Friday, part II, 9/21/18

1

To be alive and online in our time is to feel at once incensed and stultified by the onrush of information, helpless against the rising tide of bad news and worse opinions.

Mark O’Connell, The Deliberate Awfulness of Social Media.

2

Is anyone really surprised by New York governor Andrew Cuomo saying, “We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great.” The Left has been saying that, if not quite so bluntly, for decades. The only difference is that many more Americans now hold that view, including a disconcerting number of putative “conservatives.”

Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for Governor Cuomo, added that President Donald Trump’s Bull Moose patriotism “ignores the pain so many endured and that we suffered from slavery, discrimination, segregation, sexism and marginalized women’s contributions.”

Yes, we’ve heard that before too, but the crescendo of hysteria is reaching fever pitch. The Left now asserts that Robert E. Lee’s soldiers in gray were proto-Nazis; that Ulysses S. Grant’s soldiers in blue were genocidal Indian-killers; that America’s women still struggle against a colonial, patriarchal legacy of plantation owners in powdered wigs who kept their wives in comfortable confinement and their slaves as exploitable chattel; and that President Trump, far from being “a very stable genius,” which should be pretty obvious to everyone by now, …

And that is where I stopped reading this Townhall “worse opinions” that the Imaginative Conservative beslimed itself by re-printing.

 

3

“How likely are you to recommend quip to a friend or colleague?”

On a scale of zero to 10, about 0.1.

I simply cannot recall a friend or colleague asking me for a toothbrush referral, and volunteering it would feel about like announcing to an elevator full of strangers that I’m wearing new socks (or one of these other choices).

So that’s my quip quip.

Next question?

 

 

4

For Ed Whelan — a former Supreme Court clerk, no less — to spout off on Twitter yesterday, actually naming some other dude who’s a middle-school teacher as the “real” assailant, because of a floor plan, is mind-bogglingly reckless and wicked. You first argue that no one should be accused of attempted rape without proof because it forever tarnishes his reputation — and then you go and actually name someone else as the culprit while simultaneously saying you can’t prove anything. This is how tribalism destroys minds.

Andrew Sullivan. Rod Dreher, too, was agog at Whelan.

More from Sullivan:

Mobs and tribes have always been with us, as the Founders well understood. But Haidt and Lukianoff suggest a variety of specific reasons for the sudden upsurge in toxicity. There is a serious disconnect between the winners and losers of globalization, and this has been exploited by demagogues. Social media has given massive virtual crowds instant mobilization, constant inflammation, and — above all — anonymity. Give a street mob masks, Haidt and Lukianoff note, so they can hide their identity and their capacity for violent and aggressive conduct suddenly soars.

… Our entire society, they argue, needs a good cognitive-behavioral therapy session, to get some kind of grip on our emotions — and not a constant ratcheting up of tribal fever.

Update: Mr. Whelan deleted those Tweets and apologized, apparently sincerely and what I’d call “profusely.”

 

5

Je suis Marine Le Pen.

Seriously: between a nationalist who posts photos of IS atrocities and authoritarian progressives who order her to a shrink therefor, I think I’d take the nationalist.

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Follow me on Micro.blog 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.

Parkland

A commitment to tell the truth doesn’t mean one must blurt out just any true thing that comes to mind. But we’re at risk, it seems to me, of unduly valorizing the survivors of the Parkland high school shooting, which does neither them nor our gun debates any favors.

Of course the Parkland survivors have suffered a real loss, and in terrifying circumstances. But of course they’re being aided, advised, even scripted (and possibly funded) by adult gun opponents. Both things can be true at the same time. There is no contradiction.

This isn’t a slam of the kids. It’s just a realistic assessment of what grieving high school students could and could not pull off without help from activist adults who are delighted, not at the deaths, but at the opportunity to thrust into the limelight some kids with the Victim’s Immunity from Criticism.

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The age of bloodless assassination

[C]harges of bigotry function these days in the same way assassinations did during the 1930s. George Orwell was disgusted by the ideological brutality he witnessed while serving on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. One did not discuss; one eliminated. A similar spirit is at work today. What happened to the professors at Yale targeted by black students? What happened to the Claremont McKenna dean who was forced to resign over charges of racial “insensitivity”? They were not killed. We live in a bloodless era, thankfully. Instead, they were professionally assassinated. Professor James McAdams at Marquette was assassinated in this way. Some at Duke Divinity School tried to use the method of professional execution to get rid of Paul Griffiths.

The assassinations are by no means limited to the poisoned groves of academia. We see it happening elsewhere. James Damore was recently assassinated at Google, and before him Brendan Eich at Mozilla … These assassinations create an atmosphere of fear, which is the goal. We should be grateful that the left does not put bullets in the back of the heads of those who dissent. But let’s not kid ourselves; it is a velvet terror, but still a reign of terror.

Michael Sean Winters got into the assassination game. Our publication of Romanus Cessario’s review of a translation of Edgardo Mortara’s spiritual memoir (“Non Possumus,” February) stirred up controversy. A sharp debate followed. Winters is not interested in debate. He wants an execution. “Dominican Fr. Romanus Cessario, professor of systematic theology at St. John’s Seminary, associate editor of The Thomist, senior editor of Magnificat, and general editor of the Catholic Moral Thought series at the Catholic University of America Press, should be sacked. Not permitted to retire early. Not permitted to resign. He should be sacked and sacked publicly.” The reason for this public hanging? We need to adopt a “zero tolerance policy against anti-semitism by clerics.”

The reign of terror works in part because conservatives too often play along ….

(R.R. Reno)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The latest school shooting

Two takes:

We discuss motives, but isn’t it always the same motive? “I have murder in my heart.” Why do so many Americans have murder in their hearts?

We know. We all say it privately, but it’s so obvious it’s hardly worth saying. We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution. The family blew up—divorce, unwed childbearing. Fatherless sons. Fatherless daughters, too. Poor children with no one to love them. The internet flourished. Porn proliferated. Drugs, legal and illegal. Violent videogames, in which nameless people are eliminated and spattered all over the screen. (The Columbine shooters loved and might have been addicted to “Doom.”) The abortion regime settled in, with its fierce, endless yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life. An increasingly violent entertainment culture—low, hypersexualized, full of anomie and weirdness, allergic to meaning and depth. The old longing for integration gave way to a culture of accusation—you are a supremacist, a misogynist, you are guilty of privilege and defined by your color and class, we don’t let your sort speak here.

So much change, so much of it un-gentle. Throughout, was anyone looking to children and what they need? That wasn’t really a salient aim or feature of all the revolutions, was it? The adults were seeing to what they believed were their rights. Kids were a side thought.

… A nation has an atmosphere. It has air it breathes in each day. China has a famous pollution problem: You can see the dirt in the air. America’s air looks clean but there are toxins in it, and they’re making the least defended and protected of us sick.

(Peggy Noonan)

Nobody will say the exact words “the foundational document of our government essentially requires that we suffer mass murder again and again with no recourse,” but that is what they will be telling you.

(Elizabeth Bruenig)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Second-hand Random, Bold Predictions for 2018

Dwight Longnecker makes his Random, Bold Predictions for 2018, disclaiming the prophet’s mantle in a sort of caveat emptor.

Excerpts (wistful, not random):

5. The Sexual Revolution will fizzle out. Hugh Hefner is dead and buried next to Marilyn Monroe. People are fed up with aggressive sexual adventurers. Women don’t want to be bunnies anymore. The flower power love the one you’re with generation are getting really old and their stamina is not what it was. Ordinary folks can see that the sexual revolution, like all ideological revolutions, ends in absurdity and violence. A younger generation can see the freaks, the disasters and the walking wounded from fifty years of perversity and they are going to step away from it into the one option that is healthy, wholesome and good: sex between one man and one woman that makes babies and families for life.

7. Radical Islam will start to peter out. There are reports of an amazing amount of conversions to Christianity in Islamic lands. People don’t really want to live in bondage to theocratic regimes who behead little children and who sell women and little girls as sex slaves. Not really. As rebellion simmers in Islamic countries be prepared for crackdowns. It won’t be pretty.

9. Europe will begin to recover her Christian roots. Atheism will die out because it is a lie. So will fashionable secular agnosticism. Poland will be the center from which a renewed Christian revival begins to spread across Europe, first in Eastern Europe, then moving West. It has happened before. While it seems impossible, it is when the pendulum swings to its furthest point that it must swing back.

Note that number 9 will probably mean more stories from Mainstream Media (see Longnecker’s prediction 2) about “far-right” candidates in Hungary and points north, south and west, and will mean fewer non-Christian immigrants to the re-Christianizing countries. I’m not wistful about that.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Gun Control

I began this blog many weeks ago, forgot it, but now finish in pared-down form.

I wonder to what extent the visceral anger at “thoughts and prayers” is a way of expressing fear and anger at our inability to control irruptions of evil into our ordered lives.

(Rod Dreher)

***

When a tragedy occurs — particularly one that involves gun violence, like Sunday’s mass shooting in Texas — two things are quite predictable in the aftermath: First, lots of people, including politicians, will offer their “thoughts and prayers.” And second, an increasingly large cadre of critics will react to these offerings of “thoughts and prayers” with outrage.

Why? It seems people think “thoughts and prayers” are a lazy substitute for embarking on some real political action that might help prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future …

Contrary to the enraged certainties of many anti-gun liberals, there are actually few policies we know of that could serve as easy remedies to things like gun massacres …

The urgency and vigor of those who despise the notion of “thoughts and prayers” would only be justified in their reaction if there were indeed a magic button we could push to fix the problem tomorrow. And there isn’t.

But there’s something more fundamental at play. This isn’t just about guns. It’s about how we see political action. The implicit, maybe unconscious, but clear premise of the anti-“thoughts and prayers” line is that the only proper response to bad things happening is always political action. But turning everything into a political battle ensures that every single issue will become a conflictual one, leading to the progressive fraying away of social norms and of the belief in shared American values — which is what allows for political debate to begin with.

(Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, In defense of ‘thoughts and prayers’)

Derision of prayer and demands (tacit or explicit) for legislative magic are extensions, it seems to me, of our broadly modern notion that the public square is full of “problems” that need scientific or political “solutions.” I believe a ban on semi-automatic weapons would lower mass murder rates very slowly at best, with the interim full of demands for banning private gun ownership entirely—or so I expect gun owner suspicions run. They’d rather endure the evil of occasional mass murder than face that prospect.

No solution

Insofar as the gun control cause is “liberal,” and liberalism is most famously instantiated in the Democrat party, this seems like a very bad issue for Democrats serious about regaining some political power:

  • We have no answers, and perhaps no real concern, for the economic and social pain of you Trump voters.
  • We despise your prayers.
  • We want to take away the guns you so bitterly cling to.

Were I still a Republican, I’d be thrilled at such folly.

***

What do the perpetrators of the massacres at Sandy Hook, at Aurora, at Orlando, and at Sutherland Springs have in common? They were all men under 30 and they all used versions of the same kind of firearm, the AR-15, the semi-automatic version of the military’s M-16 and the bestselling gun in America.

It might be difficult to make this connection because as I write this, the section on the use of AR-15s in mass killings has been deleted from Wikipedia by a user called Niteshift36, who claimed that including such a section at all was inherently biased. According to his user profile, this no-doubt scrupulous and disinterested editor of the world’s most widely used work of reference is “proud to be an American,” “a native speaker of the English language,” “skeptical of anthropogenic global warming,” and “supports concealed carry laws.” He is also a veteran, a Tom Clancy and 24 fan, someone who thinks we should “say NO to political correctness,” and a self-professed “Jedi.”

With all apologies to Jedi Master Niteshift36, this is ridiculous. If the killers had all worn Mickey Mouse sunglasses or been found with Metallica tattoos, it would be considered noteworthy. It’s not biased except in the sense that reality itself is biased against childish gun enthusiasts. But whether he wins his edit war or nay, he has done a great service by reminding us what we’re dealing with whenever we try to argue. He fits a profile, of revoltingly adolescent, video game-addicted LARPers who think that their hobby of playing dress-up with murder weapons is a constitutional right.

The AR-15 is not just a gun. It is a hobby, a lifestyle, an adolescent cult …

(Matthew Walther, The adolescent cult of the AR-15)

Lest you think Walther’s mocking approach nearly as useless as prayer, be assured that this is aimed right at the source of the problem:

Lewis does not apologize for the fact that The Screwtape Letters is an entertaining and amusing read. Indeed in the opening pages he quotes Martin Luther and St. Thomas More on the need to take Lucifer lightly. Luther says, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” For his part, St. Thomas More writes, “The devil…that proud spirit…cannot endure to be mocked.”

(Dwight Longnecker, Laughing at Lucifer with Lewis) Walther:

Which is why I am not optimistic about our ability to pass any kind of meaningful legislation. The Republican Party owes too much of its support to people whose economic well-being it gleefully neglects but whose ill-considered attachments to dangerous toys it has safeguarded as a kind of poisoned consolation prize. Nor do I think that if we were somehow able to ban the manufacture, sale, and possession of all such weapons and carry out a more or less successful confiscation scheme we would never see anything like what happened in Sutherland Springs again. The real causes are chthonic; AR-15s are only the accidents that have in many cases enabled them.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

American “leadership”

I thought I might fail to blog today, but a kerfuffle between the President and Senator John McCain got the juices running.

When I read stories about “far right” European parties or candidates, I keep encountering the same feelings.

  • First, there’s appreciation that immigration can change a society, destroying much of what current citizens value.
  • Second, the appreciation that many of the immigrants in issue are refugees, and that American actions (with varying complicity by Western European nations) arguably have created the refugee crisis.
  • Third, and weakest, a suspicion that if we hadn’t broken the Middle East, something else would have. How long can strongmen like Sadaam Hussein and Bashir Al Assad keep power and order in their lands, U.S. support or opposition notwithstanding?

Which brings me to the kerfuffle:

Mr. McCain condemned “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats” than solve problems.

“You know, I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice,” the president said. “But at some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.”

“It’s fine with me,” Mr. McCain responded on Tuesday to Mr. Trump’s remark. “I’ve faced some fairly significant adversaries in the past.”

The verbal sparring was the latest round of animosity between Mr. Trump and the Republican senator, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. The president has criticized and taunted Mr. McCain, most recently for his vote dooming a Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act; early in the presidential campaign he said Mr. McCain was “not a war hero” and that “I like people who weren’t captured.”

In Philadelphia on Monday night, Mr. McCain spoke after the National Constitution Center bestowed on him an award honoring his fight for liberty. He emphasized the benefits that arise from America’s willingness to engage with the world.

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” the Arizona Republican told hundreds who gathered and applauded outside the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

“We live in a land made of ideals,” he said, “not blood and soil. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

(Siobhan Hughes, Wall Street Journal) The money line in this, of course, is “some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

But another line gave me, and others, pause.

John McCain is being applauded for delivering a fiery speech denouncing “half-baked, spurious nationalism” as he accepted the National Constitution Center Liberty Medal in Philadelphia on Monday.

The cheers are understandable. Whatever your views of his Senate voting record, McCain is an American hero who is justly celebrated for his sacrifices in Vietnam. He is showing grace and resilience in fighting a terrible illness. And yes, his targets are clearly the likes of President Trump and former White House strategist Stephen Bannon.

Nevertheless, there is much about McCain’s remarks that is wrong or at least incomplete. And his errors are precisely what is fanning the flames of the populist and nationalist backlash he now denounces to such great fanfare.

”We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil,” McCain declared. This is something the man who beat McCain in the 2008 presidential race might describe as as “false choice.”

James W. Antle III McCain’s Abstract America. The editor’s sub headline was that “McCain appeals to abstractions as much to avoid debate as to engage in it.” “A land made of ideals” surely was in mind.

Peter Beinart at the Atlantic almost perfectly captures my ambivalence about John McCain and confirms my wisdom in subscribing:

[Y]ou can’t help but notice that many of the conservatives who condemn Trump most passionately—Bill Kristol, Bret Stephens, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin—remain wedded to the foreign policy legacy of George W. Bush. And in criticizing Trump’s amoral “isolationism,” they backhandedly defend the disastrous interventionism that helped produce his presidency in the first place.

The godfather of this brand of hawkish, anti-Trump conservatism is John McCain …. Sure, McCain—being a Republican Senator—doesn’t condemn Trump as forthrightly as his “neoconservative” allies in the press. But the terms of his critique are similar.

Look at his speech on Tuesday after being awarded the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal …

As a man, McCain is as honorable as Trump is dishonorable. But this narrative is false. The last seventy-five years of American foreign policy are not the story of a country consistently pursuing democratic ideals, only to see them undermined now by a fearful “blood and soil” isolationism.

[A]nti-communism … justified America’s overthrow of elected governments in Iran, Guatemala and Chile. It justified Ronald Reagan’s decision to label Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress a terrorist organization and America’s longtime assistance to the kleptocratic Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. And far from keeping the peace, it led the United States to drop more bombs on Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War than it had during World War II.

Since 1989 … [t]he United States has sought to extend its global preeminence while battling a range of enemies—from “rogue states” seeking “weapons of mass destruction” to hyper-nationalists murdering ethnic minorities to jihadist terrorist groups—that challenge the American-led order. During the Gulf War, this imperative led the United States to strengthen the United Nations and defend international law. But during the Iraq War, it led the United States to defy international law and obliterate the Iraqi state, thus creating the conditions for ISIS. In Bosnia and Kosovo, American power helped stop genocide. In Libya, it helped create chaos.

All of that narrative brings me back to my “we broke it so we bought it” suspicions that we must not turn our backs on the human beings whose “refugee” status our policies helped create.

Beinart continues:

The point is that American “leadership” sometimes furthers the ideals that Americans revere and sometimes it desecrates them. Sometimes it makes America stronger; sometimes it doesn’t. McCain’s implication is that it’s only when American “abandon[s]” and “refuse[s]” its leadership role that it fails its people and the world. But that’s not true. Over the last fifteen years, in a spasm of military hyperactivity, the United States has toppled governments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, in wars that have cost America dearly, and bred more conflict in their wake. Trump won the Republican nomination, in part, because—facing establishment candidates who would not criticize George W. Bush’s foreign policy—he condemned such adventures and pledged to avoid new ones.

McCain is right to (obliquely) condemn Trump’s hostility to refugees, his indifference to human rights and obsession with ensuring that America’s allies don’t rip it off. But that’s not the same as foreign policy restraint. Sometimes America best serves its people and its ideals by not trying to bend the world to its will …

John McCain once understood that. As a young congressman in 1985, he told the Los Angeles Times that America was neither “omniscient nor omnipotent. If we do become involved in combat, that involvement must be of relatively short duration and must be readily explained to the man in the street in one or two sentences.” In violating that principle, George W. Bush—with the support of an older John McCain—helped discredit the Republican foreign policy establishment, and lay the groundwork for Trump’s nationalist insurgency.

Now McCain and many of his hawkish allies are criticizing Trump’s amoral nationalism, which is good. But until they question the disastrous overstretch that helped create it, they will remain his useful ideological foils.

So take the refugees but stop trying to bend the world to our will.

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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.