“The Edgerton Essays.” The American Compass and the Ethics and Public Policy Center have been collaborating on the Edgerton Essays. Editor Patrick Brown describes the project: “First, find working-class Americans, typically without a four-year college degree, who felt distant from the political discourse and eager to share their thoughts. Second, give them a simple prompt, typically an open-ended invitation to tell politicians what they didn’t understand about the challenges facing their communities. Third, work with them to hone their contribution in terms of organization and clarity while preserving their voices and perspective—no editing for party line or area of emphasis. Fourth, publish them, promote their work, and pay them as we would any other contributing writer.” It’s worth perusing these essays. I’d also commend Chris Arnade’s Foreword.
“Fear of COVID-19 in Kids Is Getting Ahead of the Data.” Lucy McBride writes in the Atlantic about COVID and risk: “victory over COVID-19 will require accepting our perilous reality, releasing ourselves from the impossible task of eradicating danger, and relishing the sometimes-immeasurable reward that comes from tolerating risk.”
“The Distressing, Dysfunctional Politics of a World with Endless COVID.” Damon Linker paints an ugly picture of “the politics of endless COVID,” a future marked by “the same ideological and cultural polarization that prevailed before the pandemic persisting, expanding, and intensifying as anger, exhaustion, frustration, and anxiety mount with the passing months and years. There’s just too much political and psychological benefit to blaming ideological opponents for our struggles and suffering.”
“US History Shows Spending on Infrastructure Doesn’t Always End Well.” Richard White looks to the past to remind us of the cost of building new stuff: “It might have been helpful for builders to have had a little less faith that future technologies would correct the problems they foresaw.” (Recommended by Matt Stewart.)
“Alone in the U.S.A.” Eric Miller responds to recent data about declining friendships. He reminds us that human relationships are always fragile, but also always possible.
“Sandfield Road.” Speaking of friendships, Alan Jacobs wrote a brief play about the friendship—as he imagines it—of Tolkien and Auden. Near the end Tolkien muses, “I seem to have friends I don’t understand, and yet what would I have done without them?”
“Degrees of Anxiety.” Chad Wellmon reflects on his experiences teaching different types of students and the gap he finds between the ways we talk about “higher education” and the practice of learning: “The irony of the various discourses about college is how consistently they deflect attention away from the joys of learning, the satisfactions of scholarship or the importance of truth-seeking. College chatter tranquilizes intellectual desire.”
“In Praise of Hermits.” Ryan Sanders considers what some modern-day hermits might have to teach us. He concludes, “As someone whose job is to keep up with the rapid, thumping river of daily news, I’m here to tell you there’s more to a healthy person and a healthy nation than just information. Our best course is to retreat from neither the times nor the eternities. Let’s read the eternities so that we can better understand what we read in the Times.”
“Outsourcing Virtue.” L. M. Sacasas describes technological environments which presume to render virtue superfluous as well as those technological environments which require individuals to have highly-developed virtues in order to navigate them wisely. Neither of these is a good situation, but both result when we “conceive of moral and political challenges as technical problems admitting of engineered solutions.”
“The Intellectuals Are Having a Situation.” What makes a good book review? What are the ills that afflict the genre today? Christian Lorentzen responds to a recent essay on this topic and proposes his own standard: “the picture n+1 paints of criticism is a joyless one. If there is a problem with book reviewing the problem is that those of us who are good at it aren’t good enough, there aren’t enough of us, and we aren’t doing a good enough job of expanding the scope of literary discourse, to put it in touch with tradition and open it wide to new writing. I recoil at terms like “thought leader” and “gatekeeper,” but we do have at least the duty of helping to create the culture we want to live in, and that world should be full of infinitely various delights. The imperatives are to be stylish, to be thorough, to be funny, to be generous, and occasionally to be cruel. Boredom, envy, gray skies and gray sentences — these are the things we were born to kill.”
“Log Off and Go to Logotherapy.” Nathan Beacom draws on Viktor Frankl in a wise essay, where he concludes that “the structures that govern the interactions on social media are not conducive to healthy patterns of meaning-finding. If we are virtuous, we may approach social media well; but social media is unlikely to form us virtuously.”
“The Well-Fixer’s Warning.” Mark Arax reports on the dwindling aquifer in the San Joaquin valley. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be another fix that engineers can offer to make up for the receding water. John Wesley Powell was right after all.
“Trump Let this Pesticide Stay on the Market. Under Biden, EPA is Banning its Use on Food..” Dino Grandoni reports on the tensions around the decision to ban chlorpyrifos, which is a particularly nasty variety of pesticide.
“Attack of the Superweeds.” H. Claire Brown, in a long essay for the New York Times, explores how weeds are proving more and more resistant to all kinds of pesticides: “In the arms race between biology and biotechnology, the weeds are winning. Worse, Kumar says, growers are clinging to the unrealistic idea that chemical companies will invent a miraculous new herbicide before it’s too late.”