“Home Is Where One Starts From.” J.C. Scharl praises art that comes from and in turn feeds a commitment to a particular place: “Art should touch our wills; it should move us to live and act differently. But in a curious inversion, the best art pushes this change down to the lowest possible level; the best art, for example, does not move us to change our Facebook banner but to treat our friend or spouse or children better. The best art, in other words, draws our attention to our own little circle, our own homes, our own communities—our own province, if you will.”
“In the New Book The Farmer’s Wife, Author Helen Rebanks Balances Recipes and Life.” Scott Simon talks with Helen Rebanks—and Nick Offerman—about Helen’s new book.
“Will Bardenwerper: Was this the America our Veterans Fought For? In one Elementary School, Yes.” Will Bardenwerper writes about a Veterans Day event that cut through the jaded view of America that had set in after his stint of military service: “My anger over witnessing the sacrifices of a generation of soldiers wasted in the lost cause of Afghanistan before it was handed back to the Taliban, and in Iraq, where we toppled Saddam only to have him replaced by dueling Sunni extremists and Iranian militias, began to recede. In its place was a sense of gratitude that the school had taken the time to organize such an event for us, and the students for doing such a great job. Watching the students fidget nervously as they sang “America the Beautiful” helped wash away regret over the war, its strategic folly, its human wreckage, and over the America we seem to be have become.”
“How to Win the Fight for America.” Venture capitalist Katherine Boyle gave a speech last week that encapsulates the disturbing, religious character of techno-optimism: “But the good news is we know how to fight back. And we’re here because we heard the call to build against these dark forces we face. We know technology is the escape hatch from a nihilistic world. That democracy demands a sword and sometimes we have to use it to defend ourselves, our allies, and civilization.”
“A President’s Council on Artificial Intelligence.” M. Anthony Mills points to Leon Kass’s leadership of the President’s Council on Bioethics as a model for how the government should approach AI: “A more holistic and humanistic approach is needed. We need an approach that considers not only the best — for example the safest or most efficient — means to achieve given ends, but also the ends we ought to be pursuing in the first place, and whether and how new technologies can or cannot help us attain them. Here the President’s Council on Bioethics can provide a model for the Biden White House to follow on AI.”
“Online Content Runs from Good to Bad. The Bigger Danger Is Online Habits.” I reviewed Samuel James’s book Digital Liturgies: “It’s not so much that intellectual just-so stories are wrong as that they are incomplete. How have notions about the expressive or buffered self taken hold? Not primarily through the ascendance of particular ideas, but through the powerful technologies that have developed to realize and enact the desires of the so-called ‘modern’ self.”
“Revisiting Gettysburg.” Bill Kauffman visits the Civil War’s most famous battlefield for a tricennial celebration of the film’s release: “No filmmaker has explored the imaginative appeal of the Civil War in as much depth or from such diverse angles as Ron Maxwell. In a country whose dominant institutions are either contemptuous or neglectful of the American past, Ron Maxwell’s films constitute a profoundly moving statement of why it matters that our ailing republic shall not perish from the earth.”
“Liberalism against Itself.” Patrick Deneen reviews Liberalism against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times by Samuel Moyn and traces their different—yet overlapping—ways of narrating liberalism’s currents: “Moyn’s overarching lament is ultimately less about the defeat of “progressive liberalism” by “realist liberalism,” but a plaintive regret that liberalism in both its forms has undone what he really cares about—solidarity, commitment, and the common good. While he claims at the start and at the conclusion of his book to disagree with me, readers might be forgiven if, by the end of the book, they are tempted to conclude that Moyn simply can’t bring himself to say out loud that I’m right: liberalism has succeeded, and because of that, Moyn actually—and rightly—wishes for something else.”
“Ten Reasons I’m Thankful This Thanksgiving Week.” Brian Miller recounts his blessings from his Tennessee farm.
“The Startling Evidence on Learning Loss Is In.” The New York Times editorial board summarizes the bleak effects that school COVID policies had on learning: “The school closures that took 50 million children out of classrooms at the start of the pandemic may prove to be the most damaging disruption in the history of American education. It also set student progress in math and reading back by two decades and widened the achievement gap that separates poor and wealthy children.”
“Sailing to Eutopia; FPR’s Jeff Bilbro; Voices of Decentralism.” Elias Crim interviewed me for his Solidarity Hall project. We talked about FPR and Wendell Berry, among other topics.
“Maniacal Visions.” Max Bodach reviews The MANIAC, an odd book which might sort of be characterized as a fictionalized biography of John von Neumann. Along the way, Bodach reflects on how best to respond to the rising tide of AI: “I think Wendell Berry, the poet-farmer, said it best in one of his poems, where he urges us to “every day do something that won’t compute.” This is what Lee Sedol did in his pathbreaking Go move that stumped his AI opponent. This is what you and I can do when we pray, work, think, read, and befriend without recourse to the crutches of technology. And this is what Benjamín Labatut does in deploying a humanistic and spiritual vernacular to engage fruitfully with the legacy of a great and terrible technologist.”
“How a Fervent Belief Split Silicon Valley—and Fueled the Blowup at OpenAI.” Robert McMillan and Deepa Seetharaman look at some of the philosophical debates behind the tensions roiling OpenAI. The conflict between effective altruists and market-oriented AI developers (also known as effective accelerationists), though, begs the underlying questions about what humans are for. Maybe efficacy is the wrong standard to judge the value or success of one’s life: “Coming just weeks after effective altruism’s most prominent backer, Sam Bankman-Fried, was convicted of fraud, the OpenAI meltdown delivered another blow to the movement, which believes that carefully crafted artificial-intelligence systems, imbued with the correct human values, will yield a Golden Age—and failure to do so could have apocalyptic consequences.”