The Necessity of Conservativism

I am skeptical of the idea of “progressive revelation.” It leads to the belief that whatever is progressive — whatever has developed, has emerged — is ipso facto revelation. But if you don’t believe that, then you have to be able to distinguish between progressive developments that really are authentic expressions of the Gospel and those that aren’t. And in order to do that you have to criteria for deciding, and those criteria will necessarily not involve the notion of what’s “progressive” because the progressive is precisely what you’re evaluating. The idea of progressive revelation is therefore a problem, not a solution.

Alan Jacobs

When I was a young teacher and still thought of myself as a billiards player, I had the pleasure of watching Albert Abraham Michelson play billiards nearly every noon. He was by then one of our national idols, having been the first American to win the Nobel Prize in science (for the measurement of the speed of light, among other things). To me, he took on added luster because he was the best amateur billiards player I had ever seen.

One noon, while he was still shaking his head at himself for missing an easy shot after he had had a run of thirty-five or thirty-six, I said to him, “You are a fine billiards player, Mr. Michelson.” He shook his head at himself and said, “No. I’m getting old. I can still make the long three-cushion shots, but I’m losing the soft touch on the short ones.” He chalked up, but instead of taking the next shot, he finished what he had to say. “Billiards, though, is a good game, but billiards is not as good a game as chess.” Still chalking his cue, he said, “Chess, though, is not as good a game as painting.” He made it final by saying, “But painting is not as good a game as physics.”

Then he hung up his cue and went home to spend the afternoon painting under the large tree on his front lawn.

Norman McLean, Young Men and Fire (via Steven K N Wilkinson)

A Pencil Named Steve

The Turing Test is one which has baffled me since I first heard about it. Basically, when Turing was asking himself what it would mean for a computer to become sentient, he decided that he would count a computer as sentient if, in conversation with it, you were unable to tell whether or not it was a human being. 

This struck me as bizarre at the time, and more bizarre as we have seen the test be run thousands of times in peoples’ conversations with ChatGPT and its ilk. (For those who missed it, in June of last year, Blake Lemoine, one of Google’s engineers, was fired after he became convinced, “talking” with one of the prototype natural language simulations, called LAMBDA, that the chatbot was in fact conscious). If there is one thing humans are good at, it’s believing things to be persons. It’s like… very easy for us, and very hard for us not to do. We are persons, and we anthropomorphize absolutely everything. I used to be scared of the curtains in my parents bedroom because in the dark it seemed like there were people standing behind them. The tendency to see faces in patterns is so pervasive that it has a name – pareidolia. 

We are even prone to do this if we make the thing in question: if we paint a frowny face on a rock we kind of feel like the rock might be unhappy. If you give a child a stuffy, you know that child is going to immediately begin to ascribe personhood to it, even if it is a stuffed animal you made and she saw you making it. Of course humans would be able to make a computer program that would be able to fool other humans into thinking it was a person, and in Lemoine’s case, able to fool himself. We’re incredibly good at making personish things and incredibly good at then kind of thinking they are persons. 

Just to point out, this tendency, to make personish things, then get excessively impressed with and excited about them and ascribe agency and maybe power to them and ask them for help with things, is noted in the Old Testament a good bit; it is called idolatry.

Susannah Black Roberts

This sort of thing reminds me, as it always does, of Steve the Pencil:

Blanket Statements

A brilliant aphorism is a dangerous thing. It is always a lie and never the truth.

T. W. Baldwin

Apply this saying to itself and it becomes rather amusing.

Munro’s Law

An English* scholar of the late 19th century, David Munro, compared [the Iliad and the Odyssey] and discovered an interesting phenomenon (now known as Munro’s law), which is that there is no overlap in their contents: neither poem recounts any events that are told in the other. This discovery lends itself to several conclusions… but the most likely is that they were designed to complement one another. The Odyssey seems, in fact, to go out of its way to fill in the rest of the story of the Iliad. Not only does it give a comprehensive account of the “Returns” [nostoi] of the Greeks, but it finishes the story of the war itself, recounting events that are implicit but still untold at the end of the Iliad: the death and burial of Achilles and the taking of Troy.

Sheila Murnaghan in the introduction to Stanley Lombardo’s translation of the Odyssey

*Munro was born in Scotland, but spent his career at Oxford.

Gibbs on How to Save Classical Christian Ed

First, get tougher admissions standards. Start asking prospective parents: How do you discipline your children? Do your daughters have smartphones and social media accounts? Do your sons play video games? Do you go to church every Sunday? Do you eat dinner as a family most nights of the week? Do you want your children to change the world? Are your children special? Do a survey of your best teachers and ask them what common cultural attributes are shared by the worst students they have. Use a little common sense. Don’t let more families into your school which have a lot in common with the most vexing, worldly families already there.

Second, work on your faculty culture. If you can’t offer teachers a compelling salary, you have to offer them a compelling faculty culture. Hire substitutes, give your language department a couple bottles of good scotch, and tell them to just spend the day chatting. Culture revolves around food and drink and singing and dancing. If your faculty doesn’t do these things together regularly, you don’t actually have a faculty culture.

Third, make a concerted effort to not let board member’s kids, teacher’s kids, or rich kids get away with murder. You know which students ought to have been kicked out years ago. Kick them out. A classical Christian school is a bit of a ministry and a bit of a business, but bad administrators have a tendency of dicing up the ministry and business aspects of a school so that teachers always get the short end of the stick. Faculty salaries? It’s a ministry. Badly behaved board member’s kids? It’s a ministry. Massive sports program? It’s a business. No matter which way they turn, the business/ministry dichotomy leaves teachers with less: less money, less time, less freedom, less peace, less respect. If you don’t want a Great Tradition school to open in town and soak up all your best teachers, start asking yourself how’d you treat faculty differently if there was a Great Tradition school in town that could beat your salary offering by 5%.

Fourth, take a survey of where your families go to church, then take a survey of where your faculty go to church. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means Sponge.TV Faith Café and 10 means St. Prude’s Catholic, if your average family is a 3 and your average teacher is a 7, mission drift is a huge problem at your school and the only way to fix it is to completely overhaul your admission’s process.

Finally, every teacher needs a hero, but every school needs a hero, as well. Every school ought to have a school in mind that it is striving to be like. At the moment, classical Christian schools too often compare themselves with the non-classical Christian schools in town and generally come away feeling quite pleased at their accomplishments. Quit comparing your school with schools that aren’t even trying to do the same thing. Find classical Christian schools (and colleges) that are better than yours and start making the painful changes necessary to become like them.



It is remarkable how uniform and homogenous the style of writing is on Twitter, which is where media culture is defined. It seemingly hasn’t evolved in a decade. Condescending, sarcastic, amused that you would think to say something so dumb, endlessly superior, contemptuous of all sincere values except the one being used as a bludgeon in the fight at hand. Absurdist in an entirely prescriptive way, novel in a tired way, funny in a humorless way. All of it is a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a strange and highly mannered form of humor that flourished in an obscure offshoot of an internet forum which migrated to a bigger platform and metastasized into something called Weird Twitter, and was subsequently popularized and imitated so frequently it took over the forum completely. For reasons that elude me, it’s been the dominant style on the world’s most influential social network for going on a decade and appears often in published commentary as well.

From Freddie deBoer’s writing guide “If You Absolutely Must”

Set apart

To call the preacher an authority does not mean that the preacher is wiser than others. What it does mean is that the preacher is the one whom the congregation sends on their behalf, week after week, to the scripture. The church knows that its life depends upon hearing the truth of God’s promise and claim through the scripture, and it has set the preacher apart for the crucial activity of going to the scripture to listen for that truth.

Thomas G. Long

“Crucial activity.” Nice play on words there.

Keeping Up with the Times

The complex reality of the technologies that real companies leverage to get ahead emphasizes the absurdity of the now common idea that exposure to simplistic, consumer-facing products—especially in schools—somehow prepares people to succeed in a high-tech economy. Giving students iPads or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for a high-tech economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics.

Cal Newport, Deep Work

Elon Musk’s Twitter

Here is no waste,
No burning Might-have been,
No bitter after-taste,
None to censure, none to screen,
Nothing awry, nor anything misspent;
Only content, content beyond content,
Which hath not any room for betterment.

Maurice Baring