Thursday, 9/8/22

Culture

Bravery

“Many people praised me for my bravery for having done this — to which I could only say: Millions of people do this kind of work every day for their entire lives — haven’t you noticed them?” she said in 2018 in an acceptance speech after receiving the Erasmus Prize, given to a person or institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the humanities, the social sciences or the arts.

From the New York Times obituary for Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Ehrenreich went “underground,” trying to live on various minimum wage jobs.

I’m sure I read some of her journalistic writing, and even looked forward to the byline as a harbinger of good writing, but I apparently missed how well-regarded she really was.

Conservative academia

Do ten conservative American academics even exist? (Try naming ten outside of Hillsdale College. I’ll go: Harvey Mansfield, Niall Ferguson, Ruth Wisse, Robby George. Struggling to come up with a fifth without Google.) Then again, we wouldn’t know because they are closeted.

Bari Weiss, Dissidents and Doublethinkers in our Democracy

Too stupid for ranked-choice voting?

It seems to me that Damon Linker is arguing “America is too paranoid and too stupid for ranked-choice voting.”

I agree, though, that it’s not likely to prove a panacea.

Todd Rokita does something right for a change

In a stunning development, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has done something necessary and with minimal fanfare:

Nineteen state attorneys general wrote a letter last month to BlackRock CEO Laurence D. Fink. They warned that BlackRock’s environmental, social and governance investment policies appear to involve “rampant violations” of the sole interest rule, a well-established legal principle. The sole interest rule requires investment fiduciaries to act to maximize financial returns, not to promote social or political objectives. Last week Attorneys General Jeff Landry and Todd Rokita of Louisiana and Indiana, respectively, went further. Each issued a letter warning his state pension board that ESG investing is likely a violation of fiduciary duty.

ESG Can’t Square With Fiduciary Duty

I am inclined to think that these (presumably Republican) Attorneys General are “on the wrong side of history.” I think the sole interest rule will fall because it ignores corporate externalities.

Think of it this way: would an institutional investor before the Clean Water Act have been morally justified in avoiding companies that used streams and rivers as a dumping ground for toxic byproducts? But it would have been unlawful under the sole interest rule.

Now draw analogies.

But meanwhile, we don’t elect attorneys general to be on the right side of history. We elect them to enforce the laws as they are.

A question not worth researching

Cable news is for idiots, so I’m not going to subject myself to hours and hours of watching it to evaluate whether the average political positioning of a CNN guest has changed. But I think the circulation of the particular Francesca Chambers clip you cite as supposed evidence of a Trumpy shift at CNN is weaksauce — and boy have I been seeing a lot of apoplectic liberals share it on Twitter. (Jesus, people, will you get a hobby already?)

Chambers, who covers the White House for USA Today, has been a fixture on cable news for years, not just on CNN but also on MSNBC and Fox News. That she made an inane jump to “optics” when asked about Trump bringing the aunt of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli on stage at a Pennsylvania rally — Hale-Cusanelli is the January 6 riot convict who praised Hitler and posed with a Hitler mustache (in order to be “ironic”, he says, of course) — does not say anything about CNN changing. It just reflects that cable news political panel discussions have always consisted of replacement-level-or-lower armchair political strategizing and posturing — there are hours and hours and hours of time to fill, and they have been filled with this crap my entire adult life. (By the way, Sara Fay and I wrote back in January about how to book an actually good political conversation panel, based on our experience at Left, Right & Center.)

Josh Barro

Politics

Metapolitics

The Right denies the reality of events, clueless to its eventual Emperor Has No Clothes moment. The Left, however, seeks to deny the very nature of humanity itself. Both worship at the same altar, but their beliefs are predicated upon differing hermeneutical approaches within the Cult of Progress. The former believes the fantasy of a technological harnessing of apparently limitless resources to produce an ever-expanding material prosperity, all without consequential damage to the society at large. The Left believes in the fantasy of a technological harnessing of the apparently limitless ability to refashion mankind itself, regardless of the demolition of existing societal structures, and again, all without serious consequences. This latter one, while indeed the more extreme, worries me the least, as it is the more difficult case to make—indeed, often farcical in its extremities—and seems likely to eventually collapse in upon itself. The former, however, I consider the more dangerous at this moment in history, as they appear fully ready and prepared to project and maintain their Will to Power. At these times, you cannot go wrong by referencing Shakespeare, “a plague of both your houses.”

Terry Cowan, Grand Delusions, Past and Present

Political promises then and now

It is, of course, true that wars never do half the good which the leaders of the belligerents say they are going to do. Nothing ever does half the good—perhaps nothing ever does half the evil—which is expected of it. And that may be a sound argument for not pitching one’s propaganda too high. But it is no argument against war.

C.S. Lewis, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” in The Weight of Glory

Our last Conservative President

When I hear politicians promising that we can have it all — particularly that our postwar “happy motoring” can continue forever, only electrified instead of gas-powered — I’m reminded that Jimmy Carter, who urged some voluntary austerity, was our last conservative President.

Election heuristics

Years ago my friend Bill, an Army officer and fellow grad student, hosted our department for a cookout. While everyone was happy to eat his food and drink his beer, most of our colleagues despised Bill’s beliefs. One of them—call her Jane—took Bill’s small children aside, taught them a left-wing chant, then led them, her eyes glittering with hateful glee, on a little protest march through the gathering. Ever since that day, I’ve found voting to be a snap. I simply identify the candidate most likely to embody Jane’s hopes for America, and I vote against that son of a bitch with everything I’ve got.

Tony Woodlief, The American Conservative 2020 Presidential Symposium

That’s a pretty lousy heuristic, but a pretty good story.

Amtrack Joe’s Big Warning

Spare us the pieties while you knee-cap us, please

How can an American president go wrong in identifying threats to democracy? Biden offered a master class.

[I]n describing their goals, he cast a net so wide it included everyone from those who cheered the attack on the Capitol and the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, to those who oppose abortion rights and gay marriage.

As categories go, this one is capacious.

It includes violent Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — as well as every faithful Catholic or evangelical Christian whose deeply held moral convictions bring them to oppose legalized abortion.

In other words, Biden claimed to distinguish MAGA Republicans from mainstream ones and then proceeded to conflate them. That may resonate with partisan Democrats who have never seen a conservative they didn’t consider a bigot or a fool. But it gives the lie to the idea that dismantling MAGA Republicanism is the prime objective of the president or his party.

Bret Stephens, ‌With Malice Toward Quite a Few

I did not listen to the speech, but when someone as sober as Bret Stephens says Biden lumps together January 6 insurrectionists and faithful Catholics who vote Republican based on the abortion issue, I’ve got to think that’s a fair characterization.

And “devout Catholic” Biden invites just contempt for doing that.

Stephens again:

Is that smart as hardball politics? Maybe. But Biden could have spared us the pieties about timeless American values. As far as I can tell, he has yet to say a word in public against the [Democrat] ad buys [to elect MAGA candidates in GOP primaries], much less tried to stop them. Instead, his speech makes a neat bookend to a strategy of promoting MAGA extremists so they can be denounced as MAGA extremists. Some liberals took a similar approach in 2016, all but rooting for Trump to win the nomination on the theory that he’d be Hillary Clinton’s weakest opponent. Look how that worked out.

Dark Brandon

Surely it’s damning that what so many people seem to remember isn’t Mr. Biden’s message but the nakedly political use of the uniformed Marines behind him (calling Gen. Mark Milley)—and the neon illumination that made the stately face of Independence Hall look like the entrance to a bordello in some red-light district.

Even more striking was the tone. Gone was genial Joe from Scranton, the man who persuaded Americans that he would give them a calm and drama-free presidency. In its place was Dark Brandon, a superhero saving America from imaginary armies of fascism.

William McGurn, Biden is Angry, But Not Serious

Is his church the enemy?

Biden’s speech conflated the refusal to accept election outcomes with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage — implying that the positions of his own Catholic Church are part of a “MAGA Republican” threat to democracy itself — while touting a State of the Union-style list of policy achievements, a cascade of liberal self-praise.

Ross Douthat, Does Biden Really Believe We Are in a Crisis of Democracy?

Realignment

Today’s Right implicitly understands itself as the outside party, oppressed by the powerful and banging on the windows of the institutions. Today’s Left implicitly understands itself as the insider, enforcing norms and demanding conformity.

Yuval Levin via Jason Willick

How small this narcissist is!

Yesterday, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump addressed a rally supposedly in support of Republican candidates in the state: Mehmet Oz for the Senate; the January 6 apologist Doug Mastriano for governor … [T]his was what led local news: “Donald Trump Blasts Philadelphia, President Biden During Rally for Doug Mastriano, Dr. Oz in Wilkes-Barre.”

Yes, you read that right: Campaigning in Pennsylvania, the ex-president denounced the state’s largest city …

The rally format allowed time for only brief remarks by the two candidates actually on the ballot, Oz and Mastriano. Its message was otherwise all Trump, Trump, Trump. A Republican vote is a Trump vote. A Republican vote is a vote to endorse lies about the 2020 presidential election.

On and on it went, in a protracted display of narcissistic injury that was exactly the behavior that Biden’s Philadelphia speech had been designed to elicit.

David Frum, Biden Laid the Trap. Trump Walked Into It.


[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.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.

Monday, 8/28/22

Student Loan Forgiveness

Student Loan Forgiveness 1

The bigger problem with student debt cancellation, however, is that it’s an ad-hoc, one-off move that does absolutely nothing to fix the deep pathologies in the way America financed undergraduate education. Matt Yglesias was exactly right to ask [on Twitter] what happens on the morning after the debt cancellation:

What is the plan for the day after universal debt cancellation when masters programs raise tuition and tell prospective students not to worry about it because the debt will be cancelled down the road?

But this perverse incentive, which economists call moral hazard, will only exacerbate an underlying problem. For decades, our strategy has been to limit the supply of available college seats while using subsidized loans to pump up the demand for those limited spots.

So we need to ask ourselves why we’re merely applying an expensive band-aid instead of addressing the deeper issue — and why we’re still so enamored of the idea of hurling big wads of cash at already-overpriced service industries.

Noah Smith, America is not fixing its college financing system (H/T The Morning Dispatch)

Student Loan Forgiveness 2

We were propagandized my entire high school simply to go to college, and we were promised if we did we would make more money and have a better life (“College graduates make 1 million dollars more than those who only graduate from high school!”). We received no guidance about which colleges to go to, how much money to take out, what to major in if we wanted return-on-investment, etc. Every guidance counselor told us this; every hallway had a poster proclaiming this; every teacher drilled it into us; from ages 13-18.

And we listened to them. And then we (as a generation) found out we’d have the equivalent of mortgages to pay off before we could get a real house and also that Boomers were not retiring so we couldn’t get jobs.

To put the question simply: In sussing out responsibility for the choice to take on debt, I don’t think “was someone holding a gun to your head when you took out the loan?” is the right question. I think something closer to “when you took out this loan—almost certainly while still a teenager or in your extremely early 20s—did anyone help you understand what you were doing and what the real ramifications of this choice would be?” In most cases, I think the answer is “not really.” Does it follow, therefore, that all the loan must be forgiven? Perhaps not. But at the very least we need to reckon with agency in a serious, thoughtful way and not in the simplistic terms being put forward by many commentators.

Jake Meador, Two Bad Reasons to Oppose Loan Debt Forgiveness and Two Better Ones

No comment

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe made the economic realities inadvertently stark when he tweeted on the day of Biden’s [student loan forgiveness] announcement, “Good news for thousands of my former students. I’m grateful on their behalf, Mr. President.”

David French, Is There a Christian Case for Biden’s Debt Relief Plan?.

Yes, I relented on my intention to pay no more heed to French on the intersection of politics and religion. And, yes, the wisdom of that resolve was confirmed; IMHO, French shed no real religious light on his stated topic.

Rank politics

The Rarest Thing in Politics

Like my friend, I disagree with Liz Cheney’s political positions.

But there is something about her.

As much as I disagree with her, I trust her.

Why? Because she has demonstrated a quality that is so rare in American politics today — perhaps, also, in American life — that we cannot help but find that quality to be attractive.

Liz Cheney has integrity.

When I see Liz Cheney, I feel that I am in the presence of an American patriot. True, I disagree with her. But I know we would have a respectful conversation. Like I said, I trust her.

Liz Cheney makes me think of one of the later verses of “America the Beautiful” — the ones that we rarely sing, but which I think are among the finest lyrics to ever appear in a patriotic song.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life

The verse might have been referring to American heroes who proved themselves in military battle. They loved their country more than they loved their own lives. That is the meaning of sacrifice.

Liz Cheney exemplifies those words as well. When she led a principled fight against Donald Trump, she knew she was sacrificing her run for reelection. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Jeffrey Salkin, It’s Cheney-mania!

Whatever happened to the Emerging Democratic Majority?

We didn’t anticipate the extent to which cultural liberalism might segue into cultural radicalism and the extent to which that view, particularly as driven by younger cohorts, would wind up imprinting itself on the entire infrastructure in and around the Democratic Party—the advocacy groups, the foundations, academia of course, certainly the lower and middle levels of the Democratic Party infrastructure itself.

Ruy Teixara, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, on why his Emerging Democratic Majority hasn’t emerged.

A Real Problem for Republicans

The main thing holding the GOP back from a complete takeover? The Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis is surely onto something when he notes that the Party of Lincoln, in its Trumpified version, has a fondness for nominating “idiots” to run for office.

Indeed, as Nellie [Bowles] noted only last week, there isn’t enough cocaine in the world to keep Mitch McConnell and voters everywhere from recognizing that “candidate quality” is a real problem for Republicans. They tend to nominate people with absolutely zero experience even running for office, much less holding it. The results aren’t just Dr. Oz alienating Pennsylvania voters by suggesting that John Fetterman brought about his own stroke, but Georgia’s favorite son, Herschel Walker, yammering on about too many trees while being unable to accurately count his own children. 

Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance managed to win his primary in Ohio with just 32 percent of the vote but rarely goes a week without some sort of gaffe, such as suggesting that women should stay in violent marriages.

Nick Gillespie

Democrats nominate an occasional loose cannon, but I wouldn’t be all that keen on eliminating party primaries were I a Democrat: the Republican base keeps delivering candidates that a relatively easy to beat.

Russia 2016, USA 2022

A report published this week by Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory indicated that Twitter and Meta, for the first time, recently removed a set of fake accounts from their respective platforms for “using deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia.” The influence campaign had reportedly been active for years, promoting the interests of the United States and its allies, spreading anti-extremism messaging, and opposing countries like Russia, China, and Iran. Neither tech platform directly attributed the activity to the U.S. government, but the U.S. and United Kingdom were listed as the “presumptive” countries of origin.

The Morning Dispatch.

Could you remind me again how evil Russia is for trying surreptitiously to influence things like our 2016 election?

Just because it’s a fun simile

We remember Bill Clinton’s sex scandals and not Hillary Clinton’s almost-certainly criminal cattle-futures shenanigans because most people know what sex is and understand that you’re not supposed to cheat on your spouse, but trying to explain futures trading to the typical voter is like trying to get a dachshund to bark in terza rima — they just aren’t equipped. But people naturally get hypocrisy, or at least a dumbed-down version of it.

Kevin D. Williamson, Hypocrisy for Dummies

Culture

Whence cancel culture?

I had to drive a couple of hours yesterday, and I heard on a podcast a sober but startling theory I really need to pass along.

Roughly one-third (I believe he said) of college graduates are supporting themselves through jobs that require no more than a high-school education because there are not enough jobs in “the managerial class” for which they’ve been groomed. We are college-educating more people than the market requires. So the competition for managerial class jobs is fierce.

Whence cancel culture. If you can pick off a superior with a grainy home movie of him in blackface decades ago, you might just move up the ladder — assuming you’re on the ladder. If you’re not on the ladder but want on, picking off a peer by exposing a tasteless Tweet just might eliminate her from consideration.

The dynamics of the New York Times staff as described by escapees seems to fit this theory “to a T.” Restless youngsters have knocked off a number of their bosses, older colleagues and peers.

So cancel culture is (just?) the war of all against all in modern garb.

Do the math

It’s not difficult to see what’s going on here: oil companies haven’t invested in new and better domestic refineries because they know that, even in this hour of essentially free money, their profit margins are shrinking and there aren’t 30 years of crude in the ground to pay off 30-year mortgages on new refineries. The oil companies are in a “sunset industry” and they know it.

James Howard Kunstler, Adapt or Die: Kunstler’s Guide to Living in the Long Emergency.

I like the epigram to this article, too:

It is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that a writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line.”

—George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

Maggots doing what comes naturally

A sprawling campus, part of the University …, covers their eastern reaches. The waters are channelled into generic, forgettable pools fringed with generic, forgettable buildings. It is, of course, the modern kind of forgettable architecture. Every chunk of grey and glass has its own unique variation on the shape of a shoebox. The innovations are of the type that everyone in the world has seen so much of that only those paid to do so can even pretend to care anymore.

In this, the University … is no better or worse than every other university. They have all spread their aggressively mediocre buildings across the cities and towns: shiny lumps of architectural conformity that advertise the shallowness, greed, and transience of the institutions to the whole world. We should be thankful for them. They physically represent the death of the modern university’s soul, and so make it obvious. Now a university is just a machine for uprooting humanity. It takes the young from home but gives then no adult responsibilities, drops them into a society of other uprooted youth, habituates them to the mentality of the virtual class, and leaves them drifting in debt and doubt.

At this point, some readers may hope I will criticise the ‘woke’. I will not. A worm digesting a living human being is a problem. A worm digesting a corpse is just the natural order of things. The universities are corpses and fashionable ideologies are maggots.

A terrible decision killed the universities. History, always Sphinx-like, showed them three good things, but only let them keep two. The one that they left on the table was the one that they should have treasured. Without it, their wyrd was written. The three gifts history offered were called ‘important’, ‘new’, and ‘true’.

FFatalism, Academic landscapes.

More: An earnest young postgraduate once told me that texts have no meaning. I said I didn’t know what he meant. He tried to explain it to me again. I’m not sure why. He must have thought that he was saying something.

Quintessentially Legal and Quite Mad

Arkansas banned healthcare professionals providing gender transition procedures to anyone under 18. A Federal District (trial) Court and Circuit (appellate) court have both now held that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause:

[U]nder the Act, medical procedures that are permitted for a minor of one sex are prohibited for a minor of another sex. A minor born as a male may be prescribed testosterone or have breast tissue surgically removed, for example, but a minor born as a female is not permitted to seek the same medical treatment. Because the minor’s sex at birth determines whether or not the minor can receive certain types of medical care under the law, Act 626 discriminates on the basis of sex.

H/T Religion Clause.

I have seen this kind of reasoning over and over as the courts impose on us, and on legislators who beg to differ, their view of “discrimination on the basis of sex.” For instance, if John can marry Suzy then Sally should be allowed to “marry” Suzy.

I’m not alone:

As the [Franciscan Alliance] argues in its brief, in 2016 the government interpreted ObamaCare’s nondiscrimination provisions “to require doctors and hospitals nationwide to perform and insure gender-transition procedures and abortions or else be liable for ‘sex’ discrimination.”

Specifically, the feds read the law to require that services be offered on an equal basis. “If a gynecologist performs a hysterectomy for a woman with uterine cancer,” the alliance’s brief says, “she must do the same for a woman who wants to remove a healthy uterus to live as a man.”

This cultural clash isn’t going away, and the country is in for more trouble if progressives can’t rediscover the principle of pluralism. The government’s appeal shows a bloody-mindedness that is difficult to fathom.

Transgender Patients vs. Religious Doctors – WSJ

However often I’ve seen it, I’ve never been able to get used to such reasoning as being sane. It strikes me as sophistry, though when we set out to outlaw sex discrimination, we implicitly set out to eradicate invidious sexual stereotypes. If we leave it to individual judges to determine what’s invidious, won’t decisions be all over the map? Isn’t a stupid, sophistical woodenness better than that?

Nah!

A Child’s Purpose

“Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up,” Herzen says. “But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what only lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment … Life’s bounty is in its flow. Later is too late.”

Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks


[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.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.

Tuesday, 7/12/22

Sunday was the day of my quarterly review of articles I’ve tagged for re-reading. Among other things, I’m reminded of why I subscribed to a Yorkshireman with the pen name FFatalism (who hasn’t floated my boat very high in recent weeks).

Our epistemic default setting

Objectivism is, according to philosopher Esther Meek, our “defective epistemic default setting” as modern westerners. This is our problem. We wrongly think of knowledge as facts, information, proofs, and propositions. Real, true knowledge, we think, can always be explicitly put into words and sentences.

[Michael] Polanyi recognized how disastrous this view of knowledge really is. He already had an inchoate–or, tacit–sense that this was wrong by 1916 …

There is a hint here of what would become Polanyi’s most famous phrase: “We can know more than we can tell.”

Cameron Combs, Michael Polanyi: Epistemological Therapist for a Secular Age

This is a conviction that I’m trying to get from my head into my bones. It seems gradually to be happening, aided by realization that it is impossible to tell a Protestant or Catholic what they should know about Eastern Orthodox Christianity until they’ve had a few weeks experiencing the Divine Liturgy. (This is excellent, but it’s no substitute for the experience of Liturgy.)

Everyone knows the fall is coming

I am a poor listener. I only know the same thing that everyone does: the current order cannot go on. We express this knowledge in ten thousand ways. Some people concentrate on climate change, others on the collapse of moral language, and others on the unavailability of energy to sustain the modern regime. Historical narratives of civilisational collapse become increasingly salient. Parents do not expect the world to be as friendly to their children as it was to them. Nobody believes that the next 50 years will follow the upward arc of the last 50. We hang for a moment in the air, waiting for gravity.

Everyone knows the fall is coming, but our politics cannot say it. The language of continual progress is too entrenched. The UK government talks of ‘levelling up’ the country. Their opposition wants to ‘build a future that everyone in Britain can be proud of’. The social justice set want to build a ‘more equitable’ future. Their opposition wants to ‘return to classical liberalism’. Whether left or right, whether a political party or a political movement, all seek to guide the upwards arc of the future to ensure that we land in just the right spot. This is bullshit. We have never been able to guide the Machine, and everyone knows that we’re reaching the top of the arc. We are going to fall. The language of progress isn’t there because anyone still believes it. It is a habit, a behavioural leftover that betrays a ‘catastrophic failure of imagination’.

[T]here will still be politics after the fall. Human beings cannot avoid their political nature … But in this moment, post-collapse politics are hard to imagine. We face the situation that Jonathan Lear, in Radical Hope, describes the Crow Indians facing in the 19th century ….

FFatalism, Yorkshire, afterwards

This article, with the articles it links and discusses, is very important for those who want to have some kind of “secular” hope for rebuilding after the coming collapse. There’s precedent in those Crow Indians, folks.

Deeper into the spectacle

In the older sense of ‘politics’, the connections between people are mediated through networks of other social relations. I know you as one of the Jones family, you live on the other side of town, you are a member of the same union as me, you are also a member of local Methodist congregation, and so on. In the modern sense of ‘politics’, the connections between people are mediated through images, chunks of decontextualised pictures and text. You share an emotionally moving video, you have an emoji by your twitter username, you despise a politician that you will never meet, you share your opinions on the geopolitics of country that you will never visit, and so on. This second set of social relations are part of what Guy Debord called the spectacle. Even in 1967, he could see that the spectacle gradually degrades the ideal of human fulfilment from being about who you are to how you appear.

We are now deeper into the spectacle. The combination of social media, internet shopping, and working from home allows the comfortable classes to almost entirely replace the directly lived set of social relations that constitute real politics with social relations mediated by images. The rest of society seems to be moving along the same path. Anxiety about the effects of the internet, particularly on teenagers, is widespread; but the social relations that have created this technology and are furthered by it are not new. They are the same spectacle that Debord analysed half a century ago. Debord ends the first part of his book by remarking that the ‘spectacle is capital accumulated to the point that it becomes images’. This now sounds like he was prophesising the Metaverse and non-fungible tokens. He was not. They are bullshit and nothing new.

It is because we are so deep in the spectacle, and have been for so long, that anyone concerned with localism must ask whether people are still capable of politics: whether we are still the kind of people who can organise ourselves into ‘households’, ‘villages’, and ‘political communities’ or whether we are only capable of relating to one another in the temporary and conditional ways that the spectacle requires.

Here, I am using an idea of Simone Weil’s, and her ideas can be subtle and tricky to grasp. When I say ‘the spectacle makes paying attention hard’, it perhaps makes you think of a busy social media feed that distracts you from sitting and talking to your spouse or neighbour. That is not really what I’m getting at. On that picture of things – I don’t talk to my spouse because I am too busy with virtual relationships – paying attention is seen as a sort of activity, a thing that you do. I’m paying attention to social media, not my spouse. Weil, though, would say that when you’re on social media, then you are not paying attention to anything at all.

For Weil, attention is not something that you do. It is something that occurs only when you stop doing and start ‘waiting’: in her poetic language, ‘the soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at’.

… Humans need to be part of something more than the spectacle. It is difficult because truly paying attention to others is hard and scary and it leaves us vulnerable. Politics demands more from each of us, not just from Westminster or the political hate-figures of the moment.

FFatalism, ‌‘Politics’ is not politics

… just wait till you see the non-religious Right

I used to say “If you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait until you see the non-religious Right.”

I read this article a bit over a month ago, but the coin just dropped when I re-read it (skimmed it, actually): The Republican Party in 2022 is the non-religious Right.:

What is occurring on the right, then, is a partial realization of the program that the hard-right writer Sam Francis championed in his 1994 essay “Religious Wrong.” He argued that cultural, ethnic and social identities “are the principal lines of conflict” between Middle Americans and progressive elites and that the “religious orientation of the Christian right serves to create what Marxists like to call a ‘false consciousness’ for Middle Americans.” In other words, political Christianity prevented the right-wing base from fully understanding the culture war as a class war — a power struggle between Middle America and a hostile federal regime. He saw Christianity’s universalist ideals as at odds with the defense of the American nation, which was being dispossessed by mass immigration and multiculturalism. “Organized Christianity today,” he wrote in 2001, “is the enemy of the West and the race that created it.”

Mr. Francis’ position, of course, has always been far outside the mainstream of conservative opinion. Conservatives have traditionally viewed religion as foundational to Western heritage, and they have seen its moderating influence on identitarian conflicts as a crucial component of civic harmony. But as a description of recent trends, his assessment holds some weight: The decline of organized religion on the right has, in fact, supercharged the culture war.

Many observers — including Mr. Francis, whose writing became more openly white nationalist toward the end of his career — have been quick to suggest that this new energy is, in essence, white identity politics. It’s true that the decline of religion as an organizing force on the right has made other forms of identity more prominent — and in the absence of a humanizing Christian ethic, white racial consciousness could fill the void. There are and always have been strains of white-supremacist politics that reject Christianity for that reason. (The American eugenicist Madison Grant, for example, echoed Friedrich Nietzsche in denouncing Christianity as “the religion of the slave, the meek and the lowly.” Christianity tends “to break down class and race distinctions,” Mr. Grant wrote in 1916. “Such distinctions are absolutely essential to the maintenance of race purity in any community when two or more races live side by side.”)

Terms of engagement

We’re allowed to participate in the public sphere as long as we chemically neuter ourselves during our peak childbearing years. We agree to participate in a market in which the commercial production and care of children are both considered normal parts of an educated woman’s life. When our children are the smallest and most vulnerable, we agree to place them in the care of others, often strangers; that is, if we’re lucky enough to have children. If we’re unable to conceive when we’re finally ready professionally and financially, we agree to submit our bodies to the expensive, degrading, and possibly dangerous trauma of artificial reproductive technology. These technologies may include artificially over-stimulating our ovaries, retrieving our eggs, creating embryos, freezing them for unspecified periods of time, and watching a large percentage of our tiny children not survive these processes. Maybe, just maybe, at the end of all this, we might give birth to a healthy baby.

Jennifer Roback Moss, The Sexual State.

I read this book in anticipation of a conference at which the author was one of three keynote speakers. Despite my approval of this broad-brush passage, the unrelenting shrillness of this author overall was a key factor in deciding that the conference was not worth winter travel.

Leo Strauss

“Knowledge of ignorance,” [Leo] Strauss added, “is not ignorance. It is knowledge of the elusive character of the truth, of the whole.” The philosopher in this sense views human beings “in the light of the mysterious character of the whole,” which is to say in the light “of the fundamental and permanent problems.” Questions, not answers. Problems, not solutions.

Strauss’ Socratic skepticism differs from many other styles of skepticism in not being primarily a consequence of the limitations of human reason or some other defect of the human mind—as if another, less imperfect mind could discover an underlying coherence or fuller knowledge that eludes us. On the contrary, as one scholar has written, Socratic skepticism is a response to “the character of the world” itself. Elusiveness, hiddenness, confounding riddles, the primacy of questions to answers and problems to solutions—all of this “is a property of being itself.”

To champion moral virtue in a modern liberal democracy is to sound like a conservative. To champion it while also advocating a form of philosophy that undermines the foundations of moral virtue is to sound like a uniquely cynical form of conservative—one who deploys conservative rhetoric as a mere subterfuge or “noble lie” for popular consumption. This has become one of the most common accusations critics make against Strauss. But his position is actually more complicated than that—and more interesting.

Damon Linker, launching an intriguing series on Leo Strauss and the various contemporary American Straussians. I’m looking forward to reading the series.

Steve Bannon

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has agreed to testify before the congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, and Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Bannon previously cited executive privilege as a reason to refuse the Committee’s subpoena. But he has changed that position after Trump sent a letter agreeing to waive the privilege if Bannon reaches an agreement with the Committee.

Inspired by Trump’s generous waiver, I hereby officially proclaim and declare that I am waiving the share of the spice revenue of Arrakis due to me as Sublime Padishah Emperor of the Known Universe! Are you not impressed by my generosity? If not, it might be because I’m not actually an Emperor, and do not actually have any spice revenue.

Josh Blackman, Trump and Steve Bannon Waive Executive Privilege they do not Have

A lighter moment

Seems Joe Biden is forgetting how to use a teleprompter:

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” — FDR

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” — Reagan.

“End of quote. Repeat the line.” — Joe Biden.

H/T The Morning Dispatch

Kudos to V.P. Harris and Sec. Becera for not spewing their coffee.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Monday, 7/11/22

Culture, here and there

Universalism to the West, imperialism to the rest

Alone among civilizations the West has had a major and at times devastating impact on every other civilization. The relation between the power and culture of the West and the power and cultures of other civilizations is, as a result, the most pervasive characteristic of the world of civilizations. As the relative power of other civilizations increases, the appeal of Western culture fades and non-Western peoples have increasing confidence in and commitment to their indigenous cultures. The central problem in the relations between the West and the rest is, consequently, the discordance between the West’s—particularly America’s—efforts to promote a universal Western culture and its declining ability to do so. The collapse of communism exacerbated this discordance by reinforcing in the West the view that its ideology of democratic liberalism had triumphed globally and hence was universally valid. The West, and especially the United States, which has always been a missionary nation, believe that the non-Western peoples should commit themselves to the Western values of democracy, free markets, limited government, human rights, individualism, the rule of law, and should embody these values in their institutions. Minorities in other civilizations embrace and promote these values, but the dominant attitudes toward them in non-Western cultures range from widespread skepticism to intense opposition. What is universalism to the West is imperialism to the rest.

Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations (Kindle page 183)

Transnational capital and the progressive Left

This bears, and rewards, close reading:

Why would transnational capital be parrotting slogans drawn from a leftist framework which claims to be anti-capitalist? Why would the middle classes be further to the ‘left’ than the workers? If the left was what it claims to be – a bottom-up movement for popular justice – this would not be the case. If capitalism was what it is assumed to be – a rapacious, non-ideological engine of profit-maximisation – then this would not be the case either.

But what if both of them were something else? What if the ideology of the corporate world and the ideology of the ‘progressive’ left had not forged an inexplicable marriage of convenience, but had grown all along from the same rootstock? What if the left and global capitalism are, at base, the same thing: engines for destroying customary ways of living and replacing them with the new world of the Machine?

The post-modern left which has seized the heights of so much of Western culture is not some radical threat to the establishment: it is the establishment. Progressive leftism is market liberalism by other means. It enables the spread and growth of Machine society by launching an all-out war on any cultural norms that remain to us in the 2020s: norms which act as a brake on the spread of Machine values. The left and corporate capitalism now function like a pincer: one attacks the culture, deconstructing everything from history to ‘heteronormativity’ to national identities; the other moves in to monetise the resulting fragments.

Paul Kingsnorth, available at his Substack and now at Unherd (excerpted by Alan Jacobs).

Miscellany

Thinking outside a 50-year-old box

[T]he modern American anti-abortion movement that emerged by the late 1980s was an ecumenical joint with an evangelical id and a [narrow] sense of what it meant to be “pro-life.” In place of a broad societal vision, it had a highly specific legal goal: regulating the practice of abortion … Organizing, funding, and political activity all centered on this singular effort. Everything else was noise.

Thus, though American pro-life activists have had decades and plenty of encouragement to tackle the privations—poverty, poor housing options, and limited access to child care—that seem to precipitate many abortions, their attention has instead remained obdurately trained on regulating the practice of abortion itself …

Nevertheless, the triumphant post-Dobbs press releases had to say something, and most of them gestured at precisely the kind of legislation that the anti-abortion movement has adamantly ignored for the past 50 years …

A better tack: Rather than tee up an exhausting, decades-long legal battle over whether crisis pregnancy centers (the modern anti-abortion movement’s preferred delivery method for services, money, and goods for women in need) ought to receive state funds and under what conditions, agree that pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care should all be free, and demand that the federal government make it so.

This would require veteran pro-lifers to take on a trifecta of onerous tasks: moving on from a narrow fixation on regulating the practice of abortion itself; taking up welfare as a cause just as worthy of political agitation as abortion; and overcoming a veritable addiction to liberal tears, indisputably the highest goal of American politics at this point in time, and which militates against human flourishing in every case. It’s time the pro-life movement chose life.

Elizabeth Bruenig.

I kinda like it.

Truth will out

In 1973, David Attenborough presented a BBC documentary that included an interview with one of the leading modern synthesists, Theodosius Dobzhansky. He was visibly distraught at the “non-Darwinian evolution” that some scientists were now proposing. “If this were so, evolution would have hardly any meaning, and would not be going anywhere in particular,” he said. “This is not simply a quibble among specialists. To a man looking for the meaning of his existence, evolution by natural selection makes sense.” Where once Christians had complained that Darwin’s theory made life meaningless, now Darwinists levelled the same complaint at scientists who contradicted Darwin.

Stephen Buranyi, Do we need a new theory of evolution? (emphasis added).

I’ve paid so little attention to supposed faith/science controversies in the last decade or more that this story kind of blindsided me. Suffice that any need for an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis is not an argument for young-earth creationism.

Meanwhile, the slip of the tongue — that natural selection fills an existential need for meaning in the lives of some scientists — was interesting and blindsided me only by its candor.

GID

I learned many women, especially lesbians, have experienced periods of wanting to be men in intense and visceral ways, ways that met the diagnostic criteria for GID or gender dysphoria, but were eventually really glad that they had instead made peace with themselves as one type or another of unconventional women.

I am grateful for the perspective transition has given me on how the medical-industrial complex fails women and girls in pain.

I understand why someone would feel transition saved their life. Do others understand that transition can also do profound harm?”

From Ryan T. Anderson, ‌When Harry Became Sally, Kindle pages 1203-31.

Saying such things today qualifies as "transphobia" and will get your book censored by our corporate overlords at Amazon. (See above on "Transnational capital" and Anthony Esolen, below.)

Politics

Envying the Brits

For an American liberal … the schadenfreude brought by [Boris] Johnson’s collapse is mixed with envy. We are watching a still-functioning democracy dispatch its bombastic populist leader because his amorality and narcissistic dishonesty were simply too much … Mired as I am in the demoralizing squalor of American politics, I’m jealous of the relative quaintness of the scandal that finally brought Johnson down: lying about someone else’s sexual misconduct! … Imagine having final straws!

Michelle Goldberg, The Delightful Implosion of Boris Johnson

Thinking outside the duopoly

I was reading in the New York Times this morning that the Democrats are looking at the four major planks of their new policy to see if they are going to have to take anything out when it comes to family benefits. They were looking at the child tax credit, paid medical leave, universal pre-K, and—I can’t remember the fourth one. All of the people they polled said, “Hey, we think universal pre-K is best.” And here I’m thinking, well, it doesn’t surprise me that the state thinks that’s the best way to handle the situation, because at the end of day, they want to directly control what the family looks like. They specifically say, we want everyone to be in the workforce.

I’m all for women working in the workforce. But if the family is the basic structure of society and of economic policy, then we want to be creating policy for the benefit of the family. Does the family benefit by us putting three-year-olds in school all day long and paying for it so mom can go out and work? That’s problematic because it doesn’t respect the nature of the family—not, as many people have said, like the child credit, which gives the family the opportunity to do what they think is best for their family with the funds they get. That might be daycare so mom can work. It might be so that mom or dad can stay home and be with the family.

Neither side respects the family. On the right, they only respect the corporation, and on the left, they only respect the state. And they’ll do whatever they can to squeeze the benefits out of us until there’s nothing left.

Alan Mickle, of the American Solidarity Party, which I’m pleased to learn is (at least by some measures) America’s fastest-growing third party.

Great Replacement Theory 101

The right wing version is that immigrants, especially immigrants of color, outbreed people who were born in the country, so that descendants of the former will “replace” descendants of the latter. This is supposed to be bad.

The left wing version is that immigrants, especially immigrants of color, trend more to the left than people who were born in the country, so that leftists will “replace” conservatives. This is supposed to be good.

Both versions of the theory are nuts.

As to the former version: If the country becomes browner in a few generations, so be it. People who are too selfish to have children deserve to be “replaced” by people who love them.

As to the latter version: Immigrants who are acquainted with the politics of the country are often quite conservative; they don’t want to lose what they’ve worked and suffered to attain. So if left-wingers think immigration will lead to the “replacement” of conservatives by liberals, they may have it backwards.

J Budziszewski

The fallacy of Boromir

When people justify their voting choice by its outcome, I always think of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien emphasizes repeatedly that we cannot make decisions based on the hoped-for result. We can only control the means. If we validate our choice of voting for someone that may not be a good person in the hopes that he or she will use his power to our advantage, we succumb to the fallacy of Boromir, who assumed he too would use the Ring of Power for good. Power cannot be controlled; it enslaves you. To act freely is to acknowledge your limits, to see the journey as a long road that includes dozens of future elections, and to fight against the temptation for power.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, What ‘The Lord of the Rings’ can teach us about U.S. politics, Christianity and power.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Potpourri 6/9/22

January 6, with us forever

After Mr. Pence was hustled to safety, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, is reported to have told colleagues that Mr. Trump said that perhaps Mr. Pence should have been hanged.

Maggie Haberman, ‌Pence Staff Feared for His Safety Amid Trump’s Pressure Campaign Before Jan. 6.

That’s at least triple hearsay (someone says that Mark Meadows told colleagues that Trump said) plus a "perhaps," but with Trump, it seems sufficiently credible — and yes, I’ll plead guilty to confirmation bias if you can get an indictment.

The most astonishing part of this whole story is that Mike Pence finally said "no" to the Orange God. I thought he’d taken leave of his senses when he agreed to run with Trump, but it was only his principles that he was abandoning.

I’m assuming that the public "hearings" that begin this evening will be agitprop. I assume that it will be the kind of anti-Trump agitprop that I’m predisposed to believe. But the very fact that they brought in a storied documentary producer to help stage it counsels that I avoid it and rely on multiple secondary sources (probably WSJ, NYT and the Dispatch — which culpably leaves out stellar sources like Alex Jones, Breitbart Steve Bannon’s War Room "television show," Think Progress or other emetic productions).

Surely the gist will be something like this:

This was a violent assault on the United States Capitol, and it was provoked by a sitting president of the United States,” Cheney said. “He oversaw a multipart plan, [the] objective of which was for him to stay in power, to overturn the results of an election and stay in power. And I would say to people, as you’re listening to some of my colleagues and others who think that the way to respond to this investigation is with politics and partisanship—those people are not acting in a way that is healthy for the country.

Liz Cheney on the Dispatch Live

Defense/Defiance

Spend much time at gun shows or at gun shops, and you’ll quickly become familiar with something called the “tactical” or “black gun” lifestyle, where civilians intentionally equip themselves in gear designed for the “daily gunfight.” It’s often a form of elaborate special forces cosplay, except the weapons (and sometimes the body armor) are very real.

Something has changed in the streets as well. It’s now common to see men and women armed to the teeth, open-carrying during anti-lockdown protests and even outside public officials’ homes. This is when the gun is used to menace and intimidate. It’s displayed not as a matter of defense but rather as an open act of defiance. It’s meant to make people uncomfortable. It’s meant to make them feel unsafe.

David French,‌Against Gun Idolatry.

I’ve noticed increasingly that I "learn" things by reading other than what the author directly intended. In this case, French helped me put my finger on what I, an enthusiast neither for guns nor for gun bans, find obnoxious about open carry regimes: they enable performative assholery and political intimidation.

Knock-on celebrity

Some individuals reach the unfortunate but not entirely irrational conclusion that the best way to be remembered is by assassinating somebody whose long-lasting fame is guaranteed. There is something very modern about this approach. In the celebrity culture where we all live, nothing is worse to some people than the idea of dying unknown and staying that way. Shooting your way out of this box is a method of leeching off of someone else’s celebrity. In the celebrity culture, a negative reputation for all times is better than no reputation at all. John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln because he (Booth) was a Southern partisan. John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan because he wanted fame, like Travis Bickle in the movie Taxi Driver—or at least an opportunity to touch fame.

Michael E. Kinsley, Old Age

Social Media in the unreal world of celebrities

Somehow, this seems related to the preceding item:

[I]t is difficult for me not to have some level of sympathy for [Amber] Heard. She has not only been found by the jury to have testified falsely as to critical issues of fact—to have lied—but been so pilloried throughout the nation that she has become a public face of falsehood. We have had public figures at the highest level of national authority who have routinely lied about far more important matters and have never been subjected to anything like the level of opprobrium she is now enduring.”

The rage against her—and the worship of him—has been primal. And there was no escaping it. Over the course of the trial, it felt like the algorithms that drive social media were programmed to stoke hatred of Heard.

Famed attorney Floyd Abrams via Bari Weiss.

The delusion of quantification, mastery and management

You likely read or heard about Jonathan Haidt’s big April essay in the Atlantic, “After Babel: Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” The thesis is pretty straightforward: social media is ruining America. In the New Yorker, Gideon Lewis-Kraus takes an admirably fair and honest look at Haidt’s claims. Frankly, Lewis-Kraus is to be commended not only for his analysis but for the spirit in which it was presented. Basically, he found that it is difficult to support Haidt’s most dire claims with existing data.

Lewis-Kraus, and the scholars he consulted, are probably right. Haidt’s case is difficult to defend given existing research. Interestingly, however, they all seem to approach this in similar fashion: they grant that Haidt is right to be concerned, but they’re simply not sure if he is concerned about the right things and in the right measure. Lewis-Kraus is also to be commended for the running acknowledgement that it may be difficult to measure and quantify the kind of effects we’re looking for. I remain skeptical that we can rely merely on social scientific data to ground our action. That may very well be a symptom of the deeper (Babel-like!) delusion of mastery and management. But along those lines, this was a particularly interesting observation:

“Gentzkow told me that, for the period between 2016 and 2020, the direct effects of misinformation were difficult to discern. ‘But it might have had a much larger effect because we got so worried about it—a broader impact on trust,’ he said. ‘Even if not that many people were exposed, the narrative that the world is full of fake news, and you can’t trust anything, and other people are being misled about it—well, that might have had a bigger impact than the content itself.’”

Well, that’s kind of the point isn’t it? I mean, that consequence Gentzkow describes is a consequence of social media, which acts as a massive assortment of feedback loops from the social body to the collective consciousness, such that it generates all manner of distorted and disordered actions.

Finally, on this score, I’ll say that the allusion to the Babel narrative amounts to little more than window dressing (curiously, the Atlantic seems to have removed the reference from the title). When Haidt writes, with reference to the tower, that social media platforms “unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together,” he seems to be overlooking the fact that in the Hebrew story the destruction of the tower was not something to be lamented. The destruction of the tower was an act of judgment on the hubris of the builders. I think there was an interesting direction in which to take that story, but I’m not sure this was it.

L.M. Sacasas, ‌Readings and Resources (emphasis added because I share his skepticism about our collective delusion).

Writers shouldn’t talk

Who in their right mind would want to talk, much less listen, to a person who has contrived to spend as much of her life as possible crouched over her computer in isolation, deleting unsatisfactory variants of a single sentence for upwards of an hour? Nothing in my daily practice has prepared me for the gauntlet of a tête-à-tête. Writing is an antidote to the immediacy and inexactitude of speech, and I resent any attempt to drag me back into the sludge of dialogue …

Books and essays are the product of long bouts of thinking, which makes writers fantastically ill-suited to summoning opinions instantaneously …

To be adept at honing sentences for weeks or months is no guarantee of any aptitude for improvisation. Nor does skill at fictionalizing life or theorizing about it correlate with any facility for entering into the thick of things.

Becca Rothfeld, Writers Shouldn’t Talk

From my subjective core, this is almost too obvious to say write. I’m myself in Rothfeld’s camp. I’ve labored way too long over relatively short speeches I was expected to give, and then delivered them as closely to the written text as I could manage while maintaining reasonable eye contact. I don’t trust my spontaneous utterances to be worth the attention of assembled auditors. Obviously, I’m less inhibited about the written word.

Celebrate the First Amendment

An Australian court on Monday ordered Google to pay $515,000 to former Australian politician John Barilaro for failing to take down from YouTube a campaign of “relentless, racist, vilificatory, abusive, and defamatory” videos attacking him, which the court ruled “drove Mr. Barilaro prematurely from his chosen service in public life and traumatized him significantly.”

TMD. I do not know the details behind this, so I won’t call Mr. Barilaro a snowflake, but I’m having trouble imagining any possible details that would support liability in U.S. Courts. And with due allowance for familiarity, I like it that way.

Dreherisms

Smart to have a dumb home?

The business rationale for the smart home is to bring the intimate patterns of life into the fold of the surveillance economy, which has a one-way mirror quality.

Matthew B. Crawford, Defying the Data Priests

Librarian cosplay

I’m tired of hearing about supposed book bannings in the U.S.

  • Deleting a book from a curriculum while leaving it in the school library is not a book banning.
  • Someone trying to get a book removed from a public library, which tells that someone to go take a hike, is not a book banning.

What’s going on, I think, is bored librarians (is there another kind?) engaging in ritual cosplay ("You can have To Kill a Mockingbird when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers!").

Wordplay

From the Economist:

Word of the Week: écoponts, “wildlife bridges” in French. France is building overpasses for animals to reduce roadkill and help them roam more freely. Read the full story.


You have to be educated into cant; it is a kind of stupidity that surpasses the capacity of unaided Nature to confer.

Anthony M. Esolen, Out of the Ashes (Kindle location 411)


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.

It’s Havel’s Greengrocer Month!

SBC’s numbers fetish

“a satanic scheme to distract us from evangelism.”

Augie Boto, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Council general counsel and former vice president, characterizing reports of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist pastors and church employees.

Evangelicalism, of which the SBC is a member in very good standing, had a problem with seeking numerical growth above all else for as long as I was part of it. Psychological trickery and deception were part of the deal (e.g. "Every head bowed and every eye closed. … I see that hand. Is there another?" when nobody had raised a hand.)

The EC’s publishing arm, the Baptist Press, “was also used to portray victims in an unflattering light and mischaracterize allegations of abuse,” according to the report. For example, in 2019 Jennifer Lyell—an abuse survivor and employee of SBC-affiliated Lifeway—was asked to write publicly about her sexual abuse by an SBC seminary professor, but the article was changed before publication to suggest a consensual relationship and only corrected months later.

(Emphasis added)

Hauerwas strikes again

Both the fundamentalist and the higher critic assume that it is possible to understand the biblical text without training, without moral transformation, without the confession and forgiveness that come about within the church. Unconsciously, both means of interpretation try to make everyone religious (that is, able to understand and appropriate scripture) without everyone’s being a member of the community for which the Bible is Scripture.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens.

Not-quite-rank speculation

Maybe Mainline Protestantism is less prone to pervasive sex abuse partly because it has far fewer young people for predators to target. Not many Mainline churches have vibrant youth ministries or large programs for children. But Mainline churches do have a genuine institutional advantage with wider systems of accountability that are likelier to address sexual abuse.

In contrast, most of evangelicalism is effectively congregationalist with fewer authoritative structures beyond the local church. Self protective pastors or congregational governing boards can more easily evade accountability than congregations within denominations. Mainline denominations have bishops, superintendents, presbyteries and synods that oversee congregations and clergy. Often this oversight fails to work effectively, but it can be better than no oversight at all.

Perhaps more importantly, there is culturally less deference toward and trust for clergy and for church governance in Mainline Protestantism. As I recall growing up Methodist, critiquing and tearing down the pastor is often the local church’s most fervent sport, sadly. Preoccupation with pastoral flaws obviously is deeply unhelpful and may help explain part of Mainline Protestantism’s dysfunction. But Mainliners are typically not intimidated by clergy or distorted ideas about pastoral authority.

The typical Mainline cleric is not invested with the spiritual authority that many evangelicals accord their pastors. And of course Catholic priests have more spiritual authority than do Protestant clergy. The reasons are ecclesiological but also maybe sociological. Wealthy Ivy League educated parishioners at an Episcopal parish who belong to country clubs, have many lawyer friends, and know the mayor, are less likely to defer to their cleric or congregational leaders than maybe less culturally privileged members of an evangelical church.

Evangelicals maybe are more prone to idealize their pastors than Mainline Protestants, who are more prone to see clerics as the hired help.

Juicy Ecumenism, ‌Mainliners, Evangelicals, Catholics & Sexual Abuse – Juicy Ecumenism (Italics added)

This seemed timely, but don’t think that I’m siding with the Mainline. I have history in Evangelicalism, and write reactively against it, but I can’t say one way or the other whether the Mainline is healthier overall. I will, however, unequivocally endorse accountability — be it bishops, synods, presbyteries or whatever — over congregationalism, or what I call "fiefdoms."

Also, for what it’s worth, I’m skeptical of the claim I italicized, but it’s been a long time since I spent time around Protestants talking about their pastors.

Gun nuts, pro and con

Respected philosopher James K.A. Smith emotes:

We’ve taken too long. Habitualities built up over a 200 year history will not be undone by tweaks on policy and half measures.

We need the collective will to repeal the 2nd Amendment and confiscate guns.

Only Mammon and our idols prevent us from doing so.

Burn them down.

But Mark Tooley has some cautions:

Christian realism always counsels against ambitious absolutist solutions that override precedent, ignore human nature, and downplay the complex social factors that foster the conditions for catastrophe.

Tooley also has cautions for gun hobbyists, too (and by implication, for us all):

Christianity traditionally argues not only against malevolent violence, of course, but also against vain amusements. The vast, vast majority of gun enthusiasts are mainly devoted hobbyists. For most, their pursuits are benign. But traditional Christianity cautions against unhealthy enthusiasms for worldly hobbies, however benign. This is especially the case where a prurient fascination with guns bleeds over into the macabre.

For more than 2,000 years, Christianity often has preached against theaters, salacious literature, dancing, festivals, bear-baiting, carnivals, card playing, horse racing, and other recreations that many Christians see as mostly harmless in themselves. The argument against passions for such pursuits is that life is short and that Christians are called to redeem the time and be sober, alert, and focused on God’s work.

Life under soft totalitarianism*

If I gave in to the Inquisitors, I should at least know what creed to profess. But even if I yelled out a credo when the Eugenists had me on the rack, I should not know what creed to yell. I might get an extra turn of the rack for confessing to the creed they confessed quite a week ago.

G.K. Chesterton, The Established Church of Doubt, in The G. K. Chesterton Collection (Kindle Location 19750)

I had to read that a few times to get it when Readwise coughed it up this morning. It’s as true today as when Chesterton wrote it, though the actors have changed:

  • "Conservatives" who abandoned bog standard conservatism for Trumpist populism, but pre-eminently …
  • Wokesters, who positively make a cruel game out of cancelling anyone who still believes, say, that marriage is between a man and a woman (or other offenses again liberal groin pieties or racial identity politics).

* Soft totalitarianism is that totalitarianism that doesn’t command by pointing a gun barrel. Not yet.

Havel’s Greengrocers

Speaking of liberal groin pieties, it’s Pride Month, and more and more restaurants and other businesses are playing Havel’s Greengrocer.

It’s actually kind of nice of them: it tells me who to avoid this June and, conversely, what courageous little dissident shops I might want to patronize.


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.

Did the world as we know it really end this week?

Capitalists are not friends of the Good, True and Beautiful

Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer who (to his own surprise) became an Orthodox Christian a year or so ago, has continued writing on what he calls "The Machine."

Why would transnational capital be parrotting slogans drawn from a leftist framework which claims to be anti-capitalist? Why would the middle classes be further to the ‘left’ than the workers? If the left was what it claims to be – a bottom-up movement for popular justice – this would not be the case. If capitalism was what it is assumed to be – a rapacious, non-ideological engine of profit-maximisation – then this would not be the case either.

But what if both of them were something else? What if the ideology of the corporate world and the ideology of the ‘progressive’ left had not forged an inexplicable marriage of convenience, but had grown all along from the same rootstock? What if the left and global capitalism are, at base, the same thing: engines for destroying customary ways of living and replacing them with the new world of the Machine?

… Who doesn’t want to be free?

The question that quickly arises, of course, is ‘free from what?’ A key term, found everywhere in current leftist discourse, is ‘emancipatory.’ To be ‘progressive’ is to emancipate. What is it that is to be emancipated? The individual. What are they to be emancipated from? All societal structures. And what is the best instrument for achieving this emancipation? Uncomfortably for both Rousseauvian primitivists and old-school leftists, who have seen large-scale experiments in socialist economics go up in flames time and time again, the answer appears to be: global capitalism. No other system in history has ever been as effective in breaking the chains of time, place and culture as the global empire of corporate power.

Those of us who remember the halcyon era in which ‘right’ and ‘left’ seemed to mean something might find all this confusing, but if we step back for a broader view we can see that the economics of capitalism and the politics of progressivism are both manifestations of what Jacques Ellul called technique: the technocratic essence of Machine modernity. Today’s left is no threat to technique: on the contrary, it is its vanguard. If you have ever asked yourself what kind of ‘revolution’ would be sponsored by Nike, promoted by BP, propagandised for by Hollywood and Netflix and policed by Facebook and Youtube, then the answer is here.

Paul Kingsnorth, Down the River

World’s most tone-deaf political slogan?

[T]here was no “tight spot” for Orbán—and if Western observers cannot understand why, they will continue to waste money and effort on changing the political culture of central Europe. The leader of the combined opposition, Péter Márki-Zay, closed his campaign with the slogan “Let’s bring Europe here, to Hungary.” An implausible slogan even in marginally liberal Budapest—but an insane slogan for a small-town mayor to carry into the Hungarian countryside. The results show how it was received: outside of Budapest, the entire country was bathed in the deep orange of Fidesz. The opposition’s rhetoric was designed to play well on anglophone Twitter, but the Western commentariat are not voters in this election.

Gladden Pappin

Freddie the headline-writer

One of the things I like about Freddie deBoer is when he stops mincing words, as in his title on Tuesday:

It Would Be Cool If You Would Refrain From Just Making Shit Up About Me and Trans Issues

The BLM con

Black Lives Matter Secretly Bought a $6 Million House.

It’s long past time for sensible people to stop giving to this organization. (The right time was as soon as BLM posted their broader radical agenda on their website — since toned down) Black lives do matter, but gullibly giving to a bunch of scammers doesn’t make them matter any more.

Yes, political and charitable organizations of all stripes can fall prey to the iron law of institutions (if they’re not conscious scams from the start), and if you have a "whatabout" about conservative scammers, you’re welcome to bring it on.

After I had written this, Nellie Bowles weighed in:

BLM may be the biggest nonprofit scam of our generation: For a while, the Black Lives Matter organization and its allies were very good at getting people to do their bidding. They could bully journalists into ignoring the organization’s issues (being called racist is terrifying and not worth the scoop). They could convince social media companies to happily block critical commentary and reporting on the organization’s financial improprieties.

Now, slowly, the truth is leaking out.

We already know BLM used funds to buy an $6.3 million party house in Toronto, called Wildseed Centre for Art and Activism, which lists no public events. This week, thanks to a dogged freelance investigative reporter named Sean Kevin Campbell, we now know that Black Lives Matter also used nearly $6 million in donated money to buy a Los Angeles mansion. That’s Part One of the scam.

Part Two, broken by the New York Post: They bought it from a friend who paid $3.1 million for it six days earlier. So they got themselves a party house with donated funds and kicked nearly $3 million of donor funds to a buddy. Who knows how the fat thereafter was split up.

From the house, they posted a video of the leadership crew having fancy outdoor brunches. One founder, Patrisse Cullors, began a YouTube cooking show in the expansive kitchen. (After the story on their property came out, they took both videos down.) They called the holding company used to buy the house 3726 Laurel Canyon LLC, an address that can be shared since it was bought with tax-deductible charitable dollars.

Patrisse Cullors took to Instagram to slam Sean Kevin Campbell, who is black, and to slam the outlet that published his reporting, New York Magazine, calling the piece a “despicable abuse of a platform.” She added: “Journalism is supposed to mitigate harm and inform our communities.” She said the house, which has a pool and a sound stage, “was purchased to be a safe space for Black people in the community.”

It’s important not to forget how BLM leaders like Cullors raised these tens of millions: It was by chanting the names and showing the photos of dead black children. The donated money came from kind, well-intentioned people who desperately wanted to help.

Prerequisites for argument

This isn’t new, but it resurfaced this morning:

The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.

Hence, it’s not an argument. You can’t argue with people who have their own separate made-up set of facts. You can’t have an argument with people who are deranged by the euphoric rage of what Erich Fromm called group narcissism — the thoughtless roar of those who believe their superior group is being polluted by alien groups.

It’s a pure power struggle. The weapons in this struggle are intimidation, verbal assault, death threats and violence, real and rhetorical. The fantasyland mobbists have an advantage because they relish using these weapons, while their fellow Christians just want to lead their lives.

The problem is, how do you go about reattaching people to reality?

David Brooks, Trump Ignites a War Within the Church

Political lows

Todd Rokita

What kind of Attorney General needs this kind of recruiting?

Is this not a sign that something is amiss in Todd Rokita’s stewardship of the Indiana Attorney General’s office? Might it be that he’s not a steward, but rather treats the AG’s office as a platform for his ego?

I repeat: I have never voted for Todd Rokita. He told a whopper of a lie in his very first campaign (don’t ask me the details; I don’t remember), and has a nonstop smirk on his face that tells me he has no respect for those who do vote for him.

Presidential Pandering, Biden agenda

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday his administration would extend the pause on federal student loan repayments—first put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020—until August 31. Biden had already prolonged the moratorium in August 2021 (which he claimed at the time would be the final extension) and in December 2021. The Department of Education said yesterday it would also allow those with paused loans to receive a “fresh start” on repayment by “eliminating the impact of delinquency and default and allowing them to reenter repayment in good standing.”

The Morning Dispatch. I would bet a modest amount that "the pause" will be extended beyond August 31 to beyond the November elections.

This is on a continuum with Student Loan forgiveness, a policy so regressive as to put its proponents in the elitist category and further accelerating the re-alignment of party boundaries, with Democrats the party of the laptop class, Republicans the party of the working class.

Who’s to blame for KBJ?

To be clear, I’m not upset by the Senate confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Elections have consequences, and America elected a Democrat as President in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal wants us to remember that Georgia improbably elected two Democrats to the Senate in a 2021 runoff, too:

Republicans shouldn’t forget who is to blame for their predicament. If President Trump hadn’t been preoccupied with imagined fraud conspiracies after the 2020 election, Republicans probably would have retained two Senate seats in the January 2021 Georgia runoff elections. Without Democratic Senate control, President Biden might have been forced to choose a more moderate nominee than Judge Jackson, or possibly a jurist older than age 51, with a shorter prospective Supreme Court career.

Conservatives could spend the next 30 years ruing Justice Jackson’s decisions. Spare a thought for how Mr. Trump helped it happen.

Wall Street Journal Editorial

We’re not going to return to civility in SCOTUS confirmation hearings if the soberest, greyest conservatish newspaper in the land accepts it as good that a narrowly Republican-controlled Senate would reject a qualified Democrat nominee, but that’s where we are.

France rhymes America

Mr Macron also faces a problem that responsible politicians always face when running against populists. He offers policies boringly grounded in reality. They say whatever will stir up voters, whether or not it is true.

The Economist

Piss in omnibus illis!

Florida absurdly recapitulates

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law has tons of popularity with ordinary folks despite being dishonestly labeled by both the Left ("Don’t Say Gay law") and the Right (anti-Grooming law):

And now the darker turn: The right, which won this round definitively, can’t seem to take the win. They are using the opportunity to give the left a taste of their own medicine. ‘You’ve spent years calling us racists and transphobes. Fine. No problem. If you even criticize the law we’ll call you groomers.’

For days now, that ugly word with a dark history has been everywhere I’ve looked. And it’s being used to refer not just to opponents of the law but increasingly as short-hand for gay people. Gurgling up to join in the fun are QAnon fans, who argue that the American left is hiding a massive pedophilia ring. I suspect this backlash is just beginning.

Over the years, various people I know in my real life have gotten mad at me as I’ve argued generally for moderation and for the practical over the radical. I’m wary of sudden movements. The BLM protests and the urban burnings were cathartic and thrilling—it probably felt good yelling “abolish!”—but in the end it was pretty useless if the goal was majorly improving policing and prisons.

So too with the kids and trans issues. Right now, the progressive movement has made it an all-or-nothing conversation. Anyone who might urge caution when it comes to transitioning children, for example, is smeared as a transphobe and has been for years now. It’s 0-60, and you better get on. Women are menstruators, biological males are in the pool crushing your daughter’s race, teenagers know best if they should be sterilized, story hour better as hell be a drag show, fraysexual is part of the rainbow, and if you screw up a they/them conjugation, well, sir, you’re fired.

You would be foolish not to see that once you’ve gutted terms like racist and transphobic of any meaning, you might see horrible racism and horrible transphobia and be left with no words to describe it ….

Nellie Bowles

Still vile and evil, actually

What we’re witnessing is the continued moral devolution of a movement. Where once it was “vile” or “evil” to make frivolous claims of grotesque sexual misconduct, it is now considered “weakness” or “surrender” in some quarters not to “fight” with the most inflammatory language and the most inflammatory charges.

David French, Against the "Groomer" Smear

More vile and evil

On Fox News over the weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz criticized Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for her work as a public defender, arguing people go into that line of work because “their heart is with the murderers, the criminals, and that’s who they’re rooting for.” Cruz—an Ivy League-educated lawyer who clerked on the Supreme Court—should know that charge is ridiculous. “If we are to have a legal system that allows people, institutions, and governments to defend themselves against charges of illegal conduct—and we should have that system—then we are going to have lawyers who defend their clients to the best of their ability,” Charlie Cooke writes for National Review. “It doesn’t matter whether the defendant is popular, whether the institution is sympathetic, or whether the law is a good one—none of that is the point. The point is that an adversarial legal system requires advocates who will relentlessly press their case, and, in so doing, force the other side to prove its brief to a high standard. There is nothing wrong with … people who are willing to become public defenders and defend clients they suspect are guilty, and to suggest otherwise betrays an unthinking and opportunistic illiberalism.”

The Morning Dispatch.

Charlie Cooke is wrong about "unthinking and opportunistic illiberalism." It is calculatedly opportunistic illiberalism, of the sort that is becoming far too common among ambitious younger Republicans.

One man’s eschaton is another’s apocalypse

As I write, CBS it running a big, free advertisement for Joe Biden, who is celebrating Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation as if it were the inauguration of the eschaton. "She’s historic! She’s black! She’s a woman! She’s a black woman! She’s a historic black woman! Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace!"

The Right seems to see her as the inauguration of the apocalypse, though they’ve had to lie like dogs to make the case. "Soft on pedophiles! You know: like the pervs at Comet Ping-Pong! She’d defend Eichman! We don’t want the kind of person who defended accused criminals! Dies irae! Dies illa! Solvet saeclum in favilla! Teste David cum Sybilla!"

Piss in omnibus illis!


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.

The Blame Game

I blame Star Wars and Harry Potter

American political commentary has for some time been dominated by pop culture references, in particular those two great modern fables, Star Wars and Harry Potter, which have replaced the classics as the source of communal knowledge. I’m not convinced that children’s books or films aimed at selling toys, enjoyable though they are, have that much to offer in the way of deep wisdom, compared to more ancient texts; I may be a declinist, but it is not commented on enough that America’s most-praised public intellectual didn’t know who St Augustine was.

Ed West, ‌Empires v nations: a battle as old as time

I blame Trump (look what he made these nice people do!)

After Trump’s election, many commentators expressed anxiety that his followers would plunge the country into far-right authoritarianism. Instead, it is the class of college-educated Democrats that now openly argues for the value of blind submission to authority and the elimination of personal freedoms. The trend [Christopher] Lasch wrote about in the 1990s has metastasized. It no longer poses a mere threat to democracy—it has become a full-fledged attack on basic democratic principles. Far from upholding civil liberties, the self-proclaimed “resistance” to Trumpism has itself exhibited many hallmarks of authoritarianism: suppression of dissent, demand for unquestioning obedience, and tight control over the flow of information. While scapegoating Trump supporters, a nexus of billionaires, woke corporations, public intellectuals, and Democratic officials have sparked the very descent into authoritarianism they claimed would emerge from the populist right.

This is not simply a matter of hypocrisy. It is only by painting themselves as victims fighting against their oppressors that college-educated professionals can rationalize their own authoritarianism. The cult of victimhood conjures the specter of fascism, misogyny, or white nationalism in order to justify blatantly repressive measures.

Alex Gutentag, ‌The New Authoritarians

Another take on the pivot after Election 2016:

If you go back to the Arab Spring and the Green Revolution there was generally a sense of triumphalism. Back then, the CEO of Twitter said that we are the free speech wing of the free speech party. That’s how Silicon Valley saw itself. Ten years later, you have the widespread view that Silicon Valley needs to restrict and regulate disinformation and prevent free speech on its platform. You’d have to say that the turning point was 2016, when Trump got elected against the wishes of pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley. That was a little too much populism for them. And they saw social media as being complicit in Trump’s election.

[Trump’s populist voters had sent] a message they very much didn’t want to hear. So they began to believe that the message was somehow inauthentic. That it was engineered by Russian disinformation, and that their platforms had contributed to it and that they needed to crack down and restrict free speech so that it never happened again.

David Sacks, ‌How Big Tech Is Strangling Your Freedom

I blame the Internet

Maybe this is obvious. Maybe I knew it "in the back of my mind." But Bari Weiss and Peter Robinson collectively (as Robinson interviewed Weiss on his Uncommon Knowledge podcast) put their finger on a major driver of media change: the migration of advertising from newsprint to the internet.

Loss of ad revenue means greater dependence on subscription revenue. Greater dependence on subscription revenue necessitates cultivating a large and loyal readership. Cultivating a large and loyal readership necessitates picking your target audience and pandering to them shamelessly.

Nobody in print has done this better than the New York Times. But "audience capture" is a threat in Substackworld, too. Some of the best podcasts have no sponsors, or sponsors so marginal as to be an embarrassment. I’m especially thinking of Advisory Opinions‘ David French reading an advertiser’s innumerate puffery that "the average user saved up to $794" and, in the same ad, that "20,000 users had saved a total of over $1 million" (or maybe it was 200,000 saving $10 million – same $50/person average).

Listen to it all on Bari’s Honestly podcast, which incorporates the Uncommon Knowledge episode.

Neo-aphorisms

  • Wokeness flattens everything, dividing all into oppressed and oppressor.
  • Everything great gets built by people who are dissatisfied with the options they see around them.

Bari Weiss who, I learn, has greater ambitions than just making a decent living away from the New York Times.

I blame Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has restored democracy’s image and its mojo. How? The answer is that Putin’s blundering and brutal behavior has accidentally highlighted democracy’s greatest superpower: the trait that insures that, for all of democracy’s flaws, it will triumph over autocracies in the long run. Democratic virtues like the supremacy of law, independent courts, and the protection of human rights are all important. But Russia’s debacle in Ukraine underscores the fact that democracy’s guarantee that leaders are regularly replaced is actually the system’s most important advantage. It turns out that our power to throw the bums out could end up saving not just the West, but the world.

Jonathan Tepperman, How Putin Just Revealed Democracy’s Secret Superpower – The Octavian Report

Democracies

Current political ideology update: I support democracy, but I’m open on the adjectival modifier. This is not a fixed identity, but it’s one around which I’ve been circling for a while. I read (and sometimes listen) to defenders of both liberal and illiberal democracy.

Reminder: Sunday April 3 is election day in Hungary. There is a large and improbable coalition (politics made very strange bedfellows) vying to oust Viktor Orbán, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have strengthened the hand of the leader of Hungary’s acknowledged illiberal democracy.

Plus ça change …

[H]e … returned to Washington, in time for the new session of Congress, only to find himself exhausted by just sitting and listening. He could neither work nor abide the whole “vileness and vulgarity” of the capital. When in late December he left again, he felt better almost at once. Still, he tried returning to Washington several times, but to no avail.

David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, of Senator Charles Sumner in December 1857 after his beating on the Senate floor and some recovery in Paris.

Wordplay

My local TV newscast reports that Purdue University has developed a drug to treat prostate cancer, the second-leading cancer among men.

I don’t mean to be picky, but shouldn’t that be "men and other prostate-havers"?


QAnon — an offshoot of evangelical Protestantism that’s been cross-pollinated with Glenn-Beck-style hyper-rationalism to produce an unfalsifiable belief system about hidden networks of pedophiles and behind-the-scenes efforts to thwart them led by prominent Republicans, including Trump.

Damon Linker


This tweet …  attracted much amusing scorn … It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in cringe

Ed West, ‌Empires v nations: a battle as old as time (italics added)


Thy mouth hath embroidered evil, and thy lips have woven lies.

Psalm 49:19 (Orthodox numbering; 50:19 in Western Bibles), adapted from Miles Coverdale translation of the Psalms.


I decided not to read the article about the takes about the memes about the exhaustion about the memes about the takes about the Thing That Happened.

Alan Jacobs


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.

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.

No Middle Ground

No Middle Ground on Some Things

Kevin D. Williamson’s maiden guest column at the New York Times builds skillfully to his conclusion:

The Trump administration was grotesque in its cruelty and incompetence. But without the coup attempt, it might have been possible to work out a modus vivendi between anti-Trump conservatives and Mr. Trump’s right-wing nationalist-populists. Conservatives were not happy with Mr. Trump’s histrionics, but many were reasonably satisfied with all those Federalist Society judges and his signature on Paul Ryan’s tax bill. Trump supporters, who were interested almost exclusively in theater, enjoyed four years of Twitter-enabled catharsis even as the administration did very little on key issues like trade and immigration.

In the normal course of democratic politics, people who disagree about one issue can work together when they agree about another. We can fight over taxes or trade policy.

But there isn’t really any middle ground on overthrowing the government. And that is what Mr. Trump and his allies were up to in 2020, through both violent and nonviolent means — and continue to be up to today.

When it comes to a coup, you’re either in or you’re out. The Republican Party is leaning pretty strongly toward in. That is going to leave at least some conservatives out — and, in all likelihood, permanently out.

Kevin D. Williamson, ‌The Trump Coup Is Still Raging.

Better late than never, Kevin. I was out at the delusion of "ending tyranny in our world."

The Woke Left gets pushed back

It was a month or so ago, I think, that I first encountered the hopeful suggestion that the woke Left had scored its victories largely via the element of surprise: many people thought wokeness was just another silly campus fad that would stay on campus, but like a zoonotic pathogen, it leapt into a "real world" that had acquired no immunity to it.

The hopeful part is that immunity is surging and that wokesters are starting to get smacked down without any government action. The antibodies are kicking in:

[I]f we can’t intellectually engage people on how critical theory is palpably wrong in its view of the world, we can sure show how brutal and callous it is — and must definitionally be — toward individual human beings in the pursuit of utopia. [HBO’s] “The White Lotus” is thereby a liberal work of complexity and art.

Another sign of elite adjustment: both The Atlantic and The New Yorker have just published long essays that push back against woke authoritarianism and cruelty. Since both magazines have long capitulated to rank illiberalism, this is encouraging …

Anne Applebaum links the woke phenomenon to previous moral panics and mob persecutions, which is where it belongs. She too begins to notice the obliteration of due process, individual rights, and mercy among her crusader peers …

[BLOCK-QUOTE OMITTED]

Applebaum’s Atlantic piece is a good sign from a magazine that hired and quickly purged a writer for wrong think, and once held a town meeting auto-da-fé to decide which writers they would permanently anathematize as moral lepers.

Similarly, it was quite a shock to read in The New Yorker a fair and empathetic profile of an academic geneticist, Kathryn Paige Harden, who acknowledges a role for genetics in social outcomes. It helps that Harden is, like Freddie DeBoer, on the left …

The profile also puts the following woke heresy into the minds of the Upper West Side: “Building a commitment to egalitarianism on our genetic uniformity is building a house on sand.” And this: “Genetic diversity is mankind’s most precious resource, not a regrettable deviation from an ideal state of monotonous sameness.” The New Yorker is also telling its readers that there are around “thirteen hundred sites on the genome that are correlated with success in school. Though each might have an infinitesimally small statistical relationship with the outcome, together they can be summed to produce a score that has predictive validity: those in the group with the highest scores were approximately five times more likely to graduate from college than those with the lowest scores.”

All of this is empirically true. But if this is empirically true, critical theory, which insists that absolutely nothing but white supremacist society leads to inequalities, is dead in the water. Refuted. Proven false by reality. Finished — even as it continues to be the premise of other countless pieces The New Yorker has run in the past few years …

And then, in the better-late-than-never category, The Economist, the bible for the corporate elite, has just come out unapologetically against the Successor Ideology, and in favor of liberalism … Money quote: “Progressives replace the liberal emphasis on tolerance and choice with a focus on compulsion and power. Classical liberals conceded that your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Today’s progressives argue that your freedom to express your opinions stops where my feelings begin.”

Andrew Sullivan, ‌Emerging Cracks In The Woke Elite

I had already read all but the New Yorker piece, and even on that I had read Freddie DeBoer’s comments. And Sullivan continues with more, if more minor, examples of the shifting tide. This is really a hopeful sign.

Now is there any way to smack down the intolerant Right (see previous item), which rivals the woke left in contempt for democracy and which appears more prepared to act in violent paramilitary operations when it doesn’t deliver what they want? (See previous item.)

Hopeful pessimism

Scialabba’s way of reading [Wendell] Berry is not uncommon. As with others whose thinking is hard to locate on the political map, we tend to assume that they must be proposing another map. On this view, Berry’s suggestion to Think Little must be a strategy by which to achieve a better world. Accordingly, we see the dichotomy between Thinking Big and Thinking Little as an alternative theory of how change works: not that way, but this way.

It is true that Berry, albeit always an urgent and sometimes an angry writer, does not hitch his prescriptions to the prospects of success. He is something of a hopeful pessimist. And so his “advice,” as Scialabba calls it, though not a strategy for winning, can be described as offering a vision for living with integrity whether or not one wins.

Brad East, ‌When Losing Is Likely


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.