The media providing cover for Biden is no match for demographics

Far-left website Salon has an article today asking an obvious question: Why is the mainstream media so gentle with Joe Biden?

The two most important roles for journalists during political primary season are to cull the herd of the weakest candidates and take their best shots at the frontrunner, to test his or her readiness for the general election. That’s a public service for the political ecosystem.

So a profoundly weak frontrunner should be the ultimate in big game for our top political reporters.

Instead, mainstream journalists in the best positions to demand answers — during sit-down interviews and televised debates — have been remarkably gentle with Joe Biden.

They ask about his decision to authorize the war in Iraq, but not about the many documented times he has lied about why he made that decision, and when he first realized the war was a mistake.

They ask questions about his fitness for office, but let him off with glib answers about push-ups rather than assertively confronting him with examples of his consistent and troubling incoherence — even when he is in the process of giving them fresh examples.

They only lamely push back when he insists that he will be able to get Republican leaders to compromise with him — even when he cites examples that actually support the opposite conclusion.

They don’t press him on his support for the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, which made it much harder for individuals to file for bankruptcy and get out of debt, and made it impossible to discharge student debt. Does he acknowledge it had devastating effects on the middle class? Have his views changed? They don’t ask.

They don’t question him about his long history of attempting to cut Social Security, or ask him whether and when he stopped being a centrist deficit hawk.

They let him associate himself with Barack Obama, but don’t make him address the administration’s many failures and betrayals, such as the way Obama embraced Bushism on matters of national security, and embraced neoliberal economics. Would he appoint the same roster of people to run his foreign and domestic policy? What reason is there to believe he wouldn’t?

These top reporters don’t hesitate to grill Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, often with gotcha questions and Republican talking points.

So why are they so easy on Joe? I can only speculate.

I think part of it is that they’re a bit awestruck. (“Joe Biden commands a boardroom,” the New York Times editorial board wrote about its collective interview with him.)

Part of it is that when Biden answers questions about his fitness by saying “look at me,” our elite journalists are simply not rude or direct enough to say: “Yeah, we look at you, and what we see someone who often can’t complete a coherent thought.”

Maybe, like Biden’s fellow candidates — who have also failed to sufficiently confront him in their debates or take out negative ads — they are worried about blowback from Biden’s supporters.

Maybe they just can’t bring themselves to help Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Most likely, these journalists — the most elite of the journalistic elite — are just plain comfortable with Biden, and don’t feel remotely antagonistic, because he reflects their centrist, Washington cocktail-party ideology.

The article then goes on at length to evaluate Biden’s positions in these areas. It’s an interesting read, but chances are you already know the details (and even this article underestimates how sleazy the Biden clan is).

It’s possible that the media are soft on Biden because he and the aging Democratic establishment are effective at bullying the chattering class. You feel like you are watching satire seeing the Boomer anchors on network television talking about concerns about the Biden family’s corruption, among other things, as if they were merely conspiracy theories. You’ve never seen journalists so un-curious about some politician’s hell spawn getting a high-dollar no-show gig (in a former Soviet state, no less) since Chelsea Clinton got paid in the upper six figures for writing a couple paragraphs for NBC periodically. And Biden just carried on about how we shouldn’t discipline China on trade, but you’d have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that has anything to do with his son banking mondo pseudo-sovereign fund investments there.

Yet I think the important point here is that it kind of doesn’t matter if the mainstream media ask Biden a tough question or not. They can’t hide that he’s going senile. People see that in debates, where he can’t put together a coherent answer and even seems unsure about where he is at points. People see that on YouTube videos of his interactions with voters at town halls and other campaign events, which have attracted many millions of views. The guy would turn 82 during his first term in the White House and he already acts like he needs to be in assisted living. If he actually won, he’d most certainly be a one-term president (if he even made it that long), so his entire presidency would be one long Democratic primary. He’d be a lame duck from day one, and the real question is who would be pulling the strings in the background. Kamala Harris gets this, which is why she’s sucking up to him trying to be his No. 2. It’s a joke.

Beyond that, it doesn’t matter what lengths the media go to protect Biden because younger generations have now officially crowded out the Baby Boomer generation in terms of voting, and these voters favor far-left, socialist candidates. All the ridiculous game playing that has taken place in previous primaries to keep establishment Boomer voices in Washington is losing its power organically.

Take a look at these charts:

If you take Generation X out of the picture, Millennials and Generation Z were responsible for over a quarter of the votes cast in midterms. Baby Boomers had their highest turnout in the midterm election, and they were still outnumbered by younger generations.

I am not sure it is a given that Baby Boomers will necessarily support establishment candidates either. You have some subsets of liberal Boomer voters, like retired school teachers, who are dealing with problems they have never dealt with before, like the potential loss of public pension income. I have no difficulty seeing these voters pulling the lever for a bona fide socialist like Sanders, and Sanders is wisely pointing out Biden’s past positions on cutting entitlements. Sanders may need to build momentum in early races for that reality to obtain, but it could happen.

Right now, Sanders is pulling ahead in polling in early voting states, and he’s not even out campaigning thanks to the Schiff show, which so far is doing nothing useful except making Biden’s corruption a household conversation and reinforcing generational fault lines in the Democratic base.

Premature babies provide a glimpse of the moral atrocity of abortion: My pro-life testimony

Since today is the March for Life, many people are talking about the event that converted them to a pro-life position or events that powerfully reinforced their pro-life values. As a Roman Catholic, I was always on the pro-life side of the fence, but I did not truly have an eternal perspective until I gave birth to our daughter two full months early. I described the events of her birth at length in an earlier post, Having a preemie will make you re-think the abortion “debate.” If you are confused about where you stand on this topic, please read our family’s story.

I had not shared many of the details of our daughter’s birth outside of our immediate family until I wrote that post. I felt compelled to write it after listening to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg explain how he thought life began “when a baby took its first breath,” which he believes is a “biblical” definition. Of course, most Christians and followers of other wisdom traditions that have a well-developed understanding of the soul would disagree.

This is a picture of our daughter after she was born. This is what a baby looks like at the beginning of the third trimester, only outside of the womb rather than inside it. Eight states in our country would legally permit a child like this to be aborted. I have no idea how anyone thinks that is anything short of barbaric or psychopathic.

This child survived against the odds and will turn 8 years old this week. She is a prodigy that is obsessed with math and science. (She’s particularly obsessed with studying genetics right now.) I have no doubt that she will do magnificent things for our human race. We can’t imagine life without her.

That is a perfect, necessary little human growing in your womb. It’s not a clump of cells. It’s not a chore or an obstacle. It’s a life with dignity and purpose. Remember who you are and make good decisions.

Warren gets spanked by angry father on student loan proposal

This is quite the exchange (video below). Elizabeth Warren is confronted at a campaign event by a father who is upset with her proposal to bail out student borrowers, noting that she’s punishing people who “did the right thing” by saving money for college or taking on extra work to pay for their kid’s education (like him). He asks if he can have his money back, to which she snidely replies “of course not.” Watch until the end, after the guy has moved on, to see the mocking expression on her face. This is why all the endorsements in the world couldn’t get this woman elected. She acts like he’s comically irrational for pointing out that her policy idea is unfair. Watching how she can’t process anyone disagreeing with her, however, I kind of wish she would succeed as the nominee just so we could watch Trump make her ugly cry on national television during a debate. Unlike a Harvard classroom, not everyone you encounter in the real world is a fawning sycophant.

Fairness is an important question when it comes to policy choices. The lack of generational fairness in student loan jubilee proposals is not the only issue here. In bailing out student loans, the government would be rewarding students who over-borrowed and used student loan proceeds for non-educational purposes. (These would be classified as “living expenses,” and yes, you can borrow money for vague purposes in addition to tuition. The money is distributed directly to schools, who will then cut a check or refund to the student borrower. This is why a lot of young adults rode out the Great Recession and its aftermath on college campuses, and why a bunch of them have moved back home now that they actually have to pay for those days.)

The problem with pseudo-socialist politicians like Warren and Sanders (who is unquestionably dominating the polls in early voting states now) is that they do explicitly reward bad behavior and punish responsible behavior. In economics, we call this moral hazard. When you can pass the cost of your behavior on to a third party, you max out the bad decision-making. It’s the core of why socialist societies eventually fail.

No, the church does not have to change to remain "relevant"

One refrain I get deeply exhausted with is the notion that “churches have to change to remain relevant in the modern world.”

The people who say such things usually want their church to behave more like a political party than a religious institution. (Like Pope Francis, who would prefer a Marxist church to the Roman Catholic Church.) The change they want to see is not theological, but cultural. For example, they want the Catholic Church to embrace abortion or LGTBQ rights or to allow priests to marry. Most probably can’t articulate the theological arguments behind the church’s positions. But even the ones who can don’t care about theology.

What really gets me about this statement though is that it is demonstrably, empirically false. Churches that become more liberal experience rapid declines in attendance (and giving), not increasing attendance and more “relevancy” in their communities. This is the lesson of every denominational schism in recent decades.

Take, for example, the rapid decline in the Evangelical Lutheran Church:

According to projections from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Office of Research and Evaluation, the whole denomination will have fewer than 67,000 members in 2050, with fewer than 16,000 in worship on an average Sunday by 2041.

That’s right: according to current trends, the church will basically cease to exist within the next generation. 

Or the Presbyterian Church USA, which continues to have entire communities leave as the church becomes more liberal:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continued to lose members in 2017, extending a pattern that has persisted since the mid-1960s. At the end of the year, church membership totaled 1,415,053, a decline of 67,714 members from 2016.

At the same time, a five-year period of unprecedented losses neared an end as net membership losses returned to previous levels over the last 50-plus years. The larger losses between 2012 and 2016 were brought on by the dismissal of about 100 churches (and their members) each year to splinter denominations after the 2010 General Assembly voted to allow the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as church officers and the 2014 Assembly voted to allow same-gender marriage.

“It is clear our unusually large losses between 2012 and 2016 are directly related to churches dismissed to other bodies,” says Kris Valerius, manager of records and statistics for the Office of the General Assembly.

From 21 churches and 4,718 members dismissed in 2011, the number jumped to 110 churches and 33,659 members dismissed in 2012. That pattern continued until 2017, when the number of dismissed churches fell to 45 and the number of members dismissed dipped to 6,910. The PC(USA) currently has 9,304 congregations, 147 fewer than at the end of 2016.

You can go all the way down the line with liberal denominations and liberal seminaries. They are not more “relevant,” they are headed for extinction as a matter of fact, not opinion.

The Catholic Church has seen dramatic declines in attendance and giving in the era of Pope Francis, and it’s not because Pope Francis is too conservative for people’s tastes. It’s because people WANT tradition and history. You know what has been growing in the Catholic Church? Attendance at traditional Latin Mass.

This is not rocket science. As people move closer to postmodern worldviews and moral relativism, they see less reason to practice a religion. The first generation post-schism starts going to church less. The second generation becomes a religious “none.”

Another reason for that trend is that the schism rarely stops with one issue. The church splits over gay rights, for example, but ends up talking about environmental sin. So the folks who started off just wishing that the church would not be cruel to gay people wonder how the church became so far gone. Meanwhile, in the conservative churches, things continue exactly as they did before and no one is having an existential crisis. Their kids are more likely to marry in the church (or marry at all) and have kids baptized in the church (or have kids at all).

You have watched this happen in the Democrat Party in the United States at-large too. White Baby Boomer liberals led the charge to change religious institutions toward less traditional positions and practices. Their millennial kids are not religious at all.

You either commit to a tradition or you don’t. You either subscribe to religious discipline or you don’t.

There is not some magical middle ground where you can simultaneously believe in a wisdom tradition and have a postmodern understanding of truth.

Lawfare and President Trump

Like most people in the United States right now, I have yawned my way through headlines about the ongoing impeachment circus. The pointlessness of this exercise is hard to escape. The Senate is not going to vote to remove Trump from office at all, let alone mere months before an election, so this entire episode is nothing but a colossal waste of taxpayers’ time and money. It’s January 22 and Democrats are still trying to milk a short phone call from last July because blah blah blah just like Watergate! All to protect the dumpster fire that is Joe Biden’s campaign, when he’s probably not even going to be the nominee because he’s Silver Alert material. The whole thing is absurd beyond words, and so are the people invested in it.

Beyond the direct cost, the opportunity cost of Democrats using Congress to re-litigate the 2016 election over and over and over and over and over again is outrageous. These people, and the mouth-breathers who elected them, have mostly paralyzed an entire branch of government for several years over jack shit.

Given our roaring economy, the impeachment circus has primarily made me think about all the things that could have been accomplished if Democrats had merely moved on and focused on finding areas of consensus, as our Founding Fathers intended the deliberative branch of government to do.

It’s somewhat shocking the magnitude of pure bullshit President Trump has had to deal with as the executive of this country. To say that any normal human being would have said fuck this and moved to the beach is an understatement.

According to Paul Nolette, associate professor of political science at Marquette University, President Trump’s administration has been sued by state attorney generals more times than any president since Ronald Reagan. As of August 2019, there were 88 lawsuits pending against Trump from these folks. (And I think more have been filed since then.)

But does that just mean the Trump administration is bad at working with states? Nope. Most of these lawsuits are coming from political actors in states loaded with political rivals. (In fact, some of these individuals have been political rivals of the Trump family for decades at the local level.) New York State has filed more than 50 lawsuits against Trump. California is close behind with 46. Maryland follows with 43, Massachusetts with 41, and Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Illinois, and Connecticut between 36 and 32 suits. (See link from Fortune above.)

So not only are extreme amounts of federal tax money being used to gum up the Trump administration with lawsuits, millions and millions of state taxpayer dollars are being used to do the same. This is money that isn’t being used to improve your kids’ schools. Or roads. Or to help the growing homeless populations in those states. It’s being tossed into a black hole of lawyers’ fees for literally no other reason than the people involved have microscopic manhoods.

This is on top of a multi-year long special counsel investigation, which found that no American “colluded” with the Russians in their nefarious scheme to flood Facebook and Twitter with *checks notes* memes, but that Paul Manafort, who worked for Trump for like a month, cheated the IRS. The investigation cost many, many times what the federal government could ever hope to recover from Mr. Manafort, and domestic terrorism was revived in the meantime. Such a stunning victory for truth and the American way.

Then we had a years-long inspector general investigation into the people investigating Trump, who discovered that the FBI was stuffed with lawfare- aficionados who went to the extent of breaking the law in trying to create a perpetual investigation on the campaign and later the presidency. They falsified and withheld evidence from the FISA court on numerous occasions to keep the sham going after their claims to probable cause dissolved weeks into their investigation. Even the top brass of the FBI were fired for perjury over leaks to the press, also intended to keep the lawfare going. Their political spats utterly consumed the agency, all the way up its hierarchy. And now we have a prosecutor appointed to investigate the investigators and their exhaustive levels of wrongdoing.

So Congress is obsessed with petty political investigations. A number of state attorneys general don’t even do anything to protect people in their own state anymore, because who cares about banks or the environment or child predators when there’s a personal obsession with Trump to feed like a cocaine addiction with an agency budget.

Then you have the dozens of independent political operatives that have sued Trump or tried to manufacture outrages du jour. Or the people he appoints to positions. Bogus rape claims, creepy porn lawyers taking over MSNBC and CNN. Spew and sue, spew and sue, spew and sue.

You have to be a madman to look at all of this and say, hey, these folks are good citizens. We should have people like this engaged in drafting important policy because they seem well-adjusted and knowledgeable. The fact that the Democratic Party has been taken over by people who think Venezuela has an ideal form of government goes to show you how much this high-dollar bratty behavior has metastasized anything resembling sanity.

At some point, an economist should attach a dollar figure to “the Resistance.” Where would the economy and financial markets be right now if Trump didn’t have to put up with this bullshit and could simply focus on governing the country? What is the total dollar amount spent on frivolous lawsuits? What about the cost of all the political staffers billing taxpayers for years on end of this? Legions of them. It’s obviously in the billions of dollars now. Your money, pissed down the drain, because Democrats are sore losers even four years down the line.

The funniest part of all of this is these folks think they are on the right side of history, as if later generations have ever admired people who file frivolous lawsuits. History is certainly going to remember them, but probably not as white knights saving democracy.

Black voters are not liberal, and that's a major problem for Democrats

There is not a single Democratic candidate for president who supports school choice. Yet a May 2019 poll by Education Next revealed that 70% of black Democrats support targeted vouchers, 60% universal vouchers, and 55% charter schools. Some of my favorite homeschooling blogs these days belong to black homeschooling mothers, who are some of the most aggressive education advocates out there. I have suggested on this blog many times that charter schools are the equivalent of this generation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). School choice has become a major civil rights issue, not just an education issue.

If you are a black Democrat, you have an array of filthy rich white politicians – many of whom sent their children to elite private schools, costing tens of thousands of dollars a year in tuition – telling you that you are part of the problem for wanting to provide your child with the best education available. Elizabeth Warren wants to outright ban charter schools. One can only imagine what she thinks about homeschooling, but I bet she wants to ban it too.

There is not a single Democratic candidate with a strong position on the right to self-defense. If you are a black Democrat, you have an array of filthy rich white politicians telling you from behind the walls of their gated communities that you cannot be trusted to own a firearm. Instead, you should put your faith in cops to come into your neighborhood and protect you from harm.

There is not a single Democratic candidate with much faith in the earning power of minorities. If you are a black Democrat, you have an array of filthy rich white politicians telling you about all the nifty handouts you will receive if you vote for them. The idea that a black voter might not be interested in welfare but instead care about a building an economy with opportunities and honest social mobility is beyond them. Of course, most of those Democratic politicians have gotten rich from working in government. But don’t you dare ask them how! (Don’t ask them how they will pay for their spending bills either!)

And let’s not even get into views on the role of the church in civil society or importance of families and children. If you are a black Democrat, you hear a lot about how important it is for you to be able to abort your children. In fact, Bernie Sanders thinks abortion is your top concern when it comes to “family” planning. He loves to remind people about how (he thinks) black and brown women need abortion the most.

According to Pew Research Center, blacks are one of the biggest voting blocks being left behind as the Democratic Party debates flavors of socialism and other extreme perspectives:

White Democrats remain more likely than black or Hispanic Democrats to describe themselves as liberal. In 2019, a majority (55%) of white Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters identified themselves as liberal, an increase of 27 percentage points since 2000. Among white Democrats, 19% called themselves very liberal in 2019, compared with 6% in 2000.

By contrast, more black Democratic voters continue to characterize their views as moderate rather than liberal. In 2019, 43% of black Democrats called themselves moderate, 29% called themselves liberal and 25% called themselves conservative.

Since 2000, the share of black Democrats who describe their political views as liberal has changed little, while liberal identification among white Democrats has nearly doubled.

Among Hispanic Democratic voters, 38% described their political views as moderate in 2019, while 37% called themselves liberal and 22% conservative.

This is a big deal for the Democratic Party heading into the next election. Even a small change in black turnout makes it mathematically impossible for a Democrat to be elected president. That shift may have already taken place, as there are now many prominent black Republicans in politics and in conservative media.

Religion goes a long way to explain the gap in beliefs between white and black Democrats. From a Pew Research survey on religion in America from last year:

The religious profile of white Democrats is very different from the religious profile of racial and ethnic minorities within the Democratic Party. Today, fewer than half of white Democrats describe themselves as Christians, and just three-in-ten say they regularly attend religious services. More than four-in-ten white Democrats are religious “nones,” and fully seven-in-ten white Democrats say they attend religious services no more than a few times a year. Black and Hispanic Democrats are far more likely than white Democrats to describe themselves as Christians and to say they attend religious services regularly, though all three groups are becoming less Christian.

This poll’s methodology has some obvious problems (which I discussed in an earlier post), but the overall message is clear. As the far-left leaning Democratic Party has become broadly less hospitable to practicing Christians, it has also become less hospitable to racial minorities, their political priorities, and their values.

It’s pretty clear at this point that the only Democratic strategy on this front is to hope that black voters hate Trump as a personality more than they care about preserving their own culture (much like they like to fantasize about white evangelicals doing, which approximately never happens in reality). Poll numbers suggest that this is not enough, however. With the exception of Biden – who is an incredibly weak candidate on so many levels – every single Democratic candidate is radioactive with black voters.

This notion that black voters can remain active in a party that is being held captive by heretical white millennials in Portland and Los Angeles and Brooklyn, because they are adept at forming social media mobs, and their white Boomer pied pipers seems a bit much to fathom. They have basically nothing in common.

Orare est laborare, laborare est orare

An 8th-century copy of the Rule of St Benedict.

When my father returned from his tour in Vietnam, he didn’t know what to do with himself.

He came from an upper-middle class family, and his parents likely would have pushed him into college had he not been drafted. He tried attending classes under the GI Bill, but the transition from stomping through the jungle – clothes soaked from the humidity, eyes constantly watching for booby traps and some of the most venomous snakes in the world, bracing for enemy fire at any moment – to listening to a professor, not much older than himself, drone on and on about how to write an essay was impossible. I’m sure he did not want to listen to anyone who spent the war on campus talk about Vietnam either. “Please, hippie, explain how the world works to me.”

He worked for his favorite relative – his uncle, a contractor – for a while. He developed many practical skills and apparently learned a lot about how to get along with people and run a business. Then he discovered an occupation that he truly loved: drilling municipal water wells.

I think part of the appeal of the water infrastructure industry was the danger. Not unlike working on an oil rig – in fact, oil and water rigs share some equipment – water wells run deep into the Earth. You have to be both strong and fearless to work on them, much like surviving in a war zone. People did die occasionally by falling into the pit, which happened one terrible day to one of my father’s friends.

But I think the greatest appeal the job had was that it was hard work being done entirely outside. The activity and the sunshine had a restorative effect on a man who had been all but destroyed by the experience of war.

He worked his way up through the company, through various acquisitions, into management. In addition to the physical labor out under the hot California sun, my father loved the construction and maintenance of infrastructure as an intellectual project. When I eventually went into public finance, many people would ask me how I knew so much about civil engineering. This was our dinner table conversation when I was a child. I could diagram a desalination plant when I was seven. We were geeks, but a special kind of geek – the sort who wanted to be out in the world and learn how things fit together.

My father would eventually give this gig up when he grew older and returned to working as a contractor, as his uncle had taught him originally.

I bring this all up, because it has become somewhat fascinating to me how people talk and think about hard labor and the perceived value of blue collar workers in our society.

I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend working out in my gardens, which is fairly typical for me. And I usually talk to everyone who passes by while I am doing it.

Yesterday afternoon, I was kneeling on the ground planting dozens of deep purple petunias and French marigolds in a flowerbed. An Amazon truck pulled up, and the delivery man walked up the path toward our front door with a pile of packages. I waved at him and he asked me how I was doing.

“It’s a beautiful day to be outside,” I said, and I meant it. I was enjoying watching butterflies dancing around my garden in early January. It was marvelous. And I loved the contrast of yellow and purple I was putting together.

“You know you could pay someone to do that for you,” he shouted, and then climbed back into his van.

Why would I want to pay someone to plant flowers? Actually getting down on your hands and knees and digging in the dirt is sort of the point of gardening as a hobby. So is feeling the warm sun on your skin. People who don’t physically tend to their gardens are not gardeners. They are just people who happen to own gardens. Their relationship to their garden is not any different than their relationship to their television or their grandfather clock. It’s a possession, not a pastime.

(Somehow this reminds me of a most painful biography of the socialite Bunny Mellon I read years ago. She tried to make herself famous as a “gardener,” but she had legions of staff to maintain her gardens. Her idea of gardening was waltzing around in her Givenchy gowns and clipping a rose here and there. Even that lady’s own children loathed her. Her biographer made a point of discussing how she left only some stupid ceramic cabbage to her estranged son in her will, which he smashed on the rocks along the shore as an act of catharsis. That woman was miserable to her very core. And she kept a picture of disgraced politician John Edwards on her nightstand, which was totally creepy, but I digress.)

Then today, I spent a couple hours working on Fern Dell. If you recall, we cleared out a massive tangle of vines (massive by the standards of a Florida transplant) to build a primeval-looking garden that we’ve nicknamed Fern Dell. It was no small feat to clear all that vegetation out and free up the trees to live their best lives (and as I mentioned before, I had help). But it has also been a feat to prepare the soil and plant the ferns and whatnot because there are so many established roots. And we hauled in a lot of stone to build a path through the new garden.

My old neighbor came walking down the trail behind our house and saw me working out there. “How did you get all that planted? Was it difficult cutting through all that?”

I explained that I had to use a mattock in places, and it eventually got the job done.

“What is a mattock?”

“It’s a tool, sort of like a pick-ax, but with a different shape.”

She was dumbfounded that I would get out in the backyard and swing an ax for the sake of building a garden. She was looking at me like I was some sort of alien with strange customs like drinking milk through my finger.

Only an hour before that conversation, we were loading the stones for the path into the back of my SUV at Lowe’s. The gentleman we have to mow and edge our lawn (we do hire someone for that, my plants are a part-time job in themselves) happened to be walking through the parking lot back to his truck and saw us. He ran over to our car and started helping load the heavy stones in. He didn’t even ask if we wanted help. He just started doing it.

We are really good friends with him and I took the occasion to invite his daughter to our daughter’s birthday party. But it made me think how he’s probably treated as some sort of untouchable in our town because of what he does for a living. I mean, even the Amazon delivery guy looks down on yard work, and it’s not like he’s jetting off to Davos to talk about trends in macroeconomics to corporate elites anytime soon.

I started this post off with the Rule of St. Benedict, who insisted that “to pray is to work and to work is to pray.” To be autonomous, to exert great effort, were for St. Benedict cornerstones of a contemplative life. You don’t just work because you have to. You work because there’s ultimately some form of wisdom in it.

I can certainly say this was true for my father coming back from Vietnam. For him, he had glimpsed some life-altering truth in the jungle and it was the suburban rat race that required not thinking too hard about anything. I mean, that’s the essence of a mid-life crisis, isn’t it? You look around at all the crap you’ve bought and the meaninglessness of the “work” you performed to obtain it all, and you ask yourself “For what?” People who engage in hard physical labor tend not to have that sort of restless energy. There’s also something about physically creating things that makes you not question your dignity or purpose.

St Benedict’s ideal used to be omnipresent in American society, but here it was described as the “Protestant work ethic.” There’s no Protestant work ethic anymore. In modern western societies, labor is not regarded as a contemplative or essential character-building activity. It’s the occupation of people who didn’t have the upbringing or financial resources to jump through the necessary hoops to have a “better” life. No one chooses to do it. They do it because they have no better options.

I listen to “liberal” politicians nowadays who used to invest a lot of time sucking up to blue collar workers speaking with open contempt about hard work. Hillary ran an entire campaign on such elitism – to be blue collar meant you had bad values. Biden recently advised coal miners to “learn to code.” Of course, “learn to code” has become a euphemism for this specific sort of disdain. If you have to work hard to get by in this world, it’s your fault. Nevermind the fact that this phrase is being used by aging politicians who probably unplug their computer every time they have a problem. “Learn to code,” they say, as if it were something they could do themselves.

Is this supposed to be progress? Can you imagine the people who settled New England listening to the people who live in New England now? They’d be like, “WTF, you sound like the vapid, self-absorbed, antisocial aristocrats we came over here to get away from.” (I’m sure many of them do think these things, right before they move to Florida.)

But what’s funny is how little material wealth people have to have in order to start talking like a spoiled heiress. You see this even in children who do not come from wealthy families but are accustomed to getting everything they want. How do you reverse this sort of behavior once it sets in? Do people have to be humbled by some great economic disaster? It’s a profoundly strange phenomenon to me.