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Worthy Reads This Week (2021 May 27)
Instead of just sharing articles on Facebook when I feel like it, I thought I might try rolling all the "shareworthy" things I encounter into a single weekly blog post. Like most "new features" on De Civitate, I expect I will do this twice and then forget about it, but, for now, please enjoy.
As the saying goes: Retweets are not endorsements! I found these articles thought-provoking. There's a good chance I agreed with something important in each, but maybe not, and, in any case, I absolutely do not endorse each and every claim made in each and every article. (I mean, gracious, Ian Milhiser's on this week's list!)
"Against Crippled Religion" by Steve Skojec:
I sometimes feel as though in my own work, all I’ve been doing, day after day, year after year, is staring into the abyss that is the Catholic Church in the 21st century and pulling out monsters to display in public: “See? Do you see this twisted, evil thing? This is what’s going on! We have to stop it!” But there is no stopping it; it is an absolute radioactive sinkhole of abuse, corruption, cronyism, perversion, and heterodoxy, much of it concentrated around the pope himself. We have no power to change it. It’s enough to make anyone despair, and some have broken under the pressure. There are any number of examples, but perhaps most obvious are those who invented bizarre conspiracy theories to explain things away, like the one about how none of the present papal crisis is really happening, because Pope Benedict hadn’t really resigned and was still in charge, and a handful of bloggers had decoded his secret signals telling us all would be revealed...
Nobody is coming to save us. Not even God.
That’s not the kind of thing you’re allowed to think, but I couldn’t stop thinking it.
The Chicago School of Thought, which was propagated chiefly by Judge (and Yale Law School professor) Robert Bork and other University of Chicago professors, stresses low prices in the final goods market as the sole criterion for assessing potentially anticompetitive conduct. When undertaken by a single firm, conduct that had been deemed exclusionary as recently as the 1960s (think predatory pricing, tying, exclusive dealing) was suddenly considered innocuous in the absence of higher prices or lower output. Under this “consumer welfare” framework, which Klobuchar rightly labels “Bork’s incredibly misleading misnomer,” the welfare of workers and other input providers was made subservient to the needs of end users.
A student of modern antitrust law, steeped in the Chicago School orthodoxy, might be confused to hear Klobuchar’s origins story and to reconcile it with the consumer-welfare lens: A key animating thrust of antitrust law, per Klobuchar’s history, was the protection of workers and farmers in their dealings with monopsonists. If workers weren’t supreme, they were at least equal to consumers in the eyes of the law. Klobuchar’s origins story puts the lie to Bork’s history of antitrust. And if the Chicago School is built on a deliberate misreading of history, then it should be easier to unwind.
"You Aren't Actually Mad At the SATs (You're Mad At What They Reveal)" by Freddie deBoer (I heavily spliced this excerpt without ellipses):
Liberals repeat several types of myths about the SAT/ACT with such utter confidence and repetition that they’ve become a kind of holy writ. But myths they are:
1. SATs don't predict college success. (They do, indeed. This one is clung to so desperately by liberals that you’d think there was some sort of compelling empirical basis to believe this. There isn’t. There never has been. They’re making it up. They want it to be true, and so they believe it to be true. )
2. The SATs only tell you how well a student takes the SAT. (No: they tell you how well a student is likely to perform in college.)
3. SATs just replicate the income distribution. (No. Again, asserted with utter confidence by liberals despite overwhelming evidence that this is not true.)
4. SATs are easily gamed with expensive tutoring. (They are not. This one is perhaps less empirically certain than the prior two.)
5. Going test optional increases racial diversity. (This one, I think, must be called scientifically unsettled.)
All of that is prologue to the bigger point: the controversy over college entrance examinations stems not from the examinations themselves, but from the fact that they reveal profound differences in human capital that make progressives uncomfortable. The SATs don’t create inequality. They reveal inequality.
DeBoer goes on to reply to criticisms in "Please Think Critically about the SATs":
One of my great frustrations with this conversation is that it typically involves idealizing the college admissions process, which is in reality about the least idealistic process I can think of. This must be drilled into the heads of the liberals who think that eliminating the SAT is the key to getting more poor Black and Hispanic students into elite colleges: we have every reason to believe that colleges and universities are meeting their internal diversity goals by pursuing affluent first-generation and international Black and Hispanic students. Private colleges and universities jealously guard their internal admissions data, which is absurd for several reasons, the biggest of which is that we are handing them massive tax breaks in exchange for a complete lack of transparency in how they choose students. But both research and widespread industry perception tells us that, for many colleges, and particularly elite colleges, slots reserved for Black and Hispanic students are going to wealthy first generation children of affluent African and South American parents or to international students...
What’s the goal, here? If it’s to increase cardboard-cutout “diversity” by giving schools more leeway to recruit wealthy kids from Argentina and Nigeria, well, cool. It’ll probably work. But for the poor minority students, particularly the descendants of African slaves that most people think of when they think of affirmative action? No. Admissions departments at most colleges are revenue-generation units before they are anything else.
"The Self-Licking Napalm Ice Cream Cone: Is Science Having a Stroke?" by Curtis Yarvin:
When you’re debugging a broken system, the most interesting thing is when it works.
You are not trying to prove that it’s broken. You know it’s broken. The question is why it’s broken. This involves knowing how it’s supposed to work. When every once in a while the machine does work, reality flashes a light on why it much more often doesn’t.
In this case, our giant planetary brain is correcting an error. It is realizing that, despite its earlier statements, covid maybe probably did escape from a lab. Since the brain, like any brain, is supposed to be automatically self-correcting—this is the brain working.
This brain of course works very well in in many ways. But one thing it does not do well is proving itself wrong—especially if the error would cast it in a harsh light.... [So w]hen it suddenly—changes its mind—on something huge, it’s best to pay attention. This doesn’t happen often.
Probably the best example I know of happened 70 years ago. The details are different; but no one at all disputes them now, so—I hate to digress—
Most people have heard about Stalin’s murder of the Polish officers in 1940 at Katyn. Most people do not know that until 1952, the USSR’s narrative was our own American narrative—that the Poles were shot by the SS in 1941.
"Conservative Notes on Democracy: Are Republicans really anti-democratic? It's complicated." by Michael Brendan Dougherty:
Are we not democrats? John Ganz alleges that “it’s very difficult to seriously maintain that the modern GOP and Conservative movement, either in ideology or in practice, is substantially committed to majority rule” and that “the entire ideological edifice of Conservatism at this point is just a sustained attack on the principle of majority rule, either through open rejection of its legitimacy or a more subtle redefinition of democracy into something unrecognizable.”
Ganz’s short essay is probably among the strongest restatements of a case that is becoming the most common indictment of Republicans among the most voracious consumers of political media who are aligned with the Democratic Party.
Ganz mentions that some anti-democratic rhetoric on the right is merely opportunistic. He could explore whether the arguments for decreasing checks on the majority are the same for liberals and progressives. Liberals and progressives in other nations have recently found themselves in the opposite position. After losing a referendum on Brexit, liberal and progressive Remainers launched a boldly anti-democratic campaign against it via institutions they still controlled, even executing a temporary legal coup on the British constitution via the Supreme Court. Conservative populists who won free and fair elections in Poland and Hungary have been chastised as “undemocratic” and “threats to democracy,” often when their reforms expand democratic control over more areas of the government or other institutions. Poland moved toward democratic checks on its judicial guild, bringing it closer to norms in the United States. Liberals in Poland and across the world balked at it. Hungary’s government has similarly used its democratic mandate to go after institutions run by a small number of elites.
"The Beatings Will Continue Until the Stupidity Ends" by the late lamented Thomas H. Crown (from 2019):
...As the late Justice Scalia also noted, "when the Court takes sides in the culture wars, it tends to be with the knights rather than the villains -- and more specifically with the Templars."
There is no liberal solution to this. The tools of liberalism are thwarted, capriciously or at least without much reflection to their nominal sources of authority, by the illiberal part of the system to which we agreed, and from which we cannot extricate ourselves without armed rebellion or exile; and by a culture that has the ear of that illiberal block. So even when we win liberally, not only do we lose, but we have agreed to the means of our defeat and exile from future competition.
How do you fight this? French says he's won using the tools of liberalism and he's right, but he then points to victories we all know are etched in sand -- every win to which he proudly (and rightfully!) points was made in court and is therefore subject to a later court pulling a Lawrence to his Bowers, or was accomplished legislatively and is therefore even more fragile. Ahmari says that the tide is coming, and he's right, but he completely lacks any description or even general idea of how we get around this.
In this article, someone on the judicial hard-left (Milhiser) attacks the quintessential judicial center-leftist (Justice Breyer). Although it's always instructive to follow intramural debates on both sides of the aisle, I'm actually sharing this one for the cognitive dissonance Milhiser displays:
No serious person would claim that, say, Brett Kavanaugh or Amy Coney Barrett is the moral equivalent of a Nazi. But Breyer is either asking us to accept a Supreme Court that could entrench the Republican Party’s power, or denying we have such a Court right now.
If the former is true, he should explain why the “rule of law” is worth maintaining if the people have no control over who writes the laws. If he’s claiming the latter, well, I hope he’s correct. But, should he allow his seat on the Supreme Court to be filled by another Clarence Thomas or Neil Gorsuch, both of whom have called for extraordinary new constraints on voting rights, he may not remain correct for very long.
Breyer's argument is that you can't have a functioning republic without a legitimate Supreme Court, and that progressive proposals are going to gut that legitimacy). Milhiser's counterargument is that we have no choice but to gut the legitimacy of the Supreme Court (he never resists the force of Breyer's point here), because the conservative justices will otherwise make our republic non-functional by other means.
The evidence for his extraordinary claim that conservative justices will render the republic non-functional boil down to hypotheticals and this complaint that, in the 2020 election, Thomas and Gorsuch would have (correctly) thrown out a lot of ballots that were cast illegally with the blessing of local officials. Throwing those ballots out would not have changed the outcome of the 2020 election, which was razor-thin, and would certainly have had no effect in a "normal" election. He then gets into a stemwinder about Ziblatt's How Democracies Die that cites 1/6 and Merrick Garland, but neither the BLM riots nor Estrada.
Milhiser's still a cut above Mark Joseph Stern, though. And I did like the bit about the "two-front war" (read the article; I didn't excerpt it). As a right-wing, anti-progressive liberal, I sympathize greatly. Liberalism does place heavier burdens on its supporters than its rival strongman ideologies. But guess what? That's always been the price of civilization.
Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words, free documentary on TubiTV.
I liked this for a lot of reasons, but the part that resonated with me most was his time in Catholic seminary... a seminary the future Justice Thomas left because he saw racism in the Catholic Church that the Church refused to stand up against. This sparked a moral crisis in Thomas's life (many serious Catholics go through something similar at some point, especially ex-seminarians) that drove him out of the Church into the arms of radical Marxists. His road back from Black Nationalist Marxism to being the smartest, wisest, most consistent justice on the Supreme Court over the majority of his time serving there (and, yes, I do rank Thomas above Scalia) is a road worth walking with him.
I was, however, very non-plussed by the way the documentary brushed off Justice Thomas's mid-1980s divorce as "one of those things." We're trying to understand Thomas as a man, and the collapse of a marriage is not something you can look away from -- especially not for a Catholic. (Thomas was reconciled to the Church in the '90s; his second wife later converted.)
In any event, worth watching, especially if you're not someone who is already rather reflexively inclined to like and respect Justice Clarence Thomas.