Memory, Maintenance, and Catholic Social Teaching

Photo by George W. Ackerman

Fare Forward Interview with Jack Shoemaker.” I somehow missed this fascinating conversation between Fare Forward and Jack Shoemaker that came out this past summer. They discuss correspondence and literary friendships, and Shoemaker talks a bit about Berry’s new book: “Wendell and I are working on a very big book, a very big book about racism and forgiveness and a lot of stuff. A five-hundred-page book. It’s going to be a book that a lot of people will look at as a kind of bookend to Unsettling of America, I think. And during the process, we’ve been doing this for about five years, we’ve been doing this really often, likely weekly, for two years—the editing.”

Where Dreams Come True: The National Conservatives Go to Orlando.” Don’t expect Joseph M. Keegin to draw clear lines in this essay between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” Instead, he describes his experience at and response to the recent National Conservative conference with a relentless insistence on asking how these discussions relate to the intractable realities of the broader world. The result is a brilliant and moving essay.

Knitting Ourselves to Reality.” In a particularly Porcher key, Benya Kraus and Nathan Beacom write about how a love for place might address some of the issues that divide us: “Part of the problem of radicalization and dehumanization comes from spending time online fretting about imagined enemies. When our heads fly off into the fields of ideological warfare, it is time to put our feet in the actual fields near our homes. These are ways to turn from the abstractions of ideology and return to the reality in front of us.”

Wendell Berry: The Cranky Farmer, Poet and Essayist You Just Can’t Ignore.” James T. Keane describes his own experience reading Wendell Berry and surveys the discussions of Berry’s works have appeared in the pages of America.

The Legacy of bell hooks — Trailblazing Scholar and Activist — Lives through Her Students.” María Luisa Paúl talks with a few of the many people who were profoundly influenced by bell hooks. Hooks’s death has provoked an outpouring of tributes, and if you’re looking for a place to begin reading her work, Belonging: A Culture of Place is a good place to begin. It includes a fascinating conversation between her and Wendell Berry.

Ghislaine Maxwell’s Trial is a Sideshow—Powerful, Abusive Men will not be Held Accountable.” Chris Hedges has an impassioned and disturbing essay indicting the cultural and moral rot of which Jeffrey Epstein is a symptom.

Beyond the Constitution of Knowledge.” Yishai Schwartz reviews Jonathan Rauch’s The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth. He finds much to praise, but he also argues Rauch doesn’t recognize the ways in which his “constitution of knowledge” depends on other sources of meaning and value: “The constitution of knowledge may provide us with relevant information: rates of contagion, mortality statistics, economic predictions, and the like. But the answers to the hardest public questions turn on more than mere information. They require judgment. And judgment assimilates not just data but also values.”

The Pilsdon Community.” Tobias Jones describes a Dorset farm that seeks to be “a school for sinners.”

The Case For Black Patriotism.” Glenn C. Loury makes a Tocquevillean argument in response to “the problem of persistent racial inequality in the twenty-­first century. . . . First, fortify the mediating institutions—families, churches, civil associations—through which citizens, especially the most vulnerable, develop the competencies to enjoy the fruits of liberty that our constitutional framework can deliver.”

The Left Should Defend Classical Education.” Writing in the Jacobin, Liza Featherstone makes a leftist case for reading Great Books by way of a review of Roosevelt Montás’s Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation: “In this part memoir, part call to action, Montás argues that reading great literature and philosophy can make working-class people’s lives more meaningful and that everyone should have the opportunity to read great books.”

The Joy of Magnus Carlsen.” Emily Belz describes Magnus’s latest chess victory and what makes him such a remarkable champion: “Chess presents a wonderful chance to look at human greatness and how humans manage a spectacular gift. Magnus not only has what fellow top chess player Anish Giri called during the final game of this championship a ‘divine understanding’ of the game, but he can cope with the immense pressure of chess at high levels. In press conferences over the years, Magnus talks a lot about ‘joy.’”

All Pathology, All the Time.” Joseph E. Davis levels a devastating critique of a reductive anthropology that has led to the medicalization of all manner of behaviors, desires, and human experiences: “The cumulative literature shows that medicalization fosters a misshapen picture of ourselves. Yet despite this rich body of critique, its actual impact has been negligible. The critique doesn’t go deep enough. We would not be so strenuously and one-sidedly pursuing the ‘pathologization of everything’ if we had not already suffered a profound loss of confidence in who we are and what we are able to be — a forfeiture of status that is a crisis of the spirit.”

Vaccine Mandates and the Body Politic.” Ari Schulman, the editor of the necessary and sane publication The New Atlantis (in which the above essay by Davis appears), has a long and thoughtful essay on the history of vaccines and why it matters how we frame their purpose: “‘Common good’ talk may seem even more perilously capacious than ‘protect others’ and ‘slow the spread.’ But really it is a more encompassing view of all the social layers and their attendant goods that have been imperiled. It offers a more porous sense of the border between individual and group, showing a more complex network of intimacies and dependencies that we are already caught up in and that cannot be translated fully into the language of liberty and black-or-white obligation. That we have been doggedly trying to do so might help explain why we have been at each other’s throats these past two years.”

The Vaccine Moment, part three.” Paul Kingsnorth concludes his reflections on the vaccine moment by describing how globalists like Klaus Schwab see this as an opportunity to advance long-standing agendas of technocratic control. He concludes on a note of Advent hope: “The world is not a mechanism: it is a mystery, one that we participate in daily. When we try to redesign it like a global CEO, or explain it like an essayist, we are going to fail: weakly or gloriously, but fail we shall. The Machine, the technium, the metaverse: whatever we name our 21st century Babel, and however overwhelming it seems to us in the moment, it can never conquer in the end, because it is a manifestation of human will and not the will of God. If you don’t believe in the will of God, call it the law of nature instead: either way, it speaks the same thing to us. It says, gently or firmly: you are not in charge.”

Capitalism Is Ruining Science.” Meagan Day reports on the ways in which the need to demonstrate short-term profits or usefulness warps the endeavors of scientists: “Edwards and Roy track the effect of quantitative performance metrics on the quality of scientific research and find that it has a detrimental effect. As a result of rewards systems incentivizing publication volume, scientific papers have become shorter and less comprehensive, boasting “poor methods and increase in false discovery rates.” …Meanwhile the system that rewards increased grant funding with more professional opportunities results in scientists spending an outsize amount of time writing grant proposals and overselling the positive results of their research to catch the attention of funders.”

The Claims of Memory.” Wilfred M. McClay defends the necessity of personal and cultural memory, even as he acknowledges its potential for abuse: “It is no exaggeration to say that a working memory is indispensable in the flourishing of the human person and of human culture.” (Recommended by Matt Stewart.)

Farm Cooking.” Brian Miller recommends five cook books farmers—and gardeners—should have on hand.

Routine Maintenance.” Do habits make us machine-like? Or are they necessary for spiritual and moral discipline? Meghan O’Gieblyn wrestles with the essence of habit, automation, AI, and freedom in this lengthy essay. (Recommended by Jeff Polet.)

Ten Things Pope Francis and Catholic Social Teaching Taught me about the Economy.” John W. Miller draws on a conversation with Tony Annett and a year’s worth of excellent reporting to summarize some features of Catholic social teaching: “As we reckon with advances in automation, artificial intelligence and technology just as wild and disruptive as the Industrial Revolution, it is clear that humans need to again do the hard work of figuring out how to build an economy that allows us to better love our neighbors.”

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