Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

O Almighty God, who alone makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Beauty and the Horde of Ruiners

Does Belle have Stockholm Syndrome?


Thank you for watching. Like, share, and subscribe to my channel. Thank you of course to all my lovely patrons, I couldn’t do this without y- … oh. You want me to actually, like, talk about the thing.

—Lindsay Ellis,
Is ‘Beauty and the Beast’ About Stockholm Syndrome?

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So listen. I am here for weird, creepy readings of films. The Brazil reading of Sleeping Beauty, for example: it makes more sense to think that after Prince Philip’s capture by Maleficent, the rest of the film is an illusion crafted by her to keep him quiescent. After all, she knew about Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather (fairies so incompetent they can’t bake a single cake in secret), and Maleficent is the mistress of all evil—how plausible is it that she would leave the one person with the ability to break her revenge spell, unguarded no less [1], in a dungeon that her principal rivals can enter and leave at will? It makes much more sense to suppose that the vision of Aurora in the castle is only the beginning, and that the rest, fairies, dragon, and triumph, is still part of the vision. Prince Philip never gets out.

Or, this woman lost. Which is plausible. Sure. Sarcastic? Why would you ever think I'm being sarcastic?

Or the interpretation of 101 Dalmatians that it’s secretly a coded anti-nuclear satire, in which the dogs are the ordinary people who will be both metaphorically and literally skinned by the H-bombs crafted by the wealthy and insane elite, and—wait, this was the actual premise of a bizarre sequel to the novel? Really? Huh.

Or the incredibly uncomfortable reading of I, Robot, which, well, was just not a very good movie in the first place; but it becomes rather nauseatingly lucid if you read it as a race allegory, with the humans as white people and the robots as their black slaves. Detective Spooner is an abolitionist, not although but because he’s a racist: basically he doesn’t trust the robots to be slaves, which is an unkind but not wholly false interpretation of the original Republican Party (look up how Oregon handled the slavery controversy); meanwhile Sonny, the good robot, is a race traitor, raised to the level of human free will by a kindly, white-man’s-burden-minded scientist. Through the race lens it is a super fucked up movie, though to be fair I doubt this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers.

But there is a steaming cold take that I am not here for: partly because it ruins the single best Disney film ever made, yes I will fight you, but chiefly because it isn’t actually justified by the story. And that is the obnoxious ‘Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm Syndrome and/or falls into the toxic I-can-fix-him trope’ take. [2] These takes typically rely on the fact that the Beast is savage at first, but later Belle falls in love with him. Which, yes, that’s the plot of the movie. What it isn’t is an adequate analysis of Stockholm Syndrome or the I-can-fix-him trope.

Now, there is dispute in the psychiatric and law enforcement professions about whether Stockholm Syndrome is even real; it has not been thoroughly researched and does not appear in the DSM-V. So rather than beg that question, and since the trope of abuse victim who is loyal to their abuser due to affection-based denial does have a basis in reality, independently of the events the putative disorder is named for, I’m going to refer to this trope as Frollery. Frollery, thus defined, would include all varieties of loving and trusting an abuser or believing that one can ‘fix’ an abusive partner with enough longsuffering sweetness and obedience. The question, thus re-termed, is this: is Belle a victim of Frollery?

The answer is still no: Belle maintains her freedom, her own judgment, and (most importantly) complete clarity of mind throughout.

Let’s start with Belle’s captivity in the Beast’s castle. She agrees to this under some duress—well, she suggests it under duress; the Beast either isn’t mean enough (not likely, he’s still in jerk mode at this point of the story) or isn’t cunning enough (more plausible) to suggest this; but it is still under duress, insofar as it’s to save her father from imprisonment and possible death. [3] So I’m prepared to agree that she’s being held against her will. Captivity, check.

… Except that it’s quickly made clear that she has no intention of respecting the promise she made if the Beast gets intolerable, as he does over the enchanted rose. He acts violently, maybe not toward her per se but in a way that could certainly have injured her; she leaves immediately, and to all appearances for good. Whatever implicit threat there may have been in living with the Beast, there is evidently no threat involved in leaving the Beast, implicit or explicit.

And even after he saves her from wolves, there is a clear moment of hesitation in Belle’s face over whether to take him back to the castle and patch him up, or to just leave. She chooses to take him back out of compassion—which is demonstrated even further by her repeated, point-blank refusal to accept his blame-shifting or excuses in the scene where she tends his wounds. She gives absolutely no weight to anything he says, and isn’t even intimidated by his roars of anger, insisting that no, both this situation and this narrative are going to go down her way. This is not only uncharacteristic, it’s the exact opposite of how a victim of Frollery behaves. Placating and agreeing with an abuser are the traits of Frollery, not telling him in no uncertain terms that this mess is entirely his fault.

Moreover (though this is a less important note), it’s worth pointing out—as Lindsay Ellis does in the excellent video that I’m more or less ripping off—that the animation of the Beast and the backing score after his rose-rage episode, showing a sudden devastating realization that he’s made a horrible mistake, reveals a genuine example of something that abusers like to pretend to have: genuine regret. An abuser exhibits their regret to the victim as a manipulation tactic. The Beast, though he has this beat of regret, never brings it up to Belle at all; it is shown exclusively to the audience: the Beast, in a moment where he can gain nothing by it, experiencing and exhibiting remorse. Taken together with his trying to save face with Belle in the wound-tending scene, as opposed to trying to manipulate her by saying how sorry he was that she drove him to his bad behavior, that is one of several reasons we have to credit his change of character as the film proceeds.

And speaking of that change of character, while it’s occasioned by Belle, she doesn’t prompt it. That is, she doesn’t take it upon herself to be his therapist, or threaten to leave again if the Beast doesn’t clean up his act. He feels for her, wants to be better because of her, and she responds to him actually doing that. At no point does she set out to fix him. He fixes himself. The literary parallel is Darcy's change of character in Pride and Prejudice after being called out by Elizabeth, not the dubious penitence of Christian Grey.

Grey is a Gaston type when you think about it; he only gets away with it because 
Jamie Dornan's smouldering gaze and sharp jawline and perfectly sculptured torso, 
which is set off so perfectly by the lines of suit, and, uhh, what was I talking about?

The famous library scene has been criticized on the grounds that the Beast was really just informing Belle of an additional room in the house that she hadn’t known about, which is stupid on two different levels. To begin with, him giving her the library as a gift is not just telling her about a room. It’s a transfer of ownership (i.e., what a gift is, guys). That library is now hers. She could ban the Beast from it, like he banned her from the West Wing, if the mood struck her. She could demand to take the books with her if she ever decides to leave again.

Which leads us to the second point. Belle, as she has demonstrated, is prepared to leave; she’s staying because she made an agreement, but she doesn’t think that agreement outweighs her safety. There’s no indication that the Beast could leave even if he wanted to, but even supposing he could, where is he going to go? He’s not only a monster, he’s one who has a curse to break that’s intimately connected with his castle. Other than (i) the castle itself or (ii) some of its contents (like, say, a library), what the hell was the Beast supposed to give Belle? And the choice to give her a library, i.e. something that’s transportable at least in principle, suggests that this is not an attempt to bribe her to stay. He’s doing this because he likes her and wants to do something for her that she will enjoy. Remember your fairy-tale rules: something other than genuine love wouldn’t have broken the curse.

And speaking of the agreement and of fairy-tale rules, here, as so often, the fairy-tale tellers show a very sound instinct for orthodoxy and even for canon law. Westley in The Princess Bride is a similar exemplar, quite correctly pointing out that Buttercup’s putative marriage to Humperdinck was invalidated by both defect of form and lack of consent on her part. Belle being held in the Beast’s castle is cited by some critics of the story as a diriment impediment to their possible marriage, a diriment impediment being one that voids a marriage (as distinct from a prohibitory impediment, which simply makes it an act of disobedience to the Church but still a valid marriage).

But what the crucial Canon 1089 of the Code actually states is this: No marriage can exist between a man and a woman who has been abducted or at least detained with a view of contracting marriage with her unless the woman chooses marriage of her own accord after she has been separated from the captor and established in a safe and free place. Well, the captivity itself was suggested by Belle in the first place and had nothing to do with marriage, even on the Beast’s end (since it is mutual true love that he needs, not marriage); but even if we fudged those facts, Belle was separated from the Beast and established in a safe and free place when she went to rescue her father from dying of exposure. True, her village rapidly became unsafe for her—thanks to Gaston, who had been stalking her and ignoring her No for months at least, and who is the only character in the film who does imprison her against her will, in the cellar, while he leads the townsfolk off to murder the Beast. And speaking of Gaston, his increasing violence throughout the film and especially his threat to commit Maurice does arguably bar him from ever validly marrying Belle: Canon 1103 says, A marriage is invalid if entered into because of force or grave fear from without, even if unintentionally inflicted (an ameliorating clause, but Gaston clearly can’t plead even that), so that a person is compelled to choose marriage in order to be free from it.

A last-ditch effort I’ve seen to make Beauty and the Beast problematic is the argument that Belle is self-isolating, even that she has Schizoid Personality Disorder—which is characterized by a lack of interest in relationships, detachment, apathy, and emotional coldness—on the grounds that she has no real friends in the village. This, it is argued, is why she doesn’t respond to Gaston’s advances either, and it also explains why she is more at home with a castle full of animated objects than she is in the town.

But here again, the actual facts of the film refuse to fit that narrative. For one thing, Belle does have relationships she cherishes, not only with her father Maurice but with the bookseller; she’s even shown trying to be friendly with the baker, telling him about the book she’s reading, but he shuts her down with a dismissive ‘That’s nice’ and immediate pivot to his business concerns. And the notion that Belle is emotionally self-isolating and cold is ludicrous. She’s introverted, certainly, and it doesn’t help that the villagers harp ceaselessly on her oddness, that being the only thing other than her beauty they’ve bothered to notice—of course it’s going to be hard to make friends in that environment. But she’s capable of everything from casual kindness to animals and strangers (as shown in “Bonjour!”) to finding compassion for a hideous monster. Cold, she ain’t.

So yeah. If you want a bona fide example of Frollery romanticized and justified, try the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, or Overboard (which is a fun romp and was also Problematic Romance: The Movie before E. L. James ever set pen to royalty check). Or hell, look to something like Interview With the Vampire for a toxic romance acknowledged and deconstructed within the narrative itself. But get your grubby illiterate paws off Beauty and the Beast’s innocence, ruiners.

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[1] And don’t give me any ‘But there’d be no point in guarding him because her minions are incompetent’ stuff. She’s well aware of that after their failure with Aurora, and if Maleficent can transmogrify herself into a dragon, I decline to believe that she can’t magick up a simple home security system with fairy-oriented facial recognition software.
[2] Note that I am not saying the film couldn’t be used as a manipulative pretext by an abuser; it absolutely could. But I don’t consider ‘An abuser could lie about it’ to be a particularly damning critique of anything.
[3] Not that the Beast was planning to kill Maurice or anything. But it was a freezing, drafty cell, and Maurice was an old man.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Antifascism 103: Chinks in Catholic Armor

I had not forgotten my promise to consider whether we should make the patient an extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist. All extremes except extreme devotion to the Enemy are to be encouraged. … Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a hothouse mutual admiration, and towards the outer world a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the ‘Cause’ is its sponsor and it is thought to be impersonal. Even when the little group exists originally for the Enemy’s own purposes, this remains true. … The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.
—C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
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CW: White ethnonationalist/neo-Nazi ideology and language.

This series hasn't yet addressed a different urgent question: why do Catholics keep falling for authoritarian nationalism?

And I do say keep falling; it's been a historical trend for a hundred years minimum. Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, and, yes, Hitler’s Germany were all obtained with either the popular and general support of Catholics, or without effective resistance from them whether grassroots or institutional. Catholics like to cite the strong Catholic presence in the many resistance movements of Europe and the efforts of Bl Pius XII to mediate a peace; and we remember with well-earned pride Catholic heroes of both spiritual and material resistance like St Edith Stein, St Maximilian Kolbe, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Erich Klausener, Charles de Gaulle, St John Paul II, and Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg. But that pride of resistance was earned by them, not ourselves; and we must also blush for the criminal short-sightedness of Franz von Papen, the ineffectual self-interest of Ernst von Weisäcker, and, yes, the errors and miscalculations of Bl Pius XII and of Catholic bishops throughout Europe.

There are several reasons for this vulnerability, and I expect I don't have a handle on all of them. But I believe the following causes contribute:

1. Catholicism has historically been at odds with political Liberalism. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had been plagued with wars over religion; taking the Peasants’ Revolt as the first outbreak, and the final defeat of the Catholic Stuart cause in Britain as the last, we could say that wars over which version of Christianity should triumph in Europe lasted, intermittently, from 1524 through 1746: two hundred and twenty-two years. Small wonder that people would want something other than religion to occupy their minds and their passions alike. As Charles Williams caustically remarked: As a virtue toleration does not yet exist, though we once thought it did. Our fathers became bored and miserable and decadent through their incessant killing, and we, the children of that killing, supposed ourselves to be convinced of charity, when, in truth, we only shuddered still at the memory of blood. [1]

The more tolerant forms of Liberalism took root in America, where pluralism was increasingly the ideal; but in Europe, Liberalism came to be defined principally by the French Revolution, whose Voltairean maxim—Écrasez l’infâme—was aimed at the Church's very existence, or at least her existence as an institution of political, social, and cultural importance. Charles Carroll in the United States, or G. K. Chesterton in Great Britain [2], could afford to be tolerant Liberals: the martyrs of Compiègne enjoyed no such luxury. Given the European situation of the papacy, it is no surprise that their outlook on Liberalism should have been, at warmest, suspicious and defensive.

But one of the results of this suspicion has been that many Catholics (especially traditionalists) are, at most, little interested in protecting the structures of any democratic society. The most romantic would like to thoroughly revive the Mediæval order, complete with not only a territorially sovereign Pope but a Holy Roman Emperor in subservience to His Holiness; others, less idealistic but equally convinced that the state should take responsibility for the moral formation of the populace, are content to advocate for a state that is explicitly and officially Catholic, and therefore prepared to abrogate freedoms of the exercise of religion, of speech and the press, and of assembly—not abolishing such things, exactly, but restricting them to religious, political, and ethnic minorities that already exist (and seeing to it that those minorities don’t get any bigger). This would, to their minds, not only effect a far more just and pious society; it would also effect many conversions—and the fact that many of them would be rather insincere conversions would hardly matter, because the sacraments work of their own power rather than through man’s belief in them [3], and people have a very great tendency to become what they are pretending to be besides, so that a Catholic state would in fact be an instrument for saving souls. Traditional-minded Catholics are by no means all of this mindset, but it does exist.

And white nationalism panders to it. Nationalists don’t care about Catholicism, traddie or otherwise, any more than anti-Liberal Catholics care about democracy [4], but nationalism offers these Catholics a lot: a way to be visibly patriotic (and thus mainstream rather than ghettoized) without subscribing to Liberal ideas about what the state is; a role in a movement that professes traditional, family-centered values (the race needs children and values mothers); a position as members of one of the seminal institutions of Western culture; even, maybe, a chance to convert an authoritarian nationalist government, and thus realize their dream of an officially Catholic state.

2. Catholicism and nationalism both recognize the value of culture and heritage. They qualify this recognition, in differing ways: Catholicism does so by subordinating every culture (at least in theory) to divine revelation, while white nationalism does so by first equating culture with race, and then ranking races from best to worst. But they share something that, to be blunt, neither Liberalism nor its godchild the modern Left are very good at recognizing: the beauty and value of the past. A great proportion of Western past, including a lot of our most magnificent and recognized art, is Catholic, which makes Catholic heritage (if not actual Catholic faith) a nice talking point for ethnonationalists who want to coöpt it. Moreover, legitimately Catholic emphases upon tradition and continuity in institutional authority, and upon the legitimate role of culture in how religion is expressed, along with the teaching that states do have a right to preserve their own existence and heritage, are easily manipulated by white nationalist conspiracy theories—especially since Catholics have a long history of troubled relationship with the Jews, often taking the form of blatant anti-Semitism.

It is certainly true that the past must be considered critically, and that is arguably the special talent of the Left. But nobody likes being criticized, even when their critics are not smugly judgmental about it; and smug judgment is arguably the besetting sin of the Left, as it is frequently the besetting sin of anybody who has good reason to be confident in their convictions. And we are so awash in patriotic myth—accurate and fabricated, innocent and corrupt, subtle and overt—that there are things to critique about America at practically every turn. Which then makes it easy for the contemporary fascist to paint all criticisms of America, or of the West, or of those aspects of Catholicism that are susceptible to an ethnonationalist slant, as nothing more than biased, whiny, ungrateful attacks on our whole culture.

3. In the last fifty years, the Republican Party has made a strong and largely successful effort to siphon the Catholic vote away from the Democratic Party. This would be insignificant in itself; except that the GOP, as the conservative voice in American politics, was inevitably going to be where racists threw their caps when civil rights reforms went through in the 50s and 60s. [5] The siphoning happened, of course, due to Roe vs Wade and the subsequent addition of the abortion rights plank to the Democratic platform—since, before then, while abortion had been a topic of political discourse, it hadn’t been a specially partisan issue (much as, say, neither Democrats nor Republicans in our day have taken up a party-wide stance on the independence of Puerto Rico).

The GOP’s decision to paint itself as the pro-life party was a stroke of cynical brilliance: brilliance, because that alone has kept a large proportion of Catholics loyal to them at any cost due to the Church’s insistence that every human being has the right to life, and despite the fact that Catholics were overwhelmingly Democrats before 1973; and cynical, because, while sincere pro-life politicians really have no option but to coöperate with the Republican cause due to the Democrats’ implacable pro-choice stance, pro-choice Republicans are a commonplace, and they can still win Catholic votes because the GOP is always dangling the carrot of maybe-they’ll-go-pro-life-one-day (or at least, the parsnip of they-won’t-introduce-bills-expanding-abortion-rights) in front of them. Cynical, too, because Republicans are reliably opposed to other aspects of a holistically pro-life approach to issues like the death penalty, and because they widely resist laws supporting access to the things that make life possible, like a living wage and universal health care—causes which the Catholic Church has also supported in no uncertain terms.

But all this just sets the stage. The massive shift of Catholics from a staunchly Democratic bloc to one split about evenly with Republicans, means that Catholics of all stripes and especially conservative Catholics have been rubbing shoulders with the racist and ethnonationalist elements that also cling to that party (GOP, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of political clout). Which in turn means that the ethnonationalists have far more opportunity to introduce the Catholics to points 1 and 2 above, as well as point 4 here.

4. The sidelining of traditionalist Catholics within the Church. I am not here saying whether sidelining traddies is good or bad. But I do think it can be said that it’s a fact. Liturgical and pastoral reforms, such as the decisions of the Second Vatican Council largely consisted in, always have their sincere opponents, and the hierarchy is generally ill-at-ease even with the most moderate and conciliatory of them. The self-styled conservatives of the Quartodeciman, Montanist, and Donatist movements all threatened (or were held to threaten) the unity of the Church from the earliest centuries of her existence, and liturgical conflicts contributed not only to the Great Schism of 1054, but to several later fissures within Orthodoxy, and at least one major rift that lead thousands of Eastern Catholics to leave full communion with Rome for the Russian Orthodox Church. It is, therefore, understandable that Catholic bishops of the last fifty years should have been wary of all devotees of the Usus Antiquior, however firm their protestations of Catholic fidelity.

And the brute fact is, not all of them have protested Catholic fidelity with much firmness. Schismatics like the Society of St Pius X, or the authors of the damagingly misinformed and insolent letter being shopped around by LifeSite accusing His Holiness of being a heretic, are only the tip of the iceberg. There are fanatical Latin Massers who deny that the Novus Ordo is a valid Mass, sedevacantists [6] who claim that every Pope since Bl Pius XII has been an impostor, and a veritable conclave of traddies who seem determined to not only excuse but canonize Catholic anti-Semitism and the Feeneyite heresy. Keep that sort of company and a lot of people are going to look at you funny.

If I may make an aside. As an Ordinariate member, I don’t know whether I’m quite eligible to be considered a traddie myself. But for what it’s worth, I certainly prefer the austere beauty of the Tridentine liturgy, even when celebrated poorly, to the typical celebration of the Novus Ordo with sloppy ritual, cartoonish music, and a homily that deserves to be slept through. The point is, I say these things about the traddie element of the Church because I think they need saying, not because I have any pleasure in saying them; and it bothers me that some people enjoy dunking on traddies, who, to do them/us justice, have been much exasperated.

Anyway, the point here is, many traditionalist Catholics feel shouldered aside by the Church as a whole and especially by the hierarchy. And the feeling of being at once deserted and betrayed is ideal soil for white supremacists to sow their tares. The people who are supposed to be helping you preserve this precious and beautiful thing have let you down. You’re the only ones who see it, the only ones who recognize the crisis. And we’re the ones who are on your side, who value what you care about. They treat you like the enemy because they don’t care what happens to this precious heritage; no, worse, they’re in cahoots with people who want to destroy it. We’re the ones you can trust. It’s the same temptation that practically always lures zealous Catholics, when they perceive the brokenness and corruption of the Church they have so long been confessing to be one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic: the temptation to re-apply the terms of the Creed, instead of believing it. Clarity is always easier to live with than mystery; and iniquity is a perennial mystery.

Like I said, this is not an exhaustive list. I’m sure there are other important factors at work here. But I dare say this is quite enough to be going on with.

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[1] The Descent of the Dove, p. 182.
[2] At any rate as of 1829, when Catholics obtained political emancipation in Britain. And though the Tudors (obviously excepting Mary) martyred a great many Catholics, the Stuarts generally preferred to live and let live outside of directly political affairs, as did the Hanovers, so that Catholics were in less danger of losing much by the hands of Liberalism than they otherwise might have done. Moreover, since the established church in England was, well, the Church of England, it was as much in the interest of Catholics as of any other religious minority to support Liberal policies, even if only cynically.
[3] This is actually an extremely ill-formed grasp of how sacraments work, but we can’t stop for a full catechesis in mysteriology right this second. For now, we must be content with this: in six of the sacraments (all but the Eucharist), the disposition of the recipient is one of the determining factors in whether it works: e.g., a person who goes to confession merely to look like a practicing member of the faith, but has no serious belief in Catholic moral or sacramental teaching, may have the words of absolution pronounced over him, but nothing objectively happens.
[4] That is, nationalists as such. There are certainly individual nationalists who care very deeply about Catholicism.
[5] I.e., I am not arguing, and don’t believe, that there’s any intrinsic connection between conservatism (whether as a philosophy or as a habit) and racism, but, in a society with a racist history like ours, people who want to push racist ideology and policy will certain use conservatism to do so. In a society with little or no racist history, people who wanted to push racist ideology and policy would most likely claim to be very modern and fashionable—whatever gets the job done, the job being mainstreaming racism.
[6] From the Latin sedes vacans or ‘empty seat,’ referring to the Holy See. (Incidentally, sedes is also where English gets the ecclesiastical term see for an episcopal seat.)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Five Quick Takes

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I have an announcement: Mudblood Catholic is moving! I was recently picked up by a blogging platform, and I’ll be relocating accordingly. I’m not sure yet of the exact date, but I believe it should be some time next month. I’ll keep you informed about the details!

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Speaking of movement, I’ve been drifting away from anarchism lately. Less for practical reasons—I always knew anarchism was impractical (even if it isn’t nearly as impractical as people suppose)—than because it’s hard to maintain simultaneously that men should govern themselves, and also that the state, i.e. the structure which most men at most times and in most places have recognized as a legitimate governing power, is intrinsically illegitimate. How can their political choices be genuine, with the sole exception of that one? The system may be salvageable: I don’t rule out a possible return to my anarchist convictions. But even in anarchism, I accepted that there would have to be some sort of compromise with the state, since it clearly isn’t going anywhere right this second.

So yeah, after my first time voting for a President eleven years ago, I’m probably gonna vote for the second time in 2020. Feels a little odd.

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I’ve been feeling the bite of singleness a lot more in 2019 than in previous years. Singleness, not loneliness; I’ve often felt that, and if anything it’s troubled me somewhat less this year than before. But that’s only one of the trials of being single. The workload of just being alive is hard to handle by yourself. A couple, or a commune, can divide among themselves the responsibilities of earning a living, cleaning, cooking, budgeting, making social arrangements, and the like. When you’re single, either you do those things for yourself or they do not get done.

This is one of the principal things that many straight Christians who take a traditional view of sexual ethics forget, or neglect. I rather suspect it’s also one of the things that tends to move many Christians to progressivist views on sexuality; a subconscious conviction that God wouldn’t impose a burden like that on people (and indeed, it is not he but our society’s determination to identify intimacy with sexuality that imposed this burden).

I am open to dating: I don’t consider a relationship as such in the least contrary to my beliefs, because finding an intimate relationship through dating doesn’t have to be sexual (though I certainly make no claim to be a good boy whether dating or not). But, I’m not dating anyone now. And I’m a little stumped; as so often.

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My antifa posts are really taking the energy out of me, so don’t expect them to get any more regular. There’s only so much white supremacism I can stand to wade through in a given month.

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I’ve been reflecting a little of late on social media. It’s commonly accepted that it’s an echo chamber, that it gives anger and hatred a place to flourish, that it aids the spread of misinformation, that people are crueller online than they’d ever be in real life, and so forth. All of that’s true, and I don’t know that I have a good solution to any of it.

All the same, and while I do have to be thoughtful and restrain my desire to reply a lot of the time, when I think about Facebook or Twitter, I have to say: they’re delightful! Not 100% of the time, but by and large. I know so many sweet, smart, funny, caring, devout people that I’d never have heard of except thanks to Twitter. The number of brilliant jokes and adorable animals in my Facebook feed far outweighs the impact of most of the online nastiness I come across, and it’s nearly all stuff I’d never have come across except thanks to social media. We spend a lot of time lamenting the divisiveness and ragesturbation of American media, and well we should; but one of the ways we can counteract that darkness is by seeing the good that’s there and enjoying it.

And if that makes me basic, consider: perhaps basic will save the world. It’d fit right in with meek and poor in spirit.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Antifascism 102: A Primer on White Nationist Ideologies

Not every German who bought a copy of Mein Kampf necessarily read it. I have heard many a Nazi stalwart complain that it was hard going and not a few admit—in private—that they were never able to get to the end of its 782 turgid pages. But it might be argued that had more non-Nazi Germans read it before 1933 and had the foreign statesmen of the world perused it carefully while there was still time, both Germany and the world might have been saved from catastrophe. For whatever other accusations can be made against Adolf Hitler, no one can accuse him of not putting down in writing exactly the kind of Germany he intended to make if he ever came to power and the kind of world he meant to create by armed German conquest.

—William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
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CW: White ethnonationalist/neo-Nazi ideology and language.

Why am I pestering you to understand dog-whistles, though? Is white nationalism really a threat to human lives and American society? Isn’t it mostly just a bunch of manchildren raised on Call of Duty and high-fructose corn syrup, manchildren who’ve now moved on to acting out Fight Club fantasies, getting tattoos to be edgy, and trolling libtards (who, let’s be honest, kinda deserve a little trolling) with Pepe the Frog memes?

Well … no. That is, yes, there are plenty of young men in white nationalist movements who are exactly like that; and while damagingly misguided, at heart they may be as comparatively harmless as the heteroflexible stoner dude who has tortured internal monologues about whether his veganism culturally appropriates Japanese Buddhism [1] and considers Donnie Darko the most tragically neglected masterpiece of the whole of cinema. The salient difference between the latter and his white nationalist counterpart is, stoner dude is unlikely to hurt anybody.

But I digress. Yes, there are relatively innocent young men who’ve been taken in by this stuff, and whose primary problems are immaturity and a lack of good information. Whether they form a majority of white nationalists, I don’t know, and really it doesn’t matter. The destruction wrought by this ideology is going to be governed by the movement’s leaders and the ideology they enact—not by the individual guilt or innocence of its foot soldiers. And those leaders, and that ideology, are horrifying.

A key element of this ideology is the ideal of ‘ethnic replacement,’ or (in less sanitized language) ‘white genocide.’ This rests on the idea that white people of European descent do or should constitute a single ethnic group [1] or united racial or cultural identity [1], and that immigration from majority non-white regions like South America to majority white regions like the US or Western Europe poses a threat to that ethnic group. This is less out of a fear of immediate violence from brown people, though there’s fearmongering on that front as well, than out of the additional premise that non-white people will outbreed whites and dilute white ethnicity through intermarriage, and in the long run will oppress, exclude, or even expel white people and white culture—not only from political and social ascendancy in these ‘indigenously’ white homelands, but even from living there. In the words of Alex Kurtagić, who wrote a dishonest and disgusting essay titled The Great Erasure for the white supremacist National Policy Institute (headed by the infamous Richard Spencer):
Much of the debate on the decline of Whites in their traditional homelands centers on “immigration,” and specifically the continuing arrival in the West of large numbers of colored “immigrants” from the poorest regions of the world. Some critics of “immigration” feel the term is euphemistic and prefer to label the phenomenon “invasion.” Guillaume Faye [a French alt-right journalist] calls it “colonization.” … The term is not entirely inadequate, for modern “immigration” in the West involves exogenous strangers colonizing Western polities. …  
Critics of “immigration” in the West have noticed its unprecedented scale, its permanent character, and the non-assimilation/non-assimilability of Third World “immigrants.” Among the characteristics of settler colonialism is that settlers come to stay and do not appeal to the established indigenous sovereignty, but rather deny it and seek to remove it in order to replace it with a reproduction of their own society. … The process of doing so is non-violent, following a legal sequence comprising: appeal to the indigenous authority (for recognition and admission as permanent minorities, and eventually citizens; co-option of indigenous structures (lobbying for concessions, multiculturalism); subversion from without (lobbying for anti-racist legislation); and indigenization (becoming legislators, subversion from within). At the same time, the process coexists with violence, whereby the indigenous are physically attacked or subject to predations (typically muggings, robberies, racially motivated beatings, and rape), or else morally attacked (typically accusations of prejudice and “racism,” and/or “racism” hoaxes).
Yeah, nothing says “minority accusations of racism are just a hoax” like “immigrants are plotting to take over our country, and having someone who’s not a white people hold public office is part of their scheme.” Note that South Americans descended from Spanish and Portuguese colonizers for some reason don’t qualify as “White,” despite being about as European as Americans and Canadians are both culturally and historically. Note, too, that “White people” are not only treated as though they constituted a more or less unified ethnicity, which isn’t true at all, but explicitly as the indigenous inhabitants of the United States. I won’t inflict any more of Kurtagić’s repulsive drivel on you; and I’m also not linking to NPI’s website, because I am not giving neo-Nazis web traffic, but I have screenshots from the essay if anyone wants my receipts (or if they take they essay down at some later point for PR reasons).

This theory—that white (sorry, “White”) people not only form a coherent ethno-cultural group [1] which is being colonized by brown people who are going to do to us what we did to the indigenous inhabitants of North America—comes with the political program of establishing a ‘white homeland,’ an ethnostate to protect whites from being overrun or diluted by other ethnicities. [2] This conspiracy against whites is typically attributed to Marxists, Jews, and Marxist Jews, though the anti-Semitism is optional in some versions of white nationalism, which … yay? With or without the anti-Marxist and anti-Semitic tie-ins, though, the political program boils down to one fairly simple goal, approached through incremental and indirect means: ethnic cleansing.

Because really, you can’t have an ‘ethnostate’ except by conducting a purge first. Even in the ancient world, whose means of communication and transport were so much slower and more limited than our own: every society dealt with ethnic and cultural minorities in one way or another, because ethnic and cultural minorities exist in every society and the idea that there ever was a polity where they didn’t is utter fantasy. Classical Athens had its metics, Rome was a famous melting pot, the Mar Thoma Christians of India were there centuries before the Jesuits, the Holy Family were refugees in Egypt, and the Torah itself makes extensive provision for migrants and resident aliens, all derived from a single principle:
For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: he doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. —Deuteronomy 10.17-19
Nor (not to say that any migrant needs to prove their ‘usefulness’ to enjoy human dignity and rights) did the Israelites start out as very profitable strangers, when they first immigrated to Egypt. They were brought in at the behest of a gifted relative, who was himself originally taken to Egypt by human traffickers, and who had since ascended to a prestigious public office. 

The only way to achieve the goal of a white ethnostate is through ethnic cleansing; something white nationalists like Spencer are vague about in public statements, except to say that they advocate a ‘peaceful’ version of it. And I’m prepared to acknowledge that it may be less horrifically evil to forcibly uproot and expel a person from their home for the crime of being brown, than it is to judicially enslave or murder them for the crime of being brown. But I am not prepared to be impressed by the moral difference. I oppose the mere ‘peaceful’ ethnic cleansing advocate with the same conviction as I oppose the white nationalist terrorist and butcher. And these ideologies, these movements, are not harmless juvenility, however harmlessly juvenile many of the people who’ve been taken in by them may be. They are a nightmare in the making.

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[1]Hint: no.
[2]‘Fun’ fact: the state of Oregon was admitted to the Union as a free state rather than a slave state … and also had a ‘whites only’ clause in its original constitution forbidding black people to live there and expelling all blacks who already did, so that the whole slavery-vs-abolition thing could be consistently ignored. Opposition to slavery and opposition to racism were two different things in the nineteenth century, and still are—something that makes a little more sense out of the historical trajectory of the Republican Party, and something that, if all goes well for fascism (God spare us!), we may be confronted with on a more immediate level once again in the future.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Meditations for Holy Week 2019

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Palm Sunday
(Mark 11.1-11, John 12.9-33)

At my first communion I went up to the communion rail at the Sanctus bell instead of the Domine, non sum dignus, and had to kneel there all alone through the consecration, through the Pater Noster, through the Agnus Dei—and I had thought I knew the Mass so well!

I loved the Church for Christ made visible. Not for itself, because it was so often a scandal to me. Romano Guardini said the Church is the Cross on which Christ was crucified; one could not separate Christ from his Cross, and one must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the Church.

—Venerable Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

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Fig Monday
(Mark 11.12-27, John 2.13-22)

What then of all the great tradition, the freeing of slaves at the Exodus, the determination of the prophets, the long effort against the monstrous impiety of Cain? The answer is obvious; all that is assumed as a mere preliminary. The rich, while they remain rich, are practically incapable of salvation, at which all the Apostles were exceedingly astonished. But if riches are not supposed to be confined to money, the astonishment becomes more general. There are many who feel that while God might damn Rothschild he could hardly damn Rembrandt. Are the riches of Catullus and Carnegie so unequal, though so different? Sooner or later, nearly everyone is surprised at some kind of rich man being damned. The Divine Thing, for once, was tender to us; he restored a faint hope: ‘with God all things are possible.’ But the preliminary step is always assumed: ‘sell all that thou hast and give to the poor’—and then we will talk. Then we will talk of that other thing without which even giving to the poor is useless, the thing for which at another time the precious ointment was reserved from the poor, the thing that is necessary to correct and qualify even good deeds. Even love is not enough unless it is love of a particular kind. Long afterwards St Paul caught up the dreadful cry: ‘though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.’ It is not surprising that Messias saw the possibility of an infinitely greater knowledge of evil existing through him than had been before: ‘blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended at me.’

—Charles Williams, He Came Down From Heaven

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Temple Tuesday
(Matthew 21.23-24.2)

The priest said, ‘Those laws were made for man. The Church doesn’t expect … if you can’t fast, you must eat, that’s all.’ The old woman prattled on and on, while the penitents stirred restlessly in the next stall and the horse whinnied, prattled of days of abstinence broken, of evening prayers curtailed. Suddenly, without warning, with an odd sense of homesickness, he thought of the hostages in the prison yard, waiting at the water-tap, not looking at him—the suffering and the endurance which went on everywhere the other side of the mountains. He interrupted the woman savagely, ‘Why don’t you confess properly to me? I’m not interested in your fish supply or in how sleepy you are at night … remember your real sins.’

‘But I’m a good woman, father,’ she squeaked at him with astonishment.

‘Then what are you doing here, keeping away the bad people?’ He said, ‘Have you any love for anyone but yourself?’

‘I love God, father,’ she said haughtily. He took a quick look at her in the light of the candle burning on the floor—the hard old raisin eyes under the black shawl—another of the pious—like himself.

‘How do you know? Loving God isn’t any different from loving a man—or a child. It’s wanting to be with Him, to be near Him.’ He made a hopeless gesture with his hands. ‘It’s wanting to protect Him from yourself.’

—Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

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Spy Wednesday
(Matthew 26.6-16, Luke 22.1-6)

Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.
One evening I seated Beauty on my knees. And I found her bitter. And I cursed her.
I armed myself against justice.
I fled. O Witches, O Misery, O Hate, to you has my treasure been entrusted!
I contrived to purge my mind of all human hope. On all joy, to strangle it, I pounced with the stealth of a wild beast.

—Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell (trans. Louise Varèse)

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Maundy Thursday
(Luke 22.7-34, John 13.1-35)

What is belief really? It is a human way of taking up a stand in the totality of reality, a way that cannot be reduced to knowledge and is incommensurable with knowledge; it is the bestowal of meaning without which the totality of man would remain homeless, on which man’s calculations and actions are based, and without which in the last resort he could not calculate and act, because he can only do this in the context of a meaning that bears him up. For in fact man does not live on the bread of practicability alone; he lives as man and, precisely in the intrinsically human part of his being, on the word, on love, on meaning. Without the word, without meaning, without love, he falls into the situation of no longer being able to live, even when earthly comfort is present in abundance.

… Christian faith is more than the option in favor of a spiritual ground to the world; its central formula is not ‘I believe in something,’ but ‘I believe in you.’ It is the encounter with the man Jesus, and in this encounter it experiences the meaning of the world as a person. In Jesus’ life from the Father, in the immediacy and intensity of his converse with him in prayer, and, indeed, face to face, he is God’s witness, through whom the intangible has become tangible, the distant has drawn near. He is the presence of the eternal itself in this world. Christian faith lives on the discover that not only is there such a thing as objective meaning but that this meaning knows me and loves me.

—Pope Benedict XVI, Introduction to Christianity

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Good Friday
(Mark 14.32-15.41, John 18.1-19.37)

Sonne of God heare us, and since thou
By taking our blood, owest it us againe,
Gaine to thy self, or us allow;
And let not both us and thy selfe be slaine;
O Lambe of God, which took’st our sinne
Which could not stick to thee,
O let it not return to us againe,
But Patient and Physition being free,
As sinne is nothing, let it no where be.

—John Donne, The Litanie

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Holy Saturday
(Matthew 27.57-66)

The end of love is that the heart is still
As the rose no wind distresses, still as light
On the unmoved grass, or as the hummingbird
Poised the pure moment by an act of will.
Death may be like this, but here before night
Sends us to sleep murmuring a drowsy word
Of prayer, affection, or the idle flight
Of fancy, let us praise the rose and light.

—Dunstan Thompson, The Moment of the Rose

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Easter Sunday
(Luke 24.1-43, John 20.1-23)

Here we had a man of Divine character walking and talking among us—and what did we find to do with him? The common people, indeed, ‘heard Him gladly,’ but our leading authorities in Church and State considered that He talked too much and uttered too many disconcerting truths. So we bribed one of His friends to hand Him over quietly to the police, and we tried Him on a rather vague charge of creating a disturbance, and had Him publicly flogged and hanged on the common gallows, ‘thanking God we were rid of a knave.’ All this was not very creditable to us, even if He was (as many people thought and think) only a harmless crazy preacher. But if the Church is right about Him, it was more discreditable still; for the man we hanged was God Almighty.

So that is the outline of the official story—the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when He submitted to the conditions He had laid down and became a man like the men He had made, and the men He had made broke Him and killed Him. This is the dogma we find so dull—this terrifying drama of God is the victim and the hero.

The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore; on the contrary, they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. He insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; He went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as ‘a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber’; He cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, He displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and He retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in His human lifetime, and if He was God, there can be nothing dull about God either.

‘And the third day He rose again’: what are we to make of that? One thing is certain: if He was God and nothing else, His immortality means nothing to us; if He was man and no more, His death is no more important than yours or mine. But if He really was both God and man, then when the man Jesus died, God died too; and when the God Jesus rose from the dead, man rose too, because they were one and the same person. In any case, those who saw the risen Christ remained persuaded that life was worth living and death a triviality.

That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find Him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing it for the first time, would recognize it as News; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it News, and good news at that; though we are apt to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.

—Dorothy L. Sayers, The Greatest Drama Ever Staged

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