“Google Nose” Smells Funny and Familiar: A Sun Blemish

People got offended by Google’s choice to feature a sketch of Cesar Chavez today, Easter Sunday. I have very little to say that First Things editor, Matthew Schmitz, didn’t cover in his excellent and timely blog post, “Why It’s Fitting to Remember Cesar Chavez on Easter Sunday.”

Those who remain unconvinced, should read “The Passion of Cesar Chavez,” published in Crisis Magazine almost a year ago.

The lesson is this: if there is an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel, then doing otherwise is, well, doing otherwise.

Today, almost surely unwittingly, a giant corporation that reaches millions if not billions of people around the world everyday, featured the picture of a faithful Catholic labor activist on its entry page. For Catholics to turn that into something diametrically opposed to the message of Easter is to fail, and fail miserably, at the New Evangelization. This is antithetical to good news that Christ is risen, conveyed through the Catholic intellect and imagination.


Then there is this: Google Nose.

Google says, “Take a wiff: the Google Aromabase – 15M+ scentibytes.”

Scentibytes? Yep. You guessed it. It’s fake. And funny. And a day early, too.

April Fools!

Things like this require a double-measured attitude: the critical edge to not look naive; the quick wit to laugh and get in on the joke. Google Nose is a temperamental litmus test for those who consider themselves workers in the vineyard of the New Evangelization — especially in new media.

Sadly, too many devout and pious Catholics have lost their ability to exact serious and analytic critique and/or to find levity and humor that is not specifically tailored to their niche within the Catholic bubble.

There seems to be an addiction to infectious junk ideology — something like TV dinners for how to think and feel — that pervades the comment boxes, message boards, Facebook walls, television and radio, blah, blah, blah.

We cannot talk about marriage with our heads on or our hearts beating. Both sides choose math signs and sentimental anecdotes and demonize each other, while pointing out that the other side is acting crazy — and, of course, they are. Those doing the serious work of either understanding the argument or seeing the human element are quarantined and quickly become just as bitter and counterproductive as the others. Like me.

I would sing a litany here, but you already know what I’m talking about. The addiction was alive and well today in the Chavez hullabaloo. The addiction is present in the Pope Francis liturgical foot fetishes. The addiction is alive and well in the silence that these posts evoke from the people who might add to the conversation and the noise that usually seeps in from nuts and crazies and trolls (no offense to my many non-nutty commenters) and the replies I post that shut things down even further. Look at what I did to Molly, on Good Friday!

Why do you even read this? Why put yourself through these unstable tirades and questions? Who am I to write at you? And who are you? Do I know you? Why are we here? And what happened to my afternoon siesta?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but I do know this: the addiction is so bad that everything today has to be qualified, allegiances have to declared in advanced and good faith must be drawn and quartered and inspected like a stool sample; we live our lives in the shadow of the same media markets that we consume like cannibals. Incest. Only friendship, and sometimes family, offers relief or succor. The addiction is so bad that I’m breaking my word to not to sing a litany of dirty laundry because I cannot help myself and I think we still need to be reminded that this is not the way things have to be and that we will never build anything if we don’t demolish this idolatrous discourse that preys on our hearts and our minds and leaves us open to nothing better than Raymond-forgoodnesssakesSamdon’tsaythatonEasterSunday-Arroyo — or worse.

This is everywhere I go: Church, academia, Cabelas, coffee-shops, everywhere. But I don’t mind it everywhere. The only place where it really gets to me is within the Church.

One reason I’m Catholic (that I didn’t mention before) is because I was born here and I’ve been here all my life. I cannot, for the life of me, find a way out. Even when I try to run, I run home. I do not merely feel Catholic or identify using that ecclesial nomenclature: I am such that without the Church I cease to be at all. I am within the flux of the Church, ontologically.

Truth be told, I identify more with the East. I had an intellectual conversion to Orthodoxy a few years ago, but I will not leave Rome because there is no such option and free will is treacherous. I am thoroughly Western, Latin, and Roman — through freedom and fate. Even suicide would be an insufficient escape. I am a Roman Catholic, for better and worse, and I will struggle here and rant and rave and type till I find myself elsewhere.

Elsewhere? “Master, to whom shall we go?”

Don’t you see? We stand at the edge of the abyss, facing absolutely nothing, and everything left behind is excrement. Things that we’ve already tried and defecated and know better than to try again. This is why Easter and Google and Chavez and these straw-man projections of myself get under my fingernails and make them dance on my keyboard, reaching out for redemption.

The key is to jump. To take on the abyssal and die and live.

This is Resurrection. We will never be the same. We will be more brave and prudent, less prudish and more humble, everything will change.

But the moments pass and Good Friday is a year away again.

In the meantime, I have a very small and insufficient tool that helps me from eating my own shit: philosophy.

That may sound lame or overly intellectual, but I hope to explain it more in the months to come. I think I can share what little of what I’ve gathered together. Plus, the more I’ve tried to share it, the more clear it has become to me.

When we come full circle, perhaps the greatest virtue of Schmitz’s Chavez article today was the ability to think well and without the fog of ideological addiction.

Thinking won’t save us or make things better, all things considered, but it might give us a preliminary ability to stop whining about our treacherously comfortable predicaments and reach out to those who might save us.

As an educator, writer, musician, father, and husband, this is all I’ve really got, except the love and grace of God: a sun blemish.





  • Petro

    This was a great piece, Sam. This is why you’re the best writer in these parts.

    • srocha

      April fools?

  • arty

    I’ve been tempted to throw up my hands before, too, at our cultural tendency to have what you might call prepackaged debates, where the positions are known in advance, the outcomes or lack thereof are a foregone conclusion, etc…. Occasionally, you see the odd “beyondist” movement, as in, “we’ve just got to put ideology to the side and get beyond our differences to move forward.” or some other meaningless twaddle, that is the rhetorical stock in trade of politics and cultural commentary. So on the one hand, I applaud people who can, when called for, ignore the temptation to succumb to a “fog of ideological addiction” and just think, and think well, as you put it. Where I’ve always been reluctant to subscribe to this approach too heavily, though, is that it too often ignores the possibility that there are non-negotiable matters of substance at issue, where “compromise” is just another word for capitulate. Over the last few years, I’ve read quite a lot of Philip Rieff and Alasdair MacIntyre, and in their very different ways, both thinkers have convinced me that a great cultural shift took place in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, where we are now living in what amounts to a “war of the worlds”. I’ve found MacIntyre’s argument that we live in an essentially “emotivist” culture to be very powerful, and I’ve concluded from that that what I am living in is the triumph of MacIntyre’s emotivist culture (or Rieff’s “therapeutic”), but with vestiges of a traditional creedal outlook on life still remaining. This, then, is why I’m reluctant to reject the clash of ideologies as mindless partisanship: Maybe the shrillness and interminability of our cultural “debates” is due to the fact that we’ve finally argued enough about the issues of the day to expose the non-negotiable core: the survival of a creedal orientation towards the divine. Put another way, maybe the “fog of ideological addiction” is really just the accusation hurled at those of us (including me and you) who cannot and will not renounce sacred authority for cold sophistries of those who think that compromise is an inherent good regardless of what is actually at stake.

    In the spirit of your article though, I too reject what you called the “junk ideology” of internet and tv sound-bite thinking. I don’t have internet or tv at home, I read a lot, I cultivate both my garden (Voltaire call your office) and good relations with my neighbors, I shoot my own meat and think of my place in Creation, and I try to avoid insomnia-inducing politics as much as possible. None of this means, though, that ideology is mistaken just because it is ideology.

    • srocha

      Thank you, arty, for adding serious layers of tension and depth to my thoughts here. I want to pick some of this up sooner than later.

  • Petro

    “I don’t have internet or tv at home, I read a lot, I cultivate both my garden (Voltaire call your office) and good relations with my neighbors, I shoot my own meat and think of my place in Creation, and I try to avoid insomnia-inducing politics as much as possible. ”

    I write this in the most respectful way I can. This sounds like one of the most emotivist lives that I could imagine.

    • arty

      Emotivism, in the sense that MacIntyre meant it, is the view that value-statements are statements of feelings or emotions of the speaker, and reflect no objective reality. Thus, the statement “abortion is wrong” reflects how the speaker feels about abortion, not any larger reality than that. Maybe I should have clarified MacIntyre’s usage of the term, since I just dropped it. Hopefully that clarifies my view that there’s a real argument for a certain degree of non-involvement, since conversations where feelings are king are inherently incapable of rational progress.

      • Petro

        Yes. I know what emotivism is. Still sticking with my comment here.

        Conversations in which feelings are not king are not really conversations at all.

        • arty

          So I’m curious: how is the portion of my comment you quoted illustrative of an inherently emotivist approach to life? If my conclusion is that the tenor of public debate is such that there is little chance of anything productive happening, that is a rational judgment on my part, not an emotivist one. My refusal to get too involved is based on a rejection of emotivism, not dependence on it. You wouldn’t argue about math with somebody who was unshakeably convinced that 2+2=5. Math may be worth debating, but that particular “conversation” would be pointless. So, I totally agree that “Conversations in which feelings are not king are not really conversations at all”.

          • Petro

            You’re slightly altering your statement by saying, “My refusal to get too involved… in the tenor of public debate” as opposed to my refusal to have modern conveniences in my home and buy meat from Safeway.

            I don’t find that there is a rational, objective reality that insists that we not have Internet nor television in our homes and that having them is bad. You seem to be making a value statement about those items based on your emotional response to them rather than objective reality. That seems rather Emotivist to me.

  • arty

    Ahh, I see where you are coming from. What I meant, on the television, internet examples, was that the arguments and debates that one often gets drawn into, when participating in those media, are inherently interminable and unproductive because thy take place in Emotivist terms. Example: They other day, while at work, I read a cnn news story about Sen. Portman from WA changing his stance on gay marriage, because his son is gay. The rational response to that is: “well, you original reasoning must have been rather unprofound, nay, emotivist, if all it takes for you to do a major about-face is the fact that your son is gay.” However, the tenor of the news story was clearly that people who can’t see the inherent rightness and logic of the Senator’s decision are blind, bigoted, or both.

    Going home and cultivating one’s garden seems like the most rational response to me, to something that absurd, because there’s no non-Emotivist basis for any further conversation about it. So, I wasn’t arguing categorically that nobody should have tv or internet. I was arguing that I don’t, because I get inexorably drawn into pointless debate if I do. If you are a better man than I, on that front, good for you. Clearly my presence on this blog, for instance, indicates my interest in having non-Emotivist conversation with people, about the issues of the day. Fair enough?

  • Brian

    You have to be the biggest wimp I’ve ever read. What a girlie man.

    • srocha

      Thanks, Brian.

  • Brian

    I apologize.
    But we’re not going to steam-rolled anymore. Our voices will be heard, Google.

    • Petro

      There are too many syllables here for a proper Haiku. Sorry.