Snatching defeat from the jaws of (conservative) victory

The odd stance of the conservatives vis a vis college crops up its head in this recent post from Rod Dreher. What catches his eye is this proposal

New Mexico’s high school juniors would be required to apply to at least one college or show they have committed to other post-high school plans as part of a new high school graduation requirement being pushed by two state lawmakers

An anonymous reader in higher education goes on to complain in the post about the inflation, the bubble of the four-year school, thereby reading the proposal as a sort of inflator for the higher education industry.

To say such, is to ignore what actually is said, or rather to limit it only to the four-year school. Look again, is that what New Mexico is asking?

The New Mexico plan specifically includes attendance at a two-year college — a great source for gaining the tech skills and credentialing for getting on with life. As report notes, this is a move especially desired by those in STEM fields. This is not really that surprising. After all, it is the presence of an educated workforce (skilled trade and college grad) that fuels an economy and supports entrepreneurs.

The New Mexico proposal sets up two policy extensions. The first, is that of cost. It is a cruel mockery to have students prepare for a four-year program if that further entails debt. In Michigan, at least, the increase in tuition is substantially driven by the shift of state funds away from the universities, thereby transferring more of the economic burden to the student. Skilled and professional workforces are not commanded as if by magic, but are the stuff of real investment. And second, to push for students to make a plan also means that the universities and colleges accepting those students likewise deliver on that plan; far from sanctioning the presence of liberal arts (oh no, the dreaded SJW) this measure is the premise for the State to demand further accountability of curriculum and outcomes, not less.

Finally, to return to the high school level, asking a student to consider what comes next, asking them to think and not drift — to be responsible — is hardly a burden. The surprising thing (evidently) is that only some schools do this. Talk about building a culture of (cultural) poverty! The New Mexico proposal fights the fight that you want to win; the grief-making is little more than a snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory.

Universities: Too Big To Fail?


Conservatives and racism

Rod Dreher gives voice to an understandable opinion, this in his continuing discussion of shitholes, domestic and foreign.

It really ticks me off how many (but not all) liberals insist on inserting race into these discussions and calling conservatives racist (or at least implying that we are racially insensitive). As if people of all races and classes are not capable of living virtuously, and to believe that they are is a sign of bigotry.

What Dreher appears to be seeking is a middle ground, one that is difficult to get at (or more properly, to hear). Is there a center right view on race that can be heard, or must it all devolve into thinly veiled contempt?

Let’s just say the conservative political class does not make it easy.

At both the national and certainly at the state level, this is a group that at its best comes across as indifferent, or silent all the while framing policies questions with “dog whistles.” At worst, of course, this class doesn’t advance the dog whistle legislation, but something worse, something that can be seen as actually harming minorities. Our state house dockets are filled with both approaches. So really, one cannot blame those outside from looking and wondering if in fact this political class actually sees minorities.

And what is the alternative? The left often offers a politics of performing, of posturing — a reaction noted by Sam Murrell.  The twin posturing can easily become a sort of shadow dance, where real the performance (or the glee of not recognizing) mirror each other, in a word, a profoundly white conversation. What goes missing between these two political posturings are the voices of conservative and middle of the road blacks. It’s not that there exists a valid conservative take on the problems of race, but rather that it so rarely gets heard amid the noise. This productive middle gets obscured, or pigeon-holed, or dismissed.This is the class that goes to church, the educators and entrepreneurs, a natural conservative class and yet the political conservatives? Too rarely do they cross the line to engage, or to let these voices impact theirs. Too often they choose their own rhetoric, drop the ball, and  too often, prove unreliable.

Why I No Longer Participate in Racial Reconciliation Services
Povety as Culture


On Shitholes

Rock_Bluff_School_outhouse_1In the remarks of the President, in the now notorious comments by Dreher about Sec 8 housing (here and here), the idea of “shithole” comes across as a place to avoid. But were we to take the measure from  public health initiatives, we might give it another frame. Across the developing world one of the most important, most practical programs is that of toilets, sanitation, and so clean water —  — that’s a direct solution to shit, and a metaphor for what we also can do. The so called  “shithole” is not a place to avoid, but one to redeem.  How then do we overcome a culture of poverty? Certainly not by running away to the suburbs, or physically or metaphorically washing our hands. Instead, the problem invites us to use imagination, to apply skills, to get in an work, not just in the neighborhood, but in the corporate suite, and at City Hall.

It’s still the problem of the color line.

Rod Dreher spent a day sputtering about Sarah Jones’ exploration of Dreher’s stance on race. Her essay in The New Republic pushes on the tacit racial nature of Dreher’s words.

The blog post was classic Dreher, … (he) did not specifically refer to people of color, but he didn’t need to; he just invoked their ghostly outlines and let the reader fill them in. His defense of Trump’s remarks are damning, not only for him personally, but for a certain kind of conservative intellectual who believes he is better than the vulgar ethno-nationalists at Breitbart. It is the logical end of a train of thought that often trails off and goes unspoken, just as those minorities in Dreher’s post are not directly identified but targeted under broad euphemisms like “the poor.” It is a conspicuous silence that has been there all along.

Is Dreher an enabler of the racist alt-right? or the victim of one more over zealous  SJW (our Social Justice Warriors). Or could it be, as he argues, that her stance is basically one of privilege?

I don’t know Sarah Jones and her crowd, but I have a strong suspicion that a lot of them are lashing out so strongly at me over the “shitholes” stuff, and wildly distorting my words, because in their heart of hearts, they know that they would never live in impoverished neighborhoods marked by violence and chaos. Where in the DC area does Sarah Jones live? If she doesn’t live in a poor, violent neighborhood, why not? She could save money if she did. Where does Jonathan Merritt live in Brooklyn? Where does Jemar Tisby live in Jackson, Miss.? And so on.

This is deflection (Jones her self does not live in Washington, but in Roanoke, at some distance). Some part of Dreher’s discussion in fact lies with the question of race and what is at best, an indifference to race. DuBois observation for the 20th C is still pertinent, as policies and tweets of the administration have shown. I would suggest that this larger context, this cultural shift underway provides a frame for understanding conservative commentary. So what appears to a conservative as benign or even obvious, may be read in quite different ways elsewhere. To this we can also add the geographical frame. Think about it: Louisiana has a history, an approach to race; so does Appalachia; and for that matter in my case, so does growing up in a university town in the Midwest.

Now the case in point: it is difficult to read the paragraph from the perspective of Michigan without thinking of race; it’s the stuff of our region’s history. When Jones says “fill in…” — ah, we do this a lot, especially over by Detroit. Likewise, the question Jones asks of the Benedict Option — did it really only mention race a handful of times? That seems like a valid, if awkward critique, not in making Dreher a racist, but in pointing to a blind spot, itself the creature of a particular and local setting.

But before we mount that high horse, we should note, we all suffer from the same disease, simultaneously better than and yet worse than our words. It happens.


Sarah Jones: SJW Propagandist
Rod Dreher’s Race Problem

Purity culture

Rod Dreher sticks his foot in it

Let’s think about Section 8 housing. If word got out that the government was planning to build a housing project for the poor in your neighborhood, how would you feel about it? Be honest with yourself. Nobody would consider this good news. You wouldn’t consider it good news because you don’t want the destructive culture of the poor imported into your neighborhood. Drive over to the poor part of town, and see what a shithole it is. Do you want the people who turned their neighborhood a shithole to bring the shithole to your street?

No, you don’t. Be honest, you don’t.

I don’t recognize these places, existing as they do in Dreher’s mind. The reality? the poor neighborhoods of our city are filled with families working hard to get by.

What is perhaps most irritating about the entire comment is the notion of separation, that of course, we don’t want these folks with their “destructive culture” living next door to us. We are offered a NIMBY response, a repetition of red-lining only with slightly better tools. The consequences are not simply for the poor, but for us as well. Separation, distance makes it possible to tacitly allow injustice to grow in our society, and hardness of heart in ourselves.

At another level, when the talk turns to “shithole” countries or places we are in the realm of a purity culture, a topic that Jonathan Haidt has explored. We must separate from “dirt”, “dirt is to be rejected. It is easy in all this to move from the physical descriptions which Dreher provides, to its metaphorical or political dimension: those from shithole neighborhoods don’t deserve the same respect, protection etc. The American language of race lurks just below the surface, as do any number of anti-homosexual screeds.

And spiritually, what is this concern about purity, but a crossing on the other side of the road? The Kingdom, the good city, this place will be built by mercy, by seeing the neighbor even in the shithole, by recognizing  that what is proclaimed in Word, what is seen at the Table, can be shown working together.

Of Sh*tholes And Second Thoughts


On orthodoxy and community

Rod Dreher is concerned about the relationship between orthodoxy and the current emphasis on community within the church in  Christianity without Orthodoxy, in doing so he perhaps has two questions in mind.

First, there is the matter of practice,

How do you decide right from wrong on a controversial church teaching? . . . How do you determine that now is the time for you to stay when a divisive issue comes up in the church community, or when the line has been breached, and your understanding of truth requires you to leave on principle?

In his southern context, the question of race (and Jim Crow) lurk right below the surface, if that. And then there is a second, not-quite-the-same question, one certainly more global in nature:

We are so accustomed in our culture to not applying reason to religious experience, to only thinking of it in terms of emotional resonance, that to draw those lines seems somehow, well, un-Christian to many. How any religion survives the loss of a sense of the need for orthodoxy, I don’t know.

Both questions are rather protestant in nature, the former being the classic practice flowing from conviction (typically biblical). The latter one would appear to imagine the existence of a common orthodoxy, expressed across very diverse traditions. A fundamentalism, if you will (we differ but we all believe the same core truths). A more honest approach may be to acknowledge that what the Eastern church means by “orthodoxy” is not the same as what Rome means, let alone what an Evangelical may believe. This would be a functional definition of orthodoxy rather than a specifically theological one.

Of course, Dreher could be thinking of the more specific and normative meaning of orthodoxy as that practiced by the Eastern church (aka the Orthodox Church).

As to the relationship of orthodoxy and community, the relationship is surely dialectic. Orthodoxy explains what the community is about, it interprets the historical experience with God. The shape of the community  expresses some convictional norm, an orthodoxy at least of culture if not of theology/ideology. These convictions may be expressed explicitly in statements, and more often or in parallel, by narratives — the stories we tell about where we have come and how we got here.

In similar fashion, the practice of the community reflects or exegetes the convictions of the community. Hence the charges of dead orthodoxy or of hypocrisy when the practice of community appears at variance with the statements of formal orthodoxy or belief. What we state we believe exists as a hypothesis to be demonstrated in how we live. Practice and conviction walk together.

So Where Are All the Atheists?

Earlier this week, the BBC published a set of opinions provocatively titled,”Why is faith falling in the US?” The story was attempting to bring a national focus to a survey of global religiosity and atheism from WIN-Gallup International.

The writers naturally came from two camps: Rod Dreher, who  thinks the decline in US numbers can be traced to the rise of Moral Therapeutic Deism (the new favorite conservative whipping boy, evidently); and on the left, by David Dickerson, who believes the decline arises from the conservative church’s political stands, notably that on homosexuality — oh, those traditional stick-in-the-muds.

While both views have merit in their US context — and in truth, I’m sympathetic to both — what  what is striking is how the actual survey  shows this decline in professed religiosity to be going on through a number of developed countries in the same 2005-2012 time frame. Much as we Americans like to hold to our exceptionalism, something ordinary seems to be happening,  the decline in faith of the middle class driven by economic conditions. That is, the loss of economic faith and its secular promised future undercuts our more transcendental view of the future, that God is in control.

This entwining of the transcendental and the secular hope does point in part to that Moral Therapeutic Deism that Dreher cites. Entwining can breed a sort of psychological syncretism where my life and my faith get intimately bound so that psychology and faith are nearly one and the same. Fortunately hope is a bit more powerful than that.

On a side note: The report has some other incredible data in it. For instance, while the US bemoans the number of atheists, it’s really small potatoes relative to the world. The survey found 5 percent self report as atheist, the same number as Saudi Arabia. In most of Europe the number is in the 10-15 percent range.