I’m a book-as-object kind of guy. I have a Nook, but I’ve rarely used it in the six or so years since I got it. However, one of my lottery-money fantasies is to own every book P.G. Wodehouse wrote, and given that there’s around 100 of them, that would take some doing. I have no idea why it didn’t occur to me to check before now, but it turns out that Project Gutenberg had around forty of them. I’m halfway to my goal, and it didn’t cost me a cent! And while I was there, I went ahead and stocked up on a variety of other authors — Dickens, Hazlitt, Dostoyevsky, Chesterton, Beerbohm, Chekhov, Addison and Steele, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Adam Smith. Who needs scratch tickets when we have the public domain?
Posts by Damian :
Governments that seem to have done best “are led by people who read fiction” she said, naming Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland, Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, Katrín Jakobsdóttir in Iceland and Sanna Marin in Finland among them.
“They are all people who read fiction. What fiction gives you is the gift of imagination and the gift of empathy. You see a life outside your own bubble. If you’re sitting there reading your endless biographies of Churchill or Attlee or whatever, you’re not looking at the world outside your window. You’re not understanding the lives of ordinary people who populate the country you’re supposed to be governing. My advice to any politician is: go and read a novel and you’ll understand the world better and you can imagine a changed world better.”
We’re probably all familiar with the self-serving delusion among literary types that reading fiction makes you an all-around better person, a delusion that should be swiftly extinguished through familiarity with authors, publishers, and academic English departments. I just appreciate that McDermid adds the fresh twist that reading biographies (and, presumably, other non-fiction) means you’re ignorant and incurious about the world around you. Oh, honey, I can imagine a changed world just fine. By reading history, though, I find myself immune to the fantasy that self-proclaimed agents of change, like the BLM/Antifa brownshirts, are going to be any different from earlier power-hungry, bloodthirsty mobs. My advice to anyone, politician or citizen, is to aim for accuracy, not empathy.
The journos spent a week trying to lecture everyone on q anon, now they’re spreading an insane conspiracy theory that @MichaelDuncan is the Emperor of the Post Office currently on a mission to destroy every mailbox in america
— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) August 15, 2020
What exactly is the theory here? That Trump is stealing the election by the Post Office… streamlining mail operations in…Oregon? https://t.co/m3Ry1GVqeb
— Peter J. Hasson (@peterjhasson) August 15, 2020
There is no USPS shutdown. There has been no change in USPS operations and there is nothing preventing the USPS from supporting elections via mail-in ballots. This is a crazy conspiracy that has gone mainstream among the left and media. pic.twitter.com/1cNJJLPT02
— (((AG))) (@AGHamilton29) August 15, 2020
Pretty sure it’s right on their website that COVID-19 is what slowed operations. This virus magically comes and goes as these people see fit for politics and protest. https://t.co/v5KtVMyd8T
— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) August 16, 2020
People protesting in crowds out of fears they might have to vote in person.
The irony just made my head implode. https://t.co/ZPK8WfvES1
— The Dank Knight 🦇 (@capeandcowell) August 15, 2020
Nostalgia for a romanticized past is a cliché, especially as we age. Art, statecraft and social mores are commonly assumed to be at a nadir in the current day, compared to whichever era suits your fancy. I don’t agree with this perspective, but I’m not here to argue that point today. I would just like to point out that for us connoisseurs of the human condition, who demand that warts and blemishes be included in the portrait of humanity, this is the golden age for conspiracy theories and lunacy en masse. What does the past have to compare with our modern genius? Sure, you may have been able to convince your village that your neighbor put a hex on you and caused your crops to fail, but we have social media. Tulipmania today wouldn’t even crack the weekly top ten of insane things that ostensibly-educated people believe. We have the equivalent of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Mozart, Goethe and Beethoven walking among us today, all foaming at the mouth and guano-insane, and we don’t even appreciate it.
— BasedPoland (@BasedPoland) August 9, 2020
#Antifa are attacking an Amazon store again in Seattle. They’ve using sledgehammers and have been rioting for hours and smashing businesses in and around Capitol Hill. Video by @BGOnTheScene #SeattleRiots pic.twitter.com/iB4sIVyoBd
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) August 10, 2020
“We’re gonna burn your building down”
“We know where you live”
As #antifa have taken to Portland residential areas to riot, they’ve also assaulted & intimidated residents there. Tonight, they threatened those who looked out the window. #PortlandRiots pic.twitter.com/1qiIOLk99j
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) August 9, 2020
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) August 10, 2020
I don’t think people who aren’t in Chicago realize how nuts this is. The area that that got “flash-mob” looted yesterday is the absolute heart of the commercial/tourist downtown. They targeted the high-end stores intentionally. This is lawlessness on a wild-West level scale.
— Jeff B., now with 50% more annoyingness (@EsotericCD) August 10, 2020
Again, people not familiar with the geography of the city don’t understand what’s happening right now: the entire central section of Chicago (The Loop, more or less) is currently shut down to traffic. They *raised the bridges*. It’s some serious ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK-level shit.
— Jeff B., now with 50% more annoyingness (@EsotericCD) August 10, 2020
“Human life is conducted on a thin crust of normality, in which mutual respect maintains a genial equilibrium between people. Beneath this thin crust is the dark sea of instincts, quiescent for the most part but sometimes erupting in a show of violence. Above it is the light-filled air of thought and imagination, into which our sympathies expand and which we people with our visions of human value. Culture is the collective practice which renews those visions and extends our sympathies into all the corners of the heart. It is the ongoing record of the life of feeling which offers to every new generation the examples, images and words that will teach it what to feel. But when the eruptions come it can do nothing to tame the violence. Nor can religion do anything, nor can ordinary morality. For violence breeds violence, and anger breeds anger. Good people, whether educated or uneducated, whether aesthetes or philistines, will try to bring order and decency in the midst of chaos but bad people will always resist them, and in the worst moments of human conflict it is the bad people who prevail. Some of these bad people will be cultivated; some will be religious; all of them will be bent on a path of destruction, consulting their faith or their education only as a source of excuses, and never as an order to stop. No institution, no doctrine, no art that human beings have devised has ever been able to prevent the atrocities that occur once the crust of normal life has broken.”
— Roger Scruton, Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged
LADY CROOM: But surely a hermit who takes a newspaper is not a hermit in whom one can have complete confidence.
— Tom Stoppard, Arcadia, act II, scene 7
I have never subscribed to a newspaper, but I do check in with multiple blogs each day. What can I say? I’m more inclined toward pantheism than otherworldly asceticism. Just because I don’t want to interact with most people doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy observing them from a distance. The world, with all its folly and frivolity, still deserves some love, and as Lou Barlow sang, hypocrites like us deserve a little trust along the way.
So what, exactly, does a cancellation consist of? And how does it differ from the exercise of free speech and robust critical debate?
At a conceptual level, the difference is clear. Criticism marshals evidence and arguments in a rational effort to persuade. Canceling, by contrast, seeks to organize and manipulate the social or media environment in order to isolate, deplatform or intimidate ideological opponents. It is about shaping the information battlefield, not seeking truth; and its intent—or at least its predictable outcome—is to coerce conformity and reduce the scope for forms of criticism that are not sanctioned by the prevailing consensus of some local majority.
You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
and they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will rise
in his evening flight from the hilltop.
— Wendell Berry, “Do Not Be Ashamed,” Openings
The struggle is on, no
mistake, and I take
the side of life’s history
against the coming of numbers.
— Wendell Berry, “The Clearing,” New Collected Poems
My point is that any attempt to make a specific institution entirely representative of the demographics of its location will founder on the sheer complexity of America’s demographic story and the nature of the institution itself. Journalism, for example, is not a profession sought by most people; it’s self-selecting for curious, trouble-making, querulous assholes who enjoy engaging with others and tracking down the truth (at least it used to be). There’s no reason this skillset or attitude will be spread evenly across populations. It seems, for example, that disproportionate numbers of Jews are drawn to it, from a culture of high literacy, intellectualism, and social activism. So why on earth shouldn’t they be over-represented?
And that’s true of other institutions too: are we to police Broadway to make sure that gays constitute only 4 percent of the employees? Or, say, nursing, to ensure that the sex balance is 50-50? Or a construction company for gender parity? Or a bike messenger company’s staff to be reflective of the age demographics of the city? Just take publishing — an industry not far off what the New York Times does. 74 percent of its employees are women. Should there be a hiring freeze until the men catch up?
Rhetorical questions don’t need to be answered, but since we’re here: No, of course all the mindless chatter about demographic “representation” issuing forth from the diversity-inclusion complex isn’t to be taken seriously. When the irresistible force of elite overproduction meets the immovable object of limited elite employment opportunities, those who are denied entry will try any trick they can to cut to the head of the line. When talent and luck aren’t sufficient to bring you the opportunities you so obviously deserve, maybe accusations of bias will open some doors. If it turned out that trash collection was a field dominated by white men, do you think there would be any anguished op-eds in the New York Times demanding racial and gender parity? Of course not, because there’s no status to be gained in that field, even though trash collectors are far more important to society than pundits, journalists, diversity consultants, MFA grads, and other similar make-work occupations. This is an internecine phenomenon exclusive to cultural elites bewitched by Procrustean fantasies, and the rest of us should only enjoy our popcorn and root for maximum casualties.
It is a curious fact that the artist who produced the most compelling and accessible vision of Christian humanism in the twentieth century was a multiply-married, luxury-loving, alcoholic atheist by the name of Robert Bolt. It is worth noting that he came to this choice of lifestyle after a strict Methodist upbringing. And I might add that not long after throwing off his Methodist faith, he became a card-carrying member of the Communist party. I am not sure what conclusion to draw from these facts.
But on a more serious note, I can say with a straight face that Bolt not only remained obsessed by Christianity his whole life, but also continued to think Christianly to the end of his days. He was what might be called a “flying buttress”—someone who remains resolutely outside the church, but who does a great deal to prop it up. In the divine economy, I suspect that there is a mansion in heaven for tortured Augustinian souls like that of Mr. Bolt, and perhaps in God’s mercy it has room service.
I’ve been leafing through Wolfe’s book again, as well as one by Daniel Ritchie. Recently, I revisited many of G.K. Chesterton’s essays, and I even held on to a collection of C.S. Lewis’s books rather than sell them as I originally intended. I enjoy the irony of me, an Epicurean, seeking out Christian writers as a refreshing, interesting alternative to the tiresome fundamentalist preachers of Diversity and Inclusion™️, but it’s a funny old world we live in. As Wolfe says earlier in the book, we can learn well from artists and thinkers who ask the right questions even if we disagree with their answers. That’s how it is for me — nine-tenths agreement is good enough. If Communism, a Christian heresy, can have fellow travelers, why not Christianity itself? Anyway, I appreciate the thought that there might be celestial lodgings reserved for us buttresses, but if I couldn’t be an ornamental hermit in heaven as well, I’d respectfully hand back my ticket.
A little over three years ago, some brilliant seer gazed into the future and reported back:
Nowadays, I’m sure there are brilliant minds working hard to figure out how we can implant SIM cards in our frontal lobes so that we can keep up with the Kardashians without having to go to all the exhausting labor of manipulating our pocket computers with our fingers, like savages.
The brain chip’s initial aim is to help people with neurological disorders such as OCD, depression and anxietyhttps://t.co/bWXbmifCTt
— Mixmag (@Mixmag) July 27, 2020
Yes, yes, the “initial aim” is always something unobjectionable and beneficial. What’s actually interesting is trying to imagine all the ways in which humans will inevitably harness new technologies to serve the same old ends of hedonism, power struggles, and violence. Musk seems to believe that the best defense against the possibility of hostile AI is for humans to become cyborgs by means of wires implanted in our brains, allowing us to interface with technology at the speed of thought. Did I say interesting? I meant horrifying.
We live in a Babel of antagonistic tribes — tribes that speak only the languages of race, class, rights, and ideology. That is why the intuitive language of the imagination is so vital. Reaching deep into our collective thoughts and memories, great art sneaks past our shallow prejudices and brittle opinions to remind us of the complexity and mystery of human existence.
I’ve been working twelve-hour days for what seems like a month, at least. I’m not complaining, mind you. In fact, staying busy serves as something like an emetic. The mind is purged of the toxins of current events. I gaze upon the Boschian hellscape of the web with fresh eyes and think, Surely, there’s got to be more edifying stuff than this. And so I make a promise to myself that I will redouble my efforts to seek out the cracks which Matthew Crawford spoke of, the overlooked spaces where beauty and imagination can flourish. It’s been too long since I stumbled across any new and interesting blogs to read. I think I’ll start pointedly searching for some. Any suggestions?