Thud, Mud & MacIntyre–a geriatric adventure, by Frank DeRienzo
Two weeks ago on Saturday near my residence in coastal Georgia, I spent an uneventful early morning sitting uncomfortably in a deer stand in a fruitless endeavor to be a murderer. Undaunted, I switched to fishing and launched into the intercoastal tidal river in my kayak at low ebb to try a fishing spot where the rapid outgoing tidal flow temporarily exposes an intermittent island near a bridge. I am a novice at hunting deer, but experienced at fishing although my experience of having lived on northern lakes in my youth proved of little help here in the tidal rivers of intercoastal Georgia. I have had some years here of refining my techniques through mistakes and now, unlike hunting, am able to bring home dinner most trips and have saved many meatless Friday’s from the horrors of polenta.
Even though I am relatively new to deer hunting, the first day of the season, just after sunrise I was able to drop a buck with my son’s crossbow using fixed broadheads. I hit him a bit high, and the arrow went clean through and into the ground; the fleeing buck left no blood trail as apparently the blood pooled into the deer and the fixed broadhead did not create a large enough wound to allow any blood to escape. Perfect accuracy with the fixed heads, I was slow to learn, is imperative. Instead of continuing to run straight away from me, the buck doubled back toward me, crashing through distant brush. I heard it collapse and hit the ground with a loud thud and with help from Saint Anthony, I found him two hours into tracking. Had it run straight away from me and not turned back then I may not have been able to recover it. Later, after losing a doe that ran straight away, I switched to mechanical broadheads. I have not been able to test them yet and my wife, who always readily encourages me, suggested that perhaps the buck was just beginner’s luck. Part of her job description is to keep me humble and here she may prove right, although I will work hard to prove her wrong. This is my first deer hunting season trying in earnest. Fishing has always been my preferred outdoor activity, and old dogs like me are slow to learn new things.
I launched the kayak into the dark water and at risk of invoking brain cancer as I paddled along the river, I put in a Bluetooth earpiece and listened to ending chapters of Macintyre’s _After Virtue_. I have been enriched by often revisiting MacIntyre’s seminal book ever since my introduction to it in the mid-1980s. Every time I engage with it, I wrestle with some new insight. With one ear to MacIntyre and my other ear and senses attuned to the pleasant sights, smells and sounds of the tidal marsh, I paddled along wishing I had remembered to bring a cigar to complete the hedonistic calculus.
When MacIntyre’s narration reached perhaps his most often quoted sentence, “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.” I put aside the earpiece in time to pull the kayak up onto the exposed mud and sand mound in the tidal river. I put one live shrimp on a rig with a float and leader to position the bait just above the bottom of the river and allow a slow drift. Most of my favorite fishing spots here are paved with oyster beds and it is hard to keep from losing hooks on the rough bottom surface; the sharp protruding shells are merciless; the art of raking just over the oyster bed where the fish are feeding can bring great results, but dropping the bait too low in the water risks losing hook and leader on a sharp cutting snag. This was one among many hard-learned lessons of fishing the Georgia inter-coastal with its dark water, ripping tides and soft mud. It is nothing like the tame northern lakes that I grew up on. I put another shrimp on a bottom rig and aimed at a separate spot safely away from the unforgiving oysters; black drum and redfish tend to feed along the bottom near the oyster beds. I proceeded to cast my bait shrimp out into the inter-coastal waterway in the direction of a nearby bridge. I was hoping for speckled sea trout and had deliberately paddled past some good redfish and black drum spots to be where the trout were more commonly running.
The first hit was instantaneous upon casting. I pulled in a 15” trout on the rod with the float. The activity quickly became incessant. I dropped my bifocals in the mud and luckily did not step on them. I started hauling in reds, black drum and finally a whiting that I would have set free except he swallowed the hook. I am a cheap ‘speciesist’ and won’t suffer losing hooks to non-gamefish. He would end up filleted with his larger cousins. At times during this adventure I unexpectedly had a fish on each rod simultaneously and was at risk of losing one of the rigs into the dark water while I tended the other. The tide was coming in fast, so the kayak floated off a couple of times and I had to jump in the river to retrieve it and as the water was rising and I started sinking into the mud, I thought it best to head in as my fun quota was maxed out in what had quickly turned into an aerobic workout-- maybe it was fortunate that I forgot to bring that cigar.
I would have reached the legal catch limit on this little fishing adventure if I had had the foresight to bring a cooler with ice. As it was, I had a 5-gallon bucket which usually suffices when I get a couple of fish. By pouring in fresh water every 15 minutes I can keep them alive in my tandem kayak that I have modified slightly for fishing. Paddling back to the community dock and cleaning table would be over a mile against the tide and having more than three sizable fish makes it impossible to keep them alive and fresh in such small confines as my bucket allowed; I had to stop fishing and head in with my catch before it spoiled.
Later that evening, I saw in my email inbox a note from ‘Audible,’ the online retail vendor of my audio narration of After Virtue. The completion of my reading of After Virtue, (unbeknownst to them for maybe the 6th time), inspired them to recommend the following list of books: 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson, Mere Christianity_ by C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther by Eric Metaxes, Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller, and Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance.
This odd list was apparently spat out by a marketing algorithm that was notified of my most recent audio book completion; their application is spying on me. This reminded me immediately of one of MacIntyre’s quips that I had just head earlier that day on the river: He commented that as Marxists move toward power, they always tend to become Weberian: “Power tends to coopt and absolute power tends to coopt absolutely.” It also tends to coopt clumsily as indicated by the questionable list that they recommended for my consideration. To be fair, there are some books in my audio library already that their algorithm might have recommended did I not already own them; I am sure they have my purchase history: The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher and After You Believe by N.T. Wright are two from their inventory that I would expect listed. The former even begins with that now famous quotation by MacIntyre cited earlier and the latter is teleological throughout and critical of Kantian and existentialist ethics.
Jordan Petersen is a hack pop-psychologist and part of the controlled opposition. He does not even offer a veneer of teleology. Lewis’ prose is always worth the time spent reading or listening, but anyone working through After Virtue has probably already read much Lewis already and his Christianity-101 writing really does not belong on this list. If they were to choose from Lewis’ writings, perhaps Screwtape Letters would have been closer to the mark.
Metaxas on Luther may be of limited interest for some since MacIntyre is critical of the Reformation and those who may not be versed in the nature of its paradigm shift might wish to seek more insight into it, but that is a stretch; it does not belong on the list either. Anything by Keller is just pop-evangelical devotional kitsch at best. The only book offered that remotely interested me as a follow-up is the one by Vance. The free sample audio on offer sounded like a cross between the movies “Affliction” and “Deliverance.” One out of five books may possibly be all you can expect for accuracy from such an algorithm at this stage of the decline. Their reach will far exceed their grasp at least until we are all dumbed-down and Common-Core-compliant enough to be more predictable. I do wonder if they had the time to record and publish a narration of Bergoglio’s latest Jacobin encyclical, if they would have listed that as a follow-up to MacIntyre.
Dinner that night was very good: fresh pan-fried sea trout and a nice bottle of sauvignon blanc. And the cigar and cognac afterwards, along with a narration of Eliot’s Four Quartets_ read by Paul Schofield offered a far better benediction than can be found in anything recommended by the aberrant algorithm. While many are just waiting for Godot from inside their perceived patina of imputation, those with a hint of teleological sense long to see righteousness and peace kiss even while watching in dismay as deep-state and deep-church meet and kiss through a mask and as absolute power tends to coopt absolutely.
Frank DeRienzo is a retired Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Gordon College and an MBA from the University of Massachusetts and is a graduate of the US Army Defense Language Institute. He currently works with distance eLearning technology.