Friday links! Sociable ghosts edition

Illustration from "The Sociable Ghost" by Ellen D'Apery, 1903

Illustration from “The Sociable Ghost” by Ellen D’Apery, 1903

That’s a design-wreckingly vertical illustration, but my, how it pleases me. Everyone who is not dead yet is going to die. It’s cool you have an Apple Watch, but someday another person will remove it from your cold, stiffening wrist and count himself lucky before he dies. Then everyone who knows him will die. Then the space mantids of Alpha Proxima will be like, “Get back to work.” But our words will live on, and the stories of our deeds will be remembered long after our names are only sounds.1 Today is Friday, another minute in a game whose meaning abides in a handful of spectacular plays. Won’t you review the tapes with me?

First, the good news: John Boehner met the pope and resigned his position as speaker of the House of Representatives. I’m not saying Francis poked his soul with pope magic, but neither am I saying that this is the face of a man with a perfectly untroubled conscience. It’s possible Boehner’s resignation had less to do with the realization that he is a high-ranking member in the world’s most powerful organization against compassion, and more with hostility from conservatives in his own party.  If he leaves at the end of October, as he says he will, he might avert a shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding and then obviate a coup by retiring. But I will always believe the pope Scrooged him.

Altruism is not popular. Particularly in our public discourse, being good means working hard to provide for your family and maybe friends. But why should your goodness put people you know ahead of people you don’t, particularly when the same effort could help many more foreign strangers than American friends? Over at the Guardian, Larissa MacFarquhar considers extreme altruism as reflected in the life of Julia Wise. Here’s what happened after Wise’s husband bought her a candy apple:

Jeff told Julia that, inspired by her example, he was thinking of giving some percentage of his salary to charity. And Julia realised that, if Jeff was going to start giving away his earnings, then, by asking him to buy her the apple, she had spent money that might have been given. With her selfish, ridiculous desire for a candy apple, she might have deprived a family of an anti-malarial bed net or deworming medicine that might have saved the life of one of its children. The more she thought about this, the more horrific and unbearable it seemed to her, and she started to cry.

Julia and Jeff practice an extreme form of effective altruism, living frugally with their parents and donating most of their income to charity—more than $100,000 some years. They are undeniably good to others, but they are also generally unhappy. Perhaps more interestingly, their example tends to anger others. You should read the whole thing, because the choice between a good life and a beautiful life is not as simple as we think.

Probably you should skip being good and just be religious. That’s what Donald Trump is doing, although maybe not as convincingly as he could. The Cure sent me this satisfying interview between Trump and David Brody of the Christian Broadcast Network, which contains this encyclical:

“Well, I say God is the ultimate. You know, you look at this: here we are on the Pacific Ocean. How did I ever own this? I bought it fifteen years ago. I made one of the great deals, they say, ever. I have no more mortgage on it, as I will certify and represent to you. And I was able to buy this and make a great deal. That’s what I want to do for the country. Make great deals. We have to, we have to bring it back, but God is the ultimate. I mean God created this (points to his golf course and nature surrounding it), and here’s the Pacific Ocean right behind us. So nobody, no thing, no there’s nothing like God.”

Ask Trump who God is, and he will tell you about a sweet deal he made on a golf course. He’s right, though: there’s nothing like God, and his insistence is probably the closest we’re going to get to a formal declaration of atheism from a presidential candidate in the next 50 years.

Meanwhile, the candidate running second for the Republican nomination continues to say that a Muslim shouldn’t be president. Ben Carson has walked back his claim after reporters pointed out how fundamentally un-American it was, but he still won’t admit he was wrong. When he said Sunday that Islam was inconsistent with the Constitution and that “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” what he meant was that we shouldn’t establish a theocracy. Here’s Carson on Tuesday:

It has nothing to do with being a Muslim. That was the question that was specifically asked. If the question had been asked about a Christian and they said, ‘Would you support a Christian who supports establishing a theocracy?’ I would have said no.

I get it. He wasn’t saying that Muslims were unfit to be President; he was saying that Muslims want to establish an American theocracy. That’s why Carson has been careful never to speak of his religious faith while he runs for president.

This country has public morals, and they don’t come from the church. They come from internet shaming. After former hedge fund manager and pharmaceutical entrepreneur Martin Shkreli bought the rights to a lifesaving drug and then increased its price from $18 to $750 a pill, the media pilloried him. He’s since reversed his decision, but that didn’t stop prominent industry groups from disavowing him. You can do a lot of evil stuff in 21st-century America, but only if you stay off Facebook. I cannot emphasize that enough.

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  1. sometimes the Internet makes one feel as if reading is like skating across a generally smooth surface with some highs and some lows but generally smooth grades between them. Then LMcFQs book excerpts start popping up and I’m like: this is better than most things, much, much better than most things.

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