Don’t miss Nick Phillips’s great piece on “The Secular Benedict Option”. His basic point is that even if you aren’t religious, the world is changing so radically, and so fast, that you are doing to need to do some serious separating for the sake of your sanity. Here is a terrific point:
To wrap our minds around what’s ahead, it’s first necessary to understand who wields the real power so we can better comprehend the direction in which we’re headed. For most of Western political history, conservatives have been in the driver’s seat, because conservatism has meant defending the established order. Conservatives were the guardians of powerful orthodox institutions, whether monarchical courts, noble families, established churches, or commercial empires. Liberals might have had a foot in this order, but they also wanted it to change. Meanwhile, outside the gates were radicals and progressives clamoring for it all to be torn down.
Our own era is so remarkable because it’s inverted this formula. In every meaningful way, conservatives are now the heterodox dissidents from a socio-cultural superstructure that enforces progressive norms.
The complex of institutions that shape elite American culture and knowledge are progressive to the core. Donald Trump is the exception that proves the rule—he represents a revolt of the left-behind against their elite tastemakers who for so long have been ascendant and whose project will continue unabated after he implodes. Everyone knows it. In the universities, in Silicon Valley, in the civil-society complex of NGOs and cultural institutions, they know the direction of progress is ever towards expressive individualism, in which the external forces that attempt to check our me-first appetites are deconstructed as either oppressive or unprofitable, and banished. The result is liquid modernity, a society of individuals with no attachments except the ones they have freely chosen and can just as freely drop on a whim.
Those who still doubt that progressives hold true institutional power in America need only to ask: which side is talking about free speech? The side that does is always the side out of power, because they understand that their views will be crushed unless they have special legal protections. For most of American history, free speech was a cause of the left, which needed help in its fight against the conservative powers-that-be. Today, it’s a cause of the right, because conservatives understand that inside powerful institutions like Harvard and Google, they exist as a despised minority.
That’s an extremely important point that so many conservatives fail to grasp. You can elect Donald Trump president, and it does not change the fact that the institutions are held by people who at best don’t understand conservatives, and at worse despise them. I remind you of a conversation I once had at a journalism conference with a senior journalism executive whose newspaper was losing large numbers of subscribers. This was back in the mid-2000s or thereabouts, when the Internet was causing the bottom to fall out of newspaper subscriber bases. The executive had been talking about how his newspaper had been crusading for LGBT rights. Noting that his region was fairly conservative, I asked if he thought that it was the wisest thing to be pushing that particular envelope in a time when the paper ought to be holding on to as many subscribers as it could.
“We don’t need bigots as readers of our paper,” he told me.
You can call that heroic, or you can call it prejudiced. But what you can’t call it is pragmatic. For better or for worse, that executive was making a call based on moral idealism — a call that probably cost his company money. I think of that every time somebody says that the only thing that motivates corporations is the financial bottom line. Most people want to be good (as they define it), and to be seen as doing good. In the social circles that journalists and business executives inhabit, LGBT rights came to be seen as Good long before they were widely affirmed by society. And the corollary is that Christians and others who in any way dissent are by definition seen as Bad.
Let me put the point in another way. The sociologist James Davison Hunter has written about the difference between Evangelicals (on the one hand) and Jews and gays on the other. He’s writing in terms of cultural power. Evangelicals have relatively large numbers within their camp, but those numbers do not translate into cultural power. Evangelicals are culturally weak. Jews and gays are, by contrast, only a tiny percentage of the US population, but have immense cultural power. Why is that? In large part, it’s because they are heavily represented in the culture-forming institutions, either in person, or in the person of “allies”. This is not a conspiracy; it’s just a fact.
All of that is background to help conservative readers understand Phillips’s point above. This is why I keep posting the crazy things that elite colleges teach. If you think that this stuff is a tempest in a teapot, you are ignoring the power of these ideas when taught to the children of the cultural elites.
But that’s not even his main point in the essay. More:
The victory of social progressivism feels complete and overwhelming from a religious perspective, but for everyone else, the real tsunami has just begun. That tsunami is of technology, and it’s going to rip the roots of our society clear out of the ground.
Smartphones and social media have already trapped many of us in dopamine-fueled feedback loops that we know are destructive but can’t seem to break. As adult users watch their cognition degrade, the children and teenagers who have grown up with this stuff are more miserable than ever before—they’re anxious, depressed, and suicidal in direct proportion to how much time they spend in front of screens. It’s only going to get worse.
But that’s a familiar narrative. What’s scarier is the technology to come. Virtual and augmented reality is going to fundamentally erode the distinction between physical and digital experience, and it will be addictively immersive. Two-dimensional pornography is already short-circuiting male capacity for intimacy—what will happen when VR can deliver a sexual experience that is both immersive and fully customizable? Nothing good.
Concerned about fake news and a “post-truth” society that ignores facts and makes consensus impossible? You haven’t seen anything yet.
Read the whole thing. The “secular Benedict Option” he talks about is a communal retreat from the virtual world of technology — running away from that artificial world, and towards the Real World. This does not necessarily have anything to do with religion, as Phillips says. Read his important essay. Seriously.
(For those who are religious, you might be interested to know that the paperback version of The Benedict Option goes on sale in the middle of next week. It’s got a study guide for group reading.)