Neil Shenvi Sets Up the Experiment Poorly

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Neil Shenvi made his name taking critical theory apart, and showing Christians how dangerous it all was. It was yeoman’s work, and he deserves a lot of credit for what he did during that time. And in the early days, he took a lot of flak from the left for what he was doing, but as the months and years ticked by, he noticed that he was actually starting to take incoming fire from the right.

This post is about all of that, and then on to a few related issues. We will talk about what time it really is, how the Overton window is moving, the nature of conservative coalitions, and why the coming crisis will contain more than a few surprises.

A Poorly Constructed Experiment

In a recent article, Shenvi discussed aspects of this whole phenomenon, and he set up an interesting experiment to help him analyze it. And although the experiment was interesting, I don’t believe it was as informative as he thought it was. I believe he is right about what is happening, but his experiment doesn’t really illustrate his point.

He took a statement out of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, a document about as unwoke as 2 am, and tweeted it out to an unsuspecting public. The reactions he got were telling, he thought.

“Racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people.”

He got reactions like “universalist twaddle,” and “define racism,” and “Trashworld has one virtue and one sin, consent and racism.”

Then he had the nerve to tweet this: “I utterly repudiate sinful ethnic partiality in all its forms.” This was lifted from the Statement on Christian Nationalism and the Gospel, also hailing from the unwoke midnight hours.

The responses to this included “Stunning. Brave,” “I don’t repudiate ethnic partiality,” along with other comments of a similar bent.

To His Credit

As he turned to analyze these responses to his tweets, he listed four possible reasons why people might be responding in this way. The first was the responsibility of CRT. CRT is kind of like the CDC, which has set their filters so fine that they could find the COVID virus in sampling of moon dust. CRT has taught people to find racism in absolutely everything, whether it is doing your math problems right, or showing up to work on time, or judging people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. But when everything is racist, it follows almost immediately that nothing is, and hence he got the questions he would not have received twenty years ago. In these troubled times, “define racism” really is a reasonable question.

The second possible reason was political wariness. This CRT-driven expansion of racism has been used as a bludgeon to advance all manner of dodgy policy proposals, and so people who are tired of paying for dodgy policy proposals and suffering under dodgy policies are hesitant about signing off on the racism of this or that.

The third was context, and as this is the correct reason in the main, it was good that he at least mentioned it. More on this in a minute.

And the fourth possibility was an actual uptick in real racism.

Now I would argue that there is a sense in which all four of these are in play, but the reason he got such striking results from his experimental trolling is found in the fact that his experiment depended on taking the quotes out of context.

Suppose he had quoted these quotes from the same documents without attribution?

“To embrace heresy is to depart from the faith once delivered to the saints and thus to be on a path toward spiritual destruction.”

Social Justice and the Gospel

Or perhaps this . . .

“WE DENY that a nation should cede its sovereignty to international bodies that may subvert the will of the national interest for a global order.”

Christian Nationalism and the Gospel

Everybody would have read those and thought, “Hey! Shenvi’s not so bad after all” or “Maybe he’s coming back around, do you think?”

The Fallacy of Composition

Correction: This is actually the fallacy of division, going from whole to parts. Composition goes the other way, from parts to whole.

The fallacy of composition is when you assume that if something is true of the whole, then it must be equally true of the parts. This is a slippery one because sometimes it is true and sometimes it isn’t. It depends on what you are predicating of the whole and parts.

To say that a bulldozer is made out of metal commits you to the view that the pieces are made out of metal (yes, yes, skip the treads). But to say that the bulldozer weighs 20 tons does not commit you to the notion that this little piece of it here weighs over 20 tons.

In the same way, to say that the statement Christian Nationalism and the Gospel is made out of words commits you to the proposition that this particular sentence taken from it is also made out of words. But to say that CN&G is anti-woke does not commit you to the idea that any particular sentence taken out of that context is also anti-woke. In context, it is, but out of context, no, not at all.

Drifting Left?

Now despite his work on Critical Theory, Shenvi has been perceived by many as nevertheless drifting left. But because of his earlier work, he still has money in the bank for many conservatives. His checks aren’t exactly bouncing yet, but that day might soon come. But when he tweeted those selected sentences, chosen because they would sound woke in isolation, and someone combine this with the general perception that he is drifting in the wrong direction, the most natural thing in the world was to take those tweets as more evidence of the same thing.

I was recently asked by a friend why I thought Shenvi was doing what he was doing, spending his capital like this. I said that I thought it was because of personal relationships, friendships and the like. One of the strikes against Shenvi is the fact that his pastor is J.D. Greear, the problematic head of the SBC for a time. If Shenvi were all that true blue, what is he doing in a church pastored by that guy? Hey? And that really is quite a reasonable question because Greear did a lot of damage during his tenure as SBC president.

But remember that this goes both ways. Given the circles that Greear travels in, can’t you just imagine the phone calls that he got back in the day telling him to distance himself from Shenvi? And he didn’t.

Incidentally, everybody thinks that evangelicals don’t practice church discipline anymore. Oh, but they do. It is yet another not whether, but which situation. It is not whether they discipline, but rather which things they discipline for. And for all his faults, Greear didn’t throw Shenvi to the wolves when there had to have been significant pressure to do so.

And because I have sort of given Shenvi one and a half cheers here, and Greear three quarters of one cheer, this will be taken by some as evidence that I am drifting left, which should demonstrate how much they know. No, this has nothing to do with my political convictions. It has to do with my understanding that people are way more complicated than ideological litmus tests would indicate. When the apocalyptic crisis finally lands on us, and everybody has to break one way or the other, and it is a “deny Christ or die” moment, there will be compromised moderates who die as martyrs, and hard bitten, hard right guys who collapse. There will be surprises.

And no. This is not a defense of being a compromised moderate. Being a compromised moderate is a sin, a really bad one.

Which leads to the next thing . . .

Normies and Grillers

The other day my friend Joe Rigney used the happy phrase “normies and grillers,” referring to that cohort of suburbanites who are finally coming to realize that the Demento Revolution is actually coming after them. All they had wanted to do was to mow the lawn, like a normal person does, and to grill their evening fare, like their griller dad before them used to do. But no . . .

And this made me think of a recent clip I saw where Tucker put his finger on a phenomenon that I think will be very much in play here. Tucker said that most men won’t do anything until they absolutely have to, and then, when they absolutely have to, they will do absolutely anything. Now the revolutionaries, for some mysterious reason, have been poking that particular grizzly with a short stick, trying to wake him up. If they do succeed in this, I suspect that they will not be as entranced with the results as they perhaps thought they were going to be.

In the meantime, those who red-pilled early on in this game need to think something through. And if they black-pilled, they really need to think it through. It is easy to believe that you are part of an esoteric band who are the true elite, those who finally understand “what time it is.” There are just a just a handful, the few, the proud, the guys with watches. And not to knock it, because some of those guys really were first up the ladders, first over the crenelated ramparts. Because of them, credit where credit is due, the Overton window has started to shift back to the right. 

So in his observation of this aspect of it, Shenvi is quite right. I have seen the same thing. I haven’t changed any of my positions at all, and where once I was the wild-eyed grenade thrower, I now find myself sneered at online for being moderate, “weak,” “just a normie,” a “boomercon,” and perhaps even on the Mossad payroll. 

But I would urge the young bucks out there to stop thinking like a corporal with anger issues, and start thinking like a general. Generals are responsible for two big things. One is to understand the strategic lay of the land, and the other is to understand the number of his troops (Luke 14:31), the caliber of his troops, and the nature and strength of his coalitions. 

Strategic Lay of the Land

For whatever reason, the shock troops of the revolution are actually after the normies and grillers. That is their target, that is what they are trying to destroy. That is where they want to make the rubble bounce. 

Their target is not those online chat groups where alt-right guys sneer at the normies as much as they do. 

They do not attack the hardliners—the hardliners think they are being attacked when all that is happening is that they are being used as a weapon to attack the normies. The civilization the commies want to destroy is the one where most of the people hardly think about politics at all. And when they do think about politics, they don’t think about it the way the hardliners do.

If one of the crimson-pilled posts something online, and the subtext of everything he says reveals nothing more than how many Internet wormholes he has been down, and nothing at all about how his brisket is the talk of everyone there on Maple Drive, and how he might have an actual life that is worth defending, then this is a tragic and unfortunate tell. 

So back to the options that explain the phenomenon that Shenvi is seeing. The reason people took his postings as woke when they were extracted from decidedly non-woke sources is simply the result of context. People would have made the same mistaken conclusion years ago.

What they wouldn’t have done years ago is avow open pride about being white. Actually . . . they would have done that eighty years ago, and then not forty years ago, and now they are feeling free to do it again. That really is the result of the other three possibilities that Shenvi noted—the impact of CRT, the pressure of politics, and actual racism.

But as I have said before, and as Shenvi acknowledged, this open racism is the bastard child of the revolution and a classical liberal order that does not know how to defend itself. 

(Also please note that I continue to object to the word racism, which is almost completely useless by now, and it was inaccurate to begin with. That was actually part of Shenvi’s first point.) 

And hardliners need to realize that it is not over-the-top-speech from the right that will convert normies to the cause. The thing that is converting the normies to the cause is all the over-the-top-speech from the left, creating a general sentiment best summarized by ick, poo. In other words @libsoftiktok has done far more for genuine conservative values than some densely written defense of blood and soil, a defense with clear Germanic elements. What I see coming is a recoil away from crazy, and we are not being friends of that recoil if we are presenting the alternative to crazy as some form of alt-crazy.

And to be clear, for many years now I have argued against the deracinated “propositional nation” ideal advanced by devotees of the America-as-religion approach. To the contrary, we are an actual nation, bound together by history, language, laws, customs, common law, key propositions, heritage, cuisine, blood, and yes, soil. All of that. But this is why I would continue to press the point that Zionist dispensationalists are the lone bulwark against moral insanity. A lot of them, despite what to me is a pretty weird theology, are normies, and all of them know how to grill.

How Coalitions Work

Nobody wants to see fights breaking out in the amphibious landing craft five minutes before it hits the beach. Correction. The guy who just had his foot stepped on, and who backed into a bayonet might want to see a fight break out, but nobody else wants to see it. And he might even be right on the merits, and that guy shouldn’t have stepped on his foot, and yet we would probably still say something like “not here, not now” to him.

If there is an explosion against clown world, I think it is going to happen within the next couple of years. It might have to do with the presidential election in the fall, or it might be something else, really unforeseen and unusual, something like a teal swan event. But given the levels of foment that I see going on, I believe that if something doesn’t happen all by itself, it will be necessary for someone to invent it. And no, I don’t mean twenty FBI guys in Nazi regalia marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. Neither do I mean some Fed online calling me a weak sister because I don’t want to go full Bonaparte, or full Franco. 

In the meantime, those who are tempted to give way to internecine strife need to understand what the basic doctrinal difference is in all of this. The basic divide is between those who want the world to function in a basic right-side up kind of way, and those who want to pitch it into the open maw of their chaos gods. That is the choice. 

It is not between people who use the phrase “knowing what time it is” and those who don’t use the phrase. We should look at all the players, and ask ourselves which direction they will break when the moment of truth comes. We cannot say absolutely because we cannot see the future, but the thought experiment is still useful. If we believe that they are going to break in the right direction, then we should do our level best to stay out of fights with them in the amphibious landing craft.

So Then, Is My Stance on NETTR Inconsistent?

Now if I am urging everyone to stay out of fights in the amphibious landing craft, then have I been inconsistent in the times when I have punched right? What’s with that? No, it is not inconsistent because I have been urging people to stay out of particular kinds of fights inside the amphibious landing craft.

So first, a quick review of the sheer fact of enemies to the right. Of course I have enemies to my right. How could it be possible to avoid that? Our of the millions of people involved in all of this, are there no God-haters to my right? Are there no God-haters in leadership positions to my right? And if God has plainly set His face against someone, then shouldn’t I? Yes, I should, and yet it is still necessary to make distinctions.

Co-belligerents, Not Allies: An ally is someone fighting the enemy for the same basic reason you are. A co-belligerent is fighting your enemy, but for completely different reasons. In the Second World War, the US and the UK were allies. The US and the Soviet Union were co-belligerents. James Lindsay is currently a co-belligerent. Glenn Beck is a co-belligerent. An American general and a Russian general stare at each other across the war room, both knowing that after Berlin falls, they are going to be in a completely different position.

Spies and Saboteurs: It is completely reasonable to fight someone in the landing craft if you have good reason to believe that they are a spy or a saboteur, and are going to blow the craft up when it hits the beach. The Philistine captains were wary of David before the Battle of Gilboa, and for good reason. We should all acknowledge that the territory to my right is crawling with feds, and the same thing is likely true in my territory as well. When Ray Epps started yelling that “no, we have to go into the Capitol,” and the people around him starting yelling fed! fed! fed!, were those people violating the NETTR principle? Not at all. Does “no enemies” to the right provide you with automatic protection from false friends on the right? NFFTTR?

Leadership Qualifications: And last, there is a difference between two soldiers getting into a fist fight just before the battle, on the one hand, and someone conscientiously opposing the awarding of a field commission being given to someone who is utterly incompetent or otherwise disqualified from being given that promotion. As the resistance to clown world starts to coalesce and take on more and more of a definite shape, it is crucial that we do not willingly award leadership slots to bunglers who do not know how to read the field. There is more than a little bit of that, let me tell you.

This third one is the real challenge. As I look across America, I see millions of normies who are still like sheep without a shepherd. And I also see numerous activists, who are like orphan soldiers, eleven-years-old, straight out of Somalia. Unlike the D-Day invasion, where the org chart was well established before the fighting started, here the leadership will be established on the fly, in the course of the fighting. All the foment and churn is going to produce leaders, and if God is kind to us they will be stable men, fearing Him.

But in the meantime, with all such qualifications in view, the conservative resistance should do its level best to avoid imitating the children of Moab and the children of Ammon, who all decided on the spur of the moment to fight with each other instead of fighting Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:1ff). Taking one thing with another, that was a really dumb thing to do.