Monday, June 29, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas the comedian

Christopher Tollefsen in his spring lecture at CU-Boulder noted this bit of scholastic humor from St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae I.i.1 Art. 8:

If [sacred doctrine] is argued from authority, it seems unbefitting its dignity, for the proof from authority is the weakest form of proof... according to Boethius.

Curiously, New Advent's edition of the Summa omits this geeky self-parodying joke. The jest is in the Latin text, however:

Si [argumentatur] ex auctoritate, non videtur hoc congruere eius dignitati, nam locus ab auctoritate est infirmissimus, secundum Boetium.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What 'culture of choice'?

Last month Patrick Deneen discussed the contradictions of the rootless academic who is caught in the trap of inauthenticity: he propounds a life of “localism and community” on the internet and in the academy, two institutions which tend to dissolve what he professes to love.

Criticisms of would-be localists are easy to write: some haven’t been home in years. They murmur about loving “the idea of place,” rather than about the charming and dirty realities of one particular place. They only have time to theorize because of the productivity and efficiency of the economic system they often disdain.

Deneen himself writes that the arguments of his compatriots at Front Porch Republic
…are almost everywhere and always paradoxical, if not contradictory - arguing on behalf of communities and a culture in which choice and escape and individual self-assertion is subordinated, yet urging the embrace of these ways as a matter of choice and self-assertion. This paradox is forced upon anyone making these arguments by a culture that renders everything into a choice.

But how many of us really live in a “culture of choice”?

Many do not.

Circumstance, family concerns, health problems, lack of opportunities or simple lethargy encourage many to stay put without ever having to make an explicit rejection of “choice and escape.” While George Bailey almost left Bedford Falls several times, some of us never even became near-escapees.
We live within a thirty-minute drive of our birthplace and in the religion of our forefathers. We know the quirks of our area’s history and we can spot the landmarks even amid the suburban neighborhoods that have grown around them.

We try to place our fellow locals by what high school and what year they graduated in. And we wonder who all these people from out of state are and what they doing to change us.

For those of us settling into a career and starting a family, our regular choices may be no more substantive than what to watch on television, what or who to have for dinner, and what to do on the weekend.

We’re simply too busy or too non-wealthy to live in this “culture of choice” lauded by some and condemned by others.

Yet for all their abstractions and anti-abstractions, FPR writers and other localists help those of us who, because of forces beyond our control, have been extricated from the meritocratic amoeba but wonder why we are nevertheless content.
While many such authors may be mirror images of those they criticize, they speak for many of us who are not.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Eavesdropping on D.C.

The D.C. Interns blog sums up its target:

Over the next three months you have paper runs, coffee runs, and envelope licking to fill your days. As a consolation prize, you will be provided an intern badge, conveniently red, fashioned as your scarlet letter. This will identify your status to all of DC. A status that you interpret as “important” and we interpret as “tired” and “obnoxious.”

Aiming to correct the egregious behavior of aspiring lackeys, the blog recounts laughworthy but worrying examples such as this tour-leading intern:
High School Kid: "Are Ted Kennedy and Edward Kennedy related?"

Intern (authoritatively): "They're brothers."

And this:
Intern 1: I like, wanna try getting waterboarded.

His intern friends: What?!

Intern 1: Yeah, like I feel like it would be totally grounding.

Hear this blog tell of an intern who signed legislation meant for her boss. And observe more willful stupidity:
Intern 1: I'm not good with numbers.
Intern 2: Oh, I'm really good with numbers. Just not the times tables. I gave up on those.
Intern 1: That's okay, memorization is for baby boomers.
Intern 2: I know, right? I had to go to some research seminar last year. It was total bulls**t. I mean, maybe back before the internet...
Intern 1: But you can just look stuff up on Wikipedia now. I mean, I can learn more in twenty seconds than I could from reading books.
Intern 2: I totally agree.

It is unpleasantly amusing to think that those who answer phones and prioritize mail for the halls of power are supremely confident in their hodgepodge understanding of Wikipedia entries.

The horror continues with the sighting of "Two red-badge toting interns sharing a copy of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations ... Cliffs Notes version."

This provokes an aphorism: Ideology is to reality as Cliff's Notes are to great literature.

Attention-grabbing tales of D.C. Interns are by nature outliers, so we may hope that these tales reflect the follies only of the dullest political and careerist youth.

The Capitolist, a blog which claims to accept anonymous postings only from Capitol Hill IP addresses, serves a related purpose. Acting as a direct line into the various ids of staffers and interns, it allows the reader to eavesdrop on the type of internet dependent who works in a Capitol Hill office.

Many of the comments are pleas from clueless workers who lack a social life. Those competent enough to acquire juicy gossip likely won't share it there. They are astute enough to use sensitive information to advance their careers and to bait reporters.

But their ineffectual expressions of opinion are of minor interest.

For instance, a March 30 entry praising Catholic dissent generated replies two (clever), three(anti-papal), four(anti-dissent) five (pro-dissent) and six (pro-dissent).

Those wishing to monitor legislative obsessions may find The Capitolist useful. But note that mockery of constituents quickly turns tiresome.

RIP Bishop Kaffer

Bishop Roger L. Kaffer, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Joliet, died at the end of May.

Now is as good a time as any to note that I helped edit Bishop Kaffer's forthcoming book from Basilica Press, "Common Sense Catholicism." Though I only spoke with the bishop two or three times, I sensed that he and his book reflected a deep and simple piety.

In our time when churches and the popular culture seem to be run by technocrats and self-conscious professionals, the bishop was just the type of clergyman to appeal to the average high school-educated layman. May he rest in peace.