A Tale of Two Flags

I do not care for the Confederate battle flag, and I have no problems with its coming down off the flagpoles and municipal buildings of the South. It is, after all, a military symbol of a nation dedicated primarily to slavery—slavery being roughly correlative to a First Principle for the Confederacy—and though I can’t stand political correctness, one can appreciate that the flag is uniquely offensive and onerous to black Americans, and that its removal from the public square constitutes a material improvement, however small, on the issue of race relations in this country. Take it down.

Nevertheless, there was something both pathetic and sad about the recent anti-Confederate flag flurry that gripped the nation. It seemed to come upon everyone all at once, and suddenly we were defacing monuments, climbing flagpoles, and banning even historical video games that featured the flag as part of an historical setting. It was the kind of pompous, we’re-making-history movement that can only come about in the age of social media: lightning-fast, self-gratifying, grandiose, and gone as quickly as it came. It’s not that I’m not glad many of the flags are gone—as I said, it’s good that they’ve been ditched—it’s that it was accomplished in part because of the social media mob, which is a terrifying and unruly tool: Internet social justice warriors should be a weapon of last resort, the kind of thing behind a BREAK THIS GLASS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY box. Eventually, as we’ve seen time and again, these people will turn on you, and tear down something that you like, and eventually devour you, even if you’re nominally on their side. Use at your own risk.

As risky as the mob is, however, there is perhaps a greater threat to the peace and stability of our society. It’s called cultural illiteracy:

A man in Louisiana is asking for an explanation from Walmart after his request for a Confederate flag cake at one of its bakeries was rejected, but a design with the ISIS flag was accepted.

Chuck Netzhammer said he ordered the image of the Confederate flag on a cake with the words, “Heritage Not Hate,” on Thursday at a Walmart in Slidell, Louisiana. But the bakery denied his request, he said. At some point later, he ordered the image of the ISIS flag that represents the terrorist group.

“I went back yesterday and managed to get an ISIS battleflag printed. ISIS happens to be somebody who we’re fighting against right now who are killing our men and boys overseas and are beheading Christians,” Netzhammer said.

Now, on the one hand, you can appreciate that some Walmart associates in Louisiana recognized the Confederate flag over the ISIS one—surely the average person in Louisiana has had more experience with the former over the latter. Just the same, it’s kind of amazing that this was allowed to pass, especially given that Walmart has taken the incredible step in recent days of removing all Confederate-themed merchandise from their stores. They’ve gotten uptight about offensive symbols representing evil, barbarous causes. So you’d think they might have been clued in to recognize perhaps the most prominent Islamic terrorist group on the planet, a bunch of guys who are running around beheading, stoning, raping, destroying, and—yes—enslaving thousands and thousands of people across the Middle East. Is it too much to ask that these folks watch the news every once in a while?

To its credit, Walmart apologized and admitted that the cake “should not have been made.” That’s a point for consistency, at least. But it is still troubling. People are familiar with and can recognize certain unsavory aspects of our shared historical baggage—the Confederate flag—and yet they’d prefer to try and forget about this stuff altogether. But they’re also happy to remain perfectly ignorant about a real, actual, present-day threat, one that’s currently boiling over a large part of the planet and shaping it into a primitive seventh-century hell-hole. So we’ve arrived at the curious cultural crossroads, in which we’ve done away with any toys related to the Dukes of Hazzard, but we’ll allow cakes to be made featuring prominently the symbol of a head-chopping, gay-stoning, child-raping military/religious tyranny. Is this progress?

From This Day, Forward

I have to confess that I wasn’t terribly surprised by SCOTUS’s gay marriage ruling; it is not as if the Supreme Court has much left in the way of institutional legitimacy, after all, and these days most of the Justices are more interested in authoring the next legendary, right-side-of-history-making majority opinion than they are actually reading the Constitution. Justice Ginsburg, for one, couldn’t be bothered to wait for the ruling to come out before she started dropping hints. There is something unseemly and disturbing about a Supreme Court Justice, one of the most powerful people in the country and charged with the awesome responsibility to “say what the law is,” making the dispensation of Constitutional interpretation into a cutesy gimmick at a gay wedding. Long ago, this fight became less about what the Constitution says and how our republic works and more about how people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg are excited to flash their progressive credentials: yes, yes, we can debate the arcana of Constitutional infrastructure and Fourteenth Amendment precedent, but check it out—Ginsburg presided over two dudes getting married! Isn’t that the really important thing?

At the Federalist this past Saturday, I joined a host of my colleagues, fellow conservatives and libertarians, and a few senators to discuss what happens next after Obergefell. Robbie Soave, a journalist at Reason for whom I have a lot of respect, admonishes conservatives: “It’s over. You lost.” This is just entirely unlikely—in the United States we’re still arguing about Wickard v. Filburn and United States v. Miller, for Pete’s sake, to say nothing of Roe v. Wade—but it does nicely encapsulate the opinion of many on the Left (and many pro-gay marriage libertarians): they want this fight to be over and done with, and they want those of us with doubts to just shut up and move on. You can understand the impulse. Still, there are some deeply distressing indications that this fight is not merely not over but is also—in spite of Obergefell—actually escalating:

PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg has issued a string of statements on its opinion page policies since the ruling — which legalized gay marriage nationwide — and by Saturday morning, appeared to have softened its op-ed restrictions on the subject.

But the newspaper initially took a hard-line stance. Editorial Page Editor John Micek tweeted shortly after the ruling that the newspaper would “no longer accept” or print op-eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage…

A newspaper editorial published online was updated Friday afternoon to clarify the board’s op-ed policy. In the editorial, which cheered the decision and said majority opinion author Justice Anthony Kennedy “nailed it,” the board issued the following statement:

“As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will very strictly limit op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.

“These unions are now the law of the land. And we will not publish such letters and op-Eds any more than we would publish those that are racist, sexist or anti-Semitic.

“We will, however, for a limited time, accept letters and op-Eds on the high court’s decision and its legal merits.”

This is a portent, and it would be wrong to interpret it any other way. It’s not enough that the Court has legalized gay marriage by judicial fiat: any reasonable dissent on the matter must also be preemptively squashed. Of course, PennLive is free to implement any editorial policy it desires; the First Amendment does not allow for compelled speech, and the Supreme Court has been consistent about this through the years. Nonetheless, this is still a pathetic and rather cowardly recourse for any newspaper to take. Gay marriage is a complex, interesting and rich source of debate and discourse, and its implications are both myriad and potentially critical. But any statements “in opposition” to it can no longer be tolerated—and so bereft are the editors of any really good reason for such a policy, they simply make a hack, slack-jawed reference to “racist, sexist or anti-Semitic” opinions, as if a principled religious or sociological objection to gay marriage is the same as hateful bigotry. Well, I guess that settles it.

There is, of course, another, more troubling angle to this whole mess, and it is this: these sensibilities only work one way. Assuredly, more and more newspapers will adopt policies like the one above, shutting out any objections to the Court’s ruling and to homosexual marriage in general. But the bakers, photographers, chapel owners, eventually the priests and ministers and rabbis—all of these people will be forced to get on board  with the new gay marriage regime, and should they refuse—should conservatives take a “hard-line stance” for their beliefs—then the consequences will doubtlessly be swift, ruthless and unforgiving. They don’t have to accommodate your beliefs—but you’ll sure as hell have to accommodate theirs. Watch.

Empty Playgrounds Are Not a Virtue

One of the more satisfying institutional defeats the Left has suffered in recent decades was the Hobby Lobby birth control case. A narrowly-tailored Supreme Court decision that stipulated one particular way in which the government can’t force people to do something caused the progressive establishment to have a total meltdown; after a great many setbacks concerning the Affordable Care Act (add to the list yesterday’s Burwell decision), it was an immensely gratifying thing to witness. Sadly, a recent circuit court decision shows that there is yet still more work to be done on this front:

At issue was an accommodation in the health care law that allows religious groups to opt out of directly providing birth control coverage. The plaintiffs argued that opting out would only result in an insurer or other third party providing the contraceptives the groups oppose. They also said the requirement that they offer employees a group health plan pressures them to authorize the use of contraceptives, and health care contracts facilitated the use of contraceptives.

The appeals court determined, however, that the federal law’s rules do not amount to a “substantial burden.”

“Although the plaintiffs have identified several acts that offend their religious beliefs, the acts they are required to perform do not include providing or facilitating access to contraceptives,” the ruling states. “Instead, the acts that violate their faith are those of third parties.”

The Obama Administration has made a great show out of this concession, claiming that the transference of responsibility to a “third party” somehow constitutes a workable accommodation for religious grievances. But it is an ultimately meaningless distinction—a necessarily meaningless one, for if it were to truly signify a change of responsibility, then the whole system would itself be pointless and thus unworkable. Religious objectors are right to be unsatisfied with this arrangement, because it is still them—the religiously aggrieved—who are allowing for the usage of the birth control in the first place: without their health insurance plans, the contraception in question would not be purchased or consumed. Put another way: imagine your architectural firm builds a privately-owned bridge across a long expanse of water, and though your firm maintains ownership of the bridge, you contract the toll collection out to a third-party toll vendor. Would you honestly be able to make the claim that, by dint of the tolls service being provided by a third party, you were not “providing or facilitating access across the water?” Of course not—you’d be laughed out of town for making such a claim, and your bridge-building buddies would never take you seriously again.

Ultimately the only way to stop forcing religious objectors to provide contraceptives is—you guessed it—to stop forcing religious objectors to provide contraceptives. Many people and institutions know the stakes, among them the Catholic Church, which has been resolutely opposed to this ridiculous provision from day one. Still, there are plenty of people, many of them Catholic, who would like to see the Church back down from the contraceptive front:

For the sake of the earth and of the poor, it is time for the church to admit that the ban on artificial contraception is doing far more harm than good.

Western Catholics refused to receive the church’s teaching on contraception decades ago, and increasingly, women and men in developing countries are also rejecting the teaching. In the Philippines, a country known for its deep Catholic faith, 84 percent believe that the government should provide free access to contraceptives.

There are a number of astounding fallacies in this passage. Chief among them is the consensus gentium, which stipulates that if enough people support a particular cause or idea, then the cause or idea is held to be acceptable and even laudatory. But of course this is not true. Numbers can be useful, but they are ultimately meaningless signifiers when it comes to the morality and the rightness of any given thing. A large majority of Catholics receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation rarely if ever; should the Church thus do away with Confession? A majority of Catholics believe in legalizing homosexual marriage; should the Church fold up 2,000 years of sound theology as a result? There are troubling indications that the faithful’s belief in the Real Presence is declining; must the Church abandon the Eucharist and adopt the symbolistic practice of the nearest UMC chapter? Ultimately the theological, moral and practical questions of the Church are not to be decided by a crude, hack reference to how many people are “rejecting the teaching.” Some things are true no matter how many people accept or don’t accept them. And of course you can be assured that this appeal to numbers works only one way: if tomorrow 84% of Filipino Catholics decided that contraception was immoral and should be outlawed, do you think progressives would suddenly on board with the Conference of Bishops?

The concerns regarding “the earth and the poor” are equally nonsensical. Malthusian arguments against overpopulation have been proven countless times over the decades to be false and destructive; fears of a growing population destroying the earth are in the end a vain, silly hang-up of hand-wringing environmentalist who can’t read history. And while it’s true that an impoverished family can be ill-equipped to handle the financial responsibilities of a new baby, the solution isn’t to carpet-bomb them with contraceptives so that they’ll stop breeding; it’s to raise the standard of living, which requires open and free markets, a stable republican form of government, and—surprise—a lot of human beings providing the goods and services necessary for an industrial or post-industrial society. As any member of any low-fertility Western European nation will tell you, one of the greatest threats to a developed nation (or a developing one) is that there won’t be enough people around to sustain it.

That’s not to say that babies are to be viewed in terms of their potential economic output—only that a large and productive workforce is a happy side-effect of a high fertility rate, and to discourage the latter is ultimately to prevent the former from coming about. The calls for increased contraception and a lower birthrate in developing countries are ultimately a product of the egotism of elite Western liberals, those who already enjoy a high standard of living and who are perfectly happy if impoverished Third World citizens are unable to attain it.

The Dim Light of the Dying Fire

One thing you may notice about the climate change debate is that it generally adheres to a longer timescale than, say, the ten-day forecast. Part of this is simply the limits of climate science itself: climate being a different thing from weather, its variations are measured across a much longer span of time. Part of this is scientific cowardice and greed: climate scientists, desperate for professional respectability and stature (and more money) yet well-aware that there’s no great risk to be found in climate change, are happy to issue doomsday predictions several decades down the road; such predictions make them seem confident and competent without having to actually prove anything whatsoever. And finally, there’s an element of political cowardice, as well, wherein politicians—desperate, like many climate scientists, to appear both relevant and capable—are rushing to prove that they, too, can be a part of the hysteria:

The Abbott government is weighing tougher emissions reduction targets for the post-2020 period than conservatives in cabinet had wanted in a move that would restore Australia to the international mainstream on climate change policy and challenge the Prime Minister’s reputation as a global warming denier.

Fairfax Media understands the push for a more urgent approach, which could see Australia running with Canada and the US who have both announced stronger targets than expected, is coming from within the government and is aimed at cutting Australia’s greenhouse emissions more rapidly, perhaps by as much as 24 to 28 per cent by 2030.

That’s tremendous: so vain and sensitive is the Prime Minister of Australia, he can’t even tolerate the tired, hackneyed, meaningless epithet “global warming denier,” so he has to double down on the energy-reduction policy in order to bolster a fragile ego. You have to hand it to the radical environmental constituency: they have succeeded in making “denier” as ugly and unpalatable a word as you’re apt to find in modern politics. Nobody wants to “deny” anything, least of all total worldwide climate collapse that the highly scientific science reports have scientifically been predicting will happen for the last sixty years or so. You can trust an Australian prime minister to stand stalwart on many things, but if you want him to fold, just point out that he’s “denying” some stuff that hasn’t actually happened yet but will totally happen in the next few decades. Voilà—a thirty percent reduction in emissions over fifteen years!

In all seriousness, climate change hysteria—like other trendy movements throughout the years—has become something of a comical fossil, a sort of weird and silly gewgaw, to be used by politicians in order to improve their political street cred and by liberal pundits in order to giggle about how much they love “science.” I wrote a while ago about how the bizarre socio-sexual crusades of modern leftism have come to resemble, after a fashion, the silly spirit photography / mysticism fads of the 19th and early 20th centuries: all flash and feeling, no really tenable evidence to justify it. Honestly, I believe we’ll also look back at climate change hysteria in the same fashion, as we do group séances and Ouija boards, particularly in the way the ideology has mutated into a parody of itself:

Global warming could leave loaves of bread diminished in size due to a reduction in the amount of protein in grains, scientists say.

Researchers for the state government of Victoria in cooperation with the University of Melbourne, baked loaves based on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for 2050 predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Thank goodness we have scientists to predict what our bread is going to look like nearly half a century from now. Look, whatever your feelings on climate change are, it’s really time to just admit it: years and years from now, you’ll be sitting around with your grandkids, and they’ll say, “Tell us what life was like when you were young.” And you’ll say, “Well, little ones, when I was a youngster, it was a frightening and scary time. 2015 in particular was bad. Climate scientists were convinced that over a long period of years, we’d fill the atmosphere with so much carbon dioxide that—after three-and-a-half decades—the protein in our grains would diminish and our loaves of bread would be a lot smaller!”

And then your grandkids will gasp, and say, eyes wide with wonder, “Golly gee, what’s a climate scientist?” And you’ll chuckle, and pat them on the head, and say to them, “They were a group of mysterious oracles very popular in the late 1900s and early 2000s. Don’t worry about it—you’ll probably never meet one.”

A Penalty of No Merit

I’m a bit busy with personal matters at the moment, but later today I’ll be join my Federalist colleague Neal Dewing and our publisher Ben Domenech on WCGO 1590am in Chicago for a rousing debate on the morality and the appropriate application of the death penalty. Neal and I discussed this issue in print a few weeks ago, and now you can hear our melodic voices discuss the issue on-air. Tune in to WCGO at 4pm ET and pick a side!

If you miss the broadcast, you can listen to it later from the show’s podcast feed, found here.

The Price of Omission

If you haven’t yet seen Jurassic World, I can’t recommend it enough. Apparently a great many people agree with me, given that the movie cornered over one-fifth of a billion dollars in its opening weekend. I don’t want to give the impression that this movie is “good” in the traditional sense—it’s no Independence Day—but it is hilariously fun, a two-hour screwball dino-comedy, a nonstop madcap cacophony of Jurassic nonsense. It’s just over-the-top and great. See it.

Over at Grantland, Bryan Curtis has an excellent article examining “Why ‘Jurassic World’ Worked.” It’s a great look at what makes a good movie good. Near the end, looking at the way in which the film turns occasionally towards practical effects over CGI, Curtis remarks:

There is, of course, no going back. Upon seeing the CGI dinos of Jurassic Park, the effects master Phil Tippett said something like, “I think I’m extinct.” But it’s another imperative of the Reboot Era to nod to this vanished world. As Trevorrow told Ain’t It Cool, “It is a self-aware movie.” Today, directors make movies that self-consciously acknowledge that they’re killing off the techniques that made the magic of their childhoods. It’s like Skynet gaining consciousness and then apologizing for wiping out the human race.

I’m not so sure the analogy is particularly apt—Skynet was neutralizing humanity because it considered us a threat, while practical effects are not threatening to modern directors in the least—but that’s beside the point: directors do almost overwhelmingly eschew practical effects in favor of computer stuff. In some cases this is good. In other cases it’s not very good at all, and may in fact be a regression for all practical purposes. I’m thinking, for instance, of how much better the original animatronic E.T. was compared to the awful computer-generated one in the re-release; how much better the puppet Yoda was in comparison to the crummy lightsaber-dueling backflipping Attack of the Clones Yoda; the superiority of real car effects over fake ones (exemplified recently in the Mad Max reboot); how much more ghastly Jeff Goldblum’s Brundlefly was compared to the absolutely inevitable computer-generated remake. CGI can be useful, but it’s also—let’s be honest here—pretty obviously fake-looking and thus at some level always disappointing.

Perhaps there is “no going back.” And to be fair, the computer dinosaurs in Jurassic World were perfectly well-done as far as CGI goes. Still, I’d be interested to see a poll on how audiences feel about practical versus special effects, and I’d be interested further to see, in our aggressively nostalgic, constantly backward-looking pop-culture milieu, whether or not more and more directors will turn towards the puppets, rubber and rods that often make for much more satisfying effects in many films. Like the doomed park-goers in Jurassic World, perhaps the public will begin to clamor for the exciting and well-crafted attractions that we once considered extinct, and perhaps the movies will start to deliver.

***

For further film criticism from yours truly, please check out my latest at the Federalist, and learn how NBC’s Hannibal is the greatest, dumbest television show currently on-air. 

The Turn of the Tide

At the Federalist, you can find my latest on the ongoing interminable gender debate, in which I highlight the intellectually dishonest and factually inept way the Left argues in favor of transgenderism. The debate itself is far from over, but the growing pushback against the tenets of radical gender theory is an encouraging sign: it shows that many people recognize a bizarre and nonsensical ideology when the see it, and it also suggests that people are more and more willing to push back against the insane, bullying tendencies of modern progressivism. Increasingly, people are not content to be cowed by the frenzied mob-justice insanity that characterizes so much of leftism these days.

As always, this is an argument in support of people who desperately need help. A man’s believing he is a woman (or vice versa) is ultimately a sign of mental illness, one that demands psychological counseling and compassionate support and the chance to get better. Putting Bruce Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair with breast implants and in a skimpy one-piece affair, normalizing a man’s delusions by way of reality television—this is not a responsible way to approach a serious psychological issue. These people are vulnerable and in need of help; let’s not make things worse by way of a preening, self-congratulatory political crusade.

The Whole Hog

I have shopped at Whole Foods in the past and I have enjoyed it—in the great catalog of organic food retail, it is a fun kind of novelty store—but in the end I find the place to be unsatisfying and ultimately probably counterproductive. Whole Foods is largely a rich person’s market, the place where upscale West End suburban health nuts go to buy overpriced organic produce grown in Honduras; it does little for the common man, in other words (either here or in Honduras). There are a great many ways to get your organic food these days, still more to get the good local stuff, and Whole Foods is no longer the only game in town. Thank goodness:

Now, some organic farmers contend that Whole Foods is quietly using its formidable marketing skills and its credibility with consumers to convey that conventionally grown produce is just as good — or even better — than their organically grown products. Shoppers can choose from fruits and vegetables carrying the designation of “good,” “better” or “best.”

The longtime suppliers to Whole Foods are complaining that the program called Responsibly Grown can grant a farmer who does not meet the stringent requirements for federal organic certification the same rating as an organic farmer, or even a higher one. Conventional growers can receive higher rankings than organic farmers by doing things like establishing a garbage recycling program, relying more on alternative energy sources, eliminating some pesticides and setting aside a portion of fields as a conservation area.

Now, on the one hand, you have to feel a bit of sympathy for the “longtime suppliers to Whole Foods:” they didn’t know they were getting into this, and indeed for years this arrangement has worked for them. On the other hand, this debacle just underscores the problem of trying to fit a kind of quasi-holistic practice like organic farming into a monolithic business model like Whole Foods: it can be done, but not without crap like the “Responsibly Grown” program, which is largely a regression as far as organics are concerned. It is just monumentally difficult to shoehorn the esoterica of a good farm into the parameters of a corporate-born workshop-tested merchandising schematic. You will sacrifice something, and probably something important.

Corporate environmentalism itself is often such a strange and sadly pathetic breed of monster. A “garbage recycling program,” “alternative energy sources:” neither of these things addresses any of the notable environmental crises of our time. And while “conservation” can be useful, it’s not necessarily the metric by which you might label a farm “good, better or best.” There are numerous types of conservation, and not all of them are as beneficial to the land as good, responsible stewardship; reverting a piece of your land back to untouched, undisturbed natural landscape can be less helpful to a local ecosystem than actually working the soil with a good management program. Like most things at Whole Foods, its “Responsibly Grown” program is a way for its customers to feel good about themselves without thinking about it too much. As I said, I’ve shopped at Whole Foods before, and I probably will again. But it’s good to be aware of what you’re buying, and more importantly what they are selling.

What Lies Ahead

My colleague Robert Tracinski has a fine essay up this week at the Federalist in which he wonders, in light of the Caitlyn Jenner affair, “if the whole world has gone insane.” Thankfully I can answer him in the negative—there are at least a few of us left who recognize that Bruce Jenner is a man and will always be a man. But Tracinski makes a convincing and depressing case that the Jenner debacle represents, above all, the normalization of insanity and a growing civilization-wide celebration of mental illness.

It would be tempting to write off this whole men-can-be-women-and-women-can-be-men thing as a kind of societal phase, a mystifying, screwball obsession that will eventually fade into nothingness, akin to the spiritualist movements that peaked during the late 19th century, or the fashion trends of the 1970s. Hopefully this will be the case. And yet I am not so sure. Spirit photography, bell-bottom jeans—these things probably died out at least in part because the people who partook in them became too embarrassed to continue participating in what was obviously fraudulent (or totally ugly) behavior. But I’m not sure that a phenomenon like transgenderism will be allowed to die out; its constituency and its champions are just insanely devoted to it, for one, and additionally the fervent base just seems incapable of recognizing what a sham the whole thing is:

Suddenly, our daughter’s ears perked up. “A man can become a woman?” “Yes,” I replied, “if he wants to.” My husband’s eyes widen [sic] and he lightly shook head his [sic] to signal “let’s not go there.”

“How can a person do that?” she asked, clearly intrigued. I looked at my husband, gave him my “we’re going there” smile and continued.

“Sometimes, when people are born, they may look like boys and girls on the outside, but on the inside, they know something is not right. For example, there are people who may look like boys, but know that they are really girls, and would be much happier if they could look like the way they feel on the inside. And, there are people who look like girls, but feel like they are boys on the inside. They would be much happier if the world saw them as boys. We are lucky enough to live at time [sic] where doctors and science can help people like that be who they are really meant to be.”

Empirically speaking, this kind of boilerplate is indistinguishable from the stuff hocked by Ouija board hucksters almost a century ago: both transgenderism and spirit magic depend upon a suspension of reality in favor of feelings-based evidence and mystical wish-it-were-so-ism. The account above is an example of reckless parenting, the kind that almost resembles a dereliction of duty. That’s not to say that Angela Matusik is a bad mother—most likely she’s a fine one—but at the very least we do know that she is failing in one serious regard, in that she is okay teaching her daughter that fantasy is in fact reality. (Notice, too, the kind of triumphant progressivism that marks the whole thing: “We’re going there,” she thinks, almost victoriously, as if she is striking an heroic blow for 21st-century gender politics.) If a great deal of children are being brought up on this stuff, then it does not bode well for the future of this country: millions of boys and girls coming of age convinced that a man can become a woman “if he wants to.” The only other context in which we allow children to believe fake things is that of staple childhood fairy-tales: Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny. The difference is, eventually we tell our kids the truth about these myths, and they learn that the world does not allow for such make-believe.

I don’t think the whole world has gone insane, but I do think that the decades ahead will reveal a generation of people who are genuinely convinced that feelings are more substantial than biological fact.  What this will mean in practical terms is up for debate, but is anyone really convinced that the outcome will be good?

Your Goose, Uncooked

Food is literally the stuff of life—if you do not do it, then you will die—and as a result I am often confused as to why people do not approach food in a better, more satisfying way: if you’re dependent upon the stuff to survive, then why not at least learn to do it well, and good? But perhaps that is an antiquated notion, at least from the Millennial perspective:

Now, at age 32, after three years of marriage, my husband and I find ourselves wanting to sit down to a nice home-cooked dinner at the end of the day. But we’re too busy and too inexperienced in the kitchen to make that happen. We eat out a lot, often hitting up Chipotle or our local Vietnamese place on the way home from work, behavior fairly typical of our demographic. Millennials spend more on food outside the home than any other generation, averaging $50.75 a week. As the two of us consider starting a family, we worry about how our culinary ineptitude will impact our future children. We are beginning to wonder whether we even have what it takes to put a proper, nutritious dinner on the table for our little ones.

Enter the meal kit, our partial solution to getting ourselves fed healthily. Every Sunday, we receive a box full of individually wrapped and labeled ingredients for five dinners complete with detailed—and, fortunately for me, idiot-proof—recipes. Just Add Cooking, the service we use, exclusively serves the Boston area and uses largely local produce; it saves us time planning meals and shopping for groceries, an especially gruesome task during winters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While we do not have much choice over the meals we receive, our box is slowly helping us to acclimate to our kitchen (for purposes other than document storage, that is). Although my mother laments that we are paying far more for each meal than she ever spent on groceries for our family, we’ve calculated that we spend slightly less than we would if we were eating out for those meals.

“The meal kit.” Just saying it in this context—just saying the words—feels mildly pathetic and depressing: “We don’t really know how to plan our dinners, so we’re using a meal kit.” There are some things that are better left to professionals—changing your car’s transmission, replacing your roof, rewiring the house—and then there’s the meal kit, which feels like a very pointed admission of failure. It’s not that a meal kit isn’t a cool idea after a fashion, or that using one might be neat; it’s that, if used regularly, it’s an expensive and needless solution to a hopelessly simple problem. Cooking is not that difficult; neither is planning to cook. The writer herself is well-aware of the importance of home-cooked, nutritious meals, so the motivation to become self-sufficient in the kitchen is already present. It’s just that last step, that final push to culinary competency that she can’t be bothered to take: the ten minutes it takes to open a cookbook and write down the ingredients one needs to buy at the grocery store. (The writer does mention that they occasionally leave the meal kit behind in favor of the cookbook; “I’m beginning to think we might be getting close to cooking like grown-ups,” she writes. This person is thirty-two years old.)

The meal kit is but one string to the strange bow of modern cooking habits. I have observed the culinary tendencies of my generation, and I have often found them to be both puzzling and rather heartbreaking. For many people my age, “cooking” is kind of an event: “I cooked dinner last night,” I’ve heard many twentysomethings say, and they say it as if they were telling you they had run a decathlon, describing a thing that happens very rarely and is a big accomplishment. There’s also an oddly ubiquitous term that floats around my age group: “making food,” as in “I made food yesterday.” Never lunch, never dinner: “I made food,” as if it were an indeterminate thing, not scheduled, caught out of the temporal ether in a moment of gastric abandon. Cool, you made food. But what did you have for dinner? Did you even sit down?

A frequent complaint one hears is that cooking healthful, normal meals at home is “too expensive,” particularly if one is picky about the source of one’s food: that organic stuff isn’t cheap. As a local grass-fed pasture-crazy card-carrying foodie, I get that things can get a little pricey if you’re choosy about where you buy your grub. But turning to the meal kit is not an intelligent solution; this will not be kind on your wallet:

Taranto says that while $12 a meal is a costly dinnertime time option for many, it is a reasonable expense to a segment of consumers whose alternative options include eating out, either at fast casual chains like Panera Bread or at fine dining establishments, or buying groceries from upmarket grocery stores like Whole Foods.

$12 for every home-cooked dinner meal is fairly high for two people, particularly if you’re on a budget. That’s $84 per week on dinners alone, and you haven’t even bought breakfasts and lunches yet. One of the problems with my generation is that we’ve forgotten how to eat poor—not poorly, mind you, but poor, going after the pickings that the barons and countesses won’t eat. Even buying the high-quality local stuff can be a bargain if you shop right. At most farmers markets in the area I can get a pound of chicken livers for two dollars; that will usually be enough to feed both me and Caroline for dinner, with one of us taking the leftovers for lunch the next day. You can do the math, but you already know it’s somewhere south of $12 per meal. Buy a few pounds of beef bones or lamb bones and make broth; it’s insanely cheap, and you can make soups three seasons out of the year with no problems whatsoever. Abjure the expensive cuts; buy lower on the hog, and maybe even skip the hog altogether every other week and go for the cheaper herbivores. Have you ever had oxtail? Shame on you—in many places, it’s so cheap you can practically buy it just by looking at it. You can eat like a king on a poor man’s budget, while the clueless king buys his expensive royal meal kit. This is not hard—it simply requires a little dedication.

“Meal kits” are not the disease but rather the symptom. More and more, people are “worrying about their culinary ineptitude,” and still they are not doing anything to fix that ineptitude. If you want to learn how to run a kitchen, you must first begin by learning how to run a kitchen. If you say you want to run a kitchen but you’re not quite willing to take the first step—well, they can always ship your food to you in a little box, with all the ingredients labeled, and all the thinking done for you. You might not “have what it takes to put a proper, nutritious dinner on the table,” but someone else surely does—and you will be paying them handsomely for it.