Potomac sunset

Peter Atkinson and I were able to catch up last night in Georgetown at The Tombs over dinner. I hadn’t seen him since his performance in Ah! Wilderness in New York earlier this year, and it was a gift to spend the time with him in advance of his birthday and the start of his final year at Columbia University in their MFA program.

We enjoyed a great walk through the neighborhood and then across the Key Bridge into Virginia toward sunset. The skies were more vibrant than I remember ever seeing them—beautiful.

Playing the long game

Shane Parrish writes on the long game:

The long game is the opposite of the short game, it means paying a small price today to make tomorrow’s tomorrow easier. If we can do this long enough to see the results, it feeds on itself.

From the outside, the long game looks pretty boring:

  • Saving money and investing it for tomorrow
  • Leaving the party early to go get some sleep
  • Investing time in your relationship today so you have a foundation when something happens
  • Doing your homework before you go out to play
  • Going to the gym rather than watching Netflix

… and countless other examples.

In its simplest form, the long game isn’t really debatable. Everyone agrees, for example, we should spend less than we make and invest the difference. Playing the long game is a slight change, one that seems insignificant at the moment, but one that becomes the difference between financial freedom and struggling to make next month’s rent.

The first step to the long game is the hardest. The first step is visibly negative. You have to be willing to suffer today in order to not suffer tomorrow. This is why the long game is hard to play. People rarely see the small steps when they’re looking for enormous outcomes, but deserving enormous outcomes is mostly the result of a series of small steps that culminate into something visible.

Late summer thunderstorms

I lived for this kind of weather as a kid—those cracks of thunder that made it feel like the sky was opening up, and the rain to cool down a humid afternoon. The later the summer gets, the louder the insects get and it seems like the more dramatic thunderstorms like these get.

Enjoying this thunderstorm from my front window.

Faith without affiliations

Nathaniel Peters writes on the persistent faith of Americans—just not the sort of faith that we might expect:

Roughly one fifth of Americans, and one third of young Americans, are what the Pew Research Center has dubbed “Nones,” people who claim no religious affiliation…

Some might consider the rise of the Nones to be proof of the “secularization thesis”: that “modernity inevitably produces a decline of religion,” as Peter Berger put it. However, as Berger himself came to see over the course of decades, that thesis is false. Instead of secularism, modernity produces pluralism, “the coexistence in the same society of different worldviews and value systems. . . . The problem with modernity is not that God is dead, as some people hoped and other people feared. [Rather,] there are too many gods, which is a challenge, but a different one.” …

The decline of religious affiliation among those with a weak identification marks not only a decline of cultural Christianity, but a new norm for American society, a norm that is replacing a broadly Christian culture. What is the new norm? Certainly not a militant skepticism or atheism. Fourteen years ago, Christian Smith and Melinda Denton coined the term “moralistic therapeutic deism” for the religious beliefs of the next generation, which sees God as “something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist.” Many now describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” believing in some such supernatural force but seeing no need for the bonds of religious community and authority.

More recently, scholars such as Adrian Vermeule have noted the religious character that contemporary political liberalism has taken on. Its protests and denunciations have sacramental and liturgical elements. It makes the free exercise of the will its highest good and works to tear down any barriers in its way, social or biological. It now has a liturgical calendar, too.

God and an undivided life

Stephen Colbert and Anderson Cooper had a beautiful exchange on God and suffering. Anderson Cooper quotes Stephen Colbert (riffing off J.R.R. Tolkien), asking “What punishments of God are not gifts?” Do you really believe that, Cooper asks? Colbert responds…

Stephen Beale writes on Colbert and others willing to make their Christianity a part of their public life:

The saints, he explained, are God’s X-Men. He schooled Philip Zimbardo when the renowned psychologist suggested God was the source of evil and defended the divinity of Jesus against liberal theologian Bart Ehrman. He even had the gumption to invite noted anti-Catholic comedian Bill Maherback into the Church.

No, he’s not the newest Catholic apologist to hit the evangelization circuit, but one of America’s late-night television stars — Stephen Colbert, who left The Colbert Report on Comedy Central to serve as the new host for The Late Show on CBS last fall, becoming the vanguard of a new generation of entertainers who are putting their faith front and center in their comedy.

In fact, the new late-night comedy lineup on television is dominated by Catholics, including Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien — though not all are as vocal about their relationship with their faith. More in the Colbert-style is comedian Jim Gaffigan, who integrates his Catholic faith into his stand-up routine and new sitcom on TV Land, The Jim Gaffigan Show.

What these things speak to is the importance of living a whole, integrated, and undivided life. That seems to me to be what Stephen Colbert is doing in his own way—recognizing that America’s freedom of religion is ultimately the freedom to live as a person of faith in public.

‘The desire to collapse in on ourselves’

Scott Beauchamp writes on the causes and consequences of a “world without kith or kin,” a culture where family and friendships, and the sacrifice and cost associated with both, are understood to be the barrier to, rather than the primary means of achieving, a meaningful life:

The Japanese word kodokushi roughly translates to “lonely death.” The term might be a touch poetic for what it actually describes, conjuring as it does the romantic image of an individual stoically riding off alone into oblivion. An existential cowboy leaning in his saddle towards the darkening horizon, embodying all the heroic maverick energy that our contemporary world so highly values. The apotheosis of freedom in current Western society being a complete atomization of self, an undoing of all the bonds which constrain us, kodokushi almost sounds like something to aspire to.

The material reality of the “lonely death” is grim. Disgusting, even. It is an odor the neighbors do not notice until it is already too late. It is the kinetic hum of maggots digesting an undiscovered corpse. It is the slow accumulation of “past due” notices in the mail, piling up until a stranger comes to query the “customer” in person and finds their liquefying remains. It is the cagey instinct of the entrepreneurs who have capitalized on kodokushi as a business opportunity, monetizing their lurid and sad deaths by offering special cleaning services for the tiny apartments of elderly folks who have died alone and unnoticed and are well into decomposition. In a phrase, it is the complete thing-ification of people who have outlasted their use-value. It is the fate of people who, as Simeone Weil quoted from The Iliad in a similar context, have become “dearer to the vultures” than their loved ones or community. Kodokushi is the process of humans being reduced to garbage. And it is not unique to Japan. As the first generation of humans “liberated” from kin-connections ages and dies, kodokushi becomes a global phenomenon.

Scholars who study demographic shifts refer to what happened in relatively wealthy, Western countries after the Industrial Revolution—a decline in both death and birth rates—as the First Demographic Transition. You can basically sum it up as the process of large, extended families, shrinking down to the nuclear unit. What is occurring now—the epidemic of loneliness, the severing of deep familial ties, kodokushi, etc.—is known as the Second Demographic Transition (SDT). …

Either way, and however far back in the dim memory of the human story you might trace the lineage of the drive to sever connection to and responsibility for one another (we can certainly go back at least to Cain), when taken to its logical conclusion the result always seems to be the same: people are transformed into refuse. …

The desire to collapse in on ourselves like dying, solitary stars, might be older than ancient. But more recently we can see it manifest in last centuries various ideological turns against both tradition and, more importantly, the notion of a transcendent reality. …

Any number of contemporary songs or movies come to mind where the family is seen as something to liberate oneself from in order achieve a deeper contentment and truer sense of self. Few examples exist of art which conveys the horror of the isolated individual, imprisoned by solitary desire. French author Michel Houellebecq might be the rare example of an artist who unflinchingly gazes into the abyss of modern self and, with a cold eye, catches sight of all the ways in which constructing a world composed simply of desire sated and desire thwarted contributes to profound human misery.

A question we ignore in our obsession with achieving greater levels of autonomy and self-actualization is something like: What is the liberated individual liberated for?

When we break free from our family and friendships and communities, what other world is it that we’ve broken into? Breaking away from the personal and social and moral and ethical constraints of daily life and into a place of abstracted individuality is pre-civilizational. It’s regressive.

Attachment styles

I was listening to Lila Rose’s “The Lila Rose Show” today, and she and her guest were talking about personalities and temperaments. At one point “attachment styles” were brought up, and that led me to Elizabeth Grace Saunders, who writes on the four “attachment styles,” relating to our personalities:

Your better mind knows exactly how to manage your time better at work but a primal, seemingly uncontrollable urge to do the opposite overtakes you.

You know you should say no when you’re asked to take on that new project, but you say yes. Or you know your boss said your report was good enough, but you work until midnight perfecting it. Or you’re just stuck — wanting to do better but unsure that trying will help — so you do nothing.

If you are frustrated with your seemingly irrational behavior, the root issue may be deep subconscious programming known as your “attachment style.” Your attachment style dictates how you relate to other people, particularly in situations that trigger stress.

Attachment style discussions typically arise in relation to the bond between parents and children or romantic partners, but in my work as a time management coach, I’ve seen that individuals can also “attach” differently in the workplace. Here’s how to identify your attachment style, and take control of how you manage your time.

She addresses anxious preoccupied attachment (fear-based), dismissive avoidant attachment (arrogance-based), fearful avoidant attachment (compounding-fear-based), and secure attachment (healthy).

Georgetown Marian Procession

This morning I went to 7:30am Mass at Epiphany in Georgetown for the Feast of the Assumption. And at 7pm I walked back to Epiphany for their Marian Procession through Georgetown, from 27th and Dumbarton to Wisconsin, and then down Wisconsin and along M Street, and finally back up 27th to Epiphany.

We prayed the Rosary and at each decade the priests leading the procession offered a meditation on Mary as our mother. “Beauty is attractive,” it was said at one point, “but holiness is inspiring.” As we walked along, pointing in our way to Mary’s holiness, I thought about how far away from that I often feel. And as I thought this I heard Philippians: We’re here to work out our salvation. We sang between decades—Hail Holy Queen, Enthroned Above, and Immaculate Mary.

As we stood in front of Epiphany at the end, one of the women led us in singing the Salve Regina:

Salve, Regina, mater
misericordiae:
Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra,
salve.
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et
flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia ergo, Advocata nostra,
illos tuos misericordes oculos
ad nos converte.
Et lesum, benedictum fructum
ventris tui,
nobis, post how exsilium
ostende.
O clemens: O pia: O dulcis
Virgo Maria.

‘Normal human despair’

Marianne Williamson recently observed that Americans are too frequently prescribed antidepressants for what she called “normal human despair”:

“The twenties can be very hard. They’re not a mental illness,” Williamson told BuzzFeed News in an interview Friday. “Divorce can be very difficult, losing a loved one, someone that you know died, someone left in a relationship and you’re heartbroken — that’s very painful, but it’s not a mental illness.”

“You had a professional failure, you lost your job, you went bankrupt,” she continued. “Those things are very difficult, but they’re not a mental illness.”

Williamson, a self-help author, has previously weighed in on the topic of overprescribed antidepressants, tweeting in June 2018 that such medications are being prescribed “many times when people are simply SAD.”

“The answer to depression is more scientific research only if you think of it simply in biomedical terms. The medicalization of depression is a creation of the medical industry,” she tweeted. “For millennia depression was seen as a spiritual disease, and for many of us it still is.”

I think this is true. And I think this also pairs well with Christopher F. Rufo’s City Journal piece on how those who have true addictions, affiliations, and illnesses in San Donato Val di Comino are treated in a humane way:

At six o’clock each morning, the alcoholics, addicts, and mentally ill residents of San Donato Val di Comino, Italy, emerge from their homes and congregate—sometimes together, but mostly alone—in the cafés around the town’s main square. Some of the hardened alcoholics order an espresso with a shot of liquor, then climb into work trucks and head out to farms and construction sites. The mentally ill—who suffer predominantly from depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia—order cups of coffee or sit at the patio tables emptyhanded, an indication that they have run out of cash for the month.

My father was born in this village, where I’ve observed this early-morning ritual during family vacations over the past two decades, but this time it struck me in a new way. For the past 18 months, I’ve reported on homelessness, addiction, and mental illness in American cities and spent many hours with America’s most vulnerable residents, who, on the surface, struggle with the same afflictions as the residents here in San Donato.

In fact, the contrast is profound. In West Coast cities, tens of thousands of addicts and mentally ill people live outdoors in horrific conditions and survive on a combination of panhandling, prostitution, and property crime, which, in turn, creates disorder on urban streets. Not in San Donato, however: here, addicts and the mentally ill are deeply integrated into the community and maintain a dignified standard of living. Their families and relatives look after them and stay involved in their lives. When necessary, the municipal government provides employment sweeping the streets, and local businesses sometimes pay mentally disabled residents to serve as lo spanno, an informal occupation that entails walking through the streets with a loudspeaker announcing products newly available in the town market. The community plays a role in helping the most vulnerable, not through compulsion or formalized social programs but instead through the values of self-help and community responsibility.

In San Donato, a man found sleeping on the streets would suggest a moral scandal. The village would shame the homeless man’s family into taking him in to provide financial, practical, and psychological support. The reason that nobody sleeps on the streets here isn’t medical or technical—it’s cultural. Despite massive economic and social change over the past century, Italians have retained a culture of family and responsibility that strictly limits the expression of pathological behavior and enforces a standard of dignity that encourages addicts and the mentally ill to participate in society despite their condition.

Let your hand be ready to help me

I’m sharing something from today’s Magnificat, which I was able to pray with someone who has, in ways I don’t fully understand yet, changed my life:

Lord, let my cry come before you:
teach me by your word.
Let my pleading come before you;
save me by your promise.

Let my lips proclaim your praise
because you teach me your commands.
Let my tongue sing your promise
for your commands are just.

Let your hand be ready to help me,
since I have chosen your precepts.
Lord, I long for your saving help
and your law is my delight.

Give life to my soul that I may praise you.
Let your decrees give me help.
I am lost like a sheep; seek your servants
for I remember your commands.