Spiritual Warfare and the Politics of Paranoia and Providentialism

American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant. […]

Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated - if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

Source: The Paranoid Style in American Politics, By Richard Hofstadter | Harper’s Magazine

Via: Daring Fireball: ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’

That’s from a 1964 essay that could be written today about Trumpism and its Evangelical base.

“Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish” strongly evokes the spiritual warfare and apocalyptic eschatology of dominionism and evangelicalism.

Charismatic beliefs and practices and Calvinist theology seem to be mixing more and more these days, and it’s important to note that most Christians who could be described as evangelicals believe in spiritual warfare. They believe there are literal demons exerting influence over particular places and particular people, and that prayer and exorcism are important Christian practices, because, whether we want to be or not, all of us are caught up in this supposed spiritual battle that is ostensibly discernible for those who, thanks to the Holy Spirit, “have eyes to see.”

This is related to what I have elsewhere described as a politics of Providentialism, which entails reading spiritual realities into real-world events and which certainly contributes to real-world violence. While this is certainly the case in North America, it is also important to note the extent to which Pentecostalism and other radical charismatic Christians, and with them charismatic forms of dominionist politics, have been sweeping the global South in the wake of decades of right-wing missionary efforts.

Source: Christian Dominionism: A Beginner’s Guide to Terms and Context – Not Your Mission Field

Even now, in the Trump era, we often hear “spiritual warfare” rhetoric used by people who support the president such as Paula White-Cain, in her reference to “satanic pregnancies” or her “warfare” prayers at Trump rallies and other events.

People can believe what they want, but such a worldview becomes a problem when it espouses and promotes ideas that are a threat to public health and safety. We’ve seen how some Neocharismatic-Pentecostal preachers challenged confinement regulations due to COVID-19, putting their own church members and the general public at risk. When people attribute illnesses to demons, seeking to heal people through “deliverance” and “spiritual warfare” techniques, the general public and media have serious reasons to be concerned.

We’re also noticing how such a worldview now bleeds into the political sphere, when some demonize their political adversaries and define the next U.S. election in terms of “spiritual warfare.” As we approach the 2020 U.S. elections, expect more polarization and references to the “demonic” on the part of “spiritual warfare” warriors. Another good reason for all who embrace pluralism to be alarmed.

Source: The ‘Spiritual Warfare’ Worldview of Trump’s Conspiracy Doctor is Part of a Transnational Movement | Religion Dispatches

In 1964, as now, the politics of paranoia and providentialism are a popular appeal that ruin things for the rest of us.

… “existential fear” in the form of paranoia has always characterized the right-wing evangelical ethos, regardless of the level of actual external threat.

Source: On the Conservative Movement and Evangelical Spin Doctoring: A Response to A. J. Nolte – Not Your Mission Field

Then, as now, reactionary Christians allowed themselves to be driven by fear of change, fear of modernization, fear of any knowledge that challenged their understanding of their faith.

Unfortunately, until they are defeated politically, we are stuck with the devastating social consequences of their political externalization and projection.

Source: Beyond ‘Thoughts and Prayers’: How the Christian Right’s Politics of Providentialism Keeps America from Addressing Gun Violence – Rewire News Group – Religion Dispatches

The Politics of Paranoia

The Politics of Providentialism

The Politics of Resentment

I grew up amidst them, quietly rejected them as a kid, and loudly reject them now. A dishearteningly huge chunk of the USA is drunk off this toxic cocktail.

Under Trump, the Republican identity is defined not by a set of policy beliefs but by a paranoid mind-set.

What to do? You can’t argue people out of paranoia.

Source: Opinion | The Rotting of the Republican Mind – The New York Times

Neurodiversity and Unilateral Accommodationism

Lately, I’ve seen the neurodiversity movement presented in terms of unilateral accommodationism by detractors of the “Neurodiversity Lobby”.

Here are a few examples anonymously cribbed from Twitter.

Do you believe autistic people should cultivate ourselves, or should society just accommodate us with no effort on our parts?

Neurorealism means that autistic people should cultivate ourselves as far as is reasonable, and other people in society should accommodate ourselves as far as is reasonable. This is bilateral accommodation, and it is generally rejected by the Neurodiversity lobbyists.

The Neurodiversity lobby advocates unilateral accommodationism.

I’m not hanging out in every pocket of the greater neurodiversity universe, but around the watercoolers I lurk, accommodation is usually couched not in unilateral terms, but in terms of bridging the double empathy gap and moving from the framing of accommodation to the framing of inclusion and acceptance.

Accommodation encourages the harmful ableist tropes of people being “special” and “getting away with” extra “privileges” and “advantages”. Accommodation is fertile ground for zero-sum thinking, grievance culture, and the politics of resentment. The terrain of accommodation is hostile and fraught. The topography is designed for attrition. Navigating it consumes spoons while fueling internalized ableism, anxiety, depression, and burn out. We must change the framing to survive. We must change the default.

A big part of our susceptibility to issues like anxiety has to do with how we were slowly socialized, either implicitly or explicitly, to believe that an autistic lifestyle is something that is defective and therefore needs fixing. A recent Independent article sums up the strong link between lack of autism acceptance and the development of mental health disorders in autistic people: Research shows that lack of acceptance externally from others and internally from the self significantly predicts depression and anxiety in young adults with autism.

Source: THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Mental Health and Autism: Why Acceptance Matters

Social model families are real families preparing our kids for a real world where neurodivergent people have shortened lifespans, higher unemployment, and higher likelihoods of ending up under state control or being killed by law enforcement. We have to prove our disabilities and “disorders” and identities over and over to get any wiggle room to be different and learn differently in our resentful compliance cultures. We must submit ourselves to patient-hood and bear the language of deficit and disorder as identity.

That wiggle room to learn differently isn’t so wiggly, because what you earn upon clearing the many hurdles of accommodation is segregation and access to a disability industrial complex that pathologizes your identity and seeks to suppress your differences through behaviorism.

My experience with special education and ABA demonstrates how the dichotomy of interventions that are designed to optimize the quality of life for individuals on the spectrum can also adversely impact their mental health, and also their self-acceptance of an autistic identity. This is why so many autistic self-advocates are concerned about behavioral modification programs: because of the long-term effects they can have on autistic people’s mental health. This is why we need to preach autism acceptance, and center self advocates in developing appropriate supports for autistic people. That means we need to take autistic people’s insights, feelings, and desires into account, instead of dismissing them.

Source: THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Mental Health and Autism: Why Acceptance Matters

We have a medical community that’s found a sickness for every single human difference. DSM keeps growing every single year with new ways to be defective, with new ways to be lessened.

Disability industrial complex is all about what people can’t do. We spend most of our time trying to fix what they can’t do. When all we do is fix people the message we give to them is that they are broken.

We have created a system that has you submit yourself, or your child, to patient hood to access the right to learn differently. The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.

Source: The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed

Accommodation gets you more deficit model and more medical model, but rarely compassion. Compassion and acceptance are practical and effective magic. They remedy a lot of problems and contribute to psychological safety. Acceptance matters. Accommodationism, unilateral or the usual, doesn’t get you much of it.

We’re not preparing our kids for unilateral accommodationism or universal acceptance; we’re preparing them for a journey against odds and equipping them with a social model identity, the tools of self-advocacy, and the support of their neurosiblings and cousins so that they can help improve our systems for themselves and those who come next.

So far, I find the unilateral accommodationism line too reductionist. It smashes nuance out of the neurodiversity movement I know and discounts a whole lot of people who are doing the quiet, back-and-forth, iterative work in our schools, workplaces, and institutions of opening minds to social model perspectives. “Unilateral accommodationism” suggests neurodivergent and disabled people have the power and that there is anything resembling a good faith effort to meet us even halfway. It smacks of resentment.

At its core, intersectionality is about nuance and context.” Likewise with neurodiversity. My neurodiversity is about nuance and context. It’s about the “foregrounding of complexity as the baseline”.  It’s about structural ideology and equity literacy. It’s about challenging the “violence of the norm” and the “grounding narrative of exclusion” that is neurotypicality.

Neurodiversity is a movement that celebrates difference while remaining deeply nuanced on questions of (medical) facilitation and the necessity of rethinking the concept of accommodation against narratives of cure. The added emphasis on neurology has been necessary in order to challenge existing norms that form the base-line of existence: the “neuro” in neurodiversity has opened up the conversation about the category of neurotypicality and the largely unspoken criteria that support and reinforce the definition of what it means to be human, to be intelligent, to be of value to society. This has been especially necessary for those folks who continue to be excluded from education, social and economic life, who are regarded as less than human, whose modes of relation continue to be deeply misunderstood, and who are cast as burdens to society.

Nonetheless, I think it’s fair to say that this enhanced perceptual field is an aspect of much autistic experience and something neurotypicals could learn a lot from, not only with regard to perception itself, but also as concerns the complexity of experience.

Neurotypicality is a grounding narrative of exclusion. The neurotypical is the category to which our education systems aspire. It is the category to which our ideas of the nuclear family aspire. And, it is the category on which the concept of the citizen (and by extension participation in the nation-state and the wider global economy) is based.

In the context of education, which is the one I am most knowledgeable about, the mechanisms for upholding the neurotypical standard are everywhere in force. Every classroom that penalizes students for distributed modes of attention organizes learning according to a neurotypical norm. Every classroom that sees the moving body as the distracted body is organized according to a neurotypical norm. Every classroom that teaches predominantly for one mode of perception is organizing its learning according to a norm. Every classroom that knows in advance what knowledge looks and sounds like is working to a norm.

Having “special needs” classrooms upholds neurotypicality, for instance, as the dominant model of existence. Drugging our children because of their attention deficit is upholding a neurotypical norm. Sending our black and indigenous children to juvenile detention centers in disproportionate numbers is upholding a neurotypical norm which takes, as neurotypicality always does, whiteness as the standard.

To engage with neurodiversity is to speak up about the extraordinary silence around neurotypicality and to acknowledge that we do not question ourselves enough as regards what kinds of bodies are welcomed and supported in education, and in social life more broadly. It is still far too rare that we discuss neurotypicality as that which frames our ways of knowing, of presenting ourselves, of being bodies in the world.

The violence of the norm that is imposed without ever having to be spoken as such is debilitating. Not only does it normalize education, siphoning out difference of all kinds, but it also forces all bodies who want to be recognized as “knowledgeable” (and thus human) to be organized within an incredibly unimaginative matrix.

Neurotypicality as mode of knowledge policing builds on what it considers “direct” communication.

What is needed are not more categories but more sensitivity to difference and a more acute attunement to qualities of experience.

Source: Histories of Violence: Neurodiversity and the Policing of the Norm – Los Angeles Review of Books

Intersectionality is a structural theory about processes and systems that make our identities mean something in different contexts.

Intersectionality’s raison dêtre is to reveal the systems that organize our society. Intersectionality’s brilliance is that its fundamental contribution to how we view the world seems so common-sense once you have heard it: by focusing on the parts of the system that are most complex and where the people living it are the most vulnerable we understand the system best. Mark Lilla and others who critique this view of the body politic, reducing it to the caricature of “identity politics”, refuse to engage intersectionality’s most powerful empirical truth: we all have intersectional identities and all of them matter, if not all in the same way.

Source: The Intersectional Presidency – Tressie McMillan Cottom – Medium

See also,