From the front page of The New York Times‘s website this past weekend:
It’s not that this is a bad story idea. It’s not. Rather, it’s that the Times is so obsessed with transgenderism that it has been reduced to mining the vaults of stock images to come up with a story of trans oppression. If three transgenders living in the East Village see mice in the kitchen in the same week, the Times sees a trend (probably one about unwoke rodents).
I was driving back from East Texas this weekend, and got a little bit lost trying to find I-20. I went down a country road, past so many Baptist churches, more than a few of them only a couple of tics away from ramshackle. Some of them had hand-lettered signs out front reading Iglesia Bautista in one form or another — this in northeast Texas. I thought, where are all these people in our conversation? They don’t exist. Those people who live along State Highway 14 might as well be ghosts.
It is fascinating to watch the stories the media and academic elites tell themselves. Some years ago, before Obergefell, I used to characterize the media’s framing of the discussion like this:
MEDIA: “Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. Gay. GAY!”
MEDIA: “BIGOTS! Why are you so obsessed with homosexuality?!”
Substitute “transgender” for “gay,” and you understand post-Obergefell mainstream media framing.
A particularly obnoxious example showed up in my social media feed the other day. It’s a column by Mark Silk, an aging Baby Boomer academic who writes for Religion News Service. Check this lead out:
Over the past few years, conservative blogger Rod Dreher has made a name for himself advancing the idea that Christians in the West should set themselves apart from mainstream culture by establishing their own communities and institutions. He calls this the “Benedict Option,” because it is supposed to safeguard old-time Christian values in much the same way that Benedictine monasteries preserved Latin Christian culture from the barbarians of the early Middle Ages.
Our latter-day barbarism, in Dreher’s view, is all about gender norms. The “progress of gay civil rights” has put religious liberty “at grave risk,” he writes, even as individual Christians “face increased pressure to turn from the truth about sex, marriage, and the family, for the sake of participating in American cultural and economic life.”
“All about gender norms,” eh? Here is a photograph of the contents page of The Benedict Option:
This book has chapters on the philosophical and theological genealogy of the current crisis of Christianity (Ch. 2), on key principles of the Rule of St. Benedict (Ch. 3), on the insufficiency of pure politics to solve the Church’s internal crisis, and a suggestion for how Christians should think differently about politics in a post-Christian age (Ch. 4), on Christian worship and ecclesiology (Ch. 5), on community (Ch. 6), on education (Ch. 7), on faith in the workplace (Ch. 8), on sex and sexuality (Ch. 9), and on technology (Ch. 10).
Naturally transgenderism comes up in Chapter 9. Sexuality in general comes up in the politics chapter (talking about why Christians should stay involved in politics, if only to protect religious liberty, which is under greatest assault from LGBT activists and allies), and in the work chapter, where I talk about traditional Christian losing their jobs and businesses because they won’t affirm LGBT dogma.
Most of the book, though, defines “barbarism” as a condition of having lost all cultural memory, and a sense of ourselves as rooted in the past, and in a narrative that transcends our subjective emotions and desires. The loss of the traditional family, and of sex and gender norms, are part of that, but by no means the whole of it, as even a cursory read of my book (or just its contents page) would demonstrate. I would be quite surprised if Mark Silk had even read the book.
I bring up his absurd column as an example of the obsession of elite liberals, and their compulsion to project that onto everybody else. If you read the column, it becomes clear that Silk is aggrieved by the prospect that traditional Christians might not be driven out of the public square. Religious liberty protections are there precisely to defend religious minorities from bullies like Mark Silk. Silk is a man so narrow-minded in his imagination and understanding that he can only see traditional Christians as anti-LGBT bigots, and characterizes a book that is about a wide array of modern phenomena disintegrating the Christian faith and the Western philosophical and moral tradition as about nothing more than gay-bashing.
See what I mean? People like Silk — and the editors of The New York Times — are so obsessed with sexual politics that they regard failure to get on board with an orthodoxy that arrived the day before yesterday as evidence that one is an irremediable bigot. I don’t know where Silk stands on Harvard Law professor Mark Tushnet’s 2016 claim that liberals ought to treat the conservatives they have defeated in the culture war as if they were Nazis … but I think I can make a reasonably informed guess.
In any case, my broader point here is that Silk’s column is an example of the obsessive myopia of the media and academia on questions of sex and gender politics. Some liberals who read my blog say from time to time that they never hear about this stuff except on this blog. Well, I am a subscriber to The New York Times, and I read the mainstream media daily, and I am in touch with people who live in the world of academia and national media. It’s perfectly clear where all of this is going.
I just gave a couple of talks in Tyler, Texas, and heard from several folks who spoke to me afterward that so many folks in Tyler don’t see what’s coming over the horizon, because it’s not there in front of them. This is understandable to a certain extent — but that doesn’t mean that those who can see what’s happening in the cultural capitals, among the cultural elite, are mistaken in our predictions and warnings.
The obsessions of editors of The New York Times and academics like Mark Silk may not matter to the people living along State Highway 14 in rural East Texas. But the people who form the elite leadership cadres in this country — legal, academic, media, entertainment — are far more shaped by what the Times and Silk believe and say than by most anything that crosses the mind of rural East Texans. The Times is more interested in spending its resources combing through stock photo archives looking for trans photos than in trying to understand the lives of the Baptists, Anglo and Hispanic alike, of State Highway 14. To men like Mark Silk, those Baptists and their liberties are a malign abstraction, an obstacle in the Grand March to Utopia.
Note well: the children and grandchildren of State Highway 14 residents are formed by that anti-culture that comes to them through mass media and social media. Geography, and cultural geography, offers far less protection than it used to. I wrote earlier this year about a liberal friend who works in a public school in the rural South — basically, along State Highway 14 — where gay couples are now going to prom, and more and more teenagers are coming out as transgender. My friend thinks this is wonderful, and laughs that the parents in this conservative place have no idea how radical their kids are on sex and gender.
This is how propaganda works, especially in a rootless society driven by technological imperatives, radical individualism, market logic applied to all areas of life, the cultivation of both hatred and indifference to the past, and a belief that freedom is the absence of anything standing in the way of individual will.