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West's weekly round-up: June 20-26
The Few get fewer, heaven is other people and the stupid beliefs we grew up with
Welcome to the second West’s Weekly-round up. June is, of course, the holy month of Pride, the subject of Monday’s post. My feeling is that if every single organisation, company and institution feels that they have to mark an event, then that event has clearly been elevated to the point of official quasi-faith. Still, I wonder what sort of company would be bold enough to declare that they won’t be marking Pride this year, anymore than they would for any minority religious festival. Okay, Comrade Stalin’s speech was good, but I don’t think I need to clap for that long. I’m sure he’ll understand.
On Wednesday I wrote about whether America is becoming less WEIRD. This was an idea first suggested by Razib Khan on Twitter (subscribe to Razib’s substack here) and as a further example, there is this curious phenomenon, of people freeing themselves of money they inherited from problematic ancestors. Giving away your money to help the poor is a great thing to do; feeling that you’re in some way immoral because of the behaviour of your forebears is weird and un-WEIRD. We’re all individuals! Repeat after me!
Thursday was Midsummer’s Eve, and I wrote about how I wish we could reinvent medieval festivals, while on Friday I wrote about why the Glastonbury festival is so white. Unlike Richard Bacon I think that’s fine; different strokes for different folks.
The triumph of Welbyism
Like many people I find the Church of England’s obvious political partisanship quite irritating, so it’s always reassuring to known that this has always been the case, that the Anglican hierarchy has always imitated the secular political establishment.
As E.R. Norman pointed out many decades ago, the Church of England’s leaders have, again and again since at least the eighteenth century, “readily adopted the progressive idealism common to liberal opinion within the intelligentsia, of which they were a part”. They have “always managed to reinterpret their sources in ways which have somehow made their version of Christianity correspond to the values of their class and generation”, a process intimately connected to the fact that bishops are nearly always tied (by personal links, economic interests and a desire to conform) to their secular peers who set the broader cultural and political agenda.
Translate such ideas — be they Critical Race Theory, open-borders ideology, sexual and gender radicalism or whatever — into Welbyism, that unique blend of the language of the management consultant and the banal uplifting jargon of contemporary liberal Evangelicalism, and hey presto, there’s material for weeks of Archiepiscopal tweeting, Lambeth Palace press releases and outraged headlines in the Daily Mail.
That is why Britain is the world’s only Left-wing theocracy. The only other country with clerics in the legislature is Iran, and ‘Thought for the Day’ is our equivalent of blood-curdling sermons against Israel and the West. It’s why I have a hair-trigger response in the morning, able to switch off the radio in about 0.015 seconds when 7.48 hits.
The author, Capel Lofft, also wrote this very good piece about the 1970s, and how we can only dream of returning to that period.
Who can fail to love an era when brutal ex-miners-turned-Labour whips called Walter or Ted would threaten to castrate recalcitrant Irish nationalist MPs with their bare hands to save an ailing socialist government by one vote? Or when it doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up Michael Foot and Enoch Powell having an erudite discussion about political morality in Thucydides, or Jonathan Swift’s use of irony, during a break in negotiations about local government reform in Ulster?
Paradoxically, although the politics of the 70s were more sharply divided, society was far more culturally and socially unified — and, indeed, far more economically equal — than it is today. The year when economic inequality in Britain reached its historical low point was 1977. Rather than being balkanised into dozens of different micro-tribes all watching, reading and listening to completely different things, Brits in the 70s were culturally and socially split in less fine-grained ways.
How many parliamentarians today possess anything like Powell or Foot’s intelligence or knowledge of history or culture? Powell addressed farmers in Greek and during the 1975 referendum gave three speeches in three foreign languages in one week; most likely a majority of MPs now are one-coiners. Still, it’s not like they’re doing anything important like deciding laws.
Europe after Ukraine
A bit late to this, but in American Affairs, Wolfgang Streeck writes about the EU project after the Ukraine war. (Thanks to Elias for the recommendation.)
Its rich member states, however, will be preoccupied with raising their defense spending to meet NATO demands, not to mention financing the accession of more EU member states on their way into NATO. Competition for EU subsidies, in particular for the EU’s “Cohesion Fund,” will further increase because of the new, war-related needs of eastern member states, for example the hosting of Ukrainian and, if the Western sanctions begin to bite, Russian refugees. Plans of the EU Parliament and the Commission to cut financial assistance to countries like Poland or Hungary for deficiencies in the “rule of law” will become increasingly obsolete as cultural conflicts between “liberal” and “illiberal” democracy will be eclipsed by the geostrategic objectives of NATO and the United States.
My overall feeling is that the war has hugely enhanced Poland’s prestige, and might even defer the inevitable progressive push to ostracise Europe’s leading conservative state, using dubious measures of freedom. Unlike Hungary, which is scared of the eastern giant and keen to avoid the war escalating, Poland is very much up for standing up to Russian aggression (how out of character!). On top of this, Poland is getting wealthier, and its GDP per capita is set to overtake Britain’s sometime in the 2030; two and a half centuries after being gobbled up by its neighbours and enduring various German and Russian-inflicted misery, Poland is being restored to its rightful place among the leading European nations. (I will write about this further at some point and hope to visit Poland soon. If any of my subscribers are Polish or based in Poland, let me know.)
Are homophobes secretly gay?
So many of the fashionable ideas that my generation grew up with have turned out to be untrue, most of them formed by catchy but BS science experiments, memed into truth by film and television. This week Stuart Ritchie (subscribe here), whose book Science Fictions tackles the replication crisis, looks at a very popular idea: that homophobes must be secretly gay. This is such a common belief that if you see a very homophobic character on the screen you normally expect them to be some enraged closet-case; think of the nutty next door neighbour in Sam Mendes’s American Beauty, who makes his son call him ‘sir’ and take urine tests for drugs, and is absurdly paranoid about predatory homosexuals — and inevitably just wants some man-action.
Does anyone remember Ted Haggard? He was the Evangelical Christian megachurch pastor from Colorado who famously did a testy interview with Richard Dawkins in 2006, at the beginning of the “New Atheism” craze. As well as preaching creationism—the main subject of his clash with Dawkins—Haggard was big on “family values” - a marriage should be between a man and a woman, gay sex is immoral, that kind of thing.
And then, of course, it turned out Haggard had been having extra-marital affairs with not one but two male sex workers - causing him to lose his hugely prominent church position (after this was all discovered, he changed his view to support gay marriage).
The fact that I said “of course” in the previous paragraph—and the fact you knew what I was about to say—speaks to how well-known this idea is: homophobes are often themselves secretly homosexual. This idea goes all the way back to Freud, whose idea of “reaction formation”, where we deal with anxiety or threat by acting in a completely opposite way from the thing that’s worrying us, along with the idea of “latent homosexuality”, would seem to explain Haggard’s anti-gay sermons.
He cites Christopher Hitchens’s famous line:
Whenever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch. Sooner rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well-worn old knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed upon by some Apache transvestite.
Ritchie’s conclusion: there doesn’t seem to be any evidence at all, really. It’s possibly yet another Just So story.
Why are women so Left-wing?
On the American Storylines substack, Daniel Cox (subscribe here) writes about the gender gap in politics. (Via Post Liberal Pete.) The major factor is that more women are unmarried and childless, and this has a huge impact on ideology.
Research has shown that unmarried women feel more connected than their married counterparts to other women—a phenomenon known as “linked fate”— and it can lead them to support more liberal policies. In their fascinating 2017 study, Christopher T. Stout, Kelsy Kretschmer, and Leah Ruppanner argue that “women consistently earn less money and hold less power, which fosters women’s economic dependency on men. Thus, it is within married women’s interests to support policies and politicians who protect their husbands and improve their status.” This phenomenon of “linked fate” was not found to be evident among men, so even though young men are also less likely to be married compared to older generations, their marital status may have less of an impact on their politics than for women.
Overall, young people today are far more likely to identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer than at any previous time—according to Gallup, approximately one in six members of Gen Z identify as LGBT. But it’s young women who are most responsible for the rapid growth of LGBTQ identity. And while it would not be surprising that the politics of LGBT Americans are more liberal when it comes to LGBTQ issues, recent work has shown that “LGBT Americans are distinctively liberal … in their general political predispositions, electoral choices, and attitudes on a wide range of policy matters.”
Basically the big drivers are the decline of marriage, the rise of further education and the decline of religion (which is replaced with politics). I wrote about this a while back for The Week and it’s a major part of my book on losing the culture wars. Broadly speaking, that culture war is a conflict between different lifestyles, one that is hyper-individualistic and the other more centred on the nuclear family, a very effective system which nonetheless accepts certain inequalities between the sexes, and a certain amount of dependence. Another part of this is that female happiness has been in steep decline since the beginning of the sexual revolution, and the Left v Right divide is partly the happiness divide. Conservatives tend to be more content, although reading my substack you might think otherwise.
The enormous cost of crime
People in one part of Chicago will pay $100,000 more for houses compared to identical properties very close by — just because it means avoiding one particular underpass. That is the extent people will go to in order to avoid crime, which enacts an incredible toll on American society — the subject of a post on Ben Southwood’s substack. (Subscribe here).
Some of these have really obvious ‘macro’ effects. People who fear new neighbours have a substantial risk of committing crimes tend to oppose new development nearby, and to live in extremely spread out ‘sprawl’ suburbs, where sheer walking distance between places makes crime more difficult. What’s more, people in high-crime areas prefer to travel with metal shields around them at all times – that is by car – causing dramatically higher carbon emissions. By contrast ultra-low-crime Japan is tolerant of high density development throughout its cities, and rates of cycling, walking, and transit use are all extremely high, while carbon emissions are much lower.
You can aggregate some of these points by looking at the links between economic success and social trust, which is closely associated with crime.
In Britain the problem is less acute, but even here we could make all our lives far happier by locking up persistent and violent criminals rather than just seeing it as something we have to endure.
The multicultural-trans pipeline
There are two key pillars of modern progressivism, race and gender; the faithful tend to believe in equality of outcome between groups, and hold certain races as almost sacred, heavily protected from criticism, while others (white) are persistently denounced. The gender aspect of the faith is more complicated, because while there are certain taboos about male criticism of women, trans women possess even more sacredness; the combination of that sacredness and typically male traits of aggression and disagreeableness makes for a heady mix! But… perhaps the two pillars are linked, an idea suggested by this very bleak and depressing piece.
I have since spoken to more than a dozen ROGD parents and parent-group leaders who tell a similar story. Their schools compulsively tell their children how awful it is to be white, how white people enjoy unearned “privilege,” how they benefit from “systems” put in place by and for white people for the sole purpose of oppressing “people of color.” Plagued by guilt, the children—almost all of them girls—rush to the sanctuary of “LGBTQ+” identity. Once there, they are catapulted into hero status. According to Patricia, some teachers at her daughter’s school are more forgiving toward “queer” and “trans” kids who hand in their homework late.
The students, especially the girls, absorb this messaging. They are acutely sensitive to how identity affects their social status and academic fortunes. They want the warmth that comes with queer/trans identity, but above all they don’t want to be thought of as vicious oppressors. Lacking maturity and self-confidence, they fail to put “anti-racist” indoctrination in its proper context. They do not appreciate its ahistorical, anti-intellectual, and anti-humanist foundations, nor are they aware of the incentives leading teachers and administrators to foist it on them. Being white is not something these teenagers can escape, but they can mitigate its social costs by declaring themselves part of an oppressed group.
A recent study by Eric Kaufmann confirms the new meaning of LGBT among young Americans. “Whereas in 2008 attitudes and behavior were similar,” he writes, “by 2021 LGBT identification was running at twice the rate of LGBT sexual behavior.” The recent explosion in LGBT identification among Generation Z seems to be driven mainly by young, white, very liberal women who self-identify as lesbian or bisexual but who do not necessarily have female partners. LGBT identity has become divorced from sexual behavior or erotic feeling, allowing anyone to belong on the basis of little more than a generalized dissatisfaction with contemporary sexual mores.
I keep on hearing people saying that the demonisation of whiteness will lead to the terrifying re-emergence of white racial identity, but that seems pretty unlikely. If you keep on telling people that their heritage is worthless, they will generally try to escape it in whatever way possible. Most people respond to overwhelming social norms and pressure, and those who do rebel tend to be either neurodivergent, unusually nonconformist, sociopathic or possessing a grudge against the high-status people pushing that social norm.
The Happiness of Dignity
Rob Henderson is a fine writer with some unique ideas, his most famous and effective popularisation being ‘luxury beliefs’. This week, on his substack (subscribe here) he writes about the main causes behind widespread happiness.
Some people argue that the redistribution of economic resources mitigates the unfair distribution of genetic endowments. You or I might be smarter, or taller, or more attractive than average. And these traits are economically lucrative. But we didn’t earn those traits (and the associated financial benefits), so, the logic goes, we should share our money with those who aren’t as fortunate as us.
But this hinges on the belief that economic resources are the main causal factor for happiness.
As I pointed out in the above findings, our relationships are at least as important to life satisfaction as money. Yet our elites are reluctant to promote marriage, friendship, social bonds, neighborliness, etc. The non-material factors that give rise to a rich and fulfilling life.
Somehow we’ve become reluctant to publicly endorse any sort of value that lies outside of economics. Governments are paying people to take vaccines. Cities are payingresidents not to shoot people.
Leaders have become reluctant to appeal to higher ideals or principles. The belief seems to be that all that matters is economic incentives.
In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, two Nobel laureates share research findings indicating that people overestimate the strength of economic incentives. The authors report that “status, dignity, social connections” are more powerful drivers of behavior.
The Last Days of the Few
Finally, a marvellous piece by Will Lloyd at UnHerd about the final meeting of Second World War fighter and bomber veterans.
The hangar is patriotically dressed with tiny flags and a large resin model of a Sunderland bomber. Miniature pilots in its cockpit have painted smiles. Sensible women are handing out buns and tea. Forties jazz plays; I might be in a JB Priestley novel, or at a village fete. The war may never have ended. And dotted around the room, unmistakable, unmistakably old are 48 RAF veterans.
This is Project Propeller, today. Every year, since 1999, it has spirited Royal Air Force vets up in the sky again. Younger pilots come for the war stories, and to say thank you. The vets meet their old comrades.
But we are close to the end. This year is the final meeting of Project Propeller. The number of Second World War pilots is dwindling. The last veterans of the last good war are now in their farcically late nineties. Their trademark taciturnity is becoming tombstone silence. The few keep getting fewer.
This was the last time these pilots would be in the same room together. They would be thanked and saluted and coddled to the very end. Their story, the myth — the good war — is where modern Britain was founded. Now, their hair is mercury and silver. Their hands are curled and cubed. Their skin is translucent, tattooed with melodramatic blotches. A whole century laden on their faces. Some are negligibly less ancient than others. All of them wear uniform blazers, and rustle with medals.
Incredibly wholesome, although this also feels like it should be the prologue to a hugely depressing Christopher Caldwell-style history of Britain since 1945, comparing these brave elderly men who saved us from Nazism, and their country as it has become in 2022.
Once again, thanks for subscribing and tell your friends. Feel free to suggest any pieces to read or ideas for articles, and ask me anything in the comments, although Monday may be an easier day to respond.