Can you overpower burnout?

If you push yourself hard enough, and then push yourself harder, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. Those who try pushing as hard as possible and then give up, have just proven that if you don’t push through the pain, you’ll never accomplish anything. That’s a common motivational message. I don’t really buy it.

I know that if I push too hard, I will eventually find myself all but forced to give up, which means I’ll end up in the same situation as before or even worse, and now without any motivation or hope to change. I know that because I’ve experienced it — many times.

What I do not yet have any reason to believe is the hype which says that simply trying even harder and then even harder again, or leaving yourself without any other options, solves the problem. I’ve gotten inspired to enact such advice too many times to count, and it’s never been anything but a disaster. Maybe it works for other people; I doubt it, but I can’t say for sure.

Sleep three hours one night, without any naps the next day, and with a little coffee you’ll probably be miserable but functional. Do it a few days in a row and you won’t be yourself at all. Try to make it your new normal and (assuming you find a way to avoid just giving up) you’re probably going to end up in the hospital before long.

The examples could be multiplied. Trying harder is not the way to succeed. It’s just not. Consistency is the trick. Slow and steady really is the winner when it comes to real life. Sometimes circumstances take the choice away from us, but whenever we have the choice, we should choose the small, frequent, sustained habit rather than an immense effort that cannot last.

Getting good at this one thing makes so many amazing possibilities attainable that would otherwise be unimaginable. This is the way.

More thoughts on Greek and Latin

I mentioned recently that I’m making good progress through the Greek and Latin textbooks I’ve been reading though. I was taking stock this morning and I think it’s not overoptimistic to guess that I will be done both textbooks sometime before the end of this year (2023).

Both textbooks have a sequel volume. (Hey! I think I just figured out where the word “sequel” comes from.) And I’ve been wondering whether, upon finishing the first volume of each, I should go straight to reading primary texts, or if it would be more responsible to spend time going through the second volume of the textbook before focusing on original texts. I’ve had an idea about what I should do.

I’m really excited to read the originals. It’s truly the reason I’m doing this. The sooner I can start reading the classics in the original languages with decent comprehension, the happier I will be.

On the other hand, I’m also very interested to be disciplined and gain an excellent understanding of the languages as soon as possible. I worry that if I make the leap too soon, I might find myself a sloppy reader, relying too much on resources to help me read, where if I had just stayed on the slow but careful road laid out by the textbooks, I could have come to the classics with a more sensitive and knowledgeable understanding of the language.

Here’s my newest idea, which I wanted to write down so I won’t forget. Once I finish volume one, I will read a short, unchallenging classic work, something from Xenophon in Greek probably and something from Caesar in Latin. I will try to read the entire text.

At that point, I might want to go back and read through the last couple chapters of the textbook again. Perhaps for a while this could be my pattern, jumping from a classic to the end of the textbook and then to another textbook.

Doing this will satisfy the itch to get into reading the classics. It should also keep me rooted in the textbook progression.

Most importantly, it will give me a chance to take stock. Just this morning, after about a year of reading the textbook every second day, I looked at a text by Caesar for the first time since 2021. The attempt definitely still took concentration and effort, but I was astonished at how much more easily I could fit the grammar of the sentences together, and how many more of the words were familiar to me. And I’m still only about two-thirds of the way through the Latin textbook!

I think the best way for me to tell how much need I have for the second textbook volume is to test myself on the classics, without at first releasing my hold on the textbook’s internal progression. Then I can pick up my textbook work where I left off, if I need to, or I could launch out into the classics to learn by doing, if I find that I’m ready for that.

Tu quoque: Conspiracy theorists are unreasonable, but really, aren’t we all?

There’s an old friend of mine with whom I spent many pleasant hours debating conspiracy theories over the last few years. I’ve mentioned him before, though never by name — he doesn’t talk to me anymore for some reason, so I have to play out some of the lines of debate without his input. I know, that’s not fair, but I’m not doing this to triumph in a debate, just to think through some of the interesting questions that were sparked by our conversation, for as long as they keep my interest.

My friend always started out a debate (and he was normally the one to get them started) with the assumption that he was right, was reasonable, and had the truth on his side, and that he could prove it.

The evidence always turned out to be of very poor quality, or to be employed in a way that showed lack of understanding of the evidence, as far as I could tell. I would walk him through it, explaining why this seemed to be the case. (And I’m pretty sure this wasn’t me being nitpicky — he really only had terrible evidence and bad arguments, which he even seemed tacitly to admit after each discussion, as we’ll see.)

It was endless, and however often he convinced me to be patient and give him another chance, it turned out that again his prize argument fell to pieces at a touch. It was amazing to me, not only that no matter how hard he tried or how many attempts he made he could come up with not a single good argument, but even more so that as this played out over months of discussion, the complete lack of proof, for convictions he was absolutely sure he would have no difficulty proving, bothered him not at all. It did not lessen his confidence in his conclusions by one iota.

This inexhaustible self-certainty took on two different forms. First and most obviously, at the beginning of every new conversation he believed once again that he could absolutely prove what he was claiming as true, past experience apparently completely forgotten or disregarded. No matter how many times he faceplanted, he would start over again with nothing but utter self-confidence. To me, that alone is simply marvellous.

But the other aspect was most visible at the end of each conversation, after his shiniest new piece of evidence had turned out again to be the most foolish of fool’s gold. He wouldn’t ever explicitly admit that the argument was bad, though sometimes he would admit it by implication (“how was I supposed to know that that quote in the picture came from a ten year old article that was completely unrelated to Covid?”).

But once he had clearly lost the day, he switched to full-on attack mode, as predictable as a coo-coo clock. Well sure, this argument is based on faulty premises, but so are all the counterarguments! Sure, my position evidently appears to be built on a tower of irrationalities, but you’ll never convince me that it’s the slightest bit worse than any conceivable alternative! I’ve got my evidence and you’ve got yours, I’ve got my anecdotes and you’ve got yours, I’ve got my narrative and you’ve got yours, I’ve got my media and you’ve got yours, I’ve got my scientists and you’ve got yours, and who could ever possibly know which side is right? He would manage to convince himself, in the blink of an eye, that everybody everywhere always is every bit as irrational as he was then, and that he’s not doing anything wrong or unusual, nothing but what is absolutely necessary, in thinking so unreasonably.

I believe it was CS Lewis who said once, in a very different context, that if you have to sacrifice rationality itself in order for your argument to succeed, then at the very least you can’t claim to have won the argument reasonably.

Where I differ with my friend is that while I’m also happy to admit that we’re both probably too ignorant to defend our views with any real depth, I don’t fatalistically accept that as the end of the story. From his view, if he’s irrational then that can only possibly mean that everyone else must be even more irrational. Any other possibility was straightforwardly inconceivable. This was simply one more way for him to avoid allowing any sliver of doubt or hesitation to interfere with the certainty that he had to profess so loudly and fervently. If he allowed any possibility that he could be wrong, then the moral certitude that came with his conspiracy theories would be flipped back around on himself, as he well knew.

His picture of the world, in the end, was a map of many different communities, each one trapped in its own little intellectual bubble, unable to escape, all without any real access to the truth. When he discovers, in those moments, that underneath it all that is what he really believes about the world, and in the moment before he’s managed to forget and pretend to himself once again that he really does believe in truth, which always happens to coincide with whatever he wants to believe — in those moments, he must think of himself as a grim, clear-eyed realist. It’s an ugly universe, but doubtless only someone as strong as I am could possibly recognize it for what it is.

But we can never throw up our hands and claim at all intelligently that it’s impossible ever to have any access to the truth. If you find yourself in that situation, you’ve made a terribly wrong turn somewhere. It’s possible to admit “I haven’t ever yet found a way of accessing the truth,” which is really all a person is ever actually claiming when they think they’re making the former claim. It’s possible to assert “I’ve never met anyone else who had access to the truth as far as I know,” which might just mean that you met someone who did but you weren’t yet able to understand when they tried to explain it to you.

But whatever we might claim, there is always a possibility of truth. There’s always a hope for truth. Any people who deny this have not actually seen the grim (or joyous) reality, as they’ll try to claim to anyone who will listen, but have only been the victim of a most pitiable self-delusion for which there can never be a rational ground.

Can’t always learn by doing

One frustration for me, in terms of studying languages independently, is how much time I’ve had to devote to language-learning, as distinguished from reading texts.

I had a thought, about a year and a half ago, that perhaps the best way to learn to read in other languages is just to read in them and figure it out as I go along! So I was reading, for instance, Homer, Aristotle, Xenophon in Greek, with the help of dictionaries and translations that I could consult when I got stuck.

It wasn’t useless. If I had done it for long enough, it probably would have borne some kind of fruit. But it was incredibly inefficient and frustrating, I found.

So over time my approached morphed to focusing more on graded readers. With Greek, for instance, I’m working my way through the readings from the Athenaze textbook.

And it is not frustrating in the same way as it was frustrating to try and read real Greek out in the wild, but now it’s frustrating in a different way. I want to be reading the real thing!

It feels like such a waste of time to read these artificial texts when there are books I want to read out there in this language. If I’m devoting so much time to the language, why can’t I spend that time doing what I want to do?

I’m finding myself in a similar place in terms of calisthenics. I have some goals for what I’d like to be able to accomplish in terms of bodyweight fitness, but I’ve hit a wall, where building my muscles can’t take me too much further if I don’t also lose some more weight. And losing weight is a big job, especially when you started off as heavy as I was. It doesn’t feel like what I want to be focusing on right now — it feels almost like a distraction!

Sometimes there’s just preparatory work, a lot of preparatory work, that has to be done before the real thing can really start to happen. It’s not as exciting. But I’ve been thinking lately about how embracing that reality, however annoying it might feel, is sometimes just the best way to get to the goals that really inspire us.

My Path Out From Intellectual Nihilism

For a good long time, I believed that the truth was unknowable, or at least unknown, and that the scholarly effort, was only really of value insofar as it illustrated this fact. It might well be worthwhile to pretend to play the academic game at one time or another, for practical social purposes, but the enterprise as a whole was just humanity trying to deceive itself into forgetting its enormous and unbounded ignorance — and nothing else.

There were two or three main factors that helped me feel my way out of a trap that looked initially inescapable.

The first was the Great Courses. As I began to listen to some of the offerings of the Teaching Company, and especially as I began to listen to different courses by different professors that overlapped and discussed the same content, I began to feel some hope. The professors definitely had minor disagreements with one another or with the consensus of their field, but it was also impressive to me how much agreement they had on fine details, and the robust arguments and appropriate humility they displayed in making the case for their conclusions.

The second was the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. A professor recommended it as a trustworthy resource, so I began reading around in its many articles. Again, it impressed me to see how agreements were explained and how disagreements were set in context.

And the third, which came somewhat later but still has made a great impression on me, is exercise and nutrition science. It’s something that’s been of interest as I’ve tried to improve my health over the past half a decade. Nutrition in particular is famous for being full of contradictions, disagreements, inconsistencies and misinformation. And so it was astonishing to discover again how much agreement there actually is on questions relating to how to improve health or increase strength.

What’s been especially remarkable about health and nutrition questions is that it’s easy to see the science reflected in real life. I take comfort knowing that experts agree on plenty of things about the ancient Greeks, but I can’t exactly check to find out if they’re right or wrong. On the other hand, when I change my eating I can see the effects in how I look, how I feel, what I’m able to do, and what the doctor says at my annual physical. Believing that there is truth to be found in the realm of health and nutrition can lead to vastly different outcomes than shrugging and assuming that no one knows the truth, or that every perspective represents bids for power and doesn’t get us closer to truth. I didn’t list a resource for this point as I did for the previous two, but Michael Matthews of Legion Athletics and Bigger, Leaner, Stronger was an early influence for me, and Michael Greger of and How Not to Die has been an important guide for me in recent years.

My distrust of reason’s capacity stayed with me longer than I thought it did. Long after I believed I had cast it off, it was still overshadowing me. Over time, though, I think I have largely found my way out of the labyrinth, and I am so glad.

Is Leo Strauss really all about moderation?

The way some people talk, you’d think that Leo Strauss’s political thought is all but equivalent to a praise of moderation.

And of course there’s an element of truth in this. I always have a sense that if a large number of people, especially a large number of relatively intelligent people, are all convinced of a thing, there must be some truth behind it, even if in the last analysis it obscures more than it reveals.

At the same time, it’s possible to read hundreds of pages of Strauss’s most important books without moderation ever appearing as an important theme. There are numerous other themes that would come up, which with greater or lesser difficulty could be boiled down to a word or a short phrase, and moderation as some kind of binding principle might hardly get a glance.

Truly, moderation is something he praises, and it shows up at key moments in some important discussions. So I’m not trying to deny that. There’s certainly a place for it in Strauss’s thought.

But when I think back on all the Strauss I’ve read over the last couple years, I just have a very strong impression that the people who are always trumpeting Straussian moderation are, whether knowingly or unknowingly, at least seriously distorting Strauss’s thought.

One question frequently lurking in the background of Strauss’s thought and the thought of his students is, what is the difference between the legitimate political regime and a gang of robbers? After the way we are accustomed to hearing people speak about Strauss, we might expect moderation to appear as a leading contender for the answer to that question, or at least a major part of it. Offhand, I can’t think of anyplace in Strauss’s writing where this is the case; but I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong about that.

This is just a vague impression, thinking back over my reading of Strauss, not backed up by any sort of thorough textual argumentation, clearly. But when the question occurred to me just now, the answer that I gave was surprisingly full of conviction. There is a real discrepancy between what many Straussians say about the place of moderation in Strauss’s account of the political, and what Strauss actually says about the political.

German, Greek, English reading

I’ve talked before and out how Greek and Germans have surprised me by ending up being two of the languages I’m most excited to learn.

It seems possible at this point that unless my life takes a sharp turn sometime in the next couple years, I could be reading primary texts in Greek and German and Latin within a few years. I was thinking about that the other day, and a vision of my future sprang up before me.

What I’ll do with Greek is probably what I’ve already long imagined reading in Greek. I’ll have a canon of some dozen authors and slowly read through them, and once I finish I’ll start over again. The list will include, off the top of my head, writers like Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, Plato, Xenophon, Isocrates, Aristotle, Demosthenes, a range of dramatists, Thucydides, probably Epictetus.

I had a new idea about German. What if I looked up which German authors were most influential on Kant, and read through those chronologically, before spending some time studying Kant? And then after that I’ll look up who was influential on Hegel and work through those authors (the ones I haven’t already encountered) chronologically, and then I’ll study Hegel in German? And then I’ll do the same thing for Marx. And then …

At around the same time, it might be interesting to dive into some older English writing. Shakespeare, Bacon, Hobbes, maybe Locke, Hume, etc.

The German and the English projects I’m envisioning will also provide me with a list of late scholastic and early modern Latin works that will give me an interesting outlet for my Latin reading habit.

Is this exactly what my reading project will look like in a few years? Probably not exactly. But I’m hopeful that it will be somewhat along these lines. My dream seems to have been pretty consistent over a couple years, so that makes me cautiously hopeful. But first, the ongoing hard work of learning the languages, of course. Wish me luck!

Another attempt at explaining my thoughts on the right

Last week I gave a couple posts talking about why I am (and why I’m NOT) in some ways inclined toward the right end of the political spectrum. I’ve thought of another way to speak about it that builds on what I said before.

Let’s start by assuming that all of us ultimately, deep down inside, want both a perfect state and a tyranny. When we think about politics in the abstract then we wish society would be the best it could possibly be. When we’re thinking about our own selfish desires and the way they are restrained by the political community, and when we’re being completely honest with ourselves, there’s some part of us that wishes we could be living in a tyranny of which we are the ruler.

In reality, though, both of those outcomes are vanishingly rare. So we have to agree with everyone else to live in one of a few other possible setups.

One possibility is what the classics called “democracy,” which is to say, equality, diversity, maximal liberty. Plato placed this one just above tyranny, in the list of regimes (in which tyranny is the worst), and suggested it might be the one most likely to transform into tyranny. To me it seems that this vision is the one defended by the modern left, including the radical left. (I know that will initially sound wrong to some, but hear me out.)

Another possibility is the rule of money — what the classics called oligarchy. Now, the centre-right might use the language of equality and liberty and democracy, but what they’re really fighting for is the victory of wealth, as I think should be clear with little reflection. There are moments when I get the attraction of this one, and certainly there are good arguments to be made for its usefulness. On a fundamental level, though, this is the one I find most repellant, most ignoble. Probably this is the closest to what we are currently living in.

Another possibility is what Plato in the Republic speaks of as timocracy. This is the rule of the honourable, the heroic, the war-like. Plato speaks of this regime as being the closest one, among the realistically possible options, to the best state. It is the one most conducive to a virtuous citizenry, of the available possibilities. It seems to me that this vision is the one taken up on the reactionary right, and only there.

And out of the available options, that is the one which speaks to me the most. Today’s right has many problems, but I can’t quite see that deeply unfortunate fact as a refutation of the right as a whole. What I am attracted to is not the right as it exists, but an idealized version of it, I admit. But I think there will always be a part of me that is more at home in that ideological corner than the other available options, even as I recognize both its actual and its theoretical shortcomings.

Rules for reasonably discussing conspiracy theories

I’ll probably forget that I put this here, but I feel as if I’d like to have something like this on file somewhere so that I can send a link to the next person who wants to convince me that the governments and universities and media corporations of the world are out to get us in one way or another. You really want to have a conversation about it? Okay, maybe I can be persuaded, but here’s what we need to agree on first.

Rule number one! Correlation does not mean causation. Can we agree on that much, to begin? From this starting point, we can ask good questions and ascend in quality of proof toward being increasingly more confident of causality in a given case. But without question, just because two things happen together that doesn’t mean we automatically know which one caused the other, or how, etc.

And the second one is like it. Anecdote isn’t evidence. Anecdote can be helpful when it illuminates what we know from evidence, or if it gets us asking good questions — but it’s not evidence. Why? See point number one.

The burden of proof is always on the scientific minority. Sorry, but that’s the rule. Maybe your guy really is the next Einstein, but until he’s able to do what Einstein did and prove his ideas to the scientific community, I will try to hold back my adulation. Certainly there are minority views that will turn out to be correct! And if they are mature, they will accept the rightful burden of proof and do unimpeachable work to satisfy it.

Unexplained isn’t unexplainable, and in particular, one’s own ignorance proves nothing at all. The fact that you don’t know something is impressive to absolutely nobody, so don’t go brandishing the fact around as if it means something. And the fact that scientists don’t yet know or agree on a thing is likewise proof of nothing, as you would surely know if you weren’t so invested in getting the answer you want at any price.

Seek out the best disproof of your own view, if you’re really confident in it. Scientific progress doesn’t happen by people looking for ways to confirm their ideas. It comes from looking for ways to disprove your argument and then seeing if you’re able to do so. If it turns out that your argument is designed to be unfalsifiable, then that’s maybe a clue about whether you’re engaging in science or in pseudoscience.

Ad hominem goes both ways. I admit it: you’re technically correct when you say that even though you got your information from really questionable sources, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s untrue. If we’re granting you that, though, you need to do the right thing and not reject out of hand everything from mainstream media and government sources and peer reviewed scholarship. The fact that it’s reputable and reliable doesn’t mean it’s necessarily false. Okay?

Argument between non-specialists might be fun but it amounts to nothing. Let’s keep in mind that at best in this argument we’re looking for victory, for convincing the other person or reducing the other person to incoherence. We are not the correct venue for judging the truth of the matter. Let’s not pretend we are. Who is victorious, won’t tell us anything about who is right. Make sure you understand these terms before you start your disputation, and think about whether it’s really worth it to you!

A proper discussion will probably have to play out slowly over months, and will involve both people agreeing to read carefully through a few of the best available resources, to discuss. If you’re not willing to put even that much effort in, you honestly have no business opining to anybody.

Anger actually does make you less smart, and usually the people around you too. It actually does. Try to be less angry. It’s not a good look. Don’t be too embarrassed to ask for a break to cool down, if you need; it makes you look grown up.

Bonus: If you really want to convince me and you’re as certain of your grasp of the evidence and the relevant field as you claim you are, then you should definitely stop wasting your energy talking to a moron like me and instead publish in a peer-reviewed journal and convince them, your true peers (or inferiors, to hear you tell it) in the scholarly community. Get them on side, which shouldn’t be at all difficult for someone as knowledgeable as you. I will be the first person in line to apologize and to thank you for your contribution to human knowledge. I mean that sincerely.

What does resonate with me on the right

Although I’m attracted to ideas and attitudes on the left and on the right (and, occasionally, in the centre), I tend to see myself as fitting ultimately more on the right than anywhere else on the ideological spectrum. But it can be hard to say exactly why. In this couple of posts I’m not so much trying to make a case for anything, as I am to examine myself, to try to articulate something of what I believe about the world of politics and ideology, and at least to gesture vaguely in the direction of why I am attracted to these views. (See my write up from last week about what things I find least compelling on the right.)

Again, I should say that this is not intended to be comprehensive, and I’m sure in a conversation I would probably want to nuance the things I’m about to say endlessly. But when I think of the big picture, what I find inspiring or intriguing on the right falls largely into the following topics.

The original one for me was probably the religious aspect. My faith has always been an important part of who I am, and so it has always impacted my views of politics. And I think that’s natural, almost inevitable, if you really are firmly rooted in your faith.

I have friends who are of an anabaptist persuasion, who think that faith and politics should be kept firmly apart, on religious grounds, and who bring that belief of theirs very strongly to bear on their political views. They don’t say, “well I think faith and politics shouldn’t mix, but if the Conservative leadership candidate wants a theocracy then who am I to judge? That’s just politics, and my religious views shouldn’t be concerned about that.” No, ironically, they believe that faith and politics should be kept apart because they think that’s what Jesus wanted and so they passionately assert and feel that the government is evil if it doesn’t agree with their religious conviction on this matter and consistently act in agreement with them.

And actually, that’s pretty much where I started out. Taking my faith seriously led me, as a teenager and young adult, to be attracted to more socialistic views of government and the economy. I now would say that the view of the Christian faith I held at the time was in some ways a little bit marcionite, a little bit gnostic, a bit too supersessionist. Taking seriously the challenge of the theology of the Old Testament in my young adulthood led me to reconsider my Christian understanding of politics, which in turn led me, not so much away from the left, perhaps, but at least toward reconsidering some theoretical portion of the right. For instance:

Hierarchy is also a concept that draws me. I don’t want to overstate this. I wouldn’t want all of society to be a command structure of some sort. But I’m not opposed to hierarchy, and I believe that some hierarchy is and always will be necessary to promote good and, even more, to prevent bad things from happening. And it goes beyond that for me, too. Hierarchy isn’t just a necessary evil. It can certainly be used badly, and so part of a well-designed hierarchy will involve ways for the lower rungs to defend against caprice.

But honestly, I feel a bit torn about hierarchy. I think that in some ways, hierarchy should be minimalistic. There should be as little of it as possible, and even what has to exist should generally be invoked as sparingly as possible. I think those are probably just hallmarks of a good and functional hierarchical organization. And yet, when it does rightly exist, and when it is rightly invoked by the person in authority and assented to by the person under authority for the good of the whole, to me that is not a necessary evil, not an evil at all, but rather something almost sacramental. It’s a means of grace, a way the goodness of God is suffused through the world.

This third point might be a bit of a funny one for anyone who knows me, but I appreciate the portion of the right that glorifies health and strength and vitality. Before going any further, I need to say that for me (though certainly not for all, I recognize), it seems to be both possible and desirable to celebrate strength without at the same time denigrating weakness or illness or difference. (I’ll circle back around in a moment to say how I think we can best do both simultaneously.)

I’ve thought long and hard about why this aspect of the right is appealing to me. I think ultimately, the appeal comes down to two things: this aspect of the right is an embrace of reality against falsehood, and an acceptance of teleology against a mechanistic instrumentalism, both of which are attractive to me. Striving for health and strength is striving to be the best form of oneself, and I can’t help respecting that. Perhaps by saying those things it will sound like I’m begging the question, but what I mean might become more clear when I talk about why I don’t think it’s necessary to degrade weakness in admiring strength.

It’s possible to speak of health and strength as a relative thing. I listened to an interview the other day with someone who’s a Type 1 diabetic. Health for him will never mean exactly what it means for me. And yet this guy, who could have let his health condition be a barrier or a reason to give up, is more fit, athletic, strong, and in many ways, more healthy than I am! A person without the use of a limb will similarly never have all the physical capacities of a person who can use all limbs, but within that one person’s existence there is a range of possibilities for how strong or healthy it is possible to be.

Thus, to speak of strength, for example, will always mean speaking relative to the situation of the person. It also can be temporally relative; the person who isn’t in peak condition but who has made great progress over the past couple years has a claim to be proud as well. And I actually think the things I’ve just been saying would generally not be all that controversial on the right.

I guess the question then becomes, what about those who are unhealthy or weak and are really responsible for it? I think the best response I see on the right takes two forms. For those who ruefully admit that a lack of knowledge or motivation has kept them from making progress toward better health etc, there is camaraderie, patient encouragement, a nonjudgmental offer of help. For those who insist that it’s not really better to make healthy choices, I think there’s a difference of opinion that could lead to a thoughtful discussion, from which both sides can learn and try to nuance how they articulate their own views … although these days, of course, such a best case scenario doesn’t seem to happen all that often.

Not unrelated, there is a militaristic tradition of thought on the right that I can’t deny being sympathetic to. I say that as someone with absolutely no connection with or experience of the military. Maybe that helps me be unbiased, or maybe it makes me naive; probably some of both, if we’re being honest. I have no desire to minimize or trivialize the horrors of warfare. War is serious business, and not to be undertaken lightly. That’s the ugly, unforgettable truth.

And yet readiness for war is incumbent on a political community, as well as, to some extent, on its citizens who are able. Fear of being unable to defend against an aggressor is not a phobia but a prudent and praiseworthy cautiousness. And willingness to seek to be prepared is something to take pride in, as is willingness to answer the call to serve in a just war, especially a war of self defence. Again, it is hard not to think of Ukraine these days.

Family is really important to me too. I believe that some assortment of the tools that we associate more with the left, with the centre-right, and also with the right, need to be used in combination for the goal of supporting the family. But I think the goal of supporting the family, the goal itself, is one that’s at home on the right, and I think there’s good reason for that. Family is the basic unit of society, and the rest of society as an outgrowth of it retains some resemblance to the family, though of course not a perfect resemblance.

There’s also a traditionalistic intellectualism on the right, when the right is not simply anti-intellectual, which appeals powerfully to me. It is done badly far more often than it’s done well, but it can be done well, and I think that the spirit behind it is at bottom a good thing.

The progressive reader will look at past authors and assume that they must have known much less than we do, and will assume really that they are our intellectual and moral inferiors; such an attitude will then pervade the progressive reader’s interpretation of older texts. The person with more of a traditionalist’s approach will hold open the possibility that past thinkers could be our equals, able to speak to us on a level playing field, or even our superiors, who remembered or discovered things that we in our day have grown forgetful of or have lost the ability to articulate to ourselves.

The traditionalist’s approach is the choice of humility over arrogance, of a teachable heart rather than a didactic one. In my view it shapes the reader into a better person from the outset, before any reading has even happened. As well, it gives access to wisdom and insights inaccessible to the progressive reader, and it trains us to be better thinkers and communicators even within the bounds of our own age.

To a friendly and careful reader who’s waded through this ponderous post, much of what I’ve said will probably sound quite modest. I agree. Read correctly, most or all of what I’ve said will be basically agreeable to an intelligent person residing elsewhere on the ideological plane. Perhaps, then, it’s more a matter of emphasis. And that’s not unreasonable. A change of emphasis might seem like a small thing, but on it, entire civilizations can turn.