Links Post 25/02/17

Links from the last week. This will be the last such post for a while, as I won’t be posting any over Lent.

Putting Work in Its Place. An immensely stimulating discussion of the current problems with work in the light of Hegel’s understanding of the state. Don’t let that put you off.

Hegel’s basic point is that the concrete way in which individuals win distinction as members of the economy should be the basis for their participation in the common good. Rather than do away with all partial associations at the level of the state (which was Rousseau’s solution and still the model for contemporary French republicanism), Hegel’s state gives them equal recognition. In contemporary terms, a system that accords a representative role to all elements of civil society, not just powerful ones such as Wall Street and big business, could relieve the problem of state capture by special interests. By acknowledging all guilds, vocations, and professions, the state enables them to transcend their purely individual, self-interested character. By bringing representatives of each profession face to face for the purpose of deliberating on matters of public concern, they come to know and respect each other as distinctive parts of the common good. The state can thus be seen to recapture a kind of family spirit at the level of society as a whole, but in a way that preserves rather than dissolves the differences of civil society.

Nicholas Eberstadt: Our Miserable 21st Century. How work, health, and social mobility are all languishing.

The Religious Origins of Fake News and ‘Alternative Facts’. A lot of truth to this, I think.

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds. Worth exercising some caution in reading such articles. Research in some of these areas has faced embarrassing replication issues.

With recent developments, a number of us have unfortunately been given occasion to ruminate on the phenomenon of Milo Yiannopoulos. Ross Douthat gives some thoughts on the meaning of Milo. Ben Domenech argues that everyone is wrong about Milo and CPAC. I’ve commented here and here. Peter Leithart posts a great quotation here:

East Asia values discipline, concentration, long years of practice and utter mastery; with an exceptional head start and rare talent, Yuja Wang has earned the imperial right to conjure up Beethoven as a kindred spirit and transgress in his giant footsteps. The West values offhandedness, improvisation, luck and self-made celebrity, the qualities that make Milos Yiannopoulos a figure of admiration for the Right and an object of obloquy for the Left. In whose hands are the great accomplishments of the West more secure?

Tom Owolade: Violent protest is not the answer. It doesn’t work and it is unjust.

Scott Alexander steelmans some people who he believes get an unfair share of criticism.

Robert Verbruggen on criteria for immigration: Give Us Your High Achievers. Another interesting piece I recently reread on that subject by Lyman Stone, who argues that we should restructure and raise immigration. I have disagreements with both arguments, but they are important grist for the mill.

They won’t admit it in Stockholm, but Donald Trump is right about immigration in Sweden

Spotted Toad has some thoughtful reflections on the recent Mere Fidelity podcast with Yuval Levin. He also writes on why everything is a problem.

On that subject, Mark Zuckerberg is making presidential noises. We should all be very worried.

Alan Jacobs on the difference between Twitter and reading a book and why you should be using RSS. He’s absolutely right. I use feedly and would recommend it. It’s how I manage to read widely enough to fill links posts like this!

Adam Roberts on the appeal of Roald Dahl for children.

Preschool can provide a boost, but the gains can fade surprisingly fast

Larry Cahill has a superb treatment of the subject of sex differences in the brain. Cordelia Fine et al respond to it here.

Are girls really better at reading than boys—or are the tests painting a false picture? In keeping with the gender similarities hypothesis.

Steve Sailer has an interesting discussion of women’s sports, arising out of a recent story about a woman in the WNBA bullied for being straight. As one of the commenters remarks: ‘Genuinely popular men’s sports are more like battles; genuinely popular women’s sports are more like beauty contests.’

Universities admit students who are ‘almost illiterate’, lecturers warn

Students to be offered degrees over two years

Research finds that psychotherapy generally brings about undesirable changes in personality

The Power of Tribes. Why businesses need to think in terms of large cultural zones.

Trevor Phillips: political correctness ushered in the populist wave

Are Liberals Helping Trump?

Sarah Perry has produced a diagram of human universals

Why I won’t let any male babysit my children. A highly controversial and, I believe, extreme position, but not an irrational one. Worth discussing.

A Frank Talk With Jessa Crispin About Why Modern-Day Feminism Is Full of S**t. I’m not much of a fan of feminism in any of its iterations (although it has been responding to real injustices in many cases), but I can at least take this sort of feminism more seriously. Contemporary feminism, like much else in our society, seems to have fallen prey to the culturally asphyxiating capitalist exaltation of self-expression over all else. Provided that there is no external constraint upon your choices, you are supposedly expressing your individuality and that should be celebrated. Given liberalism’s universalism, individuals are all essentially the same and so all of our differences are ultimately indifferent representations of the fundamental reality of the self and its will. The problem is that, even in our ‘free’ choices, we are expressing things that are greater than the self and either elevate or diminish us. Second wave feminists get this, for which they have my respect.

Do You See What I See? On differing colour perception between cultural groups.

The Monk Who Saves Manuscripts From ISIS

Thousands of horsemen may have swept into Bronze Age Europe, transforming the local population

Everyone was dead: When Europeans first came to B.C., they stepped into the aftermath of a holocaust

Desert people evolve to drink water poisoned with deadly arsenic

When it comes to heart attacks, women are different from men

Brain computer interface advance allows fast and accurate typing by people with paralysis

Germany unveils zero-emissions train that only emits steam

Where did England’s counties get their names?

Big females rule in the animal kingdom

Can there be war without soldiers? Older but disturbing piece.

Texas graduate student discovers a Walt Whitman novel lost for more than 150 years

Teens were bored so they built a backyard rollercoaster

Was ‘Weird Al’ the real star all along?

Kelly Baker’s recent Political Theology Today post, The Contingent Campus—Adjunctification And The Growth Of The Academic “Precariat”, is the first instalment in a series. Hussein Rashid’s Dehumanizing the Humanities—When Social Justice Becomes Injustice is the second.

John Murdock writes about the underwhelming reception for the film Silence for First Things. Listen to our podcast on the film here.

Anthony Esolen: Free Our Churches From the Ugly and the Stupid.

Emma Green has an article discussing Rod Dreher’s ‘Benedict Option’ in the Atlantic, especially focusing on the place of LGBT persons within it. Dreher responds here. Matthew Loftus interacts with Green and Dreher here. Alan Jacobs responds to Loftus here. Jake Meador offers some reflections here.

Ed Feser on the perverted faculty argument

Killed for Christ in the Amazon. Jim Elliot’s daughter recounts the story of her father.

The Hipster Conservative on how to sneer.

Charles Chaput: Redemption of the Erotic

Justin Taylor: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About “Jane Roe”

Jake Belder argues that Christians are not called to fill their time with church activities. He also posts some thoughts relating to the edifying purpose of liturgy and symbol in dialogue with Brad Littlejohn’s introductory volume on Richard Hooker.

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

Derek Rishmawy: Basil of Caesarea on the Holy Spirit in the works of the Son

Andrew Wilson posts on Substitution in the Church Fathers. He also posts a diagram of the Jewish Calendar.

Joshua Gillies reviews Aaron O’Kelley’s book, Did The Reformers Misread Paul: A Historical Critique of the New Perspective

Alan Jacobs continues his discussion of building in the Old Testament, treating the diaspora period. He also tackles reductionism in From Disneyism to Onlyism.

Fred Sanders has a discussion of Pascal’s understanding of the process of persuasion in Make Good People With It Were True. He also offers a free e-book, Pro-Nicene Theology.

Peter Leithart:
Passive Creativity
All Great Art is Praise
Mass v. Manners

Simon Gathercole on the geography of the NT:

How the BBC makes Planet Earth look like a Hollywood movie:

Miyazaki Dreams of Flying

And, having linked an article on Weird Al earlier, I thought I’d end with a video of Hardwire Store, which demonstrates his musical genius:

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

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About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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40 Responses to Links Post 25/02/17

  1. cal says:

    Regarding the religious origins of fake-news: I found this unconvincing. He misunderstands the essence of Fundamentalism as it was formed in the early 20th century, but then retrojects the politically weaponized Evangelicalism of the 70s back onto it. The significant turning point was the introduction of the world-view, which motivates SJWs and the modern Religious Right. I don’t know where he gets his statistics about who is falling for fake-news (which all depends on who is defining fake-news). He fails to neglect the cascading Russophobia that is ricocheting through absurd news stories about Russian hackers in Vermont and Trump pissing on hookers from a mercenary ex-MI6. I don’t think its a mistrust of authorities, but we, collectively, lack a vision of what critical thinking resembles; we don’t know how to reason, only to assert.

    Which is why I distrust the neuroscience report about how reason is a tool of confirmation bias. Perhaps reason is not something innately fully-formed, but acquired. Neuroscientists are usually the worst at writing popular articles, because they extrapolate data without considering the effects of historical context and social constitution. Maybe, nowadays, many are just immature. I’m certainly not trying to valorize reason beyond its bound, but its place as a faculty tends to be, from my own readings, either overestimated or underestimated.

    • Ian Miller says:

      Agreed, Cal – that piece is startling in its facile acceptance of the “Christians hate knowledge” myth. There is a disturbing anti-intellectual streak in many of today’s Fundamentlist heirs, but to act like they had no good reason, and that there is no truth to be found in their rejection of the Marxist, racist, and atheist movements of JEPD theory and evolution is exactly the kind of “fake news” that the left is constantly propagating. And that’s not debunked in two comments, either.

      • Christians may not hate knowledge, but they often deeply distrust the media, scientific, theological, and political authorities and scholars. While there has been warrant for suspicion in many cases, the habit of suspicion towards such figures has produced a susceptibility to conspiracy theories and anti-establishment falsehoods. While the authorities haven’t always been trustworthy and bear their own measure of blame for the situation, our deep lack of trust in authorities is a huge problem that we must deal with.

      • cal says:

        The Problem with the article is not the basic claim, it’s how he substantiates it. He woefully understands the development of Fundamentalism and its branching off into Evangelicalism. The story he tells, which is mostly a myth, is the Scopes-Monkey trial as some watershed for an anti-intellectual turn. That misrepresents what was actually happening in the late 19th century. The Evangelicals of today he wants to criticize are not merely heirs of Fundamentalism. My counter-claim is that what motivates many of the “liberals” (which is not synonymous with a serious, organized, left) is the same set of methodological tools. It’s not just that the article is high-handed, it’s that his genealogical approach fails.

        I don’t think the issue is anti-authority. Clearly, liberal critiques of the Evangelical crowd is that they are certainly authoritarian (hence voting Trump in). The question is what authorities are they trusting? SJW types are equally skeptical of authorities if we change points of reference. Yes, numerous Evangelical leaders proclaimed hostility to Trump, but the demographics force us to ask how much authority do they actually wield? The question is not necessarily that Evangelical masses bucked their authorities, but whether people like Falwell Jr., David Jeremiah, Paula White et al. actually exercise far more control in comparison. There are also breaking points to subscription to authority. It’s hardly anti-authoritarian to refuse an order for suicide, and with prospects plummeting for non-white collar jobs, doing nothing seemed dangerous.

        In addition, I’m not even sure what legitimate (which is a loaded term) sources of authority are anymore. Christian leaders tend to have their authority based on media savvy. I think Rome would be a joke if JPII hadn’t been a media starlet. Francis has exceeded in this regard. Besides this, any other authority is a megachurch pastor who has inserted himself in many media opportunities. Why the media? I think because it has recourse to the market viz. advertisement, a way our society has been conditioned to think over the expanse of commercial capitalism through the 20th century, booming in the later half. The question is, for us, whether the right way forward is to try and stop this machine (Benjamin’s update in Agamben) or, because the economic is primary, to purge the corruption (reappropriating Marx’s ideas towards something brighter). I’m not sure.


    • evan773 says:

      I too found the article on the religious origins of fake news to be interesting.

      I agree with you that the Religious Right and the SJWs are just two sides of the same coin. During my time in evangelicalism, the “Christian worldview” stuff never struck me as anything but a vain effort to claim divine aegis for the identity politics of white, middle-class conservative Christians. It always amazed me how the “Christian worldview” looked amazingly like the world of the 1950s, i.e., a world where women, blacks, Mexicans, and gays knew their place. And if God is on your side, you don’t really need to come up with rational reasons to support your policy proposals.

      And, yes, the “Christian worldview” stuff is the origin of the divisive politics that characterizes evangelicalism. But the fundamentalist underpinnings of evangelicalism largely carried over from the early twentieth century. Evangelicalism differed from fundamentalism by marrying those precepts to a political ideology.

      The “God gap” appears to be widening. I still accept the merits of evangelical theology, broadly defined (i.e., along the lines of Bebbington’s definition). Even so, I don’t see those beliefs as inconsistent with the historical-critical method, with evolution, with an old earth, etc. When I first joined up with the evangelical movement in the 1990s, there were some number of evangelicals like me. But our number is slowly dwindling. Incidentally, most of us aren’t leaving for a mainline church, or even for Catholicism. Most of us have just stopped attending. I recently joined a group that meets to do a 10-mile run every Sunday morning. About half of us are “dechurched evangelicals,” who all have the same complaint: As our churches sought to become more strident about enforcing the boundaries between elites and non-elites, we just didn’t feel like we had a place any longer. Increasingly, there are few viable church options for orthodox Protestants who don’t buy into all the elements of the “Christian worldview.”

    • I had a number of points of disagreement with the piece on fake news. However, I think it identified a very real problem and I don’t want to quibble too much on the details in order to dodge the challenge.

      I think reason is underestimated if it is reduced to a rationalizing function. However, I think that in many contexts, this is exactly what it does—and rationalization has its place and importance. Establishing conditions for reason to exceed mere rationalization is a difficult task and typically requires social structures of discourse. Few can accomplish this independently. There is a lot of bunk in neuroscience, though.

      • evan773 says:

        True. But I think that’s why increasing numbers of creative-class professionals feel adrift within evangelical churches. Most such churches lack any robust institutional process for allowing reason to triumph over rationalization. And it needs it now more than ever, with the proliferation of “Christian” media sources whose content rarely rises above the level of outrage porn and a Christianized form of identity politics.

        Even on the Mere-O blog, I notice that some writers start off every piece with a false dichotomy, usually an assumed dichotomy between conservative Christians and progressives. But there just aren’t that many progressives out there, as Bernie’s failed campaign showed. They’re probably no more than 15% of the population. And very few members of the meritocratic elite are progressives. But progressives make a much easier sparring partner, so Christian writers have a tendency to ignore the more cogent objections to their ideas and to focus instead on those objections that are often the least cogent and the easiest to ridicule. For example, why doesn’t ERLC invite someone like Wes Hill to speak at its annual anti-homosexuality brouhaha? Well, that’s easy. Engaging with Wes requires thoughtful reflection, and that’s just not something that Southern Baptists leaders tend to do. And Wes is largely on their side?

        But members of the meritocratic elite largely move in a culture where reason generally wins out over rationalization, or at least puts up a good fight most of the time. I work at a large DC law firm. Most of my colleagues are not liberals. They, like most members of the meritocracy, are probably better described as pragmatists, utilitarians, or non-ideological libertarians. But they’re not liberals. Sure, they may support legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, but they do so for very different reasons–and, usually, far more cogent reasons–than liberals. As a lawyer, I always draft my briefs and motions with the assumption that the other side will respond with the most cogent arguments they have. So, I spend a fair bit of time thinking about the other side’s argument, even as I develop my own. If there are inconvenient facts, I have to deal with them and incorporate them into my argument. That inevitably makes my position more nuanced, but it also makes it more truthful and more persuasive. So, it bothers me when evangelicals stop caring about whether what they say publicly is truthful and persuasive. I slowly became convinced that evangelicals generally entered the public square more as trolls than as intellectually honest interlocutors. That’s nowhere more evident than in their refusal to engage with the most cogent objections to their political and theological positions, and, instead, to engage with other trolls from the complete opposite side of the political spectrum. That’s not what people who value truth do.

        The last straw for me was when my friend, Larycia Hawkins, was let go from Wheaton College. She and I disagree on a fair bit. But if raising kids within evangelicalism requires keeping them from the allegedly dangerous ideas of someone like Larycia, then I question whether the movement is really all that concerned with engaging in a dialectic process that leads to truth. Instead, it looks like a movement much more interested in “alternative facts” and “truthiness” than truth.

        I think that Christian academics often fail to appreciate just how difficult evangelicalism is for comparably educated people in other professions. That’s my chief criticism of Wes Hill’s work. You’ve carved out comfy spaces within Christian academia, and can generally surround yourself in a cocoon of other Christian intellectuals. If your church sucks–and it probably does, if you’re an evangelical–then you can just retreat to the comfort of the community of Christian scholars and pastors among whom you move the rest of the week. So, there are plenty of reasons for you to maintain your affiliation with the evangelical church aside from what you do on Sunday morning. But the rest of us head off to law firms, research labs, investment banks, and advertising agencies. Whether we’re evangelicals or not matters little in that world. So, if that ninety minutes on Sunday morning doesn’t nurture me spiritually, then it’s a massive waste of time. And that likely explains why a lot of overworked, overstressed professionals are doing something else on Sunday mornings besides going to church.

        To borrow Andrew Sullivan’s lexicography, too most evangelical church communities center around Christianism as opposed to Christianity. Church leaders generally appreciate this fact, and probably wouldn’t even want to attend their own churches if they were honest. But they have a vested interest in not rocking the boat. And they can usually find Christianity during the week via fellowship with other pastors and scholars. So, they just continue to superintend a slowly sinking ship. To be honest, I might do the same thing if put into the same position.

      • cal says:


        Those are some insightful words about how Evangelicals in Christian Academia can “weather the storm”. I’ll be thinking about that over the week.

        I wanted to rebut part of what you said though, about your colleagues being not-liberal, but pragmatists etc. I think part of the problem here is that you’re still stuck in thinking out political options through expressed ideas, cogently or not, that are the hall-mark of SJWs and world-view types. Rather, I think your colleagues might even be more “liberal” than the SJW because it is explicitly non-idea based. A rational calculation involves assessing the playing-field as it is and seeking the best course of action. For that to mean, today, that this means being open to homosexual marriage or abortion means social consensus has shifted. These things have not, by and large, become any different than they ever were. But social structures have changed in such ways that this becomes the new common-sense for articulating a decision. The fact that it is non-ideological can reveal the fact at how deeply ideological it is, so deep it becomes a landmark in the social geography we look at before we make a decision. In this way, your colleagues are both pathetic and the real movers and shakers: the former because they’ve basically given themselves over, whether willingly or not, to the new status quo, but the latter because this is how, generally, things work in real life. Even though it’s more interesting to look at a firebrand, his potency depends on a whole lot of hay.

      • evan773 says:


        Note that I used the term “progressive,” not “liberal.” I did that intentionally to avoid the dual meaning that “liberal” often has.

        To me, the key difference is between those whose ethics is undergirded by a kind of epistemic idealism (evangelicals, SJWs, BLMs, worldview types, etc.) and those whose ethics is undergirded by a kind of epistemic realism (cognitive elites). Most evangelical writers fail to appreciate elite thinking because they wrongly assume that it rests on a sort of epistemic idealism. Most elites are far more interested in individual autonomy than they are in pushing society toward any particular outcomes. That likely explains why many elites conduct their personal affairs in a socially conservative manner, even while opposing political social conservatism.

        Evangelicals tend to be hierarchical authoritarians, who believe that we need a powerful authority to ensure that the right kinds of people are allowed to rule and that the wrong kinds of people are required to submit.

        SJWs are also authoritarians, but of a radically egalitarian bent. They believe that we need powerful authorities to produce equal outcomes.

        Elites are generally individualists who disfavor any kind of external authority, except for a minimal amount of authority to punish those who harm others without consent.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

      So I finally got to the article on the alleged religious element that led to fake news.

      Underwhelming is probably the best way to put it. If all that were required of fake news was that someone in the press promulgated something that turned out to not be true the election of Trump by the Electoral College revealed the majority of the mainstream American press to be have generated fake news. At this point for anyone center or left to be concerned about fake news when outlets like Slate and the New Yorker were just about telling people they could only vote for Clinton and when comedians were presuming a Clinton victory in spite of the Electoral College system still being what it is, venting about fake news seems like some kind of transference or displacement.

      A lot of what passes for religion journalism can seem like either “fake news” or advertising copy. I haven’t read much of anything about RHE in the last two years that didn’t seem like the kind of advertising copy as news I used to see in connection with Driscoll. For people who were at Mars Hill over the last ten to twenty years the majority of coverage that was accepted as the media narrative was often essentially “fake news” to people who could actually observe what was going on. It wasn’t until 2012 moving forward the press began to belatedly catch up to what people inside the scene had been able to observe.

      And attempting to pin the start of fake news in anything like the Scopes trial depends on a willfully simplistic reading of what happened.

  2. Ian Miller says:

    As someone who finds Harry Potter aesthetically mediocre and morally horrifying, I think Alexander is far, far to kind to the obsessive Potter analogies and LARPing on Twitter. But I can’t be too harsh to someone who says that we don’t deserve The Silmarillion, because it’s too awesome.

    Because it is.

    I am very sad that it’s Harry Potter that has the currency that makes it easy to grasp – but I do understand it. As a lit critter, I love the touchstones and imaginative encouragement a favorite story connecting with real life has.

    I don’t quite follow why we’re supposed to lay off Yglesias according to Alexander, though? His selected example and commentary were pretty damning.

    I partially agree about the celebrities making political statements, but I think the uproar against them focuses on the condescending video conglomerations they’ve been pumping out, not people making statements and writing articles.

    As someone who until recently did not really see the differences between men and women as inherent or inborn (actually, your article about men and women’s affect on each other in the realm of debate and discussion had a major impact on my thinking about this issue), I’m still struggling with what those differences are, and how we can enforce gender performance norms so it helps people and society be happier and more virtuous, while still providing some space for people on the margins of those perfomances.

    Lastly, as a 30 year old man who has seven younger siblings, has volunteered in church nursery since he was 13, and thinks that men should not be awkward or afraid of their own or other’s children, the article on not allowing men to be alone with children frustrates me. I’ve dealt with it for five years at my current church, and though I understand the necessity, I don’t think isolation is necessarily going to change things, and I worry that it’s going to enervate the desire of men to develop relationships with children at all. It’s possible I just don’t like being treated like a rabid dog.

    • It is tempting to get irritated with incessant Harry Potter references. I certainly often do. However, a few considerations give me pause, some of which I discussed here. One of these considerations is the fact that the Internet includes a far broader swathe of the population in conversations that would previously have been rather exclusive. We may believe that people are getting stupider, but our impression probably has much to do with the fact that our cultural conversation is less elite. Much of the population simply hasn’t read widely and we should be thankful that they have even read Harry Potter. I would love if our political analogies came from Scripture, classic mythology, and Shakespeare, but Harry Potter really is a lot better than some of the other options out there.

      And, yes, I think you are right about condescending celebrity videos. It is one thing for celebrities to speak out in the ways that they can, quite another for them to speak down to the rest of the population.

      The gender issue is a huge one. ‘Enforcing’ may not be the most felicitous or appropriate term in the context. ‘Roles’ are about a sort of social choreography, within which the individual is assisted to rise to a greater stature, while ideally being given the room to make the roles that most suit them their own (and there are typically a variety of roles on offer to us). It isn’t just imposed from without.

      I share some of your frustration with the childminding article. I occasionally childmind for friends, and am grateful for their trust in me. I have valued the opportunity to form good relationships with kids. I also am thankful that my parents trusted men to look after me as a child and young teen too. The intergenerational friendships I formed with them were powerfully formative for me.

      All of this said, however, the caution isn’t irrational and I need to put my own feelings to one side and think about how to assess, recognize, and bear the great risks that exist in these areas. There are ways around these situations in a number of cases. A couple of men could look after children together, lowering the risks. Or they could look after the children in more public locations, etc. Children, and perhaps young boys in particular, really need to develop healthy relationships with men.

      • Ian Miller says:

        I’m not against taking precautions – the ones you suggest make a lot of sense to me. But the article itself, and the attitude I’ve faced in my own church, are not even trying to fix the situation – it’s pure retreat from the problem. An irrational solution to a rational problem.

      • It is an extreme response to the problem; I’m not sure it can simply be dismissed as an irrational one. Unless we have good ways of calculating relative risks, some people may just be more risk-averse. They are taking an extreme course of action, but, if you are very risk-averse in these areas, it is a rational thing to do.

        I strongly disagree with the suggested course of action. However, I think we are no less tempted to retreat from the problem. Dismissing the proposed solution as extreme is not the same thing as wrestling with the risks ourselves and proposing our own alternative responses to them.

      • cal says:

        Alastair & Ian:
        Per the gender issue: I can’t recall the name, but an American historian has made the claim that gender did not exist in colonial/national America until the 19th century. This sounded completely absurd to me, but a colleague clarified this for me. The claim is that in the 19th century, gender took on the form of an abstract category, some identified within the interior life, that was alien prior. This had to do, I think, with increased wealth and the separation of the home from the economy. Prior to this, social roles, and role-playing, took the place of gender. As in there was no sense of femininity, but the biological sex female participated in the roles of sister, mother, wife, which meant social behaviors, but also economic functions (i.e. there was a husband’s work, a wife’s work, etc etc.). I wonder reintroducing this evolution of a concept (sexed social role to gender) might reorganize how we think about this. I’m curious as to what you think.

      • I think that claim, like similar claims made about heterosexuality/homosexuality, is overstated, but is on the right track. The ‘roles’ framing is a little misleading, though. Women didn’t ‘participate in the roles of sister, mother, wife,’ they just were these things. In part because there wasn’t the same opposition between the individual and the socially defined self.

  3. Physiocrat1 says:

    I don’t buy the male babysitting position. I’ve read stats on child abuse in the past which essentially say that children are in fact more likely to be sexually abused by women although this is more likely due them spending more time with them. My main objection is that many boys and girls would hugely benefit from male influence but this attitude just makes all men who want to work with children as paedos in waiting.

    • I don’t buy it either, but the position isn’t an irrational one, and should be answered, rather than dismissed. I very strongly agree with your point that many boys and girls need male influences. However, I don’t believe that this addresses the real challenge that the article presents, which is how we are to measure, respond to, and assume the real risks.

      • Physiocrat1 says:

        I just double checked where I’d read contradictory stats on sexual abuse. It was in fact about abuse more generally to children so I take that specific point back however many women are involved in child abuse generally,

        See the section entitled Physical abuse (the neglect section is interesting too here).

        A key point to remember though is that child abuse is still rather rare, particularly sexual abuse, so the probability of your child being abused is low (especially if it’s not the parent conducting the abuse- it would be interesting to see how much abuse is suffered by children brought up by their biological parents and are married, I suspect the figures go even lower). This is why I am fed up of the focusing on relative rarities which lead to legislation and parental boundaries being made on the exceptions not the general rule; it’s as if there’s a paedo in every closet. It leads to stifling helicopter parenting and further harms good inter-generational relationships.

        All that said of course you have to take account of the risks particularly when the children are away from you (as a father of four small children this is a question I’ll have to deal with more in the future). Of all the restrictions highlighted the sleepover prohibition is probably one of the more sensible ones. The best thing to do, although not necessarily practical, is to enter a group of friends/ family who all know each other such that there’s a low probability of someone you don’t know being there.

      • evan773 says:

        I don’t have kids. But it does seem that parenting has changed. My brother and I would generally wander around the neighborhood with our dog in the evening without a care in the world. We often weren’t sure that our parents even wanted kids. My father rarely came home from his law office before 9 p.m., although I’d sometimes ride my bike into town to have dinner with him at Frisch’s Big Boy across from his office. I remember doing this as young as 8 or 9. My mom just sat on the back porch reading novels, drinking Tab, and smoking cigarettes. I generally doubt that the world is any less safe today than it was then. I sometimes wonder whether we didn’t just voluntarily relinquish what we had without anyone ever taking it away from us.

  4. Geoff says:

    Male babysitting.
    In the UK single men can foster or adopt female children. As someone who has been through a Local Council training fostering progamme with my wife, and approved, I have greater awareness of my own vulnerability when with children, and that through “safeguarding processes for children” I am also “safeguarding” myself against misunderstandings and false accusations, so the upshot is, I’d not be alone with a child in any place that was not public. What you may consider to be innocent, may have been used in grooming a child in their eatlier upbringing, or may have been taught by anxious parents of something to be avoided or to report. This is also the safeguarding policy in church.

    A simple illustration from a few years ago. A child was waiting with their dog, outside a shop in village in England. I like dogs, so waiting for my wife, I tried to make some conversation about the dog. It resulted in a sharp “I’ve been told not to speak to anyone by mummy. ” I doubt my wife would have garnered that response.

    I left pondering how far society has fallen, the anxiety of the age, and what general impression of men is being promulgated.

    However, abuse by female carers, while perhaps statisically less significant doesn’t seem to attract such wariness or approbation.

  5. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Physiocrat – I was interested and concerned when I read this in your comment ‘…child abuse is rather rare..’ I can’t comment on the US, but in the UK child abuse (with the possible exception of ‘stranger danger’) is less rare than some people might suppose – according to the NSPCC child abuse often goes unreported. It is a covert crime which is usually witnessed only by the child and the perpetrator, and most perpetrators deny it and say that the children are lying. The majority of abused children are abused by someone known to them. Many children who are afraid to report the abuse to the police are more ready to receive support in confidence from agencies such as the NSPCC.

    • Physiocrat1 says:

      Hi Quinnjones2,

      It is difficult to measure the true extent of abuse due to reasons you cite above. However, my suspicion, is that if you calculated the number of recorded abused children (possibly even adding an estimate for unrecorded abuses- note you need to count children not number of abuses since you could have a single child with many abuses ) as a proportion of the population it would be small and thus relatively new a low probability compared with other problems children face. This would be further smaller when you excluded parental abuse which isn’t really relevant to the babysitting and related questions.

      I am am not saying child abuse is not a problem but that the probability of abuse needs to be compared with other childhood issues and the potential losses of prohibiting an action to be on the safe side.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi Physiocrat, I am more concerned about the severe harm done to abused children than I am about the estimation that they are in a minority (according to the NSPCC 1 in 20 children are abused – I think one child is one child too many) I don’t know the statistics for children being abused by a babysitter – deciding on which babysitters to trust is a difficult choice for parents. At a safeguarding course I attended the speaker said that, with abusers, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and many people are shocked when they discover that they’ve been taken in by an abuser who had ‘groomed’ an entire family. Met Police Commander Peter Spindler said that Jimmy Saville ‘groomed a nation’ – spot on! That said, we don’t want to wrap our children in cotton wool and look upon every babysitter as a potential abuser…but we do need to keep our wits about us.

  6. Paul Baxter says:

    File under Current Reading.

    I’m about half way through Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head.

    Crawford’s previous book, Shop Class As Soulcraft was one of my favorite books, but I’m enjoying this one even more. The subject of the book is the seemingly simple topic of the way we attend to the world around us. Crawford’s writing, though, leaves me astounded on nearly every page.

    If you happen to see a copy lying around somewhere, it would be worth sitting down to read the chapter entitled Autism As A Design Principle: Gambling.

    A good portion of Crawford’s argument is that our prevailing thoughts about the world, and liberalism in particular, leaves us totally unequipped to deal with the forces pulling us every which way in our contemporary world.

  7. Geoff says:

    The movement from babysitting to Jimmy Saville is a false one – there is no equivalence. Saville’s case was multi – factorial and to say that Saville “groomed a nation” is a facile comment that panders to current terminology. The worship of celebrity and the free pass and sense of entitlement and unquestioned authority that goes with it, together with prominent charitable works so lauded by society, the libertine, guiltless, sexual mores of the age, particularly those espoused and promoted within the music industry, were all factors that played a part. Not so, generally, with babysitting.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Hi Geoff,
      Given that I mentioned Jimmy Saville, I will respond to your comment about this. Most paedophiles use grooming tactics – some use grooming on a small scale, such as with a family and a local community, but paedophiles such as Jimmy Saville, because of their celebrity, have considerable scope for using grooming tactics on a grander scale. I did not move directly from babysitting to Saville – I linked paedophile grooming tactics on a small scale to paedophile grooming tactics on a grand scale. If you are still unable to accept my point about this I will make no further attempt to prove my point because I think that for me to make such an attempt would be yet another distraction from the central tragedy of the plight of victims of CSA and rape.

  8. Geoff says:

    Yes, quinnjones2, I agree that grooming takes place, but go on to say that Saville groomed a nation, goes far too far and to my mind downplays the sometimes subtle techniques and psychological manipulations, over time, of groomers.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Hi Geoff, Thank you for your comment. You are not the only person who thinks that the Met Police Commander went too far when he said that, but I think it was fair comment. For instance (as I am sure you know) Savile did charitable work at Stoke Mandeville Hospital for a long time. His celebrity, his popular ‘public image’, gave him the opportunity to have access to vulnerable youngsters in the hospital – youngsters whom he then abused. I would not be at all surprised if he covered his tracks by using ‘subtle techniques and psychological manipulations’ to put the staff off the scent. To my knowledge many people, taken in by Saville’s public image of being a ‘good guy’, initially found it hard to believe that he could have been a serial sex abuser. When they finally accepted that their ‘hero’ had feet of clay, they hated him. If ‘the nation’ (if we?) had not put Savile on a pedestal in the first place, he would have had no pedestal to fall from…and yet, he was such an accomplished deceiver that I find it hard to blame people who were taken in by him. I pray for the healing and restoration of his victims. What I have to say next is the public arena, so I am breaking no confidences – a former member of our church is currently reaching the end of a prison sentence for historic sex abuse of a minor. He told no one that he had been arrested, and the first anyone knew about it was when a report of his preliminary court hearing appeared in a local newspaper. More than one person commented to me, ‘He groomed the whole church’. He worked hard at maintaining his ‘pillar of the church’ image, and we did not suspect that he had that dark secret.

      • Geoff says:

        To say that the Church in your example was groomed is an error of category, as is the statement that the nation was groomed. The criminal offence was not a one of “grooming “, nor was it committed against the church.
        As a former solicitor it is not unusual for those charged with offences to keep it from family.
        Having both prosecuted and defended in courts, deception is a key aspect of most crimes, of criminal intent in furtherance of the criminal act.
        The church has been deceived, some parts of society were deceived by Saville but they were not groomed in order to carry out an offence against them. So deceived, yes, groomed, no. For that reason the term groomed has becomes diluted when it used in place of deception.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Is there one Geoff with two accounts, or two Geoffs with one account each? I’m just about ready to give up completely on online conversations – I’m heaps better at face-to-face.

  9. Geoff says:

    Hello Christine,
    As far as I can tell all the comments on Alistair’s blog under the name of Geoff are from one person, me.
    Sometimes they are from my phone, sometimes laptop, but I suspect that is not what you are getting at.
    I have been a solicitor, an independent advocate in a mental health charity and in management in the NHS.
    To me the point about grooming is wider than the use of the word.
    Today there is a tendency to describe rather than define and to misappropriate and then misapply, sometimes to the point of destruction, the original meaning of words. Perhaps, Alistair has already written about this.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Thank you for explaining, Geoff. I did wonder if a second Geoff had come into the conversation and I became very much aware of my own difficulties with online conversations when I can neither see nor hear the author of the words I read, and often know little about the author of those words. I have for as long as I can remember given great attention to both listening to people and to observing non-verbal communication. My attention to listening led me to learn and teach foreign languages and my attention to non-verbal communication may have arisen because I grew up with a profoundly deaf father (war-disabled) who was heavily dependent on non-verbal communication. Online I am largely unable to use the skills I do have and I also seem to lack the skills I need for effective online communication.
      At any rate, I have a great interest in language and in language registers, and also in language usage and the way that some words and phrases are commonly used and understood without necessarily being technically correct. One example of usage which irritated me for a while is when, in response to the question, ‘Who is it?’, many people reply, ‘It’s me’, when grammatically speaking, they should say, ‘It is I.’ .I am no longer irritated by this, and I no longer quibble about it. I know there has been I/me debate but I just accept ‘me’ now because I know what people mean by it!
      Regarding the use of the word ‘grooming’ I have heard it used in the way the Met Commander used it by people I respect and regard as authority figures and I think they would be surprised if they were told that they were using the term incorrectly. I had not realised that it had specific legal significance. I checked online after I read your post and I am still not much the wiser. I read that it recently became an offence to meet a minor for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity after grooming the minor online, but I have yet to find any information about grooming being an offence in itself. I do wonder about this:
      A grooms B (a minor) for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with B
      and this:
      A grooms C (parent(s) of B) with the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with B by winning the trust of C, who then permits A and B to be alone together.
      So many people use ‘groom’ in the sense of an untrustworthy person using a range of tactics to win the trust of others. Maybe this usage is legally incorrect but it is commonly used and understood just as ‘It’s me’, which is grammatically incorrect, is commonly used and understood.


  10. Geoff says:


    1 Sexual offences existed well before the term “grooming” came to be used in this context. It wasn’t used when I was in the law. I suspect that it came into being from the field of social science and social work rather from the legal professions, but I stand to be corrected.

    2 “Grooming” is not an offence in itself.

    3 “Grooming” is a loaded , emotive descriptive term. It is sprayed about without being defined by people who, to my mind, ought to know better, such as the Met Commander. He may have had his own purposes for doing so, For example to deflect from systematic failings. (see Alistair’s writings)

    4 Again, this is in different category to grammatical error. As an aside, in any large scale enquiry into prominent child abuse cases I’ve not heard it said that social workers, medics, health care professionals, the police were “groomed” the offenders. Yes, systematic and individual failings, grooming, no.

    5 In the examples the nation, the church and C were not “groomed”. They were misled, lied to, conned, tricked, deceived, manipulated all things that are not exclusive to sexual offences

    6 I’d suggest common coinage is not a reason to perpetuate its misuse, but to keep it’s use to exclusively relate to those sexually abused is the retain the abhorrence of the offence. But now I’ll start to repeat myself, so I’ll draw line under this now.

  11. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Geoff,
    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I can only reply briefly for now because I am preparing to move house in a few weeks and am attending to documentation just now.
    I wondered about the origins of the now wide use of ‘grooming’ in connection with sex offenders. I did a search and found an interesting piece on a book about it. I can’t copy and paste on this computer, and I’m likely to make mistakes if I try to copy out the link manually as it is very, very long, but here is the title of the book which you can find online if you are interested:
    ” ‘Grooming’ and the Sexual Abuse of Children: Institutional, Internet, and Familial Dimensions”
    By Ann-Marie McAlinden 2012
    Oxford Scholarship Online
    I haven’t read the book, but I notice that there is a chapter headed ‘The grooming of children, families, and communities.’
    If you have read this book already, please accept my apologies for sending coals to Newcastle!

  12. Geoff says:

    Hello Christine,

    Hope this helps.

    This is the official Ox Uni Press Description of the book:
    ‘Grooming’ and the Sexual Abuse of Children: Institutional, Internet and Familial Dimensions critically examines the official and popular discourses on grooming, predominantly framed within the context of online sexual exploitation and abuse committed by strangers, and institutional child abuse committed by those in positions of trust.

    Set against the broader theoretical framework of risk, security and governance, this book argues that due to the difficulties of drawing clear boundaries between innocuous and harmful motivations towards children, pre-emptive risk-based criminal law and policy are inherently limited in preventing, targeting and criminalising ‘grooming’ behaviour prior to the manifestation of actual harm. Through examination of grooming against the complexities of the onset of sexual offending against children and its actual role in this process, the author broadens existing discourses by providing a fuller, more nuanced conceptualisation of grooming, including its role in intra-familial and extra-familial contexts. There is also timely discussion of new and emerging forms of grooming, such as ‘street’ or ‘localised’ grooming, as typified by recent cases in Rochdale and Oldham, and ‘peer-to-peer’ grooming.

    The first inter-disciplinary, thematic, and empirical investigation of grooming in a multi-jurisdictional context, ‘Grooming’ and the Sexual Abuse of Children draws on extensive empirical research in the form of over fifty interviews with professionals, working in the fields of sex offender risk assessment, management or treatment, as well as child protection or victim support in the four jurisdictions of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Impeccably presented and meticulously considered, this book will be of interest to criminologists and those working and studying in the field of policing and criminal justice studies, as well as policy makers and practitioners in the areas of child protection and sex offender management.”

    This is the official overview:
    “Aids understanding of the role of the grooming process in child sexual abuse and what can be done to prevent it
    Provides a critical overview of the key issues concerning sex offender treatment and management across a range of disciplines, including child protection, penal policy making, and the role of the media
    Illustrates the various dimensions of the grooming process as experienced by professionals working with sex offenders in treatment and management processes
    Includes a detailed examination of key recent legislative developments in the UK in relation to sex offender risk management”

    This is the table of contents:

    1: Introduction
    2: The Nature and Extent of Sexual Grooming
    3: Legislative and Policy Frameworks on Sex Offender Risk Management
    4: The Grooming of Children, Families and Communities
    5: ‘Institutional Grooming’ and Abuse
    6: Legislative and Policy Responses to Grooming
    7: The Way Ahead: Prevention and Protection
    8: Conclusion
    Appendix 1: Research Methodology
    Appendix 2: Interview Schedule

    Still doesn’t define grooming (but may) but seems to start from a presumed common professional, social science and criminology theoretical starting point and it is limited in scope in its predominant framing and theory, seeking to understand how and why within systems?

    The penultimate paragraph of the overview does not say the professionals were themselves groomed.

    The blog does mention Rochdale and Oldham in the linked blog. They were complex , but the bottom line was a criminal gangland way of working.

    And this is from that official blog:
    “As an extension of the concept of institutional grooming, sex offenders may seek to manipulate professionals who are charged with their assessment, treatment, or management into discounting their risk to children.”

    It refers to manipulation of professionals, (this is what criminals do) not grooming of professionals. Precisely my point. It is a misstep to extrapolate this to a statment that Saville groomed professionals and organisations and indeed the nation, as it was multi-factorial (see my first comment in this link.)

    I ask the implied questions in my comments. Were you “groomed” by Saville? I wasn’t.

    Was the Met Commander, “groomed” by Saville? Would he agree that he was? He is overstating and overreaching to say the nation was.

    I repeat this is so far from babysitting and the original link, unless it is on an institutional scale and is what drew my first comment, as it was off topic, a scatter gun approach to advocacy.

    Hope the move goes smoothly. I know you will not be persuaded.

    Have a reductionist lent, Alistair.

  13. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Geoff,
    Thank you – that is interesting on a complex subject.
    Thank you, too, for your good wishes re; my house move

  14. quinnjones2 says:

    Thank you, Alastair, for the link ‘When it comes to heart attacks, women are different from men’, which I found informative and helpful. For instance I had never heard of ‘broken heart syndrome’ before reading the article, and I was especially thankful for that information when a tearful lady at our church said to me on Sunday, ‘I think I am dying of a broken heart.’ She is in her early eighties and was widowed two years ago. If I had not read about ‘broken heart syndrome’ I would probably have thought that dying of broken heart was an impossibility. As it was, I just lay my hand on her shoulder. Then she said that she was going out for lunch with her two daughters, and she smiled a little. I don’t know what else to say about this, but I just thought I’d

  15. Justin says:

    Hi there, Alastair – I wanted to say “thank you!” for your writing, introduce myself, and ask a question. My name’s Justin, I’m 27, I live in Seoul, South Korea, and I have a blog called Spirit You All where I write about Christian indie music (I haven’t had time to update in several months, but will be back to work on it soon):

    I’m dissatisfied with a lot of evangelical accounts of Scripture’s “inerrancy”, and I’m wondering if there’s any reading you could recommend that might be helpful. My questions mostly revolve around how modernity’s conception of “truth” obscures HOW the Scriptures are actually true, as well as some more specific questions like at what point the Old Testament narrative begins to reflect concrete history (Adam and Eve? Noah? Abraham? Moses?). Thanks a lot!

    • Thanks, Justin!

      Yes, many evangelical accounts of inerrancy can operate in terms of a weak or poorly developed understanding of truth. The question of how the Scriptures are true is one to which we must give much more attention. For instance, Scripture isn’t just about propositional claims that certain things are the case, but about God’s truth to his people. God is relationally trustworthy, not merely factually accurate. We shouldn’t pit these things against each other, but if we truly grasp this point, a number of further realizations might follow. For instance, how would our doctrines of election change if we took more seriously the fact that Scripture presents it, not in the form of an abstract claim that God has elected a certain body of people, but in a vocative manner, as God addresses a particular concrete body of people as his own.

      At many points it seems clear that particular scriptural accounts aren’t straightforwardly engaged in the sort of historiography with which we are accustomed. In such cases, rather than framing things in terms of the binary of truth or falsity, I believe we would benefit from asking better questions about genre. Inerrancy shouldn’t predetermine such questions of genre, although I fear that, in the popular evangelical mind, it often can.

      I do think we need to be careful of how we handle such questions, though. It is easy for us to take our historiography as the standard by which Scripture is assessed, rather than reading Scripture on its own terms. For instance, questions such as those concerning the historicity of early accounts in Genesis are at risk of failing to engage with the truth of Scripture on its own terms. We risk downgrading the truth of Scripture as it feels to meet up to our expectations. Here the concerns of more hardline inerrantists are justified.

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