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Saturday, June 06, 2020

September Memories

We have established that I'm a big dork. Or maybe I'm a big nerd. In any case, I would go to a political philosophy conference the day after the worst night of my life. Well, what am I going to do? Cancel the trip?

I'm going to drop a name right here, because that's just what you do, when you are an obscure writer, and nobody cares what you have to say. I shook Jake Meador's hand at that conference. I sat right next to Wendell Berry for six hours. No, I haven't read him much. But if he writes anything like he talks, he's a good egg, just like everyone says. If it's true that Obama likes him, good for Obama. He bloody well should.

I had this strange feeling that a lot of our categories were completely meaningless. It's just like when I go to the Front Porch Republic conferences; I don't know what categories to use. We are in some general sense like-minded, but me from eight years ago would've called the lot of them a bunch of Commies and crackpots. Let's just say that any real earnest attempt at a Christian worldview leaves most sensible people hanging out with "extremists" and weirdos. These are definitely my people; I don't know anyone with my political thought processes and history who nevertheless offers passionate defenses of George McGovern, and Jimmy Carter. How on earth did I spend most of my adult life scribbling on behalf of Republicans, and yet defending those guys?

Somewhat strangely, my intellect still worked, even though I was carrying around enough sorrow for ten men. On one of the breaks, I was sitting with these two PhD's, and somebody asked my opinion, and when I was done talking, they didn't laugh me out of the room. That felt pretty good.

Maybe I should join that club at some point. It just hasn't worked out that way.

With apologies to the senior senator from Kentucky, I almost laughed out loud when I realized we were in the McConnell Center. With all due respect, I don't associate the senator with the phrase, "free inquiry".

The most obvious reflection of my rank hypocrisy in regard to localism, and some notion of agrarianism, is my fondness for fast food and Coke. Some days I scare myself, and I'll think that my next Coke is the one that will end me up like poor Patrick Swayze. Of course, that is bonkers. There is not often a discernible rhyme or reason from this vantage point, as to who lives, or who dies. I pray to Mary every night, because I don't have the hour of my death scheduled on my calendar.

On the other hand, aren't there are a few too many people who don't listen to doctors? If they told me to give up my culinary and beverage vices, I would probably listen. There is a fairly wide window on this tragic rock between enjoying life, and being reckless. That's the mercy of God.

I've had buckets and buckets more to weep, but it was good to think, and to smile. Bryan Cross is slightly older than me, as I'm quite fond of reminding him, but I have asked Mary if it's not too much trouble, that Bryan should hear or give the eulogy for me, before I have to hear or give the one for him. No one in the heavenly kingdom is of course bound to honor my request. And not that I plan on going anywhere; it's just that I never have planned on being old and full of years. I'm probably the youngest 40-year-old I've ever met, much as I blather on about being old.

Anyway, I just thought that if I have to be stuck in some sense in September 2019, I could at least pull out some good threads to think about. I pray that when the crosses come for you, you have faithful friends like I do.

Friday, June 05, 2020

In Principle, I Favor Reparations

I don't want to write a history tome here today, but the government promised newly freed slaves 40 acres and a mule. It never came. Someone recently pointed out that the equivalent of 40 acres and a mule today would be about $60,000. I'm no math guy, but that would be a lot of money. We might not be able to do that, even if we should. It's not like racism simply vanished, even at the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And the effect of this ongoing racism in economic terms--in practical terms--is the prevention of the accumulation of intergenerational wealth. We'll come back to that.

Yeah, there are racist attitudes floating around in the Republican Party, and in the conservative media ecosystem. Of course there are. The GOP absorbed the Dixiecrat South within a period of about 20 years. We would have at the very least absorbed racially insensitive attitudes as a function of partisanship, when I was there. It's worse now, because talk radio rose up in the late '80s, at the repeal of the so-called "fairness doctrine", all the while preaching to a predominantly white audience that as time has passed, has grown older and more reactionary.

I can't wait to hear how I have absorbed these opinions from the "liberal media," and bought their lies "hook, line, and sinker." It's not my fault that we sacrificed our critical faculties to oppose the sexual ideology of the Democratic Party. It's not my fault that GOP candidates can't win minorities. I digress.

Actual racism has real economic costs, to say nothing of the promises made and broken to our own citizens in the past. We could probably have a more productive conversation about it, if every economic transfer weren't met with cries that the Red Menace is descending. Fusionism is dead; let it die, and then let's reengage real issues on their own terms.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

In Defense Of Bishop Gregory

Phil Lawler over at Catholic Culture criticized the Bishop for his criticism of Donald Trump, because the president stopped by one of our shrines in DC. He also announced some religious liberty protections while he did that.

You know, it's possible to be opposed to whatever the new Democratic administration will do with respect to religious liberty, and to be opposed to the president's photo opportunity stunt. Their principal desire seems to be the imposition of their reproductive and sexual ideology upon anyone who does not agree. Perhaps the problem for Donald Trump is that he's a bad politician, so he always looks like he's pandering, which he is. Perhaps the problem for Phil Lawler is that the preservation of a so-called Catholic culture has been bound up with the success or failure of Donald Trump. If anyone had bothered to speak in plain terms about what was right and what was wrong, maybe a few more of us wouldn't be so tempted to jump on the opposite end of the binary.

I'm no progressive, but I have no time for this right-wing Catholicism. And perhaps Bishop Gregory is not so much partisan, as he is unwilling to overlook the thoughts and feelings of black Americans right now, in pursuit of politics and self-interest.

A Cross-Examination

It's been kicking around in my head for days now, but Professor Cross was musing on Facebook about the run-up to the Iraq war. In his judgment, the standard for just war was not met, because there was no threat of an imminent attack. That observation has been made in many quarters for a long time now, and is not in itself controversial anymore. Yet he went on to say that the decision to engage in a preemptive war, based on the possibility of horrific attacks in the future, has legitimized the preemptive use of force by police against citizens. The professor said in effect that we were facing the consequences of our own philosophy.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think he's right. While I'm at it, I think the good professor would enjoy watching a film called, "Minority Report". It's about this sort of preemptive consequentialism. It's also a theological reflection on sovereignty and free will. [You only like it because it has Tom Cruise.--ed.]

In any case, building a practical, working philosophy of the dignity of every person is going to take some doing. At least the start of it is identifying those philosophies which deny the dignity of every person, whether in principle, or in practice.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Thanks, LeVar Burton

About 2 years ago, I saw most of "Roots." It was on one of my local sub-channels. There were moments I wept. And not necessarily at the obvious injustices. Mr. LeVar Burton played Kunta Kinte in that film. Fans of the blog note that he is even more famous for playing Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge, the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise, on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." He has also inspired multiple generations of kids as the host of the educational program, "Reading Rainbow."

I don't know if LeVar Burton took that role on "Roots" because he was a struggling actor short on cash, but I get the sense from reading interviews with him that in fact, he is well aware of his own blackness, and his part in the story of the African-American experience here in the United States.

What I can tell you is that the sins of systemic racism, and the social impact of racial bigotry, are better explained by that film than by mountains of academic papers. A lot of progressives today run to the social science, but there is an art to political persuasion, that certain special interpersonal bond that can cause someone to change a deeply-held belief. I don't suppose anyone is doing a wonderful job reaching out interpersonally in the political sphere. But I understood systemic racism and the trauma it causes because of Roots.

I consider LeVar Burton and Oprah Winfrey "friends" of a sort. As I watched what was happening, and what was being said to the characters--and all the indignities--I internalized that these injustices were happening to my friends. If you want to move a man to anger, and to action, hurt his friends.

We're insensitive to so much bigotry, precisely because its victims are not yet our friends.

Leaving Las Vegas

I realized several months ago that this presidency is like Las Vegas. It's bright and shiny in places, and it can impress you if you're not paying attention. When you dig underneath the glitz and glamour, it's all fake and kind of sad.

But now that trashy fakeness turns violent, as tear gas and rubber bullets are fired at peaceful protesters, and journalists. I don't intend to give a rousing defense of all journalists at all times, as if I am Bob Woodward. This is still supposed to be America, and we don't physically attack journalists here.

Forcibly removing protesters with police in riot gear, so that Trump can hold a photo op in front of a church that doesn't want him there, is peak Las Vegas. For their part, they were helping peaceful protesters stay healthy and hydrated. I saw somewhere that they got forced off their own patio.

I feel obliged to mention that extremist elements are using the legitimate outrage over the death of George Floyd to start rioting and looting. I don't support that, to be very clear. The president seems to think that if he can replicate '68, then some newfound groundswell of support will propel him to reelection. Richard Nixon--the worst president in the history of the American Republic--still had more dignity and self-reflection in his little finger than this president does in his whole body. In addition, Nixon was dangerous, because he was cool and calculating. Trump is so impulsive that he is in the process of imploding without any help. There is consolation in that, although not before the man's flagrant lack of character damages the consciences of a great many people even more.

I should probably tick off all the reasons why the standard-issue Democratic presidency of Joe Biden will be bad. Some of my readers are enamored of some notion of "balance," as if I really am obliged to be Bob Woodward. I'm just me, and I think what I think, and I say what I say.

Honestly, I had fun in Vegas for a few days. But it's the kind of fun you can have if you don't look too hard. It's the privilege of being oblivious to another's sadness.