In recent history, the United States has arguably never been so divided — but not in the way you might think. Yes, the country has been split by the culture wars, with their polarising focus on race and gender. 1,333 more wordsThe battle between the two Americas
Right now we are lurching into another of our periodic crises over drinking, and both tendencies are on display at once. Since the turn of the millennium, alcohol consumption has risen steadily, in a reversal of its long decline throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Before the pandemic, some aspects of this shift seemed sort of fun, as long as you didn’t think about them too hard. In the 20th century, you might have been able to buy wine at the supermarket, but you couldn’t drink it in the supermarket. Now some grocery stores have wine bars, beer on tap, signs inviting you to “shop ’n’ sip,” and carts with cup holders.
Some of the points made were ones I did in my 2011 piece Should Christians Drink?, albeit in a different context. And I got blowback from that.
My own family’s history of alcohol isn’t a happy one. I think that a lot of that was fuelled by the pain of being in my family, which is one reason why I don’t attach Scots-Irish sentimentality to the whole concept. That led to premature death and more abuse.
“To be clear, people who don’t want to drink should not drink. There are many wonderful, alcohol-free means of bonding.” That’s part of the problem: the drinkers don’t like abstainers in their midst and will apply the necessary social pressure to dislodge their non-imbibing friends. It was certainly that way in the hard drinking construction and oil industries I came into forty years ago and I doubt it’s changed with our effete, credentialed elite.
This country has a drinking problem, and frankly short of abstinence I don’t know of a good way to fix it. It’s a sad situation, but this country seems to have more than its share of sad situations these days, not the least of which is that a lot that hits social media is enough to drive anyone to drink.
The second influence impoverishing the modern practice of forgiveness is a rising shame and honour culture that some have called a new secular religion.
According to Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, the therapeutic culture has converted us into a collection of “self-actualizers,” whose primary concern is to get respect and affirmation of one’s own identity. But the therapeutic culture also taught us to think of ourselves as individuals needing protection from society and from various groups with power who oppress us. So, ironically, we have developed “a shame and honor culture of victimhood.” Greater honour and moral virtue are assigned to people the more they have been victimized and oppressed by society or others in power. So the further down the existing social ladder one is, the greater the possibilities for honour.
Anyone who has watched The Godfather or its sequels is familiar with the whole concept of shame-honour. Your honour is the most important thing; if anything come to you to make you look bad in front of the world, you have to avenge it, and avenge it in a way that everyone else gets the message. Everyone is subject to a shame-honour reaction at one time or another, but there are places on the earth — and the Middle East is one of them — where shame-honour is an obsession, something that drives people to retaliate with a ferocity that we in the U.S. aren’t used to…
The concept of servant leadership is very much in vogue in management circles these days, but it is at its heart a Christian concept. When servant leadership becomes the norm, the kind of careerism, power holding and challenging, and shame-honour that we see in the Middle East — and here also — have to go. This is one of the principal reasons why the Middle East embraced Islam after Christianity; Islam makes it simpler to continue in the old ways. The West’s embrace of Christianity has left a lot to be desired of, but at least enough of servant leadership has sunk in to make institutions beneficial to many people and not just those at the top possible.
Serious question: do we really want to see our culture turn into another Middle East?
In the world of conservative thought, the intellectual energy lies with the New Right. The New Right can be found in the society of Washington wonks, Silicon Valley dissidents, New York writers, and all manner of GOP politicos. Many served in the Trump administration at one level or another; all are interested in taking the popular…The Problem of the New Right
Comments to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville about the legacy of former U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright included a few threats to halt donations if his statue is taken down and his name is removed from UA’s arts and sciences college.
But many wrote in to say that UA should distance itself from Fulbright given his legislative record supporting segregation and opposing civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.
In many ways this is amazing, since generally Fulbright has been lionised by the American left for his opposition to the Vietnam War, something that many civil rights leaders at the time (including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) shared. But the left has allowed CRT to induce a form of amnesia for stuff like this.
As some of my readers know, my mother was from Arkansas, so politicians from that state are more than a passing interest. Personally I don’t care what the University of Arkansas does with this. Fulbright was one of those people who was educated far past his ability to properly absorb it, and that’s something he shared with many Southern liberals.
At the left is a passport cover, one of those things designed to protect your passport, especially if your home is really a pied à terre and you travel a great deal. But look carefully: it’s from the old Soviet Union, complete with their national seal embossed on the cover, and “Pasport” at the bottom.
The Soviet Union had not only external passports (for those few who got to leave the country) but internal ones as well. It was necessary to produce this passport for inspection upon request of the police. As noted in Pipko and Pucciarelli (1985):
“The passport is a biographical capsulization of its bearer in booklet form. It contains a recent photograph of the bearer. It states, inter alia, his name, place and date of birth, nationality (based upon the nationality parents), information concerning his marital status and the id of his children, a record of his military service, his place of work, notations concerning his failure to make court-ordered alimony payments, if applicable, and, most importantly, a propiska.”
The last is the most important: this stamp and its annotations showed permission to the bearer to live in their specific dwelling place. The internal passport’s most important function was not to limit the journey or the destination but to define (and control) the starting place! I should note that the Soviets were obsessed with the passport concept: even pieces of equipment had their own passports, I have a few of these myself.
Today we’re debating the use of “vaccine passports” to restrict people from going certain places and doing certain things based upon whether they have been vaccinated or not. The biggest problem with this is that, once we start with a passport based on vaccination status, we then proceed to something more comprehensive like the Soviets had. Our problem is that we have a political and bureaucratic class which is no longer content to regulate and facilitate the society’s prosperity but to control it.
I’m not sure I really have the sword to cut this Gordian knot, but it will be interesting to see if whatever universal ID they eventually come up with will be useful when it is time to vote.
Pipko, S., & Pucciarelli, A. (1985). The Soviet Internal Passport System. The International Lawyer, 19(3), 915-919. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40705651
I recently completed reading Charles and Mary Beard’s The Rise of American Civilization, which at one time was one of the most influential texts on the subject. The Beards, as is typical with textbooks in general, frequently revised the text, mostly adding to the end to keep that up to date. The version I read ended with the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, which is an interesting point for me because this narrative started around that time. Before I get into the subject of “cancellation” (which is somewhat but not entirely anachronistic) I’ll start with a few general impressions.
The first is that the general impression one gets is that the Beards consider the American nation as above all an economic arrangement, with different propertied groups (and later groups without property) competing for primacy in the system. They’re a little too close to the events to apply this analysis to the Progressive Era (they could have if they had really wanted to) but overall that’s the impression one gets from the way they handle the facts.
The second is that much of the way I was taught American history (at least up to my high school days) followed the Beard idea in many ways. That makes sense, because having grown up at the top of the society, an economic interpretation of the history of the Republic is a congenial one to the winners.
The third is that this interpretation gives a cynical tone to the narrative. It was their idea that this Republic has never had true originalism in Constitutional interpretation, even when the Founding Fathers were alive. They also note that we were good at waiving the rules when it suited us. An example of this was the way the Federal government forced Latin American countries to make good on the debts of failed revolutionaries to American banks even when we wrote the repudiation of Confederate debt into the Constitution!
Today the Beards are out of fashion, or cancelled as we would say these days. Cancellation isn’t anything new, as anyone familiar with damnatio memoriae in Roman history knows. The difference now is in the speed and method of the cancellation. But their idea is definitely isn’t what is being presented to Americans–academic or otherwise–on either side of the political spectrum. The reason for this reflects both the nature of academia and the desires of Americans in how we would like to see ourselves.
As the Beards note, American universities adopted the German model towards the end of the nineteenth century. That model was driven by research: graduate students conducted research in original topics, defended their idea, and by that process human knowledge is advanced. The system was developed for the hard sciences, where such advancement, be it in large or small increments, takes place. That system displaced the classics based system that the British set up in Colonial times.
That system doesn’t always translate to disciplines outside of the hard sciences very well. It is subject to being driven more by revisionist desires rather than the advance of knowledge. In the case of history–and it has been this way since Herodotus–the narrative of history is frequently based on the ideas of the historians–and the times they lived in–as much if not more than the facts in the period under study.
I said that the whole economic bent of the Beards’ viewpoint–one which they shared with their classical Marxist counterparts (as opposed to the cultural kind we have these days)–got to the point where it didn’t sit well with Americans, so they rejected it. The “point” was World War II. It’s hard to convince a generation to go, fight and in some cases die for a country that is primarily an “economic arrangement.” The Beards themselves saw this kind of backlash during World War I and the push towards teaching “Americanism” in schools, and the wake of World War II, especially with the Cold War, this went on steroids. Americans came to prefer a more “America as an ideal construct,” which went in a number of directions that we now know are seriously at cross-purposes with each other.
Beyond that, an economic view won’t sit well with those who are left behind. One of the major lacunae of the Beard saga is the South after the Civil War, which just about falls off of the radar screen. Southerners had to face the hard question, “How did we get left behind?” Instead of focusing on the weaknesses of their own cultures–planter and Scots-Irish together–they changed the subject to things such as states rights, or their problems with the black people, or whatever. Needless to say those who were on the wrong end of their way liked it even less, which is why we had the civil rights movement sixty years ago and Black Lives Matter today.
It’s interesting to note that one of the Beards’ main detractors was Forrest McDonald, who with Grady McWhiney came up with the “Celtic South” hypothesis, which I have discussed at length on this blog. While that explains many things that the Beards don’t, it doesn’t change the simple fact that those who do not properly apply themselves to economic advancement are eventually going to be left behind, something that bears repeating in these days of uninformed ideology.
Today our discourse is dominated by people who are driven by their own moral vision, which they think is what this country is all about. Sooner or later we’re going to have a reality check which will put a stop to this. The Beards’ economic vision of the United States isn’t one that sits well with many people, but it’s an improvement over what’s being presented now.
Second, human people are wicked. All people. ALL have sinned and fallen well and catastrophically short of the glory of God. All of the cries about white supremacy, white evangelicalism, patriarchy, and racism all illumine the very false and foolish idea that if you or I were able to fix “other” people, and the systems they inhabit, that all the bad things would not any longer happen.
I recently illustrated the social justice thread in the 1928 and 2019 Books of Common Prayer. But the whole idea of “social justice” has bugged me since the 1960’s for various reasons. I think that Anne has put her finger on the problem: social justice involves changing someone else rather than yourself. For someone who came to a religion where the change was personal first, that’s never set well.
One of the things that evangelicals have always said about everyone else who claims the name of Christ is that they are basically cultural Christians who have never made a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus. Although these churches are good at producing people like that, it’s not universally true. Growing up as an Episcopalian, I internalised many things from the New Testament, especially the Sermon on the Mount, and found that others had done the same. Evangelicals in this country tend to ignore the Sermon on the Mount and concentrate on things like the Great Commission and the moral requirements of the faith. The two trade insults along these lines; both are right and wrong at the same time.
With social justice warriors, it’s always the same: someone else is doing wrong, or is just inherently wrong. Someone else is bigoted, homophobic, transphobic, the wrong race, the wrong religion, whatever, and must be beaten into submission, cancelled, or thrust into the outer void at the first opportunity. There’s no real requirement for the warriors to be paragons of virtue at all: as long as they shove their righteousness down everyone else’s throat, they’re fine in their own eyes.
Some of the problem is that we have democratic process. To get anything done, for better or worse, we must create a bandwagon effect, coupled with bribery at the right places, to achieve our purpose. If our self-righteous elites would be honest with themselves and the rest of us, stop touting democracy as the ideal and rule in their self-righteous confidence by decree, the dynamic would be different. But things like that are why our society is fundamentally duplicitous.
Evidently we have conveniently forgotten the following:
And why do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, while you pay no attention at all to the beam in your own? How can you say to your brother ‘Brother, let me take out the straw in your eye,’ while you yourself do not see the beam in your own? Hypocrite! Take out the beam from your own eye first, and then you will see clearly how to take out the straw in your brother’s. (Luke 6:41-42 TCNT)
But in our post-Christian society, self-righteousness is no longer a sin, but a virtue. Why Christians of all types blindly go along with this is beyond me.
It’s worth noting that the following appears in the (relatively) new 2019 ACNA Book of Common Prayer:
For those of you who think this has its origins in that dreadful 1979 BCP, this also appears in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
Other than the modernisation of the language and the expanded doxology at the end (one reason why the 2019 BCP is so much longer) the two prayers are the same in content. (This prayer was not in the 1892 BCP, FWIW.) What this means is that the impulse towards social justice goes back a long way in American Anglicanism and is even perpetuated in the group that split off from the Episcopal Church. I think some comments are in order because, the way the ACNA is going these days, there are elements in same that want to take it in the same direction as TEC went, which is silly because a) TEC is still there for those who want to go that way and b) it begs the question as to why the ACNA was started in the first place.
The first comment is that the existence of meaningful social justice movements depends upon the people’s freedom to express their opinion either individually or collectively in a meaningful way. This is something that gets lost between those who see social justice as a Christian imperative and those who think it is profoundly unBiblical. The New Testament was written in the Roman Imperial period, where there was really no way to petition the government to act on things like slavery, infanticide and the like. (The Republic supposedly had mechanisms like that but, as the Gracchi found out the hard way, they didn’t deliver as one would like.) Both of the prayers recognise that fact.
The second comment is that the quest for social justice is no substitute for personal regeneration in Jesus Christ. Since we are not Southern Baptists, that regeneration doesn’t end at salvation; it continues, as I note in this comment re the comfortable words. Liturgical churches’ greatest occupational hazard is in thinking that, just because we go through the liturgy and experience the sacraments, we’re okay with God and can move on to other things.
That leads to the third point: the social position of North Americans in the Anglican-Episcopal world is a two-edged sword. It makes their quest for social justice potentially more effective but at the same time makes them part of the problem. Evangelicals constantly prattle about being “influencers,” but Episcopalians (and now non-Episcopal Anglicans) are disproportionately that from the get-go. Some reflection on that before you go off and try to “change the world” is certainly in order, especially since life has probably rendered you unable to grasp the lot of those you’re trying to help.
Finally, you need to understand that you don’t need to simply ape non-Christian social justice movements just because they’re trendy amongst your peers. That’s especially important now since our moneyed interests are “woke,” and that many so-called social justice movements simply shill for those moneyed interests. Put another way, it’s hard to speak “truth to power” when you’re really just part of power.
Social justice is a noble goal; the road to it, however, has many potholes. Or, to put it in a more mathematical way, the arc of history may bend towards justice, but it may not be smooth, differentiable or even continuous.
If there’s one thing the Trump years and their aftermath did for everyone, it’s to disabuse people of the very American slogan of “it can’t happen here.” There are many “its” that are now in the realm of possibility. Although Americans aren’t reacting particularly well to that realisation, at least some plans for “black swan events” are on the stove, even though black swan sightings are already becoming more frequent.
One of these events is the possibility that the Chinese, whom we now recognise to varying degrees as adversaries/competitors, just might do what the Soviets could not: beat us and rule the world. Some thought they would transition to democracy: they haven’t. Some thought they’d let Hong Kong go on as it has: they didn’t. (Some of the rest of us thought neither of these would happen, and we were right, except that Hong Kong took longer than we thought.) “It didn’t happen there” has led some to think at last that “it really can happen here.”
So what if it does? What if, instead of inaugural parades, the People’s Liberation Army marches down Pennsylvania Avenue and hoists the same red banner over the White House we see over the Great Hall of the People?
I don’t know all of the ramifications of such an event, but I’m pretty sure of one of them, and it goes back to a low moment in Chinese history. One thing I found out while doing business with the Chinese is that they don’t forget slights, and this slight is a big one.
In 1900 the Chinese experienced the last major rebellion before the end of the Qing Dynasty, that of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, or the Boxers. After that was put down, the European powers (along with the U.S. and Japan) extracted many concessions. One of those was to build in a way that would overlook the Forbidden City, the central residence of the Emperor, the Son of Heaven. Until that time it was “buxing” (forbidden) to build anything that overlooked this palace.
The French took advantage of this and began building the Beijing Hotel. By the time the French completed their part in 1915, the Son of Heaven was gone and China entered it’s period of “democrazy” that lasted until Chairman Mao mounted the Gave of Heavenly Peace and announced that the Chinese people had “stood up” on 1 October 1949.
Standing up was one thing: moving forward was another, and for that China sought the help of Soviet experts. One result of that expertise was the building of two additional wings on the Beijing Hotel, one on each side of the old French structure, as shown below.
It was the tallest wing from which I took this photo of the Forbidden City, which clearly shows what overlooking is all about.
It also provided a platform for this photo of Tian an Men Square, and also one for a more famous photograph several years later.
Today Beijing is a city of many tall buildings. But the Chinese themselves got them there; they were not imposed by “foreign devils.” Knowing the long memory of the Chinese (the Japanese know it too) I have a feeling that one of the things they would do would be to pay back for this humiliation.
In Washington there are height restrictions for the buildings surrounding the Washington Mall, to prevent the open glory of the place from being obscured. In fact, it’s fair to say that Washington, unlike New York, is a very “horizontal” place in general. (London used to be the same way.) However, in the 1980’s, when I was active in the family business, our DC area distributor told me that many of the “short” buildings around the mall were built with very high capacity foundations–and stouter structures than the edifice being built would call for–in the event that the height restrictions were lifted, taller buildings–with greater capacity for both occupancy and rent–would be built on top of what was there.
I have no doubt that, in the event that the Chinese take command, one of the first things they would do to avenge the humiliation of the Boxer Rebellion’s suppression would be to build tall buildings around the Washington Mall and house their own interests and institutions. As we have prepared the way, for many of these buildings it wouldn’t even require demolition of what’s there.
But why wait until “the day?” After his phone call with Yi Jin Ping, Joe Biden said that we needed to get with our competition with China, lest they “eat our lunch.” That ignores the fact that, after forty years of “cooperation” (to use the Chinese term) they’ve put enough money into the hands of people in Washington and elsewhere so that they’ve paid for their lunch, they have the right to eat it! At the head of this parade is none other than Hunter Biden, Joe’s son, thus the active suppression of this inconvenient fact.
But it takes more than buying off one person whose main goal in life is to get laid, high or drunk: it takes buying off many of them. The Chinese have embedded themselves in our power structure in a way that the Soviets could only dream. A few well placed lobbying efforts, and the upward construction can begin. With that the Zhong Nan Hai can empty a few cases of mao tai and another humiliation can be righted.
How this competition comes out depends upon many things. But in this case and many others, I think the distillers of mao tai better get busy.