“Words and Flesh: Pastoring in a Post-truth World.” In this wise essay, Kurt Armstrong begins with Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which narrates the long process by which humans learned to name and narrate cancer. This story has analogues in many other facets of life: “Mukherjee shows that the truer the metaphors, the better the treatment; in medicine, so as in the rest of life.” In particular, Armstrong points to Wendell Berry’s fundamental question—what are people for?—as one we need to learn to answer with precision and pastoral care: “It becomes ever more difficult to diagnose, let alone treat, our human condition when we are entirely unclear about what it actually means to be human. Absent any kind of shared, basic anthropology, the ethical problems pile up quickly.”
“The COVID Gardening Renaissance Depends on Seeds—if You Can Find Them.” Lisa Held reports on the continued popularity of gardening seeds: “Despite the chaos, many say the seed scramble—combined with an increased interest in saving and sharing seeds—are evidence of an American vegetable garden renaissance, ushered in by the food and health scares of the pandemic.”
“A Gathered Winter.” Tony Woodlief describes his efforts at digging a hügelkultur, or, rather, at paying his sons to dig one: “What dies can feed you, if you’ll have but the faith to lay it in the ground.”
“New Evidence Shows Fertile Soil Gone From Midwestern Farms.” Dan Charles summarizes a recent study that estimates one third of Midwest topsoil has washed away.
“How Biden Can Rein in the Big Meat Monopoly.” Claire Kelloway argues big meat needs to be broken up: “The meat industry is even more consolidated today than the early 1900s, when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle and President Woodrow Wilson broke up and regulated the powerful and manipulative Meat Trust, the handful of companies that dominated the market at the time.”
“Misdirected Passion.” Jessica Hooten Wilson praises Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter on the occasion of its one hundredth anniversary. The length of the trilogy can scare off some readers, but it is indeed a remarkable saga and is well worth your attention.
“A Tyranny without Tyrants?” Patrick Deneen reviews The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? by Michael J. Sandel and argues that the meritocracy has failed to govern for the common good: “According to the classical definition, meritocracy is a tyranny because its ruling class accrues benefits for itself while causing material, social, and spiritual impoverishment among those it governs.” Deneen argues, however, that Sandel doesn’t follow the logic of his critique to its conclusion and that fundamental changes will be needed to break up the meritocratic tyranny.
“Texas Failed Because It Did Not Plan.” Robinson Meyer reflects on what caused Texas’s electrical system to fail last week: “Too many crucial systems in this country are run on an ad hoc basis. A lack of planning, a reliance on just-in-time logistics, and a self-defeating trust in the profit motive are withering the American economy and way of life.”
“Finding Virtue in the Virtual.” Tom Chatfield composes a wise defense of moral labor and virtue ethics in helping us to use technology in ways that foster justice and human freedom:
One of the strangest things about the myths of technological neutrality and inevitability is that, even though they directly contradict one another, they’re often articulated together. To say that a tool is neutral is to say that its users bear sole responsibility for what’s done with it, presumably on the basis that this is their free choice. By contrast, to say that technology has an internal logic dictating certain outcomes is to say that people cannot ultimately choose whether or how to use it—and that dissent is the province of Luddite fools. Yet this deterministic rhetoric often dovetails with rhapsodies upon user empowerment.
“Saving the American Experiment.” Micah Mattix responds to Rod Dreher’s recent essay on Christopher Lasch and points to the role that art and poetry, in particular, might play in forming virtuous citizens.
“Kazuo Ishiguro’s New Novel is One of His Very Best.” Charles Finch praises Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, Klara and the Sun, calling it “an unequivocal return to form, a meditation in the subtlest shades on the subject of whether our species will be able to live with everything it has created.”
“Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Literary Citadel of San Francisco, Dies at 101.” Emma Brown remembers the life of the remarkable bookstore owner, publisher, and poet.
“Changing Lives Through Washing Cars.” Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra profiles a car wash company built “on clear moral principles … aimed at enriching the working class. Among them are holistic mentorship, economic opportunity (Kim’s aiming at a form of Jubilee for some), care for the environment, and encouraging contentment in customers (if you steward your car well, you’ll be less likely to want to replace it).”
“Amazon Changed Traffic Light Timing During Union Drive, County Officials Say.” Russell Brandom confirms that Amazon shortened the length of a red light outside its warehouse to disrupt unionization efforts. And McDonald’s uses technology to spy on its employees who advocate for a minimum wage increase.
“The Recollection of Claude McKay.” James Matthew Wilson argues that McKay should be seen not only as “the first great poet of the Harlem Renaissance,” but also as a Catholic poet: “Although the political aims of much of his poetry are unmistakable, one always senses a striving after a vision that sees beyond the politics of the hour and into eternity. His imagination was as much one of celebration and contemplation as it was of righteous indignation.”