Through The Looking-Glass

Here’s a story that’s making a stir today: apparently one Rachel Dolezal, the leader of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is a white woman who has been passing herself off as black.

It’s been said* that “to learn who rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize.” I now offer you Pollack’s Principle of Privilege:

To learn where privilege lies, simply see how people choose to identify themselves.

Once upon a time, people of mixed race did everything they could to “pass” as white. No longer. The mulatto Barack Obama ostentatiously identifies himself as black, while pallid Elizabeth Warren listed herself in the legal and academic community as a “Native American”.

Another sign of this inversion of privilege is that membership in groups considering themselves ‘oppressed’ is as tightly restricted as an exclusive country-club, and for the same reasons. No sooner had the news about Ms. Dolezal came out than she was denounced as a scurrilous pretender to victimhood. But people only defend what has value. In a right-side-up world, no sane person would ever bother fighting to keep others from seeking low status — but they will do whatever it takes to wall off their privileges against unqualified pretenders.

As I wrote in a similar context last fall:

To those with any sense of history, that this bickering is happening at all is actually a sign of tremendously luxurious social conditions: if we were grappling with the Black Death, or a sacking by the Mongols, we’d never get around to any of these things. Another sign of this is the curious inversion of status that characterizes the grievance culture: as is always the case in human affairs, it is a competition for status — but in this case the rules have been reversed so that the highest status within the grievance community is awarded to those who can demonstrate the lowest status in the broader culture. It is as if the grievance culture is a little ‘virtual machine’ running inside the Western cultural operating system; it is only the smooth functioning of the external OS — peace, prosperity, tolerance, etc. — that makes running the virtual grievance-culture ‘game platform’, with its amusingly inverted status polarities, possible at all.

In the end, of course, real power wins. When the ‘external OS’ that supports this platform stops running, natural inequalities will assert themselves, as they always do. And I think it’s safe to say, if I may extend the technical metaphor, that the machine is already ‘running hot’.

* Update, June 16th: commenter ‘Gerry’ has informed us that the quote about learning who rules over you, which I had originally attributed to Voltaire in this post, was not written by Voltaire at all, but by a neo-Nazi named Kevin Alfred Strom. I stand corrected.

Two From Hoffer

I’ve often mentioned and quoted the longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer. Here are a couple of passages from his book Reflections on the Human Condition, which was published in 1973:

The untalented are more at ease in a society that gives them valid alibis for not achieving than in one where opportunities are abundant. In an affluent society, the alienated who clamor for power are largely untalented people who cannot make use of the unprecedented opportunities for self-realization, and cannot escape the confrontation with an ineffectual self.

Even more timely, if that’s possible:

If a society is to preserve its stability and a degree of continuity, it must know how to keep its adolescents from imposing their tastes, attitudes, values, and fantasies on everyday life. At present, most nations are threatened more by their juveniles within than by enemies without.

Seldon Smiles

It appears that Curtis Yarvin, a.k.a. Mencius Moldbug, has been banned from speaking at a major tech conference because of his political opinions.

For those of you who don’t know the name: for several years beginning in 2007 ‘Mencius Moldbug’ wrote, at his blog Unqualified Reservations, a series of essays articulating a new, reactionary synthesis of traditional ideas as a way of understanding the problems of modernity. These essays have been enormously influential in the intellectual circles now known as ‘neoreaction’ or the ‘Dark Enlightenment’. (Perhaps the best introductions to the Moldbug oeuvre are the series of posts gathered here and here. Do have a look.)

I”m sure nobody was less surprised than Mr. Yarvin himself: his excommunication is, as blogger Dante D’Andrea argues here, exactly what neoreaction itself would predict.

Man Of The People

Here is the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius:

M. Fabius seeks an international arrangement to impose strictures upon the sovereign nations of the world in an attempt to control the Earth’s climate. (That such an arrangement will also transfer aspects of that sovereignty to gentlemen such as himself and his professional colleagues is, I believe, what is called a “lagniappe”.)

Were we to ask him, I am sure that Monsieur Fabius would speak with approval about the spread of modern liberal democracy. I’m sure that he would agree, as would all educated and bien-pensant Westerners, that it has been a great blessing to the modern world, and that for any member of our enlightened community of nations to take up any other form of government would be a retreat into darkness.

I note with interest, however, this news item from a week or two ago:

FRENCH MINISTER: 2015 CLIMATE DEAL MUST AVOID US CONGRESS

I suspect that M. Fabius, along with the like-minded American President with whom he hopes to consummate his ambitions, attaches quite a different meaning to the word “democracy” than you or I might.

If, reader, you happen to be an American, by all means feel free to bristle a bit, if you like. Reflect also, perhaps, upon the stubbornness of hierarchy and inequality, and how they always find a way.

Flavor Implosion

I had no idea such a thing was even possible, but here it is:

Gird your cheeks. You’ve been warned.

Open Thread 5

Have at it.

Fourscore

My mother, who died in 2006, would have been 80 years old today. My remembrance of her is here.

Service Notice

Away for a couple of days. Will respond to comments as time permits.

There Lie They, And Here Lie We

Theodore Dalrymple:

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

h/t: @jokeocracy

Science Is Never Settled

From the indefatigable JK: a medical story that might be a pretty big deal.

Comic Relief

With a hat-tip to Bill V., here’s an amusing clip from Egypt.

I have no idea whether the subtitles are accurate, other than in the few spots I’m able to pick out a word or two. (Any Arabic speakers among you, readers?)

In The Gloaming

Sorry, readers, if the last two items seemed a bit glum, even for me. (I guess it’s kind of a Kübler-Ross thing.) I’ll try to cheer up a bit, and enjoy the decline. The autumn years are not without their comforts, for both a nation and a man.

No Exit

In our previous post we linked to Victor Davis Hanson’s gloomy column on the many symptoms of Western decline. Our e-pal David Duff also sent along a link to a similar essay entitled Like Cattle Before a Thunderstorm. Both of these pieces acknowledged a widespread sense of foreboding, but both also showed a curious paralysis, of the kind we experience in a nightmare:

Why is this? Why should a scholar and critic of Hanson’s erudition be unable to offer any prescription? Why is the American nation so inert in the face of onrushing calamity? The signs, after all, are there for all to see; in particular, what should attract everyone’s attention is the collapse of great urban centers such as Detroit and Baltimore. That major port cities in a nation of imperial power, in peacetime, should fail so utterly in a mere half-century is almost without historical precedent — while for such cities to collapse at all is, without any exception of which I am aware, a sign of impending general disintegration.

As I said in the previous post, I believe the answer is that it is increasingly clear, to more and more of us, that nothing can be done. It will be for future historians to say just when we crossed the “event horizon”: some may pick out the Wilson administration, while others may look at the Depression years, or the Sixties; others yet may move the Schwarzschild radius all the way out to 2012. (Some already look farther back, all the way to the beginning of the Enlightenment.) But it is plainer and plainer that it’s been crossed, and that all future timelines take us, at accelerating velocity, through the singularity. It may take years, or even a generation, to get there — but already the tidal forces have begun their irresistible work.

Don’t Worry. Despair.

Over at National Review, Victor Davis Hanson reads us a litany of national woes. He has chosen as a preface a too-familiar epigraph:

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
– W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

The article begins:

Things are starting to collapse, abroad and at home. We all sense it, even as we bicker over who caused it and why.

Indeed they are, and indeed we do. (Why, you’d almost think Professor Hanson had been spending time in one of the Internet’s darker corners.)

Elsewhere, Heather Mac Donald comments on the sharp uptick in violent crimes in our nation’s urban centers, as a consequence of what has been called the “Ferguson Effect”:

Almost any police shooting of a black person, no matter how threatening the behavior that provoked the shooting, now provokes angry protests, like those that followed the death of Vonderrit Myers in St. Louis last October. The 18-year-old Myers, awaiting trial on gun and resisting-arrest charges, had fired three shots at an officer at close range. Arrests in black communities are even more fraught than usual, with hostile, jeering crowds pressing in on officers and spreading lies about the encounter.

Acquittals of police officers for the use of deadly force against black suspects are now automatically presented as a miscarriage of justice. Proposals aimed at producing more cop convictions abound, but New York state seems especially enthusiastic about the idea.

The state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, wants to create a special state prosecutor dedicated solely to prosecuting cops who use lethal force. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo would appoint an independent monitor whenever a grand jury fails to indict an officer for homicide and there are “doubts” about the fairness of the proceeding (read: in every instance of a non-indictment); the governor could then turn over the case to a special prosecutor for a second grand jury proceeding.

This incessant drumbeat against the police has resulted in what St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson last November called the “Ferguson effect.” Cops are disengaging from discretionary enforcement activity and the “criminal element is feeling empowered,” Mr. Dotson reported. Arrests in St. Louis city and county by that point had dropped a third since the shooting of Michael Brown in August. Not surprisingly, homicides in the city surged 47% by early November and robberies in the county were up 82%.

(In my grimmer moments, which are not infrequent, I’d have to wonder whether the “Ferguson Effect” is in fact an unintended consequence. To chalk it up to mere stupidity and unwisdom on the part of our elected officials would be the more charitable assumption, but the case for doing so is not persuasive.)

Recently I was invited to join a monthly discussion-group for the “Dissident Right”; it’s a convivial dinner-and-drinks affair at an “undisclosed location” in New York. The guest lecturer last month was a prominent conservative intellectual, and the author of several books. He gave a very engaging talk, but with a dispiriting message: there is simply no effective right-wing political opposition in America anymore, and no “critical mass” from which one can be expected to arise. Even as the ostensibly “conservative” GOP holds the upper hand in both houses of Congress, the nation moves faster and faster to the Left. And as others have pointed out: even if they wanted to, the Congress and the Judiciary simply cannot respond rapidly enough to the actions of an aggressive Executive — Congress because of the democratic limitations of a large legislative body, and the difficulty of assembling filibuster- and veto-proof majorities, while the Judiciary can initiate nothing at all on its own. Moreover, we are in such a late stage of this “progressive” disease that we are long past the point where a presidential victory, even by an actual conservative, can make any long-term difference to the morbid prognosis.

Furthermore, we are in the late stages of a kind of decline that is inherent in democracy itself, in which a gradual expansion of the franchise, culminating in universal suffrage, leads inexorably to short-sighted governance, the consumption of future assets for present-day luxuries, and the general dissipation of a nation’s vigor. As Fitzjames Stephen wrote in 1874:

The substance of what I have to say to the disadvantage of the theory and practice of universal suffrage is that it tends to invert what I should have regarded as the true and natural relation between wisdom and folly. I think that wise and good men ought to rule those who are foolish and bad. To say that the sole function of the wise and good is to preach to their neighbors, and that everyone indiscriminately should be left to do what he likes, should be provided with a ratable share of the sovereign power in the shape of the vote, and that the result of this will be the direction of power by wisdom, seems to me the wildest romance that ever got posession of any considerable number of minds.

So, here we are, in a runaway train, with a foolish and angry mob at the controls. We have not the numbers to storm the engine. What to do? Neither Hanson nor Mac Donald offer any prescription.

The historically literate reactionary’s answer is: nothing. We can do nothing, other than to hope we survive the inevitable wreck, to learn from our mistakes, and perhaps to carry something forward.

Writing at Outside In, Nick Land explains (my emphasis):

Neoreaction, as it tends to extremity on its Dark Enlightenment vector, frustrates all familiar demands for activism. Even if explicit anti-politics remains a minority posture, the long-dominant demotic calculus of political possibility is consistently subverted — coring out the demographic constituencies from which ‘mobilization’ might be expected. There is no remotely coherent reactionary class, race, or creed … from which a tide-reversing mass politics could be constructed. In this respect, even the mildest versions of neoreactionary analysis are profoundly politically disillusioning.

Because of the reactionary’s emphasis on organic and traditional societies, the idea of any sort of reactionary activism based on revolutionary compulsion — an externally applied force that, history shows, generally assumes the form of terrorism — is a self-abnegating absurdity. Therefore, Mr. Land argues:

Demotist activism finds its rigorous neoreactionary ‘counterpart’ in fatalism … Rather than attempting to make something happen, fatality restores something that cannot be stopped.

There’s a word for what Mr. Land prescribes: horrorism.

It is thus that the approximate contours of the horrorist task emerge into focus. Rather than resisting the desperation of the progressive ideal by terrorizing its enemies, it directs itself to the culmination of progressive despair… It de-mobilizes, de-massifies, and de-democratizes, through subtle, singular, catalytic interventions, oriented to the realization of fate. The Cathedral has to be horrified into paralysis. The horrorist message (to its enemies): Nothing that you are doing can possibly work.

“What is to be done?” is not a neutral question. The agent it invokes already strains towards progress. This suffices to suggest a horrorist response: Nothing. Do nothing. Your progressive ‘praxis’ will come to nought in any case. Despair. Subside into horror. You can pretend to prevail in antagonism against ‘us’, but reality is your true — and fatal — enemy. We have no interest in shouting at you. We whisper, gently, in your ear: “despair”. (The horror.)

That’s enough for now, I think. Enjoy your weekend.

Open Thread 4

As always: a placeholder for for free association, idle chat, bibulous logorrhea, and confessions of the heart. (Or, perhaps, for the introduction of serious topics or questions.)

Hold Your Nose And Click

I think it’s safe to say that this The New Republic article — The White Protestant Roots of American Racism — is the worst piece of “journalism” you’re going to see all day. I was about to give it the severe beating it deserves — particularly with respect to Puritanism, Calvinist soteriology, and the central role of American Protestants in the abolitionist movement — but the comment-thread at the article itself has already done a pretty fair job, it seems.

TNR was once a respectable organ of the Left. No longer.

Charles Murray on the SAT

We hear a lot in the mainstream media about the correlation between family income and student achievement. The assumption is usually that it is the affluence itself that causes, by some unjust and remediable social mechanism, favorable outcomes for children of well-to-do families. But a more parsimonious explanation — one that will be obvious to denizens of this corner of the blogosphere — is that there is another factor that causes both the affluence and the achievement.

Charles Murray explains, here.

Gradually, Then Suddenly

In a response to our recent post on the entropic influence of the political Left, commenter ‘Epicaric’ wrote:

It is my impression … that these forces have accelerated of late, shedding its once linear progression for a pace far more geometric in nature.

This is entirely ‘lawful’, and is exactly what we should expect. All of the erosive forces at work here — demographic displacement by poorly assimilated immigrants, low birthrates among cognitive elites, multiculturalism, galloping secularism, centralization of Federal power at the expense of local government, anti-traditionalism, hedonistic apathy, instutionalized disparagement of America’s history, mission, cultural heritage, and mythos, and behind it all the universal acid of radical doubt that is the “poison pill” of the Enlightenment itself — all of these things attack and corrode the horizontal ligatures of American civil society, leaving behind only an atomized population with no binding affinities save their vertical dependence upon a Federal leviathan that is, increasingly, the source of all guidance and blessings.

What this means is that as these forces do their work, they weaken at every point our society’s structural integrity — even as the disintegrative influences, particularly the destructive action of demographic replacement, intensify. It follows naturally, then, that the pace of decay accelerates.

In passing, we should note also that this horizontal ‘unbinding’ is, of course, a natural precursor for Fascism. The ancient symbol of the Fasces, from which the movement took its name, is a bundle of wooden rods, individually weak, but lashed together with an external binding. It is the perfect symbol for a society that has lost its organic, endogenous coherence, and so must be united by an artificial and external power.

What is the Right?

In our last Open Thread, our resident liberal gadfly Peter, a.k.a. ‘The One Eyed Man’, left a comment citing the late Richard Hofstadter to the effect that the political Right (in particular, the “dissident” Right whose views are often summarized in these pages), exhibits a “paranoid style”.

Several of us responded in the ensuing discussion. But each time I read the original comment, and the Hofstadter passages it quotes, the more perfectly paradigmatic it all seems of the unreflective perceptual biases of the Left.

In particular, where the analysis goes off the rails is in the way that it mischaracterizes the traditionalist Right’s view of the Left in this conflict of ideologies:

“The enemy [i.e., as cited here, the influential man of the Left] is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman — sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed, he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way.”

But this is not how those of us on the dissident Right see this at all. Correctly understood, the core features of modern Leftism are not an exogenous historical anomaly, brought about by the individual will of aberrant masterminds to “deflect the normal course of history”, but are instead an entirely predictable social and historical force, perfectly consistent with a coherent understanding of human nature and the pitfalls of democracy. A movement toward the Left, and ultimately toward despotism and collapse, is the “normal course” of history, in exactly the same way that the “normal course” of a river is to run downhill.

Indeed, the phenomenon is even more general than either history or human nature: in conformance with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it is in fact a manifestation of entropy — of the wearing down of complex and specific structures, the destruction of the particular in favor of the general, and the relentless erosion of all of the gradients, distinctions, and disequilibria that are the only possible source of usable energy, and therefore useful work, in any system.

The ‘One Eyed Man’ quotes, as an example of right-wing “paranoia”, our commenter Whitewall’s likening of the Left to “termites, roaches, bed bugs, ticks, mold, radon”. But these comparisons are more than an expression of simple revulsion: all of these things are agents of decay, of disorder (in radon’s case, the actual decay of atoms themselves). In this way, Whitewall’s remark reveals an implicit understanding of the Left as, above all, an entropic historical force.

So: if the Right seems Manichaean, it is because the Right correctly perceives its role not as one side in a contest between two equally contingent, and arbitrarily chosen, approaches to government, but rather as a bulwark against entropy itself: against disorder, decay, and the “heat death” of the civilization it seeks to defend. Hofstadter’s emphasis (like Peter’s) is on political compromise, and to this he owes his reputation as a level-headed centrist. But the historically literate Right understands that any compromise with entropy is ultimately futile, because all such compromises are necessarily a unidirectional movement toward greater disorder. (We understand also, to our sorrow, that disorder always wins in the end — but to preserve what we can, for as long as we can, clearly requires nothing less than our best efforts.)

None of this is to say, of course, that there aren’t clever, charismatic, and extremely dangerous people on the Left, with resentful or self-serving motives and destructive intentions. But they are specific, particular, contingent phenomena — opportunistic infections. The focus of the reactionary Right, on the other hand, is on a universal, natural process, by which order yields to disorder; the political Left is merely its aspect in human societies.

That “Science” Guy

John Derbyshire give Bill Nye’s nose a tweak, here.

Open Thread 3

Have at it, folks.

When One With Honeyed Words But Evil Mind Persuades The Mob, Great Woes Befall The State

Yesterday President Obama gave a commencement address to the Coast Guard Academy. He devoted much of it to brazen propaganda about “climate change”, including even going so far as to make it a scapegoat for Islamic violence and political chaos in the Mideast and Africa. We’re all well-accustomed (perhaps “inured” would be a better word) to tendentious, defensive, and accusatory buncombe from this White House, but when it comes to industrial-strength agitprop bullshit, this is, perhaps, a new low.

I was all set to give it a thorough fisking, and had already begun to gather the facts and figures, but that tireless climate gadfly Monckton beat me to it, while doing a far more thorough job than I’d have managed. Read his response here.

Move Along, Please

I’m very busy with work today, so for the nonce I’m afraid I must redirect you elsewhere. You’re in luck, though: here’s a fascinating post on human nature by the always-interesting hbd*chick.

Also: don’t miss this tart post from Thomas Sowell. (Nothing we haven’t heard before, but very nicely said.)

While I’m On The Subject

Speaking of Hillary Clinton: something you hear often from her supporters (not to mention Mrs. Clinton herself) is that “we need a woman in the White House”. The assumption seems to be (indeed, can only be) that a woman would somehow do the job differently than a man, simply by virtue of being a woman.

But wait: haven’t we been told by generations of angry feminists that there is no legitimate reason whatsoever to make any discrimination between men and women regarding the roles they assume in society and the workforce? That as far as such roles are concerned, we should assume males and females to be completely indistinguishable and interchangeable, and that anyone who imagines otherwise is a benighted and contemptible sexist?

Yes, of course we have. (Boy, have we ever.) So pick one, ladies. You don’t get to have it both ways.

NFI

Here’s a strange item that’s been making the rounds. (Charles Fort, call your office.)

Kudzu

This from Judicial Watch, yesterday:

Documents Reveal Obama Administration Knew that al Qaeda Terrorists Had Planned Benghazi Attack 10 Days in Advance

Yes, folks, that’s right: the story we were given, again and again, by this administration — that the attack in Benghazi was just an impromptu reaction to an inflammatory video — was, as has been obvious for some time, a pack of lies. (Today we learned also that the Ninth Circuit has ruled that the video should not have been pulled from YouTube.)

Meanwhile, the destructive effects of the collapse of Libya — perhaps this administration’s grossest, and most avoidable, foreign-policy blunder of all, and that’s saying something — continue to reverberate. Libya, before our witless betrayal of our vassal Qaddafi, was for long years a stable and prosperous nation. Now it is a chaotic failed state, and an incubator for jihad. It has also become a primary staging ground for hordes of Africans seeking illegal entry to Europe, creating a pressure on southern European nations that has lately become intolerable — so much so, in fact, that the E.U. is even considering military action against refugee-smuggling boats.

At the center of all of this, of course, is Hillary Clinton, the Democratic heir apparent about whom every news cycle seems to bring another damning revelation. In his Morning Jolt newsletter today, Jim Geraghty does a nice job of rounding up some of the latest, here.

Also, the Washington Post reported today on another Clinton-machine money-sluice, here.

(NB: Regarding these exorbitant speaking fees, it should be obvious that there is nothing Hillary Clinton could say in 20 minutes that would be worth paying $315,000 dollars to hear. These payments, then, are clearly just a way to funnel funds into the Clintons’ pockets so as to avoid campaign-contribution regulations. Moreover, nobody would spend this kind of money without some valuable consideration in return, and the only imaginable quid-pro-quo here is the prospect of future political favors.)

That this appalling woman is not only a disastrously incompetent practitioner of statecraft, but also an influence-peddler at the grandest imaginable scale and a scheming, habitual deceiver, becomes plainer every day. What is really remarkable, though, is how little any of this has yet to affect her support among her coastal liberal base. Everyone — including even the New York Times and the Washington Post — knows by now how vile she is, but legions of educated, middle-aged people (particularly women) still want to see her prevail. (I know more than a few of them myself.) And of course she still has the support of those corporations and individuals who have paid enormous sums to the Clinton money-laundering apparatus to buy access and influence — because if she doesn’t win, their money is wasted.

I continue to believe Mrs. Clinton will not win the Democratic nomination in 2016. But I do have to say that the durability of her support, despite this daily accumulation of withering revelations, is really something. These Clintons are turning out to be as hard to get rid of as an invasive species.

Sauce For The Gander

As I enter the autumn of my years, I’m trying to shed some lingering bad habits — both to be rid of the habits themselves, and as an exercise in self-mastery. One of these is talking back to the radio. I suffered a breakdown of discipline on that one today, though, I will confess.

I was driving around Wellfleet doing errands, and tuned in to a panel discussion (a local public-radio station, I think it was) about Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence. The panel was the usual gaggle of secularized Massachusetts Puritans — the same crowd that have, effectively, conquered most of Western civilization over the past 400 years — and they were lamenting the fact that a capital sentence had been pronounced in the case, despite the fact that Massachusetts is a state that does not allow the death penalty.

The problem was that Mr. Tsarnaev’s was a Federal prosecution, and so proceeded according to Federal rules. This bothered the panelists no end; although they grudgingly acknowledged that Federal law supersedes local custom in these circumstances, they seemed awfully put out about it — because, you see, it was at odds with their own sense of right and wrong, and with their wish to do things the way they like to on their own home turf. Because the action of the Federal juggernaut has, for all of our lifetimes, busied itself almost exclusively with imposing on recalcitrant States the very same liberal values they themselves espouse, I actually believe this was the first time in their lives it had ever occurred to these pious and self-righteous busybodies, these preening moral solipsists, that using the crushing power of the Federal leviathan to override local norms might have any down-side at all. That it was just a matter of the shoe, at long last, being on the other foot, and so might give them something to think about, seemed to occur to none of them, however; I heard nothing but grumbling.

Before I could catch myself, I had begun shouting at the radio. This being a family-friendly blog, however, I shall refrain from offering a transcript of my remarks.

Belated Birthday

It escaped my attention at the time, but April 22nd, 2015 marked the tenth anniversary of the present incarnation of this blog. (It actually had begun a few months earlier, in late 2004, but I had chosen a fly-by-night hosting service that soon went belly-up, taking all my content with it.) Since then we have published 3,809 posts, with discussion threads comprising 18,152 comments.

The tone of the blog has evolved significantly over the years. In the early days, before the urgency of our historical predicament became as clear to me as it is now, I wrote much more about other topics that interest me — in particular natural history and the philosophy of mind. These subjects interest me still, and I apologize to any readers who liked things better the old way. Perhaps, when I am “old and grey and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire” (in other words, sometime quite soon), I’ll correct the imbalance. Not just yet, though: in mulling over the historical antecedents of our civilization’s present condition for the past decade or so, I have come to understand many things that I think need writing down, and this is where I’m likely to do it. (If you are a regular reader, though, I do invite you to go back and look at some of our older entries from time to time, or give the “View a Random Post” link a try.)

I thank you all for reading this stuff all these years, and I hope you will continue to do so. In particular, I encourage you all to comment (civilly of course!), particularly when you disagree with something I’ve said; it keeps me honest.

Open Thread 3

Perhaps once a week is too often for this. We’ll see.

Cathar-sis

Having mentioned secular religion in our previous post, this seems an apt moment to catch up with the latest heresies on the global-warming front (environmentalism being the most transparently religious liberal piety of them all).

Here we have a wide-ranging roundup of “damned facts” from the Arch-Vile himself, Christopher Monckton.

Here, too, is Steve Goddard, taking note of a little “pork pie” regarding sea-level rise.

Meanwhile, Fred Singer is thinking about the next Ice Age.

Just trying to keep it all “fair and balanced”, folks.

Liberal Theodicy

Today I read a good piece by one of my favorite political writers, Mollie Hemingway. In the wake of the Amtrak derailment, and the Left’s immediate rush to blame the disaster on inadequate government spending (which is to say, on fiscal conservatives), she raises the concept of ‘theodicy’ — that is, “attempts to defend God’s goodness and omnipotence in light of the existence of evil”. Theodicy, she argues, is just as necessary in the secular, liberal religion that runs the show these days as it ever was to Christian apologists.

An excerpt:

The theodicy of federal government requires an explanation that defends the goodness of government control or subsidies into the given sphere. So just as some religious groups might blame a weather event on insufficient fealty to the relevant god, some progressives blame — before the National Transportation Safety Board has even shown up on site to investigate the cause of a crash — insufficient fealty, sacrifice and offerings to the relevant god of federal government.

Yes, it’s annoying how some progressives politicize everything. But if it’s understood as a sort of primitive religious reaction to confusion about holy government’s many failures, it at least helps explain why they do it.

Read the rest here.

How High’s The Water, Mama?

With a hat tip to reader Bill K., here’s a dark post from Richard Fernandez on the modern world’s growing “compassion fatigue” in the face of spreading chaos. I’ll excerpt the post’s closing lines:

The first rule of civilization is to preserve it. Once enough of it is conceded to barbarism, when a sufficient quantity of it has been worn away then things tip over entirely into savagery. It goes right over the cliff. The lesson of the Second World War was that anyone, pushed hard enough, could be an animal. We’re not there yet. But we’re on the way.

As John Derbyshire reminds us, the truth — and a bleak truth it is — is in the numbers.

Glitch

Rather an odd coincidence today: an old friend called, with whom I hadn’t spoken in quite a while. He asked how I was; I said that while I was well, generally, I had had a bit of a rough time the past few weeks with my knee-replacement surgery, and now with the prospect that it might have to be re-done.

Wanting to lighten the mood after all that complaining, I cited the old quip:

“Yes, but other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

My friend paused, and then said that the reason that he had called was that his daughter had just been walking around in my Brooklyn neighborhood, and had texted her father a photo of a funny sign she had seen in an apartment window. My friend was calling to ask if I recognized the location. (I did not.)

Here’s the picture:

Read More »

On Baltimore

In the aftermath of the Baltimore riots, there was a great deal of partisan debate about the root causes of the many woes of the urban black underclass. Many on the Right went no further than to blame black “thugs” and “race-hustlers”, and to call for militaristic crowd-control, while the Left settled in comfortably to sing their familiar song: institutionalized racism and the inexpungible legacy of slavery.

One thing the Right was also quick to point out was that all of these cities have been under continuous Democratic control for decades. This is, to be sure, an important part of the problem. In particular, I’ll call your attention to something called the “Curley Effect”. Here is how it was explained in a recent Forbes article:

As defined by Harvard scholars Edward L. Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer in a famous 2002 article, the Curley effect (named after its prototype, James Michael Curley, a four-time mayor of Boston in the first half of the 20th century) is a political strategy of “increasing the relative size of one’s political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies.” Translation: A politician or a political party can achieve long-term dominance by tipping the balance of votes in their direction through the implementation of policies that strangle and stifle economic growth. Counterintuitively, making a city poorer leads to political success for the engineers of that impoverishment.

Let’s say a mayor advocates and adopts policies that redistribute wealth from the prosperous to the not-so-prosperous by bestowing generous tax-financed favors on unions, the public sector in general, and select corporations. These beneficiaries become economically dependent on their political patrons, so they give them their undivided electoral support—e.g., votes, campaign contributions, and get-out-the-vote drives.

Meanwhile, the anti-rich rhetoric of these clever demagogues, combined with higher taxes to fund the political favors, triggers a flight of tax refugees from the cities to the suburbs. This reduces the number of political opponents on the city’s voter registration rolls, thereby consolidating an electoral majority for the anti-wealth party. It also shrinks the tax base of the city, even as the city’s budget swells. The inevitable bankruptcy that results from expanding expenditures while diminishing revenues can be postponed for decades with the help of state and federal subsidies (“stimulus” in the Obama vernacular) and creative financing, but eventually you end up with cities like Detroit—called by Glaeser and Shleifer “the first major Third World city in the United States.”

Thomas Sowell joined in with an incisive column of his own, called The Inconvenient Truth about Ghetto Communities’ Social Breakdown. Here’s a longish excerpt:

The “legacy of slavery” argument is not just an excuse for inexcusable behavior in the ghettos. In a larger sense, it is an evasion of responsibility for the disastrous consequences of the prevailing social vision of our times, and the political policies based on that vision, over the past half century.

Anyone who is serious about evidence need only compare black communities as they evolved in the first 100 years after slavery with black communities as they evolved in the first 50 years after the explosive growth of the welfare state, beginning in the 1960s.

You would be hard-pressed to find as many ghetto riots prior to the 1960s as we have seen just in the past year, much less in the 50 years since a wave of such riots swept across the country in 1965.

We are told that such riots are a result of black poverty and white racism. But in fact — for those who still have some respect for facts — black poverty was far worse, and white racism was far worse, prior to 1960. But violent crime within black ghettos was far less.

Murder rates among black males were going down — repeat, down — during the much-lamented 1950s, while it went up after the much celebrated 1960s, reaching levels more than double what they had been before. Most black children were raised in two-parent families prior to the 1960s. But today the great majority of black children are raised in one-parent families.

Such trends are not unique to blacks, nor even to the United States. The welfare state has led to remarkably similar trends among the white underclass in England over the same period. Just read Life at the Bottom, by Theodore Dalrymple, a British physician who worked in a hospital in a white slum neighborhood.

You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization — including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility, and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain — without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large.

Very good points all round. (And you really should read Mr. Dalrymple’s book, by the way.)

There is, however, another causative process at work here, one that is quite convincingly self-evident once you see it, but which gets very little attention. In his description of the comparatively well-functioning black communities of pre-1960s America Mr. Sowell glimpses it, but stops short of calling it out.

During the crisis in Baltimore, many on the Left reminded us that violent disorder by whites against blacks was a commonplace a century or so ago. One example given was the Tulsa, Oklahoma, race riot of 1921. You can read about it on Wikipedia, here.

Wikipedia’s article describes the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, which was destroyed by white mobs, as follows:

The traditionally black district of Greenwood in Tulsa had a commercial district so prosperous it was known as “the Negro Wall Street” (now commonly referred to as “the Black Wall Street”). Blacks had created their own businesses and services in their enclave, including several groceries, two independent newspapers, two movie theaters, nightclubs, and numerous churches. Black professionals—doctors, dentists, lawyers, and clergy—served the community. Because of residential segregation in the city, most classes of blacks lived together in Greenwood. They selected their own leaders, and there was capital formation within the community. In the surrounding areas of northeastern Oklahoma, blacks also enjoyed relative prosperity and participated in the oil boom.

Does this sound anything like today’s all-black communities? Of course not. Why is that? I will suggest a heterodox explanation: it was due in large part to white intolerance — the very same barriers to meritorious black advancement that we have rightly done so much to eradicate. The mechanism is simple.

As a preliminary heresy, I will ask you to accept that most human cognitive and behavioral traits are highly heritable. This premise, I believe, has been so amply confirmed as to be beyond all reasonable doubt — but if you cannot accept it, there is no reason for you to read any further. I bid you adieu.

Still here? Good. Then consider also that in any human population there will be a statistical distribution of these traits. There will be some intelligent, conscientious, cooperative and industrious people, with the low time-preference that makes successful long-term enterprises possible. There will also be people who are dim-witted, unscrupulous, combative, lazy, and impulsive. Generally those of the first sort will seek out others with these superior qualities to marry; their children will likely inherit them as well. (This is known, by people who pay attention to such things, as “assortative mating”, and it works at every level of society.)

Now consider the difference between America in 1921 and America today. In 1921, no matter how richly blessed with the aforementioned genetic assets a black man or woman might be, and no matter how successful as a result, there was nowhere to go. Because of the wall of racism that excluded blacks from the upper (or even the lower) strata of white society, talented and successful black people remained, willy-nilly, in their black communities. And so did their genomes.

America in 2015 is a very different place, and has been since the victories of the civil-rights movement of the 1960’s. Nowadays any black person who “makes it” is immediately up and out. For a few years my daughter taught high-school science in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which is one of the toughest inner-city neighborhoods in America. I visited her there, and met some of her brightest students — and they were very bright indeed. Their aim, first and foremost, was to do well enough to get away. Who could blame them? I know a lot of exceptionally talented and successful black men and women, most of them musicians. I cannot think of one who still lives in these blighted ghettos.

What this means, then, is that since the 1960s a mechanism has been at work that continuously “boils off” all of the best genes from black communities, leaving behind an increasingly concentrated and dysfunctional underclass. Of course this is not all of the story — as noted above, for half a century it has been the government’s policy to subsidize dysfunction, and when the government subsidizes anything, it always creates more of it — but this is an important part of it, and one that is almost completely unmentioned in public discourse. It is further evidence that no great social transformation — no matter how just and well-intended — is without unintended consequences.

What, then, is to be done? I really can’t say. But I do know this: there can be no hope of treating any of these ills without an accurate diagnosis.

Whence All But He Had Fled

For a man who campaigned on promises of unprecedented executive transparency, President Obama seems inordinately fond of making laws in secret. A couple of months ago he kept his Net Neutrality plan hidden from public view until after the FCC commissioners had enacted it (by a single vote), and now he’s doing the same thing with his proposed trans-Pacific trade agreement.

It is one thing to conceal troop movements in wartime behind a veil of secrecy, but quite another to conduct the normal, peacetime business of the Republic in this way, and I find the lack of popular indignation at this man’s insolent disregard for the consent of the governed deeply dispiriting. You’d think that things like this would remind us all of what the tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with, but I suppose if so you’d be remembering a more virile and vigorous America, and not the one that long ago settled into a paunchy and infantile senescence.

Well, at least we have Senator Jeff Sessions. Unlike the flaccid GOP leadership — especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is now Theoden to Obama’s Saruman — Senator Sessions has made an impressive flourish of intact vertebrae with a letter to the President demanding that any proposed trade agreement should, as God and The Framers surely intended, be put before the people and their representatives for free and open debate.

You can read the thing here. (I note with interest the word ‘enormity’.)

Defiance

In this outstanding post, Bill Vallicella brings his trademark clarity of thought and exposition to the question of free speech in the dar al-Harb. His brief essay is the best response I’ve seen to the shootings in Garland and the ructions that ensued in the media. Required reading.

Egalitarianism Ruins Everything

Some time ago I commented on a tiny, emaciated female police officer I had seen in Prospect Park. Now we learn that a 33-year-old woman, Rebecca Wax, is to be made a New York City firefighter despite having failed the physical exam.

Fighting fires is not a political or ideological abstraction. Actual fires take place in actual physical buildings, and threaten actual physical property and actual human bodies. Extinguishing them, therefore, and rescuing the lives of those human bodies, requires the movement and control of actual physical resources and equipment, in great haste, under demanding and extremely adverse physical conditions. Many, if not most, of these physical resources are necessarily bulky and heavy. Moreover, firefighters must work as a team, in which every member’s life may depend, at any moment, on the physical ability of any other member. Therefore, as we read in the article linked above:

In the FST exam, probies must breathe through a mask attached to an air tank while carrying up to 50 pounds of gear.

They must climb six flights of stairs, stretch hose lines, raise ladders, perform tasks that simulate breaking doors and pulling down ceilings, and drag dummies through tunnels with no visibility.

They must complete the course in 17 minutes, 50 seconds or less.

However:

Despite many attempts over the Fire Academy’s 18-week training course, Wax completed the test just once — but it took her more than 22 minutes, the source said.

In numerous tries, Wax struggled and was too slow. While fit probies finish with air left in their tanks, she had to stop when hers ran out, the source added.

“She’s in the best shape of her life, and it’s still not good enough,” he said.

But in she goes anyway. Forward!

This pattern of subordinating vitally important standards to the doctrinal absurdities of a secular religion that prohibits all discriminations — even those that are obviously necessary to our own survival — does not confine itself to the merely physical. Earlier this year our Sandinista mayor, Bill deBlasio, agreed to pay a settlement of $98,000,000 for having required aspiring firefighters to pass a test that proved too difficult for many black applicants. Nobody alleged that the test itself contained any race-specific content; it was simply that black applicants couldn’t pass it at the same rate that white applicants did. That this might represent an actually existing statistical disparity between blacks and whites in the cognitive abilities the test sought to measure is, of course, an unspeakable hypothesis, and so the “disparate impact” of the exam can only be proof of — you guessed it — racism. And so the standards will be lowered, and we New Yorkers will be $98m poorer, while our lives and property are put at greater risk.

Thank you, Mayor deBlasio. Thank you, idiotic secular Puritans.

Here is an article about all of this by Cornell statistician William Briggs. (As you read it, be sure to follow the link to this item by Fred Reed.)

Open Thread

Fire away.

La Pilule Rouge

Still too busy to post. So have some Moldbug.

Key passage:

Alexander sees that his government has made a bad, stupid, irrational and really downright evil decision. But he does not go out and try to convince his readers (all 10,000 of them, perhaps) to vote differently. In his actions, he reveals that he’s perfectly aware that this highly touted failsafe mechanism against bad government, always and everywhere, does not in fact exist.

If there is one thing above all that you need to understand if you are going to understand the modern world, it is that thing, right there. There are others, but this is the entry point.

A Pair Of Ace’s

Forgive the apostrophe-trolling in the title, but the blogger known as Ace of Spades has been in fine fettle lately. See here and here.

In the second linked piece, Ace mentions the “Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect” (named for physicist Murray Gell-Mann), which the late Michael Crichton described as follows:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

I’ve had ample opportunity to verify this phenomenon on my own.

Things To Read

I’m swamped with work tonight, so I’ll just pass along two interesting articles.

First, here’s a good piece by Frank Miniter: How To Win a Debate With an Anti-Gunner.

Gun owners and Second Amendment defenders living, as I do, in the belly of the liberal beast are all too familiar with the reflexive scorn that Mr. Miniter describes in his article; he offers some good advice on how to make a “disarming” response.

Second, here is an encouraging item from NRO. (Too little too late, most likely, but nice to see nevertheless.)

Sky Still Not Falling

Here’s a roundup of recent climate science from the Cato Institute.

(One quibble: although the article correctly notes that there has been no “major hurricane” strike on the U.S. mainland since 2005, I think it might at least have mentioned Hurricane Sandy. Although Sandy was not officially a hurricane when it made landfall in New Jersey, it was enormously destructive nevertheless.)

Mugged By Reality

We’ve all heard of the “law of unintended consequences”. It’s worth noting, though, that unintended consequences fall into two types: those that are unforeseen because the complexity of a large, dynamic, and possibly chaotic system obscures them even from the most searching analysis, and those that are patently obvious to some observers, but are unseen by others, due, singly or in combination, to intellectual laziness, shallow and unreflective ideological prejudices, or stupidity.

This article gives us a gratifying example of the latter category. (The accompanying photograph, I have to add, only sweetens the deal.)

SSM And SCOTUS: A Repost Re Tradition

In the same-sex marriage arguments at the Supreme Court the other day (see the Washington Post’s coverage, here), the discussion naturally touched upon the wisdom, or folly, of discarding by government fiat a sacred tradition that is at least as old as civilization itself, and universal to every society that has ever existed.

Left and Right, just as naturally, disagree about the importance of this question. An oft-cited metaphor for the conservative view is known as “Chesterton’s Fence”. It comes from G.K. Chesterton’s book The Thing:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

I refer readers also to a post of our own from July of 2013, the subject of which was the diametrically different attitudes of conservatives and liberals toward tradition generally. An excerpt:

To the conservative, traditions arise naturally from the workings of human nature, as part of the ontogeny and organic development of societies. They are not the result of scientific planning or sociological theorizing — and like biological species themselves, they only come into view in retrospect. They are, in a sense, part of the “extended phenotype” of our species and its various subgroups, as languages are; and just as languages do, they naturally adapt to, and come to represent, those things that actually matter to the various human groups from which they arise. (Many have been, at least up till now, more or less universal.) In this way they contain a great deal of deeply-buried knowledge about the optimal functioning of the human social organism, often for reasons, and in ways, that themselves need not be explicitly represented in the organism’s consciousness. Because of this, disrupting them will always have unknowable consequences — and so, at least, tradition justifies respect for its embodied wisdom, and caution as regards casual tampering.

To those on the Left, traditions are artifacts. Rather than being organic outgrowths and aspects of human nature itself, they are human creations; they are social technology, whose only purpose is to control and manipulate human behavior. In this view, human “nature” hardly exists at all, and traditions are wholly external things; indeed almost everything about human behavior and human life is external to the individual. This means that to mold human beings, or human societies, into any desirable configuration is simply a matter of discarding traditions, and inventing new ones, until we obtain the correct result. Because of this, tradition justifies very little indeed.

As we see all around us, these views of the world are not particularly compatible, and cannot easily coexist, at least within any given society.

Open Thread

As our regular comment-threads seem to meander far off-topic from time to time (and because I am generally too warm-hearted and lazy to moderate comments), I am introducing this new feature, in the hope of keeping our other comment-threads pithy and focused: an occasional (perhaps weekly) placeholder for for free association, idle chat, bibulous logorrhea, and confessions of the heart. (Or, perhaps, for the introduction of serious topics or questions.)

SSM And ‘Sexual Discrimination': Begging The Question

In today’s Best of the Web, James Taranto focuses on a question asked by John Roberts:

“I’m not sure it’s necessary to get into sexual orientation to resolve the case. I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”

This is a seductive argument, and Mr. Taranto seems persuaded:

The logic here seems inexorable: If the Constitution prohibits almost all sex discrimination, and if that prohibition applies to family law, then husbands and wives are, for legal purposes, already interchangeable.

But this seemingly compelling argument is mere question-begging. What’s being decided in this case isn’t whether homosexuals have the right to marry; of course they do. (It may seem facile to point this out, but any homosexual of either sex has the same right to marry as anyone else, as long as they marry someone of the opposite sex.) The correct response to Chief Justice Roberts’s question would be that what prevent’s Tom from ‘marrying’ Joe is the fact that such a union is, under all traditional law in every society that has ever existed throughout all of human history, not a marriage. It is not the right to marry that is being examined in this case, but the right to define what marriage is. And that is a very different thing.

Ice, Ice, Baby

Well, golly gee whillickers. Whoever could have imagined such a thing?

SSM At SCOTUS

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in Obergefell v. Hodges, which, as you may know, concerns itself with whether or not same-sex couples have a right to redefine what marriage is, and to compel every state to accept the new definition.

Good coverage of the arguments here. Haven’t even had time to go over it all myself yet.

Things Fall Apart

As I write, the civil society is breaking down again, this time in Baltimore. (I don’t have much to say about it, or perhaps I should say that I am not yet prepared to say, in this forum at least, some of the things I might say about it.) Nobody who has been paying attention to the arc of United States history, or to more general realities, should be the least bit surprised by any of this.

I will say this: much is being made of Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s remarks after the first night of rioting. In explaining that she had wished to protect the right of protesters to march peacefully, she said the following:

“It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they (protestors) were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

This has been greeted with more or less universal astonishment all over the Internet, talk radio, etc., on the assumption that she meant that she consciously decided to let rioters “blow off steam” by looting, destroying property, committing felonious assault, and so on. I think, however, that she must actually have meant, especially considering her reference to a “balancing act”, that in creating a “safe space” for protest, she unavoidably, and regrettably, also enabled such mayhem as described above.

That said, though, rioting continued for hours this afternoon without any apparent effort whatsoever on the part of the police to resist them, and for that the buck stops at the Mayor’s desk. Police cars, left abandoned in the streets, were burned. Stores were overrun and looted. The looting is bad enough, but what about the people working in those stores? Had they no right to expect that the city would intervene to protect them? Surely they were calling for help; none came. This is a direct abrogation of the foremost responsibility of any system of government: to maintain public order. If that bedrock obligation is shirked, then nothing else matters, and civilization is dead.

8 Stops

The lovely Nina and I went to the Cherry Lane Theatre this afternoon to see a one-woman performance by Deb Margolin called ‘8 Stops‘. Nina and I knew Deb many years ago — as it happens, she is a good friend of this website’s erstwhile comment-thread gadfly ‘The One Eyed Man’, and it was he who introduced us to her, so long ago — but we had not seen her for more than thirty years. Since then she has established a long career in the theater, won an Obie, and joined the faculty of Yale University.

Her show was a wise and moving meditation on sickness and health, youth and age, and joy and loss.

I found Deb’s show particularly moving because I have felt, increasingly, for many years now the presence of a great pool of pulverizing grief just below the surface of life (although by some unknowable grace, there is also a random admixture of incandescent joy there as well.) It seems to me sometimes like walking on old, deep snow: you move along briskly, just going about your business, but sometimes you put a little too much weight in one spot and you break through, and are in up to your thigh.

Deb understands this very, very well, and manages to expose and confront this appalling truth while being funny at the same time. That is no small thing.