Tuesday, 10/11/22

Come out from among them and be ye separate

Between two worlds

The people here were heart-broken over the shelling going on in the Donbass. I saw a video posted by an American in Ukraine showing a march of parents in Donetsk carrying photos of their children who had been killed as a result of the shelling. I had tears in my eyes watching. We all knew it was the U.S. that blocked efforts to implement the Minsk Accords set forth by France and Germany which called for the cessation of the shelling. The people in the Donbass are essentially Russians living in Ukraine. I’ve stated several times that Ukraine refused them independence after the coup removing the democratically elected president of Ukraine. The residents were not allowed to speak Russian, their native language, or, in some cases, even to worship in the Russian Orthodox church. Yet it is still a practical requirement that journalists refer to Russian troops going into Ukraine as an “unprovoked invasion.”

Hal Freeman, an Orthodox American expatriate living in Russia. He is probably too credulous about Russian news of the war, as are most Americans about the American-flavored version, but I consider his blog that of an honest Christian living between two worlds. He’s especially valuable for things like reminding Americans that the U.S., through proxies, subverted and overthrew a democratically-elected Ukrainian government we considered too pro-Russia — things our press will rarely remember.

His final paragraph, as he updates his personal status (his younger Russian wife died leaving him an aging widower with young children) is worth chewing on:

I have had some family members in America encourage me to come back there. But I still think it would be too disruptive to the children. And, furthermore, the U.S. does not look like an attractive place to live anymore. It continues on a trajectory that I do not want to move my children back to. I wish it were not so. I would love to see my family there and have not given up the dream that my toes will be in the South Carolina sand when we hopefully can visit next summer.

(emphasis added)

Why Conservatism failed

The modern conservative project failed because it didn’t take into account the revolutionary principle of technology, and its intrinsic connection to the telos of sheer profit. Decrying left-wing revolutionary politics and postmodern anarchy, conservatives missed that the real moral relativism was to believe that one could change the material form of society without directly affecting its substance or its ends.

In between great-books seminars, conservatives have decried any interference in what technologies the all-knowing market chooses to build, while taking no stance on what technologies we ought to build and accepting with equanimity massive research investment from the private economy and military-industrial complex, at most wringing their hands about the speed and direction of social change (while accepting its inevitability). Not for nothing did the Canadian philosopher George Grant, in an essay on “the impossibility of conservatism as a theoretical stance in the technological society,” describe them as “those who accept the orientation to the future in the modern but who want to stop the movement of modernity at points which touch their special interests.”

Geoff Shullenberger, Why Conservatism Failed.

Shullenberger adds more weight to the argument that to live conservatively is deeply counter-cultural and might even require substantial withdrawal from society — maybe as Hal Freeman has. But even Hal has American Social Security.

We’re all complicit even when we’re not guilty.

Anaxios!

Of the Georgia Senate race:

We don’t know if Reverend Warnock himself has ever personally facilitated an abortion, but we do know he will do everything in his power to keep facilitating them for countless women he will never know. And this is supposed to give him the moral high ground? An old Norm Macdonald line comes to mind, from the scene in Comedians With Cars Getting Coffee where he’s discussing Bill Cosby with Jerry Seinfeld. “The worst part is the hypocrisy,” Seinfeld says earnestly. “Huh,” Norm goes, poker-faced. “I kinda thought it was the rape.”

So, in the end, neither candidate can hide behind a veneer of moral respectability here. This is a choice between two evils. And yet, many voters who share my convictions remain convinced that they must choose …

… My concern is those earnest voters who have still constructed such a consequentialist frame around their vote that there truly seems to be nothing that would cause them to withhold it from a Republican, provided the Democrat was always worse.

I hate to bring him up, but Trump obviously hovers behind all this. Cards on the table, I didn’t vote for him in 2016 or 2020. Many people didn’t vote for him in 2016 but decided to do so in 2020. Now, in the wake of Dobbs, they feel vindicated …

I have seen this presented as a “conundrum” for the conservative voter, something that has to be reckoned and wrestled with. This might have an effect on some people, but I’ve always been singularly immune to this sort of challenge once my mind is firmly made up. I cheered the fall of Roe as loudly as any Trump voter. Yet, in my own mind, I remain quite happy not to have cast a vote for Trump in either year. Because a vote, to me, is more than a utilitarian ticking of a box. It’s more than getting the right warm body in the right seat so that he can vote the right way. To me, a vote is a statement: This candidate is worthy.

When the game is this cynical, we are under no obligation to keep playing. What happens next, whatever happens, is not on us. It is on the people who forgot what it means to be worthy.

Bethel McGrew, Notes from a Christian Humanist (emphasis added)

The mystic among us

Community life loves to flog mystic.

Martin Shaw, commenting on the Inuit story The Moon Palace.

This is my favorite Martin Shaw podcast yet.

Working with What We’ve Got

In stark contrast to the impulse to withdraw for Christian or conservative integrity is the impulse to seize control. There are Christian people who aren’t stupid or notably power-hungry who advocate that option.

Return of the Strong Gods

The way we do education in America results in the “overproduction of elites,” [Patrick] Deneen declared. “There need to be fewer people like me, with jobs like mine.” When I laughed at this, he smiled and said: “I mean, gosh! Just try getting someone to do brick work on your house.”

“So instead of stripping society down to atomized individuals in a ‘state of nature’ and then building up Lockean rights,” I asked Deneen clumsily, “you’re starting with the family, and then society grows out of that?”

“That’s exactly right,” Deneen told me. “It’s conceptually and anthropologically different from liberal assumptions. If you begin by building from that point and you think about the ways that those institutions are under threat from a variety of sources in modern society… to the extent that you can strengthen those institutions, you do the things that someone like David French wants, which is to track a lot of the attention away from the role of central government. One of the reasons liberalism has failed in the thing it claims to do—which is limiting central government—is precisely because it is so fundamentally individualistic that radically individuated selves end up needing and turning to central governments for support and assistance.”

[C]itizens, [R.R.] Reno argues, will not tolerate a society of “pure negation” for long. The strong gods always return. Public life requires a shared mythos and a higher vision of the common good—what Richard Weaver called a “metaphysical dream.” Human beings long to coalesce around shared loves and loyalties.

Jordan Alexander Hill, Return of the Strong Gods: Understanding the New Right. I apparently read this before it was paywalled.

We must pass a law — many laws!

J Budziszewski replies to an anguished postliberal, who’s ready to take some real action against the perceived existential threat of secularism and bad religion. This strikes me, with my long interest in religious freedom law, as a key part of the reply:

It is one thing to say that moralistic monotheism should enjoy some special recognition or privilege over and above the protections that all systems of belief receive through the Free Speech and Assembly Clauses.  It is quite another to say that systems of belief outside of it should be denied freedom of speech and assembly, or that we should round up their adherents and put them in jail.

I would add that I always thought “we must pass a law!” was an anti-conservative impulse.

Five proposed Constitutional Amendments

National Constitution Center Project Offers Constitutional Amendment Proposals with Broad Cross-Ideological Support

Miscellany

NYC

Anarchy is in the water here, like fluoride, and toilet alligators.

Jason Gay, ‘Anarchy’ Is Not a New York City Crisis. It’s a Lifestyle.

Pandemic apocalypse

The pandemic has illustrated all too vividly the meaning of terms like systemic racism and structural inequality in a way anyone can grasp: “Oh, you mean black people are at greater risk from Covid-19 because they’re more likely to be working in supermarkets or other essential jobs, and to use public transportation, and to live in housing that doesn’t allow for social distancing? And their mortality rate is higher because they’re more likely to have pre-existing health conditions?”

Black Lives Matter and the Church: An Interview with Eugene F. Rivers III and Jacqueline Rivers

Wordplay

It isn’t only Hart’s view of the world that has been consistent. It’s also his style. Clause follows clause like the folds in a voluminous garment, every noun set off by beguiling and unusual modifiers (plus some of his old favorites, like “beguiling”). In one way, at least, he is the least American of writers, in that adjectives and adverbs do not give him that twinge of guilt that so many of us have picked up from Hemingway and Twain, the suspicion that we are using them to distract the reader from our failure to describe some particular action or detail—some verb or noun—precisely enough.

Written of David Bentley Hart by Phil Christman, via Front Porch Republic.

I feel that twinge of guilt, but so far as I know, I picked it up by precept from Strunk & White, not by example from Twain and Hemingway.


[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 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.

Saturday, 9/3/22

Culture

Tolerance or acceptance?

One of the often repeated but seldom considered ethical maxims of our shallow age is the idea that tolerance is a good start but that acceptance is what we really need …

The idea that tolerance is a good start but that acceptance is better is bullshit.

… Acceptance is not a virtue. It is a cowardice that refuses to even acknowledge the importance of morality.

Tolerance is better. It does not deny the existence of objective reality. It is quite happy admit that a person might be wrong about something important to them; but does not assume that just because another person is wrong, you should have the right or ability to correct them. It knows that assuming unlimited power to correct the errors of others leads only to atrocities. Tolerance is not some easy first step. Real tolerance, the type that consists of more than just repeating whatever beige pieties the clerical caste are churning out this week, requires discipline and a willingness to sacrifice part of your own power over the world.

Flat Caps and Fatalism, Through a glass

Royal, not “famous for being famous”

It occurs to me that my soft spot for the British Royal Family may be rooted it its refusal — for most members, almost always — to act like celebrities.

Thence also my contempt for Harry and Meghan.

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

[T]he discovery that the healthy body parts of even a tiny handful of children were being intentionally removed by world class medical institutions [should] be non-stop national news. But the forcefield of denial and magical thinking around trans issues makes it so the removal of healthy organs is actually life-saving surgery performed by doctors carrying the banner of the next civil-rights movement. The media, of course, plays along or pretends there’s nothing to report here. 

After the Children’s National Hospital story blew up last weekend, NPR was more interested in anti-trans threats against hospitals than in looking into what was actually going on. A since-deleted statement on CNH’s website indicating that gender affirming hysterectomy was available to patients “between the ages of 0-21” was charitably waved off by The Washington Post as “an error that has been corrected.” Yes, well, mistakes happen.

Meghan Daum

Homicide or Suicide?

I spent a little time with a very cynical friend and realized, debriefing myself afterward, that he’s probably no more pessimistic than I am about our future, but he thinks there are malefactors actors doing this to us, whereas I think we’re almost entirely doing it to ourselves.

The difference probably ramifies politically, but I don’t want to attribute political views to him that I have calculatedly not asked about.

Mitch Daniels on student loan forgiveness

A very interesting guy lives a few miles away, across the Wabash River. His name is Mitch Daniels and he runs an operation called “Purdue University.”

He has thoughts about student-loan debt forgiveness. Student-Loan Forgiveness and the National Debt

I put this last in this section because, alas, there’s a paywall.

Wordplay

Fun

I heard some time back that other languages have no equivalent of the English word “fun.” I’ve puzzled over that claim, and over the meaning of the English word.

Today, a clue:

Fun (n.)

“A cheat, trick” (c. 1700), from verb fun (1680s) “to cheat, hoax,”… probably a variant of Middle English fonnen “befool”: (c. 1400s)…funny money “counterfeit bills.”

– Online Etymology Dictionary

Via Mark Botts

I’m not sure I can even consider this a clue, but it popped up and might (I’m far from sure: tl;dr, as they say) help triangulate “fun”: Here’s How to Have Fun. Also, What Is Fun? – The New York Times

Certainty vs. Certitude

Too often when I get a whiff of something, I find that someone else has already gone there and posted something about it. Thus, Certainty vs. Certitude.

Business-dude lorem ipsum:

… filler language that is used to roleplay “thought leadership” among those who have nothing to say: the MBA version of a grade-school book report that starts with a Webster’s Dictionary definition. Advanced business-dude lorem ipsum will convey action (“We need to design value in stages”) but only in the least tangible way possible. It will employ industry terms of art (“We’re first to market or a fast follower”) that indicate the business dude has been in many meetings where similar ideas were hatched. Business-dude lorem ipsum will often hold one or two platitudes that sound like they might also be Zen koans (“That value is in the eye of the beholder”) but actually are so broad that they say nothing at all. In fact, in a previous draft of this newsletter, I had initially gone through the blog post almost line-by-line to point out shining examples of corporate gibberish in action, only to realize that the negative information quality of the writing actually bogged down and leeched clarity out of my own writing like an idea vacuum.

Charlie Wartzel, Business Dudes Need to Stop Talking Like This

Iatrogenic

Pertaining to disease or disorder caused by doctors. But it has popped up under my nose as metaphor at least twice this week:

Like so much of what government does, it’s iatrogenic, inflating college costs as schools continue to pocket the subsidies Uncle Sam showers on them.

Mitch Daniels, Student-Loan Forgiveness and the National Debt

Politics

A Slam-Dunk Case Against Trump2024

Trump told the Wendy Bell show that if re-elected he would issue full pardons and a government apology to rioters who stormed Capitol on Jan. 6: “I mean full pardons with an apology to many.”

Meredith McGraw via The Morning Dispatch

Thank God, the man just can’t help himself. That promise should be in heavy rotation in Democrat ads if Trump is the Republican nominee.

A crude statement of the populist essence

I’m using the term “populist” in a very specific way, drawing on part of the definition offered by author Jan-Werner Müller in his book What Is Populism? (which I had a hand in publishing during my time working at Penn Press). A populist is someone, according to Müller, who declares that only some of the people (namely, his supporters) are the people. Everyone else is either a traitor to the true people or in some other way not fully of the true people.

So, for example, at a campaign rally in May 2016, Trump declared that “the only important thing is the unification of the people—because the other people don’t mean anything.” That is a crude statement of the populist essence.

Damon Linker

(I generally keep mum on populism, as opposed to keeping mum on today’s odd Orange populist avatar, because the populists have legitimate grievances that neither party has convincingly addressed.)

More Linker, from the same post:

Liberals and progressives think history moves in a certain direction (toward justice understood as ever-greater equality) and that politics should contribute to this forward movement. Conservatives believe in slowing and managing change without necessarily presuming history moves with any underlying logic or direction. And reactionaries think things were better in the past, that there’s been a fall from that Golden Age, and that it’s possible to return to that prior state through an act of political will.

How polarization gets worse — and worse, and worse …

37 of the 50 states, where three-quarters of Americans live, are ruled by a single party. The number where one side controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion has nearly doubled in the past 30 years. These one-party states are self-perpetuating, as the winners redraw electoral maps to their own advantage. And politicians with ultra-safe seats have perverse incentives. They do not worry about losing a general election, only a primary, in which avid partisans call the shots because they are more motivated to vote. The way to woo such partisans is to eschew compromise.

Hence the proliferation of extremism. Most Texans think their new abortion laws are too draconian, for example, even though most also think the old national rules were too lenient. If Texas were not a one-party state, its legislators might have found a compromise.

The Economist, American states are now Petri dishes of polarisation

Can democracy survive?

Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: Either they win or they were cheated.

Joe Biden

My main quibble with this was the convenient assumption that there are only two political sides. That’s why it’s good to keep reading:

If Biden truly believes that, he should let his political team know. PACs, committees, and nonprofits aligned with the Democratic Party have spent tens of millions of dollars this election cycle propping up those “MAGA Republicans” in GOP primaries, boosting their name recognition in the hopes they’ll be easier to defeat in a general election. Several of the more “mainstream” Republicans Biden lauded—Rep. Peter Meijer in Michigan, Aurora, Illinois, Mayor Richard Irvin, former Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, and many more—have fallen victim to the scheme.

The Morning Dispatch: Biden vs. ‘MAGA Republicans’


[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.

Thursday, 7/28/22

Polarized Politics

What would Archie say?

For all his faults, Archie [Bunker] loved his country and he loved his family, even when they called him out on his ignorance and bigotries. If Archie had been around 50 years later, he probably would have watched Fox News. He probably would have been a Trump voter. But I think that the sight of the American flag being used to attack Capitol Police would have sickened him. I hope that the resolve shown by Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and their commitment to exposing the truth, would have won his respect.

Norman Lear, in the New York Times on Wednesday, his hundredth birthday.

Perverse polarization

Republican presidential campaigns in 2024 are going to look a whole lot different than they did in 2016: They (think they) have no use for the mainstream press. “I just don’t even see what the point is anymore,’ an adviser to one likely GOP presidential aspirant told New York Magazine’s David Freedlander. “We know reporters always disagreed with the Republican Party, but it used to be you thought you could get a fair shake. Now every reporter, and every outlet, is just chasing resistance rage-clicks.” The result? “Sitting down with the mainstream press has come to be seen by Republican primary voters as consorting with the enemy, and approval by the enemy is the political kiss of death,” Freedlander writes. “Dave Carney, a longtime GOP strategist, said that, according to his team’s research, getting endorsed by a newspaper editorial board, even a local one, hurts Republicans in primaries rather than helps them. ‘No one gives a f— what the New York Times writes,’ he said. ‘In fact, it would be good if you criticize us so that we can say that even the liberal New York Times hates us.’”

The Morning Dispatch, 7/27/22

These are the kinds of Republicans who benefit from false-flag Democrat support attacking them as too extreme, too cozy with Orange Man, in order to boost them in the primaries.

Un-Disappearing Act

Adjust your picture of press corruption. It’s not so much the lies they tell as the truths they withhold. Let Mr. Biden threaten to become an albatross to progressive and Democratic hopes in 2024, and the Hunter story will un-disappear in a hurry.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Hunter and Joe Biden Need Trump

A bit cynical, but only a bit.

Felix culpa

Speaking of Hunter’s laptop and grifting, it sickens me to think that the electoral margin of Joe Biden over Donald Trump could have been lost if American intelligence authorities hadn’t lyingly called Hunter Biden’s laptop “Russian disinformation.”

According to one survey, one out of six Biden voters said that had they known about Hunter’s laptop in time, they wouldn’t have voted for his father.

Lee Smith, The National Tragedy of Hunter Biden’s Laptop.

45’s authoritarian tendencies

[T]he 45th president had numerous authoritarian tendencies and instincts. He believed in personal loyalty, not loyalty to the office he held or to the Constitution. He despised the free press and encouraged popular hatred toward journalists. He treated as a traitor any American who didn’t support him. And then, of course, there were his words and deeds after the 2020 election, which incited an insurrectionary assault on the national legislature in order to keep himself in power despite his failure to win the electoral contest. If that isn’t a tyrannical act, it’s hard to imagine what would be.

Both the frequency of Trump’s lies and exaggerations and the obviousness of their mendacity are what make them fasc-ish. There’s a reason why the term “gaslighting” came into regular usage during the Trump administration: Living in the United States through those years often felt like enduring a sadistic psychological experiment in which we were constantly challenged about whether we would believe our own eyes and minds or the would-be dictator in the Oval Office spouting transparent nonsense. The fascist playbook often involves using precisely this kind of epistemic confusion—a thoroughly polluted information space—as an occasion or opportunity to seize or secure power.

Then there was Trump’s enthusiasm for any extremist group that gave him support. This led him to express ambivalence about the neo-Nazis who marched through and provoked violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. And to offer periodic kind words for far-right groups and figures, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and various heavily armed militias.

Damon Linker, Thinking About Fascism—Part 2.

This is one of the best collections I can recall of the outward manifestations of Trump’s narcissism and worse.

Electoral Count Act Reform

Watch your Step!

“Somehow they’ve come out of the kitchen with something that actually looks as if it is correctly prepared in almost every respect,” said Walter Olsen, senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies. “Now I’m just holding my breath that someone doesn’t trip and spill the tray.”

Morning Dispatch, Bipartisan Senate Group Unveils Electoral Count Act Reform. See also William A. Galston, Surprise: A Divided Congress Is Making Bipartisan Progress.

The bad news is that some Democrats want to turn this urgently-needed Bill into a Christmas Tree. The good news is that they seem to want it half-heartedly.

Stop Screwing Around

I want to begin with a question I’ve asked before. What if Mike Pence had said yes? What if the history of January 6 was very different, Pence had agreed with the John Eastman memos arguing that he enjoyed a tremendous amount of discretion in counting electoral college votes, and he either declared Trump the winner outright, throwing the election into the House of Representatives, or sent it back to the states for the state legislatures to decide which electors were valid?

America probably would have survived that moment, but the key word there is probably. Does Trump leave the White House? If the Supreme Court intervenes, does he care? Do we see a situation in which Chief Justice Roberts swears in Joe Biden while a MAGA judge swears in Trump for his “second term”? What do state governors do? Does federal law enforcement intervene? What about the military?

Mike Pence saved us from all this chaos, and he deserves our gratitude. But he never should have been put in that position, and we have an opportunity to fix the prime legal reason why he was. The primary blame, of course, rests with the depraved corruption of Donald Trump and his cadre of loyalists. The secondary blame, however, rests with the Electoral Count Act, an absolute mess of a statute.

David French, Stop Screwing Around and Pass the Electoral Count Reform Act

In my opinion, reforming the Electoral Count Act has been Job #1 since January 6, 2021. It’s quite a bit more important than the January 6 Committee, which has been more potent than I foresaw but clearly has not dissuade all Trump supporters.

But I was reminded very recently that we should be looking for, and closing, other loopholes that could be exploited to “elect” someone the voters (yes, allowing for the Electoral College’s “electoral majorities” that differ from the raw national vote majority) rejected. And I don’t think the Democrats’ absurd allegations that, for instance, requiring Voter ID is “worse than Jim Crow” comes anywhere close to meeting the need.

What do you call this?

Voters in Tunisia affirmed a new constitution for their country that would roll back many of the reforms that once made it look like the Arab Spring’s sole survivor. Some 95% of voters opted for the new constitution, but less than one-third of eligible voters turned out. The opposition, which boycotted the poll, said the results were “not credible”. Kais Saied, the president, had pressed for the referendum to transform the young democracy into another strongman system.

The world in brief | The Economist

It seems somehow facile or crypto-imperialist to suggest that a 95% vote for something is not democratic.

Other stuff

Martyrdom and Suicide

Drawing on G. K. Chesterton, we might say that martyrdom and suicide, however similar they might seem on the surface, are diametrically opposed to each other: martyrdom occurs in the recognition of a goodness that is greater than the self, a goodness that is at the source of all things, so that one gives up one’s self in the ecstasy of affirmation; suicide is the absolute negation of all things through the negation of the self: “A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end.”

D.C. Schindler, Social Media Is Hate Speech: A Platonic Reflection on Contemporary Misology

A little sensible perspective on CRT

The CRT debate is just the latest squall in a tempest brewing and building for five years or so. And, yes, some of the liberal critiques of a Fox News hyped campaign are well taken. Is this a wedge issue for the GOP? Of course it is. Are they using the term “critical race theory” as a cynical, marketing boogeyman? Of course they are. Are some dog whistles involved? A few. Are crude bans on public servants’ speech dangerous? Absolutely. Do many of the alarmists know who Derrick Bell was? Of course not.

But does that mean there isn’t a real issue here? Of course it doesn’t.

Andrew Sullivan, What Happened To You? The radicalization of the American elite against liberalism

It will be a long time, if ever, before I’ll trust Christopher Rufo precisely because of his cynical comment about “freezing the brand” of CRT and then loading it up with extraneous things conservatives don’t like.

Title IX Run Amok

The provisions of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 which bar sex discrimination apply to “any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance”. In Buettner-Hartsoe v. Baltimore Lutheran High School Association, (D MD, July 21, 2022), a Maryland federal district court held that a §501(c)(3) tax exemption for a religiously-affiliated high school constitutes federal financial assistance so that the school is subject to Title IX. The court added that also in its view, schools that discriminate on the basis of sex, just like those that discriminate on the basis of race, are not entitled to federal tax exemptions. The court’s opinion applies to cases brought by 5 women who are former students at the high school who allege sexual assault and verbal sexual harassment by male students at the school. JDSupra reports on the decision.

Religion Clause Blog (emphasis added).

I don’t have deep expertise on this, but I don’t think the District Court decision will (or should) survive appellate review. If tax exemption is federal financial assistance, things are going to get pretty ugly pretty fast.

We need an apocalypse

In modern terms, “apocalypse” has come to mean “the cataclysmic end of everything”. But this is a long way from the ancient Greek understanding: to uncover, to disclose or lay bare. From this perspective, apocalypse isn’t the end of the world. Or at least, not just the end of the world. Rather, it’s the end of a worldview: discoveries that mean a previous way of looking at things is no longer tenable.

In our case, it’s no longer just cranks and prophets coming to the reluctant realisation that our current way of life can’t continue. This suspicion is percolating into the mainstream — along with a raft of increasingly unhinged responses ….

Mary Harrington, Why we need the apocalypse

Unintended second-order effects

I jokingly asked my wife to go back to work.

It’s not the money. It’s that her retirement in May has left me, for the first time in my adult life, unable readily to identify what day of the week it is.

Written May 12, 1944

So Many Blood-Lakes
(written May 12, 1944)

We have now won two world-wars, neither of which concerned us, we were
slipped in. We have levelled the powers
Of Europe, that were the powers of the world, into rubble and
dependence. We have won two wars and a third is coming.

This one–will not be so easy. We were at ease while the powers of the
world were split into factions: we’ve changed that.
We have enjoyed fine dreams; we have dreamed of unifying the world; we
are unifying it–against us.

Two wars, and they breed a third. Now guard the beaches, watch the
north, trust not the dawns. Probe every cloud.
Build power. Fortress America may yet for a long time stand, between the
east and the west, like Byzantium.

–As for me: laugh at me. I agree with you. It is a foolish business to
see the future and screech at it.
One should watch and not speak. And patriotism has run the world through
so many blood-lakes: and we always fall in.

(Robinson Jeffers)


“The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness ….” (G.K. Chesterton)

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.

Monday, 7/18/22

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

Okay, the good news it is: There won’t be a civil war in the U.S.

However, the Trumpist right is working a plan to take over by things like

  • death threats against election officials,
  • who then resign and
  • are replaced by Trumpists, who intend to steal the election if the vote doesn’t go the Trumpist way.

Some 100 of these crypto-insurrectionists are already in election offices.

Government by threat of violence doesn’t strike me as much better than actual violent insurrection.

See: Rachel Kleinfeld, There Won’t Be a “Civil War”

Not moving the Overton Window

After describing in some detail how relatively benign Ron DeSantis is in comparison to Orange Man, and criticizing DeSantis where he has lacked the politically suicidal courage to denounce contemptible things, Andrew Sullivan sums up a legitimate case that DeSantis’ means of getting to his goals is within the Overton Window:

I’m deeply uncomfortable with much of this.

But how different is it really from the Biden administration rigging Title IX to impose trans ideology and end due process for the accused in schools and colleges? Or from the federal government mandating active race and sex discrimination for the sake of “equity”? Or trying to ban any mental health therapy for gender-dysphoric kids that doesn’t instantly affirm the self-proclaimed gender of a child? Or proposing vaccine distribution by race? Or imposing mask mandates and lockdowns with a fervor that lasted far beyond the need to control the first and second waves — and that were instantly and conveniently waived when BLM arrived on the scene?

More generally, look at the broader context. The imposition of woke dogma throughout corporate America, the government, the nonprofit sector and our educational institutions has been a deeply authoritarian movement, brooking no dissent. The Democrats have embraced this putsch, with Biden among the most strident, deploying federal government power to advance far-left ideas. None of his underlings can define what a woman is. All seem to view America as a form of “white supremacy” — and want to teach this as fact to kids. Do Democrats really believe that all this is simply government-as-usual, and any attempt to balance this out on the right is inherently some kind of authoritarianism? I don’t.

At some point, we really do have to fight back and defend a liberal society. The Dems are attacking it. Trump can’t do it — he merely empowers and legitimizes the woke. DeSantis has shown he can actually beat them — at their own game. A conservative seeking some swing of the cultural pendulum back to the center is not a fascist.

Jayber Crow excerpts – and an added thought

NOTICE

Persons attempting to find a “text” in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a “subtext” in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise “understand” it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.
BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR


Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory. Though I knew early of death, it still seemed to be something that happened only to other people, and I stood in an unending river of time that would go on making the same changes and the same returns forever.

And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.


(This one, which I’ve modified, reminds me of my Christian boarding school. We even had “a hundred or so” in dormitories, plus 150 or so who commuted from nearby.)

[W]hen, to be fair, I ask myself what I would do if confronted with a hundred or so orphan children adolescents of two sexes and diverse ages and characters all to be raised and educated together, then I remain a critic, but I can’t say with confidence that I would do better.

I came under suspicion of complicity almost immediately when it was discovered that my sophomore roommate was slipping out after I fell asleep, meeting up with his junior girlfriend who’d slipped out of the girl’s dorm, and making the beast with two backs in a tunnel under the education wing (🎶 Isn’t it romantic? 🎶).

After they were caught (they really shouldn’t have set up permanent housekeeping, candles and alarm clock), the administration, having forgotten how adolescents can sleep, couldn’t believe I’d slept through it time after time — but I had.

So I had the whole room to myself for a while.

Following the Science

[I]n 1922, when the popularity of eugenics was at flood tide. Respectable opinion on both sides of the Atlantic embraced the concept: a scientific approach to selective breeding to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the category of people considered mentally and morally deficient. From U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, eugenics policies — including involuntary sterilization — were hailed as a “progressive” and “compassionate” solution to mounting social problems.

A hundred years ago, [G.K.] Chesterton discerned something altogether different: “terrorism by tenth-rate professors.” For a time, he stood nearly alone in his prophetic assault on the eugenics movement and the pseudo-scientific theory by which it was defended.

In the end, it would require the discoveries at the death camps at Auschwitz and Dachau for most of the world to finally reject the horrific logic of eugenics.

Book titles help tell the story: Social Decay and DegenerationThe Need for Eugenic ReformRacial DecaySterilization of the Unfit; and The Twilight of the White Races.

“The man-molders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique,” [C.S.] Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man. In such an age, he predicted, man’s supposed conquest over nature would not lead to his liberation — quite the opposite. “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.

Joseph Loconte, Eugenics, the ‘Science’ of a Century Ago (emphasis added)

Can Chivalry be resuscitated?

Men are stronger and more aggressive than women, but the difference lies not just in faculty. Men want to use their strength. Bemoan the fact if you will, but if they don’t use it to protect others, they will probably use it to take advantage of them.

Given this fact, the obvious and natural way to keep men from taking advantage of women is to teach them chivalry. Don’t suppress their manhood, ennoble it. Don’t tell them not to act like men, tell them to act like proper men. Teach them that the right use of strength is to cherish, protect, and assist the weaker sex.

You don’t make men good men by telling them how poisonous they are for being men.

J Budziszewski.

The ellipsis comes from my feeling that I shouldn’t quote the full short post, but you probably should go read it for yourself.

Teaching men to behave like proper men? J Budziszewski is a voice crying in the wilderness.


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.

Saturday, 7/16/22

Bankrupt

[Herschel] Walker’s personal flaws have made him an outlier: The Daily Beast last week reported that the former football great fathered several secret children and lied to his campaign staff about it — with the story quoting Walker’s own aides calling the candidate a "serious liability."

Axios (emphasis added).

Pardon me, but when the candidate himself is a "serious liability," what possible assets would suffice to make the campaign solvent?

Proof, I guess, that Campaign Aide is not a job requiring high levels of introspection or even basic love of country.

Axios lists four more states (Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, Arizona) where the GOP nominated such bozos or scandal-magnets that regaining the Senate looks iffy. Imagine that: 5 very winnable Senate seats imperiled by extremist primary voters.

To win today, you should look relatively sane, and in a lot of races, only the Democrats are passing that test. That’s a real shame, because the Democrats are going to do some ugly things if they’re in control of Congress and the White House, and if SCOTUS rules even one of them ultra vires, let alone substantively unconstitutional, the slanders will intensify.

From Friday’s Morning Dispatch

Hate crime

The Department of Justice announced Thursday that a federal grand jury has indicted the man accused of murdering 10 black people in a Buffalo grocery store in May on hate crimes and firearms violations. If convicted, he could face life in prison or the death penalty. “The Justice Department fully recognizes the threat that white supremacist violence poses to the safety of the American people and American democracy,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. The supermarket is set to reopen today.

If ever a crime was a "hate crime," it was this one. But after 30 or more years of intermittent reflection, I’m still not convinced that hate crime laws are an improvement in criminal justice.

A pox on both houses

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday sued to block enforcement of the Biden administration’s recent guidance telling health providers that life- or health-saving abortions are protected by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, regardless of state abortion restrictions. The lawsuit alleges the guidance “flagrantly disregard[s] the legislative and democratic process,” and seeks to “transform every emergency room in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic.”

Ken Paxton is a cowboy, with very plausible allegations of corruption against him (See Timeline: 6 times Texas AG Ken Paxton faced allegations of malfeasance and pending criminal charges.

On abortion, Joe Biden has become a cowboy, who cares less about constitutional limits than about virtue-signaling. (He’s also more corrupt than I realized in the 2020 election, though I still didn’t vote for him — I threw my vote away for principles I care about, not for the lesser evil who inevitably was going to lose to the greater evil in my state).

So I’m glad Paxton is challenging some of Biden’s moves. I wish his Solicitor General well, while wishing total disgrace for him personally. (And I don’t predict 100% success for Texas.)

Internet delight

The internet can be a pretty mean and nasty place, but it still has the ability to delight you every once in a while. Enter the Northwoods Baseball Radio Network, a podcast feed produced by a mysterious “Mr. King” that features nothing other than two-hour-long fictional baseball broadcasts designed to help insomniacs get to sleep. “No yelling, no loud commercials, no weird volume spikes,” the tagline reads. “Fans call it ‘baseball radio ASMR.’” Katy Waldman was entranced. “Time—how it’s apportioned, and the inner experience of it—seems to be the show’s main character. The series could be a sendup of Americana, the aesthetic’s essential boringness, or a love note to memory, with the hazy, preserved glow of a scene unburied from childhood,” she writes in The New Yorker. “The show’s best feature remains the pure sonic contentment it delivers. Real or fantastical, baseball commentary unfolds as metered poetry: ‘IN there for a called STRIKE,’ goes the rising question. ‘It’s OH and ONE,’ goes the falling answer.”

Lost, Not Stolen

Eight prominent conservatives released a report on Thursday examining “every claim of fraud and miscount put forward by former President Trump and his advocates” following the 2020 presidential election and reached an “unequivocal” conclusion: “Joe Biden was the choice of a majority of the Electors, who themselves were the choice of the majority of voters in their states.”

“The idea is that it’s written by conservatives, for conservatives,” Griffith said. “We recognize the people who are watching [Morning Joe and CNN] are probably not the people we’re primarily interested in. I mean, we’re happy to tell our message to anyone, but it’s really the folks who are conservatives who think the election was stolen.”

In the report’s executive summary, the eight men take pains to emphasize their conservative bona fides. “Every member of this informal group has worked in Republican politics, been appointed to office by Republicans, or is otherwise associated with the Party,” they write. “None have shifted loyalties to the Democratic Party, and none bear any ill will toward Trump and especially not toward his sincere supporters.”

Price St. Clair, A 2020 Election Report ‘By Conservatives, For Conservatives’.

My only concern about these high-level investigators is why they don’t "none bear any ill will toward Trump" after he lied, denied his own Justice Department’s conclusions, and precipitated a constitutional crisis to try to steal the election.

Temporary truce

I’m declaring a 15-minute pause in my bitter Jihad against Sen. Josh Hawley (who seemed like the real deal until he decided the future was populist, not conservative):

Meanwhile, high profile pro-choice advocates remain unconvincing. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the viral video of UC Berkeley School of Law professor Khiara Bridges sparring with Senator Josh Hawley. She insisted on using the phrase “people with the capacity for pregnancy,” rather than the verboten word women. When Hawley said, well then, “this isn’t really a women’s rights issue,” the Berkeley professor balked.

Nellie Bowles

Actually, Hawley’s point was cute, but deflected without hesitation, so it wasn’t any kind of mike-drop moment. Speaking presumptuously for the normie community, I’d say Hawley won handily. The whole relevant exchange, via Conor Friedersdorf:

Senator Hawley: Professor Bridges, you said several times––you’ve used a phrase, I want to make sure I understand what you mean by it. You’ve referred to “people with a capacity for pregnancy.” Would that be women?

Professor Bridges: Many women, cis women, have the capacity for pregnancy. Many cis women do not have the capacity for pregnancy. There are also trans men who are capable of pregnancy, as well as nonbinary people who are capable of pregnancy.

Hawley: So this isn’t really a women’s-rights issue, it’s a––

Bridges: We can recognize that this impacts women while also recognizing that it impacts other groups. Those things are not mutually exclusive, Senator Hawley.

Hawley: Alright, so your view is that the core of this right, then, is about what?

Bridges: So, um, I want to recognize that your line of questioning is transphobic and it opens up trans people to violence by not recognizing them.

Hawley: Wow, you’re saying that I’m opening up people to violence by asking whether or not women are the folks who can have pregnancies?

Bridges: So I want to note that one out of five transgender persons have attempted sucide, so I think it’s important––

Hawley: Because of my line of questioning? So we can’t talk about it?

Bridges: Because denying that trans people exist and pretending not to know that they exist––

Hawley: I’m denying that trans people exist by asking you––

Bridges: Are you? Are you?

Hawley: ––if you’re talking about women having pregnancies?

Bridges: Do you believe that men can get pregnant?

Hawley: No, I don’t think men can get pregnant.

Bridges: So you’re denying that trans people exist!

Hawley: And that leads to violence? Is this how you run your classroom? Are students allowed to question you or are they also treated like this, where they’re told that they’re opening up people to violence––

Bridges: We have a good time in my class. You should join. You might learn a lot.

Hawley: I would learn a lot. I’ve learned a lot just in this exchange. Extraordinary.

(Pro-tip to the "men can get pregnant" set: if only you would phrase it as "trans men," I might play along. Lose the "trans men are men and trans women are women" dogma if you want any normie support whatever.)

Against aspiration

Wow!:

Let me try to illustrate what I mean. At one point, I was a commuter. It didn’t last, but I did find watching other rush-hour drivers fascinating. Like a rubbish modern version of a nineteenth century naturalist, I used to classify them based on observable features. One particular type of driver usually drove a German luxury car. They would drive fast and close, exhibit visible frustration if the car in front of them had a large gap in front of it; and would shift lanes frequently, jostling for position among the other commuters. …

I came to see their behaviour as reflecting a deep[] confusion. My theory is that they were not emotionally differentiating between getting to work faster and going faster than the people around them. In other words, they failed to distinguish between their longer-term goals and interpersonal competition, even when the interpersonal competition was more or less fruitless. In this, they helped me to understand another group that had puzzled me: the British upper-middle classes, who seemed to me to be similarly focused on markers of interpersonal status that were completely divorced from their own overall flourishing, even in contexts where they had a negligible degree of control over the outcome.

… Its measures are intrapersonal: how well the person is doing on a scale against the rest of society, not how well they are flourishing as an organic being.

… I am not arguing for better aspirations here. I am arguing against aspiration.

This might seem harsh, but that is because the language of aspiration has debased our political language. I am not arguing against individual success. I am arguing that a society whose only measure of success is doing better than other people has no true concept of success at all. …

I have no aspiration for Yorkshire because Yorkshire is older, bigger, and better than the language of aspiration and than our entire degenerate post-war political class. I have no aspiration for Yorkshire because I have hope for it, and hope is a different kind of thing. I do not want Yorkshire to do well in the race to the bottom that now passes for civilisation. I want Yorkshire to survive it.

Leaving behind aspiration – by FFatalism

The Machine speaks

‘The body is mine and the soul is mine’
says the machine. ‘I am at the dark source
where the good is indistinguishable
from evil. I fill my tanks up
and there is war. I empty them
and there is not peace. I am the sound,
not of the world breathing, but
of the catch rather in the world’s breath.’

Is there a contraceptive
for the machine, that we may enjoy
intercourse with it without being overrun
by vocabulary? We go up
into the temple of ourselves
and give thanks that we are not
as the machine is. But it waits
for us outside, knowing that when
we emerge it is into the noise
of its hand beating on the breast’s
iron as Pharisaically as ourselves.

R.S. Thomas, Collected Later Poems


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.


	

Bless their hearts

Neo-Manicheans

Ten years ago, let’s say fifteen to be safe, if you saw an essay titled “Consequences are Good, Actually,” you might naturally assume that it came from the political right. Conservatives, after all, believe in law and order, retributive justice, and the God of the Old Testament. But nowadays, it’s liberals who constantly call for consequences, liberals who sneer at the concept of forgiveness, liberals who stand for a Manichean worldview that permits no deviation from white-hat/black-hat morality …

We’ve spent the past two years with the left-of-center world debating, and largely endorsing, quite radical ideas about ending policing and prisons. This would seem to suggest a certain predisposition to forgiveness and equanimity in human affairs, a communal understanding that life is complicated, all of us are sinners, and there but for the grace of God go we. But as the various groans about the New York piece show, the urge to defund the police etc. is really much less about a particular ethic of caring and much more about simply nominating a communally-approved target for progressive anger. It happens that the abstract category “the cops” is a good thing for people to target, but the broader point is that most liberal criminal justice reform energy isn’t derived at all from a desire to be more compassionate and understanding but simply to have a new designated hate object ….

Freddie deBoer, Ah, Carceral Liberalism

Also from that piece:

Pie chart showing the number of people locked up on a given day in the United States by facility type and the underlying offense using the newest data available in March 2022.

1.9 million people incarcerated in a nation of (roughly) 340 million. This is an extremely high rate in comparison to other nations.

What the heck is wrong with us? Are we more lawless? More punitive? Both?

Mencken Memorializes Machen

I’d never seen this before — an excerpt from H.L. Mencken’s obituary for J. Gresham Machen:

There was a time, two or three centuries ago, when the overwhelming majority of educated men were believers, but that is apparently true no longer. Indeed, it is my impression that at least two-thirds of them are now frank skeptics. But it is one thing to reject religion altogether, and quite another thing to try to save it by pumping out of it all its essential substance, leaving it in the equivocal position of a sort of pseudo-science, comparable to graphology, “education,” or osteopathy.

That, it seems to me, is what the Modernists have done, no doubt with the best intentions in the world. They have tried to get rid of all the logical difficulties of religion, and yet preserve a generally pious cast of mind. It is a vain enterprise. What they have left, once they have achieved their imprudent scavenging, is hardly more than a row of hollow platitudes, as empty as [of] psychological force and effect as so many nursery rhymes. They may be good people and they may even be contented and happy, but they are no more religious than Dr. Einstein. Religion is something else again — in Henrik Ibsen’s phrase, something far more deep-down-diving and mudupbringing, Dr. Machen tried to impress that obvious fact upon his fellow adherents of the Geneva Mohammed. He failed — but he was undoubtedly right.

H/T Alan Jacobs

Uvalde

The only thing worse, for a community, than what Radley Balko has famously called the “warrior cop” is a bunch of people who are cosplaying warrior cops.

Alan Jacobs. The whole thing is brief and worth reading.

Wordplay

Providence-washing

My very own coinage for baffling, bad or wicked decisions being justified, post hoc, by some good thing coming from it. Example: "Why did prissy Mike Pence ever agree to run with Donald Trump?" Answer: "Maybe God had January 6 in mind."


Phrase of the era: Gish-Galloping

The term “Gish Gallop” was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. The phrase refers to a debate tactic that was a favorite of Duane Gish, a young-Earth creationist who was also a highly skilled debater.

The Gish Gallop is the tactic of snowing your opponent under a mountain of supposed “pieces of evidence” or “problem cases” and claiming that the opponent’s inability to respond to this pile of evidence shows that your side is right. This tactic counts as a fallacy because its effectiveness doesn’t depend on presenting arguments that are right or even well-supported. Quantity is offered as a substitute for quality.

(Pseudo-)Science Blog » Gish Gallop (fallacy of the day)

Used in contemporary news:

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, a kind of Fox-infused, Gish Galloping, “what-about” patois that makes no sense even if you slow it down or add punctuation.

Tom Nichols, What Are Trump Supporters So Afraid Of?

High marks to Nichols for applying "Gish Galloping" to the Trumpian patois. I was getting weary of "flooding the zone with shit," which really should be in the Urban Dictionary as a synonym for Gish-Galloping.


Conundrum of the week

May a baptismal regnerationist who never had a "born again experience" represent that he or she is born again for purposes of an Evangelical School requirement that teachers be "Born Again Christians"? (See, e.g., Carson v. Malkin, Breyer, J, dissenting) After all, the very essence of baptismal regnerationism is the belief that a proper baptism is how one actually gets born again.

How about a baptismal regnerationist who (like me) did have a childhood "born again experience" but no longer believes that such experience actually regenerated him or her? (I do not consider my experience worthless, however.)

I’m inclined to say "no" in both cases because, bless their hearts, those schools just don’t really know how one gets regenerate, and they’re using "born again" as a term of Evangelical art.

Did I remember to say "Bless their hearts"?

Breaking Religious News

The Presbyterian Church in America is withdrawing from the National Association of Evangelicals. The essential reason appears to be NAE’s political involvements in general and one political position in particular.

Had I remained in Dallas, I would have become a PCA Presbyterian because our "Independent Presbyterian" church (dear to us even though "Independent Presbyterian" is an oxymoron) was in the process of affiliating when we left.


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.

Memorial Day Commentary Dump

Politics

Contemporary American Populism

It has slowly dawned on me that behind all the distracting and constant confabulations and shitpostings, the populists are onto something. I might well have noticed earlier had I not been distracted by said confabulations and shitpostings, but I won’t try to prove that self-congratulatory speculation.

Nevertheless I cannot imagine myself voting for a confabulator or shitposter, so I remain resolutely Never Trump (who I also consider a humbug). Must more serious populists establish their street cred by emulating him?

And I’ll note for the record my suspicion that if we brought back all those offshored jobs, and put them back in Youngstown (a synecdoche), it would lower the standard of living of the currently-ascendent and, perhaps, of the nation overall.

I’m not particularly troubled by that prospect since it bodes to raise the standard of living of the overlooked millions so drawn to populism. Further, it seems to me that we’re not all that happy a nation right now, despite the mind-bending wealth of the ascendent, and that a bit less inequality might just improve that.

The party of us

As the conservative pundit Erick Erickson, a Georgia Republican himself, puts it, “Georgia Republicans do like Trump, but they’re tired of his bullshit and want to move on.” Of course, Georgia may be a special case. This was the state that in 2020 witnessed more directly than any other state Trump’s preference for personal vendettas and loyalty over policy or party unity or anything, actually. But this is also the core truth about Trump — and if more widely believed in other states, it could begin to take a real toll. Chris Christie has honed a good line on this:

What we have to decide is: do we want to be the party of me or the party of us? What Donald Trump has advocated is for us to be the ‘party of me,’ that everything has to be about him and about his grievances.

And I can’t see how even many Trump voters would be able to disagree with that. Henry Olson notes:

An NBC News poll conducted in October 2020 showed that a majority of GOP voters said they supported Trump first over the party. Its May poll shows the situation reversed, with 58 percent saying they back the party first.

Trump once benefited from Americans’ short attention spans; but his continuing ego-driven fixation on 2020 hurts him now for the same reason. He’s become a total bore, a crank looking back, not forward, barely ever mentioning policy, in a way that only underlines his prickly, grudge-driven narcissism.

Andrew Sullivan, ‌Can A Cult Become A Movement?

Sophistication

If I’m a white guy in the middle of Georgia, the ad I see is him fighting for small businesses. If you’re a black farmer in South Georgia, the ad is him fighting the Department of Agriculture over historic racism. If you’re a gay man in Atlanta, the ad you see is Raphael Warnock fighting for civil rights. It’s the most impressive advertising campaign I’ve ever seen of a candidate.

Eric Erickson on the Dispatch Podcast (emphasis added). He still thinks football legend Herschel Walker is likely to win, though Warnock is "the superior candidate."

Warnock’s Republican opponent does, I’ll admit, have a bit less finesse:

Neither party represents America on abortion: Republicans are now saying their real opinions on abortion, and those opinions are to the right of most Americans. Herschel Walker, running for Senate in Georgia, wants a total ban on abortion with no exceptions.

Nellie Bowles.

This item is newsworthy, but not, I believe, because "Republicans are now saying their real opinions on abortion."

I have decades of experience watching Republicans, especially Republican men, singing the pro-life songbook way off key and with smirks on their faces. So I’m cynical at comments like Herschel Walker’s (who as a candidate makes a pretty good fullback). I think the "no exception" position is either an opening gambit in anticipation of post-Dobbs negotiations or, likelier, performative chest-thumping (which may turn off more voters than it fires up).

(Be it remembered, by the way, that Raphael Warnock owes his Senate seat to Donald Trump, who effectively said to Georgia Republicans in the 2020-21 election wind-down "Your election system is utterly corrupt. Why even bother voting in those Senate runoffs?" But Warnock apparently isn’t giving that seat up without a very sophisticated fight.)

Guns

Senators headed home for a 10-day recess on Thursday, but signaled early optimism that a deal could be reached on some narrow pieces of gun-safety legislation when they return. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said he’d be willing to accept a more incrementalist approach than he has previously, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he encouraged GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to spearhead bipartisan negotiations on legislation “directly related to the problem.” A bipartisan group of nine senators met in the Capitol on Thursday, and Murphy said he is now “perfectly willing to let the good prevail over the perfect.”

The Morning Dispatch. But before you get your hopes up too high, remember this ancient wisdom:

There are two parties in Washington: the stupid party and the evil party. When they get together and do something stupid and evil, the press calls it "bipartisan."

(Attributed to Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.)

Immigration

Nellie Bowles notes that our Vice-President seems to have shed immigration from her portfolio:

Kamala Harris is quietly sloughing off the hard part of her job—all immigration-related activity has disappeared from her public schedule.  I don’t blame her! First because jobs are exhausting (I write TGIF barefoot from my kitchen and then I take a nap). Also your only option to remain a good progressive is shouting “open borders!” and running away. Otherwise handling immigration requires diving into a quagmire of issues whose solutions demand (at best) cold pragmatism. It’s an especially unpleasant task when the same detention practices that were a five-alarm-fire under Trump are now considered totally normal and humane, never to be discussed, under Biden. And so, Vice President Harris has looked at the issue long and hard, studied the maps, spoken to the experts, and she has decided: Thanks but no thanks.

Open Arms

Hmmmm. Is it possible that Putin so badly misread things that he expected Ukrainians to open Russian soldiers with open arms? (H/T N.S. Lyons)

Not our politics, exactly — but Ouch! anyway

“[Boris] Johnson believes it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligations which bind everyone else,” – a school report card in 1982 on the degenerate prime minister who would personally break every Covid rule he set for others.

The Tablet via Andrew Sullivan

The fallacy of Boromir

When people justify their voting choice by its outcome, I always think of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien emphasizes repeatedly that we cannot make decisions based on the hoped-for result. We can only control the means. If we validate our choice of voting for someone that may not be a good person in the hopes that he or she will use his power to our advantage, we succumb to the fallacy of Boromir, who assumed he too would use the Ring of Power for good. Power cannot be controlled; it enslaves you. To act freely is to acknowledge your limits, to see the journey as a long road that includes dozens of future elections, and to fight against the temptation for power.

What ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Can Teach Us About U.S. Politics, Christianity and Power

Retraction

I now retract my gratuitous comment about never wanting to live in any district in which Marjorie Taylor Green won her primary. I should have been more attentive to the possibility that such a crazy outcome is not the whole story.

Apparently, there were four or five guys splitting the remainder of the primary vote, some of them in pursuit of utterly lost causes.

That’s a very material fact. It’s not easy to find any place in American these days where some idiot cannot win an election if enough other idiots crowd the field.

Hall of Shame

Rep. Paul Gosar and Candace Owens go into my Hall of Shame for this stuff that I’ve tagged #jackasses #know-it-alls and #shitposters.

Not politics

Paris whimsy

Montparnasse Tower This sadly out-of-place 59-story superscraper has one virtue: If you can’t make it up the Eiffel Tower, the sensational views from this tower are cheaper, far easier to access, and make for a fair consolation prize. Come early in the day for clearest skies and shortest lines, and be treated to views from a comfortable interior and from up on the rooftop (consider their €5 breakfast with a view). Sunset is great but views are disappointing after dark. Some say it’s the very best view in Paris, as you can see the Eiffel Tower clearly…and you can’t see the Montparnasse Tower at all.

Rick Steves

Bill Maher on Kids

“Gender fluid? Kids are fluid about everything. If kids knew what they wanted to be at age 8, the world would be filled with cowboys and princesses. I wanted to be a pirate. Thank God nobody took me seriously and scheduled me for eye removal and peg leg surgery,” –

Bill Maher via Andrew Sullivan

Saying the silent part out loud

My crap detector seemed to be particularly sensitive Sunday morning. A National Review sub-headline:

The latest account of police actions [in the Uvalde, Texas shooting]should leave every parent in the country filled with disbelief and rage.

Note:

  1. Every parent in the country, wherever they’re located or whatever else their circumstances, should be filled with rage. (Really? If I’m not, am I a bad person?)
  2. Because NR is "conservative," that rage should be against feckless police, not against gun violence.
  3. Ginning up rage, and justifying it, it part of most journalistic business strategies.

Or, as Ross Douthat put it:

Like many people, the mass shooting of children in Uvalde, Texas, is basically the only thing I’ve read about for days. But as I’ve marinated in the horror — and, increasingly, in rage at the police response — I’ve also been aware of the way our media experience works today, how we are constantly cycled from one crisis to another, each one seemingly existential and yet seemingly forgotten when the wheel turns, the headlines change.

Climate change, systemic racism, toxic masculinity, online disinformation, gun violence, police violence, the next Trump coup, the latest Covid variant, the death of democracy, climate change again. This is the liberal crisis list; the conservative list is different. But for everyone there are relatively few opportunities to take a breath and acknowledge when anything actually gets better.

A good argument for a news approach like Alan Jacobs’, who ordinarily gets all his week’s news through the Economist on Friday or Saturday.

Guns (but from the culture side)

I’m actually grateful that I no longer have a job where I must find some angle from which to write or edit a piece, because I think this leads to a lot of bad writing and thinking, especially in the wake of a catastrophe.

Jesse Singal, Three Quick Thoughts On Guns.

Yes, there has been a lot of bad writing and thinking in the wake of Uvalde — almost everything I’ve read or heard, in fact.

Singal’s three quick thoughts, each one of which he elaborates briefly:

  • The Vast Majority Of Shootings Aren’t In Schools, Aren’t “Mass,” And Don’t Get Much Attention
  • If Significant Gun Reduction Is Off The Table, Nothing Is Likely To Make A Meaningful Dent In Gun Violence
  • There Are Dead-Serious Trade-offs Between “Doing Something About Gun Violence” And A Major Progressive Policy Priority: Criminal Justice Reform

Is the SBC clergy sex abuse scandal the same pattern as the Catholic scandal?

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote a rather balanced commentary on the Southern Baptists’ clergy sexual abuse problem, in which he saw "the same pattern" as that in his own Roman Catholic Church.

Well, yes and no.

The Southern Baptist Convention had, and took advantage of, a defense rooted in its "church polity" or form of governance: Every Southern Baptist Church is independent, self-governing. The Convention has no authority over them except to admit them or disfellowship them. When they got a complaint, they turned it over to their lawyers, who played that church polity to the hilt, thus shielding the Convention from legal liability while wreaking moral havoc. This was a defense utterly unavailable to the Roman Catholic hierarchy because it’s, well, a hierarchy.

I owe the insight in the preceding paragraph to David French on the Advisory Opinions podcast of May 27, which is worth listening to especially if you’re in an independent Evangelical Church, because I see interesting ramifications for the Evangelical World.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant body in the land, but they’re probably outnumbered by the combined memberships of tens of thousands of independent Evangelical Churches. If you doubt that sexual abuse is occurring in those independent churches, you’re not very ight-bray.

But unlike Southern Baptist churches, many or most of them are not remotely answerable to any higher body, not even a "convention" of independent Churches. That means there’s no way for a victim of sexual abuse in those churches to go over the heads of their pastors and local elders (or deacons, or whatever their church calls them). That makes it less likely that the churches will face any day of reckoning collectively. There is no collective.

Instead, there will be occasional yellow-journalism exposes, probably of megachurches (big enough to give the journalists some bragging rights) while tens of thousands of little spiritual fiefdoms continue, too independent to have peers for accountability, too small to attract media attention, their founding pastors exercising an astonishing degree of control.

I had a very pious Uncle, a key figure in our family’s religious life, who at one point decided that denominational structures inevitably drag their denominations into religious liberalism, and that independent churches were the way to safety.

There is no way to safety. The devil is seeking whom he may devour wherever he finds them. Maybe he devours by liberalism when he finds, say, a United Methodist, but devours amid grunts and groans on the pastor’s office floor in Southern Baptist (or Plymouth Brethren, or Calvary Chapel, or "Bible Church") churches.

There’s not even safety in the Orthodox Church. So far as I know, we’ve done pretty well with regard to clergy sexual abuse; the last time I checked, an Orthodox #MeToo site ascribed virtually every act of abuse to fake Orthodox, like defrocked clergy who set up shop on their own or under schismatics. But "Orthodox fundamentalism" claimed one of our families (and then broke that family to pieces), and an unknown number of young white men seem to think we’re the natural home for White Christian Nationalism. (I’d be interested in whether they’re still around after 3 years, and whether they’ve shed most of their racism if they are.) The list of harms from that roaring lion probably could go on.

Our little parish had a three friends who formed a little "byzantine bluegrass" band. The refrain of their song Long Road cautions that going it alone is the unsafest option of all:

It’s a long way to Heaven dear Lord, it’s a hard row to hoe
And I don’t know if I’ll make it dear Lord but I sure won’t make it alone.

Massive Hubris

As a feminist, I can come up with only one reason to stay in the Catholic Church: to try to change it

Rosemary Radford Ruether, who died May 21. Her hubris is manifest in the quote.

Science and faith

Fixing a machine with found parts is an example of human ingenuity. Making a cheese is too, but it is also something more. It is an example of faith, of placing trust in forces that we do not fully understand. Cheesemakers should know the science, but say a prayer to Saint Brigid anyway.

Flat Hats and Fatalism, ‌Lost cheeses and impersonal cruelty

Wordplay

Mispronouning: failing to use an individuals preferred nonsensical or ungrammatical pronoun. A school district in Wisconsin "appears to believe that once a student announces different pronouns to others, any subsequent use of the biologically and grammatically correct pronouns—even when not directed to the student—may be punishable as sexual harassment under Title IX." (WSJ).

The Journal describes the counties in the district as "deep red," so I’d wager a modest amount that the only heads that will roll will be those of woke administrators.

Revenge travel. As in, "I’m fed up and I’m not going to stay put any more!" Dare I suggest that this may contribute to the stunning price I just paid to fly to and from a Pacific-Northwest port for Alaska Cruising?

‌Paradoxical counterproductivity: a dynamic that takes hold “whenever the use of an institution paradoxically takes away from society those things the institution was designed to provide.” It appears to be a coinage of Ivan Illich. Though Illich was a man of the left, a lot of his insights resonate on the right, too:

Anyone who has taught will be familiar with the type of student who hasn’t the slightest interest in the subject matter but an intense concern with how to get an A. Whatever their other faults, such students are proceeding from a realistic view of the institution they are operating within, which has replaced learning with artificial signs of it.


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.

Bloodlust and other diversions

Bloodlust over principle

One of the bewildering things about being a conservative in a populist age is the sheer speed at which populists will shift their opinions, including on allegedly bedrock constitutional values, to satisfy the popular bloodlust of the moment.

David French, Why Ron DeSantis’s Disney Attacks Threaten the First Amendment.

True, but I don’t imagine it feels a whole lot different than to a center-left figure watching the further-left. What is progressive cancel culture if not bloodlust?

Majority Minority?

Yascha Mounk, America Won’t Ever Be Majority Minority could be a good conversation topic:

Most developed democracies will never become “majority minority” in any meaningful sense. It is highly premature to assume that the politics of the future will neatly pit “whites” against “people of color.” And anybody who wants diverse democracies like the United States to succeed actually has reason to celebrate the fact that demography, despite the belief that so many parts of both left and right now share, is not destiny.

When the United States Census Bureau projected that the country would become majority minority sometime in the 2040s, its demographic model was presented as an exercise in science, giving the prediction an air of unassailable fact. But this conceals the extent to which the categories used by the Census Bureau to classify Americans as white or non-white rely on highly questionable assumptions about how they identify now—and even more questionable ones about how they will do so in future.

Does the child of two white immigrants from Spain count as white or Hispanic? (According to the United States Census Bureau, the answer is: Hispanic.) Will the child of a white father and a Chinese mother identify as white or Asian? (Asian.) And is someone who has seven white great-grandparents and one black great-grandparent white or black? (Black.) Seemingly scientific, the projections of the Census Bureau assume that all Americans who have either a drop of non-white blood or some distant cultural heritage connecting them to a Spanish-speaking country will be “people of color.”

Put it that way and the "majority minority" notion seems not only dubious but eccentrically race-essentialist, with white being normal and anything less than pure white being a mutation (with the mutants in solidarity agains the normies).

Maybe keeping us at odds among ourselves while the meritocrats carry on running things is the whole point.

Two+ of these things are not like the others

Nellie Bowles

This isn’t an idle observation:

  • LGB rights are pretty secure in the US now and for the foreseeable future.
  • Valorization of TQ+ identification has become a social contagion, leading a non-trivial number of young people to permanently mutilate or sterilize their bodies, only to find later that they really were fighting against admitting that they were L or G (mostly L; boys seem less susceptible to this contagion).
  • TQ+ ideology subverts the gender binary to where L, G, and B lose their meaning.

A common-sense probing of "common good" talk

The next time someone lectures you about the common good, try this experiment: Ask them to name four or five circumstances in which their own political positions are at odds with the public interest and explain how they would go about subordinating them to that public interest. What you will learn in practically every case is that everyone thinks the public interest is identical to his own desires and priorities, which is why discussions along those lines have gone nowhere for the past 200 years or so in any reasonably developed society with more cultural and religious diversity than Denmark.

Kevin D. Williamson, ‌Public School Debate: Value-Neutral Education Doesn’t Exist

World-weary crypto-provincials

Solzhenitsyn identified in Western intellectual circles the same smug narrow-mindedness that he had discovered in liberal Russian intellectuals before the revolution. The core moment in these volumes occurs when, as Solzhenitsyn writes,

a leading [Canadian] television commentator lectured me that I presumed to judge the experience of the world from the viewpoint of my own limited Soviet and prison-camp experience. Indeed, how true! Life and death, imprisonment and hunger, the cultivation of the soul despite the captivity of the body: how very limited that is compared to the bright world of political parties, yesterday’s numbers on the stock exchange, amusements without end, and exotic foreign travel!

Gary Saul Morson. H/T Alan Jacobs

Of President Biden

Here are some difficulties when he speaks.

> When he stands at a podium and reads from a teleprompter, his mind seems to wander quickly from the meaning of what he’s saying to the impression he’s making. You can sort of see this, that he’s always wondering how he’s coming across. When he catches himself he tends to compensate by enacting emotion.

But the emotion he seems most publicly comfortable with is indignation. An example is his answer to a reporter’s question in November about the administration’s plans to compensate illegal-immigrant parents who’d been separated from their children at the border. Suddenly he was angry-faced; he raised his voice, increased his tempo, and started jabbing the air. “You lost your child. It’s gone! You deserve some kind of compensation, no matter what the circumstances.” Then, catching himself, he added mildly, “What that will be, I have no idea.” He was trying to show presentness, engagement. But there’s often an “angry old man yelling at clouds” aspect to this.

Peggy Noonan

My concurrence with this is not partisan. To avoid Orange Man, we elected a rather pale one wraith. May God have mercy on us in our dilemmas.

Brain-hackers

[I]f there was no pornography on the internet, I think maybe 10%-15% of current internet porn addicts would have found some other outlet for their illicit desires, and the rest would have just kept it in their pants. The existence of a multibillion-dollar industry bent on cultivating the very worst desires in people used the free flow of information to create addicts out of otherwise non-addicted people by hacking the susceptible parts of our brains (and souls). Practically no one truly wants to spend hours of their time looking at soul-destroying trash, but the tidal wave of liquid modernity has exploited their freedom, saying “You’re always free to choose differently!” and laughing all the way to the bank.

Matthew Loftus, ‌the liberal order and its haters

I still spend too much time online, but I long ago, and fairly suddenly (as if it were an epiphany), realized the horrible spiritual damage of wallowing in porn. I’m more gradually realizing the the (lesser, I think) social and spiritual damage of wallowing in subtler brain-hacks.

Yes, Mama. Thank you, Mama. Please go away now, Mama.

This week in Silicon Valley bias: Google is planning to tell enterprise users of its word processor that words like "motherboard" and "landlord" are insufficiently inclusive for use in polite company. We won’t actually be forbidden to use those words. Yet. Though that future has apparently already arrived in Mountain View, where at least one source says that "mainboard" is the only acceptable term for the electronics that used to honor the women who raised us. In another blow for freedom, as it’s now defined in the Valley, Twitter will suppress all climate talk that contradicts the views a panel of government-appointed scientist-politicos. Apparently suppressing talk that contradicted CDC scientist-politicians worked so well that Twitter is rushing to double down ….

Teaser for Episode 404 of the Cyberlaw Podcast

Wordplay

A university that turns itself into an asylum from controversy has ceased to be a university; it has just become an asylum.

Eleventh Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus


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.

The Blame Game

I blame Star Wars and Harry Potter

American political commentary has for some time been dominated by pop culture references, in particular those two great modern fables, Star Wars and Harry Potter, which have replaced the classics as the source of communal knowledge. I’m not convinced that children’s books or films aimed at selling toys, enjoyable though they are, have that much to offer in the way of deep wisdom, compared to more ancient texts; I may be a declinist, but it is not commented on enough that America’s most-praised public intellectual didn’t know who St Augustine was.

Ed West, ‌Empires v nations: a battle as old as time

I blame Trump (look what he made these nice people do!)

After Trump’s election, many commentators expressed anxiety that his followers would plunge the country into far-right authoritarianism. Instead, it is the class of college-educated Democrats that now openly argues for the value of blind submission to authority and the elimination of personal freedoms. The trend [Christopher] Lasch wrote about in the 1990s has metastasized. It no longer poses a mere threat to democracy—it has become a full-fledged attack on basic democratic principles. Far from upholding civil liberties, the self-proclaimed “resistance” to Trumpism has itself exhibited many hallmarks of authoritarianism: suppression of dissent, demand for unquestioning obedience, and tight control over the flow of information. While scapegoating Trump supporters, a nexus of billionaires, woke corporations, public intellectuals, and Democratic officials have sparked the very descent into authoritarianism they claimed would emerge from the populist right.

This is not simply a matter of hypocrisy. It is only by painting themselves as victims fighting against their oppressors that college-educated professionals can rationalize their own authoritarianism. The cult of victimhood conjures the specter of fascism, misogyny, or white nationalism in order to justify blatantly repressive measures.

Alex Gutentag, ‌The New Authoritarians

Another take on the pivot after Election 2016:

If you go back to the Arab Spring and the Green Revolution there was generally a sense of triumphalism. Back then, the CEO of Twitter said that we are the free speech wing of the free speech party. That’s how Silicon Valley saw itself. Ten years later, you have the widespread view that Silicon Valley needs to restrict and regulate disinformation and prevent free speech on its platform. You’d have to say that the turning point was 2016, when Trump got elected against the wishes of pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley. That was a little too much populism for them. And they saw social media as being complicit in Trump’s election.

[Trump’s populist voters had sent] a message they very much didn’t want to hear. So they began to believe that the message was somehow inauthentic. That it was engineered by Russian disinformation, and that their platforms had contributed to it and that they needed to crack down and restrict free speech so that it never happened again.

David Sacks, ‌How Big Tech Is Strangling Your Freedom

I blame the Internet

Maybe this is obvious. Maybe I knew it "in the back of my mind." But Bari Weiss and Peter Robinson collectively (as Robinson interviewed Weiss on his Uncommon Knowledge podcast) put their finger on a major driver of media change: the migration of advertising from newsprint to the internet.

Loss of ad revenue means greater dependence on subscription revenue. Greater dependence on subscription revenue necessitates cultivating a large and loyal readership. Cultivating a large and loyal readership necessitates picking your target audience and pandering to them shamelessly.

Nobody in print has done this better than the New York Times. But "audience capture" is a threat in Substackworld, too. Some of the best podcasts have no sponsors, or sponsors so marginal as to be an embarrassment. I’m especially thinking of Advisory Opinions‘ David French reading an advertiser’s innumerate puffery that "the average user saved up to $794" and, in the same ad, that "20,000 users had saved a total of over $1 million" (or maybe it was 200,000 saving $10 million – same $50/person average).

Listen to it all on Bari’s Honestly podcast, which incorporates the Uncommon Knowledge episode.

Neo-aphorisms

  • Wokeness flattens everything, dividing all into oppressed and oppressor.
  • Everything great gets built by people who are dissatisfied with the options they see around them.

Bari Weiss who, I learn, has greater ambitions than just making a decent living away from the New York Times.

I blame Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has restored democracy’s image and its mojo. How? The answer is that Putin’s blundering and brutal behavior has accidentally highlighted democracy’s greatest superpower: the trait that insures that, for all of democracy’s flaws, it will triumph over autocracies in the long run. Democratic virtues like the supremacy of law, independent courts, and the protection of human rights are all important. But Russia’s debacle in Ukraine underscores the fact that democracy’s guarantee that leaders are regularly replaced is actually the system’s most important advantage. It turns out that our power to throw the bums out could end up saving not just the West, but the world.

Jonathan Tepperman, How Putin Just Revealed Democracy’s Secret Superpower – The Octavian Report

Democracies

Current political ideology update: I support democracy, but I’m open on the adjectival modifier. This is not a fixed identity, but it’s one around which I’ve been circling for a while. I read (and sometimes listen) to defenders of both liberal and illiberal democracy.

Reminder: Sunday April 3 is election day in Hungary. There is a large and improbable coalition (politics made very strange bedfellows) vying to oust Viktor Orbán, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have strengthened the hand of the leader of Hungary’s acknowledged illiberal democracy.

Plus ça change …

[H]e … returned to Washington, in time for the new session of Congress, only to find himself exhausted by just sitting and listening. He could neither work nor abide the whole “vileness and vulgarity” of the capital. When in late December he left again, he felt better almost at once. Still, he tried returning to Washington several times, but to no avail.

David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, of Senator Charles Sumner in December 1857 after his beating on the Senate floor and some recovery in Paris.

Wordplay

My local TV newscast reports that Purdue University has developed a drug to treat prostate cancer, the second-leading cancer among men.

I don’t mean to be picky, but shouldn’t that be "men and other prostate-havers"?


QAnon — an offshoot of evangelical Protestantism that’s been cross-pollinated with Glenn-Beck-style hyper-rationalism to produce an unfalsifiable belief system about hidden networks of pedophiles and behind-the-scenes efforts to thwart them led by prominent Republicans, including Trump.

Damon Linker


This tweet …  attracted much amusing scorn … It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in cringe

Ed West, ‌Empires v nations: a battle as old as time (italics added)


Thy mouth hath embroidered evil, and thy lips have woven lies.

Psalm 49:19 (Orthodox numbering; 50:19 in Western Bibles), adapted from Miles Coverdale translation of the Psalms.


I decided not to read the article about the takes about the memes about the exhaustion about the memes about the takes about the Thing That Happened.

Alan Jacobs


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.