Merry Christmas, Porchers! Thanks for joining us in this virtual space throughout what has certainly been an interesting year. While we missed our yearly conference, we’ve hosted a lively set of essays here on the website, published several new books, and sent out two rich issues of Local Culture. The spring issue of the journal is shaping up to be a special one–more on that soon–and we have plans in the works for some new ventures in 2021. We trust that by the time fall rolls around, we’ll once again be able to gather for a conference. In the meantime, thanks for participating in our efforts to promote localism and the freedom that comes from working within proper limits. We hope that the conversation here at FPR encourages you to live well in your particular place and community.
“Beyond the Classroom: What is the Role of Print Journals in Cultivating Wisdom?” On the evening of January 7th, I’ll be leading an online discussion with editors from Comment Magazine, The Hedgehog Review, and Plough Quarterly about how print magazines might foster humane, liberating conversations in a time of clickbait and partisanship. Please register and plan to join us!
“Why Speech Platforms Can Never Escape Politics.” In a long and thoughtful essay for National Affairs, Jon Askonas and Ari Schulman detail the problems facing free speech on digital platforms and propose a path forward that aims for community rather than neutrality:
If we are to preserve freedom of online speech in the fullest sense—both legitimate freedom from the censorship whims of massive central powers, and genuine freedom for robust exchange and intellectual generation—the global town square must die. Our age is marked by a return to our given condition: tribalism. So be it. Rather than hoping for the restoration of a universalized intellectual culture, we would do better to ratify and manage the reversion to separate communities, to build institutions that encourage tribalism’s more fruitful expressions. Rather than shoving all our debates into a single, hellish town square, let each town have its own, and let us work to make each a place of fruitful exchange.
“In What Sense Abundant?” I, Patrick Deneen, Matt Frost, and Rich Powell debate energy abundance in a symposium at The New Atlantis. Some fairly significant disagreements remain, but that’s to be expected when the issue at hand is this complex.
“James Matthew Wilson’s The Strangeness of the Good.” Bradley Birzer interviews James Matthew Wilson about his new book of poetry: “Affirming the goodness of all things with a lazy sentiment helps no one and leads us to lie to ourselves—until such time as it becomes inconvenient. To affirm the goodness of being is to accept that however strange, however awful in appearance things seem at times, there is an abiding mystery that calls for our steady contemplation and discernment. It calls for that especially when we do not initially feel it.”
“Nick Offerman on the Essential Wisdom of Wendell Berry.” Gary Lovely interviews Offerman about his interest in Berry’s writing, his failures to convince Berry to let him adapt his stories for the screen, and his work recording audio versions of Berry’s essays. (Recommended by Dave Lull.)
“The World Is a Factory Farm.” Xiaowei Wang writes about the technological race toward agricultural biosecurity and suggests the path of capital and technocracy will never lead to security or peace: “The more I learned about the dizzying web of international trade agreements, foreign-policy decisions based on agricultural trade, investments, technological change, and ecological devastation wrought by multinational agribusiness over the past two decades, the more surprised I was that a global pandemic hadn’t happened sooner. Global free trade of agricultural commodities is set up to encourage industrialization of farming.”
“Of Heart-Breaking Strangeness in Dreeping Hedges.” Nathan Beacom meditates on a Patrick Kavanagh poem and finds Christmas wisdom.
“U.S., States Sue Facebook as an Illegal Monopoly, Setting Stage for Potential Breakup.” Tony Romm reports on the antitrust suit that seeks to break up Facebook and limit its ambitions.
“Wilderness Perspective.” Patrick Pierson puts his finger on the vital, prophetic tension running through Thomas Merton’s life and writings: “While Merton may have arrived at Gethsemani looking to escape the world, he eventually came to sense that the entire edifice of the monastic life rested on a sort of unforeseen antinomy—the distance from the world provided the sort of space needed to engage it well.”
“The Coming War on the Hidden Algorithms that Trap People in Poverty.” Karen Hao chronciles the insidious power that algorithms now wield: “Credit-scoring algorithms are not the only ones that affect people’s economic well-being and access to basic services. Algorithms now decide which children enter foster care, which patients receive medical care, which families get access to stable housing.”
“Searching for Other Feminisms: An Interview with Leah Libresco Sargeant.” Gracy Olmstead talks with Leah Libresco Sargeant about modes of feminism, “feminism[s] of interdependence,” that include a concern for children and families.
“How Science Beat the Virus: And What it Lost in the Process.” In a deeply-researched essay for the Atlantic, Ed Young considers what the past twelve months of scientific work on COVID–19 reveal about the nature of the scientific enterprise: “At its best, science is a self-correcting march toward greater knowledge for the betterment of humanity. At its worst, it is a self-interested pursuit of greater prestige at the cost of truth and rigor. The pandemic brought both aspects to the fore. Humanity will benefit from the products of the COVID‑19 pivot. Science itself will too, if it learns from the experience.”
“Paul Kingsnorth’s Surprising Conservatism.” Will Collins reviews the latest linguistically-inventive, powerfully-imagined novel from Kingsnorth: “In Alexandria, the received wisdom turns out to be true. Those who ignore the community’s strictures and wander off into the forest are lost.”
“How to Be Pro-Life in Our Real Lives.” Gracy Olmstead considers practical ways in which we can embody a pro-life vision in our local communities:
Fighting throwaway culture is impossible when we are at a distance from each other. We will always be tempted to objectify and discard those we only encounter through screens and pixels. True love, empathy, and service happen in real presence: as we see and appreciate the entirety of the complexity and beauty before us and submit ourselves to real, physical needs. Thus, the diverse cries and needs represented by a full “whole-life” cause will also—necessarily—be specific, serving local cries and needs.
“Hurricanes and Soft Totalitarianism.” Elizabeth Corey reviews Rod Dreher’s latest book and muses on the good work that we can do right now: “it will probably benefit us most of all to think of doing this daily work of maintenance and preservation instead of allowing ourselves the pleasure of anger.”
“The Most American Religion.” McKay Coppins teases out the distinctive features of Mormon experience, particularly the aspects of their communal formation that help them endure and in many ways thrive amid a hostile culture.
“Christopher Lasch, Citizenship, and Looney Tunes Episode 2020.” Editing the fall issue of Local Culture apparently put Jason Peters in the mood to reflect on Lasch and the strange events of 2020. From history (and its sides) to the elites to presidential elections, Lasch remains a prescient voice.
“The New Agrarian: An Interview with Allan C. Carlson.” Rory Groves interviews Allan Carlson about agrarianism: “my sister gave me a copy of Wendell Berry’s masterpiece, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. On my first read, I furiously scrawled question marks in the margins of the book. Then, in the wake of the farm crisis of the early 1980s, when many family farms failed, I read it a second time…. and replaced almost all the question marks with affirmative exclamation points.”