Books Read January 2022

Jesuits A History by Markus Friedrich
The combination of a spiritual exercise and a practical cosmopolitan ministry is potentially very powerful, even without the vertical bureaucracy. In fact, if you believe the upside of hits far outweighs the downside of losses in your environment/sphere of activity then it definitely makes sense to downplay the need for centralized control. It is interesting to note that the order was not financially centralized. On the one hand that strongly reinforces the need for being enterprising and ingratiating oneself with local circumstances, and additionally it allows those successful at making rich powerful friends to go rogue. This seems like the type of structure that doesn’t actually help the vow of obedience. I don’t know. The incentive structure seems iffy. Better off probably doing just financial dependence and lessening other types of controls. That’s the inner economist speaking.
Maybe the inner sociologist will reply that the average situation will not tend to these extremes of rogue behavior because spiritual formation and social pressure will keep the members more aligned than financial matters will. The history seems mixed at best. Maybe the benefits of having large numbers of the order capable of and attentive to administration (including financial administration) outweighs the risk of a few rogue agents. As a result of the incentives, perhaps one will have a much deeper pool of administrative talent to draw on. This could actually strengthen the bureaucratic ability of the order and its ability to assign members.

Catholic Art and Culture by E. I. Watkins. Offers a prophetic view on how spirituality will recover from the shock of modern science, modern war, and the success of reductionism. One weakness of the book is how Anglophone and parochial its scope is. Nonetheless, it has deep cultural richness for the regions it covers.

The Witness of Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz. Powerful visions of how the poetic imagination moves over time. There is a special focus here on the sources of an aesthetics of a closed versus an open future. He also has a fascinating account of how the culture of poets has moved since the 1860’s.

On Marriage and Family Life St. John Chrysostom, not as old-fashioned and backwards as one might think. Some useful advice contained and interesting arguments. Still better than most Christian marriage theology.

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering Richard Hamming. Always good.

The Beginning of Western Science by David Lindbergh. It is very helpful to have confirmation of things about which I have long wondered. For example, we all know that Erotosthenes measured the circumference of the earth in 180 BC. But what did the medievals know about this? It turns out that the 5th century book The Marriage of Philology and Mercury by the African Martianus Capella on the seven liberal arts contained the calculations of Eratosthenes in Latin. This work was copied and distributed widely starting in the 9th century. And so medieval scholars both knew Eratosthenes’ calculation for the circumference of the earth and the possible circumsolar orbits of the inner planets.
Another highlight from the book is how necessary the seemingly slow medieval period is for building the foundations for further developments. Where else were precursor hypotheses about optics explored enough that Kepler would have several rival conceptions to work on and reconcile?

De Amicitia by Cicero for the Latin practice.

Xunzi his anthropology should be taken seriously. I’m enjoying the tensions between his and rival Western views. I don’t know where in the western canonical tradition one encounters this exact mix of values.

The Pragmatist’s Guide to Crafting Religion by Simone and Michael Collins – off-the-wall wanderings about culture, cults, family, morals and metaphysics. I would have never believed secular Calvinists 1) exist, and 2) could create a work like this. The vehement anti-Quaker arguments tickle me wholly. The insistence on morality, cult, and metaphysics strikes me as “asking the right questions” and the view of human nature and the goal of existence strikes me as a twisted version of human flourishing based upon the pagan blood-god of Calvinism. This book is firmly in the anti-canon of eschatology, metaphysics, and social life. It reminds me of the type of social writing found in Zephaniah Kingsley’s tracts. However, Zephaniah was a pro-Spanish-style slavery Quaker, a fact which actually supports Collins’ point about Quaker morals… worth reading if you are an SSC fan, Albion’s Seed seeker, depressed philosopher, or pronatalist hoping to resist or promote certain versions of pronatalism.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Good so far.

Kalevala. The rocks, the ice, the sleds, the demigods, the sauna, the suicides, the sea, the snow-covered trees. Tervetuloa Pohjolaan!


ESG Banking
Fantastic reflection on ESG banking and the lackluster thoughtfulness from conservative groups.

Genesis in Hebrew
Psalms in Hebrew
Hebrew listening.

The Last 20 Years in Japan
What is the breakdown of causes that cause depreciation of housing on Japan? That’s my question. Can such a regime locally compete within a Western city? For example, could one of New York’s boroughs implement Tokyo rules and rise above Manhattan? I doubt it. This seems like a path dependency thing, you have to already have great returns from moving into the city that offset the depreciation of purchases. (Maybe San Francisco could do this successfully, since building more would not reduce rents as much as encourage greater productivity through more high-skilled immigration? Maybe the same is true of Brooklyn?)

The Spiritual Benefits of Material Progress So juicy. Baptize this.

Can Computers Actually Create Growth, When Humans are the Ones Stopping it? A heresy that is actually orthodox. The real big problems of governance and growth are not technological. We could be doing a lot better in creating a prosperous and transcendent culture!