I think I’ve more or less given up on the “weekly” commitment to posting here, though I’ll still try to maintain some consistency. This blog is meant to be fun, not a chore, and that’s all I have to say about the matter.
I recently took up skateboarding again. The last time I skated was probably 6-7 years ago, and probably another 5-6 years before that since I had skated with any regularity. The other week Jen and I went for a walk around McIntire Park, where the city has installed a truly impressive skate park that’s as good as any, if not better than some, parks that we had in Orange County. It’s a concrete park that includes street and vert areas. The embedded video at the link showcases the street course, which is connected by a path to the vert section, which consists of various bowls, including a snake-run like component and a reconstructed kidney pool with tile beneath the coping.
I was especially struck by the diversity of the park’s users. There were a fair number of teenagers, but also young kids and “older” skaters. I watched one man who was probably in his mid thirties attempting a backside maneuver (I can’t recall the names of the tricks like I once did) out of the most vertical section of the kidney pool. When I asked if he had any recommendations for a shop in the area, he suggested checking out StrangeHouse in Louisa if I wanted to purchase an old school deck shape, or one that “might have been popular back when” I skated. Of course, the now-standard popsicle shaped decks were dominant when I was younger, and I had a moment of “shit, how old do I look to this guy?”, but I appreciated his suggestion nonetheless.
I have yet to take advantage of the park myself. All of my riding so far has just been in front of the house, just pushing, turning, and cruising. I’m approaching this like a complete beginner again, and it’s been a joy. No ollies or any sort of tricks yet, just becoming confident on the board, taking it slow. It’s been an experience of learning to feel comfortable in my body. It’s also a pretty powerful medicine to get me out of my head. When I stepped on the board for the first time, I felt a bliss I hadn’t felt in some time. My internal dialogue just went silent, all my attention focused on movement and environment. As a mindfulness “practice”, skateboarding can be surprisingly effective.
I’ve been hesitant to write cultural commentary, particularly as it pertains to our political life, for some time. As Alan Jacobs put it, I’ve been experiencing “opionionlessness”. That could partially be due to my efforts in trying to break my headspace out of the news cycle. But I’d also attribute it to increasing frustration with the thought patterns that seem to dominate online discourse.
I’m not just talking about “polarization” or the collapse of civility; troubling as those trends are, I think much of the talk around them glosses over the real pain and problems that fuel the anger many people are feeling. Rather, it’s the intellectual habits that characterize the most vocal and ideologically committed adherents of the left and the right. I’ve observed a reluctance, if not outright refusal, to entertain data or evidence that might complicate the story buttressing political ends. Conservative evangelical Christians, who frequently cite the Old Testament in support of various positions on social issues, seem to have all but forgotten the Levitical laws concerning treatment of the sojourner, or debt forgiveness, never mind Isaiah’s warning about “grinding the faces of the poor”. Similarly, the censoriousness and hyperbole displayed by the some on the left toward conservative speakers on university campuses, or those who would question the practice of “cancelling”, bespeaks a dogged commitment to ideology before all else.
Before I go further, please don’t hear this as equivocation between the actions or ideas put forth by either side. “Both sides” are not equally at fault in some things (though neither should be immune to criticism). For all my dislike of ANTIFA, it was not one of their members who drove a car into a crowd of people on a street that I now walk by at least once a week. Nor do I think that certain notorious statues to Confederate generals should qualify as Civil War memorials, considering that they were built over 50 years after the war ended. (These examples are prominent in my mind since they’re relevant to the place I now call home). Expressed outrage can, in fact, sometimes be a commensurate response to something that is outrageous (though its effectiveness is another question). “A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it is”.
I don’t know what I’d describe my politics as, except maybe left-of-center, politically homeless, with a strong distaste for partisan BS. My concern is for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the planet. I believe in personal responsibility insofar as you can help it. I believe people are more than units of labor, and they should be compensated well for any labor they perform. I believe we should extend a hand to, rather than kick, those who are down. I believe we need to acknowledge our limits and dependence on the natural world in order to survive and thrive. I think a strong, public safety net, and strong, public institutions, can be excellent ways to achieve these ends, but/and I’m open to the possibility that there are better ways.
That was way more than I intended to write, and part of me still wants to delete it. I don’t want to deal with either Social Justice Twitter or MAGA Twitter, but thankfully I don’t deal with any Twitter (nor should you, really). I originally started writing this section to highlight two pieces that both exemplify the kind of social-political writing that I’d like to see more of, and speak to the habits of mind that I’ve been talking about. First, David French addresses “The Church’s Real Political Correctness Problem”. French has become one of my favorite political writers, not because I agree with him (much of the time I disagree), but because we share similar fundamental concerns, and because I’m forced to intelligently disagree. He’s not one to tout a MAGA hat while calling opponents snowflakes — he writes thoughtful, principled conservative arguments that are intellectually honest, and doesn’t hesitate to criticize those in his own camp. Second, Tara Isabella Burton tells us “What The Culture War Is Really About”. She poignantly distills the debate between “atavists and activists” to one about human nature. She unexpectedly turns her attention to the techno-optimism of Silicon Valley, especially toward the end of the piece, showing how the fundamental ontological disagreement lies not between the social justice warriors and Jordan Peterson fans, but between a worldview that acknowledges fundamental limits to reality and one that denies them. I feel like there’s more to engage with here, and as someone working in tech, I need to reflect on it more.
This also might have been the first time I’ve ever typed “MAGA” twice in the same paragraph, and for that I’m deeply sorry.
About to wrap up The Gardens of the Moon. A Mind for Numbers has been on a brief pause, mostly because Gardens is so enjoyable, but also because my learning capacity has been devoted to actually practicing the skills in the book while learning a lot of databases for work.
I finished Watchmen last night, and would say it’s a worthy follow-up to the novel. I also binged four episodes of Abandoned with Rick McCrank, and I rarely binge shows. I expect to write more about it sometime soon.