So I wrote the other day about a book called Alienated America, the primary thesis of which is that Trump’s primary support came not from evangelicals but the men and women from communities where institutions of community life had collapsed, where the people might think of themselves as “religious” but were not affiliated with a church, nor did they have alternate forms of community life like book clubs or swim clubs or whatever. They were alienated, they had no sense of rootedness or connection to people. And he says that lacking these smaller group-connections made them more likely to form an identity around “I am white.”
Separately — and I say this knowing I can’t back it up with a link because the topic is too vague for me to find it again — a year or two or three ago I read an article in The Atlantic or a similarly mild-mannered left-leaning publication connecting up racism with declines in religious connection; that is, much as people have treated the decline in religious affiliation and practice in the US as a middle/upper-middle class phenomenon (“we’re educated enough that we don’t need the crutch of religion like poor people do”), it’s really something that’s occurring among white working class Americans, and, much as the educated “elite” nonreligious folk think that American religious groups promote racism, the reverse is true, that, whether they explicitly tell their members “don’t be racist” or if it’s just assumed in an overall message of “be nice to people,” being a part of a religious group causes people to be less racist — and the rise in nonaffiliation becomes, then, a rise in racism.
Dangit, I wish I remembered that article well enough to find it.
Anyway, I am still not going to address the killings in New Zealand directly; I have not seen anything in the news that provides any meaningful local context. Everything I come across has the same narrative that treats NZ as the 51st US state.
But here’s the gist of a tweet earlier today: in the same way as white Americans said that Muslims have to do something about the terrorists in their community (that is, the ISIS-joiners and the lone wolves), so, to, now do those same white Americans have the obligation to stop the racists in their own community.
Which — well, on the one hand, it misses the point to ignore the fact that those same Americans running off to join ISIS claimed that it was their religion that taught them that they were in the right, that in some cases, extremist religious leaders in the US were urging them on, and in other cases avoiding explaining their own interpretation of the Koran passages which the so-called “Internet sheikhs” used as proof-texts for wars of conquest. But those ISIS-joiners had religious communities to begin with (and, interestingly Carney in Alienated America writes that Muslim immigrants are more likely to agree in polling that the American Dream is doing just fine, because they have that community support).
The entire problem is that the young men who are drawn to racism in the United States (and again, do you know anything about New Zealand and its social problems or lack thereof? I don’t) have no communities.
And I type this in part with anger at everyone who has written a stupid triumphantalist article in Slate or The Atlantic or wherever, celebrating the declining prevalence of religious belief and practice in the U.S. as a sign that we are all becoming more enlightened because fewer people believe that there is something “out there” beyond what scientists can prove exists — though, to be fair, it is mostly the commenters at such sites. They take it is a sign that everyone will now be more egalitarian, will welcome people of all skin colors and sexual orientations, will assiduously seek out each other’s pronouns and respectfully check their watch when they’re told that their conversation partner identifies as female in the morning, male in the afternoon.
But that’s not how it works.
And I think that some of those same triumphantalists understand that, when they express the idea that what is ultimately needed for the United States to become a place of social and racial harmony is for white people to just, oh, disappear. Give us a Thanos-snap targeted at the right people and we’ll be all set.
Oh, sure, we can debate whether or to what degree the federal government should treat white supremacist online groups identical to Islamist terrorist cells, though there is a difference between a group of foreign nationals with the explicit intention of engaging in acts of violence vs. American individuals who (to the best of my understanding, in the case of, say, 8chan) complain and say (truly) horrid things, but don’t collectively plan acts of violence. And entities such as Google and Facebook might well censor them — though it troubles me that this seems to end in people being censored for imagined offenses as saying “learn to code” on twitter, and that they likewise put their hand on the scale about other topics (e.g., “abortion” searches intentionally produce pro-abortion results). But how far towards a crackdown of civil liberties does this go? Do we put suspect young men into re-education camps?
Bethany Mandel, a Jewish writer, gained notice — and outrage — for an article describing the consequences of her actions to befriend Nazis, actions which she describes as continuously misrepresented by leftists who tar her as a Nazi herself and demand that Nazis — or racists, generally — must be ostracized, hated, have their lives destroyed, so that, while they might continue to live and won’t be converted, they’ll live in misery. She’s not the only one to have written about actions in which people “convert” Nazis by means of outreach rather than returning hate with hate.
Now we can’t all go out and engage in a program of adopt-a-Nazi. But the issue of collapse of community institutions, which is all bound up together with the decline in religious practice, is an urgent one. I don’t know how to fix it. But it makes me angry every time I come across people celebrating this.
Image: A Munich Neonazi demonstration, from Wikipedia, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/be/Neonazi_2.4.2005_M%C3%BCnchen_2.jpg