Competent beta males and other fancies

Identitarianism’s bad faith is right out in the open. If you watch closely, you’ll see that white liberals broadcasting their virtuous, courageous commitment to “listening to black voices” will suddenly waver when the black voice in question expresses opinions closer to John McWhorter’s than Ta-Nehisi Coates’. Almost without exception, people who make blanket statements of the form “I listen to X” or “Listen to X” are — and there is no more polite way to say this — full of shit.

Jesse Singal, Lobbying for Millionaires, for Social Justice

This is a fitting companion to Freddie de Boer’s Accountability is a Prerequisite of Respect, quoted extensively last time.


The atmosphere is stifling, sluggish, leaden. Outside, you don’t hear a single bird, and a deathly, oppressive silence hangs over the house and clings to me as if it were going to drag me into the deepest regions of the underworld. At times like these, Father, Mother and Margot don’t matter to me in the least. I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage. “Let me out, where there’s fresh air and laughter!” a voice within me cries.

Annelies, a 2004 choral work by James Whitbourn, based on the Diary of Ann Frank.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing this, though I must admit that the work didn’t come alive for me in rehearsal — not until production week, when we finally heard the brilliant “Ann Frank” soloist the Artistic Director had hired. Then: wow!


This is not about Donald Trump:

Donald Trump doesn’t get away with lies because his followers flunked Epistemology 101. He gets away with his lies because he tells stories of dispossession that feel true to many of them. Some students at elite schools aren’t censorious and intolerant because they lack analytic skills. They feel entrapped by moral order that feels unsafe and unjust.

The collapse of trust, the rise of animosity — these are emotional, not intellectual problems. The real problem is in our system of producing shared stories. If a country can’t tell narratives in which everybody finds an honorable place, then righteous rage will drive people toward tribal narratives that tear it apart.

Over the past decades, we cut education in half. We focused on reason and critical thinking skills — the core of the second reservoir of knowledge. The ability to tell complex stories about ourselves has atrophied. This is the ability to tell stories in which opposing characters can each possess pieces of the truth, stories in which all characters are embedded in time, at one point in their process of growth, stories rooted in the complexity of real life and not the dogma of ideological abstraction.

Now as we watch state legislatures try to enforce what history gets taught and not taught, as we watch partisans introduce ideological curriculums, we see how debauched and brutalized our historical storytelling skills have become.

It is unfashionable to say so, but America has the greatest story to tell about itself, if we have the maturity to tell it honestly. The Fourth of July weekend seems like a decent time to start.

David Brooks, ‌How to Destroy Truth (H/T my brother-in-law, since I don’t currently subscribe to the New York Times.)

This is more congruence, by the way, as I discussed last time; indeed, it’s congruent with ‌The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, though I’m only now getting into that part of the book.


Buddhism, I’ve found, is how to live in Hell without becoming a devil. The competent man who guards his thoughts and emotions and stays calm and studies differential equations and provides for those around him financially even while living among very unhappy and unhealthy people—that is how the Aristocracy of the Competent is formed. When the Competent beta males rise to the top, that is when we will have a Renaissance.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency


Yet five years later, as our nation picks up the pieces from one of the most divisive, cruel, and incompetent administrations in the modern history of the United States—one in which the pursuit of Christian power led to prominent Christian voices endorsing nation-cracking litigation and revolutionary efforts to overturn a lawful election—the Christian “deal” looks bad indeed. When push came to shove, all too often the pursuit of justice yielded to the pursuit of power.

The cultural shockwaves are still being felt. They’re rearranging not just America’s political alignments but our language itself. Is “Evangelical” more of a political marker than a religious identifier? Does it even carry true religious meaning any longer? What is a “conservative”? Where I live, the term “staunch conservative” is a synonym for “Trump supporter,” in spite of the fact that Trumpism is far more akin to populism than conservatism, as traditionally defined.

Then there’s this other word: “patriot.”

I want all those words back. “Evangelical” is a word with a rich theological and historical tradition. It has meant something good. The word “conservative” has long been connected to the defense of the classical liberal virtues of the American founding. And I can think of no better time to reclaim the word “patriot” than on our nation’s Independence Day.

No, it’s not just that I “want” those words back. We need them back. …

David French, How Do Christian Patriots Love Their Country Well?


When the Pony Express needed riders, it advertised

a preference for orphans-

that way, no one was likely

to ask questions when the carriers failed to arrive,

or the frightened ponies stumbled in with their dead

from the flanks of the prairies….

There were plenty of orphans and the point of course

was to get the mail through, so the theory was sound….

think of those rough, lean boys-

how light and hard they would rise

fleeing the great loneliness.

Mary Oliver, The Riders (H/T The Daily Poem for July 2)


The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence.


You can’t unsee what you have seen, unlearn what you have learned. The only way to live entirely at ease with one’s hometown is never to have left, never to have seen how life is elsewhere, right? Or maybe not. Ruthie’s nature was not my nature. For me the only reason I was able to return to St. Francisville in the middle of my life was because I left it so long ago and satisfied my curiosity about the world beyond. Had I chosen Ruthie’s path when I was young, my way through life would likely have been bitter, filled with regret about the roads not taken.

Rod Dreher, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming


I have pared down a very contentious, even hurtful, couple of paragraphs to just one recommendation: I cannot recommend Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity too highly for anyone who wants to understand how so much of North American Christianity became so chaotic and heretical.


This one ought to be good comedy fodder:

Rural county in Nevada moving to rename road after Trump

YERINGTON, Nev. – A rural Nevada county where voters sided solidly with Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 election is moving to rename a road after him. Lyon County commissioners voted 4-1 on Thursday for renaming the half-mile Old Dayton Valley Road in Dayton, an unincorporated community 23 miles south of Reno. Commissioner Ken Gray, a Republican, told KRNV-TV that he chose the road because only a few government facilities and no residents have addresses on it, making the change easier.


Jonah Goldberg unpacks some Trump bombast and finds inadvertent self-revelation:

Trump is a human incarnation of anti-factual narratives. Case in point: His trip to the border this week.

At a meeting to discuss border security, Trump went on a tear about how he “aced” a test designed to tell whether he was cognitively impaired. This is an oldie but a goodie, so I was glad to see him reach deep into his catalog. At the event, Trump called out to Rep. Ronny Jackson, the president’s former physician who had administered the test. Trump said:

“Did I ace it? I aced it. And I’d like to see Biden ace it. He won’t ace it.”

“He will get the first two. There are 35 questions and the first two or three are pretty easy. They are the animals. This is a lion, a giraffe. When he gets to around 20, he’s gonna have a little hard time. I think he’s gonna have a hard time with the first few, actually.”

Well.

The test doesn’t have 35 questions, merely 10 or 11 tasks (here’s a sample test). And it’s not supposed to take more than 10 minutes.

Boasting that the test was “really hard” doesn’t quite make the point Trump thinks he’s making. If you find a sobriety test “really hard,” that’s not quite the same thing as saying, “I’m sober.” If you struggle to pass a basic cardiovascular test, that’s not the same thing as saying, “I’m in great shape.” And if you say a test designed to determine if you have dementia got “really hard” toward the end, maybe that should be a cause for concern? I mean, if you have to dig deep to successfully repeat the sentence, “The cat always hid under the couch when dogs were in the room,” that’s not something to brag about.

The final—and presumably hardest question—asks if the patient knows the date, place, and city where the test is being administered.

(Emphasis added)


I had heard someone say that Vienna combined the splendour of a capital with the familiarity of a village. In the Inner City, where crooked lanes opened on gold and marble outbursts of Baroque, it was true; and, in the Kärntnerstrasse or the Graben, after I had bumped into three brand-new acquaintances within a quarter of an hour, it seemed truer still, and parts of the town suggested an even narrower focus.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (and Jan Morris), A Time of Gifts

From what Rod Dreher wrote just last Friday (I Am Pieter Brueghel’s Waffle Man – by Rod Dreher – Daily Dreher, Vienna is still magical.


Reflections introduced by Jeff Bezos’ rationale for going to space:

I think, is that the standard choices presented to us – reason versus superstition; progress versus barbarism; past versus future; Earth versus space; growth versus stasis – were always chimeras. The choice is not between ‘going forward’ or ‘going back’, but between working with the complexity of human and natural realities, in all their organic messiness, or attempting to supersede them with abstractions which can never hope to contain them.

Perhaps this is why artists, saints, poets, mystics and storytellers often have a better handle on what reality actually looks like than those who sing the praises of Science or Reason. The English painter Cecil Collins, for example, explained his view on the matter in a beautiful mid-twentieth century passage which is worth quoting in full:

Rationalists are very fond of saying that without reason the universe would be a mad place; but of course it is a mad place even with reason. Any artist, or poet, or really alive person, knows it is mad. It is a horrible and terrifying place full of a bitter cruelty and obscenity. It is a place full of wonderful, profound beauty, and the tenderness of vast mysterious sacrifices. What it is not is a nice little rational puzzle that works out in the end.

No, the universe of experience is a different matter. It is a deep abyss, full of voices, some whispering, some shouting, the voices of frustration, the voices of unfulfilled longings, the voices of mysterious lusts, of mystical desires that can find no place in the world, the voices of deep, buried wrongs that cry out from an abyss of world desolation, the voices of misfits, neurotics, failures, the weak, an abyss full of the ecstasy of the poet, the glow of the praise of life, full of an incomprehensible love and an incomprehensible destructiveness.

All these voices are centred in man’s consciousness and in order to escape from them he builds in his mind a prison of rationality, and then tries by the aid of the official world, to shut them out.

Paul Kingsnorth, A Thousand Mozarts (The Abbey of Misrule)


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.

Right call, right reason (but punts the issue, really)

The Supreme Court today took the surprising tack of deciding a religious freedom case (Fulton v. City of Philadelphia) on the basis of a statutory provision I’d never heard mentioned in discussions of the case (and I was paying moderately close attention).

The majority opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kavanaugh, and Barrett: When a legal rule allows for "entirely discretionary exceptions" (e.g., that a foster care evaluation provider "shall not reject … prospective foster or adoptive parents … based upon … their … sexual orientation … unless an exception is granted by the Commissioner or the Commissioner’s designee, in his/her sole discretion"), the government must generally provide such exceptions for religious objectors as well.

I’m not surprised at the outcome. I am surprised (and disappointed) that I hadn’t heard about this discretionary exemption clause in the law. It was an obvious way, it seems to me, to avoid having to overturn the 30-year-old ‌Employment Division v. Smith precedent — even though no exemptions have been extended to anyone.

But Justice Alito has a point, too:

[The majority] decision might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops. The City has been adamant about pressuring CSS to give in, and if the City wants to get around today’s decision, it can simply eliminate the never-used exemption power. If it does that, then, voilà, today’s decision will vanish—and the parties will be back where they started. The City will claim that it is protected by Smith; CSS will argue that Smith should be overruled; the lower courts, bound by Smith, will reject that argument; and CSS will file a new petition in this Court challenging Smith. What is the point of going around in this circle?

(Both block-quotes from Eugene Volokh, with emphasis added.)


Paul Kingsnorth on the environmental movement (which he left):

What, exactly, was he leaving? A movement that had transformed itself into, as he memorably put it, “the catalytic converter on the silver SUV of the global economy.” … To him, this next-gen environmentalism was simply “business-as-usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of carbon.”

Eric Miller, Out Walking (Current)


Glenn Greenwald, The Enduring False Narrative About the PULSE Massacre Shows the Power of Media Propaganda. I put this in the category of "Whenever Mrs. Kissel breaks wind we beat the dog.": Gay person murdered = homophobe murderer.

It’s ever so much easier than admitting that our endless wars of choice piss some people off around the world — especially if one is a Senator, but almost as much if one is a journalistic lapdog to the Beltway crowd.


Hudge and Gudge, or the governing class generally, will never fail for lack of some modern phrase to cover their ancient predominance. The great lords will refuse the English peasant his three acres and a cow on advanced grounds, if they cannot refuse it longer on reactionary grounds. They will deny him the three acres on grounds of State Ownership. They will forbid him the cow on grounds of humanitarianism.

G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World?


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Miscellany, 4/23/21

For many years now it has been crystal clear to me that the shape of reality is the shape of a myth, not a hard drive, and that the path back to understanding it – the way out of the cul de sac of Machine modernity – is a spiritual one.

Paul Kingsnorth, Intermission: The Empty Throne (The Abbey of Misrule)


First, I’d like to say I’m not surprised by much today, but I was taken aback by the rage in some parts of the right at the conviction of Derek Chauvin …

I could fill an entire newsletter with strange and dangerous reactions from prominent right-wing voices after the Chauvin verdict. The pathologies of right-wing infotainment are one reason why I have so little patience for most of the right’s relentless criticism of the mainstream media. Somehow, in all their rage and fury, they’ve created a competing media ecosystem that’s actually worse than the institutions they hate. Take the log out of your own eye.

But then, over in Ohio, many of the biggest public figures and news outlets in America got busy reminding us exactly why so many in the right feel such deep frustration. They reminded us why it’s often accurate to critique left-wing media narratives, especially when it’s obvious that those narratives will force people to deny or to ignore the witness of their eyes just as thoroughly as the far-right ignored the witness of their own eyes in the Chauvin trial.

The police shooting of 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was tragic and deeply, deeply sad. It was also nothing like the police murder of George Floyd. Yet immediately important voices tied the deaths together ….

David French, Don’t Create False Villains To Serve a Greater Good. I boldfaced the part that made me want to stand up and cheer, but felt obliged to provide the context, too.


… the Politician’s Fallacy: we need to do something; this is something; therefore we need to do this. There’s lots of racism in the workplace, no doubt. So the answer is to… pay businesses millions of dollars to come and preemptively scold bored employees who are only attending these workshops out of coercion? That’s the solution? Seems like a great way for a few people to get rich, but sure doesn’t seem like it’ll do jack shit to actually reduce workplace racism. Also… you get that employers pay for these things purely because they can use them as evidence that they have not created a racially discriminatory workplace in the event that they get sued, right? So Robin Diangelo’s business is literally making it harder for employees of color to get financial compensation for being the victims of discrimination. Cool, cool, cool. Anti-racism!

Ah, but I’m questioning a progressive and anti-racist and her worldview (and hustle), so I am surely just a classic Substack guy. When you can’t object to anything at all, lest you be consigned to the list of “anti-cancel culture guys,” you can’t ask if things make sense, if the tactics people in the social justice world endorse actually do what they’re meant to do. The point is to build an actually-more just world, right? So we have to figure out what actually works. I don’t begrudge people who are casting around for solutions to entrenched problems. But it’s not enough for a solution to have good intentions. It has to actually be a solution. To figure out if something actually is a solution you have to have an internal debate. You have to ask tough questions – not “just asking questions” but actual hard questions that stem from the world being a complicated place. But you can’t do that if you insist that any internal criticism is a con or a way to show allegiance to the alt-right.

This is the culture that liberals have created: asking “is this really going to make the world more just?” is itself impermissible. You aren’t allowed to ask if tactics work anymore! Ask David Shor. Do riots help Black people? We’ll never know. Racist even to ask, I’m told. Hard questions are not permitted ….

Freddie deBoer, Cynical Motives for a Cynical Time.


The Maxine Waters Problem
When America’s officials desert any standards for public or personal behavior, expect violence.

Those were the un-ironic headline and sub headline for a Daniel Heninger editorial in the Wall Street Journal on April 22. There was no mention in the editorial of Donald Trump or the violent storming of the U.S. Capital on January 6.

A strange thing has happened: I no longer enjoy the Wall Street Journal Opinion page. I still enjoy the Journal, though, for straight reporting — just about the straightest major newspaper reporting available today.

I only regret that WSJ mostly finds "newsworthy" stories about business and finance.

No, that’s not true. I even more regret that it dare not notice the signs that we’re headed for another bubble burst. Irrational optimism is more marketable.


Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

The first important survey data to understand this moment is the one pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson discussed with my colleague Ezra Klein. When asked in late January if politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it,” 51 percent of Trump Republicans said survival; only 19 percent said policy.

The level of Republican pessimism is off the charts. A February Economist-YouGov poll asked Americans which statement is closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Over 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

The fact that Donald Trump was no kind of realistic solution does not mean that the conditions that led to his rise are false, or that the Republicans who see things apocalyptically are wrong. I too would have been one of the 51 percent of conservatives in that poll who said that politics is primarily about “ensuring the survival of the country,” though I emphatically do not believe the threat to us comes from terrorists, criminals, and illegal immigrants. The threat to us comes primarily from the elite leadership class in government, academia, corporate America, media, and other institutions.

Rod Dreher, after long block-quote of David Brooks


Providing poor and minority families the same choice of schools that their wealthier neighbors enjoy is the purest example of ‘social justice’ in our society today.

Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, quoted by the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board.


When I was a Calvinist, I had a young friend who was working on his PhD and then went on to become an academic in a well-regarded Christian college. So even though I had become Orthodox in the meantime, I eagerly bought a book he co-authored — a book about "Church."

What a revelation! It was difficult to find any common ground with this, for instance:

There is no single correct way of doing and being church. Trying not to be like other churches is, of course, just another conception and idealization, albeit a pathological one. While our prophetic visions of church should help us see where churches are not boasting solely in Jesus, they too often boast in themselves, and they justify their “correctness” by letting others know how they are not like “incorrect” models of church.

Thinking one has a "prophetic vision[] of church" according to which the church should be re-fashioned is just not on my radar any more — not as friendly forces, at least.


Luther once declared from the pulpit that he could commit adultery one hundred times in a day and it would not affect his justification before God.

Kimberly Hahn and Scott Hahn, Rome Sweet Home


I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer.

Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome!


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.


I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer.

Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome!


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.

Re-embedding “Chthón”

The Irish writer John Moriarty wrote a lot about chthón. His life’s search was for ways to re-embed us in what we have lost, to take us around and down again, to correct the Western Error. In his autobiography, Nostos, he writes:

“Chthón is the old Greek word for the Earth in its secret, dark, depths, and if there was any one word that could be said to distinguish ancient Greeks from modern Europeans, that word chthón, that would be it. Greeks had the word, we haven’t. Greeks had the pieties and beliefs that go with the word, we haven’t. Greeks had the wisdom that goes with the word, we haven’t. Greeks had the sense of spiritual indwelling that goes with the word, we haven’t. In the hope that they might continue in the goodwill of its dark but potentially beneficent powers, Greeks poured libations of wine, of honey, or barley-water sweetened with mint down into this realm, we don’t.”

You can forget about chthón, but chthón won’t forget about you.

Paul Kingsnorth, Finnegas


This brings to mind the unnamed young woman in the penultimate chapter of Live Not By Lies. She’s the young Hungarian riding with me on the tram, who expressed frustration that she couldn’t talk about her ordinary struggles as a wife and mother with her friends, without them trying to convince her to shed the commitments that cause her conflict and suffering. She tried to get them to understand that she loves her husband, and loves her child, and that it’s normal to have trouble from time to time. But they can only imagine living in a world without conflict, without anxiety, without suffering. This, the young Hungarian woman saw, would also be a world without true love, which requires sacrifice and risk. I told her she was fighting for her right to be unhappy, just like John the Savage in Brave New World.

This mania for utopia also drives the fanatics conquering our universities and other institutions. Imagine the kind of mentality that believes children cannot learn inside a school building named for a historical figure who was something less than a progressive saint. We cannot allow the young to recognize that the world is complex, is ironic, is tragic. Because we cannot allow them to be unhappy, we make them miserable.

So, let me ask the room: What kind of people embody the possibility of revolt against our present dystopia? It seems to me that they have to be people who are capable of bearing suffering, but who do not bear it in the manner of a dumb ox: stoically and without complaint, like slaves who have had the spark of life beaten out of them. There has to be something else. This rebel class will have to have the strength of mind and character to be willing to accept life as outsiders, without the possibility of wealth or professional success, as the cost of being free. But they also have to retain the capacity to be happy.

Are there people in North America or Europe capable of doing that today? I mean not individuals, but a class of person. I would like to think that Christians would be them, but I think most Christians will conform, as they did under Soviet totalitarianism. I think it’s going to have to be the sort of person who is not a slave to electronic world. Put another way, it’s going to have to be someone who is immune to the poison of Paul Kingsnorth’s basilisk. The Benedict Option ideal is meant to be for the creating of the families and communities that raise up those kinds of rebels.

Rod Dreher


… what we’re left with is the spectacle of an acclaimed reporter being purged not for malevolent actions, nor even malevolent intent, but rather for making a certain kind of sound … McNeil … is being judged according to a theory of wrongdoing that presents certain words or phrases as evil by their mere utterance, as with a Harry Potter spell.

Consider, for instance, American composer Mary Jane Leach, who was publicly humiliated by the organizers of the (aptly named) OBEY music convention in Halifax, because her appreciative talk on the legacy of groundbreaking black minimalist composer Julius Eastman (1940–1990) contained a reference to his albums Evil Nigger and Crazy Nigger. Eastman suffered racism all of his life and knew better than most how shocking and wounding that word could be. It was his choice as an artist to choose those album names, and he likely would be surprised to know that Leach—who has done more than anyone to keep his legacy alive as biographer and archivist over the last 30 years—would be attacked for speaking them out loud.

With a Star Science Reporter’s Purging, Mob Culture at The New York Times Enters a Strange New Phase


A new and rapidly growing journalistic “beat” has arisen over the last several years that can best be described as an unholy mix of junior high hall-monitor tattling and Stasi-like citizen surveillance. It is half adolescent and half malevolent. Its primary objectives are control, censorship, and the destruction of reputations for fun and power. Though its epicenter is the largest corporate media outlets, it is the very antithesis of journalism.

I’ve written before about one particularly toxic strain of this authoritarian “reporting.” Teams of journalists at three of the most influential corporate media outlets — CNN’s “media reporters” (Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy), NBC’s “disinformation space unit” (Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny), and the tech reporters of The New York Times (Mike Isaac, Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel) — devote the bulk of their “journalism” to searching for online spaces where they believe speech and conduct rules are being violated, flagging them, and then pleading that punitive action be taken (banning, censorship, content regulation, after-school detention). These hall-monitor reporters are a major factor explaining why tech monopolies, which (for reasons of self-interest and ideology) never wanted the responsibility to censor, now do so with abandon and seemingly arbitrary blunt force: they are shamed by the world’s loudest media companies when they do not.

Just as the NSA is obsessed with ensuring there be no place on earth where humans can communicate free of their spying eyes and ears, these journalistic hall monitors cannot abide the idea that there can be any place on the internet where people are free to speak in ways they do not approve. Like some creepy informant for a state security apparatus, they spend their days trolling the depths of chat rooms and 4Chan bulletin boards and sub-Reddit threads and private communications apps to find anyone — influential or obscure — who is saying something they believe should be forbidden, and then use the corporate megaphones they did not build and could not have built but have been handed in order to silence and destroy anyone who dissents from the orthodoxies of their corporate managers or challenges their information hegemony.

Tell us what you really think, Glenn (Greenwald, The Journalistic Tattletale and Censorship Industry Suffers Several Well-Deserved Blows)

Don’t worry: he does. This is the creepiest, likely-to-make-me-freakin’-hate-mainstream_media thing I’ve read in a long time.


These observations dismiss the popular belief that the Amish reject all new technologies. So what’s really going on here? The Amish, it turns out, do something that’s both shockingly radical and simple in our age of impulsive and complicated consumerism: they start with the things they value most, then work backward to ask whether a given new technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism


  • Any action which hinders the advance of the human industrial economy is an ethical action, provided it does not harm life.
  • Any action which knowingly and needlessly advances the human industrial economy is an unethical action.

Paul Kingsnorth, via Alan Jacobs


Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Bearing reality

I anticipated reading in Monday’s newspapers some analysis of how Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s potential corroborating witnesses (those she said were at the party where Brett Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her) have all failed to corroborate anything about the party, including its existence, and that some even volunteered defenses of Kavanaugh.

That’s all true, and I wondered how the crypto-Resistant press would handle it.

But it was not to be. (Trigger warning for sexual assault):

Judge Kavanaugh’s prospects were further clouded on Sunday when The New Yorker reported on a new allegation of sexual impropriety: A woman who went to Yale with Judge Kavanaugh said that, during a drunken dormitory party their freshman year, he exposed himself to her, thrust his penis into her face and caused her to touch it without her consent.

In a statement, Judge Kavanaugh denied the allegation from the woman, Deborah Ramirez, and called it “a smear, plain and simple.” The New Yorker did not confirm with other eyewitnesses that Judge Kavanaugh was at the party.

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

New York Times. The New Yorker, though, makes the new allegation sound a bit more plausible.

I’ve had two simmering reactions to the whole picture, new allegation aside, lasting for a few days now, that I at first thought unsuitable for public consumption. They went in my personal journal today for that reason.

Standing alone, I suppose they are unfit for public consumption, in addition to or as a function of being cryptic, but I’m not going to let them stand alone:

  1. My oatmeal’s cold! I want the FBI to investigate!
  2. Hey, boys and girls! Aren’t drunken parties fun!?

* * *

It’s my understanding that FBI investigations of nominees are focused on whether the nominee is a national security threat. It certainly is not the role of the FBI to investigate the truth or falsity of allegations of decades-old violations of state law just because partisans want to know more for purposes of a political fight. (Such skeletons presumably might come out in response to the question “Any skeletons in his closet?” as the FBI interviews old acquaintances.)

When politicians demand an FBI investigation in circumstances like those now present, they’re just buying time. That’s why the calls are all coming from Democrats currently. They are performing so strongly in election polls that they just might re-take both House and Senate in January and force Trump to nominate, say, Merrick Garland (that is, someone sufficiently moderate that he won’t plausibly be cast as the vehicle for a nefarious agenda, and who will allow both POTUS and the Senate avoid the onus of leaving a seat vacant for years).

The echoed calls of others, not in politics, for FBI investigations are, it seems to me, at least one of at least two things (that’s not a typo; it’s an acknowledgement that beyond that, imagination currently fails me):

  1. Partisan efforts to buy time, just like the Senate Democrats.
  2. Tacit admissions that all the unfounded he-said-she-said accusations flying around are disorienting, and we want some putative neutral expert to tell us what to believe.

The first point requires no elaboration beyond that such calls come from Democrats or progressives even if they’re not personally involved in politics because they’re savvy enough to know the strategy.

As for the second point, I’ve known for decades that we turn inappropriately to “experts” to resolve our vexing problems. I first noticed it when physicians were asked about “quality of life” in the context of medical treatment, nutrition and hydration for gravely ill or injured people — typically, survivors of drug overdoses, traumatic head injuries or dementia.

But quality of life is not a medical question, something about which physicians by experience and training have special knowledge. It’s existential (for the person being evaluated), philosophical for the rest of us. Vexing, yes, but not in the doctor’s bailiwick. (I believe that a few curmudgeonly or pro-life lawyers successfully excluded such testimony on the basis that physicians have no expert qualifications on the subject.)

Another approach to those same tragic situations was to let a proxy decisionmaker, typically a close family member, make the non-treatment decision in the name of patient autonomy. (Yes, the desired decision was non-treatment; if the proxy chose treatment, the search for another proxy who wasn’t an “extremist” or “vitalist” would continue.)

But “autonomy by proxy” is a blatant oxymoron.

The main virtue of letting doctors opine on “quality of life” or letting proxy decisionmakers exercise a patient’s autonomy to refuse further treatment, food or water, was that it spared the rest of us the wrestling with such issues and permitted us to evade what was really going on.

A final example of the phenomenon is conducting capital punishment covertly, so the rest of us can pretend it’s somehow quick and humane. Lethal injection even made it clinical (and we know how expert doctors are about everything).

Similarly, the main virtue of letting the FBI investigate decades-old questions, beyond delay for delay’s sake, is the hope that it will come up with a plausible declaration that the accusation is clearly true or clearly false.

That a professional law enforcement agency is not designed to do, but if they did, we’d be back close to square one asking “so now what?” If true, is it disqualifying?

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My second reaction (“Aren’t drunken parties fun!?”) is aimed at a social problem from which we’ve averted our gaze in a different way.

Instead of delegating amelioration or elimination of adolescent drinking to putative experts, we’ve just decided to ignore it. “Boys will be boys.” “When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.” “Harmless fun so long as they don’t drive.”

Or as long as it doesn’t get sexy somehow without full and informed consent. (Or whatever next decade’s #MeToo Moment will be focused on.)

Dare I suggest that a history of binge drinking is itself a problem, or at least a big ole warning flag of problems?

For a change, I’m suggesting something without the need to say “Yes, I did so myself, but have repented.” I never have binge-drunk. When they asked me in my character and fitness examination (for admission to practice law) about past law-breaking, I confessed two occasions where I had one alcoholic beverage where I was not of legal age. The examiner, a cop-turned-lawyer, laughed out loud. At least I’m pretty sure. My memory is fuzzy. That may be my sole qualification for high office.

We know that kids drink, if for no other reason, to lower their inhibitions. In some cases, to lower them specifically to facilitate hooking up, an unchivalrous and predatory act by men and an unnatural act by women.

Are we really shocked by what those inhibitions were holding back? Truly, humankind cannnot bear very much reality.

* * *

Here endeth my meditation, because I have no more expertise than your doctor to tell you what to think about all this. I’m mostly just cynical about our odds of resolving the factual questions.

For what it’s worth, I’m starting to think that Drunk Brett was or is different than Sober Brett, and that the difference may be revelatory. Your mileage may vary, as may your assessment of how that should affect confirmation.

My closest approach to a personal resolution for this whole saga came from reading this, published before the second accusation, which suggests a course of action for Sober Brett.

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Calvinists and Wahabis

Every year around Christmas time, we begin to hear noises about Christmas trees having “pagan origins.” And there are many who rush to the defense of the poor trees. I yawn. My ancestors worshipped trees, and I daresay their later Christian descendants were glad to see the Church baptizing the trees as well as people. There simply is no “pristine” matter from which the faith starts fresh. God always speaks and reveals Himself in terms that can be assimilated. He does not destroy culture, but fulfills it. The Christmas tree is a stark reminder that the Child born on that day has a rendezvous with a Tree, and that there is no getting around it. There is a Tree at the heart of our faith, even as there was at the heart of the Garden.

CS Lewis once opined that pagan mythology consisted of “good dreams sent by God to prepare for the coming of Christ.” Such myths can also carry deep darkness and confusion – but such is the nature of a world that is broken. God does not offer us redemption by destroying a broken world. He does not erase or eradicate the cultures of mankind. It is only a darkened theology that imagines every production of the human imagination to be worthy only of the dung heap. That sort of destructive view belongs to the scions of Calvin and the iconoclasm of Wahabis: it is not the work of God.

(Father Stephen Freeman, When Chaos Ruled the World – Part I)

Sins of the fathers

[T]he public debate about how Congress ought to respond to this latest mass shooting is guided by two broad principles. Dubious on their own, they are even more witless when combined. The first is the idea that the most important thing is to “do something.” The second is that we ought to look to high-schoolers for the answer.

This in no way diminishes the barbarity of what happened to the Parkland students. It is, however, to insist on the obvious: As terrible as their experiences were, the attack gives them no special insight into the complex array of public policies that might have prevented the slaughter.

… Is it really so unreasonable to insist that those pushing specific legislation or regulations provide evidence that the something they want done will in fact produce the results they claim?

It’s not just conservatives who have doubts. In an October 2016 article in GQ, the Guardian’s full-time gun-politics reporter conceded she was “shocked by how little evidence there was behind some of the most prominent gun control policies.” The year before, right after the San Bernardino killings, the Washington Post fact checker backed Mr. Rubio’s claim that gun laws would not have prevented any of the major shootings the nation had seen in recent years.

(William McGurn, Our Childish Gun Debate, Wall Street Journal)

I agree with every word of that, but I’ve been disturbed for years by the anti-legislation trope that, in effect, “there’s nothing effective we can do because there already are so many guns out there.” A case against gun control by David French took substantially that tack:

  1. Do people have a right of self-defense?
  2. Does that right include that the self-defense be effective?
  3. If so, you mustn’t ban AR-15s because they are in common use, only law-abiding citizens will yield them up in compliance with a ban, and such a citizen, defending against a criminal’s AR-15, is relatively ineffective if they’ve got something less.

The logic speaks for itself. Few deny the right of self-defense. The whole premise of trying to ban AR-15s is that there are so many of them and they’re so lethal. So only by denying the right to effective self-defense can most people support such a ban.

[Aside: If anyone from the left coast is reading this, I’d also caution you that people who live far from the police station in flyover country, not to mention those who live in rural areas and need to deal with varmints, will not be amused by a ban. Remember “bitter clingers’? Now they’re known as Trumpistas.]

I have no solution to the conundrum, but I now have a convenient myth to explain how we got here (“here” being zillions and zillions of guns protected by the Second Amendment): America’s original sin got us here. It’s especially convenient since, unlike the demonization of the NRA, it’s plausible:

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the “slave patrols,” and they were regulated by the states.

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

(Thom Hartmann, The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery. H/T Lindsey Nelson on Facebook)

It’s tempting to “go full Jeremiad” and revert to Jonathan Edwards’ “Angry God” as the proximate cause of the gun plague and school shootings.

But I don’t know that we need that hypothesis. Sin ramifies. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Poetic justice.

Pick your proverb. The dots connect intuitively for me, even if it’s difficult to articulate.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Lossy compression

I just (when I wrote; not when this was released) finished reading two blogs and a New Atlantis article, all three related. They individually and collectively hit me so powerfully that I have scheduled a reminder to come back to them after they’ve had a chance to marinate a bit.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the blogs, that of Swarthmore’s Timothy Burke, in a delayed reaction to Jonathan Haidt’s taxonomy that liberal political dispositions “are unresponsive to blasphemy or sacrilege, that liberals do not cross-wire deep emotional responses connected to disgust or repulsion to politics, do not have strong notions about the sacred and the profane as a part of their subconscious script for reading the public sphere and political events”:

My colleague and friend Ben Berger pointed out during one of our discussions that this observation seemed fundamentally wrong to him–that people can hold things sacred that are not designated as religious, and that many liberals held other kinds of institutions, texts, and manners as ‘sacred’ in the same deep-seated, pre-conscious, emotionally intense way, perhaps without even knowing that they do …

Why are so many of us feeling deep distress each day, sometimes over what seem like relatively trivial or incidental information (like Trump pushing aside heads of state?) Because Trump is sacrilege.

Trump is the Piss Christ of liberals and leftists. His every breath is a bb-gun shot through a cathedral window, bacon on the doorstep of a mosque, the explosion of an ancient Buddha statue. He offends against the notion that merit and hard work will be rewarded. Against the idea that leadership and knowledge are necessary partners. Against deep assumptions about the dignity of self-control. Against a feeling that leaders should at least pretend to be more dedicated to their institutions and missions than themselves. Against the feeling that consequential decisions should be performed as consequential. Against the feeling that a man should be ashamed of sexual predation and assault if caught on tape exalting it. Against the sense that anyone who writes or speaks in the public sphere is both responsible for what they’ve said and should have to reconcile what they’ve said in the past with what they’re doing in the present. These are emotional commitments before they are things we would defend as substantive, reasoned propositions. They’re interwoven into how many of us inhabit social class and working life, but sometimes spill over both class and work to connect us with unlike people who nevertheless have similar expectations about leaders and public figures.

I am not quoting that to mock those of liberal political disposition, or Timothy Burke, or Swarthmore. In fact, I pretty much share that “Trump is sacrilege” feeling. I appreciate how well Burke elaborated it.

Nor do I quote that to convince my readers that “Trump is sacrilege.” The other two things I read, both by Alan Jacobs, are on what I think it a more enduring concern, at least to me at this juncture of my life. That concern involves at least three key terms, by my parsing:

  • Information density.
  • Mythical core.
  • Lossy compression.

Stay tuned. I suspect there will be more coming on this concern, but it needs to ferment/marinate first.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got the time, I’ve given the links. The mashup of the three strikes me as challenging but not really unfamiliar or beyond the reach of an intelligent reader. But then, I may have a pretty unusual reading history that prepared me for this challenge.

Here’s what Alan Jacobs said about it:

And Wesley Hill:

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.