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

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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!?

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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.