If It Were Me, I’d Try Not Helping the Christian Nationalists (Jake Meador, 3/08/24, Mere Orthodoxy)

[T]his has been a persistent problem in the Christian Nationalism discourse virtually since it started. There are really two types of “Christian Nationalist”: When the term is used by basically anyone to the left of The Gospel Coalition, it is being used as a scary sounding word for “non-libertarian socially conservative Christians.” And that’s not a great definition, not least because there’s very little that today’s non-libertarian socially conservative Christians are saying that we haven’t been saying for decades. What’s more, using the label in that way represents utterly normal Christian beliefs you find across church history as being somehow uniquely pernicious and dangerous in some brand new way.

That said, when many people more to the right use the term, they have something specific in mind. Stephen Wolfe’s (no relation to William Wolfe) The Case for Christian Nationalism isn’t arguing for a pro-life, pro-natural marriage Christian liberalism. He is, rather, echoing interwar European right ideas about natural greatness, hierarchy, and political power. […]

So: The Christian Nationalist political project, as defined by Stephen Wolfe, Andrew Isker, and Andrew Torba and their close associates is a) Nazi-adjacent, b) seeks to retrieve such political tradition as the Confederacy and the interwar European right, and c) routinely engages in anti-Semitic and anti-Black racial speech. These are the core ideas and practices that define the movement.


Does Jesus Have a Sense of Humor?: Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is like us in every way except sin. This includes having a sense of humor. (Austin Ruse, 5/08/24, Crisis)

There are three questions to consider. Does Jesus have a sense of humor? Does Jesus express this sense of humor by actually laughing? Does Jesus deliberately make others laugh?

There are other scenes in The Chosen that have irked the grumpsters.

Jesus reads the soul of the Samaritan woman at the well. She invites Jesus and His guys to stay in her home at Sychar. Told that one of the rooms is haunted, Jesus smiles and playfully says, “I’ll take that one.”

Yet another scene shows Jesus coming up behind His dear friend Lazarus. Lazarus is one of Jesus’ closest friends. Recall that Jesus weeps when Lazarus dies, and He raises Him from the dead. In this scene, Jesus comes up behind His best friend and pushes Him, just like guy friends do. Utterly charming. Utterly human.

We must admit, none of these instances are biblical. G.K. Chesterton argues that Jesus shows His entire humanity in Sacred Scripture with the exception of mirth. It certainly seems that Red Letter Jesus did not express humor.

But how would this be possible? He is fully human, and He certainly could not be one of those drab, humorless people whose humorlessness is a stark deficiency. Are critics arguing that Jesus is one of those?

Does Jesus express this sense of humor by smiling and even laughing? The proposition is that on this earth Jesus did not smile or laugh in the company of children, who were plentiful around Him. Is this remotely possible?

Are we to believe that He did not smile or laugh at the sight of cats wrestling or a monkey leaping. Nature can be very funny. It is hard to believe that He did not take joy in His creation even unto laughter.

If He doesn’t find His Creation amusing it can only because He’s not paying attention.


The Hidden Power of “Thank You” (Loren Marks, David Dollahite, Joe Chelladurai, Laura McKeighen, March 8, 2024, Public Square)

Our recent research as social scientists indicates that for many, “Gratitude is a divine emotion.” Although we did not ask directly about gratitude, many participants spontaneously discussed gratitude in their spiritual lives and their relationships.

Gratitude, however, is far more than an emotion. Over the past twenty-three years, our in-depth interviews with about 200 exemplary, marriage-based families for the American Families of Faith National Research Project have indicated that gratitude seems to frequently serve as a “gateway virtue,” a proverbial on-ramp to a freeway of other positive attributes and relational processes. In short, gratitude seems to be a catalyst for other “goods or values.”


The “blind spot” in science that’s fueling a crisis of meaning (Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser and Evan Thompson, 3/07/24, Big Think)

Cosmology tells us that we can know the Universe and its origin only from our inside position, not from the outside. We live within a causal bubble of information — the distance light traveled since the Big Bang — and we cannot know what lies outside. Quantum physics suggests that the nature of subatomic matter cannot be separated from our methods of questioning and investigating it. In biology, the origin and nature of life and sentience remain a mystery despite marvelous advances in genetics, molecular evolution, and developmental biology. Ultimately, we cannot forgo relying on our own experience of being alive when we seek to comprehend the phenomenon of life. Cognitive neuroscience drives the point home by indicating that we cannot fully fathom consciousness without experiencing it from within.

Each of these fields ultimately runs aground on its own paradoxes of inner versus outer, and observer versus observed, that collectively turn on the conundrum of how to understand awareness and subjectivity in a Universe that was supposed to be fully describable in objective scientific terms without reference to the mind. The striking paradox is that science tells us both that we’re peripheral in the cosmic scheme of things and that we’re central to the reality we uncover. Unless we understand how this paradox arises and what it means, we’ll never be able to understand science as a human activity, and we’ll keep defaulting to a view of nature as something to gain mastery over.

Each of the cases just mentioned — cosmology and the origin of the Universe, quantum physics and the nature of matter, biology and the nature of life, cognitive neuroscience and the nature of consciousness — represents more than an individual scientific field. Collectively they represent our culture’s grand scientific narratives about the origin and structure of the Universe and the nature of life and the mind. They underpin the ongoing project of a global scientific civilization. They constitute a modern form of mythos: They are the stories that orient us and structure our understanding of the world.

For these reasons, the paradoxes these fields face are more than mere intellectual or theoretical puzzles. They signal the larger unreconciled perspectives of the knower and the known, mind and nature, subjectivity and objectivity, whose fracture menaces our project of civilization altogether. Our present-day technologies, which drive us ever closer to existential threats, concretize this split by treating everything — including, paradoxically, awareness and knowing themselves — as an objectifiable, informational quantity or resource. It’s precisely this split — the divorce between knower and known and the suppression of the knower in favor of the known — that constitutes our meaning crisis. […]

We call the source of the meaning crisis the Blind Spot. At the heart of science lies something we do not see that makes science possible, just as the blind spot lies at the heart of our visual field and makes seeing possible. In the visual blind spot sits the optic nerve; in the scientific blind spot sits direct experience — that by which anything appears, shows up, or becomes available to us. It is a precondition of observation, investigation, exploration, measurement, and justification. Things appear and become available thanks to our bodies and their feeling and perceiving capacities. Direct experience is bodily experience.

We collapse the wave function.


Let AI remake the whole U.S. government (oh, and save the country) (Josh Tyrangiel, March 6, 2024, Washington Post)

Perna needed up-to-the-minute data from all the relevant state and federal agencies, drug companies, hospitals, pharmacies, manufacturers, truckers, dry ice makers, etc. Oh, and that data needed to be standardized and operationalized for swift decision-making.

It’s hard to comprehend, so let’s reduce the complexity to just a single physical material: plastic. Perna had to have eyes on the national capacity to produce and supply plastic — for syringes, needles, bags, vials. Otherwise, with thousands of people dying each day, he could find himself with hundreds of millions of vaccine doses and nothing to put them in.

To see himself, Perna needed a real-time digital dashboard of an entire civilization.

This being Washington, consultants lined up at his door. Perna gave each an hour, but none could define the problem let alone offer a credible solution. “Excruciating,” Perna tells the room, and here the Jersey accent helps drive home his disgust. Then he met Julie and Aaron. They told him, “Sir, we’re going to give you all the data you need so that you can assess, determine risk, and make decisions rapidly.” Perna shut down the process immediately. “I said great, you’re hired.”

Julie and Aaron work for Palantir, a company whose name curdles the blood of progressives and some of the military establishment. We’ll get to why. But Perna says Palantir did exactly what it promised. Using artificial intelligence, the company optimized thousands of data streams and piped them into an elegant interface. In a few short weeks, Perna had his God view of the problem. A few months after that, Operation Warp Speed delivered vaccines simultaneously to all 50 states. When governors called panicking that they’d somehow been shorted, Perna could share a screen with the precise number of vials in their possession. “‘Oh, no, general, that’s not true.’ Oh, yes. It is.”


Unilateral Illiberalism (Brian Stewart, 7 Mar 2024, Quillette)

When Ayatollah Khomeini granted Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci an interview in the holy city of Qom in 1979, the meeting was terminated when she tore off the chador she had been made to wear, calling it a “stupid medieval rag.” When Fallaci met Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, she was blunt: “I want to understand why everyone dislikes you so much, why you are so little loved.” And after an extended harangue from Yasser Arafat about the need to eradicate Israel with revolutionary violence, Fallaci drily remarked, “Conclusion: you don’t at all want the peace that everyone is hoping for.”

Bemused viewers of Tucker Carlson’s recent interview with Vladimir Putin saw no evidence of the skepticism or thinly veiled contempt that La Fallaci (as she liked to refer to herself) brought to her craft. Nor were they rewarded with an informative glimpse into the Russian despot’s mind. Instead, they were treated to an unedifying display of sycophancy that permitted Putin to filibuster for more than two hours. In The Rebel, Albert Camus spoke of tyrants conducting “monologues above a million solitudes.” Thanks to Carlson’s flaccid performance, Putin’s semi-coherent and ahistorical monologue reached millions more than usual. […]

Did Carlson really expect anything less? Did he really think Putin would inveigh against the San Francisco school board or Hunter Biden? Imagine how disappointed he must have been to learn that the former KGB colonel is not a regular viewer of Fox, let alone Carlson’s show on Twitter. […]

But if Carlson thought that touting Putin’s credentials as a good Christian leader and a champion of law and order would earn him the approval of the Russian tsar he was mistaken. During the interview, Putin seemed to mock Carlson and later complained about the absence of “so-called sharp questions.” Seldom has there been such a poor return for ceremonial self-abasement before a blood-drenched ruler. Putin’s sneering hauteur could not conceal that he is not a leader to be trusted, still less to admired. And as Carlson fawned over the Russian despot, he displayed a personalized version of what the French philosopher Alain Finkelkraut calls the West’s “penitential narcissism.”


Scientists lay out how energy transition can prevent millions of deaths (Leo Collis, March 7, 2024, The Cool Down)

As the experts detailed, the mortality burden was greatest for cardiometabolic conditions, accounting for 52% of 8.34 million deaths linked to air pollution per year. Among those issues is ischaemic heart disease — a leading cause of heart attacks.

Meanwhile, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were both notable related illnesses, accounting for 16% each.

According to atmospheric consultant Jos Lelieveld from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, an estimated 5.13 million excess deaths could be avoided worldwide each year if we phased out fossil fuels.


The Disappointed Liberal: A recent volume of essays seeks to reconsider, and reclaim, Vilfredo Pareto’s intellectual legacy. : a review of Vilfredo Pareto’s Contributions to Modern Social Theory: A Centennial Appraisal, Christopher Adair-Toteff, ed. (Alberto Mingardi, 3/04/24, City Journal)

Arendt writes of Pareto’s “despair of the working classes,” perhaps not realizing that Pareto sided with them in the struggle against “bourgeois socialism,” which today we might call “crony capitalism.” In fact, in the passage above, Pareto was revealing the disappointment of a true liberal, who understood that liberty was too precious to be entrusted to “liberals,” many of whom pursued their own interests more energetically than the cause of liberty itself. Such people criticize power when it is held by others but deem it perfectly benevolent when they hold it themselves.

In our era of obsessive partisanship, such political skepticism is perhaps hard to understand. Adair-Toteff reminds us that Pareto was “anti-socialist, anti-state intervention, anti-colonialism, anti-militarism, anti-racism, and anti-anti-Semitism.” This series of “antis” may define the man more than any single political label.

…you aren’t paying attention. Likewise, if you don’t forgive us.


We’ve Been Underestimating Discrimination (Rose Jacobs, February 20, 2024, CBR)

The layered relationship over time between identity and opportunity make up the infrastructure of systemic discrimination, a phenomenon that social scientists have studied since the 1950s and that is increasingly acknowledged across American society, despite resistance from the Right. But in economics, practitioners have traditionally studied only direct discrimination, with projects that have a narrower scope. Take, for example, a study from three Federal Reserve economists—Neil Bhutta, Aurel Hizmo, and Daniel Ringo—that analyzes the extent to which lenders provided differential treatment by race, illegal under US fair-lending laws, in 2018 and 2019. The study establishes a steep decline in racial discrimination in mortgage issuance, as compared with research findings from a study of home loan applications in 1990, which is encouraging. But the researchers in both studies controlled for factors such as applicants’ credit scores and leverage, a standard economic approach but one that drew ridicule from journalist Michael Hobbes, who tweeted, “Yes[,] once you remove the influence of all of the other racist systems, racism doesn’t exist.”

The thinking among economists about how to account for such factors may be changing, however. University of Pennsylvania’s J. Aislinn Bohren, Brown’s Peter Hull, and Chicago Booth’s Alex Imas are among the economists who are proposing new approaches to measuring discrimination that take systemic factors into account. They are looking at the mechanisms by which historical discrimination continues to create unequal outcomes while also acknowledging the limits of economists’ traditional measurement tools and extending the tape measure—rethinking their models so that quantitative data can better illuminate whether the American dream is available to all. The research by Bohren, Hull, and Imas indicates that traditional estimates can undercount discrimination, and not by just a little: they sometimes miss the majority of the total.


It’s Time the US Abolished the Income Tax: Bring on the consumption tax. (John H. Cochrane, February 12, 2024, CBR)

Here there is an awkward truth of taxation. Unexpected, “just this once and we’ll never do it again” wealth taxes are economically efficient. The problem of taxation is disincentives. If you announce a wealth tax in the future, people respond by not accumulating wealth. They go on round-the-world private jet tours instead of investing and building companies. But if you tax existing wealth, and nobody knew it was coming, there is no disincentive.

This is, however, one of the most misused propositions in economics. That “just this once and never again” promise isn’t credible: if the government did it once, why not again? And it feels horribly unfair, doesn’t it, grabbing wealth willy-nilly? Unpredictability is not something responsive, rule-of-law democracies can or should do.

In any case, as with corporate income, taxing investment income also makes no sense. You earn money, pay taxes on it, and invest it. If you choose to consume later rather than now, why pay additional tax on it? One of the main don’t-distort-the-economy propositions is that we should give people the full incentive to save by refraining from taxing investment income.

So why do we tax investment income? Again, because once you tax income, you have to start plugging holes. Many people can shift labor income to investment income. If you run a business, don’t take a salary but pay yourself a dividend. If you’re a consultant, incorporate yourself and call it all business income. In the 1980s, even cab drivers incorporated to get lower tax rates.

The income tax is the original sin. Taxing income made no sense on an economic basis. The government only did it because it was easy to measure and grab, at least before people started inventing a century’s worth of clever schemes to redefine “income.” It has led inescapably to more sins, such as the corporate tax and the tax on investment income. And now the repatriation tax on accumulated foreign earnings.

What’s the solution? Well, duh. Tax consumption, not income or wealth. Get the rich down at the Porsche dealer. Leave alone any money reinvested in a company that is employing people and producing products. Now we can do it. And we can then throw out the income tax, corporate tax, and estate tax.