Counter-hegemony

A fine Saturday WSJ profile of Heather MacDonald, who was only halfway onto my radar previously. She has some very plausible explanations of phenomena that swim against both progressive and conservative streams on snowflakes, Title IX Due Process, patriarchy and more.

Emphasis added.

1

Heather Mac Donald may be best known for braving angry collegiate mobs, determined to prevent her from speaking last year in defense of law enforcement. But she finds herself oddly in agreement with her would-be suppressors: “To be honest,” she tells me, “I would not even invite me to a college campus.”

No, she doesn’t yearn for a safe space from her own triggering views. “My ideal of the university is a pure ivory tower,” she says. “I think that these are four precious years to encounter human creations that you’re otherwise—unless you’re very diligent and insightful—really never going to encounter again. There is time enough for things of the moment once you graduate.”

2

Her views are heterodox. She would seem a natural ally of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, authors of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” They argue that college “snowflakes” are the products of overprotective childrearing, which creates oversensitive young adults.

Ms. Mac Donald doesn’t buy it. Minority students disproportionately come from single-parent homes, so “it’s not clear to me that those students are being helicopter-parented.” To the contrary, “they are not getting, arguably, as much parenting as they need.” If anyone is coddled, it’s upper-middle- class whites, but “I don’t know yet of a movement to create safe spaces for white males.”

The snowflake argument, Ms. Mac Donald says, “misses the ideological component of this.” The dominant victim narrative teaches students that “to be female, black, Hispanic, trans, gay on a college campus is to be the target of unrelenting bigotry.” Students increasingly believe that studying the Western canon puts “their health, mental safety, and security at risk” and can be “a source of—literally—life threat.”

3

She similarly thinks conservatives miss the point when they focus on the due-process infirmities of campus sexual- misconduct tribunals. She doesn’t believe there’s a campus “rape epidemic,” only a lot of messy, regrettable and mutually degrading hookups. “To say the solution to all of this is simply more lawyering up is ridiculous because this is really, fundamentally, about sexual norms.”

Society once assumed “no” was women’s default response to sexual propositions. “That put power in the hands of females,” …

Young women … are learning “to redefine their experience as a result of the patriarchy, whereas, in fact, it’s a result of sexual liberation.”

4

What about the idea of actively enforcing viewpoint diversity? “I’m reluctant to have affirmative action for conservatives, just because it always ends up stigmatizing its beneficiaries,” Ms. Mac Donald says. Still, she’s concerned that as campuses grow increasingly hostile to conservatives, some of the best candidates may decide, as she did, that there’s no space left for them.

5

What worries Ms. Mac Donald more than the mob is the destructive power of its animating ideas. If the university continues its decline, how will knowledge be passed on to the next generation, or new knowledge created? Ms. Mac Donald also warns of a rising white identity politics—“an absolutely logical next step in the metastasizing of identity politics.”

6

I turn now to Andrew Sullivan, as I often do on Friday or Saturday.

His Friday column, The Danger of Trump’s Accomplishments, is almost perfect, but “Put a spoonful of sewage in a barrel of wine and you get sewage”:

The Republican senators likely to be elected this fall will, if anything, be even more pro-Trump than their predecessors. Corker, Flake, McCain: all gone. The House GOP will have been transformed more thoroughly into Trump’s own personal party, as the primary campaigns revealed only too brutally. And if by some twist of fate, a constitutional battle between Congress and president breaks out over impeachment proceedings, Justice Kavanaugh will be there to make sure the president gets his way.

(Emphasis added)

That ipse dixit about Brett Kavanaugh defending Trump from impeachment is vile, far beneath Sully’s usual level and, I’d wager, wrong. Moreover, it undermines the judiciary and, thus, the rule of law as surely as Democrats do when they talk as if Kavanaugh is some kind of Manchurian Associate Justice.

And — set me straight if I’m missing something — I think it’s stupid. The House impeaches; the Senate tries the impeachment. An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court has nothing to do with this process which, as we’ve been reminded much of late, is political despite the allusion to “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

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Potpourri (mostly political) 9/25/18

1

I apologize if I’ve quoted this before, but I’m a retired lawyer, I’ve watched SCOTUS for decades, and I can’t stop mulling this over.

Here goes:

I can imagine two operative standards for a nominee in Kavanaugh’s shoes. One is what we might call the minimally convincing standard—which we can loosely define as a showing just powerful enough to align the few uncommitted Republicans with the already-declared Republicans and thus assure confirmation.

The other let’s call the no-asterisks standard—that is, a showing sufficiently powerful that a reasonable person will not spend the years of Kavanaugh’s service mentally doubting his integrity or fitness for the role he is playing. It is a showing sufficient for a reasonable pro-choice woman to believe it legitimate—if not desirable—for Kavanaugh to sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade, or for a sexual-assault victim, whatever she may think of his views, to believe it legitimate for him to hear her appeal.

Putting it all together, Kavanaugh’s task strikes me as an unenviable one. He needs to prove a negative about events long ago with sufficient persuasiveness that a reasonable person will regard his service as untainted by the allegations against him, and he needs to do so using only arguments that don’t themselves taint him.

Benjamin Wittes in the Atlantic.

I have called this article “clarifying,” and I particularly had these passages in mind. But now I’m wondering.

We’re all aware of the high levels of polarization in the country. Democrat Senator Mazie Hirono says she disbelieves Kavanaugh’s denial of Dr. Ford’s accusation because she doesn’t like his ideology. On the other side, we have Donald Trump predicting he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it.

Consider Hirono and those blasé Times Square bystander archetypes. Where is the archetypal “reasonable person” (or “reasonable pro-choice woman”) who hasn’t already made up his or her mind on the Kavanaugh nomination, or whose opinion of his qualifications (not some political calculus) has materially changed because of the accusations against him?

If you were already inclined to trust Kavanaugh, the evidence against him is weak enough to justify rallying to his side. (“How dare these liberals engage in dirty tricks against this smart, decent family man who’s devoted his life to the law!”) But if you were already inclined to distrust him, the evidence against him is strong enough to justify feeling vindicated. (“You mean the guy who seems eager to gut women’s reproductive rights shows a pattern of misogyny and violence againéé women? No kidding!”)

Damon Linker.

Who thinks that they’ll watch Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh without a glimmer of confirmation bias?

Can any justice be confirmed in this toxic atmosphere without an asterisk by his or her name? (“Hey! I’m reasonable! I think he’s guilty as hell! He’s just the type!”)

Can any conservative man be confirmed without accusations of sexual improprieties? If it comes from an old acquaintance rather than a total stranger, won’t it always come packing an asterisk?

There’s an aphorism about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s on my mind these days.

2

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray recently told an audience that there must be a way that cryptographers hadn’t thought of yet to securely guarantee that law enforcement could unlock encrypted devices. He proclaimed “We put a man on the moon” in trying to make the point that if mathematicians and scientists could do that, surely they could find a way to build a secure encryption backdoor. But after decades of research and debate, the experts overwhelmingly agree: trying to build a secure backdoor would be like asking NASA’s to safely land a human on the sun. It’s not possible.

Robyn Greene

3

If Trump fires Rosenstein, he gets rid of the guy who has been Robert Mueller’s main protector at Justice. Yet firing him on charges of insubordination means believing that the Fake News got the story about Rosenstein’s 25th Amendment musings right. This may be the ultimate Trumpian dilemma.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

4

The clear implication of the [ad’s] sumptuous red lipstick and the impossibly tall high-heel is that a woman’s womb, ovaries, and breasts are recreational equipment which it would be unthinkable to waste on nurturing a new human being. Maybe when these organs are older and starting not to work so well, they can be used for making and nourishing babies—after a few rounds of chemical fertility treatment, of course. But right now, it’s party time. It’s me time. It’s little black dress time.

Because sex is fun, right? And it’s even more fun when there’s an edge of risk in it, which is why we end up with “emergency contraception” ads in the Underground and an epidemic of STDs. But what’s the purpose of all these cocktails and clubbing? Why do people devote so much of their lives to finding someone with whom to rub bodies if they’re not interested in what body-rubbing was designed to create?

Or take for example this WebMD article about “emergency contraception,” which suggests a woman might want to use it if she had sex and “something went wrong.” Could you run that by me again? In what other instance do we describe body systems accomplishing their intended functions by saying “something went wrong”? ….

G. Shane Morris, If You Don’t Want Kids, Don’t Have Sex (or Get Married).

Caveat: Do not ever think that my quoting something from Shane Morris implies that I agree with him more than about half the time. Some day, I may even unload on him about something in the other half.

5

… I despise Ted Cruz. That is “D-e-s-p-i-s-e,” in case I haven’t spelled out my loathing clearly enough … Because he’s like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-gallon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife — by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because “New York values.” Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that’s just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he’s conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he’s the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that’s what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected.

Otherwise, you might say I’m his No. 1 fan.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

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Hauerwasian “modernity” today

We disagree. In truth, we not only disagree about conclusions, we disagree about the facts, about how the facts are to be considered, what, indeed, constitutes a fact, what constitutes considering, and so on. We are a fragmented society whose fragmentation is becoming a major spiritual force in the lives of its people.

The fragmentation of the modern mind (even within itself) is just that – modern. Of course, a new consensus has been suggested: that we all agree that not agreeing is normal. Stanley Hauerwas places this at the very heart of the meaning of modernity:

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.” Wilderness Wanderings, 26

This is proving to be the most destructive aspect of the modern world. “To have a story” requires that someone else consent to the story – we do not live alone (even when we pretend that is our story). The only means of generating a consensus that has no basis other than “the story I choose,” is coercion. The social cohesion of consensus is being replaced by various versions of coerced agreement. We are angry.

This is not a game Christians can win, nor is it a game Christians should want to play. The Christian witness is not to a story we choose ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Consent to Reality.

Hauerwas’ definition of modernity (emphasis added) is priceless:

  1. It echoes or anticipates Justice Kennedy’s “Mystery Passage”: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
  2. It distills the essence of attacks on the sexual binary, whereby 50 or more fanciful and/or ineffable “genders” (with corresponding pronouns) have been invented.
  3. Our consent to the gender-multiplying gaslighting is indeed being coerced. We would, after all, be committing the ultimate dignitary assault, denying the storytellers’ very existence as they’d put it, were we allowed to say “That’s bullshit!” or even “Very nice, dearie. Run along now.”

I’ll try not to forget Hauerwas’ definition again.

UPDATE: Point 1 on Hauerwas’ definition of modernity included “I don’t know when Hauerwas first wrote it, but I’m 99% positive it was before the collection Fr. Stephen cites and I suspect it was before Planned Parenthood v. Casey (the source of Kennedy’s maudlin philosophizing).” I had seen the date of a second or subsequent addition of Wilderness Wanderings. The first edition, I now noticed, was 1998, and I suspect it was the first publication of that definition.

* * * * *

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

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In pursuit, but barely

As I told you previously the more I see how other societies (d)evolve, the more I’m glad to be French, at least for now. But is that really “other” societies, or just some of them? The Sexual Revolution, the LGBT cult and other niceties were mostly born in the Anglosphere and that’s where they are most virulent …

I understand that you’re clinging to your “secularization = Sexual Revolution” thesis and it certainly has some merit, but you can’t deny that France, for instance, is much more secularized than the United States and as much as the UK and yet is much more conservative on social matters — just check our abortion laws or the resistance to the LGBT agenda. Same goes for Eastern Europe. I think thus there is something rotten in the Anglosphere….

As Del Noce pointed out, Wilhelm Reich was brilliantly prescient when he identified America (and the English-speaking more generally) as the culture where the sexual revolution would triumph most thoroughly.

In hindsight, the reason is obvious: the sexual revolution is a philosophical by-product of scientistic positivism (the denial that anything, including sexuality, has a symbolic-sacramental value) and extreme “bourgeois happiness” utilitarianism (faith that happiness can be reached without any reference to the transcendent). Both trends were and are far more advanced in countries with a Puritan-empiricist-utilitarian cultural tradition like the UK and the USA. The results show.

Rod Dreher, updating a bit of gender madness from the U.K. with comments by a French reader and by Carlo Lancellotti, who has been hitting the nail on the head quite a bit lately. (Emphasis added)

I don’t think these comments are off the mark when it comes to the Anglosphere nexus with the craziest parts of the sexual revolution and LGBetc. stuff. Which means, as Rod says:

I think this is a point worth pondering. So I am going to ponder it, and invite others to think of it too, and add their thoughts. My instinct tells me it has something to do with the radical individualism of the Anglosphere.

But if we get no further than picking “scientistic positivism,” “bourgeois happiness utilitarianism” or “radical individualism” out of the police lineup, we’ll not have gotten very far.

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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.

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An injustice to people’s full humanity

More thoughts from the Eighth Day Symposium Friday and Saturday, and again from Ken Myers.

I’ll try to distinguish direct quotes from my summaries or paraphrases. I consider none of what’s below today my original contribution, and if something appears plagiarized, it must be because I inadvertently omitted a credit that Ken Myers did give, which credits were given lavishly.

Reminder: The topic was “Cultivating Friendship in a Fractured Age.”

* * *

Plato and Aristotle both agreed that stimulating moral virtue primarily takes the form of conversation, of speaking with one another. The aim of politics in Aristotle is “living well in a polity of justice, which justice is practiced by citizens who live in virtue-forming friendships.” Friendship and politics are thus mutually dependent in Aristotle. Life in the larger community requires virtuous citizens whose affections have been trained to love the good within noble friendships. And the polity was committed to protecting the space for such friendships.

* * *

What Poem or novel since Tennyson’s “In Memorium” has celebrated friendship? Eros has innumerable modern literary examples, while David & Jonathan and other historic examples of friendship have few or none. We admit mens’ need for “a few friends” only grudgingly.

* * *

Aristotle deals with justice in in a single book in the Ethics. Friendship fills two books. It fills less than a page in Kant.

* * *

Modern political theory banished friendship to the private realm so it would have no influence on politics. Our anthropology assumes that humans are such that government exists to protect individual rights to live as we please. In this theory, society is not an integrated body, with its own health.

Government exists, in other words, to protect us from one another. We’re interest-seeking, rights-bearing atoms. That atomistic individualism spills into private life, reconfiguring all relationships. We even approach friendship, when we approach it at all, as if we’re trying to get a good bargain.

* * *

Oliver O’Donovan thinks angry political backlash comes from somewhere deeper than loss of inclusion, but from a perception that modern politics is morally unintelligible, because justice is not being done to people’s full humanity. We’re so tutored in individualism that we lack the vocabulary to describe how politics has abandoned seeking the objective good of communities.

* * *

Christians believe that community is good for individuals, but they do not believe that society exists to serve individuals’ private purposes.

* * *

Once society is thought of s an agreement … between competing wills, the cloud of competition never lifts from it.

(Oliver O’Donovan)

* * *

 

Speech has lost its orientation toward deliberating about the common good. Political speech is about managing and allocating competing claims about the good.

* * *

“Modern politics is civil war carried on by other means” (I think that’s from Alistair Macintyre) Because we’ve abandoned the idea that communities are bound by common objects of love, modern liberalism tells us that our nature and dignity are honored, and that

“we’ll be happy, when we’re completely from from any constriction on the pursuit of our desires. We’ll be happy when we get to define what happiness is on our own terms.”

If we assume this … then if we find we’re not happy, then we assume we’re just not free enough, and we turn to the government to expand our freedom. “Let us define what marriage is,” for instance …

But what if happiness depends on submitting to an understanding of happiness that we didn’t invent? What if we can only be free when we honor an understanding of freedom rooted in certain truths about our nature, an understanding shared by and received from our community?”

I confess my interest in political philosophy is a relatively new thing. It was energized significantly as we lived through the surreal election year of 2016. And I began asking myself “Is what we’re living through a sign of the failure of our political structures or is it the logical outcome of a system with critical design flaws? Is it actually succeeding, and this is what success looks like?”

I’ve come to believe that a more hopeful future requires the radical revision of some basic beliefs about public life — about the relationship between state and society, the purposes of government and about how the ordering of temporal affairs must account for the full reality of what we are as human persons. And those are finally theological questions.

A number of thinkers much more experienced and wiser than I have suggested that we have a really hard time imagining radically different paradigms for political life.

And I think that what we need to jump start our imaginations is a renewed understanding of, and more importantly practice of, friendship … It is to do with a reciprocal sharing of all that is good. Only secondarily is it about organizing the distribution of material goods and designing laws that are always somewhat arbitrary.

(Ken Myers)

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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.

Filicide Tryptich

I had to go out and find what Judaism could offer me outside the institutional settings of my childhood.

My first step in that direction was an encounter with an Orthodox rebbetzin from a black hat yeshiva community near where I grew up. Home from college, I sat next to her on a bus one day and she invited me for Shabbat. I loved it and went back many times. Nobody cared what you had or what your outfit cost. Strangers were invited and fed. Shabbat was joyful, song-filled; there was no television or other distractions. Yes, it was the 1980s, and communities were less rigid. I was even allowed to visit a few homes while wearing pants. All summer, I studied with that rebbetzin. She encouraged me to ask her all kinds of hard and even disrespectful questions, and she answered them. Sometimes her husband, a rosh yeshiva, or leader of a talmudic academy, from a famous rabbinical dynasty, joined our discussions. I think he found my pushback entertaining.

No, I didn’t become ultra-Orthodox. Anyone who cares about women’s participation is not going to disappear into such a community — but there is still plenty to be learned from one. Nobody drops off the kids at synagogue and speeds off to go shopping, or teaches them about laws and traditions that are never used at home. Any Jew is welcome to walk into services, including on High Holidays. Nobody goes without a place for Shabbat. And kids aren’t studying or praying to reach a finish line, let alone a party with a buffet, a DJ and a bag filled with personal checks.

(Sharon Pomerantz, How My Bat Mitzvah Turned Me Off Judaism, via Rod Dreher)

* * *

Victorinus was a Roman rhetor during St. Augustine’s time. His government position required him to make speeches honoring the gods of the empire. But he was interested in Christianity and read Scripture. One of St. Augustine’s friends, Simplicianus, often visited Victorinus. They would talk about spiritual matters. In private, the famous orator would confide, “I am already a Christian, you know.” Simplicianus, however, recognized that Christianity is a public identity, and he would reply, “I will not believe that, nor count you among Christians, until I see you in Christ’s Church.” Victorinus seems to have found this emphasis on outward expression of Christian faith superficial. Augustine reports that he said, “It’s the walls that make Christians, then?” To put it in contemporary terms, he needled Simplicianus, saying that this requirement of church attendance made him a “Doctor of the Law.”

Eventually, Victorinus realized that walls do make Christians. We are not with Christ in private. Our Lord has a body: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.” And so Victorinus enrolled as a catechumen, was baptized, and professed the Church’s creed before a packed crowd in one of Rome’s churches.

(R.R. Reno in First Things)

* * *

“It is surely a fact of inexhaustible significance that what our Lord left behind Him was not a book, nor a creed, nor a system of thought, nor a rule of life, but a visible community.  I think that we Protestants cannot too often reflect on that fact.  He committed the entire work of salvation to that community.  It was not that a community gathered around an idea, so that the idea was primary and the community secondary.  It was that a community called together by the deliberate choice of the Lord Himself, and re-created in Him, gradually sought–and is seeking–to make explicit who He is and what He has done.  The actual community is primary: the understanding of what it is comes second.  The Church does not depend for its existence upon our understanding of it or faith in it.  It first of all exists as a visible fact called into being by the Lord Himself, and our understanding of that fact is subsequent and secondary.”

(Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church, pp. 24-25, via Wesley Hill on Tumblr)

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Epilogue:

The reason I have so much trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that Christian families really do choose Sunday sports over church is that it is so blisteringly obvious that this is spiritually suicidal, in the sense that kids catechized by the popular culture in this way will not practice the faith as adults. The faith will likely die in their generation. Their parents and their community will have taught them by example that God is less important than sports. Or, to put it another way, that sports is the true God.

You can carry around in your head the idea of God, and that you affirm your religion, but that’s vaporous if you don’t put it into practice in this ordinary way. I bring up in speeches a lot the challenge I received from a Christian undergraduate at a talk earlier this year: “Why do you say practices are so important? Why isn’t it enough to love Jesus with all our hearts, as we were taught growing up?” This Sunday sports thing is one reason why. Not a single Christian parent who chooses sports over church believes that he or she is denying the faith. After all, they still believe, in the sense of affirming certain propositions, right? But unless the faith is manifested and embedded in practices — communal practices — it is not going to last.

(Rod Dreher, Chariots of Fire vs. Minivans of Apathy)