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Apr/14

17

Leftist blasphemies

Oberlin has had to walk back its policies about “trigger warnings.” An op-ed defending the old policy highlights what’s really going on here:

Trigger warnings exist in order to warn readers about sensitive subjects, like sexual violence or war, that could be traumatic to individuals who have had past experiences related to such topics, not to remove these subjects from academic discussion. They do not “glorify victimhood”; instead, they validate the life experiences of certain members of our community and allow individuals to make informed decisions.

Who defines what a “sensitive subject” is? The headline tells you who, “Staff Seeks Balance Between Free Speech and Community Standards in Online Comment Moderation.” The Oberlin community is not the same as the community of an Iraqi village, and its standards of different. The emphasis on sensitivity and emotional reaction and perception is a common one on the liberal-Left, but I wonder if they stop to reflect that this sort of standard has traditionally been used to defend standard religious orthodoxies from vigorous, even blasphemous, critique. I doubt that anyone at Oberlin would wish to censor a thorough thrashing of conservative Christianity, because it seems unlikey that there are many conservative Christians at the university. But the same logic could be used by a different demographic.

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Apr/14

15

The end of liberal universalism

Ross Douthat nails it in his most recent column, Diversity and Dishonesty:

It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B. Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.

As I have stated before, to a great extent neutrality in matters of ideology is a transparent fiction, at least at its root. Consider this recollection by a transgender individual, Fear and Loathing in Public Bathrooms, or How I Learned to Hold My Pee:

Every time I bring up or write about the hassles trans and genderqueer people receive in public washrooms or change rooms, the first thing out of many women’s mouths is that they have a right to feel safe in a public washroom, and that, no offense, but if they saw someone who “looks like me” in there, well, they would feel afraid, too. I hear this from other queer women. Other feminists. This should sting less than it does, but I can’t help it. What is always implied here is that I am other, somehow, that I don’t also need to feel safe. That somehow their safety trumps mine.

I happen to agree with the women on this. But I also think that there’s probably an aspect of hypocrisy here, which the author implies. The same feminists who wish to reorder social norms to their convenience balk when the tables are turned, and they’re the ones who are in the position of defending a conservative normative status quo. The radicalism of many ends when their own comfort zone is impinged. Change is for others.

Apr/14

6

God and Mr. Putin

Patriarch Kirill, Vladimir PutinPat Buchanan, writing in Human Events, appears to suggest that Vladimir Putin may, so to speak, be on the side of the angels:

In his Kremlin defense of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin, even before he began listing the battles where Russian blood had been shed on Crimean soil, spoke of an older deeper bond.

Crimea, said Putin, “is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.”

Russia is a Christian country, Putin was saying.

This speech recalls last December’s address where the former KGB chief spoke of Russia as standing against a decadent West:

“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”

Heard any Western leader, say, Barack Obama, talk like that lately?

…Author Masha Gessen, who has written a book on Putin, says of his last two years, “Russia is remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world.”

But the war to be waged with the West is not with rockets. It is a cultural, social, moral war where Russia’s role, in Putin’s words, is to “prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.”

Would that be the “chaotic darkness” and “primitive state” of mankind, before the Light came into the world?

This writer was startled to read in the Jan-Feb. newsletter from the social conservative World Council of Families in Rockford, Ill., that, of the “ten best trends” in the world in 2013, number one was “Russia Emerges as Pro-Family Leader.”

In 2013, the Kremlin imposed a ban on homosexual propaganda, a ban on abortion advertising, a ban on abortions after 12 weeks and a ban on sacrilegious insults to religious believers.

“While the other super-powers march to a pagan world-view,” writes WCF’s Allan Carlson, “Russia is defending Judeo-Christian values. During the Soviet era, Western communists flocked to Moscow. This year, World Congress of Families VII will be held in Moscow, Sept. 10-12.”

Will Vladimir Putin give the keynote?

In the new ideological Cold War, whose side is God on now?

On the corruption of the Russian Orthodox Church: nothing.

On the bullying of other (non-Orthodox) Christian denominations: nothing.

And on so much else: nothing.

People believe what they want to believe and they see what they want to see.

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Apr/14

6

Cult Watch

Apr/14

5

O’Malley’s Photo Opportunity

O'Malley's photo opBoston’s “Cardinal Sean” pulls a cheap stunt:

NOGALES, Ariz. — At a Mass held under the shadow of the border fence this morning, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston called on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform this year.

“The system is broken, causes terrible suffering and is a waste of human resources,” O’Malley said.

This is the same priest who campaigned so hard (and so successfully) against Massachusetts’s Death With Dignity Act, a measure that would have done quite a bit to alleviate terrible suffering on his own doorstep.

O’Malley’s stance is, of course, very little to do with compassion, and a great deal to do with power, and more specifically, the power of numbers. Latino immigration fills pews, and (often) adds support for the Roman Catholic Church’s ideological agenda, an agenda that O’Malley is not, as we have seen, reluctant to impose on others.

But back to the cardinal:

“We’ve lost the sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. … America at its best is not the bigotry and xenophobia of the know-nothings but the welcome of The New Colussus.”

O’Malley was accompanied by eight other members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 17 other priests. The clergy gave communion to people on the Mexican side of the fence as part of the Mass.

“We see this as a moral issue, as an ethical issue,” said Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Tucson Diocese…

The presumption, therefore, is that those who dare to disagree are a thoroughly immoral lot.

The committee of bishops, which favors a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants, on Friday called on Catholics to pray, fast and take action for immigration reform, such as sending members of Congress electronic postcards advocating change….

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Mar/14

30

Connect the Dots

APTOPIX Vatican Pope ObamaFrom The Economist:

Together with a general migration from the north-east and Midwest towards the sunbelt, the number of people leaving the faith has led to a shrinking of Catholicism in its former heartlands….

This shrinking has been offset by growth in the South and southwest of the country. The number of Catholics in the archdiocese of Atlanta has increased by 180% in 2001-11. In these growth areas two-thirds of all Catholics are Hispanic. Hispanics tend to have larger families and their children are more likely to stick with the religion than the offspring of white Catholics. This is causing a big change in the ethnic makeup of the faithful. About a third of American Catholics are Hispanic, but for those under 40 the share rises to almost half. The church’s building programme cannot keep up. In some parishes in Arizona the local church will hold up to seven services on a Sunday, says Gerald Kicanus, the bishop of Tucson. Finding enough pastors is hard: the diocese has brought in priests from Nigeria, India and the Philippines to make up for a shortage of home-grown ones.

Once they have found a pew, Hispanic Catholics expect a different kind of worship. Cross-carrying processions during Holy Week have become commonplace. The way the sign of the cross is made can differ, as can the use of holy water and the saints and shrines chosen for veneration—the growing cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the best example. Services have more music, and the kind of charismatic preaching performed by Father Hoyos in Arlington has gained ground.

This distinctive way of doing things extends to politics. Overall, America’s Catholics vote like the country as a whole. In 2012, 50% of Catholic voters backed Barack Obama and 48% went for Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent. But there was a clear divide between white Catholics, who favoured Mr Romney, and Hispanic Catholics, who favoured Mr Obama.

Though Hispanic Catholics are conservative on some social issues, such as abortion, this seldom determines their party allegiance. (The same is true of black evangelicals.) Their notion of the proper role of government is more Democratic than Republican. Some 61% of white Catholics say it should reduce the income gap between rich and poor. For Hispanic Catholics the figure is 86%. For Mr Obama, who was to meet the pope on March 27th, these numbers must seem miraculous.

So Latino immigration helps fill Roman Catholic churches and brings votes the Democrats’ way.

And both that church and that party favor more of it.

Possibly a phenonemenon that it does not need a Sherlock Holmes to explain.

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So apparently there’s a big controversy now about some things that Comedy Central tweeted out in the voice of Stephen Colbert’s character on his show on that network. As it is the age of Twitter activism, there is now a campaign to cancel the Colbert Report. Dave Weigel outlines the first act of the controversy, highlighting the essential role of Suey Park, along with the fellow-travelling of conservative commentator Michelle Malkin. In the wake of this there was a contentious interview of Park on Huffington Post Live where the host made no secret of his contempt for her opinions on this issue, to which she responded by stating that their respective genders and races made it so that he should withhold commenting on the topic in such a bold and aggressive fashion.

 

There are many layers here. But I’ll keep it concise.

First, the context of the Colbert tweet was such that it was clearly satire in the voice of his character. Though the nature of the online outrage machine is such that apologies and groveling are necessary, they shouldn’t be.

Second, there is a different standard for Asian Americans in terms what one can say about them and how one can depict them. For example, explicit stereotypes about Asian males which tend toward emasculization in the pop culture have far fewer analogs when compared to African American males than in the past (obviously the stereotypes about African American males are different, at the opposite extreme when it comes to sexuality) . And as the clip above illustrates liberals in good standing can say insensitive things about Asian Americans casually which wouldn’t be tolerated for blacks. “Ching chong” and the “N-word” are in different classes of insult.

Third, this different standard is defensible. American culture has a different, and sui generis, relationship to blacks when compared to racial and ethnic minorities which arrived later (Native Americans are also sui generis). This is a fact. You may attempt to bracket the prejudice experienced by Asians in the 19th and 20th centuries into the same class as African Americans, but it is not unreasonable to deny equivalence. This denial is implicit in the way people react to offensive generalizations about different minorities.

Four, classes of marginalized are not commensurable. The experience of women as a class is fundamentally different than that across racial lines. The experience of a ethno-religious minority which is coded as white (e.g., Jews) is different from that of an Asian American one, and these are different from the African American experience. Similarly, those who are physically disabled also experience the world very differently. Because of these differences it makes sense that not all responses to similar dynamics operating upon the classes should be the same. They’re not variables with a different value, they’re fundamentally different variables where the values have radically different outcomes in the calculus. Leftist radicals don’t seem to understand or accept this, and translate arguments and paradigms across all the classes assuming equivalency.

Five, activists like Suey Park do highlight a glaring hypocrisy among white liberals in terms of their attitudes. Conservative non-whites have long known this, because they (we) are subject to snide insinuations and attacks which in other contexts would seem racist. But since they (we) are not liberal, it is socially acceptable to an extent. Implicit is the idea that white people have ideological diversity due their values, while non-whites only have interests. Black conservatives who espouse race neutrality that might have negative consequences for blacks are traitors to their race, while white liberals who favor preferences which might hurt whites are idealistic. This patronizing attitude is probably why Michelle Malkin is sympathetic to Park’s outrage, as Leftist activists who are non-white are more conscious to the glaring blind spots of white liberals. If, for example, you have a group of white Republicans meeting together without many people of color in the audience there are often implications of racism bandied about by liberals. But if you look at the demographic profile of the neighborhoods many white liberals choose to raise their families, they are no different from that of white conservatives, except politics. But being liberal they have difficulty imagining how they could be racist. The identities, the essential aspects, of the individuals matters. Among the reactions to Miley Cyrus’ scandalous MTV performance white feminists began to decry the “slut-shaming” of the performer. But soon enough black feminists objected to her exploitation of the bodies of black women. Obviously who you are impacts what you see. White feminists saw Cyrus being unfairly targeted, but did not see objectification of black women (one can debate whether there was such objectification, but it’s not an unreasonable line of argument once you assume standard Leftist priors).

Six, so perspective matters. But different perspectives don’t mean that any one person has the One True Opinion. In the abstract Leftist cultural activists can accept this, but in the concrete real world scenario they tend to want to impose their own perspective in an almost Stalinist manner. This is one reason there is so much faction among identity activists, as they argue stridently for the superiority and dominance of their own narrative over that of rivals. In the discussion with the Huffington Post Live reporter Suey Park attempted to negate any blunt critique by her interlocutor by highlighting his identity as a while male. She attempted to object to being “silenced” by demanding that he be silent! One of the norms of the Leftist radicals is that one must always listen and not talk back to the more-oppressed-than-thou (though of course there’s often a long process of privilege checking and toting up in some cases; even egalitarians have their own aristocracy of oppression). This means that white males should be silent unless they can involve themselves in acts of more-Stalinist-than-thou radicalism, where their zeal for purging validates their participation.

Seven, this dynamic is a non-starter in the general culture, and Leftist radicals seem to forget that they’re a small subculture outside of the academy. Their Form of Life is not dominant or normative. Suey Park for example uses the stilted academic lexicon of a “grad school dropout,” which illustrates her own “privilege.” Axiomatic terms like “ally” and “intersectionality” are meaningless outside of this cultural domain, but they can’t help but sprinkle their “discourse” with terms which are more appropriate to a gradual school seminar. This in a culture where only ~25% have undergraduate degrees, often in vocational or scientific fields where Critical Theory is unknown. The irony is that Leftist activists forget that cultural diversity means that not all arguments are going to be won on their own terrain, with the terms of the game determined by their preconceptions as to the nature of how the world works, and how it ought to work. They are not hegemonic over the rest of us. Just as white liberals tend to assort with themselves (look at how many minorities there are in Flickr photos of young DC progressives), and develop blind spots, so Leftist activists like Suey Park lose sight of the reality that others see different skies at night than all of her friends (numerous as they may be on Twitter).

Finally, my conservative friends & I have observed the bizarre flame-outs on the internet between different sects of cultural Leftists, akin to the violent conflicts between radical Christian sects in the back-country of 4th century Anatolia over picayune theological or liturgical differences, for years. Watching the circular firing squads is like a guilty pleasure. An ideological “shark week.” But it is not healthy for a unitary society to fracture into so many incomprehensible clans. Many of my liberal friends on Twitter for example don’t realize, and can’t understand, that I don’t even share their presuppositions. When it comes to politics they start with assumptions that they think are universally held by all, but which I reject. By analogy, it’s when English speakers presume that everyone else in the world understands English. This isn’t a recipe for respectful discourse and any meeting of the minds. Perhaps in the end all is a raw power struggle, a brutal war of all-ideas-against-all ideas.

Addendum: Readers who are new should be aware that I’m a brown American male.

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Mar/14

29

Dana Rohrabacher, Again

Pussy Riot in KievDana Rohrabacher, Republican congressman and scourge of Pussy Riot, is at it again.

The New York Times:

…Then came Russia’s takeover of Crimea, and Mr. Rohrabacher had to draw the line — in favor of Mr. Putin.

“There have been dramatic reforms in Russia that are not being recognized by my colleagues…The churches are full. There are opposition papers being distributed on every newsstand in Russia. You’ve got people demonstrating in the parks. You’ve got a much different Russia than it was under Communism, but you’ve got a lot of people who still can’t get over that Communism has fallen.”

What about Pussy Riot, the Russian protest group? Its members were jailed for criticizing Mr. Putin, released, then publicly flogged when they showed up at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“Well, I don’t think that happens often,” Mr. Rohrabacher said with a shrug. “There are lots of people demonstrating in the streets of Russia who are perfectly free to do so.”

Don’t get me wrong, Russia has changed immensely (and generally for the better) since the fall of the Soviet Union, but there is a middle ground between accepting that the old Cold War certainties no longer apply on the one hand, and a starry-eyed enthusiasm for the emerging new Russia on the other, but that’s not where Dana Rohrabacher stands.

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Mar/14

16

The Pope and Peron

descamisadosIn the course of a lengthy piece on Pope Francis, The Economist looks at the pontiff’s political and economic opinions and (correctly, in my view) finds them rooted in the history of the country of his birth:

The political landscape of Francis’s homeland, however, offers a more accurate, and nuanced, understanding of his views. For most of his life Argentina has plotted a kind of third way between Marxism and liberalism—albeit one with disastrous political and economic results. “[Francis] only knows one style of politics,” says a diplomat accredited to the Holy See. “And that is Peronism.”

The creed bequeathed by Argentina’s former dictator, General Juan Perón, with its “three flags” of social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty, has been endlessly reinterpreted since. Conservatives and revolutionaries alike have been proud to call themselves Peronist. But at its heart it is corporatist, assigning to the state the job of resolving conflicts between interest groups, including workers and employers. In that respect it resembles fascism and Nazism—and also Catholic social doctrine.

The pope’s Peronist side shows in his use of a classic populist technique: going over the heads of the elite to the people with headline-grabbing gestures and comments. And it is visible in his view of political economy, which also has much in common with post-Marxist protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Spanish indignados and Italy’s Five Star Movement. “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by the happy few,” he has written. “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”

The Economist is perhaps too polite to mention the fact that crude reductionism, scapegoating and argument by straw man are also often “classic populist techniques”, and ones, regrettably, that this pope sometimes appears willing to deploy. Nevertheless, the magazine does find space to include this:

One passage in Evangelii Gaudium [This pope’s first ‘Apostolic Exhortation’] appalled many: “Just as the commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘Thou shalt not,’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.” Even more radically, he quoted St John Chrysostom, an early church father: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them.”

This, of course, was (as The Economist noted) the same document that included, without qualification, this:

“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.”

Everything?

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Mar/14

2

“Black Cassock, Gold Epaulettes”

pussy riotThe latest issue of the British magazine, Standpoint, has a fine profile of Pussy Rioter Nadezhda Tolonnikova by Rachel Polonsky.

The whole piece is well worth reading, but this, in particular, caught my attention:

The dissident priest Gleb Yakunin regards the performance in the cathedral as a miracle in the full Christian sense of the word. Pussy Riot’s words “black cassock, gold epaulettes” drove “to the very heart of Patriarch Kirill”, he said. During their imprisonment, Yakunin composed a verse cycle in Pussy Riot’s honour, The Pussiniad. He too did time in prisons and labour camps in the Soviet period. In 1993, five years after his amnesty, the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated him for exposing its infiltration by the KGB. Yakunin had unmasked Kirill as a high-ranking agent codenamed Mikhailov.

Let’s scroll back to the controversy last year involving remarks by two Republican congressmen, Steve King and Dana Rohrabacher, over Pussy Riot, a controversy that led Rohrabacher to write a comment over on NRO’s corner that included this:

The group snuck its way onto the altar of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior without permission and performed a punk rock song with vulgar lyrics. Their stunt was disrespectful and completely irreverent…There is a distinction between a group engaged in outrageous acts for the sake of notoriety and those engaged in political speech. This group’s activities certainly appear to fall in the former category.

Yakunin or Rohrabacher? It’s not a difficult choice.

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