I don't, obviously, try to follow the news here. I didn't even write about the October 7th invasion/massacre in Israel, or anything that's followed it, but I have certainly given it a lot of my attention. But this seems significant in a way not very far distant from some of the things I do write about, e.g. posts in the "Catholic Stuff" category, to warrant mention.
Peterson is an interesting guy. Interesting and smart. I haven't read any of his books but I've seen him in interviews and talks and he has, as you probably know, a great many very sensible things to say, and apparently a strong and healthy respect for the religious traditions of Western civilization. That's enough to make him unusual for someone who has as much popular appeal as he does. I don't think anyone would be surprised if he followed his wife into the Church.
It appeared in National Review, and, as you might suppose, it's a government-skeptical response to an outlandish idea for a new government project.
I just can't think of anything much to say about the very idea that government could possibly do anything at all about loneliness. I think you have to be...well, I won't say crazy, but definitely somewhat off, to believe that it could. And as for the alleged "loneliness crisis," the term suggests that, as with inflation, there is some acceptable level of loneliness in society, that it can be measured, and that when it exceeds the acceptable level Somebody Ought To Do Something.
That widespread loneliness exists is surely true; that it's worse and more widespread than it used to be is probably true. That the government, which is to say politicians and bureaucrats, can or should try to do something about it is extremely doubtful. George W. Bush once said "When people are hurting, government has to act." In context, which was a natural disaster, the remark made more sense, but still, it struck me as odd.
Ok, that's all pretty goofy. But the NR story is responding to something that strikes me as being out-and-out crazy. It's a press release from the office of the governor of New York:
You remember "Dr. Ruth," right? An old bawd--that was always my impression of her--who ran a talk show giving sex advice? She's now 94 years old but is nevertheless ready to "work day and night to help New Yorkers feel less lonely!" Filling in the background, the press release defines the terms for us: "Loneliness is defined as the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social interaction, while social isolation refers to a lack of social connections."
There's a great deal to mock in that press release, but it's more trouble than it's worth. (Why is it an ambassador to loneliness? How can you have an ambassador to an emotion? Why not to the lonely?) And anyway the word "honorary" suggests that it's only meant as a gesture. I'll just make one broader observation: Dr. Ruth's career (my impression confirmed by Wikipedia) was as a propagandist for the sexual revolution. Like essentially all of that stripe, she apparently has never considered the possibility that the success of that revolution may have contributed to the loneliness and other social ills that she does at least notice. No; the solution is always that the revolution has not gone far enough and must push ever onward. It's as if the successors of Robespierre and Company had concluded that the problem was that too few heads had been separated from bodies, and more must roll.
Some social progressives seem to be very close to proclaiming something which is strongly implied by things like this: that the enemy is the human condition, and that they intend to eliminate it. Which perhaps they are doing, but not exactly in the way they imagine.
Here's a current ridiculous headline, from the Washington Post:
This is funny because "blue" America is constantly striving to dictate how "red" America is run, and has been doing so for many years. It's a major component of Democratic Party politics now, as well as of the work of many progressive institutions. And it's a major component of the forces dividing the country. (I haven't looked at the story; it's behind a pretty opaque paywall.)
When I was twenty-ish, and probably for some years afterward, I assumed that the music of my generation would be received by my children and those who came after in the way my generation received the popular music of our parents' generation--Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, and all the other music of the '30s and '40s which began to be pushed aside by rock-and-roll in the 1950s, but persisted into the '60s, to be disdained by young people for many of whom popular music was many things more than music. It was music for old people, meaning middle-aged and older. It was boring, it was corny (what is the contemporary equivalent of that term?), it was a fashion that had had its day and was now deader than the racoons in a racoon coat, deader than twenty-three-skidoo (whatever that meant) and speakeasies. And moreover for those who were really part of the youth culture that produced the music, it was an emblem of the old straight conformist commercialized world against which we had rebelled.
All that was at least half absurd, of course, as the putatively counter-cultural music of the mid-to-late 1960s was inextricably bound to the corporate music business which sold it to us, profiting very well from it. It still surprises me a little to recall that The Velvet Underground and Nico was available in record stores in the small southern town where I went to college. Granted, it was a college town, but still....
I expected my generation, and the music of my generation, to meet the same fate. Somewhat to my surprise, that didn't happen. My children (for the most part) took to rock music as readily as my generation had. By 1980 or so, when the '60s kids were well into middle age, the music of our late adolescence had become "classic rock," and younger people listened to it as much as we did. Now, forty years later, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix are still widely liked by people who were young enough to be their children, and even, theoretically at least, young enough to be their grandchildren. On my bookshelf there is an instructional book for guitar called Jimi Hendrix Note-for-Note, which is exactly what the title says, and was left behind by one of my now-forty-something children.
In expecting that rejection, I was of course completely misreading what was going on: the music of the cultural revolution continued to be favored in part because the revolution succeeded. But that's another topic.
On the other side of that division were the old folks whose reaction to rock-and-roll in general and to post-1965 rock in particular ranged from puzzled to outraged. They might acknowledge that the Beatles sometimes had some good tunes, and the radio still played a lot of fairly conventional music, but the whole hippie side of the thing made no sense to them. Why would a band call themselves the Grateful Dead? Or the Jefferson Airplane? Why would anybody want to look like that? Why would anybody want to listen to that stuff?
Now, at last, I have some idea of what they felt. I've noticed for several years now that on the infrequent occasions when I hear current pop music that I have a distinct and sometimes strong--very strong--aversion to it, not just to individual pieces but to the basic sound. A few days ago, deciding that I should take a closer listen, I watched this video in which Rick Beato listens to the Top 10 songs (as measured by Spotify, not Billboard, as of old) and evaluates them. You may know of Beato--his music-related videos are very popular and usually interesting. The title of this one tells you what he thought.
I had that adverse reaction--by which I mean "I hate this"--to at least half the songs he samples. (I've forgotten which ones now.) Beato supports his reaction with rational, music-based specifics. But I don't really care to analyze my reasons. Suffice to say that in those cases I hate the vocals and the instrumentation and, usually, the songs, or "songs." (With that last bit of snark I recall my grandmother, ca. 1966, saying "These songs today don't have any tune to them.")
A few remarks: (1) I think rap/hip-hop has had a big part to play in all this, especially in the un-song songs which tend to consist of uninteresting complaints. (2) I absolutely cannot stand the "warble" effect produced on vocals with Auto-Tune--the impossible leaps and twists of pitch and tone that don't even sound human, because they aren't. Beato and others say that Auto-Tune, when used for its intended purpose--to make a note absolutely on pitch--takes the life out of music, and I believe it. But that warble is, to my ears, death itself, musically speaking. I suppose to say that a sound is like fingernails on a chalk board may no longer make sense, when chalkboards have probably long since disappeared from classrooms. If so, I guess it's appropriate that I use an obsolete comparison. (3) I was a little surprised at how bland and dull the Taylor Swift track is. I've never heard much of her stuff but I've had the impression that she is pretty gifted.
In general most current commercial pop doesn't register on my ears as music. It seems just a sort of processed sound product--Cheez-Whiz for the ears. I denounce it without shame, embracing my out-of-touch-old-man identity.
I am by the way very aware that there is plenty of good pop music being made, some of it no doubt by people under thirty. But it doesn't seem to make it into the mainstream.
They want us all to participate in a structured "discernment" process guided by facilitators. Perhaps, being progressives with a bureaucratic-administrative sort of mindset--i.e. the sort of people who like this sort of thing--they don't realize that for many or most others it's partly to be ridiculed and partly to be feared. It's frequently manipulative, aimed at pushing a group in a certain direction while providing a veneer of consensus.
I wonder if it's not just frequently but intrinsically so. Maybe not. But I don't think I'm far off in thinking that most people who have been obliged to participate in it see it as something of a sham. This is especially true if the "facilitators" are in positions of power over the facilitated. I'm slightly surprised that America magazine would spill the beans on this. But here is the former editor, Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., asserting that "Pope Francis wants the synod in every parish":
Like the members of the synod, parishioners should be divided into groups of 10 members sitting at round tables.
In addition, at the synod, there was an experienced facilitator to guide the members of each group in the process. The facilitator’s job is not to impose his or her views on the group but to be an impartial moderator who encourages respectful listening and makes sure everyone is able to participate.
Each group also chooses a secretary to draft a report of the group’s discussions.
The actual work of the small groups involves “conversation in the Spirit” on the question they want to discern. The question could be a decision facing the parish or any of the topics (Communion, Mission, Participation) outlined in the synod working paper or Instrumentum Laboris. Perhaps most fruitful would be reflection on the questions that come out of the first session of the synod, which ends this week.
Etc. etc. You can read his whole proposal here. And here's a link to a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation (of course) outlining the process as implemented in the synod.
At the parish level, I doubt that many people apart from those odd ones who thrive on committees and meetings and such would really want to do this. Likely conclusion, whether at synod or parish: "The Spirit is telling us to do what we wanted to do. Our God is a God of surprises!"
Or maybe I'm just too cynical. That's probably it.
There was a similar program back in the '80s. It was called Renew. Everybody who participated recalls it with excitement and nostalgia. Those who are too young speak of it reverently and regret that they were not present for it. Right?
Last week I had to choose between this one and the one about racist birds. Unlike that one, this one is merely ridiculous. Or maybe not. The position of Starbucks in American culture is creepy to say the least. And I really don't like the thing we now call Holiday.
I was sorry to hear recently that a Starbucks may be opening here. It's likely to displace several locally-owned coffee shops.
As I think I mentioned not too long ago, I've been going through old notebooks containing odds and ends of writing, with the aim of getting rid of the notebooks, as part of a bigger de-cluttering process. Some of the material is drafts of blog posts or essays which were eventually published. Much is only fragments, briefly noted ideas, not worth preserving. A few are more substantial. This is one. I have no very definite idea of when I wrote it, but I think it was at least fifteen years ago.
I seem to develop allergies to certain words or phrases from time to time. I'll notice myself having an irritable reaction to a word such as, for instance, "empowerment." Once I realize that this is happening I begin to analyze the term and usually find that it is being used in some way that strikes me as dishonest, evasive, or simply wrong.
The first instance of this which I can recall at the moment occurred in the late '60s or early '70s, and the word was "lifestyle." It seemed a harmless, perhaps even useful, term, but it always rubbed me wrong. Eventually I figured out that it was the savor of self-indulgence about it that put me off, and soon enough it became clear that it had two meanings: one, a way of living which ran defiantly counter to traditional morality, as in "alternative lifestyle," and, two, money, as in "we'd like to maintain our lifestyle." (Test-drive it and see: try talking about "the Trappist lifestyle"; it should make you feel uneasy.)
"Values" is another such irritating word. What's wrong with it? Isn't the lack of "values" one of our serious problems? Don't we need values? If so, why do I feel gloom descending upon me when I read in the bulletin of a Catholic college that it is "committed to Catholic values"?
The problem is that values alone are not worth much. The term has come to mean a mere preference.
That was all I wrote at the time. But I know that what I meant to go on and say was that "values" are not principles. "Values" are soft, malleable, somewhat subjective, possibly even a matter of personal inclination. Principles are hard and fixed. You can stand on them.
Catholic values are fine; they ought to include many qualities which almost everyone would applaud--in a Catholic college, they ought to include, for instance, academic excellence. Concern for justice and peace, if taken in a non-ideological sense, is a worthy value. But notice that those are abstract and a little vague. Why are these things valued? What are the principles which justify their being valued? If they aren't founded on Catholic principles--by which I mean the faith itself, starting with the creeds--then what? And with what justification?
The gloom I described arises from a suspicion that use of the word "values" is often an attempt, possibly unconscious, to avoid or minimize that foundation, in the interest of appearing more accommodating to the secular modern suspicion of religion as such.
One casualty of the winnowing and discarding process I mentioned was some dozens of pages of a novel for which I once had great hopes. I could still see glimpses of promise in it, but not many. It was a little painful to discard those scribbled pages and close the door on that project forever.
I'm always a little annoyed by the cheerful counsel that "it's never too late!" to do this or that thing that you always wanted to do. Sometimes it really is. Sure, I could start working on that novel again, but it would be at the expense of spending time on other things I want to do or should do. At my age I can be pretty certain that I won't have time and/or good health for them all.
The headline is ridiculous, and the news it links to is not only ridiculous but much more: crazy, sick, arguably wicked. You may have seen other news stories about this: the American Ornithological Society has decided that many bird names "have associations with the past that continue to be exclusionary and harmful today."
Are these people not among the most insufferably self-righteous twits who have ever walked the earth? They have taken passive-aggression to undreamed of heights. And it's very hurtful.
The headline makes the effort sound even crazier than it is. Even "activists" would have a very hard time convincing themselves that the birds themselves are racists.
There is a hawk called Cooper's Hawk. I have no idea who Cooper was--not James Fenimore, I presume? Or maybe it was. In any case, he lived before our Red Guards began to do their work of purification, and is therefore automatically under suspicion. It won't take much to convict him. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Judging individual cases would be a big hassle, so they're just going to rename all the birds whose names include the names of persons. I expect the people who will actually feel better when this is done are not those who are said to feel "excluded" when they hear the words "Cooper's Hawk," but the activists who are enjoying the exercise of their power.
And I suppose they won't get rid of the slur-adjacent "woodpecker," which is pretty much the same thing as "peckerwood."
I must, however, applaud the first comment on that story:
"OH GOD NO PLEASE DO NOT GET RID OF BOOBIES AND TITS!"
Here are two albums I've been listening to recently: Under the Milkyway...Who Cares? by Seasurfer, and everything is alive by Slowdive. (I'm following the typography used by both bands.) The first can fairly be classified as "shoegaze;" one recognizes the basic sound immediately. I think of the other as "not-shoegaze" because Slowdive helped to define the style, and is always one of the first names mentioned when it's discussed, but this album really doesn't fit the mold.
Slowdive existed for roughly five years in the early 1990s, then broke up, with three of its four members carrying on as a mostly-acoustic band called Mojave 3. Then Slowdive reformed around 2015 and in 2017 put out a new self-titled album, which is very much in their old style and is one of those fairly rare comebacks which fans generally consider as good as the band's earlier work.
All of which is to say that I expected this new release to continue in that vein.
Well, I was wrong. The first song, "shanty," opens with a synthesizer loop which made me think I was listening to Tangerine Dream, but then moves into something closer to the old sound. The next song, "prayer remembered," is almost ambient; there may or may not be a faint vocal mist in there somewhere. I thought of instrumental post-rock groups like Hammock and Explosions In the Sky. "alife" comes closer to a typical shoegaze sound than most of the album, and it's excellent. "andalucia plays" sounds more like Mojave 3 than Slowdive. And so on. Actually the whole notion of "typical Slowdive" was exploded by Pygmalion, the last album of the band's initial incarnation, so the variety here is not a new thing for them.
Though very varied in texture from one song to the next, the album remains fairly subdued throughout; not much jumps out at you as being brilliant. I was a bit disappointed in it on first listen, but it's continued to grow on me. Set aside categories and expectations: it's subtle, evocative music with a quiet emotional touch, well and carefully produced with a lot of interesting sonic detail. I remain disappointed only with the closing track, "the slab," which is to my taste monotonous without compensatory beauty.
This is possibly the closest track to what one might expect of the band. You might want to look away from the video if you're bothered, as I am, by spacey visual patterns.
Under the Milkyway opens with a blast of noisy guitars and drums which more than justifies the oft-noted commonality between some shoegaze and some metal. That leads into "It's Too Late," which will do as well as any as a sample track--unlike the Slowdive album, this one is fairly consistent in basic sound.
It's a curiously habit-forming album. I've listened to it at least five times over the past couple of months, which is unusual for me. And I haven't tired of it; I just keep liking it more. Definitely recommended to anyone who likes the basic sound.