Lonesome Purple Hearts and Angry Red Ones: Love and Contempt in a Divided Red Tribe

 

Red America, blue America. It’s a crude categorization, but useful. According to Rachel Lu, the red tribe is the tribe of traditional, transcendent bourgeois values, while the blue tribe is the tribe of neo-Epicureanism, which by its nature is shallow and tepid. According to Charles Murray, the red tribe professes traditional values while struggling to practice them, while the blue tribe, for the most part, lives out these values while failing to profess them. According to Mark Regnerus, when it comes to the specific traditional values of chastity and stable family formation, while both tribes are far from paragons, on average the red tribe fails a lot harder than the blue tribe does, even though it’s the red tribe, not the blue, which promulgates language like “chastity” and “family values”. If you stop looking at averages though, something interesting happens: the red tribe splits. Red-tribe children who inherit exceptional amounts of social capital (which arises from networks of shared social norms, including trust and reciprocity) are more sexually virtuous than their blue peers, while red-tribe children with low social capital are so much less sexually virtuous than their blue peers that it drags the whole red average down below that of the blue.

This sexual split points to a more general split among conservatives: the red tribe can be crudely divided into two tribes, both of whom profess a zeal for cultural capital, but only one of which has secure access to cultural capital. (There’s not complete agreement on what social and cultural capital are, but for this essay, cultural capital includes social capital, along with other accumulated cultural riches.) As much as blue-tribe language tends to denigrate the value of the West’s cultural capital, blue-tribe children enjoy better access to that capital than many red-tribe children do. However, there’s a class of purple children – typically red-tribe children raised in blue milieus – who achieve cultural-capital royalty: whatever struggles they face, access to cultural goods, whether moral, intellectual, or aesthetic, isn’t really one of them. They inherit not just the red-tribe zeal for cultural capital, but blue-tribe access to it, an access which differs not only in quantity (more of it) from average red access, but also in kind (probably less NASCAR and more Shakespeare – brows a little higher rather than lower).

Blue-tribe access to it. How does the blue tribe maintain good access to something it publicly professes not to value much? Evidently, it must be by doing rather than saying. Culture isn’t just something you have worthy or unworthy opinions about, it’s also something you do. And a lot of blues still do it, even if their opinions about why it’s worth doing are unworthy. To be too much in enmity with the blues is to put yourself at odds with many of the vehicles still left for passing on the great achievements of our culture. Reds routinely decry the corruption of academic and arts organizations, for example, but so far have had scanty success forming organizations of their own to pass down the treasure of Western knowledge and beauty. For all the nonsense on college campuses, for all the schlock modern arts organizations promote, colleges still harbor teachers with genuine love for whatever little corner of Western heritage is their expertise and arts organizations still exhibit works of transcendent beauty. These dreaded blue, “elitists” milieus might make piss-poor advocates of the traditions they enjoy, but many in these milieus still enjoy aspects of those traditions, and in enjoying them, keep them going, at least for another generation.

Another Murray, Douglas Murray, worries about the suicidality of Western elites, sensing in their blue hearts neither political nor aesthetic zeal for the transcendent cultural values he is so zealous for:

In particular, it [the art of our time] has given up that desire to connect us to something like the spirit of religion or that thrill of recognition – what Aristotle termed anagnorisis – which grants you the sense of having just caught up with a truth that was always waiting for you.

It may be that this sense only occurs if you tap into a profound truth and that the desire to do so is something of which artists, like almost everyone else, have become suspicious or incapable.

Murray is, like many well-educated and successful conservatives, a purple princeling, enjoying both red zeal for his culture and blue access to it. When your zeal is especially ardent, the gap between your zeal and insufficient zeal can seem so great that insufficient zeal seems like no zeal at all. The most zealous of the purple tribe seem prone to a despair born from outstanding love. This despair for their culture is realistic, they argue: the elites’ blue heart are frozen hearts, whose love for their own culture is dead. But, to paraphrase Wodehouse, if you’re so warm-hearted you should have to wear asbestos vests, how good are you at telling a frozen heart from one that’s merely tepid?

Tepid isn’t good enough. But neither is it as bad as freezing to death. According to Roger Scruton, “[T]he Left is united by hatred, but we are united by love: love of our country, love of institutions, love of the law, love of family, and so on. And what makes us conservatives is the desire to protect those things, and we’re up against people who want to destroy them, and it’s very simple.” If Lu’s formulation is correct, though, and the blue tribe is a bunch of neo-Epicureans, while it’s obvious there are blue haters out there, it seems unlikely that the blue tribe would be united by hatred: Epicureanism is too tepid to love fiercely, but that’s not the same as hating. While I suspect many blue individuals harbor yearnings which transcend Epicureanism, I agree Lu’s label “neo-Epicureanism” is a fair description of what blues as a whole can admit to having in common with one another. Some blues are colder than Epicurean, and in my personal experience (perhaps I’m just lucky), several are warmer. But whatever the temperature of individual blue hearts, the blue elites as a population strike conservatives as spoiled and listless, listless even unto death from the perspective of the most warm-hearted conservatives.

This listlessness, even if it’s not suicidal, entails a certain cruelty. It seems to me that conservatives are split on whether this cruelty is deliberate or inadvertent. Those who side with Scruton see it as deliberate, as hatred. I see it as inadvertent. This cruelty involves having – often controlling – access to the West’s cultural wealth, but failing to “spread the wealth around”, as it were. Charles Murray calls it blues failing to preach what they practice. Purple conservatives may merely feel cruelly isolated, little islands of red zeal awash in a blue ocean that’s teeming with cultural capital but coolly indifferent to its own riches. To “angry red” conservatives (“angry red” describes an oranger red hue untinged by blue) more alienated from the cultural capital blues enjoy, blues’ unwillingness to advocate for the West’s cultural heritage despite enjoying it for themselves seems far more sinister:

If you’re deep purple, because your access to the riches of Western culture is secure, you can more easily bond with blues over preservation of that culture, even if the blues are only preserving it for Epicurean reasons. The bond may come so easily that it’s easy to overlook that these blues are cooperating with you to sustain something you love: instead, what’s easiest to notice is that they do not love it as you do. The warmer your purple heart, the more understandable it is to feel lonely in your transcendent zeal among a bunch of Epicureans. Nonetheless, you’re not alienated. If you’re angry red, though, your access to these cultural riches is not secure. You’re more likely to be alienated, to feel cut off from the cultural capital that blues still enjoy and hence pass on, even if blues haven’t got a grand defense for why they pass it on. Indeed, the fact that blues still enjoy it and pass it on makes it seem as if blues are asserting their power to take your culture away from you!

A purple conservative might meet a blue Shakespeare enthusiast and thinks of the blue’s enthusiasm, “Awesome, Shakespeare!” In this scenario, shared love of as little as one strand of the West’s heritage can serve as a common bond, despite politics, opening the way for a cooperation which actually does quite a bit to pass on that heritage. Angry red conservatives meeting a blue Shakespeare enthusiast are more likely to suspect the blue’s enthusiasm of corrupting and depriving – “The blues took our jobs and our guns, now they’re taking our Shakespeare, too!” That is, if they can even conceive of Shakespeare as “theirs” anymore. When your own connection to your cultural heritage feels insecure and alienating, the defensive posture that views what might just be a cultural interest in common as attacking and subverting the last shreds left of your culture is much easier to adopt. This goes for moral alienation, too. Angry reds, deprived of blue levels of social capital, feel abandoned and morally threatened by current culture – unprotected.

Blues tend to suspect that angry reds’ alienation from both social capital and the West’s higher culture is, at bottom, angry reds’ choice. Angry reds must not be interested, blues think. Angry reds must even be opposed leading civilized lives! After all, if they weren’t opposed, wouldn’t they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and join the civilized world? The red tribe prides itself on being the bootstrapping tribe, after all.

Even the most pencil-pushing of libertarian economists, though, acknowledge that it’s harder to get more capital when you’ve got less capital to begin with, something which applies to cultural capital, too. Blues, if they know any reds at all, probably know purple reds, not angry reds. Purples largely share blues’ cultural capital, and until quite recently, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to blues that angry reds might differ from purples in this respect without having chosen turn their backs on civilizing culture. To blues, it seems as if angry reds are angry because they’re petty, bigoted, shiftless, and ignorant through willful perversity, which is of course a remarkably cruel way to view your fellow countrymen, far crueler than merely leaving a purple heart a little lonesome in its zeal. Meanwhile, angry reds have cultural zeal that, without adequate cultural capital, is hard to know what to do with, resulting in a touchy pride which, as far as the blues are concerned, affirms the blues’ worst stereotypes of angry reds. This touchy pride may even alienate purples, too, leaving angry reds even touchier, because now they feel betrayed by their own tribe’s cultural leaders.

In a free and equal society, even one where equality before the law permits unlimited inequality in other respects, pretty much everyone finds it contemptible to treat others with a contempt they don’t deserve. When treating others with undeserved contempt is universally found contemptible, we give ourselves permission to show contempt for others by believing they showed contempt for us first. Blues believe angry reds showed contempt for blues first. Angry reds believe blues showed contempt for them first. Purples are stuck in between, increasingly aware that angry reds’ contempt for blues includes purples for their blue attributes, and usually pretty sure that blues’ contempt for the “angriness” of reds includes purples as well. What everyone seems to agree on is that their own contempt is merely a reaction to the other guy’s contempt, which is about the most disagreeable agreement possible.

Fusionist conservatism has in the past referred to a fusion of ideologies. Different social classes might have been more or less attached to differing ideologies, but the focus was on a mix of ideas, traditionalist, libertarian, and hawkish. Conservatives today, though, are splitting into two tribes by cultural capital, purple and angry red, with the blue tribe’s tepid Epicurean, but nonetheless substantial, access to cultural capital coming between them. How to fuse these two tribes isn’t obvious. Deep purples with strikingly different ideologies from each other may nonetheless fall into affinity fairly easily, in part because past fusionism has been so successful, but also because neither is likely to feel dispossessed of the cultural riches the other one enjoys. Angry reds, on the other hand, do feel dispossessed, and while they blame blue elites for this, it’s hard for that blame to avoid including the purples, especially since, if you measure “blueness” by access to cultural capital (something I suspect many instinctively do), purples are even “bluer” than blues, their blue cultural access enriched by red-tribe teachings.

Purple hearts, for their own part, seem to risk a lonesome ardency which breeds despair. I don’t know how much of this lonesomeness stems from feeling like the odd warm heart stranded amidst cold blue hearts and how much of it stems from the high value that purples – often quite rightly – put on emotional reserve. I’m sure it’s usually a good thing for a heart aflame with love to be primly contained in an asbestos vest rather than flung about on one’s sleeve to catch random things afire and burn them down. But if Scruton is right about conservatives being united by love – and I hope he is – we often have obscure ways of showing it to one another, mutual contempt being the strangest way of all.

Moderators at Ricochet are naturally on the lookout for mutual contempt, in hopes of quelling it. Contempt is of course quite the prima donna, easily swanning in to upstage more wholesome engagement. But despite having to actively watch for contempt, I see lots of love on Ricochet, too. This love is quieter, more reserved – this is the internet and we are conservatives, after all. Because it’s so self-effacing, the love attracts less attention. I’m unsure, honestly, of how to draw attention to this love without spoiling what makes it wholesome and true rather than vain “virtue signaling”. But I doubt the two red tribes can stay together unless it’s possible to draw attention to love between them, rather than contempt.

This is a response to @rachellu’s piece, “Bourgeois Culture Isn’t Coming Back”.

There are 52 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Fascinating, Midge! The love is there, but more subtle, and perhaps protected, because it feels like it’s under threat. There is also the complication of every tribe being on a spectrum, which must feel confusing and deadly to the purples: where do I belong, who are my colleagues? Lots to think about. Thank you.

    • #1
  2. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    So, does Epicureanism mean that blues do the right things simply because they lead to good outcomes and not because of some transcendent truth?

    I struggle with understanding where I fall in this spectrum since I believe in transcendent truth, but I also believe truth and good outcomes are intrinsically linked. A good hunk of the reason why things are true are because they almost always lead to the best outcomes.

    Though, I’m not a utilitarian, maximizing utility isn’t the only good.

    I think there are plenty of blues that believe in transcendent truth. I don’t think devout Christian liberals are faking it or are simply Epicureans that enjoy the trappings of their faith.

    • #2
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Great post, Midge. It’s tough being objective about people we genuinely disagree with, and that’s a problem for both sides. It’s just as tough being objective about the virtues of our own side, of our own allies. It’s hard enough being sure of our own motivations, let alone coming up with accurate guesses about those on the other side.

    I don’t trust people who say, “See? There’s no difference. Everyone’s the same”. But I equally distrust people who blithely say, as I’ve sometimes seen on Ricochet, that we feel the way we do because we’re extraordinarily wonderful human beings, whereas the blue tribe are soul-deprived shallow tyranny-lovers who only claim they believe this stuff because their Alinskyite masters demand it.

    • #3
  4. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    A powerful and beautiful essay.

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: How to fuse these two tribes isn’t obvious.

    I have to wonder if this is a different version of an old problem: assimilating immigrants. I heard wonderful stories from my second-generation Italian mother-in-law and third-generation Irish father-in-law about how they met (an unlikely event, given the way the Boston area had split itself up into ethnic neighborhoods) and married (their wedding actually got a mention in the local paper because half the church was quite noticeably Irish and the other half, quite noticeably Italian).

    I think one reason we are having difficulty today is that we have let our good manners lapse. When I was volunteering in my kids’ classrooms, the teachers and I did not share the same manners at all. Those good manners that I was brought up with allowed for a lot of civil interaction that can’t happen today because people don’t follow them. One good example: the teachers would often ask the kids in an open-class setting where they had gone on their summer vacation. Wow. For kids who had played in their driveway all summer, that was isolating. I was often shocked to see teachers not include everyone in the class in the conversation.

    But I held onto a bright light in my years as a volunteer. We had a magnificent public school string program, and because of the good it did for the hundreds of children–rich and poor–who participated, it was where I ended up spending most of my volunteer time, even though I cannot play an instrument or read music.

    We can, as individuals, do a lot to soften these cultural edges.

    A beautiful post. Thank you.

    • #4
  5. skipsul Member
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    I’ve been wondering if “Epicurean” is even the right lens to view this.  Perhaps Dilettantism is a better descriptor.  Many of the “Blues” I know, at least on the cultural side of things, favor the culture they do because it is what they have been taught to value.  They go to Picnic With Pops, and take their children, because it is what is expected of them to do.  Not that they do not enjoy it, I know they do, but they also know that it would be horribly déclassé of them to ever admit to a love of NASCAR (with its dirty, pollution spewing cars and violent wrecks), while it is supremely important in their social milieu to be seen as the sort of people who do support the symphony, go to Shakespeare in the Park, and have their children read the “right” sort of books.

    • #5
  6. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Blues tend to suspect that angry reds’ alienation from both social capital and the West’s higher culture is, at bottom, angry reds’ choice. Angry reds must not be interested, blues think. Angry reds must even be opposed leading civilized lives!

    An observation based upon my own experience as a purple conservative (deep red living in a deep blue community): Blues are just as likely to suspect angry reds’ alienation is the result of reds being stupid, as opposed to it being a choice. It’s so much easier to look down upon someone when you feel superior to them.

    I’m still reading the rest of this great essay, and am looking forward to further discussion.

    • #6
  7. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    skipsul (View Comment):
    I’ve been wondering if “Epicurean” is even the right lens to view this.

    I have had this thought, too, and come to the working conclusion that “epicurean” is actually pretty accurate. Epicurus taught that the only transcendent truth was that there is no higher power to which we must answer; if there were any gods, they were far too interested in their own heavenly realm to be interested in the physical world. Rather, the universe operates upon fixed physical principles, and matter simply cycles through states of being from atoms to gases, liquids and solids, and back again. There is no “grand design,” and the universe just “is” as it appears to be. If this is so, then our short times upon this earth ought to be focused upon living a pleasing and pleasurable life. Happiness is found in practicing a life of temperate and simple pleasures, avoiding the hotter passions that might burn out of control. Life can be lived for one’s own pleasure, because there is nothing beyond this, but giving free rein to one’s passion leads to unpleasant consequences.

    Seems to me the “neo-epicurean” is a pretty good description. But maybe I’m wrong here?

    • #7
  8. MJBubba Member
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    I suspect you would count me as an “angry red.”

    I live in a purple suburb of a blue city in a red state.  I enjoy the cultural capital of my prosperous purple suburb.

    Typically, about once per year there is a stage production of Shakespeare available to us.  Of course, the blues are in charge.

    The most recent production was “Julius Caesar” portrayed by an all-female cast.

    Snooks refused to go.

    • #8
  9. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

     

    Your descriptors, I think I can apply, but I don’t fully understand the implications you attempt to make. The split you seem to attempt to make sounds more rural vs urban than transcendant vs epicurean.

    I am (and perhaps you are, too) a slightly urban transcendant. But not all rurals are transcendant and not all urbans are epicurean. My experience with blues vs reds (my external family is blue) is that they have no issue using shame to push “proper” behavior – avoid a scandal, avoid looking bad, be perfect.

    Shame is used in the opposite direction in your failing red-tribe. Don’t be judgemental, stop being a goody-goody.

    Elites might be epicurean, but they may base their values from the knowledge that they derive their status from many who are transcendant thinkers.

    As to cultural access, Rurals are going to have less access to culture than urbans simply by geographical arrangement. It is costly to build access and generally can only be done through wealthy benefactors in rural zones and is largely supported by charity. Urban zones have more options.

    • #9
  10. skipsul Member
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    MJBubba (View Comment):
    The most recent production was “Julius Caesar” portrayed by an all-female cast.

     

    I’m afraid to ask who played Calpurnia.

    • #10
  11. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    Midge, this is a beautiful essay, and you say much that is true, but I am not convinced that red tribe anger at the blue tribe has very much to do with the blue tribe being in charge of Shakespeare, nowadays. My husband might qualify as purple; he attended a very posh all boys’ school in Europe, where he was taught all things artistic and cultural. He can run circles around virtually any blue American who wants to talk about art and classical music, and his knowledge of those subjects has come in very handy in his career as a salesman-many blues are very impressed with the sophisticated European who knows more about Mozart than they do, but my husband’s relationship with them is strictly professional- he chose to marry a woman who doesn’t know squat about Mozart, and all of his friends are working class guys; his best friend drove a taxi, and sadly died a year ago. In general, he just likes red people more than blue people-he likes the people who are not impressed with his sophisticated Europeaness far more than the people who are. He would love to have a friend with whom he could discuss Mozart, but so many blues are so caught up in their own self image, which often depends on having reds to feel superior to, that they just are not fun to be around. Their love affair with all things European is unseemly. Even my very European husband finds it unseemly. I don’t doubt that blues love Western culture generally, I question whether they love America in particular. I am sick of being lectured to by them about Europe, and my husband is sick of it too. When I cool off from being angry with them, it occurs to me that maybe they have some kind of inferiority complex? I don’t understand how else to explain why they distance themselves from other Americans and are always trying to cozy up to Europeans.

    I am totally fine with blues being in charge of classical music. I just wish that were the only thing they were in charge of, and at this particular moment, I say that not in anger but in sorrow. I think they are very sad people.

    Midge, your love of culture is obviously very genuine, and that is definitely the case for some blues, but not all. Many just use their cultural knowledge as a weapon with which to bludgeon others. Too many of them are posers.

    • #11
  12. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Yo-Yo Ma plays blue grass:

    • #12
  13. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @nandapanjandrum

    skipsul (View Comment):
    Dilettantism

    Spot on, Skip!

    • #13
  14. doulalady Member
    doulalady
    @doulalady
    • #14
  15. doulalady Member
    doulalady
    @doulalady

    I think the problem is snobbery.

    Blues are not just epicurean because it tastes good but  because it also makes them appealing to fellow Blue epicureans. Hence the constant virtue signaling.

    Red epicurians just like the taste and don’t give a darn what anyone else thinks. They don’t need to be surrounded by people who feel the same about everything. The tribalism that needs to spoil everything by making it all about Blueness just ticks them off.

    It’s the Blue’s very unclassy version of a class system.

    Growing up in England I could tell somebody’s class before they even opened their mouth to speak. I could adjust my conversational style and mannerisms to their predictable comfort level. It was about mores, good will, and good manners.

    Snobs always made/make it about distaste, aversion, and exclusion.

    • #15
  16. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Stina (View Comment):
    Your descriptors, I think I can apply, but I don’t fully understand the implications you attempt to make. The split you seem to attempt to make sounds more rural vs urban than transcendant vs epicurean.

    You’re right. Red-vs-blue is largely an urban-rural split. @rachellu, not I, is the expert on Epicureanism – and particularly on neo-Epicureanism since I think that’s her original description. But, given Rachel’s description of neo-Epicureanism in her essay, it did seem to fit my impressions well enough to get me thinking.

    Red-vs-blue is a lot of things. Rural-vs-urban, “defenders”-vs-“nondefenders”, the preach-practice split I mentioned in the OP, and more. I believe red-vs-blue also relates to the “love” portion (since I disagree with the “hate” portion) of what Scruton said, what I referred to rather whimsically as the temperature of people’s hearts. Reds really do strike me as having more passionate cultural attachment: urbane, erudite reds seem to have this for higher culture, as do less erudite reds for demotic culture.

    I hope Rachel gets back to me on this, but one thing that stood out about her description of neo-Epicureanism was how, well, tepid it seems. Not cold but not warm, either. And certainly not hot-hearted.

    I am (and perhaps you are, too) a slightly urban transcendant. But not all rurals are transcendant and not all urbans are epicurean. My experience with blues vs reds (my external family is blue) is that they have no issue using shame to push “proper” behavior – avoid a scandal, avoid looking bad, be perfect.

    Shame is used in the opposite direction in your failing red-tribe. Don’t be judgemental, stop being a goody-goody.

    Good observation. It seems people will use shame for something, one way or another. Both keeping up appearances and not getting too judgy have their social (and moral) uses. There’s a lot that’s positive about the high expectations blues have of their children, but there’d be no point to having those expectations unless they stood a good chance of being fulfilled – greater cultural capital makes it easier to have higher expectations in all sorts of senses.

    Elites might be epicurean, but they may base their values from the knowledge that they derive their status from many who are transcendant thinkers.

    Yes! Exactly! Hence why I cannot despise Epicureanism too much, especially when it’s interested in what I value. Yes, it can be painful and isolating to know that others don’t love what I love as I do, but if they’re still involved in perpetuating it, even for tepid reasons, that does help it continue.

    As to cultural access, Rurals are going to have less access to culture than urbans simply by geographical arrangement. It is costly to build access and generally can only be done through wealthy benefactors in rural zones and is largely supported by charity. Urban zones have more options.

    Oh, definitely. Density of population is an important factor in social/cultural capital. As I said, there isn’t total agreement on what either social or cultural capital should be, but as far as I know, there’s universal agreement that population density is an important factor, as you say.

    Low social or cultural capital shouldn’t be someone’s fault, it just is. One of the many reasons “capital” seems to be a apt word here is that its detached, economic nature should make it easier to set aside blame, which is certainly what I mean to do in using it. For example, we don’t consider it a moral fault that lower population densities make it harder for people to congregate. We can hope “social capital” and “economic capital” won’t succumb to pejoration. But of course they might.

    • #16
  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    skipsul (View Comment):
    I’ve been wondering if “Epicurean” is even the right lens to view this. Perhaps Dilettantism is a better descriptor…

    Dilettantism is also a good word. @postmodernhoplite‘s answer looks pretty good to me, though:

    Postmodern Hoplite (View Comment):

    skipsul (View Comment):
    I’ve been wondering if “Epicurean” is even the right lens to view this.

    I have had this thought, too, and come to the working conclusion that “epicurean” is actually pretty accurate. Epicurus taught that the only transcendent truth was that there is no higher power to which we must answer; if there were any gods, they were far too interested in their own heavenly realm to be interested in the physical world. Rather, the universe operates upon fixed physical principles, and matter simply cycles through states of being from atoms to gases, liquids and solids, and back again. There is no “grand design,” and the universe just “is” as it appears to be. If this is so, then our short times upon this earth ought to be focused upon living a pleasing and pleasurable life. Happiness is found in practicing a life of temperate and simple pleasures, avoiding the hotter passions that might burn out of control. Life can be lived for one’s own pleasure, because there is nothing beyond this, but giving free rein to one’s passion leads to unpleasant consequences.

    Seems to me the “neo-epicurean” is a pretty good description. But maybe I’m wrong here?

    In any subculture there’s a lot of doing “what’s done” simply because “it’s what’s done”. Because it’s what gives you social standing among your peers. Simply wanting to fit into a culture doesn’t make you good, but, if the culture is good, it can promote habits that preserve good things. It’s one reason going to church really can help with personal faith (assuming the church doesn’t have social dynamics that are too problematic, which some do).

    It is true that when I think of the mostly-blue guys I know (and they’re usually guys, though not always) in blue milieus who’re publicly enthusiastic about something bright red, like NASCAR or country music, they have a zest for it that goes beyond tepid interest. Our high school art teachers were rather interesting in this respect. As the art teachers, they were expected to be the cool, bohemian ones, and one listened to country music and the other to Dr Laura. Neither was ashamed to be thought of as a “hick” in some sense, unlike many other teachers, who would have been mortified to set any kind of example of “hickishness” in the classroom.

     

    • #17
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    MJBubba (View Comment):
    I suspect you would count me as an “angry red.”

    Well, how secure do you feel in your access to cultural capital? Knowing something about your background – engineer, active church participation (angry reds tend to be unchurched), it’s not obvious you’d be angry red rather than purplish red or just plain red. But if you see yourself as more on the angry side of red rather than the purple side, that matters more than what I think.

     

    • #18
  19. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Mike H (View Comment):
    So, does Epicureanism mean that blues do the right things simply because they lead to good outcomes and not because of some transcendent truth?

    Not simply because, no. But blues do seem more comfortable using consequentialist or prudential reasoning as common currency, which does seem “Epicurean”. How we’re used to conforming our justifications to social expectations may actually matter more to tribal identification than our internal moral landscape. Why we really choose what we do is somewhat mysterious. How others expect us to legitimize our choices is generally less so.

    I struggle with understanding where I fall in this spectrum since I believe in transcendent truth, but I also believe truth and good outcomes are intrinsically linked.

    In that respect, it sounds to me like you fall on the “reasonable” part of the spectrum. It’s reasonable to infer transcendent truths bear some relationship to consequences. That by itself doesn’t seem enough to locate your color, though.

    A good hunk of the reason why things are true are because they almost always lead to the best outcomes.

    Though, I’m not a utilitarian, maximizing utility isn’t the only good.

    I think there are plenty of blues that believe in transcendent truth. I don’t think devout Christian liberals are faking it or are simply Epicureans that enjoy the trappings of their faith.

    I don’t think devout Christian liberals are faking it, either. But, having participated in some very blue (so non-red they’re aqua?) congregations as well as redder congregations, fewer questions seem to be asked about a person’s belief in the bluer congregations. That doesn’t mean you can’t believe passionately – you can – but that there’s less social expectation that it really matters. For example, competence, orderliness, and expertise may be what qualify a congregant for various ministry duties in a blue congregation. You may also feel deeply called by God to a particular ministry, but often others won’t pry into whether you do. In redder milieus, prying into your sense of being called or “having a heart for X” is something others are definitely more curious to do!

    I’ve observed some of this can be navigated by code-switching. Maybe if you’re around red Christians, you describe a pious idea that just occurred to you as “laid on your heart”, while maybe you describe the same pious idea as just an idea around blue Christians. In attending Evangelical Bible studies in college, one thing I came to realize is I just didn’t know the jargon. If I knew the jargon, I could have code-switched to fit in better, without changing my belief in any way, just changing how I talked about it.

    One thing to ask, of course, is, is it so bad if some church members are there for Epicurean reasons? There’s something to be said for expecting people to be well-churched, even if it’s not a sincere expression of faith for them. If your goal is making sincere Christians, then maybe you don’t want parents to feel like it’s hypocritical to go to church just because they’re lukewarm (or even skeptical) about this whole faith thing. If they did, they’d likely keep their kids away, too, as well as deprive themselves of worship experiences which might warm them up a little. Certainly, if kids are kept away from church, it makes it harder for them to learn anything even remotely standard about sincere Christianity.

    • #19
  20. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Postmodern Hoplite (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Blues tend to suspect that angry reds’ alienation from both social capital and the West’s higher culture is, at bottom, angry reds’ choice. Angry reds must not be interested, blues think. Angry reds must even be opposed leading civilized lives!

    An observation based upon my own experience as a purple conservative (deep red living in a deep blue community): Blues are just as likely to suspect angry reds’ alienation is the result of reds being stupid, as opposed to it being a choice. It’s so much easier to look down upon someone when you feel superior to them.

    Good point. Perhaps what I should have said is they expect it to be, at bottom, angry reds’ fault.

    Native intelligence is not something anyone has control over – all we can do is make the most of what we have. There are two components to “stupidity”, I suppose, one being native intelligence, and the other being choices to succeed or fail at making the most of it. These latter really are choices, though they’re choices pretty heavily influenced by environment. It does seem true, though, that using “stupid” to assign culpability is rather bluish.

     

    • #20
  21. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    That doesn’t mean you can’t believe passionately – you can – but that there’s less social expectation that it really matters. For example, competence, orderliness, and expertise may be what qualify a congregant for various ministry duties in a blue congregation.

    This is how you end up with atheist priests.

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    I’ve observed some of this can be navigated by code-switching. Maybe if you’re around red Christians, you describe a pious idea that just occurred to you as “laid on your heart”, while maybe you describe the same pious idea as just an idea around blue Christians.

    Is this theology switch or red/blue switch? Though it is interesting, reading this made me realize that the more charismatic denominations are largely rural and the more disciplined ones urban. For instance, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, and Evangelical vs Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist.

    I still think I’m mostly red, but my Anglican roots really color me slightly more purple. I’m still uncomfortable with Evangelical speech.

    • #21
  22. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    I question whether the Blue tribe (as defined by political/social beliefs) is really all that intellectual, in the sense of Shakespeare and classical music.  I see a lot of them who are more likely to reference Star Trek and other popular culture icons than they are to reference Shakespeare or the classics.

    • #22
  23. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Certainly, if kids are kept away from church, it makes it harder for them to learn anything even remotely standard about sincere Christianity.

    Religiosity does seem to be a sharp dividing line.

    I’m clearly a reddish person with strong blue cultural leanings and habits.  Here, I’ll use the “Game of Thrones” index.  Nobody here at my workplace watches it, which I find incredible.  Institutionally, this seems like a good proxy for the fact that I’m located in a deeply reddish organization and city.

    On the other side, I’ve never watched an episode of “Dancing with the Stars” or “The Bachelor” but those shows dominate lunch-time chatter.  There’s a lot more church-talk as well.

    My kids get asked where they go to church (they don’t) and this is a novelty among their peers.

    Fascinating thoughts, at any rate.

    • #23
  24. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: But I doubt the two red tribes can stay together unless it’s possible to draw attention to love between them, rather than contempt.

    Why should we want to stay together? Perhaps the Purples can make common cause with the blues, and by their shared affinity ignite in them a stronger zeal for their cultural heritage. Purples can not hope to give Cultural Capital to the Reds, but they might be able to stir the Blues from their stupor. Seems as likely an out come as reconciling with the Reds.

    • #24
  25. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Doing High Culture because you enjoy High Culture is what keeps it alive.  Doing High Culture because it’s a totem for virtue or class or Judaeo Christian civilisation kills it dead.  Imho.

    • #25
  26. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    David Foster (View Comment):
    I question whether the Blue tribe (as defined by political/social beliefs) is really all that intellectual, in the sense of Shakespeare and classical music. I see a lot of them who are more likely to reference Star Trek and other popular culture icons than they are to reference Shakespeare or the classics.

    No tribe is “really all that intellectual”. But when you look at those (often tiny) subcultures who do support these things, and actively keep them going for the next generation, these subcultures do have a strong tendency to be blue. Keeping these things going is never really gonna be a matter of mass culture, it’s gonna be a matter of those who are interested seeking each other out among the herd and cooperating – which means one way reds with interest in these things themselves can keep them going is to not be put off so much by these subcultures’ blue “otherness”.

    I mean, there does come a point where you’ve gotta assert your boundaries, and say cooperation with a specific subculture may simply not be worth it, no matter how they’re passing on the culture. For example, “theater kids” at the local public high school could be bohemians who are nonetheless cool with straight-edge kids or they could be super into pressuring one another into drink, drugs, and promiscuity. If it’s the latter, that’s good reason to want to keep an impressionable child uninvolved, Shakespeare and Chekov be damned.

    But at least in college, I found it was the former. I wasn’t theater-y myself, just super-artsy for a nerd – and our university’s renowned artsy den of vice turned out to be quite chill with my wanting in on some of the artsy stuff, but not in on the vice. (Admittedly, that I knew myself well enough to know that trying various vices “just once” would demoralize me, and so made myself get comfortable with saying “no” was part of the equation. Not all youngsters have that strong a sense of what might demoralize them.)

    And I think there’s something to the trope that red parents tend to worry more about their artsy children’s careers than blue parents do. That red parents want their children’s education to leave them with reliably marketable skills is totally understandable, but it does mean the ones groomed to do “culture-y” stuff professionally and pass it on to the next generation are more likely to be blue.

    • #26
  27. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Zafar (View Comment):
    Doing High Culture because you enjoy High Culture is what keeps it alive. Doing High Culture because it’s a totem for virtue or class or Judaeo Christian civilisation kills it dead.

    Indeed.  See C S Lewis’s essay ‘Lilies that Fester’, which makes precisely this point.

    The essay doesn’t seem to be on-line, but there is a summary here.

    • #27
  28. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Zafar (View Comment):
    Doing High Culture because you enjoy High Culture is what keeps it alive. Doing High Culture because it’s a totem for virtue or class or Judaeo Christian civilisation kills it dead. Imho.

    It’s true that what should attract you to High Culture is experiencing what Murray called

    that thrill of recognition – what Aristotle termed anagnorisis – which grants you the sense of having just caught up with a truth that was always waiting for you.

    It’s true that, if enough people involved in High Culture don’t experience that, the High Culture is dead.

    But let me relate an experience I had lately:

    I belong to a historical arts organization, of some civic importance in a metropolitan area, that not too long ago performed one of the historic masterpiece masses of all time. Real “heavy” stuff, not the pops we sometimes do. I couldn’t conceive of getting through a work like that without “anagorisis”. And right after our last performance, I heard a singer in the choir say, “Well, I’m glad that stuffy thing is over. We need to do less of this stuffy stuff.” I didn’t confront her, or so much glare at her, but when I related the story to my husband afterwards, I was furious: what was someone like that doing with us anyhow, huh? How could someone perform the music intelligently without sensing it as something more than stuffy? Why be a part of us if that’s your attitude?

    Then I thought, this youngish woman had auditioned for this group, and the director seemed confident she was a competent musician. And our arts organization needs warm bodies to survive. A warm body who’s competent enough but doesn’t enjoy it, and therefore must do it for ulterior motives – maybe that’s not such a bad thing?…

    Sometimes, what keeps High Culture alive seems to be a cooperation between those who enjoy it and those who… don’t… but get involved anyhow.

    • #28
  29. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    I’m having difficulty with the way ‘culture’ is being used.     ‘Culture’ is art and music and literature and all the other intellectual achievenents of a society.     But it is much deeper and more important than that.     When we talk about the culture of a business, for example, we don’t mean what kind of artwork is in the hallways or which music plays in the elevators or the quality of the cafeteria.    We want to know how the employees are encouraged to behave.

    So Im not nearly as discouraged that members of the red team fail harder …. it encourages me that it is still considered failure.    The blue team simply no longer views many behaviors as aberrant.    There are fewer failures because there are fewer standards at all.

    • #29
  30. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    To be honest, I’m having trouble with getting to the gist of this, and I think I just don’t understand by what you mean by “cultural capital.”  That’s really vague and abstract.  Capital would be a metaphor for something one accumulates, such as money.  How does one accumulate culture?  If you could define cultural capital for me, the essay might fall into place.

    I can understand the differences in values between various groups but I don’t understand the accumulation of values.

    I guess I fit into the purple, having come from a blue collar household but with conservative cultural values.  Yes, I have noticed a split on the right in values, and it seems to come down to their relationship to their religion, a strong or a weak relationship.

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.