If you are an intelligent and thoughtful young American, you cannot be a progressive public intellectual today, any more than you can be a cavalry officer or a silent movie star.
Michael Lind. An arresting thesis, elaborated to a fair degree, beginning with:
That’s because, in the third decade of the 21st century, intellectual life on the American center left is dead. Debate has been replaced by compulsory assent and ideas have been replaced by slogans that can be recited but not questioned: Black Lives Matter, Green Transition, Trans Women Are Women, 1619, Defund the Police. The space to the left-of-center that was once filled with magazines and organizations devoted to what Diana Trilling called the “life of significant contention” is now filled by the ritualized gobbledygook of foundation-funded, single-issue nonprofits like a pond choked by weeds.
He eventually recounts how the same thing happened to conservatism shortly after the collapse of Communism, concluding on a hopeful note:
What survives of intellectual politics in the United States today consists of a growing number of exiles from establishment wokeness on Substack and an assortment of dissident leftists, conservatives, and populists, some of whom have come together in new publications like American Affairs, Compact, and The Bellows, and in quirkier couture shops like Tablet.
John Henry Ramirez
One SCOTUS case we all seemed to agree on (except for Justice Thomas) was that involving John Henry Ramirez, who wanted his clergyman in the death chamber, praying aloud with hands laid on John Henry. Texas said “no” (Texas is a very mixed bag), but it lost.
But there’s now a strage twist:
When a judge in South Texas signed an order this past week setting an execution date of Oct. 5 for John Henry Ramirez, it seemed like the end of the road.
Mr. Ramirez was convicted in 2008 for the murder of a convenience store worker, a crime he has acknowledged committing. He was sentenced to death and appealed his case to the Supreme Court — not to stop his execution, but to prepare for it. He asked to have his Baptist pastor pray out loud and lay hands on him in the execution chamber, a request that brought his case national notoriety. Last month, the court ruled in his favor, clearing the path for his execution to proceed as long as the state of Texas complied with his request.
But in a surprise turn of events on Thursday, District Attorney Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County filed a motion withdrawing the death warrant for Mr. Ramirez, citing his “firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person.” His own office had requested the execution date just days earlier, but Mr. Gonzalez, a Democrat, wrote in his motion that an employee in his office had done so without consulting him.
In a broadcast from his office on Facebook Live on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Gonzalez, whose district includes Corpus Christi, where the crime occurred, explained his decision.
“For a while now, I’ve said that I don’t believe in the death penalty,” he said. “My office is not going to seek the death penalty anymore.” He said he would be a hypocrite if he advanced Mr. Ramirez’s execution even as he instructs his office not to pursue the death penalty in new cases. Mr. Gonzalez and his office did not respond to requests for comment.
New York Times (emphasis added).
It just goes to show you never can tell.
Why the surge?
After I scanned New York Times Opinions yesterday morning, Ross Douthat dropped a bombshell analysis of what’s going on with the surge in self-reported cases of various gender nonconformities (and a few related things). It came to my attention via Alan Jacobs’ succinct response.
If it’s not already clear, I fall in Douthat’s third “possible reading” of Gallup polling on the surge:
This trend is bad news. What we’re seeing today isn’t just a continuation of the gay rights revolution; it’s a form of social contagion which our educational and medical institutions are encouraging and accelerating. These kids aren’t setting themselves free from the patriarchy; they’re under the influence of online communities of imitation and academic fashions laundered into psychiatry and education — one part Tumblr and TikTok mimesis, one part Judith Butler.
Add to the surge the readiness of many doctors to hormonally and surgically “confirm” kids’ brand-new-but-vehement genders and it’s a real mess.
Douthat closes thus:
I will make a prediction: Within not too short a span of time, not only conservatives but most liberals will recognize that we have been running an experiment on trans-identifying youth without good or certain evidence, inspired by ideological motives rather than scientific rigor, in a way that future generations will regard as a grave medical-political scandal.**
Which means that if you are a liberal who believes as much already, but you don’t feel comfortable saying it, your silence will eventually become your regret.
Jacobs doesn’t entirely agree:
I think this prediction will partly, but not wholly, come true. I do believe that there will be a change of direction, but for the most part it will be a silent one, an unspoken course correction; and on the rare occasions that anyone is called to account for their recklessness, they’ll say, as a different group of enthusiasts did some decades ago, “We only did what we thought was best. We only believed the children.” But they won’t have to say it often, because the Ministry of Amnesia will perform its usual erasures ….
I took the bait and followed his links on “believing the children” and the “Ministry of Amnesia,” and I’m glad I did. I intend to add “children’s crusades” and “Ministry of Amnesia” to my rhetorical armory, thought the first seems more perfect that the second:
One clever little specialty of adult humans works like this: You very carefully (and, if you’re smart, very subtly) instruct children in the moral stances you’d like them to hold. Then, when they start to repeat what you’ve taught them, you cry “Out of the mouths of babes! And a little child shall lead them!” And you very delicately maneuver the children to the front of your procession, so that they appear to be leading it — but of course you make sure all along that you’re steering them in the way that they should go. It’s a social strategy with a very long history.
So, for instance, when you hear this:
“It’s the children who are now leading us,” said Diane Ehrensaft, the director of mental health for the clinic. “They’re coming in and telling us, ‘I’m no gender.’ Or they’re saying, ‘I identify as gender nonbinary.’ Or ‘I’m a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I’m a unique gender, I’m transgender. I’m a rainbow kid, I’m boy-girl, I’m everything.’”
— certain alarms should ring. No child came up with the phrase “I identify as gender nonbinary.” It is a faithful echo of an adult’s words.
Alan Jacobs, children’s crusades
Raccoon gender vibe
Even as the Biden admin goes hard on pushing for medical interventions for gender dysphoric teenagers (green-lighting double mastectomies and the like), the mainstream media is finally listening to trans clinicians and trans adults who have been sounding an alarm: The teenage transitions are out of control.
Here’s a profile in the Los Angeles Times this week of the brave Erica Anderson, a clinician and trans woman (Abigail Shrier quoted her in her groundbreaking Common Sense story last year). Anderson lets the LA Times reporter sit in on a session with a kid who is not sure about their gender and who talks about how their friends identify as things like raccoon gender vibe: “One friend says that their gender is the same vibe as a raccoon. They’re saying that their gender has the same, like, chaotic, dumpster vibes as raccoons.”
Also this week, adult trans woman Corinna Cohn wrote a heartbreaking essay for the Washington Post about sex reassignment surgery and what it has been like to never have experienced orgasm, warning young people not to do this so quickly, not to give up that part of life so quickly. “From the day of my surgery, I became a medical patient and will remain one for the rest of my life,” she writes. And: “I chose an irreversible change before I’d even begun to understand my sexuality.”
And in a third vibe shift this week: JK Rowling hosted a boozy lunch with England’s greatest old world feminists. Critics call these women TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) because they do not want mixed-sex prisons or sports. The TERFs may have been hounded out of jobs and polite liberal society, but they are having fun.
Nellie Bowles, But the dam has broken on trans issues in her weekly newsletter.
Just, merciful, humble … and smooth
It occurs to me that over the last 30 years or so, I’ve been repeatedly exposed to Evangelical Protestant types who center their public expressions of faith on Micah 6:8.
Now that’s is a perfectly lovely verse:
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
But it is part of the Old Testament, and the immediate context is God wanting justice, mercy and humility rather than empty sacrifices:
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
I suspect, knowing some of the Micahphiles, that this verse is a kind of virtue-signaling, a way of saying “We’re not fundamentalists or Religious Right crypto-Theocrats.
But it’s getting a little bit old. Might I commend a substitute: Genesis 27:11?
You’re judging me?
I was in Jerusalem, and in the morning I was at the Holy Liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I am not a good friend of the early morning, but it was very early. There were Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Muslims, Catholics, Copts, and all the people in there. And I was judging God: if we are the right faith, the right confession, why couldn’t you give to us this sacred place? One of the consequences of my conversion was that I was becoming very strict. God told me, in the same way as the first time, ‘I’ve been struggling for many years to bring them together, and you’re judging me?’ I realized it was the only place on earth where everybody is in there together around God, even if they’re fighting each other, they are there with God.
Father Chyrsostom, a Romanian Monk, to Rod Dreher
Sholasticism versus Orthodoxy
Orthodox often feel that Latin scholastic theology makes too much use of legal concepts, and relies too heavily on rational categories and syllogistic argumentation, while the Latins for their part have frequently found the more mystical approach of Orthodoxy too vague and ill-defined.
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church.
I encountered this distinction long ago, when I was investigating what the Orthodox Church was, and I’ve found it very durable and fruitful. However, I recently encountered a possible caveat:
Orthodox theology is often described as “mystical.” I suspect that what is actually going on is that Orthodox theology is not “linear.” Rather, it is “everything at once.” This is actually how the world is. Things do not take place in a linear fashion, but together, and at once. History is not so polite as to “take turns,” waiting for one thing to lead to another. It is, undoubtedly the reason that all human plans fail in the end: we never “see coming” the train that hits us because we are too busy monitoring the linearity of our own expectations.
The Orthodox insight is that theology is “everything at once.” Although events may be described in a linear fashion, they are yet more fully understood when they are allowed to inform one another. The Annunciation is Pascha, if you have ears to hear. …
Fr. Stephen Freeman, The World as Grand Opera
Putting things in perspective
The Elder Cleopa from the Sihastria monastery, who is now in the process of canonization, had the habit of recommending patience as the greatest virtue. He would say, “Patience! Patience!” harder and harder, many times.
People would say, “But Father Cleopa, how long?” He would say, “Not so long — just until the grave.” After that, you will see beauty that eye hasn’t seen and ear hasn’t heard, and your heart has never felt. Those beauties are eternal.
Via Rod Dreher
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