The Racial Double Standard

Coleman Hughes, a black student at Columbia, goes there. His essay begins like this:

In the fall of 2016, I was hired to play in Rihanna’s back-up band at the MTV Video Music Awards. To my pleasant surprise, several of my friends had also gotten the call. We felt that this would be the gig of a lifetime: beautiful music, primetime TV, plus, if we were lucky, a chance to schmooze with celebrities backstage.

But as the date approached, I learned that one of my friends had been fired and replaced. The reason? He was a white Hispanic, and Rihanna’s artistic team had decided to go for an all-black aesthetic—aside from Rihanna’s steady guitarist, there would be no non-blacks on stage. Though I was disappointed on my friend’s behalf, I didn’t consider his firing as unjust at the time—and maybe it wasn’t. Is it unethical for an artist to curate the racial composition of a racially-themed performance? Perhaps; perhaps not. My personal bias leads me to favor artistic freedom, but as a society, we have yet to answer this question definitively.

One thing, however, is clear. If the races were reversed—if a black musician had been fired in order to achieve an all-white aesthetic—it would have made front page headlines. It would have been seen as an unambiguous moral infraction. The usual suspects would be outraged, calling for this event to be viewed in the context of the long history of slavery and Jim Crow in this country, and their reaction would widely be seen as justified. Public-shaming would be in order and heartfelt apologies would be made. MTV might even enact anti-bias trainings as a corrective.

Though the question seems naïve to some, it is in fact perfectly valid to ask why black people can get away with behavior that white people can’t. The progressive response to this question invariably contains some reference to history: blacks were taken from their homeland in chains, forced to work as chattel for 250 years, and then subjected to redlining, segregation, and lynchings for another century. In the face of such a brutal past, many would argue, it is simply ignorant to complain about what modern-day blacks can get away with.

Yet there we were—young black men born decades after anything that could rightly be called ‘oppression’ had ended—benefitting from a social license bequeathed to us by a history that we have only experienced through textbooks and folklore. And my white Hispanic friend (who could have had a tougher life than all of us, for all I know) paid the price. The underlying logic of using the past to justify racial double-standards in the present is rarely interrogated. What do slavery and Jim Crow have to do with modern-day blacks, who experienced neither? Do all black people have P.T.S.D from racism, as the Grammy and Emmy award-winning artist Donald Glover recently claimed? Is ancestral suffering actually transmitted to descendants? If so, how? What exactly are historical ‘ties’ made of?

Hughes goes on to lament the double standard the public applies to famous black writers. For example:

The celebrated journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates provides another example of the lower ethical standard to which black writers are held. In his #1 New York Times bestseller, Between the World and Me, Coates explained that the policemen and firemen who died on 9/11 “were not human to me,” but “menaces of nature.”1 This, it turned out, was because a friend of Coates had been killed by a black cop a few months earlier. In his recent essay collection, he doubled down on this pitiless sentiment: “When 9/11 happened, I wanted nothing to do with any kind of patriotism, with the broad national ceremony of mourning. I had no sympathy for the firefighters, and something bordering on hatred for the police officers who had died.”2 Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Bari Weiss—a young Jewish woman—was recently raked over the coals for tweeting, “Immigrants: They get the job done,” in praise of the Olympic ice-skater Mirai Nagasu, a second-generation Japanese-American. Accused of ‘othering’ an American citizen, Weiss came under so much fire that The Atlantic ran twoseparate pieces defending her. That The Atlantic saw it necessary to vigorously defend Weiss, but hasn’t had to lift a finger to defend Coates, whom they employ, evidences the racial double-standard at play. From a white writer, an innocuous tweet provokes histrionic invective. From a black writer, repeated expressions of unapologetic contempt for public servants who died trying to save the lives of others on September 11 are met with fawningpraise from leftwing periodicals, plus a National Book Award and a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant.

Hughes says this double standard is common in society:

But we make an exception for blacks. Indeed, what George Orwell wrote in 1945seems more apt today: “Almost any English intellectual would be scandalised by the claim that the white races are superior to the coloured, whereas the opposite claim would seem to him unexceptionable even if he disagreed with it.” Only a black intellectual, for instance, could write an op-ed arguing that black children should not befriend white children because “[h]istory has provided little reason for people of color to trust white people,” and get it published in the New York Times in 2017. An identical piece with the races reversed would rightly be relegated to fringe white supremacist forums. In defense of such racist drivel, it won’t suffice to repeat the platitude that ‘black people can’t be racist,’ as if redefining a word changes the ethical status of the thing that the word signifies. Progressives ought not dodge the question: Why are blacks the only ethnic group routinely and openly encouraged to nurse stale grievances back to life?

Read the whole thing. It’s very, very brave. Hughes is a black undergraduate at an Ivy League university, yet he has no been afraid to say what has been unsayable. That man has guts.

By the way, his essay is not merely an exercise in whataboutism. He addresses real philosophical and moral concerns in it. He focuses on blacks, but as a general matter, if you read the mainstream press, you’ll find there’s a tendency to treat gays and other minority groups favored by liberals with kid gloves — as if they were symbols, not real people, with the same virtues and vices that everybody else has. For example, in a previous job, I observed that some liberals in the newsroom viewed local Muslims through the lens of the culture war between liberals and conservatives, and did not want to hold them to the same standard with regard to extremist rhetoric, apparently because doing so might encourage conservatives in their own biases.

Another personal example: last year, I wrote several posts about Tommy Curry, a radical black nationalist who teaches philosophy at Texas A&M (see here and here). In his written work and spoken advocacy, Curry advocates what can only be described as anti-white hatred. Don’t take my word for it; go read the blogs I wrote, which quote generously from, and link to, Curry’s own work. A white man who spoke the same way about any racial minority would never have been hired by a university — A&M hired him knowing exactly what they were getting, because he had published — and would never be retained by one after his racism became known. I linked in one of the blogs to a podcast (subtitled, “White People Are The Problem”) on which Curry was a regular guest; on that particular episode, this philosophy professor argued that white people cannot be reasonable, because they are white.

Imagine being a white student in that man’s class.

But there is a different standard for bigots from the left. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote a long piece about the fallout from my blogs, and positioned it as Curry having suffered because he wanted to “force a conversation about race and violence” — a conversation that people didn’t want to hear. The writer — no doubt reflecting the biases of his own professional class — could not seem to grasp why people would be really offended by the unapologetic racism of Tommy Curry’s writing and speaking. This is precisely the double standard that Coleman Hughes decries. It is lucrative for radicals like Curry, Coates, and others, but a just society should hold us all to the same standard of discourse and morality. This is one aspect of the Enlightenment that I am eager to defend. It’s not only morally right, but practically, observing it it is the only way we will be able to keep the peace in a pluralistic country.

I found Hughes’s essay via Prufrock, a free daily digest that comes to you in e-mail, to which you can and should subscribe by clicking here. 

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Yes, Virginia, Medicaid Expansion Will Harm the Poor

Last week, Virginia’s general assembly voted to expand Medicaid under the auspices of Obamacare. The commonwealth’s legislators had wisely resisted doing so for years, but four GOP state senators broke ranks to vote for this bill in exchange for a provision stipulating an anemic work requirement. The “news” media have, of course, touted this betrayal as a victory for the poor. It is however, precisely the reverse. Expansion will consign thousands of truly poor and disabled Virginians to purgatorial Medicaid waiting lists while advancing able-bodied adults with incomes above the federal poverty level (FPL) to the front of the line.

Why would Virginia pursue such an obviously unjust policy? Like all Democratic programs, it’s about power and money. Obamacare incentivizes expansion states to shift Medicaid’s focus to able-bodied adults by paying over 90 percent of their coverage costs, while the federal share of costs for traditional Medicaid patients remains below 60 percent. This does not mean, however, that doctors and hospitals will receive more money. Providers will continue to be paid less by Medicaid than the cost of treatment whether the patients are expansion or traditional enrollees. The extra money will go to political slush funds and insurance companies.

Medicaid expansion doesn’t work like the original program, which was administered by the states as a safety net for poor children, pregnant women, the disabled, and the elderly. Management of Obamacare’s corrupted version of the program is farmed out to insurance companies. A typical example is Wellcare, which accrued over $10.6 billion in 2017 from its coverage of able-bodied adults. The company plans to reinvest $2.5 billion of that revenue in the acquisition of Meridian Health Plans of Illinois and Michigan, which will increase its Medicaid portfolio by 37 percent. Meanwhile, truly poor patients die on waiting lists.

This is not conjecture. A recent study, conducted by the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), revealed that at least 21,904 Americans have withered away and died on Medicaid waiting lists in the states that expanded the program under Obamacare. Even worse, the 21,904 figure reported in the study almost certainly understates the true death toll. A number of expansion states were somehow “unable” to provide FGA with death totals, while others implausibly claimed that there were none to report. It is nonetheless clear that Medicaid waiting lists in expansion states constitute a kind of death row for the genuinely poor.

The worst carnage has occurred just north of the Beltway. Maryland is easily the deadliest state for traditional Medicaid applicants, chalking up no fewer than 8,495 deaths among individuals languishing on its waiting list. During the same time period, even as these patients were left to die, the bureaucrats of the Old Line State enrolled very nearly 300,000 able-bodied adults under the aegis of Obamacare. Louisiana took second place in killing its traditional Medicaid patients. The Pelican State reported 5,534 deaths among the unfortunates who wound up on its waiting list, while 451,000 able-bodied adults were enrolled under Obamacare’s expansion.

Additional states whose Medicaid waiting lists have killed a thousand or more people include New Mexico, where 2,031 poor and disabled patients died while the state signed up 259,537 enrollees under Obamacare’s expansion scheme. Michigan left 1,970 of its residents to die while enrolling 665,057 in its new and improved Medicaid program. West Virginia allowed 1,093 patients to die on its waiting list while signing up 181,105 able-bodied enrollees. The remaining expansion states are mere also-rans with death tolls ranging from Iowa’s paltry 989 down to Minnesota, which managed to leave only 15 of its poor and disabled citizens for dead.

This is the august company Virginia’s General Assembly chose to join last week. The Old Dominion will become the 33rd state to take Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion bait, demonstrating that the commonwealth’s politicians have learned little or nothing from the deadly experiences of the previous states that were gaffed by their own greed. Those Medicaid expansion states still have nearly 250,000 poor, disabled, and elderly individuals wasting away on waiting lists. Yet Obamacare advocates in Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska — blissfully unaware of the death tolls quoted above — are working to pass expansion in November via referenda.

Maine activists have already tricked the voters of the Pine Tree State into passing a referendum approving expansion, but the program hasn’t been implemented because Governor Paul Lepage has refused to go forward: “My administration will not implement Medicaid expansion until it has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels DHHS has calculated, and I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families.” This speaks to one of expansion’s most profound ironies. Even if Washington continues footing most of the bill, herding the able-bodied into Medicaid is a budget buster for the states. It nearly broke Maine the last time they tried it.

Medicaid expansion under Obamacare privileges able-bodied adults with incomes above FPL, states can’t pay for it in the long haul, and it causes the genuinely poor to be dumped onto waiting lists where they quietly die in their thousands. Yet the Old Dominion’s newly-minted Governor, Ralph Northam, will gleefully sign an expansion bill into law this week as the leaders of his party and the media beam benevolently from on high. His name may even be uttered by the Great Mentioner as potential presidential material. For any Democrat, that’s certainly well worth a little inequity, the occasional budget deficit, and a few thousand human sacrifices.

The post Yes, Virginia, Medicaid Expansion Will Harm the Poor appeared first on The American Spectator.

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Why the Air Force Thinks It Can Turn Gamers Into Its Next Top Guns

In late May, the U.S. Air Force announced its intention to release an advanced video game simulation. The theory is that the game, if successful, will be an effective recruitment tool among high school students.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the U.S. Army already did the exact same thing with a game called “America’s Army,” launched in 2002. That one was for a while relatively popular, but as a recruitment tool there’s little doubt it failed. Indeed, it was panned early and often for claiming to offer a realistic soldiering experience while glamorizing it as an exciting and largely consequence-free adventure. The game, of course, never showed the tedium or the dark side of military service in conflict—but what proper recruitment propaganda ever does?

Not content to merely copy a failed program, the so-far untitled Air Force game seeks to combine the allure of video games with the Orwellian realities of modern “big data” applications that the government is so fond of. In this case, officials have suggested they are literally going to monitor players to spot particularly talented ones they can recruit.

Call it recruitment recon.

As an example, imagine that the Air Force identifies a player who is particularly good at controlling the game’s simulated planes, so they offer him/her a $100,000 signing bonus to sign up for the real thing. But isn’t it possible that video game talent might not translate into real-life skills in combat? Incredibly, that seems to have been lost on the USAF.

Which is why this could be an even bigger disaster than the “America’s Army” folly—and much more expensive, too. While the Army’s gambit cost millions to design, it at least had a limited return on investment. The Air Force is prepared to throw major bonuses at good video game players on the notion that, like the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter, that’s where you’re going to find real talent.

The reason this makes sense to the Air Force (but nobody else) is because, with the advent of drone operations (i.e. remote control targeting), a number of people actually are employed in joystick-based warfare. It’s not clear whether the game will feature a drone operator mode (based in some outpost in the Nevada desert), as it seems to be focused on advanced warplanes in the heat of battle, not blowing up Pakistani wedding parties from thousands of miles away. This should come as no surprise because the life of an actual drone operator is reportedly pretty miserable, and the point of the Air Force’s game is to get kids to play so you can collect all sorts of data from them.

So far, Air Force officials aren’t providing a lot of specifics, just ambitions. They’ve also avoided estimating what the program will cost. Creating a game advanced enough to reliably attract an audience gets more expensive every year. At this point just developing a game can be counted on to cost a minimum of $100 million, to say nothing of all of the server and metadata processing costs, and the costs associated with marketing the game.

This is precisely why high-end video games don’t attempt to survive as advertising platforms. The cost of developing games has grown precipitously over the years, and players are focused on playing. They don’t want to be sold anything—not by companies, not by Uncle Sam.

This is why using a war simulation video game as a marketing tool is a terrible idea. Even in the highly unlikely event that the U.S. Air Force actually does make a popular video game, that doesn’t mean its fan base is going to be inclined toward military service, let alone suited to it. This is what happens when you combine lofty recruitment goals with a bottomless pit of taxpayer money: the military is encouraged to make reckless attempts to engage the public. The Air Force now appears to be lining up one of the most reckless of blunders yet.

Jason Ditz is news editor at Antiwar.com, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the cause of non-interventionism. His work has appeared in Forbes, the Toronto Star, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Providence Journal, the Daily Caller, the American Conservative, the Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.

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Christian Ghost Factories & Zombie Mills

Writing in First Things, Dale Coulter examines The Benedict Option. It’s mostly positive. Excerpts:

Michael Novak argued that mediating structures, the modern analogues to Burke’s “little platoons,” allow for subsidiarity and reinforce Alexis de Tocqueville’s law of association as a principle of self-governance. The four basic forms of mediating structures identified by Neuhaus and Berger are neighborhood, family, church, and voluntary association. These structures reflect the values of individuals and mediate them to the public, allowing individuals to find meaningful places in civil society.

Neuhaus and Berger also claimed that American liberalism had become blind to the important role of mediating structures and, instead, vigorously defended the rights of individuals over against them. Individuals were elevated over family, neighborhood, and the small town, becoming subject to mega-structures that actually alienate most of the middle class. Dreher’s analysis flows along similar lines. Dreher sees the alignment of mega-structures around LGBT, abortion-rights, and other issues as an attack on mediating structures that translate Christian values from the private to the public sphere.

His solution combines a political minimalism with a cultural maximalism. Contrary to some analyses, Dreher does not call for a retreat from political life at the state or federal level. Instead, he proposes narrowing the agenda to focus on preserving the freedoms that will allow Christians to rebuild mediating structures. The building of these structures is at the heart of Dreher’s call for a cultural maximalism. In Dreher’s mind, Christians should renew their commitment to church and family and begin building new forms of voluntary association through professional and social networks. Most of his examples are forms of voluntary association.

Coulter says my call in the book for Christians to build an “ark” is too imprecise.

The “ark” in question is not the church or any single institution; rather, it’s a fleet of life boats, Burke’s “little platoons,” which together make up Christian culture.

Yes, this is true. I thought my book made this explicit, but I guess not. In subsequent talks, I’ve used the Dunkirk metaphor: that we Christians, in this particular time and place, are pinned down on a beach, with nowhere to go. If we attack the enemy head on, we’re going to be wiped out. If we sit tight and try to wait out the crisis, we’re going to be wiped out. The only real chance we have is to get on a flotilla of little arks, and get ourselves to a safer place (safer, not safe; there are no fully safe places), so that we can train ourselves for the long duration … and eventually going on the offensive again, when the time is right.

Understand I’m speaking metaphorically here! Anyway, yes, a Ben Op flotilla. More Coulter:

Given the divisions among Christians, Dreher knows that he cannot simply appeal to the church as such; in fact, his chapters on the personal and the church may be understood as a call to evangelical Protestants to leave behind their free-church ways and recognize tradition and liturgy as weapons against liquid modernity. Dreher implicitly suggests that the variability in free-church Christianity is part of liquid modernity.

Though I cannot explore it in this piece, the connection between Neuhaus’s and Berger’s call for mediating structures and Dreher’s “Benedict” model reveals some of the weaknesses of Dreher’s approach. For example, it’s clear from the analyses of mediating structures that protecting them will require much more political involvement than Dreher admits. The existence of Christian neighborhoods will almost certainly lead to involvement in politics on city boards, which, in turn, will require more involvement at the state and federal levels. Moreover, a question constantly hanging over mediating institutions is whether they should take federal, state, or even local government funding, and what demands such funding might make upon them. Finally, the constant challenge of voluntary associations that embody Christian values is their being subject to erosion of Christian commitments when they themselves become large (think the YMCA).

Still, it strikes me that the connection between mediating structures and the Benedict Option offers a fruitful point of convergence. It brings Dreher into conversation with those who, following Neuhaus and Berger, call for such structures in order to secure subsidiarity and maintain the local associations necessary for self-governance.

Read the whole thing.

I appreciate Coulter’s piece. I would say that the Benedict Option, as a social matter, is heavily about building mediating structures. The politics chapter is entirely about focusing on religious liberty as a primary political concern, precisely so we can protect our freedom to build and to sustain those structures. I’m not quite sure how much more explicit I could have been.

The thing is, mediating structures do us no good if they don’t actually mediate life-changing grace and truth. So many of our churches are meet-up places for Moralistic Therapeutic Deists — and we Christians want them to be. Our Christian schools are about preparing middle-class conformists who go to church on Sunday, but who in most ways that count, live no different from anybody else. Almost all of us Christians — I’m looking in the mirror here — are complicit in this. We have to do better.

Protecting the possibility of creating those mediating structures is very important. But what worries me, as a Christian, more than that is that we Christians have more liberty than we’ll ever have again to create those structures right now, and we’re not doing it. Building something that looks like a car doesn’t mean the thing can be driven, and counted on to get you where you need to go.

A mind and a soul without a body is a ghost. The emerging secular culture would rather us be ghosts: holding certain beliefs, but not incarnating them in any meaningful way, at least not in a meaningful way that contradicts what the overculture desires. Churches and Christians schools that do not transform their people in concrete ways are ghost factories.

But a body without a mind and a soul is a zombie. Churches and Christian schools that do not transform their people spiritually and morally in meaningful ways are zombie mills.

We Christians must be neither ghosts nor zombies.

This is hard. I personally know pastors and Christian educators who are doing their best to lead in this way, but are discouraged. Why? You can’t lead if you don’t have people willing to follow. The truth is, most of us want church, Christian schools, and other mediating institutions, to comfort us, but not to challenge us, much less to convert us.

Again, I’m talking about myself, and to myself, not just to you readers.

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Build a Bolt Action Rifle – Remington Model 700 in .308

I remember, albeit through a rosy lens, the formative days of my long range shooting interest. These were the days when I learned about the daunting nature of precision handloading and five hundred yards seemed like it may as well be as far away as Mars. I fondly recall the first time I rang steel at a thousand yards and the trials I had to pass to get there. These articles have special meaning to me in that they are, to a degree, the realization of a youthful dream and the heavy heart of a lost passion.

When I began this project there was a clear aim in mind: build the best Remington 700-based rifle as I could using a method that was easily accessible to you, my audience. I wanted to do this in a way that allowed a challenge for a beginner that was more involved than building an AR. Almost everything in this article can be had from my great friends at Brownell’s, including the barreled action I used.

Build a Bolt Action Rifle - Remington Model 700 Action in .308
Build a Bolt Action Rifle – Remington Model 700 in .308

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- This project started innocently enough, as most do, and eventually became the complete gun you see here. I was talking to a few guys I know around the gun counter before Thanksgiving and things just went from there. My friend behind the counter lamented the general nuisance of his patrons to me time and again, but the conversation he had with a young and enthusiastic customer while I waited left him with a struck nerve. The customer was a young man and in him, as he walked out discouraged, I saw my young self.

My friend gave me a look of exhaustion. “I just don’t know why anyone would ever buy a bolt action in today’s world. You can build an AR that is more accurate with less cost and it will be a better gun. I just wanted him to understand that an AR is better than the bolt action he wanted.”

I smiled. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that the customer is always right?”

“Josh, you know that that’s not true when it comes to guns.”

“I suppose. Why is it that gun stores are the only place that tells people what they should want? Imagine going to a restaurant and having the waiter tell you what food to eat because he knows better.”

“Not the same thing.”

“That guy wants a bolt action. He wants to build a gun like in the books he reads about snipers and heroes. He wants to embody something ideal to him, not buy what may be best. Guns have culture and not everything needs to make sense.”

“Guns should be practical.”

I looked around at the racks and racks of guns around us and gave him a sly glance. “If practical was the only thing that sold, you’d be out of business.”

THE ACTION

I decided right out the gate that this project would need to be in a .308 Winchester as it is, aside from .30-06, the greatest American rifle round ever made. As a kid I always valued the .308 for both power and versatility when compared to other available options and it is one of my favorite rounds.

This project was to be a semi-custom build and I wanted to build something like I had when I was younger, long before the days of chassis guns. I wanted it to have the features of a hunting rifle while offering a set of traits that could be easily used at the range and offer accessibility to people wanting to build something similar.

To accomplish this, Brownell’s supplied me with a barreled Model 700 action in .308 Win with a 20” heavy barrel and 5/8-24” threaded muzzle. This setup was pretty much ready to rock and, because I didn’t have to headspace the barrel, it would offer me an easier build. I would strongly recommend this barreled action as a solution to a home bolt gun builder. There is some deception involved when people talk about the ease of building an AR at home. The barrel on an AR comes with what is called a barrel extension where the bolt locks in. This area on the gun is delivered pre-headspaced and is sort of like a disembodied receiver. The 700 action’s ‘barrel extension’ is the receiver itself so, in my mind, it is not so different than an AR build in terms of general difficulty.

Headspacing a bolt action is a daunting task to a new builder. I recall my earliest attempt at getting a Savage barrel off of the action and the painstaking effort of headspacing the new one. It was so new to me then. I was terrified of the gun blowing up! Looking back at my inexperience made me chuckle while writing this. I probably checked that chamber depth fifty times before I felt confident it was correct.
With the action in hand, I cleaned it up and removed the factory trigger.

THE STOCK

I wanted to do a more traditional stock on this gun than what I had originally intended on doing. If I had intended on going straight for a chassis or something more modern it would take away the fun of bedding. Yes, bedding a rifle is more difficult and frustrating than most people have the time and patience for, but it can yield great results if done correctly and is a worthy challenge for the hobby builder.

I received a new stock from Grayboe, a young stock company that is already making waves with the quality of their products. The particular model that I received is called the Terrain, a mix of modern ‘tactical’ and classic hunting lines. Grayboe is to traditional stocks as Sig Sauer is to 1911 pistols. Classic lines and respect of tradition are ever-present, with new advances and great materials used in place of old methods. Grayboe is worth a look to anyone who wants to buck the chassis trend and do so without breaking the bank.

Along with the stock I received a Grayboe-recommended bottom metal set from Mesa Precision Arms. This is a great addition and allows the use of any AICS-type magazines. For the uninformed, the AICS-type mags have become a standard for modern bolt actions and there is no reason for any current rifle to lack in this department. The nice thing about a detachable magazine, aside from the ease of reloading, is that it doesn’t immediately distract from traditional lines. Rifles like the British Enfield had detachable magazines well over one hundred years ago and considered classic, not tactical.

Along with the stock I received a Grayboe-recommended bottom metal set from Mesa Precision Arms. This is a great addition and allows the use of any AICS-type magazines.
Along with the stock I received a Grayboe-recommended bottom metal set from Mesa Precision Arms. This is a great addition and allows the use of any AICS-type magazines.

Brownell’s supplied me with MarineTex to bed the rifle with. MarineTex is an epoxy that has exceptional strength properties and essentially bonds with the stock material to make a perfect footprint of the action. The theory behind bedding a rifle like this is that it allows for a custom action-to-stock fit, thus removing any ability of the action and stock to shift or otherwise move around during firing. This then translates to an increase in the overall accuracy of the weapon.

When I showed some friends the process of bedding, they were overwhelmed. The prospect of putting what is essentially glue into a gun is a foreign concept to many new shooters or those who grew up shooting AR-type rifles. This came as no surprise, as most of modern gun building is like building a LEGO set and offers less complexity than many said toys.

The prospect of putting what is essentially glue into a gun is a foreign concept to many new shooters or those who grew up shooting AR-type rifles.
The prospect of putting what is essentially glue into a gun is a foreign concept to many new shooters or those who grew up shooting AR-type rifles.

The first step in this process is to lightly sand the interior areas of the stock to increase the bond with the MarineTex. Use the bedding epoxy to fill small gaps and fit parts like the bottom metal to the stock precisely. I use olive oil cooking spray as a release agent on the stripped action and metal parts. A light spray is all it takes and the surface should show a thin coating. Obviously one should avoid spraying the interior of the stock as this would defeat the purpose of bedding.

The light oil spray will generate no problems with the curing of the epoxy. From there it is a walk in the park. With the trigger and all internals removed, I applied the MarineTex generously on the contact areas in the stock and simply screwed it all together. The epoxy will squeeze out in some areas, but luckily MarineTex has a long cure time. I cleaned up with water and paper towels and let it set.

After I let it sit and cure, I removed the action screws and cleaned up the metal parts. Remove excess material from the stock with sandpaper or a hobby knife. Knocking blobs and edges off takes only a few minutes and you don’t necessarily have to go crazy with it.

I double-checked all the fit and finish and decided that I had a great fit. In my next article, I finish building the rifle using more great parts from Brownells and take the dream gun of my youth out to the range and field.

Special Thanks to

  • Brownell’s
  • Hornady

About Josh WaynerJosh Wayner

Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan.

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Columnist warns NFL that a ban on kneeling would be “hollow”

The NFL has a league meeting this week, kicking off today, where they will discuss a number of items relating to the rules of the league and various business interests. One possible item on the agenda has to do with the National Anthem protests which several players were still engaged in last season. It’s possible that the league may reverse its previous stance of leaving personnel decisions to the individual teams and place a ban on kneeling covering all 32 teams. That would be a total flipflop on the part of Roger Goodell if it happened, but it’s far from a sure thing.

Weighing in on the subject is Jarrett Bell, NFL correspondent for USA Today Sports and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. Bell clearly has some strong feelings on the subject and he implores the league to do precisely nothing. He questions whether or not the league really “gets it” when it comes to the Anthem protests and then goes on to declare that any such ban would be a “hollow” gesture now that the two main antagonists (Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid) are no longer employed.

[A]n anti-kneeling policy would seem rather hollow with Colin Kaepernick and his former San Francisco 49ers teammate, safety Eric Reid, out of work as they pursue collusion cases against the NFL. That Kaepernick, a quarterback in his prime, can’t land a job in a league with a fair share of sorry passers, is about as un-American as it gets. Reid’s only legitimate sniff on the free agent market abruptly ended when he wouldn’t promise Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown that he wouldn’t kneel to further protest police brutality and other social injustices victimizing African-Americans.

The NFL is fashioned as a meritocracy, open for the best players to claim jobs based on competition. Yet in the case of Kaepernick and now Reid, we know better. Whether they can prove collusion or not, this is what being blackballed looks like.

While it may come as a surprise, Bell and I are pretty much on the same page as to what the NFL as a whole should do, though we obviously come at the question from completely opposite perspectives. Bell goes on for an additional dozen paragraphs railing against the unfairness of it all and how players who use the platform of the playing field to espouse their own personal politics shouldn’t be “blacklisted.” He shrugs off the idea that the protests are bad for business without offering any other explanation for football’s tanking ratings over the past two seasons. He further insists that it’s somehow an invasion of a player’s privacy to ask them how they plan to behave (with regards to the Anthem) during hiring interviews. Apparently, the business interests of the franchise are of no consequence in Mr. Bell’s view.

As to what the author would like to see done by Goodell this week (aside from the aforementioned “nothing”), he curiously suggests that Goodell avoid a new position where, “teams can devise their own anthem policies.” That’s an odd reading of the rules from an expert. As we discussed back when Eric Reid was bringing his grievance, NFL rules simply state that the league “takes precedence in the event of ‘conflicting club rules.’” But when there is no rule in place at the league level, the teams are free to run their operations as they see fit. The NFL has no rule about Anthem protests, so the situation Bell seeks to avoid is actually already the status quo.

And that point brings me back to where we started. Though for very different reasons, I too feel that Roger Goodell should “do nothing” about Anthem protests at this point. The time to do so would have been when Kaepernick first started this entire mess. But too much water has gone under the bridge at this point and Goodell lacked the spine to bring the situation under control when it would have counted. Now it would look like cowardice or failure finally drove him to do his job.

Jarrett Bell sings the praises of the NFL for traditionally being a meritocracy, where the best players claim jobs through a process of competition. But there’s more than simple, raw numbers of completed passes, yards gained, tackles or interceptions which go into deciding which player is the best fit for each team. The teams should be left to pick who they want to start and, in the same spirit, be able to make their own rules about player behavior on the field. Then, as in a true meritocracy, the fans will vote with their wallets and television viewing habits as to who got it right.

The post Columnist warns NFL that a ban on kneeling would be “hollow” appeared first on Hot Air.

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The Nuclear Option: What Obama Administration Did Was Much Worse Than Watergate

At the end of all the scandal and drama, all of the breathlessly reported lies and false accusations, at the end of all the money wasted on some zany kabuki swamp dance choreographed to the thrumming of giant bullfrogs and yipping of excited coyotes — at the end of all of this — it comes down to precisely what we said it was a year and a half ago.

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The Sad Decline of Barnes & Noble

Reports of Barnes & Noble’s imminent demise have long been foretold—and not necessarily exaggerated. The bookstore has been on a downward slide for years. In 2013, its CEO resigned amid the company’s Nook expansion failure. At the time, Idea Logical’s Mike Shatzkin alleged that Barnes & Noble would not recover; it could only hope to “make the slide into oblivion more gradual.”

Five years later, Barnes & Noble is still around. It’s now outlived Borders to become the last national bookstore competing with Amazon in the retail space. But survival does not necessarily mean flourishing: at the beginning of the month, the company’s stock plunged nearly 8 percent. According to the Guardian, the bookstore has lost $1 billion in value over the past five years.

“It’s depressing to imagine that more than 600 Barnes & Noble stores might simply disappear,” New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote a couple weeks ago. “But the death of Barnes & Noble is now plausible.”

Visits to Barnes & Noble were one of my favorite occasions as a child. Back then, there was something nostalgic yet stately about the bookstore. It seemed like a gem of grace and sophistication, a place not just to browse but to learn. I remember distinctive elements that still set the store apart in my mind: the hunter-green wallpaper, the woodcut and art deco feel of its literary decorations, the old-fashioned chairs and quiet corners suggesting a respect and reverence for the old and the classic. The store evoked the same “feel” I got when I handled an old antique hardback. Back then, the bookstore’s coffee shop had a few tidy tables where patrons could sit, but there was no wifi. I would grab a stack of five or six books and read the first chapter of each one before deciding which I wanted to buy.

Then there was Barnes & Noble’s children’s section, with its old-fashioned Winnie the Pooh prints and large, open stage for readings and play. The children’s book section felt like a fantastical wonderland: a place of discovery, serendipity, and beauty. Even when I got too “old” for it, this was always the part I gravitated to.

Of course, it’s important for a store to update and improve its style and form. I’m not saying Barnes & Noble should have stayed in the 90s and refused to renovate. The real problem is that they never seemed to prize their own distinctive beauty, and always sought to make themselves more like technology stores rather than emulating the success of their smaller, indie-bookstore counterparts.

Do you remember the Nook? The company is still selling them, though it has been ages since I’ve seen one in-store (and even longer since I’ve met somebody who owns one). Barnes & Noble jumped on the e-reader bandwagon in 2009, hoping to compete with the Kindle and the iPad. But while Amazon and Apple were obviously and entirely digital companies, and their e-readers fit their image and model, Barnes & Noble’s Nook pursuit always felt a bit dissonant and off-color. In many ways, the Nook was the beginning of the store’s end—because it signaled that the company would always try to play “catch up” with the newest fad or trend rather than focus on its own secret sauce: physical books.

Compared to the old Barnes & Noble of my childhood, the new bookstore that just opened in Ashburn, Virginia is almost unrecognizable. It is large and minimalist, bare of decoration or color. There are only a few chairs scattered throughout, and little room to sit and read in the children’s section.

Instead, this new Barnes & Noble is half bookstore, half café: it features a souped-up Starbucks, bar, and a kitchen offering items like charcuterie and avocado toast. The theory here appears to be that, if you’re going to sit and read a book or magazine without buying it, they’re at least going to make you pay a hefty sum for wine or a croissant. But as Eater notes, “entering the restaurant business, with its notoriously low profit margins and high rate of failure, is an unlikely Hail Mary for the nation’s largest bookstore chain.” Many of the people I have seen parked at tables inside this Barnes & Noble don’t have books or magazines with them; instead, they’re plugged into computers and headphones, teleworking or doing conference calls.

Although this Barnes & Noble still hosts readings and book signings according to its website, there’s no obvious advertising for them in the store—and it’s difficult to determine where they are, considering the significant lack of sitting space. The children’s section boasts one table laden with Legos, with a few cushions surrounding it. There are no armchairs to sit and read a book with my toddler. Instead, we had to crouch on the ground next to a shelf of Dr. Seuss books in order to read together.

Perhaps it’s this—the table full of Legos but absence of chairs for reading—that best marks Barnes & Noble’s drastic transformation. For a long time now, the bookstore has seemed to emphasize everything but books: its puzzles and DVDs and records, gadgets and greeting cards and plush Harry Potter sorting hats. As one analyst told the Guardian, “The stores just look like an enormous Aladdin’s cave of all sorts of random products, including departments selling CDs and DVDs that are never crowded.”

It is sad that Barnes & Noble believes it must add all these other perks to get people to frequent their stores. It seems that, for a long time now, they’ve ceased believing in the power of their own product. Perhaps this is what really drives customers away: why go to a store that doesn’t really seem to love or understand its own telos?

It makes sense that, in this absence of love or mission, customers would increasingly turn to the indie bookstores Barnes & Noble was once driving out of business. These smaller stores still get it: although they’ve also had to be inventive in order to survive, they’ve stayed true to their mission and their product. As Guardian reporter Edward Helmore put it, “innovation is where Barnes & Noble went wrong. Other big booksellers have tackled Amazon’s onslaught by doing precisely the opposite—going back to basics and putting the books first.”

If Barnes & Noble were still a place to pause, to savor, and to experientially luxuriate in the codex itself, I don’t think it would be struggling as much as it is. If the store had put greater emphasis on book clubs and special memberships, story hours and author signings (as many indie bookstores have), it would have given readers a space that celebrates the book, its creation and its consideration, as well as the membership of bookworms. If the store had put more emphasis on hiring and training book lovers who were passionate about their product, it might have wooed the suspicious and the hesitant to buy more books. If it had invested less money in gadgetry and more in its volumes, as well as in the style and form of its shopping and reading space, it could have successfully differentiated itself from Amazon and emphasized the things that set it apart: physical interactions with physical books (and physical people, for that matter).

But as it is, everything that Barnes & Noble does today is done as well or better by someone else. You could go to its café and get a Starbucks coffee and croissant—or you could go to the nearest indie coffee shop and get higher-quality versions of the same things. Nearly every café and coffee shop offers free wifi and space to work these days. And indie bookstores usually offer both new and old books at the same (or better) prices, while providing their customers with a greater sense of passion and reverence.

Barnes & Noble has long been a place of learning and love. But in its determination to innovate, it has forgotten its telos. Which means that it won’t survive much longer unless it can rediscover what made it special in the first place.

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. She’s written for The American ConservativeThe WeekNational Review, The Federalist, and The Washington Times, among others.

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A Christian Approach To Psychedelics

Here’s the tl;dr version of this post: Michael Pollan’s new book, How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science of Psychedelics Tells Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence is terrific, and ought to be read by my fellow conservative Christians. Yeah, you heard me: this is a book about LSD and magic mushrooms from which religious conservatives can learn a great deal. I encourage you to read it with an open but critical mind.

Let me explain. Sit down, this is going to take a while. And I’m going to ramble.

Pollan’s book (henceforth, HTCYM) is in part a history of psychedelic compounds (like LSD and psilocybin) in medical research and practice. I had no idea that in the 1950s, there was a lot of serious medical research on psychedelics as treatments for addiction and depression. The word “psychedelic” comes from the Greek word meaning “mind-manifesting,” and was not coined by 1960s hippies, but by 1950s scientists. It turns out that scientists experimenting with psychedelic compounds were getting good results treating depressives and addicts with it. In one of the more surprising facts reported by Pollan, Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, kicked the bottle after an experimental treatment with belladonna.

Timothy Leary is a villain in Pollan’s narrative. Leary was such a reckless, vain showboater that he ended up making psychedelics into a weapon of the counterculture. His antics caused serious scientific research into psychedelics and their possible therapeutic value to fall into disrepute for decades. Only now are scientists picking up where their colleagues half a century ago left off.

There are two parts to the story Pollan tells that interest me.

The first is about how psychedelics, administered under certain conditions, can help people who are suffering greatly. I’m going to write a bit about that below.

The second is about what psychedelics may tell us about the nature of mind, of epistemology (how we know what we know), and of reality itself. If you’re the kind of religious believer who reflexively rejects this area of inquiry because it’s associated with the dopey 1960s counterculture, then I urge you to set aside your prejudices and read Pollan’s book.

In his introduction, Pollan talks about how reading the founder of psychiatry, William James, on religious experience, caused him to open his mind. Pollan:

“No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness disregarded.

“At any rate,” James concluded, these other states, the existence of which he believed was as real as the ink on this page, “forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.”

The first time I read that sentence, I realized James had my number: as a staunch materialist, and as an adult of a certain age [Pollan was born in 1955 — RD], I had pretty much closed my accounts with reality. Perhaps this had been premature.

LSD, commonly called “acid,” was discovered by accident in 1938 by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist who had been working with the ergot fungus. He accidentally got some of a compound he had synthesized on his skin, and had the world’s first acid trip.

What had happened to Hofmann’s brain? As a general matter, psychedelic compounds work on receptors within the brain, somewhat short-circuiting the brain’s default mode network (DMN). This means parts of your brain that normally don’t communicate with each other do while under the influence of the drug. The DMN is what organizes sensory input, and allows you to order experience. The DMN blocks out a lot of sensory information, the admission of which into consciousness would pretty much disable one. The DMN is responsible for maintaining our sense of ego, of separateness, and subjectivity.

According to Pollan, when you’re tripping, the DMN is suppressed, and you lose the sense of a barrier between yourself and the world outside. You experience that world with a much heightened sense of wonder. Much of Pollan’s book is taken up with therapeutic use of psychedelics, and accounts of how they have helped people. Some who have been afflicted with addiction, compulsion, and depression find that a single psychedelic experience, under clinically supervised conditions, serves to “reboot” their brain, and to break that harmful patterns of thinking.

Others who are suffering from terminal diseases find that psychedelic experiences greatly ease, and even eliminate, their anxiety over death, easing their passage. There’s a powerful testimony in the book left behind by a terminally ill man who participated in NYU psilocybin trials. The experiences left him with a profound sense of peace and ultimate meaning, and helped him to meet his death with a sense of serenity.

Based on these stories alone — and there are lots of them in Pollan’s book — it seems immoral to deprive psychiatrists of these medicines to use on the suffering. These accounts in HTCYM struck a resonant chord within me. In college, I knew personally a man who had been suffering from depression for two years, and who was drinking heavily. He dropped acid for kicks one night, his first psychedelic experience. That single trip changed his life. As he later described it, it made him see that his sense of isolation and self-hatred were illusions, and the world itself was filled with beauty, life, and love. It convinced him that God was real.

Leaving aside the theological aspects of the story, I can confirm that that single drug experience changed his outlook and behavior overnight. The recollection of that story, in fact, is what prompted me to buy Pollan’s book at once when I heard about it. As Pollan writes, researchers are discovering that there is something about psychedelic drugs that breaks old patterns of thinking. Bill W.’s experience of the “Higher Power” that would become part of AA came from his belladonna event.

For me, though, the most interesting aspect of all this is what it might say to us about the nature of consciousness, and the existence of the transcendent realm — and ultimately, of God.

When you do psychedelics, are you in some sense encountering the transcendent realm? Or is it entirely a hallucination? Put another way, are the trippy perceptions you have manufactured entirely by your brain, or does the drug make you sense something that is actually there, but hidden from perception under normal conditions? Or some of both?

Bill Richards is a psychiatrist who was involved with the early scientific explorations of psychedelics. From Pollan’s book:

Richards emerged from those first psychedelic explorations in possession of three unshakable convictions.

The first is that the experience of the sacred reported both by the great mystics and by people on high-dose psychedelic journeys is the same experience and is “real” — that is, not just a figment of the imagination. “You go deep enough or far out enough in consciousness and you will bump into the sacred. It’s not something we generate; it’s something out there waiting to be discovered. And this reliably happens to nonbelievers as well as believers.”

Second, that whether occasioned by drugs or other means, these experiences of mystical consciousness are in all likelihood the primal basis for religion. (Partly for this reason Richards believes that psychedelics should be part of a divinity students’ education.)

And third, that consciousness is a property of the universe, not brains. On this question, he hold with Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, who conceived of the human mind as a kind of radio receiver, able to tune in to frequencies of energy and information that exist outside it. “If you wanted to find the blonde who delivered  the news last night, “Richards offered by way of an analogy, “you wouldn’t look for her in the TV set.” The television set is, like the human brain, necessary but not sufficient.

 

Pollan quotes another scientist who was involved with psychedelics as a volunteer in a 1999 Johns Hopkins trial:

Turner is now an ordained Zen monk, yet he is also still a physicist, working for a company that makes helium neon lasers. I asked him if he felt any tension between his science and his spiritual practice. “I don’t feel there’s a contradiction. Yet what happened at Hopkins has influenced my physics. I realize there are just some domains that science will not penetrate. Science can bring you to the big bang, but it can’t take you beyond it. You need a different kind of apparatus to peer into that.”

 

In 2006, Hopkins neuroscience research Roland Griffiths published a landmark paper based on these trials. Here’s a Hopkins press release on it. The famed religion scholar Huston Smith (d. 2016) had this to say about Griffiths’ work:

The Johns Hopkins experiment shows — proves — that under controlled, experimental conditions, psilocybin can occasion genuine mystical experiences. It uses science, which modernity trusts, to undermine modernity’s secularism. In doing so, it offers hope of nothing less than a re-sacralization of the natural and social world, a spiritual revival that is our best defense against not only soullessness, but against religious fanaticism. And it does so in the very teeth of the unscientific prejudices built into our current drug laws.

OK, there’s a lot to process here.

What is a mystical experience? According to Pollan, William James set out four criteria that he says separate authentic mystical experiences from counterfeit ones:

1. The experience is ineffable. People who have undergone them struggle to convey what the experience is like.

2. The experience is noetic. You have the sense that you have learned some profound truth or truths that you couldn’t have learned any other way. “Dreams cannot stand this test,” James wrote. People who have these experiences often change their lives in meaningful ways.

3. The experience is transient. It lasts only a short time, but its effects do not.

4. The experience is passive. People who have the mystical experience aren’t seeking it, but only receive it.

I have to interject something personal here. In my life, I have had four or five mystical experiences. Two of them were profound, life-changing events. One of them I may write about one day. The other I never will. In both of the profound cases, all of James’s criteria were met. Those experiences not only have to do with why I am a religious believer, but also with why I am the kind of religious believer that I am. I’m not going to elaborate on either of those cases here, so don’t ask.

Reading the descriptions in Pollan’s book that psychedelic users give of their trips sounded quite familiar to me. Note well that Pollan himself tries several types of psychedelics as research for this book, under supervised conditions, and does not become a religious person because of it. But it did give him profound experiences of awe, experiences that changed the way he saw himself and the world. Pollan points out something that everyone I know who has done psychedelics have said to me: it’s not like a narcotic, in that you feel stoned or drunk. You are in most cases lucid.

Are these experiences less authentic when induced by a chemical, as opposed to by intense prayer, meditation, fasting, and the like? Not from a neurological point of view. It turns out that under observation with fMRI machines, the brains of experienced meditators and the brains of people on psilocybin look at lot alike. Pollan writes that “the practice and the medicine both dramatically reduce activity in the default mode network.”

To put it more crudely, the money a man puts in the bank after 30 years of hard work is no more or no less valuable than the money put in the bank by a man who won the lottery. But then, the man who acquired that money through hard work will regard it differently. This may be why the psychedelic experience is wasted on many people.

Nevertheless, reading Pollan makes me far less inclined to dismiss the value of hallucinogenic experiences because they were acquired cheaply. He writes:

What is more material than a chemical? One could reasonably conclude from the action of psychedelics that the gods are nothing more than chemically induced figments of the hominid imagination. Yet, surprisingly, most of the people who have had these experiences don’t see the matter that way at all. Even the most secular among them come away from their journeys convinced there exists something that transcends a material understanding of reality: some sort of a “Beyond.”

It’s not that they deny a naturalistic basis for this revelation; they just interpret it differently. If the experience of transcendence is mediated by molecules that flow through both our brains and the natural world of plants and fungi, then perhaps nature is not as mute as Science has told us, and “Spirit,” however defined, exists out there is immanent in nature, in other words, just as countless premodern cultures have believed. What to my (spiritually impoverished) mind seemed to constitute a good case for the disenchantment of the world become in the minds of the more psychedelically experienced irrefutable proof of its fundamental enchantment.

… So here was a curious paradox. The same phenomenon that pointed to a materialist explanation for spiritual and religious belief gave people an experience so powerful it convinced them of the existence of a nonmaterial reality — the very basis of religious belief.

This is heavy stuff. Eastern Orthodox Christianity teaches that the cosmos is panentheistic. What does that mean? From Orthodox Wiki:

In panentheism, God is viewed as creator and/or animating force behind the universe, and the source of universal truth. This concept of God is closely associated with the Logos as stated in the 5th century BC works of Heraclitus (ca. 535 BC — 475 BC), in which the Logos pervades the cosmos and whereby all thoughts and things originate; e.g., “He who hears not me but the Logos will say: All is one.” A similar statement attributed to Jesus by John 10:30.

While pantheism asserts that God and the universe are coextensive, panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe and that the universe is contained within God. Panentheism holds that God is the “supreme affect and effect” of the universe.

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, creation is not “part of” God, and the Godhead is still distinct from creation; however, God is “within” all creation, thus the parsing of the word in Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity is “pan-entheism” (God indwells in all things) and not “panen-theism” (All things are part of God but God is more than the sum of all things).

The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches have a doctrine called panentheism to describe the relationship between the Uncreated (God, who is omnipotent, eternal, and constant) and His creation that bears surface similarities with the panentheism described above but maintains a critical distinction.

Most specifically, these Churches teach that God is not the “watchmaker God” or mechanical God of philosophy found in Western European Enlightenment. Likewise, they teach that God is not the “stage magician God” who only shows up when performing miracles. Instead, the teaching of both these Churches is that God is not merely necessary to have created the universe, but that His active presence is necessary in some way for every bit of creation, from smallest to greatest, to continue to exist at all. That is, God’s energies maintain all things and all beings, even if those beings have explicitly rejected Him. His love of creation is such that he will not withdraw His presence, which would be the ultimate form of slaughter, not merely imposing death but ending existence, altogether. By this token, the entirety of creation is sanctified, and thus no part of creation can be considered innately evil. This does not deny the existence of evil in a fallen universe, only that it is not an innate property of creation.

This Orthodox Christian panentheism is distinct from a fundamentalist panentheism in that it maintains an ontological gulf or distance between the created and the Uncreated.

If this is true — and I believe it is — then it strikes me as likely consonant with Henri Bergson’s theory of consciousness: that it does not emerge from the brain, but that the brain is rather a receptor of the consciousness that is really there. In my own mystical experience, which occurred many years before I became Orthodox, I felt the presence of the divine filling all things, and that all things are connected. This, by the way, is classical mysticism, not just Christian mysticism. When I first happened upon Orthodox Christianity, I thought, “Of course! That’s how it was for me!”

It’s hard to talk about this stuff for reasons that Pollan elaborates. He writes that people who are trying to recall the things they experienced on psychedelics end up saying things that are totally banal, e.g., “Love is all there is.”

The mystical journey seems to offer a graduate education in the obvious. Yet people come out of the experience understanding these platitudes in a new way; what was merely known is now felt, takes on the authority of a deeply rooted conviction. And, more often than not, that conviction concerns the supreme importance of love.

Anyway, Pollan’s book makes me reflect on how religious ritual and material expressions (e.g, in church architecture) exist both to replicate the foundational encounter with the Divine, but also to create environments in which it becomes more likely that ordinary people will experience at least a glimmer of those numinous events. For me, my encounter with the Gothic cathedral in Chartres, while not precisely mystical, provoked an awareness of the transcendent realm immanent in those stones and stained glass.

Pollan concludes that the psychedelic experiences compels us to question our notion of reality:

The model suggests that our perceptions of the world offer us not a literal transcription of reality but rather a seamless illusion woven from both the data of our senses and the models in our memories. Normal waking consciousness feels perfectly transparent, and yet it is less a window on reality than the product of our imaginations — a kind of controlled hallucination.

Huston Smith on this point: “A spiritual experience does not by itself make a spiritual life.” Integration is essential to making sense of the experience, whether in or out of the medical context. Or else it remains just a drug experience.

Which is why so many people who dropped acid or did mushrooms at Grateful Dead concerts did not become spiritual. Which is why other people run smack dab into the paranormal, and don’t allow it to change their lives. My own father was at the center of a poltergeist situation after his father died, and accepted it as real … but it changed nothing in his life, even though the clear lesson of it was about the power of forgiveness.

What if what we consider to be normality is, in fact, simply a “take” on experience? Rice University’s Jeffrey Kripal has written about how “dogmatic materialism” has caused science and scholars to wrongly dismiss experiences and phenomena that don’t fit into their materialist boxes. Readers from a long time back will recall my writing about linguist Daniel Everett’s experiences with the Piraha tribe of the Amazon, and how the tribespeople claimed to be seeing a spiritual entity that neither Everett nor his daughter could see. From that post:

Even I could tell that there was nothing on that white, sandy beach no more than one hundred yards away. And yet as certain as I was about this, the Pirahas were equally certain that there was something there. Maybe there had been something there that I missed seeing, but they insisted that what they were seeing, Xigagai, was still there.

His young daughter came out to have a look, and like her father, saw nothing. Everett continues:

What had I just witnessed? Over the more than two decades since that summer morning, I have tried to come to grips with the significance of how two cultures, my European-based culture and the Pirahas culture, could see reality so differently. I could never have proved to the Pirahas that the beach was empty. Nor could they have convinced me that there was anything, much less a spirit, on it.

As a scientist, objectivity is one of my most deeply held values. If we could just try harder, I once thought, surely we could each see the world as others see it and learn to respect one another’s views more readily. But as I learned from the Pirahas, our expectations, our culture, and our experiences can render even perceptions of the environment nearly incommensurable cross-culturally.

Everett is an atheist and a scientist, but he cannot deny the power of what happened to him that day by the river. It indicates that our ability to see what is actually there depends on our subjectivity. Either the Piraha were hallucinating, or Everett and his daughter were. Either there was a jungle god (or demon) present, or there wasn’t. Some of them were seeing something that wasn’t really there (was a projection of their minds), or the Everetts were blind to something that was truly present. The fact that Daniel Everett doesn’t actually believe in the existence of jungle gods, but cannot bring himself to dismiss the Pirahas here, is hugely significant, and speaks to the WEIRD phenomenon we’ve talked about in his space before. That is, what we in the secular, rationalist West call “normal” and “objective reality” is far more subjective than we think.

I like this passage from Pollan:

Even in the case of the minerals, modern physics (forget psychedelics!) gives us reason to wonder if perhaps some form of consciousness might not figure in the construction of reality. Quantum mechanics holds that matter may not be as innocent of mind as the materialist would have us believe. For example, a subatomic particle can exist simultaneously in multiple locations, is pure possibility, until it is measured — that is, perceived by a mind. Only then and not a moment sooner does it drop into reality as we know it: acquire fixed coordinates in time and space. The implication here is that matter might not exists as such in the absence of a perceiving subject. Needless to say, this raises tricky questions for a materialist understanding of consciousness. The ground underfoot may be much less solid than we think.

So, I promised to discuss “a Christian approach to psychedelics”. What would that look like? Here are some suggestions and thoughts:

  • We should not dismiss psychedelics out of hand — not for the sake of treating those suffering from mental disorders or terminal illness, but also for those interested in studying consciousness.
  • It is compatible with the metaphysics of premodern Christian tradition — especially Eastern Christianity — to believe that God is everywhere present, and in some sense (not just symbolic) fills all things. Orthodox Christianity (and Catholicism?) posits that this is a theological and metaphysical truth. It has been confirmed by Christian mystics. Psychedelic drugs may reveal this truth in a different way.
  • Pollan is correct to say that a purely neurochemical explanation for these states doesn’t negate their spiritual meaning. Certainly not for Christians in the sacramental tradition, who take for granted that God can and does communicate with His creation through matter.
  • On the other hand, Christians should approach these things with extreme caution. Opening yourself up to the numinous  is spiritually risky. Not every spiritual presence wishes us well, or tells the truth.
  • Pollan writes that people who bring Christian expectations to psychedelic experiences often have Christian experiences. Those who do not, do not. If psychedelic experiences are real, why wouldn’t God reveal Himself in Christian symbols to non-Christians having them?
  • Science finds no neurological difference between brains deep in meditation, and brains in the grips of a psychedelic experience. From the point of view of Christian mysticism, is there a difference? If so, what is it?
  • Huston Smith says (accurately, I think) that having a spiritual experience is not the same as having a spiritual life. If you don’t integrate the insights of your experience into daily life, it’s meaningless. Smith also says that psilocybin “undermines modernity’s secularism”. How might it do that? How can we be sure that people won’t simply drop acid, do mushrooms, or whatever, and then go back to ordinary life, as if nothing meaningful had happened? Perhaps psilocybin use can undermine confidence in materialism as an explanation for reality, but I don’t see how it could effect mass transformation, and the re-enchantment of the world. Though I’d certainly like to hear Christians discuss it.
  • Can psychedelic data be accounted for within a Protestant worldview? Do psychedelics undermine Protestantism in a particular way? If a Protestant pastor took psilocybin in a controlled experiment, he would have many of the same experiences as everybody else who takes them, because they work on the brain the same way. How would he explain them? Maybe some of you readers are Protestants who have done psychedelics as believers, or before you were believers. How do you regard that experience?
  • Do Catholics, Orthodox, and other sacramental Christians whose Christianity comes from the pre-modern (that is, pre-Reformation) era, have a particular vantage point from which to evaluate the psychedelic experience? If so, what is it?

These are my first reactions to Pollan’s book. I’m going to give it a lot more thought, as preparation for writing my next book, which is going to be about the re-enchantment of the world (though I do not foresee advocating the use of psychedelics to that end, my priest will be happy to hear). I believe that Christianity is true — not just true for me, but true for everybody. I have long pondered how to be faithful to that conviction while honoring the mystical insights of those outside the Christian religion. I struggle to know how to fit into a Christian framework the experiences of people like my friend the nonbeliever who had an ayahuasca experience as she was dying of cancer. I mentioned it in this 2014 post:

My Dutch friend Miriam, who died of cancer late last year, told me last summer that she had recently visited a shaman who induced, as Miriam’s request, an experience with ayahuasca, the psychedelic plant used ritualistically in South America. It was a terrifying event for Miriam, but in the end, cleansing, and healing, she said. I won’t reveal what she told me she learned, but I can tell you that it left me sitting at her table weeping over its profundity — in particular, what she learned about the roots and the character of the intense suffering she had been going through for a decade. The ayahuasca experience did not save her from cancer, but it helped prepare her to die. I didn’t know what to make of it, personally. I had no doubt at all that her experience was real, and healing. But was it entirely contained within the subconscious depths of her mind — or did the chemicals in the plant unlock the doors of perception of a reality beyond her ordinary cognition? Miriam, who was New Agey, would not have seen the difference. And maybe there’s wisdom in that. For her, a woman facing death, it was all useful to bring her to a point of peace.

The question doesn’t resolve itself, however: did she hallucinate, or did she experience a dimension of reality closed off to most of us?

I wish I could tell you that Miriam’s experience under ayahuasca had been a Christian one. It wasn’t. It was about reconciliation with her late mother, and her worries about the teenage son she was going to leave behind when she died. But it was a healing one. And get this weird sign of the White Moth that happened to me and to us on my last visit to her.

In that 2014 post, I cite an experience by the worldly, even hedonistic, Dutch film director Paul Verhoeven, who had a powerful mystical experience among Dutch Pentecostals, but was so shaken up by it that he ran as far from the mystical as he could.

I’ve written about Pollan and psychedelics before, in a post titled “The Psychedelic Dante.” In it, I mentioned my college friend who changed after his experience with LSD. And I mention Dante:

As a freshman in college, B. was very depressed (though not diagnosed as such). His girlfriend had broken up with him, and he was drinking way too much to dull the pain. That spring semester, he would go down to the pub and drink himself silly. He was caught up in dark, sad music, and couldn’t seem to break out of the fog.

Then a mutual friend of ours asked him to try LSD one weekend. B. was not a drug user, but at that time, he was in such a state that he was willing to do anything to think about something other than his own misery. It turned out to have been one of the most profound experiences of his life.

B. told his friends later that he had felt a sense of oneness of all things, the presence of God filling the universe, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for life. His depressed self, he said, had been turned relentlessly inward, and he was blind to the reality around him: that God exists, that He is love, that He is calling us all to unity with Him. He wasn’t a religious believer at the time, or at least not much of one, and he didn’t have a specifically Christian experience. He says that when the drug wore off, he had been — the phrasing here is mine — given a glimpse behind the veil, and seen things as they truly are. That was the end of his depression. He ended up becoming a Christian, and still is, thirty years later.

As B. saw it through the psychedelic experience, he had a choice: to turn outward, see the beauty of the world and God’s presence in it, because that was the truth; or stay mired in solipsistic, drunken, morose brooding. The fact that this choice occurred while under the influence of a drug did not make him — nor does it make me — doubt the truths revealed. It was as if B. had badly defective vision, but had been given a magic pair of eyeglasses that showed him what the world really looked like with corrected vision.

I absolutely do not want to give the impression that I am in any way endorsing recreational use of psychedelics. I knew others in college who used these drugs and did not appear to gain any sort of life-changing insights from them. They just had fun. I knew a couple of people who ruined their minds with them.

I also believe that psychedelics can be spiritually dangerous, because if they open you up to a different level of spiritual reality on the good side, they also open you up to the dark side. It seems to me risky to have a spiritual experience so profound that is unearned, that you haven’t prepared for, as a mystic would have prepared through years of prayer. A man who makes his millions slowly, through hard work, regards his fortune differently than a man who made his millions by winning the lottery. I could be wrong about this.

That said, I can’t deny the change I saw in B., and for that reason am excited to see medical science once again researching therapeutic uses for this category of drug. I believe that for many people, it can give them profound relief. If these drugs eventually become approved for use in controlled therapeutic sessions, good.

So what’s the Dante connection? Reading the Pollan article and thinking about my friend’s transformative experience thirty years ago with psychedelics, I kept thinking about Dante’s Paradiso, and how the poet’s imaginative description of heaven — as a realm of light, love, and harmony — is what B. says he sensed during his experience. The glimpse that the pilgrim Dante has of heaven in the poem changes his life, and causes him to return to the world moving in harmony with the God Who is love. Many people who have had life-after-death experiences come back changed in a similar way. This is a fair approximation of what happened to B., though again, it wasn’t specifically Christian.

The question remains: have B. and others experienced things as they truly are, or merely an illusion conjured by the brain? Does it matter? If these depressed people and others are having these life-changing positive experiences under the influence of psychedelics, should it matter if they are real, or a hallucination?

Your thoughts? Please be serious. I’m not asking you to agree with any of this, but I am asking you to take it seriously, even if you dismiss it. I want to have a real conversation about this, not just deflect wisecracks and potshots.

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