Rod Dreher reads Rene Girard

On a recent podcast, Stefan Molyneux had a suggestion for people who complained that his YouTube videos are too long: read longer works that require critical thinking over extended periods of time.

In that spirit, Rod Dreher has begun reading Rene Girard’s Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the EarthDreher correctly describes it as “a difficult book”, but it provides Girard’s extensive discussion on his theory of mimetic behavior. Dreher actually does a pretty good job summarizing Girard’s theory:

Girard says that Plato made a basic mistake, and that mistake has been repeated throughout the whole of Western thought. He characterized mimesis as representation — that is, simply copying what other people do. Girard believes there is another dimension to mimesis, what he calls “possessive mimesis,” or “acquisitive mimesis.” We not only want to do what others do, but we want to have what others have. This is the source of conflict within groups; Girard calls it “mimetic rivalry,” and he said in our distant past, we devised ways to deal with it to keep the group from tearing itself apart. This, for Girard (who was a believing Catholic Christian), is the origin of religion.

Primitive societies have a clearer understanding of the role mimesis plays in violence than we moderns do, for “any mimetic reproduction suggests violence or is seen as a possible cause of violence.” Some tribes have taboos against using mirrors or taking photographs, which are absurd, but Girard says that no matter how superstitious they may be, those taboos are based on a sound insight about human nature. …

There are two ways societies regulate mimetic rivalry to keep the violence inherent to community in check. The first is through prohibitions, through Thou Shalt Nots. (Remember that in Philip Rieff’s theory of culture, prohibitions — he calls them “remissions” — are what define a culture by setting out its boundaries.) Says Girard, “Prohibitions are intended to keep distant or to remove anything that threatens the community.”

The second way societies deal with mimetic rivalry is through ritual. Girard observes that primitive religions usually conclude their rituals with a sacrifice. The sacrifice is enormously important, because it is the process through which the community’s members confront their own division, offload the aspects of themselves that cause the division onto the sacrificial victim, and then reaffirm themselves as united. The victim is sacrificed for the sake of the community. The victim is “the final act of violence, its last word.”

So, in Girard’s theory, societies first try to suppress mimetic rivalry through prohibition, and when those fail, they turn to ritual “to channel it in a direction that would lead to resolution, which means a reconciliation of the community at the expense of what one must suppose to be an arbitrary victim.” The victim is considered to be sacred because in the eyes of the community, it sacramentally bears the sins of the collective and the resolution of the conflicts that led to the moment of crisis.

The timing of Dreher reading Girard’s work is particularly apt, given the overly-emotional and irrational times in which we in the West currently live. (It’s not for nothing Dreher’s blog post is entitled, “Reading Rene Girard at the End of the World”.) While one can debate Dreher’s takeaways from what he has read thus far, I commend him from engaging with Girard’s work in the first place.

We find ourselves in extremely challenging times. Given the political, economic, and cultural issues that we face, they will not get easier anytime soon. If anything, it’s reasonable to expect rough times ahead for the forseeable future.

Those of us who have the capacity to read great and challenging works ought to do so. Not only do we personally benefit from doing so; we might be in a better position to help our communities address increasingly complex problems that, but for these works’ sage advice, would be at a loss to resolve.



Creating the white tribe

A reader of Rod Dreher’s blog provides a glimpse into why some white people, even if they are neither Republicans nor Trump supporters, find themselves being pulled towards “the white tribe”:

I am very lower middle class. I’ve never owned a new car, and do my own home repairs as much as I can to save money. I cut my own grass, wash my own dishes, buy my clothes from Walmart. I have no clue how I will ever be able to retire. But oh, brother, to hear the media tell it, I am just drowning in unearned power and privilege, and America will be a much brighter, more loving, more peaceful nation when I finally just keel over and die.

Trust me: After all that, some of the alt-right stuff feels like a warm, soothing bath. A “safe space,” if you will. I recoil from the uglier stuff, but some of it — the “hey, white guys are actually okay, you know! Be proud of yourself, white man!” stuff is really VERY seductive, and it is only with some intellectual effort that I can resist the pull. And yet I still follow this stuff, not really accepting it, but following it just because it’s one of the only places I can go where people are not always telling me I’m the seed of all evil in the world. If it’s a struggle for someone like me to resist the pull, I imagine it’s probably impossible for someone with less education or cultural exposure.

The reader goes on to discuss how the cultural left created this dilemna:

It baffles me that more people on the left can’t understand this, can’t see how they’re just feeding, feeding, feeding the growth of this stuff. They have no problem understanding, and even making excuses for, say, the seductive pull of angry black radicalism for disaffected black men. They’re totally cool with straightforwardly racist stuff like La Raza. Why are they unable to put themselves into the shoes of disaffected white guys and see how something similar might appeal to them? Or if they can make this mental leap, why are they so caustically dismissive of it — an attitude they’d never do with, say, a black kid who has joined the Nation of Islam?

I’m sorry, but there are two alternatives here. You can push for some kind of universalist vision bringing everybody together, or you can have tribes. There’s not a third option. If you don’t want universalism, then you just have to accept that various forms of open white nationalism are eventually going to become a permanent feature of politics. You don’t have to LIKE it. But you have to accept it and learn to live with it — including the inevitable violence and strife that will flow from it.

If the Left can’t let go of identity politics, then let me be clear: What comes next is on THEM. A lot of us don’t want to live in a world of tribes, and we never asked for it. But people will like those young dudes attracted to white nationalism are going to play the game according to the rules as they find them, and they will play to win. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

I read this in conjunction with Jeffrey Tucker’s important essay, “Must We Pick a Side?” Tucker’s essay is based on the premise that the most recent presidential election is yet another example of people voting based on the “team” they’re on, rather than on whether the policies a candidate proposes are appropriate:

The wildly contentious election of 2016 seems to have inculcated certain habits of mind. We are tempted to believe that our role as citizens is like that of a sports fan. We need to choose a team and stick with it, no matter what. Our team needs us.

If we lend our voices in support of the other guy, we are betraying our team. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. My friend is imperfect, but to admit this publicly is to weaken our side. It’s a test of loyalty. Therefore bring out the face paint, the jerseys, and the Vuvuzelas, and let’s fight, fight, fight!

Every day, the media exploits this model, giving us combat spectacles of left vs. right, party vs. party, this person vs. that person. This drives ratings, which is evidence that people find it intriguing. It allows spectators to participate by shouting at the TV, yelling at the radio, posting angrily on social media, having sub-tweet wars, and so on. We mimic what we see in these venues and even begin to talk like the vituperative and viral voices that fill up our feeds.

If the 2016 election were like any other election, I would agree completely with Tucker. However, I think Tucker is missing a key dynamic that arose during this election. That dynamic was the American public’s revolt against the left’s identity politics and stranglehold over American life. That revolt was expressed most specifically through the election of Trump.

Unfortunately, the left has yet to receive the message the public attempted to deliver. Rather than acknowledging that it may have treated some people, particularly white people, unfairly, it has doubled-down. Candidates for the DNC Chair are competing over who hates white people more. New York magazine is proclaiming that the future of left-wing politics is female. Meanwhile, many people on the left are celebrating the fact that a leader of the white nationalist movement got sucker-punched while talking. (Notice the “White Lives Matter Too Much” sign in the background.)

I completely agree with Tucker when he writes:

Stay independent, think clearly, watch carefully, adhere to principle, speak fearlessly, praise when good things happen and oppose when bad things happen, tell the truth as you see it, and otherwise be ever vigilant in defense of rights and liberties, yours and everyone’s. To be steadfast and honest in these times is the height of political virtue.

In this spirit, I write to say that the left is in the process of begetting its own demise. By categorizing everyone by certain identities, and either elevating or demonizing each identity accordingly, the response is a right-wing politics that are a negative reflection of its own. Rod Dreher’s reader, however educated and cultured he may be, can resist the temptation of the white tribe for only so long. However, does the left really want to rely on his having infinite patience with how it is treating white people?

And if he joins the tribe, how many more will be with him?

Saint Francis, pray for us!

Saint Anthony of Padua, pray for us!


Vox Day: Trump’s strategy is overwhelming the Left

I hate it when someone posts on a topic that I was thinking about addressing.

I hate it even more when that person discusses the subject far more eloquently than I ever could.

Such is the position in which I currently find myself. This morning, I thought to myself, “Self, wouldn’t be interesting to write about how not only is Trump trolling the mainstream media, but is doing so in a way so that the media’s collective head is spinning out of control?” No sooner did I ask myself this question than Vox Day’s post on “3rd generation politics” appears on my RSS reader.

There is clearly a ruthless strategist behind the God-Emperor’s executive blitzkrieg of the last three days, and I strongly suspect it is someone who is familiar with the work of both Col. John Boyd and Mike Cernovich. The unprecedented speed with which the executive orders is not merely intentional, it is strategic.

What I believe we’re seeing is the marriage of two tactics: the Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA) Loop and Cernovich’s media cycle disruption described in MAGA Mindset, being combined into a strategic approach designed to render the media’s mass firepower irrelevant.

Vox’s post relies heavily on military strategist William Lind’s conception of warfare. Lind has argued that among the reasons U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan had not been successful there is because their tactics, which rely heavily on overwhelming firepower, couldn’t address guerilla attacks by fighters who integrated seamlessly with the populace.

What Trump is doing is the political equivalent of the German Blitzkrieg, which is based on “speed, surprise, and mental as well as physical dislocation.” Applying this military concept to politics leads to a strategy that could very well lead to “the Left’s cultural high ground almost completely impotent.”

Notice how the media was still trying to figure out how to best go about attacking the rather unspecific undermining of Obamacare when Trump dropped the more highly targeted EPA freeze and pipeline orders on them. They had barely begun to even report on those acts when news of the immigration-related orders was then leaked. The God-Emperor is using executive momentum and his ability to make rapid decisions to disrupt and neutralize the mainstream media’s vast, but cumbersome communications apparatus. Much like the Germans created maneuver warfare to avoid the formidable artillery barrages of the Allies and break through the trenches in WWI, Trump is using high-speed maneuver politics to smash the three-day media cycle, thereby preventing his opponents from targeting any individual action.

At some point, the media will realize that it finds itself in a lose-lose scenario. If the media keeps attacking Trump on issue X, the public will continue tuning them out. They’re sick of the media’s bias while pretending to be objective, knowing all too well that its objectivity mask fell off months ago and is stuck in some curb, collecting mud.

However, if the media comes clean, realizes that it was merely a shill for Hillary during the presidential campaign, it could easily be too little, too late, and die anyways. It could become one giant MSNBC, but then all of the cable networks, newpapers, and social media outlets would have to fight for a continually shrinking audience. Then again, if a media outlet truly tries to provide objective reporting, not only will it need to fight hard to regain the public’s trust, it will no longer be an organ for the left. Either way, the media in particular, and the left in general, is going to continue to lose relevance with the public.

While we’ll need to pay critical attention to what the Trump administration is doing, there’s no reason why we can’t celebrate the administration’s role in the left’s continuing demise.


Sean Davis demolishes an abortion proponent’s ravings about ultrasound machines

Sean Davis of The Federalist demolishes a shocking article in The Atlantic written by Moira Weigel, in which she attempts to politicize the ultrasound machine.

Politicize the ultrasound machine. Yes, my dear reader, you read that correctly.

Now why would someone want to do that, and is that what Weigel attempting to do?

Davis answers both questions convincingly. Answering my second question first, he writes:

The article’s headline is bad enough—”How the Ultrasound Pushed the Idea That a Fetus Is a Person”—but its subhed [sic] is the real work of art: “The technology has been used to create an ‘imaginary’ heartbeat and sped-up videos that falsely depict a response to stimulus.”

There are numerous other gems throughout the piece, such as her implication that only male doctors are allowed to use ultrasounds.

“Ultrasound made it possible for the male doctor to evaluate the fetus without female interference,” Weigel declares. Are female doctors banned from or incapable of doing an ultrasound on a pregnant mother? What about X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans? Are those marvels of modern technology that have helped to diagnose and cure countless diseases and physical maladies since their inception? Or are they evil technologies that merely enable peeping mandoctors to cast their eyes into the inner recesses of a woman’s body?

Davis goes on to address my first question:

Weigel’s war on science, common sense, and life-saving medical technology is not aimless, though. Her real enemy is legislation that would criminalize abortion once an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected. Her logic is straightforward. If it’s illegal to kill a healthy, unborn baby after her heartbeat is detected, simply deny that she has a heartbeat:

Opponents of the heartbeat bills have pointed out that they would eliminate abortion rights almost entirely—making the procedure illegal around four weeks after fertilization, before many women realize that they are pregnant. These measures raise even more elementary questions: What is a fetal heartbeat? And why does it matter?

The idea would have been unthinkable before the advent of a technology developed in 1976: real-time ultrasound. At six weeks, the “heartbeat” is not audible; it is visible, a flickering that takes place between 120 and 160 times per minute on a black-and-white playback screen. As cardiac cells develop, they begin to send electrical pulses that cause their neighbors to contract. Scientists can observe the same effect if they culture cells in a petri dish.

Doctors do not even call this rapidly dividing cell mass a “fetus” until nine weeks into pregnancy. Yet, the current debate shows how effectively politicians have used visual technology to redefine what counts as “life.”

“What is a fetal heartbeat?” is a simple question with an even simpler answer for those who are not desperately trying to rationalize the killing of a healthy unborn baby. But for abortion activists desperate to rationalize killing, it becomes a tortured exercise in metaphysics. Which is of course why the author then scare-quotes “life” after struggling mightily to understand what a heartbeat is and then—I’m not joking—asking why the presence of a heartbeat should even matter. Why does the existence of a heartbeat matter? It’s a real puzzle, I tell you.

Davis then goes in for the kill…metaphorically speaking, of course:

The fact of the matter is that abortion activists know what they’re doing: they are voluntarily choosing to end a precious and distinct human life. After all, if that unborn baby girl weren’t alive, the abortionist wouldn’t be so hell-bent on killing her. And if her heart weren’t beating, the abortionist wouldn’t have to try so hard to make it stop.

As someone who once warped his mind to rationalize otherwise abhorrent arguments, I actually feel sympathy for Ms. Weigel, and the position in which she finds herself. Like Henry VIII, who tortured common sense to justify the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Ms. Weigel splices together facts and reasoning into a logically-induced Frankenstein so she can argue that a heartbeat is not a heartbeat when it occurs in the womb.

Unfortunately, fairy tales created by the wishful mind do not make the death of an innocent child disappear. With this in mind, Davis closes his article by articulating the cold, hard truth:

No amount of euphemisms can obscure the truth that unborn babies are alive, that their hearts beat just as ours do, and that the abortion industry is dead set on killing as many of them as possible.

St. Gianna Beretta Molla, pray for us!

A Simple Update

Sorry for the lack of substantive posts on this blog lately. There are two basic reasons for this.

First, I have been using the past couple of weeks getting acclimated to Twitter. Simply put, Twitter is far more rapid fire and direct than blogging or Facebook. You can follow me at @asimplefoolblog.

Second, even with the Trump inauguration and the demonstrations against him, I really didn’t want to use my blog to write multiple posts that say “another progressive did another stupid thing”.

That’s what Twitter is for.

What I can do is summarize the state in which Democrats currently find themselves in one video clip. It’s the final scenes of “Miracle”, when a bunch of American college kids beat the Soviet Union’s elite hockey team 4-3 at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. In the final minute of the third period, the Russians are scrambling to come up with anything to tie the game, but to no avail. The Russian Head Coach is screaming incoherently at his team, again to no avail. U.S. Head Coach Herb Brooks turns to his assistant to calmly observe, “He doesn’t know what to do.”

The Democrats don’t know what to do.

I should have more substantive posts on the blog shortly. In the meantime, enjoy the clip, and enjoy your day.



The Hill: Trump team plans actual spending cuts

The Hill reports that the incoming Trump administration is planning actual cuts in discretionary spending:

Donald Trump is ready to take an ax to government spending.

Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned.

The changes they propose are dramatic.

The departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.

Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.

While the plan doesn’t appear to touch either “nondiscretionary” spending, such as social security and medicare, or defense spending, if this is carried out, this would be a very good step in the right direction.

George H.W. Bush’s classy letter to Donald Trump

While I am not a supporter of the Bush family in any way, I have to confess being pleasantly surprised by Bush the Elder’s classy letter to Donald Trump, in which he explains that he can not attend the inauguration for health reasons.

Dear Donald,

Barbara and I are so sorry we can’t be there for your Inauguration on January 20th. My doctor says if I sit outside in January, it likely will put me six feet under. Same with Barbara. So I guess we’re stuck in Texas.

But we will be with you and the country in spirit. I want you to know that I wish you the very best as you begin this incredible journey of leading our great country. If I can ever be of help, please let me know.

All the best,

Bush the Elder did not have to write that letter. Trump pummelled Jeb Bush relentlessly during the Republican primaries. (Jeb deserved it, but that’s another matter.) However, George H.W. Bush rose above whatever he may have felt about that and wrote a gracious letter to the president-elect.

Well done.

Perhaps liberals can learn a thing or two from Bush’s example…

h/t Maine Republic Alert