Friday, December 22, 2017

fielding a question about the perpetual virginity of Mary, Mark Driscoll describes "My experience with the Catholic Church has always been positive" though he says he was not a Christian, revisiting some accounts of Driscoll's shift from nominal Catholic to Protestant

The holiday season being what it is, questions about the perpetual virginity of Mary are inevitable.  Mark Driscoll recently fielded this question at his blog.
Both my father’s and mother’s sides of the family have historically been Catholic. I was born in a Catholic Hospital and baptized in a Catholic Church as a baby. I also attended a Catholic school where I served as an altar boy assisting the priest with mass. My grandmother was a devout woman who joined an order of lay nuns after my grandfather passed away.
My experience with the Catholic Church has always been positive. I was not a Christian devoted to Jesus while attending mass growing up, but that was my own responsibility and not the fault of any person or organization. I simply did not have much interest in learning more about any faith. [emphasis added]

At whatever age Mark Driscoll was a server his post-Protestant conversion account has been consistent that he didn't have a real religious faith.  This more recent statement that his experience with the Catholic Church has been/was always positive is a little puzzling.  Because while it can be established Driscoll said he was an altar boy it can also be established that he did have a couple of reservations about becoming what he considered a Christian and about the nature of formalized Christian service over the years.

For instance, in one of his Mars Hill era sermons, Driscoll said that if you had asked him if he was
a Christian prior to his conversion to Protestantism he would have said he was a Christian.  Here's a sermon from 2002 in which Driscoll explained what he meant.

Part 4 of Galatians
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Galatians 3:1-14
June 02, 2002

And my misunderstanding was this: I thought that as long as you believed in God and you were a good person, then God would love you and you would go to Heaven. That’s what I thought. And if you would have asked me, you know, when I was up until the age of 18 or 19, “Are you a Christian?” I would’ve said, “Yes, and a Christian is someone who believes in God and is a good person.” And that’s what I thought. Until a drunken frat guy shattered my world with one decent question, and God uses anything. He used a drunken frat guy, who was like a seventh year sophomore to absolutely upset my theological worldview.

I did not drink because I made a list of rules to declare myself self-righteous. So, I said, “Why, I’m gonna be a good person.” I made this little list of things that I thought a good person should be. I won’t lie. I won’t steal. I won’t cheat. I won’t drink. I won’t smoke. I won’t, you know, beat anyone up who doesn’t deserve it. I won’t – I had this list of things that I would do and not do, and I would declare myself “good.” That is the essence of works and self-righteousness. That was basically my worldview. “I make my rules, and I live up to them. I’m a great guy.”
So, I had these rules, and one of my rules was I won’t drink because then God will look down and say, “Well, I’m going to pick Mark for my team because he’s such a great guy.” After all, I was.

So, what happened was I was at a frat party in college, which is not the typical place that God shows up in powerful, illuminating, theological acumen. But this drunken frat guy came up, and he said, “Here. Drink a beer.” And I said, “No, I don’t drink.” He said, “Why?” I said, “I’m a good person.” (Laughter)
And he said, “Well, why do you want to be a good person?” I said, “Because I believe in God, and I’m a good person.” He said, “Well, Jesus drank,” which is about the only part of the Bible he really knew. That and, “Thou shalt not judge.” He put those two verses together, and he’d come up with alcoholism. But anyway. (Laughter)
I said, “No, I’m a good person.” He said, “So, how do you know you’re gonna go to Heaven?” I said, “I know I’m gonna go to Heaven because I’m a good person.” And he asked this question that shattered my world. He was basically mocking me, trying to get me to drink. And he said, “Well, how good do you have to be to go to Heaven?” I thought, “I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t know.” And he said, “Do you have to be good all the time? And if you’re not good some days, does that cancel your bad days, and who makes the rules, and how do you know what’s good and bad?” He was just sort of in a drunken stupor rambling, but it was a really good question, I felt, particularly considering his condition. [emphasis added]
I said, “I don’t know,” and I started thinking about that. How good do I have to be? How moral do I have to be, and who determines the morality? Do my good days cancel my bad days, and did my sins cancel my obedience? And I started getting really muddy about where I was at. Up until this point I thought, “I’m a good guy. I’m a great guy.” And then I realized, “Well, maybe I’m not good enough.”
And so, what I decided was, “I’ll read the Bible to get all the rules, and then I’ll do them to make sure that I’m a good guy.” Okay. Now my wife, she was my girlfriend at the time. Moral of the story is if a woman gives you a Bible, give her a ring. She gave me this Bible as a graduation present from high school, and I started reading the Bible.
So, by Driscoll's account, he thought of himself as being a Christian but he changed his mind about the legitimacy of his Christian faith during his time in college.  

While there's certainly room to imagine that servers (aka altar boys from an earlier era's nomenclature) had no training whatever in their respective roles in liturgy, Driscoll has confirmed multiple times he was an altar boy.  Whatever his lack of legitimate Christian faith in his understanding was no obstacle from participating in Catholic liturgy in some capacity.
September 30, 2013
An arty, jock, altar boy

I was raised Catholic and served for a few years as an altar boy while attending Catholic grade school.  I've got an artistic bent. I like architecture, interior design, music, visual arts, etc. Growing up I was an odd mix: a jock who played a lot of sports, a fighter who got in more than a few brawls, and an artist who liked to sketch, draw, and experiment in various mediums. I appreciated the artistry of the Catholic Church. Stained glass, paintings, colors, icons, statues, candles--it was all quite beautiful.

Some Catholics are born-again, Jesus-loving Christians. I was not one of them.  I was a spiritual religious guy until Jesus saved me at the age of 19.  ...

But despite a generally positive account that he was raised Catholic and an altar boy there was at least one respect in which Driscoll did not have an altogether positive impression of church life and Christians.

… The last thing I ever thought I would be was a pastor, because growing up Catholic, the pastor is a guy who lives at the church, is flat broke, is committed to never having sex, and walks around in a dress. So pretty much, that was a last career choice of all possible career choices. [emphasis added]
Joe: When he got into high school, he was always into student body president, journalist on a newspaper, redid the high school— somehow or another, he got involved in that. He was always into something.

Yeah, I was a nice—at least I thought—nice, moral Catholic guy. I had a pretty bad temper, did well in school and sports, was dating Grace as a high school student, sleeping with her. She was a pastor’s daughter. So definitely, life was put together wrong.
Part 5 of Proverbs
Pastor Mark Driscoll | October 28, 2001
You know why schools, Christian schools, Christian churches, Christian ministries are primarily female? Because the church is feminine, and masculine men don’t feel comfortable there. It’s true. The church has adopted, I would say, inordinately the bride metaphor from scripture. Women are very comfortable from that. Men don’t understand that. It’s very hard for a man to think of himself as a bride, wearing a white gown and walking down the aisle. If he’s very comfortable with that, he has significant issues. He has much to work through. And so, there are different metaphors in scripture that men and women will gravitate toward in regards to their relationship with God. For me, this is – this is a very important issue. I was raised in south Seattle, in the ghetto, behind the Déjà vu, next to the airport. Okay? If you’ve been there, you can repent and don’t go there anymore. [emphasis added] But, for the rest of you, if you don’t know where it’s at, that’s fine. It’s – it’s an interesting neighborhood. Gang-banging, drive-by’s, drugs, prostitution, the green river killer was there, the whole thing. One of the local elementary schools would have to go out on Monday and take the used condoms and the syringes off the playground before the kids came. And so, I was the oldest of five kids. And I grew-up in a blue-collar, hard-working, union family. My dad’s name is Joe, and he hangs drywall. Okay?

My dad’s a guy. My brothers are guys. I’m a guy. We love each other. Things are good. I come from a decent home. And one my biggest fears in high school was becoming a Christian, because I thought immediately I would have to become very feminine. ‘Cause all the guys I knew who were Christians were just very – very soft, very tender, very sort of weak guys. And I thought, “That’s just not gonna work.” So, I wouldn’t go to youth group. They tried to drag me to – I was in a Catholic church and our priest was gay, and I didn’t get this guy at all. He would wear silk shirts and silk pants, and he would wear low – basically, like, bathroom slippers all the time. [emphasis added] And he would tan all year. So, he had a nice bronze glow.

And I didn’t relate to this guy at all, not in the least. I don’t – I don’t – silk? Just – I don’t get that. And so, he – he was this very, very feminine guy. And they tried to – I tried to go to church with my family and I didn’t get it. So, they tried to take me into this youth thing, and it just didn’t work. So, I just left. I said, “That’s it. I’m gone. There’s no men here.” [emphasis added]  ‘Cause it was all older ladies, women and children. You couldn’t find a guy anywhere near it, and that’s not unusual. When I came to Christ in college, reading the Bible, and realized the gospel, and I went looking for a church; and a few of the first churches I went to were just completely uncomfortable. It was like walking into Victoria’s Secret. The décor, at first, it’s like fuchsia and baby blue, and there’s pink, and it’s just like, “What in the world has happened here?” And then the songs are very emotive, and it’s like love songs to Jesus, like we’re on a prom together or something. And I didn’t get that at all, ‘cause that made me feel real odd. And then – and then the guy preaches, and he’s crying and all this stuff, and trying to appeal to my emotions. And I was just like, “This didn’t work.” So, I kept looking for a church. So, I found a church where the guy got up and he said, “This week I was out bow-hunting.” He used that as an illustration. So, I became a member of that church. True story. I didn’t have any theological convictions, but if a guy killed things then I – he could be my pastor. [emphasis added]
That reads weirdly directly as a statement that he had a preconception about what kind of man could be a pastor and a spiritual role model for him.  That might invite some questions such as--if as recently stated Mark Driscoll's experience of Catholicism was uniformly positive what was there to worry about finding a guy who could shoot his own game being a pastor to Mark Driscoll?

Altar boy service in childhood withstanding, it seems as though the breach with that positive Catholic upbringing happened at some point near adolescence.
starting at 54:45

Proverbs 29:21, “If a man pampers his servant from youth, he will bring grief in the end.” These guys are pampered; totally pampered. Okay? And again, this is not a boasting on me. This is a – this is actually a tribute to my dad. I was eleven years old. I was going out for the little league all-star team, and I needed a new glove. My dad said, “Good. Go make some money.” I said, “Hey, dad, I’m eleven.” He said, “Well, you’re taller than the lawn-mower. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” True. So, I get the lawn-mower, and I go and I mow lawns to get my glove. And I come back and my dad says, “You owe me gas money. You used my gas.” It’s the nicest thing my dad ever did. Up until that point, I didn’t know gas cost money. Now, I do. Now, I appreciate gas.It comes to the point where I’m 15 and I wanna get a car. I said, “Dad, I need a car.” He says, “Good. Go get some money.” I said, “Okay, fine.” So, I falsified my birth certificate, I lie about my age, and I get a job at a 7-11 selling lotto tickets and liquor and cigarettes to people that are twice my age. I was not a Christian, so – I shouldn’t have done it anyways, but I wasn’t a Christian. And so, I’m 15, working at a 7-11 selling stuff. And I make a decent living, and I buy my first car, a 1956 Chevy that I should’ve never sold. That’s a whole other sermon. And – and so I’m 15, driving myself to work without a license, because I gotta go make money to pay for my car. [emphasis added] Okay? And again, I was not a Christian. Okay? So, I’m not saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

And I realize that, since I was young and I was strong, I could make more money. And so I started dinking around trying to figure out where to make more money. And I find out that guys in unions make a lot of money. And – at least compared to me working at the 7-11. And I got tired of getting robbed and held-up, too. ‘Cause if you run a 7-11 behind a Déjà vu, somebody’s gonna put a gun at your head. And after a couple of those, you realize, “For minimum wage, I’m not taking a cap. You know? I’m not gonna get shot for, like, a pack of cigarettes. I’m not gonna do that.” So, I lied about my age. I falsified my birth certificate again, and told them I was 18. Got a job working long-shoring down on the docks in Seattle. And I would go throw 100-pound sacks of peas, and unload trucks, and work hard. And they paid me tremendous money. [emphasis added] At the time, it was like $10.00-something an hour. This was, like, in 1986 or ’87 or something. And I’d work 40 hours a week, and over-time was double-time. And none of the guys would wanna work over-time. Usually it was on Friday, ‘cause they had to get containers out, and those guys all wanted to go to the topless club.

And so, I would work all the over-time at $20.00 an hour as a 16 year old kid. This is in the mid-‘80s. Right? So, I’m loaded. I have money, money, money, money. So, I buy a car, and I start saving for college, doing my stuff. And with my dad – I thank God for my dad. My dad’s like, “You’re a guy. You work. You pay your way. Good. It’s good for you.” And you know what? He’s right. He was totally right. Thank God for my dad. My brother and my other brother and myself, we’re all doing great, making good money, doing fine. My brothers are all in management leadership running companies or businesses. It’s great. You pamper a guy from his youth, and he just – he gets this course of action. All of the sudden he feels like if his hands are dirty, or his muscles are sore, or if he put-in a long day, or thought something was tough, that’s unusual; that’s abnormal. And so, he avoids it.

So with some variance depending on subject context, Driscoll either was or was not someone who considered himself a real Christian prior to his conversion to some form of Protestantism.  In one setting the catalyst might be a drunk frat boy asking him a question that rocked his world; reading the Bible his girlfriend and future wife gave him; or it might be that he said he was trying to prove a Bible-thumper wrong and became a convert.

But what Driscoll describes as a conversion experience may or may not necessarily indicate anything about a Christian faith as such.  Not everyone subscribes to what would be known as an American evangelical concept of conversion or conversionism.  That's not to cast doubt on Driscoll's narratives on the basis of the observation that not all practicing Christians consider an American altar call crisis type conversion to be the only way to "know" a person is a Christian.  This is more a proposal that over the course of twenty years the question of whether or not Driscoll's pre-Protestant activities as a Catholic should really be considered "not Christian" may be something its okay to express some doubt about.  In Catholic and Protestant polemics never the twain shall meet but in a setting where so many atheists and secularists and non-Christians can read about the lives of celebrity Christians there's a point at which all of those readers would ask whether or not Catholicism and Protestantism are distinctions that only matter to those insiders who label themselves. 

So, as you can see from the sermon transcripts, it's a bit ambiguous whether or not Driscoll was or wasn't a Christian depending on the context of what rhetorical point he's making in a given context and in what relationship the legitimacy of his at least nominally Catholic upbringing had to the ethics of whatever he was or wasn't doing in the narrative he shared in a sermon in the context in which the sermon was given. 

Now people who convert from one team to another tend to feel and write and think as though they have become altogether new people.  Anti-communists who were once communists labor to put as much distance between their old self and the new self.  A Catholic convert from Protestantism can be inclined to cast off as many vestiges of the old life as possible.  Similar things can happen for folks who embrace Eastern Orthodoxy and seek to divest themselves of any traces of things that seem Protestant.  Driscoll, within the context of an American evangelical way of public discourse, could have plenty of legitimate reasons to believe he was not, by the metrics of American Protestantism, ever really a Christian during his Catholic days.  But after twenty years he's shared enough about his history as a Catholic altar boy that it's possible the boundary between his nominal Catholic self and his Protestant conversion self may be much fuzzier than anyone, including Mark Driscoll, could ever ultimately sort through. 

For the self-described altar boy to go from being an altar boy to not wanting to be called a Christian despite vaguely thinking of himself as a Christian the change that happened may just have been that Mark Driscoll hit puberty and it was as an adolescent he began to harden his teen male views about how men who served in Christian ministry were not just vaguely gay and unmanly men.  But then how Driscoll observed and concluded that the priest at his church was gay would be an entire story unto itself, one that to date Driscoll has not seemed to have shared in much detail for the record. 

at City Journal Jonathan Haidt proposes how and why the US has fractured in its conceptions of civic discourse

Twenty-five years ago as a college freshman I recall an older guy I would meet in the cafeteria lunch room made a comment about the state of political discourse in the post-Cold War early 1990s.  His worry was that the two party system, as he put it, had been hijacked by radicals and reactionaries. 

Jonathan Haidt arrives as a sort of corresponding set of observations, though he takes time to get there.

Why do we hate and fear each other so much more than we used to as recently as the early 1990s? The political scientist Sam Abrams and I wrote an essay in 2015, listing ten causes. I won’t describe them all, but I’ll give you a unifying idea, another metaphor from physics: keep your eye on the balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces. Imagine three kids making a human chain with their arms, and one kid has his free hand wrapped around a pole. The kids start running around in a circle, around the pole, faster and faster. The centrifugal force increases. That’s the force pulling outward as the human centrifuge speeds up. But at the same time, the kids strengthen their grip. That’s the centripetal force, pulling them inward along the chain of their arms. Eventually the centrifugal force exceeds the centripetal force and their hands slip. The chain breaks. This, I believe, is what is happening to our country. I’ll briefly mention five of the trends that Abrams and I identified, all of which can be seen as increasing centrifugal forces or weakening centripetal forces.

External enemies: Fighting and winning two world wars, followed by the Cold War, had an enormous unifying effect. The Vietnam War was different, but in general, war is the strongest known centripetal force. Since 1989, we have had no unifying common enemy.

Now this is an interesting proposal, pedestrian though it is by itself but it may have been that the Cold War was, as a more explicitly ideological battle, better for creating unity than shooting wars were.  Ellul's musing in Propaganda about half a century ago was that it was not yet clear how things would play out if the two parties in the United States decided to make use of propagandist techniques within their own cultural and national idiom.  To try to keep a dense book summarized in the shortest possible terms, Ellul's proposal was that propaganda during wartime was normal and expected but that the post-World War II scene and technological societies in general introduced two elements that were new.  The first was that every modern state had to use propaganda and the more pressing concern was that in the context of the wars of the twentieth century propaganda was constantly being used on the citizens as well as enemies.  In Ellul's diffuse taxonomy of propagandas state education played one of the more important preliminary roles.  I would venture to guess that your average American educator believes his or her role to be educating children so as to not be susceptible to propaganda, which would, unfortunately, probably be the opposite of what any state-backed educational system is supposed to do. 

In the absence of easily identifiable external enemies prior to the War on Terror and Gulf War 2 what may have been happening, which Haidt kinda gets to, was that the partisans within American politics and ideological conflicts began to regard each other as the new enemies and the battle, whether the respective sides would admit this or not, is what kind of world-dominating empire the United States was supposed to be.  The inherently dominant role of the United States was not really in question in the last twenty years.

But with the end of the Cold War the ad hoc coalitions of the blue and red, or if you will the left and right, in the United States began to fracture.  Darryl Hart's From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin seems like a quick read of how the traditional conservatives, anti-communists and libertarians that were temporarily held together in the Reagan coalition began to break apart.  A comparable blue state coalition of socially progressive religious believers, New Dealers, and Democratic hawks might have been a comparable coalition that began to fragment in the wake of the Cold War.  Catholics who might have been progressive on most economic and racial issues but may have been conservative on abortion may have migrated to the conservative wing a little here and there.  The general idea I'm proposing is that ad hoc coalitions within the red and blue scenes in the United States began to fragment and balkanize at the same time.  

That's why I have my doubts that Haidt's right about the next point the way he formulates it.

The media: Newspapers in the early days of the republic were partisan and often quite nasty. But with the advent of television in the mid-twentieth century, America experienced something unusual: the media was a gigantic centripetal force. Americans got much of their news from three television networks, which were regulated and required to show political balance. That couldn’t last, and it began to change in the 1980s with the advent of cable TV and narrowcasting, followed by the Internet in the 1990s, and social media in the 2000s. Now we are drowning in outrage stories, very high-quality outrage stories, often supported by horrifying video clips. Social media is turning out to be a gigantic centrifugal force.

This gets back to Ellul and propaganda, and I would propose that as the previously described ad hoc coalitions fragmented away from each other they began to balkanize internally.  Mass media as a whole, not merely social media, played a role in cementing this shift.  If we bring in Ellul's term "sociological propaganda" (i.e. arts and entertainment) then the quasi-religious narratives at play in novels and films and so on were hardening these respective in-groups even before social media.  What social media provided was a more exponentially potent feedback loop.  If there's a case to be made for the value of traditional criticism and analysis it is, on paper, that this mediating role allowed some insulation or procedural slowing of the rate at which "idea makers" could get ideas across that could permeate an activist element in the public. 

Ellul warned that under the long-term influence of propaganda that we'd get citizens who swore they were upholding the tenets of democratic society while behaving like storm troopers.  That is what we get in contemporary social media usage.   There's an additional challenge in the separation and balkanization mass media can involve that may be related to the next point Haidt gets at.  If social media tends to balkanize and calcify subgroups then these respective groups entrench when they could interact.  I.e. as immigration continues and diversity is alternately seen as praiseworthy or a threat to the social fabric in the form of those who are considered insufficiently interested in or acceptable to assimilation this can get circulated in the aforementioned mass and social media.

Immigration and diversity: This one is complicated and politically fraught. Let me be clear that I think immigration and diversity are good things, overall. The economists seem to agree that immigration brings large economic benefits. The complete dominance of America in Nobel prizes, music, and the arts, and now the technology sector, would not have happened if we had not been open to immigrants. But as a social psychologist, I must point out that immigration and diversity have many sociological effects, some of which are negative. The main one is that they reduce social capital—the bonds of trust that exist between individuals. The political scientist Robert Putnam found this in a paper titled “E Pluribus Unum,” in which he followed his data to a conclusion he clearly did not relish: “In the short run, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighborhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down.’ Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer.”

He goes on to essentially propose that diversity pursued as an end unto itself as distinct from a variety that is possible within the bounds of a common heritage does not promote social cohesion.  Haidt is going to get at what I would regard as the two sides of one coin, the aforementioned separation and balkanization effects of propagandistic techniques employed within subcultures. 

In short, despite its other benefits, diversity is a centrifugal force, something the Founders were well aware of. In Federalist 2, John Jay wrote that we should count it as a blessing that America possessed “one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, the same language, professing the same religion.” I repeat that diversity has many good effects too, and I am grateful that America took in my grandparents from Russia and Poland, and my wife’s parents from Korea. But Putnam’s findings make it clear that those who want more diversity should be even more attentive to strengthening centripetal forces.

The final two causes I will mention are likely to arouse the most disagreement, because these are the two where I blame specific parties, specific sides. They are: the Republicans in Washington, and the Left on campus. Both have strengthened the centrifugal forces that are now tearing us apart.

This is the part where Haidt gets at the Republican side of what my old college associate said was the process through which the two party system became hijacked by reactionaries and radicals respectively:

The more radical Republican Party: When the Democrats ran the House of Representatives for almost all of six decades, before 1995, they did not treat the Republican minority particularly well. So I can understand Newt Gingrich’s desire for revenge when he took over as Speaker of the House in 1995. But many of the changes he made polarized the Congress, made bipartisan cooperation more difficult, and took us into a new era of outrage and conflict in Washington. One change stands out to me, speaking as a social psychologist: he changed the legislative calendar so that all business was done Tuesday through Thursday, and he encouraged his incoming freshmen not to move to the District. He did not want them to develop personal friendships with Democrats. He did not want their spouses to serve on the same charitable boards. But personal relationships among legislators and their families in Washington had long been a massive centripetal force. Gingrich deliberately weakened it.

And this all happened along with the rise of Fox News. Many political scientists have noted that Fox News and the right-wing media ecosystem had an effect on the Republican Party that is unlike anything that happened on the left. It rewards more extreme statements, more grandstanding, more outrage. Many people will point out that the media leans left overall, and that the Democrats did some polarizing things, too. Fair enough. But it is clear that Gingrich set out to create a more partisan, zero-sum Congress, and he succeeded. This more combative culture then filtered up to the Senate, and out to the rest of the Republican Party.

As noted in other posts here, Jacques Ellul's book on propaganda more than hinted that this kind of thing might be a risk.  But, of course, the balkanization was not "just" happening on the right side.  What may have made the right side somewhat unique was the avenues and media through which the balkanization took place, possibly a matter as simple as what preferred modes of mass media propaganda were preferred by respective propagandistic constituencies.  It may have been that conservative/Republican types preferred talk radio and chain emails and php forums and so on whereas the liberal side preferred more mainstream mass media and academia decades ago.  Haidt gets to the "left" soon enough, though I would propose that we not ignore that the mainstream blue/neoliberal/Clintonian "center" is just as apt to traffic in identity politics as the more "extreme" left and right wings Haidt has been discussing.

The new identity politics of the Left: Jonathan Rauch offers a simple definition of identity politics: a “political mobilization organized around group characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to party, ideology, or pecuniary interest.” Rauch then adds: “In America, this sort of mobilization is not new, unusual, un­American, illegitimate, nefarious, or particularly left­wing.” This definition makes it easy for us to identify two kinds of identity politics: the good kind is that which, in the long run, is a centripetal force. The bad kind is that which, in the long run, is a centrifugal force.

Injustice is centrifugal. It destroys trust and causes righteous anger. Institutionalized racism bakes injustice into the system and plants the seeds of an eventual explosion. When slavery was written into the Constitution, it set us up for the greatest explosion of our history. It was a necessary explosion, but we didn’t manage the healing process well in the Reconstruction era. When Jim Crow was written into Southern laws, it led to another period of necessary explosions, in the 1960s.

The civil rights struggle was indeed identity politics, but it was an effort to fix a mistake, to make us better and stronger as a nation. Martin Luther King’s rhetoric made it clear that this was a campaign to create conditions that would allow national reconciliation. He drew on the moral resources of the American civil religion to activate our shared identity and values: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note.” And: “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

Of course, some people saw the civil rights movement as divisive, or centrifugal. But King’s speech is among the most famous in American history precisely because it framed our greatest moral failing as an opportunity for centripetal redemption. This is what I’m calling the good kind of identity politics.


There's more but I don't feel like going through the whole thing. 

So, obviously, my thoughts about Haidt's presentation is that cumulatively our cultural levels of using mass media have played a substantial role in the separation and balkanization of identitarian groups.  This wasn't a hard view to arrive at.  Leonard B. Meyer proposed it decades ago as a probable future in Music, the Arts and Ideas.

Leonard B. Meyer
Copyright (c) 1967. 1994 by The University of Chicago
ISBN 0-226-52143-5

page 339
As each subculture creates its own past--magnifying its virtues, glorying in its victories, sharpening its grievances, and savoring its animosities--it defines its individuality. In so doing, it intensifies and specifies its differences from other subcultures. The search for past roots leads to the isolation of subcultures, an isolation "rationalized" by ideology. That is, the valuing of ethnic identity and community can in part be understood as a very late manifestation of Romanticism in which national cohesion is depreciated as a conventional, arbitrary creation, whereas ethnic relationships are prized as a result of natural, quasi-biological constraints.

Subcultural, and especially ethnic, isolation is heightened by a vision of the future characterized by uncertainty and hazard. Put the other way around: belief in inherent historical progress diretcs attention to common cultural goals; and when goals are shared (as they are, for instance, in combat or in team sports) ethnic differences become irrelevant. In the absence of shared goals ground in a vision of a better future, differences are heightened and the result is interpersonal insecurity and tension. We become uncertain how to behave, or, more precisely, about how others will respond to our behavioral norms. And so we seek the security of our own kind, of ethnic commonality. ...

The isolation of subcultures from one another is exacerbated not only by the vast increase in specialization, characteristic of late twentieth century culture, but by an overabundance of information in each area of specialization.  ...

It's not surprising if in the last few decades that in the face of such an overwhelming sea of information and a need to cope with the existence of such information that cultures and subcultures would embrace interpreting all of this information through the lens of an ethnic mythos or a demographic mythos.

Thus there could be a New Left history or an alt right history or whatever history with associated historical tools you might want.  Within the propagandistic dynamic available in any given subgroup "their" story may be a myth while "our" story relies upon solid research.  If in the wake of postmodernist approaches history is reduced to the power plays of a variety of groups then whoever manages to control the canonical narrative options gets power.  Whether or not those varioisu positions don't themselves have a capacity to reflect power plays might seem moot but for people within their enclaves that might not be a given. 

Meyer's comment opened on this subject with "creates its own past".  The self-assigned task of creating a mythology and history robust enough to maintain social identity and cohesion has been with us for a while now. 

Which is another way of saying that when Francis Schaeffer claimed that the Romantic era optimism and interest was expired in the 1960s he couldn't, really, have been more wrong.  As a formative contributor to the creation of a useful past or the quest for a useful past, to paraphrasingly invoke D. .G. Hart's description of what men like Schaeffer and Barton were doing in reverse-engineering a suitably "evangelical" or "conservative" history of the United States, Schaeffer was in some key respects one of the key perpetrators of a kind of mythic fabrication of the sort Meyer described in more general terms in the passage quoted above. 

One of the persistent troubles with the kinds of mythologies and histories we create for ourselves is the propensity within them to build narratives that exonerate us rather than implicate us.  But I don't feel like writing ten thousand words about that topic this weekend.  It's enough to merely allude on that topic for now. Better writers and thinkers than me could spend lifetimes doing a better job exploring that. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Inside Higher Ed: national college enrollments on decline six years in a row in US.

Overall college enrollments in the U.S. have declined for a sixth straight year, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, but at the slowest pace since the slide began.

The 1 percent decline this fall was due to undergraduate enrollments, which fell by nearly 224,000 students, or 1.4 percent. Graduate and professional programs were up by 24,000 students, according to the center, which tracks 97 percent of students who attend degree-granting institutions that are eligible to receive federal financial aid.

And despite the recent focus by policy makers on associate degrees and certificates, four-year degree programs were the only ones up in the new enrollment data.

Among undergraduates, the center found an enrollment decrease of 2.3 percent for associate-degree seekers, and a 10.7 percent drop for students pursuing certificates or other nondegree credentials. But enrollments were up 1.5 percent among four-year-degree seekers.

Part-time-student enrollments fell by 3.3 percent, according to the report, while the number of full-time students increased by 0.3 percent.

The center also found that enrollments were down for first-time college students. This group saw a 2.3 percent decline, of 63,000 students, compared to the previous fall. Most of the decrease was due to adult students, with the number of first-time students over the age of 24 dropping by more than 13 percent. But 23,000 fewer traditional-age students enrolled in college this fall, a drop of 1 percent. (Adult student enrollments over all have declined by 1.5 million since 2010, the center found.)

“This suggests further declines to come over all in the years ahead, which will continue to present planning challenges for institutions and policy makers seeking to adapt to new economic and demographic realities,” said Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive research director.
even if anti-intellectualism as proposed by journalists and academics were as substantial a problem as they say it is, and I'm not so sure it is, the sheer expense and challenge of college application and degree completion may have gotten so expensive it's not worth it for people to keep trying.

I lean more toward backing trade schools at this point, despite having been pretty enthusiastic about higher education in my twenties.  But for many of my younger friends I'd say I'd rather they learned a trade and then we can hang out and discuss literary theory and classical music and cartoons so they don't have to get into the kind of debt I and people in my generation took on to get even just undergraduate degrees.

The Guardian: Literary Fiction in Crisis as sales drop dramatically, Arts Council England reports

The sun may have set on the official English empire a generation or two ago so here in the United States where our empire is probably expiring but hasn't quite so ostentatiously demonstrated its shelf-life it may be a little harder to be sympathetic with the plight of England just yet.  Well, not really, the extinction-level crisis in the liberal arts in the United States is getting intermittently announced on a ... monthly basis here on our side of the Atlantic, too. 

Nonetheless, for those with more centuries to observe the respective rise and fall of a culture ...
(ACE), which revealed that collapsing sales, book prices and advances mean few can support themselves through writing alone.
The report found that print sales of literary fiction are significantly below where they stood in the mid-noughties and that the price of the average literary fiction book has fallen in real terms in the last 15 years.
The growth in ebook sales in genres such as crime and romance has not made up for the shortfall in literary fiction, prompting ACE to outline ways it intends to support affected authors.
“It would have been obviously unnecessary in the early 90s for the Arts Council to consider making an intervention in the literary sector, but a lot has changed since then – the internet, Amazon, the demise of the net book agreement – ongoing changes which have had a massive effect,” said ACE’s literature director Sarah Crown. “It’s a much more unforgiving ecosystem for authors of literary fiction today. We inevitably end up with a situation where the people best positioned to write literary fiction are those for whom making a living isn’t an imperative. That has an effect on the diversity of who is writing – we are losing voices, and we don’t want to be in that position.”
“There’s a belief that everyone can read, so everyone is a reader, but in reality, we’re on our phones all the time, on Twitter all the time,” said Crown. “We need to recognise there are other demands on people’s time, and we are saying that there is something so unique and important and necessary and fundamental about literary fiction in particular, that we need to focus on it and support it.”
However, literary novelist Will Self was not hopeful about the sector’s future. “Literary fiction is already being subsidised – think of all of the writers who are continuing to make a living now by teaching creative writing.  [that reminds me that I want to read Mark McGurl's The Program Era] They represent a change taking place in literature … It’s now more like quilting,” he said, describing books written on creative writing courses as “collective undertakings”.
“I think that creative writing programmes are a force for conformity and lack of experimentation,” said Self. He predicted that “as it becomes clear that the massive amounts of writers who are enrolling in these courses are going nowhere [serious fiction] will be a ‘conservatoire’ form, practised by young ladies and gentlemen, and followed by a select group … like classical music or easel painting.”

Don't tell that to John Borstlap ... not that he doesn't regard high culture as necessary for the survival of the West enough to be okay with the elites being elites and all.

A bit more than a century ago Sousa was afraid the nascent mechanical music industry would transform for the worse American musical culture.  He believed that amateurs were the lifeblood of any really sustainable musical culture, not the professionals. 

But then what if the vitality of an artistic culture is a lagging indicator of the state of an empire?  This is a deliberately confrontational thesis but if fans of the liberal arts could or would see the decline of the arts as an indication of a pendulum swing in which empires are on the way down and shift back, per that quote from Adams about studying war so his sons could be into poetry, then the era of Western civilization being the self-perceived pinnacle could just be over.

Not hat anyone asked me but if someone were to ask me whether I thought Western liberalism or the Christian faith would be most likely to survive into the 22nd century I'd say the Christian faith will, in some form, survive, but that Western liberalism has been less certain a thing.  I'd venture to say Western liberalism of the sort we took for granted in the last century was only able to survive as an uneasy hybrid of Greco-Roman philosophy and political thought heavily refracted through Jewish and Christian theological ideas and that as cultural war narratives for those four elements and additional elements from secularist thought all swirled together the balance of ingredients got lost.  The partisans of one or two of those five things want to believe that Western liberalism is just indebted to the ingredients they like and not also to the ingredients they don't like.  Take away the influence of Judaism and you lose Christianity altogether, too, and while Greece and Rome had satirical literature the level of political venom inherent in the most trenchant prophetic critiques of monarchic abuse in Jewish literature has an irreplaceable role to play in Western civilization as we know it. 

If the Western liberal tradition, as some conjectured, would outlive the Christian faith and religious faiths more generally, you'd never know it from these kinds of dire reports that there's a crisis of people not buying as much of stuff they used to buy that nobody actually needs to get through life.  Countless people have gone through life not even being literate.  It's not that I don't love to read ... it's that I admit to having become jaded about what passes for a "crisis" in liberal arts coverage and scholarship.  In an essay in Music, the Arts and Ideas Leonard B Meyer wrote half a century ago that when people in the "contemporary" West talk about the "intolerable" conditions that non-Westerners live in it can be easy to forget for how many thousands of years the super-majority of humanity lived in and still lives in those conditions.  In global historical terms we in the West are in the minority and what we regard as "intolerable" is from our perspective of consumption, not from the perspective of simply living or even actually being able to enjoy life. 

In a way ... given how expensive college has become and given how improbable it is that writers will make a living that can pay the bills from their writing how certain are we that literary fiction hasn't already been the domain of gentlemen and women of some modicum of leisure for a generation?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017