Perils of a dying language

From the Guardian, the last two speakers of Ayapaneco won’t talk to each other:

The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken in the land now known as Mexico for centuries. It has survived the Spanish conquest, seen off wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now, like so many other indigenous languages, it’s at risk of extinction.

There are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, live 500 metres apart in the village of Ayapa in the tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco. It is not clear whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance, but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each other’s company.

“They don’t have a lot in common,” says Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist from Indiana University, who is involved with a project to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco. Segovia, he says, can be “a little prickly” and Velazquez, who is “more stoic,” rarely likes to leave his home.

With thanks to this delightful article on the demise of non-ASL sign languages.  I admire these people’s commitment to tradition, although even I would say that when you’re down to a handful of speakers/signers, it’s time to let it die.

Democratic consensus not so strong as we had been led to believe

At the Journal of Democracy, Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk review data from recent World Values Surveys indicating growing rejection of democracy in the younger generation–not just dissatisfaction with elected leaders but with the liberal democratic structure. (Hat tip to First Things.)  Excerpts:

The decline in support for democracy is not just a story of the young being more critical than the old; it is, in the language of survey research, owed to a “cohort” effect rather than an “age” effect. Back in 1995, for example, only 16 percent of Americans born in the 1970s (then in their late teens or early twenties) believed that democracy was a “bad” political system for their country. Twenty years later, the number of “antidemocrats” in this same generational cohort had increased by around 4 percentage points, to 20 percent. The next cohort—comprising those born in the 1980s—is even more antidemocratic: In 2011, 24 percent of U.S. millennials (then in their late teens or early twenties) considered democracy to be a “bad” or “very bad” way of running the country. Although this trend was somewhat more moderate in Europe, it was nonetheless significant: In 2011, 13 percent of European youth (aged 16 to 24) expressed such a view, up from 8 percent among the same age group in the mid-1990s (see Figure 2).

Historically, citizens have been more likely to engage in protests when they are young. So it is striking that, in the United States, one in eleven baby-boomers has joined a demonstration in the past twelve months, but only one in fifteen millennials has done so. In Europe, the picture is a little more mixed: Young respondents are more likely than older ones to have attended protests in the course of the past twelve months, but they do so at lower levels than previous cohorts did at the same age. This decline in political engagement is even more marked for such measures as active membership in new social movements. Participation in humanitarian and human-rights organizations, for example, is about half as high among the young as among older age cohorts. Thus we find that millennials across Western Europe and North America are less engaged than their elders, both in traditional forms of political participation and in oppositional civic activity.

In the past three decades, the share of U.S. citizens who think that it would be a “good” or “very good” thing for the “army to rule”—a patently undemocratic stance—has steadily risen. In 1995, just one in sixteen respondents agreed with that position; today, one in six agree. While those who hold this view remain in the minority, they can no longer be dismissed as a small fringe, especially since there have been similar increases in the number of those who favor a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliament and elections” and those who want experts rather than the government to “take decisions” for the country. Nor is the United States the only country to exhibit this trend. The proportion agreeing that it would be better to have the army rule has risen in most mature democracies, including Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Similarly, while 43 percent of older Americans, including those born between the world wars and their baby-boomer children, do not believe that it is legitimate in a democracy for the military to take over when Figure 3—The Widening “Political Apathy Gap” 53% 41% 48% 38% 63% 67% 52% 52% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 1990 2010 1990 2010 United States Europe Interested in Politics 16-35 36+ Note: We compared the shares of U.S. and European respondents who reported being “fairly interested” or “very interested” in politics across two age cohorts: those 16 to 35 years old and those 36 or older. European countries included in both waves (constant sample) are Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, and Sweden. Number of valid responses: United States, 1990: 1,812; United States, 2011: 2,210; Europe, 1990–93: 13,588; Europe, 2010–12: 8,771. Source: World Values Surveys, Waves 2 (1990–94) and 6 (2010–14). Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk 13 the government is incompetent or failing to do its job, the figure among millennials is much lower at 19 percent. In Europe, the generation gap is somewhat less stark but equally clear, with 53 percent of older Europeans and only 36 percent of millennials strongly rejecting the notion that a government’s incompetence can justify having the army “take over.”

The idea that support for military rule has markedly increased among wealthy citizens of long-established liberal democracies is so counterintuitive that it naturally invites skepticism. Yet it is consistent with similar survey items that measure citizens’ openness to other authoritarian alternatives. In the United States, among all age cohorts, the share of citizens who believe that it would be better to have a “strong leader” who does not have to “bother with parliament and elections” has also risen over time: In 1995, 24 percent of respondents held this view; by 2011, that figure had increased to 32 percent. Meanwhile, the proportion of citizens who approve of “having experts, not government, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country” has grown from 36 to 49 percent. One reason for these changes is that whereas two decades ago affluent citizens were much more likely than people of lower income groups to defend democratic institutions, the wealthy are now moderately more likely than others to favor a strong leader who can ignore democratic institutions (see Figure 4 below).

This is not all good news.  Rule by experts is arguably the natural outcome of liberalism, and desire for it indicates an unfortunate faith in the Leftist nonelected government, while desire for a strong leader may just reflect eight years of adulation of President Obama by the media.  Still, a quarter of young Americans were willing to say that democracy is a bad form of government.  I would never have expected this.  We anti-democrats have the impression, based on mainstream political discourse, of being a completely marginal minority, but this is not true.  The World War II propaganda is starting to wear off, and children who grow up on the narrative of Western wickedness will be less likely to accept its current political arrangement as obviously superior.  Could this be the moment for we authoritarians to make our case?

Categorizing Islam

Richard Spenser and Msgr. Stuart Swetland have been having an argument about whether Catholics are allowed to dissent from the claim that Islam is a religion of peace.  Msgr. Swetland was running the Newman Center at UIUC back when I was a student there, and I have all good memories of the place and at his “Theology on Tap” discussions.  (At the time, I was more liberal than him.  I can only imagine how horrified he’d be at how I’ve turned out!)  It would be a shame if I were to spiritually imperil myself by failing to welcome the latest Muslim invasion.  But have I?

Swetland helpfully lays out some of the major “magisterial teachings on Islam since VII”.  (Presumably this is because the Church only started making official pronouncements about Islam circa 1960.)  They fall into two broad categories:

  • Doctrinal:  Muslims worship the true God, and they have many true beliefs about Him.
  • Moral:  Muslim morality has a lot going for it, like prayer and almsgiving.  Also, Islam is a religion of peace.  It is non-violent and tolerant.

What a relief–I agree with both of these!  I have argued before that Muslims certainly do succeed in referring to the one actually-existing God, both in their speaking and their worship.  I have also affirmed that Islam is a religion of peace, at least in the same sense that Catholicism and democracy are peaceful.  It aspires to a state of universal tranquility, and it only resorts to violence over what it perceives as egregious, provocative violations of its vision of right order.  I believe I have even affirmed here and there that Islam is theoretically more tolerant than liberalism, in that it can concede some space to something other than itself, whereas liberalism will brook no deviation from “equality”, “non-discrimination”, and “tolerance”.

The above evaluate Islam according to the categories of truth and morality.  They do not address how Islam is to be evaluated according to a third, completely independent, category–the political categorization of friend vs. enemy.  The friend/ally is not necessarily ideologically correct, the enemy/threat is not necessarily morally bad, and so forth.  The question does not pertain directly to the essence of Islam at all, but rather to its causal influence on the Catholic Church and the historic people of Christendom.  In terms of the friend/enemy distinction, it is abundantly clear that Islam is an enemy.  Consider the following:

  • Muslims in the West always ally politically with the anti-Christian Left.
  • Even if they didn’t, the presence of large numbers of Muslims in Christian lands would destroy the ability of Christianity and the civilization it created to continue functioning as a common culture in these lands.  Given the extreme aggressiveness shown by Muslims, even modest numbers of them lead to the de facto banishment of Christianity from public life and the establishment of Islam as a privileged faith immune to public criticism.
  • Muslims continue to savagely persecute Christians in the Middle East.  (Pope Benedict’s statement that middle eastern Christians have “let themselves be challenged by Muslim devotion and piety”, quoted by Swetland, is unintentionally funny.  That’s one way of putting it.)  In Europe, even as a small percentage, they have already begun terrorizing us and harassing our women.  (Of course, it’s only a minority that do this.  Most of the Muslims being settled in your town won’t be raping your daughters.  Doesn’t that make you feel better?)  One needn’t, and shouldn’t, make assumptions from this fact about any individual Muslim one meets, but one certainly can have statistically reliable expectations about what effects a large cohort of Muslims will have.
  • The behavior of the Catholic Church over the first millennium of Islam’s existence, particularly that sanctioned by the popes, is explicable only in terms of a response to a threat.

So, as long as one keeps the three categories straight–doctrinal, moral, and political–one can affirm Catholic teaching and practice through her long centuries dealing with this terrible foe.

Is it possible to praise other civilizations without denigrating the West?

Fred Reed at The Unz Review wrote an interesting article on the intellectual achievements of the Mayan civilization.  The punchline:

It is interesting that Europe invented neither writing, zero, nor its number system, but the Mesoamericans did all three. Perhaps the Indians were enstupidated by the admixture of Spanish blood.

Usually essays about the admirable qualities of Native American societies are at least as much about the immorality of the West, but this actually read more like an essay on medieval Islamic civilization.  I’m sure you’ve encountered the type.  I have no problem with Muslims having things to be proud of, and it actually fits best with my worldview if our great rival monotheists created one of the more accomplished civilizations, but I cringe every time I start reading about the greatness of Islamic civilization.  I know that what I’m about to read will take a great deal of space belaboring the barbarism, illiteracy, and stupidity of Europe.  And it does, every time.

Can we just lay off the shortcomings of the West for a while, dammit?  After all, writing had already been invented before our civilization started, so we couldn’t have invented it no matter how ingenious we were.  As for zero, that’s a rare accomplishment.  Not having come up with it on our own doesn’t make the West stand out negatively among the dozen or so civilizations of world history.  Pick any breakthrough, and most of the world’s civilizations will not have developed it independently.

I’ll repeat what I said before:  the most astounding accomplishment of any civilization is its very existence, the fact that it created a distinct way of human life.  We should never let ourselves think that our worth as a people depends on these silly accomplishment competitions.

Progressives pursuing their millennium: a reconsideration of neoreactionary and orthospheric approaches

I was kindly invited to participate in a recent Ascending the Tower podcast by Social Matter.  It’s now accessible here.  The subject of discussion was “Progressive Millenarianism”.  I’m clearly the least charismatic of the bunch.  Also, Sabrina got very upset after a while that I was at home but in another room not playing with her, so I had to mute myself and give her my attention for some long stretches.  I may have missed some interesting comments, but I doubt I’ll go back and listen to the recording myself, for fear of learning what I really sound like.

For a long time, conservatives have been accusing liberals of being utopians, of being excessive both in their condemnation of current realities and their ambitions for the future, of trying to build heaven on Earth.  The trouble with such complaints is that we can come off sounding as if there is something inherently wrong with condemning injustice or with trying to fix problems.  Of course, both of these are in fact very good things.  So what are we really getting at with this criticism?

Continue reading

On all religions wanting peace

Do all religions want peace, as Pope Francis says?  Probably yes, but that doesn’t imply what His Holiness thinks.  The more interesting question is whether there is a single arrangement of peace that all religions can agree is tolerable.

Catholics must resist cosmopolitan universalism

First Things has published a truly dreadful article–Catholics Must Resist Ethno-Nationalism.  Excerpts:

Whatever else is said about the election of 2016, we will remember this campaign for the reemergence of explicit ethno-nationalism as a force in American politics. Rather than listing and litigating the well-publicized instances of pandering to white identity politics that have marked this campaign, let me make some personal observations that I believe are widely shared…

This neo-nativism is based on the myth of “white heritage” (about which Congressman Steve King of Iowa stupidly held forth during the Republican National Convention). It is, on the one hand, an understandable (if not excusable) reaction to the solidarity-starved society of secular liberalism. It is also, however, a peculiarly dangerous American tradition—the modern descendant of the laws and social codes once used to exclude everyone but northern European Protestants from full participation in American life.

It is a scandal for any Catholic to support such ideas and the political movements animated by them—not just because they violate Church teaching, but because they betray our history in this country. These Catholics would be exchanging the only social force that can provide a foundation for a healthy and humane solidarity—the Faith—for the emotional affirmation of a mythical cultural identity. They would become what they claim to hate: relativists who cling to a politically-useful identity rather than to enduring truth…

When we hear a black man describe police violence; when we hear an undocumented immigrant describe exploitative labor; when we hear a prisoner describe institutionalized brutalization; when we hear a young gay woman describe homelessness—our first response must not be to attempt to discredit, to rationalize, to explain away. Rather, we must give them the credit we would expect others to give to us, and try to understand experiences that differ substantially from our own. When white Catholics stand in distant, dispassionate judgment of the experiences of people outside our comfortable mainstream, we betray both the gospel and our forebears in this country.

This doesn’t mean credulously accepting every narrative or policy proposal that is accompanied by a claim of oppression; we still have to apply our rational faculties. It does mean treating every story with the solicitude we would reflexively grant to members of our own economic, social, racial, and religious tribes.

After all, every sign suggests the Catholic experience in America is reverting to the historic mean. As our politics accelerates its drift from Catholic teaching on marriage, family, and justice—and as the liberal norms that provided a hint of insulation from adverse political and economic power wither—we should expect to find ourselves marginalized and excluded from full participation in American life once again.

Some observations:

  • From the way commenters talk, one would never guess that it is the Democrats who have based their campaign on stoking racial strife while the Republicans have been pushing a nonracial nationalism.  I guess for some people it’s hatred when white people don’t agree with our demonization fast enough.
  • Steve King is supposedly stupid for claiming that Western Civilization is second to none.  One might have supposed that Catholics would take some pride as Catholics in Western civilization, a thing that was in no small part our creation.  Instead, the only history American Catholics are to remember is being poor and poorly regarded recent immigrants in America.
  • Yes, I know, everyone has a good reason to try to jump on the victim bandwagon.  “We Irish didn’t used to be white!”  Sure, when the rioting negroes come to your neighborhood, see how impressed they are with that.  Any straight Catholic with white skin had better understand right now that he will never be accepted into the victims club.
  • What is impressive is the ingratitude to the host population.  Even many generations later, Catholics are supposed to automatically take the side of mass importation from anywhere and despise any concern to preserve the current home culture, as a matter of loyalty to our own “history”.  What better proof could one want that 19th century nativists were right to oppose Catholic immigration?  What better proof could one want that they were right to regard the immigrants as being not of them?  (Note I am here acknowledging that they were right to want to keep out my own ancestors.) Presumably the next batch of immigrants, who look even less like the now-hated-in-their-own-homeland WASPs, will be no different.
  • Any kind of particular loyalty to a cultural or biological group is now to be regarded as a form of “relativism” and incompatible with Catholicism?
  • “the black man..police violence…an undocumented immigrant…exploitative labor…a young gay woman…”  Good God, First Things is going full Social Justice Warrior.  Rather than concern for everyone, this list clearly evidences conformity to what the media dictates should be the objects of our solicitude and uncritical affirmation.Of course, “this doesn’t mean credulously accepting” every demand from official victims, but we’re not allowed to judge their claims dispassionately either, so in fact it pretty much does mean credulously accepting whatever they say.
  • “It does mean treating every story with the solicitude we would reflexively grant to members of our own economic, social, racial, and religious tribes.”  There, there is where we disagree!  This moral principle, expounded as if self-evident, is in fact completely insane.  If I can’t show special solicitude to members of my own tribe, in what meaningful sense can I be said to have a tribe at all?  What could a tribe be, if it doesn’t involve a particular group of people to whom I owe particular concern?  Take the principle to its ultimate logical conclusion:  “I must show equal solicitude toward the needs of every human being on Earth as I do toward my own children.”  This principle, which seems to sound so lofty to so many, is in fact monstrous, tyrannical, and inhuman.  And the Church has never embraced it.
  • You notice how “religious tribes” was snuck in toward the end.  For most of the article, it seemed the point was to be true to our American Catholic identity rather than make common cause with the WASPs.  But this is insufficient for its ultimate purpose, because, whatever the case for issues of hispanic Catholic immigration, we Catholics surely do have good Catholic-tribal reason to make common cause with the WASPs against the Mohammedan hordes.  But a general principle of universalism won’t even allow that.
  • It’s true–Americans are becoming less tolerant of Catholic moral teaching.  Importing millions of Democrat voters won’t help with this problem.