Rod Dreher

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But The Man Can’t Bust Our Nookie

And they say romance is dead. If you can’t read the text above, here it is blown up:

The liberal writer Jim Sleeper once called this kind of thing “the pornification of the public square.” Who benefits from further coarsening civil life? If you think that’s vulgar, take a look at the scuzzy commercial to accompany this print campaign. It’s strongly NSFW for filthy language; make sure no children are around either when you play it.

Honestly, you don’t expect much from an organization that profits from the extermination of unborn children, but this is a new low in defining indignity down. The agency that created this campaign for Planned Parenthood of New York City explains the rationale to AdWeek:

“Planned Parenthood of New York City had to be brave and make fearless decisions to overcome their daunting challenges. So our first goal was getting them to embrace that. Which they certainly did,” explained BBH NY CCO, Gerard Caputo. “We wanted to be celebratory in the face of massive opposition rather than plead their case in a typical PSA campaign that’s easy to ignore. ‘Freedom to F*ck’ is meant to speak to a younger generation more empowered than ever and hopefully willing to help. It all starts with the courage to do something different and we believe we have already succeeded.”

“Celebratory in the face of massive opposition”? Oh, please. Who in New York City is opposing the right to have sex? Who anywhere is opposing that? You’d have to be a complete idiot to give money to Planned Parenthood on the grounds that the only thing standing between you and Gilead is Planned Parenthood. This ad campaign is as transparently hokum as this infamous CBS Records ad from 1968. Read the fine print:

UPDATE: Reader Kyle W.:

Wow. And here liberals usually accuse us of straw-manning when we say they’ve reduced the culture to a Sodom and Gomorrah whose only sense of meaning comes from rutting like beasts with anything that moves. They don’t typically just embrace it.

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Are We Rome Carthage?

Carthago deleta est (PaddenPhotography/Shutterstock)

The classical education guru Andrew Kern, head of the Circe Institute, writes on Facebook:

I have heard people compare the US to Rome since I was a child, and no wonder since our founders rather self-consciously compared themselves to the Romans and Greeks from time to time.

I can’t say how many times I’ve heard the comparison made in reference to the decline of Rome.

In a way, it’s legitimate to do so because history is the story of analogies across time, and it’s easy enough to see comparisons between any two ages or places or ideas. And I say, go for it. Make the comparison. But then keep going and think about the degree of likeness, so you can leave the realm of impressions and begin to gain something like wisdom.

Are we like Rome in decline? Yes.

Are we like Rome ascending? Yes.

The question that now must be asked is, How? And then, So what?

Please note, the so what question has to come after the are we and how questions. Starting out with “So what?” Is just being stubborn and closed minded.

However, here is my thesis:

We are much more like Carthage than like Rome.

You now ask, how?

Quite a few ways. But I think I can summarize them in three generalizations:

1. We are materialists.
2. We are driven by the love of money
3. We have not valued nobility of bearing and dignity of personhood for quite a long time.

The things I’ve read about Carthage indicate that they worshipped Baal, but as more or less a formality. They were not interested in the world as a good thing in itself, but only as an object for their consumption. So they worshipped Baal because they hoped he would prosper them. Which leads to the second point.

2. Carthage was obsessed with money. They had a fairly sophisticated political system on the Mediterranean pattern, not unlike Rome’s. But it’s sole purpose seems to have been to make them the wealthiest people in the world. Baal, after all, was a pretty money driven god. Carthage was apparently established by Phoenician traders, and that merchant driven philosophy dominated everything. I’m not sure they ever really figured out how to farm or build local communities for example.

3. QED

We are being a bit presumptuous when we compare ourselves to Rome. They built a Republic that lasted with all its flaws for 500 years, then was replaced by an Empire that adapted and lasted another 500 years, then moved, adapted, and lasted another 1000 years.

The decline and fall of Rome took more time than we have been around. So far we haven’t figured out how to flourish or get along anywhere near as well as the deeply flawed Roman imperium.

I’d be interested to know where you think the greater comparisons lie. How are we like/unlike Rome? Carthage? Britain? Germany? Egypt? China? Ghana? Etc.

Y’all are smart people. What do you think?

(By the way, I’m jealous of all y’all who are going to the Circe Institute national conference next week. Ken Myers is going to be there.)

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Trans Anti-Free Speech Tyranny

LGBT Labour fronts for trans anti-free speech tyranny (haykirstin/Flickr)

In Britain, Parliament is debating changing the Gender Recognition Act to make it easier for Britons to legally change genders. The following letter appeared in the Morning Star, a UK socialist daily, yesterday, signed by a number of feminists:

 

Dear Editor,

We, the undersigned, have a variety of positions about proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. Some of us have not yet fully formed our opinions.

We are calling for action within our movement to allow debate to take place over proposed changes to the Act.

You may be aware that on April 13 this year, an activist, Tara Wood was convicted of the assault by beating of Maria MacLachlan, a 60-year-old woman who had gathered with others in order to attend a meeting at which they could discuss the potential impact on women and girls of such a change to the law.

On March 8, an incident also occurred on a Bectu picket line in which trans activists, with no connection to the industrial dispute itself, mobbed and verbally attacked a female trade union member on the basis of having recognised her as an attendee at a similar meeting.

And in late April women in Bristol looking to meet and discuss changes to the Gender Recognition Act were met with masked activists blocking entrances to the venue, and deliberately intimidating those wishing to go inside.

More recently, a meeting organised by Woman’s Place UK was targeted with a bomb threat which Hastings Police are investigating as a serious incident.

These cases are part of systematic attempts to shut down meetings organised by women at which they can discuss potential legislative changes and the impact these may have on any sex-based rights already enshrined in law.

They draw the whole of our progressive movement into disrepute.

Some trans rights activists even continue to justify the use of violence, meaning that many women are simply too frightened to attend meetings that are both public and lawful in order that they may discuss their own rights.

Other women, including ordinary women concerned for their rights, as well as those active within the trade union movement and other political campaigns, are also now anxious and fearful that they will be subjected to such attacks when engaging in any political activity, meetings, or protests.

We are sure that, whatever your view regarding the issues around the Gender Recognition Act, you will agree that it is unacceptable for women to be made scared to engage in political life.

We, the undersigned, publicly and unequivocally condemn the use of violence or tactics of intimidation on this issue.

Got it? They are saying that they don’t all agree on the proposed legislative changes, but they believe that people ought to be able to debate them without being physically assaulted or intimidated.

That’s too much for Labour’s LGBT office, which sent the following letter to signatories:

Do you understand what the LGBT Labour National Committee is saying? It wants people who signed a letter saying that the issue should be debated without violence or intimidation to take their names off the letter because it “erased the experiences of transgender people.”

In other words, it is bigoted to call for peaceful debate, free of violence and intimidation.

Insane. Absolutely insane. Why won’t people stand up to these cretins? When women — feminists! — who do get beaten or shoved around, do others not see a threat to everyone?

Meanwhile, on our slightly less insane side of the ocean, Scarlett Johansson has withdrawn from a movie in which she was to play a transgender woman (= biological man presenting as female) after trans protests. They said a woman shouldn’t play a man presenting as a woman, because HATE.

Business Insider withdrew a piece by one of its columnists, Daniella Greenbaum, who had offered the shocking, repulsive opinion that Johansson ought to be permitted to play the role, because ACTING. The columnist resigned. Her resignation letter to her boss, Nicholas Carson, who promulgated a policy saying that “culturally sensitive” columns must be reviewed first by an editor.

 

Greenbaum subsequently wrote in the Washington Post about her experience. Excerpt:

The problem is not confined to the college campus, where conservative speakers are being shouted down or disinvited. It’s not confined to the media, where publications and television stations and their audiences seem increasingly comfortable in liberal or conservative silos where conflicting outlooks and even conflicting information are unwelcome. It’s beginning to permeate every area where we use language — every area of life.

The only way to fight it is head on. Defend the idea that more speech is always better. The best way to put bad arguments to bed is to air them out and highlight their weaknesses. Want to eliminate “unsafe” thoughts? Turn them loose in the marketplace of ideas and debate them — don’t try to silence them.

As the definition of what constitutes offensive speech grows ever wider, more and more people who are certain that their views fall somewhere in the mainstream will find themselves backed into corners. Ultimately, even the wokest of the warriors will realize that when it comes to outrunning the predatory mob they’ve created, no space is safe.

CNN quoted Nicholas Carson’s memo:

But Carlson stressed that he was not imposing an ideological litmus test.

“To be clear: This does not mean our argument-writers should not take big swings, or that they must have opinions shared by everyone in our newsroom,” he said. “Editors are not being asked to agree with the column. Editors are not responsible for preventing a loud and upset response to the piece from within or without the newsroom. They are responsible for making sure that if a piece causes an uproar, we are comfortable saying it’s a well-argued and thoughtful opinion.”

Additionally, Carlson said all employees at Insider Inc., the parent company of Business Insider, will have access to a list of “employees who have volunteered to talk about culture and identity issues,” and that he will be soliciting volunteers from the rest of the company.

“Writers and editors can use this list to find someone to talk to as they think up, research, write, and edit opinion pieces,” Carlson said. “It is not mandatory that they do so. But we encourage it. The goal is to help all of us see around blindspots that develop due to our own particular context.”

Translation: “There is an ideological litmus test. Run your ideas by the internal woke police before you put pen to paper.”

So, to appease the trans zealots, the Labour Party’s LGBT group is demanding that left-wing feminists who signed a letter calling for open debate without fear of violence or intimidation withdraw their support for the letter. And a publication pulled a column saying a female actor should be able to play a transgender woman, and then instituted a policy chilling the speech of its columnists when they dare to treat on trans toes.

This is not going to end well.

UPDATE: A reader remarks:

Correction: The role that Johanssen was set to play was not that of a transwoman (natal male transitioned to female).

The role was that of what some would term a “butch lesbian,” though many now wish to label this person as “transman” (natal female transitioned to male).

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Transhumanism & Modern Gnosticism

Reader Rob G. writes, on transgenderism and transhumanism:

“it’s gnostic heresy, now with tech!”

Yep. From Marion Montgomery:

“What is effected by Nominalism, as it is appropriated out of Occam’s intricate arguments, is an instrument of power over nature justified on the authority of autonomous intellect, whereby the Platonic idea of the transcendent model is presumed a creation by autonomous intellect itself through its signs [i.e., words — M.M. makes this apparent earlier in the essay], as first divorced from but then in turn imposed upon nature. In the Christian tradition, nature is created and therefore both dependent upon and from its Creator. Hence my epithet of Modernism as an inverted Platonism, in which reality becomes dependent upon autonomous intellect itself. It follows at last from this gnostic assumption that truth itself is that which is decreed by intellect. By the power of autonomous intellect, then, such truth is made universal — according, of course, to the extent of power exercised by the particular universalizing, autonomous intellect. This is to say that a principle, subjectively authorized, becomes a dogma to be imposed as a limit against rival intellectual subjectivisms, and ideology to be established by force if necessary, providing only that there is a sufficient power for its enforcement.”

(From “Consequences in the Provinces: Ideas Have Consequences 50 Years After,” Steps Towards Restoration: The Consequences of Richard Weaver’s Ideas, Ted J. Smith III, ed.)

In short: Separate words from reality, then turn them against it, in the process creating your own pseudo-transcendent model upon which the new “reality” depends. Next, proceed to make this created understanding of things universal, by force if necessary.

Modernism thus formulates its own dogmas, decreed on the authority of its own self-created “transcendent model,” all the while claiming to reject dogmaticism. You always know that some concept of absolute right and wrong is at work when you’re not morally entitled to disapprove.

“But it is certainly possible to criticize transhumanism from a purely philosophical point of view.”

Weaver was a nominal Protestant and Platonist, Montgomery a practicing Anglo-Catholic and Thomist. Their opposition to techno-Gnosticism was rooted in their realist philosophies, not their religions.

True, true. The great Ken Myers, whose Mars Hill Audio Journal is indispensable on this topic, e-mails to point me to this Mark Shiffman essay on transhumanism from First Things. It’s terrific. Excerpts:

For the greatest salesman of this utilitarian view of reason, Descartes, the goal of rigorous thought is to “render ourselves the masters and possessors of nature.” Thus empowered, we shall invent an “infinity of applications” which will not only enable us to enjoy the goods of the earth without effort, but also will free us from “an infinitude of maladies both of body and mind,” thus securing “the preservation of health, which is without doubt the chief blessing and the foundation of all other blessings in this life.” He envisions these medical “applications” ultimately allowing us to transcend the previous limits of our nature, freeing us from “the infirmities of age,” and even “rendering men wiser and cleverer than they have hitherto been.”

Today, the most ambitious Cartesian dreams of life extension and enhancement set the agenda for “transhumanism.” Although it styles itself a philosophy, transhumanism is really a religious movement with a twenty-first-century marketing campaign (under the brand “H+”). Like their prophet Descartes, transhumanists think of the human being as a consciousness hosted in a body, and of the body as a machine that the will can manipulate by means of reason. Transhumanism adds a new technological claim: Computing advances are on the verge of bringing about the “singularity,” a convergence of artificial, computer-based intelligence and human, brain-based intelligence. This convergence will allow us to transfer ourselves out of the “wetware” of the brain and into super-sophisticated hardware, thus enhancing our powers and possibly securing a kind of immortality. We are on the brink of transcending the bodily limits that have previously constrained humanity, thereby becoming transhuman.

It’s easy to write transhumanism off as a fringe phenomenon of science fantasy. But this is a mistake, for elements of it are already engulfing us. A growing number of Americans now spend much of their time on the Internet, living partly through machines and interacting with other disembodied persons. Transgender therapies are increasingly common and have widespread social and regulatory acceptance. Alongside its various research initiatives to develop gadgets like self-driving cars, Google has funded Calico, a research institute devoted to finding a cure for aging, possibly through gene editing. Our technological pioneers are already seeking and selling various ways to transcend the limitations of our embodied humanity.

Shiffman quotes the leading academic promoter of transhumanism, Steve Fuller, arguing that transhumanism is actually something we should embrace for essentially religious reasons (because it’s the best way for us to fulfill our desire for self-transcendence). Shiffman:

Fuller and (co-author Veronika) Lipinska take up More’s coinage and argue that innovation is necessary if we are to realize our distinctive human capacity for self-transcendence; excessive caution does injustice to our highest longings. We need to promote risk for the sake of important advances in medical and other technologies that will benefit us all, and compensate for their service those willing to take the risks. … We become more godlike through our own efforts of self-transcendence, rather than through humble prayer and petition and self-giving love.

Shiffman goes on to explain the roots of this modern Gnosticism in the late medieval period, with the triumph of univocity (Duns Scotus) and nominalism (William of Ockham) over metaphysical realism, whose last and greatest exponent was Thomas Aquinas. (I tell a brief version of this history in The Benedict Option). You might think all of this is abstract mumbo-jumbo, but in fact it’s the water in which all of us swim:

Fuller’s advocacy of transhumanism has cultural resonance because he articulates and celebrates the theological principles that structure and orient modern thought. While his account is often sloppy, he is nevertheless right that the transhumanist agenda is a logical consequence of Gnosticism (which he and many others mistake for Christianity), and that this Gnosticism, which has theological roots in the Scotist-­nominalist revolution in metaphysics, ever more exclusively shapes the modern cultural imagination and our understanding of what it is to be human. His failure to interpret correctly the philosophical and theological traditions that precede this revolution shows how difficult it is to think outside the nominalist and Gnostic horizon once we’re inside it, especially when our technologically mediated relationship to the natural world and our own bodies reinforces its hold on us.

Shiffman leads his readers on a compact discussion of the changing views, from ancient times until today, of what it means to be human. He concludes:

As techno-liberation has become more aggressive, and the cultural swindle of its humanistic façade more apparent, the American genius of voluntary association has produced a response. The steady growth of classical academies and classical Christian homeschooling seems to testify to a growing realization that the classical Christian humanism of Humanity 3.5 is the real liberation of humanity and cultivation of human dignity.

A spontaneous renewal of humane culture will, of course, face considerable opposition as the idolaters of progress recognize the full scope of its nonconformity. We need to protect the growth of these precious seeds in a number of ways. First and foremost are legal safeguards for the right to educate. Second, biblically inspired institutions of higher education need increasing self-awareness that the vision of humanity, nature, and God that provides their identity has to be defended in its integrity. Third, in both classical schooling and higher education, a self-conscious recovery of a biblical and philosophical understanding of created nature and the practical and spiritual relationship to it that fosters the human good must have a place in the curriculum. Metaphysical reflection and the cultivation of wonder provide the indispensable foundation for a critique of and response to the Gnostic culture that dominates our lives.

Read the whole thing. We Christians need to contemplate intensely these (and other?) means of resistance. Here’s the thing, though: how many of us Christians are captive to the modern way of seeing the world, such that we are allies of transhumanism (and transgenderism, and all the rest) whether we know it or not?

This is why I look with skepticism, even hostility, on the plans Christians have to “take America back for Christ” (#MAGA Evangelicalism) or to “institute the Social Reign of Christ The King” (integralist Catholicism). It seems to me that neither recognize how hopelessly compromised most Christians are by modern Gnosticism. We like this stuff! We like the power it gives us. It’s dissolving Christianity, and, to borrow C.S. Lewis’s phrase, it’s abolishing man. Before we can hope to re-Christianize America, we have to re-Christianize Christians.

One last thing. Yesterday, reader Isaac H. mentioned the sci-fi writer Ted Chiang’s short story “Tower of Babylon.” I bought it for 99 cents on Kindle. It was really good. It’s a story about Elamite miners in ancient Babylon who are participating in the construction of the famous tower. When the story begins, the builders have reached the vault of heaven (the story depends on ancient cosmology), and who are thinking about piercing it, even though they fear that it might bring a second deluge upon the earth. This passage jumped out at me.

Hillalum could not keep his doubts silent at such a time. “And if the waters are endless?” he asked. “Yahweh may not punish us, bu Yahweh may allow us to bring our judgment upon ourselves.”

“Elamite,” said Qurdusa, “even as a newcomer to the tower, you should know better than that. We labor for our love of Yahweh, we have done so for all our lives, and so have our fathers for generations back. Men as righteous as we could not be judged harshly.”

“It is true that we work with the purest of aims, but that doesn’t mean we have worked wisely. Did men truly choose the correct path when they opted to live their lives away from the soil from which they were shaped? Never has Yahweh said that the choice was proper. Now we stand ready to break open heaven, even when we know that water lies above us. If we are misguided, how can we be sure Yahweh will protect us from our own errors?”

Men as righteous as we could not be judged harshly. Of course not.

UPDATE: Prof. Steve Fuller adds this to the comments thread:

For the record, while Shiffman is critical of my work, he has got the theology of it right, and is even right to ferret out the hidden Gnosticism, which is explored in more detail here: https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137374899

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Curse Of The Vestigial Dining Room

What’s the point? (YaromirM/Shutterstock)

Kate Wagner states an obvious truth:

For a recent study, UCLA-affiliated researchers in fields ranging from anthropology to sociology used cameras to record in great detail how 32 dual-income families living in the Los Angeles area used their homes. Their findings link real data to something about which I have been yelling into the void for years: Nobody is actually using their formal living and dining rooms. Families actually spend most of their time in the kitchen and the informal living room or den.

Yet we continue to build these wastes of space because many Americans still want that extra square footage, and for a long time, that want has been miscategorized as a need.

More:

The ironic inefficiency of hyper-exaggerated high-end entertaining spaces belies a truth: These spaces aren’t really designed for entertaining. They’re designed for impressing others.

I live in a ’70s-era house, one that doesn’t have a lot of room, but does have one of these formal dining rooms. It’s a stupid waste of space — but you know, the last house I owned, a 1990s-era house, had the same thing (we used it as a home office). I really hate these rooms. What a waste! If I were able to design my own house, I would combine the dining room with the kitchen, and make it a larger than usual space. In our current house, we have what is called a “breakfast nook” attached to our kitchen. It’s not big enough for all of us to gather there to eat, but we spend way, way more time as a family in the kitchen and breakfast nook than we do in the formal dining room, which functions pretty much as a storage facility for books (on bookshelves) and a dining table.

Most people I know have formal dining rooms in their houses. I’m trying to think if any of them actually use it more than a few times a year. In our house, you have to leave the kitchen and take a few steps down the hall to the dining room. It’s such poor design, but it’s common.

(Via The Browser, which you should be reading daily.)

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The Russians Living In Our Heads

The US today handed down indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking the DNC.  Good. If the Russians did it, then make them pay.

Generally, though, I side with Michael Brendan Dougherty, re-upped this morning his March column declaring that we Americans, to our detriment, cannot seem to regard Russia as if it were a normal country. MBD writes about the bad things Russia has done recently, but adds this second narrative:

Russia withdrew peacefully from 700,000 square miles of Europe and Eurasia at the end of the Cold War. Boris Yeltsin’s government, claiming to act on the advice of Western policymakers who counseled “shock therapy,” sold the assets of the Russian economy to a series of Communist apparatchiks and gangsters. This was deeply unpopular in Russia but his reelection was secured by direct American meddling, including “emergency infusions” of billions of dollars of Western money, a phalanx of American political consultants, and a play-scripted “confrontation” with Bill Clinton. Under Yeltsin’s rule, economic and social trends culminated in a major decrease in Russian life expectancy. George W. Bush empowered revolutions in the former Soviet sphere. His administration empowered men, such as Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia, who proceeded to make war on Russia. During just President Obama’s second term, the United States backed a putsch in Ukraine and a series of Islamist-tinged rebels in Syria, two countries that happen to host major Russian naval installations. In both these cases, Russia intervened militarily.

Both narratives are true. More:

Some day we might learn again that Russia is simply a nation-state with its own enduring interests. We may one day accept, or at least understand, that its ugly political culture is informed by an unhappy history and unlucky geography. We may even recognize our own blunders in our relationship. Right now we are too wrapped up in our own factional domestic disputes, and too haunted by our own feeling that we lack leadership and policy wisdom, our own fear that we lack the will to maintain our way of life or the ability to change it.

Russia is the same way about us, by the way. It’s not new. The West Vs. Russia is an old theme in Russian thought. Think about the militant Westernizing tsar Peter the Great. Think about the 19th century Slavophile movement. We live deeply in their heads, and they live in ours.

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Truth & Travis Avenue Baptist

John Finley, a Southern Baptist pastor in Tennessee resigned recently, saying that many years ago, as youth pastor at a big Baptist church in Fort Worth, he had behaved inappropriately with two young women. Both were over 18, and there was no sex, he said, but he was quitting anyway.

That’s not quite what happened, the women tell the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Excerpt:

They were ages 15 and 17, they said, when the alleged abuse began at a Southern Baptist church in Fort Worth. It was true he hadn’t had sex with them, but he’d done more than kiss them, they said. He touched one’s breasts and put the other’s hand on his naked erection, they said.

The alleged abuse began 37 years ago at Travis Avenue Baptist Church, where Finley served as the youth minister for five years. Travis Avenue is well known in the Southern Baptist community, with strong ties to Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

One of the women said she never told anyone about the abuse until college. The other tried once, telling a youth worker at the church. A rumor even reached a deacon. Still, Finley stayed at the church.

The Travis Avenue of today is pastored by Mike Dean, who arrived in 1991, five years after Finley left. He has worked with both women to confront Finley’s church in Tennessee and now wants his own church to acknowledge what happened, while also trying to make Travis Avenue a place of healing.

“That angered me, that we missed that opportunity to set this straight 30 years ago,” Dean said. “I was just angry that it happened and we couldn’t stop it or didn’t stop it.”

The reader who sent me that story writes:

Kudos to the Travis pastor for helping victims tell their story today.  I grew up at Travis Avenue Baptist Church and Finley was my youth minister until I graduated.  He pursued “closeness” with the youth relentlessly and encouraged us to stop by his office to chat.  I took him up on the offer and later found out that he was sharing my conversations with the “popular kids” he wanted to be close to.  What a sleaze.  I moved my attention from church youth group to Young Life.  It is heartbreaking to hear what he was doing to underage girls.

Here’s more information about what happened.

Good for you, Pastor Mike Dean. Tell the truth. Help the victimized to tell the truth. This is what church is supposed to be. This is a reason for hope.

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Steve Skojec’s Benedict Option

The orthodox Catholic blogger Steve Skojec is in crisis.

In the Facebook discussion, some mentioned the notion of a faithful “remnant”, as so often comes up in conversations like these. My response was to say: talking in vague terms about a Remnant is fine, but what does that mean? Where is it? How does that play out in the lives and families of those trying to simply stay on the path to salvation? How do we raise kids in this without them becoming bitter or giving up on what seems a quixotic refusal to let go of something dying?

How do we boil down what the Church truly is, in her essence, and separate that from what we get in almost every parish we walk into? Just saying “I’m Catholic” could mean virtually anything in 2018, and that’s a problem for us.

So I ask again: where is the Church? What does it consist of when 95% of parishes and bishops and priests and laity are actually not, in any substantive sense, Catholic?

What does it mean when the handful of orthodox bishops in the Church — those very few who give us hope — would prefer to endure unjust persecution rather than stand their ground and fight on behalf of the faithful?

I think paring down the bloat and getting to the lifeblood of what the Church is, and where we find it, is actually where people are going to find some hope.

More:

This, as the interminable winter in the Church stretches on, is where I think more of our time could be well spent. Preserving the beloved things. Finding green shoots poking up through the ice. Reminding each other that despite all appearances, hope is not lost.

I plan to dedicate more of my time in the coming months to such pursuits.

I will spend more time with books. I will attempt to find more time for prayer, and in gratitude. I will seek out the true, the good, and the beautiful. I will, I hope, find a way to recharge somewhat, and seek healing for my battle-weary soul.

Read the whole thing. It sounds to me like this weary pilgrim has found his way to The Benedict Option.  Remember that Father Cassian Folsom, the founding prior of the monastery at Norcia, told me that Christians who don’t undertake some version of it, à la the Tipi Loschi community of San Benedetto del Tronto, are not going to have what it takes to make it through the coming darkness with their faith intact.

Check out the site Steve runs, One Peter Five. He posted this video there a week ago. Hard stuff. NSFW, incidentally. This is what it looks like when an ordinary Catholic dad gets fed up:

UPDATE: Good grief, people, I don’t know that Skojec’s “95 percent” estimate is accurate. I assume it’s overstated for rhetorical effect. But if that’s what you’re focusing on, and ignoring the entirely of his critique, you are straining at gnats and swallowing camels. And if you think the things he’s talking about are limited to the Catholic Church, you’re dreaming. Hope is not optimism, and it can’t be built on sentimentality, whether of the progressive or conservative sort.

“Charity is hard, and endures,” said Flannery O’Connor. I think this is also true about hope. I don’t know Skojec personally, but it seems to me that he has reached a point at which he has stopped expecting to be rescued by institutional leaders. He has stopped thinking that criticizing is going to do much effective good. Instead, he is going to work hard to nurture the green shoots, and to focus on prayer, and on finding and cultivating the good, the true, and the beautiful. Why is this not the right thing to do? He’s not doing this because he’s giving up on his Catholic faith. He’s doing this because he wants to save it. 

All of us — including us non-Catholics — can learn from this. Again, I don’t know Steve Skojec, but he seems to be where I was in 2005 as a Catholic. What’s he’s saying that he’s choosing to do now is the right thing to do if he wants to save his Catholic faith. If I had done it, I might still be Catholic … but then I wouldn’t be Orthodox, for which I am grateful. I had to learn early in my Orthodoxy, after a bad mistake, that I cannot allow myself to get drawn into intra-Orthodox church fights, or allow myself to trust institutions more than I have to.

UPDATE.2: I gotta note something. At the same time I’m having Catholic commenters in this thread griping at me for posting something from the horrible, terrible, no-good Steve Skojec, and yelling at me for causing Catholics to lose their faith, I’m getting — seriously, it just came into my e-mail box — a letter from a parish priest in a troubled archdiocese, thanking me for writing about this stuff (especially the Uncle Ted story), and telling in detail, naming names, about how Uncle Ted-dism (gay clerics in positions of real and lasting power) has devastated his archdiocese.

Here’s what I think: sooner or later, all Catholics (and all Christians to some degree) who wish to be honest are going to have to face the kinds of things Steve Skojec is facing, and figure out how to continue in the face of those hideous truths. You can avoid it, but doing so means turning your eyes away from some unpleasant truths. Doing so, though, means you aren’t preparing yourself or your children to live in the post-Christian world as it actually is. Our kids aren’t going to stay Christian if all we give them is the religion of relentless suburban cheer, including turning our eyes away from the things that distress us.

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The Prophetic Houellebecq

I’ve been saying for some time that the misanthropic French novelist Michel Houllebecq is a prophet. You can’t read the man’s disturbing novels without concluding that he understands something critically important about what it means to live today. Writing in today’s New York Times, Adam Kirsch says the same thing, though focusing on Houellebecq as prophet of the incels:

The novel’s French title, which translates literally as “Extension of the Domain of Struggle,” encapsulates Houellebecq’s theory of sexuality (he is typically French in his love of abstraction and theory). The sexual revolution of the 1960s, widely seen as a liberation movement, is better understood as the intrusion of capitalist values into the previously sacrosanct realm of intimate life. “Just like unrestrained economic liberalism … sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization,” he writes. “Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never.” The latter group — the losers — are represented in “Whatever” by Raphaël Tisserand, who is so repulsive that he has never had sex with a woman, despite strenuous efforts to seduce one. He is a proto-incel, and his story builds to a disturbing scene in which the narrator urges him to murder a woman who has rejected him.

In the end, however, Raphaël doesn’t go through with it: “Blood changes nothing,” he observes fatalistically. And this is a key difference between Houellebecq’s characters and criminals like Rodger and Minassian: They recognize that violence will not change their situation. They are victims of generational trends that Houellebecq believes have plunged the West, particularly France, into incurable misery. Houellebecq’s second (and best) book, “The Elementary Particles,” reiterates his case against “sexual liberalism,” while adding a host of new culprits, from New Age spirituality and women’s magazines to social atomization and the decline of Christianity. “In the midst of the suicide of the West, it was clear they had no chance,” he writes of the characters in the novel, in what could be a slogan for all his fiction.

Back in May, I posted something here about Houellebecq and incels. I quoted a passage from Louis Betty’s terrific study of Houellebecq as diagnostician of the maladies of the post-Christian, post-religious West. Here is Prof. Betty:

However, the causality I propose, which does justice to the totality of the Houllebecquian worldview, is one in which materialism – conceived of as a generalized belief in matter, which in its political manifestations contributes to the rise of ideologies as diverse as communism, fascism, and liberalism – represents the true menace to human relationships and sexuality in Houellebecq’s novels. From this point of view, the gradual erosion of the theological conception of the human being, which began with the scientific revolution and reached its apex in the twentieth century, has given rise to a social order in which the value of human life is restricted to the parameters of economic exchange – that is, the human being is understood in essentially economic terms. One’s attractiveness and even lovability are determined by indisputable criteria of market value, as if the human being were no different, in principle, from any other consumer product. The economic reduction of human value is fed by the materialism of modern science, which dismisses the possibility of free will and reduces the human being to a haphazard, fleeting collection of elementary particles. Humanism, which attempts to assign people rights in the absence of a deity capable of legitimating the moral order, does not stand a chance in these conditions.

Houellebecq may be an agnostic (he used to claim to be an atheist, but more recently, he’s been wavering), but his books are saturated by theological and philosophical ideas. By all accounts he is an unpleasant, marginal person, but this seems to have given him a great vantage point from which to analyze the world.

Betty’s book is called Without God: Michel Houellebecq and Materialist Horror. He’s a professor of French literature, but the book is very readable, not at all burdened by lit-crit jargon. Here’s more from the book:

The unbinding of humanity from God lies at the heart of the historical narrative the reader encounters in Houellebecq’s work: lacking a set of moral principles legitimated by a higher power and unable to find meaningful answers to existential questions, human beings descend into selfishness and narcissism and can only stymie their mortal terror by recourse to the carnal distractions of sexuality. Modern capitalism is the mode of social organization best suited to, and best suited to maintain, such a worldview. Materialism — that is, the limiting of all that is real to the physical, which rules out the existence of God, soul, and spirit and with them any transcendent meaning to human life — thus produces and environment in which consumption becomes the norm. such is the historical narrative that Houellebecq’s fiction enacts, with modern economic liberalism emerging as the last, devastating consequence of humanity’s despiritualization.

“Materialist horror” is the term most appropriate to describe this worldview, for what readers discover throughout Houellebecq’s fiction are societies and persons in which the terminal social and psychological consequences of materialism are being played out. It is little wonder, then, that these texts are so often apocalyptic in tone.

Here is a vital quote from Betty’s book — vital, that is, to understanding The Benedict Option:

Houellebecq’s novels suggest that once religion becomes definable as religion — that is, once its symbols no longer address themselves to society at large as representative of discipline and moral authority, but rather address only the individual as motivators of religious “moods and motivations” — it is already doomed. Religion must do more than provide a space for the individual to enter, à la [anthropologist Clifford] Geertz, into the “religious perspective.” This is simply not enough for modern people; the symbols therein are too weak, too uncoupled from ordinary existence to give serious motivation. Religion must set a disciplinary canopy over the head of humankind, must order its acts and its moral commitments, must furnish ultimate explanations capable of determining the remainder of social life; otherwise, religion loses itself in the morass of competing perspectives (scientific, commonsense, political, etc.) This is precisely what has happened in the West… .

Some critics of the Benedict Option say it is too weak, that it amounts to backing away from the aspirational attempt to set a Christian disciplinary canopy (in the sense Betty means; that is, a social order) over the head of humankind (by, according to some utopians, working to establish a Catholic integralist form of government). To which I say: Most Catholics and other Christians in this civilization don’t see the religion they profess as a disciplinary canopy over their own lives, but rather see it as a psychological adjunct to life, a buffer to the harshness of the materialistic, individualistic lives they actually want to lead. This is the whole point of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Before we have any hope of re-Christianizing the West, we ought to first try to re-Christianize the Christians of the West. I’m not being glib; I mean it.

Adam Kirsch no doubt reads Michel Houellebecq with different eyes than a Christian like me, but we agree that Michel Houllebecq needs to be read by those who want to understand the times in which we live.

The novel to start with is The Elementary Particles. Be aware that the text can be harsh, and is very descriptive in its depiction of sex. But it’s not sexy. In the novel, sex is what characters who are desperate for a human connection of any sort engage in. It’s not pornographic, if pornography exists to excite its consumer about sex. It’s hard to imagine anybody reading this novel and becoming sexually excited. Still, I need to warn you that there’s a fair amount of sex in the book, but it’s not gratuitous, as it’s there to make the author’s point about the emptiness of sex in a world that has exiled spirituality.

UPDATE: Eric Mader writes:

Re: Post-’68 French Thought, “Liberation”, and Our Impoverishment

There’s much European writing, particularly French writing, that points to many of the same dynamics Houellebecq takes up in his novels. Somewhat interesting is the fact that many of the most trenchant of those writings come from that same crowd of post-’68, post-structuralist thinkers that provide much of the theoretical basis on which our SJW identity politics now run rampant. These are largely thinkers on the left, of course, but as with their liberatory poetics (Julia Kristeva, Derrida, etc.) so with their liberatory cultural and sexual politics–none of it leads to anything that manages to escape the ongoing commodification of the human. And so, as Houellebecq sees, the “revolution” just turns out to be another marketing scam, where individuals are led to whore themselves out to this or that liberatory discourse, only to be left emptier in the end.

The ongoing impoverishment of the human, as a result of ’68 and capitalism sharing the stage together, is tangible. And both actors on stage can be blamed. Yes, my theoretically savvy friends will argue that invoking the “human” against them in this way is itself a shabby ideological trick, one they debunked long ago. But I’m not convinced. That none of their discourses or political movements can break the dynamic I see, that “the left”, their left, is helpless in the face of it, has become painfully obvious. Besides, all of them have credit cards and iPhones, so who are they to talk? If one wants a general term to signify what is being lost, sorry, but the human is more evocative than anything they have on offer.

As long as capitalism and liberalism (as Deneen has recently described it) continue to function, I don’t see this impoverishment slowing down. Which is why, regardless of the spiritual yearning everywhere, most self-described religious people will remain largely in the gyre. Because, as Rod points out, they use religion as “a psychological adjunct to life, a buffer to the harshness of the materialistic, individualistic lives they actually want to lead.”

And: “This is the whole point of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Before we have any hope of re-Christianizing the West, we ought to first try to re-Christianize the Christians of the West. I’m not being glib; I mean it.”

Agreed, sure. But any of us writing here, and you too, Rod, we’re also in this gyre to some large degree, and to the extent that we are, we’re going to have little effect on others. Have we dared take up our cross?

If I allude above to the truly trenchant analyses of many of the French left writers that people like, say, Jordan Peterson abhor, it’s because of the paradox of their ineffectiveness actually to liberate. I don’t think Peterson has really delved into the “postmodernism” he rails against, though I do think, interestingly, that his relatively clunky philosophy stands more chance of liberating people than the work of thinkers greater than him. Which is odd, because they really were masters of liberation. This was not a Marxist liberation as much as an epistemological/linguistic/Freudian liberation. So I’m not speaking here of the failure of Marxism. In any case, the paradox should maybe help us see, finally, the inescapable virtue of something both Peterson and Christianity maintain, and that much of the French left did not: a kind of humanism; an acceptance of the human itself as a set phenomenon characterized by certain laws. Looking at this, one might conclude there is some degree of natural law thinking underpinning anything that is helpful for us in the 21st century; and vice versa, that any radical departures from natural law thinking, whether in service to Progress or Liberation or Science, are only bound to sink us further in that Houellebecquian impoverishment. Because, finally, postmodernity and capitalism, especially the two together, can do nothing but bring more of the same.

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Transgenderism As Transhumanism

Transhuman injecting testosterone (maxuser/Shutterstock)

Social conservatives have a habit of fighting at the moral level, when the real battle is metaphysical. Consider the question of transgender rights. What few people consider are the implications of legitimizing the principles behind transgenderism. A friend said to me recently, about the burgeoning number of trans kids, “I’m so glad that more and more kids are free to be who they are.”

Who they are? Implicit in that anodyne remark is a radical worldview, one that opens the door to a very, very dark future … one into which we, with our naive faith in Progress™, are obediently marching.

Libby Emmons warns that we are moving quickly along the road to abolishing man. I can’t possibly do justice to her essay by simply excerpting it. But here’s the gist:

The transhumanist perspective insists that humans have a distinctly separate mind and body, and that what happens to one need not affect the other. Understood in this way, apparently unrelated movements in biotech, tech, and social justice reveal themselves to be part of the same transhumanist project and aimed at the same objective: liberating the human being from the limitations of the body.

More:

The transhumanist push towards a reimagining of the human, humanity, and our shared future is a primary component of three growing cultural trends: artificial intelligence, human augmentation, and the transgender phenomenon. The means of effecting these transformative developments are entirely technical, and promise liberation from reproduction, liberation from disease and mortality, and liberation from the body itself.

Emmons gets into details about what is happening now, and what is to come, but always in a readable, comprehensible way. What it amounts to is the totalitarian tyranny of the mind over the body, and of humanity’s will over nature.

What does the transgender movement have to do with this? Read on:

Transgender advocates will answer that we are more mind than body, and this is what makes transgender ideology an essential component of the drive toward transhumanist acceptance, whether transgender advocates realize this connection or not (a Twitter search reveals that many do). The ongoing effort to change language, and redefine ‘male’ and ‘female’ so they refer to something other than sexual dimorphism, is designed to establish a Cartesian mind-body dualism in which the mind can dominate body to such an extent that personal subjectivity can decisively contradict biological reality. Transgender practice is the ultimate biohack. The claim that one has been born into the ‘wrong’ body is a total rejection of mind-body unification, and a statement that mind and body can be so disparate that the body must be thoroughly altered to match the mind’s perception of how it ought to be.

Contrary to popular perception and much of the transgender movement’s own rhetoric, transgender activism is not about compassion and dignity. Although transgender advocacy is couched in the language of oppression and identity, the idea that it is merely the latest facet of an ongoing civil rights struggle is a misconception. In the current cultural climate, to question the concept of transgenderism is to question the right of trans individuals to exist. This is an extremely effective strategy that deters the skeptical from digging into an ideology by labelling them bigots for doing so. But the implications of transgenderism are so serious and far-reaching that questions must be asked. At issue is not simply societal acceptance of people with alternative views or lifestyles, but the most fundamental aspects of what it means to be human.

It is no anomaly that the movement is hitting its cultural stride in the debate over pronouns. The first step in changing how we think about our bodies and what it means to be human is to change how we speak about these things. Transgender speech codes demand that we renounce our bodies’ basis in biology, and instead consider them constructs of arbitrary (and somehow unjust) societal expectations. We are not to think about ‘mother’ and ‘father’ as reproductive terms, but as culturally specified relationships. This aggressive effort to change and police the use of language, and to redefine terms like ‘male’ and ‘female’ to deny the sexual difference characteristic of all mammals, is designed to uncouple mind from body and humans from evolutionary and reproductive logic. Instead, an ideology of emotion is to be given dominion over biological reality.

Read the whole thing. 

It’s a pitch-black shadow falling over us all. How can we resist? If we surrender to the efforts to police language, we will cease to be able to conceive of resistance. Again, this is not a matter of morality or ethics, but of physics and metaphysics — that is, the connection between matter and ultimate reality.

 

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View From Your Table

St. Moritz, Switzerland

The reader writes:

I was in St. Moritz taking a quiet break. Here I sit on the balcony of the oldest home in town – now a restaurant- eating a delicious apple tart and drinking a light, crisp Pinot Grigio. I am looking towards the historical Princess Hotel with the Swiss Alps beyond. The best part – it was a cool 65 degrees while temperatures soared backed in my home state of Virginia.

Oh. Oh!

UPDATE: Say, according to the posting platform, this image is the 500th VFYT.

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The Student Loan Debt Disaster

This is a riveting essay by M.H. Miller, who writes about the crushing effect of student loan debt on his life. Here’s the heart of it:

My debt was the result, in equal measure, of a chain of rotten luck and a system that is an abject failure by design. My parents never lived extravagantly. In the first years of their marriage, my father drove a cab. When they had children and my father started a career in the auto industry, we became firmly middle class, never wanting for anything, even taking vacations once a year to places like Myrtle Beach or Miami. Still, there was usually just enough money to cover the bills—car leases, a mortgage, groceries. My sister and I both attended public school. How much things cost was a constant discussion. Freshman year of high school, when I lost my yearbook, which cost $40, my mother very nearly wept. College, which cost roughly $50,000 a year, was the only time that money did not seem to matter. “We’ll find a way to pay for it,” my parents said repeatedly, and if we couldn’t pay for it immediately, there was always a bank somewhere willing to give us a loan. This was true even after my parents had both lost their jobs amidst a global financial meltdown. Like many well-meaning but misguided baby boomers, neither of my parents received an elite education but they nevertheless believed that an expensive school was not a materialistic waste of money; it was the key to a better life than the one they had. They continued to put faith in this falsehood even after a previously unimaginable financial loss, and so we continued spending money that we didn’t have—money that banks kept giving to us.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last decade shifting the blame for my debt. Whose fault was it? My devoted parents, for encouraging me to attend a school they couldn’t afford? The banks, which should have never lent money to people who clearly couldn’t pay it back to begin with, continuously exploiting the hope of families like mine, and quick to exploit us further once that hope disappeared? Or was it my fault for not having the foresight to realize it was a mistake to spend roughly $200,000 on a school where, in order to get my degree, I kept a journal about reading Virginia Woolf? (Sample passage, which assuredly blew my mind at the time: “We are interested in facts because we are interested in myth. We are interested in myth insofar as myth constructs facts.”) The problem, I think, runs deeper than blame. The foundational myth of an entire generation of Americans was the false promise that education was priceless—that its value was above or beyond its cost. College was not a right or a privilege but an inevitability on the way to a meaningful adulthood. What an irony that the decisions I made about college when I was seventeen have derailed such a goal.

I was thinking as a read it, “Well, your problem is you spent $200,000 for literature degrees. Duh!” But then Miller writes about going to a social event organized by a student loan company for debtors (weird, eh?), and meeting others who were struggling as he is:

Despite the name tags, the dinner turned out to resemble something more like an AA meeting, an earnest session of group therapy. Everyone had their story about the problems caused by their student loans and how they were trying, one day at a time, to improve things, and no story was exceptional, including my own. Ian, an employee for Google who had recently successfully paid off his debt from a Columbia MBA program, became something like my sponsor for the evening. He said he had a few “bone dry” years, where he lived on Instant Noodles. I told him I had a long way to go. “At least you’re doing something about it,” he said, sincerely.

We sat down to dinner. Across from me was Mira, a defense attorney from Brooklyn, who attended law school at Stanford. Her payments amount to $2,300 a month, more than double my own. When I asked her why she came to this event, she glanced at me as if the answer should have been obvious: she went to law school at Stanford and her payments are $2,300 a month. The table, myself included, looked on her with an odd reverence. She wore a business suit and had her hair pulled back, but I saw her as something like the sage and weathered biker of the group, holding her twenty-year chip, talking in her wisdom about accepting the things you cannot change.

Two Ivy League graduates with “useful” degrees — business and law — and they’re crushed by debt that they can’t pay back.

Read the whole thing. 

The central point of the essay makes sense to me, because I grew up with it too: college is the magic credential, the gateway to financial security. Truth is, in most cases, if you don’t go to college, your options are limited. The mistake is believing that no sacrifice is too great for a college degree.

As I’ve said here before, I was very lucky in that my father, a Depression baby, was adamant that he was not going to let me take out loans to pay for an undergraduate education. I had a full scholarship to LSU. Yes, my high school friends were going to the Ivies or other prestigious schools. Good for them, said my dad: you’re going to LSU.

I thought he was History’s Greatest Monster — a reputation he renewed when he wisely told me that he wasn’t going to let me go to Belgium for a junior year abroad, because he knew I’d spend it in the pub, and lose my scholarship; he was right about that too, the SOB. Man, what a gift that old man gave me by being such a hard-ass about no debt. He didn’t care what other people said, he was sticking to his guns. This took a basic orneriness that most of us don’t have. I can remember a lot of us in my generation thought that if we got into a great college, then whatever we have to pay to get a degree from it is worthwhile. We never questioned why. We believed the myth.

This can’t go on. What an expensive education, in every sense of the word!

UPDATE: Reader Joseph C.:

Sorry for how long this is. The TL:DR – Professional, employed Christian millennial man and his wife are struggling with student loan debt, leaving them less options than their parents had and postponing many life moments like having kids.

My wife and I went to a Christian liberal arts college for undergrad and we both have our masters degrees in what one could call “useful” jobs: Graphic Design (me, for a Christian company) and Education (my wife, for a charter school).

I was a part of the generation in the late 90s who were told to not worry about college debt and just take out the loans. Luckily, later on when I worked for a military research consulting firm, we were able to pay for half of my wife’s graduate school tuition out of pocket (she worked for a private school at the time who only reimbursed 300 dollars a semester for continuing education); however, once the Freedom Caucus took over in 2010, many of our research grants dried up and I was downsized, leading to us needing to take out loans.

Currently our monthly student loan payments are the second highest bill we pay after our mortgage. Food is our fourth largest bill. Our third is our medical bills (but we can HSA for that). We haven’t defaulted in the last 13 years and have tried many ways to reduce the debt, but it is still crushing. And my wife can’t find full time teaching work at a good school. We live in the midwest and all she can get is an hourly part-time job at a charter school, which she still makes more money at than some of our friends who are full time at Christian elementary schools.

We have very little credit card debt (only one in our household) and do our best to live within our means (the credit card is there to help with unexpected car bills, etc).

I have taught as an adjunct professor at my alma mater to make some ends meet, but I see how much MY students have to pay now over what I did. These kids are getting out of school with debt almost as much as owning a home. It is no surprise to me why they move back in with their parents while they have the weight of a college mortgage on their backs. Also no surprise why they will wait longer to get married and even longer to have kids (we weren’t financially stable enough to start having kids until our early 30s despite being married for 8 years).

The economy may be good for some Boomers, they may even remember a time when in-state college tuition was manageable, but for the vast majority of younger Americans with college degrees, it isn’t. My wife would love to be a stay at home mom, but the weight of our debt makes it a necessity for her to work.

We have a plan to pay down the debt aggressively, but it means me getting a second job for the next 10 years. If you want to be a middle-class, college-taught, 30 something homeowner and parent, this is the reality. Working harder and longer than our parents to just break even (and if you had to take out some private Navient [used to be Sallie Mae] loans, good luck paying those down at all since they can neatly adjust the interest rates to keep you on forever and making overpayments very difficult to go toward principle).

My wife and I have a plan in place for our son if he wants to attend college: He can move back in as soon as he graduates on the condition that he spends what would be rent money on aggressively paying down his inevitable loans. Because right now we can’t save for HIS college while we are still trying to pay off OUR college.

Thank you for bringing this up. I hope more people in the Gen-X and Boomer generations can appreciate that the stereotype of the lazy, entitled millennial is more fiction than fact. Most of my friends who have kids have some sort of side income, they need to and are very hardworking.

Also, one of the small concessions to us who struggled with student loan debt was the ability to write off the interest we paid on our taxes. Thanks to the new tax law, that goes away.

I guess the answer is: Millennials work even harder. Take on as many additional jobs as you can. A college degree doesn’t pay all the bills and a masters degree (as my wife is finding out from losing out on many interviews to fresh-from-undergrad, cheaper teachers) can be a huge liability.

What a bill of goods we were sold, huh? Had I known this was to be my future, I would’ve gone to college part-time, worked full time and paid my tuition in cash. But I was 18. I had no idea, and every adult around me told me not to worry about it.

… and every adult around me told me not to worry about it. I know that’s true. That’s a familiar story.

UPDATE.2: Reader DennisW:

[Having gotten to the end of this below, I apologize for it being quite long. But in some way it felt good to write it, as it did reading Rod’s original post – I know I am not alone anyway, though it feels like it most times – so I’ll leave it as is.]

I understand exactly where he is coming from. Taking on student loan debt for law school was the worst decision of my life – it is, 18 years later, still crushing me, and may very well end up killing me – and has deprived me of any sense of hope for years, as one thing after another fails to pan out job-wise, and interest keeps compounding upon interest (the vast majority of my loan balance now is usurious capitalized interest. In 2012 I had to file a Chapter 13, mainly to stop them harassing my co-signer parents. I was wrongly told by my attorney that the Chapter 13 tolled the interest during the 5 years, and that my balance would be significantly less after. Instead I found out late last year when the Chapter 13 ended that in fact interest continued to accumulate during the time I was on the court payment plan, that that my balance is now $248,000 – some $75,000 more than when the Chapter 13 started despite 5 years of payments), with no reasonably conceivable way of escape or hope of ever paying it off (my current pay-off date is projected to be around 2050 – when I’ll be 76). It was easy at the time to just sign the forms and assume somehow it would all work out and not really think about the burden you were taking on by shackling yourself to a mountain of debt before you really even get started in life. I have a niece who is now a sophomore in high school, and my one bit of advice to her and anyone her age, would be to never take on student loan debt, even if it means going to community college or something instead for a while. No school is worth the potential for decades of crushing debt burden.

Like many in the late 90s, I went to law school with still only a vague idea of what I really wanted to do with my life – mainly interested in wanting to just go back to school to put off the “real world” of work for a while longer. I never really had a great desire to practice law, and having spent time abroad in college, had hoped to get into the foreign service after law school (this was pre-9/11 when working abroad in various embassies struck me as exciting rather than making yourself a sitting duck for the next bomber).

Anyway, I passed the foreign service exam, but ultimately didn’t get hired. Depressed and in a funk, mostly floundering around, I did some temporary doc reviews gigs for a while in DC, tried to make contacts through alumni groups, etc., read every “alternative careers for JDs book I could find – “you can do anything with a law degree”; “the JD is the new MBA” were mantras repeated ad nauseam in those days. Though most of these “alternative careers” were wildly unrealistic without already established means or connections). Despite having gone to good schools (ND & Tulane Law) I got few interviews or interest in my resume (mostly courtesy meetings from alumni of the “good luck, we don’t have anything here, but we’ll keep you in mind…etc.” type).

Ultimately I moved back home took the bar in my home state, yet still (by now a couple years out of school and mostly having done temp doc review work and never having worked at a firm – rather than do the summer clerk thing during school, I spent my summer at study abroad programs in Paris and Prague), had trouble generating interest in my resume or getting may interviews for entry-level associate jobs (having been out of state for most of the past 7 years, and not having gone to law school in my hometown or state, I didn’t have those local school connections to fall back on either, and had no connections at firms through family, etc.). Anyway, ultimately ended up trying to “put up my own shingle” and go solo. Became the contract attorney for a company working with their clients in my state (I don’t want to go into a whole lot of detail). Ultimately, however, I didn’t have the resources to really set up properly, and was dependent on that company and a couple local financial advisors to feed me clients. When that company’s business began to decline significantly around the time of the financial crisis of 2008-2010 or so, it really put me in a bind, since I was so dependent on them for most of my client base (and I had been able to work from home and avoid overhead for office etc. Marketing clearly isn’t my skill, and I had little resources anyway for advertising etc, to try to build a new client base).

Ultimately, staying solo became unsustainable. I had to rely on loan deferments to get by (which led to the repeated cycles capitalized interest every time I got a deferment, which led to ultimately led to the chapter 13). In the end that lead also to losing a house and then an apartment (and health insurance, which I’ve not had for years now – thanks to the ironically-named “Affordable Care Act” my premium was set to go from $70/mo to $270/mo, so I had to drop it).

Having been focused in a very narrow area of law with little exposure to other areas with that company I had been getting most of my business from, I am finding it near impossible to generate any interest from firms (especially at my age now and without bringing a portfolio of business to them), and am mostly looking outside law now, though finding many options there either (unless I want to go work in a warehouse for Amazon or something. I’ve even tried some 1099 sales jobs – they will “hire” anybody – but in the end I’m just not a “salesman” type). Having little in the way of other work experience except my legal work, it’s been hard to figure out what else I can do here or find options, or generate interest from companies that want a specific kind of experience. Just telling them I’m reasonably smart, have read a lot of books, learn quickly, and have good degrees doesn’t do much for me. Also, having the chapter 13 on my credit has kept me form getting more than one job I appeared to have had locked-down before they background check; in my state, unlike some, it is legal for employers to refuse to hire based on a personal bankruptcy on your record, even if the job doesn’t entail access to or responsibility for company money, since they can deem you an “embezzlement risk” or assume bankruptcy filing indicates lack of good character or judgment in general). Soul-crushing drudgery in some meaningless job for little pay in some warehouse or cubicle seems the only option left (yet I’m repeatedly told “the Trump economy’s booming, someone with your education and background should be bale to find something great in no time. Right.)

In sum, things are worse now than ever (I was better off financially before I went to law school), and my financial situation is once again coming to a head – having made a few regular payments on my revived loans after the chapter 13 ended last year – and with nothing working out on the job front (though still licensed as an attorney, my client base has dried up, with that company having effectively folded their operations here). I am now approaching default again, with the only option probably being another chapter 13, and apparently endless cycle I feel stuck in now that will hound and haunt me and crush me to the end of my days (and will in all likelihood shorten them).

Over the years since my law school and college
days also, my interests in life in general focus have changed quite a bit, yet I don’t know where to turn to find something that will be not only spiritually and intellectually fulfilling and life-enhancing but also give me even the slightest ability to really live free from such crushing financial burden (my debt burden being such that even if I found a reasonably well-paying job tomorrow, I’d find it hard to have enough left-over after debt service and back taxes to be able to get even a reasonable apartment, replace a dying 12 year-old car, etc.).

I envy those people Rod writes about in those BenOp communities who seem so grounded, and spiritually and morally fulfilled in a life of meaning, without crushing debt burdens and sense of the utter hopelessness and futility of even trying anything anymore because nothing short of winning the lottery will relieve a soul-and-life-crushing weight on your back. I actually don’t want much anymore, I’ve long sine given-up any real expectations for much out of this life – I don’t need a McMansion or Bentley – I just want to be left alone mostly, to life simply, and escape from the drudgery and ugliness of modern life (over the years I’ve come more and more to find most of modern life and the general culture – political, social, economic, etc – of this country intolerable and nauseating. I find little around me that I want to be a part of at all).
I dream of running off to a hermitage somewhere and just being alone with my favorite books and music and films, cultivating my own little garden, at peace with the world. But gone are the days when, Dostoevsky-like, one could simply take a train across a border and leave creditors and the long arm of the state behind in exile. Nowadays there is no escape, they will hunt you down anywhere (and harass you 10 times a day with phone calls, as if expecting you to have miraculously come into money since the last call an hour ago), and your life will be an utter hopeless misery that will make the peace of the grave seem a blissful alternative to life in this world.

Suicide as preferable to laboring under the crushing burden of debt. The author of the original essay has toyed with the same temptation.

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Happy Feast Of St. Benedict

Detail of an icon of St. Benedict of Nursia, from the hand of Fabrizio Diomedi (Dreher personal collection)

Today is the Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia in the Roman Catholic Church (we Orthodox observe the feast in March). The poet Malcolm Guite has written a sonnet for our father among the saints, Benedict:

You sought to start a simple school of prayer,
A modest, gentle, moderate attempt,
With nothing made too harsh or hard to bear,
No treating or retreating with contempt,
A little rule, a small obedience
That sets aside, and tills the chosen ground,
Fruitful humility, chosen innocence,
A binding by which freedom might be found

You call us all to live, and see good days,
Centre in Christ and enter in his peace,
To seek his Way amidst our many ways,
Find blessedness in blessing, peace in praise,
To clear and keep for Love a sacred space
That we might be beginners in God’s grace.

Hear the poet read it aloud here. I strongly urge you to do so; his voice is so richly textured.

In The Benedict Option, you can read about believers — some under religious vows, others in the lay state — who are following in St. Benedict’s footsteps over 14 centuries after he lived and prayed and walked on this earth. He has so very much to teach us still.

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Truscum, Tucutes, and Kelpselves

Progressivism’s chosen people (divedog/Shutterstock)

From this morning’s mailbag:

I wanted to write to you about this article – http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-cult-of-transgender/

I agree with most of the article. I believe being transgender has become a trend in America today and there are too many kids and adults who are jumping on the surgery/hormones bandwagon without a second thought. Many transmen and transwomen will become outright abusive and aggressive if you try to tell them they may not need surgery/hormones in order to be happy. I was assaulted by a transwoman screaming at me “You’re straight! You’re straight” in a park over a year ago. Why? Because I am not getting surgery to mutilate my body.

My name is Jay. I have felt like a man born in a woman’s body most of my life, but I have always been against taking surgery or hormones or modifying my natural body in any way. I identify as a man, but I don’t shove it in people’s faces and I don’t correct people when they call me a “she”. I have more important things to worry about than that insignificant nonsense. I don’t want to change my body at all. I don’t even have piercings or tattoos, but I am still transgender (female-to-male). Because of the “cult of transgender” which insists that a person is only transgender if they mutilate their bodies with surgery and hormones, I am not accepted by the transgender or LGBT communities. They question my decision to not take surgery or hormones over and over and over and over again. They abuse and belittle me and call me a “transtrender”, “tucute”, etc. Transgenders tell me that I am unwanted and that there is no God, so I am all alone and on my own.

If you want to know how bad the Cult of Transgender has become, look up “truscum” and “tucute” on the internet and particularly on websites like Tumblr which is popular for teenagers. The transgender kids who identify as “truscum” regularly harass and bully people they see as “tucute”. Tucute is a derogatory term that these kids use against anyone they think is a fake transgender or “transtrender”. They bully people to the point of suicide.

There is an entire Instagram page where these transgender kids who call themselves “truscum” do nothing but harass and bully other transgender, gays, lesbians, nonbinaries, etc. They bully anyone who isn’t willing to get surgery/hormones and anyone who disagrees with them. The page has over 2,000 followers and it is nothing but hate against other human beings and making fun of them. You can see it here-https://www.instagram.com/tucuteflops/ or look up @tucuteflops on the Instagram app.

The cult of Transgender has become so bad and abusive that they have created entire pages to harass and bully anyone who disagrees with their ideology.

I also want to take this time to say that I am a transgender who is against insurance companies or the government paying for sex change operations or hormones. The “treatments” are cosmetic and transgenders should pay for surgery/hormones with their own money, not with money from other people being forced to give it away against their will for medical procedures they do not approve of and want no connection to.

I do not consider myself conservative. I am a liberal leaning Independent. I voted for Hillary, not Trump. I am also not religious and am a spiritual agnostic. However, your article about what is happening in the transgender now is spot on. Too many of these transgender people have entitlement issues and they are passing on their hateful ideology to teens and kids. We need more articles like yours to keep the transgender problem in check.

Because if we don’t keep them in check, everything will go to hell. And what’s the point of that?

So, I looked up “truscum” (pron. “true-scum”) on Social Justice Wiki. Wow, same planet, different worlds. From that Wiki page:

A large part of truscum tactics boil down to respectability politics, the definist fallacy, and trolling. They attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to discredit and marginalise other members of the transgendercommunity in order to appear acceptable to people with cishet privilege, thus conforming to cisnormative standards as much as possible.

More:

Based on their understanding of what it means to be trans (i.e., a purely medical condition), truscum accuse trans people who do not experience gender dysphoria of appropriating trans labels and culture as a fashion statement or as a misguided attention-seeking technique. They refer to other members of the trans community, especially genderqueer and non-binary people, as “transtrenders“, further erasing their identities.

Such views are not only extremely harmful to other trans people living in the West (which is where almost all truscum live), but also to all non-Western trans people (some of whom live in the West). This is because the medical pathological definition of trans is a Western invention. So truscum’s form of the definist fallacy leads to the complete erasure of trans and non-binary identities (i.e., binarism) that have existed for millennia in other cultures. Truscum, in short, uphold colonialist and white supremacist norms when they act as gatekeepers of what “trans” is.

Erm… .

Here’s a bit more on the “truscum vs. tucute debate,” about which I knew not a blooming thing until just now:

Truscum is Tumblr slang for those trans people who experience dysphoria, want to medically transition and see their being trans as a medical condition. ‘Tucute’ is slang (that I only found out about yesterday, but I’ve seen those people around without knowing the name) for people who don’t think dysphoria is necessary to identify as trans. (They’re also associated with the people who like to use ‘nounself’ pronouns like ‘faeself’ and ‘bunself’.)

It turns out that truscum vs. tucute is a tribal war among transgenders. 

Nounself pronouns? We got that, from Nonbinary Wiki:

Nounself pronouns are a wide variety of kinds of gender neutral pronouns. By adapting any noun of one’s choosing into a pronoun, one can create a wide variety of very personal and descriptive pronouns. The sets can be themed around concepts that have nothing to do with gender, such as nature, technology, or abstract concepts. This is similar to xenogender, in which a nonbinary person describes their gender by means of metaphorical concepts that have nothing to do with female or male. Nounself pronouns are a creative and often light-hearted experiment in gender expression. Unlike most neologistic pronouns that are in this wiki’s list of English neutral pronouns, which are intended to be used for all people regardless of gender, nounself pronouns are intended to be used by only a small number of people who feel that they express what is distinctive about themselves.

Nounself pronouns can be especially difficult to use for people who speak English as a second language, or who are neurodivergent or disabled. For this reason, if you ask others to call you by nounself pronouns, it’s good etiquette to offer a secondary set of more standard pronouns, for accessibility.

What are some examples of nounself pronouns? Glad you asked.

  • meow, mew, mews, mews, meowself. Created by Tumblr user huntersgotellis in 2014. An animal (cat) themed set.
  • kelp, kelp, kelps, kelps, kelpself. A nature themed set created by Tumblr user acedragons in 2014,  and independently created by Tumblr user boyghostly in 2014.

Our social norms and legal standards are being revised to accommodate these folks. There is a metaphysics here: the belief that reality is whatever one wills it to be. Reality ultimately becomes incoherent, and that incoherence manifests itself in part through incoherent language. It really does become bedlam. I have an acquaintance whose classmate was female, but who toggled back and forth between identifying as male and female. It depended on the day. Every single day became a guessing game with her friends. Who went along with it out of compassion. Or what they thought was compassion. It seems more likely to me that they were more afraid of being thought of as un-progressive.

Kelpself. Shoot me now.

UPDATE: Reader Mrs. DK writes:

John — I don’t know what kind of idealized world you’re living in. Please see the recent article in the Atlantic. There is no way to “properly diagnose” someone as transgender. My autistic teen daughter was given non-FDA-approved testosterone after signing an “informed consent” form. No diagnosis necessary. In fact, insisting on objective medical tests for these “treatments” is called “gatekeeping” and is considered transphobic.

My federal workplace introduced new honorifics a couple weeks ago, to go along with Dr., Mr., and Ms. The new honorifics are Mx., Misc., and Ind. Yes, in my federal workplace we are forced to comply with honorifics aligned with non-science-based gender ideology, the idea that all people somehow “identify” along a “gender spectrum”.

Needless to say, they left off my honorific, since I identify as royalty and prefer to be called Her Majesty. It’s easy to laugh at this silliness…until you realize that questioning it could get you fired.

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Tech Hates Your Kids

I am a total axe-grinder about the way parents — even Christian parents who are otherwise vigilant about their kids’ engagement with pop culture — roll over for technology, and hand their children over to it. This essay from Medium — “The Tech Industry’s War On Kids,” by developmental psychologist Richard Freed — ought to be read by every parent in this country. It’s about how the tech industry is using psychology to break down the personalities of children, and shape them to get them hooked. Here are some excerpts:

As Kelly and her family continued their appointments with me in the coming months, two concerns dominated our meetings. The first was that Kelly’s unhealthy attachment to her phone continued, causing almost constant tension at home. The second concern emerged during my meetings with Kelly’s parents alone. Even though they were loving and involved parents, Kelly’s mom couldn’t help feeling that they’d failed their daughter and must have done something terribly wrong that led to her problems.

My practice as a child and adolescent psychologist is filled with families like Kelly’s. These parents say their kids’ extreme overuse of phones, video games, and social media is the most difficult parenting issue they face — and, in many cases, is tearing the family apart. Preteen and teen girls refuse to get off their phones, even though it’s remarkably clear that the devices are making them miserable. I also see far too many boys whose gaming obsessions lead them to forgo interest in school, extracurricular activities, and anything else productive. Some of these boys, as they reach their later teens, use their large bodies to terrorize parents who attempt to set gaming limits. A common thread running through many of these cases is parent guilt, as so many are certain they did something to put their kids on a destructive path.

What none of these parents understand is that their children’s and teens’ destructive obsession with technology is the predictable consequence of a virtually unrecognized merger between the tech industry and psychology. This alliance pairs the consumer tech industry’s immense wealth with the most sophisticated psychological research, making it possible to develop social media, video games, and phones with drug-like power to seduce young users.

These parents have no idea that lurking behind their kids’ screens and phones are a multitude of psychologists, neuroscientists, and social science experts who use their knowledge of psychological vulnerabilities to devise products that capture kids’ attention for the sake of industry profit. What these parents and most of the world have yet to grasp is that psychology — a discipline that we associate with healing — is now being used as a weapon against children.

Freed doesn’t launch a generalized attack on the tech industry. He gets very specific, starting here:

Nestled in an unremarkable building on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, California, is the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, founded in 1998. The lab’s creator, Dr. B.J. Fogg, is a psychologist and the father of persuasive technology, a discipline in which digital machines and apps — including smartphones, social media, and video games — are configured to alter human thoughts and behaviors. As the lab’s website boldly proclaims: “Machines designed to change humans.”

Fogg speaks openly of the ability to use smartphones and other digital devices to change our ideas and actions: “We can now create machines that can change what people think and what people do, and the machines can do that autonomously.” Called “the millionaire maker,” Fogg has groomed former students who have used his methods to develop technologies that now consume kids’ lives. As he recently touted on his personal website, “My students often do groundbreaking projects, and they continue having impact in the real world after they leave Stanford… For example, Instagram has influenced the behavior of over 800 million people. The co-founder was a student of mine.”

“Persuasive technology” is an anodyne term for technology that compels you to think in a certain way without realizing that you’re being manipulated. This is not dystopian science fiction. This is actually happening:

Persuasive technology (also called persuasive design) works by deliberately creating digital environments that users feel fulfill their basic human drives — to be social or obtain goals — better than real-world alternatives. Kids spend countless hours in social media and video game environments in pursuit of likes, “friends,” game points, and levels — because it’s stimulating, they believe that this makes them happy and successful, and they find it easier than doing the difficult but developmentally important activities of childhood.

Freed says persuasive technology works well on adults, but it is especially effective on the brains of kids, which are still developing. For adolescent and teen girls, creating a compulsion to use social media is the main thing; for boys, it’s typically video gaming.

Look at this:

While social media and video game companies have been surprisingly successful at hiding their use of persuasive design from the public, one breakthrough occurred in 2017 when Facebook documents were leaked to The Australian. The internal report crafted by Facebook executives showed the social network boasting to advertisers that by monitoring posts, interactions, and photos in real time, the network is able to track when teens feel “insecure,” “worthless,” “stressed,” “useless” and a “failure.” Why would the social network do this? The report also bragged about Facebook’s ability to micro-target ads down to “moments when young people need a confidence boost.”

Persuasive technology’s use of digital media to target children, deploying the weapon of psychological manipulation at just the right moment, is what makes it so powerful. These design techniques provide tech corporations a window into kids’ hearts and minds to measure their particular vulnerabilities, which can then be used to control their behavior as consumers. This isn’t some strange future… this is now. Facebook claimed the leaked report was misrepresented in the press. But when child advocates called on the social network to release it, the company refused to do so, preferring to keep the techniques it uses to influence kids shrouded in secrecy.

Read the whole thing — and pass it on.

In my family, we are pretty strict with our kids regarding technology, but it’s a constant struggle, especially with FOMO — fear of missing out. The thing is, they really are missing out, because most of their friends do most of their socializing (“socializing”) online. But for us parents, what is the alternative? Turn our kids over to this monster?

Note well: technology is not neutral. If you think that your kids are fine because as far as you know, they’re not using the technology to look at porn or anything like that — you’re very wrong. The Freed piece explains why.

And to be honest, reading it made me decide to start disciplining myself more. I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s insane that I cannot stop at a red light in traffic without pulling the phone out to check e-mail or Twitter. Can’t be still with my own thoughts. That’s crazy.

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The Brett Kavanaugh Snowflake ‘Emergency’

An anti-Kavanaugh protester at Yale Law (Aleksandr Simonov/Shutterstock)

Akhil Reed Amar is a prominent professor at Yale Law School, and a noted liberal. He wrote a piece for the NYT yesterday in praise of Brett Kavanaugh’s qualifications for the US Supreme Court. Excerpt:

The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be the next Supreme Court justice is President Trump’s finest hour, his classiest move. Last week the president promised to select “someone with impeccable credentials, great intellect, unbiased judgment, and deep reverence for the laws and Constitution of the United States.” In picking Judge Kavanaugh, he has done just that.

In 2016, I strongly supported Hillary Clinton for president as well as President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland. But today, with the exception of the current justices and Judge Garland, it is hard to name anyone with judicial credentials as strong as those of Judge Kavanaugh.

Prof. Amar is a traitor to his class, it appears. Look at this open letter from some Yale Law School alumni, students, and teachers, addressed to the dean and faculty, regarding the school’s press release noting with pride that Judge Kavanaugh is a Yale Law graduate. Excerpts:

Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination presents an emergency — for democratic life, for our safety and freedom, for the future of our country. His nomination is not an interesting intellectual exercise to be debated amongst classmates and scholars in seminar. Support for Judge Kavanaugh is not apolitical. It is a political choice about the meaning of the constitution and our vision of democracy, a choice with real consequences for real people. Without a doubt, Judge Kavanaugh is a threat to the most vulnerable. He is a threat to many of us, despite the privilege bestowed by our education, simply because of who we are.

They list some of Kavanaugh’s rulings to which they object. And then:

We see in these rulings an intellectually and morally bankrupt ideologue intent on rolling back our rights and the rights of our clients. Judge Kavanaugh’s resume is certainly marked by prestige, groomed for exactly this nomination. But degrees and clerkships should not be the only, or even the primary, credential for a Supreme Court appointment. A commitment to law and justice is.

Now is the time for moral courage — which for Yale Law School comes at so little cost. Perhaps you, as an institution and as individuals, will benefit less from Judge Kavanaugh’s ascendent power if you withhold your support. Perhaps Judge Kavanaugh will be less likely to hire your favorite students. But people will die if he is confirmed. We hope you agree your sacrifice would be worth it. Please use your authority and platform to expose the stakes of this moment and the threat that Judge Kavanaugh poses.

It doesn’t bother me that liberals oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. What makes me angry, though, are these supremely privileged twits declaring that the Kavanaugh nomination is an “emergency” and a threat to their “safety.” What they are declaring is that no matter how hard you work, and how much you achieve, if you don’t share their politics, your very existence is a cause for panic, and a justification for them to stop you by any means necessary. “People will die if he is confirmed.” Where do they think that kind of hysterical rhetoric is going to lead?

These signatories — who, note well, do not represent all of the Yale Law community — are among the most privileged people in the world, but they pose as victims. The ideology they live by is contemptible. How do they expect to live in the real world?

Prof. Amar points out in his piece that the hard truth is that Democrats control neither the presidency nor the Senate. In Amar’s view, Brett Kavanaugh, who was his student at Yale, is the best they can hope for from a Republican president. Perhaps the problem with the open letter’s signatories is not Kavanaugh per se, but that the existence of a supremely qualified Republican nominee is an “emergency” and a threat to their “safety.”

The GOP base doesn’t seem likely to be fired up by the Kavanaugh nomination, but you watch: liberals like this are going to have a napalm effect on conservatives. They can’t help themselves. They live in such a privileged bubble that they have no idea how they look and sound to those who aren’t so delicate.

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Uptown Norfolk

This is a super-joyful video. This social media post by the Norfolk (Va.) Police Department explains it all:

YOUR WAIT IS OVER!!!! The Norfolk Police Department was challenged by the Corinth Police Department, Texas to a #lipsync battle and we gladly accepted. As you can see we all had a great time filming the video, which we have to point out was done in #onetake! #NorfolkPD is challenging Seattle Police Department, Norfolk Constabulary, Virginia Beach Police Department, and Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

Thanks for watching!!!!

The Norfolk PD won the Internet! You GOTTA watch it! It will make you happy. Everybody needs some happy.

Jimmy Fallon has to have some of these folks on, with Bruno Mars. The universe demands it!

After waking up this morning to news of the Thai soccer team’s total rescue, I didn’t think I had any more capacity for joy on a single day. Wrong!

UPDATE: Reader Zapollo:

I watched that video tonight. A few thoughts.

1. My first reaction was the same as everybody else’s: “Wow, that’s delightful!” My second reaction was to think of how cool it would be if my place of business did something like this.

My third reaction was the realization that the place I work — a private business that is part of a large, nationwide corporation — would never, ever do something like this. I can just imagine the bean-counters at corporate HQ watching our video going, “fire that guy, fire that guy, fire that woman, fire him, fire that dude and cut department funding in half for his replacement…”

2. Which leads to my second thought: I don’t know what the situation is in Norfolk, but in the place I live, our local law enforcement and fire department agencies are constantly under fire for their spending. Most of the attacks are unjustified, in my opinion, but a lot of it can be laid at the feet of a few high-profile decisions by politically tone-deaf administrators.

Point is, if our local law enforcement did something like this, I imagine it would erupt into a huge scandal. Ambitious politicians would be playing this on a loop shouting, “they used YOUR MONEY to make a RAP VIDEO!”

And indeed, speaking as a Republican, there is something about this that raises the hackles in my tiny, stone-cold miser’s heart: “Look, public employees wasting my money again.”

3. On the other hand, I have loved ones in law enforcement, and it is a categorically different job — something which those of us outside of the profession often fail to appreciate. And while part of me fusses about spending, there’s another part of me that see this little as a wonderful development. I know the morale of the folks I know in law enforcement hit rock-bottom during Obama’s presidency; seeing this is like a breath of fresh air. Squint a bit and it almost plays like a Trump campaign commercial; you can just see Trump sitting there in the White House watching this and going on about how our fine, fine policemen and firefighters — those brave and wonderful people, the best in the world — how this just shows how they’ve regained their confidence, and it’s all thanks to my administration, etc., etc…

And you know his fans would eat it up. It’s also possible that this — the fact that people whose livelihood depends on the taxpayers are comfortable enough to make a video like this — says something about the relative health of the American economy under Trump.

4. All this led me to a related thought about business in general, and maybe a larger insight about capitalism, free markets, the global economy and the Benedict Option. Keep in mind that I’m just writing off the top of my head here, so it’s all disorganized. Rod would be much better equipped to synthesize all this.

Remember my first point about how my place of employment would never, ever do something like this? When I thought about it some more, I realized that there are businesses I could imagine doing something like this. And the thing is, they all tend to follow the same model: They are all local or regional businesses whose owners are very hands-on and tend to see their employees as family. In turn, most of their employees tend to be fiercely, even frighteningly loyal. I can definitely see one of those businesses saying, “hey, let’s take an entire workday to make a music video!” Think of Levy Pants under Gus Levy’s late father in “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

Crucially, none of these businesses are operated by faceless corporations. And it’s striking how the relationship between the boss and his (it’s usually a guy) workers is less like the relationship between a manager and an employee and more like that of a feudal lord and his serfs. The boss, while obviously much richer than his workers, takes great care to mingle with his subordinates and tends to handsomely reward the ones who are most loyal. Furthermore, the boss tends to dip into his own considerable wealth to hand out rewards, a form of compensation which does not show up in the business’s books but helps to build solidarity and even love among his staff. And the love flows downward, too: bosses in these types of companies tend to be noticeably emotional people who often feel a personal attachment to their employees.

The similarity of this to the old mead-hall patriarchal feudalism of Beowulf, and how the people who work at these companies tend to be the happiest people I know, makes me wonder if there is something about this sort of arrangement that is rooted in human nature, and if the loss of this kind of intensely personal employment relationship in the global marketplace is one of the reasons for the rising tide of populism and nationalism.

It’s perhaps noteworthy that Trump appears to run his businesses in this fashion, and seems to have carried this sensibility into his administration. Maybe feudalism never really went away; it simply adopted a new form, one which retained the old ways, which are essential to human flourishing, while finding a way to interface with the new, rationalized system of capitalist finance. Maybe this is something fundamental about human nature that is not accounted for in elegant financial models. And maybe this hungering for community says something about the Benedict Option.

Whew! That was a lot to get out of one little video. 😉

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Christianity As National Suicide Pact

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s right-wing Interior Minister, has been fiercely criticized by Catholic clerics for his anti-migration policies (Antonio Nardelli/Shutterstock)

Here is a July 5 from the Vatican’s Migration & Refugees office:

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Translation: Immigrants make it possible to solve a problem that the current social security system is not able to face, namely the reduction in the number of Italian workers.

Italy’s unemployment rate is 10.9 percent. Its youth unemployment rate — the highest in the EU — is at almost 20 percent 31.9 percent. But according to the Vatican, Italy needs more immigrants to solve its labor shortage problem.

Here is one from the day before:

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It’s a quote from Francesco Montenegro, a Sicilian Cardinal Archbishop, and head of the Italian Catholic bishops’ migration committee: “Migrants, the poor are a thermometer for our faith. Not accepting them, above all by closing our hearts, is not believing in God.”

You don’t support opening the door to the flood of migrants to your country, Italians? You don’t believe in God. So says the Vatican, by retweeting this cardinal’s comment.

According to The Guardian, the Catholic Church in Italy is ramping up in favor of mass migration. Excerpts:

Gianfranco Formenton, a priest in Italy’s central Umbria region who has long preached against racism and in support of migrants, knows what it is like to clash with Matteo Salvini, the recently installed interior minister and leader of the far-right League party.

In response to the party’s xenophobic rhetoric in 2015 – the year more than a million migrants arrived in Europe and 150,000 landed on Italy’s southern shores – he put a sign up on the door of his church in San Martino di Trignano, a hamlet of the town of Spoleto, saying: “Racists are forbidden from entering. Go home!”

He immediately bore the wrath of Salvini, who wrote on Twitter: “Perhaps the priest prefers smugglers, slaveholders and terrorists? Pity Spoleto and this church if this man [calls himself] a priest.”

Think of it! If you believe your country’s borders mean something, then according to this priest, you are a racist who is not welcome in the church.

It gets worse. According to a story in Il Giornale about priests all over Italy becoming migration advocates, Raffaele Nogaro, the retired bishop of Caserta:

The two read the words spoken in an interview by Monsignor Raffaele Nogaro, bishop emeritus of Caserta, in which he said he was ready to “turn all the churches into mosques if it were useful to the cause and if it allowed to save the lives of men and women.”

Think about that. Just think about it.

Keep in mind that this is not about Syrian war refugees, but economic migrants from Africa, who have been pouring into Italy. Now that Salvini has closed Italian ports, Spain — now governed by Socialists — has become the preferred port of entry for these so-called asylum seekers. Reuters:

People-smugglers in Morocco use a rights activist to contact the coastguard, advising it when boats set off for Spain, said coastguard official Oriol Estrada.

“The people traffickers know that the lifeguards are going to come for them,” said Estrada, whose vessel has rescued around 1,200 people so far this year, more than 80 percent of its total for 2017.”They call to say that a certain boat has left such-and-such a coast at a certain time with however many people. They even give the names of those aboard.”

A similar situation developed off Libya before Rome’s recent crackdown, prompting Italy’s ruling League party to accuse rescue ships of running a “taxi service”.

But in Italy, at least, bishops (including the Bishop of Rome) and many priests aid and abet the human smugglers in the name of humanitarianism.

This is suicidal sentimentality. Think of it: a retired bishop said he would turn his churches into mosques for the sake of welcoming migrants. A cardinal says to turn away migrants is to disbelieve in God. A priest orders Catholics who oppose open borders to stay away from church, because they are racist.

As an exasperated Italian Catholic friend said to me today, “This really is The Camp of the Saints.”

The Camp of the Saints, written by Jean Raspail, is a very controversial dystopian novel from 1973 that depicts an invasion by sea of France by Third World migrants, and the moral collapse of French and European institutions in advance of their landing. Three years ago, I read it, and declared it a “bad book,” both morally and aesthetically, but an important one to read because despite its frank racism in parts, it tells — and tells roughly — some important truths. From my 2015 post:

Raspail, a traditionalist Catholic and far-rightist, draws in broad strokes a portrait of a France that has given up. All the country’s institutions and leaders across the board decide that it is the moral duty of all Frenchmen to welcome the armada with open arms. Raspail is at his satirical best mocking the sentimental liberal humanitarianism of the political, media, and clerical classes, all of whom look to the armada as a form of salvation, of redemption for the West’s sins. As I wrote here the other day, the scenario reminds me of the exhausted civilization in Cavafy’s poem “Waiting For the Barbarians.” A couple of years ago, Cavafy translator Daniel Mendelsohn wrote in The New Yorker about the poem and the poet’s political vision (Mendelsohn’s translation of the poem is in the article). Excerpt:

Cultural exhaustion, political inertia, the perverse yearning for some violent crisis that might break the deadlock and reinvigorate the state: these themes, so familiar to us right now, were favorites of Cavafy. He was, after all, a citizen of Alexandria, a city that had been an emblem of cultural supremacy—founded by Alexander the Great, seat of the Ptolemies, the literary and intellectual center of the Mediterranean for centuries—and which had devolved to irrelevancy by the time he was born, in 1863. When you’ve seen that much history spool by, that much glory and that much decline, you have very few expectations of history—which is to say, of human nature and political will.

More:

The cardinal sins in Cavafy’s vision of history and politics are complacency, smugness, and a solipsistic inability to see the big picture. What he did admire, extravagantly, were political figures who do the right thing even though they know they have little chance of prevailing: the great “losers” of history, admirable in their fruitless commitment to ethical behavior—or merely sensible enough to know when the game is up.

Raspail blames France’s elites for this too, with reference to the problem of multiculturalism and migration. He even waylays the fictional pope, “Benedict XVI” (remember, the book was written in 1973), a Latin American (Brazilian) who sells all the treasures of the Vatican to give to the Third World poor, and who exhorts Europe to thrown open its doors to the migrant horde.

More:

Even a bad book may have something valuable to say to us. This is true of The Camp of the Saints. One aspect of the novel that I can’t shake off, though, is Raspail’s portrait of the migrants as not giving a damn about European civilization. It’s nothing personal; rather, they don’t believe they are coming to Europe as beggars who ought to be grateful for charity, but move as a mass that believes it is entitled to what the Europeans have. Europeans, by contrast, are, in the book, the ones who agonize over their civilization, whether it is worth defending, and what it means to be truly Western. The leaders in Camp of the Saints are not consciously surrendering, but rather they mask their cultural surrender with humanitarianism. They think that by flinging their doors open to the Third World masses, they are being good Westerners.

This is why the real villains in Raspail’s novel aren’t the migrants, but the European elites. He believes, it appears, that the Europeans ought to do whatever it takes to defend their civilization from the barbarian invasion. Raspail denounces contemporary France, though, as an exhausted civilization that is eager to be relieved of its burdens. To borrow a line from Cavafy, “those people, the barbarians, were a kind of solution.”

This blog used to have a German reader who wrote from time to time about how he despised Christian leaders in his country for leading the charge to open the borders to migrants. He believed that they were destroying his country. I wonder how Italians, including Italian Catholics, think about what the Pope and many of their bishops and priests are doing on the migration front. The choices these bishops and priests are making, and urging their flock to make, will affect untold future generations of Italians. Do ordinary Catholic laymen in Italy agree that being faithful to Christianity requires national and civilizational suicide? Will they come to blame the clerical class for the destruction of their civilization, and any violence yet to come?

If you were an Italian Catholic, who would you trust more to look out for your interest, and the interest of the Church in your country: Matteo Salvini, or Pope Francis? Normally it would be a crazy question, but these are not normal times.

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What If Social Conservatives Are Betrayed

What will she do if the GOP-appointed Supreme Court majority sells her out? (a katz/Shutterstock)

Ross Douthat posts this addendum to his column on the Kavanaugh pick:

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To which Terry Teachout adds:

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I wasn’t a Trump voter, but as a social and religious conservative, what Teachout says is certainly true for me. Though I too was hoping for an Amy Coney Barrett selection, Trump’s SCOTUS picks — as well as the ascent of the Social Justice Warriors on the left — have made it more likely that I will vote Trump in 2020. I’m pro-life, and want to see Roe end, but I believe that preserving religious liberty is a more pressing issue in this de-Christianizing country. Contra Teachout, I don’t know that this is a Catholic or a Protestant perspective; I think it’s rather a prudential political judgment.

For people like me, preserving religious liberty and ending abortion are both good things. We are seeing the abortion numbers decline. Last year, abortion rates sank to their lowest level since the 1973 Roe decision.  This is a great victory! A subsequent Washington Post story points out that while abortions have declined 25 percent in that period, it is still the case that one in four women will have an abortion before age 45 — a shocking number. So there is still work to do. At the state level, various abortion restrictions that have been found to be permissible under Roe may be having an effect.

If Roe is overturned, though, all that does is move the debate on abortion rights back to the states. That’s still a huge deal, but it won’t outlaw abortion. It is interesting to observe that America has become more pro-life even as it has become more secular. This vindicates what pro-lifers have said for many years: that the case for life does not strictly depend on religious belief.

The future of religious liberty is much, much less clear. We know that America is de-Christianizing. It’s not only de-Christianizing, but it is becoming much more secular. The fact that religious belief exists disproportionately within older populations makes these trends harder to see right now. It will be difficult to muster support for religious liberty among a population that is not religious. In particular, when religious liberty claims conflict with gay rights claims, you don’t need to be a soothsayer to know what’s likely to happen.

This is why it is imperative now to get judges on the bench who have a robust sense of the importance of religious liberty. We religious conservatives should expect that the culture will become more and more hostile to us. The best we can realistically hope for is that the law permits us to run our own institutions in fidelity to our convictions, for as long as we can, despite the contempt of the outside world.

To the question of whether or not organized social conservatism is capable of hellraising rebellion if the GOP sells it out, I don’t think it is, not at this point. It needs to get to that place, though. Given the contempt the Democratic Party has for social conservatives, we really don’t have anywhere else to go. We could stay home, though — and given how closely divided the country is, neither party can afford to take any of its constituents for granted. I don’t know how you’d poll this, but the sense of futility many older pro-life conservatives would have if a Roberts court upheld Roe would be immense. It would mean that all their political efforts over the decades came to naught. It will all have been a lie to have believed that things would change at the Court.

On the other hand, given the state of religious liberty, those same religious conservatives may not be able to indulge themselves in anger and depression over Roe.

Here’s another thing: immigration is also an issue that Americans whose conservatism is primarily social care about. It may be more viscerally important to the base than either abortion or religious liberty. But there is division there. Russell Moore is a social and religious conservative, but he’s not on the same side of the immigration issue as other social and religious conservatives.

On the hellraising point, one last thing: in 2013, several hundred thousand protesters filled the streets of Paris to march against gay marriage. Here is a link to the core of the “Manif Pour Tous” (Protest For All) movement’s viewpoint.  They did not win the argument in France, which now has gay marriage, but they showed themselves willing to take to the streets of the capital to defend traditional marriage and family.

We had nothing like this in the US. Nothing. We are supposedly more conservative and more religious, but we stayed docile. Why? I’m genuinely curious. I have not been able to answer this question satisfactorily for myself.

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The Limits Of Progressive Solidarity

Insufficiently woke Democratic candidate Turahn Jenkins (CBS Pittsburgh screengrab)

A Pennsylvania reader writes:

Progressives have a terrible problem in Pittsburgh. And it’s spelled LGBTQ+.

The white, five-term Allegheny County District Attorney has run unopposed for several elections. This despite the fact that there have been numerous cases where black men have been roughed up or gunned down by cops. So there was widespread progressive celebration when a prominent African American defense attorney threw his hat into the ring. Until he admitted being a Christian. Whoops!

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

An Allegheny County district attorney candidate’s views on homosexuality and affiliation with a Wilkinsburg church has prompted calls for him to drop out of the race from members of the region’s LGBTQ community.

The outrage over alleged statements made by Democrat Turahn Jenkins — in which he called being homosexual or transgender a sin in a meeting with activists — culminated in a pointed statement by the LGBT-friendly Stonewall Steel City Democrats on Sunday night requesting his departure from the race.

“We are deeply disturbed by the beliefs of Turahn Jenkins, recently announced candidate for D.A., and equally so by his direct verbal confirmation of those beliefs to an assembled group of leaders from the LGBTQ+ community,” the statement read.

Here’s a long Facebook post in which Jenkins promises to treat everyone fairly. But he doesn’t renounce his belief that homosexuality is sinful. That is not good enough for his critics:

PA reader continues:

Note that the two politicians calling for him to cancel his candidacy are Lee and Innamorato, two upstart Democratic Socialists who both ousted longtime, establishment Democrats in the primaries.

So the guy they are calling on to step down is a super solid guy on race and a host of other issues. His only crime was to express the traditional Christian view on homosexuality. He said nothing about treating them differently under the law. There are no charges of discrimination levied against him, despite an extensive career as an attorney.

But. He’s got to go. They’d rather have the incumbent, I guess, than tolerate bigotry. Look. Here is the GLOWING endorsement Innamorato gave to Jenkins just last week, prior to his crimes. Now he’s not fit for office.

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