What's Tony Thinking

At the Week End, February 23 – 24


Taking comfort where you can find it. Earlier this year the login at Constant Contact changed such that it now starts with a screen that says, “Click here . . . Verifying you are human . . . this may take a moment.” Most days I login whether to write a blog or check to see if anyone is reading them when I do. But now I can also check to make sure I’m still human!

Initially I found the “Verify you are human” innovation moderately offensive. Then really funny. Lately, I’m thinking of it as comforting.

Doomsayers United. David Brooks has an article at Atlantic which seems to me important and timely. The title is “Chicken Littles Are Ruining America.” (I would like to link you to it but it’s behind a paywall.) Brooks argues that after the late 20th century orgy of individualism, the pendulum has swung back to identifying in terms of groups and collectives.

Only trouble is, our new collectives are based on a pervasive negativity, pessimism and hatred toward someone else. It’s a “hostile solidarity.” We need an enemy. Having one legitimates us. “We’re not like them!” And side benefit, to be down on everything apparently makes you sound smart — at least in the current dispensation.  Some excerpts:

“Groups on each side of the political divide are held together less by common affections than by a common sense of threat, an experience of collective oppression. Today’s communal culture is based on a shared belief that society is broken, systems are rotten, the game is rigged, injustice prevails, the venal elites are out to get us; we find solidarity and meaning in resisting their oppression together. Again, there is a right-wing version (Donald Trump’s ‘I am your retribution’) and a left-wing version (the intersectional community of oppressed groups), but what they share is an us-versus-them Manichaeism. The culture war gives life shape and meaning.”

“The current culture confers status and belonging to those who see the world as negatively as possible. Once people learned this, they were going to perceive the world as a Hunger Games–like hellscape.

“This negativity saturates everything. As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson noted recently, more than 5,500 podcasts now have the word trauma in their title. Political life is seen through a negative valence. A YouGov survey of 33,000 Americans found that both sides of the political debate believe they are losing.’

“In a culture where negativity is aligned with righteousness, anything good can be seen as a mark of ill-gotten privilege.”

Let’s follow that with something sorta positive. Or as positive as you can be when discussing one country’s invasion of another and a subsequent war now entering year three. This is a piece by Ramon Menon that I can link to. It is titled, “Putin Has Already Lost.”

Menon argues that whatever else may happen, Putin has managed to turn Ukraine into an implacable enemy of Russia, stir a nationalistic zeal and leave Ukraine western-facing. Here’s Menon:

“More than any other event, Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022 has contributed to this sentiment [nationalist]. Ukrainian nationalism today, transcending region and language, reflects a deep determination to forge an identity defined by separation from, even antipathy toward, Russia. Indeed, Mr. Putin may go down in history as one of its main, if unwitting, catalysts. Given his conviction that Russians and Ukrainians are really one people, such a result is especially ironic.”

Alexy Navalny’s witness to Christ. I was not aware that the Russian dissident, Alexey Navalny, was a Christian. In his tribute to this martyr, Russell Moore (who I mentioned in my recent piece on MAGA Christianity as himself a profile in courage) quoted from a statement Navalny gave in 2021 when the judge at one of his trials offered him a “last word.”

“If you want I’ll talk to you about God and salvation, I’ll turn up the volume of heartbreak to the maximum, so to speak. The fact is that I am a Christian, which usually rather sets me up as an example for constant ridicule in the Anti-Corruption Foundation, because mostly our people are atheists and I was once quite a militant atheist myself. But now I am a believer, and that helps me a lot in my activities, because everything becomes much, much easier. I think about things less. There are fewer dilemmas in my life, because there is a book in which, in general, it is more or less clearly written what action to take in every situation. It’s not always easy to follow this book, of course, but I am actually trying. And so, as I said, it’s easier for me, probably, than for many others, to engage in politics.

“‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied’ [Mt 5:6] It’s not that I’m great, but I’ve always thought that this particular commandment is more or less an instruction to activity.”

And a song at the end. I was listening to some songstress the other day, not sure the artist. But this lyric caught my attention:

“Your kingdom come . . . to every single nation/ your will be done . . . by everyone of us here

“Lead us not into temptation/ and deliver us from those who think that they are You.”




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