52 Albums, Week 8: Hi-Fi In Focus (Chet Atkins)
52 Albums, Week 9: Slow Turning (John Hiatt)

Sunday Night Journal, February 26, 2017

In his review of SHEL, the group and the album, Robert Gotcher mentioned that their second album "is not nearly as good. They seem to have lost some of the innocence from the first album." I was reminded of this review, which I wrote ten years ago, of the first album by a group called Au Revoir Simone. The group consists of three young women (not quite so young now, obviously). The album is called Verses of Comfort, Assurance, and Salvation.

... this is a girlish album, and I mean that as a compliment: it’s sweet, though not the least bit sugary, and full of hope and longing, as young girls ought to be, rather than prematurely jaded and embittered by having given themselves too soon and too often to the unworthy. There are some indications here that they may have started down that road. This male listener who’s undoubtedly more than old enough to be their father feels protective toward them, gets a welcome touch of emotional springtime from their music, and hopes they don’t eventually give us Verses of Sarcasm, Anger, and Depression.

I haven't heard any of their subsequent work so I don't know how things have turned out for them. But what I was thinking of in those remarks, and what I speculate might be in evidence in SHEL's second album, is a phenomenon I've often noticed: more young women seem to be more disillusioned, often bitter and angry, than was the case not just when I was young but when I was middle-aged. And the more they seem to have embraced the sexual revolution the more angry they seem. I can't support that as anything more than a personal observation, and maybe it's a mistaken impression, but it certainly seems that way. I've noticed it since my own generation reached its late twenties or so, actually. 

Though now that I think about it I believe the impression that the phenomenon is growing comes more from the media than from real life. I mean young women in the media talking about themselves and their friends, and those are predominantly feminist, and feminists are generally angry, so maybe that's all it is. 

It looks to me in fact as if at least as many young men are pretty unhappy, too. The war between the sexes seems more like a war than it once did. The sexual revolution has given people a lot of pleasure, but I can't see that it's made them any happier. When I think of my parents' generation, people born in the 1920s, marrying and having children in the '40s and '50s, I don't see an idyllic world, but neither do I see the misery that's now held to be typical of the time. 

Maybe the epitaph of late American civilization will be "They had a lot of fun, but they weren't very happy." 

 *

I've been thinking about the totalitarian propensities of contemporary liberalism (please insert standard clarification about classical liberalism etc. etc.), something which I've written about here before and which we've discussed. Whether what we now call liberalism in this country could ever become truly totalitarian--I mean thoroughly and violently repressive, in the way of fascism and communism--I'm not sure. If we include the entire left, there certainly are elements that would seem to be quite willing to use violence, and there certainly are elements which clearly want to enforce very rigid ideological conformity. 

But most dedicated liberals are nice people who don't condone or even dream about using violence (although I wonder if that's changing). And they're not big fans of the little fanatics who are in the news regularly for their attempts to shout down any and all opposing views. What they are, I think, is best described by the word devout. They have a religion to which they are passionately devoted, and as with any devotees, they want everyone to share their faith, and for everything around them to reflect it. 

There are some excellent examples of the syndrome in this piece by Kevin Williamson: progressivism, he says, is totalitarian

...in the sense that it assumes that there is no life outside of politics, that there is no separate sphere of private life, and that church, family, art, and much else properly resides within that sphere.

Maybe a better word than totalitarianism would be totalism. (I didn't invent the word but it doesn't seem to have been used this way.) The liberal faith is, for its adherents, so very and obviously right, so clearly the path toward a far better life for everyone, that it should permeate everything, just as Christianity permeated medieval Europe. If the goal is an ever-nearer approach to global utopia which requires unity for its achievement, then every person who isn't with the program is not just a lost soul but an obstacle to everyone else's salvation.

And it should certainly be very important to personal relationships. I've seen at least two instances in print of liberals openly expressing a desire for segregation on the basis of politics, though of course they didn't use the word. I can't remember where I read one of them, possibly in the local paper when we still subscribed. It was about a small college town--Oxford, Mississippi, I think--which has a strong literary culture, and of course literary people tend to be liberal in politics, and to assume that all literary people are. And someone talking about how wonderful her neighborhood was said: "It's a street where everybody is a Democrat." That was striking to me. I have no idea at all what the politics of my neighbors are (except for the one house whose lawn sprouted a Trump sign late in the last campaign), and I don't care, and I won't care unless they badger me about it.

The other was in The Atlantic, and thanks to their online archive I can tell you exactly when it appeared and what it said. It was in the December 2013 issue, and the title of the piece is "Do Democrats Make Better Neighbors?". To my thinking anyone who even asks a question like that has thereby indicated that he is much too obsessed with politics. The writer describes his own neighborhood:

But in the past 10 years, the neighborhood has regained much of its leafy, prosperous sheen, drawing families and young people alike. Hobart Street, where I live, celebrates this newfound identity with an annual block party featuring bouncy houses as well as drag queens. Residents kick off a parade by reciting: “I pledge allegiance to Hobart Street Northwest … gay or straight, woman or man, all are welcome on Hobart Street—except for Republicans.”

Substitute some other group for Republican in that and see how it sounds. I give the author credit for at least noting that it might be a problem.

 *

Something astonishing from the Washington Post: they take seriously the claims of an obscure Christian minister in a Florida town that he has detected demonic activity. This is normally the kind of thing that the Post and any other sophisticated news organization would sneer at if it happened to come to their notice. Why does this guy get a sympathetic hearing? Oh, I see: these demons are pro-Trump.

I don't think news media like the Post are even capable of seeing how partisan they are, and how much it distorts their reporting. As everybody knows, I guess, the Obama administration issued a requirement that all schools that receive federal funding must allow students to use whatever restroom they want, depending on what gender they wish to claim. Trump has said that he will rescind that rule. The Post's headline on a story about that: 

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ROLLS BACK PROTECTIONS FOR TRANSGENDER STUDENTS

Never any hint that much of the objection to the rule came from concerns that girls would not be protected. It's really quite remarkable how the concerns of and for girls and women instantly became silly when a newer and apparently more victim-y victim class came into the picture. Worse than silly--intolerant and very bad, as David French says.

*

Pope Francis was widely misquoted last week. You probably saw the headlines, usually something like "Pope Says Better to Be An Atheist Than a Hypocritical Christian." That sentiment was in fact expressed in his talk, but it was attributed to those who are scandalized by hypocritical Christians: 

And so many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others. How many times have we heard--all of us, around the neighbourhood and elsewhere--"but to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist."

That sort of bad witness seems more important than ever, with the culture at large tending more and more toward hostility to Christians. The talk, of which you can read more here, contains some strong words useful as we begin Lent:

It would be good for all of us, each one of us, today, to consider if there is something of a double life within us, of appearing just, of seeming to be good believers, good Catholics, but underneath doing something else; if there is something of a double life…

*

Well, I really didn't intend to talk so much about our collapsing culture this week. Here's something that's not collapsing: the right leg of this Canadian goose. (That's the name of the species. I cannot actually verify that the goose has ever been a resident of Canada.) Not a very good picture, but good enough for you to see that it's standing on one leg. It stood that way for at least five minutes or so while I tried to get close enough to get a picture without scaring it away. How is that even possible? The bird probably weighs at least ten pounds, and most of that weight is, as you can see, hanging in the air unsupported while the unsupportee gazes at the water.

GooseOnOneLeg

 

Comments

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Thanks for clarifying the Pope's "atheist" comment. It made the front page of our national paper this weekend, but without any indication that it was something other than his own view.

Mac says, "better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Christian." Look, it's right up there.

I have no idea whether SHEL's relative "loss of girliness" has anything to do with their giving themselves too early and too often to the unworthy. I'm thinking it has more to do with a thirst for fame. I don't know, though.

I do feel paternalistic towards them, esp. after having met and talked to them (they are very charming).

Once, on their facebook page, they posted "We are is X city. Anyone know where you can get good whiskey here?" Then their dad posted, something like, "I think you girls should just spend the evening at home." I my mind I said, "Good for you, dad."

That should read "We are in X city."

I don't have any idea either, obviously, or any real reason to think so. It was just a train of thought suggested by your remark. And of course some disillusionment is just a sadly normal part of growing up. I got their album, btw (mp3). Haven't listened to it yet.

Yes, it's true, I did type that sentence (about atheism). Well, copy-and-pasted it, anyway. It's actually an interesting question to me: whether it's worse to disbelieve with integrity or to believe without it.

I don't think the options are absolute. We are all duplicitous to a certain extent. I think that is one of the points of the pope's comments.

Yes, that's what I took it to mean. Not that we're all engaged in some flagrant hypocrisy like the examples he mentions, but that we may do similar things in smaller and less conspicuous ways.

I hide it well.

I was about to say "Yeah, me too." And then I wondered...maybe I don't....

Whether what we now call liberalism in this country could ever become truly totalitarian--I mean thoroughly and violently repressive, in the way of fascism and communism--I'm not sure. If we include the entire left, there certainly are elements that would seem to be quite willing to use violence, and there certainly are elements which clearly want to enforce very rigid ideological conformity.

You recall Manuel Azana's excuse for wrecking Spain's network of secondary schools? ("It is a matter of public health").

I think your religion metaphor for contemporary political discourse is less illuminating one which draws on the high school social scene - a locus of pointless rivalries.

One thing I discover about the left: with the exception of a few wonks, they're completely uninterested in policy except as a hook for a point-scoring discussion. They're given to subordinating everything to political tribalism, but have only the most idle interest in what public institutions actually do.

It would be good for all of us, each one of us, today, to consider if there is something of a double life within us, of appearing just, of seeming to be good believers, good Catholics, but underneath doing something else; if there is something of a double life…

I'll wager you it's just another expression of the Pope's distaste for orthodox Catholics. Dale Price offered a while back the observation that the Pope brought to mind the demoralizing paternal type who likes other people's children much better than he likes his own.

A thought something like that crossed my mind, but I decided to leave it out, in the spirit of trying to put the best face on the Pope's words.

"One thing I discover about the left: with the exception of a few wonks, they're completely uninterested in policy except as a hook for a point-scoring discussion."

Well...from my point of view it seems more than a few wonks. But I'd agree that they are a minority. I'd also say it seems not so much the point-scoring as the emotional buzz: I support such-and-such a policy because doing so makes me feel so good--wise, benevolent, compassionate, empathetic, etc. That obviously can be and often is supplemented by the pleasure of disliking those who have other views.

"Virtue-signaling" is a nice term that started turning up over the past year or so. It's a very pleasurable activity, apparently.

Not convinced that all of us, each one of us can persuasively be construed to mean "those others over there".

Good point.

Williamson is quite incorrect. The "separate sphere of private life," divorced from what is public and political, is an invention of liberalism, and an essential function of the liberal order. The commendable desire to avoid sabotaging personal relationships on account of partisanship should not be expressed in such sloppy language, especially when one is intelligent enough to pay heed to better voices than those of NRO pundits.

I think you're reading more than is intended into his phrase, although I'm not entirely sure what the "more" is. You seem to be taking it in some very rigorous way.

The "separate sphere of private life," divorced from what is public and political, is an invention of liberalism, and an essential function of the liberal order.

Rubbish. This can only be true if you define any relationship between households and institutions in medieval or early modern society as 'public' or 'political'.

Maybe Nathan is thinking of the relegation of religion and principle in general to the sphere of the private, with the public sphere supposedly neutral but in fact having its own principles.

I think you're reading more than is intended into his phrase, although I'm not entirely sure what the "more" is.

Perhaps the opposite is true: I was trying to say that there is not much substance to Williamson's complaint, and that it amounts to empty, ahistorical reaction. It is probably true that many progressive liberals see the rise of Trump as a step too far towards whatever they hate most, and think of this as an excuse to abandon charity and good manners toward conservatives. That's too bad, but it's a phenomena you can understand without invoking the specter of a monolithic "Left" that only exists for people who write and read silly books like Liberal Fascism.

Maybe Nathan is thinking of the relegation of religion and principle in general to the sphere of the private, with the public sphere supposedly neutral but in fact having its own principles.

Yes, certainly; but most conservatives acknowledge this without acknowledging that it has been accompanied by a privatization and de-politicization of labor and economy.

A lot of conservatives ( not necessarily me) would not only acknowledge it but celebrate it.

One can simultaneously recognize that the Left is not monolithic and maintain that the broad term is meaningful.

That's too bad, but it's a phenomena you can understand without invoking the specter of a monolithic "Left" that only exists for people who write and read silly books like Liberal Fascism.

The left exists as such because people's views in this country on various issue sets are highly correlated. Denying that is silly and doing so with self-aggrandizing rhetorical games is deceitful.

Maybe Nathan is thinking of the relegation of religion and principle in general to the sphere of the private, with the public sphere supposedly neutral but in fact having its own principles.

The notion that 'religion is part of the private sphere' is a political assertion, not a social reality. Late modern countries allow more religious pluralism and cannot be described as confessional states. That's quite distinct from an assertion that religion is wholly 'private'.

Yes, certainly; but most conservatives acknowledge this without acknowledging that it has been accompanied by a privatization and de-politicization of labor and economy.


To refer to 'labor' and 'the economy' in the medieval or early modern era as 'political' is to make an unilluminating nonsense statement.

I just re-read Williamson's piece for the first time since I wrote this post last Sunday, and am a little puzzled by Nathan's objection to it. It seems a pretty accurate description of a phenomenon I observe frequently. Certainly one could go into a lot more depth about how our culture has arrived at this point, but that would be a different sort of piece.

"Late modern countries allow more religious pluralism and cannot be described as confessional states. That's quite distinct from an assertion that religion is wholly 'private'."

Well, yes, but there's a very strong tendency for pluralism to turn into "religion is a private affair." Which is not surprising--it's an attempt to maintain public harmony among competing "truth claims." It remains to be seen whether it's possible to maintain real pluralism beyond the old American Protestant-Catholic-Jew trio. By "real pluralism" I mean a situation where religion is not pushed entirely into the private realm and considered something unclean when it ventures out. Already we have a lot of influential people who think it should be that way (i.e. really and truly private).

Maclin, the conflict has been entirely driven by the legal profession, ths school apparat, the academy, and professional straw plaintiffs like Madelyn Murray O'Hair. There are likely about 300,000 school administrators in this country, shy of 900,000 college teachers and administrators, and just north of 600,000 lawyers. That's 1.3% of the workforce.

True, those are the soldiers. But the cause they're fighting for is bigger and more powerful than they are in themselves.

"But the cause they're fighting for is bigger and more powerful than they are in themselves."

And generally speaking they've got the media on their side, which makes for a hell of a big megaphone.

And in general a whole lot of cultural weight. Also, the fact that the legal profession tends to side with it gives it coercive power way beyond its numbers.

But the cause they're fighting for is bigger and more powerful than they are in themselves.

Nope. The cause they're fighting for is themselves. (See Alvin Gouldner).

Now, back to Nathan. "Religious pluralism" is a social fact, not an artifact of an abstraction called 'liberalism' nor of 'liberals' promoting whatever. It persists because societies have ways (albeit unreliable ways) for mediating and adjudicating conflict, not because some band of scribblers imposed a secular orthodoxy. We had religious pluralism in this country for 300 years before a claque of freemasons and officious nuisances on the federal Supreme Court concocted a secular orthodoxy out of whole cloth and gave a franchise to shysters of the public interest bar to troll for malcontents and marks so that local communities might be folded, spindled, and mutilated in comical ways by our atrocious judiciary.

I seem to remember that in the past we have disagreed about the relevance of abstract ideas to specific conditions of contemporary life. There seems to be such a disagreement here. You really don't think ideology plays a major role in the kind of activism you're talking about?

You really don't think ideology plays a major role in the kind of activism you're talking about?

'Ideology' refers to systems of thought, which may be haphazardly constructed or quite conscientiously constructed. Every person has an ideology. Ideologies are more congruent with some interests than others.

Again, Nathan is attempting (as did a figure like Leon Wieseltier a generation ago) to steal several bases.

~~"Religious pluralism" is a social fact, not an artifact of an abstraction called 'liberalism' nor of 'liberals' promoting whatever.~~

I think what Nathan's referring to is religious pluralism as currently understood, i.e., as a product of the Enlightenment/liberal understanding of religious liberty.

~~'Ideology' refers to systems of thought, which may be haphazardly constructed or quite conscientiously constructed. Every person has an ideology.~~

That depends on how loosely or strictly one defines 'ideology.'

I think what Nathan's referring to is religious pluralism as currently understood, i.e., as a product of the Enlightenment/liberal understanding of religious liberty.

I think you're confounding a social phenomenon with fanciful notions of what its causes are.

I'm puzzled by Art's resistance to acknowledging connections that seem pretty obvious.

A strong streak of contrariness?

Art seems strangely impatient with the notion that ideas have consequences.

Seems odd coming from a Catholic though -- aren't heresies "ideas" that the Church has officially opposed?

Of course bad ideas generally have a connection with "social phenomena." But who's saying that they don't?

"impatient with the notion that ideas have consequences." Yeah, and I think we've been down this road before.

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