The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: July 11, 2020
I’m sorry, but we’re in for a rather melancholy Brunch this week. I’m finding it harder to be optimistic with each passing day, and I’m grateful for your company and conversation here at the table. I keep waiting for some good news, some relief in the midst of our national nightmares, but am not hearing much. Perhaps you have a good word to share today.
Quote of the week
Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed—in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical—and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “After Ten Years” (Letters and Papers from Prison)
What happened to religious liberty?
Capped at 18,000 people for 2020—the lowest ceiling on record—the US has resettled 7,600 refugees, with only three months left in the fiscal year.
According to a joint report released today by World Relief and Open Doors USA, persecuted minorities representing a variety of religions have been harmed by the decline in resettlement.
“Among those most disadvantaged have been Christian refugees from the countries where Christians face the most severe persecution in the world,” the report states. [emphasis mine]
So far in 2020, the US has resettled fewer than 950 Christians from the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian, according to Open Doors’s annual World Watch List. At this rate, the US will receive 90-percent fewer Christian refugees this year than five years ago.
Have you heard an outcry about this? No, me neither. I guess American Christians’ desire to protect “religious liberty” is somewhat selective, huh?
In times like this, I find the blues help…
Disney World Reopening
Disney World begins re-opening today. They ran a new ad to encourage people to return, but some found it a bit disturbing, like Starr Rhett Rocque at Fast Company:
It’s all supposed to be reassuring, but it’s strange. Creepy, even. As the colorful cups from the Mad Tea Party ride swirl by on screen, it’s hard not to focus on all the potentially lethal germs that will build up in those vessels in a matter of seconds. And if you stare long enough at the group of masked park employees waving to cameras in formation, you might find yourself thinking you’ve fallen into some Brave New World.
In times like this, I find little comedy helps…
Like many parents, Jim Gaffigan just finds Disney World itself a bit too much.
Our Worthless Passports — Pray to God this guy isn’t right…
America is now ruled by COVID-19. Welcome to the Plague States of America.
…The most reliable projections are saying 200,000 dead and 50 million infected by election day in November. Even these projections struggle to account for completely irrational federal actions like denigrating masks, pushing to reopen early, and pushing students back into schools. This is not the absence of public health, this is its opposite.
It is, in effect, governance by COVID-19. Not a failed state. A plague state.
…America will be lucky to exit this pandemic with less than a million dead and 100 million infected. The living will be lucky to exit their country within the next five years.
…American now have access to exactly two dozen states, four more (*) if they want to endure a 14-day quarantine on the end. Americans have gone from world power to getting the side-eye from Ecuador in a matter of months. Right now Americans are only really welcome on remote islands or at corralled resorts in Mexico, where they can be isolated from everyone else.
It’s not that other nations don’t want to welcome Americans, they just can’t. The point of a passport is that a sovereign power vouches for its bearer, but America can’t vouch for the health of their citizens at all. America’s public health regime is far less trustworthy than Liberia’s (which is actually quite good). Its sovereign is mad.
At the same time, you can’t trust Americans. Americans have poor hygiene (low masking rate) and at least 40% of the population can’t be trusted to even believe that COVID-19 exists, let alone to take it seriously. They’re likely to refuse testing, not report symptoms, break quarantine, and generally follow rules. Americans have a toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance that makes them unwelcome travelers.
In times like this, I find a little joy (along with some cowbell!) helps…
A Letter on Justice and Open Debate
Harpers published a letter this week, calling for all sides in the various current socio-cultural debates to refrain from creating an intolerant climate that stifles legitimate open debate. Its message is directed specifically to those on the left, who have, at times, responded to the forces of illiberalism on the right with a “cancel” culture that threatens “the free exchange of information and ideas.”
A diverse group of people, including some of the left’s strongest proponents, like Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, and Gloria Steinem, signed on to this letter. Some have reported that a few have expressed regrets about signing the letter.who noted that signatories include “Black thinkers, Muslim thinkers, Jewish thinkers, people who are trans and gay, old and young, right wing and left wing.”
Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.
The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.
This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.
This Weekend’s Special Edition of the New York Times Magazine
Inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” a 14th-century collection of tales told by a group of 10 characters taking shelter in an Italian villa during the Black Plague, this weekend’s special issue of the magazine features stories from Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Téa Obreht, Karen Russell, Tommy Orange, Yiyun Li and others. The so-called Decameron Project is the first time in the magazine’s modern history that an entire issue is devoted to new fiction.
…The authors wrote while quarantining in their homes across the country (Oakland, Miami, Portland) and the globe (Mexico, Ireland, Mozambique, Israel). The stories grapple with fear, loss, sickness and uncertainty, but also with kindness, connection and humor. Back-to-back, they knit a record of the shared experiences that can transcend circumstances to unite us.
…Ms. Gutierrez found reading the stories to be cathartic. “The news is really bleak right now, and it is hard to handle,” she said. “In this issue, you will be able to enjoy the language, the images, the plots, but by the end of it, you’ve also been forced to think about the pandemic in different ways.”
…Sophy Hollington, the artist responsible for the cover and the unifying lettering throughout, used hand-cut relief techniques to pay homage to medieval manuscripts.
…“Fiction is a way to make sense of the world around us, a way to narrate it back to us,” Ms. Lalami said, “and in that sense, impose some sort of order on the chaos.”
Here is a small sample from one of the stories. This is from “How We Used to Play,” by Dinaw Mengestu.
Before getting off the phone I told him I was going to drive down from New York to see him. It was March 12, 2020, and the virus was about to lay siege to the city. “We’ll go to the grocery store,” I said. “And stuff your freezer so you can grow old and fat until the virus disappears.” I left New York early the next morning to find the highways between New York and D.C. already crowded with S.U.V.s. On his only visit to New York, my uncle asked me what happened to all the cars buried deep underground in expensive parking lots scattered throughout the city. Before buying his own cab, he had worked for 15 years in a parking garage three blocks from the White House, and he often said that he would never understand why Americans spent so much money to park big cars they never drove. As I passed my first hour in traffic, I thought of calling to tell him I finally had the answer to his question. For all the talk of American optimism, we were obsessed with apocalypse, and those big empty cars that now filled all four lanes of the highway had simply been waiting for the right explosion to hit the road.
In times like this, I find that beautiful, sad songs help…
Written by the incomparable Townes Van Zandt. Performed by Nancy Griffith and her bandleader.