Metaphysics and more

Metaphysics

Kicking God’s Tires

I believe that there are great philosophical questions that are opaque to our questioning. The book of Job raises the specter of the “problem of evil” and leaves it wrapped in the mystery of God Himself. I have yet to hear anyone offer an answer to the question that satisfies. I believe that there is a “shame of ignorance” that accompanies the question, a dynamic that explains why it so often produces anger. This very shame, however, is the raw edge of our own nakedness, a point where our existence as creature meets the silence of the Creator.

In my own life, I have stood at that point many times. More than that, I have stood beside others as the questions raged in their hearts. I have listened while God was compared to a heartless beast and torturer, the most evil of all. And the silence abides. My ignorance and my speechlessness are, however, a true part of me. They represent much of the powerlessness of my creaturely existence. “You cannot make one hair white or black,” Christ reminds us. (Matt. 5:36)

We have all largely been formed in a culture of consumerism. It is not surprising, therefore, that we approach God as consumers. We want to “kick His tires,” discuss His program, find out what makes Him tick and why He does what He does. Ignorance is the bane of a consumer’s existence. God, however, is not a product for consumption. He is rightly approached in a relationship of “offering.” He gives to us, and we give to Him. It is a different mode of existence.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)

Mystical? Or mostly non-linear?

Orthodox theology is often described as “mystical.” I suspect that what is actually going on is that Orthodox theology is not “linear.” Rather, it is “everything at once.” This is actually how the world is. Things do not take place in a linear fashion, but together, and at once. History is not so polite as to “take turns,” waiting for one thing to lead to another. It is, undoubtedly the reason that all human plans fail in the end: we never “see coming” the train that hits us because we are too busy monitoring the linearity of our own expectations.

The Orthodox insight is that theology is “everything at once.” Although events may be described in a linear fashion, they are yet more fully understood when they are allowed to inform one another. The Annunciation is Pascha, if you have ears to hear. It is the descent of God into the depths of our humanity, in His self-emptying act of Incarnation. Orthodoxy struggles with this, often coining phrases such as “joyful sorrow” to describe the conjunction of God’s saving action in the world. St. Paul captures till somewhat in his statement that “all things work together for good.” It is not something that can be described in a linear fashion, but something that seeks to give voice to the full reality of God’s saving action. God has come among us not just some select people can go to heaven. He has come among us that He might “gather together in one all things in Christ Jesus.” That ingathering is everywhere, always, and at once.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The World as Grand Opera

Russian Conservative insight

[F]or Christian conservatives to want moral sobriety AND all the goodies that can be produced by liquid modernity is to want what never has been and probably never can be.

Paul Robinson, Russian Conservatism

What were the odds?

“0.0001 led to you, my love.”

Christ the Eternal Tao

I began reading a book by that name last night. I mention it so my non-Orthodox Christian friends, mistaking this for syncretism, will intensify their prayers for me (although they might want to consult St. Clive’s Abolition of Man before any anathema).

Wordplay

the shallows of modernity

Andrew Sullivan. I’m not even sure that those four words in that order are original, but it jumped out at me in context of the “mesmerizing” allure of “reactionaryism.”


As I wrote last week, the Ukraine war has exposed certain limits to populist thinking generally: Organized as it is around the internal failures of Western and American elites, the populist response to a clear external threat has been a kind of anticipatory opposition, a critique of elite mistakes not yet in evidence.

Ross Douthat (italics added).


Every year the N.C.A.A. tournament draws us in and then spits us back out, and every year we come back for more. But why?

Jane Coaston

Miscellany

One Craftsman

A specialist in finishes, he is a journeyman in the original, literal sense. He goes wherever the furniture is, traveling by car because the airlines do not allow the chemicals he carries. He is at the very top of his profession, a conservator of multimillion-dollar pieces of furniture, and he makes a lot of money. He is essentially a forensic chemist; he speaks of particular oils, shellacs, acetones, and methylated spirits. He is also a cultural historian…

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.

American exceptionalism at its worst

80% of cars sold in Europe have manual transmissions. Some car makers, including Audi, no longer offer manual transmissions in the U.S. market at all.

So why would anyone want one? Your car is less likely to get stolen, for one thing. Thieves prove as incapable of using a clutch as any other American. There have been multiple reports over the past year—in Cleveland, St. Louis, Detroit and Pleasantville, N.J.—of carjackers unable to drive away.

Faith Bottum, The Dying Art of Driving a Stick Shift

Splashes of reality

  • Whatever his or her claims of solidarity with the Third World, each American college graduate has had an education costing an amount five times greater than the median life income of half of humanity.
  • The largest institutions compete most fiercely for resources which are not listed in any inventory: the air, the ocean, silence, sunlight, and health.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

My pledge

I do not care that they have changed the dictionary. I will never use the word “literally” when I mean “figuratively” or “wow!”

BIPOC mothers, White birthing people

I am not making this up, and neither did Orwell:

The urgency of this moment is clear. Mortality rates of birthing people are too high, and babies born to Black and Puerto Rican mothers in this city are three times more likely to die in their first year of life than babies born to non-Hispanic White birthing people.

Dr. Michelle E. Morse, New York City’s chief medical officer (italics added for any slack-jawed readers) via Nellie Bowles

In a related vein, the World Health Organization, in the course of calling for abortion on demand for all nine months, world-wide, came up with this agnostic gem:

laws preventing abortion at any point during pregnancy risk violating the rights of ‘women, girls or other pregnant persons …’.

Via Wesley J. Smith. At least women and girls preceded the newly-obligatory “pregnant persons.”

Politics

As if on cue …

I mentioned last time that I had not voted for Indiana Senator Mike Braun. The GOP primary field the year he was elected consisted entirely of guys trying to outdo one another in Trumpiness, so I wouldn’t have voted for his primary opponents, either.

Since last time, he has astonishingly confirmed my judgment by suggesting that the Supreme Court should not have struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia (but should have left it to the states to repeal them — thanks for that small bone, Senator).

This sort of thing is a risk of sending a faux-populist businessman to Congress: a reflex that the Supreme Court should stay out of social issues unleavened by appreciation for the gravaman of the civil war amendments.

Well if you don’t like America, why don’t you move to _?

True colors: January 6 insurrectionist granted asylum in Belarus.

What is a woman?

It’s odd that none of the GOP Senators baiting Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson about her inability to define “woman” have offered her their definition to see if she agrees.

No, it’s really not odd. The questions are not made in entirely good faith nor entirely bad faith. Neither was her answer. Nobody covered themselves in glory on this one.

(A workable definition is “adult female human”, but then I looked that up.)

“Parks”

The houses are all in their respective income pods, the shopping is miles away from the houses, and the schools are separate from both the shopping and the dwellings. Work takes place in the office park—the word park being a semantic gimmick to persuade zoning boards that a bunch of concrete and glass boxes set among parking lots amounts to a rewarding environment—and manufacturing takes place in the industrial park—ditto. This has some interesting, and rather grave, ramifications.

James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere

Who are the real imperialists?

In an interview with Mandiner several weeks ago, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was asked what he thought the main characteristics could be of a Chinese-led international order. While those characteristics are as yet unclear, he said, “one thing is for sure: the Anglo-Saxons want the world to recognise their position as morally right. For them it’s not enough to accept the reality of power; they also need you to accept the things that they think are right. The Chinese have no such need.”

Gladden Pappin.

Hawley, Cruz and others dispel a notion

Although their roles as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are political rather than legal, Senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) got to play lawyers on TV at the Jackson confirmation hearings. And their performances won’t help dispel the notion that you don’t want Harvard and Yale Law grads as your advocates in the courtroom.

David Lat

Fact-checking the fact-checkers

[W]hen it really counts, the fact-checker’s role is not to investigate the truth but to uphold the credibility of official sources and their preferred narratives.

Jacob Siegel, ‌Invasion of the Fact-Checkers


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Ending a chapter

Changing direction

I thank the modest number of people who still follow this blog, which has been evolving for just over twelve years now.

Within the past 24 hours, I’ve renewed my personal commitment to stop wallowing in "the news." That’s made easier by the news being full of war-talk these days, which for 55 years or so has been distressing to me, even more than to others I think.

But war-talk isn’t the only reason I’m kicking the news habit.

A cyber-friend recently published what I think is a completely original analogy:

The Ukraine crisis is huge: it may end us all. Naturally it’s all over the news. But I’ve been thinking that, before there was an actual world crisis, the 24-hour news feed wasn’t much different in tone. Something really important is happening right now, and you need to read about it here! “World Order Collapses!” isn’t presented much differently than “Sleaze Accused of Sleaziness!”

I thought, oddly, about the takeover of “compression” in contemporary music recording. Audio technology can easily handle variations in volume from a delicate whisper to ear-splitting sound. (A good recording of the William Tell Overture is an example.) But more and more, people are half-listening to the music while they jog through city traffic; they can’t deal with these variations. So the solution is to flatten the dynamic range so everything sounds kind of loud all the time. (People used to blame CDs for this and say that vinyl was better. In fact, CDs are much better at capturing dynamic range; it’s just that producers in the CD era chose the compression path. Now of course, there’s nothing but audio streaming, with its even worse distortions.)

In the world of audio, these are choices that we as consumers made, or at least allowed, and the result is only an impoverished experience of music. When we apply the same mentality – keep everything at 11 all the time – to the news cycle, the results for our minds and souls are a bit more serious.

John Brady, ‌Compression and the news. My own "soul reason" is that I think I read the news out of vainglory, a/k/a vanity. Smartypants lawyers, after all, are supposed to be sophisticates and to know what’s going on in the world. Reading the news helps me fake that by giving me a wide choice of tendentious narratives (from A to C or D) to choose from. But I think it’s healthier not to be vain, right?

A fairly good list of reasons is in Rolf Dobelli’s book Stop Reading the News. There’s a lot in there that I haven’t mentioned.

This matters for the blog because, to a sorry extent, I’ve let Tipsy Teetotaler become largely a news and commentary aggregator. If I stop reading news, that’s got to change.

I suspect I’ll blog less often. Since this isn’t substack and nobody’s paying to read me, that shouldn’t matter much. I also suspect that I’ll blog a bit more about books and long-form journalism — things that actually explain how things came to be this way, or to put them in context. And maybe, if I stop doomscrolling the clickbait, I’ll regain some of my lost cognitive capacity and produce some original thoughts.

That said, I’ve collected some news before my new news resolve, and I share it now with you before the blog undergoes its metamorpohosis.

Ruso-Ukraine

Not about us

Comments like [the examples] above seem so transparently self-promotional (look, look, here’s how a war across the globe is really about the thing I’m always talking about already!) and beyond gross.

Now is not the time for petty culture war grievances and personal grifts. Yes, life—and news—in America goes on, but maybe the day Russia starts bombing Ukraine isn’t the time for your critical race theory rant or your masculinity-crisis paranoia, you know? And it certainly isn’t the time for you to try and tie whatever you would be on about anyway into the war news cycle.

I promise, the culture war and all its brave keyboard warriors will still be there next week. So will COVID-19, and climate change, and border battles. Just let it go for a minute. Show some respect, empathy, and perspective.

If you’re tempted to post things like: Russia is doing this because Americans use too many pronouns! At least Putin isn’t woke! How will the murder of Ukrainian civilians affect gas prices? Stop. Go outside for a walk. Call a loved one. Cuddle a pet. Do anything real and good and tangible while counting your blessings that you will very likely never know the fear and pain of having your country invaded by a warmongering dictator.

This isn’t about us. Stop making it about us.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, ‌Stop Trying To Make Ukraine About Your Culture War

Civil Religion versus Political Gnosticism

From a longish, provocative, 30,000-foot view of the tensions between Russia and the West, these passages haunt me. Maybe they make sense only in context (which I invite you to read, but only when you have time to really wrestle with it):

[E]ven were Soviet communism defeated, the Russian roots in a more modern form of Civil Religion would remain. It would need to be combatted, but on a different footing and understanding.

[T]oday the old and new “neo-cons” are the newest incarnation of “right gnostics,” right liberals who are comfortable with a slower liberal revolution, yet always listing leftward in their accommodation to the “blessings of liberty.” They are the pawns of the “messianic gnostics …”.

Patrick Deneen, Russia, America, and the Danger of Political Gnosticism

(This is the kind of commentary that likely will carry over as the blog changes.)

A Truism

It is a truism in moral reasoning: To will the end is to will the means. One cannot have a duty to perform an act one lacks the capacity fulfill. Can Ukraine prevail without more direct military support from the West? It’s possible, but most analysts consider it very unlikely. Would Ukraine prevail with full NATO backing? Almost certainly. That implies NATO must be prepared to take up arms on Ukraine’s side, to ensure the supposed moral commandment is fulfilled. To hold otherwise — to claim the West should stop short of joining the fight, when that might be the only thing compatible with fulfilling the commandment — sounds appalling.

Damon Linker.

Us versus them

… a country fast turning totalitarian, one where a law which allows a 15-year-jail sentence for “spreading fake news about the actions of the Russian armed forces” will soon be rubber-stamped by parliament …

The Economist. If keeping a nation’s people in the propagandistic dark is your metric of totalitarianism, I can’t deny it’s a decent metric.

We in the USA have enough confidence that I can still read RT, Al Jazeera, The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, Pro Publica, Bellingcat, Gilbert Doctorow and the like as a check on mainstream media’s lazy repetition of our government’s line. But it’s very time-consuming (another reason not to read the government’s line in MSM in the first place — see above), and I don’t have a very reliable heuristic on who’s closer to the truth.

Learning in War Time

The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.

C.S. Lewis, Learning in War Time, an essay in The Weight of Glory. The essay also appears to be available from several sources on the web.

Collateral Damage

Russia House—a D.C. restaurant—was targeted by vandals last week who smashed windows, broke a door, and tagged walls with anti-Russian rhetoric. The restaurant’s owners are American and Lithuanian.

The Morning Dispatch

Paul Kingsnorth continues to deliver

I started really paying attention to Paul Kingsnorth last Summer or Fall when I learned that, to his own immense surprise, he had left Paganism (his last waystation) and become not just a Christian but an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I’ve appreciated him a lot since then, though he was on my radar even before that.

Baptized into Progress

  • I was about a quarter of the way into What Technology Wants before I realised I was reading a religious text. It was quite a revelation. What Technology Wants is a book published a few years back ago by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine and a significant spokesman for what we might call the Silicon Valley Mindset. It takes us on a journey through the historical development of technology and into a future in which, Kelly believes, technology will be living force which controls our destiny.
  • Techno-utopianism is a subset of the contemporary religion of Progress, into which we are all baptised at birth. If Progress is God, technology is the messiah come to do His will on Earth.

Paul Kingsnorth, Planting Trees in the Anthropocene. This predates Kingsnorth’s conversion, by the way.

Tell me the new old story

[I]t hasn’t escaped my attention that all my writing, in whatever form, is basically just a reiteration of the same story, which seems to be the only one I’m capable of telling: human-scale life versus the Machine culture that is overwhelming it.

Paul Kingsnorth

"In science", as Joseph Needham put it, "a man is a machine, or if he is not, then he is nothing …."

Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature: Modern Science and the Dehumanization of Man

Other stuff

H.L. Mencken, Prophet

A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in. The men the American people admire most are the most daring liars; the men they detest most are those who try to tell them the truth. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will get their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H.L. Mencken, quoted by Garrison Keillor.

Important people

Manually laboring drudges might work long hours without sacrificing productivity, but businessman could not. Their work required imagination, thought, calculation.

Americans, [Andrew Carnegie] remarked to his cousin, “were the saddest-looking race … Life is so terribly earnest here. Ambition spurs us all on, from him who handles the spade to him who employs thousands. We know no rest. … I hope Americans will find some day more time for play, like their wiser brethren upon the other side.

‌David Nasaw via The Octavian Report

Sounds as if Carnegie (Rockefeller, too) made a virtue out of what Marx saw as capitalism’s central defect.

Charmed lives

Playwright Tom Stoppard made some extended remarks recently at an awards presentation, including acknowledging his charmed life:

[I]f politics is not about giving everybody a life as charmed as mine, it’s not about anything much.

Tom Stoppard, H/T Alan Jacobs. More:

Perhaps you will recall that in the summer of 1968, England had its dissidents, too. Thousands of young people of student age, egged on by not a few of their seniors including some of my friends, occupied buildings and took to the barricades to overthrow the existing order. The disdain of the revolutionaries for bourgeois democracy, aka "fascism", was as nothing compared to my disdain for the revolutionaries. They were living in the same England, as a birthright, as I was living in as an accident of history.

(italics added)

I’m seemingly a pessimist. I rarely see myself in the mirror without something that looks like a scowl. My morning prayers have a fairly long list of American sins that I keep trying to leave in God’s hands (and then keep taking them back).

So it’s good for me to be reminded, especially as beautifully as Stoppard does, of just how much freedom we have, and of how much millions in the world would love to be here — and surely it’s possible to remember that without becoming some kind of jingoist.

Neo-Manicheanism

Discussing race relations in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, Walker Percy once told William F. Buckley that “From a moral point of view, it’s very simple. It’s either right or wrong, and there was a lot wrong. From a novelist’s point of view, human relations are much more complex than saying the white racist is wrong and the black protestors are correct.”

What does it tell us about our appetite for ambiguity that Walker Percy could not say that today without being chased out of his local public television studio.

Prufrock 3/3/22

Republic of the People

We took the United States Capital. We are the Republic of the People.

Guy Reffitt, January 6 insurrectionist, texting his family exultantly on 1/6/21.

Reffit has now pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. As explained by former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review, it’s going to be tough case to prove all elements of that crime at trial, so don’t be surprised if there are few such guilty pleas or even if there are acquittals at trial.

What science "allegedly" shows

Science allegedly showed trans women had larger hands and feet, bigger hearts and greater bone density and lung capacity.

Sports Illustrated, writing about Lia Thomas, quoted incredulously by Nellie Bowles.

I’d cross-index this under "you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing."

SOTU response

Rashida Tlaib, speaking for the Working Families Party, delivered the left’s response, and even she was relatively muted. She pushed back on Biden’s calls for more police funding and called, as usual, for canceling all student debt.

Nellie Bowles.

There is no regressive policy among Democrats quite so blatant as the call for blanket cancellation of student debt. I have no doubt that many students got in over their heads, but wiping out the student debt of those (by definition) lucky enough to go to college or beyond show how little the Democrats care for people less fortunate.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday Sundries

The Real Stuff of Life

In the pre-modern era in the West, as in much of the world today still, there was no such thing as ‘religion’. The Christian story was the basis of peoples’ understanding of reality itself: it was widely assumed that it represented the truth about existence, and that no part of life could therefore be outside of it. There was no ‘religion’, because there was no notion that this truth was somehow optional or partial, any more than we today might assume that gravity or the roundness of the Earth were facts we could choose to engage with only on Sunday mornings.

The religious wars which raged for more than a century after the Reformation changed all this. They shattered faith in the church and in the Christian story, which in turn led to the Enlightenment experiment with ‘secularism’: a new type of society, first pioneered by the seventeenth century Dutch, in which the state would guarantee freedom of and from religion. In practice, this meant guaranteeing the right to practice one of the many different flavours of Christianity on offer, and sometimes Judaism too, but as time went on and society changed, all and any ‘religious’ practice was taken under the protective umbrella of the state. Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, Buddhism, atheism, Norse Heathenism or the worship of Richard Dawkins: anything goes in the Kingdom of Whatever. The unspoken bargain is that religion is fine, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the real stuff of life.

That real stuff was, increasingly, commerce.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Migration of the Holy

Managing the World

[I]t’s worth thinking about the Church (Orthodox) as an ark of salvation and safety. It is an ancient image of the Church, a place where God gathers those who are being rescued. The ark is not an instrument of flood management, however. It is a raft. Modernity imagines itself as the manager of the world and its historical processes. It is an idea that is itself part of the destructive flood of our time.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Riding the Tsunami

Elusive Interiority

For a scientific culture that believes true knowledge of anything can be gained only by the systematic reduction of that thing to its simplest parts, undertaken from an entirely third person stance, this inaccessible first person subjectivity—this absolute interiority, full of numberless incommunicable qualitative sensations and velleities and intuitions that no inquisitive eye will ever glimpse, and that is impossible to disassemble, reconstruct, or model—is so radically elusive a phenomenon that there seems no hope of capturing it in any complete scientific account. Those who imagine otherwise simply have not understood the problem fully.

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God

History Rhymes (probably my favorite heading)

Must I be the only one to fight under the Holy Cross and must I see others, calling themselves Christians, all unite with the Crescent to fight Christianity?

Tsar Nicholas, after much of Europe turned against Russia (and toward Turkey) after the Russians destroyed a squadron of Ottoman frigates at the port of Sinope early in the Crimean War.

From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin Donald Trump

Had evangelical leaders and journalists known more about the Southern Baptist Convention than simply the reputation that followed from its being southern or trusting in Jesus, they would have seen that Carter, despite the southern accent, had more affinities to the tolerant and do-good orientation of mainline Protestants than the restrain-evil-and-promote-righteousness resolve of fundamentalists and evangelicals.

D.G. Hart, From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin.

Can a book title ever become anachronistic?

The subtitle of Hart’s book was "Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism," but in 2011 (the publication date) we hadn’t "seen the half of it."

Hauerwas Rocks

When the only contemporary means of self-transcendence is orgasm, we Christians are going to have a tough time convincing people that it would be nicer if they would not be promiscuous.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Before I could even post this, other Hauerwas/Resident Aliens quotes popped up:

  • The seminaries have produced clergy who are agents of modernity, experts in the art of congregational adaptation to the cultural status quo, enlightened facilitators whose years of education have trained them to enable believers to detach themselves from the insights, habits, stories, and structures that make the church the church.
  • As Alasdair Maclntyre has noted (in The Religious Significance of Atheism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1969], p. 24), we Christians have given atheists less and less in which to disbelieve!

Catechized into Nothing

I had a lot of resentment against people like the priest and the nun who first instructed me in the faith. They were the quintessential Boomer “spirit of Vatican II” Catholics. I went through two months of instruction with my RCIA class at the LSU Catholic Student Center (though I had graduated, I had this naive idea that instruction there would be more intellectually challenging), without learning a thing about doctrine, or church history, or anything other than how to massage my emotions. If I had written a just-the-facts account of those classes and published it somewhere, people would have shaken their heads over how decadent the Church had become. I quit after I realized that all of us would be received into the Church without knowing anything that was required of us as Catholics.

Rod Dreher, Religion, From Youth To Middle Age

The Kingdoms of the World

The Last Temptation is perhaps the greatest, and the one that most torments our modern thoughts. Christ is offered the “kingdoms of this world” if only He will worship the tempter. It is the temptation of power. What if you had all power? What wonderfully good things could you do?

One place where such an inner dialog takes place is in the purchase of a lottery ticket. Powerball approaches half-a-billion dollars and the ticket is only a couple of bucks. The purchase is made (why not? there’s no commandment against it) and sits quietly in our pocket. The thoughts begin. You know that the odds are ridiculously against you, but you can’t help imagining what life might be like if you won. “If I were a rich man…” I have been told any number of times, “If I win the lottery, I’ll give the money for a new church building.” Of course. We keep only a small portion, say some tens of millions for ourselves. With the rest, we will build a better world, maybe create a charitable foundation (like a Bill Gates). On and on we muse.

Modernity’s mantra, “make the world a better place,” is invoked repeatedly in one guise or another. Every invocation promises that with money and power, we could really make a difference. The myth (or lie) that this perpetuates is that the only thing standing between us and a better world is lack of resources. The truth is that, at the present time in our modern age, there is no lack of resources, no lack of wealth. The abundance of the world is overflowing. People are hungry and starve, etc., for lack of goodness. It has been observed by some that every famine in our modern time has had politics as its primary cause. We are not the victims of nature – but of one another.

It is, of course, ironic that Satan should offer Christ “all the kingdoms of this world.” How do you offer the Lord of All anything that is not already His? He refuses them (at least when offered on the devil’s terms). The way of Christ is the way of God – it is the way revealed in the Cross. The world will be saved in the mystery of the Cross, the self-emptying love of God. Not only is the world saved in that manner, but, those who are being saved are invited to join in that salvation – to empty themselves in self-sacrificing love. That is the proper description of the Church, though it is frequently refused and replaced with an effort to be a “helping” organization, a religious adjunct to the build-a-better-world project of modernity.

Father Stephen Freeman


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Mostly from news and commentary

Chickens coming home to roost

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker on Thursday ordered nine attorneys—including Sidney Powell and Lin Wood—to pay $175,250 to the state of Michigan and city of Detroit in response to their participation in the frivolous “Kraken” lawsuits seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The Morning Dispatch

U.S. Sportsball vs. Chinese Communist Party

In an interview on The Lead With Jake Tapper yesterday,  veteran sports broadcaster Bob Costas offered a measured, but forceful, condemnation of the coddling of China by some international institutions and prominent athletes. Tapper asked about the Peng Shuai situation and why the Women’s Tennis Association and International Olympic Committee have taken such different approaches to it. “The IOC is in bed with China,” Costas said. “It’s very troubling, their affinity for authoritarian regimes. … Meanwhile, you’ve got not just the IOC, you’ve got the NBA, and you’ve got Nike, and various individual sports stars in the United States who have significant investments in China, where the sports market is huge. And some of those people are very outspoken—as they have a right to be, and maybe in general you and I would agree with their viewpoints—very outspoken and sometimes offer sweeping condemnations of their own admittedly imperfect country, the United States. But when it comes to China—perhaps the world’s leading human rights abuser given its size and its wherewithal—they’re mum. Very, very few have anything to say.”

The Morning Dispatch

The Families Roe

We can’t shake the picture of the wholesome 1950s and ’60s as a time of American innocence. But no country is “innocent,” and so many of the central players in the [American abortion] drama came from some kind of deep dysfunction—sadness, family chaos, sirens in the night. Norma McCorvey, the Roe in the case, was a remorseless, compulsive liar who variously claimed to have been raped, gang-raped, beaten, shot at, preyed on by lesbian nuns. As I read her she was a sometimes charming, often funny sociopath, always uninterested in the effect on others of her decisions.

There is the brilliant lawyer who brought the first case and wound up destitute in a heatless house in East Texas; the prickly, eloquent pro-life leader who wound up unappreciated, alone and a hoarder. There is the writing of the Roe decision itself. And there is the idealism of many on both sides who were actually trying to make life more just.

Peggy Noonan, source from Joshua Prager’s book The Families Roe

Getting and spending

It is something of a cliché to suggest that the world outside is preoccupied with getting and spending. We have to put a lot of time and energy into those activities here on the island. I think the difference is that it would not occur to us to think of such activities as the main, let alone the sole, reason for our existence.

Peter France, A Place of Healing for the Soul: Patmos

Without comment

What a fast swimmer: A University of Pennsylvania swimmer who competed for three seasons at the college level as a man is now absolutely dominating the sport as a woman, breaking record after record in women’s swimming. “Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding,” Lia Thomas said.

Nellie Bowles via the Bari Weiss Substack

Ray Bradbury, prophet

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.

Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

Projection

We always have to remember that how we see the world about us is but a reflection of the state of our own inner world. Ultimately, it is because we see ourselves as existing apart from God that we also see nature as existing apart from God.

Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature


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.

Gleanings

From Deschooling Society

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

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society.

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

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

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

That should disabuse us of any servility to schooling.

A Counterworld

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

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

And if you understand that, you should understand:

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

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

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

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

Decadent Jazz & Journalism

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

Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences.

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


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

Grab-bag

After a series, I still have some miscellany left:

These salespeople were … functioning according to a false narrative, in which the good life depends on more weeks at a resort. For these programmed Un-Manned folks, they were selling me happiness. They were ensuring that I could face death, knowing I had spent as much time as possible at the spa or the arcade. We were at odds with these salesmen because we live and move and have our being within a completely oppositional narrative to the one that they assume. We are fish aware of the water that gives us life, and they are fish trying to climb the shore, not realizing they cannot breathe on land.

Jessica Hooten Wilson on a time-share pitch in Orlando (Shudder!)

What’s telling to me is that this is the pitch that sells timeshares to the typical American in America 2021.

In other news from the Culture of Death, our local Gannett rag has a front-page story about how two years of legalized mobile sports gambling is producing gambling addicts. Bear in mind that these gambling companies are listed on stock exchanges now; it’s considered legitimate business.


For some, the religious failures of the 14th century serve to bolster a general critique of religious belief itself. One of the blind spots of modernity is to imagine ourselves to be in a non-religious, secularized world … The modern world is not “disenchanted” so much as it has a “modern enchantment.” We have faith in market forces, medicine, government, democracy, technology, algorithms, and the march of progress.

Fr. Stephen Freeman


Once he was free, Wurmbrand wrote that there are two kinds of Christians: “those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe. You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.”

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option


The Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s Western publishers, mindful of their likely audience, were careful to excise his criticisms of homosexuality from the American versions of his books.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion


Can anything good come from Berkeley? Darned right. Here (To End Police Violence, Get Rid of the Traffic Cop – The Atlantic) is an example of a sane policy that shouldn’t be dismissed as "abolish the police."


But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


Everything is habit-forming, so make sure what you do is what you want to be doing.

Wilt Chamberlain


The GOP Senate primary races in Missouri and Ohio have become contests to see which candidate can create the stupidest tweet.

One of them will insist the moon was made by gay communists and promise to punch it out of the sky, and win in a walk.

Kevin Kruse


All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Blaise Pascal


Indiana Statehouse reflected after my grandson’s 14th birthday dinner. It probably looked the same before.


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.

Thought Dump

This changes everything

I’ve been encountering, again and again, claims that this or that event or epoch changed everything.

Here’s one:

Capitalism commodifies and exploits all life, I conclude from my life and all I can learn.

Charles G. Sellers, a consequential American historian who died Thursday at age 98. More:

In Dr. Sellers’s best-known book, he argued that the rapid expansion of capital and industry in the 19th century did more than just create a new economy; it altered everything, including the way people worshiped, slept and even had sex.

And an implied change:

Even if we admit that material development does have certain advantages—though, indeed, from a very relative point of view—the sight of consequences such as those just mentioned leads one to question whether they are not far outweighed by the inconveniences. We say this without referring to the many things of incomparably greater value that have been sacrificed to this one form of development—we do not speak of the higher knowledge that has been forgotten, the intellectuality that has been overthrown, and the spirituality that has disappeared. Simply taking modern civilization on its merits, we affirm that, if the advantages and inconveniences of what has been brought about were set against each other, the result might well on balance prove to be negative.

René Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World

And, implicitly, yet another (though it doesn’t identify what, between Dante and now, so radically altered our metaphysics):

What’s the bare minimum you need to know about Dante’s metaphysics to get the Commedia, and especially Paradiso. [Christian] Moevs tells us that these metaphysics are not specifically Christian, that they derive from Plato and Aristotle, and “undergird much of the Western philosophical-theological tradition to his time and frame all later medieval Christian thought.” Here, in Moevs’ words, are the five principles you need to know:

1. The world of space and time does not itself exist in space and time: it exists in Intellect (the Empyrean, pure conscious being).

2. Matter, in medieval hylomorphism [the matter-form analysis of reality], is not something “material”: it is a principle of unintelligibility, of alienation from conscious being.

3. All finite form, that is, all creation, is a self-qualification of Intellect or Being, and only exists insofar as it participates in it.

4. Creator and creation are not two, since the latter has no existence independent of the former; but of course creator and creation are not the same.

5. God, as the ultimate subject of all experience, cannot be an object of experience: to know God is to know oneself as God, or (if the expression seems troubling) as one “with” God or “in God.”

I put up with a lot of unsettling hand-wringing and apocalyptic blogs from Rod Dreher because he (so far) eventually settles down, synthesizes, and comes forward with something worthwhile and conversation-altering. He’s currently working on a promising book that, from various viewpoints, is an aid to:

We probably cannot un-change everything by act of will, individually or collectively, but I intend to try to escape its straight-jacket.

Self-discovery

Sometimes it takes a litmus test to reveal myself to myself.

I’ve been skeptical that there is any such thing as a bona fide religious objection to the Covid vaccine. The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, has evaluated the role of fetal stem cells in Covid vaccine development and given the vaccines a green light. But I know that the law gives a lot of leeway to even totally solipsistic and bat-shit crazy "religious" convictions (so long as they don’t hurt the tender feelings of some member of a "sexual minority").

The litmus test came a few mornings ago with a brief news item, ‌Suit Says Trader Joe’s Failed To Accommodate Religious Objection To COVID Vaccination. I instantly sided with Trader Joe’s — and when I say "instantly," I mean I felt no need to read beyond that headline.

I’m not saying I’m right to discount such "religious" objections, but three weeks ago, I didn’t go to the E.R. with some worrisome abdominal sensations (it’s under control now) because I knew the E.R. would already be overwhelmed with jackasses who lost their games of Covid Chicken.

Dehumanization

A pastor praying aloud, holding a dying man’s hand, would bring too much flesh, too much humanity, into the thing. Execution theater is all about maintaining the illusion of mechanism.

Elizabeth Breunig (native Texan) on Texas’ refusal of John Henry Ramirez’s request for his pastor to "lay hands on and pray over him in the execution chamber."

Breunig here, I think, cuts to the heart of the issue from Texas’ point of view. The issue cannot plausibly be that there’s no Biblical or historical support for Ramirez’s request. A lot of criminal justice and the media theater around it is, I believe, calculated to dehumanize criminals (and to give families of victims a "closure" that I doubt exists).

1619 Project drives the conversation … by its wrongness

“As I would later confirm with the foremost scholars of the subject who know far more about the Revolution than I, there is no evidence of a single colonist expressing support for independence in order to protect slavery. The 1619 Project’s claims were based not on historical sources but on imputation and inventive mindreading,” – Sean Wilentz, one of the foremost historians on the Revolution, writing for a Czech journal.

Via Andrew Sullivan‌.

Bowdlerizing the Notorious RBG

This week the organization that once defended freedom of speech [the ACLU] tweeted out a famous quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with some, er, editing:

The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] wellbeing and dignity… When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.

RBG never wrote or meant the words in parentheses. She wrote “woman” and “her.” In fact, she was explicit in her view, often repeated, that “the one thing that conspicuously distinguishes women from men is that only women become pregnant.” This was central to her argument for sex equality. The reformulation by the ACLU is meaningless without that distinction.

Their argument, of course, is that this wording excludes trans men, who have uteruses and thereby can have abortions, while identifying as men.

Let’s first stipulate that an infinitesimal fraction of abortions may indeed be linked to uteruses whose owner has a male gender identity. But that doesn’t mean his biological sex is male, or that his reproductive system is male. Gender identity is not sex, and cannot erase its reality. And in so far as a trans man is pregnant, it is as a biological woman. And the term “woman” in RBG’s quote would therefore include him in this physiological context.

The reason the ACLU cannot accept this sane form of inclusion is because they insist that gender identity trumps biological sex. That is why the woke insist not just that someone biologically female is male in every respect but that every physiological part is male as well: that’s why a “clitoris,” for example, is actually a “lady-dick,” and gay men who are not into “lady-dicks” are not truly gay, but anti-trans bigots. Very few things express the insanity of gender theory than this simple denial of basic biology, a denial now echoed by every major American institution, even hospitals, and yet rejected by science and over 99 percent of human beings who have ever lived or ever will.

One more thing: the fanatical insistence on this “inclusion” for the woke is non-negotiable, a near-religious imperative. That’s why it merits even correcting the past, by altering the historical record. The ACLU put anachronistic words in RBG’s mouth, because her actual quote they seriously regard as a “form of violence” against trans people. Therefore religious censorship — even of RBG — is one of the ACLU’s core values now. One of their new tenets is quashing blasphemy.

If you want to understand why a monster like Trump has such traction you only have to take a tiny glimpse at this performative left absurdism and realize just how far gone our elites now are.

Andrew Sullivan‌ (emphasis added).

I can’t imagine the ACLU quoting an anti-trans bigot like RBG. 😉

Black Lives Matter

The slogan "Black Lives Matter" is a form of persuasion that seeks to be as anodyne in its tone and minimal in its assertion as possible, (indeed, almost self-parodically so) and therefore impossible to dispute. Its exponents then pack in as much sectarian content, much of it disputed, and much of it distant from the issue of police brutality that the slogan ostensibly addressed, as possible into that otherwise unimpeachable assertion.

Wesley Yang. That’s about as good a distillation as I can imagine for why I affirm that black lives matter without affirming Black Lives Matter.

The paragraph concludes:

Do the black inner-city males between 18-30 who are the primary targets of policing and its associated abuses really believe that no one is free unless Palestine or LGBTQ people are free? Do they agree that we must "dismantle the nuclear family requirement" and all the other left-wing shibboleths written into the manifesto for the Movement of Black Lives? Is it possible to dispute any of these shibboleths without thereby disputing the core assertion with which no one disagrees, and thereby placing oneself beyond the pale of civilized society?

Staying in one’s land

Especially during these divided days when feelings (and tempers) are running high, it is easy for us clergy to combine the timeless Gospel with the challenges of the current crisis, and think that we are preaching the Gospel when we are in fact simply picking a side in a complex debate. It is easy for us to believe that part of our task as clergy is to call our country back to God, as if each of us were the prophet Jeremiah. Let us remember that: 1. We are not Jeremiah, and that 2. Jeremiah functioned in a nation which was under solemn covenant with God in a way that no other nation was or is.

It is sadly true that Canada, America, and the West generally are immorally departing from God and are going down the tubes. But it is not the Church’s job to prevent that. It is the Church’s job to say to the world, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel”. The job of trying to impede the West’s slide into secularism belongs to individual Christians, not to the Church as Church.

This does not mean that the Church as Church should not address moral issues in society. The Church may still declare to the State that abortion is murderous, that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and that racial discrimination is sinful and wrong. These issues are clear, simple, and unambiguous, unlike many political issues. These are moral issues, not political ones, even though they have political ramifications, and the Church should not shrink from speaking to society about them. A moral issue is not the same as a political one.

Fr. Lawrence Farley

Heretics

I’m old enough to remember when heresy was understood to be deviation from long-establish beliefs and practices. But in a social-media environment that issues new commandments every fortnight or so, the heretics now are the ones who don’t deviate when told to do so. And they are hated with particular intensity because they are a living, breathing reproach to their colleagues’ complete lack of ethical standards.

Alan Jacobs

Crazy person update:

A man walks a slackline attached to the Eiffel tower

French slackliner Nathan Paulin performs on a 70-meter-high slackline between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theater, across the Seine River, in Paris on September 19, 2021. # Francois Mori / AP

(Via the Atlantic)

Partisan Political

The rest of this post is rather partisanly political. Like a dog to its vomit, I keep returning to this second-order stuff — less to feed my anger than to see why others are so angry.

You have been warned.

Relitigating 2020

This was a good week for anyone enthused about relitigating the 2020 election. First there was new evidence, reported in a new book about the Biden family from the Politico writer Ben Schreckinger and in an Insider story on an abortive Libya-related influence operation, suggesting the famous Hunter Biden emails were real and indicating how much Hunter’s influence-peddling depended on proximity to his father. The Twitter and Facebook decisions to censor The New York Post’s election-season version of the Hunter Biden story looked partisan and illiberal at the time; now they look worse.

Then along with that spur to conservative frustration there was a new revelation for Trump-fearers: the exposure of the entirely insane memo that the conservative legal scholar John Eastman wrote explaining how Mike Pence could supposedly invalidate Joe Biden’s election. This was presumably the basis for Donald Trump’s futile demand that Pence do exactly that, and it’s understandably grist for the “coup next time” fears that already attend Trump’s likely return to presidential politics.

Along with any worries about Trump stealing the next presidential election, then, Democrats should recognize the possibility that he might simply win it.

Here it would be really helpful if Biden had a vice president who balanced his weaknesses and reaffirmed his strengths — who seemed more energetically engaged with policy and congressional politicking while also extending his normalcy-and-moderation brand should she be required to inherit it.

I will leave it to the reader to decide whether that describes the Kamala Harris vice presidency to date — or whether Harris offers more reasons for Democrats looking toward 2024 to fear not just chaos but defeat.

Ross Douthat, Can Biden Recover

Ignoring the base

Up until the 1960s, those active in liberal and progressive politics were drawn largely from the working class or farm communities, and were formed in local political clubs or on shop floors. That world is gone. Today’s activists and leaders are formed almost exclusively in our colleges and universities, as are members of the mainly liberal professions of law, journalism, and education. Liberal political education now takes place, if it takes place at all, on campuses that are largely detached socially and geographically from the rest of the country—and in particular from the sorts of people who once were the foundation of the Democratic Party.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal.

What use are political labels? Those "liberal and progressive" figures from before the 1960s would today be called populists, and would fall in with the social conservatives on issues like family and sexuality — and above all, that we live in a world of limits. Meanwhile, a mark of "conservatives" today is support of modern capitalism and with the ideology of unlimited economic growth.

I this regard, read Christopher Lasch’s essay Conservatism Against Itself in a very early edition of the journal First Things. He even holds up for consideration the alternatives of syndicalism and guild socialism!

I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority

And here is a chilling part of the conversation where Trump tried to pressure Pence into submission. Pence said he had no authority to send the election to the House:

“Well, what if these people say you do?” Trump asked, gesturing beyond the White House to the crowds outside. Raucous cheering and blasting bullhorns could be heard through the Oval Office windows. “If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to?” Trump asked.

“I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority,” Pence said.

“But wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power?” Trump asked … “Mike, you can do this. I’m counting on you to do it.”

This is a president using the threat and thrill of a violent mob to pressure his vice-president into subverting the Constitution. If that doesn’t capture the essence of fascism, what does? If that wouldn’t put someone beyond the pale of democratic politics for ever, what would?

Andrew Sullivan, ‌The Deepening Menace Of Trump.

I believe this exchange is from the new Woodward & Costas book Peril, and thus is meant to make vivid the gist of Trump’s pressuring Pence.

I had no problems with Pence as my governor and was puzzled, almost baffled, by the yard signs against him when we were nowhere near an election. But I have no sympathy with him now: "Lie down with dogs, rise up with fleas" is the story of almost all public servants who tried to be a bit of leaven in an administration that was doomed from the beginning to domination by the unprecedented narcissist in the Oval Office.

Rational Ignorance

One of the Volokh Conspiracy bloggers blogged repeatedly about voters’ "rational ignorance" a few years ago. I now suspect it was Ilya Somin, author of a book and an article on Voting with Our Feet. In the article, Somin also posits that voter irrationality can be rational ("rationally irrational"), which made me think, of course, of how we got to the nadir of "45" a/k/a Orange Man.

But even if voter irrationality can be rational, I can barely begin to understand any desire, however irrational, to put Donald Trump in the White House. Back when there wasn’t a whiff of politics about him (that I knew of), I was baffled by an aspiring lawyer who eagerly rushed to get a copy of The Art of the Deal the first day it was available. I have just never found anything admirable about him, and I paid him no substantial heed until his freakish political success forced him into my life.

This week, the Dispatch surveyed the landscape of 45’s increasing fecklessness on Congressional votes, but his influence on voters and his (sigh!) apparent intent to run for President again in 2024. (Kamala Harris versus Donald Trump will be a choice more hellish than Hillary versus Trump — and I wrote that before Ross Douthat’s Sunday column, above).

I hope (and even suspect) that what’s going on in the Republican part of Congress is a bit like the parable of the two sons, the second of whom said "’I go, sir’, but went not." Lip service to narcissist Orange Man ("I go") may be all it takes to keep him from manufacturing a primary challenger, regardless of what you do (short of saying anything critical of Trump).

A guy can hope, can’t he?


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.

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.

Sunday Edification

It’s a commonplace, I think, that if you don’t have a word for something, it’s hard to think about it.

Fr. Stephen Freeman points out that we have no good English words for three things vital to Orthodox spirituality: nous (adverb noetic), hesychia, and nepsis. The consequence of our ignorance of the nous is that we try to use the wrong "tools" to know God:

… [W]e have narrowed the focus of our attention and are probably among the least aware human beings to have ever lived.

Our narrowed focus is largely confined to two aspects: the critical faculty and emotions. The critical faculty mostly studies for facts, compares, judges, measures, and so forth. Emotions run through the varieties of pleasure and pain, largely pairing with the critical faculty to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. This way of experiencing the world is largely the result of living in a consumerist culture. We not only consume things – we are constantly under a barrage of information geared solely towards consumption. We consume everything. Information is more than information – it is information for the purpose of consumption. Even religious notions are governed by consumption. We “like” or “don’t like” Church. We find it useful, or of no interest. People are even known to “shop” for Churches.

The nous is not a faculty of consumption. It is a faculty of perception, particularly of spiritual perception. The modern struggle to experience God often fails because it is carried out by consumers. God, the true and living God, cannot be consumed, nor can He be known by the tools of consumption. Consumerist Christianity peddles experience and ideas about God. It has little or nothing to do with God Himself.

I can recommend no better Sunday reading than the full blog post, ‌A Noetic Life.

Legal defense funds, Bitcoin, and other rat-holes

January 6 Legal Defense Funds

If you are contributing for the legal defense of January 6 rioters because you think everyone is entitled to a good legal defense against criminal charges, I salute your intentions but caution you that some pretty fishy lawyers are stepping forward and may be snorting your money up their noses.

If you are contributing for the legal defense of January 6 rioters because you think they are patriot heroes being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, then by all means fulfill your evolutionary destiny by giving generously — maybe your entire IRA — and forget what I just said about fishy lawyers. I probably was lying.

Since when did the Italians become such prudes?

I’ve met a surprising number of Italian conservatives – not think-tank intellectuals, who are my usual crowd here, but normies – who startled me with their anti-Americanism. It’s the same kind of thing: they blame American pop culture for debasing their kids. They’re right to, in my judgment. What startled me, though, was how this sometimes went hand in hand with sympathy for Vladimir Putin’s government. The argument seemed to be that whatever Putin’s faults, at least he won’t force us to be woke. This was the same thing I heard from some Hungarians when I expressed concern about Orban’s flirting with the Chinese. Personally, I am far more worried about Orban and the Chinese than I am about Orban and anything else. I do note, however, that many ordinary Hungarians seem to be open to the Chinese for the same reason that Italians are open to the Russians: because they fear American cultural hegemony more than they fear whatever Russia and China stand for.

This is not something I had imagined before going to Hungary. And frankly, it blows my mind that this kind of thing is never reported on in the US media. The American people have no idea how much our country’s progressivist pop culture disgusts people in other countries, even European countries. Of course, the Hungarian woman I spoke to ended up conceding that her son’s generation may well be lost on these questions – which, if true, means that Hungary, as a democracy, will eventually become a Magyar Sweden. That might be inevitable, but I certainly understand why people like her – and she’s a Fidesz supporter – are angry about it.

Is Dreher wrong? Are we beloved? Are complaints about our pop culture some kind of prudery? From Italians?

Liberal Democracy versus traditional moral and cultural values.

Just as communism was not possible with families adhering to the feudal-patriarchal system, so liberal democracy is believed to be incomplete and unsuccessful with schools respecting traditional moral and cultural authoritarianism. The arguments are analogous. Just as a person coming from a noncommunist community could not become a full-fledged, dedicated, and efficient citizen of the communist state, so a graduate of a traditional school will never be a faithful and reliable citizen of the liberal-democratic state.

Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy.

So far, liberal democracy has not shut us down, but there’s battle going on for the soul of democracy. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." (Paraphrasing John Philpot Curran, who I have reason to believe is the true source of this oft-misattributed wisdom.)

Cybercurrency

Bitcoin, for the uninitiated, is a technology that purports to solve a host of problems with old-fashioned national currencies. It is designed to safeguard wealth against the depredations of inflation, public authorities and financial intermediaries.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Some products become popular because they’re useful. Bitcoin is popular despite being mostly useless. Its success rests on the simple fact that the value of a Bitcoin has increased dramatically since its introduction in 2009, making some people rich and inspiring others to hope they can ride the rocket, too.

It’s not really a virtual currency at all. It’s virtual gold, a vehicle for speculative investment made possible by some interesting technical innovations. It’s the absurd apotheosis of our financialized economy, an asset unmoored from any productive purpose. In the beginning were bonds and then synthetic bonds and then Bitcoin.

Binyamin Appelbaum, ‌Bitcoin Cosplay Is Getting Real

Bitcoin first really caught my attention when criminals were demanding ransoms paid in Bitcoin. "Oh, a special super-secret money for criminals. What won’t they think of next?"

But James Poulos now proposes that Bitcoin (and other cybercurrencies) can protect thought-criminals from the emerging American "soft social credit" system.

I can imagine myself a thought-criminal. Heck, I probably already am a thought-criminal since I believe some of the things one just doesn’t say. But I still don’t understand cybercurrency, and I tend to agree with Binyamin Appelbaum about it.

And anyway, if I’m forbidden to buy or sell because I’m a thought-criminal, how am I going to find sellers and buyers, respectively, who are criminal enough to do business with me but who insist on being paid in Bitcoin or Ethereum or something?

Maybe I’m out of my depth even trying to write about crypto, but I have no practical doubt that, failing to understand it, I’d be well-advised to stay the hell away from it.

The job of tenured federal judges — higher and lower

If anyone ever asks a Justice if they are concerned with public perception of the Supreme Court, the answer is simple: "No. I focus on my job. People can perceive the Court however they choose." The existence of life tenure presupposes the Court will be criticized. And life tenure is designed to insulate jurists from those criticisms. Often, it is difficult to resist that pressure. Indeed, protestors are demonstrating outside Justice Kavanaugh’s house! But judicial independence is essential to the judicial role. And preserving judicial independence is inconsistent with trying to monitor public sentiments about the Court.

Josh Blackman, Did Justice Barrett Say She Was “Concerned About Public Perception of [the] Supreme Court”? – Reason.com

Darkness — but a glimmer of dawn

[T]hanks to the lies of Donald Trump and the self-serving gullibility of millions of Republican voters, the GOP has actively embraced the position that American elections are systematically and unfairly rigged against them.

This is hands down the most dangerous political development in recent American history — a civic time bomb placed smack dab at the center of American democracy.

Damon Linker.

This was written of the California gubernatorial recall.

Important update: Though California Republicans were screaming ‘fraud’ as soon as the recall count on Gov. Gavin Newsom was running against them, their candidate — black conservative radio talk-show host Larry Elder — was quick to concede the loss.

As they said about this on the Bulwark podcast, it’s a heck of a note to have to congratulate a Republican for acting in accordance with long-settled norms, but congratulations, Mr. Elder. May your tribe increase.

Is Elizabeth Holmes on trial because she’s a "she"?

The Sexism That Led to the Elizabeth Holmes Trial
In tech, brash male founders are allowed to overpromise and underdeliver, time and again. Not so much for women.

Interesting take on the Theranos saga.

Bottom line is that the tech bros who overpromise and underdeliver, time and again, should also be in the dock.

Stress-testing Covid vaccine religious objections

In Arkansas, about 5 percent of the staff at the privately run Conway Regional Health System has requested religious or medical exemptions.

The hospital responded by sending employees a form that lists a multitude of common medicines—including Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Preparation H, and Sudafed—that it said were developed through the use of fetal cell lines.

The form asks people to sign it and attest that “my sincerely held religious belief is consistent and true and I do not use or will not use” any of the listed medications.

In a statement, Conway Regional Health President and CEO Matt Troup said: “Staff who are sincere … should have no hesitancy with agreeing to the list of medicines listed.”

‌Religious Exemption Requests Spike as Employers Mandate Vaccine

Because of my many decades as an ardent supporter of religious freedom, I feel liberated to say that my patience is being taxed by vaccine objectors with implausible claims that their weird tribalism is really "religious."

I know, abusus non tollit usum. And confabulation to explain one’s visceral reaction is not unique to religion. But bullshit exegesis of scripture and selective objection to benefitting from one type of medical research will give religious freedom a worse name than it has already gotten by legitimate (but countercultural) claims.

In related news, Yasmin Tayag at the Atlantic wants us to Stop Calling It a ‘Pandemic of the Unvaccinated’. For my money, her best argument is this paragraph:

It’s important to differentiate between the vaccine hesitant, who are on the fence for legitimate reasons, and the vaccine resistant, who flat-out don’t support vaccines. By one estimate, 8 percent of the U.S. population consistently identifies as anti-vaxxers. Bacon said there’s no use trying to persuade them. It’s the former group we should be careful not to push away with divisive policies, because they are key to getting the pandemic under control.

She fails in the end to dissuade me from calling a spade a spade. The vaccine-hesitant, too, are part of the pandemic of the unvaccinated.

No true leftist …

[T]hinking you know best does not qualify for making a better world. Unless you are willing to debate your ideas openly, you are by definition an authoritarian conservative.

The modern-day book-banners, no-platformers, deniers of free speech and opponents of universalism in the name of identity politics are not of the left, the liberal left or even the New Left of the 1960s.

Tor Hundloe, Emeritus professor, University of Queensland. I’m a bit surprised that an Emeritus Professor would commit a No True Scotsman fallacy, but there it is.

Elsewhere in this week’s Economist letters to the editor regarding last week’s take-down of wokeism was this:

One thinks of Michael Macy’s sociology experiments illustrating how, when faced with an illogical group consensus, individuals tend to publicly agree and even condemn dissenters, while privately expressing concern.

Unsupported theories, such as those of the illiberal left, that have taken root in societies require brave individuals to break the cycle and express their disagreement, regardless of the condemnation. But someone else can go first.

Of course, the first paragraph is as true of the Trumpified Right as it is of the woke Left, but the really priceless thing is that last sentence, and that the letter was, indeed, Anonymous.

Insignificant yet … telling

And there are the million goofy things that are insignificant and yet somehow feel . . . telling. The Met Gala the other night showed the elite of a major industry literally losing the thread. Google the pictures. It was a freak show. There was no feeling of a responsibility to present to the world a sense of coherence or elegance, to show a thing so beautiful it left the people who saw it aspiring to something they couldn’t even name. All this was presided over by a chic and cultivated woman who is cunning and practical. If freaky is in she’s going freaky deaky to the max. Follow the base, even if it’s sick. Do not lead. Leading is impossible now.

That’s what I see with leaders all over America’s business life. What follows the lost thread is go-with-the-flow. Even when you know it isn’t going anywhere good. Especially when it’s going nowhere good.

Peggy Noonan, ‌America Has Lost the Thread

What’s the plural of "conundrum"?

  • Why are arts expected to pay for their own venues while taxpayers pay for sports venues through tax abatements and other gimmicks?
  • Rooting for a professional sports team, a business, is like rooting for Coke against Pepsi.
  • Why is cock fighting illegal while boxing and MMA are legal?

(H/T Fran Liebowitz, Pretend it’s a City, on Netflix)

Give them better dreams

Little kids should not dream of being YouTubers when they grow up.

Give them better dreams: become like your grandma, your preacher, your teacher, like Dorothy Sayers or John Lewis or Yo-Yo Ma.

Do something beautiful with your life, even if you think no one’s looking.
— Jessica Hooten Wilson (@HootenWilson) September 16, 2021

I discovered Jessica roughly two years ago as a speaker at a symposium. She was astonishingly good — especially for (then) a professor at a "university" I attended for three semesters and left shaking the dust from my feet. She also was very conversant with, and friendly toward, Russian Orthodox giants like Dostoyevsky.

Of course, it’s small surprise that she left there and, I have reason to think, no longer adheres to the Evangelical Protestantism for which said "university" stands. Alas, I think she swam the Tiber rather than the Bosphorus, and not just because she went to the University of Dallas.

Is there nothing Fox News won’t stoop to?

I had no idea that anything could make me like Fox News less, but they found something:

Inbox: Piers Morgan is joining Fox News

Piers Morgan will join News Corp and FOX News Media in a global deal, launching a new TV show in early 2022. Morgan will also join The Sun and the New York Post as a columnist.
— Aidan McLaughlin (@aidnmclaughlin)
September 16, 2021

Ameliorative measure

If English Departments were shut down and their students given jobs driving cabs and given the classics to read while they wait for fares, this would be a step forward.

Garrison Keillor, ‌ Women: don’t read this, for men only

A periodic sorta invitation

A friend on micro.blog has new business cards describing himself as "Master Generalist." He says it’s easier than “Writer, Speaker, Technology Consultant, Home Restorer, Circus Rigger and a few other significant things I’m leaving off because brevity.”

No, he’s not typical. But micro.blog is a fascinating place which disproves the common judgment that social media are inherently toxic.


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.