself and the other three liberal justices to the roles of predictable jurist in this statement. It’s undeniably true, but one would expect a Supreme Court justice to at least argue that she’s independent. Give Kagan one cheer for honesty, I guess, and a half-cheer to Sotomayor for not objecting to it.

Ed Morrissey. Well played, sir!

7

Women Serving on Ships Face Higher Sex-Assault Risks

Women who serve on board U.S. Navy ships and young service members at large training bases were at the greatest risk of becoming victims of sexual assault, according to a study commissioned by the Pentagon.

Wall Street Journal

What would we do without commissioned studies?

8

The Internet Gave Us Great TV—Now Where’s Our Great TV Guide? (Wall Street Journal Personal Tech)

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Facepalm du jour

It seems to me that very often talking about homosexuality has mainly been a way of not talking about other things that need talking about.

It was not the invention of the birth-control pill, or the adoption of no-fault divorce, that hollowed out marriage: It was that we became the sort of people who desired those things. We became — Western civilization became — the kids who flunked the test in the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment, unable to resist immediate gratification and, having stripped ourselves of the cultural basis for understanding the distinction, unable to tell the difference between pleasure and happiness.

Hence the sex dolls.

… Imagine, if you can — with charity, if you can — the state of a man in a silicon brothel paying to have sex (a simulacrum of sex) with an inanimate object. The act indicates a profound alienation not only from ordinary healthy sexual expression but from humanity ….

Kevin D. Williamson, The Psalmist and the Sex Doll (emphasis added).

There’s a tendency to focus on the most horrible or stupid stunts of one’s ideological adversaries, and I asked myself if that wasn’t what Williamson was doing here.

I think not. There really is a kind of enthusiasm for the idea of orgasm-at-will with a simulacrum of another person — a similacrum that will never be out of sorts or complicate one’s life unduly. The sexy dolls have been around a while, but many people have enthused here and there over the idea of taking those sexy doll and roboticizing them.

And I have no reason to think that the enthusiasts are all ideological adversaries in conventional political terms, either. Indeed, I can imagine some Christianish “incels” thinking sex dolls and amorous robots are, literally, a Godsend to satisfy one’s “needs” without fornication.

I may be overdue for another rant on the difference between non-fornication and chastity.

That it is a fairly marginal phenomenon (so far) does not mean that it tells us nothing about the decadence of society more broadly.

(The Psalmist in the title, by the way, is the late Leonard Cohen.)

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Monday Potpourri, 8/27/18

1

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

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

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

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

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

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

2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3

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

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

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

Greg Coles.

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The circular express

When I was a Calvinist, I took comfort that the elect would persevere, and attain salvation. This is the “P” in the TULIP acrostic for the five points of Calvinism: Perseverance of the Saints, frequently dumbed down to “Eternal Security.”

Of course, there was the pesky little problem of apparent saints who openly and spectacularly apostatized. To those instances, one could respond either:

  1. “They’re still saved because you can’t lose your salvation.” That answer, with its dubious consistency, tended to antinomianism (which meant was much beloved by testosterone-crazed adolescent Calvinist boys — I am not making that up).
  2. “They never were elect in the first place, of course.” That answer tends to collapse the whole airtight Calvinist edifice. It collapses into uncertainty and circularity about whether the seemingly-elect truly are elect, including the person trying to parse the possibilities.

“Some ‘security’! If I’m saved, I’ll always be saved, but damned if I know whether I’m saved! Thanks for nuthin’!”

That tiptoe into an edge of Calvinism is preface to today’s debates between affirmation-seeking transgenderism activists and sober clinicians who want to avoid hasty surgical and hormonal interventions in adolescent bodies and minds — interventions that will make it hard for an adolescent with transgender ideations to “desist,” as many do, reverting to feeling comfortable in their own skin (and sex).

Or maybe many don’t. Maybe the desisters were false positives.

Oh, dear!

Desistance has been at the center of the transgender advocates’ fight to have transgender identity publicly accepted as an urgent medical condition. At the same time, these same advocates have pressured clinicians to remove the stigma of its psychiatric diagnosis in order to create a social acceptance of the idea that “gender” is truly biological and that “sex” is a social construct. Stunningly anti-scientific rhetoric like this is taking as its hostage the bodies and lives of children in order to prove the point that children are “born transgender.” This assertion is a self-fulfilling prophecy involving a domino effect of parents and clinicians who are effectively engaging in Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP).

Transgender discourse advances the notion of the “true transgender” by accepting all the signs of gender non-conformity as unmistakable signs of being transgender—at least until they cease. Then, suddenly, people like Tannehill dismiss the child’s gender non-conformity, claiming that these trans-identifying children were never really transgender in the first place.

Julia Vigo, The ​Myth of the “Desistance Myth” (italics added)

So, there it is:

  1. If you’re transgender/elect, you won’t desist/apostatize.
  2. If you desist/apostatize, you weren’t truly transgender/elect.

“Any questions about the urgent necessity of immediate surgical and hormonal interventions in trans teens? … Yes, you, the hater/heretic in the back row. What’s your stupid, phony question?”

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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.

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