Patriotism, Realtors, and Men

Photo by George W. Ackerman

The Big AI Risk Not Enough People Are Seeing.” Tyler Austin Harper draws on Ivan Illich to distinguish between technologies that empower us and those that erode our human nature: “we need to adopt a more sophisticated approach to artificial intelligence, one that allows us to distinguish between uses of AI that legitimately empower human beings and those—like hypothetical AI dating concierges—that wrest core human activities from human control. But making these distinctions requires us to re-embrace an old idea that tends to leave those of us on the left rather squeamish: human nature.” (For a variety of reasons, though, I think Nussbaum’s capabilities approach, which he considers as a possibility, is a dead-end. Illich, obviously, rooted his arguments in a theological anthropology.)

The Last Sanctuary.” Ronald W. Dworkin describes a culture in which the domain for meaningful freedom shrinks in exchange for various trivial substitutes. As an antidote, he suggests the recovery of home as a site for ordered, productive liberty: “Sometimes in civic life, one word (or one joke) can have a greater effect than the most carefully designed ideological system. It happens when the word helps people regain contact, behind the curtain of words, with living humanity and leave the realm of illusion. In my estimation, in our political moment the effective word is one that has been around for millennia. It evokes true feeling in everyone: home. Our politics went south when home ceased to be a sanctuary, and the body and mind took its place. Intellectuals might be wise to try to find ways to reverse this process and reestablish home as the zone of control.” (Recommended by Adam Smith.)

In Search of Ordinary Patriotism.” Sarah Reardon draws on Roger Scruton and Wendell Berry to imagine the shape of healthy patriotism: “Though rhetoric about patriotism is abundant in our culture, the active patriotism of ‘old-fashioned fidelity’ is rare and seemingly unreachable. But love, which breeds fidelity, grows from knowledge. We can begin to be patriots in a true sense by knowing our places.”

The Penderwick Family Honor.” Jeff Reimer meditates on why Jeannie Birdsall’s Penderwick novels make for a moving family read aloud: “Not long ago my youngest children couldn’t sit still long enough to listen to me read a novel; soon my oldest children won’t be here to listen to me read at all. The number of years we have to all read together is a frighteningly small one. I console myself by remembering that these evenings are hugely formative for my kids, and they will take these experiences with them into the world as a part of who they are. It is a small consolation, but such are the consolations of us weepy parents, who both love and hate to watch our children grow up.”

Make the Internet Modest Again.” Hannah Anderson offers some wisdom regarding what modesty might entail in an online world where over-sharing is rewarded: “I’ve often wondered what we owe each other in this limitless age. Without the boundaries of space, time, and embodied relationship, how do I know whom I belong to? How do I know whom I can trust? At times, I’ve unveiled myself in innocence only to have my openheartedness met by a knife. But instead of protecting myself by hardening my heart, I’m choosing modesty. I’m choosing to actively shield the soft parts of myself so that they can remain tender, so that I can remain myself.”

Taking an Annual Screen Sabbath.” Tsh Oxenreider describes the trepidation with which she, as a full-time blogger and podcaster, took her first breaks from the Internet. Now this practice is essential to her rhythms of writing and thinking: “long screen sabbaths deliver benefits far beyond a better work-life balance. To begin with, leaving screens for a month gives the gift of humility by reminding us, in a good way, that none of us are that particularly special. Even though the occasional popular social media post might give us a boost of presumed significance, the world will keep turning even if we go without that boost. Likewise, missing that one popular post from someone else, the one everyone we know is talking about, reminds us that none of us truly needs to keep up with the digital zeitgeist.”

A Renewed Union?” Fred Bauer reviews James Davison Hunter’s new book: “Tracing the disintegration of the public square, Democracy and Solidarity is a bookend to Hunter’s original thesis in Culture Wars. ‘Democracy in crisis’ is a booming genre in American publishing, but Hunter argues that many diagnoses focus simply on the political. He aims instead to sketch out the underlying cultural superstructure that drives much of this dysfunction.” Among other possibilities, Hunter concludes by recommending a renewed localism as one path forward.

Corn Belt Fertilizer is Killing the Gulf of Mexico. Can We Stop It?” Art Cullen takes a trip from Iowa to New Orleans as he traces the costs of decades of misguided farm policy: “When we began, freshly planted Iowa river bottoms, enriched by fertilizer, lay inundated by heavy rains that broke the back of a four-year drought here in the Corn Belt. . . . All that detritus, the tons upon tons of soil with phosphorous mixed in, float downstream past St. Louis, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, suffocating the Gulf of Mexico for the sake of corn, wheat, cotton and rice. They call it the Dead Zone, where almost nothing can live.”

Realtors Partied, Spent Big and Lobbied Hard. Then It All Came Crashing Down.” Maggie Severns and Byron Tau detail the crises rocking realtors: “there have been two public reckonings at NAR: a surprise verdict in a case alleging a Realtor conspiracy to inflate commissions and a scandal over sexual harassment allegations that former employees believe was teed up by NAR’s old-fashioned and opulent culture. To hear critics tell it, NAR and its more than 1,000 state and local affiliates have exploited their influence over real estate transactions to gain more money, which they spent building a gigantic political influence apparatus that secured their status. But behind the partying and spending, NAR has been facing existential risk since the advent of the internet. And over the last two years, it has started to come crashing down.”

Men Only Want One Thing.” Nathan Beacom addresses our culture’s masculinity crises and looks for guidance to an ancient set of disciplines: “Technocratic policy solutions will not be enough. Criticism and cynicism will not be enough. Sophisticated allyhood will not be enough. Tough-guy machismo will not be enough. Men are like timber. Will they be shaped into good, sturdy beams and joists that will shelter, support, and protect? Or will they shape themselves in their own wild ways, producing knotty, weak, and crooked lengths that don’t do anyone any good? We need the moral equivalent of monasticism.”



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