Here’s a stunning essay from David Goodhart of the non-partisan UK think tank Demos, in which he exposes the underside of the boom times in contemporary London. He points out that mass immigration, diversity ideology, and a globalist, capitalist worldview embraced by the leadership class in both left-wing and right-wing parties, has made London into another country, one that is increasingly divided from and even hostile to white Britons from the rest of the UK. It is a global city, not so much a British city anymore. It’s too expensive to live in unless you’re rich or willing to live with relative poverty and instability (it’s much like New York City in that way). Whatever your ethnic group, if you are in the middle class, London cannot promise you a good quality of life. And despite the official propaganda of London being a place where a wide diversity of people live together in relative peace and harmony, the city is divided, often sharply, along ethnic and racial lines. Excerpt:
Although London is essentially a left-wing city the ‘old left’ issues of pay, jobs, public services, community and public housing get drowned out by ‘new left’ issues of diversity and minority rights – Doreen Lawrence rather than the late Bob Crow. This makes it hard to mount a case from the left for more social and employment protection – more fellow citizen favouritism – for London’s school leavers and young unemployed.
There is a bigger reason too why London gets away with telling itself and the rest of the country (and the world) such half-truths. It is that the London ideology largely overlaps with, and indeed contributes to, the wider liberal ideology that dominates the country as a whole – the ideology of much of the upper professional class, both centre left and centre right. It is an ideology for the successful but caring, favouring individual autonomy, geographic and social mobility, openness, diversity and equality in most things apart from income.
London’s liberal ideology does not like immigration caps or favouritism towards long-established Londoners. It has little understanding for popular hostility to needy newcomers jumping queues in social housing or the NHS. Similarly, it cannot comprehend white flight from the capital because it involves sentiments of group identity and affinity and a desire for familiarity in neighbourhoods that are not generally felt by more mobile elites, and are therefore too often dismissed as xenophobic.
Exactly: you can’t point out problems caused by immigration without having liberal elites (in politics, academia, media) instantly dismiss you as a racist or nativist, and think of themselves as virtuous for so doing. And in this cultural sense, “liberal elites” belong to both the Democratic and Republican parties. After all, even conservative, capitalist elites don’t use public hospitals or send their children to public schools greatly impacted by mass immigration. More:
And the London ideology simply ignores what does not fit its worldview. It was striking how little coverage the news of London becoming a ‘majority-minority’ city received when it was announced by the ONS at the end of 2012. The Evening Standard did not even put the news on its front page, tucking it away on page 10. And the BBC London television news had it as its seventh item. Boris Johnson’s usually ubiquitous blond bob was nowhere to be seen.
According to the Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh demographic and social trends are remaking Britain in the freewheeling image of its capital city. He argued in a recent FT column that Britain is becoming more urban, more diverse, more atomized, and altogether more like London. And he concluded: ‘If the future points to a rootless, postmodern society in which nothing is sacred, then London got there long ago.’
Ganesh evidently approves of the London-isation of Britain. But a rootless, postmodern society ‘in which nothing is sacred’ is not, given a choice, where most people want to live.
Read the whole thing. I especially liked the point Goodhart makes about how London looks down on the rest of Britain as the domain of rustics and provincials who need to be shown how to live by their London betters, in fact it could not survive without the contributions of the rest of the country. During the economic crash engineered in part by the irresponsibility of City of London bankers, only the tax base provided by the rest of the UK saved the City.
In the US, we don’t have a city that dominates the rest of the country as London dominates the UK. But nobody who has lived in New York City or Los Angeles can read Goodhart’s essay without nodding in agreement with much of it.
[Via The Browser]
Philip Jenkins, a scholar and Episcopal layman, does the math and finds out that at the Episcopal Church’s current rate of decline, there will be no more Episcopalians by the end of this century. Excerpt:
If we extrapolate that rate into the not-too-distant future, then the number of people attending Episcopal churches on a typical Sunday will be negligible by mid-century, typical of a tiny sect rather than a great church or denomination. It won’t reach zero for a while, but in effect, the church will cease to exist. We might need a new vocabulary of religious decline. How about church evaporation? That mid-century date is really not far off. In fact, the baby baptized at my church last Sunday will by that point only be a young adult in her 30s. Non-attending notional members will persist for a few years longer, but by the end of the century, we should be talking total disappearance. In that scenario, America’s last Episcopalian walks among us today. At some point, young people contemplating a clerical career will have to consider just how long there will indeed be a church for them to serve.
Read the whole thing. The Presbyterian Church USA, another major liberal mainline Protestant church, one almost the same size as TEC, is declining at an even faster rate. Church statistics from 2011 show that the median age of a PCUSA member is 63, and has been rising. This means half the people in the PCUSA are over 63. This also means that over the next couple of decades, half the PCUSA’s current members are going to die. Are they being replaced?
(By the way, TEC is a younger church, but not by much. A 2011 report said that the average Episcopalian is 57. Same demographic decline too. You might recall that the Presiding Bishop of TEC said back in ’06 that the failure of Episcopalians to have babies to replace dying members is actually a sign of virtue. “We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion,” she told The New York Times.)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is also in freefall – the sharpest of all the top mainline denominations; 500,000 left the church after its 2009 decision to approve ordination of gay clergy in committed monogamous relationships. In 2008, the average age of an ELCA congregant was 58; that has almost certainly risen.
(On the other hand, the conservative Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod is also graying. I can’t find reliable recent stats for the average LCMS age, but I think it’s roughly the same as the ELCA. Pastor Matt Harrison, the LCMS head, speculated last year that the later marriages and much smaller families of LCMS Lutherans has much to do with this.)
Without a doubt the percentage of young Americans affiliating with particular churches/denominations is declining across the board (see Pew’s big study for more). The trend for almost everybody is bad, though Mormons and Pentecostals, to the contrary, are growing. Catholics are growing, but this is only because of immigration; if not for Latin American Catholics moving to the US, the Catholic Church in the US would be shedding members at the same rate as the Mainline Protestants. It’s tempting for Christians in conservative churches to look at the rolling collapse of liberal churches and feel affirmed, but leaving aside the duty to basic Christian charity, the situation is much too serious for Christianity on the whole to warrant conservative Schadenfreude.
That said, some churches are in much worse shape than others. Consider that the average age of a Southern Baptist is 49. Now, Southern Baptists have had some demographic reversals in recent years, but as Ross Douthat wrote back in 2012:
[I]t would take literally decades of decline for conservative churches to come close to sharing liberal Protestantism’s current sickness-unto-death. Consider the following statistics (taken from Rodney Stark’s “The Churching of America”): In 1940, for every 1,000 churchgoers in the United States, 224 belonged to one of four major Mainline bodies (United Methodists, PCUSA Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Congregationalists), while 77 were Southern Baptists. By 2000, the Southern Baptist share of the churchgoing population equalled the share of those four more liberal churches combined — not because SBC growth was extraordinary (though it was significant), but because the liberal churches’ decline was so astonishingly steep. The fact that the SBC has struggled in the period since those numbers were published tells us something important about the challenges facing even conservative churches. But five years of declining membership is simply not the same thing as a multigenerational (and perhaps accelerating) collapse.
There was some hurt and anger in the comments thread from this weekend’s post making fun of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut’s decision to make a big issue over ceasing to refer to its clergy as “Father” or “Mother,” and to do so as a matter of social justice. I don’t apologize for snarking at that nonsense any more than I apologize for snarking in the past about clown masses in Catholic parishes. Some things don’t deserve to be taken seriously. Besides, as I said over the weekend, the people who suffer the most from this kind of thing are the orthodox faithful still holding on within those parishes or denominations. I count some of these Episcopalians as good friends, and better Christians than I am.
Why does this stuff interest me? In part it’s because I want to learn from the mistakes of others. On Sunday evening we went to a party, where I found myself talking to a new friend, a man who works at the Exxon refinery. I forget how, but we got to talking about a region of Louisiana that suffers from economic and social decline. You drive through there, and you can easily see that towns that once were vibrant are now decrepit, and winding down. We agreed that because these are small towns a lot like our own, it’s important for us not to be complacent about our own economic situation. What happened to those towns could happen to us if we are not careful.
True, some things simply can’t be helped. Those towns, for example, all suffer from the big changes in agriculture over the past few decades. But given these broad shifts in the economy, were there things these towns could have done to have made themselves more resilient? Were there mistakes made that accelerated their decline? These are not simply interesting sociological questions, but for people like me and my new friend, who live in a town and parish that’s beautiful, but that is also not growing population-wise, and that faces pretty serious economic challenges, these questions have to do with the life and death of our community in our lifetime.
It’s the same with churches. Philip Jenkins is right: the last Episcopalian may have been born (though certainly not the last Anglican; there’s a difference). That being the case, it is beyond absurd to see the Connecticut Episcopalians doubling down on the progressivist strategies that have done nothing to arrest the church’s decline, and that have arguably exacerbated it. Why do organizations do things like this?
Example: The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the organization that represents most Catholic nuns and sisters in the US, is dying. There are as many American nuns over the age of 90 as under the age of 60; the average age of an American nun is 74. Yet in 2012, the LCWR invited this blissed-out weirdo to be the keynote speaker at its national assembly. (N.B., not all American nuns are affiliated with the LCWR; 20 percent belong to a more traditional organization for nuns. Though the alternative organization represents only about one-fifth to one-sixth of the number of nuns represented by LCWR, the traditionalists are getting most of the new vocations.)
When the rate of decline of your church or religious organization is so steep that it is possible that someone born today may live to see it evaporate, and you have the leadership class of those churches or religious organizations responding with crackpot gestures, what else do you do? It’s like watching those African tribal fighters don gris-gris charms they believe will make them invisible, then go into war against people with real guns.
UPDATE: Mr. Pickwick comments:
Man, does this hit home. My wife and I have bounced back and forth between ELCA and PCUSA congregations for decades now, and we see the phenomenon of decline every Sunday. I really don’t see how my particular congregation is going to keep the doors open 10 years from now; we simply don’t have enough of a younger cohort to step into leadership positions (much less fill the pews).
And yes, fruitiness from the theological Left is part of the reason (in the mainline denominations). But my wife’s LCMS pastor brother sees similar decline in his (very conservative) denomination as well. So there’s something happening churchwide.
To be honest, I am of two minds. On the one hand, I mourn the passing of the traditional church, which nourished me for years on my walk of faith. But that church is almost entirely extinct, replaced instead by three equally unattractive alternatives: from the Left, goofy political correctness. And on the Right, either mindless happy-clappy, seeker-sensitive worship raves or the hardline Tea Party at Prayer. Given those alternatives, sometimes I wonder whether the demise of The Church As We Know It is a godsend.
These days, my wife and I have decreased our reliance on the institutional church for our spiritual nourishment, turning instead to other resources (Mars Hill Audio, books, close friends and such). Is this what Dietrich Bonhoeffer had in mind when he mused about the coming of “religionless Christianity”?
Hector (an Episcopalian) gives an explanation that is simple and wise:
Because, as Georges Sorel said, people make existential choices based as much on myths as on facts. The diocesan convention attendees have a myth that makes sense out of their lives, and unless they’re confronted with a better myth, no amount of facts is ever going to get through to them.
That strikes me as exactly right. The myth (in the sense of the story that helps them make sense of the world) that they believe is not the myth of historically normative Christianity, but the myth of Progressivism. From my point of view, it’s a radically false gospel, in that it cannot be reconciled with historic Christianity. But it has a powerful hold on the minds of many.
Sociologist Philip Rieff, in The Triumph of the Therapeutic, observed that institutions die when they can no longer communicate their core values to the next generation in a convincing way. He said this to support his contention (in 1966!) that Christianity was dying in the West, because we Westerners have become hostile to the ascetic spirit that is inextricable from authentic Christianity, and has been from the beginning. As you know, I believe Rieff was right, and that his being right is not something that traditional Christians should take comfort in, except in this one way: a Christianity that does demand something sacrificial from its followers is not only being true to the nature of the religion, but is far more likely to engender the kind of devotion that will endure through the therapeutic dark age. Aside from its radical theological innovations that are impossible to harmonize with Christianity as it was known for its first 1,900 years, Progressive Christianity has fully embraced the therapeutic mindset, in the sense that Rieff means. It is dying because it cannot convince young people to embrace its values within the institutional churches. It can’t be denied that many of the young do accept the social liberalism embraced by the progressive churches, but it also can’t be denied that most of them don’t see why they have to be part of a church to be socially progressive.
Theological conservatives had better watch out with this. If you raise up young people to believe that the truth of their theological beliefs is determined by the quality of their emotional experience in worship, you are undermining your foundations. Anyway, the universal challenge faced by Christianity in the West is how to communicate its values to a generation whose “myth” is inimical to the Christian message.
Behold, the fruit of our Saturday labors. My neighbor Andy and I spent the whole day cooking a pig (actually, he did most of the cooking). You’d be surprised how much beer, bourbon, etc., it takes to get you through the process. That’s the pig splayed out on my dining table. In the foreground is a Mitch Morgan, which is to say, a shot of bourbon and a piece of fried bacon. Andy’s idea. My wife Julie, who has never liked bourbon, did a Mitch Morgan, squealed and shook her head like she had just ingested jet fuel, then said, convincingly, “That was really good!” She meant it, because she had another one.
It was a long, fun day. We have E. and R., some dear friends from Baltimore visiting. Sitting around the table tonight, post-pig, I reminisced about the last time they visited, and we drank the last of the Vieille Prune — aged plum brandy I had brought home from France. I first tried it at this very memorable meal in Paris. Here is Bobosse, the owner of the French restaurant, with the stuff:
“You can’t get it here in the US,” I moped. “I’ve tried.” I pointed out that we had saved the label from that bottle, and it was on the fridge.
Moments later, in walks E. with a package for me. I opened it. It was a large bottle of Vieille Prune! I was knocked flat by that generosity. They had found it on a trip to San Francisco, in a speciality liquor store, and had saved it for a year for me. It really was one of the nicest and most thoughtful gifts anyone has ever given me. I am so blessed in my friends.
BTW, another friend, this one in New Orleans, texted me this TV listing from the newspaper the other day:
Here’s a powerful column by Ross Douthat, in which he says Pope Francis is pushing the Catholic Church to a precipice. Here’s the gist of his piece:
But going beyond such a welcome to a kind of celebration of the virtues of nonmarital relationships generally, as the synod document seemed to do, might open a divide between formal teaching and real-world practice that’s too wide to be sustained. And on communion for the remarried, the stakes are not debatable at all. The Catholic Church was willing to lose the kingdom of England, and by extension the entire English-speaking world, over the principle that when a first marriage is valid a second is adulterous, a position rooted in the specific words of Jesus of Nazareth. To change on that issue, no matter how it was couched, would not be development; it would be contradiction and reversal.
Such a reversal would put the church on the brink of a precipice. Of course it would be welcomed by some progressive Catholics and hailed by the secular press. But it would leave many of the church’s bishops and theologians in an untenable position, and it would sow confusion among the church’s orthodox adherents — encouraging doubt and defections, apocalypticism and paranoia (remember there is another pope still living!) and eventually even a real schism.
Those adherents are, yes, a minority — sometimes a small minority — among self-identified Catholics in the West. But they are the people who have done the most to keep the church vital in an age of institutional decline: who have given their energy and time and money in an era when the church is stained by scandal, who have struggled to raise families and live up to demanding teachings, who have joined the priesthood and religious life in an age when those vocations are not honored as they once were. They have kept the faith amid moral betrayals by their leaders; they do not deserve a theological betrayal.
Here’s the bomb Douthat drops:
[Theologically orthodox Catholics] can certainly persist in the belief that God protects the church from self-contradiction. But they might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.
Call it the Galatians 2 Option. Here is St. Paul:
When Cephas [St. Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? …
Read the whole Douthat column. The point he raises is necessary but incendiary: that the Catholic faith is not Catholic without the Pope, but it is also not what the Pope says it is. That being the case, it is conceivable that those who want to be faithful to the Truth must stand up to the Pope — even to his face.
UPDATE: The traditionalist Catholic priest Father Richard Cipolla explains why the pope’s behavior in the Synod is such a big deal. Excerpts:
There are many of us who have been perplexed and upset by what happened at the first session of the Synod on the Family in Rome the last two weeks. Quite apart from the synodal procedure itself which the Bishop of Providence called a Protestant way of doing things, where one votes on the truth, what was most upsetting was the very real attempt to railroad through propositions dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion, and with gay unions, that depart from the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Church throughout her history, which teaching is affirmed as late as the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI and in the Catholic Catechism itself. Amidst this confusion and pain among those who love the Tradition of the Church there is also a sense of euphoria that the necessary two/thirds majority to pass these propositions as the sense of the Synod was not achieved. But, as I have said elsewhere, there remains the fact that over 50 percent of the Cardinals and Bishops at that Synod voted in favor of the propositions which included openness to giving Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, to affirm positive aspects of cohabitation and civil unions, and to affirm positive elements in gay unions. This should astound us.
But it is this question that is a denial of truth in matters of morality that lies at the heart of this drive to change the Church’s moral teaching in the name of more merciful pastoral practice. A writer for the Italian version of Huffington Post—I know, that gives one pause—lamented the failure of the Synod to carry out the “October revolution”. And they failed, he says, because they could not find a bridge that would lead from the indissolubility of marriage and the Church’s teaching on those sexual acts that are a part of gay unions to that pastoral practice that would give Holy Communion to divorced and remarried persons and to the affirmation of the goodness present in gay marriage. He laments this deeply because, he says, the Pope gave them the bridge. The Pontifex, the bridge builder in Latin, gave them the bridge, showed them how to get from one to the other, in the form of the question: Who am I to judge? This is the way to affirm doctrine and then adopt a pastoral practice that denies it. And it is the way, except the bridge leads to at best liberal Protestantism or at worst the individualism of secularism.
RESOLVED, that the 230th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut affirms that including both genders in the priestly order has been a transformational example of advancing God’s mission in this place;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we applaud the work of the various General Conventions in committing us to challenge the sin of sexism by striving to eliminate the use of gendered language in worship and in church life;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that, in contrast to the orders of Bishop, Deacon, and Laity, we find that the continued practice of using gendered titles to refer to male and female priests effectively creates a different and unequal status for female priests;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that, while context, culture, and class are critically important dimensions of ministry, and that while there is not yet a consensus on the use of a common gender-neutral title for priests, to advance the goal of developing and using such titles, it is a necessary first to eliminate any gendered titles for priests still in use in parishes, such as “Father” and “Mother,” while encouraging congregational conversations about the preferred use of gender-neutral titles;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in all parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, we commit to ending the use of gendered titles for priests no later than the 231st Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut…
Why are they doing this? In part:
How does this resolution further God’s ministry of restoration and
reconciliation with all of creation:
1. It unites all orders of the Church, across genders, in challenging institutional sexism throughout the church and society, advances the goal of full gender equality, and strengthens the witness of the priesthood as a whole.
2. It invites ordained men to re-examine the nature of male privilege, and to evaluate what they are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of justice on behalf of their sister priests.
3. It respects the importance of context, class, and culture by not immediately replacing gendered titles with a common gender-neutral title, but instead, encouraging discussion, and experimentation in our various congregations.
Read the whole awesome thing. You keep on strengthening the witness of the priesthood as a whole, Episcopalians of Connecticut.
So, readers, what would be a good gender-neutral term with which to address the Episcopal clergy of Connecticut? I’m liking “comrade” myself.
In related news, according to official figures, the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut suffered a decline in average Sunday attendance of 23.6 percent from 2000-2010. I couldn’t find more up to date figures. I’m sure the new ungendered courtesy title change will turn things around.
(In all seriousness, wow. Just, wow. This is a priority to that church? Really?)
Don’t you love that sign? It’s a big banner hanging high over the terminal in the New Orleans airport. Number One in liver transplants! That’s not saying much; hell, y’all are in New Orleans. It’s like Anchorage General bragging that it treats more frostbite victims than any other hospital in the country.
Anyway, I’m glad to be home, or close enough to home. I’m sitting in the airport here drinking a cafe au lait and waiting on my friends to pick me up. Dumb ass that I am, I woke up at 4:45 and got to Logan Airport in Boston in plenty of time for my 6:45 flight. But I didn’t hear the gate change announcement, and didn’t hear them paging me, so I missed my flight to Houston, with the connection in to Baton Rouge. United did right by me, and put me on the next Houston-bound flight. But the only Baton Rouge flight left with a seat didn’t leave until around 9pm! I would have spent 10 hours in the Houston airport.
Happily, a kind United lady in Houston found a seat for me on a New Orleans-bound flight, and here I am. As luck would have it, some friends are visiting us from Baltimore this weekend, and are in the city now eating at Willie Mae’s. They’re going to pick me up and head out to the country. So I lucked out. Boy did I luck out. A nine-hour layover in an airport. Holy cow, would that have been miserable. You can drive from Houston to St. Francisville in a little more than five hours.
There’s a point here. I knew my hearing was in decline, but this is the first time it had real consequences. My first job as a journalist involved part-time rock concert reviewing. I didn’t have the sense to wear ear plugs back then. Van Halen left me with tinnitis for two days. Here I am now, at 47, unable to hear very well when there’s a lot of background noise.
There was a lot of background noise in the airport, though not from travelers. Why does every public space these days have to provide a soundtrack? At least it was good music in Boston. In Atlanta, they have CNN turned up to Volume 11, and it’s everywhere. You can’t escape it.
It’s not just audio noise; it’s visual noise too. On the flight from Houston to New Orleans, the TV screen embedded in the back of the seat in front of us played commercials on a tape loop. We didn’t have to listen to them, but it was impossible to turn the TV off. The commercials flashed so much that I had to hunch over to avoid the distraction as I read my book.
Also, people who smack their gum — and it seems that 80 percent of gum-chewers do it — look like idiots.
And there are kids on my lawn.
I’m intend to damage my liver this weekend to compensate for my peregrination-related anxiety. There, I said it.
Scott Alexander, the pen name of a cultural liberal and a psychiatrist by profession, writes a long, discursive, but compulsively readable essay on American tribalism. He noticed one day that he knows no conservatives. Not one. This, even though he lives in a conservative state governed by a Republican. It’s not as if he’s deliberately tried to exclude them — he says he hasn’t, and I believe him — but it just so happens that he has achieved almost total separation from conservatives. And this made him think about how intolerant his “Blue Tribe” is toward the Red Tribe, even though they (the Blues) pride themselves on their broadmindedness. Alexander writes:
If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”. And today we have an almost unprecedented situation. We have a lot of people – like the Emperor – boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough. And we have those same people absolutely ripping into their in-groups – straight, white, male, hetero, cis, American, whatever – talking day in and day out to anyone who will listen about how terrible their in-group is, how it is responsible for all evils, how something needs to be done about it, how they’re ashamed to be associated with it at all. This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuous love their outgroups, the outer the better, and gain status by talking about how terrible their own groups are. What is going on here?
His essay is an attempt to answer the question. As I said, it’s long, but it’s really interesting. He basically says the idea many liberals have of themselves as enlightened and tolerant is a sham. To be sure, he doesn’t say conservatives are any better, but then, he’s not a conservative, and he’s not analyzing the conservative mind. He’s a liberal who is trying to make sense of his own tribe’s way of thinking.
The result is exactly what we predicted would happen in the case of Islam. Bombard people with images of a far-off land they already hate and tell them to hate it more, and the result is ramping up the intolerance on the couple of dazed and marginalized representatives of that culture who have ended up stuck on your half of the divide. Sure enough, if industry or culture or community gets Blue enough, Red Tribe members start getting harassed, fired from their jobs (Brendan Eich being the obvious example) or otherwise shown the door. Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble. If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time and have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town. And if you mix together the open-source tech industry and the parallel universe where you can’t wear a FreeBSD t-shirt without risking someone trying to exorcise you, you can prove that Christians are scary and very powerful people who are persecuting everyone else all the time, and you have a great excuse for kicking one of the few people willing to affiliate with the Red Tribe, a guy who never hurt anyone, out of town. When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said. “Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”. “I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?
Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so. We know they are not exaggerating, because one might exaggerate the flaws of an enemy, but that anyone would exaggerate their own flaws fails the criterion of embarrassment. The Blue Tribe always has an excuse at hand to persecute and crush any Red Tribers unfortunate enough to fall into its light-matter-universe by defining them as all-powerful domineering oppressors. They appeal to the fact that this is definitely the way it works in the Red Tribe’s dark-matter-universe, and that’s in the same country so it has to be the same community for all intents and purposes. As a result, every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem. And so how virtuous, how noble the Blue Tribe! Perfectly tolerant of all of the different groups that just so happen to be allied with them, never intolerant unless it happen to be against intolerance itself. Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that awful Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing their own culture and striving to make it better! Sorry. But I hope this is at least a little convincing. The weird dynamic of outgroup-philia and ingroup-phobia isn’t anything of the sort. It’s just good old-fashioned in-group-favoritism and outgroup bashing, a little more sophisticated and a little more sneaky.
I’m reminded of something I read the other day, in which a white man who had grown up in a hardscrabble way, and who spent most of his adult life either poor or just barely scraping by, found himself in early middle age in an academic environment — and he was expected to deprecate himself and apologize for his Straight White Male Privilege. The guy is not particularly conservative, and in fact strongly identified with outgroups in American society, based on his real-life experience. But the academic culture in which he found himself consisted largely of white middle class members of the Blue Tribe, who couldn’t see him as an actual person, with his own history; rather, they had to express their tribal values by treating him as Other — and calling themselves virtuous for so doing. I think it’s easier for people like me — cultural conservatives who work in a culturally liberal milieu (or did work; I’ve spent most of my career in mainstream media newsrooms) — to pick out biases and hypocrisies among Blue Tribesmen, because that is the culture we come up against so often. It’s not that I believe conservatives are free of these things; it’s that in my own world, it’s usually the liberals who behave this way. If a liberal who worked in a culturally conservative environment spoke about her experience of the unconscious biases of the people around her, I would believe her, or at least not dismiss her. I move in and out of Blue Tribe circles and Red Tribe circles, and I have heard ignorant blanket dismissals of liberals by Reds, who know no liberals and who make all kinds of unwarranted assumptions. But here’s a difference I’ve picked up: the Reds don’t usually feel the need to morally congratulate themselves on the contempt with which they hold the outgroup (liberals). There’s that great Woody Allen quote from Annie Hall, in which Alvy Singer says, “Yeah, I’m a bigot — but I’m a bigot for the Left.” So it’s okay. At last night’s panel on religion writing at Boston College, I mentioned briefly that one of the challenges of writing about religion in a polarized age is that so many liberals assume that their point of view is normative; they don’t seem to be aware that it is also socially constructed. We didn’t really get into the implications of that, but this is something that an observant cultural conservative who moves in Blue Tribe circles sees all the time. All the time. And, of course, observant liberals surely see the same thing among the Red Tribe. But Red Tribesmen typically don’t congratulate themselves for hating the right people; they just do it. Scott Alexander’s piece is an admirable exercise is self-analysis, and I commend it to you (thanks to the reader who sent it to me). The thing is, I doubt it will do any good at all in helping Blue Tribesmen check their own biases. If these Alvy Singer Liberals discover that they are, in fact, bigots, they may well console themselves with the thought that at least they are bigots for the Left.
Why does this matter? Well, the story Scott Alexander tells about the Blue Tribe accounts for how its members exercise power against the outgroup. I have always hated the bullshit rhetoric about diversity you get from corporate managers and human resources drones. It’s not that I dislike actual diversity in the workplace; it’s that I loathe the Orwellian rhetoric these corporate power-holders employ to convince themselves that the discrimination in which they are engaged is either a) not happening, or b) is happening, but it needs to happen, because members of the outgroup come from a morally disreputable class. Alexander cites studies showing that hiring bias against people based on their race is a real thing, but its worse on the basis of political affiliation. On this point, Cass Sunstein writes:
To test for political prejudice, Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, political scientists at Stanford University, conducted a large-scale implicit association test with 2,000 adults. They found people’s political bias to be much larger than their racial bias. When Democrats see “joy,” it’s much easier for them to click on a corner that says “Democratic” and “good” than on one that says “Republican” and “good.”
To find out whether such attitudes predict behavior, Iyengar and Westwood undertook a follow-up study. They asked more than 1,000 people to look at the resumes of several high-school seniors and say which ones should be awarded a scholarship. Some of these resumes contained racial cues (“president of the African American Student Association”) while others had political ones (“president of the Young Republicans”).
Race mattered. African-American participants preferred the African-American candidates 73 percent to 27 percent. Whites showed a modest preference for African-American candidates, as well, though by a significantly smaller margin. But partisanship made a much bigger difference. Both Democrats and Republicans selected their in-party candidate about 80 percent of the time.
Even when a candidate from the opposing party had better credentials, most people chose the candidate from their own party. With respect to race, in contrast, merit prevailed.
Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that disturbing? I had a drink after dinner with a British academic, who said that one of the things he doesn’t like about American culture is how people here seem to be unable to have a robust debate about a controversial issue, and still remain friends. He’s right about that, but this data show why: we have moralized political and cultural beliefs to the point where we consider them a test of one’s basic decency. Our fellow citizens who disagree are not just wrong; they’re evil.
I see no prospect of this changing. Do you?
Yuval Levin, on the challenges of our time of chaos and rapid change, and the danger of false nostalgia for restoring the past:
On the cultural front, the tendency of decentralization to undermine all authoritative institutions will present more of a challenge for the right. Social conservatives are so far experiencing this transition as a loss of their dominant position in the culture. But they should see that this generally means not that their opponents are coming to dominate but that no one is. They should judge their prospects less in terms of their hold on our big institutions and more in terms of their success in forming a thriving and appealing subculture, or network of subcultures. Christianity has a great deal of experience in that difficult art, of course, but it is largely out of practice in our society.
This seems right to me. I had dinner last night with Alan Wolfe, whose new book At Home In Exile: Why Diaspora Is Good For The Jews, comes out next week. When Alan told me what the book was about, it struck me that moving into the future, orthodox Christians probably have a lot to learn from the Jewish experience of living and thriving (or failing to thrive as a religiously observant community) as a minority in an alien, even hostile, culture.
(Blogging will be light today; I’m at the airport in Boston, waiting to board a flight back south. I just overheard a conversation between Sully’s and Denise’s mothers. Sorry I’m having to leave Boston so soon, without having eaten any seafood, and without having savored any local accents.)
Last year, Charles H. Featherstone, a reader of this blog, wrote a response to an essay I published on Time’s website, about Pope Francis. In it, Charles wrote about a childhood marked by physical and emotional abuse, and how he had moved through Islam, but it took 9/11 to make him face his deep anger … and to make a Christian of him. Here is that short essay.
It turned into a book, a memoir. I read the unedited galley on the flight to Boston this morning. It started out good, and it kept getting better, and finally I couldn’t believe how good this thing was. I’m not kidding when I say this: Charles Featherstone has written an American spiritual classic. I have never read a book like this — one that’s so ragged, raw, and real. I couldn’t put it down, except that one time, when the shock of recognition was so great that I had to set the book aside and think deeply about what I had just read.
People are going to be talking about this book when it comes out. This boy, an Army brat beaten by his father, picked on and humiliated at school, penniless, ultimately a failure in the Army. He falls into Islam because he finds true brotherhood among the outcasts, because in part he identifies with their anger at society. And then, Christianity, but by no means a happy-ever-after Christianity. Charles is a rambunctious holy mess, for sure — but I can’t recall the last time I read a memoir about faith that was so vivid and challenging and alive.
When the book — My Love Is All That Matters — comes out, we will be discussing it on this blog. Not sure when that’s going to be. It’s still being edited. It’s impossible to say which book is going to become a hit or not, but if this memoir finds the audience it deserves, it will be one of the biggest religious books of the year. Seriously, I’m not just saying that. I’ll stop writing about it now, because I want to save the comments for when it’s published.
Begging your pardon, folks, but it’s been a long, wonderful day in Boston — Alan Wolfe and his staff at the Boisi Center at Boston College were great and generous hosts — and I have to catch a 6:41am flight back home tomorrow. Goodnight.
[Sheriff's investigator Major Donald] Lowe has lived in Louisa County, or pretty close to it, for most of his life. The county is spread out and rural, but it is by no means small-town innocent. People there deal drugs and get caught up with gangs, and plenty of high-school girls end up pregnant. Usually Lowe can more or less classify types in his head—which kids from which families might end up in trouble after a drunken fight in the McDonald’s parking lot. But this time the cast of characters was baffling. He knew many of the girls in the photos, knew their parents. A few were 14, from the local middle school. They came from “all across the board,” Lowe says. “Every race, religion, social, and financial status in the town. Rich, poor, everyone. That’s what was most glaring and blaring about the situation. If she was a teenager with a phone, she was on there.” He knew some of the boys who had followed the Instagram accounts, too. Among them were kids with a lot to lose, including star athletes with scholarships to first-rate colleges.
Three paragraphs in, and this is already starting to sound like The Lost Children of Rockdale County. It turns out that it was not only widespread, but that there was not a lot of shame in it, as far as the kids were concerned:
Most of the girls on Instagram fell into the same category as Jasmine. They had sent a picture to their boyfriend, or to someone they wanted to be their boyfriend, and then he had sent it on to others. For the most part, they were embarrassed but not devastated, Lowe said. They felt betrayed, but few seemed all that surprised that their photos had been passed around. What seemed to mortify them most was having to talk about what they’d done with a “police officer outside their age group.” In some he sensed low self-esteem—for example, the girl who’d sent her naked picture to a boy, unsolicited: “It just showed up! I guess she was hot after him?” A handful of senior girls became indignant during the course of the interview. “This is my life and my body and I can do whatever I want with it,” or, “I don’t see any problem with it. I’m proud of my body,” Lowe remembers them saying. A few, as far as he could tell, had taken pictures especially for the Instagram accounts and had actively tried to get them posted. In the first couple of weeks of the investigation, Lowe’s characterization of the girls on Instagram morphed from “victims” to “I guess I’ll call them victims” to “they just fell into this category where they victimized themselves.”
What do you do with this, if you’re a cop? What do you do with this if you’re a parent? What happens if people are passing around images that meet the legal definition of child pornography, but the people doing it are minors, and the images have been produced by the same minors in the image, for the purpose of sexually exploiting themselves? Every one of the teenagers, both boys and girls, caught in the Louisa County sweep could have been charged with a felony. Do you really want to do that? The county chief prosecutor said:
“What do you do? Turn a blind eye? You’re letting teenagers incite the prurient interest of predators around the country,” fueling a demand that “can only be met by the actual abuse of real children.”
But, says Major Lowe:
“They’re not violent criminals,” he told me. “If these kids just made a dumb-ass mistake, we don’t want to ruin their future.”
It’s a really good piece, and a challenging one. Look at this, from Rosin’s interview with local boys:
Sometimes in Louisa County, between interviews, I hung out with a group of 15-year-old boys who went to the library after school. They seemed like good kids who studied, played football, and occasionally got into fights, but no more than most boys. They’d watch videos of rappers from the area and talk about rumors in the rap world, like the one that the Chicago rapper Chief Keef, a rival of D.C.’s Shy Glizzy, had gotten a middle-school girl pregnant. They’d order and split a pizza to pass the time while waiting for their parents to leave work and pick them up. I started to think of them as the high school’s Greek chorus because, while I recognized much of what they said as 15-year-old-boy swagger—designed to impress me and each other, and not necessarily true—they still channeled the local sentiment. This is how one of them described his game to me: “A lot of girls, they stubborn, so you gotta work on them. You say, ‘I’m trying to get serious with you.’ You call them beautiful. You say, ‘You know I love you.’ You think about it at night, and then you wake up in the morning and you got a picture in your phone.”
“You wake up a happy man,” his friend said.
“Yeah, a new man.”
“Yeah, I’m the man.”
How do you feel about the girl after she sends it?, I asked.
“You can’t love those thots!”
“That’s right, you can’t love those hos.”
“Girls in Louisa are easy.”
Girls can’t win. These boys have absorbed the degenerate values of rap culture, which takes the latent exploitative tendencies in young male culture, and valorizes them.
But girls are not victims, not all the time. There’s this:
“The only reason to regret it is if you get caught,” one girl told me.
Read the whole thing. This is the world we’ve made for our kids. Rosin points out that all this is happening in a culture in which teen pregnancy rates are going down, and kids are waiting longer to become sexually active. OK. That’s better than the alternative, but if we think this is harmful and destructive only if it results in early sexual activity or pregnancy, I would suggest that we have an impoverished idea of what constitutes harm. I think a teenager who can say that this kind of thing is only bad if you get caught is morally and spiritually damaged to a significant degree.
Things like this make me so grateful that we homeschool. No parent can afford to be blasé about this, and assume that their children cannot or will not be part of this world. But it’s hard to imagine my kids being in the mainstream of a teenage peer culture where this kind of thing is normal, and the kids doing it believe the only thing wrong with it is getting caught. It is not enough to protect your kids from the external threat, insofar as you can; you also have to build up in them the moral resilience and self-confidence to reject this kind of thing when it comes to them. And it seems to me you can’t wait until they’re teenagers, or almost-teenagers, to start.
By the way, don’t miss Gracy Olmstead’s post from earlier this week on sexting and girls.
I wish PBS Frontline would do a follow-up on the Rockdale County kids it profiled in that late-1990s episode. Where are they now? How did they turn out?
Hey, I’m traveling most of the day to Boston, then going straight to the event at BC. Will be slow posting around here, and slow comments-approving. Thanks for your patience.