April 30, 2023
My New Favorite Podcast?
I listened to Russell Brand's Stay Free yesterday. I came because he was interviewing Iain McGilchrist. I stayed because Brand is smart (I always figured he was a clown), fast, and funny. I've only listened to the McGilchrist episode but I'm getting a Rumble account just so I can subscribe to the full-length Stay Free episodes.
McGilchrist has been using a map analogy lately. He points out that the left hemisphere has a theory, a model, or a map, but it's not the reality. He goes on to say there's nothing wrong with a map, but a map is only useful because it leaves almost everything out. He then says,
A map wouldn't get more useful if you put in all the names of the children who live in the houses along the road.
Brand then interjects, "If the map was for pedophiles . . .". (19:50)
McGilchrist laughs and says, "Thank you for elevating the level of this conversation."
Two more useful points (time references, btw, are to the Apple Podcast episode which is an abbreviated show . . . I'm not sure how they match the full-length Rumble edition).
The way we look at something matters a lot. . . . The importance of relationship cannot be overstated. Everything is made of relations, not of things. The primary thing is relations and that things are the bits of this picture that stand out to us. 15:20
In the left hemisphere, there just appear to be these isolated things that it targets and then it moves to another target and so on. It sees the world as built-up from fragments and they have no meaning until they are put together in some kind of way. It sees them as static, so it can grab them easily, and familiar, contextualized disembodied, de-animated, and effectively something that is only of use.
Whereas in the right hemisphere you see that nothing is actually completely separate from anything else, but everything is connected in a sort of flowing web so it's not static. It's changing. And the context matters. When you take something out of context, you change it. The world is embodied. That it has emotional and moral value. That it is a living world, a complex and beautiful world. 16:14-17:14
April 29, 2023
Spiritual Advice from a Robot?
It's impossible. It's (roughly) the subject of the Monday column that will be published on May 1st.
Paul Kingsnorth goes to Mt. Athos, where priests are still human. It's not that way in other parts of the world.
“There is no getting away from any of this. The Machine is our new god, and our society is being constructed around its worship. But what of those who will not follow? How would we withdraw our consent? Could we? What would a refusal to worship look like – and what would be the price?”
April 28, 2023
April 27, 2023
Michael Snellen logs in with recent history.
April 26, 2023
April 25, 2023
One of the Most Beautiful Essays in Recent Memory
I need to look up this Sam Kriss guy. He wrote a beautiful essay last year for The Lamp that I somehow missed. That inestimable journal has generously posted the whole thing on its website. It's hard to be accurate and artistic at the same time. Mr. Kriss makes it look as easy as spraying graffiti.
The wild goats took Llandudno the following spring. Llandudno is a Victorian resort town in north Wales, on a low sandy isthmus between the mainland and the Great Orme, a huge rugged head of pagan limestone looming over the sea. I’d spent some time there—it’s a handsome and orderly place: neat hedges, a respectable pier, the hush of the zimmer-framed retirees. They formed the biggest chunk of its population; the old and dying were Llandudno’s last hope. Everywhere else had collapsed: the last few decades were kind to the old Kingdom of Gwynedd. What Thatcher did for the old pit communities in the south, Blair finished off everywhere. Towns like Conwy and Rhyl had become some of the poorest places in the country: mass unemployment, houses boarded up, whole generations that turned to heroin, that vast numbness, the chemical hug in an emptying world. . . . The old capitalist system wanted to exploit these places and the people that lived there, wear them down and use them up, consume them in various forms of degrading work. But the new, clean, depthless neoliberal order simply had no use for them at all. The automated economy of the future doesn’t need human labor-power; we don’t even need people to buy things any more, consumption is reserved for the rich.
April 24, 2023
An excerpt from my interview on Catholicism for the Modern World
April 23, 2023
Jonathan Rauch distinguishes canceling from mere criticism in that its practitioners seek "to organize and manipulate the social or media environment in order to isolate, deplatform or intimidate ideological opponents." Cancel culture isn't about seeking truth, he writes; it's "about shaping the information battlefield" in order to "coerce conformity and reduce the scope for forms of criticism that are not sanctioned by the prevailing consensus of some local majority."
April 22, 2023
Welcome to the Weekend
I'll be appearing on Catholicism for the Modern World this morning at 9:30. You can watch live or watch later.
April 21, 2023
My Daughter Octavia Graduates from College Soon
This Week's Brews You Can Use Column
April 20, 2023
Ian Fleming Published His First Bond Novel 70 Years Ago
Earlier this century, Sony was hacked and the script for the forthcoming Bond movie was leaked. Conan O'Brien on the incident:
The hackers who hacked into Sony have leaked the upcoming script for the new James Bond movie. Some of the executives said the news left them shaken but not stirred.
Christopher Hitchens, writing in The Atlantic Monthly, described Ian Fleming, as a "sadist, a narcissist, and an all-around repressed pervert." He further wrote:
[T]he central paradox of the classic Bond stories is that, although superficially devoted to the Anglo-American war against communism, they are full of contempt and resentment for America and Americans. And not just political contempt, or the penis envy of a declining power for a burgeoning one, but cultural contempt as well. And not just with cultural contempt in general, but more specifically disgust about America's plebeian interest in sex and consumerism, the two Bond staples. "Baseball, amusement arcades, hot dogs, hideously large bosoms, neon lighting" is how Tiger Tanaka mouths the anti-American trope in You Only Live Twice. And how does Bond react when praised by the exquisite Tatiana Romanova for his resemblance to an American film star? By barking, "For God's sake! That's the worst insult you can pay a man!"
April 19, 2023
Russell Kirk, Forgive Me
Russell Kirk famously threw a TV out the window in a protest against the screen's menace. Less famously, he forbad Star Wars discussions around his dinner table. Both were probably good ideas.
But alas, TDE humors its contributors and Michael Rodney is a big SW fan, so herewith:
April 18, 2023
I will be exploring the difference between the left hemisphere's method of focus and the right hemisphere's. For now, I only note that a cottage industry has risen around focus, concentration, meditation, and the desire to rid ourselves of distractions. It's a good thing, but there's a difference between focus as praying and focus as preying.
Also: The right hemisphere "yields a broad, vigilant attention" and the left hemisphere "yields narrow, focused attention, mainly for the purpose of getting and feeding." McGilchrist, The Matter with Things, 27.
This review-essay starts with the premise that we think that distraction is a contemporary problem, but then explores how it has always been a problem.
If you're thinking distraction is only a contemporary thing, you haven't cracked the spine of The Philokalia, which was so focused on focus that it devised borderline (borderline only?) heretical methods and ideas to deal with it.
April 17, 2023
The ESP and HH projects stand at nearly 100,000 words. This is my effort to condense and combine the projects into 2,000 words (with a 127-word synopsis at the beginning)
Modernity is embroiled in a death match with the left hemisphere, which is a chariot pulled by the twin horses of gnosticism and the 1%
This week's column marks a turn at TDE in two ways.
First, I have summarized the Existence Strikes Back project, combined with The Hemisphere Hypothesis. This summary will be prominently displayed at TDE over the next few months. The ESB project, especially when it pivoted to include the Hemisphere Hypothesis, simply became too unwieldy for new readers. The project needed an overview . . . a starting point.
Second, TDE is now embracing the moving essay. This morning's essay will shift, pivot, and move as the project develops. I consider this morning's essay as a mere framework. It needs to be built out (which is done in the various essays under the Existence Strikes Back tab). On top of that, the framework itself might shift over the next year or so as I tighten and "reframe" the issues, especially as I apply it to the current political milieu. You'll see this approach in other feature essays, as I add links and relevant videos as time goes on.
April 16, 2023
Episode Seven of Daisy Jones and the Six is Absolute Dogs***
TDE has twice endorsed this Amazon series, but it's pulling the endorsement. After the first three episodes, the series started to grind slower and slower, and then in Episode 7, the series "jumps the shark" in a detour that celebrates a lesbian couple (that didn't exist in the book). The whole episode was so canned and annoying and so detached from the plot, I stopped watching.
April 15, 2023
Tom Holland's Dominion
Holland's is a stunning book, especially so when you realize it was written by a borderline non-believer. The prose captures and the narrative retains . . . and the interesting anecdotes sprinkled liberally throughout entertain. Early Christians were accused of worshipping their ancestors' genitals (I'm glad that one wasn't true; my Dad would've had a field day of jokes with it). Emperor Caracalla was so insistent on emperor worship that he executed anyone who urinated in the presence of his image.
You can't make this stuff up and Holland isn't either. The audio version of this book is great, too, btw.
April 14, 2023
Brews You Can Use: Bar Fare for Your Weekend Drinking
Drinking is a waste of time? Naw. Drinking helps us to do nothing, and when we're doing nothing, we're doing eternity.
April 13, 2023
An Old Friend a New Friend Talk
Live Like Hobbits
That's apparently the advice in a new book, "The Reactionary Mind," by Michael Warren Davis.
It seems to me that Foucault's "counter-conduct" is becoming the number one obsession today, at least among people who think about . . . or at least feel . . . the left-hemisphere's overwhelming of the Tao (my diagnosis). The pioneers in this area were probably the Southern Agrarians, but the revolt goes back even earlier: to Pascal (the earliest, I think) and comes forward in various forms of revolt (Tao rescue missions), like Romanticism and Henry Adams. It's in Flannery's fiction. Today, it has practically become a cottage industry: Rod Dreher's Benedict Option, Paul Kingsnorth's suggestion that we become barbarians, a renewed interest in Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman and the effects of modern technology, hatred of the cell phone. And now, a suggestion that we live like hobbits.
It occurred to me this morning that TDE has been pushing counter-conduct for 20 years. The "eudemon" implicitly means "seeking light and happiness by pushing aside Modernity."
Modernity is the Left Hemisphere Era of Empire.
Seek forms of counter-conduct. There are scores to choose from. Choose a handful that appeal to you and run with them . . . and run away from Modernity.
Watch for a revival of interest in poetry. Poetry appeals to intuitive knowledge, which is a right hemispheric way of knowing (the left hemisphere only values explicit knowledge). By reading poetry, a person exercises the right hemisphere. In an age when the right hemisphere is relentlessly assaulted by the left and is atrophied, reading and writing poetry becomes the mental equivalent of lifting weights.
Davis favors the medieval social order himself but not because of its Church-State relations but rather because “the locus of power wasn’t those great castles or cathedrals. Real authority was found in the avenues of common life: minor liege-lords and humble parish priests, guilds, and fraternities. … All government was local government, and all businesses were small businesses.”
April 12, 2023
The Power of Place
Front Porch Republic relentlessly celebrates the importance of place: the importance of grounding oneself against a modern culture that celebrates rootlessness. It's a Foucauldian form of counter-conduct, like reading poetry, cultivating a garden, and being Catholic. The specific place doesn't matter. It just matters that you're grounded there. The current essay at FPR celebrates Alaska and Chicago.
April 11, 2023
Despite It All, Taibbi Apparently Remains a Big Government Liberal
I read Taibbi's Wall Street coverage during the 2008-2009 meltdown. I remember marveling at how he deftly analyzed the situation but couldn't see the obvious problem: the federal government. His slant on the situation was that we needed more federal government. To my knowledge, he still holds to that premise, notwithstanding his (now) long history of seeing how insidiously powerful the federal government has become.
No matter. He's still doing important work and I support him. This piece has a brief bio and other material about Taibbi's efforts. Recommended.
April 10, 2023
TDE Regular Programming is Close to Returning
I got back from Mexico City at 5:30 AM Thursday, then rolled into the Triduum, trying to salvage whatever I could despite the jet lag, 16+ hours of travel, and remaining pains from the e-coli in the Mexican water system.
It went alright. I saw lots of family and, between visits, did an obnoxious amount of gardening, which is crucial since I've been tasked with growing "2,000 flower stems" for my second daughter's wedding this August. I've been prepping beds, making plugs, and putting the first seeds into the soil.
But TDE has suffered. Regular readers will notice that I didn't post a Monday column today. I have two or three in progress, but I simply didn't have the time blocks to dedicate to them over the past week. I can virtually guarantee that the regular column will resume next Monday.
In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying Joseph Serwach's essays. He's a former columnist for Michigan Catholic and a splendid writer. He's not officially a contributor at TDE, but he's generous in allowing me to reproduce his Medium.com essays.
"When the disciples saw the risen Christ, they beheld him as a reality in the world, though no longer of it, respecting the order of the world, but Lord of its laws. To behold such reality was different and more than to see a tree or watch a man step through a doorway. To behold the risen Christ was an experience that burst the bounds of the ordinary. This explains the extraordinary wording of the texts: the strangeness of Christ's 'appearing,' 'vanishing,' suddenly standing in the middle of a room or at someone's side. Hence the abruptness, fragmentariness, oscillation, contradictoriness of the writing”“the only true form for content so dynamic that no existing form can contain it.”
April 6, 2023
A Must-Watch: We Are Killing America's Economics
We printed way too much money. We drained our oil reserves. We politicized the dollar by confiscating Russia's dollars and now the world is saying it doesn't want the dollar. That's a big problem for us and Washington DC is doing it. The Biden administration is leading the way but the Senate Republicans are applauding the effort.
The result will be massive inflation, skyrocketing poverty in the United States, and the political upheaval it brings.
April 5, 2023
Prolific Joseph Serwach logs in with this piece about Michigander Gabriel Richard. I've long known about Fr. Richard due to the eponymous Detroit-area high school that produces a lot of D1 athletes (and, I believe, is one of those "Catholic Lite" educational institutions that I excoriate occasionally at TDE), but otherwise, I knew nothing about him. It's a great piece.
Richard represented the Michigan Territory precisely 200 years ago (from 1823–1825), serving a single two-year term in the U.S. House. How rare is holiness at the Capitol?
“There are no saints in Congress,” presidential candidate Nikki Haley insists. For example, search “holiest member of Congress,” and the search engine asks, “Did you mean: hottest member of Congress?”
April 4, 2023
Bill Kauffman has Never Owned a Cell Phone
Canonization Process Has Already Started
Kauffman sightings have grown increasingly scarce. It's too bad. He's great. His most recent offering at The Spectator is mediocre (by Kauffman standards), but it's worth posting for the lede itself: he couldn't order a bagel at an airport because he doesn't own a cell phone, much less a smart one. The rest of the short essay is a mild screed against a culture that is banging itself over the head with the cell phone.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I had never owned a cell phone or if I were to get rid of mine. I think it'd be like living like those ex-hippies in northern California, where they do everything for themselves. It's idyllic, but man, it's a lot of work . . . and a heckuva lot more work than opting to live a limited existence on the grid, which is probably the smarter option.
I suspect the same is true with the cell phone. I'd probably need two or three devices to have access to the apps that are truly beneficial (Audible, podcasts, and a few others), whereas I can currently access all of them with just one device. One device is easier and less expensive.
But what else is that one device costing me? That, I suppose, is the real question.
April 3, 2023
April 2, 2023
Young Michael Snellen Continues to Impress
Social connectedness is arguably the number one sign of good health . . . and social media doesn't cut it. Get out and meet people. Make friends. And I say that as an introvert who has only a handful of friends (but whose large network through Kiwanis, the Church, and large family fills up all my "free" time).
Michael Snellen is doing a genuine huge service for the Church and individual young Catholics here. Please support him.
Quite Possibly, the Best Essay of 2023 So Far
A fellow-Generation X'er channels my thoughts almost precisely. The first third of this must-read essay recounts the problem.
The last two-thirds offers a possible response ("shatter zones" and "jellyfish tribes") to the black hole State that sucks in everything near it. Kingsnorth's proposal resonates with me, but I'm just gonna ruminate on it for awhile before advocating it.
But it was the pandemic — or rather, the response to it — that changed everything for me. I hadn’t been prepared see, in my allegedly free and democratic country, a merger of corporate power, state power and media power in the service of constructing a favoured narrative, of the kind which had previously only characterised totalitarian regimes.
Shatter zones: areas that the State has a hard time assimilating.
Jellyfish tribes: a group that defends cultural and economic autonomy making the group invisible or unattractive as object of appropriation by the State.
April 1, 2023
Michael Rodney contributes another piece of satire.
Congrats to the young, man, who recently called me from his enclave in the Deep South to tell me he is engaged to be married.