Associational Life, Liberal Arts Farmers, and Forgiveness

Photo by George W. Ackerman

Bread and Circuses: The Replacement of American Community Life.” Lyman Stone has a lengthy new report on recent shifts in American associational life: “The future of associational life in America will depend on what Americans really want. If they want modern bread and circuses, they will get it. Rebuilding lost associational life will require a critical mass of Americans to make costly personal choices to reinvest in their communities and relationships.”

Howard University’s Classics Department is an Incubator for Black Equality. Don’t Close It.” Anika Prather, an educator and teacher at Howard University, argues “that studying classics — the study of ancient Greece and Rome — did not always cause Black people to deny their heritage or to seek to assimilate, but instead it gave them the words and language to fight for equality.” (Recommended by Scott Newstok.) 

The Greenhouse Effect.” Ron Ivey relates how his grandfather—with his father’s help—put the pieces of his life back together: “Our lives are defined by what we love and care for, what we give attention to. When my grandfather discovered his love of gardening in the greenhouse, he stopped defining his life by his past failures and fears of future catastrophe.”

Books Won’t Save You.” Sarah Ditum reviews a misguided new book and reminds us that art is not a technology. Art is not “useful” for individuals seeking self-improvement. I might disagree with Ditum’s conclusions about the nature of beauty, but her critique of simplistic, technologically-inflected claims about the usefulness of art is spot on. To put it in Auden’s terms, poetry makes nothing happen and yet, paradoxically, it is a way of happening. 

Chauvin Was Convicted. Something Is Still Very Wrong.” Elizabeth Bruenig writes about the limits of the justice system and the enduring need for both accountability and forgiveness: “I want to live in a world where it is possible to forgive and to be forgiven.”

Pursuing the Truth: Journalism, Philosophy and Modern Media.” On May 18th, John Miller and Joshua Hochschild will be having an online conversation, hosted by America Magazine, about “integrity and the pursuit of the truth in modern media.”

This 98-year-old Monk Clashed with Thomas Merton over Cheesemaking (and Capitalism). But Concern for the Poor Changed his Mind.” Gregory Hillis relates the remarkable life of a monk who has faithfully sought to work and pray in solidarity with the poor.

Environmentalism, the Tower of Babel and the Disintegration of Culture.” If you enjoyed our two reviews of Kingsnorth’s novels this week, you might appreciate this video interview where Kingsnorth talks about his spiritual journey to Christianity and his sense of what it might take to heal our culture.

Rural Broadband: A Mirage.” Dan Piller warns that the quest to bring high-speed internet to rural areas may be of most benefit to techno-agrarians: “broadband boosters say Iowa’s small towns can return to the days of a century ago when they were bustling little centers of economic and cultural activity. But everybody may be wrong. Far from rescuing rural Iowa, more broadband will hasten the exodus from farms and small towns into the cities.” (Recommended by David Heddendorf.)

The Two Crises of Conservatism.” Ross Douthat identifies some challenges for US conservatives in his column this week:

What does it mean to conserve the family in an era when not just the two-parent household but childbearing and sex itself are in eclipse? What does it mean to defend traditional religion in a country where institutional faith is either bunkered or rapidly declining? How do you defend localism when the internet seems to nationalize every political and cultural debate? What does the conservation of the West’s humanistic traditions mean when pop repetition rules the culture, and the great universities are increasingly hostile to even the Democratic-voting sort of cultural conservative?

Douthat’s set of questions here puts me in mind of what Wendell Berry writes about marriage: “marriage does not need defending. It only needs to be practiced, which is pretty hard to do just now.” Berry overstates the distinction for emphasis—as he surely knows given his own contributions to defending goods such as marriage, localism, and soil—but political defenses of natural and cultural goods are much more persuasive when their defenders are also known for practicing and sustaining these goods in their own lives.

The Destroyer Came.” John Murdock takes stock of the rubble that President Trump left in his wake. One lesson that should be clear is an old one: “‘Put not your trust in princes.’ Those are words for all to hear.”

Chasing the Sun: The Extraordinary Story of Two Pacific Voyages of Discovery a Thousand Years Apart .” In a wide-ranging, fascinating essay Nathan Beacom considers, among other things, what new genomic tools can and cannot do: “No one could have guessed that the suppositions of a wannabe anthropologist with an overactive imagination would one day have anything to do with the development of genomic tools that can be used to help understand a devastating pandemic.”

These Climate-Conscious Farmers Say Americans Eat Too Much Meat.” Some long-time Porchers might remember Stewart Lundy. Dean Russell reports on the work that he and Natalie McGill are doing on their farm to raise meat and grow food in sustainable ways. As Lundy puts it, “It’s not the cow, it’s the how… . The cow isn’t the problem. It’s where it is. It’s its environment, its situation and how it intersects with the world around it.”

The Liberal Arts.” Leah Bayens, Dean of the Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College, outlines the vision that guides her and the other leaders of the Berry Center’s farming program.

India Is What Happens When Rich People Do Nothing.” Vidya Krishnan puts India’s current COVID–19 disaster in historical context. In several respects, her narrative echoes Lasch’s warnings in Revolt of the Elites.

They Can’t Cancel Your Soul.” Caylan Ford recounts the benefits of being canceled: “Stripped of all illusions and pretense, the petty dust of life can sometimes give way to a lucid clarity. In exile, we are made to remember our true homes, while we still have time make ourselves worthy of returning there.”

With Masks and Distancing, Biden’s Speech Sent the Wrong Message about the Power of our Vaccines.” Leana S. Wen laments the lost opportunity to emphasize the effectiveness of vaccines: “Over-correction has a price; at best, it makes public health measures seem performative rather than science-based. At worst, it calls vaccine efficacy into question.”

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