Clippings and (a little) comment

1

Social media is the miasma of mimetic desire. If you post pictures of your summer vacation in Greece, you can expect your “friends” to post pictures from some other desirable destination. The photos of your dinner party will be matched or outmatched by theirs. If you assure me through social media that you love your life, I will find a way to profess how much I love mine. When I post my pleasures, activities, and family news on a Facebook page, I am seeking to arouse my mediators’ desires. In that sense social media provides a hyperbolic platform for the promiscuous circulation of mediator-oriented desire. As it burrows into every aspect of everyday life, Facebook insinuates itself precisely into those areas of life that would keep people apart.

Certainly the enormous market potential of Facebook was not lost on Girard’s student Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who studied with him at Stanford in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A devoted Girardian who founded and funds an institute called Imitatio, whose goal is to “pursue research and application of mimetic theory across the social sciences and critical areas of human behavior,” Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook, selling most of his shares in 2012 for over a billion dollars (they cost him $500,000 in 2004). It took a highly intelligent Girardian, well schooled in mimetic theory, to intuit early on that Facebook was about to open a worldwide theater of imitative desire on people’s personal computers.

René Girard, The Prophet of Envy. I’ve got some Girard on the shelf among my many other unread books. I guess my excuse for not knowing him better is that nobody knew him better when I was getting my formal education.

2

Homo sapiens have been around for 200,000 years. Until the industrial revolution, we lived outside. How did we get through the Neolithic Era without sunscreen? Actually, perfectly well. What’s counterintuitive is that dermatologists run around saying, “Don’t go outside, you might die.”

Richard Weller, M.D. Quoted by Rowan Jacobsen, Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?.

More from the article, not from Dr. Weller:

Sunlight triggers the release of a number of other important compounds in the body, not only nitric oxide but also serotonin and endorphins. It reduces the risk of prostate, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. It improves circadian rhythms. It reduces inflammation and dampens autoimmune responses. It improves virtually every mental condition you can think of. And it’s free.

(Emphasis added) At the risk of sounding like Tucker Carlson, “and it’s free” explains why the establishment is against it, just as the sugar industry got the establishment to blame fat for the diseases sugar causes. (The article chooses how we were “sold” margarine as its analogy.)

We are always being told to replace something natural with some artificial pill or product that is going to improve our health, and it almost always turns out to be a mistake because we didn’t know enough. Multivitamins can’t replace fruits and vegetables, and vitamin D supplements are clearly no substitute for natural sunlight.

Rowan Jacobsen, Is Sunscreen the New Margarine? H/T Christopher Chelpka

3

When one of his colleagues voiced frustration with the slow pace of conservative reform in the 1990s, Newt Gingrich replied, “Rome wasn’t burned in a day.” That’s a good line, and it says something that is true, but conservatives dread disorder. We aren’t vandals. In this, conservatives are a breed apart from the Jacobins of the Right who have their unsteady hands on the tiller of the SS GOP just now, steering it in the direction of every iceberg they can identity.

The drive for coast-to-coast conformity and homogeneity in political matters — particularly in cultural matters — is one of the most important drivers of the polarization of our politics. A devout Mormon and an evangelical atheist living next door to each other can be perfectly contented neighbors and friends — unless it is decided that one of their creeds and mode of life must prevail over the other’s and become mandatory. Then, they are enemies.

Kevin D. Williamson

4

My wife is a teacher who has worked at both public and church-run schools, and she says that from an orthodox Christian point of view the church-run ones are worse – precisely because they pretend to offer a religious education while what they actually do hardly deserves to be called that. As a Catholic, I would love to see Catholic schools in Germany develop and practice concepts for a thoroughly Christian education, in the sense that not only the contents that are taught, but also the methods of teaching are permeated by the Christian faith. But to be honest, I just cannot imagine our bishops endorsing such an idea. They seem much too busy trying to convince the secular society that Christians aren’t so different from Non-Christians after all.

Tobias Klein (emphasis added), commenting on the German social context of the court ruling there against the homeschooling parents.

5

The most interesting thing in conservative politics right now is … an ideological battle over Tucker Carlson’s recent Fox News soliloquy, in which he accused his fellow Republicans of building an anti-family, finance-dominated economic system that might be “the enemy of a healthy society.”

… [Carlson] went somewhere that Fox hosts rarely go — from culture into economics, from a critique of liberal cosmopolitanism into a critique of libertarianism, from a lament for the decline of the family to an argument that this decline can be laid at the feet of consumer capitalism as well as social liberalism.

Just about every conservative worth reading was provoked into responding …

If there is to be a healthy American right, after Donald Trump or ever, this is the argument that conservatives should be having. And it is especially an argument that Fox News should be highlighting, since Fox is frequently responsible for stoking populism but keeping it vacuous or racialized, evading the debates the right really needs.

Ross Douthat

6

  • … “pearl-clutching lefty gays” … “desperate for villains” because they have “no one left to hate.”
  • “What’s not to love about Trump? He’s a drag queen. He’s a cartoon character. He’s fabulous. He’s a Kardashian!”
  • “If you love mischief, if you love upsetting delicate people, I don’t know where else you would be right now than the gay right.”

Chadwick Moore, gay “conservative” Fox provocateur


“I don’t hear any coherent vision for what the Democratic leadership believes in — most of what I hear is constant demonizing of Trump and his supporters,” she said. “I told Jill: ‘Let’s say I had a MAGA hat on. I wouldn’t, but let’s say I did. How far do you think I’d get down the street in New York, San Francisco or Berkeley before somebody spit on me or hit me?’

Ann, ex-Domocrat lesbian


“Trying to engage people in a thoughtful debate about ideas during the Donald Trump era seems like something very few people want to do,” he said. “I spend a lot more time thinking about how to exist during this time of political lunacy than I do about being a gay conservative.”

Ben Holden, another gay conservative.

These quotes are all from the same New York Times long-form article on gay conservatives in the age of Trump, published Saturday.

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Potpourri, 12/11/18

1

The most common explanation for France’s gilets jaunes protests against fuel-tax hikes is that they arise from too little democracy … The opposite is true. The protests are happening because France has too much democracy. What it’s lacking is politics.

Mr. Macron’s political movement was born of the notion that France needed to become more democratic …

As Economist correspondent Sophie Pedder notes in her illuminating biography of the president, the premise is that as a numerical matter there are enough actual or potential winners from economic reform and globalization that a leader could cull those voters from the old parties and unite them under a new banner. It would then be possible to steamroll minority opposition.

[T]he widespread rioting in France shows the dangers of allowing a healthy dose of democracy to transmogrify into a brutal majoritarianism. Majority rule has its place, but it’s no way to knit together a diverse society

… A center-right Republican Party under its failed 2017 candidate, François Fillon, would have effected some labor-law and civil-service reforms for which there is now broad support, but that party’s rural base would have precluded the green-energy follies that are sinking Mr. Macron.

The other word for this is “politics,” whose practitioners delicately trade interests and strike compromises to make majority rule more palatable to the minority.

Joseph Sternberg, Macron’s Warning to America’s Ascendant Left (WSJ, hyperlink and emphasis added)

This does, however, cut both ways. Trump and his supporters are playing a very dangerous game trying to force their kind of (invidious adjectives omitted) change with less than a “democratic” majority in 2016 and even a smaller minority now. (GOP offenses against good civic manners appear to have enough “legs” that I’m adding the category “democracy” today.)

Those coastal elites could punish the heartland, too, and not just politically. The heartland is lucky they haven’t figured out how to live without the food the breadbasket provides. (The GOP is misbehaving even worse in the states.)

It’s time for our incoming divided Congress to stop sheer pissing on each other and engage in frustrating, productive politics. (But I don’t know of a magic bullet for all the states except to hope for some constitutional theory to void the worst of the high-handedness.)

2

Cognate commentary:

Let us stipulate it’s foolish to pretend the market is without its costs. A 57-year-old General Motors worker in Ohio who will be laid off as his company expands production in Mexico may understandably balk at the argument that, in the larger scheme of things, it’s all for the best.

Yet the recent protests across France ought to remind us that market decisions aren’t the only ones that can make life difficult for those trying to get by on their paychecks …

Today, however, the crisis of good intentions is manifested most dramatically in the green movement, particularly in California … California now has the highest overall poverty rate in the nation … and suffers from a level of inequality “closer to that of Central American banana republics.”

… [T]he upward mobility of any family that isn’t part of Hollywood or Silicon Valley or doesn’t already own their own home is being killed by the state’s climate regime.

So maybe what’s going on in France isn’t as foreign as it may seem. When a once-thriving manufacturing town loses jobs to China, we hear all about the crisis of capitalism. But when progressives squeeze the American worker with high taxes, green agendas and failed government programs, where are the headlines about the crisis of good intentions?

William McGurn, The Crisis of Good Intentions (WSJ)

3

[T]he elite globalist consensus [is] that China can be China and India can be India but Europe can be turned into a repository for anyone in the world who can get there ….

Scott McConnell.

The elite consensus is personified by George Soros and his Open Society Foundations, with “open society” including open borders. It is against this vision that elite media’s villain du jour, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, pushes back. My sympathies, guardedly (I have no crystal ball, after all), are with Orban, though I do not see Soros as consciously evil, as some seem to.

I’m actually more sympathetic with the anti-immigration right in Europe than I am with the anti-immigration American right.

The common factor is wealthy destinations who need (some) immigrants to replace the children they’re not bearing, in order to maintain a simulacrum of normalcy as their traditional populations die off.

But while the people coming north to North America are mostly Christians of some sort, those coming north to Europe include many Muslims, who will be harder to assimilate than Christian refugees.

Plus, our idiotic American subversion of (or warfare against) middle east “strong men” leaders has contributed mightily to the breakdown of public order that facilitates persecution of Christians by their Muslim neighbors, driving them northward.

Will Europe die for our sins?

4

After agreeing that religious arguments should not be front and center in debates about transgenderism, a caution for those who think science is unequivocally on the side of the sexual binary:

There are solid scientific reasons to resist the claim that biological males and females who consider themselves to be of the other gender, and who demand that everyone else recognize that, should be accommodated. Unfortunately, science itself is being coopted by the cultural revolution. The authoritative science magazine Nature published an editorial in October strongly denouncing a reported initiative by the Department of HHS to define male and female by biological characteristics. The editorial takes the line that people ought to be defined by the gender they choose. Nature is a very big deal.

We should by no means assume that science is immune from politicization. In the Soviet Union, as in our own materialist order, Science is considered to be the greatest authority. Science was corrupted by the communists as a matter of course, made to serve the revolution’s ends. The same thing is happening here.

Rod Dreher.

5

[T]here are good Catholics and bad Catholics and … the [New York] Times team gets to decide who is who.

Terry Mattingly, Tale of two New York Times stories: Seeking links in ultimate anti-Pope Francis conspiracy (Get Religion)

6

Now, a story you may not want to know about. I’ll introduce it elliptically, since this is a family blog (or something):

“My dad asked me if I were allowed to wear pants, if I would do it. I said, ‘I don’t know’ — as a kid you’re terrified — I don’t know. He said, ‘Because you can’t tell me right now, that means you are not a Christian. You are not going to heaven because a Christian would never hesitate at that question.’ ”

— Leah Elliott, Indiana

“I was nursing, but the pastor outlawed nursing. No women were allowed to nurse because it kept them from church. I went to the bathroom to cry, and I’m getting engorged — you have to nurse, you get in a lot of pain if you don’t. I’m in the bathroom, and the nursery worker came into the stall with me. I think I was just grabbing toilet paper to blow my nose, she barged in and said, ‘The devil wants you to miss this sermon that’s happening right now. You get back in there.’ ”

— Kara Blocker, Oregon

“I have so few memories of my cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles that it scares me. We were allowed to see them about once a year, until the church decided that the ‘good church members’ shouldn’t fellowship with their non-believing relatives. We were pretty much cut off after that. My grandparents still don’t understand why we were withheld from them.”

— Anonymous, Ohio

Former independent fundamental Baptists share their stories, part of a Fort Worth Star-Telegram series on clergy sexual (mostly) abuse in “Independent Fundamental Baptist” churches.

As I was growing up, some fundamentalist (who probably knew my father from the Gideons) made sure that our family always had a subscription to Sword of the Lord, a very explicitly and unapologetically fundamentalist tabloid out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. My parents were unenthusiastic about it, but didn’t seem to think it fit only for the bottom of the bird cage. As a teenager and college student, I generally read each issue for entertainment.

Pastor Jack Hybels of Hammond, Indiana was one of Publisher John R. Rice‘s favorites, and he fits prominently in this hot-off-the-presses series both as the father of one of the chief IFB perverts, Dave Hybels, and as proprietor of a reliable refuge (his Hammond Church) for IFB pastors who needed to be—ahem!—rotated out of their current role due to—ahem! again—accusations by some of the many brazen 14-year-old tarts that kept seducing defenseless IFB pastors.

When I was a young Evangelical, I was quite obsessed with cults — you know, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, (Herbert W. Armstrong’s) Worldwide Church of God, maybe even the Seventh Day Adventists. Though I knew from the Sword of the Lord that these IFB-types were fundamentalists and thus disreputable (they thought we were to be shunned, too; it was reciprocal), I never would have though of Independent Fundamental Baptists as a cult that would shelter perverts in the pulpit.

My bad. The problem is too widespread in this denomination-in-disguise to pretend that “Independent” is more than a legal fiction, that the unthinkability of police reports isn’t symptomatic of a sick system, or that the pastoral reassignments are not all too familiar.

I must henceforth think of IFB churches as cults.

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Potpourri, 11/15/18

1

I never really kissed dating goodbye as a teenager in the mid-2000s — to be honest, I was pretty late in kissing it hello. But like many who were brought up in contact with evangelical culture, I absorbed its tenets almost by osmosis even though I never even read the whole book. Falling in love means sharing a piece of your heart that you’ll never get back. Sex is a slippery slope, generally with disaster at the bottom. Hard decisions could be boiled down to one rule: Keep it chaste. Do things right, though, and you’ll get the reward you deserve. Follow the instructions: results guaranteed.

Christine Emba.

It’s the promise of a fairy tale ending that offends me. Evangelicals lack any tragic sense of life. (Just “pray away the gay,” for instance.)

Or maybe that absence of tragic sense is a besetting American sin. More Emba:

In essence, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and its (inevitable, if you think about it) fall represent a mind-set prominent in evangelical culture, but also in American society more broadly.

We insist that meritocracy works and combine it with a valorization of hard work (which itself stems from our country’s majority-Protestant roots). To maintain the story that success is accessible to all, we’ve developed a tendency to seek out and elevate simplistic formulas that we hope come with guarantees. Stay pure until marriage, and your marriage will flourish. Follow the “success sequence,” and you’ll never be poor. Go to the right school, and all career doors will open. Elect the right candidate, and America will be great once more.

But the dark side of all this is that when the formulas fail — as they so often do — it’s you who must have done something wrong. And then it’s up to you to fix it on your own. Bad marriage? You must have screwed around as a teen. Still in public housing? Should have gotten a better job. The if/then mind-set doesn’t take into account how much is actually out of our personal control, or the systemic forces — race, class, family history — that might hold someone back.

It is difficult to counter such an ingrained — and easy — habit of thought. But give him credit: In reevaluating “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Harris is modeling one way of doing so — he’s admitting to complexity and engaging directly with others, rather than sending down recommendations from above. Alas, even this admirable attempt won’t undo the harms that his formula caused in the first place.

But let the implosion of a cultural touchstone like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” serve as a lesson, or at least a warning. The next time we’re tempted toward too-formulaic thinking, we’ll know to take it with a grain of salt. After all, life is rarely so pure.

2

Once upon a time, Protestant congregations had pulpits. This was a form of church furniture, a glorified lectern as it where, behind which pastors read the text for their sermon and preached it to boot. Today, contemporary design of church buildings makes little of fixed places for anyone participating in worship, except for the drummer who may be quarantined in a drum shield.

… as ministers of God’s word, pastors’ actions, including their feet, while communicating a message of such great moment should encourage the idea of permanence. That is one reason for having a pulpit with serious heft. It symbolizes that what goes on in this space is of great significance and enduring value (though some look so permanent that even the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth will not unsettle them).

The permanence of the word preached is also a reason for ministers to stay in the pocket behind the pulpit and not move around. At best, happy feet is a distraction that calls more attention to the man than his message. At worst, they invite liturgical dance. So if the argument from permanence does not help, maybe the thought of overweight men and women in leotards will assist pastors (some on the rotund side themselves) keep both feet firmly planted behind their congregation’s ample pulpit.

D.G. Hart

3

[S]cientists are … making declarations ex cathedra — as a direct result of intellectual movements that began in humanities scholarship twenty-five years ago.

So for those of you who think that the humanities are marginal and irrelevant, put that in your mental pipe and contemplatively smoke it for a while.

Many years ago the great American poet Richard Wilbur wrote a poem called “Shame,” in which he imagined “a cramped little state with no foreign policy, / Save to be thought inoffensive.”

Sheep are the national product. The faint inscription
Over the city gates may perhaps be rendered,
“I’m afraid you won’t find much of interest here.”

The people of this nation could not be more overt in their humility, their irrelevance, their powerlessness. But …

Their complete negligence is reserved, however,
For the hoped-for invasion, at which time the happy people
(Sniggering, ruddily naked, and shamelessly drunk)
Will stun the foe by their overwhelming submission,
Corrupt the generals, infiltrate the staff,
Usurp the throne, proclaim themselves to be sun-gods,
And bring about the collapse of the whole empire.

Alan Jacobs, the imminent collapse of an empire

4

[W]hen you are told endlessly that there is no meaning to existence, then guess what? You actually start to think that way. And then everything loses its flavor. Everything starts to taste like rice cakes.

… [Y]ou cannot have it both ways. You cannot bleach divinity and Transcendence out of the cosmos and tell everyone that the whole affair is just an aimless and pointless accident, and then turn around and talk to us about the “moral necessity” of this or that urgent social cause.

Larry Chapp via Rod Dreher.

5

From before the election, but when I was otherwise occupied:

Trumpism … is the new normal. It is not going away. And there is no going back. The challenge for the center-right and center-left across the West is to accommodate this new normal in ways that do not empower authoritarianism, provoke constitutional unraveling, or incite civil unrest. And it seems to me that the lesson of the last two years is that the Republican Party is unable and unwilling to perform that function. It has turned itself into a cult behind a figure hostile to liberal democratic norms, responsible government, and any notion of moderation. It is less a political party than a mass movement sustained by shame-free, mendacious propaganda around a man whose articulated values place him more in the company of Putin and Duterte than Merkel and Macron.

The GOP cannot be talked out of their surrender to this strongman. With each rhetorical or policy atrocity, they have attached themselves more firmly to him. The dissenters are leaving; the new members of Congress will be even Trumpier than the old. They have abandoned any serious oversight role. Their singular achievement has been supplying judicial ranks who will not stand in the way of executive power. That was the real issue in the Kavanaugh nomination, as Newt Gingrich blurted out last week. A subpoena for the president from the special counsel would be fought, he promised, all the way to the Supreme Court, which is when we would see “whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.” This is a party bent on enabling authoritarianism, not restraining it.

That’s why I will vote Democrat next Tuesday. I have many issues with the Democrats, as regular readers well know. None of that matters compared with this emergency. I don’t care, in this instance, what their policies are. I am going to vote for them. I can’t stand most of their leaders and fear their radical fringe. I am going to vote for them anyway. Because it is the only responsible thing there is to do.

The Italian leftist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” We live in such a time, and we have in front of us one of those morbid symptoms: the current Republican Party. You know what to do.

Andrew Sullivan.

Or as William Blake put it:

what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I’m not at all certain that “judicial ranks … will not stand in the way of executive power” or that such was the aim of confirming them, but Sullivan otherwise is right about the abasement of the GOP, and the House has indeed flipped to the Democrats.

I wrote last week that the midterms would finally tell us what this country now is. And with a remarkable turnout — a 50-year high for a non- presidential election, no less — we did indeed learn something solid and eye-opening. We learned that the American public as a whole has reacted to the first two years of an unfit, delusional, mendacious, malevolent, incompetent authoritarian as president … with relative equanimity. The net backlash is milder than it was against Clinton or Obama (and both of them went on to win reelection).

What I take from this is that Trump really does have a cultlike grip on a whole new population of voters, as well as the reliable Republican voters of the past. That’s not just 42 percent of the country (to use Trump’s approval rating); it’s a motivated 42 percent. And what Trump has successfully done, by corralling right-wing media, tweeting incessantly, dominating the discourse, tending so diligently to his base, and holding rally after rally, is keep that engagement going. Most presidents are interested in governing and sometimes take their eye off the ball politically. Trump is all politics and all salesmanship all the time. And it works. If he can demonstrate this in the midterms, imagine what his reelection campaign will be like.

I’ve been razzed a little for using the term “existential threat” to describe Trump two and a half years ago. But I used it in a specific context: He was and remains such a threat to liberal democracy. Not democracy as a whole. Strongmen can win election after election with big majorities without rigging the vote. A single political party can co-opt the judiciary, or capture the Senate, by democratic means, for illiberal ends. I mean by liberal democracy one in which pluralism is celebrated, power is widely distributed, justice is dispensed without regard to politics, the press is free and respected, minorities protected, and where an opposition has a chance to win real, governing power. The space for this in America has significantly shrunk these past two years and this election has only consolidated that new status quo.

Andrew Sullivan

I’ve detested the Republican party long enough now that my reflex to cringe at Democrat victories passes very quickly, replaced by a resigned feeling of “we are soooooo screwed!” — no matter which major party wins.

6

When you obsess about a problem, you have less energy and passion to pursue solutions. When you fret over every outrage, you elevate those outrages. Stories trend because consumers engage with them, clicking and sharing them, not because the news media dictates that they trend.

I think it would be a solid and beneficial step for us all to simply come to the realizations: Trump is going to Trump. He’s going to lie. He’s going to wink at the racists and Nazis. He’s going to demean women. He’s going to embarrass this country. It’s all going to happen.

Nevertheless, we can take this stand unequivocally: It is all unacceptable and we stand in opposition to it. It is not normal and must never be met as such.

But we must also focus on the future.

Charles Blow

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In pursuit, but barely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

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

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

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Simpler than “as simple as possible”

We are back to Paul Valéry’s maxim: “Everything simple is false. Everything complex is unusable.” In the world of computer modeling, this is known as Bonini’s paradox: The more realistic a model is, the more it becomes as complex and difficult to understand as the real world; the simpler and more user-friendly a model becomes, the less accurately it represents the underlying system. Mass democracy and mass media on the American model work to impose on the complex reality of American public life the simplest possible model of politics, aggregating all of political reality into two variables: Us and Them.

Another way of putting this is that the unstated task of cable-news journalism on the Fox/MSNBC model — along with practically all political talk radio, 99.44 percent of social media, and a great deal of inferior writing about politics — is transmuting intellectual complexity into moral simplicity. Even that isn’t quite right: The moral simplicity offered by the “Everybody Who Disagrees with Me Is Hitler” school of analysis is a false simplicity — simplicity for the truly simple, as opposed to what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. described as “the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”

(Kevin D. Williamson)

Of course, Williamson has examples, including from “inferior writing about politics” from two of our premier national newspapers.

UPDATE: Immediately after writing the above, I turned to another article which, if true, is rather terrifying in light of the more obvious truths Williamson notes.

The leader of the free world still begins his day by binge-watching cable news until 11 a.m.; still spends official meetings nattering on about anything other than the subject at hand (even when said subject is how to ensure that this year’s hurricane season does not result in mass death this time around); and, most critically, still cannot be bothered to learn the pertinent facts about a given situation, before dictating a policy response to it.

One of the president’s chief complaints about H.R. McMaster was (reportedly) that the former national security adviser had the temerity to brief him with “a PowerPoint deck dozens of pages long, filled with text” — rather than “simple, short bullets, or a graphic or timeline.” White House aides have grown so desperate to get the commander-in-chief to ingest the most remedial information about the geopolitical affairs he’s mindlessly disrupting, they’ve whittled the bullet points in his briefing book down to “basically slogans,” one administration source told Axios.

(Eric Levitz, Trump’s Briefing Book Includes ‘Screen Grabs of Cable-News Chyrons’, New Yorker)

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Religious tribalism

As a prefatory matter, I have long believed that one’s guiding philosophy is functionally religious. That has ramifications beyond what follows, but those are for another day. For now, think of it as “atheist Stephen Hawking had a religion of sorts.” It’s the sort of thing “scientism” was coined for.

In an episode of “The Briefing,” yesterday Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary reflected on the death of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. You can read a full transcript of the eight minute segment on Hawking using the link above.

Here is how the episode was summarized on Mohler’s Facebook page, which I think is broadly representative of what Dr. Mohler said on the show:

We believe that Stephen Hawking and all of his brilliance was simply evidence of the fact that he was a human being made in God’s image but a human being who died without God. That’s the great tragedy but that’s not what you’re likely to read in the obituaries.

Instead what you’re going to see is a secular world trying to find a secular reason to celebrate a secular thinker and to say something significant about the meaning of his life. At the end of the day, the secular worldview can provide no argument for why the life of Stephen Hawking was ever significant nor your life nor my life. Only the biblical worldview can answer that question and it does profoundly answer that question.

The thing that struck me when a friend showed the post to me is this: If you swapped “Oppenheimer” for “Hawking” and, on the Facebook post, changed the name and photo from Mohler to Francis Schaeffer you could show the entire post to someone, say that Schaeffer wrote it on the occasion of Oppenheimer’s death in 1967 and… it’d be believable.

I love Schaeffer so I don’t mean that purely as criticism of Dr. Mohler. If we must talk like an evangelical from the 1960s, Schaeffer is a very good one to choose. And yet when you read that take on Hawking’s death, the tedium of it still comes across.

Earlier this week I got coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Like me, he grew up in an abusive fundamentalist church which left him with plenty of baggage to work through over a number of years. As we talked, the conversation turned to the work of Jordan Peterson and to a debate that my friend had seen in which Peterson and William Lane Craig, the renowned Christian apologist, argued over the possibility of meaning in human life. I said to my friend that several Christian friends of mine watched the debate and were far more impressed by Peterson than they were Craig. My friend nodded. “Peterson doesn’t care about winning,” he said. “Craig wanted to a win a debate. Peterson wanted to pursue truth.”

If there is a defining problem with a certain brand of reformed evangelicalism, it is that we care more about winning—winning debates, winning political campaigns, winning institutional battles—than we do about simply pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful.

(Jake Meador, The Tedium of Worldview Analysis at Mere Orthodoxy)

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

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

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

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Darwin Trolls

Anyone who has been involved in higher education knows this truth: people are often decent in private, listen, and give interesting ideas about heretical ideas such as intelligent design. They fulminate in public, because they must or risk dealing with the trolls for Darwin. I have heard world class thinkers (not theists) laugh at Internet atheists who misunderstand philosophy of science, but who would never go public, because they do not want the abuse.

(John Mark Reynolds)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Our inhumane space fixation

This obsession with space is ridiculously adolescent. It is also vicious and inhumane, and founded upon a universally shared misapprehension.

Which is that there aren’t already aliens everywhere. We have all had close encounters of the first and second kinds and, occasionally, the third. As I write this thousands of them are shivering in doorways or under scaffolding in Manhattan and San Francisco, mumbling and screaming because they have spent years of their lives being silently urged to participate in the fiction of their own non-existence, and hundreds of thousands more are wearing MAGA hats and collapsing into ambulances in Ohio and Rhode Island and New Hampshire. I remember one from middle school, though I never once spoke to her, who smelled and wore bad clothes and had no friends; boys teased her for carrying around a Cabbage Patch doll. When she disappeared one day, no one noticed; later we learned that every afternoon after being either bullied or ignored at school she went home, where her uncle raped her.

The vastness of space is a meaningless void. The world we already have, of all things visible and invisible, is strange and mysterious and shot through with more beauty and majesty and brokenness and pain than we know how to account for, much less take care of. Let’s stop ignoring it.

(Matthew Walther, America’s alien freakout)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.