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Home/Rod Dreher

Why Loudoun County Matters

If you’re not a subscriber to Matt Taibbi’s Substack newsletter, you missed a fantastic deep dive into the controversy over race and schools in Loudoun County, Virginia. Brace yourselves: Taibbi reveals that the national media botched the story, imposing its preferred narrative (“white supremacy”) to describe why voters in that upscale Democratic county voted for Republican Glenn Youngkin in this fall’s gubernatorial race, over Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Turns out it had a lot to do with people of color going off-script to protect their kids. At the beginning of the story, Taibbi is standing at a poll on election night:

“See that?” whispers Raj Patel. “Another Indian who would never vote Republican before just took the Republican ballot.”

A tall, slim, dark-skinned man in a plain tan shirt and tan corduroy pants is indeed standing in the school entrance, examining a sample ballot pulled with two hands close to his face. He’s either nearsighted or really, really interested. Patel, whose father immigrated from India in the late fifties to work for Bechtel, indicates him with a nod and begins talking about the novel experience of standing in the crater of a smoldering national controversy.

“My sister lives in Pennsylvania. She says, ‘I’m watching the news and they’re talking about Loudoun County!’ And I say, ‘Yeah, who’d have believed it?’ You know, that our county was going to be on national news over this issue.” He shakes his head. “You watch. Indian and Chinese immigrants who typically vote Democratic will vote the other way because education for children is their number one issue. It’s why they came here.”

Patel is one of the switchers. He was “pretty liberal” after graduating from UC-Berkeley many years ago, then steadily became more moderate in his views, which did not mean voting for Donald Trump. “Honestly, I voted for Hillary Clinton,” he says, clarifying that he’s for “common sense,” not being “right-wing” or conspiratorial, “none of that garbage.” Eventually, he returns to the subject of education. “When you start messing with schools, that’s when you’ll get typical Democrats to flip.”

Taibbi continues:

For all those twists, the core narrative was simple. A commonplace fight over suburban tax resources ended in radical reforms that primarily impacted one small nonwhite minority whose story mostly never got told, its members perhaps paralyzed by the irony of watching their complaints dismissed as white racism. There’s no way to understand any of the later Loudoun madness, without first knowing the backstory of the group that essentially started the fire by studying too hard.

Here is a fact that I have never read anywhere else in coverage of this story: that some of the strongest protesters against the woke-ification of Loudoun County schools were dark-skinned immigrants from southern Asia who came to America to escape racism, and succeeded professionally:

In another of the innumerable million-pound ironies in the Loudoun mess, many of these immigrants came to America in flight not just fromracism, but from a true white supremacist legacy. Back home, many experienced discrimination from a northern population that looks down upon them, among other things, for having darker skin, a direct echo of India’s colonial past. Mention “blacks” to some, and they might think you’re referring to them, since that’s an operative slur there as well. “If we were racist, why would we have the south?” a parliament member from India’s ruling BJP party said a few years ago. “Why do we live with them? We have black people around us.”

“One of the reasons a lot of these immigrants don’t want to talk about this, is they don’t like to wear their grievances on their sleeve,” says Asra Nomani, veteran journalist and onetime colleague of murdered reporter Daniel Pearl, and now Vice-President of an advocacy group called Parents Defending Education. “These are people who have been looked down upon for having dark skin. A lot of the kids at TJ, for instance, are darker than black Americans. But it’s something they don’t talk about.”

Many Indian families came to Loudoun specifically with the public schools in mind. They were attracted by the idea of winning their children tickets to affluence denied them by a different caste system, via supposedly open competition for spots in places like TJ or the Academies of Loudon.

“My dad came here in 1960 for his PhD, and that’s the story of so many of our families,” says Nomani. “They faced prejudice, and came here wanting to figure out how to advance through the one thing that they know, which is hard work and education.”

Boy, does that ever resonate with me. My parents are white, of course, but they were both born into rural poverty. The only reason my father got out of it was through hard work and education, which became possible for him through the postwar GI Bill. He was murder on my sister and me about our educations, exhorting us with the passion of an immigrant father to study hard and make good grades. My father had his prejudices, but a good one, in my estimation, was the way he judged people on the basis of their willingness to work. He was an old country white dude from the South, but he flipped in a single afternoon on the subject of the presence of Latino immigrants in our parish when he hired a man from Guatemala to do some brush clearing for him, and he saw how hard the man worked. For my dad, a strong work ethic was everything. 

What Taibbi found in Loudoun County was a situation in which Asian kids were blowing everybody else out of the water on the admissions tests to the advanced public high school:

However, the big picture pointed to a more overwhelming dynamic: Asian students not only consistently applied to gifted programs at a higher rate than the other populations, they were also unfailingly overrepresented in terms of acceptance rates. In other words, they were still crushing the testing process relative to all other groups, and showing no sign of letting up, not even having the decency to follow the example of most American immigrant populations by getting dumber with assimilation time.

In the end, the county followed the example of everyone from the University of California to the New York City School system under Bill de Blasio, replacing race-blind admissions and standardized testing with a new, “holistic,” “equity-based” system that would be described in media in a hundred different ways, but never as what it actually is: a mercy rule to stop Asian kids from demolishing the field.

It’s anti-Asian bigotry at work — but that fact screws with the media narrative (“white supremacy”), so it was suppressed.

Taibbi goes back to 2018, to discover the roots of the Loudoun crisis. The local NAACP had for decades been pushing Loudoun, which had a repulsive history of anti-black racism, to use race-blind admissions practices, but had suddenly flipped, and demanded race-aware admissions practices, and to grant admissions to black students even if they wouldn’t have qualified under race-blind policies. Why? EQUITY! Here’s Taibbi:

Burke also spoke. “We are requesting that Loudoun County admit 20% of African American applicants to the Academies of Learning for the 2019-2020 academic school year,” she said. “We are requesting that you appoint an independent team of outside professionals.”

The school administration would soon do just that. It’s hard to look at the document record and conclude anything but that under a blizzard of negative headlines, with leaders like Thomas calling for the heads of people like Superintendent Williams, the school system buckled, tossed a few gym teachers under the bus, and green-lit a full-tilt outside diversity audit as a way to ease political pressures. Some local political figures who initially welcomed what they thought would be a healthy course of “unconscious bias training” to address issues like hiring inequity soon found themselves in shock. Within a few months, the Loudoun schools were transformed into a Boschian hellscape of penthouse-priced equity consultants, who “saw race everywhere” to degrees so far beyond even the most demented Fox News fantasies that the corpse of Roger Ailes almost sat up in surprise.

A teacher I spoke with for this story, not based in Virginia, put it like this:

“Education is dominated by consultants,” she said. “They were former teachers, but they decide they actually want to make money, so they leave and then they start these companies.”

These high-priced consultants have a great gig:

Almanzan and his company preach a diversity training gospel that’s increasingly popular with organizations ranging from Amazon to Goldman, Sachs to the Pentagon. They describe a pervasive, psychologized conception of racism that is so deeply entrenched at both an individual and a societal level that it can never be eradicated, only treated — constantly and by credentialed experts, of course.

One of the ideas they suggested to Loudoun school officials was creating an informant network of students of color who would report to the authorities experiences of racism. In other words, they suggested turning kids into spies on each other, to root out ideological non-conformity.

Taibbi takes us deep into Tom Wolfe territory, with the Loudoun County Public School system producing a cringey “apology video” for past racism. They asked the local NAACP chief to participate, but she indignantly refused to do the “emotional labor” of helping this white-dominated system atone. Later, when the video came out, the same woman denounced LCPS for declining to include her in the video. The school educrats responded by trying to make it illegal for any LCPS employee to criticize the school system’s equity efforts. The activist role of a newly elected school board member, Beth Barts, escalated affairs. Taibbi describes Barts like this:

Imagine asking a person incapable of learning the rules to Candy Land to pilot a 747 in a snowstorm, and you’re close to grasping what it meant to Loudoun to have Barts in elected office while the county tried to navigate a national controversy.

It’s true! The stuff that lunatic tried to get away with beggars belief. But she could count on a sympathetic media to take her side, and report in either a biased way, or outright lie, about what was really happening in Loudoun County. Taibbi continues:

Loudoun was also very much a story about transformational changes on the blue side of American politics. Fifteen or twenty years ago, the Tanner Cross story would have had big-city ACLU lawyers stumbling over one another to come defend the controversial speech of a small-town teacher. In 2021, the ACLU wrote a brief in opposition to Cross. FOIA was another progressive legacy, having been created in response to the persecution of accused communists in the Eisenhower years, while standardized tests had been progressivism’s tool for helping Jews and Catholics break into the Ivy Leagues. What we called “progressives” once were now becoming something else, and the composition of their opposition was as a result also changing.

This saga was about so much more than Critical Race Theory, yet in the coming months of intense national spotlight between June and November, “CRT” became the national media’s sole explanation for everything that happened there. Invocation of the decades-old academic theory, papers like the Post explained, was the “new Trump,” the latest in fake news scammery (Barack Obama, in campaigning for McAuliffe, even described the controversies as “fake outrage”). It was all, the Post said, rightist hokum that had been “weaponized” by a population whose real problem was anxiety over an “influx of families of color,” since the county that was “85 percent White in 2000” was “barely 60 percent White in 2020.” Many outlets made this same point, by the way. Most failed to mention that the bulk of that demographic change came from the 750% rise during that time in the county’s Asian population, whose members of course made up a significant part of the opposition to the school policies. It was impossible to make it through a paragraph of most of these national accounts without hitting a bluntly provable lie.

Again, the point in spending so much time on the other parts of the story is to underscore that whole ranges of people here, of multiple races and political persuasions, would have been angry for a dozen serious reasons even if the term “Critical Race Theory” never came up. The punchline is that as a point of fact, the national press got even this wrong. The “Action Plan to Combat Systemic Racism” did contain heavy doses of CRT, or CRT-inspired thinking, or at least that’s what the plan’s own local advocates believed (Barts and the Antiracist Parents Group constantly referred to the “anti-CRT” enemy, for instance). It was also what many traditionally liberal press outlets initially reported, not that it particularly matters.

The significance of “Critical Race Theory” instead became that the national framing of the Loudoun story around the idea of it as a giant ruse, constructed around an imaginary racist phantasm, became the crowning insult that ended up altering the balance of power in the state. This in turn led to the boffo ending: total humiliation for everyone responsible, but too late to repair the fractured county.

There’s a lot more. Taibbi goes on to explain that the Democratic establishment and the national media are lying to themselves and to everybody else when they describe what happened in Loudoun County as a white supremacist phenomenon. In fact, it involves privileged people — many of them non-white — who normally vote Democratic, but who rebelled against the insane woke policies of the school board, and against the school board’s authoritarian, profoundly un-American attempts to silence opposition. I was not a subscriber to the paid portions of Matt Taibbi’s Substack, but after a friend sent me Taibbi’s four-part report on Loudoun County, I bought a one-year subscription, to fund real journalism like this. I hope you too will subscribe.

The Taibbi dispatches are yet another example of why you cannot trust the mainstream media when it comes to reporting on anything related to culture war topics. Some conservatives like to think that the media intentionally lie about these things. I think this is not true. I believe that most journalists, especially those under 40, genuinely believe their own propaganda. They are like a team of reporters from Fundamentalism Today being sent to New Orleans to cover Mardi Gras. The hypermoralization of journalism in the younger generation of journalists has been a catastrophe. When trying to tell the complex truth of a story causes one to police oneself and one’s colleagues for wrongthink, and to shut down curiosity, then what use is journalism?

Matt Taibbi is no rational person’s idea of a conservative, but he renews my faith in old-school journalism. He — and Bari Weiss, at her Substack, a showcase for independent journalists — show that it really is possible to do good work in this field. You just have to be free of the ideological confines of the institutions. I recall back in 2003, being at a national convention of opinion journalists and editorial writers, my first time there. At the opening reception, I found the other conservatives in the hall; there were about four of us, versus hundreds of liberal colleagues. One of the conservatives, a woman who worked on an editorial page out West, prepared me for what was to come: get ready, she said, to hear a few days of spirited meetings in which everybody will speak as if they were tribunes of truth out to defend the defenseless and take stands for righteousness. In fact, she went on, most everybody here is an off-the-rack liberal who cannot bring themselves to grasp that they might be wrong about anything.

She was spot on, I found out. I later got permission from my boss to quit that professional association, because in my view, it was a sham. So many liberals and progressives accept it as a dogmatic truth that they are on the side of the angels. It blinds them to the messiness of the real world. As we have seen in Loudoun County — and as Taibbi’s reporting highlights — woke ideology prevents Democrats from recognizing how the world is changing around them, and how people whose interests they believe themselves to be advocating for are beginning to see them as hostile to their family’s best interests.

If Republican lawmakers had any guts and vision, they would exploit this anti-woke feeling, and come up with policy proposals to fight it, and to return to old-fashioned American values of rewarding hard work and achievement, and creating a system that does that. But will they? Or are they so embedded in the elite networks, where living by the lies of wokeness is so endemic that no one dares to criticize it for fear of being called a bigot, that they cannot find their voice?

The first non-Trumpy Republican who can come up with a compelling anti-woke message, along with credible anti-woke policy proposals, and attack wokeness as a betrayal of the promises of America, will win the presidency — and do so by winning over a significant number of immigrant voters who have had enough of this nonsense.

UPDATE: A reader comments:

As an Asian American immigrant parent in Loudoun-adjacent Fairfax County, Taibbi’s reporting has been nothing short of cathartic. Finally, a leading journalist centers the story on our oft-ignored communities, the “inconvenient minority” that flouts the black-white, victim-oppressor binary now popular in the American left. We hold heterodox views on many issues — for example, are largely supportive of a national health care system and increased legal immigration, but also support stricter policing — but education matters more than any other issue. It’s why we forego the luxuries typical of other American families — frequent meals out, vacations, new cars every 4-5 years, etc.

The fact is that Asian Americans are succeeding in college and average income IN SPITE of the persistent anti-Asian discrimination from mostly white liberals (but also wealth white conservatives). It would be one thing if equity policies for elite education actually improve the lives of the most disadvantaged — no matter their color. But just like woke capitalism, we know so-called equity in education is all a smokescreen to provide the white liberals a self-congratulatory “optical diversity” outcome.

In addition, many Asian countries have a cultural traditions celebrating hard-working, talented children from poor backgrounds. Thus, Asian American immigrants generally have no problem with admissions policies that give a leg up for truly disadvantaged children — as long as that is based on class/zip code (see the book “Place, not Race”), rather than skin tone. Here in the United States, we wouldn’t mind lowering admission standards for an Asian son of a dishwasher, Latino daughter of a migrant worker, black son of a single mom working two shifts at Wal-Mart, or white daughter of an out-of-work coal miner.

But again, that’s not what’s happening with equity and affirmative action. The main beneficiaries are wealthy white or upper-middle class black and brown children. It’s all about creating an artificial racial balance that doesn’t actually upend existing wealth disparities while indoctrinating these mostly-wealth students to further this charade once they’re adults. Asian American parents and students all know about the Asian penalty, with actual data (SAT scores, hours of studying, GPA) proving that we need to work twice as hard for the same opportunities.

Frankly I just wished that the equity crowd spent most of their time focused on ensuring the top 1000 American Descendents of Slaves (ADOS) from underprivileged high schools get into 1000 college or vocational schools, rather than manipulating the system so that only the top 10 gets into a top 10 elite school. Worse still, those top 10 places are mostly given to wealthy ADOS or African/Carribean immigrants, often over more deserving impoverished Asian Americans.

The irony for white liberals is that they would immediately halt their pro-immigration stance if we had actual equity terms of the immigrants’ country of origin. Because that would lead to a surge of Asian families (remember, Asians make up the vast plurality of global population, and probably an outright majority of people interested in immigrating to the U.S.), along with our merit-based educational values flooding into mostly white, liberal counties — taking more spots away from their children.

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Dinner For Shlimazels

Vomit? No, it's a citrus foam course at Bros, served in a plaster cast of the chef's mouth (Geraldine DeRuiter)

Have you ever been to an expensive restaurant that turned out to be a total rip-off? Well, let me tell you what, no matter how bad your experience was, it wasn’t as bad as what happened to the restaurant blogger Geraldine DeRuiter and her party at Bros, a Michelin-starred foo-foo restaurant in Lecce, Italy. But she got her revenge, penning an epic takedown of the joint. Here’s how it begins:

There is something to be said about a truly disastrous meal, a meal forever indelible in your memory because it’s so uniquely bad, it can only be deemed an achievement. The sort of meal where everyone involved was definitely trying to do something; it’s just not entirely clear what.

I’m not talking about a meal that’s poorly cooked, or a server who might be planning your murder—that sort of thing happens in the fat lump of the bell curve of bad. Instead, I’m talking about the long tail stuff – the sort of meals that make you feel as though the fabric of reality is unraveling. The ones that cause you to reassess the fundamentals of capitalism, and whether or not you’re living in a simulation in which someone failed to properly program this particular restaurant. The ones where you just know somebody’s going to lift a metal dome off a tray and reveal a single blue or red pill.

I’m talking about those meals.

At some point, the only way to regard that sort of experience—without going mad—is as some sort of community improv theater. You sit in the audience, shouting suggestions like, “A restaurant!” and “Eating something that resembles food” and “The exchange of money for goods, and in this instance the goods are a goddamn meal!” All of these suggestion go completely ignored.

That is how I’ve come to regard our dinner at Bros, Lecce’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, as a means of preserving what’s left of my sanity. It wasn’t dinner. It was just dinner theater.

No, scratch that. Because dinner was not involved. I mean—dinner played a role, the same way Godot played a role in Beckett’s eponymous play. The entire evening was about it, and guess what? IT NEVER SHOWED.

Bros is a modernist cuisine place. They served DeRuiter and her friends a 27-course dinner that took hours, and barely featured any food. More:

There is no menu at Bros. Just a blank newspaper with a QR code linking to a video featuring one of the chefs, presumably, against a black background, talking directly into the camera about things entirely unrelated to food. He occasionally used the proper noun of the restaurant as an adverb, the way a Smurf would. This means that you can’t order anything besides the tasting menu, but also that you are at the mercy of the servers to explain to you what the hell is going on.

The servers will not explain to you what the hell is going on.

Rand tries to figure out what part of this dish is edible.

He cannot.

They will not do this in Italian. They will not do this in English. They will not play Pictionary with you on the blank newspaper as a means of communicating what you are eating. On the rare occasion where they did offer an explanation for a dish, it did not help.

“These are made with rancid ricotta,” the server said, a tiny fried cheese ball in front of each of us.

“I’m… I’m sorry, did you say rancid? You mean… fermented? Aged?”

“No. Rancid.”

“Okay,” I said in Italian. “But I think that something might be lost in translation. Because it can’t be-”

“Rancido,” he clarified.

Trust me, my dears, you are going to want to read the whole thing. 

There are no words to describe the alchemy with which DeRuiter has transformed this miserable experience into revenge comedy. Her party spent four and a half hours, and over $200 per person, and walked away hungry, perplexed, and angry.

I found out about this because The New York Times ran a story on how the DeRuiter review went viral, and brought everybody out of the woodwork to complain about what pretentious con artists the restaurant’s chef-owner, Floriano Pellegrino, and his chef wife, Isabella Poti, are. And lo, it seems to be true! Excerpt:

Ms. Potì’s culinary chops and cheek bones (“Isabella has this face,” Mr. Pellegrino noted) have attracted fashion magazines and collaborations with Nike. While she is a polyglot, the chiseled Mr. Pellegrino doesn’t really speak English. But he does say “Hey, bro” to just about everyone, is inked with some questionable Bros-centric tattoos that some would regard as misogynistic and loves the F-word so much that he used it on the boxes of his Christmas panettones.

They have promotional deals with sunglass companies, ice cream bars, their own rugby team and a clothing brand. They have filmed videos for their menus as Adam and Eve, clad only in strategically placed leaves. A video for Bros’ summer 2021 menu came with an epilepsy warning.

“Why are us chefs only chefs?” Mr. Pellegrino said. “If I’m able to do other things, why only cook?”

This pair could have wandered in out of Paolo Sorrentino’s homage to Roman decadence, “The Great Beauty”. Well done, Geraldine DeRuiter! I’m going to bookmark her blog, The Everywhereist.

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Woke Crime Data Blackout

Three armed robbers steal from pedestrians in Philadelphia's Center City. Cops later arrested the suspects, believed to have committed string of armed robberies, but media withholding their race

News from the City of Brotherly Love:

The story reports:

As of December 6, Philadelphia had recorded 521 homicides for the year, surpassing New York’s 443 and Los Angeles at 352.

This is despite the fact that with a population of 1.5 million, Philly is less than half the size of Los Angeles and one-fifth of New York.

Remember that Philly is blessed to be one of those large American cities with a George Soros DA.

I’ve looked around at several versions of the robbed Congresswoman story, and one thing I can’t find is a physical description of the suspects. I assume in these cases that the suspects are black, and the media are deliberately hiding this fact. I was working in newspapers in the first decade of this century, when there was a push in the industry to stop identifying the race of crime suspects. At least some of the Dallas media embraced it. I remember sitting at my desk when it was reported that there was an armed robbery suspect loose in the Knox-Henderson neighborhood uptown. You would think that it would be of utmost importance to let the public know as much as it could about the physical description of a robber running around with a gun. But not the Dallas media, at least not most of it that afternoon. I finally found a TV station’s report about the situation, and it was the only one that mentioned the race of the suspect: black.

Back then, it was more important to local news editors and producers to keep white people from making negative judgments about black crime suspects than it was to protect them from an armed robber on the loose. I don’t imagine their news judgment has gotten any better, certainly not since the George Floyd killing.

My city, Baton Rouge, is having a record-setting year for homicides. I haven’t seen a detailed breakdown by demographics for 2021, but if it’s like every other year, the killings are almost entirely black-on-black murder, especially involving young black men. We aren’t hearing much about it from local Black Lives Matter enthusiasts, no doubt because black lives only really matter to them when they are taken by police officers. Shondreka James, the mother of one of those homicide victims, expresses the hopelessness of the moment here:

“Things are completely out of hand. No human, no law enforcement, no judge can actually stop this today,” she said.

The violence used to be confined to all-black neighborhoods, but now it is increasingly spilling over into majority white areas that used to be safe. Siegen Lane is in south Baton Rouge, on the opposite side of the city as the majority-black communities, but every couple of weeks there’s a report of gun violence there. One of my mom’s neighbors and her daughter were caught on a Siegen Lane shootout a few weeks back between two cars full of armed young black men.

My subdivision is racially mixed but majority white. Yet we have a property crime problem. If you follow the Next Door list, and watch people’s security camera videos, on those where you can tell the race and sex of the thief, they are invariably black males.

As a society, we never, ever talk about this stuff in public. Our newspapers and TV stations don’t report on it. Nobody runs op-eds about it, because this discourse is not permissible, any more than it is possible in our media to discuss anything to do with LGBT people or Muslims in a negative light. The taboos are very strong, especially in the age of cancel culture.

Now comes news that two major real estate brokerages are scrubbing information about crime rates from their home listings — this, to promote “equity”:

Realtor.com has removed crime data from its website, and Redfin has decided not to add it out of concerns that it could perpetuate racial inequity.

David Doctorow, the CEO of Realtor.com, said in a company update this week that the crime map layer has been removed from all search results on the website “to rethink the safety information we share on Realtor.com and how we can best integrate it as part of a consumer’s home search experience.”

Doctorow said the removal was part of a company effort to “level the playing field” and scrutinize what safety means to buyers and renters so that it can “reimagine how we integrate safety data” on the platform. Realtor.com has been collaborating with fair housing advocates as part of the initiative.

“Reimagine how we integrate safety data” is Orwellian phraseology for “figure out how to bury crime stats to hide the demographic characteristics. More:

“At this time of complexity in real estate, our team has been energized by our purpose to simplify real estate choices, especially for first-time homebuyers,” he wrote. “Yet we keep bumping up against one very old and persistent problem: the ability to afford and own a home can be unjustly limited by one’s race, ethnicity, or other personal characteristics.”

Well, okay, but what does home showings and mortgage offerings have to do with crime rates? Nothing, in fact. Why won’t you tell us how safe the neighborhood is?

Because, according to Redfin, crime data do not tell us anything about the safety of a neighborhood. Seriously, this is what Redfin claims — that you cannot trust data. More:

On the same day that Realtor.com announced that it was removing its crime data, Redfin came out with a full-throated denunciation of crime data being included on real estate websites. Redfin’s chief growth officer Christian Taubman announced that, after consideration, the company would not be adding crime data to its own platform.

Taubman said that Redfin had been weighing whether to add information about crime because one of the metrics that consumers consider when looking for a home to purchase is how safe the area around that home is. The company concluded that available crime data doesn’t accurately answer that question, and “given the long history of redlining and racist housing covenants in the United States there’s too great a risk of this inaccuracy reinforcing racial bias.”

Redfin highlighted the difference between crime and safety and said that through its research, which included surveys, people defined safety in a variety of ways. Taubman said that the available data, namely the Uniform Crime Report from the FBI, pertains to reported crimes and excludes information about crimes that go unreported and crimes that go unsolved. He said that data at a neighborhood level could lead to high inaccuracy.

“The fact that most crimes are missing creates a real possibility that the crimes that show up in the data set skew one way or another,” Taubman wrote. “And the fact that most reported crimes go unsolved means that some of the crimes being reported in fact may not be crimes.”

This is total horsesh*t, of course. Taubman and his woke capitalist colleagues don’t want to report crime rates because they don’t want home buyers of any race putting distance between themselves and predominantly black neighborhoods, because that’s where most of the crime is. They would rather see people buy houses that put themselves and their families in danger of crime than be thought of as perpetuating racial stereotypes about who commits most violent crime — demographic stereotypes that are almost always true. It’s like the Dallas media back in the day: they think the real danger to the common good is not from a black armed robber running around uptown, but from white people making a racial judgment about black men and crime.

The thing is, any home buyer with a lick of sense is going to check out the crime stats in neighborhoods where he is looking to purchase. You’d be a fool not to. Here is the 2020 homicide map for Baton Rouge. If you know the city, you can tell that the majority of these killings happened in predominantly black parts of town:

 

Here is a graphic from Neighborhood Scout, showing where the most crime-ridden neighborhoods are. Again, it’s easy to see that these are the predominantly black parts of our majority-black city:

 

The Baton Rouge Police Department releases annual crime stats, but keeps demographic data out of it. But they do share that data with the FBI. Want to know how the homicide stats broke down demographically in my city in 2020? Look at this FBI graphic:

 

If you look further, you will see that the overwhelming majority of victims and offenders are males, with young people disproportionately represented. If you are going to be murdered in Baton Rouge, you are overwhelmingly likely to be black, and so is your killer (nobody can seriously think that the fifty murderers of unknown race are anything other than disproportionately black).

Look, I understand why this is a painful subject to talk about. But the idea that woke capitalists in the real estate business would rather sell people houses in riskier neighborhoods for crime rather than give them data and let the customer decide what to do with that knowledge infuriates me. In 2005, when we bought our first house, in Dallas, we didn’t have a lot of money, and ended up choosing a house in a mixed-race gentrifying neighborhood. It was what we could afford, and besides, we looked at the crime stats, and though violent crime was a lot closer to our street than we would have liked, we concluded that the risks and the rewards made it worthwhile. No agent back then felt it necessary to hide relevant crime data from us to prevent us from making a decision they might regard as racist.

How long are we all going to have to live by these lies that the overclass imposes on us? Why are we not allowed to talk about these things? Do these patronizing wokesters think that black families are pleased to live in crime-infested neighborhoods? My neighborhood is a plain-jane middle class subdivision, and I am quite sure that the black families who live in this neighborhood were happy to move to one where the streets are safer, even if most people who live here are white. The desire for a safe place to raise one’s children is not limited to people of any race. As a parent, I want to live in the safest place I can afford. Doesn’t everybody with kids want the same thing? In a city, that is my No. 1 priority when considering buying a home. Why should these do-gooder real estate agents withhold basic information like that from ordinary people of whatever race? Why do they get virtue points from hiding ideologically inconvenient truths from the public?

Let me poll the room: does anybody here think that real estate agencies, media outlets, and other gatekeepers withholding this kind of data from consumers makes us a less racist society? Or does it make us more suspicious, because we assume that relevant information is being withheld from us for political reasons?

UPDATE: El Cristero Americano, our indefatigable working-class Latino reader from the Bay Area, writes:

Let’s be honest, even if all the above organizations and industries you mentioned above DID tell the truth it’s not like anyone who hasn’t been paying attention for the past 65 years doesn’t already know the truth. All of my Black colleagues (who are earning a solid union wage) try to get as far away from the ghetto as possible as soon as they can afford to. Who wants to sleep in a bathtub due to nightly drive bys in the neighborhood?

The Ghetto, perpetuates a Ghetto culture, a criminal subculture and a Ghetto mentality (as underlined in Gangsta Rap) that can only produce monsters. Then when do gooder White Upper Middle Class Liberals take these Monsters and relocate them to the Lily White suburbs thinking that will turn these monsters back into regular human beings guess what happens? The Suburbs become a new ghetto (which has happened to more than one suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area).

I’ve known more than that one working class Black Man who told me that’s why they married a White lady or a Latina or Aidan Lady because they want to escape the Ghetto completely. They don’t want to have ghetto children and they don’t want ghetto relatives. Nothing racist about that. It’s just honesty.

There are poor, drug addled, White areas of California I wouldn’t want to raise my kids in either. Same with the Barrios (and I’m Brown skinned of Mexican heritage). I think I mentioned once that when my family got priced out if San Francisco in the late 80’s we almost moved to the Mission District (the traditional Latino neighborhood in town) but that neighborhood was gang ridden at that time and my Mother (God bless her) decided against raising three half Mexican boys in the Mission.

This isn’t really about race. This is about culture. I remember I and my future Brother In Law (who is as White as White can be) came to the rescue of a suburban Skater friend of ours (who was Black as Black) could be because he had been marooned in a bad part of Oakland, California and was scared to death because here he was a Black man dressed like a Skateboarder with a lip piercing and an accent that could be that of a So Cal surfer marooned in the Ghetto and he was afraid of what Black Ghetto dwellers might do to him. We got him home safe.

It is culture, not skin color. This reminds me of the black girl that my late sister took under her wing in her first year of teaching, back in 1992. The child came from a very poor and broken family. My sister decided to go out of her way to help her. She mentored the girl all through school. The girl went on to escape the mess of her family, to get a college education, marry a good man she met in the military, and start a family of her own in California. I found out about all this when I was researching the book I wrote about my sister, who was called by this young woman “my angel.” When we finally met, I asked the young woman, now a strong Christian, if she had ever considered moving back to our hometown. No, she said sadly, and explained that it would be impossible, because if she and her husband brought their kids back into that world, her siblings and their kids would destroy them with their dysfunctional culture of grifting, drug abuse, and alcoholism.

It is a terrible thing that black people like that young woman are denounced by some other black people as inauthentically black because they aspire to live a normal life of faith, family, hard work, education, and responsibility. Over a decade ago, when I lived in Dallas, the city observed the anniversary of the court-ordered desegregation of its schools. There was a lot of media talk about “white flight” from Dallas public schools. My old friend, the late Wick Allison, publisher of the city magazine D, pointed out in one of his essays that to call what happened “white flight” is only half the story. Once they had been freed from racist laws prohibiting where they could live, black families who were middle class or who aspired to be middle class got the hell out of the ghetto and moved to the suburbs, where they could raise their kids in peace. Who could blame them?

This blog used to have a regular commenter, a white woman who said once that she had escaped a badly dysfunctional family system, and, if memory serves, was relieved to be able to raise her own children outside of its corrupting influence. When white people do things like that, it doesn’t carry a stigma, at least not outside of the immediate family. But I’ve noticed in reading the media over the years that black people who do similar things may face condemnation for “leaving others behind” — as if wanting something better and safer for their kids made them disloyal to their race.

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Covid, Totalitarianism, & The Machine

We are all being integrated into the Machine, says Paul Kingsnorth (Thales digital wallet screengrab)

The English novelist and essayist Paul Kingsnorth started his Substack newsletter, The Abbey of Misrule, earlier this year. Subscribing to it is one of the best decisions I’ve made in 2021. In his latest reflection on how the global reaction to Covid is ushering us into a dystopian world, Kingsnorth ponders the meaning of the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” project. The latest Kingsnorth post is one he characterizes thus:

I want to look at the story the Machine is telling us about these times. I want to look at the world we are being rapidly steered into, as covid-19 becomes a kind of techno-political sandbox: a testing-ground for new ways of being human in an increasingly post-human world.

Kingsnorth dives into the Great Reset by reading the book advocating it authored by Klaus Schwab, head of the WEF (the Davos people). He writes that the book is both boring and sinister, in the sense that the big plans globalists like Schwab have for the world are dull, yet deeply dystopian. Kingsnorth:

The covid event, explains Schwab, has shown that ‘we live in a world in which no-one is really in charge.’ For plenty of us, this might sound like a good thing, but for globalist thinkers like Schwab it is a problem to be solved. ‘There cannot be a lasting recovery without a global strategic framework of governance’, he writes. Nation states and their kindly allies in the ‘global business community’ must unite to ‘build back better’ (you may have heard this somewhere before). What does this mean? It means that there is no going back.

More:

While ‘some of the old habits will certainly return’ after the pandemic ends, writes Schwab, ‘many of the tech behaviours that we were forced to adopt during confinement will through familiarity become more natural.’ Home working, digital monitoring of employees by their companies, Zoom meetings and e-deliveries, not to mention the whole structure of the QR-coded ‘vaccine passport’ system: much of this is likely to remain in the new normal that covid has created. In the reset future, we will reconsider things which once would have been second-nature: things like spending time with our loved ones. Why, asks Schwab, would we endure ‘driving to a distant family gathering for the weekend’ when ‘the WhatsApp family group’ (though admittedly ‘not as fun’) is nevertheless ‘safer, cheaper and greener’? Why indeed?

This is the essence of the Great Reset: the construction of a future which is at once controlled and catatonic, dystopian and dull, monitored and monotonous beyond bearing. A future in which global corporations are free to build the world they have long desired: a borderless, interconnected market technocracy, in which each human individual is a tracked, traced and monitored production and consumption machine – all in the name of public health and safety.

I finished the final edits for Live Not By Lies just as Covid was dawning. In the book, I write about how soft totalitarianism is coming upon us in the guise of both compassion and safety. For example, some progressive New York Times staffers protested that running an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton advocating for something that 50 percent of Americans believe in must not be allowed to happen, because it would pub BIPOC Times staffers in danger. This absurdity actually worked. James Bennet lost his job over it. Similarly, our schools must become centers for disseminating transgender propaganda, because if not, PEOPLE WILL DIE!

You see how this works. Well, I could not have anticipated how the safety argument for soft totalitarianism would be advanced by a global pandemic. This is what Kingsnorth is writing about now. He says that Schwab’s writings are red meat for conspiracy theorists, but they aren’t a conspiracy; Schwab advocates for them out in the open, and anyway, he’s not saying anything that hasn’t been advocated by tech giants for years. More:

The confusion, anger and division swirling around us all right now is a result of our confused inability to navigate the techno-coup we are living through, or even to quite understand what is happening.

But the future is off the drawing board now. Take those QR-enabled vaccine passports, which have been rolled out so rapidly all over the world over the last twelve months. They make little sense from a ‘public health’ perspective, since we know that the currently available vaccines don’t prevent transmission of the virus. But they do have the effect of normalising the technologies involved: technologies which were in the pipeline anyway. Digital vaccine passports have been in preparation in the European Union, for instance, since at 2018. In late 2019, months before the pandemic began, trials of ‘digital identity systems’ linked to vaccination status began in Bangladesh. It was hoped that they would demonstrate how to ‘leverage immunization as an opportunity to establish digital identity’ on a worldwide scale.

Again: no outlandish claims are required to make sense of this. It is simply an acceleration of the existing direction of travel. Most of us already carry around in our pockets a portable tracking device, which monitors our geographical location, harvests data on everything from our political views to our shopping preferences, and can be used by the State in extremis to determine who our friends and contacts are. It’s called a smartphone. As covid becomes endemic over the next year or two, and as new variants keep popping up, there will likely be continuing pressure for permanent guarantees of health and safety. Handily, we may be able to use those smartphones, already apped-up with our covid QR codes, as permanent ‘health passports’, which will allow us to access goods and services safely and digitally in the dangerous new world – whilst penalising or excluding anyone who refuses to avail of the recommended public health measures.

Take a look at this cheerful video made to promote the adoption of “digital wallets” — a technology that you carry with you in your smartphone, that keeps all your records in one place, and gives you access to shopping and all kinds of services. Sounds convenient, right? Think about what this means, though — and how adopting this standard makes whoever controls digital wallet technology the lord and master of everybody’s life. This is a way the social credit system can sneak in through the back door.

(Here’s my own conspiracy theory: I don’t believe that there is a national coin shortage; I believe rather than the government declared that there is one at the beginning of Covid to compel us all to use electronic means for our transactions. Maybe they  genuinely did this to slow the spread of Covid, but have you noticed now that you are now accustomed to making all, or nearly all, of your transactions via debit or credit card? They have shifted, and are shifting, our way of buying and selling, to establish a system that makes it harder for those who have run afoul of the Machine to participate in commerce.)

As Kingsnorth warns:

Once we have accepted the premise that deep and ubiquitous levels of surveillance, monitoring and control are a price worth paying for safety – and we seem to have done that already – then almost anything is possible. 

Kingsnorth goes on to say that this is all part of a deeper movement to integrate humanity into a Machine — for example, the global Internet Of Things, which will digitize the body. I don’t know if his essays are subscription-only, but if not, by all means read the whole thing. This is coming, and coming fast. Kingsnorth’s most recent novel, Alexandria, is a dystopian adventure story set in a post-apocalyptic future, but like all good science fiction, it’s about what’s happening right now. Even unbelievers in religion can read the signs of these globalizing, techno-tyrannical times, and can start to prepare their own Benedict Options.

Please subscribe to The Abbey of Misrule. You won’t regret it. As some of you know, Paul converted to Orthodox Christianity back in January. This morning he sent to me a recording of the Romanian Orthodox nuns from the monastery near where he lives, singing “What Child Is This”. It is so pure, so unworldly in its beauty. Listen:

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American Christianity Is, Alas, Political

Influencer Jen Hatmaker is one of a vanishing breed: a progressive Christian (Lewis Howes podcast)

This is discouraging:

Follow the political scientist Ryan Burge (@ryanburge) on Twitter; he always has interesting data about religion in US political life.

This is really bad news, and not just spiritually — that is, for the souls of liberals, the eternal fate of which is incomparably more important than politics. It’s terrible politically because for the first time in US history, religion is becoming identified with one political party. This is very bad for the future of religious liberty. The Left will likely come to see “religious liberty” not as a fundamental American value, guaranteed by the Constitution, but as something conservatives use to exercise bigotry and privilege over liberals. Years ago, the pseudonymous Ivy League law professor Kingsfield told me that virtually nobody in elite law circles is a religious believer, and therefore lacks a natural understanding, inherent to believers, of why religion is important. Kingsfield said that the institutions that produce our federal judges are functionally atheistic — and this is going to have a profound impact on religious liberty jurisprudence down the road.

So too will the loss of religious believers in the voting population. Look at this other data from Prof. Burge:

There are more people in Gen Z who are atheist, agnostic, or None than there are Christians. The American coming into being is one in which God will be a stranger. What’s more, Gen Z is not only far more secular, it is also skews to the Left, especially on social issues, which is where political issues usually intersect with religious values. Mind you, religious liberals already side with political liberals on these issues, so the political effect of losing liberals to religion might be minimal. Nevertheless, the politicization of religion in America is a dangerous thing for religious liberty.

You are going to hear liberal commenters blame it on conservatives turning their churches into the Republican Party at prayer. I hate it when pastors do this, and yes, that must play a part in it, but the main driver is that liberals are simply leaving religion overall. There are plenty of liberal churches and temples that mix politics with religion; a Modern Orthodox Jewish friend told me recently that liberal Jewish families have been coming in greater numbers to his shul because they are sick and tired of progressive politics sermons at their Reformed synagogues. Liberals could be accommodated by liberal churches, but fewer and fewer of them believe. I expect we will hear many of them blame conservatives for driving them away from religion, despite the fact that liberal churches are everywhere. The fact that liberal churches are in steep decline gives lie to the self-serving belief that churches need to liberalize if they want to keep the young. Nevertheless, I anticipate that some liberals will loudly rationalize their loss of faith by projecting the guilt they feel onto those mean conservatives.

 

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Krampus Krashes Khristmas

Members of Krampus Seattle

Christmas in the small town of Leavenworth, Washington, is a bit different this year:

Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Grinch, snowmen and elves fill the streets of Leavenworth during the holiday season. Some are part of the city’s official holiday programming, while others are visitors simply eager to get into the holiday spirit.

During one weekend earlier this month, a group of horned half-goat, half-human creatures dressed in animal fur robes joined other holiday cosplayers in the streets of this Bavarian-themed town.

The bells around their waists marked their arrival, as they walked the streets of downtown Leavenworth. They were silent, letting their elaborate, dramatic wooden masks and costumes speak for themselves.

The members of Krampus Seattle have been introducing Washington holiday revelers to the tradition celebrated in Germany, Austria and several Eastern European countries for the past several years. According to the tradition, Krampus walks through the streets to terrify children into being good before St. Nicholas’ arrival the following day.

Krampus really is an Alpine tradition. But not everybody in Leavenworth is happy about it there. A local Catholic businessman and Knights of Columbus member says that the Chamber of Commerce told the Catholics to take a hike. Excerpt:

Benjamin Herreid, a Leavenworth, WA, restaurant owner and member of the Knights of Columbus, says the town’s Chamber of Commerce told the Knights their booth would not be included in this year’s public festivities. The exclusion of the Knights was itself disturbing, but the Chamber of Commerce had something much worse in store, Herreid reports.

“Our booth has been a feature of the Christmas lighting for the past 30+ years,” Herreid wrote in a Facebook post. After the Chamber inexplicably turned the Knights away, Herreid and his business partner “made space on our restaurant’s patio for the K of C sausage booth,” whose proceeds go toward the mentally and physically handicapped, as well as the “spiritually handicapped (all of us),” he wrote.

Herreid said that while the exclusion of the Knights could have been “unintentional,” it “seems to illustrate the priorities of those leading the charge in this town.” After a recent election and the introduction of COVID restrictions, officials “rebranded” the longstanding local custom of “Christmas Lighting,” axing the word “Christmas” from the title and renaming it “Village of Lights,” Herreid told CatholicVote Monday.

After that and the kerfuffle with the Knights of Columbus, Herreid began to see a pattern. But nothing prepared him for what happened next.

On the opening weekend of the town’s public holiday celebrations, “the Chamber had the audacity/naivety/stupidity to kick off this non-holiday by inviting Krampus Seattle,” a “group of demonic horned half-goat cosplayers,” to “give speeches at our pavilion and pub crawl throughout the downtown terrifying our children,” Herreid wrote on Facebook.

In this story, the Chamber of Commerce in the Bavarian-themed village responds. Excerpt:

For years, the Knights had a booth selling sausages at the Leavenworth Christmas festival. But this year, the chamber did not get access to Front Street’s right of way – this being the main drag through town – as it is now closed to traffic.

All of that boiled down to the Knights not getting a booth because it needed both electric power and water, and such a combination was not available, says the chamber. It’s complicated setting up everything from the winter market to the carolers to the live music.

And:

Regarding the name change for the festivities, the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce said the “Christmas Lighting Festival” title had been used for years on the first three weekends in December. Then, each Saturday and Sunday there was a “flip the switch” to turn on the light displays.

The chamber said 20,000-plus people would visit, all “looking for parking spots that did not exist” and causing “traffic backups for miles.” Now the lights stay on every day to spread out the crowds, and the organization says “a rebranding was necessary.” So, the new name: “Village of Lights.”

What do you think? Krampus is an authentic Alpine tradition, and that includes Bavaria, so the town is not pulling this out of nowhere. On the other hand, I would not want to see that on the streets at Christmastime, and especially wouldn’t want my little children to see it. I don’t believe the Chamber of Commerce’s excuse for changing the name of the Christmas lights festival. It’s the same de-Christianization mentality that leads anxious schools and other institutions to rebrand it “Winter Festival” or “Holiday Festival”. I can easily see how welcoming Yuletide demons on the opening weekend of a festival that for the first time gets rid of the name “Christmas” would upset people.

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Can Politics Save Christianity?

'Make America great again!' Donald Trump preached at First Baptist Dallas on Sunday (First Dallas)

Ross Douthat’s Sunday column took up the question of whether politics can save Christianity. He’s responding to fellow right-of-center Catholics who have become energized around the idea that some version of robust integralist politics can turn the country around before it goes off the cliff. These thinkers also claim that it would bolster the flagging faith. Douthat agrees, sort of, but mostly does not. Excerpts:

Part of their vision is correct. A more fully Christian politics would be a powerful witness for the faith. Political power can lay the social foundations for religious growth. And a healthy church inevitably generates a “cultural Christianity” that draws in cynical and halfhearted figures as well as true believers.

But when the church itself is unhealthy or poorly led, a plan to start its revitalization with secular political actors and cultural Christianity — with Donald Trump and Eric Zemmour, presumably — seems destined for disappointment.

True. Some of these guys are super-supportive of Pope Francis, but it’s hard to see how it makes sense to expect a revival led by a Church whose pontiff is rushing in most ways towards embracing progressivism. Francis has demonstrably more affection for pro-LGBT Catholics than for Latin massgoing Catholics. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on your point of view, but it seems silly to expect a traditionalist Catholic politics to emerge when the most vital right-of-center forces in the Catholic Church are deeply at odds with the Roman pontiff.
Douthat continues:

And here I think the analogy to the new progressivism especially fails. What gets called “wokeness” is particularly powerful among elites, yes, but the shift in attitudes on, say, racism is broader than that; if similar numbers of previously secular Americans were suddenly endorsing Christian doctrine we would rightly call it a revival. Well before it began to impose itself on the doubtful and reluctant, the new progressivism ascended — first within the church-like structures of academia, and then in liberal culture more broadly — precisely because it had conviction on its side, as against the more careerist and soulless aspects of liberal meritocracy.

Social justice activists did not triumph, in other words, by first getting an opportunistically woke politician elected president and having her impose their doctrines by fiat. Their cultural advance has had political assistance, but it began with that most ancient power — the power of belief.

Which is also how Christian renewal has usually proceeded in the past. The politically powerful play a part, the half-believing come along, but it was the Dominicans and Franciscans who made the High Middle Ages, the Jesuits who drove the Counter-Reformation, the apostles and martyrs who spread the faith before Roman emperors adopted it.

It’s been that way from the very start. Kings eventually bowed before the crucifix, but in the worlds of the wisest Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, “the most efficacious argument” for Christ’s divinity is that “without the support of the secular power he has changed the whole world.”

This is completely correct, in my view. If you’ve been reading me for long enough, you know that around 2005, when the newly re-elected Evangelical Republican president and the GOP majority in Congress could not get through the Senate and send to the states an amendment that would enshrine traditional marriage (that is, one man + one woman, exclusively) in the Constitution, even though the pro-trad marriage position was popular at the time (59 percent opposed same-sex marriage) — well, that’s when I knew that the cause was lost. Elite culture, even elite Republican culture, had already flipped to the pro-gay side, and the propaganda was unstoppable. It was around this time that I had a conversation with a young, churchgoing Republican colleague at the Dallas Morning News, who said that I was wrong to complain that our newspaper was biased in its coverage of the same-sex marriage issue. Of course we were, he said, and that’s a good thing.

“If we were in the Civil Rights era, would you expect us to give fair and balanced coverage to the KKK?” he asked. He wasn’t kidding. This was also a turning point for me, because I knew that the fix was completely in on the media side, and that it would not be possible for trads to get a fair hearing, or even to be treated as people who were wrong, but who had a point worth discussing.

Back then, I wrote a lot about how Christians should read the signs of the times, and forget winning this war, instead focusing all our time and resources on building strong religious liberty defenses around ourselves and our institutions. A lot of fellow conservatives called me a cheese-eating surrender monkey over that. Hadn’t I seen the polls? they would say. Our cause is popular! Yes, it was popular, but it didn’t take a prophet to recognize how shallow and weak that popularity was. Same-sex marriage became the law of the land in large part because its advocates correctly grasped that they were appealing to what Americans had already come to believe about marriage, about the human person, and sexuality. The battle for traditional marriage had been lost during the Sexual Revolution; it took fifty years, though, for the effect of that loss to shatter the glass barrier protecting traditional marriage from the revolutionaries. Now the revolutionaries were like my Millennial colleague: normie Republicans who go to church.

Today, 70 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor same-sex marriage. It’s not even a meaningful political issue anymore. I would not figure a politician’s position on same-sex marriage into whether or not I would vote for him, because that issue is settled. I am more interested in the politician’s view on transgender rights, and on their view of religious liberty when it conflicts with LGBT rights claims. Marriage is over. I wish it weren’t the case, but we have to deal with reality.

Same-sex marriage triumphed because America is a less Christian nation than it once was. Put another way, we get the politics we have now because the faith has been in decline for decades. Sociologist of religion Christian Smith, back in 2005, published his first book about the woebegone state of Biblical and traditional Christianity, which he argues had declined in favor of a pseudo-Christianity he christened “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. MTD rejects dogmatic Christianity in favor of a touchy-feely, vague sentimentality that teaches that God wants us all to be happy, so whatever makes you happy is fine, as long as you are nice.

If you want to see a conservative version of MTD at work, listen to the rambling mess of a talk Donald Trump gave at First Baptist Dallas yesterday. They were thrilled to have him. He began by saying he wasn’t going to read the speech prepared for him, but that he preferred to speak “from the heart.” He went on to speak about how unfair the media was to him, and about MAGA. In other words, he spoke about his true god: himself. Then he made a stab at reading from the prepared text, which had a few words in it about Jesus. Watch for yourself; I’ve cued it to the beginning of Trump’s speech:

Now, I don’t have any problem with Christians voting for Trump as a matter of self-protection, given the alternative. But come on, can anybody really claim that Trump’s presidency brought more Americans to the faith, or to a stronger Christian commitment? If the next GOP standard-bearer is a saintly man or woman, I still don’t think that it will make a meaningful difference one way or the other to the faith. Who looks to politicians as examples of religious leadership?

Hungary’s Viktor Orban is a practicing Calvinist (20 percent of Hungarians are Calvinists), but he has a much more realistic concept of the relationship between politics and faith. I can’t find the source for the quote, but I read an interview with him in which he said that the best a political leader can do is to create the conditions under which faith might flourish — but he can’t make it happen. This seems wise. I believe Orban is doing as good a job as can be expected, trying to protect religious belief from the forces that undermine it, but this is not something that can be commanded or legislated. As Douthat points out in his column, wokeness triumphed because a sufficient number of people believed in it, or at least had lost real faith in the principles that would have given them the courage to stand up to it. The churches — all of them — have done a poor job catechizing and discipling their people over the last fifty years. Among US Catholics, for example, about 70 percent don’t believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist — which is staggering! If people have lost the faith, how can they be commanded, or even just nudged hard, by the state to believe again?

Don’t misunderstand me: I would vote, and will vote, for the anti-woke politician in any given election. But I don’t believe that will have much to do with whether or not the Christian faith flourishes, except in the narrow case of not persecuting churches and religious schools. That’s not nothing! But it’s not remotely enough to pull Christianity in the West out of its decline.

Leaving aside the situation Douthat observes with regard to the feeble state of the churches of the West, there is also the matter of a Western public that doesn’t want to hear what those churches have to say. I don’t believe this is entirely the fault of the churches, and probably not even mostly their fault. Most people today have an approach to faith that is highly individualistic and emotivist. This is how American culture is today. I’ve been reading Iain McGilchrist’s new book lately, and to use his conceptual framework, the idea that the state could command people to believe in Christianity, even indirectly, is a very left-brained mistake to make. With this new book I am now working on, I will explore right-brained ways to make the faith new — starting with Benedict XVI’s idea that the best arguments the Church has for the faith is the art it produces, and the saints it creates.

To recap: I believe that politics has to play a role in defending the faith, but I think it is folly to believe that that role could or should be primary. Religion doesn’t work that way, and neither does politics. I back the Benedict Option because I see the primary role of religious people now is to build strong communities of faith and practice, capable of riding out the disintegration of our society. Our society is not coming apart because we have bad politics; it is more the case that we have bad politics because our society is falling apart. The Benedict Option is a strategic retreat, like Ernst Junger’s “Forest Passage”, and its purpose is to keep the faith alive for a time when the world is open to it again. Chesterton once wrote that St. Benedict emerged in a time of great spiritual scattering, after Rome’s fall, and founded a way to slowly re-gather western Europe’s spiritual energy. St. Francis and St. Dominic emerged centuries later, to scatter what Benedict had saved, when the time came for it. This is how I see the Benedict Option. 

I will vote for political candidates who do the most to protect religious liberty, and who, in my view, do the most to promote the common good. But I do not have any expectation that politicians can or will solve the crisis of belief that is eviscerating American society.

By the way, the excellent Marion Maréchal, who, I hope, will become France’s president one day, agrees that culture precedes politics. Excerpt:

Change has to be made from the top down, but it will never succeed if we don’t create islands of resistance from below that persist even when the government changes. It is necessary to build islands of resistance in society; it is through them that we will win. I often quote Gramsci, but it was not only Gramsci who said this: political victory comes only after a cultural victory. There are no political victories without cultural victories.

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New York Celebrates A Lady Penis


A passionately Democratic friend of mine is socially liberal, but more focused on economic policy. He has been steaming with anger over how the leadership of his party and the Left in general prioritizes culture-war issues, at the expense of creating what he considers to be a more economically just society. He is not a cultural conservative at all, but he thinks that the Left is screwing up its opportunities to rebalance economic inequality by taking on and emphasizing divisive culture war issues that alienate many people who are otherwise open to the Democratic economic message.

With reference to the failure of Biden’s Build Back Better, he texted a link to this New York magazine cover story yesterday, saying:

The Democratic agenda, midterm possibilities and credibility for a generation took a massive hit over the weekend. Look at what New York Magazine thinks is important enough to be their featured story.

Naturally I had to read the thing. Here’s the first line of the personal essay:

On the day I heard that my penis would be huge, I sobbed.

Oh boy. It’s popcorn on the aisle at the Prytania time. Let’s read on:

Phalloplasty in general, it was clear, was hard for people to accept. “Well, I will love you no matter what, sweetie,” a cis female best friend of mine said when I told her I was transitioning, years before — “as long as you don’t get a dick.” One flatly demanded, “Don’t get a dick.” It was, another transmasculine person I used to know said, disgusting, insane to want and to have a surgeon make a sensate phallus out of your arm or leg or somewhere and Frankenstitch it to your body, to go so far out of your way to opt in to a tool, perhaps the tool, of so much suffering. Most transmasculine people didn’t get one. The seminal print transmasc magazine was named after not getting one: Original Plumbing. I saw transmasculine support groups shut down and go silent more than once when someone brought up the procedure, and later, when I was that someone, I was twice invited to leave “with other people who might want to talk about that.” Whatever magical spectrum of unicorn gender expression was otherwise being embraced, it ended firmly before needing a socially, culturally, politically, historically, personally, emotionally, medically complicated dick.

But I did. And I couldn’t outrun it any longer. Literally: The day I gave in and admitted that for me it was penis or death came after a last-ditch bout of denial in which I drove 1,400 miles in three days only to have to acknowledge, devastated, at my destination that I couldn’t avoid it anymore.

Give me a lady penis, or give me death! It’s the cry of a revolutionary — a revolutionary whose cause has been taken up by the elites of American society. Did you know that the US military will pay for its troops to get lady penises? 

More:

It has happened at least once that someone did die. I was fully ready to, by which I mean I’d just spent nearly the last of my savings, which I’d burned navigating the emotional-mental-social-medical-legal-extreme-marginalization mindfuck shitshow of transitioning, on a burial plot just in case. One of the nodding heads in the group belonged to a nonbinary white person who was still horizontal in recovery from having had, a week prior, the worst happen, which was that after their procedure, in which all the fat and skin had been stripped from their left forearm from wrist to nearly elbow, along with major nerves, an artery, and veins, and then shaped into a tube and connected, in careful layers, to skin and blood vessels and nerves in their pelvis, their new penis had failed.

It died. On them.

But here they were, already getting ready for their surgeons to harvest a whole other part of their body within the month with zero hesitation. Because those three days they’d had their penis, they said, before being rushed into an eight-hour surgery that couldn’t save it — the feeling of it, even just for one moment, even still bloody and painful and packed with stitches: worth it. And I understood that immediately when, after a yearlong surgery waiting list and a deep quarantine and an anguished prerequisite COVID test I would either pass or lose my date over, I woke up last December in a hospital bed and before even glancing toward my lap, the room spinning from anesthesia and my lungs partially collapsed from four and a half hours on surgical ventilation and hundreds — plural — of stitches and a 40-square-inch hole in my thigh where I’d been skinned down to the muscle, I could suddenly feel, in a way I could never have fathomed, that this was what being alive was.

Life itself is having a Frankenpenis? This is worshiping a phallic god. This is mental illness. But see, Gabriel Mac, the author of this piece, is the emblematic figure of our time: we are committed to conquering Nature through technology, defying its limits, no matter what. When the philosopher of science Michael Hanby said that the Sexual Revolution is just the technological revolution applied to the human body, I wonder if even he imagined that he would live to see such a vindication of his insight as Gabriel Mac.

I’m not going to quote much more from the piece, which you should read for yourself. What is astonishing to me about it is how utterly obsessed this woman is with her pseudo-penis. She writes:

After my discharge, which included a grueling car ride wearing mesh hospital underwear packed full of gauze to keep my penis propped as close to perpendicular to my body as possible, I spent the first hour in bed singing top-volume falsetto Alicia Keys to my penis.

Over and over, Gabriel Mac keeps talking about how she either had to have a penis, or she was going to die. I believe her, in that I believe she was so obsessed, so mentally ill, that she fixated on mutilating her body to create a Frankenpenis, to the extent that life was not worth living without it. She described her body, pre-penis, as “a body that feels simultaneously dead and like an eternal wellspring of agony”. Again, I believe her. She is mentally ill, and in real pain. Later, she writes about a friend telling her how much nicer she is, post-op:

But when penis is self, as penis is a gift to self, it’s a gift, too, to others.

Penis is self. There is the core of identity politics: the idea that the human being, in all her complexity, can be reduced to an organ. The penis. The vagina. The skin and its shades.

Gabriel Mac decided to keep her vagina as well as her new penis. She calls herself a transmasculine gay man with a vagina and a penis. She construes this as her rebellion against, well, everything in our society. She writes:

If there was anything I had learned in transitioning, it was that what was right for me was rarely what, according to my patriarchal, heterosexist, racist, capitalist acculturation, “made sense” — which, obviously, could only be to live as a sexually available cute-lady vessel capable of carrying white babies.

Read the whole thing. It is important to understand that Gabriel Mac (meaning a person like her) is a hero to the cultural Left in our country, which, having gained control of the institutions of American society — including, as you have been reading on this blog, the US military — is setting out to compel all of America to accept that Gabriel Mac, a suicidal, phallus-obsessed, mentally ill woman who now has both a Frankenpenis and a vagina, is, in fact, a man.

We are mad. We are decadent. And we are going to fall hard. Once again, MacIntyre:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.  What they set themselves to achieve instead–often not recognizing fully what they were doing–was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.  If my account of our moral condition, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point.

How will you and your people get through the coming fall? This is why I wroteThe Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies. The day is coming for all of us — and is already here for many Americans — where you will not be allowed to deny in any way that Gabriel Mac is truly a man. What will you do then? American children are now being taught in many schools that Gabriel Mac — a bespoke hermaphroditic woman who, in a blasphemous parody of the Genesis creation story, had flesh and fat removed from her thigh to make a “man” of herself —  is a man because she identifies as one. These same children are being propagandized by schools, by social media, and by popular culture that they can be whatever gender they want to be, no matter what Mom and Dad say.

You might wish to believe that you can get away by ignoring this phenomenon, ascribing it to the cultural fringes. You could not possibly be more wrong. The ideology that celebrates what Gabriel Mac has done to herself is normative among American elites, and that means that it controls the future of our society. This ideology is coming for you and your kids. You had better wake up now.

The New York cover story is not just freakery. (Nor, we should say, is Gabriel Mac’s pre-op dysphoria a phantom illness; anybody driven to contemplate suicide deserves compassion.) What we have to face is that this kind of phenomenon in the media intends to destroy the gender binary. To my knowledge, there has never been a civilization that destroys the gender binary. If we keep going down this insane, suicidal path, this one will not last, nor will it deserve to. There are civilizations in this world that want to live. We, increasingly, are not one of them.

UPDATE: A reader who is also a professor follows the logic to its insane conclusion:

Read your post about Lady Penis.  But given the unassailability of identity claims in the culture, why believe there’s any such thing as a penis qua penis to begin with?  If male and female are reducible to subjective identity beliefs and nothing more without remainder, why not extend the same analysis to penises and vaginas? The gender bending non-binary woke tell us that men can have vaginas and women penises, but does not that assume that vaginas and penises are particular things, each of which shares a universal form, e.g., penisness and vaginaness?  But doesn’t this just smuggle in the very gender essentialism that we are told is false?  Consequently, why could not someone say that her conventional penis is really a vagina? If a pre-op transgender woman is a woman with a penis, why can’t a post-op transgender woman say that her conventional looking surgically constructed vagina is a penis? And why not vice versa?  The fact that Gabriel Mac thinks of “his” phalloplasty-made “penis” as a penis is nice for “him” now.  But suppose a year from now Mac says, “Yea know what, I can’t help but think of my phalloplasty-made `penis’ as a vagina that merely has the appearance of a conventional penis. So, I am a transgender man with a vagina.”  Now suppose there’s another person, Mac2, who goes through all the same procedures as Mac and is otherwise identical to Mac but, unlike Mac, continues to think of “his” phalloplasty-made “penis” as a penis.  Whose right Mac or Mac2?  Under all the premises of gender bending non-binary wokism, both are right.  But in that case, penises and vaginas, as objectively real human parts with their own universal forms, are as obsolete as men and women.

UPDATE.2:“Gabriel Mac” is the nom de trans of a woman who went by the name “Mac McLellan” when earlier in her journalistic career, and who claimed to have been so traumatized by doing a story on gang rape in Haiti that she staged her own violent rape to help her deal with it. This woman is very, very disturbed.

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Iain McGilchrist’s Great New Book

Iain McGilchrist (McGilchrist documentary)

(Over on my subscription-only Substack (“Rod Dreher’s Diary”), which focuses more on spiritual matters, I’ve been writing about the new book by psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist. I’m going to repost one of the diary entries here, because it’s an important book that I want more people to know about — RD)

I am deep into Iain McGilchrist’s massive tome The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World, and I could not possibly be more delighted with it. Mind you, this book is about 1,500 pages in all, and comes in two volumes. If you want the hardback, you have to pay $157, but I got the Kindle version for $40. Not only is Kindle far easier for me to deal with as a researcher (it has a notes function that allows you to highlight passages you like, and export them via e-mail to your laptop), but with a book this big, it’s easier on the wrists. At the end of this post, you will know if someone you know would like to get this book for Christmas; it appeals to a certain kind of person, and boy oh boy, am I ever that kind of person. It might be too late to get the hardback, but not the Kindle version.

The first part of the book is a fairly technical discussion of neuroscience, and what it has to tell us about perception. As you know if you read Dr. McGilchrist’s previous work, The Master And His EmissaryThe Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, the psychiatrist focuses on the different ways of processing information in the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. I don’t want to go into explaining his basic hypothesis here, so if you are just coming to his work, check out the basics on Channel McGilchrist.

This new book seems to be more focused on the philosophical and metaphysical implications of his thesis. It’s hard to say for sure, because this is a massive book, and I’m only about a third of the way through it. The first part of the book is fairly technical, presenting a massive amount of neuroscience research about the two hemispheres, and how deficits in one affects a person’s perception. The core idea is that the left brain is logical and analytical, while the right brain is more intuitive. Rather than try so summarize the new book myself, let me post this from Channel McGilchrist:

In this landmark new book, Iain McGilchrist addresses some of the oldest and hardest questions humanity faces – ones that, however, have a practical urgency for all of us today:

  • Who are we?
  • What is the world?
  • How can we understand consciousness, matter, space and time?
  • Is the cosmos without purpose or value?
  • Can we really neglect the sacred and divine?

In doing so, he argues that we have become enslaved to an account of things dominated by the brain’s left hemisphere, one that blinds us to an awe-inspiring reality that is all around us, had we but eyes to see it. He suggests that in order to understand ourselves and the world we need science and intuition, reason and imagination, not just one or two; that they are in any case far from being in conflict; and that the brain’s right hemisphere plays the most important part in each. And he shows us how to recognise the ‘signature’ of the left hemisphere in our thinking, so as to avoid making decisions that bring disaster in their wake.

Following the paths of cutting-edge neurology, philosophy and physics, he reveals how each leads us to a similar vision of the world, one that is both profound and beautiful – and happens to be in line with the deepest traditions of human wisdom.

It is a vision that returns the world to life, and us to a better way of living in it: one we must embrace if we are to survive.

You can see why I am intensely interested in this book as research for my own project.

Here are some of the passages that really jumped out at me:

And the whole is shot through with purpose (a notion, by the way, that has nothing to do with some sort of engineering God), and endlessly creative, not pointless and passive. This cosmos is one from which we are never separate, but out of which we arise, in which we dwell, and to which, finally, we return.

More:

The world we know cannot be wholly mind-independent, and it cannot be wholly mind-dependent. Once again, this leaves no room for a philosophy of ‘anything goes’. What is required is an attentive response to something real and other than ourselves, of which we have only inklings at first, but which comes more and more into being through our response to it–if we are truly responsive to it. We nurture it into being; or not. In this it has something of the structure of love.

More:

Once again, the whole illuminates the parts as much as the parts can illuminate the whole. To the left hemisphere, you find the truth about something by building it up from bits. But, as the right hemisphere is aware, to understand it you need to experience it as a whole, since the whole reveals as much about the nature of the parts as the parts do about the nature of the whole.

And:

This clarification was necessary, because I will be explaining that the world we experience–which is the only one we can know–is affected by the kind of attention we pay to it. This implies that there is no simple and single, wholly mind-independent, truth. What I did not want to appear to be saying, at any cost, was that there is no such thing as truth; or that reality is simply made up at our whim. Absolutely not.

This is important to understand. He is not a relativist! But he is trying to help his readers to see that we, the observing subjects, have a role to play in determining our own sense of reality. Reading McGilchrist’s new book, I understand more deeply the meaning of the St. Galgano image, “The Temptation of St. Galgano,” which a Genoese artist gave me under mysterious circumstances:

The temptation of St. Galgano is to take his eyes off of God, to divide his attention.

The most exciting thing I’ve learned so far from the new book is how Orthodox Christianity works. I have lacked the conceptual vocabulary to explain it, even to myself. Well, now I get it. McGilchrist’s thesis is that we in the West have allowed our collective mind to be unhealthily dominated by the left brain, which prioritizes propositional thinking, and mistrusts intuition and other noetic ways of knowledge. He writes in this rich passage:

We now tend to think of truth as a matter of propositions. The word ‘truth’ in its origin indicates not a proposition, but a disposition. ‘True’ (cf German treu, faithful) is related to ‘trust,’ and is fundamentally a matter of what one believes to be the case. Truth and trust (belief) go together. One cannot have trust in a society where there is no truth; and one cannot be true to a society in which there is no trust. That is of fundamental importance, since, as Confucius told his disciple Tzu-kung, for a stable society a ruler needs three things: weapons, food and trust. If he cannot hold all three, he should forgo weapons first, and food next; for ‘without trust we cannot stand’.

Belief too is about fidelity (Latin fides, faith). The word ‘belief’ has nowhere buried in it the idea of signing up to a proposition, certain or uncertain. It is not a matter of cognition, but of recognition. The word belief comes from the same root as the word ‘love’, a sense preserved in the now archaic word ‘lief’, familiar to us from Shakespeare, with which one once described one’s friend, sweetheart, or lord–someone in whom one believed.

Belief is about relationship, in which by definition, more than one party is involved. The believer needs to be disposed to love, but the believed-in needs to inspire another’s belief or trust. Whether this amounts to being worthy of that belief cannot be fully determined in advance. It emerges only through commitment and experience.

Be that as it may, I think it possible that some of the disagreements in the debate about truth start with these broad differences in whether we see ‘truth-as-correctness’, a thing that can be determined, and into which nothing of us enters; or ‘truth-as-unconcealing’, a process of something revealing itself to us only through our experience. (Heidegger often used the Greek word for truth, aletheia, which literally means ‘un-forgetting’, allowing something to emerge from oblivion.)

How do we decide which way of conceiving truth is truer? First, notice that a process, unlike a thing, suggests the importance of not just the whatness, but the howness. There are no deep truths that are separate from the manner in which they are expressed. As the philosopher Friedrich Waismann puts it:

If you ever try to put some rare and subtle experience, or a half forgotten impression, into words, you’ll find that truth is intrinsically tied up with the style of your expression: it needs no less than a poet to render fully and faithfully such fragile states of mind.

Which is why we honour poetry as a path to truth. As I will argue, the most fundamental truths, of both a physical and psychical nature, can ultimately be expressed only in terms of poetry. And Waismann points out that the meaning of the word truth differs with context, so that it has ‘a systematic ambiguity’, as have deceptively simple sounding words such as fact, statement, knowledge, law and many others.

And:

Very little that we take for granted as most essential to life–love, energy, matter, consciousness–can be convincingly argued about, or even described, without becoming ultimately self-referential. You have to experience it to know it: all we can do is point.

This is why you hear Orthodox Christians telling those interested in Orthodoxy to “come and see”. This sounds dubious from the outside, but once you’ve been in Orthodoxy, you understand it. McGilchrist explains this pretty clearly. Orthodoxy has propositional truths within it, of course, but the emphasis is on truth-as-process. That is to say, all Truth is in Jesus Christ; the Orthodox way of life is a constant, lifelong process of surrender to that Truth, and becoming divinized through it. Orthodox Christianity is knowing-as-poetry, not as syllogism. This is why people who grew up in a left-brained culture view this with suspicion. My experience as an Orthodox Christian is why this line from McGilchrist rings in me like a struck bell: “Whether this amounts to being worthy of that belief cannot be fully determined in advance. It emerges only through commitment and experience.”

You can read a review of a film, but it’s not the same thing as experiencing the film. You can even read a summary of the film, scene-by-scene, and it will only be a pale approximation of the experience. That’s how Orthodoxy is. Mind you, McGilchrist does not call for abandoning the left-brain mode of analysis, but rather says that we must rebalance the relationship, because we in the West are choosing to blind ourselves to a valid way to experience reality, and Truth.

A few years ago, I corresponded with Dr. McGilchrist. He told me that he is not a religious believer, but if he were, he would convert to Orthodoxy, because in his experience, it is the form of Christianity that best balances the hemispheric ways of knowing.

By the way, there’s a great documentary about McGilchrist’s previous book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and The Making of the Western World. You can rent it here on Vimeo. Highly recommended!

UPDATE: A reader in the comments section recommends this lecture by Dr. McGilchrist to an audience at Ralston College. In it, he talks about themes in the new book. I’ve just approved several comments by readers who condemn McGilchrist’s work without understanding what he’s saying. If you disapprove of his actual argument, that’s fine — but y’all are condemning him based on a misunderstanding of his argument. Maybe this will help:

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