Contrariness

Correcting the Record

Over the weekend, I had coffee with a Hungarian friend who spent a lot of time in America as a kid and teenager, because his father is an academic. He has a critical view of the US system because of its tolerance for economic precarity for so many. He supports the Orban government, and agrees with me about how totally biased and distorting the news media are, based on the kinds of things that middle and upper middle class reporters care about. For example, said my friend, in the long wake of the 2008 global economic crash, Viktor Orban’s government passed a law forbidding banks from expelling people who had defaulted on their mortgages from their homes. “Barack Obama didn’t do that,” said my friend. And then we talked about how with the US left, as long as you fly the rainbow flag and say “Black Lives Matter,” you can do whatever you want with the economy, and you won’t hear a word of protest from the supposed champions of the little guy versus Capital.

Rod Dreher, Who Is Viktor Orban, Really? (emphasis added)

Assaulting Hades

[A] liturgical practice … in Orthodoxy … is a frontal assault on Hades.

The traditional name for these celebrations is “Soul Saturdays.” They are celebrations of the Divine Liturgy on Saturday mornings offered for the souls of the departed … They make a fitting prelude for Holy Week and Pascha. At Pascha, Christ Himself “tramples down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestows life.” This is the Great and Holy Sabbath – the true and Great Soul Saturday. This is the great theme of Pascha itself. Christ’s Resurrection is, strangely, not so much about Christ as it is about Christ’s action. Many modern Christians treat Pascha (Easter) as though it were a celebration of Jesus’ personal return after a tragic death. Orthodoxy views Christ’s Holy Week, Crucifixion, Descent into Hades and Resurrection as one unending, uninterrupted assault on Hades. This is the great mystery of Pascha – the destruction of death and Hades. Death is the “last enemy.” Those who forget this are like soldiers who have forgotten the purpose of the war in which they fight.

And so the battle forms a significant part of the liturgical effort of the Church. The boldness of the third prayer is quite striking …

I can recall the first time I offered this prayer in my priesthood. I had a copy in front of me, but had not read it before the service, nor had I ever heard it. I trembled as I offered the words … astounded by their boldness. I had never heard such boldness before the Throne of God within the walls of the Church itself. It is also a reminder of the weakness and infirmity of the legal imagery of salvation. The legal view requires of God that He be the enforcer of Hades. To such a prayer He could only reply: “I cannot grant such things because of my Justice!”

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Pentecost and the Liturgy of Hades (emphasis added).

Bait-and-Switch

If there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be—and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it …

One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, "How does someone else’s marriage affect me?" and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change …

It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core "live and let live" argument. And it seems deeply insensitive and intolerant to force the clear losers in a culture war into not just defeat but personal humiliation.

Andrew Sullivan, quoted by William McGurn

CRT

An old friend we visited Saturday en route to our favorite vacation spot asked my thoughts on Critical Race Theory, and I think I shocked him with my mild dismissiveness, which I couldn’t explain all that well on the spot. "Well, the reported excesses, like telling white school kids that their skin tone makes them irredeemable oppressors, already constitute racial harassment or a racially hostile environment under Title VII, so why do we need new laws?" was the gist of my answer. Very lawyerly.

The incompleteness of that answer has bothered me, and I’ve surfaced two more reasons:

  • Laws banning ideas are a bad idea, especially when the ideas sought to be banned are ill-defined or mis-defined, which is the case with most or all of the anti-CRT laws. Similarly, the inability to define CRT suggests that much of the murmuring about it is mostly Shibboleth.
  • The reported excesses of CRT exemplify progressive overreach, which generates its own cultural backlash. I don’t need to enter that fray.

Reading Between the Lines

There were three kinds of evangelical leaders. The dumb or idealistic ones who really believed. The out-and-out charlatans. And the smart ones who still believed—sort of—but knew that the evangelical world was shit, but who couldn’t figure out any way to earn as good a living anywhere else. I was turning into one of those, having started out in the idealistic category.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God. I don’t really recommend Schaeffer, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of reading between the lines here to explain how Schaeffer became the equivocally-Christian author of kiss-and-tell Exvangelical books and Huffington Post columns.


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.

Visual content for a change

From this week’s Economist.

Love how they go with “birthing people” and “pregnant persons” but then just call it the MOMMIES Act. https://t.co/OIvNXqHNcX— Robert Tracinski (@Tracinski) May 6, 2021

Don’t miss the people who responded by pretending to not understand his point.


One reason why we spend so much time thinking and talking about elites is that we often hope and pray that a better elite can bring significant, rapid change—to yank the right out of its current malaise sooner rather than later. At present, however, there is no obvious path for speedy, top-down change. There simply isn’t an active market for the necessary message.

David French, Make No Mistake: The GOP Has a Grassroots Problem.

If you follow this blog, you likely have noticed a lot of content from the Dispatch (including essentially anything I quote from David French). Although I’m starting to figure out that David’s entertainment tastes are, um, not at all like mine, I think the Dispatch is doing a very good job at delivering on what they say they’re about, and is worth the price for any non-destitute conservative (or liberal who wants to avoid captivity to a bubble).


The Soviet occupiers subdued religious hierarchies, he said, making sure that the senior leaders — bishops and such — were collaborators. Bishop Istvan remarked that what he sees happening in liberalizing Protestant churches in the West reminds him of this process. The idea, he explained, is that they have been colonized by utopian idealists who believe they have found the truth. Said the bishop, “The Bolsheviks imposed this in a harsh, brutal way, but in the Western countries today, it is happening in a soft way.”

… The bishop went on to say that every society needs an enemy in mind. After the end of the Cold War, the West lacked for an obvious enemy. Now, he said, the elites have decided that the enemy is traditional Christians.

“It’s not a Cold War, but a Cold Civil War, happening in the US, in Germany, everywhere,” he said.

Rod Dreher, My Afternoon With A Calvinist Bishop – Daily Dreher

I suspect, based on my observations of how societies behave, that the Bishop is right: every society needs an enemy in mind. Even if he’s not,

  1. It gives us an idea why Viktor Orban demonizes George Soros; and
  2. It should make us reflect on why we demonize Putin, Orban and others.

“We are not good survivors of Communism,” said Bishop Istvan, of his generation. “If you read the Book of Exodus, you will see that it took forty years of wandering in the desert for the Israelites to prepare to enter the Promised Land. Many of them wanted to go back to Egypt, where they were slaves, but at least they could have a few material things guaranteed for them. I feel like my generation has been told by God that we can’t enter the Promised Land.

“But I ask myself,” he continued, “which Promised Land should I want to enter? Should it be the West? The problem is, there is no fruit there. There is no milk, there is no honey.”

That resonated deeply with me, this point of Bishop Istvan’s. Something similar has been front to mind for me since I first arrived here three weeks ago. There is something about putting distance between oneself and America, and looking at America from a non-woke country, that highlights the true insanity of what’s happening in our nation.

Rod Dreher, My Afternoon With A Calvinist Bishop – Daily Dreher, quoting Istvan Szábo.


“Believing that everything will be better if only we gather more information,” blogger Michael Sacasas recently wrote, “commits us to endless searching and casting about, to one more swipe of the screen in the hope that the elusive bit of data, which will make everything clear, will suddenly present itself.” …

… There is nothing of real import happening in the world for which Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow is the best source of information.

Joseph M. Keegin, Be Not Afraid


In the old Dark Ages, it was impossible to persuade the feudal chiefs that it was more worth while to grow medicinal herbs in a small garden than to lay waste the province of an empire; that it was better to decorate the corner of a manuscript with gold-leaf than to heap up treasuries and wear crowns of gold. These men were men of action; they were hustlers; they were full of vim and pep and snap and zip. In other words, they were deaf and blind and partly mad, and rather like American millionaires. And because they were men of action, and men of the moment, all that they did has vanished from the earth like a vapour; and nothing remains out of all that period but the little pictures and the little gardens made by the pottering little monks.

G.K. Chesterton, The New Dark Ages

Martinet pronouns (and much more)

Best thing I read Monday: Are We Still Thinking?.

There’s a lot more to it than this, one of my favorite quotes of an American Founder:

In the 1780’s, John Adams wrote:

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

I have a reminder set to re-read the article. It’s that good.


Bari Weiss turned most of her column over to the lament of a Romanian-born mathematician:

Sergiu wrote me in an email that the situation in his field reminds him of this line from Thomas Sowell: “Ours may become the first civilization destroyed, not by the power of enemies, but by the ignorance of our teachers and the dangerous nonsense they are teaching our children. In an age of artificial intelligence, they are creating artificial stupidity.”

Bari Weiss, introducing There Is No Such Thing as "White" Math – Common Sense with Bari Weiss

The centerpiece of Sergiu’s complaint is an 83-page piece of idiocy that proves, if nothing else, that its funding source, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, does not have perfect pitch.


Legal writing guru Bryan Garner puts a pin in the "what are your pronouns?" bullshit:

What’s new isn’t the generic pronoun but the referential pronoun: the one that refers to a known person (Bill, John, Krys, or Emily). People are deciding for themselves how they want to be referred to behind their backs — in the third person. If you were addressing them directly, of course, you’d simply use you and your. A social movement is behind the idea that people get to decide how references to them should sound when they’re absent.

Bryan Garner, Pronominal Strife – Los Angeles Review of Books (emphasis added)


"Legislating by letterhead" belongs in our lexicon, though I think I recall conservatives doing the same sort of thing as this:

The precursor to the hearing was a revealing letter sent Monday by two California Democrats, Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney. The duo demanded the CEOs of a dozen cable, satellite and broadband providers explain what “response” they intended to take to the “right-wing media ecosystem” that is spreading “lies” and “disinformation” that enable “insurrection” and provokes “non-compliance with public health guidelines.” Specifically they asked each CEO: “Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax and OANN . . .? If so, why?”

When Republican members of the committee and outside groups shouted censorship, Ms. Eshoo shrugged. “The First Amendment, my friends, starts with four words: Congress shall make no laws,” and she, Anna Eshoo, had no intention of enacting a law to shut down conservatives. She was merely asking “strong, important questions”—i.e., whether private regulated companies understand that (if they know what’s good for them) they’ll do the dirty work for her, thereby saving her the hassle of complying with the Constitution. She was just asking.

“Right now, the greatest threat to free speech in this country is not any law passed by the government—the First Amendment stands as a bulwark,” says Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr. “The threat comes in the form of legislating by letterhead.

Kim Strassel, ‘Just Asking’ for Censorship – WSJ


After a long absence, Garrison Keillor assaulted my RSS aggregator yesterday with multiple postings. I have no explanation for this delightful onslaught or for the preceding absence.

I’ll be selective, minimizing politics.

I married a pro-vaxxer, which is good to know after all these years — we never discussed vaccines during courtship — and in addition to her respect for science, she has the patience to track down clinics online and spend time on Hold and so now I am vaccinated …

I was not asked for a credit card at any point, or a Medicare card, so evidently the country is slipping into socialism, as Republicans predicted, but I am too old to argue, I obey. Young people wearing badges told me which line to get in and I did. A young woman who said she was a nurse gave the shot and I didn’t ask to see her license. Nor did I ask for assurance that the vaccine did not contain a hallucinogen that would make me accept the Fake News: I already accept that Joe Biden was elected president and that Trump supporters invaded the Capitol on January 6. It’s too laborious to believe otherwise. This is Occam’s Razor, the principle they taught in high school science: the simpler theory tends to be true. You’d have to devote weeks to working up a new theory of massive electoral fraud by Venezuelans and Antifans buying thousands of MAGA hats to storm the Capitol, and at 78 I don’t have the time for that. The vaccine may extend my lifetime but there are no guarantees.

The old scout stands in line at the clinic | Garrison Keillor

The joy at the heart of the lockdown in the pandemic is the daily reassurance that you married the right person. A funny person with her own life who is never at a loss for words and so is good company and who reads the news for me and passes along the good stuff.

She read me a story in the Times last week about the hellish life in the skinny skinny new skyscrapers of Manhattan. Developers have taken tiny lots and thrown up a 90-story needle and sold apartments for vast amounts to people who want to look down on the rest of us but meanwhile high winds cause the needle to sway dramatically, which often snaps water pipes and causes major leaks and brings elevators to a stop and causes eerie whining sounds. It gave us joy, to think that architects and developers have found a way to earn big profits from torturing oligarchs from authoritarian countries who have way too much money.

The pandemic: one man’s appreciation | Garrison Keillor

In the Fifties, they tore down sixteen acres of tenements in Hell’s Kitchen and under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller brothers they built a symphony hall, an opera house, a theater, and a dance theater around a plaza with a fountain. Republicans were behind it and Lincoln’s name is on it and when you attend events here, you brush elbows with a good many moguls and grande dames who probably miss Ronald Reagan keenly and you go in to watch performers, 95 percent of them Democrats, some to the left of Bernie Sanders, but the conflicting views between the stage and the box seats are forgotten in the glory of “Der Rosenkavalier” or Beethoven or “Les Sylphides.” If your heart is open to the gifts of genius, you will walk across the plaza afterward, past the fountain, and feel transformed.

I first saw the U.S. Capitol in 1962, heading for Baltimore to attend a wedding, got lost, saw a lighted dome and realized I was in Washington. I parked and walked up the steps and in the door, past one policeman sitting on a folding chair in the foyer, and walked in under the great dome and looked at the statues and murals, and saw only a couple of cops relaxing in a hallway, not paying much attention to anybody.

When I tell people about that night, it feels like ancient history. Those days will never return. Even at the opera, security men wand you as you come through the turnstile. After the Capitol insurrection of January 6, security will be iron-tight forever to come, metal detectors will beep at every steel zipper, uniformed men with assault weapons will watch your every move. Walking into the Capitol of 1962, the openness of it told you that we are a civilized society with a high level of mutual trust. I don’t care to ever visit Washington again and see our government on wartime alert for attacks by our fellow Americans. Too painful.

A night outside, eating with friends | Garrison Keillor

Will Hollywood rise from the dead when the pandemic ends? It must. Truly. I decided it was my duty to sit down and write a screenplay for a movie to hold a theater of young people transfixed for a hundred and ten minutes, but it’s no use, I’m too old and comfortable, too well-married. I live with a woman who sits across from me at the breakfast table and reads the paper and tells me what I need to know from it, which takes her five minutes, and leaves me free to think my own thoughts. I spend less time worrying about our democracy than I do trying to remember Natalie Wood’s costar in “Splendor In The Grass.” (Warren Beatty.) William Inge wrote that movie and he felt entitled to torture beautiful Natalie and throw her into a loony bin because he was an alcoholic gay male suffering from depression. I don’t have that privilege, having had a happy childhood. I write a scene and it’s two people remembering their childhoods. No drama. Dishes need to be thrown, tables overturned.

The end of the worst, bring on the better | Garrison Keillor


Micah Mattix respects Christopher Lasch, but thinks Robert Penn Warren is needed as a corrective. He starts showing where Lasch over-sold his case:

For Lasch, the unbounded pursuit of capital has led to the commodification of nearly all of life. The decline in American manufacturing has made it difficult for working-class families to live on a single salary. The result, often, is both parents work full-time and outsource child-rearing to “professionals.” Small stores and local hangouts, where people of different classes might interact, have been replaced by big box stores and impersonal chain restaurants in pursuit of greater margins. The result is that informal conversations between groups has ceased. The wealthy go to private cocktail parties and exclusive clubs while the plebs stare at TV screens in Chili’s. The “decline of participatory democracy,” Lasch writes, may be directly related to the disappearance of these “third places.” Education has abandoned moral formation in favor of creating efficient workers while, at the same time, nourishing a sense of entitlement though victimhood narratives that postpone adulthood. Math and science—the golden tools of the market—are funded while history and English are either cut or repurposed to teach “soft skills.” Doing right is replaced with feeling good in homes and churches. The list goes on.

But this has been going on for much longer than 25 years. I am reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, which was first published in 1952 and which can be read as a commentary on post-WW II life in the South. It’s set in the fictional Taulkinham—a town of shops and movie theaters. “No one was paying any attention to the sky,” O’Connor writes. “The stores . . . stayed open on Thursday nights so that people could have an extra opportunity to see what was for sale.” In one scene, a man sets up “an altar” to sell a new kind of potato peeler. All everyone does in Taulkinham is shop and go to the movies. There are no two-parent families in the novel. Young men are either unemployed or work menial jobs. And the only religion that anyone shows any interest in is Hoover Shoat’s prosperity gospel, where, he tells the townsfolk “You don’t have to believe nothing you don’t understand and approve of.”

Warren’s corrective, distilled:

Warren’s argument for role of poetry in a democracy reminds us not only of the importance of taking the long view but also of the centrality of excellence for a good society. This is Lasch’s concern, too, but it cannot be recovered through economic reforms alone.

Micah Mattix, Saving the American Experiment – Law & Liberty


Of the Golden Trump at CPAC 2021:

“It’s definitely not an idol,” Mr. Zegan insisted. (“I was a youth pastor for 18 years,” he noted.) “An idol is something somebody worships and bows down to. This is a sculpture. It’s two different things.”

At CPAC, a Reverence for Trump – The New York Times

"Trust me; I’m a former youth pastor" is a nonsequitur right out of the gate, but "an idol is something somebody worships and bows down to" is a particularly risible affirmation coming from within a Christianish tradition whose dumbed-down "worship" of God almost certainly includes no bowing.


CPAC was full of Trumpists saying they’re conservative, not Republican. I have no taste to vote for saving the Republican Party from their ilk, but I hate to see the term "conservative" debased.


Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

I John 3:2


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.

The Equality Act

When I listen to news, I listen to NPR. I’m aware of its liberal bias, which manifests in how it covers news but also — and this is too rarely appreciated — what it considers "newsworthy" in the first place.

But NPR really dropped the ball on the Equality Act, which comes up for vote in the U.S. House today. Its story doesn’t even mention opposition based on the certain (not speculative) effect of requiring that male-to-female transgender persons be permitted to compete in athletic events against biological women.

A guest opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal identifies other problems besides the Act’s adverse effect on religious and conscience rights:

The Equality Act would threaten the existence of women’s prisons, public-school girls’ locker rooms, and women’s and girls’ sports teams. It would limit freedom of speech, freedom of association, accurate data collection, and scientific inquiry. It would threaten the rights of physicians who doubt the wisdom of performing life-changing, reproduction-limiting procedures, and parents who seek to protect their minor children from such treatment.

This isn’t hyperbole. Similar state laws have already resulted in such harm. In California, Catholic hospitals have faced lawsuits for declining to perform life-altering “gender affirmation” surgery in September 2016. In Connecticut, two biologically male athletes won a combined 15 girls state championship races, allegedly taking opportunities for further competition and scholarships from female runners in June 2019. Alaska’s Equal Rights Commission opened an investigation into a women’s shelter after it turned away a biological male in September 2019. H.R. 5 would impose the most extreme form of these laws on the whole country.

The bill is so broad that even some who support the measure in principle have called for Congress to carve out exceptions. Writing in the Washington Post in 2019, tennis legend and activist Martina Navratilova asked Congress to exempt athletic competitions. “The reality,” Ms. Navratilova wrote, “is that putting male- and female-bodied athletes together is co-ed or open sport. And in open sport, females lose.”

Women forced to compete against male athletes risk not only losing competitions, but also serious injury. Ask Tamikka Brents, whose orbital bone was fractured by transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox in the latter’s first professional fight as a woman. Ms. Brents said she felt “overwhelmed” by the fight.

The reason that some contexts require separation of the sexes is obvious: Women have unique physical vulnerabilities. Female inmates are kept separate from male inmates for just this reason. How can we possibly reduce the number of sex crimes against women if the law refuses to recognize such basic differences?

Under the guise of fairness, the Equality Act would forbid policy makers from ever taking into consideration the differences between men and women that are necessary in order to guarantee safety and equality of the sexes.

The Equality Act isn’t about protecting people from discrimination; it’s about compelling adherence to gender ideology. Don’t let its name fool you.

The Equality Act Makes Women Unequal – WSJ

Religious freedom was once held in such high esteem that Congress was almost unanimous on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act less than 30 years ago, and Bill Clinton supported it and signed it. Today, it generally appears in scare quotes, often with intensifiers (e.g., "so-called ‘religious freedom’"), and is to the cultural left a bugaboo like saying "George Soros" to the cultural right.

NPR mis-reported the primary objections to The Equality Act, a bit of liberal groin piety analogous to tax cuts on the right, and I can’t help but suspect that they did so to "poison the well." Selma envy is alive and well as a prime motivation of today’s progressivism.

A few thoughts

I’ve had major, major computer woes over the past eight days and blogging went on the back burner, but I have read a bit a clipped a bit and, well, I have thoughts.


First, an interesting bit of tonic contrariness:

> Frankly, a big problem in our society is that many of our institutions are still too trusted relative to the amount of trust they deserve. Think about blue chip brands like GE or Boeing that were once synonymous with American can-do business, but are now joke companies. The response to the coronavirus should have revealed to everyone the institutional incompetence of much of our public sector. And I’ve been on record for years as writing that most communities would be better off if half of their non-profits disappeared. > > I plan to write an entire future Masculinist on why we should in many cases cease to identify the public good with the continuation and propping up of our failed institutions. As Alasdair Macintyre put it in After Virtue, “A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.” > > Care for your neighbor or the American people does not necessarily have to equate to maintenance of the American “imperium.”

Aaron Renn, The Masculinist


Second, an introduction that’s better, in my opinion, than the overall article that follows:

> People complain about QAnon, but truly lasting, impactful lunacy is always exclusive to intellectuals. Everyone else is constrained. You can’t fish on land for long. Same with using a chainsaw for headache relief. An intellectual may freely mistake bullshit for Lincoln logs and spend a lifetime building palaces.

Matt Taibbi, Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual


On sitting out the new culture wars:

> An actress who rose to prominence in a sport I loathe had been fired from a television program I have no plans of ever watching on an online streaming platform that I would never subscribe to for employing a tired but once-popular Holocaust-derived analogy in an argument about — well, I really don’t know, but I was supposed to be thrilled that she is now engaged in an unnamed new film venture with another journalist whose work I despise. Sandwiched between these two incidents was at least one other pseudo-controversy involving the inconsistent application of privacy rules at the aforementioned paper. It led to a once-pseudonymous blogger, who was supposed to be the subject of an abandoned profile, outing himself and then being written about in a somewhat nastier manner by the same publication. This in turn gave rise to dozens of impassioned defenses of the unlucky scribe by countless other 40-something male bloggers, including one prominent defender of polygamy.

Matthew Walther

I’m about 80% sitting them out, too. The remaining 20% is a weak presumption that any conservative who got cancelled is ipso facto a pretty good ole boy or gal.


Beam me up, Lord:

> An Israeli startup that is developing 3D printers for meat undertook a successful fundraising round that will allow it to distribute its products to restaurants this year. Redefine Meat combines 3D meat modelling, food formulations and food printing to build complex-matrix “meat” on its machines, made from proteins found in legumes and grains and fat from plants. The steaks resemble the texture and taste of choice cuts of beef, but with no cholesterol. Bill Gates this week called on rich countries to switch to “100% synthetic beef” in order to lower greenhouse-gas emissions from the cattle industry.

Business this week | The world this week | The Economist

The "meat" photo with the article looked very good, but I’m really not keen on faux meat. When fasting from meat, I avoid fake meat 99% of the time, especially now that the fakes are so like the real thing.

And seriously, Bill Gates: Is it really all that obvious that synthetic beef is better for the environment (and/or cows) than pastured beef?

As Michael Pollan says, if it’s made of plants, it’s food; if it’s made in a plant, it’s not food.

Eat food.


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

Cliché

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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

Michael Gerson’s malice

Michael Gerson badly misrepresents Andrew Walker’s explanation for why many Evangelicals support Trump:

Walker is making the following claim: If you think abortion is a matter of life or death, then you must support whoever opposes it most vigorously, even if he or she is an immoral lout.

That is a maliciously bad misreading. Walker’s claim — and I read him attentively but critically — is far more like

that Trump opponents need to understand that because most of his fellow-Evangelicals think abortion is a matter of life or death, many of them have ended up uneasily supporting Trump, who opposes it while Democrats increasingly and defiantly support it and ban opponents from their ranks.

Walker said nothing about Trump votes actually being a moral imperative, but his premise is that it can feel like one. His column wasn’t even an argument for voting for Trump. It was a description of why some do. Thatt’s even plain from his title: Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump, not Why Serious Abortion Opponents Must Vote for Trump.

Remarkably, though, the rest of Gerson’s column explains lucidly, in five points (only the first of which is totally vitiated by what Walker actually explained), why supporting Trump is not a moral imperative for those who oppose abortion.

I even join Gerson in this:

I think Walker significantly (and strategically) overestimates the amount of moral angst amongst evangelical Trump supporters.

But then, I may agree with that just because of how both the press and Trump have treated Evangelicals as ipso facto Trumpista.

Anyone who thinks there’s a moral imperative to vote for Trump on anti-abortion grounds should read Gerson.

* * * * *

How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.

(Samuel Johnson)

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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

Same God?

Hang on here. I purposefully meander a bit today, which is a fitting way of sharing a little epiphany I had while reading un-Christmassy stuff (Thomas S. Kuhn and Ian Hacking, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition) on Christmas Eve.

Do we, however, really need to describe what separates Galileo from Aristotle, or Lavoisier from Priestley, as a transformation of vision? Did these men really see different things when looking at the same sorts of objects? Is there any legitimate sense in which we can say that they pursued their research in different worlds? Those questions can no longer be postponed, for there is obviously another and far more usual way to describe all of the historical examples outlined above. Many readers will surely want to say that what changes with a paradigm is only the scientist’s interpretation of observations that themselves are fixed once and for all by the nature of the environment and of the perceptual apparatus. On this view, Priestley and Lavoisier both saw oxygen, but they interpreted their observations differently; Aristotle and Galileo both saw pendulums, but they differed in their interpretations of what they both had seen.

(Page 120, Kindle edition)

These sorts of questions could be extended to other areas, which was why Stanley Fish so insistently schooled Nico Perrino, on one So to Speak podcast:

[Stanley]: Do you believe in the distinction between faith on the one hand and reason or empirical investigation on the other?

Nico: Yes.

Stanley: Yes, I thought you would.

Nico: Of course, I do. So, I’ve fallen into your trap.

Stanley: Because I don’t. I taught a course yesterday on Inherit the Wind. It’s a movie about the Scopes Trial in the early part of the 20th century.

Nico: Yeah, Scopes Trial.

Stanley: That’s a movie produced and directed by Stanley Kramer who is a stalwart First Amendment liberal. The entire dramatic rhetoric of the movie depends on the distinction between faith on the one hand and reason, especially reason associated with scientific experiments, on the other hand. That distinction doesn’t hold up for a second. That distinction doesn’t hold up. What’s you’re dealing with in science as opposed to let’s say orthodox Christianity or something else are two different faiths.

Two different kinds of faiths undergirded by radically opposed assumptions and presuppositions. But it’s presupposition and assumptions which are generating the evidence and facts on both sides. Again, you have – I can tell and say this with all the generosity – you are deeply mired in the basic assumptions and presuppositions of classical liberalism. Anything else that is brought to you, anything that is brought to you by some kind of retrograde sinner like me sounds outlandish and obviously perverse.

Nico: No, not necessarily. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you.

Stanley: Good point.

Nico: But, you know, we’re at the corner of what? 5th and 12th Avenue. Are you telling me it’s not a fact that we’re at the corner of 5th and 12th Avenue?

Stanley: Oh, come on. Come on. Look, have you ever read The Structure of Scientific Revolution?

Nico: I have not.

Stanley: Okay. Do you know what it is?

Nico: No.

Stanley: Okay. It’s a book that is probably the most influential book in the social sciences and humanities for the past 75 years. That’s not an understatement. That is not an overstatement. Kuhn, his project, is the history of science as his title suggests. What he does is challenge the picture that I’ve already referred to where he says that science is not an activity in which one generation because of using its powers of observation and experiment adds to the details of the description of nature that was begun by previous generations.

What he’s saying is that scientific knowledge is not cumulative in the way that the usual picture of science suggests. Instead, scientific knowledge, that is the establishment of scientific fact, depends on what he calls paradigms. What’s a paradigm? A paradigm is the set of in place assumptions and authorized methodologies that govern and are in fact the content of scientific investigation at any moment. Paradigms rather than any direct confrontation between the observer and the world. Paradigms are what produces evidence and interpretations.

Finally, interpretations that are persuasive and successful for a while until that paradigm, for reasons that he details, is dislodged by another. When that happens, when the paradigm within which scientific observers work Kuhn says changes. One might say without exaggeration that without the world in which the scientific practitioner works has itself changed.

Nico: See, I don’t buy it though because there are things that scientist do maybe through this paradigm that produce a tangible result that only come as a result of. Changing the paradigm won’t change the result.

Stanley: Tangible result is itself along with other talismanic phrases like that – tangible result will be recognized as one depending on what pragmatic point of view you are situated. What Kuhn would say, he’s not the only one and I’m not the only one, is that any conclusion that you might reach and be confident in is not supported by some correspondents between your methodological, descriptive protocol and the world. Rather it’s produced by the paradigm within which you are ensconced and of which you are in some sense an extension.

I really urge to read this book because he considers – he’s not debunking science. He’s not debunking scientific achievement. He’s just giving a different picture of it which challenges what he thinks of as the over simplified picture, again, of a world out there waiting to be correctly described. We, as rational observers, having the task to describe it.

Having now read a bit more than half of Kuhn, I understand what Stanley was saying, and I’m less inclined to agree with with Nico.

Anyway, one extension of the “paradigm” (or “gestalt,” as Kuhn so often has it) is the continually vexed question of “whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” which I have visited several times in the past (here, here, and even here in passing).

My paradigm, which led me to say “of course they do“ is monotheism strictly and literally speaking: There is only one God, howsoever He may be misunderstood. Those who say they do not worship the same God strike me as tacitly embracing henotheism, usually with some vehement tribal pride thrown in about the superiority of our God.

But in fairness, the paradigm of the “different God” folks is perhaps doctrine, and “common parlance” rather than strict and literal monotheism. A sufficiently different understanding of God (as the Islamic understanding differs from the orthodox Christian) is, figuratively, “another God,” much as scientists after a gestalt shift are figuratively in “a different world,” according to Kuhn (and Fish?).

Further, my paradigm is apparently flexible. I sometimes ruminate on how the “loving God” I met in bedtime Bible stories as a child, and in childhood Sunday School, got displaced by an “angry God,” prickly, even furious, at how our screwups besmirch His dignity, as if He were a feudal lord. They do indeed feel like different Gods. (I found the loving God again, once and for all, in Orthodox Christianity, but that story is too tangential today.)

Likewise, a “progressive Christian” profession that Matthew 25 is the “heart of the Gospel” arises from a different hermeneutic than mine and, I suspect, is a convenient way of making Christ’s incarnate deity an optional doctrine and doing away with “the scandal of the Cross.” In their paradigm/gestalt, Matthew 25 being the heart of the Gospel is almost axiomatic, and the stupendous paradox we celebrated yesterday is at best tangential, likelier credulous or even incomprehensible. They and I are divided by our nominally common (“Christian”) faith. (It also makes Christian sexual morality, which rivals the Cross for scandal-giving these days, optional.)

And then there are the Jews. I and they, too, worship different Gods if you want to be very figurative about it, though their non-Trinitarian God is pre-Christian rather than anti-Christian. I wonder, though, how many of the “Muslims-worship-a-different-God” folks even think about the Jews when blasting the Muslims?

So what? So can we, on this second day of Christmas (indeed, on all days) be less hasty with expressions that needlessly divide us with intimations that The Other believes as he believes because he’s pure evil rather than out of a very different, good faith, perspective?

That doesn’t mean we all unequivocally worship the same God, for God’s sake, but might our divisions can produce yearning instead of angry denunciations?

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(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.

Taking the bait

Some people are taking Farhad Manjoo’s slow-day op-ed exscrecence more seriously than I did.

Sometimes a piece of writing so perfectly distills a cultural moment and mood that it deserves to be given outsized attention. That’s very much the case with Farhad Manjoo’s op-ed column in Thursday’s New York Times, “The Perfect Pronoun: Singular ‘They’.”

Little in the column is original to Manjoo. In 2019, one encounters similar arguments, assertions, and assumptions every day in published essays, on social media, in lavish advertising campaigns, and increasingly in the literature produced and enforced by corporate HR departments. Yet Manjoo’s column is worth focusing on because it presents such a concise and cogent statement of the emerging elite-progressive consensus.

… There is almost no chance at all that the Farhad Manjoo of 2009 sat around pondering and lamenting the oppressiveness of his peers referring to “him” as “he.” That’s because (as far as I know) Manjoo is a man, with XY chromosomes, male reproductive organs, and typically male hormone levels, and a mere decade ago referring to such a person as “he” was considered to be merely descriptive of a rather mundane aspect of reality. His freedom was not infringed, or implicated, in any way by this convention. It wouldn’t have occurred to him to think or feel otherwise. Freedom was something else and about other things.

The emergence and spread of the contrary idea — that “gender is a ubiquitous prison of the mind” — can be traced to a precise point in time: the six months following the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, which declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right. Almost immediately after that decision was handed down, progressive activists took up the cause of championing transgender rights as the next front in the culture war — and here we are, just four short years later, born free but everywhere in chains.

[A]ll societies — as collectivities of individuals sharing a common culture as well as common laws, rules, and norms (including linguistic rules and norms) — invariably constrain individuals more than they would be if they lived in absolute isolation from others. Any one of those limits on the individual will can feel as if it’s an intolerable constraint, and the principle of individual freedom can always be invoked in order to combat it.

This is how a progressive in 2014 can consider it an unacceptable limitation on individual freedom for gay couples to be denied the right to marry — and base that argument on the claim that a gay man’s love and natural desire for another man, like a lesbian’s love and natural desire for another woman, is irreducible and ineradicable — and then insist just five years later that it is an unacceptable limitation on individual freedom for anyone to be presumed a man or a woman at all.

As Andrew Sullivan has powerfully argued, the two positions are fundamentally incompatible. The first, which morally justifies same-sex marriage, presumes that biological sex and binary gender differences are real, that they matter, and that they can’t just be erased at will. The second, which Manjoo and many transgender activists embrace and espouse, presumes the opposite — that those differences can and should be immediately dissolved. To affirm the truth of both positions is to embrace incoherence.

But that assumes that we’re treating them as arguments. If, instead, we view them as expressions of what it can feel like at two different moments in a society devoted to the principle of individualism, they can be brought into a kind of alignment. Each is simply an expression of rebellion against a different but equally intolerable constraint on the individual. All that’s changed is the object of rebellion.

Damon Linker.

See Alan Jacobs, too.

UPDATE:

And see Michael Brendan Dougherty and Rod Dreher and who knows how many more before it’s over.

Dreher:

Does this seem overwrought to you? After all, we’re just talking about a dopey column by a sweet, nerdy Millennial NYT columnist, right? See, though, this is exactly how this stuff gets institutionalized. As Linker points out, four years ago, what Manjoo claims in his piece is arbitrary and oppressive was so normal that nobody even thought about it. Now this kind of thing is quickly becoming orthodoxy within the Inner Party leading progressive circles.

Manjoo engages in a classic piece of left-liberal rhetoric here, saying he wishes that our world were one

… in which we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs

See what he does here? The people who object to his absolutely radical proposal to alter English as it has been spoken for centuries, so that it can fit a bizarre model of biology that only a relative tiny elite of progressives accepts — hey, they’re the ones who are “obsessed” by meaningless flesh in people’s crotches. Fifteen years ago, progressives taunted those who questioned the wisdom of smashing the traditional model of marriage as being “obsessed” with what other people did behind closed doors, etc. The idea is to stigmatize norms as being arbitrary, irrational, and even immoral, as a way to pave the way for the uncompromising introduction of new norms … which are presented as obviously true and good.

(Emphasis added)

Dougherty:

Writing in the New York Times, tech writer Farhad Manjoo says that we ought to eliminate “gendered” pronouns. Manjoo wants to eighty-six “he” and “she”; “him” and “her.” Our techie isn’t for some of the newly proposed pronouns like “ze,” because studies have shown people don’t know what or who ze is. Perhaps ze should be left to gender nonconforming people. That’s ze truth.

Manjoo’s truth is that he wants us to use “they” as a singular pronoun. “It’s flexible, inclusive, unobtrusive and obviates the risk of inadvertent misgendering.” Manjoo personally wants to be referred to as “they.”

Well, here goes.

Only two types of people object to Farhad’s proposal, they (Manjoo) writes. They (the types) are the grammarians and “the plainly intolerant.” They (Manjoo) has two children, a boy and a girl. They (Manjoo) says they (Manjoo) has been watching them (their’s children) grow up and adapt themselves (their’s children) to roles prescribed by their (all of the above) society. This horrifies them.

By “them” I mean them (Manjoo).

Okay, I can’t do this anymore …

Manjoo writes of his children:

From their very earliest days, my kids, fed by marketing and entertainment and (surely) their parents’ modeling, seemed to hem themselves into silly gender norms. They gravitated to boy toys and girl toys, boy colors and girl colors, boy TV shows and girl TV shows. This was all so sad to me: I see them limiting their thoughts and their ambitions, their preferences and their identity, their very liberty, only to satisfy some collective abstraction.

To Manjoo, this looks like oppression. To conservatives, it looks like the joyful early days of assimilation and appropriation ….

This led to a Twitter exchange:

FM: “This criticism of my column has this interesting bit. personally I can’t understand anyone who doesn’t question every inherited part of the culture and seek to justify it. That’s the point of reason, I feel ”

MBD: You can’t understand *anyone* who doesn’t question *everything?* Maybe other people are both more humble about their reasoning ability, and more grateful that hundreds or thousands of years of human practical experience supplies answers where individual abstract reasoning fails.

Dreher weighs in:

Manjoo seems oblivious to the ideological privilege he has. Try questioning publicly “every inherited part of the culture and seek to justify it” when the inherited part of the office culture is the standard progressive roster of Thou Shalt Nots — including questioning the abandonment of the gender binary.

 

* * * * *

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).