13 September 2014

Pointless video post - ‘Один день из жизни Егора Кузнецова’ by KYPCK

Can anything possibly be more awesome than a metal band singing about Russian history? How about a Finnish metal band, singing in Russian about Russian history? On top of that, a Finnish metal band with a particularly industrial-metallic sensibility (in spite of being pure doom), using Red Army-reminiscent uniforms and Kalashnikov-shaped guitars. It is clear from their lyrics that they approach the topic of Soviet history with a kind of grim fascination, yet at the same time (from the interviews the band has given) they seem to think it was a noble experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong - and therefore a suitably tragic topical field for a doom band to write about. Actually, for the most part, they sing about more general existential or religious topics, or the pains of daily life (as in this song). ‘Один день из жизни Егора Кузнецова’ has a particularly Sabbathy feel to it, and therefore suits my tastes quite well. Russian. Doom. From Finland? Oddly satisfying. Give it a listen (or five or six)!

12 September 2014

Holy and Right-Believing Grand Prince S. Aleksandr Nevsky of Vladimir, Kiev and Novgorod

Today is the feast day of another Rurikovich saint, S. Aleksandr Yaroslavich ‘of Neva’, Grand Prince of Vladimir, Kiev and Novgorod. A mighty warrior, he also possessed a kindly heart and an able tongue, which he used when negotiating with the Golden Horde to leave Russia intact and undisturbed. His most famous military feat was his daring attack on a massive Swedish army in 1240 at the confluence of the Neva and Izhora rivers, which prevented a potentially-devastating invasion of Russia from the northwest and earned him his byname of Nevsky. He also defeated an invasion of German and Estonian heavy knights on the frozen Lake Peipus two years later; one of the first times an army of foot-soldiers was able to defeat one of heavily-armoured Teutonic knights. These battles secured his reputation as a hero of Novgorod, which had faced numerous invasions on three fronts: west, north and east. But his most important (and most controversial, from a Western perspective) decision was that to give tribute to the Golden Horde in exchange for their leaving his lands alone.

It must be remembered that the Golden Horde had already reduced a number of Russian cities - Yaroslavl, Chernigov, Pereyaslavl, Vladimir, even Kiev - to rubble, and he was keenly aware at the time that the papal envoys were attempting to use Novgorod as a shield against the Horde whilst at the same time sending other powers to attack him from the rear. Thus, his determination to keep Russia safe, free and neutral led him to a harsh policy against Sweden and the Teutonic Knights, but to an accommodationist one against the Tatars. This can be demonstrated from his personal intervention in 1263, when he went himself to beg the Tatar khan not to attack the towns of Novgorod on account of a few of them that had failed to pay the demanded tribute. As a Prince, S. Aleksandr Nevsky placed the well-being of the people of his kingdom first and his own prestige second.

As a personal aside: it was in the Church of S. Aleksandr Nevsky that I first heard a Slavonic Liturgy, and that I first truly encountered the generosity and hospitality of the Orthodox faith. At that church, Fr. Valery first explained to me that the Orthodox faith directs itself toward Christ, that it is the journey and the road (the right road, for all that!), rather than the end, and that it acknowledges that even those outside the Church are making journeys of their own. The Church of S. Aleksandr Nevsky in Saimasai, Kazakhstan, was for the brief time I was there my true refuge from the spiritual darkness that I was in. For that, I feel that to Fr. Valery and to S. Aleksandr particularly, I owe a great debt of gratitude. Holy and right-believing Prince of the Rus’, please pray for us to Our Lord.

The centrist trap and apophatic politics

The brilliant young blogger and fellow ‘magenta millennial’ Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig just posted a wonderful short essay, one which I had actually been trying to write for some time. But not only did she do it first, but she did it better! Which is all the more reason for me to go ahead and try to improve mine by framing it as a response to hers, because that’s what bloggers do. So I want to go ahead and say that not only should you read her essay, dearest readers, but you should read her entire blog. She is a brilliant author with her heart firmly in the right place.

And that is equally true here. She is speaking to the dangers of being seen as ‘centrist’, how the very term itself can mask a very broad array of positions, and how at any rate such a designation begs the question: the ‘centre’ of what? Where do you park the two poles you place yourself between? How do you frame your political priorities and borrow from each ‘pole’? Lord knows I’m guilty of this fallacy as well, and of ‘poxing both their houses’ Jon Stewart-style. See my previous post for a good example. It is a poor defence, indeed almost worse in a way, that I try to set out where I stand in as technically-correct a way as I can. Again, readily on display. See? I’m a ‘left-authoritarian’, whatever that means. To be honest, sometimes I think it just means I admire Zhukov.

Mrs. Bruenig is likewise correct to assert that Americanism is a problem, and that our ‘red’ and our ‘blue’ don’t represent the entire spectrum of ideas, and indeed narrow that spectrum in ways which exclude a priori a broad field of experience and political commitment. But the problem goes deeper. I would not call myself ‘anti-American’, because I am American, my family is American, and my ancestors are American – particularly and indeed especially the ones who agitated and fought on the side of the British Crown against the revolutionaries. I admire American people and American lifeways, though these are often opposed to or run against the official American political narrative. But I do realise there is a danger that even opposition to Americanism runs the risk of posing American politics as the centre and ignoring or downplaying broad swathes of thought running outside, agonal to or unconcerned with American politics. There is a reason why Noam Chomsky is indispensable reading for left-wingers but only to a certain point. He no less than his targets has a tendency for keeping American policy at the centre of everyone’s attention.

And there is, of course, the middle-ground fallacy itself, which Mrs. Bruenig so adroitly skewers. Just because something falls in the middle between two extremes does not mean that it is the best option.

What I think – what I hope – Mrs. Bruenig is getting at here is a kind of politics which defines itself primarily by what it is not, rather than by what it is. Particularly hopeful is this last line:
Magenta, yes. Centrist, not at all. Defined by the polarity of American partisan politics? Not even close. I know, I know: go ahead, throw your vote away. You got me, Kodos and Kang.
This would seem to point to a kind of apophatic politics, a politics which keeps its theological soundness (in a way which she feels Niebuhr’s does not) by taking an approach similar to that of Orthodox theology. Orthodoxy holds in dialectic tension the apophatic and the cataphatic tendencies, by keeping what we can know about God in light of the knowledge that our knowledge is insufficient. A sound approach to politics will (hopefully) do the same, because politics which assures itself of the infallibility of its own knowledge is not politics but ideology. And all ideology is, at root, heresy.

So, for example, with modern American conservatism we can affirm the wrongness of taking unborn human life. But for the selfsame reasons that taking unborn human life is wrong, we must witness against modern American conservatism on a whole host of other issues, like the denial of health-care benefits to expecting and new mothers, for starters. But because we can and should speak out about the wrongness of destroying brown children in the womb by uncontrolled doctors, we can and should also speak out about the wrongness of bombing brown children in the mountains by remote-control planes, and about the wrongness of shooting brown children in the streets by out-of-control cops. We can and should also speak about the wrongness of telling a woman she must bear her unborn child, whilst not expecting to raise him on anything more than starvation wages because she’s a ‘failure at life’.

With modern American liberalism we can affirm the need for a government that takes more than a procedural view of justice, and advocates for the poor. But we must also note the irony that the basis for any such government must be theological. Such a government will not bear up even under a liberal theory of the social contract – because, aside from the fact that the social contract is a patent falsehood, the ‘social contract’ has always been used not to protect the poorest and least vulnerable members of society, but to justify the ‘rights’ of the wealthiest to the protection and patronage of the government. The social contract is a bourgeois contract, because the rights the contract protects are all couched in terms of property.

Likewise: that property rights fall under our critique does not make us communist. That we love the traditions of our homelands and see ‘philopatria’ as a good and healthy thing does not make us fascist. And that we can understand the need for public participation and voice in government does not make us democrats. And yet we are standing for something – for the dignities inherent in, and promised through, the Incarnation. Christ, the one person in the All-Holy Trinity, fully human and fully God, who in His paradox cannot be understood by logic alone but with the eyes of faith, stands with us. (I say that not as an assurance of the rightness of my own political beliefs, by the way – to the contrary, Christ’s presence with me shows me where I continue to fall short!)

Postscript: It strikes me that Mrs. Bruenig’s excellent piece has given me some other thoughts on American politics. She says that our politics are ‘polarised’, but on a far narrower spread of opinion, objectively speaking, elsewhere in the world; I agree completely! But it strikes me that the differences between Republicans and Democrats – not even just the politicians, but the people as well – are more dependent on cultural signalling than on actual, legitimate ideological disagreement.

You can have on the one hand a latte-drinking, bespectacled, button-down Birkenstock-wearing vegetarian hipster who eats only organic food, lives in an urban centre or college town, and drives an electric hybrid. And on the other hand you can have a gun-toting, plaid flannel-wearing red meat-eating redneck who likes to go range-shooting and has a King James Bible in the glove compartment of his four-wheel drive pickup truck. But these two hypothetical individuals would, if one could keep the conversation off of culture, find a broad range of agreement with each other on the topics of individual liberty
vis-à-vis state power, of economic policy and even of foreign policy. American liberals and American conservatives are far closer to each other in terms of opinion than they tend to think.

Advocates of bipartisanship may think this is a good thing, but only in the short run. It might be easy enough to keep most of the American public on the same track by keeping genuine political variances as minimal as possible whilst focussing most of our energy on cultural differences, but it’s ultimately self-destructive. Cultural differences matter at a deeper level than policy does, and by driving cultural wedges through the population to keep up the appearances of democratic participation, the movers and shakers of public opinion may be laying the foundations of a lasting divide wherein adherents to the ‘liberal’ MSNBC-watching subculture and the ‘conservative’ Fox News-watching subculture may end up genuinely believing they don’t have anything in common with each other, with dire effects later on down the road.

11 September 2014

Profile in toolishness: Ted Cruz

He was booed off-stage at the In Defence of Christians gala not for being pro-Israel or pro-Jewish, but for demonstrating through his blind and unthinking support for Israel such a thorough lack of understanding of the issues at play in the Middle East, and thus a studied lack of empathy for Christians specifically in the Middle East. Among Palestinians, a sizeable minority are Christian – fairly evenly divided between Orthodox and Roman Catholic, and also a few Anglicans – and Christians and Muslims suffered in equal proportion from Israeli violence in Gaza. Likewise, it’s a matter of fact that Hezbollah and the ‘Islamic’ State are mortal enemies (the same can be said for most Islamic groups and the ‘Islamic’ State, actually), and it is a matter of basic survival for many Christians to ally themselves with armed groups that not only aren’t seeking to kill, rape and torture them, but are actually fairly friendly and supportive to them. For Cruz to stand up and lump Hezbollah and ISIS together, and then to say that ‘Christians have no greater ally than Israel’ at such an event, particularly in the wake of the recent Gaza offensive, is an insult, whether or not he intended it.

As Seraphim Danckaert at Orthodox Christian Network puts it:
Given his comments, and his response to the people who reacted by booing, it appears Cruz has no meaningful exposure to the actual experience of Middle Eastern Christians, nor does it seem he is even aware that there are millions of Middle Eastern Christians (and Jews, for that matter) who are strongly opposed to the official political and military policies of the modern state of Israel.

The phrase that ignited the disagreement is particularly telling: “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”

What kind of worldview or theological bias would allow for such a statement? Only one that presumes there is a definite conformity between the needs and desires of Christians everywhere and the Middle East policy of the United States of America. It seems to me, in other words, that when Ted Cruz says “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” he really means that “America has no greater ally than Israel” — and that the subjects of those two sentences are identical in his mind.
It may be uncharitable and cynical of me to say so, but I think one possible explanation for Cruz’s comments is that he simply doesn’t care about the Christians he came to address. He has no reason to care. Cruz may not understand the Middle East, but one can bet good money that he understands very well that these Christians have a decided lack of campaign contribution funds. Unlike Israel. (Or, as Michael Brendan Dougherty caustically put it: ‘I guess someone has to stand up against the menace of Maronite Christians and their powerful American mouthpieces.’) And it should be noticed that Cruz is not alone in his lack of concern for persecuted Christians in the Middle East and North Africa – the Tea Party noise machine (the Washington Free Beacon, Breitbart, the Blaze, Hot Air) have put out the official line hailing Cruz as ‘principled’ and having ‘character’ for standing up for the Israel lobby in telling Middle Eastern Christians what they ought to think, and have all but characterised the entire IDC event as a Hezbollah front.

Let this be an instructive moment for American Christians who take their faith seriously, as it demonstrates clearly that it is a fallacy that Republicans are in any measurable way more friendly to Christian concerns, or in any way more Christian in their approach to politics, than the Democrats are. Neither party is particularly interested in a bloc of people – Middle Eastern Christians – whose very existence appears to be a nuisance as far as American geopolitics is concerned, and who have decidedly shallow pockets. American geopolitics is not Christian, however much Republicans (and, to a lesser but growing extent, Democrats) try to doll it up in Christian drag.

But the Evil One will continue to laugh as long as he is able to convince a majority of American Christians that following their flag or their tribal partizan identity is the same thing as following the Cross. Lord, have mercy upon us all.

EDIT: Rod Dreher has the definitive quote on this sorry affair.
So what? They deserve to be killed by ISIS because they don’t support Israel, or US policy in the Mideast? They deserve to be spited and mocked and used by a US Republican senator from Texas who now has the footage he needs to make a campaign commercial, and to pull in donations from home state megachurches? Meanwhile, the Christians of the Middle East, who have been worshiping there since the days Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, are slowly being ground down to nothing. But hey, the American right-wing media machine took what it wanted out of the Christian patriarchs’ backsides, so it’s all cool, right?

09 September 2014

In for a penny, in for a pounding

Paul Krugman outlines the absurdity of the case for Scottish independence, as Salmond is making it, with some basic sound oeconomic pence (er, sense):
Comparing Scotland with Canada seems, at first, pretty reasonable. After all, Canada, like Scotland, is a relatively small economy that does most of its trade with a much larger neighbor. Also like Scotland, it is politically to the left of that giant neighbor. And what the Canadian example shows is that this can work. Canada is prosperous, economically stable (although I worry about high household debt and what looks like a major housing bubble) and has successfully pursued policies well to the left of those south of the border: single-payer health insurance, more generous aid to the poor, higher overall taxation.

Does Canada pay any price for independence? Probably. Labor productivity is only about three-quarters as high as it is in the United States, and some of the gap may reflect the small size of the Canadian market (yes, we have a free-trade agreement, but a lot of evidence shows that borders discourage trade all the same). Still, you can argue that Canada is doing O.K.

But Canada has its own currency, which means that its government can’t run out of money, that it can bail out its own banks if necessary, and more. An independent Scotland wouldn’t. And that makes a huge difference.

Could Scotland have its own currency? Maybe, although Scotland’s economy is even more tightly integrated with that of the rest of Britain than Canada’s is with the United States, so that trying to maintain a separate currency would be hard. It’s a moot point, however: The Scottish independence movement has been very clear that it intends to keep the pound as the national currency. And the combination of political independence with a shared currency is a recipe for disaster.
Sadly, the Yes-bloc Scots seem to be taking no lessons at all from the successive crises of the European Union, particularly from those of its poorer members, and ignoring at all costs the wisdom of a national government retaining control over its own currency, so that the agencies of monetary and finical policy are not at loggerheads. There is even more to the case than Krugman is making here, because a Scotland without its own monetary policy would soon find itself at the mercy of London with regard to financing all of the generous welfare programmes the Yes vote is trying to sell itself on. And that London would no longer have any non-oeconomic reason to provide that financing. Krugman uses the example of Spain’s housing bust misfortunes under EU monetary policy to demonstrate just this point, but given that Scotland is much more historically and oeconomically integrated into the United Kingdom even than Spain is into the European Union, the pain when Scotland faces similar crises (and face similar crises it shall) without the aid of its own banking system will be so much the keener.

Give this entire article a read, and share it post-haste with any and all of your Scottish friends, correspondence and acquaintance. There is yet time before the vote; calm and rational arguments like the ones Krugman makes should be given precedence here.

06 September 2014

So future

I just wanted to give a shout-out to a good forum-friend, FB acquaintance and fellow-traveller of mine, Ding Hansen, who has a new blog up and running called I’m So Future. He isn’t religious at all, and of course he’s a hip-hop fellow rather than a hesher, but we run pretty much on the same wavelength on a broad range of issues economic, geopolitical and social, and in general sharing a social-justice leftism tinged with what might be considered traditionalist concerns. And, of course, we both have a shared distaste for Western left-liberal foreign policy hawks who can be distinguished from neoconservatives only by degree, not by kind.

And his blog post on Chinese racism against blacks and Muslims, and how (white, liberal) Westerners continue to be complicit in it, is devastatingly dead-on target and worth a thorough and a careful read. And he also happens to be a wittier, cleverer and less prolix writer than I am, so please do stop over and enjoy, my dear readers!

28 August 2014

The geopolitical consequences of S. Matthew 7

Our Lord said: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’

This seems like an easy teaching to keep. But it really isn’t. On the one hand, judgement (as in the virtue of prudence) is a virtue which we exercise, and which we are supposed to exercise, all the time. We are supposed to be able to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, that which sustains us and that which destroys us, moderation and surfeit. But we are being told by Our Lord not to judge. Following Our Lord, our Holy Father S. Ephraim the Syrian teaches us to pray each night: ‘Grant me to see my own faults, and not to judge my brothers and sisters’. It is worth considering, therefore, why we are taught to pray against our own exercise of judgement.

Note, for one thing, to whom Our Lord is speaking and why. ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’ It is important to note that He is not engaging in that fashionable form of subjectivist, relativist ‘tolerance’ so common amongst the modernists of the West. Indeed, a few verses later he is speaking about trees which bear good fruits versus trees which bear bad ones, and how to tell good trees from bad. Even in this verse, though, He is not necessarily seeking to excuse or ‘let off’ the one being judged, but seeking to protect the one in danger of doing the judging! Likewise, in the prayer of S. Ephraim, we are asking of God, indeed begging of Him, to grant us to see our own faults and to keep us from judging others! Clearly it is for our own benefit, spiritual and otherwise, that we refrain from judging. This refraining from judgement is something we are expected to ask of God as a spiritual gift.

It’s counterintuitive, yet true all the same. If we puff ourselves up proudly, and go around condemning everything and everyone we find to be wrong, speaking as though we are God who is the only true Judge, two things will happen. Firstly, we will not ourselves bear the good fruits we wish to see and claim to value. Secondly, we are going to bring down upon ourselves the same judgement we mete to others.

Is this in doubt?

Then look at Ferguson, Missouri. Look at the weapons the police brandish at the protesters. Listen to the threats the police issue to the protesters. Consider the death of an unarmed eighteen-year-old boy. Consider the casual cruelty with which the police met his mourning. And then look at the reactions to this story around the world.

We have given nations like Iran, Egypt, China and North Korea ample cause to revile us – but they would have had no reason to do so in the first place, if our politicians and our civil society had not been so high-handed and sanctimonious, and if we did not arrogantly ignore and dismiss any like criticism of our own government as ‘whataboutery’. Moreover, we have, through the prideful collective behaviour and imperial hubris which we routinely display in our dealings with them, given these nations a certain degree of moral standing and sympathy – including North Korea, which in particular does not deserve it.

Think of it this way. What are the odds that Hillary Clinton genuinely, humanly cares about a teenage woman from Anhui working 12-hour days and 6-day weeks on a factory floor in a Southern SEZ? What are the odds that Samantha Powers has ever even seen a North Korean peasant family fleeing over the Yalu on the off chance that they might be able to work and avoid starving to death in China – if they can avoid being ‘repatriated’ by the local authorities? What are the odds that Jen Psaki or Lindsey Graham would even give the time of day to a Coptic shop-owner who had to live every day in fear of bloody reprisals from radical Islamists for ‘blasphemy’ and supposed support of the current government, from which they face the continued threats of police harassment and forcible eviction? What are the odds that John McCain gives a rat’s hindquarters about a gaoled pro-democracy blogger-activist in Tehran, a city on which he is so eager to start dropping bombs? Caring is not a part of their business; in the case of elected officials, their business is winning votes and saying things that sound nice to their constituents. In the case of politically-appointed officials, their business is furthering the ideology of the politician who appointed them. They don’t care. And when they cast down judgement about such matters, it is not they but we who come off looking like the hypocrites we are. Because we put them where they are. And, left and right, we love it when politicians pontificate about human rights violations elsewhere, not because we actually do wish the good for the above nations, but because judging them makes us feel smug and superior.

Let’s be honest. We don’t give a rat’s hindquarters about these people struggling to survive in adverse political environments around the world. We care about scoring ideological points in domestic partizan politics. We bicker and we squabble and we gossip and we openly spout off on the world stage about how we’re better than everybody else, because something-something-freedom. And then we turn around when a black high school student in Missouri gets gunned down on the street for jaywalking, and give more money in support of his killer than in support of his family! God sees. God knows. And God knows I’m among the worst of the lot, because I’ve just said all of the above, and I’m just as much a part of it, just as much complicit in it, as any one amongst you, my dearest readers.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Have mercy upon us all.

Because judgement is a dangerous, dangerous thing. In the hands of no man save one is it safe, and especially not in my own hands. It is a weapon given to us by the Evil One, which we continually aim at others thinking our aim is true, but which inevitably fires in the direction of our own feet.

We are seeing this now in the reaction abroad toward our own government’s actions in Missouri. Sadly, the ones who have the most to learn and to benefit from Our Lord’s teachings, will probably be the last to get the message.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Because do we ever need it.