Potpourri 5/27/21

For what it’s worth, today is my 49th anniversary. I hope the 50th starts with something better than a trip to the Emergency Room for a nosebleed that wouldn’t quit (the third in the last 2-3 years after decades with nary a leak). I shall follow up with my Primary Care Doc.

Separated at Birth

Compare:

[P]eople … hate my media criticism. Hate hate hate it. You would not believe the number of people who write to me saying “I almost/might/did cancel my subscription because I don’t want to hear pointless media gossip anymore!” Do the other stuff, they always say, the good stuff, the probing, researched stuff. But this media stuff, it’s too personal. That’s always the claim: that when I write about media, I’m necessarily attacking individuals rather than structures. That it’s personal. Then I go back and read what I wrote and inevitably I see myself critiquing structures and find nothing particularly personal. There’s a real incommensurability here. People are free not to like whatever they want, but I think deciding that criticism designed to reflect on an industry rather than individuals is too personal forecloses on important conversations.

Freddie deBoer, ‌You (Still) Can’t Sit with Us

with:

Expressing concern about insufficiently careful diagnostic practices for TGNC youth is not an attack on this group. This is like saying that the sentence “I believe psychiatrists should establish confidence an antidepressant will help a depressed person before prescribing it to them” is an attack on depressed people. It’s just a plainly ludicrous position, and a dangerous one given the extent to which it pathologizes normal, important clinical work.

Jesse Singal

Do the people who try to turn legitimate concerns into offensive personal attacks actually believe it?

What’s not cancel culture

Perhaps no one’s juvenilia should disqualify her from a job—and the reason isn’t merely that most of us said idiotic things in adolescence—but because that’s as it should be. If we are ever going to test out an extreme idea or hurtful comment, adolescence is the time to do it—a period of identity formation when we require all the feedback we can get. We demand adults behave themselves precisely because we assume this was preceded by beta-testing, a period of adaptive idiocy, when they tore through adolescence’s maze, hungering for affection, altering behavior in response to every dead end, registering each shock of pain. It seems compassionate—perhaps even necessary—to place a black box around statements made in high school and college, particularly where a young person has later disavowed them.

But is there no public statement predating one’s employment so vile as to render someone an obviously bad hire? (The emphasis on public statement seems critical because all social life might end if we did not retain the freedom to explore half-baked or foolish ideas in private with intimates.) …

Abigail Shrier, in a post on what is not “cancel culture.”

Fauci lied, people died

Okay, the causation between Fauci’s lie (that masks don’t help is the one that most offends me) and people dying is pretty convoluted, and I’m not furious with Fauci or obsessed with him. But fourteen months ago, our Masters desperately wanted to move the Overton Window to disallow — nay, to excoriate and anathematize! — any questions about a nexus between the Wuhan emergence of a novel and deadly coronavirus and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (or a sister facility in Wuhan).

  • Washington Post: “repeating a coronavirus conspiracy theory that was already debunked” (“debunked,” by the way, is becoming a journalistic weasel-word. It means that the hive has decided the narrative.)
  • New York Times: “Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins”
  • The former President of the United States (“TFPOTUS” or “45”) repeatedly praised China for its “efforts and transparency” in containing the virus, going out of his way to thank Chinese President Xi Jinping “on behalf of the American People.”

That’s definitely changing. F’rinstance …. I could write more, but my knowledge is what you can get by reading a variety of responsible new sources, neither (a) following conspiracy-oriented websites nor (b) living within an entirely monocultural information silo.

And, in full-disclosure mode, the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin and former New York Times science reporter Donald McNeil (chased out of the Times in an unrelated cancel-culture incident) were among those conspicuously giving deeply-reported and establishment-tinged cover for respecting the lab-leak theory of the pandemic. And of course, TFPOTUS went into full blame-shifting mode, with racial overtones, as soon as buddy-buddying with China became a political liability. (The last seemed to persuade nobody sensible.)

But do not forget that the questioners fourteen months ago were right, and our masters were either ignorant or lying for some ulterior motives (which might even have been honorable).

Speaking of which,

Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God.

Thomas Sowell, quoted in On Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell, by Jason L. Riley.

And some of our Masters at the NYT still don’t want us to discuss the lab-leak theory because of its (supposedly) “racist roots.”

The Big Lie

The intellectual arrogance of clever people, intolerable though it often is, is nothing to the intellectual arrogance of ignorant people.

Anthony Powell (in his notebook). (Via Alan Jacobs.

I cannot help but think of Election 2020 and its aftermath when I read that.

The Late, Not-So-Great “God Bless the USA Bible” project

There are 66 books in the Bible.  Some streams of Christian faith include 14 others, known as the “apocrypha.”  But no version of orthodox faith has an American apocrypha.  Including the founding documents of America and the theology of American nationalism in the Bible is offensive.

Shane Claiborne, Doug Pagitt, Lisa Sharon Harper, Jemar Tisby and Soong-Chan Rah, welcoming news of the abandonment of a “God Bless the USA Bible” project at Zondervan, a division of Harper-Collins.

I, too, welcome the abandonment, though the proposal itself is a sort of apokálypsis (as if we needed any more) of the sorry state of American Christianity.

But let me correct the authors about something: the 14 books omitted from most Protestant Bibles are only called “apocrypha” by those Protestants. To me and other Orthodox Christians, they’re called “Bible.” And there is at least one additional book, Enoch, recognized as “Bible” by Ethiopian Orthodox.

Art is the one medium in which one cannot lie successfully lie

When we build, say, a business area in which all (or practically all) are engaged in earning their living, or a residential area in which everyone is deep in the demands of domesticity, or a shopping area dedicated to the exchange of cash and commodities – in short, where the pattern of human activity contains only one element, it is impossible for the architecture to achieve a convincing variety – convincing of the known facts of human variation. The designer may vary color, texture and form, until his drawing instruments buckle under the strain, proving once more that art is the one medium in which one cannot lie successfully lie.

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (quoting John Raskin)

What is the purpose of life?

[W]e Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia: what is the purpose of life? For us, the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purposes indisputable: the purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles.

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

A Christian Man in Embryo

Paul Kingsnorth’s recent (January) conversion to Orthodox Christianity, from a non-Christian prior adult life, has fascinated me partly because I was vaguely aware of the Dark Mountain Project and the “dark ecology” it represented and partly because, frankly, my personal experience of adult converts to Orthodox Christianity is almost entirely of people coming from Roman Catholicism or one of the innumerable Protestant denominations or “independent” churches (scare-quotes because independent churches seem invariably small-b baptists, whether they want to admit it or not).

I nevertheless don’t recall ever reading Kingsnorth’s blog post titled dark ecology until today.

Even if I had read it, it would merit re-reading, long though it be, and I personally read it as the musings of a man developing a sane and sober mind some years before discovering, to his surprise, probably the most sane and sober Christian tradition, which we now share.

Excerpts:

  • This is the progress trap. Each improvement in our knowledge or in our technology will create new problems which require new improvements. Each of these improvements tends to make society bigger, more complex, less human-scale, more destructive of non-human life and more likely to collapse under its own weight.
  • ‘Romanticising the past’ is a familiar accusation, made mostly by people who think it is more grown-up to romanticise the future.
  • Progress is a ratchet, every turn forcing us more tightly into the gears of a machine we were forced to create to solve the problems created by progress. It is far too late to think about dismantling this machine in a rational manner – and in any case who wants to? We can’t deny that it brings benefits to us, even as it chokes us and our world by degrees.
  • The neo-environmentalists have a great advantage over the old greens, with their threatening talk about limits to growth, behaviour change and other such against-the-grain stuff: they are telling this civilisation what it wants to hear. What it wants to hear is that the progress trap which our civilisation is caught in can be escaped from by inflating a green tech bubble on which we can sail merrily into the future, happy as gods and equally in control.

Another foreshadowing in the pre-Christian life of Paul Kingsnorth:

Finally, we put in a small plantation of birch. I love birch groves. Ours is only a few metres square, but I’ve made a fire pit in the middle of it, and maybe in ten years I’ll be able to sit around it and pretend I’m on the Russian steppe. I don’t know why I would want to pretend that, but I do.

This second article also is full of hubristic techno-narcissists, who get little sympathy from PK.


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.

Scapegoating

Some people continue to wonder why I won’t announce my probable 2020 vote for our Very Stable Genius (VSG), so terrible is the Democrat field.

I had a Facebook Messenger argument with one of them — an academic who was too intelligent and decent a few short years ago to mouth the kinds of semi-idolatrous stuff about VSG that he now does mouth. He thus demonstrates in his deterioration the toxic effects of standing too close to VSG.

So even were I open to voting for VSG, I wouldn’t admit it lest I find myself dangerously near the Minus Touch.

And why, 16 months in advance, would I announce my assessment that so-and-so is the lesser evil and I’m voting for him? If it ultimately comes to that, the less said about it, the better. I suspect a number of my friends were in that camp in 2016.

Anyway, I’m far from clear that, in his entire person, VSG (a very evil and toxic man) is the lesser evil. Consider:

[O]nce nationalists control the government, they feel tempted to insist that they have succeeded in restoring greatness long before any restoration is accomplished. In Trump’s case this temptation is a compulsion: In a little over two years we have gone from “American carnage” to yesterday’s tweeted proclamation that America “has never been stronger than it is now — rebuilt military, highest stock market ever, lowest unemployment and more people working than ever before. Keep America great!”

In other words, the problems that brought me to power can’t be problems any more now that I’m in charge — which requires, in turn, that anyone who insists that there actually are still problems must be the problem themselves. It’s in this spirit that nationalists-in-power often end up scapegoating some group of malcontents or critics within the nation, implying that they are saboteurs and wreckers, that their complaints are treasonous, that they should be expelled.

And it’s this spirit that infuses the strange-but-predictable spectacle of Trump, just over two years removed from a campaign that constantly emphasized his country’s failings, railing against a squad of left-wing congresswomen for their own criticisms of America and demanding that they go back to the foreign countries whence three of them did not in fact arrive.

Ross Douthat. Scapegoating, you may recall, can lead to the darkest places our history records.

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Clippings, 12/3/18

1

[T]he whole Trump operation, now lying exposed on Mueller’s table — the shady business empire, the constant practice of deceit, the dim-bulb hangers-on — screams corruption in a way that few politicians’ circles do. With Trump there is no pretense of respectability or rectitude. There is only the open, shrugging grift.

This shrug makes it hard for his critics to fathom how the Trump campaign ever persuaded anyone that its candidate would actually “drain the swamp.” Some of the liberal fixation with fake news reflects an attempt to explain Trump’s anti-corruption pitch as just a fraud that voters swallowed (or were force-fed by the Russians). And indeed, a portion of Trump’s supporters choose to live the fantasy worlds of Pizzagate and QAnon, where the most impeachable of presidents is as a white knight taking on a fictive ring of pedophiles.

… [T]here is one odd way in which Trump’s supporters have gotten what they wanted. Trump isn’t draining the swamp himself, but the shock of his ascent has created swamp-draining conditions — in which other corruptions have suddenly been exposed, and there have been many deserved falls from grace.

… [I]n many cases the newly-exposed scandals were open secrets, known to those in the know, and in some cases they were as baroquely grotesque as any Reddit fantasy. (Like, what if Harvey Weinstein’s whole movie empire was just a procurement agency, and what if he hired ex-Mossad agents to stalk one of the stars of “Charmed” … ?)

The story of rich-guy pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, just written up in exhaustive detail by The Miami Herald, is a perfect example — a pedophilia scandal hidden in plain sight, in which a wealthy abuser got off with a slap on the wrist because he had a bipartisan group of allies and there was an incentive not to embarrass the powerful people who might have frequented his parties or taken rides on his plane. A crucial player, the prosecutor who let Epstein slide, is now the Trump administration’s labor secretary — but instead of being a seedy Trumpworld figure, Alexander Acosta is an eminently respectable, big-law figure. Not a grifter; just an exemplar of the American elite.

As, of course, is Epstein’s pal Bill Clinton, who hasn’t been exposed in the Trump era so much as finally acknowledged, by a growing number of liberals, as a sexual predator who survived impeachment because the establishment went into a panic about the specter of puritanism and either smeared or ignored the women credibly accusing him. Not a grifter, the ex-president; just a pillar of the establishment who happened to have a plausible rape accusation lying there in plain sight all the time.

In fact our elite is rotten and deserves judgment, yet Trump’s mix of kleptocracy and kakistocracy is worse. So the question of how you replace a bad elite with a better one, not just with something more corrupt, is what both left and right should be pondering while this particular purgation runs its course.

Ross Douthat

2

“What scares me the most is Hillary’s smug certainty of her own virtue as she has become greedy and how typical that is of so many chic liberals who seem unaware of their own greed,” Charlie Peters, the legendary liberal former editor of The Washington Monthly, told me. “They don’t really face the complicity of what’s happened to the world, how selfish we’ve become and the horrible damage of screwing the workers and causing this resentment that the Republicans found a way of tapping into.” He ruefully worries about the Obamas in this regard, too.

Indeed, in the era of Trump, greed is not only good. It’s grand. The stock market is our highest value. Mammonism rules.

But watching the Clintons hash over their well-worn tale of falling in love at Yale Law School, I realize that it’s not only about the money.

Some in Clintonworld say Hillary fully intends to be the nominee ….

Maureen Dowd. Hillary and Bill can’t fill an auditorium any more. They’re toast.

3

In talking about the death of Christianity in Europe, Murray — an atheist who calls himself a “cultural Christian” — says that Christianity was Europe’s “founding myth,” and that without it, Europe doesn’t know what it believes or what it’s for. “Human rights” is weak tea without some sort of transcendent source. Murray also talks about how difficult it is for Europeans to believe in anything, having lost their religion and made a ruin of themselves with political substitutes. And, on the immigration question — which is truly an existential one for Europe — the continent’s elites have across the board lied for decades to the people. I was somewhat aware of this prior to coming to Murray’s book, but to read the details gathered in one place like this was genuinely shocking. The startling thing is not that there are riots in the streets of Paris, but that it took them so long.

Rod Dreher, What Happens When Trump Falls?. I had read the Douthat and Dowd columns nearly 12 hours before I saw this blog commenting on them, but I was unaware of Douglas Murray or his book The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.

Dreher suggests that “America is not (yet) Europe in terms of losing our religion,” but just yesterday he aptly noted that the residuum of Christianity in Europe tends to be far more thoughtful than that of the U.S.:

Lilla talks about the meaning of the massive La Manif pour Tousmovement to block same-sex marriage, on the grounds that every child needs a father and a mother. Though we American Christians are supposed to be so much more religious than Europeans, nothing remotely like La Manif happened in America.

Maybe you can understand why I feel so much more at home when I’m in Europe with Christian intellectuals like these people than I do anywhere among American conservatives ….

See this, too.

I, too, think I’d prefer French-style Christian Nationalism over naïve “America is a Christian nation” chest-thumping, thank you, in part because the chest-thumpers are disconnected from authentic, historic (versus notional, post-enlightenment) Christian roots.

Dreher concludes:

What I’m getting at is asking what comes politically when most Americans lose faith in the ability of our elites to make things better? I fear that on the Right, we’re going to have to deal with the myth that Trump would have succeeded had the swamp not stabbed him in the back.

Oh, dear! That sounds all too plausible!

Do you see a path to expanding the subjects on which there’s a working majority about the common good when we split over stuff like this?

4

Writing in the New York Times, Parker Malloy offers the pristinely Orwellian argument that the prohibition of speech is a necessary condition for free speech: “Things like deadnaming, or purposely referring to a trans person by their former name, and misgendering — calling someone by a pronoun they don’t use — are used to express disagreement with the legitimacy of trans lives and identities.” I am not quite sure those sentences mean what Malloy means (reject the legitimacy, I think), and things get worse from there. Deadnaming and misgendering, Malloy writes, are a way to force the trans advocate into “a debate over my own existence. I know many trans people who feel the same. If this isn’t harassment, I don’t know what is. Aside from the harm it does to trans people, it also impedes the free flow of ideas and debate, in the same way that conservatives often accuse student protesters of shutting down speech on college campuses.”

If we could for a moment tighten up and focus on the question of what words actually mean, this is a group of common English words put into an order that doesn’t add up to anything sensible: Nobody is denying that Parker Malloy exists. Nobody, to my knowledge, is denying that trans people exist. We are once again ill served by an excess of metaphor and a refusal to look at the thing itself.

“I’d like to henceforth be known as Chelsea rather than Bradley, and to be socially accepted as a woman,” is a sentiment that demands universal tolerance; “I’m not so sure about that,” is a crime against humanity. That is not a sentiment that deserves to be taken seriously. It is not, I suspect, one that is taken seriously: But people can be terrorized into accepting it as a matter of social self-defense.

Kevin D. Williamson (hyperlink and boldface added).

A wretched “excess of metaphor” is at work every single time a person with gender dysphoria poisons the well with an accusation that “looking at the thing itself” denies their existence. My immediate reaction to that sort if thing is that I’m dealing with an hysteric and had best walk away (but not capitulate).

5

On a recent episode of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, sci-fi author Andrew Duncan argued that the depiction of the orcs in Lord of the Rings is racist and will have “dire consequences . . . for society.”

“It’s hard to miss the repeated notion in Tolkien that some races are just worse than others, or that some peoples are just worse than others,” Duncan said. “And this seems to me — in the long term, if you embrace this too much — it has dire consequences for yourself and for society.”

First of all, I think that it is important to point out that orcs are A) not people and B) not real, so starting some sort of social-justice movement over their treatment is probably the biggest, most idiotic waste of time that I’ve ever seen — and this is coming from an adult woman who spends time playing a game called “Pet Shop” on her phone.

Katherine Timpf. You can’t make this stuff up.

6

It used to be that people would marry across party lines – people with very different political views – but would almost always marry someone who shared their faith. Now, almost 40 percent of marriages are to someone of a different faith tradition, but only around 23 percent of people who are getting married, or even cohabiting with someone, are doing so with someone of a different political party. In many ways, political affiliation is now seen as somehow more intrinsic to our identities than our faith commitments.

Baker, Harder, & Wear, The New Morality Dilemma (H/T Alan Jacobs). This insanity is becoming common knowledge.

7

For what it’s worth. My confirmation bias is so strong that I dasn’t say a word more.

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