As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July this year, I have some anxiety about the polarized conversations that are coming, especially on social media. I feel like the last few years have seen two groups shouting at each other on account of this holiday. These groups may have been the fringe in the past, but they seem to be gaining ground. And the message of both sides leave me frustrated.
There are those with an irrational love of America that keeps them from acknowledging her faults, both past and present. These folks are offended by any suggestion that America has blood on her hands or mud on her face. These folks are often very patriotic, and tend to whitewash history. Many of them confuse Christianity with America. They view any criticism of the U.S. and her history as a stab at all the brave soldiers who defended our country. It is sometimes hard to take this group seriously, but they should not be ignored, as our last election revealed.
On the other hand there are a growing number with an irrational hatred of America that can only see her faults. They are so focused on fighting the nationalist zeal of the first group that they can only see her failings. They simmer in the sins of the past (and their effects in the present) to such an extent that it blinds them to her virtues. They don’t see bad groups of people doing bad things contrary to our written values, as happens in every country in history. They consider the worst elements of our country to be her essence. This group can’t appreciate that the principles of our republic, while imperfectly applied (an understatement), have at least provided the possibility of excising her cancer. After all, history tells us that without freedom of speech you can’t criticize such a powerful government without bloodshed. Many in this group would like to see America as we know it destroyed and replaced.
I believe there is another position, and I would like to strive to attain to it. I am probably too idealistic. It is a position as a Christian where my highest loyalty is NOT to my country. Only Jesus is Lord. I think this allows me to be a true patriot, one that can love my country and yet honestly point out her failings. And one that allows me to condemn her sins precisely because I love the virtues of freedom and equality under the law. I would also like to be one that can see her faults and failures in full color, and yet avoid hating her people and her principles. We don’t have to choose between ignoring America’s vices and loving her virtues. We don’t have to choose between being proud of our country and ashamed (often at the same time) of the many times she has missed the mark.
I love America, not because she is flawless or even the greatest country ever, but because she is my home. I do love the American experiment of democracy and freedom. I love her with all her faults, but I don’t love her supremely. I ache for a day when she will shed the rest of her sins and trade them for something better. I am heartbroken that the dreams of America have been elusive to so many, and I long for better days.
So I offer this for your consideration: The only way to love your country and not be corrupted by that love, is to have a higher and better love.
Happy 4th of July.
This is a very important article, in my opinion.
You should read it, maybe twice, if you want to gain some perspective about what is really happening in our culture. It is beyond left and right. And it is likely that you are aware of this as a problem existing in other people rather than yourself.
Personal expression as a moral virtue has become an unquestionable absolute. It is driving the bus. To suggest that it might not be a virtue is blasphemy. It rages against any other idea or obligation- historical, political, biological, familial, or religious. While it promises fulfillment it will leave a trail of broken promises that are an opportunity to speak about a better way.
Last night my wife and I watched the documentary Steve Jobs-The Man in the Machine. It is now available on Netflix, and I think it is worth your time.
The film is a depiction of his life that includes his darker side, which was largely lost in the hero worship of the wider culture. It is full of original footage and lots of interviews with people close to him.
This essay reflects on some of the themes in the film. While I don’t agree with all that the author says (who ever does?), the big picture is spot on. All of our good guys are also bad guys. One point that comes across so well is that Steve Jobs was celebrated and promoted even though he was such a bad person. Those around him, and the broader culture was willing to accept so much evil because he gave people what they wanted. When and why we turn a blind eye to evil may be one of the most revealing tests of character there is.
That is a sobering reality.
Here is the conclusion of the essay:
“Jobs did not need to be cruel, but he chose to be; we did not need to reward him with our dollars, but we chose to. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine shows us, because we desperately need to be reminded, that all our good guys are bad guys. Lest the viewers judge too harshly, though, the film’s implicit concluding argument is, essentially, that we are allbad guys—not just Steve Jobs, but also Steve Wozniak, Bob Belleville, you, and me—because we tolerate and even admire such outward cruelty. The screen of an iPhone dims after 30 seconds, but, thank God, grace shines the light of forgiveness when we are alone in the darkness we allow and the darkness we create.”
Only in the grace of God do we find the hero and leader that instead of exploiting us, lays down his life for us.
I found this in an old journal entry. An idea that impressed me a while ago and when I read it, I was glad that I written it down. I was encouraged and convicted by my own words:
In financial matters there can be a considerable delay between decisions, actions, and results. Choices made today may not be felt for weeks or months, either for good or bad. Therefore we must think ahead! It is like planting and watering. This is hard to remember when we live in a world obsessed with the instantaneous and the impulsive.
I am not a Catholic but have appreciated some of the observations I find at “First Things.” The author of this article, “If Women Ran The World,” eloquently describes some of the most destructive elements of feminism today. And she does it by sharing their own words. The whole article is worth reading.
From time to time when I comment on feminist ideas, someone reminds me that that the particular view in question doesn’t represent all feminists. Fair enough. But there are too many permutations for me to keep it straight. So I won’t dare suggest that this represents all feminists.
Here is what is clear to me. First, many of the most prominent feminist voices in journalism and politics today (like the one quoted below) represent destructive ideas that do not represent mainstream thinking. Second, they do not represent the ideas of feminists from a previous age. They wanted respect and equality. They condemned the bad behavior of men in a specific way. But they didn’t want to imitate it.
Elizabeth Scalia quotes a significant feminist voice:
“Writing for The Atlantic in September of 2012, Hanna Rosin argued that the “hookup culture” so prevalent on college campuses and in the lives of young adults is “an engine of female progress—one being harnessed and driven by women themselves.” She wrote:
‘To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.’
In other words, women have succeeded in becoming the men they hated.”
Here is a fascinating, deep, albeit brief look at something unexpected: A liberal philosopher predicts of the rise of a Trump-like figure 20 years ago based on the worst elements of the left’s political and philosophical blunders. He is not the only one to make such an observation (note the linked video from Jonathan Pie is one profound explanation of the rise of Trump, but it is NSFW- lots of bad language). Back to Rorty. He explains:
“National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals, a necessary condition for self-improvement”
My thoughts: A few things that are becoming more apparent to me:
The political left despises America, many of its historic values, and many of its citizens. They don’t want to improve America so much as bury it and create something new in its place.
The modern left, just as the neoconservative movement, has departed from it’s more historic values (liberalism).
In the article there is another insightful paragraph. In trying to remove the stigma from minorities and the underprivileged, the left has shifted it onto middle class white people. Many of them were glad to throw it back.
The lesson? Demonization doesn’t work.
“Rorty’s only issue with identity politics was that the left, having worked so hard to transfer stigmatic cruelty away from received categories like race and gender, had done too little to prevent that stigma from landing on class—and that the white working class, finding itself abandoned by both the free-market right and the identity left, would be all too eager to transfer that stigma back to minorities, immigrants, gays, and coastal élites.”
Art always bows to some greater ideology. There is no such thing as neutral art. It always conveys a message. Most often it is a servant of the strongest principles within a culture. This brief article reviews research to show how the Nazi propaganda machine slowly took over the Berlin orchestra to reinforce ideas of German National Socialism. The author is clear that the foundations for this were laid many years before. Yet hearing about the actual events is both fascinating and chilling.
This process started with understanding the power of music as a cultural force. Then Goebbels “annexed” the Berlin orchestra in the same way that Germany annexed land during the war. But it started when members of the orchestra were willing to sell their autonomy and their souls for more money and other cultural benefits. After that, they were owned by the Nazis.
This kind of research is delightful stuff for history nerds like me. And the great question of history is always, “what does this mean for us today?” I think at present most people are associating fascism with Trump in the US. But to be honest, when I read this, I thought much more about the music and entertainment business in America as supporting the Left. In our country, one of the great weaknesses of the conservative movement has been second rate art. But within Hollywood there is a group-think that preaches leftist (rather than liberal) ideas. Think I am exaggerating? Just listen to the speeches at the Oscar’s. Add to this the recent censorship that is happening on University Campuses in the name of having “safe spaces” in the name of avoiding hate speech, and you can see that the Left has a much tighter grip on these cultural expressions.
In any case we need to be aware that culture-makers are trying to recruit us (and at times enslave us) for their view of the world. This is an inescapable reality for good or bad. Dictators who want to hijack culture will always move toward this source of power and it is in the best interest of free people to be aware of the greater agenda. I think the ideal situation is a culture of arts that is both free and reinforces important virtues.
Some tidbits from the article:
“The alchemy of the transformation began with a gradual relinquishment of autonomy, especially stark in Berlin. The Berlin Philharmonic, nationalized into a state-owned company in January 1934 under Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda, began to perform in the old Philharmonie on Bernburger Straße under an immense swastika. It was now expected to render service to “the German cause.” (Even Goebbels did not speak of “Nazi music” but of “German music.”) Goebbels, who began to call it “my orchestra,” increased its subsidies and its musicians’ salaries and personally signed letters of exemption from military service for its members. Goebbels also lavishly funded a movie about the orchestra (released in late 1944), which Trümpi calls “the most expensive advertising campaign ever undertaken on behalf of the Berlin Philharmonic.”
“After the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in March 1938, things were even worse in Vienna, which liked to think of itself as the “music city” par excellence. Trümpi, the first historian granted full access to the Vienna Philharmonic archives, reports that a blacklist compiled in 1938 named 11 Jewish orchestra members, and ten more who were married to Jewish women. After the Anschluss, an annexation as much cultural as territorial, all were either forced into retirement or dismissed. Seven of them would be murdered in the Holocaust. Close to half of the philharmonic’s remaining musicians joined the Nazi Party.”
Source: The Baton and the Jackboot
Here is a thoughtful essay on the fact that the leisure we all desire is actually fraught with significant dangers and temptations. Mark Kingwell (the author) is obviously a scholar and his writing cuts across the standard short-attention-span variety of prose that flows in the gutters of the internet (translation: this is not an easy read).
In any case the article is thought provoking and profound. He concludes with something significant. What to do with our time when we don’t have to work to put food on the table? That question brings up the greatest question all: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here anyway? He writes:
“More profoundly, though, is a point that returns us to the original vision of a populace altogether freed from work by robots. To use a good example of critical consciousness emerging from within the production cycles of the culture industry, consider the Axiom, the passenger spaceship that figures in the 2008 animated film WALL-E. Here, robot labor has proved so successful, and so nonthreatening, that the human masters have been freed to indulge in nonstop indulgence of their desires. As a result, they have over generations grown morbidly obese, addicted to soft drinks and video games, their bones liquefied in the ship’s microgravity conditions. They exist, but they cannot be said to live.
The gravest danger of offloading work is not a robot uprising but a human downgrading. Work hones skills, challenges cognition, and, at its best, serves noble ends. It also makes the experience of genuine idling, in contrast to frenzied leisure time, even more valuable. Here, with only our own ends and desires to contemplate—what shall we do with this free time?—we come face to face with life’s ultimate question. To ask what is worth doing when nobody is telling us what to do, to wonder about how to spend our time, is to ask why are we here in the first place. Like so many of the standard philosophical questions, these ones butt up, however playfully, against the threshold of mortality.”
And this thought about our social media addiction is the best line I have read in while:
“We are no longer owners and workers, in short; we are, instead, voracious and mostly quite happy producers and consumers of images. Nowadays, the images are mostly of ourselves, circulated in an apparently endless frenzy of narcissistic exhibitionism and equally narcissistic voyeurism: my looking at your online images and personal details, consuming them, is somehow still about me.”