Barfing for Justice!

In our time, the term “Social Justice Warrior” has become something of a needling pejorative, and rightly so, for Social Justice Warriors are profoundly unpleasant and largely unlikable people. Being a Social Justice Warrior doesn’t simply mean you hold liberal political views; millions of people hold those views and they’re as pleasant and well-adjusted as anyone. Social Justice Warriors, in contrast, are neurotic, hysterical, very stupid individuals. They are not stupid in terms of innate ability or intelligence, mind you—a low IQ and/or low intellectual aptitude is neither a sin nor a vice. Rather they are stupid by their own volitions, determined as a matter of choice to remain belligerently ignorant and caustically uninformed about even the political and cultural topics on which they fixate. Willful idiocy is among the most destructive types of idiocy, for it cannot even recognize itself as such; indeed it mistakes idiocy for virtue, and in doing so elevates the former while trampling on the latter.

I do not make these descriptions lightly; nor do I make them broadly. In terms of raw numbers, Social Justice Warriors are actually fairly uncommon. Not very many people can maintain the type of perpetual seething rage and wanton gooberism that the label requires. But that’s the magic of the brand: it doesn’t really need a lot of adherents to make a lot of change. In the same way that just a few guys with box cutters can hijack a few planes and change the course of world history forever, really dedicated progressive activists can similarly change the social landscape with relatively few individuals involved.

Such is the case with—for goodness’s sake, of all things—young adult literature:

When Laura Moriarty decided she wanted to write a dystopian novel about a future America in which Muslims are forcefully corralled into detention centers, she was aware that she should tread carefully. Her protagonist is a white teenager, but one of her main characters, Sadaf, is a Muslim American immigrant from Iran, so Moriarty began by diving into Iranian books and films. Moriarty explained via email that she asked two Iranian immigrant friends to read an early draft and see if Sadaf seemed authentic to them, and whether the language and accent fit with their memories and experiences. A friend of Pakistani and American descent who is a practicing Muslim gave additional feedback. Moriarty asked a senior colleague at the University of Kansas, Giselle Anatol, who writes about Young Adult fiction and has been critical of racist narratives in literature, to read the book with a particular eye toward avoiding another narrative about a “white savior.” And after American Heart was purchased by Harper, the publisher provided several formal “sensitivity reads,” in which a member of a minority group is charged with spotting potentially problematic depictions in a manuscript.

None of this, as it turns out, was enough to protect American Heart from becoming the subject of the latest skirmish in the increasingly contentious battle over representation and diversity in the world of YA literature. American Heartwon’t be published until January, but it has already attracted the ire of the fierce group of online YA readers that journalist Kat Rosenfield has referred to as “culture cops.” To them, it was an irredeemable problem that Moriarty’s novel, which was inspired in part by Huckleberry Finn, centers on a white teenager who gradually—too gradually—comes to terms with the racism around her. On Goodreads, the book’s top “community review,” posted in September, begins, “fuck your white savior narratives”; other early commenters on Goodreads accused Moriarty of “profiting off people’s pain” and said “a white writer should not have tackled this story, and neither should a white character be the center of it.”

The backlash escalated last week, when Kirkus Reviews gave American Heart a coveted “starred review,” which influences purchases by bookstores and libraries. Kirkus’ anonymous reviewer called the book “by turns terrifying, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and touching,” and praised its “frighteningly believable setting of fear and violent nativism gone awry.” The book’s critics were not pleased with the commendation. “Kirkus Reviews of books reinforce white supremacy,” author and activist Justina Ireland, who had posted a critical review of the book on Medium, wrote on Twitter. “I’m sick to my stomach over this, and I’m so sorry Muslim folks have to contend with one more reminder that their humanity is negotiable.” BookRiot published a list of “Books by Muslims to Support Instead of Reading ‘American Heart.’”

Kirkus listened: the company removed the review, claiming that it “fell short of meeting our standards for clarity and sensitivity.” They then re-posted it in an edited form, said update presumably containing more clarity and sensitivity than the original.

What is most astonishing about the company’s decision is that, in the statement, they point out that the original starred reviewer was an “observant Muslim person of color.” Got that? To recap: in writing a book featuring Muslim characters, the author of the book did extensive cultural research, asked two Middle Eastern friends (who may have been Muslim) and one Pakistani-American friend (who definitely was Muslim) to look over the manuscript, and had a colleague who is “critical of racist narratives” read the book. Furthermore, the manuscript was subject to several “sensitivity reads” by “member[s] of…minority group[s]” to ensure that no “problematic depictions” made it into the final draft. And then, finally, the book was favorably reviewed by an “observant Muslim person of color.”

And what was the response? “Fuck your white savior narratives.” Fuck em, lady! And this from people who, lest it be forgotten, haven’t even read the novel.

Still: it gets results. Probably only a few dozen people, at most, caused this ruckus. And yet it was still enough for a major book publishing company to make a highly insulting and cowardly decision in the face of a nasty slander campaign. If you’re running a business, I suppose you have to think about how this stuff looks to the public; you have to think about your bottom line, and whether you want a bunch of shrieking activists claiming that you believe that “[Muslim peoples’] humanity is negotiable.” That kind of thing might stink on social media.

Then again, it might not. A great many people have learned to ignore this kind of pablum. Others might pay some attention to it but are happy to judge the book on its own merits. Still more people are probably completely unaware of these dumb manufactured controversies. What this means is this: it is highly unlikely that the uninformed and senseless ramblings of Internet Social Justice Warriors matter all that much. It would be very encouraging if companies stopped taking them seriously, for they do not deserve to be taken seriously. Ignoring them is the best option at this point; they can be “sick to their stomach” over “white savior narratives” on their own time, and outlets like Kirkus can stop believing that such opinions matter at all.

Talk Straight, Shoot Straighter

At the Los Angeles Times, in a article calling for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment, Professor Timothy Waters writes:

Rights matter, and protecting rights carries costs. We need a real debate about our willingness to pay those costs. There is serious disagreement about whether guns protect liberty or threaten it — disagreement we don’t have when it comes to the value of voting or free assembly. That alone is reason enough to reconsider the 2nd Amendment.

He is right about the “real debate,” though he is wrong in his assumption that we’re not having that debate already—we are, even if it’s sometimes imperfect and flawed.

After every mass shooting in the United States, at least a few commentators and pundits—and sometimes a lot of them—come out in favor of repealing or radically attenuating the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution. Progressives (and some nominally conservative individuals) frequently argue that the 2nd Amendment’s guarantee of an individual right to firearm ownership—a right that is meant, in part, to act as a civil check on government authority—is functionally useless, insofar as, the thinking goes, civilians with handguns and semiautomatic rifles could never hope to outmatch the full military power of the United States Armed Forces.

At the New York Times, author Michael Sherman, for one, writes: “If you think stock piling firearms from the local Guns and Guitars store, where the Las Vegas shooter purchased some of his many weapons, and dressing up in camouflage and body armor is going to protect you from an American military capable of delivering tanks and armored vehicles full Navy SEALs to your door, you’re delusional.”

Similarly, the Times’s newest “conservative” writer, Bret Stephens, wrote a column baldly titled: “Repeal the 2nd Amendment.” Stephens gives short shrift to “the idea that an armed citizenry is the ultimate check on the ambitions and encroachments of government power.” He calls this idea “curious,” citing, among other conflicts, the failed Whisky Rebellion as an example of the limits of civilian armament.

For the sake of argument, let us entertain the notion for a moment that these two men are correct—that the 2nd Amendment is nothing more than a useless, antiquated relic, one whose two-century-old guarantees are wholly unsuited to the world we live in today. As a good-faith gesture, I’ll posit this political opinion clearly and unambiguously: the 2nd Amendment is useless as a check on tyranny, because armed American citizens could never withstand the might of the United States Armed Forces.

For everyone who believes this, and who thus believes the 2nd Amendment (and individual firearm rights in general) should be repealed, I have a simple, easy-to-answer question. It’s not a trick question; it’s not rhetorical; it’s not a “gotcha.” It is an honest inquiry that deserves an honest answer. It is this:

If the United States government were taken over by dictators, fascists and/or totalitarians, and the government itself were weaponized against innocent American citizens, would you rather have a gun, or would you rather be disarmed? 

This is not a gag question. It is a serious one. I have posed it to a number of pro-gun-control progressives over the past few years, and I have never gotten a straight answer. A journalist posed this question to the director of the Holocaust Research Institute, in the context of Nazi-mandated Jewish disarmament prior to the Holocaust, and the director flatly refused to answer it.

If we are going to have a “real debate” about the 2nd Amendment, this question should be answered by everyone who wishes to repeal it and who thinks civilian gun ownership is a bad idea. I invite everyone who feels this way to respond in the comments section below, and to explain your answer, whatever it may be.

You Need Us, Ladies!

Emerging from the Chardonnay-stinking mahogany-lined den in which she has spent the last eleven months hibernating, Hillary Clinton took to Twitter a few days ago to declare: “Rolling back no-copay birth control shows a blatant disregard for medicine, science, & every woman’s right to make her own health decisions.” Really—medicine, science and women’s rights? It’s not every day that a mild, low-impact deregulatory administrative decision hits the gold standard trifecta of political consequences, but leave it to the Trump administration to pull off such a yuge accomplishment.

It is funny sometimes to observe how quickly the Overton window can move, and how far: Obamacare’s unilateral contraceptive mandate is barely five years old, but, to listen to liberal pundits and politicians tell it, the mandate is as indispensable a part of modern American society as the Civil Rights Act or Miranda v. Arizona. That’s a neat trick, and a very useful one as well: much of a generation of American women now believes that having the government force insurance companies to offer them “free” birth control is a normal and indeed imperative part of the American constitutional order. Progressives are fairly bad at most governmental undertakings—governance, budget-making, constitutional restraint—but they are simply stellar when it comes to convincing the masses to be slavishly dependent upon the government, even unto the point of subsidizing their sex lives.

And make no mistake: that is what this is about. Liberals have expended a great deal of commentary arguing that, au contraire, birth control actually has a lot of uses outside of suppressing a woman’s fertility: at Self, Mattie Quinn claims that contraception is “basic medicine” which “provides ample benefits beyond pregnancy prevention,” including “[easing of] severe menstrual cramps,” “[reducing] acne,” and “[eliminating] menstrual migraines.”

All of this may be true (though there are certainly other, better ways to do these things), but birth control is ultimately not primarily or even secondarily about such considerations (that’s why it’s called “birth control” and not, you know, “panacea women’s miracle drug”).  Birth control is about sex, specifically about the ability to have sex and not get pregnant from it. Don’t take my word for it: the Most Worshipful Grand Master of American birth control herself, Cecile Richards, responded to the Trump administration’s rule change by declaring: “We’re talking about a fundamental right — to be able to decide whether and when you want to have children.”

Do tell. Not very long ago, if a women were unable to afford contraception, she was still perfectly capable of deciding “whether and when to have children;” there was always the option of, well,, not having sex. It is an odd thing to see nominally serious people—successful grown-ups who are in charge of major American institutions—approach policy-making with the a priori assumption that women are incapable of any kind of functional abstinence. I myself tend to believe that your average woman is perfectly able to lead a healthy, happy life without the Trump administration ordering Cigna and BlueCross BlueShield to waive the cost of their contraception. But hell, I’m a throwback—you know, to 2011.

Ultimately that is a theoretical proposition, not an applicative one. By-and-large, hormonal contraception is one of the more affordable medicines on the market: as Jeff Jacoby points out, the Pill can often be had for as little as $20 a month, or roughly less than 75¢ a day. That price would almost certainly decrease even more if the Pill were made available over-the-counter, something Republicans tried to do a few years ago but to which Democrats were uniformly opposed.

Ladies: Democrats don’t want you to be able to buy packs of Ortho-Novum like you buy packs of Tylenol PM. It would destroy the Democrat narrative of women as helpless waifs utterly dependent upon the largesse of Democrats. It works out much better for them, politically, if they convince you that you’re dependent upon free hormonal contraceptives, which are in turn dependent upon free hormonal contraceptive mandates, which are in turn dependent upon Democrats getting elected to national office. See how it works? They sure do. That’s why you have a shrieking chorus of maniacs babbling that a very small conscience protection clause in a federal administrative rule is going to turn you into one of Margaret Atwood’s handmaids—all for a product that you could probably buy on your own for less than a gas station cup of coffee per day. “Birth control is not controversial,” Cecile Richards claims. So why the hell is the Left making it so controversial?

All Right, Then, I’ll Go to Hell

So George Clooney apparently had no idea that Harvey Weinstein was a serial sexual pervert and also maybe a rapist. Perhaps he is telling the truth, though I am tempted to think that Clooney may be just a bit wiser than the numerous other Hollywood celebrities who have confessed that, yes, they knew about Weinstein’s degenerate sexual behavior for years, but they didn’t say anything because he was basically the Emperor Xerxes of Hollywood. It’s not a good look when you admit to having known for upwards of several decades that one of the great power players in the modern film industry is a nasty little pervo. Generally you’re supposed to, you know, say something about that kind of stuff.

That nobody did up until very recently is a tremendously sad commentary on the ultimately pathetic nature of the entertainment industry, a profession which—more so than most, it would seem—compels people to keep their traps shut in order to advance their own careers. As the Times notes, when propositioned by him in his bedroom, Ashley Judd’s impulse was to wonder: “How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” (“There’s a lot on the line,” she told the Times, citing “the cachet that came with Miramax.”) Were she being propositioned by a random weirdo rather than a powerful mogul, it is doubtful that Judd would have taken the time to worry about her career before getting out of the room as fast as possible. (Judd believes that this kind of observation is “victim-blaming,” which is a weird argument: it is hard to square “victimhood,” after all, with the kind of cynical professional strategizing Judd exhibited by her own admission.) Rose McGowan also allegedly suffered harassment at Weinstein’s hands a few decades ago, for which she apparently accepted a hundred grand in hush money. Jessica Chastain claims that “the stories were everywhere” and that she was “warned from the beginning.” Matt Damon and Russel Crowe, meanwhile, allegedly helped squash an exposé about Weinstein in the Times back in 2004. And Tina Fey was cracking wise about Weinstein’s sexual perversity on 30 Rock back in 2012.

Plenty of people knew—probably most people knew, even George Clooney, who is likely just thinking about that congressional bid he’s hoping to mount in 2022. Lurid stories like this are never not-known; they’re just not-talked-about, at least not in any way that could effect any real meaningful change. And this is a masterful exegesis on the craven, opportunistic politics of Hollywood liberalism. Everyone is very happy to debase, mock, slander and criticize the President of the United States for, in part, his pathological mistreatment of women—but nobody will speak out against a temperamental pervert film exec for doing the same thing for decades. As Meryl Streep put it, he supported “good and worthy causes.” What’s a little weaponized masturbation among Democrats?

This ultimately isn’t a partisan thing; it is much more serious than that, and more elemental, and more damning of Hollywood elites than even their stupid liberal political biases. If you’re a low-level key grip’s assistant who’s just starting to work her way up the ladder, maybe you think your best option is to just smile politely at Harvey Weinstein’s ding-dong advances, excuse yourself from the room, and keep your trap shut. But Ashley Judd, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Tina Fey—these are all very powerful, very wealthy people,  the kind of folks who, materially speaking, have nothing to lose by exposing the nasty little criminal habits of a nasty little criminal man. If Weinstein’s exploits were so well-known, it would not have been difficult in the slightest for half a dozen moneyed and well-connected celebrities to coordinate a thorough exposé a decade prior to this. Even if the effort ultimately failed, no great loss: you might get blacklisted from those coke parties in Redondo Beach, but you’ve still got fifty million sitting in the bank, and you went out on a high moral note.

But maybe the coke parties and the red carpets and the good reviews in the Chicago Tribune were what really mattered. Maybe these men and women did stop to think about going public about Harvey the Pervert, but then it occurred to them: “I really like my life the way it is now. I don’t want to mess anything up.” Truthfully, one can understand this impulse. But impulses are no substitute for honest thinking. Five minutes’ worth of private deliberation should have been enough. That it wasn’t—that everyone kept silent on such a momentous problem for so long—shows that the desire to be part of the action, on the right side of the in-group, is simply too much for many people to resist, even Hollywood movie starts (maybe especially them). Early career ambitions are no excuse for staying silent in the face of wickedness, but they are, at least from a brutally practical perspective, understandable. Once you’re on top, however, there is no way to justify it—except by the spineless and opportunistic standards of Hollywood, a place which looks the other way and allows men like Harvey Weinstein to thrive.

Ecce Vertias

Many people will concede that Jesus Christ existed while holding that he was not, in fact, divine, merely a “moral teacher” who preached love of tax collectors and forgiveness of wayward sons. Still others hold that Jesus never existed, that he was a sweet allegorical myth made up by a few illiterate fishermen, a campfire tale that—whoops!—a few billion people took hook, line, and sinker. But nobody—nobody serious, anyway—denies that Pontius Pilate existed, that he was a real person who really presided as prefect of Judea at the time that the Gospels say he did. And it strikes me that Pilate’s reality—a reality which no mildly literate person can contest—poses some problems for the skeptics who doubt not only Jesus’s existence but also his divinity.

To acknowledge the reality of Pilate—which one must do, at least if one is to accept the historical record, which includes not only the Gospels but also Josephus and Philo and the Pilate Stone and the Nicene Creed, the composers of the lattermost of whom we might assume knew of what they wrote and spoke—is, quite inescapably, to acknowledge at least the historical reality of Jesus Christ, for reasons that will be made clear below. But why should we concede that Pilate was in fact real? Because to argue otherwise is to make a deeply improbable assertion: that the authors of the Gospels invented a relatively high-ranking Roman bureaucrat out of whole cloth, not merely as a bit player in a larger drama but as a central character in the greatest drama ever told—and then we would have to assume that later historians were not only duped by this fake mystery man but that, in the cases of Philo and Josephus, they made up other historical facts about him: Josephus, for one, relates a nasty little trick Pilate pulled on a crowd of Jews using Roman soldiers, a story found nowhere in the New Testament. Perhaps more pointedly, there is no record anywhere, at any time, of any Roman politician, citizen or soldier, of any stripe or variety, ever speaking up and saying, “Uh, this Pontius Pilate guy never existed.”

So—unless we are to believe that the writers of the Gospels pulled off perhaps the most improbable and unlikely socio-historical dupe in recorded history—we must reckon with the reality of Pontius Pilate, which means we must reckon with the reality of Christ, and for all of the same reasons.  All four Gospels hold that Pilate oversaw the sentencing of Jesus Christ, that, harried and confused and wanting only to placate a baffling mob of angry Hebrews, he handed Christ over to death. There is no real reason to doubt that this happened. If Pilate’s role in the passion were fabricated by the authors of the Gospels, after all, then Pilate himself would have no doubt publicly denied it—it was in his interest as the governor of a volatile backwater province to quash what must surely have seemed like a powder keg of a Jewish rebellion. All he would have had to say is, “I did not take any part in the conviction of this man Jesus. Nobody named Christ was crucified under my watch. These people are liars.”

Yet there is no account—not an historical whisper, not even a shred of apocryphal papyrus—that has Pilate, or Marcellus and Marullus, the prefects who proceeded him shortly after Christ’s execution, or any higher authorities in Rome, denying that Pilate really oversaw the sentencing of a real man named Jesus. Nor do any Jewish sources deny it, and the Jews more than even Pilate would have reason to unravel the Christian story in any way they could, as Matthew points out they tried to do with that bit about the stone and the seal.

From these reasonable conclusions—that Pilate existed, and that so too did Jesus—it does not necessarily follow that Christ was the Son of God Who died and rose from the dead: the Roman bureaucrat and the Jewish preacher might be true, but the True God from True God bit is another thing entirely. This is an accurate tack—but also a strangely mercurial one, insofar as doubting the Gospels requires one to engage in a similar kind of historical denialism as does doubting the reality of Pilate. If we acknowledge that Christ really lived and, at the very least, really died, then we must also grapple with the claims of the Gospels, which assert unambiguously that He really rose from the dead. If Pilate actually ordered the execution of Christ, after all, then the end result of that execution was a dead body—one that no skeptic, no Sanhedrin, no Roman authority, nobody, anywhere, at any time, was able to produce. All that was needed to squash the claims of the Apostles was to parade around the flayed, beaten, scoured, stabbed, crucified, rotting body of the executed criminal: nobody could have denied the false claims of Easter Sunday after laying eyes on that.

That nobody ever produced such a body, or even mentioned seeing it, or even mentioned knowing someone that had seen it, suggests two things: either Jesus Christ never existed, or…something else. Since it’s fairly obvious he did exist, we are left with…well, something else.

So, Pontius Pilate was real, and so was Jesus, and the former ordered the execution of the latter, and the latter was executed. And then what happened?

No Questions, No Audience, No Nothing

Something has to be done about activist progressivism—the half-bright, emotionally-driven, fact-challenged, hysterical, irrational, violent, fanatical, cracked, crank, conspiracy-addled wing of American liberalism that is apparently determined to destroy American public debate and American freedom of speech in service to an idiot ideology based largely around feelings. Most progressives are not like this—political differences aside, most progressives are fairly reasonable, at least insofar as they’re not apt to assault you if you disagree with them, or form a violent mob in order to shut you up. But you do not need all or most or even a large minority of progressives to effectively clamp down on free expression in American society; you only need two things: a sufficient number of liberal activists to disrupt a sufficient number of political norms, and an unwillingness on the part of progressives to challenge this behavior.

We have both—hell, in many cases we’ve seen liberals openly, gleefully encouraging political terrorism. And this gamble has paid off. At the College of William & Mary last month, this happened:

Students affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement crashed an event at the College of William & Mary, rushed the stage, and prevented the invited guest—the American Civil Liberties Union’s Claire Gastañaga, a W & M alum—from speaking…

The disruption was livestreamed on BLM at W&M’s Facebook page. Students took to the stage just a few moments after Gastañaga began her remarks. At first, she attempted to spin the demonstration as a welcome example of the kind of thing she had come to campus to discuss, commenting “Good, I like this,” as they lined up and raised their signs. “I’m going to talk to you about knowing your rights, and protests and demonstrations, which this illustrates very well. Then I’m going to respond to questions from the moderators, and then questions from the audience.”

It was the last remark she was able to make before protesters drowned her out with cries of, “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too.” They also chanted, “the oppressed are not impressed,” “shame, shame, shame, shame,” (an ode to the Faith Militant’s treatment of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, though why anyone would want to be associated with the religious fanatics in that particular conflict is beyond me), “blood on your hands,” “the revolution will not uphold the Constitution,” and, uh, “liberalism is white supremacy.”

This went on for nearly 20 minutes. Eventually, according to the campus’s Flat Hat News, one of the college’s co-organizers of the event handed a microphone to the protest’s leader, who delivered a prepared statement. The disruption was apparently payback for the ACLU’s principled First Amendment defense of the Charlottesville alt-right’s civil liberties.

Organizers then canceled the event; some members of the audience approached the podium in an attempt to speak with Gastañaga, but the protesters would not permit it. They surrounded Gastañaga, raised their voices even louder, and drove everybody else away.

To its credit, the college released a statement condemning the protestors in harsh and unequivocal language, promising sanctions and consequences for the students who shut down a campus event using threats of violence and intimidation tactics. Haha, sorry, that was a small joke! The college actually released a limp-wristed, watered-down, piss-poor equivocatory statement lamenting the fact that “an event to discuss a very important matter – the meaning of the First Amendment — could not be held as planned.” Summoning every ounce of its historical and academic integrity, the university declared: “Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community.” Gee, it’s “not acceptable,” huh? Then why did your “community” just, you know, bend over and “accept it?” Why did your school both “hand a microphone to the protest’s leader” and eventually “cancel the event?” That sounds pretty accepting to me!

It goes without saying that, if this were a progressive event shut down by conservative protesters—if a Trans Pan-Sexual Foot Fetish Genderfuck People of Color’s conference had been taken over and closed down by a mob of thug College Republicans—the negative response would be swift, viciously unambiguous and virtually universal. And that would be the correct response: free expression, even when used in service of stupid political or cultural ideas, is a cornerstone presumption of a free society. But that’s most maddening part of this: freedom of speech isn’t a liberal or a conservative ideal—it’s a universal one, something to which any nominally liberal political order, and any nominally fair-minded person, should aspire. It should be terrifying to us when violent, irrational mobs feel perfectly free to silence political debate—not just one side of the debate, mind you, but debate itself, the very premise of debate. But that’s what happened here: rather than call campus police and have every one of the hostile and threatening protesters arrested, the college surrendered the event to them, gave them a platform to speak, and then shut the whole thing down. If you were a Black Lives Matter partisan, wouldn’t you count this as an unabashed victory for your cause, and a clear sign that intimidation and tacit threats of violence are an effective and acceptable political tactic? Of course you would.

This is all first-principles stuff—free expression versus political censorship, free societies versus violent mob rule. Yet one is obliged to point out that the ideals to which the Black Lives Matter protesters applied this idiot activism –the notion that the ACLU is some sort of white supremacist organization—is itself deeply, unquestionably stupid, though it is the natural end result of more and more progressives calling everything they don’t like “white supremacy.”

That being said, the notion that “liberalism is white supremacy” is, while semantically debatable, nevertheless, from an American perspective, rooted in certain facts of American history. Democrats, after all, were the principle sponsors of Jim Crow legislation throughout the postbellum South, and one of the most celebrated Democrats of the 20th and 21st centuries, Robert Byrd, was himself an Exalted Cyclops in the Ku Klux Klan. It was Democrats, too, who launched the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Byrd himself who blabbed for over fourteen hours in order to scuttle it. It is doubtful that the clueless young men and women who disrupted the ACLU at William & Mary are really aware of these facts. But, in their dead-eyed stupidity, they are closer to the truth than they realize.

Know Thyself, Gun-Man!

“The NRA is a terrorist organization,” tweeted actor Michael Ian Black shortly after the Las Vegas massacre. “There’s no other way to say it,” he added. Really—no other way? Well, I can imagine a few different ways, but let’s not try to think too hard about this. Black bases his astonishing claim on the Free Dictionary’s definition of the term “terrorism,” which is: “A political movement that uses terror as a weapon to achieve its goals.” Gosh, I’m not quite sure how the NRA “uses terror as a weapon,” though I think it might have something to do with the fact that—stick with me here—the organization advocates for political policies that Michael Ian Black does not like very much.

One is obliged to point out the obvious: the NRA’s political advocacy is only necessary because there are a great many people like Michael Ian Black who would dearly love to see American gun rights greatly attenuated. But that’s kind of the point: if you can label your political opposition as “terrorists” not because they’re actually terrorists but simply because you disagree with them, then you will have effected a neat double whammy, casting yourself as a sort of domestic freedom fighter while delegitimizing your opponents beyond reasonable political debate.

I guess the trend is spreading: yesterday Keith Olbermann summoned the last little scraps of his political relevance and went on his website show to call the NRA a “terrorist organization.” All of this is perfectly hysterical, and predictably so, but it is also instructive on a deeper level. Low-information pundits like Michael Ian Black and Keith Olbermann do not really believe, in their heart of hearts, that the National Rifle Association is a “terrorist organization;” the reason they call it that is because they are shameless demagogues with no moral compunctions. All that talk you hear about the NRA having politicians in its pocket is similarly misguided: the NRA is, in the grand scheme of grand Washington politics, something of a bit player, an advocacy group that spends comparatively little on national politicians. Kyle Griffin pointed out on Monday that the NRA has donated about three and a half million bucks to the Congressional campaigns of current Republican congressmen…over the last two decades or so. That works out to around $180,000 per year. By contrast, Planned Parenthood spent nearly $700,000 on federal candidates last year alone. Terrorism!

All of this talk about “the NRA” is something of a smokescreen. In the end, “the NRA” is metonymical: anti-gun progressives don’t hate the organization, they hate American gun culture—a culture without which, of course, the NRA would simply be an irrelevant and esoteric fringe group advocating a cause few people cared about. Why is “the NRA” considered so powerful, after all? It is solely because of Americans who like guns—the millions of voting Americans who are members of the NRA, and the millions more who aren’t but who feel passionate enough about gun rights to vote against those who would circumscribe those rights. When Michael Ian Black calls the NRA a “terrorist organization,” he is engaging in a fit of naked political cowardice: what he means is that you are the terrorist for voting in favor of gun rights, though he is not quite brave enough to say it outright.

The kind of gun control for which people like Michael Ian Black and Keith Olbermann advocate—Olbermann, for one, resurrected the “Second Amendment is about militias” argument, tacitly endorsing the end of individual gun rights in America—is a non-starter in American politics. Americans, by and large, like their guns, and they like their gun rights. It would and will be exceedingly difficult to convince the American body politic to surrender its firearms. For rabid anti-gun partisans, this must be deeply, almost insanely frustrating. And so the impulse to call us “terrorists” is an understandable one—though it is doubtful it will effect any real change, for obvious reasons.

Laid Out in a Brown Paper Sack

When I was around seven or eight, I’d sometimes accompany my brother to our local mall’s Tower Records (remember that?), whereupon I would immediately head for the nudie magazines on the top shelf of the magazine racks. Eventually a store clerk got wise to me and would chase me away whenever he saw me hanging around. After this went on for a while, I stomped over to my brother and demanded that he order the clerk to let me look at the Playboys and Penthouses. My brother, quite sensibly, refused to do this. Some time later the store moved all of that stuff into a cordoned-off “Adults Only” section, most likely due in no small part to my shenanigans.

It is a curious thing, looking back: why was I interested in such things? I don’t mean merely that I was an eight-year-old boy who had no business looking at naked women (though that in itself is pretty obvious); I mean more generally. Pornography, even relatively un-explicit centerfold playmate shots, seems so profoundly pointless, a little bit like watching cooking shows except that, in contrast to pornographic material, you can pretty easily emulate cooking shows inside your own home. It’s pretty simple to go out and buy the ingredients for gourmet flank steak tacos; finding a way to mimic the perverted adolescent boy fantasies of modern smut is a bit more difficult.

I thought about all of this with the passing of Hugh Hefner, whom my friend Neal Dewing described as “a flim-flam man using toothpicks to build a framework for a civilizational debauch.” There was something curiously, almost comically childish about Hefner, a sort of creepy oversexed version of Peter Pan: he’s the boy who never grew up, the guy who clad himself in pajamas and surrounded himself with slim-waisted, perky-breasted twentysomethings even unto his 100th decade. This is the vision of the Good Life—for an hormonal 14-year-old boy. By the time you’ve broken 90, it’s creepy, and it’s been creepy for a long time.

That Hugh Hefner could be so creepy and yet so publicly adored is a profound commentary on the effect he had on our public mores. Rob Lowe hailed him as an “interesting man” and a “true legend.” Elijah Wood claimed he was a “giant of cultural influence.” Norman Lear called him a “true explorer.” Larry King said he was a “true original.” All of these things, unqualified, are technically true; what is obvious is that these celebrities tactfully left out the proper context of Hefner’s legacy, namely: he made a career out of degrading and debasing our culture and convincing women to sell their bodies for money. It is an odd thing, that a man should be so honored whose cultural benefaction is, more or less, convincing a great many women to take their clothes off. A side effect of that legacy is the coarsening of our civilization’s presumptions about sex and sexuality: you cannot convince thousands of women to publicly get naked for money without—inadvertently or otherwise—convincing millions of men and women that sex is cheap and, unless otherwise so imbued, meaningless.

But that was kind of his point: when asked by the New York Times “of what accomplishment he was most proud,” Hefner responded: “That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex. That gives me great satisfaction.” If that was what got his rocks off—er, no pun intended—then he should have been proud, because he surely did have a large hand in “decontaminating” the “notion” of extramarital sex. But decontaminating the notion of a thing is not synonymous with decontaminating the thing itself: one can turn sexual intercourse into a glossy mass-market commodity, but that doesn’t mean one has effected any real meaningful change, unless we’re counting the cash-cow debasement of sexual relations between men and women. Put another way: you can publish as many photos of as many naked ladies as you want, but sex before marriage is still going to be a bad thing.

But that’s the point: pornography and sexual licentiousness—two sides of the same coin, and both in which Hefner reveled for all of his adult life—are, as I wrote above, profoundly useless: spiritually and emotionally useless, yes, but useless too on a baser, more practical level. The cheap thrills of Playboy and the cheap thrills of casual sex are not only inadequate for a full and healthy life but are in fact actively opposed to it: they degrade things—both actions and the men and women who perform those actions—things which should be sacred and precious and yet which are turned into commodified products by creepy gross old perverts.

I did not know these things when I was eight years old—but most eight-year-olds don’t know them. That Hugh Hefner made it to 91 years old while still reveling in such profligacy says a lot: about Hefner himself, and about a culture that supporter and even revered him for such base and public indecency. Yes, Hefner was a “giant of cultural influence.” That was the problem. RIP.

Nothing’s Cooking, Good Looking

I suppose, given my culinary predilections, you could call me a “foodie,” though honestly I don’t quite see the point of that label: like the term “Apple fanboy,” all it really seems to signify is someone who enjoys things that don’t suck. I am not sure what a “non-foodie” would look like, anyway: someone who is enthusiastic about Walmart ground chuck and microwave fudge squares? Or maybe someone who isn’t excited about any kind of food, and who just eats things. I don’t know.

Well, anti-foodies—wherever you are, and for whatever reason you feel that way—rejoice: food consumers in this country are increasingly turning away from a culture a food and toward a culture of consumption:

According to a study published last week in the Harvard Business Review, only one in 10 Americans actually enjoys preparing dinner, which puts cooking into a category alongside hobbies like wood working, stamp collecting or sewing your own clothes. The problem isn’t the convenience of a meal kit service; it’s dealing with food at all.

Cooking at home is on a long, slow, steady decline, and the retail consequences are frightening: According to the Harvard Review article, the top 25 food and beverage companies have lost $18 billion in market share since 2009.

“The risk to traditional grocers and Big Food is not just market share declines but category obsolescence,” says the study’s author, the retail consultant Eddie Yoon. “As more people opt to buy prepared meals, grocers need to reallocate shelf space, and manufacturers will need to exit entire categories…”

But why should people be asked to visit a grocery store in the first place? The average supermarket stocks 35,000 items these days, a bewildering array of choices that makes grocery shopping, at worst, a chore or, at best, a treasure hunt.

Then there’s the problem of “cooking” itself. More cookbooks are published every year than any other category. Why? Because all too many Americans don’t know how to cook and don’t understand the process.

The two problems described above—the idea that grocery shopping is “bewildering” and the fact that many Americans “don’t know how to cook”—are actually interrelated: if the average shopper does not enjoy cooking and moreover does not invest any significant time in learning how to cook, then it is unsurprising that a trip to the supermarket would be a daunting experience: it would be like visiting New York City without a map or a cell phone. And if shopping for food feels like a “chore” rather than a normal facet of domestic life, then cooking will surely feel the same way, resulting in a cyclical aversion to both buying and preparing food.

There are plenty of good reasons to both learn how to cook and learn how to love to cook. There is, as a primary concern, the financial aspect of it all: eating out is expensive and cooking at home is cheap. There is also real merit in learning and practicing a useful domestic skill: the patience, attentiveness and creativity required to learn good cooking will surely inform other areas of your life, and anyway it makes you a more attractive mate.

The value in loving cooking—taking real enjoyment and pleasure out of it, not merely as a necessary task but as a fun and interesting one as well—is harder to quantify, and it is a harder sell in our modern economy, particularly as men and women have become convinced that they simply don’t have enough time to do good cooking anymore. Here is a declaration from the official Trial of the Century Font of Wisdom™: on average, the people who insist that they “don’t have time” to cook are lying, either to you or to themselves or both. There surely are people whose schedules simply don’t allow for much time in the kitchen, but they are doubtlessly in the minority. There are 24 hours in the day; it is not hard to pluck ninety minutes out of them to prepare a good meal, especially with modern Crockpots and other useful kitchen implements.

Enjoying the art of cooking need not be a profound existential experience; it need not even be an “art,” insofar as you don’t have to make a frigging Chez Panisse fricassée ever single night. A good domestic cook does not make a showboat of himself; he just uses good ingredients to create tasty dishes to feed his family. In the end, that is the ultimate benefit of cooking: to feed and nourish people you love with dishes you have prepared well for them. There is great joy to be had in that, as much as there is in any other well-mastered and practically useful skill. Once you have focused your energies on mastering the basic principles of domestic food preparation, the whole process becomes much less “bewildering” and more like any other part of a normal, healthy life.

The Great Papal Shrug

What is marriage? When the Supreme Court was posed this question a few years ago, it gave a particularly tortured and inexplicable answer, finding that a heretofore purely dichotomous relationship could in fact be homogenous because—well, because Justice Kennedy said so. We might expect anthropological nonsensicality (and rank dishonesty) from the liberal wing of the Court. But one tends to prefer a little more stability and sensibility in one’s Vicars of Christ. So I am not entirely opposed to this particular missive:

In a 25-page letter delivered to Francis last month and provided Saturday to The Associated Press, the 62 signatories issued a “filial correction” to the pope — a measure they said hadn’t been employed since the 14th century.

The letter accused Francis of propagating seven heretical positions concerning marriage, moral life and the sacraments with his 2016 document “The Joy of Love” and subsequent “acts, words and omissions…”

When it was released in April 2016, “The Joy of Love” immediately sparked controversy because it opened the door to letting civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion. Church teaching holds that unless these Catholics obtain an annulment — a church decree that their first marriage was invalid — they cannot receive the sacraments, since they are seen as committing adultery.

Francis didn’t create a church-wide pass for these Catholics, but suggested — in vague terms and strategically placed footnotes — that bishops and priests could do so on a case-by-case basis after accompanying them on a spiritual journey of discernment. Subsequent comments and writings have made clear he intended such wiggle room, part of his belief that God’s mercy extends in particular to sinners and that the Eucharist isn’t a prize for the perfect but nourishment for the weak.

“Vague terms and strategically placed footnotes.” Whatever your feelings on Catholic marriage, it is essentially impossible to deny that Pope Francis, whatever his other merits (and he has more than a few of them), has effected profound and inexcusable chaos within the Church: rather than clearly enunciate the scandalous proposal he appears to advocate, he has instead offered an equivocal and dodgy approximation of it, a sort of papal shrug. It is a clever tactic because it accomplishes more or less the same thing as if Francis had just come right out and advocated for the ecclesiastical legitimization of adultery, but it does so in a way that allows for a measure of plausible deniability. It’s a bit like a prison guard casually whispering to a prisoner: “There’s a guard change at 12:03 AM. Nobody will be on watch for forty seconds.” Wink, wink.

Francis’s defenders, and presumably Francis himself, deny that Amoris Laetitia in fact “legitimizes adultery,” and on its face this is true. But the practical effect of the “case-by-case basis” approach to this affair is wholly foreseeable; even if this method were right on the merits (and it is not), the inevitable mission creep would render it moot. This is perfectly obvious: what starts out as a careful process involving a “spiritual journey of discernment” would invariably, inevitably turn into a blanket dispensation for all “remarried” Catholics everywhere. Does anyone think that the majority of Catholic priests—fallible, sensitive to optics, many of them scared of giving offense to prickly parishioners—would be okay telling one adulterous couple “Your situation is acceptable, I have decided you can receive Communion” while telling another, “No, you may not receive Communion unless you stop having sex and go to Confession?” Of course not.

Even allowing for the small number of priests who would be willing to make such distinctions, what do you think such theological realpolitik would do to the parishes in question? What about the friends and family members of the couple who were denied Communion—what do you think it would do to them to see other “remarried” couples receiving the Eucharist while their sons or daughters or best friends were forced to remain in the pews? Might such circumstances sow anger, bitterness, envy and hatred? The answer is yes, of course.

Francis’s exhortation, in other words, gave the Church an absolutely untenable dilemma: either offer what amounts to a “blanket dispensation” regarding the Church’s clear and unambiguous teachings on marriage, divorce and adultery; or else make the dispensation conditional, laying the groundwork for bitter factionalism and feelings of betrayal in parishes across the world. There is no good option here—unless, of course, the Church just follows its ancient teachings on marriage and divorce, teachings which apply to everyone no matter what the “case-by-case” may be. That would be the right thing to do. And it is a poverty that we are moving away from it, at the behest of the Pope, of all people.