Apr 29 2016

3 Reads for Friday

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Organic Before It Was Cool” by Gracy Olmstead, The American Conservative

‘Gnarly, Weird Songs’ Suit Ray Wylie Hubbard Fine in Waco Trip” by Carl Hoover, Waco Tribune Herald

“Narrative Power: On the Writings of Robert Caro” by Kevin Haworth, Michigan Quarterly Review


Mar 11 2016

Wendell Berry at South by Southwest

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Rod Dreher often refers to the work of Wendell Berry, as in this instance from The Little Way of Ruthie Leming:

When a community loses its memory, its member no longer know one another,” writes the agrarian essayist Wendell Berry. “How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have never learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they now whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another. And this is our predicament now.” [1]

Now, according to Gracy Olmstead at The American Conservative, Austin filmmaker Laura Dunn has made a documentary about Berry that’s to debut at South by Southwest:

The Seer, a new documentary about writer Wendell Berry, set to be released at Austin’s South by Southwest Festival on Saturday. The film is co-produced and directed with her husband, Jef Sewell, and backed by executive producers Terrence Malick and Robert Redford, as well as several co-producers including Nick Offerman (fondly known as Ron Swanson on the TV comedy series “Parks and Rec”).

Berry is a Kentucky-born farmer and philosopher, essayist and poet, environmental activist and localist. He’s written fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and has been the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, the National Humanities Medal, and the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award.

Read the whole thing over here.

NOTES

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[1] Dreher, Rod. The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life. NY: Grand Central Publishing. 2013. p. 208.


Feb 3 2016

American Phones, American Cars

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Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher responds to the horrors of Virginia with a discussion of how he hasn’t yet let his children have cell phones–which is fine–I wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies till high school. Dreher writes:

I don’t have the time or the skills to monitor everything my kids would get into on their smartphones, if they had them, and access to social media. But you know what? Why should I. They are nine and 12 years old. They have no business with smartphones, Instagram accounts, Facebook, Snapchat, and all the rest. They are not ready for those things. I certainly would not have been at that age. You give your kids a smartphone with access to the Internet and social media, you are handing them grenades.

I am curious what sorts of things Dreher’s parents, and people of my grandparents’ generation, would have or actually did ban/abstain/limit/withhold/censor from their own children? Was it the keys to the car? As geographer Yi-Fu Tuan has recently pointed out in Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America (2014):

The closest thing Americans have to an identity card is their driver’s license—a card that gives them license to drive into the blue yonder and there discover who they are and can be.[1]

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NOTES

[1] Tuan, “Place/Space, Ethnicity/Cosmos: How to be More Fully Human” Why Place Matters. Edited by Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister. NY: New Atlantis Books. 2014.  p. 115.

 


Nov 10 2015

Eat, Drink & Be Merry versus God and Man at Yale and Missouri

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Rod Dreher writes:

This academic is starting to consider leaving the academy entirely, rather than face an entire career in fear of saying the wrong thing. This is a serious thing. If I were a young journalist just starting out, I would be thinking the same thing.

Oh, the problems of the rich! Oh, the humanity (of the 1%)! Oh the problems of journalists and academics! Thank God poor white Americans have much better things to worry about (like drinking themselves to death) than the quibbles of the over-privileged. America is lot bigger than the confines of college campuses, but too many journalists (being human-all-too-human) continue to equate their educational experiences as a utopian universalism that bleeds over into their writing and inevitably stirs the resentment of their poorer, less-privileged readers.

Why are today’s journalists shilling the Domino Theory of yesterday’s General Westmoreland? I.e., as Yale goes, so goes the whole country….

 

UPDATE:

I don’t think Mr. Dreher reads this blog, but he has definitely responded to what’s going on at Yale and Missouri with a similar perspective. I particularly liked this paragraph:

The report got some notice in the media, but not a lot, certainly not commensurate to the scale of the problem. Now, it could be that major media organizations are preparing follow-up reports, which can’t be done well overnight. But I doubt it. Major-media reporters don’t know people like these. And they think of them as the Wrong Sort of Person.

And as the Divine Oscar reminds us:

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. (Wilde, Oscar. “The Critic as Artist: Parts I.” Intentions. London:Osgood, McIlvaine. 1891.)


Oct 5 2015

Beyond Flimsy; Beyond Fundamentalism

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Today at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher gives readers a pop quiz:

How do we find the middle path between these two extremes? The Benedict Option is, of course, in part a reaction against loosey-goosey Christianity, so I don’t have a big worry that versions of the Ben Op would be at risk of being too lax and liberal. The real concern I have is that we would go too far, and create institutions or communities that would be too controlling or otherwise unhealthy. A secondary, lesser concern is that fear of fundamentalism would be so overwhelming that the nascent Ben Op community would fail to create the practices and structures that would be effective in accomplishing what the Ben Op is supposed to do.

He then issues a call for ideas and suggestions. My response is that perhaps consulting Chaim Potok’s novel “The Chosen” (1967) would provide some understanding of the balance necessary for the BenOp. The book, and later a terrific movie (1981) adaptation, show the balancing act of friendship between two boys, one Orthodox Jewish, the other a Hassidic. Various cultural conflicts and misunderstandings between the more “liberal” Orthodox way of life and the more”fundamentalist” way of the Hassidim are explored and explained.

 

Actual Jewish readers and filmgoers may rightly criticize Poktok’s art as utterly middlebrow and overly sentimental–but for a post-churchgoing millennial from rural Central Texas, I found much to learn and think about in Potok’s book and the movie based upon it.

 


Sep 28 2015

Disappointed in Dreher

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At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher writes:

Here’s the thing that my fellow conservative Christians need to understand: we are a lot weaker within the GOP than many of us think. The Indiana RFRA battle earlier this year was a watershed. It marked the first time the business community stood up and took sides on a contentious culture war issue — and the corporate lobby came down resolutely on the side of gay rights. You will remember too that as soon as Wal-mart cleared its pro-LGBT throat, the Republican governor of Arkansas backed away from that state’s RFRA. The fact is, the business lobby is powerful within Republican politics, because it is the source of so much money. If it comes down to standing with conservative Evangelicals or business leaders, the GOP knows on which side its bottom-line bread is buttered.

It marked the first time the business community stood up and took sides on a contentious culture war issue“–has Dreher forgotten the Hobby Lobby decision? The Supreme Court has affirmed the right for corporations to hold their own religious, moral, and ethical views whether I disagree with Hobby Lobby and agree with Wal-mart (as I do) or whether Dreher agrees with the vice versa.

Dreher usually gives both sides a fair shake, but I find today’s particular post both myopic and downright dishonest.


Sep 3 2015

Law, Love, and George Christoph Lichtenberg

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Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher challenges readers:

Traditionalist, orthodox Christians are a minority in this country, and are going to become ever more despised. The day is coming when the only protection many of us can rely on is the law, and the willingness of government officers to obey the law, even though they hate us. And so, my final question … Is the principle that the [Thomas] More of Bolt’s play powerfully elucidates really something we can afford to take lightly?

The majority of Americans, that is, those who don’t happen to be traditionalist, orthodox Christians, hate hypocrisy. And those who hate hypocrisy are the most hardhearted of hypocrites. For as the German sage taught us at the dawn of the Enlightenment:

I am convinced we do not only love ourselves in others but hate ourselves in others too.

–George Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)

So America hates hypocrisy–and if Herr Lichtenberg’s dictum carries any merit it comes from our country’s evident embrace of those most notorious species of hypocrite: cheaters and liars. Tom Brady has been exonerated for flat footballs, over 300,000 U. S. died in the last 14 years (the Bush-Obama Era) because they were denied (via bureaucratic procrastination) the  healthcare promised them, and Ashley Madison appears to be the most successful ponzi scheme since Madoff.

Speaking for the minority of traditionalist, orthodox Christians over at First Things, Carl. R. Truman gets it exactly right today:

I have no reason to doubt [Kim Davis’] sincerity or the significance of her conversion. But the fact that she has only been a professing Christian for a few years scarcely defuses the power of the question. The politics of sex is the politics of aesthetic and rhetorical plausibility and a multiple divorcee understandably lacks such plausibility on the matter of the sanctity of marriage. The only way in which her defense could be deemed plausible would be if the church in general had maintained in practice, not just theory, a high view of marriage. Then the move from outside the church to inside the church would perhaps have more rhetorical power. In fact, at least as far as Protestantism goes, the opposite is the case. The supine acceptance by many churches of no fault divorce makes the ‘I have become a Christian so it is all different now’ defense appear implausible, even if it is actually true in specific cases.

But as Victor Hugo and Ronald Dworkin have pointed out, the law will not save us:

“Everything is legal.”

–Thénardiers, Les Misérables. 1860. IV, vi, 01

In fact, people often profit, perfectly legally, from their legal wrongs. The most notorious case is adverse possession—if I trespass on your land long enough, some day I will gain a right to cross your land whenever I please.

–“Is Law a System of Rules?” The Philosophy of Law (1977)

And if the law will not save us, we must then turn to love.

 


Aug 17 2015

Muddling through Books with Dreher, Bateson, and Sontag

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Over at The American Conservative Rod Dreher writes:

The older I get, the more appreciation I have for Just Muddling Through as the only realistic solution to anything. It’s not a “solution” at all, but in the absence of a solution, it’s usually the best we can do. Every solution comes with a new set of problems.

I think this is what anthropologist Gregory Bateson was getting at when he said that explorations are self-validating, and therefore, nearly always successful. Or in Bateson’s words, explanation is “the mapping of description onto tautology”–and this is probably also what Thoreau was getting at when he remarked, “whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us.”[1]

But while explorations may be self-validating, our biases, whether in life or art, protect us. As Susan Sontag reminds us:

It will be seen that stylistic decisions, by focusing our attention on some things, are also a narrowing of our attention, a refusal to allow us to see others. But the greater interestingness of one work of art over another does not rest on the greater number of things the stylistic decisions in that work allow us to attend to, but rather on the intensity and authority and wisdom of that attention, however narrow its focus.[2]

 

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[1] Bateson, Mind and NatureA Necessary Unity. NY: Bantam. 1980. p. 139; Bateson, Don D. Jackson, Jay Haley, and John Weakland. “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia.” Theories of Schizophrenia. Edited by Arnold H. Buss and Edith H. Buss. NY: Atherton Press. 1969. p. 82; Thoreau, Henry David.  Walden: Or Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 1854. “Chapter I: On Economy.”

[2] Sontag, “On Style” (1965) in Against Interpretation. NY: Dell. 1969. p. 36; see also Tuan, Yi-Fu. “Place/Space, Ethnicity/Cosmos: How to Be More Fully Human.” Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America. Edited by Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister. NY: New Atlantis Books. 2014. pp. 102–19 at 111.

 


Aug 14 2015

Requiem for Chivalry

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Chivalry didn’t die in France–like Burke bemoaned–because chivalry had been dead for well over a hundred years prior to the Revolution. If chivalry hadn’t died, Cervantes could not have written Don Quixote (1605). But hundreds of years after Cervantes and Burke, people are still chasing windmills. Over at The American Conservative, Gracey Olmsted writes:

This is what the “spirit of the gentleman” used to provide: a reasoned, courteous atmosphere in which public discourse could take place—where opinions could be stated without savagery, and received without rancor. The problem is that gentlemen are out of popularity on left and right—for reasons [Mark] Mitchell makes clear in another FPR post.

The gentleman is unpopular with the left and “PC” crowd because, in Mitchell’s words, he “is one who is willing and able to judge well. He is discriminating in his judgments and does not shy away from making hard distinctions even when they cause him discomfort and even when he is forced to stand alone [emphasis added].” Such discriminatory value judgments will not be honored on the modern university campus, nor even in the larger political world.

I suppose a rather ungentlemanly act would be to point at that last line from Olmsted–“Such discriminatory value judgments will not be honored on the modern university campus, nor even in the larger political world“–and say, yes, that may be true, but that is also a very narrow and reductive Weltanschauung. There is plenty more to life than universities and politics, particularly if you’re too poor and/or live under a gerrymandered regime.

Plenty of Americans live their day-to-day lives in a brave new world beyond the constraints of chivalry and bureaucracy.


Jul 16 2015

5 Benedict Options for Single Folk: an Open Reply to Rod Dreher

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Rod Dreher of The American Conservative has tirelessly been exploring for himself and imploring other orthodox (or authentic?) American Christians to consider the Benedict Option–yet for all his efforts he continues to be hounded by friendly and hostile readers to explain, explain, explain what such an Option might mean.

 

Dreher keeping writing and writing; yet among him and his scattered supporters, scant attention has been directed toward what a Benedict Option might mean for single folks in America. In the optimistic-secularist spirit of David Hume, I offer five suggestions that I have been trying to implement in my own life for the past several years:

 

  1. Opting out of the idolatry of all pet husbandry, adoption, and ownership and opting in for compassion and caretaking for stray and needy human beings in my community.

 

  1. Opting out of the idolatry of professional, collegiate, and local sports; opting in to binge-reading and other library labors.

 

  1. Opting out of the idolatry of religion (in its old, etymological sense of “binding” as well as its modern meanings of “just another bureaucracy” and “authority-for-authority’s-sake”) and opting in to authentic encounters in the I-You mode of discourse used by individuals while resisting the I-It mode of “discord” practiced by all modern institutions.

 

  1. Opting out of the idolatry of the telescopic view of national politics and celebrity (and media thereof) and opting in toward a radical, microscopic focus on politics, law, and arts-&-entertainment strictly at state and local levels.

 

  1. Opting out of being a proactive consumer of Big Pharma and Big Farming and Big Business Dieting; opting in for cooking my own food when I can; fasting when I should; and giving radically generous gratuities when eating out.

 

While man cannot live in a continual Sabbath, he should not resign himself to a flat two-dimensional life from which he escapes on rare occasions. The place of the sacred is not a house of God, nor church, synagogue, or seminary, nor one day in seven, and the span of the sacred is much shorter than twenty-four hours. The Sabbath is every day, several times a day.

–Walter Kaufmann, “Prologue to I and Thou p. 30.