Miscellany, 4/23/21

For many years now it has been crystal clear to me that the shape of reality is the shape of a myth, not a hard drive, and that the path back to understanding it – the way out of the cul de sac of Machine modernity – is a spiritual one.

Paul Kingsnorth, Intermission: The Empty Throne (The Abbey of Misrule)


First, I’d like to say I’m not surprised by much today, but I was taken aback by the rage in some parts of the right at the conviction of Derek Chauvin …

I could fill an entire newsletter with strange and dangerous reactions from prominent right-wing voices after the Chauvin verdict. The pathologies of right-wing infotainment are one reason why I have so little patience for most of the right’s relentless criticism of the mainstream media. Somehow, in all their rage and fury, they’ve created a competing media ecosystem that’s actually worse than the institutions they hate. Take the log out of your own eye.

But then, over in Ohio, many of the biggest public figures and news outlets in America got busy reminding us exactly why so many in the right feel such deep frustration. They reminded us why it’s often accurate to critique left-wing media narratives, especially when it’s obvious that those narratives will force people to deny or to ignore the witness of their eyes just as thoroughly as the far-right ignored the witness of their own eyes in the Chauvin trial.

The police shooting of 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was tragic and deeply, deeply sad. It was also nothing like the police murder of George Floyd. Yet immediately important voices tied the deaths together ….

David French, Don’t Create False Villains To Serve a Greater Good. I boldfaced the part that made me want to stand up and cheer, but felt obliged to provide the context, too.


… the Politician’s Fallacy: we need to do something; this is something; therefore we need to do this. There’s lots of racism in the workplace, no doubt. So the answer is to… pay businesses millions of dollars to come and preemptively scold bored employees who are only attending these workshops out of coercion? That’s the solution? Seems like a great way for a few people to get rich, but sure doesn’t seem like it’ll do jack shit to actually reduce workplace racism. Also… you get that employers pay for these things purely because they can use them as evidence that they have not created a racially discriminatory workplace in the event that they get sued, right? So Robin Diangelo’s business is literally making it harder for employees of color to get financial compensation for being the victims of discrimination. Cool, cool, cool. Anti-racism!

Ah, but I’m questioning a progressive and anti-racist and her worldview (and hustle), so I am surely just a classic Substack guy. When you can’t object to anything at all, lest you be consigned to the list of “anti-cancel culture guys,” you can’t ask if things make sense, if the tactics people in the social justice world endorse actually do what they’re meant to do. The point is to build an actually-more just world, right? So we have to figure out what actually works. I don’t begrudge people who are casting around for solutions to entrenched problems. But it’s not enough for a solution to have good intentions. It has to actually be a solution. To figure out if something actually is a solution you have to have an internal debate. You have to ask tough questions – not “just asking questions” but actual hard questions that stem from the world being a complicated place. But you can’t do that if you insist that any internal criticism is a con or a way to show allegiance to the alt-right.

This is the culture that liberals have created: asking “is this really going to make the world more just?” is itself impermissible. You aren’t allowed to ask if tactics work anymore! Ask David Shor. Do riots help Black people? We’ll never know. Racist even to ask, I’m told. Hard questions are not permitted ….

Freddie deBoer, Cynical Motives for a Cynical Time.


The Maxine Waters Problem
When America’s officials desert any standards for public or personal behavior, expect violence.

Those were the un-ironic headline and sub headline for a Daniel Heninger editorial in the Wall Street Journal on April 22. There was no mention in the editorial of Donald Trump or the violent storming of the U.S. Capital on January 6.

A strange thing has happened: I no longer enjoy the Wall Street Journal Opinion page. I still enjoy the Journal, though, for straight reporting — just about the straightest major newspaper reporting available today.

I only regret that WSJ mostly finds "newsworthy" stories about business and finance.

No, that’s not true. I even more regret that it dare not notice the signs that we’re headed for another bubble burst. Irrational optimism is more marketable.


Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

The first important survey data to understand this moment is the one pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson discussed with my colleague Ezra Klein. When asked in late January if politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it,” 51 percent of Trump Republicans said survival; only 19 percent said policy.

The level of Republican pessimism is off the charts. A February Economist-YouGov poll asked Americans which statement is closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Over 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

The fact that Donald Trump was no kind of realistic solution does not mean that the conditions that led to his rise are false, or that the Republicans who see things apocalyptically are wrong. I too would have been one of the 51 percent of conservatives in that poll who said that politics is primarily about “ensuring the survival of the country,” though I emphatically do not believe the threat to us comes from terrorists, criminals, and illegal immigrants. The threat to us comes primarily from the elite leadership class in government, academia, corporate America, media, and other institutions.

Rod Dreher, after long block-quote of David Brooks


Providing poor and minority families the same choice of schools that their wealthier neighbors enjoy is the purest example of ‘social justice’ in our society today.

Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, quoted by the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board.


When I was a Calvinist, I had a young friend who was working on his PhD and then went on to become an academic in a well-regarded Christian college. So even though I had become Orthodox in the meantime, I eagerly bought a book he co-authored — a book about "Church."

What a revelation! It was difficult to find any common ground with this, for instance:

There is no single correct way of doing and being church. Trying not to be like other churches is, of course, just another conception and idealization, albeit a pathological one. While our prophetic visions of church should help us see where churches are not boasting solely in Jesus, they too often boast in themselves, and they justify their “correctness” by letting others know how they are not like “incorrect” models of church.

Thinking one has a "prophetic vision[] of church" according to which the church should be re-fashioned is just not on my radar any more — not as friendly forces, at least.


Luther once declared from the pulpit that he could commit adultery one hundred times in a day and it would not affect his justification before God.

Kimberly Hahn and Scott Hahn, Rome Sweet Home


I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer.

Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome!


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 do not need another computer. I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer.

Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome!


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.

Fragmentary oppositions

Forty years ago, a group of Situationists, building on their original 1968 manifesto, wrote of the progress of the ‘spectacle’, the name that Guy Debord had given to the bread-and-circuses face of modern Machine capitalism. They maintained that ongoing, surface-level conflict – what we would today call a culture war – was not a manifestation of rebellion against the Machine, but an necessary part of its functioning:

Fragmentary oppositions are like the teeth on cogwheels: they mesh with each other and make the machine go round — the machine of the spectacle, the machine of power.

Unlike many of their fellow travellers on the left, the Situationists had identified the true tenor of the times: no longer a clarifying class war over the means of production, but a fog of constructed and managed lies, consumer images, competing media narratives and fomented cultural divisions, all of it serving the interests of those who run the show. Fragmentary oppositions, the machine of the spectacle, the machine of power: it’s a description of our time. There are a lot of people out there who benefit daily from us all being at each others’ throats: arguing furiously over surface trivia while the money and the power funnel upwards, as they ever did.

Paul Kingsnorth, Under the spreading walnut tree, the introduction to his new Substack, The Abbey of Misrule.


Based on the conversations I hear these days among the New Urbanists, there is a division now in the movement between those on-board with a techno-utopian vision of an alt-energy economy that allows us to maintain the current standard of living, with all its comforts and conveniences, and another faction who recognize that something quite different and rather ominous is underway—a combination of economic de-growth, vanishing capital resources, political disorder, and environmental crises. The first group tends to get the most attention, because “green optimism” has such palliative appeal, just as the purity of modernism was so appealing after the gigantic mess of World War II. But the second faction, the adaptationists, have a better grip on reality.

I’m for the adaptationists because they are more in tune with the way circumstances actually roll out, that is, emergently. Societies are organisms that respond to the forces that reality brings to bear at a particular time. They self-organize and reorganize as reality compels them to. The signals now say: get smaller, get simpler, get less technocratic, get finer, and get more local. Despite all the portentous chatter about a “great reset” or a coming global government, centralized authority (in the U.S., anyway) only becomes increasingly impotent and ineffectual. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they will “solve” the problems at hand. The real trend is not to greater concentrations of power but dispersed autarky, or local self-reliance. We’re on our own.

James Howard Kunstler, The Next New Urbanism


For our reading group, we decided to go through N.T. Wright’s 2008 publication Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. This work expanded on many of the concerns Wright had raised when I heard him speak in 2006. He shared a body of evidence which suggested that there has been widespread compromise with the heresy of Gnosticism. “A good many Christian hymns and poems,” he warned, “wander off unthinkingly in the direction of Gnosticism.” Wright used the doctrine of physical resurrection as the linchpin to refute this implicit Gnosticism, as well as to undermine a type of evangelical pietism that is so heavenly minded that it ceases to be of any earthly good. Using scriptural exegesis, Wright showed that although going to heaven is important, it is only one part of the Christian hope. The early Christians, he pointed out, actually believed that heaven is more like a waiting room where we will anticipate the final resurrection. In the final resurrection, the faithful will be given new bodies to enjoy in the renewed heaven and earth. This scriptural hope, Wright suggested, has implications in the here-and-now, transforming how we view the earth and the mission of the church …

I did not expect Surprised by Hope to be particularly controversial, as it simply articulates the historic Christian hope. Nevertheless, much of the public reaction to Wright’s book treated his teaching as something of a novelty. In February 26, 2008, ABC news ran a story claiming that Wright’s idea that “God will literally remake our physical bodies” was “a radical departure from traditional belief.” Although the Nicene Creed contains the statement “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”, and although the Apostles’ Creed professed belief in “the resurrection of the body”, the wider public appeared to assume that this is no longer part of traditional Christian belief. The widespread assumption seemed to be that eternal disembodiment is the orthodox Christian hope. For example, in his compendium of information about what happens after death, Biochemical researcher Brian Innes observed that “current orthodox Christianity no longer holds to the belief in physical resurrection, preferring the concept of the eternal existence of the soul, although some creeds still cling to the old ideas.”

The fact that the media treated Bishop Wright as a novelty for simply articulating the doctrine of physical resurrection, convinced me that I needed to take another look at the phenomenon of implicit Gnosticism ….

Robin Mark Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic.

It is astonishing that orthodox, historic, credal Christianity should be flagged by media as a novelty, but I think Robin Phillips was onto something when he proposed that the West’s implicit theology is gnostic.


I just (as I’m writing, undecided when to publish) finished listening to a Vox Conversations podcast about George Soros (Who is the real George Soros?), of whom I have an unfashionably neutral-tending-positive opinion.

There came a point in the podcast, though, where I yelled bad words at the participants. They had just set up a trick bag to the effect that one cannot criticize the "open society" idea because it’s antisemitic to do so because the open society idea is associated with Jews and criticism of it is always, and by definition, implicitly antisemitic.

If that sounds confusing and circular, it’s because it was. And I have enough sympathy for the case against the open society (and especially some of what have become its corollaries, like open borders) that it infuriates me to hear it insouciantly dismissed out of hand as tainted.


Speaking of open societies:

Because [Karl] Popper did not anticipate threats to open societies outside of grand historical narratives, he did not imagine that the source of fanatical certitude would one day be individuals, who would fashion it out of a veritable flood of discordant facts and suspicions … Americans have increasingly come to see themselves as capable of sifting through all the available evidence to discover unerring truths that their political opponents are too biased, ignorant, or corrupt to see.

The Danger of Fact-ist Politics


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.

Catching up …

I’ve been, as previously mentioned, focusing on a fun personal project, which entails lots of rabbit-trails and techie learning. But I’ve noticed a few things that seem worth sharing.


The longer Trump is out of office, and the more the press treatment of Biden so starkly contrasts to that of Trump when they take identical substantive positions (e.g., no action against Saudi Arabia for the killing of Jamal Khashogi), the more I understand (not to say “agree with”) the Trump revolution. I don’t expect to be backtracking after reading Christopher Lasch’s Revolt of the Elites and Martin Gurri’s Revolt of the Public, both on my bookshelf awaiting me.


We are a sick country when Netflix has a show top 10 show, Marriage or Mortgage, featuring couples agonizing over whether to have a vulgarly lavish wedding or whether to buy a vulgarly lavish house and postpone any wedding.

Does nobody ever think of a modest wedding and a modest starter home?


America has gone through four Great Awakenings. The first (1730–1755) and second (1790–1840) were rooted in the conviction that Christ reigns victorious over the invisible economy, that the debts incurred by human transgression have been offset by divine innocence. Christ the Scapegoat, through his unmerited death on the Cross, did what we could not: He paid our debts. He took on the stain of sin in order to wipe it clean. These awakenings had a political significance. By preaching the universality of sin and the wideness of God’s mercy, they helped shape the disparate colonies, and later states, into a nation. One could say something similar about America’s third awakening (1855–1930), which was fired by the social gospel. It sought to employ the universality of divine solicitude to unify the country beyond the divisions of economic class.

We are now undergoing a fourth awakening, and matters are very different. The previous awakenings took place under the firm hand of American Protestantism. But today, Mitchell observes, “we are living in the midst of an American Awakening, without God and without forgiveness.” In the century that separates us from the outburst of the social gospel, our society lost its hope in the Cross but not its sense of guilt. The panic over righting wrongs remains, but gone is the promise of redemption. Without the Cross of Christ, the transactions of the invisible realm must be set to balance wholly within the power dynamics of the visible world.

Mitchell sees the rise of identity politics as a crisis of the invisible economy erupting into the visible. No longer guided by the Christian insight that the universality of sin means its resolution must be a divine act, identity politics apportions guilt and innocence according to a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, each weighed according to intersectional theory. Guilt and innocence no longer attach to one’s freely chosen actions over the course of a life but are imputed on the basis of one’s inherited and immutable characteristics, skin color above all. The idea of original sin abides but is tragically twisted. It is still something one is born with, but it is no longer universal. Rather, like the Angel of Death, it passes over some and lands upon others.

James F. Keating, Woke Religion, reviewing Joshua Mitchell, American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time.


I grew up fundamentalist and we avoided rhythm for fear it would lead to dancing and copulation so we praised God in slow mournful voices, like a fishing village whose men had been lost in a storm. We never learned to play a musical instrument for fear we might have talent and this would lead to employment in places where people drink liquor.

What it’s like to be old, if you want to know | Garrison Keillor


When I hear descendants of the Magisterial Reformation saying that sola scriptura isn’t what I think it is, I’m reminded of the perennial excuse of die-hard Communists that “real Communism hasn’t been tried.”

Protestantism was fissiparous (schism-prone) even during Luther’s lifetime. And if one glosses sola scriptura to require heedfulness to the interpretations of one’s clergy, then what you’re left with is simply scriptura, with no the sola. And adherence to scriptura is not at all uniquely Protestant if one insists on proper and not private interpretation.


The coverage of the Atlanta massage parlor murders this week may have destroyed any vestige of respect for media and elite opinion. I was thinking along those lines, but Andrew Sullivan says it better:

Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America. We only have one solid piece of information as to motive, which is the confession by the mass killer to law enforcement: that he was a religious fundamentalist who was determined to live up to chastity and repeatedly failed, as is often the case. Like the 9/11 bombers or the mass murderer at the Pulse nightclub, he took out his angst on the source of what he saw as his temptation, and committed mass murder. This is evil in the classic fundamentalist sense: a perversion of religion and sexual repression into violence.

We should not take the killer’s confession as definitive, of course. But we can probe it — and indeed, his story is backed up by acquaintances and friends and family. The New York Times originally ran one piece reporting this out. The Washington Post also followed up, with one piece citing contemporaneous evidence of the man’s “religious mania” and sexual compulsion. It appears that the man frequented at least two of the spas he attacked. He chose the spas, his ex roommates said, because he thought they were safer than other ways to get easy sex. Just this morning, the NYT ran a second piece which confirms that the killer had indeed been in rehab for sexual impulses, was a religious fanatic, and his next target was going to be “a business tied to the pornography industry.”

We have yet to find any credible evidence of anti-Asian hatred or bigotry in this man’s history. Maybe we will. We can’t rule it out. But we do know that his roommates say they once asked him if he picked the spas for sex because the women were Asian. And they say he denied it, saying he thought those spas were just the safest way to have quick sex. That needs to be checked out more. But the only piece of evidence about possible anti-Asian bias points away, not toward it.

And yet. Well, you know what’s coming. Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran ninenine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny. Not to be outdone, the WaPo ran sixteen separate stories on the incident as an antiAsian white supremacist hate crime. Sixteen! One story for the facts; sixteen stories on how critical race theory would interpret the event regardless of the facts. For good measure, one of their columnists denounced reporting of law enforcement’s version of events in the newspaper, because it distracted attention from the “real” motives. Today, the NYT ran yet another full-on critical theory piece disguised as news on how these murders are proof of structural racism and sexism — because some activists say they are.

When The Narrative Replaces The News – The Weekly Dish. There’s more than that:

  • Harvard sent out a note to students premised on this being an anti-Asian crime.
  • Nikole Hannah-Jones wove it into her narrative of “racism and White Supremacist domestic terror.”
  • The Root ominously prophesied that “White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect ….”
  • Trevor Noah insisted that the killer’s confession was self-evidently false (direct quote from Sullivan).

All of that, on the currently-available evidence, is false and absurd. Sullivan again:

But notice how CRT operates. The only evidence it needs it already has. Check out the identity of the victim or victims, check out the identity of the culprit, and it’s all you need to know. If the victims are white, they don’t really count. Everything in America is driven by white supremacist hate of some sort or other. You can jam any fact, any phenomenon, into this rubric in order to explain it. 

The only complexity the CRT crowd will admit is multiple, “intersectional” forms of oppression: so this case is about misogyny and white supremacy. The one thing they cannot see are unique individual human beings, driven by a vast range of human emotions, committing crimes with distinctive psychological profiles, from a variety of motives, including prejudices, but far, far more complicated than that.

The longer Trump is out of office, and the more the press treatment of Biden so starkly contrasts to that of Trump when they take identical substantive positions (e.g., no action against Saudi Arabia for the killing of Jamal Khashogi), the more I understand (not to say “agree with”) the Trump revolution. I don’t expect to be backtracking after reading Christopher Lasch’s Revolt of the Elites and Martin Gurri’s Revolt of the Public, both on my bookshelf awaiting me.


We are a sick country when Netflix has a show top 10 show, Marriage or Mortgage, featuring couples agonizing over whether to have a vulgarly lavish wedding or whether to buy a vulgarly lavish house and postpone any wedding.

Does nobody ever think of a modest wedding and a modest starter home?


America has gone through four Great Awakenings. The first (1730–1755) and second (1790–1840) were rooted in the conviction that Christ reigns victorious over the invisible economy, that the debts incurred by human transgression have been offset by divine innocence. Christ the Scapegoat, through his unmerited death on the Cross, did what we could not: He paid our debts. He took on the stain of sin in order to wipe it clean. These awakenings had a political significance. By preaching the universality of sin and the wideness of God’s mercy, they helped shape the disparate colonies, and later states, into a nation. One could say something similar about America’s third awakening (1855–1930), which was fired by the social gospel. It sought to employ the universality of divine solicitude to unify the country beyond the divisions of economic class.

We are now undergoing a fourth awakening, and matters are very different. The previous awakenings took place under the firm hand of American Protestantism. But today, Mitchell observes, “we are living in the midst of an American Awakening, without God and without forgiveness.” In the century that separates us from the outburst of the social gospel, our society lost its hope in the Cross but not its sense of guilt. The panic over righting wrongs remains, but gone is the promise of redemption. Without the Cross of Christ, the transactions of the invisible realm must be set to balance wholly within the power dynamics of the visible world.

Mitchell sees the rise of identity politics as a crisis of the invisible economy erupting into the visible. No longer guided by the Christian insight that the universality of sin means its resolution must be a divine act, identity politics apportions guilt and innocence according to a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, each weighed according to intersectional theory. Guilt and innocence no longer attach to one’s freely chosen actions over the course of a life but are imputed on the basis of one’s inherited and immutable characteristics, skin color above all. The idea of original sin abides but is tragically twisted. It is still something one is born with, but it is no longer universal. Rather, like the Angel of Death, it passes over some and lands upon others.

James F. Keating, Woke Religion, reviewing Joshua Mitchell, American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time.


I grew up fundamentalist and we avoided rhythm for fear it would lead to dancing and copulation so we praised God in slow mournful voices, like a fishing village whose men had been lost in a storm. We never learned to play a musical instrument for fear we might have talent and this would lead to employment in places where people drink liquor.

What it’s like to be old, if you want to know | Garrison Keillor


When I hear descendants of the Magisterial Reformation saying that sola scriptura isn’t what I think it is, I’m reminded of the perennial excuse of die-hard Communists that “real Communism hasn’t been tried.”

Protestantism was fissiparous (schism-prone) even during Luther’s lifetime. And if one glosses sola scriptura to require heedfulness to the interpretations of one’s clergy, then what you’re left with is simply scriptura, with no the sola. And adherence to scriptura is not at all uniquely Protestant if one insists on proper and not private interpretation.


The coverage of the Atlanta massage parlor murders this week may have destroyed any vestige of respect for media and elite opinion. I was thinking along those lines, but Andrew Sullivan says it better:

Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America. We only have one solid piece of information as to motive, which is the confession by the mass killer to law enforcement: that he was a religious fundamentalist who was determined to live up to chastity and repeatedly failed, as is often the case. Like the 9/11 bombers or the mass murderer at the Pulse nightclub, he took out his angst on the source of what he saw as his temptation, and committed mass murder. This is evil in the classic fundamentalist sense: a perversion of religion and sexual repression into violence.

We should not take the killer’s confession as definitive, of course. But we can probe it — and indeed, his story is backed up by acquaintances and friends and family. The New York Times originally ran one piece reporting this out. The Washington Post also followed up, with one piece citing contemporaneous evidence of the man’s “religious mania” and sexual compulsion. It appears that the man frequented at least two of the spas he attacked. He chose the spas, his ex roommates said, because he thought they were safer than other ways to get easy sex. Just this morning, the NYT ran a second piece which confirms that the killer had indeed been in rehab for sexual impulses, was a religious fanatic, and his next target was going to be “a business tied to the pornography industry.”

We have yet to find any credible evidence of anti-Asian hatred or bigotry in this man’s history. Maybe we will. We can’t rule it out. But we do know that his roommates say they once asked him if he picked the spas for sex because the women were Asian. And they say he denied it, saying he thought those spas were just the safest way to have quick sex. That needs to be checked out more. But the only piece of evidence about possible anti-Asian bias points away, not toward it.

And yet. Well, you know what’s coming. Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran ninenine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny. Not to be outdone, the WaPo ran sixteen separate stories on the incident as an antiAsian white supremacist hate crime. Sixteen! One story for the facts; sixteen stories on how critical race theory would interpret the event regardless of the facts. For good measure, one of their columnists denounced reporting of law enforcement’s version of events in the newspaper, because it distracted attention from the “real” motives. Today, the NYT ran yet another full-on critical theory piece disguised as news on how these murders are proof of structural racism and sexism — because some activists say they are.

When The Narrative Replaces The News – The Weekly Dish. There’s more than that:

  • Harvard sent out a note to students premised on this being an anti-Asian crime.
  • Nikole Hannah-Jones wove it into her narrative of “racism and White Supremacist domestic terror.”
  • The Root ominously prophesied that “White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect ….”
  • Trevor Noah insisted that the killer’s confession was self-evidently false (direct quote from Sullivan).

All of that, on the currently-available evidence, is false and absurd. Sullivan again:

But notice how CRT operates. The only evidence it needs it already has. Check out the identity of the victim or victims, check out the identity of the culprit, and it’s all you need to know. If the victims are white, they don’t really count. Everything in America is driven by white supremacist hate of some sort or other. You can jam any fact, any phenomenon, into this rubric in order to explain it. 

The only complexity the CRT crowd will admit is multiple, “intersectional” forms of oppression: so this case is about misogyny and white supremacy. The one thing they cannot see are unique individual human beings, driven by a vast range of human emotions, committing crimes with distinctive psychological profiles, from a variety of motives, including prejudices, but far, far more complicated than that.

The media is supposed to subject easy, convenient rush-to-judgment narratives to ruthless empirical testing. Now, for purely ideological reasons, they are rushing to promote ready-made narratives, which actually point away from the empirical facts. To run sixteen separate pieces on anti-Asian white supremacist misogynist hate based on one possibly completely unrelated incident is not journalism. It’s fanning irrational fear in the cause of ideological indoctrination. And it appears to be where all elite media is headed.

Others reached that conclusion about media and elite opinion ahead of me. Just because they jumped the gun doesn’t mean they were wrong.

That’s it for now.


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

Potpourri 9/3/20

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

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

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

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

R.S. Thomas, Mass for Hard Times

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

* * *

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

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

* * *


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

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

* * *


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

Trump’s 1980 Strategy for 2020 – WSJ

* * *


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

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

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

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

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

* * *


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

* * *


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

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

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

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

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

* * *


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

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

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

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

Michael Brendan Dougherty, A Clutch of Fools | National Review

* * *


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

* * * * *

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

You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

* * * * *

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

Organized Chaos

 

L’affaire Reno

My friend Damon Linker has posted a column that denounces me as a toady for Randian libertarianism. But Linker’s reasoning (which is widespread these days) fails to recognize the distinction between killing and letting die. A woman choosing an abortion and the doctor performing it directly intend the death of the child, and they adopt lethal means to realize that intention. The same is true for euthanasia, when the doctor intends and causes the death of the ill or suffering person. As the literature in medical ethics makes clear, killing is very different from refraining from heroic interventions to save a life.

In the Catholic tradition of medical ethics, heroic efforts to save lives must meet two tests. They must have a good probability of success, and they must not be excessively burdensome. In my estimation, we have embarked on a society-wide, heroic effort that fails not just the second test, but the first as well.

At the present moment, we are compelling millions of hourly wage earners to give up their livelihoods. And we are on a trajectory that may have unknown political, social, and spiritual costs. Where will our political system end up? I’m anguished by the fear that so many feel, most unnecessarily.

This is not an argument against the present “shelter in place” policies. Perhaps they are the wisest course of action. But it is not morally serious to suggest that our present policies are obligatory—and that if one dissents, one is a moral monster.

R.R. Reno (emphasis added)

The more I read, the more I think Linker was right. Reno’s treatment of heroic efforts is shockingly superficial — mere hand-waving.


Rod Dreher, like many of my friends, has adopted the view that pro-life Christians are obligated to preserve life at any cost. This requires one to hold, as a matter of principle, that physical death is the greatest evil, since preventing death is the highest good. No ancient philosophers held such a view. Nor did the Old Testament prophets. Jesus certainly didn’t.

R.R. Reno, who has no answer for his critics and thus is reduced to lying about them.

Rod is not impeccable, but this simply wasn’t and isn’t his position.

In his own rejoinder to Reno, Dreher pointedly skewers Reno:

Look at what’s happening to New York City’s hospitals now, and try to maintain with a straight face that being told you can’t have a small dinner party amounts to the state making geldings of magazine editors. It’s just perverse.

But he still calls Reno a friend and professes fondness for contrarians.


When the facts get in the way of the narrative, print the narrative.

Alan Jacobs, criticizing, not exhorting.


Some will protest that there won’t be hundreds of thousands of deaths, and anyone who says so is a fear-monger. My hope too is that the death toll will be relatively low, but if so, it will only be because we listened to the so-called “fear-mongers” or because we got incredibly lucky. The vast majority of the epidemiological data points to a grim scenario in the absence of dramatic intervention. To be sure, models are sometimes wrong and experts are not omniscient, but we rarely hesitate to cut our beach vacations short when a major hurricane—something far less predictable than an epidemic curve—is on its way, so it’s hard to see the rational ground for blithely ignoring the threats of this other force of nature—infinitesimally smaller, perhaps, but far more deadly.

Traditionally, Christians have taught that the sixth commandment imposes on us not merely an obligation not to kill but to do whatever we reasonably can to preserve life: “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others…” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 135)

Among … non-negotiables, it seems to me, should be honor and respect for the aged. Utilitarianism says that these people have the least time left to live anyway, so they are the most expendable. The Judeo-Christian heritage says that the aged are priceless repositories of wisdom, that they gave us life and wealth and left us forever in their debt, that they demand our honor and respect. They do not deserve to die alone at home or in an overflowing hospital hallway, gasping for breath.

At the root of our protest that “the cure is worse than the disease,” I suspect, is a fear that our own way of life may have to change. Comforts that we once took for granted might turn out to be luxuries. Luxuries that we once aspired to may have to be shelved for another decade or two. Freedoms that we thought were our birthright, we will be forced to realize, were in fact simply the lucky blessing of having been born at the right time. For every generation in human history before those now living, “the economy” lived in a state of constant fragility, subject to forces of nature large and small. Epidemics and quarantines were facts of life. The freedom to live under your own vine and fig tree without interference was an eschatological hope rather than a political given.

Bradford Littlejohn, “No Wealth but Life”: Moral Reasoning in a Pandemic at Mere Orthodoxy (which, be it remembered, is Reformed, not Orthodox; that’s why he cites Westminster).

I’m very glad for that last paragraph, which gives voice to something I’ve been thinking. Yeah, it’s fairly easy for me to think that way, which is part of why I hadn’t said it, but that’s no reason to dismiss it with a wave of the hand or a derisive snort.

This is the best thing I’ve read yet about some of the rash, performative “faith” or “hard-headedness” I’ve been seeing.

Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2269, interjected by me because Reno is conspicuously Roman Catholic.


Coronavirus

Trump is not making an argument that the DPA would be counterproductive. Tonight on Hannity, Trump said that he doesn’t believe there’s a need for all those ventilators!

Rod Dreher

And Donald “No Quid Pro Quo” Trump demands a quid pro quo for saving, e.g., New Yorkers’ lives.


To be sacrilegious requires some recognition of what is actually sacred — a type of knowledge Trump has never displayed. To him, choosing Easter must have been like selecting Independence Day or Arbor Day or Groundhog Day — a useful date on which to hang a ploy.

… At a time when American cities remain on the rising side of the coronavirus infection curve, Trump is preaching recklessness and selling the idea that coronavirus pessimists are engaged in a plot against him. This is not normal partisanship. It is not normal, period. Trump is not only proposing a celebration of the Resurrection that would fill graves. He is implying that one way to “own the libs” is by further exposing the elderly to a cruel illness. He is urging his “pro-life” followers to increase their tolerance for death.

This represents a different kind of sickness — a moral sickness that took hold in Trump long ago. His immediate, selfish interest is the cause — the only cause — to which he has dedicated his life.

Michael Gerson. Gerson, a Protestant (for so I consider Anglicans), does not share a very Orthodox view of Easter, but this is mostly very solid.


I guess one of the reasons I’m so furious about Donald Trump’s bungling of the coronavirus pandemic (and it’s still bungled; many who get tested don’t get timely test results, like both Ross Douthat and Peggy Noonan) is that I first learned of the virus from Rod Dreher morre than two months ago and he had the gist of its rapid spread and mortality rates, which both bode pandemic.

Rod freakin’ Dreher, of Baton Rouge, LA. Blogger and author on social matters, not scientific. But the Trump administration couldn’t figure out that we needed to get ready?!

This is not Fauci’s faullt. It’s not the fault of our “intelligence community” in their national security work.

It’s pig-headed Donald Trump’s fault, and history will not judge him kindly.


This particular plague hits us at exactly the spots where we are weakest and exposes exactly those ills we had lazily come to tolerate. We’re already a divided nation, and the plague makes us distance from one another. We define ourselves too much by our careers, and the plague threatens to sweep them away. We’re a morally inarticulate culture, and now the fundamental moral questions apply.

In this way the plague demands that we address our problems in ways we weren’t forced to before. The plague brings forth our creativity. It’s during economic and social depressions that the great organizations of the future are spawned.

David Brooks


Eight days in I entered the living hell of attempting to find my results through websites and patient portals. I downloaded unnavigable apps, was pressed for passwords I’d not been given, followed dead-end prompts. The whole system is built to winnow out the weak, to make you stop bothering them. This is what it’s like, in a robot voice: “How to get out of the forest: There will be trees. If you aren’t rescued in three to seven days, please try screaming into the void.”

Peggy Noonan, who still doesn’t have her March 17 coronavirus test results. Her fever, though, seems to have broken after 21 days.


One reason many people are deeply skeptical of climate change is that a lot of the stuff progressives propose to fight it are things they want to do anyway. And often, the stuff they want to do in the name of fighting climate change has nothing to do with climate change. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s original proposal for a Green New Deal includes trillions in funding for Medicare for All but nothing for nuclear power. The former would do zilch to reduce CO2 emissions; the latter would do a lot.

During the debate over the economic-rescue package last week, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said this crisis offers a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” The House version of the bill was full of gratuitous nonessentials such as regulations for forced diversity hiring. (The bill included 32 instances of the word “diversity.”) The final version has $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center.

If you want to persuade normal Americans to take a crisis seriously, you have a moral obligation to act as if you take it seriously, too. Using it as an opportunity to get things you couldn’t successfully argue for before the crisis tells people you’re not as serious as you expect them to be. And that is a sure-fire way to sow precisely the sort of partisan distrust you decry.

Jonah Goldberg


Mistaken identities

Katherine Stewart apparently has decided that the term “evangelical” should be usd indiscriminately, as “fundamentalist” has been used for decades. Most of the people she names in The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals, insofar as I recognized them or tracked them down, are dubious candidates for the Evangelical label. They’re Presbyterians, Reformed, Charismatic, Seventh Day Adventist — not unequivocally evangelical.

It’s not my fight to fight. Evangelicals can mount their own defense if and as they like. But if they say “these guys aren’t ours,” I’ll be inclined to believe them.


Max Boot angrily left the GOP during the Trump era, and it’s easy for me to understand why he did. He’s taken a lot of shots at the party since then.

But today’s column takes a counterproductive shot at “the ‘pro-life’ movement” which, in Boot’s evil eye, is too willing to sacrifice born lives to the virus to spare the economy.

There’s just one problem: few of the examples he cites are plausibly from the pro-life movement. They are conservative officials, pundits, celebrities and provocateurs:

  • Ann Coulter
  • Laura Ingraham
  • Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
  • Brit Hume
  • Dennis Prager
  • Glenn Beck
  • R.R. Reno
  • The Federalist

Of that list, I think Reno and probably Prager have been reliably pro-life, though franky I so rarely read Prager that I’m not sure.

The others have used abortion as a wedge issue, and to secure an important part of the Republican base, but they have never exhibited the seamless-web tendencies of actual movement pro-lifers.

Instead of preaching to the liberal choir, Boot should have said “Dear Movement Pro-Lifers: Look at the creeps you’ve idolized and elected. Care to reconsider your knee-jerk fealty to the GOP?”


Inessentials  & Miscellany

In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich has decreed that priests may not perform emergency baptisms without permission, despite the fact that canon law gives every Catholic—even a layman—the right to baptize in case of emergency.

Because of coronavirus, my wife and I baptized our infant son with only the godparents and the clergyman present. The parish at which it would have been logical to baptize him turned us away. But another said it would accommodate us. Hand sanitizer had been placed at the entrance. We refrained from shaking the cleric’s hand. The only audience for the ceremony was a man at the far end of the church, kneeling alone in a pew. I was grateful that the church showed concern for us physically. And more grateful still that it did not abandon us spiritually.

Matthew Schmitz


We have to learn to love our crooked neighbors, with our crooked hearts. What else is there?

Rod Dreher

* * * * *

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.

Miscellany

Surveillance capitalism creeps me out.

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

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

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

Nor Echo frames.

* * *

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

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

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

Notice I said “gentle,” not “bitter.”

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

 

* * * * *

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

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

Accumulated clippings, 2/3/19

1

Must every London gentrified street have a Starbucks, a Pret A Manger, a Caffè Nero, a Costa Coffee, a Wagamama, an Itsu, a Tesco Express, an Eat, a Hotel Chocolat, a Foxtons and a Boots? Is that all that’s left?

Emptiness is what people feel. At the end of all the myriad diversions offered up by technology-at-the-service-of-efficiency lies a great hollowness. “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” wrote Leonard Cohen. Modernity is a crack eliminator. The only cracks it allows in its polished, glistening, purring, scented spaces are fake ones.

I think the emptiness produced by watching a rigged globalized system deliver homogenization on a massive scale — one way to think, one way to work, one way to conceive of profit, one way to impose a brand, one way to (not) drink at lunch, one way to eat at your desk, one way to be healthy, one way to deliver a gentrified urban neighborhood — has been underestimated as a source of disruptive fury.

Roger Cohen, The Harm in Hustle Culture

2

Only Democrats can save this president. They can do so by nominating someone loopy enough to panic voters who are asking only for someone cheerful, intelligent and tethered to reality.

George Will

3

With the help of the Chapter “The Emperor’s New Literature” in John Senior’s The Death of Christian Culture, the coin dropped that part of what classical education accomplishes is that classically educated people in various countries are all reading in the Great Tradition, none in provincial or nationalistic ephemera.

That’s not nothing.

4

For a solid month Americans again focused on illegal immigration. In a country that’s never thinking about only one thing, that was a bit of a feat. Also, Mr. Trump in his statements and meetings with the press came across, for perhaps the first time, as sincere and informed. Previously he’d looked like a guy who’d intuited a powerful issue and turned it into a line.

The vast majority of the American people want order and the rule of law returned to the border. How it is done is up to the experts. They just want it done. The word “wall” has been symbolic to many of them too—it means taking the issue seriously.

Peggy Noonan

5

He’s fiscally to the right and on social issues to the left. There’s some market for that, but is it really where America is going?

No, it is not.

America is headed left economically. Two thousand eight changed everything, deeply undermining faith in free-market capitalism. One of the great sins of that time—and all the years after—was that the capitalists themselves, in their vast carelessness, couldn’t even rouse themselves to defend the reputation of the system that made them rich and their country great. In any case, the most significant sound in 2016 was Trump audiences cheering his vows not to cut entitlements. They would have cheered if he’d promised increases, too.

As for what are called the social issues, moderation is the future, maybe even a new conservatism, not leftism. The left has demanded too much the past few years, been maximalist in its approach, got in America’s face and space. Its social activism is a daily harassment in ways that don’t show up in the polls. The new abortion regime in the states, bake my cake, the farther edges of #MeToo, demands for changes to our very language. Liberation becomes propaganda and filters up through the media and down to the schools. America once had a lot of “live and let live” in it. Not anymore, and its giving way is causing barely articulable grief, and more broadly than the left imagines.

Wise Democrats are developing reservations. Young conservatives are perhaps about to come alive.

I think Mr. Schultz has it backward.

Peggy Noonan.

I can only hope.

6

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: There is no national security crisis on the southern border.

President Trump claimed otherwise in his nine-minute Oval Office address to the nation … But he was lying.

How do we know this? Because if there were a genuine national security crisis on the southern border, Republicans in the House and Senate would be tripping over themselves to fund — and take credit for funding — Trump’s border wall. There is no political downside whatsoever to taking a strong stand in defense of the country in the midst of a national security crisis.

And yet, what have we seen over the past two years during which Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and could have appropriated funds for Trump’s beloved wall at any time? Zip. Nada. Nothing.

[P]ublic opinion has shifted in favor of immigration since the president was elected, no doubt in large part because of the above-mentioned ineptitude and malice the administration has displayed toward immigrants over the past two years. That has, if anything, put the cause of immigration restrictionism in a weaker position politically than it was when he was running for president.

Like King Midas in reverse, every policy Trump touches turns to excrement.

Damon Linker

7

Iranian political culture is deeply authoritarian, and, therefore, whatever political order follows the mullahs is unlikely to be liberal. And that’s okay. We don’t need to replicate liberalism everywhere. Iranians can have a decent, benign regime that is nevertheless responsive to the deep longings in the Persian soul for order, continuity, and visible authority — kingship, in a word. That’s how the political culture is wired. My friends at Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the rest will, of course, find it repellent that I’d say so. But what can I say? I’ve lost a lot of my spread-freedom-everywhere idealism.

Sohrab Ahmari, emphasis added.

I should note that the interview is about Ahmari’s conversion from Shiite Islam to Roman Catholicism.

8

[A]t great cost I bought the first volume of the Works of St. John of the Cross and sat in the room on Perry Street and turned over the first pages, underlining places here and there with a pencil. But it turned out that it would take more than that to make me a saint: because these words I underlined, although they amazed and dazzled me with their import, were all too simple for me to understand.

They were too naked, too stripped of all duplicity and compromise for my complexity, perverted by many appetites. However, I am glad that I was at least able to recognize them, obscurely, as worthy of the greatest respect.

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain.

* * * * *

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

Potpourri 2, 8/22/18

Second potpourri of the day. We live in interesting times and some tendinitis in my ankle leaves me with extra time to think and write about it.

1

I’ve reluctantly come to acknowledge that I’ve lost touch with my country. I don’t understand at any visceral level, for the most conspicuous example, how Donald Trump attracted enough votes in key places to become President.

Articles like Jonathan Rausch’s Why Prosperity Has Increased but Happiness Has Not provide a just-so framework for “understanding,” but ultimately leave me frustrated that the Real Question remains, transposed to a different key:

… all happiness is relative. Although moral philosophers may wish Homo sapiens were wired more rationally, we humans are walking, talking status meters, constantly judging our worth and social standing by comparing ourselves with others today and with our own prior selves.
… the witticism (frequently attributed to Gore Vidal) that “it is not enough for me to succeed; others must fail” is uncomfortably accurate …
Inequality, in short, is immiserating …

Yes, but why —other than The Fall, which is its own “Just So Story” in the sense that it cannot predict just how cussedness will break out next — are we irrational, status-metering mutterers?

Other countries, including some culturally similar to ours (think Scandinavia), experience much higher reported levels of happiness. As we see another economic downturn (if not outright collapse), we may find ourselves choosing between spitefully settling for the second half of Vidal’s witticism (“well, at least we’re making others fail worse”) or something like a Distributist or Social Democrat modus vivendi at lower absolute wealth levels.

2

When Jove Meyer, a wedding and event planner in Brooklyn, is working with a same-sex couple, he sometimes finds himself cringing when he hears a guest use the term “gay wedding.”

“It’s not with bad intention, but people like to label things because it’s easier to discuss,” said Mr. Meyer, who runs Jove Meyer Events. “But the couple is not getting ‘gay’ married. They are getting married. They’re not having a ‘gay wedding.’ They’re having a wedding. You don’t go to a straight wedding and say, ‘I’m so happy to be at this straight wedding.’”

Mr. Meyer, who also advocates for the L.G.B.T.Q. community and identifies as a gay man, explained that labeling same-sex couples as different from any other wedding is the root of the cause …

Stephanie Cain, New York Times.

Yes, that’s the theory, isn’t it? The institution of marriage is as howsoever malleable we want it to be.

I will not be surprised, though, if the language we use continues for a good long time to reflect the correct instinct that it’s not really true — and that phrases like “labeling same-sex couples as different from any other wedding is the root of the cause” are gibberish on an obfuscatory mission.

3

The medieval Jewish sage Maimonides counted 613 commandments, or mitzvot, in the Law that God gave his people, Israel. The 20th-century Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim, who escaped the Nazis’ genocidal clutches and devoted part of his scholarly life to pondering the moral meaning of the Holocaust, formulated what he called the 614th commandment: Give Hitler no posthumous victories. And how would Jews violate that “commandment?” By religious Jews denying the providential role of Israel’s God in Jewish life; by secular Jews abandoning the notion of Israel as a unique people with a distinctive historical destiny; by Jews acting toward other Jews in ways that tore at the spiritual and moral bonds that bound the people of Israel together.

George Weigel, whose concern is not with the Jews but with his Roman Catholic Church. Count me a skeptic, as I usually am toward Weigel these days.

UPDATE: Rod Dreher gives Weigel’s argument the derision it deserves, and gives it good and hard (while nodding toward the importance of “institutionalists” like Weigel and the late Richard John Neuhaus, who I respected more than I would have had I known of his fecklessness on “the long lent” about which he wrote so plausibly).

4

If neo-Nazis didn’t exist, the left would have to invent them. And to some extent have.

Holman Jenkins

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Thoroughly modern misogyny and plutocracy

Have you heard about the “Flipping Out” lawsuit? Ross Douthat sticks his neck out so I don’t have to. (I’m sure that’s what he had in mind.)

The “Flipping Out” lawsuit, sad and sordid, falls 31 years after a far more consequential surrogacy debate: The “Baby M” case, in which a surrogate mother, Mary Beth Whitehead, changed her mind after the birth and sued — ultimately unsuccessfully — for the right to keep her child. I was 7 during the case but I remember it vividly, mostly because my mother was obsessed with it. We were not Catholics then, or any kind of conservative, but opposing commercial surrogacy seemed like a natural extension of her feminist and liberal principles, which would of course oppose a system in which the rich paid poorer women to bear their children.

[T]he simplest way to describe what happened with the surrogacy debate is that American feminists gradually went along with the logic of capitalism rather than resisting it. This is a particularly useful description because it’s happened so consistently across the last few decades: Whenever there’s a dispute within feminism about a particular social change or technological possibility, you should bet on the side that takes a more consumerist view of human flourishing, a more market-oriented view of what it means to defend the rights and happiness of women.

… Feminists were divided over surrogacy and commercialized fertility, but the opposition to both practices gradually dissolved, and now only eccentric conservatives notice the weird resemblances between California-style surrogacy practices and the handmaids and econowives of Gilead.

I know that coming from a conservative columnist much of this reads like a long exercising in trolling. (Did you know, feminists, that you’re all just slaves of capital? That you need less cultural Marxism and more of the genuine economistic article?) But the most serious form of cultural conservatism has always offered at most two cheers for capitalism, recognizing that its great material beneficence can coexist with dehumanizing cruelty, that its individualist logic can encourage a ruthless materialism unless curbed and checked and challenged by a moralistic vision.

Ross Douthat

* * * * *

I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Jesus, loser

I think Christian Smith pretty well described Moralistic Therapeutic Deism when he coined the term, but Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s definition is now my favorite:

The function of Church in society is to keep spiritually healthy and morally upright those who are pursuing the American Dream.

But according to Luke, the Gospel is to leave all things and embrace the cross daily.

Could anything be more opposed to the cross of Christ than a life dedicated to the quest for personal prosperity? … What Jesus warns this man about is a life in which he loves God with his whole heart, loves his neighbor as himself, and goes about making as much money as he can … Wealth itself so easily becomes idolatrous.

If wealth is the mark of success, then think about it: Who are the failures? Who are the “losers”? …

Can any philosophy be more at odds with the cross of Christ than the [social Darwinist] survival of the fittest? The cross is the absolute answer to Darwin, just as the absolute answer to Nietszche and the will to power. The cross stands against all of that.

The basic floor of the cross of Calvary is that Jesus did not survive. He died as a poor man who had nothing to show for his life. He left no bank account. He was a loser. As he died, he was obliged to leave the care of his widowed mother to another poor man. By every standard recognized in the money market, Jesus was a failure. A poor man who died a poor man.

* * * * *

I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.