Good Friday Morning, especially to you the reader, who is here for the 250th installment of these missives that go out every Friday morning. I never anticipated these would become popular or that I’d stay this consistent at it. Deadlines have a way of doing that to you though. Thank you to everyone for sharing and helping this grow and become a morning or weekend ritual that you enjoy. The feedback is great, and I enjoy writing them out. It’s nice to know someone likes reading these musings, even if it only keeps me sane.
The first thing I ever wrote for my blog when it launched several years back was the topic of truth, what constitutes it, and how that intersects with culture. I didn’t plan on this being a special 250th installment where I touched on those themes again, but it’s working out that way. As I get into below, I read an essay this week that had me thinking about these topics, so you’re getting the end result of those thoughts. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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After Brnovich, Biden’s lawsuit against Georgia is likely doomed – The Conservative Institute.
America really is ‘the beautiful’ – The Conservative Institute.
The Culture Wars of America.
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
There are times you read something, a book, essay, tweet, or anything really, and the timing of that thing matters almost as much as the content. That was me this past week. I was thinking about the general issue of culture this week, in the vein of the fights over Critical Race Theory (CRT). I’ve mostly bit my tongue on the CRT debates because to write about that topic like I’d want to, I’d have to do a proper explainer on what CRT is in a legal theory sense, what the debased version promulgated by pseudo-intellectuals like Kendi and DeAngelo is, and then hit the legislation in some of these states.
There are many moving targets on CRT, and I’ve unfortunately not read anything close to a good piece on it. Some people hit at good points around the edges, but there’s just a lot of dreck masquerading as more. For instance, on the right, people call CRT a version of Marxism, which isn’t true (Marxists do an excellent job of getting their historical facts straight, Marx was a stickler for this; the most prominent CRT advocates, less so). On the left, they pitch CRT as nothing more than teaching history, which is utterly false. CRT is a legal theory of interpretation initially designed by legal scholars. Saying it’s only about history is like saying originalism is only about history. Sure, but you’re missing the point.
But those are all specific complaints I have about this topic. There’s a more general issue. And two essays hit me square this week while I was thinking through these topics. The first was some data collected by Kevin Drum in a piece entitled, “If you hate the culture wars, blame liberals.” His conclusion was simple:
Since roughly the year 2000, according to survey data, Democrats have moved significantly to the left on most hot button social issues while Republicans have moved only slightly right.
This wasn’t meant to be a rigorous scholarly analysis. And you can argue about margins of error, question wording, choice of topics, and so forth. Still, the gaps are too big and the trend too consistent to ignore the obvious conclusion that over the past two decades Democrats have moved left far more than Republicans have moved right…
Feel free to stop here and go check out the charts. It’s instructive and eye-popping to see the change. The viral chart was one from the Economist showing the division over the last twenty years.
On some level, this should be a “duh” conclusion. On issues of culture, conservatives haven’t changed in decades — that’s kind of the point of a conservative mindset. If you believe in certain inalienable or unalterable truths, you’re likely to stay in one place while everyone without those beliefs shifts—a ship without an anchor drifts.
I’ll show you how this works. The New Yorker posted an article that made the following argument, “A number of philosophers, futurists, science-fiction writers, and technologists have come to believe that the simulation argument is not just plausible, but inescapable.” The simulation argument is the postulation that we’re all living in a gigantic computer simulation, à la The Matrix.
The reason they’ve come to this conclusion is that the universe too perfect. The simulation is remarkably similar to the multiverse theory, which postulates that the only reason we exist in this one “perfect” universe is that there are countless universes outside our own, far less perfect, which can account for all the possible mathematical variations possible in the world.
The discerning reader might notice these are arguments with a specific purpose: explain existence, the universe, and everything without God. Mathematically, the possibility an all-knowing God created the universe is precisely the same as the multiverse or the simulation arguments (if not more likely). Ultimately, you can’t prove the existence of a simulation or the multiverse; they’re philosophical constructs bandied about by people with scientific degrees who pretend they’re doing science when in reality they’re playing the same philosophy games we’ve been meditating on for centuries.
I found this part of the New Yorker article telling on this point:
The simulation argument is appealing, in part, because it gives atheists a way to talk about spirituality. The idea that we’re living in only a part of reality, with the whole permanently beyond our reach, can be a source of awe. About our simulators, one can ask the same questions one asks about God: Why did the creators of our world decide to include evil and suffering? (Can they change that setting in the preferences?) Where did the original, non-simulated world come from? In that sense, the simulation argument is a thoughtful and expansive materialist fable that is almost, but not quite, religious. There is, of course, no sanctity or holiness in the simulation argument. The people outside the simulation aren’t gods—they’re us.
Atheistic theology and ethics. Fun stuff.
Put a pin in this thought for a moment. Let’s return to survey data. There was a second point related to culture, in a tweet by Ryan Burge:
In 2018 – “I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it.”
Gen X: 62%
But, look at this huge gap between Gen X and Millennials.
Gen Z: 33%
The decline for Gen Z is staggering, too.
49% in 2014
39% in 2016
33% in 2018.
Total moment of honesty here, in the event you’re new or never guessed: I’m in the 44% of millennials who know God exists and has no questions about it. I’m currently a shrinking minority for this generation and the next.
Now, think about where we started—the leftward trend of Democrats on culture and more, combined with the growing disbelief in God. The lack of a concrete set of beliefs has consequences, and religion provides a sound way to ground a culture long-term. However, I’d argue a counter to this: we’re not a Godless generation. We’re the opposite. It’s a growing culture of pantheism, there are many gods, and they go from the individual and move out.
Fan culture and identity
This point was made beautifully by one Twitter user: “Fan culture colonized how Americans conceive of identity, full stop. Tumblr was the vehicle of transmission.”
And what they mean by that is this: fan culture allowed people to rewrite their identity into shows, sports, or other things and become one of the toxic members of those sub-groups in society. People found meaning in a larger whole, ditched religion, and replaced that religion with these sub-groups of fan culture. Again, if you’re religious, you recognize this well: it’s cultism.
People have used these mini cult-like groups — and if you’ve ever seen the toxic fandom exhibited on websites like Tumblr and how it spread, you know it’s deeply cultish in behavior and attitude — to recreate their identity. And if you can subvert your identity to fandom, you can get rid of your entire identity with things like gender and more. That’s why we have an explosion of people identifying themselves as off-the-wall things. It’s no different than fandom culture, and it’s deeply cult-like.
That’s why people take attacks on sub-groups of fandom so seriously. It’s not just an attack on an idea; it’s a personal attack and an attack on an individualized religion. That’s not to say being a fan of something is bad. But overwriting an identity with it is. Growing it into something more is. It’s the consequences of a culture without a monotheistic God at the center and one where pantheism reigns. For the Christian, it’s Paul debating at Mars Hill.
The irony now is that rejecting these subgroups is counter-cultural. Rejecting the spin they place on the world places you outside the mainstream they’ve developed. Cultural safety is the mini-refuges of these toxic groups. Existing outside allows them to attack you as a group.
The Culture Wars are Long Wars
That brings me to the essay that had me thinking deeply about culture because that writer referenced the statistics on God too. The piece was Culture Wars Are Long Wars. Here’s the intro:
“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked?
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, then suddenly.”
—Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926).
We are told that conservatives “lost the culture war.” I dissent from this view: American conservatives never waged a culture war. Conservatives certainly fought, there is no denying that. They fought with every bit of obstruction and scandal their operatives could muster. But this was not a culture war. Rather, America’s conservatives fought a political war over culture. Republicans used cultural issues to gain—or to try to gain—political power. Their brightest minds and greatest efforts went into securing control of judiciary, developing a judicial philosophy for their appointees, securing control of the Capitol, and developing laws that could be implemented in multiple state houses across the nation. No actual attempt to change the culture was attempted.
This was not thought necessary. Conservatives had the people. One decade they were called a “silent” majority; as the culture war heated up, that majority transitioned from “silent” to “moral,” but a majority they remained. In these circumstances it was sufficient to quarantine the cultural dissidents and keep them from using minority maneuvers (“legislating from the bench”) to impose their cultural priorities on the rest of us. Political containment was the name of our game. Republicans played it well. They still play it well, even when the majority of yesterday has melted away.
The left played for different stakes. They fought for American culture as the right fought over it. Their insurgency succeeded as Hemingway’s businessman failed: gradually, then suddenly.
Cultures can be changed; movements can be built. But as these examples all suggest, this is not a quick task. Culture wars are long wars. Instilling new ideas and overthrowing existing orthodoxies takes time—usually two to three generations of time. It is a 35-50 year process.
As an example, he uses modern politics and I’m in agreement with him:
If you want to see this process in real time, look no further than the Democrat’s socialist wing. Older party leaders view the socialists as spoilers and madmen, political contagions not to be fought against nor partnered with, but contained and quarantined. Socialism is not something they take seriously. This is a cohort problem. Democrats under 40 take socialism very seriously. The Great Recession was their formative event; the old orthodoxy did not seem equal to the fear and heartache it caused. Thus, gradually, the younger cohorts have been won over to the socialist cause.5 All that keeps the socialists at bay is the power of their elders. That power cannot last. At some point in the next decade the transition point will arrive. Gradually will become suddenly, and America’s most popular party will be openly run by socialists.
We are fast approaching the moment when “suddenly” will come for Democrats. In the House, the only people holding back the ascendant socialist wing are Democrats Party leaders. And they are not young. Nancy Pelosi is 81, Steny Hoyer is 82, James Clyburn is 80, Chuck Schumer is a spritely 70, Dick Durbin is 76, Patty Murray is 70, and Elizabeth Warren is 71.
By way of example, when then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill retired from Congress in 1987 after being Speaker for a decade (the longest continuous in history), he was 74. He’d be the youngest among the top three House Democrats currently. The Democratic Party is headed for a leadership sea change, and soon. The clock is ticking, and the socialist wing of the party knows it.
Suddenly is going to arrive this decade, sooner rather than later.
The anti-socialist Democrats who entered politics inspired by people like John F. Kennedy, who hated the Soviets and communists, are passing away. And the next generation has none of those historical examples. The right is dealing with the same as the generations who came in with Reagan are moving on.
I’d quibble with the essay on conservatives and culture war slightly: I think conservatives have waged a culture war (successfully) on guns, abortion, and free speech. And I believe payoffs are coming on that front soon.
But in the middle of that, conservatives have also lost ground in many other areas, especially as culture increasingly accepts a progressive worldview as the norm to follow. That’s why you see this dropoff in belief in God among millennials and gen-z.
The payoff is coming in terms of debate by declaring reality whatever you want it to be and demanding people accept that. This is, in essence, the ultimate problem of things like CRT and any other cultural debate we’re having. The contest over Marxism in the 20th Century was different. Marxism, as correctly understood, was wrong on interpretations, not facts (communist countries whitewashed their histories, which they did in part to help “prove” the theories of Marxism).
We’re not arguing over interpretations anymore; we’re arguing about the very facts of reality. After all, if life is a simulation or a multiverse where you’re one of an infinite variety of “you,” why can’t you declare a random identity? It’s just one in trillions. There’s no consequence in believing or changing because everything is randomized, and we’re just simulations or variations on statistical outcomes.
Overcoming this will require a much different battle for conservatives than they’re used to fighting: it will require an actual culture war in which you actively end up changing the minds and hearts of everyone involved. As I said, I think that’s been done on some niche issues. But not everything, and there’s a lot of lost ground to make up. It can be done, it may seem slow, but there comes a sudden moment when everyone looks around and realizes things have changed forever.
Links of the week
China’s gene giant harvests data from millions of women: A prenatal test used worldwide sends gene data of pregnant women to the company that developed it with China’s military. The U.S. sees a security risk. – Reuters
NBER Study: “UBI of $12,000 a year would reduce average household earnings by more than $6,000, and require an earnings surcharge of approximately 27 percent on all households, out of which 2.5 percentage points is due to the behavioral response.” – NBER
Study: “We also found that Democrats expressed more dehumanization and antidemocratic spite toward Republicans than vice-versa. Again, this appears to clash with research suggesting that liberals are more open, tolerant, and less biased toward outgroup members.”
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!