As Christians in Sri Lanka gathered on Sunday morning to celebrate Easter Mass, the culmination of Holy Week, powerful explosions ripped through three churches packed with worshipers, leaving hundreds of victims amid a havoc of splintered and blood-spattered pews.
In what the police said were coordinated terrorist attacks carried out by a single group, bombers also struck three hotels popular with tourists. At least 207 people were killed and 450 others injured, a police spokesman, Ruwan Gunasekera, said.
News of the bombings, the largest attack on South Asian Christians in recent memory, rippled out all Easter morning, interrupting celebrations across the world. Pope Francis, after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square, said the attacks had “brought mourning and sorrow” on the most important of Christian holidays.
• The bombings began around 8:45 a.m., and targeted Roman Catholic houses of worship — St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the capital; St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo; and Zion Church in Batticaloa — along with three luxury hotels: the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand, and the Kingsbury, all in Colombo.
• At least seven suspects were held in connection with the bombings, Sri Lanka’s defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, said. He said that suicide bombers had been behind the explosions.
Who did it? We don’t know yet. No one has claimed responsibility. But Time reports:
News agency AFP says it has seen documents that show that Sri Lankan police have been on the alert for several days, fearing that suicide bombers from a local radical Muslim group, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) were targeting prominent churches.
AFP also reported that Sri Lankan police seized a haul of explosives and detonators in January after arresting four men “from a newly formed radical Muslim group.”
A number of Sri Lankan Muslims were known to have joined ISIS in Syria, according to Reuters.
Sri Lankan Muslim organizations have strongly condemned the bombings.
On Easter Sunday! We live in an age of martyrs.
Our reader and regular commenter Hector is of Sri Lankan heritage. Hector, is there news from your family back in Sri Lanka? I hope and pray they are safe.
Dogs are a tool of white supremacy and gentrification. That’s not just my opinion. There is research that shows how white newcomers dogwalking routes stake out territory. And white owners user their pets to socialize with other white owners excluding minorities. https://t.co/KoHnYAUQf6
— Bernie Seders (@TheHipsterRebbe) April 19, 2019
Bernie Seders subsequently tweeted a citation to this academic paper by a University of Massachusetts sociologist as his source. The abstract reads:
In human–animal studies, dogs are often framed as promoters of interactions among strangers. Yet very few of these studies discuss how racial structure shapes human‐to‐human engagement. Similarly, race scholarship and urban studies have failed to incorporate human–animal studies fully to better understand racial dynamics and inequality in U.S. cities. I use in‐depth interview data from an 18‐month study of Creekridge Park, an urban, multiracial, and mixed‐income neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina, to explore the role of dogs for white residents. I focus on identifying if dogs helped bridge social differences between white residents and their Black and Latinx neighbors in a racially and economically diverse neighborhood. I find that while my white respondents shared many examples of dogs facilitating neighborly relationships and friendship, these relationships were largely between same‐race individuals. By reinforcing a white, urban, middle‐class habitus, white residents used dogs to maintain interracial boundaries and feelings of safety, as well as navigate racial‐ethnic differences between themselves and their Black and Latinx neighbors. These findings point to the necessity of more research that addresses racial structure and human–animal studies to better understand contemporary urban spaces.
Look, I have uncovered more proof that dogs are racist. It cannot be a coincidence that this whiteness-incarnating dog is white.
Tell me again how Donald Trump got elected?
I’ve been reading today To Begin Where I Am, selected essays of the Polish poet and thinker Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004). Here is a passage from “If Only This Could Be Said,” in which Milosz attempts to articulate his religious beliefs. He was a liberal intellectual, and also a believing Catholic, though his faith involved real struggle between the rigid piety that was the ineradicable inheritance of his youth, and both his carnality and awareness of his own weakness.
Here, perhaps, is where I part ways with many people with whom I would like to be in solidarity but cannot be. To put it very simply and bluntly, I must ask if I believe that the four Gospels tell the truth. My answer to this is: “Yes.” So I believe in an absurdity, that Jesus rose from the dead? Just answer without any of those evasions and artful tricks employed by theologians: “Yes or no?” I answer: “Yes,” and by that response I nullify death’s omnipotence. If I am mistaken in my faith, I offer it as a challenge to the Spirit of the Earth. He is a powerful enemy; his field is the world as mathematical necessity, and in the face of earthly powers how weak an act of faith in the incarnate God seems to be.
Hypocrisy and exaltation: struggling with my two souls, I cannot break free of them. One: passionate, fanatical, unyielding in its attachment to discipline and duty, to the enemy of the world; Manichaean, identifying sex with the work of the Devil. The other: reckless, pagan, sensual, ignoble, perfidious. And how could the ascetic in me, with the clenched jaws, think well of that other me?…
Here is a rich passage in which Milosz reflects on the dispossession of Catholics in the post-Vatican II world:
Nowadays, we tend to exaggerate the difficulty of having faith; in the past, when religion was a matter of custom, very few people would have been able to say what and how they believed. There existed an intermediary stratum of half-conscious convictions, as it were, supported by trust in the priestly caste. The division of social functions also occurred in the field of religion. “Ordinary” mortals turned to the priests, setting the terms of an unwritten contract: We will till the soil, go to war, engage in trade, and you will mutter prayers for us, sprinkle holy water, perform pious singing, and preserve in your tomes knowledge about what we must believe in. An important component of the aura that surrounded me in my childhood was the presence of clergy, who were distinguished from those around them by their clothing, and in daily life and in church by their gestures and language. The soutane, the chasuble, the priest’s ascending the steps before the altar, his intonations in Latin, in the name of and in lieu of the faithful, created a sense of security, the feeling that there is something in reserve, something to fall back on as a last resort; that they, the priestly caste, do this “for us.” Men have a strong need for authority, and I believe this need was unusually strong in me; when the clergy took off their priestly robes after Vatican II, I felt that something was lacking. Ritual and theater are ruled by similar laws: we know that the actor dressed up as a king is not a king, or so it would seem, but to a certain extent we believe that he is. The Latin, the shimmering chasubles, the priest’s position with his face toward the altar and his back to the faithful, made him an actor in a sacral theater. After Vatican II the clergy shed not only their robes and Latin but also, at least here, where I write this, the language of centuries-old formulas which they had used in their sermons. When, however, they began speaking in the language of newspapers, their lack of intellectual preparation was revealed, along with the weakness of timid, often unprepossessing people who showed deference to “the world,” which we, the laity, had already had enough of.
The child who dwells inside us trusts that there are wise men somewhere who know the truth. That is the source of the beauty and passion of intellectual pursuits — in philosophical and theological books, in lecture halls. Various “initiations into mystery” were also said to satisfy that need, be it through the alchemist’s workshop or acceptance into a lodge (let us recall Mozart’s Magic Flute). As we move from youthful enthusiasms to the bitterness of maturity, it becomes ever more difficult to anticipate that we will discover the center of true wisdom, and then one day, suddenly, we realize that others expect to hear dazzling truths from us (literal or figurative) graybeards.
Among Catholics that process was until recently eased by the consciousness that the clergy acted in a dual function: as actors of the sacred theater and as the “knowledgeable caste,” the bearers of dogmas dispensed, as if from a treasure house, by the center, the Vatican. By democratizing and anarchizing, up to and including the realm of what, it would seem, were the unassailable truths of faith, aggiornamento also struck a blow at the “knowing” function of the clergy. An entirely new and unusual situation arose in which, at least in those places where I was able to observe this, the flock at best tolerates its shepherds, who have very little idea of what to do. Because man is Homo ritualis, a search takes place for collectively created Form, but it is obvious that any liturgy (reaching deep into one or another interpretation of dogma) which is elaborated communally, experimentally, cannot help but take shape as a relative, interhuman Form.
Perhaps this is how it should be, and these are the incomprehensible paths of the Holy Spirit, the beginning of man’s maturity and of a universal priesthood instead of a priesthood of one caste? I do not want this to sound like an admission that the Protestant isolation of individuals is correct, on the basis of which each individual may treat religion as a completely personal matter; this is delusive and leads to unconscious social dependencies. It would be useless for man to try to touch fire with his bare hands; the same is true of the mysterious, sacral dimension of being, which man approaches only through metaxu, as Simone Weil calls it, through intermediaries such as fatherland, customs, language. It is true that although I would characterize my religion as childishly magical, formed on its deepest level by the metaxu which surrounded me in my childhood, it was the adhesions of Polishness in Catholicism that later distanced me from the Church. …
You may not know that Milosz went into a Western exile from communism in the 1950s. More:
Though circumstances disconnected me from the community of those praying in Polish, this does not mean that the “communal” side of Catholicism vanished for me. Quite the contrary; the coming together of a certain number of people to participate in something that exceeds them and unites them is, for me, one of the greatest of marvels, of significant experiences. Even though the majority of those who attend church are elderly (this was true two and three generations ago, too, which means that old age is a vocation, an order which everyone enters in turn), these old people, after all, were young however many years ago and not overly zealous in their practice at that time. It is precisely the frailty, the human infirmity, the ultimate human aloneness seeking to be rescued in the vestibule of the church, in other words, the subject of godless jokes about religion being for old ladies and grandfathers — it is precisely this that affords us transitory moments of heartbreaking empathy and establishes communion between “Eve’s exiles.” Sorrow and wonder intermingle in it, and often it is particularly joyous, as when, for example, fifteen thousand people gather in the underground basilica in Lourdes and together create a thrilling new mass ritual. Not inside the four walls of one’s room or in lecture halls or libraries, but through communal participation the veil is parted and for a brief moment the space of Imagination, with a capital I, is visible. Such moments allow us to recognize that our imagination is paltry, limited, and that the deliberations of theologians and philosophers are cut to its measure and therefore are completely inadequate for the religion of the Bible. Then complete, true imagination opens like a grand promise and the human privilege of recovery, just as William Blake prophesied.
Ought I to try to explain “why I believe”? I don’t think so. It should suffice if I attempt to convey the coloring or tone. If I believed that man can do good with his own powers, I would have no interest in Christianity. But he cannot, because he is enslaved to his own predatory, domineering instincts, which we may call proprium, or self-love, or the Specter. The proposition that even if some good is attainable by man, he does not deserve it, can be proved by experience. Domineering impulses cannot be rooted out, and they often accompany the feeling that one has been chosen to be a passive instrument of the good, that one is gifted with a mission; thus, a mixture of pride and humility, as in Mickiewicz, but also in so many other bards and prophets, which also makes it the motivator of action. This complete human poverty, since even what is most elevated must be supported and nourished by the aggression of the perverse “I” is, for me, an argument against any and all assumptions of a reliance on the natural order.
Evil grows and bears fruit, which is understandable, because it has logic and probability on its side and also, of course, strength. The resistance of tiny kernels of good, to which no one grants the power of causing far-reaching consequences, is entirely mysterious, however. Such seeming nothingness not only lasts but contains within itself enormous energy which is revealed gradually. One can draw momentous conclusions from this: despite their complete entanglement in earthly causality, human beings have a role in something that could be called superterrestrial causality, and thanks to it they are, potentially, miracle workers. The more harshly we judge human life as a hopeless undertaking and the more we rid ourselves of illusions, the closer we are to the truth, which is cruel. Yet it would be incomplete if we were to overlook the true “good news,” the news of victory. It may be difficult for young people to attain it. Only the passing of years demonstrates that our own good impulses and those of our contemporaries, if only short-lived, do not pass without a trace. This, in turn, inclines us to reflect on the hierarchical structure of being. If even creatures so convoluted and imperfect can accomplish something, how much more might creatures greater than they in the strength of their faith and love accomplish? And what about those who are even higher than they are? Divine humanity, the Incarnation, presents itself as the highest rung on this hierarchical ladder. To move mountains with a word is not for us, but this does not mean that it is impossible. Were not Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John miracle workers by virtue of their having written the Gospels?
What a marvelous writer! I’m going to be in Poland this summer; I hope to go pray at his grave in Krakow.
A blessed Easter to all you Western Christians celebrating the Resurrection (we Orthodox have another week to go). Weirdly enough, this Nicholas Kristof interview with the Rev. Serene Jones, who heads the progressive Union Theological Seminary in New York City, made me realize that theologically liberal Christians (as distinct from politically liberal Christians) observe a different religion. Excerpts:
Isn’t a Christianity without a physical resurrection less powerful and awesome? When the message is about love, that’s less religion, more philosophy.
For me, the message of Easter is that love is stronger than life or death. That’s a much more awesome claim than that they put Jesus in the tomb and three days later he wasn’t there. For Christians for whom the physical resurrection becomes a sort of obsession, that seems to me to be a pretty wobbly faith. What if tomorrow someone found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie? No, faith is stronger than that.
Nope, it would be a total lie. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
What about other miracles of the New Testament? Say, the virgin birth?
I find the virgin birth a bizarre claim. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ message. The virgin birth only becomes important if you have a theology in which sexuality is considered sinful. It also promotes this notion that the pure, untouched female body is the best body, and that idea has led to centuries of oppressing women.
Prayer is efficacious in the sense of making us feel better, but do you believe it is efficacious in curing cancer?
I don’t believe in a God who, because of prayer, would decide to cure your mother’s cancer but not cure the mother of your nonpraying neighbor. We can’t manipulate God like that.
What happens when we die?
I don’t know! There may be something, there may be nothing. My faith is not tied to some divine promise about the afterlife. …
What is the point of any of this? Seriously, why bother? I don’t believe in Islam, for example, but I can see why one would. I don’t believe in Pentecostal Christianity, but it’s no mystery to me why many people do. And so forth.
But a Christianity that doesn’t believe in the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection? There’s more substance in a piece of lemon icebox pie, and certainly more joy. A person earns her M.Div (summa cum laude) from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Yale University … for this? Not only is this credo completely and utterly divorced from Christianity, there is also no power in it. At all. It’s a bourgeois Manhattan version of the prayer of the old waiter in Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”:
“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”
You want to see the power of the Christian faith made manifest? Look at this clip from a bow-legged black woman born into poverty in New Orleans, the daughter of a dock worker and a house maid. She was baptized in the Mississippi River, and though she never went to college to study theology, she was a true theologian, because she knew God. Look and listen. If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then Mahalia Jackson’s witness is a lie, and her faith was in vain. If Mahalia Jackson was deceived, and the Rev. Serene Jones has it right, then to hell with the Christian faith. If the witness of Mahalia Jackson’s life and art was true, then hallelujah, the Son of the Virgin who died on a cross is risen indeed!
My Aunt Patsy died a couple of weeks ago. Today my cousins, her kids, were sorting her papers, and found this poem that her husband, Uncle Murphy, read at a going-away party my family held for me in 1983, when I left home to start my junior year at a residential high school. I had forgotten about the poem. Either Murphy (who died in ’87) or Patsy, or perhaps both of them, wrote it. My mom told me that Murphy recited it. I come from a very funny clan. Finding this in my in-box tonight delighted me:
You might recall that one of the greatest gifts ever came to me from Murphy and Patsy just a few months before they wrote that poem. I owe them so much, those two. May their memory be eternal!
What’s in this video is what purports to be audio of a meeting between Middlebury College students and faculty over the botched Ryszard Legutko speech this week. There is some profanity in it, so you might not want to listen to it with the audio up. But it has been subtitled by Mike Nayna, who released it:
A Middlebury College student contacted me with an audio recording of a student/faculty meeting about the Ryszard Legutko cancellation. He was concerned about what took place and wanted help to get it out so I put a video together for him – https://t.co/ece2U2JCug
— Mike Nayna (@MikeNayna) April 19, 2019
The recording begins with an unnamed faculty member apologizing to a group of students for having failed them — the failure being not preventing Legutko, a Polish professor and statesman, from coming to campus to speak. Then, we hear an unnamed student, in a state of agitation, claiming that “marginalized” students have had their “academic freedom” compromised because the presence of Legutko upset them so much that they cannot learn. The student says that it was offensive for the head of the poli sci department to tell angry students that they should come to the Legutko lecture with questions that can expose Legutko’s “problematic” beliefs (specifically, the Polish philosopher, a believing Catholic, espouses what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality).
The student says that it is an intolerable burden to expect “marginalized” students to expose the wickedness of a homophobe like Legutko. “I agree,” says the faculty member, who says that this approach must extend to race as well.
Another student demands — demands! — apologies from the political science department for having invited Legutko, “a raging f-cking homophobe.”
A professor encourages the students to keep up their activism. “You should be outraged,” she says.
It’s important that you listen at least to the YouTube presentation — even if you do so silently, reading the subtitles. It is a shocking disgrace. These entitled students demanding the right to dictate who can and cannot come to the college, and demanding that the political science professors be humiliated publicly over it. These faculty members capitulating to these privileged punks, and encouraging them to continue working, de facto, to destroy the university.
There it is. None of those people belong at Middlebury. They do not understand what education is for. People on the outside, though, should know about the moral and intellectual collapse of Middlebury College.
UPDATE: Some of you are asking, “Why are you paying attention to this stuff on Good Friday?” Reminder: I am Eastern Orthodox; next week is our Holy Week this year.
UPDATE.2: Reader Sandster:
I was cringing too hard to make it through the entire video. Good Lord man, how embarrassing. “I demand …” Get outta here with that BS.
Where outside the West would this nonsense be tolerated?
When people hear this or read about Drag Queen Story Hour or see a man win a woman’s sporting event, they think about the Democratic Party. I don’t care how much healthcare and free college you promise, some of us can not wrap our heads around voting for a party that affirms so much of these trendy, society-rattling passions.
Today I read about some famous person’s six-year-old child coming out as transsexual. That is far more dangerous than anything Trump has ever said or done.
But it also reminded me of the question of beauty in modernity. By which I mean: Can our civilization ever create anything of comparable beauty to Notre-Dame, or indeed the archipelago of cathedrals across Europe, stemming from the middle ages? I can’t see it. The core criteria for creating modern architecture — even if it is not brutally ugly or mediocre — are usefulness and cost. Beauty — even if it is formally considered in architecture — is usually subordinate. Even if you survey modern cathedrals, there is a lack of detail, and an absence of the kind of skill that enabled the twelfth century to construct marvels beyond our capacity. We have technique in abundance; we have technology that would have appeared as magic to the designers of Notre-Dame; we have wealth beyond measure in comparison. But even the architectural baubles of our new religion — think of Apple’s new headquarters, for example — contain nothing as complex or as overwhelming or as awe-inspiring as the rose stained glass window of an eleventh century masterpiece.
I’m not saying I want to go back to the Middle Ages. We have gained a staggering amount of peace, security, freedom, health and knowledge. Theocracy is no longer an option. But they had something we don’t, didn’t they? A unifying vision of the whole of life and death, a common, metaphysically-rooted faith, and an enchantment modernity has banished. I think of these cathedrals as they must have appeared at the time to peasants on a pilgrimage, looming on the horizon like a space-ship compared to the misery and brutality of life in that era, overwhelming the senses, commanding awe and devotion, reifying faith in an almost unanswerable way. When we see Notre-Dame burn, we see the reality of our time: that this exquisite kind of architectural beauty is never going to be summoned up again, nor the souls who imagined it, nor the human beings who crafted every inch of it with love.
Along these lines, here is Alan Jacobs, waxing elegiac about the fact that since 1905, the French state has owned the churches of France, having expropriated them in the name of anti-clericalism. From Jacobs’s piece:
I have no idea what the Ministry of Culture will decide to do, but I seriously doubt that Catholic Christians will have any real say in the matter. Oh, to be sure, bishops and priests and a few devout laypeople will be assigned to committees. But they’ll have no ability to dictate or even to veto. Bureaucrats may decide that the principles of PR recommend a respectful stance towards believers, and no doubt they’ll make friendly noises. But I don’t see how the final product can fail to embody the interests of the European technocratic elite, as opposed to those of faithful Christians.
And that’s one of the more significant elements of this story: What it reminds us about the long and complex intertwining of the western church with the modern nation-state. You can’t understand the current rebuilding project without understanding the crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III, in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Day of the year 800; and Pope Gregory VII’s role the Investiture Controversy, with its culmination in the humiliation of Henry IV in the snow at Canossa; and the emergence of the Cuius regio, eius religioprinciple in the Reformation era; and the violent dechristianizing of France during the Revolution; and the vain struggle of Pio Nono against the unification of Italy, ending in the elimination of the Papal States and the loss of all secular power for the Papacy; and the emergence of the Deutsche Christen in the Nazi era, when German pastors competed with one another to defend the celebrate the subservience of (especially but not only) the Lutherans to Hitler.
That long slow transfer of power is over now. The tiger the Church hoped to tame has eaten it. The building on the Île de la Cité dedicated 800 years ago to the Blessed Virgin Mary belongs wholly to the bureaucrats now. The rest of us will just have to stand by to see what they do with it.
Because Notre Dame did not burn to the ground, there is a limit to how far the modernist architectural desecrators can go. That is not a small blessing. A reader e-mails to say the medieval Coventry Cathedral, which was substantially reduced to rubble by the Luftwaffe in 1940, and which was rebuilt in the early 1960s, shows us what horrors the elites are capable of. Think of Sully’s words about the medievals … and about us: “But they had something we don’t, didn’t they? A unifying vision of the whole of life and death, a common, metaphysically-rooted faith, and an enchantment modernity has banished.”
The Nazi barbarians destroyed a medieval cathedral. Christians replaced it with Our Lady of The Department Of Motor Vehicles:
The reader, an Australian traveling in Spain, writes:
This was taken in Córdoba at the Taberna de Viana.
Food: Salmorejo Cordobés con Jamón y Huevo / Salmorejo from Cordoba with
cured ham and eggs
Wine: Fino Marin from Córdoba
Meanwhile, on a less elevated level, but still, a fascinating photo:
Here are a few thoughts about the Mueller report, with something to offend everyone.
First, it’s true: there was no collusion, or at least not enough evidence to make it worth bringing to a trial, either in court or in an impeachment proceeding. To learn this about the President of the United States ought to be a relief to everyone. It’s not, obviously, but it should be. The trauma of an impeachment proceeding hinging on whether or not the President of the United States was a de facto traitor would have been a terrible thing for the country to endure. We have dodged a bullet. I think this tweet by TAC editor Jim Antle is correct:
Mueller was unlikely to precipitate a constitutional crisis based on a close call. We know he viewed obstruction of justice as a close call. Big question raised by fuller report is whether collusion was a closer call than Barr summary implied.
— Jim Antle (@jimantle) April 18, 2019
I don’t understand, though, why so many conservatives are exultant. OK, so there was no smoking gun. Hooray. But good grief, look at the scuzziness that Mueller did find. It’s shameful, and it’s depressing to have to confront that this is the level to which we have sunk as a country. I’ve never been a Never Trumper, but Never Trumper David French is right: the president is a compulsive liar. French writes:
I’ve finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, even I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel’s Office. We’ve become accustomed to Trump making up his own facts on matters great and small, but to see the extent to which his virus infected his entire political operation is sobering. And the idea that anyone is treating this report as “win” for Trump, given the sheer extent of deceptions exposed (among other things), demonstrates that the bar for his conduct has sunk so low that anything other than outright criminality is too often brushed aside as relatively meaningless.
Now the media and other anti-Trump partisans are going to perseverate on whether or not Trump obstructed justice during the Mueller probe. They should leave this alone. Having bet so heavily on the collusion narrative, and lost, nobody wants to listen to them bang on about collusion for two more years. Christopher Buskirk, a stalwart Trump defender, turns to Rene Girard to explain the mania animating the left these past two years:
The French philosopher and literary critic René Girard held that such scapegoating and ritual sacrifice is an essential part of group identity and solidarity. That seems to apply here. Mr. Trump ran against American elites and their insular culture. Their response was to load onto him all of the sins they see in American society and attempt to sacrifice him to appease their gods.
Mr. Girard asked a question that is pertinent today: “Why is our own participation in scapegoating so difficult to perceive and the participation of others so easy? To us, our fears and prejudices never appear as such because they determine our vision of people we despise, we fear, and against whom we discriminate.”
The National Review editors point out with satisfaction that the worst — that Trump colluded with Russia — is not true, and those who pushed the collusion narrative have been embarrassed. But, they add:
None of this is to deny the report’s distressing portrayal of how President Trump operates. He avoids potentially disastrous missteps, such as firing Mueller, when his aides ignore him and he fails to follow up. His dishonesty constantly creates dilemmas for those around him, forcing them to choose between lying for him or defying him. No president of the United States should ever applaud people for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors, or call someone who cooperates a “rat.” Most White House scandals involve presidents getting ill served by overly zealous, norm-defying advisers. In this episode, Trump flipped the script.
A certain kind of populist conservative is used to hating on David Brooks, who is a hardcore institutionalist. I’ve heard it all before, and it’s boring by now. David is a friend, and though I disagree with him at times, he is an honorable man; if you are going to criticize him in the comments, stick to the argument, and keep the ad hominem out of it if you want to see your comment appear. I am more sympathetic to Trump’s presidency than David is, for reasons I’ll get into momentarily, but I gotta say, his column on the Mueller report really resonates with me. Excerpts:
We are being threatened in a very distinct way. The infrastructure of the society is under threat — the procedures that shape government, the credibility of information, the privacy rules that make deliberation possible. And though the Chinese government does not play a big role here, it represents a similar sort of threat — to our intellectual infrastructure, the intellectual property rights that organize innovation.
It is as if somebody is inserting acids into a body that eats away at the ligaments and the tendons.
These forces are motivated by self-interest, but their common feature is an operational nihilism. They are trying to sow disorder at the foundation of society. The goal is not really to convert anybody to a cause; it is to create cynicism and disruption that will open up the space to grab what you want to grab. They rig the system and then tell everybody, “The system is rigged!” And therefore, all values are suspended. Everything is permitted.
And today, across society, two things are happening: Referees are being undermined, and many are abandoning their own impartiality. (Think of the Wall Street regulators, the Supreme Court, the Senate committee chairmen, even many of us in the blessed media.) Things begin to topple.
… Trump doesn’t seem to have any notion of loyalty to an office. All power in his eye is personal power, and the government is there to serve his Sun God self. He’ll continue to trample the proper systems of government.
It’s easy to recognize when you are attacked head-on. But the U.S. is being attacked from below, at the level of the foundations we take for granted.
This is true. And yet, I still maintain that Trump is a symptom of a much deeper sickness in the system. I don’t say that to exonerate Trump. He only makes manifest, and exacerbates, things that were already present before he descended the Trump Tower escalator to declare his candidacy.
How far back do we need to go? Democratic readers don’t like to hear it, but the nexus of Wall Street and the Democratic Party occasioned by the Clinton administration, in concert with Republican leaders in the Senate, laid the groundwork for the economic crash in 2008. (Watch this 2009 episode of PBS’s Frontline for the background here.) This continued under the George W. Bush administration. The tearing down of regulatory walls erected in the aftermath of the Great Depression was a bipartisan endeavor. It’s not necessary to prove that anybody lied to make that happen. It was simply a matter of elites trusting in their own wisdom and fitness to rule, and in neoliberal ideology.
Who was held accountable for the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression? Do you believe that justice was done? Really?
The Iraq War, the greatest US foreign policy disaster since Vietnam, was also a matter of hubris, but there were lies too. Consequential lies. The Mueller report gave us a glimpse of the rottenness in the Trump White House … but what if we could have seen a report on the rottenness of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld emerging for his daily Pentagon briefings during the war, lying to the press? That’s somehow not as bad as Trump because Rummy was a consummate creature of the system? Because he was respectable? Because he played by the rules, and still lied, and helped lead this country, and the world, into a needless catastrophe?
You may still trust the US national security establishment to tell you the truth. I don’t, and I don’t care which party holds the White House. I’m old enough to have lived through most of the Vietnam War, though it wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I came to understand it. Now, in comes Donald Trump, carrying hopes that he was going to be different, but here we are still in Syria, and … you know?
Back in the 1990s, a friend of mine who was just starting out as a financial reporter, and who has now risen to the top of her field, told me that she used to think that the real journalistic action was in covering politics, because that’s where the decisions that changed history were made. And then she was assigned to cover the global currency markets. It opened her eyes to how the world really worked, and how blind most people are to it, because few of us can comprehend the workings of global finance.
I was thinking about her yesterday when I was continuing to make my way through Shoshana Zuboff’s great new book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. It’s not an easy book to read, in part because the things Zuboff, a former Harvard Business School professor, talks about can be somewhat arcane, but also because it’s damned depressing. This is a book about how a business model pioneered by Google has come in less than 20 years to dominate everything, with consequences we can scarcely comprehend. I’m not going to get into the book’s weeds here; there are lots of weeds, and I am not sure that Zuboff is going to be able to offer a plausible way out of this mess.
The gist of it is that nearly everything we do and say is monitored by multiple corporations, who are taking that data — usually without our knowledge or permission — and using it to figure out how to sell us things and, more crucially, to guide us toward behaving in particular ways without knowing that we are being manipulated. There is no real way to opt out of the system. It is overwhelming — and Zuboff shows how the tech companies have spent ungodly sums to manipulate politicians and regulators in order to maintain maximum access to the personal data of everyone. (The Obama administration was in Google’s pocket, for example.) Zuboff likens it to the Spanish conquistadores arriving in the New World.
I bring this up in light of Brooks’s column because if you want to talk about the foundations of society being attacked, believe me, we should all worry about Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Silicon Valley on the whole a lot more than we worry about our buffoonish president. What the surveillance capitalists have done, and are doing, matters far more to the future of our democracy and its legitimacy than does Trump.
I’m not saying this to minimize the meaning of Trump. What I’m saying is that if Trump had lost the election in 2016, we would still be in a world of trouble. Brooks is talking in his column about a specific threat to the legitimacy of the system, to repeat
The infrastructure of the society is under threat — the procedures that shape government, the credibility of information, the privacy rules that make deliberation possible.
Funny, but this is all in Zuboff’s book, by the way, and it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. You can’t read her well-documented, detailed explanation of what these tech companies have accomplished over the past 20 years and come away feeling good about “the procedures that shape government, the credibility of information, [and] the privacy rules that make deliberation possible.” Digital information technology has so radically changed the way we live, and what is possible, that our ways of thinking about society and democracy simply cannot cope with this new reality, at least not yet. Take a few minutes and read this David Samuels piece from Wired (January 2019), talking about how Big Tech is becoming Big Brother. Excerpts:
The machines and systems that the techno-monopolists have built are changing us faster than they or we understand. The scale of this change is so vast and systemic that we simple humans can’t do the math—perhaps in part because of the way that incessant smartphone use has affected our ability to pay attention to anything longer than 140 or 280 characters.
As the idea of a “right to privacy,” for example, starts to seem hopelessly old-fashioned and impractical in the face of ever-more-invasive data systems—whose eyes and ears, i.e., our smartphones, follow us everywhere—so has our belief that other individual rights, like freedom of speech, are somehow sacred.
Being wired together with billions of other humans in vast networks mediated by thinking machines is not an experience that humans have enjoyed before. The best guides we have to this emerging reality may be failed 20th-century totalitarian experiments and science fiction. More on that a little later.
The speed at which individual-rights-and-privacy-based social arrangements collapse is likely to depend on how fast Big Tech and the American national security apparatus consummate a relationship that has been growing ever closer for the past decade. While US surveillance agencies do not have regular real-time access to the gigantic amounts of data collected by the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon—as far as we know, anyway—there is both anecdotal and hard evidence to suggest that the once-distant planets of consumer Big Tech and American surveillance agencies are fast merging into a single corporate-bureaucratic life-world, whose potential for tracking, sorting, gas-lighting, manipulating, and censoring citizens may result in a softer version of China’s Big Brother.
These troubling trends are accelerating in part because Big Tech is increasingly beholden to Washington, which has little incentive to kill the golden goose that is filling its tax and political coffers. One of the leading corporate spenders on lobbying services in Washington, DC, in 2017 was Google’s parent company, Alphabet, which, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, spent more than $18 million. Lobbying Congress and government helps tech companies like Google win large government contracts. Perhaps more importantly, it serves as a shield against attempts to regulate their wildly lucrative businesses.
But the cozy relationship between mainstream Democrats and Silicon Valley hit a large-sized bump in November 2016, when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton—in part through his mastery of social media platforms like Twitter. Blaming the election result on Russian bots or secret deals with Putin betrayed a shock that what the left had regarded as their cultural property had been turned against them by a right-wing populist whose authoritarian leanings inspired fear and loathing among both the technocratic elite and the Democratic party base.
Yet in the right hands, progressives continued to muse, information monopolies might be powerful tools for re-wiring societies malformed by racism, sexism, and transphobia. Thinking machines can be taught to filter out bad information and socially negative thoughts. Good algorithms, as opposed to whatever Google and Facebook are currently using, could censor neo-Nazis, purveyors of hate speech, Russian bots, and transphobes while discouraging voters from electing more Trumps.
The crowdsourced wisdom of platforms like Twitter, powered by circles of mutually credentialing blue-checked “experts,” might mobilize a collective will to justice, which could then be enforced on retrograde institutions and individuals. The result might be a better social order, or as data scientist Emily Gorcenski put it, “revolution.”
Read the whole thing. The power these tech companies have because they surveil us constantly is something we’ve never dealt with before. If these data hegemons decided to move against individuals, organizations, or classes of people its leadership designated to be problematic, they could do many things to punish and marginalize them, without having to involve the government. Someone in a position to know recently told me that the Chinese government has a strategy of compelling its citizens who work in the US to cooperate with its corporate espionage schemes by using the leverage it has over their “social credit scores” — which they and their families back home in China need to be able to buy and sell and get along in daily life. This kind of thing doesn’t happen (as far as we know) in the US as a matter of political will. The data have already been collected, and are being collected daily. The technology exists.
See, this is why I find Donald Trump — lying, unstable, barely competent Donald Trump — to be less of a threat than I find the kind of progressive elites who hate him. He has the presidency, which is a powerful thing to have. But they control Silicon Valley. They command the US economy. They control major American institutions, including higher education and the media. And they trust in their own goodness. Here is what data scientist Emily Gorcenski tweeted (linked above, by David Samuels):
I am confident that Gorcenski’s class, in their power centers around the globe, are sooner or later going to convince themselves to deploy the power of data in an aggressive way against deplorables like me, and every other person that they identify as an “oppressor.” They are already tearing American universities apart. In Barcelona, progressives in charge of schools have begun purging wicked non-progressive books from children’s libraries. In British Columbia, the provincial Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that parents cannot block minor children who wish to receive hormone injections to change their sex. In the Spanish province of Navarra, the left-wing provincial government is dismantling the concepts of male and female by compelling all schools, even private and religious ones, to teach radical left-wing gender theory. I could sit up till daylight citing particular egregious actions undertaken by progressive governments and private entities.
The bottom line is this: I have very little faith that the men and women who administer these institutions can be trusted to use their power justly. I have fear and loathing of the technocratic elite and much of the Democratic base. Donald Trump didn’t make me have this. Watching and listening to how progressive technocrats and those who hold power in the institutions they dominate made me have this.
Believe me, I don’t trust the Republican Party either. It will give Big Business whatever it wants, and it’s embarrassed by Bible-thumping troglodytes like me. But at least its members don’t openly despise us, and usually don’t work to tear us down. That’s about as good as it gets, I’m afraid. And Donald Trump? Yeah, he’s terrible. But he stands, however uncertainly, in the way of the Controllers — and gives them fits. And that’s good enough for a lot of us to consider casting a vote for Trump in 2020, not out of love for him, or admiration for the way he’s governed, and nor is it to “own the libs.”
It would be solely out of self-protection. Many on the left are blind to this sort of thing, because they are so convicted of their own goodness, and the uncomplicated righteousness of their cause, that they think the only opposition to them is in bad faith. I don’t trust Trump … but I do trust him not to go after people like me, and the institutions we love. At Harvard a few weeks back, a friend of mine who studies there described a campus and classroom culture in which many topics cannot even be discussed, because the woke elites are so traumatized by the existence of such deplorable facts that they have consciously, and structurally, eliminated them from their sight and hearing. This is America’s current and future ruling class. Trump is the corrupt man I can see coming. I’m far more afraid of the progressive, mission-minded zombies emerging from the knowledge-and-privilege factories. I’m not kidding. It is not necessary to pretend that Donald Trump is good, honest, or competent in order to affirm that he is the lesser evil.
“Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16) To repeat: I fully endorse David Brooks’s take on the corruption of the system, and his judgment on Donald Trump as a moral catastrophe. Trump is not a discrete phenomenon. The U.S. is being attacked from below, at the level of the foundations we take for granted — but this is not simply the fault of Wikileaks, or the Russian FSB, or the Chinese, or the Bluth family living in the White House. It’s happening because of the loss of collective virtues needed to sustain a republic. It’s happening in part because of what technology is doing to us. We are disintegrating. This could take a while.
I’ll leave you with a look back to my “Learning From The Spanish Civil War” post from January, in which I talked about an excellent 1980s-era, six-part documentary about that conflict. It’s available for free on YouTube. I’m going to quote this at length, because it’s necessary to understand why a simplistic Good vs. Evil narrative simply doesn’t work here. The fractures that led to open warfare were long present in Spanish society. The evil of the times brought them to the surface. I wrote, in part:
Maybe it’s an American thing, but it’s hard to look at a conflict like this without imposing a simple moralistic narrative on it, between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. Certainly the received history of the conflict frames it as an unambiguous fight between democracy and fascism — and the evil fascists won. The truth is far more complicated.
In fact, the filmmakers make a point of saying that ideologues and others who project certain narratives onto the conflict do so by ignoring aspects of it that were particularly Spanish. That is to say, though the civil war did become a conflict between fascism and communism (and therefore a proxy war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union), that’s not the whole story. Its roots have a lot to do with the structure and history of Spain itself.
The first episode covers the years 1931-35, which covers the background to the war. In 1930, the military dictatorship was overthrown, and municipal elections across the country the next year led to a big win for combined parties of left and right who favored a democratic republic. (N.B., not all leftists and rightists wanted a republic!) After the vote, the king abdicated, and the Republic was declared. Later that spring, leftist mobs burned convents and churches in various cities, while Republican police stood by doing nothing. This sent a deep shock wave through Spanish Catholicism.
The Republic, in typical European fashion, was strongly anticlerical. It quickly passed laws stripping the Catholic Church of property and the right to educate young people. There were other anticlerical measures taken. Anti-Christian laws, and violent mob action, were present at the beginning of the Republic. Prior to watching this documentary, I assumed they happened as part of the civil war itself. Imagine what it was like to see a new constitutional order (the Republic) come into being, and suddenly you can’t give your children a religious education, and your churches and convents are being torched. How confident would you be in the new order?
According to the film, Spain was still in the 19th century, in terms of economics. It was largely agrarian, with a massive peasantry that was underfed, and tended to be religious and traditional. On the other hand, they were dependent on large landowners who favored the semi-feudal conditions. These landowners were extremely conservative. Their interests clashed, obviously, and became violent when the land reform promised by the liberal Republicans did not materialize fast enough for the peasantry. Mind you, the Republic was declared in the middle of the global Great Depression, with all the political and economic turmoil that came with it.
The urban working class was organized along Marxist lines, though the left was badly fractured, and unstable. There were democratic socialists, but also communists who hewed closely to the Stalinist line. Plus, anarchists were a really significant force in Spain, something unique in Europe at the time. They competed politically, and usually aligned with the left in fighting the right. But they refused to compromise their principles by taking formal power, even when the defense of the Republic required it.
Regional autonomy also played a role in defining sides. When the civil war started, Catholics supported the Nationalist side (the Francoists) … but not in the Basque Country, which was religious, but which wanted more self-rule — something the Nationalists despised. Catalonia also wanted more independence, which meant it was firmly Republican. Barcelona, the Catalan capital, was a Republican stronghold for left-wing reasons, to be sure. I bring up the situation with the Basques and the Catalans simply to illustrate the complexity of the conflict.
Anyway, the 1933 elections resulted in a swing back to the right, with a coalition of center-right and far-right parties winning control, and reversing some of the initiatives of the previous government. Socialists, anarchists, and coal miners in the province of Asturias rebelled against the Republic. They murdered priests and government officials; the military, led by Gen. Franco, brutally suppressed the uprising. All of this radicalized the left even more.
By 1935, left-right opinion had become so polarized that there was practically no middle ground left. Both sides came to distrust democracy because it was the means by which their enemies might take power. And, as one Nationalist interviewed in the documentary puts it, people on the left and right just flat out hated each other. The whole country was a powder keg.
Emphasis mine above. It is hard to shake the feeling that we are caught in similar dynamic. I wish I could conceive of something that could arrest the dialectic of destruction. Can you? The center is not holding, and technological changes (as well as cultural evolution) are rendering us unable to recreate a sustainable center. Whether he leaves the White House in 2021, or 2025, after Trump, I believe that the US will be more or less in a Spain 1931 situation. Trump has done nothing to prevent that, and much to hasten its arrival. But then, the underlying dynamic of corruption, bad faith, and dispossession has been rising to the surface for at least half a century, as waves from traumatic ruptures in the tectonic plates of our civilization finally reach the surface.
Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I just know that I’m a lot more worried about Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg, and the class that they embody, than I am of a crooked real estate magnate from New York who is the weakest and least effective president since Jimmy Carter.
Prof. Darel Paul has a powerful essay on “The Great Awokening” on college campuses. Excerpts:
The preachers of the Great Awokening claim to desire racial equality. Is this true? Or are they more interested in casting sinners into the hands of an angry mob? While it is difficult to discern another person’s ends, it is far easier to know her means. These involve a wholesale transformation of language, the academic curriculum, standards of judgment, disciplinary content and boundaries, academic freedom, even the definition of knowledge itself. This is no passing storm or simple outburst of youthful exuberance. The Great Awokening is a truly revolutionary project. Like all revolutions, it promises considerable destruction on the way to its final destination.
Paul, who teaches at Williams College, has written a carefully documented analysis, one filled with hyperlinks. He describes the ideological offense to silence and otherwise suppress any speech that challenges or contradicts positions held by radicals, especially race radicals, by construing the very act of voicing dissent as “violence.” More:
Charges of violence are the most serious that can be leveled against an institution and a community. Therefore they should be supported by the most clear and compelling evidence possible. It is precisely here that anti-racist campus activists fall woefully short. Former Evergreen State College biologist Heather Heying observes “we keep on hearing that we are an incredibly racist institution and we have yet to hear any credible evidence for racism here on campus.” This gulf between personal experience and publicly available evidence is at the heart of the disagreements over racism on campus today.
Part of the communication problem is rooted in anti-racist discourse. Activists often speak in emotionally charged generalizations: “we want to dismantle anti-blackness campus-wide” (Evergreen); “injustices [are] imposed on people of color by this institution on a daily basis” (Sarah Lawrence); “We, however, simply ask that our existences not be invalidated on campus” (Yale); “We charge this man with the destruction of black existence on this campus” (Williams). When asked what evidence supports these judgments, an increasingly popular response is to rule such questions out of bounds on the grounds of racism: “To ask marginalized students to throw away their enjoyment of a holiday, in order to expend emotional, mental, and physical energy to explain why something is offensive, is — offensive” (Yale); “We hold the truth of discursive and institutional violence to be self-evident.” (Williams); “accept the grievances of faculty of color without question” (Williams). According to former Evergreen State College biology professor Bret Weinstein, he was told by one of the most radical faculty of color at the college “to ask for evidence of racism is racism with a capital R.” Why? “We must stop asking them because we are inflicting harm on them asking for evidence.” Philosopher Nora Berenstain has invented a name for such evidentiary requests: “epistemic exploitation.” From such a perspective, blind faith is the only acceptable response.
Paul explains that the “violence” the wokesters decry is not merely limited to spoken communication. Racist violence is believed to be at the foundation of pedagogy by influential activist scholars:
In the view of Sensoy and DiAngelo, none of these practices seek out academic quality on fair and objective, if debatable, grounds. They are instead the socially constructed racist values of white culture and, for that reason, must at minimum be unsettled and at maximum abolished. Sensoy and DiAngelo want “traditional fields” with their “old classifications” to be swept up into “forward thinking” through “an interrogation of … disciplinary fields and their borders.” As they “decolonize predominantly white university campuses”―aka “white/settler–colonial institutions”―and pursue the “decolonization of the academy,” Sensoy and DiAngelo call for a transvaluation of all academic values. Their aim is to eradicate the traditional mission of academia and the nature of the academic life. Their goal is to turn the decolonized university into a radical fundamentalist sect.
In ages past, administrators and academics believed the mission of higher education to be the pursuit of knowledge (University of Chicago: “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched”; University of Cambridge: “Hinc lucem et pocula sacra”) or even truth (Harvard University: “Veritas”; Yale University: “Lux et Veritas”). Today, they pursue Social Justice. Under that banner, anti-racist activists hope to do to higher education what Soviet communism did to fine art, literature and music. Under officially approved socialist realism, art was judged first and foremost by how well it depicted Soviet ideals, parroted Communist Party doctrine, and cultivated loyalty to the Soviet system. Not even science was exempted from serving a primarily ideological purpose during the thirty-year reign of Lysenkoism over Soviet biology and agronomy. Substitute critical race theory for Marxism–Leninism, whiteness for capitalism, and racial justice for dictatorship of the proletariat, and you will understand much of what the Great Awokening truly offers.
Read it all. It’s important. Prof. Darel Paul is a brave man to speak out, embedded as he is on the faculty of a college that is extremely hostile to his point of view. Consider, in light of Paul’s essay, just what it means for the self-described “activist-scholar” Billie Murray to argue, as she plans to do next week in a Villanova lecture, that “we should challenge the violence/nonviolence binary that limits our understanding of activist practices” and “should reimagine activism as combative.” Having defined voicing dissent from left-wing identity politics radicalism as “violence,” and the simple fact of defending traditional concepts of the university as “violence,” is it really so difficult to imagine these radicals justifying actual, chair-throwing, professor-punching violence as justified?
Now, lest you think that this is only about ideological leftist provocateurs, I urge you to read this City Journal essay by Jacob Howland, a philosophy professor at University of Tulsa, who explains in punishing detail how the social justice agenda, weaponized by managerial Woke Capitalism, is tearing the University of Tulsa apart. He writes that
a new administration has turned a once-vibrant academic institution with a $1.1 billion endowment and a national reputation in core liberal arts subjects into a glorified trade school with a social-justice agenda. Our story is worth telling, because we have been hit by a perfect storm of trends currently tearing through the American academy: the confident ignorance of administrators, the infantilization of students, the policing of faculty, the replacement of thinking with ideological jargon, and the corporatization of education.
It really is Moralistic Therapeutic Managerialism in action. The new president revolutionizing the university is Gerard Clancy, a professional psychiatrist:
Integral to the TU Commitment is fostering a “culture of justice” on campus. “We seek out complex problems and injustices in our society,” the strategic plan declares, “and engage in work that promotes justice.” The document also lays out a Diversity Action Plan for building “an inclusive, safe, and diverse community,” which it describes as “the primary foundation on which all [the university’s] objectives will be realized.” Clancy’s approach is aggressive or paternalistic, depending on the group addressed. Faculty resistance to the moral and therapeutic imperatives of the new institutional super ego is presumed to be so extensive as to require something only a few steps short of A Clockwork Orange-style reeducation. On top of an anonymous, online-bias reporting system, Clancy has mandated training in “unconscious bias” for all employees. (We’ve already done harassment and “microaggressions.”) And just to be sure, TU’s new Institute of Trauma, Adversity, and Injustice also regularly surveys “exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile conduct” at the university.
With students, however, Clancy prefers a posture of smothering paternalism. “Some of you have noticed dogs, horses, and other mammals in class,” begins a recent email from an associate dean; new university policy requires that we accommodate these “emotional support” animals in our classrooms. After Donald Trump’s election, Clancy emailed the TU community warning that “Many Americans are concerned, if not outright afraid, that the color of their skin, the religion they practice, the people they love or the politics they espouse . . . could make them targets of violence.” The Brett Kavanaugh hearings prompted an email in which Clancy assured students of “their safety and acceptance at The University of Tulsa,” accompanied by a video in which his wife Paula explained that “even our Clancy family is very diverse; we were born in the U.S. or Korea or Ireland or Canada, and we feel that this diversity makes us so strong and compassionate. And we really think it’s a lot, lot of fun to have all that diversity; we see it in such, such positive terms.”
Read it all. It’s insane. Clancy and his moralistic-therapeutic managerialists are sacking the place.
Colleges and universities that tolerate and encourage this kind of radicalism within their faculties and student bodies are destroying themselves. It is time for those, both liberal and conservative, to hasten the suicide of institutions that are incapable of rescue. Trustees, alumni, donors, and other stakeholders in a position to pressure these Social Justice Warrior factories and the pseudo-religious fanatics that run them ought to come down on them like an avalanche.
Companies considering hiring students formed by these colleges must know that they will be taking a tremendous risk in employing these angry, hyper-fragile neurotics who will be nothing but trouble in the workplace, patrolling their offices looking for microaggressions and accusing fellow employees of creating a “hostile work space” on the flimsiest grounds. If you have ever experienced the damage toxic people like this can do to an office environment, or talked to people who have had to deal with it, you know this is no minor thing.
What Darel Paul and Jacob Howland are talking about here has long-term implications. With these left-wing barbarians destroying the institutions that are the natural caretakers of knowledge and scholarship, which institutions, if any, will step up and serve as the equivalent of Benedictine monasteries in this new Dark Age? I was in Austin yesterday talking with some young conservatives about what it means, and should mean, to be active conservatives today. I suggested that it has to mean focusing far more attention on conservative cultural traditions than it does to conservatives today. The state is by no means the only threat, or even the greatest threat, to the endurance of the things we say we value. What, exactly, do we want to conserve? What do we think that liberty is for?
We are living through a time in which higher education is Sovietizing itself not because commissars in Washington are ordering it to, but because revolutionaries within its own ranks are demanding it. Every day brings new evidence that many of our institutions are incapable of defending themselves. In the case of the University of Tulsa, the institution has been entrusted to a leadership cadre that is actively ruining it. As Howland reports, this is not being done by the contemporary equivalent of Angela Davis and Abbie Hoffman; this is being executed by some of the pillars of the Tulsa community. Yes, we should fight to preserve those that still might be preserved — but some of them are already lost, and many more may yet succumb once the older generation of classical liberals retires out, leaving administrations and faculties to the fire-breathing Jacobins and the mentho-lyptus moralism of bourgeois-barbarians like Gerard Clancy.
We need a Benedict Option not just for the churches, but for the institutions of civilization. We have to form new institutions, and greatly strengthen those that now exist, and are keeping the revolutionaries at bay. If you are a lawmaker in a state where taxpayer-supported colleges like Evergreen State are destroying the possibility of an education, and bullying professors and students, then defund these ideology factories. If you are conservative donor to a college or university that is succumbing to this virus, then redirect your donations to a college that stands firmly and unapologetically within the liberal arts tradition. Make it possible for these countercultural colleges to hire faculty made refugees from the institutions like University of Tulsa, devoured by the revolution. Make it possible for them to offer scholarships to students who want a real education.
Also, I urge you to consider seeding efforts to found new institutions within which the traditional scholarly life can endure this new Dark Age. I know that entrepreneurial new schools like the St. Constantine School in Houston, founded by John Mark Reynolds, who earlier in life founded the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, are trying very, very hard to keep the fire lit in the darkness. They need help. And not only at the university level: classical Christian schools are laboring mightily to revive and defend the tradition. When I tell people about what the classical Christian school my kids attend, Sequitur Classical Academy, is able to do despite the fact that it operates on a shoestring budget, they can hardly believe it. Just think what Sequitur could accomplish if it had donors? Our little school has 150 or so kids — ordinary kids, not a gifted-and-talented superschool population — who are being taught the Western humanities tradition, from the Greeks and the Romans down through the ages. And they are being taught to write! I was at a Sequitur fundraising gala last weekend, and was surprised to see my own college-student son interviewed in a video for the school. He said in the clip that he’s in his second semester at the LSU Honors College, and still hasn’t had to write a paper nearly as long as the ones he wrote at Sequitur.
(Not a Christian? Then start a secular model classical school. Why not? The classical heritage of humanist education is a gift to all of us, no matter our religion, our race, or any other demographic characteristic. It is our common patrimony because we are human.)
I’m telling you, there are men and women of goodwill out there who aren’t satisfied to curse the darkness, but who are engaged in building and sustaining little monasteries of cultural memory. They need help. Let the dead in mainstream higher education bury the dead. If the kind of thing Darel Paul and Jacob Rowland describe appalls you — and by the way, don’t for a second believe that Christian colleges and universities are free of the virus — then do whatever you can to fight it, and to defend the traditional humanities from ideological barbarians who are trying to destroy them in the name of identity politics. But consider, and consider strongly, that many institutions in the higher education imperium are not worth shoring up, and that the times are such that you are being called to donate your treasure and your efforts to building new forms of scholarly community.
Paul titled his essay “The Great Awokening” not just because it’s clever, but because he wants to highlight the essentially religious core of this movement. Reason has no part in this. It is essential to get that learned if you are going to understand what’s happening. The wars of religion that convulsed Reformation-era Europe resulted in massive destruction of European civilization’s artistic heritage. As Kenneth Clark said in his Civilization series:
[Martin Luther] hated the peasants’ revolt and asked his princely patrons to put it down fiercely. He didn’t like the destruction of images — what we now call works of art. But most of his followers were men who owed nothing to the past, to whom it meant no more than an intolerable servitude. It was an artistic disaster.
Clark quotes Erasmus, writing about a mob of the era: “I have seen them return from hearing a sermon as if inspired by an evil spirit. The faces of all showed a curious wrath and ferocity.” Well, we are living through a similar period of iconoclasm now, though the unthinking rage for destruction is directed not toward images, but toward the fundaments of civilization itself.