A few thoughts On Parkinson’s review of Kill All Normies

I will start by admitting that I have a relationship to Kill Normies and have been involved with groups with tangential relationships to the Communist League of Tampa. I also generally respect both the author of the review I am discussing and Angela Nagle.

There is much to comment on in Donald Parkinson’s response. He has some fair criticism and some that I agree with. For example, when he comments that Nagle’s book seemed unfair to tumblr identity politics and over-blamed it for the growth of the alt-right, I am tempted to agree in part. For example, Parkinson is completely correct that “Politics happens in the real world, not on the internet. Nothing is said about the efforts of white supremacist organizers like Identity Europa or the Traditionalist Workers Party to organize frats or rural workers and what kind of visions these groups have (a balkanization of the US and the creation of an all-white “enthno state” is a common one). Rather Nagle pretends the alt-right is only an online phenomena, when these people have been trying to promote these politics for years.”  Indeed, when I personally voted to publish the book, I said the same thing.  However, Parkinson asserts that this is “liberal and not proper Marxist materialism” but then goes on to make genealogical arguments about the history of ideas and not ‘a proper materialist’ analysis himself. IN fact, some of his arguments, seem to this reader as perhaps more problematic than what he is accusing Nagle.

I find some of Parkinson’s responses undeveloped: “While some alt-righters might try to move towards a sort of third positionist attempt to combine anti-capitalism with their idea of counter-revolution, ultimately their ideas amount to economic nationalism and localism and don’t actually challenge the rule of private property.” How does one adjudicate the “ultimately” of such ideas without directly referencing any of them? Dugin, the “fourth positionist” and Eurasianist, is extremely distrustful of capitalism and in some ways would love to see the abolition of markets and solidifying of relations that frankly quasi-feudal.  Whereas Moldbug and Nick Land, picking up from Hans Herman Hobbe, would argue that consistent capitalism would lead to something akin to feudalism, which they see as the privatization of government.  The political impulse of leftists is tended to grand them that–except that doing see gives up fundamental socialists premises about the difference between exploitation and oppression.   In granting that these differences don’t matter, we undo several of our own economic arguments.  In short, Parkinson argues that a movement is less internally diverse than it is, and sometimes in ways that actually hurt Marxist thinking.  The thinking is muddled both by the alt-right and in response it to it.

One can see this tendency to assert things are monolithic when they are in when Parkinson says, “the roots of the alt-right are not in the historical tradition of transgression. Rather they are part of the tradition of counter-enlightenment, the ideologies of those who wished to forever undo 1789 and 1917. De Maistre and Carlyle, Nietzsche, Julius Evola, Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, Mussolini, and Martin Heidegger are the intellectual heritage of the alt-right.”

Would require a discussion that each and everyone one of those authors not having any “tradition of transgression”  as he seems to assert that counter-enlightenment is a defense of a status quo?  Nietzsche’s relationship to the counter-enlightenment is more difficult than this rhetorical pseudo-argument by list allow, and frankly so is Mussolini’s. Parkinson is a serious student of history and knows this, but feels that linking of genealogies is enough to as proof.  While this is beyond the scope of a polemic and the tension between transgression and ancien regimes is well covered by several books even the liberal historian Isaiah Berlin. Furthermore, the alt-right’s history is larger than this.  Richard Spencer is as likely to use modern biology and Adorno to make his points as Nietzsche; Paul Gottfried, who coined the term, was a student of Marcuse and his points against liberalism are against its managerial impulses.  This does not prove that Nagle is right or wrong, and even when I vote for the book to published, I critiqued it mildly for not discussing its intellectual history; however, the phenomenon people like “Sargon of Akkad” have little to do with people like whom Spencer branded alt-light, and Sargon’s influence far outreaches Spencers.  The “Alt-light” of 4chan seem to come from the perspective of Sam Harris and Greg Cochran and find Schmitt, De Maistre, Evola,  and DeMiastre too religious.   Nick Land and Moldbug may love Carlyle and Nietzsche, but they also argue naturalization of reactionary thinking and see the religious impulse defended by people like Carlyle as somewhat weak-minded.

Parkinson then goes on:  “The idea alt-right are being transgressive against the rulers of culture is only true in the most shallow sense. Their inherently anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic ideology is actually fully compatible with capitalism.”

Really?  Some of them alt-right think it is (Milo and Sargon), and some do not.  Whatever the case, this could easily and IS easily reversed by alt-rightists against communists.  The assertion of the rhetorical device of “actually” doesn’t make that argument, and this is clearer when one sees Parkinson’s support for it.

Parkinson asserts: “Ultimately, norms like nationalism and the family are upheld by the alt-right, norms which are essential for the reproduction of capitalism. ”

To this, one must say simply, prove it. First, it contradicts Marxist assertions that all that is solid melts into air” and the softening of national boundaries imply by global trade law?  Yes, in the past, national capitalists were a more viable project, but not in an age of limited national resources and scarcely able to grow profits in internal markets.  Nationalisms failures are beyond that the “necessary for the reproduction of capitalism”:  ethnonationalism threatens trade by destabilizing tax regimes and often threatenings transnational property claims, limits efficiency by limited the movement of populations and skilled labor, and can even act as a limit of accumulation of raw materials.   This is not to say that nationalism and regimes of nations are not a benefit to particular sectors of capital: they clearly are and enable monopoly regimes and intellectual property and other state-created pseudo-commodities.  However, these are tangential to capitalism, not necessary to it.  The bourgeois can work effectively and efficiently in trans-national polities and multi-ethnic empires, as seen in the “New World” itself.

The family is crucial for the reproduction of people being regulated by capital, but the family is also atomized by the market commodification and alienation of relationships.  Again, family bonds are threatened by needs of capital requiring skilled labor movement–it literally breaks up relationships. The oppression of women–generally from the lack of compensation of their domestic labor–remains in capital even, or especially, in the cases where “the family “is in decline so as in the case of working class, poor mothers who disproportionately are unmarried and whose labor costs them the ability to earn in the market. While conservatives and alt-rightists would assert that this is not sexism but a result of the market, many former libertarians who used to champion this not see this as dangering sexual relations.   The alt-right says this alienation is bad (which it is) but its answer is to return an ideal that unrealistic given the contraints of labor.  While gender abolition also threatens this dynamic as does expanded notions of sexual identity, the family’s tensions are pre-capitalists and capital has melted it down for good and ill.  To merely assert the contrary is both lazy and doesn’t follow the empirical facts.    Capitalism needs “the family” only selectively, and the romanticization of the past is only convincing because of this.  However, it is much more honest to point out that not only is a return to prior norm, romanticized, but that it would be economically unviable to the very people to whom it would have the most appeal.

Indeed, while much has been made about the dangers of economism, and much hey has been made about the dangers of the determinism, the problems of alt-right show the limitations of both as assumed modes of analysis.   The success of the alt-right and the left’s lack of the ability to address, which Nagle, however, “liberal” one finds it as being, must be addressed in terms of the multifactored analysis, not just in the defense of a nebulous left and their “lived experience.”    One can, as Parkinson does, understand that popularity of the tumblr left comes out of the atomization is a result of the same processes as the alt-right on a different kind of person.  However, one cannot pretend that alt-right is just the assertion of the status quo defending itself or, worse, as Parkinson implies the result of frustrated libertarian thinking about the status quoe.  Yes, I agree with Parkinson, we all know libertarians who became alt-rightists, but we also all know plenty of those who came from other kinds of thinking.  Furthermore, while I am sure both Nagle and Parkinson know, there have been plenty of liberal and Marxist leftists who moved to the alt-right too.  The reasons why cannot be reduced purely to ideology.

Parkinson does the get a strain of thought in libertarianism right: “There is a sort of vulgar positivism to libertarian ideology that bides well with race realism. Libertarianism ideology, at its most extreme in anarcho-capitalism, has even flirted with endorsement for monarchism over democracy such as in the works of Hans-Herman Hoppe. Seeing markets as more democratic than any kind of state institution, free market liberalism is itself is critical of all that is egalitarian and democratic and therefore in its most extreme variants biding well with the ideology of the alt-right” but ignores that this happened on the left with both National Bolshevism (a la Francis Yockey) and with Lyndon LaRouche.

This is far too volunteerist a reading, and in critiquing Nagle for lack of materialism ends up being not particularly materialist itself.  IF the hierarchies of racialized capital are weakening, it is capitalism, itself, not leftism or Marxism, which until 2007 has been in global decline, that has weakened it.   Furthermore,  his conclusion,”Yet opposition to identity politics from the left has led many self-proclaimed communists to embrace the book, despite the inherently conservative nature of Nagle’s arguments. While it is true that identity politics can be used as a way to suppress class politics, Nagle doesn’t even seem to think that class politics should replace identity politics.” Nagle actually explicitly says the contrary but doesn’t have the same idea of class politics as Parkinson.  Instead of debating the meaning of that, Parkinson does  what I see as an idealist move, one that has infected Marxism since Lenin’s argument that “monism” was materialist (although how there can be a substance other than the material in materialism remains beyond me), of a label substituting for an argument, but in doing so, he has made not made the materialist counter-argument well enough.

I agree with him that in some ways “Her primary problem with identity politics seems to its “oversensitivity” and “extremism”, not their failure to adequately address exploitation and oppression in a materialist manner” although Nagle thinks that oversensitivity is a result of a lack of class politics being popularly available.  A  fact that Parkinson’s own critique is dependent on; for without that fact, tumblr politics isn’t defensible.  So while I agree that Nagle may be not as radical as presented, I think it is useful in that it attempts, even flawly, to explain “why now”.  Her answer is volunteerist, but so is Parkinson’s here, who points out the long history of the movement, but ignores their lack of viability until recently.  In short, while I agree with Parkinson that Nagle doesn’t deal with the long history of alt-right and limits it to the online politics, and I agree with the Parkinson that Nagle ultimately is not materialist enough, but on many points he answers Nagle’s volunteerism with volunteerism, and leaves this in the realm of a question answered by will, which in the end doesn’t explain much at all.

I invite Donald Parkinson to respond to these points if I am being fair and clarify his critique. I suspect interesting thinking may come out such a dialogue, or, at least, if my readings of Parkinson’s position need further clarification.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Much Ado About Chattering Mill: Free Speech and Its Justification

There has been a proverbial shit-storm about free speech lately, and many who identify as “left” or liberal or a combination of the two–whatever that means– have been battling out the lines of “Free Speech” around terms largely set by the right and their responses have largely been limited by those terms. However, recently, there have been attempts to undo this limitation in framing. Take,  for example, The “Free Speech” Charade, by Aaron R. Hanlon, over at the New Republic:

Aaron Hanlon’s argument seeming makes sense as the move to the lofty rhetoric of freedom of speech hits many attempts by the right-wing to censor speech itself, and that many of the protests are grounded in legitimate grievance.  This is true and far, but it doesn’t really work as it defines the “reasonable” free speech defense in defending content before it is stated off of an assumed past.

Hanlon’s concerns appear to reject the right’s framing; however, the anyone who is defending the absolute act, including most leftists of the past, would say, Hanlon has conflated two issues.  Hanlon’s other responses about censoring accessing being based on law around institutions also conflates the argument of law and with the argument of rights, although this is fair since almost all arguments about rights are rooted in law as natural law justifications of rights (which the Bill of Rights itself was justified in) seem no longer sustainable in a post-Deistic world.

Furthermore, ironically, if one digs into Hanlon’s academic background, he knows this. He, after all, studies media analysis and Enlightenment values.  Hanlon’s defense of context is not some kind of Marxist imposition of an ideological code.   His argument mirrors a caveat in one of the founding texts of Liberalism, Mill’s On Liberty, and I suspect he knows this.   Also, other articles criticizing the methodology of the PC Left, by Hanlon himself seems to come from a utilitarian and Enlightenment calculus.  Take for example his 2016 article, “What the P.C. Left Is Doing Wrong in Language Debates”,

That is, I take the castigation of someone for what they genuinely don’t know or can’t reasonably be expected to know as a justice issue unto itself, a problem related to what the philosopher Miranda Fricker calls the “epistemic injustice” of allowing prejudice to shape one’s impression of another’s credibility as a knower. Epistemic injustice may work in the other direction, too, in the bad-faith supposition that someone ought to know something is offensive when broader society has failed to treat it as such (therefore that person deserves to be shamed, scorned, or ridiculed for not knowing).

There’s a time for activism and a time for education. If the social justice movement is going to be successful, it needs to do a better job of identifying teaching opportunities amid perhaps more obvious occasions for activism, and thus to discern the difference between those who utter clichés of questionable meaning and those who should be confronted for their bigotry. This is particularly the case for those of us who hold positions of educational or socioeconomic privilege, who are at least partially insulated from certain kinds of bigotry.

If we want our communities to be more just, open, and inclusive, we need to make adjustments. This means accepting the reality that a lot of people, even intelligent and thoughtful people, really don’t understand the implications of quite a lot of everyday language not typically associated with bigotry. It makes little pedagogical sense to lecture these people, to tell them bluntly what they can and can’t say. We need to approach such scenarios not simply with the willingness to question, but also to listen to and countervail the kinds of answers we don’t like to hear. As with any teaching and learning scenario, we need to understand our audience before we can facilitate its understanding.

Interestingly, the epistemic privilege argument he is making here sounds like an argument about fallability of position updated to our times.  Now, it is not the same thing exactly, but it is related and sounds something like part of Mill’s argument for free speech.

Indeed, the problem becomes the conflict of harm reduction and relative affluence compared with an absolute value.  Hanlon says argues that the no platforming may be a right that institutions have, but in line with the center thought of Enlightenment liberalism (and current trends of the left-edge of the center of the Democratic party):

For this process to work productively, changes need to happen on both sides of the no-platforming issue. Students and protesters need to eschew violence and disruption to focus instead on the many viable arguments for why low-value speakers like Coulter don’t deserve a campus platform. Free-speech activists, meanwhile, should rein in overly broad definitions of censorship, and understand that free speech means the right to speak, not the right to a college platform.

The problem still remains that it is possible to prove, for sure, what a person will say before they say it.  So viable arguments against “low-value” speaker, which while I agree with Hanlon is full of assumptions about the value that he himself doesn’t really assert, are impossible to make soundly and validly if our concerns are the content of their speech. They can only be made probabilistically.

Furthermore, there are a ton of practical considerations about access that these free speech debates don’t consider and Hanlon is right about that.  But one must establish a principle before tackling the caveats or limitations and not conflate several related issues that overlap but are not, strictly speaking, the same.

Why is it important that Hanlon, however, is carrying a conflict out of Mill?  Was not Mill the absolutist on freedom of speech on Utilitarian grounds?  How then is Hanlon also a representative of that tradition?

A problem on analytic forms of logic is that they are poor grounds for justifying “right” and that analytic formulations of logic–including deductive and inductive–have trouble justifying rights too as they cannot adjudicate on the soundness of premises in and of themselves. We can assert abductive reasoning, but the abductive case is always limited on matters of rights for reasons I will get into later.

Mill attempted to lay down an objective argument for freedom of speech without Lockean reference to natural law (although he does share some Lockean assumptions that make this problematic). Mill realized that Benthamite utilitarian thinking would have no such space for that kind of right.

Many former and current Leftists have turned to Mill to justify freedom of speech. Most famously the cankerous and often brilliant Norman Finkelstein:

My friend Douglas Lain who has interviewed Finkelstein was convinced by the argument.  However, unless you bracket out most of Mill’s framework and justification, you still can’t reason yourself to a principle to oppose Hanlon and company’s soft caveats.  After all, this is institutional, not legal, censorship; and is not Mill also the prophet of harm-reduction as a principle of ethics and legality?

First, let us put forth an attempt to formalize Mill’s infallibility principle, and then I will get to the rest of the argument and what I see as a limitation of both in answering an intelligent moderate supporter of Campus censorship like Hanlon.

My friend Douglas Lain would  part of Mills argument (and Finkelstein’s and attempts to reduce to a deductive principle):

A) Humans do not have precognitive powers.

B) A claim to know a thing prior to argumentation, debate or cognition is a claim of precognitive power.

Therefore,

C) Human claims to know a thing prior to argumentation are false.

If  Human claims to know things prior to argumentation are false, then an argument must be allowed so that those beliefs can be defeated.

Now, I actually think this is a problematic argument because the premise A) would have to be proven and it seems SO far removed from the debate–a debate about cognition and physics–that it seems hardly worth arguing, but to admit the validity of Lain’s argument would imply that either you have to reject the first premise or accept the latter. Furthermore, the conflation of argument, debate, or cognition, actually equates two forms of discourse with all conscious brain activity, which is questionable.  However, this conflation is to avoid problems of A priori distinctions, both analytic (such as tautologies) and synthetic (things that are contingently necessary for formal logic).

In short, Lain and Finkelstein see the primary strength of Mill as moving the argument away from ethics and harm-reduction, and into the epistemology, thus limiting the applicability of harm reduction arguments.

Mill does actually argue something like this.  In the second chapter of On Liberty, Mill puts forth these principles, summarized on CONFESSIONS OF A SUPPLY-SIDE LIBERAL,

  1. First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility. (See ”John Stuart Mill on the Adversary System,“ ”John Stuart Mill on the Protection of ‘Noble Lies’ from Criticism“ and ”Should Troubling Arguments Be Kept Away from Those Who Might Be Unduly Swayed by Them?“)
  2. Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. (See ”A Remedy for the One-Sidedness of the Human Mind“ and ”Why Progressives and Conservatives Need Each Other.“)
  3. Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. (See ”Let the Wrong Come to Me, For They Will Make Me More Right“ and “In Praise of Trolls.”)
  4. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience. (See “How Freedom of Thought for Falsehood Keeps the Truth Alive.”)

One notices quickly that Mill’s argument mirrors my friend’s deductive argument, but isn’t a deductive argument.  Lain brackets out the fourth proposition and doesn’t deal with the third.  In the case of colleges versus strong conservative and reactionary speakers, the consensus of society is generally with neither.

The liberal will respond quickly to Doug though that most of these days, on either side, are not about truth.  Lain would response, rightly, that you can’t know that. But the opponent would then bring up harm-reduction and unequal access as other limiting factors and that censoring some conservatives just on campus does not limit those ideas from spreading, but that the speakers could harm remaining students with their words.

Furthermore, as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,  Mill’s conception of free speech had caveats and philosophical basis not shared now.  The first is that Mill accepted harm-reduction as a limit:

In the footnote at the beginning of Chapter II of On Liberty, Mill makes a very bold statement:

If the arguments of the present chapter are of any validity, there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered. (1978, 15)

This is a very strong defense of free speech; Mill tells us that any doctrine should be allowed the light of day no matter how immoral it may seem to everyone else. And Mill does mean everyone:

If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. (1978, 16)Such liberty should exist with every subject matter so that we have “absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral or theological” (1978, 11). Mill claims that the fullest liberty of expression is required to push our arguments to their logical limits, rather than the limits of social embarrassment. Such liberty of expression is necessary, he suggests, for the dignity of persons. If liberty of expression is stifled, the price paid is “a sort of intellectual pacification” that sacrifices “ the entire moral courage of the human mind” (1978, 31).

These are powerful claims for freedom of speech, but as I noted above, Mill also suggests that we need some rules of conduct to regulate the actions of members of a political community. The limitation he places on free expression is “one very simple principle,” (1978, 9) now usually referred to as the harm principle, which states that

…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. (1978, 9)

Mill justification for his epistemic argument is not arguing for epistemically but on the grounds of self-sovereignty and self-ownership (a la Locke), and that same principle means that harming another sovereignty would put both in conflict and thus to avoid that conflict, some restrictions apply.  One sees this puts some nebulous limits even on MIll’s strong argument, and that it is justified in ontological and metaphysical premise that may be shared.

The Standford Encylopedia goes on:

With these comments, and many others, Mill demonstrates his distaste of the apathetic, fickle, tedious, frightened and dangerous majority. It is quite a surprise, therefore, to find that he also seems to embrace a fairly encompassing offense principle when the sanction does involve social disapprobation:

Again, there are many acts which, being directly injurious only to the agents themselves, ought not to be legally interdicted, but which, if done publicly, are a violation of good manners and, coming thus within the category of offenses against others, may rightly be prohibited. (1978, 97 author’s emphasis)

Similarly, he states that “The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance” (1978, 53). In the latter parts of On Liberty Mill also suggests that distasteful people can be held in contempt, that we can avoid them(as long as we do not parade it), that we can warn others about them, and that we can persuade, cajole and remonstrate with those we deem offensive. These actions are legitimate as the free expression of anyone who happens to be offended as long as they are done as a spontaneous response to the person’s faults and not as a form of punishment.
But those who exhibit cruelty, malice, envy, insincerity, resentment and crass egoism are open to the greater sanction of disapprobation as a form of punishment, because these faults are wicked and other-regarding. It may be true that these faults have an impact on others, but it is difficult to see how acting according to malice,envy or resentment necessarily violates the rights of others. The only way that Mill can make such claims is to incorporate an offense principle and hence give up on the harm principle as the only legitimate grounds for interference with behavior. Overall, Mill’s arguments about ostracism and disapprobation seem to provide little protection for the individual who may have spoken in a non-harmful manner but who has nevertheless offended the sensibilities of the masses.

Hence we see that one of the great defenders of the harm principle seems to shy away from it at certain crucial points; even Mill was unable to mount a defense of free speech on this “one simple principle” alone. It does, however, remain a crucial part of the liberal defense of individual freedom.

Furthermore, ostracism and disapprobation is what the no platformers are doing, although, with the aid of a state or institutional apparatus in education, they are not passing laws. In short, Mill’s assumptions don’t get you out of this, and don’t answer the reply to Lain’s hypothetical that these debates “aren’t about truth.”

While it is hard to justify a principle on an abductive argument, indeed Eric Posner seems to argue that from abductive logic, human rights are useless category if you judge them consequentially and historically

It seems, like many from Marx to later liberals, argued abductively for the principles of Mill.  Debate is likely to increase knowledge, even if it is knowledge of the actual position of one’s enemies. Relying on institutions or the state can be used by people who control them or fund them against you.  So instead of increasing the access of a stage of the marginalized at the expense of reactionaries, one may simply lose the stage in a way factors the powerful.

Note that this can’t be deductively argued or even argued on absolute utilitarian grounds. It can be argued as likely inferences to outcomes in a system.  The problem with Hanlon’s argument is that it places either consensus or funders in charge of deciding who is of high value.  It is unlikely that they would side with either side at the current. However, I cannot argue this as absolute principle of reason. I can’t root in the seeming rock hardness of ontological status, epistemological certainty, or even historical progression.  I can only argue it pragmatically based on abductive logic applied with historically most likely outcomes in a system.

If we save Mill’s point, we actually cannot protect or determine on the system he used to make that point.

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.