Whiteness is Absence, is Loss and Death

Whiteness is an odd thing. It is one of those social constructs that falls apart under any significant degree of scrutiny. Yet few of us pale-skinned descendants of Europeans know how to not think of ourselves as white, as the enculturation of white identity is so deeply embedded within our collective psyche and throughout all of society around us. Such racial ideology frames and shapes everything else, ever lurking in the background even when not acknowledged.

It’s become a symbolic proxy for so much else. Racial differences and divides have become our way of talking about class, economic oppression, housing segregation, capitalist realism, the prison state, and on and on. It’s related to how talk of inequality of wealth so often hides the deeper inequalities of power, privilege, resources, and opportunities; of pollution, lead toxicity, underfunded schools, and loss of green spaces; et cetera.

The thing is white politics of identity and victimhood doesn’t really even benefit most whites. It is a cheap salve and band-aid placed over a wound that cut to the bone and left nerves raw. Whiteness is a sad compensation for all that was lost: ethnic culture, regional identity, close communities, extended kinship, rooted sense of place, the commons, and so much else. No wonder so many whites are on edge, a sense of free-floating anxiety about their place in the world.

The takeover of whiteness has happened slow enough for most people not to notice while being rapid enough to cause a radical transformation of society and civilization. Prior to the world war era, most people didn’t identify with a race or even with a nationality. The sense of self was defined by local experience, relationships, and commitments. That previous world barely lingers in living memory, but is quickly fading.

Most American whites became urbanized a little over a century ago. Even then, much of the rural experience held on in small towns and ethnic enclaves. The Boomer and Silent generations were the last to have a significant number of people to experience those disappearing traces of traditional culture, however faint they were already becoming. With the generations following, the loss is becoming so complete as to become collective amnesia.

My father is a young Silent and, even though his parents came from different parts of the country, he spent most of his early life in a single small town. He wasn’t surrounded by kin beyond his immediate family, but he did have the comfort of being surrounded by a community of people who themselves were surrounded by a web of extended families. That small town has since been decimated and no longer functions as a healthy community, instead having fallen into poverty and decay.

My mother, a first wave Boomer, had a much stronger experience of those old ties. She was born and raised a short distance from where generations of her family had lived. She spent her entire childhood and youth in a single house, in never having moved until college, with extended family all around her, a grandmother and uncle next door along with other uncles, aunts, and cousins in the neighborhood. Her siblings and cousins were her main playmates.

Her ancestors began coming to this sub-region of Kentuckiana (Central-Eastern Kentucky and Southern Indiana) shortly after the American Revolution. The first line of the family came in 1790 to fight Indians. Soon after, other lines of her family showed up in the area. As a young girl, she regularly visited a village where her family lived in the 1800s and where her grandfather had been born, a village that had been turned into a state park with historical re-enactors. Her childhood was filled with elders telling stories about her Kentuckiana ancestral homeland.

This older identity was beginning to erode with industrialization, but some of her family still remains in that area. Some of my father’s family also remains in the small town he left. So, both have hometowns to return to where family will greet and welcome them, including family reunions, but this inheritance isn’t likely to last much longer. My parents never gave my brothers and I the same chance to experience such deep-rooted belonging of family, community, and place.

By the time I graduated from high school, we had lived in four different states in multiple regions of the country. And after graduation, I wandered around between various states before finally settling down. Now the next generation is on the scene. I have two nieces and a nephew living somewhat nearby, if not as close as with my mother’s extended family. This new generation of young kids are all Generation Z or whatever one wants to call them.

If asked, I’m not sure most in the younger generations would have a strong sense of identity with either family or place. In my upbringing, I gained some vague semblance of being ‘Midwestern’, but with mass media so ruling the modern mind now I’m not sure that even such amorphous regional identities retain much hold over the public imagination. What’s replaced the local and trans-local are even more broadly generalized identities of being white, along with being American or Westerner, but such identities don’t speak to the concrete details of lived experience.

Then that brings us to what it means to not be white. That is how we often think of it, since white is the dominant and hence the supposedly defining racial identity. But maybe that is the wrong way around. Instead, it makes more sense that whiteness is defined as not being black, as it is always the other that defines us (the reason we should be careful about the people we choose to ‘other’ as minority or untouchable, as foreigner or outsider, as opposition or enemy). Germans and Italians, Catholics and Jews assimilated into general whiteness. Even Hispanics and Asians are being assimilated. Everyone can assimilate into whiteness, everyone that is except blacks.

Unlike whiteness, being black is a much more specific and localized identity. In America, it is defined by descending from West African ancestors who were enslaved as part of the colonial project of the British Empire with a population that was concentrated in the Deep South where a particular ethno-regional culture was formed and to some degree maintained as a segregated sub-culture among blacks that moved north and west but with most of the black population remaining in or returning to the Deep South.

Another difference is that the majority of American blacks were urbanized rather late, not until the 1960s to 1970s as compared to the ubanization of the white majority several generations earlier. The black population, even in being segregated in inner cities, maintained larger social connections than have most whites. That segregation had many downsides in being built on racist practices of sundown towns, redlining, and exclusion from government benefits that gave so many whites an advantage in moving into the suburban middle class. Yet it had the side benefit of maintaining black communities and black culture as something distinct from the rest of society, and this allowed a certain way of social relating that had been lost to the average white person. As Stephen Steinberg wrote:

“More important, feminist scholars forced us to reassess single parenting. In her 1973 study All Our Kin, Carol Stack showed how poor single mothers develop a domestic network consisting of that indispensable grandmother, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a patchwork of neighbors and friends who provide mutual assistance with childrearing and the other exigencies of life. By comparison , the prototypical nuclear family, sequestered in a suburban house, surrounded by hedges and cut off from neighbors, removed from the pulsating vitality of poor urban neighborhoods, looks rather bleak. As a black friend once commented , “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.””

Blacks weren’t allowed to assimilate to the larger society and so had to stick to their own communities, opposite of many other ethnic populations that were encouraged and sometimes forced to assimilate (e.g., German-Americans during world war era). To be black is always to have the stigma of the Deep South and all it stands for. Most whites had their past erased, but blacks aren’t ever allowed to escape the past. And for whites the erasure happened twice over — once before in Europe and once again in the post-colonial order.

The indigenous cultures and religions of Europe were genocidally wiped out over the past two millennia and replaced with foreign systems of rule and worship, primarily of the Roman Empire and the Christianity with the Catholic Church playing a key role, although in England it was the Romanized Normans that created the monarchy and aristocracy that replaced traditional British society. American blacks can look back to West Africa where traditional cultures remain to a large degree, but American whites can’t look back to Europe for traditional cultures are missing. The erasure and amnesia of whiteness is nearly absolute.

This is the reason whites are forced to define themselves against what they are not — they aren’t black, as they aren’t ‘savages’ or ‘primitives’. They inherited the Roman ‘civilization’ as an overlay of all that was destroyed and lost which means they aren’t even ‘indigenous’. So, they’ve become part of some amorphous and monolithic Westernization, upon which WEIRD bias is founded. This WEIRD, this Wetiko disease as victimization cycle is a scar of trauma upon trauma, so many layers thick that the contours of what came before is obliterated. All that is left is whiteness as an empty signifier, an absence and a void, but that throbbing wound reminds us who are called white that we too once had our own traditional and indigenous cultures, that we too were once people of a particular land, of ancient languages and lifeways long since forgotten.

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“What have you given up?” – Zen priest Greg Snyder on growing up Pennsylvanian Dutch, assimilation, intimacy, and power
interview by Eleanor Hancock

The main thing that was different about growing up in a Pennsylvania Dutch (PD) community, in central Pennsylvania, is that my default identity wasn’t white. I didn’t know people without Germanic surnames – Snyder or Rehmeyer or Schroeder. That area of Pennsylvania was said to be, at the time, the least ethnically diverse place in the U.S.; virtually everyone was Pennsylvania Dutch. We were in the social position of being treated as white — but as a kid that wasn’t our first way of talking about ourselves. […]

In Pennsylvania I was a shy boy; I was afraid. We moved around a lot, to new places, and felt alone. But I also had a sense of “we.” So much of that “we” had to do with the land. It wasn’t an abstract we, like “we’re all American.” I am suspicious of that identity and wonder how many folks really walk around with a deep, gratifying visceral identity as an American. Maybe they do. I guess I am just suspicious of identities that seem to have more to do with power than connection. […]

When I go back to central Pennsylvania and I see that particular landscape, it feels like me. I am that land. I am the people who till the earth on that land. I know that shale; shale is right on top of slate. I used to make chalkboards with my brother, cutting into that ground. It’s sad: in one or two more generations, I think the people I am of will be gone, as an identifiable ethnicity in the U.S. Maybe the Amish will survive, but already assimilated Pennsylvania Dutch are shifting from calling themselves Pennsylvania Dutch to referring to themselves as being descended from Pennsylvania Dutch. Capitalism and whiteness are really good at wiping out ethnic support systems for poor white people.

In Undoing Racism workshops [for white folks], at Brooklyn Zen Center, we have participants state their ethnicity. How connected they are to their ethnicity depends on how far back it got included in the white camp. Italians and Greeks are clear: “I’m Italian; I’m Greek.” They know who they are. While those of English or Welsh background don’t really have any idea who they are; it’s hazy. So they say “I’m just white suburban.” As someone with a Germanic heritage (which has also been wiped away in the U.S.), what I cherish is that I grew up with a sense of a people. The saddest thing for white people, and something they need to look closely into, is what’s missing. What’s missing when you let whiteness characterize you? What have you given up? […]

There were lots of things like this, that were experienced as an ethnic community. Having a sense of a people, where you live together and do things together — an identity — I think that’s a loss. Of course food is the last thing to go with eroding ethnicity, so fastnachts and Pennsylvania Dutch food are still popular. But I remember having a sense of the year’s progression in relationship to the cycles of the harvest and community religious celebration. When I left Pennsylvania, that was lost.

When an ethnicity falls away for the sake of whiteness, we trade intimacy of connection for positions of power. If you understand yourself as an individual without a people, the only thing protecting you is your social location. We have to interrogate that deeply. What would it be like to be a people that is not rooted in power? […]

As a kid in farm country, when you ran out of something you went to your neighbor and asked for it. If you started working in your yard, your neighbor showed up to help you. When my aunt Henrietta got cancer, pies and other food just kept showing up. Here in New York City, I’d never ask my neighbor for anything. In middle-class white circles, asking your neighbor for something can be seen as a sign of shame or weakness: “Why haven’t you figured this out?”

Roots Deeper than Whiteness
by David Dean

In order to weaken their resistance to enclosure and prepare them for a forced exodus to towns and cities as the exploited labor force that this new economy required, the communal, earth-based, and celebratory cultural identity of the English peasantry was attacked. In The World Turned Upside Down, English historian Christopher Hill describes the attempted brainwashing of this population to believe in the primacy of work and the devilish nature of rest and festivity.

“Protestant preachers in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century undertook a cultural revolution, an exercise in indoctrination, on a hitherto unprecedented scale… to create the social conditions which discouraged idleness. This meant opposing observance of saints’ days, and the traditional village festivals and sports, and sexual irresponsibility… it took generations for those attitudes to be internalized. ‘It is the violent only that are successful,’ wrote the gentle Richard Sibbes: ‘they take it [salvation] by force’.”

Notions of the isolated nuclear family and women’s inherent inferiority were also emphasized. If a wife could be subjected to life as the sole sustainer of her family in the home then her husband could be expended of all his energy in the factory. Women, too, were associated with the devil. Federici names the witch-hunts as a tool of this cultural revolution and the movement to take away the commons. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women were tortured and killed throughout Europe. The century between 1550 and 1650 was both the height of the enclosures and of this genocide in England. Particularly autonomous women were in the greatest danger of persecution. Herbalists and traditional healers, widows and the unmarried, and outspoken community leaders were regularly targeted. Mass government-run propaganda campaigns led peasants to fear one another, effectively dividing and weakening them against the threat of enclosure.

Relentless protest and insurrection, most notably the Midlands Revolt of 1607, was not enough to prevent the eventual outcome. Historians Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker illustrate the “colossal dimensions of the expropriation of the peasantry” in The Many-Headed Hydra:

“By the end of the sixteenth century there were twelve times as many propertyless people as there had been a hundred years earlier. In the seventeenth century alone almost a quarter of the land in England was enclosed. Aerial photography and excavations have located more than a thousand deserted villages and hamlets…”

Communities were traumatized and splintered. The fortunate worked in urban textile mills under grueling conditions, weaving into fabric wool shorn from sheep that grazed their ancestral lands. Most were not so lucky and lived on city streets as beggars at a time when loitering and petty theft were punished with physical mutilation, years of incarceration, or death.

Even with this mixture of urban poverty, hyper-criminalization, and merchant campaigns to encourage the poor to go to overseas colonies as indentured servants, only some willingly left their home country. The Virginia Company, a corporation with investors and executives intent on profiting from the theft of labor and foreign land, began collaborating with the English government to develop a solution to the problems of unemployment and vagrancy. Homeless and incarcerated women, men, and even children, began to be rounded up and put on ships headed to the plantation colony of Virginia to be bought and traded by wealthy British royalists. According to Linebaugh and Rediker, of the nearly 75,000 English indentured servants brought to British colonies in the seventeenth century most were taken against their will. In The History of White People, Nell Irvin Painter commented that in this era these captive voyagers would be “lucky to outlive their terms of service.” However at this point in history, they still did not call themselves “white.”

They crossed the ocean with their traditional way of life shattered, clinging to meaningful communal identity only in memory. They arrived to the colony of Virginia through the early and mid-1600s where, according to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, fifty wealthy families held almost all of the land. They worked on tobacco plantations for periods of seven to fourteen years with indentured and enslaved Africans and some indigenous people, two other populations recently torn from their cultures and communities.

At this time forms of racism did exist. Scholar Cedric Robinson tells about the existence of various forms of race-like hierarchy within European societies for centuries. In early colonial Virginia the presence of racism was evidenced by the initial genocidal attacks on indigenous nations, some disproportionately harsh sentencing toward people of color in colonial courts, and the fact that even though chattel slavery had not yet been fully institutionalized, some African and Native people were already spending their entire lives in bondage.

However historians Jacqueline Battalora and Edmund Morgan note that the historical evidence still is clear that all three of these laboring groups in Virginia shared a more similar position in society and stronger relationships with each other than they soon would. It was common for them to socialize and inhabit in the same quarters. They often intermarried and built families together. They toiled in fields side by side and were degraded and beaten by the same wealthy masters.

Many had lived on some form of “commons” earlier in their own lives and some sought to live in this way again. The Many-Headed Hydra includes the following striking examples. In the early years of the Jamestown settlement one in seven Englishmen fled to live within the more egalitarian Tsenacomoco or Powhatan Confederacy, inspiring the Virginia Company to enact a decree called Laws Divine, Moral, and Marshall threatening execution for desertion in order “to keep English settlers and Native Americans apart.”

The Vast and Beautiful World of Indigenous Europe
by Lyla June Johnston

I have come to believe that if we do not wholly love our ancestors, then we do not truly know who they are. For instance, I get very offended when people call Native Americans “good-for-nothing drunks.” Because by saying this, people don’t take into account the centuries of attempted genocide, rape and drugging of Native American people. They don’t see the beauty of who we were before the onslaught. And now, I am offended when people call European descendants “privileged good-for-nothing pilgrims.” Because by saying this, people do not take into account the thousands of years that European peoples were raped, tortured and enslaved. They do not understand the beauty of who we were before the onslaught. They do not understand that even though we have free will and the ability to choose how we live our life, it is very hard to overcome inter-generational trauma. What happens in our formative years and what our parents teach us at that time can be very hard to reverse.

They estimate that 8-9 million European women were burned alive, drowned alive, dismembered alive, beaten, raped and otherwise tortured as so-called, “witches.” It is obvious to me now that these women were not witches, but were the Medicine People of Old Europe. They were the women who understood the herbal medicines, the ones who prayed with stones, the ones who passed on sacred chants, the ones who whispered to me that night in the hoghan. This all-out warfare on Indigenous European women, not only harmed them, but had a profound effect on the men who loved them. Their husbands, sons and brothers. Nothing makes a man go mad like watching the women of his family get burned alive. If the men respond to this hatred with hatred, the hatred is passed on. And who can blame them? While peace and love is the correct response to hatred, it is not the easy response by any means.

The Indigenous Cultures of Europe also sustained forced assimilation by the Roman Empire and other hegemonic forces. In fact, it was only a few decades ago that any Welsh child caught speaking Welsh in school would have a block of wood tied to their neck. The words “WN” were there-inscribed, standing for “welsh not.” This kind of public humiliation will sound very familiar to any Native Americans reading this who attended U.S. Government boarding schools.

Moreover, our indigenous European ancestors faced horrific epidemics of biblical proportions. In the 1300s, two-thirds of Indigenous Europeans were wiped from the face of the earth. The Black Death, or Bubonic Plague, ravaged entire villages with massive lymph sores that filled with puss until they burst open. Sound familiar?

The parallels between the genocide of Indigenous Europeans and Native Americans are astounding. It boggles my mind that more people don’t see how we are the same people, who have undergone the same spiritual assault. The only difference between the Red Story and the White Story is we are in different stages of the process of spiritual warfare. Native Americans are only recently becoming something they are not. They are only recently starting to succumb to the temptations of drugs, alcohol, gambling, self-destruction and the destruction of others. Just as some Native American people have been contorted and twisted by so many centuries of abuse, so too were those survivors of the European genocide. Both are completely forgivable in my eyes.

The Lost People
by Thom Hartmann

Imagine if this — the dream and best effort of the White conquerors from Europe — was fulfilled. Imagine if there was not even one single Native American alive in the entire world who could speak a single sentence in Cree or Ojibwa or Apache or Lakota. Imagine if every Native American alive today, when thinking back to his or her ancestors and past, could only imagine a black-and-white world where people were mute and their ceremonies were mysterious and probably useless and primitive, having no meaning…and if they did have meaning, it didn’t matter anyway because it was now lost. A total forgetting of the past — all the ways and languages and memories and stories — destroyed by the people who had conquered your people. Every bit of your culture was burned in the fire of this conquest, and all was lost. All of your people knew the history of Greece and Rome and England, but nothing of the Cherokee or Dene or Iroquois people.

Can you imagine what a disaster that would be? How empty and alone and frightened you and your people would feel? How easily they could be turned into slaves and robots by the dominators? How disconnected they would feel from the Earth and from each other? And how this disconnection could lead them to accept obscene behavior like wars and personal violence and the fouling of waters and air and soil as “normal”? Perhaps they would even celebrate this fouling in the name of “progress,” because they would have no memory of the Old Ways, no realization of the meaning or consequences of these actions.

Imagine if your people were no longer a people, no longer nations and tribes and clans, but only frightened individuals of a different race than their conquerors, speaking only the language of their conquerors, sharing only the memories of their conquerors, and living only to serve the richest of those conquerors.

This is an almost unimaginable picture. The worse fate that could befall any people. The most horrific crime humans can commit against other humans.

And this is what happened a few thousand years ago to my people, to the Whites of Europe, who for 70,000 years prior to that had lived tribally just as your elders did.

It was done first by the Celts, who conquered and consolidated most of the tribal people of Europe 3000 years ago. It was then done more thoroughly by Julius Caesar of the pre-Christian Romans 2000 years ago. And it was absolutely finished by the iron-fisted “Christian” Romans 1000 years ago as their new Church sought out and destroyed all the ancient places, banned the old rituals, and tortured and murdered people who practiced the ancient European tribal religions. They even converted all alphabets to the Roman alphabet, and forced European people to change their holy days, calendars, and even the date (the year 1 or “beginning of time”) to one that marked the beginning of the Roman Christian Empire’s history.

This massive and thorough stripping of their identity and ancient ways — this “great forgetting,” as the Australian Aborigines refer to it — is why my people often behave as if they are “insane.” It is why they are disrespectful of our Mother the Earth and the life on Her. It is why so many of my people want to be like you and your people, to the point of dressing in buckskin and carrying medicine pouches and building sweat lodges from California to Maine to Germany. It is why we have hundreds of “odd” religions and paths, and why so many of my people flit from Hinduism to Buddhism to Paganism like a butterfly going from flower to flower: they have no roots, no tribe, no elders, no path of their own. All were systematically destroyed by the Celts, the Romans, and then the Roman Catholics. Whites in America and Europe — and Blacks who were brought to America as slaves and have since lost their ancient ways and languages — are a people bereft. They are alone and isolated from their ancient clans and tribes. Broken apart from the Earth, they are unable to reclaim their ancient languages, practices, and medicine…because these are gone, totally destroyed, even to the last traces. […]

For over a thousand years, the soldiers and inquisitors of the Holy Roman Catholic Church spread across Europe and destroyed the native people’s sacred sites, forbade them to practice their religions, and hunted down and killed those who spoke the Old Languages or practiced the healing or ancient arts.

Stones with written histories on them were smashed to dust.

Ancient temples and libraries were torn down or set afire, and Roman churches were built atop them.

The few elders who tried to preserve the Old Ways were called “witches” and “pagans” and “heathens,” and imprisoned, tortured, hung, beheaded, impaled, or burned alive. Their sacred groves of trees were burned, and if their children went into the forest to pray they were arrested and executed. God was taken from the natural world and put into the box of a church, and Nature was no longer regarded as sacred but, instead, as evil and dangerous, something to be subdued and dominated.

For a thousand years — continuously — the conquerors of the Roman Official (Catholic) Church did this to the tribal people of Europe.

As a result, today not a single European remembers the Old Ways or can speak the Ancient Languages. Not a single elder is left who knows of sacred sites, healing plants, or how to pronounce the names of his ancestors’ gods. None remember the time — which the archeological record indicates was probably at least twenty thousand years long, and perhaps as much as seventy thousand years long — when tribes lived peacefully and harmoniously in much of what we now call Europe. None remember the ways of the tribes, their ceremonies, their rituals of courtship, marriage, birth, death, healing, bringing rain, speaking to the plants and animals and stones of our Mother the Earth.

Not one single person alive still carries this knowledge. All is lost but a few words, the dates and names of some holidays, and a few simple concepts that have been stripped of their original context.

For example, my father’s parents came here from Norway during World War I. They spoke Norwegian, but it was not the true language of their ancestors. That language was written with a different alphabet, which is referred to today as Runic; nobody alive remembers how to pronounce the runes, or their original meanings. Adolf Hitler adopted one of the ancient Norwegian runes — what is believed to be the symbol of lightning and the god of lightning — for his most elite troops. The double lightning-bolts looked like an SS, so they were called the SS, but it was really a rune. So lost are the old ways of my grandmother’s people that even the Nazis felt free to steal and reinvent them in any way they pleased.

When we track it back, it seems likely that it all began — the entire worldwide 5000-year-long orgy of genocide and cultural destruction — in a part of the Middle East known then as Ur and now called Iraq. It started with a man named Gilgamesh, or one of his ancestors, in an area now called Baghdad.

The first conquers — the first people to rise up and discard the Great Law — were not the “White men” of Europe. They were, instead, the people of the region where the Middle East meets northern Africa. (Which is why this area is referred to as the “Cradle of [our] Civilization.”) Their direct descendant is not the Pope or the Queen of England or King of Spain, but a man named Saddam Hussein.

17 thoughts on “Whiteness is Absence, is Loss and Death

    • I have some cousins in Indiana. It’s a very conservative state, what is Trump country now and what a century ago was Klan country. White identity is powerful there. I can see how my cousins have been drawn into white identity politics and victimhood.

      They are good people and aren’t overtly racist, but the racial rhetoric is a mind virus that infects people without their knowing it. Like Covid, the infected can be asymptomatic, at least initially but the symptoms finally show up once the disease gets bad enough. I’ve noticed how so many whites deny that whiteness matters to them. Yet it’s obvious all the ways it matters. Our entire society is structured around it, such that it never has to be acknowledged by whites in the way that blacks are never allowed to forget.

      That obliviousness is the greatest of privilege. But it’s also a crippling of the mind. If most whites knew what had been lost or rather stolen and destroyed in exchange for their whiteness, they would revolt against the racial order. The loss, however, is simply felt as a vague nostalgic loss that can never quite be identified, a wound that won’t heal. It too often turns into the reactionary mind and authoritarian politics. I wish I knew how to make people understand what a sad fate this is. If we recognized the loss, we could realize what is missing and choose a new path.

      • Agreed! Our lost cultural identities are like a shadow that seems to manipulate some of us, like you said, towards authoritarianism. Like hungry ghosts, really, not able to ground ourselves. Whatever our futures are, they are likely going to have to be more localised and communal. If we could understand how much we thirst for those things, I’m sure it would give us the motivation to gird our loins for the scary work of dismantling this crazy capitalist death cult that’s all we’ve known in order to create what needs to be.

        • Hungry ghosts, that is a great way to think about it. That makes me think of Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Another great book about addiction and how it relates to society is Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream. Hari partly builds on the insights of Bruce K. Alexander from his rat park research. I have some posts around here about this topic

          What has been found, in rats and humans, is that isolated and disconnected individuals are more prone to addiction. That is to say that addiction is a replacement for relationship. Hari argues that the addict is the ultimate individual in our individualistic society. Hari’s next book, Lost Connections, was on depression. He further develops this theme on the importance of inclusion and belonging, of being part of something larger. Another book that explores this from another angle is Tribe by Sebastian Junger.

          Depression and addiction are two ailments that, like so many other Americans, I’ve struggled with. So, as with whiteness, I take all of this as rather personal. Some people lost in the reactionary mind see such critiques as the moral failure of self-hating whites. That, of course, misses the point. None of us is white. We are so much more than that. To be reduced to mere whiteness is a sad fate.

      • https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/common-misconceptions/who-burned-the-witches.html

        So this is more in response to that Thom Hartmann article. Its like, in one limited sense I say hear, hear. But then I consider that while the story is compelling, the history is off-key. And I’m still learning this stuff, but it looks like an attempt to deny nebulosity— https://meaningness.com/nebulosity

        I’ve encountered this before when I perused the youtube feed of an acquaintance from the world of soundcloud heavy metal. This person is trans and quite passionate about exposing the rule of satanic elites. She is smart in many ways but tragically misinformed ( or maybe naïve, I’ve heard Americans called naïve by educated commentators from eastern Europe to south America, and I doubt I’m much of an exception) when it comes to historical fact, and perhaps more important, the texture of historical knowledge

        . One video she liked was a guy who presented his argument that the original First Nations tribe did NOT damage nature ( the archaeological evidence shows everything from hunting animals to extinction to massive forest burn offs), in his version of history they Could Never do such things because no white people existed to teach them!

        This seems egregious, outright condescending nonsense to me. I don’t want to go into my racial bonafides, but I have close relatives down several generations who are brown and accented enough to qualify as not white, not particularly mixed even, and this strikes me as evil in the way it denies the ability to commit crimes against the earth to my extremely distant ancestors. I mean , they had to fuck it up for a few thousand years to get somewhere close to Edenic by the time the Euro settlers arrived, right?

        And maybe this is a question to large for me to answer, but Hartmann shows some confusion in the discussion of Rome and his Nordic ancestors. I don’t think they were ever conquered or the Romans even tried to conquer them, while the pagan tradtions were already breaking down under multiple pressures and ennui by the time of conversions, much like the situation in Rome at the birth of empire.

        I don’t want to defend the Roman Imperial system , some things need to be taken into account. I’m reminded of passages (of course I haven’t had a date in years, no wonder!) from the naturally conservative, upper crust Sallust in his histories of the Jugurthine war. In an consideration of associated revolts , he writes that the downfall of the Roman virtus began at the exact moment the Romans began plundering the wealth of conquered peoples.

        Now that’s a story contained within his larger narrative about declining morals and the decadent present, which is common to conservative thinking. But it also shows more understanding of the need to build a truly multi-cultural society, in a way that was quite lost by the time Burke made his conservative arguments for a British Empire modeled on the Roman state.

        In addition to the dangers of looking to the distant past and judging by our own liberalism informed standards, we also read into the past admitted constructs of whiteness that didn’t exist at the time under discussion. I mean it ignores so many things, like the way Germanic tribes fought to join the Roman Empire rather than to preserve their ancestral culture. It seems that ancestral cultures were mostly left alone and incorporated into the Empire as long as the proper tithes were paid.

        Of course what those tithes were depended on who the authorities were that year as the obvious example of the Jews under Titus reveals. Dictatorships in opulent Empires and American prisons retain this flaw, of fickleness in iron stability—when you have a reasoned person holding power its mostly fine, when you get a Richard the III the whole society is drowned in blood. But it’d be hard to argue that Rome wasn’t multicultural for most of its existence.

        This extended into the Dark Ages, with Irish culture being written down for the first time by the monastics with a distinctive Irish decorative and poetic culture emerging in recorded form shortly after the contact with Rome. And the Romans were only in Britain for a relatively small time period (whats the opposite of “biggus” in Latin?), and never managed to conquer or convert the entire Isle.

        I’m not denying that the Roman Church was ever coercive, just the idea that indigenous Europeans didn’t see anything to gain in their conversion to Roman culture and religion. I’m torn really, by this movement of thought—on one hand its good that so many white people have strong opinions about the forces that led to black artists being ripped off by record marketers and music executives for most of the 20th century to the epidemic of police violence under a militarized drug war. Maybe more people will realize that the “X” in Malcolm X’s name stood for a liberating possibility in the midst of erasure and oppression.

        But I don’t know if its impossible to reconnect with ethnic traditions that go back to pre-history while living in America. I see no shortage of Polish and Greek parades in some regions, more than just food anyway.

        I hate to bring it up but this is one part where the Chapo podcast got a good burn on the right identitarians for insisting in shrill voices that white ethnic culture is being destroyed. Like, I don’t know if that’s totally the case, its true that suburbanization and de-industrial policies destroyed communities, and I agree that America’s unique and tragic race based class system drove the development of those policies.

        I think a level of interest and ability is required to preserve ethnic roots that not everyone will have. I do need to do more research into these questions, as I follow Borges’ project of “appropriating” European culture ( that he wrote about in his essays on new possibilities in Latin American literature).

        • As You know, the writing project of this blog is all about complexity. So no offense is taken at your critique and no defense is offered of Hartmann’s take on European history. A simple point was being made in this post and hence it was inevitable that there would be much simplifying of a not so simple topic. There is no doubt that the message could’ve been communicated with more detail and nuance, but the motivation was lacking to put in the time and effort to achieve that end.

          There were complex reasons for the decline of paganism in Europe. After all, it was a process that happened over a long period of time. Paganism was never a monolithic religious group or movement. Some pagan religions and traditions survived into late feudalism and even as late as early modernity before the last traces were almost entirely wiped away. The Roman Empire had greater influence not as a political and military power but as a cultural influence, such as establishing a specific system of imperialism and monotheism, one ruler and one god. But such cultural influences continued to spread long after the Roman Empire was gone.

          You wrote that, “Germanic tribes fought to join the Roman Empire rather than to preserve their ancestral culture. It seems that ancestral cultures were mostly left alone and incorporated into the Empire as long as the proper tithes were paid. […] I’m not denying that the Roman Church was ever coercive, just the idea that indigenous Europeans didn’t see anything to gain in their conversion to Roman culture and religion.” There were multiple forces that threatened Germanic tribes. Besides conflict among the Germanic tribes, there was also the challenge of invading armies such as the Huns. They sought refuge and protection in the Roman Empire, out of desperation in having little other choice.

          It wasn’t an entirely bad deal, but it was a slow erosion of their social autonomy and cultural independence. Large empires tend toward multiculturalism out of necessity, even as the demands of assimilation are inevitable over time. Christians, once they gained power in the Roman Empire, were brutally destructive and sometimes genocidal toward pagans and other heretics. This included the Christianized German tribes (living in the Roman Empire as mercenaries) that found themselves on the wrong side of a theological debate. Some of that could’ve contributed to why they sacked Rome.

          A more important point is brought up in your commenting that, “I don’t know if its impossible to reconnect with ethnic traditions that go back to pre-history while living in America. I see no shortage of Polish and Greek parades in some regions, more than just food anyway.” That touches upon the central point of this post. European prehistory is lost. a foreign territory that can never be rediscovered. Premodern native traditions of native Europeans are entirely inaccessible. It is gone, forever gone… not only for American whites but for Europeans as well. No amount of nostalgia can revive it from the dead.

          Then that leads to your stating that, “I hate to bring it up but this is one part where the Chapo podcast got a good burn on the right identitarians for insisting in shrill voices that white ethnic culture is being destroyed.” There is no reason to hate to bring it up for there is no offense in it. Pointing this out allows for an important distinction being made. Traditional ethnic culture isn’t being destroyed. It was long ago destroyed. What remains are the invented traditions (see Marxist and socialist Eric Hobsbawm) of the reactionary mind as expressed in a conservatism and alt-right that has filled the vacuum created by the loss of traditional European culture.

          You are correct in thinking that, “a level of interest and ability is required to preserve ethnic roots that not everyone will have.” Even so, it is irrelevant. There is not much left to preserve and capitalism, by design, destroys and flattens out all differences. So, unless one hopes to eliminate capitalism, saving ethnic cultures is a doomed project. But the right-wingers so concerned about the ‘genocide’ of whites have no meaningful and realistic alternative to offer. The threat of the marketplace in destroying traditions goes back to Socrates fear of Sophists selling knowledge to anyone with money. This conflict was born in the collapse of bicameral societies and the rise of the axial age. So, not exactly a new problem, although we are finally coming to the culmination of what was always implicit in Jaynesian egoic consciousness, the poison of nostalgia that helps erase the past. It’s a mind virus.

          Let’s consider the first link you offered. The article is focused on the persecution of accused witches. It does speak to Hartmann’s piece, although it skirts around my primary concern. Most of the destruction of European paganism wasn’t caused by witch hunting and burning, even though such acts capture the imagination to a disproportionate degree. So, focusing on that is misleading. The oppression and persecution of paganism took many forms, much of it simply legal in which practices were allowed without the need for torturous death to enforce it. The cultural change didn’t tend to be dramatic as it usually was a slow chipping away over centuries and centuries until there was almost nothing left of what came before.

          In that article, the author writes, “For example, historians have now realized that witch-hunting was not primarily a medieval phenomenon. It peaked in the 17th century, during the rationalist age of Descartes, Newton, and St. Vincent de Paul. Persecuting suspected witches was not an elite plot against the poor; nor was practicing witchcraft a mode of peasant resistance. Catholics and Protestants hunted witches with comparable vigor. Church and state alike tried and executed them. It took more than pure Reason to end the witch craze.” The reactionary mind has its origins in the axial age, has its roots in the first emergence of egoic consciousness, but it didn’t fully bloom until modernity. Indeed, there was a dark side to the Enlightenment (see John V. Fleming), as the ancien regime further eroded.

          The author continues, “Nor were witches secret pagans serving an ancient Triple Goddess and Horned God, as the neopagans claim. In fact, no witch was ever executed for worshiping a pagan deity.” By the time Europe got around to persecuting witches, most of paganism had already been eliminated, except in a few countries where paganism persisted. But there was still many traditions of storytelling, folk wisdom, and traditional medicine that carried over from paganism and it probably often played a role in who was accused of being a witch. It may be true that, “Midwives were not especially targeted; nor were witches liquidated as obstacles to professionalized medicine and mechanistic science.” But such pagan remnants would have been found through the population, not limited to midwives and such.

          It might be interesting to do a study of how the slow but steady suppression of ancient knowledge happened in Europe. There is an example in one of Sally Fallon Morrell’s recent books, Nourishing Fats. In one section, she discusses the fat-soluble vitamin A that is necessary for eye health. A common treatment for certain eye diseases, such as night blindness, was the application of liver directly to the eye and then consumption of it by the patient. This practice is found in cultures around the world, including as recorded in early European texts. It was part of what was once vast pagan knowledge, but it became dismissed as an old wive’s tale.

          This is strange because it can almost instantly heal night blindness and so anyone could prove it worked with very little effort. So, why did centuries of Europeans choose to enforce night blindness upon innocent people when there was such a simple cure they knew about? Even scientists as late as the 1800s would have their careers destroyed (no witch burning necessary) if they tried to help their patients in curing night blindness, at least if they had the audacity to speak of it in public. The folk wisdom was hard to uproot as this cure kept popping up in various medical texts, but the need to eliminate every last trace of paganism was more important than almost anything else.

          At such a late date in modernity, paganism still posed an immense threat to the egoic consciousness of Christian society and emerging capitalism. This was also the period of time when ethno-nationalism was being enforced by a new kind of political power. This required the destruction of local communities and regional cultures. That meant some combination of genocide and assimilation of ethnic populations. In place of what was destroyed, new identities had to be created and hence the importance of invented traditions (e.g., Scottish tartan kilts).

          This was magnified where immigrant populations became concentrated and led to a backlash by such groups like the Second Klan to suppress these reformulated ethinc identities in favor of racial nationalism. The modern assimilationist project, however, began much earlier and really took hold in the first decades of the 19th century. The change led to nostalgia, which originally was diagnosed as a sometimes deadly disease. See some of my posts about that era:

          So, yeah, it’s complicated. It always is.

  1. I think I understand your posts better after reading this comment. I’ll respond again after I finish this essay. I didn’t want to fall into the intellectual dark web arguments against left approaches to racial justice but maybe that was inevitable when I got into a fact checking mania. Anyways, what I think is irrelevant, but some traditions were maintained in isolated pockets of North America.

    Maybe historical revivals don’t have to be pure reaction in favor of an imagined past. Like, I won’t accept anyone’s excuse that they can’t dance because they have white skin. Maybe you just need to hear more fiddle than cowbell–https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-BQpRqmwM0

    • I’m glad my comment communicated the larger and more complicated context. There is almost always background thoughts to what I write. So many of these kinds of topics have been rumbling around in my skull for years or even decades. All of it seems connected in my own mind, if not obvious to anyone else. I usually fail to fully give form to what is on my mind, assuming I’m fully aware of it.

      It can take extra effort to articulate what I’m actually thinking about in a fuller sense, as my thoughts go off in lots of directions. It’s not even always clear to me what I’m thinking until I have the need to explain it to someone else such as with you here in these comments. Much is implied in posts like this without being stated and I have to admit my thought process can be messy. It’s a small miracle every time I write something halfway coherent.

      Anyway, I’m simply making a particular argument here. Realize that, even as I can make a strong case according to some set of interpreted evidence, I always try to hold my views lightly. There is much wiggle room in my thought process that allows space for new info. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I think about ethnic cultures among white Americans. I don’t mean to be dismissive of what could be taken as invented traditions.

      For all my intellectual pretenses, it ultimately comes down to the personal. I come from a family that has lost all connection to the Old World. So much of my family goes back to the colonial era or otherwise is lost in scant early records. Some of my mother’s family simply appears in the backwoods of the frontier, as if popping up like mushrooms from the ground. My family doesn’t have much in the way of traditional European cultural inheritance.

      I’m fully assimilated and American. This is why whiteness feels so totalizing to me. In a society like this, how can not be white as a core pillar of my social reality. So much of society constantly forces me to affirm my race, as if it is the key defining feature of my identity. I’ve been trained to check ‘Caucasian’ every time I’m given some kind official form. But what the hell is ‘Caucasian’? My people, as far as I can figure, weren’t from the Caucasus Mountains.

      • I’m kinda partial to ‘Mongoloid’ myself, since I spent time in special ed classes, and it implies that we goofbrains could mass up like the Mongols. Which seems to have been a real fear among the societal leaders like Bethenia Adair-Owens who pushed for stronger segregation and eugenic policy. Its hard for me to think outside the American context, and I’ve definitely seen the process of losing ethnic identity in my own family, where the higher you climb in the class ranks, the more you disavow accents, customs, and attachments that’d associate you with the old country. This extends to regarding things that are considered white as best and anything “Mexican” as verboten. Except for tacos, which should probably never be made by white people from the U.S. Rituals like funerals are thrown aside, which seems as much about rejecting the strong Catholic taint of our origins as avoiding the pain of confronting death. Its quite demoralizing to see in action.

        • Between learning disability and severe depression, I suppose someone like me might have been sterilized in the past or else permanently institutionalized. But I never had the joyous experience of being in a special ed class with a bunch of other ‘Mongoloids’. My special ed interventions were more individualized and so I was isolated in my special nature.

          White people shouldn’t make tacos? What! I grew up on Midwestern-style tacos made by my white loving momma. Okay, their ethnic authenticity was highly questionable. But her tacos were closer to their ethnic origins than the taco pizza we often got on Fridays at the local pizza joint that certainly was not serving old world Italian cuisine.

          There wasn’t much in the way of ethnic food in my family, assuming ‘Midwest’ is not an ethnicity. We ate hamburgers, meatloaf, macaroni casserole, beef stew, tuna pinwheels, etc. Mostly beef-related foods. My maternal grandparents liked to drizzle bacon grease on lettuce they grew in the garden, which sounds delicious but I’ve never tried. And my maternal great grandmother would put butter in her coffee, a tradition that I honor.

          • Nah I didn’t mean it, actually that taco comment is an example of the absurd side of the race debate that goes on in the media and university. What I wrote about white people making tacos wrong implies that a white person couldn’t learn from a Mexican to prepare the meats, grind the flour and all the rest. That there is something essential to white identity that would prevent the learning of this skill, or render it inauthentic appropriation. I think that’s wrong, I didn;t mean to imply that.

          • I doubt my mother would be offended by your comment. She probably doesn’t take any particular pride in her taco-making abilities.

            In our household, tacos are a perfunctorial meal that is easy to prepare for company, specifically when my vegetarian brothers and their families visit. Put a bunch of stuff out and people make their own tacos however they wish.

            Midwestern eating tends to go for the plain and simple. A fancy dish for special occasions is a fruit salad with marshmallows and coconut flakes.

            That is stereotypical Midwestern dining. But Midwestern as the original American Melting Pot pretty much incorporates every style of food in Borg-like fashion.

            The Midwest is where ethnic cultures come to die. We Midwesterners embrace everyone and then assimilate them. The only population that has escaped so far are blacks for obvious reasons.

  2. Whiteness is soul death. As blacks must never be allowed to forget, there is an unwritten rule that whites must never remember or else pretend that they don’t remember, that they don’t know has been lost and at what price. It’s a social compact, the cornerstone upon which the American Empire is built.

    This seems particularly hard for older white conservatives to see. They will often deny that white identity matters to them, even as whiteness defines every aspect of their life. My father says he doesn’t identify as white while he has identified as many other things, such as identifying with the military when he served. The thing is his white privilege included being raised in a sundown town and then going to college in a sundown town.

    It was at college where he joined ROTC which allowed him to enter the army as an officer in a way that would’ve been nearly impossible for a black at the time. The military was still quite racist back in those days. It was a white institution serving at the behest of white rule. The fact that my dad could thoughtlessly identify with it was an expression of his whiteness. All of it is built into the system and the one rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.

    It’s similar to my mother’s experience. She prides herself in not being racist, a way of differentiating herself from her racist father. As a Northerner when she began her career in the Deep South, she worked in segregated public schools and she likes to tell how she was the only white speech pathologist who would work in both white schools and black schools.

    What is left out of this is the sad fact that a black speech pathologist, at the time, would not have been allowed to do the same thing by working in white schools. Her point of pride demonstrates the employment opportunities that were denied to people of other races, even if they were equally or better qualified. A black person, as a victim of the racist system, wouldn’t feel pride in this way. Such pride is a racial privilege.

    My parents, like others, are white by default. It’s a subtler form of how racists deny that they’re racists, similar to why neo-Nazis and white supremacists realized they needed to blend in with mainstream culture in order to have greater influence. They came to realize that the best way to defend whiteness was never to openly invoke it, but to wield it as a weaponized privilege where the greatest privilege is the freedom to be oblivious to one’s privilege. Dog whistle rhetoric, of course, helps with this plausible deniability.

    Yet this privilege is also a curse in how it cripples the mind. The constant defensiveness and cries of victimhood that is elicited is an indication of the sense of woundedness. To be white requires constant rationalization and narratization, which is stressful and tiresome. But it is part of White Man’s (and White Women’s) Burden because the social order would fall apart without all this effort. If it ever became conscious, though, most whites probably would realize its a raw deal.

  3. You offer a description of your view of reality with a glass half empty attitude, If I could add a spiritual spin to what you said, I would say that America was a nation based on faith and it has almost completely lost it by now, even christians nowadays believe in God for show and as part of their personality, without fully grasping the philosophy behind the religion.
    A gap in faith that has been filled with narcissists and psychopaths promising the world, pulling on everybody’s heart strings. going back to tribalism as you suggested is accepting to live in a society that is less free, where many choices are made on your behalf, thus you would be living in “bad faith” according to Sartre, you would be relinquishing all the progress your ancestors made so that you today are the freest version of human in history, you being the western white man assuming you are at least middle class.
    Whiteness as you alluded is a fluid concept, in the good times it adds more people into it, in the bad times it raises its walls and refuses entry for new faces. Truth is in my opinion, when walls start going up, the dont stop at a certain point, the cycle of hate will intensify and we will find a million ways to divide ourselves, every wall will feel like an opioid pill numbing our pain, but not addressing the root issue.
    I would love to hear your opinion on neoliberal politics, has hyper individualism destroyed society? Have enough people chosen to suspend their critical thinking for a perceived bigger cause to change the course of history.

    • Personally, I don’t see my attitude as glass half empty. I’m largely indifferent about whiteness, per se. It’s far from the most important issue. The main danger of whiteness is that it obscures and mystifies the real issues we should be focused upon, what actually threatens our society and what actually offers genuine hope. I’m a short term pessimist and a long term optimist, if that helps put my views in context.

      By the way, I’m not middle class. But that is largely irrelevant. The same whiteness, more or less, applies with any class of American. White privilege offers real world benefits even to the poorest. Poor whites are less likely to be trapped in poor communities, as the data shows, because their whiteness allows them to blend in and more easily assimilate into majority white culture (e.g., move into a middle class white community with well-funded public services). Plus, whites are less likely to be stopped, frisked, and arrested by police; and then less likely to be judged guilty and imprisoned — even for crimes whites commit at higher rates (e.g., drug-related crimes).

      So whiteness offers many benefits, at least to someone in the Western world, specifically in this case the United States. Yet this whiteness also costs much and the costs are rarely acknowledged. It’s a Devil’s Bargain. Those immense, unrecognized costs are what this post is about. Still, whiteness can’t erase the reality of class war and class oppression, of growing inequality of wealth, power and resources. That is what makes it so sad to see so many Americans fall into the propaganda, mind virus, and false consciousness of whiteness when, instead, they should seek solidarity with other Americans. Divide and Conquer, sadly, is highly effective social control.

      That does connect to issues of neoliberalism and (hyper-)individualism, along with related capitalist realism that shuts down both moral imagination and radical imagination (see Mark Fisher). But it’s getting into complicated territory. Neoliberalism, of course, has come to dominate our society as much as has whiteness. The two are part of the same phenomenon that devalues all that is traditional and so erases the past, and in place of what is lost sells us a product of nostalgia and invented traditions to bandage our growing anxiety. We become disconnected from our shared human reality.

      The other part, (hyper-)individualism goes much deeper and further back, as part of the civilizational project that began with the Axial Age — the first era of nostalgia following the collapse of the Bronze Age empires and the loss of the divine authorization of the bicameral mind. Three millennia on, we are simply experiencing the culmination of that slow erosion of what is so fundamental to the human psyche, a complicated topic involving philology, anthropology, linguistic relativity, consciousness studies, Jaynesian studies, etc. I have posts about all of that, if you care to learn more.

      As to your main point, I’d argue there is no evidence that America was founded as a nation of faith; and, no, I’m not ant-religious. The colonies were mostly founded as for-profit corporations. Church membership and attendance was extremely low until the 1800s. Preachers were few in the first couple of centuries of American history, such that most Americans didn’t get formally married or only did so after pregnancy. This was largely because religion was associated with state oppression, at a time when many countries and colonies had official state churches.

      Even up to the American Revolution and the decades that immediately followed it, organized religion played little role. That isn’t to say individuals didn’t have religious or spiritual views, although they often were more personal or philosophical (e.g., scientific-minded deism). Mass religiosity came relatively late in American history. Here is something funny that Kurt Andersen wrote: “When somebody asked Alexander Hamilton why the Framers hadn’t mentioned God in the Constitution, his answer was deadpan hilarious: “We forgot.” ” Yet this early lack of formal religiosity, opposite of Europe, is precisely what would later feed into the religious free-for-all, far from limited to Christianity, in the second half of American history.

      I’d suggest being careful about demarcating religiosity and secularism. Trump’s appeal to Evangelicals is not bullshit. His religiosity is as genuinely American as it comes. Trump’s family grew up in Norman Vincent Peale’s church. He was their family pastor. Trump embodies Positive Thinking Christianity, closely related to New Thought and Prosperity Gospel (I grew up in the New Thought and New Agey Unity Church and I gained much of value from that tradition). That strain of Christianity has been at the core of American religiosity going back to the 1800s when mass religiosity finally took hold in this country.

      Here are a few things I’ve written about this, partly based on Finke and Stark’s The Churching of America (the authors are Christian scholars):


      “Many early Americans rarely saw a minister, outside of itinerant preachers who occasionally passed by. This is partly why formal marriages were less common. “Historians of American religion have long noted that the colonies did not exude universal piety. There was a general agreement that in the colonial period no more than 10-20 percent of the population actually belonged to a church” (Roger Finke & Rodney Stark, The Churching of America). This was at a time when many governments had state religions and so churches were associated with oppressiveness, as seen with the rise of non-Christian views (agnosticism, atheism, deism, universalism, unitarianism, etc) during the revolutionary period.”


      “Early Americans, by today’s standards of the culture wars, were not good Christians — many visiting Europeans at the time saw them as uncouth heathens and quite dangerous at that, such as the common American practice of toting around guns and knives, ever ready for a fight, whereas carrying weapons had been made illegal in England. In The Churching of America, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark write (pp. 25-26):

      ” “Americans are burdened with more nostalgic illusions about the colonial era than about any other period in their history. Our conceptions of the time are dominated by a few powerful illustrations of Pilgrim scenes that most people over forty stared at year after year on classroom walls: the baptism of Pocahontas, the Pilgrims walking through the woods to church, and the first Thanksgiving. Had these classroom walls also been graced with colonial scenes of drunken revelry and barroom brawling, of women in risque ball-gowns, of gamblers and rakes, a better balance might have been struck. For the fact is that there never were all that many Puritans, even in New England, and non-Puritan behavior abounded. From 1761 through 1800 a third (33.7%) of all first births in New England occurred after less than nine months of marriage (D. S. Smith, 1985), despite harsh laws against fornication. Granted, some of these early births were simply premature and do not necessarily show that premarital intercourse had occurred, but offsetting this is the likelihood that not all women who engaged in premarital intercourse would have become pregnant. In any case, single women in New England during the colonial period were more likely to be sexually active than to belong to a church-in 1776 only about one out of five New Englanders had a religious affiliation. The lack of affiliation does not necessarily mean that most were irreligious (although some clearly were), but it does mean that their faith lacked public expression and organized influence.” ”


      “Yet most Americans at the time weren’t formally religious. There were few ministers in the colonies, especially in rural areas. Americans had low rates of church attendance, with rates not increasing until the 19th century (see The Churching of America by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark). It was precisely this lack of formal religion that fed into a new rabid free-for-all where anyone’s religiosity was as good as another’s, where anyone could become a preacher and start their own sect or turn to whatever ideology they preferred, religious or anti-religious. This is how the influences of Reformation and Enlightenment melded together, creating a force greater than either alone.”


      “On a slightly different note, I would highly recommend The Churching of America by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark. The authors show how, until the 19th century, Americans didn’t have high rates of religiosity such as church attendance. The increasing focus on spirituality was simultaneous with greater concern with mainstream religion.”

    • Rather than being anti-religious, I was raised religious and remain religiously-oriented or spiritual, although no longer associated with organized religion. I never lost faith and never became atheist in the typical sense, but I sometimes have referred to myself as an agnostic gnostic (I don’t know what I don’t know) and weak atheist (lacking a belief in God but not believing in a lack of God) — that is to say I’m more concerned with knowledge than belief, but not knowledge limited to objectivity, rationality, and science.

      Indeed, religion and spirituality remain among my favorite topics of study and a recurrent theme in my writings. I used to focus on early Christianity to a great degree, but my interest has become more general over time. I’m particularly interested about the post-bicameral era and axial age, which produced a new kind of society, culture, and mentalilty. We are still dealing with the fallout from that period of mass dislocation and transformation. In light of this, I’m at this very moment reading Brian J. McVeigh’s newest book, The Psychology of the Bible.

      That earlier change came to greater fruition with the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, Enlightenment, the late feudal to early modern revolutionary era (Peasant’s Revolt, English Civil Wars, American Revolution, etc), andd capitalist industrialization. This resulted in such things as neoliberalism and (hyper-)individualism, as expressed in the biases of WEIRD culture (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic or pseudo-democratic). In some ways, the most powerful of all these was the Protestant Reformation, which some argue was the pivotal force behind liberalism, secularism, and capitalism.

      The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
      The Unintended Reformation by Brad S. Gregory
      Permanent Revolution by James Simpson
      A Secular Age by Charles Taylor

    • I went back to read my post again. I needed to be reminded about exactly what argument I had made. That way, I could better understand what you were responding to. One thing jumped out to me, the role Christianity played. Christianity originated in the Near East and so was culturally foreign to Europe. It displaced and destroyed the indigenous religions of the original European cultures.

      This has to do with the axial ages that made universalist claims, as a form of proto-enlightenment thinking. The universalistic replaced or assimilated the particulars of traditional native culture, forging a singular Catholic Church that formed an incipient European identity that wiped away the memory of the tribal people. Europeans could be genocidal toward other tribal people for the very reason their own tribal ancestors had experienced genocide. This is the Wetiko disease, trauma leading to trauma that never heals, victims becoming victimizers in an endless victimization cycle.

      The problem with universalistic religions is that they are part of an impulse of abstraction. They further disconnect people from sense of place, home, and community — in creating a longing for another world, along with a nostalgia of some far away past in another land. Christianity could never save us or rather, as the former missionary Daniel Everett explained, Christianity only saves tribal people by first making them lost in destroying their traditional cultures. Christianity creates the problem and then offers the solution, like a dope pusher who gives you the first free sample to get you hooked.

      That isn’t just a clever or dismissive simile. I see addiction as the key factor of egoic/Jaynesian consciousness (metaphorical inner space), the ultimate source or at least one of the main symptoms of post-bicameral anxiety. Addiction, so it seems to me, is central to what maintains rigid egoic boundaries or if you prefer hyper-individualism. This is an insight that was emphasized in Johann Hari’s observation that the addict is the ultimate individual, from Chasing the Scream. This is in opposition to the permeable, fluid, and extended psychological experience of many tribal societies and as indicated in the most ancient texts.

      So, it’s not merely a matter of religion or not, religiosity or secularism. What matters most is what kind of religion or rather what kind of mentality and culture is expressed through religion. It’s telling that, prior to the axial age, there wasn’t even a word for religion. The archaic mind, even in fairly large complex empires, did not have a separate category of religion nor did they have individualism as we know it. Their entire experience was communal and holistic, a way of being that was largely destroyed in European culture quite early on with the decimation of paganism and tribalism.


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