Will Manjoo’s call for liberation from the tyranny of the gender binary catch on in the way that the push for same-sex marriage did before it? I have no idea. What I do know is that, whatever happens, it’s likely to be followed by another undoubtedly very different crusade in the name of individual freedom, and then another, and another, as our society (and others like it) continues to work through the logic of its devotion to the principle of individualism.
The only thing that could halt the process is the rejection of that principle altogether.
‘It’s Nothing To Do With Race’
A British schoolteacher comments on the “Busing Or Bust” post from the other day. I’ve adapted it slightly for a separate post. The emphasis below is mine:
I’ve taught here in the UK for over 40 years (officially retired two years ago, but still going into school on a voluntary basis), and we have exactly the same pathologies in so many classrooms here: what’s euphemistically called ‘low-level disruption’, something that covers everything from pupils shouting across the room to their mates to telling a teacher to ‘F- off’. It’s practically impossible to teach everyone in these circumstances: the most one can do to control the disruption enough to enable the pupils who want to work to do so, knowing that they’re quite likely to get beaten up outside the classroom by the thug tendency. And younger, inexperienced teachers can’t manage to control the class at all: it’s unsurprising that many drop out. And that seems to be worsening. The statistics from the National Foundation of Educational Research are worrying:
“The retention rates of early career teachers are also lower now than they were a few years ago. Around 87 per cent of teachers who enter teaching remained in the profession at the end of their first year, which is a figure that hasn’t changed since 2010, until this year, when it decreased to 85 per cent. Worse still, the three-year retention rate has dropped from 80 per cent in 2011 to 73 per cent in 2017 and the five-year rate has dropped from 73 per cent in 2011 to 67 per cent in 2017.”
In other words, a third of new teachers leave the profession within five years of starting. (It’s slightly better in primary schools and worse in secondaries.) And the two factors most mentioned in surveys of teachers leaving are workload (which is huge during term-time) and behaviour.
The thing is, though, that it’s nothing to do with race: the major offenders are white — but they are disproportionately from (another euphemism) ‘deprived backgrounds’: mother’s never been married, has several children by various fathers, and lives on state benefits (which are not particularly generous: poverty is part of the problem, though not the largest part). Drugs and alcohol are always in the background, and boys in particular carry knives. Culture matters, not race.
Here’s a City Journal article from nearly 25 years ago (!) by the British psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple (pen name of Anthony Daniels), in which he discusses at length British schools as failure factories. In this first excerpt, Dalrymple, who spent his career working in prisons and with the lower classes, talks about how lower-class kids in the UK are socialized:
Alarmingly, this arbitrariness reinforces precisely the kind of discipline which I see exercised around me every day by parents whose philosophy of child rearing is laissez-faire tempered by insensate rage. A small child rushes about noisily, creating havoc and wreaking destruction about him; the mother (fathers scarcely exist, except in the merest biological sense) first ignores the child, then shouts at him to stop, then ignores him, pleads with him, ignores him again, laughs at him, and then finally loses her temper, screeches abuse at him, and gives him a clout on the ear.
What is the child supposed to learn from this? He learns to associate discipline not with principle, and punishment not with his own behavior, but with the exasperated mood of his mother. This mood will itself depend upon many variables, few of them under the control of the child. The mother may be irritable because of her latest row with her latest boyfriend or because of a delay in the arrival of a social security payment, or she may be comparatively tolerant because she has received an invitation to a party or has just discovered that she is not pregnant after all. But what the child certainly never learns is that discipline has any meaning beyond the physical capacity and desire of the mother to impose it.
Everything is reduced to a mere contest of wills, and so the child learns that all restraint is but an arbitrary imposition from someone or something bigger and stronger than himself. The ground is laid for a bloodyminded intolerance of any authority whatever, even should that authority be based upon patently superior and benevolent knowledge and wisdom. Authority of any kind is experienced as an insult to the self, and must therefore be challenged because it is authority. The world is thus a world of permanently inflamed egos, trying to impose their wills on one another.
How do you suppose kids who are raised that way do in school? Answer: the way the British schoolteacher says they do.
Here’s a second bit from Dalrymple’s 1995 essay:
There is one great psychological advantage to the white underclass in their disdain for education: it enables them to maintain the fiction that the society around them is grossly, even grotesquely, unjust, and that they themselves are the victims of this injustice. If, on the contrary, education were seen by them as a means available to all to rise in the world, as indeed it could be and is in many societies, their whole viewpoint would naturally have to change. Instead of attributing their misfortunes to others, they would have to look inward, which is always a painful process. Here we see the reason why scholastic success is violently discouraged, and those who pursue it persecuted, in underclass schools: for it is perceived, inchoately no doubt, as a threat to an entire Weltanschauung. The success of one is a reproach to all.
And a whole way of life is at stake. This way of life is akin to drug addiction, of which crime is the heroin and social security the methadone. The latter, as we know, is the harder habit to kick, and its pleasures, though less intense, are longer lasting. The sour satisfaction of being dependent on social security resides in its automatic conferral of the status of Victim, which in itself simultaneously explains one’s failure and absolves one of the obligation to make something of oneself, ex hypothesi impossible because of the unjust nature of society which made one a victim in the first place. The redemptive value of education blows the whole affecting scene apart: no wonder we don’t want no education.
We can’t talk about these things, of course.
leave a comment
The Curse Of Passionate Intensity
We have the worst people setting the tone and the content of American public life:
We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 15, 2019
Translation: if you dissent, you don’t belong here. And given that only one of the four Congresswomen targeted by Trump was born outside of the US, I don’t see any way to read this other than a racist remark. Look, I think these four — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley — are wrong about many things, and maybe even bad people. I don’t care if POTUS denounces this so-called “Squad” for their political views.
But the way he does it matters. He crossed a line. I invite defenders of Trump to imagine a future progressive president who denounces a Nigerian-born black pastor, or a US-born Arab Christian or Muslim, for their opposition to transgender rights, telling them that this is America, and if they don’t like it, they can go back to their bigot countries.
Meanwhile, here’s a member of the Squad yesterday, speaking to a progressive group:
Rep Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice” pic.twitter.com/2NIj5Vvcor
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) July 15, 2019
Translation: if you are a racial, religious, or sexual minority, and you dissent from progressive orthodoxies, you are a traitor to your race, religion, or sexual tribe, and we don’t want you.
It’s easy for liberals to see why Trump is extremely problematic for saying things like he does (and we conservatives ought to try harder to see and hear Trump from the point of view of others). But liberals ought to imagine what it’s like to be someone who doesn’t fit into the Squad’s woke progressive categories of acceptability, and to imagine what it would be like for those people under that kind of progressive government.
One of the people I follow on Twitter is the American Muslim Ismail Royer. He is a pro-life social conservative, and often calls out US Muslim leaders for taking public stands (e.g., pro-abortion, pro-LGBT) that contradict Islamic law. He is exactly the kind of Muslim that progressives like Ilhan Omar and others would marginalize, because progressive orthodoxy means more to them than religious orthodoxy, or even tolerance of the religiously orthodox. I certainly wouldn’t say that Ismail Royer supports Trump, but I can at least conceive that for him, as an American Muslim of morally and socially conservative conviction, it is not clear whether it would be worse for America if it was ruled by the Trumpist right or the Woke left.
This is how I see things as a socially and religiously conservative Christian, anyway. I’ll say flat-out that I think Trump is a scarcely competent president who is a moral cretin and is damaging American life. But the idea that on policy, Trump is worse than where most Democratic politicians stand today? I don’t buy it. It seems axiomatic for many liberals and progressives that Trump’s awfulness negates any bad qualities from progressive would-be rivals (if they — the liberals — see these qualities as bad in the first place, which many do not).
For example, I remind you that nearly all of the Democratic presidential contenders are operationally open borders. Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum said the other day that he can’t tell any difference between what Elizabeth Warren proposes on immigration, and an open borders position. Every one of the Dems is strongly pro-abortion, and strongly pro-LGBT, in ways that pose significant threats to the liberties of religious dissenters, and ought to concern everyone regarding transgender ideology and its spread in schools and in the medical profession (more on which in a separate post today). There’s more. None of that negates the bad things about Trump, heaven knows, but it’s just bonkers for liberals to act as if we’re dealing with a devilish president versus angelic opponents.
I know some religious and social conservatives who fear progressivism in power, but believe for various reasons that Trump is worse, and who will either vote Democratic in 2020, or withhold their vote.
I know some religious and social conservatives who fear progressivism in power, and who believe that as bad as Trump is, if he’s the only thing standing in the way of progressives, then they need to bite the bullet and vote for him.
I think both strategies are rational — that is, I think a reasonable case can be made for both. I am more likely to take the latter than the former, but until we get to election day next year, I won’t be sure which one it will be. I have been in a situation like this before: voting for the corrupt Democratic Edwin W. Edwards for governor in 1991, to prevent former Klansman David Duke from becoming governor. To me, that wasn’t a close call, but it still made me sick to have to vote for Edwards, who symbolized most of what was wrong with the political culture of our state. But Duke was worse. No conservative who voted EWE in ’91 was under any illusion as to why it was important to vote for the crook that year.
Anyway, what is do damned depressing about our time is that all the political energy is with the worst people. David Brooks touches on this issue in his column about the civil war among progressive and liberal factions in the Democratic Party. Excerpt:
Critics on the left argue that liberalism is a set of seemingly neutral procedures that the privileged adopt to mask their underlying grip on power. Left-wing critics detest liberalism’s incrementalism and argue that only a complete revolution will uproot injustice.
They do not share liberalism’s belief in the primacy of free speech. They argue that free speech sometimes has to be restricted because incorrect words can trap our thinking. Bad words, like insensitive gender pronouns, preserve oppression.
They embrace essentialism, which is the antithesis of liberalism. Essentialism is the belief that people are defined by a single identity that never changes. A cisgender white male is always and only a cisgender white male.
In short, many of today’s young leaders, and their older allies, don’t want to work within the liberal system. They want to blow it up.
So which side will prevail?
Over the short term, I’d put my money on the anti-liberals.
Read the whole thing to see why. I think he’s right, and that this is why the best chance the Dems have to toss out Trump — boring old Joe Biden — is not going to win the party’s primary. One thing Brooks says in his reasons why anti-liberals are going to prevail in the Democratic Party resonates especially with me:
Second, liberal institutions have deteriorated. A liberal society needs universities where ideas are openly debated, it needs media outlets that strive to be objective, it needs political institutions, like the Senate, that are governed by procedures designed to keep the process fair to both sides. It needs people who put the rules of fair play above short-term partisan passion. Those people scarcely exist.
How much have you read in the leading media about Antifa’s assault on Andy Ngo? How much have you read, seen, and heard about the Antifa loony Willem van Spronsen, shot dead by authorities while throwing incendiary devices at a government (ICE) immigration facility, and trying to blow up a propane tank at the facility? It’s not that the media have ignored these stories entirely, but that they rarely receive coverage proportional to their importance, at least from a conservative perspective.
And there are things like this. Jesse Singal is a self-described progressive who covers science for New York magazine — and he’s appalled by the politicization of trans coverage:
Outlets have completely, completely given up on covering this like they would any other health or science subject. It’s just astounding how radical the journalistic shift has been. https://t.co/9XMKriFyuo
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) July 14, 2019
From where I sit, the mainstream journalism coverage of LGBT issues is heavily propagandistic — not even-handed, but almost pure advocacy journalism. In fact, most coverage of so-called “diversity” issues is too, as is a lot of immigration coverage. Point is, when one is conservative, and sees how thoroughly the culture-forming, opinion-making institutions of American life are shifting further to the left, and away from old-fashioned, fair-play liberalism, having Archie Bunker in the White House isn’t as much of a problem as it would otherwise be.
Conservative supporters of Trump say, “At least he fights” — as if idiotic, immoral, fat-mouthing tweets constitute “fighting.” They are “fighting” in the same sense of some redneck moron deciding that he’s struck a blow against evil by giving some authority figure a good cussin’. But look, now the left is going to benefit from the same performative nonsense from the Squad. They’ll say all the things that rile up their core, and appall or frighten many others. I’m not sure that Yeats’s famous lines are exactly true today, and that the best lack all conviction, but it is certainly true that the worst, on both left and right, are full of passionate intensity. And, as in the Spanish Civil War, sooner or later most of us are going to have to choose a side, even if it’s only in the secrecy of the voting booth.
UPDATE: Please read Douthat’s column today. In it, he talks about how Trump is a cruder version of what he ran against. Excerpts:
But in the post-Cold War dispensation [conservatives’] defense [of American exceptionalism] became rote and unconvincing, because even as they chest-thumped about their own patriotism and the perfidy of liberalism, conservative politicians didn’t seem to be actually cultivating or sustaining the things their ideology claimed to be defending.
This tendency culminated in an Obama-era conservatism that decided that anyone unhappy with Republican governance was just an ingrate who didn’t deserve the American experiment: You were a socialist if you doubted the perfection of our health care system, part of the mooching “47 percent” if you didn’t think a capital-gains tax cut would solve the working-class’s social crisis, an appeaser if you doubted the wisdom of a maximally hawkish foreign policy.
Right, and Trump rose because he was willing to talk about things that ordinary Republicans weren’t. Now, because of the ground he opened up, a really interesting philosophical conversation has begun among many on the Right, who are openly questioning the conventional wisdom of the worn-out GOP vision. (I’m talking about this week’s National Conservatism conference in DC, more on which separately.) More Douthat:
But — and you know there’s a but — none of the people having this lively debate are the president of the United States. And in the president himself you can see how nationalism-in-power, instead of correcting exceptionalism as Thiel suggests, can simply become a cruder, more exclusionary version of the “everything is awesome” mentality that inspires its irritation in the first place.
The only people who are adversely affected by his rhetoric are the rest of us who have to inhabit the noxious political atmosphere that he did not create but in which he has flourished. He will not be the last important American politician to employ these tropes — perhaps not even the last president. This is the cockle of rebellion, insolence, and sedition that we ourselves have plowed for, sowed, and scattered.
Now it’s harvest time.
UPDATE.3: I was unclear about which tweets of Trump’s I believe were racist. Not the one at the very top! (It’s just dumb.) These were the ones that crossed the race line, in my view:
So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
….and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
The racism part comes in assuming that all those women are foreigners, because of African or Latino descent, and that therefore they should get out of the country.
leave a comment
Sunday Morning At Auschwitz
On Sunday morning, I went to Auschwitz. I had to take an Uber there from the Tyniec monastery. It was jarring to take Uber to Auschwitz. It was jarring to pass by strip malls and movie theaters and all the usual signs of modern life only a short walking distance from the scene of world-historical mass murder. Watching through the car window older Poles walking to mass down the streets of Oswiecim, I wondered what it’s like to live in a town that is forever associated with infamy — even though your people were victims, not perpetrators.
I have the sense that I’m like someone who ran to the melting-down Chernobyl reactor to see what was happening, and now have to wait to see the effects of radiation poisoning. It wouldn’t be correct to say that “nothing prepares you for Auschwitz.” In fact, our culture does a pretty good job preparing people for Auschwitz, though I will agree that standing in front of the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate really does give you a jolt. The entire time I walked around the grounds, I was praying my prayer rope for the souls of the dead. If I’m honest, I was also praying it, in a sense, for myself — as a kind of shield against the moral horror of what I was seeing.
Because there’s nothing to say about Auschwitz that hasn’t been said a million times already, I’ll keep this short, and restricted to my own brief impressions.
I didn’t realize that there are actually two Auschwitzs — Auschwitz II, which is 2 km away from the first camp, is called Birkenau. They are very different places, though also the same. The first Auschwitz is where the most interesting things are, because it was where the Germans tried their worst things; Birkenau is what they built when the number of Jews and others being brought to Auschwitz I overwhelmed its capacity to murder them. There’s not as much to see at Birkenau, because by the time the Nazis built it, they had it all down to a science. The vastness of Birkenau is what knocks you flat. I took the photo above just inside the red brick gate (the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate is at Auschwitz I):
Imagine train cars lined up about as far as you can see, disgorging human beings. That’s what happened here. The great contemporary historian of Poland, Norman Davies, writes:
It took only twenty minutes between the arrival of a train load to be undressed and “disinfected” [gassed] and the arrival of the special detachments to strip the corpses of hair, gold fillings, and personal jewellery at the entrance to the crematorium. Hair mattresses, bone fertilizer, and soap from human fat were delivered to German industry with Prussian precision.
The barracks and crematoria covered a massive plain. I could not count them all. Most of them have been allowed to rot; all that remains are crumbling chimneys from the small stoves inside the barracks, meant to keep the inmates warm. This gives the site the appearance of a dead forest. When historians say that the Germans were doing industrial-scale murder, this is what they mean. I really could not have conceived of this without seeing the size of Birkenau. It is a platitude (if speaking of Auschwitz can ever be that) to call Auschwitz-Birkenau a killing machine, but confronting it with your own eyes — especially Birkenau — reveals the truth of that observation with staggering clarity. It could not have been more efficient.
That was Birkenau — which I saw after I had toured Auschwitz I.
Two things jumped out at me about Auschwitz I. First, how utterly banal it is. Again, that platitude, that cliche: the banality of evil. But seriously: it’s true here, like nowhere else I’ve ever seen. If you didn’t know what had happened there, it would look like a dull barracks. You’ll walk by a building, and stop to read the museum marker, and it will say something like, “In this building, Dr. Josef Mengele…”. There’s a room there where the museum displays hair the Nazis harvested from female corpses, and sold to textile makers. There was over one ton of it. Do you know how much human hair it takes to make a ton? Enough to fill a small house! I also saw a cell where prisoners sentenced to death by deliberate starvation were kept. Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic saint, died in that cell.
The second thing that jumped out at me was how mind-blowingly bureaucratic it all was. Again, this is something historians tell us, but you really need to examine the documents on display there to grasp the perversity of this. The Germans kept records of everything. It was so methodical. If somehow this site had been the place of a battlefield massacre, it would have been more comprehensible. But this was about as premeditated as it gets. It makes you ashamed to be human.
The whole thing made me aware of our capacity, as human beings, to do this kind of thing, and to hide what we do behind forms and papers and ideas. There was handwritten testimony there by Rudolf Hoess, the Auschwitz commandant from 1940-43 (later hanged there as a war criminal), who wrote about receiving the order from Himmler to start gassing Jews. Himmler told him this in a face to face meeting in 1941. Hoess wrote (this is from the Yad Vashem website):
We discussed the ways and means of effecting the extermination. This could only be done by gassing, since it would have been absolutely impossible to dispose by shooting of the large numbers of people that were expected, and it would have placed too heavy a burden on the SS men who had to carry it out, especially because of the women and children among the victims.
Can you believe that? They came up with mass gassing in part to spare the tender feelings of SS men, who would feel bad about shooting women and children. Again, this is not news, but to see it at Auschwitz, in Hoess’s own handwriting — there’s nothing like it.
Human nature never changes
Here’s what the inside of a gas chamber looks like:
I wondered if those scratch marks were from the hands of the dead, but a guide told me no. In the room next to the gas chamber were these ovens for burning bodies:
In the car riding out to Auschwitz, I had caught up on my Twitter feed, and read initial reports about the BBC’s new documentary in which former Labour Party employees spoke out about anti-Semitism in the party, and Jeremy Corbyn’s upper management team trying to squelch complaints. Here’s the latest, from The Guardian on that story. Excerpt:
Several other officials told the programme that dealing with the scale of the complaints took a severe toll on their mental health. Kat Buckingham, the former chief investigator in the disputes team, said she had a breakdown and had decided to leave the party.
“I couldn’t hold the tide and I felt so powerless and I felt guilty and I felt like I failed,” she told the programme.
This was on my mind when I saw those ovens. Labour Party leadership is institutionalizing anti-Semitism, according to whistleblowers within the party, commenting on the controversy that has dogged Labour ever since the far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn took over the party’s leadership three years ago.
Look at this. These are clothes taken off children that were later gassed:
This young man’s photo hangs on the wall with those of other children and teenagers. Look at his eyes. I have a son about the same age as Kopel Polter:
And of course these empty cans:
I remember thinking as I was walking out of Birkenau that the only thing harder than believing in God after Auschwitz is not believing in Him. There is an outdoor exhibition outside the gates of Auschwitz I featured photos and excerpts of contemporary interviews with Auschwitz survivors, reflecting on their religious thoughts after Auschwitz. Here’s a story from the Times of Israel about the exhibition.
As I walked through it, the rain began, and it came down hard, but I couldn’t tear myself away from reading the words of these survivors. Punctuation below is in the original inscriptions at the exhibit.
Here’s something from Tzipora Fayga Waller, a Hungarian Jew:
I was 18 years old. During the selection in Auschwitz, I held onto my aunt’s child. Mengele motioned me to the left. I did not understand. He screamed at me “is that child yours?” I said “no.” He took Avrumy from me and pushed me to the right. I didn’t know what it meant then. We believed Hashem [the Most High — a name of God] was going to help us. But it didn’t work. I was the first born, and the only one that survived. What I learned from my experience in Auschwitz is to believe in kindness. Be good to the people around you.
Here’s one from Avraham Zelcer, a Czech Jew:
I was 16 years old. The train stopped in Auschwitz on the morning of Shavuos. We thanked God we arrived. The horrors of our transport from Czechoslovakia were beyond words. So many people suffered and died. We didn’t know what was waiting for us. Women and children to the left. I went to the right. I asked someone: “where are the women and children?” He pointed to a tall chimney: “they went out through there.” The only way out of Auschwitz was through the chimney: today, tomorrow, or the next day. It took me a year after liberation to return to my faith.
From Ernest Rumi Gelb, also from Czechoslovakia:
I was 17 years old. I remember our daily marches to work every day in Auschwitz. Invariably there was someone who knew the morning davening [prayer] by heart. I am not sure I felt like praying, but I did. The impulse for rejection was strong. Prayer, however, was a reminder of God. On Rosh Hashanah, as on all days, we were forbidden to pray. But we did it on the marches. Commiserating with other Jews through prayer was important for me. We could all hope and imagine together that, God willing, next year we would be out of there.
From Rabbi Nissan Mangel (Czech-born):
I was 11 years old. The fires of Auschwitz made some people lose their faith. one morning, I was marching with others in the camp. A man in the group saw a yingele [Jewish boy], dead, hanging from the gallows. He screamed, “where are you God!” Another man responded, “you know where God is? He is on the gallows with the boy. That’s where he is.” I saw the exact same barbarity. The man could not reconcile what he saw with a compassionate God. My father taught me that fire makes things hard, or it can make them melt. My emunah [faith] became stronger that day.
One more, from Irving Roth, also Czech:
I was 14 years old. it was the day before Yom Kippur. I was hungry, frightened. I couldn’t eat my piece of bread. I could not drink the coffee. Looking back, as a religious man, I ask myself today how did I live through this? I decided that my quarrel was not with God, but with man. It was man that created the gas chamber. Not God. In spite of all that the Nazis took from me, I made choices in the midst of this meaningless terror. I made decisions about how I would conduct myself. Fatih was the only thing left. I took comfort in it.
As I was leaving Birkenau, I thought: ifI had survived imprisonment at Auschwitz and thought God didn’t exist, and that ultimate justice would be impossible, I don’t know how I would be able to go on living.
My next thought was a Christian one: about how deeply right it is that God would take the form of a man persecuted and put to death by torture, and would overcome that death through resurrection. After Auschwitz, the logic of the Incarnation and the Passion made sense to me at a deep level, in a way that it had not before.
I also thought about how forgiveness is the only way to maintain civilization. There is no way Germany could ever atone for the Holocaust. No way. In fact, I have to say I admire the moral courage of the German visitors I saw at Auschwitz that morning (I knew they were German because I heard a guide speaking to them in German.) I would not be able to bear the shame of it.
Leszek Kolakowski, whose essay collection Is God Happy? has been my constant companion in Poland, writes about theodicy (the branch of theology concerned with reconciling an all-powerful, all-just, and all-merciful deity with the existence of evil):
People today do not lose their faith because of the evil they see around them. Unbelievers perceive evil in a way that is already determined by their unbelief: the two are mutually supporting. The same holds true of the faithful: they perceive evil in light of their faith, which is consequently affirmed rather than weakened by what they see. So there seem to be no good grounds for saying that the evil of our time casts doubts on the presence of God; there is no compelling logical or psychological connection.
Similarly with science: Pascal was terrified by the “eternal silence” of infinite Cartesian space; but both this silence and the voice of God are in the ear of the listener. God’s presence or absence lies in belief or unbelief, and each of these attitudes, once adopted, will be confirmed by everything we see around us.
The meaning of the godless Enlightenment has not yet become apparent, because the breakdown of the old faith and the collapse of the Enlightenment are taking place simultaneously, both before our eyes and in our hearts.
In the same essay, he wrote:
The collapse of Christianity so eagerly awaited and so joyfully greeted by the Enlightenment turned out — to the extent that it really occurred — to be almost simultaneous with the collapse of the Enlightenment. The new, radiant anthropocentric order that was to arise and supplant God once He had been deposed never appeared.
I have long believed that the Holocaust was the most important event of the 20th century, and maybe the most important event in human history outside the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because it tells us the truth about who we are. That no matter how advanced we become, in culture, education, and technology, we are capable of doing this to each other. It wasn’t just the Germans. The Soviets did something like this too. As did the Red Chinese. What happened in Auschwitz could happen anywhere, given the right set of circumstances.
I can understand how someone would lose their faith in God because of the Holocaust. What I can’t understand is how they could retain their faith in Man. There is no such thing as a radiant anthropocentric order. It’s a lie, and only fools believe it. They are fellow travelers of Christian fools who believe in a happy-clappy God of Your Best Life now.
And that’s all I have to say about it, for now.
leave a comment
I’m about to leave Poland, headed back home. Flight out of Krakow boards in a few minutes. I wanted to say a couple of things before I head out. I’ll elaborate more later if I have time.
First, I can’t overstate how much I have enjoyed being in this country. The people are so warm, the culture so rich, the food so delicious. Since I’ve started this new book project, I’ve been able to spend time among the peoples of countries that for much of my life, I never imagined I would be able to visit, because they were behind the Iron Curtain. The new friends I have made there will be with me always. Let me encourage my fellow Americans to travel to Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, and other countries that we call “Eastern Europe” (which, note well, they hate, because it’s a Cold War framework imposed on them). There is so much to learn here, and so much to love. I might sound like a tourist board marketer by saying that, but it really is true. If you’re an American who loves to travel in Europe, and you only know the UK, France, Germany, and the other familiar countries, then you only know half of Europe.
Second, I must admit that I did not foresee the sense of cultural crisis that exists in Poland, but which now, after nine days here, is undeniable. I had a number of conversations in Warsaw and in greater Krakow, with laity and clergy, with middle-aged people and young ones. Almost everyone I spoke to expressed deep concern about the direction of the country, and awareness that it’s at a crossroads.
Most of my interlocutors are political conservatives, though not all of them support the present government. Those with whom I spoke who oppose the populist government really hate it, with the same passion that progressives hate Trump back in the US. Some of the conservatives I talked to are reluctant supporters of the government, but all of them, even the unconflicted supporters, worry about the deep political division within the country. As in other liberal democracies, the splits among political factions are widening into a chasm.
The most concerning thing to me, and to my interlocutors (almost all of whom were practicing Catholics), is the state of the faith, and specifically of the institutional Catholic Church. This is the most surprising thing for an American like me to hear, because many of us have been accustomed, since the days of John Paul II, to thinking of Poland as a bastion of popular Christianity. The “Alas For Fortress Poland” sentiment I picked up on my first days here was more than confirmed by later interviews and conversations.
As I’m about to board the plane for home, the conversation that stands out strongest in my mind is one I had with a veteran priest. He is exasperated with the bishops and the institutional church. He told me that they are full of themselves, and completely indifferent to the mounting crisis around them. This cleric spoke with unusual depth and passion. In his view, they are proud and full of vainglory, and don’t see how dissatisfied Poles are with their leadership. He said the Polish church is coasting on past glories, and its leadership doesn’t grasp the seriousness of the moment.
A Millennial-generation Catholic who was part of that conversation told me later, “He’s right. I don’t know a single Catholic, of my generation or of any generation, who is satisfied with the bishops. Everybody is angry over the way they have handled the abuse scandal.”
Mind you, the abuse scandal has only just started in Poland. There is much more to come.
I spent my last couple of days in Poland at a monastery, where I spoke at a summer school attended by Catholic college students. Last night I talked with one at dinner. The student said that most of her friends have walked away from the Church, because they have never really been raised in it.
“This thing you talked about in your speech, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that is exactly how most of my generation were raised,” she said.
I heard the same kind of thing often on this trip, from practicing Millennial Catholics and Gen Z Catholics. In last night’s conversation around the dinner table, I repeated what a young Warsaw Catholic told me: that within 10 to 20 years, Poland will be where Ireland is today in terms of the faith.
There was nodding all around.
This is Poland, y’all.
The good thing is that relative to the churches in other Western countries, the Poles have a stronger base from which to mount resistance. But if the testimonies of the faithful Catholics I’ve been talking to over the last nine days are accurate, it seems to me that renewal and resistance will not come from the institutional Church. It will come from engaged laity and the priests who share their sense of mission in a time of crisis. Now that I think about it, I wish I had emphasized more strongly to the students in my speech that nobody is going to come save them. I did repeat to them something I heard from a middle-aged Catholic earlier in the trip: that the future of Polish Christianity depends on the faithful among Millennials and Generation Z, not in the trite general sense of “the young are our future,” but because they are the only ones who really understand the severity of the crisis.
The message I received loud and clear is that those who we Americans would call Baby Boomers, and even many Generation Xers, like me, are too detached from the main currents of faith and culture in this country to perceive what’s happening, much less mount effective resistance. One young Catholic in Warsaw said to me, “We are desperate for leadership.”
It seems to me that what Poland needs is some way to connect these younger Catholics to each other, and to lay and clerical Catholics who share their sense of crisis, and their eagerness to find a way through it. But how will they do it? Now is the time for spiritual entrepreneurs among the orthodox Catholic faithful to come forward.
We really are all in this together. What happens in Poland affects us Americans, and vice versa. Let’s build the networks now, and help each other.
Plane is boarding. More later.
UPDATE: Folks, I’m talking about Poland’s religious crisis. If you’re a secular person, you see no crisis at all — in fact, you might well think that Poland is doing well to rid itself of Catholicism. Most believing Christians see things very differently. From my point of view, a Poland that is a Slavic Sweden would have suffered an enormous catastrophe, no matter how rich it may be.
leave a comment
Busing Or Bust
Wow, wow, wow. The Progressive-Industrial Complex is really going to do this thing. Trump could dump Pence and pick Jeffrey Epstein as his running mate, and still win because half of America + 1 is going to be terrified of the social engineers of the Loony Left. pic.twitter.com/dEMo9NnYcZ
— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) July 12, 2019
I see that this tweet ‘o mine has stirred up progressives on Twitter. Of course. Fine by me, but man, those people really and truly cannot grasp the damage they’re doing to themselves.
Are we really going to re-argue about school busing? Apparently so. Of all the things to get wound up about, and to make an issue in the 2020 presidential race, defending the virtues of one of the most unpopular public policy initiatives of the past 50 years is not one I expected from a party that wants to defeat Donald Trump. But this is how our progressives roll.
The other day, AOC more or less called Nancy Pelosi racist because the 79-year-old legislator dared to question whether or not AOC and her Democratic cohorts were following the wisest course for the party. But you know how these progressives are: if you don’t agree with them 100 percent, then you are Evil. It’s idiotic and self-defeating, but as someone who would rather not see these loonies in power, I guess I should be happy about it. Maureen Dowd actually had a pretty good column about it today. She writes:
Pelosi told me, after the A.O.C. Squad voted against the House’s version of the border bill and trashed the moderates — the very people who provided the Democrats the majority — that the Squad was four people with four votes. She was talking about a legislative reality. If it was a knock, it was for abandoning the party.
That did not merit A.O.C.’s outrageous accusation that Pelosi was targeting “newly elected women of color.” She slimed the speaker, who has spent her life fighting for the downtrodden and who was instrumental in getting the first African-American president elected and passing his agenda against all odds, as a sexist and a racist.
A.O.C. should consider the possibility that people who disagree with her do not disagree with her color.
The young lawmaker went further, implying that the speaker was putting the Squad in danger, asking why Pelosi would criticize them, “knowing the amount of death threats” and attention they get. Huh?
A.O.C. pulled back and said she wasn’t calling Pelosi a racist. But once you start that ball rolling, it’s hard to stop. (You know how topsy-turvy the fight is when the biggest defenders of Pelosi, who has endured being a caricature of extreme liberalism for decades, are Trump and the Wall Street Journal editorial board.)
If you haven’t read the excellent James Lindsay/Mike Nayna analysis of the religion of Social Justice, now’s a good time. Relevant excerpt:
Applied postmodernism begins in postmodernism, which as a social philosophy bears the following axioms, treated as articles of faith, as succinctly (and charitably) summarized by Connor Wood:
Knowledge and truth are largely socially constructed, not objectively discovered.
What we believe to be “true” is in large part a function of social power: who wields it, who’s oppressed by it, how it influences which messages we hear.
Power is generally oppressive and self-interested (and implicitly zero-sum).
Thus, most claims about supposedly objective truth are actually power plays, or strategies for legitimizing particular social arrangements.
So, among the SJW school of progressivism, to question the claims of a high-status person in the hierarchy of Oppression is to deny that those claims have any validity, which really means that you are denying the identity of the grievance-bearer.
The op-ed essay in question was written by Nikole Hannah-Jones, who is black. In it, she takes Sen. Kamala Harris’s side on the busing question, and slams Sen. Joe Biden as a fellow traveler of segregationists:
That we even use the word “busing” to describe what was in fact court-ordered school desegregation, and that Americans of all stripes believe that the brief period in which we actually tried to desegregate our schools was a failure, speaks to one of the most successful propaganda campaigns of the last half century. Further, it explains how we have come to be largely silent — and accepting — of the fact that 65 years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, black children are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid-1970s when Mr. Biden was working with Southern white supremacist legislators to curtail court-ordered busing.
The essay is actually well worth reading — seriously. Here’s what’s hard to understand, though, in that paragraph. If it’s true that “black children are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid-1970s,” then in what sense was busing not a failure? I guess Hannah-Jones means it was succeeding at its goal, until people (white people) decided they didn’t want their kids to go to school with black kids, and therefore declared that busing had “failed.”
Like Kamala Harris, I was one of those kids bused to white schools. Busing was part of a dsegregation plan Waterloo, Iowa, adopted using federal desegregation funds after being sued by the NAACP. Starting in second grade and all the way through high school, I rode a bus two hours a day. It was not always easy, but I am perplexed by the audacity of people who argue that the hardship of a long bus ride somehow outweighs the hardship of being deprived of a good education.
No, black kids should not have to leave their neighborhoods to attend a quality school, or sit next to white students to get a quality education. But we cannot be naïve about how this country works. To this day, according to data collected from the Education Department, the whiter the school, the more resources it has. We cannot forget that so many school desegregation lawsuits started with attempts by black parents to simply get equal resources for black schools. Parents demanded integration only after they realized that in a country that does not value black children the same as white ones, black children will never get what white children get unless they sit where white children sit.
I have spent most of my career chronicling the devastating effects of school segregation on black children. I have spent days in all-black schools with no heat and no textbooks. Where mold runs dark beneath the walls and rodents leave droppings on desks for students to clear in the mornings before they sit down. Where children spend an entire school year without an algebra teacher and graduate never having been assigned a single essay. And then I have driven a few miles down the road to a predominately white school, sometimes within the same district, sometimes in an adjacent one, and witnessed the best of American education. This is not to say that no white children attend substandard schools. But if there is a black school nearby, it is almost always worse.
The black students I talk to in schools that are as segregated as the ones their grandparents attended know it is like this because we do not think they deserve the same education as white children.
This is a choice we make.
The same people who claim they are not against integration, just busing as the means, cannot tell you what tactic they would support that would actually lead to wide-scale desegregation. So, it is an incredible sleight of hand to argue that mandatory school desegregation failed, while ignoring that the past three decades of reforms promising to make separate schools equal have produced dismal results for black children, and I would argue, for our democracy.
Before I write anything else, let me point out a couple of things. I was born in 1967, in a rural Southern parish where the population was (slightly) majority black. My generation was the first to attend integrated schools from the beginning. There was only one elementary school and one high school for the entire parish. Because it was a rural place, with a widely dispersed population, many of us rode the school bus for an hour or more each day. I did, because my mom drove the bus. “Busing” in the sense we’re talking about here did not exist in the integrated public school system I attended.
Now, nobody can doubt that school segregation was unjust, and that black schools received far fewer resources than white schools. “Separate but equal” was not only immoral, it was a lie. Segregation had to end.
The question here, though, is whether the end of segregation should have meant the end of laws mandating segregated schools, or whether it should have mandated positive actions meant to de-segregate school systems. The answer federal judges in the 1970s gave was: desegregation. Hence busing. It seems to me that Hannah-Jones is correct to say that people who oppose busing don’t have anything to offer regarding strategies for desegregating schools.
What she’s ignoring, though, is whether achieving desegregation (as distinct from ending segregation) was worth the political and social cost. She assumes that it was, and that the only reason busing failed was because racist whites wanted to keep their kids from going to school with black kids. Let’s acknowledge that there were plenty of racist whites who flat-out didn’t want their white kids studying with black kids. Shame on them. It’s impossible to watch this 1974 footage from anti-busing protests in Boston and to think that they were only motivated by civic concern, not racism.
But it’s also hard to watch it and think that race hatred explains everything. There’s a white woman in those clips — clearly white working class — who says it’s not fair that her kid can’t go to school at the school across the street, and instead has to be bused across the city. Why is she wrong to be upset by that? Wouldn’t a black parent be similarly upset? The busing-and-desegregation story is more complicated than the simplistic black-white dichotomy.
For one, if Hannah-Jones’s narrative is true, then there could have been no legitimate moral reason for white parents to resist busing. Wanting your kids to go to school in their neighborhood — nope. Wanting your kid to go to school in their neighborhood because you, as a parent, can be more involved there — nope. These are all covers for racism, in the Hannah-Jones view. Or at best, these reasons do not outweigh the moral requirement to achieve desegregation. In other words, reaching racial balance in public schools was such an overwhelming moral imperative that nothing legitimately stands in its way.
The education scholar Stuart Buck — a white man who is the adoptive father of two black children — wrote a fascinating book a few years ago about the “acting white” phenomenon as an “ironic legacy of desegregation.” In it, he documents how black educational achievement at all-black schools was higher than at desegregated schools, even when black schoolchildren had to work in much reduced material conditions. The reason, he theorizes, has to do with a sense of strong community ownership of schools in black communities; it was usually black schools and black teachers who lost out in desegregation. And it has to do with black kids having to deal with the intense stress of competing with whites, particularly in the context of an overall culture marked by the ideology of white supremacy. His book certainly is not a defense of segregation, but it does show how socially and psychologically complicated this story is.
It can’t be denied that white flight from integrated schools made a big difference in the failure of desegregation. But here’s another complicating factor: when black families got into the middle class, many of them left those same schools and headed to the suburbs. They weren’t racist; they wanted to get their kids away from poor black kids from dysfunctional families. Under segregation, they had no choice but to go to those schools. Were they wrong to want out? You might make that argument, but what you can’t do is call their decision racist.
In some places, liberal whites congratulate themselves on still sending their kids to public schools, even though their kids are a minority there. But this can be deceiving. In one Dallas school I wrote about when I lived there, the children of whites actually attended a kind of school-within-the-school, taking advanced courses in which their classes were predominantly white. A Latino school administrator complained to me (as a journalist) that the white liberals were getting credit (among themselves) for their commitment to public education, but in truth their kids didn’t have to deal with the down side of integration: the fact that kids who came from poor and working-class families often had to deal with a lot of family dysfunction that kept them from achieving educationally.
This was (is) a matter of class, and this was (is) a matter of culture. Liberal white friends of mine who teach in heavily minority public schools do so out of idealism, but the stories they tell about the conditions in the schools — regarding the kids’ behavior — are horrifying. One of these friends decided that whatever it took, his children would not attend public school in his district. It wasn’t a matter of the school being public; it was about the kind of public that attended those schools. The violence, the sexualization within those kids’ cultures, the stigmatization of educational achievement — all of these were things that teacher had to deal with every day in the classroom. He didn’t want it for his children.
One white liberal friend of mine quit teaching in her inner-city high school in Baton Rouge when a teenage black male she was trying to discipline told her that if she didn’t leave him alone, he was going to be waiting for her in the parking lot, and was going to rape her. That was the last straw for her. She did not feel safe at the school, and did not trust the administration to protect her. She left teaching, and took up another line of work. More recently, I spoke with an older black woman who quit teaching in a different (mostly-black) public school system after decades, because she could no longer bear the disorder among the students, and the contempt that their parents showed for teachers, and for the educational process. Was she racist too?
I cannot imagine that a black, Latino, or any minority parent who could spare their children such an educational environment would not do so. But this does not show up in Hannah-Jones’s analysis. It’s all about racism.
To be clear: I don’t doubt for a second that pure racism motivated many white parents back then. But I also don’t doubt that for many more white parents, motives were much more mixed than Hannah-Jones indicates.
Simply as a political matter, though, it’s pretty incredible that progressives want to bring up busing again as a cause to fight about in the presidential race. They’re holding up an ideal — achieving de facto desegregation — as something pristine and unchallengeable, and blaming anyone who dissents from it as motivated by bigotry. Maybe 1970s-era Joe Biden was a hypocrite. But he represented the views of his constituents. As this recent story in the Washington Post pointed out, busing was hugely unpopular:
Polling from that time, and for many years to follow, shows that Biden was swimming in the mainstream. Surveys consistently showed majority support for the Brown decision against separate-but-equal education but widespread opposition to using busing to achieve racial integration.
A 1972 Harris Poll found that only 20 percent of Americans favored “busing schoolchildren to achieve racial balance,” with 73 percent against it. A 1978 Washington Post poll found that 25 percent agreed that “racial integration of the schools should be achieved even if it requires busing.”
African Americans were more supportive than whites but also had concerns. John C. Brittain, a civil rights attorney who litigated school segregation cases in that era, noted it was usually black schools that closed, black teachers who were fired and black children who were forced to travel.
“African Americans always had to bear the brunt of implementing school integration,” Brittain said.
In a 1973 Gallup poll, just 9 percent of black respondents chose busing as the best way to achieve school integration from a list of options. The most popular was creating more housing for low-income people in middle-income neighborhoods.
Still, when asked directly by Gallup in 1981 whether they favored busing to achieve racial balance in schools, 60 percent of black respondents said yes, compared with 17 percent of whites.
Still, 40 percent of blacks opposing busing less than a decade after its success in physically desegregating schools is pretty damning.
So, yes, I think it is loony of the left to want to pick a public fight over school busing, especially if it makes voters think that a Democratic president would favor policies that encourage it. For older generations of Americans, busing is a condensed symbolof an entire worldview that sees people who oppose this or that left-liberal policy proposal as deplorables in need of smashing for the sake of justice. It appears that for certain progressives, opposition to busing is a condensed symbol for white intransigence. Identity politics is all about condensed symbols.
It is important and justified to talk about the de facto segregation of American schooling, and how we might overcome that. Yet a core conservative insight is that not every problem is solvable, or at least the solutions to particular problems might impose too high a cost in other areas to be worth it. That’s one way to look at busing as a solution to the desegregation challenge. Telling the American people that achieving certain racial ratios in public schools is a goal so important that no other considerations can be weighed against it, and if they don’t want to accept that judgment, that just shows how racist they are — well, progressives, good luck with that. Your moral absolutism and quickness to embrace the validation that comes with indignation blinds you to your own self-interest. You are making it so much easier for Donald Trump. You don’t want to hear that, but there it is.
leave a comment
The Totalitarian ‘They’
Sohrab Ahmari of the NYPost tweeted this:
Every once in a while stories pop up that seem custom-made for The Post, as if by the hand of Providence.
— Sohrab Ahmari (@SohrabAhmari) July 12, 2019
Yes indeed! My valve slammed shut when I read that.
Similarly, every once in a while a piece of journalism will appear that seems custom-made for this blog. In the case of New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo’s latest bit, in which he calls for the abolition of gendered language. Mind you, Manoo is not a columnist for the Oberlin student daily, but the most influential newspaper in the world. He says he’s a normal suburban dad, and doesn’t mind if you call him “he.” However:
But “he” is not what you should call me. If we lived in a just, rational, inclusive universe — one in which we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs, nor the ridiculous expectations signified by those parts about how we should act and speak and dress and feel — there would be no requirement for you to have to assume my gender just to refer to me in the common tongue.
Right. We’re the ones who are “irredeemably obsessed” with genitalia, not the progressives who can’t stop talking about it. More:
I think that’s too cautious; we should use “they” more freely, because language should not default to the gender binary. One truth I’ve come to understand too late in life is how thoroughly and insidiously our lives are shaped by gender norms. These expectations are felt most acutely and tragically by those who don’t conform to the standard gender binary — people who are transgender or nonbinary, most obviously.
But even for people who do mainly fit within the binary, the very idea that there is a binary is invisibly stifling. Every boy and girl feels this in small and large ways growing up; you unwittingly brush up against preferences that don’t fit within your gender expectations, and then you must learn to fight those expectations or strain to live within them.
You can’t understand *anyone* who doesn’t question *everything?*
Maybe other people are both more humble about their reasoning ability, and more grateful that hundreds or thousands of years of human practical experience supplies answers where individual abstract reasoning fails. https://t.co/nqiwOi2f0F
— Michael Brendan Dougherty (@michaelbd) July 12, 2019
Well, not only that, but Manjoo seems oblivious to the ideological privilege he has. Try questioning publicly “every inherited part of the culture and seek to justify it” when the inherited part of the office culture is the standard progressive roster of Thou Shalt Nots — including questioning the abandonment of the gender binary. I am writing this from Poland, which is in general a more culturally conservative country than the US. There are people who work for US-based multinationals who are afraid that they’re going to get fired if they object in any way to this stuff being introduced into their workplace via ukase from American HR departments.
Damon Linker has a great piece about how out-in-left-field-over-the-wall-into-the-bleachers-and-halfway-to-Albuquerque liberals have become on gender in just two shakes of RuPaul’s tail. Linker points out that Manjoo is not going out on any kind of limb here. This kind of gender radicalism is now part of everyday discourse in pop culture, advertising, media discourse, and in the catechisms generated by corporate HR departments. Here’s the most interesting part:
The first thing to be said about these convictions is that, apart from a miniscule number of transgender activists and postmodern theorists and scholars, no one would have affirmed any of them as recently as four years ago. There is almost no chance at all that the Farhad Manjoo of 2009 sat around pondering and lamenting the oppressiveness of his peers referring to “him” as “he.” That’s because (as far as I know) Manjoo is a man, with XY chromosomes, male reproductive organs, and typically male hormone levels, and a mere decade ago referring to such a person as “he” was considered to be merely descriptive of a rather mundane aspect of reality. His freedom was not infringed, or implicated, in any way by this convention. It wouldn’t have occurred to him to think or feel otherwise. Freedom was something else and about other things.
The emergence and spread of the contrary idea — that “gender is a ubiquitous prison of the mind” — can be traced to a precise point in time: the six months following the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, which declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right. Almost immediately after that decision was handed down, progressive activists took up the cause of championing transgender rights as the next front in the culture war — and here we are, just four short years later, born free but everywhere in chains.
Linker goes on to say that there is no limiting principle in any of this. It’s all rebellion:
A couple of months ago, when I was in Prague, I sat in a pizza joint interviewing three of the late Czech dissident Vaclav Benda’s adult sons. One of them said something that stuck with me. He was paraphrasing his father:
At the heart of all the totalitarian regimes is the idea of correcting the Creator and stealing your freedom so we can build the new world.
I went back last night to search my electronic copy of Benda’s essay collection The Long Night of the Watchman. I was looking to see if a phrase close to this turned up. I found this:
There are times when Christians do not realize that the idea of the forced establishment of paradise on earth and the emancipation of man with regard to any kind of higher authority comes from the same crucible as the idea of the improvement of sinners (or elimination of their occurrence) with the help of draconian laws, the idea of Christian dictatorship (totalitarianism): rebellion against the Creator stands at the root of all this, the same longing arbitrarily to correct imperfections in His work of creation.
An interesting point! I read on, though, and found this:
Totalitarianism devotes all its strength, all its technical know-how, towards a single goal: the unimpeded exercise of absolute power. It is capable of the most bizarre tactical somersaults imaginable, but it can never, under any circumstances, admit that anything is more important, more sacrosanct, than “the leading role of the party.”
Substitute “progressive towards diversity and inclusivity” for “the leading role of the party,” and you’ve got a pretty good general explanation for these weird manifestations like Manjoo’s column.
Benda said there can be no compromise with totalitarians:
One has either to submit oneself unconditionally to the violent and totalitarian power which sees a threat in every shadow and every free breath, or to confront it and to pit real strength against it (even if this is “mere” moral strength, for even that has shown many times in the history of Christian civilization how effective it can be). What is without any sense at all is to try to persuade the power that we mean well, and that we intend to limit its monopoly (its very essence!) only in its very own interest.
You do know that this stuff really is totalitarian, right? I bet Manjoo doesn’t. It’s totalitarian in part because it will tolerate no deviations. Take the time to read James Lindsay’s and Mike Nayna’s terrific piece analyzing Social Justice as a religion. They say that adherents to the cult aim to establish total power over society, to remake it in their ideal image. Excerpt:
That Social Justice defines the ideology motivating a moral tribe is instantaneously clear. Few communities of people organized around a shared moral vision aside from the most orthodox and fanatical religious sects and cults (whether religious or not) exhibit the traits of moral tribalism more overtly than Social Justice. That Social Justice represents a moral tribe is particularly evident in its tendency to police the moral behavior and thought within it and, where it can, reach outside of itself with what seems to be inexhaustible fervor and near-utter intolerance.
As dissident Benda observed when dealing with the Communist version of this fanatical mentality — which, you will notice, he said can happen also in a Christian context (Benda was a devout Catholic) — there is no peace to be made with these people. They cannot tolerate others, because their reason for being would cease to exist. To tolerate others is to co-exist with “Hate.”
Here, in another Benda passage, is another way that the Social Justice cult and its pomps and works is totalitarian. Remember, he’s writing in the 1980s, talking about Communism. But keep in mind how this applies to what we’re dealing with:
This decisive modus operandi of Czechoslovak totalitarianism is the atomization of society, the mutual isolation of individuals and the destruction of all bonds and facts which might overcome the isolation and manipulability of the individuals, which might enable them to relate to some sort of higher whole and meaning and thus determine their behavior in spheres beyond pure self-preservation and selfishness. I like to use the image of an “iron curtain” lowered not only between East and west, but also between the separate countries of the East (it is very noticeable that our contacts with the west increasingly take the form of an absolute idyll in comparison with the difficulties and adversity we encounter in establishing direct relationships with people from other Eastern countries), between separate social classes and groups, between separate communities, regions and enterprises. But iron curtains were and are lowered inside communities and enterprises too, and—when it comes down to it—even within families (we’ll leave aside curtains around individuals and in their inner selves, whose functioning would require a more subtle analysis). …
Hand in hand and in simple logical connection with the destruction of all social bonds is also the denial of any sort of truth which would be just somewhat impersonal and beyond current practical utility (not long ago I was shocked by young students’ simple unfamiliarity with orthodox Marxist terminology—even in their own schools they no longer try to pretend they are presenting some truths), the collapse and reduction of all values to nothing, the denial of any sort of order, morality and responsibility and eventually the particular perversion of freedom (that supreme gift of God), which is tolerated or even preferred only as mere license and arbitrariness.
As Linker avers, the Left is racing as far and as fast as it can to total atomization, and to unwittingly destroying any natural connections between individuals, and between individuals and objective reality. In Orwell’s 1984, the State sought to conquer Winston Smith’s mind by making him believe that all truth derived from what the Party said — and the Party decreed that all reality was in the mind. If the Party said that 2 + 2 = 5, then that was true. The Party, through its artificial language Newspeak, sought to change the way people talked so as to limit, even eliminate, the ability to think contrarian thoughts. In the end, it would not be enough for the Party to terrorize all opposition to Big Brother into silent submission; the Party’s ultimate goal was to make all souls love Big Brother.
Does this seem overwrought to you? After all, we’re just talking about a dopey column by a sweet, nerdy Millennial NYT columnist, right? See, though, this is exactly how this stuff gets institutionalized. As Linker points out, four years ago, what Manjoo claims in his piece is arbitrary and oppressive was so normal that nobody even thought about it. Now this kind of thing is quickly becoming orthodoxy within
the Inner Party leading progressive circles.
Manjoo engages in a classic piece of left-liberal rhetoric here, saying he wishes that our world were one
… in which we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs
See what he does here? The people who object to his absolutely radical proposal to alter English as it has been spoken for centuries, so that it can fit a bizarre model of biology that only a relative tiny elite of progressives accepts — hey, they’re the ones who are “obsessed” by meaningless flesh in people’s crotches. Fifteen years ago, progressives taunted those who questioned the wisdom of smashing the traditional model of marriage as being “obsessed” with what other people did behind closed doors, etc. The idea is to stigmatize norms as being arbitrary, irrational, and even immoral, as a way to pave the way for the uncompromising introduction of new norms … which are presented as obviously true and good.
Again: this is totalitarian. There’s no limiting principle within this insane ideology. If it’s going to be stopped, it’s going to be stopped by force. One hopes only moral force, and the force of voters pushing back as hard against it as it is pushing against us. One hopes by fighting like mad in the courts to stop it.
This morning in Poland, I am going to give a lecture on the Benedict Option to a group of Polish college students who are on a summer school focusing on theology and politics. I’m going to talk about the Ben Op in a mode that I rarely do: as giving them the kind of deep grounding and formation they need — spiritually, morally, intellectually, and in terms of fellowship and discipleship — to fight these fights. As in the case of Dr. Benda and the Czech dissidents, the day may come when the Party holds all the levers of power. Resistance will have to continue through other means. Doing the Ben Op now, though, means that we will have been formed in the mental, moral, and spiritual habits of resistance.
leave a comment
Karen’s FUS Story
Last night in Krakow, I met an American friend for dinner. She’s a Catholic, and a theological conservative. I guess the Jeffrey Epstein news back home came up, I’m not sure, but we quickly got to talking about the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. We discussed it for a while in the context of it being impossible to understand accurately through ideological lenses (e.g., the Bad Guys are the liberals, or the conservatives). I talked about how one of the most disillusioning things for me back in the early 2000s, when I was still Catholic, and writing about the scandal, was learning early on that my own “side” was equally as likely to have on it abusers, liars, and priests (and lay leaders) who were willing to do whatever it took to suppress knowledge of the scandal.
I told her about how, in early 2002, a priest tipped me off about Cardinal McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians. A day or two later, a prominent closeted gay Catholic conservative called my editor, saying he was representing Cardinal McCarrick personally, and asked my editor to kill the story. My editor refused, but in the end, I couldn’t write the piece, as nobody would go on the record. I discovered quickly that only one person was in a position to rat me out to McCarrick: the late Father Benedict Groeschel, who was a real hero to conservative Catholics back then. The priest who tipped me off told me that the only person he told about the story was his spiritual adviser, Father Groeschel. What the priest didn’t realize is that Groeschel ran for years a center that treated and released abusive priests. And he didn’t realize that men like Groeschel are almost always loyal to the System over truth and justice.
Later that year, I saw this work personally in a case when a Dallas Morning News journalist tried repeatedly to telephone Groeschel to get his side of a story involving the mishandling of an abuse case. Groeschel refused his repeated phone calls. The reporter called me out of the blue, wondering if I had an in with Groeschel, as I was a conservative Catholic like Groeschel. I did not. When the newspaper finally published the story, Groeschel went ballistic, and issued a press release lying about the reporter’s attempts to contact him. Of course Father Groeschel’s legions of supporters bought it hook, line, and sinker, because no good conservative Catholic friar would deceive people to cover up for clerical abusers, right?
Groeschel finally stepped down from his popular EWTN program after he gave an interview in which he said that minors abused by priests are sometimes the aggressors in these cases, and that first-time offenders shouldn’t necessarily go to jail, because they may not have meant to do it.
This morning I’ve read a gut-wrenching “open letter” to particular leaders (at least one of them now dead) at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, from “Karen,” a young woman who was sexually abused by a now-deceased priest there. In her letter, she details the entire process of her abuse at the hands of a priest there who led student ministry, and how specific figures at FUS protected him, and encouraged her to stay quiet about it. (Much of this story was told last year in a long piece in National Catholic Reporter.) She eventually reached a settlement with the university over the abuse, but refused to sign a confidentiality clause — which I suppose is why she feels at liberty to make these allegations in public now. Excerpts:
Fr. Christian Oravec, your failure disappointed me the most. Considering the extensive list above, this claim carries a lot of weight. You worked through the settlement with me. It was a long and painful process. Yet, months after completing this settlement, you and Fr. Mike Scanlan allowed a very public memorial and dedication of the Portiuncula to Fr. Sam, complete with a poster size glossy photo of him placed in the Portiuncula. I don’t know whose idea it was, and all the people involved, but you knew the truth and allowed it. A failure that pierced my heart.
Fr. Christian Oravec, you and your lawyer insisted on a confidentiality clause, and I refused. You and your lawyer insisted on so many things, and I refused them because they defied the charter from the USCCB on handling these matters. You said that, as a religious order, you were not bound by those rules. I still wonder how many women there are who are not free to speak up, because you bound them in your web of silence? The USCCB called for integrity and honesty. You claimed exemption. You failed all of the women that are bound in these clauses. If you truly want Integrity and Truth, unbind these women tell their stories and be free of the burden of silence you have placed on them.
Fr. Christian Oravec, you failed every victim after me. I fought to include a clause in my settlement where you would create a system of advocacy and care for victims. You signed a legal document agreeing to set this system up to help victims avoid the hell I went through in the process. You legally agreed to protect future victims and provide an advocate to help them through the process. Then you never set this up. It has been over 13 years, and victims are still being misled, manipulated, lied to, and treated as the enemy. You promised to help these women, but you failed them, and you failed me. You failed deeply.
Fr Christian Oravec, Fr. Nicholas Polichnowski, and Fr. Richard Davis: you were the minister provincials after my settlement. I don’t know exactly where the disconnect happened, but NONE of you made sure the legal requirement signed off on by Fr. Christian was followed through on. Actually, the settlement seems to have disappeared from Fr. Sam’s file. Maybe it was never placed in there – or maybe it was removed? I don’t know by who or when. But, the cover-up goes to the top.
FUS outed Fr. Sam as an abusive priest last fall, but a month prior to that, Fr. Richard Davis shocked us by the news that Fr. Sam’s file with the province was empty except for family contacts. Where are the documents from my case? Where is my settlement? What about his loss of faculties imposed by the diocese of Steubenville? Where is the information about his stay at the treatment center? And all the other women who came forward – where are they? Minister Provincials of the Sacred Heart Province, you have failed me with your complicity in this cover up. You have failed all the victims after me by not following through on the advocate system you agreed to.
In April 2019, FUS released the results of an independent review of its files, which found five priests, including Fr Sam Tiesi, who are believed by the university to have sexually abused at least one person. And yet, if “Karen,” author of the open letter, is telling the truth, then no one involved in the decades-long cover-up has been brought to account for it. Faithful Catholic mothers and fathers are sending their children to this university, which is renown for its orthodoxy, and into the hands of a leadership that has not yet come clean on what happened, and how it happened.
I don’t know how many of the men Karen names are still alive. Father Sam Tiesi is dead, as is Father Christian Oravec, who was the provincial of the particular Franciscan religious order that runs the university. Still, if Karen’s letter is credible, it describes a deep and extensive culture of corruption, one that has to be confronted and exorcised (I speak metaphorically). If things have changed there in the past few years, I hope the current leadership will address Karen’s allegations, in detail, to reassure the faithful. If they haven’t changed, I hope the current FUS leadership — especially its new president — will admit these failures frankly, and commit itself to real and verifiable change. That is the only way to rebuild any kind of credibility.
If Karen is not telling the truth, or exaggerating, that needs to come out too. What is no longer acceptable is silence. Here in Poland, a conservative Catholic man in his 20s told me that there are a number of conservative bishops who are still under the illusion that people believe what they say simply because they are bishops, and hold authority. Even in a country as devout as Poland, episcopal credibility among the younger generations is shot even among many churchgoing Catholics, at least according to what I’ve been told. These young people grew up on the Internet. They know what happened in America, and elsewhere — and they don’t think that their own country is immune.
This is not simply a case of liberal vs. conservative. It never was. Not long ago, I was in conversation with a Catholic friend about all this. She said that she had given up any hope, however thin, that Pope Francis would clean up the Church. She said, “I don’t think the bishops have any idea how furious the laity are at them.” Finally she threw up her hands and said, “Burn it all down, and let’s start again from the ruins.” What she meant was that she’s so sick and tired of the corruption that she would rather stand out in a field praying with Catholics who wanted Christ more than anything else, and who cherished truth, as opposed to institutionalists who are devoted to protecting each other’s power and position more than anything else.
The friend who said that to me is really conservative, and devout. I bet she never imagined in this or any lifetime that she would be saying things like this.
In Poland, as in every other country in the former Eastern Europe that I’ve visited in researching my book, I’ve heard older Catholics say that the sex abuse scandal is just starting to arrive here, but they are sure that this is a campaign against the Catholic Church, and that there’s nothing to it. Meanwhile, the younger Catholics I talk to say otherwise. They say that a long-overdue reckoning is finally at hand.
leave a comment
Oskar Schindler’s Factory
Earlier this week, I thought I would go out to visit Auschwitz today. The town of Oswiecim is about an hour and a half from Krakow, and there are lots of tour buses headed there. Yesterday, though, I was warned against it by a couple of people in Krakow. They said that I absolutely should go, but that I should be aware that nothing can prepare you for it — especially the massive scale of the death factory. Because I have to be prepared to lecture at a Benedictine abbey this weekend, my friends said that I would be taking a risk by going to Auschwitz. It could take me some time to recover. One of my friends said that she speaks from painful personal experience.
“Go next time you’re here,” she said. “And if you can, go with a loved one.”
Instead, I went today to visit Oskar Schindler’s factory in Krakow, which the city has turned into a museum memorializing the experience of Krakow under Nazi occupation (1939-1945). If you’ve seen Schindler’s List, you know that he was a minor Nazi industrialist who ended up saving the lives of about 1,200 Jews by employing them in his Krakow enamel factory. When the Nazis began liquidating the Krakow Jewish ghetto, Schindler devoted himself to protecting his Jewish workers. Schindler used his Nazi insider connections, and paid extensive bribes, to keep them alive. By the war’s end, Schindler had exhausted his fortune on his mission of mercy. He is the only Nazi Party member buried with honor on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
When they conquered Poland, the Nazis established their headquarters for the “General Government,” their term for German-occupied Poland, in Krakow. They turned on the city’s large Jewish population at once. Here is a photo from the museum showing German soldiers amusing themselves by shaving a Jew’s sidecurls and beard:
The governor was Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer and an occultist. He wrote in 1941:
A great Jewish migration will begin in any case. But what should we do with the Jews? Do you think they will be settled in Ostland, in villages? We were told in Berlin, ‘Why all this bother? We can do nothing with them either in Ostland or in the Reichskommissariat. So liquidate them yourselves.’ Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourself of all feelings of pity. We must annihilate the Jews wherever we find them and whenever it is possible.
In the museum, you turn a corner and see these … and it stops you cold:
And there’s this on the wall, from one of Hans Frank’s deputies, in his statement announcing the closing the Jagiellonian University:
More — this from a German radio propaganda broadcast proclaiming the glories of life for ethnic Germans in Nazi-occupied Poland:
The Nazis wanted to eliminate all cultural memory of the Poles as a people, to grind them down into slaves:
The Jews they simply wanted to murder … but not straightaway. Here’s what the entrance to the Krakow ghetto looked like:
A Nazi propaganda poster proclaiming that Jews spread typhus:
It’s a kind of pun in Polish, saying that “there are lice called typhus”; “Zydzi wyzy tyfus” (without “plamisty”) means “there are all typhoid Jews.”
I didn’t have any great epiphanies in this museum. The effect was jarring, though: to come face to face with extreme evil — and this wasn’t remotely Auschwitz! I left the Schindler factory grateful that my friends had warned me about what confronting the great evil of the concentration camp would likely do to me. The reality of human evil is excruciating to face. Those are banal words, I know. But I tell you, having walked down the beautiful, charming streets of Krakow’s old town on my first day here, and then going to this museum and seeing film and photographs of Nazi soldiers parading in the same spaces — man, that shakes you up.
(A practical note for visitors to the Schindler factory: get your tickets in advance, online; they only let a certain number of visitors in at a given hour, to keep it from being too crowded.)
In the museum, I learned that “Schindler’s Jews” lived incredibly punishing, difficult lives, but they were the luckiest Jews of all — not just because they survived, but also because as hard as their lives were, they had it better than all other Jews living under Nazi terror.
I have long believed that the Holocaust was the most important event of the 20th century. It proves that no matter how culturally and technologically sophisticated we may be, we can revert to rank barbarism overnight. Solzhenitsyn warned readers of The Gulag Archipelago to be aware that what happened in Russia could happen anywhere on earth. It’s also true about what happened in Germany … and in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Let me end by saying that anybody who seriously compares what is happening anywhere in America today — however bad it may be — to what the Nazis did to Jews and others they hated should be ashamed. Just stop. Don’t go there. We have to keep the language for extreme evil like this pure, so what the Nazis did does not lose its power to shock the conscience.
leave a comment
View From Your Table
At it again in Krakow — at a different Georgian restaurant from the other night. If you haven’t read this great New Yorker piece by Lauren Collins about Georgian cooking, run, don’t walk. It’s as unusual and as delicious as they say.
That’s not a very exciting photo, I admit, because I couldn’t position it right. Here’s a better one, taken from the viewpoint of my dining companion. Here is Self eating his first-ever Georgian pork soup dumpling (called “khinkali” in the plural):
In other culinary news from Krakow, I went today to Szambelan, a nifty little shop that sells flavored vodkas from jars. You taste what you like, then ask them to fill a bottle of the size you choose. They package it to travel:
I bought a little bottle of the plum and cherry vodka, on the bottom right. I liked the honey and black pepper vodka, but it struck me as a harder sell to the guests I’m bound to have sitting around the fire in the dead of winter.
Tomorrow I’m headed up to the thousand-year-old Benedictine abbey at Tyniec to give a couple of talks, and spend the weekend hanging out with monks and professors and students. I’m going to have to get in touch with that Georgian restaurant (Smaki Gruzji) to see if they can make a pillow-sized pork soup dumpling upon which I can lay my head, to guarantee sweet dreams.