Since politics exists to organize fears, a major question for people caught between these two camps is which kind of power seems more frightening. The power to shut down the heart of a major city, perhaps even with the sympathy of some of the police, or the power over money and information that the Trudeau government is relying upon in its response? The specter of an insurrection or the specter of a digital police state? A revolt of the disaffected middle or a revolt of the elites?
At the moment, judging by the Canadian polls, people are unhappy with Trudeau but seem to fear the disruptions and shutdowns more than the government response. A similar preference for a disliked elite over a chaotic and disreputable opposition is why Joe Biden is president rather than Donald Trump, and why Emmanuel Macron may yet be re-elected in France.
Ross Douthat, on the “Class War” between Canadian Truckers and Canadian Meritocracy (emphasis added).
The Canadian trucker protest was a class war, Ross Douthat writes in his latest column, between what N.S. Lyons described as the “virtuals” who live in the digital world and the “practicals” who work in the “mundane physical reality” upon which the virtual society depends. “The truckers have leveraged the imposing presence of their trucks and the sympathy of other Practicals—from tow-truck drivers to cops—to attack the physical underpinnings of the capital’s economy,” he writes. “The counterstrike, while it’s finally evolved to actual physical removal, has been strikingly virtual: first a PR blitz to encourage friendly media to brand all the truckers as racists and anti-Semites and Trump supporters, then the convenient hacking and ‘doxxing’ of donors to the convoy, and then an invocation of the Emergencies Act which lets the government attack the protesters via the digital realm, freezing bank accounts and even cryptocurrency funds connected to the protests.”
Ross Douthat has the condensed version, but I read N.S. Lyons’ longer substack (Reality Honks Back), which is one of the best — and most ominous — things I’ve read in weeks. Synopsis follows.
The Physicals and the Virtuals
It’s my understanding that N.S. Lyons is a pseudonym, but I’ll put still say it: “N.S. Lyons is a very smart person.”
In the recent essay Reality Honks Back, Lyons reflects on the Canadian trucker convoy/strike as pitting elites (“the Virtuals,” who trade in thinking and narrative-spinning, not physical reality; in fact, they think reality is socially constructed) against “the Physicals” who trade in actual physical stuff. (Think “deplorables.”)
When the parked trucks became too intolerable a reminder that the Virtuals are utterly dependent on the Physicals (socially construct your way out of that reality if you can!), the Virtuals, having spun a narrative of neo-nazis and other deplorables, played their trump card: they incited their co-conspirators to create a new caste of economic untouchables, cutting off GoFundMe, hacking another crowdfunding site (GiveSendGo) and Doxxing donors to the truckers’ cause, and threatening economic ruin and criminal prosecution against anyone who dared try help them again.
So the Virtuals won because we don’t recognize what they did as virtual violence, whereas the Physicals, this time at least, could have retaliated only by engaging in physical violence.
Something tells me that this is only round one.
Maybe I got some of the details wrong, but I highly recommend the whole piece, and particularly the suggestion that the enmity of the Virtuals toward the Physicals (and vice-versa) is maybe the top conflict driver extant today. (It’s a theory that rhymes with the theory that we’re over-producing and under-employing college-debt-ridden elites, too.)
Update: Justin Trudeau has decided that the emergency is over and the deplorables can have their money back.
Virtuals and Physicals in the USA
Of the nation’s total 3,143 counties, the number of super landslide counties — where a presidential candidate won at least 80% of the vote — has jumped from 6% in 2004 to 22% in 2020.
“Trump’s blowouts were concentrated in white, rural counties in the Greater South, Interior West, and Great Plains,” Sabato writes, “while Biden’s were in a smattering of big cities, college towns, and smaller counties with large percentages of heavily Democratic nonwhite voters.”
Put another way, Biden won 85% of counties with a Whole Foods and only 32% of counties with a Cracker Barrel.
I thought this was an interesting tidbit until I started thinking “How many counties have both Cracker Barrel and Whole Foods? And then “Is this just a rough proxy for bigger cities versus smaller?
Paul Farmer, RIP
Paul Farmer proves that there are wonderful people doing wonderful work who for some reason never come into my field of vision until there are lamentations and obituaries at their departure. Here, here, here, here.
It’s difficult to find much discussion of religion in the life of this man whose self-sacrificial life had to be inspired by something. Get Religion calls those “God-shaped holes,” and the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Bill Gates all had huge ones. Even Alan Jacobs didn’t hit it head-on.
But Friends University’s Russel Arben Fox comes to the rescue:
Farmer was raised a Christian believer, but only became truly committed during his years of going back and forth between Harvard and Haiti: “The fact that any sort of religious faith was so disdained at Harvard and so important to the poor–not just in Haiti but elsewhere too–made me even more convinced that faith must be something good” [MBM, pg. 85]. He became a fierce advocate of that element of Catholic social justice teaching that emphasizes giving preference to the poor, or the “option for the poor.” For Farmer, this has meant liberation theology, and a thoroughgoing critique of the failures of the rich capitalist nations of the world to attend to the manifest and desperate needs of the poorest of the poor.
I should have known better than to waste any time on Olga Khazan, The New Partisan Fight Over Schools. It meandered around teapots, and when it found this tempest I knew I was done reading:
The most explosive example of the Republican crackdown on schools occurred when a school district in a very conservative area of Tennessee removed the Pulitzer Prize–winning Holocaust book Maus from its eighth-grade curriculum because it contains eight swear words and a bit of cartoon nudity. “It looks like the entire curriculum is developed to normalize sexuality, normalize nudity and normalize vulgar language,” the McMinn County school-board member Mike Cochran said, according to meeting minutes. “You put this stuff just enough on the edges, so the parents don’t catch it but the kids, they soak it in.” His view presumes that parents should monitor what their kids are learning.
When removing a glorified comic book from a curriculum is the most “explosive example” you’ve got, and you have to make it sound ominous-by-association that some deplorable thinks “parents should monitor what their kids are learning,” you’ve not got much.
Again, I prefer the lot of a blogger to the lot of a professional who must write even when there’s nothing much to say.
SSM and Creative Artistry
Another artisan is going to SCOTUS seeking exemption from providing creative services for same-sex “weddings”:
Tuesday’s order phrased the question before the court as “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
Granting 303 Creative an exception “would necessarily relegate LGBT consumers to an inferior market because [Ms. Smith’s] unique services are, by definition, unavailable elsewhere,” a 2-1 panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Denver, said in July.
“The government doesn’t have the power to silence or compel creative expression under the threat of punishment. It’s shocking that the 10th Circuit would permit Colorado to punish artists whose speech isn’t in line with state-approved ideology,” said Kristen Waggoner, general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious advocacy group that represents 303 Creative.
I’ve just seen reports of this case for the first time the day I wrote this item, but it seems to me that the 10th Circuit’s decision says the silent part out loud: it is willing to compel an artist of unique abilities to serve all state-sanctioned “weddings” if she serves any.
The way SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States in shorthand) frames the question is highly favorable to 303 Creative, but I get bogged down when I think of the ramifications of this being a declaratory judgment action, where 303 Creative is not in (but wants to expand into) the wedding website business. Thus, it is not currently being compelled to use its creativity contrary to the owner’s conscience.
But I’ve got to ask, in summary of a much earlier and longer blogpost: what kind of creep would want to compel an unwilling creative-type to create for them? What kind of idiot would assume that the resulting work will be as high-caliber as work the creative actually wants to perform?
After an epiphany of sorts, things came into focus for Paul Kingsnorth. Among other things,
I understood why a (white male) BBC editor would stand before an audience of mostly similarly pale-skinned people and explain that nobody wants to hear white men explaining things anymore..
Russia invading Ukraine
This would deserve top placement, perhaps, if I intended to say much about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — an invasion which I condemn but probably understand better than most Americans because I’ve been reading guys like Paul Robinson and Gilbert Doctorow as antidotes to mainstream press.
In the case of Robinson, no more:
Regular readers will know that I have been decidedly sceptical of the idea that the Russian Federation is about to launch a full-fledged assault on the Ukraine. To be quite frank, I don’t want to believe it, as it would be an act of criminal folly – both criminal and folly, to be precise.
It would also be a humanitarian tragedy, as such an assault could not but result in a large amount of completely unnecessary death and destruction. Let us be quite clear, if it happens, I will condemn it totally and unreservedly. At that point, I will terminate this blog, as its mission to contribute to more rational discussion of both Russia and foreign policy in general will have failed absolutely and without any hope of redemption for many a year. It will be time to call an end to it all. Following a Russian invasion of Ukraine, no even remotely nuanced discussion of things Russian will be conceivable for quite possibly the rest of my life. It will be time for me to drop all punditry, cut all ties with Russia (including ending my relationship with RT), and return to being a historian safely digging in the archives of the past.
I have repeatedly condemned the West’s wars of aggression in recent years. A Russian war against Ukraine would be no worse than, for instance, the invasion of Iraq, but it would be equally criminal.
Let us hope that it doesn’t happen. If it does, you’ve seen the last of me.
In line with my last post, Irrussianality has ceased operation as of today.
God bless you all!
I think I’ll move up Robinson’s book, Russian Conservatism, on my reading list.
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