February 4, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM

IT'S A 60-40 NATION:

David French on Christian nationalism and evangelicals' existential angst: The conservative writer said Christian believers need to be reminded of the toxic effects of fear (Yonat Shimron, 2/03/21, RNS)

Religion News Service caught up with French to ask his unblinking perspective on the dangers of Christian nationalism, so prominent in the Capitol attack, and how the nation might begin to heal. The Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

You're an evangelical Christian. When did you begin to depart from the mainstream in your perspective?

I haven't changed my perspective on things like being pro-life or believing in strong religious freedom protections. But I stopped being a Republican after (Donald) Trump's victory in the 2016 primary.

In 2007, much to my embarrassment today, I was speaking to a very conservative convention and someone asked why I was volunteering to go to Iraq and I said the two greatest threats to America were far-left radicals at home and jihadists abroad.

Then I went to Iraq and I saw the difference between an opponent and an enemy. I had lived in deep blue places in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in Ithaca, New York, with people on the far left of the political aisle, and I had a good life in both of those places. I could not have had a good life in Iraq under the control of the Islamic State. And I thought, "We are superheating our political rhetoric at home out of proportion to the stakes of our political controversies. And that's dangerous."

What do you see as the country's greatest threats today?

Today, the greatest threat we have is polarization itself --this commitment we have to view fellow citizens as enemies and the incredible animosity existing across American communities that would lead people to feel so desperate about the state of the Union they would literally storm the Capitol to stop the democratic process.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


We Need a Memorably Forgettable President (Greg Weiner, 2/04/21, The Constitutionalist)

In 1969, Daniel Patrick Moynihan delivered a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. The times paralleled our own: alienation that fed on itself and fueled chaos. Moynihan noted that he had spent a career trying to make government bigger, but that doing so effectively required recognizing what government could not do well. "What is it that government cannot provide?" he asked. "It cannot provide values to persons who have none, or who have lost those they had. It cannot provide a meaning to life. It cannot provide inner peace."

Trumpism was less a policy agenda than an attempt to supply those things to disaffected people, not by means of government, nor even through the White House, but rather through the personality of its occupant. He validated their lives and rhetorically vanquished their perceived foes. January 6 differs from Shay's Rebellion of 1786 and 1787 and the Whiskey Rebellion of the early 1790s. Those were indefensible and seditious. They also entailed people's livelihoods. The insurrection of January 6 pertained to its participants' apparently precarious self-respect.

If elections are meant to provide our sense of purpose and worth, their results are fated to be explosive. Moreover, if politics is the vehicle for all meaning, we should expect it to infiltrate every aspect of our lives and, in so doing, lose any sense of moderation or perspective. Moynihan's words on that topic at Notre Dame apply to the Trump right as much as they did, in 1969, to the radical left: "We are not especially well equipped in conceptual terms to ride out the storm ahead, but there are things we know without fully understanding, and one of these is the ultimate value of privacy, and the final ruin when all things have become political."

Of course, people do need outlets for values. Sources of meaning are important. But we should find them in concrete forms close to home, not abstractions like the personality of or opposition to the president. The insurrection exposed a profound civic pathology whose chief symptom is obsession with politics and whose etiology is the collapse of community. This form of politics replaces the tangible relationships and corresponding bonds of dependence and obligation that constitute authentic communities with shallow, anonymous attachments to politicians.

Cults of personality are seductive, partly because face-to-face relationships, which require us to confront each other in all our irritating imperfection, are difficult. They require real sacrifice and actual work. Hero worship exacts no costs in exchange for the moral exhilaration it provides.

For all the anti-government rhetoric of the Trump movement, it subsisted on the illusion of relationships of personal caretaking between individuals and the president. The conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet explained totalitarianism in terms of this ardent affection for politicians. The human need for community remains when traditional social bonds collapse, he wrote, so people seek it in the superficial realm of the state instead.

The service Biden can most do the nation is to decline heroic status.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


How to be 'liberal', according to the ancients (Peter jones, 2/04/21, The Spectator)

[I]n his dialogue On Duties the statesman Cicero linked lîberalitas with justice. His reasoning was that 'we are not born for ourselves alone... but as humans we are born for the sake of humans, to contribute to the general good by common acts of kindness, and by our skill, industry and talents to cement human society more closely together'.

For this to work, Cicero continued, 'truth and fidelity to promises and agreements' were necessary, which he summarized in two words: 'good faith'. An essential aspect of 'good faith' was its commitment to reciprocal obligations, and a certain style of behavior 'as far removed from the rest of animal creation as possible'. Here he identified lîberalitas with giving ('the greatest privilege of wealth is the opportunity it affords for doing good'), temperance, self-control and behavior in business that was fair and reasonable, avoiding litigation. Not pushing one's own 'rights' too far was the mark of the liberalis. Lîber also generated lîbertas, 'freedom' -- a condition of sovereignty, personal independence and frankness, easily exploited for corrupt ends. A lîberalis would have nothing to do with that.

This mutual obligation is the source of republican liberty which controls freedom/rights by the simple expedient of allowing the populace to place limits on human behavior so long as they apply universally. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


An 18th-Century Revolution, With Current Examples (Pierre Lemieux, 2/03/21, Econ Lib)

One of the greatest discoveries of the 18th century did not come from physics or astronomy but from the nascent science of economics. It is the theory that if individuals independently and freely pursue their ordinary self-interest, the resulting social order will be efficient, that is, will allow virtually all these individuals--or at least their vast majority, given their starting points in life--to better satisfy their own preferences.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


New study: Social media's alleged anti-conservative bias is 'disinformation' (Mark Sullivan, 2/03/21, Fast Company)

Many Republicans routinely complain that the big social networks systematically suppress right-wing viewpoints, but they've produced little real evidence of it. A new study from New York University finds that there is no evidence of it, and in fact finds the opposite--that social media has spread right-wing viewpoints to wider audiences than ever before.

"[T]he claim of anti-conservative animus is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it," the report states. "No trustworthy large-scale studies have determined that conservative content is being removed for ideological reasons or that searches are being manipulated to favor liberal interests." [...]

Quite the contrary, actually. Barrett found evidence that the content-serving algorithms used by the leading social media platforms have amplified right-wing voices to reach audiences of unprecedented size. That may be a nice way of saying that the social networks have taken advantage of fringy, factually questionable right-wing content to entice users to share more content and spend more time on their sites.

"The social media companies have a mercenary outlook," Barrett says. "They want to increase user engagement, and they'll use whatever kind of content users are engaging with. If that's with a sensitive piece of political content, or if it's something cultural like kittens and puppies, it's all good."

If you've spent any time tracking the most viral news-link posts on Facebook, as New York Times columnist Kevin Roose has, you'll see that it's usually not kittens and puppies. It's highly partisan political posts from Fox News, Breitbart, and Ben Shapiro's The Daily Wire.

Right-wing politicians routinely use their social media persecution tale to lead up to calls for the removal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides legal protections for the tech companies that operate social networks. Section 230 shields tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter from being sued either for harmful user content posted at their sites, or for decisions they've made to remove harmful content. Actually, even Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, who cowrote Section 230 back in the 1990s, says that Facebook and others may have used the law's legal shield as a substitute for rigorous content moderation. But a full repeal of Section 230 would likely be more punitive than corrective.