Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Recently my Twitter and Facebook timelines have been littered with references to this story: Man, 92, Allegedly Beaten With a Brick & Told ‘Go Back to Mexico’ by a Mom in Front of Her Child. Terrible. It was posted on Twitter, and Facebook, as evidence that Donald Trump’s America was horrible. Some of the Twitter reactions also talked about white privilege and that sort of thing.

When I saw that this occurred in the Los Angeles area though I grew skeptical. There are conservative parts of California. Much of the Central Valley, the far North, some of the trans-Sierra counties and even much of San Diego. But Los Angeles? Here’s Willowbrook, California‘s demographics (took me 30 seconds to find):

The 2010 United States Census reported that Willowbrook had a population of 35,983. The population density was 9,544.1 people per square mile (3,685.0/km²). The racial makeup of Willowbrook was 8,245 (22.9%) White (0.9% Non-Hispanic White), 12,387 (34.4%) African American, 273 (0.8%) Native American, 119 (0.3%) Asian, 49 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 13,858 (38.5%) from other races, and 1,052 (2.9%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 22,979 persons (63.9%).

1% of Willowbrooks’ residents were non-Hispanic whites. 64% were Hispanic. Just based on nativity my assumption then was that the attacker was going to be a black American since Hispanic Americans are less likely to engage in nativist tinged attacks as so many are either immigrants, the children of immigrants, or are in communities where immigrants are common.

And yes, the attacker was a black woman.

Additionally, you can get precinct-level election results. 5% of the people in Willowbrook who voted in 2016 voted for Donald Trump for President of the United States of America.

So what you have here is that a black woman who lives in one of the most cosmopolitan metropolitan areas of the United States, in a community that has almost no non-Hispanic whites, and where only 5% of people voted for Donald J. Trump, has engaged in nativist violence. This is evidence for what is happening in “Donald Trump’s America.” As someone who is a nonwhite immigrant I do have to say that I experienced plenty of racism and prejudice, and sometimes bullying, from native-born Americans over my whole life. From white people, and black people. Under Republican and Democratic administrations. In Red America and Blue America. I’m not saying it’s all the same. But it’s not new. And it’s not limited to one race or political faction.

There are some arguments for Marxist social and economic systems where everything seems to support the theory. The theory is unfalsifiable. Similarly, the same occurs with Freudian psychoanalysis. These are theories just too good to give way in the face of facts. Facts are secondary.

Often I feel the same way about the current partisan debates in the United States. If a single immigrant kills someone, it’s an immigrant crime wave. Similarly, if there is violence against a nonwhite person somewhere, it’s because of the climate that Donald Trump is creating. There have been instances where racial events have occurred and Trump’s name has come up as a justification. But if America is becoming polarized it seems very likely that this crime has little to do with Trump, seeing as how this is an area with almost no white people and very few Trump supporters.

You might say I’m kind of being a nerd about this. That’s fine. But not being nerdy about details is how we get in a post-fact world.

For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga is one of the best alternative history science fiction novels written in the 20th century. It is literally encyclopedic. A fully realized alternative timeline, the novel takes the form of a narrative history!  I don’t know if one can say that the world depicted is better or worse than ours…it is simply different.

I think of it whenever I see pieces such as one in Vox, 3 reasons the American Revolution was a mistake. There are some people offended by the timing of the piece, July 3rd. And I can see that.

But what about the premise? The author makes three assertions:

  • Slavery would have ended sooner
  • The Native Americans would have done better under the British
  • The British system of parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy is superior to the presidential republican one

The last point really isn’t about the American Revolution. It’s an argument about a presidential system vs. that of a constitutional monarchy. The second point seems the simplest and most straightforwardly defensible. The reality is that there is a consistent pattern of monarchs and authorities being more benevolent to marginalized subjects than those nearer to those subjects. The Spanish who settled the New World were brutal to the native peoples, and though the rulers of Spain could not ultimately stop them, it is clear that they did not condone or encourage the brutality. Similarly, the white settlers of Australia treated the native peoples brutally and genocidally, but this occurred because of the relatively free hand that the British Empire gave the white settler colonies. And finally, even in the United States, in the 19th century, the most pro-Native sentiment was often found in places like New England, where the local Native population was mostly gone due to earlier wars (during which Congregationalist ministers had justified the tossing of Indian children into rivers to drown).

Though it is likely that the Native Americans would have been marginalized and decimated by white settlers in North America no matter what timeline you look at, it seems plausible that if the American settlers had not taken over their government the British crown probably would have suppressed some of the more overt brutality. It is likely, for example, that the Cherokee would never have been relocated to Oklahoma, at great human cost.

But the phenomenon of slavery brings to mind a major issue when weighing the cost vs. benefit of American independence: as tacitly acknowledged in the Vox piece the very secession of the American colonies from the British Empire likely had an impact on the British themselves.

In Kevin Phillips’ The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America he points out that the removal of the American colonies (or the majority at least) in the late 18th century, and the mass exodus of the Catholic Irish in the 1840s, transformed the white population of the British Empire. In 1800 the population of England and Wales was about 10 million and the population of Ireland was 5 million. By 1900 there 30 million people living in England, and 3 million living in Ireland. In 1850 there were about 15 million people in England and 25 million people in the United States of America.

The removal of the Catholic Irish from the United Kingdom, often to the United States, shifted the cultural and ethnic balance in the United Kingdom to one where people who adhered to the established Anglican Church were numerically dominant. The United States itself when it had been the American colonies were dominated by dissenter Protestants. With the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century, only a small minority of the population was affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Arguably the only part of the British Empire which could ever compete with the metropole as producers of manufactured goods would have been the New England colonies and the northern Mid-Atlantic region. The American exit probably had fortuitous long-term consequences for British cohesion and singular purpose in terms of imperial policy.

Overall I think considering the morality of the American Revolution is a good thing. In the year 2000, the film The Patriot depicted the British as proto-Nazis, committing heinous acts against the American populace. One reason that this was not plausible is that a substantial minority of the American population was pro-British, and a large number were ambivalent or neutral. By all estimates, the hardcore revolutionaries were a minority, though this varied by region and period (e.g., New England was a hotbed of revolt, while New York City and much of the Mid-Atlantic remained loyalist). And the reality is that the British treated white Americans colonials with kid gloves in part because those American colonials were seen as part of the British people in a way that nonwhites never were. The issue for the Americans is that the metropole did not see them as exact equals.

I was taught history in the United States, and so it was written and presented in a way which did depict the British as villains who were imposing unjust demands on the American colonists. As I got older I realized that though the revolutionaries had cause to be angry, the British also had a rationale for their behavior. 1776 was not 1986.

But even aside from that, the Vox piece suffers from not acknowledging the fact that history is nonlinear and the knock-on effects of a British victory may have been much more drastic and unpredictable than the movement of a few parameters here and there (e.g., slavery abolished in the USA in 1830 rather than 1860). Jay Winik’s The Great Upheaval documents just how radical the American regime was in its time. The American republic was an exotic and strange experiment and served as a model and beacon. It is quite possible that without its model of revolutionary success the French Revolution may never have occurred. As a conservative, I think that would be a good thing, but I’m not sure many progressives would agree.

Additionally, the democratic republican model of government was shown to work in the modern world at large political scale by the United States. Most Europeans were skeptical of its feasibility, as ancient republics and democracies had never been able to sustain themselves beyond a certain size. And, unlike most every other nation at the time the United States also had a federal government which eschewed the mixing of religion and state, so that the republic was not sanctified by a divine or supernatural principle.

As an exercise in historical analysis, or entertaining alternative history, wondering about the consequences of a British victory over the rebels in the war in the American colonies is interesting, and possibly important. But I’m not sure there are truly deep moral lessons across the full arc of history, because the success of the rebellion itself had consequences far outside of the American colonies.

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Sep/17

30

Why Trump could murder someone and people would still support him

In 1683 the Ottoman Turks marched toward Vienna. John Sobieski, the king of Poland, became a hero to all Europe because of his defense of the Habsburgs in their time of need. In contrast, France had traditionally been a rival of the Habsburg monarchy. In honor of their tacit alliance with the Ottomans they rejected aiding the Austrians. But by 1683 pan-Christian feeling was strong enough that the Bourbons received some blowback for their implied approval of the Ottoman thrust into the heart of Europe.

Yet But not all Christians fought with the Habsburgs. The Protestant Hungarian noble Imre Thokoly led a contingent of his followers against Vienna in alliance with the Ottomans. Hungarian Protestants were suffering persecution and marginalization at the hands of the Catholic Habsburg monarchy. In the years before the Ottoman invasion rebellions based on demands for religious liberty were occurring due to the vigor of the re-Catholicization efforts of the Habsburgs.

Red = Catholic and Blue = Protestant

The Hungarian Protestants allied with the Ottomans against all of Christendom because only through that alliance was their existence safeguarded.* To this day the demographic stronghold of Hungarian Protestantism is to the east, where Ottomans held sway the longest, and so shielded Protestants from Royal persecution and conversion.

The general principle here is obvious. If the cost of acceptance and approval is a negation of who you are, then you will make whatever compromises and sacrifices necessary to continue to be who you are. The Greek Orthodox church arguably made this choice when most of them rejected union with Rome as the cost for Western aid against the Turks.

The relevance for modern American politics should be clear. But if it isn’t, I’ll make it clear: many pro-Trump Americans perceive that Trump may protect them and their values, and see that anti-Trump politicians and leaders will never do so. Obviously there are a range of attitudes of people who support Trump, from genuine fondness and loyalty, to resigned acceptance that he is there only choice in a binary world.

Why is he their only choice? Perhaps “it’s time for some game theory.”

Consider a book like Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority. Many center-to-Left Americans look to the year 2050 (or 2042) as a terminal date when a social-political milestone will be achieved: white people will be made dispensable. Not in a literal sense, but the centrality of white Americans will be no more. The coalition of the ascendant will have come into its own.

At least that’s the theory. Even one of the major early theorists of the new Democratic majority is not sure it will ever come to be (count me as a guarded skeptic as well).

But that’s neither here nor there. Many people on the Left and the Right in American culture see that white Christian America will be marginalized. Demoted. They seem that people are picking sides, and you have to stick to your tribe. It’s a matter of existential concern.

Many pro-Trump Americans perceive that the Left and the cultural elite hate them deeply in their bones. Wish they would disappear. Dislike their aesthetic preferences, think their religion is contemptible, and are simply waiting for their expiration date to come due so that history will march onward, and leave them an unpleasant memory.

Some of them see their livelihoods in danger, as they perceive that their political choices and identities will make them targets for being unpersoned, without a way to keep a roof over their heads or food on their family’s table. They accept the narrative of their marginalization, and are terrified of the consequences that will be meted out to them by their triumphalist adversaries in the culture wars.

When elite Americans argue that these voters are supporting a conman, they shrug. First, they don’t trust the elites to have their interests at heart in the first place, so why trust their sincerity? These are the same elites joyfully writing think-pieces about how these middle class white Americans are no longer necessary in electoral coalitions, nor do they set the terms in American culture. The alternative offered is dispossession and marginalization with a smile, and that is not an offer they are willing to take. Better someone incompetently on your side than someone effectively against you.

American society today is in a “you are with us or against” modality. Even if you are on the losing side, there is no incentive to change sides, because no one perceives that there will be charity from one’s erstwhile enemies (notice how many liberals accepted John McCain’s rejection of Republican Obamacare replacements begrudgingly; he may have sided with them in some cases, but he wasn’t on the team). These sorts of tribal dynamics are not surprising in the age of identity politics. In India caste politics is such that plainly corrupt politicians who regularly disappoint their constituents continue to be reelected over and over. Why? Because ultimately their people have nowhere else to go.

We live in a zero-sum world now. Identity is dominant. To some extent it always was, but very few now make the counter-argument that principles matter. Better get used to it.

* A curious fact is that the ancestors of the Polish Lipka Tatars marched with Sobieski.

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Sep/17

27

The cretin shall rise again

Roy Moore is almost certain to be the Junior Senator from Alabama soon enough. That much we know.

Part of me takes pleasure in the victory, as it is true that the Republican establishment of states like Alabama is sclerotic and corrupt (just like the Democratic establishment of Illinois or California). Roy Moore is certainly not a politic individual. And that makes for great entertainment. Cable news programmers just got a gift!

But Moore is also bizarre in his views in 2017. An atavism. His stance on Church-State separation was tenable a generation ago but in a rapidly secularizing America, they are not election winners outside of Alabama that they are inside the state.  In a rapidly de-Christianizing country, the tight identification of the Republican party with Evangelical Christianity is not the broad-based winner it used to be, and Roy Moore manifests all the most uncouth and blunt tendencies which are going to remake the party in his brand….

Jul/17

1

Bret Weinstein talks about being hunted on campus

The Left is cannibalizing its own again. Unless you’re under a rock you have probably heard about what’s happened to Bret Weinstein. The Campus Mob Came for Me—and You, Professor, Could Be Next:

I was not expecting to hold my biology class in a public park last week. But then the chief of our college police department told me she could not protect me on campus. Protestors were searching cars for an unspecified individual—likely me—and her officers had been told to stand down, against her judgment, by the college president.

Racially charged, anarchic protests have engulfed Evergreen State College, a small, public liberal-arts institution where I have taught since 2003. In a widely disseminated video of the first recent protest on May 23, an angry mob of about 50 students disrupted my class, called me a racist, and demanded that I resign. My “racist” offense? I had challenged coercive segregation by race. Specifically, I had objected to a planned “Day of Absence” in which white people were asked to leave campus on April 12.

I am not too concerned about the details of what is happening in Olympia. Bret Weinstein is evincing surprise at the insanity of it all, but then he is a self-described progressive who assumes that the the Left is reasonable, and in some way on the “right side of history.” Weinstein is making reasoned arguments, and appealing to facts and evidence, and a general spirit of liberality. This is a recipe for failure.

None of the above has much sway with the loudest and most assertive elements of the campus activist Left. Mind you, these are not most students on campus, and these are not even most liberal and Left students. But they are loud, and they are frightening.

As expected there is a huge furor on right-leaning Twitter and right-wing publications about what is happening to Weinstein. In general the other side of the political spectrum has been muted in its response. Jerry Coyne has spoken up, but that is to be expected. Coyne has a paleoliberal sensibility out of step with the new order. The New York Times has finally weighed in with some broad liberal platitudes in regards to freedom of speech. Weinstein has been vocal about the fact that none of his colleagues have come to his defense.

But one tendency, including among some academics, is to wonder as to the support Bret Weinstein is getting. In particular, the right-wing is agitating against the students. And Weinstein’s brother, who has been vocal in his defense, is affiliated with Thiel Capital. As one scientist on Twitter said, that’s not a “good look.”

From the perspective of the person being attacked and character assassinated this must seem strange and rather shocking. When you are under attack you take the allies you can get. When people want you fired, and would be happy to drive your family into destitution, you take the help and support you can get. This is human nature. Instead of focusing on the injustice Weinstein claims he is suffering, his erstwhile allies on the political Left seem more worried about the people who are coming to Weinstein’s aid.

What if Bret Weinstein told the right-wing publications and Twitter accounts to stop defending him. Would the currently silent liberals and Leftists spring to take their spots? I doubt it. Basically what they are proposing is that Weinstein stand down with no defenses and if he does not, if he can not, he earns their contempt.

This is an opportunity for conservatism. Weinstein may not identify as a conservative today, but he will remember who showed him charity, who gave him a fair hearing, who came to his defense. Conservatism may gain more traction among intellectuals dealing with nihilist Left activists if it exhibits humanity and compassion, stances which are sometimes lacking in the swarming denunciations of the social justice contingent.

May/17

13

Henry Wallace couldn’t get them all right

American Fascism, in 1944 and Today:

Seventy-three years ago, The New York Times asked the sitting vice president to write an article about whether there are fascists in America, and what they’re up to.

It was an alarming question. And the vice president took it quite seriously. His article, “The Danger of American Fascism,” described a breed of super-nationalist who pursues political power by deceiving Americans and playing to their fears, but is really interested only in protecting his own wealth and privilege.

That vice president was my grandfather, Henry A. Wallace. And in my view, he predicted President Trump.

If you know American history you know that Wallace was famous for something else besies his anti-Fascism. But all in good time. From the original Wallace piece:

The perfect type of fascist throughout recent centuries has been the Prussian Junker, who developed such hatred for other races and such allegiance to a military clique as to make him willing at all times to engage in any degree of deceit and violence necessary to place his culture and race astride the world. In every big nation of the world are at least a few people who have the fascist temperament. Every Jew-baiter, every Catholic hater, is a fascist at heart. The hoodlums who have been desecrating churches, cathedrals and synagogues in some of our larger cities are ripe material for fascist leadership.

The reality is that the Prussian Junker was no more racist than a British aristocrat or an American Boston Brahmin. I believe in making one’s arguments one should be punctilious in adherence to facts. Wallace was in this piece channeling a particular sort of anti-German inflected “root cause” argument which would be exposited later in the “Authoritarian Personality” arguments, and derive from early 20th century rivalries between the Anglo world and the rising Germany.

Second, Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels came from Catholic backgrounds. None of them were obviously practicing Catholics, but their disdain for the religion was a general one derived from their skepticism of Christianity. The reference to anti-Catholic is simply due to the fact that Wallace wants to connect to American readers in the 1940s, where prejudice against ethnic whites, and in particular Roman Catholics, was common.

Later on the piece tips its hand as to why it is so out of place in today’s world:

Fascism is a worldwide disease. Its greatest threat to the United States will come after the war, either via Latin America or within the United States itself.

Fascism in the postwar inevitably will push steadily for Anglo-Saxon imperialism and eventually for war with Russia. Already American fascists are talking and writing about this conflict and using it as an excuse for their internal hatreds and intolerances toward certain races, creeds and classes.

Henry Wallace is famous for being totally wrong when it came to the possibility of the threat from Communism. His 1948 campaign for the presidency was dogged by ties to, and influence from, American Communists. Wallace was an anti-anti-Communist.

To be fair to him, Henry Wallace did change his mind on Communism in the 1950s.

But it’s somewhat strange to see him being presented as a prescient thinker when he admits that in 1944 on a visit to the Soviet Union he was duped.

donald_trump_august_19_2015_croppedThis blog began in the fall of 2008 somewhat on a lark. This was during a period when the American Right was beholden in many ways to the Religious Right. By “many ways,” I mean more in symbolics and rhetoric than reality. The reality is that conservatism in the 2000s was a “three legged stool” where the Religious Right was fed rhetorical “red meat,” while the neocons were ascendant and the economic conservatives achieved some gains (and losses).

But the power of religion in conservatism was such that genuflection to Christian values and identity was normative, even among the mostly secular Washington and New York conservative intelligentsia. Of course, there were always libertarians, but the libertarian position within the Right has always been one of tactics rather than strategy. It was not controversial being a libertarian and an atheist. What was more atypical was a non-libertarian conservative admitting their atheism. In 2008 George F. Will declared he was an agnostic. By 2014 he was admitting to be an atheist. Will’s transformation from bashful to agnostic on the Colbert Report in 2008 to sanguine atheist in 2014 illustrates a change in American culture: secularization entered a new phase in the 2000s, and a much larger proportion of Americans are no longer Christian in belief. In the United States over the past generation the number of Americans who have “no religion” has gone from one out of ten to one out of four.

As if to portend these trends in Barack Obama and Donald J Trump you will have two presidents who are cultural Christians at best. Though many assert that Obama is an atheist at heart, I suspect that despite his lack of belief in most of the supernatural elements of the religion he does have some rationalization for why he is a Christian. Trump’s position is different, as he is from a Protestant background by heritage, and it seems likely that that heritage is what he would lean on to assert his Christian bona fides. But Trump is arguably as religiously disinterested in the confessional aspects of Christianity as Obama, as adduced by his public comments, as well as his sanguine attitude toward the conversion of his daughter Ivanka to Orthodox Judaism (Eric Trump was married under a chuppah, as his wife is Jewish, while Donald Trump Jr.’s wife has a Jewish father, though she does not seem religiously Jewish as evidenced by her wearing a cross at her wedding).

Trump’s attitude toward religion is not the aspect that it is notable. Many Republican politicians are not particularly religious in private. What is notable is that he made no attempt to not be transparent in his lack of strong religiosity when appealing to religious voters. Trump’s appeal to religious voters in the Republican party was that he would defend their rights and interests, not that he was truly one of them.  The Religious Right then has become part of the interest group constellation of the Republican Party, but it is not calling the shots on the optics and symbolic rhetoric in the same manner as before.

What is the future then? I don’t think anyone knows. The election was a close one, and trends don’t help. Social-cultural systems are sensitive, and nonlinear. Expect chaos before we settle into a new system and stationary state.

May/15

13

Moderate Muslims are moderate in some things

Bangladesh bloggers: Clear pattern to killings:

Since then, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appears to have reached an accommodation with Hefajat. The Islamist group has confined itself to the madrassa premises and the government has put five bloggers in jail for allegedly hurting the religious feelings of Muslims.

The government now appears to be walking a tightrope.

There is little doubt the prime minister wants to pursue a secular future for Bangladesh. But she appears to have little time for atheists who are on a collision course with Islamists.

The bloggers don’t just want protection from killers and justice for those murdered – they also want to enjoy the freedom of speech that is enshrined in the constitution. The government does not seem to think that freedom should stretch to the criticism of religion.

And Islamist extremists want to strike terror into the hearts of such writers and bloggers through targeted killings.

Why is the government walking a tightrope? Because, as Omar Ali observes the majority of Bangladeshis are Muslims, and many of these individuals are wary of standing up for the rights of those who verbally attack their religion. Many “moderate Muslims” may enjoin peace, but won’t fight for it on behalf of others.

Overall, compared to a sectarian hell like Pakistan Bangladesh is doing well. But if it wants to continue to be an exemplar of liberal economic practices grinding away poverty one percentage point at a time it needs to also stand by principles of liberal social tolerance. It is difficult to have one without the other in the long term.

Mar/15

2

George Will on his relaxed atheism

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