Walking, Belonging, and Counting

Photo by George W. Ackerman

This will be my last Water Dipper for a couple of months; I’ll be quite busy with moving and all the accompanying obligations. Doug Sikkema is planning to keep this feature running over the summer on a more or less weekly basis. Matt Stewart will be taking the lead on editing submissions for FPR, so the Porch will be in good hands while I’m away.

Beholding Ground.” Anne Snyder concludes the Breaking Ground project with some reflections on the past year and the way forward: “The central task facing our society as we exit the COVID-19 pandemic and return to some semblance of physical normalcy is to build a common vision of reality. We happen to be living through an institutionally neutered moment, when people are choosing totalizing explanations based on the psychic rewards of belonging to a particular group. It’s increasingly yielding extremists, but—and here’s my hope—it’s also squeezing out a chastened remnant.”

Out Walking.” Eric Miller sifts through Paul Kingsnorth’s life and writings in light of his recent conversion to Christianity. Miller concludes with these lines from “his 2012 essay, when he announced he was ‘going to go out walking,’ he had said—with no hint of irony—‘I am going to listen to the wind and see what it tells me, or whether it tells me anything at all.’ And, he added, someday ‘I might even come back. And if I am very lucky I might bring with me a harvest of fresh tales, which I can scatter like apple seeds across this tired and angry land.’”

The Social-Media-Examined Life is not the One that Sustains Us.” Karen Swallow Prior reflects on the dangers of a public life, of separating private, faithful virtue from public performance. “Recently, after giving a talk on such effects of this technological age, I was asked what visions we might offer to counter these false ones. One suggestion I gave is to focus on the joys of everyday, ordinary life to counter the romantic notion that in order to serve God well we must “do big things” and “change the world.” The truth is that we serve God best when we love our neighbors and each other faithfully and well in whatever ways God calls us.”

Joy and Belonging in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi.” Collin Huber reviews Susanna Clarke’s novel and finds it a rich meditation on the posture and practice of joy: “Everyone desires to belong to something greater than themselves, but doing so requires stepping out of the spotlight. For many, that is a threatening thought because it might mean living in the background. Like Piranesi, it could mean the responsibility of bearing witness instead of being witnessed.”

Big Music Needs to Be Broken Up to Save the Industry.” Ron Knox describes how the pandemic has exacerbated underlying problems caused by the corporate concentration in the music industry.

Reactionary Feminism.” Mary Harrington writes in defense of “reactionary” feminism. What does she mean by this? “We are liberated enough. What we need is more and better obligations: a feminism that seeks the proper limits on freedom for both sexes. Such a feminism occupies the most reviled position of all. Dissenting from the theology of progress, it revels in the mantle of the ‘reactionary.’”

Ignorant Armies.” Michial Farmer reviews Deborah Stone’s Counting: How We Use Numbers to Decide What Matters and concludes, “Stone is right that our arguments often treat values as given rather than proving them. And the more apparently objective the datum, the more pernicious its concealment.”

Sohrab Ahmari and Michael Brendan Dougherty on Reclaiming Faith, Family, and Nation.” Henry George puts Ahmari’s new book, written as a letter to Ahmari’s son, in conversation with Dougherty’s book, which takes the form of a letter to his father. For a more critical, but still appreciative, review of Ahmari’s book, see this one by Gregory Hillis. For another, mostly laudatory review, see this one by James Matthew Wilson.

A Middle Class Rebellion Against Progressives Is Gaining Steam.” Joel Kotkin warns that a progressive agenda remains deeply unpopular and unlikely to address people’s real needs: “None of this is to suggest that minorities will vote for Republicans en masse in the near future, particularly if the party cannot transcend its embarrassing Trump worship. But the growing chasm between what people want and what Biden is offering could prove a potentially immense challenge that could undermine future Democratic gains.”

Meet the Appalachian Apple Hunter Who Rescued 1,000 ‘Lost’ Varieties.” Eric J. Wallace describes Tom Brown’s careful work finding and cultivating endangered apple varieties: “To date, he has reclaimed about 1,200 varieties, and his two-acre orchard, Heritage Apples, contains 700 of the rarest. Most haven’t been sold commercially for a century or more; some were cloned from the last known trees of their kind.”

No, Small Isn’t Beautiful.” Matt Bruenig isn’t a fan of distributism or Jefferson’s ideal of the yeoman farmer. While I strongly disagree with Bruenig’s conclusions here, he raises challenging questions that localists need to consider.

A Common Core.” Matthew R. Crawford reviews recent books by Zena Hitz and Eric Adler to consider how universities might regain a moral core.

Jeff Bezos Will Blast into Space on Rocket’s 1st Crew Flight.” Nearly twenty-five years after Christopher Lasch published The Revolt of the Elites, the elites are literally leaving the planet. Marcia Dunn quotes from a Bezos Instagram post: “I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I’ve wanted to do all my life.”

Reclaiming Self-Rule in the Digital Dystopia.” What is the greatest threat to liberty today? Matthew Crawford argues that it may not be the state but Big Tech—or what Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism.”

After Pandemic Languishing, Reimagine Community Life.” Amber Lapp finds that Another Life is Possible inspires her to invest in communal flourishing in the wake of the pandemic: “It is possible to have a different orientation towards our children, our homes, our material goods, our neighbors—to be driven less by meritocratic competition and more by ‘inconvenient hospitality’ that prizes substance over appearance, sacrificial love over its feel-good counterfeit.“

Oxford University Press to End Centuries of Tradition by Closing its Printing Arm.” Books have been printed in Oxford since 1478. Alison Flood reports that long tradition will soon end.

A Call to Reform: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘The Cry of the Children.’” Bethany Getz argues that Barrett Browning’s reform poem avoids the pitfalls of sentimental protest. Instead, “[h]ers is a call to remember that the powerful have already been ‘subverted’ by the Gospel which declared the fallen world and all its greed, aggression, selfishness and cruelty to be at odds with kingdom of Heaven whose proper citizens are truly children.

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