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The Roundup 3.11.23
Reflections, reviews, and recommendations
Welcome to the Roundup, a periodical collection of reflections, reviews, and recommendations from your friends at Perishable Goods.
Below is our monthly cornucopia of things we’ve been reading, listening to, and eating (or drinking). If you enjoy reading these as much as we enjoy writing them, consider upgrading to a paid subscription to support our work.
Jared on “Antihumanism and the Post Political Condition,” by Matthew B. Crawford. (You can find his Substack,, here.)
This week, I had the opportunity to hear Matthew Crawford (author of Shop Class as Soulcraft) give a lecture in D.C. His talk, “Antihumanism and the Post Political Condition,” identified the rise of four anti-humanistic ideas in the modern West and traced how some of these have coincided with the rise of certain technologies. The four were: humans are stupid, humans are obsolete, humans are fragile, and humans are haters.
The first two, according to Crawford, are bound up with the rise of computers and artificial intelligence. The advent of the household computer recast the human. Compared to computers, humans could hardly be considered intelligent—at least not in the same way. Human actions, we realized, were not the results of explicit deductive reasoning (i.e. computational processes). They were in fact influenced by a host of a-rational or pre-rational sentiments.
The second two factors—fragility and hatred—were originally embedded in certain forms of liberalism imbibed by the West and then later reinforced by modern technological conveniences. In Thomas Hobbes’ account of liberalism, man’s life is “nasty, brutish, and short,” always under threat by nature and by others. (For those of you who are less familiar with intellectual history, think of Hobbes as John Locke’s alter ego or bad boy cousin.) Like the state, technology has served to buffer man’s fragility and enemies.
I appreciated how, throughout the lecture, Crawford repeatedly made the point that there is no need for some grand conspiracy to explain our current cultural-political situation (though he did not deny there are bad actors). More than we realize, technology (both good and bad forms of it) has done most of the work in transforming the modern world, whether by distracting and sedating the spirits of the masses or allowing for greater concentration of power amongst elites.
Crawford’s point about not needing grand conspiracies is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Many activists today are blaming school curriculum for causing, say, gender confusion amongst younger generations (Generation Z especially). But the confusion over gender can hardly be blamed on books when attention spans have rapidly diminished and the majority of kids are being given their own smartphones by age 11 or 12 (and handed them even younger). Both the form and content of our technology are fueling our cultural confusion over gender and, more deeply, the body.
While the lecture was very interesting, I would have liked to have heard Crawford speak more on a proper understanding of human vulnerability. As we have noted elsewhere, folks like Radner see the modern age as one in which our creaturely limits have become obscured (and are actively avoided). It seems to me that part of the problem with modern technology is that so much of it works to eliminate or obscure our vulnerabilities. How can we recover a proper understanding and acceptance of our real, God-given vulnerabilities? And how should this reorient how we think about politics? (Radner might have an answer to this in his lecture on the politics of mortality given last fall.)
Ultimately, lectures like Crawford’s help us think through a non-reactive kind of analysis of culture that does more than just pointing fingers. What if the problem isn’t the nebulous bad guys pulling some political levers? What if, as Crawford noted (following Solzhenitsyn) the line of good and evil runs through our own hearts?
On a more light-hearted note: while Jared isn’t listening to music during lent, perhaps you can enjoy one of his favorite bands for him: half alive. (Lara also enjoys them, too).
If you enjoy Perishable Goods and indie pop, you’ll probably like these songs:
Everything Machine (Jared’s convinced this is a song about smartphones.)
Jennifer Lahl in First Things on “Who Owns the Human Body?”
In this article, Jennifer Lahl responds to the proposal to use women who have been declared “brain dead” for surrogacy. Such a practice, she argues, denies the human body the respect and dignity it is owed. Consent is not enough to render the commodification of the human body—and the treatment of a woman as a mere “fetal container”—morally acceptable. “Is the body just a thing to be used for the good of another,” she asks, “or can it be said that we know persons because of their bodies?”
Kirsten Sanders in First Things on “Did Mary Have Agency?”
In the past couple of weeks, I was introduced to the work of Kirsten Sanders. She’s an adjunct professor at Gordon Conwell who is interested in the relationship between Christ’s incarnation and human embodiment, specifically women’s embodiment. Below are a couple of pieces of her recent work:
This is a review of Amy Peeler’s, Women and the Gender of God. Basically Sanders argues that Peeler frames the issue of gender in overly-modern terms, reducing it to a competition of power and agency.
“... God’s relation to the world is not competitive, as if God acted as a human agent. God is not a creature and so human language when applied to God only applies by way of analogy. … She wants to say that God is Boaz with Ruth instead of David with Bathsheba. But God is neither. It is true that Christians should be concerned not to worship a God who forces himself on women. But this is because Christians do not worship a creature among creatures, but the very ground of being, of consciousness, of agency.”
Kirsten Sanders on her Substack, In Particular, on “Did Jesus Come to Vanquish Patriarchy?”
Here’s another piece responding to what Sister Mary Prudence Allen calls gender “polarity,” the pitting of men and women against one another, with one being of greater value than the other. Focusing on Leviticus, Sanders offers a snapshot of the way Scripture values women—a thing that other pockets of Western tradition have struggled to do as well.
“Just as the Levitical priests ensured that the tabernacle remained in order, and today’s pastors ensure that word and sacrament are offered in an orderly fashion, women in their very being provide the grounds for new life. All life might be consecrated before God, and so female flesh guards and provides the means for such consecration, in its very essence.”
Sanders’ reflection echoes the work of folks like Dr. Mark Garcia at Greystone Theological Institute.
Rich Eva in First Things on “Becoming a Wonderless Robot”
In this eerie, yet stirring article that seems to be set up as a sort of journal entry, we are given a personal account that conveys to us how the technological devices we surround ourselves with give us trite doses of excitement and novelty that lead us to become anxiety-filled robots. Eva thinks he has defeated the impulse to check his phone, only to find himself sitting down at his laptop moments later to look for shorts on Amazon. As Eva writes, “I see all the options. My world is made-to-order and the menu is longer than the Bible. But aporia is the opposite: a blanketing fog. It forces one to make camp and wait for the sky to clear.” Eva’s vivid, relatable descriptions of how our devices are so hopelessly distracting concludes with a last, spooky line wherein: “My Apple watch reminds me to stand up. I stare blankly, paralyzed. My hand mechanically reaches for my phone. No. I force it into my pocket and walk to the kitchen. I come back with fuel. I sit back down to—shorts!”
Matthew Loftus in Mere Orthodoxy on “What the Body Needs”
In this encouraging and insightful piece, Loftus explains the danger of our reliance on technology—particularly in the realm of medicine and health—while also drawing us to a deeper understanding of the human experience in how we approach “the role of medicine, embrace the limits of embodiment, and learn how to suffer and die well.” By rebuking the Baconian Project that sees carnal suffering as the fundamental problem with human nature and seeks to aggressively pursue the elimination of pain and suffering from the face of the earth, Loftus shows us a better path. We are better off learning how to suffer together, to take on each other’s burdens, and to embrace the limits of our embodiment rather than attempting to harness technology to manipulate and destroy human nature itself.
Joel Cuthbertson in The New Atlantis on “When the Machine Opts In to You”
In this sobering piece, Cuthbertson evaluates David Sax’s 2020 op-ed “The Future Was Supposed to Be Better Than This” and his book The Future is Analog to illustrate how we have so often taken the physical presence of people and objects for granted, while also ultimately being critical of Sax’s attempts at responding to an increasingly-digitized society. Further, he delves into the argument of how a recovery of analog is no answer to a world in which whole social spaces are being shaped to the requirements of the machine rather than the person, because it is undergirded by a reactionary, self-help approach. As Cutherberton writes, “If we wage our resistance in this way, we can react to the digital future only after it has come to pass. We will start to fight only once we’ve already lost.”
On Our Wine Shelf:
One thing Jared intentionally did not give up for Lent was alcohol. That’s (in part) because one of his goals this year is to drink more Italian wine.
If you’re looking for a new red to try, Jared recommends the Nero Grande Appassimento from Trader Joe’s (sorry rural Midwestern friends!). This wine is a blend of Zinfandel and Negroamaro, offering a nice middle-of -the-road red (not too dry, not too sweet). It’s perfect with pizza, pasta, or just a late night drink with friends. And the best part? It’s only $6.99.
(More info on this bottle and other Trader Joe’s wine recs can be found here.)
A couple weeks ago, Jared published, “Mediums & Messages Part II.” Shortly after publishing, Jared was listening to a lecture in Greystone’s course on Theological Anthropology.
It was brought to my attention that it was only at the presentation of Eve to Adam that the primordial human came to know himself. In her presence, he not only identifies her as woman [isha], he identifies himself as man [ish]. It is only in the presence of the woman that the man “finds himself.”
Speaking of Greystone…
If you’re looking to dive deeper into the topic of anthropology or embodiment, they have tons lectures and courses that you can access for $18/month over at Greystone Connect. That’s basically the cost of a paperback (which I know some of y’all are definitely purchasing at least once a month!). They have lectures from Dr. Mark Garcia, Ephraim Radner, and more!
If you want to sample some of their material, check out their podcast Greystone Conversations. Lara and I highly recommend their episode, “Reformed and Ritual? Vocation: Male and Female as Doxological.”
To wake when all is possible
before the agitations of the day
have gripped you
To come to the kitchen
and peel a little basketball
To tear the husk
like cotton padding a cloud of oil
misting out of its pinprick pores
clean and sharp as pepper
each pale pink section out of its case
so carefully without breaking
a single pearly cell
To slide each piece
into a cold blue china bowl
the juice pooling until the whole
fruit is divided from its skin
and only then to eat
precisely pointless a devout
involvement of the hands and senses
a pause a little emptiness
each year harder to live with
each year harder to live without