Showing posts from January, 2016

Progressive is the New Puritan

Joseph Bottum has offered a weak (in the sense of historically shallow) version of this argument in his An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and Spirit of America  (New York: Image, 2014), where he attempts to account for the decline of the mainline Protestant churches in America over the last half century or so. As Bottum tells it, it was above all the new social gospel preached by the Baptist theologian Walter Rauschenbusch around the turn of the twentieth century that was ultimately responsible for the loss of confidence among American Protestants in themselves as Christians, if not in themselves as cultural elites. The story is complicated and involves lots of different currents in American culture from the late nineteenth century to the present, but the result, as Bottum convincingly shows, has been a profound transformation in the way in which American elites identify as religious or (mostly) not. The real question, left to a certain extent unanswered, is why they were so su

Conservative is the New Redneck

This one's a no-brainer, right? Of course conservatives are rednecks, Mr. Obama told us so all the way back in 2008 when he was first running for president. As he told his supporters at a San Francisco fundraiser: You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.  With the implication that they should (or would) be clinging to government  instead, if only the government worked? Let me tell you a story. Way back in 1637, the King of England want

The Unbearable Whiteness of the West

Enough dancing around , let's just say it. It is one thing to say that the peoples who inhabit the westernmost parts of the Eurasian continent--the majority of whom during recorded human history happened to be white or at least what we would now call "white" (although they didn't think of themselves that way until more recently)--have had a disproportionate effect over the past five hundred or so years (give or take a couple of centuries) on the development of the world as we now know it. It is wholly another thing to say that they have had this effect because they were white. The former is a statement of historical reality: the world would not look the way it does now--our cities, our industries, our clothing, our populations, our governments, our health care, our technologies, our educational institutions, our transportation systems, our communications, our food--if not for the effects of what economic historian Dierdre McCloskey has called the Great Fact, t

Defining the West

One of the most important things I learned in the Facebook exchange over my " Talking Points " post was how difficult it is to have a conversation when you and your interlocutors are using the same terms to mean radically different things. As I thought would be obvious (clearly it wasn't!), I labelled the talking points "Three Cheers for White Men" because I wanted to push back against the " Dead White Men " trope which has tended to suggest (at least to those who use it as an insult) that there is nothing in our present culture worth keeping that goes back to the thoughts or actions of white (a.k.a. European) men, including those who have been the focus of much of my research.* What my colleagues heard me say was somewhat different: not that "dead white men" may have done some good, but that only  "dead white men" have done any good, ignoring the fact (which I never denied) that not all of the good that they have done has been goo

Chivalry Ink Master-Style, ca. 2016

My tattoo artist wants you to know that Ink Master does not  represent the tattoo industry as she and her colleagues experience or understand it. In her words: "Instead of wasting precious brain cells watching Ink Master  and the other ridiculous shows that are a blight on my craft, watch Gypsy Gentleman  instead. There's no fabricated drama. It's actually interesting, is made by a well-respected veteran tattooer, and showcases real tattoo artists and their processes, instead of the ones who are just trying to be celebrities. There's 7 episodes. Watch all of them." She's right to be angry, I totally get this. She's right to be angry with Ink Master  for the way in which it sensationalizes what is a complex, challenging, and uniquely intimate craft--for what could be more intimate than taking as your creative surface living, human skin? I don't know if it will reassure her to know that it was not, in fact, Ink Master  that persuaded me I wanted to g

What Our Political Conversations Ought to Be Like, According to Calvin

Ninth Commandment THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST THY NEIGHBOUR. "47. The purport of the commandment is, since God, who is truth, abhors falsehood, we must cultivate unfeigned truth towards each other. The sum, therefore, will be, that we must not by calumnies and false accusations injure our neighbour’s name, or by falsehood impair his fortunes; in fine, that we must not injure any one from petulance, or a love of evil-speaking. To this prohibition corresponds the command, that we must faithfully assist every one, as far as in us lies, in asserting the truth, for the maintenance of his good name and his estate. The Lord seems to have intended to explain the commandment in these words: “Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.” “Keep thee far from a false matter,” ( Exod. 23:1 ,  7 ). In another passage, he not only prohibits that species of falsehood which consists in acting the part of ta