Moral nutrition

Lately, I have been reading The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity by Douglas Murray. The book is a brilliant critique of identity politics and the war on freedom of speech in western democracies by an established journalist who also happens to be openly gay. Murray believes that progressives’ identity politics ultimately undermines the human rights efforts they ostensibly exist to advance by building deep resentment and divisiveness within societies. It’s an easy argument to make for anyone who resides outside the identity politics dumpster fire intellectually, but it’s personal to Murray. I am glad he wrote this book.

One observation I have come away from the book with is no matter how bad we think identity politics has become in the United States, it is far worse in the United Kingdom. Censorship is pervasive there. Interest groups micromanage everything that is shown on television. If your child makes a statement about how they disagree with homosexuality, for example, you might get a visit from real police, not just social media mobs. In the United States, identity politics is pretty easy to ignore if you aren’t active on social media and do not send your children to public schools. In the UK, there is a much higher effort to invade and police ordinary life.

But a much more interesting observation Murray makes is how much social justice warriors have come to resemble the Christian evangelicals they so passionately hate. That is to say, identity politics is as much a personal habit as a dogma. That’s part of the power it exerts over the people who are consumed by it.

I am from a Catholic background personally, but I know many evangelicals from attending a religious university and from living in the South most of my life. I do not agree with their positions on many things (particularly theology) but I also have no problem getting along with them. I personally respect their faith. So don’t take this as a criticism of their religious beliefs, which they are entitled to have.

Evangelicals believe that managing one’s personal habits is essential to living a good life, which they define as honoring God. They make the practice of religion a central habit. Every day, they set aside blocks of time to pray and read Scripture. They send their children to Christian youth organizations and schools. They read a lot of what I call Christian self-help books. They listen to specific radio shows and praise music from Christian artists. They fill their homes with signs and pillows with lines from Scripture. They brand themselves in public with what they wear and the stickers on their car. In short, they live in a sphere where their faith is ubiquitous and thus mostly impenetrable.

Murray describes this sort of behavior as “moral nutrition.” Your dogma is reinforced by your habits in the same way that your health is reinforced by eating five servings of vegetables a day. You get your five servings of Jesus a day and you are a healthy Christian soldier.

Social justice warriors behave the same way with their own (albeit increasingly nonsensical and contradictory) dogmas. They consume identity politics all day long, as if they might risk sobering up if they didn’t. If you read the New York Times or the Atlantic, for example, they find ways to bring identity politics into a discussion of pretty much any random thing: corporate governance, restaurant reviews, architecture and real estate, book and movie reviews. Like-minded folks dutifully circulate this content on social media and on cable news programs, so they can all get their five servings of dogmatic social and economic resentment a day. So they can feel like their political god is everywhere.

And like evangelical Christians, social justice warriors understand the necessity of converting children. Social justice warrior parents and educators also make sure their young charges get their five servings of identity politics a day.

This isn’t because they are trying to force their beliefs on you. It’s because they are trying to force them on themselves.

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