Multiculturalism is not a thing.

The battle between “multiculturalist” and anti-Davos nationalists is a battle based on fallacious premise: that there even is “multiculturalism” in any thick sense.  The old metaphorical argument goes, multi-ethnic nation states used to be melting pot, softening down the differences and melting the identity down into a singular white paste. Now, in a metaphor, I have heard since the 1990s, we have replaced that melting pot with salad bowl, each element contributing to the dish, whole and without it’s identity changed.  The nationalists argue that either a melting pot is still needed with basic cultural softening returning, or, increasingly, even that was a utopian pipe dream and we need barricades of good, decent frog-nazis to combat the force feeding of salad the Lizard people at Davos and D.C. are forcing upon us.

Yet, all this is predicated on some simple misconceptions about culture and identity. Misconceptions that inform ideas beyond “multiculturalism” itself.  Most of these battles define culture in various superficial degrees.  To ask ourselves, what truth there could be between these two positions, we have to ask ourselves, “what is culture in the first place?”  Culture is, like most abstractions, is disputed term in itself. Like more obvious and semi-cognitive terms like “equality,” “freedom,” etc., part of the battles about culture have both sides of the debate hide a definition that is often different from what is being debated.   Culture is larger than religion, language, even ethnicity, as anthropologists will inform you that their can be common cultures between ethnicities, classes, genders, etc.

If we trace the etymology of the term, it is comes Cicero in his Tusculanae Disputationes here he referred to “cultura animi.” He meant the grounds to cultivate the mind towards it’s highest good. It was an agricultural metaphor for teleological development.  To cultivate yourself was a social practice that made one something more than mere being, a barbarian, but fully human.    Note that it has none of descriptive habitus in its original use.

To stop here or to assume this root gives us the sole insight into what culture is would be etymological fallacy. And, frankly, it would cut against my point: even people who share a language, a religion, a technological level of society, have different ways of being fully human.  More modern definitions will, such as the one in the Cambridge dictionary,  will assert: “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time,” or to use the definition in the source of all that is easily looked up on the internet, Wikipedia, “a culture” is the set of customs, traditions, and values of a society or community, such as an ethnic group or nation. Culture is the set of knowledge acquired over time. In this sense, multiculturalism values the peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between different cultures inhabiting the same planet. Sometimes “culture” is also used to describe specific practices within a subgroup of a society, a subculture (e.g. “bro culture”), or a counterculture. Within cultural anthropology, the ideology and analytical stance of cultural relativism holds that cultures cannot easily be objectively ranked or evaluated because any evaluation is necessarily situated within the value system of a given culture.”   The definition is expansive, but it can be reduced to “the elements of a person and group’s that are acquired through social learning.”

So, at various, levels of analysis, there are multiple cultures within on culture: different religious, gendered, class, regional, and even professional practices. However, there are common forms of life they share.  To return to out salad bowl metaphor, if we whole cultures to co-exist in a polity or economy in a completely self contained way, the metaphor also implies they are cut from the root and cannot grow.  Indeed, one sees this in a lot of talk of “cultural appropriation” as if “habits” and customs can be owned by abstractions like nations or ethnicities.  An abstract “owning” an abstraction. Often the practices have roots in other cultures, so we tend to go back to the early modern period and freeze time there, or at the development of separate cultures.  There is nothing “progressive,” or, frankly, even anthropologically or philosophical coherent about this.  Yet it fits with the “salad bowl” notion of intact and easily frozen identities. Admittedly, the history of ideas behind “cultural appropriation” are more complicated than this, and some of which are even legitimate in my view, but this more common and base understanding seems to be a misconception that fits with our shallow notion of identity and multiculturalism.

However, the moment two “cultures” interact without its members trying to eradicate each other, a “third” culture is born from the exchange.  New habits are socially learned, modified, exchanged.  Boundaries are softened, loan words are spread, ways of life alter.

In short, there is no way to stop the melting effect, but it is rarely total unless a campaign of erasure is attempted.  However, this still does get to why,  any thick description of “multiculturalism” is generally false.  A friend of mine, who writes the blog Cold Dark Stars, pointed out in “Multiculturalism and the Clockwork City,” points out:

Canada sells itself as one of the most multicultural countries in the world. It is true that many religions, skin tones, and languages coexist here. But the diversity stops there. In a clockwork world where synchronicity is required, only the right sized gear or spring can fit. The immigration system has already filtered the worthy candidates that can adapt to the friendly and generous canadians. That cab driver used to be a doctor in Islamabad. That engineer’s parents were the upper one percent in China. I am studying a PhD in the natural sciences. Someone in some office with a masters degree in public policy has decided that we were more worthy than the others. There is no diversity in any of this. No varied modes of life. Either a skilled worker, a technocrat, or a capitalist.

I would go further then him, but it hints at the key point. Economies cannot tolerate cultures that are counter to production. Sub-cultural modes can co-exist, home languages can remain intact, but material culture still has to fit in the dominant modes of production, consumption, and exchange.  Cultural forms that cannot be commodified are simply not sustainable.

In short, the overarching culture trumps not matter how much civic or national difference one allows.  This is why isolated peoples are changed by the moment of study or contact with the outside, and if they are fit into the networks of trade, are subsumed into the larger global culture around capitalism.

I lived in many countries and seen this over and over.  It is not that capitalism or liberal modernity erases most cultures, or even melting into the same stew of whiteness, but it dissolves their boundaries.  Remnants remain.  The Protestant capitalism has differences from the Confucian capitalism even after both have given up their traditional faiths and speak a common language. However, can they be said to have completely separate “life-ways?”

Indeed, many of the frognazis point out that multiculturalism has a homogenizing effect.  They aren’t entirely wrong, but except themselves from the equation. They say multiculturalism is about creating new markets, finding cheap labor, undercutting the common culture. This seems like a profits imperative, and one that goes far beyond immigration issues.

Multiculturalism in a sense of completely separate and intact cultures co-existing unchanged is not a thing.  Most of what is fought for by “progressives” and “reactionaries” (two terms of orientation that are merely slurs without the specific issues that one is progressing or reacting to being stated) around this so-called “multiculturalism” is proxy for other issues.  Be it free movement of peoples, or belief that economies can grow perpetually behind the imagined communities of nation-states. Something else is almost always at stake.

People will fight to maintain elements of their traditions, language, and ethnic identity beyond joining or participating in a culture, but they are also subsumed within that culture.  Even culture separatism is borderline impossible because that act itself changes the culture in response to perceived foreign elements.  Any definition of “multiculturalism” thus must remain thin and focus on elements of identity that don’t impede the general economic culture of a polity or system.  Cultures that really and truly oppose this often just die out from their members being unable to reproduce their ways of life.  Most battles about so-called “thick multiculturalism” are thus red herrings, or people trying to sell you something. Furthermore, anytime you hear about defensive of a pristine and unadulterated culture, feel free to roll your eyes because the very declaration of that battle means adulteration has already happened.

If you are going to call Trump Out… be right. (Or what Han, Yuan, Goguryeo, Joseon history may mean for silly headlines)

So The Hill misleadingly titled, South Korea to Trump: We’ve never been part of China. There is so much wrong with this headline and the things in it, I basically, to speak like someone ten years younger than me is supposedly going to speak like, “can’t even.”

The issue that both The Liberal Party, which it’s kind of amazing how factious Korean conservative parties are as they have split more than Trotskyists in recent years, and the Democratic Party both are worried more about Xi’s statement that would lead Trump to take about a prior claim of sovereignty over Korea. This is trickier than most people know and understand.

You see seriousness of claim of sovereignty can see this from the Chinese commenters flooding the article with half-truths such as

In 108 BCE Korea was conquered by the Han dynasty of China (206 BCE – 220 CE). The Han were interested in natural resources such as salt and iron and they divided northern Korea into four commanderies directly administered by their central government. Koreans spoke chinese up until the 14th century when their leader at the time “invented” the current S.Korean language.

Where to start with this claim: There was no unified Korea during that period for to a singular vassal state, and parts of Joseon that now in Andong or Yaniban Provinces were part of the China, and various different kingdoms emerging during decay of Gojoseon (ancient Joseon) Korea as we know it was Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla developed in the period claimed. Part of what would be Joseon, but not part of modern Liaodong Peninsula were the four Han commanderies which were claimed by Gojoseon but were Manchurian.

There was no singular “ancient Chinese” to be spoken. It’s hundreds of languages that shared common idiogrammatic writing system. Mandarin was literally the courtly dialect that later unified the Han. Many of the languages called “Chinese” barely share verb-order, and despite claims that they were somehow “similar in pronunciation to ancient Chinese.” There is no evidence for this and there is no standard ancient Chinese for it to be based on.

In fact, it’s hard for me to believe someone who spoke both Mandarin and Korean would say this: There are tons of lone words from Chinese, and an entire number system of which Korean has two, but Mandarin (what dialect are you referring to as “ancient Chinese”) and Korean (both Chosunguko [North Korean/Yanbian dialect] and Hanguko) have TOTALLY different language structures down to unrelated verb order, completely different tense structure (Chinese basically doesn’t have a tense structure), and completely different ways of denoting parts of speech. However, the Korean nobles and scholar classes did write in Chinese characters and the Han used the ideogrammatic characters to unite languages that had no linguistic relation. Korean may be strongly related to Manchu and Mongolian, but it is definitely NOT remotely in the Sino-Tibetan language family despite the use of Chinese characters, which were used until much later.

So we immediately realize that both countries are contesting history in ways that find modern nationalist narratives and Trump walked into it. Tensions between Korea and China have been downplayed by tensions between Koreans most recent occupiers, Japan. However, this seems to be changing and the implication is that China may try to claim a long standing imperial role there as a way to end the current conflict to their liking. Goguryeo, the largest of the early kingdoms after Gojoseon, does actually cover parts of what would not be considered outer Manchuria, Andong, and Jilin provinces. It was definitely a vassal state at various points both often played between China, Japan, and the Mongolian powers.

This gets more complicated by the fact the last clearly unified Korean state, Joseon, has a contested legacy in the reforms of the language and it the nature of relationship to China.  Koreans are taught that the Neo-Confucian sage-King, Sejong, unified Korea and enabled mass literacy by abandoning Hanja (the use of Chinese ideograms modified for Korea) with the highly simplified syllabary of Hangul.  I was taught this when I lived in Korea.  I have recently seen non-Korean scholarly indicating that Hangul was not actually so cleanly invented from scratch, this scholarship claims the Koreans didn’t invent Hangul , but derived the syllabary fro the alphabet of phagas Pa, first devised by the Khitans and later promulgated by the Yuan Dynasty for all subjects and clients, including the Koreans. However, this is obvious contested by most Koreans and does not seem to be standard narrative yet. I just bring it up because it related to the claims made by both China and Korea about the histories of the two nations.

The issue is a lot of this history is contested and murky, but Yanbian Prefecture, which is an ethnic Korean autonomous zone, parts  Jilin and Andong provinces as a whole were parts of both Gojoseon, Goguryeo, and Joseon. Meaning China rules over parts of what would have been considered Korea now and has for hundreds of years, and that parts of the ancestor states of Korea had been vassals or partly ruled by the Han, Mongolians, Yuan, and Qing dynasties. The relationship however to EITHER the modern state of China or the modern state of South Korea is very unclear.

In short, the history here is complicated and contested, and Trump stepped into a row about national sovereignty very few people understand with contested nationalist versions of history on both the Chinese and Korean side and little continuity between these ancient states and the modern ones that house these cultures.

If you are going to attack Trump on this, you need to understand that he was a) just reporting what Xi said, b) what Xi said is controversial but c) the histories here are so complicated that the contention really does revolve about the way history is USED for the political precent.

The Hill would be advised not to make cheap political points in this because of both its complication and the implications for contemporary politics in East Asia.

(Note: I am amateur historian and lived in Korea, I have some grasp of Korean and some knowledge of Chinese, but the historiography is both contested and complicated, so if you feel like I misrepresented something, say so. I also know my tendency to refer to China(s) and Korea(s) because of the discontinuity of the states and the shifts in culture may bother some people. I really don’t know how to talk cultures that have nation-states now but nations and dynasties, etc., that represented those peoples has changed so completely so many times.)

The Spectre of Culture (Wars)

In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That’s because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

As liberals and environmentalists lost political power, they abandoned a politics of the strong, aspiring, and fulfilled for a politics of the weak, aggrieved, and resentful. The unique circumstances of the Great Depression — a dramatic, collective, and public fall from prosperity — are not being repeated today, nor are they likely to be repeated anytime soon. Today’s reality of insecure affluence is a very different burden.

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits, and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility, and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn’t to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure, and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security, and high status. It is this posture that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous, and progressive politics is not to tell them they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong.

— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, “Status and Security”

This book was written before the economic down and the explicit shift on both the left, which had been heading this way explicitly since the late 1960s, and the right, which had had done it in coded language only since 1980s but became explicit about towards the end of the Bush administration, moved into one would, with the condescending vague hope, the “late” phase of the culture war.

Now, I don’t think we need to rebuild the “progressive” coalition like Nordhaus and Shellenberger, but I do essentially agree with them.  In lieu  of any thing like a mass movement, we are left with spectacle around campuses.  This has happened over and over again as people effected directly by economic and policing politics do not have the leisure to maintain mass protests, and the protests move to places where people do, campuses.  To talk in liberal terminology here, this moves from a site of lesser privilege to a site of more privileged, even if intersectional oppressions abound.

In the communist movement, the key point of the abolition of “value” is that value was generated by working class.  There ability to change society was not their status as victims, although they clearly were, peasants were also victims, but as Marx noted, all peasants revolts could generally achieve was just replacing the old ruling class with themselves.  They did not have the power to end what produced the need for feudal or even an agrarian capitalist society.  It was the proletariat’s power that had as the people who made the stuff that society ran on that made them the subject of change. Not their victimhood.

So why is identity victim so popular and why is there a race for even the objectively powerful to claim it?  Victimhood is a quicker proxy for group cohesion than symbolic kinship.  Symbolic kinship is what enabled tribal societies to expand blood bonds through rituals of inclusion, adoption, etc.  Marriage, replacing the labor of lost members of the tribe, or even suing for peace made this possible.  In fact, as Marshall Sahlins pointed out, while sociobiology and some branches of evolutionary psychology had assumed reproduction, sexuality, and tribal determined kinship,  the evidence is that its inverted even in hunter gather societies.  However, a quicker, albeit much less stable, was to generate a “political” body was victimization.  It generates the other to define the tribe.

IF you view culture as two things, the habits of a society to organize around its own reproduction as a whole (which is, in some ways, a codification of economic and familial relations) and as the means to govern conflicts within that unit without explicit or even implicit violence, you can see that culture develops from these two impulses.  Culture wars would naturally accord when patterns of life dissolve, which capitalism after the world wars has clearly done even in the most “developed” countries for both good and ill.

Furthermore, in moments without political clarity and where prior oppressions have made other forms of social life more distrusted, and there is no-to-little-mechanism to organize by class in terms, victimhood as a cultural politics would be innately appealing. Think about the shift from the Black Power movement to the Rainbow coalition to focus in social justice on structural oppression.  All three movements actually shared a view of structural racism beyond individual bigotry, and all three moments acknowledged the horrendous victimization of the African diaspora and other people termed “black” in the Americas and from European colonialism.  However, the focus from power to integration to justice moves the focus of agency.

As middle class and working class “white” (read rural and suburban, which gets coded for white) life does decline as wealth becomes urban and even more highly centralized and uneven, the mantel of victimhood is claimed, and it is made to deliberately mirror that other identity movements.  Whiteness becomes defined as, instead of a lack of identity as it was seen in most of twentieth century, as a besieged but substantive identity, as you see pop up in the rhetoric around the alt-right.

In a different time, this does resemble fascists movements claim of victimhood.  Something that we forget about all three of the major European fascist movements and the Klan.  So it can be serious as death politically when a dominant social group does pick up the rhetoric of victimization. However, in the “first as tragedy, then farce” way, things degenerated quickly.

Berkeley, for reasons having to do with both the free speech movement and the birth of the new left, has taken on weird symbolism.  In a way, it has become a manifestation of our dreams of internet culture.  The shouting and burning away of Milo recently was a spectacle for both the so-called “alt-light” and antifa movement to appear to matter.  However, it did nothing but boast his book sells and maybe stop a doxing, which is a small victory. The neoconservative and religious right finding Milo’s complicated stance on teen-adult relationships between gay men, a stance that many of the radical left actually share with him, is what had is book deal ended and lost him a media outlet.  The prior Berkeley moment was a spectacle, but it was all light, no head.

So again, things move to Berkeley when the Alt-right decided to make it ground zero for a gay pride style protest.  Caitlin Johnstone says in her article, I Think We Can Safely Say The American Culture War Has Been Taken As Far As It Can Go,

Okay, that’s it. That’s as far as the American culture war can possibly be taken. When you’ve got people dressed as superheroes brawling with people dressed as ninjas over who’s got the better warmongering neocon politicians in Washington, you’ve taken this idiotic game to its most ridiculous possible extreme. These Berkeley demonstrations where right-wingers who think America is one COEXIST bumper sticker away from full-fledged Marxism gather to have fist fights with lefties who see Adolph Hitler’s face on every mammal without a Tumblr account have taken the artificial dichotomy created and promulgated by America’s ruling elites and made it so cartoonishly exaggerated that it’s lost all shape and meaning outside of “hey look at me!” social media vanity politics.

If you haven’t been following (and I would not blame you if you have not), there was yet another pro-Trump demonstration in the ultra-liberal city of Berkeley, California yesterday, which was once again met with counter protests from masked “antifascists”, and which once again turned violent. This happened because people who voted for Trump last year are tired of being painted as racist Nazis by the people who voted for Clinton, so some of them have been staging the conservative equivalent of a gay pride parade to let everyone know that they’re out and they’re not ashamed. The people who voted for Clinton, meanwhile, have been brainwashed by corporate media into believing that their nation is being taken over by fascist bigots, so when they saw what they were being told was a rally for white nationalists and neo-Nazis assembling in their neighborhood, they came itching for a fight. Tempers flared and fists flew.

I’m not calling for this behavior to stop, for the record; if a bunch of bored internet denizens want to get together and break their hand bones on each other’s skulls with poorly-thrown punches in order to feel something, that’s fine by me. I just think it’s worth drawing attention to how ridiculous this whole thing is getting. Because some rich people and their politicians figured out that rural Americans have different fears than urban Americans and that these fears can be used to keep voters fighting each other instead of demanding a just and equitable society, you’ve now got guys dressing up like Captain America running around breaking sticks over the heads of dreadlocked black bloc liberal arts majors in one of the most expensive parts of the wealthiest nation on earth.”

This in a moment where Trumps politics are shifting. He is going back to the normie neoconservative foreign policy hawking that has defined Republicans. Partly because it clears the charges of being a Russian stooge, in a new liberal quasi-McCarthyism, while not substanceless, does seem to be going to a paranoid style of politics liberals in the past avoided.  The fact that these manifestations of internet debates on radical political cultures have come to substitute for the work that needs to be done in the US.

This farce may be an indication that things are actually darker than anyone realizes, but what looms is not mass radical movements. This is not Rome in 1931.  IF fascism was defined by total mobilization, then this is inverse.  It’s demobilization, depoliticization, and the decline of the energy of the politics around victimhood.  There is such a thing as a tragifarce.

The Koreas

So there are some predictable developments in regards to 대한민국 (ROK), my old temporary home, and this goes into why I don’t freak out every time anyone does anything stupid in regards to 조선민주주의인민공화국 (DPRK). I prefer the Korean names because there are actually implications and differences in the use of names, you will notice that if you transliterated the names, you notice North Korea claims to be a continuation of a different state than the South. Anyway, I am going to talk about recent events.

The test, predictably, failed, and this is probably why China was not as worried as they could be. Getting rid of Kim Jong Un is not a particularly high priority as a rabid buffer state is still a buffer state unless those claws get too sharp. A friend of mine sees this as another sign of US decline, but while the US power projection is declining, it also remains true that a rival hegemonic power doesn’t emerge because the candidates aren’t there. China is powerful, but has a severely slowed economy (although still faster than the developed ones, but people who know anything about growth patterns in economics shouldn’t be surprised by that), Russia has a GDP of Italy and while it does have some serious ordinance, its ambitions seem to be purely regional to Eastern Europe despite a lot of the bluster. It hits harder militarily than its economy lets on, make no mistake, but Putin’s concerns are limited to limiting NATO and keeping a Sunni block developing towards his Southern border. Europe leaders is a major power but still sees its bread buttered mostly in sync with the US even if individual countries oppose specific military action. BRICS never could correlate around united interests because honestly they don’t clearly have united interests.

Always, but particularly now, the basics of political life and geo-political life are practical.

That said, these would be intractable wars with no chance of actual success for the US even if the US narrowly “won” them.   While a lot of the apocalypse mongering is overdone,  this could still be nasty if handled in a bellicose manner.

So, like the Roman Empire after the 3rd century, that decline may go awhile without anything really emerging to rival it. Furthermore, my normal response applies: capitalism does loom and it is clearly shifting modes.  Trump’s return to neoconservative brands of “realpolitik” as opposed to other, even conservative, forms is likely good for no one.

So South Koreans aren’t freak out just like I learned not to while I was there, but there are concerns. The likelihood of cyberwar being the reason for failure is really low. In event of a war, Russian and DPRK both use those older methods because they are less hackable. They would, however, still almost instantly lose in such a missal war but only after doing massive damage Japan or Hawai. This is a bargaining table and there is very little the US can do unless it wants to use an ICBM itself. This puts South Korea and Japan in a shit situation, but Japan wants to re-militarize and has the technology now.

So while these developments aren’t good, and could be of the apocalyptic variety; honestly, they aren’t likely to be.The idea that any individual actor is that irrational in the prisoner’s dilemma is low, and there is an explicit method to DPRK’s madness. Bellicose rhetoric for their nationalist interior which, honestly, has moved from communism proper to a kind of racial mythology since the end of the Soviet Union in particular (read the Cleanest Race on this and also learn about the LACK of de-Nazification of Asia. Blood race came into Korea from Japan which got it from Germany and mixed with clan tendencies and political isolation in a fairly unique way, and this was specifically used to build DPRK’s self-understanding from probably the 1970s forward).

A lot of the future of the ROK depends on the the upcoming election, now that daughter of the former dictator and really weirdly scandal ridden Park administration is over, it’s time for a change. A change that is willing to do some complicated negotiations between China, Japan, and the US. Moon Jae-in make be able to return Korea’s Democratic party to same status after the Roh Moo-hyun’s suicide and the collapse of the Sunshine policy. Conservatives in Korea have been split between Protestants, represented by Lee Myung-bak and the Grand National Party and Buddhists represented by Park Geun-hye and Liberty Korea (which split from Lee’s Grand National Party), although it’s important to know that Park was completely secular with cultural ties to Buddhists and Catholics (like Roh Moo-hyun actually). Lee was seen as Korea’s slightly more moderate George Bush whereas there is little US analogue to Park (although maybe Trump in time).

Given that Japan is scrambling jets now to deal with China, not the DPRK, things are about to get complicated.

Sectarians for Christian Humanism: Interview with Daniel Anderson of the Sectarian Review

An interview with Daniel Anderson by C. Derick Varn

810a5a64-8e2f-416f-8ace-82b6568598c5-902-0000012bb61a5762Daniel Anderson is an Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA. He is also the host of The Sectarian Review Podcast, which is a proud member of the Christian Humanist Radio Network.

Former People:  Why did name your Christian podcast, The Sectarian Review, off of a largely Marxist literary journal, the Partisan Review?

Daniel Anderson:  Somehow during grad school, I stumbled across Partisan Review, and particularly Lionel Trilling. (I focused on Jewish American fiction andPR was an important nexus of that literary community). Reading those essays 50 and 60 years late was a kind of revelatory experience. First, at the level of prose, they are so unlike contemporary academic writing. The pressure of decades of corporate-style professionalization has really taken a toll on academic discourse. The discipline-specific language and political positions that characterize modern academic writing have completely abandoned the “generally educated reader,” that the old “public intellectual” sought out, and I think that’s a shame. The writing in PR is engaging and even artistic. Those essays, as others have said, belong to literature itself.

Second, I always admired PR’s intellectual position in complicated political and artistic issues. Lionel Trilling completely understood the dialectical nature of politics and art (no doubt drawing on PR’s political origins – first as an organ of the Communist Party, then abandoning that for the anti-communist Left). His immersion in the poetry and cultural ideas of Matthew Arnold seems to have dovetailed nicely with the New York Intellectuals’ Marxist political philosophy. At any rate, PR (and Trilling in particular) never tried to simplify complexity to fit art and politics into a pre-fabricated political ideology, but instead sought to embrace complexity and paradox as a way of expanding the “Liberal Imagination.” To be too sure of one’s ideas was the ultimate threat. Unexamined certainty could only lead to calcified and rigid liberal institutions.
This is the founding philosophy of Sectarian Review. (I went to Nathan Gilmour of the Christian Humanist Podcast for suggestions about a name. I said I wanted an adjective that translated “Partisan” to a Christian context and he immediately suggested “Sectarian”). My immersion in Trilling led to a desire to translate his project of expanding the “Liberal Imagination” to my own goal of challenging the “Christian Imagination.” Trilling identified Liberalism’s weakness as an over-institutionalization of liberal “ideas,” which led to a deadening of the Liberal imagination, which eventually would have catastrophic consequences for Liberal politics (Bill Clinton’s influence upon the Democratic Party seems to have validated Trilling’s warning, no?). My reading of popular Christian culture maps almost directly on the template that Trilling set. When I see popular Christianity in America (which is not to say there aren’t dissenting communities- largely organized around organs like the now defunct journal Books & Culture) I see a culture that takes its inherited political and theological ideas for granted as unexamined fact. The art that this community produces (its music and particularly its films) takes simplistic cues from those “policies” and craf2f5a843a-6e13-497f-a2ca-3adc5b72571d-2402-0000055d87adee55_orig.pngts them into unconscionably terrible art. The Christian imagination is then further damaged by the consumption of this art, and Christian institutions become ever more corrupted by the false desires this degraded art instills.

So basically the idea behind the show is to find topics that challenge ideas and art that are conventional to Christian institutions and to hopefully feed the Christian imagination.
Has the mission of the Sectarian review changed in light of the election?
I’m not sure the mission has changed, but some of the institutions that we’ve been focusing on have. For instance, the vast Evangelical support for Trump is, in many ways, encouraged by “Celebrity” leaders like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. This has led me to begin a series of episodes focused on the role of celebritism in culture at large. That is ongoing, but I certainly will get to this style of leadership driven by celebrities within popular Christianity. This is not necessarily directly in response to Trump, but definitely related.
I’m not sure this is answering your question, but Trump has had a clarifying effect on the show I think. For a while, I was just doing show ideas that came to me (internally and from listeners) without thinking about how they might be related. And at times it did seem somewhat random.  Around the time of the election, however, I did begin to see how most of our shows, intentionally or not, were interested in challenging institutional assumptions of one sort or another. I’m not really sure how Trump and the election influenced this revelation, but it was the occasion for it nonetheless.
What do you see at the role of Christian studies of the humanities in a time when academic support for the humanities is precarious in the larger culture?
f6b17319-485b-484c-a03c-e16ae79f0aec-4071-000007359703917a_orig.pngWell, this is tricky. Ideally, Christian colleges and universities should be rushing to fill the humanities-sized gap left by secular institutions that lose more and more of their identity to corporate management models each year. While many individual faculty working in these institutions do make it their personal missions to do the traditional work of the humanities, the institutions that employ them generally do not. This is a huge topic right now within Christian academic circles. Unfortunately, Christian colleges (usually small schools without large endowments) don’t function any differently from their secular counterparts from an operational (and really even missional) level. They too are dropping Humanities programs in favor of “marketable” skill-based majors. The rhetoric these institutions use is always something like “preparing Christ-like citizens for the real world,” but that is mostly just marketing to the churches that supply them students in my opinion. The “Christ-like” aspect of their eduction is basically limited to chapel attendance and some religion classes. The rest of their education is job training just like with their secular counterparts. These schools (broadly speaking) don’t really stand in the way of Capitalism’s transformation of education, which SHOULD be conceived of as an ethical and spiritual pursuit. These nobler tasks can’t be undertaken when you marginalize the humanities in favor of physical therapy courses, however. James K.A. Smith wrote a wonderful book about what Christian higher ed should be, called Desiring the Kingdom. In that book, Smith really smartly identifies the problem with actually-existing Christian education as he constructs a philosophical argument for what the ideal version might look like. Unfortunately, too many mainstream Christians choose to read the latest wisdom from Franklin Graham rather than people like Smith.
Christianity is, in its nature, counter-cultural. It’s institutions should stand opposed to cultural, political, and economic currents, not adopt them and try to sanctify them, as Christian institutions have done with things like Patriotism and Free Market Capitalism. The study of the humanities, in my mind (I’m not much of a New Historicist), should also provide a way to transcend inherited institutions in order to provide an ethical distance from which to try to perfect them (I’m a bit of an Arnoldian in this belief). In so many ways, the practice of Christianity shares much with the practices of the humanities. It is, to me, one of the great tragedies of American Christianity that we’ve lost that contact.
What do you see as see as the role of podcasts in keeping humanities and arts education available to the public?
Well as long as the medium doesn’t get totally co-opted by existing corporate media, I think that podcasting can play a great role in keeping the humanities vital for masses of people (maybe not large masses, but I doubt that the arts and humanities ever really captured a huge market share). The diversity of interests that one can find in a search on iTunes is rather astounding. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who is a pencil enthuiast and he was telling me that there are shows dedicated to that rarified pursuit! This level of speciality extends to the humanities as well. That kind of particularity simply cannot exist within the contemporary university economic structure. In the corporate university, philosophy departments can’t even survive in great numbers, let alone departments that deal in more esoteric interests. Podcast-land, on the other hand, still has an enthusiastic amateurism about it that, to my mind anyway, is what makes the humanities vital in the first place. 
There is also a real sense of solidarity within the communities of podcasters. I’ve been able to connect with other people whose shows I enjoy listening to and they’ve been guests on mine. These relationships cross the strict disciplinary boundaries of professional academia as well. I don’t know if this dynamic qualifies as a “sharing economy” or not, but it enriches my own thinking about the subjects we cover. For instance I just recorded an episode about the 2009 book Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford (it should be released in early March). I was joined by a Ph.D student in Philosophy and a Professor of Physics for that talk about a book of economic ethics by a political philosopher. And we were all there out of love and personal curiosity, not “professional development.” That’s the kind of gap that podcasting can fill, and it’s one that the modern academy has largely abandoned.  
The optimist in me also wonders if the horrific working conditions of the vast numbers of contingent faculty will drive great numbers of highly educated people out of academia and into pursuits like podcasting, where they are free to pursue their interests and curiosities without institutional constraints. Tenure is wonderful, but not striving for it can be wonderfully liberating. 
And finally, the ability to interact in various ways with an audience that only listens out of an intrinsic interest in what you’re doing. That kind of bonding is special and it is a wonderful version of intellectual community building. Let’s not forget the listeners.
Has the podcast had any positive or negative effects on your academic career?
vintage-30-11-2016-16h01m09s_1.pngThat’s really hard to determine. I do believe that there are people in academia who think of this kind of work as “not counting” as professional activity. These are the folks immersed in the contemporary model of scholarship and intellectualism embodied in the academic publishing industry. For folks in that camp, anything outside of the double-blind, peer review gated community is “popular,” and not professionally rigorous. And that’s fine with me. I realized long ago that I don’t have the desire or the research chops to thrive inside those walls. I actually see a lot of value in the “professional” academy; I just also see a lot of limitations to that kind of intellectual work. What I’m interested in is much more public than that form of scholarship can be. 
All that said, if there have been any negative effects from  my podcasting, I haven’t experienced it. No one has denied me anything or told me to stop or anything like. 
On the positive side, there are many benefits, and some of them are a little abstract. I have been able to connect with other podcasting academics who, to my mind, have really enriched the show. The co-hosts I’ve had are largely from academic backrounds and I love them to death. In addition, I’ve gotten the chance to interview academics like John Fea, a connection that would have never been made without the show. So in terms of professional networking, it’s been great. A lot of like-minded (though politically diverse) academics have coalesced around the show and that’s been really rewarding. 
And on the more abstract side, producing the show has given me a lot more professional confidence. I have always felt a little underprepared for academia – I’ve always felt under-read very inarticulate. Preparing for and producing the show has helped immensely on both counts. I haven’t done this, but I suspect that if I were to go back and listen to my early Christian Humanist Podcast appearances and my more recent Sectarian Review shows, the improvement in my clarity of speech and thought would blow me away. This has also translated to the classroom. I absolutely know that the show has improved my teaching.
How you think Christians should engage with literary culture?
Well, that really depends on what we’re talking about when we say “literary culture.” If you’re talking about how Christians should engage with works of art, I would say that in popular Christianity, there’s been a long tradition of focusing on “content.” If a novel or movie contains language or images that Christian culture deems sinful, Christians have by and large avoided or actively advocated against those works. This has occurred across a wide spectrum, from Harry Potter books to the book and film versions of The Last Temptation of Christ. I actually think that the desire to maintain some form of distance from depravity is not a bad thing. Too often, erudite sophisticates equate the consumption of transgressive material as an unquestioned virtue that demonstrates one’s open-mindedness or worldliness. I think that has had the effect of generating cynicism and a lack of compassion. I guess what I’m saying is that I think it’s important to maintain our ability to be shocked and emotionally wounded. Intellectualizing those aspects of our moral imagination away is no virtue.
However, I also think that avoiding material that challenges a Christian worldview is not a good way to maintain the moral distance I’m speaking of. This approach to art leads to the problems I mentioned before with the Christian Imagination, so I won’t belabor that again in this answer.
The other conception of “literary culture” that I can think of requires a different answer. If you’re talking about the institutions that society has constructed to carry literature into various marketplaces and through time, then I think that we should create little magazines of our own, and serious ones at that. I mentioned before that the demise of Books and Culture is a terrible sign for Christianity. That is exactly the kind of space that Christians should seek to inhabit as we engage with books and art. Instead, most of pop Christianity depends on the film and book review sections of publications that seek to inform readers about “moral content.” What happens to the people who rely on those forms of engagement (more accurately those forms of ‘lack of engagement’) is that they become cut off from works of art that really explore what it is to be human. There needs to be a fearlessness that isn’t there.
Why has the Catholic approach seeming be more successful than the evangelical approach, the latter seeming to be an attempt to knock-off contemporary culture whereas Catholic or Orthodox artists really market themselves as Catholic and engage in dialogue with the larger culture but from within it?
This question really describes the approach I was trying to 87b8206d-7a20-4434-868b-534e9907191b-2402-0000055cb7bf7104_1_orig.pngarticulate in the second part of the last question. The ability to maintain a distinct identity inside secularity. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have a great answer for that. I do teach at a Catholic college, but did not grow up in that tradition so I don’t have a lot of knowledge about the kinds of institutions that work in parallel to official Church structure and that define the faith for its people. My admittedly uneducated guess is that Catholicism has largely maintained its traditional authority structure throughout time. Evangelicism, by contrast, has no governing authority except what emerges from various markets. So TV preachers and authors and such market their brands and are to varying degrees throughout various communities de facto authorities – little popes for the anti-Papists. So the markets from which these figures emerge become the markets that Christian creative types and their audiences target for their own creations and the consumption thereof. There is no need to engage with the larger culture when you have created your own parallel universe to exist in. And take a look at the Evangelical creative marketplace; there are movie studios, publishers, radio and television networks, conferences, educational systems, scholarship, amusement parks etc… all of which replicate the institutions of the secular world and make it totally unnecessary to engage with the secular world. Catholics still largely defer to the Pope and move forth in the world from that position.
What do you think a Christian’s reaction to capitalism should be?
I hate the really simplistic ways that some Lefty Christians promote socialistic ideas. The whole “well the Sermon on the Mount is socialism” line of thinking is reductive and frankly boring. It misses the point that Jesus basically creates an ideology and government outside of our political language and imagination. Socialism and capitalism are cultural incidentals in the Kingdom of God. Christianity is, as I’ve said, itself counter-cultural. If the culture you live in as a Christian is dominated by the mechanisms and idols of capitalism, then one’s faith should give one the perspective to identify that. Ours clearly is, yet many Christians (not all – Dorothy Day, for instance) aren’t able to use the moral position of their transcendant faith to perceive the problem. Like everyone else in capitalism, they assume its naturalness. Marx provides a language and historical analysis that helps the Christian describe the material consequences of spiritual problems, and the way those material conditions invade and transform the spiritual life. This is not to sanctify Marx, however. His materialism is essentially irreconcilable with the transcendence of Christianity. Yet there are important intersections between the two systems of thought.
I think that many of the things that conservative Christians traditionally complain about in culture (Hollywood and Music, selfish individualism, whatever – the list is long) are, in their essences, functions of both the Enlightenment and the way that capital organizes society. Yet most Christians (as with most Americans in general) run to capitalism’s defense because the only example of anti-capitalism they know is the harsh atheism of the Soviet Union. Therefore any critique of capitalism’s corrosive qualities has to be either written-off or co-opted into Christianity itself. This is a terrible mistake as it gives up the transcendent position of Jesus’s message for a material one. The same problem results from the strain of Christianity that tries to historically reconcile America with Christianity (the “America was founded as a Christian nation” argument). Ideas like this become embodied in the faith itself through various Christian institutions, especially in Evangelicism. I even know of a Christian college that states in its mission statement that it’s goal is to preach the goodness of free markets. So I’m not saying that Christians must all be radicals, but they must be able to identify and critique false idols when they encounter them.
Anything you would like to say in closing?
d77e403b-f524-48ff-a6b8-06c055e7d592-4071-000007359740c882_orig.pngJust that in pursing these critiques of Evangelical institutions in the podcast, it’s been really heartening to find an expansive and ideologically diverse community of people who also find themselves alienated by Evangelicism’s dogmas. Podcasting has been therapeutic in that, and many other, ways.

Review: 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education by David Berliner, Gene V Glass, and Associates (Teacher’s College Press, 2014)

Berliner and Glass and their research assistants set this book to show “many citizens conception of K12 public education in the United States is more myth than reality.” While it does it admirably in parts, some of the answers some myths are also incongruent with answers given for other myths. The style and research support actually varies greatly between the various myths because of the large number of research assistants involved in the authorship. Each individual myth is basically an article on topic running down history and research quickly–and it is sourced. However, the sourcing is kind of bias and assertions made by researchers are often treated as conclusive to the research even if those assertions are more arguments than data or really editorializing.

The panoply of standard controversies are in the book: vouchers, charter school, homework, STEM focused education, PISA scores, teacher pay, etc. Many of the individual issues covered are sound, and many of the criticisms of I have seen leveled at this Berliner and Glass are conservative and stem from people anecdotal experience or fairly outdated views from Charles Murray and co. Yet there are serious issues with many of the assertions in the book. For example, the book indicates that not all students can learn everything and be expected to have same results, but then it denigrates both tracking and IQ tests. I agree with many of its criticisms of IQ tests, but the Flynn effect does indicate that peer groups do effect IQ and that people can learn beyond those limitations. Still the careful reader will see my frustration, and its not just on intelligence plasticity: Berliner attacks PISA scores, but it is crucial to several other myths in the book.

The strongest sections were “Myths about College and Career Readiness,” which tackles hyperbole about STEM qualifications and the job placement (including that in many STEM fields we are already over-saturated almost as much as in the humanities), etc. This book, however, tackled no myths that are popular in Education schools but debunked outside of it: learning styles, while not mentioned, is not dealt with and many psychological myths held by teachers aren’t dealt with as well. Special Education students being unsuccessful academically in general is not dealt with, and this too is a common myth among teachers–despite it being a plank of “progressive education” and the movement towards inclusion since the late 1990s. This book pretty much solely aims itself at myths about education but not commonly held by educators.

In that the agenda is shown–“Myths about Teachers” while often true reads like an NEA pamphlet–which makes moderates and conservatives distrust the book. Furthermore, some of the myths being debunked haven’t even been dominant in the popular media for twenty years: Ed Hirsch’s background knowledge and minimal literacy gets unfairly attacked and attacked as if it is mentioned often currently.

Cairo Saturday Night Reflections

I am listening to Dresden Dolls and remembering when I thought Amanda Palmer held a lot of promise for the world music, sitting in my old apartment in Macon, GA, tired from first or second year teaching public school, pouring myself a gin with lemon juice, and waiting for my future ex-wife to arrive from home hawking payday loans on car titles.  One of my four cats would be curling around my legs.  I would only really be home on weekends as I taught night school at a community college and high school during the day, living in neither city, so I spent a lot of time in my car.  When I was home, I would drink to cut the stress and play with my cats.  I rarely saw Sarah, my wife at time, during the early evening as our working hours were sometimes in conflict.

Tired of the call to prayer and grading sixth grade papers, I go back to Bush’s America in light of Trump’s America.  Except in many ways, the dystopian elements of English speaking north America seemed consistent as I only lived in the states for one and a half years of Obama’s formal presidency, leaving in summer of 2010. I have watched it from abroad, largely unimpressed, working on different things, and becoming more and more radicalized.

Coming back to the states is strange. I enjoyed the time I spent in Utah.  The marches right now are both hopeful and limited. Hopeful in that many people care, but only in opposition. I am left with nostalgia of the personal, podcasting on MMT and Marxism or ancient philosophy, or the limits and promise of dual power.  I started this thinking that one I would be a literary scholar or a writing pedagogue, and now I have a different dream.

Mark Fisher died this week by his own hand. Mark was not a friend, but I respected him, wrote polemics both for and against him, and work with an imprint he helped put on the map.  I miss him.  I am only 36, and he was only 48.  He is gone.   Another in a litany of lost people I interacted with in the past year.  I faced my own morality two years ago, and could have lost Khristian, my partner of five years.

This isn’t going anywhere because I am not sure where I want it to go. The times are changing, and I am remembering other hard times. I have seen much, much worse since my years struggling in my twenties.

Here’s to the brave new world.  It was time for a change. It is always time for a change. It is coming for me personally, for the US politically, and for the world in myriad of ways. It always is, but right now, it is obvious.