Reading, Undset, and Tariffs

Photo by George W. Ackerman

Hope for the Organization Kid.” Joshua Hochschild revisits David Brooks’ classic 2004 essay on college students and considers what’s changed in the two decades since: “I doubt that the keenest college students will embrace AI as another shortcut to thinking. Twenty-three years ago, perhaps they might have. Brooks’s organization kids were suffering, but they did not feel their suffering and so did not inquire into it. In the distracted suffering of the anxious children of the smartphone, I see a chance for a renewal of spiritual seeking, and even for the traditional psychological language of philosophy and theology to find new purchase. For though the busy soul may be able to forget that it is a soul, the distracted soul, through the very experience of distraction, receives constant reminders that it is a soul, and that it is unfulfilled.” I think Josh is onto something here, and I too sense grounds for hope in the prevalent dissatisfaction that students have with their distracted state, but Alan Jacobs’ haunting question in an essay from several years ago ought to be heeded too: “What do we do with the great majority of people for whom excessive self-examination is the last problem they’re likely to face?”

Is This the End of Reading?” Beth McMurtrie has a long report for the Chronicle on why students seem less capable of engaging long, difficult readings and crafting research essays. The reasons are myriad, but all is not hopeless: “Professors say students are coming into college with a host of new and alarming learning challenges, including fragmented and distracted thinking, along with sharper limits on what they are willing or able to do. What do you do when students don’t — or can’t — do the work?”

Higher Ed’s Fragmented Morality.” The Dispatch asked if I wanted to write something on the recent campus protests. The particulars are different from campus to campus, and the war going on in Gaza right now is incredibly tragic and complex, with wrongs aplenty on all sides, so I took a step back from those questions and instead tried to articulate why moral debates at American universities seem so intractable: “as suggested by the recurring moral crises that sweep through universities, the incoherent bricolage of social justice, career training, and therapeutic self-help can’t sustain and orient education. Education’s proximate goods are only intelligible when they remain in the service of ultimate goods.”

Stay in My Heart.” Valerie Stivers writes an absolutely remarkable essay about the process of reading Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter and converting to Christianity: “Religious people, places, and traditions are not there to condemn Kristin for breaking the rules—though she has broken them. For her sins, she is mostly punished by life. The religious people, places, and traditions are there to meet her in the pain of her struggle and offer things: forgiveness, wisdom, tradition, community, advice, punishment when needed, endless fresh starts. I had always imagined the Church as a distant and cruel regulatory body, and suddenly I saw it as Undset did, as the place you turn with the whole unregulated mass of your life—as the only place large enough for it.”

More Real than the World: Ancient Insights into the Nature of God.” Laurie Johnson is teaching on online course this summer through the Maurin Academy on Plato and early Christianity: “Using selections of texts from Plato’s The Republic, Gorgias, Symposium, and the Laws, Laurie will discuss key ideas that attracted early Christians: Plato’s idealism (doctrine of the forms), his views on justice, the role of human love, the existence of God, and the afterlife.”

How Poetry Responds to a Disenchanted World.” James Matthew Wilson reviews Charles Taylor’s new tome, Cosmic Connections: Poetry in the Age of Disenchantment: “Taylor is right to find in these poetic visions substantial accounts of reality that push back against the philosophy of disenchantment. But he proves inadequate to the task of articulating how poetic language and poetic form arrest, communicate, persuade, and convince in ways that are neither merely rational argumentation nor raw appeals to the subjective feelings of experience.”

Jacques Ellul: Prophet of the Information Age.” Bronson Long considers Ellul’s legacy thirty years after his death: “Jacques Ellul was not opposed to everything that falls under the category of technique in general and technology specifically. Rather, he argued that these things always come with costs and trade-offs. And it is naïve to assume that new technologies and the proliferation of information are always improvements.”

When Our Walls Fall.” Dwight Lindley muses on a neighbor’s collapsed house and wonders how he might have been a better neighbor to the lonely inhabitant of this house as well as to others in distress: “When the disarray of inner habits breaks through the front wall of life, we have no choice but to admit how fragile we are, that success or failure depends on a profoundly delicate balance. No matter how tidy and well-planned our appearance and trajectory are, these moments of collapse show that we are in fact unable to do what we need to do.”

Little Ears.” Elizabeth Stice reminds us that we shouldn’t watch or listen to all that is on offer: “One of the reasons it’s so easy to be cynical is because of what we consume. We watch and listen to angry people, we feel angry. We click the clickbait. We hang out with people who have no hope for the future and we go home feeling hopeless. We might be better off protecting our little ears.”

13 Ways of Looking at Biden’s New China Tariffs.” Robinson Meyer, inspired by Wallace Stevens, considers the context for the new U.S. tariffs on EVs from China: “Just because China has created a superior EV industry, that doesn’t mean it will have one forever; just because China makes better EVs, that doesn’t mean that America lags on all climate technologies. But make no mistake: America is trying to do something very difficult, and it has no guarantee of success.”



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