An Introduction to the Life & Music of Fela Kuti: Radical Nigerian Bandleader, Political Hero, and Creator of Afrobeat

I cannot write about Nigerian bandleader, saxophonist, and founder of the Afrobeat sound, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, with any degree of objectivity, whatever that might mean. Because hearing him counts as one of the greatest musical eye-openers of my life: a feeling of pure elation that still has not gone away. It was not an original discovery by any means. Millions of people could say the same, and far more of those people are African fans with a much better sense of Fela’s mission. In the U.S., the playfully-delivered but fervent urgency of his activist lyricism requires footnotes.

Afrobeat fandom in many countries does not have to personally reckon with the history from which Fela and his band emerged—a Nigeria wracked in the 60s by a military coup, civil war, and rule by a succession of military juntas. Fela (for whom the first name never seems too familiar, so enveloping was his presence on stage and record) created the conditions for a new style of African music to emerge, an earth-shattering fusion of jazz, funk, psych rock, high life from Ghana, salsa, and black power, anti-colonial, and anti-corruption politics.

He took up the cause of the common people by singing in a pan-African English that leapt across borders and cultural divides. In 1967, the year he went to Ghana to craft his new sound and direction, his cousin, Nobel-prize winning writer Wole Soyinka, was jailed for attempting to avert Nigeria’s collapse into civil war. Fela returned home swinging three year later, a burgeoning superstar with a new name (dropping the British “Ransome” and taking on the Yoruba "Anikulapo"), a new sound, and a new vision.

Fela built a commune called Kalakuta Republic, a home for his band, wives, children and entourage. The compound was raided by the military government, his nightclub shut down, he was beaten and jailed hundreds of times. He continued to publish columns and speak out in interviews and performances against colonial hegemony and post-colonial abuse. He championed traditional African religious practices and pan-African socialism. He harshly critiqued the West’s role in propping up corrupt African governments and conducting what he called “psychological warfare."

What would Fela have thought of Fela Kuti: the Father of Afrobeat, the documentary about him here in two parts? I don't know, though he might have had something to say about its source: CGTN Africa, a network funded by the Chinese government and operated by China Central Television. Debate amongst yourselves the possible propaganda aims for disseminating the film; none of them interfere with the vibrant portrait that emerges of Nigeria’s most charismatic musical artist, a man beloved by those closest to him and those farthest away.

Find out why he so enthralls, in interviews with his band and family, flamboyant performance footage, and passionate, filmed interviews. Part guru and radical populist hero, a bandleader and musician as tirelessly perfectionistic as Duke Ellington or James Brown—with the crack band to match—Fela was himself a great propagandist, in the way of the greatest self-made star performers and revolutionaries. With force of will, personality, endless rehearsal, and one of the greatest drummers to come out of the 20th century, Tony Allen, Fela made a national struggle universal, drawing on sources from around the global south and the U.S. and, since his death in 1997, inspiring a Broadway musical and wave upon wave of revival and rediscovery of his music and the jazz/rock/Latin/traditional African fusions happening all over the continent of Africa in the 60s and 70s.

No list of superlatives can convey the feeling of listening to Fela’s music, the unrelenting funkiness that pulses from his band’s complex, interlocking polyrhythms, the serpentine lines his saxophone traces around righteous vocal chants and wah guitars. Learn the history of his struggle, by all means, and cast a wary eye at those who may use it for other means. But let no extra-musical concerns stop you from journeying through Fela's catalog, whether as a curious tourist or as someone who understands firsthand the musical war he waged on the zombie relics of empire and a militarized anti-democratic government.

Fela Kuti: the Father of Afrobeat will be added to our collection Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Jared Diamond Describes How the U.S. Could Become a Dictatorship in 10 Years

It can happen here, and it has.

By “it” I mean the enormous concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of a very few, and by “here” I mean the United States of America, a country that advertises itself as a democracy, but should rightly be referred to as an oligarchy, ruled by a wealthy elite.

But the country is not a dictatorship yet. I say “yet” because that too can happen here, given the aforementioned concentration of wealth and power, the increasing tolerance for nationalism, cruelty, xenophobia, and near-constant lying, and the craven acquiescence so many of the country’s legislators—who are supposed to put a check on such things—have shown to the whims of a baldly autocratic executive.

Perhaps it is only a matter of time, given the above. How much time? Maybe ten years, argues Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning anthropologist, geographer, historian, and ecologist, and author of The Third ChimpanzeeGuns, Germs, and Steel; Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed; and The World Until Yesterday.

In the Big Think video interview clip above, Diamond frames the problem as one of an unwillingness to compromise, using the analogy of a happy marriage. “The best you can hope for in a marriage is an agreement on 80%. If you agree on 80%, that’s fantastic.” For any two people, married or otherwise, 80% agreement seems optimistic. For an entire country, it seems almost utopian.

But whatever number you want to set as a realistic goal, the U.S. has fallen far below it—at least when it comes to the way our governmental bodies work, or don’t, together. This is not a problem reducible to “both sides.” One party in particular has consistently refused to work with the other and used every dirty trick—from extreme gerrymandering to refusing to let a sitting President appoint a Supreme Court Justice—to hold power.

Politics is a dirty business, you may say, and yes, it is. But—to return to Diamond’s point—a functioning democracy requires compromise. These days, congress cannot pass legislation; “legislatures are at odds with the judiciary” (Diamond cites the example of the Republican-controlled West Virginia congress impeaching the state’s entire, Democratic-majority, supreme court in 2018); state governments are suing the federal government, and vice-versa.

The failure of compromise, says Diamond, is “the only problem that could precipitate the United States into the end of democracy and into a dictatorship in the next decade.” The usual historical examples can be more or less instructive on this point. But there are other, more recent, dictatorships that do not receive nearly enough attention—perhaps by design, since they have been “friendly” regimes that the U.S. helped create.

Diamond describes the situation in Chile, for example, where he lived in the late 60s. When he first moved there, it had been “the most democratic country in Latin America,” a country that prided itself on its ability to compromise. But this quality was in decline, he says, and its loss led to the country’s military coup in 1973, which brought the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet to power (with the help of the CIA and certain American economists).

The new Chilean government “smashed world records for sadism and torture,” says Diamond, shocking those Chileans who believed their country was immune to the excesses of other Latin American nations that had succumbed to repressive authoritarianism. If that happens here, he argues, it will not come through a military coup, but rather through “what we see going on now”—namely restrictions on the right to vote and voter apathy.

Voting is the primary solution, Diamond claims, but voting alone may not address the problem of oligarchy. When a handful of the wealthy control mass media, fund local and national political campaigns, and otherwise exert undue influence, through mass surveillance, manipulation, and the use of foreign agents, the possibility of free and fair elections may disappear, if it hasn’t already.

Nonetheless, Diamond’s point deserves some serious consideration. If we want to avert dictatorship in the U.S., how can we encourage compromise—without, that is, relinquishing our most fundamental values? It's a point to ponder.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What If We’re Wrong?: An Animated Video Challenges Our Most Deeply Held Beliefs–With the Help of a Ludwig Wittgenstein Thought Experiment

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein asked us to imagine a rope stretched around the earth at the equator (and imagine the earth as a perfect sphere). Were we to add one more yard to the rope, then stretch it out taut again, would anyone be able to notice the difference? Most of us will intuit that it couldn’t possibly be so, a yard would disappear in the immensity of the Earth’s circumference.

Some geometry and algebra show, in fact, that the rope would hover about 6 inches off the ground, becoming a hazardous tripwire spanning the globe. The video above from the Center for Public Philosophy at the University of California, Santa Cruz begins with this odd thought experiment and ends with a call to action: to apply more skepticism to our political positions.

If we can be so wrong about a problem with a mathematical proof, we’re asked, “how should an open-minded honest person regard her own certainty in areas where there are often no proofs, like politics, philosophy, ethics, or aesthetics? Maybe we should be a lot less confident in our beliefs. After all, we might be wrong more than we realize.” Maybe so. But it seems there’s some slippery use of terminology here.

In any case, the short video is not, we should point out, a representation of Wittgenstein’s thought, only a riff on his imagining a rope around the world. What did Wittgenstein himself have to say about skepticism and certainty? It's complicated. Attempting to characterize his thought in brief might be an impossible task. He can seem like a highly contradictory thinker, refuting the ideas in his first book, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in his posthumously published Philosophical Investigations, for example.

But perhaps it is more so the case—as A.C. Grayling writes of another posthumously published Wittgenstein collection, On Certainty—that the stages of the enigmatic thinker’s career were each “a collection of provisional notes, recording a journey not an arrival.” He had begun in the Tractatus by considering philosophy “a spurious enterprise.” Most famously, Wittgenstein wrote, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent," sweeping away with one lofty gesture all metaphysics and abstract speculation.

In On Certainty, he appears to finally accept philosophy’s “legitimacy.” Any conflict with his earlier positions does not trouble him at all. Wittgenstein attempts to refute skepticism, returning to the image of a “world picture” that recurs again and again in his work, building his case with aphorisms like “I have a world picture. Is it true or false? Above all it is the substratum of all my enquiring and asserting.” Drawing on the foundationalism of G.E. Moore, Wittgenstein deploys rhetoric that sounds downright fundamentalist:

If I say 'we assume that the earth has existed for many years past' (or something similar), then of course it sounds strange that we should assume such a thing. But in the entire system of our language-games it belongs to the foundations. The assumption, one might say, forms the basis of action, and therefore, naturally, of thought.

Isn't the question this: 'What if you had to change your opinion even on these most fundamental things?' And to that the answer seems to me to be: 'You don't have to change. That is just what their being "fundamental" is.'

This does not sound like a person likely to ever change their mind about what one might call their “strongly-held beliefs." Wittgenstein constructs another view at the very same time. His second argument “is not comfortably consistent with—perhaps, indeed, undermines” the first. While defending certainty, he argues for “relativism… the view that truth and knowledge are not absolute or invariable, but dependent upon viewpoint, circumstances or historical conditions.”

Our thoughts about the world, or our "world-picture,” writes Wittgenstein, “might be part of a kind of mythology…. The mythology may change back into a state of flux, the river-bed of thoughts may shift.” Our beliefs change as the “language-game” changes. We put on new discursive clothing, contingent on our present circumstances. “The difficulty,” writes the philosopher, with almost a hint of sympathy, “is to realize the groundlessness of our believing.”

Neither of these positions—that we are justified in believing “fundamental,” self-evident propositions because they’re fundamental; or that we change our beliefs because of a change in relative “language-games”—fit neatly with the idea that we should try to be less certain and more open to changing our minds. Nor is any reference in Wittgenstein likely to help resolve our political disagreements.

We may find it a comfort, or a deeply unsettling proposition, that certain beliefs might be anchored more deeply than proof or skepticism can reach. Or as Wittgenstein put it: “And now if I were to say ‘It is my unshakeable conviction that etc.,’ this means in the present case too that I have not consciously arrived at the conviction by following a particular line of thought, but that it is anchored in all my questions and answers, so anchored that I cannot touch it.” Yet, perhaps it is the case that we share more of these convictions than we know.

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

When Boris Pasternak Won–and Then the Soviets Forced Him to Decline–the Nobel Prize (1958)

Behind the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature, there are stories upon stories, some as juicy as those in the work of winners like William Faulkner or Gabriel García Márquez—and some just as devastating to the parties involved. Last year’s award was postponed after sexual assault allegations lead to several members to resigning. (There will be two prizes awarded for 2019.) The charges needed to be aired, but if you’re looking for details about how the secretive committee selects the nominees and winners, you’ll have to wait a while.

“The Swedish Academy keeps all information about nominations and selections for the prestigious award secret for 50 years,” writes Allison Flood at The Guardian. Newly unsealed documents from the Academy have shone light on Jean-Paul Sartre’s rejection of the prize in 1964, and the shunning of Samuel Beckett in 1968 by committee chairman Anders Österling, who found his work too nihilistic (Beckett won the following year), and of Vladimir Nabokov, whose Lolita Österling declared “immoral.”

Perhaps the saddest of Nobel stories has taken on even more vivid detail, not only through newly opened files of the Nobel Prize committee, but also recently declassified CIA documents that show how the agency used Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago as a propaganda tool (handing out hasty re-translations into Russian to Soviet visitors at the World’s Fair). In October 1958, the author was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He had, as The Guardian reported in October of that year, intended to “accept it in person in Stockholm next month.” He may have had little reason to think he could not do so.

Despite his role as a perpetual thorn in the side of the Soviet government, and their attempts to suppress his work and refusal to allow Doctor Zhivago to be published, the repressive regime mostly gave Pasternak his relative freedom, even after the novel was smuggled abroad, translated, and released to an international readership. Whether or not the Nobel committee chose him as an anti-Communist statement, as some have alleged, made no difference to his reputation around the world as a penetrating realist in the great Russian novelistic tradition.

The award might have been perceived as a validation of Russian letters, but the Soviets saw it as a threat. They had “raged” against Doctor Zhivago and its "anti-Marxist" passages, “but that only increased its popularity,” writes Ben Panko at Smithsonian. Pasternak had already been “repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize” and the “worldwide buzz around his new book pushed him to the top of the list in 1958.” Upon learning of the win, he sent a telegram to the committee that read, in part, “Thankful, glad, proud, confused.”

Days later, as The Guardian wrote, Pasternak decided to decline the award “without having consulted even his friends.” He sent a short telegram to the Swedish Academy reading:

Considering the meaning this award has been given in the society to which I belong, I must reject this undeserved prize which has been presented to me. Please do not receive my voluntary rejection with displeasure. - Pasternak.

The author’s “decision” was not as abrupt as it might have seemed. In the days after his win, a storm raged, as he put it. Even before the declassified trove of information, readers around the world could follow the story, “which had more twists and turns than a Cold War-era spy novel,” Tina Jordan writes at The New York Times. It played out in the papers “with one front-page story after another.” Pasternak angered the Soviets by expressing his “delight” at winning the prize in an interview. He was denounced in Soviet newspapers, called by a Pravda editor a “malevolent Philistine” and “libeler,” and his book described as “low-grade reactionary hackwork.”

Pasternak faced exile in the days after he gave up the prize and issued a forced public apology in Pravda on November 6. The Academy held the ceremony in his absence and placed his award in trust “in case he may some day have a chance to accept them,” the Times reported. Pasternak had hoped to be reinstated to the Soviet Writer’s Union, which had expelled him, and had hoped that his novel would be published in his own country and language in his lifetime.

Neither of these things occurred. The events surrounding the Nobel broke him. His health began to fail and he died two years later in 1960. Pasternak’s son Yevgeny describes in moving detail seeing his father the night after he turned down the Nobel. “I couldn’t recognize my father when I saw him that evening. Pale, lifeless face, tired painful eyes, and only speaking about the same thing: ‘Now it all doesn’t matter, I declined the Prize.’” Doctor Zhivago was published in the Soviet Union in 1988. “The following year,” notes Panko, “Yevgeny was allowed to go to Oslo and retrieve his father’s denied prize.”

Looking for free, professionally-read audio books from Audible.com? That could include  Doctor Zhivago. Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

When American Financiers and Business Leaders Plotted to Overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt and Install a Fascist Government in the U.S. (1933)

Economist and columnist Paul Krugman recently wrote about a current nominee for the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors who called cities like Cincinnati and Cleveland “armpits of America” to laughs from an audience of business leaders. This same nominee has made headlines for saying “capitalism is a lot more important than democracy” and calling the 16th Amendment establishing the income tax the “most evil” law passed in the 20th century.

As crude as the comments are, many wealthy people who make decisions of consequence in the U.S. do not seem like “big believers in democracy,” as the nominee put it. It’s messy and inconvenient for those who would prefer not to answer to an elected government. The same attitudes were shared by right-wing bankers, business leaders, and conservative politicians during the worst economic crisis the country has seen.

Despite the failure of laissez-faire financial capitalism after the crash of 1929, financiers, economists, and politicians refused to admit their principles might have been very badly flawed. But in 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt was first elected, “the economy was staggering, unemployment was rampant and a banking crisis threatened the entire monetary system,” writes NPR, in a description of the Great Depression that reads as drily understated.

Still, Roosevelt’s election went too far for his opponents (and not far enough for progressives to his left). West Virginia Republican Senator Henry Hatfield wrote to a colleague, in a series of evergreen expressions, characterizing FDR’s historic First Hundred Days as “despotism”:

This is tyranny, this is the annihilation of liberty. The ordinary American is thus reduced to the status of a robot. The president has not merely signed the death warrant of capitalism, but has ordained the mutilation of the Constitution, unless the friends of liberty, regardless of party, band themselves together to regain their lost freedom.

Wall Street agreed, except for all that stuff about the Constitution and the welfare of the ordinary American.

In what became known as the “Business Plot” (or the “Wall Street Putsch”)—a group of bankers and business leaders allegedly created a conspiracy to overthrow the president and install a dictator friendly to their interests. The conspirators included investment banker and future Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush (father of George H.W. Bush), bond salesman Gerald MacGuire, and Bill Doyle commander of the Massachusetts American Legion.

The plot was famously exposed by Major General Smedley D. Butler, who testified under oath about his knowledge of a plan to form an organization of 500,000 veterans who could take over the functions of government, as you can see Butler himself say in the 1935 newsreel footage above. The members of the Business Plot believed Butler would lead this irregular force in a coup. He had previously been “an influential figure in the so-called Bonus Army,” writes Matt Davis at Big Think, “a group of 43,000 marchers—among them many World War I veterans—who were camped at Washington to demand the early payment of the veteran’s bonus promised to them.”

Butler’s willingness to challenge the government did not make him sympathetic to a coup. He heard the conspirators out, then turned them in. But his allegations were immediately dismissed by The New York Times, who wrote that the story was a “gigantic hoax,” “perfect moonshine!,” “a fantasy,” and “a publicity stunt.” A congressional investigation corroborated Smedley’s claims, to an extent. The conspirators may have had weapons, violent intent, and millions of dollars. But no one was ever prosecuted. Many, like New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, waved the coup attempt away as “a cocktail putsch.”

The same attitudes that let the conspirators suffer no consequences, and let them go on to serve in high office, also seemed to drive their way of thinking. Roosevelt could be brought to see reason, they believed. Since his class interests aligned with theirs, he would see that fascism best served those interests. Sally Denton, investigative reporter and author of a book about the multiple plots against FDR (The Plots Against the President: FDR, A Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right), explains in an interview with All Things Considered:

They thought that they could convince Roosevelt, because he was of their, the patrician class, they thought that they could convince Roosevelt to relinquish power to basically a fascist, military-type government.

What MacGuire proposed was more corporatist than militarist in appearance, at least, notes Davis. The President could remain as a figurehead, but “the real power of the government would be held in the hands of a Secretary of General Affairs, who would be in effect a dictator," but whose job description, as MacGuire put it, was “a sort of super secretary.”

As for Butler, not only did he call the plot treason, but he also came to feel considerable regret for his service as “a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers,” as he later wrote in his essay “War is a Racket,” published in the socialist magazine Common Sense. “I was a racketeer,” he confessed, “a gangster for capitalism.” In exposing the plot, he decided to side with the flawed, but functional democracy of our own country over the will of capitalists bent on holding power by any means.

via Big Think

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What Does “Machiavellian” Really Mean?: An Animated Lesson

The word Machiavellian has come to invariably refer to an “unscrupulous schemer for whom the ends justify the means,” notes the animated TED-Ed video above, a description of characters “we love to hate” in fiction past and present. The adjective has even become enshrined in psychological literature as one third of the “dark triad” that also features narcissism and psychopathy, personalities often mistaken for the Machiavellian type.

The term's “lasting notoriety comes from a brief political essay known as The Prince," written by Renaissance Italian writer and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli and "framed as advice to current and future monarchs." The Prince and its author have acquired such a fearsome reputation that they seem to stand alone, like the work of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who likewise lent their names to the psychology of power. But Machiavelli's book is part of “an entire tradition of works known as ‘mirrors for princes’ going back to antiquity.”

Machiavelli innovated on the tradition by casting fuzzy abstractions like justice and virtuousness aside to focus solely on virtù, the classical Italian word derived from the Latin virtus (manhood), which had little to do with ethics and everything to do with strength, bravery, and other warlike traits. Though thinkers in the tradition of Aristotle argued for centuries that civic and moral virtue may be synonymous, for Machiavelli they most certainly were not, it seems. “Throughout [The Prince] Machiavelli appears entirely unconcerned with morality except insofar as it’s helpful or harmful to maintaining power.”

The work became infamous after its author’s death. Catholics and Protestants both blamed Machiavelli for the others' excesses during the bloody European religious wars. Shakespeare coined Machiavel “to denote an amoral opportunist.” The line to contemporary usage is more or less direct. But is The Prince really “a manual for tyranny”? The book, after all, recommends committing atrocities of all kinds, oppressing minorities, and generally terrifying the populace as a means of quelling dissent. Keeping up the appearance of benevolence might smooth things over, Machiavelli advises, unless it doesn’t. Then the ruler must do whatever it takes. The guiding principle here is that “it is much safer to be feared than loved.”

Was Machiavelli an “unsentimental realist”? A Renaissance Kissinger, so to speak, who saw the greater good in political hegemony no matter what the cost? Or was he a neo-classical philosopher hearkening back to antiquity? He “never seems to have considered himself a philosopher,” writes the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy—“indeed, he often overtly rejected philosophical inquiry as beside the point.” Or at least he seemed to have rejected the Christian-influenced humanism of his day. Nonetheless, “Machiavelli deserves a place at the table in any comprehensive survey of philosophy,” not least because “philosophers of the first rank did (and do) feel compelled to engage with his ideas.”

Of the many who engaged with Machiavelli, Isaiah Berlin saw him as reclaiming ancient Greek values of the state over the individual. But there’s more to the story, and it includes Machiavelli’s political biography as a defender of republican government and a political prisoner of those who overthrew it. On one reading, The Prince becomes a “scathing description” of how power actually operates behind its various masks; a guide not for princes but for ordinary citizens to grasp the ruler's actions for what they are truly designed to do: maintain power, purely for its own sake, by any means necessary.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

It’s Official: The “Nones”– People Who Profess No Religion–Are Now as Big as Catholics & Evangelicals in the United States

The usual irregularities and shenanigans notwithstanding, the voting patterns of the U.S. electorate may undergo a sea change in the coming decades as the numbers of people who identify as non-religious continue to rise. One of the biggest demographic stories of the last few decades, the rise of the “nones” has been interpreted as a threat and as an inevitable reckoning for corrupt and scandal-ridden institutions driving millions of people out of churches across the country.

Politics and social issues are hardly the only reasons, though they poll second in list from a 2017 Pew survey. At number one is “I question a lot of religious teachings," at number three, the slightly more vague “I don’t like religious organizations.” It's maybe a surprise that nonbelief in God appears all the way at number four. Which speaks to an important point.

Not all of those exiting the pews have renounced their faith or converted to another, but huge numbers have joined the ranks of those who claim “no religion” in survey and polling data. Their numbers are now equivalent to Catholics and evangelicals, the two religious groups most in decline behind mainline Protestant churches. Political scientist Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University is not surprised. “It’s been a constant steady increase for 20 years now,” he says, pointing to data from a General Social Survey visualized in the graph above.

The last decade has seen the sharpest upturn yet, with "nones" now estimated at 23.1 percent of the population. If this rise—and subsequent plateaus and declines in the major religious groups surveyed (and the batch of non-Judeo-Christian “Other Faith”s dismissively lumped together)—continues, the shift could be dramatic. In 2014, 78% of the unaffiliated, according to Pew polling, were raised in and walked away from a religion. The shift in identity among young people tends to correlate with a shift in politics.

The "rising tide of religiously unaffiliated voters," writes Jack Jenkins at Religion News Service, is "a group that a 2016 PRRI analysis found skews young and liberal." It's one that might offset the oversized influence of white evangelicals, who now make up 26% of the electorate and 22.5% of the population.

Any such conclusions should be drawn with several caveats. “Evangelicals punch way above their weight,” says Burge. “They turn out a bunch at the ballot box. That’s largely a function of the fact that they’re white and they’re old.” And, he might have added, many are in less economically precarious straits than their children and grandchildren, more susceptible to mass media messaging, and less prone, by design, to finding their vote suppressed. A 2016 PRRI report noted that “religiously unaffiliated Americans do not vote in the same percentages as evangelicals, and are often underrepresented at the polls.”

Additionally, and most importantly to point out any time these numbers come up: “the nones” is an entirely overdetermined category full of people who agree on little, but they're not signing up for any church committees any time soon for a handful of loosely-related reasons. If herding atheists, only one part of this group, is like herding cats, trying to corral 23% of the population without any shared creed or specific ideology is corralling an even less predictable menagerie. We need to know far more about what people affirm, as well as what they deny, if we want a clearer picture of where the country’s politics—if not its government or policies—might be headed.

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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