Politics as Substitute Religion
David Gelernter,a professor of computer science at Yale, has noted the snarling hatred that seems to dominate the left in this country and believes he understands its source:
Where does the asymmetry come from? American conservatives tend to be Christians or Jews. Liberals tend to be atheists or agnostics. (Yes, there are exceptions—to nearly everything, always; but that doesn’t mean we can stop thinking.) Almost all human beings need religion, as subway-riders need overhead grab bars. The religious impulse strikes conservatives and liberals alike. But conservatives usually practice the religion of their parents and ancestors; liberals have mostly shed their Judaism or Christianity, and politics fills the obvious spiritual gap. You might make football, rock music, or hard science your chosen faith. Some people do. But politics, with its underlying principles and striking public ceremonies, is the obvious religion substitute.
Hence the gross asymmetry of modern politics. For most conservatives, politics is just politics. For most liberals, politics is their faith, in default of any other; it is the basis of their moral life. Continue reading
Kirsten Powers, who is rapidly becoming my favorite liberal, is a liberal who actually prizes tolerance and intellectual diversity, and she is noticing that she is becoming a rather rare bird among her ideological colleagues:
This week, a trail-blazing woman was felled in the new tradition of commencement shaming. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde withdrew from delivering the commencement speech at Smith College following protests from students and faculty who hate the IMF. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, this trend is growing. In the 21 years leading up to 2009, there were 21 incidents of an invited guest not speaking because of protests. Yet, in the past five-and-a-half years, there have been 39 cancellations.
Don’t bother trying to make sense of what beliefs are permitted and which ones will get you strung up in the town square. Our ideological overlords have created a minefield of inconsistency. While criticizing Islam is intolerant, insulting Christianity is sport. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is persona non grata at Brandeis University for attacking the prophet Mohammed. But Richard Dawkins describes the Old Testament God as “a misogynistic … sadomasochistic … malevolent bully” and the mob yawns. Bill Maher calls the same God a “psychotic mass murderer” and there are no boycott demands of the high-profile liberals who traffic his HBO show. Continue reading
Daniel Greenfield at Sultan Knish nails it:
Our modernity is style rather than substance. It’s Obama grinning. It’s the right font. It’s the right joke. It’s that sense that X knows what he’s doing because he presents it the right way. There’s nothing particularly modern about that. In most cultures, the illusion of competence trumps the real thing. It’s why so many countries are so badly broken because they go by appearances, rather than by results.
The idea that we should go by results, rather than by processes, by outcomes rather than by appearances, was revolutionary. For most of human history, we were trapped in a cargo cult mode. We did the “right things” not because they led to the right results, but because we had decided that they were the right things. There were many competent people, but they were hamstrung by rigid institutions that made it impossible to go from Point A to Point B in the shortest possible time.
And we’re right back there today. The entire process of ObamaCare was the opposite of going from Point A to Point B. It was the least competent and efficient solution every step of the way. There was no reason to think that its website would be any better. The process that led to it being dumped on the American people was completely devoid of any notion of testing or outcomes. It was the right thing to do because… it was the right thing to do. It was cargo cult logic all the same. So was its website.
Healthcare.gov, like ObamaCare, was going to work because it was “good”. Its goodness was by some measure other than result. It was morally good. It was progressive. And so the deity of liberal causes, perhaps Karl Marx or Progressia, the Goddess of Soup and Economic Dysfunction, would see to it that it would work. Karma would kick in and everything would work out because it had to.
This brand of magical thinking was once commonplace. It still is. And it’s why things so rarely work out in some of the more messed up parts of the world. But the sort of attitude that would once have made anthropologists shake their heads is now commonplace here. Savages in suits, barbarians with iPads are certain that things will work because they have appeased the gods of modernity with their fonts, they have made a website that looks like a functioning website. And like the cargo culters who built fake control towers expecting planes to land, they thought that their website would work.
Competence is built on the unhappy understanding that things won’t work because you want them to, they won’t work if you go through the motions, they will only work if you understand how a thing works and then make it work by building it, by testing it and by expecting failure every step of the way and wrestling with the problem until you get it right. Continue reading
The reaction of the Catholic Left in this country to Paul Ryan has been completely predictable. This is a movement, with honorable exceptions, that long ago fell into lockstep behind the “abortion now, abortion forever” policy of the Democrat party. When a pro-life Catholic like Paul Ryan arises they must strive, by any means necessary, to drag him down to their level as dissenters against basic Catholic teaching. Bill McGurn in the Wall Street Journal has a brilliant column looking at this phenomenon:
Say this for the liberal impulse in American Catholicism: In its day, it leavened the faith. Against the church’s tendencies to clericalism, it promoted the contributions of the laity. Against suspicions in Rome, it championed the American experiment. In particular, the liberal impulse advanced the idea of religious liberty for all that would ultimately triumph in the 1960s at the Second Vatican Council.
No longer, alas. Today the liberal impulse in American Catholic life has substituted political for religious orthodoxy. In retrospect, the turning point is easy to spot: liberal Catholicism’s acquiescence in the Democratic Party’s drift toward supporting abortion at a time when church leaders had the influence to stop it.
So here we are in 2012, when all but one of the active senators and representatives who are members of the official Catholics for Obama campaign team enjoy a 100% approval rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
This fundamental dissent from a basic church teaching is now a fact of modern Democratic Catholic life. The result for our politics is an extraordinary campaign, in the 10 days since Paul Ryan became the Republican candidate for vice president, by those on the Catholic left to strike a moral equivalence between Mr. Ryan’s reform budget and Democratic Catholic support for the party’s absolutist position on abortion.
Thus the column in the National Catholic Reporter characterizing Mr. Ryan as a “champion of dissent” regarding the church’s social teaching. Or the headline at the website Jezebel, “Badass Nun Says Paul Ryan is a Bad Catholic.” When this sort of thing seeps into the mainstream, it takes the form of the recent article in the Washington Post that found moral parallels between the two vice-presidential candidates: Mr. Ryan is a dissenter from “social justice,” while Vice President Joe Biden, also Catholic, dissents on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion.
Mr. Ryan’s own bishop, the Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino, addressed the subject with his most recent column in the diocesan paper for Madison, Wis. The church, he wrote, regards abortion as an “intrinsic evil” (meaning always and everywhere wrong, regardless of circumstances). In sharp contrast, he said, on issues such as how best to create jobs or help the poor, “there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles which the church offers.”
“I’m not endorsing Paul Ryan,” the bishop told me later by phone. “People are free to disagree with him, and disagree vehemently. But it’s wrong to suggest that his views somehow make him a bad Catholic.” Continue reading