The Online World

I was a bit busy over the months of March and April. Coronavirus Chronicles failed. I think it will take an extraordinary event to revive it.

But there is the observation that this whole situation seems to have accelerated the gifts of the internet. YouTube is our encyclopedia now, isn’t it? The internet as library is growing. Growing pains now are things NOT available online, rather than all that is. During the lockdown WTS acquired access to JSTOR and just recently the ODNB. All kinds of ancient legal documents are being placed online.

The internet is multiplying in a fragmenting and reconnecting way. Alternative platforms are emerging, along with alternative publications. It is a bit of a puzzle for someone interested in many things because there are so many things.

Some of the highlights of the internet nowadays, places where one can be surprised for me are:

Tablet
Here is a very interesting leading article on a person endeavoring to succeed at the Heterodox Academy approach. In the middle of the article it tells the story of how he was about to give up, and then got the right advice and figured out a way forward.

The Critic
This meditation on the novel is worthwhile, though it has no solutions. I believe the solution would be better novels, and that is not an easy solution.

This article on Mario Draghi was something I could use more of. The Critic does give one all kinds of things.

The Spectator
I hardly ever look at the US edition of this venerable and excellent publication. I am in regular contact with the original. UK politics are so much more interesting than those of PA.

Quillete
Niall Ferguson is a historian worth understanding. Here is a review of his latest book that is unusual and appreciated by the book’s author.

UnHerd
I have enjoyed a lot of UnHerd’s lockdown TV episodes. And I have found their articles have insight.

The Article
Some of these sites I list are new. This one seems to me the newest. I don’t actually go looking on their site very much. I follow them on Twitter and jump into an article from time to time, and have been impressed.

There are other places to collect obviously, but these are among my top favorites.

Conservatism Today

As badly as the left is faring these days, it seems that the right is also fragmented and thrashing around. And it makes me wonder. Conservatism has to think about what it conserves, and how, and why. That is important. It is not at all clear to me that all the people calling themselves conservative agree on what it is they want to keep.

It also has to think about what it fights, and how, and why. That is as important. There is war, it seems to me, between the more entrepreneurial and the less entrepreneurial in the shapeless mass of conservatism. I think it would be interesting to get some kind of topographical map locating all the conservative nodes (and liberal too). I would like to understand where the alignments and disagreements are forming and shifting.

Here is the conclusion from an essay from the Claremonster end of the spectrum (and the editor of Modern Age), which I prefer these days, about another conservative position.

What Andrew Bacevich’s book lacks most are not women, people of color, neoconservatives, or conservatives who actually agree with Bacevich’s principles. Rather, American Conservatism’s most serious deficiency is its lack of conservatives who accept modern complexity and do not counsel retreat. Conservatism cannot be confined to front porches and poetry, as lovely as those things are. It must be of the world to defeat the wolves who are within as well as outside every community’s walls.

Daniel McCarthy

On the Present Digital Situation

On the way to obtaining Europe you have to pass through Cluny. The structure of Cluny, which was deconstructed in the Enlightenment, was one of the largest of Medieval Europe. It grew up as a reform movement in the always-reforming Benedictine system.

Some read the Benedictine system as one always in need of reform. Others read it as a system always exciting reform and reformers. Whatever you chose, the isolated Benedictine monasteries that emerged to dot the landscape after the high tide of empire withdrew, eventually created a situation in need of reform. The Cluniac way was to network the monasteries, doing so along the highways of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Cluny grew in prestige, in power, and in wealth as it dominated the new network. It had a monopoly.

But then there was a revolt against the excess and luxury of Cluny. Was this Benedictine poverty? So the long proliferation of reform movements gathered momentum. The Cistercians were the earliest successfully attempt to provide alternatives to the monopoly. There was a new entrepreneurial spirit to them: they sought to cut down on expenses by moving to cheaper locations, they axed the frills and promoted institutional austerity, and they patented a monastic serfdom too (read about this echo in R.W. Southern’s Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages). It was one of a growing stream of proliferating options, the fragmentation of network monasticism into monastic networks which gave us the low-burning and late-blooming Carthusians, the mendicant orders who staffed the greatest of Medieval inventions—the University, as well as their renewal, the curiosity that was the military orders, the Augustinian hybrid, the Brethren of the Common Life and Canons Regular (its all off the top of my head, so take it with a grain of salt). Eventually the orders and the studious scholastic monks fragmented Christendom and gave us the Reformation.

Great Cluny, the monopoly of the tenth and eleventh centuries dwindled until France, sometime the heart of Christendom on earth, cannibalized it to build other things. It had betrayed its ideals, and it had withered on the vine.

I have said all this before, however. But it struck me again as I look at links for Gab, Parler, Thinkspot, Locals (I just saw that Dave Rubin is looking to make Twitter irrelevant), the rise of Substack, Medium and other such. Now Clubhouse. James Poulos says that the digital age recapitulates the Medieval. I think he’s right. One wonders: when it has all fragmented from the concentrating giants, will some analog to the university arise to coordinate the network fragments of our dawning digital age.

Rocketing to Mars

by Joel Zartman, assisted slightly by the poet Yeats

I

This is no planet for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
An automated suit, unless
bots wring their hands and ping, and louder ping
For every circuit of this high-tech dress,
Nor is there coding school but studying
Monuments of our own magnificence;
And therefore I have climbed aboard and come
To Mars’ main city at Olympus Mons.

III

O sages standing in the rocket’s fire
As in the heat shield of a wall,
Come from the rocket plume, perne in a gyre,
And be the coding-masters of my soul.
Consume my flesh away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of telemetry.

IV

Once out of orbit I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as engineering makes
Of exoskeleton and print enamelling
To keep the complex circuitry awake;
Beyond the hydroponic bough to sing
In blue lit passages beneath Olympus Mons
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Coronavirus Chronicles – February 2

It is a mask on/mask off kind of moment, isn’t it? Masks are still required and enforced, while the lizard elites grow more and more bold.

The official policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is still that consistent wearing of a facemask reduces the transmission of coronavirus. I am astonished how much this practice works as a point of etiquette as well.

I know one person that I’ve talked to who is interested in getting vaccinated—a person who studiously keeps to the guidelines. I know three nurses who are not interested in getting it—all of whom have been kept to the guidelines until life becomes one continuous blur of exhaustion.

I went to the dentist, where of course they have to follow the guidelines rigorously. I had to fill out a coronavirus form. I did not give it to my hygienist, and she did not ask for it, so I brought it home. I did wear a mask into the place, waited with it on, and then took it off for the purposes for which I came. This was my second coronavirus dental visit.

What else? The Crimea is running out of water and the protests in Russia spread. Did anything ever happen in Belarus? I haven’t heard. Protests in Holland and Denmark I hear. In Italy, the police joined the protesters!

In Washington D.C. there are still guards and fences, militarized ever since common people were last seen encroaching on the hallowed seat of undefiled government. I feel like going down and walking up as close as the military will allow, and then doing the Hunger Games thing with three fingers.

It is a time of proliferating network alternatives too. All kinds of new platforms seem to be rising, while the old titans still remain titanic. All kinds of spiders working on all kinds of webs. Even finance is having to look limber for the encroachments of a digital onslaughts. Events keep happening.

Coronavirus Chronicles – July 24

Now the thing is the tightening restrictions because cases are spiking, at least in the news. I think people in general want to just push forward, but there are those who are alarmed and want to rein things in. When in doubt, we do what everybody else is doing. It is hard to resist that with any confidence.

At bars in PA, unless a person is ordering food, drinks are not available. The idea is to discourage people congregating unnecessarily. In NY, apparently, where there is a similar order, just getting a snack is not enough. I gather a lot of hot dogs are being sold as a new menu item.

WTS is reopening the library. That will be welcome after all this time. Research has been driven online, but it cannot always be that way. Not unless the way to keep librarians employed during the lockdown is to have them work full time on digitizing all the holdings. Wouldn’t that be an interesting outcome?

I listened to Niall Ferguson predict that the coronavirus would fade away from memory, so that in 2022 people will no longer remember these extraordinary moments. He thinks the big dam in China could burst and be the news event of the year. I saw some video on Twitter of the flooding in China. Perhaps it will rock the party and drain the coffers. We now know that the pull of Chinese money talks in ways that can displease the great American buying machine. What if they don’t have money though?

I hope whatever happens, that the Moon and Mars missions keep on track. We seem to have entered a new age for that, and I’d hate for it to peter out. My Chinese science fiction book suggested that navies are more suited and air forces to being the ones extending operations into space. But that’s when interplanetary space battles are fought on space going destroyers and frigates. Right now, it is a question of setting up operations very high in the atmosphere: hence Space Force derives from the Air Force.

Coronavirus Chronicles – July 18

Edward Feser just diagnosed our whole situation using The Republic. It is a lesson in reading an ancient text properly, understanding, not overstating, and drawing careful conclusions.

What is going on in PA right now is that the governor is trying to raise the restrictions as cases rise. 50% capacity is being reduced to 25% capacity for restaurants and such. Gatherings of over 25 people are banned. I’m not sure how that will be enforced. I’m pretty sure it is not going to phase most churches that came back as soon as they could in May or early June. There is a lot of pushback about what that will do to businesses in the lower reaches of government. Calls for resignation and suggestions of impeachment.

We are in a drought and heat wave right now. Floods in China, but not here.

We were in Arlington, VA, which is across the Potomac from Washington DC. What surprised me about that was seeing people wearing masks to walk around in the street, to drive, even to do exercise outside. People are really into social distancing there. Most white people will maintain a 10ft distance from anybody else, and they cross the road, walk on the lawns, do anything it takes to be far from others. Restaurants were thriving on a Monday night with expanded outdoor possibilities. In Georgetown itself, they have signs requiring masks out of doors. Arlington, VA is a big city nowadays. High rise apartments everywhere, with courtyards and shops along the bottom. A good urban setup. Interesting walking. Everybody in the DC area is out running, staying in shape. The streets are not crowded with cars; pedestrian traffic was good where I was. Lots of interesting walking to be done down there.

Outside of the metropolitan areas the virus concern is not quite as dominant. Even in restaurants staff aren’t always scrupulous about having the mask all on. I don’t blame them. At barbershops, with temperatures climbing into the 90s, people wait outside for their turn to get a haircut.

Coronavirus Chronicles – July 6

This morning there was a fire in the adjacent municipality of West Manchester which released toxic fumes. I didn’t find out about it till my phone clamored with an alert. The alert was to tell me that the shelter-in-place advisory had been lifted (the initial alert must not have disturbed my sleep). It is the first time I’ve seen that sort of alert, but it was the same mandate that was instituted back in March for the Coronavirus.

It makes sense to have a shelter-in-place alert if toxic fumes are billowing out of a fire. And it contrasts with the response in March. There is a large portion of the population that is not woke but is awake to the silly things we let our government get away with. They are indignant and disgusted. One of the effects of this is that there are more people that I know of more closely tracking what their representatives in government are doing than before. I certainly do not give the government today the benefit of the doubt the way I would have previously. They have squandered a lot of the capital of their personal credibility.

One of the things churches are dealing with right now is the use of facemasks. There are those who believe it is imperative, there are also those who are equally adamant about not wearing them. The thing has turned into a symbol, and it is lamentable that something like that should take on symbolic resonances. It seems to me that for something to become symbolic there is a narrative, a story which gives it momentum so that it can be a vehicle for meaning. The mandatory use of the facemask rather than the voluntary use of the facemask is the helium causing this balloon to rise. The narrative that colors the balloon, or gives it direction, is whether or not you trust or distrust the government. Is it looking out for us? Is it out to get us?

And the truth is that there are unquantifiable elements of both. Surely there is a lot of malevolence going on, but also a lot of clumsiness and stupidity. I think it is important to realize that these are different things! One is deliberate and the other is accidental, even if it the second is the result of perverse and obstinate choices: the wrong is not intended quite the same way. But the symbol kind of takes on a life of its own, and in our day when politeness has been distorted beyond being considerate of others to demanding consideration from others without first extending consideration, it acquires a certain power.

Anyway, people are thinking about how the government does things, and about the powers that are permitted to those in government. In PA, the governor alone can declare a state of emergency. As a result, he then posses a greater set of powers than otherwise. There is a real question now, as Pennsylvanians look at what other places do, about the wisdom of placing the power to declare a state of emergency in the recipient of the enhanced powers that result. And people are thinking about it, prodding representatives, and legislation is being ground through.

It also seems to me that we’ve reached the point in the excess of cancel culture that we can draw two conclusions: the first is that if you don’t stand up to the woke demands and you appease, they will not stop until they destroy you. They have made themselves into such a thing as has no possible end other than to obtain every petulant demand they can think to make. It really is the spoiled child mentality Richard Weaver spoke of, and the thing about it is that at the moment it has real political power. I think it is becoming increasingly apparent to the indifferent that succumbing is misery, and the only alternative is to resist. The alternatives are clear, and this is making for interesting new coalitions and bedfellows. The second conclusion is that because of all this a lot more people are being forced to be engaged, to do the difficult work of understanding, of thinking, of asking the question about how we got here. The answer to that question is suggested to me in an interview that William Buckley did with Mortimer Adler back in 1970: if you don’t educate people by reading the great ideas, if the great books are ignored, the only thing that can result is that people will not know about them. We have what the good we have because we have in the past figured out how to implement great ideas. And that is what we represent in the monuments that we have erected and why they are being targeted with unironic and blatant ignorance.

And so the disruptive coronavirus the whole world was primed for like a powder keg continues causing choices to me made. Good choices can be made, and I hope the moment keeps making them increasingly apparent. There is a lot of confusion, but I wonder if there aren’t pockets of clarity for more and more people.

Coronavirus Chronicles, June 26

The thing now is the second wave. Cases are spiking in some areas, and the politics roil accordingly. The Coronavirus is still out there, still getting people. But it isn’t the same feared thing it was. Belief in lockdowns is significantly lower than it was back in March.

PA is almost all in the green, with only one county still in more restricted mode. It is owing to the fact that Lebanon county defied the Governor earlier, and whether its statistics are higher or it is merely retaliatory I don’t know. When in Philadelphia the other day, it was inconvenient because you could only get takeout. The lines for fast-food restaurants in Philadelphia were unbelievable. We ended up getting a slice. It is one of the joys of Philadelphia that you have all these little pizza shops scattered everywhere where you can get a slice of just about anything.

Facemasks are being more insisted on, it seems. Not everywhere, not absolutely, but in some places more than others. I understand Walmart, very libertarian in this regard some time back, is buckling down to the requirement. I’ve been asked to put one on standing in the entryway of the library—you can’t get in further. I’ve been in places where not even the employees had one. Everybody has the plastic shield where interactions take place.

Most colleges plan to come back early and power through to Thanksgiving, and then provide an extended winter break. Westminster Seminary is going online for the coming school year.

Coronavirus Chronicles – June 20

The extraordinary lockdowns of March and April remain only in memory; I miss them already.* Fast food is still not opening dining rooms, but other restaurants are. Fast food, though, probably had somewhat of a boom and perhaps still does. The use of disposable cups and cutlery is common in real restaurants. Facemasks everywhere, and that dampens the enjoyment. We are over 80K coronavirus cases in PA, and while the Philadelphia area is still shut down, most of the state appears to be humming.

Now this whole police thing: I’m on the fence about it. I have lived in third-world countries and you can still live life there; it has its many good things. You can’t count on the police, but what you do is count on your neighbors; know them, greet them, do things with them, be wary. What’s so bad about that? And I think if things really degenerate in the USA, there are still more resources for preparing, educating, coping, and dealing with whatever happens. I know people don’t want to lose their liberties. Eh, I think it will be interesting with or without them. Lots of good conversations about it all. I think a lot of subterranean good is rumbling. Still, in preparation for things to come I’m reading Victor Frankl’s account of life in a prison camp. It’s good. I still need to read Vasily Grossman, but I’ve done well to keep up with my concentration camp literature.

________________

*Here’s why I miss the old days of the early lockdown: I was exhausted, I was clogged up with my dissertation, and I was somewhat baffled on extracurricular reading. April was the month it all changed. I rested. It was a wonderful, cool month; I went to the rail trail and read all the books I had out of the library at school and I figured out the way to seriously get writing my dissertation. It seems like a dark time, as if the sun hardly shone back then in retrospect. I remember driving around after dark wondering if cops would pull me over to see if I had a legitimate reason for being out. But perhaps that was the effect of being at home most of the day and only out on Wednesday evenings. It was wonderful, like winter in Minnesota when it really is dark most of the time. Besides the other successes, we reconnected with some good friends, I figured out a steady stream of reading, and I discovered some new authors. I helped more in Colombia, time passed, and I was not left with regrets.

Coronavirus Chronicles – June 16

PA is reopening. Retail is humming, masks are as often seen as they are not seen. Restaurants are open but the masked attention and closed tables is off-putting. The backlash on our governor grows all the while; he has been keeping restrictions longer than many would like. It is clear there’s no going back to lockdowns. There have been protests in center square for the woke pieties, as well as one in support of the police. I think those who cannot think for themselves and who cannot say that what a person thinks matters have no worthwhile dignity.

What to make of this moment? A lot of people are black-pilled: the riots, the protests, Chop in Seattle, the Gorsuch exposure; North Korea. We live in such an age that we look back on the 1990s as an age of vitality. I go on reading. I’m grateful for all the books that still churn forth and are worthwhile. There is reading to keep up with for all that there is a lot to ignore. I have a backlog. Amazon is booming, and you know how that place started out? As a bookstore in the age of the book. If the age of the book has peaked, I’m glad I was born so close to it.

Early into this coronavirus thing I was exhausted, uninspired in my reading, and clogged in my dissertation. That is no more. The lockdown did not leave me with regrets but with a few solutions.

I don’t know what it helps to give way to despair. I sometimes still listen to Peter Hitchens, but as one would look at an orangutan in the zoo. I like the cheerful warriors like Ben Domenech and the people he often interviews. There is humor, there is grim realism, there is determination. They still enjoy themselves. I want these to be my people.

I’m watching Kenneth Clarke’s Civilization once again. Civilization collapsed once before, and in the interim, as part of the barbarity, we got the culture of the Vikings and of Beowulf of which we still dream. Of course, they did have to fade before being too much dreamed of. Clarke’s generous and humorous narration is full of insight. The only thing I wish is that he had had back then a bottle of water to moisten his mouth from time to time. The rest is perfect. His thing is that you know a civilization is exhausted when it runs out of confidence. Have we run out of confidence? What is great about this moment is that you have no idea what tomorrow will bring. We hope in a few years to build rotating space stations, to colonize the moon, and then move on to Mars. Once the frontier was the North Atlantic, then the Wild West. Now we have a new frontier. Is that a good sign? I don’t care, it is an intriguing destination.

Coronavirus Chronicles – June 4

Thunderstorms are ripping through Hanover. Rain was sheeting down. In that cataclysmic circumstance I saw the latest about the NYT Op-Ed. Looks like Tom Cotton is the one to finally break things irretrievably. Something is very obviously, irretrievably broken. It sends a message that the shadowbanning and deplatforming will continue until there is no dissent. The lines are being drawn between decency and petulance, and petulance has quite a following.

As I understand it from Twitter, my news source for now, at the NYT there are two factions. This is not unlike in the Democratic party. The retreating old-school liberals who still believe in at least maintaining a semblance of variety of viewpoints, and the kids who are coming into their own and must be obeyed. The kids believe only in being safe, and being safe means safe from anything remotely on the right. Look at the doublespeak that the word ‘violence’ has become. It is the end of an effete elite.

As the spectrum shifts, the kids will eat the old guard. I think it is evident what giving ground gets you from them, and the best thing is not to give ground at all. But who has a spine for it? What is curious to me is how the spectrum expands for the right. We now regularly have contributions to thinking on the right by homosexuals. Good, respectable stuff too, well-argued. The argument could of course be made that it is all tilting swiftly to the left. I think what is happening is that as the left radicalizes it shrinks. AS long as they remain a threat, all potential factions unite against them. Victor Davis Hanson thinks the Biden candidacy is an empty vessel. He makes it to the white house with a radical VP in tow, and then having been president for a few months, exits to continue his uninterrupted, terminal decline, along with all he represents.

We live in interesting times, and there’s no predicting the future, but I do think the left is collapsing and eating itself alive, its own worst enemy. It must overreach because it is now incapable of correction. And any wisdom remaining to those blighted regions has to be aware of that. The lockdown fatigue is over, indeed there’s a nostalgia for the frivolous world before it. The riots have held us for a week. People desperate for attention march and shout and do more harmless collective things, and among them are those who know how pointless that is and how late the hour. The lines are being drawn more clearly all the while. America has been avoiding a confrontation for a long time, but it seems increasingly obvious a confrontation will be insisted on.

Coronavirus Chronicles – June 1

I remember realizing, back in late March, a few weeks into the lockdown, that the confinement and privations of a long journey through space were not something I could tolerate. There was the novelty of the confinement then, the absence of so much world that I was used to, the call of the dim interiors of deserted restaurants. There was even the thrill at that moment of being out driving with no particular aim and wondering if that was a transgression. That strange moment has passed.

Much of all that the world was for me then is gone now. Now there is the realization that I have become habituated to the situation. The strangest part of that is that if I wanted to go to Mars, the long confinement would not be something to dread. I could do it; I’m persuaded it would not be harrowing to be confined for months and years. I can go to various places now, and I might go somewhere, but unlike before, I am content within. I have lost something, and that something was in many ways a hindrance.

Existence is a strange, strange thing.

Coronavirus Chronicles – May 30

Life is opening up in Hanover. Things are moving. Locked places being opened. Facemasked people mingling. Protests obtaining in center square over whatever it is we are worked up about presently.

The coronavirus is still out there, but there is a growing sense that the lockdown was overdone, and instead of just a global health crisis we now will also have an economic one. It gets politicized of course. The political take on the right is that the leftists are coming after our liberties. On the left, is that reckless and greedy people want to make money at the expense of the real wellbeing of the rest.

I think it is interesting what Jonathan Haidt says about how we make stories and interpret facts and events in light of those stories. I think it works out. What makes for people stewing over facemasks in a way they never do over, for example, ties? There is a story into which the facemasks fit. And it has become a symbol: there are hardly any images of Trump with a facemask; it is the look Biden assumes.

Churches are opening up. Some with more implementation of the guidelines, some with less. The mainline churches seem to be closed through the end of June, from what I can tell. Restaurants are starting to bud again: I’ve seen people eating on benches, leaning against cars, on picnic tables distributed on lawns and parking lots.

Colombia is locked down at least through July. They are actually expecting cases to spike in August. That means that people won’t be back to church anytime soon. But people who have to get out and earn something just to live do so, and in vast numbers because there are lots of them. Venezuela is out of gas, short on power and water, and dollarizing. Minimum wage is $4 a day. There is public transportation, but of difficult access. People wait in line most of a week for gas, and emergency vehicles also have to wait in their own lines. Power comes on in the capital 6 hours, goes off six, comes back six, and so on. Water is usually not on for more than half an hour. A country which is naturally rich in petroleum is importing gasoline, that is how mismanaged it is. Israel recently opened up and is considering a 2nd lockdown because of the resulting spike. Israel does full police-state lockdowns. They have enormous powers, but also a lot of enquiry and transparency to a degree where it is almost paralyzing.

I do wonder if a more fragmented political landscape in the USA would not be a benefit.

Coronavirus Chronicles – May 21

PA has 65K cases. Many counties are moving into the yellow phase, which is better than red and not yet green. Yellow phase allows groups of 25, and so I’m opening up our church. We might exceed that limit, but probably not. In town, people are coming out of the lockdown.

Looks like China is looking to lock Hong Kong down. Cold War II.

I was not surprised to see that Reno over at First Things seems to have had some kind of meltdown, poor chap! We are living in a time of such confusion. Has he gone down a road similar to that of the neocons who neverTrumped themselves? Will FT get a new helmsman? Unlike some of these conservative goons, Reno can think. I think conservative publications need sparkling editors or the result will be stodgy. One of the reasons I don’t read more conservative publications is that there’s so little of the joy of life in them. FT was carried of old by the sparkling wit of Neuhaus. You need to be a bit callous, a bit flinty to shower the sparks of wit in the rough and tumble of the public square, and I wonder if the more deliberative Reno has it.

I understand the big tech internet funnels are under siege. People have been trying now for years to find alternative gateways to the world of internet. But the problem is critical mass, it seems to me. Who wants to switch over to an alternative until everybody else does too? How do you do that? Do the big content providers decamp? Not sure how it will be, but I think it has to come about sooner or later. The internet funnels had a good run, let’s phase them out. Twitter serves up the internet to me, but I’m ready for an alternative. Maybe it is time to re-envision the browser, make it more widgety and modifiable.

I wonder if out of this we don’t get regions or independent states where people can disconnect from the wider world’s turmoil and hunker down around a few certainties. Places of sanity because they are not networked to all the frenetic data. Is that what Montana is like? Maybe they can convert some of those gigantic cruise ships into floating independent cities of a few guaranteed certainties . . . tossed by the waves and endlessly seeking harbor.

Monday Morning of the Unexamined Life

One of the things that I have recently learned in connection with giving people information from history is that it is not enough to give them information. Those of us who study want information, of course, and we are glad to get it. We then work on it: filing away what we can’t make sense of until the moment arises when we do, or indefinitely. We try to understand what the information means, and if we can’t do that, we wait. But this is not something the average person does or can do, that that is the difference between having and not having training. So it was at last borne in on me that they cannot just receive the information one has to impart, they really only appreciate information if you explain to them what it means. You have to interpret it.

I think about that now that this coronavirus has pushed us all into the internet so much farther. It came at a prepared moment: the technology was lying in many cases dormant, the capacity for greater use was there, and the content was both uploaded and being uploaded at a prodigious rate. And the result is that all kinds of people now have all kinds of information about whatever it is that interests them. The problem is still that of handling the information: what do you do with it, how do you contextualize it, what does it mean. That is what we still need experts for.

But when experts pervert their expertise to mislead, when the old systems of accreditation are discredited and new ones are emerging, then those who do not understand that it is still necessary–even people like me who have training but remained unaware of some of the things I had gained–can be inclined to dismiss that necessary part of processing information: skillful and proper interpretation. I wonder if this does not have a lot to do with the present insurrections.

Concluding Aftershocks of a Discussion of The Plague

I had a good discussion last night with friends about Camus’ The Plague. I learned that it is a text that will repay scrutiny. The reason I don’t scrutinize the complexities and intricacies of such a text is that existentialism repels me, if I understand it correctly.

Existentialism repels me because it is premised on disenchantment.
I appreciate the grim seriousness, and I accept that the human condition is tragic, but I do not believe it is exclusively tragic and only mysteriously otherwise in a way that renders less meager outlooks self-parody. Reality is magical, and tragedy is an invasion, and an exception in human experience. To me it is fundamental that tragedy is not the fundamental reality, but an exceptional experience. Tragedy overwhelms us when it comes, and it colors everything, but it is a mistake to think it is more than an exception and a privation that cannot in the long run prevail. For a monist like me, existentialism gestures too much at dualism.

If existentialism makes tragedy the backdrop, then it makes wonder inexplicable. Existentialism is right in this: wonder will come as a gift, and from something greater and outside of ourselves mysteriously. But there is no faith in search of understanding in existentialism, that I can see. I don’t think existentialism understands that wonder, while not comprehensible, is apprehensible, is in fact the main object of knowledge, and that our desiring it ought not to be reduced but increased. I think wonder is a more fundamental value than tragedy.

And I wonder, is not wonder, after all, what makes tragedy grand, and that which mysteriously raises what is by nature small and meager so that it gestures at transcendence? Existentialism separates wonder out of tragedy too much, putting in the foreground what should be in the background.

Coronavirus Chronicles – May 14

People are really having a hard time with the whole lockdown. In the state of PA, a groundswell of insurrection is about to roll through, and I’m hoping the rebellion of the lower magistrate gives us the all-clear. I never thought I’d agree so much with Calvin on that, but really, who is in a position to judge the magistrate? I’ve been starting to wonder if I were to have lived in the time of the American Revolution, would I perhaps have been a Royalist. Of course, there is no way of knowing, I’d have grown up a different person had I been born on a farm in Brickerville to a German speaking family in the 1730s. Like Jacob Zartman of old, I’d have joined the PA militia. I’d probably even know how to use a gun!

The governor of PA has a plan to go from the red phase we are in, to the yellow, and finally to green. He declared that a good number of northern counties could move from red to yellow a week ago, and then told us all the rest would have to stay in the red through June. That has created the backlash. Local governments are talking about refusing to enforce, people are opening up, the mood of defiance seems quite widespread. There is a diner which went back to the status quo ante virus, apparently—a feisty Greek owner. A block from me a shuttered business is unapologetically back open.

It is turning political and could get ugly. I can understand that people want to lash out, but why do they think it is their own government that is to blame and not the Chinese Communist Party? The one upside of that neglect, is that the Chinese restaurants are no longer closed down.

What I have found most surprising is that there are Christians who cannot understand that we are not disobeying the Lord’s commands to gather to worship by submitting to authorities. Do they think the Lord expects inflexible obedience? They obviously don’t think he expects inflexible obedience to the order to submit. I am not sure how to see what the piece is that they’re missing.

Is it just the strain of it all? I have a feeling people are really being strained by it all. Niall Ferguson says that what is happening, as far as the numbers go, is like the great depression, only occurring ten times faster. That will strain things.

Or is it the helplessness of creaturehood? I think that is being borne in on us. The old Wendell Berry saying that we have to chose whether to be creatures or machines ends up not really being a choice. We can’t be machines. They’re not susceptible to viruses the way we are.

It is I who am unreasonable? Still, I can’t for the life of me understand why anybody would think the government has no power to prevent the spread of a pandemic among its people by ordering them to take measures to reduce contact.

Coronavirus Chronicles – May 9

The world grows restless under lockdown. I enjoy the American Mind’s podcast. It seems to me that back in March there was a strong sense from that quarter that the government needed to take decisive action to stop the virus. I may be conflating it with the twitter feed of Peachy Keenan who decidedly was hammering that point. Now, however, the sense is that it has gone on too long. Ryan Williams, the head chief editor began to sound a bit like Rusty Reno a month back, when Roger Kimball started too. Now people are saying that there still is no science, that the science confirms that it is not so bad, things about the evidence which seem to me contradictory. Because the world is growing restless under lockdown.

Our lockdown has been extended through June, now. When other places were talking about easing restrictions, when some of the restrictions were eased in the northern counties, we had hope of better things. Those hopes were dashed, and you can see some of the reaction.

One sometimes gets the sense that our civilization is going through a kind of nervous breakdown, if that particular grouping of words makes sense. It’s what I’m thinking is happening. It is one of the reasons I listen to the American Mind’ podcast. There are sensible podcasts: The City Journal does those, and so does the Federalist Radio Hour. I don’t know where to put Dan Crenshaw, he gets good experts in but because he is not first of all a journalist or interviewer, it can be a bit random. I do not mean to say he is not sensible, however. I’ve been told Ted Cruz is worth watching, but I have a hard time taking him seriously. There is a part of America that I still find absolutely unintelligible, and he’s right where it is at. When you can get Mark Bauerlein’s podcast, it ends up being worthwhile, if often tangentially catholic. Peter Robinson with the Hoover institution has a manner that often irritates me, so I tend to skip him unless the interview has more than usual compelling qualities. From Hoover I love the Goodfellows right now; it is the most sensible of all, the most focused. It is a good combination, though anything Niall Ferguson is a must. Speaking of a must, Douglas Murray fits the category, especially when John Armstrong interviews him. The one for politics I would miss if at this point life was so boring that politics was again interesting would be Byron York’s. But of all these, the American Mind is the sketchiest, most wildly informative, most exasperating, and most new. I like the pushing-of-the-envelope they do . . . mostly. And they are of my generation. The notion that we are in the middle of a crisis of the whole civilization accounts for a lot of our present experience. The way they put it the hegemony of the televisual age is collapsing, has been, and has now accelerated with the coronavirus. They tend to be quite the analyzers of digital media, how celebrity functions differently there than in what they call the televisual (the designation works for me), what Trump understands about twitter (don’t hear a lot of your staid people doing that).

What will happen next? Will the restlessness subside in apathy? I think that was one of the phases of the experience of The Plague. It is like living the open-theist’s life (if such still exist); riding the wave, waiting to react to the next danger, fatigue, exhilaration, extremes, being in an action movie secluded and locked-down at home. It does not seem sustainable. But it is interesting what we can adapt to if we just deal with the situation instead of filtering and distorting it with all the ideas that clutter our heads.

Coronavirus Chronicles – May 7

We hear of those who are emerging. We hear of people being careless. This extraordinary period of time grows ordinary because of how long it has gone. I watched a Goodfellows session in which they were asked whether this whole experience is like a war. They admitted comparisons, but wanted to stress that pandemics are like pandemics.

One of the things about plagues is that they take a long time. The fictional account I read about the plague in 1665 by Jill Paton Walsh took over a year. There were hopes that it was waning before it got worse and entered into the long phase of horror and tedium. Now reading Camus (is anybody NOT reading Camus?) I’m struck with the same. It goes on. It changes the people, they suddenly become concerned with things that they otherwise never would have. It wears them down and after that becomes something else.

I honestly approached it at first with the thought that it would be over soon. But it is wracking the world economically and we are still tentative about emerging. The economic hit is real, even in places like Sweden where the distancing and sheltering is largely voluntary. That was apparently unavoidable, given the circumstances.

Well, it goes on. I have work to do, I have things to do, I’m used to remaining indoors. I live in the largest space we’ve ever occupied together. I have a good wife, I have internet, I have books, I can walk for four hours and read when I want to. If I went anywhere everything would be closed. So there you have it.

I do wonder: if things were to open, would I be seized with an urge to be there instead? I have a feeling I would.