Fear of the unknown

When I was a child, my late mother was well-nigh paranoid about electricity. I’m reminded of her every time I stick a knife in a toaster to retrieve a slice of toast too small to stick out the top after the toaster pops.

“Don’t stick a knife in a toaster!”

Well, no. Not while it’s, like, toasting things and those little heating elements are brimming with electricicals. The heating filaments are very fragile when they’re red hot and you might break one. Or something else bad might even happen, like getting a 110v “bite,” which is unpleasant. If you’re in a swimming pool at the time, it could be even worse.* But I’m not going to let the toast get cold while I go retrieve some insulator with which to go toast-fishing.

I think of my mother, too, when I think of guns. I learned decades later that she was petrified because, unknown to us children, my late father had acquired a handgun after being physically attacked by someone who intended to cause him severe bodily harm for helping some employer who was dealing with a union. This also may explain why solicitations from the National Right to Work Committee continued coming, addressed to him, for years after his death, and why my first recollection of the word “union” was adjectival, modifying “goon.” (My own views, for what it’s worth, include that the pendulum has swung too far toward the business of business, and away from unions, the business of representing workers.)

I don’t think, though, that my mother would have had any problem with some selected teachers in my school bearing concealed weapons against the remote prospect of someone, bearing unconcealed weapons, trying to do children harm within the school’s hallowed halls. Her fear was of snoopy children finding a gun hidden in home and becoming one of those sad stories in the newspaper.

Anyway, I can’t shake the idea that it might be a good idea to allow selected teachers to arm themselves, and to let it be known that such is the status quo in a school district.

At least one school superintendent and his board — in Texas, unsurprisingly — agree with me:

The program was simple: The school board would individually approve school employees who already held state concealed handgun licenses to participate in the program and the district would provide them with extra training. (In 2007, the district engaged a private consultant to develop additional training; in 2013, I worked with the Texas legislature to develop and pass Senate Bill 1857, which created a school safety certification course that could be utilized by schools opting to employ programs similar to ours — Harrold ISD Guardians are scheduled to complete this certification in the near future.) The names of our Guardians are kept confidential and they are paid a small yearly stipend in addition to their regular salaries to have them carry concealed handguns at school.

[W]e believed that if the shooter had thought it likely, or even just possible, that someone might be there to return fire, he would have been hesitant to move forward …

The participants’ anonymity is key to our program; no one in the general public knows the identity of the Guardian Plan team members. We don’t release numbers, but at all times there is an armed school employee, or employees, on site. Experts note that mass-shooting perpetrators look for “soft” targets — places not protected by anyone who can effectively resist attack. If a person planning an assault knows that he may meet resistance, he’s less likely to attempt to attack that venue.

I floated the idea on Facebook (without the Texas example, which I had not yet known of) and got a lot of push-back from teachers, some of whom said they’d resign if they knew that unidentified colleagues had concealed handguns with the school board’s blessing.

I don’t get that. There were no explanations proffered by those teachers, just hypothetical ultimatums in response to my hypothetical scenario.

If any reader of this blog has an explanation of the badness of my idea, I’d be glad to hear it. Just know that when the topic is deterrence, I’m skeptical of generalizations about whether guns are more likely to shoot bad guys or loved ones when actually discharged.

I’ve got some “skin in the game,” too. Though I was a Conscientious Objector and am generally pacific, I do believe in the right of self-defense, and nobody beyond a tiny circle knows how armed or disarmed my home is.

Care to try breaking in to find out?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to talk about such things, would we?

Does anyone live there?


* This is not a course on electrical safety, of course. I may have understated the risks. But I’ve been bit by 110v several times, and I have a friend who closed a circuit of 440v, I think, in an institutional kitchen (and somehow survived).

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

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

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Imposter Syndrome

A gem of an essay at Aeon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Did you ever feel like an imposter in Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Self-narcotizing cant

From a Rod Dreher blog, quoting a Reformed Christian in Great Britain:

I am extremely rare in being concerned about Christian education. Most evangelicals I know think it is selfish, and possible sinful, to take children out of state education because of the evangelistic opportunities one can have at the school gate. It is also argued that children can’t be kept out of the world indefinitely. None of this makes sense. There is a deep, deep naiveté amongst most Christians and when you consider what we are up against, we are going to be eaten for breakfast. I just find a deep seated objection to thinking the way you do in the Benedict Option but with no clear rationale as to why.

That said, there are a few Christian schools which have been set up in the UK in the last few years which are excellent, however most evangelicals I speak to are suspicious about them.

One often hears US Evangelicals claiming the same thing about public schools. My guess is that it’s far, far more likely that the Evangelicals kids are going to get “evangelized” by the popular culture than the other way around. I also wonder if some parents who could afford these schools for their kids aren’t simply rationalizing the fact that they would rather get the free education than make a sacrifice to pay for them.

Most Christians in the United States apparently feel the same.

Our professed concern for “the children” is self-narcotizing cant.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Detour & Frolic

We interrupt sporadic attempts at serious commentary to laugh scornfully at Jerry Falwell, Jr. (here), and to wonder just what the hell kind of educational institutions (both founded by Jerry Falwell, Sr.) could turn out such a clown.

We now return to our irregularly scheduled blogging.

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“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.” (John Dewey) Be a saint anyway. (Tipsy)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Abuses of power

Rod Dreher revisits for the third time the Edgardo Montara case from the 19th-centry papal state that included Bologna, Italy. He quotes a Patheos column by Eve Tushnet, which quote includes this:

I am not sure I’ve seen any discussions of Catholic “postliberal” politics which acknowledge the need for any peaceful social order to accept and accommodate disharmony. If your temporal political goal is public harmony you can either a) make a lot of compromises with unbelief and sin for the sake of peace or b) impose order by force, thus creating a lot more chaos, cruelty, and sin … Any reasonably okay society will have a lot of uncriminalized sin and a lot of unpunished crime, because the things you need to do to root out and punish sin will themselves involve sinful abuses of power.

That’s a great summary of why, some 50 years ago, I supported decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults. But since I believe, now as then, that those acts are sinful, I’ve been unwilling to go further into things like protected class status.

I’m not alone in that. But the nation is moving toward suppressing as intolerable the disharmony folks like me create. Dreher:

Here’s the thing that is very hard to get progressives to understand: liberalism today is turning illiberal in a way that resembles the Papal States of Pio Nono. Many on the left don’t see it because they are caught up in the relentless logic of virtue. Let’s step away from the religion aspect for a second. Have you been watching the progressive mob savaging Margaret Atwood — Margaret Atwood! — as a traitor to feminism for having said publicly that a Canadian academic punished for sexual harassment was denied due process? The Handmaid’s Tale author was a hero to feminists yesterday, but today she’s a monster because she deviated ever so slightly from the Virtuous Position. Extremism in the pursuit of progressive virtue is no vice …

Progressive militants are thrilled to throw dissidents from their purity project on the metaphorical bonfire, torching careers and reputations for the sake of Justice. And if one protests that this or that person was treated unfairly, well, mistakes might be made, but maybe it’s time that the Enemy (males, whites, straights, religious believers, et al.) knows what it feels like to be oppressed. That’s the rationale.

I have no doubt that there are more than a few progressives who read the controversy over Edgardo Mortara’s case and are rightly appalled, but who would tomorrow cheer the State for removing a child deemed transgender by experts from the home of his Christian parents who disagree.

Well of course they would! Gender is indelible, like baptism used to be superstitiously described, and the state is obliged to raise a boy-girl as a girl, as the Papal states thought they must raise a baptized Christian as Christian. Isn’t that obvious!?

Contemporaneously, Dreher and two others forecast other suppressions that may be more imminent.

First, Alan Jacobs sees Christian colleges and universities being destroyed by loss of accreditation for resisting the Zeitgeist:

As I have noted in another venue, calls are already being made for Christian institutions to lose their accreditation also. Many Christian colleges will be unable to survive losing federal aid for their faculty and students alike; … a loss of accreditation is likely to be the death knell for all of them, because that will dramatically reduce the number of students who apply for admission. Students with degrees from unaccredited institutions are deemed ineligible for almost all graduate education, and for many jobs as well. How many parents, even devoutly Christian parents, even those few who can afford it (given the lack of federal student aid), will be willing to pay to send their children to institutions if that narrows their future horizons so dramatically? Almost none, I suspect.

The people who argue that Christian institutions should support the modern left’s model of sexual ethics or else suffer a comprehensive shunning do not think of themselves as opponents of religion. And they are not, given their definition of religion, which is “a disembodied, Gnostic realm of private worship and thought”. But that is not what Christianity is. Christianity intrinsically, necessarily involves embodied action in the public world.

Carl Trueman foresees trouble from Title IX and pressure to revoke tax exemption:

The specific point of conflict is likely to be (once again) Title IX legislation that prohibits sexual discrimination at any institution of higher education receiving federal funding. The law does allow an exemption for religious organizations such as colleges and seminaries, an exemption to which I shall return. What is worrying is the increasing elasticity of the legislation, which was extended under President Obama to include transgenderism. That “Dear Colleague” letter has since been rescinded, but the underlying cultural commitments that made Title IX expansions plausible remain in place.

Some colleges—for instance, Hillsdale and Grove City—stand apart from federal funding. Such places thus seem relatively safe. But are they? There is another point of vulnerability: the 1983 Supreme Court ruling in Bob Jones University v. United States. This ruling denied tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University because of policies regarding interracial dating that were judged contrary to a compelling government policy. The text of the decision can be found here, but the key passage reads as follows:

The Government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest.

However we may cheer the particular result of the Bob Jones case, the implications unfolding in today’s climate are concerning. Replace “racial” with “sexual” in the paragraph above, and the point is clear.

The usefulness of Title IX and Bob Jones for the sexual-identity revolution lies precisely in the fact that most Christians see them as sound in what they were originally meant to accomplish, even as some might cavil at their heavy-handed application in after years. In a world where the law increasingly seems to exist not to protect minority opinion but to impose the sexual or identitarian taste du jour, the uses of these laws are increasingly sinister. Yet their origins make them hard to oppose with any cultural plausibility. For this reason, the religious exemption in Title IX will, I suspect, either fall or become so attenuated as to be in practice meaningless.

Dreher in a separate blog elaborates Trueman’s point:

Trueman points out a truth that far, far too many Christians refuse to acknowledge: that the political assault on orthodox religious institutions is happening because American culture has radically changed. Fighting politically and legally are necessary, but ultimately not sufficient to save us, because we increasingly don’t have the people with us. Writes Trueman, “It is the heart that must change if arguments are to carry any weight. And only things that go that deep will avail us at this time.”

But Dreher is getting used to being ignored:

I’ve been thinking about that all weekend, and how unprepared American Christians are for it. We really do labor under the self-indulgent illusion that It Can’t Happen Here. Oh yes, it most certainly can — and it is.

(Emphasis added) How can people be so insensate? A commonly-identified culprit is secularism, but Dreher names two more:

The other day, I had an e-mail exchange with a prominent scholar who studies religion in America. It’s not part of his public profile, but he happens to be a believing Christian. He was extremely pessimistic about the situation here, given the long-term data he is seeing about how the advance of secularism, consumerism, and individualism is routing belief.

(Emphasis added)

But some of that routed belief thinks it’s still faithful. We have met the enemy and he is, if not us, at least among our ranks. We will, in due course, have those routed believers held up as the truly exemplary believers.

We need to tolerate disharmony, as I think was done with decriminalization of sodomy, but that’s not where we seem to be headed, and this time I and mine are going to be the stigmatized.

If you’re a faithful and orthodox Christian, you are, too.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Where rationalism fails

Education today is flawed. Its rationalistic approach forgets that an existential commitment is a necessary condition for a genuine experience of truth, and therefore for conviction to exist. We cannot understand reality unless “we are in it.” Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote … “it is from this that one perceives that he has a soul, is alive, and exists, because he perceives that he feels and thinks and somehow performs other actions of life.”

Even the clearest evidence will not become a conviction unless one becomes familiar with it, unless one opens one’s self to it attentively and patiently, unless one gives it time and lives with it, in short, unless one loves it. Modern rationalism either forgets or denies that the self is fundamentally dependent; it either forgets or denies that evidence is a great, original surprise.

Luigi Giussani, The Risk of Education, page 69.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Spitting in the soup

That people associated with a university would invite a hateful mythmonger like Richard Spencer to campus is a tragedy; but it’s a greater tragedy that someone like Spencer is a public figure at all. That’s not something that even the best university administration can fix.

I might add that when people say that they want conservative ideas to be represented on campus and then invite Ann Coulter or Milo or Richard Spencer to speak, they have zero interest in ideas. They just want to spit in their neighbor’s soup.

(Alan Jacobs, part of his delayed reaction to the New Atlantis article I recently alluded to)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Toxins and antidotes

I encountered one of this quotes before and may have shared it, but now I’ve read the whole article:

When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation. But nowadays, students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let me end with a few rays of hope and some thoughts about what can be done. I began this lecture with a discussion of the fine-tuned liberal democracy, which is the hypothesis that human beings are unsuited for life in large diverse secular democracies, unless we can get certain settings finely adjusted. I think this hypothesis is true, and I have tried to show that we have stumbled into some very bad settings. I am pessimistic about our future, but let me state clearly that I have low confidence in my pessimism. It has always been wrong to bet against America, and it is probably wrong to do so now …

[I]f you want more hope, let me tell you why I think things are going to start to improve on university campuses, beginning in the fall of 2018: because as things get worse on campus, more people are beginning to stand up, and more people are searching for solutions. Some college presidents are starting to stand up. They all know they are sitting on a powder keg, and they want to defuse it. Also, they are generally liberal scholars, deeply opposed to illiberalism …

Professors are starting to stand up, too. At Heterodox Academy, we started with 25 members two years ago; now we have over 1,400, evenly balanced between left and right. We got a big surge of members after the violence at Middlebury because that was a tipping point. Professors are overwhelmingly on the left, but they are mostly liberal Left, not illiberal. My field—social psychology—for example, is quite sane. I have been raising the alarm about political imbalance and orthodoxy since 2011, and so far nothing bad has happened to me …

And most importantly, some students are beginning to stand up. At Reed College, one of the most politically orthodox schools in the country, social-justice activists had been protesting and disrupting the first-year humanities course for more than a year. They called the course an act of white supremacy because it focused on dead white authors. They said the course was traumatizing to non-white students. They brought their signs and chants into the classroom every day, making it hard for professors to teach or for students to learn. Many Reed students and professors objected, but none dared to do so publicly, lest they be called racist themselves. Finally, this fall, several Asian students stood up, criticized the protesters, and asked them to stop interfering with their education. Once these students stood up, support for the protesters collapsed. Many people had been going along out of fear, rather than conviction.

(Jonathan Haidt) This edited transcript of Haidt’s Wriston Lecture for the Manhattan Institute, delivered on November 15 has much more of worth than I have quoted, including analysis of how we got so polarized. A hint: I left the GOP in 2005, but there was handwriting on the walls ten years earlier (which I did not notice.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Revival isn’t inevitable

It brought to mind a conversation I had last night, out with friends. We were talking about the degeneration of stable ideas of family, sex, and gender. One of my friends, a lawyer, cited Stein’s Law: “Whatever can’t go on, won’t.” His point is that the gender ideology madness is bound to burn itself out, because it is incompatible with reality, and therefore unsustainable, in the same sense that communism was unsustainable. I suspect he’s right about that, but it’s going to take a long time for that to happen, because gender ideology fits so perfectly with the basic ideology of our time: autonomous individualism, which is to say, Anthonykennedyism: The belief that one is entitled to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, or the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

In response to this, I pointed out that Stein’s Law has not predicted social conditions for the black underclass in America. Since midcentury, the black unmarried birth rate has soared. When the Moynihan Report came out in the 1960s, 25 percent of black births were to unmarried women — far higher than the white rate. Now the black rate, as I said, is over 70 percent, and the white rate is higher than the black rate in the 1960s.

The bad social outcomes of this phenomenon have not retarded its growth for any demographic group. As out-of-wedlock childbearing becomes intergenerational, so does poverty …

It’s straight out of Charles Murray’s worst nightmare …

These are the people middle class and upper middle class folks don’t see. They don’t come into this world ineducable or doomed to dysfunction. They are crippled mostly by culture. The mystery is why these cultural habits persist, even though the outcomes for the children raised in it are so poor. According to the theory, people should recognize that living in this particular way means suffering and misery, so they will change their views and their way of life to live in a more sensible way. But that clearly does not happen often, or at least not often enough. Why?

The point I’m trying to make is that the belief that cultural revival is inevitable, because people will inevitably turn away from destructive ideas and behavior, strikes me as insupportably optimistic. People are not reliably rational actors. Civilization is a far more fragile thing than we suppose ….

(Rod Dreher)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.