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

The best hipster baby names

A major principle of being a hipster is that you want to be the trend-setter. You want to be ahead of whatever will be popular in the future. Once the bandwagon starts rolling, it’s too late to jump on.

After all “hipster” is mostly used as a term of derision for poseurs who are late to the cultural party. This is the hipster double bind: if you are a real hipster, you don’t want to be called a hipster. Your image must be new or ironically out of place. This eventually becomes impossible, which is why all hipsters tend to look alike.

From “My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter”

With that in mind, naming one’s child is among the most difficult of hipster decisions. Continue reading The best hipster baby names

Hipster liturgists: or, Why I am an Episcopalian

There is a phenomenon which you have probably heard about if you are an evangelical Christian, which is that Young People These Days Are Really Into Liturgy.

Found on Steve Woodworth's page (click for link)
The Liturgical Hipster (found at Steve Woodworth’s blog)

Christianity Today may be responsible for this perception, since there has been a trend among its younger writers to promote liturgical forms of worship.  Now, the backlash has begun. In an online Christianity Today piece which basic anti-liturgical protestants are no doubt posting all over Facebook, writer Kirsten Guidero paints a picture of a liturgical service full of people who take Holy Communion and then hours later are back on the streets murdering people:

The service was undeniably beautiful. Dedicated pastors and volunteers had planned it for weeks. There were banners, incense, and altar decorations. The sanctuary was packed: more than 1,000 folks overflowed the seats, latecomers standing along the sides and back. The congregation participated with gusto. But after receiving Communion, they marched out of the sanctuary. By the closing hymn, only a few folks dotted the pews that just five minutes before had been filled to bursting.

Some left to cram in work, but many in this particular group were on their way to that night’s parties. In another five hours, many would be passed out on the couches of friends or strangers, a few would be rushed by ambulance for alcohol poisoning treatment, and, most horrific, some would be sexually assaulting their peers or suffering such violence. It was the weekend, and the community in question was a Christian university.

Now if any fool had actually been going around claiming that “liturgy” was going to replace discipleship, I can see why we would be having this conversation. Except precisely nobody is that stupid. Continue reading Hipster liturgists: or, Why I am an Episcopalian

You’re doing it wrong

Clueless politicians on the right and left are trying to relate to our generation by unironically appropriating internet memes.

dogesuranceExhibit A: BIG GOVERNMENT TROLLING.

This appropriation of doge by the Department of Health and Human Services is the latest in a series of terrible attempts to use internet memes to make apathetic Millennials want to get health insurance. Previously featuring Pajama Boy, Brosurance, mom jeans, and so on.

Why does HHS think that doge will make people sign up for health insurance? And why do they seem so darn clueless about how stupid it looks?

Now lest you think this is a problem with rich, old, out of touch liberals, I present:

unnamedExhibit B: REPUBLICAN HIPNESS.

Get a selfie with Sarah Palin. A shout-out from Newt (eww). Snag some swag (Pictured: Obama bobbleheads). And if you still want to go to their conference after these horrors, you can enter to win an all-expenses-paid trip. Just click “I’m In.”

This isn’t what Millennials want (although we do take selfies, laugh at doge, and use memes—ironically—to make fun of people.

Republicans and the Obama administration are saving us the trouble.

By the way: the only young people who still think selfies are cool can’t vote yet. Stop trying, politicians. You’re making yourselves look bad.

You know what would be nice? If politicians started treating Millennials as adults, and behaving like adults themselves.

But maybe that’s too much to hope for from Baby Boomer politicians.

The End of Hipstery and the Last Culture

By Jacob Stubbs

All-Inclusive Disclaimer: In this essay I do not necessarily use philosophers’ thoughts as they intended. Any reference to a philosopher will probably be a heterodox or downright incorrect interpretation. I do not use Hegel as a “hipster” would, nor do I claim that Hegel is himself a hipster. His great critic Søren Kierkegaard might have something to do with hipsters, especially since he was into the whole irony thing, but I do not have the purity of heart to elucidate this connection…

***

G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx are known as philosophers of History. That is, they focus on the process of man making himself and focusing on himself in such a way that he betters the world through technology. Alexandre Kojéve, the French philosopher who created the European Union, synthesized Hegel and Marx to argue that society lives at the “end of history.” For Kojéve, we live in a time where man has evolved to the point where all political, philosophical, and cultural developments have reached their highest apex and man lives as truth.

This “end of history” appeared with the advent of liberal democracy, given that democracy has found a way in which everyone’s rights can be respected so that each  person has the freedom or liberation to pursue satisfaction as he sees fit. The dialectical processes that fueled the movement of history have ultimately negated themselves and history has entered a “void of nothingness.” We see this happening tangibly in the ways that man has gained an understanding of nature, made technology, and used technology to counteract or negate nature. This led to a synthesis of the natural and contra-natural that causes man to live in “nothingness,” a realm that is beyond the demands of nature. Continue reading The End of Hipstery and the Last Culture

A Self-Conscious Scene

by Leah Rosenzweig

It is about 11:30 p.m. and I have mistakenly revealed my fascination with existentialist philosophy. I immediately stare into my drink. My blurred reflection reveals one eyebrow and a semi-shiny eyelid masked with a greenish film. PowerAde on the rocks. The figure before me is male, about six foot, and lanky. He sports a saggy maroon beanie and an expensive olive utility jacket. He begins, his voice purposefully sounding sedated,

“You like existentialism? Cool.”

“Yes, it is.” I gaze to a far corner of the room.

“Awesome. Like Camus . . . dude’s the shit.”

“I guess so.”

“Yeah . . . you know, Sisyphus? Crazy shit—”

Suddenly he turns—caught by a friend’s beckon. His dissertation on The Myth of Sisyphus would sadly, I believe, have amounted to something as meaningless and periphery as his beanie. Because, with my extensive experience basking in its presence, I’ve found that everything about the contemporary hipster amounts to just another borrowed signifier or identifier. The problem with hipsters today isn’t what they are so much as what they aren’t. They aren’t thinkers, nor are they individuals.

The beatniks of the ‘50s and ‘60s, were signified by ideology, thought, and literary zeal. The antiwar movement was alive. People read things in retaliation, said what they believed, and wore what they did because they were broke or simply liked it. The purity and practice of the original hipsters died with them and their memory remains only in clothing styles, empty references, and “that one time I read Ginsberg’s America in high school.” Idiosyncrasy has been put to bed—there is, really, no such thing any more; and in its place is the mass-marketed “counterculture.”

Like a page of Where’s Waldo, but it’s all Waldo, the hipster herd is a magnificent display of banal aestheticism—metaphorical murals that often assume the shape of a restaurant, bar, neighborhood, or even an entire city. Fashions represent large-scale identities, and identities are fashions. Face it: the beat died with the beats. The hipster is dead, and we are his murderers.

 ***

Image credit: Flickr user eastsidephil

Saturday, March 9, 2013. Le Bain, The Standard, High Line.

The meatpacking district does not live down to its name. Several windows display cowhide dress forms; some totally bare or even tipped over, others sporting taupe frocks with studded cowl necks, or large fringe circle scarves worn atop animal-spotted denim. The Standard, too, is oxymoronic in name. From its entrance, I note that the corridor is lit in sepia. The building itself is a characteristic byproduct of modern architecture. Its eastern wall straddles the High Line Park. A living testament of recycled genius, the High Line is essentially an aerial greenway constructed to preserve the century-old railway. It is urban greening at its finest, but in the summer months, when the West Side becomes an amplification of year-round Manhattan squalor, it is like Le Bain at the Standard Hotel.

I first notice the men. I say this because, as a woman guilty of measuring myself to the smells, curls, waistlines, and posh of other women, I am not typically attuned to men when anywhere. But here the men are extraordinary. They give more kisses than my dog. They come in two dispositions. One is revved-up, chattery, pocket-scarfed and jacketed. The other is dark, small-eyed, hands-in-pockets, ear-ringed, dead-beat and windowed with bold glasses frames. Inwardly, though, they do not seem to lack many similarities. They all eye me, as we staggeringly join one another on a baseboard-lit elevator. The lighting is ideal: dark as hell, so everyone looks sexy, if visible at all. The women are taller than me and it is perhaps the single moment of my semi-adult life that I am most aware of my own height.

I am accompanied by a friend, who we’ll call Stef. To ensure that our transfer from sepia corridor to 18th floor is nothing short of expedient, she has enlisted the company of her friend, who we’ll call Ramón. His hair is combed over and visibly moussed into a perfectly side-swept, coiffed creation. His crisp and skin-tight clothing emits stale fumes of vodka and marijuana. Ramón zigzags through hordes of women clad in black and animal fur, fingers, knuckles, and cartilage decked and pierced with gemstones and other platinum or brass-colored obscenities. As we enter the room adjacent to Le Bain’s main vortex of drink, dance, and revelry, Ramón begins kissing cheeks and greeting public relations types with sing-songy darlings and dears. This new room, formally known as the Boom Boom Room, brims with swanky cocktail servers in white tuxedos and crisp gowns.

The bar is like a Roman bath, a gold-walled oval implanted in the floor. Flanked by crackly gold columns and embellished with an ivory marble backsplash, it is a fermented tub fit for Caesar. I suddenly realize that someone is buying us a round. I am shaking hands with French girls, French guys, someone named Ivan. Meanwhile, I am handed a translucent lime-colored beverage, a far cry from the smooth, un-iced ochre I prefer. Ramón pulls Ivan into him, his arms wrapping round the front of Ivan’s waist. Sticking his hands into Ivan’s pockets, Ramón snickers. It is the hour of unbridled laughter. Women and men alike are laughing all around me. These laughs are accompanied by empty gestures, mindless hair twirls, and “I’ll have another Tanqueray and Tonic”s.

My self-confidence has plummeted and I am beginning to wonder whether my inability to sway my hips and swirl my tumbler about in mid-air is marking me incapable of living the Dionysian. What am I doing wrong? It dawns on me then, with an overwhelming sense of metanoia. The tyranny of self-awareness is too evident in situations like this. I am myself far too self-conscious, even as I am acutely and frighteningly in tune with the self-conscious tendency of those around me. What am I doing here,or anywhere if I can’t seem to make myself fit?

Perhaps half a century ago, when mainstream society was a force to be reckoned with—when good little soldiers “pinned” their gals and spun them around down at the town rec center and no one thought about why—people really did reckon with it; they really said no to it, and they became the counterculture. Now, the dominant “counterculture” resonates with about as much authenticity as Bob Dylan’s shades or Ginsberg’s suspenders, divorced from the men who turned these objects into icons. And here I am, thinking about it, and somehow that too feels out of place. What is presented now as “counter” or not the norm now involves submission to a Nietzschean “slave morality,” a moral blueprint that requires denying one’s own free, individual will and submitting to the scene.

At the bar, I am totally enveloped in the celebrity-seeking agendas of my company, most of whom I do not know. This does it for me. The babbling chorus has completely unraveled and I am actually thinking about things now—thoughts I cannot abate . . .

***

In a standstill moment of total situational rebirth, my inner loathing of all around me is vindicated. Something is wrong with this Instagram™-filtered sea. Then again, a sea is more forgiving to diversity. Here, I feel like a salmon, trapped in a school of trout. Moreover, here at Le Bain, diversity is muffled not only within the group, but even within the person. For instance, let’s take the girl beside me with the Rosie the Riveter bandana, chunky cat-face sweater and ripped nylons, raving about how she spent her first six months out of college following a band called Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head* from Seattle to Audubon. The self-conscious scene of contemporary hipsterdom dictates a very one-dimensional profile by which she must abide.

I would bet she’s an atheist (a clairvoyant at best), her rusted (and she likes it that way) vintage Volkswagen Rabbit is stamped with the Human Rights Campaign logo and SUPPORT LOCAL FARMS, she has 26 canvas tote bags for grocery-stowing purposes, she lives in an old bungalow in Williamsburg which she shares with a watercolorist and a couple who conducts in-home sex therapy and sells pickled things at the Sunday farmers’ market, and her favorite film is Wet Hot American Summer. When you pay the membership fee, you receive the starter package, or perhaps, the starter package receives you—that’s contemporary hipsterism. As I stand atop the covered ‘70s style cruise ship swimming pool, I feel, more than ever, a strong connection to my literary brother Sal Paradise. We are two tramps under the same night sky, crying for our brothers and sisters:

Somebody had tipped the American continent like a pinball machine and all the goofballs had come rolling to LA in the southwest corner. I cried for all of us. There was no end to the American sadness and the American madness. Someday we’ll all start laughing and roll on the ground when we realize how funny it’s been.

Except I wasn’t laughing—not yet. My eyes welled with tears as I stood, back to a wall, trying not to incur platform shoe-induced contusions to the feet. But before a single tear could break loose, I was released. We were going.

Le Bain taught me everything about social class I never wished to learn. The dustiest and most decrepit corners of this metaphysical world opened up to me, but I was too small to complete the remodeling job myself. If this was what the ‘50s and ‘60s intellectual rebel—the questioner, the writer, the creator—had become, then what really was the sociology of the contemporary hipster if the new homogenous herds assumed the old name and trashed the meaning? They are like the mannequins: identical; naked, yet festooned with gaudy signifiers. This is why I retreated. I cried for all of us.

***

Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac

Kerouac’s post-war literary dominance stood as a totem for counter-culture. To create a culture in retaliation to war was a raw representation of disciplined harmonization of life with one’s individual will. Kerouac’s hipster was a far cry from today’s Dionysian herd of the same name. In an interview on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show in 1959, a mere two years after the publication of the Beat Generation’s Holy Bible, On the Road, Kerouac is asked by the goofy-eyed, hook-nosed, piano-playing Plymouth, “How would you define the word beat.” Kerouac is quick to reply, but rather than providing a definition, he reads from his holy novel. And, aside from Plymouth’s wildly incongruous swanky cocktail parlor-esque accompaniment, it is beautiful. He reads with vigor, then comments, “Anyways I wrote this book because we’re all gonna die.” It is a curious statement, loaded with purpose.

***

In a 1968 episode of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, a drunken Jack Kerouac discusses the hipster and the post-beat insurgence of pre-apocalyptic art, writing, and music. Buckley (who, it must be acknowledged, is sporting a seersucker suit jacket) opens the episode with jolly raillery:

“The topic tonight is the hippies—an understanding of whom we must, I guess, acquire or die painfully.”

When first introduced, Kerouac is sweaty, evidently drunk, and smoking a cigar in drawn-out inhales, followed by frantic, yet erudite puffs. It is at first a sad scene, like the fallen Christ. He is a goddamn mess, but still, a goddamn mess that is not afraid to state beliefs and take sides, even if those sides seem to contradict or fail to align with a particular prototype. He blurs his brilliance with infantile displays as he verbally flips-off his intellectual counterparts, Ph.D. and author of The Hippie Trip Yablonsky, and artist and pacifist Sanders, by correcting their pronunciation of foreign words and emitting a disruptive slew of moans and “Hah’s!” Yet, drunk as he may be, Kerouac exudes brilliance amid hiccups and facial twangs.

buckley-cigar_02Buckley: Now Jack—Mr. Kerouac—to what extent do you believe that the Beat Generation is related to the hippies? What do they have in common? Was this a revolution from one to the other?

Kerouac: It’s just the older ones. See I’m 46. These kids are 18. But see, it’s the same movement, which was apparently some kind of Dionysian movement in late civilization and which I did not intend any more than I suppose Dionysius did, or whatever his name was.

Although the last two minutes of the episode are almost solely devoted to Sanders’ vehement profession of the hippie’s inclination toward non-violent forms of protest in a war-immersed society, it is Kerouac who gets the last word. Quoting the Bible. Kerouac, was, self-professedly, a devout Catholic. As described by fellow Beat Generation originator, Allen Ginsberg, he was “a very unique cat—a French Canadian Hinayana Buddhist Beat Catholic savant.” Kerouac, like many original beats, was a wild, motley mix of ideologies. His identity was not handed to him, there was no Wikipedia page outlining his habits or institutionalized behaviors, nothing really was institutionalized. He just was. At the close of the interview, Kerouac turns to Sanders, eyes three-quarters of the way closed and mouth perfectly puckered and rounded, aping unbeautiful Lowellian semantics: “Beware of false prophets who come unto you dressed in sheep’s clothing, but underneath, they are ravening wolves.” It is a wild, uncontained display, but a great one, nonetheless.

***

Now Ginsberg, who called Kerouac “a unique cat,” also exuded idiosyncrasy. Though like Kerouac he was not always a charmer either in or out of the limelight, he assumed a multi-faceted identity that seems to be exactly what’s been lost among contemporary hipsters. In a 1994 interview with BBC, Ginsberg stops the interviewer to correct his opening inquiry: “Now, the beard and the hair are trimmed, you wear a suit, a collar, and a tie, but is the REAL Allen Ginsberg still in there?” (Note: “realness” is presumed to be something that can be lost through a simple change in grooming and dress). Ginsberg, unperturbed, interjects:

Though, I’m a Buddhist and I think the Buddists would say there is no real, permanent self. In any case, there are many appearances of self, so I am certainly a Beat poet, and I’m certainly Jewish, and I’m certainly gay, and I’m certainly Jewish, and I’m certainly a meditator, and I suppose a part of the counter-culture in America which is now under attack by the neo-conservative, theo-political televangelists . . . So, I don’t know if there is a real Allen Ginsberg.

The hipster Ginsberg posits, then, is one whose most revolutionary feat was the reshaping of identity. The mass movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s did not invent nor market the countercultural identity of the beats. The mass movement was in place as a comfort zone, an antinomian framework which enabled young, confused, questioning men and women to learn, be, and create whatever the hell they wanted in whatever way they wanted.

Kerouac’s hipster, his beat movement-er, had faith, a strong political opinion that wasn’t tied to anything mainstream, and was always aching to lend an ear or a word to a any such riveting, thoughtful conversation. The bars were a place for drinking, yes, but they were also for the intellect—a place to exchange ideas and theories. And people wrote. Yes, in On the Road and The Dharma Bums, it is difficult not to notice all the writing that happens. It was admirable and talked about; it was more than a fad. But now, even if our ideas and our styles feel and seem to ourselves to be wholly invented, we must fear that they will soon appear in Cosmopolitan or on that postmodernism readers message board—right there, yes, we know the word: TREND. In Rob Horning’s acclaimed 2009 Pop Matters blog post, “The Death of the Hipster,” he writes:

In always pushing ourselves to repudiate hipsterism, we may drive ourselves to new ways to conceive of our identity—but what good are these if these are always ripe for becoming the new modes of hipsterdom? . . . How do we stop running that race, stop worrying about the degree to which we are “hip,” the degree to which our treasured self-conceptions can be made into clichés against our will?

***

Today’s hipsters are the wolves in sheep’s clothes, no doubt. Or rather, vegan clothes—but they are certainly wearing clothes nonetheless. And oh, the clothes!

Urban Dictionary’s definition of the modern hipster is a characteristic representation of customary hipster dress, where to find a hipster on a map, and social conformity to hipster norms. A condensed version of the panoply of definitions on the site would look like this:

  • A composite of individuals with a certain bohemian life situation and lifestyle.
  • Lives in a young, artsy neighborhood of a major city such as Wicker Park in Chicago, Greenwich Village in Manhattan, or Williamsburg in Brooklyn. [ . . . ]
  • Favorite band is likely Bright Eyes, The Arcade Fire, The Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines, The Strokes, or something of that nature.
  • Watches independent and foreign films and reads independent books, magazines, and periodicals.
  • Dresses in progressive yet retro fashion that is often changing.
  • Eats chic ethnic food and prefers organic and Fair Trade fruits and vegetables.
  • Favorite beer is Pabst Blue Ribbon.

One must understand that intellect rarely factors into these remarkably superficial definitions One must also understand, at a very existential level, that this is a definition: a remarkably un-beat mechanism; a marketed identity. Club-going, Nylon-reading hipsters are ravenous wolves. Like many of those who surrounded me at Le Bain, they stand for chunky sweaters, beer labels, and neighborhoods. They are also the reason why my own chunky sweaters and love of local produce falls under suspicion, making it necessary for me to apologize for my tastes. And though they may be spotted reading an old battered copy of The Dharma Bums, they are not Kerouacian beats. No, they are the herd.

I can’t help but ask myself when this paradigm shift occurred; when counterculture became trendy. What began as a rough-and-tough rebuttal to pastel-painted kitchens, Kenmore appliances, and Joe Shmoe mercenaries has become an unsubstantiated façade. The hipsters of today go to Le Bain. They do their best to appear as floral-printed paupers. What is wrong with this? Well, it’s plainly written right here: THEY DO THEIR BEST. Doing one’s best and breaking a buck—bending over backwards—to appear as a hitchhiking, reclusive poet is an inherently flawed act. Hitchhiking Sal Paradise wore the same shoes till the soles fells out. His patchy jacket withstood exhaust smoke and booze stains. It was not bought that way. He did not “do his best” to look, to act.

The herd is a transcontinental mass movement. Individuals everywhere are sporting ripped, stained, tribal-looking, baggy, hooded uniforms. Everywhere there are club-goers who, like schoolgirls, turn to their neighbor, marking their straggly hair, suspendered satin trousers and tousled chemises. Does it ever dawn on them that they are facing their own mirror image—the image of the American boy or girl whose compass is always pointing toward regularity? At Le Bain, all the pretty kids stand, swaying, in a shameful sort of homeostasis.

This is the story of America. Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do.
Jack Kerouac


* This is a real band.

That Tricky Montaigne!

Montaigne

Montaigne gets the desire for alternative lifestyles. Hipsters leave suburbs for the slums and degraded places. And they dress weird, which causes others to heap contempt on them, though the hipsters have a bit of contempt for others as well. However, Montaigne seems to think such suffering is carried out for the sake of virtue; my prognosis of hipsterdom is not so optimistic.

How is Being Conservative Like Being a Hipster?

We’re repulsive, arrogant snobs and everyone hates us!

But really, there’s a great analogy between the hipster approach to “stuff” culture and the conservative approach to “ideas” culture. First, some background. In this video, Mike Rugnetta of PBS Idea Factory explains how hipsters appropriate the cultural capital of other subcultures and eras.

So you see how, unlike a “pure” subculture, hipsters build their culture by taking the interesting bits from everywhere and leaving what they don’t like. Conservatives do the same thing with political ideologies. Conservatism, unlike libertarianism or Marxism, isn’t really an “-ism.” It’s a disposition; almost, like hipsterism, a posture. It’s an attitude about how more than a rigid system of what. That doesn’t mean conservatives don’t believe in the “what” of things. But this belief is tinged with some degree of irony or caution. This enables conservatives to evaluate and appreciate, yea, appropriate elements of other political systems without actually entering into those subcultures.

Conservatives can identify:

. . . with the liberal concern for democratic openness and inalienable rights . . .

. . . the socialist concern for human welfare . . .

. . . the Lockean appreciation of labor value . . .

. . . the Marxian critique of exploitation and commodification . . .

. . . the capitalistic appreciation of currency and credit . . .

. . . the libertarian concern for individual liberty and skepticism of big government . . .

. . . the Green skepticism of corporate bigness and technocentrism . . .

. . . the technologist‘s concern for solutions that work . . .

. . . the humanist‘s love of truth and free inquiry . . .

. . . the open-minded, scientific curiosity of sociology . . .

. . . the religious openness to divine wisdom . . .

. . . the moralist‘s certainty . . .

. . . and the philosopher‘s skepticism.

Conservatism is able to bring elements of all of these otherwise opposing ideologies together in a remarkable unity, because the conservative disposition is one of caution and integration. It is open to everything and at the same time careful not to get drawn too far in one narrow ideological direction.

The strength of conservatism—that it is not an ideology—is also its weakness. Ideological thought tends to be more passionate, partake of more certitude, and have more devoted followers. It is also more likely to be wrong and produce negative unintended effects, often undermining its own ideals through impatience. Conservatism is more reticent, less concerned with action, more interested in maintaining the good things that already exist than bringing forth new ones. It is not very cohesive as a “movement.”

And certainly every conservative you meet will tend to lean toward some of the above ideologies more than to others. That’s normal human diversity. But by the same token, adherents of these different groups may find that becoming more “conservative” may help them to appreciate and build connections with other groups working toward common ends.

Post-Evangelical Blogging for Dummies: Harnessing the Zeitgeist for Fun and Prophet

A previous version of this article was published at Juicy Ecumenism and The Aquila Report.

***

A lot of people come up to me at conferences, to which, as a very successful hipster-progressive post-evangelical blogger, I have been invited to speak, asking me how they, too, can make a name for themselves as a voice for the disaffected semi-faithful.

Normally a successful writer conceals the hidden mainspring of his success with golden platitudes like “insight” and “perseverance.” I used to be reluctant to divulge the true secret of my success, until I realized that, like Washington politics, progressive opinion is not a zero-sum game. To paraphrase the great Thomas Friedman, the world is flat, hot, and bothered. So now I give the following advice (and invite them back to my suite for more in-depth conversation if they’re cute).

Post-evangelical blogging is not for everyone. If you are going to be successful you need to have a few important things settled from the outset:

A. Your personal background. It is imperative that as a post-evangelical blogger, you grew up in circumstances that the average 18-29 year old evangelical reader would recognize, such as a non-denominational Bible church. This experience serves as your fundamental reference point for any assumptions or general statements you make about Christian fellowships, beliefs, or behavior.

B. Your departure. It is equally important that you now look back upon your formative circumstances from a point of critical detachment. Your Christian perspective should express itself primarily in contradistinction to this background, which you share with the majority of your readers. (If you are uneasy with calling yourself a “Christian” you may refer to yourself as a “Jesus-follower” or a person of “deep yet questioning faith.”)

C. Your crisis. If at all possible you should narrate your grievances with the ways Christians you used to know treated people, either yourself or others. Use the fact that they acted badly as evidence that their deeply-held beliefs are false.

D. Your re-evaluation of Christian moral teaching. Observe ways in which the beliefs of Christians you used to know differ from those generally accepted by the surrounding culture, and how those same Christians were themselves incapable of living up to their own standards. This shows that they were wrong to maintain those standards, and also that current cultural practices are more natural and authentically human.

With these preliminaries in place, the main thing about post-evangelical blogging is to be relevant. Relevance may seem difficult to understand, but it is actually achieved through an easy and–dare I say–mechanical process.

The Secret to Achieving Post-Evangelical Relevance

As a prospective progressive blogger, you are no doubt familiar with the organs of contemporary thought: Jezebel, The Daily Beast, Andrew Sullivan, Paul Krugman–the list goes on. The trick of post-evangelical blogging is to take the progressive issue du jour, be it gay marriage, birth control, gun control, abortion, or assisted suicide, and re-interpret it as a fundamental and authentic challenge to the assumptions of the suburban evangelicalism which, for you, represents the sum total of Christian belief and experience.

Explain the personal conflict you experience between your evangelical roots and what you now truly believe is a devastating challenge to those formerly-held beliefs. Suggest that instead of being so quick to oppose the issue, Christians should extend “grace” (don’t define) and a “generous response.” Above all, they should “re-evaluate” their views in light of this challenge. Remember: “Questioning” is a one-way street.

Write at great length about authenticity and humanity–or rather, assign those terms to whatever culturally-acceptable practice you are promoting.

If you are a man, express a deep and sensitive regard for feminists and those with alternative sexual lifestyles, and be quick to reevaluate your male, presumably heteronormative perspective in light of new information about what is culturally ascendent.

As a general rule you don’t actually need to do the difficult intellectual work of re-evaluating anything, as long as you talk about doing it. Your audience doesn’t know the difference.

To strengthen your message, write in extremely short paragraphs containing not more than a sentence or two, sometimes just a single phrase. Avoid capital letters and you will be as raw and authentic as my unfiltered cigarettes.

Finally, avoid unhelpful discussions of the concept of “sin.” Serious Christian intellectuals are working hard to wrest the language of “sin” from the patriarchal power structures which have used it to repress people since the rise of Judaism. Undoing four thousand years of oppression isn’t done in an afternoon. After all, even Jesus, though he claimed to have overthrown the authority of Caesar, Satan, and the Sanhedrin, refrained from challenging the all-male priesthood, which has perpetuated this idea of “sin.” This is not amateur hour, and you can save yourself a lot of trouble by avoiding “sin” altogether.

I hope this advice helps. Here’s my card. What do you say to drinks at my place after this?

***

The opinions expressed in this article are not my own, nor are they those of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, where this article first appeared.

Introducing the “Old Fogey Rehabilitation Project”

Recently a publication we admire began to send emails inviting donations for a “Hipster Rehabilitation Project” to develop their readership among a younger generation via “enhanced investment in Facebook and Twitter.” As a card-carrying hipster (see my tagline below, however) and regular reader of The American Spectator in both digital and print form, I welcome this development. @AmSpec is working toward the future, and not just by adopting the technology of the present: they are actually paying attention to the real challenge of bringing up a new generation of conservative writers, readers, and, eventually, donors. Too many conservative organizations concentrate their appeal on my grandparents’ generation: a great and patriotic generation to be sure, and a good donor base—but one that unfortunately is dying out. The American Spectator is trying to be different. Their writing is both timeless and relevant, avoiding irrelevant controversy over Hawaiian birth certificates, Super Gulps, or First Lady junkets. Continue reading Introducing the “Old Fogey Rehabilitation Project”