Category: Culture

What “Maverick” says about us

Kyle Smith:

American culture underwent such volcanic changes starting in the mid-Sixties that when American Graffiti arrived in 1973, the movie seemed like a time capsule from an ancient epoch — even though it was set only eleven years earlier.

A good-natured comedy about clean-cut teenagers driving harmlessly around small-town California while listening to the radio, American Graffiti kicked off a cultural reaction: Suddenly, stories that cast their gaze back in time, before the recent abominations of Vietnam, assassinations, and hippie folk singers, became massive hits. The pre–Kennedy assassination era was now perceived as simpler, tidier, and carefree. No time period is free of hysteria and traumatic events, but forgetting the bad stuff and remembering the cuteness and whimsy can be powerfully attractive. So Happy DaysLaverne and Shirley, and Grease blew up. Rocky, a big-hearted romance built around a boxing saga that could have been written in 1953, led the box office for 1976 and won the Best Picture Oscar over a scathing sociopolitical satire, Network, and two films about moral and political degeneracy: Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men. Capping it all off, in the 1980 presidential election, a hippie-beloved president who openly indulged American angst was supplanted by an unabashed square — a former G.E. spokesman who radiated good cheer and robust self-confidence.

And what is happening today? America has endured a period of upheaval comparable to the late Sixties. The last couple of years in particular were a nightmare tableau of endless wailing and suffering: Guernica with Lester Holt. Somehow, the country’s biggest race crisis in half a century transpired in the midst of our biggest health crisis in a century.

In 2022, America is exhausted, frustrated, and burned out. What people are longing for is a reset, a reversion to norms. The period before #MeToo, before the murder of George Floyd and #BlackLivesMatter, and before Covid-19, now looks as quaint as the Fifties did in the Carter era. True, the 2008 financial crisis, the Iraq War, and the age of spectacular terrorism make it hard to identify any period this century when things were placid, but that just means any creator who can recapture the optimism of the last 15 years of the 20th century is going to get extremely rich.

Top Gun: Maverick is not a great movie. Neither was American Graffiti! However, its success makes it an important movie. It reveals something about ourselves.

The numbers are astonishing. After a huge opening on Memorial Day weekend of $161 million, TG: M held up with an unheard-of drop of only 30 percent the following weekend, and has continued to pack theaters all month, even though it’s aimed pretty squarely at people over 40. Movies for the middle-aged have a very low box-office ceiling because midlife types are busy raising kids and working their tailbones off. People in this age group often tell me they’re too busy and too tired to drag themselves out to the multiplex, given that their home-viewing setup is perfectly adequate (and offers immediate access to the Pinot Grigio in the fridge). Yet Top Gun: Maverick is the highest-grossing movie of Tom Cruise’s career. It appears likely to be the highest-grossing movie of the year.

One big hook is that its action scenes are not merely fierce and engaging, they unabashedly celebrate the military. People who don’t get out to the movies much want to see TG:M because there’s nothing else like it. Along with small business, the military is one of only two beloved institutions left, and yet Hollywood mostly leaves unslaked this thirst for red-blooded, let’s-smoke-those-bogeys jingoism. Another plus is that the movie’s characters are simple and its storytelling clean, linear, and uncluttered. Middle-aged viewers appreciate the break from the trickiness of the refracted-multiverse movies and their demands that you do your homework before you go to the movies by watching 60 hours of television.

Many conservatives are calling TG:M a rebuke to wokeness, but that’s not quite right. It isn’t an anti-woke movie; it’s merely a woke-free movie. It ignores the kinds of disputes that engage crazy people on Twitter and that increasingly obsess the TV and film industries. (Anyway, it does feature a lady pilot, in the interest of being — try not to blow a gasket here — “inclusive.”) By turning back the clock to that 1986 feel, it dodges all the frazzled political discourse of recent years. No black guys get racially profiled. No women get sexually assaulted. Nobody thinks masculinity is toxic and no one calculates how much F-18 fuel consumption contributes to climate change.

“Finally!” cries the audience. Top Gun: Maverick may not be a classic, but it’s certainly a relief. Audiences were dying for a return to the uncomplicated slam-bang of Eighties and Nineties blockbusters, when identity politics were a strange campus hobby that hadn’t yet infected the entire culture.

Show business these days is at pains to avoid listening to the audience, instead pursuing critical acclaim by producing, say, a Black Lives Matter remake of The Wonder Years or an all-female, multicultural 1776. Some of these creations are more interesting than others, but they’re all chasing the same niche. Meanwhile, you can hardly turn on a baseball game without being blindsided by an identity-politics message. There’s a fortune to be made for entertainment producers who offer the audience a chance to get away from all this — the politics, the guilt, the rancor, and the obsessive focus on bad news. When the media feel the need to bleed, Americans feel the need for speed.

The downward spiral of Sports Illustrated

This all started with Jordan Peterson, as Jason Whitlock reports:

Dr. Jordan Peterson misspoke when he proclaimed via Twitter that Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Yumi Nu is “not beautiful.”

We all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Peterson should have said the extra-plus-sized model is “not healthy. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.” He undermined a fact with a personal opinion, and by doing so, he allowed the woke to once again dodge responsibility for their real evil agenda.

On Monday, North America’s most honest public intellectual reacted to Sports Illustrated’s decision to place an obese woman with a strikingly pretty face on the cover of its formerly iconic Swimsuit Issue. He retweeted a New York Post story picturing the blubbery Asian beauty beneath his proclamation: “Sorry. Not beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.”

Twitter, of course, erupted in faux outrage. A white man impolitely aired his truth about a flabby Asian fashion model. Twitter’s social justice army accused Peterson of unloading a toxic vat of white privilege and white supremacy.

Unafraid of a brawl, Peterson engaged his critics. He doubled down on his contention that the left wants to redefine beauty standards.

“It’s a conscious progressive attempt to manipulate & retool the notion of beauty, reliant on the idiot philosophy that such preferences are learned & properly changed by those who know better.”

I say this respectfully. Peterson missed the mark again. He botched this issue. Beauty is an opinion. And we all know opinions are like booty holes. Everyone has one and they all stink. The left doesn’t want to retool the notion of beauty. They want to retool the notion of health. They want to reclassify obesity as healthy.

Virtually everything the progressive left promotes is related to normalizing a culture of death, destruction, and despair. Abortion is about the right to kill babies in the womb. Liberalizing drug laws is about freeing people to self-medicate themselves into zombies. Defunding the police is about normalizing violent chaos within communities. Hostility toward religion is about removing hope, the lifeblood of civilization. Transgenderism is about the mutilation of God’s creation.

Jordan Peterson is known for speaking uncomfortable truths. He passed on an opportunity in this instance. The platform of the modern left is built on early 20th-century satanist Aleister Crowley’s “do what thou wilt” philosophy. Crowley argued the purpose of life is for humans to align themselves with their true will.

It sounds great. Why wouldn’t you want to align yourself to your true will?

Well, for those of us who believe in a higher power, who believe our inalienable rights come from God, who believe that Jesus died on a cross for our sins, we’re taught the purpose of our lives is to align ourselves with God’s will for us. His vision for us is spelled out in the Bible.

We’re taught that our nature is sinful and we should avoid a “do what thou wilt” mindset and set of behaviors.

Specifically, among other things, we’re taught that gluttony is a sin that will harm our lives and lead to death.

Phillipians 3:19: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.”

Proverbs 23:2: “And put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.”

Proverbs 23:20-21: “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”

For those of you who are nonbelievers, you don’t need the Bible for evidence of the dangerous impact of gluttony and obesity. Check with any doctor. Punch it into Google. You can call me. Gluttony and obesity have been my weaknesses.

The effort to normalize obesity is evil and satanic. Sports Illustrated is promoting death with its glorification of rotund runway models. Yumi Nu foolishly believes her ascension to SI cover girl is a symbol of necessary progress.

“I feel like we’re in a place right now where people are making space for more diversity on magazine covers,” she said. “It’s a big time for Asian-American people in media. I know I play a big role in representation in body diversity and race diversity, and I love to be a role model and representative of the plus-size Asian community.”

Nu is a disciple of the D.I.E. religion of diversity, inclusion, and equity. The D.I.E. religion is just Aleister Crowley’s satanism rebranded in a way that makes it palatable for the masses. It’s do what thou wilt. It’s the seeking of your true will.

Yumi Nu is a 250-pound glamour girl. She has aligned herself with her corpulent true will. She’s no different from Lia Thomas, the young man who decided his true will was to be a swimmer on the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s team. Nu is no different from Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. secretary of transportation who hopped in a hospital bed to pretend he delivered a baby.

Yumi Nu feels like she’s the Asian Christie Brinkley, Heidi Klum, or Tyra Banks. The reality is Nu is more Lizzo or Jason Whitlock, a pretty face seated atop a grossly unhealthy body. The people lying to and about Yumi Nu want her and others to die an early death smothered in gravy, fried chicken, and Kool-Aid.

What made America great was when we collectively sought to align ourselves with God’s will for us. That’s what compelled us to end slavery and Jim Crow. Men and women who wanted to be on the right side of God fought for freedom and equality of opportunity.

Men and women who want to be on the right side of a history leftists plan to write will end up standing alongside Aleister Crowley and blubbery beauties.

Michael Smith:

There’s been a lot of discussion about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and how it is incorporating obese models as some attempt to redefine beauty.

It is true that “beauty” is a historically and culturally flexible concept – but one aspect of it has not changed – beauty is celebrated because it is unique in some way.

Before SI flipped the script and focused on what society defined as beautiful and then began to try to redefine it, I enjoyed the Swimsuit Issue for that reason. I found it pleasurable to view females of unique beauty

I used to subscribe to the magazine – but I no longer do and the change in perspective as evidenced in the Swimsuit Edition is largely why. I can get sports news faster today than ever before. The Internet changed that – but when SI began its campaign against beauty in favor of celebrating average, that was the end for me

Look – in a totally non gay bro-like perspective, I appreciate unique handsomeness in men as well.

My wife one asked me who I would be if I could be anybody and I chose Brad Pitt’s character of Tristan from the movie “Legends of the Fall”. To me, Tristian is the idealized model of a real man – the way a man is supposed to look, act, and leave a legacy behind

Stuffing an obese woman into a swimsuit doesn’t make her beautiful any more than stuffing a dude with a beer gut into a Speedo makes him handsome

Shoehorning “plus-sized” Yumi Nu onto the cover of SI does not make her attractive.

I’m with Jordan Peterson on that.

It doesn’t make her ugly, either.

It is just that absent of her swimsuit, if I walked past her in a mall, I would notice nothing remarkable about her. She looks like pretty much every overweight woman in America. There are literally hundreds of men I see who generate the same “meh” reaction.

It’s not misogynist or misandrist, its just their appearance is average and therefore unremarkable.

I’m not interested in average – I can see average at any mall in America without paying for it. As a matter of fact, I see average every morning when I look in a mirror.

But as with everything these days, there is a deeper meaning to a seemingly superficial situation.

SI trying to normalize average as unique is the same process communists use to subdue the masses. Nobody can be special or unique, nobody can perform better than anyone else and most certainly, nobody can stand out – because standing out is standing over.

It’s madness and represents a complete denial of what we are as humans.

Peterson is right about another dimension of this discussion – it is a classic authoritarian move.

It’s actually the same blueprint as in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”.

In the 2081 world of Harrison Bergeron, everyone is “equal” in every way—physically and mentally. The United States Handicapper General and her agents ensure compliance by forcing people to wear various devices and “handicaps” to assure no one performs better than anyone else. The strong or graceful are burdened with extra weight, the intelligent have their thoughts interrupted with jolting sounds, musicians wear an unstated handicap to limit their abilities and the beautiful wear hideous masks.

The original mission of the SI Swimsuit Edition was to celebrate the unique beauty of the female form.

Now it seeks to channel Vonnegut’s Handicapper General, a woman called Diana Moon Glampers, who eventually shoots the Harrison dead during a televised ballet performance with a double barreled 10-gauge shotgun

Glampers then orders the musicians and the ballerinas to get their handicaps back on and the people are ordered by the media to forget what they just saw.

And they did.

I have been an on-and-off subscriber to SI since 1982. The first issue of my first subscription was the 1982 Swimsuit Issue, back when the swimsuit issue was part of the issue before the Super Bowl. Later it became a separate issue.

SI, truth be told, has been floundering for several years as a print product, and in fact there is probably little reason to subscribe to the print edition anymore. The magazine went from weekly to biweekly, and is now a monthly. How a sports magazine can cover sporting events (which has always been central to SI) when coming out every month … well, that explains the “floundering” part.

It is reasonable to ask how swimsuits are part of “sports.” The swimsuit issue dates back to 1964, back when SI was 10 years old and its definition of “sports” was broader than now. Swimwear has usually been worn by models of the day (Cheryl Tiegs, Chrissie Brinkley, etc.) than athletes, and swimwear has waxed and waned in, well, skin coverage, including photos where models have held, though not worn, swimwear or anything else. For a few years those appearing in the swimsuit issue for the first time also were photographed in body paint and nothing else.

Why? The answer should be obvious: Money. To what should be no one’s surprise the swimsuit issue has been one of SI’s most lucrative, as you could tell given the previously gargantuan size of that issue. (With a lot of ads whose content rivaled the editorial photos.)

One of the more entertaining reads of SI has been the letters to the editor section following the swimsuit issue, which have, as all media should, included criticism of the swimsuit issue more from the left (objectifying, oppressing, exploiting, etc.) than the right (impure, sinful, etc.).

(I had a momentary involvement in this sort of thing, though not in SI. Back in 1988 a high school classmate of mine created what she called the Women of Wisconsin calendar, which was the focus of a story in the Wisconsin State Journal. Not long afterward a letter-writer condemned the calendar from the left — ironically, someone who had been a model for a fitness studio ad in the first newspaper I worked for in college. I then wrote a letter defending the calendar and asking how someone who agrees to do something and gets paid for it can be considered exploited. That was followed by another letter from where I was living that criticized the calendar from the sin perspective, written by the daughter of a local minister.)

SI started to lose the plot a few years ago when one of the models, who apparently is Muslim, wore neck-to-ankle swimwear. (That might be the ultimate mixed message — using a model from a religion whose excessively conservative adherents are famous for oppressing women for a project accused of exploiting women.) The plus-size models are not new, and their inclusion is less debatable than including a man wearing women’s swimwear. (No, not Caitlyn Jenner.)

Readers are, of course, free to read, or not, the SI swimsuit issue or anything else. (SI even went so far as to offer to not deliver the swimsuit issue to subscribers on request, such as libraries or schools.) Attempting to censor someone because you don’t like their views and don’t think anyone should be able to read those views (including photos of women wearing little or nothing) is a sign of low character.

SI is dealing with the same problem nearly every print publication faces — the Internet. Playboy Magazine’s response was to go bimonthly in 2016 and then quarterly in 2018, while briefly no longer showing the obvious reason to buy the magazine in the first place. Playboy stopped printing in 2020. SI has a vast website, but SI also has vast sports news competition online.

SI’s response has been an attempt at the woke business model, celebrating athletes’ progressive social awareness (see Kaepernick, Colin, and Thomas, William “Lia”) when the evidence that that’s what SI’s readers want is not being backed up by increasing print advertising. That’s not the reason for its slow-motion demise, but SI’s attempt to broaden its readership isn’t working. (The most recent issue, whose theme is women in athletics, is no bigger than SI issues were in its weekly days.)

SI seems destined to follow Sport, Inside Sports and ESPN The Magazine (whose attempt to emulate the Swimsuit Issue was the Body Issue, showing off the unclothed bodies of athletes, including those who don’t really have athletic bodies — this means you, Prince Fielder) into print memory. (I know something about that, as you know.)


The young non-conservative right

Samuel Goldman:

The kids are not all alright.

Nor is bad English. “All right” is two words.

That’s the message from Vanity Fair, the May issue of which includes a report from a small but colorful corner of the intellectual and political landscape. In the after-parties and corridors of the National Conservatism conference held in Orlando last October, reporter James Pogue discovered a subterranean network of “podcasters, bro-ish anonymous Twitter posters, online philosophers, artists, and amorphous scenesters.” Attracted to the right but far from conservative, these dissidents dream of overthrowing some of the basic premises of 21st-century American life. Where others might see a threatened but legitimate constitutional order or a struggling yet still functional economy, they perceive a tyrannical yet incompetent “regime” collapsing under its own weight.

The shock value associated with these views is an important part of their appeal. As the boundaries of acceptable opinion shift to the left, at least within major institutions, the opportunities for dissent have become concentrated on the right. In universities, media, and many big companies, there’s nothing controversial about saying that white people are an essentially malign portion of the human race, that gender is independent of biological sex, or that people who voted for former President Donald Trump are an existential threat to democracy. If you aim to provoke, you’d better reject these claims, loudly and often. On social media, this countercultural quality is known as being “based.”

But there’s more to the “new right,” as it’s somewhat anachronistically known (a succession of movements with similar names has emerged since the 1950s), than being based. This motley crew is composed of people in their 20s and early 30s, largely though not entirely men. A recurring theme in their conversation, in the piece as well as the blogposts, Twitter threads, and private chats where they develop their ideas, is the belief that some kind of revolution would be necessary for them to achieve goals that once would have seemed utterly mundane. Not so long ago, professional advancement, stable romantic relationships, and residential independence seemed like the birthright of young Americans industrious or lucky enough to graduate from college and make it to one of the metro areas heavily populated by others of their kind. Today, these markers of adulthood can be delayed by years or decades — and increasingly seem out of reach.

The frathouse atmosphere Pogue describes reflects that arrested development. Unlike the buttoned-up official sessions of the conference, the new right confabs revolved around late nights, many drinks, and casual attire. Despite the contempt for academia that infuses the new right, its intellectual and social style derives more from the college campus than from the “real America” that its participants idealize.

In that respect, the new right can be viewed as a negative image of the woke left. Both movements invoke a favored cohort of the truly disadvantaged. In practice, they’re more attentive to the anxieties of what George Orwell called the “lower-upper-middle class” — in updated terms, the journalists, academics, and other “knowledge workers” whose expectations outstrip their income. On the left, that encourages a fixation on symbolic diversity, student debt, radical police reform, and other issues that are distant from the actual concerns of the poor and racial minorities. On the right, it leads to otherwise perplexing obsessions with content moderation on social media, bodybuilding, and other displays of flamboyant manliness and obscure theological doctrines.

You can acknowledge the tensions between the nominal goals of extremist youth movements and their underlying inspiration without dismissing them as poseurs or fools. Moralistic tendencies dominate precisely because they’re not driven by outright material deprivation. The appeal of the new right doesn’t lie in its policy proposals, which range from sketchy to fanciful. It lies in the ability to tell a sweeping story about what’s worth fighting for, why it’s so elusive, and who is to blame.

Early in 1941, the German-Jewish political philosopher Leo Strauss delivered a consideration of the generational appeal of the far-right to his colleagues on the faculty of the New School for Social Research. Drawing on his experiences as a young intellectual in the 1920s and early ’30s, Strauss argued that opposition to the Weimar Republic among his educated contemporaries was essentially a protest against the formless boredom of modern life. Assured of survival without enjoying real security and lacking causes to inspire sacrifice, “young nihilists” turned not only against liberal democracy but against civilization itself.

In the lecture on “German nihilism,” Strauss suggested that this energy could have been diverted from its rendezvous with National Socialism by more skillful education, particularly in ancient philosophy. I have always found this conclusion dubious. The yearning for risk and commitment he describes can only rarely be satisfied in the library or classroom. For the young and the restless, ideas are appealing to the extent that they inspire action rather than merely offering the opportunity for contemplation.

To be clear, the revolutionary instincts of today’s pseudonymous bloggers, underemployed graduate students, and freelance journalists have limited appeal at the moment. As Pogue emphasizes, this strand of the new right is somewhat distinct from the more populist and electorally consequential MAGA movement. J.D. Vance and Blake Masters, both supported by their former employer Peter Thiel, have tried to bridge the gaps in campaigns for the GOP Senate nominations in Ohio and Arizona, respectively. With Trump’s endorsement, they may best divided fields in the upcoming primaries (neither is currently leading). But their efforts so far have relied more heavily on familiar culture warring than the reactionary modernism found in online conversations.

Still, the dissidents at the Orlando afterparty are both responding to a transformation of the intellectual right and helping to ensure that it continues. While they remain staples of think tank issue papers and fundraising appeals, ritualized appeals to the Founders, the Constitution, or patriotic loyalty to the existing United States have become passé among a younger generation of thinkers, writers, and readers. It’s no use to tell these elements of the new right that they’re not particularly conservative, because they already know that. With building hopes for a kind of Caesar willing to mount a frontal assault on “the regime,” the question is what comes next. 

It’s not clear how this is really a threat except to the political left. The Vanity Fair story describes:
NatCon, as this conference is known, has grown into a big-tent gathering for a whole range of people who want to push the American right in a more economically populist, culturally conservative, assertively nationalist direction. It draws everyone from Israel hawks to fusty paleocon professors to mainstream figures like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. But most of the media attention that the conference attracts focuses on a cohort of rosy young blazer-wearing activists and writers—a crop of people representing the American right’s “radical young intellectuals,” as a headline in The New Republic would soon put it, or conservatism’s “terrifying future,” as David Brooks called them in The Atlantic. …
They have a wildly diverse set of political backgrounds, with influences ranging from 17th-century Jacobite royalists to Marxist cultural critics to so-called reactionary feminists to the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, whom they sometimes refer to with semi-ironic affection as Uncle Ted. Which is to say that this New Right is not a part of the conservative movement as most people in America would understand it. It’s better described as a tangled set of frameworks for critiquing the systems of power and propaganda that most people reading this probably think of as “the way the world is.” And one point shapes all of it: It is a project to overthrow the thrust of progress, at least such as liberals understand the word.
This worldview, these worldviews, run counter to the American narrative of the last century—that economic growth and technological innovation are inevitably leading us toward a better future. It’s a position that has become quietly edgy and cool in new tech outposts like Miami and Austin, and in downtown Manhattan, where New Right–ish politics are in, and signifiers like a demure cross necklace have become markers of a transgressive chic. No one is leading this movement, but it does have key figures. …
At one end are the NatCons, post-liberals, and traditionalist figures like Benedict Option author Rod Dreher, who envision a conservatism reinvigorated by an embrace of localist values, religious identity, and an active role for the state in promoting everything from marriage to environmental conservation. But there’s also a highly online set of Substack writers, podcasters, and anonymous Twitter posters—“our true intellectual elite,” as one podcaster describes them. This group encompasses everyone from rich crypto bros and tech executives to back-to-the-landers to disaffected members of the American intellectual class, like Up in the Air author Walter Kirn, whose fulminations against groupthink and techno-authoritarianism have made him an unlikely champion to the dissident right and heterodox fringe. But they share a the basic worldview: that individualist liberal ideology, increasingly bureaucratic governments, and big tech are all combining into a world that is at once tyrannical, chaotic, and devoid of the systems of value and morality that give human life richness and meaning—as Blake Masters recently put it, a “dystopian hell-world.” …
Vance believes that a well-educated and culturally liberal American elite has greatly benefited from globalization, the financialization of our economy, and the growing power of big tech. This has led an Ivy League intellectual and management class—a quasi-aristocracy he calls “the regime”—to adopt a set of economic and cultural interests that directly oppose those of people in places like Middletown, Ohio, where he grew up. In the Vancian view, this class has no stake in what people on the New Right often call the “real economy”—the farm and factory jobs that once sustained middle-class life in Middle America. This is a fundamental difference between New Right figures like Vance and the Reaganite right-wingers of their parents’ generation. To Vance—and he’s said this—culture war is class warfare.
At a minimum the Vanity Fair story represents yet again the usual lefty dismissal of any views that don’t agree with theirs. It’s not clear why people should be surprised, though, that there would be a counterreaction to the metastasizing freak show that is liberalism today, in which non-liberal whites are automatically evil, non-liberal men are automatically evil, and approval of, for instance, those dissatisfied with the sex they were born with is demanded.

Discovering woke Trek

Angela Stagnato:

I’m a Trekker and a Catholic. I will speak about Trek at the drop of a bathlet.

I know what I like and it’s tiresome to be told that I shouldn’t like something just because Gene Roddenberry was a selfish, drug-using, philandering atheist. Though Trek sported an anti-capitalist message, Roddenberry was a craven pursuer of lucre and fame even to the point of cheating writers and producers, Sandy Courage and Gene Coon, out of their own fair shares.

Very few writers could withstand Roddenberry’s presence because of his legendary abrasive attitude, manipulativeness, selfishness and temper. According to his assistant, Ande Richardson, Roddenberry was a “freaky-deaky dude,” and a “sexist … who disregarded women.” But despite the fact that I find Rodenberry’s personal life to be morally abhorrent, repellant and typical of a narcissistic atheist, I’m not one to judge. I believe that he created something memorable and artistic. I will pray for his soul but his character has never made me give up on Trek.

One might ask how I can separate the two. One might be surprised at my answer. When I get together with like-minded Trekkers, we never discuss the “feelings” screen characters portray. Instead, we try to stump each other with Trek trivia. We ponder the existence of life on other planets and postulate what form that life would take. We wonder if tribbles would make good pets — and thus, they’d be no tribble at all. We contemplate what would be the Earth vegetable equivalent to plomeek soup and what sandwiches would go well with Romulan ale. We tell jokes about Klingons that only other sci-fi aficionados would grok. We never discuss the “feelings” or professed “identity” of any character or actor playing said characters.

Which brings us to Trek’s newest iteration, Star Trek: Discovery. Premiering in 2017, Discovery is the seventh Star Trek series. All Trek is great even when it’s bad but Discovery is so bad it’s irredeemable. It’s faddish and therefore has neither moral nor intellectual integrity. Rather than being countercultural, Discovery totes the liberal party line. It’s preachy, whereas earlier Trek permutations gave “food for thought” set within a framework (as best they could) of logic and rational thought. Discovery is vindictively and presumptuously narcissistic. It presumes that they have worked out the moral and intellectual implications of their policies and “morality” but the writers never want to show their work.

Discovery has more homosexual, bisexual and transsexual characters than you can shake a phaser at, and they threaten to add even more. They are overrepresented and their characterizations take up a great deal of screen time. At one point, the Mirror Terran Empress Philippa Georgiou (portrayed by Michelle Yeoh) — a particularly vile, repellent and treacherous character —once lambasted another character for not being “pansexual” instead of gay. And worse than that, every character is convinced that their raison d’êtreis to indulge each and every one of their feelings instead of putting their emotions aside in order to fight aliens.

The show is an inept lark redolent with every misandrist fantasy trope imaginable, all devoid of even a semblance of science. Male characters barely have any screentime and when they do, they portray betas obsessed with their “feelings.” Now, if I understand intersectionalist theory, I’m not allowed to enjoy the show because I don’t see myself “represented” on it. It’s simply not entertaining. Its primary purpose is to strike a blow against something — I suspect good taste, good writing, good acting, logic and common sense.

This is the show where every willowy, wispy woman can wrassle with wascally trained assassins well outside their weight class and come out the winner. Kirk at least could be counted upon for a well-placed judo chop every now and again and Spock always had his handy Vulcan Nerve Pinch in a pinch. Discovery exists in a universe where the patriarchy is dead and replaced by a matriarchy obsessed with the feelings of every living creature in the known universe. But, instead of the Age of Aquarius utopia that enlightened matriarchs promised to usher in, these women are still up to slaughtering aliens with an élan that I would label as disturbing. Nothing has changed in the matriarchy of the future except for gender roles and sexuality and, of course, the de rigeur atheism.

In Gene Roddenberry’s Original Star Trek (TOS), the Enterprise had a chapel which had hosted at least five marriages and several funerals. His Star Trek: The Next Generation’s crew celebrated Christmas on board the Enterprise-DDiscovery, on the other hand, has a cold, empty feel because the characters are living in a godless universe, not at all curious about the vast cosmic wonders circling around them and never once asking, “How did all of this get here in the first place?”

I like science fiction but have no patience for unthinking, feminist, Harlequin space-fantasy novels. Interestingly, the lack of God and the contempt for religion coupled with “creative” sexualities in general is startling on Discovery. I’m reminded of Ven. Fulton Sheen’s oft-quoted quote:

A popular God-is-dead book in the United States argues that homosexuality will become normal in a humanistic society where there is no restriction of morals which come from religion. St. Paul declared homosexuality and atheism were related to one another as effect to cause.

A television program that promotes homosexuality, secularism, scientism, atheism and utopia. It wouldn’t be the first time anyone ever accused Fulton Sheen — or the Catholic Church, for that matter — of prescience.

Trek isn’t a brilliant and creative idea because of all of alien latex masks, ray guns and exploding planets. Rather, as all good science fiction does, it reflects our present society and the nature of humanity. Discovery is bad science fiction because it doesn’t reflect anything except for illiberal liberalism. The actors flagrantly abuse the audience’s forbearance to withstand their unrepressed emotions expressed in what Tina Fey’s 30 Rock character Liz Lemon called “talking like this” — a distracting, whispery, gravely growl meant to convey both sincerity and conviction and ultimately delivering neither.

They come off as self-absorbed lovers softly exchanging platitudes even when discussing the newest alien threat to the ship. It’s annoying and pretentious and that’s why I believe James Tiberius Kirk to be the superior captain. No matter what the nature of the mission, Kirk was eager to train the ship’s phasers on any given planet and blast its citizenry into the next dimension and I welcomed it every week.

My viewership these days is now perfunctory and an exercise in patience rather than admiration of an artistic ideal. I’ve watched the show dutifully as I’ve watched every other Trek-related show but now, my patience and its artistry has ebbed away completely. I don’t watch Trek for the romance or the airing of the next sexually immoral grievance. I want to see aliens in weird latex masks shooting each other with ray guns and watch planets explode. I’m tired of the gender-bending, the preaching and lauding of atheism, the narcissistic contempt for any opinion other than the wokest of woke. It’s a wokist nightmare from which I fear I might not wake. It’s time to eject Discovery out of the nearest airlock.

I didn’t leave Trek — Trek left me. As a Catholic, I’m required to love people, not television programs. It’s time for me to hang up my Spock ears and my all-access backstage pass for Trek conventions. Even 3D chess doesn’t excite me as it used to.

The irony of Roddenberry’s original Star Trek, which showed itself particularly in The Next Generation, was Roddenberry’s progressive belief that humankind could be perfected. It is illogical to assume that human nature can be engineered out of human beings. But humans can choose to rise above their baser instincts.

And as far as Roddenberry’s creation vs. real-life Roddenberry, it is also illogical to expect perfection from human beings.


The Wisconsin religious right

Peter W. Woolf:

The New York Times has re-discovered the religious right. In a front-page story, we learn the awful truth that there is a “right-wing political movement powered by divine purpose, whose adherents find spiritual sustenance in political action.” They sing hymns; they pray; they burn candles. They import “their worship of God, with all its intensity, emotion and ambitions, to their political life.” Quite a few support Trump and also protest “against Covid restrictions,” among other unspeakable acts.

Once, long ago, I ventured into this dark territory, not armored by the shield of New York Times-style contempt for the deplorables, but like Marlowe heading up river into the Heart of Darkness. It was a hard-won lesson.

In February 1949, a forty-year-old farmwife in rural Wisconsin had a vision of the Virgin Mary appearing in her bedroom. Mrs. Mary Ann Van Hoof kept this secret for a while, but Mary reappeared to her in her garden in May, and then starting making more frequent visits. Word got around, crowds gathered, and on August 15, 1950, some 100,000 people made their way to the Van Hoof farm near Necedah (Na-SEE-dah), Wisconsin.

A sermon you will not hear Sunday

Michael Smith:

Something you should know about me is that I am endlessly fascinated by the things humans will invent to justify pretty much any human behavior, no matter how bad it is.

That is why I am doing a deep dive into several social theories, Queer Theory among them.

One commonality in the subjects I am examining is this: postmodernist theorists and philosophers not only object to anyone drawing a line, they do not believe a line even exists,There was a philosophical movement with roots in the 16th and 17th century, mainly consisting of Italian and French erudite cultural and philosophical thought that sought to establish reason and nature as the criteria of morality, politics, and law, and thus questioning transcendental sources of truth and authority. Called libertinism, it celebrated an authority of nature that debunked societal prohibitions as religious superstition and argued for the value of immediate physical pleasure rather than some heavenly reward later.

It gained new-found adherents in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly in France and Great Britain. Notable among these were John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, and the Marquis de Sade.

A libertine is often defined as “one devoid of most moral or sexual restraints, which are seen as unnecessary or undesirable, especially one who ignores or even spurns accepted morals and forms of behavior sanctified by the larger society.

Libertinism is rightly described as extreme form of individualist hedonism and as such, puts primary value on sensual or physical pleasures. Libertinism also necessarily requires the rejection of any religious stigma, moral code or social mores that argue against the attainment of such pleasures.

Libertinism supposedly rests on a foundation of “reason and nature as the criteria of morality, politics, and law” but modern “libertines” reject both reason and nature for concocted fairy tales that substantiate their actions.

They will only “reason” themselves to a point of emotional satisfaction rather than to a logical endpoint.

The more I studied libertinism, the more I saw the common thread between it and the modern sexual philosophies and how most seem little more than excuses and defenses for desires and behaviors that contradict established social mores and religious beliefs.

As previously noted, I’ve been studying Queer Theory, which, in my opinion, is just an extreme form of libertinism.

Nothing new under the sun.

Libertinism ultimately fails, as will any school of thought sharing its roots.

Like libertinism, many of the modern variants are much like an addiction (a porn addiction is a pretty good analog) because when satisfaction is attained by one thing, to reach satisfaction the next time requires a more extreme approach until the person is completely consumed, their very existence bounded and defined by the addiction.

The addict’s very identity is ultimately destroyed by the very pleasure by which he seeks to define himself.

Ros Ballaster, Professor of 18th Century Studies at Oxford’s Mansfield College, noted:
“Libertinism, rather than reinforcing the natural elements of the self, creates a void within humanity, exposing man as a passionless, diseased ‘non-entity’.”

I have formed a theory that the beliefs that have the potential to unify us in a free society are also the same beliefs that have the potential to divide that same society.

For example, America is a nation founded on individual liberty, individual rights, and rugged individualism – but individualism can take on many forms. What happens when there are individuals who act in opposition to the traditional social mores? If we prohibit those actions, how do we reconcile that with our belief in individualism?

How about philosophies that directly contradict a couple centuries of general social cohesion?

I think the real question is whether we, in our pursuit of a more civil society, are better off for such inquiries or we would be better served to ignore them.

I go back to Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant saying that it does not matter whether the existence of God can ever be empirically proven, people are justified in believing in His existence and following His laws if that belief forms the basis for reason and supports a civil society.

Belief in God produces exclusionary behaviors, so to follow God’s laws means some things are allowed, some are forbidden. It would follow that forbidding individual behaviors that cut against the grain of social cohesion in a civil society is something justifiable in the quest to maintain that society.

Therefore, the question in any civil society becomes not whether it is appropriate and necessary to draw a line, but where that line is to be drawn and who is to draw it.

America’s governance by a “moral and religious” people has done a damn good job of balancing individual liberty with social cohesion.

Whether it can resist the forces of contemporary libertinism seems an open question.

Against “woke”

John Kass passes on Pat Hickey:

I taught English Literature and Composition at Catholic schools from 1975 until I retired in 2017, including Honors and Advanced Placement. Since that time my hours were filled as a substitute teacher in Northwest Indiana, and I now work as a Jobs Coach for Special Education students in a large public high school.  I take troops of students to workplace locations (Al’s Grocery, WINN Machines, LaPorte County Animal Shelter and show young men and women how to wash dishes for an elementary school) and teach them how to comport themselves in a workplace.

My charges are mostly Autistic and Downs Syndrome youngsters, and they are sensational workers. Their General Education contemporaries go to college and vocational preparatory classes. I think Gen Ed kids get the short end of stick.  The Special Education kids go right into the workplace and their talents and work ethic gives them a leg up on their classmates. The students are not paid for their labors, as the time (usually 90 minutes a couple of days a week) gets credited as part of their graduation certificate. From the Workplace Program, seventeen-, eighteen- and nineteen-year-old workers very often get recruited directly into jobs. Three of my students are now salaried employees, after school.

These young people are not dependents; they are workers.

They will not go on to Valparaiso, DePauw, Purdue or Notre Dame, nor will their parents be saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in college debt. They will not read The Canterbury Tales, Aeneid, The Virginian, Ethan Frome, Henry V, Tale of Two Cities, Jane Eyre or Invisible Man; but neither will their General Education counterparts. That is a huge problem.

The current secondary school English canon is dumbed down. It seems to me that everything of value went to hell when we politely considered the opinion of dim bulbs who interrogate with “Well, who’s to say?”  People who know something, Karen.

The Who’s to Sayers have screwed up religion, politics, and sports. Keep reading, gentle folks, because at the end of my jeremiad I post a list of essential works of literature.

What were once essential readings have disappeared from high school curricula universal. As a substitute teacher I was shocked to learn that texts once deemed essential to one’s intellectual, ethical, and civic growth are no longer taught, offered, or considered. Young people have no connection to the great conversation anymore. Thousands of years of shared thoughts have been cast aside in favor of graphic novels, critical race theory, or books related to movies.

Vanity Fair, Tom Jones, The Mysterious Stranger and Moby Dick have been erased in favor of books selected by Oprah, or room temperature I.Q.’s like former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who placed his political imprimatur on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

That tome was considered a ‘nice story’ but not remotely on a par with Jude the Obscure, much less George Eliot’s Middlemarch. After the City That Used to Work gushed over the canonization of Truman Capote’s BFF, Ms. Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird climbed to top of the academic pyramid. It’s a nice story, but it is no David Copperfield. It was considered young adult fiction. Now it is mentioned in hushed tones.

Whenever I run into classmates from the 1960s, we tend to talk about the sad world the young are forced to wade through: a swamp of tepid experiences without any sense of common struggles and shared joys. This is a mean and humorless age that celebrates the balkanization of races, religions, and classes. Literature mirrors the music of the times. Chief Keef is the Old Blue Eyes and Amanda Gorman the Robert Frost. In the 1960s our common culture shared the magic of Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Dusty Springfield along with Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as Shostakovich and Schubert–all through television and radio. The Sound Must Seem the Echo of Sense. That was a quote from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism, which these days gets a nod only in an Advanced Placement English class. It is a musical essay that once set the canons of taste.

Books and tunes make little sense these days and essential key codes to leading a vital life are not available to students today. Let me explain.

Herman Melville’s novella Bartleby the Scrivener is a warning about the dire consequence of copying the words of others. Most people, other than the 46th President of the United States, know that imitation is flattery, but plagiarism is soul-sucking theft. The character Bartleby refuses to write or do anything other than die. He sheds his mortal husk and finally communicates with his employer, who laments, “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!”

That apostrophe (in poetry, an address to a dead or absent person) sums up our copy-cat culture that churns out formulaic novels, stories and ‘spoken word’ screeds that pass for poetry.

The classics were artifacts of truth. Practice, or genuine imitation, was the only passage to genius. Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope and John Dryden imitated, not duplicated, Horace, Virgil, and Juvenal. Real poets like Seamus Heaney imitated the greats and wrote the greatest translation of Beowulf, which celebrates courage and commitment. Amanda Gorman is celebrated for eschewing meter and rhyme scheme in favor of odd pauses. Seamus Heaney? Not in our high schools.

The virtues teach us to be morally excellent by taking the golden mean. Courage, for example, stands squarely between two vices (deficiency/excess: cowardice/rashness) and should never seem ambiguous or ironic. Shakespeare taught Aristotle to his audiences better than the Stagirite might have done himself. Richard III is a monster and Richard II is a vacillating whiner, but Henry V is what kingship is all about. Julius Caesar offers a simple seminar on political rhetoric: Brutus – the Attic, or closed fist and Antony the African, or open palm. The Attic school of rhetoric was from Greece and was determined by logic and cold reason, while the African school came from Egypt and appealed to the heart. Attic says, “Do what I say!”  African says, “Hey guys, give me a hand!”

The Attic style works for autocrats like our shut-down elected officials. Mandates are neither suggestions nor invitations to debate. They are an exercise of power.

The African rhetorical style worked nicely with people who were shown respect and allowed to exercise their civic duties as free men and women.

Brutus speaks to logic and Antony to emotion. Know your audience. The Roman plebs are angry that their champion Julius Caesar had been butchered by the woke senators who wanted to maintain the oligarchs’ power of the Senate over the common folks of Rome. Antony, a masker and reveler, understood the common man. Brutus, an honorable man, was convinced that his class should always lord it over the unwashed mob. Brutus’s closed fist: Romans, countrymen: Be patient till the last. Hear me for my cause and be silent that you may hear. Believe me for mine honor and have respect to mine honor that you may believe. Censure me in your wisdom and awake your senses that you may the better judge.

Yeah, right.

Antony offers an open palm:  Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So, let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus Hath told you Caesar was ambitious: If it were so, it was a grievous fault, And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.

Well, the folks rioted and the noble Romans had to beat it out of town, and fast! Between Antony’s rash emotionalism and Brutus’s cold Attic arrogance lies Octavian, the true heir to Caesar. A common Shakespearian device in tragedy and history is to have the last speech go to the person meant to rule–the last word: According to his virtue let us use him, With all respect and rites of burial. Within my tent his bones tonight shall lie Most like a soldier, ordered honorably. So, call the field to rest, and let’s away to part the glories of this happy day.

The great ruler is fair to all. The golden mean requires it.

Do you think that our elected officials have any sense of fairness? Our young people should be introduced to eternal values and virtues. Instead, they mask up as advocates and slogan-slinging cranks.

These are empirical observations based on what I witnessed. Who’s to say?  In this case, me.

I could not be an English teacher in 2022. The Woke culture would cancel me immediately. But I was able to impart eternal truths and basic virtues via literature for four decades. Helping Special Education youngsters learn to bag groceries at Al’s in LaPorte is far more important than trying to convince young minds that Amanda Gorman is a poet. Not gonna happen.

These are a few essential readings that young people once had presented to them. N.B., I find Joseph Conrad, a Polish sailor who could write in three languages and produce the most beautiful English prose about honor, duty, dignity, and compassion to be the most important. Herman Melville and Ralph Ellison wrote the two greatest American novels: Moby Dick by the former and Invisible Man by the later. If I had one book to save from extinction to prove that humanity is the work of God, it would be John Milton’s Paradise  Lost, which seems destined to be known as a weak joke in Animal House.   The greatest comic novel is A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole’s posthumous indictment of cant, ignorance and pretense.

Ladies and gents, my promised list:

The N*****of the Narcissus –Joseph Conrad–also titled “The Children of the Sea: A Tale of the Forecastle”

The Secret Sharer – Joseph Conrad

Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad

The Man Who Would be King – Rudyard Kipling

Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

Barnaby Rudge – Charles Dickens

Jane Eyre – Emily Bronte

Paradise Lost – John Milton

The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

Henry V – William Shakespeare

Sonnets – John Donne

Moby Dick – Herman Melville

Bartleby the Scrivener – Herman Melville

Red Badge of Courage – Stephan Crane

The Virginian – Owen Wister

The Big Blonde – Dorothy Parker

Poems of Emily Dickinson

Man Without a Country – Edward Everett Hale

Aeneid – Virgil

The Odyssey – Homer

The Greek Passion – Nikos Kazantzakis

The Informer – Liam O’Flaherty

Short Stories of Brett Harte

Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

U.S.A. Trilogy – John Dos Passos

The Day of the Locusts – Nathaniel West

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

The Caine Mutiny – Herman Wouk

The Continental Op – Dashiell Hammett

The Little Sister – Raymond Chandler

The Sign of Four – Arthur Conan Doyle

Napoleon of Notting Hill – G.K. Chesterton

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor

The 2021 Presteblog Christmas album

Starting shortly after my birth, my parents purchased Christmas albums for $1 from an unlikely place by today’s standards, tire stores.

(That’s as seemingly outmoded as getting, for instance, glasses every time you filled up at your favorite gas station, back in the days when gas stations were usually part of a car repair place, not a convenience store. Of course, go to a convenience store now, and you can probably find CDs, if not records, and at least plastic glasses such as Red Solo Cups and silverware. Progress, or something.)

The albums featured contemporary artists from the ’60s, plus opera singers and other artists.

These albums were played on my parents’ wall-length Magnavox hi-fi player.

Playing these albums was as annual a ritual as watching “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” or other holiday-season appointment TV.

Those albums began my, and then our, collection of Christmas music.

You may think some of these singers are unusual choices to sing Christmas music. (This list includes at least six Jewish singers.)

Of course, Christians know that Jesus Christ was Jewish. (And faithful to his faith.)

And I defy any reader to find anyone who can sing “Silent Night” like Barbra Streisand did in the ’60s.

These albums are available for purchase online, but record players are now as outmoded as, well, getting glasses with your fill-up at the gas station. (Though note what I previously wrote.)

But thanks to YouTube and other digital technology, other aficionados of this era of Christmas music now can have their music preserved for their current and future enjoyment.

The tire-store-Christmas-album list has been augmented by both earlier and later works.

In the same way I think no one can sing “Silent Night” like Barbra Streisand, I think no one can sing “Do You Hear What I Hear” (a song written during the Cuban Missile Crisis, believe it or not) like Whitney Houston:

This list contains another irony — an entry from “A Christmas Gift for You,” Phil Spector’s Christmas album. (Spector’s birthday is Christmas.)

The album should have been a bazillion-seller, and perhaps would have been had it not been for the date of its initial release: Nov. 22, 1963.

Finally, here’s the last iteration of one of the coolest TV traditions — “The Late Show with David Letterman” and its annual appearance of Darlene Love (from the aforementioned Phil Spector album), which started in 1986 on NBC …

… and ended on CBS:

Merry Christmas. (To play this whole thing as a YouTube playlist, click here.)


Philip Klein:

Most people have at some point in their lives been asked to entertain a version of the cheesy question, “If you knew you had one day to live, what would you do?” It’s often posed as a playful game or essay topic or used by self-help gurus to prod people into trying to get a deeper sense of their priorities. But it’s time for everybody to start asking themselves a different question: If COVID-19 will be here forever, is this what you want the rest of your life to look like? In this case, it’s not an idle or theoretical exercise. It will be central to how we choose to live and function as a society for years or even decades to come.

Ever since the onset of COVID-19, we have more or less been living under an illusion. That illusion was that it would reach some sort of natural endpoint — a point at which the pandemic would be declared “over,” and we could all more or less go back to normal. The original promise of taking “15 days to slow the spread” or six weeks to “flatten the curve” has long since been reduced to a punchline.

In March of 2020, the outside estimates were that this coronavirus period would come to an end when safe and effective vaccines became widely available. Even the infamous Imperial College London report, viewed as draconian at the time for its estimate of up to 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. absent sustained intervention, predicted that its mitigation strategies “will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available.” Yet vaccines have been available for anybody who wants one for nearly six months, and our leaders have ignored the obvious off-ramp. The CDC backtracked on guidance and said that vaccinated people must wear masks in public, and many people and jurisdictions have listened. For example, Montgomery County, Md., has an extraordinarily high vaccination rate — with 96 percent of the eligible over-twelve population having received at least one dose and 87 percent of them being fully vaccinated. By its own metrics, the county has “low utilization” of hospital beds. Yet the county requires masks indoors — including in schools. In Oregon, vaccinated people are required to wear masks even outdoors. And it isn’t just liberal enclaves. A new Economist/YouGov poll found that eight in ten Americans report having worn a mask in the past week at least “some of the time” when outside their homes, with 58 percent masking “always” or “most of the time.” If masking has remained so widespread among adults months after vaccines became widely available, why will it end in schools after vaccines become available for children?

When operating under the assumption that there is a time limit on interventions, it’s much easier to accept various disruptions and inconveniences. While there have been ferocious debates over whether various mitigation strategies have ever been necessary, we should at least be able to agree that the debate changes the longer such restrictions are required. People making sacrifices for a few weeks, or even a year, under the argument that doing so saves lives is one thing. But if those sacrifices are indefinitely extended, it’s a much different debate.

There are many Americans who willingly locked themselves down and who still favor some restrictions. But what if this were to drag on for five years? Ten years? Twenty years? Do you want your children to be forced to wear masks throughout their childhoods? Do you want to bail on weddings if some guests may be unvaccinated? Skip future funerals? Ditch Thanksgiving when there’s a winter surge? Keep grandparents away from their grandkids whenever there’s a new variant spreading? Are you never going to see a movie in a theater again?

These are not wild scenarios. The Delta variant has led to surges throughout the world months after vaccines became widely available. Despite being a model of mass vaccination, Israel has been dealing with a significant Delta spike. To be clear, vaccines still appear to be quite effective at significantly reducing the risk of hospitalization and death. But if the virus continues to adapt and people need to get booster shots every six months or so, it seems there’s a good chance that the coronavirus will continue to spread for a very long time. So the question is how we, as individuals, and society as a whole, should adapt to this reality. Instead of thinking in terms of policies that may be tolerable for a very short period of time, it’s time to consider what would happen if such policies had to continue forever.

Whatever arguments were made to justify interventions early on in the pandemic, post-vaccine, we are in a much different universe. There is a negligible statistical difference in the likelihood of severe health consequences between vaccinated people who go about their business without taking extra precautions, and those who take additional precautions. Yet having to observe various protocols in perpetuity translates into a reduced quality of life. Put another way, the sort of question we need to start asking ourselves is not whether we can tolerate masking for one trip to the grocery store, but whether we want to live in a society in which we can never again go shopping without a mask.

People may ultimately come to different conclusions about the amount of restrictions they want to accept, regardless of the time frame. But at a minimum, we need to dispense with the framework that assumes the end of COVID-19 is just around the corner and instead recognize that it’s likely here to stay.

Worshiping Gaia instead of God

Ryan M. Yonk and Jessica Rood:

Dramatic headlines and images showing a deteriorating environment exist to demand swift, decisive, and large-scale action. We saw this approach in the 1960s when the first made-for-TV environmental crises showed oil-drenched seabirds on the California Coast and more recently in depressing videos depicting starving polar bears. Dramatic imagery has become the norm when discussing environmental issues.

We also see trends in editorial writing, discussions among political groups, changing business practices, and increasingly scholarly claims that also use dramatic imagery. At face value, these trends could indicate that the public demands dramatic governmental action on environmental issues. Some scholars, however, see this as more than mere increased public demand for government intervention, and they highlight similarities between environmentalism and religious movements. For example, Laurence Siegal states:

In the decades since modern environmentalism began, the movement has taken on some of the characteristics of a religion: claims not backed by evidence, self-denying behavior to assert goodness, (and a) focus on the supposed end of times.

Scholars have tuned into the general public’s zealous interest in the environment and more importantly, emphasis on government action, to push forward their own ideological goals under the guise of scholarship. Whereas the ultimate goal of scholarship is to mitigate climate change and improve sustainability, the reality is instead corrupted by thinly veiled ideology masquerading as scholarship, which is sure to distort any useful policy recommendations.

This phenomenon is illustrated by a recent study making the rounds in Science Daily and The Climate News Network. The authors, Vogel et al., claim that the world must decrease energy use to 27 gigajoules (GJ) per person in order to keep average global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a recommendation included in the Paris Agreement. Our current reality illustrates the outlandish nature of this suggestion. We are a far cry from this goal both in 2012, the year chosen for this study, as well as in 2019, the most recent year for available data. …

Using these data, the authors pair what they view to be excessive energy use with a failure to meet basic human needs worldwide. In their own argument, they acknowledge that among the 108 countries studied, only 29 reach sufficient need satisfaction levels. In each case where need satisfaction is met, the country uses at least double the 27 GJ/cap of sustainable energy use, thereby creating a conundrum both for those concerned about the environment and human well-being.

The authors, however, provide a solution arguing that their research shows a complete overhaul of “the current political-economic regime,” would allow countries to meet needs at sustainable energy levels. Some of their recommendations include: universal basic services, minimum and maximum income thresholds, and higher taxes on wealth and inheritance.

These policy recommendations are not supported by the research and directly contradict a body of literature that argues economic growth, not government redistribution, is our way forward. Vogel et al. argue against the necessity for economic growth and even go as far as to support degrowth policies on the grounds that their model finds no link between economic growth and maximizing human need satisfaction and minimizing energy use.

In short, their proposed solution would punish affluent countries and favor a collective misery in which any market driven environmental improvements are crushed under the promise of equality and sustainable energy use.

Conversely, Laurence Siegel in Fewer, Richer, Greener: Prospects for Humanity in an Age of Abundance and the 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) argue that economic prosperity allows countries to invest in new technologies and policies that improve not only environmental health but also the well-being of the people. Thus, if we want to continue to improve our relationship with the environment and human progress, we should be more supportive of economic growth and the entrepreneurship that drives it.

If the above relationship between economic prosperity, environmental health, and human well-being is the case, how can these authors claim the opposite? The most likely conclusion is that the authors allow an ideological bias to drive their research, a claim that is supported by their normative descriptions of affluent countries as examples of planned obsolescence, overproduction, and overconsumption as well as the authors’ obvious demonization of profit-making.

As Vogel et al. demonstrates, environmental issues can be exploited by the drama and religious nature of the movement. Unfortunately, academics, such as Vogel et al., have learned to use these tools to stretch their limited findings into a full-blown rallying cry for their own preferred policies; in this case, socialism on a global scale.

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