Difficult Straits—Milo Yiannopoulos, SJWs, and the Treacherous Passage into Adulthood

The following are some quickly assembled and loosely joined together thoughts on the recent (temporary?) fall of Milo Yiannopoulos and some of the responses.

Provocation and Hypocrisy

A few days ago, recordings of Milo Yiannopoulos joking about and suggesting the possibility of consensual sexual relations between adults and young teens resurfaced, provoking outrage, shock, and dismay. His invitation to speak at CPAC was withdrawn, Simon and Schuster cancelled his book, and he had to resign from Breitbart.

The fall of Milo is a welcome development for many of us, although I fear it may be short-lived. The growing prominence of such a crass provocateur and libertine in conservative circles was a depressing sign of the degree to which the movement has become defined by reactive opposition to progressive liberals.

Milo’s antics were not without positive effects, although those effects were largely incidental to his apparent quest to produce a cult serving his narcissism, trolling the left for his anarchic pleasure. Milo’s provocations and the social justice left’s response to them revealed the power of progressive sacred cows as obstructions to public speech in universities. The violence that Milo’s opponents on the left increasingly resorted to in responding to him and his followers exposed something of the ideological vulnerability, hypocrisy, and menace of prevailing social justice dogmas.

People who make their living by giving offence are always at risk of taking a step too far, and that is exactly what Milo did in speaking about sexual relations with minors in the way that he did. The fact that his remarks about feminism and women, trans persons, and people of colour were applauded by many people on the right as praiseworthy instances of free speech in the cause of truth-telling, while these remarks were deplored may demonstrate some element of hypocrisy on the right’s part. Gleefully engaging in speech that is pointedly hurtful to members of outgroups is celebrated, while a very clear line is drawn when speech that threatens vulnerable members of the ingroup occurs. This is a rather ugly double standard.

This certainly does not mean that we should not engage in speech that hurts people’s feelings. While we should not fetishize feelings, neither should we be unmindful of—let alone delight in being vicious towards—them. Speech is a volatile and a dangerous thing and, precisely because freedom of speech is important, it must be treated with care, wisdom, respect, and responsibility. The true defenders of free speech should be people who appreciate its weightiness and power, not those who treat it as a light or empty plaything.


On ‘Dangerous’ Truth

There are many falsehoods and misconceptions that lurk behind social taboos, sacred cows, socially protected ideologies, and dogmas. Milo, who has made a living of attacking these things, made the mistake of challenging a taboo that is also widely held on the right. Laurie Penny writes:

Delicious as you might find it to see karma come for Yiannopoulos, what he actually said about gay relationships and child molestation was less offensive than a great many bigoted things he has come out with — in part because, for once, it seemed just a little bit true to his experience. When he spoke about consenting relationships between adult men where there’s a large age gap, he was talking about something that is a real and meaningful part of romantic experience for a lot of gay men — and something that American conservatives seem to have no problem with when the participants are heterosexual or, indeed, presidential candidates. His mangled age-of-consent comments and crass priest jokes are a bridge too far, especially for the conservative mainstream, which has so far held performative racism, transphobia, sexism, and xenophobia as well within the bounds of free speech. Today, absolutely nobody, from his publishers to his former tour promoter, is defending Yiannopoulos’ right to consequence-free speech. This is not liberalism winning the day. This is the victorious far right purging the brownshirts.

There is definitely some measure of truth to this claim. Like feminism, transgenderism, and race issues, the matter of age of consent is an issue surrounded by taboos, behind which lurk a great number of falsehoods. As in the case of feminism, transgenderism, and race, the taboos tend to exist primarily to protect people from being hurt and to maintain social order. Not all truths are ‘safe’; some truths are like highly reactive elements that are explosive under certain conditions. While characters like Milo, for whom the truth was always a convenient means to the end of self-publicity and entertainment, might enjoy the coolness and the frisson of being ‘dangerous’, the mishandling of certain truths can expose some people to serious harm. Although we may often need to get around the taboos in order to address the unhealthy falsehoods that lie behind them (as being unmindful of or blindly denying dangerous truths can expose us to great risk in the long term), the approach that Milo and his fellow provocateurs offer is akin to performing surgery with an axe.

The notion of consent and, by extension, that of an age of consent are social constructions, and highly variable and contestable ones at that. The belief, for instance, that all sexual interactions with persons of 13-16 are non-consensual and abusive does not hold up well under cross-examination. Much of the evidence that we have seem to contradict this idea. A mature society that values free speech and open contestation of ideas will find ways to have a conversation about this fact that is attentive to the evidence, while being mindful of the fact that, although any notion of age of consent will be a somewhat arbitrary social construction, over-determining a far more messy reality, this need not mean that it is any less of a necessary one. Although it is important that we don’t prevent such conversations from taking place, we must also appreciate that carrying out such an important conversation irresponsibly puts vulnerable children at risk.

Similar concerns should shape our response to the many falsehoods, misconceptions, and errors that can be found in feminism, gender theory, and critical race theory, theories that have often tended to grow up around people’s shared woundedness, rather than genuine openness to discovery and the challenge of reality (how many gender studies academics are in any way conversant with and receptive to extensive recent research in the biology of sexual difference?). A great many important issues in our society have come to be surrounded by human shields, with sensitivities, vulnerability, and victimhood preventing us from addressing errors or encountering inconvenient truths (the Norwegian comedian Harald Eia’s documentary series, Brainwash, in which he tackles issues of gender, parenting, sexuality, violence, sex, race, and nature/nurture provides many entertaining examples of the ways ideologues try to escape threatening truths). We must find ways to dismantle these human shields, while protecting people from the harm that they fear when their sacred beliefs, taboos, and ideologies are challenged.

While we need to make space to wrestle with difficult truths, people are not irrational to feel uneasy about evidence pointing towards behavioural differences between the sexes with far-reaching consequences for social outcomes, differences in aptitudes between people of different ancestry, genetic predispositions to violence, the limits to the power of parenting to change character, the problems with admitting the natural and healthy character of all sexual and gender identities, the biological foundations for conditions such as paedophilia, and the social dysfunctions that often accompany immigration and increased cultural diversity. It is irrational to flail against and repeatedly deny the strong evidence for certain dangerous truths, but I think we should recognize that such truths are not easy for many societies and individuals to metabolize in a healthy manner. For instance, official sanction for some of the inconvenient truths about the effects of immigration in Europe could merely intensify existing social tensions and antagonisms and exacerbate our problems. The truth needs to be recognized and grappled with, but it also needs to be expressed with the greatest of care and with especial concern for those persons who could be hurt were it addressed irresponsibly.


On Lost Boys and Girls

Laurie Penny has a long article on Milo and the ‘lost boys’ that surround him, from which the earlier quotation was excerpted. The article is pretty much what you’d expect from Penny: what she gives with one hand, she tends to take with the other. There is an element of compassion, but the ‘lost boys’ are ultimately slotted into her narrative of struggle with the patriarchy, in danger of finding themselves on the wrong side of the divide. Scott Alexander has some helpful remarks on Penny and the approaches of other feminists like her to ‘lost boy’ types here and here. There are similar issues with this recent piece by Dale Beran, the problem is patriarchy and gender roles and the solution for such boys seems to be bowing the knee to feminism and adopting more feminine ways of dealing with their emotions. Beran writes:

The left does more than simply declare their opposing viewpoint wrong, the radical idea of sex/gender-as-illusion denies their viewpoint an existence. To the left, a complaint stemming from being a man is null space, lying outside the realm of what it will acknowledge as true.

The irony here, of course, is the radical idea of sexual-difference-as-illusion is meant to solve the deplorables’ problem. It was created to liberate those who are oppressed by the concept of sexual difference by dispelling it as a cloud of pure ideas. But to these powerless men, it’s as if the left were addressing their issue by saying in an Orwellian manner, “There’s no such thing as your problem! Problem solved!”

There is little recognition on the left of the fact that these lost young men have an unfed hunger for manliness that feminism really cannot feed, and is in large measure responsible for starving. Sexual difference cannot simply be ‘dispelled … as a cloud of pure ideas’ as Beran or Penny would like: it has an obstinate and insistent presence in our natures. Young boys have a natural yearning to become men and, when society provides them with at most a treacherous and uncertain passage into secure manhood, many will be left adrift in dangerous waters of fragility and resentment.

Of course, Laurie Penny is/was herself the quintessential ‘lost girl’ of feminism, with all of the hallmarks of the condition. When she was around the age of the ‘lost boys’ she is writing about, she was in recovery, having been hospitalized with extreme anorexia. She has had the characteristic confusion about her sexuality and identity, the same tattoos and hair styles that tend to mark out a young woman struggling to shore up an uncertain sense of her embodied self, the same mental health issues, the sexual promiscuity and poor sense of boundaries, and the same childish shrillness coupled with a precocious linguistic ability that is not uncommon among the young social justice left, whose highly developed faculty of self-expression and ideological obfuscation is an unsettling contrast to the disarray of their personal lives.

We definitely should care about lost and wounded young people, but there is, as Scott Alexander has observed, something of a contrast between the way that we treat the lost boys and the lost girls of the world, and neither are well served as a result. Lost girls like Laurie Penny and many other leading Millennial feminists can become mainstream commentators and columnists, frequently invited onto serious programmes (even when they are clearly out of their depth), partially overcoming their lostness, but also normalizing, validating, and reinforcing it in other respects.

By contrast, the lost boys are more likely to be ridiculed and treated as social outcasts. This is perhaps on account of the fact that society doesn’t take male victimhood as seriously as female victimhood and is far less protective when it comes to males. Male victims are often harder to sympathize with and are far more likely than female victims to externalize their dysfunctions, wounding people around them in abusive behaviours, making them less likeable. Male weakness can be stigmatized, despised, and ridiculed by both men and women as both can expect them to be strong or refuse to acknowledge the possibility of men being weak in ways that threaten the tidiness of whatever their gender ideologies. More typical masculine ways of dealing with weakness through attempts to establish self-control and agency—things that really work for many men—can be pathologized because they don’t conform to a feminized notion of what emotional health looks like and because genuine manliness is perceived to be a threat to feminism.

They can feel further marginalized as the few reservations in which they could attain to a sense of shared masculinity are closed down by women entering into them, insisting on the governing institutions changing the culture and pathologizing them (this is why Gamergate so resonated with many of the lost boys). They can be labelled as ‘Nazis’—because ‘it works’—and open season can be declared upon them. Milo granted such lost boys a vicarious sense of identity and some public voice.


Navigating a Treacherous Passage

While sympathizing with the plight of the lost boys, it is very important that we do not validate the dysfunctional, escapist, and often abusive ways in which they are trying to attain to a sense of masculinity. The social justice warriors or SJWs, the bêtes noires of the lost boys, are in many respects their sisters. Like Milo’s lost boys, the SJWs are in large measure persons who have been blown off course on the passage into adulthood. As in the case of the lost boys, many of them will find some path to a maturity, but others will vanish into the mist.

Human beings are resilient and adaptable and the consequences of even significant mistakes are seldom as bad as we might fear. Nonetheless, many lives and relationships are damaged by our inattention to the traversal of the necessary but challenging human passage from adolescence into mature adulthood. This journey has become a particularly dangerous one in our present age, as it is increasingly undertaken without reliable guidance and in highly treacherous economic and social conditions.

There is nothing unusual about people making the passage from adolescence into young adulthood being vulnerable, thin-skinned, and insecure in their identities. This is not a novel phenomenon, nor are Millennials some exotic new species. Rather, the chief differences between Millennials and previous generations are to be found in the difficult conditions in which they must accomplish this passage. They are increasingly socially and geographically uprooted from robust intergenerational communities and they face uncertain and precarious economic and employment prospects.

The movement into young adulthood is a gendered movement. While gender roles are a social construct, they are also a necessary one, a means by which societies help their young people to take their place as adults in their midst. Gender roles answer to the natural contours of gendered yearnings, tempering and tailoring them for the common good. Ideally they are accommodating and affirming of variety, while also placing clear limits upon the tyranny of self-assertion. Feminism and the LGBT movements have attacked and dismantled many traditional gender roles, but they haven’t really provided workable alternatives. Particular forms of gender roles can be oppressive and restrictive, but some form of gender roles are needed if young people are to make a safe passage into adulthood. Young men, for instance, need the promise of the dignity of manliness: deep down almost all know that maturity must be a gendered reality.

The gender neutralizing of society, the drive to desegregate the gendered workplace, the changing shape of the economy and the insecurity of employment, the attack upon forms of healthy homosociality, the atomization and uprooting of a footloose young workforce, the postponing of fertility, the hyperperformativity of online identity, the shallowness and narrowness of the bonds of the nuclear family, the demise of a robust marriage culture, and the weakening of given bonds and of intergenerational society are all ways in which winds that once blew in the favour of those making the passage into adulthood now blow against them. What it means to be a man or a woman in such a world is a very open question, and a disturbing one for many. Where no clear path presents itself and the very authority figures who should be assisting with their transition are conspiring with their disorientation, it is not surprising that both men and women should jury-rig ever more bespoke, yet ever more vulnerable makeshift identities and communities.

The failure of older generations is a very important part of the problems that Millennials face on these fronts. The passage into adulthood is one that cannot easily be made alone, but which requires support, orientation, institutional structures, and guidance from those who have made the passage before, pilots who can help to steer young lives through dangerous hidden shoals and reefs. Unfortunately, this passage is increasingly one that is undertaken by young people without clear adult direction. Many of the most prominent voices directing us are themselves lost boys and girls. Instead of functional gender roles and wise older exemplars to help us to attain to them, guiding us into the maturity of our full stature, we have gender studies departments filled with disoriented persons who have clearly lost their direction, the dominance of young people in conversations about gender, and the vicious resentment of online feral masculinity.

A healthy society is one that adapts towards maturity and strength, rather than towards weakness and dysfunction. While such a society accommodates and protects the weak and the immature, it seeks to strengthen them and to overcome their weakness. The vulnerability and fragility of young people should be treated with care and compassion, yet they must be strengthened and matured through challenge.

Institutions such as universities or churches are supposed to be institutions of formation, institutions that serve to fashion mature minds and characters from the immature and unformed minds and characters of those who first enter them. The generational struggle that we currently face results in part from the failure of our institutions—often on account of structural inability, rather than wilful omission or neglect of duty—to play their part in the process of formation. Instead of patiently, kindly, yet determinedly helping young people grew out of their immaturity, dysfunctionality, and weakness and into maturity, functionality, and strength, they have pandered and adapted themselves to some of their weakest and most immature members. This has occurred in large part because universities and churches have ceased to function as formative institutions and have become consumer-oriented organizations.

The weakening and disruption of the processes of generational formation and passage are not a problem to be solved by recriminations. Both the ‘lost boys’ and the ‘SJWs’ are largely victims of the treacherous straits between adolescence and healthy young adulthood, and the consequences of their being blown off course may be playing themselves out for decades to come. They have been let down by their institutions, by the collapse of intergenerational community, and by the failure of their societies to offer robust and validating roles and structures in which young people can attain to a mature and fitting sense and expression of their manhood or womanhood. It is to the restoration of these that we must commit ourselves, if we are to rectify the situation.

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Podcast: The Fractured Republic, with Yuval Levin


Mere FidelityOn this week’s episode of Mere Fidelity, Derek, Matt, Andrew, and I are joined by a very special guest, Yuval Levin. We discuss some of the issues raised in his superb new book, The Fractured Republic, and his vision for a healthy future for the conservative movement and for America more generally.

You can also follow the podcast on iTunes, or using this RSS feed. Listen to past episodes on Soundcloud and on this page on my blog.

Posted in Culture, Economics, Podcasts, Politics, Society, What I'm Reading | Leave a comment

Links Post 18/02/17

Links from the last week.


‘The Great Shame of Our Profession’. Brilliantly scathing piece on an immensely important issue:

You have asked me to speak to you today about literary criticism, and so we might note that the conditions ravaging our profession are also ravaging our work. The privilege of tenure used to confer academic freedom through job security. By now, decades of adjunctification have made the professoriate fearful, insular, and conformist. According to the AAUP, adjunct faculty are about half as likely to undertake risky research projects, and the timidity moves up the ladder. “Professionalization” means retrofitting your research so that it accommodates the critical fads that will make you marginally more employable. It means cutting and adding chapters so that feathers remain unruffled. Junior faculty play it safe—conceptually, politically, and formally—because they write for job and tenure committees rather than for readers. Publications serve careers before they serve culture.

Akhilesh Pillalamarri: Must We Have a ‘Melting Pot’? A thought-provoking piece. However, I have a few reservations about his arguments. Perhaps the greatest of these is the failure to distinguish between the very different sorts of diversity that pertained in more traditional societies and the diversity of modern individualistic multiculturalism. For instance, traditional sorts of cultural diversity were seldom about diversity as such, but about the socially choreographed interactions between certain very specific cultures, each of which had to keep in its proper place relative to the others. There were typically clear regional, class, caste, professional, or other boundaries between cultural or religious communities, boundaries that would be enforced by the state and other parties. Different cultures would also have legal, cultural, political, and geographic spaces in which to retain their distinctions.

There would often also be an imperial hegemony of one particular group over all others. It is also noteworthy that societies that protect a very specific interplay of distinct cultures are often among the most sceptical of and resistant to diversity and multiculturalism as such, or to indiscriminate immigration. National ecosystems can be fragile things and the interactions between the distinct groups within them can be radically unsettled by the influx of other parties.

Via Scott Alexander, Why We Culturally Profile. A long post calling for scepticism towards Muslim immigration, especially in its European form. Even beyond the security state and stifling of public life that have been encouraged by large scale Muslim immigration and the terrorism that has tended to accompany it, this raises difficult questions. The fact that there is such a groundswell of opposition to Muslim immigration in Europe is not an accident. Cultural and religious differences are real and don’t seem to be vanishing. Many Europeans are justifiably troubled and cynically accusing them of being racist or Islamophobic for drawing attention to uncomfortable realities is not an answer. Until we can honestly and directly address the particular concerns that people have about Muslim immigration and Muslim immigrant populations in particular, forthrightly wrestling with the facts and the prudential challenges that exist in this area, parties on the further right in Europe will continue to rise. What we really seem to need is a more pragmatic form of liberalism that recognizes the particularity of our historic cultural identities, the importance of liberal values for our societies, recognizes the importance and particularity of the socio-cultural foundations for those values, recognizes the challenge Muslim immigration presents to those foundations, while also recognizing that Muslims are already a part of our societies and are our neighbours. The right, for its part, must recognize that, even if immigration stopped overnight, Europe has been demographically transformed and we must make the new reality work for everyone, rather than nostalgically yearning for the past. Whatever injustices and failures might have led to this point, there are millions of Muslims who belong in our countries as our compatriots. While this does not mean that our countries’ native and historic cultures should be denied or reduced to just one option in a multicultural society, it does mean that we should beware of speaking in ways that either invalidate the rights of our Muslim neighbours that have been legally obtained or which fundamentally compromise our duties of hospitality and neighbourliness to them. For their part, the progressive left must recognize the empirical challenge to its orthodoxies about diversity and universalism and start to appreciate its own cultural contingency and that of liberal values more generally. This requires something beyond what either the left or the right are generally currently offering.

Interview with the historian Robert Tombs, on, among other things, British identity post Brexit.

4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump. This piece gets certain important dimensions of the gender dynamics wrong, but it gets a lot more right and is well worth a read.

These Conservative Christians Are Opposed to Trump—and Suffering the Consequences. I have mixed feelings about this piece, especially reflecting on what it does and doesn’t mention. Someone like Russell Moore would seem to be an obvious person to mention here, but it focuses almost exclusively on much less prominent women, which makes me wonder whether there is an implicit—and perhaps rather tendentious—story behind the story.

John Milbank: The Problem of Populism and the Promise of a Christian Politics

‘Every Racist I Know Voted For Donald Trump’. Particularly worth reading for Daryl Davis’ advice for changing opponents’ minds.

Donaeld the Unready’s Twitter account is a hoot.

Ben Sixsmith: A.C.’s Failings. ‘Appeals for reason are paper darts on the walls of human behaviour.’

Womanhood Redefined. Interesting exploration of the collision of transgenderism and certain forms of feminist ideology.

Scott Alexander follows up his post on Cost Disease with a post with highlights from its comments, accompanied with a few of his own further reflections.

Spotted Toad: Hubel, Wiesel, and Sensitive Periods. Some interesting reflections on the process of learning.

How to raise a genius: lessons from a 45-year study of super-smart children

Emmett Rensin: You Don’t Know Hannah Arendt. Criticizing facile appeals to Arendt in the current political context.

Terrorism Denial on the Left

Young People and Free Speech

Reconstruction of a Train Wreck: How Priming Research Went Off the Rails. Make sure that you read Daniel Kahneman’s response in the comments too: it is a notable example of scientific virtue.

Watching Wikipedia’s extinction event from a distance. Wikipedia as a dying coral reef.

Maryland ponders dangerous ‘affirmative consent’ proposal. The modern concept of consent in relation to sex is an increasingly problematic one.

Record numbers of couples living in sexless marriages in Japan, says report

Stop Freaking Out About CRISPR! (Except For One Thing). Although organisms in the wild are developing resistance to gene drives.

How the Battle Lines Over CRISPR Were Drawn

Major report prepares ground for genetic modification of human embryos

Gene editing, clones and the science of making babies. The ethical myopia attending many of these new developments is concerning.

Could we one day make babies from only skin cells?

Anxious Chinese parents cause gene testing boom as they try to discover young children’s talents

Elon Musk: Humans must merge with machines or become irrelevant in AI age

Rolls-Royce plans to launch crewless ships by 2020

The Science That Could Make You Crave Broccoli More Than Chocolate

Via Scott Alexander: Scientists Have Confirmed a Brand New Phase of Matter: Time Crystals

Humans Killed the Aral Sea. Now It’s Come Back to Life.

Scientists discover ‘Zealandia’—a hidden continent off the coast of Australia

In one year, 12 trillion locusts devastated the Great Plains—and then they went extinct

Collapse of Aztec Society Linked to Catastrophic Salmonella Outbreak

Dear Warren: Bill and Melinda Gates’ 2017 Annual Letter.

Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Toward Religious Groups

Guildford Cathedral faces ‘probable closure’

8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year. If you are really serious about reading more books, what are you doing looking at this list of links?

Momentous Historical Firsts That Happened Way Before Most People Think They Did

Bad Map Projection: Time Zones

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra: The Story Behind John Piper’s Most Famous Attack on the Prosperity Gospel

Douglas Wilson: When Envy Tells

Scot McKnight: The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?

Ian Paul:
Church Teaching and LGB Mental Health
On Synod, Sexuality, and not ‘Taking Note’

Matt Smethurst posts the video of Sam Alberry addressing the Church of England General Synod earlier this week

Andrew Wilson:
Trinity and Akedah
10 Reason You Should Read Fleming Rutledge’s ‘The Crucifixion’
What Happened to the Absurd?

Matt Colvin: Focalization in Genesis 8

J. Budziszewski: Is Toleration a Virtue?

Jake Belder: On not calling people ‘nominal’ Christians

Derek Rishmawy: Perichoresis in Aquinas: Fruit, Not Foundation

Alan Jacobs has a stimulating series of posts on the building of the tabernacle and Temple, en route to a theology of technology. Lots of thought-provoking observations and arguments, although I disagree strongly with some of them. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Peter Leithart:
Science of Division
Time Out of Joint
Art, Divine and Human
Passivity and Freedom
Descartes, Nihilist
Living Sacrifices
Architecture of Fancy
Slow Grow
Anthropology of Deficiency
On Separating Church and State
The State After ’68

Keeping Up With the Kattarshians—Live Kittens! Here’s one of their camera views:

See also the work of Tiny Kittens and their live videos here.

Weta Workshop Sculptor’s Labyrinth Model

Will Arnett: LEGO Batman Toy Shop Prank (I’m seeing LEGO Batman tomorrow and am rather excited about it…)

Incredible LEGO Wall Installation

Primitive Technology: Forge Blower

Do you have any thoughts on any of the issues raised above?

The comments of this thread are also free for you to:

  • Discuss things that you have been reading/listening to/watching recently
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Over to you!


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Podcast: Reviving the Worship Wars

Mere FidelityOn this week’s episode of Mere Fidelity, Derek, Matt, Andrew, and I discuss the place that music and song have within our worship as the Church. We explore the divisive character of music in the Church, its proper telos, and how we could improve our practice.

You can also follow the podcast on iTunes, or using this RSS feed. Listen to past episodes on Soundcloud and on this page on my blog.

Posted in Controversies, Liturgical Theology, Music, Podcasts, Theological, Worship | 7 Comments

Links Post 11/02/17

Links from the last week.

The question of America’s identity has obviously been a live one over the last few months. David Brooks writes:

In that story, America is placed at the vanguard of the great human march of progress. America is the grateful inheritor of other people’s gifts. It has a spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role. America culminates history. It advances a way of life and a democratic model that will provide people everywhere with dignity. The things Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind.

C.S. Lewis’ cautions would seem to be relevant here:

Patriotism has, then, many faces. Those who would reject it entirely do not seem to have considered what will certainly step—has already begun to step—into its place. For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defence. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was just; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important.… If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.

Ross Douthat has some helpful thoughts on the question of America’s identity crisis:

Given this story’s premises, saying that’s not who we are is a way of saying that all more particularist understandings of Americanism, all non-universalist forms of patriotic memory, need to be transcended. Thus our national religion isn’t anything specific, but we know it’s not-Protestant and not-Judeo-Christian. Our national culture is not-Anglo-Saxon, not-European; the prototypical American is not-white, not-male, not-heterosexual. We don’t know what the American future is, but we know it’s not-the-past.

But the real American past was particularist as well as universalist. Our founders built a new order atop specifically European intellectual traditions. Our immigrants joined a settler culture, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, that demanded assimilation to its norms. Our crisis of the house divided was a Christian civil war. Our great national drama was a westward expansion that conquered a native population rather than coexisting with it.

See also Robert Merry: The Profound Question Behind the Immigration Debate.

Emily Deruy: The Myth of Immigrant’s Educational Attainment. No real surprises here. High achieving immigrant groups will tend to be products of more selective immigration policies. Children in such groups will have both significant genetic and familial culture advantages.

Matthew Loftus: Green Card Holders in the City of Man. Loftus tackles some of the issues surrounding immigration. I’ve written in response to him on the subject before (see the comments here). It is an important debate.

Now a piece on areas where the American preoccupation with the ‘who are we?’ question can become positively toxic. The Non-Racism of American Evil:

The pervasive idea that the amount of good and evil the US does in the world can be determined by the amount of racism exhibited by the people running the US government and military is totally unsupported by the last fifteen years, and the Nazi analogy is not helping us. Chuck Schumer weeping over refugees but voting for each of the military adventures that forced the refugees from their homes is not helping us. We are neither the bulwark against a rising tide of 1930s-style fascism nor can we “convince” Yemen to turn into Sweden by being nice to their distant cousins here. We have legal and moral obligations to Islamic American citizens, and we have obligations to try not to set the world on fire, as the world’s central military power. But putting everything through a lens of racism and “how much like Hitler is this guy?” doesn’t do anybody any favors, analytically or morally. America has done and will almost certainly continue to do a lot of evil—it’s a fallen world, how could we not?—but we seem to be able to do it without much racism just as well as with.

Spot on. As I argued in a recent post, the more that we are guided by a sort of narcissistic virtue ethics played out on the specious screen of the mass media and our social media, the more our preoccupation with our identities as they are projected there will eclipse the actual reality and shape of the moral tasks before us. Good and well-meaning people can be the cause of incalculable evils in the world.

Some fascinating new research on the genetic origins of people from various American regions. Scott Alexander, who reviewed David Fischer’s book Albion’s Seed last year, comments on its relation with this new research here. More thoughts from Jayman (who has written at length on human biodiversity in North America) here. This whole area of research is hugely important and exciting, but must be handled with caution.

In other fascinating recent work on human biodiversity: Irish travellers are as genetically different from settled Irish as Spanish.

Another significant post from Scott Alexander, this time on the troubling questions raised by ‘cost disease’. The Baumol effect would seem to explain part of it (and wages alone are only part of the picture, as employers provide many other things for their employees), as would the increasing number of staff relative to people using the services in question (my primary school had two teachers and a caretaker for a school with over fifty students spread out over eight years). Megan McArdle suggests that part of the problem might be our instinct to provide costlier forms of care (education, healthcare, etc.) to signal concern. One thing that is recommended in the comments (and also in this post) is the idea of making college degrees a protected characteristic, so that employers can no longer discriminate on that basis (as the modern degree is increasingly primarily a status good). This would almost certainly drive down the price of education markedly. Unfortunately this may not be possible, since, as the same commenter observes, anti-discrimination legislation prevents employers from filtering employees as they would like and colleges may be valued for performing this task for them.

A further piece from Spotted Toad, this time on the place of Harry Potter in the liberal imagination: Getting Your Owl. Although I am increasingly of the ‘Read a Different Book!’ camp, there are some things to be said in favour of Harry Potter (which I continue to appreciate, despite the annoying undeath of its author, its wide-eyed fans, and the irritating ubiquity of references to it). It is particularly striking to see the way that this fictional work, its world, and its characters provide a lens through which so many young people come to understand and articulate their identities and process events (I’ve been meaning to write something on the phenomenon of fan fiction at some point). It is a reminder of the potential power of even fictional stories in our lives. In an age where much of our traditional cultural canon has been neglected or rejected, or mummified by literary criticism in the grand academic mausoleums of our society, it is wonderful to see the unity of imagination that a widely loved work can forge from unguarded hearts. We need to learn to treat Scripture similarly.

Alan Jacobs on the replacement of institutions by platforms:

the majority will accommodate themselves to the faceless inflexibility of platforms, and will become less and less capable of seeing the virtues of institutions, on any scale. One consequence of that accommodation, I believe, will be an increasing impatience with representative democracy, and an accompanying desire to replace political institutions with platform-based decision-making: referendums and plebiscites, conducted at as high a level as possible (national, or in the case of the EU, transnational). Which will bring, among other things, the exploitation of communities and natural resources by people who will never see or know anything about what they are exploiting. The scope of local action will therefore be diminished, and will come under increasing threat of what we might call, borrowing a phrase from Einstein, spooky action at a distance.

More on the fragility of platforms.

Harry Pottash reflects upon ‘Identity Affirming Society’ (or SJWs to their critics) and its relationship to moral foundation theory, among other things: One Sacred Trick for Moral Regeneration.

New Dead Sea Scrolls Cave Discovered

R.R. Reno: A Dissolving Age

The Truth About Propaganda

Heterodox Academy: Campus Speaker Disinvitations: Recent Trends (Part 2 of 2)

The Real Message Behind Audi’s Super Bowl Ad Isn’t Exactly An Uplifting One. I did a double-take reading this one, as it was so reminiscent of The Last Psychiatrist blog.

Not ‘Lone Wolves’ After All: How ISIS Guides World’s Terror Plots From Afar

Robin Hanson on some neglected big problems

Utopia is Creepy. The Art of Manliness interview Nicholas Carr.

The Fool on the Hill. Alan Jacobs on the value of having people in our communities without Internet connections.

Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence. There are encouraging signs of people pushing back against key aspects of prevailing theory that are unsubstantiated by actual scientific research.

Deborah Soh asks whether gender feminists and transgender activists are undermining science.

Possibly the Most Exhaustive Study of ‘Manspreading’ Ever Conducted. On gendered body language. I’m unconvinced by those simply blaming ‘the patriarchy’ for this. Socialization is an important part of the picture. However, socialization doesn’t operate upon blank slates, but upon pre-existing sexed and physical tendencies, accenting or diminishing them. Our presence is bodily, bodies and their differences (especially sexual) are meaningful, and these meaningful differences can be particularly expressed through communicative acts of body ‘language’. Some such acts can be oppressive and inconsiderate (for instance, when someone pointedly uses their greater height to intimidate someone else), but many are fairly natural expressions of our bodies’ own meanings. ‘Manspreading’, depending on the context, could be either.

The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down (more related links and, frequently angry, discussion here). This seems like one of the many, many areas where both men and women taking typical sex differences more seriously might help us out. Unfortunately, putting this all down to socialization, toxic masculinity, and the patriarchy just tends to produce excessive anger. On average, men and women relate to their homes and relationships in rather different ways from each other and this probably has something to do with sexed psychological factors. The fact that boys disproportionately like action figures and construction toys as kids and girls disproportionately like things such as dolls and dolls’ houses is probably not unrelated to this and has a lot less to do with cultural gender norms than most suppose. Our immediate surroundings can be extensions of ourselves, but men and women often tend to look for different things from their favoured surroundings. On account of their typically far more demanding standards—standards by which they find themselves judged by their peers and others—when it comes to the domestic context, women are at risk of ending up having to do the overwhelming majority of the work themselves, while men may be stifled by women’s standards that prevent them from enjoying the messier environment that a home ordered towards their favoured activities might create. Far more consideration and thought on both sides—but particularly on men’s side—to the possibility that the other sex typically experiences the world differently might make a difference here: both sexes could respect and be mindful of the other’s standards and concerns, without imposing their own standards and concerns as the absolute. There is good reason why many homes often have an implicit primarily ‘ownership’ of different rooms, with women setting the standards for the main rooms, while men might retreat to less public extremities of the house to enjoy their home activities in male reservations (sheds, ‘man caves’, basements, attics, personal offices, etc.).

Michael J. Lewis: What Jane Jacobs Saw

Book review: Dent’s Modern Tribes, by Susie Dent. Countdown has long been a favourite show of mine and Susie Dent is my favourite person on it.

Church ‘regret’ as trainees hold service in gay slang

Ian Paul: Were the Shared Conversations just a Con? In response to a post by Miranda Threlfall Holmes on the sexuality debates in the Church of England.

Also from Ian Paul: Is Evangelical Theology Abusive?

Serial Killers Should Fear This Algorithm. Tackling unsolved crimes with software.

India doesn’t seem to have achieved a just response in its response to the serious problem of rape in the country.

Students in American colleges seem to be facing a similar challenge.

Antibiotic resistance: evolution without trade-offs

A surprising number of people can’t recognize faces—sometimes even their own

How Rachel Carson Cost Millions of People Their Lives

Chinese factory replaces 90% of human workers with robots. Production rises by 250%, defects drop by 80%

Climate change is political and there’s nothing wrong with that

Bumblebees are dying out because they are too fat to mate

Why the Planet Earth II Episode on Cities is so Startling

This Newly Discovered Gecko Can Literally Squirm Right Out of its Skin

What Cats Can Teach Us About How to Live

Doctor Mengele and All Creatures Great and Small

Can We Eradicate Bullying in Schools?

How Model Trains Transformed From Cutting-Edge to Quaint

Russians Engineer a Brilliant Slot Machine Cheat—And Casinos Have No Fix

Indian cricketer Mohit Ahlawat scores T20 triple hundred

What Do Europeans Think About Muslim Immigration? These figures surprised me.

Presenting options simultaneously helps people make more optimal decisions than presenting options sequentially

The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy; 100 More Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy. Informative, but a reminder of why I don’t find much modern comedy very entertaining.

Steve Hays reflects on the ‘apostasy’ in the film Silence.

Tony Reinke: Justin Taylor’s Tweet Rant. (Not that) Justin Taylor on how the current political climate may change people’s usage of social media.

Ben Blackwell: Christology between the NT and Nicaea: Justin Martyr

Josh Gillies:
A Life Most Divine: Karl Barth and Divine Simplicity
Two Brief but Powerful Arguments Against Everyone Going to Heaven

Andrew Wilson summarizes some of Fred Sanders’ cautions about claims of Christophanies in the Old Testament. Sed contra, the appearances of Christ in Old Testament ‘Christophanies’ are as different from incarnation as the appearance of the Spirit in the form of a dove is different from a mission of ‘columbination’. The body of Christ isn’t just a vehicle for the incarnation as an appearance, but the very object of Christ’s mission. Christ’s body is conceived by the Holy Spirit, the seed of David in Adamic flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, circumcised in the Temple, baptized in the Jordan, hungry in the wilderness, transfigured on the Mount, given in bread and wine, taken in the garden, scourged by the soldiers, crucified at Calvary, pierced in the side, its bones unbroken, gives up the ghost, is laid in the tomb, is raised on the third day, appears to many, ascends into heaven, and is opened into a site of communion through the gift of the Spirit. The story of our salvation is the story of Christ’s body.

Eric Hutchinson: The 10 Commandments are the Foundation for Protestant Ethics

Charlie Clark reviews Radicalism: When Reform Becomes Revolution

James Jordan: The Structure and Typology of the Bathsheba Incident

Jake Belder: You Don’t Need to Hear the Whole Sermon Each Week. Encouragement for parents of young children.

Peter Leithart:
Rival Tidinesses
Subversive Psalmody
Divine Double-Talk
God as Artist, Artist as God
God’s Wounds
Fair Nature’s Second Chance
Silence of Painting
Near Miss at Marburg
Horticultural Anthropology
Authoritarian Gardeners

Justin Taylor:
Frederick Douglass on the hypocrisy of antebellum churches
Why I would like to see a moratorium on using the word ‘literal’ when it comes to biblical interpretation

Dr Carl Trueman’s Lectures on the Reformation on Youtube

The latest ‘nightmare-inducing’ Boston robots

The most satisfying video in the world

Plants use an Internet made of fungus

I’m not a robot

Do you have any thoughts on any of the issues raised above?

The comments of this thread are also free for you to:

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Over to you!

Posted in Links, Open Mic | 27 Comments

Podcast: Silence, with Brett McCracken

Mere FidelityOn this week’s episode of Mere Fidelity, Matt and I are joined by Brett McCracken for a discussion of Martin Scorsese’s new film, Silence, which Brett reviewed for Christianity Today.  The film, an adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s famous novel of the same name, explores difficult and challenging themes and raises unsettling questions for the Christian viewer. Our conversation, which is packed with spoilers, seeks to excavate some of the film’s message and to grapple towards an assessment and response.

You can also follow the podcast on iTunes, or using this RSS feed. Listen to past episodes on Soundcloud and on this page on my blog.

Posted in Apologetics, Christian Experience, Church History, Culture, Ethics, In the News, Podcasts, Theological, What I'm Watching | Leave a comment

Matt Lee Anderson on Being Pro-Life

My friend and fellow Mere Fidelity cast member Matt Lee Anderson had a piece on the subject of the pro-life focus on abortion over on Vox. It is well worth your time. The following are a few selected quotations:

But for the pro-lifer, that “clump of cells” is as wondrous, as potent, as mysterious as, well, the cosmos. The recognition of the “baby” induces a hushed reverence. The universe once appeared out of nothing, a fact that reasonably seems to induce the strange vertigo of awe, but the formation of a new human being is not so different from this. The embryo contains a whole world of possibilities and adventures. The “newcomer,” Hannah Arendt once wrote, “possesses the capacity of beginning something anew.” For those weary and afraid, the opportunity for a new start that the embryo announces momentarily refreshes their spirits.

These natural reverences permeate the pro-life movement’s ethos. While many pro-lifers are at home speaking the language of rights and respect required for democratic political discourse, we are — if our own rhetoric is at all truthful — animated by something much nearer to love. We cannot shed ourselves of the sense that there is something too powerful, something too good about the human being, to make its life or its death a matter for our choice. It is better for the embryo to go on existing, for it and for us and for the cosmos whose beauty new human life adorns and deepens.

For the pro-lifer, there is no clearer instance of the marginalized, the voiceless, and the vulnerable than in the womb — and no more profound source of wonder at the limitless possibilities that human life is capable of achieving. The early embryo looks nothing like us, has none of our capabilities, drains the mother’s resources, and often requires the mother to sacrifice many of her interests. If in these conditions one can see something worthwhile, something that can be a benefit or a blessing to the world even when unwanted, then one can start to glimpse why pro-lifers are so animated and so patient in their efforts.

Read the whole piece here.

Posted in Ethics, Links, Sex and Sexuality, Theological | 4 Comments