1. Let’s start off with entertainment this week. It’s not that Brad Pitt’s star has fallen by any stretch. His turn as Cliff Booth in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood will likely garner him another Oscar Nomination. His 2017 divorce, however, with superstar-wife Angelina Jolie and their family of six kids, hasn’t exactly been private news. Kyle Buchanan’s interview of the movie star in the New York Times profiles the 55-year-old actor’s season of soul-searching that came about in the wake of the divorce. Read the whole thing, please, but here are a few of the best bits:

On growing up with a stoic Midwestern father:

That lineage has served Pitt better onscreen than off, and in a year in which he has delivered two major performances, he’s giving hard thought to the person he’s become. “I’m grateful that there was such an emphasis on being capable and doing things on your own with humility, but what’s lacking about that is taking inventory of yourself,” he said, hunching over in his chair. “It’s almost a denial of this other part of you that is weak and goes through self-doubts, even though those are human things we all experience. Certainly, it’s my belief that you can’t really know yourself until you identify and accept those things.”

If your ears perk up at the sounds of recovery language, you’re not wrong:

It was reported that the final straw in Pitt’s 11-year relationship with Jolie came in September 2016, when they fought about his drinking while aboard a private plane. Now, Pitt is committed to his sobriety. “I had taken things as far as I could take it, so I removed my drinking privileges,” he told me. After she filed for divorce, Pitt spent a year and a half in Alcoholics Anonymous.

His recovery group was composed entirely of men, and Pitt was moved by their vulnerability. “You had all these men sitting around being open and honest in a way I have never heard,” Pitt said. “It was this safe space where there was little judgment, and therefore little judgment of yourself.”

Astonishingly, no one from the group sold Pitt’s stories to the tabloids. The men trusted one another, and in that trust, he found catharsis. “It was actually really freeing just to expose the ugly sides of yourself,” he said. “There’s great value in that.”

It’s a testimony to AA’s power that the megastar Brad Pitt could sit in the meetings, “expose the ugly sides of himself,” and not see it in the tabloids the following week. God bless him, and God bless AA. I hope he sticks with the meetings and finds a higher power that can guide him into his next season of life. Also: AA isn’t the only place where one can be weak and have self doubts. In other entertainment news this week, the Jojo Rabbit trailer dropped and, well, just look at the premise:

2. Come for the social science study of the week: “We admire these do-gooders. We just don’t want to date them.” Stay for the follow-up philosophy discussion. Vox interviewed Molly Crockett about her work on the attractiveness of morality, which pitted the attractiveness of consequentialist ethics (the outcome is what is the most important) and deontological ethics (the morality is in the act itself, not the outcome). The result: we admire people’s consequentialist ethics, but we don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with them:

SS. In your study, the story you tell about why we prefer to marry or befriend deontologists is that, naturally, if I’m looking for someone to marry I’m going to want someone who’ll give me preferential treatment over a stranger in another country. But just to kick the tires on that story a bit: Is it possible that our preference comes about not because we want someone who’ll prioritize us but because being with radical do-gooders makes us feel crappy about ourselves — because we feel like immoral jerks compared to them?

MC. That’s a fascinating question and something we haven’t tested empirically, but it would be very consistent with the Stanford psychologist Benoit Monin’s work on “do-gooder derogation.” He essentially showed exactly what you predict, which is that people feel less warm toward people who are extremely moral and altruistic. His studies showed that the extent to which people dislike vegetarians is related to their own feelings of moral conflict around eating animals.

SS. Yeah, we don’t tend to love being around people who make us grapple with uncomfortable questions. Especially if they’re very in-your-face or self-righteous about it and you have to be around them all the time, like with a romantic partner.

3. A bit of counterintuitive parenting advise from Pamela Paul, editor of the NYT Book Review. Channeling her inner Alfie Kohn, Paul covers the basics of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how little-l laws designed to promote reading backfire supremely. But here’s Paul at her sneakiest, recalling her own flashlight-under-the-covers experience:

Really want your child to hunker down and read one book in particular? Tell her she can’t. She’s not ready yet. That it’s too old for her, too difficult, too dark and entirely inappropriate for children. Put it up on a high shelf and walk away. You may never see it again.

4. This week in humor, the Burning Man wasn’t the only thing on fire. McSweeney’s Attending Burning Man or Parenting a Toddler is the funniest take on the easily maligned desert festival. It’s a very inclusive party, unless you’re a Sparklepony or any other number of creative terms for those who don’t truly “get it.” If you haven’t listened to the latest Mockingcast episode yet, the intrepid trio discuss the new Dave Chappelle Netflix special, which left many corners of the internet feeling personally attacked. Speaking of Netflix, for those of you who haven’t finished your Friends binge yet, a reminder that it won’t be there for you (!) much longer:

5. Two #Seculosity-themed thoughts for your consideration this week. First up, Gothamist profiles the Wizard Rock phenomenon, a subculture of Harry Potter inspired pop music that has continued to draw in fans of the book for nearly fifteen years. The self-awareness is refreshing.

“I’ve been going to wizard rock concerts for over a decade now,” said Leah Cornish, a 32-year-old fan decked out in a “MISCHIEF MANAGED” t-shirt. (When I asked if she was wearing any other Potter-related apparel, she revealed a Deathly Hallows tattoo on her ankle.) “We call it church. This is our church.”

Cornish began posting on Potter-themed message boards when she was about 17. Fifteen years later, she was at the show with people she’d met through those communities. “We made friends on the internet talking about Harry Potter!” she said, gesturing to her comrades. “I have gone to a couple weddings of people I met through Harry Potter. We literally all meet up during the summer to go to conventions.”

In 2007, Cornish attended Phoenix Rising, a major Harry Potter convention in New Orleans. “That was the first time I heard wizard rock live,” she recalled. “I saw Harry and the Potters. I saw The Whomping Willows, now retired. I saw Draco and the Malfoys. A lot of good stuff.” (Yes, these are real bands—Draco and the Malfoys began as a jokey counterpart to the Potters, singing in character as antagonist Draco Malfoy.) She’s been a fan ever since, and though she did not have to travel far for the show, she noted that she planned to head to Boston two days later for another Harry and the Potters gig.

Church, weddings, pilgrimages — it’s all there. Any resident WROCK fans, chime in below and let us know what you thought of the article. This Hufflepuff wing Gryffindor is curious.

Also in the #Seculosity vein, Why People Earnestly Believe They Were Born In the Wrong Time. The article highlights the oft-repeated whine of the internet, “I was born in the wrong time,” and profiles both the Gen Zer bemoaning how they missed out on Nirvana and the odd community of people who insist on dressing in Victorian-era style for their everyday wardrobe.

Complaints about being born in the wrong era come up a lot online, often in the context of decrying modern culture and yearning for bygone days. Whether it’s memes about being misunderstood, lambasting other “kids of today” spending all their time on their phones or endless YouTube comments on Nirvana videos written by teenagers complaining that music today is bullshit, it’s a common yearning…

For theorists, this sensation of longing for a time you never knew is referred to as either historical nostalgia or vicarious nostalgia. “My research has found that historical nostalgia is associated with cynicism, pessimism and dissatisfaction with at least some aspects of contemporary society,” says [research psychologist Krystine] Batcho. “Historical nostalgia represents a form of escapism to cope with current anxiety or unhappiness. A person can feel that they don’t ‘fit’ in the values, behaviors and lifestyle of the present.”

Which makes perfect sense: 2019 is a complicated, exhausting time to be alive, and it’s easy to feel like existing at pretty much any other time would be more straightforward. But this idea should be treated as merely a comforting fantasy to get you through the day, hence it’s a little mystifying that some people actually choose to make life much more difficult for themselves in a bid to make it a reality.

I would add to the list historical re-enactors who feign ignorance with school children about the “bright light boxes in their pockets they’re always staring at” and also people who get overly invested in Ren Faires. (Jousting is dangerous people, why not just go play football instead!) There’s meaning, validation, and enoughness to be found in the rejection of modern times for something easier to understand with the gift of hindsight. But the news that people blame “the times” when they can’t fit in isn’t exactly new. Brian Wilson knows all about it.

6. Lastly I’ll round out our wrap-up with an article from our archives. With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, and all the requisite thinkpieces floating around about our lack of rest and the religion of work, Will McDavid’s 2013 reflection on vocation has well stood the test of time. We’ll give him the final word today:

I’ve noticed a recent spat of very positive Christian books about vocation, basically work-affirming theologies, are gaining traction in America, and perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. I’m referring to “God values your vocation” stuff — Adam and Eve were originally called to be garden-tenders (before the Fall), work anticipates God’s future renewal of the world, etc. All this sounds a little abstract and perhaps isn’t as cut-and-dry as its contemporary advocates would believe, but the real question is: do people in a (by all measures) work-obsessed culture really need to hear that God, in fact, does value our work…?

I don’t think the popularity (or trendiness), among contemporary Protestants, of the idea that God values work is a direct reflection of a culture that overvalues it (though I do think Max Weber’s insights about work and religion are dead-on). Rather, gaining an unduly high amount of our identity from our vocation perhaps engenders a basic insecurity — the insecurity writ large by the 2008/2009 stories of nervous breakdowns by wealthy, hitherto successful financiers. Work is a primary vehicle of self-justification in our culture, an end in itself which, like any little-l law, is always just beyond the horizon: “rivers like our own that seek for seas / They never find, the same receding shores / That never touch with inarticulate pang” (Stevens). The closer we get to the standard of vocational success, the more unbridgeable the gap becomes — the inarticulate pang becomes silently deafening, the sense of loss all the more poignant for its nearness. Achilles, for all his speed, couldn’t catch the tortoise in a race, as near as it seemed.

Following Solomon’s lead, I think the insecurity could be addressed right off-the-bat. Anxiety cannot be cured through denial; only through addressing it. All of our labor is under judgment — the negative voices in our heads contain elements of truth. Our vocations are inveterately self-focused, are indeed subject to futility. And God does value good work, but we all fail the standard. Inserting a religious vector into vocation, as the new ‘theologians of work’ want to do, is a totally legitimate move: as long as we recognize our instinctual knowledge that this religious dimension only adds to our other religious failures….

This sounds like bad news, but Christianity always is bad news before it is good. (In many churches, it is good news before it becomes bad — just the opposite.) More accurately, the voices of self-recrimination in our heads are always heightened and confirmed before they can be silenced. Palliatives may numb us for a bit, but they never address the root problem.

What is it to say that we are vocational and religious failures, even after believing? Only to say that we are the “sick” for whom Christ comes, nothing more. Something must be admitted before it can be addressed: God-values-your-work only serves the purpose of raising the Law to its proper height, like Jesus’ injunction to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).


A Very German Idea of Freedom. (Nudism. It’s a piece about Nudism. But also freedom. Lots of freedom.)

• Analytic of the Week: Twitter says the top interest our collection of followers has in common is “dogs”. Good to see the integration of unconditional love manifesting itself in all areas of life, well done everyone.

Study shows your political beliefs are less principle, more peer pressure.

Stoic philosophy agrees that works isn’t about meaning, fulfillment, or worship.