Different translations

June 30, 2015

I wrote a comment this morning, to a David Brooks column about how Christian social conservatives could change their mission from advocating about sexual mores to helping the poor, and noticed that someone else had made a similar point to mine in their comment posted about a minute before mine was posted.   They call themselves HDNY and they are “verified,” so their comments post immediately, without moderation, so it is likely that HDNY and I were writing at the same time.

I talked about “some other strand” in Christian socially conservative thinking, HDNY talked about “bigots” and “self-righteousness.”  We were both talking about how there seems to be something more going on than just a matter of choosing what part of a Christian message to emphasize.

I’ve seen overlap in comments before, my mother, long before the days of online commenting, used to say, when she had an idea for a letter to the editor, that she was confident that somebody else would write the same thing and she would read it in publication.  What interested me this time was the differing treatments two people gave the same basic theme.

Applying labels to this other thing apparently going on with Christian social conservatives I suspect gets the back up of the people so labeled, unless they like to wear such labels proudly.  Translating the same concept of something else going on into broader and less judgmental terms I think opens up the possibility of seeing some of the attitudes and behaviors as being rooted in self-protective maladaptive coping devices, and that, in turn, could allow people to deal with what ails them that lies behind this perceived need to protect the self.

I admit that my approach is the less popular one, outside of certain circles, but I think it has the virtue of getting us to stop playing a game in which we exchange damaging words with one another.  If it is the case that a lot of difficulty arises from self-protective but maladaptive coping devices, why would increasing the sense that self-protection is needed improve the situation?

I have no real conclusion, only the observation that it is interesting in own right to observe how different people express, or translate, the same basic concept.  I think how we express concepts has a lot to do with which of our own issues we have effectively addressed.  Maybe it also has to do with how deep our perceptions go, how much of the iceberg we can see with the apparatus we have developed, I don’t know.  I do know that one doesn’t buy a well-developed apparatus off the shelf, that the way of thinking it allows can’t be successfully imitated, and that it “costs” plenty.  So maybe it is not surprising that more people don’t use one.


44 Responses to “Different translations”

  1. Matthew Says:

    I don’t think it’s Christians choosing what to emphasise for the most part. They’re largely reacting to an agenda being put forth by liberals in the media, in the entertainment world, in corporate America, in the judiciary, etc.

    Focus favors conflict, and when we look at who’s initiating conflict, look at who’s trying to move the bar. It’s liberals. The status quo has been conservative.

    There are plenty of Christians and other conservatives who maintain strong convictions on helping the poor, resolving injustices like corruption, environmental degradation, over-incarceration, factory farming, etc., but these topics are largely not in the news. Why not?

    The country is increasingly focusing on relatively superficial things and neglecting what’s important. Partly because it’s simpler and more personally engaging (how many of us, for example, really want to do the hard work and the math, and accept the sacrifices necessary to balance the budget and pay back debt?); and partly because the system itself is thoroughly corrupt. Corporations would much rather talk about relatively soft topics like feminism and homosexuals than address their own tax dodgery, out-sourcing, corruption, and environmental impact, etc. In the political realm, both parties have been effectively corrupted as well. Related;




    Finally, there’s plenty of bigotry and self-righteousness on both sides. However, the ones who tend to resort to outright insult in these kinds of debates are those on the left. HDNY’s quote exemplifies that. Yelling “bigot” is not a substantive counter-argument. I think this is partly because forums like the New York Times have largely become echo chambers, partly because of biased moderation, which translates further into a disproportionate numerical advantage. That kind of insulation pushes people to go beyond what they otherwise would, and it’s also easier to mistreat an outsider. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”. Because they are the Spanish Inquisition.

    I also think they resort to denigration because they can’t support their arguments on the merits. That is, they have a sense they’re wrong and that they’re actually losing, and spite (eg. kicking the dog) is their only recourse. “When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.” -Socrates

    • Diana Moses Says:

      Has anyone written anything substantial on the topic of how commenting sections change, and usually not for the better, over time? Maybe commenting is a self-degenerative enterprise? Back when comments were numbered and time-stamped and without replies or verification status, I thought they came across more like short essays on an impromptu exam and less like well-rehearsed points and casual chat.

      • Matthew Says:

        I think people are becoming more hostile in general. I don’t think it’s the fault of commenting itself, per se, tho different formats do lend themselves to different kinds of debate. The country is polarising. I don’t comment on Politico anymore because it’s a carnival of nonsense, but I do go there every once in a while to read an article and/or check out the top comments. I noticed a new phenomenon recently – people are flagging posts en masse so that they become hidden. Example;

        There’s a technical limit at which point a comment is automatically hidden and must be manually moderated to be revealed. It doesn’t appear that Politico actively moderates to resolve them, so the effect is the comments become hidden by default from then on.

        It’s the logic of sabotage, not debate, and both sides are doing it. It reminds me of Clausewitz’s saying, “war is the continuation of politics by other means.”

        Positions are hardening and hostility breeds hostility. I get the sense that both sides are giving up on rational discourse, but for different reasons. The left has largely convinced itself that the other side are ignorant bigots, hopelessly entrenched in religious thought. You can’t reason with bigots, after all. And many on the right sense that it’s simply not a fair fight. That the 31 state votes they won on marriage, for example, can be tossed by a few unelected judges. That no matter how good their arguments, they don’t get a fair hearing in the press. And yes, that simply holding a sincere opinion gets one slandered as a bigot or worse.

        The response from many on the right is to simply withdraw, where it is appropriate, and I think that gives the left an unrealistic sense of their own preponderance. It reminds me of Nixon’s landslide victory in ’72, and yet the country’s trajectory was ultimately decidedly against him and what he represented (the old guard).

        Many years ago I had some of my comments rejected at the New York Times, and I said to hell with them. I’m not going to engage with a hand tied behind my back. The beginning of the end of my time at the Newshour was also the case where I and several others had our comments removed for political reasons. Plus, I don’t get the sense that Shields and Brooks, or the editorial staff, present an honest, balanced ideological viewpoint. Many of us raised this objection, repeatedly, in vain.

        I still believe the truth has power and debate is worthwhile, where/when it is appropriate. At the same time, I also recognise that many/most people cannot be reasoned with. Or, “the heart has its reasons…”. People often adopt popular/cultural prejudices without understanding. And ultimately, the world is not going to change by reason alone.

        I also think there are greater forces at work driving people apart. There’s a general discontent (underwater economy, racial tension, terrorism apprehension, etc.), and people internalise and project it. Also, in many cases, there’s a personal discontent; broken relationships engender animus and cynicism, and sour peoples’ interaction with others. These failures cascade. From Calhoun;

        “Normal social discourse within the mouse community broke down, and with it the ability of mice to form social bonds. The failures and dropouts congregated in large groups in the middle of the enclosure, their listless withdrawal occasionally interrupted by spasms and waves of pointless violence. The victims of these random attacks became attackers.”

        Long story short, I think things are getting worse for this society and we’re approaching something catastrophic. At that point (with a shared concern/goal) people will come together again, and we’ll have more important demands of our time than somebody else being wrong on the internet, if there is still an internet.

      • Diana Moses Says:

        I’ve wondered about the flagging phenomenon on comment pages — I had the impression that fellow commenters were deep-sixing other people’s comments even if the comments were well within the rules — reminds me of how the honor system has broken down in other contexts, such as at colleges.

        I agree that things have become very polarized, but I am encouraged by some trends, such as conservatives seeing the “tough on crime” approach and mass incarceration as needing reform (I’m reading the Bill Keller piece in the New Yorker).

      • Matthew Says:

        It’s a good article.

        >“It is no longer concerned primarily with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed,”

        I’d say it’s both. Broken families + a broken economy leaves a lot of young, (especially black) men out to dry.

        >We didn’t answer the question: if not prisons, what?”

        Right. “An ounce of prevention…” Without addressing root cause we’re just meddling on the edges, after the fact.

        I’m not optimistic on this. I think the system is too far gone to be rehabilitated. I think there is a dangerous, nihilistic undercurrent, especially with young, black men, that is at risk of escalating; that, indeed, “we’re one bad incident away from having this erode on us…”

        I live in a suburb of Kansas City, MO (for now – we’re moving to Colorado Springs next month). I visit my twin sister who lives closer to downtown (against my advisement), and I’ve noticed a few changes recently when I’m there. First, most of the police have shaved heads. As far as I can tell this is a recent phenomenon. The police in my community do not have shaved heads. I’ve heard that a lot of these young men in the city are returning veterans (Afghanistan/Iraq), and they carry with them a militaristic (us vs. them) view of their job. This approach is confirmed by the rampant hostility they encounter in the black community. The hostility has always been there, more or less, but it’s sharpened recently in response to the high-profile police killings of young black men. The press is partially guilty, for advancing what I consider to be a trumped up (false), race-baiting narrative.

        The second thing I’ve noticed is that the sirens have changed. They used to be single toned; now they’re two-toned and lower pitched; I can’t adequately describe the sense one gets. It’s ominous.


        Even the videos don’t adequately capture it, because in real life the sirens are louder and more effective.


        >Lowering the pitch of a vocalization is a nearly universal sign of increasing aggressiveness in mammals…


      • Diana Moses Says:

        Interesting, including about the sirens.

        I think most of the sirens I heard in Boston today were from firetrucks and ambulances, but there were a lot of them I thought.

        I also saw this, which I found mesmerizing:


  2. jimmy Says:

    May I direct you AGAIN to “Who REALLY Cares” by ARTHUR Brooks on Amazon. It’s hands down for people of faith over feel-good phoney lefties.

  3. Matthew Says:

    One more thing. I have to challenge the idea that social conservatism is a “maladaptive coping device”. First, I think I might rather be called a “bigot” than mentally ill, since there is no intellectual/medical pretense to the former. For that matter, there’s so much unfounded self-justification going on here. How convenient that our entire side of the argument is supposedly “maladaptive”, but yours is not.

    In reality, conservatism is the evolutionary default, the norm in healthy/growing societies, whereas liberalism attends societies in decline and collapse. Which is maladaptive?

    Further, feminism corresponds with unhappiness in women;

    >women who strongly identify as progressive—the 15 percent who agree most with feminist ideals—have a harder time being happy than their peers


    Whereas being conservative corresponds with a positive sense of well-being and emotional stability (less neuroticism);



    One thing is making you miserable and neurotic, but the other thing is “maladaptive”?

    • Diana Moses Says:

      From my point of view, everybody has some maladaptive coping devices.

      • Matthew Says:

        Whether that’s true or not, the specific premise here remains unproven, and, in my mind, wrong.

        For that matter, economic libertarianism (and its attendant costs/consequences) goes hand in hand with social/moral libertarianism (and its attendant costs/consequences).

        FDR advocated “old and precious moral values” at the same time he was fighting to fix the broken economy and resolve record levels of income inequality.

        “They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.”


        >Young women, especially, began staking claim to their own bodies and took part in a sexual liberation of their generation. Many of the ideas that fueled this change in sexual thought were already floating around New York intellectual circles prior to World War I, with the writings of Sigmund Freud, Havelock Ellis, and Ellen Key. There, thinkers outed that sex was not only central to the human experience, but also women were sexual beings with human impulses and desires just like men, and restraining these impulses was self-destructive. By the 1920s, these ideas had permeated the mainstream.[24]


        >The relative liberalism of the decade is demonstrated by the fact that the actor William Haines, regularly named in newspapers and magazines as the #1 male box-office draw, openly lived in a gay relationship with his partner, Jimmie Shields. Other popular gay actors/actresses of the decade included Alla Nazimova and Ramón Novarro.[35] In 1927, Mae West wrote a play about homosexuality called The Drag,[36] and alluded to the work of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. It was a box-office success. West regarded talking about sex as a basic human rights issue, and was also an early advocate of gay rights.[37]

        … With the return of a conservative mood in the 1930s, the public grew intolerant of homosexuality, and gay actors were forced to choose between retiring or agreeing to hide their sexuality even in Hollywood.[39]



      • Diana Moses Says:

        The strand I have been mulling over is how to think about healthy coping devices in a way that doesn’t make them seem like something to be endured. (I can get resentful about being in situations so often in which they seem necessary.) I got to thinking that some coping devices, like re-framing, are kind of like growing flowers in a compost heap — one takes something that could be thought of in a way that could lead to a negative attitude and one looks at it differently and is prompted to feel more positively, and that positive feeling is maybe like a little flower.

      • Matthew Says:

        I’m not sure how this applies to social morality vis a vis conservatives, which was the original subject. I don’t get the sense that I have to “endure” conservative morality. I have the sense I’m right and that conservatism prevails according to natural law, and that belief/confidence is essentially positive. Whatever conflict or discomfort that exists is merely incidental and secondary to that greater truth.

        It’s worth noting the root of conservatism is the same as conservationism, largely on the other side of the political spectrum. The idea is to maintain what is good.

      • Diana Moses Says:

        Aren’t conservatives reacting to something when they want to go back to social relations regarding adult romantic pairings that used to be the norm but no longer are? Going back strikes me as problematic. Why not try to shape the changes, emphasizing what’s positive and trying to diminish what’s not helpful? Going back to some “halcyon days” seems to me to be an attempt at something that is not realistic or healthy but seems comforting to some. What is it that needs comforting? Why not move forward in some way?

      • Matthew Says:

        And yet, presumably, you would like to “go back” to a time with less economic inequality, less corruption, greater regulation of corporations, tax compliance, etc., as would I. The idea that social evolution is strictly linear is wrong. Nature is cyclical too. We go forward, full circle.


        So yes, in the ways I consider social morality to have degenerated, I would return to a healthy, conservative model. You say it’s not realistic, but there’s plenty of precedent for it. In imperial Rome, no-fault divorce was legal. After Rome fell, what was left of Roman society returned and became more conservative, and remained that way for well over a thousand years.

        The 1920s were liberal/libertarian in many ways, morally and economically. Income inequality was greater then than any time since until now. After the crash (the reckoning), the country returned, and became increasingly conservative again.

        I consider the return inevitable, since the status quo is plainly unsustainable. For example, in this country >40% of single mothers and their children live in poverty (as a consequence of no-fault divorce), and the government that supports them financially (in lieu of a husband) is going bankrupt. See Herb Stein’s Law.

        There’s also the war.

        >Once again had the cup run over; once more had patience been exhausted, justice fallen due; and quite against His own wish or will, under pressure from the Kingdom of the Stern (which, in any case, the world was unable to resist, since One had never succeeded in making it stand up on the unstable and yielding foundations of sheer mercy and compassion), He, the Almighty, in majestic affliction had seen Himself driven to step in and clean up; to overturn, to destroy, and only after that to even off again – as it had been at the time of the Flood and on the day of the rain of fire and brimstone, when the Salt Sea had swallowed up the wicked cities.

        -Thomas Mann, Joseph the Provider

      • Diana Moses Says:

        Do you think we’re going back to husband and wife are one and that one is the husband?

      • Matthew Says:

        I don’t think that’s ever been the case. Marriage means 2 become 1. The 1 is both.

        In some respects (eg. politically, economically, theologically, militarily, etc.), it makes sense for the husband to predominate. For example; “Most anthropologists hold that there are no known societies that are unambiguously matriarchal”


        Meaning, government, among other things, is the natural province of men, which makes sense considering men also have a rough monopoly on violence (conquest), among other things..

        In other social spheres, especially those dealing with children, it makes sense for the wife to predominate.

        I think part of the pathology of modern society is to implicitly prioritise the traditionally masculine roles, neglecting the feminine. Modern feminism seems to mean abandoning one’s children, abandoning traditional motherhood/womanhood, abandoning femininity, to head out into society and act like a man. No wonder women are miserable. They’re not allowed to be themselves.

        Equal doesn’t mean identical. The differences come naturally. To that end, we can learn a lot about ourselves and biological gender roles by observing the behavior of our closest mammalian relatives.

      • Matthew Says:

        That was a technicality, but it was a technicality that made some sense. Again, since government is the natural purview of men, it would come naturally for the husband to be the one to interact with the law. The wife would still have had the power to operate within the marriage, to exert her influence, etc.

        Further, the entire idea of marriage in the first place is that the interests and operations of the husband and wife are unified. To presume the wife has her own separate interests, financially, legally, and/or otherwise, would presume a split, a separation, and that compromises the institution. Predictably, “women’s liberation” has corresponded with the increasing failure of marriage, and a concomitant increase in the suffering/cost that follows.

      • Diana Moses Says:

        It was more than a technicality

      • Diana Moses Says:

        By the way, the point I was trying to raise in bringing up two are one and the one is the husband is that even conservatives, I think, pick and choose among the changes we’ve had in social relations regarding marital partners — I don’t have the impression most American conservatives are expecting or advocating for us to go back to coverture.

      • Matthew Says:

        >the one is the husband

        But that was never true in reality, overall. It may have been true in certain technical respects before the law, but there is a lot more to life than fiat law. This seems to be another case of confusing the man’s province with all that matters.

        Coverture is an official recognition of certain biological tendencies (ie. that men dominate (overtly), both interpersonally and insofar as dominance extends into government and law). Whether that official recognition is present does not significantly change how we naturally operate. That is, the recognition by government is secondary. Our nature is primary, and by nature men and women operate differently.

      • Diana Moses Says:

        Hello, ownership of property and the capacity to enter into contracts, for example, is pretty basic, not the stuff of technicalities.

      • Matthew Says:

        A woman would still have been able to own property (in reality), just not in an official (technical) capacity separate from her husband.

      • Diana Moses Says:

        And what makes you say that?

        If you can’t go to court to enforce your control over the property, if you can’t convey it to someone else, if you can’t enter into a contract … what have you got?

      • Matthew Says:

        If it came down to contention (unlikely), your husband would go to court to substantiate your ownership.

      • Diana Moses Says:

        As I said, what makes you say that? The evidence from the period, or is this just theorizing? From my perspective you are undermining your general credibility with your claims on this subject. Your idea that legal incapacity makes no difference would undermine all kinds of even modern law. And, of course, the wife had no “ownership” to substantiate.

  4. Matthew Says:

    If 2 become 1 and the 1 has ownership, then both have ownership.

    • Diana Moses Says:

      That wasn’t what the law or its interpretation was.

      • Matthew Says:

        Effectively, yes. Possession is 9/10 of the law.

      • Diana Moses Says:

        You seem to be writing as if the earlier law was an import from an alien culture imposed on top of a structure of property rights as they are understood now.

        You know, what’s interesting about legal history is steering an accurate path between the pitfall of being anachronistic and the pitfall of being too mesmerized by the intellectual history aspects of law (doctrine, treatises, statutes) and missing what was going on in terms of social history and what people were actually doing.

        But I don’t have the impression that you are opining on the basis of evidence.

        If we get back to the original issue, the good old days were not really so good.

      • Matthew Says:

        No, I’m saying, indeed, the law is secondary. Ownership is primarily, effectively a matter of physical reality (actual possession) rather than some abstract fiat stipulation; that most of the property owned by the husband was in the wife’s possession too, since they shared a home and a life together (ie. “what people were actually doing”). For example, technically I own the van my wife and I drive. My name is on the title, but in reality, for all intents and purposes, it’s both of ours. You’re implying more significance to the law than it actually had/s.

        That’s not to say cultural patriarchy didn’t/doesn’t exist, and, while there are costs, there are also often good reasons for it (eg. it keeps families together); plus, reason aside, it’s simply part of our nature. Again, “Most anthropologists hold that there are no known societies that are unambiguously matriarchal”. And, “Most men marry women younger than they are; with the difference being between two to three years in Spain,[3] with the UK reporting the difference to be on average about three years, and the US, two and a half.[10][11] The pattern was also confirmed for the rest of the world, with the gap being largest in Africa.[12]”


        Once you acknowledge that men and women are profoundly different in many ways biologically, that has inevitable implications for our roles in society. For example, women are not subject to the draft. Chivalry is an expression of patriarchy too (eg. “women and children first”).

        There’s no situation where you’re going to get everything you want. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. There’s a popular madness today that has people believing they can do and be whatever they want without consequences, without paying for it.

        While, of course, in some ways things are better today, I’d say more of the benefit has come from technological progress than legal reform, tho to some extent they go together (eg. the fact that slavery and indentured servitude often attend relatively undeveloped economies). On the other hand, greater liberalisation also means greater social friction/pressure and higher costs. I can also point to record levels of broken families (and the attendant suffering), record levels of mental illness, record levels of debt, record levels of obesity/diabetes, record levels of incarceration, factory farming, etc. In many ways society is much worse off. More importantly, perhaps, the current model is unsustainable (look at debt alone). We can quibble about cost/benefit, but it’s a moot point if you can’t keep it.

      • Diana Moses Says:

        I think you are being anachronistic and inaccurate about women’s property situation in the past.

  5. Matthew Says:

    Why do women generally marry a man older than themselves?

    • Diana Moses Says:

      Because younger men are more obviously less emotionally mature?

      • Matthew Says:


        >It has also been found that men are generally higher than women in SDO measures.[3]

      • Matthew Says:

        Also, do you have any actual evidence for this assertion?

      • Diana Moses Says:

        Observation, conversations, experience

      • Diana Moses Says:

        I think John Prine summed up a lot of men in the line “My old man is another child that’s grown old”

      • Matthew Says:

        I’d say that’s true for everyone.

      • Matthew Says:

        Or, if the point is that being younger alone is enough to correlate with lower emotional maturity, why would men be comfortable with marrying a less emotionally mature woman, but not the other way around?

      • Diana Moses Says:

        Worldly experience, which may come with increasing age, can look like emotional maturity from a distance. My sense is that this may contribute to why women date and marry older men — it is in some ways a better fit of stages of emotional development, unless or until it becomes evident that worldy experience and emotional development are not necessarily the same thing.

      • Matthew Says:

        In the case that women are more emotional, is that all that matters? Or is this simply another case of self-justification?

        >If the other person is upset, or the emotions are disturbing, women’s brains tend to stay with those feelings. But men’s brains do something else: they sense the feelings for a moment, then tune out of the emotions and switch to other brain areas that try to solve the problem that’s creating the disturbance.

        >Thus women’s complaint that men are tuned out emotionally, and men’s that women are too emotional – it’s a brain difference.

        >Neither is better – both have advantages. The male tune-out works well when there’s a need to insulate yourself against distress so you can stay calm while others around you are falling apart – and focus on finding a solution to an urgent problem. And the female tendency to stay tuned in helps enormously to nurture and support others in emotional trying circumstances.


      • Diana Moses Says:

        Emotional maturity is not the same thing as being more emotional.

      • Matthew Says:

        In that case, one might think the ability to control one’s emotions (ie. be less emotional) would be true emotional maturity. Children, for example, are significantly more emotional than adults. Meaning men, in general, are more emotionally mature after all?

        Anyway, I still think dominance is a key part of the equation.

        >Age-based hierarchies invariably give more power to adults and middle-age people than children and younger adults, and gender-based hierarchies invariably grant more power to one gender


        Since men are generally dominant, it also makes sense that the husband is generally older (otherwise there would be an intrinsic contradiction present).

        There are evolutionary considerations as well. Traditionally men are the primary provider and protector of a family, and women have evolved accordingly to prioritise success and strength in a potential mate, and men are generally more successful and more capable as they age (to an extent). Meanwhile, men have evolved to prioritise fertility in females, and the younger the woman (after a certain point), the more fertile.

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