A counterblast to "authoritarianism"
BOOK REVIEW of "Dehumanizing Christians: Cultural Competition in a Multicultural World" by George Yancey
My reaction to this careful and thorough book was a good chuckle. Yancey has in effect caught the political left with their pants down. Leftist pretensions of tolerance and good will rapidly fall by the wayside when they are dealing with conservative Christians. We know that from the outpouring of hate speech towards Christians we regularly see in the media. Yancey verifies that by way of careful survey research. Progressives seem to have more fear and loathing towards Christians than Christians have fear and loathing towards the Devil!
Yancey is primarily interested in the concept of authoritarianism so he looks at how people want to treat members of other groups. Do they want to use force to suppress members of groups that they disagree with? Given the way progressives froth at the mouth about Christians, one would expect that all sorts of suppressive actions towards Christians would be supported by progressives. And they are. The old Voltairian attitude "I disagree with what you say but I will fight to the death for your right to say it" is conspicuously absent. It is clear that, given their way, progressives would treat Christians as harshly as Stalin did the kulaks.
No observer of history should be surprised by any of that. From the French revolution on, the political left has always striven to gain control over other people and impose on other people what the Leftist thinks is a good thing. Obamacare, for instance, imposes a vast regulatory and bureaucratic apparatus on American healthcare that will undoubtedly reduce services and increase costs but "It's for your own good" we are told. Or for the good of somebody anyway.
Where Yancey innovates is that he has highlighted Leftist hate by using the conventional methods of psychological research. Psychologists such as Altemeyer use questionnaire surveys to "prove" that conservatives are a bad lot. Yancey returns the compliment by using the same methods to show that progressives are a bad lot. After 20 years of doing such research myself, I don't think it proves much either way but Yancey's demonstration that it can just as easily be used to shoot down progressives is at least amusing.
Given that it undermines almost the whole of what has so far passed as political psychology, there are real grounds for expecting that the Left will try to suppress this book. Chris Brand's book on IQ was withdrawn even after distribution had started. The only thing that might save the book is that Yancey is black. Suppressing a book by a black would definitely cause some grinding of gears in "progressive" heads. In their terms it would be "racist".
I have linked above to the Amazon site for buying the book but if Amazon withdraw it, the book may still be available from the publishers here. Prof. Yancey blogs occasionally here. His personal page has some rather good harpsichord music playing on it. A devotion to the harpsichord is a high-water mark of civilization in my opinion.
The amusing thing about the Leftist claim that conservatives are "authoritarian" is that it has always been a blatant case of projection (seeing your own faults in others). Nothing could be more authoritarian than Communist regimes and all Leftism is authoritarian to its core. Whether by revolution or by legislation, Leftists aim to change what people can and must do. When in 2008 Obama said that he wanted to "fundamentally transform" America, he was not talking about America's geography or topography but rather about American people. He wanted them to stop doing things that they wanted to do and make them do things that they did not want to do. Can you get a better definition of authoritarianism than that?
Are libertarianism and conservatism totally different?
We occasionally see some rather poorly informed claims to the effect that libertarianism and conservatism are totally different -- e.g. an article by Walter Block here. I think therefore that a little clarification is required. The truth can be very simply put: Libertarianism is ONE ELEMENT in conservative thinking. More precisely, Libertarians and conservatives share an attachment to individual liberty.
Libertarians are in some ways like Leftists. Leftists tend to have very simple formulas for what is wrong with the world. Ask them and they will say: inequality, poverty and (more amusingly) intolerance. When you realize that leading Leftists are usually well-off and are totally intolerant of dissent, you can see how uninsightful and oversimplified leftist reasoning is. And aside from being mostly poor, libertarians are like that too. They oversimplify enormously: Get government out of the way and a new Eden will dawn.
Conservatives, on the other hand see everything as complex. They see that there can be other influences on human welfare than freedom. For instance, when a country seems threatened by foreign aggression (as Britain was in WWII) a conservative may see national security as an important consideration that may need balancing against individual liberty - hence conservative governments may introduce a whole range of "wartime measures" that reduce the liberties of citizens to some extent. Conservatives try to balance competing principles.
Another revelatory case is immigration. Since libertarians dislike governments and their restrictions, they usually favour open borders. If libertarians had their way, most of Mexico would end up in the USA. But conservatives see other issues as being involved -- such as pressure on welfare programs and other systems, and the importation of the dumb political ideologies that have kept most of the Americas South of the Rio Grande mired in poverty. What the immigrants have in their heads is important, not just the fact that they are a person. And conservatives also see it as a matter of property rights. If I have the right to say whom I will have living with me in my own home, surely groups of people (nations) also have the right to say who will live among them?
Libertarians also tend to ignore genetics. When proposing remedies for poverty, Leftists will say: "give the poor more money" while libertarians will say "Give the poor no money". Neither system will usually be practical so conservatives tend to say: "The poor ye always have with you". With no ideology to explain everything, conservatives can simply accept reality. As one of Britain's most prominent Conservatives recently said, some people are equipped mentally to do well and some are not. Leftists usually cry "racism" when genetics are mentioned so the conservative response is usually implicit rather than explicit these days. That people are born different underlies a lot of conservative thinking even though it can be risky to say that out loud.
Similarly with homosexual "marriage". Leftists see it simply as an equality issue, libertarians see it simply as a liberty issue while conservatives see it as impacting on many other things -- such as morality and the family and a general devaluation of marriage.
So conservatives try to align their thinking with the complexity of reality while libertarians have a "one size fits all" explanation and solution for all problems. Conservatives value liberty but don't think it is the answer to everything. And the only liberty Leftists value is your liberty to do what they say -- JR.
Researchers say our genes shape our political views
I have been pointing out evidence to that effect for years -- since the '80s -- but it is good to see that the evidence keeps coming -- JR
Biology may not be destiny but it does shape who we vote for. A new study has found that our political attitudes are hard-wired into our DNA, with 56 per cent of each belief influenced by our genes.
Individual experiences, upbringing and other social influences explain the remaining variation in our left or right-wing orientation, according to the study.
'We've tended to think of political attitudes and behaviors as being rooted in the environment,' study co-author Dr. Kevin Smith, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told HuffPost Science.
'What our study shows along with a number of other studies is that they seem to be at least partially rooted in our biology.
'I know people get bent out of shape about this. The environment is important, it's just not everything. 'You can talk about biology and you can talk about the environment. Who we are is a combination of both.'
For the study, published in this month's Political Psychology journal, researchers surveyed 682 pairs of middle-aged twins, all recruited from a large database called the Minnesota Twin Registry.
Half of the twins were identical (monozygotic), sharing all of the same genes. The other half were fraternal, sharing about 50 percent of their genes.
The twins were asked about their attitudes to a range of political issues including gay marriage and egalitarianism.
The research found the identical twins' political views were consistently more similar than those of the fraternal twins, with further statistical analysis revealing the differences were due to genetic influences.
The study also revealed about half (48 percent) of the difference in extreme authoritarian beliefs is inherited, while 50 percent of egalitarian views are encoded in our genes.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln co-author Dr. John Hibbing said the research could offer insights into how to ease political tensions.
'Some observers have the idea that if people just talk about politics long enough, everybody will come to agreement,' he told HuffPost Science.
'Our research, as well as that of others in the field, indicates that political differences run deep, are biological, and affect the way the world is perceived and processed.
'It is pleasant to believe our political foes are merely uninformed but often times (not always) they are well-informed but just have different predispositions.'
A stylish Danish blonde upsets a few applecarts
It would probably need a strong man to resist the opportunity of some fun with Helle Thorning-Schmidt. She may be the Prime Minister of Denmark but she is also one attractive lady. And as you can see from the photos, Mrs Obama was intensely unamused. In fact she later swapped places with Mr Obama to separate him from the blonde. Mr Obama no doubt felt he had a Republican in bed with him that night.
And the British Prime Minister copped a bit of flack too. It is not known what Samantha Cameron said to him that night but he was chipped in Parliament and came out with the lamest of excuses. See below. He professed respect for Neil Kinnock.
Hopefully it was a joke. Known in his day as the "Welsh Windbag", Neil Kinnock lost the "unloseable" 1992 British general election to the Conservative but soppy John Major, an event that generated immense soul-searching in the British Labour party. I remember at the time saying to a British Labour Party supporter: "Your lot couldn't even beat John Major!" The agony on his face was a graphic reply. Some Labour party people still profess respect for Kinnock but there must be very few others who profess any.
The upshot of that agony was the installation of Tony Blair -- a man who was clever enough to use a lot of conservative talk while doing socialist things. Mr Obama has clearly learnt from him the usefulness of words entirely unconnected to deeds.
Both Cameron and Obama have been criticised for their disrespectful behaviour at the funeral but when I heard that they were sitting through a 4-hour ceremony, I personally forgave them.
DAVID Cameron yesterday tried to defend his decision to pose for a light-hearted ‘selfie’ in the middle of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service – by claiming he was only being polite.
The Prime Minister attempted to laugh off the storm of criticism he provoked after larking around with Barack Obama and Denmark’s prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
He joked he was being ‘polite’ by agreeing to pose for a picture with Miss Thorning-Schmidt, the glamorous daughter-in-law of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock.
If you read conservative blogs, you will be aware by now that the idolatry of Nelson Mandela that you see in the mainstream media is far from universally shared. The fact is that Mandela was always a Communist and was a very active terrorist in his youth -- which is why the Boer regime imprisoned him in a high security prison for 27 years. A relatively mild "alternative" account of mandela is here. And even after he became President, he maintained cordial relations with such charmers as Yasser Arafat and Fidel castro.
So how come he managed the transition from white rule to black rule so peacefully? Why did he not act out the hostility which he expressed for all his life? Nobody seems to answer that. They just see the years of his Presidency as the manifestation of a "great soul", which he clearly was not. A great hater, maybe.
I think the answer is obvious and I am a little bemused that it once again seems to fall to me to identify the elephant in the room. The answer is that he knew what a tough lot the Boers are and was afraid of them. After what the Boers did to the British Empire, a rabble of blacks would have been a snack for them. After all in the Apartheid years the South African police force was quite small relative to population. The Boers did not need much to suppress back discontent.
And Mandela was right to fear the Boers. They still held all the levers of power in South Africa -- police, army, bureaucracy, media etc. Had they been energized to act in response to extensive violence encouraged by the new black regime, there can be no doubt that the violence would have been decisively crushed and only a semblance of black rule would have continued.
The peacful Mandela was a coward, not a great soul. But cowardice was probably wise in the circumstances -- JR
More on Pope Francis
I have to conclude that Evangelii gaudium is a failure as a policy document. It has been extensively misunderstood. As I think I showed yesterday, a careful reading of it favours neither Left nor Right in politics. Francis identifies what he sees as a raft of social problems and many of those problems are ones that Leftists dine out on. But he does not call for political action to remedy those problems . He recommends prayer and personal compassion as the response to such problems.
But just about nobody seems to have noticed that. The Left think he has come down firmly on their side and conservatives see him as pro-Left too. See for instance here for a conservative critique.
The problem as I see it is that people on both sides of politics in the Western world see a statement of social grievances as a call for political action. So Francis has misjudged his audience. He is politically naive: Rather surprising in a Jesuit.
Past Popes in their encyclicals have taken care to remain in the middle ground of politics. John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus annus is a good example of that. Fortunately, Evangelii gaudium is an informal document so is not binding in any way. So Francis should move soon to issue an encyclical which cancels out the naive political views that are expressed in Evangelii gaudium. He will lose a lot of conservative Catholics otherwise. And Leftists are not conspicuous as churchgoers. His good intentions may be bad for his church. Pius XII came quite unfairly to be called "Hitler's Pope". Will Francis come to be known as "Stalin's Pope"? -- JR
Is the Pope a Protestant?
I want to devote some time today to discussing the first major document issued by the new Pope -- EVANGELII GAUDIUM. It is "merely" an Apostolic Exhortation, which is a long way from an Encyclical, but it clearly sets out what Francis hopes will be a new direction for the church. Like its author, the document has attracted a lot of attention so it is surely desirable that we know something about it, whether we agree with it or not.
And I can't see that even evangelical Protestants will find much to disagree with in it. In fact, of all people, evangelical Protestants should find most to agree with in it. He has to a considerable degree stolen their clothes. The Preface to the document is actually a good refresher course in most of what they believe. It would sound good from any Protestant pulpit and its focus -- on evangelism -- sounds very Protestant. The title of the document translates as "The joy of evangelism", which is something of a departure from church history -- which might be summarized as Evangelii Gladius (the sword of evangelism).
Even in small ways we see evidence of a Protestantized Pope. He refers, for instance, to the last book of the Bible as "Revelations", rather than the traditional Catholic title of "Apocalypse".
Some instructive excerpts below with my comments in italics:
Francis thinks that the church at the moment is pretty dead:
"We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented.
Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach."
The church needs to stop talking about homosexuality etc. and start talking about salvation
"34. If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.
35. Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing."
In the next excerpt I think Francis is absolutely wrong. Philosophy, theology and social sciences DESTROY faith. Faith is emotional, not intellectual. Francis is a great optimist to think it will work the way he thinks
"40. The Church is herself a missionary disciple; she needs to grow in her interpretation of the revealed word and in her understanding of truth. It is the task of exegetes and theologians to help “the judgment of the Church to mature”. The other sciences also help to accomplish this, each in its own way. With reference to the social sciences, for example, John Paul II said that the Church values their research, which helps her “to derive concrete indications helpful for her magisterial mission”. Within the Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel."
Now for the first "socialist" bit in the document. Francis is taking the side of the "Down and out" people. But note that he deplores that only. He is telling the clergy and laity of the church to be compassionate, not telling politicians to enact redistribution. And note that he rejects an economic focus ("Exploitation") for his comments and suggests a different, more sociological focus, marginalization.
"Masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
I like this bit
"47. The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door."
This is where Francis is different. He says "No" to grandeur. And he is surely right. The wealth of the church offends many. It's almost a Salvation Army doctrine that he is voicing
"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."
Again comes a "socialist" bit. But note again that he does not say that equality is possible. His Lord and Master after all said it is not: "The poor ye have always with you". It is religion and individual action that Francis sees as the solution. See the quote following the one immediately below
"The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident."
"And not our own"
"We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own"
He goes on to condemn the idolatry of money and consumerism but so does the Primate of the Church of England and so do many others. (I myself think consumerism is great but only some libertarians seem to share that view). The rest of the document is religious up until paragraph 183 and could have been written by many Christian leaders. But in 183 we see a "desire to change the world", which is of course the essence of Leftism
183 "An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it."
But how is that to be implemented? By political campaigns? No. "Concern" is what is needed. Again his emphasis is on the personal:
"All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world."
Note that the following paragraph is about what "We desire" -- to which a reasonable response might be" "Who doesn't?". Desiring and attaining can be very distant from one another
"192. Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use."
But in para. 204 he shows his South American roots by becoming explicitly Leftist. He clearly knows no economics
"204. We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality."
But again his solution is religious
"205. I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world! Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. We need to be convinced that charity “is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)”. I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans?"
And as a religious document, I can see nothing in it that Protestants would object to -- excepting perhaps a few incidental references to the authority of the church. Am I right about that? Others will have to answer that. But at least I have read the document, which seems to be more than some critics have done -- JR