American Tribalism

By chance, I heard Andrew Sullivan’s radio essay about Donald Trump and tribalism in America on BBC Radio 4 yesterday evening.
Following the shock presidential election result last year, I had heard many of the insights that Sullivan set out in the monologue.  But the particular format of this piece, coupled with Sullivan’s great writing, makes it a particularly powerful iteration.
Crushingly, Sullivan offers no road-map for how this American (and therefore, global) crisis might be reversed, other than the hope that another ‘Lincoln’ might appear to save the country from itself. But isn’t a faith in saviours what has put America into this position in the first place? Obama and Trump are very different characters, but both took on a definite totemic status for their supporters. What is needed, it seems to me, is for the resolution to take place not within a single unifying figurehead at the top, but with a million acts of reconciliation among the citizenry. And we’re all out of ideas for how to bring that about. There is a chance things might get worse before they get better.
A Point Of View episodes are available indefinitely as a podcast. Visit the BBC website to listen again.

How Going Digital Could Threaten Civil Society

Newsweek announces the digital transition
Newsweek announces the digital transition

Newsweek is going digital. Completely online.  No print product.  The Guardian is considering a similar move.
I admit I have bouts of sentiment for the printed page.  In general, however, I allow my head to rule my heart in thse matters.  The China Mieville quote I posted a few days ago persuades me that we don’t really need to fetishize print.
However, I think that two commentaries on this news from two of my favourite bloggers miss something in their enthusiasm for this transition. Continue reading “How Going Digital Could Threaten Civil Society”

Who cares whether Jesus was divine?

The Daily Dish dedicates some time to tell us ‘All About Mormons’, courtesy of some South Park clips. The first clip suggests that Joseph Smith pretty much made up the Book of Mormon and claimed divine intervention, while the second clip reminds us that this doesn’t really matter:

Maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to Thank for all that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now, is loving your family, being nice, and helping people … you’ve got a lot of growing up to do buddy. Suck my balls.

It is odd that Sullivan makes no analogy with other Christianities, or other religions, which also carry absurdities. I’ve always thought that men claiming to have spoken to a burning bush are probably pretty high on something, but not God. And if someone goes wandering about the wilderness these days, and then claims to hear voices, we declare them to be psychotic, not prophets. And some passages of the Gospels which deal with sightings of the ressurrected Jesus (for example, Mark 16:12 or Luke 24:16) stretch credibility. Time and again, disciples do not recognise Jesus when he appears. Could that perhaps be because it was a different guy, claiming to be the crucified preacher!? I find it hard to believe that Sullivan did not take these glaring issues into account: I guess he simply decided against making that particular point in that particular post.
This is odd, however, since Andrew has been writing a lot about his faith recently, and I should have thought he would want to explicitly align himself with the sentiments expressed by the liitle boy in the South Park clip. Biblical inconsistencies do not, or should not matter to other strains of Christian either, because it is Jesus’ ethical teachings that should be of paramount importance. These persist even if there is no causal connection between God and the Holy Bible. They persist despite the falsity of the Virgin Birth. They persist despite the hoax of the Resurrection. Tony Benn is fond of quoting Malcolm Muggeridge, thus: Jesus was not the Labour MP for Galilee North. I say that is a shame, because Jesus is a great politician! “Pay a bit of tax“, “Be nice to the kids“, “Don’t let money rule your life” and, of course “get pissed at weddings“. Universal policies by which we can all interact with our neighbours. His ethical pronouncements stand us in good stead, even the evidence for his divinity is unconvincing.
It seems to me this is the difference between the fundamentalists, and the ‘private faith’ which Andrew Sullivan has been discussing in the past few months: faith is what you believe when no one’s watching. Only this latter group can embark, as Sullivan has done, on a reinterpretation of the texts that would (say) make homosexuality permissible. Meanwhile, the fundamentalists pursue the red herring of Intelligent Design, or concern themselves with what two or more people do in the privacy of their bedroom.


A correspondence on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, on the wish that advertising to children should be banned:

On days when he gets to watch TV, our relationship is instantly transformed from that of child and provider to child and denier. The kid is being manipulated and you know it – and you are too, as a parent, because the advertisers know that you – or enough of you – will eventually cave.

For a while, I have been perfecting a taxonomy of adverts. I have whittled it down to six types, with all adverts falling into one of these categories. Are there any that I’ve missed?

The Sexvert

The Sexvert says: “Buy this product, and you will get laid.” It might be disguised under some tenuous notion of marriage or male-female friendship, but that’s just a smoke-screen. All consmetic and hygene products are obviously of this type.

I’ll tell you the commercial they’d like to do, if they could, and I guarantee you, if they could, they’d do this, right here. Here’s the woman’s face, beautiful. Camera pulls back, naked breast. Camera pulls back, she’s totally naked. Legs apart. Two fingers, right here, and it just says, “Drink Coke.” Now I don’t know the connection here, but goddamn if Coke isn’t on my shopping list that week … Damned if I’m not buying these products! My teeth are rotting out of my head, I’m glued to the television, I’m as big as a fucking couch. “More Snickers, more Coke!”

And, according to Bill Hicks, junk food.

The Kidvert

The kind of ads that Andrew mentions above fall into this category, but also some aimed at adults too. Their message is “buying this product will make you a better parent.” McDonald’s put out nothing but Kidverts, and anything with a grandparent in it is actually a Kidvert in disguise.


Funny adverts. Very rare. These do often overlap with Kidverts, but since they almost always involve young men making fools of themselves, I am yet to be convinced that they are not actually a sub-genre of Sexvert.


Also dubbed the Cynical Multinational Global Ethnic Diversity Shitvert, these are usually the preserve of faceless corporations trying to convince us that their utopia is the only one around. Purveyors include oil companies and credit-card companies. Likewise with the comedyvert, I don’t trust these not to be sophisticated sexverts in disguise – especially when young ladies in national dress are concerned.


These are adverts that naively try and sell a product, usually sofas. Bless them.

The Elusive Sixth Element…

… is the car advert. Sweeping shots of rolling hillsides and mountains, flashes of lightning, tumbleweed and wild deer. How this convinces anyone that the car in question is just what they need, to drive the kids three minutes down the road to school, is totally beyond me.