America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. – Abraham Lincoln
Peace – the word evokes the simplest and most cherished dream of humanity. Peace is, and has always been, the ultimate human aspiration. And yet our history overwhelmingly shows that while we speak incessantly of peace, our actions tell a very different story. – Javier Perez de Cuellar
Conflict, like poverty, is the normal condition of Man. Instead of seeking the causes of conflict, one would be better off studying the causes of peace and the prosperity it makes possible. – Anonymous
We have war when at least one of the parties to a conflict wants something more than it wants peace. – Jeane Kirkpatrick
Revolution, n. – In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment. – Ambrose Bierce
A recent Pew poll indicates that a majority of the population believes that political violence is imminent. A February 2019 column from the BBC asked Are We On the Road to Civilization Collapse? Sara Hoyt wrote in March a piece entitled We Are Dancing on a Powder Keg.
These are not isolated examples, oh no:
That’s an even dozen, and I didn’t have to work hard to compile them.
The concept of the “meme” was coined by anti-theist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. It’s not just those humorous images that make up a significant portion of Facebook postings, though they’re an exhibit of the general concept. Merriam Webster defines a meme as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” Dawkins himself said:
Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes.
This is a mega-überpost, but if this interests you (or frightens you) get a snack and a beverage, get comfortable then please click below and continue.
Dawkins’ interest in memes was, of course, based on his issues with what I’ll term Faith – the the unfalsifiable belief in a conscious power greater than ourselves that affects our daily lives. Faith is perhaps the most powerful meme in human history. Consider for instance that the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – traceable to the Old Testament, a document thought to be at least 3,500 years old. The current world population is estimated at approximately 7.7 billion, and over 4 billion of those follow (at least somewhat) one of those three Faiths. That’s a very successful meme, evolutionarily speaking. Of the remaining 3.x billion world inhabitants, “unaffiliated” is the next largest contingent at around a 1.2 billion, the Hindus are close behind at 1.1 billion, and all the rest cover the remaining billion-plus.
“Unaffiliated” includes, I’m pretty sure, those who say things like “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual,” and the like, but this means that atheism has not been a particularly successful meme comparatively. However, I would like to draw a distinction between “Faith” and “Religion.” Faith is a belief in a Higher Power. Religion is the organization of like-minded believers into a society. One person can have Faith, but it takes a group to form a Religion.
I think Dawkins’ and other public anti-theists’ primary objection to Faith is that religious conflicts are the historic basis for an overwhelming amount of death, destruction and suffering around the world, and they believe humanity would be better off without it. Religion did lead inexorably to the “Divine Right of Kings” – Kings being Kings because God chose them (and their offspring) to be – and a great deal of slaughter was justified by “my invisible friend is right and yours is wrong,” or something to that effect. (“Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” – Kill them (all.) God knows those that are his.) Religion has never been the ONLY reason for human conflict, no conflict in history had a single cause, but Religion was used to justify a lot of death, destruction and suffering and it still continues today.
Why are humans so susceptible to Faith? Recent research suggests that the human brain is prewired for it. The field of study is named “neurotheology,” An interesting article on the subject is available at HowStuffWorks. If the human brain at birth has a predisposition for belief in a higher power, it would certainly explain why we’ve never found a population anywhere that didn’t believe SOMETHING was responsible for the creation of the universe. And most religions around the world postulate an afterlife in which things are much better than they are here, now.
Someone, I think it was Dawkins, noted that Religion has been so successful largely because it was one of the few memes spread via proselytizing long before humans were even literate. Humans actually go and purposefully spread it. The reason Judaism is such a tiny fraction of the total Abrahamic faiths is that they don’t proselytize. They’re Gods chosen people. They don’t recruit. You is, or you ain’t.
Johns Hopkins recently published a piece, Experiences of “Ultimate Reality” or “God” Confer Lasting Benefits to Mental Health. Excerpt:
People over the millennia have reported having deeply moving religious experiences either spontaneously or while under the influence of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin-containing mushrooms or the Amazonian brew ayahuasca, and a portion of those experiences have been encounters with what the person regards as “God” or “ultimate reality.” In a survey of thousands of people who reported having experienced personal encounters with God, Johns Hopkins researchers report that more than two-thirds of self-identified atheists shed that label after their encounter, regardless of whether it was spontaneous or while taking a psychedelic. (Bold my emphasis – ed.)
Moreover, the researchers say, a majority of respondents attributed lasting positive changes in their psychological health–e.g., life satisfaction, purpose and meaning–even decades after their initial experience.
So people who have a Spiritual Encounter or its like get a beneficial rush – that lasts. And perhaps that explains neurotheology – trigger that part of the brain and it’s beneficial for the subject. And then they’ll often proselytize. (Old joke – How do you know if someone’s a vegan or a Crossfitter? THEY’LL TELL YOU.)
Note that I said that atheism has not been a particularly successful meme, but many Religions have been failing of late. A recent Gallup poll indicates that religious affiliation has been dropping significantly, at least in the Western world:
The percentage of U.S. adults who belong to a church or other religious institution has plunged by 20 percentage points over the past two decades, hitting a low of 50% last year, according to a new Gallup poll. Among major demographic groups, the biggest drops were recorded among Democrats and Hispanics.
Gallup said church membership was 70% in 1999 – and close to or higher than that figure for most of the 20th century. Since 1999, the figure has fallen steadily, while the percentage of U.S. adults with no religious affiliation has jumped from 8% to 19%.
Huffpo in a May 2017 article referencing a 2016 Pew poll proclaimed:
An ongoing spate of recent studies – looking at various countries around the world – all show the same thing: religion is in decline. From Scandinavia to South America, and from Vancouver to Seoul, the world is experiencing an unprecedented wave of secularization. Indeed, as a recent National Geographic report confirms, the world’s newest religion is: No Religion.
The UK’s Guardian paper concurs: Europe too is affected:
Europe’s march towards a post-Christian society has been starkly illustrated by research showing a majority of young people in a dozen countries do not follow a religion.
The survey of 16- to 29-year-olds found the Czech Republic is the least religious country in Europe, with 91% of that age group saying they have no religious affiliation. Between 70% and 80% of young adults in Estonia, Sweden and the Netherlands also categorise themselves as non-religious.
The most religious country is Poland, where 17% of young adults define themselves as non-religious, followed by Lithuania with 25%.
But the National Geographic link in the Huffpo piece states:
There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernizes, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon. So will the Netherlands and New Zealand. The United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities. Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.
But nones aren’t inheriting the Earth just yet. In many parts of the world—sub-Saharan Africa in particular—religion is growing so fast that nones’ share of the global population will actually shrink in 25 years as the world turns into what one researcher has described as “the secularizing West and the rapidly growing rest.” (The other highly secular part of the world is China, where the Cultural Revolution tamped down religion for decades, while in some former Communist countries, religion is on the increase.)
So Faith is apparently on the decline, but only for the West – the USA and Europe.
Why should we care? (And remember, I’m an atheist – small “a.”)
I will be the first to concede that yes, a lot of evil has been done in the name of Religion or under its auspices but why is it still so prevalent? What benefits other than an endorphin rush does it bring? Memes survive by being successful, and Faith has, until very recently, been VERY successful. But what advantage did Faith give humanity to make it successful?
Well, for one thing it consolidates power in human cultures. Faith tells an individual “you should,” or “you shouldn’t.” Religion tells the group “you can,” or “you cannot.” It may be a subtle point, but it’s an important one because in Religion someone makes those decisions, and it probably isn’t you. That load is taken off your shoulders. Remember the Pareto Principle, aka “the 80/20 rule”: Twenty percent of the people do 80% of the work. Twenty percent of the people possess 80% of the power, etc. Odd are you’re not in the 20% when it comes to being a member of a religion. That’s reserved for the clergy.
The earliest religions we think were animist – that is, the world was created by some Great Power and everything – rocks, trees, rivers, everything – had some kind of spirit living in it. Those spirits influenced our lives, and in each society – tribe, village, town, etc. – SOMEONE was believed to have a greater ability to understand, appease or appeal to those powers than others. Those with that power arrogated that power to influence or even control others in the society. Done well, the society survived, flourished. Done poorly, it died. Or the Shaman did. March through the centuries and we got the aforementioned Divine Right of Kings, where the monarch was God’s Avatar on Earth, His Chosen Representative, and his Word was Law. “L’état, c’est moi,” said Louis XIV. Religion was the foundation of order. Religion has rules. Religion sets boundaries. From a recent piece at the Z-Man blog:
The thing is, culture and morality, the shared intellectual space of every society, can only exist with clear borders. What defines French culture from German culture is not just physical distance and biology. There is a shared reality of the French that excludes all others. It is the opposite of open. It is closed. The same is true of moral systems. To exist, they must draw lines between what is and what is not acceptable. That which defines a people is the rejection of openness in favor of a closed, exclusive mode of thought.
Saying “this is not who we are” seems to track with not knowing who we are or why we are even a “we” anymore. The reason for that is the great effort to fulfill the needs of democracy has left western countries as deconstructed components of what used to be a rational, bounded society. France is no longer a closed system, but simply a remnant of a society, the pieces of what used to make up France. No one talks about what it means to be French, because everyone can be French. It’s a thing with no form now.
If the theoretical end point of liberal democracy is a world without boundaries, physical or cultural, then it is a world without morality. After all, morality is a world of fences and gates that control human behavior within the closed social system. In order for there to be a moral order, there must be order and that must include boundaries. Once the boundaries lose their purpose, the fences and gates are simply gravestones in a cemetery of a long forgotten people. No one cares if the kids knock over the grave stones.
But if not Religion, what should human cultures be based upon? Reason, most anti-theists argue, should be that foundation.
Like that worked out for the French in the late 1700’s. Or for any socialist government, ever. (*cough*Venezuela*cough*)
Economist and philosopher Thomas Sowell in his 1986 magnum opus A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles postulated that all political conflict originates in what he calls “social visions,” memes that we as human beings are also born with. The Germans style it weltangshauung – “world view.” It’s how you believe the world works, or more often how you think it ought to. I wrote about his ideas in my January, 2010 überpost What We Got Here Is…Failure to Communicate. It’s not quite as long as the book, but if you need more to read, I recommend it. I will excerpt from it for this essay.
Social vision is, as Sowell put it:
…a ‘pre-analytic cognitive act.’ It is what we sense or feel before we have constructed any systematic reasoning that could be called a theory, much less deduced any specific consequences as a hypothesis to be tested against evidence.
Sowell terms the two fundamental social vision memes as the Constrained and the Unconstrained. In the Constrained Vision people believe that in general human nature is fixed and imperfect. Some (maybe most) individuals may be amenable to changing their behavior and beliefs, but not humanity as a whole, and never to perfection. Human behavior in all its variation is what it is and will be what it has always been. The bell curve may be shifted, but not fast, not far, and definitely not permanently. Sowell quotes Alexander Hamilton:
It is the lot of all human institutions, even those of the most perfect kind, to have defects as well as excellencies — ill as well as good propensities. This results from the imperfection of the Institutor, Man.
The Unconstrained vision Sowell says (quoting William Godwin from his 1793 book Enquiry Concerning Political Justice) is one in which:
..man (is) capable of directly feeling other people’s needs as more important than his own, and therefore of consistently acting impartially, even when his own interests or those of his family were involved.
If true this would of course inevitably lead to Utopia, but even Godwin acknowledged that while man could be what he described he is not naturally so:
…this preference arises from a combination of circumstances and is not the necessary and invariable law of our nature.
Sowell notes that “Godwin referred to ‘men as they hereafter may be made,’ (my emphasis) in contrast to (Edmund) Burke‘s view: ‘We cannot change the Nature of things and of men — but must act upon them as best we can.’ “
In the Unconstrained vision, human nature can be changed, and humanity can achieve perfection. In short, if we work at it diligently enough, Utopia can be achieved.
Merriam-Webster defines Utopia as:
A place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions
Essentially heaven here on Earth. As James Lileks put it, “Personally, I’m interested in keeping other people from building Utopia, because the more you believe you can create heaven on earth the more likely you are to set up guillotines in the public square to hasten the process.”
One of the definitions of the noun philosophy, and the one I’ll use for this essay is “a set of beliefs or an attitude to life that guides ones behavior.” Philosopher Ayn Rand once observed very astutely:
As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation — or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears thrown together by chance….
Memes are discreet ideas, and philosophy is the stringing together of ideas into a belief system. As human beings we are engaged in constant memetic warfare, where the winning memes spread. We are constantly exposed to ideas, many of which conflict with our worldview. Whether we reject those ideas or accept them and work them into our worldview depends on their value to us – not only accuracy, consistency, internal logic, but also how much social pressure is brought to bear and how susceptible to such pressure we are. As an example of the predictability of human behavior over time, Winston Churchill observed: “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”
You’re born with a worldview, but experience should educate you as to how the world really works. This is true, I think, in accordance with the Pareto Principle. Eighty percent of the people follow this path. Twenty percent never do. That twenty percent are either born “conservative” and never lose it, or they’re born “liberal” and never lose that.
People argue that every generation thinks that the one that follows theirs is stupid, lazy, shallow, and naysayers point to graffiti found on the walls of Pompeii and other ancient Roman cities as evidence that kids are kids regardless, but I’m going to talk about Philosophy’s progenitor, education once again, because it is through education in all its different forms that we perceive the world around us and form our worldviews. I ran across this quote from Derek Ward the other day:
You know what makes me sick to my stomach? When I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven’t changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything. We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones that have changed.
And he’s right, kids are the same as they’ve always been – young skulls full of mush waiting to be molded into adults. It’s the ADULTS that have been changed – the ones eighteen years and older.
So how does one develop a philosophy? As Rand noted, there are a couple of ways – “conscious, rational thought and logical deliberation” is one way – one very seldom used. The other is just to absorb what you’re exposed to 24/7/365 and try to arrange it into something that lets you live your life. That’s what most people do. The word “indoctrination” – like “propaganda” – gets a seriously bad rap, but the dictionary definition of indoctrination is:
The process of inculcating a person with ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or professional methodologies.
That doesn’t sound so terrible, does it? What is the fundamental purpose of public education? Noam Chomsky, quoting the Trilateral Commission, says it’s indoctrination.
He, of course, means the bad kind, but he’s right – that’s its purpose. The question that should be asked (and I’ve asked it before) is indoctrinated with what? And what changed? And when?
I listened to a four-way panel discussion on YouTube entitled “The Coddling of the American Mind” recently. The four panelists were Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, authors of the book by the same title, the president and founder of the non-profit Let Grow and the Free-Range Kids movement (something that used to be considered “normal”) Lenore Skenazy, and the moderator was Malcolm Gladwell. In the precis of the book on Goodreads, the first paragraph reads:
The generation now coming of age has been taught three Great Untruths: their feelings are always right; they should avoid pain and discomfort; and they should look for faults in others and not themselves. These three Great Untruths are part of a larger philosophy that sees young people as fragile creatures who must be protected and supervised by adults. But despite the good intentions of the adults who impart them, the Great Untruths are harming kids by teaching them the opposite of ancient wisdom and the opposite of modern psychological findings on grit, growth, and antifragility. The result is rising rates of depression and anxiety, along with endless stories of college campuses torn apart by moralistic divisions and mutual recriminations.
Jonathan Haidt said something during the discussion that truly frightens me:
One thing I’ve found is wherever you go, anywhere in America if you’re dealing with kids born after 1995, everybody – from the college president through the professors, through the guitar teacher through the Counseling Center – everybody is saying “What hit us?” The anxiety, the depression, there’s a tsunami of it. You know, in a soccer coach says, I mean, like “All of a sudden if you criticize a kid, you know, she won’t come back to practice. She quits the team.” And so the fragility, the anxiety, the depression, that is totally national. The politicization of it, the idea that people are vulnerable (not me, necessarily!) but her and him and them, they’re vulnerable and therefore I’m going to call you out, destroy you because you said something that I…you know, etc. That call-out culture, that is not national.
WE TAUGHT THEM THAT.
Ms. Skenazy, who was publicly pilloried for allowing her then 9-year-old son to ride the New York subway by himself, related a story (yes, I know, anecdotes are not data, but bear with me):
This lady wrote to me about a month ago. She’s in Kentucky, and every afternoon when her son who’s nine gets dropped off by the school bus, the rule that the school has is that there has to be an adult waiting at the bus stop to walk him home. It’s actually – you can see her house from the bus stop – and she has her father normally walk him home. One day the dad was in the bathroom and one day the kid wasn’t supposed to come home so that the grandfather wasn’t waiting to walk him home, but if it becomes a third time, she gets reported to Child Protective Services because she is neglecting this child.
So you’re wondering how do kids get so fragile? They’re being told – they’re being forced to be supervised every single second, even in Kentucky, and the reason, the rationale for that is that otherwise they’re not safe. And it’s, like, they are safe, but if you’re always being told that you’re not safe when you are safe, nothing seems safe, and I think that’s why we hear the words “I don’t feel safe” on campus, because that’s just become the watchword for everything.
What’s the fundamental function of Judeo-Christian religion? The indoctrination of its followers with the teachings of their various sects – all of which share a link to the Old Testament, and Christianity – regardless of sect – the New Testament. It teaches “thou shall not.” It teaches “thou shall.” It defines right from wrong. And it does so without having to make you work for it.
Dennis Prager gave an excellent speech at Hillsdale College available on YouTube titled American Greatness and American Culture. About nineteen minutes into the speech he said this:
I remember telling (the “Greatest Generation”) you know, your generation said “we’re gonna give the next generation” – that is, my generation – “everything we didn’t have.” The trouble is, you didn’t give my generation anything you did have. You didn’t give us religion, and you didn’t give us an appreciation of America and a whole host – I listed all the things. And then…when I broadened my own life out I realized that this was universal in America. The Greatest Generation as it its called…was the greatest generation in terms of the Depression and World War II and Korea, but it was not the greatest generation in what it produced, and it produced the most narcissistic generation in American history. The baby boomers, my generation. And the reason was that they in fact gave what they didn’t have – money, and peace, that’s true – but they didn’t give them a love of America or a love of religion, and the results are what you see in America today. The reason this is so important therefore is that you can lose everything in a generation if you don’t teach it to the next….
Many pundits have been decrying that loss of Faith, but the faith that is being lost is
Easter Worship Christianity. As previously noted, Judaism is small and relatively stable. Islam is growing rapidly.
A 2015 BBC story on then British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments on Islam made an interesting observation:
David Cameron’s attack on Islamic extremism at this month’s Slovakia security conference included the charge that groups such as Islamic State believe “religious doctrine trumps the rule of law”.
The phrase is revealing in a way the prime minister probably did not intend: it underlines how far the role of religion has been eroded in British life.
For most of our history, most people in this country would have taken it for granted that God’s laws should trump those made by man – indeed they would have assumed that “religious doctrine” provided the proper basis for “the rule of law”. (Bold my emphasis. – Ed.)
A lot is made of the Founders being Deists as opposed to outright Christians of one sect or another, yet Benjamin Franklin was so admired by so many people of different faiths that his funeral was attended by more than 20,000. They couldn’t all have been Anglicans. But in point of fact, our Constitution was unique for its time in that the First Amendment explicitly prohibited a National religion. The term “separation of Church and State” comes from Baptists objecting to Virginia’s official Anglican state religion, but that phrase exists nowhere in the Constitution. Both houses of Congress have always had their own chaplain who opens each session with a prayer, and no one can successfully argue that the Founders were secularists. No less than John Adams said in a letter in 1798:
Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
So why no Federal religion? Because at the time of the Founding the Constitution served to (loosely) bind thirteen very different states into a single political entity. Virginia as a colony was officially Anglican, but that was ended in 1789 with the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. It was one of Thomas Jefferson’s proudest achievements, but remember that America was first settled by Puritans escaping from religious persecution followed by many other sects. No one wanted to repeat what they and their forebears came here to escape.
Still, the overwhelming majority of the population was Christian of one flavor or another, and shared a basic set of beliefs, which is why a frieze depicting Moses holding Hebrew-inscribed tablets is on the façade of the Supreme Court building illustrating that the origin of the law comes from those tablets, but he’s flanked by Confucius and Solon who bring philosophy and logic – reason. Religion isn’t the ONLY source of the law.
So atheism (and its bigger sister, secularism) has been an outlier, and it – like almost all memes with the possible exceptions of Faith and Worldview – is learned, and those two are subject to evolution. But if the brain is hardwired for Faith, then atheism/secularism leaves a pretty big hole in the psyche.
Or does it?
Once again, we return to “Reason.” Thomas Paine (an actual Deist) published his Age of Reason, at the start of the 19th Century. It was, as far as I know, the first “secular humanist” treatise by a major public figure. In it Paine wrote:
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish (Muslim), appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity.
As you can imagine this book was not as successful as Common Sense had been to say the least, but it was part of a new philosophical movement spreading across the Western world. As noted previously, the French Revolution began just as America was ratifying our Constitution and ran for ten years resulting in bloody slaughter – and an Emperor. Religion wasn’t responsible for that conflict, but weltangshauung certainly was. “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” resulted in, not Utopia, but The Reign of Terror and then Napoleon. “L’état, c’est moi,” lived on for quite a while.
Martin Luther published his Ninety-five Theses in 1517, and by the late 1700’s there were a myriad of Protestant faiths, most of them represented in the United States as one of the few nations that tolerated them all by law. We had no divine ruler, the State was the people – but Faith, specifically Christian religions which shared one book while they interpreted it differently – set the cultural boundaries and defined morality as John Adams required.
During the period of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries colonialism was on the decline and democratic forms of government were advancing. Science was showing us physical evidence of understandable mechanisms that were once thought the realm of miracles knowable only to God. Societies were shifting from agrarian to industrial, and there was a lot social upheaval going on. Massive fortunes were made, and they were made by people not blue of blood. In short the proles got uppity, and money has power of its own.
A meme conflict arose between the devoutly Religious and the proponents of intellectual reason. The Industrial and Scientific revolutions started to break the hold that Faith had on humanity, at least in the West. As noted, the definition of a successful meme is one that survives and spreads, and Faith has been losing ground – but it hasn’t. Christianity has been losing ground. Judaism is, has been, and will always be a tiny minority because they don’t recruit. Islam is spreading through emigration and reproduction – and proselytizing. (“Convert or die” is a form of proselytizing, isn’t it?) Only Christianity – Protestant and Catholic – is declining. But Faith? Oh, Faith has never been more successful.
So if Christianity is declining, but Faith is hardwired, what replaces it?
Well it ain’t REASON.
Human beings need to Believe. In. SOMETHING. So what memes replace Christianity?
Remember this cover from the February 6, 2009 issue of Newsweek?
Here’s one from the March 4, 2019 edition of New York magazine you might not have seen:
The most successful meme seems to be Socialism / Communism which I will hereafter refer to as Leftism. Remember Sowell’s Visions – the Constrained Vision is highly compatible with religious Faith as a constraint on the more destructive characteristics of human nature. The Unconstrained Vision is highly compatible with the Utopian promises of Socialism. That meme has been able to spread through proselytizing via the media and education systems, and it’s not even two hundred years old in its current form(s). Its success has been meteoric compared to Christianity, and it has had spin-offs – Environmentalism being one. (“Green on the outside, Red on the inside,” as the saying goes.) But where religious faith worships a creator God, Leftism worships a nurturing State. Christianity has Original Sin – God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and for doing so they were kicked out of Eden. So does Leftism – everything was wonderful until Capitalism destroyed everything. Christianity used to punish heretics and apostates. Leftism still does.
Thomas Sowell noted that envy used to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins until it was rehabilitated into a virtue by calling it “Social Justice.”
Christianity promises eventual Heaven, Leftism promises an eventual Utopian classless Stateless society of equals (and screw Pareto).
Leftism is the fastest growing Religion in the world. And boy, does it have proselytizing down.
Numerous people have observed that the media (entertainment and news) has been suborned by the Left – those who tend towards Sowell’s Unconstrained Vision, who believe humanity can be made perfect, that the world can be made Utopia if only the right people are in charge. Professor of Communications Brian Anse Patrick (RIP) in his 2002 book The National Rifle Association and the Media: The Motivating Force of Negative Coverage illustrated how the news media has become the Clergy for the Church of State. Patrick studied the media trying to discover how the National Rifle Association not only survives but thrives when the media is so uniformly against it. First he had to prove the thesis that the media is biased against the NRA, and he did so by comparing news coverage of that group with coverage of other groups, the ACLU, the NAACP, AARP, and the pre-Brady Handgun Control, Inc. He found there was a definite ranking in how much favorable vs. unfavorable coverage was given to each group, and the NRA got the worst of it. Followed by the ACLU. Long book excerpt, taken from my January 2008 überpost The Church of MSM and the New Reformation:
That elite media may be biased for or against a particular issue or topic is interesting, and this knowledge may help an interest group rally indignation or manage its public relations; however it tells little about the overall functioning of media in society. This latter concern is the broader and more important idea, with larger implications. The overall ranking results provide such an explanation.
The larger concept that lies behind the consistent ranking is a broad cultural level phenomenon that I will label an administrative control bias. It has profound implications. Administrative control in this usage means rational, scientific, objective social management by elite, symbol-manipulating classes, and subclasses, i.e., professionalized administrators or bureaucratic functionaries. The thing administered is often democracy itself, or a version of it at least. Here and throughout this chapter terms such as “rational,” “objective,” “professional,” and “scientific” should be read in the sense of the belief systems that they represent, i.e. rationalism, objectivism, professionalism, and scientism. Scientism is not the same as being scientific; the first is a matter of faith and ritualistic observance, the other is difficult creative work. William James made a similar distinction between institutional religion and being religious, the first being a smug and thoughtless undertaking on the part of most people, the second, a difficult undertaking affecting every aspect of a life. The term scientistic administration would pertain here. Note that we move here well beyond the notion of mere gun control and into the realm of general social control, management and regulation. (Bold my emphasis – Ed.)
This administrative control bias is the manifestation of a hermeneutic that could be termed “the administrative gaze,” honoring the style of Michael Foucault. This interpretive view organizes, manages, objectifies, implements, and looks downward in such a way as to beg administration or clinical-style intervention. Too, it is a basic power relationship, or an attempt at one, for such is the nature of all management….
TL;DR version: The evidence indicates that, in the majority, journalists think that society should be managed by experts, and those experts are found in government. (Paging Thomas Friedman!) But here’s the really fascinating conclusion he came to:
Journalists acquire importance in the mass democratic system precisely because they gather, convey, and interpret the data that inform individual choices. Mere raw, inaccessible data transforms to political information that is piped to where it will do the most good. Objective, balanced coverage becomes essential, at least in pretense, lest this vital flow of information to be thought compromised, thus affecting not only the quality of rational individual decision-making, but also the legitimacy of the system.
Working from within the perspective of the mass democracy model for social action it is difficult to specify an ideal role model of journalistic coverage other than a “scientific objectivism” at work. An event (i.e., reality) causes coverage, or so the objective journalist would and often does say. Virtually all of the journalists that I have ever talked with regard coverage as mirroring reality.
They truly seem to believe this, that they have access to information to which philosophers and scientists have been denied. I spoke once to a journalist who worried out loud about “compromising” her objectivity when covering a story. The claim being advanced here, by assumption, is that journalists can truly convey or interpret the nature of reality as opposed to the various organizational versions of events in which journalists must daily traffic. The claim is incredible and amounts to a Gnostic pretension of being “in the know” about the nature of reality, or at least the reality that matters most politically.
An ecclesiastical model most appropriately describes this elite journalistic function under mass democracy. Information is the vital substance that makes the good democracy possible. It allows, as it were, for the existence of the good society, a democratic state of grace. Information is in this sense analogous to the concept of divine grace under the pre-Reformation Roman Catholic Church. Divine grace was essential for the good spiritual life, the life that mattered. The clergy dispensed divine grace to the masses in the form of sacraments. They were its intermediaries, who established over time a monopoly, becoming the exclusive legitimate channel of divine grace.
The claim being advanced here, by assumption, is that journalists can truly convey or interpret the nature of reality as opposed to the various organizational versions of events in which journalists must daily traffic. The claim is incredible and amounts to a Gnostic pretension of being “in the know” about the nature or reality, or at least the reality that matters most politically.
Journalists, particularly elite journalists, occupy under mass democracy this ecclesiastical social role, a functional near-monopoly whose duty becomes disseminating and interpreting the administrative word and its symbols unto the public. Democratic communication in this sense is sacramental, drawing its participants together into one body. We should not overlook the common root of the words communication, community, and communion. (Not to mention Communism. – Ed.)
What might be termed as the process of democommunication has aspects of transubstantiation, an interpretive process by which journalists use their arts to change the bread and wine of raw data into democratically sustaining information. Democracy is a kind of communion. Objectivity and social responsibility become social necessities, legitimating doctrines much like the concept of papal infallibility, which had to emerge to lend weight to interpretive pronouncements.
In this light, even the laudable professional value of objectivity can appear as a nearly incredible claim. Both claims, objectivity and infallibility, function to lend credence, authority, and an impeachment-resistant moral/scientific base to organizational or professional products. Both are absolute in nature. Both also serve the quite necessary social function of ultimately absolving from personal responsibility or accountability the reporter, whether ecclesiastical or secular, who is, after all, merely duty-bound to report on the facts. As it is in heaven, so it will be on Earth; and as it is on Earth, so shall it appear in The New York Times.
The media, then, sees its function (whether you could get a journalist to admit it or not) as the Church of State, interpreting the Word of God to the laypeople. I don’t think he’s wrong. Nor do others.
Mika Brzezinski on a 2017 episode of Morning Joe let this slip:
(Trump) “could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control what people think, and that’s our job.”
In 2017 in Reddit contributor “notjaffo” wrote about Trump’s election in a post titled Why Hollywood is really freaking out over Trump. In it he wrote:
Blue Team Progressivism is a church, offering you moral superiority and a path to spiritual enlightenment. As a church it’s got a lot going for it. It runs religious programming on television, all day every day. Every modern primetime program is like a left-wing Andy Griffith show, reinforcing lessons of inclusion, tolerance, feminism, and anti-racism.
Watching a 90-pound Sci-Fi heroine beat up a room full of giant evil men is as satisfying to the left as John Wayne westerns were for the right.
The Blue Church controls the HR department, so even if you don’t go to church, you have to act like a loyal churchgoer in every way that matters while you’re on the clock. And off the clock, on any kind of public social media platform.
Jon Stewart and John Oliver are basically TV preachers. Watching them gives the same sense of quiet superiority your grandma gets from watching The 700 Club. The messages are constantly reinforced, providing that lovely dopamine hit, like an angel’s voice whispering, “You’re right, you’re better, you’re winning.”
Hollywood award shows are like church talent shows – the skits and jokes aren’t really funny, but it’s fun to look at the pretty girls, and you’re all on the same team.
Red Conservativism is a business, selling a set of political products. They don’t make you feel good, they don’t appeal to your morality or your spiritual sense of self, but sometimes you really NEED one of their core products like security, jobs, or national defense. Their appeals to “freedom” and “family values” ring hollow these days, but when people are flying planes into buildings, you need a strong member of Conservatism, Inc. in the big chair.
And when it came down to the things that really mattered – welfare, Medicare, Social Security, and foreign policy, you knew Red Team couldn’t really do anything Blue Team didn’t approve of, or the Blue faithful would kick them out of office next time.
But Donald Trump didn’t sign that contract. And Donald Trump didn’t win by selling the same old conservative products. Donald Trump started his own religion, and he won a religious victory.
The Blue Church is panicking because they’ve just witnessed the birth of a new Red Religion. Not the tired old Christian cliches they defeated back in the ’60s, but a new faith based on cultural identity and outright rejection of the Blue Faith.
For the first time in decades, voters explicitly rejected the Blue Church, defying hours of daily cultural programming, years of indoctrination from the schools, and dozens of explicit warnings from HR.
We’ve been trained since childhood to obey the pretty people on TV, but for the first time in decades, that didn’t work.
Donald Trump won because flyover America wants their culture back, and Blue Team has not been rejected like that before.
The younger ones have grown up in an environment where Blue Faith assumptions cannot even be questioned, except anonymously by the bad kids on Twitter.
But now the bad kids are getting bolder, posting funny memes that make you laugh even though John Oliver would not approve, like passing crude dirty pictures under the table in Sunday School.
Meryl Streep is panicking because for the first time voters have rejected HER, and everything her faith has taught her to believe.
There is a new faith rising on the right, not an explicit religious faith like old-school Christianity, but a wicked kind of counterculture movement. We laughed at the hippies in 1968, but by 1978 they were teaching in classrooms and sitting behind school administrator desks.
I discovered that post by reading this January 2017 Deep Code essay by Jordan Hall, Situational Assessment 2017: Trump Edition. (Strongly recommended.) That was followed by his Understanding the Blue Church from March of the same year. Here’s the key graph from that piece, referencing the quote above:
The abstract is this: the Blue Church is a kind of narrative / ideology control structure that is a natural result of mass media. It is an evolved (rather than designed) function that has come over the past half-century to be deeply connected with the Democratic political “Establishment” and lightly connected with the “Deep State” to form an effective political and dominant cultural force in the United States.
We can trace its roots at least as far back as the beginning of the 20th Century where it emerged in response to the new capabilities of mass media for social control. By mid-century it began to play an increasingly meaningful role in forming and shaping American culture-producing institutions; became pervasive through the last half of the 20th and seems to have peaked in its influence somewhere in the first decade of the 21st Century.
It is now beginning to unravel.
In part it is unraveling because of developing schisms within its master narrative, the Blue Faith. These are important, but they are not the subject of this essay. In this essay, I am focusing on what I think is both much more fundamental and much less obvious: deep shifts in technology and society that are undermining the very foundations of the Church. Shifts that render the Church itself obsolete.
Read that essay, too. Note the use of the words Religion and Church. That’s not hyperbole, it’s not artistic license, they really do mean Faith. Donald Trump’s victory was a ideological recasting of Luther’s 95 Theses nailed to the doors of the Blue Church, only it was nowhere near as organized and it was done by the voters. (Which gives me an excuse to post this awesome graphic from the YouTube video by journalist David Fuller, A Glitch in the Matrix which discusses the cultural conflict pointed out by Jordan Hall and “notjaffo.” Also worth your time.)
He left out CBS, FOX, NPR and all the rest of the broadcast and cable networks, not to mention social media. And I would have replaced the cross with this Eye of Sauron,
But you get the idea. What “notjaffo” only touches on and isn’t mentioned by Fuller or Hall is a discussion of the role that the public education system has had in forming the Blue Church, for as I have spent a few hundred thousand words illustrating over the last sixteen years here they get the kids young and start indoctrinating them early – with varied levels of success. Hall notes:
Our legacy sensemaking system was largely composed of and dominated by a small set of communications channels. These included the largest newspapers (e.g., NYT and Washington Post) and television networks (e.g., CNN, CBS, Fox, etc.). Until very recently, effectively all sensemaking was mediated by these channels and, as a consequence, these channels delivered a highly effective mechanism for coordinated messaging and control. A sizable fraction of the power, influence and effectiveness of the last-stage power elites (e.g., the neocon alliances in both the Democratic and Republican parties) was due to their mastery at utilizing these legacy channels.
Here’s three minutes of “coordinated messaging”:
Let me paraphrase: bombshell, bombshell, bombshell, bombshell, beginning of the end, beginning of the end, beginning of the end, beginning of the end,… yeah, that about covers it.
And as “notjaffo” noted, it didn’t work. It’s still not working. The Left is baffled and frightened.
As Professor Patrick postulated, the media acts as the Clergy of the State, an “ecclesiastical social role, a functional near-monopoly whose duty becomes disseminating and interpreting the administrative word and its symbols unto the public. Democratic communication in this sense is sacramental, drawing its participants together into one body.” The network “news” is the Cardinals and Bishops preaching from the pulpit. Local “news” is largely your neighborhood Priests. Modern entertainment media, especially prime time programming is a 24/7 hymnal to Leftist memes. The schools are parochial, serving to produce the supplicants for the sacraments handed down by the Church. I truly believe that about 50% of the population is born with Sowell’s Unconstrained Vision, and the current public education system and media reinforces it, but it has done more than that – it’s made kids frightened and dependent. This has wholly transformed Western society in less than a century. From a CBC piece, May 4, Despite Trump’s Scaremongering, Socialism is Gaining a Foothold in America:
In March, New York magazine churned out several thousand words trying to answer its own question: When did everyone become a socialist? On the right, The Weekly Standard (just before it folded in December) took aim at what it called “the illusory dream of democratic socialism” in a piece called “Up from the Grave,” which began: “It’s back.”
In between, countless think pieces have analyzed what’s going on, usually making a link to the unexpected successes of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (a.k.a. AOC). But the truth is the warming trend for socialism began before any of that.
Nearly a decade ago, the Pew Research Center reported that American millennials, a generation with growing political clout, saw the world differently than their forebears. A 2010 Pew study found that, as a whole, Americans strongly favoured capitalism over socialism, but millennials slightly favoured socialism over capitalism.
Perhaps because they had no memory of the Cold War, they didn’t see socialism as a bogeyman. They were open to it.
A few years later, the political scientist and writer Peter Beinart took the Pew study and contextualized it in a widely read essay in the Daily Beast. Under the headline “The Rise of the New New Left,” he tried to unpack how a promise to make the rich pay for universal childcare turned lefty Democrat Bill de Blasio into the mayor of New York. Priorities were disrupted, thought Beinart.
With a hat tip to the sociologist Karl Mannheim, Beinart argued that only certain generations disrupt the status quo, and they do it because something irregular and meaningful happens during their formative years — late teens, early twenties — that forever colours their worldview.
Their weltanshauung. Beinart attributes the sea-change to the early 21st Century’s events – 9/11, the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 economic crash, etc., but I believe the foundations were already laid by the media and education industries, and our parents. The soil was plowed, the seeds planted. Remember Churchill’s admonition that “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart”? What changes that? Age. Experience. LIFE.
So how do you prevent the learning that turns people conservative? Extend adolescence. Shelter children from life. Give them everything they want. Supervise them 24/7. Avoid new ideas or any challenge to their childish weltangshauung. Sports “competitions” without scorekeeping. Elimination of games where feelings could be hurt. Turning Lego into a lesson in socialism. “Safe Spaces,” protests of public speakers you don’t agree with but can’t explain why except “They’re racist!” or homophobic, or… well you get the idea. When they get to be old enough, they’re no longer mentally flexible enough to accept new information. They just reject anything that doesn’t fit what they’ve been taught is Truth, even when it is ludicrously obvious that it’s wrong.
The problem that is now rearing its head on the Left is that they never really had a Catholic Faith. (The dictionary definition of “Catholic” being “Universal.”) They proselytized through division, breaking the 80% up into smaller subsets and promising them that the 20% had what they had through stealing it from them, by oppressing them, and that by binding together the various (and ever-growing) minorities they could make things right and make everything equal! But their Faith has always been like the Protestants, broken into many sects, and now those sects are fighting each other for power, and the Leftist movement is struggling against the schisms with the new mantra of intersectionality – defined at Wikipedia as:
Intersectionality, also referred to as intersectional feminism, is a branch of feminism which identifies how different aspects of social and political discrimination overlap with gender. It is an analytic framework that attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society. The term was coined by black feminist scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989. There are various forms of social stratification, such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, creed, disability and gender, which are included in the consideration of intersectional feminism and its social and cultural effects. The purpose of intersectionality is to identify that these forms of discrimination are related to one another, and take these relationships into account when working to promote social and political equity. While the theory began as an exploration of the oppression of women of color within society, today the analysis has expanded to include many more aspects of social identity. Intersectionality may also be related to the term triple oppression, which engages with similar themes.
Note that it started with feminism – which represents a group that is in actuality not a minority. And while it started there, it was swiftly expanded:
Intersectionality is a sociological theory describing multiple threats of discrimination when an individual’s identities overlap with a number of minority classes — such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, health and other characteristics.
For example, a woman of color may face sexism in the workplace, which is compounded by pervasive racism. Similarly, trans women of color face exceptionally high levels of discrimination and threats of violence. Looking through the lens of intersectionality, it’s not hard to see why: these women potentially face anti-trans prejudice, sexism, misogyny, racism and — due to the ignorance surrounding trans identity — homophobia.
While intersectionality is traditionally applied to women, a person of any gender may be affected by this phenomena of overlapping minority status. A man from a Hispanic background could face xenophobia in today’s America despite being a naturalized citizen. If that Hispanic man is in his 50s, ageism might add to the discrimination he could face in trying to secure employment.
Basically, if you’re not a cisgendered heterosexual white male, well those beasts are all out to get you. Problem is you can be a black lesbian track and field star who gets soundly beaten by a transgender competitor who uses the same bathroom you do. And complaining about that (getting beaten or sharing a bathroom) is verboten. If you’re a member of any Leftist-designated victim group, you cannot be victimized by a member of any other recognized victim group. Only by being united in your diversity can you overcome the scourge of people who don’t think like you do.
So what, several thousand words later, does this have to do with Civil War?
The ground has been prepared. The country has been divided. Not, this time, between the North and South, but pretty much the Urban vs. Rural. What Professor Angelo Codevilla calls the Ruling Class vs. the Country Class. The Civil War memes are flying, like this one I came across earlier this morning:
Many years ago blogger Ironbear wrote something I’ve quoted bits and pieces of numerous times. Here’s the entire pertinent part, and remember this was written in 2004:
This is a conflict of ideologies…
The heart of the conflict is between those to whom personal liberty is important, and those to whom liberty is not only inconsequential, but to whom personal liberty is a deadly threat.
At the moment, that contingent is embodied most virulently by the “American” Left. This is the movement that still sees the enslavement and “re-education” of hundreds of thousands in South Vietnam, and the bones of millions used as fertilizer in Cambodia as a victory. This is the movement that sees suicide bombers as Minute Men, and sees the removal of a brutal murder and rape machine from power as totalitarianism. This is the movement that sees legitimately losing an election as the imposition of a police state. This is the movement that believes in seizing private property as “common good”. That celebrates Che Guevara as a hero. The movement who’s highest representatives talk blithely about taking away your money and limiting your access to your own homestead for your own good. The movement of disarmament.
The movement of the boot across the throat.
Think about it. When was the last time that you were able to engage in anything that resembled a discussion with someone of the Leftist persuasion? Were able to have an argument that was based on the premise that one of you was wrong, rather than being painted as Evil just because you disagreed?
The Left has painted itself into a rhetorical and logical corner, and unfortunately, they have no logic that might act as a paint thinner. It’s not possible for them to compromise with those that they’ve managed to conflate with the most venal of malevolence, with those whom they’re convinced disagree not because of different opinions but because of stupidity and evil, with those who’s core values are diametrically opposed to what the Left has embraced. There can be no real discourse, no real discussion. There’s no common ground. There can be no reconciliation there – the Left has nothing to offer that any adherent of freedom wants. The only way they can achieve their venue is from a position of political ascendency where it can be imposed by force or inveigled by guile.
And all adherents of freedom have far too many decades of historical precedent demonstrating exactly where that Leftward road leads – to the ovens of Dachau.
There are people who’s opinions I respect that differ with me on this: they see that in the event of a political defeat this year, the Left will fragment and dissolve. I can see their reasoning, and I hope they’re correct, but I disagree. I’ve seen too much of the viciousness that a militant Leftist core with a ready supply of willing dupes is capable of when they’re frustrated by a politically intransient electorate. It may not come to a boil this year, or the next….
My gut agrees with my reason, and both of them tell me that this will eventually and inevitably end in blood. Ultimately, can only end in blood.
A pity, that.
All we seem to be waiting for is the trigger, the incident or incidents that will ignite the conflagration. I don’t think the nation has stood so close to the precipice of disaster since 1860.
But something else bothers me. Wars are, as I said, never over one thing. Religion often plays a major role, but economics is generally equally important, and often overlooked.
Yesterday it was reported that President Trump, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi had come to an agreement on the Federal Budget that would increase the spending ceiling through 2021 by another $320,000,000,000. As I write this, the National Debt is in excess of more than $22.5 TRILLION dollars and climbing.
That’s a debt that cannot be paid off. And we’re not even faking giving it a try. Bill Whittle did a recent B/W Now video decrying the agreement, that the politicians have decided that as long as the disaster doesn’t come while they’re in office, it’s not their problem. I think that’s right, but I also think that the people with their hands on the levers of power know they can’t put it off too much longer. One major crop failure, someone somewhere sets off a nuke, China decides to take Taiwan back, or more. Anything. And the world economy crashes. And we can’t service the debt.
What happens when “The Full Faith and Credit” of the United States means something between Jack and Squat?
War is a great way to wipe the books clean, ain’t it? Especially when you can blame it on Religion.
Sleep well. I don’t.