“The only part of an argument that really matters is what we think of the people arguing." So goes one line in this passage from Kim Stanley Robinson's sci-fi novel about settlers on Mars. I think it's more true than we want to admit.
This is the informal code of woke social justice that I have come to observe in the era of social media: You absolutely must be doing social justice or there is something very wrong with you. Yet you must not post about the social justice you are doing, because then you are virtue signaling. Yet if you say nothing, you shall be explicitly or implicitly judged for your abominable indifference. And other such ridiculous rules.
A journey through the Old Forest looks totally different from my day-to-day existence. Yet this passage from Tolkien is a pretty apt description of what I found life to be like in 2020, and continues to be like in 2021---a description that resonates more deeply with me than the Groundhog Day metaphor.
Vengeance is a common theme in fantasy fiction, and it is striking how well certain FF authors tell the truth about what a messy business it is. Are there parallels one could draw to life in America today? I think so. We live in a society where social media offers a robust and pervasive platform for condemning evil people but no framework for forgiving them even when they repent.
I've had both the pleasure and misfortune this week of reading three essays about the way technology is shaping us and our environment. Things are mostly terrible, and yet there are some glimmers of hope. One of the authors (Alan Jacobs) nods at the philosophical tradition of Daoism as a potential framework to guide our behavior in a way that is more productive than other solutions which so far have spectacularly failed. I don't claim to understand what Daoism is or how it could help, at least not yet. These are complex ideas---but also mind-blowing and super cool.
Last month Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a sobering investigative report about the dark side of the porn industry. His work inspired some concrete reforms designed to protect victims of crippling shame and sexual abuse. But are these reforms enough as long as porn continues on? Is the widespread availability of porn, now so easy to access via smartphones and the internet, a "stealth public health crisis" (as one feminist scholars argues)? If so, what other steps can be taken to address it?
To forgive is to cancel a debt, and to cease feeling anger towards a wrongdoer---whether or not they have repented. Wouldn't this go a long way in breaking the hate cycle that infects our divided culture, both in person and online? The question is fraught with complexity, and yet perhaps no one in history was better equipped to answer it than Martin Luther King, Jr. It's worth reflecting on his insights as we honor his legacy and look ahead at 2021.
With the new year comes new resolutions, a common one being to read new books that challenge you. The idea is that doing so will expand your mind, make you a better person. But is that the inevitable outcome of such an endeavor? English professor Micah Mattix doesn't think so.
Jemar Tisby has done the church a great service in documenting its pattern of racism during key epochs in American history and showing a way towards repentance and institutional reform. This isn't just a historical survey of the distant past but of events as recent as Black Lives Matter and the election of Trump. At the very least, Tisby's analysis ought to prompt Christians to critically examine how racism manifests in their midst in subtle ways today, and determine how to fight it.
With COVID we have more opportunities for solitude than ever before, and artists of all people should be grateful for that. Right? Well ... what if solitude is less about isolation from the world so you can paint or write, and more about a process of "concentrated fascination" that leads to the production of art not only for yourself but for the common good?