Episode 42: D Magazine Publisher Wick Allison, Part 2
In the second part of George Mason’s conversation with D Magazine publisher Wick Allison, they talk about how political language like conservative, progressive and liberal have broken down political ideologies and have divided us as a country. How can we use our shared experiences to come together for our common good and what role does religion play in this? Also learn why Wick describes himself as a Hindu Catholic. All this and more on this week’s episode of Good God.
Listen to their conversation, read along in the transcript below, or watch the full video episode here.
George Mason: In a time when conservative liberal, progressive language about political ideology seems to be breaking down, what's the future? How do we begin to reconceive of our common life together, our lived experiences that lead us forward, we'll be talking with Wick Allison, publisher of D Magazine about just that. Stay tuned to Good God.
George Mason: Welcome to Good God, conversations that matter about faith and public life. I'm George Mason, your host and I'm pleased to welcome back to the program Wick Allison, the publisher of D Magazine. Wick, good to have you with us.
Wick Allison: Nice to be here.
George Mason: Thank you very much. So, we were talking a great deal in the first episode about the city of Dallas and this is very much your charge as being the publisher of a magazine that focuses on the good of the city.
George Mason: You know, just taking a step back before we get into more details about that, there is an enormous shift that's happened, I think, in the history of humankind towards cities. That is to say, I think I'm not sure that all of our theology has caught up with that shift.
Wick Allison: That's interesting point.
George Mason: I think we still carry an agrarian theology in many ways. Probably the most influential early thinker about this, in the last century was a Jesuit priest that was also a paleontologist which is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who talked about how everything is moving in an evolutionary manner toward a greater complexity and that cities are reflection of that I think. That we are moving toward a life together in which we're getting closer, more complex. I think he views that in a theological sense, a Christ oriented sense as moving toward a greater complex unity in God, of course.
George Mason: But when we think about our theology, I still think our political ideologies are often stuck in these polarities, but we haven't developed a good theology of the city, I would say. And so I'm wondering when you think about the role of the faith community in Dallas and how you see it functioning as a faithful Catholic layman who cares about the church and its life, what do you see that the church's role and how it's playing that role?
Wick Allison: Well, I want to say first of all, that that's such an interesting point about theology of cities that you already got me kind of wondering things. But as for the church's role, I think the churches in Dallas have actually ... well, in general played a really ameliorating and ... I don't know the word for bridging, but bridging role trying to connect its mostly affluent parishioners with the real needs reminder of real needs. Let's call it social gospel which is ... I am a weird kind of traditionalist Hindu Catholic, traditionalist comma, I'm traditionalist Hindu.
George Mason: Traditionalist-
Wick Allison: comma, Hindu, Catholic. So, I'm all-
George Mason: That's confusing.
Wick Allison: It's very confusing to me but anyway. The Catholic Church has always had a theology of the poor, and I've been lucky enough to be very deeply involved in an expression or manifestation of that theology called the St. Vincent de Paul society. Its mission is to actually visit the poor in their homes as a neighbor and take care of their needs.
Wick Allison: This is the kind of thing the Catholic Church strongly encourages, the bridging, and the idea of being acting in the place of Christ as is it's not only the pope who is a representative of Christ on earth, all of us are.
Wick Allison: I've been impressed to see churches ... What's the most affluent church in Dallas? I'm going to guess it's Highland Park Methodist Church. I'm very impressed with the method and a sense of outreach. You take a wealthy church like that and the many programs it has established for different unserved constituencies and the role it's played in connecting other Methodist who are a different color in a depressed area trying to connect and overcome this natural suspicion. The Do-Gooders course and communities they try and serve, but to bridge the gap by the commonality of the Methodist, and just sometimes in all of all they do.
Wick Allison: So the church is definitely what you've done with ... churches have a very important role as honest brokers and mediators, but also in continuing to remove their parishioners, from the cocoon of supposed stability.
George Mason: So I think-
Wick Allison: Nobody is really stable.
George Mason: Nobody is stable, and that's part of the nature of the world God made and the way God made it. Is that faith is about trust in the midst of change, not trying to secure a world without change and where we don't need to trust in anyone.
Wick Allison: I do hear that the AA saying is that because there's so much fear that just comes with being a human being, and the AA saying is that the opposite of fear is love.
George Mason: Yeah, and perfect love casts out fear according to 1st John. But I think it's an interesting point that I would agree with that in the history of Dallas the religious community has done an exceptionally good job of reminding Dallas and our parishioners, our congregants about the importance of the poor and making charitable work a very important part of us, our city's life. The challenge for the religious community today, is moving from a charity consciousness to a public policy consciousness and seeing that those two things are not opposed to one another.
George Mason: That when we're talking about charity, we're saying we care about the poor and about seeing that they have the life that they need. But when we're talking about public policy, what we're doing is simply extending that into giving them the opportunity to flourish, not just being sensitive to their most immediate needs. And so-
Wick Allison: What a good point, and well, that's very contentious within the churches and on a national, and between different groups on a national basis. It's less contentious if we just all get that the churches help us all get pointed in the same direction on a civic city basis. I do think that that's a ... and the churches can help in this way. I'm a media guy. So when I look at a problem like we have in the city, that we previously discussed overall strategic problem. The first thing to me, is to change the climate of opinion. Obviously number one, if I was ignorant about it and I'm the publisher of D Magazine, if the incoming mayor is ignorant about it and he's the incoming mayor, and then there's a little consciousness raising that needs to take place.
Wick Allison: To change the climate of opinion as to say we can address this problem, the solutions may seem surprising to you because we never thought about them before but those are actual solution so that other people have done and done it successfully in these 14 different places, and so if we could think that way too, it's allowed. The churches also ... so that's kind of the role D Magazine plays in changing the city. I play the activists political role, but that's not D Magazine.
Wick Allison: But the churches could come in with a critique of the problem just as well as D Magazine.
George Mason: Yes, exactly.
Wick Allison: The history of how developed and an understanding of what the result has been. And say that the goal of a ... there's just one change we just need to make as a city, and the churches could help lead this. The goal for 100 years or more in Dallas, has always been growth. We are the most Chamber of Commerce of all the Chamber of Commerce cities in America. Growth, growth, growth, growth, let's just change that. Part of our goal is not growth. Our growth is prosperity, shared prosperity, shared prosperity. And if our goal and looking at problems in South Dallas or elsewhere or immigration or anything else is, how does it add to our prosperity? How is the common prosperity? We are a Common Wealth.
Wick Allison: How does it create prosperous neighborhoods? So if we just looked at things in that framework, we'd be moving a lot faster than we are.
George Mason: Well, that actually raises a question about ... and media plays a part in this, I think, is that the time in which we live makes me sometimes question whether it's still true that all politics is local. In an age of social media, in an age where information is so readily accessible, and it feels like there's been a shift in the last 20 or 30 years where we have a sense that our opinions and our work is being much more influenced by a larger, wider world than it is by our lived experience on the ground in our local communities, rather than going the other direction.
George Mason: I don't know if that bears itself out, but I do think that when we come down to the question of where we can have the most impact and influence it certainly is in the flesh and blood relationships we have in the communities we are located in, rather than spending all of our time thinking in abstract notions of globalism and the like.
Wick Allison: Well, you're speaking like a true conservative.
George Mason: Well.
Wick Allison: In fact, I'm on the board of a magazine called the American Conservative and that's one of its tenets. Is localism is the driver of psychological satisfaction, the sense of community and networks. With the phenomenon you were talking about, with the new social media being dominant, that's certainly true, but where do people get what we need as human beings, which is the idea of A, accomplishing something or doing something worthwhile and B, the sense of doing it with other people.
George Mason: Right. Exactly. Where does the joy of life come? It comes from the actual lived experience that we have with one another, not with just ideas.
Wick Allison: Ideas are worthless I might even say theologies are worthless. It's the lived experience. Do I live with ... we can just say the same thing do I live with God, or actually even saying that is the wrong formulation because it puts God here.
Wick Allison: One of the things wrong with the church, all church is God's here. Do we worship? The reason I say I'm somewhat of a Hindu Catholic is that God is ... the Hindu tenet is God is to be experienced. Now in this lifetime, it's a unifying, we are one, it's not a dualist concept.
Wick Allison: It's very hard because we are physically dualist. You're a different person than I am, but to be non-dualist is where satisfaction comes in. The same thing to be unified in your community. I'm stretching an analogy here that I just made, but I'm going to go with what's out there and those ideas are out there and we get locked on to them, because it helps us form an identity.
Wick Allison: Father Richard Rohr is a wonderful Franciscan, he says, during the first stage of life we have to do that, we have to create this compass around us so that we all can develop. I think, but in the second stage of life, we got to break it apart, and if we don't we get frozen in place. Politics and religion and other isms have become the thing we used to build around us to protect us.
Wick Allison: Community, you have to break it apart to serve in the community because the person that you're supposedly against is sitting right there with you, and your kids go to the same school. You're standing next to him with a soccer and so you are forced to listen to that black preacher who may also be sitting at the table and telling you, you're completely left about what you're thinking that's not the reality on the ground at all. You are forced to do that. That by itself broadens you and opens you up to new experiences that keeps you young and beautiful. You're exactly right though about national politic.
George Mason: When we get back after the break I want to pursue this a little more in terms of the conservative progressive question and where all of that stands now. So much what we're talking about is what the organization that promotes Good God as its project, Faith Commons, this nonprofit, is trying to do just that. Is to talk about this lived experience where we embrace the diversity of our communities, and bring people together to find understanding. So we're going to take a break and we'll be right back.
Speaker 3: The Society of St Vincent de Paul offers emergency assistance to people in need including financial help with rent or utilities, food and clothing, and every day in 38 communities throughout nine counties in North Texas. A thousand volunteers provide personal assistance along with caring, compassion, and hope. It's all about neighbors helping neighbors.
George Mason: We're back with Wick Allison. Wick, we were just talking about conservatism and some of the concepts that are endemic to conservatism that have to do with embracing the lived experience of people and how life brings about greater joy by actually operating from the bottom up, so to speak, instead of abstract ideals that we live into, which tends to be a more progressive notion. So, Edmund Burke I think probably-
Wick Allison: Historically, but, please go back to Edmund Burke.
George Mason: Okay. let's go back to Edmund Burke. So yes. So, this is part of his critique, of course, I think of the French Revolution, and the liberty, equality, fraternity sort of thing. And the ideals that we're going to live into that we're going to actually off their heads in everything traditional and start the world over again. So, this is part of the critique of progressive liberalism, I suppose, and counting myself more in that world. Because coming out of a Baptist kind of setting that is always been so much more conservative and traditional, I see the need for us to envision the world that God had intended and live into it, and that's not always just trying to keep the world we have.
George Mason: But I think the failure of progressives to understand true conservatism is that conservatives are not against change, per se. What they're against is willy nilly change you might say that Edmund Burke wanted to say test these things before you go wholesale into them, and that change should come out of ... again out of the lived experience of people and whatnot. So where are you about that today?
Wick Allison: Well, I think you're confusing a lot of your audience or a lot of people who watch television and these conservatives are on air, and that's what conservatism is. Actually, they're not conservative at all, they are right wing ideologues who are totally opposed to left wing ideologues who are totally opposed to right wing ideologues.
George Mason: So we back and forth.
Wick Allison: So, let's let the ideologues have their fun time. The conservatism, Burkean conservativism are the kind of conservatism the magazine I support, the American Conservative right as deeply involved with intellectually, is very much what you say. It gives all abstractions of the organic experience, what you call the lived experience is to be respected. And the organic experience is not the present moment, necessarily. Chesterton said, democracy is the ... Well, tradition is the democracy of the dead.
George Mason: Right, gives a vote to the dead.
Wick Allison: Right and so over the ages certain prescriptive norms have been the more successful norms. It doesn't matter whether they came down on tablets. In fact, forget they ever did is just this is the way of society operates this way, we've learned over a million years then we should
George Mason: Respect it.
Wick Allison: ... healthy.
George Mason: Yeah.
Wick Allison: In other words, simply don't tear down that wall until you know why it was built. Both kinds of ideologues in the United States are tearing down and building walls without really understanding the anything about the facts or the organic experience that led or didn't lead to those. So, I think it's ... George Will by the way who is the leading as you know conservative intellectual in America today advised to vote the straight Democratic ticket, now that's true conservatism, bring balance back.
Wick Allison: That bewildered the talking head conservatives who have no understanding of what they're talking about comes from and what of it is made up.
George Mason: Well, this is actually interesting to track with you personally because having been worked for Bill Buckley and been a Buckley conservative, and National Review and American Conservative now and all these sorts of things you famously came out to support Barack Obama's election because-
Wick Allison: He was the more conservative candidate.
George Mason: This is actually the thing I wanted to pursue. I think most people do not understand that that's true. They assumed that Barack Obama was simply trying to remake the world and it in disavow all social norms and these sorts of things. We have a populist reaction against that today, but is it really against that, or is it against the perceptions of what it felt like to have experienced those last eight years. So, you made that decision and nobody's perfect, and you became disillusioned for a time with that I think as well.
Wick Allison: Oh, with Barack Obama?
George Mason: With Barack Obama.
Wick Allison: Well, it's because of Libya-
George Mason: Libya?
Wick Allison: ... and the continuation he was basically restrained but then he sent troops into Afghanistan and then he did Libya. In other words, he fell into the trap that people with no military experience believe in the military. People with military experience don't pay any attention to what generals say.
George Mason: Yeah. So, where we are today obviously in the age of Trump is now seemingly a non-ideological political age.
Wick Allison: Well, that's actually is refreshing that way. I hadn't thought about it that way, but it's actually refreshing.
George Mason: All right, it is.
Wick Allison: The conventions of ideology are being blown up. The safety of just having a set of ideas you don't have to think about it anymore. Trump has blown it up, give him credit for that.
George Mason: Okay, let's give him credit-
Wick Allison: As long as ... I just hope the tea house is still standing when the bull finally gets out the door.
George Mason: So, let's talk about what happens and anticipate a kind of post Trump America where we have been in this upheaval of political ideologies, and this sense that we don't really know where we are any longer is it about rethinking all of that now going forward you think?
Wick Allison: I'm old enough to recall, and no reform could take place because the FDR Democrats were in their 60s and 70s and 80s. Scholaric system, a system that its arteries were completely frozen under being in the norm for 50 years and become completely bureaucratized and become ineffective, that no new approaches could happen on poverty, no new approaches could happen on recreating or bettering the society, because those people were going to vote for the Democrat no matter what. Democrat chairman of Congress knew that. That upheaval ended with ... of all people Newt Gingrich, and I was all for it.
Wick Allison: Well, we're in a slightly different facility or situation, we have these Republican voters who are in our under 60s and 70s and 80s. The true believers of Fox News, you can't have a discussion about anything because the law is the laws, it's certainty. I don't know what happens at old age, but it's happened on both sides, so it's fairly evenly divided, and certain topics can't even be discussed.
Wick Allison: Darwin said that progress comes one funeral at a time. I think, and I know from personal experience having to battle bureaucracies, that's just true. So, right now we're in a fourth turning from the post war period generationally. People derive the millennials, the old always derive the young.
Wick Allison: I found the millennials ... I have a lot of millennials who work for me. Dealing with ... when you talk to activists, you'd want to gather activist which we have from a half of the city they're almost all millennials. I found millennials to be a absolute wonderful, well educated, thoughtful, committed generation. I am so impressed with millennials. I'm happily just saying just turn it all over to these people.
Wick Allison: Now, their approach is completely different, and they're not locked into any ... Of course, we're always talking generally what we're talking about in generation. Problem is, they're not locked in any belief systems, but they do have a forward sense as a massive generation, which are the largest generation in history would naturally have, of how are we going to remake the world? How am I going to make my place in the world? But it's nothing like but anybody who's seen before.
Wick Allison: Let me just give you one example. A Goldman Sachs study set of their relationship with cars. Goldman Sachs study of are you definitely going to ... do you own a car or if you don't, you definitely going to buy a car or lease or whatever car. Are you not going to have a car. Largest generation human history, 15% said they were definitely going to buy a car.
George Mason: Wow. 15%.
Wick Allison: 15
George Mason: And the car manufacturers have taken note.
Wick Allison: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
George Mason: Absolutely. So this is why they're investing in all sorts of Rideshare programs and-
Wick Allison: But let's see when you're talking about turning, you're talking about a complete turning. My generation, our generation at 15 and a half you were standing in the line.
George Mason: Couldn't wait to drive.
Wick Allison: Absolutely. So think about that in terms of churches like about in terms of civic affairs national political affairs. Trump happened at the ... if I were practicing firmly committed Republican which I once was, Trump has happened at the exact wrong time. As an entire generation enters into political consciousness and the hits ratings and the ratings of the Republican Party are so dismal is to be infinitesimal.
George Mason: It feels like the death rattle, doesn't it?
Wick Allison: So, they'll get changes a little bit as I get older, and for particular candidates, and particular courses they're involved in, and that's all going to happen naturally, but this is no place to start. And so when you talk about this turning, you can see the effect of these people going into their 40s, to the top of their professions, and the top of the political structure. Harris County elected 27-year-old Columbian as their new County Judge. This is hitting now.
George Mason: Right, right, exactly. Well, I'm reminded of I think it was Oscar Romero, the martyr Salvadoran Archbishop who said something to the effect of nothing that's worth doing can be completed in our lifetime.
Wick Allison: Oh, that's so interesting.
George Mason: That really we are in this world for the period of time that God gives us, we make our contribution, and we offer it to the world and to God as an act of hope and an offering a sacrifice to God. Thank you for the sacrifices and offerings you've made Wick and I know that the city is better because of you, and pray that we live out of that inspiration ourselves. Thanks for being with us.
Wick Allison: My pleasure, entirely.
George Mason: Terrific.
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Speaker 3: Good God conversations with George Mason is the podcasts devoted to bringing you ideas about God, and faith, and the common good. All material Copyright 2018 by Faith Commons.
Speaker 3: The Society of St. Vincent de Paul offers emergency assistance to people in need, including financial help with rent or utilities, food and clothing, and every day in 38 communities throughout nine counties in North Texas. A thousand volunteers provide personal assistance along with caring, compassion, and hope. It's all about neighbors helping neighbors.