Saturday, February 21, 2015

Self-improvement, "other-improvement", and moralistic sleight-of-hand

Make a note of how this magic trick is done because sooner or later you're likely to see it again in another context.

Megan McArdle explains for us step by step what was - is - going on both when Barack Obama tells us not to get on our high horse, because Crusades, and when our seemingly righteous Southern Working Boy Rod Dreher "boldly" and "bravely" reminds us that, didja know?, ISIS once ran the South.

The trick? To paraphrase from her article, disguising "other-improvement" to seem to be like a brave, iconoclastic attempt at self-improvement, or as the sub-heading under the post title at Bloomberg describes it

It's easy to default to criticizing folks that you already don't like very much.

Here's how it works.

Let's say we have a tribe - call them Keith monkeys. And I want to make a pious statement about how monkeys should look at our history clearly, with open eyes, and not be so quick and smug to get up on our high horse and berate the Leopard Tribe, because the Monkey Tribe's past is full of sins itself. And so I proceed, painfully and self-effacingly, to give example after example of sins committed by Cody monkeys and Kevin monkeys - because, hey, they're not Keith monkeys, and besides, their intimate relations with their mothers are a bit suspect anyway, don't you know.

What happens is that, instead of either berating the Leopards for their predations or actually indicting the homie Keith monkeys for similar sins, I deal from the bottom of the deck and finger the Cody and Kevin monkeys instead, rival monkeys the Keith monkeys don't much like anyway and are more than happy to see beaten up in passing.

Instead of blaming ISIS, Obama blames, not any similar liberal, Northern Protestant sinners, but rather historical, traditional Catholic ones - monkeys his monkey tribe doesn't care anything about anyway and thus whom his monkey tribe won't mind being scapegoated.

Identically, Rod Dreher doesn't blame non-Southern, liberal, intellectually friendly populations for predations similar to ISIS - in fact he very rarely blames ISIS at all - but rather his surrounding-but-alienated-from Southern family and neighbors, the ones, like sister Ruthie, who just stuck with their bland, store-bought Moralistic Therapeutic Deism rather than fully embracing something more hipster exotic and intense in personal appearance as much as in theology.

Dreher can slap around his local South and the local Southern Protestantism he was born into because he isn't really "bravely talking about" potential self-improvement, he's actually bottom dealing an "other improvement" card instead, because he knows his readership, the liberal, pseudointellectual tribe he really belongs to, won't mind if he bashes a competing monkey tribe like his atavistic Southern neighbors, the ones, just coincidentally, that left him in such a "dark wood".

So: not really all that much about Islamic ISIS, who would cheerfully barbecue young Nora and Lucas Dreher to a crispy golden black if they could ever get their hands on them, but endless post after post after post about the pathetic local religion of dead sister Ruthie and her remaining, ignorant and unserious Southern neighbors.

Because everyone knows arrogant traditional Catholic Crusaders and mousy MTD Southerners alike need all the self-improvement an other can provide them with.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

We can all be gentlemen...

...but we can't all do it with this much style.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pope Benedict the Fourteenth on Lent

Dymphna gets the hat tip for this great summary of Lent. Except I think she meant to write Benedict XIV rather than XI. (Dang Roman Numberals.)

The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should men grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.

Here's another source of the quote.

Pope Benedict the Fourteenth shouldn't be confused with our recent B16. And, speaking of Princes of Darkness, never confuse either with Benedict IX (the ninth) who was probably one of the worst human beings ever let alone one of the worst popes.

Belated Deep Thought

Here's the obligatory yet belated Deep Thought suggested to Pauli by the Obama Jihadi/Crusader one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other fail from a week or so back:

To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other.


Bill Clinton's Dumber Brother

Mr. Vice President, you don't do this stuff while the camera's rolling. Unless you're Dom DeLuise in this scene.

I mean who could resist Madeline Kahn? Really.

RIP, most of the cast in this hilarious movie. "Remember... to dust you shall return." (How's that for an Ash Wednesday post?)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

All that is solid melts into Dreher

Those who follow our newly minted notion of Dreherian emperorography* are already aware of Rod Dreher's opaquely named "Law of Merited Impossibility" which states, and I roughly paraphrase, "X won't happen to Y [variable you], and when it does Y [you, again] will deserve it."

I'm pretty sure no more effort was made to give this most recent emperorographic Dreher-branding effort any sort of intelligent name because, although he's been using it recently to bait paranoid Christians with inferiority complexes that, yes, so-and-soes are out to get you, he's really casting a much wider net to reel in any chump at all psychologically needing a reason outside themselves to explain why it wouldn't get hard that time, why they didn't get tenure, why she got the promotion instead, why you can't find a pay phone anymore, why those hose you paid a fortune for ran just as you stepped from the limo, why your dog stole your truck and ran off with your wife to the honky-tonk, why life happens, and all other generic reasons why there really wasn't a pony under the tree just like you wanted when you were six.

Don't underestimate the market for this sort of thing. Huge.

But I don't see why Rod Dreher should garner all the embarrassment of making up and trying to push phrases that make normally intelligent people say, "Wait - what? What can that even mean?" We can do that, too, by golly, and do it far worse, or my name isn't Keith.

So here's my own kickoff entry into making up an important and scientifically-sounding but semantically impenetrable Law I can then use to manipulate naive goobers with at will to my own self-promotional benefit:

The Law of Unintended Precedents: It didn't happen then, but it will when you least expect it, and then look out because there will be consequences.

which means - well, I'll think about it and let you know. Oh, I remember. You remember that issue we were talking about the other day - there was quite a bit of heated discussion at the time, as I recall, and tempers got a little short between some of you that really should be on the same side on this. Well, that was why: The Law of Unintended Precedents. Didn't happen then, did it. Which means that we all need to be ready, because it will, when we least expect it, and we should all be on the same page when it does. Because there will be consequences. Be sure to bookmark this paragraph so I can keep you posted.

Remember, you heard it from Keith: The Law of Unintended Precedents. Keith. Law of Unintended Precedents. Keith. Important. Affecting you. Keith. More importantly, your children. Keith.

Now your turn: why not come up with your own Law?

And if you can't, but if you've got something like a time share contract or a U-Haul trailer full of Hummel figurines you really need to offload, why not Google the phrase "Law of Merited Impossibility" to locate a sucker nodding thoughtfully over it online whom you could immediate dump either on?

*a game of mirrors gazing into mirrors that can be played meta-levels deep, for example, here I am coining a term vaporously thin in meaning at best to describe writing that is nothing but a film-like shell of self-promotional form enclosing, if anything at all, only more of itself

**The genuine human culture levels deep that lies behind the title of this post is actually worth far more than the post itself, but I thought I'd write the post anyway to give Dreher, culturally little more than a rodent eagerly eating through the paintings in the Louvre for no other reason than that the egg proteins in the paint are tasty and still nutritious, his rightful place in the history of that phrase. That and because his assault on Dante comes out in April, remember.

ROCOR's Statement on Brother Nathanael

Youtube makes recommendations on what to watch if you have an account. Fortunately you can turn them off by clicking on the three dot marker and clicking Not Interested. Today I was shown a recommendation for an anti-Semitic video rant from someone calling himself Brother Nathanael and dressed up like a Halloween cardboard version of an Orthodox monk. I think I was probably shown this due to some crazy white supremacist videos I'd watched defending Hitler's murder of millions several months ago. I commented on one, saying something like "Poor wittle Hitler, just weacting to histowical events...." to which someone replied "F**K YOU". Funny.

Googling Brother Nathanael brought up this page which gives you the score on the guy. Basically he's a whack-job who only poses as some sort of monk or Orthodox Christian religious leader. Excerpt:

Though I have never posted anything specifically on Brother Nathaniel on this website, I have received dozens of emails over the past few years asking about him. I informed people of what I knew about him from those who personally have known him, all of which were very disturbing things.

Among the things I was informed about and have now been documented online in various sources, is that he is a man with mental problems (pleasant on his medication though very unpleasant when not) who has caused enough disturbances in a few monasteries in America so that he was kicked out of all of them, at least once by police. He is not and never was a monk. He was a novice in an Old Calendarist monastery in Colorado, but was kicked out of there too. He claims to be a legitimate monk from a legitimate Orthodox monastery, but this is not true. He is in fact a showman who likes to be the center of attention with a persecution complex, though he is well off financially after being successful in business. He is fixated on his Jewish heritage, a sort of love/hate relationship, and obsessed with conspiracy theories that more often than not come out as anti-semitic poisonous rants. He also wears a white skuphos which is only reserved for Metropolitans in the Slavic churches, and a pectoral cross which is forbidden to novices.

If you have some extra time, read that David Abel link. Wow.

So this confirms that the guy is nuts and not any type of official representative of any Christian church whatsoever. The post also includes this official missive from ROCOR which I find highly amusing.

The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has recently received repeated complaints about the activities of and statements made by a certain Nathanael (Kapner), who lives on the territory of the Western American Diocese, but has no relation to it.

The clergymen and laity of the Russian Church Abroad are hereby informed that the actions of Nathanael (Kapner) do not have the blessing of the Synod of Bishops.

Profoundly saddened by the state of his soul, we call upon Nathanael (Kapner) to refrain from posting on the Internet, to a life of repentance of peace in Christ, “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Archbishop of Western America and San Francisco

Secretary of the Synod of Bishops.

July 17, 2013

Yes, we concur. Plus: ditch the costume, go take your frickin' meds, and please don't tell us you built a time-machine out of a DeLorean.

The Voice of Dreher and his Commenters

What do you do with Dreher's commenters? I mean besides laughing at them after they leave the room. In our emperorography, those which agree with him play the parts of the townsfolk at the end of fable.

However there is a passage which may have even more applicability to the commenters on Dreher's blog. It comes from the second volume of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers, and is a description of the attempt of the defeated, evil wizard Saruman to use the power of his voice to mesmerize his enemies.

Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell. For some the spell lasted only while the voice spoke to them, and when it spake to another they smiled, as men do who see through a juggler's trick while others gape at it. For many the sound of the voice alone was enough to hold them enthralled; but for those whom it conquered the spell endured when they were far away. And ever they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them. But none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and its commands without an effort of mind and will, so long as its master had control of it.

I've often wondered if this is where George Lucas got the concept of the Jedi mind trick. It is very similar, especially in that the trick only works on the weaker minds, and there appears to be a certain magic which imbues the speaker's voice. It would explain why someone like Erin Manning continues to support Dreher even though he constantly bashes her religion and never once has pimped her books the way he has with Charles Featherstone. Maybe her nickname should be Wormtongue.

This analogy of some people being conquered by subtle writing also explains why people have become so irritated with us, going the whole way back to the Contra-Crunchies. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell. We were stating long-form the words of Gimli the Dwarf who said of Saruman "The words of this wizard stand on their heads!" and we were receiving back insults not unlike "If we speak of poisoned tongues what shall we say of yours, young serpent?" which was Saruman's retort to Prince Eomer. (Except we were called incredible fools and nematodes rather than "young serpents".)

And, as always, we continue to receive the epitaph "obsessed" from people who show up over and over again to elaborate on their fierce agreement with Dreher's designer brand of paleoconservatism. And ever they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them...

The history of Dreher is also very much like the character Saruman the Wizard. He starts off as an up-and-coming "power" in the world of conservative commentating, but then he begins cashing in friendships and doing things secretly which are later exposed, arousing his anger. "When the plot is ripe it remains no longer secret," as Gandalf reminds us. He ends up stuck in an old "tower" called TAC—long deserted by the "greater men" of the West who built it—viewing wreckage all around him.

By no means should anyone think that I'm suggesting that Voice-of-Saruman analogy can only be applied to Dreher. Sullivan's minions act in much the same way, as if he himself has wound them up. You can almost see the keys sticking out of their backs. And reading the Daily Kos is revealing of how deep the brainwashing rabbit-hole goes. And I would be remiss not to mention our current President whose ability as an orator is probably his only real talent. It is just sad to see educated people who really should know better fall under this sort of wordsmith spell.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The terminal logic of Rod Dreher's Benedict Option: Secular Millenarianism

Or as I more informally tend to think of it, Waiting for Godot Putin (or an equivalent, paraChristian secular warlord). Let's work this out, shall we?

Now, it's true, Dreher's Benedict Option can still be resolved as being nothing more than Dreherian emperorography, that is, one of those Dreherisms that evaporates upon scrutiny into nothing more than a Dreher-promoting reason to talk about Rod Dreher.

Similarly, his Benedict Option might only be one of those Dreher in-group-bonding shibboleths that one either "gets" or doesn't "get", like that liberal "check your [whatever type of] privilege" thing that's temporarily in vogue now.

But if there really is anything to Dreher's Benedict Option, let's try to systematically burrow down and figure out what it is.

First of all, as we begin to notice some familiar contours, we realize there's nothing originally or uniquely Dreherian about his Benedict Option at heart, and had there never been a Rod Dreher, sooner or later we would have inevitably been hearing about Dod Reher's Monastic Option instead. But since Rod Dreher happens to be the one who wants to build his reputation on this sand bar, let's give him all the riverfront footage he needs.

The Benedict Option imagines a certain type of Christian selectively hunkering down, selectively disengaged from contemporary society, not necessarily hermetic (although that would not be a disqualifier) but absolutely not embracing and exercising the Great Commission. The Benedict Optioneer might selectively tweet on Twitter, but he will not watch the Kardashians; or if he watches the Kardashians, it will only be on his computer, streaming, not on his television, and he will only tweet or blog disapprovingly about them, not joke about them in mixed company with the hoi polloi at the company water cooler.

Because, for the Benedict Optioneer, it is not up to him to go among the hoi polloi and explain why there might be better spiritual choices than Kim Kardashian's fat ass: his commission is to hide out selectively to some degree, untainted by them as much as possible, and wait it out until the decadent society supporting them collapses of its own butt weight and is revamped by factors not of his direct doing. The Benedict Optioneer, then, is the quintessentially Passive-Aggressive Christian.

To the extent that he looks forward to a societal collapse that will finally liberate him, allowing him to return from his selective retreat and fully embrace again a society now fully meeting his passive specifications and of which he fully approves, the Benedict Optioneer is also more or less a schadenfreude-driven misanthrope, maybe aggressively so, maybe just sorrowfully, with tears real or just crocodillian.

Either way, something or someone other than the Benedict Optioneer himself will be the one responsible for the Great Restoration. What or who will that someone or something be?

At some point on our journey through the logic of the Benedict Option we really do have to ask: if all society but the cells of the Benedict Optioneers themselves collapses into chaos and barbarism, that is, into that seed bed now fertile enough for the Benedict Optioneer to finally re-emerge - what sort of Christian does that leave the Benedict Optioneer being himself - if any sort at all? Everyone else finally in misery, so he can finally triumph. Exactly what sort of Christian is that?

On our hypothetical journey to the Great Restoration we also have to ask, what about the numerous historical Christian institutions covering the landscape and underpinning all but the most isolated, purely non-Christian outliers? A 2,000-year-old Catholic Church, with 1.2 billion members, its own Magisterium and own Vatican city-state is - dismissible? Insufficient to the Benedict Optioneer's psycho-spiritual needs? Why? Not to mention numerous other communions bringing something quite different than Kim Kardashian's butt to the four corners of the globe on a daily basis. Not good enough?

At this point many of us are probably starting to recognize that the Benedict Option is just a new, topically marketable flavor of an old standby, millenarianism, a psychological eschatological yearning indiscriminately empowering Medieval and End Times Christian, revolutionary Russian Marxist, and Polynesian cargo-cultist alike throughout human space and time. In other words, a purely secular, psychological ideology at heart.

But, can this Great Restoration of our passive Benedict Optioneering prairie dogs still actually be accomplished, if it ever is to be?

They will not be actively resisting the hypothetical social collapse and armageddon themselves. And, let's face it, any social collapse beyond any significant tipping-point will take all but the most remote, fully prepared Alaskan preppers along with it; the Benedict Optioneers will wash out to sea alongside their Kim Kardashian butt-ogling neighbors.

And it won't be Christ returning to set things right - that would explicitly make the Benedict Optioneers End Times fundamentalists instead, not Russian Orthodox and other traditional and orthodox Christians quietly waiting in their cozy corners.

So who then, will finally, actively ride to the Benedict Optioneers' rescue?

Why, someone very much like this guy,

a powerful, secular Prince who will actively sweep away the decadent landscape for the Benedict Optioneers, indiscriminately grinding Kardashian butts, weirdo transgendered athletes, effete Popes, inferior wines, pussy rioters and all other irritating detritus of what they might regard as human decadence under his social tank treads while recognizing the Benedict Optioneers alone - not the Vatican, not the myriad other Christian and other communions, not the ordinary hoi polloi just trying to get his genes on down the road a bit - as uniquely deserving of his special protection and cultivation.

You just wait until their secular Dad gets home.

This is where the logic road of the Benedict Option inevitably leads me and finally dumps me out: if Rod Dreher's Benedict Option is anything other than pure emperorography or shibboleth, it leads inexorably to the tacit hero worship of a conquering, secular Prince finally ushering in a Great Restoration.

Sorry, but I think I'll just take my chances with Kim Kardashian's fat ass instead.

Keith is generous, Keith is kind

Not to be outdone, I just finished making a large and ostentatious gesture most readers of EQE might not immediately ascribe to Keith.


These are orphans, yo.

Kittens and puppies.

These are kittens and puppies, yo.

Both are icons that naturally tug at your heart strings. I have decided there’s one thing I can do. It’s the day after Valentine’s Day, so I’m sending a big paper surprise to the union rep of each of these iconic groups to help with their teething.

Whatever my real and deep differences with small creatures worlds removed from me, I do not want anyone anywhere to milk all the self-promotion these two groups can provide me with before I get my full cut. I do not want them to win.

Besides, I thought, how much would it mean to me to see orphans and kittens and puppies stepping up to aid and assist people like me who've been bitten by both from time to time. Don't ask, it was extremely painful to me on each occasion, personally and emotionally.

I can’t stop bad orphans from shooting kittens and puppies. But what we who try to be decent people — orphan, Keith, kitten, puppy, all of us — can do is repair what damage was done, as far as we are able. True, we should take care of ourselves, and that's what I do 99.9% of the time, but the other 0.1% I like to make a big splash about looking like I'm taking care of others when they are suffering.

That’s why dug into my freezer, deep into the empty gut of a sweet king mackerel I caught a while back, and fished out a couple of these

A $10,000 bill, yo. Guess who just gave 'em away. That's right, me.

which I keep there for occasions just like this. Here’s a picture of one of them, so you know I’m not making this up.

I sent the orphans and kittens and puppies a couple of these, and I hope you will too, if you are able. It occurred to me that this is how we can fight the feeling of shame and impotence so many of us have in the face of atrocities committed by bad orphans, kittens, and puppies everywhere.

I decided to make this public as an example — first, because it’s the kind of thing I would like to see others do for me, and second because I wanted everyone to know what a difference showing off like this can do for how others think about me.

I am no less opposed to orphaned kittens and puppies than I ever was, but "orphans" is not a synonym for “kittens and puppies.” And for all I know, maybe seeing people like me giving really large Federal Reserve notes to both factions will stop some of the internecine biting between the two groups we all deplore so.

And did I mention that it was me, Keith, actually giving them these large, rare bills? Here's another shot so that there can be absolutely no doubt in your mind that I really did just give these away and what a wonderful person I am for doing so.

This is the other one. It looks just like the other one.

I don’t think it’s right to tell people about your charitable giving, but in this case, I think it’s important for we who want others to know just how much better we are than they are to offer proof of that fact for all the world to see. You don’t have to be a one-in-a-million-individual like Keith to stand up and show off like this.

You just have to be humane. And blog about it loudly. With the sort of incontrovertible proof of my glorious and unbounded humanity I'm providing you here.

And with just a little extra effort and just a little less of a sense of modesty or shame, you could be almost as good a person as I am, too. Almost.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes' Republican countdown

There's a great deal of analysis and explanation for these choices at the site, so you should probably read the whole thing.

I've just boiled them down to an ET-style countdown list just because I found some of the placements interesting and you might, too.

So in reverse order—from least likely to most likely—here’s a look at the prospective GOP nominees.

19. Donald Trump

18. Paul Ryan

17 & 16. George Pataki/Bob Ehrlich

15 & 14. Lindsey Graham/John Bolton

13. Carly Fiorina

12. Rick Santorum

11. Ben Carson

10. Mike Huckabee

9. Bobby Jindal

8. Rand Paul

7. Chris Christie

6. John Kasich

5. Rick Perry

4. Ted Cruz

3. Jeb Bush

For the final two: It’s a coin toss. If I were betting on the likely GOP nominee today, I’d put the same amount on [Scott] Walker and [Marco] Rubio (with a chunk on Jeb, too).