December 2021

Selected articles, including Mary Harrington on the threats of bio-libertarianism; Liel Leibovitz on his process of political disillusionment; and Sam Kriss on various interpretations of an "unwellness" that was once called hysteria.

The Vaccine Moment, part two: On Symbol and Story

Paul Kingsnorth in Abbey of Misrule on Christendom, Progress, and what happens when the stories that we've used to understand the world in which we are immersed start to fracture.

The West was Christendom; but Christendom died. Then the West was Progress; but Progress died. From this vantage point - perhaps still too close to really make out the shape of things - I suspect that the last decade was the period during which this reality hit home for many people. The grand story we grew up with is now impossible even for many former true believers to cleave to. In response, we have entered a period we could call narrative fracture.

While once we might have been able to cleave to a grand narrative like the story of Progress, or smaller but nonetheless unifying stories, like those built around nation states, it is now almost impossible to do this at any scale. The narratives are too fractured. Everything moves too fast, and the centre will not hold. This is the meaning of the ‘culture war’: an ongoing battle over stories, with no sign at all of whether any new grand narrative will rise to replace that of Progress. Perhaps it won’t. Perhaps the days of grand narratives are over. Either way, the battle over stories will not end any time soon.

See also part three, for the conclusion of the "Vaccine Moment" series.

It's Not All In Your Head

Sam Kriss in First Things evaluates a certain "unwellness" — once called hysteria — interpreting it through medical, psychoanalytic, and spiritual stories (and manages to review two books in the process).

We are living in an age of ambient unwellness. You need only look at how many products are out there promising to make you better. ­Nootropics to enhance your cognition, supplements for your bones and your skin and every one of your organs. Microdosing to enhance your creativity; therapy, of course, for your traumas. New and better sleep regimens. Unearthly powders and goos to replace all the actual food in your diet. Everything invites you to optimize yourself. The entire self, body and mind, isn’t just the thing you are: It’s a kind of machinery, something to be fine-tuned and set to work. The dream of a fully frictionless existence, a world of highly efficient cyborgs. Because if you’re not perfectly productive, if you let up for even a moment, you must be sick: The forces of decay will swallow you whole.

The sexual revolution killed feminism

Mary Harrington in Unherd calls attention to a challenge that should unite conservatives and feminists — something she calls bio-libertarianism, which unmoors us from our very humanity with disastrous consequences.

Instead of calling for both men and women to embrace a human duty to be dependent others, we embraced a supposedly empowering pursuit of universal, de-sexed radical individualism, and outsourced care to the welfare state.

Received opinion today frames this shift as a victory. Conservative critiques of feminism usually boil down to enumerations of its uncounted costs: the meltdown of family life, the tiny infants in daycare, the degradation of sexual intimacy, the collapsing fertility rate, and so on.

But we need to understand that what we’re fighting is not feminism, properly understood, but something I’ve characterised elsewhere as bio-libertarianism. A worldview that for fifty years now has claimed to act in women’s interests but is increasingly obviously at odds with those interests. It’s a worldview that believes human freedom necessitates radical unmooring from the givens of our bodies.

The Turn

Liel Liebovitz in Tablet on his political disillusionment — a phenomenon he calls "the Turn."

You might be living through The Turn if you ever found yourself feeling like free speech should stay free even if it offended some group or individual but now can’t admit it at dinner with friends because you are afraid of being thought a bigot. You are living through The Turn if you have questions about public health policies—including the effects of lockdowns and school closures on the poor and most vulnerable in our society—but can’t ask them out loud because you know you’ll be labeled an anti-vaxxer. You are living through The Turn if you think that burning down towns and looting stores isn’t the best way to promote social justice, but feel you can’t say so because you know you’ll be called a white supremacist. You are living through The Turn if you seethed watching a terrorist organization attack the world’s only Jewish state, but seethed silently because your colleagues were all on Twitter and Facebook sharing celebrity memes about ending Israeli apartheid while having little interest in American kids dying on the streets because of failed policies. If you’ve felt yourself unable to speak your mind, if you have a queasy feeling that your friends might disown you if you shared your most intimately held concerns, if you are feeling a bit breathless and a bit hopeless and entirely unsure what on earth is going on, I am sorry to inform you that The Turn is upon you.

The Wounds Politics Cannot Heal

David French in The French Press warns us against replacing religion with politics, offering the wisdom that "locating oneself within a larger story" may just cure much of what ails us.

Despite the obvious reality that our political engagement is less relevant to the real world than our personal interventions, all too many of us increasingly obsess over politics. There’s a very human reason for this—compared to virtue in real life, virtue in politics is easy. Compared to love in real life, love in politics is also easy.

Living on a Prayer

Liel Leibovitz in Tablet encouraging us to make prayer a New Year's resolution, and offering some simple and lovely tips from a wise rabbi.

[O]nce you’ve sipped on that bubbly and Auld Lang Syned, feel free to skip those promises about losing 10 pounds or spending more time at the gym. It’s closed anyway, but your heart isn’t. Your heart still yearns for something better, because that is what hearts were designed to do. No matter who or what you believe did the designing, prayer is the exercise you need. As a wise rabbinic dictum put it long ago, just do it.

Happy New Year! May it be a year of exciting beginnings, genuine prosperity, and spiritual fulfillment for each and every one of you. Živeli!