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joined 2023 February 04 14:30:54 UTC


User ID: 2154



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User ID: 2154

Alabama - Tennessee: Spending an afternoon with 100,000 members of the "grill" crowd.

I have been to several football games at "tier-2" SEC and Big 10 teams. This was my first visit to one of the college football elite. This was a fanbase that has exacting expectations for their team. It was also one with a nervous edge: Alabama had suffered a home loss to Texas and had looked vulnerable in several other games. Like most SEC fanbases, several hours of lubrication had preceded the kick-off. It was a loud, rowdy, yet very focused crowd. Even in the interior areas, the fans would yell "Roll Tide"; the large concrete hallways providing amplification and echo.

Unsolicited, a mostly-sober Alabama fan engaged me in single-sentence conversation: "Our girls are so much hotter than theirs". When I declared my neutrality in the upcoming showdown, he said "oh, you're unbiased then. Aren't our girls so much hotter than theirs?"

In the SEC, people dress up for games. The sorority girls especially dress for display, revealing and augmenting what is typically already top-tier aesthetic qualities. As one large banner hung on a House, re-affirming my previous encounter, "our girls are hotter than UT's!". Several of the sorority members gyrated on the porch as living proof. These girls are secure in their identity: in their looks, their social networks, and their sorority (and these three are all heavily correlated).

In five years, these girls will be wives. They will be more mature and less wild; dressed to the nines but more modestly. In ten years they will have two or three kids. Their beauty will be diminished but they will have found new identity in their children, husbands, and school social networks. They will still faithfully attend games, raising up the next generation of die-hard Alabama fans.

During the game, a particularly enthusiastic fan behind me shouted encouragement and tirades in full volume and with little let-up. Somewhat ironically, his pejoratives for the UT fanbase centered particularly on their inadequate cultural sophistication, with "podunk" and "redneck" frequent descriptors. To one slightly effeminate student he yelled "you should get a Bud-light". With his accent, appearance, and bearing he was almost a perfect Hollywood caricature of an Alabamian. During a momentary lull in the action he let me know he was pursuing his master's degree.

Most of the fanbase was well educated and well-off. While there is a joke that only 10% of Alabama fans actually attended the university, the majority of those in attendance had certainly had a college degree and beyond. The cost of a game is prohibitive to all but the most connected or wealthy. While I didn't pay for my ticket, parking, or the tailgate activities rumor had it that the per-person cost was well into the 4 figures. No one even blinked at the 15 dollar stadium beer.

When Alabama scooped a fumble for a score to clinch the game, the crowd went berserk and the stands turned into a party. After the extra point, the loudspeakers played Garth Brook's "Friends in low places" and the entire crowd sang along, locking arms and swaying back and forth. Cigars starting being lit, and soon the stadium was filled with haze.

I was swept up in the post game excitement. The student body was crowding into the bars and restaurants to continue the celebration. Those of us who had driven to the game meandered back to our cars, knowing that traffic was going to be a disaster regardless of when we left. Along the way, I passed Greek houses where the real parties were at, though even the standard student housing appeared to be holding impromptu parties in the stairwells. Somehow a female Tennessee student made it into an Alabama dorm and yelled "Go Vols" at passing pedestrians. One incredulous fan yelled back "you lost!".

As Scott Greer would say, these fans are economically upper-class economically but who enjoy low-class activities (at least, as defined by our cultural elites). Yet is the tailgating culture truly low-class? The catered food at many tailgates is provided by top restaurants, there is typically at least one very nice liquor, and the cigars were ubiquitous following the victory. I saw an Audi R8, tricked-out trucks costing upwards of six figures, and campers that cost the equivalent of a small lakehouse. In addition, these are people who simply know how to have fun, and do so with enthusiasm and no excuses. There is self-awareness but no navel-gazing. These are people who know who they are and take pride in it.

Are we all postmoderns now?

I have a thought experiment, riffed from Schrödinger, of a box that when opened reveals whether or not God exists. While philosophically paradoxical (any entity that can definitively say God doesn't exist must be all-knowing and thus indistinguishable from God; an entity that says God does exist may only be referring to itself), I consider this a test for the strength of belief and/or the strength of the yearning for truth for believer and non-believer alike. Would someone be willing to stake a core part of their identity in opening such a box or would they rather leave it closed?

In my innocent (if not naive) moments, I consider the existence of God to be self-evident: life and consciousness are (to me) massive gaps in the Atheistic narrative. In my cynical (if not naive) moments, I consider the existence of God to be self-evident as well, but only as the creator/designer of our simulation.

During the "Sunday school" hour, my church has been having members talk about their lives and how they ended up being where they are geographically, professionally, and spiritually. Statements by two members struck me particularly:

  • "I could not believe in a God who has not suffered as I have" (in reference to Jesus being tempted in every way that we have, yet without sin; and his sacrifice on the cross)
  • "I struggled with how I could be both a thinking-person and believe in God"

These are members who, if offered the choice in my thought experiment, I'm sure would open the box. Yet they made statements that seem at odds with an assurance of the physical reality of God.

In the first instance, conditioning belief on an attribute of God (and one that has only existed for two thousand years!) implies a causality that runs in the opposite direction than it does: that the existence of God is predicated on our belief; or even worse, our preference for certain attributes of God. We may consider his attributes good but only because God is the creator of everything including morality. What we perceive (at least as through a glass dimly) as his good attributes are simply because we were made by a God who has these attributes. Any part of us that considers any aspect of God to be less than perfect is an error of our own fallen nature.

In the second, the desire (spurred by our post-enlightenment culture, perhaps) to appear (or even to actually be) intellectual and rational is juxtaposed against faith as if the existence of God is predicated on our ability to reason our way to him (or at least not reason ourselves away from him). Put succinctly, this line of thinking posits that we adjust our priors for the existence of God based on rational evidence or lack-thereof. Yet this presupposes our intellect to both be the primary means of knowledge about the existence of God and to be a reliable source of this knowledge. I have qualms with both presuppositions. The existence of God can be perceived experientially, and is probably a more robust evidence for God than mere philosophical puzzling (Colossians 2:8). Contra Aquinas, the intellect itself is fallen and incapable of definitively or reliably answering questions of God's existence. One of the genuine contributions of post-modernity and critical theory is bringing attention back to the limitations of rationality and scientific knowledge.

In both of my fellow Christians' statements, the "default" position is assumed to be one of agnosticism or "lack of belief". And indeed, everything about our culture assumes agnosticism. To participate and engage in culture is to do so within this agnostic backdrop. Every aspect of our interactions with non-believers and believers alike is permeated with this assumption.

Yet I owe this culture no allegiance. My acquiescence to the milieu (or should I say malaise?) is entirely self-imposed. Would that I could live in my own impenetrable bubble; surrounded by society without feeling the taint of it. The impossibility drives a desire to escape, to find a place where I can find the space to fully explore my relationship with God, with my family, with fellow believers, with nature; and better organize my own opinions and beliefs into a consistent narrative. It's the same desire that drives Rod Dreher to recommend cloistering away from culture, and Ayn Rand to fantasize about capitalistic communes. (It's worth nothing that neither acted on this desire; though Dreher did emigrate).

My fellow Christians keep reminding me that we are called to be in the world but not of the world. They are probably much better Christians than I; they may driven by a genuine desire to save the lost. I know myself, and I merely use the Biblical commandment as an excuse to amass temporal and superficial comforts at the expense of something much deeper. No fellow believer will uncover my secret: it is impossible to distinguish someone who is just "in the world" with someone wallowing in it.

Lest it be unclear at this point: I am inescapably postmodern.

I've wrestled with similar questions. Life was simpler before I had kids! The following is something I wrote a few months ago around Christian's response to culture:

I have been struggling with what Christianity’s role should be in a West that becomes increasingly culturally incompatible with the traditional teachings of the Church. I have read Christ and Culture by Neihbur and To Change the World by Hunter. I have perused the writings that are at least adjacent to Rod Dreher’s Benedictine Option. When it comes to Christianity’s role in the broader culture, I see three typical approaches. First, what are we commanded to do. As Jesus summarized the law, “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself”. And the dual creation/commission mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply. Go into all the world and make disciples”. Second, how did Jesus himself engage with the culture and politics of his time. Third, what is the strategic direction we should take to maximize our impact on culture.

I have listed these three in descending order of importance. God’s commands should trump our perception of how Jesus engaged with the world (this perception being tainted by our predispositions and bias). Jesus’ example (even through our tainted perception) should certainly be given more weight than mere strategic direction especially since political strategists would (and in fact did) recommend a vastly different approach than Jesus took.

Of course, interpretation plays a key role in all three of these approaches. The words “as yourself” and the meaning of “love” can be read very differently. Some modern protestants may see this as a command to help both Christians and non-Christians along a journey of self-actualization. Calvin may have seen this as a command to ensure orthodoxy and right thinking in the population he was responsible for, even if it meant burning heretics at the stake.

All three of the authors I mention above interpret the “commandments” approach similarly and in a manner compatible with orthodox Christianity. I will delve into my own perspective in more depth later in this essay.

Neihbur focuses more than the other authors on the depth and unexpectedness of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Reading through the Gospels while attempting to remove our cultural expectations of Jesus is eye-opening: Jesus is caustic, frustrated, exasperated, and something of a pre-internet troll. He overturns money tables in a one-man riot. He is repeatedly the target of lynch mobs. What Jesus did not do was set up an earthly kingdom or impose God’s law through state force despite continual temptations (and certainly the ability) to do so.

The strategic direction is where the authors have the most disagreement. Hunter thinks we need to change the culture by being present yet different. He points to the success of small groups of people in changing opinions and culture especially through the influence of elite thought. Elites command outsized soft power and a compelling narrative that can be adopted by the elite will do more than any other political or cultural power to make society more aligned with God’s good design. Hunter wrote in the early 2010s, a simpler time when elites were left-leaning but not despised by millions of Americans. Dreher probably would agree with Hunter on the power of elites, and this may be a reason he calls for withdrawal. The elites are lost, and thus the culture is lost. The best option is to at least shield our children from the culture.

Commentary on God’s commandments

If I was offered the opportunity to be dictator what would I do? Would I, like Jesus, decline the option? My scope of effort is local and transient while Jesus’ was eternal, so I could not directly appeal to “WWJD” in this case. Indeed, if part of my call as a Christian is to encourage societal flourishing I could not decline such an opportunity. What would be the form of government and the laws which I would enact? Certainly I would not presume to know more about a flourishing society than God, so I would have to set up something very similar to a theocracy following God’s laws.

The very concept of theocracy is anathema to modern sensibilities, both Christian and non-Christian. Part of the reason for this is that “love” is often conflated with, or is considered inclusive of, “acceptance” and “tolerance”. Hence a call to love our neighbors is interpreted as an acquiescence to moral pluralism. But note the fallacy here: we have let a fallen and hedonistic culture (footnote 1) define love for us, and then have allowed them to hold us to their standard of love. Broad acceptance of immoral behaviors have negative societal impacts, as one would expect from a culture that deviates so strongly from God’s laws and good purpose.

The creation mandate is to be fruitful and multiply. Christians can and should have a strong voice against declining birth rates. It is one of the few moral areas surrounding sex and procreation that Christians can demonstrably practice what we preach. Yet we don’t hold any stigma for childless couples, late marriages, and women who prioritize their careers over motherhood. Our society also has frustrated singles, historically high levels of depression, and a sense of unfulfillment and loss. Christians have adopted the cultural milieu in this area unthinkingly. By prizing and enabling individual self-actualization we have begat physical and emotional barrenness. In a sense, “loving our neighbors” has led us to not having neighbors.

The creation mandate by itself is sufficient (though not necessary, since the Bible repeatedly describes Godly behavior on these issues) to explain orthodox Christian positions on many issues. Cohabitation and homosexuality are implicitly anti-natalist. Abortion is explicitly anti-natalist. Infertility via “sex changes” is anti-natalist. A society that is accepting of these lifestyles is one that is embracing death rather than life.

The great commission extends the creation mandate to proclaiming the gospel. This commandment directly contradicts Dreher’s approach for removing ourselves from society: it is hard to proclaim the good news when not involved in the world.

Commentary on Jesus’ example

Jesus took issue with the legalism and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his time. He also fraternized with those were outcast by society either due to moral failings or by their socio-economic status. Both John the Baptist and Jesus led populist, anti-elite movements that shook Palestine and its leaders to its core. This runs directly contrary to Hunter’s suggestion for Christian engagement with the cultural elite. A modern equivalent may be a tent revival at the Talladega Speedway. Importantly, this fraternization did not extend to accepting or tolerating immoral behavior but changing it. The women of loose morals altered their lifestyles after their encounters with Jesus.

One point in Dreher’s favor is the argument that paying taxes into a system that supports abortion and gay marriage makes us complicit in society’s evil. I am personally very sympathetic to this argument. Every time I hear a snide commentator on NPR denigrate everything I believe in I grind my teeth. My hard work paid for those who wish my destruction. Yet Jesus tells us to render to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s; paying taxes that went to pay the very soldiers who nailed him to a cross.

Commentary on our strategic approach

There are two additional concerns I have with Hunter’s approach to Christianity’s engagement with culture. The first is simply that “faithful presence” is exposing oneself to intense temptation to conform to the world (see footnote 2). I would put Tim Keller in the very small group of Christians with a successful “faithful presence” but even he does so while fully engaged in ministry. The second is that a “faithful presence” is not the tactical win that he thinks it is. The grassroots radicalism of the Black Power movement led to the introduction of those ideas into the academy, and has now spilled back into the culture as if from the “elite”, but the “elite” only paid attention due to the initial populism.

While I disagree with Dreher’s conclusion that we should sequester ourselves on grounds that it is being disobedient to Christ’s calling, it is also transparently a strategy of failure. In the best case scenario it is a Christian “Atlas Shrugged”; where we let Sodom and Gomorrah burn while we create a new Christian society from the ashes. Far more likely we will become another Amish, with their cultural irrelevancy.

My tentative suggestion

I think that faithful, populist, grassroots movements is the most compatible with God’s commandments, with Jesus’ ministry and example, and is close to an optimal strategic approach. Christians certainly need to be engaged with the elite as Hunter suggests , but the biggest impact will be through converting already existing elites. This will happen more naturally and organically as the elite inevitably contact and confront the societal undercurrents of such a Christian movement.


I am aware that not all Christians believe that culture generally, and our culture specifically, is diametrically opposed to Christianity. I believe all earthly culture is tainted by the fall, just as all individuals are tainted by the fall. That said, some earthly cultures align more closely with God’s design than others. A culture that is 80% Christian will be more aligned with God’s design than one that is 10% Christian. One of my key concerns is that cultures move slowly, and we adopt new aspects to a culture assuming that it retains the same relative alignment with God’s design even as it moves farther away in actuality.


I also find it unavoidable to notice how apparently self-serving the “faithful presence” proscription is to an academic like Hunter.

Except most Nigerian Anglican churches are looking to officially break from the Church of England: https://www.wsj.com/articles/conservative-anglicans-call-for-break-with-archbishop-of-canterbury-over-same-sex-blessings-2564937b.

You can't wag the finger about wanting to turn the clock back, then issue a manifesto that... turns the clock back.

I'm fine with "turning the clock back" if there is a first-principles based approach for justifying it. What I don't want is nostalgic wishing for the "good old days". This is neither a compelling forward-looking vision nor epistemologically sound.

Also, parts of your manifesto are contradictory:

I'm not here to defend my article to a great degree :). I only weakly believe in it myself. That said, this statement is not a contradiction for two reasons.

First, there are roughly 3.7-4 million nurses in the US. There are 30 million aged 18-24. Making some rough assumptions, 10 million are thus between 18-20. Half of those are women, so we have 5 million 18-20 year old nurses, which is not out of alignment with the existing nursing population.

Second, my aim is not to reduce nursing staff; it is to reduce the inordinate bureaucratic bloat in finance and health. We spend an astronomical amount of our output on health care and finance. Health care and finance are both "intermediate" activities for the economy. One keeps the working population healthy enough to work, the other provides capital for businesses. Both industries should be enablers but they are a drag instead. Reducing the bloat can free us to focus on "final" goods and services.

Most people are against wokeness

I'm not sure there isn't a plurality of woke (or at least, who benefit from wokeism).

I live in a very conservative state, and yet many if not most of my acquaintances are woke. Admittedly, most of my acquaintances are co-workers and I work for a large company. Large companies today ubiquitously have what I consider excessive and aggressive DEI campaigns. Companies thus self-select for those who can tolerate wokeism. Yet even my acquaintances who are not woke often find their identify in being anti-woke. They have an interest in keeping wokeism around as a foil.

And now conservatives are making the same error that the wokes made, they are mistaking opposition to wokism as support for traditionalism.

I feel this argument rests on two assumptions and one (implied) axiom.

The assumptions: one, that there is a large enough "middle" who just wants to be left alone; and two, that this "middle" defines "left alone" consistently. For example, one person in the "middle" might say, "What happens in someone's bedroom is not my problem, but Pride parades are silly (why not have a 'adultery' parade, or a 'cohabitation before marriage' parade?) and may have negative impacts on societal morality". Another person is the "middle" might say, "Let's have as many pride parades as draws crowds!". These two opinions are in conflict even though they are both middle "leave me alone" positions.

The axiom: traditionalism and conservatism are synonymous.

I believe your assumptions are incorrect. I think in reality (and I could be very wrong) that this middle basically no longer exists even as a large section of the population thinks they are this "middle". If lines are essentially already drawn, I'm not sure there is a false dichotomy between wokism and traditionalism.

I also don't believe traditionalism and conservatism are synonymous: indeed, I'm calling for a conservative break from "traditionalism" in a sense. Simply returning to 1600 isn't my objective. My essay certainly espoused traditional values, but that was one example of a conservative vision for the future. More broadly I'm interested in a compelling, action-oriented conservatism as opposed to simple traditionalism.

Toward a principles-based approach to societal flourishing

The heterodox backlash to mainstream wokeness is inherently reactionary. Taibbi, Weiss, Peterson, Loury, Yarvin; even to some extent Dreher and Alexander all bemoan the current system and wish we could turn the clock back to ... 2008, or 1965, or 2015, or 1600.

There have been few real attempts to change the situation. Weiss is a small exception: she has helped contribute to the University of Austin, which, while I'm very skeptical of its success, is at least doing something. Desantis has perhaps the most success at a political level, though he is often criticized by many in the heterodox blogosphere.

Yet all these fights against wokeness whether merely verbal or actual do not propose a positive trajectory for our society; they merely reject the negative wokeness trajectory.

I want to help create a non-reactionary yet conservative vision for flourishing society. I want this vision to have the following elements:

  • Compelling and inspirational. I want people to be energized by the vision.

  • A call to action. This cannot be a passive "keep everything the same as it is right now" conservatism.

  • A call to a better self. I want this vision to have individual impacts even if society as a whole does not adopt this vision (yes, I know I'm channeling Peterson here).

I have articulated one such vision here: https://pyotrverkhovensky.substack.com/p/how-to-build-a-flourishing-society. I wrote it to at least provide one such vision of a flourishing society to demonstrate that I am not merely complaining but am willing to put some thought into this. I would love to have others (possibly y'all!) take the baton and make something more compelling and actionable.