The Media Is Broken

And not for the reasons you think.

Those of us in journalism primarily do one thing: cover events. We report and opine about events like election campaigns, wars and crimes. A lot of the events we cover are decisions — a decision to reform health care or write a tweet — so we tend to congregate in the cities where decision makers live. The internet has sped up the news cycle. Now we put more emphasis on covering the last event that just happened. But it’s still mostly events.

But a funny thing has happened to events in this era. They have ceased to drive politics the way they used to. We’ve seen gigantic events like impeachment, the Kavanaugh hearings, the Mueller investigation and the “Access Hollywood” tapes. They come and go and barely leave a trace on the polls, the political landscape or evaluations of Donald Trump.

Events don’t seem to be driving politics. Increasingly, sociology is.

Do you want to predict how a certain region is going to vote in the 2020 presidential race? Discover who settled the region in the 17th and 18th centuries. If the settlers were from the East Anglia section of Britain, then that region is probably going Democratic. If the settlers were from the north of Britain, that region is very likely to vote for Donald Trump.

Do you want to predict how a state is going to vote? Find out how that state voted in the 1896 presidential election. As Washington University political scientists Gary Miller and Norman Schofield have observed, 22 out of the 23 states that voted Democratic in 1896 had turned Republican by 2000. Similarly, 17 of the 22 states that voted Republican in 1896 had turned Democratic by 2000. The parties have flipped regions.

Do you want to predict how an individual is going to vote? Ask a simple question: Is she urban or rural?

Geographic and psycho-sociological patterns now overshadow events in driving political loyalties and national electoral outcomes. Demography is destiny.

There’s a more precise way to put this. An event is really two things. It’s the event itself and then it’s the process by which we make meaning of the event. As Aldous Huxley put it, “Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”

When a whole country sees events through a similar lens, then you don’t have to think a lot about the process people use to make meaning. It’s similar across the land. But when people in different regions and subcultures have nonoverlapping lenses, the process by which people make sense of events is more important than the event itself.

For reasons I don’t understand, we’ve had an epistemic explosion over the past few decades. Different American regions and subcultures now see reality through nonoverlapping lenses. They make meaning in radically different ways. Psycho-social categories have hardened.

We in the media will continue to cover events, which, of course, is absolutely necessary. But with some noble exceptions (I’m thinking of Thomas Edsall of The Times and Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic), we underreport on how meaning is made in different subcultures. You can’t make sense of reality without that. Often we throw up our hands: “Can’t these people see the facts?!?” I’m as guilty as anyone.

In this new context, I’m curious to know how lenses get crafted. For example, intersectionality is a lens that was created by theorists decades ago and is now a way of seeing that many people use to organize their view of reality. How did that happen?

I’m curious to know how a man in rural Idaho who has lost a son to suicide and a brother to fentanyl sees the impeachment hearing. How does he make meaning of that event in real time?

I’m curious to know how you can change another person’s lens. Can you do it by writing and talking or do you have to move her to a different place and immerse her in a different reality?

I’m curious to know how power inequality shapes people’s lenses. As Jonathan Rauch suggests in the current issue of National Affairs, ideological polarization is not on the rise, emotional polarization is on the rise. We don’t necessarily disagree more. We perceive our opponents to be more menacing. We see more fearfully.

The big difference for those of us in media is that the main story is not only where the decision makers are creating events. It’s also and maybe more so in the eyes of those doing the perceiving.

Obviously, in this era it’s even more important to have a news organization that is ideologically, culturally and geographically diverse, so you can surface and explore the different unconscious ways groups see

It’s also important to ask different questions. It’s not enough to simply ask people’s opinions through polls and interviews. Epistemology is deeper than opinions. It’s found through deeper probing.

This is a wonderful opportunity for us to think about our jobs in more profound ways. The core insight is that in a hyper-pluralistic society you can’t know people in other groups until you know how they know you.

Conservative Facts

Conservative Facts

There was always a yin-yang thing to conservatism. Its hard-headedness and philosophical realism about human nature and the limits it imposes on utopian schemes appealed to some and repulsed others. For those who see politics as a romantic enterprise, a means of pursuing collective salvation, conservatism seems mean-spirited. As Emerson put it: “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” That’s what Ben Shapiro is getting at when he says “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” The hitch is that the reverse is also true: Feelings don’t care about your facts. Tell a young progressive activist we can’t afford socialism and the response will be overtly or subliminally emotional: “Why don’t you care about poor people!” or “Why do you love billionaires!?”

.. What Is Neoconservatism?

Here’s the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia page for neoconservatism:

Neoconservatism (commonly shortened to neocon when labelling its adherents) is a political movement born in the United States during the 1960s among liberal hawkswho became disenchanted with the increasingly pacifist foreign policy of the Democratic Party, and the growing New Left and counterculture, in particular the Vietnam protests. Some also began to question their liberal beliefs regarding domestic policies such as the Great Society.

.. The first neocons were intellectual rebels against the Great Society and the leftward drift of American liberalism (The Public Interest, the first neocon journal, was launched in 1965. It was dedicated entirely to domestic affairs, not foreign policy). Unable to reconcile the facts with the feelings of liberalism, a host of intellectuals decided they would stick with the facts, even if it meant that former friends and allies would call them mean for doing so.

.. The Harrington essay that cemented the term “neoconservatism” in American discourse was titled “The Welfare State and Its Neoconservative Critics.” In other words, the original neoconservative critique wasn’t about foreign policy, but domestic policy.

.. According to William F. Buckley, the neoconservatives brought the rigor and language of sociology to conservatism, which until then had been overly, or at least too uniformly, Aristotelian. The Buckleyites (though certainly not folks like Burnham) tended to talk from first principles and natural laws and rights. The neocons looked at the data and discovered that the numbers tended to back up a lot of the things the Aristotelians had been saying.

.. The idea that neoconservatism was primarily about foreign policy, specifically anti-Communism, further complicates things. Part of this is a by-product of the second wave of neoconservatives who joined the movement and the right in the 1970s, mostly through the pages of Commentary. These were rebels against not the welfare state but détente on the right and the radical anti-anti-Communists of the New Left (National Review ran a headline in 1971 on the awakening at Commentary: “Come on In, the Water’s Fine.”) Many of those writers, most famously Jeanne Kirkpatrick, ended up leading the intellectual shock troops of the Reagan administration.

It is certainly true that the foreign-policy neocons emphasized certain things more than generic conservatives, specifically the promotion of democracy abroad. In ill-intentioned hands, this fact is often used as a cover for invidious arguments about the how the neocons never really shed their Trotskyism and were still determined to “export revolution.” But for the most part, it can’t be supported by what these people actually wrote. Moreover, the idea that only neocons care about promoting democracy simply glosses over everything from the stated purpose of the First World War, the Marshall Plan, stuff like JFK’s inaugural address (“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”), and this thing called the Reagan Doctrine.

.. And then there are the Joooooz. Outside of deranged comment sections and the swampy ecosystems of the “alt-right,” the sinister version of this theory is usually only hinted at or alluded to. Neocons only care about Israel is the Trojan horse that lets people get away with not saying the J-word. Those bagel-snarfing warmongers want real Americans to do their fighting for them. Pat Buchanan, when opposing the first Gulf War in 1992, listed only Jewish supporters of the war and then said they’d be sending “American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown” to do the fighting. Subtle.
.. In his memoir, Irving Kristol, “the Godfather of the Neoconservatives,” argued that the movement had run its course and dissolved into the conservative movement generally.
So today, neoconservatism has become what it started out as, an invidious term used by its opponents to single out and demonize people as inauthentic, un-American, unreliable, or otherwise suspicious heretics, traitors, or string-pullers. The chief difference is that they were once aliens in the midst of liberalism, now they are called aliens in the midst of conservatism. And it’s all bullsh**.
.. The editor of American Greatness, a journal whose tagline should be “Coming Up with Reasons Why Donald Trump’s Sh** Doesn’t Stink 24/7” opens with “Neoconservatism is dead, long live American conservatism” and then, amazingly, proceeds to get dumber.
..  A bit further on, he asserts that “for years, neoconservatives undermined and discredited the work of conservatives from Lincoln to Reagan . . .” This is so profoundly unserious that not only is it impossible to know where to begin, it’s a struggle to finish the sentence for fear the stupid will rub off. Does he have in mind the Straussians (Walter Berns, Robert Goldwin, et al.) at that neocon nest the American Enterprise Institute who wrote lovingly about Lincoln at book length for decades?

And what of the scores of neoconservatives who worked for Ronald Reagan and helped him advance the Reaganite agenda? Were they all fifth columnists? Or perhaps they were parasites attaching themselves to a “host organism,” as Buskirk repugnantly describes Kristol?

He doesn’t say, because Buskirk doesn’t rely on an argument. Save for a couple of Bill Kristol tweets out of context, he cites no writing and marshals no evidence. Instead, he lets a wink, or rather the stink, do all of his work. He knows his readers want to hear folderol about neocons. He knows they have their own insidious definitions of what they are and crave to have them confirmed. Bringing any definition or fact to his argument would get in the way of his naked assertions and slimy insinuations.

 I’m not a fan of tu quoque arguments, but the idea that American Greatness has standing to position itself as an organ dedicated to larger principles and ideas is hilarious, given that the website’s only purpose is to attach itself like a remora to Donald Trump, a man who doesn’t even call himself a conservative, even for convenience, anymore. Just this week, American Greatness’s Julie Kelly mocked Nancy French’s childhood trauma of being sexually abused. When I criticized her for it, Kelly snarked back something about how “Never Trumpers” have a problem with the truth. It’s like these people don’t see it. You cannot claim to care about the truth while being a rabid defender of this president’s hourly mendacity.
.. American Greatness ran a piecefloating the idea that Trump’s “covfefe” tweet just might have been a brilliant piece of historically and linguistically literate statecraft. That’s actually plausible compared to the idea that Trump is Moses saving conservatism from a “a purified strain of backward idolatry.”

.. Who is in conflict with the best principles of America: the magazine that for 23 years lionized the founders, Lincoln, and Reagan or the website that rationalizes literally anything Donald Trump does — from crony capitalism to denigrating the First Amendment to paying off porn stars — as either the inventions of his enemies or a small price to pay for national greatness? Not every contributor to American Greatness is dedicated to the art of turd polishing, but that is the site’s larger mission.

.. Trump’s sense of persecution is as contagious as his debating style. Facts are being subordinated to feelings, and the dominant feelings among many Trumpists are simply ugly. And even those who have not turned ugly see no problem working hand in hand with those who have. And how could they, given who they herald as their Moses.

A Sociologist Examines the “White Fragility” That Prevents White Americans from Confronting Racism

Robin DiAngelo has noticed that white people are sensationally, histrionically bad at discussing racism.

.. their reactions form predictable patterns: they will insist that they “were taught to treat everyone the same,” that they are “color-blind,” that they “don’t care if you are pink, purple, or polka-dotted.” They will point to friends and family members of color, a history of civil-rights activism, or a more “salient” issue, such as class or gender. They will shout and bluster. They will cry.

.. In 2011, DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe the disbelieving defensiveness ..  particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy.

.. Why, she wondered, did her feedback prompt such resistance, as if the mention of racism were more offensive than the fact or practice of it?

.. In a new book, “White Fragility,” DiAngelo attempts to explicate the phenomenon of white people’s paper-thin skin. She argues that our largely segregated society is set up to insulate whites from racial discomfort, so that they fall to pieces at the first application of stress—such as, for instance, when someone suggests that “flesh-toned” may not be an appropriate name for a beige crayon.

.. racial hierarchies tell white people that they are entitled to peace and deference

..  they lack the “racial stamina” to engage in difficult conversations. This leads them to respond to “racial triggers” .. “emotions such as anger, fear and guilt,” DiAngelo writes, “and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation.”

.. “I have found that the only way to give feedback without triggering white fragility is not to give it at all,” she remarks wryly

.. She finds that the social costs for a black person in awakening the sleeping dragon of white fragility often prove so high that many black people don’t risk pointing out discrimination when they see it.

.. And the expectation of “white solidarity”—white people will forbear from correcting each other’s racial missteps, to preserve the peace—makes genuine allyship elusive. White fragility holds racism in place.

.. “I believe,” she writes, “that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color.” Not only do these people fail to see their complicity, but they take a self-serving approach to ongoing anti-racism efforts: “To the degree that white progressives think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived.”

.. white people cling to the notion of racial innocence, a form of weaponized denial that positions black people as the “havers” of race and the guardians of racial knowledge. Whiteness, on the other hand, scans as invisible, default, a form of racelessness. “Color blindness,” the argument that race shouldn’t matter, prevents us from grappling with how it does.

.. assumptions that prop up racist beliefs without our realizing it. Such ideologies include individualism, or the distinctly white-American dream that one writes one’s own destiny, and objectivity, the confidence that one can free oneself entirely from bias.

.. To be perceived as an individual, to not be associated with anything negative because of your skin color, she notes, is a privilege largely afforded to white people;

.. although most school shooters, domestic terrorists, and rapists in the United States are white, it is rare to see a white man on the street reduced to a stereotype.

..  DiAngelo draws heavily on the words of black writers and scholars—Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, Ijeoma Oluo, Cheryl Harris

.. Like a mutating virus, racism shape-shifts in order to stay alive; when its explicit expression becomes taboo, it hides in coded language. Nor does prejudice disappear when people decide that they will no longer tolerate it. It just looks for ways to avoid detection.

.. “The most effective adaptation of racism over time,” DiAngelo claims, “is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people.”

.. This “good/bad binary,” positing a world of evil racists and compassionate non-racists, is itself a racist construct, eliding systemic injustice and imbuing racism with such shattering moral meaning that white people, especially progressives, cannot bear to face their collusion in it.

.. DiAngelo belongs to the utilitarian school, which places less importance on attitudes than on the ways in which attitudes cause harm.

.. Unpacking the fantasy of black men as dangerous and violent, she does not simply fact-check it; she shows the myth’s usefulness to white people—to obscure the historical brutality against African-Americans, and to justify continued abuse.

.. “If your definition of a racist is someone who holds conscious dislike of people because of race, then I agree that it is offensive for me to suggest that you are racist when I don’t know you,”

.. “I also agree that if this is your definition of racism, and you are against racism, then you are not racist. Now breathe. I am not using this definition of racism, and I am not saying that you are immoral. If you can remain open as I lay out my argument, it should soon begin to make sense.”

.. DiAngelo sets aside a whole chapter for the self-indulgent tears of white women, so distraught at the country’s legacy of racist terrorism

.. The book is more diagnostic than solutions-oriented, and the guidelines it offers toward the end

.. For all the paranoid American theories of being “red-pilled,” of awakening into a many-tentacled liberal/feminist/Jewish conspiracy, the most corrosive force, the ectoplasm infusing itself invisibly through media and culture and politics, is white supremacy.

 

Richard Rohr: Universal Dignity

In Paul’s estimation, the old world was forever gone and a new world of universal human dignity was grounded in our objective and universal Christ identity. This was surely threatening to those with various forms of power (whose feeling of importance lies in being “higher” than others). Yet this Gospel was utterly attractive and hopeful to the 95% who were “lower” in status. It assured universal and equal dignity, made present through the Eucharist in the early church where all were equals. Sociologists think this was why Christianity spread so quickly.

Bury The Word “Evangelical”

The issue is politics; the presenting painful reality is Trump. The reality is 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump. The word “evangelical” now means Trump-voter. The word “evangelical” is spoiled.

.. Most don’t even know what Conservative means — economically or governmentally especially — while some think Republican means anti-abortion, pro-war, pro-NRA, pro-big business, anti-immigration, anti-Obamacare, anti-same-sex marriage, anti-taxes. Pro Fox News, Anti-CNN.

.. Populism runs rampant among the Republican voters, not least among evangelicals, and part of this is that evangelicalism is itself populist.

.. Eventually “Evangelical” will dwindle in numbers down to Republican.

.. When that happens no one will be one bit surprised Evangelical=Republican=Conservative=populist=[Candidate’s name]. That’s what the term will mean because only they will claim the term.

.. At one time we got to define this term by theology as a coalition of post Great Awakening orthodox Christians who affirmed the Bible, personal conversion, the centrality of the cross as God’s saving event, and activism when it comes to evangelism and social goods.

.. The Reformed side of evangelicalism didn’t want the Holiness and Anabaptist and Restorationist crowds as equals and those last three have basically avoided the term for themselves.

.. Then came Reagan and Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and James Kennedy and theology and sociology were usurped by politics.

.. Evangelical meant Republican. What they didn’t recognize is that “evangelical” became “whiteness” and many Latin Americans and African Americans and Asian Americans were excluded.

.. Folks, very few English and Irish and Scottish evangelicals, not to ignore the others just mentioned, are politicals like our Republicans; many of them are more like our Democrats and many are more like Bernie Sanders than ordinary Democrats. What do you think they hear or think when they see evangelical=Republican=Conservative=populist=Trump?

They often say to me, “Don’t call me ‘evangelical’ if you mean Republican!”

.. Today the term evangelical in the USA means (supposedly) conservative in politics, and hence “Votes Republican.” This definition is not going away. The political folks have won.

Let the political evangelicals have the term.

.. The one thing I despise about Christianity in the USA is its aligning with a political party. Mainliners have done it; they’re Democrats. Evangelicals have followed suit; they’re Republicans.

Strangers in Their Own Land: The ‘Deep Story’ of Trump Supporter (22:42 min)

In her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land, sociologist Arlie Hochschild tackles this paradox. She says that while people might vote against their economic needs, they’re actually voting to serve their emotional needs.

Hochschild says that both conservative and liberals have “deep stories” — about who they are, and what their values are. Deep stories don’t need to be completely accurate, but they have to feel true. They’re the stories we tell ourselves to capture our hopes, pride, disappointments, fears, and anxieties.

It has a self-image of bravado and freedom from government intrustion, but not in regard to black people or women.

Getting Radical About Inequality

I’m not in the habit of recommending left-wing French intellectuals, but I’m beginning to think that Pierre Bourdieu is helpful reading in the age of Trump. He was born in 1930, the son of a small-town postal worker. By the time he died in 2002, he had become perhaps the world’s most influential sociologist within the academy, and largely unknown outside of it.

His great subject was the struggle for power in society, especially cultural and social power.

.. A habitus is an intuitive feel for the social game. It’s the sort of thing you get inculcated with unconsciously, by growing up in a certain sort of family or by sharing a sensibility with a certain group of friends.

.. Every minute or hour, in ways we’re not even conscious of, we as individuals and members of our class are competing for dominance and respect. We seek to topple those who have higher standing than we have and we seek to wall off those who are down below. Or, we seek to take one form of capital, say linguistic ability, and convert it into another kind of capital, a good job.

.. Most groups conceal their naked power grabs under a veil of intellectual or aesthetic purity. Bourdieu used the phrase “symbolic violence” to suggest how vicious this competition can get, and he didn’t even live long enough to get a load of Twitter and other social media.

.. Different groups and individuals use different social strategies, depending on their position in the field.

People at the top, he observed, tend to adopt a reserved and understated personal style that shows they are far above the “assertive, attention-seeking strategies which expose the pretensions of the young pretenders.” People at the bottom of any field, on the other hand, don’t have a lot of accomplishment to wave about, but they can use snark and sarcasm to demonstrate the superior sensibilities.

.. Sometimes, the loser wins: If you’re setting up a fancy clothing or food shop you go down and adopt organic and peasant styles in order to establish the superior moral prestige that you can then use to make gobs of money.

.. Bourdieu helps you understand what Donald Trump is all about. Trump is not much of a policy maven, but he’s a genius at the symbolic warfare Bourdieu described. He’s a genius at upending the social rules and hierarchies that the establishment classes (of both right and left) have used to maintain dominance.

Bourdieu didn’t argue that cultural inequality creates economic inequality, but that it widens and it legitimizes it.

.. as the information economy has become more enveloping, cultural capital and economic capital have become ever more intertwined. Individuals and classes that are good at winning the cultural competitions Bourdieu described tend to dominate the places where economic opportunity is richest

.. Bourdieu reminds us that the drive to create inequality is an endemic social sin. Every hour most of us, unconsciously or not, try to win subtle status points, earn cultural affirmation, develop our tastes, promote our lifestyles and advance our class.

.. His work suggests that the responses to it are going to have to be more profound, both on a personal level — resisting the competitive, ego-driven aspects of social networking and display