Columnist Prompts Lunchtime Navel-Gazing

Agree or not with what he types, Rod Dreher is a good writer. A scold? Sure. Talented, nonetheless. But this passage from his Sunday column (read the whole thing here) has been niggling at me since I read it three days ago, and I need to spout off to exorcise it from my brain.

Today’s child-men have been formed by a culture that has lost — or, rather, thrown away — a relatively fixed standard of manhood … That’s mostly gone, replaced by a therapeutic model in which the autonomous self is its own judge, and personal satisfaction is the measure of a life well lived.

I reckon I’m left wondering why I need to contract out my own judgment. If my judgment is fatally flawed, how can I use it to pick someone else to do my judging for me? What makes their judgment of my “autonomous self” superior? And how is achieving personal satisfaction not the “measure of a life well lived”? When did the pursuit of happiness become morally suspect? Isn’t a person’s life an end to itself, or are you saying a person’s life is only worthy if it’s the means to other people’s ends? If I don’t take care of pursuing my own happiness and satisfaction, who is supposed to? (Yes, I’m procrastinating from my duties to the print version of FrontBurner. And yes, I own a PlayStation 3.)

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Comments

33 responses to “Columnist Prompts Lunchtime Navel-Gazing”

  1. R says:

    I take it you don’t have a 26-year old step-son who is a self-declared Socialist, allergic to employment and thinks the government should pay for his grad school…

  2. SLR says:

    “Niggling” does not mean “bothering.”

  3. Bill M. says:

    This is what comes of reading Ayn Rand before one’s mind and conscience are fully formed.

  4. Bill M. says:

    While I’m on the subject, why is it two of the best writers in town — Dreher, and that fellow over at the Observer, the Trinity Tollway guy — are also two of the most-often mistaken?

  5. Rawlins says:

    I wrote the DMNews about my friend Rod’s woeful words:Prolonged adolescence is the gift from the Gods après the post industrial age. I added that men used to get married to get fed and get laid, both of which were once dicey and complicated, both of which now are easier than parking at Central Market.

    As La Nichols might say over a bottle of Dom somewhere in the south of France, leaning against a Maserati while her chiffon oblong scarf flutters in the fragrant moonlight; why buy an iPod when you can sleep with the musician?

  6. Topham says:

    Aren’t you and Dreher just illustrating the tension between a life that is viewed as being autonomous, but also necessarily less connected to others (you), and a life that is viewed as being essentially a member of a larger, shared context, but necessarily with less personal freedom (Dreher)? I have no idea of your personal religious beliefs, but I’d guess you’d be more simpatico with reformed Protestantism, while Dreher’s position reflects his RC/Orthodox bent. It’s a very old question: is each one of us our own all-in-all, or do we find meaning, happiness, worth, etc., via relationships? Personally, I don’t want just to be a hive drone, but I do think current American culture is more individualistic than is good for us.

  7. Rawlins says:

    Well spoken, Topham. Great points. Mine additionally are 1) I am a fine and fast healthy cook. Got that by being raised by a flaming feminist career mother. 2) Sex is not forbidden fruit these days, but rather, a fruit basket. And being male, that is helpful and ever so appreciated.

    That said, being single does not make one a narcissist any more than being devoted in marriage makes one ‘whole’. I’ve done both, loved each. I just believe I need to not explain myself to another as much as is required when a free-thinking romantic adventurer is married. But yes; my nearby forest is my church whereas Rod needs mortar and bricks and book templates and tradition. He grew up in blue collar rural Louisiana; I in inner city Dallas by artist activists. Do the math.

  8. DeeRag says:

    As you know it is illegal in Dallas to write anything negative about Sir Dreher. Nor is his philosophy to be questioned. I hope he forgives you for you know not what you do.

  9. Eric says:

    If I read the snippet of Dreher correctly, he is referring to relativism v. absolute truth and Garrison comes down on the side of relativism. Then again, I’m just a dirt farmer from Texas.

  10. Rawlins says:

    Actually, DeeRag, to the contrary; For instance, Rod and I agree on almost nothing socially or politically. I am oil on his water, yet he has posted my commentaries and columns on his blog and even been my editor when he ran POINTS at the DMN, taking great chances and going to bat to get my pieces run. Say what you will about Rod Dreher; he is the most fair and supportive person on this planet if he likes your work, even when he agrees with nothing you say. To me that makes him rare and special.

  11. Rod Dreher says:

    Thanks, Trey, for the kind words — and doubleplus thanks to you for same, Rawlins. The Veuve Clicquot is in the mail.

    Trey, what you’ve put your finger on here is the difference between a libertarian (you) and a conservative (me). I don’t believe that any of us can be fully autonomous. It’s kind of a heavy slog, but the late Philip Rieff’s landmark 1966 book “The Triumph of the Therapeutic” is a profound analysis of our post-Freudian culture. For our purposes here, Rieff writes about how for various historical reasons, we in the West no longer hold a transcendent set of values in common. We are free from the chains of tradition (including, but not limited to, religious tradition), but that reality is, among other things, psychologically agonizing to most people. So what we’ve done is devised a therapeutic method to deal with the philosophical and psychological anxiety stemming from our rootlessness.

    Rieff was not a religious believer, but he spent much of his career exploring the consequences of the loss of religious belief in our culture. In fact, he believed that all cultures defined themselves by what they considered taboo. Our culture, for some time now (and this started before the dreaded Sixties), has been busy loosening restraints, and defining itself by what it allows. Which makes for a happier society in some respects, but it also creates a different kind of despair, and undermines the basis of culture and society. I’m crudely simplifying, but Rieff says that when any society gives up a shared sense of a Right and a Wrong way to live, it will only be able to distract itself with sex, drugs, bread, circuses and PlayStation for so long. Put another way, if the point of life is for each autonomous individual to seek his own personal satisfaction, it’s hard to call people, or ourselves, to personal sacrifice for higher purpose — including the survival of our own society.

    Anyway, Topham said this all more concisely than I did.

  12. Trey Garrison says:

    Thanks, Rod. My problem is “personal sacrifice for higher purpose” is generally the rallying call preceding every horror in history — from war and genocide to government theft and general tyranny. It’s not a big step between asking people to make sacrifices to making sacrifices of people. The “survival of our own society” isn’t worth it if it comes at the cost of throwing people in a volcano. (Figuratively speaking, of course.)

    I figure maybe if we all focused more on minding our own business instead of our neighbors’, and stopped trying to press gang people to accomplish some Grand Plan(tm), we’d all be better off. IJS.

  13. Daniel says:

    Don’t agree with much of what Dreher has to say, find his writing persona smarmy, but here’s to him for elevating the level of discourse of FrontBurner considerably. (With an assist from Trey.) Not that I go to the D Magazine blog for elevated discourse, but still.

    First one to quote Hegel with proper footnotes gets a coupon for free teeth whitening!

  14. Neil says:

    Before we get too philosophical…

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=xQycQ8DABvc

  15. Daniel says:

    That said, I can’t help but chime in: rootlessness is our therapeutic model in the New World. Psychological agony/anxiety is our tradition. It makes for a narcissistic lot, sure, but that started before the “dreaded” eighteen-sixties, even.

    Endless reinvention is our religion, which of course is a kind of anti-religion. God is, in fact, dead, though I’m sure He’ll be the last to know. This is in our Western DNA; it goes way back to the Enlightenment; it’s the very mindset that created the rubric of “genius” that so many great men inevitably came along to fulfill. Geniuses by nature are not collective, but fiercely individualistic.

    Nietzche said many of the same things you attribute to Rieff — somewhat before the fact, too, amazingly enough for a wheezing syphilitic.

  16. DeeRag says:

    It is a good thing for Rod Dreher that he holds so much editorial control over this city because his agenda is beyond “conservative”, it is bigoted and homophobic and at the very least, exclusive. People who think for themselves and are not reliant upon organized religion see this for what it is.
    Pompous, arrogant and self rightous.
    The people of the city of Dallas are way ahead of the Dreher curve. The city is far more inclusive that he would lead us to believe and that is something we can all appreciate.

    Let’s call a spade a spade.

  17. Rawlins says:

    Nice to see I was able to sway DeeRag w/my earlier post. (How do I say ‘whatever’ in Spanish?)

  18. Tim Rogers says:

    SLR, Trey used “niggle” correctly. There is the transitive version (to find fault with someone). But there is the intransitive version, too (to cause slight but persistent annoyance). My Mac widget dictionary gives the example: “A suspicion niggled at the back of her mind.”

    So there.

  19. dave little says:

    People don’t need religion to be self righteous. Wiccans can be pompous. Arrogance needs lasik surgery. Face it, we’re all nigglers.

  20. DeeRag says:

    Dave

    Wiccan is a relion and I am not nigglerphobic.

  21. Daniel says:

    Yeah, Dave, bad example. Try “cognitive neuroscientists can be pompous” and you have a compelling point.

  22. dave little says:

    Okay, stop ganging up on me. I suppose my “wiccan example” was not great. But they are fun to talk about. And I know for a fact that they believe that thoughts become things.

  23. SLR says:

    Tim:

    My dictionary.com disagrees: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/niggling

    So doublethere.

  24. Harvey Lacey says:

    I do wish Rieff and Rod had done a little more math before waxing their prose.

    They suggest that sex, drugs, and rock & roll etc and so on are the result of abandoning religion.

    Math suggests something different. At least when it comes to sex and drugs, rock & roll seems to be on a track all it’s own.

    If you do the math you see that those doing the religious training didn’t necessarily abandon sex and drugs. Add up all the scandals you can recall involving the righteous, we’re talking preachers, priests, Sunday school teachers, Boy Scout leaders (no athiests there by gawd!)zealots, and other faith flakes and their abuse of kids.

    Now take all the scandals you can recall involving public school teachers.

    Simple math will tell you our kids are much safer in an aptmoshere where religion is restricted. If you want to venture beyond the simple math consider the number of potential abuses, think about the number of kids in public school and the numbers of teachers there. Then think about the numbers of kids in religious situations and the number of adults involved also.

    Now consider the abuses you’ve heard about involving the abuse of kids sexually. I think the math suggests religion is a greater threat to our kids than secularism.

    Maybe basic math ought to be taught in church.

  25. DeeRag says:

    Harvey Lacey

    I don’t know who you are or where you are from but if the Dallas Morning News had someone with your voice and your ability to write, I might re-subscribe to this journal.

  26. Rod Dreher says:

    It is a good thing for Rod Dreher that he holds so much editorial control over this city because his agenda is beyond “conservative”, it is bigoted and homophobic and at the very least, exclusive.

    Oh dear, now the shrieking bed-wetters are after me. Dang, right after I thought I’d done my part to elevate the discourse on this here blog.

  27. Harvey Lacey says:

    Oh dear, now the shrieking bed-wetters are after me. Dang, right after I thought I’d done my part to elevate the discourse on this here blog. Rod Dreher

    Come on Rod, name calling is elevating discourse? You can do better, try some math and call me in the morning.

    DeeRag, thanks but no thanks. There are things to be made and I want to do it.

    As for Rod and the homophobic, there’s a disconnect evidently. It’s a very typical disconnect in the human kind between what we say and what we do. What Rod advocates, religious based culture, is very very, make that, extremely very very homophobic.

    However, in his personal interactions with others I’ve been made to understand there is no homophobia on his part. Again, typical human being disconnect in what one believes and how one acts.

    I’ve got an antenna for the homophobic. I jump on it like stink on skunk. You see I love a gay man, he’s our son.

  28. Harvey Lacey says:

    Rieff was not a religious believer, but he spent much of his career exploring the consequences of the loss of religious belief in our culture. In fact, he believed that all cultures defined themselves by what they considered taboo. Our culture, for some time now (and this started before the dreaded Sixties), has been busy loosening restraints, and defining itself by what it allows. Which makes for a happier society in some respects, but it also creates a different kind of despair, and undermines the basis of culture and society. I’m crudely simplifying, but Rieff says that when any society gives up a shared sense of a Right and a Wrong way to live, it will only be able to distract itself with sex, drugs, bread, circuses and PlayStation for so long. Put another way, if the point of life is for each autonomous individual to seek his own personal satisfaction, it’s hard to call people, or ourselves, to personal sacrifice for higher purpose – including the survival of our own society. Rod Dreher

    Hmmmmm, Okay, I agree. Religion is man’s most primative mechanism to control others and have a culture. The worms in the ketchup come from the premise of control and the reality of primative.

    What intrigues me about the control part is what culture/religion tries to control and how they always attempt to do it.

    Invariably it’s the sex life of the boys that’s the number one concern. And just as invariably they seek to control the boys sex life by putting down the girls.

    Is that stupid or what? Any man that’s married knows for sure the quanity and quality of the sex in the marital bed is determined by the wife.

    So it only seems reason, cultured thought versus thought cultured, would suggest the best way to control the sex lives of the boys would be to empower the girls, give them control.

    Any father worth his salt knows the most difficult job on earth is guiding a daughter through that stage of Hell for all involved between adolescence and adulthood. It’s an impossible time at best and catastrophic a lot of the time for countless reasons.

    Last month here in the Dallas area we had the perfect storm where a father failed his daughters, fatally. It was the perfect example of how religon/culture attempting to control the sex lives of boys by beating down girls doesn’t work.

  29. Peterk says:

    What he said (pick one)
    😉

  30. DeeRag says:

    Rod;

    To confirm your editorial control over this city, I can prove to you that if I had made a reference to you as a “bet wettter” I would have been kicked off this blog.

    You are the creator of discourse in this city. You thrive on it. Without it your would have received the same pink slip as your fellow workers.

    Now if you would like to debate your bigotry,
    homophobia, and your exclusion of others, bring it on. However, inform your caretakers there at D that name calling is not a one sided game.

    For every hypocritcal bigoted remark I find that you made, you should agree to donate $500 bucks to a non faith based non profit group that promotes peace and tolerance.

    Please note these words were typed without any shrieking but prove the point that you can’t take what you dish out.

  31. Daniel says:

    Religions are snapshots of the time and place where they were born. They’re codified folk superstitions that are then wielded as a power tool by a corrupt mafia. In modern times, at best, religion is a quaint curio that’s oddly reassuring, like ballroom dancing.

    I think Rod Dreher yearns for some kind of good old days that never really existed.
    Just about everybody does, it’s just a question of what flavor of Golden Age they choose to revere. Personally, I think religion sucks. I’d rather have less than more.

  32. Daniel says:

    Jesus Christ, DeeRag, apparently Sweet Roddy-D has said something that really got your goat at some point. Be more specific — you come across as hysterical. Rod Dreher is a bit of a tool, some of his opinions are objectionable, others less so, but he seems decent enough and he can write.

  33. DeeRag says:

    Daniel

    The problem is that Rod Dreher is given a forum to espouse his viewpoints that are not consistant with the city we live in. He is NEVER allowed to be called out on his comments. Therefore making his words the gospel.