Wednesday, 8/17/22

What fools we mortals be

Proof that he knows better

I once ran into an old acquaintance at a Middletown bar who told me that he had recently quit his job because he was sick of waking up early. I later saw him complaining on Facebook about the “Obama economy” and how it had affected his life. I don’t doubt that the Obama economy has affected many, but this man is assuredly not among them. His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.

J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy. The movement to blame someone else now seems to have Vance as one of its leaders.

The great paradox of “queer” ideology

The great paradox of “queer” ideology is that it both seeks the margins and then complains about being marginalized! It wants both the frisson of outsiderdom and total acceptance by insiderdom. It’s the kind of reasoning you expect from a toddler not a grownup. The “centering” of the “marginalized” is how critical queer theory always eventually disappears up its own backhole.

Norm McDonald once said of the term “cisgender” that “it’s a way of marginalizing a normal person.” And he’s right. When “queer theorists” insist they are about diversity, they mean the opposite. The point is not to live and let live; it is to impose their queerness on everyone — to make themselves feel more secure.

Andrew Sullivan

Strategic Name-choosing

“I figured if I called myself Dykewomon,” she joked in an interview with J: The Jewish News of Northern California this year, “I would never get reviewed in The New York Times. Which has been true.”

Obituary of Lesbian “author, poet and activist” Elana Dykewomon (neé Nachman) in the New York Times

Solomon Asch’s corollary

In a famous 1951 experiment, the psychologist Solomon Asch showed how easily humans can be manipulated by social pressure to conform. If everyone else in the room affirms even the most blatant falsehood, we will very often affirm it ourselves, even denying the clear evidence of our own eyes.

But a variation of the Asch experiment gives hope. If only one other person in the room—a single reality ally—tells the truth, the pressure to conform drops sharply and we become much more willing to buck the lie. That is why authoritarian regimes work so furiously to stifle opposition voices, even seemingly weak ones. It is what the Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was getting at when he said, “The simple act of an ordinary brave man is not to participate in lies, not to support false actions! His rule: Let that [lie] come into the world, let it even reign supreme—only not through me.”

Jonathan Rauch, The Reality Ally (Persuasion)

So, I’ll join the alliance: Joe Biden won the 2020 Presidential Election. He did not steal it.

Does everyone have a narrative?

Yes, the legacy media, like the New York Times, have a narrative. But so do (some? most?) upstart media, like Quillette.

Ken White (Popehat) demolishes an absurd Quillette story, twisted and jammed into the narrative “kids today are intolerant snowflakes.”

What the story actually shows, stripped of handwaving and unwarranted characterizations, is some private school students protesting perfectly appropriately when a powerful lawyer and Harvard Professor subjected them to repeated use of the word “nigger,” part of the title of a book by another powerful professor. And, ironically, the professor who claims to have been cancelled by kids silently walking out on his lecture, is famously, even performatively, in favor of free speech and expression — for himself, apparently, but not for those who would protest his ideas.

People disagreeing with you or protesting you without trying to silence or deplatform you is not what generally is meant by “cancellation.”

But the Quillette article fits my worldview, so I might have bought it had Popehat not intervened.

‘Murica

Sclerosis plus ideological capture

America’s response to Covid-19 went badly not just for Trump-related reasons, but because of problems inherent to our public health edifice, from bureaucratic sclerosis to the ideological capture of putatively neutral institutions …

And then along with these failures came an absurd ideological spectacle, in which health officials agonized about how to state the obvious — that monkeypox at present is primarily a threat to men who have sex with men — and whether to do anything to publicly discourage certain Dionysian festivities associated with Pride Month. As the suffer-no-fools writer Josh Barro has exhaustively chronicled, public-health communication around monkeypox has been an orgy of euphemism and wokespeak, misleading and baffling if you don’t understand what isn’t being said.

This, too, has repeated Covidian failures. The political anxiety about saying or doing anything that might appear to stigmatize homosexuality mirrors the great public-health abdication to the George Floyd protests — in which a great many members of an expert community that had championed closures and lockdowns decided to torch their credibility by endorsing mass protests because the cause seemed too progressive to critique.

In each case what’s been thrown over is neutrality — the idea that public health treats risky behaviors equally, regardless of what form of expression they represent …

[S]peaking for myself, as a citizen with a personal interest in medical controversy, when I read the kind of blathering, newspeak-infused monkeypox advisories that Barro highlights, all I can think is: I can never trust anything these people say again.

Ross Douthat, The C.D.C. Continues to Lead From Behind – The New York Times

Priceless Americana

6-7 years back, I asked my eldest’s scout leader if he was a Christian. He said, “Of course, it’s the most important thing in my life.” I asked where he went to church and he replied, “I’ve never been, but my wife was raised Catholic.” For him, it was just another part of his … American identity.

One response to a social medium thread on churchless Christianity (that began with the thrown-down gauntlet “Being reliably right-wing doesn’t confer upon you the status of being an “orthodox Christian,” even if it is with a small ‘o.’”)

Is this how tribalism begins?

Protection of freedom of thought requires that no group should be permitted by law to express an opinion. For when a group starts having opinions, it inevitably tends to impose them on its members.

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots. I cannot concur with her literal sense, but today’s tribalism makes me think that she was directionally correct.

There are a number of tribalists who think me a traitor because I unexpectedly and publicly bucked the tribe — a tribe of which I was never a member, but only a co-belligerent.

Prophetic

Christian concern about popular culture should be as much about the sensibilities it encourages as about its content.

Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes.

Just so you don’t miss the prophetic gravamen, not that the book predates social media and the ubiquitous smartphone. (And blogs, too, frankly.)

Hit list

The American Conservative has a list of cases it wants to see reversed now that Roe is reversed:

If you know all those cases without looking them up, you’re a better man than I am.

I’m sympathetic to overturning at least one of them. One other, On birthright citizenship, my reflex is that if Michael Anton or John Eastman is agin it, I’m fer it.

Did I mention that I’ve dropped my American Conservative subscription? So many sites I used to enjoy reading that I now avoid. Maybe I’m the one that’s changing (though I’m confident that the Trump-Sluagh has gotten to some of them).

It’s hard to admit that I really don’t fit anywhere other than an Orthodox Church (and that’s because the Church is mercifully broad in accommodating quirks).

George Soros is not off-limits

Democratic billionaire George Soros has, by his own admission, had an outsized influence on our politics over the years with his political donations—just as GOP mega-donors Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, and Charles and David Koch had on the right. “All well and good. America is a free country, and Soros has every right to spend his vast fortune however he wants within the boundaries of the law, as well as to justify that spending in the public square,” James Kirchick writes in Tablet Magazine. “[But] the same applies to those of us inhabiting lower tax brackets, who have no less a right to criticize Soros for how he’s trying to influence American public life.” Because Soros is Jewish, however, many progressives have adopted the tactic of dismissing any criticism of his political advocacy as anti-Semitic—a charge Kirchick, himself Jewish, believes is unfair. “The argument that the mere mention of the name ‘Soros’ is tantamount to antisemitism, which is effectively the position of the progressive political, media, and activist elite, is made entirely in bad faith,” he writes. “If the mind of a Soros supporter, upon hearing his name, races immediately to an image of a ‘Jew,’ and one who serves as a stand-in for ‘the Jews,’ it’s probably not the motives of the critic that need questioning.”

The Morning Dispatch, August 16, 2022

Isms

When I was young, there was a conservative book titled “Today’s Isms.” I was trying to figure out what ISMS stood for. It turns out, it stands for ideologies — communism, socialism, fascism. We could add a few today.

Islamism

There’s nothing freakish about the attack on Salman Rushdie:

And yet as shocking as this attack was, it was also 33 years in the making: The Satanic Verses is a book with a very bloody trail

In July 1991, the Japanese translator of the condemned book, Hitoshi Igarashi, 44-years-old, was stabbed to death outside his office at the University of Tsukuba, northeast of Tokyo. The same month, the book’s Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was also stabbed—this time, in his own home in Milan. Two years later, in July 1993, the book’s Turkish translator, the prolific author Aziz Nesin, was the target of an arson attack on a hotel in the city of Sivas. He escaped, but 37 others were killed. A few months later, Islamists came for William Nygaard, the book’s Norwegian publisher. Nygaard was shot three times outside his home in Oslo and was critically injured.

And those are stories we remember. In 1989, 12 people were killed at an anti-Rushdie riot in Mumbai, the author’s birthplace, where the book was also banned. Five Pakistanis died in Islamabad under similar circumstances.

Bari Weiss, We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning

But would we back Rushdie were Satanic Verses being published today?

When Rushdie made those comments to L’Express it was in the fallout of PEN, the country’s premiere literary group, deciding to honor the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo with an award. Months before, a dozen staff members of Charlie Hebdo were murdered by two terrorists in their offices. It was impossible to think of a publication that deserved to be recognized and elevated more.

And yet the response from more than 200 of the world’s most celebrated authors was to protest the award. Famous writers—Joyce Carol Oates, Lorrie Moore, Michael Cunningham, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, Peter Carey, Junot Díaz—suggested that maybe the people who had just seen their friends murdered for publishing a satirical magazine were a little bit at fault, too. That if something offends a minority group, that perhaps it shouldn’t be printed. And those cartoonists were certainly offensive, even the dead ones. These writers accused PEN of “valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.”

Bari Weiss, We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning

Trumpism

When I left Above the Law in 2019 for my two-year detour into legal recruiting, it was partly because of Donald Trump. Writing about the law in 2019 meant writing about Trump, and writing about Trump meant unpleasantness.

I returned to writing by launching Original Jurisdiction in December 2020, after Trump lost the presidential election, and I turned it into my full-time job in May 2021, after he left office. I thought it was safe to go back in the water.

Alas, here we are, more than 18 months after his administration’s end, and Trump still dominates the headlines. Almost every category in today’s Judicial Notice relates to the controversial ex-president.

David Lat, We Just Can’t Quit Him

Miscellany

A back-handed recommendation

I’m not generally given to wretched excess, but when I get into a six-episode Shetland on Britbox, I’m apt to binge-watch.

Breaking the Sabbath

The princess—I mean the Shiek’s daughter—was only thirteen or fourteen years old, and had a very sweet face and a pretty one. She was the only Syrian female we have seen yet who was not so sinfully ugly that she couldn’t smile after ten o’clock Saturday night without breaking the Sabbath.

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad.

I’m not sure the princess would worry about breaking the Christian Sabbath. Twain should have made it “sundown Friday.”

Frederick Beuchner

[Frederick Beuchner] did not hold orthodox religious views.

“Contrary to widespread religious belief,” he wrote in a 1994 essay for The Times, “I don’t think God goes around changing things in the sense of making bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people, or of giving one side victory over the other in wars, or of pushing a bill through Congress to make school prayer constitutional.”

Robert D. McFadden’s obituary of Beuchner in the New York Times.

What an odd illustration of un-“orthodox religious views”!

Frederick Buechner has met Christians who remind him of American tourists in Europe: Not knowing the language of their listeners, they speak the language of Zion loudly and forcefully, hoping the natives will somehow comprehend. They seem cocky with faith, voluble with their theology, and content with a God who resembles a cosmic Good Buddy. Their certitude both fascinates and alarms him.

Phillip Yancey, ‌Frederick Buechner, the Reverend of Oz

With the caveat that I, oddly enough, cannot recall reading anything from “the most quoted living writer among Christians of influence” (though I’ve known the name for decades and decades), I recommend the Yancey piece, from Christianity Today, as far more perceptive than the Times obituary.


"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.

Monday meanderings

(No, I didn’t collect all these today, but my queue was getting pretty full.)

Sex, sport, and hard truths

Scientists are generally "uncomfortable with black-and-white statements, because science is all about nuance." But in the case of sex and sport, "there are some hard truths that deserve to be trumpeted." There is a significant performance difference between males and females from puberty onward. Testosterone is the primary driver of that difference. There is a wide gap, no overlap, between the male and female T ranges. Sex may not be binary for all people or for all purposes. But for sport, what most of us mean when we say "sex" is actually what matters, and that sex is undeniably binary: you either have testes and functional androgen receptors, or you don’t. "Full stop."

On average, even in the elite athlete population, males have 30 times more T than females. This includes both transgender women and girls starting from the onset of puberty, and 46-XY males with the two differences of sex development (DSDs) that are most relevant for sport: 5ARD (alpha-reductase deficiency) and PAIS (partial androgen insensitivity). The Gold, Silver, and Bronze medalists in the women’s 800 meters in Rio—Caster Semenya, Francine Nyonsaba, and Margaret Wambui—are all suspected of having the former condition. They are not "hyperandrogenic females." The latter are represented on the figure as 46-XX females with PCOS (polycystic ovaries) and CAH (congenital adrenal hyperplasia).

… Pick your body part, your geography, and your socioeconomic status and do your comparative homework. Starting in puberty there will always be boys who can beat the best girls and men who can beat the best women.

Doriane Coleman, ‌On the Biology of Sex, Sex Differentiation, and the Performance Gap.

This is the first substantive article in a very recent guest series at Volokh Conspiracy.


Brace yourself for more rainbow flags and diversity trainings

A tornado outbreak tore through the midwest on December 10, killing more than 80 people. Many are still missing. Some factory and warehouse workers in the region say their bosses threatened to fire them if they left their posts to go home. In the last decade, corporations have been able to placate the American left with rainbow flags and diversity trainings. It would be interesting if this tornado—and the reports from inside a candle factory and Amazon warehouse—reignites something of the old, real labor movement. We hope so. The candle factory workers have filed suit.

Nellie Bowles‌.

Amazon’s Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is also good.


Hygiene theater

So why are our authorities catering to neurosis and fear rather than explaining the truth: that the virus is never going away, and the way to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated and boosted. Why isn’t that the only message?

I am a naturally pro-social person. I wear a mask when required. I get tested when required. I try to accommodate and respect people’s differing risk preferences. But I’m very privileged when it comes to COVID; doing these things is easy for me. I don’t have little kids in school. I work from home. None of the extant restrictions materially impact my life.

Yet even I feel myself being radicalized, starting to think: maybe it’s not enough to make reasoned arguments against rules that are little more than hygiene theater. Maybe it’s time to break them.

And if I’m feeling that way, how on earth must normal people feel?

Noah Millman, ‌The radicalization of a COVID moderate

I’ve read one fairly powerful series on why vaccine hesitancy might be warranted even if the vaccines are safe. I won’t try to summarize except to say that the storyline goes "so if most of us get vaccinated, what happens then, and then even later — and cui bono?" It’s here, here and here, though there’s a likely paywall.

Again, I’m vaccinated and boosted, preferring the possibly false assurances of my government to the dark hints of resisters. I’ve not been persuaded that I made a bad call, even if eventualities may eventuate. They always do, and it’s shocking how much I instinctively avoid reckoning with that most of the time.


Too old

We need also to be frank about Biden. He’s too old to be president, and most people sense this. He was elected because he was someone clearly not as toxic to the electorate as most of the other more radical Dems. But in office, this has been shown to be a chimera. There is nothing to distinguish him in policy from the far left.

His administration has embraced race and sex discrimination in every part of the federal government; he has endorsed the subordination of biological sex to gender identity in the law; his goal in immigration policy is to enable mass migration, not stop it. His administration routinely deploys the hideous acronyms of woke language — “equity,” “Latinx,” “BIPOC,” “LGBTQIA+” — and any return to plain English and common sense violates their commitment to “social justice.” Just watch Biden repeat the nonsense word “LatinX” in public. It’s pitiable.

Just yesterday it was reported that his administration will offer bonuses to Medicare doctors who “create and implement an anti-racism plan.” An “anti-racism plan” means doctors must now view “systemic racism” as a health issue, and deny any biological differences in health between human genetic sub-populations. This is ideology, not science. Biden views people as groups first, individuals second. That’s why he decided on the racial and gender identity of his vice-president and his top Supreme Court nominee before he even considered the individual pick.

Andrew Sullivan.


Red-pilled

Harvard College Suspends Standardized Testing Requirement for Next Four Years | News | The Harvard Crimson

Freddie deBoer summarizes what this boils down to in the real world: "[G]etting rid of the SATs is just another way for them to consolidate total and unfettered privilege to choose whoever is going to make their pockets even heavier, and that they are and will always be in the business of nominating an aristocracy that will deepen inequality and intensify exploitation …."

More:

You can’t make college admissions fair by getting rid of the SAT because colleges admissions can’t be “fair.” College admissions exist to serve the schools. Period. End of story. They always have, they always will. College admissions departments functioned as one big anti-Semitic conspiracy for decades because that was in the best interest of the institution. Guys who the schools know will never graduate but who run a 4.5 40 jump the line because admissions serves the institution. Absolute … dullards whose parents can pay – and listen, guys, it’s cute that you think legacies are somehow the extent of that dynamic, like they won’t let in the idiot son of a wealthy guy who didn’t go there – get in because admissions serves the institution. Some cornfed doofus from Wyoming with a so-so application gets in over a far more qualified kid from Connecticut because the marketing department gets to say they have students from 44 states in the incoming class instead of 43 that way, because admissions serves the institution. How do you people look at this world and conclude that the problem is the SAT?

And what just drives me crazy, what I find so bizarre, is that all these PMC liberals in media and academia think they’re so endlessly disillusioned and over it and jaded, but they imagine that it was the SAT standing in the way of these schools admitting a bunch of poor Black kids. What … do you think has been happening, exactly? They’re standing around, looking at all these brilliant kids from Harlem and saying “oh God, if only we could let in these kids. We need to save them from the streets! But we can’t get past that dastardly SAT.” They decide who to let in, and they always have! They can let in whoever they want! Why on earth would you put the onus on the test instead of the schools? You think, what, they would prefer to admit kids whose parents can’t possibly donate? The whole selection process for elite schools is to skim a band of truly gifted students from the top, then admit a bunch of kids with identical resumes whose parents will collectively buy the crew team a new boathouse, and then you find a kid whose parents moved to the states from Nigeria two years before he was born and whose family owns a mining company and you call that affirmative action. And if you look at all this, and you take to Twitter to complain about the SAT instead of identifying the root corruption at the schools themselves, you’re a … mark, a patsy. You’ve been worked, you’ve been took. You’re doing the bidding of some of the wealthiest, most elitist, most despicable institutions on earth. You think Harvard [cares] about poor Black teenagers? Are you out of your … minds?

It was in their best interest to use the SAT before, so they used it. Now it’s in their best interest to have even more leeway to select the bumbling doofus children of the affluent, and you’re applauding them for it in the name of “equity.” Brilliant.

It’s all corrupt. All of it. From the top to the bottom. It is so insane that all of these people who are ostensibly so cynical about institutions, who will tell you that capitalism is inherently a rigged game, who think meritocracy is a joke, who say that they think these hierarchies are all just privilege, will then turn around and say “ah yes, the SAT is gone, now fairness and egalitarianism will reign.”

(Expletives deleted (that’s what most of the ellipses are) — and they were numerous).


My missing moral foundation

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at today’s political tribalism, having experienced something similar.

I was a conservative "culture warrior" for decades. My reasons for ceasing aren’t entirely clear even to me, because most of my convictions remain much the same today. Part of it probably has to do with getting over the conceit that people with opposite convictions are necessarily moral monsters who must be publicly anathematized and sent into exile.

But I was never advise of the tacit requirement that I support just about any tomfoolery that any fellow-warrior might come up with. I apparently was, as I learned when a conservative fellow-warrier decided to call for a newspaper boycott over it running Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse comic strip even after (gasp!) it introduce a gay middle-school boy character.

For my money, that strip, gay character or not, was one of the loveliest on the whole comic page — and I said so, loudly, probably in a letter to the editor (remember those? Good times!).

At the time, I was the newspaper’s lawyer, but that didn’t influence me (it just wasn’t all that lucrative). Nevertheless, my fellow-warrior’s mother called me and lambasted me about "30 pieces of silver" and yadda, yadda, yadda. I was reminded of this little chapter when I recently saw the mother’s obituary. She had apologized in the meantime.

I don’t recall other specific incidents when I broke from some tribe I’d never consciously joined, but I have the impression that the For Better or Worse chapter was not the only one, even if it was particularly vivid.

Another time, I returned from vacation to find my firm fairly far into litigation against a quirky acquaintance with whom I’d shared some lunches over a mutual interest. When I heard the allegations, I thought "I hate to say it, but that sounds like something he’d do," so I joined the team working on it.

I later took Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Questionnaire, discovering that my score on "Loyalty/betrayal" was shockingly low for a conservative. All I can say in defense is that I try to be faithful to principle. And I still suffer qualms about that second incident.

Maybe this was why my Evangelical/Fundamentalist schools forbade membership in "oath-bound secret societies" like fraternities, lodges and such: don’t take an oath that might require you to betray principle for the sake of the tribe. If so, it’s not entirely bogus.


Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens died ten years ago, and there’s been a little burst of "Boy! We could sure use Hitch now!" articles. The most recent thought we could use him because he was fearless and the rest of us (including the author) are scared to death of getting cancelled.

I enjoyed much that Hitch wrote, the best of which has aged well. But I think that God, in his great mercy, gave us all the Hitch we really needed, and I wish for no more.


Pro-tip

Ignorance has been an excellent strategy for me. I could listen to Fox and it’d make me furious, but I don’t and I save a lot of time that I’d spend chewing the carpet.

Garrison Keillor


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.

Competent beta males and other fancies

Identitarianism’s bad faith is right out in the open. If you watch closely, you’ll see that white liberals broadcasting their virtuous, courageous commitment to “listening to black voices” will suddenly waver when the black voice in question expresses opinions closer to John McWhorter’s than Ta-Nehisi Coates’. Almost without exception, people who make blanket statements of the form “I listen to X” or “Listen to X” are — and there is no more polite way to say this — full of shit.

Jesse Singal, Lobbying for Millionaires, for Social Justice

This is a fitting companion to Freddie de Boer’s Accountability is a Prerequisite of Respect, quoted extensively last time.


The atmosphere is stifling, sluggish, leaden. Outside, you don’t hear a single bird, and a deathly, oppressive silence hangs over the house and clings to me as if it were going to drag me into the deepest regions of the underworld. At times like these, Father, Mother and Margot don’t matter to me in the least. I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage. “Let me out, where there’s fresh air and laughter!” a voice within me cries.

Annelies, a 2004 choral work by James Whitbourn, based on the Diary of Ann Frank.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing this, though I must admit that the work didn’t come alive for me in rehearsal — not until production week, when we finally heard the brilliant “Ann Frank” soloist the Artistic Director had hired. Then: wow!


This is not about Donald Trump:

Donald Trump doesn’t get away with lies because his followers flunked Epistemology 101. He gets away with his lies because he tells stories of dispossession that feel true to many of them. Some students at elite schools aren’t censorious and intolerant because they lack analytic skills. They feel entrapped by moral order that feels unsafe and unjust.

The collapse of trust, the rise of animosity — these are emotional, not intellectual problems. The real problem is in our system of producing shared stories. If a country can’t tell narratives in which everybody finds an honorable place, then righteous rage will drive people toward tribal narratives that tear it apart.

Over the past decades, we cut education in half. We focused on reason and critical thinking skills — the core of the second reservoir of knowledge. The ability to tell complex stories about ourselves has atrophied. This is the ability to tell stories in which opposing characters can each possess pieces of the truth, stories in which all characters are embedded in time, at one point in their process of growth, stories rooted in the complexity of real life and not the dogma of ideological abstraction.

Now as we watch state legislatures try to enforce what history gets taught and not taught, as we watch partisans introduce ideological curriculums, we see how debauched and brutalized our historical storytelling skills have become.

It is unfashionable to say so, but America has the greatest story to tell about itself, if we have the maturity to tell it honestly. The Fourth of July weekend seems like a decent time to start.

David Brooks, ‌How to Destroy Truth (H/T my brother-in-law, since I don’t currently subscribe to the New York Times.)

This is more congruence, by the way, as I discussed last time; indeed, it’s congruent with ‌The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, though I’m only now getting into that part of the book.


Buddhism, I’ve found, is how to live in Hell without becoming a devil. The competent man who guards his thoughts and emotions and stays calm and studies differential equations and provides for those around him financially even while living among very unhappy and unhealthy people—that is how the Aristocracy of the Competent is formed. When the Competent beta males rise to the top, that is when we will have a Renaissance.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency


Yet five years later, as our nation picks up the pieces from one of the most divisive, cruel, and incompetent administrations in the modern history of the United States—one in which the pursuit of Christian power led to prominent Christian voices endorsing nation-cracking litigation and revolutionary efforts to overturn a lawful election—the Christian “deal” looks bad indeed. When push came to shove, all too often the pursuit of justice yielded to the pursuit of power.

The cultural shockwaves are still being felt. They’re rearranging not just America’s political alignments but our language itself. Is “Evangelical” more of a political marker than a religious identifier? Does it even carry true religious meaning any longer? What is a “conservative”? Where I live, the term “staunch conservative” is a synonym for “Trump supporter,” in spite of the fact that Trumpism is far more akin to populism than conservatism, as traditionally defined.

Then there’s this other word: “patriot.”

I want all those words back. “Evangelical” is a word with a rich theological and historical tradition. It has meant something good. The word “conservative” has long been connected to the defense of the classical liberal virtues of the American founding. And I can think of no better time to reclaim the word “patriot” than on our nation’s Independence Day.

No, it’s not just that I “want” those words back. We need them back. …

David French, How Do Christian Patriots Love Their Country Well?


When the Pony Express needed riders, it advertised

a preference for orphans-

that way, no one was likely

to ask questions when the carriers failed to arrive,

or the frightened ponies stumbled in with their dead

from the flanks of the prairies….

There were plenty of orphans and the point of course

was to get the mail through, so the theory was sound….

think of those rough, lean boys-

how light and hard they would rise

fleeing the great loneliness.

Mary Oliver, The Riders (H/T The Daily Poem for July 2)


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.


You can’t unsee what you have seen, unlearn what you have learned. The only way to live entirely at ease with one’s hometown is never to have left, never to have seen how life is elsewhere, right? Or maybe not. Ruthie’s nature was not my nature. For me the only reason I was able to return to St. Francisville in the middle of my life was because I left it so long ago and satisfied my curiosity about the world beyond. Had I chosen Ruthie’s path when I was young, my way through life would likely have been bitter, filled with regret about the roads not taken.

Rod Dreher, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming


I have pared down a very contentious, even hurtful, couple of paragraphs to just one recommendation: I cannot recommend Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity too highly for anyone who wants to understand how so much of North American Christianity became so chaotic and heretical.


This one ought to be good comedy fodder:

Rural county in Nevada moving to rename road after Trump

YERINGTON, Nev. – A rural Nevada county where voters sided solidly with Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 election is moving to rename a road after him. Lyon County commissioners voted 4-1 on Thursday for renaming the half-mile Old Dayton Valley Road in Dayton, an unincorporated community 23 miles south of Reno. Commissioner Ken Gray, a Republican, told KRNV-TV that he chose the road because only a few government facilities and no residents have addresses on it, making the change easier.


Jonah Goldberg unpacks some Trump bombast and finds inadvertent self-revelation:

Trump is a human incarnation of anti-factual narratives. Case in point: His trip to the border this week.

At a meeting to discuss border security, Trump went on a tear about how he “aced” a test designed to tell whether he was cognitively impaired. This is an oldie but a goodie, so I was glad to see him reach deep into his catalog. At the event, Trump called out to Rep. Ronny Jackson, the president’s former physician who had administered the test. Trump said:

“Did I ace it? I aced it. And I’d like to see Biden ace it. He won’t ace it.”

“He will get the first two. There are 35 questions and the first two or three are pretty easy. They are the animals. This is a lion, a giraffe. When he gets to around 20, he’s gonna have a little hard time. I think he’s gonna have a hard time with the first few, actually.”

Well.

The test doesn’t have 35 questions, merely 10 or 11 tasks (here’s a sample test). And it’s not supposed to take more than 10 minutes.

Boasting that the test was “really hard” doesn’t quite make the point Trump thinks he’s making. If you find a sobriety test “really hard,” that’s not quite the same thing as saying, “I’m sober.” If you struggle to pass a basic cardiovascular test, that’s not the same thing as saying, “I’m in great shape.” And if you say a test designed to determine if you have dementia got “really hard” toward the end, maybe that should be a cause for concern? I mean, if you have to dig deep to successfully repeat the sentence, “The cat always hid under the couch when dogs were in the room,” that’s not something to brag about.

The final—and presumably hardest question—asks if the patient knows the date, place, and city where the test is being administered.

(Emphasis added)


I had heard someone say that Vienna combined the splendour of a capital with the familiarity of a village. In the Inner City, where crooked lanes opened on gold and marble outbursts of Baroque, it was true; and, in the Kärntnerstrasse or the Graben, after I had bumped into three brand-new acquaintances within a quarter of an hour, it seemed truer still, and parts of the town suggested an even narrower focus.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (and Jan Morris), A Time of Gifts

From what Rod Dreher wrote just last Friday (I Am Pieter Brueghel’s Waffle Man – by Rod Dreher – Daily Dreher, Vienna is still magical.


Reflections introduced by Jeff Bezos’ rationale for going to space:

I think, is that the standard choices presented to us – reason versus superstition; progress versus barbarism; past versus future; Earth versus space; growth versus stasis – were always chimeras. The choice is not between ‘going forward’ or ‘going back’, but between working with the complexity of human and natural realities, in all their organic messiness, or attempting to supersede them with abstractions which can never hope to contain them.

Perhaps this is why artists, saints, poets, mystics and storytellers often have a better handle on what reality actually looks like than those who sing the praises of Science or Reason. The English painter Cecil Collins, for example, explained his view on the matter in a beautiful mid-twentieth century passage which is worth quoting in full:

Rationalists are very fond of saying that without reason the universe would be a mad place; but of course it is a mad place even with reason. Any artist, or poet, or really alive person, knows it is mad. It is a horrible and terrifying place full of a bitter cruelty and obscenity. It is a place full of wonderful, profound beauty, and the tenderness of vast mysterious sacrifices. What it is not is a nice little rational puzzle that works out in the end.

No, the universe of experience is a different matter. It is a deep abyss, full of voices, some whispering, some shouting, the voices of frustration, the voices of unfulfilled longings, the voices of mysterious lusts, of mystical desires that can find no place in the world, the voices of deep, buried wrongs that cry out from an abyss of world desolation, the voices of misfits, neurotics, failures, the weak, an abyss full of the ecstasy of the poet, the glow of the praise of life, full of an incomprehensible love and an incomprehensible destructiveness.

All these voices are centred in man’s consciousness and in order to escape from them he builds in his mind a prison of rationality, and then tries by the aid of the official world, to shut them out.

Paul Kingsnorth, A Thousand Mozarts (The Abbey of Misrule)


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.

Friday, part II, 9/21/18

1

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

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

2

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

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

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

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

 

3

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

On a scale of zero to 10, about 0.1.

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

So that’s my quip quip.

Next question?

 

 

4

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

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

More from Sullivan:

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

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

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

 

5

Je suis Marine Le Pen.

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

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Friday Politics 9/14/18

1

I’m sure that if Brett Kavanaugh had not “misled the Senate under oath,” he’d have had Patrick Leahy’s vote for confirmation, but gosh durn it, he just had to mislead ’em.

What a bunch of preening jackasses we’ve elected (and thus, by definition, deserve)!

Speaking of which:

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) offered to sacrifice his political career in a move obviously calculated to serve his political career — boldly releasing “confidential” committee documents that had already been released and that did nothing to prove Kavanaugh’s unfitness.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) hinted darkly at the malignant influence of the Federalist Society — though it turned out that every member of the current Supreme Court, and Whitehouse himself, had participated in Federalist Society events.
  • Was Kavanaugh somehow personally responsible for the birth-control views of a plaintiff because the nominee made reference to it? This last charge — summarized by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as a “dog whistle going after birth control” — earned “Four Pinocchios” from The Post’s Fact Checker.

Each political side has chosen to live in a post-truth world. In one case, deceit serves the president’s interests and ego. In the other case, deceit serves progressive ideology. But in both instances, loyalty is proved by lies.

And by viciousness ….

 

2

As Hannah Arendt wrote back in the 1940s, the worst kind of one-party state “invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

Anne Applebaum, A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come. This long and well-informed Atlantic article has me rethinking some things.

 

3

[W]here American conservatism began to go wrong[:] The goal is not to stand athwart history and cry “Stop!”, as William F. Buckley put it. It’s to be part of the stream of history and say: slow it down a bit, will you?

Andrew Sullivan. There’s much more there. I even bought a book on his recommendation.

 

4

When cars were first introduced, no one had to buy one if they didn’t want one. Now that we have reordered our entire society around them, outside of a very small number of cities, the use of an automobile is really no longer an option.

Motor vehicles have changed our urban form to the point where very few people live within walking distance of their job, shopping, or other everyday activities. And for those who do, the walk to that place is likely to be unpleasant and unsafe, due to the way that cars have altered the design of our streets and neighborhoods.

We should think long and hard about the fact that, within several decades, we reordered our entire society, our built environment, and our way of life to serve this machine that we were told would serve us.

Jason Segedy

 

5

The Carolinas can take solace during hurricane Florence that FEMA will give them the stellar, “unsung-success” treatment it gave Puerto Rico under the watchful eye of Glorious Leader.

 

6

Whatever you may think about [John] Kerry, he emerges in these pages as a man who’s strong enough not to worry that in telling the truth about himself, he might look weak.

David Ignatius, reviewing Kerry’s memoir, Every Day Is Extra.

No comment, no contrast, no way.

 

7

One company last year reportedly sold “unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water” for $6 a gallon.

Henry I. Miller

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.