Saturday, February 04, 2017

links for the weekend, the anxieties of too many or too few babies and the persistence of apocalyptic imagination

Over at New York mag Laura June explains that the reason you'll never be as perfect a mom as a French mom is because France has the better nanny state.  It always takes a village to raise a child, apparently, and apparently one of the signs of modernity is that the village that it is thought it takes to raise a child on the part of some New York writers is formal infrastructure. 

It would appear last year marked a record low, lowest birth rates ever for females in the United States.

Beyond the social implications of this relative decline in baby production, it may be the best recent news for human health at a population level, as Earth is unsustainably full of humans. That’s tough to say without sounding “evil,” I’m told, but it’s a question of math. There is not enough space to house and feed everyone. Population growth has us on course for catastrophic famine and war that result from overpopulating a planet that is growing ever less habitable.

It's not really new that people able to write thoughts for posterity have regarded humans as too susceptible to breeding.  Ironically this sentiment goes back about a thousand years.

A History of Political Thought: The Middle Ages
Walter Ullman
Penguin Books
first published 1965
 ISBN-10: 0140207783
ISBN-13: 978-0140207781

The continuator of his commentaries on the Politics, his [Thomas Aquinas'] pupil at Paris and later Bishop of Claremont, Peter of Auvergne, struck up quite radical naturalist chords, particularly in connexion with social and economic questions and problems connected with marriage. For instance, he held that, since the State had to be self-sufficient, it was imperative to limit the number of citizens, otherwise poverty would follow. Hence he advocated limitations in the size of families. Aristotle's suggestion of abortion was not endorsed, but in order to avoid over-population he suggested restrictions of procreation between the ages of 37 and 55 with men and 18 to 37 with women, because then fewer children would be born. Beyond these age groups there should not be sexual intercourse with a view to procreation, but simply for the sake of health or some other valid reason.

So people with advanced educations have been fretting about the inability of the state to provide for the welfare of citizens if they're all reproducing at peak fertility seasons for a long time.  The new variation of ecological catastrophe isn't even necessarily a new concern, it's a new variation an old concern, which was that human agricultural customs either couldn't keep up with human fertility or could damage the earth if it were deployed at a larger scale.

We live in an era in which the admonition to refrain from childbirth may not always be argued on the basis of global ecological health or the capacity of the state to provide.  We also live in an era in which the political and economic freedom of the individual can be argued as a reason women should have the option to not reproduce.

Lots of people didn't want to have children over the centuries and a lot of them also avoided having kids by not having sex.  The puzzle of Western civilization at this point is that it seems sex is presented as the most liberating thing possible for those who have negotiated the privilege of having it ... and yet authors ranging from Slate to The Atlantic and ... well ... the pattern might be self-evident at this point ... regard parenthood as one of the ultimate forms of bondage.

With so many Americans not having babies letting the immigrants in might seem like it would solve the labor problem pretty easily.  But the immigration process is (so I occasionally hear) pretty labrynthine and time-consuming.  The nanny states of Western Europe may seem ideal to envious Americans but those cultures have been around for millennia and have more of a history of being cultural monoliths than the United States can ever possibly hope to be.  Some of those nation states, in the Scandanavian region, have legendarily strict immigration requirements.  One fellow I used to know tried to expatriate to that region and was told in the clearest possible terms he'd never be allowed in. 

For those who have considered expatriation to Canada they may have had a chance to find out you need a sponsor and a way to demonstrate you can provide your share of financial contributions to the state.  Americans seem loathe to admit there's such a thing as an opportunity cost, or that there's a price tag to stuff.  Thus we don't just get guys talking about building walls whose price tags have not been assessed we also get gals proclaiming that other countries have better nanny states and that we should just implement that kind of program over here whether or not the national economy is necessarily solvent enough to get that to work for three to five generations. 

Sometimes it seems that if the global ecological crisis is as bad as people fear it is that the  most reasonable reaction would be a kind of revived birth-averse socially conservative Catholic approach.  Nobody has sex unless they're planning to have babies and they should only even do that if they know they can afford to. 

If we're at a record low for births in the United States it may be people have worked out that we can't afford to have those babies and are just voluntarily abstaining from reproduction.  It's not going to make the crisis of who will be earning the income that can be taxed for the social safety net of tomorrow going away.  For that matter even the most liberal welfare state has government workers.  The job of the government worker is going to be maximizing tax dollar expenditures.  Which is to say that even in the bluest of blue states the job of the social worker still includes an injunction to save as much money as possible when something doesn't need to be spent.  If you don't need to be on food stamps you can be found ineligible.  If the state thinks you don't "really" need to be given monetary aid for your condition or if the money just dries up they could cut you loose so that you can pay your own way.

In other words, as more and more Americans get elderly the brief scandal of the "death panel" stuff with health care reform was, on the right, presented as if it were a fundamental innovation.  But why would it be?  If your health care is paid for by the state the state can't avoid the question of whether it's worth it to keep you alive any more than you can avoid the question of what happens if they one day decide you're not worth keeping alive?  This has been one of the reasons I can't regard either capitalism or socialism as different in contemporary technocratic societies.  People must be treated as commodities because that's ultimately how these systems have to work. 

Someone at The Baffler could say it's easier for us to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism
Jessa Crispin quotes a few people and then writes:
In other words, giving a voice to the impossible, the impractical, and the fantastical makes it all the more possible. Aiming high, rather than resigning yourself to what is practical and reasonable, is the important thing. In Greek mythology, Ouranos was the sky god, the god of ideas, the god of all that was possible. His son was Kronos, the god of time, the god of limits. Kronos castrated Ouranos, because that is what reality does to potential: it removes some of its power. Ouranos’s testicles were thrown into the sea, the realm of Poseidon, the realm of the imagination, and from that interaction was birthed Aphrodite, the goddess of art, beauty, and love.

In that sense there isn't really a secular left if by secular we mean a left which isn't informed by historicism.  Materialistic historicism is ultimately a pseudo-secularized apocalyptic idiom wrested from Jewish or Christian apocalyptic idioms and rendered "scientific" by means of economic and social theories.  But it is still ultimately a religious impulse by dint of being utopian (or dystopian).

If this weren't an article in The Baffler that sentiment could have come from a Word-faith teacher or a Joel Osteen or a Norman Vincent Peale.  Or another variant, Mark Driscoll said a year or so back that you have to dream so big that if God doesn't bring about the realization of the dream then the dream really is impossible.  It's like we've got Americans on the left and right of everything who feel like dreaming big impossible dreams regardless of whether or not we can pay the price tag for it because someone else is going to magically come through and pay for it all is the American way across the political and religious spectrum in the early 21st century. 

Americans may find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the United States.  Apocalyptic imagination has always had dystopian and utopian strains.  Hell and Heaven.  The trouble with the utopian strains in Western technocratic societies is that they tend to be inspired by fears of dystopian futures or presents and the history of Europe over the last century or two has suggested that if you move far enough left or right anti-Semitism is going to rear its ugly head in both directions. 

The left seems to have been riven in the last fifty years with two concerns.  One concern is that Western culture has not lived up to its promise of equality and opportunity for all. Another concern is that Western culture so endangers the global ecosphere and is so foundationally predicated on a fiscal system that is abusive and fraudulent that the system shouldn't exist.  The trouble is that this seems, whether within a left perspective or from a right reaction, like an insoluable problem.  If the economic engines that heretofore have generated the "wealth" that can be used to equalize outcomes or opportunities ravages the global biosphere then the freedoms the left would like all to have are immoral to reach for.  As the right has spent decades wringing its hands over, just because rights for all are asserted doesn't mean the state has to pay for those rights to be available.  Old line conservatives might try to roll out the distinction between natural and civil rights but we may live in an era where any residual, let alone explicit, appeal to natural rights deriving from natural law will be laughed out of the room.

In the age of Trump, however, the paradox is that the strong centralized state that many on the left regard as necessary for a just society is the apotheosis of evil if the wrong guys have control of that state apparatus. 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

so there was this thing called Books & Culture?

D. G. Hart has blogged a bit on the passing of Books & Culture.  I admit I only heard of this thing within the last few years but it apparently had a decades-long run.
Like many little magazines, Books & Culture was a response to a problem. As Wilson remarked in a recent podcast, "It was not accidental that The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind came out in '94 and the first issue of B&C in '95." Lamenting the persistence of anti-intellectualism within American evangelicalism, Scandal was an "epistle from a wounded lover," articulating Mark Noll's "hope that we American evangelicals might yet worship God with our minds."

In so many ways, Books & Culture was the concrete expression of this ideal. ...

Somehow missed the thing until just a few years ago.  So it's reach was ... well ... limited I guess.  I'd heard of Mockingbird thanks to Michael Spencer.  I've loved writing for them and have been writing things for Mockingbird off and on since 2010. 

One of the things I've noticed about the writings on evangelicalism and intellectualism is dismay at the loss of the evangelical intellectual.  But ... Alastair Roberts raised a point that the intellectuals he heard people talking about within evangelicalism were not themselves evangelicals but mainline Protestants.  While that's a point worth consideration in its own right I'm skipping ahead to my own concern, which is that it seems to one degree or another the trouble with evangelicalism in America is that the only crisis it seems particularly concerned with is the self-perceived loss of its own prestige.  If evangelical intellectuals are out there and want to know where the other evangelical intellectuals have gone let's propose an idea, that what we try to do is not merely solve the prestige problem we perceive for ourselves but attempt to meaningfully address some problem that other people consider an actual problem.

As an amateur musician and composer I've spent much of my adult life ruminating on the problem of how the divide between high and low cultural expressions of music seem to be pretty rigid in one sense and expanding in another sense.  As Richard Taruskin's liked to put it, the gap between the academic canon and the vernacular canon has gotten really, really big.  But the controversy surrounding whether or not jazz was considered part of the Western art music canon over at Yale a few years ago was a vivid reminder that there's the white/black side of all this, too.  You could imagine, perhaps, that evangelicals white and black who are musicians and worship the same risen Jesus as Lord could perhaps do some scholarly exploration.  That the boundaries between styles like ragtime and early 19th century guitar sonatas by composers from Spain or Italy or Bohemia are permeable was something I spent an entire week blogging about.  It's not something I've seen even secular academics discussing seriously over the last ten years.  Unfortunately, but particularly with debates about cultural appropriation raging, it seems that groups have been fixated on who does or doesn't get the credentials of club membership for this or that guild of the champions of a particular style.  If the mainlines have caught up to the polystylistic pluralism of music that is the present evangelicals have their respective ... neighborhoods. 

I've had my doubts about academics on other grounds.  It's taken me a while to catch up with arts criticism and critical theory stuff but it seems as though American colleges have been swamped with some kind of ethos in which people who can afford to get liberal arts degrees that cost more than twice what a lot of Americans can make in a single year are, somehow, exempt from being part of America's ruling castes because ... they can quote Walter Benjamin?  Benjamin's easier to read than Adorno but still ... .

It's been hard to shake the sense in the last ten years as I've read on the edges of academic publishing and read some actually pretty lively academic books that the thing "is" still a prestige racket.  There's still some fine stuff I've read from formal academics.  That's how I learned about Hepokoski & Darcy's inspired cumulative work on sonata forms, for instance, and I think the Type 2 sonata explains a lot of the most substantial early 19th century guitar sonatas by the likes of Sor and Giuliani.  So it's nice that academics are making works available to read for free for the public good.  That would seem to be the ideal of scholarship ... but I bet textbook prices are still absolutely obscene. 

In an era when little magazines fight to survive, where can evangelical eggheads go for intellectual edification?

the author had some specific publications in mind ...

My own pet interests have been establishing that genuinely contrapuntal music for solo guitar is not merely possible but practical.  I've also been interested in exploring ways in which a non-dogmatic approach to eighteenth century developmental procedures (i.e. sonata and fugue) can take on vernacular American idioms such as ragtime, blues, country and jazz.  It's taken years of shaking off what largely amounts to the vainglorious 19th century German idealist position as it was conveyed through music education to get back to what the 18th century composers actually did and not what 19th century and even 20th century pedagogues claimed they did.  It's impossible to describe in words the realization that Anton Reicha wrote a fugue in 5/8 that had its subject in A major but its answer in E flat major in a work from the early 1800s.  Somewhere along the line we got sold a bill of good about the 18th century being more staid and in need of Beethoven shaking it up than was actually the case.  Beethoven thought some of Reicha's experiments were just too weird to condone. 

I still dream of composing a guitar sonata that formulates a fusion of fugue with blues riffs and sonata form with the style of ragtime.  If mainstream academics haven't explored this in a systematic or theoretical way why should I be surprised to find that it doesn't seem evangelicalism has done this, either?  Theoretically the possibilities of pan-stylistic gestural mutation was laid out by George Rochberg and if the name didn't tip you off in itself he wasn't exactly what you'd call an evangelical.  Still, Rochberg's got some ideas I find interesting. It's just too bad that the most vocal advocates of Rochberg seem to be ardent defenders of the stratification of high and low musical styles where the implications of Rochberg's proposal that gesture, and not style or language or system or method, would be the path to living in a world that must take musical pluralism for granted, would suggest that these boundaries can be obliterated.  Given how balkanized our era seems to be perhaps those boundaries even "should" get obliterated.  We've had centuries of stylistic profusion and splintering and we've had centuries of stylistic consolidation and integration.   The early period of the Baroque had a lot of stylistic differentiation and fragmentation. The late Baroque was a consolidation process thanks to a number of figures.  We seem to have an educational system that wants innovation rather than consolidation and I don't think the reason for that is copyright law but the residual ideological commitments of Romanticism.  If evangelicals persist in being functionally reactionary rather than exploratory then the life of the mind evangelicals want to sustain isn't going to happen. 

social media as sociological propaganda--the not-so-soft totalitarian impulses in the red state and blue state civic religions

Last year we spent quite a bit of time going through Jacques Ellul's Propaganda as a way to reflect upon the career of former Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll.  Of course when Ellul published his book he was not thinking immediately about what we call megachurches because megachurches as we know them did not exactly exist back then.  But he had a warning about what would happen if the Church were to embrace propagandistic techniques of the modern, technocratic sort influenced by the social sciences.

Last year, almost a year ago, actually, I made the case that a person like Mark Driscoll should essentially not be understood as a pastor at all in any conventionally historical sense of the term.  Driscoll's own explication of what he's trained himself to do and how he does it makes him not so much a pastor who is the shepherd of flesh and blood souls but a propagandist, a master of multi-media messaging techniques.  This isn't even much of an attack on Driscoll in itself, but rather a formal citation of Driscoll's own descriptions of what he did and why he did it with cross reference to what Ellul described propaganda entailing.

But, of course, last year was an election year and so what Ellul had to say regarding propaganda is worth revisiting in light of that.  There are any number of books that authors at Slate or The New Yorker or maybe a few other publications have said "predicted" Trump.  Well, to throw yet another book on the pile, if we want to look at the work of an author who observed the persistence of populist agitator demagogues in American politics; and if we wanted to look at the work of someone who anticipated the balkanization of groups that avail themselves of propaganda then Jacques Ellul's book Propaganda could be said to have not only "predicted" Trump, but the potentially impassable red/blue deadlock in which both sides regard the activities of each other as nothing less than totalitarian gambits.  I've seen more than just a few declarations on arts blogs to the effect that with the election of Trump the United States is already a fascist regime.  If it is it couldn't have become one merely because Trump got elected because it's hard to know what executive powers Trump has right now that Obama didn't have about eight weeks ago. 

This is not an endorsement of the red or the blue as such, more an observation about a deeper problem, which is that it seems the reason the United States will fail and deserve to is because the two party system has embraced propagandistic techniques that have trained their respective partisans to think and feel and react in essentially totalitarian ways.

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 1965 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

page 249
... Once democracy becomes the object of propaganda, it also becomes totalitarian, authoritarian, and exclusive as dictatorship.

pages 249-250
... This really is the ultimate problem: democracy is not just a certain form of political organization or simply an ideology--it is, first of all, a certain view of life and a form of behavior. If democracy were only a form of political organization, there would be no problem; propaganda could adjust to it. ... But if democracy is a way of life, composed of tolerance, respect, degree, choice, diversity, and so on, all propaganda that acts on behavior and feelings and transforms them in depth turns man into someone who can no longer support democracy because he no longer follows democratic behavior.

pages 251-252
But the creation of the etiological myth leads to an obligation on the part of democracy to become religious. It can no longer be secular but must create its religion. Besides, the creation of a religion is one of the indispensable elements of effective propaganda. [emphasis added] The content of this religion is of little importance; these feelings are used to integrate the masses into the national collective. We must not delude ourselves: when one speaks to us of "massive democracy" and "democratic participation," these are only veiled terms that mean "religion." Participation and unanimity have always been characteristics of religious societies, and only of religious societies. [emphasis added]

page 256

... With propaganda one can lead citizens to the voting booth, where they seemingly elect their representatives. But if democracy corresponds to a certain type of human being, to a certain individual behavior, then propaganda destroys the point of departure of the life of a democracy, destroys its very foundations. It creates a man who is suited to a totalitarian society, who is not at ease except when integrated in the mass, who rejects critical judgments, choices and differentiations because he clings to clear certainties. He is a man assimilated into uniform groups and wants it that way.

... A man who lives in a democratic society and who is subjected to propaganda is being drained of the democratic content itself--of the style of democratic life, understanding of others, respect for minorities, re-examination of his own opinions, absence of dogmatism. The means employed to spread democratic ideas makes the citizen, psychologically, a totalitarian man. The only difference between him and a Nazi is that he is a "totalitarian man with democratic convictions," but those convictions do not change his behavior in the least. Such contradiction is in no way felt by the individual for whom democracy has become a myth and a set of democratic imperatives, merely stimuli that activate conditioned reflexes. The word democracy, having become a simple incitation, no longer has anything to do with democratic behavior. And the citizen can repeat indefinitely "the sacred formulas of democracy" while acting like a storm trooper.

If you think the United States needs to be rescued from the Democratic or Republican parties to the point that you wish for a functionally single-party regime then you're a totalitarian ideologue.  In Ellul's parlance, the only difference between you and a Nazi is that you're a totalitarian person with democratic convictions, but ... this doesn't mean you embrace democracy as a mode of governance, rather, you embrace democracy as an etiological myth that explicates the human condition.

You may actually be the totalitarian ideologue the United States needs to be rescued from, if it's even meaningful to speak of such a thing being possible.  The United States may need to be saved from Trump but if it even merits saving (and I'm no longer sure it does) it may also need to be saved from you.  Every empire crumbles at some point, after all and what's the use in exporting democracy to the rest of the world if here at home we increasingly behave toward each other on the internet like the fascist demagogues we pretend to ourselves and others we're afraid may hijack the future of the United States. 

Which, in the end, seems to describe how people can behave on Twitter and Facebook and in reaction to those speakers whose ideas they believe cannot and should not and must not receive a hearing. The red and blue partisans at this point may both be totalitarian ideologues who have convinced themselves that "my" activism is democracy itself while "your" activism is evil, un-American, anti-democratic, and not worthy of constitutional protections.  It is not necessary for civic religions to have explicit deities so long as rituals are observed.  Americans have managed to fashion for themselves red state and blue state civic religions and some of these people even labor greatly to pretend that the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the New Testament validate their respective civic religions. 

Last year we also took a little stroll through the thing Ellul described as horizontal propaganda.  It would seem difficult to read these descriptions of what it is and not think of how readily this is made, hour by hour, even minute by minute, on social media.
page 81
This propaganda can be called horizontal because it is made inside the group (not from the top), where, in principle, all individuals are equal and there is no leader. ... But the most remarkable characteristic of horizontal propaganda is the small group. The individual participates actively in the life of this group, in a genuine and lively dialogue.

page 82

Vertical propaganda needs the huge apparatus of the mass media of communication; horizontal propaganda needs a huge organization of people.

A member of a small group must not belong to other groups in which he would be subjected to other influences; that would give him a chance to find himself again and, with it, the strength to resist.

page 84
Horizontal propaganda thus is very hard to make (particularly because it needs so many instructors), but it is exceptionally efficient through its meticulous encirclement of everybody, through the effective participation of all present, and through their public declarations of adherence. It is particularly a system that seems to coincide perfectly with egalitarian societies claiming to be based on the will of the people and calling themselves democratic [emphasis added]; each group is composed of persons who are alike and one actually can formulate the will of such a group. But all this is ultimately much more stringent and totalitarian than explosive propaganda. Thanks to this system, Mao has succeeded in passing from subversive propaganda to integration propaganda. [emphasis added]

Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media networks horizontal propaganda is remarkably easy to create and distribute.  Half a century after Ellul wrote about the difficulty of creating horizontal propaganda there may well be no easier kind of propaganda to create and distribute than horizontal propaganda in the age of social media.  We make it and pass it on without even, perhaps, thinking that we are propagandists, if propagandists at a very low level.  But your Facebook wall might as well be a propaganda platform if you use it to address the nature of society.  Some people even know they're political advocates.  Ideally they should also know they are participating in the generation of propaganda, too.  Ellul's observation about propaganda was that it was no longer "optional".  Every technologically advanced society would have no choice but to use it.  That was half a century before Facebook or Twitter were developed.  This has been an issue for far longer than any era of "alternative facts" because for partisans of red, blue, or green there can always be alternative facts. 

Those who might suggest that education could defeat the effectiveness of propaganda might want to read the part where Ellul wrote that state-administered public education IS propaganda, at least pre-propaganda, a series of hoops kids jump through so as to prepare them for the more grown-up sorts of propaganda. 

So far as the red and blue and what Christians are alleged to have to believe, what the red and blue civic religions have in common in the United States is that, to the extent that they wish Christians to take these things seriously, they retrofit Jesus in such a way as to ensure that a vote for the red or the blue is considered morally obligatory.  Whether you have to vote for Trump or against Trump, for Clinton or against Clinton, what is at stake is not necessarily devotion to Jesus Christ as presented in the synoptic Gospels or the Gospel traditionally ascribed to John, but a red-state or blue-state Jesus.

page 230
... Propaganda is a total system that one must accept or reject in its entirety.

If the church accepts it, two important consequences follow. First of all, Christianity disseminated by such means is not Christianity. [emphasis added] We have already seen the effect of propaganda on ideology. In fact, what happens as soon as the church avails itself of propaganda is a reduction of Christianity to the level of all other ideologies or secular religions.

This can be seen happening throughout history. Every time a church tried to act through the propaganda devices accepted by an epoch, the truth and authenticity of Christianity were debased. This happened in the fourth, ninth, and seventeenth centuries (of course, this does not mean that no more Christians were left as a result).

In such moments (when acting through propaganda), Christianity ceases to be an overwhelming power and spiritual adventure and becomes institutionalized in all its expressions and compromised in all its actions. It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax. In such times there appear innumerable sweetenings and adaptations, which denature Christianity by adjusting it to the milieu.

Thus reduced to nothing more than an ideology, Christianity will be treated as such by the propagandist. [emphasis added] And in the modern world we can repeat in connection with this particular ideology what we have already said on the subject of ideologies in general. What happens is that the church will be able to move the masses and convert thousands of people to its ideology. But this ideology will no longer be Christianity. It will be just another doctrine, though it will still contain (sometimes, but not always) some of the original principles and the Christian vocabulary. [emphasis added]

The other consequence affects the church itself. When it uses propaganda, the church succeeds, just as all other organizations. It reaches the masses, influences collective opinions, leads sociological movements, and even makes many people accept what seems to be Christianity. But in doing that the church becomes a false church. it acquires power and influence that are of this world, and through them integrates itself into this world.

Perhaps it's preferable in the United States for civic religions to be malleable and to be adaptable and amenable to some pretense of Christianity.  This is probably going to be less and less strictly necessary.  The thing we may want to keep in mind is that when it comes to civic religion the more vaguely defined the divine principle is the better.  It becomes more impossible to prove or disprove whether or not this or that policy conflicts with that civic religion, whether we're talking the red or the blue.

The Mediator
Emil Brunner
page 25
Whether he adored his totem animal or the gods of the sun, the moon and the stars ; whether by the practice of magic he tries to gain control of supernatural forces; whether by the practices of asceticism and of Yoga he achieves union with the 'Wholly-Other'; or whether in union with his fellow-countrymen he brings a solemn sacrifice to the high gods, or somewhere in solitude he approaches the Ground of all being in mystical contemplation; one thing remains the same, namely, that just as man is homo faber, so also he is homo religious. He is this even when he renounces all mythology, all ideas of a supernatural being, and becomes an agnostic or an atheist. The dimension of the infinite, of the absolute, of the unconditioned, is not empty for any human being, even when he has cut himself adrift from all traditional religious ideas. If he no longer has any personal gods, all the more surely he has one or more impersonal gods-something which he regards as taboo, something which may not be touched at any cost, whether it be his Communism or his Nationalism, his civilization or 'life.' 'Man always has God or an idol.' ...

In our day and place those gods might be the Democratic and Republican parties to which loyalty is given regardless of what history may reveal.  A Republican can convince himself the party has been in favor of small government regardless of whether or not Republican administrations have overseen the ballooning of the surveillance state and a Democrat can convince himself his party is against the hawkish politics of the Republicans in spite of the fact that Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson all got us neck deep in military confrontations.  These don't seem to be political machines that are dedicated to the responsible and restrained use of power so much as securing it for themselves and regarding it as tyranny that the other party should actually be able to wield whatever power the first party may have had at its disposal by way of the executive or legislative branch just a few months ago.  If anything the abstracted ideals of what people tell themselves their parties stand for are all the better for not having to be tethered to questions of why it should be democracy when the favorite party has control and why it would suddenly be fascism when things are otherwise.

If the United States has only become a fascist state because Trump won then what powers did the government not have just a few weeks ago that it has now?  Then again, if you regard whatever state you live in as an iteration of Babylon the Great and bear in mind the paradoxical teachings from Scripture that we are called to pray for those in authority and to remember that authority can play a positive role in promoting the good and discouraging evil while also recognizing these are always corrupted to one degree or another by sin, it doesn't have to be the end of the world if America as we know it comes to an end.  It's going to come to an end at some point anyway.  The trouble is that Americans seem to have reached a point where if America as we know it comes to an end then the world itself is somehow not worth living in.

For those who were once at Mars Hill ... now is probably not the time to become a brave internet warrior for truth, justice and the real American way.  This would be especially true if you've switched teams in the years since you left Mars Hill.  Why?  Because, to once again reference Ellul, the thing that most likely happened when you dropped the propagandistic cultural dynamics of Mars Hill is that you may have simply embraced the propagandistic approach of some other team, and in the wake of the last election cycle that could simply be the Democratic or Republican party lines.  The public good will benefit from fewer men such as Mark Driscoll and Dan Savage being taken seriously as having anything important to say about the human condition.  Now if you were a conservative or a progressive at Mars Hill, say, ten years ago, and are still that now, well ... okay.  The concern I have is that you don't regard the party lines as meaningfully synonymous with what Jesus taught.  To put it another way, neither capitalism nor socialism should be regarded as more than the popular options among Westerners for the "best" way to commodify and monetize human lives.

Just because there are different ways of worshiping Mammon doesn't mean they aren't both worshipping Mammon.  Just because Dan Savage and Mark Driscoll differed on a few points doesn't mean that "Savage Love" and Real Marriage can't reflect a core view about human sexuality.  About ten or eleven years ago a Mars Hill member opined that Mars Hill was needed and Mark's teaching was vital because the alternative was stuff like Dan Savage giving sex advice in The Stranger.  I remember reading the linked column and when I mentally compared it to what I remember Driscoll had to say about Song of Songs it seemed like Dan Savage and Mark Driscoll might as well have been the same guy.  Sure, neither are current Catholics and neither has nice stuff to say about Catholicism as a cultural milieu overall, and maybe they may back more blue and red agendas respectively, but they're both media agitators who get off on telling people how to think and they might both well feel that a life without sex is in some sense a life not quite worth living.

But to the respective fans of Mark Driscoll and Dan Savage over the last fifteen years the similarities could not be taken seriously because they could not be considered. 

Time will tell us (probably too soon) how Trump deals with the press and it's been a while since an entertainer has been in office.  Trumps disdain for the media in its journalistic form and its entertainment form may  be a contempt of the sort only an insider, if a gauche insider, can have for the industries.  Trump could be described as a kind of propagandist.

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

from footnote on page 252
... The propagandist is a technician and a member of an aristocracy of technicians that establishes itself above the institutions of a democracy and acts outside its norms. Besides, the employment of propaganda leads the propagandist to cynicism, disbelief in values, non-submission to the law of numbers, doubts on the value of opinions, and contempt for the propagandee and the elected representative; he knows how public opinion is fashioned. The propagandist cannot subject himself to popular judgment and democracy. Finally, the propagandist is privy to all State secrets and acts at the same time to shape opinions: he really has a position of fundamental direction. The combinations of these three elements make the propagandist an aristocrat. It cannot be otherwise. Every democracy that launches propaganda creates in and by such propaganda its own enemy, an aristocracy that may destroy it.

But then so could any and every member of Hollywood that condemns him as a propagandist.  If entertainers look with contempt on the Electoral College because by means of it the uneducated farmers had a means to elect Trump rather than Clinton how is that not a form of looking with contempt on the institutions of a democracy or its norms?  Have those artists and entertainers who have looked with contempt on elected representatives not shown themselves to be aristocrats of propaganda like the President they regard with scorn? 

That the aristocracy of our media empires, our ostensibly journalistic and entertainment castes, regard the present state as horrible doesn't mean these aren't groups of people who may ultimately hold democratic processes in as much contempt as has been said about a recently elected official.  The reason it seems the United States is ultimately doomed is that the red and blue partisans are totalitarian ideologues who only recognize the fascism of others and not themselves.  We should be wary of overweening government power but if we can't guard against what totalitarian impulses exist in our own hearts we can risk embodying those traits we damn most in others because we can't concede the possibility of those traits existing within ourselves.