A Civilization With No Moorings: America In 2019

Jan 26th, 2019 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

For civilization to work, it needs a foundation, a set of moorings that provide an anchor for it to function reasonably, justly and fairly.  American civilization gives every indication that it has no foundation, no underpinning.  The selfish, self-centered, self-indulgent individual has replaced the community-minded, other-centered virtuous citizen—the glue that held American society together.  Our politics, our universities and our economy are all driven by an ideology that stresses identity politics, grievance-focused protests and an economy with no ethical foundation.  Consider these three focal points:

  • First, the Peace Cross in Bladensburg Maryland is a 40 feet high, tan concrete cross dedicated in 1925 as a World War I Veterans Memorial to the memory of the men who died in World War I but were buried in an American cemetery on European soil. In 1925 the mothers of these fallen Americans and the American Legion dedicated this memorial.  Yet, in 2018 a three-judge panel of the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals determined that this memorial is unconstitutional because it is in the shape of a cross.  Because it is on public land, it supposedly violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, even though the Supreme Court has never made such a ruling on such memorials.  It is an astonishing ruling demonstrating a judicial arrogance that bears no resemblance to the democratic-republic established by our founders in the summer of 1787. On what possible legal basis could this Circuit Court declare this precious memorial to honor fallen Americans unconstitutional?  The logical outcome of this ruling is that Prince George County in Maryland will need to tear it down and/or remove it.  Such a ruling is an affront to everything this nation has stood for since the Constitution was written in 1787.  This is not an issue of religious diversity or pluralism.  No American, regardless of their religious or worldview proclivities, should be offended by a war memorial that reflects the religious convictions of those fallen Americans who died.  The virtue of tolerance, so central to Postmodernism, certainly can be extended to honoring these veterans who are buried in Europe.   The logic of this ruling defies common sense!
  • Second, three academics in American universities—James Lindsay, with a math doctorate; Peter Boghossian, as assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University; and Helen Pluckrose, a London-based scholar of English literature and history—wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms. Various journals accepted seven of the hoax papers and published four of them.  These three scholars have become disturbed by “grievance studies” that have taken over academia, especially in the social sciences.  Boghossian argues that “I think that certain aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted.”  Anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risks accusation of bigotry.  Here are a few examples of the hoax journal articles the “trio” sought to publish:
  1. In the journal Fat Studies, the hoax article claimed that bodybuilding is “fat-exclusionary” and proposed “a new classification . . . termed ‘fat bodybuilding,’ as a fat-inclusive politicized performance.”
  2. A hoax paper for the Journal of Poetry Therapy describes monthly feminist meetings, complete with a “womb room,” and discusses six poems, which Lindsay generated by algorithm and then lightly edited. The article went through peer review and was accepted for publication.
  3. The journal Affilia accepted a hoax paper entitled “Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism.” The second portion of the paper is a rewrite of a chapter from “Mein Kampf.”

This trio of writers maintains that they have “proved that higher ed’s fixation on identity politics enables ‘absurd and horrific’ scholarship.  Their submissions were outlandish—but no more so, they insist, than others written in earnest and published in these journals.”  They also have shown that “the bias in favor of grievance-focused research was so strong that their hoax papers sailed through peer review, acceptance and publication despite obvious problems.”  Although perhaps all three might eventually lose their jobs in academia, they contend that “For us, the risk of letting biased research continue to influence education, media, policy and culture is far greater than anything that will happen to us for having done this.”  I commend these three young scholars for exposing the bankruptcy of so much of identity politics and “grievance studies” that characterize and even in some cases dominate social science research.  Their collective “hoax” exposed an even more dangerous “hoax” in the name of academic research.

  • Third is an examination of the moral and ethical underpinnings of modern, American capitalism. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a tax law that reduced individual and corporate tax rates.  Senator Ted Kennedy led the effort to deregulate the airline and trucking industries.  Ronald Reagan as president further reduced taxes and the regulatory arm of the US government.  These various actions by our elected officials transformed the American economy.  We have had four long decades of economic boom.  As columnist David Brooks observes, “In a healthy society, people try to balance a whole bunch of different priorities: economic, social, moral, familial.  Somehow over the past 40 years economic priorities took the top spot and obliterated everything else.”  He continues:  “A deadly combination of right-wing free-market fundamentalism and left-wing moral relativism led to a withering away of moral norms and shared codes of decent conduct.  We ripped the market out of its moral and social context and let it operate purely on its own rules.  We made the market its own priest and confessor.  Society came to be seen as an atomized collection of individual economic units pursuing self-interest.  Selfishness was normalized.”   The result is that a ruthless pragmatism now governs the economy.  Anything you do, seemingly in a legal fashion to make money, is deemed okay. An amoralism now governs much of the American economy and corporate world.  Famed investor Car Icahn is said to have declared, “I don’t believe in the word ‘fair.’”  A final consequence of these developments has been the decimation of social trust.  Correctly and profoundly, Brooks concludes that “capitalism needs to be embedded in moral norms and it needs to serve a larger social good.”  The phenomenon of populism is a response to this crisis in capitalism.  Donald Trump won the Electoral College because he advocated a populist agenda that reached the American who believed that the “elites” of the economic, financial and political culture had forgotten them.  On the left, the populism of Bernie Sanders (and now Elizabeth Warren and the two socialists elected to the House of Representatives) is making the same point about the selfishness and indulgence of the “elites.”

This Perspective has focused on three examples of a civilization in crisis.    The ideology of identity politics, grievance studies and the inequities of capitalism in crisis are matched with a perverse religiosity that speaks much of tolerance but cannot permit a memorial cross remembering American soldiers buried in Europe.  We are indeed a civilization that has lost its way.  We cannot legislate our way out of this.  The solution is not politics.  The solution is not raw political power that will forcibly redistribute wealth.  The solution is Jesus Christ.  God is trying to get our attention as a civilization.  My prayer is that we will respond to His call.

See Jeremy Dys in the Wall Street Journal (17-18 October 2018); Jillian Kay Melchior in the Wall Street Journal (6-7 October 2018); and David Brooks in the New York Times (11 January 2019).

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