Kevin D. Williamson’s maiden guest column at the New York Times builds skillfully to his conclusion:
The Trump administration was grotesque in its cruelty and incompetence. But without the coup attempt, it might have been possible to work out a modus vivendi between anti-Trump conservatives and Mr. Trump’s right-wing nationalist-populists. Conservatives were not happy with Mr. Trump’s histrionics, but many were reasonably satisfied with all those Federalist Society judges and his signature on Paul Ryan’s tax bill. Trump supporters, who were interested almost exclusively in theater, enjoyed four years of Twitter-enabled catharsis even as the administration did very little on key issues like trade and immigration.
In the normal course of democratic politics, people who disagree about one issue can work together when they agree about another. We can fight over taxes or trade policy.
But there isn’t really any middle ground on overthrowing the government. And that is what Mr. Trump and his allies were up to in 2020, through both violent and nonviolent means — and continue to be up to today.
When it comes to a coup, you’re either in or you’re out. The Republican Party is leaning pretty strongly toward in. That is going to leave at least some conservatives out — and, in all likelihood, permanently out.
It was a month or so ago, I think, that I first encountered the hopeful suggestion that the woke Left had scored its victories largely via the element of surprise: many people thought wokeness was just another silly campus fad that would stay on campus, but like a zoonotic pathogen, it leapt into a "real world" that had acquired no immunity to it.
The hopeful part is that immunity is surging and that wokesters are starting to get smacked down without any government action. The antibodies are kicking in:
[I]f we can’t intellectually engage people on how critical theory is palpably wrong in its view of the world, we can sure show how brutal and callous it is — and must definitionally be — toward individual human beings in the pursuit of utopia. [HBO’s] “The White Lotus” is thereby a liberal work of complexity and art.
Another sign of elite adjustment: both The Atlantic and The New Yorker have just published long essays that push back against woke authoritarianism and cruelty. Since both magazines have long capitulated to rank illiberalism, this is encouraging …
Anne Applebaum links the woke phenomenon to previous moral panics and mob persecutions, which is where it belongs. She too begins to notice the obliteration of due process, individual rights, and mercy among her crusader peers …
Applebaum’s Atlantic piece is a good sign from a magazine that hired and quickly purged a writer for wrong think, and once held a town meeting auto-da-fé to decide which writers they would permanently anathematize as moral lepers.
Similarly, it was quite a shock to read in The New Yorker a fair and empathetic profile of an academic geneticist, Kathryn Paige Harden, who acknowledges a role for genetics in social outcomes. It helps that Harden is, like Freddie DeBoer, on the left …
The profile also puts the following woke heresy into the minds of the Upper West Side: “Building a commitment to egalitarianism on our genetic uniformity is building a house on sand.” And this: “Genetic diversity is mankind’s most precious resource, not a regrettable deviation from an ideal state of monotonous sameness.” The New Yorker is also telling its readers that there are around “thirteen hundred sites on the genome that are correlated with success in school. Though each might have an infinitesimally small statistical relationship with the outcome, together they can be summed to produce a score that has predictive validity: those in the group with the highest scores were approximately five times more likely to graduate from college than those with the lowest scores.”
All of this is empirically true. But if this is empirically true, critical theory, which insists that absolutely nothing but white supremacist society leads to inequalities, is dead in the water. Refuted. Proven false by reality. Finished — even as it continues to be the premise of other countless pieces The New Yorker has run in the past few years …
And then, in the better-late-than-never category, The Economist, the bible for the corporate elite, has just come out unapologetically against the Successor Ideology, and in favor of liberalism … Money quote: “Progressives replace the liberal emphasis on tolerance and choice with a focus on compulsion and power. Classical liberals conceded that your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Today’s progressives argue that your freedom to express your opinions stops where my feelings begin.”
I had already read all but the New Yorker piece, and even on that I had read Freddie DeBoer’s comments. And Sullivan continues with more, if more minor, examples of the shifting tide. This is really a hopeful sign.
Now is there any way to smack down the intolerant Right (see previous item), which rivals the woke left in contempt for democracy and which appears more prepared to act in violent paramilitary operations when it doesn’t deliver what they want? (See previous item.)
Scialabba’s way of reading [Wendell] Berry is not uncommon. As with others whose thinking is hard to locate on the political map, we tend to assume that they must be proposing another map. On this view, Berry’s suggestion to Think Little must be a strategy by which to achieve a better world. Accordingly, we see the dichotomy between Thinking Big and Thinking Little as an alternative theory of how change works: not that way, but this way.
It is true that Berry, albeit always an urgent and sometimes an angry writer, does not hitch his prescriptions to the prospects of success. He is something of a hopeful pessimist. And so his “advice,” as Scialabba calls it, though not a strategy for winning, can be described as offering a vision for living with integrity whether or not one wins.
The elites kind of have a Martin Luther King, Jr. envy. Every generation want to have that moral quality, that sense that they are shifting the arc of history in a better way, even though we’ve generally done about as much as we possibly can to do that — in terms of within the possibilities (sic) of a liberal system.
"As much as we possibly can … within the possibilities of a liberal system" is perceptive — and ominous, since the impulse for "equity" may consider destruction of our liberal system a very acceptable price to pay.
It’s my hypothesis (in what I’ve called "Selma envy" in parallel with what Sullivan calls it) that part of today’s madness is that progressive organizations that achieve their ultimate objective won’t declare victory, close down, and move on. Instead, they dream up some new objective even when the new objective is, objectively, quite mad.
Most of the trans phenomenon seems to fit that pattern; why didn’t the Human Rights Campaign, for instance, wind up its affairs starting the day after Obergefell? As I recall, Andrew Sullivan — an early and influential proponent of same-sex marriage — has the same question.
Note that "Selma envy" is not meant to demean. The human desire for meaning is strong, and when so many religious options for meaning-formation have fallen into disrepute, both Left and Right may end up in crazy places.
If I were Roman Catholic, I think his piece would describe my position perfectly.
Of course, that’s a very big "if." Because if I were a Roman Catholic who had subjected himself to the Novus Ordo for decades, and had not availed himself of the Latin Mass during the blessed hiatus in its suppression sanctioned by Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum, I might have been "form[ed] … to a new faith," as Dougherty puts it.
I learned that the Latin language was not the only distinguishing feature of this form of worship. The entire ritual was different from the post-Vatican II Mass. It wasn’t a mere translation into the modern vernacular; less than 20 percent of the Latin Mass survived into the new.
A freshman religious studies major would know that revising all the vocal and physical aspects of a ceremony and changing the rationale for it constitutes a true change of religion. Only overconfident Catholic bishops could imagine otherwise.
Just so. This is why we Orthodox guard our Liturgy (and our Liturgy guards us).
I had written the preceding part when I came across an interesting phrase in Fraces Fitzgerald’s The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape a Nation:
… [Paul] Weyrich, a Catholic so conservative he joined an Eastern Rite church after Vatican II ….
The implication is that the Orthodox Liturgy (used in the Eastern Rite with different diptychs) is more traditionally Catholic than the Novus Ordo.
That’s not wrong.
Institutions, internet, information
[T]hose who love the [Roman Catholic] Church’s traditions and choose to believe that she is truly the “perfect society” have, in actuality, zero power to preserve or protect her. They are left, therefore, with no choice but to obey papal innovations and be crushed, or to rebel against them, and thereby become the very opposite of what they espouse. Obedience to everything but sin is what the tradition recommends; rebellion against an unjust but not immoral order is anything but traditional.
Dreher continues on the corrosive difficulty of maintaining trust in institutions — any institutions — in the Information Age:
[I]t is certainly true that our governmental and health authorities have not covered themselves with glory in their management of information around Covid … [W]hen we saw last summer health authorities saying that it was okay to cast aside their warnings against public gatherings, for the sake of attending George Floyd protests, that instantly discredited them in the eyes of many of us. These things really do matter. At the same time public health authorities are giving warnings about Covid, and liberals are demanding that we TRUST THE SCIENCE, we are seeing things like the American Medical Association say that we should do away with “male” and “female” on birth certificates, because sex doesn’t exist. Now, it is perfectly possible that medical authorities could be telling the truth about how to deal with Covid, and be completely bonkers and politicized about sex and gender. But normal people see how quickly doctors are falling for the trendy ideologization of medicine, and wonder how much they can be trusted on anything.
Similarly, it is entirely possible that school systems are correct to mandate masks for students coming back to school in the time of the Delta variant. But when many school systems are also mandating teaching of radical neoracist ideologies based on Critical Race Theory, normal people can’t be faulted for doubting the judgment of those authorities.
I could cite examples all day. The point is this: authority is not the same thing as power. An institution that has squandered its authority has nothing left but power. And if it doesn’t have power to coerce others — as in today’s churches — what does it have? If it does have the power to coerce others, including those who don’t accept its authority, it risks being or becoming a tyranny.
You could say that the total information environment is good in that it compels institutions to become more honest and competent. Maybe. But humans are not machines. We are going to fail. If we live in a society where people regard all human failure as malicious, and freak out completely in the face of it, we aren’t going to make it. …
Relative dangers, Left and Right
Wokesters, a/k/a the Successor Ideology, is the current and is like a low-stage cancer, and the body politic has awakened to their presence and is responding. Left illiberalism has lost the element of surprise (surprise that it so swiftly leapt from the Ivy Tower to the street), and faces increasing resistance in the culture.
The more radically Trumpist Right, is an institutional disinformation organization, "flooding the zone with shit" about "rigged" elections and either violently seizing power or having red-state legislatures replace Democrat electoral winners with Republican losers. That’s more like an impending massive heart attack.
This was an excellent discussion, including Rauch’s admiration for NIH head Francis Collins, who led the mapping of the human genome and is a faithful Christian. Looking at the considerable numbers of thoughtful believers in contrast to his contentedly-atheist self, Rauch hypothesizes that his atheism is perhaps like color-blindness.
That seems like a pretty good analogy, in part because a person who isn’t color-blind cannot with integrity deny the distinction between, say, red and green.
I think Joe Biden deserves criticism for the terrible way his administration handled the endgame. But Joe Biden didn’t lose this war. This war was lost not the day George W. Bush decided to attack Afghanistan — the Taliban government deserved it for harboring Osama bin Laden — but rather on the day that George W. Bush decided that we were going to nation-build in Afghanistan.
Dreher then goes on to quote a 2002 column that predicted, with what we now can all see was extreme accuracy, how our Afghanistan adventure could not and would not end well.
The neocon hatred for paleocons like Pat Buchanan, the author of that 2002 column, knows no bounds. I look forward to David Frum, one of the former, writing a ‘splainer in the Atlantic on how the débâcle is all Buchanan’s fault for not joining the imperialist cheer squad.
And I should add that Donald J. Trump, in addition to appointing a bunch of very good Federal judges (all of whom, remarkably, have "betrayed" him by staying faithful to their oaths of office) deserves credit for not starting any more of these perverse wars, as he promised (or at least implied) he wouldn’t.
Within hours of the attorney general’s press conference last week, the president of the United States, leading Democrats in Washington, and key members of the New York State Assembly had called on Cuomo to step down. With polls showing a majority favoring resignation, pressure in Albany mounting, and defenders dwindling, attempting to hang on would have been maximally risky. That made Cuomo’s decision a no-brainer.
The contrast with the Republican Party couldn’t be sharper.
Since Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the party in 2016, the GOP has adopted an ethos of merciless bellicosity. Fighting is what counts and what gets rewarded. Sacrificing for the sake of principle is denigrated and dismissed. To resign is to give up power voluntarily. It’s therefore a choice reserved only for suckers and chumps.
Add in the cult of personality that has accompanied this shift in moral orientation and we’re left with a party overwhelmingly predisposed to forgive transgressions of the most charismatic and politically potent members of the team.
There was a time when I said I listened to NPR news because it made me feel at least a little bit smarter, whereas most network and radio news was stultifying.
Well, I haven’t been listening to much news, but I went back to NPR today, only to be teased for a story on the increasing hospitalization rates for "pregnant people" with Covid.
It’s weird when no broadcast news is helpful. I’ve heard that BBC World News remains excellent, but they spend so much time on in-depth stories from halfway around the world — stories that (this probably means I’m a bad person) just are not all that keenly interesting to me.
The birth of wokeism was a godsend to corporations, Mr. Ramaswamy says. It helped defang the left. “Wokeism lent a lifeline to the people who were in charge of the big banks. They thought, ‘This stuff is easy!’ ” They applauded diversity and inclusion, appointed token female and minority directors, and “mused about the racially disparate impact of climate change.” So, in Mr. Ramaswamy’s narrative, “a bunch of big banks got together with a bunch of millennials, birthed woke capitalism, and then put Occupy Wall Street up for adoption.” Now, in Mr. Ramaswamy’s tart verdict, “big business makes money by critiquing itself.”
Mr. Ramaswamy regards Klaus Schwab, founder and CEO of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as the “patron saint of wokeism” for his relentless propagation of “stakeholder capitalism”—the view that the unspoken bargain in the grant to corporations of limited liability is that they “must do social good on the side.”
Davos is “the Woke Vatican,” Mr. Ramaswamy says; Al Gore and Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, are “its archbishops.” CEOs “further down the chain”—he mentions James Quincey of Coca-Cola, Ed Bastian of Delta, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, John Donahoe of Nike and Alan Jope of Unilever —are its “cardinals.”
Ross Douthat on the rumors that American Catholic Bishops are (were?) considering “a document on the proper reception of communion that might propose, or at least suggest (the document does not actually exist yet), that the Eucharist be withheld from Catholic politicians who favor or vote to fund abortion”:
Withholding communion from politicians who are particularly implicated in those abortions, then, is both a political and a pastoral act. Political, because it establishes that the church takes abortion as seriously as it claims — seriously enough to actually use one of the few disciplinary measures that it has at its disposal. Pastoral, because the politicians in question are implicated in a uniquely grave and public sin, and taking communion in that situation is a potential sacrilege from which not only the Eucharist but they themselves need to be protected.
This kind of straightforward logic does not, however, make the plan to withhold communion from Joe Biden a necessarily prudent one. The first problem is that it is pastorally effective only if the withholding takes place, and in the structure of the church only Biden’s bishops (meaning the bishop of Wilmington, Del., or the archbishop of Washington, D.C.) and the priests under their authority can make that kind of call. So the most likely consequence of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issuing some sort of document is that Biden continues to attend Mass and receive communion from friendly priests and prelates, and the bishops as a corporate body, already weak and scandal-tarnished, look as if they’ve made a partisan intervention with no meaningful effect.
Which points to the second problem — that a direct attempt at a communion ban will inevitably be interpreted as a partisan intervention, at a time when the partisan captivity of conservative Christianity, Protestant and Catholic alike, is a serious problem for the witness of the church.
By this I mean that however reasonable the bishops’ focus on abortion as a pre-eminent issue, in a polarized nation it’s created a situation where Republicans can seemingly get away with a vast accumulation of un-Catholic acts and policies and simple lies — many of them on display in Donald Trump’s administration, which was amply staffed with Catholics — and be perpetually forgiven because the Democrats support Roe. v. Wade.
Rod Dreher weighs in in several ways, but this especially caught my eye:
I don’t know how Orthodox bishops have reacted in similar situations. I do know this: that in the Orthodox Church, when I’ve been traveling, I have been refused communion by priests who did not know me when I presented myself for communion. This is how I learned not to do so unless I have been able to speak to the priest before services to let them know that I am an Orthodox Christian who has had a recent confession. Generally speaking, Orthodox priests are zealous about what they call “guarding the chalice”. They do this because of their high view of what Holy Communion is — a view shared by Catholic teaching. They do this in part to protect the laity from receiving communion unworthily. You might not get this, but if you believe what Orthodoxy and Catholicism says about the Eucharist is true, then it should make logical sense to you.
It comes down to this: in this moment, is the Church (not just the Catholic Church) called to be prophetic, or therapeutic? I think that only by being prophetic — calling the world out — can it be therapeutic, and heal the world of its brokenness.
Surveillance capitalism. For instance …
If there were no existential threats, we’d invent one
The post-WW2 military posture of the U.S. has been endless war. To enable that, there must always be an existential threat, a new and fresh enemy that can scare a large enough portion of the population with sufficient intensity to make them accept, even plead for, greater military spending, surveillance powers, and continuation of permanent war footing. Starring in that war-justifying role of villain have been the Communists, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Russia, and an assortment of other fleeting foreign threats.
According to the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence community, and President Joe Biden, none of those is the greatest national security threat to the United States any longer. Instead, they all say explicitly and in unison, the gravest menace to American national security is now domestic in nature. Specifically, it is “domestic extremists” in general — and far-right white supremacist groups in particular — that now pose the greatest threat to the safety of the homeland and to the people who reside in it.
Within that domestic War on Terror framework, Gen. Milley, by pontificating on race, is not providing cultural commentary but military dogma. Just as it was central to the job of a top Cold War general to embrace theories depicting Communism as a grave threat, and an equally central part of the job of a top general during the first War on Terror to do the same for Muslim extremists, embracing theories of systemic racism and the perils posed to domestic order by “white rage” is absolutely necessary to justify the U.S. Government’s current posture about what war it is fighting and why that war is so imperative.
Whatever else is true, it is creepy and tyrannical to try to place military leaders and their pronouncements about war off-limits from critique, dissent and mockery. No healthy democracy allows military officials to be venerated to the point of residing above critique. That is especially true when their public decrees are central to the dangerous attempt to turn the war posture of the U.S. military inward to its own citizens.
Elsewhere, in a single observation, Leigh Fermor captures the essentially hysterical nature of Nazism better than any philosophical analyst. Watching people salute one another in the street, he writes:
“People meeting … would become performing seals for a second. This exchange, soon to become very familiar, seemed extremely odd for the first few days, as though the place were full of slightly sinister boy scouts.”
“A hero to Europe’s far right, Mr. Orban says he wants to overhaul education and reshape his country’s society to have a more nationalistic, conservative body politic. But his critics argue that the donation is legalized theft, employed to tighten Mr. Orban’s grip on power by transferring public money to foundations run by political allies.”
That “far right” smear again. The New York Times, like most Western journalism outlets, is incapable of telling the truth about Orban and his party. They are not “far right.” Fidesz is center-right. Hungary actually has a far-right party. It’s called Jobbik, and it’s openly anti-Semitic — or was, until it underwent some kind of strange makeover, and now says its Jew-hating is in the past. Last December, Jobbik formally teamed up with the left-wing opposition, in hopes of beating Orban in the 2022 race. Yes, the left-wing parties are now formally allied with a party whose stars have called their capital city “Judapest,” and called for making a list of Hungarian Jews who pose national security threats. But please, New York Times, tell us another story about Viktor Orban being mean to George Soros.
Among US journalists, you often hear bitter complaints about the bias of Fox News, and sometimes you hear expressed a grudging belief that the existence of Fox means there is balance in the American media. This is because journalists are so overwhelmingly liberal that they can’t perceive how far to the left, and how unbalanced, their viewpoint is. I’ve written before about a study, now over 20 years old, by two professors at Baruch College, who demonstrated that the US media did a good job of reporting on the rise of the religious right as a force within the Republican Party, but missed entirely the parallel rise of the secular left as a force within the Democratic Party. Their thesis was that the media didn’t see what was right in front of their eyes because to them, it was only natural that secular liberals would grow more dominant within the Democratic Party. It wasn’t news; it was nature.
Last week Bill Maher of HBO’s “Real Time” did a commentary on something he believes deeply destructive. Maher, who has described his politics as liberal, libertarian, progressive and practical, is a longtime and occasionally brave foe of wokeness in its extreme manifestations. He zeroed in on one aspect that fuels a lot of grievance, and that is the uninformed sense that America has largely been impervious to improvement.
Mr. Maher called this “progressophobia,” a term coined by the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker. Mr. Maher defines it as “a brain disorder that strikes liberals and makes them incapable of recognizing progress. It’s like situational blindness, only what you can’t see is that your dorm in 2021 is better than the South before the Civil War.”
His audience laughed uncertainly. You could tell they didn’t want to get caught laughing at the wrong thing and weren’t certain what the wrong thing was. Normally they’re asked to laugh at right-wing idiocy, which is never in (sic)
“If you think that America is more racist now than ever, more sexist than before women could vote, you have progressophobia,” Mr. Maher said. Look at the changes America has made on disputed issues like gay marriage and marijuana legislation. “Even something like bullying. It still happens, but being outwardly cruel to people who are different is no longer acceptable. That’s progress. Acknowledging progress isn’t saying, ‘We’re done,’ or, ‘We don’t need more.’ And being gloomier doesn’t mean you’re a better person.”
“The ‘Friends’ reunion we just had looked weird, because if you even suggested a show today about six people all of whom were straight and white, the network would laugh you out of the room and then cancel you on Twitter. And yet there is a recurrent theme on the far left that things have never been worse.”
[C]ompared with evangelicals, Mainline churches have “seemingly” been “less susceptible to pervasive sexual abuse,” and related cover-ups or minimizing of the problem.
Reporters should seek to eliminate the “seemingly” hedge word and figure out whether their performance is in fact superior. If so, are Mainliners simply more moral?
Tooley finds the explanation in church structures and cultures.
First, Mainline groups are rapidly aging and often lack the thriving youth ministries that supply ample targets for predators.
Second, Mainline churches have “a genuine institutional advantage with wider systems of accountability” whereas the bulk of evangelicalism is “congregationalist,” so each local church governs itself without oversight and accountability …
I think Tooley is spot-on in both observations, though I had only thought of poor “accountability” of independent founders/pastors before he pointed out the “youth ministry” angle.
Postscript: The Vaccines
I’m starting to regret, at least a little, trusting the government that Covid vaccines were safe:
So somehow there’s enough bias in the system to shut down anything generic, cheap, and safe and to amplify things that are dangerous, new, still under patent.
If there is an argument to be made about our economic and political system, it is that our system can allow you to evaporate trillions of dollars of wealth in the pursuit of billions of dollars of wealth. And that’s what we’re seeing here.
A fuller description of the participants in the podcast, which is very long (3 hours 16 minutes):
Dr. Robert Malone is the inventor of mRNA Vaccine technology. Mr. Steve Kirsch is a serial entrepreneur who has been researching adverse reactions to COVID vaccines. Dr. Bret Weinstein is an evolutionary biologist. Bret talks to Robert and Steve about the pandemic, treatment and the COVID vaccines.
So these are not some random crackpots.
They got me thinking about my own vaccine experience, but if I were to write about it, it would be:
unreliable (I’m not sure that this problem emerged after the vaccine)
maybe just a denial that I’m a fat old man, and that age catches up with people like me quite brutally.
You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.
Front page of my local newspaper, above the fold, is the news that "Racist post on County GOP Facebook elicits backlash."
The post was genuinely and frankly racist — no mere dog-whistle. And my former party is entirely too hospitable toward yahoos and atavists. But the County was Brown County, in Southern Indiana, roughly two hours from us. And it was a Facebook page, fer cryin’ out loud, where presumably any jackass, including enemies, can post.
This story’s placement was partly a function of the steep decline of my local paper and its increasing reliance on stories from other Gannett newspapers in Indiana (and from Gannett Corporate HQ). But we form our impression of the world from, well, glimpses and impressions left by things we generally have no time to analyze and blog about.
Politics can make people crazy, especially these days. For the latest evidence, consider its insidious spread to “Jeopardy!,” the game show heretofore loved by millions.
Last week Jeopardy! contestant Kelly Donohue put his index finger and thumb together in an “OK” sign, with three fingers extended, during the show’s introduction. Uh oh.
It seems some progressives are on constant watch for this gesture as a signal of white supremacy because it has allegedly been adopted by some extremist groups. Within a few days, hundreds of former Jeopardy! contestants signed an open letter explaining that Mr. Donohue’s gesture, “whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups.”
Mr. Donohue said he had signaled the number three because he had won the show three days in a row. He clarified his meaning in a Facebook post, but he apparently didn’t abase himself sufficiently in the view of the concerned game-show participants. “Most problematic to us as a contestant community,” they wrote, “is the fact that Kelly has not publicly apologized for the ramifications of the gesture he made.”
Mr. Donohue then posted a statement “regret[ting] this terrible misunderstanding” and condemning racism in all its forms. We hope, for his sake, that the latter declaration appeases the troubled sensibilities of the, uh, contestant community.
I have read that one of Jordan Peterson’s maxims in his new book is "Don’t apologize if you’ve done nothing wrong."
Keep em’ guessing
I have purchased a copy of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals in the full expectation that I’ll find much worthwhile in it (anyone who got an acknowledgment from Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities can’t be all bad), despite the book’s bugbear status, alongside "George Soros," among the Right.
A line in the sand
I understand that language evolves. I reluctantly admit that usage (eventually) makes proper.
But—usage be damned—I will never, ever, accept that "literally" means "I’m about to engage in wild hyperbole because I feel strongly about this."
Cancel culture and the GOP
There are huge divides within the GOP over whether or not cancel culture is a problem government has any role in solving.
J.D. Vance—the author and venture capitalist who is likely to enter Ohio’s U.S. Senate race in the coming weeks—urged Republicans to retaliate against businesses whose leaders met to coordinate responses to Republican-led efforts to change voting laws in states across the country. “Raise their taxes and do whatever else is necessary to fight these goons. We can have an American Republic or a global oligarchy, and it’s time for choosing,” said Vance, who declined to be interviewed for Declan’s story. “At this very moment there are companies (big and small) paying good wages to American workers, investing in their communities, and making it easier for American families. Cut their taxes. No more subsidies to the anti-American business class.”
Rep. Peter Meijer, a freshman Republican from Michigan, grew animated when presented with Vance’s comments. “How is that conservative? Where is there a fidelity to an underlying set of beliefs or principles other than just taking cues from the left and being inherently reactive?” he scoffed. “If you’re using the government to compel something you like, you’re setting the precedent for the government to be compelling something you don’t like. And the non-hypocritical approach is to just not have the government be a coercive entity towards those ends.”
Meijer agreed that Republicans have work to do on this issue, but not necessarily in statehouses or the Capitol. “The Overton window has kind of shifted to where the narrative that ‘Republicans are evil’ is not just unquestioned in many elements on the left, but in corporate America, too. And to me the broader challenge is how do we regain that credibility,” he said. “We’ve lost some credibility to be viewed as serious participants in larger cultural clashes. And if all we’re doing is talking to a Newsmax and OANN crowd, we’re not flexing those persuasive muscles to be able to win over voters in the center.
I have been consistently impressed by Peter Meijer so far a worthy successor to Justin Amash (and that’s saying a lot), while J.D. Vance sinks ever-lower in my estimation (he started mildly positive, because of Hillbilly Elegy). If the Republicans can come up with any effective, popular, constitutional legislation on cancel culture, you literally can knock me over with a feather I will be astonished.
Certified bleak — in a hopeful sort of way
We take it as our great privilege to enter an age wherein no stone remains on another. There is much to be gained amidst the dark ruins of a shattered word: Brokenness and desolation, so hopeless in the eyes of some, are invisibly pregnant with promise in the eyes of others. As we kick the opiate of material comforts, exit the temple of broken idols, and come to acknowledge that our culture is one of loud and benumbing noise, we finally stand on the threshold of encountering Truth. If one is not seduced back to numbness by the influence of contemporary life, this threshold positions one to apprehend truly (and even transcend almost completely) our dying world’s scaffolding – its logic, appearances, gross phenomena – and come to know by experience the spiritual, otherworldly life. Thus, when one loses all that is of apparent worth and modern society’s ugly face is unmasked, a search for the new, authentic life begins.
When I listen to news, I listen to NPR. I’m aware of its liberal bias, which manifests in how it covers news but also — and this is too rarely appreciated — what it considers "newsworthy" in the first place.
But NPR really dropped the ball on the Equality Act, which comes up for vote in the U.S. House today. Its story doesn’t even mention opposition based on the certain (not speculative) effect of requiring that male-to-female transgender persons be permitted to compete in athletic events against biological women.
A guest opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal identifies other problems besides the Act’s adverse effect on religious and conscience rights:
The Equality Act would threaten the existence of women’s prisons, public-school girls’ locker rooms, and women’s and girls’ sports teams. It would limit freedom of speech, freedom of association, accurate data collection, and scientific inquiry. It would threaten the rights of physicians who doubt the wisdom of performing life-changing, reproduction-limiting procedures, and parents who seek to protect their minor children from such treatment.
This isn’t hyperbole. Similar state laws have already resulted in such harm. In California, Catholic hospitals have faced lawsuits for declining to perform life-altering “gender affirmation” surgery in September 2016. In Connecticut, two biologically male athletes won a combined 15 girls state championship races, allegedly taking opportunities for further competition and scholarships from female runners in June 2019. Alaska’s Equal Rights Commission opened an investigation into a women’s shelter after it turned away a biological male in September 2019. H.R. 5 would impose the most extreme form of these laws on the whole country.
The bill is so broad that even some who support the measure in principle have called for Congress to carve out exceptions. Writing in the Washington Post in 2019, tennis legend and activist Martina Navratilova asked Congress to exempt athletic competitions. “The reality,” Ms. Navratilova wrote, “is that putting male- and female-bodied athletes together is co-ed or open sport. And in open sport, females lose.”
Women forced to compete against male athletes risk not only losing competitions, but also serious injury. Ask Tamikka Brents, whose orbital bone was fractured by transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox in the latter’s first professional fight as a woman. Ms. Brents said she felt “overwhelmed” by the fight.
The reason that some contexts require separation of the sexes is obvious: Women have unique physical vulnerabilities. Female inmates are kept separate from male inmates for just this reason. How can we possibly reduce the number of sex crimes against women if the law refuses to recognize such basic differences?
Under the guise of fairness, the Equality Act would forbid policy makers from ever taking into consideration the differences between men and women that are necessary in order to guarantee safety and equality of the sexes.
The Equality Act isn’t about protecting people from discrimination; it’s about compelling adherence to gender ideology. Don’t let its name fool you.
Religious freedom was once held in such high esteem that Congress was almost unanimous on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act less than 30 years ago, and Bill Clinton supported it and signed it. Today, it generally appears in scare quotes, often with intensifiers (e.g., "so-called ‘religious freedom’"), and is to the cultural left a bugaboo like saying "George Soros" to the cultural right.
NPR mis-reported the primary objections to The Equality Act, a bit of liberal groin piety analogous to tax cuts on the right, and I can’t help but suspect that they did so to "poison the well." Selma envy is alive and well as a prime motivation of today’s progressivism.
First, the beating-with-impunity of journalist Andy Ngo by antifa thugs in Portland. Portland police are AWOL; most or all left-of-center condemnations blame the victim, too:
[T]o insist that we call antifa ‘fascists’ only plays into antifa’s own infantile game of seeing fascism everywhere. We can say antifa is censorious, authoritarian and intolerant without having to call them fascists.
But the main problem with singling out antifa idiots for particular opprobrium is that it overlooks the utterly mainstream role antifa plays these days. These people are best seen as the violent enforcers of political orthodoxy, the masked footsoldiers of an elite wounded and dizzied by the votes for Trump and Brexit. It is not remotely coincidental that antifa in its modern incarnation came into its own in the aftermath of these two electoral earthquakes — it is because it embodies … the fury of a bourgeoisie that has found itself rejected by voters.
Third, Brett Stephens musters still more damning evidence:
According to last year’s “Hidden Tribes” report on U.S. political polarization, “Around two in three Americans feel that there is a pressure to think a certain way about Islam and Muslims, as well as about race and racism.” Similarly, a 2017 poll by the Cato Institute found that 58 percent of Americans, most of them conservative-leaning, “believe the political climate prevents them from sharing their own political beliefs.”
The data confirm what one hears and experiences anecdotally all the time: In the proverbial land of the free, people live in mortal fear of a moral faux pas. Opinions that were considered reasonable and normal a few years ago are increasingly delivered in whispers. Professors fear their students. Publishers drop books at the slightest whiff of social-media controversy. Twitter and other similar platforms have delivered the tools of reputational annihilation (without means of petition or redress) into the hands of millions, so that no comment except the most private is entirely safe from the possibility of instantaneous mass denunciation.
If the House of York had fallen to the Lancastrians as quickly as corporate and academic America has capitulated to Woke culture, the War of the Roses would have been over in a week.
I’m writing this column on the eve of July 4. But the country I’m describing each year seems to feel the spirit of 1776 less and the spirit of 1789 more. “Armed with the ‘truth,’ Jacobins could brand any individuals who dared to disagree with them traitors or fanatics,” historian Susan Dunn wrote of the French Revolution. “Any distinction between their own political adversaries and the people’s ‘enemies’ was obliterated.”
Today’s Jacobins don’t have the means, but they do have the will. Look at what happened to gadfly journalist Andy Ngo when he tried to report on radical counter-protests in Portland and ended up being violently assaulted by Antifa protesters. Antifa is not typical, but the “yes, but” excuses progressives have offered for Ngo’s assault hint at how readily those progressives would embrace violence if circumstances allowed.
“More than 4,700 people were lynched in the U.S. from 1882 to 1968, according to one estimate, and over 70 percent of the victims were black.”
Am I wrong to think “A day late, a dollar short”? Tell me more:
“For over a century, members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is: a bias-motivated act of terror,” Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “Today, we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history.”
Okay. I had been lying awake at night worried that people weren’t recognizing that lynching is a stain on our country’s history. But then I’m WEIRD.
That addition is largely symbolic, said Brian Levin, director at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
Yeah, I had kind of figured that out.
Frank Pezzella, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the bill’s passage also carries a message of deterrence …
So, while they’re at it, could they please pass a law deterring elephants from invading my living room?
“It was taken for granted in the South that whites could use force against any African-Americans who became overbearing,” he said. “How do we connect that with hate crimes in the present? Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place.”
Just about the only thing they got right was a definition of “lynching” that limits it to killing someone because of their race or religion, which at least arguably brings it into the legitimate constitutional powers of the national government.
But note that it was unanimous. I must be missing something about the pressing need for banning lynching as a government shutdown loomed.
Reason, as David Hume famously noted, is a slave of the passions, and libertarian passions point in one direction and one direction only: hostility to government. This passion is a powerful engine of motivated cognition, which invariably leads to weak policy analysis and dogmatism.
That was not at the top of my list of reasons for keeping libertarianism at arms’ length, but it’s a valid point. More:
Wherever we look around the world, when we see inconsequential governments with limited power, as libertarians would prefer, we see “failed states.” How much liberty and human dignity can be found there? Very little.
[A]ll libertarians agree that there are exceptions to their ethically-driven opposition to the use of government coercion and force. If there were not, there would be no libertarians; there would only be anarchists. But what are the scale and scope of those exceptions?
Factionalism within the libertarian world is rife and irresolvable because the principles themselves say less than you might think about what public policy ought to be (a point made with great force by my colleague Will Wilkinson).
Without some means of sorting through the reams of information coming at us every day, we would be overwhelmed and incapable of considered thought or action … Yet any set of beliefs, if they are coherent, are the wet clay of ideology. Hence, the best we can do is to police our inner ideologue with a studied, skeptical outlook, a mindful appreciation of our own fallibility, and an open, inquisitive mind.
Unable to make the case for his own virtues, Trump must aver that his vices are commonplace and inconsequential … When all this evidence is stitched together in a narrative — as Mueller’s report will certainly do — the sum will be greater than the sleaze of its parts. Russian intelligence officials invested in an innovative strategy to support the election of a corrupt U.S. businessman with suspicious ties to Russian oligarchs. The candidate and his campaign welcomed that intervention in public and private. And the whole scheme seems to have paid off for both sides … The United States seems to have gone from zero to banana republic in no seconds flat. But whether this transformation has been illegal, it must be impeachable — or else impeachment has no meaning.
In fact, over the years, as the locations for duels became more picturesque and the pistols more finely manufactured, the best-bred men proved willing to defend their honor over lesser and lesser offenses. So while dueling may have begun as a response to high crimes—to treachery, treason, and adultery—by 1900 it had tiptoed down the stairs of reason, until they were being fought over the tilt of a hat, the duration of a glance, or the placement of a comma.
In the old and well-established code of dueling, it is understood that the number of paces the offender and offended take before shooting should be in inverse proportion to the magnitude of the insult. That is, the most reprehensible affront should be resolved by a duel of the fewest paces, to ensure that one of the two men will not leave the field of honor alive. Well, if that was the case, concluded the Count, then in the new era, the duels should have been fought at no less than ten thousand paces. In fact, having thrown down the gauntlet, appointed seconds, and chosen weapons, the offender should board a steamer bound for America as the offended boards another for Japan where, upon arrival, the two men could don their finest coats, descend their gangplanks, turn on the docks, and fire.
In interviews and legal documents, women at Planned Parenthood and other organizations with a feminist bent described discrimination that violated federal or state laws — managers considering pregnancy in hiring decisions, for example, or denying rest breaks recommended by a doctor.
In other cases, the bias was more subtle. Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work, sensing they would be seen as abandoning their colleagues.
Some of those employers saw accommodating expecting mothers as expensive and inconvenient. Others were unsympathetic to workers seeking special treatment.
At Mehri & Skalet, a progressive law firm suing Walmart for pregnancy discrimination, three lawyers have accused a founding partner, Cyrus Mehri, of mistreatment. Heidi Burakiewicz said Mr. Mehri pressured her to return early from maternity leave. Sandi Farrell was told to participate in a performance review during her leave, and when she asked to postpone it she was fired. Taryn Wilgus Null said Mr. Mehri questioned her child care arrangements in a performance review after she returned from leave.
And at Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of reproductive services, managers in some locations declined to hire pregnant job candidates, refused requests by expecting mothers to take breaks and in some cases pushed them out of their jobs after they gave birth, according to current and former employees in California, Texas, North Carolina and New York.
My antipathy toward Planned Parenthood is probably in the middle of the pro-life pack, but I’ll just let the story speak for itself, pausing only to congratulate the New York Times, which has zero antipathy toward PP, for reporting it.
In an even marginally sane world, the fact that a nation’s armed forces are engaged in daily military violence would be cause for shock and alarm, and pulling those forces out of that situation would be viewed as a return to normalcy. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite. In an even marginally sane world, congressional oversight would be required to send the US military to invade countries and commit acts of war, because that act, not withdrawing them, is what’s abnormal. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite.
Though I’m now a retired attorney, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever serve on a jury, partly because one of the two contending attorneys won’t want someone highly skeptical of bloodstain analysis and other pseudo-scientific tricks of the sophists’ trade.
The truth is that this sort of confrontation was bound to happen, because there are roughly two ways of viewing transgenderism. A quick summary of those views follows:
View Number One: Transgenderism is the popular term for persistent gender dysphoria, a condition in which people who are clearly of one biological sex insist for a prolonged time period that they really are the opposite of their birth sex. Eventually they begin to dress, act, and live as though they are of the opposite sex because this brings some of them some psychological relief from the pain of their condition. Some may progress as far as lifelong medical treatments including surgeries that remove healthy body parts and organs. Many of them have other psychological comorbidities which can make the effective diagnosis and treatment plan for their gender dysphoria even more complicated. The general public should be sympathetic to their real sufferings and should be kind. However, it is not necessary for society to order itself in such a way that biological males living as females, or biological females living as males, must be given complete access to every space and situation which has been carved out for people whose actual biological sex matches their own rational perception of themselves–which is well over 99% of all human beings.
View Number Two: Transgenderism is the popular way to describe people who were really, actually born into the wrong bodies. At birth they were randomly assigned a sex based on a doctor’s observation of their exterior genitalia, but this is a barbaric practice that should be stopped, as a not-insignificant number of people who appear to be biologically male or biologically female are not the sex they appear to be. Superficial examination of body parts, internal observation of organs such as the reproductive system, and even DNA testing cannot reveal whether a person is a boy or a girl. It is, in fact, scientifically impossible to tell whether someone is male or female at birth. There is really no way at all to tell until the child, who should be raised with no gender symbolism whatsoever, is old enough to articulate his/her/their/zir/xyr preferred sex identity, at which point his/her (etc.) preference should be embraced, applauded, and supported whatever that requires. For the child whose internal sex identity actually matches his/her (etc.) body parts, there is a certain degree of unearned privilege which, though not the child’s fault, must be deplored. Other children are not so lucky and will require hormone injections, daily medications, surgeries to alter their genitals, and similar measures if they have any hope of living as a member of their true sex. Society must be radically restructured until there is no difference whatsoever between those whose apparent bodily sex matches their internal sex identity and those whose apparent bodily sex does not match their internal sex identity. This means that people who were formerly misgendered as “biologically male” must have full access to everything people born with vaginas have access to, and people formerly misgendered as “biologically female” must have full access to everything people born with penises have access to, whatever the social cost.
Erin Manning. I award this my Sanest Small Blog of the Day award.
Note that Barack Obama’s party unmistakably is the party of “View Number 2.” That is no small thing.
We’ve learned a few things about the Democratic Party. First, it’s still fundamentally a materialist party. The Trumpian challenge is primarily a moral and cultural challenge. But the Democrats are mostly comfortable talking about how to use federal spending to extend benefits …
Second, we’ve learned that when Democrats do raise a moral argument, it tends to be of the social justice warrior variety …
It has now become evident that Republicans are better at politicizing cultural issues and Democrats are better at offering economic benefits to those who are struggling. If you think voting behavior is primarily motivated by material appeals, the Democratic strategy is fine. But if you think it’s motivated by cultural identity, a desire for respect, a sense of what’s right, loyalty to a common story, the Democratic strategy leaves a lot to be desired.
These days, culture is more important than economics.
David Brooks. Do read it all; it’s richer than a few quotes can capture.
Yes, I think the Democrats do tend to go the Social Justice Warrior route on “moral” issues.
What does this portend for the election in two weeks? What should it portend for my absentee ballot, which I shall complete and mail Saturday or Sunday? Should I stick with doing my part to deliver the House to the Democrats, as both a rebuke to the Trumpistas and as a way prospectively to thwart Trump’s worst impulses?
It’s just like life to hand you a win in the culture wars (I have little doubt that View Number One is held by 75%+ of America, though they might lie to pollsters about it) accompanied by unpalatable truce terms.
* * * * *
Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.