The Retreat to Tribalism

He listed some of the reasons centrifugal forces may now exceed centripetal: the loss of the common enemies we had in World War II and the Cold War, an increasingly fragmented media, the radicalization of the Republican Party, and a new form of identity politics, especially on campus.

.. Martin Luther King described segregation and injustice as forces tearing us apart. He appealed to universal principles and our common humanity as ways to heal prejudice and unite the nation. He appealed to common religious principles, the creed of our founding fathers and a common language of love to drive out prejudice.

.. From an identity politics that emphasized our common humanity, we’ve gone to an identity politics that emphasizes having a common enemy. On campus these days, current events are often depicted as pure power struggles — oppressors acting to preserve their privilege over the virtuous oppressed.

.. “A funny thing happens,” Haidt said, “when you take young human beings, whose minds evolved for tribal warfare and us/them thinking, and you fill those minds full of binary dimensions. You tell them that one side in each binary is good and the other is bad. You turn on their ancient tribal circuits, preparing them for battle. Many students find it thrilling; it floods them with a sense of meaning and purpose.”

.. Parties, too, are no longer bound together by creeds but by enemies.

.. King was operating when there was high social trust. He could draw on a biblical metaphysic debated over 3,000 years. He could draw on an American civil religion that had been refined over 300 years.

.. excessive individualism and bad schooling have corroded both of those sources of cohesion.

.. In 1995, the French intellectual Pascal Bruckner published “The Temptation of Innocence,” in which he argued that excessive individualism paradoxically leads to in-group/out-group tribalism.

..  societies like ours, individuals are responsible for their own identity, happiness and success. “Everyone must sell himself as a person in order to be accepted,”

.. The easiest way to do that is to tell a tribal oppressor/oppressed story and build your own innocence on your status as victim. Just about everybody can find a personal victim story. Once you’ve identified your herd’s oppressor — the neoliberal order, the media elite, white males, whatever — your goodness is secure. You have virtue without obligation. Nothing is your fault.

..  “I suffer, therefore I am worthy. … Suffering is analogous to baptism, a dubbing that inducts us into the order of a higher humanity, hoisting us above our peers.”

.. we’ve regressed from a sophisticated moral ethos to a primitive one.

Big patriotism is poisoning America

Though I suggest Trump and his supporters on this issue are missing the protesters’ point — and, in some cases, doing so willfully — I have no doubt that, for Trump’s part, patriotism is indeed at stake. The trouble is the sort of patriotism that informs their ire, for patriotism is not of a single kind.

.. Frodo does not love the Shire because it is the best country in Middle-earth. It does not boast the striking scenery and deep knowledge of the elven kingdoms, or the security and wealth of the dwarves, or the cosmopolitanism and architecture of the cities of men. The Shire does not have to be the best, for it is already home and already good in its own way.

If the patriotism Tolkien depicts is small, the patriotism most prevalent in America today is a poisonous variety we might call “big patriotism,” or, less charitably, nationalism. Its contrast with more modest variants is vast.

.. Small patriotism is the love of home because it is home.

.. Big patriotism is all abstract ideals and national mythology, easily bent to fit any political agenda. It is centered on the state, not the people, and certainly not any concrete community in which we are thoroughly engaged.

.. Big patriotism is a top-down phenomenon, anchored in the self-declared glory of government and the idolatrous liturgies of civil religion.

  • When small patriotism thinks of America, it conjures an image of some local vista and the people who populate it.
  • Big patriotism pictures the hulking forms of federal monuments and the grim grandeur of war.

.. “Once you have realized that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs — why, good luck to them and let them have it,” C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves.

.. “[h]ow can I love my home without coming to realize that other men, no less rightly, love theirs?” Their love in no way detracts from mine, for we are not in competition.

.. Big patriotism is always a matter of comparison. It is, as Lewis put it, “a firm, even prosaic belief that our own nation, in sober fact, has long been, and still is markedly superior to all others.” Big patriotism is incapable of appreciating our home’s good qualities except at the expense of other places. Foreign lands and people must be put down if we are to be held up.

.. It is the foundation of jingoistic American exceptionalism and a constant siren song to empire — for why shouldn’t the world be ruled by the best?

..

Small patriotism is humble and open to constructive critique. Just as we would welcome an exterminator telling us our house has termites, so in small patriotism we can give a hearing to those who see some problem with our home. Big patriotism cannot hear a word against country, however gentle or wise. The best, by definition, cannot be wrong.

.. It does not ask to be valued above more significant loyalties, like those to God or family or concrete community. Big patriotism demands pre-eminence.

.. Big patriotism is incessantly self-serious and therefore always on the brink of offense.

.. But however natural it can feel, big patriotism is poisonous, and it leads to the type of shallow outrage we now see over these athletes’ attempt to respectfully call attention to a grave concern.

Our Evangelical Age

The rise and fall and rise of the Christian Right. Terry Eastland reviews “The Evangelicals” by Frances Fitzgerald.

Ms. Fitzgerald dates the Christian right to 1979, when Jerry Falwell, the pastor of a Baptist church in Virginia, founded the Moral Majority, an organization that was designed, as she puts it, “to register conservative Christians and mobilize them into a political force against what he called ‘secular humanism’ and the moral decay of the country.”

Falwell vowed to fight a “holy war” and outspokenly condemned abortion, homosexuality and sex education.

.. high-profile sex scandals that undermined any sense of moral authority: think of the Bakkers, Jim and Tammy Faye, and of Jimmy Swaggart.

..It gained new leaders—among them Pat Robertson and James Dobson—and sought to elect like-minded politicians from the top of the ballot down.
..since the emergence of the Christian right, two-thirds to four-fifths of evangelical voters have voted for the Republican candidate.
..define religious liberty as the right “to carry religious objections from their private lives into their public roles as small business owners, service providers and even government officials.”
.. To her, it appears, religious liberty as the Christian right defines it is itself discriminatory.
.. the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries, a series of revivals
.. introducing, as she puts it, “a new idea of conversion as a sudden, overwhelming experience.”
.. the teaching of the church became less important than the life of the individual believer.
.. Bible institutes like Dwight Moody’s in Chicago  .. centers of militant anti-modernism and the training grounds for the evangelists of fundamentalism.
.. called themselves evangelicals, she says, to escape “the associations of bigotry and narrowness” that were attached to militant separatists.
.. Billy Graham .. called himself an “evangelical.” By that he meant a conservative Protestant who had been “born again.”
.. Fundamentalists then became a subset of evangelicals, and most of them were separatists who had left their denominations.”
.. Graham, she also says, thought “that America had a moral and spiritual mission to redeem the world.”
.. Mr. Graham became “a pastor of the national civil religion.”
.. many prominent evangelicals began to distance themselves from the Christian right, including the megachurch pastor Rick Warren, best known for “The Purpose-Driven Life” (2002). The central concerns of the “new evangelicals” have been poverty and climate change, and their churches have paid less attention to politics than did the “old” Christian right
.. she is obviously aware of its persistence and the obstacle it still presents to an “enlightened” or liberal agenda

Donald Trump’s Friendless America

Donald J. Trump began his first day as president listening to a favorite Baptist preacher, Robert Jeffress, who has suggested that the Catholic Church was led astray by Satan, that Mormonism and Islam both “came from the pit of hell,” that gay people lead a “miserable” and “filthy” lifestyle, that Mr. Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, was “paving the way” for the Antichrist — and that God Himself made Mr. Trump president.

.. a day in which our new vice president, Mike Pence, refused to even shake the hand of the defeated presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

.. For Mr. Trump, there are no real American friends in the world, just countries that steal our jobs and our money, while letting us dangerously deplete our military and leave our borders undefended. (He did, ominously, promise us “new” alliances.)

.. Here at home, we are no longer the active and able citizens of a proud democracy at its zenith, but a collection of miserable victims, beleaguered by an “American carnage” of poverty, welfare, “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” crime, drug addiction and the appeasers of those evil foreigners.

.. The commentators just kept talking about how at least this was “a peaceful transfer of power.” How low our expectations have become.