The Monstrous, the Impure, & the Imaginal

This interview about the ‘monstrous’ made me think of a related idea. The monstrous is a more extreme version of the ‘impure’, whether impure in terms of the physical, psychological, social, religious, etc. The monstrous and the impure are both in some way ‘wrong’ at a gut level. They just feel wrong causing an instinctual response to get away from the perceived source of danger… or else to force it to get away from us, to attack it, to banish it.

The reason the idea of the ‘impure’ came to my mind was because of research I’ve seen on ideology. Conservatives have a stronger disgust response. The research I recall had to do with rotting fruit. To conservatives, this was more likely to be responded to with disgust. This makes sense in that rotten food has the potential to cause sickness, but rotten fruit is hardly an unusual experience. Anyone who keeps fruit around the house regularly experiences fruit that is in varying states of rot. It’s just what fruit does when it sits around long enough.

This is also interesting in that rotting fruit is the cause of alcohol. Learning how to make alcohol was one of humanity’s greatest discoveries. More importantly, alcohol has the ability to alter our consciousness (often making us more ‘open’ which is a trait related to liberalism) and this is probably the reason alcohol has been associated with the divine and with religious rituals.

So, rotting fruit doesn’t only endanger our physical health. It also endangers us through its potential to alter our minds, to connect us to realms unknown and uncontrollable. Dionysus, after all, is the God of wine. To the modern (especially the modern conservative religious type), a God like Dionysus is a bit on the monstrous side.

This makes me wonder what has become of the monstrous. In the Old Testament, Yahweh wasn’t disconnected from the monstrous. We moderns tend to see fear as being somehow unacceptable. This is even true for modern conservatives who often portray God as lacking the true horrific power that Yahweh had in the distant past.

The liberal tends to not have much understanding or respect for the monstrous/impure. The liberal response to rotten fruit is to be curious. As a liberal, I highly recommend this response. However, I also wonder if something is lost when fear isn’t given a place in our values and beliefs, in our religious conceptions.

This is why I’ve been drawn to the imaginal. The imaginal is the realm of the trickster, neither this nor that or else maybe both.

The trickster has always had an liminal role, often a being above or greater than or prior to humans and also below or lesser than or progeny of the Gods. Godmen, both God and man, like Jesus tend to have Trickster qualities. Other beings, neither God nor man, such as Prometheus and Loki also tend to have Trickster qualities.

Depending on the culture, the Trickster may be perceived as either good or evil, either as defender of religious/social purity or as tempter/deceiver. Take Dionysus for example. He originally was worshipped by one group, but deemed dangerous by others, especially those in power who would attempt to deny him. With the Romans, he was turned into Bacchus who was less overtly divine. Dionysus, however, lived on in another form as many of his attributes were inherited by and made into more human form with Jesus Christ.

Humans have always been wary of the imaginal. It’s disconcerting to come face to face with something unknown and not be able to discern whether it is friend or foe. It’s easier to make an arbitrary designation one way or the other and create social boundaries and cultural norms to protect against it. Most often, especially for the conservative, this means the imaginal gets portrayed as evil or dangerous. The liberal goes the opposite direction by often dismissing the imaginal entirely. Neither side necessarily takes the imaginal seriously on its own terms.

Trust & Compromise, Science & Religion

I noticed several different sets of data about trust in terms of public opinion. (My thoughts here are somewhat a continuation of my thoughts in one of my other recent posts: .)

The first piece of data was something I’ve come across before. Basically, Democrats tend to trust government whether or not they’re in power and Republicans only trust government when they’re in power.

Imbalance of Trust
By Charles M. Blow

Is it partly the utter gullibility of some people? Sure. Is it partly deep-seated resentment of the black man in the White House? No doubt. But it’s also about something more fundamental: fluctuations of basic trust in the federal government.

These fluctuations highlight a peculiar quirk of recent American politics — according to an analysis of The New York Times/CBS News polls from the past 33 years, Americans seem to trust the government substantially more after a Republican president is elected than they do after a Democratic one is elected — at least at the outset.

Since 1976, the polls have occasionally included the following question: “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right — just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?”

The first poll taken in which this question was asked after Ronald Reagan assumed office found that 51 percent trusted the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time. For George H.W. Bush, it was 44 percent, and for George W. Bush it was 55 percent. Now compare that with the Democrats. In Jimmy Carter’s first poll, it was 35 percent. In Bill Clinton’s, it was 24 percent, and for Barack Obama’s, it was only 20 percent. (It should be noted that the first poll conducted during George W. Bush’s presidency came on the heels of 9/11.)

Surprisingly, Democrats’ trust in government was the same or higher after a Republican was elected than it was after a Democrat was elected. That in spite of the fact that all three Democratic presidents came into office at the same time that their party had won control of both chambers of Congress.

There are two parts to this data.

First, Republican administrations are trusted more for the very reason that Democrats trust government in general. Democratic administrations can’t win because Republicans won’t trust them from the moment they take power, no matter what they promise or accomplish.

Second, Democrats are seemingly more open to being self-critical. Maybe this is because Democrat voters have high expectations of Democratic politicians. Or it could be that the Democratic Party is big tent and the Republican Party is small tent. It’s easier for the GOP to keep it’s narrow base satisfied. The diversity of Democrats, on the other hand, will always contain much disagreement.

This relates to another poll which shows the differing views on compromise. Unsurprisingly, the small tent Republican Party dislikes compromise and the big tent Democratic Party likes compromise. Independents are halfway between the two parties, but what is interesting in that same poll Independents identify more with the Democratic Party than with the Tea Party which would seem to imply that Independents realize a party that compromises (however imperfectly) is more likely to represent them. The Tea Party likes compromise even less than the Republican party which corresponds with data showing the average Tea Party supporter is more conservative than the average Republican.

Many Say Ending Tax Cuts for Wealthy Would Hurt Economy
The Pew Research Center

There is little agreement among the public about compromise in politics. About half (49%) say they most admire political leaders who stick to their positions without compromising, while slightly fewer (42%) say that they most admire political leaders who make compromises with people they disagree with.

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, sponsored by SHRM, conducted September 16-19 among 1,005 adults, finds that Republicans, in particular, admire politicians who stick to their positions (62%) over those who compromise (33%). Although independents are more divided on the question, a majority (53%) says they favor leaders who do not compromise; four-in-ten independents (40%) say they most admire leaders who compromise. The balance of opinion is reversed among Democrats; 54% of Democrats say they prefer politicians who compromise with those they disagree with, while 39% say they prefer politicians who stick to their positions without compromising.

The next poll I came across (The AP-National Constitution Center Poll) dissected how much trust people had in various institutions and news sources. The data shows a split between what is trusted and who trusts it. There wasn’t a majority trust any of them, but here is the order of most trusted (least mistrusted) to least trusted (most mistrusted):

  1. Military
  2. Small and Local Business leaders
  3. Scientific Community
  4. Organized Religion
  5. Broadcast News Media
  6. Print Media
  7. US Supreme Court
  8. Local Government
  9. Public Schools
  10. State Courts
  11. Organized Labor
  12. State Government
  13. Federal Government
  14. Independent or Citizen Media
  15. US Congress
  16. Banks and Financial Institutions
  17. Major Companies

AP-NCC Poll: Not Much Trust in Major Institutions
By Alan Fram and Jennifer Agiesta

Republicans most trust the military, followed by small business and religion. Democrats prefer science, small business, then the military. Just one in five Republicans expressed strong confidence in science, about the same proportion of Democrats who said so about religion.

Only 10 percent of Republicans expressed strong confidence in state governments, despite frequent GOP demands that Washington cede more power to the states.

Just 10 percent of Democrats voiced strong trust in Congress, even though their party controls it.

The print and broadcast media were strongly trusted by just 13 percent, only slightly more than the 8 percent with faith in blogs. Those under age 30 were far likelier than older people to voice confidence in what they read.

I would criticize one part of this poll, especially as it was described above. The poll lumped the professional New Media with the blogosphere. Some blogs are good and some aren’t. Some blogs are written by professional journalists and some aren’t. Anyway, the New Media isn’t limited to blogs. Cenk Uygur has been running an online news show for years and has been a guest on the mainstream media. Of course, most people don’t trust blogs written by often anonymous people. But I’m willing to bet that if New Media would be higher on the trust ranking if it were categorized separately from the blogosphere.

This seems indicated by the fact that the younger generation has more trust in non-traditional media. The reason for this is probably because the younger generation is able to distinguish the New Media from the general blogosphere. Older people don’t trust anything on the internet because older people know less about how to vet sources. As a side note, liberals are the demographic that gets more news from the internet than any other demographic and this goes along with the present younger generation being more liberal than other generations at the same age. This younger, liberal generation is also more trusting in general of big government and big business. So, public trust will probably be increasing in the coming decades.

What some might find surprising is that both Republicans and Democrats trust small businesses. Republicans are always trying to portray Democrats as anti-capitalist, but other data (Beyond Red vs Blue) shows Liberals have high rates of small business ownership and high rates of trading in stocks and bonds.

Not surprising is that Democrats trust science more than religion and Republicans trust religion more than science. I was glad to see that Americans in general trust science more than religion (or at least organized religion). So, on this issue, Democrats are in line with the majority position.

This issue of public opinion about science is what got me started on this whole line of thought and the research that ensued. I heard on NPR about a global poll about science. The global data should offer clear context for where US public opinion stands and how Democrats and Republicans respectively compare to people in other parts of the world.

Scientific beliefs vary by culture, says global poll
By Margaret Munro

Americans are far more pronuclear and willing to trust flu experts than Europeans, and much less concerned about genetically modified crops, according to a survey by Scientific American and the journal Nature.

But the most notable difference was between East Asia and the rest of the world. The survey found 35 per cent of Japanese and 49 per cent of Chinese respondents agreed there is “reason for doubt” that evolution can explain the incredible variety of species on Earth. That view was shared by about 10 per cent of respondents from the rest of the world.

Japanese and Chinese respondents were also less likely to say that they trust scientific explanations of the origins of the universe. And almost one-third of Chinese respondents said that scientists should stay out of politics, compared with about 10 per cent of respondents from other countries.

That would seem to put US conservatives more in line with Asians and US liberals more in line with Europeans. I don’t know what that means, but it’s interesting. I was glad to see that the world’s overall trust in science is strong and growing stronger. And liberals would seem to be in line with people worldwide in trusting scientists more than religious authorities.

The survey did find some common ground. Worldwide, respondents agreed that scientists are more trustworthy than other public figures. Religious authorities were deemed least trustworthy, followed by politicians and company officials.

And more than 70 per cent of respondents agreed science funding should be spared in tough economic times. When asked what should be cut instead, defence spending was the overwhelming choice — 82 per cent of Canadian respondents favouring cuts to defence over cuts to education or social-welfare programs.

And despite a recent controversy over leaked emails by climate researchers and the UN’s climate panel, the survey found climate change denial is in decline. Among Canadian respondents 41 per cent said that over the past year, they’ve become more certain that humans are changing the climate, compared with 12 per cent of respondents who have grown more doubtful.

In conclusion… well, actually I don’t know if I have any conclusion. I just found the data interesting and even more interesting when compared. The closest to a conclusion I could offer you is that there are distinct demographics (such as those belonging to the two parties) which have consistently distinct positions and attitudes. Most significantly: among Democrats, there is a correlation between trusting the government and trusting science; and, among Republicans, there is a correlation between being against compromise and being in favor of religion. Maybe that doesn’t provide any grand insight, but it does provide data to back up what many would suspect to be true.

NDE: Spirituality vs Religiosity

Last night, I was listening to Coast to Coast AM. The host mentioned a study in passing which caught my interest. The study was about the impact of NDEs on spirituality and religion. He said the results of NDE experiencers was the opposite of those church attenders who never had an NDE. After their NDE, experiencers were increasingly interested in spirituality and yet their church attendance decreased. On the other hand, non-experiencers over time (as they aged?) became less interested in spirituality all the while attending church more often.

I tried to find this study, but was unable to find it. NDEs is the topic of tonight’s show on Coast to Coast Am. The guest is Pin van Lommel who has written about the topic, but I don’t know if the study is discussed in one of his books. I did find other research which was related. In the following paper, I found a description of research showing that belief in the paranormal is negatively related to religious participation.

The Polarization of Psi Beliefs:
Rational, Controlling, Masculine Skepticism Versus Interconnected, Spiritual, Feminine Belief
J. E. Kennedy
pp 31-2

There are mixed findings and opinions from research on the relationship between religion and paranormal beliefs. National surveys in Canada and Iceland found that religious interests or beliefs were associated with belief in the paranormal (Haraldsson, 1981; Orenstein, 2002). These results are supported by other studies (see Thalbourne & Houtkooper, 2002). However, a national survey in the U.S. found that the correlations between religious and paranormal beliefs were largely nonsignificant (Rice, 2003). Various other studies found no relationship or mixed results between religion and belief in the paranormal (reviewed in Irwin, 1993; see also Orenstein, 2002; Rice, 2003).

These inconsistencies apparently reflect the fact that certain measures of religion are related to psi beliefs and others are not. Orenstein (2002) reported that belief in the paranormal was positively related to religious faith but negatively related to religious participation in a representative national survey in Canada. For those who had high religious belief but low church attendance, 78% scored high on 6 paranormal belief questions. For those who had high religious belief and high church attendance, 24% scored high on paranormal beliefs. For those who had low religious belief and low church attendance, 11% scored high on paranormal beliefs.

So, what does that mean? My guess is that this connects to Ernest Hartmann’s research on boundary types. Thick boundary types would prefer organized religion because it’s clearly defined in its social structure and in its belief system. However, thin boundary types prefer more open-endedness and inconclusiveness which goes against most organized religion, especially of the highly organized variety such as the Catholic Church. Research shows that thin boundary types are more open to non-ordinary experiences (i.e., spiritual, paranormal; et cetera). An NDE, by definition, is a thin boundary experience in that it’s a very personal experience of thin boundary between life and death.

Even if you don’t believe in religion or the paranormal, I think this type of research is interesting in what it says about human nature. A thick boundary person simply is less comfortable with spirituality and the paranormal. If the thick boundary person is religious, they’re more likely to label the non-ordinary as evil or at least consider it highly suspect. If a thick boundary person isn’t religious, they’re likely to deem claims of non-ordinary experiences as false or meaningless or else to rationalize them away merely brain malfunctions. In this way, the religious fundamentalist and the atheistic fundamentalist would find themselves in similar opposition to the spiritual believer and paranormal experiencer.

The Elephant That Wasn’t There

I was talking to someone the other day who was telling me about a recent family visit (by the way, her telling of it reminded me of the type of story David Sedaris writes).

It was her older sister who was visiting and they were discussing the past. The older sister claimed that she used to go for rides on a pony that a neighbor had. The neighbor gave pony rides somewhere for money and would allow the sister to ride the pony home. However, the older sister also claimed that this pony owner also owned an elephant who would also sometimes follow along. The woman I was talking to didn’t believe her sister’s story about the elephant and so investigated by asking other family members and some old neighbors from the area. No one else remembered the elephant, but the older sister was absolutely certain about the elephant’s existence. It was real in her mind.

I find that amusing. None of us really knows how much of our memories are correct. Few of us are ever motivated or capable of fact-checking most of our memories. Stories we’ve encountered over our lifetimes (especially when young) can become incorporated into our own personal story. I mean it’s logical that where there is a pony there might be an elephant. Science has proven that we literally re-member every time we recall something. The more often we recall something the less reliable the memory becomes. We don’t remember the thing itself. We remember our own retellings.

We all live in our own private fantasy worlds. I’ve been drawn to this idea. I think I first encountered it with Robert Anton Wilson’s writings about reality tunnels. It’s not just individuals but whole societies that get caught up in reality tunnels. In the case of personal memories, another person who knows us can offer a reality check. A collective reality tunnel is different because everyone within the society will reinforce the shared view of reality. Our collective retellings are rituals that remake the world in the way the Australian Aborigines remake the world by retracing the pathways of the gods. What if there is some truth to this? Maybe scientific laws and evolution are simply forms of collective memory.

This avenue of thought is explored in great detail by Philip K. Dick and by those influenced/inspired by PKD (for example: Jonathan Lethem’s Amnesia Moon and Ursula K. Leguin’s The Lathe of Heaven). I just finished reading PKD’s Eye in the Sky. I was mostly reading that novel while at work which led me to contemplate the world around me. I work late at night and staring into the concrete interior of a parking ramp (where I work) offers an interesting opportunity for contemplation.

My job at the parking ramp is cashier. In the large picture, it’s kind of a pointless job. With developing technology, it’s almost obsolete for all practical purposes. I sometimes envision myself working there in the future after the robots have taken over the job and my only purpose will be to wave and smile at the customers as they drive out. My job is merely representative of most of the pointless work humans occupy themselves with… but is it really pointless? Or is there some purpose being served that is less than obvious? Work is a ritual that sustains our society, the reality tunnel of our culture, of our entire civilization. From a practical perspective, most jobs could be eliminated and many things would run more smoothly and effectively without all the wasted effort of keeping people employed. But if all the pointless jobs were eliminated, there would be chaos with the masses of unemployed. Employing the mindless masses keeps them out of trouble and keeps them from revolting. Make them think their life actually has purpose. Still, a purpose is being served even if it’s simply maintaining social order. My point is that social order is merely the external facet of any given collective reality tunnel.

In PKD’s stories, the protagonist is often faced with a true reality that is hidden behind an apparent reality. This true reality isn’t somewhere else but is instead all around us. This is a gnostic vision of the kingdom on earth. PKD had a few spiritual visions which inspired his theologizing and his fiction writing. I too have had some visions that have made me question the status quo of normal reality.

In enacting our social rituals and retelling our social myths, what kind of reality are we collectively creating? When I look upon a structure like an ugly parking ramp, what kind of world am I looking upon? Why are we creating such a world? What is the motivation? If we stopped enacting these social rituals and stopped retelling these social myths, what would happen to this consensus reality of civilization we’ve created and what would replace it? Or what would be revealed?

“As long as we keep ourselves busy tilling the earth, there is no fear of any of us becoming wild.”
~  J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur

National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

ProfMTH — April 30, 2010 — A look at the recent decision that declared the federal law establish the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

Links:

1. Freedom from Religion Foundation, et al. v. Obama and Gibbs http://www.wiwd.uscourts.gov/assets/p…

2. The National Day of Prayer Task Forces website http://nationaldayofprayer.org/

3. Federalist #78 http://www.constitution.org/fed/feder…

 
ProfMTH — April 30, 2010 — The second part of my look at the recent decision that declared the federal law establishing the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

Links:

1. Freedom from Religion Foundation, et al. v. Obama and Gibbs http://www.wiwd.uscourts.gov/assets/p…

2. Lemon v. Kurtzman http://scholar.google.com/scholar_cas…

3. Christian activist Tony Perkins talking about the National Day of Prayer (from JesusSavesAtCitibanks channel here on YouTube) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0Vqd6…

4. Engel v. Vitale http://scholar.google.com/scholar_cas…

5. Marsh v. Chambers http://scholar.google.com/scholar_cas…

6. Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York http://scholar.google.com/scholar_cas…

Why I am no longer a Christian by Evid3nc3

This video is an atheist explaining how he lost his faith. It’s long, but I found it worth watching. The guy is very respectful of Christianity and he is far from being dismissive of his past faith.

His example reminds me of Robert M. Price who also began studying with the hope of strengthening his faith. The risk of apologetics is that it uses the methods of the enemy (logic, argument, questions, doubts, intellect, etc). There is a real danger to opening yourself up to any and all doubts and following questions to whatever answers they may lead. This is true for any person, whether religious or not. Intellectual inquiry isn’t for the contented. Questions aren’t for those who wish to remain in comforting certainties.

Source of Bible Covenant with God discovered?

Source of Bible Covenant with God discovered?
By D.M. Murdock

god calling abraham to his covenant image

Archaeologists working in Turkey have unearthed an Assyrian tablet dating to around 670 BCE that “could have served as a model for the biblical description of God’s covenant with the Israelites.” […] 

Ancient treaty resembles part of the Bible

Canadian archeologists in Turkey have unearthed an ancient treaty that could have served as a model for the biblical description of God’s covenant with the Israelites.

The tablet, dating to about 670 BC, is a treaty between the powerful Assyrian king and his weaker vassal states, written in a highly formulaic language very similar in form and style to the story of Abraham’s covenant with God in the Hebrew Bible, says University of Toronto archeologist Timothy Harrison.

Although biblical scholarship differs, it is widely accepted that the Hebrew Bible was being assembled around the same time as this treaty, the seventh century BC.

“Those documents…seem to reflect very closely the formulaic structure of these treaty documents,” he told about 50 guests at the Ottawa residence of the Turkish ambassador, Rafet Akgunay.

He was not necessarily saying the Hebrews copied the Assyrian text, substituting their own story about how God liberated them from slavery in Egypt on the condition that they worship only Him and follow His commandments.

But it will be interesting for scholars to have this parallel document.

“The language in the [Assyrian] texts is [very similar] and now we have a treaty document just a few miles up the road from Jerusalem.”…

[…] Although the article states that the archaeologist Timothy Harrison “was not necessarily saying the Hebrews copied the Assyrian text, substituting their own story about how God liberated them from slavery in Egypt,” it is nonetheless raising that very issue in a manner which breaks with the centuries-old tradition of bending all finds in the “Holy Land” and other places of biblical interest to fit the Bible, in attempts to prove the “Good Book” as “history.” It is obvious that this sort of bibliolatry appeasement from the more scientific segment of society is losing ground precisely because of such discoveries – and the implication of this one is a doozy.

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 4/1/10

You’d be mad to support climate change science

In a recent forum debate, a poster suggested I wouldn’t look at science that didn’t agree with my position – that I displayed confirmation bias. I have a standard response to this, which is that I’ll look at anything that isn’t junk science. If it’s credible science, why would I not study it?

The poster who challenged me did so on the basis of how he sees things. To him, this is a debate to win, and because he thinks that’s what I’m here to do, that I have an agenda, it seems obvious to him I’m going to select only that science which supports it (and I have to add that in all likelihood, that’s what he’s doing). This assumption is made because the denialists do have an agenda, and it is largely political. They attack the science, because for them, climate change science is a proxy for socialism, or a token of some movement towards a ‘world government’ that is essentially socialist in nature.

They oppose this, and because the basis for climate change is scientific, they end up attacking the science because they take it as a tool of ideologues. In making this unfortunate conflation, they also project the same motives and concerns on people like me, because if their agenda is to oppose the left, in their eyes I must be another lefty ideologue opposing the right, supporting climate change as a means to my own ideological ends.

Parliament’s investigation: Stolen e-mails reveal no wrong-doing by climate scientists

As Galileo might have said, “Still the planet warms.”

A committee of England’s Parliament released its report on Hadley Climate Research Unit’s (CRU) stolen e-mails earlier today.  The reports you heard that the scientific case showing global warming with human causation had died, were exaggerated, significantly in error, and hoaxes themselves.

The report comes from the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee.  Press release with links and previous releases from the Committee, below:

The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia


[…] The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—”trick” and “hiding the decline”—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

The Committee found no reason in this inquiry to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity”. […]

How to split up the US

 Finalmap

As I’ve been digging deeper into the data I’ve gathered on 210 million public Facebook profiles, I’ve been fascinated by some of the patterns that have emerged. My latest visualization shows the information by location, with connections drawn between places that share friends. For example, a lot of people in LA have friends in San Francisco, so there’s a line between them.

Looking at the network of US cities, it’s been remarkable to see how groups of them form clusters, with strong connections locally but few contacts outside the cluster.

Millennials and Postmodernism in TV Comedies

I recently read a fantastic but dense essay by David Foster Wallace drawing connections between fictional literature and television, emphasizing the commonalities between the genres’ narrative structures. The essay was written in the early 90s but is oddly premonitory, particularly with reference to reality shows and on-demand programming. He frequently cites the increasingly self-referential nature of television programs (and fiction), and it piqued my interest in postmodernist television narratives. So I wanted to think and write a bit about how postmodernist comedy writing on several contemporary TV shows shares many elements with the Millennial Generation’s defining traits. This isn’t really a new revelation, but it’s one worth exploring in more depth – it may help us supply Millennial qualities with some context.

So, first, a few key factors of literary postmodernism that I will consider, as described in Literary Theory:

  1. a tendency toward reflexivity, or self-consciousness, about the production of the work of art, so that each piece calls attention to its own status as a production, as something constructed and consumed in particular ways.
  2. an emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous narratives, and random-seeming collages of different materials, and, contrary to modernism, celebrates the ensuing incoherence and nonsense.

Millennials —yes, they can

They have not generally gotten involved with candidates or issues because “Millennials perceive politics as a polarized debate with no options for compromise or nuance,” in the words of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. They don’t want to be limited by political party affiliation. They care about issues important to their “community” and will work with anyone who can get something done.

But they are impatient. That is why so many seemed to drift away from President Barack Obama as the healthcare debate dragged on and partisanship in Washington got out of hand. For nearly a year and a half their parents’ and grandparents’ generations argued over what — to many — seemed like petty details. They tuned out not because they didn’t care but because they were bored.

Now that there actually is a healthcare bill, it will be fascinating to see if they are willing to re-engage. The Obama campaign showed how to communicate with and motivate this generation in 2008. Re-engaging them will be crucial to the president’s reelection and, arguably, to Democrats’ congressional future. There are 44 million Millennials eligible to vote, which is about 20 percent of the electorate. Most of them are independents — at least in their voting patterns. Recent polls show independents drifting away from the Republican Party as a result of the angry debate in Washington.

Millennials do faith and politics their way

[…] The core finding of Pew’s “Religion Among the Millennials” report is that young Americans are “less religiously affiliated” than their elders. In fact, one in four of Americans ages 18 to 29 do not affiliate with any particular religious group. This is not entirely unexpected, since it is a sociological truism that young people cultivate some distance from the religious institutions of their parents, only to return to those institutions as they marry, raise children and slouch toward retirement. According to Pew, however, “Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle … and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults.”

This is an important finding because it provides strong evidence for the loosening of religion’s grip on American life. Or does it?

[…] This liberal turn will not necessarily convert young people into Democrats, however, because “Democrat,” too, is a brand most Millennials are unwilling to call their own. Even so, the new data do lay bare the so-called new conservatism of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party not as the next new thing but as the last paroxysm of a spent revolution.

Both the Tea Party activists and their beloved Palin are as white as Alaskan snow, but the American population is increasingly brown; 19% of Millennials are Hispanic and 14% are black. No religious or political movement propelled by white rage (or for that matter by the fury of retirees) will have legs in the America this new generation is making.

One of the big stories of the past few decades in American religion has been the decline of the mainline denominations at the expense of evangelical megachurches. One of the big stories of the next few decades in American politics could be the decline of the major political parties at the expense of grassroots (and “cyberroots”) initiatives. As Boomers yield power to Millennials, the political movements that succeed will look less like the Southern Baptist Convention and more like your local non-denominational church. They will be browner, more comfortable with rapid change, higher tech, more upbeat and unworried by tattoos.

The Coming End of the Culture Wars

The term “culture wars” dates back to a 1991 book by academic James Davison Hunter who argued that cultural issues touching on family and religious values, feminism, gay rights, race, guns, and abortion had redefined American politics. Going forward, bitter conflicts around these issues would be the fulcrum of politics in a polarized nation, he theorized.

It did look like he might have a point for a while. Conservatives especially seemed happy to take a culture wars approach, reasoning that political debate around these issues would both mobilize their base and make it more difficult for progressives to benefit from their edge on domestic policy issues such as the economy and health care. This approach played an important role in conservative gains during the early part of the Clinton administration and in the impeachment drama of the late 1990s, which undercut progressive legislative strategies. And the culture wars certainly contributed to conservative George W. Bush’s presidential victories in 2000 and 2004.

Yet these issues have lately been conspicuous by their absence. Looking back on Barack Obama’s historic victory in 2008, culture wars issues not only had a very low profile in the campaign, but where conservatives did attempt to raise them, these issues did them little good. Indeed, conservatives were probably more hurt than helped by such attempts— witness the effect of the Sarah Palin nomination.

Attempts to revive the culture wars have been similarly unsuccessful since the election. Sarah Palin’s bizarre trajectory, culminating in her surprise resignation from the Alaska governorship, has only made culture war politics appear even more out of touch. And culture warriors’ shrill attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor have conspicuously failed to turn public opinion against her.