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June 2012

Faults and Other Faults

The faults of character which sometimes created people's difficulties were far less repellent to Caryll than those faults which make for success in this world.

--from Maisie Ward's biography of Carryl Houselander

I feel exactly the same way. Yet I have to consider whether there is a bit of envy in it.

The Everly Brothers: Cathy's Clown

Weekend Music

1960. They were so great. One of my earliest musical memories is hearing "Wake Up, Little Susie" on the radio. Unless my memory is playing tricks on me it was either in my maternal grandfather's cabinet-making shop or in his car which was parked in front of the shop. The song came out in 1957, so that would have been very near the end of his life. It wasn't my earliest musical memory, though, because I also remember hearing Elvis singing "Hound Dog," which was released a year earlier. That memory also is associated with my maternal grandparents. That whole side of my family were great music lovers.


Having It All

Perhaps you've read or heard about this Atlantic piece, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All". It's the cover story of the most recent issue of the magazine, which arrived at our house a couple of weeks ago. I haven't read it yet, but apparently it's aroused quite a controversy, as this topic usually does--"this topic" being the difficulty women have in balancing family and job. Or, as it is generally framed by the journalists and academics who talk about it most (or most conspicuously anyway), family and career. 


There is a whole lot to be said about this, and everybody on all sides has said it, from the traditionalists who believe it's best for mothers to focus on raising their children, even if it means less money and prestige!!, a troublesome idea in some quarters, to the feminists who argue that is actually wrong for women not to have jobs outside the home. I'm not making that last one up; that also was an Atlantic piece, I think, sometime within the last ten years, but I've forgotten the woman's name now.

A whole lot to be said, but I just want to register one complaint from the male point of view: there's an implication in this complaint that men do "have it all." Anybody who thinks that we do, in general, is an idiot. Most men don't go off every morning to a career they love. They go to work, at a job which they don't especially like, or maybe even hate, and they do it because they have to, and/or because it's their duty. 

For most of us life after adolescence involves a great many compromises between what we would really like to do and what we have to do to earn a living. Adults accept this.

There's an interesting exchange about the Atlantic  piece at PBS. I like this, from one of the participants, Naomi Decter:

Of course we can't have it all. No one can have it all. Men can't have it all either. ...this is a problem and always has been a problem of highly privileged, highly educated women. And I think the fact is, we're extremely lucky and we may not have it all, but we have much, much more than most of the women and men in this country or certainly in the world.

Observation tells me that a great many mothers, possibly a majority, possibly a large majority, who hold down jobs would really rather be at home with their children, at least while the children are young, but must work to make ends meet. Feminists have never had much interest in them. In fact, to the extent that improving that situation would require paying better wages to the husbands of those women, they're hostile to that concern.


Is TypePad mainly for women?

Or are most bloggers female now, or what? As you can see from the URL, TypePad is where this blog is hosted. They recently redesigned their own web site. The new look struck me as feminine, but I didn't really give that any thought until I had logged in to it a number of times and finally stopped and noticed the content of the page. "Crafts, food, style"? And every one of the blogs displayed on the page is by a woman. I don't care--it's a good service and I'm happy with it--but it seems a little odd. Surely it's not accidental. You don't get the same feel from the WordPress homepage.


Sunday Night Journal — June 23, 2012

Progressive Ironies

The past month or so has seen the deaths of two men associated with progressive Catholicism in this area. One was a priest, one was a deacon. I had a slight personal acquaintance with both of them, a bit more so with the deacon, and on the basis of that and of their reputations know them to have been good and thoughtful men who loved God and the Church, notwithstanding the fact that they were on what is, from my point of view, the wrong side of the struggle that has been going on within the Church since Vatican II. I once heard the deacon call for a Third Vatican Council which would carry through what he regarded as the clear implications of Vatican II with regard to the Church’s teachings about sex and hierarchy and so forth. And my opinion of the priest as a shepherd—he was also a theology teacher—was forever lowered by a remark he made in a homily when the Catechism was published: that the best thing about it was the pictures. I, on the other hand, regarded the Catechism as a gift from God, sorely needed by the Church for precisely the reasons the priest objected to it: its clarification and re-emphasis of traditional teachings.

Progressive Catholicism has suffered a good many setbacks since it flourished ca. 1965-1980, and so I suppose these two men died disappointed on this score—disappointed, and perhaps somewhat puzzled that the progress they had witnessed when they were young had not continued. That is certainly not to say that they died unhappy or embittered, because I don’t think they did, but I don't think things had gone as they had hoped and expected.

In 1975 or so progressives had pretty much vanquished the old order liturgically and made strong inroads in every other aspects of the church’s life, and it must have looked as if the transformation they looked for was well under way. But then came the papacy of John Paul II, and at the same time a host of younger Catholics who rebelled against the revolution, and the tide began to turn. It has been a source of amusement (not very charitable amusement) for me to see certain features of what had been a youth movement slowly become associated with grey hair and complaints about the younger generation. (Although sometimes it’s not amusing at all: I have seen more instances than I would have thought possible of younger Catholics expressing the hope that the baby boomers, having ruined the world, would die as soon as possible. That’s not only nasty but mistaken, as the baby boomers were too young to have any responsibility for anything that happened in the first ten years or so after Vatican II.)

Progressives envision a movement toward a very specific goal, an end point in which some kind of perfect freedom and equality are the rule. This direction of movement is seen as natural, right, and inevitable—right because it is inevitable, and inevitable because it is right. For religious progressives, it’s God’s will, or the will of the Spirit. For secular progressives, it seems a vague idea vaguely connected with the idea that evolution is always an advance. And yet there seems no serenity in this knowledge. Progress is constantly under threat from the forces of reaction, which must be fought constantly, and so it isn’t truly inevitable. Change in general is presumed to be change for the better, or at least expected to be, but evil forces may interfere.

That picture makes sense at the revolutionary moment. But what of the day when the revolution has assumed power, and new forces arise which were not part of the old defeated order, but which for reasons of their own oppose the revolution? When there is rebellion against the rebellion? It becomes more difficult to assert that the revolution is the vanguard of an inevitable future, to speak of changing with the times as if that could only mean change in the direction considered desirable by the progressives. The usual response to the new rebels is to associate them with the efforts of the old regime to maintain its order, but this often falls apart: no one under the age of fifty or so can now be accused of wanting to bring back the Latin Mass because he’s resistant to change.

Of the people I knew in my youth as political leftists and still have contact with, most appear not to have changed their views very much. I, on the other hand, moved to the right. Which of us then is truly progressive, and which conservative?

I often wish we could do away with the whole vocabulary of progressive and conservative, with their focus on the movement of history. They have their place, but it’s a fairly small place, and we make them serve in contexts where they make little sense. Strip away the confused notions of historical progress tending toward the earthly paradise, and of evolution tending toward what man considers progress—a notion draped in the authority of science, but completely unjustified from a scientific point of view—and all the progressives have left is This is what we want. The lazy association of “change” with “good” falls apart.

It’s not only more honest but in the long run a better argument to say that what you want is right and good. Say you want something to come about because it is right, not because progress demands it. Progressivism is a sort of wishful thinking about the future course of history, and history has a bad way of taking us where we never wished or expected to go. But the modern world is in flight from first principles, and that argument requires a willingness to assert them. It’s much easier to say that something is the wave of the future, if you like it, or a relic of the past, if you don’t.

I often hear people say that the argument from authority is the weakest argument. Well, that depends entirely on the authority. But in all except its very weakest forms it’s still stronger than the argument from progress. It makes more sense to argue that a certain notion is to be disregarded because your neighbor down the street said so than because you think it’s outmoded. Your neighbor may know something about the question, but to say that the idea is outmoded is usually no more than to say it’s unfashionable. And what does fashion have to do with truth? It’s nonsense, but people talk this way all the time. We hear it especially about social changes. Those of us who believe that many of the changes of the past forty years or so have been for the worse and ought to be reversed are frequently told that our views are out of date and therefore of no consequence. This is just a way of saying “Shut up.”

The thing is to pursue and embrace the true, the good, and the beautiful. We have no guarantee whatsoever that earthly history is headed toward a goal any of us would regard as desirable. It is true, an article of faith for Christians, that earthly history will end with the triumph of God. But it is not promised that the triumph will take place within history. It is not even promised that things will get better.There has certainly been material progress in human history, but I sometimes wonder whether there has been, on balance, moral progress. Our ancestors did things that shock us, and did them in good conscience. But we would shock some of them, too. Perhaps there has been some net progress; let’s say for the sake of argument that there has. It can only be preserved by keeping a clear grasp of what genuine progress means, which is a movement toward the good, not merely toward the new. It must mean that when we achieve something good we must work to preserve it, not throw it back into the stream of history.

Having invented the wheel, we did not forget it. But in our moral and spiritual life it is not so. Every person and every society has to labor constantly to preserve any progress there, and that labor is the only thing that’s truly inevitable, as far as human vision can see. To regard progress as inevitable is probably a way of insuring that it won’t be.

Ben E. King: Don't Play That Song

Weekend Music

I think I'll continue in the vein of last week's post: love songs from the early '60s or so, which is to say, my puppy love years. This song was a follow-up to Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" and is an imitation, musically, including pretty much the same bass riff. I had a crush on a girl--I think her name was Sherry--and this song got associated with that. I have a memory of standing at the door of one of the barns at the Alabama Junior Cattlemen's Association convention in Montgomery and hearing this from a radio somewhere nearby and feeling very lovelorn. The song came out in 1962 so I would have been fourteen.


Yes, I was a Junior Cattleman. And I liked it, especially the convention, where we exhibited our steers and sold them. That was sort of tough, because their next stop would be the slaughterhouse, but we learned to accept it. There was also a rodeo, and I liked that a lot.

Not surprisingly, of the half dozen or so most vivid memories I have of that convention, two are musical. The other one is Dale Robertson (minor cowboy actor) entertaining at the rodeo and singing "Ghost Riders In the Sky".  Well, let's have that one, too. Here's a good Johnny Cash version.


Such a great song.

So cowboy, change your ways today 
Or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the devil's herd
Across this endless sky

Still gives me a chill. I first heard it as a Ventures-style guitar instrumental--I can't remember who the artist was, maybe it was actually the Ventures--and even without the words I liked it. And when I heard the title I felt a physical thrill: an early instance of my responding to poetry before I really knew what it was.


A Convert

One never has time to read everything on the web that looks interesting. Well, that's almost a pointless thing to say, like observing that you can't drink all the water in a river. Anyway, one thing that I've thought looked pretty interesting but haven't ever read very much is a blog called Unequally Yoked, which Eve Tushnet sometimes discusses, and which appears to have begun as a forum in which a couple, one atheist and one Christian (the gal and the guy, respectively), attempted to understand each other's views in a dialog. I guess one reason I didn't follow it was that it's somewhat over my head intellectually--seems to be a good bit of philosophy-major-type stuff. (For instance:

I could hypothesize how a Forms-material world link would work in the case of mathematics (a little long and off topic for this post, but pretty much the canonical idea of recognizing Two-ness as the quality that’s shared by two chairs and two houses, etc.  Once you get the natural numbers, the rest of mathematics is in your grasp). )

Well, the atheist has converted: here's Eve's post about it, from which you can get to the atheist's announcement of her change. It's that same old story, the one we always love to hear:

I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant.  It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth.  And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth. 

I wasn't at all surprised. On the few times when I did read the blog, it seemed to me that she understood Christianity far too well not to come over. Say a prayer for her; I always worry a bit about converts, that their enthusiasm will wear off, or that the questing energy which brought them in will take them out again. I don't know why I don't just look at myself for reassurance on that score; one of the very few good things I can say about myself is that it would take torture to get me out of the Church. (By the way, I think she and the Christian parted company a while back.)

Speaking of converts, Dawn Eden has a new book out. Here's some discussion at I plan to read it, though the subject is not one that I have any particular connection with, just because she wrote it.