Wednesday, June 27, 2007


A must read (imo). From Brink Lindsay (of liberaltarian fame and more importantly his profound meditation The Age of Abundance)

Now he tackles the culture wars.

The piece is entitled The Aquarians and the Evangelicals: How left-wing hippies and right-wing fundamentalists created a Libertarian America. Read it here. In Reason magazine.

The Age of Abundance (post WWII boom) created pressure that broken down the conventional (what he calls postwar liberal consensus) had broken down by the late 60s.

In the breakdown (of orange we may see as a guiding cultural institution) came progressive (and increasingly radical) green (Lindsay's Aquarian Hippies) as well as revival of blue (evangelicals).

Lindsay (my emphasis rest of quotations):

Read more

That split pits one set of half-truths against another. On the left gathered those who were most alive to the new possibilities created by the unprecedented mass affluence of the postwar years but at the same time were hostile to the social institutions—namely, the market and the middle-class work ethic—that created those possibilities. On the right rallied those who staunchly supported the institutions that created prosperity but who shrank from the social dynamism they were unleashing. One side denounced capitalism but gobbled its fruits; the other cursed the fruits while defending the system that bore them. Both causes were quixotic, and consequently neither fully realized its ambitions. But out of their messy dialectic, the logic of abundance would eventually fashion, if not a reworked consensus, then at least a new modus vivendi.
And this intriguing line:
So the tinder was there. But what sparks would set it ablaze? The primary catalysts were an odd couple: the civil rights struggle and the psychedelic drug scene. Both inducted their participants into what can fairly be called religious experience.
Religious experience? That's definitely interesting.

For its reliance on the market, the work ethic, and even the embrace of classical humanistic education (the institutions that support capitalism), the conservatives trend a fine line.

It is the same tendency relating to marriage. The American conservatives embraced the Victorian liberal notion that marriage was to be between two young people who freely choose each other out of love, but then try (and I think usually not very effectively) to stay that momentum from moving beyond a certain accepted limited frame: i.e. gay marriage/civil unions.

This is the not accepting the fruits part of Lindsay's equation.

There are bad fruits to come out of that exploration no doubt. And conservatives are generally very good at spotting them--victimhood, multiculturalism as an ideology, pervasive narcissism, etc.

But for the moment I'm focusing on the half empty side of the conservatives.

Lindsay again (emphasis mine):

What begat the transformation from apolitical fringe to passionately engaged mass movement? First, a mass movement requires mass—in this case, a critical mass of critically minded young people. Between 1960 and 1970, the number of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 jumped from 16.2 million to 24.4 million. Meanwhile, as capitalism’s ongoing development rendered economic life ever more technologically and organizationally complex, the demand for educated managers and professionals grew. Consequently, among the swelling ranks of college-age young people, the portion who attended college ballooned from 22.3 percent to 35.2 percent during the ’60s.

With their wider exposure to history, literature, philosophy, and science, recipients of higher education were more likely to see beyond the confines of their upbringing—to question the values they were raised to accept, to appreciate the virtues of other cultures, to seek out the new and exotic. By triumphing over scarcity, capitalism launched the large-scale pursuit of self-realization. Now, by demanding that more and more people be trained to think for themselves, capitalism ensured that the pursuit would lead in unconventional directions—and that any obstacles on those uncharted paths would face clever and resourceful adversaries. In the culture as in the marketplace, the “creative destruction” of competitive commerce bred subversives to challenge the established order.

That's why American conservatism is so endlessly fascinating to me even though I disagree with certain of its tenets. Because it is not the old style aristocratic European conservatism: it does not seek to restrict education (a la Nietzsche) to the masses. On the other hand it only wants that questioning via education to go so far.

I emphasized the religious experience element because of the interior qualia it references.

Wilber has argued that the only real categorization that defines left and right is that the right emphasizes the interiors (what he calls internalism) and the left the exteriors (externalism).

This covers the difference between say social cons and neocons as well as old-time liberals and postmodern Netroots-ish ones.

Go back to Lindsay's quotation:

The left was hostile to the social institutions (e.g. markets, universities) that gave rise to their freedom. The talk was all about changing the system.

The right flinched at the social dynamism and the expansion of choice because they knew many would make bad choices with this new freedom.

Again I want to point out how smart Lindsay is to say the capitalist development created the space for this inner exploration. That accords with an integral view that the right-hand usually outpaces the left. And for massive social change to occur, a new technological base must be brought in. Otherwise like through the 50s, Bohemianism will be a very small counter-culture with no mass appeal for change.

And his argument vis a vis the evangelicals also I think hits the mark (the good and the bad):

There is no point in mincing words: The stunning advance of evangelicalism marked a dismal intellectual regress in American religion. A lapse into crude superstition and magical thinking, credulous vulnerability to charlatans, a dangerous weakness for apocalyptic prophecy (see the massive popularity of the best-selling nonfiction book of the ’70s, evangelical Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth), and blatant denial of scientific reality, resurgent conservative Protestantism entailed a widespread surrender of believers’ critical faculties. The celebration of unreason on the left had met its match on the right.

But having beat their intellectual retreat, evangelicals summoned up the fortitude to defend a cultural position that was, to a considerable extent, worth defending. In particular, they upheld values that, after the Sturm und Drang of the ’60s and ’70s subsided, would garner renewed appreciation across the ideological divide: committed family life, personal probity and self-restraint, the work ethic, and unembarrassed American patriotism.

Regress possibly so much as every being is born at stages of faith square 0 and has to develop through the stages (as outlined by say James Fowler). Although again, every movements has its own intra-movements: Billy Graham (Lindsay mentions) refused to have segregated seating after Brown v. Board of Education (57). Jerry Falwell opposed civil rights and later said he was wrong.

And this:
Most important, evangelicalism aligned Christian faith with the Holy Grail of the affluent society: self-realization. Unlike the classic bourgeois Protestantism of the 19th century, whose moral teachings emphasized avoidance of worldly temptation, the revitalized version promised empowerment, joy, and personal fulfillment. A godly life was once understood as grim defiance of sinful urges; now it was the key to untold blessings. “Something good is going to happen to you!” was one of Oral Roberts’ favorite catchphrases.
Lindsay also shows the counterculture left's influence on young George W. Bush and his conversion to evangelical Christianity (hint: crossover movement of Jesus Freaks as both aquarian hippies and evangelicals).

So the clincher:
Evangelicals and Aquarians were more alike than they knew. Both sought firsthand spiritual experience; both believed that such experience could set them free and change their lives; both favored emotional intensity over intellectual rigor; both saw their spiritual lives as a refuge from a corrupt and corrupting world. That last point, of course, was subject to radically different interpretations. Aquarians rejected the establishment because of its supposedly suffocating restrictions, while the evangelicals condemned its licentious, decadent anarchy. Between them, they left the social peace of the ’50s in ruins.
In other words, all states no stages. My only disagreement with Lindsay is that this new synthesis he calls for requires an actual transformation to a global systems or universal pluralistic view (overview here). I, unlike him, would not call this center "libertarian."

To put it quite crudely:

The right tends to get the universal right but not the pluralist half of that dyad. Universal application of certain values--e.g. democracy, work ethic.

But when it encounters others who are not of this ilk, the conservative movement generally has only two options:

1)keep them out of our country (e.g. Mexican illegal immigration)
2a)bring US military might to unleash these values in the world (neoconservatism)
2b)if 2a won't succeed because the people (like I don't know Arabs) are culturally incapable of this change, force only (staying on "offense").

The left tends to get the pluralism but not the universalism. "My truth for me, your truth for you." And the only link (tenuous at that) is tolerance. Which is vastly different than love and justice.

Which is why especially pomo liberalism is so flaky and when faced with abhorrent evil can only blame modernism for all the problems of the world. And make individuals who commit grievous sins into victims who couldn't know any better--thereby under the guise of enlightened tolerance in a racist manner lump a group of people into the category of irresponsible non-adult humans. [White liberal guilt].

I hope Lindsay is right that a new synthesis is on the way. I'm so ready for the 60s fights to be over with. To just get on with the real issues, keep what was worth keeping, have a wider scope and some hope, not these tired old fake debates.


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