Communities are not Artificial Constructs

Jake Meador on the problem with the de facto liberal view of what a community is:

The claim of liberalism’s defenders is that the crisis of our day is something less comprehensive than the liberal social order. So we can resolve the problem without tampering too much with the markets or modern ideas about religion or free speech. The sources are fine, they tell us. The problem is something different. You can distinguish, we are told, liberal proceduralism from liberal ideology. You can attack some lesser form of idolatry or false religious belief and retain our current market systems.

To which the post-liberals respond: The logic of contemporary progressivism is that human communities are artificial constructs. Identities are not given; they are manufactured. Any community that hinders the work of an individual narrating their own identity across their life is thus unjust and evil and should be socially marginalized at the least. This is the justification for progressive extremism on abortion and their historically unprecedented sexual revisionism.

 

This is not Vanity

The final lines from Ezra Pound’s “Canto LXXXI:”

What thou lovest well remains,
                                                  the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
                                            or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
        Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
         Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity,
                                        Paquin pull down!
The green casque has outdone your elegance.
“Master thyself, then others shall thee beare”
       Pull down thy vanity
Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,
A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,
Half black half white
Nor knowst’ou wing from tail
Pull down thy vanity
                        How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity,
                        Pull down thy vanity,
Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
Pull down thy vanity,
                       I say pull down.
But to have done instead of not doing
                     this is not vanity
To have, with decency, knocked
That a Blunt should open
               To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.
         Here error is all in the not done,
all in the diffidence that faltered  .  .  .

And here’s a video of Ezra Pound as an old man reciting these final lines:

Fathers and Megalomaniacs

A second post in one day!

I’ve fallen behind in reading the series of newsletters I read on a weekly basis. And this most recent cycle has been very good.

Martyn Wendell Jones has a great newsletter, Dang, where he reflects on having recently become a new father. As a new father myself, it’s been a wonderful reading companion.

From last week’s edition:

I want to be a father who stays; I already want Fox to stay as well. As our culture continues moving into decadence and repeating crisis—as I watch Fox roll with sudden ease, raise himself on his elbows, and look to the walls—I wonder if his hungry life will take him far away from me someday, too.

Starbuck couldn’t deter Ahab from his fate; perhaps it’s telling that the first mate’s name has taken on a more primary association with a massive corporation, the owner of which wants to pilot the ship of government simply because he thinks he’s the right one to do it. This world makes seaborne megalomaniacs of us all.

 

History that begins with Confession

A timely and insightful argument from Matt Anderson on the relationship between evangelical and LGBT communities:

As an evangelical Christian, taking history seriously means beginning with something like confession. If the LGBT community is in fact motivated to constrain religious expression out of vindictiveness, the question naturally arises whether we Christians deserve it. Any sober answer can only acknowledge the misuses and abuses of power and politics by conservative Christians in their defense of traditional marriage. As legitimate as concerns about the importance of marriage to the common good are, the argument was sometimes pursued by activists and ordinary citizens (even if not by lawyers or other leaders) in ways that undermined our credibility with those we were ostensibly seeking to persuade. At the same time, our failures to uphold appropriate sexual norms within our own communities—such as the Catholic sex scandal, or rampant divorce within evangelicalism—made us too easily susceptible to charges of hypocrisy. Moreover, we required instant transformation of gay and lesbian individuals within our own communities, burdening them with wildly unrealistic expectations and subsequently exhausting them.

Read the whole thing and subscribe to his newsletter.

Friendship and Society

From Micah Mattix’s recent Prufrock newletter:

I’ve finished the final lectures on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The final two treat friendship and action. Friendship according to Aristotle is the “most necessary” virtue. I won’t go into Aristotle’s types of friendship (those founded on utility, pleasure, and virtue), but I appreciated his view that friendship is one of the foundations of civilization. It is what binds a city together. We see this idea in classical and modern literature, too. Friendship and hospitality (which is welcoming a stranger as a friend) are quintessentially human attributes in The Odyssey, for example, which are not shared by the gods or the sub-human cyclops. These two ideas—that friendship is the basis of civilization and a touchstone of humanity—are also found in Francis Bacon’s short essay “Of Friendship,” which is obviously drawn from classical sources. Whatever “delights in solitude,” Bacon writes, “is either a wild beast or a god. For it is most true, that a natural and secret hatred, and aversation towards society, in any man, hath somewhat of the savage beast.” It’s not that solitude is bad or unnecessary. It is that to live only in solitude is to live a sub-human life. Without friends, Bacon continues, the “world is but a wilderness.”

It seems to me that we’ve lost this high view of friendship as an aspect of human identity, which we now regularly confuse with personality or view as a discrete construction of the autonomous will rather than as something that is composed of universal attributes. So, it is no surprise that our lives increasingly look like those of the cyclops. We live in caves, in fenced-in back yards, and “consume” each other—on television, in movies, on Facebook and Twitter. And because our lives (I’m speaking generally here about American culture) are ordered around maximizing physical pleasure, not virtue, they must end in suicide when the body’s capacity for physical pleasure wanes. The opioid crisis starts with this low view of human nature and won’t end until a grander view is recaptured, which I don’t see happening any time soon.

The themes of friendship and hospitality have been coming through loud and clear as I’ve been rereading the Odyssey this summer. I’m teaching The Odyssey and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics next year to a group of high school freshman. Discussing the idea of “friendship” seems like a great place to start analyzing and understanding both works…not to mention the myriad of other connections to the other books we’ll read as well (e.g., The Iliad, The Aeneid, The Metamorphoses, etc.). It’s going to be a great year!

THS: BenOp before BenOp

Continuing my observations after reading C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength

Observation #2: St. Anne’s is the BenOp prior to all the hubbub about BenOp
I was struck by how St. Anne’s on the Hill more-or-less prefigures the recent discussions and debates surrounding Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option. Tour the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata, New Zealand | HGTV

St. Anne’s is a quasi-agrarian household–complete with a garden and (from Jane’s perspective) a backward social structure based on conservative/traditional values regarding gender, religion, etc. St. Anne’s is the primary resistance to the growing threat of the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (NICE).

The NICE, in contrast, is a bureaucracy: it abstracts humanity into numbers and then attempts to harness the evolutionary process through technology. It is, more importantly, progressive. It wants to better humanity by discarding tradition and marching towards an ever purer form of human existence–one that is free from the messiness and limitations of biology.

One of the recurring debates at St. Anne’s is the usefulness of their resistance. MacPhee, the hyper-rational logician and skeptic, frequently raises the complaint that while the NICE continues to grow and gain power, the small group of insurgents at St. Anne’s continue to do nothing. They garden, cook meals, argue with one another, corral Mr. Bultitude–the bear–whenever he traipses through the garden or wanders too close to the fence, and–worst of all–wait for orders from Ransom’s masters (i.e., the eldil) in whom some of the members have little or no faith.

There is so much waiting at St. Anne’s and so little doing. There is no “warrior class” or “special operations unit” making attacks on the NICE. There is no “war room,” per se, where the members of St. Anne’s talk at length about their plans. There is only waiting.

In an article from 2015, Jake Meador describes the St. Anne’s strategy well, comparing it to the current state of evangelical Christians in 21st century America:

In one of the essential texts for today’s church, C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, the insurgents rebelling against the sexual industrial complex of the modern west are not culture warriors assailing the institutions slowly consuming our earth and its creatures. Rather, their insurgency takes the form of faithful living in an out-of-the-way manor house out in the English countryside called St. Anne’s. It was at St. Anne’s that these people could live in fellowship with one another and with God’s creation while they waited for the undoing of the NICE in a Tower-of-Babel-style collapse. The future of Evangelicalism will either look less like Willow Creek or Mars Hill and more like St. Anne’s or it will not exist.

I like Meador’s emphasis on the lack of “culture warriors” in his description of St. Anne’s: the urge to “DO SOMETHING” productive–i.e., something quantifiable and empirically useful–would be the undoing of St. Anne’s because it would result in its dissolution. NICE is too big to be threatened by an external attack from the small group of people at St. Anne’s. And NICE’s cultural influence and political power is too ubiquitous to be hampered by a political campaign based on the St. Anne’s way of life. Anything other than small, faithful living would be doomed to fail.

It’s worth noting, however, that St. Anne’s, despite being an out-of-the-way manor house, remains the sole form of rebellion against NICE. Lewis intentionally wants to draw our attention to St. Anne’s as the only productive form of resistance. It may feel like useless inaction, or passive aggressive behavior, or even like a retreat to the bunkers. But we would be mistaken. To live faithfully in small ways requires a herculean effort of courage, determination, and hope no military charge would require of its members. It’s easier to act rashly than it is to wait patiently.

If you’re concerned about cultural trends in 21st century America, think small. Forego flashy exploits or rhetorical dunking on your opponents. How does your way of life reflect your beliefs? Are you willing to sacrifice the conveniences  and cachet of cultural relevance–and I mean everything from staying up-to-date on the latest Netflix shows to life-style trends like minimalism and F.I.R.E.?

The cultural battles ahead (…if you can call them battles…) won’t be won on a grand stage; it won’t be decided by a single showdown where the champion will win glory for himself/herself. It will probably be won in a garden–somewhere on an obscure patch of land in an obscure region of the world. After all, as Meador points out, the battle is not ours to win.

Mammoth Bone Huts

And now for something completely different…

Here is your fun archaeology fact of the day.

And for a little more explanation…