‘The things they did together’

I’m at Nationals Park this afternoon for Atlanta v. Washington. And I’m reading David Mills, who writes about masculinity and virtue:

I don’t disagree with all the talk about the challenges men face. Some writers may carry the idea too far, but our society offers no clear guide to what a man does and is. It speaks more clearly about men’s failings and sins than about men’s virtues and calling. Of course some men will feel lost without more guidance, especially if they grew up in a broken family. People sneeringat male insecurity are both uncharitable and unrealistic, and often trying to gain an ideological advantage, and often weirdly dependent on stereotypes. …

Better, I think, to find out what being a man means through friendship with other men. To do guy stuff not because you want to act like a guy, but because guys do guy stuff without thinking about it when they’re together. To find when doing men’s work with other men — to a great extent unconsciously — what a man does and is. …

This requires some care in making friends, of course, and in choosing the common interest which leads to standing side by side with your friends. The more virtuous and wiser the friends, the more they will show you about being men. The better and higher the common interest, the more pursuing it with them will show you about being men. …

The soon to be sainted John Henry Newman gives us a very good example of this. He was the virtuous and wise friend other men sought out, but he looked for religiously serious men and then carefully cultivated deep friendships with them.

The things they did together were worthy enterprises, beginning with he and his friends’ effort as young Oxford dons not only to teach but (because they were ministers as well as teachers) to form their students. Then came the Oxford Movement Newman helped lead, which tried to recover and invigorate what they thought was the Church of England’s essential Catholicism. A worthy work, one into which good men could throw themselves, if one he came to see was misguided.

You can see something of the effect of friendship in Newman’s final Anglican sermon, preached when he’d decided to enter the Catholic Church. It was a move that would separate him from many friends, such was the feeling about the Church in the world he was leaving.

He ended “The Parting of Friends” with a moving request. It indirectly says something about how a man may help another man be a man. [Newman writes:]

“O my brethren, O kind and affectionate hearts, O loving friends,” he begins, should you know any one whose lot it has been, by writing or by word of mouth, in some degree to help you thus to act; if he has ever told you what you knew about yourselves, or what you did not know; has read to you your wants or feelings, and comforted you by the very reading; has made you feel that there was a higher life than this daily one, and a brighter world than that you see; or encouraged you, or sobered you, or opened a way to the inquiring, or soothed the perplexed; … remember such a one in time to come, though you hear him not, and pray for him, that in all things he may know God’s will, and at all times he may be ready to fulfil it.”

Riffing off of Philip D. Halfacre’s Genuine Friendship, it can be tough to remember that it’s in the doing of things together that we have the chance to demonstrate virtue. In the real, concrete, and particular.

Walking, habitually

Amy Fleming takes a walk with Shane O’Mara, a neuroscientist who reminds us that walking—and specifically making walking a habitual part of our lives—is both good and healthier than many alternatives:

I witnessed the brain-healing effects of walking when my partner was recovering from an acute brain injury. His mind was often unsettled, but during our evening strolls through east London, things started to make more sense and conversation flowed easily. O’Mara nods knowingly. “You’re walking rhythmically together,” he says, “and there are all sorts of rhythms happening in the brain as a result of engaging in that kind of activity, and they’re absent when you’re sitting. One of the great overlooked superpowers we have is that, when we get up and walk, our senses are sharpened. Rhythms that would previously be quiet suddenly come to life, and the way our brain interacts with our body changes.”

From the scant data available on walking and brain injury, says O’Mara, “it is reasonable to surmise that supervised walking may help with acquired brain injury, depending on the nature, type and extent of injury – perhaps by promoting blood flow, and perhaps also through the effect of entraining various electrical rhythms in the brain. And perhaps by engaging in systematic dual tasking, such as talking and walking.”

One such rhythm, he says, is that of theta brainwaves. Theta is a pulse or frequency (seven to eight hertz, to be precise) which, says O’Mara, “you can detect all over the brain during the course of movement, and it has all sorts of wonderful effects in terms of assisting learning and memory, and those kinds of things”. Theta cranks up when we move around because it is needed for spatial learning, and O’Mara suspects that walking is the best movement for such learning. “The timescales that walking affords us are the ones we evolved with,” he writes, “and in which information pickup from the environment most easily occurs.” …

Some people, I point out, don’t think walking counts as proper exercise. “This is a terrible mistake,” he says. “What we need to be is much more generally active over the course of the day than we are.” And often, an hour at the gym doesn’t cut it. “What you see if you get people to wear activity monitors is that because they engage in an hour of really intense activity, they engage in much less activity afterwards.”

But you don’t get the endorphin high from walking, I say. “The same hit you get from running is what you’d get from taking morphine? We simply don’t know that’s true,” he says. “People who study this area don’t go on about endorphins and there may be a reason for that.” Not that he is opposed to vigorous exercise, but walking is much more accessible and easily woven into everyday life: “You don’t need to bring anything other than comfy shoes and a rain jacket. You don’t have to engage in lots of preparation; stretching, warm-up, warm-down …” O’Mara gets off his commuter train a stop early so that he can clock up more steps on his pedometer. To get the maximum health benefits, he recommends that “speed should be consistently high over a reasonable distance – say consistently over 5km/h, sustained for at least 30 minutes, at least four or five times a week.”

It’s the simple things…

Civil public discourse

I’m flying back from San Francisco, on a nonstop flight to Washington Reagan. Thanks to United’s WiFi I’m working throughout the flight. And I’m also reading Emmett McGroarty, who asks whether civil public discourse is presently possible:

Over the last 20 years, public discourse has tended toward the shrill and irrational, punctuated with occasional violence. No sharing of opinions. Don’t ask questions.  No discussion of points of view. Empathy is dead. Socialization—an essential human activity—is regulated by the mob, and its walls are shrinking.

Does the form or practice of our government have anything to do with this dystopia?

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville made a few observations worth mulling.

The structure of our government, he noted, preserved the power of the townships, most notably in New England but everywhere resting on the “same idea.” It preserved the natural order. Man, Tocqueville declared, “makes kingdoms and creates republics; the township appears to issue directly from the hands of God.”

“It is in the township, at the center of ordinary relations in life, that desires for esteem, the need of real interests, the taste for power and for attention, come to be concentrated; these passions, which so often trouble society, change character when they can be expressed so near the domestic hearth and in a way in the bosom of the family.” It is through local governance that the individual “gets a taste for order, understands the harmony of powers, and finally assembles clear and practical ideas on the nature of his duties as well as the extent of his rights.”

“Local freedoms, which make many citizens put value on the affection of their neighbors and those close to them, therefore constantly bring men closer to one another, despite the instincts that separate them, and force them to aid each other.”

As the Catechism observes, participation in civic life “develops the qualities of the person . . . and helps guarantee his rights” (par. 1882).  This subsidiarity—embracing socialization—leads to solidarity.

Given a century of increased centralization—taking more and more power away from local communities, should discord and rancor in the public square and on college campuses be such a surprise?

Critiquing libertarianism

J.D. Vance critiques libertarianism’s obsession with free choice, divorced from outcomes:

I grew up in a pretty rough environment, and what the American dream meant to me was that I had a decent enough job to support my family and that I could be a good husband and a good father. That’s what I most wanted out of my life. It wasn’t the American dream of the striver. It wasn’t the American dream, frankly, that I think animates much of this town. I didn’t care if I went to an Ivy League law school, I didn’t care if I wrote a best-selling book, I didn’t care if I had a lot of money. What I wanted was to be able to give my family and my children the things that I hadn’t had as a kid: That was the sense in which the American dream mattered most to me.

That American dream is undoubtedly in decline. I want to talk a little bit about why I think that’s happening and what a conservative politics has to do in response, but I think a first step is to distinguish between a conservative politics and a libertarian politics. I don’t mean to criticize libertarianism. I first learned about conservatism as an idea from Friedrich Hayek. The Road to Serfdom is one of the best books that I’ve ever read about conservative thought. But in an important way I believe that conservatives have outsourced our economic and domestic policy thinking to libertarians.

Because that is such a loaded word, and because labels mean different things to different people, I want to define it as precisely as I can. So if you don’t consider yourself a libertarian under this definition, I apologize: What I’m going after is the view that so long as public outcomes and social goods are produced by free individual choices, we shouldn’t be too concerned about what those goods ultimately produce. For example, in Silicon Valley, it is common for neuroscientists to make much more at technology companies like Apple and Facebook—where they quite literally are making money addicting our children to devices and applications that warp their brains—than neuroscientists who are trying to cure Alzheimer’s.

I know a lot of libertarians will say, “that is the consequence of free choices,” or “that is the consequence of people buying and selling labor on an open market and so long as there isn’t any government coercion in that relationship, we shouldn’t be so concerned about it.” But what I’m arguing is that conservatives should be concerned about it. We should be concerned that our economy is geared more toward developing applications than curing terrible diseases. We should care about a whole host of public goods, and should actually be willing to use politics and political power to accomplish some of those public goods.

Americans who share faith

Matthew Schmitz writes on the recent National Conservatism conference and immigration:

Culture is centered around cult. To the extent that it binds us together, it is a form of religio. America was at the time of its founding an overwhelmingly Christian nation. It would seem, then, that a Chinese Christian dissident, or a Nigerian fleeing Boko Haram, has much less cultural distance from America and its founding than do most present-day Canadians or Swedes.

… It is doubtful that its affirmation of equal dignity can be sustained without belief in the God who made man in his image.

If this Christian vision is simply reactionary, it will fail. If it manages to be aspirational and forward-looking, it has a chance to succeed. In the 1960s, America belatedly chose its Christian identity – what Martin Luther King called “the sacred heritage of our nation” – over white supremacy. In the same period, America’s self-consciously Protestant and unashamedly anti-Catholic identity collapsed with the election of JFK. A truly Christian vision of America would build on these achievements, rather than seeking to revive a white Protestant past.

Such a vision leads to radically different conclusions on immigration than those reached by [Amy] Wax. Catholic migrants from Central America now have more in common with our Puritan forebears than do most Europeans. Their Church still proclaims the bodily resurrection of Christ, still believes in original sin and predestination, still opposes the evil of contraception. These are things the Puritans professed but many Protestant bodies, and many residents of formerly Protestant states – including Wax’s favoured “First World” countries – no longer believe. Central Americans should be favoured over Europeans under any immigration policy based on cultural distance.

That said, discussing immigration risks distracting us from our country’s most important divide. The greatest cultural distance is not between natives and migrants but between a religious, patriotic, multi-racial working class and a secular, progressive, and largely white elite. Our country’s opinion-makers hate faith, revile patriotism and contemn family. People loyal to what is most noble in the American heritage have less in common with them than with almost any migrant.

Meritage vineyard walk

This Napa Institute Summer Conference is the largest I’ve participated in, but it’s also turning out to be the most “comfortable,” as I’ve learned, more or less, how to approach what can be a very demanding week.

On Friday afternoons there are activities that participants can sign up for, ranging from horseback riding to tastings at Napa/Sonoma wineries, to painting, etc. It’s been a spiritually powerful week, but also an emotionally difficult week. I spent the early afternoon in prayer and meditation in the vineyards above the Meritage’s Estate Cave, where Masses are being celebrated this week.

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Time is passing both very quickly and very slowly.

Passionately loving the world

I was speaking with a Napa Institute friend from Los Angeles, and we started talking about St. Josemaria Escriva and Opus Dei. We hadn’t seen each other in two years, but conversation picked up as if it had just ended earlier in the day. We talked about our lives for a while, he asked about Washington, where he lived when he was younger. After a while he recommended I read Josemaria Escriva’s 1967 homily, “Passionately Loving The World,” which I’m excerpting here:

We are celebrating the holy Eucharist, the sacramental sacrifice of the Body and Blood of our Lord, that mystery of faith which binds together all the mysteries of Christianity. We are celebrating, therefore, the most sacred and transcendent act which we, men and women, with God’s grace can carry out in this life: receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord is, in a certain sense, like loosening our ties with earth and time, so as to be already with God in heaven, where Christ himself will wipe the tears from our eyes and where there will be no more death, nor mourning, nor cries of distress, because the old world will have passed away.

This profound and consoling truth, which theologians usually call the eschatological meaning of the Eucharist, could, however, be misunderstood. Indeed, this has happened whenever people have tried to present the Christian way of life as something exclusively spiritual – or better, spiritualistic something reserved for pure, extraordinary people who remain aloof from the contemptible things of this world, or at most tolerate them as something that the spirit just has to live alongside, while we are on this earth.

When people take this approach, churches become the setting par excellence of the Christian way of life. And being a Christian means going to church, taking part in sacred ceremonies, getting into an ecclesiastical mentality, in a special kind of world, considered the ante-chamber to heaven, while the ordinary world follows its own separate course. In this case, Christian teaching and the life of grace would pass by, brushing very lightly against the turbulent advance of human history but never coming into proper contact with it.

On this October morning, as we prepare to enter upon the memorial of our Lord’s Pasch, we flatly reject this deformed vision of Christianity. Reflect for a moment on the setting of our Eucharist, of our Act of Thanksgiving. We find ourselves in a unique temple; we might say that the nave is the University campus; the altarpiece, the University library; over there, the machinery for constructing new buildings; above us, the sky of Navarre…

Surely this confirms in your minds, in a tangible and unforgettable way, the fact that everyday life is the true setting for your lives as Christians. Your daily encounter with Christ takes place where your fellow men, your yearnings, your work and your affections are. It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind.

This I have been teaching all the time, using words from holy Scripture: the world is not evil, because it comes from the hands of God, because it is his creation, because Yahweh looked upon it and saw that it was good. It is we ourselves, men and women, who make it evil and ugly with our sins and unfaithfulness. Don’t doubt it, my children: any attempt to escape from the noble reality of daily life is, for you men and women of the world, something opposed to the will of God.

On the contrary, you must realise now, more clearly than ever, that God is calling you to serve him in and from the ordinary, secular and civil activities of human life. He waits for us everyday, in the laboratory, in the operating theatre, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in all the immense panorama of work. Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.

… the Christian vocation consists in making heroic verse out of the prose of each day.

… It is obvious that, in this field as in all others, you would not be able to carry out this programme of sanctifying your everyday life if you did not enjoy all the freedom which proceeds from your dignity as men and women created in the image of God, and which the Church freely recognizes. Personal freedom is essential for the Christian life. But do not forget, my sons, that I always speak of a responsible freedom.

St. Josemaria Escriva’s mandate to sanctify the ordinary intersects with the challenge of what Pope Benedict XVI has described as “the tiring pilgrimage of everyday existence”.

Napa Institute Summer Conference

Napa Institute’s Ninth Summer Conference gets underway today. I’m looking forward to what should be a very full and important week. Here is an overview of what this year’s Napa Institute looks like:

The Annual Summer Conference is a preeminent Catholic conference in the United States, bringing together Catholic leaders for faith, fellowship and community, as we explore the theme of This Catholic Moment.  We are excited to announce that our keynote speakers include His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke, Senator Lindsey Graham, George Weigel, Jim Daly, Alan Sears, Fr. Robert Spitzer, Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, Patrick Lencioni, former Governor Scott Walker, Dr. Tim Gray and more.

Napa Institute events are built on the three pillars of Community, Formation, and Liturgy. At the annual summer conference, we encourage attendees to build connections through meals with open seating and evening activities. Each day there are keynote sessions from renowned speakers that develop the theme of that day, as well as breakout sessions that examine current topics.

I didn’t necessarily expect to be back again this year. I hope this time is a formative and fruitful one.

San Francisco Bay Ferry to Napa

I caught a nonstop flight from Washington to San Francisco last night after work, and arrived in the Marina District at 9:30pm. I took a good and brisk and chilly walk through the Presidio with a friend before heading to sleep. This morning I caught the San Francisco Bay Ferry to Vallejo:

The San Francisco Bay Ferry is $15 for what’s essentially an hour-long cruise/commute to Vallejo, and Napa is a short drive from there. The ferry itself has tables, internet, and power. It’s a great value, if you’d prefer not to drive sometimes. There was an elderly man on board on the back who struck up conversation with me after watching me shoot these videos. It turned out to be Arthur Tress, whose documentary work is presently on exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park:

In the summer of 1964, San Francisco was ground zero for an historic culture clash as the site of the 28th Republican National Convention and the launch of the Beatles’ first North American tour. In the midst of the excitement, a young photographer new to the city was snapping pictures not of the politicians or musicians but of the people in the crowds and on the streets. Arthur Tress, an accomplished American photographer, made more than nine hundred negatives in San Francisco during the spring and summer of 1964—among his earliest documentary work. Exulting in juxtapositions of the mundane and the absurd, Tress captured the chaos of civil rights demonstrations and political rallies, the idiosyncratic moments of San Francisco’s locals, the peculiar contents of shop windows, a miscellany of odd signs and much more.

Tress developed and printed his black-and-white negatives in a communal darkroom in the city’s Castro district before departing San Francisco in the fall of 1964. The vintage prints were packed away in his sister’s house, coming to light again only in 2009. The rediscovery of this forgotten body of work inspired the photographer to revisit his early negatives, and Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 is the delightful outcome.

Tress was heading to Mare Island, a “semi-abandoned place” he told me he’s been spending time photographing recently. I’m heading to Napa for the Napa Institute’s Summer Conference, happening this week.

Knowledge and political taboos

Carla Marinucci writes on what I consider to be surprising debate in California over a decision to spend an enormous amount of money on literal whitewashing:

A San Francisco school board decision to spend $600,000 to paint over a New Deal-era mural of George Washington as a slave owner is fueling a family feud among Democrats…

“I think of myself as liberal, progressive, and have been all my life — but I’m just sort of stunned by this,’’ veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum said Sunday. “We have a little more important things to do — like defeating Donald Trump — than to whitewash a mural.” …

The San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously last month to paint over all 13 panels of the 1600 sq. ft. mural “Life of Washington,’’ a historic work commissioned during the New Deal that depicts George Washington as a slave owner. The move came after several vocal protesters demanded the move at a public meeting, saying their children were “traumatized” by depictions of the nation’s first president standing over the images of dead Native Americans. …

Democratic strategist Mike Semler — who has advised Senator Dianne Feinstein and who has taught public policy at Cal State University Sacramento — this weekend sent out an emergency email alert seeking support for an effort to back a ballot measure to save the mural. He said the effort, dubbed the Coalition to Protect Public Art, aims to solicit funds to initiate a ballot measure designed to protect this art, “and perhaps other New Deal art in San Francisco’’ which may also be targeted. …

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, in a recent San Francisco Chronicle column, likened the school board supporters’ and tactics to the worst of Trump‘s backers. He noted the vocal group seeking to destroy the painting did so by bullying the recent school board meeting with a claim to be “traumatized by the mural.”

“They’re clearly traumatized by something,’’ he wrote. “They’d be horrified by the comparison, but they’re really no different from the most boorish of President Trump’s supporters.”

Brown said that his own daughter, Sydney, a Washington High graduate “was never traumatized by Arnautoff’s painting — as a matter of fact, it generated conversations at home that otherwise would not have occurred. It was a learning experience for her, and for me.” …

“Was Washington a slave owner? Yes. Did he command troops that killed Native Americans? Yes,’’ says Shrum. “But George Washington — it seems stupid to have to say it — performed an incredible service for this country. We wouldn’t be here without him.’’

This brings me back to Michael Brenden Dougherty’s prediction that, even before the last of the Confederate monuments are removed, the next step in the logic of civic whitewashing will be the removal of the founders. An unacknowledged aspect of this attempt to reshape the public landscape is that it works against a “knowledge of self” for future Americans, who will simply be ignorant of certain key aspects (both good and bad) of our country’s past.

Political taboos, to the extent that they set parts of American history as “off limits,” have the effect not simply of destroying awareness of those off-limits aspect, but also of destroying knowledge broadly, in the sense that fluency with one’s past is impossible if there are gaps in one’s memory.