I have nothing to say about St. Patrick beyond (a) he lived and ministered before Rome went into schism, and is therefore recognized by the Orthodox; (b) though Ireland is rich with spirituality that echoes the pre-schism church, we Orthodox don’t view him as a very major Saint, nor do we get drunk and rowdy on green beer to honor him.
I have long known that it’s important to guard my imagination. I have, for slightly less long, actually guarded my imagination — most of the time and more or less.
It’s not my place to boss others around, but some of the recommendations I get from fellow Christians for movies or (more importantly) TV shows and streaming clearly have not been run through a very fine “guard your imagination” filter.
For instance, David French raved about Ted Lasso, but I didn’t finish the first season because of all the f-bombs and sexual themes. I’m not opposed to sexual themes — or any other themes I can think of — in the abstract. That’s why I was never even tempted, let alone persuaded, by the earlyish evangelical and fundamentalist objections that Harry Potter books were “about witchcraft.”
But when non-marital sex is portrayed as perfectly wholesome, and when f-bombs are so ordinary that a major character keeps dropping them as a sports commentator, my prissy conscience says “no!” I could give more detailed examples of what was objectionable in Ted Lasso, but it wouldn’t be good for either of us.
I’m even beginning to wonder about British Mysteries. We subscribe to BritBox and watch on average nearly one British mystery per day. But I’ve noticed that not a single admirable character (other than Brother Cadfael) professes any form of Christian faith (and Cadfael is, probably realistically, surrounded by monastic brothers who fall far short of exemplary). Indeed, when religion comes up, the good guys basically say “Well, I was raised religious but I don’t believe it any more.”
The Overton Window, to put it differently, is open only from indifference to hostility.
I don’t think I’m in any danger of losing my faith over British Mysteries, but there may be subtler effects. I’m on guard.
UPDATE: I failed to mention Father Brown — probably because, as portrayed in the longest-running series of Father Brown mysteries — he was basically a detective who told the guilty party that they should repent — only this and nothing more.
Wandering as the birds of the air, then snared
[T]he key driver of Machine modernity, and the chief enemy of human freedom, has always been the state. It follows from this that escaping the reach of the state, and attempting to rebuild a moral economy, is the work – or the beginning of the work – of the reactionary radical.
British imperialist Sir Stamford Raffles spoke not only for his Empress, but for the mind of the colonial state across history, which is also the mind of the Machine, when he wrote:**
Here [Sumatra] I am the advocate of despotism. The strong arm of power is necessary to bring men together, and to concentrate them into societies … Sumatra is, in great measure, peopled by innumerable petty tribes, subject to no general government … At present people are wandering in their habits as the birds of the air, and until they are congregated and organised under something like authority, nothing can be done with them.
To read [James C.] Scott’s book is to be made to think hard about the conditions that a state needs to thrive, and thus the conditions that its cultural refuseniks might need to create in return. Based on Scott’s studies of Southeast Asia, we can begin to compile a basic list of necessities for state flourishing:
A reliable staple crop (in Asia, wet rice; in Europe, wheat; in South America, maize, etc)
An effective transportation system for people and goods
A settled population
Enforcement of law and order
An effective central government
A system of taxation and classification of population
A system of communication/propaganda
Slavery or forced labour
All of this applies today to the state in which I live, including the last one. The slavery and forced labour now takes place far from the core of modern Western states, in places like central Africa or China, where the poor mine our smartphone components or sew our cheap clothes in regimented workhouses, but that doesn’t make them any less necessary for the system to function.
Paul Kingsnorth, The Jellyfish Tribe, another of his essays that I’ve marked to revisit. It’s excellent. He’s a Substacker I’ll unequivocally recommend.
Kingsnorth’s very valuable essay also has a list of attributes that help make a people ungovernable. They’ll probably appear another day because I can’t get this essay off my mind.
Not the usual b*llsh*t about wokeness
Nick Cattogio almost instantly became a favorite pundit after he moved to the Dispatch and I began reaing him. He recently turned his critical eye on “wokeness”:
Trying to define “wokeness” is like trying to define “hardcore pornography.” You can do it, more or less, but you’re mostly just trying to articulate a gut feeling of transgression.
Damon Linker, a centrist, has written often lately about “wokeness” and offers another definition.
This is what I mean when I use the term “woke”: the effort by progressives to take ideological control of institutions within civil society and use those positions to mandate that their moral outlook (and accompanying empirical claims about race, American history, and human sexuality and gender) be adopted throughout the broader culture.
That’s how I think of “wokeness.” It’s not just a belief system, it’s a tactic.
Progressives have some very particular and controversial ideas about race, gender, oppression, and victimization that aren’t shared by much of the country, including members of the Democratic Party. But rather than concede that those subjects are matters of public controversy, in some cases they resort to social and professional sanctions to try to compel dissenters to accept their orthodoxy. (Adult dissenters, I mean. Schoolchildren can and will be indoctrinated into that orthodoxy.) Thomas Chatterton Williams cut to the heart of it when he made this point recently about the enforcement arm of “wokeness”: “Cancel culture is really about when someone is called out by a mob for transgressing a not-yet-agreed upon norm.”
The further you go toward the right-wing fringe, the more likely you are to find people who’ll insist … that lots of norms most of us take for granted haven’t truly been “agreed upon.”
I don’t think that’s fundamentally the game being played here, though. (Maybe a few people are playing it.) New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg is closer to the mark in believing that anti-wokeness has simply become a placeholder ideology for a party that can’t agree on what it believes.
Not only is Michelle Goldberg close to the truth, but such manias as anti-CRT and anti-Woke are consciously manufactured placeholder ideologies for a party that has, literally, no platform:
It should elicit some sighs that I’m even bringing this up. [Christopher] Rufo has been open about his plan to play intentionally fast and loose with this term. Last year he gloated to James Lindsay: “We have successfully frozen their brand—‘critical race theory’—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.” It seems pretty clear that Rufo doesn’t care what is and isn’t critical race theory. He sees it as a usefully “toxic” brand under which he can lump “various cultural insanities,” whether or not they have anything to do with CRT per se.
The building up of practices of care, patience, humility, reverence, respect, and modesty is also evident among people of no particular religious belief, homesteaders and “radical homemakers” who—like their religious counterparts—are seeking within households and local communities and marketplaces to rediscover old practices, and create new ones, that foster new forms of culture that liberalism otherwise seeks to eviscerate. Often called a counterculture, such efforts should better understand themselves as a counter-anticulture.
Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed
Close but more tenuous relations exist between Russia and Georgia (overwhelmingly Orthodox) and Ukraine (in large part Orthodox); but both of which also have strong senses of national identity and past independence.
Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
New class war
The influence of big donors in both parties further skews politics from the pragmatic concerns of America’s working-class majority. Wealthy donors, like primary voters, tend to be socially liberal and support free trade, immigration and cuts in government social spending more than the average voter. It’s not hyperbole to conclude that the United States is a nation of communitarians ruled by an oligarchy of libertarians.
Michael Lind, America’s new class war
Poor Mike Pence
Mike Pence has really been letting loose on Trump and January 6. Here’s Pence speaking to the white-tie Gridiron Dinner attendees this week: “President Trump was wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
Poor Mike Pence. He’s really in a bind. All he wanted was to be a good, happy evangelical conservative, closing down drag brunches and getting upset about Disney princesses showing their shoulders. But he had to ride to power on Trump, who never saw a Disney princess he didn’t want to see a little more shoulder from. So maybe Pence could find comfort on the left, along with the other Trump defectors? Maybe he can please the Gridiron Club folks? The trouble is, Mike Pence is a true believer. He can never pretend that, actually, he wants transgender turtles in the next Pixar movie. Now he’s teasing a presidential run, and we must all watch him suffer more. God, can you just take him to wherever you are storing Tim Kaine?
Viva la difference!
The French battle against transgender activism has created some strange bedfellows:
Such is the extremity of transactivism, however, almost everyone who isn’t chronically underinformed or under 25 ends up on the other side of it eventually.
Kathleen Stock, Is France too sexy for the trans wars?
“My kingdom for a moratorium on describing single individuals as ‘diverse,’” – Jill Filipovic, via Andrew Sullivan
Thinking outside the box
Sometimes I just love the irony that “think outside the box” has become a cliche.
ChrisJWilson on micro.blog
“Silence is golden.” (Tradition)
“Silence is violence.” (Today’s progressives)
The secret of life
The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and a thousand other things well. (Hugh Walpole)
Via The Economist, The world in brief, 3/13/23
Except in the area of dental care, the Past is almost always better.
Terry Cowan, Spare Me
For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.
Ross Douthat, Bad Religion
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