Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

You’re wrong about cultural change

…says sociologist James Davison Hunter, whose presentation “To Change the World” given to the Trinity Forum some years back (available in PDF form here) is the basis of his new book of the same title. I urge you to read the entire essay, which I can hardly to justice to in excerpts. But I’ll try.
Hunter says the way we in the West think about how cultures change pretty much comes down to this:

If a culture is good, it is because the good values held by people lead to good choices. By contrast, if a culture is decadent and in decline, it is because the values or worldviews held by individualsare mistaken at the least, or even immoral, and those corrupt values lead to bad choices. And so, if we want to change our culture, we need more and more individuals possessing the right values and therefore making better choices. Consider what Thomas Jefferson said about this: “Enlighten the people generally,” he said in 1816, “and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.” This was the foundation for Jefferson’s commitment to public education and a sentiment that many of us continue to share.
It is this view of culture that also leads some faith communities to evangelism as their primary means of changing the world. If people’s hearts and minds are converted, they will have the right values, they will make the right choices, and the culture will change in turn. This emphasis on choice has also predisposed us to politics as a means of changing the world. In short: bad law is the outcome of bad choices make by individual politicians, judges, and policymakers. In this view, changing the world requires that we get into office those who hold the right values or possess the right worldview and therefore will make the right choices. Though there are variations on this theme, this view of culture–as values that reside in the hearts and minds of individuals and the choices that individuals make on the basis of those values– is pervasive. It leads to a view of cultural change that is equally pervasive–a view that the rise and fall of civilizations depend upon the kinds of values its people possess.
The problem is that this perspective is almost completely wrong.


Why? Read past the jump for more…

Hunter cites a couple of examples to prove his point. The overwhelming number of Americans claim to be religious in some degree — yet our public discourse and public culture is overwhelmingly secular. Among religious people, most are traditional/conservative to some degree, but the traditionalists and conservatives are constantly losing ground, and have influence far less than their numbers suggest they ought to have.
By contrast, American Jews make up only a small percentage of the overall population, but have immeasurably greater cultural influence than their tiny numbers indicate they ought to have, if the conventional reading of culture-change were true. The same is true of homosexuals, says Hunter. (Note well that he’s not criticizing Jews or gays, just noticing that they are a lot more influential in guiding the direction of our culture than groups with far more many members).
Why is this? Again, I encourage you strongly to read the entire essay to appreciate Hunter’s nuances, but here’s the gist of what he’s getting at:


Most of us are inclined to what could be called the “great man” (or great person) view of history. It is St. Paul, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Charles Darwin, Frederick Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and the like who stood as switchmen on the train tracks of history; it is their genius and the genius of other heroic individuals that have guided the evolution of civilization this way or that; for better or for worse.
Against this view, I would argue that the key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network, and the new institutions that are created out of those networks. This is where the stuff of culture and cultural change is produced.


Moreover, argues Hunter, there are networks, and there are networks.

In other words, with culture, there is a center and a periphery. The individuals, networks,
and institutions most critically involved in the production of a culture or civilization operate in the”center,” where prestige is the highest; not on the periphery, where status is low.
And so, one may be able to get as good an education at Colorado State as you would at Harvard, but Harvard, as an institution, is at the center and Colorado State is at the periphery of cultural production. USA Today may sell more copies of newspapers than the New York Times, but it is the New York Times that is the newspaper of record in America (for better or worse) because it is at the center of cultural production, not the periphery. One can sell a hundred thousand copies of a book published by Zondervan or Baker, and only five thousand copies of a book published by Knopf. But it is the book by Knopf that is more likely to be reviewed in the New York Review of Books or the New Republic, or the Washington Post Book World because Knopf is at the center and Zondervan is at the periphery. I could go on, but you get the picture. The status structure of culture and cultural production is of paramount importance to the topic at hand.


This is frankly elitist. Remember, though, Hunter is trying to explain how cultural power and cultural change actually works, not how we wish it worked. He continues:

Long-term cultural change always occurs from the top down. In other words, the work of world-changing is the work of elites, gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management to the leading institutions in a society.
The Renaissance, the Reformation, the Awakenings, the Enlightenment, the triumph of capitalism over mercantilism and feudalism, all of the democratic revolutions in the West, the rise and triumph of science; and in our own day, the triumph of the therapeutic, postmodernism in law, architecture, literature, and popular culture, and now globalization itself, all began among elites and then percolated into the larger society.


World-changing — for better or for worse — happens when members of different elite networks talk to each other. Hunter:

Again and again we see that the impetus, energy, and direction for changing the world were found where cultural, economic, and often political resources overlapped; where networks of elites, who generated these various resources, come together in common purpose.
. . . in common purpose — something we should never forget.

So what’s wrong with politics as a means of cultural change, then? Here’s Hunter:

To change the world is, at some point, to take power seriously. I recognize that power is an uncomfortable subject for people of faith and all people of good will who quite rightly celebrate service in the cause of the needy, the estranged, and the common good.
But the power we need to take seriously is not power in a conventional sense. Politics will
never be a solution to the challenges we face. The work of the political Left and the political Right–even, if not especially, the Religious Right–often makes matters worse. So I say again, the power we need to take seriously is not power in a conventional sense.
Rather, it is the power to define reality in ways that sustain benevolence and justice. What is at stake? When cultures are good, they give life and foster human flourishing; and when they are decadent and corrupt, they constrict human flourishing and even deprive life itself. In the world we live in, the outcome is far from certain. There is everything to play for here and now.
In any case, articulating a reality that sustains benevolence and justice and exemplifying its meaning in time and space is the burden of leaders. In this respect, we do well to remember as a corrective and a caution that Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for the ruling elites of his day, not least Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes–cultural elites whose power was not used well.
Yet even Jesus created a network of disciples (who, over time, became spiritual and cultural leaders). Though they originated on the periphery of the social world of that age, they moved to the provincial center of Jerusalem, and then, within a generation, to the center of the ancient world–Rome. They too created new institutions that not only articulated but embodied an alternative to the reigning ways of life of that time.


Hunter emphasizes that he’s not dismissing the importance of individual conversion, of changing minds and hearts. His point, though, is that that’s not how changing a culture works. Dr. Hunter, meet Mr. Gramsci. Again, read the PDF of his 11-page talk to the Christian group, and consider buying Hunter’s new book-length version of this argument. I hope to have my copy today, and to read it over the weekend.

Comments read comments(19)
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Lord Karth

posted April 9, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Mr. Dreher, @ 4:31 PM, writes:
“Hunter emphasizes that he’s not dismissing the importance of individual conversion, of changing minds and hearts. His point, though, is that that’s not how changing a culture works.”
Mr. Dreher, have you read the works of either Gaetano Mosca or Vilfredo Pareto ? They discussed a concept called “the circulation of elites”. Briefly, all societies (save for the very smallest) have an elite in-group of decision-makers. Every so often, for one or more of a variety of reasons, these elites lose touch with the rest of the society, and have to be replaced, or “circulated” out of the leadership.
A basic problem arises when said elites try to tinker with the political rules to keep themselves in power permanently. They may wind up keeping their power, perquisites and tenure in office, but at the cost of the welfare of the larger culture. (An American treatment of this particular subject can be found at Chaos Manor, Dr. J. Pournelle’s website, under the general heading of the “Iron Law of Bureaucracy”.)
I contend, Mr. Dreher, that we are long overdue for the displacement and replacement of the current elite. The current elite is possessed of (or perhaps “by” would be more accurate) an ideology that claims a right to rule based on allegedly superior knowledge, in a near-Gnostic sense, and its ability to manipulate abstract symbols. Further, for largely generational reasons, the current elite has a very real antipathy towards what it sees as “stifling” institutions such as the family, the Church and the local community, preferring to vest political and social power in the hands of the central government and its Corporate partners.
Real-world conditions are militating against the continued tenure in power of that elite, in that the command-and-control State-corporatist economy and democratic-redistributionist political system are no longer functioning according to the dictates of the real world. The goaded-mass-consumption economy that arose in the 1890s can no longer be sustained; debt loads at all levels of society are simply unsustainable. The democratic-redistributionist government is also collapsing under the burden of the weight of its obligations. Yet the current leadership is attempting to, in effect, “double down” its bet in an effort to remain in power.
The interesting question in all this is the nature and timing of the circulation. Will we, as a body politic, have the basic sense to consciously control this circulation, or will we simply choose to coast until the entire underlying social structure just flies apart ?
My guess is on the latter; the extreme present-orientation of the current elite and antipathy towards any sort of responsibility, even the responsibility to continue the species in existence through children, militates against it.
Under those circumstances, maximizing non-participation in the said culture and political/economic superstructure may be the only realistic survival strategy, if any survival strategy can be practical at all in the near-arcology that this society has become.
Your servant,
Lord Karth

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posted April 9, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Speaking of networking and the disproportionate influence of minorities. The business side of Hollywood really is disproportionately gay, and this gets spoken of in terms of a “gay mafia”, but it’s really nothing so coherent.
What it really is – the social world of Hollywood, gay and otherwise, is overlapping cliques of 50 people or so. Really, that’s what social life is like everywhere. It’s just that a clique where every member is a potential romantic/sexual partner for every other number – which is to say a gay clique – ends up bound in a tighter, with more, and more intense personal connections between members than you’d find in a mixed clique. And in a sphere where career advancement and power accumulation rest on personal connections, that’s an important advantage.
(I think that’s also a big part of why even among the straights, sleeping your way up the ladder is generally accepted – given that your job is to get into a position where powerful people remember you and take your calls, having relationships with powerful people isn’t a “cheat” instead of working, it’s something that actually makes you a better worker.)

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posted April 9, 2010 at 6:31 pm

It’s just that a clique where every member is a potential romantic/sexual partner for every other number
Yeah, I hear David Geffen and Ellen Degeneres can’t keep their hands off each other…

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Geoff G.

posted April 9, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Hmm. So the idea here is that Jews and gays have moved themselves into the center of cultural power and thus exert disproportionate influence, thus shaping the culture for their own purposes.
But is this true? I have no idea what it’s like to be a Jew, but gays have unquestionably been marginalized in pretty much every possible way at least up to the last 20 years or so. Thinking of potentially major cultural events that deal with homosexuality both as a major theme and in a positive light, it’s hard to come up with anything before the ’90s (Angels in America dates from ’91, Rent is from ’94, Philadelphia is from ’93 and Ellen Degeneres’ coming out happened in ’97).
And while such cultural creations are undoubtedly useful, I’m not at all sure that they played all that much of a significant role in moving any sort of gay rights agenda forward. Indeed, major national cultural outlets (like TV networks) are considerably more conservative than the culture at large; they’re lagging indicators, not drivers of culture
After all, look at NBC’s reluctance surrounding the William Shatner-Nichelle Nichols kiss in 19-freaking-68! Will anyone seriously argue that black people were operating at the center of cultural power then? And yet change there has come about, due in no small part to political agitation and a serious rational argument that discrimination on the basis of skin color was idiotic.
I find it far more likely that advances in gay rights from the ’60s to the modern day result primarily from the experiences of families and friends who actually come to realize that there are gay people that they know who aren’t bogeymen. And as more and more people have felt comfortable with leaving the closet, the number of people with personal experience of gay people has increased, thus creating a virtuous cycle—the more people there are out of the closet, the easier it is for others to step out.
To the extent that Hollywood or New York became comfortable with gay people any sooner than Denver or Atlanta, it’s precisely because people there were able to actually have real personal relationships with those who were out of the closet, and so were able to discount the cultural prejudices; precisely the same thing that’s happening throughout the country now.
It’s gay people living quietly but openly in the mainstream of society that has brought about the shift, not any gay cabal manipulating culture from the centers of power.

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posted April 9, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Ha ha. A talk to some evangelicals in Tyson’s Corner, VA telling them to go to the centers of power. Must have been catnip for his audience.
But, seriously, going to the centers of power may be essential at some point, but centers of power themselves change over time.
Rod, I would have thought you wouldn’t be that thrilled about something like this–urging people to leave the communities where they were raised in order to hobnob with deracinated elites in the centers of power.

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Rod Dreher

posted April 9, 2010 at 8:03 pm

So the idea here is that Jews and gays have moved themselves into the center of cultural power and thus exert disproportionate influence, thus shaping the culture for their own purposes.
Whoa, Geoff, I think you’re putting a negative, conspiratorial spin on Hunter’s remarks that aren’t there in the original. Did you read the entire speech on the PDF? What Hunter is doing here is making a point about how “creative minorities” (to use the Toynbee phrase) exercise cultural influence far greater than their numbers would suggest. It’s not about conspiracies; it’s about having influence among the power elites, for whatever reason. Indeed, I recall in the essay Hunter saying how remarkable the rise of Jewish power is in this country precisely because it had to happen in the face of discriminatory attitudes. The same could be said of gay cultural power.
There really shouldn’t be any doubt that the greater acceptance of gays in America has come about in large part by having captured the support and sympathy of the media — that is, news and entertainment — elite (and I don’t say “elite” as a pejorative term, but as one of description). The Dallas Morning News even went so far a few years ago to announce openly that it was going to push in its news stories for gay acceptance. I believe it was Maggie Gallagher who observed in reading the papers at that Becket Fund (I think it was) scholarly legal conference on gay marriage that it was the liberal scholars who had a stronger sense of the inevitability of gay rights coming to exist through the courts, because they (the liberal scholars) better understood how thoroughly the destigmatization of homosexuality had permeated elite culture. The idea is not that media elites tell people what to think; it’s that they set the parameters for what is within the range of respectable to think. For better or for worse, this is how they condition and lead culture. Because, for example, the media have for decades stigmatized racism, it has been driven from the public square. Racism is still there, obviously, and probably always will be — but (and this is the key point) it is no longer possible to be an open racist and respectable in our society. I think that’s an advance, and I think it first advanced by people in the media elite determining that they were no longer going to kowtow to the racist opinions of many in their viewing audience and readership. In this way, I think, the black minority leveraged its power to change the culture far beyond what their numbers would suggest.
I understand why some Jews and gays get nervous when someone speaks of them exercising disproportionate cultural influence, but it’s really true, and it needn’t be seen as a bad thing to recognize it. Hunter is a leading academic sociologist who is trying to offer an analysis of how power actually works. I haven’t yet read his book, but it sounds like he’s trying to tell Christians that if they want to change the culture and bring their own values to bear more effectively on the direction of the general culture, they need to quit worrying so much about politics and try instead to understand how cultures actually change.

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Mark in Houston

posted April 9, 2010 at 8:06 pm

This observation is a good one, but not a surprising one unless one is overly enamored with populist theories about how the world works. I recall reading the line somewhere that history is made by motivated minorities. From what I’ve seen, that seems true.

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posted April 9, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Rod: “Indeed, I recall in the essay Hunter saying how remarkable the rise of Jewish power is in this country precisely because it had to happen in the face of discriminatory attitudes.”
Not so surprising in that Ashkenazi Jews have a higher average IQ.
Rod: ” In this way, I think, the black minority leveraged its power to change the culture far beyond what their numbers would suggest.”
I note that you don’t say ‘black minority elite’. Not surprising in that sub-saharan africans have a lower average IQ.

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posted April 9, 2010 at 10:08 pm

I wouldn’t say Hunter’s thesis is “frankly elitist” as much as I would say it’s “frankly simplistic,” at least in the sample excerpted above (perhaps not representative).
For example, he states “Though they originated on the periphery of the social world of that age, they moved to the provincial center of Jerusalem, and then, within a generation, to the center of the ancient world–Rome.”
The way this is written, it sounds as though Hunter thinks that, within a generation of Christ’s resurrection (say, 60-70 AD), Christianity had moved its headquarters to Rome and thereby begun the process of becoming the next elite. To be sure, there were Christians in Rome by this time, but Christianity was far more prevalent in the Greek East at first, and was rather diffuse, to boot; no clear headquarters, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem. Moreover, the faith was not known for its appeal to the upper classes at first. Oh, and there were those two-plus centuries of official persecution.
I say these things not to be snarky, but rather to point out that the idea of a “center” from which cultural changes radiate is rather begging the question and engaging in some post hoc, propter hoc argumentation. Important things happened at Rome because Rome was important! Well, yes. It’s only natural that Christianity would be drawn to a large population center and imperial capital, but that doesn’t mean the elites of that center had anything to do with the faith or its spread among the underclass.
To focus on one of his modern examples. We can agree that Harvard has more influence than Colorado State among the elite, but that disregards the more interesting question of whether that will always be the case. By what mechanism would the relative influence of places change over time in his analysis? Would the elite change its mind?
I think that a better take on culture creation can be found in Toynbee’s “Study of History,” in which he discusses the relationships and interactions between the “creative elite,” “dominant minority,” and “internal/external proletariat.” This reading of history allows for a far more fluid understanding of how cultures change and which forces affect them. To my mind, that’s the more important question – which forces are at work here, and how are they affecting our culture, high and low?
Again, I have not read the full work, so I hope my questions are doing it some justice and not distorting the message too much!

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posted April 9, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Joshua – Great comment. Enjoyed reading your thoughtful response.
I did read the full PDF. His argument, in the main, is against the conception that culture springs up in some spontaneous fashion from the amalgamation of individual choices/values/beliefs of the population at large. Likewise, he argues against (solely) the Great Man theory in favor of a network of elites across multiple spheres working “in common purpose” towards some cultural change.
To wit:
My mentor, the brilliant sociologist Peter L. Berger, hints at the answer to this puzzle when he argued that “ideas don’t succeed in history because of their inherent truthfulness, but rather because of their connection to very powerful institutions and interests.” This is not only provocative, it is suggestive of a different way of thinking about culture and cultural change.
In large measure, his focus seems to be to try to get the audience to conceive of cultural change through the concerted and organized action of a network of elites with access to cultural, political and economic power. This as opposed to hoping say (to take a religious example) for a religious revival to sweep the nation and draw citizens back to the faith, where upon the culture will shift naturally behind it.
He cites 5 argumentative propositions to support of his thesis:
Proposition One: Culture is a resource and as such, a form of power.
Proposition Two: Culture is produced.
Proposition Three: Cultural production is stratified in a rigid structure of “center” and “periphery.”
Proposition Four: Cultures change from the top down; rarely if ever from the bottom up.
Proposition Five: World-changing is most intense when the networks of elites and the institutions they lead overlap.
As you can see from above, conceiving of culture as something that is self-consciously produced as well as controlled by an elite then implies that the only way to change the culture is to either enlist such elites in your cause or to take control of the “centers” of cultural power and direct them to desired ends.
Not saying I agree with this per se, but merely trying to clarify the points being raised.
– GingerMan

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Scott Lahti

posted April 10, 2010 at 3:17 am

American Jews make up only a small percentage of the overall population, but have immeasurably greater cultural influence than their tiny numbers indicate they ought to have, if the conventional reading of culture-change were true. The same is true of homosexuals, says Hunter.
I chuckled at that, thinking back to how thirty years ago, George Steiner saw and then raised such thoughts, with the sort of Icarian rhetorical grandiosity of which only he is capable, as quoted in my 1985 National Review retrospect on him:
“Judaism and homosexuality (most intensely where they overlap, as in a Proust or a Wittgenstein) can be seen to have been the two main generators of the entire fabric and savor of urban modernity in the West.”
Garry Wills replied to Steiner in his syndicated column: “The snobbism implicit in that judgment can best be registered if we imagine Mayor Richard Daley replying to it. For Steiner, urban modernity means London’s or New York’s salons, not Little Italy or Harlem.”
Earlier in his column, Wills noted that “the common sense of Christianity has always held that the devil is a toff. The whole point of Lucifer’s fall is that treason comes from the top. The best and brightest do us in, not the least and lowliest. The world has always suffered more from misplaced idealism than from mere venery or venality. That truth seems obvious, once you state it; but people have an oddly hard time accepting it.”

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Charles Cosimano

posted April 10, 2010 at 5:28 am

We can nitpick around the edges but this is nothing new and essentially correct. For example, much has been made of the cultural earthquake of the late 1960s but what is forgotten is that earthquake merely ratified the elite culture that had existed since the end of WWI and the sexual revolution was merely the moving of the common practice of that elite into the broader society.
In my own life, my parents were not of that class. Nevertheless, they practiced birth control in the late 1940s, decided on one child, me, and no more, viewed those who did not practice it as mentally deficient and candidates for forced sterilization and certainly I had nothing of the puritan in my own education in such matters. In fact, when I got my first apartment on entering grad school, my mother took one look at the bed and asked me if it would be big enough for two people. The trickle down had already begun long before the 1960s.
Now, that being said, there are limits to the speed that the elite can move society. There is still no political downside to being anti-gay in most electoral districts outside of large cities. The civil rights movement was helped in large part by the integration of baseball because while black folks may not have been exactly viewed as equals on mass, no one would in Chicago would deny their offspring the opportunity to sit next to Ernie Banks in a diner. (A personal side note, in the 1950s baseball players did not make a lot of money and they worked at various jobs in the offseason. Ernie Banks actually worked for my grandfather and when my grandfather took me to a ball game we were always greeted by a wave and a shout, which gave me great status points among my peers, an irony if ever there was one for there was never a kid less athletic than me.) That, more than anything else, gave impetus to the feeling that the Southern objections were, well, a sign of too many siblings breeding in those back woods.
Ok, what this ramble is aiming at is that the social conservatives never had a chance back then, and, as the elite class is not socially conservative and shows no sign of turning in that direction, they have no chance now, short of the unlikely prospect of a mass, armed uprising followed by a blood purge.

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posted April 10, 2010 at 6:55 am

What moves society, is a new approach to a constant problem. THe masses are moved by their heart, seen through the values they hold dear. The elites believe they define society. But much like those in Washington, the people define where our world needs to be. They do that, by their dissatisfaction. The people are moved by what they see as Gods values, while the elites are moved by the power they believe is their own inspirational thought.

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posted April 10, 2010 at 8:23 am

hierarchiology-I disdain it, but agree with the premis here about it. This premis is not just true about culture change overall, but in specific cultures, like office, factory, church, club, school.
Also, as implied in the banner, I was very slow to admit to this. Also, I can’t be one to help change it, unless we’re talking revolution.
I honestly feel we are all shoulder to shoulder in this life. The elite culture is positioned head to tail. I don’t talk to you on a pedestal, or want to have to keep boosting you. Also if you stop I don’t want my head anywhere near your ass, or vice versa. Please don’t take this wrong, but this is partly why I can’t become Catholic, although Chesterton almost persuaded me. Also, please don’t take this wrong, this is partly why I don’t like military culture.

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Geoff G.

posted April 10, 2010 at 12:03 pm

There really shouldn’t be any doubt that the greater acceptance of gays in America has come about in large part by having captured the support and sympathy of the media
I still think that the media acceptance is a lagging indicator of acceptance, not a driver of it. Once the media starts buying in to change, it’s generally because the culture at large has already gotten to that point.
Of course, that’s not true everywhere. San Francisco arguably reached that point in the 1970s with respect to gay people. Other parts of the country reached it later. Some still haven’t reached it.
And the same thing can be seen in the Star Trek interracial kiss that I cited. Read about the controversy here. NBC was terrified of the backlash. But Nichelle Nichols said that the viewer response was massive and overwhelmingly positive, with only one viewer writing a “mildly negative letter.” (I found an amusing quote from it: “I am against the mixing of the races, but anytime a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets his arms around a gal like Lt. Uhura, he ain’t gonna fight it!”)
That tells me that the culture had already largely moved on (with obvious racist minority exceptions as other events in 1968 reveal), long before the media caught up.
I think your error here is in supposing that the tipping point in cultural acceptance is a recent thing, tied to the gay marriage debate of the last five years or so. My contention is that the foundation for cultural acceptance was laid years before, and that the actual tipping point occurred sometime around 1990 or so. After all, political change, like change in the media lags behind actual cultural and social change. And changes in the law are generally the very slowest changes of all.
Whoa, Geoff, I think you’re putting a negative, conspiratorial spin on Hunter’s remarks that aren’t there in the original.
Yeah, I overstated the case somewhat. But that is the subtext here: tiny minorities are wielding disproportionate influence. Whether those minorities are admired or excoriated for their disproportionate influence is immaterial. There’s a sense that comes across that the majority isn’t getting its due.
What’s missing from this argument, of course, is the realization that majority rule isn’t always right or just (an observation that dates back at least as far as Aristotle).

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Rod Dreher

posted April 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Geoff, again, you’re misinterpreting hunters aim. He doesn’t argue that majorities are always right. He’s simply trying to describe how cultural power works. I’m traveling right now and read 2/3 of his book on flight from Philly. I will elaborate more on his thesis when I have time.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 5:13 pm

It’s difficult to argue with Hunter’s over all thesis I think, even though I think it can be said that it is not universal true in every “culture change.”
The Athenian revolution, which birthed democracy long before any fretted over an executed Jewish carpenter’s kid, ushered in maybe the greatest political shift in human history and was not the result of “elites.” The revolution was not lead by an “elite” but nearly spontaneous without any central organization…on the other hand it was Cleisthenes (whom far too many of us fail to remember.) who drew up the formal rules and structure for Athenian democracy after the dust settled…hmmm

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Your Name

posted April 12, 2010 at 10:07 am

Perhaps “culture” works the way Hunter says it does, but there is also “proto-culture” (just to put a name to an amorphous concept). Proto-culture indeed resides in the great mass of people, originates in hundreds of thousands of minor acts of creation, is shaped in part by shared historical experience (the perception of which is, of course, subject to elite influence), and propagates from the bottom up.
Auden from his book of doggerel, “Academic Graffiti”:
Oxbridge philosophers, to be cursory,
Are products of a middle-class nursery:
Their arguments are anent
What Nanny really meant.
What “leads some faith communities to evangelism as their primary means of changing the world”, is less a false view of cultural dynamics than a belief that what is impossible for us as mere human creatures is easily possible for God. It is not droning on about “values” which wins hearts and minds, but grace, professed in sacrificial love.
From an institutional point of view, those who cling to that old-time religion are marginalized by the minority of the smooth operators of high culture. But then the cultural elite are perpetually astounded that the traditionalists are still there at all. Not only there, but doing all the crucial ground work just in the process of living their lives under grace. Without them, there would be nothing for the elites to fancy themselves the masters of.
It seems to me that it is the Best and the Brightest who more often make the mistake of thinking that their benevolent instruction can change the world. Those at the bottom know how hard a slog it will be.

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Douglas Bilodeau

posted April 12, 2010 at 10:15 am

Somehow my comment just above appeared without my name. Hopefully this one will include it.

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posted 10:00:56pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Why I became Orthodox
Wrapping up my four Beliefnet years, I was thinking about the posts that attracted the most attention and comment in that time. Without a doubt the most popular (in terms of attracting attention, not all of it admiring, to be sure) was the ...

posted 9:46:58pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Modern Calvinists
Wow, they don't make Presbyterians like they used to! ...

posted 8:47:01pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

'Rape by deception'? Huh?
The BBC this morning reported on a bizarre case in Israel of an Arab man convicted of "rape by deception," because he'd led the Jewish woman with whom he'd had consensual sex to believe he was Jewish. Ha'aretz has the story here. Plainly it's a ...

posted 7:51:28pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »


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