31 December 2013

Bombings in Volgograd

Thirty-two dead and at least sixty-eight injured in Volgograd (see here and here).

I am immensely grieved over this. Please pray for the souls of the dead and for the quick and full recoveries of the injured; we must all stand now with Russia, now that the evil that visited Boston has now settled upon one of their cities. (A city, it should be said, which is already hallowed with the blood of nearly five hundred thousand Russian patriots, saints and martyrs against Nazi tyranny.) And let us all help, as best we can, to heal the growing rift between Russia and the West that continues to take such tolls.

Now in Nanjing

I’m currently at the Hopkins Centre at Nanjing University at the invitation of a friend of mine, Dr Adam Webb, to be discussant at a philosophy discussion about Jiang Qing’s political Confucianism and possible routes and limits of oecumenical dialogue (hopefully with some reference to the work of Thomas Han Hong-Soon!). It’s bound to be a truly fun talk in any event; I am told that there will be in attendance at least one Chinese grad student who is a committed Rawlsean, and one professor with decidedly left-anarchist sympathies. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes! I’m already enjoying my stay immensely; Dr Webb’s work is fascinating, and he has given me already a great deal to think about recent Middle Eastern politics, and Egyptian politics in particular.

Happy New Year to you all, gentle readers, and let’s await Christ’s birth together in joyful expectation!

28 December 2013

The trouble with white émigrés

Now, as I make the following commentary, please bear in mind, gentle readers, that I write as someone with a very profound respect for a number of white émigrés – in particular Nikolai Berdyaev and Fr Sergei Bulgakov, the two intellectual lights which most strongly directed me toward Orthodoxy. And of course, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Fr Alexander Schmemann, Vladimir Lossky, S. Ioann the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco and numerous others are worthy of mention as decent, well-grounded Orthodox men and women who deserve our respect and admiration. This commentary is not directed at them. This commentary is directed at a much wider, and dare I say much more troubling general phenomenon.

White émigrés – those who fled or who were forced into exile by the communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe, East Asia, Indochina and Latin America – are often hailed as heroes and stalwarts of anti-communism, and not just the Russian ones, for reasons which continue to puzzle me. For one thing, strange and even contradictory though it may sound, not all white émigrés were anti-communist. (Those defenders of the Republic of China and the Guomindang, for example, who fled to Taiwan in 1949, included amongst their number the ‘true’ Chinese Marxists who saw Mao Zedong as a threat because he would not embrace the Marxist prejudice that only the urban industrial proletariat would have the class consciousness and the wherewithal to form and sustain a successful revolutionary state. And, of course, the Dalai Lama still calls himself a Marxist, despite also being the head of a Buddhist sect and at least two virulently anti-leftist political movements.) But this merely showcases the fragmentation even within that failed philosophy. What I speak of is something much more subtle.

The white émigrés were generally people of privilege, and that privilege has followed them into the lands where they sought refuge. One may recall the passage of A Tale of Two Cities (aye, pre-Marxist and all of that, but even so quite prescient), wherein Dickens – no friend he of the French Revolution! – recounts:
Monseigneur, as a class, had dissociated himself from the phenomenon of his not being appreciated: of his being so little wanted in France , as to incur considerable danger of receiving his dismissal from it, and this life together. Like the fabled rustic who raised the Devil with infinite pains, and was so terrified at the sight of him that he could ask the Enemy no question, but immediately fled; so, Monseigneur, after boldly reading the Lord's Prayer backwards for a great number of years, and performing many other potent spells for compelling the Evil One, no sooner beheld him in his terrors than he took to his noble heels.
We need not be communists to recognise that communism was in part a judgement upon the people who fled it; just as, indeed, Dickens being no revolutionary had very little sympathy for the old French élites, beyond the needed human sympathy he extends to all people in a hard way. And indeed, though we must feel some compassion for the plight of the white émigrés at the hands of the communists, we must be vigilant and careful in not allowing that sympathy to cloud our political judgement. Heroes and stalwarts they are not, merely for happening to be in the right places at the right times – although the actions which led to their exiles may have been heroic or somewhat less so. Sadly, both they and their admirers seem to be of that most curious of opinions: that they are more suited to lead and speak authoritatively about former communist societies precisely on account of their not having lived through them.

And, too often, the white émigrés form a political consciousness entirely in the negative, and this can have some very serious implications. To give one example: the alliance between the Tibetan exiles in India and the far-right Hindu nationalist movement there is troubling indeed, given the political capital that the Tibetan independence cause has can sway amongst India’s allies on the world stage, and the barbaric violence the followers of Hindutva inflict, not so much upon India’s Maoists, but upon her Christians and Muslims! For another: the continuing detrimental influence Florida’s Cuban exiles continue to have on that state’s – and our nation’s – domestic politics. For yet another: the embrace of neoconservative ideology by the Ignatieff clan in Canada, stemming from his alliance with Pearson so steadfastly opposed by that greatest and most truly conservative of the Ignatieff in-laws, George Parkin Grant. For still another: the execrable anti-Christian fanfiction and serial-killer worship of one Miss Alisa Rosenbaum, which still for reasons unfathomable continues to exert an undue influence on our nation’s political discourse.

Liberalism – identity politics, libertarianism and neoconservatism all very much included – widely being considered the Manichaean counter-pole to communism and the ‘strongest’ in geopolitical terms (being backed by the full power of the American nuclear and conventional arsenals), it is little wonder so many white émigrés have embraced it without much question. This is why it is so important to treat white émigré polities and positions with discernment and caution, preferably at arm’s length, and not just blind sentimentalism and sympathy.

Too many of them are now opposed to the reassertion of geopolitical strength by an increasingly-Orthodox Russia, based entirely upon their experiences with a virulently anti-Orthodox regime. Too many of them are unwilling to even deal with China’s leadership, preferring instead to throw monkey-wrenches into her international engagements whilst doing massive collateral damage within their host nations. Too many of them have no problem with Christians being slaughtered in the Middle East and elsewhere as long as it saves face for liberal-democratic governments in the global north. Too many of them are willing to trample children, the elderly, the poor and the economically-distressed underfoot, wherever they are, as their ideological commitments demand. Too many of them are still boldly reading the Lord’s Prayer backwards and performing spells to compel the Evil One.

And if we are honest in our conservatism, we will not help them in doing so.

23 December 2013

Sergei the Samaritan

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Now is the time for Ukraine to ask, who is the better neighbour? The Frank who disdained to get into a ‘bidding war’ over Ukraine for the association agreement? The Teuton who would not so much as meet with Ukraine’s government? Surely not the thieves in Brussels who wish to strip Ukraine of even more of its wealth, and leave it half dead and wounded on the side of the road? Or is it the Russian who bought up 15 billion dollars of Ukrainian debt and poured in oil and wine to keep it away from default and economic disaster?

Like the Samaritans of Our Lord’s time, the Russians are despised and reviled on the world stage by the global elite and the holders of economic and political power in the West. They are constantly and consistently portrayed in the news media as backwards and mean-spirited, and their government as cynical, grasping and hateful. And yet they continue to care for their elderly and their poor and their young as best they are able with what limited resources they have (including protecting them from perverts and pornographers, in a way which the Anglo-American West has long since abandoned). And now Sergei Lavrov is making the case that economic aid (and let’s be clear: aid is what it is) to the Ukraine is his nation’s Christian duty. Who is the better neighbour to Ukraine?

16 December 2013

This far, no further

From Notes on Arab Orthodoxy, an unofficial translation of his Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East’s call for concrete action in defence of the Christians of Syria:
Amidst the calamities besetting Syria and the bloodshed afflicting our people and amidst the uncertainty that still surrounds the fate of our metropolitans Boulos and Youhanna in Aleppo, it is with deep pain that the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East has received news of the abduction of her daughters, nuns and orphans of the Monastery of Saint Thekla in Maaloula on December 2, 2013 and their being transported to Yabroud. Because our initial attempts to obtain the release our abducted daughters did not achieve the desired outcome, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East calls upon the international community and all governments to intervene and make efforts to release them safely. She likewise calls upon the conscience of all humanity and upon the spark of living conscience that the Creator, may He be exalted, sowed in the souls of all those who worship God, including the kidnappers, to release our sisters the nuns and the girls of the orphanage.

Our appeal to the international community: Although we are grateful for all the feelings of solidarity, we no longer need denunciation, condemnations, or "feelings of concern" about the assault on human dignity that is occurring, because all this is engraved in the conscience of every one of us. Today, however, we need concrete actions, not words. We do not want voices of condemnation from decision-makers, whether regional or international, but rather efforts, pressure and action leading to the release of those whose only fault was their clinging to their monastery and refusing to leave it.

We reiterate our call to stop the logic of conflict in Syria and replace it with the logic of peaceful dialogue and not to use stalling the start of dialogue to make gains on the ground because Syria is bleeding and with her too our hearts. Let all know that one drop of innocent blood shed on this earth is holier and more precious than all the slogans in the world. Let all understand the the bells of our churches, we the Christians of the Middle East, which were hung and rang in time immemorial, shall continue to ring out and be heard as the sound of our love and our peace for others, with their various religions, throughout the world.

The cruelty of the present days shall not uproot us from our land, because it is our being, our essence and a piece of our heart.
Never forget these nuns, and please keep them always in your prayers, along with all other Christians of the Levant who have been displaced or abducted or martyred. Most Holy, Blessed and Ever-Virgin Theotokos, please watch over your daughters and keep them safe from harm; and please deliver your people, All-Holy Trinity, from the clutches of our enemies.

12 December 2013


By Proctor & Gamble and GoldieBlox. Guh.

Both advertising campaigns have featured prominently in my Facebook news feed, which is how I became aware of them. A number of my friends have, with the best of intentions, cited both as positive examples of how marketing campaigns are helping to bring about social change for gender equality.

If only I could be so sanguine about it. For one thing, GoldieBlox became a real class act when it pre-emptively sued the Beastie Boys for being sexist, after the Beastie Boys (who have made a principled stand against using any of their music in advertising) sent GoldieBlox a C&D letter. GoldieBlox appears to have dropped the lawsuit, though their claim to be fans and the passive-aggressive posture they take rather belie their earlier nastily litigious behaviour. Overall, I have to respect the Beastie Boys in their position on this: no matter how ‘empowering’ it might be, it is still meant to manufacture demand for a specific product. And, make no mistake, Pantene is doing the same thing. Whatever genuine concern the ad may reflect gets dried up and distilled into marketing slogans: ‘Whip It’ and ‘Be Strong and Shine’; carrying the implication, naturally, that the solution to double standards at the workplace is the kind of shinier and sleeker hair an executive woman would only get from using Pantene.

Oh dear.

Thankfully, several sensible feminists (for example, here and here and here) cottoned on quite early to the fact that their cause was being used and cheapened for gain. But then the bourgeois-femme webmag machine kicked in and aggressively asserted their individual rights to sell out: Slate asserted that patronising companies with feminist ad campaigns was merely ‘voting with your wallet’, and Elle rejoices at the corporate branding of feminism as proof that ‘feminism is mainstream and popular again’.

It does really get to the point where one has to stand back and admire the sheer profundity and wisdom of Nancy Fraser’s critique in the Guardian of modern feminism as ‘handmaiden to capitalism and neoliberalism’, in which ‘the feminist turn to identity politics dovetailed all too neatly with a rising neoliberalism that wanted nothing more than to repress all memory of social equality’. In the Pantene ad in particular (though really in the GoldieBlox ad too), conspicuous by their absence are women who belong to any social matrix outside the urban professional, intellectual or consumerist middle-to-upper classes. Is there to be found here any basis for concern for any dimension of social engagement outside the narrow confines of an identity politics expressed in purely atomistic and consumerist terms? If there is, I’m not seeing it.

10 December 2013

Pointless video post - ‘Preemptive Strike’ by Andromeda

Andromeda are not my usual fare; to be honest, I heard of them through one of the first extreme metal bands whose album I bought and enjoyed (Esoteric by progressive melodeath outfit Skyfire, with whom they share a guitarist, Johan Reinholdz). But Manifest Tyranny, wow! Tell us how you really feel, guys! Raging against the oppressions of market and bureaucracy, against war (however ‘humanitarian’) and capitalism, against social Darwinism and technocracy, these guys really are my kind of band! The subject matter might make you think they ought to be playing crossover-thrash or something, but in truth even though they’re merely pushing their boundaries in a much heavier direction, they’re playing top-tier prog metal. This album isn’t as spacey or as intricate in its tempo and sound as Extension of the Wish or II = I, but it’s definitely still in the same vein overall. Please listen and enjoy, gentle readers!

04 December 2013

Dear American Catholics:

Please, please, please stop conflating liberalism and leftism, even colloquially.

Please do this not for my sake – I’m used enough to being misunderstood as a ‘left-authoritarian’, as the Political Compass sorts me – but for your own. If you want to understand or foster greater understanding of the Popes – in particular Francis – or the Early Church Fathers, for that matter, you have to learn to see things outside the one-dimensional American spectrum. Do this to take, as Sir Alec Guinness once famously put it, your first step into a larger world.

It is all too common in Catholic circles (which, for the most part, I still gladly frequent in spite of my having embraced – from their view – a ‘schismatic’ faith) for people to decry ‘cultural Marxism’ when what they actually mean is relativism, which at its root is one logical outworking or another of either Lockean liberalism or postmodernism. Or they use socialist, ‘red’ and Soviet imagery to describe what is in fact a purely ‘yellow’, Anglo-French phenomenon: here is merely one particularly egregious example. Even normally-intelligent Catholic apologists like Mark Shea tend to blame ‘the Left’ when they complain of people or cultural practices which refer not to leftist intellectual currents like Marxism, socialism or syndicalism, but rather to pragmatism or (neo-)liberalism! (I would say that anyone who calls Tom Friedman a Leftist should be subjected to re-reading each of his Times columns until his grievous error is corrected, but I do happen to be opposed to torture. Same for Chris Matthews and Hardball.) To be fair, there was once a very good reason for conflating leftist and liberal concerns – it has long been a strategy particularly of social-democratic parties and trade unions to forge electoral coalitions with liberals against traditionalist and nationalist elements. But those days are long gone.

In order to understand the tradition of the Church West or East, it is first of all necessary to lose the Americanist ‘Left’-versus-‘Right’ blinders (insofar as the DNC can be considered ‘left’, anyway).

As a matter of first principles, being committed to understanding and addressing the culture with the ‘mind of the Church’ for the purposes of salvation means much, much more than refusing to countenance the systematic slaughter of the unborn (which is also, by the way, a systematic slaughter of the next generation of the working class), and refusing to equate the fruitless unions between two people of the same gender with the life-giving ones between a man and a woman. It also means refusing to countenance the systematic deprivation of the majority of working- and middle-class Americans of the fruits of their productive labour, by a completely unaccountable and increasingly reckless financial-capitalist elite. It also means refusing to discriminate against others merely for having darker skin or speaking another tongue. It also means acknowledging the indispensable role of the female genius in all things, even in the Church – and refusing to fall into the Satanic trap that says that because women are wired differently to men and have different roles to play in society and the Church, that they are somehow inferior.

It is also necessary to note, as John at EifD has very adroitly pointed out, that for all their materialist wrong-headedness, European and Russian Marxists have traditionally opposed the evils of divorce, abortion and contraception, and have agitated actively for the integrity of the family (including the family wage!). The tradition of pro-life leftism has not been broken, either, as Mehdi Hasan demonstrates. Notable also is that, particularly in southern Europe, the right-wing Italian liberals were the movers and shakers for the ever-broader legalisation of divorce.

Sergey Kurginyan in Russia has already begun sensibly advocating for a rapprochement between the salvific concerns of Orthodox Christianity and leftist political ideals. (From the Marxist side, Gennady Zyuganov seems to have started doing the same thing.) As we have seen, Pope Francis is articulating Catholic social doctrine through a grammar which is intensely critical of capitalism, just as Patriarch Kirill has done in our own Orthodox Church.

These are signs of the essence of our times. In order for conservative American Catholics (and Orthodox, for that matter) to understand them, they have to abandon their view of the Left as inextricably bound up with liberalism, relativism and materialism, and as an existential foe of all they hold dear.