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.


Utah Reflection: Scouting for a New Home

2016 has been a year of profound change. Although all years are years of profound change, this one made itself obnoxiously obvious in its sharp cut with the past.  IN a way, this is the razor we need, and in other ways, it is product and producer of much anxiety. Yet it is a bad year in a three decades of softer ones for the world:  economic growth slowing all over in the first, second, and third worlds.  So I find myself in Utah, spending Christmas vacation out of Cairo, and back in my home country scouting out Salt Lake City for a new life.

My wife has improved massively, and will be returning to working here in the states.  She has been living at home for health reasons and for her family health as I had written about before, but now her prognosis is improved and her energy is returning.  We spend the week going to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, discussing the Utah AIDS foundation with friends, visiting the various Mormon holy sights out for cultural understanding, and beginning to think about moving back.

I have been gone for seven years–gasoline is two dollars cheaper than when I left and food is more expensive.  USB outlets are everywhere. Things say “Made in America” again beyond hipster clothing brands.  Things are different and the West is the not the South where I am from or California or DC where most of my friends moved when they could.

I am exited, although I still have six more months as a teacher, away from my wife, in Cairo. At the end of this, I don’t know that I will be a teacher anymore after doing teaching in either secondary or post-secondary settings for over 12 years. I am not sure I won’t stay in the classroom either, but I am open to working in NGOs, consulting, and data-analysis or anywhere that can use my administrative, writing, and data-analysis skills acquired in teaching, educational research, publishing, and working the arts.

I have also been reading on Hellenistic and Greek philosophy and will be doing more writing on that. My thoughts on politics are still forming. I have not commented on the President Elect because I feel like we don’t know enough yet about what is actually going on and while my predictions and observations held up better than the average pundits, being part of the chattering classes on politics before things unfold is, in a way, reading tea leaves or throwing entrails.

So I will watching the Utah snow freeze, we got almost two feet, and four years in the desert and most of my early life being in the South has left me not used to snow. The black ice, the driving patterns, and the shoveling being somewhat alien to me now.

So times they are a-changing. They always are. In six months, I am coming home to a new phase in my life.

A Not So Definitive List of My Unpopular Opinions…

There is a meme free-floating around social media about unpopular opinions one holds.  I began to think about what unpopular axioms I hold as truth, and decided to some up with a list that will surely alienate someone about something:

Unpopular Opinions on Marxism:

IF economic and historical assumptions of Marx is not true, then Marxism is not worth defending as it is even as a progressive step. There is no moral reason to support it as it currently exists as a system of thought if one thinks it merely a step in the right direction.

The way most Marxists talk about teleology is eschatological–progress is domain specific even within a totality.

All ideological schools of thought, even non-political ones, are necessarily “vanguardist” in a loose sense, and explicit anti-vanguardism becomes incoherent and actually has a higher tendency to develop into personality cults.

Democracy as a concept is not good or bad, but a formal impulse that itself is actually value and polity neutral. The form of democracy is actually probably not value and polity neutral, but cannot be explored outside of specific historical contexts.  Marxists are not seeking then merely “economic democracy” which is an idiotic division of political economy rendered into a slogan.


I don’t think degenerated workers states or state capitalism actually completely describe the failure of actual socialist states to achieve even their own internal goals.

We desperately need serious class studies look at the stratifications within the working class, and not just on race, ethnicity, and gender, but also in field of employment, region, etc.

Marxism as a humanistic ideology desperately needs to take research on anthropology and psychology more seriously.

A Marxist society cannot simply develop on capitalist technology and the stage to impose itself by controlling the state.

Social, political, and economic revolutions are all needed, but they don’t all happen at once. I believe that having the political revolution happen before the economic one is a large part of the problem of Marxist development.

I do not think conflating “communism” and “socialism” is in line with later Marx’s writings, and I do think Marx was actually a stagist fairly explicitly even if I don’t agree with that element of Marx’s own writings.

Most of the hatred of Marxism is honestly earned.


Unpopular Opinions on Politics in General

Carl Schmitt is right about the way states of exception work for political communities and the definition of political world.

I have learned much from anarchism, including that I am not one.

Any moment that wishes to radically change a polity could learn more from Hezbollah than the New Left.

Anti-Americanism alone is the anti-imperialism of fools.

There is no such thing as nationalism of the oppressed.  That is like chauvinism of the United Colors of Benetton.

Most critiques of Eurocentrism are themselves Eurocentric.

Liberalism is dying from success.

The problem with most anarchism is negation is rarely ever enough.


Unpopular Opinions in Ethics, Morality, and Politics 

Virtue ethics is the mostly defensible meta-ethics. The impulses that cover deontological and consequentialist ethics are actually covered in virtue pluralism.

Morality and ethics are distinct but related categories.

Morality is the conception of the limits of one’s self-conception in relationship to one’s actions.


Ethics is the normative conception monitoring relationships to others.

Morality often drives epistemology and metaphysics (like it did formally in almost all ancient philosophical systems, or they conflate morality and metaphysics and derive epistemology form that), not the other ways around.

There is no one moral way to engage in relationships, marriages, etc. There are, however, tons more immoral ways to engage in them.

One should not completely separate one’s morality from one’s normative politics, but one HAS do separate one’s morality from one’s descriptive politics.

Good and evil aren’t particularly helpful in A LOT–read most–everyday moral questions.

Ethics and morality are contextual even in absolutist cases.


Unpopular Opinions in Education: 

Learning Styles don’t exist, those are only learning preferences.
All the psychological research agrees with me, educational research doesn’t but see the next few points for why.

Overuse of technology in education is a cause of executive function decline. All the psychological research agrees with me, educational research doesn’t but see the next few points for why.

Despite recent educational research for administrations, the distinction between skills, content, and behaviors is actually not psychologically meaningful as they are all forms of knowledge and this pretending of a distinction in assessment cuts against most administrators concern for student achievement.

Most education research is methodologically unable to question its assumptions, and its notions of best practices are often statistically questionable. This is why there are all kinds of small level effects found in education research statistically, but achievement has not improved in aggregate for the entire student body much since 1970s and even educational research book I have ever read admits that. Many assumptions in educational research look for implied statistical significance in ideas that have been completely debunked in the fields that they originated in, but since applied research in education is all based in correlations and it is frankly a-scientific, and thus cannot build proper causing models.

Administration and systems are much, much more important than most teachers realize.

The whole “factory model of education” is a myth itself. The models of education even during the Prussian period are influenced by military models and ideas of human capital, and Dewey’s models of education have been influential since they existed. This is actually a myth about both the Enlightenment and economics that pushes as consumer model of education.

Educational choice in schools is only bad because of the way educational funding is structured.

Most educational research is also questionable because it results more than any other field seem to match up to things in recent legislation or administrative decisions and NOT research in humanistic fields.

Economists meta-studies in education are perhaps the worse of the fields in education studies.


The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia: Wonktopia’s Little Big Horn or Wonktopia’s Crossing the Rubicon.

Plot Twists abound: I have been avoiding continuing to blog about the minutiae of Trump transition team and general Democratic reaction to it.   I have been avoid this because it is droll, complicated, and I want to see how everything plays out. However, recent events have let me to write on what I am seeing as a dangerous trend in progressive circles.

You can’t save wonktopia with wonks in the security sector of the executive giving vague releases. The CIA’s consensus view that Russia was election tampering has been picked up with a confluence with the faithless elector argument.   Podesta and the White House seem  trying to expand the argument by having a report given to the Electors. The issues with using an anti-democratic institution to restore a popular vote without either legislative, judicial, or state oversight should be obvious as it creates precedents that literally violate several state constitutions and statutes on faithless electors, tries to bypass the one function of the electoral college to favor another function, and does nothing to address that legislative and state (and probably judicial) would have absolutely no incentive to government with a Clinton executive.

The compromise elector is to the install a moderate Republican as a compromise, but in light of the CIA’s supposed revelation, there is an urgency to do something. Most progressives favor Kiasch or Rubio being installed, which would be interesting in so much that almost no one voted them and would destroy the primary/caucus process that is a province of the states.  If they put in Clinton as the executive, it would be worse.

The problems is that Electoral College is anti-democratic but it keeps large swaths of the country from feeling like they have no federal recourse. In Latin America, where no such institutions existed in the post-Revolutionary Republics both rightists and far leftists in non-metropoles were kept out, and the results were either a quasi-dicatotorships like the PRI in Mexico or lots of civil wars like most of Central and South America. Without the states having more representation of urban areas and without significant work at state level, this use of executive and procedural power that Wonktopians have become addicted to since 1960s, risks empowering their opponents more and more as well.

Furthermore, the claims are thin: The Democrats are asking the entire country to embrace faithless electors off of a statement by the CIA prompted by a President of the opposing party that has not proven anything but illegal release of true documents and possible theft of RNC data. IF there is vote hacking or manufactured documents, then we need to know. We don’t know that. The Democrats are essentially asking for a anti-democratic institution to save democracy from an election where a foreign power may have done agitprop and that is so far all we have evidence for. The FBI seems hesitant to endorse the claims as well. 

The kinds of constitutional crisis this can provoke as serious, and while it is a stretch to imagine civil war immediately, the use of executive procedures would prompt popular revolt in most of the states and would lead to pressure for amendments to the constitution and a possible backlash against Democrats in the next congressional election period whereas such an election would traditionally favor Democrats if prior history is an indication. This would be effectively risking killing most of the structures of the Republic t0 save the popular legitimacy of the Republic. It either looks desperate and doomed, or like crossing the rubicon.

Either way, it would make progressives complicit in their supposed worse fears of constitutional crisis.


Another Reflection on Dangerous Ideas: A New Interview with Keith418

Keith418 is one of the most controversial figures in modern Thelema.  His interviews on the defunct Thelema: Coast to Coast were often rigorous and demanding, yet highly contentious. Keith418 and I have had a ongoing conversation on the development of right-wing and left-wing ideological developments, the meaning of Trump, and. You can read our other interviews, here,  here and here. There are nine so far. 

C. Derick Varn: The Trump candidacy and eventual win took a lot of people by surprise, but not you in particularly.  How has the Occult community you are exposed to reacted, and, perhaps, more importantly, why have they reacted that way?

Keith418: The thing with Trump, that few people really grasped, is that many of his supporters were smart enough not to tell anyone. They knew they’d be condemned and so they kept their thoughts to themselves, or perhaps shared them with close friends they knew were in agreement. I had people in my circles who I could tell were going to back him, but were choosing not to say anything and I brought this up early on. Predictably, it got very little play with anyone else.

All of the “conservative” people I know in the occult community backed Trump fairly enthusiastically. Weirdly enough, this included many self-proclaimed “small government” advocates and “libertarians.” All – and I mean ALL – of these people have heavy issues with authoritarianism in general, an unexamined pathology that I see as being very damaging to their occult work.

The vast majority of occultists and “Thelemites” are mainstream liberals who went with HC. The American leader of the OTO made some noise this year about the need for “Thelemites” to not only fight racism and sexism, but to do so “effectively.” Unsurprisingly, he offered not one bit of a positive example or gave any other instructions beyond hectoring or pleading. I suspect this was more a matter of reacting to the BLM stuff, but it may have been a coded response to Trump.

Overall, the reaction to Trump is the same as you see throughout the rest of mainstream society – it’s not even a little bit different. No matter what they tell you, occultists are more like average Americans than they ever want to admit. This is particularly true when it comes to politics. They have managed to totally divorce any of their occult ideas, or, say in the case of OTO members, the teaching of Aleister Crowley, from their politics.

C.D.V.: What do you make of it taking a real estate celebrity like Trump to achieve this?

Keith418:This whole situation is due to a series of colossal failures made by the managerial elites. The people running the government (especially foreign policy), the economy, the banks, and the media have failed over and over again. Trump is the result. Criticizing him and his supporters without blaming the people running the show, who allowed for all of this, is insane.

As I put it earlier this year, if you don’t want what happened at the conclusion of the Weimar period, then you better not create a Weimar society. Yet that is just what our elites seem to have been doing. Without their many mistakes, we never would have had a Trump. It’s nuts not to blame the people in charge. But many people now see demanding that kind of accountability as taboo. It’s like TINA (“There is no alternative”) has become so entrenched that it’s not just the overall system that can’t be questioned, it’s the decisions of the leaders and elites that no one can really go after. Trump may change that, but he’s still going to be dependent on these elites for all the reasons that every leader of a technologically advanced, dense-population country is – they are the only ones who know how to fly the plane.

If anything, I find that my own criticism of these same elites, which goes back for well over a decade, has proven to be prescient. The Sam Francis book (“Leviathan and Its Enemies” – which I hope you’ve read) is a fascinating and well-argued approach to this whole problem. It could not have arrived at more auspicious time.

C.D.V.: Why do you think it has been so hard for even supposedly counter-cultural movements like Thelemites to deeply criticize elites? It seems positively bizarre to me how many people felt like they had to support the status quo even when it became more and more obvious that weight or hubris was beginning to have a real effect? On Sam Francis,, why do you think even supposedly alt-right thinkers let him languish in obscurity for so long?

Keith418: Are these occult “movements” really counter-cultural? Heidegger once said something to the effect that a theory was too superficial even to be called “false.” I haven’t seen anything even remotely “counter-cultural” in any occult group since the 1990s ended.

People do what they are told to do. They have the arguments they are told to have and root for the teams they are told to root for. Occultists are really no different from anyone else. if our society moves back towards allowing for transgressions, we may see a change from them. But to expect them to change without the larger society’s permission? Never going to happen. They do not have the courage.

I don’t think the alt-right people let Francis languish. Paleocons and the people on the right have been pushing his stuff for years. This book was part of his estate and they got into print when they realized its worth. I’d argue that his orientation, via Marcuse and others, is a little too left-wing even for them.

I wonder what Francis and others would make of Trump’s own hedonism. He’s a casino magnate who has been married how many times? He rose to the top of the hedonistic, consumer society that Francis implicitly maligns. I am convinced it is this hedonism that is going to be the undoing of any really “revolutionary” work on the part of the alt-right. They don’t have the self-discipline to reject a consumer society based on sensual gratification and hedonism; not in the numbers they will need.

C.D.V.:I can definitely see that in a sense but I don’t know how many people on /pol/ would know what to do with someone like Francis. I was noticing the how some of his insights actually seem highly prophetic: “since purely racialist movements can appeal only to members of a given ethnic group, which by itself is a minority, no such movement, black or white, can take power in the United States merely by relying on racial rhetoric and ideology,” which is early in his Leviathan. What do you make of the paradox Francis is describing?  

Keith418: Francis was not a dreamer. He could see how demographics doom white nationalism in the USA. I believe that he would also agree that the partition schemes are unlikely. Nevertheless, as we can see, the US is far from a post-racial society. So what happens? This paradox is now confronting the left as well. Demonizing white people isn’t working for them. So what’s the next step?

I’d also argue that the focus on Francis’s book needs to be on the elites. That’s what it is about. And why isn’t the left attacking them now in much the same way? I have asked you that for years.

C.D.V.:You don’t seem that impressed with the current incarnation of the alt-right, why is that?  

 Keith418: I was never too impressed with the “alt-right.” It didn’t start out that well and then got worse. These are not cultured, sophisticated, literate people. As soon as it got to a certain point of notoriety, the clowns swept in.

C.D.V.: How has managerial aspirations really damaged occultism and what do you make with superficial flirtations with it in art and elite circles as exposed in the Podesta e-mails?

 Keith418:  The Podesta stuff was dismissed by Snopes. Those people have no need for occultism. To the extent that there are occult trends in the larger culture, they may be aware of that, but beyond this kind of shallowness? Let’s not go there. My contention has always been that occultists are influenced by society… and not the other way around. More prosaic, perhaps, and more boring, but this is the reality. Occultists don’t use the society. The society uses occultists. Occultists aren’t the players. They are the played.

Crowley was never a managerial manipulator. He famously attacked “stratagem” and “diplomacy” as methods. Modern occultists see anything but managerial manipulation as dangerous and immoral. In terms of a differentiation between “foxes” and “lions” – The Master Therion was a proud “lion.” The OTO’s current leaders distrust this approach instinctively. They aspire to be the kind of manipulating “foxes” they see represented in the managerial elites. Hence the PC propaganda the OTO’s leaders can be counted upon to trot out whenever they get the appropriate signals from the leaders of conventional society. If you do not believe me I can send you the address a local leader made at his OTO body at a fundraiser they were doing for… Planned Parenthood.

Is this “damaging”? Well if you expect the occult to be anything but the weird little cup holder for the status quo, it’s very damaging. If occultists can’t think beyond the confines of the present society, then what is to become of occultism? In this sense, it suffers along with the arts – with painting, literature, poetry, music, film, dance, etc. – in being unable to break out of the limits that have been set and the choices that have been offered. This isn’t an accident. The elites we have don’t want any opposition and they do not wish to have to contend with an alternative culture. I always hoped occultists would resist this confinement. Because of their class status, they can’t.

C.D.V.: How do you class status related to why a real estate business celebrity came to be seen as populace warrior against the elites?

 Keith418:  Well, the thing about Trump is that even as a developer he was always on the outside looking in – in NYC. The established people hated him. This is one reason he is the way he is. So the idea of him betraying these people by becoming a tribune for the white dispossessed – which is the way one narrative goes – makes sense. It’s revenge. Look, many rich people thought FDR was betraying his class too, didn’t they? If that makes sense for him, why not for Trump?

The difference was that FDR had the allegiance of the emerging managerial elites. I think Trump is more a symptom of the collective failures of these elites – in particular the failure of the media elites to prevent themselves from creating a monster. In fact, Trump’s success, like that of Brexit in the UK, is the perfect way to see who these governing elites have failed. They failed his constituents – which is why they voted for him. They failed to prevent his rise and actually abetted it for the short term gains it gave them (ratings). Remember, the adage that “the capitalist will sell you today the rope you will use to hang him with tomorrow” can be employed by a nationalistic right just as much as it cane by a universalist left, right? They have, as Peter Thiel noted, reduced the economy to a zero sum game which has then created an equally viscous zero sum politics.Instead of looking at these failures and this collapse, people are focusing on Trump’s personality and vilifying his supporters. Hicks in Kentucky didn’t collapse the real estate market, nor did they crash the stock market. Why aren’t the people who did those things getting any blame?

C.D.V.: How much to do Trump clashing with some of the elements of the old GOP he has had to court to keep a unified party?

Keith418: How different is the campaign going to be from the administration? That’s what everyone wants to know. During the campaign, it didn’t seem like Trump or his supporters cared about the GOP establishment at all. If anything, he did everything he could to annoy them and disparage them – and his people ate it up. Like Lenin and others, he may have to use the managerial elites once he’s in power, since they are the only ones who know how to fly the plane. We see signs of this now when he defends the establishment choices he’s making for his appointments and staff.

Compare Trump to Bernie. Bernie is bending over backwards to support the Democratic Party and the people who screwed him over. Imagine what might happen if he had pulled a Trump and started viciously attacking them? That didn’t happen, because his mission is very different.

C.D.V.: This is an insight that goes back to James Burnham, but most of the complexities of society are almost impossible without management. How does a political movement get on top of that?  What do you make of the notion that Sanders primary mission was to get people who were beginning to radicalize back into the democratic fold?

Keith418: I don’t know how anyone gets “on top of that.” I don’t think it’s possible. And unless more people start thinking about it, then there’s really no way out. I see people wanting to focus on anything BUT this question. They keep wanting to talk about identity politics issues rather than focus on who is really running things and if there is an alternative to them that’s possible. Too much of today’s political debate is one team of the managerial elites vs. the other team of the managerial elites. Until people can see this, what hope is there?

Regarding Sanders, I can’t think of any other way to put it. He was a sheepdog from the start. It’s obvious he was dragged along, past a certain point, by his fans and even then he couldn’t go very far.

C.D.V.: You have been pointing out that groups that think they are counter-cultural have been engaging in critiques of the mainstream culture that essentially make them part of it and engaging in general brainrot for years.  Recently, you have seen a mild turn against that with publications like The Baffler and Jacobin critiquing the focus. Yet you have pointed out that there critiques are still from people engaging in pop culture. How long do you think it will take for people truly to go back to doing counter-cultural work?Do you think counter-culture is still possible when it is so easily coopted and monetized?

Keith418:   I used to think the “so easily coopted and monetized” was the main problem. Now I have come around to seeing that there is a deeper need for approval and popularity that’s more insidious and more of an issue. Most people do not want to go very long without the support and approval of those around them. This is profoundly inhibiting to any counter cultural effort, since such an effort requires more courage than is being bred into people these days. We know this “approval seeking behavior” is exacerbated to an enormous degree on social media.  They are not encouraged to be courageous, they are not being rewarded for it, it is not expected from them. As a teacher of mine points out, people forget how violent and antagonistic the counter culture of the 1960s really was. They wish to remember it as being all about “peace and joy and freedom” and it was really more about sharp  generational conflict, paranoia, alienation, and physical violence. Kids today, especially middle class kids raised by helicopter parents, cannot handle even the whiff of this.

The people on the right in Europe have pointed out that you cannot fight the system and still seek to attain to “media cool” at the same time, since the media and the system defines what is “cool.” But those that forsake “media cool”? How do they appear to us? Inconsequential at best, hopelessly out of it at worst.I believe the solution is to watch what happens when more and more of the system starts to fail. When that happens, courage will be forced on people as a simple test of survival. I believe every counter cultural movement – from the Reformation on down – was instigated in large part by elite system failure. This is the opportunity generator. It’s how the elites “revolve” into power.

Remember Stalin himself was one of the people who first formulated a “cultural revolution.” But it had to happen after a political revolution (to seize the power of the state and its apparatus) and an economic revolution (to fundamentally change the way goods and services were appropriated). Only after these two revolutions could you get a cultural revolution. The West has been trying to start at the other end of the ice cream cone. The left wants to do culture more than it wants to govern and the smarter parts of the right want to do “metapolitics.” Is this reversal of the order of revolutions really going to work? isn’t any cultural revolution without profound economic and political changes just posturing? In the 1960s, people were able to see that these questions also applied to “nationalism” – like “black nationalism.” At the end of the day, doesn’t politics and economics bat last?

 C.D.V.: To you think this is why nationalism has become increasingly appealing?

Keith418:  Is nationalism an inevitable response by those who are, or see themselves as being, the victims of globalism and internationalism? What is the dialectical nature between nationalism and internationalism? Does such a dialectic exist and do we have one? Are we ready to have one?

A friend of mine works for an international firm and he supervises groups of workers in Europe. They all have much more vacation time and far stricter rules about what employers can demand than the Americans he also supervises. HC and the rest of the globalist Democrats seem oblivious to this. She was bewildered at why people were expecting what Bernie and his program was offering – as if it was bizarre and hopelessly naive. Well, folks, we WON WWII and these countries LOST. So why do their workers get mandatory six weeks of vacation every year? Why is it insane for Americans to demand this too?

I tend to focus on the hypocrisy of internationalism who still appeal to nationalist sentiments and emotions when it helps them in their immediate agenda. American “exceptionalism” is still being touted by the people who view open borders as a necessity. How exactly does that work and why isn’t anyone calling them on it? If citizenship needs to be granted to anyone who shows up here (and if anyone objects they must be “racists”), then how is this random collection of people exceptional and why do I, or anyone else, need to sacrifice our very lives for people who came here five minutes ago and may well leave five minutes later? This isn’t an issue for the elites who not only aren’t in the military, but don’t know anyone else that is, but in the red states – where everyone knows people in the military and many know people missing limbs or suffering in other ways from their service – it’s quite a different kind of question.

On the other hand, if we demand that people cease to make sacrifices for “their country” and start to struggle ‘for all humankind” then we must demand the same sacrifices not just from poor people from the red states, but from the rich kids in the blue states as well as from the kids living in wealthy European countries and Asia too. They must defend “humankind” as well, since if they don’t, then that jobs falls to Americans and that monopoly situation will then increase the tribalism and nationalism everyone wants to avoid, right? Is anyone looking at how half-assed and self-serving the elites are about their globalism? I don’t see that criticism coming from the left too often.

Do you?

 C.D.V.: Criticizing nationalism from the left in a meaningful way cuts too many people they see as opportunistic contingencies and cannon fodder out of the way.  Becoming nationalists makes them functionally no different from Stasserites and National Bolsheviks or, at least, Peronists. It seems like that contradiction is absolutely best avoided which is why I have a hard time imagining a serious left at the table in the US.

What are the unintended consequences that you see from this election? Is this truly a realignment?

Keith418:   Those seeking a true realignment need to ask themselves who they have trained to fly the plane. If they are depending on the same elites, the same “pilots,” then how can it be real realignment? Will Trump become the mirror image of Obama – saying the right things while serving the same masters? Has the left really come to terms with how that happened under Obama? Are we all just fighting over the window dressing?

On the one hand, most of the leftists I know bitterly hate the “Cultural Marxist” label they get from the shallow right. But, on the other hand, how are they not fulfilling that very description when they can’t focus on economics? Will the right be able to maintain its focus on getting jobs for all of the fat people in the red states? Or will it, too, descend into battles over “symbols” and try to refight every lost battle of the culture wars?