Catholics Have a Rad Trad Problem

All of this has happened before. And all of it will happen again.

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1. The Problem with Social Media

A reader emails: “If Facebook is DDT, then Twitter is Agent Orange.”

But I realized that in our brief discussion of Facebook’s make-believe Supreme Court yesterday, we didn’t really talk about the foundational problem with Facebook. And it’s the same as the problem with Twitter and—to an even greater extent—YouTube.

The problem is the algorithm.

We’ve talked about this a lot over at Judd Legum has an explainer about it today at Popular Information:

[O]n Facebook in April, The Daily Wire received more than double the distribution of the Washington Post and the New York Times combined:

This actually understates how much better The Daily Wire's content performs on Facebook than the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Daily Wire published just 1,385 pieces of content in April compared to over 6,000 by the Washington Post and the New York Times. Each piece of content The Daily Wire published in April received 54,084 engagements on Facebook, compared to 2,943 for the New York Times and 1,973 for the Washington Post. 

Two other sites that top the Washington Post and the New York Times are Western Journal, a far-right website that pushed Trump's false claims about voter fraud, and Rumble, a video platform that caters to Trump supporters.

It's important to note here that Facebook's algorithm is not reflecting reality — it's creating a reality that doesn't exist anywhere else. In the rest of the world, Western Journal is not more popular than the New York Times, NBC News, the BBC, and the Washington Post. That's only true on Facebook.

Facebook has made a conscious decision to surface low-quality content and recognizes its dangers. Shortly after the November election, Facebook temporarily tweaked its algorithm to emphasize "'news ecosystem quality' scores, or N.E.Q., a secret internal ranking it assigns to news publishers based on signals about the quality of their journalism." The purpose was to attempt to cut down on election misinformation being spread on the platform by Trump and his allies. The result was "a spike in visibility for big, mainstream publishers like CNN, The New York Times and NPR, while posts from highly engaged hyperpartisan pages, such as Breitbart and Occupy Democrats, became less visible." 

I want to repeat Legum’s point here again, because it’s so important:

Facebook's algorithm is not reflecting reality — it's creating a reality that doesn't exist anywhere else. In the rest of the world, Western Journal is not more popular than the New York Times, NBC News, the BBC, and the Washington Post. That's only true on Facebook.

The problem is the entire idea of algorithmically promoted content.

2. Conservative Catholics and the Rad Trads

More Catholic inside baseball here, this time from Damian Thompson. It is hotness:

[I]t’s an odd time for Catholic intellectuals to be proposing changes to the US Constitution that they hope will be a prelude to the worldwide subjugation of secular rulers to the Catholic Church. But, as I report in the most recent episode of TheSpectator’sHoly Smoke podcast, that’s what’s happening. The movement is generally known as Integralism . . .

[T]he new Integralists are not anti-Semitic. In a new Catholic polity — ideally monarchist, though that’ll be a tough sell in America — there will be no such thing as a Jewish citizen. But nor will there be Methodist citizens. Or Anglo-Catholic ones, however lavishly ‘Roman’ their Episcopal Masses. As for ‘heretics’, by which I assume they mean Catholics who spread dissent, ‘the temporal power may use bloody means, even capital punishment, when acting on its own authority: within Christendom it may also do this against spiritual offenses like heresy if they gravely harm the common temporal good.’

I’m taking all this from Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy(2020), co-authored by the English Dominican Fr Thomas Crean and Alan Fimister, who teaches theology and Church history at St John Vianney Theological Seminary in Colorado. . . .

But Crean and Fimister have far less influence than the new standard-bearer of Integralism in the United States, Adrian Vermeule, who is the Ralph S. Tyler Jr. professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School. . . .

In an article in the Atlantic last year, Vermeule proposed sweeping away libertarian concepts of free speech. Under a common-good constitutionalist ‘regime’, the law will teach, habituate and re-form its ‘subjects’, who will thank their ‘ruler’ for helping them form ‘better habits, and beliefs that better track and promote communal well-being’. And if they don’t? The state will ‘curb the social and economic pretensions of the urban-gentry liberals who so often place their own satisfactions (financial and sexual) and the good of their class or social milieu above the common good’. . . .

Integralism is nuts, in other words. You’ve probably never met a single person who subscribes to it — unless you hang out with 24-year-old pipe-smoking fogeys whose idea of a good time is curling up with G.K. Chesterton in front of a roaring auto-da-fe. What I can’t work out is why non-integralist conservative Catholics give these ideas so much airtime. The widely respected Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton, was on Twitter this week praising Vermeule’s ‘excellent point’ that students of politics and law are ignorant of ‘what Isaiah Berlin described as “the central tradition of Western thought” about morality, politics and law’. So I pointed out that Sir Isaiah, if he were alive today, would as a Jew be ineligible for citizenship in an Integralist utopia. No answer.

You should read the whole thing.

What Thompson is getting at here is undeniably true: That the Grand Old Respectable Boomers of the Catholic intellectual class privately look upon the integralists as insane. And then publicly accommodate them and make nice with them.

It is a lot like—check that, it is exactly likethe way conservative intellectuals and Republican elites spent a generation accommodating and excusing the entertainment wing of the movement, pretending that charlatans such as Rush Limbaugh and Brent Bozell and their ilk weren’t dishonest, pernicious, cancers growing inside the body politic. Until, finally, the charlatans took over.

I’m not sure why the Catholic intellectual grandees refuse to condemn the integralists. Maybe it’s cowardice. Maybe it’s charity. Maybe it’s just a fear of social awkwardness. They all go to the same parties and conferences. No need to be difficult. And I really want First Things to review my next book. Besides, the Catholic left is awful, too!

But whatever the explanation, this refusal of the elites to engage will eventually end for Catholic conservatism exactly the same way it ended for political conservatism.

The whole thing reminds me of an exchange between Deputy Wendell and Sheriff Bell:

If Catholic intellectuals don’t understand the stakes, then they ought to. They’ve seen the same things I’ve seen. And it certainly made an impression on me.

No Fear. No Favor.

3. Thursday Steiner