Dung Beetles

I ordered dung beetles the other day. I did it because there aren’t any in my region, and there should be. Cow patties should be a feast for the little bugs, who would quickly incorporate the manure into the earth. I share a fence with a cattle operation, and if there would be dung beetles anywhere, it would be here. There should have been a scarab stampede over to my place as soon as there was cow feces. But they aren’t. Why not?

I looked it up and found that ivermectin (given for parasites), pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers are the culprits. All sorts of agricultural aids to help the soil kill the critters that build the soil. Have you ever walked in a cornfield and seen how dead it is, other than the corn? Something is wrong.

Think not of cows as an isolated thing. You don’t feed separate units, like you might supply material to a machine in a factory. Rather, the cattle, soil, plants, insects, fungus, worms, sun, water, and air form one whole system, one big entropy reducer, at least as long as the sun keeps shining. If you take anything away, the whole system dies.

In ancient times, bison roamed the plains. We slaughtered them to get rid of the plains Indians. Mission accomplished! But the soil is getting worse, and only still produces food because we pour petroleum products and chemical fertilizers into it.

What do? Well, I bought some cattle and am going to try to fix my little area of the world through managed grazing. Maybe you could do the same? If not, you could find regenerative farms near you and support them. Rethink your suburban lawn. Read Alan Savory or Johann Zeitsman. Watch Greg Judy’s youtube videos. This is the true environmentalism. If it fails, we will all be eating bugs grown in a desert.

Commercial Interlude

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Take thought of your thoughts

Warning: this is a religious post. You Have Been Warned.

For some of us, we are deep into Lent. Orthobros, you’ve not even started.

Lent, or the Great Fast, is a time to get rid of what you don’t really need, to turn towards God, to cleanse your pantry and your heart. I do it every year even though I keep not doing it right. Today I came across a bit from St. Theophan the Recluse:

“Pride goes before destruction, and folly before a fall.” Therefore, do not allow evil thoughts to come in, and there will be no falls. And yet, what are people most careless about? About their thoughts. They allow them to seethe as much and however they like, not even thinking to subdue them or to direct them to rational pursuits.

It’s your thoughts that are the problem. There is a meme on X about people not having internal monologues. Perhaps there are such people. Dear reader, I bet you do have such a monologue, a running series of thoughts that go this way and that, and often lead you into resentment, spite, lust, or other sins. Maybe you aren’t ready to think in terms of sin. Ok, but your thoughts still lead you into trouble. What do?

The fathers of the Christian Church came up with a way to deal with this, building on St. Paul’s advice to pray without ceasing. You take your inner monologue and make it be prayerful, a continual conversation with God. There is a tradition of monologic prayer which involves finding a phrase and, whenever you think of it, praying that phrase. It can be even timed with one’s breathing, so that rather than running around thinking about how dumb the president is, or how beautiful that girl is and wouldn’t you really like a piece, or how you can’t stand those people at work and someday you’d really like to get even, you just think “Lord Jesus” or even the fuller form “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” Rinse, repeat.

The immediate point of this sort of prayer is a custodial practice on the soul, on the nous, so that it doesn’t go off into random or bad directions. Think about it: your mind is the source of your actions for good or for ill. Shouldn’t you take care what your mind does?

There’s a classic of the Russian spiritual tradition called The Way of the Pilgrim which gives an introduction, should you want to read more.

Vergil/Virgil and Augustus

I’ve been reading Vergil (Virgil) recently.

Fun fact: Virgil’s name is actually Vergil, but everyone misspelled it.

Vergil is famous for the Aeneid, the continuation of the Iliad with a focus on Aeneas, the mythical Roman ancestor. It’s possible that this story isn’t merely legend. The DNA of Tuscany and that of NW Turkey are similar. The legendary migration may have happened. You probably have heard something of this poem, about “Arms and a man,” the tale of the Trojan Horse, and the adventures that follow. It’s very good. Better in Latin, but a masterpiece that extols the glories of Augustus’ Rome.

I have used to think that Vergil must have been executing a commission, that he couldn’t have been that much on board with Augustus, that there was some esoteric meaning in the text. Perhaps Aeneas is an unreliable narrator when he tells his own story, perhaps the fact that we are all usually sympathetic with Dido and not Aeneas, leaving the underworld through the gate of false dreams–all of this could mean that the discerning reader is supposed to detect the note of irony behind the story.

But then I read Eclogue I, a pastoral poem, one of the poems that made Vegil’s reputation and got him the gig with Augustus. It’s a dialogue of two shepherds, bemoaning the fact that the land is disturbed, that there is turmoil, that the goat is bearing her kids on the futile rocky land. One of the shepherds says the following:

 O Meliboee, _deus nobis haec otia fecit_.
 namque erit ille mihi semper deus, illius aram
 saepe tener nostris ab ouilibus imbuet agnus.
 ille meas errare boues, ut cernis, et ipsum
 ludere quae uellem calamo permisit agresti.


O Meliboeus, a god has given us this leisure.
For he will always be a god to me, whose altar
will often be adorned with a tender lamb from my flock.
He it is who allows my cattle to wander, as you see, 
and he permits me to play what I like on my country flute. 

The god is, of course, Augustus. Imagine that your country had been beset with civil war for a hundred years. The fields lay barren, soldiers tear everything up, no plans can be made for the future, and your life is constant striving just to survive. Then someone comes who defeats all the others and establishes order, so that you can have peace, tend your fields, or even indulge in some genuine leisure. Note that this isn’t the leisure of current times, vegetating in front of a screen, but the leisure necessary for high culture. Vergil has the shepherd say that he can play what he likes, that he can write poetry, which isn’t nearly as possible when the countryside is subject to war.

So, maybe I was wrong, and Vergil isn’t being ironic in the Aeneid. Or maybe he’s only a little ironic, as if he’s saying “Look, you and I, we know that Augustus isn’t really a god, but he is certainly godlike in the peace that he has brought. Let the little people worship him. It’s ok.”

Aristotle and Original Sin?

It is a doctrine of mainstream Christianity (by which I primarily mean the Orthodox and Catholic Churches) that there was a primordial tragedy which caused humans to be subject to sin, to tend to be ruled by passions rather than by reason, to choose the less good rather than the true good. It’s for this reason that God becomes man, so the story goes, to end the subjection to death and heal the human race.

It’s a good story, but it’s not scientific, right? It’s not something a self-respecting philosopher would say, either. Religious superstition!

Aristotle says in Politics that some men are by nature slaves, lacking practical wisdom (phronesis) by which they would be able to direct their own actions to the good. Controversy!

But surely this is true, isn’t it? Lots of us do not choose the good when we are confronted with the choice. Maybe none of us really choose the good consistently.

I went to a water park with my family. It was fun! But there were very many people who were having difficulty choosing the right amounts and types of food to eat. What is obesity but a defect of practical wisdom?

Chesterton said somewhere that original sin is the one doctrine of Christianity that can be proved by reading the newspaper.

If we were simply natural animals, you might conclude that there is a mismatch between us and our environment, such that we tend not to thrive. Something seems amiss!

About 1941 and Executive Order 9066

My kid had a discussion in her school history class about the internment of Japanese Americans. This is a great opportunity to think about the rules for reading that I talked about in podcast episode 1. Is your goal to judge or to understand?

It would be very easy to judge FDR badly in this matter. In fact, FDR is one of my least favorite presidents. But it wouldn’t be fair to him to give a brief and shallow judgment in this. You weren’t there. Why did he make the decision? Is it irrational? This doesn’t mean that you have to like the decision, but you need, if you are honest, to try to understand the decision.

Imagine: It’s Dec 8, 1941–Japan has just attacked US territory. They have unknown capabilities, you don’t know where their fleet is, ships have been attacked, transmissions from the west coast have been intercepted, and you have to make a decision. Will there be further attacks? Is there any way to prevent them?

Apparently the Japanese had a plan to bombard San Francisco, which Yamamoto called off because they were running out of fuel.

Pretend you don’t know what you now know. Pretend you have to act. You can’t sit in a classroom and discuss it. You have to take action. If you act wrongly, you lose the west coast. There’s also a large population of Japanese on the west coast–could some of them be enemy agents?

Note that I am not defending the decision. I am trying to understand the decision. These are not the same thing. It doesn’t really matter if I defend the decision or not. I don’t have to act in the past, I have to act in the future. My understanding of the motives behind Executive Order 9066 doesn’t change the past. How could it? But it might change my actions in the future. This is the point of history, according to Thucydides.

Why your favorite club had to die

I have been the part of many organizations in my life. Most of them had a brief flourishing and then a decline. The decline usually happens because somebody joins it and changes it.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this too. Everything was fine, everyone was happy, until someone wasn’t happy and demanded changes be made. The club needs to change the meeting times. It needs to read different things. It has to accept women or be entirely gluten-free. Politics are forbidden, but then become compulsory. You know the drill. After the change is made the group slowly fades away. Meetings quit being scheduled and nobody cares. The cool thing you found is gone.

Why does this have to happen? I think it’s either a personality quirk (VD calls them ‘gammas’) or a deeper underlying disease which has come to be called progressivism. I didn’t say “progress” (who could be opposed to genuine progress?) but “progressivism”, the theory that we must always be moving forward, onward, toward the glorious future, which is always better than where we are now. To fail to be progressive is to be a moral reprobate. “Don’t you want to make things better? Don’t you want to change the world?

If you ask anyone to define what the end goal of progressivism is, you won’t get an answer. It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey! Whatever state you are currently in, it can be improved, and there will be someone in your group who will take it upon himself or herself to improve it.

It will be improved until it ceases to exist.

Some thoughts while sitting in a coffee shop.

  • Why are coffee shops so loud? Don’t you want to promote conversation? Why have the music so loud? Perhaps it is so people won’t stay.
  • Politicians again doing exactly what the people don’t want. This should not surprise you. Self-rule is actually impossible, and any system that pretends to give it to you is telling you fairy stories.
  • One chainsaw is not enough. You need to have two. The moment you have a big tree fall on your property line, the chainsaw will break and you’ll not be able to finish the job. Get a spare.
  • Audiobook narrators will likely soon be replaced by AI narrators. This will be sad. R.C. Bray is so good!
  • Bret McKay is the best interviewer in the business.
  • I still like weightlifting, even though my strength levels are down.
  • The best part about owning a dog is that he’s always happy to see you. It’s not just because I give him belly rubs.
  • By the way, Bret, it’s because of your podcast that my wife consented to getting the dog.
  • On Twitter, it’s a common thing to say that “nothing ins happening.” This is true. The Nothing is happening, more and more every day.
  • Aristotle says happiness is an activity. This is a way to combat the previous point. Do something. Do Something! Find a noble activity to do. It will be better.
  • Fresh eggs are so good!
  • The best word processor is still vim.

We need better audiences

I was talking to my son about music yesterday, and about how simple the current music is. Even on the standards of pop music, it’s pretty simple. Compare today’s hits to Cole Porter, for example. Why did this happen? How did we go from Beethoven to this?

Son points out that Beethoven isn’t popular music. But Beethoven sold a lot of music, I say. There are bagatelles and themes and variations and sonatas and string quartets. These were purchased, and provided income for the composer. Who was buying it? Somebody, surely. There was an audience for this stuff.

There was an audience for highly intellectual music with complex structures and intricate development of themes. Who were these people? Where are they today?

There are other examples. Consider the language of Shakespeare: who was he writing for? Modern students, even smart ones, have difficulty figuring out what’s going on in his poetry. His plays were very popular during his lifetime, which means he had an audience that could appreciate him.

If you have a chance, watch His Girl Friday with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. The dialogue and the jokes come fast and furious, much faster than anything we have today.

If you are upset with the current state of the arts, you should realize that it may be the current state of the audience. If there were people who demanded better stuff, the artists would create it.

What is the proper function of the eye?

What is the meaning of the eye?

In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle begins with the question of what the good is. What is it that human beings aim at? What, in other words, is happiness? What is the meaning of life?

Surely it would be good, if there were such a thing, for us to know what it is. But we live in a secular age, in a time beyond superstition, and we know that there aren’t any such things. A twitter anon says that post-modernism means the failure of all meta-narratives. There’s no way anyone can believe in old things like Christianity or even the pagan virtues. Be whatever you want. Do whatever you want! Remake your body however you want! It doesn’t matter.

But how can we answer such objections? I like the approach Aristotle takes. He proposes that there must be a function, a proper activity, for man. The argument is interesting. Has an eye or a hand a function, and the human being none? It wouldn’t make sense for the parts to have functions but the whole not to have a function.

You go to the eye doctor and say that your eye doesn’t work well. You can’t see. How do we know that this is a problem? Maybe your eye isn’t sick at all! If we decide that the function of the eye is to serve as mere decoration for a face, then that’s the case, right? Who am I to say otherwise?

There are people who go to doctors to have perfectly healthy parts of the body amputated, because it feels wrong for them to have healthy limbs.

We presume that we know what an eye is for, and if it doesn’t doesn’t have 20/20 vision, we correct it until it does. How do we know that it needs correction? Correction implies the correct. Hidden in the background is the notion that humans ought to be able to see well. This “ought” is a hint to the telos or function or happiness of human beings.

What is it? Stay tuned.