The Angst of America-From the 1960s to Now

I remember when America was burning down. It was the 60s. Vietnam, flood of drugs, particularly heroin and LSD, riots in cities that were in fact wars, promises to kill cops by Weathermen, political assassinations, Watergate, the quick fading of consensus on moral codes, the beginning destruction being brought on by Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the welfare society, escalating divorce rates and out of wedlock children, churches decimated by liberal theology and the tanking of the mainline denominations beginning, etc. There were still conservative faculty at colleges but their numbers were sinking.

It did feel like anarchy. No safe place. Within 15 years America was electing Ronald Reagan. There is one change in America that might diminish a prospect for stabilization. The diversity of the voting electorate is a challenge to stabilizing cultural consensus. This is different. Some see this only as a good, but it can be a tipping point that makes it beyond difficult to reach common definitions of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. This is a first for America and sentimental ideas of national renewal are not facing the new realities of clash of cultures. See “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” by Samuel P. Huntington, a book we have used in Ethics classes. Also see Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.

By zeroing in on troubling trends in white America, Murray keeps the focus on the country’s increasing polarization along class lines,on the growing isolation of the well-off from the poor, with each group developing radically different cultures, perspectives, and expectations from the other’s. Murray provides historical context, showing that, before the 1960s, Americans of all races and classes had similar perspectives and expectations. Using census data for 1960 and 2000, Murray shows increasing segregation of a college-educated elite living in “SuperZips” from those with little education, eking out a living in poor neighborhoods. Murray also shows strong divergence in education, employment, marriage, crime, and other indicators.

Also go back and read Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville written in the early 1800s. Amazingly prescient. He considered the American experiment doomed, though prosperous for a time. His assertion, the same as Socrates, was that the virtuous man is required for democracy to work, which also required vital religion. He also posited that as the enfranchisement to vote was enlarged the “have nots” would simply vote to themselves the wealth of the “haves.” I think most everyone recognizes this reality today, pandered to by politicians who will promise more wealth for the poorer through taxation, not through economic growth. Today the middle to higher middle class in America pays 37% of their income in taxes, requiring two earner incomes, leading to exhausted families with fewer resources for the nurture and enculturation of children.

De Tocqueville posited that the only way around this phenomenon would be good people among the haves and the have nots who would vote not according to self interest but according to some absolute standard of the good. Democracy does not in and of itself produce good people but only gives people the opportunity to vote. Virtue must come from elsewhere. It is this that must somehow come front and center in the political arena.

Winsome Words 8/31/2015

Of all the evidences of the real work of the Spirit, a habit of hearty private prayer is one of the most satisfactory that can be named. A man may preach from false motives. A man may write books and make fine speeches and seem diligent in good works, and yet be a Judas Iscariot. But a man seldom goes into his closet, and pours out his soul before God in secret, unless he is in earnest. The Lord himself has set his stamp on prayer as the best proof of true conversion. … J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)

Can A Book Become Too Pornographic For A College Class To Read?

The intuitive and immediately reply would be yes. But that is only if you’re not reading the Huffington Post.

Some Freshmen at Duke have refused to read the recommended Alison Bechdel’s illustrated memoir Fun Home. They have given a quite thoughtful response to their decision not to read what they consider mere pornography, a sin for Christianity, not to mention Islam. Here is Brian Grasso’s explanation of his position.

But in the Bible, Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he says in Matthew 5:28-29. “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.” This theme is reiterated by Paul who warns, “flee from sexual immorality.”

I think there is an important distinction between images and written words. If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex.

I think that most people would consider that a reasonable position, though the majority wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time quibbling, particular underclassmen at Duke,

Compare this to the HuffPo piece by Eliel Cruz, “How a ‘Pornographic’ Lesbian Graphic Novel Ignited a Culture War at Duke.’

In an essay for Quartz, Amber Humphrey writes that these students are engaging in the “antithesis of education.” “Education–especially higher education–obliges us to read, hear, and see things that we might not otherwise encounter,” Humphrey writes. “Anyone committed to learning must therefore engage with people, perspectives, ideas, and experiences that may at first seem strange, confusing, or problematic. Learning means we attempt to understand–it doesn’t mean we have to like everything we’re exposed to.”

The logical fallacy is that to understand a position you have to read the most vulgar rendition of that position. This sounds like the same argument that to understand what ISIS is doing in the Middle East you have to look at a beheading video. It does not follow. The reality is that we can understand arguments without a pornographic statement of the argument. To understand twerking I do not have to look at the stomach churning images of Ciley Myrus performing it.

We all understand that sexual libertinism has become required reading and viewing in the academia. But that does not make it respectable or necessary to a stellar academic education.

What’s the real agenda?

As Slate’s Jacob Brogan points out, the people “refusing to read Fun Home are the ones who need it most,” and he’s right: Getting to know queer people–whether real or fictional–is important in humanizing LGBT people and doesn’t just help combat everyday homophobia. It’s crucial in lobbying for legal protections as well.

The point is not to know but to approve. And not only to approve but to applaud.

And even Freshmen know that something is wrong with that kind of thinking.