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Friday, July 15, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: The Peasants Are Revolting

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Joel Kotkin of The Daily Beast coins the term “Great Rebellion” to describe the phenomenon of eroding trust in elite opinion-shapers: scientists, politicians, economists, corporatists and the media. He’s not alone: Village Voice and even the Huffington Post have just run similar articles.

Tom: The peasants are revolting, Immanuel Can.

Not Buying the Party Line

We’re not seeing it yet in Canada, but few of us anywhere these days can remain unaffected for long by any major global trend. Whether it’s Brexit, Donald Trump’s populist evisceration of traditional conservatism or even the rise of nationalist political entities across Europe, it seems Kotkin is on to something: the average Joe, Jean-Luc or Jonas is not buying the party line any more.

Does that fairly describe what you observe when you look around you, IC?

Immanuel Can: To be honest, Tom, I’m really not certain. There can be multiple reasons why people want to upset the political apple-cart. I’m not sure they all really reflect a deliberate or intelligent rejection of the status quo. I wish they did, but the cynical part of me sometimes doubts it.

Maybe Brexit, for example, reflects genuine, thoughtful opting out: I sincerely hope it does, because I think it’s the right direction for the UK.

But in other cases, the motives for political unrest may well be less noble.

Multiple Causes of Discontent

Among these might be: the cult of celebrity, desire to see conflict happen, unfocused anger, fear for the future, resentment of the achievements of others, naivety, and an inflated sense of entitlement that turns every political event into an occasion for grievance. To sort them out would take a neat piece of sociology, to be sure.

Tom: Agreed. Even Kotkin says there are multiple causes of the discontent, and that there is no coherent narrative that explains all of it. But I’m not so much interested in the cause as the effect, because we haven’t seen anything on this scale in the Western world in our lifetimes. I mean, Australia is a little off our radar, but they’ve had four different Prime Ministers since mid-2013. Now sure, they have a more dynamic and responsive system than, say, the U.S., but that’s a lot of political upheaval in a very short period. The last twenty or thirty years there did not look like that. They had a comparatively stable system with leaders serving eight and six year terms for a generation.

IC: I think there is certainly an increasing body of evidence to suggest that the average person is less impressed with status quo politics. What do you make of it, Tom?

Waiting for the Big One

Tom: Well, as a Christian who believes that the fulfillment of biblical prophecy is primarily literal (since so many prophecies have already been literally fulfilled), one fairly natural reaction is to think, “Look, omens of the End Times!” After all, we read about a coming “Great Rebellion” which will result in the revelation of someone called “the man of lawlessness” and the “son of destruction”, a world leader who will have global dominion and be empowered directly by Satan himself. And that may well be the case, though it’s way too early to say. Christians have been fooled before, and I’ve developed a little bit of sales resistance over the years to enthusiastic proclamations like “This is it! This is the big one!”

IC: Right. Let’s not go guessing God’s timing. But I do think the recent change does show a couple of things we can safely say. Let me suggest it shows conclusively that 1) it is not impossible that the world’s political systems should lose credibility and go into major crisis, opening up an opportunity for a powerful, charismatic world leader or a new political system to present itself as a global solution, and 2) the Internet and other forms of connectivity are remolding the brains of a generation of people, changing their inclinations, thought-patterns and levels of rationality, while at the same time opening them up to a lot of stuff they never thought about before. I’m confident of those two things: fair enough?

Spirits in a Material World

Tom: Surely. It accounts for Kotkin’s charge of ideological incoherence among the masses, which is one thing I think he gets right. For instance, in America there’s a whole mass of people who want change and would see the system burned down to achieve it. Some want Donald Trump-style change. Some want Bernie Sanders-style change. Some don’t know or care what kind of change it is, as long as things are different.

Obviously not all these folks are going to get what they want, and perhaps none will: it may well be globalist corporatism that emerges triumphant. But I think you’re right that it’s the revolution in communications and connectivity that’s driving the unrest. Talking endlessly about your unhappiness in an echo chamber is bound to lead to that.

IC: What ALL sides really need to do it to take a bit of advice from that famous theologian, Sting:
“There is no political solution
  To our troubled evolution.
  Have no faith in constitution.
  There is no bloody revolution.

         We are spirits in the material world …”
Spiritual problems are never solved by political reform. It just doesn’t work. Do you suppose there’s any message in that fact for today’s “Christian” proponents of partisan politics?

The Church vs. Western Civilization

Tom: Oh, I think so. God’s agenda for this world rolls on regardless, and we can easily make the mistake of thinking our little supporting role in his plan is actually the lead. Even Israel, though they were (and will be) God’s chosen instrument to reach the world, seemed at times to have a disproportionate sense of their intrinsic value. How many times did God say to Moses, in effect, “Let’s have done with this rabble and I’ll make a great nation out of you”? There are many times God could have done something like that and still fulfilled all his promises to the patriarchs.

Today we have folks who get Western civilization or Christendom confused with the Church. But whether the various countries in North America and Europe prosper, or whether they go down like ninepins one after the other, or whether they get subsumed into the Caliphate for a few centuries, God is still on the throne, his Church will still triumph, and his purposes will never be thwarted.

Ours might though, if we find ourselves too strongly identifying with the institutions of this world.

Opting Out of the Process

IC: Quite right. But now, let me frame the problem from the other side. Let’s suppose I’m a Christian living in a Western democracy. My political system requires my input — it even depends upon it for its legitimacy — and asks me to be involved in deciding my political future. Since there are no political solutions to spiritual problems, should I opt out?

Tom: That’s a reasonable question, and some people have concluded it’s not worth voting unless one of the political parties provides them with a perfect candidate. So you hear things like, “Yeah, but he’s soft on abortion”, or more recently, “But he’s so unpresidential” and ultimately, “I’m not going to vote this time around”. Their bar is set so high no candidate other than Jesus Christ himself could qualify, and they might find him a tad too forgiving.

But the recognition that politicians have an impossible task compounded by their own sinful natures and temptation on every side at every moment has actually lowered my bar considerably. I vote, sure, but not with any expectation of “Making Canada Great” or whatever the slogan-of-the-week may be. I’d just like to choose the least awful candidate for the sake of my fellow Canadians. (That may be least awful morally or least awful on the issues. You take your pick!)

IC: Okay. So we participate, but keep our expectations of the power of political solutions very modest.

The Responsibility of the Renewed Conscience

Tom: That would be my take. I accept the other viewpoint (abstaining) provided it is offered in good conscience and not just in perpetual dicky-oppositeness. God gave the world to secular authorities to rule, and they remain accountable to him. I say we let them do their thing, exercising such restraints as are available to us. Ignoring the use of a method of restraining evil that the world offers us by virtue of mere citizenship is not a moral position, from my perspective.

IC: “The powers that exist are ordained by God.” “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” I suppose so. But now, how far can a Christian legitimately go in protesting his government’s actions: after all, we do live in a democracy; and in a democracy the input of our views is part of the required political process, no? Do we then also have a responsibility to speak up, not just vote?

Tom: It seems to me such a viewpoint confuses what is allowed with what is required, both by the system and by our Christian faith. The powers that be have agreed to tolerate our participation in the process, but I’d have to see chapter and verse to believe that the current regime actually wants it. The founders may have provided for it and encouraged it, sure, but they’re long dead and gone.

To answer your question, I think we have a responsibility to do what our renewed consciences require of us within the sphere of liberty granted to us by current law. For the most part.

IC: It sounds an issue calling for that little Christian quality known as discernment, no?

Tom: Sure does.

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