“Booksmart,” Reviewed: Olivia Wilde’s Toothless Teen Comedy -- Richard Brody (New Yorker)
Some films embody the Trump era, some confront it, and still others
ignore its existence. “Booksmart,” the first feature directed by
Olivia Wilde, is in a stranger category: it’s a counterfactual comedy
about a world minus Trumpism, in which ostensible blue-state values
prevail, without the slightest whiff of hatreds, enmities, or
hostilities, except for those caused by personal misunderstandings
that are easily and quickly corrected. As a form of wish fulfillment,
it’s fascinating if unpersuasive; as a vision of its
subject—high-school life—it’s as faux-sweet and faux-innocent as the
films of the Frankie Avalon era.
...[T]he two best friends discover, very belatedly and very quickly,
the extent to which they’ve been in the dark about their classmates.
Seniors whom Molly and Amy consider hopelessly frivolous turn out to
be high achievers as well—an in-crowd girl is going to Yale, a
brilliantly popular boy is going to Georgetown, and someone who
resembles the ultimate stoner has been recruited to code for Google.
Molly is shocked, telling them, “You guys don’t care about school.”
One of them responds, “No, we just don’t only care about school.” This
is Molly’s epiphany: she realizes that she and Amy, in the dark about
their classmates, have been in the dark about themselves, too, and
tells Amy that they’ve been doing high school all wrong. The school’s
fun-loving students have bright futures, too. “They did both,” Molly
says. “We’re the only assholes who did one.” But they have a chance to
get it right—they’ll pack the four years of social life they’ve missed
out on into the one night before graduation.
This means, mainly, two things. First, and by design, sex: neither
Molly nor Amy has been in a relationship. Amy has a crush on a skater
girl named Ryan (Victoria Ruesga); Molly has a crush on the
ultra-popular class vice-president, Nick (Mason Gooding); and both of
them plan to do something about it quickly, by attending, or, rather,
crashing, a big party being thrown by Nick at his aunt’s house. But
they don’t even know where Nick’s aunt lives, and so the search for
the party becomes part of their journey to maturity. That’s because
the second, unsought product of their big night out is knowledge and
empathy, and learning to question the disparaging assumptions they’ve
made about their classmates who seemingly coasted through high
There isn’t anybody in school with an actual mean streak or a penchant
for causing trouble. There isn’t anybody with a big problem, whether
with family, poverty, drugs or alcohol, or with illness, physical or
mental. There are no cliques to be seen, nor hardly any variety of
tastes and interests among the students (yes, the theatre kids are a
beloved group of their own). There’s no shortage of sexualized talk,
and there are even some blatantly sexual situations—including a scene
in which Miss Fine has sex with one of her former students (Eduardo
Franco), who has been brazenly flirting with her—but it’s all
portrayed as untroubled, cheerful, and innocent. There’s no religious
dogmatism (the only apparently religious people are Amy’s parents,
extremely liberal Christians who practice a cheerful brand of extreme
tolerance that is itself a source of mildly and warmly satirical
comedy). The school is predominantly white but unquestioningly
tolerant of the diversity in its population—not that its diversity
ever asserts itself in any conspicuous way. The milieu is also
conspicuously moneyed, and it’s exemplary of the movie’s class
politics that the only true villain is a workingman in a service job.
(By contrast, the movie’s show-offy rich kid turns out to be a model
of benevolence and philanthropic virtue whose big problem is that his
classmates make mistaken assumptions about him based on his family’s
absurd wealth.) As for Molly herself, she lives in a modest apartment
complex, but her parents—and her family story—are completely absent
from the film.
...There is one directorial choice that sums up the movie’s way of
sweetening even its harshest experiences. Molly and Amy come to bitter
disagreement in the midst of their big night (this, too, sparked by an
unexpressed virtuous motive) and they say some hurtful things to each
other—which their classmates are recording on their cell phones and
surely preparing to post online. But, as the two girls’ invective
sharpens, the dialogue cuts out and is replaced by the blare of music.
It’s as if Wilde can’t bear to hear the protagonists say things that
they’d have any trouble getting over. The film gives no sense that the
event becomes an actual social-media spectacle, or that there’s any
residual embarrassment, shame, guilt, or anger—in the end, the
characters seem incapable of experiencing any strong, lasting, painful
emotions at all.
Movies  RH  LesMurray 
may 2019
The Consecrated Heretic, Down Under - Alan Jacobs (Books & Culture)
....In Bunyah, Murray, regardless of the opinions of élites, seeks
always “to farm the mind’s Sabine acres / for product and
That phrase comes from what I believe to be Murray’s finest poem, and
one of the greatest poems of the 20th century, “The Dream of Wearing
Shorts Forever.” (An abridgment of this long lyric serves as the text
for the Australian tourism ad I mentioned earlier, which, by the way,
should be sought on YouTube, because it’s probably the most beautiful
television commercial ever filmed.) The poem’s titular dream is one of
homecoming, nostos: it begins, “To go home and wear shorts forever….”
But how do we understand shorts? Comically and brilliantly, Murray
maps “the cardinal points of costume”: Robes, Tat, Rig, and Scunge.
Shorts “are never Robes”; can be Tat (“Land-Rovering
bush-environmental tat” or “track-and-field shorts worn to parties”);
often serve as Rig (whether “farmers’ rig, leathery with salt and
bonemeal” or a “crisp golfing style”); but for Murray they are best
and most importantly seen as Scunge, “the entropy of costume.” Scunge
“is holiday, is freedom from ambition. / Scunge makes you invisible /
to the world and yourself.”
Auden writes, in a Horatian poem of his own, “the blessed will not
care what angle they are regarded from, / Having nothing to hide”; the
liberation of Scunge is this. So
shorts and their plain like
are an angelic nudity,
spirituality with pockets!
A double updraft as you drop from branch to pool!
In the tourism commercial we see Murray saying these lines with a big
goofy grin on his face, and they are funny, but they are also deeply
wise. To become invisible to yourself and others is indeed a form of
spirituality, a smiling but resolute refusal to compete according to
the world’s standards; a refusal which also opens interior vistas.
Thus shorts are “also ideal for going home, into space, / into time,
to farm the mind’s Sabine acres / for product and subsistence.”
This is a message to all of us, but especially to Murray’s
Australians, whom he sees huddling in their coastal cities, their
backs turned to the great continent, eyes upon the American and
European cultures they would mimic. Enough of that, the heretic says;
it is time “to go home and wear shorts forever” — forever, which is
not just an image of renouncing national ambition but also a vision of
the New Creation, a world permanently renewed by its Maker. This is a
hope to be glimpsed while “walking meditatively / among green timber,
through the grassy forest / towards a calm sea.” What is required of
us is to live in peace, firmly emplaced, but with an ever-searching
mind, “looking across to more of that great island / and the further
LesMurray  Ayay  Shorts  Australia  Scunge 
may 2019
Fire in the Cathedral - Rachel Fulton Brown (First Things)
It doesn’t matter how the fire started. The cause of such disasters is
always sin. Perhaps it was the sins of the French, who since the
Revolution have abandoned their ancestral faith. Perhaps it was the
sins of the West, its secular materialism. Perhaps it was the sins of
modernity, the belief in perfectibility and progress. On Monday, as
the world watched, the roof of the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris
burned—and Christians were confronted yet again with the question of
why they build churches, particularly churches dedicated to the Virgin
Mother of God.
There are right and wrong reasons to restore the cathedral. Wrong
reasons include: because it is old; because not to do so would be to
surrender to the barbarians; because the building is an important
tourist attraction. It would be right to mourn if the cathedral were
left in ruins (like the façade was left for some decades in the
nineteenth century after many of its statues were beheaded during the
Revolution). But is it right to argue solely on the basis of beauty,
as if the cathedral were little more than a museum?
Already millions of Euros are being donated, even as some fear what
form the restoration might take. Do we have the skills necessary to
imitate the work of the medieval masons and other artisans? Does
anyone know how to make glass in the right colors, never mind
replicate the medieval designs? It doesn’t matter, at least one
commentator has argued, for we lack the love with which the original
building was built.
In the Middle Ages, it wasn’t the building of stone, glass, and wood
that mattered. It was the worship offered therein, which is why, when
cathedrals caught fire—as they regularly did—medieval Christians took
it as an opportunity to develop the skills they needed in order to
rebuild. Nobody prior to the mid-twelfth century had built anything
like the currently standing cathedrals at Paris or Chartres. Nobody
knew how to make such beautiful glass before medieval glaziers learned
the secret of the reds, greens, and blues. If the craftsmen of the
Middle Ages could figure out how to make glass and carve stone, surely
modern Christians can do so again. They have the medieval exemplars on
which to model their work. All they need is the will to praise God.
Mary  Theotokos  NotreDame  Worship  Culture  FT 
april 2019
Book Review: The Color of Compromise - Bob Thune (bobthune.com)
Most notable for expressing the desire to be persuaded and asking for
more nuanced and seaworthy definition of racist actions. Also a good
question about whether and how we continue to operate within the
categories of race, or whether the gospel can shape something more
This review, as others I've seen, does not seem to get that the main
change desired is in the heart, not the head. The issue is: can you
have a reaction appropriate to the scandal, such that you want to kick
over tables and whip the merchants?
ColorofCompromise  Thune  Tisby  Race 
april 2019
Lessons from the Damned 2018 - Kai Green and Kimberly Love (Feminist Wire)
An announcement of insisting on that taking steps is not
enough--change must be now, because they will not accept otherwise.
Williams  trans  ColorofCompromise 
april 2019
Glorious Humility - Wesley Hill (First Things)
But Williams insists on the converse movement too: We should be
equally ready to have our understanding of divine “glory” upended by
Jesus’s meekness and self-giving. Williams points, for example, to St.
Paul’s vision of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Jesus
appeared in a blaze of light with a voice like thunder, but contrary
to what Paul may have expected (did he imagine he was about to suffer
a bolt of divine fury, as when God struck Uzzah dead for daring to
touch the ark of the covenant?), Jesus speaks to underscore his
solidarity with the suffering: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
(Acts 9:4). Williams says of this scene that Jesus “has not removed
himself from the memory of suffering, now that his glorious
resurrection body is beyond pain and death.” Put simply: “The
resurrection undoes nothing of what Jesus has been up to his death;
instead, the resurrection confirms the life of Jesus as the way of God
in the world.”
It’s not as though “glory” is a term we all understand and all that’s
left to do is see how Jesus fits himself to its contours, rewriting
our understanding of “humility” in the process. Rather, it’s the
reverse: We look to Jesus—above all, to his self-giving in life and
death—and find our notions of “glory” and “power” transformed
completely. (As a colleague of mine likes to tell our seminarians, if
you think you know in advance what Jesus’s second coming is going to
look like, prepare to be as scandalized as the scribes and Pharisees
were at his first coming.)
FT  Glory  Humility  SecondComing  SaulSaul 
april 2019
Heaven and Everything Else - Shalom Carmy (First Things)
Many of Lieberman’s observations about the natural human good of
Sabbath rest can seem attractive to people looking to deepen their
private and communal lives. Nonetheless, one can raise three skeptical
questions. First, as we all know, the day-of-rest ideals of domestic
and communal togetherness do not appeal to all individuals, families,
or communities. For the Jew, the laws of Sabbath must be obeyed, and
the social practices that form around them are hard to avoid, even by
those who are not attracted to or enchanted by them. We all know this,
but we do not always factor in the gap between the ideal and the
reality, a gap that more often than not is overcome only by the power
of obligation rather than good intentions.
Second, at least in my experience, the beauty of the Sabbath and its
restrictions grow with familiarity and habit. The songs, the food, the
rhythm sustain us to the degree that we take them for granted. When
sundown approaches on Saturday night, one yearns to extend the
holiness of the day, even if this means refraining from so many
innocent or obsessive weekday activities, from taking notes on one’s
reading to using electronic communications, and so forth. In truth, I
did not feel quite this way fifty years ago: A lifetime of observance
molds patterns of meaning and pleasure. Lastly, as Lieberman notes
openly when he praises the opportunities and quality of Sabbath
intimacy in married life, it doesn’t work unless you believe your
observance is obligatory. It is not sufficient to adopt the Sabbath as
one passing therapy among others. The day is an end in itself, not the
means to other ends such as attaining inner peace or building strong
Sabbath  Lieberman  Carmy  FirstThings 
april 2019
Redeeming the Time with St. Patrick - Feeney (First Things)
In Ireland, [Patrick] took up the Christian struggle between two
biblical injunctions: “do not conform yourself to the world” and “go
therefore into the world.”
Patrick knew he wasn’t from Ireland, as we can see in both his
Confessions and in his condemnation of slavery The Letter to
Coroticus: “I am a stranger and an exile living among barbarians and
pagans.” But he wasn’t just a stranger and exile when he wrote these
words. He was a man in love with the Irish people. Moreover, this love
wasn’t blind. He had experienced the cruelty of the Irish pagans as a
child slave. Yet he returned to live as a stranger among them “because
God cares for the Irish.” He returned to preach because he loved the
gospel, but also because he loved those people, at that time, and in
that place. And in loving them, he became one of them.
As St. Paul “became all things to all people,” Patrick became Irish
for the Irish. This wasn’t his plan: “Was it my idea to feel God’s
love for the Irish?” Out of love for God, he felt God’s love for
Ireland's particularities, and this love bound him to Ireland even
though he remembered it as a “land of slavery.”
In our era of dwindling faith, it is tempting as Christians to detach
ourselves from this time and this place—to long for a time when things
were otherwise. We live among people who have rejected the God Patrick
served. What should we do about those around us? Following Patrick’s
example, we must love them up close. Patrick was similarly tempted to
distance himself from the Irish, but he chose to “walk in wisdom
towards those who are outside, redeeming the time.” Patrick walked
towards those outside in order to walk with them.
Only by doing the same can we redeem our own time. In modernity there
is much that is lovable and much that merits celebration. We are not
called to flee from the world but “to go into the world,” to offer
ourselves to our fellow denizens of this time and place and offer our
“very life for them.” Paradoxically, we can only avoid conforming to
the world by truly living in the time in which God has placed us.
Patrick writes that he learned to “turn with my whole heart to the
Lord my God” in Ireland. This turning allowed him to both resist
conforming to the world and to go into the world.
It was in Ireland that God first opened St. Patrick’s heart. Love God
and you will be able love the time in which your heart was opened.
Love your time and you can help other hearts open to the God of open
hearts. Why love this world? Because it was in this world that we fell
in love with God and it is only in this time that we can help other
hearts turn to God. In so doing, we can redeem the time in which we
were redeemed.
StPatrick  FirstThings  Secular  University  Hope 
march 2019
Greek to Me - Mary Norris (New Yorker)
A light-hearted skim across Greek and why people learn it. And how it
can be fun to look down into the deep puddle of cultural history even
if you don't dive in.
Greek  Teaching  Fun 
march 2019
Penn Motto - Victor Mair (Language Log)
A story about the magical thinking that goes with mottos, Latin and being
the butt of a joke.
Motto  Latin  Horace  LanguageLog  FQG 
february 2019
In Search of the American Vergil - John Byron Kuhner (New Criterion, 2/2019)
Landívar and American Classics. Excellent review (and an interesting idea
for a trip--with the Paideia Institute?).
Classics  Landívar  PaideaInstitute 
february 2019
Dare to Make a Daniel - Alan Jacobs (Snakes and Ladders)
From my email:
This actually was published shortly after our conversation back in October
but I kept missing chances to send it to you. This summarizes my concerns
for university formation pretty well: is a Christian support group on a
campus going to produce a counter-catachesis? And if so, which one? What
will keep it disciplined in doing so? How will it know its touchstones from
its stumbling upon blocks?
University  BenOp  ayjay  correspondence  catachesis 
december 2018
Apple books: Celebrities read some well known stories
Ayjay points to Kelsey Grammer doing the Time Machine. I am curious how
Tituss Burgess' Wizard of Oz compares to mine.
Performance  reading  outloud  WizardofOz  TimeMachine  Ayjay 
december 2018
Christian Materialism
As recommended by Milliner:
Caroline Walker Bynum, Christian Materiality. (
Clyde Kilby, The Arts and the Christian Imagination (
John Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas
From the last: We find here the elements of *Christian materialism*, which,
instead of wishing to suppress matter which has revolted against the spirit
through the effect of sin, gives it the place the Creator assigned to it,
and discovers the way which Christ opened for it [matter!] by transfiguring
it and by deifying it in his own body.
Cosmos  Reading  Exegesis  Milliner  Materialism  Creation  and  *add  *to  it--it's  about  the  limits  of  criticism_  not  its  failure.) 
december 2018
Calculating the Cosmos - James Kushiner (Touchstone)
Here's a way of expressing the immaterial as it dwells in the material. I
am not sure it works--or would be perceived as working--and it has its
klunkers ("subs"). But the need for persuasive accounts of the immaterial
and the *logos *is pressing, so I add this to my collection. Do words have
natural  meaning?  Is  allegory  the  native  idiom  of  the  cosmos? 
december 2018
When Freud Came to America - Russell Jacoby (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
I came across this because I wondered if this visit to Clark University was
what gave impetus for the famous "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,"
quotation. No luck here, but some interesting insight on Freud's promotion
of sexual libertinism (through some not-so-difficult to interpret
Freud  quotes  ClarkUniversity  VisitstoUSA 
december 2018
Sometimes a cigar
Following up on a conversation as to whether Freud ever said such a thing.
Most striking here is the note about Eric Hiller's 1922 journal article
laying out an explicitly (and almost paint-by-numbers) reading of the cigar
as a phallic object.
Freud  quotes  allegory 
december 2018
What We’ve Learned From 30 Years Of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ - David Breitenbeck (The Federalist)
The main contributions here are the argument that 1) MTS3K's genius lies in
three parts: a) good timing b) encyclopedic knowledge of culture deployed
artfully and satisfyingly c) critical distance (something in which they
were, as he implies, innovators of the youtube smarty pants style). And 2)
that MST3K's parody gave new life to works that could not sustain
themselves on their own merits. They exist in satire, even if not as
honored movies; and that this is some honor.
This latter reminds me both of the argument in Saturnalia 6 that Vergil's
imitations preserve the imitated beyond the natural lifespan of their art
(and so even as thefts are beneficial to the victims) and my sense that it
may be important to recognize moments where your role in life is to play
the clown, the fool or Sancho Panza.
(Of the former, of course, b) is also quite Macrobian!)
Macrobius  Saturnalia  MST3K  Parody  Culture  SanchoPanza 
november 2018
In Defense of Puns - James Geary (The Paris Review)
Not sure he actually makes the case for greater meaning of puns (he is too
enamored of trivial puns; his inclusion of them undermines his point that
they ought to be taken seriously). The point that puns, like metaphors,
point to systems of meaning in unlikely places and ways is good however.
Puns  words  cosmos 
november 2018
Society To survive our high-speed society, cultivate 'temporal bandwidth' - Alan Jacobs (The Guardian)
We cannot, from within that ecosystem, restore old behavioral norms or
develop new and better ones. No, to find a healthier alternative, we must
cultivate what the great American novelist Thomas Pynchon calls “temporal
bandwidth” – an awareness of our experience as extending into the past and
the future.
In Pynchon’s 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow, an engineer named Kurt Mondaugen
explains that temporal bandwidth is “the width of your present, your now …
The more you dwell in the past and future, the thicker your bandwidth, the
more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more
tenuous you are.”
If we want to extend our bandwidth, we begin with the past, because
exploring the past requires only willingness
If we want to extend our bandwidth, we begin with the past, because
exploring the past requires only willingness. Recently, I was teaching the
Epistles of the Roman poet Horace to a group of undergraduates. Though
Horace comes from a world alien in so many ways to ours – and though he
would surely fail any possible test of political correctness of the left or
right – we found ourselves resonating powerfully with his quest for “a
tranquil mind”. Indeed, Horace recommends just what I am arguing for now:
“Interrogate the writings of the wise,” he counsels his friend Lollius
eekly: our newsletter for public service professionals
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“Asking them to tell you how you can
Get through your life in a peaceable tranquil way.
Will it be greed, that always feels poverty-stricken,
That harasses and torments you all your days?
Will it be hope and fear about trivial things,
In anxious alternation in your mind?
Where is it virtue comes from, is it from books?
Or is it a gift from Nature that can’t be learned?
What is the way to become a friend to yourself?
What brings tranquility? What makes you care less?”
(This from David Ferry’s marvelous translation.) Horace doesn’t tell you
that you need to delete your social media accounts or somehow stop worrying
about economic precarity. He’s asking questions here – but they are the
right questions, questions that re-orient us to other possibilities for
living than the ones handed to us each morning when we pick up our
smartphones. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently
there,” in LP Hartley’s famous line, which of course doesn’t mean that what
“they do” is always right – but awareness of it is always illuminating.
To read old books is to get an education in possibility for next to
nothing. Watching the latest social media war break out, I often recall
Grace Kelly’s character in High Noon, a Quaker pacifist, saying: “I don’t
care who’s right or who’s wrong. There’s got to be some better way for
people to live.” (That by the end of the movie she abandons her pacifism
only emphasizes, if ironically, the importance of her point.) The suspicion
that there’s got to be some better way has the welcome effect of
suppressing the thoughtless, kneejerk reflexion that is a byproduct of our
Ayjay  Classics  Reading  Twitter 
november 2018
Book of interest: Classics in Extremis: The Edges of Classical Reception (Edmund Richardson, ed.)
The book seems to give a sense of where people look when they consider what
'relevant' reception would look like.
Reception  Classics  BooksofInterest 
november 2018
Ne Plus Ultra - Jason Pedicone (Eidolon)
On directing Classics PhDs towards a broader job market than the tenure
Classics  PhD  University 
november 2018
The Sex Education We Need - Abigail Rine Favale (First Things)
Review of *Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and
Nancy Pearcey. A Protestant version of the Theology of the Body, as some
commentators suggested?
Sex  Gender  TheologyoftheBody  Reviews 
november 2018
Is Sex Binary? - Alex Byrne (Arc Digital)
On gender binaries and public arguments regarding them. Are there two
genders, two sexes? What does 'science' say? Referred to it by Alan Jacobs.
RH  gender  sex  PublicArguments  Science  Ayjay 
november 2018
Heterodox Woman - Elizabeth C. Corey (First Things)
A review of *The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt
the University and Undermine Our Culture
*by Heather MacDonald.
Summarizes arguments MacDonald makes against the standard starting points
on sexual assault ethics at universities. But they aren't very solid
arguments against them. I wonder if the books hit more close to home on the
issues and problems that provoke these responses.
D  RH  university  diversity  reviews  FT 
november 2018
How to Read the Bible - Robert Louis Wilken (First Things)
A lovely and gentle introduction into a way of reading for understanding
outside of enlightenment academic accounts and standards. The grounding in
New Testament readings of the Old Testament are excellent, with the point
being Christ unlocks our perspective to particular meanings of history and
the word of God that records t.
I wonder if it doesn't relate to the world as having meaning that is
revealed to us. The multiple meanings, the reflections and recapitulations
of the meaning of things, reflects a meaning thus worked into the reality
of things.
Bible  Words  Cosmos  RobertLouisWilken  FirstThings 
november 2018
The Ladder of St. Augustine - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Augustine! well hast thou said
That of our vices we can frame
A ladder, if we will but tread
Beneath our feet each deed of shame!
All common things, each day’s events,
That with the hour begin and end,
Our pleasures and our discontents,
Are rounds by which we may ascend.
The low desire, the base design,
That makes another’s virtues less;
The revel of the ruddy wine,
And all occasions of excess;
The longing for ignoble things;
The strife for triumph more than truth;
The hardening of the heart, that brings
Irreverence for the dreams of youth;
All thoughts of ill; all evil deeds,
That have their root in thoughts of ill;
Whatever hinders or impedes
The action of the nobler will; —
All these must first be trampled down
Beneath our feet, if we would gain
In the bright fields of fair renown
The right of eminent domain.
We have not wings, we cannot soar;
But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
The cloudy summits of our time.
The mighty pyramids of stone
That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known,
Are but gigantic flights of stairs.
The distant mountains, that uprear
Their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear
As we to higher levels rise.
The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.
Standing on what too long we bore
With shoulders bent and downcast eyes,
We may discern — unseen before —
A path to higher destinies,
Nor doom the irrevocable Past
As wholly wasted, wholly vain,
If, rising on its wrecks, at last
To something nobler we attain.
Poem  Longfellow  Augustine 
november 2018
Letter to an Aspiring Doctor - Theodore Dalrymple (First Things)
"You will also have to learn to tolerate intellectual or scientific
uncertainty and ambiguity. While there are undoubted scientific truths—such
as the circulation of the blood—that no one seriously believes will ever be
overthrown, much of your knowledge will inevitably be provisional, valuable
and viable only until better evidence comes along. This is particularly
true where prescribing medicines and performing procedures are concerned.
Subsequent research often shows that cherished treatments are of little or
no benefit, and are sometimes harmful. The history of medicine is replete
with instances of beliefs firmly held by doctors that turned out, on
investigation, to have been false and that subsequent generations of
doctors have found almost ridiculous.
One obvious example is the persistence of bloodletting down the ages,
advocated by doctors with fervor for hundreds of years until a French
physician and pathologist, Pierre-Charles-Alexandre Louis, showed early in
the nineteenth century that it was useless in cases of pneumonia, for which
it was then the orthodox treatment. You must therefore hold your scientific
beliefs lightly but not frivolously, and try not to invest them with too
much emotion or make them the entire basis of your self-respect. You must
understand that to have been wrong is not necessarily a disgrace, while to
persist in an error to the detriment of your patients, simply because it is
too painful to change your mind and practice, is indeed sinful.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell said that the rational man is he who holds
his beliefs about the world with a strength precisely proportional to the
strength of the evidence in their favor. This would be a counsel of
perfection even if it were true, which it is not. I doubt whether there has
ever been a rational man according to Russell’s definition, for we cannot
know with any degree of precision the strength of the evidence in favor of
most of our beliefs, and therefore we cannot order them as Russell’s dictum
would require us to do."
More on the delicate state of our knowledge:
"As doctors, we need the humility to realize that we were wrong when
research corrects false truisms. But we also need the corresponding hope
that we might be right. Skepticism alone paralyzes. An inspiring example of
the self-belief that may lead to important discovery is that of Dr. Barry
Marshall, the Australian co-discoverer of the bacterial cause of most
peptic ulceration....
Of course, it is not given to many doctors to make a discovery such as Dr.
Marshall’s, but his disciplined skepticism combined with the courage to
venture a new hypothesis is a frame of mind that you would do well to
cultivate. This is all the more the case in an age of so-called
information, when you will be bombarded with propaganda masquerading as
scientific truth. To resist it will be very difficult to do because you
will be so busy that you will have very little time for critical thought."
"In extenuation of the doctors who unwittingly started the [opioid]
epidemic—not a few, incidentally—it can be said that they had been targeted
by intense commercial propaganda and reassured by supposed leaders in the
field of pain relief that their prescriptions were right and proper. This
brings to light a contradiction with which you will have to wrestle for the
whole of your career: the contradiction between the authority of others and
your own personal responsibility.
You cannot dodge your personal responsibility by hiding behind the
authority of others or the consensus of the profession. But at the same
time, you will be expected to do as other doctors do. Early in your career,
you will necessarily be subordinated to the authority of more experienced
doctors. With luck (and in most cases), those doctors will instruct you to
do the right thing, both technically and morally, but there is always the
possibility that they will not. Later in your career, you will find
yourself subject to an ever-increasing number of rules and regulations,
many of which will appear to you as absurd at best and contrary to the
interests of patients at worst. But you will have to obey them as a
condition of continuing in practice."
Profession  Vocation  Doctor  BeingWrong  Thinking  FT  Dalrymple 
november 2018
Two new (very different) Old Testament translations - James C. Howell (The Christian Century)
A review of Bray and Hobbins and Goldingay's translations of the Old
Testament. Some nice contrasts on translation effect and form. And in the
case of Bray and Hobbins, a good instance of how commentary can actually be
a full part of the reading experience. A model for the future?
OT  Genesis  Translation  Goldingay 
november 2018
Virgil Revisited - April Bernard (New York Review of Books)
"For centuries, schoolboys and girls “construed” Virgil into English. My
own Latin education, which came too late to stick, required me to construe
some lines from the *Aeneid *before a frowning, and then sarcastic,
doorkeeper to a graduate program in literature. He seemed to regard my poor
performance as no better than could be expected, and passed me on with a
sigh. My point is that I am no scholar, and like the vast majority of
readers I gratefully apprehend the likes of Virgil and Ovid through their
English translators. In the twentieth century, the notable poets who
devoted themselves to the task of translation were Rolfe Humphries
(whose *Metamorphoses
*remains my favorite) and Robert Fitzgerald, whose *Aeneid *(as his
translations of Homer’s epics do) offers a fluid blank verse beauty
somewhat absent in the more straightforward, unmetered version by Robert
This is from a review of David Ferry's *Aeneid*, with some good statements
on what she likes at the start: there is a lot of filling in to make
certain effects palpable in the English (e.g. the flitting doves of the
golden bough.) Also interestingly flat comments on Auden's Shield of
Achilles and Lowell's "Falling Asleep Over the *Aeneid*."
Translation  Aeneid  Vergil  Latin  Teaching 
november 2018
Proof that Some College Students Still Want to be Challenged - George Leef (National Review)
Article about an attempt at U Oklahoma (?) to revive W H Auden's humanities
Auden  Courses  Humanities  University 
november 2018
Let’s Quit the Tug-of-War over Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Legacy - Laura M. Fabrycky (Christianity Today)
One element I longed to read in this book was Haynes making a negative
confession, a clear statement about what history cannot, indeed *must not*,
do for us today. Why do we so often turn to the Nazi era as a way of making
sense of our own? Can we really make *any* helpful or responsible
comparisons between that history and our own day? Does this kind of thought
experiment equip or hinder our imaginations as we grapple with our own
contemporary responsibilities?
One might say we need to encounter the Bonhoeffer We Never Knew, a man
situated within the complexities of his place, his culture, and his
relationships. Haynes’s historical mirror shows that we prefer him in
American cultural packaging, a hero whose tale is told with a bright
spotlight and clear principles. Cast in that light, however, it becomes all
too easy to draw tenuous parallels between Bonhoeffer’s life and ours, just
as we do with heroic figures from Scripture. We all identify with David,
for instance, and never Goliath. So too are we all Bonhoeffers, but never
the complicit “German Christians” who go along to get along, hum the
nationalistic hymn, or refuse to care about the downstairs Jewish neighbors
who haven’t been seen for some time.
Can Bonhoeffer set the political or cultural captives free? In the end, he
cannot. This task is not what his life is for. This is not why we tell
Bonhoeffer's story and tend his memory. Invoking his name confers no
special righteousness upon us or our causes. Haynes has done a valiant job
taking stock of the varied elements of our American idea of Bonhoeffer, but
sadly, we can only see *ourselves* in such pixelated, polarized images. If
anything, learning more about Bonhoeffer’s life and times should motivate
us to live more prudently, courageously, and responsibly within our own.
That is Haynes’s stated hope—but it is also Metaxas’s. So the battle
Bonhoeffer  Metaxas  TrueStories  Academia 
october 2018
That's What I Want - Alan Jacobs (Snakes and Ladders)
*Our love is all of God’s money*
What is money? Hard to say, really. It’s easier to document what it *does*,
as Dana Gioia has shown <http://danagioia.com/money/>:
It greases the palm, feathers a nest,
holds heads above water,
makes both ends meet.
Money breeds money.
Gathering interest, compounding daily.
Always in circulation.
“Circulation” is the key term here: money is always on the move, is always
sliding from one location to another and then back to the first and then on
to a third. People who work with money prize *fluidity*, because fluidity
promotes circulation. And every development in computerized trading
increases the speed of that circulation, so that now money moves faster
than the human eye can see.
But the flow isn’t random, indeed is anything but random. Powerful gravity
drags money towards other money. Think of how our solar system formed: the
molecules that formed vast clouds of gas and dust drifted towards one
another, forming clumps that attracted still more molecules, until
eventually there condensed a star. That’s how money works. “Gathering
interest, compounding daily.”
But, of course, as what is saved gathers interest, so too does what is
owed. Money breeds money; debt breeds debt. And if not for debt, would
money exist? “The first thing that happened in human history,” thinks a
character in a new novel, “was not money, but debt – obligations and
promises and duties incurred. Money arose only as a way of tabulating such
Ayjay  money  debt  CharlesWilliams  Taliessen 
october 2018
Reading Dangerously - Ian Marcus Corbin (The Weekly Standard)
Beiner’s good instincts are part of what makes his book so frustrating; he
mysteriously fails to follow his own excellent counsel, as he refuses to
explore or acknowledge the very real—and yes, potentially dangerous—beauty
of Nietzsche’s prescriptions. But maybe he’s just exercising prudence. If
these prescriptions are potentially dangerous, why bother to discern the
goodness or beauty in them? These ideas are not liberal! Keep them under
There are at least two reasons not only for deeply reading these illiberal
philosophers but for considering how their prescriptions might be found
attractive. First, there is no such thing as a dangerless, fail-safe
philosophy. Liberalism was for a time thought to be such a thing but that
confidence has been shown to be too optimistic by a mile. Life is hard and
confusing—we can’t afford to be ruling out interpretations willy-nilly.
Second, to put it bluntly, the elite, educated failure to understand the
reappearance of populist nationalism is a very bad thing, speaking on a
purely practical level—on the level, in fact, of safety and danger.
I currently split my professional life between academia and the Boston art
world, the most liberal corners of the most liberal state of the union. I
can’t speak strongly enough about the beauty and kindness of the black,
Jewish, Hispanic, gay, transgender, feminist, socialist people whom I count
as colleagues and friends here. They are deep, sensitive, searching souls.
As a straight, white, able-bodied male, though—one who has even
occasionally voted for Republicans—I am, on paper, a perfect storm of
privilege and prejudice.
Perhaps shockingly, my colleagues and I have managed to treat each other
with respect and at times even deep friendship and care. That’s good—it’s
wonderful, actually—but I also have the misfortune to be a regular reader
of opinion journalism and social media posts. The people I speak to in my
art gallery and classroom are likely, on any given day, to publish
scorching social media screeds directed at people like myself. They post
pictures in which they gleefully sip from mugs marked “White Male Tears”
and they make sweeping, ecstatically “liked” and commented-upon
pronouncements about the insidious, ubiquitous racism of people with my
skin tone and about the domination, oppression, and evil that #YesAllMen
daily impose upon them.
Now there are many, many injustices that plague our common life. Some are
indexed to race, sex, and other identity categories; some have long,
horrific histories; in some cases, the lingering fallout is in its own way
horrific. Because of the way I look and dress and speak, I surely get
preferential treatment from some store clerks, bank-loan officers, job
interviewers, police officers.
It is possible to acknowledge all of this, however, and still be struck by
the wild imbalance between our lived experience of one another and the
verbal portrait of ourselves that we daily paint on social media. Perhaps
I’m not treated like a ravening predator in my personal relationships
because I’m “one of the good ones” in my identity category. Fine. Many
chauvinistic group-ideologies are willing to make exceptions for
exceptional individuals. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here; I
don’t think that I get a special pass and all of the other white men in my
acquaintances’ path are treated like monsters. Rather, for many of us, our
public, impersonal lives contain a much higher percentage of status-seeking
performance than our day-to-day interactions. We’re playing roles.
Living as I do among activists who talk the talk of “toxic masculinity” and
“mansplaining” and so on, I know to take it all with a grain of salt. We’re
not truly at war with one another; for the most part, we’re just playing
games, enjoying the sensation of wielding high-caliber verbal weapons. But
imagine being a differently situated white male—say a high-school-educated
pipe-fitter from Idaho. Mightn’t you feel despised, attacked, unfairly
blamed? Mightn’t you want to reply that life is very hard and that while
you may have messed up in some ways you’re really doing your level best?
Would you have any way of knowing that these online activists are actually
decent people who would, if they sat and drank a glass of whiskey with you,
realize that you too are a decent, trying-as-hard-as-you-can human being?
The rise of populist nationalism in the United States certainly has to do
with economic and social issues—demographic changes, the transformation of
the workforce, the effects of globalization, etc. And maybe it also has to
do, as Ronald Beiner argues, with the influence of illiberal philosophers’
ideas. Maybe it is overdetermined. But whatever its causes, surely our
modes of social intercourse are making things worse. A modest proposal: We
should all shut the hell up for a little while, go outdoors, and try to
understand the people we run into. It is hard to understand one’s neighbors
in the best of circumstances, and even harder when the people you run into
are unlike you in important ways. That is, however, the task we sign up for
by coming to or staying in America.
The Prussia of Nietzsche’s day also included many smart and sophisticated
people who obsessed over politics and believed that it was the primary
forum for determining human salvation and damnation. He writes, beautifully
and perhaps dangerously, that
every philosophy that believes the problem of existence to be shelved, or
even solved, by a political event, is a sham philosophy. There have been
innumerable states founded since the beginning of the world; that is an old
story. How should a political innovation manage once and for all to make a
contented race of the dwellers on this earth? If anyone believes in his
heart that this is possible, he should report himself to our authorities:
he really deserves to be Professor of Philosophy.
Politics may be a necessary evil—but talking incessantly about politics and
viewing your countrymen solely through a political lens is an evil that
we’re actively choosing, day by day. We should stop.
Ayjay  Conversation  Roles  RH 
october 2018
Reading Dangerously - Ian Corbin (The Weekly Standard)
Boston friends—a small minority—have maintained a basic equanimity as the
great Trumpian disruption crackles across our shining screens, day after
#ThisIsNotNormal day, but a larger number pronounce themselves unable to
sleep, mired in depression, crippled by rage, or sick with worry for the
future of our country. The less perturbed often are those who have been
blessed to live some part of their lives as ideological insurgents. I count
myself among them. In my case, I was born to hard-living hippies who, when
I was 2 years old, became teetotaling evangelicals, and before long became
the pastors of a small, impoverished Pentecostal church. Through my
childhood and adolescence we supported Republicans, laid hands on the sick,
eschewed secular music, and mistrusted science. All of this would be
unremarkable but for the fact we lived this wild religious melodrama in the
Boston area, the bleeding heart of blue America.
In the public schools I attended, my teachers spoke nonchalantly of
evolution, abortion, gay rights, and the enslavement of housewifery, with
perfect confidence that they and their pupils had been given the sight to
see the simple right on every issue of consequence. There was no felt need
for doubt or discussion, and for most of my schooling I was too shy to
broach any. I’d sit with hot skin, incapable of forming a clear sentence,
while the Good, True, and Beautiful were maligned with breezy
self-satisfaction by some cross-country coach with a Boston accent. A big
part of me believed— *knew*, in fact—that my teachers and classmates were
blithely pounding nails in their own spiritual coffins with every word,
descending further into a doctrinal darkness I could barely fathom, but I
was too cowardly and inarticulate to save them—and the few times I tried
they turned on me with wild, angry, uncomprehending eyes. As if I were
insane. A small but persistent part of me wondered if they were right. The
feeling of alienation was terrible and palpable; it hung around my gangly
teenage neck like a chain.
Looking back now at the role that inhibiting chain has played in my life, I
would wish it most fervently on anyone who wants to opine in public or to
consider himself a citizen of the world. Provided that is, that he finds
himself unable to write off his neighbors as monsters, as I was unable to
do. Out of raw animal loneliness I gradually became adept at explaining and
eliciting explanation. As I learned how to unpack the deep motivations for
my unthinkable opinion X or Y, I never once failed to find a sympathetic
ear. Disagreement was common and sometimes ineradicable, but enmity was
reliably dispatched if you looked people in the eye and spoke sincerely and
candidly. Or so I found. It made me think that while some of us are
undoubtedly wrong on question X or Y, most people are pretty decent,
uncertain, and, deep down, doing their damnedest. This is the sort of
understanding I was hoping would emerge from a book purporting to explain
the philosophical roots of contemporary far-right thinking.
Ayjay  GrowingUp  Alienation  theChain 
october 2018
Growing Up in the Library - Susan Orlean (New Yorker)
So the spell that libraries had once cast on me was renewed. Maybe it had
never really been broken, although I had been away long enough that it was
like visiting a country I’d loved but had forgotten as my life went
galloping by. I knew what it was like to want a book and to buy it, but I
had forgotten what it felt like to amble among the library shelves, finding
the book I was looking for but also seeing who its neighbors were, noticing
their peculiar concordance, and following an idea as it was handed off from
one book to the next, like a game of telephone. I might start at Dewey
decimal 301.4129781 (“Pioneer Women
<https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CGWSELW/?tag=thneyo0f-20>,” by Joanna L.
Stratton) and a few inches later find myself at 306.7662 (“Gaydar
<https://www.amazon.com/dp/1422392120/?tag=thneyo0f-20>,” by Donald F.
Reuter) and then at 301.45096 (“Dreams from My Father
<https://www.amazon.com/dp/0307383415/?tag=thneyo0f-20>,” by Barack Obama)
and finally at 301.55 (“The Men Who Stare at Goats
<https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743241924/?tag=thneyo0f-20>,” by Jon Ronson).
On a library bookshelf, thought progresses in a way that is logical but
also dumbfounding, mysterious, irresistible.
I knew that part of what had hooked me had been the shock of familiarity I
felt when I took my son to our local library—the way it telegraphed my
childhood, my relationship to my parents, my love of books. It brought me
close, in my musings, to my mother, and to our sojourns to the library, and
I decided to write a book on the subject. That decision was pleasing and it
was bittersweet, because just as I was rediscovering those memories, my
mother was losing hers. When I first told her that I was writing about
libraries, she was delighted, and said that she was proud that she had a
part in making me find them wondrous. But the reason that I finally
embraced the subject—wanted, and then needed, to write about it—was my
realization that I was losing her. Soon the fingers of dementia got her in
their grip, and they pried loose bits of her memory every day. The next
time I reminded her about the project and told her how much I had been
thinking about our trips to Bertram Woods, she smiled with encouragement
but with no apparent recognition of what I meant. Each time I visited, she
receded a little more—she became vague, absent, isolated in her thoughts or
maybe in some pillowy blankness that filled in where the memories had been
chipped away—and I knew that I was carrying the remembrance for both of us.
I found myself wondering whether a shared memory can exist if one of the
people sharing it no longer remembers it. Is the circuit broken, the memory
darkened? My mother was the one person besides me who knew what those gauzy
afternoons had been like. I was writing about libraries because I was
trying hard to preserve those afternoons. I convinced myself that
committing them to a page would save the memory of them from the corrosive
effect of time.
The idea of being forgotten is terrifying. I fear not just that I,
personally, will be forgotten but that we are all doomed to being
forgotten; that the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience
joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss, make our little
mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is as
if we never existed. If you gaze into that bleakness even for a moment, the
sum of life becomes null and void, because if nothing lasts nothing
matters. Everything we experience unfolds without a pattern, and life is
just a baffling occurrence, a scattering of notes with no melody. But if
something you learn or observe or imagine can be set down and saved, and if
you can see your life reflected in previous lives, and can imagine it
reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony.
You know that you are a part of a larger story that has shape and purpose—a
tangible, familiar past and a constantly refreshed future. We are all
whispering in a tin can on a string, but we are heard, so we whisper the
message into the next tin can and the next string. Writing a book is an act
of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence
of memory.
The writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ once said that, in Africa, when an old person
dies, it is like a library has been burned. When I first heard the phrase,
I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize that it was
perfect. Our minds and our souls contain volumes inscribed by our
experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection
of memories catalogued and stored inside, a private library of a life
lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share; it burns down
and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from your
internal collection and share it—with one person or with the larger world,
on the page or in a story told—it takes on a life of its own.
*This piece is adapted from “The Library Book
<https://www.amazon.com/dp/1476740186/?tag=thneyo0f-20>,” by Susan Orlean,
out in October from Simon & Schuster.*
Memory  Materialism  Ayjay  Libraries  Books 
october 2018
Setting Fire to Modern Civilization: On Abuse and Institutions -Jack Meador (Mere Orthodoxy)
At this point, the fact of the GOP’s acceptance of the fact that Donald
Trump assaults women is well established. So too is their acceptance of the
fact that Roy Moore was a pedophile. That this fact should not keep either
man from serving in public office is a well-established belief amongst
Republican elites.
This is the context in which we consider the accusations made by Palo Alto
University professor Christine Blasey Ford against Supreme Court nominee
Brett Kavanaugh. The WaPo has the story
Vox has a good summary
. David French explains
the evidence so far is not so obvious as in the cases of Trump or Moore.
There are two points to make here. First, the best course with regard to
the specific allegations against Kavanaugh is to wait. It is good that the
committee vote has been delayed. This creates time for witnesses from the
party in question to come forward or for other victims from any other
incidents to come forward or for the story to be somehow refuted. The story
shouldn’t be ignored, but it is also wise to take time to investigate the
accusations thoroughly.1
That being said, we should not ignore the context in which these
allegations are heard. Thus far the response from many on the right has
been to suggest that the left has weaponized sexual assault in order to win
a political battle. While I find Ford’s allegations credible, the specific
actions of Sen. Feinstein lend some credibility to the right’s claim. Most
recently, the California senator has called for an FBI investigation
<https://twitter.com/SherylNYT/status/1041885248382881792?s=19> into a
state-level offense that is long past the statute of limitations. Of
course, the left can, reasonably, respond by noting that the right already
has a long history of ignoring sexual assault in order to win political
both cases, we have the live possibility that a real instance of traumtI ic
sexual assault is being reduced to a political football.
I’ve seen one answer in a very different context: If you visit the
Community Playthings factory at the Fox Hill Bruderhof, you’ll see certain
work stations with odd modifications. Those stations are for the disabled
and the elderly. The Bruderhof believe that each person matters and that
each person should have the opportunity to contribute some kind of work to
the community. So they modify their factory, even if only for that one
person. How much more should we be transforming our churches and parties
and institutions in order to protect potential abuse victims and aid those
who have already been victimized?
In “The Weight of Glory” C. S. Lewis notes that the problem many people
have in their following of Christ is not excess passion or radicalism, but
a bland comfort with mediocrity, an acceptance of mud pies when a holiday
at the sea is on offer. This same tolerance of something less than what God
intended explains much about the response far too many people have had to
sexual abuse allegations. We have believed that the lives of human
institutions, be they ecclesial bodies or political parties, weigh more in
the eyes of God than the life of one of his sheep.
We do all of this because we have come to believe a lie, to believe that
the health of individual people is unrelated to the health of human
communities. Healthy communities result from healthy people. Communities
that can ignore the health of a single member for selfish reasons cannot be
healthy—which takes us a good distance toward explaining the state of both
our politics and the American church.
Now the question before us is this: Will we repent? And from that there
follows a second question: What will the shape of our repentance be?
The lived answer to those questions must be the radical transformation of
our communities—to the point of being unrecognizable to us today.
Chesterton thought that a poor child’s dirty hair
<http://www.online-literature.com/chesterton/wrong-with-the-world/46/> was
grounds for setting modern civilization ablaze. It is to our shame that so
far we have been less moved by far more horrifying evils.
Kavanaugh  GOP  repentance  revolution  community  GKC 
october 2018
Out of Time - Kevin Williamson (National Review)
But why recommend the notes? Why not the poem?
The notes do have much to recommend them. In *The Idea of a Christian
Society*, Eliot wrote that while his American students collectively enjoyed
a very broad education, “it might have been better if they had read fewer,
but the same books.” His notes might well be taken as his recommended
I have previously suggested that some innovative college should organize an
undergraduate seminar around Eliot’s “Waste-Land” notes, having the
students read (over the course of a year, I think, rather than a semester)
all of the works referenced therein, either in whole or in part. That would
include: *From Ritual to Romance*, Jessie Weston’s study of Arthurian
legends and the Holy Grail tradition; *The Golden Bough*, an examination of
mythology and ancient religious practices by James George Frazer, focusing
on the ritual sacrifice of priest-kings (and hence an excellent guide to
modern presidential politics); the Biblical books of Ezekiel and
Ecclesiastes; a good deal of Charles Baudelaire’s poetry; *The Divine
Comedy*; John Webster’s *The White Devil*; Edmund Spenser’s “Prothalamion”;
Paul Verlaine’s “Parsifal”; the *Aeneid*; *Paradise Lost*; *Anthony and
Cleopatra* and *The Tempest*; Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”; John
Day’s *Parliament of Bees;* Thomas Middleton’s *Women Beware Women*;
*Metamorphoses*; Sappho’s fragments (maybe in the form of Anne Carson’s *If
Not, Winter*); *The Vicar of Wakefield*, one of the most popular novels of
its time but now largely forgotten; James Anthony Froude’s *History of
England*; Augustine’s *Confessions*; Henry Clarke Warren’s *Buddhism in
Translations*; the Upanishads; *Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America*;
Ernest Shackleton’s memoirs (published as *South: The Story of Shackleton’s
Last Expedition* *1914–1917*); Herman Hesse’s *A Glimpse into Chaos*;
Francis Herbert Bradley’s *Appearance and Reality*; Gerard de Nerval’s poem
“El Desdichado”; Thomas Kyd’s *The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo Is Mad
Again*, which is thought to have been an influence on *Hamlet*, among other
plays; and “Pervigilium Veneris
meaning “The Vigil of Venus,” a Latin poem of unknown authorship. Ideally,
this would be followed by a field trip to St. Magnus Martyr Church in
London, which Eliot first admired for Christopher Wren’s interior; Eliot
said that in his earlier life he had appreciated the church’s splendor,
but, after his conversion to Christianity, for its utility. And, then, a
Wagner double bill.
syllabi  teaching  TSEliot  Waste-Land  KevinWilliamson 
august 2018
My Chance Lunch with Fred Rogers - Richard B. McKenzie (Weekly Standard)
After shaking hands with the two producers, Mr. Rogers reached out to me,
grasping my palm with his right hand and covering the back of my hand with
his left. Looking me straight in the eye, as if as fixated on meeting me as
I was on him, he said, “I’m *so glad* to meet you, Richard. I’ve been
looking forward to your being here. I’ve read some of your work and I want
very much to hear about your project.” I thought I had been blessed. From
then on, my pride swelled to know I had a new friend I could call “Fred”
(as he insisted I call him).
Having a long interest in orphanages, Fred shared my skepticism of the
conventional ideas about them and said he had known “fine people” who had
come of age there. Later, his producer told me that in the weeks
immediately before our lunch, Fred had lived for two weeks in a Canadian
“orphanage” for middle-age and older adults with the mental ability of
young children.
After initial greetings among the four of us, Fred shifted his chair to
face me directly and said, “I want to know about you, Richard. Where you
came from, what your early life and orphanage experiences were like. Of
course, I also want to know what you want to do in your film.”
He listened with keen attention as I sought to condense my thoughts: I told
Fred that some variation of my story was typical of my childhood cohort. I
grew up with alcoholic parents who divorced when I was five. My mother
committed suicide when I was 10. My father was incapable of obtaining
custody of my brother and me because of his downward spiral from being an
alcoholic into being a steady drunk. My mother’s family simply didn’t want
us, not even in the same town. Although a Methodist orphanage was just
three miles from where my grandmother and two aunts lived, they shipped us
off to an orphanage a half-state away. On entering the orphanage with 225
kids, I lived with 23 other 10-year-old boys in one cottage with sleeping
porches, each of which had beds for eight.
To me, orphanage life was a godsend, saving me from near certain sentencing
to juvenile detention. Before my admission, I ran the streets of my
hometown, often playing hooky from school and committing petty thievery
from the age of five. I was a little brat with a cherup face.
How had the orphanage changed my life course? Fred asked. He nodded
repeatedly as I described the benefits most outside observers overlook, if
not dismiss: “We got boundaries, work demands, stability, security,
expectations, and a multitude of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters.’”
“You mean you got a family,” he said.
“You got it, Fred, a different family, but a family of sorts, nonetheless.
And we got the chance to leave our sordid pasts behind. I no longer had to
deal with drunkenness up close and personal. One of the reasons the alumni
have outpaced their age cohorts is grounded in a statistical reality: If
bad stuff is cut out of children’s lives and a few good things are
substituted—such as a variety of good-hearted mentors, a work ethic, and an
opportunity for a college education—the average outcome is bound to rise. I
am confident that had I stayed with my father or my mother’s family, I
would not be talking with you with my university career under full
“How do you see the film developing?” Fred asked. “What can we do?”
I described producing a film that could spread the good news more broadly,
beyond the academy, possibly airing on PBS. The general public is often
surprised that orphanages of yesteryear all over the country still have
homecomings, with hundreds, sometimes thousands of alumni returning to
celebrate their childhoods. These homecomings could provide the opportunity
for alumni to tell their stories, good and bad, how they felt as they
arrived on campus that first day and as they had to leave after graduation
– and how the years they spent in their orphanages improved or warped their
lives long into their 80s and 90s.
“I want the film to be real, not scripted and staged,” I said. “The
alumni’s authentic words can speak volumes about what many children have
missed as orphanages have been spurned and closed over the past decades.”
Fred recalled that his friend, also an orphanage alumnus, praised his
experiences: “He always talks about his orphanage family … I feel for many
disadvantaged children today who are taken from their parents and placed in
foster care, only to be shuffled from placement to placement and to be
released from the system at high school graduation—if they make it that far
in school—unprepared for later life. I’ve read many stories about homeless
foster-care alumni, even here in Pittsburgh. So sad. What are we doing?
Can’t we do better?”
Time had flown during the lunch. We had been at the table for maybe two
hours, and Fred needed to head to other appointments. But before we parted,
Fred handed me a couple of souvenirs from the “Neighborhood,” adding,
“Richard, if your children want anything we have in the Neighborhood store,
just write. Anything. I like your project. It’s important for children
Fred wrote that he wanted to send *The Home* as a birthday gift to a good
friend, who grew up in an orphanage in Oklahoma. “Frankly, I hate to give
it up; there are parts which need rereading, but … I just know that your
words will make a big difference for him (and his mother). The healing
ministry of truth!”
Then, remarkably, before closing his message, he offered an apology for a
request he had made at lunch, one I had totally forgotten: “One other
thing, Richard, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked you to give the blessing at
our lunch, even though you generously offered one. In your book you write
that you ‘question God’s existence.’ Had I read those words first I would
have been more sensitive and much less assuming. If I need excusing in your
mind, I trust that you will grant me that.”
You can bet I rushed another copy of *The Home *to him to give to his
friend. At our lunch, I felt reasons to doubt my skepticism through the
conveyance of Fred’s goodness that remains palpable to this day.
Later, I deduced from news reports that Fred read *The Home *on his
roundtrip to Hollywood to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award at the
exemplum  RH  orphanage  ayjay 
august 2018
Michelle Dawson on Autism and Atypicality - Tyler Cowen (Conversations with Tyler)
*DAWSON:* Actually, how autistic people perform in social tasks is high
variance. It is very hard to pull out specific deficits where you can’t
point out areas where autistics have performed at *least* as well as
typical people on the task.
There is an exception, which is the most replicated autistic deficit. I
believe there’s one finding in the contrary direction. But all the rest —
and there’s a lot, especially for the autism literature — show what is
considered an autistic deficit.
This is the task of attributing deep mental states to geometric shapes
<https://vimeo.com/51243376>. Usually they are triangles. They will be
animated. They sort of move around, and it goes beyond simply attributing
agency to the triangles, which autistics can do. You must attribute mental
states to them, profound mental states, like they are jealous or they’re
flirting. And autistics are very bad at this task. And this has been
replicated quite a lot, even at a population-based level, which is not
something you necessarily see a lot of.
So, is this a social deficit? Autistics are definitely bad at this task.
Now, why might that be if you look at things in my own biased way? It may
not necessarily be that autistics don’t notice that these interactions
between geometric shapes, or among geometric shapes, resemble something
social that involves mental states.
But they are less likely, and they are not going to totally get rid of the
accurate information that these are just freaking triangles. They will only
go so far. They are not going to lose that possibly important information
that these are *just* triangles. And you would think that this would quite
reasonably produce a bit of caution in assuming that you know quite a lot
about  their  profound  mental  states. 
august 2018
Faithful Suffering and Medicine After “The Baconian Project” - John Brewer Eberly, Jr. and Ben Frush (Mere Orthodoxy)
Suggestions for Christian responses in a society that worships health.
“Given the dangers that an unhealthy desire to eliminate suffering begets,
what does a faithful response to physical suffering and bodily limitation
look like from those who would follow Christ?
Martin Luther demonstrated that the Christian life is fundamentally one of
thanksgiving and repentance. Meister Eckhart said something similar—that
is, if you’re going to pray one prayer, pray “Thank you.” Perhaps the first
step then is thankfulness for our anatomy and the physical, gritty,
sometimes awkward reality in which we find ourselves as creatures both made
in the image of God and operating within a fallen physical world. We also
might offer thanks for medicine itself, for the wonder of it, those who
practice it, and the health of our own bodies and the bodies of our
A second faithful response is the (perhaps surprising) call to repentance.
In “A Theology of Illness
Orthodox theologian Jean-Claude Larchet argues that modern medicine, in its
power and obsession with alleviating suffering, has turned the physician
into a “new priestly class,” effectively sealing a permanent idolatry of
health in the hearts of Christians and non-Christians alike. In a similar
vein, ethicist-theologian Stanley Hauerwas has written
medicine is a “pseudo-salvific institution,” maintained by physicians as
the “new priests.” Patients understandably place strong hopes in physicians
and healthcare institutions, particularly when they find themselves in
vulnerable states of illness and suffering. At the same time, common
phrases like “That surgeon saved my life” carry a strangely salvific tone.
We may worship in a church building, but often we confess at the altar of
health, receiving medicine in exchanges that can be eerily sacramental.
Transplants and transfusions take on new meaning as literal “body and
Amidst this temptation, we must be reminded of the sobering fact that, as
Larchet writes, “the health of the body in this world can only be
precarious and ephemeral.” We serve a bodily-resurrected Lord whose own
body endured suffering and was broken on our behalf, who taught that, as
ethicist Allen Verhey puts it
life was a good but not the greatest good, that death was an evil but not
the greatest evil. We ought therefore to repent of putting undue hope in
health, and to turn anew to Christ, constantly reminding ourselves and our
neighbors in Christ that our ultimate joy lies not in our ability to
obviate suffering, but in learning to worship well in sickness or in health.
A third step is a commitment to presence. Presence in the face of suffering
is one of the most morally taxing endeavors any person can engage
in—requiring great patience, time, and imagination. This is likely one
reason why caregivers and doctors face burnout in such high numbers.
and “suffering-there-with” <http://undpress.nd.edu/books/P01485> are long,
difficult labors, particularly in the face of a culture which increasingly
seeks to avoid suffering or outsource the task of “presence” to social
media. As Kate Bowler
wrote in Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved
, she is grateful for the presence of a Mennonite community in her
upbringing because “they insist that suffering never be done alone.” Or as
2007’s Lars and the Real Girl <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_flI_f19YTk> put
it, “We came over to sit. That’s what people do when tragedy strikes. They
come over and sit.”
It is worth asking then whether we are, in fact, sitting with our suffering
neighbors. Suffering together, particularly when suffering has no clear
end, hope, or purpose, is foundational to the Christian story, from the
sitting of friends in silence and sackcloth in Job to the way Christ waited
and wept beforeresurrecting Lazarus.
And with Christ’s weeping in mind, a fourth and final response is
recovering lament. There is a danger inherent in the critique of modern
medicine’s Baconian goal to eliminate suffering that risks an
overcorrection into something like suffering aggrandizement or suffering
pursuit. This is a crucial distinction: Christian martyrs did not
pursue suffering,
they endured it and received it. Sometimes the most faithful thing a
Christian can do when they are in pain is to cry.
The psalms provide an important framework for how this can be done: an
honest conveyance of our deepest pains and grievances, with the knowledge
that such cries are heard by a God who will not “break a bruised read”
(Isaiah 42:3). If the “dirge” is the practice of raging inwardly in the
echo-chamber of self, then lament is bringing our honest and raw feelings
before the Lord and in community—weak and withered and half-hearted as our
trust and hope in those moments might be. Lament refuses to give suffering
the dignity of clean, theodical explanations while also refusing to look
away. It means when we find ourselves or our neighbors in Psalm 40’s “slimy
pit” or Psalm 6’s “bed wetted with tears” (images that are less metaphor
than reality for many who are sick), we cry out—confident that our creator,
sustainer, and redeemer grieves suffering and remains steadfast.
In a world in which it is increasingly easy to resort to solipsism, truism,
despair, or denial in response to pain, lament allows us to exhibit grief
that is honest, grounded in faith, with the knowledge that the Lord’s
enduring promises are true, that his word will not return void, even in
those painful instances in which “the darkness is my only friend” (Psalm
88), “my bones burn like glowing embers” (Psalm 102), and “outwardly we are
wasting away” (2 Cor 4:16).
The Witness of Patients
It is doubtful that medicine alone can harness the moral resources
necessary to allow its practitioners and patients to cultivate acceptance
of the finitude of bodily existence, repent of an insidious idolatry of
health, acknowledge the importance of mere presence in the face of
suffering, and recover lament. Therefore, if there is hope to inspire a
better response to suffering, perhaps it is faithful patients, grounded in
faithful habits and practices, who can serve as examples for those
participating in their care. As moral theologian William E. May once wrote,
“The heavy burden of heroism in medicine falls not on the physician but on
the patient and the patient’s family
<http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/product_info.php?products_id=20917>.” For
those who would follow Christ, such heroism is evidence of the
cross-burdened King to whom we owe our ultimate hope in the face of
Secular  Suffering  medicine  disciplines 
july 2018
How Bad Theology Hurts the Anxious, Depressed, and Suicidal - Matthew Cayetano (Mere Orthodoxy)
As Christian journeys from the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial
City” in *The Pilgrim’s Progress*, he and his companion, Hopeful, are
captured by Giant Despair, the king of Doubting-Castle. In the dungeon,
Giant Despair tortures Christian and Hopeful and, at the suggestion of his
wife Diffidence, offers his prisoners the only escape: suicide. Hopeful
urges Christian not to take the giant’s advice saying, “Have you forgotten
the Hell where it is certain that murderers go? For no murderer has eternal
life.” After more encouragement, Christian stays his hand and eventually
escapes Doubting-Castle thanks to the key Promise....
Many Puritans continued to connect depression, or “melancholy,” to
spiritual weakness. Foremost among these Puritan doctors was Richard
Baxter, a widely published Nonconformist in the 17th century. In his
treatise, “The Signs and Causes of Melancholy
Baxter names the chief cause of depression to be “SINFUL Impatience,
Discontents and Cares, proceeding from a Sinful Love of some bodily
Interest, and from want of sufficient Submission to the will of God, and
Trust in him, and taking Heaven for a satisfying Portion.” In other words,
depression was primarily a consequence of sin and, therefore, could be
corrected by obedience to God....
John Piper cites both Richard Baxter and John Powlison at length in *When I
Don’t Desire God*
in ways that can be particularly harmful. For example, as an alternative to
medication, Piper offers a number of suggestions, including an adage from
George MacDonald: “Heed not thy feelings, do thy work” (220). MacDonald’s
phrase is a peephole into the Puritan ascetic movement that helped sustain
the culture of bodily self-loathing so natural to theologies with an
unhealthy dualism. In this worldview, the chief cause of depression is
“sinful love of bodily interest” (this-worldliness) and its cure according
is hope (other-worldliness). To his credit, Piper does acknowledge the
“deeply connected” nature of the soul and the brain (213). Yet he offers no
theological meat as an offering to this reality. Instead, the next sections
are committed to shoring up the faith of the depressed. The equation stays
the same: more mind/soul to fix depression.
Bunyan  PilgrimsProgress  AdamRoberts  Depression 
july 2018
Luther and the Enchantment of the World (Ten Questions) - Matthew Milliner (millinerd.com)
* The questions are my own. But the answers are all quotations from Mark
Mattes's brilliant book, Martin Luther's Theology of Beauty: A Reappraisal
(2017). ...*
*5. But didn't Luther ruin the beauty of the medieval universe? *
In a sense, Luther affirms the pancalism [everything is beautiful] of his
predecessors, but not on the basis of establishing the convertibility of
the transcendentals of goodness and beauty on metaphysical grounds. Indeed,
God is hidden because what humans experience is often not God's beauty, but
what appears to be God's indifference or downright antagonism. *If there is
to be any certainty with respect to beauty, it will be had in Christ alone.
*Christ is goodness and beauty, and through Christ humans can understand
the world as creation, as gift and as God's communication to us. In other
words, the gospel opens creation as beautiful and conforms the human
intuition of its beauty... not on the basis of an intellectual argument
but because faith resituates humanity away from its tendency to claim some
divine status for itself and toward a childlike trust the receives the
goodness of creation as it comes to humanity from the Creator.
That sinners are clothed with an alien righteousness that makes them
beautiful is a trait that they can claim before both God and the world.
Believers have a new identity in Christ - beauty. Likewise, enjoying this
beauty in Christ, they can be open to the beauty with which God surrounds
them in the world (112).
Beauty  Luther  Creation  Platonism 
july 2018
Football, Free on the Streets - Garnette Cadogan (New York Review of Books)
As a kid myself, I never knew my country to be as international as when the
World Cup came around. The quadrennial tournament made emigrés of us
Jamaicans, and we became competing West Germans and Argentinians and
Brazilians. We wore the national colors of our new countries proudly,
hoisting flags and raising voices with such fervor that if a consular
official saw us they’d grant us visas on sight. This was the great appeal
of the recent World Cup for me: one nation becomes many, if even
superficially. We jump the fence of sovereignty to cheer alongside fans of
other countries, share in their joy. Or anguish. That crowd—away from the
stadiums, gathered in living rooms and restaurants and bars, hushed and
screaming before television screens—was what pulled me to the World Cup.
futebol  soccer  World  Cup  Copa  preto 
july 2018
Another Week Ends (June 1st, 2018) #3 - Will McDavid (Mockingbird)
3. Over at The Point
<https://thepointmag.com/2018/politics/tired-of-winning>, Jon Baskin
questions the subordination of intellect to political strategy. The essay
is refreshingly personal, as he recounts his time working at a partisan
think-tank (“once you got the hang of the narratives, everything fit into
them”) and his later immersion in more intellectual magazines, like n+1.
His essay ruminates on the spectrum from purely political writing to more
purely intellectual writing, trying to sketch a vision for how intellectual
inquiry and political advocacy should relate to one another.
The entire essay’s worth a read, but the most interesting part to me was
his struggle in reconciling his Leftist ideology with his everyday life.
Political ideologies, like religions, can have a totalizing element: they
purport to explain everything, to relate to “every square inch” (to borrow
that sort of tiresome Kuyperian phrase) of human experience. The result is
a classically Pauline dilemma: that old tension between belief and action,
a sort of friction between one’s personal “is” and “ought” like the
scraping of tectonic plates:
We were not merely going to report on progress; we were going to make it.
It was exhilarating to try and live this way. It invested what might seem
like trivial everyday decisions with a world-historical import. At least
that’s how it felt to me for a little while. Eventually, I began to notice
in myself a tension that also existed at the heart of the project of n+1,
and of many of the other little magazines. My aesthetic and cultural
tastes, the reflection of a lifetime of economic privilege and elite
education, did not always, or often, match the direction the magazines were
trying to take me politically. This had not troubled me before, because I
had never considered that—as the little magazines echoed Fredric Jameson in
asserting, or at least implying—“everything is ‘in the last analysis’
political.” But now I had come to see that politics were not just an
activity that people engaged in at certain times: when they voted, or
protested, or wrote newsletters for think tanks. It was something that
could be said to infuse every aspect of one’s experience, from which
big-box store you shopped at for your year’s supply of toilet paper, to
what restaurants you chose to eat at, to who you chose to sleep with. This
was what it meant not just to engage in politics but to “have a politics”—a
phrase I probably heard for the first time at that n+1 party, and that was
often brandished as if it legitimated one’s entire way of life. What it
meant for everything to be in the last analysis political, I came to see,
was that everything I did ought to be disciplined by my politics. But what
if it wasn’t? Should I then revise my politics, or myself?
Christians of unusually active conscience will recognize this quagmire
immediately. Do I revise my religion, or myself? And Christianity purports
to be explicitly a religion of forgiveness. If the self-judgment is that
bad for a religion of grace, how much worse for belief-systems which merely
stop at describing right and wrong?
Transcendent thought-systems elevate us, pronouncing our every act a moral
act, filling all around us with saturated meaning. Yet the ideological
system is impersonal; the tenets themselves cannot give us the power to act
in accordance with them. (The irony is that according to an ideological
system–at least, according to most such ideological systems–action is the
thing which matters.) Sometimes, one gets the sense that the current
profusion of ideological essays is less geared to intellectual development
and more geared to supplying moral motivation–that missing impetus which
will finally give us the strength to live in accordance with the system’s
demands (you certainly get that sense in the Religion section of the
bookshop). What the system lacks is an explanation of the human heart, and
why it often fails to do that which we ask of it. No matter the system, the
person caught between “is” and “ought” winds up with the question–“Who will
rescue me []?” (Rm. 7:24).
Disenchantment  Dreher 
june 2018
Another Week Ends (June 1st, 2018) #3 - Will McDavid (Mockingbird)
<https://thepointmag.com/2018/politics/tired-of-winning>, Jon Baskin
questions the subordination of intellect to political strategy. The essay
is refreshingly personal, as he recounts his time working at a partisan
think-tank (“once you got the hang of the narratives, everything fit into
them”) and his later immersion in more intellectual magazines, like n+1.
His essay ruminates on the spectrum from purely political writing to more
purely intellectual writing, trying to sketch a vision for how intellectual
inquiry and political advocacy should relate to one another.
The entire essay’s worth a read, but the most interesting part to me was
his struggle in reconciling his Leftist ideology with his everyday life.
Political ideologies, like religions, can have a totalizing element: they
purport to explain everything, to relate to “every square inch” (to borrow
that sort of tiresome Kuyperian phrase) of human experience. The result is
a classically Pauline dilemma: that old tension between belief and action,
a sort of friction between one’s personal “is” and “ought” like the
scraping of tectonic plates:
We were not merely going to report on progress; we were going to make it.
It was exhilarating to try and live this way. It invested what might seem
like trivial everyday decisions with a world-historical import. At least
that’s how it felt to me for a little while. Eventually, I began to notice
in myself a tension that also existed at the heart of the project of n+1,
and of many of the other little magazines. My aesthetic and cultural
tastes, the reflection of a lifetime of economic privilege and elite
education, did not always, or often, match the direction the magazines were
trying to take me politically. This had not troubled me before, because I
had never considered that—as the little magazines echoed Fredric Jameson in
asserting, or at least implying—“everything is ‘in the last analysis’
political.” But now I had come to see that politics were not just an
activity that people engaged in at certain times: when they voted, or
protested, or wrote newsletters for think tanks. It was something that
could be said to infuse every aspect of one’s experience, from which
big-box store you shopped at for your year’s supply of toilet paper, to
what restaurants you chose to eat at, to who you chose to sleep with. This
was what it meant not just to engage in politics but to “have a politics”—a
phrase I probably heard for the first time at that n+1 party, and that was
often brandished as if it legitimated one’s entire way of life. What it
meant for everything to be in the last analysis political, I came to see,
was that everything I did ought to be disciplined by my politics. But what
if it wasn’t? Should I then revise my politics, or myself?
Christians of unusually active conscience will recognize this quagmire
immediately. Do I revise my religion, or myself? And Christianity purports
to be explicitly a religion of forgiveness. If the self-judgment is that
bad for a religion of grace, how much worse for belief-systems which merely
stop at describing right and wrong?
Transcendent thought-systems elevate us, pronouncing our every act a moral
act, filling all around us with saturated meaning. Yet the ideological
system is impersonal; the tenets themselves cannot give us the power to act
in accordance with them. (The irony is that according to an ideological
system–at least, according to most such ideological systems–action is the
thing which matters.) Sometimes, one gets the sense that the current
profusion of ideological essays is less geared to intellectual development
and more geared to supplying moral motivation–that missing impetus which
will finally give us the strength to live in accordance with the system’s
demands (you certainly get that sense in the Religion section of the
bookshop). What the system lacks is an explanation of the human heart, and
why it often fails to do that which we ask of it. No matter the system, the
person caught between “is” and “ought” winds up with the question–“Who will
rescue me []?” (Rm. 7:24).
Disenchantment  Dreher 
june 2018
Bach at the Burger King - Theodore Gioia (Los Angeles Review is Books)
*Take your delinquency elsewhere* could be the subtext under every tune in
the classical crime-fighting movement. It is crucial to remember that the
tactic does not aim to stop or even necessarily reduce crime — but to
*relocate* it. Moreover, such mercenary measures most often target minor
infractions like vandalism and loitering — crimes that damage property, not
people, and usually the property of the powerful. “[B]usiness and
government leaders,” Lily Hirsch observes in *Music in American Crime
Prevention and Punishment*, “are seizing on classical music not as a
positive moralizing force, but as a marker of space.” In a strange
mutation, classical music devolves from a “universal language of mankind”
reminding all people of their common humanity into a sonic border fence
protecting privileged areas from common crowds, telling the plebes in
auditory code that “you’re not welcome here.”
So our metaphor for music’s power must change from panacea to punishment,
from unifying to separating force, as its purpose slips from aesthetic or
spiritual ennoblement into economic relocation. Mozart has traded in a
career as doctor for the soul to become an eviction agent for the poor.
In the mass-media era, the general public primarily experiences classical
music through detached snippets of larger pieces extracted to lend their
symbolic power to a commercial agenda. Artists and advertisers dissect
classical works into short melodies — quotable passages severed from their
original context — assembling a menu of musical leitmotifs to bolster their
message with a desired tone, mood, or association. Like artificial
flavoring for the ear, these symphonic excerpts infuse scenes with the
synthetic emotion of choice. Need a touch of European elegance? Mozart will
make that minivan commercial suddenly suave. Concerned a slow sequence
leaves your audience snoozing? Wake them up with the “William Tell
Overture” for instant adrenaline. Does your pancake promo lack punch?
Reroute Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” from Valhalla to the International
House of Pancakes.
The artistic consequences of such practices are devastating. Conscripting
Wagner’s Valkyries as pancake saleswomen necessarily lowers their impact at
the opera house. Some pieces are quoted so often that their secondary
associations overtake and cheapen the original music. *Carmina Burana *exists
as a permanent musical cliché. Orff’s “O Fortuna” evokes only kitsch; under
which circumstances can a listener now have an authentic encounter with
that choral-chanting calamity?
Such a sound-bite culture negates the definitive value of classical
composition: the extended development of complex musical themes. Extended
musical forms allow the listener to appreciate the subtle interplay of
motif and movement — and it is exactly this nuanced appreciation that
quote-clipping nullifies. There is a two-part mechanism to extract and
transplant a tune: detach a 15-second theme from a 45-minute symphony
(where it functioned as an integrated part in an organic whole) and attach
it to an alien subject. Uproot “O Fortuna” from a Latin cantata, so it can
be grafted onto a Domino’s Super Bowl spot. These transplants produce
jarring mashups that trigger another insidious side effect: by always
quoting works out of the context the public forgets that they have a
context. The spectator forgets that “O Fortuna” could be glorious in its
original context because it’s absurd hyping Domino’s Pizza. In sum, in the
remix media ecosystem, famous compositions degenerate from serious music
into decorative sound, applied like wallpaper to lay a poignant surface
over banal intentions.
A prime example of classical music’s conflicted position in our capitalist
culture is Bach’s *Prelude to**Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major*. Dubbed the
“Things Just Got Classy Song” by one columnist, the two-minute composition
has been deployed for an astounding array of causes. IMDB lists 73 credits,
with a résumé featuring primetime mainstays *Smallville* and *ER*, ad
campaigns for Healthy Choice frozen broccoli and Pedigree dog food, and
big-screen flicks ranging from *Elysium* and *The Hangover Part II *to a
brief cameo in *Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus*. In a strange contrast,
creative filmmakers and corporate advertisers exploit the prelude’s
associations as a symbol of class status to conjure two contradictory
emotions. On the one hand, movies deploy the prelude to underline the
snobbish hypocrisy of the wealthy, emphasizing how the likable everyman is
out of place in high society; conversely, commercials quote it to instill
the shallow sales pitch with an elegant air, implicitly linking the product
with the public’s inarticulate yearning for a better life. The prelude, in
other words, is used simultaneously to skewer the hypocrisy of the upper
class and stoke the public’s aspirations to join it.
A recent Cadillac CTS commercial even identifies Bach’s prelude by name. In
the spot, a stylish couple drives down a swank street and turns on the
radio. “*Bach Suite No. 1 in G Major*,” declares the enlightened driver —
and the camera swivels to the vehicle’s interior, showing the piece’s title
electronically illuminated on the dashboard. The implication, of course, is
that you’re not just buying a car, but acquiring membership to an elite
social class. It is an invitation to join an exclusive club, to become the
type of person who recognizes Bach suites by name and number. With a few
strokes of the cello, an inane car promo rises into a grand vision of a
happier future: a promise of personal transformation through the power of
personal shopping.
Music  class  culture 
may 2018
By the Book - Trish Harrison Warren (Comment)
All of us learn to interact and to communicate by following a script. This
script is most likely unconscious; we may have inherited it from our
parents or picked it up from friends, movies, or our particular subculture.
But these habits—our particular patterns of thinking, speaking, and
listening—move us, bit by bit, toward or away from love. Jonathan, the
recovering punk, and I, the crunchy Austinite, had to learn this through
painful and blessedly humiliating practice. One day in marriage counseling,
our therapist quite literally handed us a script. It outlined "active
listening"—a way of arguing that, to us, felt utterly contrived, which
required the speaker and listener to slow down, to repeat each others'
argument charitably, and to affirm the other. We were sent home with
"homework": to argue using our script. Following this script did not always
capture the genuine emotional tenor of our hearts in the moment, but our
habit of dropping f-bombs in every argument wasn't working, so we did our
homework; we said "I hear you," we repeated, we affirmed, we nodded, we
said our lines. We felt slightly ridiculous—every shred of commitment to
"authentic self-expression" was dying a slow death. But we found that while
following a script felt a bit awkward, it did not make us lobotomized
marriage robots. Instead, it provided banks for powerful emotional
currents; it gave structure that we needed to get past ourselves to see and
hear the other. Twelve years later, we don't often follow this script word
for word because we've internalized its pattern, but in our most
intractable conflicts, we still go back to it. We still, years later, need
help developing habits and practices that foster love.
Prayer  marriage  scripts  authenticity 
may 2018
Privileges and Rough Rides - Alan Jacobs (Snakes and Ladders)
Ayjay’s account is noteworthy but still more the twitter feed he links to.
It is striking how some phrases work far better as heuristics than as moral
denunciations (e.g. here ‘American apartheid’ as a descriptor if de facto
segregation’s removal of interracial contact).
Race  ayjay  privilege 
may 2018
London Time Machine
London in 2017 superimposed on London 1682.
maps  London 
may 2018
Covenantal Versus Penal Substitutionary Atonement - Richard Beck (Experimental Theology)
The debates about penal substitutionary atonement continue, but over
the years we've seen a shift in the debate.
As I read the emerging consensus, the notion of "substitutionary"
atonement is increasingly, if begrudgingly, recognized as an important
part of the biblical understanding regarding the death of Jesus. In
some very important way, Jesus' death is a substitute for us. The
bible seems clear on this point.
The debate swirls now mostly around the word "penal." Is the
substitution of Jesus best framed in terms of crime and punishment,
Jesus taking the punishment of our crimes? More specifically, the
issues increasingly focus upon if the "wrath of God" is being
"satisfied" in meting out punishment.
All that to say, there seems to be an emerging consensus in the debate
that Jesus does act as a substitute on the cross--something happens to
him so that it won't happen to me and/or he does work for me that I am
unable to do for myself--but continuing debate about if Jesus is
absorbing the wrath and punishment of God.
I've just finished reading the book of Deuteronomy, and it put me in
mind of a post I wrote in 2012 as a way to thread the needle in the
atonement debates. In that post I coined the phrase "covenantal
substitutionary atonement."
You'll recall that Israel's problem at the end of the Old Testament
were the Deuteronomic curses, which culminated in Israel's
punishment/exile. It seems clear in Paul--to the degree that Paul is
ever clear--that these curses ("the Law") remain a problem. On the
cross, as Israel's king and representative, Jesus substitutes himself
for Israel, bearing the curses and breaking the Deuteronomic impasse
once and for all.
Phrased in the imagination of the book of Hebrews, Jesus is a
Deuteronomic sacrifice so final and huge that the curses are
permanently set to the side. On the cross a sort of permanent gateway
was forged through the Deuteronomic curses into the Presence of God
and the land of Deuteronomic promise and blessing.
In Jesus, the exile of Israel finally and fully comes to an end,
allowing the Abrahamic promise of blessing to break forth for all the
What I've just described isn't new. What's new is the phrase
"covenantal substitutionary atonement" to highlight a contrast with
penal substitutionary atonement, a way of keeping the important notion
of substitution while replacing the penal with a covenantal framework
[NB Kim Fabricius intervenes in an interesting way in the comments
too, trying for a high Christology, substitutionary apocalypse reading
of Paul whose "trajectory... is decidedly universalist."]
theology  atonement 
may 2018
How a Rebellious Scientist Uncovered the Surprising Truth About Stereotypes - Claire Lehman (Quillette)
Jussim’s talk began with one of the most egregious examples of bias in
recent years. He drew the audience’s attention to the paper: “NASA
faked the moon landing – therefore (climate) science is a hoax.” The
study was led by Stephan Lewandowsky, and published in Psychological
Science in 2013. The paper argued that those who believed that the
moon landing was a hoax also believed that climate science was a
fraud. The abstract stated:
We…show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g.,
that the CIA killed Martin-Luther King or that NASA faked the moon
landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the
rejection of other scientific findings above and beyond commitment to
laissez-faire free markets. This provides confirmation of previous
suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of
After describing the study and reading the abstract, Jussim paused.
Something big was coming.
“But out of 1145 participants, only ten agreed that the moon landing
was a hoax!” he said. “Of the study’s participants, 97.8% who thought
that climate science was a hoax, did not think that the moon landing
also a hoax.”
His fellow psychologists shifted in their seats. Jussim pointed out
that the level of obfuscation the authors went to, in order to
disguise their actual data, was intense. Statistical techniques
appeared to have been chosen that would hide the study’s true results.
And it appeared that no peer reviewers, or journal editors, took the
time, or went to the effort of scrutinizing the study in a way that
was sufficient to identify the bold misrepresentations.
While the authors’ political motivations for publishing the paper were
obvious, it was the lax attitude on behalf of peer reviewers – Jussim
suggested – that was at the heart of the problems within social
psychology. The field had become a community in which political values
and moral aims were shared, leading to an asymmetry in which studies
that reinforced left-wing narratives had come to be disproportionately
represented in the literature. And this was not, to quote Stephen
Colbert, because “reality had a liberal bias”. It was because social
psychology had a liberal bias.
Jussim explained that within the field, those on the left outnumbered
those on the right by a ratio of about 10:1. So it meant that even if
left-leaning and right-leaning scientists were equal in their bias,
there would be at least ten times more research biased towards
validating left-wing narratives than conservative narratives. Adding
in the apparent double standards in the peer review process (where
studies validating left-wing narratives seemed to be easier to
publish) then the bias within the field could vastly exceed the ratio
of 10:1. In other words, research was becoming an exercise in
When I went through university as a psychology undergraduate Jussim’s
work was not on the curriculum. His studies were not to be found in my
social psychology textbook. Nor was Jussim ever mentioned in the
classroom. Yet the area of study Jussim has been a pioneer of –
stereotype accuracy – is one of the most robust and replicable areas
ever to emerge from the discipline.
To talk about stereotypes, one has to first define what they are.
Stereotypes are simply beliefs about a group of people. They can be
positive (children are playful) or they can be negative (bankers are
selfish), or they can be somewhere in between (librarians are quiet).
When stereotypes are defined as beliefs about groups of people (true
or untrue), they correlate with real world criteria with effect sizes
ranging from .4 to .9, with the average coming in somewhere around .8.
(This is close to the highest effect size that a social science
researcher can find, an effect size of 1.0 would mean that stereotypes
correspond 100% to real world criteria. Many social psychological
theories rest on studies which have effect sizes of around .2.)
Jussim and his co-authors have found that stereotypes accurately
predict demographic criteria, academic achievement, personality and
behaviour.7 This picture becomes more complex, however, when
considering nationality or political affiliation. One area of
stereotyping which is consistently found to be inaccurate are the
stereotypes concerning political affiliation; right-wingers and left
wingers tend to caricature each others personalities, most often
negatively so.7
Lest one thinks that these results paint a bleak picture of human
nature, Jussim and his colleagues have also found that people tend to
switch off some of their stereotypes – especially the descriptive ones
– when they interact with individuals.7 It appears that descriptive
stereotypes are a crutch to lean on when we have no other information
about a person. When we gain additional insights into people, these
stereotypes are no longer useful. And there is now a body of evidence
to suggest that stereotypes are not as fixed, unchangeable and
inflexible as they’ve historically been portrayed to be.8
stereotypes  Jussim  academy  bias  stats  diversity 
may 2018
Does Paul Krugman Understand Intellectual Diversity?- Nick Phillips (Quillette)
(The article begins with a reflection on Paul Krugman's argument that
there is no reason to hire conservatives for a magazine (e.g. Kevin
Williamson) because either they have prostituted themselves to
populist conservatism or they have no influence. From later in the
Other commentators have assumed, like Krugman, that elevating
reformicons, moderates, and other idiosyncratic thinkers isn’t
worthwhile because Republican voters don’t actually care what people
like Ross Douthat have to say. This is partially the fault of
intellectual diversity defenders who market the concept as a way to
‘understand what the other side is thinking’ and shatter the echo
chambers that led to Trump’s election. That project has great social
value, but it’s not the same value that intellectual diversity is
engineered to create. )
Here's the money quote:
Intellectual diversity addresses a fundamental problem in human
cognition: we seek out information that confirms the views we already
have. As Jonathan Haidt has argued, this instinct is well-adapted to
creating intra-group solidarity, which is useful when competing for
power with other groups. But if the goal is to seek the truth, it’s
poison. If everyone in your group shares the same biases, that group
will block new information that doesn’t conform to those biases. Since
no one is right 100 percent of the time, this dynamic guarantees that
falsehoods will persist.1
One solution is to attempt to purge individuals of their biases. But
cognitive psychologists don’t yet understand how to do this. The only
method that reliably solves the confirmation bias problem is to create
groups made up of individuals with different biases. In such an
environment, countervailing biases checks one another, prodding at
weak points and raising questions a colleague didn’t think to ask.
This dynamic is highly adapted to truth-seeking, because it forces
every person to justify their biases on grounds other than tribalism.
Once we understand intellectual diversity this way, we can clearly see
that left-leaning publications do their readers a service by elevating
ideas that challenge prevailing assumptions. Progressive orthodoxies
have often been wrong: entire generations of the Left’s most
accomplished thinkers devoted themselves to Marxism. No progressive
should feel confident that their side’s leading lights are truth
personified. Instead, they should wonder what other falsehoods are
lurking behind the group confirmation bias.
ayjay  diversity  Haidt  academy 
may 2018
The Stifling Uniformity of Literary Theory - Neema Parvini (Quillette.com)
If one understands the underlying theories, then it is not difficult
to see why this happens. Despite significant differences, all the
approaches I listed above assume that:
1 There is no universal human nature.
2 Human beings are primarily a product of their time and place.
3 Therefore, power, culture, ideologies, and the social institutions
that promulgate them have an extraordinary capacity to shape and
condition individuals.
4 In Western societies, since these institutions have been dominated
by people who were predominantly rich, straight, white, and male it
has tended towards pushing the particular interests of rich straight
white men to the detriment of all other groups.
5 Furthermore, these rich straight white men have done this by acting
as if their sectional interests were universal and natural – a
flagrant lie.
6 Importantly, however, few if any of these rich white straight men
were consciously aware of doing this, because they were themselves
caught in the matrices of power, culture, ideologies and so on.
7 Where subordinated groups have gone along with these power
structures, they have been exploited and the victims of ‘false
8 Now is the time to redress this balance by exposing the ways in
which old texts have promoted the sectional interests of the rich
straight white men and by promoting the voices of the historically
marginalised groups.
...It is also obvious that these various critical schools might easily
be combined, because they represent variations on the same basic idea.
What is interesting to me from a philosophical point of view i s that
all of them are hermetically sealed, which is to say that if you
accept the eight premises I outlined above, there is no way to attack
them. We are all ‘always already’ in ideology, in the patriarchy,
under power, which is implicitly white supremacist and
heteronormative. And there’s no way out of this except to recognise it
and to do our best to mitigate it. This is not a scientific hypothesis
that can be falsified or a philosophical argument that can be
countered with other philosophical arguments, it is more of a
theological proposition. In fact, it functions in a near identical way
to John Calvin’s notion of ‘total depravity’ and original sin: "To man
we assign only this: that he pollutes and contaminates by his impurity
those very things which were good. For nothing proceeds from a man,
however perfect he be, that is not defiled by some spot." We are each
‘contaminated’ and ‘defiled’ by capitalism, patriarchy, power, white
supremacy, and heteronormativity. Once this is understood, it is
obvious why Scruton and Levin – as well as countless others – received
the treatment they did. Either you are with the oppressed, and
therefore on the side of the angels, or you are implicitly supporting
the side of the oppressors, and a damnable and unrepentant sinner. It
is a straightforward binary moral choice and its missionaries will
take no prisoners.
...As a schoolboy, Shakespeare would have trained in classical
imitatio, the practice in which the student would try to embody the
mindset of a given thinker and argue from their point of view. As his
plays show, he was a natural master at thinking from another person’s
perspective. One wonders whether the students that the academy is
producing today could if asked to, provide the arguments of their
ideological or political counterparts, without resort to crude
caricature or ad hominem.
...It is one thing to do this in research, but quite another to do it
on undergraduate courses. What might a module that pits Michel
Foucault against someone like E.O. Wilson look like? The bourgeoning
of evolutionary and cognitive approaches to literary texts in recent
years, epitomised by the work of Joseph Carroll, Brian Boyd and others
– there is now a dedicated journal for such interdisciplinary work
called Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture – might soon
justify such a pairing.
...However, it is not simply a matter of which thinkers are taught,
but also how they are taught. Whenever I teach literary theory, I
always ensure that I stress to students that what they are studying is
not Gospel, but rather ‘highly opinionated men and women making very
contentious statements about the world’. Critical thinking cannot
flourish in conditions in which students cannot question the material
they are being taught.
Theory  Teaching  Academy  Literature 
april 2018
How thousands of songs composed in concentration camps are finding new life - Meagan Flynn (Washington Post)
Ilse Weber, a Jewish poet, was imprisoned at the concentration camp at
Terezin in German-occupied Czechoslovakia when she wrote a song called
“When I Was Lying Down in Terezin’s Children’s Clinic.”
The song was about caring for sick children at the camp where Weber worked
as a nurse. She had little-to-no medicine available. But she had her poetry
and her music — some of which her husband managed to salvage by hiding the
written verses in a garden shed after her death at Auschwitz in 1944.
“When I Was Lying Down” was among the songs he saved. For decades it was
just lyrics on paper tucked away in storage, the song’s melody unknown. But
Jewish Italian musicologist and pianist Francesco Lotoro has devoted his
life to unearthing thousands of songs and scores written during the
Holocaust. Lotoro found the one person who remembered how it went: Aviva
Bar-On, who, 70 years earlier, was Weber’s patient as a girl at the
concentration camp.
On Sunday, Bar-On performed the song from memory before an audience of
thousands in Jerusalem, including Israel’s prime minister and dozens of
fellow Holocaust survivors and their descendants. It was among 11 songs
performed at the concert, called Notes of Hope
<https://www.jnf.co.uk/notes-of-hope/>, representing a mere snapshot of
Lotoro’s 30-year search for the music of the Holocaust. The concert,
organized by the Jewish National Fund U.K. <https://www.jnf.co.uk/news/>
and conducted by Lotoro, marked Israel’s 70th birthday.
One man he visited several years ago started recalling the song sung by
Polish Jews on a train bound for a concentration camp.
“I had to be careful, asking him to sing to me one, two, three or four
times,” Lotoro said. “Sometimes it can be hard for them. He remembered the
melody. It was a beautiful melody, a fantastic melody. The melody gives it
When Lotoro first met Bar-On in Tel Aviv, he said, it was months before she
could remember Ilse Weber’s song in its entirety. But the more they talked
with each visit, the more it came back to her, he said.
“She was a wonderful, smiling lady,” Bar-On said of Weber in an interview
with the Guardian
after the concert. “She played the mandolin and sang. Some of her songs
were very funny. Now I’m the only one in the world who remembers them.”
Memory  Poetry  Holocaust 
april 2018
Why Community is Dangerous - Stanley Hauerwas interview by Peter Mommsen (Plough Magazine)
PM: What do you mean that we can’t just make community up?
SH: First, community for community’s sake is not a good idea. Sartre
is right: hell is other people! Community by itself cannot overwhelm
the loneliness of our lives. I think we are a culture that produces
extreme loneliness. Loneliness creates a hunger – and hunger is the
right word, indicating as it does the physical character of the desire
and need to touch another human being.
But such desperate loneliness is very dangerous. Look at NFL football.
Suddenly you’re in a stadium with a hundred thousand people and they
are jumping up and down. Their bodies are painted red, like the bodies
that surround them. They now think their loneliness has been overcome.
I used to give a lecture in my basic Christian Ethics class that I
called “The Fascism of College Basketball.” You take alienated
upper-middle-class kids who are extremely unsure of who they are – and
suddenly they are Duke Basketball. I call it Duke Basketball Fascism
because fascism has a deep commitment to turning the modern
nation-state into a community. But to make the modern state into a
kind of community – for the state to become the primary source of
identity through loose talk about community – is very dangerous. It is
not community for its own sake that we seek. Rather, we should try to
be a definite kind of community.
Alasdair MacIntyre, for one, resists being called a communitarian – he
fears that in this place and time such calls are bound to lead to
nationalistic movements. Those who hunger for community should never
forget Nuremberg.
RH  Hauerwas  should  try  to  be  a  definite  kind  of  community. 
april 2018
W. H. Auden's syllabus will make your college courses look like a piece of cake - Jeva Lange (Books Blog Page Views)
Has a picture of Auden's reading list from his syllabus for his Fate
western civ class at Michigan in 1941.
Universities  Teaching  CourseIdeas  Humanities 
april 2018
Is This the Hardest Course in the Humanities? - Mark Bauerlein (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
After class, about half of the students and I headed over to the
dining room at Dunham College, one of Oklahoma’s graceful new
residential colleges, for lunch. There, without the professors
present, I asked the key question: Why did they sign up for
Western-civ boot camp?
One fellow grumbled that he had to do three times as much work as he
did in his other classes. The rest nodded. But you could hear in his
words the self-respect that comes from doing more work than the norm,
from climbing the highest hill while your peers dog it. Another
student said that the page-count of the syllabus had flattered her,
that it showed the professors respected her enough to demand that she
take on a heavy load of historic literature. "This is what I came to
college for," another said. One more chimed in, "This class is
changing my life."
They acknowledged, too, the distinctiveness of the works they read,
one student calling them a "foundation" for things they study
elsewhere. They admired the professors, to be sure, but the real draw
was the material. When I asked what they would change about the
course, they went straight to the books: add The Iliad and some of the
Universities  Teaching  Humanities  CourseIdeas 
april 2018
The History of Disenchantment - Alan Jacobs (Text Patterns)
Alan Jacobs' course idea on disenchantment, with excellent reading in the
proposed syllabus and comments.
ajay  disenchantment 
march 2018
History of European morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, Volume 1, p. 52-53 - William Edward Hartpole Lecky (via Alan Jacobs)
The second sphere is that of speculative truth. No class of men have more
highly valued an unflinching hostility to superstition than utilitarians.
Yet it is more than doubtful whether upon their principles it can be
justified. Many superstitions do undoubtedly answer to the Greek conception
of slavish 'fear of the gods,' and have been productive of unspeakable
misery to mankind, but there are very many others of a different tendency.
Superstitions appeals to our hopes as well as to our fears. They often met
and gratify the inmost longings of the heart. They offer certainties when
reason can only afford possibilities or probabilities. They supply
conceptions on which the imagination most fondly dwells. They sometimes
even impart a new sanction to moral truths. Creating wants which they alone
can satisfy, and ears which they alone can quell, they often become
essential elements of happiness, and their consoling efficacy is most felt
in the languid or troubled hours when it is most needed. We owe more to our
illusions than to our knowledge. The imagination, which is altogether
constructive, probably contributes more to our happiness than the reason,
which in the sphere of speculation is mainly critical and destructive. The
rude charm which in the hour of danger of distress the savage clasps so
confidently to his breast, the sacred picture which is believed to shed a
hallowing and protecting influence over the poor man's cottage, can bestow
a more real consolation in the darkest hour of human suffering than can be
afforded by the grandest theories of philosophy.... No error can be more
grave than to imagine that when a critical spirit is abroad the pleasant
beliefs will all remain, and the painful ones alone will perish.
superstition  belief  reason  ajay 
march 2018
The 21st Century Academic -Manya Whittaker (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
*Why we teach.* Maybe at one time, most students went to college to broaden
their intellectual horizons and figure themselves out. That time has
passed. Today more students attend college for a specific reason:
professional advancement.
Especially for adult learners, getting a degree is a means to a promotion,
a raise, or entree into a new field. Vocational motivations for degree
attainment are driven in part by projected job growth in industries like
and health
care <https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm>, where there’s a need to
solve 21st-century problems. Colleges are no longer singularly committed to
knowledge production for the sake of it. Academe has shifted toward helping
learners use knowledge in new ways — toward innovation.
But there’s a disconnect. As professors, we sometimes struggle with
teaching for purposes other than cultivating a "life of the mind." In my
own liberal-arts education, and at the liberal-arts college where I teach,
we are supposed to value learning for learning’s sake, not for a job. Yet
the reality is that I spend more and more of my time each year discussing
how course content is applicable in the "real world," and helping panicked
seniors translate their independently designed majors into practical skills
for the workplace.
march 2018
Christian Colleges Are Tangled In Their Own LGBT Policies - Tom Gjelten (NPR)
Whether gay or transgender students are entitled to Title IX protection is
unresolved, so Title IX coordinators find themselves having to judge on
their own how to respond to those students who seek their help.
"Sex has to do with identity and your gender and with who you are," says
Christine Guzman, the Title IX coordinator at Azusa Pacific University in
California, "so if there's a student who is feeling discriminated against
because of their gender, then, yes, absolutely, I'm going to apply that
So far, at least, Guzman is attentive to gay and transgender students
despite her school's official belief <https://www.apu.edu/about/sexuality/>
that human beings are created "as gendered beings" and that
heterosexuality is "God's design."
LGBT  ChristianColleges  Universities 
march 2018
Houellebecq and the Rise of Anti-Liberalism - Shadi Ahmed (The Atlantic)
of American politics, but to the political order that privileges
non-negotiable rights, personal freedoms, and individual autonomy—has come
in for a beating, or at least a challenge. Take, for instance, the work of
Christian orthodox writer Rod Dreher. His highly influential book, *The
Benedict Option* <https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780735213296>, calls on
Christians to resist liberalism’s aimlessness and “moral chaos
<http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/benedict-option-faq/>,” and
instead form intentional communities of religious solidarity in a
post-Christian America.
Few books challenge the core assumptions of modern liberalism as
unapologetically as the suggestively titled *Why Liberalism Failed*
<https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780300223446> by Patrick Deneen, a
political theorist at the University of Notre Dame. Liberalism, in
dismantling traditional structures, encouraging “privatism,” and empowering
an ever-expanding state, has created an existential crisis, he argues. And
insisting on yet more liberalism as a corrective has only made matters
worse. “One of the liberal state’s main roles,” he writes, “becomes the
active liberation of individuals from any limiting conditions.” Liberty,
which he argues was once about freedom from “one’s own basest desires,” was
redefined to encourage the ceaseless pursuit of those very same desires.
Some of this might sound like the standard anti-liberalism—a kind of
Catholic nostalgia for the one true church, before the reformation
unleashed a religious pluralism that would never be tempered again. As a
liberal who is critical of liberalism, I sympathize with these arguments
but am, at the same time, unwilling to follow them to their logical
conclusion. I am fundamentally biased after all. For all of liberalism’s
faults, I wouldn’t want to live under a non-liberal or even a less liberal
system, and in the strongest parts of the book, Deneen suggests why that
might be. Modern liberalism is designed for people like me. In David
Goodhart’s parlance
I’m an “anywhere” rather than a “somewhere.”
Wherever I go and wherever I’ve lived, there are others, from all over the
world, who I can easily connect with—“anywheres” of the center-left and
center-right who share a similar disposition. They don’t really have a
local community or “home” they feel particularly strongly about. They tend
to have graduate degrees; be interested in politics; speak various
languages; avoid sports-related conversations; and be vaguely privileged
financially (it’s never entirely clear *how* privileged). Perhaps most
importantly, they are suspicious of happy people but especially earnest
people. No one’s particularly religious, but if they are, they’re probably
members of a minority group, usually Muslims or Jews, which makes it okay.
No one’s perfect, of course, but such are the people of my “tribe.”
The sheer diversity can be overwhelming—white Christian males can be hard
to find—but the diversity, paradoxically, reinforces a kind of cultural
homogeneity. As Deneen puts it: “The identities and diversity thus secured
are globally homogenous, the precondition for a fungible global elite who
readily identify other members capable of living in a cultureless and
placeless world defined above all by liberal norms.” This is a new global
aristocracy, one defined by liberal ideas of “rational” education and
sensibility. Whether merit-based “aristocracies” are a good thing has long
been debated. The historian Charles Wiltse
writing on Thomas Jefferson, pointed out the tension: “It is to the
talented and the virtuous that the government is to be committed, a
doctrine suggesting the Greek ideal of the wise man. The criticism of
[John] Adams, that talents and virtue will, in the end, breed wealth and
family*, *Jefferson seems to have ignored.”
Self-professed liberals often describe liberalism as indifferent to how we
live our lives, so that liberalism effectively serves as a kind of referee
or neutral bystander. But this does not necessarily entail ideological
neutrality, since liberalism itself emerges from a set of ideological and
philosophical assumptions regarding religion, human nature, and the state.
Liberalism only offers neutrality within itself. (Political liberalism, as
expounded by John Rawls, is based on the “veil of ignorance”—the notion
that the founders of a new polity are free to construct their own society
without any knowledge of their future position and without any distinctive
set of preferences or values. But, as the philosopher Lenn Goodman writes
<https://philpapers.org/rec/GOOTRT>, “Every one of Rawls’s choosers is
trapped in a liberal society. … They are not free to construct a value
system for themselves.”)
Once liberalism’s non-neutrality is acknowledged, its consequences on vast
domains of public life become more obvious. Liberalism might be a better
ideology (than whatever the alternatives might be) but it’s an ideology all
the same. It’s a transformative project, as any belief system that views
history as a progressive and bending arc must be. Liberalism believes its
victory to be essentially a matter of time. History’s long, progressive,
and bending arc will eventually win out....
...What liberalism’s critics appear unable, or unwilling, to address is
whether a lack of meaning is a worse problem to have than a lack of
freedom. Perhaps the most we can hope for—or worry about—is just somewhat
more illiberal liberal democracies, variations on a continuum but still
largely stuck in a liberal universe.
BenOp  Freedom  Diversity 
march 2018
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