Since the first case of covid-19 was reported in the US, Americans have had to face a new cause of illness and death. Two years into the experience, society remains divided in its willingness to combat the virus, protect itself, and limit the harms that this pernicious, sometimes mortal contagion wreaks. Covid is just dangerous enough to interfere with ordinary social pleasures, disrupt institutional regimens, and cramp habits of congregation outside. Continue reading
A moral and cultural collapse is fueling the long political crisis Americans are living through. Well-meaning, tolerant, and patriotic people are still in the majority, but the behavior of the January 6th insurrectionists and everyone friendly to them establishes that civil society and federalism are gravely imperiled. The American way of government is based on compromise and negotiation; it is based on civility and comity; and it aspires to realize a humane and virtuous vision of itself. It is founded on a hope of betterment, on a set of ideal principles regarding individual rights and privileges. Throughout time, American leaders have paid lip service to these ideals and sometimes chanced their lives, careers, and reputations to make them real. The nation’s political identity is intrinsically moral and idealistic. This remains true, no matter how far short, in actual performance, it falls.
The underpinnings of republican government are rotting away. Over the past few years, we’ve discovered how many Americans hate the federal government. They resent their fellow citizens. They’ve had it with learning and discussion. They are sick of “bullshit,” meaning the ideas and values of anyone (especially anyone in power) who doesn’t speak or look or act their way. Their favored recourse is intimidation: speak loudly and crudely, ignore decorum. Belittle, smear, and threaten opponents. Gang up on the rule of law, which works best garbed in the regalia of intolerance, preferably while bearing a stick or a gun. Sneer at moderation, at tradition and respectability. Even polite-looking figures such as Ted Cruz and Lauren Boebert are actually completely corrupt thugs inside.
These people are looking for their next chance to attack police officers, desecrate the flag, and destroy government norms.
The question is whether good Americans can stem the tide. Can we stop the pendulum from swinging toward violence and extremism, and get it to move back to the other side? Can we neutralize the influence inflammatory figures enjoy? Can we restore contentment and consensus, notably by ministering to legitimate grievances and needs? Can the political establishment refrain from abusing its power, and get back to the retreating goal of figuring out how best to promote widespread prosperity, how to restore dignity and safety to ordinary households and communities? A world of trouble lies ahead if the answer is no.
The coordinated slaughter of Muslims in two New Zealand mosques last week was the latest atrocity sociopaths have committed in the name of the white race. The idea that there is such a thing as a “white race” and that it is superior to all others defines a disgusting but deeply historically rooted movement that civil society must stamp out. White supremacy is a comfortingly naive ideology that turns its adherents into soulless monsters, waging war on the racial and religious toleration central to peaceful, free, democracies.
In the US, white supremacy has long been associated with the local and provincial order of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan’s commitment to violence against blacks takes the form of a face-to-face fraternity whose members “man up” by getting together in numbers and donning disguises that mask the essential cowardice of their heinous acts. The psychology of the cult and its rituals binds powerless and feckless individuals together, emboldening them to commit terrifying sins against their neighbors.
Lately, however, white supremacy is taking a different form, manifest in the persona of one of the gunmen who mowed down the Muslim worshippers in New Zealand. He committed his crime in broad daylight, alone, even broadcasting it live on social media. This was an individual zealot who methodically prepared for this day, justifying it with a manifesto he published on Facebook and linking his actions to a “tradition” of ideologically motivated hate crimes committed in recent years in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Norway, where a so-called “white knight” slew 77 people.
In an outstanding segment of the PBS Newshour, historian Katherine Belew urged viewers to recognize that these apparently disparate “lone wolf” attacks are part of a global “White Power” movement. Though perpetrators are often socially and geographically isolated, they share the same creed and believe their crimes serve a common purpose, that of “defending” “white civilization” (typically defined as Christian) against people who are non-Christian or non-white. Civil society, the ultimate victim of these kindred crimes, must cease to reward such sociopaths with publicity and fully discredit the febrile ideology that fuels the assertion of “white power.”
Image: Charles Henry Dana, “Like the Moth, It Works in the Dark” (circa 1922)
from this source.
Consign the Sociopath and Terrorist to Oblivion, American Inquiry
New Zealand PM Ardern Urges Her Nation To Make Gunman ‘Nameless,’ NPR
The Paris attacks confirm that all Western civilization must act to repel the various threats to itself that radical terror poses. I agree with Pope Francis’s perception that such global violence, deliberately targeting ordinary people and intending to undermine the peace and order of civil society, represents a third world war. The values of toleration, openness, freedom, and mutual respect are the real targets of such bitter and retrograde attacks.
It is easy to imagine an end to ISIL, but more difficult to imagine assuaging the resentment and hatred of Western values that fuels all such violent extremist movements. Such hatred is never-ending, and, given the accelerating pace of modernity and the West’s pervasive influence in far-flung lands, destined only to multiply. Modernism and the universal creed of human rights pose a grave threat to tribal thinking and to some forms of religion and religious authority, outraging those who look to such certainties as a source of personal power and identity.
The doctrines of religious toleration and universal human rights, born out of the Enlightenment hundreds of years ago, remain radical, a centuries-old legacy that continues to transform human culture and behavior. These values belong to no one country but are being embraced by growing numbers of peoples and societies around the globe, partly because they promise liberation from the narrow tribalism and sectarianism that has been a principal source of violence throughout human history.
Live and let live. Viva la différence! These mottoes are the very hallmark of a tolerant and inclusive culture that (it’s no accident) enjoys the blessings of peace and order while guaranteeing its members safety under the rule of law. All that is under attack now.
The perpetrators of the Paris attacks wish to turn back the clock, to return all of us to a dark age where ruthlessness and rage would provide the sole organizing logic of human life. Strangely, though, the battle is already up with them: their weapons and tactics betray their pathetic dependence on the West and on its cultural hegemony. Their craven reliance on Western publicity and social media and their inability to live modestly and peacefully demonstrate the contradictions of their movement. Their notion of godliness is one that the truly godly eschew.