I Don’t Want to Set the World On Fire

This week from The Signal

Delusions, Lies, and Voting Rights
Despite Republican claims, voting-rights reforms aren’t a partisan ploy

The Rules of Attraction
Consent and sexual autonomy in a time of reckoning

Just Like That
How the Democrats transformed American society with almost no opposition

The Wages of Fear
Why U.S. Republicans are trapped in a politics of cultural grievance

The Acolytes of Online Dogma

How influencers are creating secular religions in a connected world

Has the cultural left taken on a censor’s role previously held by the religious right? It’s a running theme in contemporary American cultural discussions: From removing “problematic” books from circulation, to shaming public (and not-so-public) figures over minor past missteps, something along those lines is certainly going on; what’s up for debate is whether it ought to be a major concern, or has altogether replaced its right-wing equivalent. Some observers point out the rigidity of progressive norms and the ritualistic requirements of adhering to them (social-media apologies, privilege confessions, etc.) and liken today’s social justice advocacy to a religion. The comparison itself may add up, but what to take from that isn’t a straightforward question.

The novelist Leigh Stein offers a way out of an unresolvable loop in debates over whether “wokeness” is in fact a new religion. Stein, the author most recently of Self Care, a novel satirizing wellness influencers, a forthcoming pandemic poetry collection, What to Miss When, and a recent New York Times op-ed, “The Empty Religions of Instagram,” examines contemporary culture and politics in a way that overlaps with critiques of “wokeness” but has a frame of its own. Stein is concerned both about hypersensitive politics in the absence of a culture of forgiveness and about a wider blurring of boundaries between preacher and influencer, activism and marketing. Of the secular, liberal Millennials, she wrote, “Our new belief system is a blend of left-wing political orthodoxy, intersectional feminism, self-optimization, therapy, wellness, astrology and Dolly Parton.”

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