When I came first to the University I was as nearly without a moral conscience as a boy could be. Some faint distaste for cruelty and for meanness about money was my utmost reach—of chastity, truthfulness, and self-sacrifice I thought as a baboon thinks of classical music. By the mercy of God I fell among a set of young men (none of them, by the way, Christians) who were sufficiently close to me in intellect and imagination to secure immediate intimacy, but who knew, and tried to obey, the moral law. Thus their judgement of good and evil was very different from mine. Now what happens in such a case is not in the least like being asked to treat as ‘white’ what was hitherto called black. The new moral judgements never enter the mind as mere reversals (though they do reverse them) of previous judgements but ‘as lords that are certainly expected’. You can have no doubt in which direction you are moving: they are more like good than the little shreds of good you already had, but are, in a sense, continuous with them. … It is in the light of such experiences that we must consider the goodness of God. Beyond all doubt, His idea of ‘goodness’ differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards. When the relevant difference between the Divine ethics and your own appears to you, you will not, in fact, be in any doubt that the change demanded of you is in the direction you already call ‘better’. The Divine ‘goodness’ differs from ours, but it is not sheerly different: it differs from ours not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child’s first attempt to draw a wheel. But when the child has learned to draw, it will know that the circle it then makes is what it was trying to make from the very beginning.CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Somewhere Else There Must Be More of It
“Oh cruel, cruel!” I wailed. “Is it nothing to you that you leave me here alone? Psyche; did you ever love me at all?”
“Love you? Why, Maia, what have I ever had to love save you and our grandfather the Fox?” (But I did not want her to bring even the Fox in now.) “But, Sister, you will follow me soon. You don’t think any mortal life seems a long thing to me tonight? And how would it be better if I had lived? I suppose I should have been given to some king in the end—perhaps such another as our father. … Indeed, indeed, Orual, I am not sure that this which I go to is not the best.”
“Yes. What had I to look for if I lived? Is the world—this palace, this father—so much to lose? We have already had what would have been the best of our time. I must tell you something, Orual, which I never told to anyone, not even you.”
I know now that this must be so even between the lovingest hearts. But her saying it that night was like stabbing me.
“What is it?” said I, looking down at her lap where our four hands were joined.
“This,” she said, “I have always—at least, ever since I can remember—had a kind of longing for death.”
“Ah, Psyche,” I said, “have I made you so little happy as that?”
“No, no, no,” she said. “You don’t understand. Not that kind of longing. It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine…where you couldn’t see Glome or the palace. Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking across at the Grey Mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! But I couldn’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home.”
She kissed both my hands, flung them free, and stood up. She had her father’s trick of walking to and fro when she talked of something that moved her. And from now till the end I felt (and this horribly) that I was losing her already, that the sacrifice tomorrow would only finish something that had already begun. She was (how long had she been, and I not to know?) out of my reach, in some place of her own.CS Lewis, Till We Have Faces
Nature Utterly Pwned Nature
Consider the story of the identical twins Jim Lewis and Jim Springer, who were raised separately from the age of four weeks. They reunited at 39 and found that they were each six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds; bit their nails and had tension headaches; owned a dog named Toy when they were kids; went on family vacations at the same beach in Florida; had worked part-time in law enforcement; and liked Miller Lite beer and Salem cigarettes. There was one notable difference: Jim Lewis named his firstborn James Alan, while Jim Springer named his James Allan. Had Lewis and Springer never met each other, they might have assumed that their adoptive parents played big roles in creating their tastes. But it appears that those interests were, to a large degree, coded in their DNA.Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, “The One Parenting Decision That Really Matters”
Cochran: “At least in this case, Nature utterly pwned Nurture. … [T]he environment influenced them all right, but it influenced them in exactly the same way.”
Three quick overarching takeaways:
- The majority of what people blame on capitalism, “systemic racism,” “white supremacy,” “the patriarchy,” etc. has little if anything to do with any of the above. Unsurprisingly, our Establishment routinely underestimates the importance of genetics: “The environment influences people want to exist, mostly don’t.” Update your views on politics, history, education, etc. accordingly.
- Parents should think carefully about what they can control and what they cannot control, optimize the former, and not stress out about the latter. If one identical twin is raised by the Amish and the other is raised by hippies, they will be profoundly different in some ways. But they will also be profoundly similar in other ways. Update your views on parenting accordingly.
- People can change, and sometimes they do. But usually not easily, usually not without miracles. Pray accordingly.
You Can’t Trust the Experts: COVID-19, Part II
Statistics and data are important, but so are stories:
‘Everyone’ was saying these vaccines were safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. But how could they? There were literally zero studies. This is when I realized we were being lied to.
The problem was everywhere. Almost every paper I read had at least one obvious and serious problem with it, often of a type that you didn’t need any actual expertise to notice. I started to wonder how these papers were getting through peer review and getting published. … [M]y confidence in publicly funded science is completely destroyed … Our society is completely in the grip of people who have effectively evolved under selection pressure to strongly resemble scientists without actually being scientists.
[L]egislation which institutes lockdowns with no exit strategy … is not drafted with the view that the emergency will (can) end. The people drafting this legislation are not stupid. If they have not written an exit strategy into the legislation … they do not intend to implement one (at least not unless it is politically expedient). … The young, the poor, and people with disabilities would be among the cohorts who would bear the brunt of the damage.
40 years of NIOSH and OSHA data said their containment strategy was a joke.. and every hazmat expert who spoke up got de-platformed. That convinced me the government was not serious, and it was all theater. … I knew from history that both cloth masks and 6 feet “social distancing” were both failed strategies from the pandemic of 1917-1919, which Facui et al just recycled. That’s not serious science.
How could anyone be over due for a vaccine that was still in clinical trials and was only available under an emergency use authorization
[T]he media was flooded with stories of apparently healthy 40 year olds who died from covid. No comorbidities or risk factors, just died. I started to recognize it for fear porn and even suspected some of these ‘stories’ were fabricated.
[M]any children killed themselves across the US and the media would not cover it…. [T]he game plan was to day by day, using the Task Force daily briefings, make Trump look incapable and that all he was doing was a failure…to report infections by the thousands daily, and to make America unmanageable and ungovernable so that by the time the election came, people will be fed up and hurt and crushed by the lockdowns etc. and they actually pulled that off.
None of this involves “conspiracy theories,” just recognition that we are ruled by people whose ambition exceeds their ability to lead—because they are groupthinkish, or incompetent, or dishonest, or (in some cases) malicious, or cowardly—or all of the above. If you work at a large organization of pretty much any kind—”public” or “private,” “for-profit” or “not-for-profit,” etc.—you probably know the type(s). Heck, you (and I) have probably been the type at some point or other.
The only reasonable course of action is to adopt a stance of alienation from the prevailing Narrative—which is certainly not always wrong, but which never deserves the benefit of the doubt. Alienation—not just from journalists, but from politicians (both Democrats and Republicans), bureaucrats, “scientists,” professors, CEO’s, and pretty much any other “expert.” Not just about COVID, but about faith, health, family, and pretty much any other aspect of the good life.
But alienation is not enough. You cannot turn your back on the prevailing Narrative without something—or Someone—else to turn to. Or else you’ll go crazy. (Cynicism and despair are arguably even worse than blind trust. Tolkien: “The greater part of the truth is always hidden, in regions out of the reach of cynicism.”)
(Part I here.)
No Profit Under the Sun
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.Ecclesiastes 2.1-11
There Are No Peasants Now
“The faith of the majority of educated people of our day,” Tolstoy observes, “was expressed by the word ‘progress.’ It then appeared to me that this word meant something. I did not as yet understand that, being tormented (like every vital man) by the question how it is best for me to live, in my answer, ‘Live in conformity with progress,’ I was like a man in a boat who when carried along by wind and waves should reply to what for him is the chief and only question, ‘Whither to steer,’ by saying, ‘We are being carried somewhere.'”Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God
There has been no advance beyond this position since Tolstoy’s day.
Quite the opposite:
Tolstoy began to recover himself at the point where he realized that “I and a few hundred similar people are not the whole of mankind, and that I did not yet know the life of mankind.” He could observe the mass of persons, the peasants, who in the most miserable of conditions found life deeply meaningful and even sweet. They had not heard about “particles and progress.” But this is no longer possible. The peasants now watch TV and constantly consume media. There are no peasants now.
There are, however, godly men and women now—as there have always been and always will be. They are easily found by those who wish to find them.
The Power to Tear Things Down
If you ask me, newspaper reporters are created at age six when they first go to school. In the schoolyard boys immediately divide into two types. Immediately! There are those who have the will to be daring and dominate, and those who don’t have it. Those who don’t … grow up with the same dreams as the stronger…. They, too, dream of power, money, fame, and beautiful lovers. Boys like this kid grow up instinctively realizing that language is like…a sword or a gun. Used skillfully, it has the power to…well, not so much achieve things as to tear things down—including people…including the boys who came out on the strong side of the sheerly dividing line. Hey, that’s what liberals are! Ideology? Economics? Social justice? Those are nothing but their prom outfits. Their politics were set for life in the schoolyard at age six. They were the weak, and forever after they resented the strong. That’s why so many journalists are liberals!Tom Wolfe, Back to Blood
Cordevilla: “Grievance is the handle by which you push these pawns into your cultural wars.”
Handle: “The political formula of ‘use propaganda to agitate maximum resentment, and then weaponize it’ has evolved and been refined to an art-form. … [M]aintaining a perpetually heightened sense of resentful grievance and bitter acrimony is extremely effective, albeit incompatible with a nice future.”
Thomas Sowell: “I am so old that I can remember when other people’s achievements were considered to be an inspiration, rather than a grievance.” (In related news, notice all the statues coming down?)
Robin Morgan: “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honourable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”
But of course loving less will not get us anywhere. The politics of hatred—violent or merely casual, left or right—is the politics of death. “We must love one another or die.”
We Demand Windows
We demand windows. Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even of doors. One of the things we feel after reading a great work is ‘I have got out’. Or from another point of view, ‘I have got in’; pierced the shell of some other monad and discovered what it is like inside.
Good reading, therefore, though it is not essentially an affectional or moral or intellectual activity, has something in common with all three. In love we escape from our self into one other. In the moral sphere, every act of justice or charity involves putting ourselves in the other person’s place and thus transcending our own competitive particularity. In coming to understand anything we are rejecting the facts as they are for us in favour of the facts as they are. The primary impulse of each is to maintain and aggrandise himself. The secondary impulse is to go out of the self, to correct its provincialism and heal its loneliness. In love, in virtue, in the pursuit of knowledge, and in the reception of the arts, we are doing this. Obviously this process can be described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self. But that is an old paradox; ‘he that loseth his life shall save it’. … The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books.CS Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism
Do the Work
There is nothing more “humble” about saying that the evidence is insufficient to determine historicity than about saying that the evidence is sufficient. There is an epistemically objective fact of the matter. If you assert that the evidence is insufficient to tell, you should be prepared to defend that just as much as if you said that we can be confident that the event happened or that it didn’t. Downgrading the probability of the proposition that Jesus historically said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” to .5 is just as much a mistake if the evidence is strong for its historicity than upgrading its probability to something high if the evidence is weak. … Agnosticism needs to be proportionate to the evidence just as much as affirmation or denial. Do the work to decide what the evidence itself really says.Lydia McGrew
Full quote here.
When it comes to religion, saying “I don’t know” sounds wise and refined, because agnosticism about matters of faith is fashionable. And after all: There are so many different religions, so many arguments for and against each of them, so many (legitimate!) reasons to be skeptical of religious authorities—who are we to say one path is right and the others all wrong?
But notice: Agnosticism about many other matters is decidedly unfashionable. Expressing skepticism about climate change, the 2020 presidential election, “systemic racism,” etc. doesn’t make you sound refined; it makes you sound ignorant—or even hateful. And yet there are so many different views on political and scientific matters, so many arguments for and against each one, so many (legitimate!) reasons to be skeptical of political and scientific authorities…
So: The air of sophistication which surrounds (religious) agnosticism is no more than a mirage—a contingent cultural artifice. It is not, in the main, the product of honest reflection. It is much oftener the product of a deeply solipsistic fear.
Of course, sometimes agnosticism is called for. And sometimes it is not. How can we tell when it is and when it isn’t?
McGrew has the answer: “Do the work to decide what the evidence itself really says.”
Drowned in a Sea of Irrelevance
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.Neil Postman
No doubt, our world increasingly resembles Orwell’s dystopian vision rather than Huxley’s. (For instance, here‘s Twitter
Minitrue Global Public Policy team doublethinkingly saying they strongly condemn Internet shutdowns and have also recently suspended a number of accounts in the same tweet.)
But the advantage still probably goes to Huxley. Even in the Current Year, the truth still remains fairly unconcealed—because it does not need to be concealed, because hardly anyone wants to discover (read: unconceal) it, because doing so means wading through a sea of irrelevance to something not just unfashionable but blasphemous.
Much easier, then, simply to drown in our regularly scheduled programming. Certainly it is quite enjoyable—but then again, so was soma.