Sunday, February 26, 2017

Obiter Dicta, no. 4

Zweig never suggested that his personal ideal was a social one: that no one should ever sit at an official table or accept membership in an academy. But having grown up in a world where it was possible to live happily as so free an agent, he found himself plunged into a world where it became impossible, where men had to organize to resist evil so that any freedom at all might be enjoyed. In such a world, Zweig's refusal to commit to any collective institution or endeavor appeared feeble and parasitic.

...The Great War, of course, smashed to smithereens the old world that Zweig so esteemed. But Zweig clung fast to his prewar ideals, in a climate increasingly hostile to them. Repeatedly his work extols the worth of personal freedom and denies that abstract ideas can guide a man through life's dilemmas. Zweig retained his fear of joining any association or group, however laudable its ends; he never wanted to face the choice of upholding a "party line" against the dictates of his conscience.

Zweig saw the storm clouds gathering over his native Austria earlier than many. He bought a flat in London in 1934, realizing that the Nazis would not leave Austria in peace. By 1936 he accepted that he was a permanent exile. But other German exiles criticized him for being insufficiently vociferous in denouncing the Nazis. Some even accused him of trying to reach an accommodation with them to preserve his German income intact — a nonsensical charge: his books were among the first the Nazis burned. But it is true that he joined no anti-Nazi groups and hardly raised his voice against the Nazi horror. As a free man, he did not want the Nazis to be able to dictate his mode of expression — even if it were in opposition to them.

— Theodore Dalrymple, "A Neglected Genius", Our Culture, What's Left of It

Thomas Mann condemned Zweig's suicide as egotistical disdain for his contemporaries and a dereliction of duty, suggesting that it would provide that much more of an aggregate advantage to the morale of the enemy. In hindsight, I think we can safely grant a 60 year-old Jewish intellectual an exemption from making what would have been useless, symbolic gestures. As Schopenhauer said in an essay on suicide, if a man has an incontestable right to anything, it's to his own life and person. Likewise, we should be wary of those who would assert the right to determine our ultimate sacrifice for us.

Thankfully, the stakes are much lower in our own day, and none of us are likely to face similar choices. Still, we see a version of the same argument in moral miniature, as it were — what are you doing to resist modern fascism? Even before the histrionics reached their current plateau in the age of Trump, I had a dim, tedious former reader who would periodically insist that my writing should reflect (his) political priorities. Leaving aside the insulting notion that I should spend my free time being an unpaid propagandist, the practical effect would have been nil, as I had a single-digit readership and no power or influence. I never could seem to get it through his skull that there are other, more satisfying ways to view a platform such as a blog than as a soapbox from which to harangue the masses.

As Mike Doughty sang, it will always be the end of time, the end of law, the end of life. Social media exacerbates people's normal tendency to seek out drama and stimulation. Paradoxically, as life becomes more standardized, monolithic and predictable, people seize on ever-smaller differences to create existential angst, which they find preferable to ennui. Hence the spectacle of seemingly-educated people portraying themselves as dissident intellectuals in exile, or even the French Resistance, by means of their emotionally-incontinent social media activity. Those who insist that we must join them in this fantasy world deserve no response other than a disgusted eye-roll. The choice was much starker for Stefan Zweig, and yet he chose to die for the sake of an ideal of freedom that he wasn't willing to tarnish. The least we can do in these far more comfortable times is refuse to be dragged down to the lowest common denominator.

Monday, February 20, 2017

I've Had Enough With Rolling Boulders, I Want More Moss On Me

A bad cold kept me from doing anything yesterday, so I sat and read a couple collections of Orwell's essays. Superb stuff all around, but I had to admit that I resembled some of his remarks on Charles Dickens:

I could do without the horde of children, and I prefer to do my own chores rather than rely on servants, but quibbling details aside, yes, this sounds like an acceptable deal to me. Home life is always enough, indeed. Forever in a kind of love and forever in a kind of selfishness and self-enjoyment, you might say. Pace Orwell, I don't see anything contradictory about combining purposelessness and vitality. "Purposelessness" doesn't mean that you sit around in a vegetative state; it simply means that you're capable of generating depth and meaning from within an outwardly simple, ordinary life. I'm never bored, and I've always got things to do (with not enough time to do them in). It's just that none of those things would be impressive to anyone else. My life is like a bonsai tree — insignificant by your standards, a wealth of meaningful details by mine.

Obiter Dicta, no. 3

[T]he source of the philosopher’s modesty lay not in a low opinion of himself but rather in the low value he attached to the opinions of those who praised him.

— Matthew Stewart, The Courtier and the Heretic

Aristotle said that anyone self-sufficient enough to do without social conventions and comforts must be either a beast or a god. Spinoza, the non-beastly philosopher in question here, certainly had experience with the fickle, volatile nature of public opinion, so it's understandable that he would put little stock in praise from others. But how could a god be modest? Perhaps by virtue of recognizing that one's godhood is nothing special; in fact, it's the most common thing there is.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Impermanent Things

Brad Warner:

Is this what American Buddhism has come to? Has it become an entirely partisan endeavor? Is American Buddhism now indistinguishable from Leftist politics? Maybe that’s overstating things. But it genuinely worries me that we may be headed in that direction.

...There is a strong assumption among American Buddhists that if you believe in peace and the oneness of humankind, as the Buddha taught, then you would surely follow the political philosophy of the American Left. After all, Leftists are for love and light, and against war and badness. Conservatives stand for hate, killing, and carnage.

I used to believe that myself. But I don’t anymore.

Yuval Levin — whose new book is excellent, by the way — once noted something almost stunning in its unacknowledged obviousness: we are all liberals. That is, no one of importance wants to bring back monarchy, a landed aristocracy, or feudalism. No one of importance wants to live under communist or fascist dictatorship. Right-wingers and left-wingers alike agree on the importance of individual freedom, representative government, pluralism, rule of law, etc. And yet, political debate is like a think tank built right on top of the active fault line of psychology. However genteel the arguments, however many presuppositions and goals shared in common, it takes very little for tribal instincts to inflate any difference of opinion to apocalyptic proportions. The narcissism of small differences, Freud called it. And so, in modern American politics, the progressive wing of liberalism and the conservative wing of liberalism are both convinced that to let the other wing near power would be the prelude to Armageddon. The only cure for it, so far as I can see, is the perspective granted by time. Live long enough and pay attention, and you'll soon become desensitized to the constant state of red alert. Your adrenal glands or your interest will give out once you realize that some, perhaps many, people just aren't content unless they're running around screaming with their hair on fire. Both sides are permanently convinced that the other side controls everything and are moments away from unleashing catastrophe, regardless of who is currently in power. There is no political answer to this absurd state of affairs, only a personal one — just walk away. Stop wallowing in outrage and go enjoy the many good things in life beyond politics.

Brad, as I recently feared would happen, is experiencing the same thing I did several years ago as a basically liberal-leaning fellow with an interest in religion and atheism. He's seeing his Buddhist subculture become increasingly dominated by the same sort of militant left-wingers that insisted on fusing New Atheism to New Left identity politics, and he feels compelled to call it what it is. Being a figure of slight prominence in American Buddhism, however, he has attracted the sort of vengefulness that comes from people who use politics as an outlet for their borderline personality disorders and who are not prepared to tolerate opposition. In this case, someone has publicized the fact that Brad has a nephew who writes for conservative outlets and is a Trump supporter. In the hysterical world of online leftism, the suspicion of even a germ of thoughtcrime means that the suspect must be socially quarantined and assumed guilty by association until proven innocent. If Brad had any money or influence, he'd probably be subjected to an economic embargo to starve him into submission as well.

Buddhism in America, popularized by the baby boomers as part of their general fascination with all things exotic and mystical that promise liberation from supposedly-stultifying Western norms, has long been part of that progressive cultural orbit, so it should be no surprise, in my opinion, to see it influenced by the latest trends among culture-war reenactors. The image of Buddhist monks self-immolating to protest the Vietnam War still serves as an inspirational example of authentic political commitment among leftists. The very least modern Buddhists can do is flame a few Trump supporters on social media.

Thankfully, though, Buddhism has a self-defense mechanism built into it to prevent it from becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of partisan politics. Sitting quietly and meditating about the inherent illusoriness of existence has a way of eventually undermining rigid dogmas. Sincere practitioners will likely grow past this kind of shallow, politically-engaged Buddhism. I wouldn't call myself a conservative any more than I would call myself a Buddhist, even though I've learned a lot from both, because the most important thing that I've learned is to be suspicious of labels and narratives. Buddhism had always taught me that we create much of our own misery by believing too strongly in the illusory solidity of our identity, and the intersectional leftist drama of the last several years taught me that the easiest way to destroy your own intellectual integrity is to identify too strongly with a political tribe. Retaining the ability to shift perspective is what allows us to see when we're getting ready to go to war over a trivial difference and change our behavior accordingly.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Suddenly, a Synapse Fired!

It's amazing how a metaphorical cliché appropriate for rock music lyrics becomes profound when Dr. White Coat, Ph.D. uses it. "Such-and-such affects your brain like cocaine" is the "It was a dark and stormy night" of pop neuroscience writing. We need a Bulwer-Lytton category expansion to include nonfiction clickbait.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

But You're Not So Radical

Jia Tolentino:

Of course, this being a polemic, there’s not much space given to how, exactly, the total disengagement with our individualist and capitalist society might be achieved. 

"Of course." I like the implicit admission here. You weren't expecting something more than the impotent flailing of tiny fists, were you? Tsk.

Here, we have a former Jezebel editor in the New Yorker reviewing the ever-ridiculous Jessa Crispin's new book about how feminism has been co-opted by the system and rendered toothless, harmless, and far too friendly to bourgeois capitalist social norms. In other words, the same problem radicals have been fruitlessly complaining about for decades: despite being endlessly challenged, interrogated, deconstructed, and reimagined, the "system" of leaving people free to make piecemeal improvements to their own lives at their own pace via their own discretion has continued to blossom in popularity like Audrey II, leaving mystified radicals to wonder what in the unholy name of Adam Smith happened. I like to think of it as the infinity mirror problem of radicalism: an endless line of identical poses reflecting an illusory substance. "Of course" nothing is going to change, but at least writing an angry feminist book, or reviewing it in a prestigious outlet, gives you a vantage point from which to look down and sneer at the "shallow" sorts of feminists who don't realize that emblazoning car bumpers, tote bags and coffee mugs with clichéd quotations about girl power is simply gauche. Decorating your actual politics with chimerical yearning, however, is apparently the height of sophistication.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Noteworthies (5)

• Songwriters on Process interview with Neil Fallon of the band Clutch. Fallon is one of my two favorite lyricists in rock music (along with Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse), so it's great to get some insight into his reading and writing habits. Speaking of reading, his ten favorite books.

• Joseph Heath, "The End of Privacy, Part 2: Scoring Pro-Social Behaviour"

Consider This with Stuart Campbell. I'm generally not one for listening to podcasts or audio interviews, but after following a link to the most recent interview with Roger Scruton, I looked through the archives and saw quite a few others that look very interesting, including many authors whose books I have either read or plan to read soon. Guests are able to respond at length to intelligent questions, which was a pleasant surprise, accustomed as I am to interviews which are little more than ping-pong matches with soundbites and slogans.

The Enduring Wisdom of Montaigne, by Jeffrey Collins. I learned that sometimes, if you Google the title of a paywalled article, clicking on the resulting link will bypass the paywall. It worked in this case for a book review in the WSJ that I wanted to read.

• B.A. Brown, "Illiberalism Rising"

• Kenan Malik, "Not Post-Truth as Too Many Truths"

Via Alan Jacobs, another book that touches on the history of my kind. I suppose I'll have to get a copy.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Speaking Words of Wisdom: Let It Be

John Gray:

One of the most attractive features of cats is that contentment is their default state. Unlike human beings – particularly of the modern variety – they do not spend their days in laborious pursuit of a fantasy of happiness. They are comfortable with themselves and their lives, and remain in that condition for as long as they are not threatened. When they are not eating or sleeping, they pass the time exploring and playing, never asking for reasons to live. Life itself is enough for them.

...Whereas human beings search for happiness in an ever-increasing plethora of religions and therapies, cats enjoy contentment as their birthright. Why this is so is worth exploring. Cats show no sign of regretting the past or fretting about the future. They live, absorbed in the present moment. It will be said that this is because they cannot envision the past or future. Perhaps so, though their habit of demanding their breakfast at the accustomed hour shows they do have a sense of the passage of time. But cats, unlike people, are not haunted by an anxious sense that time is slipping away. Not thinking of their lives as stories in which they are moving towards some better state, they meet each day as it comes. They do not waste their lives dreading the time when their lives must end. Not fearing death, they enjoy a kind of immortality. All animals have these qualities but they seem particularly pronounced in cats. Of all the animals that have lived closely with human beings, cats must surely be the least influenced by them.

Let me be clear. Gray is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. I agree with most of what he writes, and even when I don't, he's still usefully thought-provoking. In his capacity as a book reviewer, though, I've noticed for some time that themes which have become prominent in his own recent books, such as Straw Dogs, The Silence of Animals, and The Soul of the Marionette, tend to bleed over into his reviews. Reading the above passages, it's impossible (for me, at least) to not be distracted from the book under consideration — a book about the history of house cats, in this case — and put into mind of Gray's own writings, in which he criticizes and scorns what he considers to be the fallacies and follies of political liberalism, its overweening faith in reason, and mankind's inability to live contentedly in a form of Keats's negative capability. It's a bit like having a mental pop-up ad intruding into my thoughts.

In this particular phase of his career, he strikes me as the prose equivalent to Robinson Jeffers, whose concept of "inhumanism" seems to bear a strong family resemblance to Gray's godless mysticism. Like Tor House, Jeffers's granite dwelling on the California coast, Gray's reviews occupy an austere, forbidding perspective under which the themes of the book being reviewed, if possible, are used as supporting stones to be cemented into his own philosophical edifice. Should they lack intellectual solidity, then, like waves, they dash themselves into mist upon the unforgiving rocks of Gray's worldview.

The problem with having a theory of everything is that everything becomes about your theory. It could simply be a result of my close familiarity with Gray's own work, but I find myself anticipating, in each review, what feels like the inevitable paragraph where he makes the implicit measurement against his own perspective and pronounces the book in question to be worthy or wanting by comparison. Perhaps it's unrealistic of me, but when I read a book review, I prefer the reviewer to be heard but not seen.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Her and Me, and Her and She and Me

Moira Weigel:

As Jenkins tells it, however, her inspiration came from Bertrand Russell — one of the founding fathers of analytic philosophy and a titanic presence at Cambridge.

"What I didn’t realize when I was studying his philosophy of mathematics was that he wrote about all these other things," Jenkins recalls. She particularly means his 1929 book, Marriage and Morals, in which Russell advocated for what he called "free love." Jenkins calls the book "a precursor of the contemporary sex-positive movement."

You should be able to repeat this one from memory by now. What are the twin pillars of the utopian project? Come on, you remember, we've talked about it a few times. A remade economy and...? That's right, reinvented sex. It's the latter we're dealing with here, in yet another article propagandizing for polyamory, soon to become the hot new sexual liberation cause. You've already seen several articles in this genre, and trust me, you'll see many more in the near future, but this one stood out for me thanks to the above section. Bertrand Russell was her inspiration to start philosophizing about free love? I wonder if she made it to the part in his autobiography where he said, while reflecting on the chastening consequences of his attempts to escape the irrational cage of monogamy, "Anyone else could have told me this in advance, but I was blinded by theory." Ploosa shawnje, ploosa la memshows, I said to myself, as I read an article in an academic publication attempting to impress me with the fact that Jenkins has provided theoretical rigor to back up her lifestyle. Oh, well, yes, I'm sure that's why all the previous attempts of utopian communities to transcend monogamy fizzled out — they just didn't have enough academic philosophers around to theorize for them.

The article never mentions children, interestingly enough, since they are probably the biggest obstacle to the progressive fantasy of a society consisting of multiple lovers flowing languidly into and out of each others' lives. That would widen the focus to include questions of responsibilities, obligations, costs, and tradeoffs, and progressives are much more comfortable sticking to the narrow question of maximizing personal choice and pleasure. Most people will eventually want to have kids, and in doing so, will quickly realize, on a visceral level, the benefits of domestic stability and romantic favoritism. Free love as a romantic ideal will primarily appeal to the young and childless, but considering how much the media seem to be dominated by the perspectives of college-age gender-studies majors, we can expect to see a disproportionate amount of breathless attention paid to it.

Fooled By the Seductions of Violence

I wouldn't have thought anything would be more pathetic than seeing balaclava-wearing middle-class anarchists doing their best to embody the mocking image Mike Doughty painted of them almost two decades ago in his song about the 1999 Seattle WTO riots, "Busting Up a Starbucks." It's hard to outdo a bunch of imbeciles fighting "fascism" by, uh, disrupting peaceful assemblies, smashing store windows and beating people in the streets with metal poles. But legacy media desperately attempting to stay relevant by cheering them on is even worse. Yes, Milo sure did get "schooled" by having his book rocket straight to the number one spot on Amazon's besteller list and getting even more invites to appear on TV programs. Honestly, if this weren't just part of a long, long tradition of the utterly useless, self-defeating stupidity of left-wingers, I'd suspect Milo organized the whole thing as a brilliant marketing strategy. As it is, they were like this long before he was even born, and will continue like this into the foreseeable future, never learning a thing.

Noteworthies (4)

• Daniel Oppenheimer, "Not Yet Falling Apart"

• Josh Sabey, "Privilege Is Just Another Word For Family, and We Need More of It"

• Sam Dresser, "How Camus and Sartre Split Up Over the Question of How to Be Free"

• Janan Ganesh, "In Praise of Literary Conservatives"

• Leonid Bershidsky, "Books Stubbornly Refused to Be Disrupted, and It Worked"

• David Ernst, "Donald Trump Is the First President to Turn Postmodernism Against Itself"

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Obiter Dicta, no. 2

Christianity is strange. It bids man to recognize that he is vile, and even abominable, and bids him to want to be like God. Without such a counterweight, his exaltation would make him horribly vain or his abasement horribly abject.

— Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Anthony Kronman, in his magisterial book Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan, focuses on this very tension to argue that in fact, mankind has gotten the worst of both worlds here. Filled with a loathing for our imperfect human condition, and taught to grovel before a heavenly father for whose gifts we can never be remotely worthy, the unbearable psychological pressure made it inevitable that we would seek to usurp his throne after driving him beyond the boundaries of creation. As Nietzsche's Zarathustra asked, if there were gods, how could I bear to not be a god as well? And so, in the centuries since Pascal wrote, it would seem that the counterweight has snapped under the tension, freeing us to both soar to new heights of vanity and plummet to new depths of depravity.

And yet, should we ever manage to prevail in our quest to conceptually stand outside of creation, having accounted for every last subatomic particle's mass and motion within a framework of laws and formulae that leave nothing to chance, nothing that defies our understanding, nothing that evades our controlling will, the philosophical question would still remain: what would we want with such power? What would we do with it? What sort of world would we create and endorse if we were to become the embodiment of the God we imagined into existence all those centuries ago? I imagine most people, if they think about the question at all, assume that the answer will somehow be provided by the conclusion of the quest itself and quickly forget about it. Alan Watts brilliantly suggested that most likely, we would attempt to eliminate all of the "bad" elements of existence and keep the "good" ones, only to realize eventually that "good" and "bad" are conceptual distinctions, not actual ones, and only exist at all in opposition to each other, incapable of being cleaved.

Pascal also said in another epigram that all of mankind's problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone. Sitting quietly alone might lead to a serene acceptance of the world just as it is, with all its tragic flaws. Though it might just as likely lead to the sort of thinking-too-much that causes people to invent gods who burden them with impossible demands and ideals. Once again, the imaginary line between good and bad cuts through the very nature of existence itself. As Kronman said in another book, this is the self-contradictory essence of the human condition.

I've Done No Harm, I Keep to Myself

You've heard me say it before, and no doubt I will have to say it many more times: there's no neutral ground in a holy war.

Lord knows that humans need no special incentive to indulge in tribalism. Protecting the in-group and attacking the out-group is one of the most deeply-engrained instincts in the species of chimpanzee that made good. As numerous experiments have shown, even the most trivial and nonsensical distinctions can turn formerly peaceable people into bloodthirsty enemies.

It's easy enough to shrug off these latest exercises in public shaming and forced political awareness on the assumption that of course pop music superstars and Fortune 500 companies will attract this kind of unhinged, obsessive attention. But rest assured that the only thing preventing these righteous crusaders from reintroducing a modern version of impressment for the culture wars is the problem of logistics, not the lack of desire. They would gladly conscript nobodies like you or I as well if they could.

Again, it's incredibly easy for any human to reduce a complex issue to a Manichean battle between the saved and the damned. But this particular type of totalitarian impulse, to completely obliterate the idea that anything could be allowed to escape the gravitational pull of partisan politics, is especially appealing to left-wingers. It is axiomatic for conservative philosophy that there will always be a certain amount of imperfection and injustice in the world, and a sane response to this fact entails that people have to allow some sort of cultural or personal space to forget about crusading. At five o'clock, the whistle blows, and we set the bare-knuckle political brawling aside until the next day, like Sam and Ralph. There are more important things to concern ourselves with, better sources of solace like family and art to occupy ourselves with, and the fight will never be conclusively won anyway.

But to the progressive equivalent of theocracy, the idea of a "secular" space, free from political considerations, is heretical. Unsupervised free spaces like that are a breeding ground for subversive, reactionary ideas. For a political philosophy that accepts no inherent limits on mankind's ability to perfect itself, the very existence of imperfection and injustice is an affront to its deepest identity. The grinding years of imperfect life cannot be forgiven. If something inherent in the world makes it incapable of being custom-fit to the Procrustean beds of reformers and revolutionaries, and provides no satisfying outlet for their utopian energies, they will eventually tire of vainly flinging themselves against the bars of their cage and start releasing their frustration on others unfortunate enough to be within reach. This is what we see here — in a world which, to them, seems to have gone completely insane, in opposition to all their wishes, they are reduced to lashing out against people guilty of standing by too innocently. In their desire to perfect the world through politics, they would destroy the oases of individual privacy and freedom that make this imperfect world bearable at all.

Same Planet, A World Apart

Addison Del Mastro:

With Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt to the EPA, and the accompanying flood of editorials about climate denial and climate alarmism, it’s a good time to consider why skepticism of climate change remains such a popular attitude among conservatives.

Certainly, a lot of skepticism is driven by plain old economic interests. Oil and gas companies aren’t exactly going to cheer the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There’s also the fact that any real positive climate-policy impact—as a result of sharply reduced emissions—will not be observable for decades, making it both politically and psychologically distant. But none of this should cause ordinary people—many of whom are both highly intelligent and owe none of their income to the oil and gas industry—to deny the science of climate change. There’s another reason, I think, why the whole concept is met with such resistance.

A lot of it comes down to the fact that, from a conservative point of view, climate change looks like too good a problem for liberals. Everything liberals want, or that conservatives think liberals want—more regulation, more control of the economy, more redistribution of wealth, skepticism or hostility towards capitalism and of America’s status as an affluent superpower—are suggested or required by the reality of climate change. The conservative sees liberals rubbing their hands together at the prospect of a problem that needs such solutions, and he thinks, “No, such a perfect problem couldn’t ‘just happen’ to arise—it must be invented or massively overstated.”

I recently read Roger Scruton's How to Think Seriously About the Planet and Ronald Bailey's The End of Doom, which both made me feel much better about humanity's chances of avoiding some kind of worst-case environmental crisis. Both authors take the middle road between denial and alarmism, suggesting that while there certainly does seem to be a serious problem demanding our attention, the solutions are most likely to be found in continued innovation and the evolution of economic growth. Of course, they may very well be voices in the wilderness, but it's still refreshing to read such perspectives, especially if, like me, you were more or less raised on the kind of substance-free, hysterical environmentalism-as-a-surrogate religion as typified by Naomi Klein's latest incoherent jeremiad.

They Also Serve Who Only Grandstand and Tweet

Rod Dreher:

What does the accidental hillbilly prophet see in Trump Nation’s future? Vance forecasts a great deal of instability ahead with challenges that he is not sure either party is capable of meeting. Come what may, though, the Hillbilly Elegy experience convinced its author that he has a calling to leave the world of high finance to take a hands-on role in helping to solve the social crisis his bestselling book so powerfully describes.

...His book’s success filled Vance with a sense of gratitude and mission. As detailed in Hillbilly Elegy, loyalty is both a signature virtue and vice of the Scots-Irish Appalachians from whom he is descended. Vance can’t shake the sense that he owes it to his people to go back home and do what he can to help.

The fresh-faced, Yale-educated hillbilly lawyer is the second most unlikely political star to emerge from this bizarre year. More than a few people have speculated that Vance has a political career ahead of him. For now, J.D. Vance is focused on bringing hope and change to the Rust Belt through the means of civil society.

“The idea of a political career strikes me as a little odd, simply because I think politicians should have at least the prospect of gainful employment outside of government,” he says. “For now, the plan is to move home and try to give back a little. I’m going to start with a little nonprofit that will focus on this dreadful opioid epidemic, and maybe a couple of other issues.”

In the meantime, Freddie deBoer, who recently called Vance — along with millions of other people, by association — his "enemy" for daring to believe — based on Vance's own experience, may I remind you — that the various social ills plaguing rural, red-state America would not be solved purely by more socialist policy clichés, took a break from crafting his 3,298th variation on a blog post theme — you know, the one where he complains that social media is overflowing with ersatz leftists who only care about signaling instead of seizing control of the state — to sigh dramatically on Twitter — which he had only recently declared to be an unconstructive way to engage with the world — about all the ersatz leftists who monopolize social media discourse and dissipate everyone's energy into signaling instead of promoting direct action. Well, from each according to his ability, and all that.