Another Week Ends

1. One subject that’s been on our minds lately is political correctness, the orthodoxy of speech […]

Will McDavid / 2.6.15

1. One subject that’s been on our minds lately is political correctness, the orthodoxy of speech by which the progressives are divided from the bigots. It’s a division almost as absolute as that between righteous and sinners, and the press and universities – places supposed to be bastions of the liberal ideal of open speech – have instead been on the forefront of the new censorship. Fredrick deBoer, a leftist activist and grad student at Purdue, weighs in:

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19 year old white woman — smart, well-meaning, passionate — literally run crying from a classroom because she was so ruthlessly brow-beaten for using the word “disabled.” Not repeatedly. Not with malice. Not because of privilege. She used the word once and was excoriated for it. She never came back. I watched that happen…

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33 year old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22 year old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself.

These things aren’t hypothetical. This isn’t some thought experiment. This is where I live, where I have lived. These and many, many more depressing stories of good people pushed out and marginalized in left-wing circles because they didn’t use the proper set of social and class signals to satisfy the world of intersectional politics. So you’ll forgive me when I roll my eyes at the army of media liberals, stuffed into their narrow enclaves, responding to [Jonathan] Chait by insisting that there is no problem here and that anyone who says there is should be considered the enemy.

Can’t help but see the truth of the class signals part. Not to be dismissive: these issues are crucial, and we need an elite intellectual vanguard to lead the way on how to frame them. But political correctness has gone to the point of chipping at the founding values of liberal discourse, and the cynic can’t help but discern more than a whiff of classism in its current iteration. deBoer continues:

Since you’re telling me that if I say a word against people who go nuclear at the slightest provocation, I’m just one of the Jon Chaits, please inform me how I can act as an educator and an ally and a friend. Because I am out of [fracking] ideas.

I know, writing these words, exactly how this will go down. I know Weird Twitter will hoot and the same pack of self-absorbed media liberals will herp de derp about it. I know I’ll get read the intersectionality riot act, even though everyone I’m criticizing here is white, educated, and privileged. I know nobody will bother to say, boy, maybe I don’t actually understand the entire world of left-wing politics because I went to Sarah Lawrence. I know that. But Christ, I wish people would think outside of their social circle for 5 minutes…

I want a left that can win, and there’s no way I can have that when the actually-existing left sheds potential allies at an impossible rate. But the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it’s a permanent feature of today’s progressivism. And I’m left as this sad old 33 year old teacher who no longer has the slightest [gorram] idea what to say to the many brilliant, passionate young people whose only crime is not already being perfect.

Over at The American Conservative, the ever-prolific Rod Dreher comments on it:

I think the most important thing de Boer says here is that progressivism today forbids its adherents from being kinder and more merciful. There is some of that on the right as well, but then, right-wing people who are nasty and unforgiving generally don’t consider themselves to be paragons of compassion and sensitivity.

I think my favorite progressive must be the Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber, because in her book, she comes across as very left-wing, but also humble and compassionate. She’s a model for us all, not just progressives.

Catch Dreher’s paragon in New York City in April, or in our magazine. We heartily second his admiration. As a final note, progressives can learn a little from Christianity’s chequered history on this one. Outraged sometimes by deviation from social conventions, at others by real evil and sin (depending on your politics, political incorrectness is some portion of each), it’s tried at various times and in various ways to induce righteousness through speech-censorship, social ostracism, and infectious indignation. It rarely works, and often backfires. Glasnost and mercy tend to be the answers.


2. Two more on the subject of little-‘l’ law, our tricky fixation on rigid moral codes which shows, interestingly enough, that Christianity’s monopoly on self-righteousness has been broken. Dave Zahl’s sermon last Sunday (seriously, give it a listen) well-timed; only the next day, the Washington Post reported that culinary scrupulosity has reached pathological levels:

“Americans today have a complicated relationship with food, to put it kindly,” she begins. And she goes on to describe “a new kind of eating disorder doctors are calling orthorexia . . . ‘a pathological obsession for biologically pure and healthy nutrition.’ ” Just as anorexia is driven by a fear of being fat, she writes, “orthorexia is driven by a fear of being unhealthy.”

Schwartz points out that “many people now self-diagnose conditions like non-celiac gluten intolerance” — and these “informed, sensitive, Type-A people” may be vulnerable to fad diets, agonizing self-examination and other behaviors that can do more harm than good.

The bottom line? “Eating is, unsurprisingly, all about balance.” So eat sensibly, not obsessively. As Sondra Kronberg, a spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association, tells Schwartz: “Sometimes, you’re at a party and there are fries. Your body really can handle that one meal.”

(For any Brazilian Evangelicals reading, the body can probably handle one beer, too.)  Going over to the website of the National Eating Disorders Association, they’re pretty much writing the article for us. See if you can find anything that sounds religious here:

Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.”  Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity.  They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”  An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style.  Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise).  Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.

Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.  Eventually, the obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous.

The connection between big-‘L’ law of God and the little-‘l’ laws of culture isn’t something we’re making up, after all. Second, New York Magazine delivers another fantastic article in its diagnosis of our love affair with the Perfect Response – you know, those Vox headlines which say “John Oliver Absolutely Demolishes…” which, despite Oliver’s brilliance, has gotten boring enough for Vox to parody it. There’s also a really funny bit about the Newsroom being Aaron Sorkin going back in time to deliver a series of Perfect Responses. Intro’s dragging; here ’tis, ht DZ:

The Perfect Responses that proliferate online, in click-friendly headlines everywhere, are always intriguing and, often enough, sort of satisfying. (That Obama zinger was pretty good.) But the Perfect Response you cheer for and re-post frantically also tends to be one that (a) confirms whatever you already believe and (b) sticks it to someone you already despise. The Perfect Response is, in essence, not a radical new perspective, but simply a person saying a thing you agree with to a person you disagree with. It’s a kind of linguistic record-scratch, a perfectly crafted gotcha that ostensibly stops trolls in their troll-tracks and forces them to deeply reconsider the sad wreckage of their wasted lives. Which means the Perfect Response is also largely a figment of the internet’s imagination.


Troll wars are consistently fueled by people on both sides who suspect they are just one post away from finally launching that Perfect Response: the laser-targeted smart bomb of insight that will render their online nemeses silent, humbled, and chastised. Yet this never happens, ever. No online argument has ever ended like that [pleasing] fantasy of [Aaron Sorkin’s President] Bartlett [from West Wing] forcing the homophobic talk-radio host to rise obediently to her feet. The Perfect Response, while apparently so bountiful in theory, is actually appealing precisely because, in practice, it’s so rare as to be almost nonexistent. It’s just a fantasy we yearn for, and to which we happily subscribe, because the hurly burly of actual internet interaction can be so imperfect, and frustrating, and wearying, and hard. The give-and-take of real debate can be all of those things as well, but it also has the attractive by-product of potentially leading to change, something no Perfect Response has ever done. Which is how we ended up with the phenomenon of the Perfect Response in the first place — it’s an imperfect response to just how difficult real communication can be.

3. In Christianity, Rick Phillips goes for the Perfect Response (and achieves something less) against some Reformed megachurch pastor, implicating too Tullian Tchividjian’s putative antinomianism – looks like his detractors have closed ranks at last. The anti-Tullian party needs to come up with a good name in contradistinction to the ‘grace people’: I suggest the Fullness of Revelation Party, the Life in the Spirit faction, Works of Love, or the Party for the Efficient, Intensive Use of Spiritual Resources.

What’s this whole “grace debate”, anyway? Like the Gear Wars, it’s (a) all a little dry, and (b) you wonder what it’s really about. Pelagians in Catholic guise and Jansenists in Catholic guise (Jesuits v Dominicans, simplified) spent a few decades hashing out pretty nearly the same argument in the late 16th century, and it ended in a stalemate which I’m not sure we’ve really improved upon. (And ironically, there’s more than a few Reformed folk who don’t sound like they’d be on the Jansenists’ side.) Anyway, speaking of Tullian, he delivers a great reflection from One Way Love a few weeks ago, and it’s very, very good:

The reason Paul says that Christ is the end of this law is that in the gospel God unconditionally gives the righteousness that the law demands conditionally. So Christ kicks the law out of the conscience by overcoming the voice of condemnation produced by the condition of the law. The conditional voice that says “Do this and live” gets out-volumed by the unconditional voice that says “It is finished.”

When this happens, we are freed from the condemnation of the law’s conditionality (the “law” loses its teeth) and therefore free to hear the law’s content as a description of what a free life looks like. In other words, the gospel ends the law’s role as the regulator of the divine-human relationship and limits the law to being a blueprint for the free life–with parental consequences from our unconditionally loving father when we “submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Fatherly discipline from God when we stray off course always comes for one reason: to set us free.

And finally on the Christian front, can anything good come from Asheville? Ben Floyd’s challenging assumptions, reports Dale Neal at the Asheville Citizen-Times, ht BC:

Ben Floyd makes no secret of a story he’s often shared in church basements. Drinking and drugging at age 12. Never a DUI or a stay in jail, but no stranger to despair. On Nov. 3, 1999, Floyd started yet another day with vodka and orange juice and few bong hits. It was 10 a.m., a typical morning.

“Within five minutes I was rolling on the ground, struggling, calling for help. It was the first time I reached out for help. It was God doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself.” At age 26, he headed to Atlanta and sobered up at a rehab center.

Now Floyd, 42, is sharing his story from the pulpit of a church chapel… Floyd heads Daybreak Fellowship, a new faith community that borrows some ideas from Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step recovery groups that have helped millions of alcoholics, addicts, gamblers, overeaters and other troubled souls turn their lives around…

Floyd preaches of hitting bottoms spiritually, when the pit seems too deep. “There’s no ladder at the edge of the pit, no rope dangling down. All we have is a shovel to keep digging,” he says.”Psalm 23 and talk of green pastures isn’t going to cut it. You might go to Psalm 27, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.'” He preaches while his listeners nod. [Note: What an incredible analogy!]…

The language of recovery in AA or even in Christian scriptures often runs counter to the American ethos of self-reliance, Floyd said.

“A lot of people have trouble admitting they’re fallen. They think they can do it on their own. I don’t think there is such a thing as self-help. The language of the First Step of AA is about admitting that you can’t do it on your own.”

4. In culture, the Archbishop Emeritus himself ruminates on the first volume of a new T.S. Eliot biography at the increasingly-awesome New Statesman. Jimmy Fallon, who’s also been on a roll lately, reunites the Saved by the Bell Cast – most of it, anyway:

5. In humor, The Onion reports, “Man Under Mistaken Impression He His Own Harshest Critic”. The whole thing is worth posting:

ROUND ROCK, TX—Having made repeated claims that he holds himself to a higher standard than anyone else does, local man Nathan Tullman, 37, remains under the mistaken impression that he is his own harshest critic, reports confirmed Tuesday. “No one’s tougher on me than I am,” said an incorrect Tullman, failing to take into account views of him held by his coworkers, wife, extended family, friends, doctors, and financial advisor, among others. “And that’s because I’m brutally honest with myself. If someone’s going to evaluate my strengths, my weaknesses, or my prospects and give me the straight truth—no matter how painful it may be—it’s going to be me.” At press time, Tullman wrongly added that on the occasions he chooses to reward himself, it’s because he truly deserves it.

Also, The New Yorker’s Todd Philip contributes this mostly on-target list of “Country-Music Songs That Will Never Exist“, with its charmingly elitists hyphenation of the genre. Really funny; highlights below:

“My Daughter Made a Decision I Don’t Understand but Will Try to Respect Nonetheless”

“She’s Not Comin’ Home (Which Is Cool, We Were Never Really a ‘Thing’)”

“Sometimes a Car Is Just a Car”

“I Don’t Got the Shoes for This Terrain; Let’s Turn Around”

That’s it for this week – in bonus, be sure to check out China State Media’s 60% accurate list of weird American habits, Cristina Kirchner’s continued digging of Argentina’s hole, Mallory Ortberg’s disappointment with prosaic torture (ht JD), our top Wikipedia finds of the week (Blessing of the Throats, ht EB; and the minor groups of Bespopovtsy, a priestless faction of Old Believers). For the liturgically-inclined, we remember this week the martyrs of Japan. And finally, for our April conference in New York, out schedule went up this morning here, and you can look into registration here.


2 responses to “Another Week Ends: More PC, Orthorexia, Perfect Ripostes, Grace in Addiction in Asheville, SBTB Redivivus, and Implausible Pop-Country Songs”

  1. Jim Moore says:

    I guess it’s a hazard of reading this blog at work and thus not being fully focused. But right at the edge of my brain is an observation tying all of these points together. Political correctness, orthorexia, the quest for the perfect response, the sense that we are our own worst critic all stem from one place although I can’t name it now.

    Contrasted against Eliot’s tragedy and Neal’s admitted frailty. Dadgummit there’s something here! Somebody help me!

  2. Ryan Hollingsworth says:

    “we need an elite intellectual vanguard to lead the way on how to frame them”

    I disagree Will.

    progressives, “or The problem, as various capital-”F” Fascists and National Socialists and Communist politburos and Vox readers all discovered in their turn, is that even if these dispassionate and disinterested managers [read: “elite intellectual vanguard”] existed — and they don’t — bureaucracies do not have the collective cognitive firepower to replace markets, or even to intelligently guide them. From the Soviet five-year plans to Obamacare, all central-planning exercises begin in hubris and end in chaos.

    And when the chaos comes, the natural thing to do — the imperative thing — is: find someone to blame. The planners and schemers are intellectually incapable of dealing seriously with the fact that the project that they have set for themselves…

    And that means that somebody, somewhere, must be a racist.” Enter: deBoer.

    Yes, from the boogeyman, National Review:

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