“From Tech Critique to Ways of Living.” Alan Jacobs has an important new essay in which he draws on Yuk Hui and Daoism to develop what he hopes is an effective critique of our technological society. I’m not sure the essay entirely succeeds in delivering on its promise, but it is a provocative and helpful addition to some of the ideas Jacobs has been working on in recent years. We certainly need the “gently humorous attitude” or the “ironic humor” that Jacobs says “is essential to the character of the sage and, more important for my purposes here, essential to the sage’s role in leading us anarchically out of the technological “enframing” of the world. Sir Thomas More said that Satan is a ‘proud spirit’ who ‘cannot endure to be mocked’; this is equally true of the slightly lesser Power we call technopoly.”
“Beauty Can Teach Us the Art of Living Well.” In a rich assessment of Makoto Fujimura’s recent work, Brian A. Smith commends the necessary work of creating beauty: “Neither culture war nor cultural fortification allows us to engage in acts of restoration or persuasion. The culture wars offer nothing but a model of victory or defeat, and walling one’s family and children off from culture grows more difficult with every advance of technology. Fujimura believes that works of gratuitous beauty can bridge these gaps. Unexpected acts of care and love do as well.”
“Visceral Lending.” Johanna Lewis critiques the abstract nature of our financial system and tries to imagine ways of making credit more local and tangible.
“Democracy Betrayed: Lasch’s Revolt of the Elites at 25.” In a substantial essay at Law and Liberty, Rod Dreher revisits Lasch’s last book and takes stock of the populist movement that has recently come to the fore: “It is telling that the only iteration of populism we have seen in our own time is the rise of Donald Trump. As satisfying as it has been to some of us to see the Republican Party mandarins toppled by the Great Unwashed, we deceive ourselves if we think that Trumpist populism is mostly a healthy manifestation of plebeian virtue, and not performative réssentiment.” (Recommended by Jason Peters.)
“A Light to Guide Trees and People: The Star in the Sycamore is a Broad Take on the Natural World.” Chioma Lewis talks with FPR author Tom Springer about his new collection of essays.
“Simone Weil’s Beautiful Shipwreck.” In a thoughtful essay, Scott Beauchamp reflects on Weil’s aesthetics: “A shipwreck—something that might once more be made to move but is at least temporarily a victim of contingency—feels like an apt symbol for Simone Weil as well. As she wrote in Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks, “‘We are like shipwrecked persons clinging to logs upon the sea and tossed in an entirely passive manner by every movement of the waves.’”
“Love and Death.” Alan Jacobs ruminates on how COVID has revealed the limitations of utilitarian measures of human value: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Dr. Emanuel, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. It would be good if some of our public-health experts would find a way to incorporate those ineffable but vital things into their calculations.”
“COVID–19 has Exposed Serious Problems with How We Train Doctors to Value the Elderly—And All Human Life.” Kristin M. Collier also responds to Emanuel’s utilitarian view of life and ponders the failures of technocratic medical education: “Never, in all the years he trained as a doctor, he told me, had he been challenged to think deeply about the value of human life… . It was profoundly unsettling to me that these residents, who had attended the most prestigious medical schools around the country, felt they had not been prepared to think about the ‘big questions’ in medicine: How does one consider the weighing of often competing goods in health care? What does it mean to be human? Are human beings valuable? And if so, from where do they derive this value?”
“A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society?” Kirkpatrick Sale made a bet in 1995 with Wired editor Kevin Kelly that civilization would collapse by 2020. In December, their bet was decided, and Steven Levy reflects on its significance. (Recommended by Jason Peters.)
“No Milk Without Meat?” Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn reports on a French farmer who continues to milk his goats years after they gave birth to a kid. This is quite the departure from the usual practice of having nannies give birth each year to keep their milk production up.
“American Agriculture Is Broken, and Tom Vilsack Is Not the Man to Fix It.” Nick Martin’s survey of Vilsack’s shortcomings as Agricultural Secretary is clearly tailored to the audience of the New Republic. Nonetheless, he’s right that Vilsack’s track record indicates he’ll be friendly toward big ag and won’t do much to fix the department’s fundamental problems.
“My Failed Attempt to Unite the Upstate New York Literary Scene.” Bill Kauffman isn’t to blame for the lack of an upstate literary coterie.
“A Quarterly Education.” Matt Civico compares print journals to a college classroom and recommends some of the journals he’s found formative.
“The Loving Ones.” Whitney Rio-Ross draws on the poetry of W.H. Auden in a poignant essay on sickness, marriage, suffering, and joy.
“Romney’s Child Allowance Improves on Biden Proposal.” Matt Bruenig breaks down Mitt Romney’s proposed child allowance and compares it to Biden’s plan and the current Child Tax Credit.
“Why Did Liberal Elites Ignore a 21st-Century Genocide?” Why have most Westerners turned a blind eye to China’s ongoing persecution of Falun Gong adherents? Caylan Ford narrates a complex history, arguing that Western “solidarity [with persecuted groups] is strictly selective, and is largely contingent on whether a victim group is useful in advancing the social status or the ideological commitments of their prospective allies — typically the cultural elites of the dominant society. Who receives sympathy is also matter of particular, often arbitrary historical contingencies. Luck, in other words. And Falun Gong was not lucky.”