Rod Dreher

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Men Are Dogs

A member of New York City Pups And Handlers. Don't ask. (istolethetv/Flickr)
A member of New York City Pups And Handlers. Don't ask. (istolethetv/Flickr)

OK, let’s look at the this week’s identity freakshow: people who think they are animals. The Guardian brings us news of the “pups” subculture. Excerpts:

It’s easy to laugh at a grown man in a rubber dog suit chewing on a squeaky toy. Maybe too easy, in fact, because to laugh is to dismiss it, denigrate it – ignore the fact that many of us have found comfort and joy in pretending to be animals at some point in our lives.

No, it is not too easy to laugh at this insanity. By all means dismiss it and denigrate it. No grown man should behave this way. Naturally, they began as BDSM pervs:

Secret Life of the Human Pups is a sympathetic look at the world of pup play, a movement that grew out of the BDSM community and has exploded in the last 15 years as the internet made it easier to reach out to likeminded people. While the pup community is a broad church, human pups tend to be male, gay, have an interest in dressing in leather, wear dog-like hoods, enjoy tactile interactions like stomach rubbing or ear tickling, play with toys, eat out of bowls and are often in a relationship with their human “handlers”.

In the documentary, we see Tom, AKA Spot, take part in the Mr Puppy Europe competition in Antwerp, a mix of beauty pageant, talent show and Crufts; David, AKA Bootbrush, talk to camera in a leather dog mask; two pups walk through London pretending to wee on lampposts to raise awareness of their identity; and lots of men jumping up for “treats”, barking and wagging their mechanical tails.

But wait, there’s more:

Tom’s discovery of puppy play came about gradually. He knew he liked sleeping in a collar, had a fetish for skin-tight clothing – Lycra, rubber, even off-the-peg cycling shorts – then came a dalmatian zentai suit he found on eBay, a £1 orange lead from Pets at Home until, eventually, a man in a club walked up to him and said: “Oh right, so you’re a pup.” The realisation was not without its repercussions: it led to a breakup with his former fiancee Rachel and a move into a gay relationship with his new handler. Colin.

“I wouldn’t say it was the catalyst, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Tom. “Then I had this moment of panic because a puppy without a collar is a stray; they don’t have anyone to look after them. I started chatting to Colin online and he offered to look after me. It’s a sad thing to say, but there’s not love from the heart in me for Colin – but what I have got is someone who is there for me and I’m happy with that.”

And, you knew this was coming. Emphasis mine:

Whether we see it as a kink, an identity, a reaction to an early experience, a form of escapism or a fetish, the main thing, says Tom, is that we see it at all; that we know it’s there and accept it. “It feels like you can be gay, straight, bisexual, trans and be accepted,” he says. “All I want is for the pup community to be accepted in the same way. We’re not trying to cause grief to the public, or cause grief to relationships. We’re just the same as any other person on the high street.”

Read the whole thing.

As it happens, VICE did a piece on pup culture earlier this year (probably NSFW). It’s a gay male thing, it appears. Excerpts:

Already the howls leak onto 12th Street. And as you pass through the heavy black doors of San Francisco’s go-to gay biker hangout, The Eagle, the scene that greets you isn’t the expected handful of dudes quietly gathered at the bar to catch the Warriors game. It’s more like a rave at the SPCA.

Bare-assed except for tail-shaped butt plugs and Nasty Pig jock straps, sporting custom leather puppy masks and MMA mitts, several go-go boys hop and fidget to Berlin techno above the packed crowd. Huge cutouts of snarling pooches and giant bones loom over the dance floor. On the back patio, a hunky daddy dressed to the leather nines sits in a large chair, reading a newspaper, puffing a fat stogie, and resting his feet on a coiled human pup, who excitedly chews on a squeaky SpongeBob. A bootblack and a barber, both dressed only in latex aprons, ply their grooming trades with fanatical skill. Over in the corner a big cage rattles, as the human pups inside bark and throw themselves against the bars.

More:

Figaro Pup identifies as a border collie. “I share a lot of traits with the breed. I get bored easily unless something is really holding my attention. I am always trying to keep groups together or herd people or pups. My husband is my handler, although I and the other pups in our pack call him Daddy. A typical day is surprisingly mundane. We do all of the normal things that couples do, work, chores etc. There are just a lot of little things that call out our other relationship dynamics. We switch from husbands to daddy/puppy fairly seamlessly. When we kiss hello, maybe I’ll get some scritches behind the ear, or I’ll play with a squeaky toy while we watch TV, unless it gets taken away.”

And:

Both Papa Woof and Brue take great pains to insist that puppy play is not about bestiality…

Right. Aaaaaand, I’m out of there.

Here’s something on the same wavelength, but not as sexed-up. From a Houston TV station’s report:

Throughout the U.S., a group of people who identify as therian has been growing over the years. Therians are people who believe they are animals, either spiritually or psychologically. Within the Houston area, there are an estimated 3,000 people in this community.

“A therian is basically someone who believes spiritually or mentally that they are an animal,” said Aramond VanRahamdalph, who leads a therian group in Houston. He identifies as both vampire and therian. As a therian, he tells FOX 26 News that his identity is of both a wolf and a raven.

“When we go through our awakening, it’s brought upon by a kind of a bond with a specific animal,” said VanRahamdalph. “It could be at a zoo or out in the wild. For most therians, when we shift, which we get the animalistic instincts, a sixth sense, heightened senses, hair on the back of your neck, sensation gets a little stronger.”

Sounds like possession to me, but what do I know.

You know, on second thought, it is too easy to laugh at these deranged people (remember the Norwegian cat lady?). What they are doing is pushing the logic that demands that in custom and in law, society must recognize the right of the sovereign individual to claim his sexual identity based on will alone, having nothing to do with biology. Those men are no more dogs than Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, but we are not obliged to recognize them as canines under penalty of law and at risk of hysterical, bullying public censure by progressive members of Congress. Yet, anyway.

If human identity is not inextricably bound in our biology, then where do you draw the line? In the same way the trans bathroom argument is about something much deeper than what it’s about, laughing at these nuts too easily dismisses the very real philosophical principle at issue here: what is man? As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man:

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the ‘wisdom’ of the earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious – such as digging up and mutilating the dead.

And:

It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere ‘natural object’ and his own judgments of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. The objection to his doing so does not lie in the fact that this point of view (like one’s first day in a dissecting room) is painful and shocking till we grow used to it. The pain and the shock are at most a warning and a symptom. The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.

Very few people are going to go Therian, or play at bestiality like the Pups. But the same principle of personhood and identity that requires us to ignore biology entirely when it comes to determining male and female identity must logically allow trans-species identity. In her vicious exchange this week with law professor Gail Heriot, the bullying Rep. Zoe Lofgren inadvertently conceded the point. Heriot had said that by transgender logic there’s no reason why people shouldn’t call her a Russian princess if she insists she’s one. That prompted Lofgren, a California Democrat, to denounce Heriot as an “ignorant bigot.” Heriot then asked her (I paraphrase), “Well, do you think I am a Russian princess?”

Said Lofgren, “I have no idea.”

Lofgren perfectly well knew that Heriot was not a Russian princess, but if she had said “no,” then she would have conceded that identity is not simply a matter of desire and will. Had Lofgren done that, she would have undermined her ideology. Better to just yell, “Bigot!”

To be sure, gender dysphoria is a real psychological condition, and I don’t think it’s wrong for society to reach some kind of accommodation for people who suffer from it. But we have gone way, way too far, and accepting this principle is going to be our undoing. In for a transgender, in for a Pup and a Therian. Impossible, you say? Eight years ago, when Barack Obama was running for president, denying that he favored same-sex marriage, did you ever imagine his administration would one day order public schools to let “girls” with penises use high school locker rooms, under threat of losing all federal funding? In our unwinding culture, what is impossible today will be mandated tomorrow.

Matter matters! Personally, I blame Ockham. But you knew I would say that.

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Hashimoto: No Apology Needed For Hiroshima

The Genbaku Dome, the only structure left standing at the A-bomb's hypocenter (ilga8/Shutterstock)
The Genbaku Dome, the only structure left standing at the A-bomb's hypocenter (ilga8/Shutterstock)

My friend and former Dallas Morning News colleague Mike Hashimoto, the world’s only Japanese-American redneck, reflected recently on President Obama’s planned visit to Hiroshima, which happened earlier today. Excerpt:

Hiroshima was one of the pivotal events to end a war that needed ending. Without it, more Japanese would have died in a U.S. assault on the islands, as would have tens of thousands of Americans. People die in wars, and wishing it weren’t so doesn’t make it so.

If it took a step as extreme as an atomic weapon to convince those obsessed fellows running Japan that surrender was the superior option, then it did. No apology needed for sparing lives on both sides, and I’m relieved Obama doesn’t plan one.

As historical events go, I’ve always felt more strongly about Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that sent 120,000 people to prison camps solely because of their ancestry, the great majority Japanese. Or the “Go for Broke” heroics of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II. Or Ronald Reagan signing into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and his apology for interning U.S. citizens back then.

Perhaps that’s just a consequence of growing up Japanese-American, with an emphasis on the latter.

Read the whole thing.

I have never been able to settle my conscience about the atomic bomb attacks. Hash is right: they almost certainly brought the war to a faster conclusion, saving more American and Japanese lives. But wiping out 70,000 in a single instant, and 70,000 more in radiation-related deaths? The mind reels, and it should.

Nevertheless, I wonder: had the same effect been achieved over a period of days, like the Anglo-American firebombing of Dresden (which killed around 25,000, and nearly leveled the German city), would that be controversial today? Would we mark the event? Probably not. Granted, Hiroshima marks a technological turning point in the history of humankind, and of man’s inhumanity to man: the deployment of a bomb that can annihilate an entire city in one second. Conceptually, this was a new thing, a new and horrible thing.

But if I or my son stood to die in the invasion of the Japanese home islands, I am certain that my horror at the new thing would have been all but non-existent. Recalling the literature scholar and World War II vet Paul Fussell’s essay (later a book) thanking God for the atomic bomb, Bret Stephens wrote:

I brought Fussell’s essay with me on my flight to Hiroshima and was stopped by this: “When we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live.”

More:

Because Hiroshima and Nagasaki were real events, because they happened, there can be no gainsaying their horror. Operation Downfall did not happen, so there’s a lot of gainsaying. Would the Japanese have been awed into capitulation by an offshore A-bomb test? Did the Soviet Union’s invasion of Manchuria, starting the day of the Nagasaki bombing, have the more decisive effect in pushing Japan to give up? Would casualties from an invasion really have exceeded the overall toll—by some estimates approaching 250,000—of the two bombs?

We’ll never know. We only know that the U.S. lost 14,000 men merely to take Okinawa in 82 days of fighting. We only know that, because Japan surrendered, the order to execute thousands of POWs in the event of an invasion of the home islands was never implemented. We only know that, in the last weeks of a war Japan had supposedly already lost, the Allies were sustaining casualties at a rate of 7,000 a week.

We also know that the Japanese army fought nearly to the last man to defend Okinawa, and hundreds of civilians chose suicide over capture. Do we know for a certainty that the Japanese would have fought less ferociously to defend the main islands? We can never know for a certainty.

“Understanding the past,” Fussell wrote, “requires pretending that you don’t know the present. It requires feeling its own pressure on your pulses without any ex post facto illumination.” Historical judgments must be made in light not only of outcomes but also of options. Would we judge Harry Truman better today if he had eschewed his nuclear option in favor of 7,000 casualties a week; that is, if he had been more considerate of the lives of the enemy than of the lives of his men?

Your thoughts?

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‘Bye, Christakises, Said The Greengrocer

Vaclav Havel (d. 2011) had more courage and human dignity in his mustache that the administration of Yale University does (haak78 / Shutterstock.com)
Vaclav Havel (d. 2011) had more courage and human dignity in his mustache that the administration of Yale University does (haak78 / Shutterstock.com)

I read in Conor Friedersdorf’s post that controversial Yale academic couple Nicholas and Erika Christakis have stepped down from their roles as faculty-in-residence at Silliman College within the university. Mrs. Christakis has already resigned her academic position at Yale; her husband will stay on faculty. All this as the final result of those privileged crybaby students, supported by some faculty, throwing a vicious fit because Erika Christakis suggested in an e-mail that maybe the Yale administration shouldn’t be telling students what kind of costumes they shouldn’t wear on Halloween.

Read Conor’s post for the full recap of those disgraceful events of last fall. Here’s some additional reflection by him:

At Yale, I encountered students and faculty members who supported the Christakises but refused to say so on the record, and others who criticized them, but only anonymously. On both sides, people with perfectly mainstream opinions shared them with a journalist but declined to put their name behind them due to a campus climate where anyone could conceivably be the next object of ire and public shaming. Insufficient tolerance for disagreement is undermining campus discourse.

Off campus, many pundits published misrepresentations of Christakis’s email in the press. Without extraordinary support from colleagues or a change of heart among activists, some of whom vilified the couple out of solidarity rather than conviction, staying in residential life—which they could have chosen to do—would have assured ongoing conflict, further efforts to force their resignation, and more distractions from their scholarship. “At Silliman College’s graduation ceremony,” the Yale Daily News reported, “some students refused to accept their diplomas from Nicholas Christakis.” Why put yourself through treatment like that?

On the other hand, their resignations all but assure that others at Yale will regard surviving a speech controversy as less viable and curtail their intellectual engagement.

More:

When Yale’s history is written, they should be regarded as collateral damage harmed by people who abstracted away their humanity. Yale activists felt failed by their institution and took out their frustration on two undeserving scapegoats who had only recently arrived there. Students who profess a belief in the importance of feeling safe at home marched on their house, scrawled angry messages in chalk beneath their bedroom window, hurled shouted insults and epithets, called for their jobs, and refused to shake their hands even months later, all over one email. And the couple’s ultimate resignation does nothing to improve campus climate.

What a waste.

Read the whole thing.

I don’t blame the Christakises. I would have shaken the dust off my feet and left such a disgraced university. When an institution of Yale’s stature capitulates and allows immature radicalized students to treat its faculty and staff this way, and to drive them out of campus, it shames itself, and creates a demoralizing atmosphere for faculty and students who want to get an actual education unhampered by Two-Minute Hates staged by Social Justice Warriors.

In his 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless,” then-dissident Vaclav Havel captured Yale’s mentality in his character of the greengrocer under communism:

The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.

Obviously the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone. The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time it is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?

Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,” he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the facade of something high. And that something is ideology.

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe.

I think Yale — and every other university that capitulated, and threw its honor at the mob to appease it — behaved the way it did not because it had to, but because it felt compelled to disgrace itself to live up to the campus left ideology it believes in, or pretends to believe in.

Prof. Kingsfield, who teaches at an elite law school and who is closeted there as a Christian, told me last year:

“It’s certainly true that a lot of law firms will not now hire people who worked on cases defending those on the traditional marriage side. It’s going to close some professional doors. I certainly wouldn’t write about this stuff in my work, not if I wanted to have a chance at tenure. There’s a question among Christian law professors right now: do you write about these issues and risk tenure? This really does distort your scholarship. Christianity could make a distinct contribution to legal discussions, but it’s simply too risky to say what you really think.”

The emerging climate on campus of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and the construal of discourse as a form of violence is driving Christian professors further into the closet, the professor said.

“If I said something that was construed as attacking a gay student, I could have my life made miserable with a year or two of litigation — and if I didn’t have tenure, there could be a chance that my career would be ruined,” he said. “Even if you have tenure, a few people who make allegations of someone being hateful can make a tenured professor’s life miserable.”

“What happened to Brendan Eich” — the tech giant who was driven out of Mozilla for having made a small donation years earlier to the Prop 8 campaign — “is going to start happening to a lot of people, and Christians had better be ready for it. The question I keep thinking about is, why would we want to do that to people? But that’s where we are now.”

What the Christakises did to offend the SJWs had nothing to do with Christianity. But the mentality that causes a professor to live in the closet as a Christian is the same one that drove out the Christakises. A week or so ago I reached out to a college professor to ask him a perfectly ordinary science question — not social science; science — related to his work, but that touched on homosexuality and culture. He declined, saying that he doesn’t dare say a thing about race or sex or gender, because he has a family to support. That floored me. The question I asked was anodyne, but he was afraid to say anything not required of him on the subject, because the risk that even an innocent statement could blow up into a career-destroying debacle.

The whole thing is so demoralizing. But then, that’s exactly what the SJWs want to happen. Shoot two Christakises, teach a thousand. Sooner or later, though, faculty members are going to start taking stands for truth, quit kowtowing to this crap, and demanding that their employers find a spine. One of these days, some campus leader at a major university is going to refuse to hang the sign in his window to avoid trouble. That day is probably far off, but it cannot come soon enough.

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An Argument For Tsunamis

I can’t even.

Note well that one of the leaders of this crackpot coven is Annie Sprinkle, the former hooker and hardcore porn star who came to national attention when a public performance in which she gynecologically explored her not-so-private parts for a New York performance art audience, at an National Endowment for the Arts-funded venue. Whee!

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Hauerwas Vs. The Benedict Option

Nuremberg, 1936: The Hitler Option (Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com)
Nuremberg, 1936: The Hitler Option (Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com)

Good interview in Plough magazine with Stanley Hauerwas. This caught my eye:

You’ve written extensively about how the church should respond to the “end of Christendom” – the fact that we no longer live in a culture whose ground rules stem from Christianity. What about the “Benedict Option” proposed by the writer Rod Dreher? He argues that Christians should respond to secularization by following the example of the early monastics, withdrawing from a heathen civilization to build alternative communities where Christian virtues can be nourished and passed on. Is he right?

This Benedict Option idea comes from the last line of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue, in which he observes that the barbarians have been ruling us for some time and that our future is “no doubt to have a Benedict, no doubt a very different Benedict.” Here’s the problem: Alasdair once told me that this is the line he most regrets ever having written! He wasn’t advocating some kind of withdrawal strategy – he was only pointing out that we can’t be compromised by the world in which we find ourselves. I don’t think your community, the Bruderhof, takes a withdrawal strategy, for instance.

I sometimes say that I wouldn’t mind withdrawing, but we’re surrounded – there’s no place to withdraw to! Maybe the Benedict Option should be rethought in terms of the vow of stability and what it might look like in congregations. We would tell prospective members: “When you join our church, you don’t get to decide by yourself when and where you will move. If your company wants to send you to a new town, you first need to ask the church whether it’s a good idea.”

That kind of accountability to one another is only possible in a community where there is mutual commitment – where there is a church discipline.

Right. My hunch is that you don’t just make a community up. You discover that you need one another because you’re in danger. We need to figure out how to reclaim the disciplines that are necessary for building a communal life in a manner that indicates that we are a people who need help. We need to pray to God to help us, because we’re not quite sure anymore where we are – we’re not quite sure what the dangers are. We need all the help we can get from one another, and we need God in order to know how to be accountable to one another.

What do you mean that we can’t just make community up?

First, community for community’s sake is not a good idea. Sartre is right: hell is other people! Community by itself cannot overwhelm the loneliness of our lives. I think we are a culture that produces extreme loneliness. Loneliness creates a hunger – and hunger is the right word, indicating as it does the physical character of the desire and need to touch another human being.

But such desperate loneliness is very dangerous. Look at NFL football. Suddenly you’re in a stadium with a hundred thousand people and they are jumping up and down. Their bodies are painted red, like the bodies that surround them. They now think their loneliness has been overcome. I used to give a lecture in my basic Christian Ethics class that I called “The Fascism of College Basketball.” You take alienated upper-middle-class kids who are extremely unsure of who they are – and suddenly they are Duke Basketball. I call it Duke Basketball Fascism because fascism has a deep commitment to turning the modern nation-state into a community. But to make the modern state into a kind of community – for the state to become the primary source of identity through loose talk about community – is very dangerous. It is not community for its own sake that we seek. Rather, we should try to be a definite kind of community.

Alasdair MacIntyre, for one, resists being called a communitarian – he fears that in this place and time such calls are bound to lead to nationalistic movements. Those who hunger for community should never forget Nuremberg.

Read the whole thing. Please.

I sent the following response by e-mail to Hauerwas:

I was pleased to see that you addressed my Benedict Option idea in your interview with Peter Mommsen. Pleased most especially because I am more or less modeling the book I’m now writing on the Ben Op (as it has come to be called in shorthand, the “B.O.” being obviously unsuitable) on “Resident Aliens,” which I am quoting generously.

My suspicion is that there is less distance between your views and mine than you may think. I want to clarify that in my own thinking about the Benedict Option, I am not advocating an Amish-style withdrawal from the world (though I respect those who feel called to it, and wish them well). That will not be the path for most of us, nor, in my view, should it be. I am calling for more of a conscious “exile in place” for the church — that is, for the kind of Christians I call small-o orthodox Christians. Some people may need to physically move for this kind of community, but in most cases (I think) it will be a matter of deepening one’s commitments to one’s own tradition and the church community in which it is embodied, and in thickening the bonds among the community’s members. This requires a clear understanding that our first loyalty is to the Church, not to American empire. I know that you need no convincing on this point, but my tribe, broadly speaking, of conservatives really does. I quit being a Republican a decade ago, though I still identify as a conservative. Nobody in our national politics speaks for me; I’m more or less a right-wing Russian Orthodox version of Wendell Berry, minus the hardcore agrarianism (I grew up in the country in south Louisiana, and once again live there; I think there’s way too much idealization of agrarianism among suburban and city folk).

In most cases, the Benedict Option will involve orthodox Christians (as I define them) taking it in their own churches, and establishing institutions like new schools, e.g., the classical Christian school movement. I fully agree with you about the danger of idolizing community for its own sake. In my 2015 book “How Dante Can Save Your Life,” I wrote about how reading the Commedia awakened me to the idolization of family and place to which I had become captive, owing to growing up in the Deep South with a good but overbearing father. I had to repent deeply of that, and intend in the book to write about the dangers of idolizing community, church, family, or anything.

Anyway, what I’m trying to do is find a defensible and sustainable middle ground between total withdrawal and total surrender to the atomizing forces in our economic, political, and religious life. I am anti-utopian by nature, but living in a small town — St. Francisville, La. — after having lived in DC, NYC, Dallas, and Philadelphia, I’m seeing the same acedia and social breakdown here that I saw in the big cities. People are struggling to know what to do. I have kids of my own, and I am not content to sit back and accept what the Empire has planned for them. I want to encourage and cultivate faithful Christian resistance.

I asked him for an interview for the book. No response yet.

It will be a very good thing when the book finally comes out next year, and I can argue with people over things I actually believe and propose, not what they think I believe and propose, or that someone told them I believe and propose. I don’t really blame Hauerwas or anybody else who doesn’t read me regularly for not getting the nuances of all this. Still, it’s frustrating. Hauerwas says “maybe the Benedict Option should be rethought,” but nobody has set down the thinking concretely yet! I’m already halfway on the road to Nuremberg, and I haven’t even finished the book…

Hey readers, I am traveling today to Baltimore for a conference. You will see new posts publishing here throughout the day. That’s because I wrote them yesterday and scheduled them to go up while I’m away from the keys. Please be patient with my approving comments. I’ll do it as quickly and as efficiently as I can, but there will be delays.

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The Four Hamburgers Of The Apocalypse

Well, this is exciting news:

For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying a bacteria resistant to antibiotics of last resort, an alarming development that the top U.S. public health official says could mean “the end of the road” for antibiotics.

The antibiotic-resistant strain was found last month in the urine of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman. Department of Defense researchers determined that carried a strain of E. coli resistant to the antibiotic colistin, according to a study published Thursday in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. The authors wrote that the discovery “heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug resistant bacteria.”

Colistin is the antibiotic of last resort for particularly dangerous types of superbugs, including a family of bacteria known as CRE, which health officials have dubbed “nightmare bacteria.” In some instances, these superbugs kill up to 50 percent of patients who become infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called CRE among the country’s most urgent public health threats.

E. coli that nobody can kill. The Four Hamburgers Of The Apocalypse.

So basically we’re doomed. As usual.

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The World Of The Trades

It ain't necessarily so (hin255/Shutterstock)
It ain't necessarily so (hin255/Shutterstock)

There’s an interesting discussion going on in the comments threads about wages, education, employment, and so forth. Several people are pointing out (correctly) that our society demeans the trades, wrongly, and discourages people who would do well in them from taking them up. A typical comment:

But beyond this, our education system demeans manual labor and respectable professions. Plumbers, electricians, machinists, etc. are all well-paid and respectable professions, but we are churning out people that lump those in with working in fast food.

This brings to mind a very interesting exchange I had last weekend in Clear Creek with a young Catholic man who had left his middle class job after his conversion and moved to rural Oklahoma to live near the abbey and be a member of the community there. To him, it was worth it. He is now working in the trades in Tulsa. I told him that I admired that, and that if any of my kids show more aptitude and interest in the trades, I will send them to trade school, not college.

The young man said that’s fine, but that I should be aware of something important: that working in the trades will bring you face to face with “some of the foulest people you can imagine.” He said the idea of the noble blue-collar worker of ages past is largely a myth today. In his line of work, he said, he spends his day with men who have drug habits, are ex-cons (some of them), are pre-occupied with pornography, see women as whores, avoid child support payments, send a steady stream of filth out of their mouths, and so forth. He also said that some of them are decent all the same. The point, said the young man, is that if you are going to encourage your believing Christian child to take up the trades, you had better prepare them for the fact that they will be entering a world of degradation.

“A lot of these [Christian] kids who have been so sheltered, they’re not going to know what hit them,” he said.

The young man said he would rather remain in that world, so that he and his wife and their kids can afford to live in the community they’ve joined, than to have what he had before. The corruption in his nice middle-class line of work was pretty bad too. He believes that all things considered, he was more in danger of losing his faith in that environment than in the one he works in now. But middle-class Christians who refuse the usual middle-class habit of looking down on the trades, as correct as they are in that judgment, ought not to let their ideals fool them about what it’s like in 2016 to work as a tradesman. The moral collapse of the working class is real.

I learned something in that conversation.

UPDATE: From reader Paddywagon:

Yep, that’s how it is.

I’m a machinist in my mid-late 20’s, and I work at one of NASA’s most prestigious aerospace institutions. There is an elite scientific culture here in general, but the machine shop is just as blue-collar as any.

I started apprenticing here at 22 years old, and yeah, it was eye-opening…

I’d often talk about the moral and cultural decline of our society, but before working here I more often spoke about things like prostitution, sex-trafficking, porn-addiction, alcoholism, drug addiction, misogyny, divorce-rate, perversity, etc. in the abstract. That is to say, I knew these issues were prevalent in American culture, but hardly anyone in my sphere represented these statistics.

Well, now I know those people. They are my coworkers.

Most of them are in their second or third marriages, many of them speak about women like they are sub-human and only good for ‘hitting and quitting’, some talk openly about using prostitutes, and almost all of them look at me like I’m crazy for saying I want to get married.

And have kids? Out of my mind.

Their health is terrible. They eat junk all day, many smoke, they have diabetes, and they have constant health problems. One coworker got fired last year for drug usage, but before that everyone knew he was a total alcoholic and bi-polar. We were surprised it was weed that got him canned.

These guys are a mess. And they’re not even lower-working class! There are a few of us who are Christian or Mormon and hold traditional values, but the majority are secular materialistic misogynists. And I’m not saying this because I don’t like my coworkers–I do like them! They are friendly and nice to work with. But the level of moral depravity is astounding.

If society is half as messed up as my coworkers, then the center cannot hold. But I think that is being too generous to society.

Without a doubt, though, I’ll take my place among the dysfunctional blue-collar culture than with the elitist progressive SJW culture. At least my coworkers respect me and don’t try to get me fired for not thinking like they do.

UPDATE.2: A reader writes:

I’d like to add a bit of a rebuttal to your junior tradesman correspondent.

I started my working life as the wounded son of Ivy League educated parents in various manual labor jobs, including commercial fishing on the East Coast. The men in that industry were indeed hardened and depraved. In a few cases, they were among the most depraved people I’ve ever known. I was no Christian, but my upper middle class sensibilities were suitably horrified in the beginning.

As I grew into my mid twenties, I began gravitating towards the skilled trades. My first job was working with a low-quality remodeling contractor as a carpenter. When you get your first trades job, it’s usually a crappy job. I know that now. That “company” was staffed in part by the sort of low class people your young friend speaks of. But here’s the rub; eventually (and I mean six months later) my skills were sufficiently improved that I moved on to another company where most of the guys were extremely smart, highly skilled, and possessed of a deep craft ethic that was truly admirable. That’s usually the way it works if you’re diligent your skills are improving.

Also, I think your friend is surprised because his Christian upbringing has imbued him with a lot of mythology about working men. It is my sense that working men have always been rough. I wonder how moral the tenement-dwelling Catholic men who built New York City were? Sure, they went to church on Sundays, but they also hit their wives and spent time in houses of ill repute, bar rooms, and jails. I live in Colorado Springs now, so I’m around a lot of people and families who have a suburban Norman Rockwell mythology that they carry around with them, and I think your young friend is one of them. Working men have always been rough, but to be a moral man among them is entirely possible, and often lucrative. Employers notice it, I assure you. I certainly did when I was running my own general contracting firm In DC. In short, I would say to this young man given the chance: “Grow a thick skin buddy, and keep doing what you’re doing. Welcome to the construction business!”

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Andy Taylor, 2016

The New York Times sent a reporter down to Wilkes County, NC, to spend the day hanging out with the barely-getting-by white people at the local vape shop. It’s a powerful vignette, with some hard-hitting photographs. It’s not too far from the town of Mount Airy, birthplace of Andy Griffith, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. Excerpts:

In an America riddled with anxieties, the worries that Mr. Foster and his neighbors bring through the doors of the Tapering Vapor are common and potent: Fear that an honest, 40-hour working-class job can no longer pay the bills. Fear of a fraying social fabric. Fear that the country’s future might pale in comparison with its past.

Wilkes County, with a population of nearly 69,000, has felt those stings more than many other places. The textile and furniture industries have been struggling here for years, and the recession and the loss of the Lowe’s headquarters have helped drive down the median household income. That figure fell by more than 30 percent between 2000 and 2014 when adjusted for inflation, the second-steepest decrease in the nation, according to an analysis of census data by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Still, the regulars at the Tapering Vapor — overwhelmingly white, mostly working class and ranging from their 20s to middle age — provide a haze-shrouded snapshot of an anxious nation navigating an election year fueled by disquiet and malaise.

Know what the name of the shop’s manager is? Andy Taylor:

The Tapering Vapor was almost empty save for Andrew Taylor, the manager. He stood behind the counter under a Guy Fawkes mask, the universal symbol of protest and disaffection, and near the dry-erase board listing dozens of flavors for sale. The names suggested fantasia and abundance: Summer Melon, Broken Neon, Caramel Latte, Unlimited Power.

… But this afternoon, as he sucked on a mod loaded with a banana-strawberry concoction, he was trying not to think about the trouble he was in. About how he messed up by buying the little white Ford off the showroom floor in 2012; the $265 monthly payments were killing him.

How his Verizon bill inched close to $300 the month before because he lost track of how much video he had streamed.

How he, his wife and their 4-year-old son were living at his mother-in-law’s place after the landlord sold the house they had been renting for $400 per month. How even a two-bedroom trailer in a crummy neighborhood around here was going for $600 per month. “More than I can handle,” he said.

And how his second child was due in July.

“It’s not just me. There are other people in similar boats,” Mr. Foster said. He acknowledged that maybe he was to blame for some if it. Maybe he should have stayed in college. Maybe he should have kept better track of his cellphone’s data plan.

But in his America, he said, it seemed that just a few bad choices could doom anybody who wasn’t born with Donald Trump money. “If you make just one poor decision,” he said, “then you’re screwed.”

A fascinating sociological phenomenon mentioned in this piece: the Internet makes all kinds of ideas — even conspiracy theories — available to anybody who wants them. Like I keep saying: one of these days, some bad man is going to give these people, who are “united in their belief that they are living among the ruins of a lapsed golden age,” a reason to quit drugging themselves with video games and hanging out at the vape shop, and get high on rage.

Or maybe someone good will come along, and give them real reason to hope that their lives can change for the better. Which one do you think is more likely?

Read the whole thing. The story quotes Mike Cooper, a young lawyer who stayed in town, and who now defends a lot of the people he went to high school with, who are in court on drug charges and the like. I’ve quoted him here before; if you haven’t read his US News & World Report essay from earlier this year, “A Message From Trump’s America,” you really, really should. Excerpt:

So if there are winners and losers in America, I know the losers. They lost jobs to China and Vietnam. And they’re dying younger, caught in an endless cycle of jail, drug charges and applying for disability to pay the child support bill.

They lost their influence, their dignity and their shot at the American Dream, and now they’re angry. They’re angry at Washington and Wall Street, at big corporations and big government. And they’re voting now for Donald Trump.

My Republican friends are for Trump. My state representative is for Trump. People who haven’t voted in years are for Trump. He’ll win the primary here on March 15 and he will carry this county in the general.

His supporters realize he’s a joke. They do not care. They know he’s authoritarian, nationalist, almost un-American, and they love him anyway, because he disrupts a broken political process and beats establishment candidates who’ve long ignored their interests.

When you’re earning $32,000 a year and haven’t had a decent vacation in over a decade, it doesn’t matter who Trump appoints to the U.N., or if he poisons America’s standing in the world, you just want to win again, whoever the victim, whatever the price.

… Unlike registered independents who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, America’s non-voters tended to be poorer, less educated citizens who are fiscally liberal and socially conservative. Neither party listened to them, let alone represented this populist center, until Trump gave them a voice.

Establishment conservatives don’t really care about people like them. Middle-class Christians like me have no idea how to reach them, or where to start if we wanted to (which, let’s be honest, many of us don’t). Leftist college students and professors see these rural and small town white people, with Confederate flags on their beat-up pickup trucks, as objects of hatred. Establishment liberals would only really care if the men in the vape shops put on wigs and dresses and demanded to use the women’s room. Then you’d see the media and the White House on crusade, that’s for sure.

The thing is, their poverty is not simply a lack of money. That’s hard to fix, but it’s not the hardest thing to fix. Acedia is the problem. The spiritual exhaustion of a nation.

Cyril, a reader in Russia, commented on a thread yesterday:

Well, Rod, I doubt that it will make you feel easier but what you describe is a trend which is present in many western countries nowadays. It’s a twilight of civilization. The only difference is how far has any particular country moved on this path. Russia is probably way ahead of everyone (which may be good, because we might be the first ones to get over it). Also from what I gather a lot of identitarians bear a striking resemblance to some young Russian nationalists I know and what you and other people of your generation (both in US and in Russia) deem to be their flaws like having no moral restraint,no fear, being aggressive, valuing things like blood and soil, might just be their advantages which will allow them to survive this future Dark Age, for which, frankly speaking, they are not responsible, because it is their parents and grandparents, who have failed to preserve their culture and moral decency. So brace yourself, since the whole world is going for a bumpy ride.

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Annals Of Congressional Bigotry

Is this a Russian princess? A Civil Rights commissioner? A Long Beach dockworker? Rep. Zoe Lofgren says she has no idea (Ellya/Shutterstock)
Is this a Russian princess? A Civil Rights commissioner? A Long Beach dockworker? Rep. Zoe Lofgren says she has no idea (Ellya/Shutterstock)

In a Congressional hearing yesterday concerning the Obama administration’s “guidance” that public schools have to let trans students use locker rooms, bathrooms, and so forth, or lose federal money, California Democrat Zoe Lofgren gives us a taste of what’s to come. From HuffPo’s slanted coverage (but the quotes are accurate; watch the video above):

Lofgren criticized the submitted testimony of Gail Heriot, of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, who spoke as a witness during a Wednesday House Judiciary Committee hearing on regulatory overreach.

Heriot argued that trans people shouldn’t be accepted as the gender they identify with, saying, “If I believe that I am a Russian princess, that doesn’t make me a Russian princess, even if my friends and acquaintances are willing to indulge my fantasy.”

Lofgren was not having it.

“I’ve got to say, I found this rather offensive, and it says to me that the witness really doesn’t know anything and probably has never met a transgender child who is going through, in almost every case, a very difficult experience finding themselves,” Lofgren said.

“I think it’s very regrettable that comment was put into the record, and I think it’s highly offensive,” Lofgren added.

When Heriot tried to respond, Lofgren shut her down.

“I think you’re a bigot, lady, I think you are an ignorant bigot,” Lofgren said.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) halted Lofgren’s remarks, declaring her “out of order.” But the congresswoman didn’t back down from her criticism.

“We allow witnesses to say offensive things, but I cannot allow that kind of bigotry to go into the record unchallenged,” Lofgren said.

“Does that mean you think I am a Russian princess?” asked Heriot.

“I have no idea,” Lofgren responded.

Lofgren, plainly, is an ignorant bigot. Ignorant, because she professes agnosticism as to whether or not the witness sitting in front of her is a Russian princess, and a bigot because she believes any questioning of the trans dogma, even in the name of biological reality, is HATE.

Understand: for the sake of achieving a left-wing goal, powerful politicians like Zoe Lofgren, who represents Silicon Valley, are prepared to call anyone who denies that the Emperor actually has a vagina an enemy of the people.

Commissioner Heriot’s question to Lofgren, and Lofgren’s answer, makes a fool of Lofgren, and cuts to the heart of this madness. But Lofgren is today a hero on the left because of her ridiculous outburst. And unlike the witness, Zoe Lofgren is a Congresswoman. She has the power. And don’t you think for a minute that she and people like her, in legislative positions, in business, and in the media, won’t use it against anyone who disagrees. Says Denny Burk:

What is chilling about this video is that the congresswoman has no compunction whatsoever about attacking the witness. Her animus and contempt for the witness are obvious. She believes she is justified in shaming and shouting her down. The witness’s views don’t deserve respect or a fair hearing. They just need to be silenced.

Isn’t it precisely this kind of thinking that gave us the directive in the first place?

We had better be prepared to fight. I am glad that my state’s Attorney General joined the 11-state lawsuit against the Administration over this  policy. He didn’t wait for our Catholic Democratic governor to get involved, no doubt reasonably figuring that you cannot expect any Democrat to go against the LGBT juggernaut today, not even to defend common sense locker room rules.

Elect Hillary Clinton, expect four years of the Zoe Lofgrens of the world, going full, hysterical left-wing McCarthyite. They’ve got the cultural wind at their backs.

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Judge More

Future Social Justice Warrior (Carlos Caetano/Shutterstock)
Future Social Justice Warrior (Carlos Caetano/Shutterstock)

You readers are making my job easier this week by making such great comments, and sending in such great e-mails. Reader Annie writes:

Last week we found out my dear friend’s nephew, who she helped raise as her own son, is addicted to heroin. He didn’t graduate high school and has never had a job (my friend had to relocate to take care of an elderly relative, for whom there was no other help. So it was another relative doing most of the work during her nephew’s teenage years). His mother is a crack addict whose presence has been solely destructive. Of her four children, the only one thriving went to live with her father and grandparents as a toddler, and so was raised with stability. I do not know how the others will ever work, or, more importantly, form lasting, meaningful relationships. Is my friend doomed to spend her entire life keeping them from utter self-destruction? At the moment it seems likely. It’s care for them forever or watch them die. And they might die on her watch anyway.

And it’s not just unstable homes. I have relatives and friends in one of the wealthiest suburbs of the country who have moved back in with their parents: not from economic need, but from total social and emotional collapse. They were raised without limits, without adequate self control, and they’ve been broken by it. They suffer anxiety, depression, manic disorders. They can barely hold down a service job for a few weeks before it’s over and back to the basement for more bizarre social media antics and binge-watching. What is going to happen to them? What happens when their parents pass? It is heart-breaking and terrifying.

We’re moving to a more rural community in a few months, for a number of reasons. But the town is also home to a heroin epidemic. How much can I protect my children? Yet, there is nowhere that is safe. You can do everything “right” and still lose them.

There are no simple solutions and no single causes. But I sure as hell know the approaches on the table are doing nothing at best, and are accelerating things at worse.

I once used the phrase “broken home” in conversation and was scolded by an upper class, well-educated woman. I was astounded – what was I supposed to say? I realized she didn’t want me to make people feel judged. But I’ve seen the not judging, from the rich and the poor. It kills. We need to worry less about virtue signaling through words. We need to change the reality. It’s not going to happen by pretending this was all inevitable, or happened in a vacuum, or that social shifts didn’t play an enormous role.

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