Monday 5/22/23

Open Culture Wars

Our Culture War is a Cold War

True revolutionaries do not need to borrow authority from institutions, because they have the power to take what they want from their unconsenting enemy. The woke Left, whether we want to admit it or not, and whether it is itself conscious of it or not, has no such power. It has only consenting victims.

People on the New Right will probably object, claiming that they’re unwilling to listen to and aren’t convinced by the woke Left but are coerced into acquiescing in its beliefs and required conduct thanks to its institutional power—that they are the victims of a form of violence. But the nature of the new Left’s power is not Schmittian. Instead, its power comes from its capacity to influence the state through … “institutional capture” [a/k/a] “cultural hegemony.”

The irritating proximity of different ways of life, which is inevitable in complex modern societies, would not lead their proponents to such extreme expressions of disdain and mutual hatred if those proponents were made to bear the consequences of their discourse. Without such a prospect, each side can all too safely afford to see the other as an absolute enemy and claim to heroically stand for its cause. In the spirit of Schmitt, no situation is as little political as ours.

The woke Left and the New Right are manifestations of a deeper crisis. Both of them find their origin in the neutral state’s aims to liberate people from the responsibility to determine and to pursue a common good, and therefore focus on the administration of things. The state remains neutral out of fear that our disagreements about the common good might lead us to become enemies. But polarization shows clearly enough that peace reduced to mere coexistence, and the virtues attached to it (tolerance and moderation), fall short of what makes human beings want to form a united people, and ready to cultivate the virtues necessary to achieve such a goal.

Freedom, understood as individual autonomy, can never be the sole or even the main question to which a political regime provides the collective answer: How to live together and still be free?

Our problem is not that Left and Right are bringing us to the verge of civil war, but that their political demands have become completely detached from the reality of the human relations that make the satisfaction of such demands possible and just.

Alexis Carré, in the concluding essay in a series on the “coalition of the sensible” at Public Discourse.

That essay was a real mind-bender for someone like me who has bought the narrative that we are dangerously polarized, almost on the brink of a hot civil war. It’s one of the rare pieces I’m flagging (Obsidian bookmark) to re-read after a while.

The other essays in the series are linked at the top of Carré’s essay.

Our ideologically incoherent tribes

Today, the Lewises argue, “Left” and “Right” are competing bundles of unconnected and sometimes incompatible issue commitments held together by tribalism. The authors bring to bear a wealth of social science research that shows that people’s issue commitments are more heavily influenced by group loyalties than by philosophical consistency. They also catalogue a history of various political stances that, for example, began as Right, then were considered Left, and sometimes back again, depending on the coalitions’ needs. Trade protectionism, for example, was “Right;” then “Left;” now “Right” again (or maybe “Right” and “Left”). Foreign interventionism took the reverse course. Today what counts as “Right” and “Left” has become conflated with party, and party with the views of individual leaders. All of this, the Lewises contend, cuts strongly against the “essentialist” concept of ideology and in favor of their “social theory.”

Andrew Busch, reviewing The Myth of Left and Right by Hyrum and Verlan Lewis.

Considering what became of the GOP in 2015-16, this “social theory of ideology” has some obvious appeal, as the GOP now holds policies opposite those held ten years ago, and the change was not gradual and evolutionary.

Covert Culture Wars

No Place of One’s Own

To make every place available to all is not to erase privilege, if by that term we mean something illegitimate. Rather it is to erase an earned ability to know and to use diverse and localized pockets of the world according to different levels of personal investment and responsibility. Another way to name this would be the end of ownership, conceived not simply as private property, but as title to inhabit some place on the earth as one’s own.

Matthew Crawford, Seeing Like Google

Google Street View undermines our ability to inhabit a place on earth as our own, and Google has ambitions toward something even more deracinating (I suspect it involved the map of your home created by your Roomba and uploaded to our overlords.)

It is good periodically to be reminded, first, how evil Google is and, second, to trace the implications of its hubris (and its market-tested insouciant responses to objectors).

Participatory disinformation

Disinformation and conspiracism spread in advanced, individualistic democracies like the United States not because their targets are sheeplike but because, to the contrary, so many people are active collaborators in their own deception. … “It’s a fight between good and evil,” one woman told the Associated Press in 2021, explaining why she spent hours every day scouring the internet for proof that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. “She saw systems fail those most vulnerable,” reported the A.P., “and her faith in the standard truth-bearers of American democracy—courts, Congress, the media—eroded. She felt she could trust nothing but believe anything.… … Conspiracy theories like the ones about the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic “are profoundly participatory disinformation campaigns,”

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

Return from captivity

Playing in her first real WNBA game in 579 days, Brittney Griner did something Friday night in Los Angeles that national television audiences hadn’t seen her do in a long time: The Phoenix Mercury center stood for the national anthem.

She stopped doing so in 2020 but has resumed the practice after returning from 10 months of imprisonment in Russia. “One thing that’s good about this country is our right to protest,” Griner said after the game when I asked her about the issue. “You have a right to be able to speak out, question, to challenge, and do all these things. [After] what I went through, it just means a little bit more to me now. I was literally in a cage and could not stand the way I wanted to … and a lot of other situations. Just being able to hear my national anthem, see my flag, I definitely wanted to stand.”

Jemele Hill

Trans matters

Telling statistics from Tavistock

The Tavistock Centre, the sole facility in the NHS dedicated to [gender reassignment], kept statistics on the children who came to their doors. Among those referred in 2012, ninety percent of natal girls and 80 percent of natal boys reported being same-sex attracted or bisexual. There is no inherent relationship between trans and gay and bi people. So why this staggering overlap? No answer. If a Christianist hospital was busy changing the sexes of overwhelmingly gay kids, so that they became straight, what do you think the gay rights establishment would say? But when a queer facility does exactly that, all the worriers are bigots.

… From the Times of London:

So many potentially gay children were being sent down the pathway to change gender, two of the clinicians said there was a dark joke among staff that “there would be no gay people left.” “It feels like conversion therapy for gay children,” one male clinician said. “I frequently had cases where people started identifying as trans after months of horrendous bullying for being gay,” he told The Times. “Young lesbians considered at the bottom of the heap suddenly found they were really popular when they said they were trans.”

Another female clinician said: “We heard a lot of homophobia which we felt nobody was challenging. A lot of the girls would come in and say, ‘I’m not a lesbian. I fell in love with my best girl friend but then I went online and realised I’m not a lesbian, I’m a boy. Phew.”

You might imagine that, given this record, the queers would go out of their way to reassure us, to show how tight the safeguarding is, how they screen thoroughly to ensure that gay kids are not swept up in this. But they regard the very question of whether gay kids are at risk as out of bounds.

Andrew Sullivan, Notes on a Medical Scandal. I don’t recall Sullivan ever before penning such a crie de couer, but I’m glad he did. You should read the whole thing if you can, bearing in mind that “queer” isn’t used as an insult but as the self-chosen adjective of the activists he’s opposing.

I had not known the “staggering” extent of the overlap between homosexual attractions and subsequent trans identification, but had been aware that most adolescents who presented with gender dysphoria would, if denied medical transition, eventually settle into conventional gay or lesbian identities. That probably is why the trans ideologues are ruling the very question of whether gay kids are at risk out of bounds, transphobic and evil.

I should also mention (confess?) that I have previously overlooked (not just underestimated the “stick” of anti-gay bullying, underestimated the role of qualms about homosexual attraction, and overestimated the “carrot” of social valorization as motives for kids to declare themselves trans.

Inconvenient parallel

California banned conversion therapy for minors in 2012. That law later withstood two legal challenges. I wonder if the precedents in those cases will affect legal challenges to the Texas and Florida bills [banning gender transitioning procedures for minors] as judges weigh whether legislators overreached in denying treatments many trans kids want.

Conor Friedersdorf

The Culture without the War

CNN trembling at the prospect of Trump 2024

[I]f you remember CNN’s ratings during the Trump presidency, then you know that quivering you see among the talking heads now might not be rage so much as thrill. More like the quivering you hear about in romance novels. There’s an unholy but unstoppable union, a love hidden but never extinguished kind of shake—yes yes yes!—it’s the story of Donald J. Trump and cable news.

Nellie Bowles

The Ancients: What Makes the Best Regime?

The ancient philosophers’ primary question was what makes the best regime. Democracy certainly did not qualify. Why not? The answer was simple. They thought democracy was a messy system, systematically undermining the rule of law, profoundly partisan, often hostile to the most prominent leaders and citizens. The famous defense of democratic Athens delivered by Pericles in Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War is in fact more a defense of Athens and Athenian imperialism than of the democratic political model. When Plato and Aristotle wrote their scathing remarks about the Athenian system, they thought it was already in decline and Athens might soon become a victim of the crisis from which it would not be able to recover. And this is exactly what happened.

Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy

Guilt by Association

There seems to be some titilating about famous men who knew Jeffrey Epstein, the latest being Noam Chomsky.

For the record, I think human beings — even Jeffrey Epstein — are more complicated than that. If every man who knew Jeffrey Epstein was a sexual predator, then I should give up on Christianity and become a frank Manichean.


  • A student told me there were no objective moral truths.  I mentioned a precept of the Decalogue, and asked “What about that?”  He replied, “That’s not morality, that’s justice.”  But if we take justice in the classical sense – giving to each what is due to him – almost all morality is about justice.  To my wife, I owe fidelity; to my parents, honor; to the child whom I sire, an intact family in which to enjoy the care of me and his mother.
  • A warning to intellectuals such as myself. Supposing the existence of square circles, you can do a lot of things: You can make syllogisms about them, you can develop theories about them, you can even prove theorems about them. But that doesn’t mean that they exist.
  • As a Christian, I believe in the Messiah.  That doesn’t mean I have to like political messianism, which we find both on the right and on the left.  The difference is that left-wing political messianism is usually utopian, trusting the hero to take us to a political promised land — but right-wing political messianism is usually reactive, trusting the hero to save us from the crazies who believe in utopia.  The advantage here lies with the left, because unfortunately, most people are more impressed by lunatic visionaries than by persons with no vision at all.

J Budziszewski

The Burden

I realized
at dusk
under the flight path
of the rooks
that this weight on me
was perhaps not words
or my need to belong
but was the weight
of knowing too much
seeing too much
taking on too much
staring too long into the abyss
taking it all so personally.

(Paul Kingsnorth, versified by me because I felt that it “scanned” as poetry)

Rank Politics

DeSantis head-scratcher

Some of what Ron DeSantis is doing seems sensible, some dubious, some flat-out weird. What in heaven’s name is the purpose of the “2-minute opening remarks” in the fifth item on this list?


A group of prominent Democrats are calling for $14 trillion to be paid as reparations to the descendants of slaves. The bill was introduced by Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, who said: “The United States has a moral and legal obligation to provide reparations for the enslavement of Africans and its lasting harm on the lives of millions of Black people.” I’m on board with reparations. At least, I think it’d be better to do a big reparations shebang—cut checks and call it a day—than the strange sort of slow-drip reparations plans we see in liberal institutions. Like, yes, $14 trillion is a lot of money. But if the alternative is Robin DiAngelo trainings till the end of time and making the MCAT illegal and allowing people to self-ID as doctors because that’s more equitable, then $14 trillion is a bargain. 

But here’s why reparations … will never happen: simply cutting checks to the descendants of slaves means shuttering all the thousands of racial justice nonprofits that serve as an employment program for America’s white grad students ….

Nellie Bowles

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

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