We loves us some next big thing

America: scrambling for the Next Big Ephemeral Thing

George Bush reputedly confided in Tony Blair that ‘The problem with the French is they have no word for “entrepreneur.”’ Musing on the success of this farm, I would counter: the problem with the US and the UK is that we idolise entrepreneurship, with all the associated impatient capital, innovation and marketing, at the cost of just getting on with doing what you do well. One reason why the farm is flourishing is because I have not been around making ‘innovative’ suggestions about new crops and radical ways of growing them.

No doubt it is important to embrace the opportunities that come with change in the rapidly evolving world of tech start-ups, but when it come to growing veg there is more to gained from progressive, incremental improvement and patient investment. The same is true across the UK more broadly: there is a nobility in doing something well, that lasts, which is lacking from the restless and undignified scramble to identify the ‘next big thing’ and turn it into money.”

Gracy Olmstead (emphasis in original), quoting a little newsletter that comes with each delivery of fruits and vegetables from Riverford Organic Farmers.

Corrupt Hillary

Whatever you hear on Twitter, this [Attorney Sussman Russiagate indictment] is a different kettle of fish from the after-the-fact lies charged by the Mueller task force against certain Trump campaign associates that, if they were lies at all, were incidental to the special counsel’s search for collusion crimes. Mr. Sussmann’s alleged lie, a charge he has now formally denied, would have been intended to spark an FBI investigation so the investigation’s existence could be leaked to the press on behalf of the Clinton campaign to influence a presidential election. If media reporters can’t see this, they aren’t trying very hard. The first sentence of the indictment filed by the Justice Department’s John Durham refers not to Mr. Sussmann or his allegations but to their appearance in the New York Times a week before Election Day.

By now, the pattern is familiar thanks to the Steele dossier, which Mr. Sussmann’s firm also promoted. Unsupported allegations aren’t reportable; the existence of a federal investigation is. The FBI and the Justice Department have strong institutional interests in not being manipulated in this way and it’s tempting to interpret Mr. Durham’s indictment partly as a reminder to them of this.

Let’s be realistic: Mr. Sussmann also likely knew the FBI knew he was not being forthright if, as alleged, he claimed he wasn’t working for a client; he may have assumed the FBI wouldn’t care about a small cosmetic lie if the purpose was the popular one of tainting Mr. Trump. Again, Mr. Durham may be sending a message here to the FBI and Justice Department as much as to any outside witnesses whose cooperation his broadly and deliberately informative indictment is meant to encourage.

Mr. Durham obviously still faces an uphill battle to be allowed to proceed. Washington’s institutional establishment is hardly keen on the truth coming out. Neither are many in the media. Our world is truly turned on its Woodstein head when the press is part of the coverup, but here we are.

Let’s understand about the media: Anybody can say anything. When a reporter is confronted with astonishing but unsupported accusations, 99% of the time the story stops then and there because a reporter asks himself a simple question: If these claims are true, would I be hearing about them now, in this way, from this source, with this total absence of documentary evidence?

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., ‌Durham Delivers on Russiagate.

I confess that I thought this indictment was a bit of a yawner. I’m obliged to Holman Jenkins for reminding me of the insidious purpose of the lie — and for rubbing other media’s noses in their "coverup."

I said in 2016 that "Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton has God’s judgment written all over it." But time has past, and reading now Holman Jenkins and also Glenn Greenwald’s analysis of the indictment tempts me toward the fallacy that Clinton was so very "Corrupt Hillary" that ipso facto Trump was the better candidate.

I repeat: fallacy.

Some people in the Trump campaign were playing footsie with Russians for their own profit, and Donald Jr. was keen to get dirt on Hillary when a Russian offered to meet and deliver. That’s not what team Clinton was manufacturing, but it’s not nothing.

Still, the sleaze in Clinton’s camp was at the top, to the core, and the press was deeply complicit.

How the disciplinary society manufactures consensus

Take a deep breath and set aside all distractions. This is dense:

What remained to be done was to ensure that the rest of the country, much of which still believed ("clung to the belief" — the sole way the benighted relate to the beliefs deemed to belong to the past by those who have arrogated to themselves the authority to decide which direction the arc of history bends) that the ability to discriminate between and assign differential rights to citizens and non-citizens was constitutive of the nation-state itself and therefore a fundamental aspect of sovereignty that the people have a right to enforce by virtue of their existence as as a nation, would be brought on board. At minimum, those continuing to cling would be made to understand that resistance is presumptively out of bounds, and would therefore not be represented within the political system, existing outside the bounds of the respectable and thus the sayable and thinkable.

"No human being is illegal" portrayed itself as merely etiquette and sensitivity while subtly smuggling in other implications: documentation was a mere formality, a matter of positive law that did not and could not speak to the underlying moral right. What remained to do was to complete the circuit taking us from "rights conferred on on us by virtue of our being human" to "rights conferred on us by virtue of being a citizen of the United States of the America."

A few years prior, the University of Berkeley office of student life issued a series of racial micro-aggressions that professors should avoid. They included "America is a melting pot," and "I think the best person should get the job." Under the guise of protecting student health and safety, the student life office resolved an ongoing debate about whether we should be a "salad bowl" that preserves cultural differences of sub-national units or a "melting pot" where a process of amalgamation in pursuit of a single unified national identity and declared one of the two competing propositions presumptively illegitimate — an act of harm, if not hate and harassment to be policed out of existence. Under the guise of protecting student health and safety it declared meritocracy as presumptively illegitimate as an institution. And though it did not formally declare these "racial micro-aggressions" to be subject to disciplinary action, it was a formal pronouncement that taking certain positions on contested debates was not merely wrong substantively, (the purpose of open debate and free speech being thus to discover what is wrong or right through an exchange of ideas) but an offense against the community itself existing beyond the bounds of decency and subject to disciplinary action by the entity (student life bureaucracy) with the authority to protect the community from harm.

We can therefore see here what the Successor Regime aims for and how it goes about obtaining its ends, which in turn tells us about the sociology of the movement of which it is a part: the manufacture of consensus around a range of issues through the capture of disciplinary power by adherents sharing a common set of values and goals that seeks to rule out various aspects of political action as presumptively illegitimate (border control, policing, prisons, standardized testing) by policing any debate out of them out of existence. It is a vision of a radically less disciplinary society of the street obtained through a radically more disciplinary society of the seminar room, workplace, board room, and bedroom — an ongoing distributed process of moral revolution without central direction but converging relentlessly around the same handful of goals — a politics of persuasion without persuasion, abjuring persuasion for coercion.

Wesley Yang, ‌"Undocumented Citizens" and the new Newspeak.

Yang, who coined my preferred alternative to "wokeness" (his coinage is "the Successor Ideology"), can write some tortuous sentences, but read carefully he’s landing solid punches.

Big philanthropy

[B]ig philanthropy today flatters itself that monster donations can enable “systemic change.” A better approach may be to endow cities with amenities available to everyone. Why not make people’s lives better in the here and now?

Howard Husock, ‌Tech Billionaires Ignore the Philanthropy of Things.

In contrast, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg build stuff like parks (High Line, Little Island). So boring! I’ll bet they’re so boring that they’re not even planning to have their brains frozen or uploaded so they can "live" forever and benefit from all the "systemic change" their dollars bought.

By and large, our billionaires are moral cretins and narcissists of Trumpian dimension.

Ruling out everything

Skewing too far toward a left-hemisphere view of the world

is ruling out so much. I can’t begin to tell you, but you can imagine, all the things that this very reduced, abstract, schematic, bureaucratic — essentially, it’s bureaucratic, you know, push something, it has an action on something else and we can predict the outcome, we can organize it — that’s the left hemisphere’s vision of the world: inanimate stuff that we can move about. Very much, the industrial revolution was a kind of acting out in the outer world of the world picture of the left hemisphere … It’s ruling out everything, really. It’s ruling out our ability to understand, to see, to see at all.

Iain McGilquist, interviewed by Jordan Peterson, shortly after 1 hour 19 minutes.

Diversity, schmersity!

When you don’t have the time to research something for yourself, what you should do is trust those who have good intellectual habits.

The upshot is intellectual diversity is a red herring, usually a thinly-veiled plea for more conservatives. Nobody is arguing for more Islamists, Nazis, or flat earthers in academia, and for good reason. People should just be honest about the ways in which liberals are wrong and leave it at that.

[W]e should not care about diversity at all. In fact, on certain dimensions we should seek intellectual homogeneity. If selecting for those with healthy intellectual habits gets us an elite without racial, gender, geographic, or socioeconomic diversity, so be it. Same with diversity across academic disciplines, given that many or most of them are fake.

Richard Hanania, Tetlock and the Taliban

Alan Jacobs admired this posting and distilled it:

The academic enterprise is not a Weberian “iron cage,” it’s a cage made from a bundle of thin sticks of perverse incentives held together with a putty of bullshit. We instinctively known how fragile it is, and so stay well inside its boundaries.

Unintelligent, uncharitable, dishonest. R.I.P.

John Shelby Spong, a celebrity (someone who’s famous for being famous) Episcopal Bishop is gone. I remember the controversies, but Alan Jacobs, an evangelical Anglican, remembers him better:

John Shelby Spong is dead. If he had been an intelligent man, he would have developed more coherent and logical arguments against the Christian faith; if he had been a charitable man, he would have refrained from attempting to destroy the faith of Christians; if he had been an honest man, he would have resigned his orders fifty years or more ago. May God have mercy on his soul.

See also the New York Times’ adoring obituary, John Shelby Spong, 90, Dies; Sought to Open Up the Episcopal Church

So hard to poll

The short version is that fewer than 50% of Evangelicals attend Church at least weekly. 8.4% don’t attend at all. The longer version is that a lot of people with no theology and no real religion started calling themselves "Evangelical" after 2016. Religious polling ain’t easy. (H/T David French)


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.

Hodge-Podge

Spengler on Afghanistan

When David P. Goldman is in the mood to write grimly realistic assessments of our present difficulties, he adopts “Spengler” as his pen name, a hat tip to the German author of the early-twentieth-century apocalyptic best-seller The Decline of the West. And when Goldman feels the situation especially dire, Spengler consults the ghost of Cardinal Richelieu, one of history’s most thoroughgoing realists. Here is what the shrewd cardinal had to say about the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan:

America set out to create a modern democracy out of a tribal society, an enterprise as likely to succeed as the attempt to breed a griffin by mating a lion with an eagle. It poured US$2 trillion into Afghanistan, or one hundred times the country’s gross domestic product. It paid Afghani politicians, generals and warlords to play-act at democracy in a revolting, silly masquerade.

Whatever was not corrupt before America came in became corrupt in the maelstrom of American money. Meanwhile, American soldiers and bureaucrats made fortunes as consultants, contractors, sutlers and armorers to the dream palace of Afghan democracy.

Because the entire project was a monstrous hoax to begin with, everyone associated with the project lied—lied about the state of Afghan government forces, lied about the disposition of the Taliban, lied about the robustness of supplies to Afghan troops, lied about their dependence on airpower.

Afghan officials lied to their American paymasters, American commanders on the ground lied to their superiors and American generals lied to the politicians. The key to promotion, and to wealth, lay in perpetuating the ridiculous fiction that motivated the occupation of the country in the first place.

Where did $2 trillion go? The Taliban offensive began in April after the Americans announced their intent to depart. No one fought for Afghanistan because there was no Afghanistan to fight for. Within weeks the Afghan army had no ammunition, no food and no air support. Whoever could steal from the Americans did so. The Afghanistan government collapsed in a matter of days because it was never there to begin with.

The ghost of Richelieu gets it pretty much right.

R.R. Reno in First Things

Manchin and Sinema, designated drivers

Dear Senators Manchin and Sinema,

Whether the occasion is social or political, the hero of the party is the person who’ll grab the keys before the drunks can get behind their wheels.

This week, it falls to the two of you to be that person. The progressives in your party think you’re all that stands in the way of their expensive utopia, and they’re willing to hold a popular infrastructure bill as hostage in order to get their wish …

This is dumb. The likeliest way for President Biden to fail — and for Democrats to lose their congressional majorities next year and for Donald Trump to return to the White House next term — is for the spending bills to pass mostly as they are. A Democratic Party that abandons its center (where many congressional seats are vulnerable) for the sake of its left (where the seats are usually safe) is heading straight for the minority come November 2022.

Let them call you names now so that they can thank you for your sobriety later ….

Bret Stephens, ‌Manchin and Sinema Should Just Say No to Big Spending Plans (emphasis added)

What matters in our democracy

The only people in America who didn’t seem to understand that making Trump president was the equivalent of handing a gun to a chimpanzee were the people who voted for him.

And in our democracy, that’s all that matters. Yay people!

Jonathan V. Last, ‌Why Didn’t They Say Something?

I diss Trump a lot, but relatively rarely say "I told you so." But my major, overarching, distilled objection to Trump before the 2016 election was that his epic narcissism would one day dangerously distort his apprehension of reality.

I didn’t foresee just how and when the distortion would come. Indeed, as the 2020 election approached, I was in the camp that said he would turn over power peacefully as had all his predecessors. That’s what most of the "experts" and pundits I trust were confidently predicting, but frankly, the alternative was so ghastly that I probably would have believed it all by my lonesome, unbidden.

So offensive I’m tempted to become antivax-adjacent

[L]iberal elites continue to call anyone who is unvaccinated "stupid,” ignorant and immoral. On Sunday, New York’s Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, when announcing her intent to use National Guard soldiers to replace health care workers fired for refusing the vaccine, told her audience: “yes, I know you’re vaccinated, you’re the smart ones.” She then said those who refuse to get the vaccine are not just stupid but have turned their back on God: “there’s people out there who aren’t listening to God and what God wants.” Gov. Hochul added that the vaccine “is from God to us and we must say, thank you, God,” and said to her "smart” vaccinated supporters: “I need you to be my apostles.”

Glenn Greenwald.

Her statement was offensive because (1) it’s cringe-worthily condescending (as if she reasoned "the stupid ones, the ones who aren’t vaccinated, are probably religious so I’ll try a faux-religious approach") and (2) I thought God-talk was forbidden in the public square.

Gov. Hochul’s rhetoric has little of his hectoring tone, but her substance is maybe even more condescending and insulting than was Al Gore’s during the 2000 Election season.

Democratic contempt for the demos

When they were young, these leaders were believed to be the architects of the new world that was to emerge as a result of the revolution; now, being old, they claim to be the authors of the institutional system they think is the greatest political success in history. The attitude in both cases is the same: a hasty and arrogant dismissal of what stands in their way and what they readily qualify as prejudice and anachronism. In this respect, the EU leaders and bureaucrats are no different from other enlightened governments of the past, except perhaps that they manage to conceal their contempt for the demos.

Ryszard Legutko, The Demon In Democracy

No GMOs

The very premise for relying on the mass and crass forms of Christianity that flourish in the United States runs on the fuel that the spiritual crisis of our age is so great that it demands genetically engineered spiritual nourishment.

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

I’m not so sure I’m cool with "premise … runs on the fuel …", but "genetically engineered spiritual nourishment" gets two thumb up as a formulation, two thumbs down as actually nourishing.

The Orthodox Church has no GMOs, by the way.

For the flourishing of all

Kurt Vonnegut’s classic 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron” pictures a supposedly utopian version of the United States in which strict equality is enforced through the use of mandated handicaps such as earpieces that transmit piercing sounds to disrupt thought for those with above-average intelligence. Few of us would take our commitment to equality to such lengths. Yet many of us do view equality – of opportunity and outcome – as something worth approximating as a benchmark for justice in our society. But is such equality achievable, and is it even necessary for the well-being and flourishing of all?

… DeBoer asserts that if we are serious about justice, we need to take seriously the fact that natural intelligence is not equally distributed. Given this inequality, one’s degree of natural intelligence is not an appropriate basis for assigning value or determining who gets to live the good life any more than race or some other contingent factor of human existence.

Anthony M. Barr, reviewing The Cult of Smart in Plough.

Two observations:

  • Harrison Bergeron is one of my all-time favorite short stories.
  • I have maintained for 50+ years that human equality does not require fictive interchangeability or blinders about differences.

Epic political malpractice

  • Tyler Cowen pointed something interesting out in his Bloomberg column on Wednesday: Democrats aren’t really making a proactive policy argument in favor of their $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan. “Crazy as my hypothesis may seem, given all the stuff about Biden’s agenda on the internet, there has been remarkably little policy debate about it, and remarkably little attempt to persuade the American public that this spending is a good idea,” he writes. “My colleague Arnold Kling put it well: ‘With the reconciliation bill, there is no attempt to convince the public that it is desirable to enact an enormous child tax credit or to mandate ending use of fossil fuels in a decade. Instead, what we read is that if you’re on the blue team you want the number to be 3.5, but a few Democrats are holding out for something lower.’”

  • Peter Suderman took the Biden administration’s reconciliation sleight of hand to task in his latest for Reason. “The simplest way to understand economics is that it is a reckoning with unavoidable tradeoffs. If you spend money on something, you may obtain something in return—but you lose the ability to use those resources on something else,” he writes. “Under President Joe Biden, however, Democrats in Washington have decided that they can simply wish those tradeoffs away by declaring that they do not exist. Over and over again, they have argued that their policies do not or should not have any costs whatsoever.” The reconciliation package, for example, “is a plan that, in its broadest form, calls for spending $3.5 trillion. Even in the unlikely event that such a plan turns out to be truly fully paid for, it would still spend $3.5 trillion. Those economic resources would be used to do some specific things, which in turn would reduce the ability to do other things. In other words, there would be costs and tradeoffs.”

Adjacent items in Thursday’s Morning Dispatch

Biden does seem to be doing his best to re-elect Donald Trump in 2024. One can be pretty confident that’s not his intention. I’ll leave it at that and let you draw your own conclusions (or theories, or hypotheses) about why he subverts himself.

Three-dimensional chess?

On Orange Man back-handedly endorsing Democrat Stacey Abrams over Republican Brian Kemp:

A former Republican president, one who appears eager to run again in 2024, attempting to torpedo a Republican and endorsing a progressive Democrat in his place? That Abrams is best known for combatting the very forms of voter suppression that Trump’s constantly champions only makes the gesture more absurd — a form of political madness bred by spite and stupidity.

What if instead of trying to win the most votes, Trump’s goal is to remake the GOP into a party that doesn’t particularly care about being declared the official winner because those who oversee the official count are untrustworthy, and because a Republican, by definition, can never legitimately lose?

In that case, Brian Kemp and others in the Republican Party who follow the democratic rules even when they deliver a loss — like, for instance, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, and the other members of the House and Senate who voted to impeach and convict Trump after the insurrection of Jan. 6 — are a two-fold problem. They are a problem, first, because they stand in the way of delivering the party’s inevitable victory in particular cases; and second, because, in displaying such recalcitrance, they deny the definitional principle that losing is impossible for a Republican.

That’s why Kemp and everyone else who stood in the way of Trump’s strenuous effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election must be defeated and eliminated, even if it is accomplished in some cases by endorsing Democrats. Because that’s the path to inevitable victory: the creation of a party that, from top to bottom, believes it is always and everywhere destined to win power and that the denial of this principle in all cases is irrefutable evidence of cheating, fraud, and illegitimacy.

Damon Linker

No-brainer

Religion Clause: Russia Labels Church of Scientology As "Undesirable" Organization

If a government is to have a category of "undesirable organizations," then Scientology should be a shoo-in.


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.

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.