I teach in the Composition Department at UC Irvine, where I earned an MFA in Creative Writing in 2014. My fiction and nonfiction has appeared (or is forthcoming) in ZYZZYVA, Vice's Terraform, The Saturday Evening PostFirst Things, the Los Angeles Review of Books, ABC's Religion and Ethics, New Haven ReviewThe Smart Set, Amazon's Day One, FLAUNT Magazine, Juked, Gargoyle Magazine. I'm a contributing columnist at The Independent and literary editor at Arc Digital. In 2016 I received an Emerging Writers Grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Their generosity enabled me to complete my first novel, Lightless Lands, for which I am currently seeking representation.

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Publications:

Pro-lifers, it’s time for civil disobedience

July 11, 2020

Spectator USA

The Supreme Court has ruled in June vs Medical that the dismemberment and removal of unborn human lives was more important than a woman’s right to a high standard of care. From now on, no reasonable person can view the pro-life movement’s strategy—voting Republican, often with noses held and hoping that some future conservative majority will defend life — as anything but a failure. The foul spirit of Anthony Kennedy’s ‘mystery’ has possessed John Roberts and will no doubt possess some other ‘conservative’ host after him. 

Matthew Walther suggests a new strategy for the pro-life movement: if you believe that the Court’s rulings on abortion are illegitimate, you should act on your belief. Impose restrictions, even outright bans, at the state-level. Dare the federal government to emerge from the shadow of its penumbras and enforce its unjust laws. Frankly, this should have been done 57 years ago on the day the Roe decision was announced. But this does not mean that there is nothing to be done within the arbitrary bounds drawn by the Court prior to or concurrent with such an enormous act of civil disobedience.

Reading 'White Fragility' and canceling your friends won't make you an anti-racist

July 03, 2020

The Independent

White Fragility is the most successful of a slew of recent books functioning as devotional guides in the nuevo religion of anti-racism, all of which leverage pseudoscience and often bankrupt historiography to shore up the belief of the faithful. But the discourse manufactured by Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi, Layla F. Saad, and other mainstream anti-racist writers conceals a pernicious idea. Rather than promote racial justice, such books often serve the dual purpose of building solidarity within the predominately white managerial class while justifying its privileges. The current anti-racist discourse is a powerful tool by which the system of inequality refreshes itself.

New Faiths of the Self

June 29, 2020

First Things

C.S. Lewis wrote that to be modern is to be consumed by the magical impulse “to subdue reality to the wishes of men.” This entails giving up one’s soul in exchange for power. “Once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.” We will also have forsaken the ancient wisdom which holds that the soul is only truly free when in harmony with what is real.

Strange Rites, Tara Isabella Burton’s survey of America’s post-secular religious landscape, examines prominent twenty-first-century attempts to “subdue reality” by force of will. Contrary to the popular perception that America has become increasingly secular, Burton shows that religion is flourishing, albeit in non-traditional guises. Insofar as “religion,” in Burton’s functionalist usage, names those beliefs and practices that serve “both individually and societally to give us a sense of our world, our place in it, and our relationships to the people around us,” it has always and everywhere suffused human life. Today that suffusion is apparent even in avowedly “secular” institutions like the Supreme Court, which recently enshrined the sacral metaphysics of gender theory in law. The George Floyd protests also demonstrate the power of the progressive social justice religion to effect a nationwide Durkheimian “collective effervescence.”

White Trash Dostoyevsky

May 02, 2020

Arc Digital

"The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess,” wrote Roland Barthes. In so-called “pro” wrestling “we find a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theatres.” We should be no more embarrassed for cheering as one neon-leotarded strongman body-slams another, Barthes assures us, than for attending a performance of Molière.

You will be hard-pressed to find an American elite who admits to watching pro-wrestling (and even if you do, it’s likely to be Mexican lucha libre, because slumming isn’t quite slumming when it’s cosmopolitan). And yet all over the country the good and great together with the hoi polloi are devouring a spectacle no less supersized in its low-brow grotesqueness than the WWE. I’m referring, of course, to Netflix’s Tiger King.

I hate to bust your bubble but if coronavirus affects the election, it's likely to be in Trump's favor

March 16, 2020

The Independent

Does the coronavirus pandemic spell the end of Trump’s presidency? A profusion of breathless op-eds would have us believe so. The beau ideal of this likely transient sub-genre of NeverTrumpism is Peter Wehner’s recent article in The Atlantic. “The coronavirus is quite likely to be the Trump presidency’s inflection point,” writes Wehner, “when everything changed, when the bluster and ignorance and shallowness of America’s 45th president became undeniable, an empirical reality, as indisputable as the laws of science or a mathematical equation.” The piece is sodden with condescension and the overconfidence of a soothsaying naïf. Its gleeful air of vindication is, given the stakes, slightly vindictive.

 

This is not to say that Wehner and others don’t have a point. Trump’s shambolic, self-interested, head-in-the-sand handling of the crisis has put untold lives at risk. Early on, he spurned the expertise of public health officials and thereby squandered the time bought by his travel restrictions. His blasé attitude set the tone now adopted by many of his supporters and, of course, Fox News. As a consequence, the social distancing necessary to “flatten the curve” is proving difficult to achieve. He has demonstrated himself incapable of delivering accurate information; incapable, even, of simply reading from a teleprompter. One can easily imagine his prospects for reelection receding in proportion to an increasing body count.

The Road to Condoning Cannibalism

March 11, 2020

First Things

"I hardly know what to expect. Have you slaughtered a man before?” Bernd-Jürgen Brandes wrote to Armin Meiwes in a private chat on March 6, 2001. 

“Unfortunately, only in my dreams,” answered Meiwes, “but in my thoughts I do it every night.”

“So I’m the first? You have eaten human flesh before, or you haven’t?”

“No, you don’t exactly find it in the supermarket, unfortunately.”

Brandes met Meiwes on The Cannibal Cafe—a now-defunct forum for anthropophagic fetishists—where he had responded to Meiwes’s advertisement for a “well-built man, 18–30, who would like to be eaten by me.” The men conversed for a few days and agreed to meet on March 9 at Meiwes’s mansion near Rotenburg, Germany. Meiwes, a gay computer technician, had nurtured fantasies of consuming a blond “younger brother” since he was a kid. For his part, Brandes had long desired to be slaughtered and eaten; a desire which intensified when his girlfriend ended their relationship after learning he was bisexual. 

Screaming into the Architectural Void

March 10, 2020

Arc Digital

"Look at those stairs, man,” says a figment of Thomas Heatherwick’s imagination, pointing at the Escher print on the wall of his London flat. It’s 1993 and Thomas is in his final year at the Royal College of Art. His ghostly interlocutor continues: “Escher was like a mad genius. I bet he really believed in gravity wells.”

“Yeah, bro,” says Thomas before taking a massive gurgling rip from his bong. “But, like, what if we got loaded inside an Escher drawing?”

“You mean smoke this sweet honey kush inside Relativity? But that’s impossible! You can’t crawl inside an Escher lithograph.”

“No, but I can build one.”

“That would cost a fortune! What kind of idiot would pay millions of dollars to make your pot fantasy a reality?”

 

“I don’t know man, but it’s going to happen. I’ll find such an idiot. Hell, I’ll find an entire city full of idiots who’ll pay me 200 million dollars to build a colossal Escher honeypot — no, a honeycomb, yeah, that’s it — a fucking mammoth Escher honeycomb that’s utterly useless for anything except housing my own ego like, er, a vessel — yeah, that’s it, I’ll even call it Vessel — and attracting slack-jawed tourists like, uh, flies to honey so they’ll buy shit they don’t need at an enormous overpriced mall.”

Thirteen years later, Thomas found his idiots.

Jeanine Cummins is guilty — of writing a bad book

January 30, 2020

Spectator USA

Flatiron Books has canceled the promotional tour for Jeanine Cummins’ new novel American Dirt  due to ‘safety concerns’. Cummins’s novel, which follows a Mexican mother and her young son as they flee cartel violence and seek asylum in the United States, is intended to spur readers’ sympathy at a time when Americans are increasingly indifferent to the plight of refugees. Instead she is the target of rancor and her book the target of censorship.

‘I’ve never in my life seen this kind of public flogging,’ said novelist Ann Patchett, defending Cummins even as other writers signed an open letter asking Oprah Winfrey to rescind her endorsement. 

The outrage is following a familiar script. A white progressive takes a deep personal interest in the trauma of a people and culture not her own, writes a book about said people and gets crucified as a ‘white savior’, for daring to speak for people who should be allowed to speak for themselves. In Cummins’ case, it appears, some of her woke detractors are threatening more than figurative violence.

In Defense of Stephen King, in Defense of Art

January 16, 2020

Arc Digital

Stephen King, perhaps even more so than J.K. Rowling, is too big to be canceled. Too many stakeholders have sunk too much money in adapting his novels and stories, which have become bedrock Americana in the way of works by Whitman, Twain, and Poe. Canceling Stephen King would be like shoving an egg whisk into the gray matter of our national imagination and pulping things up a bit. We might all sleep a little better, but we’d certainly be less interesting — and less American — for the loss of those nightmares.

Phantoms of Self and Other: a review and interview with Christian Kiefer

October 21, 2019

Arc Digital

Our country’s current social crises are the result of a widespread, trans-partisan refusal to recognize ourselves in the other and the other in ourselves. “Selfhood” is given in our encounter with the other. For anyone who cherishes their own distinctiveness, their own autonomy, this entails a debt to those different from ourselves. One of the chief joys — and the unsettling challenge — of great fiction is that it deepens our awareness of this reality.

By this measure, Christian Kiefer’s new novel Phantoms succeeds magnificently. Not only does it deepen one’s sense of duty to the other, its narrative framing actually models the work of self-reflection necessary to fulfill that duty.

Let's not forget that Obama made a quid pro quo deal just like Trump's — and that Republicans said it was grounds for impeachment

September 26, 2019

The Independent

The declassified transcript of President Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and the just-released whistleblower complaint have proven to be Rorschach Tests. As with so much of Trump’s output, there is enough ambiguity here that his opponents and defenders alike are claiming vindication.

“The transcript and the Justice Department’s acting in a rogue fashion in being complicit in the President’s lawlessness confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) accused Pelosi of having been “catfished into a politically fatal impeachment proceeding based on rumors, based on faulty evidence and based on a bloodlust for the president.” The transcript, Gaetz claimed, proved there had been “no quid-pro-quo … for anything, much less military aid.”

Strictly speaking, Gaetz is correct. There is no explicit quid pro quo to be found anywhere in the transcript. Rather, it must be inferred from the sequence of topics discussed and from the conversation’s larger context.

Conservatism and Its Discontents

September 13, 2019

Arc Digital

The intra-conservative contretemps between Sohrab Ahmari and David French has thus far been a study in failed communication. From Ahmari’s opening salvo on Twitter to French’s rebuttal and the endless proliferation of hot-takes across the conservative idea-sphere, both sides have continuously spoken past each other.

Team Ahmari has struggled to articulate its philosophical critique of the liberal order, while the Frenchists seem constitutionally incapable of acknowledging that the dispute is essentially about metaphysics.

The much anticipated debate between Ahmari and French, held Thursday, September 5th at the Catholic University of America, was more of the same. However, today’s panel discussion at Notre Dame suggests that both sides may be on a trajectory toward mutual comprehension.

Coalitions of Hate: Ilhan Omar, Donald Trump, and the allure of scapegoating

July 23, 2019

Religion and Ethics

When I was a child, one of the major television networks ran Schindler’s List — commercial-free and uncensored. That struck me at the time: whatever this film was, people deemed it significant enough to forego the usual rules of propriety. I remember vividly a scene where a group of naked Jews are herded into what they believed was a shower room and then gassed. It is perhaps the first on-screen nudity I ever saw.

In elementary school, we read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and met a Holocaust survivor who worked with a local Holocaust museum. The woman had an intense aura about her; I felt that I was in the presence of a saint. In middle school, we read The Diary of Anne Frank and watched the 1987 film Escape from Sobibor. During a scene where two Jewish prisoners are publicly hanged by SS guards, I remember our seventh grade English teacher pausing the film and telling us to listen for the sound of the men’s necks breaking. “That’s how most people die when hanged,” he explained. “Rather than from strangulation.” In sophomore year of high school, I read Elie Wiesel’s Night and wept uncontrollably at the death of his father. Being a boy of a rather dark mindset, I used to daydream about what I would do in such extremis. Would I act nobly? Would I hide others at the risk of my own life? Or would I discover my soul was made of dung?

Pages Discovered in the Effects of Arthur Wayne Prince

June 07, 2019

The Saturday Evening Post

To whom it may concern,

 

It used to be that when your reason left you, or rather, when your children or executors or what have you decided that was the case, you were run to an asylum and laid in a white bed until your eyes rolled back in your head and your soul rolled up to the clouds, or down, to someplace less respectable. Now, in this, the 21st century, wonder of wonders, they bring the asylum to you. It’s called hospice. I’m laying on a white bed in the living room, crisp hospital covers up past my waist, writing this on a bunion-yellow legal pad. In the next room the nurse is reading some Harlequin romance novel with a cover to make Venus squirm in her clam. She’s waiting for a little amber light to flash on the monitor by my bed, which will mean I’ve passed on and she can pack up her things and go wait for some other old fool to quit burdening society.

It’s an odd thing, watching someone watch you die, or rather, watching someone grow increasingly exasperated that you haven’t died yet. She’s been here over a month and brooded her way through a couple dozen of those books and a few others, less trashy, which she seemed to be reading out of obligation. I’ve been reading myself — old philosophy mostly. Started with a survey of the pre-Socratics and just finished The Republic yesterday. I kid myself that I’m a late-to-the-game intellectual, but I’m also reading these books because I know it makes my nurse embarrassed of her glossy, Thor-covered drivel. Her name is Quintessa, which is an awful name.

The Oligarchy Unmasks Itself

June 02, 2019

Arc Digital

Aristotle argued that oligarchy is naturally threatened by a strong middle class. When power is broadly distributed among individuals and mediating institutions, oligarchy is constrained. This is the great virtue of federalism and representative democracy. But in America our middle class is shrinking. Our institutions are hemorrhaging authority.

We are not immune to what Robert Michels, in his 1911 study Political Parties, termed the “iron law of oligarchy.” Complex social systems require leadership, specialization, delegation of responsibilities — bureaucratization. The emergence of a leadership “class” is unavoidable. All large organizations are necessarily oligarchical.

For Michel, popular sovereignty is most threatened when the “dominant classes” are captured by a single ideology, such as egalitarianism, in which case oligarchy pursues “its ends under the cloak of equality.”

Should we really support Hollywood actors threatening to boycott Georgia — even if we support their pro-choice aims?

May 13, 2019

The Independent

The heads of several independent production companies have announced their intentions to boycott filming in the state of Georgia after the signing into law of an anti-abortion “foetal heartbeat bill.”
 

Among them are David Simon, Christine Vachon, and Mark Duplass. Alyssa Milano has also vowed not to return to Netflix’s Insatiable if the show continues to film in Georgia, and on Friday proposed a “sex strike” on Twitter — drawing scorn from some feminist allies
 

House Bill 481, the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, signed 8 May by governor Brian Kemp, provides that "no abortion is authorized or shall be performed if the unborn child has been determined to have a human heartbeat." Similar bills were passed earlier this year in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio. As they run afoul of the fetal viability standard set by Roe v. Wade, it is unlikely that they will be implemented. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have already announced plans to challenge the Georgia law.

Adventures in theography: God and the Qur'an ― an interview with Jack Miles

April 16, 2019

Religion and Ethics

Recognising oneself in the other requires a sustained act of imagination. More than that, it requires sustained habits of imagination — it is a virtue, and thus must be cultivated. The interconnectivity of our age has made such cultivation more, rather than less, difficult. Our minds flit about from one digital diversion to the next and our ability to focus deeply on any one thing diminishes as we become increasingly atomised and isolated, our narratives fragmented.
 

The Christchurch shooter is emblematic of this death of empathy. He cannot see himself in the other for the simple reason that he has no self. And, try as he might to claim a (white, European) heritage, he has no story. Without a story of one's own, it is impossible to understand or even to critique the story of another. Resentment remains possible — but it is the empty's resentment of the full.
 

For this reason, Jack Miles has done us a service in his book God in the Qur'an by embracing a comparative approach to his subject: Allah as literary protagonist. Although he intends the book to be of value to Muslims, Miles writes self-consciously for a Judaeo-Christian audience "crowded with unbelievers." 

Elizabeth Warren thinks getting rid of the electoral college would be an easy win for the Democrats. I wouldn't be so sure

March 20, 2019

The Independent

Senator Elizabeth Warren announced her desire to abolish the electoral college on Monday night. “Every vote matters,” she said to a crowd at Jackson State University, “and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the electoral college.” Her call was endorsed the following day by Beto O’Rourke.

The Electoral College has been on thin ice for decades, with a majority of Americans favoring a constitutional amendment to install popular voting. That is, until the 2016 election, when, according to Gallup, Republican enthusiasm for the Electoral College rose dramatically.

Warren argued on Monday that the current system encourages presidential candidates to focus on a handful of “battleground states” to the exclusion of others, such as Mississippi. This imbues individual voters in those states with disproportionate power, so the argument goes. But Warren’s reasoning is almost certainly disingenuous.

The Christchurch Terrorist's Strategy for White Radicalization

March 17, 2019

Arc Digital

Something about the terror in Christchurch feels different. We grieve with the families of murdered innocents. We pray for them, their community, for healing and strength. We thirst for justice to be meted out to those responsible. And we try to fend off the numbness that in the aftermath of all such acts of evil tempts us to complacency. This is all too wretchedly familiar. And yet, everyone senses that we’ve crossed a threshold.
 

“He livestreamed the act,” writes David French, “and in so doing he not only made millions of people direct witnesses to the slaughter, he may well have created the next innovation in the mass-killing contagion. He may well have written a new cultural script.”
 

French is right. While we’ve seen livestreamed killings before, we’ve seen nothing on this scale. And we’ve seen nothing so clearly calculated to emulate first-person shooter video games. This will be imitated. In time, this too will become familiar.

New Zealand Moves to Ban Semi-Automatic Rifles. Will the U.S. Ever do the Same?

April 07, 2019

Arc Digital

On April 1st, New Zealand’s parliament introduced legislation to reform the nation’s firearm laws in response to the massacre in Christchurch.

Many have applauded Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s resolve as exemplary and anticipate the mandatory buy-back program—modeled on the reforms passed in Australia after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre—to be passed swiftly. Others are asking why the United States, where mass shootings are perpetrated more frequently than anywhere else, has been unwilling to do the same.
 

A common answer is that the Republican Party is too firmly in the grip of the NRA to do the right thing. But this is little more than a rhetorically useful misunderstanding. The NRA represents the interests of an enormous constituency of voters. This, rather than its financial lobbying (which is meager compared to, say, Planned Parenthood’s), is the source of its influence.

The Art of Spiritual Warfare

March 01, 2019

First Things

As a teenager, I was convinced that a spirit of false prophecy had attached itself to my neck. This spirit’s name—according to one of our youth group leaders—was Python, after the ­Pythia, or Oracle of Delphi. I did not think that the Python, the great serpent of the earth’s navel slayed by Apollo, had deigned to visit itself upon me. But I believed that one of its ilk had wrapped its serpentine body around my spine to whisper vaticinations into my ear. You see, I had the spiritual gift of prophecy—as a multiple-­choice questionnaire I filled out at church assured me—and it was only natural that the Enemy should seek to subvert the Lord’s work. Occasionally, when in prayer or at worship, I would feel a tightening in my neck, a quick little spasm reminding me of Python’s presence.

“I bind you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” someone would say over me, anointing me with frankincense oil. “By the power and authority of his blood I cast you off.” Sometimes I would attempt to cast Python into the sea or the abyss. I could do this, of course, having been granted with all other believers the power to bind and to loose, to trample serpents and scorpions. And I should add that, having been sealed by the Holy Spirit, I was not possessed but merely oppressed. This was nothing so dramatic as exorcism proper—just your workaday spiritual warfare.

Phenomenologies of Patience, Philosophies of Embrace: an Interview with Steven Yeun

February 21, 2019

FLAUNT Magazine

“The modern loss of faith does not concern just god or the hereafter,” writes Byung-Chul Han, the Korean- German phenomenologist. “It involves reality itself and makes human life radically fleeting.” Heady stuff, but such reflection comes naturally for 35-year-old actor Steven Yeun, whose roles often confront the darkest corners of human nature. Han is just one of the many figures who populate Yeun’s bookshelves, and Yeun revisits him often to deepen his understanding of life, reality, and art. 

 

I meet Yeun at Maru Coffee in Los Feliz to discuss his new film, Burning. He arrives dressed as his character, Ben, might have—black sweater, slim jeans, and black loafers, casualness belying celebrity.While Ben might or might not be a serial killer, Yeun is warm and funny, possessed of a disarming authenticity. Our conversation ranges from nostalgia for our Midwestern childhoods to the intersection of filmcraft and philosophies of life. 

Did the Boys of Covington Catholic "Mob" a Native American Elder?

January 20, 2019

Arc Digital

If you had the misfortune of being on Twitter yesterday, you were likely swept up in the flood of outrage at the MAGA-hatted students of the all-male Covington Catholic High School. When I first watched the viral video that appeared to show the boys surrounding and taunting a Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, as he beat a ceremonial drum and chanted — I seethed with anger. I didn’t even have the sound on. The images alone were enough to assure me that all the bipartisan blue-checkmark indignation was more than justified.

The idea of (ostensibly Catholic) teenagers disrupting a ceremonial chant at the inaugural Indigenous Peoples March with shouts of “Build the wall!” jives with everything I take for granted about the “spirit of Trumpism.” It was a despairing spectacle, but it also provided a measure of schadenfreude: any moment now these brats would be doxxed and irrevocably tarred by their bigoted folly.

And then fresh videos began to appear in my feed. As I watched — and now listened — I experienced a sinking feeling. I was part of a mob, not those boys.

The Great God Pudenda

January 10, 2019

Arc Digital

“He wanted as many girls as I could get him,” says Courtney Wild of billionaire rapist Jeffrey Epstein. “It was never enough.’’

Epstein began violating Wild when she was 14 years old and even manipulated her into recruiting other underage girls for him to abuse. According to Wild, he “preferred girls who were white, appeared prepubescent, and those who were easy to manipulate into going further each time.” The number of Epstein’s victims are estimated to be in the hundreds, according to The Miami Herald’s multi-part investigative report released late last month.

The Pedophile Apologist

Arc Digital

“Do we still keep citing the scholarship of serial harassers and sexists?” asks Nikki Usher in a much-discussed article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. While the answer is — obviously — yes, and Usher’s solution an interesting specimen of anti-intellectualism, her frustration is justified. As Plato understood, the pursuit of knowledge and the practice of virtue are intimately entwined — the true is convertible with the good (and the beautiful). We are right to decry any fracturing of this unity, which implies a fracturing of our nature as humans.

 

But fractured we are, and the pursuit of knowledge is only possible within a framework that acknowledges this. Just imagine what would happen to the humanities and social sciences if we memory-holed the immoral. Louis Althusser, for example, whose work has shaped much of late-Marxist thought, murdered his wife. Michel Foucault — cited over 900,000 times and without whom two whole generations of academic charlatans would have no one to imitate — murdered any number of young men by intentionally infecting them with HIV (a practice he theorized as the “limit-experience”). Academia, like government, is filled with reprehensible characters who sometimes prove themselves useful or interesting.

Trump Is Not King David

November 19, 2018

Arc Digital

Of all the defenses offered on behalf of our dissolute president, perhaps the most galling is the canard that Trump is a latter-day King David — a great sinner and yet “a man after God’s own heart.” Fundagelical fakir Jerry Falwell Jr. excreted this chestnut during the primary, and then posed with Trump in front of a framed Playboy cover showing Trump with porn star. Sean Hannity trotted it out in the aftermath of the Access Hollywood tape, as did Dennis Prager. Out on the fevered fringe, some have even enlisted Hebrew numerology to prove that “Donald Trump” means “Messiah from the House of David.” And l’affaire Stormy has led to a whole new round of (alleged) evangelicals defecating on the good psalmist’s memory.

In the Age of #metoo, Men Must Read More Literary Fiction

November 06, 2018

Arc Digital

The #MeToo reckoning has occasioned a surfeit of commentary on nefarious male behavior, ranging from the crucial (e.g., analyses of gendered power dynamics, arguments for retributive rather than restorative justice, etc.) to the trivial (e.g., manspreading). But there has been precious little mainstream discussion of what we as a society can do to cultivate more virtuous men.

 

This is likely because there is no silver bullet for inculcating virtue. Its growth depends on discipline and repetition — the formation of habits of mind and heart. No one is born virtuous. Virtue is learned, and this learning occurs only within a community of shared concern—which, of course, presents quite the challenge for a society as atomized as ours. No, there is no silver bullet, but there are bullets — necessary, but not sufficient in themselves — and I’d like to offer one:

 

To improve men, have them read more literary fiction.

Re-education In Our Time

October 05, 2018

Arc Digital

China has interned more than one million Muslims in Communist re-education camps, according to The New York Times, and “roughly two million other people are undergoing some form of coercive re-education or indoctrination.” Those interned in Xinjiang are primarily from the Uighur ethnic group — predominantly Sunni Muslims of Turkic descent — who comprise about 0.8 percent of China’s population. In these camps, detainees are forced to recite praise of President Xi Jinping, renounce their faith, sing Communist propaganda songs, demonstrate fealty by disobeying Islamic proscriptions against eating pork and drinking alcohol, sometimes on pain of death or torture.
 

“Xi Jinping is great! The Communist Party is great! I deserve punishment for not understanding that only President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party can help me,” one Uighur woman was made to recite, according to The Globe and Mail. “My soul is infected with serious diseases. There is no God. I don’t believe in God. I believe in the Communist Party.”

Ted Chiang's Impersonal Universe

August 22, 2019

ZYZZYVA

Jorge Luis Borges is one of a handful of writers whose every work fills me with awe and envy. I’m awed by the precision of his paradoxes, his ability to usher me into mysteries at once beautiful and haunting. I’m envious because his aesthetics so resonate with me that I feel as if each story I read is a story I’ll never get to write.

Ted Chiang is another such writer. Like Borges, his craft is as precise as clockwork. The elegant inevitability of his plots, which unfold as if mapped upon some narrative Golden Mean, suggests an orderliness to reality without diminishing its mystery. Take, for instance, “Tower of Babylon,” in which the biblical story of Babel is reimagined sans-idolatry: an entire civilization is organized around the desire to be nearer to God Most High. When the hero at last pierces the vault of heaven and enters the “waters above,” he swims upwards until breaking the surface—and finds himself on Earth again, just outside the city, swimming in the “waters below.” The structure of reality is precise, circular, self-contained—and for that reason, unfathomable.

Anti-Intellectualism Knows No Party

August 12, 2018

Arc Digital

For me, the zenith of Barack Obama’s two terms as president was his September 14, 2015 conversation with Marilynne Robinson. Few writers have had a greater impact on my intellectual and spiritual formation than Robinson, and the discovery that Obama shared my admiration did more than anything else in his presidency to endear him to me. However much I may have disagreed with any given policy decision, this was a man who read and loved books and modeled that love for his country. No matter what Trump may accomplish in office, I will never feel such a connection to a man who is unlikely to have read even the book he allegedly wrote.

Lazy, incurious, distrustful of expertise, self-interested, and intractably individualist — Trump’s brand of anti-intellectualism is as old as the nation. Its arrogance mirrors that of the liberal technocrat, with the exception that, for the latter, “intellectual humility” is at least conceivable as a virtue, even if it is rejected in practice.

Demons of the Machine

July 03, 2018

First Things

In his preface to Hostage to the Devil, Malachi Martin identifies a condition of the mind and will common to all cases of possession: the “aspiring vacuum.” “Vacuum,” he explains, for the “absence of clearly defined and humanly acceptable concepts for the mind. Aspiring, because there is a corresponding absence of clearly defined and humanly acceptable goals for the will.” In other words, persons ripe for possession lack a proper telos. They are beings-unto-nothing-in-particular. And they are isolated from the natural human associations that orient us toward natural goods.

American society seems designed to produce such individuals. Martin observed our “cultural desolation” in the breakdown of our families, school systems, and manners, and in the drug use and self-destruction rampant among teenagers. Thanks to this societal decay, “Ritualistic Satanism and its inevitable consequence, demonic Possession, are now part and parcel of the atmosphere of life in America.” These words were written in 1992. Compared with today’s cultural landscape, the desolate early nineties seem almost idyllic.

Romancing the Noble Lobster

April 11, 2018

Religion and Ethics

Pankaj Mishra is not an intellectual hack. He has drunk deeply from both Western and Eastern humanist traditions, written an award-winning novel and a wealth of incisive cultural and political criticism, establishing himself as an eminent practitioner of belles lettres.

 

No, the man is certainly not a hack, but you wouldn't know that from his recent review of Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

 

Peterson's book embodies the notion - once taken for granted among literary humanists like Mishra - that the great literature of the world contains actual wisdom worth applying to one's life, and that delight in discovering such wisdom is a principle characteristic of the Western tradition. 12 Rules combines eternal verities with insights from contemporary social science to instruct readers how to live virtuous, meaning-filled lives.

 

At its best, 12 Rules seems to channel Viktor Frankl; at its worst, it waxes a bit too poetic about lobsters. To Mishra, however, it's a frog-marching manual for budding fascists.

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