29 December 2021

On Jo Rowling’s cultural and gender politics

I still consider myself a Harry Potter fan, though nowhere close to as obsessive a one as I once was. My daughter is only now getting into the books, which she dearly loves, and small blame to her. They do immerse and fire the imagination of a nine-year-old in ways that few other books can. And having grown up reading the books myself I can still see their intrinsic merit. Who doesn’t love a good story about an orphaned underdog experiencing the pain of growing up ‘weird’, and finally entering a community of similarly-‘weird’ people where he can make friends, discover his roots, risk his life, fall in love and start his own family? There is a great deal in the Harry Potter books still to love, and I disagree strongly with the detractors who are now, belatedly, saying otherwise. I’m not going to deny my daughter a much-needed degree of literary escapism on account of any real-world political disagreement I might have with the author.

Having said that, looking back on them as an adult, it is a lot easier to spot their flaws. The series certainly isn’t written in high prose. And upon re-reading the series after having come back from my study abroad year in college, I found I had developed a keen and heartfelt detestation for certain aspects of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in particular. Not only was said book a trend-setter in terms of being a turgid doorstop, but I also discovered (again, only with the perspective afforded to me by travel and hindsight) that it featured some truly patronising and retrograde cultural politics.

Although the villains of the set piece themselves are essentially the equivalents of ultranationalist soccer hooligans, the entire Quidditch World Cup was an extended exercise in a certain Little Englander nationalism on Rowling’s part. The ‘international’ backdrop serving largely to point out how backwards and funny-looking all those foreign-looking types are. (Arab wizards use magic carpets and cheat people! African wizards do voodoo! American witches are from Salem!) And unfortunately, even after the QWC is over, the Triwizard Tournament doesn’t give us a break from the cultural politics either. The textual treatment of the French characters from Beauxbatons is pure cringe, as kids say these days. They all seemingly speak with John Cleese’s faux-French ‘outrageous accent’ from Holy Grail. The Beauxbatons young women (and occasionally young men) all act like coquettes when they aren’t behaving like snoots – as though all people from France behave like the worst stereotypes of parisiens. And the treatment the Eastern European characters from Durmstrang get is seemingly worse. Again, they all speak in thick, exaggerated Rocky & Bullwinkle accents. But those of them who aren’t greasy, chauvinistic, thick-headed or displaying wretched table manners are dark and sinister, and certainly not to be trusted.

Despite her oft-stated internationalism, Rowling’s cultural politics as expressed in Goblet of Fire essentially seem to boil down to: England is best because England is normal. An odd sentiment indeed from an author with a clear sympathy for the underdog and the outsider. (Speaking as a fan, the thing that most drew me to the books in the first place was the portrayal of a Britain that was idiosyncratic and countercultural.) To be sure, she does redeem this in later books. Fleur Delacœur is shown to be both passionate and principled in Half-Blood Prince, and Viktor Krum shows himself to be a man of character in Deathly Hallows. Personally, I tend to credit this to Jo’s greater exposure to an international fandom.

However, even after the later books were published, Rowling’s internationalism still had hard and fast limits. Her comments about Palestinians and BDS in the wake of Palestinian-Scottish actress Mia Oudeh’s fan letter were more than just condescending; they were thoughtless and insensitive to the point of cruelty. And then there was her voluble public excoriation of Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter because he dared to talk to Iranians, of all people. Rowling has continued to have a serious blind spot when it comes to any sort of ‘internationalism’ outside the comfortable zone of the OECD nations, and unfortunately that blind spot has shown itself consistently.

But note that Jo Rowling was never ‘cancelled’ from polite society for any of her stances on international politics, whether right or wrong, well-informed or (more often) ill-informed. She was never disinvited from fan events. There were no calls to burn her books from Scottish independence types or ‘Leave’ supporters. She never received mass hate mail of any sort, that I could tell, from Palestinian activists or comrades of the Palestinian cause. (Mia Oudeh was, throughout her entire exchange with Rowling, unfailingly polite and diplomatic while still standing up for her position – and she herself rejected the ‘cancellation’ of Rowling explicitly in her second fan letter.) In general, those of us who paid attention to what she was saying at the time largely attributed her stances to a kind of studied ignorance. She was speaking about things she didn’t understand.

Contrast that to the reactions now, to when Jo Rowling speaks about things that she does understand on a personal level. To wit: the abusive treatment of women by men.

These days she is called ‘hateful’, ‘bigoted’ and ‘transphobic’, and deluged with hate mail, sexist abuse, rape threats and death threats, because she offers her support and considerable cultural clout to such evident irredeemables as Maya Forstater, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Julie Bindel, Rosa Freedman, Kathleen Stock and Marion Millar. What is the difference here?

Well, the first difference I can see is that here, Rowling actually knows what she’s talking about. That makes her dangerous. Rowling has never (to my knowledge) been to Palestine or Iran. Therefore she poses no threat to the prevailing mainstream logic on those topics, in anywhere close to the same way that Mia Oudeh or, say, Abby Martin or Rania Khalek do. But when she speaks about the physical and material vulnerability of women, and when she speaks up on behalf of working women like Forstater who are in danger of losing their jobs over free speech issues, she is speaking from experience as a formerly working-class single mother and as a victim of abuse.

The other difference is that Rowling is here taking a stand that runs counter to the neoliberal shibboleth that the person in all her aspects is fungible, interchangeable and marketable. Rowling is in trouble for essentially saying that there are certain aspects to being a woman that cannot be bought or sold – that there is a depth to the adult female human that goes beyond the performative (and therefore marketable) aspects of ‘gender identity’, and that goes beyond the synthetic means available to men to Polyjuice-potion themselves into women. Women having bodies, having natural bodily functions, having families, having communities or having any other kind of social networks not mediated by market forces—these are all things which the current capitalist order cannot abide and is working to erode.

Now, Jo Rowling has taken some truly admirable stands on other issues. Like Dolly Parton, she has donated herself out of the billionaire class, largely by giving back to people in need in places like Haiti. So please understand that I say the following out of respectful disagreement and not out of rancour.

I will note that Rowling did not take this stance regarding snooty French, sinister Bulgarians, shifty Middle Easterners and all those other funny-talking non-Britons in Goblet of Fire (though, again, to her credit, she bought a lot of this back in her later books). Note that she did not take this stance over Dumbledore’s ad hoc Korrasami sexuality, or over Hermione’s ambiguous blackness. Note that she did not take this stance regarding Palestinians over BDS, or Iranians over nuclear peace talks. Note that she did not take this stance regarding the support Corbyn organically enjoyed among economically-disaffected young people in Britain. But further: note that in all of these cases where Rowling sided with (or at least did not side against) the neoliberal capitalist order and its contempt for personhood, economic dignity, organic community, indigenous cultures and so on, she did not get into any serious trouble with the broader culture and its gatekeepers.

It is important to defend Rowling now precisely because, like Dave Chappelle in The Closer, on this issue she is putting skin in the game, she is speaking from experience, she is not being hateful but instead speaking out of genuine compassion. But it’s also necessary to keep reading her books and discussing both their strengths and their flaws honestly with younger readers.

26 December 2021

The spirit of Patriarch Pavle lives on

A couple of weeks back, the Romanian website Iubesc Ortodoxia posted the above photograph of Archbishop Theophanes (Kim) of Korea, riding the bus. At a time when bishops of certain other jurisdictions are toodling about in Holden Caprices and such, at least the spirit of humility that motivated Patriarch Pavle of Serbia still lives on among the bishops of the Far East. May God grant Archbishop Theophanes many years!

25 December 2021

The depth of the Nativity icon

The Nativity icon is a true wealth of theological depth.

The birth of Christ takes place in a cave. He is surrounded by animals - most notably a donkey and an ox. The Theotokos is reclining at His side, clad in a garment with three stars upon it. Joseph is sitting afar off, looking doubtful, and listening to a shabby character. To the left we see three travellers on horseback, faces turned skyward toward the light of the star shining into the cave; to the right we see two shepherds, clearly startled and afraid as an angel speaks to them. At the bottom right we see a woman pouring water to wash the Christ-child.

The cave deliberately evokes the imagery of the tomb and the mortality of Christ - and so too does the manger in which He lies (in the shape of a coffin) and the white swaddling-clothes he’s wrapped in (the image of His burial-shroud). The donkey and the ox at His side are both witness to the humble status of His birth, and also symbols of the Gentile and the Jewish nations respectively.

The Theotokos’s garment, and three stars upon it, are testament to her perpetual virginity - before, during, and after the birth of the Christ-child. Her gaze is turned toward Joseph, who looks distracted and doubtful, as a demon in human form plants doubts in his mind about his wife's virginity.

The visitors on horseback are clearly clad in the garments of foreigners. Their attention is on the star whose light leads to the cave. They are carrying gifts of gold, symbolising Christ's Kingship over all creation; of incense, symbolising Christ’s Priesthood after the order of Melchizedek; and of myrrh, a flammable oil which evokes Christ's role as the penultimate Prophet.

The shepherds are notable for their simple, poor garments as well as for the look of cringing fright upon their faces and in their stances before the awful apparition of the angel - even though the angel is giving them tidings of joy. A third shepherd is seated on a rock, having understood what the angel has said, and his playing the flute expresses this joy.

At the bottom right of the icon is the image of Salome who, accompanied by a midwife, came to wash Christ after His birth. This expresses that Christ is fully human, and partakes fully of human nature in everything except our sin. He was covered in amniotic fluid coming forth from the Virgin’s womb, the same as any other tiny human has been that comes into the world, and required washing.

And note who IS and who IS NOT in this icon. The people in this icon who are partaking in the good news of the Incarnation are all from the lower ranks of society. Foreigners - that is to say, Gentiles. Rural poor. Women. A doubting stepfather. There are no rabbis. No senators. No legionaries. The respected, the strong, the powerful and the exalted among men are nowhere to be seen here. Note that those closest to Christ, apart from His Mother, are the lowly beasts of burden.

The mystery of the Incarnation, therefore, however incomprehensible it might be to the doubting Saint Joseph (as to many of the rest of us!), is in fact a good news which is given to all regardless of age or wealth or nationality or sex, and not only to a select few. With all creation, then, right down to the lowliest donkey and ox, we are privileged to say: Christ is Born!

18 December 2021

What lies behind Singaporean educational success?

Interesting news from the educational realm in Singapore. Singapore’s educational system is widely regarded as one of the best in the world, and its students routinely outclass other nations in test results on standardised international assessment tools like the PISA exams.

Intriguingly, Singapore has ceased standardised testing entirely for primary 1 and primary 2 students, and also switched to giving whole-point test scores and GPAs for students in older grades in order to de-emphasise competition. Singapore’s Minister of Education (now Minister of Health), Ong Ye Kung, has even stated that ‘learning is not a competition’ and therefore the system should not encourage students to think of it as such.

Why is this important? Well, for one thing, it’s a surprising volte-face for a country whose education system has, until fairly recently, been incredibly keen on high-stakes standardised testing. And Singapore’s education system, despite its high outcomes, is not to be considered perfect. Students in Singapore’s school system often report high levels of stress, and mental illness sometimes results from this stress. But there are still a number of other things that Singapore’s educational system does well that we could stand to learn from.

For one thing, greater attention has been paid to the STEM subjects in Singapore than in many other countries. From an early age students are trained to think mathematically and approach problems from a practical point of view. Students are encouraged to retain their curiosity about the natural world by gaining experience in hands-on experiments and projects. This actually helps them to think more creatively across the board. I don’t agree with the late lamented Carl Sagan on everything (to put it mildly), but I do agree with him on this, which he was saying back in 1994: unfortunately, this retention and encouragement of curiosity and wonder in students is something that is being neglected in Western educational systems.

I will also note, to anticipate a possible objection to this, that Singaporean classrooms are infamous for their strictness, marked by demanding uniform codes, emphasis on teacher talking time, lots of drills and memorisation, and even corporal punishment in schools. Now, I’m not a big fan of corporal punishment – or of learning-by-rote, for that matter. However, it is worth remembering that strictness, per se, is not incompatible with cultivating curiosity. In order for experiments to yield results worth observing, a highly-regimented formal procedure and cautious painstaking observations, often iterated over a considerable period of time, are necessary. Curiosity requires, and thrives off of, discipline. The two are not necessarily at odds.

In Singapore, all teachers employed by the Ministry of Education are represented by the Singapore Teachers’ Union. The unionisation rate for teachers in Singapore is virtually 100%: a proud distinction they share with that other high achiever in international education metrics, Finland. The median income for teachers in Singapore is about $8,000 a year higher than in the US, despite American GDP per capita being $4,000 per year more than Singapore’s. In general, teachers who are unionised are better-compensated, better-supported and happier, which leads to higher achievement and more consistent outcomes for students.

The other thing that Singapore does well – and the thing which seems to receive the least attention in English-language media on Singapore’s education system – is the fact that there has been a sustained, decades-long push for collaborative educational models in Singapore. The recently-voiced sentiment of Mr Ong Ye Kung that education should not be a competition actually has long standing and precedent in the city-state, as the collaborative model was first introduced around 1985 and has been elaborated upon ever since. Students are encouraged to work together in groups to solve problems rather than compete against each other or hide their results from each other.

The cohort of kids that took the test this past year were raised from primary 1 in an environment that encourages teamwork, collaborative problem-solving, and the understanding that ‘I do well when we all do well’. This is important because the PISA exam, as well as having questions formatted to gauge individual performance, also has a collaborative problem-solving section. But the results would seem to indicate that even on the individual questions, the collaborative problem-solving model of approaching science, engineering and math enhances the results. Human beings are social creatures – and children are no exception! We are often at our best when we are able to learn and discover together, as part of a team. And our experiences with team learning can often help us frame or approach questions creatively even when we’re left on our own to answer them.

To reiterate: Singapore’s school system has definite problems. However: the cultivation of scientific curiosity; the insistence on student discipline; the high unionisation rate and strong collective bargaining stance of teachers; and the strong emphasis on collaborative problem-solving – these are all things that the American school system should learn from and try (within reasonable boundaries) to emulate. Particularly the latter two: strong teachers’ unions and collaborative learning.

13 December 2021

The billionaire class and the quest for man-godhood

Evidently, we now know that Jeff Bezos consults with psychic mediums. Elon Musk has a strange fascination with the eighteenth-century occultist and alchemist Giuseppe Balsamo. Peter Thiel and Larry Page have a long-standing association with modern-day occultist and alchemist Ray Kurzweil. What does this all mean? Is it simply that GK Chesterton’s observation is true, that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing but rather believe in anything?

This may indeed be part of it, and a very significant part at that. However, I’m not fully convinced. The behaviour of the billionaire class indicates that they do indeed believe in something: the acquisition of more and more material wealth and resources at the expense of everybody else. They already own so much of it that their continuing efforts to grab as much of the capital, as much of the real estate, as much of the infrastructure as they can is not an exercise in mere greed. It is rather an exercise of power and political control. But there’s even more to it than that. The willingness with which our hypercapitalist tech elites – Bezos, Page, Thiel, Musk, Gates, Zuckerberg and I’m sure quite a few others as well – have for over 20 years now been investing heavily in cryonics (Alcor), consciousness transference (Neuralink), private space travel (SpaceX, Blue Origin), virtual realities (Meta) and aging reversal through ‘biohacking’ (Altos Labs) is indicative of something else. They are using that wealth that they are sucking up in such great quantities, in an attempt to achieve the goals of mediæval and early-Renaissance alchemy: transmutation and immortality.

The West Coast has been something of a hotbed for New Age spiritualism and occult esoterica since the late 1960s, which shouldn’t be surprising given that it rose out of the counterculture that had its epicentre there. Esalen, Druid Heights, Green Gulch, the Waterkin, Soka Gakkai (at least in its US bulwark) and – yes – the Church of Satan, all have their establishment in California, with a significant portion of those being based in San Francisco. (One should also note that this spiritual and social milieu also produced Fr Seraphim Rose; take that as you will.) So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Silicon Valley as a whole has imbibed that same spiritual atmosphere. After all, it’s fairly common knowledge that the æsthetics and design philosophy of Steve Jobs were highly influenced by Zen Buddhism.

The ‘performance artist’ Marina Abramović in her collaborations with Microsoft supporting their innovations into ‘mixed reality’ is something of a case-in-point. Microsoft did pull down the ad with Abramović in it. And Abramović was evidently baited by the ‘conspiracy theorists’ into fervently denying ever being a Satanist. (Honestly, I believe her. I think she’s genuinely a performance artist, doing an act that sells. It follows that she is not likely to be a very happy or balanced person.) But that is really a distraction from the main point. The entire project of ‘mixed reality’, the blurring between what is real and what is virtual, and the idea that human beings will act as their own demiurges, crafting themselves as homunculi in this new pseudo-reality, is very much still a concern. Witness Zuck’s new project Meta, in all its insidious glory.

That’s really what this is about: it’s the choice highlighted by Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. The desire to transcend death is part of the human condition. But the choice before us is this: in seeking after that transcendence do we turn to the living God of the living reality, and the God-man who appears to us in the flesh, embodied within the stuff of our own everyday material lives? Or do we instead attempt, by means of power, wealth, and all the alchemy and extension of life/consciousness they can buy with it, to become as far as possible ‘little gods’ – to become man-gods? This choice is heightened, to almost apocalyptic terms, by the growing grasping control over the reality by the few, and the accessibility (and desirability) of the illusion by the many. As Berdyaev himself put it:
Today the soul of man no longer rests upon secure foundations, everything round him is unsteady and contradictory, he lives in an atmosphere of illusion and falsehood under a ceaseless threat of change. Evil comes forward under an appearance of good, and he is deceived; the faces of Christ and of Antichrist, of man become god and of God become man, are interchangeable. A large number of contemporary people have “divided minds.” They are the sort of folk whom Dostoevsky displayed to us…
If it’s an affectation, the occultism, esotericism and attraction to alchemy by our ruling class is certainly an odd one. To be absolutely clear on this, I do not think (pace QAnon) that the occultism and esotericism and alchemy-dabbling of the ruling class is wilful and orchestrated (at least on the human level). After all, Ayn Rand influenced Anton LaVey, not the other way around, and therefore logically must have preceded him. The cupidity of the elites preceded the interest any of them had in spiritualism and esoterica. When one is driven by the lust for greater and greater degrees of wealth and control over the means of production, the desire to become ‘like gods’ becomes that much more powerful.

Berdyaev—and, by extension, Dostoevsky—must be given his due on this question, though. We are faced with the choice between occult (that is to say, metaverse and mind-hack, a technological illusion of power and control, a façade of freedom from necessity); and the freedom that comes from paying respect to reality on the other. It is increasingly clear what choice many of the ruling class (Musk, Bezos, Thiel, Page et al.) will ultimately choose to make, and we should take care that they don’t make that choice for us.

11 November 2021

Blog name change

So, over the past several months, I have had the fortune (whether for good or ill, or simply funny) to be mistaken for a British person based on the title of my blog. This being in spite of the explanation I have had linked in the sidebar for the past several years. I am not, in fact, British and have no intention of being so. I do have British ancestry. I also have been a member of the Episcopal Church in the past and still feel a sense of fondness and warmth toward that faith and toward English culture generally. Yet, it still seems a bit misleading, even sinful, to encourage my readers or visitors to persist in a misconception about who I am and where I come from, especially given the importance I place on doyikayt. As such, I am renaming the blog The Heavy Anglophile Orthodox, which should hopefully place me in the minds of my readers on the correct side of the pond. In the meantime, I can only apologise for the confusion I have already caused!

08 November 2021

A spectre is haunting Christendom…

In his article ‘Philosophical verity and intelligentsia truth’, written for Landmarks in 1905, Nikolai Berdyaev made the following observations about Marxism and its interpretation by the Russian intelligentsia.
It must be said that the objective and scientific side of Marxism contained a healthy kernel… but on the whole we misunderstood economic materialism and Marxism. We construed them ‘subjectively’ and adapted them to the intelligentsia’s traditional psychology. Economic materialism lost its objective character: production and creation were reduced to secondary importance, while the subjective, class side of Social Democracy came to the fore. The Russian Marxists were possessed by an extreme love for equality, combined with extreme faith in the nearness of the socialist consummation and in the possibility of achieving this consummation in Russia even sooner, perhaps, than in the West. The element of objective truth was completely submerged in the subjective element.
Berdyaev would maintain this line throughout his career. His book on The Russian Revolution, compiled in 1931, more fully explored this theme. Berdyaev’s understanding of Karl Marx was twofold: on the one hand, he deeply respected Marx as an objective social critic and the explicator of a particular method of analysis. On the other hand, however, he found certain of Marx’s assumptions objectionable on metaphysical grounds. What he objected to most in Marx was his lack of a qualitative dimension in the consideration of production – he could find no room in Marx for the æsthetic, the purely creative impulse. In Berdyaev’s reading of Marx, all production was quantitative, was ‘ant-hill’ production. (Personally, I find this objection a trifle unfair. Marx had a genuine and heartfelt love for the poetry and pathos of William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets that both transcended and illuminated his class analysis.) His other objection to Marx’s thought was that it carried with it a deterministic teleology grounded in an unfulfilled or frustrated messianic religious impulse: and here I tend to think Berdyaev is on firmer ground.

But note what both of these criticisms share! Berdyaev aimed his critiques of Marx at his implied metaphysics, not at his methodology! Indeed, Berdyaev’s praise above of the ‘objective and scientific side’ of Marxism refers precisely to his ‘materialist’ methods of historical analysis. What he found dangerous in Marxism was the tendency – a tendency Marx himself warned against – of imbuing the proletarian class with a kind of religious-idealist ‘mystique’. In the Russian-Soviet formulation of Marxism, this mystique became the criterion against which all cultural and ideological output was judged. And it was precisely this mystique that Berdyaev characterised as a Christian hæresy in The Russian Revolution. It was precisely this mystique that Berdyaev convincingly convicted of having its own mythology, its own sacred rites, its own priests, its own holy texts, its own apocalyptic messianism.

Berdyaev’s understanding – however amorphous and unsystematic – of a Christian socialism, attempted to merge what he considered to be the objective methodology of Karl Marx with the subjective impulse for the creative that animated a decided non-socialist like Solovyov, the relational impulse for the vertical ascent that animated a reactionary socialist like Leont’ev, and the metaphysical impulse to explore the individual in all his moral and subconscious depth that animated an ex-radical Orthodox Christian novelist like Dostoevsky. It is not altogether clear that he succeeded in doing so, and indeed by the end of his career he cast doubts on his own wisdom in that pursuit. But it was in pursuit of just such a synthesis that Saint Maria of Paris and Saint Il’ya Fondaminskii won martyrdom for the Orthodox faith at the hands of the Nazis.

This would seem to suggest that the liberation theologians in the tradition of Gutierrez and Boff were, in a certain sense, right. Inductively, the Marxist methodology appears valid, and is a valid way of representing a fuller sense of historical truth. For obvious reasons, Christians cannot accept the metaphysics that grew out of Marxism, which lend themselves to a hard determinism and to a tolerance of ‘natural’ evil and sacrifice of personhood. Berdyaev, who began his career as a dedicated Marxist, ultimately found this intolerable. But still, the spectre of Marx continues to haunt us, and with good reason, as we see a billionaire class which is hoarding ever greater shares of the world’s resources, intruding into all of our lives with greater frequency and impunity, entertaining fever dreams of hacking human beings (see also here).

As the global œconomy transitions from capitalism into something even more hideous and unrecognisable – what Yanis Varoufakis calls ‘techno-feudalism’ – the billionaire class is currently attempting to harness the world’s wealth toward cheating death with cryogenics and consciousness transference and guaranteeing their own survival (but no one else’s) in perpetuity. If humankind wants to survive on any sort of recognisable level, we must find some way to stop this ‘project’ before it strips human beings of their humanity. All theologies, insofar as they can inform anthropologies, must become theologies of liberation.

30 October 2021

The hardest battle

The hardest battle is always the one that you face alone. Or, rather, seemingly so.

Being a political pugilist or a culture-warrior on the left or on the right can seem exhausting work when viewed from outside. But in terms of the internal effort, it’s very easy to orient yourself toward an ideology, and then judge your own moral standing in the light of that ideology. It’s easy to take on public battles, to defend political positions, because these demand nothing of you but a relatively simple sort of intellectual consent. It is in fact far, far harder to face the world within than the world without. Doing battle with the darkest and ugliest parts of myself, the Pauline ‘old man’ within me, has been the hardest I have ever faced, and I’m still trying to do it honestly.

For a long time, the demand that the Orthodox Liturgics place on me that I consider myself the chief of sinners, the only sinner, seemed to me to be an imposition, even a kind of arrogance. And indeed, if approached on a purely intellectual level, it can become that way. There is a certain ‘style’ of convertodox or hyperdox feigned-humility which is grating – even if, generously speaking, it can be kind of a necessary ‘baby step’, if one doesn’t grow out of it, it can harden into a kind of delusion or a pose.

This pose often goes hand-in-hand with an idea, or may be seen to lead to a temptation, often implicit or half-articulated, that somehow things would be better if I was ‘over there’ rather than here. But that’s the thing: Orthodoxy is not ‘over there’ (a point which Mr Padusniak makes quite effectively in regard to a certain type of Orthodox convert), it is instead right here. And in my own case I literally do mean right here. (As an Orthodox Christian in Minneapolis I cannot at all ignore the threats to the safety of my neighbours or the quality of our drinking water, for example. But I digress from my main point.)

The main point of this insistence on seeing myself as the sinner, the chief of sinners, is to make me recognise, not that my sins are in degree or in number worse than those of other people, or that my nature is somehow more thoroughly base or corrupted than others’. The human being is an icon of God, after all, and I too am a human being. This insistence on myself as ‘chief of sinners’ is instead to make me understand that my own sin is what, with God’s help, I can begin to fix. As St Andrew of Crete said in his Lenten Penitential Canon, each one sins ‘like no other man’. Who else is fragmented in the same way? So when I say ‘of whom I am first’ or ‘of whom I am chief’ in reference to myself-as-sinner, it is an acknowledgement, fundamental to any spiritual progress, that I cannot hope to fix anyone else before Christ helps me to fix myself. My job is not to pull the speck out of my neighbour’s eye, but to pull the log out of my own.

And with that acknowledgement vanishes any illusion that fleeing somewhere else, moving to a country that I believe better aligns with my values, altering my environment or my social life without changing my own orientation to it, is going to fix my problems. I carry all my own sins upon my back and they are leaking out behind me wherever I go, so that I cannot see them. So, always, the best place to fix them is always here. In my own house, in my own family circle, in my own neighbourhood – and in the darkness that is the tomb of my own heart. As Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk put it in his own Canon of Repentance, in a paraphrase of Jeremiah 17 as read through Saint Maximos the Confessor’s texts on love: ‘The heart is deep beyond all things, and it is man, and who can know him?’

But although the battle is one that is mine and only mine, and although it often seems like a hopeless battle: I am not without help, not without an ally. Partaking of Christ in the Eucharist means – in a material way, not in the semiotic-idealist or sentimental way meant by most Protestants when they say this – that Christ lives in me, and that Christ works on me from within. This doesn’t mean that Christ imposes Himself upon me without my consent, or that He forces me to take a particular path. It also doesn’t mean that He takes away my troubles, my hardships, my arena. It means only that if I call upon Him for help in my struggles – as I inevitably need – He will help and heal me as I ask, and then more.

In focussing here on the existential-psychological aspect of Christian praxis, I am emphatically not engaging in a call for political quiescence or apathy. Both the vertical bar of the Cross ascending from earth to heaven, and the horizontal bar of the Cross embracing all of humanity with love, are needed. You cannot have only one; or else the other will be merely a false gesture. As I said above: caring about my neighbour’s physical safety, health, clean air, clean drinking water, social circumstances and dignified existence are all indispensable elements of the truth taught by Christ when He walked the earth. Any Christianity which ignores or downplays or dismisses these things is not a Christianity worthy of the name. But it is equally impossible to focus only on the social-activist or culture-warrior dimension of the faith, without doing the much more difficult work of prayer, fasting, reflection and repentance.

13 October 2021

Critical race theory: brought to you by the killers of Eric Garner

So-called ‘critical race theory’ is merely a tool in a ruling-class toolbox meant to divide working-class people from each other. If you have doubts about this, consider that it is being promoted (avidly, as seen here, here, here and here) by Bloomberg.

That’s right: the news outlet owned and run by Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York. Avid proponent of stop-and-frisk, who not only supported but expanded the practice. If there was any one person whose policies may be held responsible for the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD, it’s Michael Bloomberg. And yet he is the one whose news outlet is most active out there in promoting and defending this theory against its Republican attackers, and preaching to Americans about the evils of racial injustice.

But let’s go back and take a look at the context for a clearer picture here. Bloomberg only ever started apologising for ‘Stop and Frisk’ in 2020, just as he was starting his campaign for president. Bloomberg’s run for the presidency was aimed at one thing and one thing only: denying Bernie Sanders the nomination. What’s more: he knew he couldn’t do that without rebranding himself as an anti-racist, and appearing to outflank Bernie Sanders from the left on race issues by pointing to the supposed ‘Bernie Bro’ phenomenon. Michael Bloomberg only began burnishing his non-existent or barely-existent credentials as an anti-racist, only when the Bernie Sanders phenomenon became a threat to be repulsed. That is to say: he began embracing a capitalist mode of ‘anti-racism’ in the form of critical race theory, in order to undermine a movement based on class solidarity.

This should stick in people’s crenshaws, so to speak (although Crenshaw herself did not support Michael Bloomberg, but rather Elizabeth Warren). The fact that a vulgar form of ‘critical race theory’ was already, in the public forum being weaponised against Bernie Sanders, who was protesting for black people’s civil rights back in the 1960s, by the man whose racist policies killed Eric Garner, really takes the biscuit. As it is, ‘if this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction!

But this is precisely the problem. Critical race theory subsists solely within the superstructure. It is a language developed by academics, for academics – not for the vast majority of non-white folks! – precisely to serve the material interests of academics (guarding tenured positions, carving out intellectual niches, preserving credentialed authority to speak on certain issues, et cetera). The standpoint-epistemology and post-structuralist focus on narrative emphasised by the critical race theorists, in particular, point to a material interest in maintaining small specialised fiefs within academia. This works out nicely for them, clearly.

But when critical race theory is translated to realms outside academia, usually in a vulgarised form, it is quickly leapt on by capitalists as a marketing and public relations strategy to appeal to particular demographics and ward off close scrutiny of corporate practices. Michael Bloomberg has clearly found it useful as a ready weapon to hand against any movement for real œconomic justice that has any broad-based appeal across race, sex and language lines. In addition, it allows grifters and corporate consultants like Robin DiAngelo and Howard Ross to make tidy profits out of selling white guilt to hapless low-level employees of corporations like Raytheon. Raytheon, in turn, makes tidy profits bombing Palestinian children in Gaza, innocent civilians in Syria and busses full of Yemeni schoolchildren on the other side of the globe.

But even if critical race theory stayed inside academia, even if it wasn’t used to railroad candidates genuinely interested in issues of œconomic justice, even if the vulgarised forms of it were not used to whitewash odious corporate actors like Raytheon with a veneer of ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’, even if it wasn’t used by the likes of Michael Bloomberg (the man responsible for Erik Garner’s death) to save face – it would still be a terrible organising principle for any movement or community. Why? Because it undermines the basic epistemological premises needed for any such movement or communicate to undertake a common action. The idea of ‘standpoint epistemology’ – that is to say, the idea that one aspect of your oppression gives you a particular gnōsis unavailable to and incomprehensible by those who do not share the experience of that aspect of your oppression – is a non-starter when it comes to building any sort of common good. A true politics of the common good will invariably include people from multiple ‘standpoints’, not all of whom share the same experiences of oppression.

The primary critics of standpoint theory in its modern form were the original critical theorists. The Marxists of the Frankfurt School – Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse – correctly saw this idea as relativistic and atomising, and a turn back to the idealism of the Young Hegelians whom Marx criticised in ‘The German Ideology’. Yet, in a rather bleakly ironic twist, many of the Republican lawmakers and talking-heads who are opposing the teaching of critical race theory – actually vulgarised ideas selected from critical race theory – in schools, insist that critical race theory is a form of Marxism derived from the Frankfurters. Oy vey.

In short, then: don’t be suckered. The fact that Mr Stop-and-Frisk, Michael Bloomberg himself, can use vulgarised concepts from critical race theory to bash ‘Bernie bros’ and railroad a campaign that would genuinely help everybody – including women and people of colour – should give its supporters pause. It should also be a warning sign that the critical race theorists tend to be Jean Jaurès ‘radicals’, who are more concerned with protecting their academic fiefs and maintaining their relevance and marketability within particular niches of academic output and corporate consulting, than they are with matters of substantive justice. It’s a ‘theory’ that appears radical, but it is in fact deeply alienating, and when put into practice its results tend to be deeply regressive.

06 October 2021

A Closer look at Dave Chappelle’s recent work

Is it possible that a gay person can be racist?’ asks Dave Chappelle.

This is perhaps the driving central question that Dave Chappelle is struggling through, meditating on and trying to iron out with his final instalment of Netflix stand-up specials, The Closer. For even asking this question, for posing it – and for trying to work out in his usual button-pushing, boundary-smashing, politically-incorrect way some of its necessary ramifications – the woke Tumblr-liberal Twitter outrage machine for which Dave Chappelle can do no right since Sticks and Stones, along with its establishment legacy-media accoutrements from NPR to the Daily Beast, are dragging him behind the truck. Even GLAAD put out a statement condemning his routine.

Personal note here: I was a huge Chappelle’s Show fan when it first aired in my college years. Those sketches – Tyrone Biggins, Clayton Bigsby, his impressions of Prince and Lil Jon – are all still ridiculously funny. I’m Wayne Brady, bitch! is never not going to be funny. It’s true, though, that in some ways he is treading on old ground, thematically speaking. At its best, Chappelle’s Show explored the really uncomfortable areas where racial violence, injustices, power imbalances and stereotypes interact with sexual expression and insecurities. People who were outraged about Chappelle making jokes about Leaving Neverland, or who say things like ‘too bad Dave died in ‘05’ as though 2005 Chappelle and 2021 Chappelle are irrevocably discontinuous, need to remember that he was making fun of the OJ Simpson trial, the R Kelly trial and the accusations about Michael Jackson, fifteen years before that. Moreover, he explains fairly clearly in the Chappelle’s Show sketch why he has such a sceptical attitude toward public treatment of black celebrities: he believes black men are held to an unjust racial standard, both socially and legally, based on racialised fears of black male physical prowess and sexuality. And here again we see this in his treatment of the recent ‘cancelling’ of rapper DaBaby over his alleged homophobia, while, Chappelle notes, his career suffered no such scrutiny when he shot and killed another black man in a Walmart.

That same theme, unsurprisingly, pops up repeatedly in The Closer. He recounts his various run-ins with fans and haters of his stand-up – one with an older white woman in a parking lot, one with a mother and transgender daughter in his hometown, one with a lesbian and her partner in a nightclub, and one with a gay man recording him on his phone while his friend tried to pester him who then called the police on him. True to form, his anecdotes are liberally sprinkled with ‘bitch’ and ‘nigga’, and they often depend on him exaggerating the antagonism that each of these fans or critics showed him at first. Occasionally they descend into deliberate self-mockery. But they do have a serious point to them. The point that Chappelle makes – directly and circuitously – is that human suffering is universal. Certain ‘tribes’ are not specially chosen by their suffering – not even black people. Chappelle remarks with a tinge of sadness the scenes of anti-Asian violence that he saw, much of it coming from black people, that he felt couldn’t be papered over. ‘Empathy is not gay. Empathy is not black. Empathy is bisexual – it must go both ways,’ Chappelle quips.

Here’s the thing. I suspect – I don’t know it to be the case, but I suspect – that I was the cause of Dave Chappelle’s long departure from comedy. That’s right, me.

Not me alone, of course. I wasn’t the only immature, thoughtless white kid in 2005 laughing along at Dave Chappelle doing impressions of famous black people, or portraying black stereotypes if only to make fun of those who hold them. But how much of a difference is there, really, if a white person laughs at a black person making fun of black people, and if a white person laughs at a white person making fun of black people? I genuinely believe Dave felt really bad about that: the fact that his blackness shielded him from criticism that he would otherwise get from his own ‘tribe’, when his jokes went too far against them. He wasn’t being a diva at all. You listen to him talk about how random white guys would come up to him on the street with his son and say: ‘I’m Rick James, bitch!’; or the heckling white kids screaming ‘White Power!’ at him when he performed in Hartford in 2013, and there’s genuine sadness there when he talks about it. Here’s the thing: I think those experiences, in his extended leave from comedy, informed and enriched his perspective. So when he appeared on SNL after Biden’s electoral victory last year, he was able to say this:
All these white people out there that feel that anguish, that pain, they’re mad ‘cause they think nobody cares—and maybe they don’t—let me tell you something. I know how that feels. I promise you, I know how that feels… Everyone knows how that feels. But here’s the difference between me and you: you guys hate each other for that. And I don’t hate anybody, I just hate that feeling. That’s what I fight through; that’s what I suggest you fight through. You’ve got to find a way to live your life; find a way to forgive each other.
So, no. He’s not being a bigot. He’s not trying to ‘punch down’ on gay people or trans people. Even when he’s defending Jo Rowling or DaBaby or Kevin Hart, or putting himself on ‘Team TERF’, he’s not ‘punching down’. He’s not trying to play a ‘zero-sum game’ with his humour. He’s still trying to get through to the people who go around wearing their pain and anguish like a chip on their shoulder, and ask them to use a bit of real empathy. This was the point of his lengthy bit about the sadly-passed trans comedian Daphne Dorman at the end of his set. If you listen carefully, he wasn’t using her memory as a human shield to deflect criticism – he doesn’t need to do that because he knows he’s gonna get criticised no matter what. He was trying to demonstrate what real empathy can and should look like.

My take on The Closer is that it aligns with, and is of a piece with, what Chappelle has been trying to do all along. Dave clearly believes that there is a purpose in his art, a purpose that he himself acknowledges openly that he doesn’t always succeed in attaining. He’s using his deliberately button-pushing humour, getting into those uncomfortable places where race and sexuality butt heads, and to a certain extent he is doing it to provoke. But the purpose of that provocation is to try and get black men to empathise with how Asians suffer. To try and get gays, lesbians and heterosexual women to empathise with how black men have historically suffered and continue to suffer. To try and get trans folks to empathise with how cis women suffered and suffer. And to remind people that, however much ‘failure’ hurts, even ‘success’ doesn’t make you happy or fulfilled. In a way, Chappelle has intuitively understood the ‘woke’, seen through the poststructuralist Tumblr charade of ‘intersectionality’… and is trying to show us the difference between ‘allyship’ (which brooks no laughter or criticism) and real solidarity.

27 September 2021

Leg dich nicht mit dem Bären an

A major victory for renters in Berlin today:
Berliners have backed one of Europe’s most radical responses to gentrification: seizing property from so-called mega landlords. In a referendum timed to coincide with Germany’s general election on Sunday, locals supported expropriation by 56% to 39%.

“It’s nearly impossible to describe this feeling,” Kalle Kunkel, an activist for Berlin’s Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen campaign, told Euronews. “For many of us, it feels like the end of a four-year marathon. Or at the very least, we’ve reached a major high point.”

The campaign is named after Deutsche Wohnen, a private landlord that held more than 110,000 apartments in Berlin.

Kunkel sees the referendum victory as the culmination of years of campaigning against skyrocketing housing and rental prices. The vote could see private landlords that hold more than 3,000 units having them expropriated and folded into the city’s affordable housing stock. This would socialise more than 240,000 apartments.

“It was an incredibly clear victory,” Kunkel added. “A majority of Berliners in all but two (of 12) districts supported the initiative. Which means the whole city said: ‘We don’t want speculators to have a say in our housing’. And that’s a decision that political leaders simply can’t ignore.”
Unfortunately, it looks like Berliners’ just and democratic demands may be quashed by a constitutional court. But the fact that this referendum passed, primarily with the support of The Left party and a coalition of mostly younger renters in Berlin, shows that voters are increasingly convinced that deep-reaching systemic change is necessary to correct course. It is a big step toward a more just order.

Based and redpilled: China’s war on decadence

The Communist Party of China has been busy lately, to judge from the headlines of late.

Late last year, they not only firmly rapped the knuckles of Alibaba multibillionaire Jack Ma over his complaints about regulatory oversight, they broke up Ant Group and forced its holdings and consumer credit operations to incorporate separately.

This broadened into a more comprehensive crackdown on big megacorporate malfeasance, particularly online businesses and social media groups. Alibaba was fined $2.8 billion by the Chinese government, and thirty-four ecommerce and social media corporations were called to the carpet and slapped with heavy fines for violating Chinese antitrust law: including big names like Tencent, Baidu and Meituan. Private equity firms, online insurance companies and stock traders have also not escaped the wrath of regulators either.

While here in the United States renters are still struggling with things like evictions, expropriation and sexual abuse at the hands of their landlords for failing to meet rent during the coronavirus, China has been busy heavily curbing the power of landlords and preventing such abuses from taking place. Beijing instituted a law recently forbidding landlords from demanding or retaining excessive deposits, and forcing online property vendors in Beijing to comply with the same guidelines as traditional landlords.

Workers’ rights and wage rises have been a major focus of China’s policy recently as well. Xi Jinping promised earlier this year that the state would step up its defence of ‘key groups including college graduates and migrant workers, and the protection of the legitimate interests of truck drivers, couriers and food delivery riders’. He seems to have delivered on this promise, at least partially: express delivery companies have instituted a fee change at the government’s behest, specifically to benefit their couriers. China has also instituted several strong regulations on the ‘gig economy’ in order to prevent predatory collusion, ensure data security, control prices and prevent abuse of providers. The most recent move by the Chinese government on the economic front has been to institute a systemic ban on cryptocurrency trading and mining, which distort markets in actual currency, cause systemic risks to the economy and degrade the environment.

In the interest of getting the rich to comply with tax laws, China has also blacklisted several high-profile celebrities and models who were either implicated in the Kris Wu statutory rape scandal, using their privileged positions to evade taxes (like Fan Bingbing, Zhao Wei and Zheng Shuang), or who promote far-right political positions (like Zhang Zhehan and Lin Xinru).

There has been an increasing effort, as well, to promote the welfare of children and the desirability of having families. This has taken several forms. Firstly, China has been instituting structural reforms to its educational sector. In order to curb unhealthy trends in housing speculation and cutthroat competition for placement in high-end state schools, the Chinese government is attempting to delink school placement from place-of-residence. It has also introduced stringent regulations on private tutoring programmes, forcing them to register as not-for-profit companies by the end of the year, causing some of them to go out of business.

The government is also trying to promote children’s vision and emotional health. One official newspaper referred to online gaming as a form of ‘spiritual opium’ – a rather dire charge for some rather obvious historical reasons. Shortly afterward, the government instituted some fairly reasonable limits on the amount of time and money that minors can spend on online games: 90 minutes a day on weekdays; 3 hours a day on weekends and holidays; none after 10 PM; and no more than $57 a month per user on digital content, DLCs and paid add-ons. Chinese parents are, on the whole, delighted. Additionally, China is promoting additional physical education for young boys in order to get them outside and promote bodily health. On Twitter, these initiatives are called the ‘Touch Grass Campaign’.

China has also been cracking down hard on celebrity worship and idol-based fan culture. After videos surfaced of idol fans dumping massive amounts of milk in order to meet promotional goals for their preferred candidates on a reality show on iQIYI, government pressure forced iQIYI to cancel the show and issue an apology. The government has also shut down several websites and fan groups on social media, including several related to K-pop idols, and put the kibosh on online popularity rankings.

Under particular fire are xiao xianrou (slender and pale young male models catering to a female gaze) and niangpao (male idols who use lipstick and eyeliner, wear earrings and sexually-suggestive clothing, and use effeminate language and mannerisms). Three years ago, Xinhua published a jeremiad against such ‘sissies’, for degrading the culture by promoting ‘vulgar taste’ and a ‘deformed æsthetic’. The government followed up earlier this month by publishing an eight-point guideline for broadcast media that curtail such performances and promote a healthier masculinity and healthier cultural output in general:
  1. Boycott illegal or immoral personnel. When selecting entertainers and guests, radio, television and internet platforms should not employ people who have an incorrect political stance, break laws and regulations, or speak or behave against public order and morals.
  2. Boycott “traffic only” standards. Idol selection shows cannot be shown, as well as shows starring the children of celebrities. Shows should strictly control voting, cannot induce and encourage fans to shop or buy membership in order to vote for their idols.
  3. Boycott an overly entertaining trend, promote traditional culture, establish a correct beauty standard, boycott “sissy idols”, boycotting daunting wealth, gossip or vulgar internet celebrities.
  4. Boycott high pay in the entertainment industry. Strictly regulate payment for guests, encourage celebrities to participate in charity shows, punish fake contracts and tax evasion.
  5. Regulate showbiz staff. Enforce licensing television hosts, provide professional and moral training. Entertainers should not use their profession and fame to gain profit.
  6. Promote professional commentary in the entertainment industry, insist on correct political direction and values, criticise the fake, ugly and evil values.
  7. Entertainment associations should provide more training and establish mechanisms for industry regulation, as well as criticise bad examples.
  8. Regulators need to be more accountable, listen to the people and respond to their concerns, fill public space with positive and mainstream shows.
Perhaps the most promising development of the lot, though, is that China’s leadership is finally wising up to the threat of transhumanism and the gradual instrumental technologisation of ‘human capital’. Recent guidelines on data use are aimed at combatting the use of algorithms in tracking consumer data, protecting privacy, protecting minors and protecting workers from excessive oversight managed by computers. If they are serious about tackling this in a systemic way, then this is something absolutely to be welcomed, particularly since China had previously been in the forefront of exploring the uses of AI in surveillance. Here’s hoping that China is willing to subordinate the Algorithm to the merely-human across the board, not merely in the private sector.

So what does this all amount to?

My understanding of it so far, is that these economically leftist measures on behalf of workers and families, combined with the more conservative cultural measures meant to bolster traditional masculinity, stave off the transhumanist ‘alchemy’ and promote positive cultural output, are both part-and-parcel of a broader war against decadence in China. These outward-facing, public initiatives appear to follow naturally from the earlier work of Xi Jinping’s government to combat corruption and waste within the government specifically. They also seem to be part-and-parcel with Xi’s fondness for the Classics, and make a certain degree of intuitive sense given his own family’s harrowing experiences and suffering during the Cultural Revolution. Speaking personally, I have my doubts about how some of this broad volley of initiatives can succeed, but the aims seem to be correct and laudable ones.

16 July 2021

Why the TYT vs. Jimmy Dore fight isn’t just Twitter drama

If you follow Left Twitter at all (and I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t; it’s as much a mess as the rest of Twitter), you wouldn’t have really been able to miss the ongoing feud between The Young Turks – Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian – on one side, and Jimmy Dore on the other. Basically, what it amounts to is this: Ana Kasparian baselessly, gratuitously and vulgarly called The Nation reporter and author Aaron Maté a Russian agent on the TYT show, Maté demanded an apology, and Jimmy Dore leapt to Maté’s defence when Kasparian doubled down. Now TYT has been smearing Jimmy Dore as a sexual predator, and lining up to attack anyone who defends Aaron Maté, including Glenn Greenwald and Rania Khalek.

Now, some folks on the highly-online left (namely Kyle Kulinski and Krystal Ball), have basically dismissed this spat as meaningless ego-driven Twitter drama. And, to be fair to them, there probably is some element to this that is personality-driven. But it would be a mistake to mischaracterise the fundamental dynamics of this online spat, which really hit at one of the fundamental flaws – or, I should say, fundamental contradictions – at the heart of Anglophone liberal and leftist politics.

Basically, on one side, you have people who are intimately familiar with venues outside the United States, who understand that non-Americans are people with legitimate aspirations, life goals and a need for basic dignity. And these people have lived in these venues long enough and inquired deeply enough, that they have come to understand that American military and economic power projection is an existential threat to these people and these communities. In short, they are anti-imperialists. Now, I’m not sure about Jimmy Dore. He’s a comedian, not a journalist, and in some cases it shows. But note that people like Stephen Kinzer, Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Maté, Rania Khalek, Abby Martin, Max Blumenthal, Ajit Singh and of course late lamented figures like Robert Parry and the great Robert Fisk – have all spent significant amounts of time outside the Anglosphere, doing on-the-ground reporting and talking to ordinary people in conflict zones.

On the other side, you have people who, if they don’t outright support it, then at least don’t strongly object to the use of American military and financial dominance to achieve political and economic goals, regardless of who gets trampled on in the process: Cubans, Venezuelans, Bolivians, Hondurans, Russian-speakers of the Donetsk Basin, Eastern European Jews, Romani, Syrians, Palestinians, Yazidis, Armenians, Libyans, Yemenis, Iraqis or Afghans. This side is automatically better-disposed to American intelligence and military power blocs, and will predictably characterise even mild critics of American intelligence and military power blocs as ‘authoritarians’, ‘tankies’, ‘Marxist-Leninists’, ‘apologists for dictators’, ‘Russian assets’ or ‘Chinese assets’, while themselves posing as advocates for democracy and human rights. Indeed: this is precisely what Ana Kasparian did to Aaron Maté.

And here’s the thing: this divide goes back all the way to the beginnings of the organised Left. Anti-imperialism as an organised force in the West started, arguably, with William Morris… who was intimately familiar with the brutal mass killings, tortures and rapes carried out by the original Young Turks (the same genocidaires that Cenk Uygur named his YouTube channel after) against the Bulgarian peasantry, and who understood the British Empire’s willing and knowing complicity in the Ottoman government’s heinous barbarism. Morris’s opponent on the left was a man named Henry Hyndman, an early disciple of Marx in England who supported British imperial projects in Ireland and in Eastern Europe. Indeed, the disputes between Morris and Hyndman over this matter led to Morris’s leaving the SDF in 1885.

In short: yes, Twitter is toxic. Yes, Twitter is personality-driven. Yes, there’s definitely a personal element to these online fisticuffs. But let’s not be naïve about what is actually going on. This is a bad-faith attempt to ostracise and silence Maté and others like him who are well-informed critics of empire. There is a shadow-movement on the left which still maintains a faith in the fundamental goodness and moral righteousness of American power projection. And then there is the part of the left which has a more realistic understanding of the nature of power, and which is willing to both oppose the abuses of American power and expose and demystify the propagandistic supports for it. Jimmy Dore and Aaron Maté are on the principled side here: the side which William Morris took back in 1885. The Young Turks are - at best - Hyndmanites and apologists for Anglo imperialism. That is, of course, presuming that they aren’t something considerably more sinister, like nostalgists for genocidal Ottoman tyranny in the Middle East. There is a clear choice to be made here, and it is also clear which choice is the correct one.

28 June 2021

Two simple statements

At this point, I am fairly comfortable making two statements with a fairly high degree of factual confidence, that will nonetheless alienate me from broad swathes of the American electorate. The first is that Russiagate was, is and remains a hoax. There is no evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in any way that even approaches criminality, let alone one that would have had any statistically-significant impact on the outcome. Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 is – pardon my French – her own damn fault. Further, Democrats can expect to continue losing to Trump-like demagogues as long as they continue flying pride flags and spouting wokety-woke nonsense slogans instead of focussing on bread and butter issues that affect all Americans. Blaming Russian meddling for their own dismal failure to convince Americans that they are competent at governing is not only factually wrong, but psychologically pathetic.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I view Trumpian coping strategies and scapegoating of foreign agents for their own political failures as equally obnoxious and pathetic. There is no new evidence that the novel coronavirus that put the whole world on lockdown in 2020 is manmade or that it was leaked from a biological weapons research lab in Wuhan. Despite the eagerness with which the American intelligence apparatus leapt on the possibility that the Chinese government might be to blame for the virus, thus in some measure exculpating the American government from blame for its own dismal performance in combating it, they simply haven’t found anything substantive that might support that conjecture. The people who leapt on Lableakgate as fact did so, not because that conjecture was better-substantiated than other hypotheses that better conform to the data we have on the virus, but because it provided them with a just-so story about why Daddy lost the election.

One reason that American politics is so grotesque right now, is that we keep feeding ourselves these accounts of reality that are not grounded in the way things actually are, but in wishful thinking about the way things should be. And then when reality fails to indulge our fantasies, we turn ugly and begin abusing one scapegoat or another. One reason why I was attracted to conservatism in the first place was observing that liberals are not very good at understanding conservative thought-processes, and actually lack the empathy they claim to embody. But I soon came to discover that conservatives are not only not that much better at understanding others, but they also simply aren’t interested in understanding. The entire political noise machine here, including even the ‘populist’ pundits that are now cropping up on places like The Week, is driven not by a search for truth, but for the angle of biggest impact for gain.

22 June 2021

Holy Mother Agafia the Wonderworker of Cușelăuca

Saint Agafia of Cușelăuca

Gentle readers of my blogs, I apologise. I have been struggling with some fairly severe health problems as of late, including a stay in the hospital, and I haven’t been able to put up much of anything by way of content for the past month or so, absent one or two hagiographical pieces. I hope that I am well enough now that I can get back to blogging on a regular basis.

Yesterday was the new calendar feast day of Blessed Agafia of Cușelăuca, a wonderworking monastic saint of Moldova. She spent most of her years in one of the poorest monasteries in one of the poorest parts of Europe. Although she spent most of her life in a state of pain and bodily infirmity, she continued to be sweet, kind and patient to all who met her, and healed many who came to her with their own pains and disabilities.

Agafia Maranciuc [Ru. Агафия Маранчук] was born in the year 1819, in the village of Păsățel. This Moldovan village is situated between the Bug and the Dneister, very close to the city of Odessa. Her parents, Ioan and Eudochia, were highly observant Orthodox Christians who strove to live a life of humility and service to God. They would on occasion visit holy sites nearby. On one occasion, when Agafia was only a little girl, her parents decided to take a pilgrimage to the Kiev Caves Lavra. Little Agafia begged her parents, with tears in her eyes, to be allowed to go with them. However, this was in a day and age when most pilgrimages were made on foot, and small children were at particular danger on the roads. Out of concern for her, Ioan and Eudochia decided to leave Agafia in the care of some family friends when they left for the Kiev Caves Lavra.

Agafia was not content with this. Aflame with the desire to visit the holy relics of the Russian saints in the Lavra, a few days after her parents left, she escaped her guardians’ care on her own and tried to catch up with her parents. However, as the little girl travelled by night and tried to make her way in the darkness, she fell into a deep abandoned well, mangling both of her legs. For three years, nothing was heard of her. Her guardians and parents were distraught when they learned of her disappearance, and they mourned for her, thinking she was dead. But little Agafia survived at the bottom of that well for those three years, miraculously sustained by the grace of God. Some testimonies assert that she was visited by the angels, and fed by manna from heaven during her imprisonment in the well.

She was eventually found by a local shepherd named Dimitriu Baciu. The grass was thick in the field around the well, and Dimitriu led his sheep there to graze. Once there, he began to sing Psalms to himself as he watched over his flock. As if in answer, he heard unearthly sweet angelic voices emanating from the well. Examining the well, he was shocked to find the young girl inside, alive, and having been there evidently for a long time. He managed to lift her out, and contacted her parents, who came to her. Her parents were astonished at this wonder of God, and when they asked the young sufferer how she survived those years, Agafia told them that a pair of pigeons had come to her, bringing her food and warming her to keep her alive. Being unable to walk, her parents placed Agafia in a cart and wheeled her back to their home.

Even though she was returned to her loved ones, who cared for her and looked after her with the greatest solicitude and affection, a change had come over Agafia. Formerly a curious and talkative child, Agafia had grown taciturn, and she spent several years in a state of silent prayer. The injury to her legs was severe, and she would never physically recover from it. In her childhood years, she suffered a great deal of pain and illness on account of this injury. Yet she did not become bitter because of it. Even though she was quiet, she continued to be kind and considerate to everyone, and she also was given by God the gift of healing others through her prayers. Word of this went out, and many came from the surrounding countryside to visit her, and she healed their afflictions and gave them helpful advice. Some years afterward, two monks from Athos visited Agafia at her parents’ house. They were astonished at the young woman’s patience and kindness even in her suffering, and after several discussions with her, they gave her a copy of the Holy Gospels printed on Athos, which was her constant companion for the rest of her life.

Agafia retired to Cușelăuca Monastery. As mentioned before, this was at the time the poorest monastery in Bessarabia, and consequently one of the poorest in all of Europe. Being completely bedridden, she still kept as much of the nuns’ rule as she was able in her infirmity, and did not vary it in the slightest using her disability as an excuse. She was given for her patience not only the gift of healing by God but also the gift of prophecy. She foresaw both the flourishing of her monastery, and later its persecution under the Soviets. In her final months she kept counsel with the abbess and with her monastic sisters, and urged everyone to carry their crosses in a spirit of peace and penitence. She had harsh rebukes for some of them, but she assured them of her love and prayed for them.

On the ninth of June – or rather the twenty-second of June on the new calendar – Blessed Agafia received the Gifts for the last time in this earthly life. Some witnesses report that after she took the elements, her face began to glow with an otherworldly light. She reposed in the Lord, at peace with her sisters and her family, that same day. Saint Agafia was formally glorified on the fifteenth of July, 2016, by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, at the request of Metropolitan Vladimir and the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Moldova. Her feast day is kept on the same day as her repose. Holy Mother Agafia, patient sufferer and kindly healer, pray unto Christ our God for us sinners!

Cușelăuca Monastery, Moldova