“How Local History Can Save America: The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Frederick Douglass.” John W. Miller recommends an essay about the place where Frederick Douglass fought Edward Covey to a standstill. He points to it as an example of the kind of local history that can be particularly powerful in our polarized national culture. As his concluding injunction has it, “find local stories and tell them well.”
“Can a Healthy American Society Exist on the Internet?” Rachel K. Alexander pairs two books that seem concerned with very different topics, one by Zena Hitz and one by Yuval Levin. The result is a quite insightful: “What the two authors share is a sense of the danger that digital platforms pose to their respective projects. To achieve their vision of a healthy society and the good life depends on a modern audience’s ability to resist the distractions and demands of the digital and reclaim the spatial and temporal boundaries more conducive to human flourishing.”
“Conservatives, Go Local.” Hans Zeiger issues a plea for localist conservatism: “In this moment marked by division and alienation, conservatives should seek to build a political movement on the universal impulse to connect and relate to one’s fellow citizens at the local level. For it is through these attachments that Americans can and do care for one another and the communities to which they belong. Conservatives, it’s time to recommit to localism.”
“Why We Can’t Leave Nature Alone.” Ted Nordhaus is rightly skeptical of the apocalyptic strain in Elizabeth Kolbert’s Under a White Sky. And both of them are right to wrestle with the reality that humans are part of nature and must take responsibility for our involvement:
The fact that we can’t seem to master the seemingly modest ecological challenge of keeping invasive carp out of Lake Michigan suggests, in Kolbert’s telling, that efforts to, say, remove carbon from the atmosphere or manage the heating of the earth with sulfur particles are likely to end, in the best case, with a profoundly diminished human future, and in the worst, in catastrophe — even as she suggests that we may not have a choice. “If there is to be an answer to the problem of control, it’s going to be more control,” Kolbert writes. “First you reverse a river. Then you electrify it.”
Yet neither Kolbert nor Nordhaus seems to recognize that not all technology, not all forms of “control,” are the same. We need to distinguish between innovations that address problems in a whack-a-mole fashion and technologies that may, as Berry puts it, enable us to solve for pattern. In this issue, as in much else, technological form matters, and industrial technologies need to be distinguished from convivial ones. Or, as I’ve argued previously, demonic ones from redemptive ones.
“The Secret Behind North Dakota’s Speedy Vaccine Rollout.” Gregory Barber describes how North Dakota’s particular collaboration between centralized facilitators and decentralized, independent pharmacies has been remarkably effective in putting vaccinations in the arms of its residents.
“Do Liberals Care if Books Disappear?” Ross Douthat weighs in on the Dr. Seuss debate and, as usual, gets past the brouhaha to some of the more fundamental questions that are at stake.
“Taking the Measure of a Forest.” Andrew L. Hipp ruminates on the people and plants that have come and gone on a patch of land near Chicago, a placed history of pandemics and pests and change and how life has endured here: “Maple Grove is a palimpsest, written and overwritten with diverse histories: the origin and extinction of forest tree species, department-store fortunes, civic pride and self-interest, glacial recessions, colonial expansion, international shipping routes, viruses, and kids in a pandemic summer, dirt-biking and building forts from the bark of downed ash trees.” (Recommended by Josh Mabie.)
“Amazon and the Breaking of Baltimore.” Alec MacGillis chronicles America’s growing regional inequality: “Over the past four decades, deindustrialization, the rise of the tech economy and the weakening of antitrust enforcement have sorted the country into a small number of winner-take-all cities and a much larger number of left-behind cities and towns.”
“The Campus as Factory.” Jacob Howland pens a depressing essay assessing the lessons he’s gleaned from watching the corporatization of the University of Tulsa:
University accreditors, education consultants, and philanthropies are promoting what would be a complete reversal of these basic human processes, except that “making school adapt to students” is a fraud. For only one path is on offer, and it runs through the pipeline. The hydraulic requirements of the pipeline dictate that individual human units be made to resemble frictionless atoms; and “social distancing,” including the massive shift to online work and study, has sped up that atomization through the dissolution of fundamental social bonds.
“Introducing Current.” John Fea, Jay Green, and Eric Miller are launching a new online publication next month: “Current is an online journal of commentary and opinion that provides daily reflection on contemporary culture, politics, and ideas.” This looks to be an intriguing venture.
“Relief Bill is Most Significant Legislation for Black Farmers since Civil Rights Act, Experts Say.” Laura Reiley describes the agricultural aid included in the American Rescue Plan, which includes specific provisions for “disadvantaged farmers.”
“Trappist Beer Needs Trappist Monks to Brew It, but the Vocation Is Dwindling.” James Marson writes about the need for new monks to join Trappist abbeys and keep the breweries going. The poet Dana Gioia might suggest ghostly apparitions as one solution to this problem.
“The Liberating Word Made Flesh.” Nathan Beacom draws on René Girard in showing how Frederick Douglass exposed the scapegoating dynamics of racial slavery and pointed faithfully to a better way.
“My Fight to Stop the Chinese Censors Sanitising Dante.” Ian Thomson describes his experience with Beijing ”book cleansing”: “Sin is often ambiguous and many-faceted in Dante (the sinner may have virtues as well as faults). However, ambiguities of this sort have no place in a regime that views even Winnie-the-Pooh as a hazard, and knows only black and white. Latini’s name was expunged from my book entirely.”