"The Sky Shall Be Aflame" Edition
Another Monday morning,
You want to be at home,
You're half-asleep and yawning,
At least you have,,,THE ZONE.
Obligatory shilling. I wrote for UnHerd about the American Humanist Association stripping Richard Dawkins of his 1996 Humanist of the Year award. I also paid tribute to Professor Dawkins’ tweets.
For Spectator USA, I wrote a few words about the escalating violence of gender reveal parties, but also a qualified defence of people who hold them.
Cardinal preferences. Why are institutions so progressive? Richard Hanania argues that it is because progressives care more about politics:
Only a small minority of the public ever bothers to try to influence a corporation, school, or non-profit to reflect certain values, whether from the inside or out.
In an evenly divided country, if one side simply cares more, it’s going to exert a disproportionate influence on all institutions, and be more likely to see its preferences enacted in the time between elections when most people aren’t paying much attention.
It is not just that, of course. Nothing ever is just that. One could also point to the expansion of higher ed, declining birthrates, political correctness et cetera. But I think Hanania has a point. Conservatives often make fun of progressives for being, in some cases, over-earnest oddballs who obsess about politics instead of getting hobbies, and families and real jobs. But what if that actually helps?
To be honest, I'm a prime example. I want to be a writer. The idea of doing politics as an activity makes the skin fall off my face. Is that true of progressive commentators? Sure, some. But fewer.
Could have beens. In Liverpool last week, in a curious coincidence, a retired boxer and a retired MMA fighter were sentenced to prison for their membership in different drug gangs. Obviously, there is no excuse for what they did. Still, I feel like retired combat sportsmen are in the most poignant position of all retired athletes. Not only has the money and the stardom gone but so has the sense of one's life building up towards maximal intensity. The urge to utilise their reputations must, in some cases, be great.
Varieties of reaction. The always interesting and provocative Tanner Greer writes on the more traditionalist elements of the “New Right” and the problems with its populist leanings:
Pappin’s despised “anti-immigration libertarians” who supports a “strong military” but otherwise have “no vision for how the government is to be used at all” are not aberrations; their philosophy is not some sort of snake oil being sold to unsuspecting voters. The “salesmanship” of these activists succeeds only because of existing demand for their wares.
As I once wrote, in a British context:
I think some post-liberals absorb that voters are “socially conservative” and assume it means they yearn for bucolic traditionalism rather than hanging paedos and banning Sharia law.
This does not mean traditionalists are wrong, of course. It just means that they should not underestimate the magnitude of their ambitions.
Polish ghosts. A very entertaining article by Maria Wilczek about abandoned places in Poland. I hope to some to visit some of them - especially the unfinished nuclear power plant.
Cults vs. religions. At UnHerd, Ed West draws a valuable distinction:
...the religious fervour of our age is better described as cultish rather than religious — and the differences are important.
Cult members are expected to give everything, body and soul, and this means keeping away from non-believing friends, and even denouncing family members who oppose the cult’s goals.
Lives. Razib Khan reflects on the cost of crime in the USA:
A single year’s increase in black homicide victims alone then is 10 times the annual total of black Americans killed by police.
A muse, an amusement. John Sutherland's new biography of Philip Larkin's long-suffering longtime companion Monica Jones is a valuable corrective to the image of her as a stuffy old shrew. Jones was a rather striking, passionately literary working class women who became an academic in a time where that was not especially common for members of either group and helped to nurture many of Larkin's greatest poems into existence. No doubt she could also be a sad, mean, bitter, bigoted person but that does not make the last sentence less true. In a review of their letters, ten years ago, Philip Hensher wrote:
I don’t suppose [Larkin] was very good for Monica, and she was probably not all that good for him.
Or perhaps as two difficult people they were good for each other. Even difficult people need people.
Enter ghost. The author of a new biography of Philip Roth has been accused of rape. This is so acutely Philip Rothian that I wonder if the man is scripting reality from beyond the grave.
Evanescent pseudo-events. Writing for Covidian Aesthetics, Geoff Shullenberger riffs on the use of viral videos in the news and considers the evolution of events in public life:
9/11 was the climactic final event of the TV era, just before the internet became the dominant media technology. Covid, whose viral spread mirrors the operations of our volatile media dispensation, signals the completion of this shift. The new age it has inaugurated, lacking a central Event at its center, is dispersed into an endless series of crowdsourced and evanescent pseudo-events.
The greenhouse effect. Ron Ivey writes an affecting piece for the Plough about the sense of purpose that his unemployed grandfather found working in his greenhouse:
Cultivating these plants together with his son brought him back from the brink, back to life. Their relationship, marked by deep pains and grievances, might never be perfect, but somehow it was restored out there in the backyard while building something new together.
Controversial ideas. The Journal of Controversial Ideas has released its debut edition. Some of the titles alone justify the project. Rivka Weinberg's “Ultimate Meaning: We Don’t Have It, We Can’t Get It, and We Should Be Very, Very Sad” cracked me up for its bluntness. “Black Pete, King Balthasar, and the New Orleans Zulus: Can Black Make-Up Traditions Ever Be Justified?”, meanwhile, is entertainingly oblique. I'm looking forward to digging into the papers.
Newcomer. Esther O'Reilly has a Substack.
Blue factory flame. My favourite singer-songwriter is the late Jason Molina, who performed as Songs Ohia as well as under his own name. I can go for months without listening to his music but then, from time to time, I can listen to nothing else. Here are some great songs: “Being in Love”, “Blue Chicago Moon”, “Farewell Transmission”.
Have a lovely week,