Category Archives: Western Civilization

Your Father is a Realist

Great article about immigrants. (I’m one.)

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WSJ 11/2/2018

I own and rent out 25 mom-and-pop storefronts in Lakewood, Ohio, an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland. About 20% of my tenants are immigrants. I sell them the American dream—a chance to run their own business—and they sell beer, cigarettes, used furniture, and services like dry cleaning and haircuts. The stores are street-level with apartments above, like Disneyland’s Main Street, except no Mickey. The mice are real.

I rarely hard-sell foreigners to rent. They’re gung-ho from the getgo. American-born prospects, on the other hand, often need hand-holding. I sit with potential American tenants in diner booths and deliver my mini-lecture on happiness and business, mostly cribbed from Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert.

In his 2006 book, “Stumbling on Happiness,” Mr. Gilbert writes: “Indeed, in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did, which is why the most popular regrets include not going to college, not grasping profitable business opportunities, and not spending enough time with family and friends.” I emphasize the “grasping profitable business opportunities” part.

If a store succeeds, it sticks around—10 years, sometimes 20 years. I’ve rented to a bar for 37 years. But there are many one-and-done stores. Gone in a year.

I rented to an immigrant from India whose Indian Food Emporium didn’t bring her happiness or money. Very few customers bought her basmati rice, turmeric and lentils. So she switched to beer, wine, cigarettes and lottery tickets—which worked. The store’s signage went from curlicue Hindi-esque lettering to skid-row neon almost overnight: “Bud Light,” “Lottery” and “Open.” The neon signs made it more difficult for me to rent the upstairs apartments to quality tenants. (“Quality tenants” means, in this case, residents who don’t need beer at 2 a.m. but need a good night’s sleep to get up for work on time.) Ultimately the Indian woman and her husband closed the minimart and opened an Indian restaurant two blocks away. That restaurant succeeded. Locals would eat Indian food, just not cook it.

In a few weeks, Dragana, a registered nurse from I rent storefronts to small businesses. Here’s what I learned from Dragana, Al and other entrepreneurs.

Serbia, is shutting down her resale furniture store after a year’s run. She works the night shift at a nursing home and pays $1,950 a month in rent for 1,850 square feet. That comes to $13 a square foot. Retail space doesn’t get much cheaper than that. (In Manhattan, retail space averages $653 a square foot.) Dragana wrote me, “We stop to invest two months ago and our sales are slower and almost next to nothing. I know that is not your problem but I wish you to understand.” I understand. Retail is a crapshoot.

Here’s what works in retail: bars, hair salons and dry cleaning. Al— whose real name is Abdullah—is an Iraqi who owns a barbershop called A Haircut Above. (The name “A Cut Above” was taken.) Al’s youngest son often plays in the store. Kids hang out in immigrants’ stores. I’ve rented to a Korean dry cleaner for 11 years. Now the eldest daughter is at Duke University studying public policy, and the son is at Bard doing computer science. I told the mom, “Tell your son to take a course from Walter Russell Mead before he graduates.” She wrote that down. I give free assimilation advice.

Besides immigrants, another subcategory of mine is hipster retail. This is a thing now, and not only on the coasts and in college towns. I rent to Cle Couture, a women’s clothing boutique, and to Beat Cycles—a bike store started by an English major who likes Kerouac. And I lease a store to a tattoo shop that is also an art gallery. Cool.

Immigrants don’t do cool. They do drudgery. Although immigrants’ kids sometimes do cool. Enri, a 20-something Albanian-American, wanted to open a streetwear store. Streetwear is oversize hoodies, tennis shoes and graphic T-shirts. He got his father, a valet parker, to cosign the lease. Enri painted the walls black and wanted to turn the floor black, too. He never got to the floor. He never got any merchandise, either. He ran out of credit, I think.

His father wasn’t much help. Enri said, “My father is an extremist.” No, Enri, your father is a realist.

Mr. Stratton is a landlord and musician in Cleveland.

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Against the Machine – and More

A really good article / interview. Worth the read.

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By Tunku Varadarajan

WSJ  9/1/2018  –  New York

‘I rarely have an urge to whisper,” says George Gilder—loudly—as he settles onto a divan by the window of his Times Square hotel room. I’d asked him to speak as audibly as possible into my recording device, and his response, while literal, could also serve as a metaphor: Nothing Mr. Gilder says or writes is ever delivered at anything less than the fullest philosophical decibel.

George Gilder sketch
George Gilder

Mr. Gilder is one of a dwindling breed of polymath Americans who thrive in a society obsessed with intellectual silos. As academics know more and more about less and less, he opines brazenly on subjects whose range would keep several university faculties on their toes: marriage and family, money and economics, law and regulation, and the social role of technology, a subject that engrosses him at present and the topic of his latest book, “Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy.”

Mr. Gilder has published 20 books, the best-known of which, “Wealth and Poverty” (1981), sold more than a million copies and made him rich. It was an impassioned defense of the morality and compassion of the free market.

Ronald Reagan acknowledged that the book bolstered his confidence in supply-side economics, and he was known to be particularly beguiled by its opening line, which reads: “The most important event in the recent history of ideas is the demise of the socialist dream.”

Mr. Gilder also had a vast and avid following during the tech boom of the 1990s, when his Gilder Technology Report—an idiosyncratic subscription newsletter— shaped the investing habits of thousands around the world. Analysts spoke of a Gilder Effect, which had investors rushing to buy stock in any new company mentioned in the Report. The newsletter effectively ended, Mr. Gilder tells me, “in the months after the stock market crash of 2000, when I lost nearly all my 106,000 subscribers.”

Mr. Gilder, 78, is still immersed in the world of tech, but he doesn’t like all that he sees. Google makes him mad, as does Silicon Valley more broadly, and his ire is directed at the “new catastrophe theory” which holds “that artificial intelligence will make human minds obsolete, and that we’ll soon produce machine-learning tools and robotics that excel the capabilities of human brains.” He calls this attitude “Google Marxism”—a phrase he utters with a certain salivary distaste—“because Marx’s essential theme was that the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century had overcome all the challenges of production.” From that point on, Marx held, “human beings would focus on redistributing wealth among the classes rather than creating it.”

Marx was convinced that the steam turbine, electrification and what William Blake called “dark satanic mills” were a final stage in social evolution—“an eschaton.”

Mr. Gilder loves abstruse words, and this one, which signifies a kind of climax in human attainment, is a particular favorite. “Google and the Silicon Valley people also imagine that their artificial intelligence, their machine learning, their cloud computing, is an eschaton—another ‘end of history’ moment. And it’s just preposterous.”

In truth, Mr. Gilder says, Google is at the end of its “paradigm,” which he defines as “avoiding the challenge of security across the internet by giving away most of its products for free, and financing itself with an ingenious advertising strategy.” Mr. Gilder also contends that Google believes capitalism is at an end—that “this is the winner-take all universe,” as he puts it, “and the existing generation of capitalists are the final capitalists.

That’s their vision.” And if you believe that “machines can re-create new machines in a steady cascade of greater capabilities that are beyond human comprehension and control, you really believe that’s the end of the human race.”

Mr. Gilder rejects the premise.   “Machines can’t be minds,” he says. “Information theory shows that.”

Citing Claude Shannon, the American mathematician acknowledged as the father of information theory, Mr. Gilder says that “information is surprise. Creativity always comes as a surprise to us. If it wasn’t surprising, we wouldn’t need it.”  However useful they may be, “machines are not capable of creativity.” Human minds can generate counterfactuals, imaginative flights, dreams. By contrast, “a surprise in a machine is a breakdown. You don’t want your machines to have surprising outcomes!”

The narrative of human obsolescence, Mr. Gilder says, is giving rise to a belief that the only way forward is to provide redundant citizens with some sort of “guaranteed annual income,” which would mean the end of the market economy: “If everyone gets supported without any kind of growing up and facing the challenges of life, then our capitalist culture would collapse.”

Mr. Gilder worries deeply about the state of capitalism in America, and President Trump’s adamant focus on the trade gap irks him. “To the extent that the U.S. is the world’s leading capitalist power and welcomes foreign investment, it can’t possibly run a trade surplus.” Mr. Trump “is a politician, and his chief goal is to communicate to the unions in the Midwest that he’s on their side. Besides, it’s a lot easier to blame China than it is to really explain the widespread campaign in the colleges of this country to suppress manufacturing and industry in the United States.”

As we talk of capitalism and America’s universities, Mr. Gilder sits upright, unable to mask his indignation. “The point is that we didn’t want manufacturing in this country, and we suppressed it. All of our colleges are devoted to stopping things rather than starting them.” The “whole focus” of science in American higher education, he says, is on “the dangers and perils of technology rather than its promise.”

America’s university system, says Mr. Gilder, is “incredibly corrupt and ideological.” How did it come to be like that? Surely, I observe, it wasn’t that way when he graduated from Harvard in 1962.

A leading Google critic on why he thinks the era of ‘big data’ is done, why he opposes Trump’s talk of regulation, and the promise of blockchain.

“It was beginning to get that way,” he says, as he revs his engines for a fresh sortie. “The rise of affluence through the 1960s created this kind of amazing irresponsibility that resulted in a whole generation losing track of reality.”

The pithy aperçu is Mr. Gilder’s forte. He tells me here that “human beings have a propensity to believe in leftism”— in the idea that government can “answer all of their problems, guarantee their future, and relieve them of the challenges of life.” The idea of a “completely providential government” arose in America, and a “whole generation of young people were given college loans in a fabulous national mistake, in which the Republicans participated.”

These loans were used by the university system to “increase perks and tenured luxuries and ideological distractions”—all of which led to the “diversity campaigns and CO2 panics” that currently dominate university faculties.

The only way to undo this “vast blunder,” says Mr. Gilder, is to forgive student loans across the board and “extract the money from all the college endowments and funds that were used to just create useless departments and political campaigns.” More than $1.5 trillion in student-loan money is outstanding, according to the Federal Reserve.

That money, Mr. Gilder says, “wasn’t deployed to improve education. Not a scintilla of evidence has been adduced that learning has been improved. It was used entirely to lavish on bureaucracies that, in turn, paid tribute to government and leftist nihilism.”

The impact of these loans, and of the academic ecosystem they engendered, has been catastrophic, in Mr. Gilder’s view. “The result was to destroy the entrepreneurial optimism of a whole generation of young people, to drive them toward socialism, which they now tend to favor, and to even dissuade them from marriage.” The last is a consequence of debt, “which cripples them for the future.” Any benefit that education might confer on the young is, in Mr. Gilder’s dark view, nullified by the economic burden inflicted on them, which “leaves these kids impotent in the world.”

We turn to national politics, and Mr. Gilder reaffirms his view— which he’s expressed often—that Reagan set the gold standard for the modern American presidency.

“I hope Trump emulates him,” Mr. Gilder says. “I don’t know Trump, but he beat all my candidates, and he’s got something going for him.

He’s a man of action, and I think too much stress is placed on his verbiage.” He credits the president with having “rolled back the climate- change cult in government to some degree. He’s appointing good justices, who can actually see through leftist claims, and he’s dismantling the reach of the administrative state.” Although Mr. Gilder is a critic of Google, he disapproves of Mr. Trump’s talk of regulating the search engine—a prospect the president raised in a tweet describing its results as “rigged” against him and possibly “illegal.” This is no time, Mr. Gilder says, “for American conservatives to advocate an expansion of the administrative state into social networks and search engines.” If right-leaning content ranks low on Google, that shows that “conservatives still have a long way to go if they are to prevail in the opinion wars on social media. They cannot expect the government to do it for them.”

For all the gloom about Silicon Valley that appears to suffuse his new book, Mr. Gilder insists that he’s not a tech-pessimist. “I think technology has fabulous promise,” he says, as he describes blockchain and cryptocurrency as “a new technological revolution that is rising up as we speak.” He says it has generated “a huge efflorescence of peer-to-peer technology and creativity, and new companies.” The decline of initial public offerings in the U.S., he adds, has been “redressed already by the rise of the ICO, the ‘initial coin offering,’ which has raised some $12 billion for several thousand companies in the last year.”

It is clear that Mr. Gilder is smitten with what he calls “this crypto-graphic revolution,” and believes that it will heal some of the damage to humanity that has been inflicted by the “machine obsessed” denizens of Silicon Valley. Blockchain “endows individuals with control of their data, their identity, the truths that they want to assert, their transactions, their visions, their content and their security.”

Here Mr. Gilder sounds less like a tech guru than a poet, and his words tumble out in a romantic cascade.

With the cryptographic revolution, he says, “we’re now in charge of our own information. For the first time in history, really, you don’t have to prove who you are, or what you are, before a transaction.” A blockchain allows users “to be anonymous if they wish, while also letting them keep a time-stamped record of all their previous transactions. It allows us to establish unimpeachable facts on the internet.”

That evokes trust in the internet, “without having to trust or rely on Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, or whoever the paladins of the new economy may be.” In the age of the almighty machine, Mr. Gilder believes, this is a notable victory for mankind.

Mr. Varadarajan is a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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Digital sages | WORLD News Group

Digital Sages

Interesting article in World Magazine – which I do recommend.
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Aug 18, 2018
The first time Youp Timmer heard Jordan Peterson speak in a YouTube video, he thought his voice sounded like Kermit the Frog’s. And like Kermit, this 56-year-old University of Toronto psychology professor was a skilled communicator, hands gesticulating and brows furrowing as he spoke about personal responsibility and bearing one’s suffering.

At the time, Timmer, a 30-year-old data analyst in Nijkerk, Netherlands, was battling suicidal thoughts, desperately clicking through streams of motivational videos for inspiration to live on—and he says he found it in Peterson. In that video, Peterson was unpacking the meanings behind the Biblical story of Noah and the Flood. Be prepared, he warned, because storms of tragedies are coming. Life, he declared, is “really complex, short, finite, full of suffering, and beyond you.” It doesn’t take much effort to suffer, but if you lie around merely suffering, “then it accumulates. … It turns into the dragon of chaos. It waits until you’re not at your best, and then it eats you.” Timmer was transfixed. Every word from Peterson struck close to heart: He had been doing exactly that—lying depressed, mulling over how he had gotten the job he wanted but still couldn’t find meaning in it. He was struggling with marriage and financial issues, tension with his parents. He felt unhappy and directionless—until he heard Peterson’s challenge: “Pick up your [profanity] cross and walk up the hill.” Yes, life is painful and unjust—“So what are you gonna do about it? Accept it voluntarily and try to transform as a consequence.”

It’s a message that falls far short of the gospel, but it spoke to Timmer. Nobody had been able to reach him in his darkness, not even psychologists or his baby daughter, but for some reason, Peterson did. The way Peterson used Biblical stories to illustrate his points made sense to him: “It felt as though he told me what I knew for a long time, but couldn’t phrase correctly.” Something about the way the man spoke—that straightforward, unapologetic manner, like a stern father to a delinquent son, spiced with a thick Albertan accent and old-fashioned swear words, shook Timmer awake: “I realized I was only making things worse by my own choice.”

From then on, Timmer listened to every Peterson lecture, some more than 10 times. He credits Peterson for saving him from suicide twice, once under suicide watch at the hospital. He set up specific life goals, starting with cleaning up his room. His parents told him he became a more pleasant presence. After being a “very earnest” Muslim for 10 years, he now concludes that Islam is “not the right tool.” He estimates having spent 600 hours poring through Peterson’s materials. And he wonders, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?”

Timmer is one of thousands of young people tuning in to Peterson’s lectures, podcasts, interviews, and books. When Peterson went on a global speaking tour across North America and the United Kingdom, many venues (1,000- to 2,000-seat auditoriums; cheapest ticket in Los Angeles was $55) sold out weeks ahead. His new self-help book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, a string of essays on how to live one’s life, has already sold more than 700,000 copies in the United States. The book reigns as the No. 1 best-read book on Amazon in North America. He now has more than 790,000 Twitter followers, 340,000 followers on Facebook, more than 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube—and many are willing to support his work financially: Peterson earns about $80,000 a month on Patreon, a crowdfunding platform where “patrons” fund influencers to create content.

Why is a middle-aged guy like Peterson commanding such influence on young minds? To understand the larger movement, I listened to hours of Peterson’s work, read his book, and spoke to about a dozen of his followers ages 22 to 35. I also met with two other influential thinkers, Dennis Prager and Ben Shapiro. What I found is that neither Peterson, Prager, nor Shapiro is hawking new truths. Nothing they say is a smack-the-head revelation. Instead, they seek to help people understand what they already know deep within their souls—timeless, elementary, common-grace truths and values that are embedded into our very being, nature, and substrata of consciousness. Their messages won’t save a single soul, but they appeal to people because of the law of God written on the listeners’ hearts.

People have hailed Jordan Peterson as a father figure, a modern-day prophet, a free speech warrior. Stripping all those fancy titles aside, Peterson is a grim-looking Canadian scholar who lectures in a quaint three-piece suit. He was an obscure professor until he criticized a bill in Canada that proposed banning discrimination based on gender identity and expression. He said the bill threatened free speech and was a slippery slope toward totalitarianism. Student activists heckled Peterson on campus, and a video of that confrontation gained millions of views and comments.

Then in January, journalist Cathy Newman attempted to paint Peterson as a misogynist during an interview with him on Channel 4 News. That video attracted more than 10 million views on YouTube, and Peterson’s book soon topped the bestseller charts.

Peterson is obsessed with Jung, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky, and his house is reportedly a showroom of 20th-century horrors: A massive collection of original USSR propaganda art hangs on every wall, even ceilings and bathrooms—a solemn, grotesque self-reminder of what devastation the pursuit of utopia can wreak.

Peterson’s three-hour lectures center on ideas such as: (1) All human beings are capable of unspeakable evil, especially in the name of good. (2) Change starts with the individual. (3) Ancient stories, from the Bible to Egyptian mythology, hold profound, still-applicable truths about human nature and life. He weaves together social science, neuroscience, his own clinical experiences, Biblical literature, and evolution to present a systematic understanding of the world and us in it. But his theories are not ivory-tower abstractions. He drills those ideas down to practical, traditional values: hard work, personal responsibility, and virtue—hardly the most endearing or sexy subject matters.

Yet those ideas are captivating thousands of fans, mostly young men. They’re flocking into Facebook groups, Reddit chatrooms, and Meetup gatherings to discuss all things Peterson, often spouting “Petersonisms” to encourage and motivate each other, like Bible study group members quoting Scriptures. That’s extraordinary, given this age of postmodernism, ever-chirping 280-character commentaries, and pursuit of instant gratification.

To hear the media describe them, Peterson’s fans are mostly right-wing white males shaking their fists at a new social stratum that no longer benefits them. But the people I spoke to were diverse: They were male and female; white and Asian and Latino and Jewish; self-defined conservatives, moderates, liberals, and apoliticals. They work in fashion, tech, construction, film, music.

Meet Irina Hernandez, for example. Hernandez is a 22-year-old fashion design assistant in Brooklyn who grew up nonreligious. She calls herself “left-leaning” and has a brother with whom she shared a close relationship until they began debating politics. When her brother argued that the wage gap between men and women isn’t a gender issue, “I really started to see him as a bad person,” Hernandez recalled.

Then she watched a YouTube video in which Peterson explains the many variables such as personality, interests, and skills that lead to wage gap. For the first time, Hernandez saw someone “bluntly questioning these ideas and doing it in such a mature and empirical way”—without resorting to ideology. She clicked on more of Peterson’s videos, and spent 50-plus hours listening to him outline the biological and psychological differences between men and women using history, psychoanalysis, neuropsychology, and storytelling. Those videos taught her more than all her classes in college combined, she said, and that made her angry: “I felt like before, I was consuming a lot of misinformation.”

A career-driven, “super independent” woman who cared deeply about gender equality, Hernandez said Peterson’s lectures provoked questions about her future: “Do I want marriage? Kids? Women my age, we’re so caught up in being equal … but do I really want to be a CEO in a Fortune 500 company?” Those thoughts changed the way Hernandez dated her then-boyfriend, and now they’re engaged.

But whenever Hernandez tried to talk about Peterson with her more liberal friends, she felt shut down. In the last several months, Peterson has become the No. 1 person the media loves to hate. (When I requested an interview with Peterson, his publicist told me they’re cutting down on media interviews.) Forward magazine published an article titled, “Is Jordan Peterson Enabling Jew Hatred?” Vox stated that Peterson’s views “weaponize the grievances of the kind of young men attracted to the alt-right.” Current Affairs called Peterson a “tedious crackpot,” and several publications suggested that Peterson is “dangerous.”

Perhaps that’s also why Peterson is so popular: People don’t like being told what to think. They recognize that what Peterson is saying is not only important but makes sense, and when a dominant culture so strongly denounces him as a sexist racist transphobic charlatan, they start to wonder what’s missing in modern society.

 

THE SAME HOLDS TRUE for former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro. He also saw an uptick in Twitter followers and podcast downloads with each big controversy. When he came out as a Never Trumper and castigated the alt-right movement, he became the No. 1 target of anti-Semitic tweets aimed at a journalist. Each time protesters tried to shut down his speech on college campuses (UC Berkeley spent $600,000 on security for Shapiro’s visit), he earned more fans.

When Shapiro first started his news site The Daily Wire, he had five employees. Now he employs 50. The Ben Shapiro Show, a conservative daily talk show program, gets about 350,000 downloads per day on SoundCloud and YouTube each, and up to a million views on Facebook Live—and about 70 percent of the audience is under 35 years old.

I joined the 34-year-old Shapiro at his Sherman Oaks office where he films his show. He was in a rampage mood that day over the media’s “nonsense” coverage of Trump’s comments on MS-13 and stormed into the studio joking about bringing a sledgehammer next time.

He needs no sledgehammer: Once the camera began rolling, Shapiro raged out an hourlong impromptu monologue—with nary a stutter or pause for air—about media bias, the Mueller investigation, and the Israel-Gaza clash, then signed off with a Bible talk segment on Joshua 2:8-11. He did this completely unscripted, letting me peek at his notes: a single page with little more than links to video clips.

Even off-air, Shapiro is constantly interacting with his audience, mostly on Twitter. In between penning articles, visiting his personal trainer, and writing his new book, his thumbs are ever-scrolling through his iPhone, retweeting things he finds interesting, mic-dropping snarky remarks, and responding to both fans and haters. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working: Three years ago, Shapiro had about 100,000 followers on Twitter; now he has 1.4 million.

Part of Shapiro’s appeal is his willingness to buck his own conservative party if it violates his principles: “I’m not going to be sucked into your tribal mentality, even if you think I’m part of your tribe. I’m not.” Taking an anti-Trump stance was “a risky move,” but he gained respect from millennials who saw him holding his ground based on values and virtue, not ideology or politics.

Even as a pundit, he presents other people’s arguments against his own views, then explains why he disagrees with them. He says he’s interested in what certain current events imply about society’s deeper values. To explain anti-Israel sentiments, for example, he reviewed the evolution of nationalism over the last 400 years. He recommends highbrow books such as The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas and The Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes, plays compositions by Bach and Brahms, and provides weekly commentary on the Bible and the Federalist Papers.

That sort of honest intellectualism is attractive to his young audience members, who tell me they’re sick of surface-level political jabberers who saturate the media. Joshua Charles, a 30-year-old writer and historian in Sacramento, said he doesn’t see many “intellectually serious” media personalities in the spotlight. Many pundits “throw out applause lines that their particular audience wants to hear, but they don’t challenge their audience.”

Like Peterson, Shapiro appeals to many millennials because his approach seems less drivel and more brains, less red meat tossing and more enlightenment. In a generation ravaged by divorce and sexual misconduct, he also seems like a clean family guy—the kind who’s notorious for jettisoning men’s poker night for family time. He’s an Orthodox Jew who says he remained a virgin until marriage, and he prays every day, observes Shabbat, and is devoted to his wife and two children.

Though some modern folks might call his values old-fashioned, Shapiro says they should have never become outdated in the first place: “There are eternal, unchanging values that are important to human life, and if we don’t return to these eternal, unchanging human values, we’re destined to be rolling around in the mud.”

BEFORE ANYONE EVER HEARD of Peterson or Shapiro, there was Dennis Prager, a conservative talk show host who kick-started his public speaking life as a 21-year-old Jew from Brooklyn. Today, at age 69, he may be the longest-lasting public intellectual. In a time of blustery political talk, Prager rarely raises his voice, preferring to speak in a calm baritone, crack jokes that make even himself chortle, and pontificate about relationships and happiness.

Prager is a large man with a full presence at 6-foot-4. He has a belly-shaking laugh and the kind of genial social adroitness that’s just as comfortable smoking cigars alone in his study humming Brahms as he is asking an immigrant which language she cusses with when she stubs her toe. He has a bad hip and snowy-white hair but also floor-to-ceiling bookcases overflowing with books that keep his mind sharp, expansive, and curious.

Prager, like Peterson, is obsessed with human evil and suffering. Ever since as a 10-year-old he watched a Walter Cronkite program on Hitler, Prager hated evil—and he determined to “influence as many people to do good as possible.” His lifelong goal, then, is to convince as many people as possible to take seriously the Torah, which he calls “the greatest repository of goodness and wisdom in human history.” In fact, Shapiro was a little boy when Prager inspired his parents to attend an Orthodox synagogue and become more religious Jews.

Prager might not be as hip and technologically savvy as Shapiro—he barely uses Twitter and had to ask a 19-year-old production assistant what “LMAO” means—but he’s constantly gazing into the future. He’s the co-founder of PragerU, an online media portal that condenses complex ideas such as racism and climate change into five-minute videos with nifty graphics and diverse presenters such as comedian Adam Carolla, MIT meteorology professor Richard Lindzen, and economics scholar Walter Williams. PragerU’s 300-plus videos have collected more than 1 billion views since its founding in 2009, and about 65 percent of its viewers are under age 35.

Like Shapiro, Prager says day-to-day news doesn’t interest him, and he realized most young people don’t care much for it, either. Rather, they’re interested in “the big issues”—What is good? What is evil? What is true, what is false? What is the meaning of life? “My task is to communicate very old ideas in a fresh way. You have to make it relevant”—and young people respond with hunger “because they don’t hear this elsewhere. They don’t get wisdom, and they don’t know that they even want wisdom, but everyone wants wisdom.”

Prager and Shapiro say wisdom comes from divine revelation, while Peterson prefers to stick to scientific and symbolic language, but all three share a common message: Traditional values exist for a reason. We cannot invent our own values, and we do so at our own peril. Read the Bible, because it reveals important and relevant truths. And people are listening.

Still, when Prager’s new book The Rational Bible: Exodus, a 559-page line-by-line commentary on the Torah, became the second-best-selling book on Amazon for weeks, he called it “the best shock of my life.” He said that with a delighted grin and bright eyes: There’s hope for our civilization yet.
Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee

Sophia is a features reporter for WORLD Magazine. She graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in print journalism and East Asian language and culture. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Shalom. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.
Digital sages | WORLD News Group.

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The Crucifix in Every Building?

I am thinking through this one. I appreciate that a country is certainly shaped by it’s culture and religious history, but is this the best way to present it? But why should a people not want to retain their heritage? Hmm.

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BY FRANCIS X. ROCCA AND DREW HINSHAW
WSJ 9/10/2018

ROME—Lawmakers in Italy’s new parliamentary majority want a crucifix to hang in every government building as a “permanent reminder” of the country’s Christian identity.

Across Europe, nationalists and upstart politicians are promoting the use of Christian imagery as they seek to change the Continent’s established politics and define Europe as Christian in reaction to recent Muslim immigration.

Christian symbols have long been a visible part of public life in much of Europe, but the new efforts reflect a more emphatic embrace of Christianity as central to Europe’s identity.

The moves are stoking disagreement among Christian leaders and drawing criticism from allies of Pope Francis, who says that Christianity mandates generosity toward immigrants.

“The cross is a sign of protest against sin, violence, injustice and death,” the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a close adviser to the pope and editor of a Vatican-vetted magazine, La Civiltà Cattolica (Catholic Civilization), said on Twitter last month, in response to the legislative proposal by lawmakers with the League, an anti-immigration party. He called the use of the crucifix for political purposes “blasphemous.” And he warned: “Hands off!”

Many antiestablishment parties, a rising force in European politics, say preserving their countries’ Christian identity requires sealing Europe off to Muslim immigrants. They are pulling voters from mainstream parties that favor a more secular style of politics.

For decades after World War II, parties that identified as “Christian Democrats” were a mainstay of center-right politics in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. But the decline of that tradition has opened up an opportunity for nationalists and far-right parties to claim the cross as theirs.

“The Christian Democratic parties saw Christian identity as a way to unite their nations, not divide them,” said Rocco Buttiglione, a former Italian cabinet minister and lawmaker with a series of such parties. “But they weren’t strong enough in defending that identity. They watered it down in order to attract votes on the left, and that left an enormous void.”

In Eastern Europe, Catholic leaders have responded more favorably than in Western Europe to efforts by politicians to link Christian identity to nationalist ideas.

In Poland, where government offices are frequently decorated with 2-foot-tall crucifixes, many Catholic bishops openly sympathize with the ruling nationalist party’s restrictive policies on refugees. In October, church leaders supported a mass prayer called “Rosaries at the Border” that implicitly opposed Muslim immigration.

Few Hungarian bishops have objected as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recasts Hungary as an explicitly Christian country, closed to non-Europeans and battling what he calls “Muslim invaders.”

Mr. Orbán uses the term “Christian democracy” in a new sense: to describe the “illiberal” governance he is ushering in—a model he has said was inspired by more autocratic nations like Russia and Turkey.

Many church leaders express support for Mr. Orbán’s priorities, including the anti-migration fence Mr. Orbán had built along Hungary’s southern border in 2015.

“I’m in total agreement with the prime minister,” Hungarian Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigo said at the height of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, saying the pope “doesn’t know the situation….They’re not refugees. This is an invasion.”

Mr. Orbán, a Protestant, showers the Catholic Church and other denominations with millions of dollars in direct subsidies, and ends many speeches with the Latin expression “soli Deo Gloria” (“to God alone the glory”).

“It is not good, not healthy, and dangerous,” said Bishop Miklós Beer of Vác, one of the few Hungarian bishops to oppose Mr. Orbán’s adoption of Christian language for nationalist ends. “Separation of church and state is a very important basic principle.”

The picture is different in Western Europe. The leader of the southern German state of Bavaria recently mandated that all state buildings display a cross. Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier and a member of the Christian Social Union, said on Twitter in April that the requirement shows a “clear commitment to our Bavarian identity and Christian values.”

The move hasn’t reversed the CSU’s slide in opinion polls ahead of regional elections in October, or dented support for the far-right Alternative for Germany. But it has drawn fire from Germany’s leading Catholic prelate, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, another of Pope Francis’ top advisers, who accused the CSU of “expropriating the cross.”

“You don’t understand the cross if you only see it as a cultural symbol,” Cardinal Marx said.

In Italy, the idea of defining Christianity as a part of the national identity drew support from much of Italian society not so long ago. In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that crucifixes in Italian classrooms, where they have hung under legislation dating back to the 19th century, violated the “right of parents to educate their children according to their convictions.”

The ruling drew protests from the Vatican and from politicians across the spectrum who said the crucifix exemplified universal values such as human rights. The court reversed its decision two years later, reasoning that the Italian policy didn’t amount to a “process of indoctrination,” since a “crucifix on a wall is an essentially passive symbol.”

Mixing church and state has become more divisive in Italy as antiimmigration politicians advance and clash with Pope Francis.

Several of Italy’s high-profile church leaders have criticized Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigration League, for brandishing the Bible and a rosary at political events.

The bill that would mandate the display of crucifixes in Italian government buildings was introduced by lawmakers from the League in March. It would cover “all offices of public administration,” including polling places, prisons, hospitals and airports, though it isn’t specific about where in the buildings the crucifix would need to be displayed.

The League’s embrace of Christian symbols is opportunistic, said the Rev. Rocco D’Ambrosio, a professor of political philosophy at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. “It’s a kind of attempt to defend itself, to say ‘we are Christians, we want the crucifix in all public spaces, so you can’t accuse us of not being Christians.’ ” —Anita Komuves contributed to this article.

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