Black Bodies in Space

In a recent Washington Post column (in the Lifestyles section, to be sure, but a column nonetheless), Lonnae O’Neal complains that Star Wars: The Force Awakens does not give John Boyega a sufficiently heroic role to atone for Hollywood’s past misapprehensions about “the direction this country is really going in.” She quotes a Washington writer, Tim Gordon, who observes that “every time [Finn] picks up a lightsaber, he’s getting beat down and the lightsaber is getting taken from him.” That Boyega’s character is not an annoyingly flawless, Superman-like character seems to O’Neal and Gordon sufficient evidence that the creators of Star Wars are still mired in the racist past, although they admit that the film’s casting represents about as much progress as might be expected given the persistence of reactionary elements in the highest echelons of American filmmaking.

It’s not my intention to defend Star Wars to the hilt, or to offer a blanket condemnation of O’Neal’s style of socially conscious film criticism; movies certainly exercise an outsized influence on the American imagination and understanding their subliminal messages is a worthy project. But in fact O’Neal and Gordon’s criticism is a fascinating testament to the hollowness of the atheist approach to anti-racism that’s evidently been gaining ground of late in contemporary civil rights activism. Continue reading Black Bodies in Space

The refugee crisis & why America is different—part 1

This piece originally appeared at Musings On the Right. It is published here in modified form.

As someone interested in immigration from a conservative, American perspective, the recent migration crisis in Europe is fascinating to me. For starters, the genuine human tragedy is palpable. Even the most stringent of nativists must be moved by the images of humanity dying en masse in the Mediterranean Sea.

Furthermore even the most cheerful pro-immigration advocates can’t help but furrow their brows at the potential difficulties with assimilating and integrating migrants from North Africa and the Near East—especially Muslim migrants—in Europe.

These difficulties and America’s recent refugee crisis with Central American children has left me wondering about how the American situation compares to Europe. I want to analyze a few major questions: How does America differ from Europe? What are the pros and cons of Muslim immigration to Europe? Is there a legitimate comparison to be made between the European and American refugee situations? Continue reading The refugee crisis & why America is different—part 1

Why We Need Organized Religion: Starbucks Edition

Because in the wild west of American religion, this stuff happens.

A self-styled “evangelist” vlogger in Nevada was able to gin up yet another silly media frenzy with a video criticizing Starbucks for their red holiday-themed cup. This time it’s not old Pat Robertson on TBN, folks. It’s an idiot with an iPhone.

Now, the media is gleefully reporting this as if there is a massive Christian outrage campaign against Starbucks.

Since zero respectable Christians actually give a crap about Starbucks’ red cups, this to me suggests one more reason we need strong denominations and church authority structures—so idiots like this can be plausibly disclaimed and shut up. Christianity doesn’t have an image problem, it has an authority problem.

Also, Starbucks coffee is burnt and nasty. But that’s not what we’re talking about here, is it.

:sips Folgers:

Featured image CC BY-ND 2.0

Marxism’s exhausted legacy:
A conservative reads Norman Birnbaum

If there is really a such thing as “Cultural Marxism,” it is no doubt represented in the person of American socialist sociologist Norman Birnbaum, who has taught for a long time at Georgetown University. I happened to pick up his book The Radical Renewal: The Politics of Ideas in Modern America because it was either free or quite cheap. Also, it had a back-cover blurb by Robert Bellah, author of Habits of the Heart, which I enjoyed in my undergraduate political theory studies.

Recently I’ve been exchanging pleasantries on Twitter with a professed Marxist who is distressed by the lack of political solutions advanced by Marxists. I thought I would read this book on his behalf, since, if any discipline is likely to to advance political recommendations worth heeding, it is certainly sociology and not economics.

So I’ll be reading and blogging about this book with no particular program other than to explore and engage with Birnbaum’s ideas. Continue reading Marxism’s exhausted legacy:
A conservative reads Norman Birnbaum

Buzzfeed Bans ‘Basic;’
or, Slouching Toward Cultural Marxism

A writer for the alchemic Buzzfeed (a philosopher’s stone which turns all it touches into virulent internet content) explains “why we actually hate all things pumpkin spice.” Turns out, we don’t hate syrupy venti Starbucks lattes, glottal fry, or Ugg boots for their own sake, but for what they represent, which is a certain class identity characterized by

a banal existence, obsessed with Instagramming photos of things that themselves betray their basicness (other basic friends, pumpkin patches, falling leaves), tagging them #blessed and #thankful, and then reposting them to the basic breeding grounds of Facebook and Pinterest.

In other words, the conspicuous consumption of products which show the consumer to have uncultivated taste and lack of individuality. The writer suggests that our position of judging said consumer to be “basic” is rooted in class insecurity—the need to separate one’s own more discriminating tastes from those of the petit bourgeois mob.

One must give the writer some credit for seemingly having discovered the existence of class consciousness without the benefit of a liberal-arts education. However, her attempt at diagnosing “our” snobbery falls short. Continue reading Buzzfeed Bans ‘Basic;’
or, Slouching Toward Cultural Marxism

Should we get rid of the child tax credit?

Evangelical college president Greg Thornbury and libertarian biographer Amity Shlaes have written an editorial to explain why a flat tax is better for families than the present regime of child tax credits. (The article said “religious families,” although I don’t see what religion has to do with it other than the fact that my wife and I are married, and our habit of giving 10% of our income to a religious institution.)

A flat tax means everyone’s income is taxed at the same rate, presumably a lower rate than the current average tax rate. The wealthy still end up paying more in taxes as a function of their greater income; the poor pay in proportion to their poverty. It is certainly more fair than a system in which people are taxed both directly and indirectly—a system in which one’s ability to avoid excessive taxes depends on one’s facility with the byzantine complex of exemptions and loopholes built willy-nilly into the tax code.

However, federal income tax is just a fraction of the taxes we all pay. Continue reading Should we get rid of the child tax credit?

A Guy’s Guide to Islam

Recently I read a story written by Jeremy, a young man about my age who, like me, was raised in beautiful Maryland, in a conservative evangelical subculture. We both later came to abandon some, but not all, of the beliefs we were raised with. For me, this involved questioning fundamentalism, trying on Calvinism, and finding a home in the Anglican Way. For Jeremy, it involved being kicked out of the house by his Catholic and Seventh-Day Adventist parents, rejecting Christianity but realizing he still believed in God, trying out other religions, and finally settling on Islam.

In many ways, the teachings and practices of Islam were in accord with Jeremy’s most sincerely-held convictions. For instance, he was struck by its emphasis on equality before God. “Nearly everything I believed and actively tried to practice in my life,” he writes, “was present, to my great surprise, in Islam.” He appreciated that Islam requires its adherents to study its beliefs to become better people, and that it recognizes that sometimes people must take up arms for what they believe in. Continue reading A Guy’s Guide to Islam

Conservatism and progress

Near the end of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamozov, the eldest brother Dmitri is wrongly accused of his father Fyodor’s murder. Spectators at the trial had mostly assumed Dmitri’s guilt, and many in the crowd felt that Dmitri’s personal wrongs against them were being avenged. Only the reader has witnessed the scene in which Dmitri, seething with rage at his wretched adulterer of a father, grasps a pestle in his pocket—and then, mastering himself, swallows his anger and backs out of his plan to kill his forebear. Only the reader has seen Fyodor’s illegitimate son Smerdyakov admit to the murder.

The Brothers Karamozov concludes, some months after Dmitri’s trial, with the funeral of a peasant boy named Ilyusha. Earlier, Dmitri had learned that Ilyusha’s impoverished father, the “Captain,” was involved in Fyodor Karamozov’s illicit business dealings. Dmitri, who had been swindled by the Captain, exacted a humiliating revenge, dragging him through the street by his beard as his son and neighbors looked on. Ilyusha’s schoolmates teased him violently for the incident, throwing stones that hit him hard in his chest. Ilyusha died from his wounds two days after Dmitri was found guilty for a murder he did not commit.

No court could ever convict Dmitri for Ilyusha’s death. The legal system can only sentence the person immediately responsible for a murder. But Dostoevsky’s genius shines a floodlight on the intricate and thorny web of moral cause and effect. Continue reading Conservatism and progress

Farting around at National Review

Conservatives: we don’t have to freak out about National Review. They haven’t “sold out,” and they haven’t endorsed same-sex marriage, as you can see from articles like these. Their only error is that they continue to employ a managing editor who suffers from intellectual and moral imbecility.

But we must offer them sympathy in this. One wouldn’t, after all, want to cast such a person out on his own resources. He might be driven into prostitution sex work (not that there’s anything wrong with that, by his reasoning).

Joseph Bottum had at least the decency to be wrong in a literary and interesting way. Not so Jason Lee Stearts, whose entire argument—all five thousand, four hundred gassy words of it—rests on an inability to define or use the word “fulfillment” properly. I’m not kidding—there is literally nothing of substance there.

Karl Marx quipped that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Unfortunately, Stearts’s article doesn’t even rise to the level of farce. It’s just flatulence, and not even of the kind that’s likely to provoke intellectual climate change.

It’s not the end of civilization—it’s just the end of you

I’ve been too busy with other things to write much lately. My wife and I welcomed our first child, and on top of that I have been pleasantly busy in my day job. I hope to gather some interesting thoughts and return to this website soon. In the mean time, you may appreciate—if you have not already read it—something I wrote at Jordan Bloom’s invitation for Front Porch Republic. (You should read and support FPR.) This expresses some of the primary reasons I’m skeptical of the “social contract” as an adequate explanation for how our social order is put together, especially when it comes to the institution of the family. This skepticism also applies to civil government although I didn’t cover that as much.

“. . . order evolves not as a simple compact among equals but as the complex human response to the inescapable fact of our biological and social inequality.”

You can read it here: “Alienated Children and Inalienable Rights.”

Speaking of social contract and the family, Michael Brendan Dougherty has written a brilliant and lucid explanation of the two modes of family—natural or contractual—which are in conflict in Western society right now. To me, this appears to be the most important political and social justice issue of our time. Dougherty writes:

“In fact, guaranteeing the right to procreate to same-sex couples practically demands the erasure of biological parenthood, as same-sex couples cannot have children without involving a member of the opposite sex, somehow. And equality demands even more. To create the equal experience of full parenthood for both, the child’s curiosity (or claims) on his or her biological parents must be obviated and denied, whatever the heartbreak.”

Although people like Mr. Dougherty and I are accused of being on the “wrong side of history” for taking the side of children and the natural order, the truth of the matter is that the liberal experiment is falling apart and we need to preserve these natural institutions so that civilization can be sustained while we look for a humane political consensus.

I hope that the Irish, of all people, recognize this, and that they will once more save civilization for future generations.

“Vote No” poster from Ireland

[The quip entitling this post was borrowed from the title of one of “Spengler’s” books.]

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