Tuesday, 12/6/22

It’s been awfully long since I flushed the pipes.

Politicalish

A not-so-great realignment

Alex Jones: The Nazis were thugs.
Kanye West: "But they did good things too. We gotta stop dissing the Nazis all the time."

@Rightwingwatch

So “Ye” is now to the right of Alex Jones?!

Viktor ticks me off

I know that Viktor Orbán isn’t running a liberal democracy. He says it’s an illiberal democracy. “If I could count on American post-liberals being as competent and honest as Orbán,” I thought, “I could tolerate illiberal democracy, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice.”

But now he’s pulled a stunt that bothers me even more than some of the other ways he’s manipulated things to keep winning elections:

In December 2020, when Hungary’s health authority set up a website for citizens to register for covid-19 vaccinations, it included a tick-box for those who wanted to receive further information. Gabor Toka, a political-science professor, found it odd that the box did not specify that future communications should be about covid. To see what would happen, he ticked the box for his own registration but left it unticked for his mother’s. Some months later, when Hungary’s general-election campaign swung into gear, he found that he (but not his mother) started to get campaign emails from the ruling party, Fidesz.

Mr Toka was not the only one. A report published on December 1st by Human Rights Watch suggests that Fidesz seems to have gained access to state databases and used them to send campaign messages to voters. In addition to emails, people got phone calls and text messages from Fidesz candidates urging them to vote and reminding them what a wonderful job the government was doing.

How Hungary used citizens’ covid data to help the ruling party (The Economist)

Thesis Statement

I was just reminded of the excellent capacity of Readwise to share a quote as an eye-grabbing image. Expect to see more.

What authoritarianism does to decent people

Yesterday a friend messaged me to say that one passage from Monday’s newsletter had rung his bell. It had to do with motives. Perhaps some conservatives who’ve moved away from right-wing policies during the Trump era have done so, I wrote, because they’ve begun to doubt the good intentions of leaders who support those policies.

If the average Republican says the law should be harder on drug dealers, you and I might eagerly agree. If an aspiring strongman in the mold of Rodrigo Duterte says the same thing, you and I might worry instead about how a more draconian legal regime would eventually be abused.

Authoritarianism brings out the libertarian in decent people.

All it took was a bare assertion without credible evidence that the election had been rigged against a right-wing president to flip Stewart Rhodes from freedom warrior to fascist goon.

Nick Cattagio

This is a remarkably thought-provoking piece. One more excerpt:

Years ago a fellow Never Trumper told me the great irony of the Tea Party era is that those of us who were viewed at the time as moderates and “RINOs” turned out to be the ones who took conservative principles seriously. We the squishes were told that conservatism was about X, Y, and Z, then suddenly Trump arrived and it wasn’t about those things anymore. So we left.

It was the firebreathing hyper-principled “true conservatives” and small-government radicals who were easily co-opted by a nationalist strongman. They simply adapted and carried on.

I’ve always taken pride in that. But it also feeds my insecurity that on a fundamental level I don’t understand how most people practice politics. I can cite chapter and verse on What Classical Liberalism means, but if 90 percent of those who used to—and maybe still—call themselves classical liberals are okay with an authoritarian personality cult so long as it’s advancing their interests by owning the libs, then how “real” is classical liberalism really?

Legalish

Balancing negative externalities

Free Speech

We still enjoy free speech in the U.S. partly because good people are willing to “sue the bastards” when the bastards try to punish or chill free speech. Eugene Volokh and F.I.R.E., for instance, are suing New York State (New York State Wants to Conscript Me to Violate the Constitution)

One reason why I’m not a Ron DeSantis fan is that his popular (for the GOP’s Florida base, at least) “Stop Woke Act” also violates free speech norms of not the letter of the 1st Amendment (which I think it probably does; caveat: I haven’t thought about that a lot.).

Getting the Analogy Right

SCOTUS heard arguments Monday on another case that people will incline to call gay rights versus religious freedom, though it was argued on free speech grounds. As is so often the case, the questions from the Justices were probing.

Remarkably, a non-lawyer comment aptly summarizes a key point:

[T]he right analogy is crucial here, and correct distinctions are critical. In order to justify racial violence and oppression, white people in America and Europe essentially invented a novel theology, baptizing white supremacy. It was racism in search of an ethic. Sexual ethics, by contrast, are named and addressed in religious scriptures in specific terms. Unlike white supremacy, religious teachings regarding sex, including prohibitions on extramarital and premarital sex, pornography, lust and same-sex sexual activity have been part of the Christian faith from its earliest days. This is not an aberrant view rooted in bigotry but a sincere belief that flows from ancient texts and teaching shared by believers all over the world.

Tish Harrison Warren, When gay rights clash with religious freedom

Culture

What I wouldn’t do if I had #1 billion

If you had $1 billion, what would you do with your life?

How about $190 billion?

The difference between those two seems academic to a middle-class schlub like me, as there’s not a lot one can do with $190 billion that one can’t do with $1 billion. Although if one of your highest ambitions is to make social media safe again for chuds with Pepe avatars, I suppose the distinction is meaningful.

I can tell you what I wouldn’t be doing if my net worth surged to 10 figures. I wouldn’t be spending much time online.

And to the extent that I did, I wouldn’t be using it to sh-tpost.

Nick Cattogio, Kanye. Elon. Trump. (The Dispatch).

Academics and Intellectuals

An academic or a scholar is a specialist in one area of knowledge, whereas an intellectual is a “specialist in generalizations.” That’s a line from one of my intellectual heroes, the sociologist Daniel Bell, and I love it because it’s so delightfully paradoxical. An intellectual is someone who isn’t necessarily a specialist in anything but who reads widely in many subjects and grasps enough of the important aspects of specialized knowledge to render illuminating generalizations about lots of topics.

Another way to put it is to say that an intellectual is a bit of a dilettante or an amateur. I know a little bit about a lot of subjects, and I use that little bit of knowledge to try and understand what’s going on around me in an informed way. But I’m not a specialist in anything—not even the intellectual history and political theory I studied in graduate school, because I finished my studies 24 years ago and haven’t kept up with the latest scholarship.

Damon Linker, Ask Me Anything

This was an interesting installment from Linker, who also deftly fielded this final question:

I would love to get your opinion on what you think Ben Shapiro is up to. He seems to want to be both a conservative intellectual and a purveyor of sensationalist clickbait. And he seems to get a pass from most of the responsible conservative media.

Ben Shapiro interacts with and retweets me from time to time on Twitter. I suspect if you asked him, he’d say I’m one of the few sane and honest liberals around. Because of that, I don’t want to be mean to him here. But I will say that my view of him is precisely the one you sketch in your question. He’s obviously very smart, and the kind of conservatism (in policy terms) that he pushes is continuous with the Reagan-Bush 43 era. That’s not my thing these days, but it once was, and I respect smart people who advocate for those views, even today.

But in style, Shapiro is very much a child of Breitbart—and he appears not to recognize how corrosive that approach to engaging in politics ends up being for the very things he cares most about. If you spend all your days treating the opposition as evil and highlighting only the worst, most ridiculous arguments they make, you’re going to produce an audience that thinks the opposition is evil, stupid, and a threat to the country. And that might get members of this audience to elect someone who views the opposition with so much contempt that acting to overturn an election seems preferable to letting that opposition take power.

So I’d say Shapiro should spend some time re-watching episodes of the old William F. Buckley, Jr. Firing Line and remind himself of a better way—a way that seeks to elevate one’s own side rather than merely denigrate and demonize the other side. (Though it’s also true that this “better way” would probably generate considerably less revenue for The Daily Wire.)

Jesse Jackson’s long-lost daughter?

Nellie Bowles’ crap detector failed her as she joined the world-wide mimetic soccer-flop about British Royal racism.

I didn’t think the exchange was very racist, but one reader knew some detailed backstory that casts it as even more benign:

Nellie, I think you need to do some more digging into the supposedly racist godmother of Prince William, Lady Susan Hussey. When someone shows up at a charity event in African garb and an African name on their nametag, it is neither racist nor offensive to ask about their birthplace.

When the querent is 83 years old, you answer the intent of her question politely: "I don’t know where in Africa my ancestors came from, because they were brought to the Caribbean as slaves, but I myself was born in London."

Considering that Ngozi Fulani has made a career of race hustling, including accusing the Windsors of committing domestic violence against Meghan Markle, I can’t take her obnoxious failure to communicate with an elderly lady as anything but an effort to make trouble.

Race hucksters live on, in Britain, too.

Liberal, but uncivilized

In the era of populism there is a lively debate about when a democracy ceases to be liberal. But the advance of euthanasia presents a different question: What if a society remains liberal but ceases to be civilized?

The rules of civilization necessarily include gray areas. It is not barbaric for the law to acknowledge hard choices in end-of-life care, about when to withdraw life support or how aggressively to manage agonizing pain.

It is barbaric, however, to establish a bureaucratic system that offers death as a reliable treatment for suffering and enlists the healing profession in delivering this “cure.” And while there may be worse evils ahead, this isn’t a slippery slope argument: When 10,000 people are availing themselves of your euthanasia system every year, you have already entered the dystopia.

Ross Douthat

SBF, barbarian

I think, if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.

Sam Bankman-Friedman, to writer Adam Friedman. (H/T L. M. Sacasas)

I hesitate to defend “SBF,” but I have read, or at least started to read, books that could, and perhaps should, have been a six-paragraph blog post. (Smarter people than me, though, aver that though one might convey the “facts” in six paragraphs, the nuances might warrant a full book.)

YouTube TV

I tried YouTube TV for about 15 hours, most of which I spent sleeping, singing, or otherwise not watching it. The low-definition images were annoying. That one must get in bed with Google again is really annoying. Trial ended.

Now maybe I need to figure out how to DVR late sports events on standard cable.

Just sayin’

If a team is going to beat a complete team with a lot of complemetary contributors like Purdue boasts, they’re going to have to catch the Boilermakers on the off-est of off days.

Garrett Shearman, Hammer and Nails, December 4.

Trumpish

A Bad Trip

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica in 1769, rose to become a French military commander and emperor, and died on the island of Saint Helena in 1821. If I encounter a person on the street in Philadelphia in early December 2022 who insists he is this same Napoleon Bonaparte, I will be quite certain he is wrong about this, which means he is either lying or truly believes it and is insane.

How do I know this? Because I know history. Because I know when the actual Napoleon lived and died. Because I live in a social (intersubjective) world in which widely trusted cultural authorities will vouch for these truths.

But what if other people on the street believe this man and respond to his claim as if what he says about himself is true? What if another set of “experts” emerges to proclaim that, actually, this man is correct? And what if this is followed by the belief spreading further and large numbers of people throughout the country coming to believe it? Before long, newspaper headlines and cable news chyrons scream, “Napoleon Bonaparte Alive and Well in Philadelphia,” as I stand back and observe the spectacle in disbelief and mounting horror.

At what point does this man become sane and I become the madman?

This is a post about a feeling. And the feeling isn’t one in which the whole world, except for you, flips from affirming X to affirming not-X. It’s about the feeling of living in a world in which some of the people—not all of them, but also not just one or a small handful—begin to affirm an alternative reality from within our still-shared world. I’m convinced the emergence and widespread use of the word “gaslighting” during the Trump presidency was an effort to name this feeling of our social world being invaded by elements of psychosis. That feeling repeatedly surged while Trump was in office, and it reached a peak on January 6, when the madness actually burst into physical reality and briefly tried to remake the concrete political world in its image.

Damon Linker, The Week America’s Collective Bad Trip Resumed

The Red-letter Day that fizzled

This ought to be a red-letter day:

Donald Trump called for the “termination” of America’s constitution, in service to the lie that he won the presidential election of 2020. On his own social-media network he said that revoking “all rules” might be necessary to reinstall himself in the White House (notwithstanding his new electoral campaign).

The Economist Daily Briefing for December 4.

I don’t know why I bother clipping these. He called for ignoring the freakin’ constitution and all it has gotten from GOP leaders is disapproving murmurs.

I guess it befalls me and those like me who do not covet public office to keep beating the drum: this man is not fit for Dog-Catcher.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.

Hobbit Day 2022

I have it on reasonably good authority that today is Hobbit Day, and it turns out that Peter Jackson isn’t the only one to cash in on Hobbits.

Culture

How the Bobos Broke America — key excerpt

I tend to quote a lot of things without comment, but I’m going to say that the following strikes me as true, and so contrary to the recent history of the Democrat and Republican parties that it’s core to why I believe a major realignment is underway. Today’s Republican party is not the same Republican party I left in January 2005. For my taste, it’s worse, but that taste almost certainly is tainted by Orange Man. But I gradually came to see his appeal:

What causes psychic crisis are the whiffs of “smarter than” and “more enlightened than” and “more tolerant than” that the creative class gives off. People who feel that they have been rendered invisible will do anything to make themselves visible; people who feel humiliated will avenge their humiliation. Donald Trump didn’t win in 2016 because he had a fantastic health-care plan. He won because he made the white working class feel heard.

How the Bobos Broke America.

There’s no need to hold a pity party for me, but I’ve spent most of my life too Christian and too socially awkward to be comfortable with social elites, too elite to feel instinctively empathetic or entirely comfortable with the working class.

How unreality spreads

Wrong beliefs and wrong perceptions are contagious whether or not they are sincere, because dissidents tend to self-censor and act like believers. That is how entire societies, such as the Soviet Union, can be built on everyone’s publicly pretending to believe what many privately know to be false.

Jonathan Rauch, Echo Chambers and Confirmation Loops in The Constitution of Knowledge.

I think this has some contemporary relevance. I’ll say no more.

National Conservatism could be a boon for religious liberty lawyers

Here’s the national conservatism “Statement of Principles” on God and public religion, signed by dozens of leaders of the national conservatism movement:

No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition. For millennia, the Bible has been our surest guide, nourishing a fitting orientation toward God, to the political traditions of the nation, to public morals, to the defense of the weak, and to the recognition of things rightly regarded as sacred. The Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and non-believers alike. Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes. (Emphasis added.)

This paragraph describes a form of religious supremacy that relegates dissenting religious believers to the “private” sphere, while granting Christianity a position of powerful public privilege.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that the “moral vision” of the signatories broadly reflects the diversity of Christian belief and practice in the United States. After all, there are churches that host drag queen events, as well as churches that condemn drag queens. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are completely dependent on their Bible-believing, church-going base constituencies (white Evangelicals for Republicans and Black Protestants for Democrats).

Are national conservatives thus satisfied when either party wins, so long as a Christian (Joe Biden, for example) is at the helm?

Of course not. For the term “moral vision” to mean anything, it has to mean a particular version of professed Christian belief and practice.

David French

A polity that "relegates dissenting religious believers to the “private” sphere, while granting [a form of putative] Christianity a position of powerful public privilege" is inconsistent with current Supreme Court thinking, and I don’t think Trump’s nominees change that.

When did modernity begin?

For us, the real Middle Ages extend from the reign of Charlemagne to the opening of the fourteenth century, at which date a new decadence set in that has continued, through various phases and with gathering impetus, up to the present time. This date is the real starting-point of the modern crisis: it is the beginning of the disruption of Christendom, with which the Western civilization of the Middle Ages was essentially identified: at the same time, it marks the origin of the formation of ‘nations’ and the end of the feudal system, which was very closely linked with the existence of Christendom. The origin of the modern period must therefore be placed almost two centuries further back than is usual with historians…

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World.

What Putin lacks

[T]he death of Queen Elizabeth II and the wave of antique pageantry help illuminate one of the Russian president’s important weaknesses. He has been hobbled in his fight because his regime lacks the mystical quality we call legitimacy.

Ross Douthat, Why Queen Elizabeth’s Strength Is Putin’s Weakness

This takes “self-deprecating” too far

We sat and watched the committal service, we who threw all this away in the 18th century, all the costumery, ribbonry, and titlery and iconic disciplines and endless dignity, in favor of the mess we know all too well …

[A]fter a couple hours of admiring tradition and ceremony and everyone knowing which foot to put where, it dawns on me that this elevation of bureaucracy to an art form is what America fortunately escaped and thus was better able to give the world the phenomenal techno advances of my lifetime, the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines. These things were not created by platoons of people marching in place but by brilliant gamblers and entrepreneurs, nerds of many stripes. (We also gave the world the blues and rock ’n’ roll, but that’s another story.)

An English major in college, I looked down on IT students because they all dressed alike and carried plastic pocket protectors for their ballpoint pens. I saw them as dullards. As it turns out they were at work on data technology that led to the internet, which changed my life and yours too. Meanwhile, the English department and other humanities march along beside the hearse and the horsemen.

I wanted to be eccentric and got my wish but the engineers in my family are more engaged with the real world.

Garrison Keillor.

Once again, I’ll opine.

I like technology entirely too well, but “the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines” do nothing to fill the void in the human soul, and I deny that they are the “real world” in a meaningful sense. Maybe monarchy doesn’t fill the soul-void, either; I don’t know (at least in part) because I’ve never lived in a monarchy. But I think monarchy says something true about reality that all the tech in the world misses.

So maybe we and Great Britain are still joined symbiotically at the hip; they provide the meaning, we provide the toys and the parties.

Correlation

This sort of thing is why I’ll probably renew Jesse Singal’s Substack:

Missed it when it was fresh

[I]t is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.

Boris Johnson, mid-2018, on Burqas.

Shorts

Journalism

Two formerly solid journals seem to have picked their tribes, and now assiduously pitch to the worst tribal instincts.

The Decline of First Things

There are many occasions for exposing hypocrisy these days. In the aftermath of the FBI raid on Donald Trump’s Florida home, we can point to Hillary Clinton’s private server. Asked to denounce Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election, we can cite Stacey Abrams, who never accepted her defeat in the 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia.

R.R. Reno opening his big monthly Editorial in First Things.

That is Whataboutism at 190 proof. I have no idea what he thinks the FBI (or someone) ought to have done about Hillary’s server 6-7 years ago, and he certainly doesn’t tell us. He just insinuates that what they didn’t do was hypocritical because of what they later did. As for Stacy Abrams, so far as I know she has dropped “they done me wrong” from her stump speeches, unlike Orange Man (who is dining out on it), even if she has never formally conceded defeat.

That was just the opener. Considering how the column continued, I’m inclined to think that Reno had a bad case of writer’s block, and so resorted to tendentious bullshit.

I am thus reminded why I still (barely, and decreasingly) consider First Things essential reading but have ceased giving its publishing corporation anything beyond the cost of my subscription.

Conservative Radicals

It’s interesting to see a tribe close ranks.

Ron DeSantis’ sending two planefuls of refugees to Martha’s Vineyard is morally indefensible trolling.

So how does his tribe defend it? By focusing on “why the Left went so bat-guano crazy” over it, and implying that DeSantis had effectively taken a chapter from Saul Alinsky:

Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.

Ridicule Is Man’s Most Potent Weapon

Apparently “ridicule” is now National Review’s term for instrumentalizing humans who are unpopular with the GOP.

With Kevin Williamson defecting to The Dispatch, I’m almost out of reasons (I can think of just two remaining) to glance at the National Review homepage any more.

Politics

Wrong kind of diversity

Liz Truss, Great Britain’s new Prime Minister, has completed her cabinet. There are no white men. None. But that’s not good enough for Britain’s Left:

“It’s a meritocratic advance for people who have done well in education, law and business,” Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a think tank that focuses on issues of immigration, integration and national identity, told CNN. “It’s not an advance on social class terms.”

This is an interesting criticism. “Meritocratic,” used here in a pejorative sense, means based on ability and achievement, earned through a combination of talent and hard work. Traditionally, merit served as the primary consideration in hiring, but some people today see the very systems that confer merit as rigged, especially against minorities. In an effort to rectify that imbalance and to diversify the work force, particularly for leadership positions, it has become common practice in hiring — in the business and nonprofit worlds, as in government — to make racial or ethnic diversity a more significant factor.

The trouble is that for many of the same people, ethnic and racial diversity count only when combined with a particular point of view …

The implication is that there’s only one way to authentically represent one’s race, ethnicity or sex — otherwise you’re a phony or a pawn.

Pamela Paul, When Diversity Isn’t the Right Kind of Diversity

War? Really?

“Even the people who are responsible for disseminating the laptop admit that, on a human level, what happened to Hunter is horrifying. ‘A lot of stuff I do, I don’t feel great about,’ says one of them, Steve Bannon. ‘But we’re in a war.’”

The Morning Dispatch, recommending a New York Magazine article on the Hunter Biden laptop saga.

Steve Bannon is a very intelligent but quite unprincipled. “War”? Baloney!

J.D. Vance ❤️ Donald J. Trump

Trump went off on a tangent about a New York Times story that said Vance’s campaign didn’t ask Trump to come here. “JD wants my support so bad. He’s kissing my ass.”

Andrew Tobias on Twitter

Is this why we’re to take Trump “seriously if not literally”? He certainly captured the essence of Vance’s metamorphosis.

A Moment of Pleasure

Seldom has a Democrat made me as happy as Letitia James made me on Wednesday.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.

Tuesday, 7/5/22

There sure as heck was a crack in Leonard …

… yet, oddly, that seems to be how some of the light got in.

Even while living it all out, Cohen felt—and documented—the emptiness of the sexual revolution. His most apocalyptic, almost Ginsberg-like commentary on the world he and his fellow revolutionaries had created was the 1992 song and album, The Future, which ended with these verses:

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don’t like children anyhow
I’ve seen the future, baby
It is murder

Leonard Cohen lived long enough to see the freedom of the sixties turn into something else—something that, despite his enthusiastic personal participation, was poisonous, especially for the vulnerable.

Jonathon Van Maren, Leonard Cohen’s Lost Children.

I discovered Leonard Cohen quite late in my life (and his). I enjoyed his lyrics so much that I bought a volume of his poetry, only to find that volume full of adolescent sexual obsessions and hints (or more) of promiscuity. I won’t again make the mistake of straying beyond his music.

Punish the hated standards!

A lesbian law student in Idaho, offended by the sexual standards of the Christian Legal Society chapter and its sponsor, got the university to issue no-contact orders against them. The targets of those orders sued and, it should go without saying, won:

In a footnote, commenting on a faculty member’s statement that religious beliefs are not an excuse to deprive others of their rights, the court said:

Phrases such as this have taken root in recent years and paint an overtly negative picture of religious liberty. The assumption such phrases implicate is that people use their religion to mask discriminatory conduct and then try to “hide” from any legal consequences by invoking religious protection. The Court will not dissect why this assumption is a shallow look at religion, and fails to provide any substance to numerous individual constitutional rights. Suffice it to say, in a pluralistic society, people should honor differing viewpoints and build bridges of understanding instead of arguing that opposing viewpoints are inherently discriminatory and must be punished or excluded from the public square.

Religion Clause: University’s No-Contact Orders To 3 Christian Students Violate Free Speech Rights

The route to the Celestial City

If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line – starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.

— Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow

Via Alan Jacobs.

I’ve got to read about my doppelgänger, Jayber Crow, sooner rather than later.

Pax Anglo-Saxonica

For European officials and politicians, a great fear gnaws at the back of their minds when they look at the ongoing war in Ukraine: What happens if the United States loses interest?

Despite the war being in Europe, involving European powers, with largely European consequences, America remains the essential partner for Ukraine. For most of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Britain, in particular, the reality that Ukraine would likely already be lost were it not for American military support has only proved the intrinsic value of living in an American world order. For others, including the French, such dependence is now a source not only of shame, but of long-term vulnerability. America might care enough to supply Ukraine today, but with Donald Trump limbering up for his second shot at the presidency, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to picture a time when this is no longer the case.

And as French President Emmanuel Macron has warned, whichever American president is in office when this is finally all over, Russia will remain, its preoccupations, fears, interests, and myths the same as before.

Tom McTague, America’s Necessary Myth for the World.

I feel that I have one foot in in Orthodox civilization. (I don’t know a metaphor for less than the half implied by "one foot." If I did, I’d use it.) I have read enough about Russia that I was starting to think I understood it.

Then Putin ordered the attack on Ukraine, and my conceit went away.

But McTague is writing about us, not Russia, and this is clearly his central point:

The great paradox in the world today is that the “dumb simplicity” of America’s self-perception, as one senior European government adviser put it to me, is both obviously bogus and fundamentally true. The story that America tells about itself is both the source of many of its foreign-policy disasters and the necessary myth without which much of the world would be a more brutal place.

[As a] government adviser put it to me, “show me a foreign minister in the West who really wants less America.”

The dumb simplicity of America’s interventions is often infuriating and obtuse, or even disastrously naive and destructive. It exists in people like Neal and Holbrooke, Bush and Biden. And yet if America stops believing in its myth, if it scurries back into the safety of its continental bunker, having decided it is now just another normal nation, then a cold wind might start to blow in places that have become complacent in their security. When the dumb simplicity is removed, the complexities of the world start growing back.

This is what Ukraine fears and others in Europe expect. In the end, though, what really matters is which story America believes, and for how long.

I wish we had enough internal stability that our allies could feel confident that the next President wasn’t just going to repudiate all foreign alliances, and in fact would do nothing that was both substantial and abrupt.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Independence Day 2022

I have no flag-waving enthusiasm for you, but nothing too dark, either.

Trying to post daily isn’t a habit that comes easily. I’m dropping this one Monday morning, whereas my intent is to put a bow on my posts the prior evening.

Politics

From the Department of I Wish I’d Written That

I’ve been thinking about the weird intense hatred many conservatives feel for people like David French and Liz Cheney — for anyone they think isn’t “fighting.” Here’s my conclusion: The conservative movement has too many sheepdogs and not enough shepherds.

Sheepdogs do two things: they snap at members of the herd whom they believe to be straying from their proper place, and they bark viciously at wolves and other intruders. Sheepdogs are good at identifying potential predators and scaring them off with noisy aggression. (Often they suspect innocent passers-by of being wolves, but that just comes with the job description. Better to err on the side of caution, etc.)

What sheepdogs are useless at is caring for the sheep. They can’t feed the sheep, or inspect them for injury or illness, or give them medicine. All they can do is bark when they see someone who might be a predator. And that’s fine, except for this: the sheepdogs of the conservative movement think that everyone who is not a sheepdog – everyone who is not angrily barking — is a wolf. So they try to frighten away even the faithful shepherds. If they succeed, eventually the whole herd will die, from starvation or disease. And as that happens, the sheepdogs won’t even notice. They will stand there with their backs to the dying herd and bark their fool heads off.

Alan Jacobs

When abortion wasn’t a partisan issue

Abortion was not always a partisan issue:

Both before and immediately after the Roe v. Wade decision, many prominent Republicans, such as First Lady Betty Ford and New York Gov. and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, supported abortion rights.

At the same time, some liberal Democrats spoke out against abortion rights, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver and his wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as civil rights activist Jesse Jackson.

The anti-abortion movement was strongest in the heavily Catholic, reliably Democratic states of the Northeast, and its supporters believed that their campaign for the rights of the unborn accorded well with the liberal principles of the Democratic Party.

By the time the Supreme Court reversed Roe, the anti-abortion movement had become so thoroughly allied with conservative Republican politics that it was difficult to imagine a time when liberal Democrats who supported an expanded welfare state were leaders in the movement.

Daniel K. Williams, Before Roe, anti-abortion activism included liberals inspired by Catholic social teaching. In that ellipsis lies some interesting stuff, so read the whole thing.

It always puzzled me that abortion had become so partisan an issue. And gradually, it horrified me that abortion opponents felt obligated to vote for the creepiest, most implausible Republicans as long as they said they’d work to overturn Roe. Some of them plainly had not internalized the meaning of "pro-life."

I suppose there was an analogous process on the side of abortion supporters. Lord knows, the Democrats have some creepy people in high places.

We’ll see how, or whether, Dobbs changes that. The liberal Democrats who oppose abortion and haven’t died off should find the American Solidarity Party most congenial.

Jonah discerns a bit of hypocrisy

Definitions vary, but I think we can all agree that giving voters and their representatives power to make decisions is part of any serious understanding of democracy. I know that totalitarian and authoritarian countries like to call themselves democracies too. But such claims are what you might call “deceptive advertising” or “false branding” or “lies.”

As the English setter said when making a big fuss about a quail, here’s what I’m getting at: A lot of people described the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade as a blow to “our democracy.”

But let’s move on.

Nach maga, kommen wir.

There’s one area where I agree with Democrats about the threat to “our democracy.” All of the hardcore MAGA candidates championing the stolen election lie are a real threat to democracy. I may not agree with progressives about the scope or scale of the threat (I suspect our democracy can survive the election of a bunch of Trumpian Mini-Mes). But that, too, is beside the point. You don’t have to buy the argument that these bozos, grifters, useful idiots, and poltroons pose an existential threat to democracy to still think they pose a serious threat.

More importantly, I’m not the one saying they pose an existential threat. Last November, leaders of 58 of the most influential progressive groups wrote an open letter to Congress saying that, “Our democracy faces an existential threat—the very real possibility that the outcome of an election could be ignored and the will of the people overturned by hyperpartisan actors.”

So what have Democrats—who often echo this rhetoric—done to thwart these hyperpartisan democracy assassins?

Fund them to the hilt!

Jonah Goldberg, Democrats Have a Funny Way of Expressing Concern About ‘Our Democracy’

Legalia – Waffling on Coach Kennedy

As I’ve said, I’m not all that impressed by Coach Kennedy, the 50-yardline-post-game-prayer guy who won in the Supreme Court last week. In fact, I would have been okay with it if he had lost on the theory that his prayers, in the total context of his history of post-game prayers, was excessively (if subtly) coercive (which is more or less what the dissent argues).

Now, Prof. Josh Blackman (No Offense, But It’s Just A Prayer) has given me second thoughts about whether there ought to be any cause of action for "coercion" so subjective as the facts here shown.

Naturally, Mr. Kennedy’s proposal to pray quietly by himself on the field would have meant some people would have seen his religious exercise. Those close at hand might have heard him too. But learning how to tolerate speech or prayer of all kinds is "part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society," a trait of character essential to "a tolerant citizenry." Lee. This Court has long recognized as well that "secondary school students are mature enough … to understand that a school does not endorse," let alone coerce them to participate in, "speech that it merely permits on a nondiscriminatory basis." Mergens. Of course, some will take offense to certain forms of speech or prayer they are sure to encounter in a society where those activities enjoy such robust constitutional protection. But "[o]ffense … does not equate to coercion." Town of Greece.

Justice Gorsuch in Kennedy v. Bremerton (emphasis added).

Sometimes, I just need a good whack up side-o-the-head.

(I am not friendly, by the way, to what I take to be the Coach’s version of Christianity; that is almost invariably true of religious freedom cases in the U.S. because the U.S. has, in Ross Douthat’s words, so much Bad Religion. So don’t give me the "How’d ya like it if he was praying a Muslim prayer, huh?!" bit.)

Miscellany

Funning

I was told some decades back that the word "fun" has no real equivalent in other languages/cultures. That possibility was so much fun that I didn’t risk spoiling it by checking out the claim.

I also couldn’t define "fun." Now, at the end of his guest post The Holy Anarchy of Fun at Bari Weiss’s Common Sense, Walter Kirn gives it a shot:

Fun is abandonment. “Don’t think. Do.” It’s a form of forgetting, of looseness and imbalance, which is why it can’t be planned and why it threatens those who plan things for us. Fun is minor chaos enjoyed in safety and most genuine when it comes as a surprise, when water from hidden nozzles hits your face or when the class hamster, that poor imprisoned creature, has finally had enough and flees its cage.

I can’t say I find Kirn’s elliptical definition anything better than evocative, but now that he puts fun under my nose again, I find that feel less censorious toward it than I once did.

We spend too much time in the left hemisphere, "murdering to dissect" as Wordsworth put it. "Fun" could be at least a waystation on the way to

… a heart
That watches and receives.

Eine Kleine Structural Racism

Here is an example, not necessarily huge, of "structural racism": Brian Sawers, What Lies Behind That ‘No Trespass’ Sign – The Atlantic. It’s also an interesting historical story even apart from its ongoing effects. Suffice that keeping freed slaves in a deeply subordinate position was a substantial part of the motivation for closing formerly open lands.

For a few years in my childhood, my Dad owned maybe ten acres of country land, mostly woods. The idea was we’d build a custom home there some day. Dad posted "No Trespassing" signs, which found themselves peppered full of 22 caliber bullet holes. We even caught a squirrel hunter in flagrante delicto one time. It never occurred to me until now that maybe Dad shouldn’t have posted those signs, but should have expected hunters to visit, which really did him no harm. (This was an era where a landowner wouldn’t get sued if someone invited himself in a got hurt accidentlally.)

I don’t suppose there’s be a lot of people opting for a subsistence diet of squirrels, rabbits and more exotic critters, hunted on open lands, so I don’t know how lingering is the oppressive effect of these laws. But suffice that lands were legally open, and trespassing wasn’t a thing, until slaves got legally emancipated.

Both sides

There are some really crazy ideas out there, and not just on the QAnon Right:

Someday I will do this long-form and with a lot of sources and such, but I’m writing at the moment out of considerable annoyance. In short, I am so sick and tired of being told by leftists that our mental illness problems (my mental illness problem) are the fault of capitalism, or perhaps some such vague and useless thing as “the system.” Sometimes they say this specifically about suicide as well. I would like to ask compassionate people to stop doing this, and I have the following questions and complaints.

Freddie deBoer, My Brief Brief Against "Mental Illness is Just Capitalism, Man, the System".

Because what Freddie is responding to seems so outlandish to me, I’ll leave you with that teaser and link rather than quote more.

On B1G "stealing" USC and UCLA

College sports are so shameless that when anyone else does anything shameless in the world, they have to pay college sports a sizable royalty.

Jason Gay, My Big Ten Welcome to…USC and UCLA.

I talked to a sports fanatic at Church coffee hour yesterday. This move portends a lot more than I realized.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Feast of Saints Peter & Paul, 2022

SCOTUS

What’s wrong with the gun-rights decision?

If you’ve read me for very long, you’ll know I’m pretty tepid about gun rights. But I’m going to weigh in on last week’s Bruen decision anyway: I don’t like it.

What I don’t like is the approach Justice Thomas took to reach his results. For ease, and because I’m not so hot on guns to go any deeper, I’ll quote my beloved Morning Dispatch:

Thomas’ majority opinion does rework how courts should assess the constitutionality of gun legislation. Courts must drop their previous efforts to balance the interest of the state in preventing gun violence against the Second Amendment rights of individuals, Thomas wrote, and instead consider only the Second Amendment’s text and the “history and tradition” of gun legislation when the Second and 14th Amendments passed.

“They’re not looking for whether there was the exact same gun regulation,” Stephen Gutowski, founder of gun policy outlet The Reload, told The Dispatch. “They’re looking at whether there was a similar gun regulation.”

Thomas writes that courts are more equipped to perform a historical legal analysis than the cost-benefit analysis they’ve been attempting, but Breyer’s esoteric weapons list highlights that it could still be a challenge to properly identify and apply relevant regulations. “I just think [Thomas is] a little overconfident in the ability of particularly lower courts, which don’t have endless resources and immense law libraries,” Seth Chandler, a University of Houston law professor who has taught Constitutional law, told The Dispatch. “Even Justice Thomas acknowledges that this process of analogous reasoning, it’s not straightforward and obvious.”

(Italics added)

It’s not just that history offers only analogies in many cases but that, reportedly, Justice Thomas discarded some historic restrictions as not relevant for one reason or another. How are the lower courts supposed to evaluate history when he was kind of cavalier about it.

So Bruen has not added consistency and clarity to Second Amendment Jurisprudence. It may have diminished it.

Joseph Kennedy, the football-prayin’ fool

On Monday, SCOTUS decided Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the praying football coach case.

On Monday, I began reading Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civiliztion, which I’m enjoying very much, but not at the moment because I’m typing about a case I was surprisingly ambivalent about.

So let’s see if we can make some brief sense of it and get me back to Huntington. I am hugely indebted to the Advisory Opinions podcast because when I saw all those printed words I said “No, siree! I’m not going to cut-and-paste from all that! I just don’t care that much!”

  • Majority version: Saintly Joseph Kennedy only wanted a moment of private, personal prayer at the 50 yard line immediately after the football games he’d just coached. Conscience-bound, he conscientiously violated oppressive directives from the school district, which suspended, then fired him. He wins on both religious speech and general free speech grounds, the gap between which we’re now narrowing. By the way, we hereby drive a stake through the heart of Lemon v. Kurtzman, one of several zombie precedents we’ve left haunting the countryside, while giving the side-eye to lower courts who don’t get the joke.
  • Dissent: WTF! You’re describing a completely different case! This is a case of a willful provocateur seeking to lead his players to Evangelical-Jesus, praying in a very public place, in front of most of the stadium, and by winks and nods inviting players to join him at mid-field and yelling “Neener! Neener! Neener!” at the School Board. If we allowed this sort of thing, it would lead to terrible places and he really should have lost.
Coach Pharisee  and his entirely "voluntary" congregation, with no perceived pressure that they must pray to play.
Coach Pharisee and his entirely voluntary flock. He has his reward.
  • Yes, the facts stated in the opinion and those stated in the dissent differed almost that wildly. My impression has been that the dissent’s version is closer to the whole truth, the majority’s version a bit — Ahem! — curated. (I also thought trials, not appeals, were supposed to determine the facts, but never mind.)
  • Net result: Kennedy wins and nobody should cite Lemon v. Kurtzman any more. Future courts are again told to consult “historical practices and understandings.” You may genuflect now and back out of the room slowly — and try to wipe that look of puzzled incredulity off your faces.

Hard cases make bad law, but this one seemingly made almost no law at all except that a zombie is now declared a corpse. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it unless I stumble across a more compelling version.

Do not forward; moved, left no forwarding address

The West Caldwell Police Department has responded to multiple calls at a residence formerly owned by Justice Samuel Alito. Erroneous information was circulating on the internet that indicated that Justice Alito still resides in West Caldwell, and individuals have been sending harassing packages to the current resident.

Justice Alito moved out of West Caldwell Just after being confirmed to the US Supreme Court, 15 years ago in 2007. The current homeowner has no affiliation with Justice Alito and deserves to live in peace in their home free from harassment, regardless of anyone’s political beliefs.

All incidents will be investigated and those responsible will be charged and prosecuted.

Please like and share this post to hopefully put an end to this activity.

Howard Bashman (How Appealing) via Eugene Volokh

I will never again complain about people who ignore my voicemail greeting and leave messages for an auto parts place with a number one digit off our home phone number.

Tallying the cost of Dobbs

It is done. The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years in which abortion has been a constitutional right.  

Now Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders need to acknowledge the costs of their victory. The most visible is nearly a half-century of being in bed with the Republican Party, and most recently its leader Donald Trump, a man of low morals willing to lie, cheat and, to hear the Jan. 6 committee tell it, break the law in order to stay in office. 

It also meant becoming a single-issue constituency who sacrificed nearly every social justice issue to create a Supreme Court that would reverse Roe v. Wade.

Yes, the Republicans finally delivered on their promise to reverse Roe, but in every other way it is making the world less hospitable to life. To call this pro-life is absurd.

Thomas Reese, What has the demise of Roe v. Wade cost the Catholic Church?.

There’s not all that much more to the piece, but Reese lists areas of Catholic Social Teaching he thinks have been neglected.

Miscellany

The New Handmaiden’s Tale

I’m sure it’s just another form of sex work, and therefore liberating, but I find this exceedingly creepy.

H/T Rod Dreher

I would find just as creepy, I think, if it was an opposite-sex pair of yuppies staring into each others eyes, congratulating each other on outsourcing a job they just wouldn’t disrupt their careers for.

This instrumentalizes women and commodifies babies, so it’s in perfect keeping with the zeitgeist.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

A wee bit

The last-of-its-kind abides

[A]fter a runoff and a recount, Rep. Henry Cuellar—the last pro-life Democrat in the House—narrowly edged out progressive attorney Jessica Cisneros to win the Democratic primary in Texas’ 28th District.

TMD

What’s the January 5 Committee up to?

Four hearings in, the overall purpose of the public hearings of the House January 6 Committee is clear: to remind you how much more outrageous and unforgivable former President Donald Trump’s brazen attempt to steal the 2020 election was than how you remember it. In that respect, Tuesday’s hearing, featuring the testimony of state and local officials the president’s team tried to malign or manipulate, might have been the most successful one yet.

TMD

Here are the texts the Jan 6 Cmte just showed of @RonJohnsonWI’s chief of staff asking how he can give VP Pence alternate slates of electors for WI and MI on Jan 6th —>

Frank Thorp V via TMD

What are they afraid of?

As the January 6 hearings restarted today after the long weekend, I was thinking about the weird, psychotic fear that has overtaken millions of Americans. I include in those millions people who are near and dear to me, friends I have known for years who now seem to speak a different language …

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers and others, describ[ed] the threats and harassment they have received for doing their duty to the Constitution.

And the threats don’t stop with political figures; families are now in the crosshairs. Representative Adam Kinzinger, for example, tweeted Monday about a letter he received in which the writer threatened not only to kill him, but to kill his wife and infant son.

I think the Trump superfans are terrified of being wrong. I suspect they know that for many years they’ve made a terrible mistake—that Trump and his coterie took them to the cleaners and the cognitive dissonance is now rising to ear-splitting, chest-constricting levels. And so they will literally threaten to kill people like Kinzinger (among others) if that’s what it takes to silence the last feeble voice of reason inside themselves.

We know from studies (and from experience as human beings) that being wrong makes us feel uncomfortable. It’s an actual physiological sensation, and when compounded by humiliation, it becomes intolerable. The ego cries out for either silence or assent. In the modern media environment, this fear expresses itself as a demand for the comfort of massive doses of self-justifying rage delivered through the Fox or Newsmax or OAN electronic EpiPen that stills the allergic reaction to truth and reason.

These outlets are eager to oblige. It’s not you, the hosts assure the viewers. It’s them. You made the right decisions years ago and no matter how much it now seems that you were fooled and conned, you are on the side of right and justice.

Tom Nichols, What Are Trump Supporters So Afraid Of?

R.I.P.

Former Purdue basketball star Caleb Swanigan has died at age 25. May he rest in peace; he didn’t have much of that as he lived.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Proving the rule (and more)

Proving the rule

I have long said that when a denomination forms a committee to study whether they’ve been wrong about something that puts them at odds with the culture (and in recent years that almost always involves homosexuality), it invariably leads the denomination to capitulate to the culture.

I was wrong. Wrong about "invariably." Such studies are usually charades, but not, apparently, always.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (the denomination in which I was an Elder until I left to become Orthodox, and in which my wife so far remains) studied sexuality from 2016 until last week. Then it "voted Wednesday at its annual synod to codify its opposition to homosexual sex by elevating it to the status of confession, or declaration of faith."

The vote, after two long days of debate, approves a list of what the denomination calls sexual immorality it won’t tolerate, including “adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex.”

Christianity Today, Christian Reformed Church Brings LGBT Stance Into Faith Statement.

Note that homosexual sex is not singled out, though it leaps out on its own to everyone who knows what specific sexuality triggered the six-year study.

The reactions from the dissenters so far have run along predictable lines, which I resist critiquing except to say "It is not compassionate to affirm people’s sins." If you think "homosexual sex" is not a sin, and should be affirmed, then we do not agree.

(I do not mean by "sin" what most western people mean by "sin." Sin is "missing the mark." Deciding on the eternal consequences of particular sins, including the sin of the dissenters from the CRC synod’s decision, is infinitely above my pay-grade.)

The heaviest price the CRC will pay will almost certainly be at its highly-regarded Calvin University, a third of whose faculty publicly voiced opposition to the report from which the synod’s decision flowed:

What’s going to happen to Calvin? It’s going to lose its rock star faculty. But it’s probably going to remain Christian. These liberal faculty are going to go on to greater things, professionally, and be able to dine out on how they were badly treated by the homo-hating fundagelicals at Calvin. But the CRC has taken a brave and unpopular stand for the Gospel. God sees.

Rod Dreher. Most gay-affirming faculty will leave because they will no longer be able to subscribe (literally, as in "sign below" — I signed something analogous as an Elder) the denomination’s fortified faith statement; it would mark them as not among the cool kids to relent now by subscribing The Loathsome Thing, especially if they earlier subscribed the pre-emptive dissent.

Rod’s reader Andrew S. comments:

The momentary rush of conservative enthusiasm for this move will please Rod’s readers, but the fury of the left will be in full force over the next several weeks and months. Any university board contemplating a similar move better should study what will likely happen, and plan accordingly for a media siege of their institution. Watch for the following:

  1. a sudden drop in college rankings, unattributable to any objective criterion currently used by the major ranking media;

  2. a tsunami of requests, using already existing anonymous online reporting portals, for Biden’s Department of Education to open Title IX investigations at the universities in question;

  3. calls by social media talking heads to blacklist graduates of the schools;

  4. a sudden mysterious dearth of available federal and private grant money for faculty at these schools, along with the denial of conference platforms for faculty members.

Financial pressures are such that many if not most religiously-affiliated schools will quickly develop new “insights” into the Bible that permit them to cave in to the left, if they haven’t already. Board members sticking to Christian principles better raise prodigious sums of cash to plow into their endowments and strengthen ties with allied Christian schools to bolster their financial self-sufficiency. Woke winter is coming, and Calvin will provide an example of what other colleges should expect.

Do you doubt this? This manifests the "soft tyranny" that a few on the center-right ridicule, but which I take quite seriously, as recently as Tuesday morning:

It has now become indisputable that the liberal order not only uses a variety of quasi coercive legal instruments such as bureaucratic guidances, selective funding of NGOs, and so forth, but it also exploits the liberal version of the public-private distinction to full advantage. It deploys selective enforcement of the law against “private violence” and takes political advantage of background conditions of economic necessity (“the market”) and of the radical conformity of public opinion under liberalism, instigated by the media. It controls its subjects with mobs both virtual and real, threats of ostracism, loss of employment, and a sort of reputational death (the dreaded state of being “out of the mainstream,” enforced politically by a cordon sanitaire).

Adrian Vermeule.

I have said at least once before and will say it again: the Christian Reformed Church was a very good place from which to come to Orthodoxy. It never dove into the zaniness of broader evangelicalism (thought many parishes and individuals have dipped their toes, or even waded in up to the knees). Rather, from my earliest arrival struck me as sober and serious-minded.

Yet I expected it to cave in, because I do not trust Protestantism over the long haul to interpret their touchstone, their scriptures, in any seriously countercultural way.

I’m heartened that this was not the CRC’s year to swallow the zeitgeist. And they set such a firm precedent that it will be hard to backslide very soon. By then, the zeitgeist may have moved on, as zeitgeists are wont to do.

Why the rule remains generally valid

We are not in a post-Christian age, but in a post-Enlightenment age. The reason why these Christianities are collapsing is that they were rationalized.

Fr. Hans Jacobse on the WAWTAR podcast.

Calvinism ("the Reformed faith") is surely among the most rationalized. Its system fails, in my opinion, not for lack of rationality, but for lack of humanity: it’s hard to see daylight between Reformed predestination and simple fatalism, hard to see room for meaningful human agency.

Denialisms

I can have an argument with you about what to do about climate change. I can even accept somebody making an argument that, based on what I know about human nature, it’s too late to do anything serious about this—the Chinese aren’t going to do it, the Indians aren’t going to do it—and that the best we can do is adapt. I disagree with that, but I accept that it’s a coherent argument. I don’t know what to say if you simply say, “This is a hoax that the liberals have cooked up, and the scientists are cooking the books. And that footage of glaciers dropping off the shelves of Antarctica and Greenland are all phony.” Where do I start trying to figure out where to do something?

Jeffrey Goldberg, Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic.

You can swap "climate change" with a lot of other issues, most famously Alex Jones’ claim that Sandy Hook was a hoax, the bereaved parents "crisis actors." On second thought, "the Democrats stole the 2020 Election" may be more famous.

Hard words

A. G. Sertillanges wrote in The Intellectual Life: “The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production…. Never read when you can reflect; read only, except in moments of recreation, what concerns the purpose you are pursuing; and read little, so as not to eat up your interior silence.”

Kit Wilson, Reading Ourselves to Death.

Another excellent article read, on the perils of too much reading.

Babylon, not Israel

[S]ome see America as a new Israel, God’s chosen country that’s now being taken over by His enemies, rather than a new Babylon in which Jesus-followers are mixed in with many others.

Marvin Olasky, The Sixty Years’ War: Evangelical Christianity in the Age of Trump.

The oldest lie of all is the denial of death.

The cities lie. Their radical chic is stretched tight over the bare lust for money. Their cosmopolitan diversity hides the uniformity of clawing ambition. Their youth is stolen from elsewhere, used for a time, and discarded when its looks and gullibility begin to fade. They grow little food and make fewer objects every year. They offer only services no one needs and knowledge no one believes. A blustering businessman sinks deeper into debt; but, risking it all again and again, he’ll keep up his pretence until the bailiffs arrive. That is the soul of the city.

FFatalism, The dishonest land The whole short posting was excellent in a bleak sort of way.

And, God help me, I love cities anyway.‌

Dad theory

My kids—if I can even use the possessive—are a part of me, but I cannot see them if I reduce them to my own reflection. Parenthood entails limitless closeness; all parents see more of their very young children than their kids can see of themselves. Being a dad, though, means perceiving this intimacy from a distance and working to make it outwardly manifest through awkward, conscious effort. This dialectical relationship resembles good thinking, which brings us to the first moment of Dad Theory. Dads guard against losing themselves in particularity, on one hand, and losing themselves in abstraction, on the other. Being a dad means being neither too attached to one’s own concerns to see things clearly, nor too impressed by speculation to see the messiness of real life. To practice Dad Theory is to negotiate with the known unknowns—and to trust that love is a stable point you can use to navigate through ambiguity to reach something solid and sure.

Matt Dinan, ‌It’s Time for Some Dad Theory, via Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dads Choosing to be Dependable

When is a coup too stupid to be a coup?

The American Conservative‘s Peter Van Buren looks at January 6 and concludes that the coup attempt was so stupid and so deficient in his post-hoc markers of coup attempts (he sets a remarkably high bar) that it couldn’t possibly have been a coup attempt at all.

I’m so glad he cleared that up. It will be a relief when my subscription expires and I no longer feel duty-bound to rummage through such garbage in search of nourishment.

Word of the day:

Portent. Since portents don’t come with Divinely-inscribed subtitles, I’ll leave it to you to decide what this means.

But if you want to call it "mere coincidence," note that your case is no stronger than mine for "portent."


To the woke, discernment is discrimination and boundaries are oppression.

Richard Abbot, who I don’t know from Adam but who responded to this.

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.

Curated just for you, whoever you are

Legalia

Why would a conservative want to serve on SCOTUS?

I can’t fathom why anyone would want to serve on the Supreme Court. To be more precise, I can’t fathom why any conservative would want to serve on the Supreme Court. Liberal jurists are feted with honors at every juncture. But conservative jurists are excoriated and personally attacked. I wonder, in hindsight, if Kavanaugh still would have pursued a position on the Supreme Court, knowing what we know now: the first confirmation hearing, baseball tickets, Spartacus, Christine Blasey Ford, Michael Avenatti, Ronan Farrow, the second confirmation hearing, yearbook, beer, Klobuchar, Saturday Night Live, Matt Damon, the Dobbs leak, and now an assassination attempt outside of his home. During this time, Kavanaugh and his family have been dragged through such painful experiences, one after the other. Was it all worth it? And to what end?

Eugene Volokh

303 Creative

Creative professionals routinely express their politics in their art—through the art they choose or refuse to create. Famously, for example, shortly after the election of Donald Trump, a number of fashion designers (artists, to be sure) declared that they would, under no circumstances, “dress” Melania or Ivanka Trump –this despite the fact that dresses themselves rarely (if ever) contain a political or cultural message as explicit as the words or image a web designer creates. Merely doing business with the Trumps was an intolerable notion to creative professionals who abhorred the Trump family’s political methods and messages.

In an open letter rejecting the idea of working with the Trumps, designer Sophie Theallet said, “We value our artistic freedom, and always humbly seek to contribute to a more humane, conscious, and ethical way to create in this world.” She said, “As an independent fashion brand, we consider our voice an expression of our artistic and philosophical ideas.” And another designer, Naeem Khan, asserted: “A designer is an artist, and should have the choice of who they want to dress or not.”

In reporting on the designer choices, the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan explained well how artists view their work:

Like other creative individuals, Theallet sees fashion as a way of expressing her views about beauty and the way women are perceived in society. Fashion is her tool for communicating her world vision. In the same way that a poet’s words or a musician’s lyrics are a deeply personal reflection of the person who wrote them, a fashion designer’s work can be equally as intimate. In many ways, it’s why we are drawn to them. We feel a one-to one connection.

A web designer’s work is similarly intimate ….

Brief of 15 Family Policy Organizations as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioners in the 303 Creative case (internal citations omitted).

If you don’t know the case, you should get to know it.

Colorado, with the help of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appealsl, has mounted the worst, and most explicit, attack on freedom from compelled speech since West Virginia v. Barnette in World War II (when West Virginia required recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by schoolchildren on pain of expulsion).

Colorado claimed that even though 303 Creative was engaged in pure speech (a key legal category; Masterpiece Cakehop, in contrast, had a creative element but in the end produced not speech, but cake), it could be compelled to create a website for a same-sex wedding because none of the other wedding website creators had exactly the talents of 303 Creative, so 303 was effectively a monopoly and could be forced to create the desired site:

In its decision below, the 10th circuit noted that the petitioners’ artistry created something like a “monopoly,” a market where only the petitioners exist.

Id. Only madness-induced blindness could distinguish the relevant facts of this case from those in West Virginia v. Barnette to the detriment of 303 Creative. Read and enjoy the whole Amicus brief.

Understated

The problem is a reflection of a badly broken political culture and it won’t be easily fixed. But, in the meantime, the House should probably go ahead and pass that SCOTUS protection bill.

The Morning Dispatch on increasing political violence, prompted specifically by the plot against Justice Kavanaugh.

More generally, the Morning Dispatch’s coverage of the successful recall of San Francisco Prosecuting Attorney Chesa Boudin confirms its trustworthiness as a news source: It has more points in Boudin’s favor than I’ve noticed anywhere else, and they aren’t insubstantial.

Sexualia

Incoherent Pride

[I]t is interesting that the American Embassy to the Vatican is flying the rainbow flag for Pride month. Commentators have pointed out the obvious intent to cause offense to the Catholic Church. But the embassy’s decision also sends a message to the American people: Another flag has government endorsement. The message of “inclusion” that it represents signals to those Americans who might dissent from the LGBTQ+ movement that in these interesting times their membership in the republic for which the real national flag stands is more a matter of tolerance than full-blooded affirmation.

The problems with LGBTQ+ inclusion are, of course, manifold. First, there is the logical problem that any movement deploying the rhetoric of inclusion has to face: If everyone is included and nobody is excluded, then the movement is meaningless. Thus, the language of “inclusion” here is really a code word for precisely the opposite: It actually means exclusion and the delegitimizing of any person or group that dissents from what the movement’s movers and shakers deem to be acceptable opinion. Acceptable thought will typically tend toward a view of reality that regards such dissenters as mentally deficient, sub-human, or simply evil.

Carl R. Trueman

Succinct

There are masculine girls. There are feminine boys. What are we going to do? Carve them up?

Jordan Peterson on the Official Trailer for the Matt Walsh documentary (prank-a-thon?) What is a Woman?.

Politics

Relatively successful

Purdue University president Mitch Daniels is retiring at the end of the year. Consistent with his maverick ways over the last 10 years, his successor was announced concurrently with his retirement announcement. There was no public Presidential search, and we will doubtless be treated to days of complaints, petty and serious, about that.

His successor will be the professor and Dean, Dr. Mung Chiang, who served as his Executive Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, of which Purdue has formed a great many over the last 10 years, with some of the biggest corporate names in the world.

I’m very proud of Purdue, my neighbor just across the Wabash, but I would prefer that my loved ones not attend there.

First, like most major universities today, the streets of the campus flow with alcohol, which endangers students of both sexes with the ambiguities of sexual interactions between drunks.

Second, I prefer undergraduate liberal arts education to enlisting in the Technocracy fresh out of high school.

But it seems to me that Mitch Daniels has been a tremendously successful Ginormous Research University President, and I wish him well.

"A Crucial Element of Fascism"

The American militia movement is small, but in the early days of 2021, it nonetheless came to the aid of a lawless president seeking to use force to keep himself in power. It did so by attacking the national legislature and threatening to kill elected representatives of the American people. And when this happened, the president himself stood back and stood by, watching expectantly, refusing to call off the armed mob, hoping the violence might empower him to remain in the White House despite losing the election two months earlier. In doing so, Trump ended up injecting a crucial element of fascism into the country’s political system.

I don’t use the F-word lightly. Trump winning the presidency while losing the popular vote by three million isn’t fascism. Trump appointing a record number of judges and three Supreme Court justices who appear poised to overturn Roe v. Wade isn’t fascism. Trump attempting to close the southern border to immigrants and refugees isn’t fascism. Trump’s verbal attacks on the media aren’t fascism (though they could be said to lay the groundwork for it by stoking popular rage against a free press). Trump engaging in the politics of bullshit by lying constantly to the American people isn’t fascism (though it, too, can prepare the way for it by leading voters to despair of firmly distinguishing between fact and falsehood).

But groups of organized, armed thugs allied with the president acting at his request to prevent the peaceful and lawful transfer of power to his successor is absolutely a fascist act. We’ve seen nothing remotely like it elsewhere in the democratic world, no matter how bad the illiberal policies and rhetoric of newly emboldened right-wing populists in other countries have been.

Damon Linker

Holding up that hateful mirror

Republicans are the co-creators of Trump’s corrupt and unconstitutional enterprise. The great majority of them are still afraid to break fully with him. They consider those who have, like Liz Cheney, to be traitors to the party. They hate Cheney because she continues to hold up a mirror to them. They want to look away. She won’t let them.

Peter Wehner

Is racism a public health crisis?

My fair city has approved a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis.

The statistics on racial disparities are stark. But unless the reporting is botched — a very real possibility considering that our Gannett paper hovers near death — the response is one of those "OMG! WE’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING!" responses, and implicitly accepts the dogma that all racial disparities are caused by racism.

My point would be mere pedantry were it not for the likelihood that a vague diagnosis of "racism" as the cause is likely to lead to errant treatment.

Stochastic Terrorism

I’m kind of a sucker for portentous names given to commonsense observations. My new one is "stochastic terrorism," introduced by David French with a link to Todd Morley.

As French puts the commonsensical translation:

The concept is both common-sense and controversial. The common-sense element is easy to explain. If you’re a normal person and five people hate you, what are the odds you’ll face targeted violence? Unless you’re engaged in criminal activity yourself (and the five people who hate you are other criminals), then the odds are almost impossibly low.

But what if 50,000 people hate you? Or five million? Then the odds change considerably, until they reach a virtual certainty that you’ll face a threat of some kind.

Why did the Californian last week go after Justice Kavanaugh instead of Justice Alito? How many million people hate Brett Kavanaugh? How did there come to be so many who hate him? D’ya think it might have something to do with the over-the-top attacks during his confirmation hearings?

That’s how you build a frenzy from which someone emerges to exact just retribution on some putative fiend. Todd Morely names a few names.

(FWIW: I cooled about 20 degrees on Kavanaugh as soon as it emerged that he has been a heavy recreational beer-drinker since years before he could drink legally. Call me extreme — and on this topic, I clearly am far out of the American mainstream — but I think a Supreme Court Justice should have a history of abiding even by annoying little laws like minimum drinking age, and of sobriety both literal and figurative. Drunken frat boys are a turnoff even when they don’t grope co-eds.)

Well, anyway, back to stochastic terrorism. French again:

Of course the ultimate recent example of hatred and fury spawning violence is the attack on the Capitol on January 6. It was perhaps the most predictable spasm of violence in recent American history. One cannot tell tens of millions of Americans that an election is stolen and that the very fate of the country hangs in the balance without some of those people actually acting like the election was stolen and the nation is at stake.

But if the concept of stochastic terrorism is so obviously connected to human experience, why is it controversial? In part because it aims responsibility upward, and it places at least some degree of moral responsibility for violent acts on passionate nonviolent people. While criminal responsibility may rest exclusively with the person who carries the gun (or his close conspirators), moral responsibility is not so easy to escape.

(Emphasis added).

Too long I have blithely and exclusively "blamed the person who carries the gun", discounting (if not ignoring) incitements that stop short of criminality. I remain a free speech advocate, and I detest the idea that any truth is too dangerous to be uttered lawfully. But it is becoming too, too obvious politicians and pundits who make careers of vilifying specific opponents, and internet jackasses who doxx the scapegoat du jour, are playing with fire, and at the very least should face political, social and commercial* sanctions.

And to the extent that I have dehumanizingly vilified Donald Trump over the last three years, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

(* I have in mind commercial sanctions like boycotting Tucker Carlson’s advertisers, but I don’t want to watch him to find out who they are.)

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg alludes to who Tucker’s advertisers are:

Seb Gorka dron[ing] on about Relief Factor (a fish oil supplement that all super-patriots take before they put their heads on Mike Lindell’s pillows)

No chance for boycotting there.

Religion

Normally, I’d consider putting Religion in first position, but the following are not the kinds of dogma or dogma-adjacent things that cry out for that.

Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson

In David & Bathsheba, we see a man in the act of either removing—or replacing—a jacket from a woman’s shoulders. Is this the moment before or after King David has committed adultery with the wife of his general? Mrs. Potiphar presents us not with a cartoonish harridan panting after the biblical Joseph, but an attractive, middle-aged woman staring pensively at her reflection in a mirror. McCleary treats the incident not in terms of mere lust, but in a larger psychological and spiritual context of loneliness and fear of death.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World.

The "Mrs. Potiphar" Wolfe refers to is presumably this:

Mrs. Potiphar

If you don’t know the allusion, read Genesis 39. If you don’t know what Genesis 39 is, may God have mercy on your ignorant soul.

A Dangerous Inversion

To justify Christianity because it provides a foundation of morality, instead of showing the necessity of Christian morality from the truth of Christianity, is a very dangerous inversion; and we may reflect, that a good deal of the attention of totalitarian states has been devoted, with a steadiness of purpose not always found in democracies, to providing their national life with a foundation of morality — the wrong kind perhaps, but a good deal more of it. It is not enthusiasm, but dogma, that differentiates a Christian from a pagan society.

T.S. Eliot via Kevin D. Williamson, who continues:

Eliot’s “dangerous inversion” is very much the model for the intersection of religion with politics in our time: Religion is, and is almost universally assumed to be, the junior partner.

American Evangelicals as Cultural Christians

What has happened is that the Christian sense of collective identity has persisted even among those hollowed-out Christians who have abandoned Christian orthodoxy, reducing the Christian confession to a demographic box to check, one of many constituent parts of an American “national identity.” Never mind, for the moment, that one of the hallmarks of the authentic American identity is approaching Christian orthodoxy and Christian observance with a seriousness that brushes up against fanaticism: The story of the United States does not begin with the arrival of the first slave, as the 1619 Project would argue, but with the arrival of the first Separatist.

For a century or so, Americans have had friends and countrymen who are “culturally Jewish.” We know what that means: a Jewish sense of communal identity bound to that vague American religious sensibility that sits somewhere between Protestant and agnostic — not atheistic, but operatively secular. I have not heard many Catholics call themselves “culturally Catholic” — Catholics who have given up Catholicism mostly just continue to call themselves “Catholic,” with the “cultural” qualifier being understood. In the case of Catholics, the communal identity is not in the end religious at all but is instead only the detritus of immigrant ethnic identities that have been dissolved in the hot soup of modernity. Conservatives used to be the ones who preferred the “melting pot” model of communal life to ethnic and religious particularism, but the rightist element Hochman writes about has, to some considerable degree, abandoned that. And so we have that new thing, the “cultural Christian.” I believe the first time I ever heard the term used was by Richard Spencer, the white nationalist, who found his parents’ Episcopalianism insufficiently invigorating.

Evangelicals, particularly white Evangelicals, are an important part of the new coalition that was formed around the campaign and cult of Donald Trump, but Christian thinking per se plays almost no role in that cult. Indeed, it would be very difficult for these Christians if it were otherwise: Donald Trump is an idolator and a heretic, a blasphemer and a perpetrator of sacrilege, and much more ….

Kevin D. Williamson


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.

Potpourri 6/9/22

January 6, with us forever

After Mr. Pence was hustled to safety, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, is reported to have told colleagues that Mr. Trump said that perhaps Mr. Pence should have been hanged.

Maggie Haberman, ‌Pence Staff Feared for His Safety Amid Trump’s Pressure Campaign Before Jan. 6.

That’s at least triple hearsay (someone says that Mark Meadows told colleagues that Trump said) plus a "perhaps," but with Trump, it seems sufficiently credible — and yes, I’ll plead guilty to confirmation bias if you can get an indictment.

The most astonishing part of this whole story is that Mike Pence finally said "no" to the Orange God. I thought he’d taken leave of his senses when he agreed to run with Trump, but it was only his principles that he was abandoning.

I’m assuming that the public "hearings" that begin this evening will be agitprop. I assume that it will be the kind of anti-Trump agitprop that I’m predisposed to believe. But the very fact that they brought in a storied documentary producer to help stage it counsels that I avoid it and rely on multiple secondary sources (probably WSJ, NYT and the Dispatch — which culpably leaves out stellar sources like Alex Jones, Breitbart Steve Bannon’s War Room "television show," Think Progress or other emetic productions).

Surely the gist will be something like this:

This was a violent assault on the United States Capitol, and it was provoked by a sitting president of the United States,” Cheney said. “He oversaw a multipart plan, [the] objective of which was for him to stay in power, to overturn the results of an election and stay in power. And I would say to people, as you’re listening to some of my colleagues and others who think that the way to respond to this investigation is with politics and partisanship—those people are not acting in a way that is healthy for the country.

Liz Cheney on the Dispatch Live

Defense/Defiance

Spend much time at gun shows or at gun shops, and you’ll quickly become familiar with something called the “tactical” or “black gun” lifestyle, where civilians intentionally equip themselves in gear designed for the “daily gunfight.” It’s often a form of elaborate special forces cosplay, except the weapons (and sometimes the body armor) are very real.

Something has changed in the streets as well. It’s now common to see men and women armed to the teeth, open-carrying during anti-lockdown protests and even outside public officials’ homes. This is when the gun is used to menace and intimidate. It’s displayed not as a matter of defense but rather as an open act of defiance. It’s meant to make people uncomfortable. It’s meant to make them feel unsafe.

David French,‌Against Gun Idolatry.

I’ve noticed increasingly that I "learn" things by reading other than what the author directly intended. In this case, French helped me put my finger on what I, an enthusiast neither for guns nor for gun bans, find obnoxious about open carry regimes: they enable performative assholery and political intimidation.

Knock-on celebrity

Some individuals reach the unfortunate but not entirely irrational conclusion that the best way to be remembered is by assassinating somebody whose long-lasting fame is guaranteed. There is something very modern about this approach. In the celebrity culture where we all live, nothing is worse to some people than the idea of dying unknown and staying that way. Shooting your way out of this box is a method of leeching off of someone else’s celebrity. In the celebrity culture, a negative reputation for all times is better than no reputation at all. John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln because he (Booth) was a Southern partisan. John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan because he wanted fame, like Travis Bickle in the movie Taxi Driver—or at least an opportunity to touch fame.

Michael E. Kinsley, Old Age

Social Media in the unreal world of celebrities

Somehow, this seems related to the preceding item:

[I]t is difficult for me not to have some level of sympathy for [Amber] Heard. She has not only been found by the jury to have testified falsely as to critical issues of fact—to have lied—but been so pilloried throughout the nation that she has become a public face of falsehood. We have had public figures at the highest level of national authority who have routinely lied about far more important matters and have never been subjected to anything like the level of opprobrium she is now enduring.”

The rage against her—and the worship of him—has been primal. And there was no escaping it. Over the course of the trial, it felt like the algorithms that drive social media were programmed to stoke hatred of Heard.

Famed attorney Floyd Abrams via Bari Weiss.

The delusion of quantification, mastery and management

You likely read or heard about Jonathan Haidt’s big April essay in the Atlantic, “After Babel: Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” The thesis is pretty straightforward: social media is ruining America. In the New Yorker, Gideon Lewis-Kraus takes an admirably fair and honest look at Haidt’s claims. Frankly, Lewis-Kraus is to be commended not only for his analysis but for the spirit in which it was presented. Basically, he found that it is difficult to support Haidt’s most dire claims with existing data.

Lewis-Kraus, and the scholars he consulted, are probably right. Haidt’s case is difficult to defend given existing research. Interestingly, however, they all seem to approach this in similar fashion: they grant that Haidt is right to be concerned, but they’re simply not sure if he is concerned about the right things and in the right measure. Lewis-Kraus is also to be commended for the running acknowledgement that it may be difficult to measure and quantify the kind of effects we’re looking for. I remain skeptical that we can rely merely on social scientific data to ground our action. That may very well be a symptom of the deeper (Babel-like!) delusion of mastery and management. But along those lines, this was a particularly interesting observation:

“Gentzkow told me that, for the period between 2016 and 2020, the direct effects of misinformation were difficult to discern. ‘But it might have had a much larger effect because we got so worried about it—a broader impact on trust,’ he said. ‘Even if not that many people were exposed, the narrative that the world is full of fake news, and you can’t trust anything, and other people are being misled about it—well, that might have had a bigger impact than the content itself.’”

Well, that’s kind of the point isn’t it? I mean, that consequence Gentzkow describes is a consequence of social media, which acts as a massive assortment of feedback loops from the social body to the collective consciousness, such that it generates all manner of distorted and disordered actions.

Finally, on this score, I’ll say that the allusion to the Babel narrative amounts to little more than window dressing (curiously, the Atlantic seems to have removed the reference from the title). When Haidt writes, with reference to the tower, that social media platforms “unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together,” he seems to be overlooking the fact that in the Hebrew story the destruction of the tower was not something to be lamented. The destruction of the tower was an act of judgment on the hubris of the builders. I think there was an interesting direction in which to take that story, but I’m not sure this was it.

L.M. Sacasas, ‌Readings and Resources (emphasis added because I share his skepticism about our collective delusion).

Writers shouldn’t talk

Who in their right mind would want to talk, much less listen, to a person who has contrived to spend as much of her life as possible crouched over her computer in isolation, deleting unsatisfactory variants of a single sentence for upwards of an hour? Nothing in my daily practice has prepared me for the gauntlet of a tête-à-tête. Writing is an antidote to the immediacy and inexactitude of speech, and I resent any attempt to drag me back into the sludge of dialogue …

Books and essays are the product of long bouts of thinking, which makes writers fantastically ill-suited to summoning opinions instantaneously …

To be adept at honing sentences for weeks or months is no guarantee of any aptitude for improvisation. Nor does skill at fictionalizing life or theorizing about it correlate with any facility for entering into the thick of things.

Becca Rothfeld, Writers Shouldn’t Talk

From my subjective core, this is almost too obvious to say write. I’m myself in Rothfeld’s camp. I’ve labored way too long over relatively short speeches I was expected to give, and then delivered them as closely to the written text as I could manage while maintaining reasonable eye contact. I don’t trust my spontaneous utterances to be worth the attention of assembled auditors. Obviously, I’m less inhibited about the written word.

Celebrate the First Amendment

An Australian court on Monday ordered Google to pay $515,000 to former Australian politician John Barilaro for failing to take down from YouTube a campaign of “relentless, racist, vilificatory, abusive, and defamatory” videos attacking him, which the court ruled “drove Mr. Barilaro prematurely from his chosen service in public life and traumatized him significantly.”

TMD. I do not know the details behind this, so I won’t call Mr. Barilaro a snowflake, but I’m having trouble imagining any possible details that would support liability in U.S. Courts. And with due allowance for familiarity, I like it that way.

Dreherisms

Smart to have a dumb home?

The business rationale for the smart home is to bring the intimate patterns of life into the fold of the surveillance economy, which has a one-way mirror quality.

Matthew B. Crawford, Defying the Data Priests

Librarian cosplay

I’m tired of hearing about supposed book bannings in the U.S.

  • Deleting a book from a curriculum while leaving it in the school library is not a book banning.
  • Someone trying to get a book removed from a public library, which tells that someone to go take a hike, is not a book banning.

What’s going on, I think, is bored librarians (is there another kind?) engaging in ritual cosplay ("You can have To Kill a Mockingbird when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers!").

Wordplay

From the Economist:

Word of the Week: écoponts, “wildlife bridges” in French. France is building overpasses for animals to reduce roadkill and help them roam more freely. Read the full story.


You have to be educated into cant; it is a kind of stupidity that surpasses the capacity of unaided Nature to confer.

Anthony M. Esolen, Out of the Ashes (Kindle location 411)


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.

“Pro-Abortion” is now official (more)

Blogging the ineffable

It occurred to me recently that my blog is an odd project because, increasingly, the things that matter most to me are ineffable.

I’ve read at least one book that “effed the ineffable” by going on and on, shifting to reflect from varying angles. I actually thought it was pretty effective, but you had to be keenly interested in the topic to wade through so much overlapping, kaleidescopic quasi-repetition. (I did find that 24 years of immersing myself in Orthodox Christian worship, as my Parish’s cantor — and not just the Sunday Liturgy — had “communicated” the same things.)

I’ve taken a stab at poetry occasionally, but rarely have thought it remotely successful. Anyway, I once heard it said that the person who becomes a poet to say something is less poetic than someone who becomes a poet because he/she likes messing around with words.

I guess the reason I keep blogging may be that I, too, am going on and on, in prose, shifting to reflect from varying angles — just not between the covers of a single book and without an explicit Master Goal. But in a lot of ways, my blog is a very large commonplace book, but an online friend (we’ve narrowly missed meeting IRL) already took that in his blog (now Substack) title.

Anyway, I actually looked briefly at what WordPress says about my blog (something I rarely do since I’m not writing to be popular), and apparently it’s emailed to 350 addresses, and I assume that some others get the RSS feed. I’m pretty sure that some of the emails are bogus, created for god-knows-what purpose. But a heartening number probably are real people, and to them I say thank you for your indulgence.

A partisan scold as arbiter of “Disinformation”

The preoccupation with “misinformation” and “disinformation” on the part of America’s enlightened influencers last month reached the level of comedy. The Department of Homeland Security chose a partisan scold, Nina Jankowicz, to head its new Disinformation Governance Board despite her history of promoting false stories and repudiating valid ones—the sort of scenario only a team of bumblers or a gifted satirist could produce.

Barton Swaim, How Disagreement Became ‘Disinformation’ (Wall Street Journal)

Janus-faces

There is something so disingenuous about critical theorists both arguing that they are revealing the real truth about the world in order to change it, and then claiming that they’re just offering an alternative take of history within a liberal context. You can see this intellectually dishonest bait-and-switch in the 1619 Project. It claims something truly radical — that the real founding of America was in 1619 because the core meaning of America is white supremacy, not liberal democracy — and then, when called on it, turns around and says no, silly, we’re just engaging in a thought-experiment to explain how racism has affected all of us, and to provoke debate. Well: which is it? In theory, they tell you it is all compatible with liberalism; in practice, they prove and believe the opposite.

Andrew Sullivan, Don’t Fight CRT. Expose It.

Dobbsian thoughts

Well, then: I’ll be glad to say “pro-abortion”

From an official Planned Parenthood website, an about-face that reveals a lot:

Well-meaning folks often contrast “pro-choice” with “pro-abortion,” as in, I’m pro-choice, not pro-abortion. But that’s hurtful to people who’ve had abortions. It implies that abortion isn’t a good thing, that legal abortion is important but somehow bad, undesirable. That’s deeply stigmatizing, and contributes to the shame and silence around abortion, making people who’ve had abortions feel isolated and ashamed. At least one in four people who can get pregnant will have an abortion during their lives, and they should be supported and celebrated. It’s time to retire the phrase “pro-choice, not pro-abortion” for good.

Maia Baker, What’s wrong with choice?: Why we need to go beyond choice language when we’re talking about abortion.

I heard a youngish woman recently describe her long-ago long bus trip to a D.C. “pro-choice” rally. Older women were talking of abortion as if it were good, not a lesser evil. One even bragged that she’d had 6 abortions, and it was her primary birth control.

The youngish woman emerged from the bus pro-life.

Amnesiac même advocacy

From a supplemental Andrew Sullivan substack May 13:

[Sullivan’s critic1]: You’re conveniently forgetting that five of the nine justices (Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett) were nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote.
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: That is completely irrelevant. But even it it weren’t, both of Bush’s appointees were picked during his second term, after he won the popular vote against Kerry.

[Sullivan’s critic2]: Currently, several state legislatures have big GOP majorities that in no way reflect the number of votes each party received in the preceding election. My guess is that one or more of these legislatures will act quickly this summer, after Roe is overturned, to outlaw abortion. Will that be an instance of democracy working well?
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: Yes, it absolutely will. And voters can vote again in November. Again: is it the pro-choice position that no states be allowed to legislate on abortion because gerrymandering exists? What else are they barred from voting on?

[Sullivan’s critic3]: While I am certain there are women who would never have an abortion — and they cannot imagine allowing any other woman to have an abortion — the majority you refer to as “pro-life” is deeply affected by another condition: religion. The majority of the pro-life women you speak of, through their faith, surrendered any sense of having power that isn’t subjected to the approval of the church or their husbands! They have no distinct awareness or appreciation of the fullness of their own free will — their liberty — or their innate freedom to make decisions on their own, entirely independent of their faith. 
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: I’m afraid this completely misunderstands Catholic teaching on this. Women are not supposed to submit their moral views to their husbands’ approval. And the thinly veiled contempt for religious people — they don’t have any autonomy or agency — is a form of bigotry, in my view.

On that last point, see Eugene Volokh’s contemptuous response to that kind of motivated reasoning, which he no doubt hears a couple of times each week if not each day.

Talk less, Smile more.

Now when Chief Justice Roberts speaks of the Court as an “institution,” he approaches that concept from a PR perspective–5-4 decisions are bad, incoherent 9-0 decisions are good. Thomas could not care what final votes are. Rather, he worries about attacks on the Court by the political branches, and more recently, from within.

Unlike Justice Ginsburg, no one knows where Chief Justice Roberts is. To quote Aaron Burr, “Talk less, Smile more, Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” NFIB v. Sebelius may have saved the ACA, but the controlling opinion destroyed the Supreme Court as we know it. The anonymous conservative told Politico:

“There is a price to be paid for what he did. Everybody remembers it,”

Roberts won the battle, but lost the war. Now Thomas is making this point explicitly.

Josh Blackman (emphasis added)

Selective non-enforcement

Of the laxity of law enforcement in protests at Justices’ homes:

When it comes to the contrast to Jan. 6, what stands out to me is actually a similarity: a large protest gathered on Capitol Hill and authorities responded with much too little force to disperse it — including after it got way out of hand. Where things differ has been the aftermath, with federal prosecutors now aggressively prosecuting people who merely wandered into the building after the most violent and aggressive perpetrators had pushed their way inside. That seems like overreach in the opposite direction — discretion erring on the side of undue harshness. We should absolutely be throwing the book at everyone who ransacked the building and sought to commit acts of violence against members of Congress or the vice president in order to overturn the election. But that likely doesn’t describe everyone, or even most of the people, present at the protests that day.

Damon Linker (who, should it not be clear, favors discretionary non-prosecution of smallish, non-menacing demonstrations at the Justices’ homes).

I’m acquainted with someone who “merely wandered into the building after the most violent and aggressive perpetrators had pushed their way inside” the capitol on 1/6/21, but is being prosecuted nonetheless. The Feds have lost at least one such case at trial, and I’m hoping they’ll now relent on the others.

Point is: I’m willing to extend the same grace I want for him to wrong-headed people who peacefully protest at justices’ homes – even if there’s a federal law that facially makes that illegal.

Overturning nature

[T]he lawn signs in university towns announce, “Hate has no home here.” This sentiment amounts to reversing the fall of man and proclaiming the kingdom of God. And as I have argued, today’s progressive cultural politics seeks to overturn the authority of nature. Thus we have at once widespread resignation—and God-like ambition.

It’s really very strange. One hundred thousand people die of opioid overdoses in a single year, and elites throw up their hands and do nothing. Meanwhile, they put untold millions into transgender activism and insist that the fullest resources of the medical-industrial complex must be employed to attain its goals.

R.R. Reno.

I generally don’t like arguments in the form of “Why are you writing/worrying about X?! You should be writing/worrying about Y!” But I can’t help but suspect that elites have noticed that the people dying of opioid overdoses are mostly deplorables, not real people.

Oh: And that the trans cause is stylishly pseudo-transgressive.

Words to live by

We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.

French writer Charles Péguy via R.R. Reno. I’m not sure that Reno is seeing what he’s seeing, but he’s seeing one of the right problems.


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