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.

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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

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“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.

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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

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… 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)

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

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[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

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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

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

 

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Pet Peeve Venting

The NCAA Men’s tournament, which I’m still watching despite Purdue’s loss to Texas Tech, has been flooded with offensive, aggressive ads.

Forget the dueling ads for Johnson County Sheriff.

And forget the loud ads for Samsung’s newest phone. They’re dumb, but their dumbness is just loud and generational.

These are what I have in mind:

  • AT&T just loves it when households form — and then break up. They make money coming and going, because “more for your thing is our thing”:

AT&T celebrating that moment when a couple moves in together without mention of wedlock. But they can get really good two-for-one deals on iPhone 8 now.

Direct TV (an AT&T brand) with an angry young woman throwing her boyfriend’s valuables out a second-floor window as he cringes and dodges. Then she settles down to watch Direct TV.

  • NCAA Athletes inexplicably glaring into the camera, saying “Label me. Don’t be shy. You know you want to. You’d do it behind my back.” What is that about?!
  • Experian running ads about how scary the “Dark Web” is with identities being sold — identities stolen, they neglect to mention, from them due to lax security — and how you can have them run a check for you. (Okay, they’ve got a lemon surplus so they’re making lemonade. I get that.)

On the other hand, though I don’t care for Capital One, I grin at their ads with Charles Barkley, Spike Lee and Samuel Jackson, especially the one with Jim Nance and the other where Barkley calls an Armadillo a “turtle-rat.”

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Imposter Syndrome

A gem of an essay at Aeon:

‘Impostor syndrome’ describes a problem I don’t especially wish to solve. Its remedy is to recognise that one does in fact belong. Yet I can’t convince myself I want to fully belong – indeed, I would experience belonging as a loss. The reasons for this are several, though all converge on a conviction that being ill-adapted has a value I would not forfeit.

Lately, academia has grown more sensitive to how its culture flattens and normalises those who populate its ranks. Impostor syndrome is a way of explaining how non-standard identities can provoke alienation. Class is one such structure of exclusion, alongside race, gender, sexual identity and disability. But what are the epistemic costs of ‘fitting’? If we look only at alienation, we ignore the ways in which that subtly enforced sameness diminishes understanding.

In his exquisite poem ‘Digging’ (1966), Seamus Heaney observes his own descent from men who laboured. Of his father digging potatoes, he writes:

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

Against this raw strength, Heaney registers with melancholy humility: ‘I’ve no spade to follow men like them’ and the poem concludes:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

The poem’s beauty is its ambivalence, its reluctance to mark a generational shift from spade to pen as unambiguous progress. I long to wield both, and rue how often academic life would strip spades from those who have them. And that, more than anything else, is what I suspect betrays me as an impostor, though not in the anxious, normalised way.

Impostor syndrome rides on the perception, most fundamentally, that one is getting away with something. I struggle to grasp just why this sleight-of-hand ought be counted a bad thing. I sometimes still feel a fraud in academic environments, but neither do I mind it much. Indeed, taking a little pleasure in getting away with things is something I come by honestly – a family legacy, if you will.

None of my academic bona fides reassure me more than counting myself a squatter

(Amy Olberding, How useful is ‘impostor syndrome’ in academia?, Aeon Essays)

Update:

Did you ever feel like an imposter in Church?

The Rooted Faith in Wendell Berry’s Fiction.” Jack Baker and I write about how Berry’s exemplary characters root themselves in order to bring healing to damaged places:

Berry describes himself as a “marginal” Christian, and his position on the outskirts of our dominant, consumerist culture makes his a voice from the wilderness—one many evangelicals with more orthodox theology might do well to consider. Perhaps the greatest threat to the church today isn’t falling for doctrinal heresy but implicitly adopting the consumerist, self-centered assumptions of our Western culture. It’s all too easy for American Christians to assent to the right doctrines on Sunday while inhabiting a counter-Christian economy the rest of the week, loving ourselves more than God and neighbor.

(Jeffrey Bilbro, for whom also a tip of the hat for pointing me to Amy Olberding’s essay)

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It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Social Media

At last weekend’s Eighth Day Symposium in Wichita, Ken Myers‘ second plenary address was nominally about “Social Media and the Commodification of Friendship.”

I find that at my fairly advanced age, and perhaps with a little tone-deafness to social cues, I’ve seemingly avoided the worst crippling effects of media that Ken described, which presumably makes me a social media misfit where social media brings

a thousand bits of banal but cheerfully good news. Speed, radical transparency, confessionalism, exhibitionism, prideful consumerism and, above all, a relentless positivity — these are the values and practices of today’s social media. They are enforced by tribalist pressures — that is, the need to fit in, the example set by friends and the famous — as much as by the programmers and moderators who manage these networks.

It’s more like me to be the Debbie Downer of my Facebook timeline, and I don’t, unlike the average person, spend more time on social media than anything else online. Nowhere close.

So I, and much of the audience there, were thinking more about our children or grandchildren than about ourselves — though I’m not exempting myself.

Discernment is key … Navigating cultural life generally is a matter of wisdom, not of law.

In some circles that I speak to, it’s impossible to have a conversation about the use of media or technology because people are afraid of being “legalistic.” Because there’s no Bible verse that says something about Facebook or smartphones, people say that they should be free to do what they want to.

I think the fear of legalism is itself a form of legalism. It’s to assume that law is the only relevant category guiding our lives. That places much more emphasis on law than the Bible does. In I Corinthians 10, for instance, St. Paul is quite clear in saying some things are lawful, but it doesn’t mean that they’re helpful or will build us up. So that the lawfulness of something is not a sufficient excuse or rationale for endorsing it.

Wisdom is the Biblical framework for making decisions about how we might navigate and live well. Wisdom transcends the stark categories of lawful and unlawful. Many things that are lawful are still foolish, and unfortunately the fear of legalism often cuts off the conversation about wisdom and folly.

(Ken Myers)

This is, in a way, “deja vu all over again.” In my Evangelical childhood and adolescence, we had a lot of extrabiblical rules. I won’t digress into listing them or critiquing whether those who made the rules had come anywhere close to prohibiting those things that most risked spiritual harm to us. At the time, I thought not, and I was in the “there’s no Bible verse that says that” camp much of the time.

The adult response vacillated  between putting scripture on the rack and torturing it to make it say “that,” on the one hand, and frank confession that they, our elders, were forbidding things they thought “inexpedient” (to use the King James term for St. Paul’s discouragement of dumb lawful stuff) on the other hand.

I now think that they were trying to do a good thing, however clumsily and unpersuasively they did it, and however undiscerning they may have  been in identifying salient threats. It’s more obvious now than then, but the recent observation of Kenda Creasy Dean (author of Almost Christian) in her interview by Ken Myers was probably true even then:

One of the things that’s really tricky to convey to parents is that if you’re trying to form your kids to be Christians, it’s not going to fit them very well for American culture. It’s a lot easier to raise kids who are Christianish — who are capable of affirming a few central beliefs but who have little of consequence in their lives that’ shaped decisively by that belief.

Form Christians anyway. This anti-culture, such as it is hasn’t got very long before big changes come anyway.

Suggested resources:

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We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.