Cultural Ecosystems

“Our anti-philosophers are especially vulnerable in this age, because the media fill our environment with popularized philosophies. Marshall McLuhan was right in saying that environments tend not to be noticed….We see many of their explicit contents, but the environments themselves are imperceptible. We do not see the environment, as Os Guinness says, because we see with it. That means we are influenced by ideas we do not notice and therefore are not aware of their effect on us. Or, if we see the effect, we find it difficult to discover the cause.”

Herbert Schlossberg
Idols For Destruction – pg. 7

The Chinese have a proverb that says, “If you want to know what the water is like, don’t ask a fish.” The thrust of the proverb is the same as the thrust of what Schlossberg is getting at above. Like a fish swimming in water people swim in their culture and like that fish in water, a person in their given cultural environment, doesn’t tend to notice the ecosystem of which they are a part. For a fish not noticing that ecosystem is no problem but for people not noticing their cultural ecosystem can lead to grave problems when that ecosystem and the assumptions upon which it is premised is in revolt against King Christ.

It takes a great deal of work to begin to see the cultural ecosystem in which we live, and where the work is successful the result can be a sense of alienation if one concludes, as a result of the work, that there is something profoundly wrong with the cultural ecosystem in which one is living. People who are self conscious regarding the cultural ecosystem in which they are swimming and who take great pains to point out the deficiencies of the premises upon which the cultural ecosystem is built are sometimes called prophets. People who like their cultural ecosystem don’t typically like prophets — hence the alienation.

Most people spend their whole lives not questioning their cultural ecosystem. They absorb their convictions by way of the osmosis that comes in the course of being saturated in the culture. I believe when the Apostle told the Romans that they were not ‘to be conformed to the world’ his warning was tantamount to saying don’t absorb the premises of non Christ honoring cultural ecosystems. I believe Christians, by definition, are supposed to be a people who do the work of seeing the cultural ecosystem in which they live for what it is.

The reason that this work is so difficult is that it often amounts to taking out your eyes in order to look at them. That is how close the cultural ecosystem is to people who live in and with their system. As the quote says above we see with our cultural ecosystem and so in order to see it we have to either get out of it or we have to get it out of us in order to examine its premises and how it is shaping us in troublesome directions.

Lord Christ, grant your people grace to see with and not through their eyes.

Beza –Rights of of political subjects a condition of good government

“If the magistrate rules properly, the people, must obey him. But if the magistrate exceeds his authority, the people, through their representatives, have not only the right but also the duty of conscience to resist such tyranny. No magistrate should be suffered who has fundamentally breached the covenant he had sworn to God and his people. To suffer such a tyrant would insult God who had called all rulers to represent his divine being and authority on earth and to strive for divine justice and equity for all of God’s people.”

John Witte, Jr. — Summarizing Beza’s position
The Reformation Of Rights — pg. 139

The Myth That Equality Brings Utopia

“Fairness for all citizens is not the same as equality of all citizens. To level all individual citizens without regard for their abilities, achievements, offices, or obligations is not only unfair and unjust it will only bring manifest disorder.”

Johannes Althusius — 157-1638
Calvinist Political Theorist

The Christian believes in equality of all men before God’s law, which is to say that it is the Christian teaching that there is one law, by which all men are measured and held accountable to, regardless of their station, rank or place. This is the Christian idea of equality. This Christian idea of equality does not, as Althusius understood, serve as a means by which superior men are leveled, nor does it eliminate the idea of social hierarchy intent on flattening out the kind of distinctions among men that Althusius mentions (distinctions of abilities, achievements, offices and obligations).

This idea of equality is far different then what modern man has embraced. In these United States, because of our long leveling history, we tend to think that equality means equality of opportunity, and even equality of outcome. And now because of our lust for ‘equality’ we are working on creating a society without distinctions, reasoning that distinctions undermine equality. Consequently, distinctions between the roles of men and women, the roles between superiors and inferiors, the roles between children and parents, and the roles between Elders and non-Elders are eliminated in the name of equality.

Let’s take these one at a time.

Currently there is a legislative push to make sure equality expresses itself in equality of opportunity. Such an idea is sheer nonsense and intrudes upon God’s sovereignty. God places men in their stations and ranks and it is hubris of the highest nature to think that men can legislate that the son of farmers or factory workers (and I am both) should or could have the same opportunities as the sons of wealth, power, and position. Such a thing could only be accomplished by the most severe government intrusion into family life and if pursued could only lead to least common denominator opportunities. In short, if equality of opportunities were ever realized the net effect would not be to give the sons of the less fortunate the opportunities of the sons of the more fortunate but rather it would work to make sure that the opportunities of all sons were equally dismal. The mad search for equality never ends in lifting all to a higher plateau but rather always ends in pulling all down to a least common denominator dreariness. Equality is certainly achieved but it is the equality of the miserable. Keep this principle in mind the next time you think about the foundational premise of ‘no child left behind.’

If equality of opportunity is disastrous then the pursuit for equality of outcome is disastrous on steroids. In the name of equality of outcome we are currently adding points to minority applications for entrance into University settings just on the basis of their being minorities or women. The consequence of this is that people who are less qualified then other people who are competing with them are being given consideration over the more qualified simply because we are pursuing equality of outcome. The consequences of this are obvious. First, when lesser qualified people gain admittance into places they have no business being because they are not qualified what happens is that excellence cannot be pursued at the same pace because those who are equipped to pursue that excellence are retarded because of the necessity of giving time to the unqualified to catch up, or if that doesn’t happen the unqualified are passed along with the qualified, even if they are clueless just so the elites can tell themselves that they are building a culture of equality of outcome. Keep this dynamic in mind the next time you visit a minority doctor, lawyer or minister. Second, the larger consequence of this is that we end up filling our cultural and intellectual leadership with second rate people and once again the equality that is achieved is not a equality that provides cultural lift but rather a equality that produces cultural deterioration. The pursuit of equality of outcome tends towards a culture where all are equally inept.

Now the mad lust for equality, inherited from the French Revolution, and being part of every post revolutionary West state hence has us striving towards the curing of God given distinctions. This has led to the claim that men and women are really not distinct but rather are interchangeable parts. Women can fly fighter jets the same as men. Men can be caregivers and nurturers as well as women. The consequence of this ungodly egalitarian lust is not the lifting up of men and women and their relationships but rather it works the diminishing of both men and women and wreaks mass confusion in how they relate one to another. In the name of equality men are trained to treat women just like they treat one another. In the name of equality women are taught to be just as tough as the guys. Is it any wonder that sexual roles are confused? Once again the pursuit of equality among the sexes doesn’t end up in lifting men and women to a higher plane but rather works a ugly lowest common denominator blandness.

Althusius was right that fairness for all citizens is not the same as equality for all citizens. Indeed it is the situation that when equality is pursued in the name of fairness the result is that all are harmed.

Observations On The Culture of Exposure

“The only thing forbidden in our culture of exposure is the inclination to forbid — to set limits on disclosure.”

Christopher Lasch
Article — For Shame

Some observations consonant with Lasch,

1.) Every culture defines itself by its taboos. By establishing taboos a culture locates the holy by designating the blasphemous. Those who violate the taboos may exist within a culture but they cannot participate in the culture. The taboo in our culture of multiculturalism and pluralism is anything that restricts, isolates or forbids. In short it is taboos that are taboo.

Here is a quick example of this. Fifty years ago if a high schooler was pregnant out of wedlock the expectation is that she would drop out of high school, be disciplined by her church, be a negative example in her extended family, and be the gossip of the town. Today if a high schooler is pregnant out of wedlock anybody who would behave with the behavior of fifty years ago would be met with the same response by the larger community as the out of wedlock high schooler received fifty years ago. The taboo has switched. Fifty years ago the taboo was towards a set behavior. Today the taboo is toward any taboo.

2.) If you extend Lasch’s observation about ‘exposure’ to the general culture one might argue that this is a consequence of the confessional booth going into abeyance in the Church and the Church where the confessional booth is present going into abeyance in the culture. One could reason that there is something inherent in human nature that desires to make its seamy side known to somebody, or similarly one might argue that there is something about every culture that requires ‘exposure.’ Catholic culture has the confessional booth. Communist culture had forced confession of sins against the revolution. When that exposure isn’t weaved into the culture in a sensible way it comes out in Maury Povich and Oprah Winfrey talk shows.

3.) Such exposure creates a weird sense of ‘community,’ but this sense of community is reflective not of the friendship that normally denominated concrete and traditional communities but rather it is a abstract community of strangers where all that links this community of strangers together is their dysfunction and their exposure.

4.) Ever since the fall man has had the tendency to hide himself from God because man was ashamed of his sin. I believe what we are seeing in this culture of exposure is that man, both those who are doing the exposing and those who are titillated by the exposure, have lost the sense of being ashamed of sin, and so have lost the fear of God.

5.) Traditionally exposure through confession was a means of self-denial but in a culture of exposure, exposure by confession is a means of self-inflation. The cameras are rolling or the small group who has gathered for mutual affirmation are sympathetically looking on and the conditions are right for self to be inflated. In a culture of exposure people begin to wish that they had something aberrant that they could confess before the world.

When Compassion Is Sin

(Policies based on a therapeutic model have) “give rise to a cult of the victim in which entitlements are based on the display of accumulated injuries inflicted by an uncaring society. The politics of ‘compassion’ degrades both the victims, by reducing them to objects of pity, and their would be benefactors, who find it easier to pity their fellow citizens than to hold them up to impersonal standards, the attainment of which would make them respected. Compassion has become the human face of contempt.”

Christopher Lasch
Article — For Shame

The consequence of this reality that Lasch describes

1.) Is not the relief of the victim but rather the empowerment of those who draw attention to the victim. For example, race pimps could not hold the power that they hold were it not for their ability to be the official spokesmen and representatives for victims.

2.) Is a political culture whereby power is gained by manipulating guilt by promising to relieve the victims of their situation thus relieving the putative oppressors of their guilt. This explains, at least in part, the phenomenon of Barack Obama’s popularity among white guilt ridden voters. Voting for Obama is a twofer. It not only relieves them of their guilt but it also provides direct relief for one of those who have ‘suffered’ at the hands of their putative oppression.

Political campaigns are thus characterized as a prolonged series of stump speeches that identify both victims and victimizers and looks for votes from both groups so that those who are victims are promised relief from their oppression and those who are victimizers are promised that their vote will provide atoning relief from their alleged oppressive behavior.

The really odd thing is that many people who are not guilty of being victimizers own the guilt and grasp the solution to their guilt that the politician promises. This may happen because pagans know they really are guilty and so live with an ongoing sense of guilt but since they won’t turn to Christ, who alone can provide atonement for their objective guilt, they grasp at other means that are offered, by which atonement can be by self-achieved by the atoning action of casting a vote that will temporarily relieve their conscience. R. J. Rushdoony called this ‘The Politics of Guilt and Pity.’

That which I really love about this quote is how it draws a direct line between compassion (so-called) and contempt. The human heart being the source of all that is foul takes one of the noblest virtues that it can find and twists it to such a degree that compassion is really contempt in disguise with the result that we lose the capacity to be able to know and distinguish what both compassion and contempt really look like.