Secular Right | Reality & Reason

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

Feb/15

28

Jamila Bey at CPAC

Atheist Group Makes CPAC Debut:

Jamila Bey is a mom, a business owner, a Pittsburgh native—and a board member of the group American Atheists. She also, apparently, identifies as conservative. After introducing herself to the crowd, Bey used her three-minute spot to invite audience members to drop by the American Atheist table in the exhibition hall and learn more.

Jamila Bey’s Twitter.

Oct/14

1

George F. Will, American atheist

Several years ago George Will declared that he was an agnostic on the Colbert Report. Last week he pulled no punches:

RCR: Do you believe in God?

GW: No. I’m an atheist. An agnostic is someone who is not sure; I’m pretty sure. I see no evidence of God. The basic question in life is not, “Is there a God,” but “Why does anything exist?” St. Thomas Aquinas said that there must be a first cause for everything, and we call the first cause God. Fine, but it just has no hold on me.

RCR: Were you raised with any religion?

GW: My father was the son of a Lutheran minster, and therefore he was an atheist. What I mean by that is — he went to so many church services, his father preached in many churches up near Antetum, eastern Ohio, Pennsylvania — my father had had his full of religion. He used to sit outside his father’s study and listen to him wrestle with members of the church over reconciling grace and free will. I think that’s where my father got his interest in philosophy.

I majored in religion in college. I was very interested, but I just came to a different conclusion. I’m married to a fierce Presbyterian and she raised our kids fierce Presbyterians.

I’m an amiable, low-voltage atheist.

RCR: Does that present a problem for you as a conservative?

GW: No. The Republican Party’s base is largely religious. It would be impossible for me to run for high office as a Republican. Since I have no desire to run for office, it’s a minor inconvenience! I think William F. Buckley put it well when he said that a conservative need not be religious, but he cannot despise religion. Russell Kirk never quite fathomed this, which is one of the reasons why I’m not a big fan of The Conservative Mind. For him, conservatism without religion is meaningless.

RCR: Your friend Charles Krauthammer likes to say he’s an agnostic.

GW: I think he’s an atheist. He flinches from saying it. I saw what he said: “I don’t believe in God, but I fear him greatly.” Oh, please!

Aug/14

6

Conservatives respect atheists less

This clip by S. E. Cupp is making the rounds. I often find Cupp to be glib, so it’s no surprise that I disagree with many of the details of what she is saying. In particular it struck me as strange to listen to her talk about how conservatives respect atheists. Atheists are held in low esteem by the American public as a whole, let alone by conservatives. The general social survey has a question, SPKATH, which states:

There are always some people whose ideas are considered bad or dangerous by other people. For instance, somebody who is against churches and religion… a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your (city/town/community) against churches and religion, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

Here are fractions who would allow this person to speak or not not in 1972-1990:

charts

Here are fractions who would allow this person to speak or not not in 2000-2012:

charts2

Liberals tend to be more accepting of atheists making a speech than conservatives. Interestingly even in the 2000s ~20 percent of self-identified extreme liberals would still not allow an atheist speak. As opposed to ~40 percent of self-identified extreme conservatives.

Addendum: To be clear about the intent behind this post, I’m all about keeping it real. I think it is acceptable to be an atheist on the Right. A substantial proportion of libertarians are atheists. Even among non-libertarian conservatives it’s an acceptable position. But this is really mostly relevant at the elite levels pundits and policy professionals. Atheists just aren’t popular at the grass roots. There aren’t that many conservative atheists or atheist conservatives.

Robert Tracinski, in What Atheists Have To Offer The Right‘s, kindly points to this website. He also goes on to assert:

That leads me to what atheists have to offer to this agenda. One of the problems with citing a religious foundation for freedom and Americanism is that these arguments tend not to appeal to those who don’t share your faith. People will naturally assume that, in order to agree with you, they have to believe in the same particular religious creed you have adopted. And given the vast range of religious belief, that’s a lot to ask for.

I’ve made this argument before. Modern American conservatism has become so culturally captured by the Religious Right that there’s a lot of talk about “Biblically based values” without much reflection that it might turn some people off who don’t share the basis of those values. I do think it is notable that conservatives with broad cultural influence such as George F. Will and David Brooks tend to have a secular affect (Will is personally an agnostic).

Trancinski goes on to talk about the relationship between conservatism and science at some length. I can speak here personally, as I am a scientist and a conservative. One issue is while most liberals may not be scientists, most scientists are liberals. Those who are not are invariably libertarians. I would cop to being conservative, albeit with a strong libertarian streak. And that makes me exceptional. The culture of scientists and culture of religious conservatives are so opposed to each other that a Christian evangelical friend who is an evolutionary biologist once told me he was asked literally every day how he could be a scientist and a Christian. I have been in the room several times where scientists talk about how they can outreach to the broader public, like conservatives, assuming of course that there were no conservatives in the room.

I don’t think this correlation is a logical necessity. It’s just an empirical sociological fact. And we have to deal with it in our political and policy culture. Most scientists exhibit strong domain specific in their cognitive competence, so there’s no reason to think that someone who has a strong command of molecular genetic mechanisms can therefore think cogently about global trade. But many scientists mislead themselves, assuming their powers of ratiocination are generally robust in all areas to which they put their minds. Scientists often are in fact ideally situated to be what F. A. Hayek would term Constructivists.

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