Monoculture and Tribalist Thinking

  • Travel perspectives;
  • Is everything a cult now? If so, the word has lost all meaning;
  • Is religion just a tribal marker? Then why do so many Christian zealots want to impose their beliefs on others, to the point of executions?
  • Cruella De Vil and Kristi Noem.

Especially when you don’t travel very often, as I no longer do — because of the pandemic and my heart surgeries, before this Austin trip I hadn’t traveled by plane in 5 years — taking a trip, even for three or four days, re-establishes a perspective about the world outside one’s day to day existence.

I think this trip reinforced my notion, expressed a couple times recently, that most people conduct their lives and their jobs without engaging in the partisan rancor that typifies so much journalistic commentary. I read somewhere recently that people who follow the news have their minds made up about who to vote for, for example; it’s the people in the middle who *don’t* pay much attention to the daily news, who are easily swayed by TV commercials and  political rhetoric, who determine elections. And they’re the ones most susceptible to rhetoric and misinformation.

Anyway, back home, and I’m still fascinated by the usual batch of items on the web about the MAGA crazies and — more generally — how so many people believe things that are not true. It’s all about culture and community, which survive quite well without acknowledging reality. Except that here in the 21st century, reality is catching up with us. With them.

Vox, Sean Illing, 28 Apr 2024: Everything’s a cult now, subtitled “Derek Thompson on what the end of monoculture could mean for American democracy.”

First reaction: if everything is a cult, then that word has lost all meaning. As the writer admits upfront. (Again: writers don’t get to write their own headlines.)

Is damn near everything a cult now?

That’s a glib distillation of an interesting idea I recently encountered. The basic thesis was that the internet has shattered the possibility of a monoculture and the result of that is a highly fragmented society that feels increasingly like a loose connection of cults stacked on top of each other.

To say that everything is a cult is a bit of an overstatement, but as a general framework for understanding the world at the moment, it is helpful. The way we consume content, the way fandom works, the ways we sort ourselves into tribes and camps online, even the way lots of industries work, including the news business — it all has shades of culthood. This is easier to see if you set aside the more extreme examples of cults, like the ones that end in mass suicide or shootouts with the ATF, and instead think of cults as movements or institutions that organize themselves around the belief that the mainstream is fundamentally broken.

Understood this way, there are lots of cults, or cult-adjacent groups, and not all of them are bad. But if society keeps drifting in this direction, what will that mean for our shared democratic culture? How much fragmentation can we sustain?

The piece is an interview with Derek Thompson, a podcaster and journalist. Again, as with so many pieces I link here, I haven’t read it all the way through; as I said years ago, items are compiled here partly as notes for future research.

But I have to wonder: was there *ever* a monoculture? The MAGA folk yearn for their ideal past, which seems to be the 1950s or so, when they thought there was a monoculture. But it was a monoculture only for straight white Christian people. All others were left out. This is apparently what the MAGA folk want.


Here’s another theme from recent days. An apology for the so-called Christian Nationalist movement.

The Morning Heresy, 29 Apr 2024:

Pollster Ryan Burge revisits a topic he describes as “cultural religiosity” in his latest Substack post.

I believe that religion has been reduced to little more than a tribal marker, much in the same way that people say they are a fan of the Yankees, or they are Irish, or graduated from Stanford. It’s a way to create an “us vs. them” dynamic. […]

Religion is not about a sense of the Divine; it’s about what tribe you associate with and what kind of cable news you consume.

I think this is largely true. Religion is about community, mostly. The extent to which members of a church express belief in outlandish metaphysical claims is to cement themselves as trustworthy members of their congregation. Community. Tribe.


And yet there are people like these.

Right Wing Watch, 25 Apr 2024: Doug Wilson Explains How to Make the U.S. a Christian Nation

And this.

Right Wing Watch, 29 Apr 2024: Kandiss Taylor Threatens Violence Against Those Who Oppose Christian Nationalism

And this take at Joe.My.God: Former Candidate For GA Governor Vows Executions For Those Who Oppose A Christian Nationalist Government

Executions! This is about the lady who drives a bus around with the slogans “Jesus. Guns. Babies.” Pure tribalist thinking.


And then the story about Kristi Noem, who shot her unruly dog.

Washington Post, 29 Apr 2024: Opinion | Cruella De Vil understands Kristi Noem perfectly

No problem, say Republicans. And yet.

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 30 Apr 2024: Kristi Noem doubled down on dog-killing to win over MAGA — now her story is backfiring in her face, subtitled “South Dakota’s governor gets the sadism of Trump supporters, but screws up by saying the quiet parts out loud”

Squint hard enough and perhaps one can see how Gov. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., thought it was a winning political move to brag about murdering a puppy. It’s the same trolling strategy used by MAGA Republicans like Donald Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas: Say something extremely evil, stupid, or both. Draw the inevitable liberal outrage or mockery. Play the victim, claiming that it’s more proof the “elites” hate the common sense working folk of MAGA. Then sit back and watch the dollars and followers roll in.

For Noem, however, her tale of shooting her dog Cricket is not working out quite as planned. Sure, she got the predictable outrage and disgust from Democrats. But she also seems to have alienated the very Trump supporters she was trying to impress with her bloodthirsty tale. Fox News let their displeasure be known by doing a round-up story of conservative social media influencers denouncing Noem, often with quite harsh language. “Did she just intentionally end her career?” asked trollish podcaster Tim Poole. Other high-profile right-wingers blasted Noem as an “Absolute Psycho” and called for her to be “criminally charged for animal abuse.” Even the notorious right-wing troll Catturd — who has 2.4 million Twitter followers because he acts as vile as his name suggests — drew a line at killing your child’s beloved pet.

“Claiming that it’s more proof the ‘elites’ hate the common sense working folk of MAGA.”


Enough for today. There are more. There are always more. And yet, the human species survives.

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