I’m a Stranger Here Myself.” FPR contributor Brian Kaller has a moving essay on returning to his hometown of Ferguson, Missouri for a few weeks this summer after being away for many years. Much has changed, and he muses about some of the causes: “Living on the internet isolates us in an eternal present, cut off not only from the wisdom of tradition but from the people we were.”

Lonely Surfaces: On AI-generated Images.” L.M. Sacasas works to put his finger on why AI images seem superficially interesting but ultimately don’t satisfy further reflection. He draws on an observation that Eva Brann makes: “texts, like people, are serious when they have a surface that arouses the desire to know them and the depth to fulfill that desire.” Hence Sacasas suggests that what it might mean for a work of art to have depth is that “you can press in, and it won’t dissolve under a more attentive gaze.”

“‘Luddite’ Teens Don’t Want Your Likes.” Alex Vadukul talks with a group of New York teenagers who forgo smart phones in search of community and “real life”: “‘Lots of us have read this book called “Into the Wild,”’ said Lola Shub, a senior at Essex Street Academy, referring to Jon Krakauer’s 1996 nonfiction book about the nomad Chris McCandless, who died while trying to live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness. ‘We’ve all got this theory that we’re not just meant to be confined to buildings and work. And that guy was experiencing life. Real life. Social media and phones are not real life.’”

Post-Liberal America.” Christopher Shannon responds to a recent (and controversial) essay by Jay Green, questions the unalloyed goods of emancipatory liberalism, and argues for a localist orientation. He concludes by commending Wendell Berry’s Port William fiction as a model in this endeavor: “It clearly speaks to the hunger for community experienced by so many living in the rootless postmodernity of contemporary America. The community of Port William is at the same time an affront to the emancipatory instincts engineered into the DNA of American culture. Its vitality reflects an embrace of limits, a surrender of freedom: In Port William, to save your life, you must lose it.”

The End of High-School English.” Daniel Herman asks some important questions about the capabilities of AI writing and what their implications: “Is this moment more like the invention of the calculator, saving me from the tedium of long division, or more like the invention of the player piano, robbing us of what can be communicated only through human emotion?” As Wendell Berry might ask, “What are people for?” Or, to slightly misquote G.K. Chesterton, “[Writing] is … a thing analogous to writing one’s own love-letters or blowing one’s own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly.”

A World Worth Returning To.” Tessa Carman reflects on the benefits of slow reading and considers why MacDonald’s classic At the Back of the North Wind continues to resonate over many re-readings: “Perhaps it is the friendship between the archon-like North Wind and Diamond the coachman’s son—a little boy with little to recommend him other than simple goodness; he is no great warrior, lost king, or Chosen One—that partly makes us keep coming back to this tale.”

The Politics of Masturbation.” Matthew Crawford offers a long history of therapeutic concerns over self-discipline: “The politics of anti-fascism have proven highly elastic, adaptable to the needs of an expanding, therapeutic para-state that has not hesitated to substitute morally cognate terms such as racism and sexism for the original.” (Recommended by David Hoipkemier.)

How Race Politics Liberated the Elites.” And in another essay for UnHerd, Crawford draws on Christopher Lasch to diagnose the kind of morality underpinning transnational elite discourse: “There appears to be a circle of mutual support between political correctness, technocratic administration, and the bloated educational machinery. Because smartness (as indicated by educational credentials) confers title to rule in a technocratic regime, the ruling class adopts a distinctly cognitivist view: virtue does not consist of anything you do or don’t do, it consists of having the correct opinions.” (Recommended by Jason Peters.)

Writing in Cursive.” Brian Miller considers the benefits of the lost art of cursive: “The slower, more thoughtful process of communicating might just have the added benefit of allowing us to think before we ‘speak.’”

Identity Politics on the Right.” My colleague Carl Trueman has some wise and temperate words in response to the recent Thomas Achord revelations: “The danger for Christians is that the apparent polarizing of society makes the stakes of political debates seem extremely high. In such a situation, extreme positions become attractive, even irresistible. As otherwise ordinary Christians see the country slipping away from them and into the hands of those whose culture war seems to have no moral limits, there is a temptation to repay like with like and to become the mirror image of the other side. This has to be resisted.”

Want to Know Why Democrats Lose Rural America?” Art Cullen isn’t impressed by the DNC’s decision to diminish Iowa’s importance as an early-primary state, but it is of a piece with the neglect of rural voters: “Actually, the caucuses haven’t been the best thing for Iowa. The TV ads never stop. It puts you in a bad mood to think everything is going wrong all the time. We asked good questions, and the candidates gave good answers, then forgot about it all. Despite all the attention, nothing really happened to stop the long decline as the state’s Main Streets withered, farmers disappeared and the undocumented dwell in the shadows. Republican or Democrat, the outcome was pretty much the same. At least the Republicans will cut your taxes.”

The Waste Land at 100.” James Matthew Wilson praises the achievement of Eliot’s monumental poem: “Eliot’s poem appears like ‘A heap of broken images,’ ‘a handful of dust,’ intended to show that we ‘can connect / Nothing with nothing,’ and therein suggests that the world can only be expressed in this manner unless we are to falsify it. But this narrowing, this near disarticulation-out-of-existence, of poetic speech as capacious, human speech, Eliot undertook chiefly so that his poem could reclaim that territory, metaphysical depth, and authority traditionally assigned to the poet.”

From Bowling Alone to Posting Alone.” In a long essay for the leftist Jacobin, Anton Jäger revisits Putnam’s classic and considers the various replacements we have for participatory associations. Social media and NGOs and celebrity activists aren’t adequate replacements for institutions with broad participation: “Instead of mass membership organizations, voluntary associations increasingly turned to a nonprofit model to organize advocacy in Washington.”

Ronald Blythe: Akenfield.” Maclin Horton praises Blythe’s portrait of an English village: “For all the hardship described, there is in fact a great deal of charm in the picture, the deep charm of stable and deeply-rooted human ways. And what comes through in one interview after another is that most of these people are or were in touch with reality, especially the reality of the human connection to the earth, in a way that few of us are now, especially younger people.” (Recommended by Rob Grano.)

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture