Escaping the Prison of Social Sensitivity

Social Sensitivity and its Dangers

It may surprise some people to learn this, but I have an intense aversion to social awkwardness, breach of social etiquette, and to other people’s social discomfort. If someone treads on my toe, I will instinctively apologize for the presence of my foot. I am still autopsying social events from years ago, replaying my actions and people’s responses and wondering how I came across, worried lest I thoughtlessly said something inconsiderate. Watching deeply socially awkward or fraught scenes on TV shows can be like torture for me. I can go to great lengths to smooth over unpleasant social relations and to avoid ‘scenes’.

I might flatter myself that this is about my hatred for seeing people being genuinely emotionally hurt. However, examining myself closer, it is clear to me that this instinctive hatred can be concentrated a lot more on my seeing than on the other’s actual hurting. Rather than a primarily compassionate instinct, this instinct is more about my hatred of a ‘scene’: when people’s troubles are well submerged beneath the tranquil surface of well-managed and pleasant social appearances I probably don’t have the same degree of instinctive concern about them.

Culture always tends to loom large in this sort of area. I am a stereotypical Englishman in many of these respects, with a characteristically acute sense of social propriety, politeness, and submission to social norms, albeit I suspect I feel these cultural instincts more strongly than many people around me. One should not draw unnecessary attention to oneself, one shouldn’t make a scene, one shouldn’t impose upon others, one shouldn’t be ‘loud’, one shouldn’t be impolite, one should avoid social awkwardness at all costs.

Living in a ‘guess culture’, if one needs a favour, for instance, one must undertake a subtle dance, indirectly indicating one’s need in a manner that gives one’s interlocutor plausible deniability of having recognized it, politely declining their offers of help a couple of times until they insist that you accept. People who come from ‘ask cultures’ have a far less delicate social fabric when it comes to many interactions. They can make or turn down requests directly. They can also deal with differences more openly and forthrightly.

While retaining my acute aversion to social awkwardness, I’ve often struggled with the stifling effects of contexts where so many social interactions are deeply awkward or uncomfortable, as the contexts are accommodated to very different personal sensitivities than my own. My favourite contexts are animated, forthright in communication, with lots of mutual interruption, some roughness, and plenty of competition, sparring, and playful teasing. These contexts, have always been liberating for me. They allow for lots of stimulating and robust interaction, with a minimal amount of social awkwardness. They aren’t awkward because one is afforded a lot more freedom in one’s interactions without violating the underlying social rules and damaging the social fabric. For people with low personal sensitivities but high social sensitivities, such contexts can be wonderful. Most differences can generally be dealt with and explored openly in such a setting, without provoking ill-will. This isn’t to say that there aren’t issues that can be socially awkward in such a setting, but they are considerably fewer in number.

As I’ve examined my own social sensitivity, I’ve become less inclined to presume that it is a virtue and more aware of its profound potential for vice. The strong instinct to preserve the social fabric undamaged and strictly observe the norms of comfortable social interactions has often been the very force that has buried unwelcome truth, individual suffering and need, sin and abuse.

Over the years, I’ve also come to be a lot more appreciative of people who are prepared to violate social sensitivities and etiquette on appropriate occasions, especially when they uphold and strengthen the social fabric the rest of the time. There can be a laudable courage in the person who is prepared to provoke social discomfort in themselves and others for the sake of the truth and righteousness, who is willing to tear the social fabric when and where it needs to be torn.

People who do this won’t often be appreciated. They hurt people’s feelings and they make the social environment unpleasant. They can provoke conflict in situations where compromise is an option.


Paul Griffiths and Duke

I was recently caused to think about all of this when following the controversy surrounding Paul Griffiths at Duke Divinity School, a situation which Rod Dreher has catalogued at some length on his blog. Griffiths faced disciplinary procedures following his challenging of a racial equity initiative in the Divinity School.

When Anathea Portier-Young, one of Griffiths’ colleagues, sent an email recommending the two-day course of racial equity training to the faculty (a course, which, incidentally, ran from 8:30am to 5pm on a Saturday and a Sunday), Griffiths sent a general response to the recipients of Portier-Young’s email:

I’m responding to Thea’s exhortation that we should attend the Racial Equity Institute Phase 1 Training scheduled for 4-5 March. In her message she made her ideological commitments clear. I’ll do the same, in the interests of free exchange.

I exhort you not to attend this training. Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual. (Re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history; I hope you’ll keep that history in mind as you think about this instance.

We here at Duke Divinity have a mission. Such things as this training are at best a distraction from it and at worst inimical to it. Our mission is to thnk, read, write, and teach about the triune Lord of Christian confession. This is a hard thing. Each of us should be tense with the effort of it, thrumming like a tautly triple-woven steel thread with the work of it, consumed by the fire of it, ever eager for more of it. We have neither time nor resources to waste. This training is a waste. Please, ignore it. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Making apparent reference to Griffiths’ letter, Elaine Heath, the Dean of the Divinity School, wrote:

It is certainly appropriate to use mass emails to share announcements or information that is helpful to the larger community, such as information about the REI training opportunity. It is inappropriate and unprofessional to use mass emails to make disparaging statements—including arguments ad hominem—in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree. The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution.

This email exchange led to a crisis in which Griffiths was subjected to two disciplinary procedures: one initiated by Heath and another for harassment initiated by Portier-Young (for using racist or sexist speech in a manner that would create a hostile workplace).

Griffiths was not without his supporters. Thomas Pfau observed that the racial equity training programme was merely the latest of many burdensome impositions placed upon the faculty by the administration and that the suggestion that Griffiths’ message could be said to constitute an expression of ‘racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry’ was ‘either gravely imperceptive or as intellectually dishonest.’


Community Concerns

It is important to bear in mind that all of this occurs within a context of heightened sensitivities surrounding race in Duke University and Divinity School. The following video is from the Dean of Trinity College at Duke University, Valerie Ashby:

In an open letter to Rod Dreher, Daniel LaVenture also writes:

…as a member of the DDS community myself, I am not automatically aware of all sides of the issue, but my membership forces me to be open to them. I have seen firsthand the issues in the Office of Black Church Studies which led to the policies now being discussed. I have seen the impact the loss of Black faculty has had on my fellow seminarians, especially those of color. And I cannot ignore their plight. I’ve seen the nuanced rationales for these policies, and I cannot deny them. Whether or not I support the decisions of DDS administration is indifferent; by virtue of being a part of the DDS community, I am able to assent or dissent to them with a personal kind of knowledge that someone from without simply cannot have.

This, of course, opens up into a wider set of implications. The present issues at DDS are far more than a debate over liberal and conservative principles of policy. They are about navigating the complex life of a community, and a particularly diverse one at that. And because this is not merely a political battle, an episode in the greater so-called culture war, your commentary really doesn’t help us in the slightest. Bringing in the opinions of the American Conservosphere only serves to further polarize an already polarized situation that doesn’t really concern them. This is an issue not simply of politics, but of two ancient Christian principles: koinonia and oikonomia—communal life and “household management.”

Such concerns are by no means baseless or unreasonable. I discussed the issue of social sensitivity above. However, I didn’t sufficiently highlight what can be at stake in social sensitivity. While it may often merely be a matter of minimizing people’s discomfort in potentially awkward situations or interactions, there are many times when we are struggling to shore up a group of people’s precarious sense of belonging within our community. Our practice or non-practice of sensitivity can serve to draw the lines of community, with people on the margins either being placed inside or out by our behaviour. In many such cases, insensitivity can fracture the group, causing some people to feel like outsiders. Navigating such fraught communal relationships can be jeopardized when people without the community interject themselves into its struggles.


Communities and their Missions

Diverse communities are often extremely fragile, and unable to sustain the same sort of pressures and stresses that less diverse communities can. For instance, the more diverse a community is, the weaker it may be when it comes to the task of rigorous stress-testing of ideas or enquiry. The fragility of the social bonds can mean that many subjects must be avoided and many punches must be pulled. Diversity can exact heavy costs and, indeed, in many instances communities and societies may need to place limits upon diversity, for the sake of their missions or other ends. The notion that diversity is an unalloyed good in itself is a dangerous error, no matter how attractive this claim can be in situations where diversity is simply a fact on the ground to which we must accommodate ourselves.

In this area, we will often face direct trade-offs between the diverse community as an end in itself and the other ends towards which such a community may be ordered, trade-offs about which we should be more honest. It should be noted that this is an issue underlying much contemporary discourse about the university and free speech. There is a conflict between those whose interest is primarily the maintenance of vulnerable people’s precarious sense of belonging in the fragile diverse community of the university and those whose interest is primarily the university’s serving of its academic ends as a realm and agency of free, open, and challenging enquiry.

As universities have become more diverse places, they have often been at risk of subordinating their academic ends to their increasingly demanding communal ends. We should notice the way that values of community and belonging are at the heart of so many of the protests against controversial speakers on campuses, for instance. The social fabric is fragile and so the open expression of sharp conflicts of belief can’t easily be sustained.

‘Political correctness’ is the diverse society’s regime of politeness, which prevents people from being hurt and alienated from the community, but which also prevents certain truths, often profoundly necessary truths, from being spoken (one such truth being that diversity has many costly trade-offs and that there may be many occasions when it is more a regrettable necessity than a healthy ideal).

Political correctness is typically maligned by conservatives, but it is important to recognize both the fundamentally well-intentioned instincts from which it often arises and the many wilful violations of the social fabric that it prevents. It is also important to recognize the way that many purposefully provocative movements against political correctness ‘burn the commons’ of society, rather than seeking to create a healthier and more robust society with a more sustainable commons.


Preference Falsification, Exit Masks and Voice Masks

Sustaining diverse communities and the political correctness that tends to accompany them isn’t easy. They can place a heavy burden of ‘preference falsification’, as Sarah Perry has discussed: people must disguise their private preferences if they want to enjoy status, belonging, and security. Political correctness is the ‘sacredness’ that preserves the current social order. A politically correct position, such as the goodness of same-sex marriage, is sacred, something that is ‘so important that we agree not to examine it too closely, and to only speak of it in respectful, ideologically correct terms.’ Over time, preference falsification can have the effect of ‘preference husbandry’, as people’s interior beliefs are slowly conformed to the sacred public ones.

Venkatesh Rao explores these dynamics further, introducing the concepts of ‘voice masks’ and ‘exit masks’. He describes them as follows:

Consider first the difference between two masks: putting on a brave face (say when you’re in adult trapped in a dangerous situation with a child, where you cannot admit you’re scared or worried) and political correctness (say you’re at an office party where you cannot be completely candid). Both are voice masks; masks you put on when you have to pretend to agree with a sentiment you actively disagree with. You relieve the strain of voice masks by moving to a social context where you can speak more freely, and express your real emotions more completely. In the former case, it would be nice to have another adult around—making it a larger group—to share fears and anxieties with after the child goes to bed. In the latter case, it would be nice to retreat for drinks with a couple of trusted friends—a smaller group—to have a more candid chat about current workplace politics.

Now consider two other kinds of masks: pretending to enjoy yourself (say at a family gathering or a graduation ceremony where people who care a lot more are deeply immersed in the proceedings) and pretending to be interested (such as when listening to a boring but influential person drone on in a situation where leaving would cause offense and repercussions). These are exit masks: masks you put on when you have to pretend to care. You relieve the strain by moving to a social context where you don’t have to speak or fake an emotional intensity you don’t feel. Again, in the first case, you might relieve the stress by moving to a larger group that affords greater anonymity (such as a big city) and in the former case by retreating to a smaller group (perhaps going for a walk alone to unwind and get the bullshit out of your head).

These are opposed drives: moving in social space to speak and emote more versus moving in social space to speak and emote less. Of the two, exit masks are more basic: it is only hard to pretend to agree when you care. If you don’t care to begin with, pretending to agree adds no additional strain. You’ll nod along to whatever. Pretending to care is emotional bullshitting. Pretending to agree is emotional lying.

Societies that depend upon extensive preference falsification can put a lot of strain on their members, a strain that is intensified where contexts within which we can remove our masks are denied us.

Freddie deBoer’s recent post on the ‘backchannel’ highlights some of this problem. Official ideology, the stifling effect of diverse and/or dense society, and the imperative of the cause leads people to falsify their opinions in public, when many of them voice different opinions in those private settings where they are safe to remove their masks. The high social sensitivity of the public group prevents criticism from being voiced there: people must wear ‘voice masks’. However, the pressure of wearing a voice mask leads people to seek private outlets where they can be relieved of the burden of their masks and speak their minds on issues they care about. What becomes apparent as a result is that the public orthodoxy owes much of its strength to preference falsification, to the fact that it is protected from challenge on account of its sacredness, or the sacredness of those advancing it.


Diversity and Politeness as Ideology

In discussing the Duke Divinity School situation, Dreher quotes at great length from Václav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless” essay on the issue of conformity, ideology, and power. Havel explores the way in which ideology sustains and advances the interests of power, causing people to conform and step in line through the fear, paranoia, and mutual policing that subscription to the official ideology enables people to dissemble.

This is definitely a powerful analogy to the way that ‘social justice’ ideology functions in society today, and is an analogy that I myself have recently drawn. However, there are differences to which we should also attend here. The strength of Havel’s totalitarian society is chiefly operative on a vertical plane, from the rulers of society downwards. This contrasts with our society, where its strength is primarily in horizontal relations, in the power of the group to reward those who conform and discipline those who don’t with social sanctions of ostracization or acceptance and inclusion.

The growth of social justice ideology arises in no small measure from the fact that it is an advanced and highly developed system of etiquette for diverse society. People want to conform to it in order both to feel like good and decent people and to belong to the in-group, defined by its high cultivation of manners. Diversity conveys legitimacy and political correctness and social justice ideology are mechanisms by which this is sustained. In turn, political correctness upholds diversity itself as a great ideal to be pursued. However, the socially enforced etiquette is a powerful vehicle of ideological oppression, pressing people into a conformity that can squeeze out truth and genuine difference.

This whole situation is intensified by the Internet, which collapses groups into poorly differentiated yet diverse and socially saturated contexts. In such large and diverse contexts, the horizontal mechanisms of social conformity are greatly empowered. The increased diversity and social saturation produces a more intense policing of ourselves and others when it comes to socially discomforting speech. I want to speak my mind openly, yet I know that several of the people who follow me on Twitter or elsewhere would be hurt by my expression of my beliefs: do I keep silent, or do I speak my mind? Likewise, whenever I speak, other people will be mindful of vulnerable and highly sensitive people they know who could be hurt by my words and might strike out against me in defence of the social fabric.

Those with generally high personal sensitivity or with specific sensitivities are always near at hand, and we must always be on our guard lest we offend them. It is no longer so possible to shield them from exposure to unsettling conversations, ensuring both the protection of the vulnerable and the possibility of pursuing challenging conversations. We must choose one or the other. Our own social sensitivity and that of others around us will make discussion of challenging issues difficult, and make it increasingly likely that such discussions will be either smothered or devolve into conflict.


Modes of Society and Sensibilities

I have already suggested that social sensibility operates differently in different kinds of society. There are rougher, more open, and less intimate communities where the burden of preference falsification is relatively low and there isn’t the same expectation to wear voice and exit masks. These are the sort of communities that advocates of free speech tend to value. Within these communities you can speak your mind, without having to worry so much about other people’s feelings. The strength of such communities often derives from the shared sense of liberation that those within them feel when relieved of the preference falsifications and masks of polite society in their common activity of acting and speaking openly with each other.

On the other hand, there are other sorts of communities, which are either much more socially saturated, intimate, and personal, or considerably more diverse. In both such cases, high personal sensitivities produce a situation where the burden of preference falsifications and masks can be quite intense. In the first case, the social fabric is so closely woven that there isn’t much room for movement without tearing it. In such contexts, disagreement swiftly devolves into personal attacks and consolidations of the social fabric (for an example of this, see the recent Tuvel controversy). In the second case, the social fabric is so weak that one can’t easily challenge others without tearing it. Once again, disagreement can be highly personal in such an environment, albeit for slightly different reasons. In both of these environments persons tend to eclipse issues: the reception of what you say is radically dependent upon who you are.

I’ve commented on these dynamics before in relation to the sexes: more female-typical society tends to be considerably more dense than more male-typical society and much less accommodating of difference and disagreement. Within such a context, the need to maintain a tight knit social fabric tends to require that conflict be handled indirectly. In many (not all) respects, such a context may also be much more demanding of preference falsification and mask-wearing (and of corresponding highly intimate private contexts where the masks can be removed with a very close friend).

A great many of our arguments today are about the conflicts of interest between societies with either very weak or dense social fabrics and societies with loose and accommodating social fabrics. As our contexts become less segregated by gender and more diverse, open and challenging speech is increasingly experienced as an assault upon the social fabric itself. For instance, it is incredibly difficult to have a theological argument with a woman on social media as a man (and often even as a woman too), as the social fabric cannot easily sustain it: the woman may feel personally attacked and men may rush to her defence and the defence of the social fabric. While the defence of the social fabric may protect and enhance the woman’s sense of belonging, it doesn’t do much for the service of the truth.

We must recognize the degree to which diversity and inclusion have been engines for the propagation of error within the Church and society over the last few decades. Our not inappropriate social sensitivity towards precarious members of society and towards women has led us to exempt such persons and their ideas from much of the challenging stress-testing to which we expose ideas voiced by men. Unfortunately, where the generally healthy social norm of not treating women as combatants and protecting them from conflict has held sway, all sorts of pernicious falsehoods have been allowed to develop unchecked in the academy and Church.

Polite men who are unpersuaded by feminist ideology, for instance, just keep their mouths shut so as not to make women feel threatened. Other men with a strong sense of duty towards women will rush to their aid against the supposed misogynist men who challenge them. Patently erroneous feminist and queer ideologies have been greatly protected by the way that decent and socially sensitive men are trained to act towards women. In Christian contexts, certain women, protected from direct and forceful challenge by social etiquette and a ‘palace guard’ of men who will rush to their defence if they appear to be attacked, have been able to advance error while smearing those who would challenge them as misogynists.


Weaponized Sensitivity

People with high personal sensitivity can gain a great deal of social control on account of the many people with high social sensitivity, who are deeply concerned for the protection and strengthening of the social fabric. This creates a dangerous incentive, however. If one gains power through high personal sensitivity, becoming more sensitive is the route to more power. Vulnerability and weakness can be weaponized to get one’s way in society.

While a healthy society might steadily push people towards the development of thicker skins, encouraging growth in strength, a society with powerful etiquette and intense social sensitivity is easily held hostage by those who are the quickest to take offence, be emotionally wounded, or make a scene. This problem is heightened by our glorification of inclusion and diversity, which can all too easily prevent us from exercising the necessary discrimination in forming communities that are apt for the pursuit of truth and genuine justice. This discrimination may not be a binary choice between inclusion and exclusion, but may be more a matter of forming differentiated and diversified communities, where conflict occurs in more clearly defined and protected contexts, for instance, contexts set apart from other contexts where different social norms prevail.



Returning to the Duke Divinity situation, some have argued that Griffiths was exceedingly rude in the way he handled things. I don’t think this claim should be dismissed: he was rude. He violated etiquette, openly and forcefully challenged a female colleague before other faculty members, created conflict in a situation where compromise was relatively easy, struck the sacred cow of race theory, and generally made himself unpleasant.

However, where I differ from Griffiths’ critics is in my conviction that such rudeness may be increasingly necessary in some situations. The power of the new illiberalism often isn’t fear of direct coercion so much as our fear of the stick of social ostracization or judgment and our deep desire for the carrot of being considered ‘nice’ people. It is the power of social sensitivity, a power which social media has considerably amplified.

Griffiths broke with etiquette by forcefully and openly challenging a female colleague in a way that made her feel harassed. As I’ve already suggested, male and female groups tend to handle conflict differently. Griffiths broke with general social norms by initiating a conflictual situation with a woman, treating her in the sort of way that men are more likely to treat each other when they have strong disagreements. He was arguably a bit of an asshole.

Likewise, Griffiths attacked the sacred cow of race equity ideology. Once again this is an area where a great deal of falsehood has been sheltered by our healthy concern not to appear racist or to side with forces of oppression and to ensure that people of colour are treated with justice and fairness. Prevailing race equity ideology is a sacred ideology that establishes the form of preference falsification that undergirds diverse society.

Decent and socially sensitive people know better than to question the discourses around race, even when we can see glaring holes in them. We quietly go along with things, not raising objections, attending the training programmes, rightly not wanting people of colour to feel that they are in a hostile environment. However, we are increasingly seeing the discourses surrounding race and sexuality making ever more unreasonable demands upon us and our society (for instance, in calling the faculty of a divinity school to spend the entirety of their Sunday attending a racial equity course, rather than prioritizing worship). The ideology of anti-racism, gender equality, and LGBT rights have become sacred ideologies, and, in many quarters, tantamount to an idol. We don’t feel able to resist: we don’t want to be perceived as racists, misogynists, or homophobes. Yet the masks are weighing heavily upon us.

The problem is that when the oppressive and destructive power of the ideologies being advanced is, to a very significant degree, employing the vehicle of politeness, niceness, etiquette, due process and procedure, considerateness, collegiality, etc., we will need to be prepared to act in rude and impolite ways if we are to push back against it. Social sensitivity has become pathological in a great many contexts. It is almost impossible to present any serious challenge to the ideology without stepping on toes, breaking social norms, moving out of your own lane, disregarding proper procedure, or coming across as rude and inconsiderate. We will probably need to develop a greater tolerance for other people’s discomfort and for our own discomfort at the breaking of social etiquette.

Without people who are prepared to be rude and tear the social fabric on appropriate occasions, the preference falsifications expand beyond all control and force us to double down on socially obliging falsehoods to keep the social peace. People who are prepared to be rude or impolite on appropriate occasions, without just being obnoxious in character or for the sake of it, can perform a crucial cultural role in protecting us from the pathologies of politeness, forcing us to face up to the dysfunctions of ‘polite society’.

The person who is capable of being prudently rude and unpleasant has a gift that we need, but seldom adequately appreciate. We are increasingly in need of people with the nerve and the wisdom to violate norms of politeness when they have become pathological, without simply rejecting politeness altogether. People who are the slaves of politeness irrespective of whether it is functioning in a healthy or unhealthy fashion lack an important ability.


Moving Forward

While rudeness has its appropriate occasions, it doesn’t really provide a sustainable solution to the problems that now face us. Rudeness can all too easily attack the oppressive preference falsifications that bind us, while failing to address itself to the task of securing social cohesion, the task that, however imperfectly, the preference falsifications currently serve. Rudeness is primarily a destructive force. It can tear the social fabric at points where it needs to be torn, but it cannot provide a healthier social fabric in its place.

It seems to me that the alternative requires considerable prudence, but should fundamentally be pursued along three lines:

First, we need to push people towards the cultivation of strength and beware of incentivizing or facilitating the weaponizing of high sensitivity.

Second, on the other hand, we must recognize the often healthy intent of social sensitivity and be considerably more mindful of the integrity of the social fabric when pursuing the good of open and challenging speech in service of the truth. Protecting, strengthening, and wisely ordering the social fabric is essential to the task of pursuing free and open discourse. A well-ordered social fabric sustains and empowers speech and persuasion. No genuine solution to our problems can be arrived at by pitting the one against the other.

Third, we need to create diversified societies and social institutions, which preserve heterogeneous forms of sociality, while being ordered towards the pursuit of truth in community. Different people will find different niches within such societies and communities, rather than being treated interchangeably. Such societies will require structures of representation and advocacy. They will also require well-defined realms and social norms applicable to them. Upholding the boundaries between realms of discourse will be necessary, so that no form of discourse overruns others. Undifferentiated inclusion of all parties in all realms should be resisted—we must give space to each other. However, we must also encourage consistent intervolvement between groups within our communities.

All of this requires a movement beyond the reactive struggle between the political correctness pursued by the highly socially sensitive and the free speech pursued by those with much lower personal and social sensitivity. The task facing us is less of a culture war than a social construction project. Within this project we should seek to collaborate to the degree that we can, aiming to produce a society that works for everyone.

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.
This entry was posted in Culture, Ethics, In the News, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Escaping the Prison of Social Sensitivity

  1. Patrick M says:

    Interesting post, particularly as it relates to the church planting movement in America where diversity is either an explicit or very coercive implicit goal for most churches. Most of our church planting movement points to the diversity in the New Testament churches and see it as a goal to be obtained, rather than “a fact on the ground to which we must accommodate ourselves.” I’m sure church life is much different in Britain, but the movement of young, hip, city pastors in America (Acts 29 and the like) see diversity as part and parcel to faithfulness. Most worship services are arranged to meet those goals (who is on stage with the worship band, who is the church greeter at the front door, etc.). I wonder what the church movement would look like it saw diversity as more accommodative rather than, well, coercive. Thanks for the thoughts. Does the British church deal with these issues?

    • cal says:

      As I point out below, I think a lot of this is the perception of being racist. I was in equal parts amused and disgusted watching the new show “Dear White People”. It was pathetic and chirpy, replacing measured or thoughtful dialog with empty wit, but it did remind me of a lot of interactions, in the university and in hip church planting movements. And, like all the White People in the show, they are cluelessly enamored with the Other, blinded by the concerns of perceived status.

      • mnpetersen37 says:


        I have a question that’s perhaps a little tangential to this discussion, regarding your reading of the “love your enemy” (and so the “love your neighbor”) passages in Scripture. If I understand it correctly (though I’ve only read one side), one of the disagreements between Schmitt and Taubes was over who is our neighbor and and who our enemy that we must love: Does “Love your enemy” mean love neighbor next to you personally (and so, at least at the moment, in the same nation as you), even if you don’t like them, but not necessarily the nation next to yours; or does it mean love both the person next to you and the nation next to you? Both based their claims on readings of the NT, and I’m curious if you have a position on the dispute, and who, exegetically, you think our neighbor is.

      • I think it would apply to both cases—personal neighbour and neighbouring country. The important thing is that we attend to the practical shape that such relationships take and the nature of our duties. Not all neighbours are equally proximate. For instance, if the neighbouring country is allowing raiding parties into my border villages, as king my primary duty of love is to my people, yet not in such a way as negates my duty of love to the neighbouring country. It does take priority over it, though.

        The duty of love never becomes a principle of abstract universal justice. It is always something that is particularizing and focusing. It entails putting the interests of some people over others. For instance, my family have a claim upon my love that others do not.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I misread the threading of the comments. My comment above should have been a reply to the comment below that begins “There are a lot of parallels with that here in the UK.”

    • There are a lot of parallels with that here in the UK.

      It seems to me that the Church is called to bring people together from different backgrounds. That said, the Church has often fallen into the trap of idealizing diversity as an end in itself and pursuing that. However, our duty of love is not universally and indiscriminately directed. Rather, it is a duty focused upon the neighbour, the one, whoever that one is, who is proximate to us. The Church is to be catholic wherever it finds itself, addressing itself to whoever is its neighbour in its particular context. But this is not the same as glorifying diversity as an end in itself.

      Furthermore, this love of neighbour needn’t mean a loss of distinctions between groups. The Church can have variegated ministry to different groups, without compromising their unity.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I agree with the second paragraph, and nearly agree with the first, though while I think proximity is an important dimension to consider, I’m not sure that that’s the best way to consider political relations. It seems to me, for instance, that inasmuch as we consider the king in his natural body, he needs to put the needs of his neighboring countrymen above his own needs, and work for their good by acting for the interests of his body politic, and subordinating his individual desires to the desires of his body politic; but inasmuch as we consider the king in his body politic, defending his realm is not a form of love of neighbor, but of self-love–a self-love that is not, in itself, unhealthy any more than nourishing and cherishing our own flesh is unhealthy. So for instance, in your example of a king defending his realm from invaders, when considered in his body politic, is defending his body from invasion and destruction, and so is engaged in self-defense, not in a defense of his neighbor. On the other hand, if a king comes to the defense of a neighboring nation (say, when England declared war on Germany because of an invasion of Poland), even when we consider the king in his body politic, he is engaged in defense of his neighbor, not self-defense. (Again, I’m not saying one is better than the other, just distinguishing them.)
        I think this sort of distinction is important because otherwise I think (though perhaps I’m wrong) we are stuck considering neighbors as individuals, not as irreducible members of a polis–that is, we neglect the fact that man is a political animal. So for instance, in your example (making the defended country England, and the raiding country France), while I can understand the king saying that the Englishmen are more proximate neighbors than the Frenchmen, I don’t think he could say that the Englishmen are more proximate than France–France isn’t the same sort of neighbor as the Englishmen. But the Frenchmen can only accurately be understood as part of France (or part of Europe or whatever–one of the issues facing us today is that we don’t know where to draw true political borders, as opposed to mere incidental borders between administrative units; and that the borders often aren’t geographic), and so we need to bee able to consider them not only as individuals–as Frenchmen–but as parts of France, and that in turn, means focusing on France, qua France.

    • To push back here (being part of “the church planting movement in America”), I can grant a few points:
      1. “Token diversity” (or “appearance diversity,” just having faces of different color) is a lame goal, worthy of mockery
      2. “Diversity” can only be meaningful to the extent it includes the actual makeup of a community (my church, in Indiana, isn’t looking to accommodate itself to Inuit culture)

      Those being said, one can make a pretty clear case that “reconciliation” among different groups of people – including racial ones – is at the very least a good thing the church ought to be pursuing (drawing principles from Ephesians 2, Romans 14, Revelation 7, etc.). The inferences and applications of that first principle (should we make an effort to see reconciliation inside one local church, or just across local churches? What practices might we adopt/jettison to pursue reconciliation?) are to me more debatable, but to lump “reconciliation” with “diversity” in its most caricatured sense risks missing one important facet of God’s will for humankind in Christ.

      Would you accept that distinction? If not, why not?

      • Patrick M says:


        I would accept your distinction as the one who started this particular thread. I think it is a good and necessary one. Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. And keep up the good work of building the body of Christ and thinking deeply through these things.

      • I’m not entirely sure what exact claims of mine you believe that you are pushing back against here. I agree with your points.

      • Patrick, that’s good to hear – thanks!

        And Alastair, sorry, I should have flagged Patrick’s name in this, because I was asking for him to clarify a point.

    • p duggie says:

      Interesting. My recollection was the church planting movement actually came up with the concept that the best way to plant churches was to focus on “homogeneous units” not diversity. But maybe there is more than one movement.

  2. cal says:

    This reminded me of a quip, reflecting on Machiavelli, that all Early Modern courtiers had an expectation to heap scorn and spit acid at Machiavelli for being such a scoundrel and pessimist. Yet, these same men were shrewd enough to read him well enough to survive the perils of court life. While the spoken rule was that all hated Machiavelli, the unspoken rule was that everyone secretly treasured his real-politik.

    The problem is that the claim of racism or sexism against an opponent is a powerful weapon. You basically throw a shadow over that person, and put them in a box. It’s a handy tool in a rhetorical arsenal to blast someone out of the arena, which was effectively done to Griffiths. This doesn’t concern right or wrong, but the larger social structure. The only conceivable options are these: 1) The particular smaller social structure (say the University) bans all use of these weapons (declaring that to declare bigotry is not a permissible accusation) or monopolizing in very particular hands (almost a sovereign of sorts); 2) elite society changes its opinion where the weapon has limited power; 3) the individual chooses to not use the weapon, even though it’d work.

    For restructuring these social structures, it seems there need to be a sovereign that can adjudicate, and not leave these tools in the hands of disputant lords (professors) or the rabbling peasants (students). Even if you were to create a structure of adjudicating courts and committees, the mere accusation of such misconduct relies upon the surrounding, much larger, social structures that are not beholden to these courts. Griffiths is condemned before it’s determined whether he was in fact racist or whatever. The damage is done through acknowledgement of the outside, the higher court of “public opinion”. I put it in quotes because it’s not obvious what this is. It’s not by head vote that the public has such-and-such opinion. This is where the work of Mondzain and Agamben are interesting to discuss how media and public opinion are secularized theological categories.

    And this raises the other thought about the polite and palace guard men in church circles. I see the phenomenon you describe, and I always see it relate to this sense of outside-inside, especially in the Evangelical world. There is always someone “out-there”, the “World”, to which the modern Evangelical is desperately apologizing to for his Fundamentalist baggage. No one is sure who he’s talking to. Lots of Evangelical idolizing of minority and female voices, which are usually thinly disguised tokens, shows a larger concern with perceptions of racism, sexism and bigotry. But what actual Feminist is impressed with Rachel Held Evans? If you look at the humorous twitter feed of WokeTGC, the same phenomenon is happening in the more conservative, Reformed, part of Evangelicalism. Perhaps, we have to recognize the all-seeing eye of the World, of Culture, or the Public, is in part a fantasy, and if we are no longer frozen by this gaze, we might be able to handle situations in personal ways, whether in correcting, defending, or in remaining silent.


    • The other alternative is that the words are so overused that they start to lose their magical power. Preference falsification and mask-wearing must operate within the elasticity between people’s private preferences and their publicly expressed ones. If it is pulled too far, it will snap, people will cease to falsify their preferences, and the sacredness will no longer be functional.

      Your final paragraph raises a key point about playing to a non-Christian audience. I think there is something important here. In the past, when someone delivered a sermon or wrote a Christian book, they could be fairly sure of a well targeted audience. However, this is no longer the case on social media. Our debates and our expressions of our positions all occur before a wider viewing public. Many Christians who have intensely Christian social groups may not feel this very keenly. However, most of the people closest to me in my day to day life are not Christians or are liberal, SJW-inclined Christians. Anything I post here or on Twitter, they will see too. They will see what other Christians say to me and the positions that they share. Their attitude towards me and towards Christianity will be powerfully shaped by these things. That really is a powerful pressure, one which I don’t think many Christians in more sheltered contexts adequately appreciate.

  3. Physiocrat1 says:


    How could you be so insensitive? It’s people of color, not people of colour. This is almost Benedict Cumberbatch territory.

    In regards the melding of social groups, I had this problem on Facebook. I few years ago I’d just post whatever I thought was interesting but in fact enraged others and burned bridges entirely unintentionally. If anyone reading uses Facebook you can now create lists of friends and post content which will only be seen by them; I wish this was a more prominent feature as it would allow you to differentiate your social groups on social media.

    The best place for discourse online is still the forum. It can degenerate into flame wars but I’m a member of a few well run ones in which no topic is taboo.

    In regards diversity in general, anyone who claims diversity is strength should just be challenged to justify the statement.I have never heard anyone actually defend it probably because it isn’t.

    • I remember using such lists in the past. However, it was never without its problems. Blogging and Twitter, my primary platforms, are even less forgiving. While I get the impression that many of my Christian friends in the US have social groups largely composed of Christians like them, most of my friends and family members have very sharp differences of opinion with me. Most of the people I spend my time with in person aren’t Christians, or are nominal or liberal Christians. I don’t have a natural social bubble and have a number of people who are close to me and whom I care very much about, who could be hurt by certain positions that I hold. A number are incredibly sensitive when it comes to opposing positions. It really can make things complicated.

      I think you are right about forums. I have certain email discussion lists that enable me to speak without a voice mask or any fear of people taking offence, which is tremendously liberating.

      On the diversity issue, it struck me a while back that I hadn’t been sufficiently alert to the driving concerns of people I disagreed with in things such as the immigration debates. In the UK there has been a vast amount of falsehood spread about our being a ‘nation of immigrants’, about the goodness of diversity, about the nature of ‘British values’, and about the interchangeability of cultures. Most people can see right through all of this and chafe at the political correctness.

      However, looking at this all from another perspective, Britain was not a nation of immigrants historically, but this is probably our unavoidable future. The politically correct lies about Islam, diversity, and crime patterns exist because the truth really does not offer much of a socially workable future for a country in our position. In face of the inevitable future, it is a matter of some urgency to present it as positive, natural, and workable. The alternative is deep social division, antagonism, and resentment. While still opposing the lies, I have become a lot more sympathetic to the motives driving them. I really don’t envy those who have the task of making our society work and it isn’t clear to me that the right is giving much thought to a means of achieving this end that provides a real alternative to political correctness and historical revisionism.

      • Physiocrat1 says:

        What problems did you have with the lists? TBF I’ve only just found the option.

        Most of my social sphere is Christian and they have sharp disagreements with me primarily over politics and sometimes theology. They tend to soft socialism politically whereas my robust libertarianism can enrage them particularly when it intersects with race and immigration. One guy I was an usher for at my wedding, and he at mine, unfriended me because he couldn’t cope with my political arguments.

        The only way to prevent England from becoming a nation of immigrants is a too hardcore for my tastes. I think there are sound policies which could prevent it and possibly reverse it in some respects but returning to the demography prior to WWII isn’t achievable. The way to deal with a more diversified population is decentralisation and voluntary association (the abolition of all anti-discrimination legislation)

      • I had various problems with lists. The main one was that I mostly participate in conversations started by other people. I haven’t been active on Facebook for several years, though, so perhaps features have improved.

        To be frank, a hardcore libertarian is just about the last person that I would trust with immigration and social policy! 🙂 Libertarianism tends to be rather inattentive to the significance and reality of social capital and the conditions for its preservation and development. It also tends to miss how destructive a society built around free choice and individual autonomy can be for this. As Michel Houellebecq put it:

        Children existed … to inherit a man’s trade, his moral code, and his property. This was taken for granted among the aristocracy, but merchants, craftsmen, and peasants also bought into the idea, so it became the norm at every level of society. That’s all gone now: I work for someone else, I rent my apartment from someone else, there’s nothing for my son to inherit. I have no craft to teach him; I haven’t a clue what he might do when he’s older. By the time he grows up, the rules I lived by will have no value—he will live in another universe. If a man accepts the fact that everything must change, then he accepts that life is reduced to nothing more than the sum of his own experience; the past and future generations mean nothing to him. That’s how we live now. For a man to bring a child into the world now is meaningless.

        A society based upon individual freedom and the maximization of choice can undermine the conditions for self-investment in the future and the enriching of the social fabric. Things move too fast to establish deep and enduring social bonds. As the logic of voluntary association takes over, we start to lose our sense of duty to uphold the legacy of the past, which in turn weakens our orientation to the future, knowing that our offspring will live life on their own terms and can’t be relied upon to honour our sacrifices. The narrowing of the horizon of people’s existence to the pleasures of the present has a lot to do with the erosion of the duties and limits placed upon persons, limits which greatly constrained the realm of their choice, yet provided the liberating restrictions that enabled them to transcend themselves, investing their lives in something that exceeded their immediate enjoyment. Libertarianism tends to so value individual choice and property that it fails to attend to the need to restrict the autonomy of the individual in order to protect the shared freedom that is found in the intergenerational pursuit of common goods.

  4. carelisa46 says:

    Thank you for sharing and elucidating what can be a tricky subject. It seems to me the whole thing could have been avoided by finding the delicate balance of truth and kindness, and there certainly is a difference between kindness which seeks to serve the other and niceness which seeks only to preserve civility. I’m a grown up pastor’s kid turned pastor’s wife and so much needless drama happens in the church because we are trying to be nice and don’t deal kindly with individuals.

    • Yes, it definitely is an incredibly difficult yet important balance to strike.

      One of the things I think can make a real difference here is the creation of different spaces of discourse and social interaction. We hear a lot about everything being ‘political’ today, but we should strive to create robust spaces that are non-partisan, places where we break bread together, enjoy activities together, live together, and work together. It really makes a difference when arenas of direct and challenging truthful exchange are contextualized by such contexts. The existence of such contexts ensures that our disagreements are contained. We can argue on the field of debate, then shake hands and go back to life together in community. The problems we face today owe a lot to the collapse of a distinction between realms of open adversarial exchange and realms of peaceful community.

  5. Geoff says:

    It’s interesting that this follows hot on the heels of your writing on some scriptural “meat.”

    I’d ask you to compare and contrast this article with the one immediately preceding, “The Politics of the Stumbling Stone”, especially these replies you made:

    “The problem is that, as one cashes out the New Testament’s vision of how this works out, one still ends up with most historical Jews on the wrong side of redemptive history and with Christ and Christian Jews and grafted in Gentile believers in him as the only true heirs. While, as the natural branches, unbelieving Jews, should they repent, are more naturally grafted back in, this really isn’t going to scratch the post-Holocaust theological itch. Rather than bury this challenge, I preferred to declare it up front. “

    “That the position I have outlined really won’t satisfy the desire to present Judaism in very positive terms. For instance, the Catholic idea that Jews don’t have to convert to be saved is not a biblical one. Judaism remains opposed to and alienated from Christ in unbelief. It isn’t easy to sugarcoat this fact, nor should we try. “

    The last sentence is particularly pertinent to the present article. How should we spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. It’s far easier to be abstract and avoid without getting to the point(s) to ignore the elephants, even the rogue ones. Sometimes nettles need to be grasped, sometimes we need to desist from throwing pearls to pigs, sometimes indirect, (parables and proverbs anyone?) winsome (which I find to be almost impossible unless, rarely, inspired with illustrations ) . And there are appropriate, times and places to weigh.

    From a personal point of view, as a former advocate, I invariably found it easier to seek to persuade, as professionally required, “without fear or favour” on behalf of others, or on a point of law, than for myself. From experience, a “case” can be persuasively, coherently, cogently and compellingly made and, nevertheless, be lost. Also, it’s not necessary to subscribe to the case or point or topic, to make it.

    And. in all of this, context is key.

    • Some good thoughts. On the context point, the average reader of the Political Theology Today blog is a more liberal Christian, so I deal with issues there in a slightly different way and using somewhat different phrasing than I would do were I writing on my own blog.

  6. Physiocrat1 says:


    I agree – I wouldn’t put most hardcore libertarians controlling immigration policy since they are crazy open border types (let everyone come in). I would also agree that many libertarians, although I do think this can be a caricature, do not sufficiently take account as man as a social animal.

    To label myself a libertarian could be confusing. I don’t value individual autonomy as the highest good ( In fact I’m coming to think that the basic unit of analysis in most cases is the nuclear family nor that we should attempt to maximise choice – social sanction, such as those demonstrated in Downton Abbey, are important for wider social cohesion. My libertarianism is rather best described as anti-statism – the geographical monopolist on the provision of law with the power to tax is at best unnecessary. Further, it is merely a code to determine when the initiation of force against a person’s person and property are valid. If you look historically at legal systems which are more decentralised and more in keeping with a libertarian law they tend to have a strong family units and a wider obligation to their fellow man for instance pre-Norman England, Ancient Ireland and parts of Mediaeval Europe.

    The interest in the combination of anti-state radicalism and social conservatism (you could term it free market anarchistic paleoconservatism if you want a pithy title 😉 ) in recent years focuses around Hans-Hermann Hoppe who became most prominent with his Democracy the God that Failed in which he argues that feudal monarchy was a better system of governance than modern democracy (The best summation of his views is the last chapter in his SHort History of Man p103-133 entitled From Aristocracy to Monarchy to Democracy). In their he argues that conservatives should become libertarians (essentially the state is the biggest threat to the family) and libertarians should become conservatives since only a stable social order can prevent the rise of the state It is also from him that the restrictionist libertarian immigration policy is developed-

    A summary:

    Under Hoppe’s view, in a natural order (Hoppe’s term) all land is private so to move between different areas requires the consent of the property owners. With the existence of government land however this ceases to be the case and further this movement is also subsidised by the welfare state. How who should be considered the owner of government land, well the taxpayer since it was their money which was used by the state to secure it. Thus immigration to be approaching voluntary must have the agreement of at least one taxpayer (the immigrant must be invited). Further, the situation is akin to a residential golf club and an immigrant is a guest (unless of course he purchases residential property which would indicate voluntary immigration)- thus the invitee must makes sure he imposes no costs on the other members so would need to assume responsibility of his ensure cost including any criminal damage by the guest. It is clear then that the present immigration system bears very little resemblance to this and thus can accurately be described as forced integration.

    You may not like the general reasoning approach but for practical policy it is very elegant IMO.

    I hope this comment overall is clear and explains what at least I’m advocating.

    • Thanks for the response. I favour a system built upon subsidiarity, which leads me to oppose a great deal of over-centralizing state activity, while strongly supporting the role of the state in other areas. On the other hand, the same values and principles really weigh against globalizing capital too.

      I’m not sure that focusing on private ownership really is a solution, nor is the nuclear family the answer. The social fabric is a lot richer and more complex than a public-private division or the nuclear family alone can account for. Besides, what we consider as the nuclear family today is a profoundly attenuated reality compared to what the family once was.

    • mnpetersen37 says:

      Land is weird, and difficult to analyze, but land is by nature common to the people who dwell on it. The claim that land is by nature private is a little weird (and Hoppe seems to recognize that fact, as evidenced by his use of scare quotes). For instance, in a society based around small villages with surrounding farms, and extensive forested or wilderness areas, are the surrounding forests and wilderness private? In what sense would it even be meaningful to claim they are private if no one is using them, no one has the ability to restrict access to them, and the society itself does not treat them as private? And is the people sinning by not treating these wild lands as private?

      Also, there was far more legal freedom of movement in the middle ages than today. That travel was more difficult, but there were far fewer legal restrictions on movement.

      What happens in the rise of the modern state is not the conversion of private land into state land, but the conversion of common land into private and public land. These are monumental changes, and shouldn’t be ignored or downplayed, but it just doesn’t .

      The nuclear family is an artificial invention of relatively modern Europe. It may be indifferent, but it definitely can’t be the basic (natural) unit of analysis. It did not exist, at least as a part of society, in, say, Egypt prior to British colonialism. The family was very important, but typical living situations included brothers and their wives living together in one home.

      Reading the document you linked to:

      The higher productivity achieved under the division of labor and man’s ability to recognize this fact explain the origin of the most elementary and fundamental of human institutions: the family and the family household.

      This is obviously false, since the family long pre-dates man (I wouldn’t be surprised if there are common biological dynamics underpinning aspects of human reproductive ecology and plant reproductive ecology; but other primates group into familial units). And the family isn’t, in the first instance, a matter of division of labor; but of generation and raising of offspring.

      It is not, as we are told in
      kindergarten, in order to attain the “common good”

      I’m pretty sure very few people learn Aquinas in kindergarten, and those who do do not understand the subtleties of his argument. This sort of off-hand, un-argued, dismissal of real intellectual work–real intellectual work that has been politically important (this is seen in the fact that Bartolome de las Casas and Vitoria were both Thomists)–does not convince me that his arguments are worth taking seriously.

      • The land issue is important. It is worth remembering that the Westminster Larger Catechism condemns ‘unjust enclosures’.

        Also, the ‘nuclear family’ as we understand it is more peculiar to Northwestern Europe. Mediterranean and Eastern Europe have different marriage patterns. Europe is a patchwork quilt of forms of nuptuality and things only become much more complicated when you venture further afield. Other key European differences in European nuptuality were identified by John Hajnal.

        Differences in marriage patterns can be some of the most fundamental and significant cultural differences. The nuptuality divisions within Europe that John Hajnal identified correlate with larger differences in cultural values and behaviours on a host of criteria. There seems to be some sort of correlation between the Northwestern European low viscosity family models and democratic, high-trust, low corruption societies. Other societies’ marriage systems work differently, with different strengths and weaknesses.

        There are numerous significant dimensions of marriage culture that determine its shape in a given society. For instance: 1. occurrence of consanguineous marriage; 2. form of consanguineous marriage (e.g. cousin marriage on the father’s side in Arab societies); 3. forms and levels of exogamy; 4. strength of extended family and kinship structures; 5. inheritance practices; 6. the strength of relations between the generations; 7. patriarchalism; 8. typical age of marriage and relative ages of marriage partners; 9. degree of parental involvement in arranging marriage; 10. levels of reproduction; 11. child-rearing patterns (e.g. some societies privilege the maternal uncle in child-rearing because he is the male who can be sure of kinship with the child); 12. the generalization of maritally-oriented sexual norms to include even the unmarried (one of the noteworthy features of the same-sex marriage case, for instance, is the desire for gay marriage but not the conformity of the gay community to the sexual discipline of a marriage culture); 13. significance given to values such as romance and companionship; 14. practices around divorce; 15. cohabitation with parents or wider family; 16. patrilineality or matrilineality; 17. patrilocality or matrilocality. Many, many more such criteria could be mentioned. I get the impression that people use the term ‘nuclear’ without thinking much about all of these things and the contingency of the pattern of marriage they are celebrating. But they should.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I get the impression that people use the term ‘nuclear’ without thinking much about all of these things and the contingency of the pattern of marriage they are celebrating. But they should.

        Yes, I agree. (And the nuclearity of the “holy family” bothers me.) One of the other issues is that the nuclear family is two-generational. I suspect that the ways of relating to more distant ancestors is as varied as the arrangements you outline above.

        Also, I have comment above that I’ve tried posting several times, but disappears whenever I do.

      • I’ll check the spam filter. It has been over-zealous lately.

  7. Physiocrat1 says:

    To clarify a few points –

    Firstly, I was using nuclear family to refer to the primacy of the mother and father and their children as the primary unit of society and analysis; I wasn’t meaning the particular sense of them living in a separate household. If this is not the base unit of analysis what is?

    Secondly, I do think Hoppe’s explanation of the family is a little too rationalistic however you must understand what he means by family. IIRC from A Short History of Man

    He argues that the family as he defines it is essentially a form of privatisation following the establishment of settled agriculture. In a hunter gatherer society everything is communally owned. With the establishment of settled agriculture what I achieved in regards output of my patch creates the conditions for private ownership so that one can prevent others from leaching off you. This wasn’t the case in hunter gatherer societies as they were mostly parasitic of the land, they didn’t add to the output of the area beyond what was given in nature. Consequently, in hunter gatherer societies there was the communal raising of children. In settled agriculture on the other-hand, children could become a burden on the producers thus there needed to be a way to regulate birth and hence the family came into existence to effectively internalise the negative externalites. Prior to this, the family as Hoppe would understand it, simply did not exist.

    Thirdly, I broadly agree with you MNPeterson. The issue with land as a whole is difficult and I agree that the enclosures of common land are of huge importance and seem to ignored by everyone apart from Marxist historians. They begin in England with the advent of the modern state during the Tudor Period. Hoppe unfortunately takes a neo-Lockean approach to land ownership whereas I think an original use theory would be more appropriate. However I don’t think it alters my explanation of the immigration situation since there is clear private property surrounded by what we could call commons and immigrants can via government spending, unilaterally impose costs upon natives – immigration is largely state subsidised. So until the subsidy ends immigration restriction is necessary.

    I wouldn’t dismiss Hoppe too quickly since he’s not familiar with scholastic Thomist thinkers, not many are. Also the term common good has been much abused in the past, essentially a justification for forms of socialism, so his dismissal of the term isn’t surprising – also I have yet to here a cogent definition of what common good actually means, Further, he is German and is immersed in Enlightenment philosophy; he’s a strong Kantian rationalist. When you understand his very rationalist approach to problems his work is of great value although his most important work IMO his theoretical analysis of the origin of the state.

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