Monday, February 20, 2006

Gimme that Ol' Time Religion

I was rather surprised at supper last night to hear one of my dining companions extol the virtues of headhunter society in the South Pacific. The death cult that had sustained them for timeless eons had been destroyed by the introduction of Western ways, you see, and she had just finished reading a book which explained how horribly difficult life has become for the headhunters' descendants, struggling as they are to scrape out a living as minions of some exploitive Western corporation. When my wife objected that headhunting is a rather grisly business probably not entirely worthy of emulation, the woman replied that the author deals with that quite nicely, thank you very much, by juxtaposing images of headhunter barbarisms with imagery of contemporaneous events occurring in World War I-era Europe. See, see! We're evil too! Everybody's the same!

At work I have some colleagues who desire to move to Mexico. They long for it wistfully, seeming to believe it would be just like Colorado, only warmer. What's not to like? When I pointed out to them that Mexico is a nasty place with daily kidnappings of children for ransom, a semi-failed state run by warlords, they replied that they would become the warlords. Now, these people are soft. They have never seen real adversity of any sort. My son tells me they wouldn't last long in Mexico; I reply that they wouldn't even be able to last long in Wichita--too rough for them.

I agree with Mark Steyn: the ever-growing multi-culti neo-Romanticism of the advanced Western world is at base a fraud. These people don't really want to live anywhere but advanced Western society--no one in their right mind does. But there's a gaping failure of imagination here. People are no longer at all capable of imagining that it is possible for there to exist a world that is not advanced Western society. This disease is particularly advanced in the more advanced and safer areas of America, such as California, Seattle, Massachusetts, and Colorado. And since everything in their world is really advanced Western society after all, why not add a little salsa to the mix with a dash of headhunting or Mexican drug gangs, to make life a little more interesting than the bland old corporate mush served up in suburban Colorado?

This is why I believe the predictions of red-State dominance are premature at best and probably inaccurate. With each generation our world becomes a little safer, a little more controlled, a little more sterile, and a little blander. As Morgan has ably stated, we're in a long-term boom right now, which means a whole generation has grown up without the merest whiff of economic adversity. This makes it harder and harder for Westerners to believe that there is such a thing as adversity. It's just a myth, like the Easter Bunny. Since there is absolutely nothing to worry about--there is no Big Bad Wolf--why not dabble in exotic religions like Islam, anyway? How bad can it be? We are increasingly the victims of our own success: the richer we become, the softer and bluer we are.


Charlie Martin said...

Hmmm. "Exotic religions like Islam." A billion odd (admittedly, some very odd) adherents.

As an adherent of another one of those "exotic religions" ... well, I remember the first time I went to japan, and found myself among a whole bunch of people who believe in my religion --- and I was unusual only in that I was a gaijin who didn't follow some exotic religion, like Christianity or Judaism.

Knucklehead said...


Don't go around offending Seneca! Buddha knows what he's likely to burn down or behead.

terrye said...

Well there is a big difference between Mexico and Japan. In fact Asians are nothing like those headhunters. The oldest known printed book is Korean. Look at the Great Wall.

Speaking of Mexico, I am beginning to give up on Latin America. Fifty years from now they will still have dirt floors which they will of course blame on the gringo. That is our place in their world. Unless they change it.

It is true that there are a lot of folks in our society who have some perverse and pristine view of the third world. They are silly people who run off at the mouth about living in a rain forest when in truth a big bug would send them into a state of hysterics.

But not everyone in American lives in an upscale subdivision either. There are plenty of people who have been without. My guy can kill and dress a deer and I can milk a cow and turn the milk into cheese. I can raise a garden and can the food. There are a few of us left you know.

And while it is true that lots of Americans do not know what a bad recession is much less a real honest to God Depression, it is also true that the worse economic disaster of the 20th century {the Great Depression} turned people to the left, not the right.

So... the idea that being well off will make them less conservative and less likely to vote Red is not borne out.

I think the biggest problem facing the Republicans is fear of religion on the part of certain so called free spirits and a need for a social safety net on the part of a lot of people. These kinds of things are what people care about. Very few of them seriously think about living in Mexico. After all if they are serious they know where it is, so why are they still here?

RogerA said...

As usual, Charlie, an interesting post--I have been out of academe for 7 years, and I forgot what a bunch of social twits academicians could be.

I am always struck by how right our forebears were in terms of understanding human nature: I give the the example of Ibn Khaldun, a north african scholar of the 13th century (I may have missed it by a century). In what many scholars to be the first text book on sociology, he described what happened to the nomadic, free-spirited bedouins/tuaregs of north africa as the settled down into the oppulence of cities, gave up their disciplined ways, and became modern "Seattleites." (OK, I embellished it at the end)--His bood was Al Muquadimmah (the question)--worthwhile putting on your night stand when need a different perspective.

Ibn Khaldun would have been at home at your soiree, Charlie.

chuck said...

I see the tide of western civilization receding at some point, it is mostly a question of how far it runs up the beach before it sucks back into the sea. I don't want to be left high and dry in my lifetime, however.

What frightens me is how fast things have run down. I don't mean everyday comforts, I mean intellectual toughness, education, and belief that our civilization offers a path to fulfillment. Not only that, but the old culture in the countryside of the Red States strikes me as falling apart. There is less ambition and religion isn't as strong as it was.

So count me among those who don't count on the redemptive qualities of the Red States. Our problems are deeper than that.

truepeers said...

The richer we become, the more clearly we see our world and our own minds divided between optimism and pessimism (quite unlike the ritual unanimity of the headhunters). This is a function of a free market society. Here is an interesting account:

1. Optimists are irritated by pessimists who condemn the present as a fall from the past. But to criticize the pessimists is to condemn at least one class of people as inferior to those of the past, since for the optimist, the pessimists of the past had more to complain about.

2. Popular culture is commonly pessimistic. Everything is going wrong, things keep getting worse. This is absurd and self-indulgent. But isn't this absurd self-indulgence a demonstration that things are indeed getting worse?

3. Thus the optimist must say "things are getting better; you (who have gotten worse) are an aberration." Aberrations like you can flourish only because things have become so good. But this implies that the better things become, the more people enjoy finding that things have gotten worse. This expresses a far more pessimistic vision of the human condition than that of the pessimist, who believes our complaints are justified by bad conditions.

Read the whole thing...

terrye said...


I am the child of people who were children in the Dust Bowl. I can remember saying something to my Grandfather about the good old days and he told me the old days were not all that damn good to the ones that had to live them.

So maybe it always seems this way.

Recently I reread East of Eden by John Steinbeck and was struck by how topical it seemed. The book was published in 1952 when Korea was raging. And yet, it could have been today.

Knucklehead said...


Where do people get these notions that life was once wonderful in exotic, primitive bliss until Intel arrived.

Ummm... Where have there actually been "headhunters" in the South Pacific. The Dayaks of Borneo (Indonesia). It doesn't seem to be Intel they've got a beef with but, rather, ages of encroachment by Chinese and farmers.

There were some in the Solomon Islands (and New Georgia) once upon a time but I don't think Intel is making life miserable for them (those darned Methodists might have, though).

And probably some in Papau New Guinea.

Terrye has this sort pegged pretty well; the idea of the exotic is fantastic until the first giant freakin' bug crawls into their sleeping bag. This is the Camping is Fun Crowd. Roughing it is hauling your own food in, pitching your tent, and hauling out your trash. It isn't a life and death, short and brutal lifetime struggle against the elements, disease, fungus, crawly things, and really-really big, strong animals with fangs and claws.

If only horrible westerners would just leave them all alone they'd be merrily camping out in their cute huts and hunting heads and making delicious anthropostew.

terrye said...


Let us not forget maggots and lice. And ahh, the wonders of natural child birth squatting over a hole in the ground. Uh huhhhh.

It is like a role playing game online for them.

Once I had this conversation with some vain woman and I told her that if we were stranded somewhere the first thing I would do is to shoot her. Two reasons: To acquire food and put an end to her incessant chatter...Life in the Wilds.

RogerA said...

Damn Terrye--you ARE a charmer :)

Knucklehead said...


I just realized I was jumbling up threads and felt bad about it until you provided that little treat ;)

I was once in one of those team-building/management class thingies where we had to role-play a variation on the Lifeboat scenario.

Nuclear war (or whatever) was on the way and we had to pick the few from a longer list who would be allowed into the shelter. The specific scenario called for us to take into consideration that we would face the task of repopulating the depleted human race (we needed males and females and should bias toward loading up on females of child-bearing age). We had brief dossiers on the potential candidates.

We didn't have a great deal of difficulty until it came down to picking men. One of the candidates was a jack of all trades sort but he was getting a bit long in the tooth and the bio specifically said he was childless. The women wanted to take the handyman 'cause he'd be very useful and they could manage the repopulation thing with an old guy (they'd take one for the team so to speak). I managed to get rid of that candidate, however, by pointing out that they had no evidence the guy didn't shoot blanks. Once they stopped laughing I managed to explain that they should take the young father of two and just nag him into becoming handy.

chuck said...

I can remember saying something to my Grandfather about the good old days and he told me the old days were not all that damn good to the ones that had to live them.

I asked my mom, who grew up in southern Kansas near the OK border, Little House on the Prairie country, what it was like growing up in the depression. She said she never really noticed the depression because it didn't make much difference.

Anyway, my mom now lives in OK, near Bartlesville, and I gather my impressions from visits. The area strikes me as generally poor, somewhat abandoned, and the economy seems run down, although reviving. In many of the towns there are well kept homes next to houses that are falling down. I think the loss of oil income and a decline in ranching has much to do with it. The soil in OK also seems not as fertile as it is in Kansas. Anyway, I get a sense of old communities that have fallen on hard times and are just beginning to find new life.

Lots of nice folks live there, though. There is still a strong sense of family and people are polite.

Syl said...

I really don't think it's so much about getting richer as it is about feeling safer and about doing anything we want, whenever, whereever.

It's our freedoms and security that make us soft--not our pocketbooks.

terrye said...


My brother says Oklahoma is really growing down around Lawton {Fort Sill}. That is the way it is there..boom and bust, mostly bust.

In fact I would say that south central Oklahoma is doing better in some ways than southern Indiana. But like you say the people are poor and always have been so there is nowhere to go but up. I think the growth my brother sees is a spill over from Texas and an expansion in the military.

Nice people yes, and friendly. My mother's folks had to go to California during the depression, but my father's people kept their land. That made them fortunate. There were times when they sweat the tax money for the year, but they did not have to pack up and leave the country.

My old man was a tool pusher in the oil fields and that state was all about oil, cattle and wheat. They capped the deep wells decades ago and while there is still oil in Oklahoma there could be a lot more. People are waiting for the oil companies to uncap the wells. I wonder if that will ever happen?

terrye said...


It is rather obvious that I did not spend my youth in a Swiss boarding school, is it not?

My father told me to always keep them guessing. I find that works.

Syl said...

Both my parents were children during the depression. To my Dad he barely noticed any difference--except for the used-to-be-well-off folks now counting pennies in the grocery store. They called them the nouveau poor and laughed about them. But counting pennies to Dad's family was nothing new.

Mom grew up in North Dakota and Stanwood, Washington (not far from where Bill Gates is now). In North Dakota they had a little bit of a farm, and grandpa was a Lutheran minister. They depended on parishioners for anything they couldn't grow themselves, and one winter during the depression all they had to eat was apples.

Our family had little when I was growing up. It only meant something in comparison to the other school kids who mostly had more. My dad was a Lutheran minister and we, too, depended on parishioners--for housing and holiday meals. But it wasn't really bad.

As an adult I've been up and down. But when I've been down it's always felt temporary--not a lifetime condition (except that optimism is a little faded now that I'm older). And there's the huge difference. Most people in America--and I do mean most--always have hope and faith that things will get better.

I think we're too quick to judge our society by the leftish ones who have the megaphone. There's no way I think we're as soft and flabby and gutless and silly and suicidal as some folks think.

Peter UK said...

The concept of the "Noble Savage" was one of the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 18th century philosopher and contributor to the French Encyclopédie,"Man is born free but is everywhere in chains".
As a proto-revolutionary in france Rousseau's form one of the pillars of leftist thought
It is understandable that this has impinged itself on present day pseudo-intellectual discourse.

Charlie Martin said...

Don't go around offending Seneca! Buddha knows what he's likely to burn down or behead.

That's too easy.

Rick Ballard said...


Toss in Byron, Shelley, his wife Wollstonecraft along with Madame deStael over the succeeding forty years and you have a witches brew of romantic idiocy unmatched in history.

There lies the true "intellectual" underpinnings of the "rationalists". Fantasy overlaying specious theory enhanced by drugs from the start.

The elites babbling about "back to nature" at dinner in a home with central heating have so very much in common with their antecedents. Imagination untainted by experience can spew forth some rather remarkable visions of a time and place that never was.

They do make very pluckable chickens when circumstance brings them into range. They are always willing to purchase additional education and never able to learn from it - which allows one to offer up additional lessons until resources are depleted. Perfect customers.

Peter UK said...

"Toss in Byron, Shelley, his wife Wollstonecraft" into what,I was waiting until high tide at the sewage works.
The whole Romantic movement was an aristocratic conceit which devolved down to the middle classes and thence to our present day chattering classes.
Ironically the forebearers of the latter worked in manual occupations,down mines and in the soot factories to enable this simpering bunch poseurs to be educated to spout tosh.
As for Rousseau himself he was a revolting little man who condemned his children to orphanages.
One of the fathers of the Enlightenment!

terrye said...


You are right. I have been in the same state and there is the feeling that it might get better.

Some of the most harrowing tales of the Depression I have ever heard came from my father in law. He was second generation grew up in Cincinnatti, Ohio. That would be a whole post in itself. I loved to listen though.