New Here?
     
Posts tagged "Alan Jacobs"


When the Diagnosis Is the Treatment

We’re slowly but surely rolling out the list of confirmed speakers for this year’s NYC Conference (4/26-28) and somewhere very close to the top of the pile sits Alan Jacobs, a writer, teacher, and thinker who has been an invaluable influence on–and help to–our work these past couple years. Alan’s How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds dropped this past Fall, i.e. not a moment too soon, and the book is as short as it is essential. (NY Times readers may remember it inspiring a particularly strong Brooks column back in October.) Here’s a small taste of the intro:

Everyone today seems to have an RCO [Repugnant Cultural Other], and everyone’s RCO is on social media somewhere. We may be able to avoid listening to our RCO, but we can’t avoid the realization that he or she is there, shouting from two rooms away.

This is a profoundly unhealthy situation. It’s unhealthy because it prevents us from recognizing others as our neighbors–even when they are quite literally our neighbors. If I’m consumed by this belief that that person over there is both Other and Repugnant, I may never discover that my favorite television program is also his favorite television program; that we like some of the same books, though not precisely for the same reasons; that we both know what it’s like to nurse a loved one through a long illness. All of which is to say that I may all too easily forget that political and social and religious differences are not the whole of human experience. The cold divisive logic of the RCO impoverishes us, all of us, and brings us closer to that primitive state that the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes called “the war of every man against every man.”…

Once, years ago, I started having chest pains, and my doctors couldn’t isolate the problem: I exercised regularly, my heart seemed healthy, nothing was evidently wrong. But the pains kept coming back, and that scared me. Finally, one doctor asked some probing questions and discovered that I had had, before the pains began, a lingering heavy cough. It seemed that coughing had strained a muscle in my chest, and that was the source of the pain; and when I started worrying about it, the resulting anxiety tensed the muscle and increased the pain–which then led to more anxiety. It was the classic vicious circle of reinforcement. When I asked the doctor what treatment he thought best, he replied, “The diagnosis is the treatment. Now that you know you don’t have a life-threatening illness, you won’t worry so much, and less stress in your mind will mean less stress on your chest muscles. That’ll give them a chance to heal.”

p.s. Click here to pre-register for the NYC Conference (4/26-28)!

Another Week Ends: Bootleg Bob Dylan, Converted Morticians, Your True Self, Anxious Teens, and Earning Points in The Good Place

Another Week Ends: Bootleg Bob Dylan, Converted Morticians, Your True Self, Anxious Teens, and Earning Points in The Good Place

1. This week brought some fantastic revelations, not the least of which was Bob Dylan’s bootleg (gospel-infused) song, “Making A Liar Out of Me”:

Needless to say, we’re eagerly awaiting this collection’s release. From Andy Greene at Rolling Stone:

Bob Dylan began writing gospel songs at such a furious rate in late 1978 that there was no way his record company could put them all out, even if they let him release two albums of Christian music just 10 months apart. Many of the songs that never made it on record were played live on the gospel tours of 1979 to 1981 and…

Read More > > >

Another Week Ends: Humane Prisons, Stranger Things 2, U.F.O.s, Venmo FOMO, Heretical Statistics, and Always Being Wrong

Another Week Ends: Humane Prisons, Stranger Things 2, U.F.O.s, Venmo FOMO, Heretical Statistics, and Always Being Wrong

1. Another week, another opportunity to get jealous of Norway. In Mother Jones’ July/August Issue, Dashka Slater reports that North Dakota is experimenting with Norway’s “humane” prison system (which has been mentioned on our site before, here and here. Also, don’t forget the interview Ethan did with Norwegian prison warden Arne Nilsen for The Forgiveness Issue. Amazing stuff.)

Needless to say, humane prison procedures are beautiful examples of grace in practice and “left-handed power,” which Robert Farrar Capon defines as “precisely paradoxical power: power that looks for all the world like weakness, intervention that seems indistinguishable from nonintervention” (Kingdom, Grace, Judgment).

In North Dakota, “left-handed power” seems…

Read More > > >

Another Week Ends: Prosecutors of Play, Video Gamers, Harvard Helicopters, Mimamoru, Starbucks Therapists, and Going To the Bone

Another Week Ends: Prosecutors of Play, Video Gamers, Harvard Helicopters, Mimamoru, Starbucks Therapists, and Going To the Bone

1. A very timely, and heartwarming, little essay from our friend Mark Galli entitled “A Theology of Play,” which has a lot to say about the inner-critics and scorekeepers that can trouble the summer frame of mind. Galli, who is a golfer and fisherman, describes the litany of moral reasons, practical reasons, and theological reasons he must lay out to defend himself from the accusations of uselessness and wastefulness of enjoying himself. These are the inner-lawyers with whom Galli must contend:

The prosecutors rest their case on a common but questionable assumption: That life’s highest purpose is to work, to get…

Read More > > >

Champions She Shall Never Want

Champions She Shall Never Want

I recently decided to leave Mockingbird. I do not mean that I was convinced over a bourbon-fueled colloquy with a recent Catholic convert that Sylvester Prierias was unimpeachably correct to respond to Luther’s attack on indulgences by defending papal authority. Nor do I mean that I brushed up on recent Pauline scholarship and determined that Luther’s existential read of Romans is passé. Least of all do I mean, by leaving Mockingbird, that the Mainline Protestant status quo—with its newfangled gospels—holds any lingering appeal. By leaving Mockingbird, I simply mean to relate what it was like, just a few months ago…

Read More > > >

Twenty Years Later, What Does Harry Potter Mean to You?

Twenty Years Later, What Does Harry Potter Mean to You?

Last week marked the twentieth anniversary of the first Harry Potter book, which was released on June 26, 1997. The Internet went ablaze with tributes and toasts to this series which changed the imagination and the vernacular—and, some argue, the entire worldview—of a generation.

I like the Harry Potter books as much as the next person, which is to say, a lot. So I need not go into too much detail about the wonderful wizarding world therein.

Political columnist Ross Douthat, however, recently stirred the pot over at The New York Times, drawing out a lively debate about what the Potter books mean for us…

Read More > > >

Another Week Ends: Greenblatt's Eden, Fidget-Spinning, Fake News Biases, Mandatory Euphoria, and A Horse Named Grace

Another Week Ends: Greenblatt’s Eden, Fidget-Spinning, Fake News Biases, Mandatory Euphoria, and A Horse Named Grace

1. Well, you just can’t make this up. An urban cowboy riding through the gang-ridden streets of Fresno, California, preaching the gospel of Jesus? On a horse named Grace? Aeon covered the story here, with a video. This below is not the full video, but you’ll get the picture. Totally cool.

2. Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt is working on a new book project about the legacy of Adam and Eve, which led to his New Yorker piece this week on Augustine, a less-than-judicious reading of the man he claims “invented sex” (and sex as sin) to the literary world. Greenblatt argues…

Read More > > >

Another Week Ends: Angelism and Gnosticism, Hero Donors, Internal Fact-Checking, Parent Gardeners, More Fleming, and Lots of Fishing Line

Another Week Ends: Angelism and Gnosticism, Hero Donors, Internal Fact-Checking, Parent Gardeners, More Fleming, and Lots of Fishing Line

1. “Gnostic” is the dig du jour, apparently. Has anybody else noticed it everywhere? Perhaps it is because “righteousness by knowledge alone” pretty aptly describes what’s going on in the never-ending politically divisive/campus sensitive saga we can’t seem to get clear of. Another article to add to that pile came to us from American Conservative this week, about the inherent gnosticism of the term “woke.” “Woke,” which is an ever-changing, never-achievable term, represents the ideal form (or infinitude of forms) of social consciousness:

This new adjective woke is a stamp of approval, a self-congratulating label, a goal, a challenge. Most importantly,…

Read More > > >

Another Week Ends: Questing for Cultural Innocence, Narrating Luther, Inverting Transhumanism and Reforming One's Pets

Another Week Ends: Questing for Cultural Innocence, Narrating Luther, Inverting Transhumanism and Reforming One’s Pets

Lots of love – commingled with envy – for everyone at the Tenth Annual Mockingbird Conference in NYC! “For the rest of us” (G. Costanza), some links for the weekend:

1. First up, The Hedgehog Review here in c-ville posted a wonderful article on “The Persistence of Guilt.” Who knew that the great Sigmund Freud once quipped, “the price we pay for our advance in civilization is a loss of happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt”? The author argues that Freud helped “demoralize” guilt, to suggest that our guilty emotions were the product of the superego and could be…

Read More > > >

Another Week Ends: Irrational Minds, Dangerous Parents, Anthony Weiner, Metallica References, Llama Drama, Post-Olympics Depression, and the Tastiest Fast Foods in America

Another Week Ends: Irrational Minds, Dangerous Parents, Anthony Weiner, Metallica References, Llama Drama, Post-Olympics Depression, and the Tastiest Fast Foods in America

1. This week The New York Times published an op-ed by Robert A. Burton entitled “A Life of Meaning (Reason Not Required)” which argues that most people would agree that (1) our lives ought to have a personal sense of “meaning” or “purpose” and (2) our lives should be “shaped by reason” or “rationality.” As concepts, however, reason and rationality get a little bit fuzzy when we consider the recent barrage of brain research evidencing the less-calculated “unfree” will of man. Burton explains:

“[T]he brain generates action-specific electrical activity nearly half a second before the subject consciously ‘decides’ to initiate action. Though interpretations…

Read More > > >

Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lion?

Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lion?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought people were joking at first with the whole #Cecilthelion fracas last week. I was traveling, so I only heard snippets of what had gotten people so upset. Once I realized they were serious, surely I was missing something. Alas, even after reading up on the admittedly grotesque incident, the whole thing feels too much like a send-up of internet outrage, parodic in both subject and intensity, like something Black Mirror might do. The joke was on me, I guess. Until I remembered Tim Kreider’s immortal diagnosis of the phenomenon:

So many letters to the editor and…

Read More > > >

A Few Thoughts on Righteous Minds and Religious Liberty

A Few Thoughts on Righteous Minds and Religious Liberty

I believe it was Austin Powers’ father Nigel who once remarked, “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures… and the Dutch.”

That movie came out while I was in college, and the joke struck a chord. Having been educated in proudly ‘progressive’ institutions, I grew up hearing a lot about tolerance. My secondary school, for example, hosted a semi-annual ‘Diversity Day’, where the student body took part in workshops designed to expose us to different cultures and points of view. Of course, there’s nothing more cynical than a bunch…

Read More > > >