Building on vice
As Augustine of Hippo noticed, what the Romans called virtue was really a vicious craving for glory, for the approval of others who think well of one. This vice helped prop up the Roman republic, because the political class could win glory by performing deeds of conspicuous benefit to the commonwealth. In this way, the vice of glory protected against other vices that were even worse. The problem was twofold. First, this strategy worked only because some little bit of real virtue remained; otherwise, one might pursue glory by foul means rather than fair. Second, indulging the itch for glory gradually undermined that little bit of real virtue, so that one did use foul means, for example buying votes. At that point the entire motivational structure begins to collapse, as the political class comes to lust not after simple glory, but after wealth and power. The curtain fell on the republic.
… Our society has a version of the Roman strategy too, but in our case the vice that protects against still worse vices is the lust for wealth itself. As Adam Smith noticed, the sheer desire for acquisition, as though by an invisible hand, can motivate people to benefit others, not because they love them but because that is how they earn a profit. Just as in the Roman case, this strategy works only if there a little bit of virtue remains; otherwise, one might pursue wealth by fraud and by governmental favors rather instead of by making a better and cheaper product. Just as in the Roman case, indulging the itch for wealth eventually undermines that little bit of virtue; today our corporations compete by gaming the system of regulations and subsidies. And just as in the Roman case, at this point the whole motivational structure begins to collapse, and the elite classes begin to scratch far baser itches than simple desire for honest profit.
J Budziszewski, Why Do We Always Hit a Wall?
This has haunted me since I read it, in part because it haunted me maybe 55 years before I read it.
No, I wasn’t conscious that Roman “virtue” was built on vice, but I did know that our system was built on the desire for wealth, and that a system like that seemed unlikely to come to a good end.
The longer I live, the closer I come to internalizing a key truth: there are no “good ends.” That’s what it means to live in a “fallen world.” But another part of what a “fallen world” means is that we are drawn, (almost?) irresistibly, to shuffle the deck chairs as it all goes down.
See also Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden.
The demand to be political first
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before! A piece of pop culture has been announced, one with a diverse cast of characters and themes of female empowerment. Some conservative idiots lose their minds because they’re conservative idiots. Liberals respond by taking to the ramparts to defend the honor of the piece of pop culture against MAGA or whatever. Meanwhile, the actual artistic value of the pop culture in question is completely lost. Aesthetic concerns are buried beneath the demand to be political first. If you aren’t actively singing the praises of worthless shlock that’s vaguely associated with progressive politics, you’re one of them. My god, that She-Hulk show is f***ing dreadful, and its feminist politics are warmed-over Sheryl Sandberg tripe, but people are like “actually the CGI is supposed to look like dogshit, it’s artistic” because they think defending Disney’s latest blast of entertainment Soylent Green is the same as storming the Bastille. Conservatives freak about diversity, liberals defend art without any reference to artist, rinse and repeat. I could be talking about 2016’s Ghostbusters, or I could be talking about the upcoming Little Mermaid remake. Nothing ever changes, and it is all so, so tiresome.
Freddie deBoer, Why Are Identitarians Such Cheap Dates? (bowdlerization gently added). That opening paragraph was terrific, and the title of the posting makes it even better.
The special costs of being poor
Early in Nickel and Dimed, the great Barbara Ehrenreich offered up a blunt observation. “There are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary, there are a host of special costs,” she wrote. “If you can’t put up the two months’ rent you need to secure an apartment, you end up paying through the nose for a room by the week,” she explained. “If you have only a room, with a hot plate at best, you can’t save by cooking up huge lentil stews that can be frozen for the week ahead. You eat fast food or the hot dogs and Styrofoam cups of soup that can be microwaved in a convenience store.” For the poor this is no revelation, merely a description of daily life. For many others, though, it was something else, a glimpse into a world that could feel distant. Yet it was not so far away, as she understood: The poor were all around. They worked, they loved, they tried to make do. The poor carried America on their backs and debunked its self-mythologies. So, too, did Ehrenreich, who showed no patience for pretense. She always looked for the truth of a thing, and for decades, she shared her search with all of us.
Sarah Jones, Barbara Ehrenreich Knew There Was a Fight
The platonic ideal of an NYT opinion piece
Maya Jasanoff’s idea that “The new king now has an opportunity to make a real historical impact by scaling back royal pomp and updating Britain’s monarchy to be more like those of Scandinavia” — because Colonialism! — is (a) the platonic ideal of an NYT opinion piece and (b) a perfect illustration of Clement Atlee’s comment that “the intelligentsia … can be trusted to take the wrong view on any subject.” The pomp of the British monarchy is the point; the ceremony is the substance — for good reasons and bad. When the ceremony is discarded the monarchy will be too. And rightly so.
Sheer drudgery, with a dose of despair
Teaching has its own rewards, to be sure. But you’re a lot more likely to wax eloquent about the privilege of shaping the minds, hearts, and souls of our youth when you aren’t grading their papers.
Peter C. Meilaender, I Don’t Care If My Students Get Jobs
Not a promising review
[T]o their credit, the characters managed to exchange an endless series of ponderous aphorisms without giggling. So it was that we learned how ‘the wine is sweetest for those in whose bitter trials it has fermented’; how ‘the same wind that seeks to blow out a fire may also cause it to spread’; and, more pithily, how ‘there can be no trust between hammer and rock’.
Political (after a fashion)
The difference between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers
The fundamental difference between Ukrainian soldiers, who are fighting for their country’s existence, and Russian soldiers, who are fighting for their salary, has finally begun to matter.
Dance with the one what brung ya
In the post-Roe era, Ramesh Ponnuru argues, the pro-life movement should remember the approach that got them to to where they are today: incrementalism. “Passionate pro-lifers, in their impatience at what they recognize to be a grave injustice, are forgetting the need for patient persuasion of the public,” he writes for Bloomberg. “Some pro-lifers have made a point of claiming that abortion is never medically necessary. That’s because they don’t consider ending an ectopic pregnancy, for example, as a ‘direct abortion’—an intentional taking of human life. That’s needlessly confusing, and pro-lifers should simply say they’re for an exception in such cases. They should also broaden their agenda to include measures to aid parents of small children—such as the proposals of various Republican senators to expand the child tax credit and to finance paid leave. Promoting a culture of life includes fostering the economic conditions that help it thrive.”
Taking leave of senses
[I]f you have paid much attention to the conservative movement and conservative media, you’ve seen a few formerly sober-minded men take off the bow tie, put on the red cap, and bark at the moon.
Kevin F. Williamson, Steve Bannon Charges: Gravy Train Derailed
Truth Social: The media penal colony to which Twitter and Facebook sentenced Donald Trump.
Words failed them
The families and former FBI agent William Aldenberg say they have been confronted and harassed in person by [Alex] Jones’ followers because of the hoax conspiracy.
Associated Press story on a second civil trial against Jones arising from his claim that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax. (Emphasis added)
[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.
Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge
The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.
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.