Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The moral courage of Brave Sir Rod and The Last Man

I touched on this post in a comment exchange with Pik, below, but I think another commenter exchange deserves its own post for showcasing a moral cowardice so profoundly congenital that it's become completely transparent to its utterly obtuse host.

In the post Help! Help! They’re Not Being Oppressed!, Rod tells us that the PEN writer's group is being a bunch of ninnies for feeling chilled from writing because of the NSA, concluding:

Please. Such self-important drama. I could be wrong here, but I think that anything not written by a contemporary American writer because he is afraid of the NSA is not something society will suffer from not having. If fear of the NSA prevents, say, Alice Walker from bloviating about cultural politics, well, that’s a point in the NSA’s favor.

Besides which, if you are so afraid of the NSA that you don’t write a book or give a speech on something that matters to you as a writer, the most useful thing someone can say to you is: Nut up.

An important (because it's in all caps, bolded) UPDATE tasks us to go that extra intellectual distance that Dreher has made his hallmark and wonder

UPDATE: In fact, if you think about it, who is more at risk of having her writing career damaged by something she was written: an American writer who publishes a book or article highly critical of the US national security establishment, or an American writer who publishes a book or article highly critical of gay rights, or progressive feminist and racial orthodoxies? Would your career be more in danger as a writer for defending Edward Snowden, or Pope Benedict XVI?

Commenter Andy, however, takes issue and points out

The comparison in your UPDATE: is complete nonsense. Nobody was asserting that writers were afraid that the NSA would hurt their careers. They are afraid of the NSA period. So it’s irrelevant to start with.

It’s also apples and oranges. On one hand we have a government leveraging their authority to do something (what isn’t exactly clear; just spy on the writer extra hard i guess) because they are upset by what someone has written. On the other hand you have a writer not being successful because they write things that are very unpopular. How are those the same?

Writing in favor of traditional subjugation of women, gays, and minorities isn’t bad for your career becuase of some conspiracy. It’s bad for your career because it grosses out an extremely large number of people. You are smart enough to see which way the wind is blowing. I can respect you for spitting into it anyway on principal, but whining about it is just pathetic.

But, uh-oh, Andy...checkmate! Rod thinks he has him here and crawls up belly to belly inside his comment sweater to confront him face to face:

[NFR: "Traditional subjugation," eh? You make my point for me: it is far riskier for a writer to take positions opposed to the progressive cultural orthodoxies of the institutions -- academic, media, publishing, etc. -- that she depends on for her livelihood than it would be to oppose the government. That you imagine the only threat to one's livelihood and creative freedom coming from the government is pretty naive. -- RD]

The threat to one's livelihood and creative freedom. From the progressive cultural orthodoxies. Of, like, the publishing marketplace.

But, ummm...

Isn't the whole point of having principles, particularly those religious moral principles Dreher so frequently and ostentatiously reminds us make up his very being one of being rooted in and guided by something more stern and demanding of the self than the sugar snacks of mere convenience, expediency, and the sense of entitlement to the sort of easy life comforts Earl Butz once vulgarly characterized as "loose shoes, tight pussy, and a warm place to shit" in the racist remark that got him fired way back when?

One really has to wonder what a founding Christian martyr, even an early run-of-the-mill follower would make of the NFR above:

Roddus Tummius: "That you imagine the only threat to one's livelihood and creative freedom coming from the Romans is pretty naive, Petra. What do you really expect a wannabe Christian scribe like me to do about the progressive cultural orthodoxies of the Parchment Guild? Do you really expect me to risk being reduced to begging for scraps of stringy aged goat instead of dining on young Spring lamb as I am accustomed?"

If one really has and holds to principles rather than to lifestyle expediencies and really has and holds to the moral courage to speak up and out for them, one does so without regard for whatever relative discomforts or other hazards might be the price of doing so. Period. If not, one is trading in the public square in cheap brass plate, not in the gold so valorously but falsely advertised.

Sorry, Rod. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no cultural or vocational welfare "set-aside" for principle - anyone's principles - of the sort you implicitly seek. Either one is a man of principle and one sneers (even understandingly) when one hears someone whining that standing up for one's principles might involve discomfort, even hardship - or one is simply something else entirely. Can't be both, much as anyone might want to.

But, huh. What could this loose shoes, non-principled something else Rod is actually embodying turn out to be?

Oh, I know! I know! I knew this NFR reminded me of something I'd heard somewhere before.


Lo! I show you the Last Man.

"What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?" -- so asks the Last Man, and blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.

"We have discovered happiness" -- say the Last Men, and they blink.

They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one's neighbor and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.

Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!

A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death.

One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.

No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is the same: he who feels differently goes voluntarily into the madhouse.

"Formerly all the world was insane," -- say the subtlest of them, and they blink.

They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their derision. People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled -- otherwise it upsets their stomachs.

They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

"We have discovered happiness," -- say the Last Men, and they blink.

Nut up, Rod.


  1. Dreher needs to turn off the computer, put down the pseudo-intellectual crap he's reading, and pick up The Gulag Archipelago before the next time he's tempted to write "it is far riskier for a writer to take positions opposed to the progressive cultural orthodoxies of the institutions -- academic, media, publishing, etc. -- that she depends on for her livelihood than it would be to oppose the government. "

    1. Exactly. I would suggest, paraphrasing Newman, that to be deep in history is to cease to be a paleocon. If the Gulag never happened, if communism didn't exist, if China never made anyone disappear, maybe some of the positions held by TAC writers wouldn't be completely ridiculous.

      If Dreher & co. feel more threatened by the queer lobby than the NSA and the IRS then they are not living in the real world.

    2. I've heard that Harvard's gulag is exceptionally awful. Same with the Brookings Institute and Conde Nast. *no latte machines* *lifetime ban from starbucks* omg

  2. Pikkumatti: "Dreher needs to turn off the computer…"

    In that event, he would cease to exist. He would go "poof". His whole oeuvre would never have happened without the Internet. I cannot begin to imagine what else he could have done without it. Dishwasher in a local restaurant? Writing ads for the local Nickel's Worth? Oysterman? Shrimper?

    He has got to keep the computer turned on, because he is hanging on for dear life.

  3. Okay, everybody, our Working Boy has laid it out for us in a full blown TAC article: "Benedict Option".

    Have at it. I'll just sit back and watch.

  4. I noticed one thing that was absent from the Benedict Option article:

    There is no indication that RD would ever seriously commit himself to living in one of these communities. I don't see him any time soon saying:

    "Hey, Julie, here it is, staring right us in the face, what I have always longed for! This St. John's up in Alaska is about as close to the Benedict Option as we will ever find. And they are Orthodox too. Let's pack up and move there and commit ourselves to pursuing this with all our hearts. I will even give up the raw oysters, the expensive vacations to Paris, the fine dining, and go for the simpler lifestyle. A little manual labor might even do me some good. I'll give the landlord some notice. We'll have a big yard sale, get rid of some of our accumulated junk, and pack up and move to Alaska. You could be a counselor at the Summer camp. I'll call about the St James House and see about how soon we can be admitted and get started. I just can't wait to get the ball rolling on this."

    I could be wrong, but somehow, I don't think that anything like this will ever happen. But if it were to, I would advise the people in Alaska to give it some serious thought about imposing "stipulations" on RD to make sure he doesn't end up trying to run their show.

    1. Yeah, I read through the piece, Oengus. If I pretend that I didn't know who wrote it, I wouldn't have had much of a problem with it. It read like a magazine article to me, at least on the superficial level at which I read it. The logical link between today's communities and the salvation of civilization was weak to non-existent, but it didn't try to make much of a point of it.

      Dreher and his readers would be much better off, IMO, if he kept to doing pieces like this rather than that horrid blog of his.

    2. Pikkumatti: "Dreher and his readers would be much better off, IMO, if he kept to doing pieces like this rather than that horrid blog of his."

      I agree. I have said several times that RD has potential if he would just get himself out of the picture and write basic expository pieces, like this "magazine article" that focuses on some subject.

      Gosh, I would even put up with him moving to Alaska and joining St John's, provided we don't hear from him again for several years, and only then if his writing about the experience doesn't make him centerpiece of it all. That is, if such a book were really about the people there and how they lived and made it work.

    3. St. John's is located here on Monastery Drive in Eagle River, AK. You can get some very nice street level views of the area. Look around a bit and you'll find the church cemetery by the road not far from the church building.

    4. That is indeed in the woods -- one could certainly drop off the grid out there.

      The birch trees remind me of Northern MN, which is nice (that is, during the week in the summer when it looks like that).

    5. Oengus, my understanding now is that the Benedict Option is Dreher's adult version of boarding-school-for-bullied-nerds-as-Gary-Larson-spinster-aunts-sacred-grove-of-kitty-bloodshed.

      In other words, some place safe he can run away to where no one will pull his pants down, literally, critically, culturally, psychologically, or spiritually.

      Maybe this is one reason Dreher is uneasy with Pope Francis and prefers the more clerical Pope Benedict, the latter being the sort any would-be teacher's pet like Dreher would be certain would hold them in higher regard for their superior clerical polish than the ordinary, unruly riff-raff kids.

      Commenter Fred sort of throws it in Dreher's face that, while Dreher is dreaming of running off to psychological safety in Alaska, Francis is running in the other direction, toward Ground Zero:

      “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).” (49)

      - Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium


  5. Keith: "…ome place safe he can run away to where no one will pull his pants down, literally, critically, culturally, psychologically, or spiritually."

    I think that using different terms I was more or less saying the same thing. In any case, our "Working Boy" would never run off to Alaska for the simple reason that it is most definitely not a safe place, and secondly because I am not sure he has that level of genuine commitment. For example, to try dealing with the Alaskan winters would be hard enough. Also, go to the St John's web site and just look around at some of the many pictures they have posted. The people there strike me as being pretty ordinary, and not RD's kind of pansy pseudo intellectuals who would applaud at everything he says. I suspect they would not put up, even for two seconds, with any of Dreher's ridiculous claptrap. They would slap him down pretty quickly and tell him to "shut up and get real". It would be very strong medicine, but it would do a world of good.

    I think I am almost repeating something his late sister once said. He likes engage in high-falutin talk about the "Benedict Option", or this or that, but he won't actually commit to doing anything worthwhile, least of all commit to live with ordinary "salt of the Earth" people and come to understand that he is not any better than any one them.

    I could be wrong about all this, and I wish I was. But that is the way it seems.

    1. I wouldn't think that Alaskan people are much more salt of the earth than South Louisiana people. The real problem for Dreher in moving to Louisiana is that it's a darn long drive to Luke-with-an-umlaut for oysters, or to Domenica for "heritage turkey" (what is that, by the way?).

      And, referring to my old saw about Dreher conflating matters of taste with matters of truth, it just wouldn't be a suitable "Benedict option" experience for him in Alaska without ready access to a John Tesh restaurant.

    2. . . . that would be a John Besh restaurant, not a John Tesh restaurant. (Shows what a hick I am -- the restaurants I eat in play John Tesh music.)

    3. Pikkumatti: "the restaurants I eat in play John Tesh music."

      I guess it also shows how déclassé I am when I say I like John Tesh's music.

      Wikipedia explains "heritage turkey".

    4. I suspect they would not put up, even for two seconds, with any of Dreher's ridiculous claptrap.

      Oengus, here's one of the locals telling Reporter Rod just what he thinks of his post-millenial, free-form performance art "journalism":

      UPDATE: Police Juror John Kean writes:

      I was forwarded your latest blog post a minute ago. Why not call the parish office and ask questions instead of trying to start turmoil?
      If you had the facts before laying out a bunch of possible rumor and innuendoes about the workings of our parish publicly, you would have found out several things:
      1) the owner has had no trouble or problems in dealing with the Parish on permits. In fact, he has been complimentary on how we have been attentive to his needs. I stopped personally this summer to welcome him and asked him if there was anything he needed. He said that there was nothing he needed and that he was taking his time renovating. He informed me that he owns another restuarant in Monroe.
      2) I heard he has stopped work to take care of personnel issues in Monroe. I believe he lost some of his staff due to the Duck Dynasty family opening a new restuarant in Monroe.
      You come across sometimes as a journalist that can only operate by causing turmoil, instead of alittle fact finding and writing something positive about our parish or Parish government. We are making progress. I know it's slow, but it's government and not a private enterprise. I even get frustrated at times, but have learned that some obstacles we encounter as public officials arethere to protect the public. I encourage you to take the time to serve our community in a public capacity.

      Rod only published it because the guy wields way more power locally than he does and the jig would have been up if he didn't.

      Here's Reporter Rod a week later, maybe still petulantly nursing that rather nasty wound, explaining why he is Uh-Huh, Too! A Real Journalist It's Hard I Bet You Couldn't Do It:

      I should add that as a journalist who has had to write criticism before, reading Pete Wells’s review is also to encounter artistry. I wrote about movies, and I think I was good, but very far from great, because that stuff is hard. Everybody thinks they could do it, but if you asked them to sit down and write 700 words explaining why a film worked, or didn’t, while also offering enough of a plot summary to inform the reader without spoilers, and without boring the reader senseless, they couldn’t begin to do it. Try it sometime. Try explaining coherently and efficiently why the last movie you saw that you liked worked well.

      I dunno, Rod. I think the average Girl Scout could do that.

      To the best of my knowledge, Reporter Rod has never really ever worked as a true journalist, although he like to tart up his bona fides by using the term. He began as a movie reviewer, the mail room job every rookie starts in, then moved to writing opinion pieces, ie, as Pik established, his feelings=reality. I'm not aware of him ever having a byline anywhere as a shoe leather journalist. (continues)


    5. And, finally,apropos of nothing previous, here's Rod assuming the role of spiritual counselor and explaining the catechism of immoderate comment sin to one of his regulars:

      [NFR: This is close to trolling [ie, sin - Keith], though I know you don't mean for it to be. I want the answers to be [blindly affirmative - Keith] answers to the reader's question, not questioning his premises [examining the post in context - Keith]. I'm not going to allow any further posts like this one, simply because they distract from the thread [by leading commenters to believe they might be more than trained seals - Keith], which has been pretty good so far. [if you don't whip the darkies every couple of posts or so, they get uppity and won't pick the cotton right - Keith]

      (Where's the MST3K crew when you need them?)


    6. Yeah, Dreher, of all people, is a fine one to run an advice column about how a brother should talk to his sister about what she's doing wrong.

      And his asking readers for "Thoughts?" only to backhand them when they do so is especially poor form for someone who wants to run an advice column.

    7. Oengus: Wikipedia explains "heritage turkey".

      A heritage turkey costs $200?!? And you don't get as much breast meat? That should get a bullet point in the Crunchy Manifesto all by itself.

    8. I know nothing about this community in Alaska, but I have learned (from friends' experience, e.g., my goddaughter's experience) that a LOT of these intentional holier-than-the-rest-of-the-church communities turn out to be hotbeds of cultishness, spiritual abuse, and just plain craziness.

  6. Another note I should have added on that guy calling Dreher out on his Bonnie Blue local blog: he was in a recent race opposite the guy Dreher backed, who eventually won, so Dreher's post here is, far from being any sort of objective reporting about the facts of the case being used here merely as a vehicle (as the Kean guy makes clear), actually a post-election campaign love note on behalf of the victor, a wealthy venture capitalist, someone imminently useful for funding Walker Percy Weekends as a tax shelter or hiring effervescent bloggers no one else seems to want once Allison gets tired of his vanity money pit.


    1. Dreher posted an "UPDATE 2" to that blog piece, in which he tells us that the rumors he published (about the restaurant not opening due to local government red tape) were false all along.

      That's some fine newspaperin' by our Cub Reporter. Publish unsubstantiated rumors without confirmation from the obvious sources, so long as the rumors fit the desired political narrative, and then spin the ultimate correction (in this case, with happiness that the restaurant is going to open after all).

    2. While Rod was focused on cashing out his ultimate revenge on his sister, it looks like the Benedict Option ship may have sailed away from him.

      This was to be his big thematic breakout as a long form writer after the training wheels of Crunchy Cons.

      Sure, Sugar Daddy let him write a piece for TAC, but his post about it on his blog there got no more comments than this post did.

      Looks like the big BO was his Peak Oil, and it's done peaked.

      Oh, well, once a gossip columnist, always a gossip columnist.


    3. Keith: " it looks like the Benedict Option ship may have sailed away from him.""

      As I pointed out above, there is the option of actually pursuing the option:

      (1) Quit TAC and quit blogging and quit the whining.

      (2) Move to Eagle River, AK. Do your best to be out of sight.

      (3) Get a job doing something useful, maybe do some actual but dull news reportage for the local paper, or maybe working at the local cannery, or at Walmart, or cleaning carpets.

      (4) Join the St John's community but keep you mouth shut, keep your nose clean, and above all mind your own business, with the understanding that they got along perfectly well all these years without you, and they really don't need you anyhow.

      (5) Spend at least the next five years never being heard from. Focus on raising your kids, and getting through the brutal winters. Write no books, except maybe a children's story about Barlow the Elk, or maybe a history of gold prospecting in Alaska.

      (6) Come to the realization that food is just food. It goes in one end and comes out the other.

      (7) Get a haircut. Lose the stupid looking glasses. Start looking like a normal person instead of Sonic the Hedge Hog. On the other hand, grow the beard really long. We'll grant you that.

      (8) Maybe, just maybe after ten or so years, write a short book about the history of Orthodoxy in Alaska, going back to the Russian missionaries, at the end of which you might have a couple of chapters about St. Johns. But by this time, hopefully, you will have learned that you are no different from anyone else, and you are not some special and great philosopher, and that it is better that you leave yourself out of the book entirely.

      (9) Pursue a quiet life. Grow old, die, and be buried in the consecrated cemetery next to the church on Monastery Drive.

      Then you will have accomplished something that can be respected.

    4. Oengus, well done. Your remark about the "option of actually pursuing the option" is an astute observation. It seems like the most appealing aspect of the so-called Benedict Option is that it is optional.

      You're also right about food going in one end and coming out the other. Or it damn well better.

    5. Pauli: "the most appealing aspect of the so-called Benedict Option is that it is optional."

      Of course, I don't have any serious expectation that anything like what was listed above will ever happen.

      And when I saw this, which ends in food, again, all I could do was shake my head and move on.

    6. You know Dreher has absolutely no clue as to just how sublimely vulgar a specimen of white trash he really is: "Getta loada me: I signed some books, then, to reward myself, I filled my belly. In under 10 minutes. Beat that!".

      I get the feeling, sadly, that Mam and Paw do, but realize it's far too late now to salvage anything but the grandkids.

      He's like a loud-mouthed child with a squirt gun full of fox urine turned loose in whatever people might otherwise treasure most, family, religion, even something as humbles as food.


  7. BTW...Daniel Nichols (not my favorite blogger by a long shot, but let's give the divil his due, as my Irish Nana used to say)...anyway, Daniel Nichols has come up with the Best Label Ever for Recent Dreherrian Blog Posts:

    The Eggs Benedict Option.