The social encyclicals

Here’s a handy compendium of the social encyclicals from Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum to Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate. The older I get the more I see that these old popes know a thing or two about the proper ends of society. I used to be a “Mater si, magistra no” Buckleyite; now I just try to be a Catholic.


Flannery’s horror

We’re reading a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories for the parish book club this month.  I’d only tried to read her novels before and found them too grotesque to make much sense of, but in these short stories the grotesquerie makes sense.  She’s not so clumsy and dim-witted that she has to mutilate people or invent scary monsters to tell her horror stories; she knows that true horror lives in the ordinary human soul.

Wendell Berry

This comes to mind every time I hear about the laws of supply and demand:

Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand. It is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy. –Wendell Berry, Economy and Pleasure in What are People For? p. 135 (1990).

How to know less without really trying

There’s a sort of anti-wisdom in news broadcasts and the speeches of politicians, such that when you’ve listened to them you know less about The Real than you did before.  I could have consumed unreality this morning by pausing for a moment to watch President Obama lie to American Jews in his speech to AIPAC or by listening to the news liars bloviate about their religion of politics, but instead I nourished myself with The Real: I helped our 7-year-old daughter open a new gallon of milk and pour some on her cereal, and I helped clean up the spilled milk with a paper towel.

So, here is White’s Law: the more you listen to the news, the less informed you are.

Later: C.S. Lewis makes a similar point in Letter I of The Screwtape Letters:

At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.  But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that.

Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences.  Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real”.