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America: Mall or Stadium?

Ed West writes in the Spectator (UK): [1]

I appreciate that, for American liberals in particular, patriotism is not about where your ancestors came from but an ideal, and an attachment to a set of values. This is heartfelt and genuine, and you are certainly right to abhor racism, but if you try to ignore human nature you will fail in whatever your goal is. Another result of multiculturalism is that the more diversity there is, the more white support there will be for radical right-wing parties at the national level [2]. This is happening across Europe, and it can only be further accelerated when the multicultural party promotes identity politics, as the Democrats are masters of – because either no one does identity politics, or everyone does. This is where Trump comes along.

Donald Trump is not my cup of tea; he is the very antithesis of those mild-mannered northern European values I outlined earlier and as a human being does not seem to possess a single redeeming feature. But the nationalism he espouses, which seems like a derivative of Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 platform, would paradoxically make the United States in the long term far more like the egalitarian social democracy the Left likes.

How do people who like both equality and diversity square this contradiction? On the most part they don’t, because as Damon Linker observed recently in The Week, they have come to view any attachment to the local and real over the global and abstract as morally deviant [3]:

Underlying liberal denigration of the new nationalism — the tendency of progressives to describe it as nothing but ‘racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia’ — is the desire to delegitimise any particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic… cosmopolitan liberals presume that all particularistic forms of solidarity must be superseded by a love of humanity in general, and indeed that these particularistic attachments will be superseded by humanitarianism before long, as part of the inevitable unfolding of human progress.

Is it any surprise then, that across the western world the centre-left is sleepwalking to irrelevance? The proposition nation is a noble concept, and one against which the white identity politics of the Alt Right is hard to morally articulate, but it is very much a utopian one, and certainly something that has never been tried before in a democracy. Liberals boast that demography is on their side, which it certainly is, but when they achieve their goal they might not like what they have created. The more utopian dreams fail the more virulent its believers tend to become towards opponents, but it doesn’t solve the existential contradictions. As a child, I remember a superpower tried changing human nature to create a paradise on earth; that didn’t work out too well.

Here’s the problem, as I see it. Is the American nation (or any nation) more like:

  1. The diverse crowd that gathers at the shopping mall on Saturday afternoon, or
  2. The diverse crowd that gathers at the football stadium on Saturday night?

The difference is that the only thing the first crowd shares little more than a geographical space, but the second crowd shares not only a geographical space, but a purpose.

Our problem is that we want the solidarity and sense of purpose that the football stadium crowd possesses, but without its shared sense of a mission greater than the individuals engaged in it. I don’t think this is a problem that politics can solve, but it is certainly a problem that politics can exacerbate. As the next four years will demonstrate.

Instead of the Stadium as a symbol, I might have used the Cathedral, but of course America, as a foundationally secular nation, is better represented by a stadium. Plus, these days, Cathedrals function more like Malls, in the sense I mean in this post. There’s not much shared sense of purpose there, only a diverse group of people gathered in a particular geographical space to pursue private ends. The Mall really is the symbol of our place in this time.

34 Comments (Open | Close)

34 Comments To "America: Mall or Stadium?"

#1 Comment By Ferny On November 8, 2016 @ 2:54 pm

For people on the Left though, what is the alternative? Outside of our moral claims, there’s also a reality: most of the diversity that exists in today’s US is effectively the fault of white policy makers – either through the importation and enslavement of one peoples or the conquest of the American West and our actively manipulation of the economies and societies of a whole continent.

People might respond with Islamic immigration, but as a percentage of the population, that’s tiny. That also has very little to do with our current debates (except in that people seem to believe Muslims represent 25% of immigrants or something).

What is the alternative? We know it’s utopian – but the alternative is to say “well, everybody – time to segregate?”

#2 Comment By Kid Charlemagne On November 8, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

But America is not like Europe – America has always been diverse: Europeans, Africans, Native Americans and pretty quickly Chinese etc etc

White people in America have always practiced identity politics.

Wasn’t America always a collection of people drawn together by “making” it for themselves?

#3 Comment By Jesse On November 8, 2016 @ 3:00 pm

If that shared purpose is to remove the rights of workers, ban women from making reproductive choices, limit the rights of gay people to enter into civil marriage, cut social spending, expand massive tax cuts to the rich, privatize public education, and so on, and so forth, then give me the Mall over the Stadium anyway, even if I won’t get all the policies I want.

#4 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 8, 2016 @ 3:06 pm

Rod, I have another comparison point to suggest.

You and I are both very familiar with an ethnic and cultural segregation. It is epitomized by that section of a city — I’m familiar with the ones in NYC and here in Philadelphia — called Chinatown.

I’m using that as my example knowing that there are other examples, like one here in Philly called the Italian Market. Please, let us not get stuck in the particular.

It can be argued, I suggest, that Chinatown is the Cathedral (or Stadium, if you will) for the first Chinese immigrants, their children, and the following generations of immigrants from China. It has the added “benefit” of being a fully-defined community in every sense, ethnically, culturally, socially and economically. The shared sense of purpose, I have witnessed myself, is palpable. The Mall or the Stadium lacks that fullness, I submit.

The flaw I see in your argument, implied in my response on the other thread, is the same flaw illustrated by Ed West, where he writes:

How do people who like both equality and diversity square this contradiction? On the most part they don’t, because as Damon Linker observed recently in The Week, they have come to view any attachment to the local and real over the global and abstract as morally deviant[.]

Diversity is a social dynamic. Equality is grounded in social dynamics, but it cannot survive without an institutional structure that defines it and enforces that definition against violations of it. That, in the U.S. would be, of course, our government.

Personally, diversity is rightly restricted to the social setting. Equality, again personally, is a moral imperative especially in our materialist, market capitalist economy. Our history clearly shows that moral imperative in action. Unions is the high-profile example, but so too are the excellent examples of child labor laws (and the resulting laws for public education), discrimination in employment prohibitions and their enforcement, and the laws governing the plethora of local discriminatory practices around renting or buying residential property.

If diversity is to have any value, it must be completely divorced from any value judgments. If equality is to have any value, it must be identity-label blind.

#5 Comment By Cascadian On November 8, 2016 @ 3:14 pm

OK, you’ve lost me. I live in an extremely homogenous area. We have some solidarity formed around outdoor sport but it might be more like being in a stand alone Nordstrom’s, definitely not a mall.

#6 Comment By MikeCLT On November 8, 2016 @ 3:17 pm

If Trump wins America will look more like Canada. If Clinton wins America will look more like Brazil.

#7 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 8, 2016 @ 3:53 pm

I don’t find the warrior-ethos sports stadium, with its paid for displays of militaristic patriotism, all that different from President Bush’s just-keep-shopping imperial crusades.

#8 Comment By Ben H On November 8, 2016 @ 3:58 pm

Our country is like the diverse crowd that gathers at the mall: mall management is now entirely composed of cult members who not only hand you a tract but expect you to know the contents and act on them with sincerity (contents can be changed at any time by announcements over the loudspeaker).

#9 Comment By Jerry On November 8, 2016 @ 4:02 pm

Two points Dreher, West, and Linker miss:

1. For the USA, diversity isn’t some novel new proposal — it is simply the factual, currently existing result of our history. Getting along with our fellow Americans isn’t some utopian project, but an urgent necessity.

2. For those of us who live in the more diverse parts of the country, an attachment to the local and an attachment to diversity are inextricably linked. In my little patch of California, the Central Valley, ethnic diversity has always been here from the earliest days of settlement. If you like living here, if you are attached to this place, its culture, and its history, loving the diversity of the people is part of the deal. The kind of localist values that are celebrated in the South and the Midwest are not localist at all in the West; they represent foreign values that are utterly out of place here.

#10 Comment By Michael M On November 8, 2016 @ 4:02 pm

“Our problem is that we want the solidarity and sense of purpose that the football stadium crowd possesses, but without its shared sense of a mission greater than the individuals engaged in it. I don’t think this is a problem that politics can solve, but it is certainly a problem that politics can exacerbate.”

THIS is actually where I think Bush failed, post-9/11 – that instead of really being encouraged to pursue an agenda of national shared sacrifice (reinstatement of the draft, victory gardens, whatever), we were encouraged to… keep shopping. Huge missed opportunity to stay connected in our fraying society after the initial fear wore off.

#11 Comment By Antony On November 8, 2016 @ 4:06 pm

I don’t mind white identity politics as such, but the only honkyprize I have been promised is that my boss will get a tax cut.

#12 Comment By JonF On November 8, 2016 @ 4:19 pm

I appreciate that, for American liberals in particular, patriotism is not about where your ancestors came from but an ideal, and an attachment to a set of values.

Re: If Trump wins America will look more like Canada. If Clinton wins America will look more like Brazil.

The opposite actually if you think policy actually matters, not just rhetoric. Trump’s policies will favor the continued growth of the oligarchy at the top. Clinton will at least preserve some of the social democracy we have and that is notable in our northern neighbor.

#13 Comment By Erdrick On November 8, 2016 @ 4:39 pm

Ferny says:
November 8, 2016 at 2:54 pm

What is the alternative? We know it’s utopian – but the alternative is to say “well, everybody – time to segregate?”

I think the alternative is to essentially stop immigration for a period of several decades to allow for assimilation and create a sense of shared community with the people who are already here. That’s what we did from 1920-1965. I think we need another pause at least that long (and probably significantly longer).

#14 Comment By Kid Charlemagne On November 8, 2016 @ 4:39 pm

@MikeCLT

America has always been more like Brazil.

#15 Comment By Charles Cosimano On November 8, 2016 @ 4:46 pm

America has never been into purpose. We don’t like people who try to impose a purpose on us and we throw them out of office.

#16 Comment By collin On November 8, 2016 @ 4:50 pm

Is it ironic that Trump is suppose represent the ties to past and not shopping malls or stadiums? The man literally built gaudiest malls, casinos, hotels and golf courses! And usually lost money on them! So I guess, Trump is great representation of the 1980s!

Underlying liberal denigration of the new nationalism…

Probably the hardest part of understanding this election for a Californian is our ‘cultural’ past is multiculturalism and multi-ethnic backgrounds. (Unlike say Iowa who has been very pro-Trump in the general.) That is our reality that I grew up in Southern California. My best friends in college were Hispanic-Americans, my college was majority Asian-American, and my kids schools are mostly Hispanic-American. If things were slightly different in 1995, I would have married a Cambodian-American. It is cultural past and not some kind of threat.

In terms of Trump’s run, I really don’t get is most of the white working class communities started having real trouble in the 1970s and 1980s. That was during the Reagan Revolution and the pro-family Post War economy collapse with conservatives cheered the economic changes. It was only after the Reagan Revolution had its first hiccup with the S&L jobless recession, did a new Democrat get elected and yet we are still hearing about these communities struggling when the steel mill closed in 1983.

#17 Comment By Phil On November 8, 2016 @ 5:00 pm

“because as Damon Linker observed recently in The Week, they have come to view any attachment to the local and real over the global and abstract as morally deviant”

One of the things that distinguished Christianity from its gnostic competitors in its early years was the groundedness of its claims. It wasn’t some abstract hero-figure from the distant past that saves us, it was this particular Jewish man who was crucified in a particular place at a particular time in recorded human history – sub Pontio Pilato. The Incarnation forces us Christians to pay attention to particular places, people, and times. It should also give us pause in becoming overly attached to the “global and abstract” over what is local and enfleshed.

#18 Comment By An Anachronistic Apostle On November 8, 2016 @ 5:07 pm

Given over as it is, to personal indulgence and a free-wheeling latitude of choice in all things catering to the flesh and its desires, it is difficult to dismiss “the Mall” as being truly iconic of the Republic, presently. Especially the Mall’s “food court,” as our political discourse now strongly encourages and rewards with attention the carnivore within to devour the other. The restraints on the muzzles are now off, by precedent (nota bene: spelled correctly, as of this jotting).

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be too hasty in eliminating the “Intensive Care Unit” as a reasonable, if heretofore unmentioned, alternative.

But I certainly don’t like the “Stadium,” as being a contemporary lighthouse with meaning. It’s not so much the nightmarish bloody sands of the saints expended in the past, which were in reality badges of honor, and a heavenly glory secured for all eternity. Today, though, our secular fodder collects cerebral amyloid plaques and torn anterior cruciate menisci, while running up the middle for two or three yards of sod. At some level, this knowledge has to instill a guilt-ridden anxiety within the mind of the observer, even in the midst of a keen rejoicing at the visible carnage to friend and foe, which stirs us. It does me.

Sure, guilt can be repressed; but such mental goo never goes completely unpunished, and in the most surprising and disturbing of ways. Sort of like our past, present (and future) involvement in the Near East. The Republic is largely uncomfortable with guilt. We expect to pay in full, until the very last lash of the bondsman’s back is expiated. It’s in our Canon. So we’ll keep at it until we get it right, whatever that means, perhaps until the last drone is flying (and killing “cleanly).”

That might take quite a while. Inside the actual “Stadium,” however, you do run out of time, or maybe innings. Especially in Cleveland.

So I’ll take the “Maul.” Let the consumption commence! 2020 isn’t THAT far off!

#19 Comment By Ben H On November 8, 2016 @ 5:20 pm

“If Clinton wins America will look more like Brazil.”

Brazil’s judiciary/prosecutorial function (their Justice Department basically) has been bravely accusing and trying the most powerful people in the country, including high level business owners, powerful Congress-equivalent politicians from both left and right factions and even Lulu the former President and perhaps the most powerful person in that country. These high figures are charged with a massive corruption scheme based on bribery and government contracts(they’re not smart enough down there to take their bribes as ‘speakers fees’).

#20 Comment By midtown On November 8, 2016 @ 5:37 pm

Kid Charlemagne — U.S. demographics have changed dramatically since the 1960s due to policy decisions that favor the Democratic Party. If immigrants voted like Mormons, do you think they would be so gungho in favor of it?

#21 Comment By Mike Schilling On November 8, 2016 @ 6:20 pm

When I read about white solidarity, I have to wonder if people of Russian and Polish descent are eyeing people of German descent warily.

#22 Comment By Pepi On November 8, 2016 @ 6:20 pm

How about everyone gets a DNA test so they will know exactly who to hate and by how much?

#23 Comment By Pepi On November 8, 2016 @ 6:23 pm

Maybe you aren’t who you think you are:

#24 Comment By VikingLS On November 8, 2016 @ 6:32 pm

“If that shared purpose is to remove the rights of workers, ban women from making reproductive choices, limit the rights of gay people to enter into civil marriage, cut social spending, expand massive tax cuts to the rich, privatize public education, and so on, and so forth, then give me the Mall over the Stadium anyway, even if I won’t get all the policies I want.”

The ironic thing is that you all had the most socially liberal Republican to run in years and you treated him like the Devil incaranate.

The reality Jess is that you are not a trustworthy player, and as such we have no option to compromise with you. We have to beat you not because we want conflict, but because you will not permit us a peaceful approach.

#25 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 8, 2016 @ 6:40 pm

“THIS is actually where I think Bush failed, post-9/11 – that instead of really being encouraged to pursue an agenda of national shared sacrifice (reinstatement of the draft, victory gardens, whatever), we were encouraged to… keep shopping.”

Yeah imagine we were drafted into a war we were lied into. What could go wrong?

#26 Comment By Darwin’s S-list On November 8, 2016 @ 6:58 pm

Freedom, equality, diversity. Pick any two.

#27 Comment By workingdad On November 8, 2016 @ 8:18 pm

I’ll be watching how elk county pa votes.

#28 Comment By Brendan from Oz On November 8, 2016 @ 9:37 pm

The Wests obsession with Diversity in the form of opening borders, importing skilled and unskilled workers via Visas (I’m in IT and know when this happened – and that Apple etc. have been found guilty of it in court without it reversing) and the rest are recent deliberate policies of multiculturalism that began in my own lifetime, indeed while I was working for the Department of Immigration (Australia) who thanked me for building the IT systems by sacking me and outsourcing/offshoring everything.

That nations included various people is not the same as the deliberate enforcement of multiculturalism and destruction of the host culture that no one voted for and was always unpopular in any poll.

It was not ever thus – this is very new, deliberate disruption of the structure of nations and the world as it really was.

Spending money, effort and time on consumer or sporting distractions is all under the control of the new Crony Capitalism: they make $$$ either way.

#29 Comment By Joan On November 9, 2016 @ 1:40 am

@Darwin’s S-list says:Freedom, equality, diversity. Pick any two.

If you limit your definition of freedom to the Bill of Rights, you actually can have all three, provided you have a fourth: prosperity.

People with secure middle class incomes are generally okay with immigration, provided the local numbers aren’t too overwhelming. People who are struggling economically are not. Thus Americans’ tolerance of diversity waxes and wanes with the economy. I’ve lived through a rough handful of recessions. Every time, generally when recovery has been announced but jobless rates are still high, I have heard calls to close the borders. FDR, the liberals’ great hero, actually did it. The refusal of his party, after 2008, to even consider such a thing, along with their failure to stimulate the economy enough so the demand would fade, is what gave Donald Trump his opening. More or less the same thing has happened in Europe, so it’s not terribly surprising. Yeah, I’m sympathetic to the plight of immigrants from poor countries. I understand the logic that says that bringing people from Third World hellholes into the land of inside plumbing is a noble act even if it does depress wages so far that big chunks of the US-born lower middle class are forced down onto the social safety net, not that its advocates would ever admit to the cause-and-effect chain. If the policy reduces the total worldwide number of human deaths from starvation, war, and the diseases of underdevelopment, it’s a win, right? But, realpolitic, immigrants have to be here several years before they can vote; the US-born former and endangered lower middle class can all vote, right now. If Trump wins tonight, it’ll be a result of the Democrats’ failing to crunch their numbers.

#30 Comment By Adam Kolasinski On November 9, 2016 @ 9:51 am

In terms of Trump’s run, I really don’t get is most of the white working class communities started having real trouble in the 1970s and 1980s . That was during the Reagan Revolution and the pro-family Post War economy collapse with conservatives cheered the economic changes.”

The revisionism of the left never ceases to amaze me. Reagan, who took office in 1981, is now being blamed for the economic woes of the 1970’s.

#31 Comment By Liberty&Virtue On November 9, 2016 @ 10:06 am

Whether our society is, can, or ought to be more like the Mall or the Stadium depends partly on the size of that society. If looking at American society as a whole, the plausibility of it having a robust Stadium culture is very small due to the incredible degree of cultural and value diversity across our nation. If one is talking about the society of one’s city or town, then it’s much easier to have a Stadium culture.

This is precisely why when it comes to a political system, those that prioritize Right are vastly superior to those that prioritize the Good–trying to enforce or endorse a particular view of the Good is bound to, as has been demonstrated countless times in the past, involve violence, discord, and oppression because truly, no one size fits all.That’s not to say that there’s no Good that can be encouraged–civic virtue can and ought to be nurtured, and can even contribute to a Stadium culture–but only to an extent.

Rod says that politics likely can’t solve this, but can exacerbate it. I don’t think this is entirely true. Returning to a true federalist system would go a long way to striking a balance between the Mall and Stadium models–each state/city would be more able to shape a society around local culture and values, while we’d have more diversity (and thus choice) from state to state.

One thing that people need to keep in mind about the Stadium model is that, just like people who flock to actual sports stadiums, it is very common for people to define an “us” in terms of being “against them.” Advocates of a Stadium society need to be very careful in deciding who doesn’t belong…

#32 Comment By Liberty&Virtue On November 9, 2016 @ 10:23 am

More thoughts:

-Jerry and collin’s example of California of a society where the Stadium model is closely tied to a cultural heritage of diversity. This provides a promising model of how a Stadium and Mall society can coexist–even work together–though there is the question of how much of this possibility is dependent on history.

-“Our problem is that we want the solidarity and sense of purpose that the football stadium crowd possesses, but without its shared sense of a mission greater than the individuals engaged in it.”

One reason for this is that our public school system doesn’t really teach students to be good citizens. On the contrary, it’s emphasis is on supposedly preparing students for professional life, but sadly it’s even more about teaching students how to take tests/please the educational complex. Nothing short of a curricular and pedagogic revolution–or greater exit from public schooling–will improve this.

Even then, people are busy and unless they can easily incorporate this mission into their regular lives–or be convinced it’s a superior way to live, it will never be a majority phenomenon. I do question exactly how common the quoted sentiment is, but based on anecdotes and enough ephemera, it does seem that something is indeed going on. In any case, it’s going to require–forgive me for the use of this concept–a “vanguard” of intentional communities/networks to set the example and lead the way.

#33 Comment By JonF On November 9, 2016 @ 3:38 pm

Re: Yeah imagine we were drafted into a war we were lied into. What could go wrong?

We would not have had that war.

#34 Comment By Thrice A Viking On November 9, 2016 @ 3:54 pm

I agree with Brendan from Oz. A distinction must be drawn between the multi-ethnic and the multi-cultural. The first is fine; the second is bound to be destabilizing. If there must be MC, let it be different areas of the country with somewhat different cultures – but NOT several different cultures within a given city. That is madness!