Guard your imagination!

She was still in her innocence. No evil intention had been formed in her mind. But if her will was uncorrupted, half her imagination was already filled with bright, poisonous shapes.

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, Chapter 10.

In any sustained battle between the imagination and the will, the imagination eventually wins.

That, too, in almost a direct quote, is Lewis (retrieved from my memory).

Weston’s (actually, the UnMan’s) grinding away at The Lady, which I remembered as tedious from my long-ago reading, brilliantly illustrates both the power of “narrative” and the ingenuity with which the evil one seduces us. Sophistry having failed, the UnMan turned to stories of heroic feminine boldness – dozens, hundreds, thousands of stories.

Ransom saw that they were having their effect, and acted accordingly.

We must, must, must guard our imaginations!

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I’d prefer no orchestration, but the striking Georgian harmony comes through (and I’m pretty sure the Church exterior is Samtavra, not the Tblisi Cathedral).

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Spinning narratives

I’ve recently encountered two disturbing (but stimulating and, ultimately, helpful — I think) items about journalistic “narratives” spun from sometimes-scant facts.

First, both chronologically and because there’s no paywall, Caitlin Johnstone (whose name I’ve been habitually misspelling), a pretty radical progressive daily blogger journalist from down under: Dissidents Must Understand The Difference Between Fact And Narrative:

Do you know the difference between fact and narrative? Are you sure? The ability to be as lucid as possible about the difference between raw data and the story that is spun about it is absolutely essential to understanding and fighting the establishment propaganda machine.

Let’s look at Russiagate for an easy example. The narrative is that Donald Trump is secretly conspiring with the Russian government to subvert American interests to advance the agendas of the Kremlin. But what are the facts? The facts are that a few people who were associated with Trump during his presidential campaign have been convicted and pled guilty to process crimes and some underhanded dealings with nations that aren’t Russia, while Trump has been staging a regime change intervention against Venezuela, bombing Syria, arming Ukraine, implementing a Nuclear Posture Review with a more aggressive stance toward Russia, withdrawing from the INF Treaty, throwing out Russian diplomats, sanctioning Russian oligarchs, expanding NATO and securing it more funding. The narrative and the facts couldn’t be more different.

But that hasn’t mattered, has it? The propagandists have been able to get everyone worked up about the idea that Putin has managed to influence the very highest levels of the US government, despite there being no facts whatsoever to substantiate that idea. It’s pure narrative, yet it’s been used to manufacture a conceptual framework which allows anyone challenging the unipolar world order to be undermined as a Kremlin crony, from Jill Stein to Tulsi Gabbard to Glenn Greenwald to Rand Paul. There is nothing but insinuation and innuendo backing up those narratives, but that’s all they need.

Second, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. (whose name I usually shorten to Holman Jenkins), from the putatively conservative Wall Street Journal and thus behind a paywall, I fear: Suddenly, Bezos Is Media’s Hero:

Mr. Bezos and his associates deliberately promoted a Hollywood-sized misdirection, with spies and political conspiracy extending all the way to the White House and Saudi Arabia … [through] Mr. Bezos’ own Washington Post. Never mind that the only real lead Mr. Bezos’ agent provided to the paper concerned the possible role of Ms. Sanchez’s pro-Trump brother. If so, means and motive were complete: It was unnecessary to speculate about Donald Trump and the Saudis—a filigree spun on top of the tawdry facts to distract and excite the media.

Mr. Bezos’ interest seems self-evident to me: Injecting the Trump-Saudi red herring draws attention away from his own carelessness and that of Ms. Sanchez. After all, being a hero of the anti-Trump resistance, especially when Amazon lately has been vilified from the left, is better than being the chump starring in a garden-variety case of rich-guy infidelity.

… Our press seems increasingly helpless in the face of evidence-free red herrings aimed at its erogenous zones. See the widely circulated email in which Bob Woodward uncritically associates himself with Mr. Bezos’ narrative. The incentive to participate in other people’s idealized self-images is well-known in psychology. Journalists should guard against it. But, in truth, exhibiting compliance with the self-images of their sources is how many journalists do their jobs.

Which is why I strongly favor one part of what’s unfolding here: the media genuinely interesting itself in how such stories based on anonymous sources and leaks come to be published.

When the press gets done with Mr. Bezos’ private messages, let’s find out who leaked decades-old private Trump family tax documents to the New York Times. Let’s inquire into the source or sources who misrepresented to CNN, MSNBC and CBS the date on an email to make it look like the Trump campaign was in cahoots with WikiLeaks.

I could go on. How some stories come to be written strikes me as a lot more newsworthy than the stories themselves ….

If you can get through the paywall, Jenkins is a good read on l’affaire Bezos, including much that I didn’t think I could include and still be “fair use” rather than “ripoff.”

Of course, Mr. Jenkins’ “interest seems self-evident to me.” It builds the image of the Wall Street Journal’s pay-for-what-we-write model (think Apple) at the expense of the Washington Post and New York Times (think Google and Facebook, relatively speaking – or so goes Jenkins’ narrative).

Indeed, I would not be stunned were I to learn that my clicks at the Washington Post feed back into Amazon.com so it can target ads. And I’ve got as much evidence for that as the Post has for Trump and Saudi Arable being entangled with the Enquirer on this.

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Potpourri, 2/11/19

1

So since I know that [government or other establishment] infiltration and manipulation [of dissident media and movements] happens, but I don’t find other people’s whisperings about “controlled opposition” useful, how do I figure out who’s trustworthy and who isn’t? How do I figure out who it’s safe to cite in my work and who to avoid? How do I separate the fool’s gold from the genuine article? The shit from the Shinola?

Here is my answer: I don’t.

I spend no mental energy whatsoever concerning myself with who may or may not be a secret pro-establishment influencer, and for good reason. There’s no way to know for sure if an individual is secretly scheming to sheep dog the populace into support for the status quo, and as long as government agencies remain opaque and unaccountable there will never be a way to know who might be secretly working for them. What I can know is (A) what I’ve learned about the world, (B) the ways the political/media class is lying about what I know about the world, and (C) when someone says something which highlights those lies. I therefore pay attention solely to the message, and no attention to what may or may not be the hidden underlying agenda of the messenger.

In other words, if someone says something which disrupts establishment narratives, I help elevate what they’re saying in that specific instance. I do this not because I know that the speaker is legit and uncorrupted, but because their message in that moment is worthy of elevation. You can navigate the entire political/media landscape in this way.

Since society is made of narrative and power ultimately rests in the hands of those who are able to control those narratives, it makes no sense to fixate on individuals and it makes perfect sense to focus on narrative. What narratives are being pushed by those in power? How are those narratives being disrupted, undermined and debunked by things that are being said by dissident voices? This is the most effective lens through which to view the battle against the unelected power establishment which is crushing us all to death, not some childish fixation on who should or shouldn’t be our hero.

There’s no reason to worry about what journalists, activists and politicians are coming from a place of authenticity if you know yourself to be coming from a place of authenticity.

Caitlyn Johnstone. A very sensible answer, from a writer who might be controlled or manipulated for all I know, though under criteria (A), (B) & (C), I find her pretty reliable.

2

Wilders regularly refers to a supposedly tolerant set of “Christian values” that contrast with allegedly savage Islamic ideals, but in reality, Islam and Christianity, like Judaism, derive from the same Abrahamic roots and draw on similar Greek philosophical traditions.

Khaled Diab, A far-right politician converted to Islam. It’s not as surprising as it sounds.

Yeah, it’s not totally surprising, but that sentence is sheer blather:

Wilders regularly refers to the unreliability of Yugos, but in reality, Yugos derive from seminal 19th Century inventions and are manufactured similarly to Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Lexus.

I don’t know whether Diab was obliged by his employer to mute any criticism of Islam or if he did it free gratis, but he fails Caitlyn Johnstone’s criterion (C).

3

From the Enquirer’s perspective, Mr. Bezos’ pockets are superhumanly deep. He controls the Washington Post. Mr. Pecker, already in legal trouble over Trump dealings, might well find it worrying to have someone of Mr. Bezos’ heft pounding away at the narrative that the Enquirer was not doing what it always does, and is legally entitled to do, shamelessly trafficking in the scandals of the rich and famous. Instead, it was conducting a character assassination on behalf of Mr. Trump or the Saudis, possibly in cahoots with official hackers of Mr. Bezos’ phone or message traffic.

… The paper’s story about Mr. Bezos’ philandering and sexting …, compared with a lot of what’s published as “news” these days, [is] extremely well supported with documentary evidence. Whereas the narrative Mr. Bezos is promoting is speculative. Even if the pro-Trump brother was involved, the story would have been delicious to the Enquirer if there had been no Trump connection. Every story has a source, and sources have motives.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Bezos vs. the Enquirer Could Be a Watershed

4

When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.

Alan Jacobs, about 19 months ago. He returns to it now, which prompted me to think about the Democrats’ Dilemma.

I was puzzled by the nearly unanimous Democrat demands that Democrat Ralph Northram resign as Governor of Virginia, but The Daily podcast helped me make sense of it (and gave me a bad case of schadenfreude).

You see, they wanted to put an impassible gulf between their party, the patent sleaze of Donald Trump and the alleged super-creepy mall-trolling of young Roy Moore. So they set a zero tolerance policy, expelling Al Franken and others (from safe Democrat seats). Now it seems that they’re discovering the ubiquity of sin: not every Democrat sinner is in a safe seat.

I don’t know which is worse: the usual hypocrisy or a foolish consistency. But the foolish consistency feels more consistent with our damnable callout culture — which ironically puts the heroic caller-outers in bed with Donald Trump, who like them never asked God for forgiveness because he never did anything wrong.

5

Another very slick technology I won’t use because it’s from one of the companies that most flagrantly monetizes me: It’s the Real World—With Google Maps Layered on Top.

(No, now that you mention it: I can’t get over the death of privacy.)

6

Three months getting a new Tesla 3 bumper to the body shop:

The upstart car company has created a coveted luxury brand but is still learning some of the basics of the auto business.

Thou shalt not covet.

(“Thou also shalt not smirk about not drinking Elon Musk’s Kool-Aid,” he reminded the mirror).

7

The self-proclaimed socialists are actually seeing the world through a rear-view mirror. What they are really talking about is divvying up the previously-accumulated wealth, soon to be bygone. Entropy is having its wicked way with that wealth, first by transmogrifying it into ever more abstract forms, and then by dissipating it as waste all over the planet. In short, the next time socialism is enlisted as a tool for redistributing wealth, we will make the unhappy discovery that most of that wealth is gone.

The process will be uncomfortably sharp and disorientating. The West especially will not know what hit it as it emergently self-reorganizes back into something that resembles the old-time feudalism ….

I almost don’t need to say who wrote that, do I? It’s JHK.

8

Speaking of socialism, I may be parting ways with Rod Dreher for a while, as he is writing a new book:

The gist of the book will be a warning to the West about the re-emergence of socialism and the totalitarian mindset that accompanies it. The warning will be in the form of “lessons” told by people who lived under Soviet-bloc socialism, and who are alarmed by what they see happening now in the West. An American college professor who grew up in the USSR told me last week that it shocks her and her emigre parents to see the same mindset that they ran away from manifesting itself in US academia. It will not stay confined to the academy, either.

That sounds much better than some of the foreshadowings in his blog, which seem blind to how equivocal the term “socialism” is today.

By the time I read his Benedict Option, with which I substantially agree, the arguments and anecdotes were very familiar to me — almost stale — from his blog, which for many month felt like a test kitchen.

I’m skeptical enough of the emerging “socialist” demonizing (I think Dreher even will say “cultural Marxism” unironically) that I may have to check out for a while — while continuing to pray for Rod and some others who are on the polemical front lines of the culture wars.

Hey! Maybe Rod is a secret pro-establishment influencer!

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Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items. Frankly, it’s kind of becoming my main blog. If you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly.

Self vs. Identity

Sometimes, Fr. Stephen Freeman just takes my breath away. I’ve never heard anyone who can so evocatively speak (maybe even deepen) spiritual truths I thought were ineffable. He’s a keen observer, wide reader, and deep thinker.

I highly recommend The True Self and The Story of Me. It’s a podcast of less than 13 minutes if you can resist “rewinding.” From the website:

The true self is “hid with Christ in God,” St. Paul tells us. What then is the “self” that we live with every day? Fr. Stephen looks at how we create our own identity and how we should seek our true self in Christ.

From early in the Podcast (paraphrase):

The story we tell ourselves about who we are actually begins to become our identity. But this carefully constructed and defended story is not our true self. Distinguishing between the two is one of the most essential tasks of the spiritual life.

One distinction that struck me (though Fr. Stephen didn’t juxtapose them explicitly) is that the heart, the true self, is quiet, intuitive, lives in the present and is accepting of circumstance, whereas without an enemy, the mind is unsure even of its own identity.

Another observation: part of our terror of dementia is that we lose the stories from which we construct our egos, and cannot imagine an existence without them.

But I’m beginning to be able to imagine existence without a narrative construct because for 15 years, I’ve been showing up on Sunday morning, trying to “lay aside all earthly cares” – to step out of chronos into kairos. There are no histories in kairos – if only I can stay there rather than thinking “Wow, how far I’ve come! Remember how shallow Sunday services were back pre-Orthodoxy? When will my young grandson start behaving more attentively in Liturgy? What will I have for lunch? What time is it? 

Listening would be, I think, a very good use of your chronos.

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If you’re having time wrapping your mind around the possibility of a self without a narrative, try entering into the narrative of Lonnie Sue Johnson, as told by Amy Ellis Nutt – because Lonnie Sue, who has global amnesia as a result of encephalitis, has no narrative of her own.

It’s tragic – but I don’t think you could ever convince me that Lonnie Sue has no self.

“Our identity is made up a lot of what we remember about our past and when that’s taken away, what’s left?” said Michael McCloskey, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Johns Hopkins University, who is part of a team testing the parameters of Lonni Sue’s memory. “But clearly something is. She’s not an empty shell that can talk. She has likes and dislikes and has a personality . . . There’s something of a child-like quality about her. Perhaps without a memory of horrible things, she doesn’t know how people can be so cruel.”

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Talk about anticlimax:  Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.