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Archive for February, 2005

The Orchardmen (part 1)

It was the summer of 1972. I had just turned 19. I had
dropped out of a large midwestern university the previous spring to hitch-hike
around the country with my old travelling partner, Crazy Steve, who had just returned from a long trip, thumbing around Europe and North Africa. To give an idea of where I was in
those days, consider our two main destinations that summer: Earth Peoples’ Park
in northern Vermont, a sort of gypsy camp in the woods, too anarchic
to be considered a commune, and the first Rainbow Gathering in Strawberry Lake,
Colorado, a “gathering of the Tribes,” as they called it, an annual encampment
of every variety of countercultural subsect, a custom that continues to this
day.

I had set out with high hopes, a naive romanticism, as well
as a certain shadow: my draft lottery number was five.

Five.

That meant certain conscription after my nineteenth birthday
in July. I had no intention of fighting in a war I had long and ardently
opposed, but was not clear about whether I would choose exile in Canada or life
underground in the States. I granted, with Thoreau, that the State had a right
to imprison me for my civil disobedience, but as a skinny kid with
long blonde curls, I did not grant it the right to sentence me to almost
inevitable rape. So jail was not an option.

I had recently ended my involvement with leftist politics,
an involvement which had evolved from pacifism in early adolescence to a more
revolutionary attitude after I had been radicalized by the shootings at Kent
State.

I remember the exact moment of my disillusionment: I was at
an antiwar demonstration in DC when I spotted a contingent of doctrinaire
Marxists—Trotskyites, if I recall—marching behind their leader, who was
shouting chants into a megaphone, chants they would repeat in unison.

“TWO FOUR SIX EIGHT!”  (“two four six eight!”)

“REVOLUTION WILL SMASH THE STATE!” (”revolution … etc”)

As they got closer I got a good look at the leader, a little
steely-eyed, goateed man with wire-rimmed glasses. There was a fire in those
eyes, the cold fire of pure hatred. It hit me like a slap in the face: if this
guy came to power he would make Nixon look like a flower child.

I purged myself before he got the chance.

So in my travels that summer I was post-political but
pre-spiritual. I suppose I was in the first stirrings of a vague psychedelic
pantheism when I ventured off into the maelstrom that the counterculture had
become by 1972.

The summer was a disaster; the open road was now populated
by an assortment of speed freaks, petty thieves, junkies, burnouts and the
like. I sensed evil all around me, as well as in my own body, as I had
contracted salmonella, a nasty and sometimes fatal intestinal disease, drinking
from a stream in Vermont. I would seem to recover, travel some more, and suffer
a relapse. In the end I made my way home, having lost some thirty pounds off my
already thin frame, weak and disoriented, full of despair.

My folks, shocked at my appearance, took me in and got me to
a doctor. I slowly recovered and put the weight back on that I had lost. By
summer’s end I was sufficiently recovered to pass my preinduction physical. My
parents were hinting that it was time to get a job, and I was wanting to
get stronger. I thought I could do worse than finding work in one of the local
orchards, picking apples through the fall.

It was, after all, familiar work. I had picked fruit several
autumns in high school in the orchards that at that time dotted the hills south
of my small southeast Michigan town. They are mostly gone now, replaced by
suburban housing developments with streets named “Apple Blossom Way” and
“Orchard Hill Court” and the like. But at that time the orchards were still a
thriving part of the local economy and the orchardmen lived out their days to
the turning of the seasons, to the rhythm of blossom, fruit, harvest and
pruning, the cultivation of life-giving trees.

The care of trees is really a direct descendant of the
primal human vocation, if you think of it. Wasn’t Eden more orchard than
garden, in the description of Genesis?

And so I found a job working at Hilltop Orchards, just out
of town.

(to be continued)

Daniel Nichols

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Who Are The Pornocrats?

Regarding Daniel’s recent post describing the U.S. as a "pornocracy" : it’s frequently noted that although majorities can usual be found to support measures against pornography, it nevertheless sells like cocaine. And the most lewd tv shows, not perhaps accurately described as pornography but going as far as they can in that direction, are often very popular. This is useful to those who like to tweak Christians and other moral conservatives, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone. The lure of erotic art is very powerful, and it’s not necessarily even deliberate hypocrisy for a person to say "they oughta get rid of this stuff" while watching it avidly. He may genuinely think it ought to be gotten rid of, and yet not have the will to turn away if it’s presented to him.

I am certain that in many parts of the country at least (mine, for instance–the Deep South), hard-core pornography would not be tolerated if it could be outlawed democratically. Part of what’s happened in the past 30-40 years is that the courts have made it harder and harder to do this.

These thoughts were brought on by this column by Mona Charen, in which she describes the ruling of a Pennsylvania court that a particularly sick, violent form of pornography is nevertheless protected by the first amendment.

One can readily imagine the sophistical arguments lawyers and all too many "civil libertarians" would raise against this: "Where do you draw the line? Is it ok for a serious artist to depict violence? Then why not these admittedly perverted and mercenary people? Who are you to decide what’s art and what’s pornography?" Etc. etc.

It seems to me that this abandonment of what might be called the moral common sense–the willingness to make judgments informed by morality above and beyond explicitly formulated objective law, even the willingness to consult what is generally accepted as common decency–is at the root of a lot of our problems, including that of pornography. Several hundred years from now historians may be noting it as the fatal weakness of prosperous democratic societies.

To answer my initial question: in many cases the pornocrats are the judges and other rulers and leaders who make the world safe for the sort of people described in Charen’s column.

Maclin Horton

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Inhumanism and the End of Ethics

This is a continuation of something I said more or less in passing here a few weeks ago, that the end of the human is the end of the moral.

"I once said to my boss, by way of making an excuse for a long
and rambling email I had just sent her, that sometimes I
don’t really know what I think until I’ve written it
down…." (read more)

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There is some discussion going on at Touchstone’s blog which I think would be of great interest to CetT readers–we had a lot of lively discussion about the entertainment industry, with a wide range of opinions–that is, if the distance between deep skepticism and violent prophetic denunciation can be considered "wide." It begins with S.M. Hutchens wondering aloud whether Christians ought to be going to the movies at all . Read upwards from there for reactions, which eventually broaden out into discussion of popular culture itself. The latest entry as I write is from Anthony Esolen, who proposes an intriguing distinction between "popular culture" and "mass entertainment." I’m not sure I buy it as a differentiation of categories, but he certainly has a point about the degradation of the movie business. (Both Hutchens and Esolen are affiliated with Touchstone; in between there are some perceptive comment from readers.)

Maclin Horton

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The Unacceptable “Man”

I wonder if anyone is offended by the use of the word "man" in our masthead quote above–anyone, that is, who is a more or less sympathetic reader of this blog. When I decided to use that line from Centesimus Annus I wanted to be sure I had it right, so I went looking for it on the web. (Yes, there is a paper copy of the encyclical somewhere in the house, but finding it could be a lengthy effort.) I found two versions of it: the one I used, and one which went something like "At the heart of every culture lies the attitude a person takes…"

Clearly this second version is an attempt to de-gender the sentence. Sometimes that can be done without damage, but in this case the result is simply wrong, in addition to sounding clumsy. The sentence is obviously referring to a collective attitude, not "a person’s," and the change makes something close to nonsense of the Pope’s words. The translators might more effectively have used "humanity" in place of "man," but such abstractions never sound quite as solid and real as the words they’re meant to replace.

I may be setting myself up to be blasted here, but I’ve always had trouble believing that linguistic artifacts such as the use of "man" are really so important as all that. I’m willing to concede that the  existence of the term is a result of male dominance, but is it really so difficult for adults to accept the language as it is in a case like this, where everyone knows the term includes both men and women and the alternatives are so clumsy?

I have the sense that this problem, in spite of its emphasis by intellectuals, is fading as a concern in society at large, and in the Church. I thought about this recently when I ran across a book by a group of prominent theologians which was published immediately after the release of the Catechism, in 1990 or so. I think I’ll leave the names of the theologians out of this; suffice to say that of those I recognized all are well-known progressives.

Several of the writers objected vehemently to the collective "man" and other "sexist" locutions, and I was struck by their magisterial tone. I think the word "unacceptable" was used more than once, sometimes preceded by "simply." It’s often been observed that theologians have tended in recent decades to see themselves as a parallel or even superior magisterium, and that tendency was very much on display here. The whole tone of most of the writers was that of a professor evaluating the work of a less-than-impressive student, pointing out where the student seemed more or less on the right track, where he needed correction, and where he needed to dump what he had done and start over. (Yes, I know, I’m using the male default again.)

Well, everybody has heard such criticisms of progressive (or whatever you want to call them) theologians often enough, and there’s no need to go over that ground again. What really strikes me now, though, is how dated they seem. There hangs about them an air of unheeded bluster. Fifteen years later, I have the sense that voices like these are much less listened to than they once were, that they are becoming period pieces. I hope so.

Maclin Horton

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"Tribute" is my word, not the author’s, but I think it’s accurate. An online journal called The New Pantagruel has published a sort of combination tribute, retrospective, and critique of Caelum et Terra called Resurrecting Caelum et Terra. The author, Jeremy Beer, is the editor of ISI Books, the book publishing arm of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which many will recognize as a well-known presence in the conservative world and which is, as far as I can discern, on the traditionalist rather than the classical liberal end of the conservative intellectual spectrum–ISI Books has re-published essential works by the Southern Agrarians, for instance. (I reviewed one of them a few years ago.)

The journal is an interesting miscellany, ecumenically Christian and…well, here, let them describe it themselves:: "…a quarterly electronic journal run by a cadre of intemperate but
friendly Catholics and Protestants who have seen other electronic
journals run by Christians, and thought that while they might not be
able to do better, they could certainly do no worse."

The piece is excellent, I think–very sympathetic and appreciative, but not uncritical. I mean, CetT was uneven. I have a few minor quibbles about the emphasis of one thing versus another, but all in all I think it’s accurate. Very good reading, and of course very very heartening to those of us who worked on the magazine and often felt that we were talking into the void. Maybe that seed is taking root after all.

Could one ask for a better opening to a discussion of our late magazine than this?: "It is difficult, in retrospect, not to think of the end of the Cold War
as a missed opportunity for orthodox Catholicism in America." (read on )

Maclin Horton

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After the Scandals, Where?

I don’t know how many people who read this blog also read Amy Wellborn’s Open Book blog. Those familiar with it know it’s a place where a lot of discussion happens among Catholics of all stripes–well, mostly on what would generally be considered the "conservative" end of the spectrum, but still, many viewpoints are represented. There’s a particularly interesting and quite long thread in progress now . It started out as reaction to the news of the Shanley verdict (I assume no one needs that explained). It has now grown to include a lot of reflection (and of course a certain amount of ranting) about what’s wrong and how we, the laity, can and/or should proceed to do our part for … hmm, I was about to type the word "renewal," then realized that there is a bit of an odor about the word–just as I was about to type the word "diverse" to describe the participants in the discussion, and stopped because of the outright stink of cant that now clings about it.

But let me proceed anyway: renewal, or as my evangelical friends say, revival, is now more than ever an urgent need. I’m particularly taken with some remarks by Sherry Weddell, who runs something called The Catherine of Siena Institute . You’ll probably by necessity end up skimming some of the comments, but many are very much worth your while. As of course are Amy’s introductory remarks.

Maclin Horton

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