The End of Cocoon Culture

Some years ago a friend in the US – Irish born and educated but now working in academia there – asked me if I was on email. I looked puzzled and confessed ignorance. He brought me up to date. Not long after he visited again and this time asked me about what impact the pc phenomenon was having here. Once again, after an embarrassing and confusing wrong turn in which I probably muttered something about  personal computers he enlightened me on the joys and sorrows of political correctness and the new morality which was going to liberate mankind from moral and political darkness – he didn’t think.

It has often been said that we on this side of the Atlantic – and in this island (Ireland) in particular – lag something like ten years behind America in our thinking, practice and political fads. Probably not anymore. Google, Facebook, Twitter were with us in the twinkling of an eye and with them, in the twinkling of an eye again, comes everything else. We are now in the middle of it as soon as it happens – economic collapses and all. Good, bad or a matter of indifference? Definitely good and certainly not the latter. To be always coming from behind is not the best option – although to talk of options is now somewhat wide of the mark. There is no longer an option, neither economically, culturally nor in any other way. Geographically cocooned cultures in the developed world – little pockets of culture protected by artificial shells with greater or lesser resistance to the forces battling around them are no longer possible. Cultural values will now largely have to stand on their own two feet – or whatever it is cultures stand on. This is good. Good, but clearly dangerous.

It is good because it makes us think and makes us really live by and understand the values which we might previously have defended with various institutional structures – but then fail to appreciate for their true value. Take the conundrum of the hour, marriage. On this topic we are in the most complete muddle imaginable. The details of why and where might go to clear up that mess is for another day. Take religion. The connection between the practice of religion and the human condition as it is reflected in the debate in the public square of this little cocoon on the eastern shore of the Atlantic is so wide of the mark as to make one despair for the human race. Again, we might leave that for another posting.

So welcome to the new global world and welcome to the great reassembly of forces for the cause of truth and sanity which it offers us. Good-bye to a world where we lived in our cocoon, went to sleep in one decade and then awakened in another to find strange forces invading our little space without knowing how to cope with them. Now we live and fight shoulder to shoulder with fellow warriors across oceans – from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and back to the Atlantic again.

Whence this epiphany? Twenty years ago I had to wait for my friend to come home to Ireland for his vacation to find out what was afoot on the other side of the Atlantic. Meanwhile I lived on in quiet desperation – which is the Irish as well as the English way – with the local media establishment selecting what I read or listened to  and offering me their agreed opinions on the same . Today I open my laptop in the morning and look up The New York Times, The Washington Post or the The Wall Street Journal. I then check The Irish Times to see what the locals are up to and invariably find my blood pressure rising at the spectacle of one-sided myopia scrolling before my eyes. I then slip down to Sydney from where emanates and gives a varied commentary on events.

The enormous significance of this new way of living and looking at our world – for it is nothing less than that – was brought home to me last week when I stumbled across an item in The New York Times. Their front page offered a link to their “bloggingheads” feature where they flagged a short discussion between Mollie Ziegler Hemingway and the utterly heterodox Catholic, Frances Kissling. There were examining the future of the Christian left – in America, ostensibly, but in the new context that I’m proposing, it can be anywhere.  I had previously watched a similar discussion between Ziegler Hemingway and another blogging head on the incipient and inevitable conflict – as MZH saw it – between the gay rights movement and orthodox Christians. Two things were very attractive about both of these discussions. Firstly there was the way the discussion progressed. Both presented their arguments in an utterly respectful way, above all respectful to each other as persons. Secondly there was the reassurance I felt at the conclusion when I heard Ziegler Hemmingway present such a rational, wise and friendly take on where orthodox Christians are or should be on these issues. This was not the Summa Theologiae but in this sound-bitten age it was close enough to its spirit to make me say a heartfelt Deo gratias.

I then looked further. Who is Mollie Zeigler Hemmingway I asked? Where is she coming from? How did she get here? What else is she saying? Google of course led me to some answers and I found her among a great group of people – no least her husband and her two little children. It was all there –who she writes for, where she studied. She is a Washington-based writer, contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Christianity Today and the GetReligion website. She is a Lutheran and the kind of Lutheran about whom an orthodox (small “o”) Catholic will have to look closely to find the points of difference between the one and the other. But the bottom line is that she talks a lot of sense.

But that is not all. She is a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow of the Philips Foundation – about which, again, I knew noting until I started following the MZH trail. The Phillips Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1990 to advance constitutional principles, a democratic society and a vibrant free enterprise system. In 1994, the Foundation launched its Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Program to award grants to working print and online journalists to undertake and complete projects of their own choosing, focusing on journalism supportive of American culture and a free society. In 1999, the Foundation launched its Ronald Reagan College Leaders Scholarship Program to provide renewable cash awards to college undergraduates who demonstrate leadership on behalf of the cause of freedom, American values and constitutional principles. That description will, of course, make it an anathema to some. So be it.

Its website lists all its other Robert Novak fellows and I now return to my original epiphany: there are a lot of good people out there who are also talking sense and make those of us who may have felt somewhat like Davy Crockett in the Alamo, now feel a lot less beleaguered and under siege, indeed feel very much on a winning side.

5 thoughts on “The End of Cocoon Culture

  1. Gerry Duffy

    Very much my sentiments on thse issues. For me the web has been a liberation from the cocoon like comment in Irish Society. A diversity of viewpoint can only enable a healthier democracy and an openness to others.

  2. Noel T Ryan

    A very interesting article and I am now on the MZH trail which I am sure is only one of many
    other ‘sound’ trails which encircle the earth.

  3. Pingback: Garvan Hill: 2010 in review « Garvan Hill

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