Immigration, Culture, Hypocrisy
I was highly amused that one of my most shrill Twitter critics was Rachel Held Evans, who bills herself as a “doubt-filled believer,” always open to seeing nuance. For example:
For everyone who feels caught between a pro-life ethic and progressive social values, who thinks a “culture of life” should include the born, who sees a lot of gray where everyone else seems to see only black and white, you’re not alone. ❤️ #MarchforLife
— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 19, 2018
Except she has no tolerance for any kind of nuance or doubt of the progressive dogmas that matter most to her, or tolerance for the people who explore their doubts publicly, as I did in that post (by saying that I was torn by my rejection of Trump’s rude “shithole” comment, and by the fact that some countries and cultures really are worse than others, but we can’t talk about it.) Hypocrite.
Perhaps the most shrill Twitter critic of my original post was Jemar Tisby, a black Evangelical who’s the kind of person who, if you said, “It’s a beautiful day in America,” would respond, “So you’re saying it’s not a beautiful day in Africa? RACIST!”
I would like to point out, though, a piece he wrote last summer about why integrated churches can be bad for black people. Excerpt:
Integration, of course, is preferable to forced segregation, but there are downsides to integration, particularly in the church.
While the black church remains an essential and vibrant part of the culture of black Americans, many people of color have begun attending predominantly white churches. We go there for many reasons—the preaching, relationships, convenience, or necessity. But being in such spaces makes it difficult for black people to experience the same kind of solidarity and community we would have in a black church context.
In an integrated church that is still predominantly white, black Christians have to seek out places where we can be ourselves. These are communities within communities, where people of color gather in a shared sense of their past and their present social condition.
Black Christians long for spaces where they can be proud, black, and free.
We want places to lament when the next unarmed black person is killed by law enforcement. We want “amens” from people who understand what it’s like when a classmate or co-woker insinuates that your presence is only due to affirmative action. We want to say “That’s my jam!” when someone mentions a nineties R&B song (clearly the best era for this genre). We want to talk about what it’s like to be a black believer in a white Christian congregation.
But how can black people get this kind of communal strength when all of our gatherings are integrated?
Hypocrite. But look, I get where he’s coming from. Seriously, I do. This doesn’t make a lot of sense within an Orthodox or Catholic ecclesiology, but it makes a lot of sense within Protestantism — and even in Catholic and Orthodox parishes where one is an ethnic outsider, it can be hard to fit in. Mind you, going to church to talk about the things Tisby wants to talk about in church is … not really the point of church, but I concede his general point.
I’ve talked in this space before about why, in my own small hometown, black Protestants and white Protestants stay in their own churches, and how that doesn’t mean that either side is racist. People have lots of reasons for going to particular churches. In a town like my hometown, many people are very loyal to the church their family has been in for generations. My dad didn’t go to church often, but the church he didn’t go to was the Methodist church, because The Drehers Have Always Been Methodist™. That’s just how people are.
Second, the worship style of the black church and white Protestant churches are very different. You can’t just mix-and-match. The black church is a lot more charismatic; the white (Protestant) church a lot more sedate. Each style has its strengths and weaknesses. I imagine that someone who was raised in the black church and likes it would be bored out of his mind at a white Protestant church in our town (except possibly the charismatic one that started after I moved away). I know for sure that most white Protestants would find the liveliness and preaching style in the black church disorienting and possibly alienating.
But so what? As someone who has been worshiping as an Orthodox Christian for almost 12 years now, and 13 years before that as a Catholic, I would find both forms of Protestantism hard to relate to, in terms of worship. Again: so what? Y’all do y’all’s thing on Sunday morning, and I’ll do mine.
The reason I bring it up here is that Tisby is all for self-segregation when it’s for reasons of which he approves, e.g., black solidarity. I suppose he would say that it’s not about saying “no” to non-black people, but rather saying “yes” to his own culture. I can see that — to a point. The thing is, there’s no getting around the fact that it is a “no” to white people and other non-black people. This may be racist, but it isn’t necessarily racist.
The thing is, I am not willing to take a lecture on how racist I am for saying that it’s understandable why people wouldn’t want a housing project in their neighborhood, from someone who defends racial segregation when it fits his ideals. It’s not bigotry if you’re woke, I suppose. For one, poverty is not a race. For another, it is perfectly normal for all people to want to live in an environment that makes them feel comfortable, safe, and stable. The liberal hypocrisy on this stuff is off-the-charts ridiculous.
Jesse Singal and Michael Brendan Dougherty, commenting on my earlier writing on this, nail it:
“We’re just buying into a *good* school district.” https://t.co/CtOkSnoLsG
— Michael Brendan Dougherty (@michaelbd) January 22, 2018
If people bought houses based only on price, the poor parts of town would be filling up with middle-class people getting bargains on houses (at which point liberals would gripe about gentrification). The fact is, most people, of whatever race, want to live in the safest, nicest neighborhood they can afford. They want their kids to go to good schools, and don’t want to have to fear for the safety of their person or their property. And they want to live around people who are like themselves — not carbon copies, but close enough so that they feel secure.
This is human nature. People like Tisby and Channel 4’s Cathy Newman tell themselves whatever they have to for the sake of masking what they do, but they still do it. What do you think all this “safe space” stuff on campus is about? Liberals like that wouldn’t last five minutes around people seriously unlike themselves, without spontaneously combusting. But to be fair, there’s nothing wrong in principle with wanting to be around people who understand you, and with whom you can feel at ease. Certain institutions — universities and the news media are two — can’t function properly if they are too exclusive, but as a general rule, it’s not weird at all to be exclusionary. It might be foolish, and something we should work to overcome, but it’s wired into us.
In his 1999 book Maps Of Meaning, the clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson talks about how we map the world to make it possible to live in it. We have evolved quite naturally to have fear as a self-protective mechanism. All the emphases below are mine. Excerpt:
We are protected from unpredictability by our culturally determined beliefs, by the stories we share. These stories tell us how to presume and how to act to maintain the determinate, shared and restricted values that compose our familiar worlds. We feel comfortable somewhere new, once we have discovered that nothing exists there that will threaten or hurt us (more particularly, when we have adjusted our behavior and schemas of representation so that nothing there is likely to or able to threaten or hurt us). The consequence of exploration that allows for emotional regulation (that generates security, essentially) is not objective description, as the scientist might have it, but categorization of the implications of an unexpected occurrence for specification of means and ends. Such categorization is what an object “is,” from the perspective of archaic affect and subjective experience. The orienting reflex, and the exploratory behavior following its manifestation, also allows for the differentiation of the unknown into the familiar categories of objective reality. However, this ability is a late development, emerging only four hundred years ago, and cannot be considered basic to “thinking.” Specification of the collectively apprehensible sensory qualities of something — generally considered, in the modern world, as the essential aspect of the description of reality — merely serves as an aid to the more fundamental process of evaluation, determining the precise nature of relevant or potentially relevant phenomena.
What he’s saying here, if I’m reading correctly, is that we don’t have time or capacity to subject all data in a new and unfamiliar place to an objective reasoning process, so we fall back on stories that we and our cultures have told us to help us evaluate whether or not this new condition is a threat. More Peterson:
Fear is the innate reaction to everything that has not been rendered predictable, as a consequence of successful, creative exploratory behavior undertaken in its presence, at some point in the past.
In other words, it’s normal to be afraid to ride a horse, until you’ve faced down that fear and ridden the horse, proving to yourself that there’s nothing to be afraid of. More Peterson:
It is difficult for us to formulate a clear picture of the subjective effects of the systems that dominate our initial response to the truly unpredictable, because we strive with all our might to ensure that everything around us remains normal. Under “normal” conditions, therefore, these primordial systems never operate with their full force. It might be said, with a certain amount of justification, that we devote our entire lives to making sure that we never have to face anything unknown, in the revolutionary sense — at least not accidentally.
By “revolutionary,” Dr. Peterson means events and accumulations of facts that overwhelm the stories we use to make sense of the world, to order it, and reveal to us the face of chaos. More:
Our success in doing so deludes us about the true nature, power and intensity of our potential emotional responses. As civilized people, we are secure. We can predict the behaviors of others (that is, if they share our stories); furthermore, we can control our environments well enough to ensure that our subjection to threat and punishment remains at a minimum. It is the cumulative consequences of our adaptive struggle — our cultures — which enable this prediction and control. The existence of our cultures, however, blinds us to the nature of our true (emotional) natures — at least to the range of that nature, and to the consequences of its emergence. Our emotional regulation depends as much (or more) on the stability and predictability of the social environment (on the maintenance of our cultures) as on “interior” processes, classically related to the strength of the ego or the personality. Social order is a necessary precondition for psychological stability: it is primarily our companions and their actions (or inactions) that stabilize or destabilize our emotions.
Do you understand what Peterson is saying here? That human beings naturally work very hard to keep the environment around them predictable. To live in chaos is incredibly taxing, emotionally and psychologically. We want to live around and associate with people who are predictable, and who we therefore don’t have to fear. The sharing of stories — that is, myths that explain the world to us, and tell us what we are supposed to do in that world — is a key variable that allows us to predict the behavior of others.
The lives of poor people in our culture are generally marked by far more chaos than the lives of others. This is not entirely their fault, heaven knows, but as neuroscience shows, children raised in the chaos of poverty culture are marked by it, and have a much harder time breaking the cycle of poverty, because their brains have been habituated to chaos. This is a call to active compassion, certainly, but does that compassion require people to welcome the poor into their own neighborhood? Does compassion require one to move into a poor, chaotic neighborhood with one’s kids?
Some might feel called to that life, and may God bless them for it. But it is unreasonable to expect most people to do so — and in fact, most people do not make that choice. In Dallas, when segregation ended, lots of black people with middle-class values and aspirations for their children moved out of the ghetto, because they could. Again: so what? If you’re a black mom and dad, and you’re tired of your bookworm kid being picked on at school for “acting white,” and you had the opportunity to move to another school or part of town where that was less likely to happen, what right do you have to sacrifice your child’s happiness and well-being for the sake of proving a point? One wicked thing about segregation is that it wouldn’t let black people make that choice for themselves.
In one of the cities I used to live in, I knew a black Christian homeschooling family who lived in the inner city because of an unchangeable family situation, but who were willing to make big sacrifices to keep their boys from being sucked in by the culture of the streets around them. That included driving out to the suburbs for the homeschooling co-op. This was a great Christian family, they kind any decent people would have wanted as neighbors. If they had had the opportunity, they would have gotten as far away from the drugs and violence of their neighborhood as they could have, for the sake of their kids, and never looked back.
Were they self-hating blacks? No, they weren’t. They were ordinary people.
People do not thrive in chaos. True, a social environment can become too stultifying, but everybody requires stability and familiarity to thrive. I once had a job where nothing was predictable because our boss was extremely mercurial. It became impossible to plan, because you never knew what kind of orders were going to come down from his office. Things my colleagues and I had been working on for months were sometimes thrown away, on his orders — and he had forgotten that he had asked us to do the project in the first place. All of this chaos, this unpredictability, eventually took a heavy toll on the staff. Around that time, I read a piece about a psychology study showing that people living under oppressive but predictable conditions were happier than people living under more freedom, but highly unpredictable conditions. I understood that in my bones, because in that work environment, you never knew what was coming next.
What does this have to do with the immigration debate, and the poor? A few things, I think.
First, we live in a particularly chaotic time and place. Everybody knows this. The economy is churning. There is no such thing as job stability, not like in the past. The stories (religious and otherwise) we have used to guide our lives, personally and collectively, are dissolving. We can’t even say what is a man, and what is a woman. And on and on. It’s all up for grabs. Marx and Engels wrote in 1848, “All that is solid melts into air” — and the culture has become much, much more liquid since then.
Second, the people who are facing the most chaos, and dealing with the most risk from it, are the poor and the working class, of all races. Marriage and family are luxury goods for many of them today. We know what happened to manufacturing jobs, which haven’t been replaced. It is perfectly normal for them to be afraid of the future. It is they who have the most to lose from immigration of unskilled laborers to the US. It is their schools, their hospitals, their neighborhoods, which are going to be changed. It is they who are going to have to adjust to living around people who have radically different stories, in the sense that Peterson means.
These people are already having to contend with a lot of personal and social chaos, and now they hear elites — especially liberal elites, but not exclusively — condemn them as racists for not wanting people from poor, chaotic countries coming in to compete with them for scarce jobs. And they’re supposed to be more offended by Donald Trump’s offensive remark about “shithole” countries than they are about the clear fact that the ruling class in this country considers them to be deplorables to whom no justice is owed?
Third, the reason I brought up the issue of middle and upper-middle class people not wanting a public housing project or Section 8 housing in their neighborhood is because it’s something most Americans can relate to imaginatively. As Dr. Peterson said, people fear instability and the unknown (“we strive with all our might to ensure that everything around us remains normal”). You don’t have to be a cultural anthropologist to recognize that importing a large number of people who don’t share a neighborhood’s customs, habits, or values threatens the sense of normality, of stability there. Harvard’s Robert Putnam has found that the more diverse a neighborhood is, the less social capital it has, because the people who live there find it harder to trust each other.
And look at this: a link to a 2017 Stanford University political science paper revealing how ideology affects people’s attitudes toward building affordable housing. Note especially that liberals favor policies that increasing housing for the poor, and government housing aid, but not building houses for poor people in their backyard.
I understand this sentiment. Maybe it’s unjust. It is certainly unsustainable, especially in cities and states that are in desperate need of affordable housing. But it is perfectly understandable as a reaction to the possibility of introducing chaos and potential decline into one’s neighborhood, especially if one has invested in a house there, and cannot afford to leave if things turn bad. Inversely, this is why poor people fear gentrification. It stands to bring into their neighborhoods people who are significantly unlike themselves, and who will likely make the people who live there feel ill at ease in a place they’ve come to see as home (however distressed economically), and eventually to drive them out, if the housing values go up, and with it, property taxes.
The overall point I want to make is conceding that some readers of this blog like Noah172, an ardent Trumpist and anti-immigration hawk, have a point when they say that a certain kind of middle class person who advocates for pro-immigration policies don’t have to deal with the cultural effects of those policies, because they live in privileged circumstances. Regular readers of the comments threads here know that I don’t like Noah’s rhetoric because a lot of it is racialist, and so I instinctively recoil from it. But I think we have to be honest about the fact that he’s not entirely wrong — or if he is wrong, then we who believe him to be have to come up with better arguments than simply sneering at it. It’s simply dishonest to Just because Donald Trump and his supporters say something — and say it with maximum offensiveness — doesn’t make it untrue, or at least unimportant to take seriously, if only to come up with a reasonable and effective response.
For example, I favor some kind of law to accommodate the DACA people whose illegal immigrant parents brought them here when they were children. It is, in my view, a matter of justice to those people. On the other hand, where does it stop? What are we supposed to do to keep this situation from happening again, 20 years from now? It’s not only a reasonable question, it’s a fair question, and a necessary question.
The inability of so many liberals to have a reasonable debate about these complex issues without screaming bigotry!, and at least attempting to understand where the other side is coming from, is ridiculous. (And it’s equally ridiculous to observe the same thing on the conservative side.) As I’ve demonstrated here, it is normal for all people to resist change and instability in their social environment. If you want to change their minds, you can’t do it by attempting to shame them out of their ordinary fears and concerns. You can’t cathynewman everybody, forever — especially if you’re the kind of person who advocates for segregationist policies that are woke, while condemning others for believing the same things about their own group. Or if you’re the sort of sensitive Evangelical “doubt-filled believer” who has made a career advocating for safe spaces for Christians to air their doubts about dogmas and doctrine, but who denounces as “Antichrist” people who doubt her own personal certainties.
That hypocritical stuff doesn’t really work anymore.