Another Week Ends

1. But have you tried eating chips? This week at the New York Times, Sam […]

CJ Green / 1.15.21

1. But have you tried eating chips? This week at the New York Times, Sam Anderson makes a case for wading through the morass of now with the nearest bag of Cool Ranch Doritos:

That is the great virtue of chips: They are here for us to eat them. So that is what we will do. I will put the first chip, now, into my mouth. I will set it delicately on my tongue like a communion wafer. Instantly, the flavor snaps against my taste buds — that earthy, cheesy tang — flashing like a firecracker, lighting up the whole wet cave of my mouth and radiating out, further, to fill my whole head, my whole being. These chemicals are transcendent, Proustian, as powerful as any drug: They trigger nodes of memory that stretch back years, decades, back to old Super Bowls and family reunions, back to the outside world that I am trying to forget. Another chip. Another chip. […]

For me, a bag of chips is a way to defeat time. It brings temporary infinity: a feeling that it will never end. A chip. A chip. A chip. Another chip. The chips come like ocean waves, like human breaths, serial but unique, each part of a huge eternal rhythm but also its own precious discovery.

You’ll definitely want to find some comfort food before we go any further.

Got it?

Ah, yes. Now we can really dive in:

2. Is it alarmist to say we’re living through ‘a great unraveling’? Alas, Bari Weiss thinks it’s an understatement. Not only is consensus and order seemingly coming undone, but we are, she says, witnessing a takeover: big tech and social media are grasping the reins, manipulating ordinary citizens without their awareness or consent. Taking the term from author David Samuels, Weiss concurs that we live in “the age of machines”:

The machines ate Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old Air Force veteran and Obama voter who slid into the gutter corners of the MAGA web and followed the siren song of Q to the capitol before bleeding out for the president in the people’s house.

The machines ate the former Jeopardy! champion and left-wing Twitter pundit Arthur Chu, who wrote that Babbit was “a pile of meat that moved and spoke and acted like a person was made to stop moving, and thus could no longer fool people into thinking it was one of them.” He said of her death: “You should feel less bad than you do about putting down a rabid animal.”

When a person with a blue check mark openly calls another human being, a fellow citizen, a “pile of meat” you should be very worried about what comes next.

You can log off. You can get into psychedelics or reading the stars or overpaying for bath oils. And maybe those are the wise things to do. But all the #selfcare in the world won’t save you from living in the time you and I were born into.

I think David [Samuel]’s advice is wise: “The good news is that the most important events of my life, and your life, will always take place more or less within a 25-foot radius of wherever we are standing. Like the Beatles said, all you need is love. So, try to be kind, and avoid making sweeping statements about large classes of people. Give food to the hungry. Tell your children that you love them. And please, whatever you do, don’t embrace anyone’s sweeping program for remedying historical injustice, because history’s victims are already dead—and soon, there will be plenty more of them. I can hear the sound of the engines revving up, even from here.”

3. I love Samuels’ line, that the most important things take place in a 25-foot radius of wherever we stand. So let’s look a little closer to home. My wife and I watched [2/3 of] the movie Locked Down last night. It drives home this same point — that pandemic pains (or graces) are most expressive in the people around us. Or in Lana Del Rey’s words, “what’s going on in the macrocosm … is a reflection of what’s going on in the individual home and inside bedrooms.”

Which is my long-winded way of saying: family can be hard. Today familial estrangement is no rare issue, mostly due to the shifting expectations of modern-day parenting. As Joshua Coleman points out in the Atlantic, today’s family ties are often maintained due to affection or shared identity, rather than obligation or familial duty:

Because the adult child typically initiates the estrangement, parents are often the ones who must take the first steps toward reconciliation. In my practice and in the survey I conducted, I have seen that when reconciliations happen, parents often attribute successful reconnection to efforts on their part to make amends, such as taking responsibility for past harms; showing empathy for the adult child’s perspective and feelings; expressing willingness to change problematic behaviors; and accepting their child’s request for better boundaries around privacy, amount of contact, and time spent with grandchildren. It’s also crucial to avoid discussions about “right” and “wrong,” instead assuming that there is at least a kernel of truth in the child’s perspective, however at odds that is with the parent’s viewpoint.

Fathers often seem less willing to accept those conditions than mothers. Mothers’ willingness to empathize or work to understand the child’s perspective might result from the ways in which women are held to a higher standard of responsibility for maintaining family relationships than men are. Fathers are deeply wounded by estrangements too, but men’s tendency to cover depression with anger, social withdrawal, and compartmentalization might make them look less affected than they actually are. They might also feel that pushing back on the child’s requests is more in line with their ideals of masculinity and maintaining authority in the relationship.

Coleman points out how odd it is that estrangement occurs even now, when parents are trying harder than ever. There’s a lot here, but a good summary is as follows:

There are good and bad features of modern family life, in which relations are often based more on ties of affection than on duty or obedience. In these times, the people we choose to be close to represent not only a preference, but a profound statement of our identities. We are freed to surround ourselves with those who reflect our deepest values — parents included. We feel empowered to call on loved ones to be more sensitive to our needs, our emotions, and our aspirations. This freedom enables us to become untethered and protected from hurtful or abusive family members.

Yet in less grave scenarios our American love affair with the needs and rights of the individual conceals how much sorrow we create for those we leave behind.

4. All of which makes forgiveness — giving it, and receiving it — imperative. But forgiveness is a delicate thing, says philosopher Gordon Marino in a recent essay against self-forgiveness. Marino, who was interviewed in our Faith & Doubt Issue, argues that today’s popularization of self-forgiveness muddles what forgiveness actually is and claims to do.

The simple fact is that I have no more right to forgive myself for hurting someone than I have as a third party to forgive someone who has harmed you. If Jack is guilty of slandering Jill, who am I, the uninjured party, to forgive Jack? Only the aggrieved individual can grant forgiveness. If you hope to be forgiven by someone, the best you can do is to acknowledge what you have done and make amends. […]

As the Biblical prescription goes, seeking God’s forgiveness is a matter of repenting and resolving to change your ways. But God’s forgiveness is tantamount to third-party forgiveness, unless you are one of the faithful who believe that to hurt someone else is to hurt your Creator. The challenge to such faith is great, as suggested in the searing question that Ivan, in The Brothers Karamazov, hurls at Alyosha, his monk brother, concerning the story of the master who sets his hounds on a little peasant boy. Ivan presses Alyosha: What right does God have to forgive such a monster when it wasn’t God who was torn to pieces?

The concept of forgiveness is not to be played with. Christ was crucified for assuming the burden of atoning for humankind’s sins. 

My own take is that self-forgiveness might be a valid, kind endeavor, especially since one’s self can be harmed in harming someone else. But the buzzworthiness of self-forgiveness is more likely due to feelings of guilt and transgression within a culture that holds right and wrong somewhat loosely. It’s also the only thing left when the forgiveness of God feels floofy.

5. At the Ringer, comedian Josh Gondelman waxes existential over the recent spate of Affleckian photos depicting the oft-troubled celebrity straining to maintain a large order of Dunkin’: “In one photo, he clutches his breakfast to his chest, his face a familiar tableau of oh no what have I done.” It’s a good essay but IMHO doesn’t top Carrie Willard’s anthropological masterwork, We Are All Sad Ben Affleck on a Beach With a Back Tattoo.

Also, from the Hard Times, there’s this headline: “Woman Seeking Reassurance from 10 Friends Before Following Gut Feeling.” Haha.

And then there’s this bit of inspired ridiculousness from Matt Berry (of What We Do in the Shadows):

6. This next link reads like real-life Ted Lasso. In a long-form profile on Andy Reid, author Michael J. Mooney refers to the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs as “the rehabilitator in chief.” ICYMI Reid coached the Chiefs to their Super Bowl win in 2020, but his life hasn’t been nonstop wins. For those unfamiliar, his son died tragically in 2012, after which Reid was fired by the Eagles; meanwhile, the Chiefs had experienced trauma of their own, through the suicide of Jovan Belcher. As Reid put it later: “They had gone through some things. I went through some things. It was a good match.” The Chiefs’ resuscitation came through nontraditional means:

In 2013, he drafted tight end Travis Kelce, who’d been suspended at the University of Cincinnati after testing positive for marijuana. Within a few years, he became one of the best players in the NFL. […] Then Reid drafted Tyreek Hill, a wide receiver who had been dismissed from the Oklahoma State team after he was arrested for domestic violence. The Chiefs also traded for defensive end Frank Clark, who was dismissed from the University of Michigan football team — also for domestic violence.

Critics have suggested Reid was getting more desperate to win a Super Bowl, that he was filling his roster with talented criminals. Others understandably questioned the decision to bring in known domestic abusers only a few years after the Belcher incident.

But Reid’s players and closest friends see something different. They see a man who knows that doing bad things doesn’t always make someone a bad person. They see a man who believes people are worthy of redemption — and maybe football can help.

7. In a recent issue of the Red Hand Files, Nick Cave answers the question, “How do you know when you have written something worthwhile? What is your process?” He begins with his favorite line from the New Testament: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained standing there in front of the tomb.” Cave explains:

A large part of the process of songwriting is spent waiting in a state of attention before the unknown. We stand in vigil, waiting for Jesus to emerge from the tomb — the divine idea, the beautiful idea — and reveal Himself.

Often, the beautiful idea that has formed is at first unrecognisable to us. We don’t see it for what it is, because it is new and implausible. Just as Mary Magdalene does not recognise Jesus when He first appears to her outside the tomb, the beautiful idea may emerge dimly and appear peculiar to us, not announcing itself but standing, half hidden and improbable, in the shadows.

So, we continue to wait. But while we wait we must remain prepared and alert, and one way to do so is to write things down, in order to advance the idea, as this indicates a readiness to receive. Beware, however, of the idea that comes too easily, as this is often a residual idea and only compelling because it reminds us of something we have already done. We don’t want an idea that is like something we have done before. We don’t want a second-hand idea. We want the new idea. We want the beautiful idea.

One day, you will write a line that feels wrong, but at the same time provides you with a jolt of dissonance, a quickening of the nervous system. You will shake your head and write on, only to find that you come back to it, shake your head again, and carry on writing — yet back you come, again and again. This is the idea to pay attention to, the difficult idea, the disturbing idea, shimmering softly among all the deficient, dead ideas, gently but persistently tugging at your sleeve — the Jesus idea.