Oikophobia & The Machine
I never watch TV in my Budapest apartment because the set only gets Hungarian channels … or so I thought. I found CNN on it, and decided to watch some of its war coverage. I turned it off after watching an interview with a retired US military officer who now is part of a think tank. It was stunningly bad journalism. The think-tanker offered nothing but rah-rah for the Ukraine resistance, and claimed that by not losing, Ukraine was winning. The interviewer never challenged any of it, not in the least, and boosted the guest’s point by quoting statements from Russian POWs — a mistake I regrettably made a couple of weeks ago, forgetting that promoting propaganda statements made by a POW is a violation of the Geneva Convention, and should never be taken as truthful, given that they are likely made under duress. But the narrative being sold in this segment was: Ukraine is winning this war, and we just need to believe more in their cause.
Maybe Ukraine is winning this war, but that is by no means obvious to anyone who looks at the battlefield map. I want a media that does its best to tell me what is actually going on in the world, not one that manufactures consent. That’s what Russian state media does, right? Why do you need state media when our private media in America are happy to take a party line without being told.
Take a look at this from a White House press conference:
This is wild pic.twitter.com/CNZZ1wVzcz
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) March 16, 2022
These reporters are not interested in the news; they are interested in goading the White House to get more involved in the war on behalf of Ukraine.
I turned the TV off after that. It made me furious. This is bad, warmongering, propagandistic journalism. I posted about it on Twitter, and one of my followers there said that Fox News is the same way, except when Tucker Carlson is on. I wonder if this is what the paleocons and the antiwar leftists thought back in 2002 and 2003, during the march-up to the Iraq War and its early stages. I recall hearing back then from a friend of mine, a longtime journalist and a military vet, furious over what he regarded as the media’s surrender to the urge to propagandize on behalf of the war. I thought of him at the time as an eccentric middle-aged liberal. Now I’m an eccentric middle-aged conservative, in the same sense.
Ross Douthat explains why populism is in philosophical disarray in the wake of the Putin invasion (the reversion of normie conservatives to pre-Trump hawkishness is a sign, he says), but warns liberals that they would be fools to think that Russia’s invasion solves the problems of our decadent society. Excerpt:
Last week, for instance, the Russia scholar Stephen Kotkin told The New Yorker’s David Remnick that Putin’s invasion disproves “all the nonsense about how the West is decadent, the West is over, the West is in decline, how it’s a multipolar world and the rise of China.” With the West rallying to a resilient Ukraine, “all of that turned out to be bunk.”
What was bunk was the idea that Putin’s Russia represents some kind of efficient postliberal or traditionalist alternative to the problems of the West, and one whose military could simply steamroller Eastern Europe. But all those Western problems remain: American power is in relative decline, China’s power has dramatically increased, and none of what I, as a self-appointed expert on the subject, would classify as the key problems of American decadence — demographic decline, economic disappointment and stagnation, a social fabric increasingly shadowed by drugs and depression and suicide — have somehow gone away just because Moscow’s military is failing outside Kyiv.
Since those problems are crucial to understanding where populism came from in the first place, it’s reckless for liberals to declare victory based on shifts in the international order while simply waving domestic discontents away. Populism’s poor fit for this particular moment has given an opportunity to its enemies and critics. But they will squander the opportunity if they convince themselves that the external challenge has somehow made the internal crisis go away.
Once the copium and the hopium blasts from TV, and the happy bellyfeels they give the American public, go away after this war ends, we will still be left with all the problems we had before Putin sent his tanks across the border. What has changed over the last three weeks is that our collective attention has been redirected and focused on an easy enemy to hate. That won’t last.
If you are one of those, liberal or conservative, who is comforted by the West’s response to Putin, let me dispel it by showing you something that should horrify anybody who cares about the future of free speech in this country. It’s a clip from a Yale Law School event, sponsored by the Federalist Society, in which a conservative Christian lawyer, Kristin Waggoner, and a liberal atheist lawyer, Monica Miller, came together to discuss areas of common ground in defending First Amendment rights. It degenerated into a debacle because, get this, Yale Law School students. In its story, the Washington Free Beacon has video of a student mob trying to disrupt the event inside the room. After they were thrown out by a law school professor who told them to “grow up”:
The protesters proceeded to exit the event—one of them yelled “Fuck you, FedSoc” on his way out—but congregated in the hall just outside. Then they began to stomp, shout, clap, sing, and pound the walls, making it difficult to hear the panel. Chants of “protect trans kids” and “shame, shame” reverberated throughout the law school. The din was so loud that it disrupted nearby classes, exams, and faculty meetings, according to students and a professor who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Ellen Cosgrove, the associate dean of the law school, was present at the panel the entire time. Though the cacophony clearly violated Yale’s free speech policies, she did not confront any of the protesters.
At times, things seemed in danger of getting physical. The protesters were blocking the only exit from the event, and two members of the Federalist Society said they were grabbed and jostled as they attempted to leave.
“It was disturbing to witness law students whipped into a mindless frenzy,” Waggoner said. “I did not feel it was safe to get out of the room without security.”
As the panel concluded, police officers arrived to escort Waggoner and Miller out of the building. Three members of the Federalist Society say they were told that the Dean of Yale Law School, Heather Gerken, called the police, though the law school declined to comment on who asked for extra security. The Federalist Society did not call the police, the group’s president confirmed.
Lest you think this was a small, disruptive minority, the WFB goes on:
In the two days following the panel, more than 60 percent of the law school’s student body signed an open letter supporting the “peaceful student protesters,” who they claimed had been imperiled by the presence of police.
“The danger of police violence in this country is intensified against Black LGBTQ people, and particularly Black trans people,” the letter read. “Police-related trauma includes, but is certainly not limited to, physical harm. Even with all of the privilege afforded to us at YLS, the decision to allow police officers in as a response to the protest put YLS’s queer student body at risk of harm.”
Signed by 417 students, the letter also condemned Stith for telling the protesters to “grow up,” and the Federalist Society for hosting the event, which “profoundly undermined our community’s values of equity and inclusivity.”
Monica Miller, the progressive lawyer targeted by the mob, responded:
Miller told the Free Beacon she was taken aback by the email—not least because the Supreme Court case she was speaking about had been hailed as a victory for civil rights groups.
The case, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, involved a public college in Georgia that prevented a Christian student, Chike Uzuegbunam, from proselytizing on campus. After he graduated, Uzuegbunam sued, saying his First Amendment rights had been violated.
At stake in the case was whether plaintiffs could sue over past constitutional violations that did not result in any economic harm. The 11th Circuit had answered no, setting a precedent that could foreclose a wide range of lawsuits—not just those related to free speech and free exercise, but also to civil rights.
“A lot of our clients are LGBT,” Miller said. “If that ruling stood, and LGBT rights were violated in the South, we wouldn’t be able to help them.”
For her part, Kristin Waggoner pointed out that these students are future federal judges (a vastly disproportionate number of federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, come from either Harvard or Yale law schools), and that this is a very bad sign for the First Amendment. I remind you of what a closeted Christian law professor in an Ivy League law school told me back in this 2015 interview:
I spent a long time on the phone last night with a law professor at one of the country’s elite law schools. This professor is a practicing Christian, deeply closeted in the workplace; he is convinced that if his colleagues in academia knew of his faith, they would make it very hard for him. We made contact initially by e-mail — he is a reader of this blog — and last night, by phone. He agreed to speak with me about the Indiana situation on condition that I not identify him by name or by institution. I do know his identity, and when he tells me that he is “well-informed about the academy and the Supreme Court,” I assure you that from where he sits, and teaches, and from his CV, he is telling the truth.
I will call him Prof. Kingsfield, after the law professor in The Paper Chase.
What prompted his reaching out to me? “I’m very worried,” he said, of events of the last week. “The constituency for religious liberty just isn’t there anymore.”
Like me, what unnerved Prof. Kingsfield is not so much the details of the Indiana law, but the way the overculture treated the law. “When a perfectly decent, pro-gay marriage religious liberty scholar like Doug Laycock, who is one of the best in the country — when what he says is distorted, you know how crazy it is.”
“Alasdair Macintyre is right,” he said. “It’s like a nuclear bomb went off, but in slow motion.” What he meant by this is that our culture has lost the ability to reason together, because too many of us want and believe radically incompatible things.
But only one side has the power. When I asked Kingsfield what most people outside elite legal and academic circles don’t understand about the way elites think, he said “there’s this radical incomprehension of religion.”
“They think religion is all about being happy-clappy and nice, or should be, so they don’t see any legitimate grounds for the clash,” he said. “They make so many errors, but they don’t want to listen.”
To elites in his circles, Kingsfield continued, “at best religion is something consenting adult should do behind closed doors. They don’t really understand that there’s a link between Sister Helen Prejean’s faith and the work she does on the death penalty. There’s a lot of looking down on flyover country, one middle America.
“The sad thing,” he said, “is that the old ways of aspiring to truth, seeing all knowledge as part of learning about the nature of reality, they don’t hold. It’s all about power. They’ve got cultural power, and think they should use it for good, but their idea of good is not anchored in anything. They’ve got a lot of power in courts and in politics and in education. Their job is to challenge people to think critically, but thinking critically means thinking like them. They really do think that they know so much more than anybody did before, and there is no point in listening to anybody else, because they have all the answers, and believe that they are good.”
On the conservative side, said Kingsfield, Republican politicians are abysmal at making a public case for why religious liberty is fundamental to American life.
“The fact that Mike Pence can’t articulate it, and Asa Hutchinson doesn’t care and can’t articulate it, is shocking,” Kingsfield said. “Huckabee gets it and Santorum gets it, but they’re marginal figures. Why can’t Republicans articulate this? We don’t have anybody who gets it and who can unite us. Barring that, the craven business community will drag the Republican Party along wherever the culture is leading, and lawyers, academics, and media will cheer because they can’t imagine that they might be wrong about any of it.”
He went on to say:
There is a bitter irony in the fact that gays coming out of the closet coincides with traditional religious people going back into the closet.
“Gays have legitimately said that it’s a big deal to have laws and a culture in which they have been forced to lie about who they are, which is what you do when you put them in the position of not being able to be open about their sexuality,” Kingsfield said.
“‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ forced them to segment off a part of their lives in a way that was wrong. What they don’t realize today is that the very same criticism they had about ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ can be applied to what is happening now to Christians: you can do what you like in private, but don’t bring who you are into the public square, or you can be punished for it.”
On the political side, Kingsfield said it’s important to “surrender political hope” — that is, that things can be solved through political power. Republicans can be counted on to block the worst of what the Democrats attempt – which is a pretty weak thing to rely on, but it’s not nothing. “But a lot of things can be done by administrative order,” he said. “I’m really worried about that.”
Read it all. I hadn’t even started writing The Benedict Optionat that point, but the professor told me in that conversation that I needed to get busy on it, because the idea is important to Christian survival in the world now being born.
Anyway, the key point here is that the way the abhorrent Yale Law students behaved in a protest supported by a strong majority of Yale Law students, is a sign of steep decline. These hateful people are tomorrow’s ruling class. You may never meet any of them, but once they ascend into the ruling-class institutions, they are going to affect the lives of all of us.
If you’ve never read the Substack newsletter of the English novelist and essayist Paul Kingsnorth, The Abbey of Misrule, do yourself a favor and buy a subscription. I’m not sure how much of his latest essay is behind the paywall, so I’m not going to quote it at length. Kingsnorth is a recent Christian convert who has spent his career writing in defense of small, local places, and environmental protection; it’s no accident that he was chosen to write the introduction to a recent collection of Wendell Berry essays. Most of his writing could fit comfortably on the non-ideological Left. But he writes that a few years ago, when he praised a film that celebrated the lost old England of village life, he was widely denounced as a racist and a Nazi by people who had once been his champions. It staggered him, and it took him a long time to recover. Kingsnorth writes:
The more I dug into this, the more something else became clear: the Internet mobsters resisting these new demons, though they presented themselves as champions of the marginalised and overlooked, just happened to have interests which aligned with those of the Machine.
It had become clear enough on my travels as a young writer, just as it had in my environmental and political activism at home, that the one thing that really put a spoke in the wheels of the rolling globoculture of consumer capitalism was a connection to place. People who dwelt in strong communities, who lived non-consumerist lives outside the market system: these were the Machine’s greatest enemies. These were the people and communities that the Black Ships of globalisation had dedicated nearly two centuries to uprooting, enclosing, scattering and corralling within the bounds of the market system. Now though, just as they were supposed to have been defeated, they seemed to be rearing their heads again, opposing the culture of inversion and the economics of transnational capital that lay behind it.
The kind of mob that came after me was not what it declared itself to be. It was not the righteous fury of the Wretched of the Earth rising up against reaction and prejudice. It was the beneficiary class of the age of the Machine defending its turf, and it had the language now to do it: a jargon-heavy lectionary of wokespeak which posed as liberatory rhetoric, but which actually oppressed and colonised anyone, of any colour, in any place, who so much as questioned the new status quo. The laptop class; the PMCs; the new puritans; the urban elites: whatever you called them, the culture of inversion was not rising from the bottom of society, but being directed from the top.
Kingsnorth says that these elites really do think the rest of us are, well, deplorable. This, he says, is class warfare, and it is being carried out on behalf of global capital. This is why we have Woke Capitalism. One more:
Amongst the growing and increasingly baroque list of cultural codes we are instructed to adhere to today, it is oikophobia – a performative and often racialised self-loathing – that is the central signature of the cultural elites. ‘Strategic white-bashing’ by a largely white haute-bourgeoisie is one of the weirdest manifestations of the new order, but it is not as irrational as it might look. Rather, it is a signal. Just as the promoters of the new anti-racism declare that ‘not being racist’ is not enough, so the same people can never be content with simply ‘not belonging’. We must demonstrate that we are anti-belonging if we want to show that we reside among the Good People. Only a declaration of independence from our own place, history and culture will mark us out as true children of the Machine.
If all modernity’s revolutions haved acted, as I’ve previously rashly claimed, as ground-clearance operations for the Machine, then the ‘culture war’ is the latest iteration, the revolt of the elites is its proximate cause, and the clumsy and divisive pseudo-ideology of ‘wokeness’ is the mask that the Machine wears as it eats us. Globalised, top-down and universalist, waging war against all limits, borders and traditions, the West’s new ideology is a perfect fit with the needs of capital. This is why it is promoted, funded and disseminated by universities, NGOs, think tanks and transnational corporations. This is why you will hear the same language being parroted around the world, as American, British, French or Irish elites talk about ‘whiteness’ and ‘decolonisation’ and ‘diversity’ in identical vocabulary transmitted to them through their identical corporate smartphones.
Not sure if you have to be a subscriber or not, but read the whole thing if you can — and if you can’t, subscribe; you won’t regret it.
Whatever America once was, it no longer is. You watch that Intercept collage of White House reporters attempting to drive the president towards war, and you dip into CNN and watch a network following the same line, and you ask: who does this benefit? Not ordinary people — the kind whose sons and even daughters will be sent to fight Russia, if we get involved. They will be putting their lives on a line to defend a regime increasingly directed by people like the privileged brats of Yale Law School, who will be moving in the years to come into positions of real power, which they will use to push around and to crush anybody who gets in their way.
The British conservative writer Ed West writes today about what he calls “the oikophobia of the Right” — that is, the hostility to their home countries some people on the Right have developed. He writes:
They don’t hate their inheritance like the radical Left, but they hate what their home has become, where progressives wearing the skin of the civilisation they have killed, like a zombie western civilisation. They also feel that any victory will only further strengthen those in charge.
That perhaps explains why so many populists have badly misjudged this conflict. As Eric Kaufmann wrote this week: ‘I watched as Tucker Carlson and J.D. Vance defended Putin, or adopted the Kremlin’s critique of Ukraine’, Carlson calling it a ‘pure client state of the United States State Department’. While there are claims for a realist case ‘tempering Ukrainian demands and accommodating reasonable Russian security concerns, the inability of some to reject the moral equivalence of Ukraine and Russia was glaring.’
Like oikophobes in times gone by, some on the Right have created an imaginary foreign country to reflect on their own society’s shortcomings. ‘The perception that Russia is a masculine, white, Christian country unafraid to stand up for its traditions forms part of its appeal to conservative populist thinkers,’ Kaufmann writes: ‘“Putin ain’t woke,” Steve Bannon said last month. “He’s anti-woke.” The Russian President’s 2019 interview with the Financial Times, when he declared that liberalism has “become obsolete” clearly impressed many Western conservative populists. Against Drag Queen Story Hour and self-flagellation about the sins of the past could be set Putin’s macho, Christian, nationalist Russia. Clearly, some populist elites took the bait.’
Well, I was never pro-Putin, in the sense that I saw him and his government as any kind of model for Americans, though when he said something of which I approved, I praised him. In this case, I have said that his invasion was wicked, and that I hope he loses — but that I also expect Putin’s loss to rally illiberal leftism in Europe and North America. Though Ed West doesn’t bring my name up, I am fairly oikophobic in a narrower sense. He writes:
Fear of progressive hegemony is not unreasonable. What conservatives (and some liberals) worry about western society is not just that it’s decadent, but that its decadence is inherently intolerant. In this pink police state it is ‘forbidden to forbid’ — sometimes on pain of imprisonment, or at the very least loss of employment.
While the MI6 head’s comments about LGBT rights seem inane at worst, far more telling was the defence made by one member of the intelligence agency, who said: ‘Racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia and other forms of bigotry are some of the biggest drivers of nationalist and fascist behaviour which directly lead to wars of aggression. People miss the bigger picture by trying to compartmentalise these issues, it’s all connected.’
‘It’s all connected.’ Those are not heartening words, especially if we enter a new cold war with Putinism as the opposition ideology, perhaps treated with more hostility than even communism, because communism was at least credited with beating Hitler (and given a pass for its noble intentions). Already, there is even a hint of the 1950s in the search for alleged Russian assets within.
Western sanctions against Russia have been compared to ‘cancelling’, a disturbing analogy because, as well as losing their job or facing public humiliation, some people in the West viewed as extremists have already had their bank accounts taken away. The global online economy gives the powers-that-be tremendous power to unperson people, or whole states. Woke capital has been weaponised by the Ukrainian war; and while for now we mostly agree it is on the side of the angels, we can’t always be sure in future.
Read the whole thing. I cannot pretend to believe that whatever my country, the country I love, does is right, simply because it is my country. The wickedness of Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping doesn’t make America automatically good. We Christians must be very careful not to be idolaters. I grieve over what America is becoming, but I see no point in sitting back rending our garments, as opposed to reading the signs of the times and preparing for what’s coming. You know what’s coming? Yale Law students on the federal bench, interpreting the Constitution to dismantle free speech and religious liberty. More sexualizing of children, more woke racism, more Woke Capitalism, more using financial instruments to punish dissenters, more concentration of power in the tech industry and its deployment to control people and compel them to be compliant to the Machine. More war. More porn. More manufactured moral outrage and hatred of dissent. More living by lies.