Introit for the Third Sunday in Lent

Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net: look thou upon me, and have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and in misery.
Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: my God, in thee have I trusted; let me not be confounded.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


The Lord, even the most mighty God, hath spoken: and called the world, from the rising up of the sun unto the going down thereof.
Out of Sion hath God appeared: in perfect beauty.
Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: there shall go before him a consuming fire, and a mighty tempest shall be stirred up round about him.
He shall call the heaven from above: and the earth, that he may judge his people.
… But to the ungodly said God: Why dost thou preach my laws, and takest my covenant in thy mouth;
Whereas thou hatest to be reformed: and hast cast my words behind thee?
When thou sawest a thief, thou consentedst unto him: and hast been partaker with the adulterers.
Thou hast let thy mouth speak wickedness: and with thy tongue thou hast set forth deceit.
Thou satest, and spakest against thy brother: yea, and hast slandered thine own mother’s son.
These things hast thou done, and I held my tongue, and thou thoughtest wickedly, that I am even such a one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set before thee the things that thou hast done.
O consider this, ye that forget God: lest I pluck you away, and there be none to deliver you.

Psalm 50.1-4, 16-22 (said as part of Mattins on the tenth of a month in the Book of Common prayer)

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Well, I wasn’t expecting that.

Anyway. I’d like to say a few words to my left-wing friends and readers, and a few to my right-wing friends and readers.

First, to those of you on the left, especially Christians. Like you probably are, I’m horrified at the idea of four years, or four days, under Trump’s presidency. Like you probably are, I’m floored that he won at all. But I think that we should take this breathing space, between now and 20th January, to take a good, hard look in the mirror; because personally, I think we on the left had a hand in Trump’s ascendancy.

How can I say such a thing? Mostly because of the contemptuous, caustic, belligerent hatred I’ve been seeing on my Facebook feed over the last year. I don’t know that I’m guiltless of it. Now, if all of that had been directed at Trump and not at his supporters, it’d be a little, a very little, different—but what I’m talking about is the venom and the scorn directed at his supporters, accusing them of everything from allying themselves with the Ku Klux Klan to garden-variety stupidity. Yet this is only a specifically political expression of a cultural dynamic that’s been going on for decades: that of the progressive, enlightened, cosmopolitan elite looking down their noses at the conservative hicks clutching their guns and flags and Bibles, and lecturing them about their backwardness and bigotry. Express that kind of arrogance for any group of people long enough, and they’ll become exactly what you say, if only because they know it’ll annoy you: and you’ve made yourself insufferable. Hell, we’ve seen Portlandia (and if you haven’t, please, enrich yourself).

Note, this is a divide between city and countryside; not between white and black, or any other minority. Racism plays a real and ugly role in American politics, certainly, but it isn’t the only factor, as the smotheringly self-righteous urban white liberal and the Dixie-flag-toting rural black conservative could tell you. At least, the rural black conservative could, since he is probably less ruled by fashion.

Does this make liberals' view of the Dixie flag wrong? Not necessarily.
Does it make the question more complicated than liberals like to admit? Kinda, yeah.

I’m not saying leftist values1 are wrong—there are some I disagree with, sure, but that isn’t the point. The point is, how you say things is almost important as what you say; and, for a group of people whose core values ostensibly include respect for those who are different from yourself, I think the left has made a pretty poor showing in both style and substance for some time now. David Wong (of John Dies at the End fame), who grew up in the countryside and has since become a citified priss like the rest of us, puts it pretty well in this column:

Hey, remember when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans? Kind of weird that a big hurricane hundreds of miles across managed to snipe one specific city and avoid everything else. To watch the news … you’d barely hear about how the storm utterly steamrolled rural Mississippi, killing 238 people and doing an astounding $125 billion in damage. But who cares about those people, right? What’s newsworthy about a bunch of toothless hillbillies crying over a flattened trailer? … To those ignored, suffering people, Donald Trump is a brick chucked through the window of the elites. ‘Are you assholes listening now?’

‘But isn’t this really about race? Aren’t Trump supporters just a bunch of racists? Don’t they hate cities because that’s where the brown people live?’ … I never saw a family member, friend, or classmate be mean to the actual black people we had in town. We worked with them, played video games with them, waved to them when they passed. What I did hear was several million comments about how if you ever ventured into the city, winding up in the ‘wrong neighborhood’ meant you’d get dragged from your car, raped, and burned alive. … If you’d asked me at the time, I’d have said the fear and hatred wasn’t of people with brown skin, but of that specific tribe they have in Chicago … It was all part of the bizarro nature of cities, as perceived from afar—a combination of hyper-aggressive savages and frivolous white elites. Their ways are strange. And it wasn’t like pop culture was trying to talk me out of it …

[Rural populations] are getting the shit kicked out of them. I know, I was there. Step outside of the city, and the suicide rate among young people fucking doubles. The recession pounded rural communities, but all the recovery went to the cities. … The vast majority of possible careers involve moving to the city, and around every city is now a hundred-foot wall called ‘Cost of Living.’ … And if you dare complain, some liberal elite will pull out their iPad and type up a rant about your racist white privilege. Already, someone has responded to this with a comment saying, ‘You should try living in a ghetto as a minority!’ Exactly. To them, it seems like the plight of poor minorities is only used as a club to bat away white cries for help.

Personally, I believe this is because the left has lost touch with its roots: namely, the desire to be a voice for the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. The modern left, its genesis lying in the French Revolution and the various kinds of socialism that were born in the nineteenth century, was originally a workers’ rights movement more than anything; it later became a movement against oppression and destitution in general. Does that mean addressing the racism, sexism, &c., that have been and continue to be forces in American society? Absolutely! But it means caring for all the dispossessed and disenfranchised, and that will always include the poor—even the rural, white, conservative, uneducated poor. And to be blunt, for the last fifty years, the American left has been so caught up in (real) ideological forms of oppression that it’s forgotten the cold, simple, silent oppression of the dollar—which has no loyalties and is no respecter of persons.

The Haymarket Martyrs' Monument in Forest Park, Illinois.

Nor, to stay blunt, is the left in this country above using the power of the state to force things on the populace against their will. The contraceptive mandate of the HHS in the wake of the Affordable Care Act is an excellent example: not only because it totally disregarded and scorned the conservative conscience as nothing more than sexism (because, if someone doesn’t want to pay for someone else’s contraceptives, it can only be because they’re anti-woman—there couldn’t be anything more to understand from the likes of them, right?), but because it invoked governmental authority as a compulsive and even a morally superior force against that conscience. Is it so shocking if the right wing does the same? You invoked force in the name of righteousness; you have it.

If we, the left, want to appeal to the minds and hearts of the American people, we have some self-examining and some repenting to do. We have to look hard at our snobbery, our dogmatism, and our sense of entitlement, and disentangle those things from the authentic values of equality and compassion for the disadvantaged that we profess to hold dear. And we have to be prepared to listen to, and believe, rural conservatives.

To my friends and readers on the right, I must confess, I have little to say; not out of hostility, but because I can’t think of much. I hope you’ll be as willing to defy the status quo under Trump as you were under Obama, if it becomes necessary, and I hope you’ll accept that my fears for myself and my family (my brother-in-law is an immigrant from Ecuador; my nephew has Down Syndrome; I’m gay and an anarchist) are sincere, and respect those fears rather than belittling them. And if—God forbid—those fears should turn out to be justified, I hope you’ll have my back.

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1A hopelessly generic phrase, especially since the American left is atypical of leftist movements. But the details need not detain us.


  1. I think you hit the urban versus rural thing on the nose.

    That's always been the problem, hasn't it?

    Even in the Bible we have a fascinating contrast between, on the one hand, salvation history being likened to a civilizing (which tends to mean something like urbanizing in technical anthropological jargon) process out of the wilderness towards the heavenly Jerusalem...but then on the other, Babylon is the incarnation of all things urban and the advice is "go out from her my people."

    And it is connected to Race, of course, inasmuch as individualism and pluralism only work in cities. Yes, there are some rural blacks still, etc, but they're an exception to the rule. Generally, rural life by its very...*geographical structure* is marked by something like organic genealogical communities, families spreading into clans into tribes into nations, and it's really tough for a minority group to survive without being either quickly assimilated, chased out, or feeling the pull to form their own State out of the territory they've managed to cover.

    I've said before something like "if the Swedes and Norwegians, or Croats and Slovenes, need two different countries...what hope do American whites and blacks have of getting along?" And I think, had the blacks stayed rural and maintained the burgeoning population majorities they had for a brief moment circa 1900 in the five deepest southern states...I bet by today we'd have an independent African-American homeland in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

    But then of course...the cities. The Great Migration. Peoples (it happened to the Jews and Gypsies too?) who are city dwellers have no territory. No land. No real potential for their own nation-state under the current model, which retains a stubborn imaginative connection (maybe because it's human nature) to the idea of "blood and soil."

  2. And so the country mouse and the city mouse are in a bind.

    Even Hitler's idea of lebensraum was about (according to a lecture I heard by Timothy Schneider) dealing with the "vaguely decadent" cities of industrialism by resettling Germans back into a rural setting. But of course, we can't really do that now, can we? There's too many people, not enough land, so you wind up under such a scheme needing to get rid of people (or dreaming of draining the oceans or terraforming Mars or desperately hoping the earth is hollow...)

    And look at the whole history of Communism's failure. It was, one might argue, in part because they never could really resolve the ambivalence between Marx's placing of their hopes in the (urban, industrial) proletariat and the more Maoist emphasis on the peasantry. And so you've got Stalin trying to collectivize agriculture *and* move everyone into cities and industrialize (meanwhile China builds empty cities when some of theirs already have tens of millions).

    And cities are vaguely decadent, aren't they? The atomistic individual only makes sense in a city. Cut off from nature. Family becomes less embedded, so do relationships. The sexual revolution would be a disaster to the fabric of rural of life. It's been a disaster to the urban poor too, but not in quite the same "structural" way...indeed, in some ways it's only been bad for them to the extent that they still "regressively" rely on more "rural-like" structures of family-networks that the city's voluntaristic life-relations are supposed to be rendering obsolete.

    But it's hard, isn't it? Cities aren't big territory, so you can't say "they'll have their country and we ours." William Jennings Bryan might be Right when he said, "Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country." But under the current model of the nation-state it is hard to just excise cities.

    Maybe something like the model from the Holy Roman Empire of the "free imperial city" is something worth looking at? The idea that cities as a fundamental unit, while not exactly self-contained, clearly have different self-interests than the surrounding land.

    My native Illinois is all red except Chicago and it's suburbs...but all our electoral votes inevitably go Blue; it's much more centralized population-wise than something like an Ohio with its multiple smaller industrial cities (Columbus Cleveland Cincinnati Toledo Dayton Akron) and this is a political problem.

    Yet cities are going to continue to grow. They're going to swallow up idea of organic nationhood and yet the Church seems ambivalent here. It's never been a huge fan of the nation-state idea...and yet the same forces that work against against The Family too.

    The sexual revolution model just..."makes more sense" in an urban way of relating to the world and to other people (even something as simple as the fact of young people living independently in apartment blocks as opposed to with their own families in houses spread far apart clearly effects courtship/dating scripts and thus moral sense). So do atheism and secularism in many ways.

    Sure racism is bad, but the usual solution is that the Montenegrins just break off from the Serbs. But when you've got a stateless (read: landless) minority (or rather many landless minorities) growing in these pluralist cities but exerting this narrative of victimary guilting...where is the resentment supposed to go? What is the constructive outlet? What is the solution that goes to the root instead of constantly trying to manage symptoms?

    How do we "go out from her"? Or how, at least, do we replace Babylon with Jerusalem?

    1. "How do we replace Babylon with Jerusalem?" I love that question; beautifully put.

      As to nation-states, I'm a little skeptical of their value. Multinational states, and multistate nations, have existed and do exist: the Roman, Byzantine, Holy Roman, and Austro-Hungarian Empires spring to mind, as well as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia; and the US and the UK are multinational states, as are India, South Africa, Canada, Russia, Turkey, Rwanda, Switzerland, and Spain. Conversely, multistate nations are something of a forgotten reality: ancient Greece with its plethora of city-states is an obvious example, as were Germany and Italy right down to the middle of the nineteenth century, and even today, the English, Portuguese, French, and Spanish peoples have a wide array of states spanning three different continents. None of these things seem, to me, to be manifestly problematic in themselves, and I don't know that they were ever assumed to be problematic except by two groups: imperialists, who wanted to conquer surrounding nations, and to whom independence was ipso facto an obstacle; and nationalists, who assert that nations should be states and states should be national -- as far as I can tell, they get this belief out of romanticism, racism (explicit or implicit), or thin air, none of which I find compelling reasons to attempt to create nation-states where they don't already exist. (Of course, there are specific nations, like the Kurds or the Palestinians, who seem chiefly to want an independent state because all the states they're ostensibly citizens of oppress the shit out of them; but this is a practical rather than a philosophical reason to want a nation-state.) Multinational states and multistate nations have always had their problems, but it isn't clear to me that these are substantially different than they'd be if statehood and nationality were effectively equivalent.

      As to the decadence of cities, I agree in a way. What I'd say is that decadence seems to be the characteristic "societal temptation" of cities. The countryside has its own characteristic societal temptation, with its own flavor (I'd tentatively identify that temptation as intransigence, but I shouldn't digress); I expect the suburbs have their own, too. But of course every temptation is the reverse of which a special virtue or talent is the obverse. The willingness to experiment and the all-but-inevitable crossroads nature of cities is the same thing that opens them to both decadence and vitality; the spread of Christianity, which began in the cities and spread much more slowly among the peasantry, or 'pagani,' is an excellent example of the two-sidedness of urban energy.

      Taking those two things into account, my skepticism about nation-states and my attitude toward city and country, my own favorite solution would be to seriously advocate the institution of city-states. Federated if they like (and only if they like, with zero consequences for anyone who prefers not to federate), but fully independent communities. If you will, an extremist subsidiarism. It'd also be possible to fit this quite neatly into a basically Dantean view of the role of the Emperor, if we're in the mood for a single world government. (I'm not, but if anybody else is.)

      This would *not* solve the problem of racism by itself, and indeed I could see it making things worse in the short term, at least in some places. Nor do I think it's likely to actually get put into practice any time soon. But I think the long-term effects would increase communal solidarity, and make that solidarity concrete in your fellow citizens instead of an abstract idea.

      That said, it's a part of my political theory I haven't spent much time on, and I'm certainly open to further discussion.

  3. I'd like to respect your fears, but first I need to understand what they are.

    Why is your Equadorean (I assume legal) immigrant brother in law worried? My daughter in law is the child of immigrants from Bengal, India. Should I worry about her and my upcoming grandchildren?

    My nephew is blind. Why are you worried about your nephew with Downs?

    I celebrated three weddings involving gay friends. (One of them thinks I threw him and his husband under the bus by not supporting Clinton; I'm scared he'll ever speak to me again.) What do you have to fear (from a Trump administration) being gay?

    I'm not aware Trump had any position on anarchists.

    1. I'm not trying to urge fear on other people. If you aren't afraid, I'm glad.

      But what causes my fear is the atmosphere that Trump represents, and the possibility of how his supporters could respond. The fact that we as a nation elected a man endorsed by the KKK is gravely disquieting; my fear is that it'll embolden those who espouse that ideology to be more aggressive and less fearful of the consequences. And then, even if perpetrators are punished, their victims will still, well, have whatever happened to them, up to and including death. My brother-in-law is a citizen -- in fact he used to be a Marine; but we saw quite plainly this year that even being a POW doesn't protect you from Trump's contempt, and I don't know what that may say to his supporters. Besides which, citizenship, unlike brownness or an accent, can't be spotted at a glance, and (God forbid it should ever come to this) violent bigots are not widely known for careful examination of immigration papers. Some of my minority friends, even the "whiter" ones (like a Filipina I know), have already reported harassment and intimidation on account of their race in the days following the election. Perhaps it's only the after-effects of enthusiasm, but I am not optimistic.

      Similarly, my worries about my nephew have to do with that same atmosphere, set by Trump. I was never clear on the debacle in which he allegedly mocked a disabled reporter; it doesn't sound to me like he's above that, but I heard controversy over whether he was rightly understood, and I'm loath to attribute such a horrible attitude even to someone I so thoroughly dislike. But again, my concern is more with what his supporters might do with such an attitude than with him (since the President-elect is hardly likely to go door-to-door arresting people, or even making fun of them). Considering that Down Syndrome is already subject to scorn that I find pretty shocking (e.g., two-thirds of fetuses diagnosed with it are aborted in the US, and the rates in Europe are even higher), yeah, I was already faintly worried about how the world may treat him. This election doesn't soothe those worries.

      I'm terribly sorry to hear about your friend's reaction to your not supporting Clinton (and, for whatever it's worth, I think it's a grossly unfair reaction, since Maryland is a decidedly Democratic state anyhow). I hope he comes around. But, to address your point: honestly, my LGBT identity doesn't bother me quite as much on that score, not from his administration at least, since he didn't seem concerned about it at all on the campaign trail. But once again, it's his supporters, and what they may do with the real or perceived tolerance of a Trump administration, that frightens me.

      As to my being an anarchist -- I'm not aware that he has any position on us either; but he is (to all appearances) an authoritarian nationalist. Fringe political partisans are never welcome in authoritarian and nationalist cultures. Actually, this is the one place where I would be a little worried about what the state was likely to do to me more than what Trump's supporters might; in my experience, people are either baffled or dismiss me as a harmless nutjob when I tell them I'm an anarchist, but the government has monitored anarchist groups in the past (tried to infiltrate them, even), and I don't think they're above jailing someone like me now. Admittedly it'd be a little foolish, since I'm also a pacifist; but authoritarians, being human, do not always identify risks correctly.

      So. Those are my fears, in more detail. I'm not asking that you share them -- I could be misreading the signs, indeed I hope I am, and even centaurs read these things wrongly. But I'd like to thank you for engaging and for wanting to show respect. It's touching.