Saturday, July 28, 2012

Inclusiveness and Collapse

Here's a completely different angle. The Olympic opening ceremony was about high-thinking metropolitan elite opinion in London proclaiming its progressive values and inclusiveness to the world.

There have been a slew of articles recently asking why the mainline liberal Protestant denominations are collapsing in North America, like this Ross Douhat column in the NYT. Margaret Wente writes in the Toronto Globe and Mail today that no one cares what the United Church of Canada thinks any more.

Back in the 1960s, the liberal churches bet their future on becoming more open, more inclusive, more egalitarian and more progressive. They figured that was the way to reach out to a new generation of worshippers. It was a colossal flop.

Is there a deeper problem here? Liberal utopian communes and new social experiments generally collapse, while religious orders sustained monastic communities for centuries. Liberal high-mindedness seems to be producing terrifying decline in Europe. Half of young Spaniards are unemployed. Thirty-year olds still have to live with their parents in Italy. In the US, the golden state, California, is shutting parks and cutting back programs. Blue New York is dividing into the hyper rich and the poor, with the broad middle squeezed out. The liberal academy in the humanities has stuffed students with high debt and is steadily losing ground to business studies ( which ought not to happen.)

This is where a politics of gesture leads.

There is a deeper problem for left-liberalism in sustaining community and institutions. This may be because, if you follow Jonathan Haidt's arguments, liberals are not closely attuned to moral intutions which promote community as well as equality and fairness. It is a blind spot.

So there are many in the press who praise the opening ceremony's cool liberalism symbolism of nationalized healthcare, multicultural immigration on the Windrush, and Frankie goes to Hollywood. It's the civic religion of Islington and Notting Hill and SW9. It's not necessarily a good thing.

The UK past in the ceremony was Shakespeare. The present is Mr Bean, with extra fireworks, and a slight hint of Bladerunner about it.

This isn't to yearn for the past, or even necessarily to be socially conservative. It's to recognize civic religions and values have consequences. And they are not always benign.


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