Links Post 31/12/2016

Some interesting links I’ve encountered over the last few days, along with a few links to things I’ve written elsewhere.

Carl Raschke on why The New Global Populism May Not Be What Everyone Seems to Imagine:

Populism, which has become a swear word for privileged professionals of all stripes in many different cultural contexts, actually signifies a many-faceted and multi-pronged revolt in a truly “multicultural” context against the planetary hegemony of transnational neoliberalism, what I have elsewhere termed the new planetary “corporate-university-financial-information complex, inexorably liquidating the utility of material labor while reducing what Marx termed an “immiserated” former middle class to sheer demographic or statistical tokens that can be alternately seduced or demonized to preserve a new cosmopolitan order of symbolic justice masking economic exploitation.

The familiar narrative of the new populism as equivalent to fascism constitutes a polemical sleight of hand that amounts to the pot calling the kettle black, as social theorists Raphaële Chappe and Ajay Singh Chaudhary brilliantly demonstrate in a searing piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books. One does not need to worry about the advent of fascism, the authors argue, because it is already upon us in the guise of the “progressive” neoliberal status quo.

Rejecting what they term a cartoonish pop cultural image of Nazism in the 1930s, they draw eerie parallels between “the supermanagerial Reich” of that era and the way in which neoliberalism today holds sway over divergent populations. If, as Lenin argued during the Bolshevik coup that Communism is simply the power of the soviets plus electrification, then neoliberalism in this day and age is historical fascism minus racism.

Make sure you read the blistering Chappe and Chaudhary article he links.

In Praise of Ignorance, another great piece from Quillette, which is currently looking for patrons:

The problem is, we have little tolerance for agnosticism. A politician who admitted that she held no opinion on the TPP might expect mockery, even though it is as unreasonable to expect the average politician to know about the difficult empirical questions raised by such agreements as it is to expect the average doctor or nurse. And we should all be alive to the possibility that most politicians would not do much better than the rest of us if they had to pass Econ 101 tomorrow. It is even worse that we ordinary people suffer disapprobation when we express agnosticism towards issues about which we know nothing. This intolerance of ignorance threatens to sever both policy makers and ordinary people from reality, harming our best chance at improving our world — scientific knowledge combined with careful, open-minded moral thinking.

Is Male Androphilia a Context-Dependent Cultural Universal? Argues that it is and shows it is more common than has been previously supposed by some. However, it includes details that may point in the other direction:

Our new tabulations reveal that male same sex behavior is absent in 9.7% of all societies or present in 89.6% of all societies (Table 3). If we restrict male same sex behavior to male androphilia by including sex-gender congruent and transgendered androphilia, we find that male androphilia is present in at least 57.5% (Table 3) of societies in our sample.

That 9.7% has long intrigued me, especially in cases such as the Aka (Atlantic article on them here). It is also fascinating that there may be some correlation between rate of male androphilia and social form. Rebecca Kyle observes of her own research:

These results strongly support the idea that homosexuality is increasingly likely to be present as population pressure increases. The percentages demonstrating the presence of homosexuality: 0 (Low, hunting and gathering), 33 (Low, hunting, gathering, and fishing), 44 (Medium, Horticulture, etc.), 57 (High, Intensive agriculture) demonstrate a marked correlation between the presence of homosexuality and the intensity of a society’s adaptation to the environment. That none of the exclusively hunter-gatherer societies had any significant manifestations of homosexuality is particularly noteworthy, especially considering that over half of high population pressure societies have significant expressions of homosexuality in their culture.

Lots of reasons to be cautious about such research (in both directions), but important grist for the mill in an important debate.

Income inequality doesn’t have the negative effect that people think, in fact, in some contexts, it may have a positive effect. Very surprising finding to me. Definitely worth honing questions.

Familial factors, victimization, and psychological health among sexual minority adolescents in Sweden:

Sexual minority adolescents were more likely than were unrelated nonminority adolescents to report victimization experiences, including emotional abuse, physical abuse or neglect, and sexual abuse. Sexual minority adolescents also reported significantly more symptoms of anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, disordered eating, and substance misuse in addition to increased parent-reported behavior problems. Victimization experience partially mediated these associations. However, when controlling for unmeasured familial confounding factors by comparing sexual minority adolescents to their same-sex, nonminority co-twins, the effect of sexual minority status on psychological health was almost entirely attenuated.

Emphasis added. Again, this should be handled with great care, but potentially an important finding.

Kay Hymowitz on how women in media missed the women’s vote:

Soon enough, an ailing mainstream media, trying to diversify staff and desperate to grab the attention of younger readers and viewers, came calling. The bloggers moved into cubicles at the New York Times, Slate, MSNBC, the Guardian, and The New Republic. There they learned to search Google for articles from the expanding oeuvre of gender research to support the positions that they were already convinced were true. They made a formidable sorority: stylish, full of sexy bravado, and, unlike their baby boomer mothers, wholly at ease with technology. Under the auspices of the media and cultural establishment, they quoted one another’s bon mots about the patriarchy and sat on the same gender panels at the 92nd Street Y or at Yale “sex weeks,” where they mocked the Michele Bachmanns of the world. In the past few years, their influence has only grown, as mass-market fashion magazines like Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Claire have given them column space, effectively crowning them the new elite experts on women’s issues.

They weren’t. They had heads full of academic theory and millennial angst but little life experience with—and virtually no interest in—military wives from South Carolina or Walmart managers from Staten Island, who also happen to fall into the category “women.” Nor did the new luminaries or their bosses seem to notice that the latter group far outnumbered their own rarefied crowd.

A critical review of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce by Scott Alexander, of SlateStarCodex fame:

So I guess my problem with Great Divorce is that it talks about a very personal morality. But its personal morality doesn’t translate very well into a political morality, unless maybe you’re an extreme conservative, which for all I know Lewis might very well be (I think writing about the Great Divorce as a critique of liberal politics would be an interesting essay on its own). Yet I worry that personal morality and political morality are not so easily separated: that people just don’t think finely-grained enough to understand that if you’re in Heaven, you should stop annoying the angels with your self-absorbed victim-spiel about your abusive nursing home, but if you’re on Earth then when someone complains about an abusive nursing home you take it frickin’ seriously and if you’re in an abusive nursing home you complain as loud as you humanly can to anyone who will listen.

This may be a special case of my worry that what is beautiful is not always true, and that the things that actually improve the world may give us an icky feeling inside when we do them. Lewis presents a compelling vision of morality and redemption, and in some ways the vision is enough, in that it solidifies some things we know are good and gets us to start questioning our pride and ego-defensiveness. In other ways, it suffers from exactly the problem that I would expect: that a moral system designed for dead souls in Heaven might not be strong enough for living people in a flawed world where there is very likely not a God.

Always interesting to hear the thoughts of a smart non-Christian on a Christian book.

Matthew Loftus: If our enemy is modernity, aren’t immigrants and Muslims on our side?

Refugees and immigrants overwhelmingly hail from cultures that prioritize communal values over individual expression, understand the preeminent value of marriage and family, and see religious devotion as a key process that helps to form virtuous and capable citizens. There are some legitimate differences in politics, theology, or culture, but those values tend to be more superficial when considered in light of the overwhelming overlap in social vision they have with religious conservatives. The conflicts that we might encounter in dealing with Islamic political theology and other foreign ideas might even help sharpen our particular viewpoints and force us to actually describe how we imagine religion informing politics doing rather than shrieking about Supreme Court justices ad nauseum.

I write a lengthy response in the comments. Rod Dreher comments here and here.

Dreher on what Wendell Berry gets wrong. Important.

Also Dreher on the other guy from Wham!

Wonderful piece on Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation

Ten Commandments of Good Thinking. A few significant reservations about these, but worth reading.

Dr. Thomas Sowell says farewell. We’re poorer off without him.

Bringing back the aurochs

Are we celebrating Jesus’ birth at the wrong time?

Reverend Fraser and the Cult of Giles. Spot on.

Amazon files patent for flying warehouse

King William’s College Quiz 2016 (some guesses at answers here)

Tom Owolade has a great list of interesting articles from 2016. Well worth a gander.

Hrishikesh Joshi argues that there’s no moral difference between a wall and a migrant visa. I’m not entirely convinced he gives enough weight to the concept of the neighbour in his account, but worth engaging with.

Sad yet interesting piece on the feminist Susan Faludi’s relationship with her trans father.

An iPhone’s Journey from the Factory Floor to the Retail Store

Problems with the world’s favourite lab animal

Why Sex is Binary but Gender is a Spectrum. The discussion of the science here is very helpful in many respects, although I have reservations about dimensions of the framing.

How the scientist who founded the science of mistakes ended up mistaken

Christ and Pop Culture produce some great stuff. Here is one such superb article by Gina Dalfonzo: “An Odd Sort of Mercy”: Jen Hatmaker, Glennon Doyle Melton, and The End of the Affair

Tim Keller talks with Nicholas Kristof over on the NYT

Hauerwas on the Politics of Sex

Kevin Bywater recommends 10 presentations you must see

Alissa Wilkinson on the forthcoming Silence, which I am really looking forward to watching

Justin Taylor invited me to share my thoughts on Ronda Rousey’s forthcoming UFC bout with Amanda Nunes over on his blog

What different cultural forms of greetings and leave-takings reveal about our values

Jacobin skewers the Victorian values of the twenty-first century elites

Democrats have a religion problem

Stop saying 2016 was the ‘worst year’. In a great many respects, things are only getting better. The vaccine for ebola received surprisingly little coverage relative to other stories, for instance.

2016 was the year solar panels finally became cheaper than fossil fuels. Just wait for 2017.

Lots of news about the celebrities who died in 2016. However, we also lost some incredible scientists, not least D.A. Henderson and Vera Rubin.

11-year-old British girl, Alma Deutscher composes her own opera, Cinderella, which is performed in Vienna. She sounds like quite a character from the interview!

My wonderful brother and comrade, Peter, has uploaded a tape of Chinese propaganda songs in English to Soundcloud. We Always Remember chairman Mao’s Kindness is probably my favourite. Classic for the ages.

Daryl Davis, an African-American man, converts white supremacists through friendship

Carrie Fisher Interview. It’s a hoot and a half.

Do you have any thoughts on any of the issues raised above?

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Over to you!

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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30 Responses to Links Post 31/12/2016

  1. Ian Miller says:

    I enjoyed a large number of these links, particularly the review of the Great Divorce (as a fan of Alexander’s writing, at least when read in moderation :), the modernity/immigrants/Berry comments and blogpieces, Emma Green’s interview about Democrats and religious people, the 2016 isn’t the worst piece, and especially the Daryl Davis video.

    I was interested in your piece on Ronda Rousey’s fighting, as a fan of many kicka** female characters like the referenced Sydney Bristow. While I think there is a deep poison to the fantasy of women who can be brutalized because they are “strong,” and an incredible sickness of a feminism that screams about rape culture but promotes the lie that women can easily prevent rape, I’m curious/troubled by the notion that your argument can just as reasonably be directed at all of women’s athletic competition. I could see arguments of “grace” and “dance” being used to defend my favorite sport, women’s artistic gymnastics, but I used to fence in high school, and I do not think that I was wrong to train with other female fencing students, nor my sisters to fence with my brothers and their male fencing friends. There is a difference, I think, between pugilism/wrestling and sports like gymnastics and fencing – but I don’t know that it’s clear what that difference could be in the argument you present.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ian.

      My key points in the piece were as follows:

      1. Fighting is one of those areas where sex differences are at their most pronounced. These differences are physical and psychological, but are also moral: fighting is appropriate for men under many circumstances in ways that it isn’t appropriate for women. To elaborate on this point, there are exceptional cases when women may need to employ direct violence, but these are exceptional cases to a degree that they are not for men and they should be kept exceptional.

      2. In areas that run contrary to the natural tendencies of the sexes, or which play to the strengths of the other sex, we should expect to find a disproportionate number of gender non-conforming individuals. Entirely unsurprisingly, this is the case in MMA. This need not be a reason to reject a practice, but it should raise questions. It should also caution us against representing such persons as the ideals or models of their sex, even when there is nothing wrong per se with their participation in the activity.

      3. Women in MMA isn’t just going against a gendered tendency, but is also breaking a taboo, the taboo on normalizing women fighting and suffering violence, especially for the entertainment of a predominately male audience. The significant appeal that this has to a male audience is in many respects not a healthy one.

      4. Within our culture the kickass woman, the ‘strong female character’ is increasingly normalized and celebrated in popular entertainment. This is part of a concerted push against the unwelcome reality of sexual difference. Women fighting in the UFC is also part of our society’s rejection of the idea of normative differences between the sexes, against the idea that natural differences in aptitudes, interests, and behaviours are related to deeper differences in responsibilities. There are certain lines that need to be kept clear, lines that we currently like to push against.

      5. These developments are not positive for women more generally, insofar as they celebrate women primarily for pushing against, rather than for being, what they were created to be. The sort of ‘strong female character’ that is everywhere on our screens is largely a shared fantasy of certain men and certain feminists, not the reality. Although many of these characters and the shows and films they appear in are superb in many respects, the preponderance of such characters in particular genres is a concerning indication of our deeper cultural relationship with the reality of sex difference.

      To elaborate on and unpack my argument more generally, a few further points.

      1. We shouldn’t automatically assume that activities that play to the other sex’s strengths or interests are off-limits to us. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with men who are into interior design or fashion, for instance, even though such interests are more typically feminine in character and fairly predictably disproportionately attract gay men. Likewise, even though men overwhelmingly dominate in all mental competitions (probably because men are more likely to be thing-oriented, systematizing, concerned about status, and prone to obsessiveness on these counts than women), there is no reason why women shouldn’t be competitive players of chess, general knowledge quizzes, memory competitions, etc. Nor should they avoid competing against men in these activities.

      2. Problems do tend to arise the more that such things come to be framed as a struggle against sexual difference itself, even though the mixed participation may be benign in itself.

      3. There are many degrees of agonism and forms of fighting. There is nothing wrong with women participating in most of these, even though the character of such activities mean that they will tend to be more attractive to men and framed by male norms (for instance, the agonism of public debate is male dominated for good reason, but women who play by the rules should take part). In many of these areas, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with men and women engaging in agonism with each other either.

      4. The sort of fighting that MMA represents is very different from many of these forms of agonism, especially non-contact ones. Women fencing is an entirely different sort of thing from a sport in which people purposefully aim to knock their opponent out. It isn’t the sort of practice that brutalizes women, or which almost necessarily entails an unmindfulness of the differences.

      5. There are some areas where things are very clear on either side, and others where they are less immediately clear. That doesn’t mean that the less clear things are necessarily wrong, just that the argument for their being fine may not be so straightforwardly apparent. For instance, I’ve gone paintballing with groups with members of both sexes and three different generations and would happily do so again. A paintball can give someone a bruise, a bruise that I would definitely not be prepared to inflict upon a woman in another form of contact sport (I’ve shot my mother in paintball before). However, the sort of playful agonism of such a game is a very different thing from the more serious forms of conflict that other sports entail. The differences may not be clear at first glance, but they should become clear as we look more closely.

      • Ian Miller says:

        Thanks for the response, Alistair. I appreciate the distinction between sports where agonism is the focus, and sports where the agonism results in physically brutalizing the opponent. Would American football and rugby for women be subject to serious examination under the same principles? I have to admit, I don’t really enjoy watching MMA or boxing, male or female, because I don’t really enjoy how much damage each participant takes, but I think in general, it is a negative thing to have a culture which consumes images of brutalized women for entertainment, as you say.

      • We’ve had discussions on Mere Fidelity about such sports for men in the past, and the questions concerning women would be similar, but heightened.

  2. mnpetersen37 says:

    I’m skeptical of the “solar is cheaper than coal or oil” headline. I think 11 gigawatts is about 0.0002% of the US’s current capacity, or 0.00004% of the world energy capacity (I think: the units aren’t quite lining up, but even even if that’s a major problem, it’s still should far less than a ten thousandth, perhaps even a hundred thousandth or millionth of current energy capacity).

    If enough solar were produced to make anything like a substantial contribution, demand would have to increase between ten thousand to a million times, and the price would also increase substantially.

    Transfer to solar would also require the development of an extensive, non-existent, and fossil fuel dependent (will they use solar powered bull-dozers? Wind-powered ships?) infrastructure for mining the materials required for solar cells. And construction is, if I remember correctly, one of the leading causes of carbon emission.

    Furthermore, the required materials would become increasingly scarce, again driving up the price. And I’ve heard in passing that perhaps there aren’t even enough of them total available for extraction.

    • Yeah, the cornucopian vision of a world run by solar power is entirely unrealistic right now (and I would wager that it will be in the longer term too). We are already seeing effects of the increased demand for rare materials involved in construction of solar power plants. Speaking about such a form of power as ‘renewable’ energy is rather problematic as things stand. The developments are exciting and potentially significant, but scalability isn’t feasible as things stand.

  3. quinnjones2 says:

    Alastair this is a really good digest. I’m interested in your comments because when I see your links, I often wonder what your take is on those articles (though I think I can sometimes make an intelligent guess at what your take might be on some of them!)
    I’ve just read the piece you wrote at Justin Taylor’s request. (I’m really looking forward to your book being published!) I kept looking at that photo of women fighting and I just can’t get with it at all. I think this from you sums it up for me:
    ‘In the intense celebration of such figures (women who most conform to male norms and who succeed in male realms) there has been a corresponding devaluation of natural female tendencies, interests and aptitudes.’
    I’m still bemused by it all – why do some women want not only to more like men, but also to surpass men in a male realm? I think it might be to do with discontentment, with covetousness, with a belief that the grass is greener on the other side. Maybe my attitude to this is something to do with my age and the fact that what energises me most is counting my blessings at a stage when, in some ways, life isn’t getting any easier. Counting my blessings is like trying to count grains of sand (thanks to Psalm 139 for that image 🙂 ) and it doesn’t leave me much space for self-pity, discontentment or covetousness.
    I also wonder if being an ordinary man, or an ordinary woman, in an ordinary marriage with ordinary children isn’t exciting enough for some people – it’s just too boring, too unremarkable too ‘un-special’ for some. I say this because several decades ago, when our first child was born and we thought that our baby girl was the best thing since sliced bread, a friend made this sneering and sarcastic remark about young couples with young children: ‘Oh, you’re married. How fascinating! How unusual! Oh, you’ve got two small children! How fascinating! How unusual!’ This friend seems to have changed her mind over the years and now thinks that her most recent grandchild is ‘the best baby in the world’, and she is no longer interested in being ‘fascinating’ and ‘unusual’! Of course some 21st century women who want become more like men, or who think they should have been men in the first place and opt for trans-gender surgery (and vice-versa for men) may not be driven at all by a desire to be ‘fascinating’ and ‘unusual’, but this thought has crossed my mind more than once.
    I have one more thought that again probably has something to do with my age – I see many married couples walking around holding hands, and I think that many such ‘Derby and Joan’ folk are quietly thriving, undaunted by the fact that some people think of them as anacronisms!
    I have tried to edit this a bit – I hope it is not too woolly.

    • I do find it amusing to see how many of the people who scoff at the value of having kids in their twenties and early thirties can become the most doting parents when their time comes! The significance of a child is much harder to see from the outside of the experience of having one.

      On the issue of women wanting to be more like men and trans persons, the point I made about the entanglement of this with sexuality and other factors is important. The piece I linked above on sex and gender is one I have important reservations about, but it does do a good job of highlighting some of the issues here.

      Women who want to be more like men are often women who have been masculinized to some degree or other. Women who were exposed to more testosterone in the womb, for instance, pursue more male-typical career courses and have more masculine interests, irrespective of their socialization. Lesbians, who share key aspects of a male sexual orientation, behave more like men in a great many respects. It is not accidental that lesbians have been greatly over-represented in the feminist movement throughout its history, for instance. Among other reasons, they will be the most likely to chafe at certain gendered norms. It isn’t mere choice, nor is it just social construction: there are almost certainly biological reasons for these preferences.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        ‘Women who want to be more like men are often women who have been masculinized to some degree or other. Women who were exposed to more testosterone in the womb…’ Such women are living with biological factors that they did not choose and what I said about covetousness as a possible reason for wanting to be more like men certainly does not apply to them. However, I say Amen to this from you in your response above to Ian’s comment: ‘5. These developments (developments you outlined in 4.) are not positive for women more generally, insofar as they celebrate women primarily for pushing against, rather than for being, what they were created to be.’ I think that masculinization of some women can also come about in response to parental expectations – for instance, I know one woman who realised in later life that she had masculinized herself and tried to be the son she thought her parents wanted (her only sibling was a brother who was still-born). I don’t know if this is true of any other women, though I suspect from occasional throw-away remarks I’ve heard that it might be – but I have done no research on it. ( I suppose there might also be some men who have feminised themselves because they were trying to be the daughters they thought their parents wanted, but I have not encountered this in any men I know personally – nor have I done any research on this!)
        On a different note, I also read your comment on fencing in your response to Ian’s comment. I have had similar thoughts about fencing – it is a sophisticated skill and its aim is not to knock an opponent out as is the case with MMA.

      • On the covetousness point, there is in many contexts legitimacy to the complaint that women’s activity is not generally valued by society, at least not in comparison to men’s. The chosen self-masculinization of women can be an attempt to achieve the rightful dignity that may be denied to women who pursue more typically feminine callings.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        ‘…there is in many contexts legitimacy to the complaint that women’s activity is not generally valued by society, at least not in comparison to men’s’. Indeed. I just remembered these words of Marilyn French who was a favourite feminist of mine and of some of my female contemporaries back in the late 70s and early 80s:
        ‘To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons.’
        Three cheers for those, both female and male, who do not devalue feminine callings in this current era where such devaluation still persists in many contexts!
        It’s not good to devalue men’s activities either – we need to value both 🙂

  4. chris e says:

    There is nothing particularly ‘progressive’ about the parallels between the managerial side of fascism and the technocratic elements of neo-liberalism as described in the LARB.

    Yes, elements have been been supported by self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ but equally by self-proclaimed ‘conservatives’, we do not conclude from this that neo-liberalism is ‘conservative’.

    • Currently existing neoliberalism is progressive, whether or not neoliberalism is essentially progressive (which is a far less straightforward position). While there may be natural affinities between neoliberalism and progressivism (just as there are affinities with the right), I don’t believe this is the point that the articles were making.

      • chris e says:

        Existing ‘neo-liberalism’ is just an logical extension of capitalism, it is also accidentally progressive via some appeals to some kinds of individualism (but not others). All the trends they comment on are evident in earlier stages of capitalism – the postwar period was the outlier.

      • chris e says:

        .. and actually that link doesn’t suggest a natural affinity so much, more that capitalism finds certain types of progressiveness useful (ultimately in a monetary sense).

  5. Sara says:

    I’m not on Twitter, so I really appreciate your posting of links in this form on your blog. Thank you! Also, we’ve been “Alastair fans” and appreciative of your insights on many issues for quite a while – congratulations on a busy year of writing… and we’re happy to hear about your upcoming books. Happy New Year!

  6. mnpetersen37 says:

    While I mostly agree with your response to Matthew Loftus, I’m confused regarding your defense of institutions there, and your writings elsewhere: It seems, for instance, that there are institutional reasons that we have lost the beautiful biblical vision for the interdependence of the sexes, for the pressures of free (actually libertine) market Capitlaism, for technological decondensation, etc. and that working for the goals you articulate on those topics would involve deep changes in our institutions, perhaps even a radical change—repentance, or conversion, or revolution. That is, if conservativism is defined as trusting the institutions, etc. the issues I mentioned above may well not be conservative, or at least, to effectively work for them, we may need not to be conservative. Do you see the tension I’m trying to gesture toward, and how do you resolve that tension?

    • I suspect we have rather different institutions in mind. In referencing institutions, I didn’t speak about institutions as such, but about British society’s ‘traditional institutions’ and about ‘specific historic institutions’. I perceive these institutions as standing in opposition to the universal ‘Western’ culture that Scott Alexander describes here.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        “Different institutions” confuses me. My sense is that all our institutions are in tension between “traditional western culture” and “universal western culture.” (And similarly in the rest of the world.) For instance, Saba Mahmood argues, I thought persuasively (though the book is back at the library, so I can’t quote it, or state the thesis with full precision), that international and national law are partly responsible for many aspects of universal western culture (not, of course, with that terminology). Or, as Michael Allen argues, literature is either part of traditional culture (in his case Muslim, though, it isn’t hard to see the applicability of his arguments in the “west”), or a part of universal western culture, depending not on the text selected, but on the disciplined reading practices readers and communities bring to the text. (So, the Koran can belong either to universal culture, or to traditional Islamic culture; and the same applies to Shakespeare, as I believe Talal Asad shows.)

        I suspect the same holds for other institutions. For instance, the US military is a source of pride for traditionalists in Appalacia and throughout the US (as the Cato Institute article shows), but it is a means of propagating universal western culture.

        What’s at issue, it seems, is not, or is not chiefly, which institutions will be valued, but the character of all the institutions; and much of the momentum, throughout the world, seems to be with universal western culture.

      • We may be talking past each other a little here. By ‘different institutions’ I am not chiefly referring to a different quantitative set of institutions, but to different institutions considered chiefly qualitatively, that is to our institutions in their more historic and traditional social form and purposes.

  7. evan773 says:

    I was interested in the connection between two bullet-points in your list: (a) the pieces on male androphilia; and (b) Hauerwas’s discussion of open marriage.

    I note this because male androphilia and open marriage both seem to be constructs that American evangelicals have opposed unnecessarily. Male androphilia generally doesn’t generally lead to male-male sex. Nor do open/egalitarian marriages generally lead to extramarital sex. Moreover, I wonder whether such opposition doesn’t actually increase the likelihood that people engage in illicit sex.

    Regarding male androphilia, evangelicals generally condemn any experience of same-sex attraction, however fleeting. Thus, they seek to avoid the experience of such attractions–even in their most fleeting and benign forms–by condemning male androphilia altogether. But this hyper-prophylactic strategy seems to have backfired in the US (where, in many parts of the country, evangelicals dictate the social mores for the broader culture). In many ways, evangelicals ceded a monopoly on male androphilia to the “gay culture.” When I was in college, my RUF minister once stated that Men’s Health was a more dangerous magazine than Hustler: at least Hustler was stirring up natural urges, while Men’s Health was stirring up unnatural androphilic urges. The problem is this: androphilia exists, especially in more socially developed cultures. And its effects are generally beneficial, as the overwhelming majority of guys will never pursue androphilia to the point of having sex with another guy. So, by stigmatizing something that many guys experience and that the culture inculcates, evangelicals lost a fair bit of credibility to speak persuasively on issues of sexuality. That probably explains why most guys who grow up in evangelical churches eventually jettison the church. If they go back, it is only because their wives drag them back unwillingly. Ironically, the promotion of compulsory heterosexuality under the guise of “biblical manhood” has actually made the church less relevant to men who have a modicum of self-restraint.

    And, regarding open marriage, Hauerwas makes the point well. While open marriage presents the possibility of extramarital sex, it doesn’t generally lead to it. In fact, by my observation, contractual marriages lead to extramarital sex on a much less frequent basis than marriages shaped by the patriarchal assumptions of compulsory heterosexuality.

    In short, evangelicals often seem to miss the forest for the trees. They obsess over trying to foreclose certain remote possibilities, and end up burdening people under oppressive patriarchal social structures that engender resentment and eventual rebellion. In short, evangelicals have difficulty trusting people to exercise even a modicum of self-restraint, and they miss the fact that developed cultures contain a number of implicit cues that otherwise reinforce such self-restraint. By trying to overlay that extant system with a heavy-handed moral paternalism, evangelicals actually undercut personal responsibility and the exercise of self-restraint and thereby drive people to commit the very sins that such paternalism was designed to make impossible.

    Fortunately, for evangelicals, most Americans aren’t that interested in promoting full-on social acceptance of those who adopt queer social identities. Rather, they’re mainly interested in entering into fairly traditional social structures, but without submitting to the patriarchal strictures of compulsory heterosexuality.

  8. Joe says:

    Why are the various global Islamist movements excluded from “populism”? In many ways they seem to be the precursors of the Western “nationalistic” versions.

  9. quinnjones2 says:

    On the subject of fighting women there are some interesting comments, and robust responses from you, Alastair. There also some bizarre tweets! My present position on Ronda Rousey is more of a cri de coeur than a thought: Please retire from MMA! This is what her Mum said after Ronda was punched 23 times in less than a minute in her match with Amanda Nunes on Friday. If I were Ronda’s Mum I’d probably say the same. If one of my adult daughters were in Ronda’s position, I’d probably say the same.

  10. Benjamin.L says:

    Sorry if you’ve discussed this already and I missed it, but this piece on masculinity and femininity amongst ministers and clergy seems relevant:

    http://www.podles.org/files/Church-Impotent/ChurchImpotent_chapter1(alone).pdf

  11. Demo says:

    Thanks for this Alistair. Excellent per norm. On the topic of the date of Christ’s birth do you have a strong opinion? I was brought up with the understanding that the dating was intended to coopt pagan festivals or was intended for theological reason (as though those are opposed to historical realities). This view was challenged by a few sources including this post by Joshua Gibbs:

    https://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/december-25th-day-christ-was-born-8-arguments

  12. Geoff says:

    Too much here and insufficient interest in much of it but here are a couple of comments.
    1. I Don’t know.
    My ignorance is i wide and deep. At a certain level. I think that people could be employed not so much for what they know as for what they don’t know and willingness to admit they speak from a position of not knowing.

    I recall hearing a talk by the then head (a prof) of the national cancer framework in England & Wales. As he visited services around the country to assess, take stock, the sevices and their processes, one consultant was nonplussed to find that the prof. didn’t know how their system worked, when that is the reason the prof was appointed. It was deeply refreshing to hear from him his self effacing ignorance.

    Wisdom, as we know, is altogether richer and rarer than knowledge.

    2 Keller interview.

    He has a facility of communicating simply but effectively that comes from a a depth of understanding and is rare at an academic level, where mental gymnastics are frequently on display for the benefit of….? Lewis was similar, an effective communicator, though he’d not describe himself as a theologian.

    In your recent Mere Fidelity interview of Keller, he described himself as a practitioner rather than theologian, but he is enough of a theologian for me, (though not the only one). It was amusing to hear Andrew Wilson ask an off-topic question on scope, extent, of salvation, which he still seems to wrestle with, and Keller play the age card as part of his reply, which was seemingly meekly accepted for all AW’s learning. Agreed, not the place or time for a vigorous, rigorous discussion

    As a slight critique, only you seemed to have given much preparation for the interview. There would have been more preparation had it been a tutorial.

  13. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Alastair,
    I listened to your interview on the Christianity Today podcast 🙂 You spoke so eloquently – I always love to hear you speak so convincingly and with such animation about the scriptures.

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