Wednesday, 2/21/22

Welcome to Winter. We’re really in for it from at least the Great Lakes to the Great Plains.

Culture

To see ourselves as others see us

I ask Oizumi why he is so drawn to this country. “I like to go places where there are people with a real history. In Korea, that same tribe, that same culture has been there for a very long time.” “Well,” I say, “Europe has a long history too.” “No way! That place is frightening.” “Frightening?” “Yes. I went to Italy, Spain, Milan, Florence, and all the buildings were made from stone—the churches, the castle walls, and ramparts. Now, how did they make that? That would take a tremendous amount of energy. In those days there were no bulldozers. Everything was done by hand. A place with that many stone buildings would have needed some kind of slavery system to build them. When I saw that I thought, Wow, Asia was still relatively peaceful back in the olden days.

Andy Couterier, The Abundance of Less.

That kind of serendipitous blind-siding is why I try to keep from reading in a rut.

Solidarity — in peace as in war

When rationing ended in Britain in 1954, there were those who felt that something important had been lost. At one point, the Labour Party had argued for indefinite rationing. The commonality of shared suffering, it seemed, was a stronger bond than the commonality of shared prosperity. Interesting that.

No one was nostalgic for the war itself. The fighting, bombing and the certainty of death and injury were gladly left behind. But the common bond of a common effort remained a lively part of a generation’s memory. The stories only ended when they were laid to rest. The nostalgia, I think, was for the commonality, an experience that banished loneliness and gave meaning to even the smallest actions. The prosperity that followed was hollow. For what purpose do we now shop?

Fr. Stephen Freeman

Serving God or Truth, Beauty and Goodness

[A] look back at the archives of this newsletter in 2022 reminds me how much knowledge, both intellectual and spiritual, I gained from reading Iain McGilchrist, Hartmut Rosa, and so many others. The evil in the world can sometimes feel overwhelming, but there are so many good people trying to serve God, or at least serve Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, and pouring our their hearts and minds in that labor.

Rod Dreher, Lift Up Your Head to Receive the Light.

I like that: good people trying to serve God, or at least serve Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. That rings so true to me!

To Rod’s list, I’d add Andrew Sullivan (with one big gay marriage caveat), Bari Weiss (ditto, though she writes about it only rarely), Jesse Singal, Damon Linker and Freddie DeBoer, only one of them a Christian. I’ve benefitted from reading all of them, though a few seem to have started repeating themselves or churning out Substack posts without much real enthusiasm or fresh insight. That’s a hazard of writing to deadline for a living, it seems.

A word about Rod. I first encountered him decades ago (it only feels like decades) around 2010 in his book Crunchy Cons, and began following his doings. I’ve read each of his books since then, even the ones that made me cringe or scratch my head. I’ve attended a conference where he was a keynoter and chatted with him briefly there.

But I’ve stopped reading what he writes for American Conservative magazine; there, he makes bank on stirring up “conservative” contempt for progressive oddballs and attention-grabbing extreme gender nonconformists. I wish he’d quit. I don’t listen to his podcast (I even forgot it existed). And at the moment, I doubt that I’ll buy his newest book, because I fear he’s bitten off more (re-enchanting the imagination) than he can communicate. I only read his “Diary” on Substack.

2022 saw the end of his marriage, after (he now reveals) ten years of bad family turmoil. If you don’t follow him, I’d not particularly recommend that you start just now, as he tends still to obsess about that, as divorced people, with a keen sense of personal failure, tend to do.

But I also would caution against reading what anyone else writes about his divorce because there are apparently people making bank on sheer speculation, Rod and his wife having agreed not to discuss the details of what led to divorce beyond that neither was involved in extramarital relations. (Pro Tip: If you want to break into internet virality, try attaching yourself to someone further up the food chain and spreading slanderous rumors about them.) I’m enough of a sinner to have injected my imagination into their marriage and developed a little narrative of my own about how things went wrong and who was to blame, but thank God I’ve had the decency not to share it, and I try not to return to such speculation even privately.

In short, Rod’s a very flawed, and presently quite broken, person with a gift for writing. But I’ve followed him so long that I consider him a friend. In fact, we’re kin not only because he’s also Orthodox, but because we’re both flawed (DUH!). You need not do likewise, but don’t try to get me to criticize him harshly and in general.

Pro David Frenchism

As long as I’ve resorted to writing about people I read, let me touch on an emerging favorite: David French (he to whom the lesser-known Sohrab Ahmari attached himself, thus achieving virality). It’s a heck of an honor to be the illiberal right’s poster boy for classical liberalism — the guy they’d have tarred and feathered and “rode out of town on a rail” 150 years ago.

Counterfactuals always are dangerous, but I suspect I’d be a lot friendlier to post-liberalism/illiberalism today had I not kept on reading French (who writes in the same vein as David Bahnsen, below).

In other words, I’m broadly (if not fully) aware of the shortcomings of classical liberalism, but I see no better alternative for life in a pluralistic reality. If we decided that pluralism was the problem and succeeded in eliminating it, especially in favor of some version of “Christian America,” that could well mean eliminating me, because the dominant Christianities in this culture are so very different from Orthodoxy.

Indeed, were it not for his classical liberalism, I’d not want to live in a Christian America with French as tsar. I’ve begun turning away from his religious musings because they just don’t “speak to me,” and it’s hard to imagine that they once would have. But on politics and the intersection of religion/philosophy and governance, he’s been a boon.

Anger

Offered without comment:

Anger is less an emotion than an armor against feeling emotions. In most cases, we would be better off acknowledging the emotions from which anger seeks to protect us.

Damon Linker, citing Matt Yglesias

Politics

Why are they whistling a new tune?

[H]ow should those of us who, for years, have repeatedly warned Republicans about Trump view those who have finally done an about-face, in some cases mimicking the very criticisms that Never Trumpers have been making since the start of the Trump era?

We ought to welcome their turnabout. This is, after all, what many of us have been urging them to do. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone should have the chance to correct those mistakes, including onetime Trump enthusiasts. Just as important, purging Trump from America’s political landscape can only happen if the Republican Party first purges him from its ranks. If people who once supported Trump are, at last, willing to cast him aside, that is all to the good.

But we shouldn’t see a moral awakening where there is none. The reason many longtime Trump supporters are deserting him is because they believe he is a loser, and an impediment to their quest for power.

Peter Wehner

Emotion blackmail as usual

Someone in the Indiana legislature is apparently planning to introduce what the press insists on calling a “Don’t Say Gay” Bill in January, when the legislature convenes.

I disclaim any knowledge of whether we have much or any problem in Indiana with age-inappropriate instruction on sexuality. And I’m aware of the argument that any instruction on sexuality in public schools usurps the role of parents. What this bill reportedly does is forbid any instruction in sexuality in K-3 and forbid any instruction that isn’t “age-appropriate” thereafter.

But what really gets to me is the all-too-predictable emotional blackmail that followed from Chris Paulsen, CEO of Indiana Youth Group:

“The damage even having the bill introduced will cause to young people is immeasurable,” Paulsen said. “We will see youth die by suicide because of this. I think it’s that dire and I’m sad that lawmakers don’t realize their actions have really bad consequences, even if the bill doesn’t pass.”

Indianapolis Star/USA TODAY NETWORK (emphasis added)

I call bullshit on the parts I emphasized.

Heckuva way to defend and uphold the Constitution

“I want to thank Judge Benitez. We have been saying all along that Texas’ anti-abortion law is outrageous. Judge Benitez just confirmed it is also unconstitutional,” Newsom said in a statement Monday. “The provision in California’s law that he struck down is a replica of what Texas did, and his explanation of why this part of SB 1327 unfairly blocks access to the courts applies equally to Texas’ SB 8.”

Politico

California Governor Gavin Newsom, thanking a federal judge for striking down a California gun law that mirrored a Texas abortion law, which gun law he supported.

Maybe I’m too literal-minded — no, make that “I’m often too literal-minded” (I have a hypotesis on what I am) — but it’s hard for me to see how Newsom’s support of a law he knew was unconstitutional isn’t a violation of his oath of office.

No option for rule by Angels

In a piece for National Review, frequent Remnant guest David Bahnsen pushes back on arguments made by First Things editor Rusty Reno against free markets and in favor of using political power to ensure virtue. “The cabal of new-right market skeptics are stuck with the age-old problem identified by the Founders, and yes, by 20th-century giants such as Friedman and Hayek: We have no option to be ruled by angels,” Bahnsen writes. “The doctrine of the Fall does not merely inform our understanding of the original sin plaguing individuals and families, but also and especially the state itself. That an individual left unchecked and free of moral enlightenment may suffer in weak discipline and low taste is both true and tragic. But that a civil magistrate granted the power Reno envisions for it represents a more potent and damaging fruit of original sin is, indeed, the testimony of history. On this point there can be no refutation. I prefer that the low-brow permeation of social-media obsession die a holy death, yet inviting the ghosts of 20th-century past to regulate consumer preferences strikes me as a ghastly trade-off.”

The Morning Dispatch


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

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.

Monday, 12/19/22

How we differ from traditional cultures

Choose ye this day

You can believe exactly what people in 1450 believed, but you cannot believe it in the same way they believed it because you have a choice.

Paraphrase of Carl Trueman, interviewed by Andrew Sullivan

This is a modern conundrum. I can say “I had no choice but to become Orthodox when I saw and learned what I did,” but of course I did have a choice. Choosing has been unavoidable for centuries now — at least in upper strata in Western Christendom (perhaps it’s one of those proverbial “first-world problems”).

Choosing to change religion is not even a costly choice here as it is still elsewhere in the world. Yet there is a toll to be paid, coming from banks of integrity, for not choosing what overwhelmingly commends itself.

(Sullivan/Trueman was a great interview, by the way, between very smart Oxbridge men with significant differences of opinion but an ability to converse civilly. Go thou and do likewise.)

East and West

Further:

To say that Orthodoxy is “Eastern” and that Catholic and Protestant Christianity are “Western” is not a poetic description or a mere matter of geography. The terms have long been employed to indicate real differences in historical experiences and thought—not simply the final conclusions but the process by which we arrive at those conclusions.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox. I do not have, even by inheritance, the historical experience of the Eastern Church. My heritage is Western. So while I believe and practice Eastern Orthodoxy, I cannot believe and practice it in quite the way a devout “cradle Orthodox” would.

I like to think that converts like me bring something of value nonetheless, particularly where the faith may have tended toward a complacent cultural club or, as in my parish, where no single cultural group of Orthodox Christians coalesced to to support a church, and converts both added numbers and served as a catalyst for a new, more American (i.e., “pan-Orthodox”) parish. That my parish is in the relatively obscure Carpatho-Rusyn diocese may make it easier to avoid an ethnic identification — as in when people ask whether my Orthodoxy is Greek or Russian.

Traditional civilizations

In a traditional civilization it is almost inconceivable that a man should claim an idea as his own; and in any case, were he to do so, he would thereby deprive it of all credit and authority, reducing it to the level of a meaningless fantasy: if an idea is true, it belongs equally to all who are capable of understanding it; if it is false, there is no credit in having invented it.

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World

Culture generally

Journalistic murmurations

I’ve heard, and find it plausible, that the New York Times tacitly decides what’s “news” worthy of mainstream attention.

I’m starting to think there is some similar organ on the Christian and Christianish Right, because (for instance) all of a sudden “everyone” (i.e., many on the Christian Right, from which orientation I gain much daily commentary — this, for instance) is writing about MAID, Medical Assistance in Dying, as implemented in Canada and increasingly “recommended” in heavy-handed ways.

It’s a worthwhile story, but I don’t think you’ll see it in the New York Times. It may have started with advance copies of The New Atlantis.

It occurs to me that this phenomenon is rather like a murmuration. (I hope that apt metaphor is original. I certainly am not conscious of having encountered it elsewhere.)

The Promise of Pluralism imperiled

In the seven years since Obergefell was decided, the American left has been on a mission to diminish the legal and practical foundations of the Constitution’s free-speech rights.

They argue that antidiscrimination laws should be recognized as more important and that the Supreme Court in Ms. Smith’s case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, should affirm this new reality. Colorado’s law lists the classes of discrimination as “race, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation (including transgender status), national origin/ancestry, creed, marital status.”

This Supreme Court is likely to decide in Ms. Smith’s favor, maintaining the prohibition established in 1943 by Justice Robert Jackson as the “fixed star in our constitutional constellation” that the government can’t compel, or coerce, an individual to adopt the majority’s opinion.

Still, this case is among the reasons you have been seeing a public assault on the high court’s conservative members. The left’s playbook, across politics, is to stigmatize its opposition as outside acceptable opinion.

Daniel Henninger, They Want to Shut You (and 303 Creative) Up.

I’ll be blunt: I think free speech rights trump antidiscrimination rights. The only issue is whether what the state is forbidding or commanding qualifies as “speech.” In the 303 Creative case, it so clearly was speech that Colorado admitted it.

Western Civ

The argument now that the spread of pop culture and consumer goods around the world represents the triumph of Western civilization trivializes Western culture. The essence of Western civilization is the Magna Carta, not the Magna Mac.

Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

Your periodic reminder

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

Questioning whether violence really is religious risks the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, but I’ve believed that violence doesn’t come from true Christianity for more than 50 years. I probably was guilty of scripture-twisting, but I cited James 4:1-4 as my prooftext.

My conviction, and the bloody wars provoked by non-Christian ideologies in the last century, gives me cause for grave concern as we arguably are abandoning a real, if flawed, Christian heritage now that our great atheist enemy is defunct.

Politics (sigh!)

Marshall Law

Here at The Dispatch, we are mostly anti-snark and anti-sneer, so I will try to consider this question earnestly: What does it say about our country that we are governed by illiterates?

One “Marshall Law” is a typo. Two is a trend. And the recently published trove of January 6-related texts is a testament to the illiteracy of the people who represent millions of Americans in Congress ….

Kevin D. Williamson

Ron DeSantis

I want two things out of the 2024 presidential cycle. One is the end of Donald Trump’s political career, whether in the primary or general election. I don’t care when or how it happens as long as it happens.

The other is a greater willingness among conservatives to criticize their leadership. We’ve spent seven years encased in a repulsive personality cult devoted to a repulsive personality. If the cult disbands in the next election, one obvious lesson in the aftermath is that it shouldn’t be replaced by a new one.

Nick Cattogio

Cattogio thinks the best way to end Trump’s political career is an incumbent Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (you may have heard of him).

I’m agnostic on what it will take to drive a stake through Trump’s blackened heart, but I’m tending negative on DeSantis.

He’s smart enough to know that some of the culture war laws he has backed are unconstitutional, but backed them anyway despite his oath to uphold the constitution. Maybe the Morning Dispatch’s satirical summary of the Bill of Rights is his for real:

On this day in 1791, the fledgling United States of America ratified its Bill of Rights, conferring on its citizens a host of fundamental freedoms that can only be infringed upon if doing so helps one’s political team win culture war fights.

That’s not my view of the Bill of Rights.

I can forgive Marjorie Taylor Green her illiterate outbursts before I forgive the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Ron DeSantis. All of them are better-educated and probably smarter than me, but they tend toward unprincipled pandering and willing to subvert the Constitution for political gain. For all I know, DeSantis seems better than the other two only because I’m less familiar with him.

The Coverup is the Crime

Remember that dad who got dragged out of a school board meeting in Loudon County, Virginia, after pressing school officials about in-school sexual assaults on girls by a cross-dressing boy? The idea of the problem being the dad fit a leftish narrative so well that Merrick Garland directed the FBI to investigate threats against teachers and school officials and people began viewing vocal parental involvement in Board meetings as terroristic.

Well, it turns out the dad may have been right and that school officials were criminally covering up the assaults.

Caveat: There are twists and turns in this story. The charges are mostly misdemeanors and potentially somewhat political. I doubt that the dust has settled enough for clarity. It’s now well-known that a cross-dressing male sexually assaulted two girls in two bathrooms, but those bathrooms apparently were not yet subject to a “come as the gender you feel today” policy.

Let the healing begin

Republicans actually turned out more voters than Democrats in November. They even won the national popular vote. But in races involving Trump’s candidates, many Republican voters split their tickets, punishing Trump favorites like Arizona’s Blake Masters and Kari Lake who questioned the 2020 results. It turns out that running against democracy is not a recipe for democratic success.

It’s sobering to realize that history can turn on the personal quirks of one person. But it’s also comforting, because as the 2022 midterm results suggest, some of the ugliest aspects of the Trump era aren’t inherent to our system or deeply embedded in our society. They are the downstream effects of one bad actor. Remove him and the pollution he caused will remain, but once disconnected from its source, it can slowly be cleansed, as we saw in this past election.

Yair Rosenberg, Deep Shtetl. The idea of a “national popular vote” in Congressional and Senate elections is quite bogus for most purposes, but it somehow feels instructive here.

Hard fact

You can’t fact-check a person out of hope and purpose. They’ll resent you even if you’re right.

David French

Just for fun

France can still pull it off if Mike Pence has the courage

@EricMGarcia


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

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.

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.

Friday, 8/19/22, political

I’ve collected so much that I’m breaking it in two. Herewith, the political, writ large and smaller. The rest will come in the morniing.

Politics Writ Large

The point of these items is not partisan, but rather a view of the political field “from 30,000 feet.”

Conservatism

Three outstanding paragraphs:

I shuddered when, within a matter of months following the Obergefell decision, I began to hear activists from (otherwise obsolete?) gay-rights organizations talking about the need to push transgender issues as the next front on the leftward side of the culture war. These activists weren’t just calling for legal protections from discrimination, which wouldn’t have been especially controversial. They were demanding that the country at large give up on “the gender binary” and reject belief in any kind of biological component of sexual identity.

In its place, people were now expected to embrace an ideology of absolute gender fluidity. Boys could be girls, girls could be boys, requests on the part of children to physically change from one to the other using a range of sometimes quite radical medical interventions needed to be respected and heeded, and any and all resistance to this agenda was henceforth declared to be an expression of rank bigotry. The change even extended to pronoun usage, which went in the matter of a couple of years from something perfectly obvious and unworthy of thought for native speakers of American English to a highly fraught matter of social propriety and potential insult.

Can anyone really be surprised that this push for dramatic sociocultural change, with much of it focused on minors, coincided with a surge of support for right-wing populism, which promised to fight the left with greater ferocity than ever before?

Damon Linker, On Being a Conservative Liberal

One of my favorite sayings used to be Cet animal est très méchant. Quand on l’attaque, il se défend. It was my (conservative) response to progressive aggressors who found conservatives très méchant.

“Back in the day”, 20-30 years ago, it was invariably the progressives who aggressed, the conservatives who defended. I cannot say that categorically any more. Death threats and death plots against progressive-to-center-right public figures, by the far right, caution me against that. But Linker reminds me that the Left remains an aggressor.

Dave Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College, told The Dispatch last month that “the definition of conservatism has changed a bit in the Trump years.”

“What counts as being a true conservative has become more about cultural issues and more about fidelity to Trump himself than it’s been about size of government,” he said.

Price St. Clair, Wyoming Voters Deal Lopsided Loss to Cheney

Another of my favorite sayings (very loosely paraphrased from memory) comes from the late William F. Buckley: "The problem with most liberals is that they cannot begin to describe the world in which they’d say ‘enough!’ and become conservatives." That certainly is the case with those who, having totally triumphed on homosexuality, thought they could put one over on us with gender theory, thus keeping their little sinecures intact.

No American Oakeshottians

Back to Damon Linker’s rewarding essay of Friday, On Being a Conservative Liberal:

The great British conservative Michael Oakeshott has a lovely essay titled “On Being Conservative” that does a fabulous job of summarizing the impulse to resist change. Here is that essay’s most famous passage: “To be conservative … is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, … the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”

Those sentiments speak to me on a very personal level … Deep into adulthood, the announcement of an unanticipated change in plans would provoke intense anxiety that manifested itself in anger, as my brain short-circuited and I did everything I could to repress an instinct to panic.

No wonder I ended up a conservative—though of a peculiar kind … I had no real attraction to the surging, striving form of American conservatism that leads some to lament decadence and stagnation or to propose schemes that might inspire greater economic and cultural dynamism. It placed me miles away from Ronald Reagan’s endorsement of Thomas Paine’s line about how it’s possible and desirable to “begin the world over again.” (That quintessentially American sentiment has always struck me as delusional and potentially dangerous.)

There are, it seems, no American Oakeshottians.

Except, perhaps, in a certain underpopulated corner of the Democratic Party—the corner in which I’ve found a de facto political home for the past two decades.

This is probably the best argument I’ve read on why a conservative “of a peculiar kind” might end up voting Democrat.

Epistemic humility

As the leader of a country that within living memory had wiped out six million Jews, she was understandably anxious not to appear prescriptive about what might constitute European identity.

Tom Holland, Dominion, distilling a lot of history and shame to 190-proof.

Religion and Politics

“I was thinking about that Marx quote that religion is the opium of the people,” Elizabeth Oldfield, the former director of the Christian think tank Theos, told me. “I think what we’ve got now is [that] politics is the amphetamines of the people.”

Helen Lewis, How Social Justice Became a New Religion

Politics Writ Smaller

New policies, maybe; barbarian behavior, no

Cheney and Romney (and Adam Kinzinger and Peter Meijer and other dissenting Republicans) are defending the party. They’re upholding its ideals. And to understand why, we have to understand the core argument of the Trump right. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. It has two parts:

First, it’s time to end the old ways. As a policy matter, Reagan Republicanism is dead. We need more government intervention in the market, fewer military entanglements abroad, and the greater use of state power to enforce conservative moral norms. A new “workers’ party” or “parents’ party” is going to be more progressive economically and more conservative socially than Reagan’s party. We appreciate The Gipper, but he was a man of his time, and that time has passed.

Second, it’s not just the old policies we reject. We reject the old rules of behavior. The left punches hard. We’ll punch harder. We tried nominating “good” people—like Mitt—and the left painted them as racist and misogynist. We didn’t make the new rules, but we’ll play by those rules, and the new rules tell us to fight fire with fire. Never back down. Never apologize. If cruelty works, be cruel. If lies work, then lie. Support for classical liberalism and the rule of law are luxury beliefs for a protected elite that doesn’t understand the present emergency. The existence of the nation is at stake. Act like it.

As times change, policies will change. The Republican Party wasn’t going to remain the anti-slavery party when slavery ended, just as it wasn’t going to remain the Cold War party when the Soviet Union fell. Ideological fights and ideological change are normal and healthy. Not every economic problem can be fixed with a tax cut, and not every foreign challenge can be met with military power.

And so the first paragraph of the case for the new Trump right isn’t particularly alarming …

It’s the second paragraph that represents the threat. It’s the second paragraph that triggers the crisis. It’s the abandonment of truth, character, and respect for the institutions of our pluralistic republic that places our entire democratic experiment at risk ….

David French, Who Is a True ‘Turncoat’?

A rant against “normal” Republicans

Oh, my! Too much good stuff for me to quote in good conscience (since it’s copyrighted and the author makes his living writing). Excerpts to whet your appetite:

What the “Team Normal” Republicans would like is the arrangement they had before 2015 — they would like Trump to help stir up their own voters and generate “energy,” but they don’t want to have to defend his unpopular actions and characteristics to swing voters who have a negative view of him and they also don’t want to have intraparty fights with the candidates he supports.

That your party is led by an inept, impulsive, criminally inclined man, who is viewed negatively by most voters, who cares very little about whether your party wins elections or achieves policy goals, and who keeps causing the party to nominate his unappealing weirdo personal friends in otherwise-winnable Senate races, is your problem — one largely of your own making. No self-respecting set of political opponents would respond to this in any other way than by putting the screws to you as hard as is possible.

Josh Barro, A Rant: ‘Team Normal’ Republicans, Stop Whining That Democrats Won’t Help You

How to irk Trump and live to win again

Not all those who have irked Mr Trump have been purged from the party’s ranks. Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, and its secretary of state (chief elections officer), Brad Raffensperger, both helped thwart Mr Trump’s attempts at post-election cheating. Despite efforts to unseat them, Georgia’s primary voters made them the party’s nominees in May. But the price of self-preservation was silence. “I’ve never said a bad word about [Mr Trump’s] administration and I don’t plan on doing that,” Mr Kemp said.

The election of the Trump-appointed slate means that the “rule of law is teetering” in Arizona, according to Bill Gates (not that one), a Republican member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. In other times a man like Mr Gates, a Harvard-educated lawyer and businessman who supports tighter voter-identification laws and low rates of taxation, might have aspired to statewide office, too. But with openness to electoral nullification a new litmus test for such candidates he counts himself out. He says his party has a tumour which is metastasising, and that its nature has changed fundamentally. “We’ve become a European far-right party.”

Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is unquestionable (The Economist)

Trump as Ransomware must might have legs

Republicans weren’t able to uninstall the Trump ransomware this year, Chris argues in this week’s Stirewaltisms (🔒). “In a midterm election that party leaders had hoped would unite the right and focus on an unpopular sitting president and grinding inflation, Republicans in their primaries showed almost no ability to set aside their own civil war,” he writes. “Nor is there any question about which side came out ahead.”

The Morning Dispatch, 8/19/22

Trump loves to be loved. He loves to be hated. He hates to be ignored.

The press loves looks and clicks.

The Trumpist Right loves trolling and demolition.

Ain’t a chance in hell that we’re going to get relief from all the Trump-related news any time soon, Nellie. They’ll cover him even if it means his notoriety gets him elected again.

Epiphenomenon

The term “post-truth” was declared the Oxford Dictionaries’ “Word of the Year” in 2016. Post-truth is an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Michael Ward, After Humanity.

Liz Cheney’s 2024

“Of course she doesn’t win,” Bill Kristol, the longtime strategist who has become one of Trump’s fiercest conservative critics, told me. But, he added, if Cheney “makes the point over and over again” that Trump represents a unique threat to American democracy and “forces the other candidates to come to grips” with that argument, she “could have a pretty significant effect” on Trump’s chances.

Ronald Brownstein, Liz Cheney Already Has a 2024 Strategy

Creepy is not the same as illegal

I still have no use for Alabama’s cornpone former Chief Justice Roy Moore, but let the record reflect that certain of his detractors have gotten an $8.2 million slapdown.


"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.

Friday, 7/15/22

Improving an old adage

I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.

Oscar Wilde via Nadine Strossen, Who Really Benefits From the First Amendment?

I had never before enountered that delightful upgrade to an old saw.

We. Are. Doomed.

I learned Thursday of a newly-minted epithet for those of us who have no intention of uploading our brains to the cloud to attain immortality, and who oppose the whole project: "fleshists."

Errata

I referred recently to Herschel Walker as an in-kind contribution to Stacy Abrams’ race for Governor of Georgia. The problem is, Walker is running for Senate, not Governor. So he’s actually an in-kind contribution to Raphael Warnock. You can look that up.

Warnock, be it remembered, was elected in an early-2021 runoff partly courtesy of Orange Man petulantly implying that Georgia’s election apparatus was so corrupt that there was no point in voting. Many [brutal characterization of mental and moral capacity omitted] Georgia Republicans obliged Orange Man by staying home, so we now have an evenly-divided Senate instead of Republican control. And, God willing, liberal Raphael Warnock will not be relinquishing his seat to Orange-Man-endorsed Herschel Walker (who absolutely was a superb football player back when I watched the Cowboys religiously).

That’s from memory and opinion banks, and it’s too good to fact-check myself on it. "Orange Man bad" indeed, and bad in so many ways for the GOP that adores him.

Modern and Postmodern

Walter Pater’s aphorism that all art aspired to the condition of music alluded to the fact that music is the least explicit of all the arts (and the one most directly attuned to our embodied nature). In the twentieth century, by contrast, art has aspired to the condition of language, the most explicit and abstracted medium available to us.

Iain McGilchrist, The Modern and Postmodern Worlds in The Master and His Emissary

Abolition of biology

While some degree of ‘gender dysphoria’ is probably as old as the hills, and people who don’t conform to society’s expectations of what men and women ‘should’ be have always existed (many of us could probably comfortably fit into that category), what is happening now is something very different. Western society is engaged in a fundamental shift in its understanding not just of ‘gender roles’ – questioning them has been de rigeur for at least a century, after all – but in the nature of biological reality.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Abolition of Man (and Woman)

Last Resort

The important thing to understand about preventive attacks on other countries is that they can never be a “last resort.”

Daniel Larison, Biden’s ‘Last Resort’ – by Daniel Larison – Eunomia


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.

Poetry as Theology (and lesser stuff)

Censorship and self-censorship

Lest it be thought that my reading doesn’t span a broad spectrum, compare these three responses to the very same New York Times Editorial Board offering:

As this (superb) Times staff editorial persuasively argues, America has a free speech problem. And in many parts of the country, the right poses more of a threat to free speech than the left.

David Lat, ‌An Open Letter To Yale Law Dean Heather Gerken.

Lat is wrong. The only excuse was that it was almost an aside in the larger context.

Another week, another opportunity for our media class to freak out when it’s suggested that we are living in an age that’s not friendly to open debate. The absolute madness this anodyne NYT op-ed provoked among the NPR tote bag set should be listed in the DSM. Just an absolute shriek of anger from the privileged, overeducated Brooklynites (in spirit if not in geography) who have put our intellectual culture in such a stranglehold.

‌Freddie deBoer, Please Just Throw Me a Bone with the Wesleyan Argus Controversy.

Well, that was fun, Freddie, but Ken White ("Popehat") persuades me, where you didn’t; the editorial was worthless — or worse.

There’s a lot more good stuff than I feel I can fairly quote, but here goes with "best of the best":

Some defenders of the [Editorial] say that critics are being too pedantic, and that it’s clear the Times is talking about norms, or “free speech values,” or "free speech culture” or “norms.” First, bullshit. It’s the New York Times Editorial Board. I’m not critiquing a middle-schooler’s essay. I can hold them to a standard of coherence …

[I]t’s terrible that the Times is gullibly accepting the Right’s deeply dishonest assertion that it doesn’t engage in the sort of behavior it calls “cancel culture.” There is no serious argument that conservatives refrain from “cancel culture.” Conservatives attempt to cancel liberal professors all the time. Conservatives decry disinvitation even as they indulge in it. The meretricious Turning Point USA, which constantly bemoans cancel culture, maintains a enemies list of too-liberal professors. Conservative luminaries accuse opponents of legislation of wanting to groom minors for abuse. Our former President constantly complained about cancel culture and just as constantly demanded that people get fired for speech he didn’t like. Don’t get me started on Colin Kaepernick or Liz Cheney.

The Times also errs by utterly failing to grapple with the problem that “cancelling” represents free speech and free association. Saying we should “end cancel culture” means we’re saying some people should refrain from some exercises of speech and association to promote other people feeling more free to speak.

That’s not an outrageous proposition. We have cultural norms to that effect, and we follow them all the time. If, at a cocktail party, someone says “we should just make hate speech illegal, it’s easy,” I probably won’t say “that’s [expletive deleted] stupid Janet, you’re a dim person, put down that Appletini and get the [expletive deleted] out” even if that’s what I think in my head, because cultural norms tell me that’s rude and disproportionate. If I happen across an eighth-grader’s essay arguing that Donald Trump will be indicted for RICO, I won’t put the eighth-grader on blast the way I will if Rachel Maddow says it, because norms tell me that would be disproportionate. But a discussion of norms that value proportionality and make people more comfortable speaking isn’t serious if it doesn’t take into account the interests of the people who want to speak in return …

Popehat doesn’t write all that often, but he’s awfully good when he does.

Trans girls in Indiana Sports: A Null Set

Transgender sports: Holcomb vetoed House Bill 1041, which would ban transgender girls from playing school sports. In a letter sent to the General Assembly, Holcomb wrote that protecting integrity and fairness in women’s sports was “a worthy cause for sure,” but he believed “the wide-open nature of the grievance provisions” in the bill made it unclear about how it would be enforced consistently between different counties and school districts. Holcomb wrote that the IHSAA has had a policy in place for 10 years and that “not a single case of a male seeking to participate on a female team has completed the process.” (State Sen. Ron Alting, a Lafayette Republican, had made similar arguments when he voted against the bill.) Holcomb wrote that he could “find no evidence” to support claims that there is an existing problem in the state. Monday night, advocates who had lobbied that the bill was mean-spirited were praising Holcomb. Legislators were threatening to override the governor’s veto. U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita piled on with criticism of their own.

For more, here’s a version of the story from AP reporter Tom Davies, another one from Arika Herron at the Indianapolis Star and one more from the New York Times.

(Dave Bangert’s Based in Lafayette Substack, italics added)

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s not a bad slogan, but I’ve been around the block too many times to think it’s a principle.

30 years ago when all our local governments in my county made sexual orientation a protected class throughout the county. I attended every minute of every hearing of all three government bodies, and the only first-hand report of discrimination was from a guy whose apartment-mates asked him to live elsewhere after they found his gay porn stash. Do you call that "discrimination in housing"?

(I’m disappointed, but not surprised, at the shit-stirring responses of Mike Braun and Todd Rokita. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve never voted for either of them.)

Polyamory?

Overheard in Silicon Valley: "The modern university is a political madrassa married to a trade school married to a hedge fund married to a sports team married to an adult day care center married to a visa law firm."

Marc Andreesen

Shock treatment

Those first few days after Russia’s invasion revealed something important about the United States: Much of what looks like unbridgeable polarization online may be the product of boredom, distraction, and jadedness; when something real happens, people pay attention to that instead. We refresh our feeds incessantly, looking for new information and sharing it. And as a shooting war started, average users sought out experts and reputable news organizations. Google Trends, for example, showed a relative increase in searches for nuclear weapons and _potassium iodide—_a treatment used after radiation emergencies—while searches for Ukraine were at an all-time high. The culture war temporarily faded into the background ….

Renée DiResta, ‌The Ukraine Crisis Briefly Put America’s Culture War in Perspective

Wordplay

‘Oikophobia’ was Roger Scruton’s term to describe ‘the repudiation of inheritance and home’, the way that many socialists and progressives are motivated by a loathing for their own country, their own countrymen and often their hometowns, from which they wished to escape and punish its inhabitants.

Ed West


Campism is a longstanding tendency in the international and U.S. left. It approaches world politics from the standpoint that the main axis of conflict is between two hostile geopolitical camps: the “imperialist camp,” today made up of the United States, Western Europe, Saudi Arabia, and Israel (or some such combination) on one hand and the “anti-imperialist camp” of Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and other less-industrialized nations on the other.

Socialist Forum


rebarbative rē-bär′bə-tĭv adjective

  1. Tending to irritate; repellent.
  2. Irritating, repellent.
  3. serving or tending to repel

Use in a sentence: "The rationale for the transgender movement is couched in arcane and rebarbative prose."

H/T Carl Trueman, who continues:

Today, the latest form of body dysmorphia—rapid-onset gender dysphoria—is fueled by extremely wealthy lobby groups with a vested interest in identity politics. Backed by a medical establishment for whom ethics is little more than a supine acceptance of technological possibilities, and enabled by a political class that lacks a moral backbone, these groups are shaping the country’s pediatric care. And the cost will be catastrophically high.


"Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation": The Orwellian title of a proposal to divide the United Methodist Church along lines of theology (not limited to ordination of practicing homosexuals, though the press tends to report it that way).


Polysemy Polysemy is the capacity for a sign to have multiple related meanings. For example, a word can have several word senses. Polysemy is distinct from homonymy—or homophony—which is an accidental similarity between two or more words; whereas homonymy is a mere linguistic coincidence, polysemy is not.

Wikipedia. (H/T , Daniel Gustafsson, Poetry as Theology: Reflections on Ephrem the Syrian and Richard Wilbur. Highly recommended for Orthodoxen; may be evocative for others, too.)


It’s good to shut up sometimes.

Marcel Marceau via The world in brief


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.

Ruso-Ukrainian War

I had collected so much on the current war that I decided to blog it separately.

Resisting Western cultural hegemony

Danilevsky concluded with words that continue to resonate today among Russian conservatives who want to resist the forces of globalism and what they see as Western cultural hegemony:

The danger consists not of the political domination of a single state, but of the cultural domination of one cultural-historical type … The issue is not whether there will be a universal state, either a republic or a monarchy, but whether one civilization, one culture, will dominate, since this would deprive humanity of one of the necessary conditions for success and perfection—the element of diversity.

Paul Robinson, Russian Conservatism, Kindle page 82.

The collective mind of Russia, insofar as there is such a thing, likely matters at present less than the mind of Putin. Were it not so, Putin wouldn’t have smashed civil society at all critical or even inquisitive voices (see below).

But Russian conservatives have at centuries of discomfort with the West. Many of them were educated in the West, and they acknowledge and admire its accomplishments, but they want to keep it arm’s length. They want Russia to be Russian.

I have not yet read about Russian liberals.

Putin and Pushkin

“You have Putin’s Russia and Pushkin’s Russia,” Krielaars observed. To blame a whole culture, past and present, for a current political action implies that everything about that culture contributed to that action. If Germany succumbed to the Nazis, don’t listen to Beethoven; because of Mussolini, cancel Dante and Raphael; if you reject American actions in Vietnam, the Middle East, or anywhere else, no more Thoreau or Emily Dickinson. Could there be a better way to encourage national hatred than to treat a whole culture and its history as a unified whole, carrying, as if genetically, a hideous quality?

When I visited Soviet-dominated Poland in 1970, people understandably resented Russian rule. Ill-disposed to the forced consumption of Russian culture, some responded, as oppressed people often do, with the sort of blind hatred that prepares victims to be oppressors as soon as the tables are turned. As a character in Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov observes, “it can be very pleasant to take offense.” One Pole I met proclaimed proudly: “I even hate Russian trees!” “You have something against birches?” I asked incredulously. But the more absurd his pronouncements were, the more righteous he felt.

Russian expert Michel Krielaars via Gary Saul Morson

Ukrainian Genocide

  • The International Court of Justice ruled 13-2 in favour of Ukraine, concluding that Russia’s allegations that Ukraine was committing genocide against Russian speakers in Donetsk and Luhansk were false. The ruling strips away the legal pretext that Mr Putin used for the invasion. The two dissenting judges were, unsurprisingly, from China and Russia.
  • In a menacing television appearance Mr Putin warned Russians to be aware of “fifth columnists”, urging them to “spit out like a midge that has flown into their mouths” those traitors whose minds had been captured by the West. The West’s ultimate aim, he said, was the destruction of Russia. Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova was clearly unpersuaded. Having been publicly critical of the war she quit the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow to join the Dutch National Ballet. She is the most famous Russian star to quit the country over the war.

The world in brief | The Economist, 3/17/22.

Allegations of Ukrainian genocide in Donetsk and Luhansk (eastern Ukrainian regions oriented strongly toward Russia rather than the West) seemed, apart from the possible hyperbole of “genocide,” plausible to me. I’m relieved that Russia was as bereft of evidence as was Trump in his grousing about the 2020 Election.

As for the claim that “[t]he West’s ultimate aim [is] the destruction of Russia,” there’s too much to it for me to summarily dismiss it.

We have made Russia our bête noire for my entire lifetime, with a brief pause around 1990 when we fancied we might turn it into a Western liberal democracy. But as it turns out, there’s a whole lot of historic and abiding Russian conservative resistance to liberal democracy, and since it’s always helpful for a regime to have an iconic enemy, we acquiesced in Russia remaining the Other.

Add to that widespread western Christian ambivalence about Orthodox Christianity (insofar as the West is aware of it at all) and the history of Russian Orthodox collaboration with successive illiberal regimes and — Why, yes! Now that you mention it we would find it reassuring if Russia as we know it were destroyed, by us, by it’s own overreach, or from internal forces.

Putin knows it, but his very knowing it, we fancy, means it’s false.

How might the Ukraine war scramble world Christianity?

Veteran Religion Beat reporter Richard Ostling does an outstanding, objective job in Beyond the Orthodox questions: How might the Ukraine war scramble world Christianity?. It’s heavily but not exclusively focused on potential scrambling in Christian Orthodoxy. Lots of links, too.

No hate speech except against the hateful people

The Russian government moved to designate Meta as an “extremist organisation”, after reports that the parent company of Facebook and Instagram would allow Ukrainians to call for violence against Russian soldiers on its sites. Meta said there was no change to its policies on hate speech “as far as the Russian people are concerned”. The row does raise questions about Meta’s role in selecting just when it thinks support for violence is suitable across its platforms.

Business | The Economist

Putin’s crackdown on his own people

For whatever reason these stories really brought home to me the enormity of Putin’s deceit and suppression.

Dissidents flee Russia

“The plane from Moscow to Yerevan was packed with people I knew,” he recalled. “Lots of young people — the future of Russia is leaving.”

“Collective blame is an easy way to channel rage,” Maria Stepanova, a prominent Russian poet, told me. But the impulse to punish Russians on the basis of national identity is a misguided one. Ms. Stepanova told me that many emigrants are driven by a feeling of pure moral indignation, a sense that emigration is the only remaining avenue for political protest. “They simply don’t want to breathe the air here,” she said. “They want to cut all ties with their country.… They’re willing to risk ruining their lives out of this feeling of disgust.”

Sophie Pinkham, Putin’s War in Ukraine Is Forcing Russian Dissidents to Flee. That title is underinclusive: intellectuals and potential conscriptees are fleeing, too. It was predicted and now it’s happening.

Remaining dissidents are like vermin

The idea behind the hounding of prominent figures in the arts is to reject Western influence as alien. One of the most public faces of this campaign is Margarita Simonyan, the boss of the state-run RT television station. As she said in one of her recent talk shows, “We must all consolidate, grip our will in our fists, establish exceptional order in education, culture and information, and rid the country of truants, idiots and traitors.” In a speech on March 16th, Vladimir Putin said such people would be “spat out”.

The Economist, ‌Russian propagandists turn on pro-Western “traitors”

Crushing Russian civil society

Wow. Strong opener:

Within the first days of the war, the Russian government smashed to pieces whatever remained of Russian civil society—including independent media, human rights organizations, and anybody who could still speak truth to power and to their fellow citizens. As the Kremlin adopted a new draconian speech law and cracked down on organization after organization—initiating or completing bogus legal procedures against them, shutting down their websites, and sending goons to physically harass them—the people staffing those organizations picked up and left the country. Within only about 72 hours, the entire institutional fabric of Russia’s civil society, painstakingly woven out of the post-Soviet institutional wasteland, was irreparably torn to shreds.

Izabella Tabarovsky, ‌Russia’s New Exiles.

Of all the stories I’ve seen on the new emigration of Russians, this (fairly long, but no paywall) was the most potent. The life of Russia intellectual, potential conscriptee, journalistic and dissident exiles is spartan and very hard; fleeing Russia didn’t “make it all better.”

When The Tablet is good, it’s very, very good.

Personal reversal

I’ve tended to buy the John Mearsheimer argument that we forced Putin’s hand (expanding NATO eastward threatened Russia — the idea is far from being a Mearsheimer exclusive), and this blog’s recent posts have almost certainly reflected that.

I’m no longer convinced of that. Ann Applebaum on Andrew Sullivan’s podcast was surprisingly persuasive, as have been a few others.

The most persuasive argument against the “pushing NATO too far” theory, to my mind, is that we always have nuclear-capable submarines close to Russia (as they have close to us). Although “NATO is purely defensive,” standing alone, wasn’t very persuasive, “NATO, which claims to be purely defensive, is a trivial threat to Russia compared to the U.S. and it’s submarines” packs a punch. Tell me why that’s wrong.

But the most persuasive observation is what Putin is doing within his own borders, and the stupid propaganda behind which he shields himself.

I’m still not sure what Putin is up to, but it should be born in mind that Putin’s intent is not Russia-at-large’s intent — else he wouldn’t crush truthful reporting, arrest protestors, ban civil society mediating structures and so forth.

That this war might bring down Putin is an outcome fervently to be hoped and prayed for, but we dare not directly promote it, and we should not be under any illusions that his fall would lead quickly to a liberal Western democratic Russia. There’s too much history and sentiment to the contrary. Russia and the West may learn to live together, but I don’t look for homogeneity.

Caveat: I have never repudiated my conscientious objection to war, so don’t think for one second that I’m some kind of military expert.


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.

Newsfasting

We Orthodox Christians have just started Lent yesterday, and I’m already irritable from not being able to stuff my face promiscuously! Or from something.

There are always dozens of reasons for irritation.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Ukraine

I find that some news just kind of splashes up onto my pants legs even when I’m limiting news consumption. Believe me that I’m limiting news:

  • Reading the Economist World in Brief and The Morning Dispatch for top news, but rarely click through the Economist.
  • Entirely skipping the Wall Street Journal.
  • Limiting New York Times to obituaries, religion (almost never anything good or even new there), a glance at the Opinions page, and maybe sports and travel.
  • Investigative reporting is higher-quality than regular news, but I still can’t do anything about most of what I see in The Intercept, ProPublica, and bellingcat, so I skip them most of the time.
  • When someone I respect recommends analysis by someone else that I respect, I’ll usually click through if the topic is of interest.

This is still a work in process. I may, at the risk of irritability, cut back further.

Ukraine sues Russia

Last week the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes individuals, launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine. On Monday the International Court of Justice, which judges governments, hears allegations of genocide. But these are not accusations against Russia. Rather, Ukraine wants the court to rule that Russia’s own allegations of genocide against Ukraine in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are false and contrary to international law.

Russia accepts the authority of the ICJ (unlike that of the ICC). But Ukraine does not expect its neighbour to bow to the court’s verdict. Russia did not even turn up to the court on Monday (their defence was due on Tuesday). Instead, Ukraine hopes that a verdict in its favour would strip Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, of any vestige of legal pretext for an invasion, which, he claims, was launched to stop the supposed genocide.

Economist World in Brief.

How interesting to ask a court to rule that your invader’s excuse for invasion is a lie — and the invader has no answer to your “put up or shut up” challenge.

How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia

Ross Douthat, How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia is a brilliant distillation of nuclear wisdom, it seems to me.

In short, our conventional forces are so vastly superior to those of Russia that if we directly engaged Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, we’d quickly put Putin’s back to the wall and he might, quite literally, go nuclear.

I guess not all problems are answerable with technology, huh? I’ll take a wise man over a technocrat (almost) any day.

Longfellow was right

A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.”

George Will via the Morning Dispatch

Private Sanctions and Cancel Culture

The Bulwark chronicles how private companies and other non-government actors are punishing Russia for the Ukraine invasion.

I am not entirely amused because this sort of private war is also being waged against Wrongthink in America. For instance, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin and her husband have been banned from AirBNB for associating with Nick Fuentes, of whom AirBNB (and almost everyone else, including me) does not approve.

It may come to the point that making “exercise of free association or free speech rights” protected classes will be a better choice than letting cancel culture commit a kind of economic terrorism.

Fourth Generation War

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we face Fourth Generation war, not against state militaries similar to our own but non-state forces that fight very differently. While the next conservatism favors a strong defense, it should also question the hundreds of billions of dollars we pour annually into legacy forces and weapons suitable only for fighting other states. A strong defense requires military reform, not just heaps of money.

Andrew J. Bacevich, J. David Hoeveler, James Kurth, Dermot Quinn, Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind, et al., The Essence of Conservatism

Russia may be about to experience this in Ukraine if they seek to occupy.

(I’ll bet William Lind wrote this item. He’s always talking about Fourth Generation warfare.)

Gallows humor?

Olha Koba, a psychologist in Kyiv, said that “anger and hate in this situation is a normal reaction and important to validate.” But it is important to channel it into something useful, she said, such as making incendiary bombs out of empty bottles.

Maria Varenikova, ‌Hate for Putin’s Russia Consumes Ukraine, H/T Claire Berlinski via The Morning Dispatch

Patriotism in its purest, loveliest form

After more than 24 years away, Washington Post correspondent Isabelle Khurshudyan finally returned to Odessa, the city where she and her parents were born. “Now that I’m finally here, I wish I wasn’t,” she writes in her dispatch from the coastal city, where she’s been able to reconnect with her 81-year-old great aunt, Baba Zina, who refused to evacuate. “When I asked why that was, she scolded me, telling me to not get distracted from driving. Then she explained that she was born in this city. It’s her home. She visited the United States four times. Four of her siblings moved there, but she returned to Odessa each time. There’s something about this city—with its roots back in imperial Russia, its classic architecture, its appreciation for artists and its Black Sea beaches—that make people romantic about it. Peak Odessa: The opera and ballet theater is the most fortified building in town, surrounded by a wall of sandbags. ‘I visited the Vienna opera house just to see how it compared to ours. Ours is better,’ Zina said as we drove by the theater. ‘I went to the one in Paris, too. It was nice, of course. But ours is nicer.’”

via The Morning Dispatch

Three items from Protestants

Choosing a story

I haven’t quoted Jake Meador in a while because I stopped following him because I was too busy wallowing in “news.” because reasons.

The core problem facing the western church today is that virtually everyone, including many of us, believes that the most basic, elemental right a person has is the right to self-designate. This means that, as we are cast adrift in the world, trying to make sense of who we are, where we are, and what we ought to do, we mostly do not turn outward and allow the need of neighbor and nature to answer our questions. We do not look to culture for guidance or to family or to faith. In the words of Hauerwas, *“we have no story except the story we chose when we had no story.” And so to answer the question of who we are, we look inward toward our own ambition and aspiration, desire and need. We act according to that, with scant attention paid to the costs such action will have for the world or for our neighbors.

Jake Meador, touting his new book, What Are Christians For?: Life Together at the End of the World (emphasis added).

You could do much worse than Jake Meador on the internet.

Put on the whole snappy comebacks of God

[W]e’re not really after understanding, I [] think, but rather the maintenance of a certain way of life which is sustained not necessarily through ordering affections and desires toward good ends, but rather simply through a kind of automated acquiescence to authority figures.

One gets the idea from a fair bit of Christian worldview literature (especially when some conference or course is being advertised) that a worldview is almost like a set of categories you can download, and then march out into the world equipped with the right answers and knowing in advance how to refute the wrong answers. But this is not how people learn—not how they learn real meaningful knowledge and wisdom at any rate. This kind of pre-packaged knowledge turns out to be awfully flimsy and brittle when confronted with the complexities of the real world.

Jake Meador again (quoting Brad Littlejohn), but a different blog post.

I’ve been around smart Evangelicals who thought “Worldview camps” and such were really good and really cutting edge. I had figured out pretty early on that they were pretty much as Brad Littlejohn says. Plus you can’t overcome the effects of six daily hours of public school and three daily hours of television with a one- or two-week camp.

Grokking ‘Sin’

It wasn’t until college that I ever really thought about the Christian doctrine of sin. I had grown up in a Baptist church hearing about how Jesus *“died for our sins,” but it seemed that sin was the breaking of certain rules — drinking too much, sleeping around, lying, murder and stealing …

In college, through a string of failed relationships and theological questioning, I came to understand sin as something more fundamental than rule breaking, more subtle and *“under the hood” of my consciousness. It was the ways I would casually manipulate people to get my way. It was a hidden but obnoxious need for approval …

This is the slow dawning that I had about myself in college, and with it came liberation. Far from being a crushing blow of self-hatred, the realization of my actual, non-theoretical sinfulness came with something like a recognition of grace. I saw that I was worse than I’d thought I was, and that truth knocked me off the eternal treadmill of trying to be better and do better and get it all right. It allowed me to slowly (and continually) learn to receive love, atonement, forgiveness and mercy.

Tish Harrison Warren

Seeing sin as mere rule-breaking is, in my personal experience, the worst thing about Christian fundamentalist taboos (smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards and secret societies) of the 50s and 60s, which my Evangelical boarding school aped. It certainly gave me a skewed view, which was harmful to me and others spiritually — even though 14-to-18 year-olds have no business smoking, drinking or joining oath-bound secret societies anyway.

Other stuff

SCOTUS Opposition failure

When Kevin Williamson, a bright guy, can do no better than this in opposing a Democrat SCOTUS nominee, you know you’ve got a pretty good nominee.

Summarizing:

  • She’s part of the meritocracy, the ruling class. (He’s convincing on that.)
  • Dick Durbin and his ilk insinuating that she’s got some hardscrabble backstory is bunk. (He’s got a point.)
  • She does not believe in the rule of law. (He doesn’t deliver one single iota of evidence for that. Not one. And that’s the only one he says should disqualify her.)

After watching one-after-another Republican-appointed justice disappoint, I’m done with making predictions about actual future performance of a nominee.

Truth in Journalism

The nonconformists over at The Postliberal Order set us straight on journalistic terminology:

  • Democracy and liberalism
  • The difference between American philanthropists and Russian Oligarchs
  • Fact-checks
  • The difference between military interventions and invasions
  • Propaganda in general

You’ll appreciate the next item even more if you read this one. It’s short.

This is not propaganda

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act

The Senate passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act by unanimous consent on Monday. Once signed into law by President Biden, the legislation will amend the U.S. Criminal Code to designate lynching as a federal hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The Morning Dispatch.

My immediate reaction was that lynching isn’t much of an issue today, and I think I was right, but there’s this so you can gauge the problem for yourself.

And if you think it’s enough that Ahmaud Arbery was “essentially” lynched, be advised that (a) you can’t prosecute for “essentially the same thing” and (b) his murderers got life without parole, which is longer than 30 years.

Buildings for nomads. This is how the late Sir Roger Scruton described “various financial district glass-pane shoeboxes—structures.” (H/T Anthony DiMauro). Some might consider that a commendation; I don’t.

Wordplay

United in diversity:

“The EU’s quite vapid motto.” (Ed West)

Ostpolitik

From the Economist:

Ostpolitik (noun): a decades-old strategy of dealing with Russia based in part on the hope that gas pipelines could promote mutual dependence and therefore peace. Read the full article.

Spelling bees

Congratulations to [Name], an [School] student, who is heading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., May 29 to June 3. [Name] won a 10-county regional bee Saturday at [Site] in [City]. His winning word: Archetype.

Spelling Bees aren’t what they used to be.

Simile of the day

One of the guests was a retired Hungarian art historian. She had the most delicate Old World accent. It was like listening to audible porcelain.

Rod Dreher

Mal mots

In a piece for National Review, John McCormack notes how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has diminished America’s already fledgling neo-isolationist movement even further.

The Morning Dispatch (italics added).

Someone at the Dispatch misapprehends “fledgling.”

(And once again, I’m glad I don’t write for a living and to deadline.)

Servants of their servants

For all drunkards and gluttons I weep and sigh, for they have become servants of their servants.

St. Nicholai of Zicha, Prayers by the Lake XXIX, via Fr. Stephen Freeman (italics added)

How we think

Intellect confuses intuition.
Piet Mondrian

The Economist World in Brief


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.

Ending a chapter

Changing direction

I thank the modest number of people who still follow this blog, which has been evolving for just over twelve years now.

Within the past 24 hours, I’ve renewed my personal commitment to stop wallowing in "the news." That’s made easier by the news being full of war-talk these days, which for 55 years or so has been distressing to me, even more than to others I think.

But war-talk isn’t the only reason I’m kicking the news habit.

A cyber-friend recently published what I think is a completely original analogy:

The Ukraine crisis is huge: it may end us all. Naturally it’s all over the news. But I’ve been thinking that, before there was an actual world crisis, the 24-hour news feed wasn’t much different in tone. Something really important is happening right now, and you need to read about it here! “World Order Collapses!” isn’t presented much differently than “Sleaze Accused of Sleaziness!”

I thought, oddly, about the takeover of “compression” in contemporary music recording. Audio technology can easily handle variations in volume from a delicate whisper to ear-splitting sound. (A good recording of the William Tell Overture is an example.) But more and more, people are half-listening to the music while they jog through city traffic; they can’t deal with these variations. So the solution is to flatten the dynamic range so everything sounds kind of loud all the time. (People used to blame CDs for this and say that vinyl was better. In fact, CDs are much better at capturing dynamic range; it’s just that producers in the CD era chose the compression path. Now of course, there’s nothing but audio streaming, with its even worse distortions.)

In the world of audio, these are choices that we as consumers made, or at least allowed, and the result is only an impoverished experience of music. When we apply the same mentality – keep everything at 11 all the time – to the news cycle, the results for our minds and souls are a bit more serious.

John Brady, ‌Compression and the news. My own "soul reason" is that I think I read the news out of vainglory, a/k/a vanity. Smartypants lawyers, after all, are supposed to be sophisticates and to know what’s going on in the world. Reading the news helps me fake that by giving me a wide choice of tendentious narratives (from A to C or D) to choose from. But I think it’s healthier not to be vain, right?

A fairly good list of reasons is in Rolf Dobelli’s book Stop Reading the News. There’s a lot in there that I haven’t mentioned.

This matters for the blog because, to a sorry extent, I’ve let Tipsy Teetotaler become largely a news and commentary aggregator. If I stop reading news, that’s got to change.

I suspect I’ll blog less often. Since this isn’t substack and nobody’s paying to read me, that shouldn’t matter much. I also suspect that I’ll blog a bit more about books and long-form journalism — things that actually explain how things came to be this way, or to put them in context. And maybe, if I stop doomscrolling the clickbait, I’ll regain some of my lost cognitive capacity and produce some original thoughts.

That said, I’ve collected some news before my new news resolve, and I share it now with you before the blog undergoes its metamorpohosis.

Ruso-Ukraine

Not about us

Comments like [the examples] above seem so transparently self-promotional (look, look, here’s how a war across the globe is really about the thing I’m always talking about already!) and beyond gross.

Now is not the time for petty culture war grievances and personal grifts. Yes, life—and news—in America goes on, but maybe the day Russia starts bombing Ukraine isn’t the time for your critical race theory rant or your masculinity-crisis paranoia, you know? And it certainly isn’t the time for you to try and tie whatever you would be on about anyway into the war news cycle.

I promise, the culture war and all its brave keyboard warriors will still be there next week. So will COVID-19, and climate change, and border battles. Just let it go for a minute. Show some respect, empathy, and perspective.

If you’re tempted to post things like: Russia is doing this because Americans use too many pronouns! At least Putin isn’t woke! How will the murder of Ukrainian civilians affect gas prices? Stop. Go outside for a walk. Call a loved one. Cuddle a pet. Do anything real and good and tangible while counting your blessings that you will very likely never know the fear and pain of having your country invaded by a warmongering dictator.

This isn’t about us. Stop making it about us.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, ‌Stop Trying To Make Ukraine About Your Culture War

Civil Religion versus Political Gnosticism

From a longish, provocative, 30,000-foot view of the tensions between Russia and the West, these passages haunt me. Maybe they make sense only in context (which I invite you to read, but only when you have time to really wrestle with it):

[E]ven were Soviet communism defeated, the Russian roots in a more modern form of Civil Religion would remain. It would need to be combatted, but on a different footing and understanding.

[T]oday the old and new “neo-cons” are the newest incarnation of “right gnostics,” right liberals who are comfortable with a slower liberal revolution, yet always listing leftward in their accommodation to the “blessings of liberty.” They are the pawns of the “messianic gnostics …”.

Patrick Deneen, Russia, America, and the Danger of Political Gnosticism

(This is the kind of commentary that likely will carry over as the blog changes.)

A Truism

It is a truism in moral reasoning: To will the end is to will the means. One cannot have a duty to perform an act one lacks the capacity fulfill. Can Ukraine prevail without more direct military support from the West? It’s possible, but most analysts consider it very unlikely. Would Ukraine prevail with full NATO backing? Almost certainly. That implies NATO must be prepared to take up arms on Ukraine’s side, to ensure the supposed moral commandment is fulfilled. To hold otherwise — to claim the West should stop short of joining the fight, when that might be the only thing compatible with fulfilling the commandment — sounds appalling.

Damon Linker.

Us versus them

… a country fast turning totalitarian, one where a law which allows a 15-year-jail sentence for “spreading fake news about the actions of the Russian armed forces” will soon be rubber-stamped by parliament …

The Economist. If keeping a nation’s people in the propagandistic dark is your metric of totalitarianism, I can’t deny it’s a decent metric.

We in the USA have enough confidence that I can still read RT, Al Jazeera, The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, Pro Publica, Bellingcat, Gilbert Doctorow and the like as a check on mainstream media’s lazy repetition of our government’s line. But it’s very time-consuming (another reason not to read the government’s line in MSM in the first place — see above), and I don’t have a very reliable heuristic on who’s closer to the truth.

Learning in War Time

The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.

C.S. Lewis, Learning in War Time, an essay in The Weight of Glory. The essay also appears to be available from several sources on the web.

Collateral Damage

Russia House—a D.C. restaurant—was targeted by vandals last week who smashed windows, broke a door, and tagged walls with anti-Russian rhetoric. The restaurant’s owners are American and Lithuanian.

The Morning Dispatch

Paul Kingsnorth continues to deliver

I started really paying attention to Paul Kingsnorth last Summer or Fall when I learned that, to his own immense surprise, he had left Paganism (his last waystation) and become not just a Christian but an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I’ve appreciated him a lot since then, though he was on my radar even before that.

Baptized into Progress

  • I was about a quarter of the way into What Technology Wants before I realised I was reading a religious text. It was quite a revelation. What Technology Wants is a book published a few years back ago by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine and a significant spokesman for what we might call the Silicon Valley Mindset. It takes us on a journey through the historical development of technology and into a future in which, Kelly believes, technology will be living force which controls our destiny.
  • Techno-utopianism is a subset of the contemporary religion of Progress, into which we are all baptised at birth. If Progress is God, technology is the messiah come to do His will on Earth.

Paul Kingsnorth, Planting Trees in the Anthropocene. This predates Kingsnorth’s conversion, by the way.

Tell me the new old story

[I]t hasn’t escaped my attention that all my writing, in whatever form, is basically just a reiteration of the same story, which seems to be the only one I’m capable of telling: human-scale life versus the Machine culture that is overwhelming it.

Paul Kingsnorth

"In science", as Joseph Needham put it, "a man is a machine, or if he is not, then he is nothing …."

Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature: Modern Science and the Dehumanization of Man

Other stuff

H.L. Mencken, Prophet

A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in. The men the American people admire most are the most daring liars; the men they detest most are those who try to tell them the truth. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will get their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H.L. Mencken, quoted by Garrison Keillor.

Important people

Manually laboring drudges might work long hours without sacrificing productivity, but businessman could not. Their work required imagination, thought, calculation.

Americans, [Andrew Carnegie] remarked to his cousin, “were the saddest-looking race … Life is so terribly earnest here. Ambition spurs us all on, from him who handles the spade to him who employs thousands. We know no rest. … I hope Americans will find some day more time for play, like their wiser brethren upon the other side.

‌David Nasaw via The Octavian Report

Sounds as if Carnegie (Rockefeller, too) made a virtue out of what Marx saw as capitalism’s central defect.

Charmed lives

Playwright Tom Stoppard made some extended remarks recently at an awards presentation, including acknowledging his charmed life:

[I]f politics is not about giving everybody a life as charmed as mine, it’s not about anything much.

Tom Stoppard, H/T Alan Jacobs. More:

Perhaps you will recall that in the summer of 1968, England had its dissidents, too. Thousands of young people of student age, egged on by not a few of their seniors including some of my friends, occupied buildings and took to the barricades to overthrow the existing order. The disdain of the revolutionaries for bourgeois democracy, aka "fascism", was as nothing compared to my disdain for the revolutionaries. They were living in the same England, as a birthright, as I was living in as an accident of history.

(italics added)

I’m seemingly a pessimist. I rarely see myself in the mirror without something that looks like a scowl. My morning prayers have a fairly long list of American sins that I keep trying to leave in God’s hands (and then keep taking them back).

So it’s good for me to be reminded, especially as beautifully as Stoppard does, of just how much freedom we have, and of how much millions in the world would love to be here — and surely it’s possible to remember that without becoming some kind of jingoist.

Neo-Manicheanism

Discussing race relations in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, Walker Percy once told William F. Buckley that “From a moral point of view, it’s very simple. It’s either right or wrong, and there was a lot wrong. From a novelist’s point of view, human relations are much more complex than saying the white racist is wrong and the black protestors are correct.”

What does it tell us about our appetite for ambiguity that Walker Percy could not say that today without being chased out of his local public television studio.

Prufrock 3/3/22

Republic of the People

We took the United States Capital. We are the Republic of the People.

Guy Reffitt, January 6 insurrectionist, texting his family exultantly on 1/6/21.

Reffit has now pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. As explained by former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review, it’s going to be tough case to prove all elements of that crime at trial, so don’t be surprised if there are few such guilty pleas or even if there are acquittals at trial.

What science "allegedly" shows

Science allegedly showed trans women had larger hands and feet, bigger hearts and greater bone density and lung capacity.

Sports Illustrated, writing about Lia Thomas, quoted incredulously by Nellie Bowles.

I’d cross-index this under "you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing."

SOTU response

Rashida Tlaib, speaking for the Working Families Party, delivered the left’s response, and even she was relatively muted. She pushed back on Biden’s calls for more police funding and called, as usual, for canceling all student debt.

Nellie Bowles.

There is no regressive policy among Democrats quite so blatant as the call for blanket cancellation of student debt. I have no doubt that many students got in over their heads, but wiping out the student debt of those (by definition) lucky enough to go to college or beyond show how little the Democrats care for people less fortunate.


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.

Ukraine and closer to home

Ruso-Ukrainian conflict

Historians losing the narrative battle

[P]ossession of scholarly credentials doesn’t automatically confer the authority to determine which claims about the past will be believed and which will not. On the contrary, fussy objections to the sweeping historical contentions deployed by powerful populist politicians frequently prove impotent in the face of grand narratives.

[F]or many (perhaps most) people, what makes one story about the past more persuasive than another isn’t the application of some set of standards approved by a professional guild of scholars but whether the story feels *right.

Damon Linker, ‌Putin, Trump, and the irresponsible wielding of history.

My daughter-in-law returned from a month in Russia very recently. She avoided political discussions because it quickly became all-too-obvious that Trump’s MAGA is matched or overmatched by Putin’s MRGA — make Russia the great thing it was in Putin’s telling — which tends to prove Linker’s point.

Shifting narratives, too

From the right, we were told that this was absolutely not going to happen. And now that it very much is happening, the argument from Steven Bannon and Co. is that the West deserves it because we are weak and decadent and unserious. More: American conservatives ought to support Russia, since that’s a country that doesn’t put up with LGBTCRT nonsense, he and his pal, the military contractor Erik Prince, said recently. “The Russian people still know which bathroom to use,” Prince said. (So do the Ukrainians, for what it’s worth.) Tucker Carlson asked Americans to consider why they hate Putin, anyway: “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”

To the small but meaningful movement of the ethnonationalist right, Russia is the last great white, Christian nation with solid gender-norms and 19th-century race relations. If your vision of owning the libs means embracing authoritarian regimes that hate America and its people, you’ve lost the plot.

Nellie Bowles, Common Sense (emphasis added)

Not "put[ting] up with LGBTCRT nonsense" gets a favorable glance from me, but no more than a glance. That said:

I inserted all the necessary caveats in my columns, but I must admit I didn’t believe Putin would launch a full invasion. As a Russian, everything in me resisted the thought. War on Ukraine is the absolute worst thing Russia can engage in. It’s unforgivable, a Cain’s mark.

Leonid Bershidskiy on Twitter. Me, too, but I didn’t pretend to be an expert. I’m not even certain that I scoffed publicly at the American Intelligence Narrative (but I scoffed in my own head at least).

Meanwhile, Putin tries to control the internal narrative

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, said it would restrict access to websites that refer to the war in Ukraine as an “attack, invasion, or a declaration of war”. It will also target publications that mention the shelling of Ukrainian cities and civilian casualties.

The Economist Daily Briefing

Future narrative

It takes balls to predict what comes next, but the Economist takes a stab at it:

[S]hould Mr Putin seize a large swathe of Ukraine, the gatherer of the lands will not stop to make peace at its borders. He may not invade the NATO countries that were once in the Soviet empire, at least not at first. But, bloated by victory, he will subject them to the cyber attacks and information warfare that fall short of the threshold of conflict.

Mr Putin will threaten NATO in this way, because he has come to believe that NATO threatens Russia and its people. Speaking earlier this week, he raged at the alliance’s eastward expansion. Later, he decried a fictitious “genocide” that he says the West is sponsoring in Ukraine. Mr Putin can’t tell his people that his army is fighting against their Ukrainian brothers and sisters who gained freedom. So he is telling them that Russia is at war with America, NATO and its proxies.

By the way: the Kremlin has an English-language translation of Putin’s February 27 speech/rant/tirade, but it repeatedly refused to load for me. Here’s a separate source. The speech is consequential, and our government and pundits are widely lazy, herd-minded or dishonest. I want my own copy of this speech.

Miss Peggy’s response to the new right "I don’t care" isolationists

Russia isn’t Upper Volta with a gas station; it’s Upper Volta with a gas station, the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, and a furious owner. What he does may have repercussions. If you would lead, you don’t get not to care.

Peggy Noonan

Showing my cards

  • The Fog of War is upon us, and our government and media are speaking with unwarranted certainty.
  • The End of History is, ironically, over, history having resumed with a vengeance.
  • I haven’t yet read the entirety of Putin’s February 21 speech, which I suspect contains some preposterous lies and some truths that we can’t see because of a clash of worldviews.
  • An American expat in Russia who I tend to trust has blogged some things about Ukraine’s 2014 version of the color revolutions (i.e., that the legitimately-elected government, having begun looking eastward rather than westward, was overthrown by American proxies), and about Ukraine’s treatment of the Donbas region (e.g., that its citizens are denied voting because they might swing the country back eastward), both of which I’d like to explore a bit more. The net effect, if true, is that the democratic legitimacy of the current government is doubtful.
  • In short, I think Ukraine probably is deeply divided between westernizers and Rusophiles, and while I oppose Russia’s invasion, you’re just going to have to bear with me if I don’t yet cheer on the westernizer Ukrainians as zestfully as seems to be expected.

Not Ukraine

Agricultural specialists

Lacking any moral force or vision of its own, the “objective” expertise of the agriculture specialist points like a compass needle toward the greater good of the “agribusiness” corporations.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Reverse discrimination smacked down

Strict scrutiny applies, and racial balancing is not a compelling interest.

Tyler Cowen, Elite high school TJ will continue as it was (emphasis added).

I’m very glad to see some judicial skepticism toward Knowledge-Class insistence that their every latest great notion is a "compelling state interest." Too long the courts have bowed compliantly to the dubious demands of "diversity" and other disguises for racial reverse-discrimination.

Is it even worth it to shop for a new apartment in NYC?

Freddie deBoer is looking for a larger rental apartment in Brooklyn, and recently lost his pick when someone else offered $500 per month over the listing price before his contract was signed:

I would have enjoyed living there but I have a home, which is more than many can say, and we can still find something else if we want. The apartment would have been more than most people can afford even at the offered price. For me, the bigger issue is just that the situation provokes this New York City weariness that has afflicted me lately, this feeling that everything in this city is harder than it should be, and that everything you want can only be won through some tiring and expensive competition with somebody else. It’s wearing me out and further deepening my conflicted sense that 2023 is the year I move out of New York.

You’d like to look at a bunch of apartments and have time to think them over, weigh the pros and cons of each. But apartments constantly appear on the sites one day and are in contract the following day. People feel compelled to ask to sign at the open house, as awkward as that is in front of everyone, because if they don’t someone else surely well. And that’s the rental market. I harbor quotidian dreams of owning my own home someday, like many or most do. But though I am now in the top 5% of American earners, or thereabouts, I look at the prices of modest two-bedroom apartments in Brooklyn and there’s just no way. I do a little of the back-of-the-envelope math and it’s still a completely distant dream. And that’s to say nothing of the effort and the stress, the endless bidding wars, having to compete with all-cash offers, the innumerable hoops you have to jump through…. Buying a house isn’t exactly easy anywhere, but looking at listings for my hometown in Connecticut I see legitimately nice houses for a quarter of what these apartments cost and, wonder of wonders, properties that actually sit on the market for a little while so you can think it over.

It’s not just about housing costs, though. Obviously, you’re paying a premium for the restaurants and shows that make New York what it is, as well as high taxes. But it’s not even just affordability. It’s the broader sense that you need to hustle and never stop hustling to live here. That’s the subject of a thousand songs, after all, the New York hustle, and part of what’s so often romanticized about the place. But I don’t see much to recommend about that feeling of frantically scrambling just to hold on. Seems less than ideal!

Seems like a compatible pairing

(Motorcyclists become ethnographers of necessity, or rather rank stereotypers, for the same reason that cops do: they face risk. Stereotyping is efficient for snap judgments.)

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head (Parentheses in original)

The irony is that we all—secular or religious people alike—make our biggest life-shaping decisions on faith. Life is too short to learn what you need to know to live well.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God


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.