Rod Dreher

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Against Stepford Politics

Fighting the power, blindly (Elnur/Shutterstock)
Fighting the power, blindly (Elnur/Shutterstock)

A reader left this comment:

I’m a leftist. I’ve long been disillusioned with the political elite, but this election is something altogether new in my experience. Maybe it’s that the disillusionment is more personal and closer to home. I feel like I’m in a desert. It’s as if friends and co-workers and the common “thought communities” I normally traffic in have become Stepford versions of themselves, sputtering predictable (and predictably lame) defenses of Clinton and everything she and the democratic party stand for. Yelling at anyone who disagrees because obviously it can only be ignorance or childishness. I’ve recognized the tendency on the left toward identity politics and usually have seen it as sincere, but insular and reductive and therefore unhelpful (and at times annoying). But now I really *see* it, and get what I didn’t get before: how a comfortable, non-reflective class, that is used to having nothing at stake in an election (it’s all a game), uses the emotion of identity politics so pervasively and smugly to distract from and never have to face its own failings and naked hypocrisy. It’s so obvious and disgusting to me now. And suddenly I’m on the other side of it! The mechanical rush-to-judgment and policing of boundaries of what is an acceptable view. If one good thing comes out of this election — and I don’t know that it will, but I hope so, and if what I’m experiencing isn’t actually in isolation — maybe it will be that we learn to finally see each other, on the left and the right, as just folks just trying to find and sort through what’s real and honest and sincere.

I find myself here, at TAC, for the first time with some regularity. I find myself searching for voices that are trying to interpret the strange and momentous events unfolding around us with some humanity — humanity toward those we may not share everyday perspectives or experiences with but may yet still have some things in common — rather than assuming an inevitable reversion to the mean, and slouching into worn prejudices. Reading columns at TAC, at times I feel a familiar reflex to disagree with this or that, but the disagreement seems different, less charged because more and more I find common cause and solidarity here. For example, the Benedict Option. It makes perfect and immediate sense to me, even if my version might more resemble a hippie organic vegan commune. 🙂 Point being, I’m seeing the political spectrum with more granularity — which may mean I am seeing people, and not just politics — which is hopefully a good thing, and I’d like to think there could just be some good thing from this horrendous nightmare we can’t wake from.

Welcome to TAC. I’m glad you’re here.

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Dear Reddit: About That ‘VERY VIP’…

Hoo boy. Some Reddit users have done a bit of sleuthing. Via US News & World Report:

An army of reddit users believes it has found evidence that former Hillary Clinton computer specialist Paul Combetta solicited free advice regarding Clinton’s private email server from users of the popular web forum.

A collaborative investigation showed a reddit user with the username stonetear requested help in relation to retaining and purging email messages after 60 days, and requested advice on how to remove a “VERY VIP” individual’s email address from archived content.

The requests match neatly with publicly known dates related to Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Here’s the text of the initial reddit post by stonetear, dated July 24, 2014:

Hello all- I may be facing a very interesting situation where I need to strip out a VIP’s (VERY VIP) email address from a bunch of archived email that I have both in a live Exchange mailbox, as well as a PST file. Basically, they don’t want the VIP’s email address exposed to anyone, and want to be able to either strip out or replace the email address in the to/from fields in all of the emails we want to send out.

I am not sure if something like this is possible with PowerShell, or exporting all of the emails to MSG and doing find/replaces with a batch processing program of some sort.

Does anyone have experience with something like this, and/or suggestions on how this might be accomplished?

As US News helpfully points out:

On July 23, 2014, the House Select Committee on Benghazi had reached an agreement with the State Department on the production of records, according to an FBI report released earlier this month on the bureau’s probe of her email use.

There’s more.  And The Hill adds:

The identity of the “stonetear” user is not confirmed. Reddit users point to the fact that an account on the online marketplace Etsy for a Paul Combetta has the username “stonetear” and the inactive website combetta.com is registered to the email address [email protected].

If stonetear is Combetta, well, gosh, it’s almost as if Secretary Clinton sent down an order to destroy evidence that the State Department had agreed to turn over to the House committee. Nixon in a pants suit.

If there’s one thing you can count on the Clintons for, it’s skeezy drama. Whoever wins this fall, America’s executive branch is going to be governed by a liar.

UPDATE: A number of readers in the comments section says there is a benign explanation for this. Read the details in the comments, but basically they say Stonetear was simply trying to strip the e-mail address not to protect Hillary Clinton, but rather to keep the address from being made public when the documents were, to protect it for future use.

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Identity Politics Of Deepest Trumpistan

Some folks didn't get the identity politics memo (mikeledray / Shutterstock.com)
Some folks didn’t get the identity politics memo (mikeledray / Shutterstock.com)

A blogger named unagidon at the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal has a short reflection on Arlie Russell Hochschild’s new book about white voters in a southwest Louisiana parish. Hochschild set out to figure out why these white people vote against their interests (in her view). Here’s what unagidon says:

What interested me about the book is that I come from an urban version of the same place.  I’m a working class boy.  When I was growing up, everyone’s aspiration was to become the supervisor or the detective.  If college entered the picture (and I was the first on either side of my family to go) then becoming a teacher or an accountant became possible.  Most of my family consider themselves conservative.  Since I know them all well, I’ve never considered them as stupid or even misguided.  So why Trump? And why now?

Unagidon takes a quote from the book from one of its subjects, then comments:

At first reading, a quote like this might look like what is going on here is simply racism.  These people are white people afraid that they are becoming a minority in the United States and that they are going to lose their privileged status.  However, I would argue that behind this is a belief that there is a finite set of resources available to the government that are not being allocated to them in the proportions that they deserve.  Their judgement of what those proportions could be skewed by racial beliefs.  Or it could be skewed by the simple fact that they don’t see their own communities and issues being addressed.  (Remember that Liberals tend to speak of blacks, gays, immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, and the Syrian refugees yet to come as communities as well).  When these conservatives identify themselves as communities, based on race, religion, history, region, or almost anything else, they are mocked by the Left (who they see as running the government and the media) as backward, primitive, rednecks, hillbillies, etc.  And they feel insulted.

Trump is appealing to these people.

Unagidon continues:

We have to recognize that everyone has their own interest; that they feel part of their own community; that they see their communities as different from other communities…

If you’re not familiar with Commonweal, I should point out to you that it is very much not a pro-Trump magazine. Unagidon says it’s a shame that these people are turning to Trump to speak for them, but he (unagidon) makes a very good point here about white identity and the Left. I hate identity politics, but I really hate the double standard many on the Left have when it comes to practicing them. Trump is bad news for the country, for sure, but I don’t understand why it is considered normal and defensible for blacks, or gays, or Hispanics, to vote for Hillary because they perceive it to be in their interest as blacks, gays, Hispanics, etc. — but wicked for whites to do the same thing.

 

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He Was Once Possessed

The Catholic philosopher Michael Hanby has said, “Before technology becomes an instrument, it is fundamentally a way of regarding the world that contains within itself an understanding of being, nature, and truth.” If you want to know the truth of this insight in a way that every single one of us can grasp, consider this must-read essay by Andrew Sullivan, about how technology nearly killed him. 

Before we dive into it, let me testify to the accuracy of what Sullivan says in this piece about himself. We had coffee in Boston in the spring of 2015. It was the first time I had seen him since he abruptly left his highly successful blogging gig. He looked like a different man: radiant with serenity, skin glowing, in physical shape, with a palpable sense of inner peace about him. What on earth happened to you? I asked.

He told me that he got offline, and that it had made all the difference in the world to his health and well being. Now, in that essay, Andrew tells all. Excerpts:

A year before, like many addicts, I had sensed a personal crash coming. For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. And at times, as events took over, I’d spend weeks manically grabbing every tiny scrap of a developing story in order to fuse them into a narrative in real time. I was in an unending dialogue with readers who were caviling, praising, booing, correcting. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long.

I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating. I remember when I decided to raise the ante on my blog in 2007 and update every half-hour or so, and my editor looked at me as if I were insane. But the insanity was now banality; the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone.

If the internet killed you, I used to joke, then I would be the first to find out. Years later, the joke was running thin. In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out. Four bronchial infections in 12 months had become progressively harder to kick. Vacations, such as they were, had become mere opportunities for sleep. My dreams were filled with the snippets of code I used each day to update the site. My friendships had atrophied as my time away from the web dwindled. My doctor, dispensing one more course of antibiotics, finally laid it on the line: “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”

But the rewards were many: an audience of up to 100,000 people a day; a new-media business that was actually profitable; a constant stream of things to annoy, enlighten, or infuriate me; a niche in the nerve center of the exploding global conversation; and a way to measure success — in big and beautiful data — that was a constant dopamine bath for the writerly ego. If you had to reinvent yourself as a writer in the internet age, I reassured myself, then I was ahead of the curve. The problem was that I hadn’t been able to reinvent myself as a human being.

Eventually he checked himself into a meditative retreat center for a kind of information detox experience. It was really hard at first, living in the silence, without his smartphone or an online connection. But then:

Soon enough, the world of “the news,” and the raging primary campaign, disappeared from my consciousness. My mind drifted to a trancelike documentary I had watched years before, Philip Gröning’s Into Great Silence, on an ancient Carthusian monastery and silent monastic order in the Alps. In one scene, a novice monk is tending his plot of garden. As he moves deliberately from one task to the next, he seems almost in another dimension. He is walking from one trench to another, but never appears focused on actually getting anywhere. He seems to float, or mindfully glide, from one place to the next.

He had escaped, it seemed to me, what we moderns understand by time. There was no race against it; no fear of wasting it; no avoidance of the tedium that most of us would recoil from. And as I watched my fellow meditators walk around, eyes open yet unavailable to me, I felt the slowing of the ticking clock, the unwinding of the pace that has all of us in modernity on a treadmill till death. I felt a trace of a freedom all humans used to know and that our culture seems intent, pell-mell, on forgetting.

Andrew goes on to talk about how he had a sudden breakthrough at this retreat, one in which he had to face painful memories of childhood trauma. It overwhelmed him emotionally. He struggled to deal with his feelings, but the counselor at the retreat told him to hold on, that this is normal, and it will pass.

And in time, it did. Over the next day, the feelings began to ebb, my meditation improved, the sadness shifted into a kind of calm and rest. I felt other things from my childhood — the beauty of the forests, the joy of friends, the support of my sister, the love of my maternal grandmother. Yes, I prayed, and prayed for relief. But this lifting did not feel like divine intervention, let alone a result of effort, but more like a natural process of revisiting and healing and recovering. It felt like an ancient, long-buried gift.

Read the whole thing. Seriously, do, and pass it on to everyone you know. It’s one of the best things Andrew has ever written. This is far from a generic anti-technology, anti-Internet screed. There is profound religious insight in this essay. The gist of it is here:

In his survey of how the modern West lost widespread religious practice, A Secular Age, the philosopher Charles Taylor used a term to describe the way we think of our societies. He called it a “social imaginary” — a set of interlocking beliefs and practices that can undermine or subtly marginalize other kinds of belief. We didn’t go from faith to secularism in one fell swoop, he argues. Certain ideas and practices made others not so much false as less vibrant or relevant. And so modernity slowly weakened spirituality, by design and accident, in favor of commerce; it downplayed silence and mere being in favor of noise and constant action. The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which it might endure or be reborn.

Andrew says that if churches stopped trying to outdo the secular world with light shows and racket, and instead offered a place of silence from which to escape the noise of modernity, they might draw more people. Maybe he’s right.

Andrew’s recollection of his experience at the meditation retreat reminded me of this passage from A Time For Silence, a thin book the English travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote about his stays at monasteries. He was not a religious man, but he sought the silence of the abbeys:

The period during which normal standards recede and the strange new world becomes reality is slow, and, at first, acutely painful.

To begin with, I slept badly at night and fell asleep during the day, felt restless alone in my cell and depressed by the lack of alcohol, the disappearance of which had caused a sudden halt in the customary monsoon. The most remarkable preliminary symptoms were the variations of my need of sleep. After initial spells of insomnia, nightmare and falling asleep by day, I found that my capacity for sleep was becoming more and more remarkable: till the house I spent in or on my bed vastly outnumbered the hours I spent awake; and my sleep was so profound that I might have been under the influence of some hypnotic drug. For two days, meals and the offices in the church — Mass, Vespers and Compline — were almost my only lucid moments. Then began an extraordinary transformation: this extreme lassitude dwindled to nothing; night shrank to five hours of light, dreamless and perfect sleep, followed by awakenings full of energy  and limpid freshness. The explanation is simple enough: the desire for talk, movement and nervous expression that I had transported from Paris found, in this silent place, no response or foil, evoked no single echo; after miserably gesticulating for a while in a vacuum, it languished and finally died for lack of any stimulus or nourishment. Then the tremendous accumulation of tiredness, which must be the common property of all our contemporaries, broke loose and swamped everything. No demands, once I had emerged from that flood of sleep, were made upon my nervous energy: there were no automatic drains, such as conversation at meals, small talk, catching trains, or the hundred anxious trivialities that poison everyday life. Even the major causes of guilt and anxiety had slid away into some distant limbo and not only failed to emerge in the small hours as tormentors but appeared to have lost their dragonish validity. This new dispensation left nineteen hours a day of god-like freedom. Work became easier every moment; and, when I was not working, I was either exploring the Abbey and the neighbouring countryside, or reading. The Abbey became the reverse of a tome — not, indeed, a Thelema or Nepenthe, but a silent university, a country house, a castle hanging in mid-air beyond the reach of ordinary troubles and vexations. A verse from the office of Compline expresses the same thought; and it was no doubt an unconscious memory of it that prompted me to put it down: Altissismum posuisti refugium tuum …. non accedet ad te malum et flagellum non appropinquabit tabernaculo tuo. [Thou hast made the Most High thy refuge … no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. — RD]

Along these lines, here is a relevant passage from the philosopher Esther Lightcap Meek, from her book A Little Manual For Knowing:

Many people don’t think much about how we know because we take it for granted. But we tacitly presume some things about knowing. We tend to think knowledge is information, facts, bits of data, “content,” true statements — true statement justified by other true statements. And while this isn’t exactly false, we tend to have a vision of knowledge as being only this. We conclude that gaining knowledge is collecting information — and we’re done — educated, trained, expert, certain.

This is a philosophical orientation, an unexamined one. It has a lot of appeal, because it is quantifiable, measurable, assessable, and commodifiable. It offers control and power. But we’ll see that the knowledge-as-information vision is actually defective and damaging. It distorts reality and humanness, and it gets in the way of good knowing.

What Meek is saying, and what Andrew discovered, is that our insatiable craving to consume data, we are actually making it impossible to know some truths that only become accessible in silence and stillness. Decades ago, I went with a friend out to Wimberly, Texas, far from the lights of Austin. I was stunned to see so many stars in the sky. They were there all along, but I had always lived in places that had too much light pollution for me to see them. It was a revelation. This is how silence works.

St. Benedict begins his Rule with this call:

Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).

If the ear of our heart is not inclined to listen, we will be lost. This is why Benedictine monks traditionally keep silence: so they can listen for the voice of God. In writing my book on The Benedict Option, I have come to believe that the chapter on Technology, which tracks closely with what Andrew discovered, is perhaps the most important one.

What does this have to do with the Michael Hanby quote with which I started this essay? Let’s recall it:

“Before technology becomes an instrument, it is fundamentally a way of regarding the world that contains within itself an understanding of being, nature, and truth.”

We who immerse ourselves in information technology become a people who regard the world at the level of sensation. What does surrendering to this technology teach us about being, nature, and truth? It is not a neutral tool. As Andrew’s essay makes plain — and this is something he had to discover for himself from experience — the particular content of the data we take in is not as important as the form in which we receive it. You might even say that the medium is the message. 

I wonder how my life and my physical health would improve if I did what Andrew Sullivan had the courage to do, and just cut the cord to the Internet. I can’t afford to do it now. I make my living via the Internet, and I have a family to support. But I hope that if the day ever comes that I do have that option, that I will have the good sense to do what he has done. Look, I love being on the Internet. Andrew’s experience of finding pleasure in it is my own. But it’s a disordered, and disordering, pleasure. At some point you have to face up to the fact that if you keep going like this, you’re going to lose if not your health, then at least your humanity — and maybe even your soul.

Ultimately, Andrew’s essay is a humanist religious testimony, bearing witness against one of the most powerful gods of our place and time. It is an essay about possession and deliverance. One lesson I take from the piece is that we don’t have to wait for genetics laboratories to abolish man, in the sense C.S. Lewis meant. We are doing it ourselves, one click at a time.

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The Uneasy Conscience Of Closeted Conservatives

Princeton’s Robert P. George put this on his Facebook page yesterday:

Closeted conservative colleague: “I don’t feel I can say what I think, at least not at this stage. I have a family to care for and other responsibilities, you know.”

Me: “Sure. I’m not criticizing you.”

CCC: “I’ve seen people’s careers ruined for saying what they think.”

Me: “I have, too. I’m really not criticizing you. I assume you’re following your conscience.”

CCC: “You say what you think and you’ve survived. But your the exception.”

Me: “I’ve been very fortunate. That’s true. But there are plenty of others. I’m not unique. There’s Harvey Mansfield, Hadley Arkes, Mary Ann Glendon, Jim Ceaser, and others. Even some people they’ve tried hard to destroy have survived. Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas, Austin,” for example. They threw everything they could find at him, every calumny imaginable. They tried to get him formally investigated and fired. But he has beaten them. I predict he’ll be promoted to full professor this year.”

CCC: “Yes, but there have been lots of victims, too.”

Me: “Yes. Alas. Lots of victims.”

CCC: “You think I should say what I think.”

Me: “I think you should follow your conscience.”

CCC: “That’s just your way of saying I should say what I think.”

Me:; “Look, as I said, I’m not criticizing you. Only you can discern the demands of your own conscience. I didn’t even bring this whole subject up, you did.”

CCC: “I know what you tell your graduate students to do. You tell them not to hide their politically incorrect views.”

Me: “Well, yes, I hardly hide my advice to them. They initially find it counterintuitive. Their natural instinct is to hide their dissenting beliefs or downplay them. I think that’s risky from a character point of view and also not the best strategy for success.”

CCC: “You ARE judging those of us who keep our opinions to ourselves, then.”

Me: “For heaven’s sake, I’m just saying that there is a certain moral hazard in not speaking your mind. As scholars, we’ve got a special obligation to truth and a vocation to truth-telling. Of course, everybody has a basic obligation to honor the truth, as best they grasp it, but our obligation is even more central to who we are. So, speaking for myself, I don’t see what the point of being a scholar is if we’re not willing to speak the truth as best we understand it. I mean, there are lots of other fields we could go into. We could be lawyers, or doctors, operate hedge funds. There’s the insurance business. Wendy’s franchises. Anyway, again speaking for myself, if I felt I couldn’t speak the truth out loud, I would abandon academic life and go do something else.”

CCC: “You’re not afraid to say what you think because you’ve been able to get away with it without your academic career being ruined.”

Me: “That’s exactly backwards. I’ve been able to get away with it because I’m not afraid to say what I think. Fear empowers the bullies. They’re far less bold and aggressive when they know you’re not afraid of them.”

CCC: “Well, I am afraid of them.”

You should be afraid of them in one sense. In many cases, they do have the power to destroy your career. But if a Christian, you should be more afraid of denying Christ, or appearing to deny him. And if you are a man or woman of integrity, you should be more afraid of what it stands to do to your soul to live under so much intimidation without speaking up.

George is right not to judge conservatives (Christian and otherwise) who choose to live closeted lives in hostile workplaces. There is not a bright, clear line here. Sometimes prudence requires silence, or at least justifies it. And it is possible that one can do more good for the sake of Truth by working quietly and diligently to subvert its lies. Still, when you see things like the progressive lynch mob that went after the Christakises at Yale last fall, and you choose out of self-protection to remain silent while good men and women are being eviscerated in the public square, you stain your conscience.

In the comments boxes, I would like to read the reaction to George’s piece from conservatives, closeted or uncloseted in their workplaces. If uncloseted, at what point did you decide to come out, so to speak? If still closeted, why aren’t you out? What do you think will likely happen to you if you come out?

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Pope: ‘Surrender Means Security’

Meanwhile, in news from outer space:

Pope Francis has encouraged Europeans to welcome refugees, calling authentic hospitality “our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.”

Francis Saturday spoke to alumni of Jesuit schools in Europe who were in Rome for a conference on refugees.

What on earth is he talking about? It may be right for Europeans to welcome refugees — I don’t agree, but it’s a debatable point over whether or not charity requires Europeans to take that risk– but to say that welcoming over a million Muslims into Europe is “our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism” is at best absurd propaganda. Who can possibly believe this? The same people who believe that “diversity is our strength”?

We know about the bombings in New York and New Jersey this weekend, but we have no idea who might have done them, or why. We know much more about the shopping mall stabbing incident in Minnesota:

The attack in St. Cloud’s main shopping center that left nine people with stab wounds is being treated as an act of terror, federal authorities said Sunday.

In a media briefing after midnight Sunday, Police Chief William Blair Anderson said an off-duty officer from another jurisdiction confronted and fatally shot the suspect Saturday night inside Crossroads Center. He said the man — dressed in a private security uniform — reportedly asked at least one victim whether they were Muslim before assaulting them, and referred to Allah during the attacks.

“We are currently investigating this as a potential act of terrorism,” said the FBI’s Richard Thornton, speaking at a news conference at Police Department headquarters early Sunday afternoon. Thornton did not link the attack to a specific terror group.

Roughly 12 hours after the stabbings, a news agency said to speak for ISIL went to Twitter to claim credit for the mall violence. “The executor of the stabbing attacks in Minnesota yesterday was a soldier of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to the citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition,” the posting by the AMAQ news agency read.

More about the attacker:

A short time earlier, St. Cloud Somali-American community members identified the deceased suspect as Dahir Adan.

Leaders of the Somali-American community in St. Cloud gathered Sunday with his family and issued a statement of sympathy for the family and the nine victims of the attack.

Community leader Abdul Kulane said as far as the family and community know, the suspect did not have any history of violence. He was known as a smart, accomplished student at Apollo High School. He was a junior at St. Cloud State University, Kulane said. Adan was also working part-time as a private security officer, leaders said.

The last time he was seen by family was about 6 or 6:30 p.m. Saturday when he said he was going to the mall to buy an iPhone 7. They don’t know what happened after that.

I believe it is likely that Adan’s family had no idea what he was up to. I suspect it will come out that he was self-radicalized via the Internet. If this kind of thing happens more often, it will put every Muslim in America under suspicion. We can be morally certain that the majority of Muslim-Americans do not approve of this. But if even the families of these radicalized killers don’t know what their grown children are up to, how are the rest of us supposed to know?

The more things like this happen, the more sense Trump’s idea to halt Muslim immigration for the time being makes. What a crazy year when Donald J. Trump makes more sense on anything than a Pope.

UPDATE: Hey, combox commenters, before you fall back into the “four legs good, two legs bad” “diversity is our strength” mantra, read this 2007 Boston Globe thinkpiece about Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam’s discovery. Excerpt:

It has become increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for “Bowling Alone,” his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

“The extent of the effect is shocking,” says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist.

The study comes at a time when the future of the American melting pot is the focus of intense political debate, from immigration to race-based admissions to schools, and it poses challenges to advocates on all sides of the issues. The study is already being cited by some conservatives as proof of the harm large-scale immigration causes to the nation’s social fabric. But with demographic trends already pushing the nation inexorably toward greater diversity, the real question may yet lie ahead: how to handle the unsettling social changes that Putnam’s research predicts.

“We can’t ignore the findings,” says Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “The big question we have to ask ourselves is, what do we do about it; what are the next steps?”

When you are struggling mightily to integrate the Muslims you already have, as Europe is, it is not wise to import massive numbers of them. Not if you want to maintain a cohesive society.

UPDATE.2: Remember, #DiversityIsOurStrength.

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The Sunlit World

Giovinazzo, Italy (Photo by James C.)

Giovinazzo, Italy (Photo by James C.)

James C. took this photo today. He lives two miles from this harbor, on the Adriatic. It brings to mind Russell Kirk’s admonition to conservatives never to forget that “the world remains sunlit, despite its vices.” Savor the light in this image!

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Swedish Church Embarrassed By Persecuted Christians

Swedish steeple: minaret-in-training? (a40757/Shutterstock)
Swedish steeple: minaret-in-training? (a40757/Shutterstock)

The Church of Sweden is a sad joke:

After a French priest, Jacques Hamel, was murdered by ISIS sympathizers in Rouen, France, on July 26, 2016, an initiative started in Sweden where Swedish Christians took “selfies” with a cross to show solidarity with persecuted Christians. The initiative, called “Mitt kors”(“My cross”), was started by three priests from the Church of Sweden. The Church of Sweden, however, criticized it. Gunnar Sjöberg, Head of Communications for the Church of Sweden, wrote on his Facebook page:

“I really do not know about that. This thing about Christians suddenly wearing a cross as a sign for or against something. It is actually nothing new, but the call seems seditious and un-Christian in the conflicts that already exist.”

So now, according to a senior official in the Church of Sweden, the call to wear a cross to show solidarity with persecuted Christians is “un-Christian”.

That the Church of Sweden distances itself from people who carry the cross caused Ann Heberlein, a doctor of theology and lecturer at Lund University, to write,

“The leadership of the Church of Sweden no longer wants to lead a Christian community; they want to lead a general ethical association for humanistic values of the most vulgar kind.”

The Church of Sweden’s attacks on the “My cross” initiative continued until one of the priests who had started it publicly left the Church of Sweden. In an article, Johanna Andersson, the priest who is resigning, writes:

“Church leadership has for several weeks been running a campaign against us who started the group ‘My cross.’ In this campaign, I have been discredited, called ‘questionable’, ‘unclean’, ‘agitator’, ‘un-Christian’ and attributed xenophobic hidden agendas.”

The question, therefore, is whether some Christian leaders in Sweden really care about Jesus and Christianity or whether they are using Jesus to convey a political agenda which includes a liberal immigration policy and multiculturalism.

Read the whole thing. Totally disgraceful. Heberlein says 13,000 Swedes resigned from the Church of Sweden in the month of June alone. That may be a drop in the bucket, given that the church boasts a membership of 6.6 million. But that huge number is deceptive. Only about 400,000 go to church at least once a month, according to this report, and only 15 percent believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.

What will happen to the faithful remnant in Sweden? I know this blog has Swedish readers. What do you think?

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The Tipi Loschi Classroom

I’m working on the manuscript revision for The Benedict Option today, and came across online this 2015 video explaining the vision of the Scuola Libera G.K. Chesterton, in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy. The Tipi Loschi — a lay Catholic community — founded the Chesterton school for its members and others who are interested in a classical Catholic education. The video features Marco Sermarini, the group’s leader, telling the school’s story (in Italian, with English subtitles). The Tipi Loschi (pron. “tee-pee LOHS-kee,” and meaning “shady types” or, more colloquially, “the usual suspects”) are all over the Benedict Option book, by the way. I thought you might like to see this video — and, if you can, support their efforts.

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Trump: Harbinger Of A New Age

Believe him, he's going to change things. He already has (JStone / Shutterstock.com)
Believe him, he’s going to change things. He already has (JStone / Shutterstock.com)

Writing in Politico, Georgetown political scientist Joshua Mitchell has a long, important take on the deep meaning of Trump — and it’s probably not what you think. If you’re a Trump-hater of the Left, or a #NeverTrump partisan of the Right, you need to read this. He says we really are at the turn of a new era in US politics, because of forces beyond Trump. Here’s how it opens:

Ideas really don’t come along that often. Already in 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in America, “ideas are a sort of mental dust,” that float about us but seldom cohere or hold our attention. For ideas to take hold, they need to be comprehensive and organizing; they need to order people’s experience of themselves and of their world. In 20th-century America, there were only a few ideas: the Progressivism of Wilson; Roosevelt’s New Deal; the Containment Doctrine of Truman; Johnson’s War on Poverty; Reagan’s audacious claim that the Cold War could be won; and finally, the post-1989 order rooted in “globalization” and “identity politics,” which seems to be unraveling before our eyes.

Yes, Donald Trump is implicated in that unraveling, cavalierly undermining decades worth of social and political certainties with his rapid-fire Twitter account and persona that only the borough of Queens can produce. But so is Bernie Sanders. And so is Brexit. And so are the growing rumblings in Europe, which are all the more dangerous because there is no exit strategy if the European Union proves unsustainable. It is not so much that there are no new ideas for us to consider in 2016; it is more that the old ones are being taken apart without a clear understanding of what comes next. 2016 is the year of mental dust, where notions that stand apart from the post-1989 order don’t fully cohere. The 2016 election will be the first—but not last—test of whether they can.

More:

If you listen closely to Trump, you’ll hear a direct repudiation of the system of globalization and identity politics that has defined the world order since the Cold War. There are, in fact, six specific ideas that he has either blurted out or thinly buried in his rhetoric: (1) borders matter; (2) immigration policy matters; (3) national interests, not so-called universal interests, matter; (4) entrepreneurship matters; (5) decentralization matters; (6) PC speech—without which identity politics is inconceivable—must be repudiated.

These six ideas together point to an end to the unstable experiment with supra- and sub-national sovereignty that many of our elites have guided us toward, siren-like, since 1989. That is what the Trump campaign, ghastly though it may at times be, leads us toward: A future where states matter. A future where people are citizens, working together toward (bourgeois) improvement of their lot. His ideas do not yet fully cohere. They are a bit too much like mental dust that has yet to come together. But they can come together. And Trump is the first American candidate to bring some coherence to them, however raucous his formulations have been.

Mitchell goes on to say that political elites call Trump “unprincipled,” and perhaps they’re right: that he only does what’s good for Trump. On the other hand, maybe Trump’s principles are not ideological, but pragmatic. That is, Trump might be a quintessential American political type: the leader who gets into a situation and figures out how to muddle through. Or, as Mitchell puts it:

This doesn’t necessarily mean that he is unprincipled; it means rather that he doesn’t believe that yet another policy paper based on conservative “principles” is going to save either America or the Republican Party.

Also, Mitchell says that there are no doubt voters in the Trump coalition who are nothing but angry, provincial bigots. But if anti-Trumpers convince themselves that that’s all the Trump voters are, they will miss something profoundly important about how Western politics are changing because of deep instincts emerging from within the body politic:

What is going on is that “globalization-and-identity-politics-speak” is being boldly challenged. Inside the Beltway, along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, there is scarcely any evidence of this challenge. There are people in those places who will vote for Trump, but they dare not say it, for fear of ostracism. They think that identity politics has gone too far, or that if it hasn’t yet gone too far, there is no principled place where it must stop. They believe that the state can’t be our only large-scale political unit, but they see that on the post-1989 model, there will, finally, be no place for the state. Out beyond this hermetically sealed bicoastal consensus, there are Trump placards everywhere, not because citizens are racists or homophobes or some other vermin that needs to be eradicated, but because there is little evidence in their own lives that this vast post-1989 experiment with “globalization” and identity politics has done them much good.

There’s lots more here, including his prediction of what’s going to happen to the GOP.
Read the whole thing.  I do want to take some issue with this bit, though:

There are, then, two developments we are likely to see going forward. First, cultural conservatives will seriously consider a political “Benedict Option,” dropping out of the Republican Party and forming a like-minded Book Group, unconcerned with winning elections and very concerned with maintaining their “principles.” Their fidelity is to Aristotle rather than to winning the battle for the political soul of America. …

Clearly he disdains the Ben Op, and I can’t really blame him too much. The book is not out yet — coming March 2017; click here to pre-order — so the only thing anyone knows about the Ben Op is what he or she has seen on this blog, which has not presented it in a systematic way. The book (the manuscript of which I’m revising now) does that. Mitchell and others still may not like the ideas — I expect most political scientists won’t — but it’s very much not a “Book Group” approach to politics.

Without giving too much away here, let me say that I make a case that the things that conservative Christians (and other social conservatives) care about most are no longer achievable through democratic politics, if ever they were. The Ben Op does not call for Christians to quit voting, or to quit running for office, or to quit caring what happens in the political arena. We can’t afford to be political quietists. On a practical level, that means that I will no longer vote primarily on the social issues that have dictated my vote in the past, but I will vote primarily for candidates who will be better at protecting my community’s right to be left alone. This will almost always mean voting for the Republicans in national elections, but in a primary situation, I will vote for the Republican who can best be counted on to defend religious liberty, even if he’s not 100 percent on board with what I consider to be promoting the Good. If it means voting for a Republican that the defense hawks or the Chamber of Commerce disdain, I have no problem at all with that. This is a particularly orthodox Christian expression of the attitude Mitchell describes as no longer believing “that yet another policy paper based on conservative ‘principles’ is going to save either America or the Republican Party.” The Ben Op Christian may or may not believe that the GOP or America can be saved at this point; she is just trying to save a cultural space within which she and her family and neighbors can raise and educate their children as orthodox Christians, and live a faithfully Christian life. Saving the Republican Party or the United States of America are second-order political concerns.

If the Ben Op doesn’t call on Christians to abandon politics altogether, it does call on them to recalibrate their (our) understanding of what politics is and what it can do. Politics, rightly understood, is more than statecraft. Ben Op politics are Christian politics for a post-Christian culture — that is, a culture that no longer shares some key basic Christian values, and in which orthodox Christians will come to be seen as threats to the common good, simply because of the views we hold and the practices we live by out of fidelity to our religion. In other words, it’s an attempt to re-imagine Vaclav Havel’s “antipolitical politics” for 21st century America.

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