Ending a chapter

Changing direction

I thank the modest number of people who still follow this blog, which has been evolving for just over twelve years now.

Within the past 24 hours, I’ve renewed my personal commitment to stop wallowing in "the news." That’s made easier by the news being full of war-talk these days, which for 55 years or so has been distressing to me, even more than to others I think.

But war-talk isn’t the only reason I’m kicking the news habit.

A cyber-friend recently published what I think is a completely original analogy:

The Ukraine crisis is huge: it may end us all. Naturally it’s all over the news. But I’ve been thinking that, before there was an actual world crisis, the 24-hour news feed wasn’t much different in tone. Something really important is happening right now, and you need to read about it here! “World Order Collapses!” isn’t presented much differently than “Sleaze Accused of Sleaziness!”

I thought, oddly, about the takeover of “compression” in contemporary music recording. Audio technology can easily handle variations in volume from a delicate whisper to ear-splitting sound. (A good recording of the William Tell Overture is an example.) But more and more, people are half-listening to the music while they jog through city traffic; they can’t deal with these variations. So the solution is to flatten the dynamic range so everything sounds kind of loud all the time. (People used to blame CDs for this and say that vinyl was better. In fact, CDs are much better at capturing dynamic range; it’s just that producers in the CD era chose the compression path. Now of course, there’s nothing but audio streaming, with its even worse distortions.)

In the world of audio, these are choices that we as consumers made, or at least allowed, and the result is only an impoverished experience of music. When we apply the same mentality – keep everything at 11 all the time – to the news cycle, the results for our minds and souls are a bit more serious.

John Brady, ‌Compression and the news. My own "soul reason" is that I think I read the news out of vainglory, a/k/a vanity. Smartypants lawyers, after all, are supposed to be sophisticates and to know what’s going on in the world. Reading the news helps me fake that by giving me a wide choice of tendentious narratives (from A to C or D) to choose from. But I think it’s healthier not to be vain, right?

A fairly good list of reasons is in Rolf Dobelli’s book Stop Reading the News. There’s a lot in there that I haven’t mentioned.

This matters for the blog because, to a sorry extent, I’ve let Tipsy Teetotaler become largely a news and commentary aggregator. If I stop reading news, that’s got to change.

I suspect I’ll blog less often. Since this isn’t substack and nobody’s paying to read me, that shouldn’t matter much. I also suspect that I’ll blog a bit more about books and long-form journalism — things that actually explain how things came to be this way, or to put them in context. And maybe, if I stop doomscrolling the clickbait, I’ll regain some of my lost cognitive capacity and produce some original thoughts.

That said, I’ve collected some news before my new news resolve, and I share it now with you before the blog undergoes its metamorpohosis.

Ruso-Ukraine

Not about us

Comments like [the examples] above seem so transparently self-promotional (look, look, here’s how a war across the globe is really about the thing I’m always talking about already!) and beyond gross.

Now is not the time for petty culture war grievances and personal grifts. Yes, life—and news—in America goes on, but maybe the day Russia starts bombing Ukraine isn’t the time for your critical race theory rant or your masculinity-crisis paranoia, you know? And it certainly isn’t the time for you to try and tie whatever you would be on about anyway into the war news cycle.

I promise, the culture war and all its brave keyboard warriors will still be there next week. So will COVID-19, and climate change, and border battles. Just let it go for a minute. Show some respect, empathy, and perspective.

If you’re tempted to post things like: Russia is doing this because Americans use too many pronouns! At least Putin isn’t woke! How will the murder of Ukrainian civilians affect gas prices? Stop. Go outside for a walk. Call a loved one. Cuddle a pet. Do anything real and good and tangible while counting your blessings that you will very likely never know the fear and pain of having your country invaded by a warmongering dictator.

This isn’t about us. Stop making it about us.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, ‌Stop Trying To Make Ukraine About Your Culture War

Civil Religion versus Political Gnosticism

From a longish, provocative, 30,000-foot view of the tensions between Russia and the West, these passages haunt me. Maybe they make sense only in context (which I invite you to read, but only when you have time to really wrestle with it):

[E]ven were Soviet communism defeated, the Russian roots in a more modern form of Civil Religion would remain. It would need to be combatted, but on a different footing and understanding.

[T]oday the old and new “neo-cons” are the newest incarnation of “right gnostics,” right liberals who are comfortable with a slower liberal revolution, yet always listing leftward in their accommodation to the “blessings of liberty.” They are the pawns of the “messianic gnostics …”.

Patrick Deneen, Russia, America, and the Danger of Political Gnosticism

(This is the kind of commentary that likely will carry over as the blog changes.)

A Truism

It is a truism in moral reasoning: To will the end is to will the means. One cannot have a duty to perform an act one lacks the capacity fulfill. Can Ukraine prevail without more direct military support from the West? It’s possible, but most analysts consider it very unlikely. Would Ukraine prevail with full NATO backing? Almost certainly. That implies NATO must be prepared to take up arms on Ukraine’s side, to ensure the supposed moral commandment is fulfilled. To hold otherwise — to claim the West should stop short of joining the fight, when that might be the only thing compatible with fulfilling the commandment — sounds appalling.

Damon Linker.

Us versus them

… a country fast turning totalitarian, one where a law which allows a 15-year-jail sentence for “spreading fake news about the actions of the Russian armed forces” will soon be rubber-stamped by parliament …

The Economist. If keeping a nation’s people in the propagandistic dark is your metric of totalitarianism, I can’t deny it’s a decent metric.

We in the USA have enough confidence that I can still read RT, Al Jazeera, The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, Pro Publica, Bellingcat, Gilbert Doctorow and the like as a check on mainstream media’s lazy repetition of our government’s line. But it’s very time-consuming (another reason not to read the government’s line in MSM in the first place — see above), and I don’t have a very reliable heuristic on who’s closer to the truth.

Learning in War Time

The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.

C.S. Lewis, Learning in War Time, an essay in The Weight of Glory. The essay also appears to be available from several sources on the web.

Collateral Damage

Russia House—a D.C. restaurant—was targeted by vandals last week who smashed windows, broke a door, and tagged walls with anti-Russian rhetoric. The restaurant’s owners are American and Lithuanian.

The Morning Dispatch

Paul Kingsnorth continues to deliver

I started really paying attention to Paul Kingsnorth last Summer or Fall when I learned that, to his own immense surprise, he had left Paganism (his last waystation) and become not just a Christian but an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I’ve appreciated him a lot since then, though he was on my radar even before that.

Baptized into Progress

  • I was about a quarter of the way into What Technology Wants before I realised I was reading a religious text. It was quite a revelation. What Technology Wants is a book published a few years back ago by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine and a significant spokesman for what we might call the Silicon Valley Mindset. It takes us on a journey through the historical development of technology and into a future in which, Kelly believes, technology will be living force which controls our destiny.
  • Techno-utopianism is a subset of the contemporary religion of Progress, into which we are all baptised at birth. If Progress is God, technology is the messiah come to do His will on Earth.

Paul Kingsnorth, Planting Trees in the Anthropocene. This predates Kingsnorth’s conversion, by the way.

Tell me the new old story

[I]t hasn’t escaped my attention that all my writing, in whatever form, is basically just a reiteration of the same story, which seems to be the only one I’m capable of telling: human-scale life versus the Machine culture that is overwhelming it.

Paul Kingsnorth

"In science", as Joseph Needham put it, "a man is a machine, or if he is not, then he is nothing …."

Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature: Modern Science and the Dehumanization of Man

Other stuff

H.L. Mencken, Prophet

A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in. The men the American people admire most are the most daring liars; the men they detest most are those who try to tell them the truth. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will get their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H.L. Mencken, quoted by Garrison Keillor.

Important people

Manually laboring drudges might work long hours without sacrificing productivity, but businessman could not. Their work required imagination, thought, calculation.

Americans, [Andrew Carnegie] remarked to his cousin, “were the saddest-looking race … Life is so terribly earnest here. Ambition spurs us all on, from him who handles the spade to him who employs thousands. We know no rest. … I hope Americans will find some day more time for play, like their wiser brethren upon the other side.

‌David Nasaw via The Octavian Report

Sounds as if Carnegie (Rockefeller, too) made a virtue out of what Marx saw as capitalism’s central defect.

Charmed lives

Playwright Tom Stoppard made some extended remarks recently at an awards presentation, including acknowledging his charmed life:

[I]f politics is not about giving everybody a life as charmed as mine, it’s not about anything much.

Tom Stoppard, H/T Alan Jacobs. More:

Perhaps you will recall that in the summer of 1968, England had its dissidents, too. Thousands of young people of student age, egged on by not a few of their seniors including some of my friends, occupied buildings and took to the barricades to overthrow the existing order. The disdain of the revolutionaries for bourgeois democracy, aka "fascism", was as nothing compared to my disdain for the revolutionaries. They were living in the same England, as a birthright, as I was living in as an accident of history.

(italics added)

I’m seemingly a pessimist. I rarely see myself in the mirror without something that looks like a scowl. My morning prayers have a fairly long list of American sins that I keep trying to leave in God’s hands (and then keep taking them back).

So it’s good for me to be reminded, especially as beautifully as Stoppard does, of just how much freedom we have, and of how much millions in the world would love to be here — and surely it’s possible to remember that without becoming some kind of jingoist.

Neo-Manicheanism

Discussing race relations in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, Walker Percy once told William F. Buckley that “From a moral point of view, it’s very simple. It’s either right or wrong, and there was a lot wrong. From a novelist’s point of view, human relations are much more complex than saying the white racist is wrong and the black protestors are correct.”

What does it tell us about our appetite for ambiguity that Walker Percy could not say that today without being chased out of his local public television studio.

Prufrock 3/3/22

Republic of the People

We took the United States Capital. We are the Republic of the People.

Guy Reffitt, January 6 insurrectionist, texting his family exultantly on 1/6/21.

Reffit has now pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. As explained by former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review, it’s going to be tough case to prove all elements of that crime at trial, so don’t be surprised if there are few such guilty pleas or even if there are acquittals at trial.

What science "allegedly" shows

Science allegedly showed trans women had larger hands and feet, bigger hearts and greater bone density and lung capacity.

Sports Illustrated, writing about Lia Thomas, quoted incredulously by Nellie Bowles.

I’d cross-index this under "you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing."

SOTU response

Rashida Tlaib, speaking for the Working Families Party, delivered the left’s response, and even she was relatively muted. She pushed back on Biden’s calls for more police funding and called, as usual, for canceling all student debt.

Nellie Bowles.

There is no regressive policy among Democrats quite so blatant as the call for blanket cancellation of student debt. I have no doubt that many students got in over their heads, but wiping out the student debt of those (by definition) lucky enough to go to college or beyond show how little the Democrats care for people less fortunate.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Magic Mushrooms

Wednesday evening I watched a Netflix documentary titled Fantastic Fungi. The first voice in the documentary turned out to be the voice of Fungi, who returns for further narration (largely in the form of self-adulation) repeatedly over the 80 minutes of the show.

The last 15 minutes or so built to a crescendo which can only be described as religious in its fervor, leading me almost to expect an altar call. And fairly early in the program, I commented to my wife that there was a little bit "too much of the spirit of Carl Sagan" in the production — a foreshadowing, it proved.

However, there came a point when people described experimental treatment with magic-mushroom type stuff during terminal illness as the most profound religious experience of their lives. 
 At that point, my (Calvinist) wife expressed scorn. At that point, I (Orthodox, having read a lot in popular treatments of neuropsychology lately) thought I perceived an additional "data point" in my case against living life as if it was all made up of data points.

I’m influenced:

  • heavily and recently by Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary.
  • Michael Polanyi’s coinage of "tacit knowledge"
  • the Saints of my Church, not one of whom was canonized for analytical rigor
  • the monastics of my Church, canonized or not
  • a lifetime of singing sacred choral music, mostly in Western Christian tradition.

There probably are other influences, too.

So I’m now going to advance a hypothesis, which has been taking vague shape in my mind over several months (or longer, as in Polanyi).

My hypothesis is that psychedelics, particularly including magic mushrooms or other fungi, subvert the dominance of the analytical left cerebral hemisphere — a dominance that has arisen in part from our adulation of science and its susceptibility of objective proof. Concurrently, our use of the right hemisphere has atrophied.

If I had to refine my hypothesis, it would be that psychedelics give a boost particularly to the more intuitive or emotional right hemisphere, with which we have become so unfamiliar as late modern or early postmodern humans, that the experience of meta-perception via the right hemisphere is overwhelming and perceived as a religious experience. Many people have never experienced such a thing at all and I hypothesize that vanishingly few of us have experienced it as intensely as occurs during a "good trip."

I find corroboration for this hypothesis in the long-lasting effects of a single trip, without a need to repeat the experience frequently because the sense of well-being persists, and in the evidence that mushrooms were almost sacramental in ancient practices we now would call “religious.”

I further hypothesize that the rebalancing of the two hemispheres is part of what can happen in a modern or early postmodern monastic life. And I confess (no longer hypothesizing) that an ascetic life is the approved Orthodox Christian manner of rebalancing the hemispheres (not referred to in those terms, though, and not the ultimate goal) and, particularly, activating that portion of the right hemisphere that our God-bearing fathers have identified as the nous — a capacity much disabled in our times.

I find a slight analogy to this in my increase appreciation of much poetry after a generous pour of whiskey.

If we do not regain a balance of the hemispheres through changes in our collective life, and if research on magic mushrooms continues (which research I support), I could imagine a day when the church would approve tripping to overcome the disability life has inflicted on us — to jump-start the ascetic life, in essence.

But my hypothesis is pretty far out there, and this is not that day. As a faithful Orthodox Christian, let alone a tonsured Reader, I’m not at liberty to take a stab at chemical or fungal shortcuts to theosis, especially when they’re marketed (for thinly-veiled marketing is what Fantastic Fungi was) as an alternative religion.


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.

Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson, improbable cultural “rock star,” has been on a tear, and the Christianosphere is talking. Heck, the Babylon Bee even got into it.

There is no neutral standpoint, so it is legitimate to ask “where’s Jordan Peterson coming from?”

The consensus is that he’s not Christian, and I suspect that he’s on record to that effect. That’s not to say that Jordanism is altogether incompatible with Christianity. I don’t think it is, but you’ll soon see that there’s dissent on that.

An uncontroversial description of Peterson, so far as I’ve seen, is “Jungian.” A more controversial one is “stoic.”

One Charlie Clark, Writing at Mere Orthodoxy (which is thoughtful, reformed-leaning Evangelicals, not Orthodox — I know; it’s confusing) says Peterson is stoic, and it

is too bad then that the backbone of his whole program is what C.S. Lewis called “the Great Sin.” Peterson is, in fact, precisely the character that Lewis describes in Mere Christianity, one of those teachers who,

“appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity—that is, by Pride.”

For Lewis, “to beat down the simpler vices” by means of Pride is a cure far worse than the disease. And this is precisely Peterson’s strategy throughout 12 Rules for Life.

Clark also sees Peterson as effectively “Pelagian” when translated into Christianese:

Theologically, the expression of Pride is Pelagianism, the belief that you can save yourself without relying on God’s grace. This is precisely what we find in Peterson’s work. Consider what Peterson says Rule 2 (“Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”):

Heaven, after all, will not arrive of its own accord. We will have to work to bring it about, and strengthen ourselves, so that we can withstand the deadly angels and flaming sword of judgment that God used to bar its entrance…. Once having understood Hell, researched it, so to speak—particularly your own individual Hell—you could decide against going there or creating that. You could aim elsewhere. You could, in fact, devote your life to this…. That would justify your miserable existence. That would atone for your sinful nature, and replace your shame and self-consciousness with the natural pride and forthright confidence of someone who has learned once again to walk with God in the Garden.

Of course, Peterson, not being a Christian (nor perhaps even a theist), does not intend any of these statements in their theological sense. Nevertheless, the posture he is advocating excludes grace. As Peterson would have it, no one has come to rescue you and no help is on the way.

I like the lads at Mere Orthodoxy. I really do. And caution about any cultural “rock star” is warranted.

But I think the balance lies in another direction, described by an Anthony Bradley article that Clark linked. I’d encourage you to read it for yourself, but I’m going to try soaring up to 30,000 feet to give a meta-summary, including a concept the author doesn’t directly mention: So profoundly has the Augustinian idea of original sin, of people guilty and hell-bound from the moment of conception (perhaps this is later Calvinist gloss), shaped western Christendom, that Christianity as winsome toward feminism has for 50 years or so been savage toward men, and young men have known nothing but shaming as a consequence. To shamed and beaten-down young men, Peterson is a prophet.

Is he a false prophet? Where Evangelical Clark sees Pelagianism, Orthodox Tipsy hears echoes of synergism, with which Orthodox Christianity, rightly so-called, is comfortable to that point that we’re often mistaken for Pelagians. (I’m not about to claim Peterson for Orthodox Christianity, but I know he has at least slight familiarity with it from his interactions with iconographer Jonathan Pageau, for instance here and here.)

So, young Evangelical man, let me prescribe this:

  1. Go ahead and listen  to Jordan Peterson, inspired and lifted by his words.
  2. Remember that he’s not coming from a Christian place and there is no neutral place. Be careful. It’s a jungle out there and the enemy of your enemy may not ultimately be the friend you need.
  3. Be aware that the Sunday morning place that continues the beatings you get during the week is a sect (Evangelicalism) of a schism (the Protestant Reformation) from a schism (the Patriarch of Rome breaking from the other four Patriarchs of the first-millennium Church) — and that Augustine and Original Sin are not part of Christian consensus world-wide, even if they dominate in the world Catholicism built.
  4. Get Thee to an Orthodox Church to put Peterson’s message in historic Christian context. Unless the Priest is a convert with original sin notions still lingering, the beatings should cease. Even if the priest is still crypto-Protestant, the Liturgy knows better. God is gracious and loves mankind, you’ll hear again and again and again.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.