Earlier this year Praxis Circle sponsored an Internet-based course where we gave each Member “student” a copy of Mary Eberstadt’s book, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics (2018, 141 pages). Mary is a Praxis Circle Contributor (see her linked Personal Page above with her Full Interview at the bottom) and board member. In 2019 we reviewed the book in this post. If you’re interested in the topic, her book is clear, short, and readable, bravely featuring perspectives of other leading thinkers in the second half to challenge her own thinking.
A few weeks ago Mary appeared on a British program, Triggernometry (see the 55:29 YouTube clip at top) to explain how her theory in Primal Screams helps explain the violence we saw last year in America and Europe. It’s a fascinating interview that clearly had the favor of her religiously agnostic, engaging, and off-beat British hosts, Konstin Kisin and Francis Foster. Mary summarized her argument in the introduction she gave to our Praxis Circle class linked here (5:39).
What we can say is that the events of last summer involving over 10,000 incidents of violence nationwide and over 500 incidents of serious damage or injury were unprecedented since the 1960’s, and that they made Mary look like a prophet with Primal Screams clearly on record in 2018.
Since last summer Mary has investigated many of 2020’s violent incidents and the people involved and found that the reasons for the violence were often not the repeatedly-claimed ones of racism, sexism, or poverty. To determine the true reasons, one must determine the intentions of actual people. (See this link – a PC video clip classic with Dr. Jim Hall, 3:12).
In fact, most Americans do not believe the claimed reasons because America is by far the wealthiest and among the most-free countries in the world, and in general, the average American person anywhere near Main Street today with a long memory simply does not see racism, sexism, and poverty anywhere comparable to the days during and prior to the 1960’s. While feelings are real, these are straw reasons. Canards, so to speak. Something else must be going on that is more fundamental and catastrophic than these weak “isms.”
What is Mary’s theory? As she states in her Introduction to Primal Screams, “My purpose is not to excoriate identity politics, as other writers, left and right, already have. It is rather to put forward a new theory of why so many people seem to have lost their very selves, with the result that Western polities and societies now resound with loss, fury, and rancor.”
Well, the years leading up to 2018, Primal Screams’ publishing date, hadn’t seen any sound and fury like we saw last year.
Mary calls her theory involving the loss of meaning in the lives of many Americans, particularly Millennials and Zoomers, The Great Scattering (TGS). TGS is the unprecedented familial dispersion and destruction that’s occurred in the West since the Sexual Revolution that blossomed in the 1960’s, in conjunction with the vast growth of the Welfare State, which has made it all possible. Indeed, our federal and some state governments now actively work against their own people by encouraging TGS.
Mary cites familiar, appalling statistics of increasing divorce, out-of-wedlock births, abortions, child abuse, fatherless families, pornography, euthanasia, suicides, and clearly-related crime, as well as corresponding decreases in marriage, childbirth, and the size of extended families. The clear winners are sometimes selfish parents, and the clear losers are always defenseless children – who have now grown up. We Boomers, who are primarily responsible for overseeing TGS, have noticed a dangerous social loss of a collective sense of humor and an ability to see relationships with the opposite sex in enduring, romantic, loving, and even miraculous ways. Many today have lost their sense of meaning and purpose in life.
We will only cite one statistic here, and that is approximately 33% of children have no father at home, and the numbers increase to 40 – 50% in various population sectors. This is a social tragedy and national disgrace to our collective manhood, though women also have a large influence. At home children lack fundamental role models for divine and human leadership essential for a good and stable society.
Sociologists are in agreement that the family is the basis of social order worldwide and throughout history, and that the Western family has been devastated with nothing whatsoever offered to replace it. Fathers are no longer wanted, and mothers are said to be seeking other, more important roles and support substitutes. One can only say with so much time and evidence of social nihilism that this has become the West’s willful act. We believe in the long run this is national suicide.
Though in general, the vast majority since the 1960’s has insisted upon an equal role in society today for women and all races, greater freedoms for all across the board, and government assistance for those in need, America has long since hit diminishing returns. In fact, surveys continuously tell us TGS is the opposite of what most women and men want. Children are left without families, role models, and meaning in their lives. They want to know and be close to their biological parents and embrace their roles as males or females. They want to call themselves son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother, uncle or aunt, cousin, as well as friend, associate, or CEO.
Social scientists also agree nearly to a person that human beings are intensely social creatures with a religious or spiritual essence – so that when unnatural social and spiritual voids are created, human beings always fill them another way. We seek connection, identity, meaning, and purpose, and we want the truth at the highest level of every consideration. Good intentions and self-interested, increasingly large governments at all levels and universities nationwide have manufactured this void since the 1960’s, with democratic support, and Identity Politics has filled it.
The problem is, of course, that IP denies that we are naturally capable as human beings of bridging our biological or class differences, which is nonsense. IP offers completely inadequate substitutes for family connections that lead to perpetual conflict and dead ends. Intentional or not, elites inside governments, educational institutions, NGO’s, non-profits, big business, and the media have trapped us inside IP’s perpetual racial, sexual, or class-oriented shells. They’ve orchestrated a self-interested loop providing solutions for problems they create. Last summer was a sign we might be running out of time.
With The Great Scattering, IP reifies violent, dialectical conflict. Sprinkle in COVID, fear, boredom, and money financing the crowds on both sides in an election year, and we had a very serious crisis in 2020.
While the reasons for many of our social trends are hard to isolate due to our inability to place real life into experimental laboratories, all the evidence and the common sense of many who remember the 1960’s like they were yesterday tell us that Mary just might have hit the nail on the head. What to do about it now while we’re given some breathing room is the issue, and we will have more to say on this as 2021 moves along.
The last point we would like to touch on also came up in the Praxis Circle class mentioned above. Surprisingly, many Members who took the class and enjoyed Mary’s presentation and the discussion with her asked the question afterwards: What does this have to do with worldview?
What a wonderful question – we loved it!
Honestly, we were truly surprised by the number who raised this issue, and we believe it demonstrates how important it is to be in touch with what a worldview is and how deeply it affects all of our daily thoughts and actions.
To try to answer this question briefly (because one could write a book of Primal Scream’s length about it), we will refer to another terrific book authored by Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution (2020). Drew Cleveland, a PC Member who participated in the Worldview Course, recommended it. It’s another home run as an explanation for how the West got into its 2020 fix.
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self unpacks step-by-step in some detail (407 pages) how the West between approximately 1700 and today moved from an emphasis on objective, collective truth to subjective, individual expressivism and relativism. Dr. Trueman employs a historical construct to frame his own book that Dr. Phillip Rieff developed in three volumes, Sacred Order / Social Order (2006 – 2008).
Basically, Rieff argues that two sacred orders and one secular order have dominated Western history: (1) the sacred order of the polytheistic world of ancient Greece and Rome, (2) the sacred order of monotheistic Christianity since Constantine (see trivia question answer at bottom of this post), and (3) the order of Western “secularisms” since about 1800, which includes a vast sea of truth denying ideologies, including remnants of personalized versions of watered-down Christian morality to naturalistic philosophy/spirituality to violent nihilism.
#3’s primary emphasis is simple: It’s an attack on virtually every worldview or metaphysical foundation of the first two orders without offering any comprehensive, adequate replacement. It completely severs all fundamental connections to preceding human history.
In other words, #3 is a Western order of repudiation (see Sir Roger Scruton on repudiation), really a non-order, declaring man as sovereign in a new form of “religion,” rather than affirming a transcendent order, with God or the supernatural as sovereign. Being spiritual by nature, human beings end up with God, idols, and/or a “religion” either way. #2 is the Creator God Order; #3 is the Man God Order – and that’s the dreaded bourgeois “bottom line.”
So, to answer the question raised in our Praxis Circle class about how Mary’s book relates to worldview, the summer of 2020 is what happens when much of Western culture over the last 60 years moves from accepted agreement on #2 to the general void and chaos of #3, while absolutely destroying the monogamous family in the process.
In other words, when human beings create a void, this is what we get – a perfect mess. Ideologies do not satisfy or contain the heart or appetite. God, transcendent and natural being (i.e., reality), and people do. To get into more detail would require a breakdown of the elements of #2’s worldview and a comparison with the hodge-podge #3 presents, but the result would be clear enough.
We have offered a window on this in prior posts, and such a window appears again in the chart below. All of the Pillars presented there in the column on the left are related, and each Pillar includes a whole body of thought.
For example, Pillar 6 above, Human Being, relates directly to the CJC (Classical Judeo-Christian) concept of God (Pillar 2) and also connects God and humanity to family. Family would go under Pillar 6. Philosophically and theologically (if one believes in God), one proceeds from God to creation, from nonbeing to being, from non-living (e.g., rocks . . . not to say such matter and energy aren’t “alive” in another sense) to living, from living (plants and animals) to people (God and human beings, not to say animals don’t have a far lesser “mind,” as defined), and from people to female and male, the next fundamental category given Sacred Order #2. We will stop here (because we would need to get into a discussion of family and marriage in Order #2), but you get the idea.
Trust us (if you dare), the Secular Order of Repudiation #3, which attacks every single foundation of Western advancement since the beginning of recorded time, takes humankind in an entirely different direction – usually with the best of intentions, but generally with much worse results over the long-term.
Our purpose is not to try to convert you to our Christian worldview. It is to try to encourage thinking about your own. We can bracket our worldview thinking for a little while as secular positivists do – “I’ll simply do what’s right as I go based on momentary benefit-cost analysis and aesthetics” – but the world will eventually force or bust us out of bracketed thinking, as it is dong now. That is what praxis does to our theories and realities.
We picked Edvard Munch’s famous painting, The Scream (1893), as the picture for this post because that is where we saw America last summer. It wasn’t the Summer of Love – it was the opposite, the Summer of Hate, for a reason. Munch was an expressionist. Though The Scream slightly preceded the surrealist movement of the 20th Century, Munch’s atheism, existentialism, and artwork captured the terror, fear, and anger inherent in a spiritually dead worldview order. Other significant hysterias plague us like Climate Change and Technology of nearly every sort, but enough screaming for now.
In sum, we would suggest the terror won’t go away until we return to truth and reality.
In the meantime, as we open our content-producing year, we at Praxis Circle will attempt to break down these issues with increasing light. Welcome to peak springtime in 2021, what we hope to be a more positive, post-pandemic, and non-violent experience for all Second and Third Order Americans. We aren’t so bad. Get a life, get outside . . . there’s no reason to panic!