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I find it difficult to imagine that Martin Luther was the first Catholic priest who became displeased with how the Church was being managed at the time. I’m sure the Catholic Church had dealt with cranks before; the holier than thou types who think the leadership of the church is losing focus on God while it pursues money or whatever. Most Protestant churches have at least a couple of these people in them even today. “Why are we buying new paint for our church when children are starving in Africa?!?” You know the type. So Martin Luther was probably not the first to question the Catholic Church. Many had before, and many still do. But Martin Luther had an enormous impact – more than those who came before him. Why?
Many historians argue that it was the printing press that really changed The Catholic Church, and thus changed history, more than Martin Luther did. I don’t claim to be an expert in this topic, but this is not a new concept. Martin Luther came along just at the right time, and the new technology of the day changed him from just another crank to an influential figure of enormous historical significance. It wasn’t one man who changed Christianity – it was a new technology – the printing press. Which brings me to identity politics and modern leftism.
Leftism has been around for a long time, of course. The modern version of it probably started with Marx and a few philosophers from that era, but I’m sure that similar ideas had been around for a very long time. We finally tried out leftism in earnest in the 1900’s, and the result was over 100 million dead people. So you might expect the enthusiasm for leftism to wane a bit after that. But in the past 10 years or so, leftism appears to be taking over. Like wildfire. Democrat politicians no longer hide their socialist desires – they campaign on them. Why?
I would argue that, just as a serious challenge to the Catholic Church was not possible until the printing press was invented, modern leftism was not possible until the internet was invented. And now, in the age of smartphones and Google and social media and so on, our march leftward has become not just possible but inevitable. For a lot of reasons.
While many of us expected social media to bring us together, it has had a paradoxical effect of exaggerating our pre-existing divisions. Our tribes have gotten smaller, more exclusive, and more hostile to others. (“If you don’t see the value in dressing up Bassett Hounds like superheroes, than I don’t need you in my life. Please unfriend me.”) And as our membership in various groups became more important to our identity than our individual characteristics, identity politics became a potent political force.
Another unexpected effect of Facebook etc is the increasing prevalence of jealousies – as our friends post pictures of their vacations and other happy moments, we realize that we are not as happy, and we become resentful of nearly everybody. And resentful, unhappy, lonely people tend to identify with the leftist message of punishing the successful people to build an equitable society, and create heaven on earth. At that point, identity politics becomes a contact sport.
The Prozac generation believes that sadness is not an emotion to be managed, but rather a disease to be treated. And the tribal, social media generation believes that our sadness is generally someone else’s fault. And we become ever more resentful and isolated.
With COVID, even family gatherings were often conducted on iPhones rather than around kitchen tables, increasing the isolation we all felt. We longed for community, and became increasingly fearful of, well, of everything. Any form of uncertainty looks like a threat when you’re living all alone, in a bubble.
And now that we’ve moved away from classical religions like Christianity, Judaism, etc, that means we now worship the only God we have left: We now look to the government to protect us from, well, from everything. Just like the tribes of old looked to their chief when then needed rain for their crops, we look to Joe Biden to protect us from infectious diseases. Which is equally rational. But it’s also human nature, so there you go.
As Charles Murray explained in “Coming Apart,” we’ve been sending our smartest kids to the best schools for decades now. And they all get advanced degrees. So all the smartest kids are living together from ages 18 to 26 or so. So guess what happens? Our smartest 1% marry our smartest 1%, and they raise really really smart kids.
And now, with the information age, their particular skills of abstract thinking and deductive reasoning have made them even more valuable to society than they already were. So the number of people who can get ahead in our modern society is getting smaller, rather than larger (as it had for the first 225 years of American history).
Which makes various forms of government safety nets even more appealing than they were in the days of FDR. Particularly to a populace of anxious, lonely members of smaller and smaller tribes who are having a harder and harder time getting ahead. They feel that their individual skills will not help them as much as their membership in a favored group. So identity politics takes over, and looks to government to manage, well, to manage everything.
And what happened the last time we tried out leftism in earnest? 100 million dead people.
So what happens now?
I’m not sure. But I’m sure of this: There’s no turning back now. What has been set in motion cannot be stopped.
And I suspect that the Protestant Reformation will look like no big deal, compared to what’s coming next.
This is going to be huge. Whatever it is.Published in