The Spectre of Culture (Wars)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Koreas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An interview with Daniel Anderson by C. Derick Varn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cairo Saturday Night Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.