Rod Dreher

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Obama: A Liberal Cheney

The more things change...  (Photo: Albert H. Teich) /
The more things change... (Photo: Albert H. Teich) /


Did you see the opening skit of Saturday Night Live last night? It makes fun of Obama from the right. It’s a satire of an old “Schoolhouse Rock” routine, but this time showing Obama shoving the Bill down the Capitol steps — this, in making fun of his executive order on immigration.

In his column today, Ross Douthat analyzes how Obama went from being a candidate critical of the Cheneyite model of the presidency, and what he considered to be Bush’s abuses of executive power, to becoming just like what he criticized. Excerpts:

The scope of Obama’s moves can be debated, but that basic imperial reality is clear. Even as he has maintained much of the Bush-era national security architecture, this president has been more willing to launch military operations without congressional approval; more willing to trade in assassination and deal death even to American citizens; and more aggressive in his war on leakers, whistle-blowers and journalists.

At the same time, he has been much more aggressive than Bush in his use of executive power to pursue major domestic policy goals — on education, climate change, health care and now most sweepingly on immigration.

Douthat has been a vocal and forceful opponent of Obama’s immigration move, but I found his contention that Congressional Republicans’ unwilligness or inability to govern in normal ways is an important factor in Obama’s imperialization:

This is the point that liberals raise, and plausibly, in President Obama’s defense: It isn’t just that he’s been dealing with an opposition party that’s swung to the right; it’s that this opposition doesn’t know its own mind, collectively or sometimes even individually, and so has trouble bargaining or legislating effectively.

This reality has made it harder to cut major bipartisan deals; it’s made it harder to solve problems that crop up within existing law; it’s made it harder for the president to count votes on foreign policy. All of which creates more incentives for presidential unilateralism: In some cases, it seems required to keep the wheels turning; in others, it can be justified as the only way to get the Big Things done.

Read the whole thing.  I would add too that most Republicans had no complaints when George W. Bush behaved this way. What you tolerate, you encourage. When the next Republican president takes office, and begins throwing his weight around in the same way, liberals who cheer Obama’s immigration move will have no room to complain.

Like Douthat, I think what Obama did was outrageous, not necessarily on policy (I don’t know enough about immigration policy to say), but as a political matter. No president, Republican or Democrat, should impose such a consequential and far-reaching policy in defiance of Congress. But this one did. Cheney would be proud.

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Is China Over?

4pm, Beijing, through a pollution haze (Photo: UrbanGarden/Flickr)
4pm, Beijing, through a pollution haze (Photo: UrbanGarden/Flickr)


The Wall Street Journal‘s Bob Davis, leaving China after a four-year stint covering its economy, sees signs that the global giant’s economy is in decline. Excerpt:

My own reporting suggests that we are witnessing the end of the Chinese economic miracle. We are seeing just how much of China’s success depended on a debt-powered housing bubble and corruption-laced spending. The construction crane isn’t necessarily a symbol of economic vitality; it can also be a symbol of an economy run amok.

Most of the Chinese cities I visited are ringed by vast, empty apartment complexes whose outlines are visible at night only by the blinking lights on their top floors. I was particularly aware of this on trips to the so-called third- and fourth-tier cities—the 200 or so cities with populations ranging from 500,000 to several million, which Westerners rarely visit but which account for 70% of China’s residential property sales.

From my hotel window in the northeastern Chinese city of Yingkou, for example, I could see empty apartment buildings stretching for miles, with just a handful of cars driving by. It made me think of the aftermath of a neutron-bomb detonation—the structures left standing but no people in sight.

That’s a fascinating bit of journalistic sleuthing: looking at newly built housing projects by night, and seeing that they are in fact Potemkin villages. More:

China followed Japan and South Korea in using exports to pull itself out of poverty. But China’s immense scale has now become a limitation. As the world’s largest exporter, how much more growth can it count on from trade with the U.S. and especially Europe? Shift the economy toward innovation? That is the mantra of every advanced economy, but China’s rivals have a big advantage: Their societies encourage free thought and idiosyncratic beliefs.

When I talked to Chinese college students, I would ask them about their plans. Why, I wondered, in an economy with seemingly limitless potential, did so few choose to become entrepreneurs? According to researchers in the U.S. and China, engineering students at Stanford were seven times as likely as those at the most elite Chinese universities to join startups.

One interview with an environmental engineering student at Tsinghua University stuck with me. His parents grew wealthy by building companies that made shoes and water pumps. But he had no desire to follow in their footsteps—and they didn’t want him to either. Better that he work for the state, they told him: The work was more secure, and perhaps he could wind up in a government position that could help the family business.

That is significant. It reveals a parasitic mentality: the people who ought to be the producer class encouraging their children to work for the state, in part to help the family business. That can’t be good, for China or any society. That said, for 30 years or so, I have heard that China was bound to democratize, because you can’t have successful capitalism without liberal institutions (= a free press, free speech, democracy, rule of law). China has proved Western critics massively wrong.

Read the whole thing. It’s short, and important.

UPDATE: Good comment from Anand:

Some strong points made in the article. However, as with a lot of journalism I feel that there’s too much focus on the short term. A few snapshots:

1. My daughter is currently about 5 months into a two year term teaching rural China with an organization called Teach for China (loosely affiliated with Teach for America with a similar philosophy). What’s clear from her experience thus far is that the Chinese system has a long way to go in educating everybody to the level of being able to perform in a modern economy.

But the thing is, the Chinese are genuinely trying to make efforts in that direction. They are actively trying to upgrade their rural education system and improve their universities. They are asking questions about what they can do better. From what I’ve seen there’s a definite contrast between China and India in this regard.

2. A colleague of mine has a visiting appointment at a Chinese university. China is starting to bring in foreign scholars and establish the equivalent of the Max-Planck Institutes in Germany. This is something that Japan, Korea and India are not doing, and it offers China the potential of leapfrogging these countries scientifically. Some of the better students coming out of US universities are going back to China to work and teach there. I’ve personally seen a steady increase in the quality of papers coming out of China in recent years.

3 I had lunch a few weeks ago with a former undergrad who moved back to China to help run a family business. Again I was really impressed not only by what she’s trying to do, but by her love for her country motivating her to do it.

What all of these stories have in common is that China is trying to build up and invest in its people, and to some extent it is succeeding in growing and attracting talent. The question is whether the broader trends exemplified here are sustainable over decades. They may not be. But the Chinese do have leaders who are thinking on these scales, while our politicians try to win the next news cycle.


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Ukip & the Future of the Future

Ukip leader Nigel Farage (European Parliament/Flickr)
Ukip leader Nigel Farage (European Parliament/Flickr)


Via Niall Gooch, here’s an astute analysis by Charles Moore of the rise of Ukip, and the cluelessness of Labour and the Tory party, as well as Britain’s mainstream media. Their problem, he says, is that they believe that History Is On Their Side — but failed to convince the British voter of same. Excerpt:

The persistent mainstream charge against Ukip and its supporters is that they are nostalgists, dwellers-in-the-past, people who just don’t like the modern world. There is some truth in this: like the Scottish Nationalist Party, Ukip trades in dreams of old glory more than policies for future success. But the wrong conclusion is drawn.

In any old, stable, free country, there are many losses which deserve to be mourned. It is not irrational or unpleasant to wish you could still leave your house unlocked, expect your children to share school classes with pupils who can all speak English, or not find your wages, at the lower end of the income scale, threatened by foreigners who will work for less. In such a civilisation, of which Britain is a prime example, change is welcomed only if the best of the good, old things are secured in the process.

In Britain today, many people feel that the good, old things have not been secured and that the changes are not helping them. If they are indigenous, and from the poorer half of society, they are probably right. It is true, for instance, that modern sophisticated societies need quite a lot of immigration; but it is even more blindingly obvious that extremely high rates (we have double the number of immigrants of 20 years ago), which, because of the EU, the Government cannot control, are unpleasant for the poor communities which have to accommodate them. This makes them socially dangerous. If, when you complain about this, you not only get no help, but are also told that you are a horrible person, you get angry. And if you get angry, you are much more likely to vote Ukip.

The two “great faults” of the modernizers, says Moore, is that a) they treat what is modern as what is inevitable, and b) they moralize the future, such that anyone who doesn’t agree with them must be denounced as a bigot, or otherwise morally inferior. The inability of either party (or, one imagines, the UK’s mainstream media) to understand these things as conceptual barriers to their understanding of how the real world works handicaps them all. Read the whole thing.

I’m not sure how, in the particulars, the dynamic that Charles Moore identifies applies to the United States. I mean, I recognize the phenomenon, and I suppose it explains the Tea Party. But I am interested in expressions of this phenomenon outside the realm of politics. Can you think of any? Gay marriage was one, until it wasn’t — but we still would not have it in many places if not for the judiciary, which is part of the Modernizer class of elites (which is both a right wing and a left wing phenomenon). What else? This is your thought experiment of the day. I’m going to go to a place that does not have Internet, and work on the revision of my book.

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The Town That Makes Priests


I kept waiting for this CNN program hosted by Lisa Ling to say, “Surprise! Here’s the dark secret!” But it didn’t. It’s genuinely inspiring, so much so that even Ling seeems to have been moved by the example of these men.

This episode of Ling’s program focuses on Fowler, Michigan, a town of 1,200 that has a reputation of producing priests, even in this time of lean vocations. Ling spends time with several of the young men from the town who have become priests, and one 19 year old who’s in seminary. It’s really something else. The best part is an interview with Father Mathias Thelen, 32, a former football star at Fowler’s high school. He was ordained in 2010. At about the 26-minute mark in the show, Ling asks him how the Scandal affected his sense of calling to the priesthood. He says:

“Right after the scandals broke in the church, I remember thinking to myself is this really what I want? Do I really want to step into the church here? There are two responses to evil. Either I allowed that evil to in a sense discourage me from doing good or I actually use that as a motivation to do all the more the will of God. And so, I actually used the scandal as something which propelled me forward in proclaiming God to a world that is hurting.”

It’s something else to see how solid he is, and how convicted.

Later, when Ling talks to a group of seminarians, the Scandal comes up. One of the men says that their generation is going to have to be the one that rebuilds. This is a burden they accept. Powerful stuff. Watch it and be inspired.

I found the show through a tweet by Nicholas Cotta, who tweeted that watching that program makes him think that I might be right — presumably about the Benedict Option. How is it that this little farming community can produce so many priests? The show doesn’t really answer that question, but you can see that this is an overwhelmingly Catholic town that takes its faith seriously. People go to church. They talk about Jesus Christ, and they’re not embarrassed or cagey. It’s nothing fancy, just good country people who believe, and who believe as a community. Somehow, they have found a way to hold on, and not only to hold on, but to bear astonishing fruit.

Whatever they’re doing, we all need more of it.

The show is called This Is Life with Lisa Ling. I really have to give Ling and CNN credit here for a well-done show. She asked some hard questions of the young priests and seminarians — I wish she had asked them questions that gave us more of a sense of what they believe, and how they place themselves within the Church — but she let them speak for themselves, and it ended up being the most positive portrayal of the Catholic priesthood that I have seen on TV news since I can’t remember when. Even if you’re not Catholic, if you find yourself despairing of the state of religious life in the US, watch that program and see what the young men of Fowler, Michigan, are creating: hope.


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Obama’s Reckless Amnesty

'Illegal'? What's 'illegal'? (Photo: Danette Carnahan/Shutterstock)
'Illegal'? What's 'illegal'? (Photo: Danette Carnahan/Shutterstock)

I do not follow the immigration debate closely, so I do not have a well-informed opinion about the amnesty President Obama just declared for 5 million illegal immigrants, who are in this country in defiance of its laws. But I am gobsmacked that this or any other president would issue an executive order on something as massive as this, without having Congress behind him. It really is outrageous — and the Democrats are going to reap the whirlwind.

Here’s Zoltan Hajnal in The New York Times:

President Obama’s executive order eliminating the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants is good policy. It is the right thing to do. But it is a dangerous move for the Democratic Party.

Yes, immigration is an important issue for most Latinos and Asian-Americans. And yes, 63 percent of Latinos and 66 percent of Asian- Americans voted for Democratic candidates for Congress in the midterms. The executive order could solidify and expand that support for years to come.

But Latinos and Asian-Americans made up only 11 percent of the electorate. Even if immigration were the only issue driving their vote — and it most certainly was not — it could have shifted the national partisan balance of power by only a few percentage points.

Whites, meanwhile, accounted for 75 percent of the electorate. Far more than any other group, whites will decide the fate of the parties in the years to come. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, the data suggest that immigration very much matters for whites.

Immigrants are moving to almost every corner of the nation. They usually look different from the white majority. And, irrespective of the facts, the dominant narrative maintains that immigrants rely heavily on public services like welfare, education and health care, that immigrants take jobs from native-born workers and lower their wages, and that immigration is leading to cultural decline.

Polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of white Americans view illegal immigration as a serious problem. A third think immigration over all is bad for the country.

Even if you favor the policy Obama is imposing, you had better think long and hard about the meaning of this move by a president. As Ross Douthat said on Sunday:

No defender of Obama’s proposed move has successfully explained why it wouldn’t be a model for a future president interested in unilateral rewrites of other areas of public policy (the tax code, for instance) where sweeping applications of “discretion” could achieve partisan victories by fiat. No liberal has persuasively explained how, after spending the last Republican administration complaining about presidential “signing statements,” it makes sense for the left to begin applying Cheneyite theories of executive power on domestic policy debates.

Especially debates in which the executive branch is effectively acting in direct defiance of the electoral process. This is where the administration has entered extraordinarily brazen territory, since part of its original case for taking these steps was that they supposedly serve the public will, which only yahoos and congressional Republicans oppose.

This argument was specious before; now it looks ridiculous.

Lo, this didn’t take long. Look at this now airing on Louisiana airwaves:

To be clear, linking to that ad does not imply TAC’s endorsement of a candidate. We do not endorse candidates. I’m linking to it to show you how the GOP Senate candidate is pouncing on the Obama amnesty to pound his Democratic opponent. Landrieu didn’t have much of a chance before, but the only question raised by the Obama amnesty is whether or not he’ll break 60 percent on election day. Well, this question too: is this ad a preview of the GOP’s 2016 strategy?

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The Return of Mormon Polygamy?

LDS Prophet Joseph Smith (R) shows Brigham Young the way (Photo credit: Action Sports Photography/Shutterstock)
LDS Prophet Joseph Smith (R) shows Brigham Young the way (Photo credit: Action Sports Photography/Shutterstock)


Ross Douthat has a thought-provoking reflection on the future of religion, both globally and in America. He says that it’s dangerous to assume that the future will look like the present, only moreso. Which Catholics in 1940 would have foreseen something as epochal as the Second Vatican Council, coming just 20 years later? Who could have anticipated that China is on track to having the largest Christian population in the world, and that Africa would be sending missionaries to the West? But here we are. Douthat calls attention to Will Saletan’s Slate piece saying that the Mormon Church has a clear theological method to change doctrine, has done so (on polygamy and other issues), and will do it on homosexuality eventually. Saletan points out that the Mormons have a history of changing doctrine to make it easier for them to get along in American society.

Douthat comes at it from a different place:

So context matters — and while I don’t know how many Mormons would frame it exactly this way, I think one way to read that context is to look at the revelation suspending polygamy and see God basically blessing a political-cultural bargain between the Latter Day Saints and the United States, in which Mormons would be granted the liberty required to thrive in return for adapting themselves to American familial norms … as adapt they did, becoming the archetype of 1950s bourgeois normality and then remaining archetypal long after that norm had ceased to meaningfully exist.

But if that bargain was real, and not only real but divinely-sanctioned, then what should pious Mormons today make of the fact that the United States now seems to be going back on the deal? How should they respond to the possibility that their faith is becoming effectively alien again, developing another “marriage problem,” because it still hews to the terms of the original deal even as American culture demands assent to a very different, effectively post-biblical, understanding of what marriage is supposed to be? Saletan sketches one possible response, in which Mormons simply accept the new bargain, the new terms, and adapt once again. But that’s the Whig’s view of history, in which everyone responds to new incentives by rushing in the same direction. If you take the example of Mormonism’s founding fathers seriously, you might just as easily say, the bargain has been broken, therefore the revelation that helped seal it no longer applies, therefore we can go our own divinely-sanctioned way again even as the wider culture rushes in another direction. And the end result might not a L.D.S. church that evolves toward, say, the current Congregationalist or Unitarian view of marriage; it might be an L.D.S. church that has much more trouble sweeping polygamy to its margins (especially if civil laws against the practice fall), and that suddenly has to deal with powerful fundamentalist currents, a powerful fundamentalist wing, in ways that would have been hard to imagine before the same-sex marriage debate began.

What do you Mormon readers think of this?

It’s a provocative thought: if traditional marriage is no longer exclusive in law and culture in the United States, and if the American people have come to believe (as we have) that marriage is something we have the right to redefine as we wish, then why shouldn’t the polygamous instinct buried deep within the LDS faith not reassert itself? If I were a Mormon inclined to return to the fundamentals of my faith, I would wonder why, exactly, honoring the old bargain still mattered.

On a theological level, I suppose, it matters because polygamy is officially forbidden within the LDS faith, but as Douthat said, it is entirely conceivable that the church’s Prophet could receive a new revelation — and there is no reason to believe, as Saletan does, that that revelation will affirm something as radical as same-sex marriage, which, unlike polygamy, has no precedent in human history, much less in Mormon history.

Let’s speculate, à la mode Douthat, about other unlikely but plausible religious scenarios that could emerge in the decades to come. Since the Synod on the Family, I’ve received several e-mails from Catholics asking about Orthodoxy. I’ve received more of them since the Synod than I have in the entire eight years since I left the Catholic Church for Orthodoxy. Not one of these readers mentioned the Synod as a catalyst, but I can’t help thinking that it was, given the timing of these queries. My guess as to what’s going on is that quite a few conservative or tradition-minded Catholics have been enduring a great deal of nonsense at the parish level — priests and laity who don’t seem to believe the Catholic faith, bad liturgy, ugly music, and the usual complaints — but found the strength to put up with it because of their convictions, and because they believed that however fallen the local diocese or parish was, Rome was a solid rock.

Now, under Pope Francis, they fear they may have been wrong. One reader wrote to say that he and his wife sacrificed economically and otherwise to teach their kids the Catholic faith in its fullness, and did so in a diocese where, he said, they had nothing but opposition, both active and passive, from the institutional church. Now the kids are grown, and all have fallen away from the faith. The reader is left nowadays wondering if what he believed so strongly about the truth of Catholicism was ever true — hence his question about Orthodoxy.

Again, not one word about Pope Francis from this reader, or from any of the others who wrote. But my sense is that something about this Pope and his actions since ascending the papacy serves as the final straw for more than a few beleaguered conservative Catholics, and has allowed them to entertain thoughts that they had previously suppressed.

I don’t believe we are going to see a huge number of conversions from Catholicism to Orthodoxy anytime soon. But I think that if Francis is followed by another pope in his mold, it’s entirely plausible that American Orthodoxy could see a significant number of former Catholics come into its ranks. I personally know quite a few Catholics who long for what the Orthodox Church has: a beautiful, deeply reverent liturgy, a strong mystical sense in its corporate worship, traditional Christian morals, and undeniable apostolicity, which means the sacraments are valid from a Catholic point of view. They remain Catholic because they believe Catholicism is true. As the Catholic writer John Zmirak has said, if they cease to believe that Catholicism is true, at least in its ecclesiology, then what is to keep them from coming East?

Let me be clear: I don’t want to debate in this thread whether or not Catholicism or Orthodoxy is true. What I would like to talk about is the possibility that the liberalization within US society (and, in the Catholic case, the liberalization, real or perceived, within the Church), could pave the way for big changes that seem unlikely now, but are yet plausible. And please, don’t leave it with Mormonism and Catholicism. Feel free to speculate on the futures of other forms of Christianity, or other faiths.

In the next 30 or 40 years I have left to live, I expect to see liberal forms of religion die out, and conservative forms become more conservative — this, while the great mass of the American people drift steadily into secularism. Pope Benedict XVI predicted this for Europe, and I think we are only a generation behind our Old World forefathers. What’s going to be interesting is to see in what ways that intensifying conservatism among religious believers expresses itself. I think we may all be in for some surprises, as Douthat’s speculative post indicates.

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‘Stuck’ As Default of the Poor

In the “Poor and Foolish” thread, I put this Note From Rod on a reader’s comment:

[NFR: ...If you are living in poverty, and cannot afford to have more babies, or your having babies would be a heavy burden on the children you already have, then you are a fool if you continue to have sex, or continue to have sex without contraception. Period. The end. I cannot even believe this is a point of contention. People are not animals; we have free will. -- RD]

A reader named Maria filed this thoughtful and informative comment in response:

Rod, I agree with you on almost everything, but this is one of those times that I don’t (though of course people aren’t animals and have free will), after working as a yearlong, full-time volunteer/case manager for low-income pregnant and parenting women in Washington, D.C.

It all comes down to sex. There is a huge difference in the way most lower-income people with whom I worked thought about sex and the way my friends and I grew up thinking about sex.

I grew up in an upper-middle class family with two stable, loving, working, married parents. Besides learning in this environment and in Catholic schools that sex and marriage (or at least commitment) go together, I learned from a very early age that I have agency over my choices regarding sex, that having sex has consequences that could deter me from pursuing what I want out of life: an education, a career, a stable environment, a healthy family, spiritual integrity.

Most importantly, I learned by how I was treated at home and by the example of my parents that I have inherent value regardless of what anyone thinks of me, regardless of whether I’m in a relationship or not. I learned that I should HAVE goals in the first place.

The women I worked with in D.C. — many of whom continued getting pregnant and having kids after multiple fathers had ended up abandoning them or in jail — did not grow up understanding sex in this way, nor did they grow up cultivating a healthy self-esteem in the way I had.

Many of them did not grow up with fathers, and were never taught that “hey, you’re a beautiful person; you don’t need to have sex with the first guy who comes around and makes you feel special.” Many of them were abused – physically/emotionally/sexually – as children, which impacted how they viewed themselves and their own sense of agency. Most did not seem to know what a healthy relationship was or think that it was possible for them to have one.

The biggest thing – many of the young women had never seen another example in their own families or communities! They had never SEEN their mothers or sisters or fathers decide, “hey, these lifestyle decisions aren’t healthy, I’m going to make some better choices.” One woman – mother of 6 small children who had 2 or 3 different fathers between them- once flat-out asked me about my own experiences, and was utterly SHOCKED when I told her I hadn’t had sex yet, even though I have a boyfriend. She wasn’t disrespectful or condescending, she was just shocked; she hadn’t seen it done before. The choice not to have sex is never presented as an option! (It should also be noted that many of the men feel that condoms are emasculating or just refuse to use them, leaving the burden of contraception entirely on the woman.)

One 16-year-old mom who dropped out of school to take care of her baby and is living with her boyfriend (who also dropped out of school and works more than full-time) has birth control that is causing her to be depressed and even suicidal at times, but she said she can’t use condoms because she’s allergic to latex, and she thinks if she told her boyfriend she wanted to stop having sex for a while, he would dump her and move along to the next girl. Right now, he is the only support she and her baby have. She was born outside the U.S. but came here as a child, and because she didn’t finish high school, she’s not eligible for the Dream Act benefits for the right to work in the U.S. Meanwhile, she can’t find daycare for her baby, so she can’t return to school. She’s utterly stuck. What’s going to happen to her? Her baby is likely going to grow up thinking that “stuck” is default.

I don’t mean this as a lecture but just wanted to voice some of the things I’ve seen in this regard. I realize I’ve gotten away from the original thread discussion.

I totally reject the left’s “whenever you feel ready, consent is all that matters, just use protection!” approach to sex and agree with you that stable, two-parent families (assisted by economic opportunity and good education) is really the only solution to these types of problems. I just don’t think you can dismiss people as fools when they have grown up thinking in a completely different way about sex and inevitability.

I really appreciate this comment. It reminds me of something a friend of mine who taught in a rural school in the Deep South told me once about her middle-school students. All of them were poor, all were black. She herself was once a welfare mom during a hard period of her life, and felt a special burden in her heart to help these kids avoid what she went through.

She told me that it was incredibly despairing to try to reach them. None of them seemed to believe her when she told them that if they worked hard in school and stayed on the straight and narrow, they could go to college and better themselves. She said pretty much all the girls wanted nothing more than to get pregnant by some boy — they said so in class, without shame — and the boys saw their own manhood as tied up in getting a girl pregnant. Marriage was not on anybody’s mind. Your story, Maria, reminds me a lot of what my friend said. She told me she might as well have been talking to them in a foreign language. One day during a conversation about this, she told the female students that dropping out of school to care for your baby is almost guaranteed to condemn them and their children to lives of welfare dependency.

“They didn’t care,” my friend said. Welfare was a way of life for these kids. That’s all they had ever known. It was normal. That’s when my friend knew the power of what she was up against.

The point I was trying to make is that the only real way any of this changes is for kids to come to believe that they aren’t fated to live that way. There may be no one in their lives to offer them a way out, and even if someone does, like my teacher friend, the pressures on them to reject the message in a bottle they’ve found are powerful. I think about the young black woman I wrote about in Little Way who had to leave her family far behind in order to pursue her education and break the cycle of poverty (which she did), because they wanted to tear her down and prevent her from succeeding.

From what you’ve seen, Maria, do you have a better solution? I’m not blaming these kids for reacting to the world in the way they have been conditioned by the adults who have failed them, but I am saying that the culture they carry in their heads, their habitus, condemns them to repeat the mistakes of their parents, and sets their own children up for the same thing. Income redistribution is not going to change that. How could you possibly redistribute income enough, and invent government programs sufficient to ameliorate the direct and secondary effects of single parenthood on a child’s long-term economic well being (e.g., given that their educational achievement will have something to do with their own financial success and stability)?

UPDATE: Great comment from reader RB:

I am trying to see things from a hypothetical poor student’s point of view, as much as I’m able, because I’d want to help such children, too.

The analogy that popped to mind was that of a college professor exhorting students to what they must do to grow and succeed, because otherwise they’ll be stuck in a middle-class lifestyle. I know I would remain unimpressed and unconvinced.

I’m so accustomed to how I relate to my husband, procure and prepare food, and raise my children that I likely could not go back to the Japan of my father’s birth even if my father and grandmother convinced me it was best, and even though I spent years there as a small child.

Heck, I haven’t even taken my big family camping, because even that feels like changing to a different life, different tribe. I think, taking care of 7 kids, including the two diapered toddlers, is challenging enough in my nice middle-class home–can I do this, while pretending to be homeless, in the rain? Most days I feel like I work hard enough without feeling cocky enough to say, Hey, time to level up and make it twice harder for a totally unknown result!

My friends who camp with their families assure me that everyone feels closer to God and learns self-reliance, and it’s totally possible to do with babies, and their happy attitudes and personal success are just enough for me to be willing to learn more, but not quite enough to take the plunge in the current cold weather. I’ll wait for sunnier skies before risking it.

A teacher can exhort her kids all year, but it’s when she loves them, and with her concern welcomes them into her different country, invites thrm in to see what it’s like, that they may consider emigration, because they’ve seen what life is like there, and how people get their food and make it.

This is what I do with friends who are nervous about not having baked bread or sewn things before–I just invite them into my home and apprentice them for a few hours.

I think this is why we are called to break bread with different people, because sharing that taste of life, and how to bake it, is more convincing than lots of passionate description of it, and warnings about the unsuitability of the old bread, and disapproval.

At least, that’s what it would take for me. The boy on the other thread sounds like the sort of son that yesteryear families woukd have been lucky to have. My FIL grew up in a large, poor family on a farm, and as a kid was able to drive tractor with one hand and shoot a pheasant for dinner with the other. He acquired his master’s degree based on an athletic scholarship and supported by coyote pelt bounties. (He’s shot that many.)

My husband has the same skills, same coked-up-mule work ethic, STEM college degree, middle-class job, we live in the same town, but are half as successful. My FIL is having to partially support his children, who are, like him, smart, hard workers. Like the boy’s family on the other thread, we still have economically obsolete values and we regard our kids as our greatest joy even if by newer values we should have had only two, or none at all. (Which is so sad. These are my favorite people–I can’t imagine life without them.)

So what would it take for me to give up my current family/resource management values? A great deal. I liked butchering a deer with my husband last night and baking bread. I like helping friends with their garden. I like the old ways because I think they nourish human families and spirits, and I’ll cling bitterly to them ;) even despite the economic reality that it’s become nearly impossible to provender a family through legal hunting and fishing in the manner people could a generation or two ago might. Like the boy on the other thread, my FIL values family and that helps us a great deal. Family is everything. Many consider me no better than the boy’s mother, for all that I am married and my husband loves me and provides. I’m still economic deadweight, to the new way of thinking.

So there is the question of converting people from unhappy chaos to happier order, and my answer is through one-on-one friendship. I think churches and 12-step recovery has that well addressed. But how to persuade people to leave family behind, avoid family formation, for the sake of economic success? Especially when the delays in family formation get longer and it becomes a new normal to expect people to become secular monastics so as to be better workers? I’m not convinced. I wouldn’t be able to persuade someone to leave their family for economic reasons because I am just as “bad” as they are. I’m with Erin Manning on this. I’d rather put my energy into changing to system to better reflect values that lead to human flourishing, than in trying to turn kids into economic cogs and trade one kind of bottom-rung servitude for another. Sheer economic self-interest wouldn’t work at this point anyway; those whom I know on welfare often live as high or higher than the frugal families I know who refuse assistance because they value work. Only their antiquated values keep them off the dole.

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Bill Murray Misses The Latin Mass

If you didn’t already love Bill Murray, here’s something sure to make you repent: check out this excerpt from a Guardian piece on him and his new film:

His parents were Irish Catholics; one of his sisters is a nun. This conspicuous religion adds to his broad church appeal (there’s a citation from the Christian Science Monitor on his golfing memoirs). You don’t need to ask if his faith is important to him. He talks about how 19th-century candidates risk not getting canonised because the church is keen to push ahead with the likes of John Paul II and Mother Teresa. “I think they’re just trying to get current and hot,” he smiles.

One new saint he does approve of is Pope John XXIII (who died in 1963). “I’ll buy that one, he’s my guy; an extraordinary joyous Florentine who changed the order. I’m not sure all those changes were right. I tend to disagree with what they call the new mass. I think we lost something by losing the Latin. Now if you go to a Catholic mass even just in Harlem it can be in Spanish, it can be in Ethiopian, it can be in any number of languages. The shape of it, the pictures, are the same but the words aren’t the same.”

Isn’t it good for people to understand it? “I guess,” he says, shaking his head. “But there’s a vibration to those words. If you’ve been in the business long enough you know what they mean anyway. And I really miss the music – the power of it, y’know? Yikes! Sacred music has an affect on your brain.” Instead, he says, we get “folk songs … top 40 stuff … oh, brother….”

Sit quoque cor nostrum beatum!

And may the heart of the reader who sent this item to me also be blessed.

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The Age of Anti-Politics

Blogger Stumbling and Mumbling writes about how nobody is interested in real politics anymore. Excerpt:

 - There is little debate about the question of how to organize society’s institutions, and merely an unquestioning assumption that top-down hierarchy with a strong leader is the correct structure. More generally, there is little interest in the key questions of politics: how is power exercised? How should it be exercised?

These examples might seem very different. But they show that the turn away from politics which Julie describes is by no means confined to feminism.

It would be tempting here to say that what’s displaced proper politics is mere tribalism. But I fear that underlying this is something else - narcissism. From feminists calling out a guy for wearing a dodgy shirt to Ukippers demanding free parking and a return to the 1950s, we see a demand that everyone defer to one’s own wishes. In this sense, what lies behind anti-politics is the rise of individualism. What Robert Wyatt sang 30 years ago is even more true now. This is the age of self - and this suits capitalism just fine.

The reader who e-mailed this link adds:

1. Our dominant political ideology, at least among elites, is left liberalism. But the aims of that ideology are seriously at odds with reality. I’m not particularly a cheerleader for capitalism, but, on the economic front, there is really only so much the government can do for people before it starts to make things noticeably worse, and attempts to do things like abolish or even significantly minimize gender roles are doomed to fail. So, you get a lot of posturing, emphasis on symbolic issues like gay marriage*, and attacks on individuals who fail to be sufficiently PC. It’s a sort of impotent rage. Shirtgate etc.

Left liberals sure like to talk a lot about systemic change, but they seem to have completely abandoned any attempt at it.

*As a traditionalist, I’m fine with an emphasis on the symbolic, but I wonder what liberals are doing with such an emphasis.

2. A good deal of this comes down to contradictions on the left. The only way to root out “racists” from say the teaching profession would require giving authorities the power to fire people more easily. That’s not exactly going to go down well with teacher’s unions. Likewise, actually putting away significantly more rapists would require lowering the burden of proof in criminal cases. That’s really problematic from the perspective of liberalism too. For example, you’re going to end up putting away a lot of minority men, if you do that.

So, the system remains the same.

About Alasdair MacIntyre’s perspective on modern politics:

It is also the case, according to MacIntyre, that those involved in these philosophical and political debates claim to be using premises that are objective, based on reason, and universally applicable. Many of them even believe these claims, misunderstanding the nature of their particular inadequate modern philosophy, just as the people in MacIntyre’s post-disaster world misunderstand what it means to be doing real science. But what they are really doing, whether they recognize it or not, is using the language of morality to try to gain their own preferences. They are not trying to persuade others by reasoned argument, because a reasoned argument about morality would require a shared agreement on the good for human beings in the same way that reasoned arguments in the sciences rely on shared agreement about what counts as a scientific definition and a scientific practice. This agreement about the good for human beings does not exist in the modern world (in fact, the modern world is in many ways defined by its absence) and so any attempt at reasoned argument about morality or moral issues is doomed to fail. Other parties to the argument are fully aware that they are simply trying to gain the outcome they prefer using whatever methods happen to be the most effective. (Below there will be more discussion of these people; they are the ones who tend to be most successful as the modern world measures success.) Because we cannot agree on the premises of morality or what morality should aim at, we cannot agree about what counts as a reasoned argument, and since reasoned argument is impossible, all that remains for any individual is to attempt to manipulate other people’s emotions and attitudes to get them to comply with one’s own wishes.

MacIntyre claims that protest and indignation are hallmarks of public “debate” in the modern world. Since no one can ever win an argument – because there’s no agreement about how someone could “win” – anyone can resort to protesting; since no one can ever lose an argument – how can they, if no one can win? – anyone can become indignant if they don’t get their way. If no one can persuade anyone else to do what they want, then only coercion, whether open or hidden (for example, in the form of deception) remains. This is why, MacIntyre says, political arguments are not just interminable but extremely loud and angry, and why modern politics is simply a form of civil war.

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A Final Post About Shirtgate

I think we’re all pretty much done with Shirtgate, don’t you? Still, I don’t want to let it pass without bringing to your attention Conor Friedersdorf’s long analysis of Shirtgate at the Atlantic. He invents an idealized civil dialogue between people on both sides of the issue, friendly antagonists who actually learn something and get somewhere. This kind of exchange only happens in fantasyland, alas. But it’s worth reading.

Conor faults left-wingers for overreacting to Shirtgate, but he also faults Glenn Reynolds, Boris Johnson, and me for overreacting. He says:

That’s one driver of dysfunction: the desire of competing tribes in the culture war to cast themselves as the victims and their antagonists as the lynch mob. Had the scientist made his television appearance in a pro-abortion t-shirt or a Che Guevara tank-top, an identical cycle would’ve ensued but with tribal roles reversed.

Notice that my intention here isn’t to dismiss what I take to be the core concern that Dreher, Reynolds, and Johnson have, down beneath all of the hyperbolic posturing. While the scientist in this case wasn’t drummed out of a job or polite company for an alleged transgression against social justice, it isn’t unheard of for digital mobs to victimize people, whether female gaming journalists or Brendan Eich or the conservative bloggers who suffered the ordeal of having their homes SWATed. There are differences that distinguish those controversies, but one similarity is that no one anticipated any of those mobs when they first came to claim a scalp, and no one could quite tell which individual would be targeted next.

I think it’s undeniable that people on the Right are susceptible to claiming victimhood when they don’t deserve it, but I don’t agree with Conor that my post, or the columns by BoJo and Instapundit, are hyperbolic or trivial. What triggered my ire was not the initial complaint about Taylor, which is about what you would expect, but the fact that a distinguished scientist who had just done a mind-blowingly astonishing thing — helped lead a team that remotely landed a spaceship on a comet! — had been shamed by feminist loons into weeping on television and expressing his remorse for having worn a garish Hawaiian shirt.

I can’t speak for the others, but had he worn a Che Guevara or pro-abortion shirt to the press conference, I might have noticed it, but I wouldn’t have gone into ideological convulsions at the sight of it. Anybody who has spent any time around scientists or nerds knows how peculiar they can be, and how silly their politics, cultural and otherwise, can be. I would have thought the same thing I thought when I saw Taylor’s gaudy cheesecake shirt: I can’t believe a grown man who is also a distinguished scientist would go out in public dressed like that. 

Roll your eyes and move on.

What incensed me was the fact that a man who had achieved such an incredible thing for humanity was reduced to a blubbering, knee-biting idiot by the howling feminist mob. It is a terrible thing for public life that this kind of thing can happen. It is an example of microaggressions humiliating people who have done nothing seriously wrong, and maybe nothing wrong at all.

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