Confound their politics…

…frustrate their knavish tricks…
John Robson lays into Trudeau and Harper this morning on CFRA.

“Enough about me. What about you? What do you think of me?”

Why, why, why are these people so utterly awful? Poor Steve Madely made an ill-fated attempt to defend Harper. Robson:”I think you are amongst the dwindling band who still believe in the moral purity of this Prime Minister.”

Mulcair? Check out last week (at 16:25).

If one were the sort to go looking for evidence of divine judgement, having to choose rulers from among men of relentless hard tactics and sharp cunning, sublime and crude vacuousness, and straight up nastiness would be a good place to start.

When all you have is a hammer…

Much of Science!™ is the process of discovering the total bullshitiness of last century’s Science! From Scientific American:

The general idea is that a deficiency of certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) at synapses, or tiny gaps, between neurons interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses, causing or contributing to depression. One of these neurotransmitters, serotonin, has attracted the most attention, but many others, including norepinephrine and dopamine, have also been granted supporting roles in the story.

Much of the general public seems to have accepted the chemical imbalance hypothesis uncritically. For example, in a 2007 survey of 262 undergraduates, psychologist Christopher M. France of Cleveland State University and his colleagues found that 84.7 percent of participants found it “likely” that chemical imbalances cause depression.

Of course if it’s not chemicals, maybe it’s “structure”.

A possible clue lies in brain structures. Imaging studies have revealed that certain brain areas differ in size between depressed and mentally healthy individuals. For example, the amygdala, which responds to the emotional significance of events, tends to be smaller in depressed people than in those without the disorder.

Maybe, but depression isn’t usually a permanent condition. And the brain doesn’t, as far as I know, undergo macroscopic restructuring during adulthood. And of course there’s the correlation/causation issue again.

Findings also point to a crucial role for psychosocial factors such as stress, especially when it arises from a loss of someone close to you or a failure to meet a major life goal. When someone is under a good deal of stress, a hormone called cortisol is released into the bloodstream by the adrenal glands.

Findings, eh? If you needed Science! to point you in that direction… Squeezing cortisol into the picture makes this seem like progress, but then the trigger for its release throws us right back into the subjective realm of the mind. Speaking of which, the article concludes:

…we must integrate what we know at multiple scales, from molecules to the mind to the world we live in.

Mind…now we have a problem. The mind is impervious to objective study.

An Anxious Age

Two reviews of Joseph Bottum’s An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America have come out in the last few days, giving rise to some interesting commentary on where we are now and how we got here. From Michael Brendan Dougherty’s review at The Week, the plausible suggestion that “checking one’s privilege” has become a secular sacrament of sorts:

Can we not hear in the progressive’s soul-searching examination of his own “privilege,” as well as his unconscious participation in structural injustice, an echo of Rauschenbusch’s words? Whereas Catholics make an examination of conscience before confession, and confess their personal sins before promising to amend their life, today’s progressives examine their place in the social structure of oppression, and then vow to reform society. That is what it means to have a “social gospel without the gospel” — to be motivated by religious impulses, but believe it is entirely secular.

Incidentally, something of this nature under-girds the current hysteria surrounding a supposed “rape-culture”, particularly on college campuses. On the surface, the idea seems risible. Yes the number of incidents is not zero, but the idea that university campuses, the most suffocatingly politically correct places on earth, are also places where rape is generally deemed to be OK is ridiculous. But here we see precisely this transition away from the idea of individual guilt for actions freely chosen and towards a belief in collective guilt for some structural oppression. It serves the progressive’s sense of their own righteousness, the hope that they can triumph through activism, and not least, the opportunity to spread the blame for rape beyond the rapist to all those who stubbornly refuse to acquiesce to their politicized demands, whatever they might be. Even though many of those who doubt the existence of a “rape culture” would be appalled by far less serious sexual transgressions.

But back to the original topic. At 9Marks.org, Matt McCullough is more critical of Bottum’s history,

I’m not convinced that Rauschenbusch, even in a representative sense, should be called the “single most significant figure since the Civil War” as the “sign of the entire age” (38). Nor am I convinced that his Christianity and the Social Crisis was a book that “quickly came to dominate its moment” as “the watershed that divided Protestants into conservatives and liberals” (54-55). I believe Bottum overplays Rauschenbush’s significance, and the significance of Mainline Protestantism in general.

But overall, he agrees with Dougherty regarding the main thrust of the book and the trajectory of non-doctrinal Protestantism:

First, according to Bottum Rauschenbusch redefined sin and redemption. Sin is not an offense against God but an anti-social force, “the evil of bigotry, power, corrupt law, the mob, militarism, and class contempt” (66). Redemption is not peace with God by faith in Christ, but “essentially an attitude of mind,” a “personal, interior rejection” of the forces of evil in society (66). To quote Rauschenbusch, this “redeemed personality” is the “fundamental contribution of every man” to what he called the “progressive regeneration of social life” (quoted on p. 70).

This divide between two sharply contrasting understanding of sin explains a great deal about the contemporary social and political climate.

Le dauphin

Evidently our next Prime Minister hasn’t quite mastered the art of graceful public speaking. As The Citizen would have it, he “used some decidedly un-prime ministerial language when speaking publicly at the Fight for the Cure charity boxing match in Ottawa on Saturday night.” But this paragraph amused me:

“All the — your name, your fortune, your intelligence, your beauty — none of that fucking matters.”

[…]

It sound as if Trudeau is referring to himself and not some abstract pugilist when he said “your” name, fortune, intelligence and beauty — three or possibly four qualities that Trudeau inherited at birth.

Name and fortune, obviously. Beauty is subjective, but I’ll grant that by the standards of politicians he’s not a hideous specimen. But there is no way I reach a count of four if he is indeed being self-referential.

Paradoxically

Today, Ross Douthat looks at the relationship of Christianity to social pathology. In particular the problem that, by some standards, the more Christian parts of the US (read: the South) aren’t exactly “shining cities on hills”. (That image really looses its punch in the plural.) A few things of note. First, as he points out, the risks of drawing conclusions from crude statistics without considering underlying mechanisms. Often, statistics conceal as much or more than they reveal.

Consider, as a case study, the data on divorce. Earlier this year, a pair of demographers released a study showing that regions with heavy populations of conservative Protestants had higher-than-average divorce rates, even when controlling for poverty and race.

Their finding was correct, but incomplete. As the sociologist Charles Stokes pointed out, practicing conservative Protestants have much lower divorce rates, and practicing believers generally divorce less frequently than the secular and unaffiliated.

Or, more succinctly:

[tweet 450274481106608128 hide_media=’true’]

Douthat offers some possible explanations for this, and as always, read the whole thing. I think he’s identified a large part of what’s going on. I don’t fully agree with him though in one respect. He writes:

But it’s better to regard these problems as a partial indictment of America’s churches: Not only because their failure to reach the working class and the younger generation is making the penumbra steadily bigger, but because a truly healthy religious community should be capable of influencing even the loosely attached somewhat for the better.

This sounds nice, and if it happens I wouldn’t be opposed to it. And it certainly comports well with what a lot of people, religious or not, though especially the latter, think of ‘religion’: primarily an organization for improving the lives of its members and others in some way. But is that really the standard by which the a health of a Christian church should be judged? By it’s moral influence on “the loosely attached”? I defer to J. Gresham Machen:

The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life — nay, all the length of human history — is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and offered us communion with Himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whosoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth — nay, all the wonders of the starry heavens — are as the dust of the street.

I confess I have no idea how taking on that sort of responsibility would influence the “loosely attached”. That Christians should treat their neighbors well is undisputed. But will it improve their neighbors in some sociologically discernible way? Maybe, maybe not. But that said, do many evangelical churches in North America resemble what Machen was talking about? I very much doubt it. Ross Douthat also wrote a book about that.

Federal Building, Edmonton

Following the defenestration of Ms. Redford from the leadership of the Alberta PC Party, it has emerged that she was attempting to have the top floor of the Federal Building in Edmonton turned into some rather swanky digs for herself. That’s neither here nor there, but as a fan of Art Deco, I’m pleased to see the building itself finally being renovated and put to use.

Though designed in 1930, it wasn’t built until 1955, by which time Art Deco was very much out of fashion. It was actually built two years after completion of the regrettable box to its immediate south which blights the landscape to this day with its dingy turquoiseness. (Visible at the far left in the rendering, and much uglier in real life.)

Federal Building, Edmonton

When I lived in Edmonton, the Federal Building had been empty for nearly a decade—asbestos made the cost of renovation prohibitively high—and I think there was some talk of tearing it down. So kudos to the Alberta government for having the asbestos removed and the building restored.

Infrastructure

Steve Sailer wonders about something I’ve been trying to figure out for a while: why does modern infrastructure take so long to build? Longer consulting processes? Excessive regulation? Incompetence? That’s part of it. Ottawa’s attempts to throw a pedestrian bridge over the Airport Parkway, for example, has been an almost comic fiasco of shoddy workmanship and bad design. And that’s just from a functional perspective. Aesthetically, it’s worse.

Sadly, having read the first half of the post, I scrolled down to discover that Sailer doesn’t know either.