Paying for the Podcasts of the Unexamined Life

Have you noticed Jordan Peterson’s new stridency? I listened to his angry podcast with Rex Murphy. I thought it bordered on bitterness, but then, I don’t have to live in Canada. I have seen his message to Christian churches and to Twitter. I have heard his interview with Rod Dreher, one of the ones you don’t want to miss. I’m actually behind on his podcasts because there have been so many recently, beside all the little things he’s showering into youTube. It seems to have started around the time Twitter locked his account.

I remember thinking that Twitter had gone to far. They are locking him out for something J.K. Rowling has essentially done, and she is still there. I thought there were people that were un-cancellable, and that surely Jordan Peterson was one of them. But it happened, and it looks permanent, and he has since turned-on attack mode. Three observations shoot forth from the branch of this event.

The first is that twitter seems to be in some kind of meltdown phase. It is amusing that Elon Musk told them he was going to buy them, they said no way, he wrestled with them, he decided he was not going to buy them, and they end up saying: You have to buy us! Now they’re suing him. What comes out of that? A legal record of how many bots it has, an arbitrated and scrutinized evaluation of the value of the thing, and perhaps Musk owning it at a cheaper price, or, on the other hand, the whole experience terminating it. What would we who for a decade or more have used Twitter do if it goes? I don’t think it gets replaced, I think it moves into the past and is a part of a receding moment. And I think that if it could not be reformed, it has certainly outlived its use. I will say I’ve learned a whole lot from using Twitter.

The second is that Jordan Peterson has been spooked by social media in the past. He’s had a beta version of his own platform for years and years now. When will that be up and running? He has gone to the Daily Wire, the consolidated and growing corporation of the old Intellectual Dark Web. It may be the answer to what happens to Twitter and youTube and all free services. If you want quality content, you have to pay. I think some kind of consolidation of bundled services makes sense. Why shouldn’t something as recent as the internet go through all kinds of iterations and changes? To have a paywall is the logic of the streaming service, after all. Once a service has a reputation, once it is of known quality, it makes sense to charge and deal with willing customers, not all and sundry. Free services are for the mendicant until they no longer have to beg. Will this eventually issue into a less open internet ruled by the gatekeepers who run fiefdoms within their protective paywalls?

The third thing issuing from the Twitter lockout is that maybe Peterson is working himself up to something. He goes through throes in all kinds of public and unusual ways and afterward comes out of some great pile-on stronger by orders of magnitude. That is the pattern. What is he working himself up for this time? I understand that, like his daughter, he’s relocated or relocating to Nashville. What is going on in Nashville? The Daily Wire is there, is that all? Is Nashville another Austin, a new gathering place and refuge for people with determination to accomplish what is elsewhere banned?

Returning to the subject of podcasts, I’m also behind on John Anderson podcasts. Two observations there. One is that he is so sane and sensible. The other is that he’s so low-key that I can see him having to go away if youTube censored him. So what happens to people at that level, the small, good gifts of the open internet? What happens to lower-profile fountains of enlightening conversation? These are people talking about books. But they are not people whose books you would always read. It is like Abigail Shrier or Douglas Murray. I don’t need to read these books once I’ve heard them talk about it. I tried, and they had no grip on me because I had the gist already. I think the podcast gets to the point of certain kinds of books about current events in a better way. The book is necessary to garner the research and organization necessary to make observations. We need Murray to write it, but we don’t need to read it: we have the podcasts. Of course, no book, no incentive for him to research.

So does that drive us back to the paywall for the podcast?

Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living by Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn

Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn wants to identify the problem with various contemporary approaches to life. Philosophy is the art of living, after all. It is not so much a way of thought as a way of thought that is espoused because it offers best way of life. She begins with all kinds of examples and summaries of contemporary approaches in the introduction. Then the book proceeds with a chapter on Gnosticism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and finally Platonism, before drawing a conclusion that handily dismisses Aristotelianism. (Aristotelianism is, as any true Platonist will tell you, a kind of truncated Platonism. I love how neatly she does it.) She is concerned that contemporary society is in the disarray it presently manifests because we have lost the art of living, and believes the solution is for it to be informed by the best philosophy.

What is unusual about a book explaining and evaluating ancient philosophies is how much of contemporary culture of all sorts it contains. If you come to the book for the philosophy, what you have to get through in the introduction and early part of each chapter can be a chore. She describes books and films, but in a measured, scholarly way that is as lively as that approach can be expected to be, but no more. And there is always the problem that classifying movies and books according to ancient philosophy shows how much the former have to be stretched so that they can usefully be explained by the latter. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code is easily representative of the gnostic mindset, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) is used for Stoicism, Ryan Murphy’s Eat Pray Love (2010) for Epicureanism (along with other cooking-oriented movies and shows), and Zach Snyders’s 300 (2006) along with an awful lot of Foucault for Cynicism. A contemporary Aristotelian (a Thomist, say) reading the book might be relieved to see there is really no movie pairing for the Peripatetic school (Babbete’s Feast springs to mind). Pairing Platonism with Nolan Ryan’s Interstellar (2014) leaves this Platonist with mixed feelings. Is the fifth dimension in the wormhole love? That is quite an allegorical reading of the film. But if you allow it, the rest flows. Why do it, why include these artifacts from the popular culture of this new millennium? Because she wants to point out how these ideas live on. This is not a book about how these ideas are distorted, though there is some of that, but about how the territory of philosophy was mapped out in ancient times. Those maps are still more reliable, and reliable enough to locate even such recent artefacts.

The strength of the book is the concise description of each approach. There are far too many takes, for example, on the gnostic phenomenon which approach it with an agenda. There is some modern phenomenon that people want to have labeled gnostic, and so the ancient phenomenon is described with that target in view so that the label can be affixed and the trigger immediately pulled. Lasch-Quinn approaches each option correctly, and her evaluation and critique of Gnosticism is informed and accurate (she has, after all, read Plotinus). So is her much briefer critique of Aristotelianism—but I may have mentioned that already. In fact, they all are, and as the chapters continue, the book makes an interesting argument for the last standing philosophy, that of Plotinus.

Unusually prominent in a book of this kind are Foucault and Plotinus. That Foucault should figure so prominently is off-putting but, in the end, necessary. Foucault as the found of endless cynicism is not that hard to accept. Lasch-Quinn is not an admirer. My only complaint here is why did she not just deal with him Aristotle-wise? As if proving that Foucault were a copious fount of cynicism were a difficult thing. But she fixes the balance by talking long and hard about the great and admirable Plotinus. This is as unusual as it is welcome. More Plotinus will do this world a world of good. If to read so much about Plotinus one has to wade through equal parts on Foucault first, I will always in the end accept this somewhat Stoical method. The result is that clear views of Platonism that distinguish it from Aristotle’s truncations, the Gnostic distortions (she approaches some of this through Albert Camus’ rejection of Harnack’s Hellenization thesis, which approach was entirely new to me), from Cynical substitutions, Stoic swerves and reductions, and from the Epicurean delusion.

If all you want to do is find out why each of the discarded approaches should be discarded as a way of life, this is your book. If beyond that you want some useful philosophical distinctions and worthwhile mental stimulation while being exposed to a nearly overwhelming variety of research in every sort of library from the most academic there is to Netflix, this is decidedly a book for you.
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Material complaint: I wish that Notre Dame had not bound this book quite the way they did. It is bound with undergraduate library consultation in view. Sturdy, heavy, unwieldy, at over 350 pages it is best read at a table. You can hold it, but when your chapters are clocking it at 50 pages, and you have philosophical content, you will find yourself wishing they had used lighter paper and bound it in covers somewhat less-than-bulletproof. Perhaps they believe most people will simply read an electronic copy.

Hallowe’en

I still have a story to finish that I started when I first started attending a Reformed Baptist Church. In a way it was about poking fun at how some people turn their theological commitments into virtue signaling. It occurred to me to set it in Hallowe’en, since there is a kind of backlash about that: instead of celebrating Hallowe’en, we celebrate Reformation Day. What is also amusing in that context is that there are those who don’t want to celebrate Christmas. You would think exchanging Hallowe’en for Reformation Day would go along with exchanging Christmas for the pagan holiday those who don’t want to celebrate Christmas are looking to avoid.

I have noticed that Hallowe’en is starting to eclipse other holidays. It isn’t even an official holiday, but you should see the preparations, the parades, the things they do at schools. You probably do: it is unavoidable. A lot goes into it.

I’m not against Hallowe’en myself. I think things that are strange are interesting. To what would our sense of proportion diminish if we didn’t have the grotesque? And the whole thing makes sense: people can dress up, people can chose all kinds of things, the mood isn’t an illogical enforced happiness. So there are many things that appeal about Hallowe’en, besides the free-marketness of it. It is not, after all, decreed by the government or expected out of some kind of social morality. In fact, it has the appeal of having those who frown on it—which appeal is certainly something I can understand. But even I wonder at the lengths the whole thing has taken on.

It is kind of like jeeps. Have you noticed how many people are driving Wranglers and Rubicons? Not SUVs, but tough jeeps, with huge, sawtooth, predatory tires and the boxy, machine-like, omnicompetent look—the amount seems disproportionate. It is as if these drivers are expecting to go off road. And it makes you wonder if they are expecting to do so on the way to the grocery store or what.

I recently listened to a very interesting interview that Bari Weiss did. It was Jaron Lanier, who is a figure in the internet industry. A most curious bird. His assessment is that people are living on the edge, that there is a prevailing sense of doom, of looming catastrophe that defines our times. Hard to argue with that one (even if you don’t, like Jaron Lanier, live in California). It seems obvious once it is pointed out. It certainly accounts for all the jeeps.

And I wonder if the rise of Hallowe’en that I perceive is not some part of that thing. Perhaps Hallowe’en gives people a way of dealing with this sense of constantly living life these days on the edge.

No Abiding City

Nothing says to me that it is a deeply and universally acknowledged truth that the human race is a race of exiles like this mad and glorious desire to colonize the universe. We want to go to Mars, we want to live on Mars, and yet we know that Mars can only be a step on the way. So what are we searching for?

There is nothing more purposeless than the desire to go to space. We make up purposes, but we do not recognize the real purpose.

It is good for learning things, for example, because the truth is that if you pursue practical learning, your learning will be limited. Learning needs to be speculative, you need to get knowledge for the sake of knowledge because all true knowledge exists to tell us something. Our problem is we do not always know what the question is to which we are obtaining an answer. Practical pursuits only seek answers to questions we have, but what about questions that will arise?

You can see this in church history. Origen of Alexandria, that glorious and speculative theologian lay the foundations for the hermeneutics and metaphysics of the fourth century, when very, very pressing and unanticipated questions arose. The import of those questions was remote and recondite, but needed to be discerned from afar. Origen was like Plato’s stargazer. We often talk about how we advance in our theology thanks to the questions that heretics raise. And that is true because we are too little involved in speculative theology; instead of being responsible, we end up scrambling. In the providence of God, there was Origen in the third century.

The same goes for the desire to be a space-faring race. It yields, and continues to yield. We have superior breathing apparatuses for firefighters, enhanced surgery techniques, and many such other kinds of safety and medical improvements. What killed the Apollo missions? When they were viewed merely as a geological survey of the moon and information about its formation. Billions of dollars were spent, and they could not continue to justify them on that practical objective. But that was not its original impulse; that is how the nebulous desire to go was badly clarified and as a result dissolved.

We search for life elsewhere because we want to find kindred. It is part of our search for a home. What is a home, after all? We talk loosely of home ownership, as if there really could be such a thing. It is the devaluation of the currency of our words to do so. You can’t own a home, you can at best own a building. Buildings are such things as can be owned, but a home . . . a home! That’s something that we will cover light years searching to obtain! We desperately want one, and there is a deep and largely unacknowledged sense that this planet is not it. A home is something you obtain by grace. It is something to strive to enter and yet that which you cannot earn. There is something given in a home, it is a blessing, it is received because it is greater than anything we can give ourselves. We are searching for life in other places to try to find out if that is where something belongs, and what belonging would be like, and if perhaps it is the place to which we can ourselves at last belong. We know ourselves to be exiles so fundamentally.

Nothing says to me that we are pilgrims and that we deeply know ourselves to be pilgrims like these daily videos of the massive effort in south eastern Texas to achieve a lasting presence for the human race, a home, a dwelling-place that is certain and enduring. “We need to be an inter-planetary species if we are going to survive.” Survival! If it were about survival we would not be trying to exit a survivable planet.

We want a home, that’s what we want. And we do not realize that what a home is, is a place where we are accepted. Isn’t that why we search for “life”? A home is a place were we live in relationship, conscious relationship, accepted and accepting in a deep and lasting way. It is glory as C. S. Lewis explains in his Biblical theology of the term in “The Weight of Glory.” And we long for the deep things that we in the wisdom of the awe of our religion of technology know; we long for the deep of distant space to accept us. And we toil, and watch, and pray to the gods of that religion, fervent about the designs of our priestly engineers and that highest priest of all, the driven and homeless Elon Musk, eager for them to bring us to the glorious temple that surely the right vehicle will find.

I would love to be a chaplain on that mission and colony on Mars. Don’t you think it will be poignant once there, to stand up and tell them about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob?

Upon Having Returned from Mexico

One of the great things about going to Monterrey, Mexico is that it is not a tourist destination. It is a growing city in the desert, with what looked to me like good infrastructure and sprouting towers and housing developments all over. One of the most exclusive neighborhoods in all of Latin America is named after the Apostle Peter and is found in Monterrey. The city has quite a few universities and is an industrial center, besides having a medical reputation. The airport, for all that, is not a rambling, bewildering beast. Business travel, private, and chartered flights is probably all. I noticed American businessmen, laborers in the back of the plane, and well-to-do Mexican families mostly, all compliant in masks.

It was a surprise to me how many people comply with the masks in the USA. It is irrational, and yet it is insisted upon. You have to be tested and demonstrate a negative result to get onto a plane coming back. So they test you, they verify, they know you are negative and in the announcement that tells you they still want you to wear the mask they tell you they still don’t care. You can hear them say they don’t care about your test and your vaccine. And they still require you wear the mask because they are required to require it. It is the most irrational thing of the whole irrational business: even if you test negative, even if you have the vaccine, wear a mask.

I realized on the flight out that enforcement still depends on a few certain types specifically, and generally on the public conventions of behavior. And so, the flight back was much more enjoyable and mask free. Most decent people don’t want to be singled out, but most decent people don’t want to enforce it. Which leads me to this conclusion, if you are mentally prepared for the few (in my case, one) who enforce it rudely (there will always be such people in the coming together of crowds), you are prepared to buck the propaganda.

Zooming out from just the face-barrier, it all makes sense. This is the society that can be oppressed by slogans, that is farcically reduced to negotiating with perverts about pronouns and designations, that reminds me of the early days of blogging when tone was all and argument not as highly disputed or valued. It is Hanlon’s razor (so much wiser that Ockham’s): there is no conspiracy, rather there is incompetence behind it: posers and opportunists are being empowered. Decency exists to make it difficult for such to get ahead. It exists to put more barriers and blocks in their way. But at the moment decency is not serving that purpose. It is a means without an end, and it has been coopted to other ends, it seems to me.

Could it be that it is airline travel that has reduced us? In Atlanta, Delta’s hub I understand, we had a close connection. We scrambled to our gate and were in the line to board upon arrival. Everybody was seated, everything was stowed, the security video played, and then the co-pilot told us it would be another while before we left because we were still waiting for our captain who was taking half an hour to traverse an airport we had gotten through in fifteen minutes. It ended up being an hour and a half before a pilot was located on a flight coming from Cancun, landed, got through customs, and boarded the plane where we were all still waiting for him. It is a complex thing to run an airline: so many people, so much luggage, so many airplanes, so much crew, not to mention the regulations under which they groan. No doubt from time to time it happens that a flight is scheduled without the one most crucial person for it all. Nobody complained; we sat meekly in our facemasks waiting, getting all the entertainment out of Delta’s limited, corporate options.

Thus occupied, we were given our customs form to fill out. The thing about the Mexican form we filled is that upon arrival many of us had to be sent to the side to finish filling them in. The Mexican customs form has a top part, and then it tells you the middle is for official use. What is not as obvious is that there is still another section you fill out at the bottom of the form. The layout is that way because the bottom part detaches, and you need to keep it to get back out of the country: it is your visa. (I wish that the officials managing the lines at customs would check on that instead of being there mostly to enforce the ban of cellphone usage; which made me wonder what eventuality has cell-phone usage in the past occasioned). While we were waiting for our designated pilot to straggle over to our fueled-up and packed-up plane, we were also given a health declaration. (When my neighbor asked the flight-attendant for a pen, it appeared that this also was not a service Delta provided.) This piece of paper was later seen waved at officials in Mexico by various passengers at several of the progressive stages of customs, immigration, and baggage claim. It appears the only planned destination this important formulary had was that which mine reached later in the day: the garbage. I think the affinities between the Mexican bureaucracy and the people running Delta are quite striking.

Life can be difficult in the desert, but it can also be pleasant if you can coordinate the necessary power and the water supply. Malls are thriving in Monterrey. They are enormous and growing, every locale filled, every escalator clogged as people are carried to the level of consumption to which they have attained. Because in Monterrey the full range of consumption is available—you can buy a handful of chilies on the street for a dollar or get that expensive pre-digested coffee you hear about all the time at an upscale grocery store. You can ride in a bus with no air-conditioning or in the comfort of a Tesla; from rattletrap to latest tech; Monterrey has gamut, we might say. It is a technological hub.

In the biggest mall a security guard did a double take when we walked by. Perhaps he was checking to see if I had a legitimate reason not to wear the mask: eating, drinking, the below-the-nose alternative, or just being an intimidating person. None of the above fit my description; I just had freedom. He didn’t say anything till we had passed him, so I didn’t have an exchange with him about science or freedom or coherence. But he called out afterward, faintly, so that for a while I complied. Perhaps he was just surprised. They take your temperature when you enter most places (the more informal, the fewer the protocols), they wrap the waiters up in facemasks and shields, and they make you sanitize the soles of your shoes as you go in. At one point in the past year’s coronavirus contortions, they stopped my parents from going to their usual grocery store because of their age. Too old and vulnerable. How are they supposed to get their groceries? They had to switch tactics. They have a place, no kidding, actually called S-Mart there (you would think that alone would be enough to make it a tourist destination but does anybody know that they have such a location?). And so S-Mart for a little while got their business, but not (alas!) their loyalty.

The good news is that however broadly you can enforce irrational conformity, and whatever its damaging results in the long run, you can only enforce it so much. There are natural limits to it all. Delta used to love to fly, it no longer shows. And if you want to see what it will look like if we continue on as we meekly do, you can probably get an idea by going to Monterrey. What I can’t guarantee is that we will have an S-Mart.

Coronavirus Conclusions and Beginnings

Well, Famous Hot Weiner is back to capacity and no masks. Every stool at the counter was occupied. The Hanover municipal building no longer has a mask sign and the doors appear to be open to all. There are signs for masks here and there and there are masks being worn still by some outside. But I think these are the people who have a thing about being exposed to other human beings at all. Something is ending for them, or something beginning.

Less interestingly, I’m doing the Jordan Peterson Self-Authoring course. I think it is well structured, that it asks good questions, and I have good hopes of what it will yield me. It takes quite a bit of time, so you have to look at it as a long-term project you are working on and peck away on your day off. Because I have the habit of writing, I enjoy it. I have written 6000 words characters on it today, and plan to do another 6000. And in that way creep toward finishing 10% of a fourth of the whole thing. I’m nowhere near beginning to finish.

I’m in a survey of the past where you first periodize your life, then you think of a set of experiences in each period, and then you analyze the experiences you described. It is surprisingly fruitful. I’ve thought about things, but this is methodical and structured. I begin to understand what they’re doing and how it works. If life in the coming days does not get volatile, it will be good to have a way to discipline all my interests and work toward coherence; and if life does get volatile, it will be good to be gathered and with greater inner clarity.

Starbase

The lockdown brought attention to Boca Chica, Texas into my life. When I was a kid my family was in the Rio Grande Valley twice a year. There I bought a lot of Legos at K-Mart and Walmart in Edinburgh and McAllen.

Boca Chica is on the Brownsville end of things, which is lined up with Matamoros rather than Reynosa, on the Mexico side. Now I watch daily video updates of the Spacex facility: what buildings they’re adding, what rings they are rolling, what prototypes fly.

I watch them for breakfast, and they bring me much joy. Nasa Spaceflight is the channel.

You can also watch Lab Padre’s livestream. They have several cameras trained on Starbase.

One of the best things rocket companies do these days is have their own youTube channel to livestream important events.

You can keep updated at an increasing number of channels, but the best ones I know of are:

Marcus House

What About It

Spacexcentric


They explain things so that you aren’t tossed around by all the floating rumors. I’ve learned that if you don’t keep a certain level of interest, the floating rumors can really toss you around. The thing is finding out what exactly to pay attention to, I guess.

And it makes me wonder what other similar channels about things worth paying attention to at regular intervals in small but cumulatively significant intervals there could be.

Coronavirus Chronicles – April 3, 2021

I went to Philadelphia and was astonished to see all that humans are doing with masks. They walk outdoors in masks, they go inside and behind Plexiglass shields wear masks, they drive with masks. They run with masks! I even saw people outside hurrying along wearing two distinguishable masks. I have to conclude these work for the government.

I suppose in a city is a common thing for people now, but it is strange to see most people outside masked, at least to me. It is also interesting to see who isn’t wearing a mask.

  • The bums. Most of them had one for the neck, but I did not see a single one with the mask for the face. They sit on their corners, with their signs, amid their stuff, and breathe the free air freely.
  • The smokers. And we are not just talking about people standing in designated areas, but those who go along the sidewalks. It is a convention, as everybody else wearing a mask is a convention, now, that smokers don’t need one while they smoke.
  • Coffee drinkers. Any drinkers or eaters, actually, are permitted to go around with their mask not on. That is another convention.
  • Animated phone talkers. No comment.
  • The free. There are those who do not have one and do not show any other compelling reason not to have one. Large black guys are very well represented in this category, and burly workmen of all types. I myself was able to go into the Reading Terminal Market without a mask. They required one to purchase something, but it was not otherwise enforced (I was a coffee drinker most of the time there). At Wawa they told me they would serve me without one but would try to give me one. At the parking place I walked into a building and was asked by a masked security person where I was going. I told him. I asked him why. He just said they wanted to know; nothing else. No request to put on a mask in the building. You know what people are being about it all? Very polite, which is good.

How about the vaccinated or those who have had the virus? No indications.

I think Lord Sumption is right; this only goes away as there is civil disobedience, and it is time for civil disobedience. No shouting, no protesting, nothing untoward; just making them actively require and insist on the mask is my thing now.

Coronavirus Chronicles – March 16

I remember it is one year on from when the pandemic panic set in. March 15th 2020 was a Sunday, and I was surprised to hear that churches had been cancelled. On Monday morning we went to Denny’s and the place was grim, the clustered waitresses glum. It had been announced that the state liquor stores would be closed in just two days, and the place had long lines. Starbucks was takeout only, and all the conforming corporations followed. Came the lockdown, which we thought would only last for two weeks and which continued on through April, till people were flogged to upheaval and unrest. Also, many of us stopped paying attention to the authorities.

It was an inflexion point. A moment of opportunity for many, a moment of clarity. It is interesting to me the way things are realigning.

Today, though there are still restrictions, I was in an unrestricted diner. No limits, just masks required to enter. Table after table, like old times. There are those who want to go on just the way it was, and I’m not against them.

I heard Bret Weinstein saying that the hypothesis that the virus was a research attempt at a coronavirus vaccine that escaped is looking less implausible. Now that the thing is out forever, is the net outcome that they inadvertently accelerated their own botched research?

He also said that youTube is replacing the book. I think that is not a wrong way of looking at it. The printing press ushered in a revolution. The rhythm of scholarship accelerated. Instead of the leisure of circulated manuscripts you had scholarly editions, the writing of letters back and forth as scholars looked each at his own copy, and beyond the old disputations which gradually subsided as time passed, the thunder and excitement of quicker distribution and resulting pamphlet wars. Now the medium is the internet.

Weinstein had an interesting theory about the whole identity thing: that it comes from people whose reality is shaped far more by being online that we who have known life otherwise really appreciate. His idea is that they are more governed by the proprieties that rule in cyberspace than those of the world of personal interaction. It is in one of the Peterson podcasts, most of whose books are bestsellers and who has more than one viral video, kind of like Luther of old.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O55mvoZbz4Y

Coronavirus Chronicles – March 4

We have almost gone full circle with this. I think restrictions are relaxing in PA, but since I don’t keep up anymore . . . I do hear more and more voices against the full-on submission to it all. I remember the hopes of last March and April that kept being dashed—the hope it would soon be over and we’d return to normal. I remember the weird alarms of those who said it could draw out longer. From the charts and graphs I’ve glimpsed, it looks like the worst of the virus was December and January. It didn’t entirely register that way here. It didn’t seem anything like last March when suddenly everything went silent. They tried to replicate it as much as possible from Thanksgiving to New Year hear in PA, but it was like they had been crying wolf.

Our governor is called Wolf, you know. He doesn’t look like one. He’s a slender, bald, managerial looking guy with a professorial beard. He looks neat and harmless. Apparently in success against the virus PA is only second to FL. Our governor has lost his right hand . . . transgender person to the feds. Is that a reward?

Last year at this time, if you had asked me how many Americans would put on a facemask if required I would have laughed. There are still many standing who will only wear one under extreme circumstances, but I doubt these are a majority anymore.

The local bike store is looking restocked nowadays. It ran out of bikes early on and couldn’t seem to resupply. I wonder how RV sales will do this summer, and kayaks and such. The barbershops and hair salons are doing good business.

The Banner is having its conference in Elizabethtown. So it seems things are scheduling to resume.

Coronavirus Chronicles – February 22

Who wants to even hear about coronavirus?

Here’s a picture of the moment. Picture a roomful of highly trained people monitoring distant events using expensive, sophisticated technology. It’s NASA, and the events are taking place on Mars. And what do we see on their faces? Not one, but two kinds of facemask. I mean, these are people who can and have sent a ton of the most expensive research equipment ever to another planet successfully, control it, operate it at huge distances and enormous costs and effort, and  yet we can’t design something as obvious as a simple, single, working facemask? How about a room where the air is clean?

I have to wonder if the difference isn’t the object. Mars is a measurable and predictable object. However remote, it doesn’t present a moving target. At least not yet. The difference is that the coronavirus does. It is in motion because it is part of the game of political football. The poor virus is no longer just a disease, it has itself become diseased, colonized by unscrupulous lizards and mutated into something that has actually started stacking signaling on dedicated scientists. They had special, NASA designed facemasks to put on top of the apparently inadequate medical mask? NASA can do spacesuits and rockets but not facemasks?

Politically in the land of America, Biden gets weaker and Trump gets stronger.

The interesting economic thing this week was two-fold. Jordan Peterson tweeted out a link to Allen Farrington’s Bitcoin is Venice with three results. It went viral, is one. Another is that the meme is now laser eyes for those who see into the darkness of this present moment. The third is that cryptocurrencies appear to have been definitively explained. The alternative to fiat currency is non-fiat currency; the alternative to trust is verification that requires no trust. I am in no position to judge the essay’s veracity, but it made sense to me! The second of the two-fold (there was a three-point thing in the first fold) is that this comes from what is essentially a blog. Blogs are regaining power, just not under the old name: Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald, Craig Carter and now Allen Farrington are recent such entries I have read. Blog posts is what they are. If the coronavirus makes blogging great again, I, for one, will be grateful for this also to the Chinese.

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 – January 26

At this time last year I unfollowed Peachy Keenan on Twitter because I was tired at how much she was alarming over the coronavirus. Her constant theme was shut down the airports.

At this time last year, if I remember correctly, Jordan Peterson had decidedly dropped out of public notice for half a year and I was wondering where he was. It looks like he is back, though somewhat less combative by his own admission.

It makes me think of the circle of those who have conversations I want to listen to: he was having a conversation with Douglas Murray. I think of it in many ways as the John Anderson circle. John Anderson has interesting conversations with a repeating group of people, and they are conversations I want to overhear. For that I’m glad to live in an age of youTube and podcasting, for the access to the living voice of contemporary minds. Speaking of podcasting, a year ago the American Mind started The Roundtable. After a rough beginning, they hit their stride just in time for the eventful moments of 2020. They are always running a bit more alarmed than I am, but right now there are so many canaries falling silent in this coronavirus coalmine.

What else would it be though? Who could have predicted all that came of this last year? We certainly learn that pandemics bring mass hysteria. Nevertheless, I think those of us from whom the gift of prophecy has been withheld should not count the chickens of doom before they’re hatched.

I think, for example, after last year and heading into whatever the Biden administration bodes, the right is more combative, and this is good. There are lessons to be learned from that great catalyst, Trump our timely political entrepreneur. Angelo Codevilla did an assessment on American Greatness—of all places—that I found compelling. It leads me to reflect that American society appears to be rearranging itself in all kinds of ways and places, or accelerating a rearrangement that was taking place.

The constellations in which publications align are changing.

The status and appeal of higher education is another change.

I think grade and high school have to be undergoing some kind of change, even if it is only in terms of reinforcing what was already right, if not outright course corrections, even as the whole is obviously pulling in different direction.

What will happen in the churches? Apart from the one in which I find myself, most of the churches I have contact with are growing. But I wonder if that is the case overall. Still, I think a situation calling for more seriousness and gravity can only benefit true religion.

Politically, it has always seemed better to me instead of having a two-party thing to have more, to fragment the big parties. Perhaps that’s unamerican of me. It is probably wishful thinking on my part, but I’d like to see political fragmentation and the need for party coalitions, not coalitions within the parties.

Next election here is going to break records in terms of women vying for the nomination, and not just in terms of the possible candidates already getting poised. This transgender moment will have women up in arms.

One last bright note: already the poison of the moment has summoned up literary antidotes.

Coronavirus Chronicles – January 16

Well, though the virus is on the rise it also appears to be on the wane. Are we seeing the crest of the last wave? In Israel they appear to be confident they will soon come out of it. They’ve had an organized and competent rollout of the vaccine, and that from coming behind in that they were not the first to obtain it. But obtain it they have, use it they have, and ahead they apparently are.

New strains of the virus have arisen, and that news sounds ominous. We also know now that you can get the virus more than once. But even the possibly ominous news is not received with the same panic—from what I can tell. I think there is a certain salutary weariness with the situation. The ability cheerfully to ignore the experts is another consequence of this moment. It does sound like relaxed restrictions are both desired and expected.

In our county in PA, the government has put of signs that say that coronavirus is no joke. There’s an example of a competent response to the situation for you.

Speaking of competent responses, the inflection point in US politics of January 6 is overshadowing the coronavirus concern. There is a general principle that you get from reputable historians; it is that however polarized and far apart the people of any given time perceive themselves to be, they are in many ways fundamentally alike. I think that what is happening with the President of the United States shows how much the hysteria of cancel culture has mutated and has a strain going on the right. Public Discourse just changed its leadership, and they lead today with an apology to those who were first colonized, the never Trumpers. It really was an inflection point.

And there’s the Big Tech angle to all this. Are they rapacious oligarchs? Are they scared and finally see a way to purge themselves? I think many are scrambling, or trying to scramble. It’s hard to scramble if you’re so big. I think the natural end of tech monopolies has been accelerated, but I do think it was coming and we are watching them endeavoring to scramble. They are used to being big and dominant, but all of a sudden that is looking like a liability.

Mollie Hemmingway is urging calm rather than panic. In times of panic, it is good to remain calm. The positive note that seems to me growing in this moment is from Victor Davis Hanson, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, in short, that segment of commentariat as they react to the situation. There is an optimism that in moments shades into something not entirely unlike glee. There is also a growing number of cancel survivors, and they testify that there is thriving life after cancelation for the entrepreneurial. The inflection point is accelerating growing realizations and alliances, and that is making competent people who have learned to learn and are now in opposition cheerful.

The Biden administration is already gearing up. It looks to be a lumbering beast. I have a feeling these are times that favor those who are more nimble.

Living Authors of the Unexamined Life

There are quite a few gems in the literary world at this moment, and I wanted to list them. I have been thinking of cancelling out of Twitter. The problem is the discoveries I would miss. Should I subscribe to a literary quarterly instead? Is there one that’s worth consulting? I don’t know that the literary crowd always identifies things correctly. I wonder if things aren’t missed.

Is it that I’m idiosyncratic? Perhaps. Here’s what I’ve gained mostly in the past decade that I’m grateful for in terms of fresh novels.

Donna Tartt. This American author goes slow, a book every ten years or so. Her first book, The Secret History, is a rejection of the pagan allure of learning the classics. It is a rejection of that which looks down on Christianity from learned alternatives. In that way, it is a restatement of Augustine’s City of God. It is an intriguing, off-putting, gradual, explosive, and amazing book.

Her best book, I think, is The Little Friend, in which she tries something similar to the first but with a different revelation. Tartt is most like Flannery O’Connor in this book: it is about people in the raw, the strange a violent pulse of life in most anywhere and yet particularly that place of America.

I think her most difficult and least rewarding book is The Goldfinch. It goes to the city, to New York and Las Vegas, and this America is not the America of The Little Friend. It is nevertheless intriguing to follow her complex plots. One encounters characters in so many varieties. She is always going somewhere, the climax is worth waiting for.

Her style does not pander to contemporary expectations. She writes well, but not to draw attention to her skills. She writes in order to demonstrate how character is revealed in action.

Lev Grossman. Grossman, let me be clear, is a bit of an orc; he’s endeavoring to practice arts not entirely of disenchantment but of less rapturous and chastened enchantment. He is writing to disabuse those who were enchanted by Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. He has a new book out, one targeted at children, unlike his Magicians series, which perhaps will be more mild.

Grossman is a spectacular American writer. He can do things, amazing things with setting up scenes, placing details, understands dialogue, all that kind of stuff. He is a very good writer, and he figured out something about something that intrigued him in The Magicians which he explored thoroughly. He is also making a serious point. It is not a point I entirely agree with, but it is interesting to wrestle with. I do not recommend Lev Grossman to most people I talk with about books, but I really, truly enjoy his books. I haven’t read his latest yet.

Eugene Vodolazkin. Russian literature lives on in Vodolazkin. We have to read him in translation, but the translations work well. He brings his readers on serious journeys that illuminate something of the strengths of Russian culture. He is both building and retrieving in a ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ kind of way. There are three of his books available to us in English.

Soloviov and Larionov is one of his earlier works and intriguing, but it doesn’t quite add up to the other two. It plays with the themes of history and memory and Russian particularity. Still, I think this book is more useful for understanding Vodolazkin than as a novel on its own, though it is good. It anticipates Laurus without quite succeeding the way Laurus does.

Laurus is his masterpiece. It explores the Russian Orthodox phenomenon of holy folly. It is set in Medieval Russia, mostly, and is miles and miles away from most of our experiences. And yet it is close too, because Vodolazkin wants to open that up to us and succeeds. If you have any acquaintance with the history of the ancient Christian church, that of the fourth and fifth centuries, there are echoes in this of that: the undisciplined and spontaneous eremitical impulse that leads into monasticism. This book in our lifetime has signally enriched the literary heritage of this world.

The Aviator is entirely different and as intriguing. Just figuring out why it has that title takes the whole book, and it is a discovery worth making. The book is hard to describe without giving away the interesting discoveries that compel the reader’s interest. I have yet to read it a second time in order to see what it is like without them. If it is a worthwhile book, however, it will be the richer for having been read once, and so I am looking forward to it. It is about Russia, it is about Russians, it is about what there is in the subterranean Russian that existed long before and emerges after the Communist interlude.

Paul Kingsnorth. An English author, Kingsnorth is the most challenging writer in this list. His ability to do things stylistically is his great strength, which means the reader has to master his stylistic innovations. These are considerable. That he did not get a prize for his first book is a sign that the system for prizing is broken. The Wake is set in England after the Conquest and is written in an approximation of Old English that requires intense effort for a few pages to master (reading aloud, as when learning to hear poetry, is recommended). It is worth it. It is illuminating, in fact, how much Kingsnorth accomplishes. He takes us into the consciousness of an Anglo-Saxon landholder: his bitterness, his failure, his demons, his deep pagan roots. It is one of the most astonishing books I’ve ever read.

The Beast is the second book, and it is set in our time. One can see the stylistic antecedents from The Wake in this one; it is not, of course, written in a adapted Old English style. It traces the mental deterioration of the subject as he is alone. Yes, another eremitical kind of thing, this time with admiration of St. Cuthbert. It is a shame Kingsnorth’s sympathies are more with the pagan than with the Christian past (in contrast with Vodolazkin), but there is still this lucid comparison at the heart of the novel that is favorable to ancient Irish monasticism. It is also an extraordinary book in communicating the consciousness of a man reduced to a feral state and wrestling with his demons in a compelling way.

I have not read Alexandria yet. It is set in the future. Kingsnorth used to be an environmental activist and is still thoroughly pessimistic: the calamity, he believes, is about to strike any moment. Because he became disillusioned by the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of activism, while at the same time meeting many of the kind of people who still live a hardscrabble life where volatilities in the ecology have greater impact, he expresses a desire for an old pagan connection with nature and its forces. I find it an intriguing impulse, one that I think with the upheavals our machines are causing is likely to increase, rather than diminish.

Susanna Clarke. Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was a feat. We live in a world of proliferating genre fiction, much of it trivial or intolerable. But just because we are awash in a sea of mediocrity doesn’t mean that out of it objects strange and rare cannot emerge. In fact, I think in some ways the sea of bad stuff is to be expected and has to be sorted through. If people weren’t trying and failing, there would be nobody trying at all. I don’t think it is realistic in any age to expect the majority of what is attempted to succeed. Susanna Clarke earns her success through long and patient labor, and she does not settle for less.

What prompted this whole outburst from me is that I’m in the middle of her third book. The second was The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which is nothing but a collection of short stories continuing the time and place of JS&MN. But in Piranesi she has delivered something different that is still in keeping with her extraordinary abilities. She really wants to write in a remote and oblique way about religious themes, and their absence from our world. I ought not to stick my neck out too far, being where I am in Piranesi, so I’ll say no further at this point. It is looking to be a triumph though.

It makes me glad to live in times when unanticipated joys are still springing forth. This list is not entirely of the last decade, but it is mostly. I think that’s something. And to think my view is no doubt partial!

Fallout

There are those who are angry at how Donald Trump is being treated. “They aren’t coming after me,” he told a crowd some time ago, “they’re coming after you.” Many Americans believe this is true and they will stand by a anyone who will stand by them.

The problem for the right is that the experts have betrayed those who look up to them time and time and time again. This erodes confidence in their expertise and makes people think their expertise has dwindled to one thing: expertise in manipulation.

The thing about manipulation is, it doesn’t work when those who are being manipulated catch on. There are those on the right ready to offer Trump up as a whole burnt offering to placate the outraged decencies of this decent country. And yet, he has been more manipulated than manipulating in the eyes of many, and this is for him political capital. The clumsy scheming for which he lives rent-free in the minds of many is what he most brings out in anybody who opposes him. Beware of opposing him!

The notion that Trump is too toxic is for those who are unwilling to represent what they’d like to think of as the fringe but is in fact a large part of the USA. The problem with taking the moral high ground is that it is hard from that limited territory to find sufficient common ground.

There are those who think they oppose him out of courage and not from lack of prudence. What does it say about their fine principles, however, when because they are so scrupulous about their bedfellows that they find themselves in bed with the left’s outrage machine?

President Trump is earning still more capital, and I predict he will proceed entrepreneurially with it. Those who are disgusted with their fellow-citizens for following him are in full cry again. They want principles of leadership, integrity, decency! Why, after all, would anybody choose to be born in this country if it were not, after due consideration, solely on its merits as a land of decency? Donald Trump is more in touch with all the varieties of what America actually is. And his knowledge of their circumstances is for him political capital. He can be sidelined to the role of kingmaker, but only if there is someone who has the strength to stand up and take the abuse like he does. Are there conservatives who can when so many are ready to dish it out instead?

In politics there is of course a lot of manipulation. With the internet, we can even pick whose manipulation we prefer by tuning out all the rest. But to assume that the divide is between those who manipulate and those who do the manipulating seems to be a fundamental miscalculation. It is a miscalculation that those merely signaling about the moral high ground are doomed to repeat.

There are people who clean the floors, who hand coffee and breakfast sandwiches through windows, who dig up the streets, who still smoke in bars, who install solar panels, whose career is in call centers or in what is starting to look like another dead end: driving vehicles. Many of them are decent in many ways, but many of them fall below the high-minded ideal of American decency. Who, after all, lives an ideal? There are people who have only learned by trial and error how to spend and save money, who live in a chaos or borderline chaos of disrupted families and situations in which a pretense of decency eludes them, who talk about their first bankruptcy and can’t keep their closest relatives straight because there all too many factors going into the calculation. Even John Podhoretz acknowledges, Trump says to Hillary Clinton’s deplorables: I like you, I like you, I like you. People should learn from Hillary Clinton how little political capital there is in activating reflexes of disgust and fears of contamination.

Now there is another unscrupulous attempt to peel decent people away from Trump. The problem is that if it is not decently done, it is going to backfire.

The shifting of the spectrum is interesting. Robert George has been watching Tulsi Gabbard and predicts she will switch parties and run next time. She’s getting poised to do so. She’s the only appealing candidate the left had to offer last time, and she did not appeal that much to the left. It may be that this intellectual dark web political coalition might pull enough together to launch an alternative, and perhaps she’s the figurehead at the prow of their accelerating ship. Perhaps there will be a new political party that is more representative.

Coronavirus Chronicles – January 6

Lots of things going on right now.

  • Starship SN9 just static fired and should be destined for the skies maybe as soon as this weekend. From California, to Texas and next stop Mars.
  • The Democrats just wrested control of the senate from Mitch McConnel. No majority! That will make for some interesting tactical possibilities, one would think.
  • A guy in some kind of wild-Bill outfit got into congress and achieved his moment of glory, horns and all. Everybody is handwringing about the assault on the capital.
  • What appears to be an innocent bystander was shot by the police. Everybody is condemning the violence of the mob.
  • Must have been some mob, to storm the US capitol that way and sweep the security and bomb detectors and secret service and everything.
  • The headlines all over the world are roaring mayhem in Washington DC. The stain will probably never ever wash out from the purewhite fabric of this once great country.
  • The left is gleefully pouncing on it, hypocritically condemning while the horrified and infinitely manipulable right are pearl-clutching and . . . also condemning.
  • How Donald Trump turns this one to his advantage is a bit of a poser. And yet, my money is not on the scolds.
  • And the conspiracy theories multiply because people beyond shadow of a doubt believe there has to be someone masterminding it all.
  • The unexamined life is not worth leading.

Coronavirus Chronicles – January 5

Israel is in its third lockdown, England and Scotland are locking down fast, Germany is similar, and so on. Parts of Bogota are back to more lockdown, but the incentive this time around for everybody seems to be make better economic sense. These lockdowns are not as drastic. I do wonder if in some way they are targeted by political expediency more than scientific considerations.

I watch youTube videos of the streets of Bogota, the streets of Caracas, of Buenos Aires, Mexico City and St. Petersburg. Looks like facemask use is on the wane in Russia . . . where they are free? In Latin America the streets seem back to normal, but the masks are ubiquitous. I’m happy to say that lax mask discipline is still the thing in York Co.

In PA we just came out of a heightened restriction that blanketed the holiday season. You can go back to the restaurants that followed the governor’s directives—though you would have had options going to places which did not. Traffic never really dropped to the levels we saw in March this time around; stores didn’t implement all kinds of patchy and random approaches. By now we all know the drill.

The governor of FL is in the crosshairs of the media for being the most competent with the vaccines. He fights back, which is something learned, a new lesson and a positive sign. Our Trump is still fighting because he has never learned to do otherwise. And so another year begins.

Coronavirus Chronicles – December 23

I think the moment is revealing a lot of incompetence. It is what I find most striking in what I see and hear. We have mistaken privilege for competence, and we are learning that there really is a difference. We thought the credentials and certifications all meant more than we are seeing they actually do. Now we are looking at the hollowness of the shell. We are seeing the inside and it doesn’t have what we thought it did. Think about it: the USA is today a country in which a man such as our president, Donald Trump, no moral paragon, can stand up and indict the whole of Washington for its greed and incompetence with all the credibility of an Old Testament prophet. What a blast!

We are living the latest lockdown here in PA—all the way till January 4. The first one was due to panic. Now it is the idiotic repetition of what cannot give results because they do not know what else to do. People, however, know what to do. There is still competence to be found, just not credentialed or certified. The roads are not as deserted as they were the first time around; the government has not dared shut down as much as it did then; and, at least here, among those who are supposed to be shut down, not all comply. The outposts of resistance which began to bloom last May, continue spreading.

Speaking of which, at the American Mind they are talking about what we need to deal with next: the fact that in all the West there are now two competing and incompatible ideas of what a human being is. It does seem that the effect of the politics of our moment along with the coronavirus have accelerated the polarization this is causing. I don’t think the Biden years are going to be more quiet.