Feb 28Liked by Brink Lindsey

I think this question of faith is a key part of what you’re calling the permanent problem. To me the issue is that people have an intuition, often not consciously realized, that their life has no purpose. If you don’t have a reason to put up with this flawed world, regardless of how much it has improved materially, then why do it? Material comfort is a hygiene factor, not a substitute for purpose. We’ve moved up Maslow’s hierarchy to belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, and it’s a disaster. If there isn’t a reason to put up with the frustrations and disappointments of life, then why not line up behind a charismatic bully and burn it all down? At least that feels better than silently dissolving into nihilism. You are right that people need something like a religion, but our Freudian-tinged distrust of the subjective self, which is fair given the history of religious insanity in this world, prevents people from taking even a timid step toward an internal sense of meaning. As a committed Buddhist who sees life as a spiritual evolution occurring in a physical world explained by science, I don’t have this problem, my life is chock-full of meaning and purpose. I don’t have a disconnect between my education and spirituality. But, my subjective understanding of my life’s purpose would be considered delusional by many educated people. We have been taught that nothing true or meaningful can come from the deeper layers of the psyche, that it will never reconcile with our scientific understanding. This is the real disaster, because we will be unmoored until we overcome this bias.

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Feb 28Liked by Brink Lindsey

I can admit that I have felt despair, and have found myself weighed down by the seemingly inexhaustible anecdotes of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ --- feeling like we’ve learning nothing from the past, but continue to treat one another poorly, especially the already down-trodden. This essay actually made me feel a little less desperate about our future... except... except how do we actually get these ideas expressed in a way that gains traction? I will share it with my son (20) and a friend (76) but those efforts seem impotent. I wish the media wanted to turn things around, could spend more time focused on growth and progress, instead of tearing it down and dueling the other side. Every time I read a comment on line from someone bemoaning the idea that the US is ‘becoming a 3rd world country’, I want to scream.

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Somewhat contrary to my previous comment, we have invented a whole ritual system to deal with our big moral/historical problem, the dispossession of First Nations (itself a term we imported from Canada I think). Any public speech will begin with an acknowledgement of the traditional owners, and larger events with a "welcome to country" from a representative of the local traditional owners. This doesn't solve the problems, but it implies a faith that we can find a path to do so.

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beautiful work. nothing more to add.

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Mar 14Liked by Brink Lindsey

"Too many in their ranks have succumbed to despair themselves, alienated from the modern world and from their own country. There is only way out: to choose to say yes, in spite of everything.”

Although I have lots of thoughts about this essay, this last part of the essay reminded me of a book I just read called “Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations” by Dr. Benedict Beckeld, a professor of classical philology and philosophy at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. This is by no means a progressive critique of Western civilization, as evidenced by the two reviews on the back of the book (one from Sir Roger Scruton, the other from Victor Davis Hanson!); that said, Beckeld takes us on a deep dive into Ancient Greece, Rome, and up through the present as he presents evidence for collective self-contempt, as he makes the case that oikophobia (a term Scruton devised that means “the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours’ “) has been present in our civilization for millennia. Unlike Lindsey, Beckeld doesn’t seem to give us much in the way of an “answer” to the problem; he simply lays out the problem as he sees it. While I disagree with many of Beckeld’s expressed positions in the book, I would also say that I do not disagree with the concept of oikophobia per se. I’m no social scientist, but as someone on the center-left who has a lot of progressive friends, the last few years I’ve noticed my friends fuming about how we need to destroy the White House and the Capitol because they were, in part, built by slaves; that we should try to construct a new language based on a fusion of English and Native American languages in order that our national language be more representative of diverse cultures and not just the European patriarchy’s, etc. I detect oikophobia in them (now that I have a term for it!), and when I read this essay in which “despair” is mentioned 10 times, I wonder about the connection between oikophobia and this cultural despair Lindsey so eloquently explains in this essay. I have no answers for it at present, but I wanted to share the book and the idea of oikophobia with the group in case anyone else has any connections they can make.

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Mar 5Liked by Brink Lindsey

Wonderful manifesto. I plan to read a few paragraphs aloud to the non-religious gathering I attend, once I can get on the schedule. I expect they'll love it too.

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Mar 4Liked by Brink Lindsey

Brink, I found this essay to be stimulating and inspiring, and flagged it for a later day (today) when I'd have time to respond thoughtfully. Apologies for the length - if it's TLDR, chalk it up to the degree to which these ideas trigger my thoughts. But responding is just the work of a morning: I appreciate the much more intensive time and effort that goes into these essays. I find your language to beautifully pertinent while it at the same time adapts the vocabulary of faith to contemporary understanding.

The "polemics" are well-stated and cover the immense range of what many of us are seeing as "just wrong" with many of the notions bouncing around now. At the same time you're grounding your criticism in compassion.

The civil religion approach resounds with my own peregrinations around transcendence. For shorthand I'll just refer to Genesis: we have the idea of original sin (the acceptance of the brokenness of humanity) contrasting with the idea that we're created in the image of God. Those storytellers recognized humanity's amazing and miraculous efforts to raise itself above its base, evolved nature. Somehow we've ended up with the ability to work miracles (Beethoven's Sonata No. 32.) And yes: one of these miracles is America; in fact I don't think it's possible to exclude American democracy from the greater nature of our collective being.

The civil religion approach is also valuable because it contains means for preserving access to the earlier roots in religion and political philosophy which many are so eager to hack away.

1. I have the impulse to quibble with the idea of the "romantic heresy." I'm not sure there's much of a belief out there that "people are naturally good and pure." Everyone who doesn't go along with one's ideology (on the popular left) or even commits an unintended micro-aggression might be labeled and condemned with no prospect for redemption. I've even been playing with the notion that there are youngsters out there who believe they're irredeemably tainted because they were born white.

2. "perhaps we can reason ourselves back toward faith" Yes! what a fantastic mission - I'm eager to see how this develops.

3. I agree that gratitude is the cardinal virtue. Besides being accessible to everyone, it can also help the kids find their way out of of the guilt-and-damnation spiral that apparently comes with being white, privileged, Western, cis, non-composting, plastic-using etc. (Just feel gratitude for your life just as it is, and allow your unique, personal response to the world's pain to develop naturally out of the gifts you've been blessed with. Hmmm... wouldn't that be the theological concept of the Call?)

Thanks for linking gratitude to Frankl's exhortation to find purpose by paying attention to attitude. (I was always afraid I'd fail if I were in Frankl's place, and have thus avoided his work as overly intimidating.)

4. Ah, Bellah! I loved him back in the day and did a bit of exploration of civil religion. It's amazing when an unfollowed path pops up again in someone else's ponderings. The challenge here, as you mention, is that civil religion and the visions of the founders and the enlightenment philosophers who inspired them are all deeply rooted in the Bible, and the Western legacy of thousands of years of thought about faith. Thanks for the reference to Gorski's book; he shares one of my family names so I won't forget it.

At the 20,000 foot level, I think new forms of transcendent faith will have to include rituals, solidarity and humility around the rest of the natural world. The one problem with Genesis is that we get to "subdue the earth." The challenge is to celebrate the miracle of human intelligence while at the same time cultivating ways to walk more softly among our fellow creatures (without romanticizing inaccessible indigenous spirituality.)

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The contents of an exchange between Keith Gillette and me on this article


You’re subscribed to Brink Lindsey’s Substack, right? I thought this essay was excellent.

The hook: “Our contemporary way of life, pioneered by the United States but now global in extent, is the way of progress. For progressives to uproot the error that has led them and all of us astray, they need to be worthy of their name: progressives need to rediscover faith in progress.”

The highlight: “Resistance to acknowledging our immense progress frequently takes the form of denigrating the significance of past accomplishments because they were the handiwork of flawed people. But such criticism ignores what it actually means to make progress. All progress, all movement toward the higher and lighter, is necessarily a product of something lower and darker — where else could it come from? If we deny the fact of progress because it emerges from a flawed past, then in the same breath we are denying the possibility of future progress because of its roots in a flawed present.”


Yes, you introduced me to this a few months ago and I have been pretty actively commenting back to him.

Keith: Great!

David: I find myself often in near agreement, but with a slightly different, less traditional take. That is the case here.

Keith: Unsurprised. 😏

David: What is required is not faith in progress, but understanding and willingness to steer.

Keith: I think Brink is saying something quite similar. He’s not arguing that progress is inevitable but something we must actively work toward. “Existential faith is not ultimately a belief, but rather a choice – the elemental choice that expresses an individual’s fundamental relationship with the world around him.”

David: And steering requires a sense of direction. The paragraph about dirt being the source is true in a sense, but not helpful. Yes the past is flawed, but that is explainable using the reality of rational understanding -- always approximate. wrong but useful.

Keith: Yes, the dirt metaphor isn’t helpful in pointing the way forward but I think Brink’s intent is to use it to argue that just because the good is mixed up with the bad that’s not a reason to work toward more of the good. He’s got in a mind a particular set of people who would denigrate the accomplishments of the Enlightenment, capitalism, …, because they are historically bound up with slavery, colonialism, cronyism, massive inequality, …

David: No, my main difference here is his rejection of the romantic ideal about the perfectibility of men. My view is different. We have an obscured view of the "perfect" the true, real and beautiful, but it is not what we expect. We know progress when we see it because of this access to the true and real, however approximate. Our reason cannot quite get us there, because reasoning is a system of parts and systems always leave stuff out.

Keith: I think there’s probably room for both diagnoses to be true. The roots of resistance are probably multifactorial. Brink’s diagnosis is at least easier to convey and the solutions, while perhaps incomplete, are more obvious. But doubtless your manifesto will make all clear…

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Mar 1Liked by Brink Lindsey

From your essay:

“A widespread naïve faith in progress arose in the North Atlantic world during the 19th century, only to be shattered in the 20th by the bloodletting and destruction of two world wars and the ensuing threat of nuclear annihilation. But this was a shallow faith, maintained in happy, ignorant denial of progress’s two-edged sword.”

The second half of the 19th century was a momentous time: the second industrial revolution started changing deeply and for good the agrarian/modern society in Europe, Japan, USA, and some other places. The massive installation of railroads put all the old geopolitics upside-down, since it allowed the creation of behemoths like USA and Russia. The creation of wealth induced by industrialization and the growing of cities of not seen size changed the expectation of people who, up to then, where destined to be some other guy in the same niche where his/her family lived. Everybody was invited to read and to write.

This time of wonders was not received by the contemporaries with unanimous appreciation.

Those are the times of Marx and Engels, and all the anarchists. Every nuts idea was examined with serious attention, and many where martyrs of new godless religions. Alas, every well to do family has an anarchist relative. In the backyard of every powerful nation of this time it was brewing a ant colonialist movement that will erupt in the first decades of the next century.

I do not agree that those were times of unspotted faith in the human nature and in the indefinite progress of humanity.

And the interesting thing of those times is that we are facing another tectonic movement:

• Global communication dwarfs the printing press in its capacity of spreading knowledge, awareness and global, panoptical, view.

• The creation of a market with suppliers and customers in every corner of the world, with intense flow of goods, knowledge and people take us to the global village.

• Having the possibility of chatting, interchange, have fun and to share jokes, joys and sorrows with people half world away changes deeply the concepts of nation, region and neighbor

• The new science of materials is changing everything: expect the same revolution that made useless the whale oil and guano for all the substances that you are fond of today. We are not going to need any geopolitically critical substance any more.

• Advances in biological science are giving us cultivars of unknown yield, artificial food, modified species, etc.

• The medicine keeps making us to survive up to adulthood and to live longer. At the same time the change in age composition of societies is pushing some nations into extinction and some others into a leading role.

I do not expect those rumbling revolutions to be welcome by everyone. More than that, I expect the majority saying “this went too far, enough is enough of having 20% of our population born abroad” and things like this.

And next, it is the corrected version by chatGPT

In your essay, you wrote, "A widespread naive faith in progress arose in the North Atlantic world during the 19th century, only to be shattered in the 20th by the bloodletting and destruction of two world wars and the ensuing threat of nuclear annihilation. But this was a shallow faith, maintained in happy, ignorant denial of progress's two-edged sword."

The second half of the 19th century was a momentous time: the Second Industrial Revolution deeply and permanently changed agrarian and modern society in Europe, Japan, the USA, and other places. The massive installation of railroads upended geopolitics by allowing the creation of behemoths like the USA and Russia. The wealth induced by industrialization and the growth of cities of previously unseen size changed people's expectations. Before, people were destined to be just another person in the same niche where their family lived. But during this time, everyone was invited to read and write.

This time of wonders was not received by contemporaries with unanimous appreciation. These were the times of Marx, Engels, and all the anarchists. Every crazy idea was examined with serious attention, and many people became martyrs of new godless religions. Unfortunately, every well-to-do family had an anarchist relative. In the backyard of every powerful nation at that time, there was an anti-colonialist movement brewing that would erupt in the first decades of the next century.

I do not agree that those were times of unblemished faith in human nature and the indefinite progress of humanity.

The interesting thing about those times is that we are facing another tectonic movement today.

• Global communication now dwarfs the printing press in its capacity to spread knowledge, awareness, and a global, panoptical view.

• The creation of a market with suppliers and customers in every corner of the world, with an intense flow of goods, knowledge, and people, is taking us toward a global village.

• The possibility of chatting, exchanging ideas, having fun, and sharing jokes, joys, and sorrows with people halfway across the world is deeply changing our concepts of nation, region, and neighbor.

• The new science of materials is changing everything. Expect the same revolution that made whale oil and guano obsolete for all the substances that you currently cherish. We will no longer need any geopolitically critical substances.

• Advances in biological science are giving us cultivars of unknown yield, artificial food, modified species, and more.

• Medicine keeps enabling us to survive up to adulthood and live longer. At the same time, the change in age composition of societies is pushing some nations into extinction and others into a leading role.

I do not expect these rumbling revolutions to be welcome by everyone. In fact, I anticipate that the majority will say, "This has gone too far. Enough is enough of having 20% of our population born abroad," and other similar things.

My native language is not English, but I feel the corrected version is a little more polished.

By the way: add generative intelligence to the today’s concoction…The best is yet to come

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Again, it's striking reading this as an Australian, coming from a society with lots of historical and cultural similarities, but some critical differences. I mentioned last time the view that religion was or should be a private matter. It's also true that we have never really had much of a civil religion.

A critical commentator in the 1920s said that Australians viewed the state as "a vast public utility", and that is still true. No one expects much in the way of national glory, except on the sporting field. The dominant view, set out in the 1960s is that we are a " Lucky Country". That isn't praise, the subtext is "run by second-rate people who share its luck".

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Feb 28Liked by Brink Lindsey

Another cracking thought provoking essay. Having read Victor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning many years ago, it made me wonder at the time how petty most of our worries were against what this man not only endured, but defeated.

Should be a must read for all school/college pupils in my view. No doubt I will read this essay a few times more to gain full assimilation of the content, but enlightening in my view on first read, if not politically correct for our woke societal systems.

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To "the gratitude virtue" - yes. Progress brings problems - yes. Successes of the past tainted with imperfection - yes. A proper renewal of patriotism - yes. To "faith in America" - yes.

To a financial pledge of support for The Permanent Problem substack - yes.

Thanks, Brink!

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Feb 28Liked by Brink Lindsey

"Gratitude, in my view of things, is the cardinal virtue: saying yes to life, staying mindful of the blessings it brings, orients us properly in all that we do, encouraging us to reach out and connect to the world and others and to hold ourselves open when they reach out to connect with us. Feelings of gratitude naturally spill over into the desire to pay it forward"

I don't understand Japanese culture well enough to appeal to its notion of giri ("burden of obligation") fairly, but I've noticed that burdens of obligation can inspire more resentment than gratitude. Leniency toward your debtors gets tougher the more burdensome your own debt feels. Good people want to *make good* (to "pay it forward", as you say), want to give others their due – tough to do if you can't, in turn, extract your due from others. The burden of obligation prompts otherwise-generous people to become jealous of their own due, to become "selfishly" "entitled".

Without mercy – forgiveness – can there be real gratitude?

The well-meaning conservatives who call conservatism the politics of gratitude aren't wrong, I think. But a reactionary streak reduces gratitude to "giri" (in quotes here since my usage may not be fair to Japanese culture), to a *burden* of obligation; a burden to be met uncreatively, according to others' authoritarian expectations for social control, rather than creatively, according to what *you* can give, simply because you're you and not someone else (what Deirdre McCloskey might call "identity").

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Feb 28·edited Feb 28Liked by Brink Lindsey

In the Bible Jesus uses a metaphor of being lost to explain the spiritual condition of the people.

Travelers in Jesus's time did not have access to street signs, pocket maps, Google Maps, compasses, or really any navigation tools beyond the sun and the stars and occasional physical landmark (that helped as long as one stayed on course). Getting lost often meant dying. People understood all this. Really understood this. That's what made the metaphor effective.

Now, we have largely lost that metaphor because we don't really understand what it means to be physically lost. In our abundance, we have paved roads, urban search and rescue, GPS, microwave ovens, MTV. We've also lost that lost metaphor because we pay less attention to Jesus.

We've got groups called the Greatest Generation, the Silent Gen, Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, Gen Z, and more labels to come. But we've all been the Lost Generation for a while now. And we largely don't recognize this.

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We are sorely in need of better leadership. Someone who will serve all Americans citizens before party or self. The hatred, resentment and divisiveness coming from our top leaders is deeply disturbing and sad. At times I feel like this is the end goal, as you eluded too. Great article! Thanks

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Feb 28Liked by Brink Lindsey

For all of its rubber masked silliness, Star Trek is a deeply important to me precisely because it embodies this sort of left-ish faith in progress you seek to foster. Recent reboots of the show have been really disappointing ( although strange new worlds is a big improvement) precisely because they abandon this faith in progress for moody antiheroes.

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