Tribalism isn’t about feelings, it’s about the zero-sum outlook

Change can be unpleasant.

Unless you’re down and out. If you’re down and out, then change is probably good news. When you’re down and out, then any change is likely to be progress.

But if you’re neither down nor out, then progress may be unwelcome. You’re on top. You’re in. Why mess with that?

The last 60 years has seen a lot of change. The trajectory of that change has been good news for many people who used to be intractably down and  out. For them, the trajectory of this change is clearly progress. But such progress has been unsettling for many people who used to enjoy an exclusive birthright to being up and in.

What I’m trying to talk about here is privilege, hegemony, implicit hierarchy. And about the lingering resentment and anxiety over every slight erosion of them.

This shows up a lot in pronouns — particularly in the ambiguous use of undifferentiated first-person plural pronouns. “We need to take our country back.” But what do you mean “We,” kemosabe?

Those pronouns are funny things. They seem to be inclusive and comprehensive. On its face, “we” means us — all of us. But we don’t always use “we” in that way. Who is the “we” in “we need to take our country back”? Who is the “our”?

It’s inclusive, but not comprehensive. Or, in other words, it’s tribal — inclusive of those within the tribe, but exclusive of those without it.

The tribal boundaries are implicit and unstated, but they are known. These boundaries are ethnic and religious and sexual, yet they do not necessarily entail any ethnic or religious or sexual animus.

There may be such animus, but it’s not necessary. No actual dislike or contempt needs to be felt. Personal sentiment and emotional antipathy are wholly optional when it comes to defending the interests of the tribe.

This can lead to some confusion and muddy things up. We can end up arguing about racism, misogyny, homophobia or religious hatred with folks who insist, sincerely, that they do not have any such feelings.

And for many people, that’s largely true. They don’t feel such dislike, and some of their best friends are, etc. Because this isn’t about feelings, it’s about tribes. Plenty of people who are driven by the desire to defend the interests of their tribe don’t feel any visceral dislike for those they regard as outsiders — as not “we,” not “us,” not “ours.” Those folks just happen to be on the other team.

And if our team is going to win, they imagine, then their team can’t.

I think that’s the key. That, right there, is the idea that makes personal feelings of dislike or hatred superfluous. Once you accept the framework of a zero-sum struggle between competing tribes then it no longer matters whether or not you feel any such feelings — you’re still bound to regard any advance for them as a loss for us. You’ll still imagine that “we” cannot be up and in unless “they” are kept down and out.

In that zero-sum tribal framework, it doesn’t matter whether or not you dislike the other tribe or view them an inferior. If you think of yourself as part of the straight, white, male, Christian tribe, then you’ll defend the interests of that tribe against anyone who is not straight, white, male and Christian. Whether or not personal sentiments of antipathy are involved, the effect is the same.

It’s very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to separate out the various threads of tribal identity as distinct factors. The tribal anxiety that comes from the idea of a zero-sum world is all of a piece. Antitribalism struggles to be “intersectional,” but tribalism has always been intersectional. Tribalism was intersectional before intersectionality was cool.

Look again at that amorphous and undifferentiated use of the tribal “we.” We need to take back our country. The anxiety there — the sense that we are losing, somehow, due to the advances made by others — cannot easily be separated into discrete elements of ethnicity, gender, religion or sexuality. The loss that “we” feel for “our” tribe arises from a host of changes that combine to form a single anxiety. The anxiety that perceives the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as a tribal defeat is bound up with the anxiety that festers behind fear of the so-called “War on Christmas.” The tribal anxiety felt over every advance of feminism is intermixed with the anxiety felt over every advance in civil rights for ethnic minorities. The sense of tribal besiegement that perceives a same-sex wedding as some kind of setback is intermingled with the anxiety over the new neighborhood mosque, the ending of prayers at high school football games and “Press 2 para Español.”

This is part of what I was trying to convey with the Venn diagram I posted last night. State-mandated sectarian prayer in public schools is a theocratic idea, yet “school prayer” isn’t primarily a rallying cry for theocrats, but for tribalists. The 1962 decision forbidding mandatory sectarian prayers was perceived as a loss for the tribe, just as the desegregation decisions of the previous decade were. “We” were losing control of “our” schools.

Racial animus may play a role in that tribal anxiety, for some. And I suspect that for many who harbor such feelings of racial animus, “school prayer” is considered a safer, more acceptable-seeming way of expressing their objection to desegregation. But explicit, visceral racial animus is not necessary for such an objection any more than state Sen. Dennis Kruse needed to be a raging anti-Semite to introduce legislation allowing Indiana schools to mandate the recitation of the Christian Lord’s prayer. It doesn’t really matter whether or not Kruse feels any such feelings of bigotry — the effect is the same either way.

 

  • Kiba

    Again you are over looking the concept of power (or maybe I should use privilege). Christians have it pagans, atheists, etc don’t. It’s not about us vs them so much as it is about trying to make sure every one is treated equally. People are asking Christians to share and some Christians are taking that and claiming that that means they (Christians) and now a persecuted minority. It’s a bullshit claim. 

  • Kiba

    My pronouns are ze/zir, not she/her, please and thank you.

    My apologies. 

  • Fizbinparrot

    Problem: yall grew up in a degraded time and don’t know anything better.

    Some people remember something better and get sick of being lectured by  clueless Millennial asshats who live inside their hand-held Skinner boxes in a perpetual state of ADHD…but preen about knowing all about Real Life (TM, a subsidiary of DisneyPlanet Inc.).

    Your life is a Venn diagram circle lying outside of my life. I really don’t give a shit about you. When you demand I do, like the petulant little pricks you are, it *IS* a zero sum game. FOAD.

    Also: the NE Republicans of the WWII generation I grew up around were WAY more genuinely open minded, tolerant, radical, and creative than any generation I’ve seen since. They didn’t care who anybody was sleeping with, what their religion was, or what happened in the privacy of your own home. What they DID care about was when Baby Boomer hippies arrived on the scene–their own fucking kids, mind you–to tell everyone that they knew better than anybody else about everything. And of course Baby Boomer hippies were a creation of the ad agencies; Woodstock was a marketing ploy to deliver investment returns. 

    Finally, yall need to get out more. You say things like “white male Christians” and sound like a bunch of Victorians or Whigs. “Zero-sum outlook” is a demonstrated fact of human psychology and social psychology; you have it too, and if you had the self-reflective capacity Darwin gave a flea, you’d realize it. After all, all that you’re really saying boils down to this:

    You want what older people worked to save, and you want it now. For free. For doing nothing other than wanking the smartphone. 

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

     I’m not ignoring privilege — I’m acknowledging that it exists.  It won’t disappear with polarized view points (it may never disappear completely).  But the only way to affect that concept of power is through discussion — and placing groups in the “we” vs. “them” categories inhibits that discussion because raises the barriers. 

    Worse yet, it not only raises the barriers for the people who would be willing to understand.  It forces them to take sides.

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

     “Hell with ‘reasoned criticism’. Monarchos is saying that the statement
    ‘atheists believe gods are mythical’, which is exactly equivalent in
    nature to the noncontroversial, noncritical, factual statement
    ‘Christians believe Jesus is Lord’, is mocking Christians.”

    No, that is not what I’m saying.  I’m saying that if you reserve most of the spots of a Christmas display and make such statements in each one, then you are mocking Christians. It is the perceived intent of the people involved that I’m criticizing.

    But I was criticizing both extremes.  Not because they were “right” or “wrong”, but because they inhibit understanding.  You latched onto the Atheist examples and won’t let go.  If you would have latched onto the Christian examples, then I would be “forced into” defending Atheism.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So enough more atheists than Christians entered the lottery for holiday display spots that the winners of the spots skewed heavily atheist, and then the atheists–horrors!–put up displays reflecting atheist beliefs in a manner very similar to how a nativity reflects Christian beliefs. And this is a thing for which to blame the atheists, not the Christians who could have entered the lottery but didn’t.

    Oh. Perceived intent. Not actual intent, just what you perceive the intent to be regardless of whether it maps to reality. Found our problem, folks.
    You would not be forced into squat, by the way. Supposing I were arguing the Christian side of this? (For whatever value of ‘Christian side’–I think what you perceive the phrase to mean will be ‘aligned with the Christians who think public space should be Christian space’, so let’s go with that, not any way to interpret the term that involves Christians who think public space should be secular or interfaith space.) You could still argue the Christian side of this. In fact, my clear impression of what you have posted thus far is that you would, and would have absolutely no perception that I was forcing you into arguing the atheist side–in fact you would perceive me as being on yours.

  • Carstonio

    I’m saying that if you reserve most of the spots of a Christmas display and make such statements in each one, then you are mocking Christians.

    Since it’s a public park, it shouldn’t be an exclusively Christian display in the first place. That’s government favortism toward one religion. By defining it as a Christmas display, as if other religions didn’t have holidays that month, you’re implying that non-Christian religions shouldn’t have the same access to public land.

  • The_L1985

    “I really don’t give a shit about you. When you demand I do, it *IS* a zero sum game.”

    How does caring about other people hurt you in any way, shape, or form?  Because I’d love to hear you justify this.

    “yall grew up in a degraded time and don’t know anything better.”

    I’m not sure what “a degraded time” is even supposed to mean.  People have been pulling the “kids these days are worse than my generation was” B.S. since ancient Greek.  As Xenophon once put it, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

    “Some people remember something better and get sick of being lectured by  clueless Millennial asshats who live inside their hand-held Skinner boxes in a perpetual state of ADHD”

    First of all, Fred and a lot of his readers are Gen X’ers, and a lot of Boomers are in the comments as well.  Secondly, I’m a Millennial, thankyouverymuch, and I have clear and vivid memories of playing outside, and of actually learning and accomplishing things.  I go to Renaissance Faires on a regular basis, and am perfectly capable of going without my “hand-held Skinner boxes.”  I even made my Faire outfit myself, which took a fair amount of time, money, and effort.  For you to insist that I am somehow unable to cope without constant access to cell phones and video games is deeply offensive.  How DARE you assume that everyone in an entire 200+ comment thread has exactly the same life.

    “Finally, yall need to get out more. You say things like “white male Christians” and sound like a bunch of Victorians or Whigs.”

    You know what?  I grew up in southern AL.  I’ve lived in various parts of the country, including Long Island and the richer AND poorer sides of Ft. Lauderdale.  What I haven’t seen first- or second-hand from my various life experiences, I’ve seen and read about on the Internet.  I “get out” quite a bit.  And guess who most of the people playing teh “zero-sum” game are?  White male Christians.

    “Zero-sum outlook” is not a necessary thing.  I don’t want anybody to have more rights than anybody else.  Rights are not zero-sum, nor is respect.

    I want every adult to be able to have a full-time job that pays a fair living wage. I don’t want people to just have things for free because that’s not fair.  I want fairness.  I’m sorry you fail to understand this.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The best-known non-Christian religions, Judaism and Islam, Hanukkah ain’t half as important to Judaism as Christmas is to Christianity, and this year there just weren’t any Muslim holidays in December. I’m not sure which of Passover or the collective High Holy Days maps to Christmas in terms of importance to its religion, and Muslim holidays move, and I have no idea what holidays are the important ones for pretty much any other religion.
    If there’s gonna be religious holiday displays on public property–which I’ve no objection to as long as lots of religions including atheism get a say, though my preference would be no religious holiday displays on public property at all–then December should not be the only month for them.

  • Carstonio

    I avoid the word fairness as a tactical maneuver, because it’s too often abused by just-worlders who point out that life is not fair like they’re scolding children. And by racists who euphemistically refer to myths about black laziness. But the sense is accurate. I think the concepts of justice and equal opportunity better capture the principle involved. I don’t begrudge people for being rich, but I do begrudge the ones who try to use their wealth to game the system and abuse the less powerful.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    I’m saying that if you reserve most of the spots of a Christmas display
    and make such statements in each one, then you are mocking Christians

    And if you take a public space that is maintained by a community that includes Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and lots of other types of people, and you start thinking of it as “a Christmas display” like you do here, you are belittling and alienating non-Christians. You’re saying that the public square isn’t for them to do their thing, it’s for Christians to do Christmas.

    And if some of those non-Christians, after five or fifteen or fifty years of putting up with it, eventually take control of that space and use it to express defiance of that paradigm, that should not be surprising.

    And if some Christians feel mocked along the way, that is an acceptable price to pay.

    I was criticizing both extremes.  Not because they were “right” or “wrong”, but because they inhibit understanding. 

    Understanding is great, but it’s not the only virtue.

    Your “perceived intent,” as you would put it, is that it’s more important for the powerless to express their understanding of the powerful than that the powerless have room to participate in the social life of a community in the first place. That’s not just mistaken, it’s immoral.

    I know I keep repeating the same thought over and over, but then again you never do seem to engage with it.

  • Kiba

    Googleing around the only info I can find for this year: December–1st Advent, 21st Winter Solstice, 25th Christmas, 26th Kwanzaa. For November–1st All Saint’s Day, 3rd Diwali (Hindu festival of lights), 4th  Muharram (Islamic New Year), 28th Thanksgiving, 28th Hanukkah. The Jains have two festivals on November 3rd (I think) Mahavira Nirvana(one of the most important festivals) and Lokashah Jayanti.

  • Carstonio

    Very true. Regardless of the relative importance of specific holidays within religions, government must not treat some religions as more important than others.

    Why do you prefer no religious displays on any public property? A courthouse is for official government business, and there such a ban is appropriate. But a public park belongs to the community with government as a steward. A ban on religious uses might be defensible in circumstances where open access for all religions is an administrative headache. But that access, done without favoritism,  meets the secular purpose test just as well.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Jewish holidays “move” as well, incidentally. Or, rather, they’re fixed on a lunar calendar, so they don’t appear on the same date on the Gregorian (aka Christian) calendar.

    Absolutely agreed about treating December as “the” holiday season being Christonormative, though.

    For Jews, it would typically be September/October (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succot), though an argument could be made for Pesach in April.

  • Carstonio

     

    Your “perceived intent,” as you would put it, is that it’s more
    important for the powerless to express their understanding of the
    powerful than that the powerless have room to participate in the social
    life of a community in the first place. That’s not just mistaken, it’s
    immoral.

    This. In the case of a society with many religions, the argument is that the majority religion should be treated as the norm or default, as if others should apologize for belonging to another religion.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I know Jewish holidays move with respect to the Gregorian calendar. My point is, the big ones are the High Holy Days and Passover, neither of which is anywhere near December, while any Muslim holiday can occur at any point in the Gregorian year. And while I’ll take Kiba’s word for it that a very important Jain holiday happens early November, one, that’s not December, and two, how important to their respective religions are the rest of the Nov-Dec holidays Kiba lists?

  • Carstonio

    The actual timing of the holidays is not really the issue. The constitutional principle I’m articulating would apply all year to any religious holiday. In a community with many different religions, I would love to see what the groups create for holiday displays at different times of  year.

  • Kiba

     I’m not ignoring privilege

    Yeah, I kind of think you are. I don’t think you really understand that while discussion is all well and good that expecting people who have no (or little) power/privilege to do nothing but talk and hope that the ones that do have it decide to share it is problematic. When it comes to the powerful majority asking nicely rarely, if ever, accomplishes much. 

    It is the perceived intent of the people involved that I’m criticizing.

    So you’re psychic now? 

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Sometimes it’s not even “majority.” That is, if fifty years from now it turned out Christianity wasn’t a majority religion in the U.S. anymore and Ijustmadeitupism was, many people alive today would still believe that Christianity was the norm.

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

     If you read the link — there was a Jewish display for Hannakuh in Santa Monica.  As near as I can figure, nobody had a problem with that.

    I’m not arguing for “exclusivity”, my point was that the Atheists, in this situation, took a vindictive, activist approach against Christmas.  The Atheist argument seems to be, “well Christians do it, so I can do it, too.”

    But that precludes the idea that most Christians don’t behave this way (neither do most atheists), but their positions get “crowded” out by the extremists.  The perception becomes that most of “them” behave this way. (For instance, if you are an Atheist, “them” is Christian; if you are a Christian, “them” is atheists.)

    I’m not taking sides.  Both approaches are wrong.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Bullshit you’re not. You’re strenuously arguing that atheists making a point of existing while visibly atheist is horribly offensive to Christians without any acknowledgment that the continual overwhelming insistence lots of* Christians have on existing while visibly Christian, and that fewer-but-still-lots of Christians have of insisting nobody should exist while being visibly not-Christian, might offend not-Christians.

    (nb: the first doesn’t, the latter does, and atheists do not have anything like the numbers or the political power to attempt insisting that no one should exist while visibly not-atheist and also atheists unlike Christians are by and large not dumb enough to try)

    * see, I learn from my mistakes and am no longer overgeneralizing

  • Kiba

    my point was that the Atheists, in this situation, took a vindictive, activist approach against Christmas.

    It’s vindictive to state what they believe? Really? So that nativity scene is vindictive to atheists? 
    You just come across as angry that they were allowed to say that publicly. 

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

     “And if you take a public space that is maintained by a community
    that includes Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and lots of other
    types of people, and you start thinking of it as “a Christmas display”
    like you do here, you are belittling and alienating non-Christians.
    You’re saying that the public square isn’t for them to do their thing,
    it’s for Christians to do Christmas.”

    Way back in the beginning of this discussion, I pointed out that Christmas has become both a religious and secular holiday.  For what it is worth, that is probably the root of the “War on Christmas” debate. I also pointed out that the “War on Christmas” rhetoric on the part of Christians was not constructive.

    “And if some of those non-Christians, after five or fifteen or fifty
    years of putting up with it, eventually take control of that space and
    use it to express defiance of that paradigm, that should not be
    surprising. ”

    I’m not surprised.  I just don’t believe it is constructive. You have a community that is trying to be inclusive — yet, you have a few individuals who are trying to destroy that.

    “Understanding is great, but it’s not the only virtue.”

    I don’t believe it is the only virtue, either.  But it is a virtue — and it will help the community coexist.

    “Your “perceived intent,” as you would put it, is that it’s more
    important for the powerless to express their understanding of the
    powerful than that the powerless have room to participate in the social
    life of a community in the first place. That’s not just mistaken, it’s
    immoral.”

    Never did I say or imply that.  That is the antithesis of my point.  My perception is that “extremists” destroy the social life of a community.  I tried to illustrate that all extremes achieve this destruction at the expense of the majority.  EllieMurasaki countered only the illustration of the Atheist extremists, and insisted that I “prove” the example of atheist extremists.

    “I know I keep repeating the same thought over and over, but then again you never do seem to engage with it.”

    That’s because I am trying not to take sides.  The thesis of my very first point was that the extremists positions have the effect of forcing you to take sides.  And that is what is wrong with the public discourse.

  • Carstonio

    Few would disagree in principle that extremism is wrong. The objection here is to the false equivalence that you’re peddling. While there was indeed a Hanukkah display, all the other displays were Christian. That itself was arguably a  “vindictive, activist approach” against non-Christian religions. One doesn’t have to approve the specific tactic used by American Atheists to recognize that they’re simply mirroring how the culture treats non-Christian religions and their adherents. Where were the complaints from non-atheists when Santa Monica unconstitutionally allowed Nativities to dominate the displays with only a token for Hanukkah?

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

    ” It’s vindictive to state what they believe? Really? So that nativity scene is vindictive to atheists?”

    – No, it was vindictive to try to monopolize the displays. And that is my perception.  It was also the perception of the article in the LA Times. (Title Atheists ‘hijack’ Nativity Display.”) The only reason why the holiday season has any special significance to atheists is because it is religious to other faiths.  There are better ways to achieve this discussion.

    “You just come across as angry that they were allowed to say that publicly. ”

    – No, I’m not angry that they were allowed to say that.  I’m angry that they abused the privilege.  (gasp! There’s that word again — I know, only Christians are “privileged”.)  I believe a better approach would be to appeal to the council for a different month to display their viewpoints in the same space. 

    This blog is about avoiding the mentality of the “zero-sum” game.  That conclusion works both ways. Here is a clear example where there are twenty-one spaces for seasonal displays.  But only for that one month.  In this case the Atheists only “win” if they destroy the holiday for everybody.  I don’t agree — I think everybody loses in that case.

  • Kiba

    No, I’m not angry that they were allowed to say that.  I’m angry that they abused the privilege.

    Yeah this? You don’t understand the concept of privilege. Maybe you should read up on it. http://www.createwisconsin.net/events/ConferenceHandouts/Tuesday/845am/What_is_Privilege.pdf
    Because, honestly, you’re full of crap. 

    (If someone know of a better resource please list it)

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

    ” Few would disagree in principle that extremism is wrong.”

    – and, yet, most seem to be arguing against me. 

    “Where were the complaints from non-atheists when Santa Monica
    unconstitutionally allowed Nativities to dominate the displays with only
    a token for Hanukkah?”

    –  In this case, Santa Monica tried to be fair and impartial.  The held a lottery for spots (as they apparently have for many years.) It isn’t unconstitutional to allow religious displays.  It is unconstitutional for the government to favor a religion.  And I’m not disagreeing with the “constitutionality” of what the Atheists did in this case.  I’m disagreeing with their results.  It was destructive, not constructive.

    “That itself was arguably a  “vindictive, activist approach” against
    non-Christian religions. One doesn’t have to approve the specific tactic
    used by American Atheists to recognize that they’re simply mirroring
    how the culture treats non-Christian religions and their adherents”

    – I’m not sure how many Christians you know, but ask yourself how many of them display nativities to be “anti-Atheist”?  There are some (of course), but I am against them, as well.  I believe that the actions by Atheists in Santa Monica increase the number of people who would create displays which are more obviously anti-Atheist.  And that is a destructive spiral.

    I’m not defending Christian behavior which is “vindictive” or “extreme”.  My point was that any of that behavior is destructive.  The argument presented in this blog is “don’t break sides down into ‘us’ and ‘them’.”

    I agree with that.  I think it is an important and interesting concept.  Almost as soon as I wrote that I received responses like “Oh, yeah — how come you’re against ‘us’, but not ‘them’?”  (I’m paraphrasing, which is apparently is not allowed in this forum,  but I’ve written too much already.)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Christmas has become both a religious and secular holiday

    To the extent that Christmas is a secular holiday in the U.S., it is one that alienates and offends many people, both non-Christians and devout Christians. I don’t know if there’s anything we can do about that, but moving forward as though Christmas were some kind of unproblematically secular event is a step in the wrong direction.

    But it (understanding) is a virtue — and it will help the community coexist.

    Yes. But when we seek understanding at the expense of other things, such as fairness or equal access to public accomodations, we often end up by damaging the community. Context matters. The big picture matters.

    My perception is that “extremists” destroy the social life of a community.  [..] extremists positions have the effect of forcing you to take sides.  And that is what is wrong with the public discourse.

    There are many, many, many other things wrong with public discourse in America that are more important than people sometimes being “forced” to take sides by extremist positions.

    Especially if we consider claims like “the divinity of Jesus Christ is a myth with no significant evidence in support of it” to be an extremist position. It isn’t. Or, rather, it is only extremist if we believe that “Jesus Christ is divine” is a centrist, middle-of-the-road position, in which case we’re starting from a position that excludes and alienates many many people, and that represents ongoing damage to the community that needs to be addressed.

    Pressing someone in the chest hard enough to separate their ribs
    from their sternum damages a person. But chastising someone giving CPR
    to someone in need of it on that basis is just loony. At best it’s a distraction from more important work. At worst, they might listen to my chastisement and stop what they’re doing, which causes net harm.

    Similarly, when someone takes a step in the direction of improving one of those more-important things, and my response is to chastise them for the 
    “extremist” positions they take in the process, I do more harm than good.

    Of course, if we can apply metaphorical CPR effectively without breaking anyone’s metaphorical ribs, that’s even better. But the time to address that issue is not in the context of a specific intervention, it’s during training. If you have suggestions about how to effectively address the alienation and exclusion that are ubiquitous in American religious life without making the current power structure feel bad, that’s great! I’d love to talk about that, and it’s a far more useful conversation than how wrong it is to address those issues in ways that make the current power structure feel bad.

    And if you don’t have suggestions, that’s OK too. Most people don’t.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    ” Few would disagree in principle that extremism is wrong.”

    – and, yet, most seem to be arguing against me.  [..] I’m not defending Christian behavior which is “vindictive” or “extreme”. 

    Is “Jesus Christ is Lord” an extreme position, on your view?

  • Carstonio

    Santa Monica wasn’t being “fair and impartial” when it allowed groups (some of them ostensibly secular) to put up multiple Nativities, any more than when it allowed American Atheists to put up multiple displays. A truly impartial process would have allowed only one display per religion, in this case a single Nativity.

    I’m not sure how many Christians you know, but ask yourself how many of them display nativities to be “anti-Atheist”?

    That mischaracterizes the issue. No one claims that a Nativity in and of itself is inherently hostile to non-Christians. The hostility is in having these dominating the displays, crowding out all non-Christian religions but one. You’re wrongly blaming a religious minority for treating the issue as us versus them, instead of recognizing that the culture has long done that in favor of the majority religion.

  • Carstonio

    To the extent that Christmas is a secular holiday in the U.S., it is
    one that alienates and offends many people, both non-Christians and
    devout Christians. I don’t know if there’s anything we can do about
    that, but moving forward as though Christmas were some kind of
    unproblematically secular event is a step in the wrong direction.

    Does that remind you of the Bill O’Reilly tactic of claiming that Christianity is a philosophy and not a religion? A tactic that has no purpose other than seeking most-favored-nation status for a particular religion.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    “Perceived intent” seems to have a straightforward interpretation: if someone steps on my foot, how they behave surrounding that event often influences my perception of their intent regarding my foot.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    No, it was vindictive to try to monopolize the displays. And that is my perception.

    mmmmfbwhahahahaha omfg.

    Such a calamity that one display in one city in one state in a bigass country gets “monopolized” by non-Christians.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    A little bit, yeah.

    Then again, it also reminds me of the “why does a person’s sex even matter? I am attracted to a person’s soul!” stance so beloved of many people in the first phases of coming out as queer. To which my usual response is “That’s nice. Give me a call when you’ve finished coming out. In the meantime, as long as you don’t go around judging the rest of us who are attracted to different bodies in different ways, we’ll get along just fine.”

    In much the same way… if someone wants to engage with the secular core of Christmas rather than its religious core, that’s fine with me, though I think it’s mostly a transient fence-straddling act that’s untenable in the long run. In the meantime, though, I won’t tolerate them telling the rest of us how we should engage with Christmas.

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

     “Santa Monica wasn’t being “fair and impartial” when it allowed groups
    (some of them ostensibly secular) to put up multiple Nativities, any
    more than when it allowed American Atheists to put up multiple displays.”

    – I didn’t claim that it was fair or impartial.  Nor do I think “fair and impartial” is  a reasonable goal.  If you allow one display per religion, you’ll have people arguing on just how many “Christian” religions there are.  “Fair and impartial” is different for everybody.  However, that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some attempt at understanding.

    “That mischaracterizes the issue. No one claims that a Nativity in and of itself is inherently hostile to non-Christians.”

    – That was the point you raised, right?  “That itself was arguably a  “vindictive, activist approach” against non-Christian religions.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    If you allow one display per religion, you’ll have people arguing on just how many “Christian” religions there are.

    Who was it asked why I prefer no religious displays on public property to a variety of religious displays on public property?

    That’s why.

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

     “Is “Jesus Christ is Lord” an extreme position, on your view?”

    – No, of course not.  That is a statement of faith.  However, if you try to mandate that every school child says this at the beginning of the day, that is extremist.  That was my example of a Christian extremist position.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    What if I put a sign in a public space saying “Jesus Christ is Lord”? Is that also a Christian extremist position, or is that OK?

    What if I put a sign next to it saying  “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet.”? Is that a Muslim extremist position, is it mockery, or is it OK?

    What if I put a sign next to both of those saying  “There are no gods.”? Is that an atheist extremist position, is it mockery, or is it OK?

    It seems to me that either those three acts are equally “extremist,” or our definition of “extremism” is already so biased that it does more harm than good.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    That was the point you raised, right?  “That itself was arguably
    a  “vindictive, activist approach” against non-Christian religions.”

    I can’t tell if you’re deliberately misconstruing Carstonio’s point here, or just too caught up in wanting to win an argument on the Internet to take the time to read carefully or charitably. As Carstonio said explicitly, he is drawing the distinction here between a single Nativity in isolation, and a broad cultural norm of Nativity scenes being seen as the default unmarked case. The former, he claims, is not hostile to non-Christians. The latter is.

    If you want to ignore the broader cultural context, we can’t stop you. If you want to argue that the broader context does not matter, go ahead and argue it.

    But pretending that other people aren’t specifically drawing that distinction is unhelpful.

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

     “To the extent that Christmas is a secular holiday in the U.S., it is one
    that alienates and offends many people, both non-Christians and devout
    Christians. I don’t know if there’s anything we can do about that, but
    moving forward as though Christmas were some kind of unproblematically
    secular event is a step in the wrong direction.”

    – I agree.  That was my point.

    “There are many, many, many other things wrong with public
    discourse in America that are more important than people sometimes being
    “forced” to take sides by extremist positions.”

     – There are many problems with public discourse, but (to me) this is number one.  All Republicans are expected to agree with the NRA’s position on gun usage, whether they believe in the entire program, or not.  The effect of this is more insidious than LaPierre looking foolish on national TV.  One of the effects is to restrict federally funded research on guns.  This allows them not just to make outrageous statements, but to restrict the discussion to their research.

    The NRA is the most obvious example of this effect, but I contend that this occurs at all levels of the public debate.

    “Especially if we consider claims like “the divinity of Jesus
    Christ is a myth with no significant evidence in support of it” to be an
    extremist position. It isn’t. Or, rather, it is only extremist if we believe that “Jesus Christ is divine” is a centrist, middle-of-the-road position, in which case we’re starting
    from a position that excludes and alienates many many people, and that
    represents ongoing damage to the community that needs to be addressed.”

    – I didn’t say any of these things.

    “If you have suggestions about how to effectively address the alienation
    and exclusion that are ubiquitous in American religious life without making the current power structure feel bad, that’s great”

    – I don’t care that the “current power structure” feel bad.  I would like to get them to the table.  In fact, I would like to find the table — as near as I can figure, it is nowhere in sight.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Also, come to think of it.. if I try to mandate that every school child says that the United States is one nation under God at the beginning of every day, is that an extremist position?

  • Carstonio

    If you allow one display per religion, you’ll have people arguing on
    just how many “Christian” religions there are.  “Fair and impartial” is
    different for everybody.  However, that doesn’t mean that there
    shouldn’t be some attempt at understanding.

    That wrongly assumes that there’s no constitutional issue involved. Since it’s a public park, Santa Monica has a duty to treat the religions impartially. A Nativity is so broadly accepted as a Christian symbol that the city has a good case for allowing just one to represent all of the religion.

    That was the point you raised, right?

    I was referring to Nativities taking up all but one of the display booths. That dominance is the “vindictive, activist approach.” The American Atheists tactic appears first and foremost to be a reaction to that approach by c0-opting it.

    Look at it this way – our culture still subconsciously assumes that it’s normal or natural for doctors to be men. What you’re describing is the equivalent of a male physician taking it personally in the rare case of a patient assuming that the doctor would be a woman. Ridiculous for him to want sympathy for a single experience that his female colleagues regularly face.

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

    No — none of those are extremist positions.

    ” It seems to me that either those three acts are equally “extremist,” or
    our definition of “extremism” is already so biased that it does more
    harm than good.”

    – I’m not trying to “define extremism”.  I would argue that such an attempt is already shown (here) to be problematic.  I was trying to illustrate the damaging effect of these positions.  Which is my understanding of this blog article.

    What I find surprising is that people feel obliged to say “‘We’ aren’t extremist, ‘they’ are.” — in response to an article against making such distinctions

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Wait up… if I put up a sign next to a bunch of public declarations of faith saying  “There are no gods,” you don’t consider that problematic?

    So, OK, what do you say to the Christian or the Muslim who says “Of course it’s problematic! Dave is mocking my faith! He’s not interested in a genuine conversation!”?

  • EllieMurasaki

    people feel obliged to say “‘We’ aren’t extremist, ‘they’ are.”
    The thing is, we’re NOT, they ARE, and there’s another ‘they’ that has the same label as the first ‘they’ but contains no extremists. That’s the point you yelled at me in an early, if not your first, comment on this thread for, because I neglected to emphasize that not all Christians use religion as a weapon.

    (Perhaps not even most, but certainly enough who do and enough others who don’t object to it. Our host the Slacktivist is the kind of Christian I wish they all were, but the Christians who object to using Christianity to hurt people are a small percentage of Christians.)

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

    “Who was it asked why I prefer no religious displays on public property to a variety of religious displays on public property”

     Curiously, nobody asked me, either.  I don’t expect to get asked for everything.  Nor do I expect that my opinion is the only one that should be considered.  However, there are beneficial ways and destructive ways to deal with disagreement.  My opinion, in this case “their” method was destructive — it was destructive to the community, it was destructive to the debate, and it was destructive to “their” cause.

    I’m not denying “their” right to be destructive.  I questioning the wisdom of it.

  • EllieMurasaki

    What, in your view, would be a nondestructive atheist holiday display, or a nondestructive explanation of what atheists believe?

  • monarchos8@hotmail.com

    “I can’t tell if you’re deliberately misconstruing Carstonio’s point
    here, or just too caught up in wanting to win an argument on the
    Internet to take the time to read carefully or charitably. As Carstonio
    said explicitly, he is drawing the distinction here between a single
    Nativity in isolation, and a broad cultural norm of Nativity scenes
    being seen as the default unmarked case. The former, he claims, is not
    hostile to non-Christians. The latter is.”

     No, I wasn’t trying to deny the “broader context”. I’m pointing out intent matters — as well as perception of intent. Most Christians who display a nativity scene do so ignorantly, not maliciously.  Ignorance isn’t bad or good, it just exists.

    As near as I can determine, the Santa Monica display was not intended as a “Christian” display of Christmas (although some, no doubt, interpreted it that way.)  None of them placed a nativity as an intentional slam to Atheism (I could be wrong, but that is my guess.)

    However, it is hard for me to interpret the atheist displays as anything but an attempt to demean other religions.

    My intent on raising this point has nothing to do with nativity displays on Christmas.  My point was about how extremist activism on either side is destructive. I wasn’t even referring to just religious activism. However, Ellie Murasaki took issue with one of my examples of atheist activism.  Now I find myself defending the Christians in Santa Monica, in order to defend my argument.  It is not a position that I am entirely comfortable with.  It was meant as an example, not a position statement.

  • Lori

     

    In much the same way… if someone wants to engage with the secular core
    of Christmas rather than its religious core, that’s fine with me,
    though I think it’s mostly a transient fence-straddling act that’s
    untenable in the long run.   

    I’ve been doing this for at least 15 years now and I’m still not having any problem managing it. Given the pagan roots of many of our “Christmas” traditions it’s actually not difficult at all. You lose the nativity scene (which my family never had any way*) and a bunch of carols and you’re pretty much set.

    *My family never had a nativity because the Church of Christ doesn’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. It has no religious holidays at all. Yup, fundie Christians who don’t think Christmas is a religious holiday. Imagine that.

    Two things about that:

    -Many CofCers have gotten sucked into the War on Christmas BS via Fox News, so it’s now sometimes difficult for outsiders to tell that they don’t believe Christmas is a religious holiday, but they don’t.

    -I still recall with great fondness the conversation where I tried to explain to the mother of my Jewish BFF that the church in which I was raised does not have religious holidays. It just Did. Not. Compute. She’s a smart woman and she understood what I was saying, but it was so totally foreign to her experience that I think she just filed it under “The goyim. Who can understand them?”

  • EllieMurasaki

    As near as I can determine, the Santa Monica display was not intended as a “Christian” display of Christmas (although some, no doubt, interpreted it that way.) None of them placed a nativity as an intentional slam to Atheism (I could be wrong, but that is my guess.)

    Nativity scenes, though never to my knowledge intentional slams on atheism, are ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS CHRISTIAN CHRISTMAS DISPLAYS.


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