If I didn’t have the experiences I’ve had, it would be easy for me to believe everything is fine. In Silicon Valley, most employers pay for health insurance. Many of us eat three meals a day for free at work. Pretty much everyone here plans to vote for Hillary because the system we have is working fine for them.
In high school, we played a game in Social Justice class (The benefits of a Jesuit education) where the “winners” got to change the rules. Of course, those rules benefitted the winners. The losers complained and started cheating, which made the winners even more harsh with their rules. I thought the game was dumb at the time — way too simple. Not realistic.
And yet as I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen how this plays out. If you live in a city, if you are not Christian, if you use your mind for a living and you are young, you’re on the winning side of the current cultural battle. Part of winning the battle means redefining what we value and what matters. This side controls most sources of cultural value (music, movies, tv), much of academia, and much of Washington. This side is uniformly aligned in support of Hillary Clinton.
That side is not bad! That isn’t what I’m arguing. Lots of good has been done by that side. The allies won World War Two in large part because of the work done by Alan Turing, a gay man, and a band of weirdo intellectuals who broke nazi codes. He was repaid for this kindness with a criminal sentence, and driven to suicide by chemical castration. I am glad that the current side has won this phase of the battle. As someone who is consummately weird myself, I am grateful the there is a place for me to be weird and not get rejected for it.
A culture that says “you have to be Christian and follow this mold to fit in” is not healthy. Nor is it Christian. A culture that oppresses homosexuals is wrong. It had to be defeated. That culture was dominant, and now it’s in decline. We are getting rid of some bad aspects of that culture, but we’re also getting rid of some of the good things that were there. Yes, there were some good aspects of that culture, too.
Do you ever feel like your life — or all life — is pointless? That you’re just a bunch of fucking atoms in a void following some stupid mathematical rules, and any meaning you sense is a flimsy illusion created to prevent you from killing yourself? This is the “cold hard truth” according to the winning side, and damn if it doesn’t make you want to suck down a bullet. Unless you have friends, or a promising career, or something to make that pain go away. And even then it’s temporary. The brightest mind on our side is scrambling to get off the planet.
We joke about this. We, the ones with catered meals and enough income to buy a place to live. Imagine how hard it is to joke about that when you watch your children struggle because you can’t afford to give them a life as good as the one you have. Imagine how hard it is to joke about that when you’re told you are struggling because you aren’t smart enough. Because you never really understood algebra. What’s the deal with x, anyhow ? Apparently it’s important enough to let some people afford houses. Fuck if I knew that when I was 14, which apparently is the keys to success.
There was a culture that said “work hard, follow these rules, and you’ll be fine.” The rules were too restrictive and it didn’t work if you were gay or black or foreign… but for everyone inside that limited set, it worked somewhat OK. It had some functionality. Compared to what it replaced, it worked better. It wasn’t terrible.
I have 8 siblings because of Catholicism. They are my best friends now, and I don’t know if any of us still practice the faith that allowed us the pleasure of knowing each other. When my brother got cancer, members of the church showed up with food they’d baked for us. A teacher from the High school volunteered to teach Luke, even though they’d never interacted before. The Church had problems, yes, but it was also a social network and a source of spiritual comfort. For folks outside of that, of course they don’t value it. But for many people, it was their way of life, and now it’s visibly dying.
You can say “that’s their own fault” or “they should be open minded and not predisposed to believe in falsehoods” or “they aren’t in touch with reality.”
What you are saying is the modern version of “well they shouldn’t have sex if they don’t want kids” or “that’s what happens when you go against God’s word.” You are justifying someone’s suffering because they aren’t following the rules that work for you. You are merely cataloging sins as defined by the dominant culture.
Every dominant culture has its sins. In the past, we excoriated people for adultery or homosexuality or drug use or just being too weird. Today, we attack people for believing things that aren’t true, or not believing things that are true, or not being smart enough to afford a decent life, or not being worldly enough to understand different cultures. No, we don’t make fun of poor people — that would be “basic.”
I’m not arguing that our culture isn’t better than the one it’s replaced. It is — in some ways, it’s substantially better. But in other ways, it’s the same or worse. No, you can’t be fired for being gay. But you can be harassed online and have your employer drop you for opposing gay marriage — which I guess isn’t quite as bad as being fired, but it’s still roughly in the same ballpark. I say this as someone who is in favor of gay marriage. It took me a lot longer to come around when the people trying to convince me called me a bigot for believing what it was I grew up believing. It was true, but being called a bigot didn’t ever help a bigot stop being a bigot. At least none that I can imagine.
People talk about a war on Christianity. That’s rhetoric. It’s wildly exaggerated. No, nobody’s going out to make that illegal. But It’s definitely lost the ground it had as the “default.” Every year I went through the phase of “this is all a meaningless dance of atoms in the void, better to get fucked up than to be fucked up” I heard the presidential candidates come out and talk about their belief in god, which just sounded like horeshit. It sounded fake. “They’re just saying it because they have to,” I thought. The smart people agreed. People who were normally quick to mock Christianity had no problems with Obama saying he could lean on Jesus.
We didn’t hear that this year. Because we’ve decided as a culture that god doesn’t matter or doesn’t exist or is irrelevant. And that’s a shame.
I made it out of the mess I was in, partly by discovering faith anew, as an adult.
I feel totally fine talking about the aspects of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths that I like. I wear a Kara (an element of Sikhism), I believe in Karma, the cycle of the yugas, and some aspects of Muslim cosmology. I can express all of these feelings openly where I am. Yet I am embarrassed to talk about Jesus — because I think that would just get me mocked and labeled as a loser. I don’t see him as anything more than a great man, but where I live, even saying this is far riskier than telling people I have enjoyed using recreational drugs.
The last century or so, humans destroyed much of the physical environment. We did this because we had no idea how valuable it was. We had no idea it needed to be protected. We saw what we wanted, and we took it. We didn’t ignore the consequences — we were blind to them.
I think we are currently destroying our spiritual environment. We are strip-mining it of the truths we can get our grubby hands on, and if we blow up centuries old values systems in the process, well that’s too bad for you, son. Ain’t no spiritual ancestors ever paid off my shareholders.
If we can’t confirm it in a laboratory, It can’t possibly be true. Oh, the stock market reflects people’s beliefs about it, but that isn’t real either. Neither is justice, which only functions if people believe in it. Those are just imaginary unicorns which moderate all of society’s interactions and are increasingly precarious. Don’t mind them!
Some people see a row of women wearing burqas as offensive or scary. I don’t. I’m curious. I understand that it’s doing something for them. It seems like it’s helping them in a way that I don’t understand. I’d rather learn more than dismiss it. I’m not embarrassed to say that, because Islam is on the Big List of Ideas Which Are Considered Foreign Enough to Be Afforded “Diverse” Status. I am embarrassed to say that I sometimes pray the rosary because it calms my mind down. Or that having children reminds me of the glorious mysteries, whereas being a child is more like the joyful mysteries. That’s some hocus pocus nonsense we got rid of, and I can’t even cast it off as being “multicultural” because that word doesn’t include the distinct, multifaceted cultures many of us grew up in.
We are ruining our spiritual environment. I can’t prove to you that it exists. I get that. But I know your mind is a garden of memes, and I wonder how many of them are hurting you right now.
If we don’t fix these problems — which means understanding the people who are angry, even if they are saying things we know are not are true — we are all in serious trouble.
If you’re voting for Trump, you already understand that things are in a serious mess. I’m sorry guys, but I don’t think that’s going to make things better.
If you’re voting for Clinton, I hope you can see how dangerous it is that this man — with no plans, no background, no substance, little intellect, a track record of bad deals and people ripped off, and the entire political and social establishment allied against him — how dangerous it is that has he come so close.
He won’t be the last.