Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mom and dad and the regime

A regime seeking total control of the present desires a radical break from the past. Experience dominates the present, providing necessary context to make sense of life. From experience arises wisdom, which resists the hubris of artificially reshaping man and his world. Experience accumulates as culture ages and evolves, but a rough continuity sustains one generation to the next. The older the culture, the deeper the past, the stronger the experience, the less likely a totalitarian regime succeeds.

Only the future is certain. The past is always changing.

Parents transmit experience—not just their own, but that accumulated over generations—to their children. Everything a child takes with him in his first forays into the world is informed by his parents’ lessons.

That is why every regime described above conspires to separate children from their parents. It can commandeer every other civil institution, but, as long as the emotionally intense link between children and their parents persists, the regime fails.

Where it can’t take outright custody, the regime prejudices the children against their parents, slandering them with various epithets like “bourgeois” and “racist.” Nothing works as well as calling them old because to their children they are old. The blank slate of the future overshadows the flawed past children associate with their parents.

As they approach adulthood, children naturally resent their parents’ wisdom and rebel against them. Many of them put their faith in the regime, which fostered their disillusionment in the beginning and gladly accepts their support now.

Children see the lessons of the past as shackles on their future. They’re right. But that is not a bad thing insofar as they really are shackled as finite beings. As they get older and wiser and learn their limitations, they appreciate mom and dad more. They are grateful for the blessing of their cultural inheritance. They feel empowered by experience—again, not just their own, but foremost that of their forefathers. They become contributing members of society, perpetuating that to which they owe everything. Which makes mom and dad most proud.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Secularistocracy

During the push to ratify the Constitution, the Founders quelled fears of an all-powerful federal government by offering ten amendments. The first of these begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The first clause (the Establishment Clause) prohibits the federal government from creating a Church of the United States of America, whatever that may look like. The second clause (the Free Exercise Clause) prohibits the government from infringing on religious exercise, or lack thereof.

Implied in the two clauses is the tension between government coercion and permissiveness. If religious liberty were absolute, I could do virtually whatever I want, call it worship, and escape sanction. That’s not the case. For all our talk about “religious liberty,” there is a higher, natural law that no person, church, or any kind of group may step on.

We’ve come a long way. Law, which used to be about just means and just ends, has been hijacked by vicious moral neutrality. In the name of indiscriminateness, every public institution and policy must be stripped of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. Not so much as a cross or a Ten Commandments display on public grounds is safe from accusations of endorsing religion. Christmas trees and “God talk” are not permitted anymore in public schools. It wouldn’t be so bad if it stopped there. But organizations that provide a service to the public, such as Catholic Charities’ adoption arm, are being defunded in Massachusetts and Illinois because they won’t accept the radical redefinition of two eligible parents.

How did a constitutional safeguard against state religion morph into belligerent indifference on the values that built this country? Simple. Wisdom represented in religious doctrine—that is, lacking exclusively secular reasoning—amounts to theocracy. Theocracy is unconstitutional. Therefore wisdom is unconstitutional. It’s stupid reductionism, but that is where we’re at.

However, the disposition of the law, natural or civil, is to be oriented towards the transcendent, towards the “most high.” If not, what is the law but the whim of mortals who temporarily hold power? In a secular regime, then, “most high” is inevitably man. As we have seen, it cleanses the body politic of God-oriented expression, proscribing all religions but one: man as god. It is more theocratic than the Judeo-Christian moral and civil order it supposes to replace.

For more on this topic, read Matthew J. Franck’s essay in First Things, “Religion, Reason, and Same-Sex Marriage.”

Saturday, October 27, 2012

If Obama wins

There’s a real possibility we will wake up Nov. 7 to the news that Barack Obama will be president for another four years. If he wins reelection, whether the Republicans take control of the Senate is moot. Obama has shown he is capable of governing without the legislative branch. (Fault the Congress and Senate for this: Over the years they have ceded far too much to the bureaucratic wielders of executive power.) For another presidential term we will be subject to an increasingly oppressive, intrusive, vindictive government, a reversal of our founding principle that government is the people’s creation.

In the event of an Obama reelection, progressive forces will be unleashed with such vicious fervor that we will genuinely fear for our lives and livelihoods. The law, with no basis in the constitution or morality, will tighten like a noose on parts of our lives we thought were our own. To the progressives, nothing is your own. Everything is political. That is the essence of totalitarianism, the giving in to the temptation to create a divine human society. The lives totalitarianism claimed in the last century alone number over 100 million. It was a living hell for the rest.

The immediate conclusion we should make is that the fight must go on. We will be tempted to throw in the towel, but our faith will sustain us. Our community, which preceded Obamacare but which arose spontaneously in 2009 to oppose it, also will sustain us. In his 1978 Harvard commencement address, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that the people living in the Soviet Union

have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. The complex and deadly crush of life has produced stronger, deeper, and more interesting personalities than those generated by standardized Western well-being.

Regardless of what happens to the country, we will become better people. I have friends and family who have grown leaps and bounds in the past four years. We have had to drill down to the bottom of ourselves to try to explain what it is we believe, who it is we are. Hardship builds character. Four years’ more suffering will make many men out of us boys.

The next conclusion we should make is that arguing facts and figures to convince people to join our side is a tactical failure. Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said “you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Commendable, but instead of “facts,” he should have said “truth.” In our media-saturated age there is simply too much information available, causing people to draw radically different conclusions about the same issue. Information is meaningless unless you emotionalize it. We must appeal to the truth of people’s lives. (Some of our leaders are learning that, but they still haven’t taken off the green eyeshades, if you know what I mean.) It is a self-revealing and risky method of discourse, but it will be worth it.


Cross-posted at the Red Pill Report.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Odds and ends 10/26/2012

George Neumayr drills Gallaudet University for its suspension of Angela McCaskill for—wait for it—signing a petition:

McCaskill, who is deaf, used sign language at a press conference to express her dismay at the bullying. She noted the irony of the school suspending its chief diversity officer for expressing a diverse opinion: “I am dismayed that Gallaudet University is still a university of intolerance, a university that manages by intimidation, a university that allows bullying among faculty, staff, and students.”

Perhaps [Gallaudet President T. Alan] Hurwitz should rename her position chief uniformity officer. All must submit to the same creed, the one true faith of political correctness, and apparently her job was to enforce it. Hurwitz’s only blunder in the eyes of Maryland liberals is that he excommunicated McCaskill too soon: he should have waited until after the vote in November.


Robert P. George at First Things skewers the “Catholic” Left, and corrects the Left’s misconception about Paul Ryan’s love affair with Ayn Rand:

As Mother Teresa observed during her visit to the United States in 1994, it is the abortion license above all else that is undercutting social solidarity in Western democracies today. And the abortion license has no more loyal and determined defenders and promoters than Barack Obama and Joe Biden. If there is radical individualism to be condemned in this election cycle, it is the radical individualism advanced by the President, Vice President, and others in their party who champion an unrestricted right to kill the weakest and most vulnerable members of the human family in the name of individual “autonomy” and “choice.”

Moreover, Obama, Biden, and their political party have committed themselves to abolishing in law the conjugal understanding of marriage as the union of husband and wife and replacing it with a conception of marriage as an intimate relationship of two persons of the same or opposite sexes. Given Rand’s views on sexual morality, she would likely find the Obama-Biden position far more congenial than the Romney-Ryan stand.


Timothy Dalrymple makes two good points in his article “Why We Need More Religion in Politics, Not Less” at Patheos. The first relates to politics in the pulpit. I’ve always believed preachers should espouse values. From values one deduces politics. The second point relates to the Left’s godless humanism.

Let a white evangelical pastor endorse a Republican candidate from the pulpit and liberals will shower him with condemnation for weeks. He’s “hijacked God” and made Jesus into a lever in the political machine. But scores of African American pastors can meet their congregations at their churches and march them down to the polling centers and no one raises a peep. Clinton played the African American church like a fiddle. Obama has never needed to, since they were already in the bag. The concern once expressed by some African American pastors over the President’s “evolution” on gay marriage is now long forgotten.

So where do people get this notion that the Right has claimed ownership over Christianity? It’s best understood historically. And while there are certainly points in this story on which to criticize the Right, the story has just as much to do with poor decisions on the Left. If it came to seem as though the Right owned the Christian camp in the ongoing political warfare between the parties, it was largely because the Left completely abandoned the religious field.

Jeffrey’s Bell’s The Case for a Polarized Politics tells the story in far greater detail than I can hope to do here. But in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Democratic party came to represent the rejection — in fact, it was quite explicit — of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Democratic National Conventions were awash in anti-Christian sentiment, as that tradition came to represent all that was oppressive and backwards, the decrepit authority of a prior generation that was best case [sic] aside in the mark [sic] toward the new utopia. Religion was essentially privatized.


Dalrymple hit another homerun in an earlier article about sex addiction.

Sin, the essence of sin, is rejecting the will of God. Rejecting his authority, his provision, his love and truth, his goodness and trustworthiness. It is God who gives us being and freedom and truth. We are created to be who we are and therefore to find a life that is truly true and free and good in a relationship of unceasing trust and rest and receptivity in God. Therefore, the very definition of disobeying God, of breaking that relationship, is bondage. In servanthood to God, we find being and truth and freedom. In the rejection of God, we find unbeing and untruth and unfreedom — we find that we lose ourselves in darkness, deception and enslavement to false gods.

There simply is no human solution to this problem. But addictions are not there to be solved. The first good that God can bring from an addiction is to help us see ourselves — and our need — honestly. Like The Law, addiction points us toward our need for grace. Addicts — and I’ve seen this countless times — are more likely than others to come to God not because they find in God a crutch, but because their addictions show them the truth of who they are. Like all suffering, addiction makes us visible to ourselves in all our powerlessness and our enslavement and our absolute need for God.


Lee Harris writes an excellent piece at The American on the Obama administration’s dhimmitude:

what is currently standing in the path of peaceful coexistence between the United States and the Muslim world is not the state of Israel, much less the producers of the film, Innocence of Muslims—no, it is that troublesome First Amendment. That is what is really fanning the flames of fanaticism, and nothing else—a moral utterly lost to the current administration in its misguided efforts to appease Muslim fury by pursuing a policy of abject apologetics.

Since the commencement of the current crisis, the Obama administration has repeatedly explained to the offended followers of the Prophet that the U.S. government had nothing to do with making the obnoxious film that, via its posting on YouTube, has set off weeks of bloody riot all across the Muslim world. This, of course, is quite true, but beside the point. Those who think that the rioters are foolish to attack the U.S. government for a film made by a lone crackpot are underrating the rioters’ intelligence.

Harris’ point in the second paragraph reminds me of the brilliant South Park episode “Cartoon Wars,” wherein the citizens of South Park literally bury their heads in sand. The reason? To show they played no part in the depiction of a cartoon Mohammed, and thus to avoid terrorist reprisals.


Barry Rubin, writing in the Jerusalem Post, hits the nail on the head:

One of President Barack Obama’s main themes is to convince Middle East Islamists that America is not their enemy. But the reason this strategy never works is that the radicals know better. The United States is their enemy.

No amount of sympathy, empathy, economic aid, apology or appeasement will change this fact. Nor did such efforts succeed in making either Obama or the United States popular in such circles and the tens of millions of people influenced by them. The only thing surprising about all of this is that so few “experts” and politicians seem to comprehend it.


A Mormon writes on faith versus works in Meridian Magazine:

If we posed the question, “Does faith in the Lord Jesus Christ save us?” we, with our Protestant friends would gladly answer; “YES!” But if the question is changed to ask, “Is it faith alone that saves?” our answer would be different. We believe that our earnest striving must accompany our faith just as the contributions of both a man and a woman are necessary to create life.

...

One day I sought out a minister at the local First Baptist Church. I approached with no intent to debate; I wanted simply to understand their doctrine. One of the questions we discussed was the requirements for salvation. As expected, he suggested that it is faith alone that saves us. I posed a dilemma. If three people made earnest confessions of Christ, but one promptly returned to a life of crime and immorality, a second coasted in cool indifference, while the third earnestly sought to do the works that Jesus did, are all three saved?

The minister sighed. “I guess you would have to ask if they were true confessions.”

Exactly! We couldn’t agree more. It is simply impossible to separate faith and works.


Carson Holloway writes a dynamite review of Charles Kesler’s book on progressivism, I Am the Change, at Public Discourse. My favorite line, consonant with “Perfectibility of man,” comes in the fourth excerpted paragraph.

For progressives, government must lead the way in ensuring that we take better care of each other. It desires fellow citizens to think of each other as friends and even as family. As President Obama has often admonished us, we must be our brother’s keeper.

Yet nothing is more deadly to friendship than when one party seeks a greater intimacy than the other can accept, a misstep that often dissolves the relationship with feelings of frustration and bitterness. Kesler’s story reminds us of how often American progressivism has forced such unfruitful exchanges.

...

Many Americans revere the founding and take seriously the founders’ claims to have discovered the truth for all time about the rights of human beings. The mind of such Americans was well-expressed by that astute and underappreciated critic of progressivism, Calvin Coolidge, who once remarked that because the principles of the Declaration of Independence are true, any effort to “progress” beyond them is in fact a form of retrogression. For such American conservatives—who show no signs of disappearing, to the consternation of progressives—the main aim of our politics is to preserve the principles of the founding and to live according to them, not to get beyond them.

...

Given the social friction that progressivism so reliably generates, even and especially when it most desires to increase social solidarity, one begins to suspect its inconsistency not only with the American character but also with human nature.

...

This hostility to democratic self-government is built into the demand for progress understood as irreversible improvement in social conditions. Each new step in the march of progress must be embraced as permanent, with the necessary consequence that the people are no longer permitted to deliberate about it. In terms of public policy, this problem shows itself in the progressive insistence that new, more generous programs be accepted not only as suited to present social needs, but as “entitlements” with which we may not tamper. In terms of popular rhetoric it is manifested in the progressive slogan that we cannot “turn back the clock,” which really means that progressive political victories are no longer subject to the people’s choice. The more progressivism triumphs, the smaller the sphere within which the people are permitted to determine the character of public policy.


Katherine Kerner writes a great article on the roots of progressivism, “From Obama, agenda at odds with founders”:

Hegel’s vision of man and the state ran directly counter to the American founders’ classical liberalism. He did not view human rights as inherent in nature, universal, and existing prior to the state. Instead, he maintained that rights “evolve” historically and take different forms at different times and places. The state, in his view, is both the source of rights and the engine of historical progress.


The always insightful Daniel Greenfield writes:

Governments that choose breadth of control are able to govern a large territory with a light touch, but breadth of control depends on a population that governs itself through a national identity rooted in an ethical, religious or tribal code. When a government attempts to replace this code with its own control, then it trades breadth of control for depth of control.

Depth of control can only be extended over a limited area. When governments invest in depth of control, then they tighten control over a handful of urban centers clotted with massive bureaucracies that carefully regulate the lives of its middle class while the rest of the country begins going its own way unknown to the ruling class. These decadent systems lose touch with the outskirts and with their own lower classes and remain unaware even as their empire crumbles.


Greenfield writes of identity politics:

There is a Black America and a White America and a Latino America, in time there will also be an Asian America—not as occasional neighborhoods, but as slices of the country with dramatically different cultures, economic agendas and outlooks for the future. These are different tribes, who despite the best efforts of the integrators, live apart and think apart. They do not, for the most part, hate each other, but neither do they like each other nearly as much as they like themselves.

These are natural phenomena, but they are also unnatural because politicians have chosen to turn identity into identity politics, to segregate economic and political participation by race and to then equate political and racial identity. They have linked political participation to a subsidized economic infrastructure that offers up patronage and other benefits in exchange for a racial-political alignment and that makes their tribal America not a great deal better than any Middle Eastern country which runs on the same tribal benefits access.

Or to put it another way, we are all Indians now, we all live on reservations waiting for our government check...


Abe Greenwald dishes out a pre-debate rhetorical salvo over at Commentary:

The president’s problem isn’t metaphysical. He’s not lacking vision or “narrative.” The Obama mirage is full of both. It’s a vaporous panorama landscape of a social-democratic United States, a republic of brothers’ keepers and citizen Julias kept afloat by a federal redistribution apparatus and newly funded by the repurposed proceeds of the rehabilitated rich.


Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal reviews Obama’s debate performances.

Barack Obama is no shrinking violet. He loves the bright lights of the presidency. What he can’t handle are the embarrassments that come with it.

The president’s current difficulties aren’t merely about instinctively stepping away from bad news. Another, unavoidable burden of the presidential office—this being a democracy—is the necessity to engage political adversaries. But it was noted before the first, disastrous debate that Mr. Obama’s opinion of Mr. Romney was so low, for some unexplained reason, that he didn’t think he was fit to be president. So why stoop to debate him?


Jeremy Lott over at Patheos writes on the religious/secular divide:

A chasm that became noticeable during the George W. Bush years has grown much wider during Barack Obama’s administration. American politics is coming to resemble old-style continental European politics, with both pro- and anti-clerical parties.

The big difference is that the United States has never had nor wanted an established church. And so our political parties are slowly re-sorting themselves along broader lines of the party that’s for a serious and robust role for religion in American life and one that is coming to oppose such a role.

...

Obama had to insist on the shout out to God because his party has become hostile to the Almighty and to religion unless it is a narrowly defined, neutered thing that agrees with the Democratic Party platform on all particulars. In the passage and implementation of Obamacare, the Democrats and the Obama administration have stridently refused to concede any real ground to religious sensibilities or freedom of conscience.

James Taranto spotlights “postfeminist” (I prefer “postmodern”) gender relations:

In the prefeminist era, the typical life script for a young woman was to marry young, have children, and leave the paid workforce to care for them. Today’s young woman is expected to have a career and often to delay marriage and childbearing to accommodate its demands. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, the female workforce participation rate rose most dramatically in the 1970s and ‘80s, peaking in 1999 and declining only slowly since. The timing here is consistent with the hypothesis that the sexes’ “more equal” economic status is a cause of the political gender gap.

Why would a seeming economic convergence lead to a political divergence? Because under the prefeminist regime, men’s and women’s economic roles were complementary and cooperative. The basic social unit was the married couple, and generally speaking, what was good for each spouse was also good for the other.

In the postfeminist world, men and women are in competition with each other. Competition has beneficial economic effects, but political competition between groups is a zero-sum game: If the government is taking action to make the sexes “more equal,” it is helping one sex (usually women) at the expense of the other.


James Williams, Baltimore resident, doesn’t care what marriage is. He only cares about redefining marriage to fit his Marxist agenda. Read the following excerpt and try not to laugh at the free-love gooeyness.

Marriage equality is not about retribution. It is about fairness. And loving one another. And tolerating our differences.

Tell that to Angela McCaskill. Also, observe Williams’ inane contrast of fighting the enemy with violating the military code of conduct:

Until recently, even the federal government had an official policy of dismissing members of the armed forces if they found someone was involved with a member of the same gender. Ironically, they often awarded a soldier a medal for killing another man, and a dishonorable discharge for loving one.


Over at the American Thinker, Michael Filozof reviews the foreign policy presidential debate:

Sickeningly, Romney spent most of this time talking about how much he agreed with Obama. Rather than humiliating Obama for blowing off Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Letterman, Romney actually stole a line from Obama by saying he’d “have Israel’s back.” And rather than calling out Obama’s lousy performance as commander-in-chief in Afghanistan, where our troops (that Obama professes so much ersatz concern for) are getting shot in the back by our supposed Afghan “partners,” Romney genially agreed with Obama’s 2014 deadline and unconvincingly professed that everything in Afghanistan was going just swell.

The whole sordid affair ended with Romney professing his love of teachers, and moderator Bob Schieffer mockingly replying “Well, I guess we all love teachers, don’t we?”

This presidential campaign has devolved into a plastic, synthetic, insincere, focus-grouped attempt to pry defined constituencies – blacks, women, autoworkers, teachers, what have you – away from their iPhones long enough to put one party or the other into power. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s no serious contemplation of the real issues here, no honesty, and no ability on either side to unify the American public to meet the crises that surely and predictably lie ahead.


Lauri B. Regan, in a caustic review of a “bipartisan” ad featuring Sean Penn and Kid Rock, writes the “partisan” truth:

What made this country great was not individuals who thought “differently,” but individuals who had similar values. America was built on principles of individual liberty, free enterprise, freedom of religion, and capitalism. It was certainly not built by colossal government, leaders who undermine the Constitution, and entitled citizens looking for handouts.


Daren Jonescu writes a brilliant piece, titled “In Obama’s World, There Is No You.” To Obama, individuals serve the state.

It is a hallmark of collectivism to deny the primacy of the individual human being – that is, to deny the inheritance of ancient metaphysical genius and timeless common sense that made modern political liberty possible. In a sense that is more literal than any reasonable person can easily understand, individual human beings are not real for men like Obama. Hence Obama’s instinct for deflecting all individual human concerns into considerations of “everybody,” by which he typically means not every person, but rather an abstract collective entity – the “middle class,” the “people behind you,” the “people at the bottom,” “a whole bunch of hardworking people,” and so on.

...

Who identifies as the representative beneficiary of his policy agenda a fictional cartoon character, Julia? A man for whom no actual human being can satisfactorily represent the human condition, which, in his mind, transcends the individual.


As promised, two articles from First Things editor R.R. Reno. In “Moses and Multiculturalism,” Reno draws a bizarre parallel (which kind of works) between young Moses and postmodern, multicultural man, moving noncommittally between the Jewish slaves and Pharaoh’s inner circle. Then he explains how Moses’ possession by God at Mount Horeb specifically rejects multiculturalism. He writes in summary:

To my mind, the trajectory of the biblical account of Moses, a trajectory reenacted every time a child is circumcised or baptized or in any way dedicated to a determinate cultural authority rather than left free to float along in life as an unattached, uncommitted, unclaimed world citizen, helps us understand an important point of conflict in the current culture wars. On one side, we have an educational ideal widely held. This vision wishes to deracinate. If we can live as cultural polytheists, exposed to many different perspectives and allowing no divine name to take possession of our souls, then our moral imaginations will be freed from the limiting confines of no one culture’s view of good and evil. On the other side, we have an old-fashioned ideal, one as old as culture itself. In this view, the human person must be subjected to and formed by that authority of the divine, without which he or she will live only as an animal, seeking only the base goods of pleasure, power, and survival. The conflict is fundamental and irreconcilable.

Each of us must struggle to understand how to live our lives in a pluralistic, democratic society. But to my mind, however fuzzy and uncertain we might be about any particular public policy or social project, we must at least be clear about Moses. We should want to follow his trajectory, and there can be no compromise with those who prize his multicultural youth. For he who is not a servant of a cultural authority deeply installed is merely human—which is to say, a slave to his passions and servant of his self-interest, who, when he comes to realize his base existence, is all too easily victim of thin, ideological deities who promise the immediate psychological satisfactions of a veneer of moral idealism.

“We Need Roots” begins as a music review, then morphs into a paean to the notions of home, God, and country.

To a very great extent, what flies under the cosmopolitan banner of postmodernism represents a reaction against the bloody consequences of nationalism in the last century. Our multicultural therapists do not counsel moral relativism because they have closely studied questions of epistemology. They want us to be self-critical and non-judgmental so that we can all get along. Let us be lukewarm in our loyalties so that we will be soft in our hatreds. If nothing is worth fighting for, then nobody will fight.

It seems like a good outcome, but at what price? Social capital is a term developed by sociologists to describe the non-economic, non-coercive forces that bind people. Social capital pays out its dividends in all sorts of ways: in community service, in family life, and in often unreflective, habitual acts of courtesy and friendliness. If everything in our lives is run like the futures pit at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange or the local courtroom, then we have mean, miserable lives.

...

This patriotic impulse is based on a deep truth about culture. When human beings invest in a tradition or community or nation over long periods of time, something of our intrinsic dignity as creatures made in the image of God cannot help but find its way into the fabric of the culture. There’s almost always something in every human society worth honoring, which is one reason why patriotism is a natural virtue.

To deny this is to muzzle human nature, which is why multiculturalism is so weak and bloodless.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cumberland, Maryland

At the base of the Appalachian Plateau, nestled among the hills and low ridges where Wills Creek runs into the Potomac River, is a town that time is in the process of forgetting.

I visited Cumberland only once, and only then for about 2 hours. I was driving home from a hiking trip, and I was hungry. I pulled off I-68, turned underneath the graffiti-stained overpass, parked my car, and started walking around.

It was a cemetery. Everywhere I looked I saw death. Dead businesses. Dead churches. Dead roads. Storefronts faded. Homeless people ambling around bus stops, dozing underneath an old theater awning. Dated fliers heralding downtown revitalization on a dirty kiosk. Newly built museums, tourist centers, and galleries standing ready to divert scant indifferent visitors. An old man sweeping a sidewalk no one’s using. Meanwhile, commuters spilling off the interstate and lining up at a McDonald’s drive-thru.

Next to concrete-reinforced Wills Creek, an abandoned rail yard. On the west bank, standing on either side of Washington Street, the First Presbyterian Church and Emmanuel Episcopal Church, a contrast in new and old. Both, however, stood silent, relics to the past, their flocks lost to the city or to unfaith. Behind the Episcopal Church, a real estate office, lights out.

I entered an empty, 1950s-style burger joint and ordered three hot dogs and a soda. I told the over-the-hill waitress I’m new to town. What happened here? I asked in so many words. She said in a funereal tone: We used to be called the Queen City, second only to Baltimore. Times got hard and stayed that way. People up and left.

She spoke with a native’s knowledge, as well as the pain of having witnessed the town’s slow death firsthand. I could think of nothing reassuring to say. I left her a fat tip and left.

Cumberland is not different from many small- to mid-sized Rust Belt cities. Cumberland’s population peaked at 40,000 in the 1940s, at the height of America’s post-war industrial prowess. Today it’s roughly half that.

The manufacturing jobs have gone. They weren’t just outsourced because government made medium and heavy industrial work more expensive. Minus government's heavy hand, the ghosting of these cities would have begun anyway. In a free market, change is inevitable. Goods and services once in high demand lose their value. Adaptation to the marketplace is essential to survival.

Adaptation can be, and often is, disruptive, unpredictable, and chaotic. Within communities, adaptation upsets the balance families require to support and raise children. Over time, we’re told, we profit from the system by a higher standard of living. That doesn’t come without a price. If you’re happy at what you do, if you enjoy the peace and balance your community provides, the free market will undermine you.

R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, makes an excellent point about how the vagaries of the free market demand the stability provided by big-government “social democracy,” or socialism. He writes:

The simple fact is that the goal of social democracy—stability in and through policies designed to create and protect middle-class life—has for a long time insulated most citizens in Western nations from economic reality...Dearborn, Michigan? Youngstown, Ohio? Decades of policies that are too multifaceted and interlocking to admit of analysis much less summary have been deployed by well-meaning politicians and economic experts to protect them from exactly the market signals that make hedge fund managers rich.

It’s worth considering, as President Obama suggested, whether the continuity of our lifestyle is worth sacrificing to our standard of living, whether walking into a bank and talking to a bank teller is really such an inconvenience that we need ATMs. Was the iPhone 4 really so deficient that millions of people had to get the iPhone 5 within days of its release?

I am not saying the government should answer this for us. We must answer it for ourselves.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Visceral father

In the Lost episode “Fire + Water,” one of the stranded passengers, Charlie, is ostracized from the group for asserting his assumed paternal rights over Claire’s baby. The result is predictable and tragic.

The conflict begins when Claire suspects Charlie of using heroin. On the basis of this suspicion, despite all he’s done to be a good surrogate father to the baby, she cuts him out of her and the baby’s lives. The other crash survivors assent to this without comment.

Charlie has vivid dreams of the baby being in danger, and he’s convinced the baby must be baptized. Claire refuses to hear him out. When he tries to baptize the baby in the ocean himself, the group confronts him and talks him into giving the baby back to Claire. Locke beats the shit out of him, and they leave him beaten and bleeding in the surf.

Treated like an enemy, Charlie becomes an enemy. Humiliated and embittered, he schemes with Sawyer to steal the guns from Locke and Jack, taking away the group’s ability to defend itself.

Being a single, childless man, detached from the female sexual rhythms that assimilate one into society, I empathize with Charlie, and I see our confused cultural misandry mirrored in the survivors’ double standard. They appreciate Charlie when he volunteers to take paternal responsibility, but they are indifferent when Claire takes that responsibility away. They are outright hostile when he tries to reclaim it. Her motherhood is privileged over his fatherhood, even though both are important for the baby, as well as to themselves.

The difference is Claire’s role in her baby’s life is determined from the moment of conception. The baby gestates in her womb. At birth, the baby is literally tied to her by the umbilical cord. She nourishes the baby with milk from her breasts. Insofar as it came from and is fed by her body, the baby is undeniably hers.

Not so with fatherhood. George Gilder writes: “The man is estranged from this process; his sexuality arises merely as a compulsive drive to pleasure. It’s short term by nature.” Men, whether they “watered the seed” or not, have a choice: They can run or stay. Choosing to stay and to continue to stay is what makes fathers out of men.

I recognized from the beginning Charlie’s desire to be the father of Claire’s fatherless baby. The fragile life developing inside her presented him the perfect opportunity to fill God’s intended role for him and to transcend his inborn selfishness. The primal instinct to bond to a woman and child gave him a visceral incentive to improve himself (i.e., kick his drug habit) and provide a needed service to the group. In essence, he had a new lease on life.

Did they really think he would go quietly when they took that away? Did they really think they’re better off saddled with Claire and the baby as dependents? Probably not. They probably didn’t even think about it. Nevertheless, they deserve whatever harm befalls them from ostracizing Charlie.

I also fault Charlie for not clearly defining his role to Claire. Had they been married, the group may have stepped in to protect his paternal rights. Then again, it may not have done much good, given the ease with which Claire could divorce him and get full custody. The divorce court’s “reasoning” would be a simple formulation of: He’s a junkie, after all. Who is he to have a say in his child’s life?

Monday, October 22, 2012

False messiahs

We feel a constant tension. Thoreau called it a “quiet desperation” that plagued the “mass of men.” It’s the deep yearning in all of us—the missing piece to the puzzle, only larger and less distinct. We fight it because we rightly know it can never be satisfied. It entices us, and when we deny ourselves it mocks us. It’s the curse of being human. So much lies just outside our reach. Imagine the possibilities if only...

If only what, exactly? It’s difficult to say. But the urge to rewrite our natures is so powerful the specifics don’t matter. When a messianic figure takes the stage and offers a fuzzy program to “empower” us, we buy into it with minimal hesitancy.

The huge followings false messiahs generate reinforce the attraction of new converts. The lure of mass movements, as Eric Hoffer notes, is their transcendental property. If the self obstructs the self, which is true, it follows intuitively that a mass movement will free the self, which it won’t.

False messiahs know this better than most. They understand how to profit by appealing to what motivates people at the most basic level. Their object is to enslave, not to free. They more or less shun the true remedy to human nature, a covenant with God. Hence Communism’s tacit atheism.

“The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation.” –Adolf Hitler, 1933

Four years ago, “We are the ones we have been waiting for” was a key line in Barack Obama’s stump speech, imploring his followers not to search within themselves as individuals, but to find new identity in themselves as a collective whole.

The statement implies questions: What do we want? and Why are we waiting for it? The answer to the first question is simple: We want everything. We want the elusive, indefinable it, which makes life not a burden, but a pleasure.

The answer to the second question is complicated. Why are we waiting? We wait because it’s all we can do, really, without giving up.

“Madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” –Ecclesiastes 9:3

Obama’s call to meet the ache in our souls with membership in the body politic can only lead to failure. The false messiah is human and limited by reality as much as we are. He always falls short of otherworldly expectations. Remember the woman who thought she wouldn’t have to worry about paying for gas or paying her mortgage if she helped Obama? She didn’t think Obama would really pay for those things. She thought Obama’s election would fill the God-shaped hole in her heart. She thought her personal struggle—indeed, everyone’s struggles—would end. In short, Obama would usher in heaven on earth. Not having to worry about paying for gas or paying her mortgage was just her way of quantifying what she felt.

She must feel pretty foolish now.


Cross-posted at the Red Pill Report.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Excommunicated

No “Odds and ends” this week. Instead, I’ll reflect on this remarkable piece in the Huffington Post about Marjorie Christoffersen, a restaurant manager whom the gay mafia harassed for her support of the 2008 marriage referendum in California (aka Proposition 8). She was among the first on a growing list of people excommunicated from the church of secularism for her views on marriage. That list includes Angela McCaskill, Scott Eckern, Jerry Buell, and Damian Goddard.

Once Christoffersen’s donation hit the web, El Coyote became the target of boycotts and demonstrations. At a press conference/breakfast hosted by the restaurant—where no one ate a thing—days after the news of the donation broke, Christoffersen tried to explain her donation did not have to do with any distaste for LGBT community, but was instead tied to her Mormon faith.

At the community meeting, attended by over 70 members of the community, many of whom were long time customers, Christoffersen did not apologize for the donation and did not indicate she would support any No on 8 organization. A series of demonstrations and a month-long boycott began.

Nothing shows tolerance of a dissenting view like infringing on a person’s ability to make a living. So fervently does the gay mafia believe in redefining marriage to their purpose. Their view of “equality” is really radical egalitarianism, the end of all distinctions, male from female, right from wrong, good from bad.

The ideological cleansing now underway in pockets of America realizes the pope’s warning of the “dictatorship of relativism.” It is totalitarian in its attempts to break the ties of human bondage to nature, which suffuse the civil society. As there is no outrunning gravity, there is no outrunning a regime trying to reverse gravity.

For Christoffersen, it gets worse. After describing her as a friend to gays, and going out of her way to help gay people, the author of the piece concludes:

It is sad Christoffersen’s faith stepped into her relationship with people she had known for decades and cared about and made her see them as “less than” and undeserving of the same rights she and her family have.

Four quick points:

1. You know a republic is lost when ordinary citizens become proxies of the regime, turning on their own friends when they deviate from the prescribed program.

2. It was the gay mafia’s religion, not Christoffersen’s, that initiated the rift, as evidenced by her generosity to gays.

3. Christians do not view gays as “less than” anything. Everyone is born flawed. That’s a malicious distortion.

4. Marriage does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. No two men or two women, regardless of sexual orientation, can get married.

For a more recent example of secular excommunication, read Angela McCaskill’s story here and here. “[She] was well-liked in the LGBT community and was instrumental in setting up an LGBT resource center, students said.”

Signing a petition to put the definition of marriage on the ballot in Maryland erased that good will, however. “What she did is unacceptable. It hurts the gay community,” one student said. McCaskill lamented in a press conference:

They have attempted to intimidate me. They have tarnished my reputation...This situation has spiraled out of control.

Take heart, Angela. At least now you know who your friends really are.


UPDATE (11/1):

A version of this article appears at the Red Pill Report.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Still only better

Elections aren’t just about winning, they’re also about changing people’s minds. Most Americans know we’re headed in the wrong direction. What many of them don’t know is why.

The presidential debates are Mitt Romney’s opportunity to tell them, but he is not up to the task. His debate strategy is to eschew points of contrast and just hammer away at President Obama’s record. For example, it’s not clear how Romney’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy differs from Obama’s, but Obama’s version is evidently worse because of the skyrocketing price of gas. Hey, the proof is in the pudding.

Political junkies like me tune in to the debates to keep score. Non-political observers tune in to contrast the candidates. What they see is two men with similar agendas. Obama failed not because his agenda is fundamentally at odds with natural law, but because he is an incompetent leader. Romney, ever the competent manager, can execute his agenda better.

We don’t want a president only better than Obama. We want someone different. You can’t improve a bad recipe. You have to start from scratch.

Steven Colbert, of all people, gave the most honest, real assessment of Romney I’ve heard to David Gregory of Meet the Press:

He might govern as a technocrat. That sort of seems to have been his career, like the guy from Pepsi who comes in to run GM. He can’t tell us what he’s going to do because he hasn’t seen the books yet. He seems absolutely sincere as a moderate, and he also seemed pretty sincere as a ‘severe conservative.’ That’s not a dig. It’s honest confusion...I know there’s got to be a difference between these two men, or we’re all part of a huge, cruel joke.

Whether Romney wins or not, I’ll remember these debates as squandered opportunities. Never before have Republicans had such a large audience so eager to hear the truth. The town hall format in particular affords us a chance to connect our message personally, to describe the effects of conservative reforms on real people.

If I shared the debate stage with Obama in front of 60 million viewers, I would make sure people saw right away that we were from different planets. The contrast would be clear from the very beginning.

“As a 20 year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors, and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?” To that first questioner I would say:

Thank you, Jeremy. There are a lot of college students in the same boat as you. Your question admits the reality of the terrible economy we have right now: 8-percent unemployment, millions more people who have dropped out of the work force, personal wages down since 2009. It’s tough out there, and there’s no one a bad economy hurts more than new college graduates.

Jeremy, the best thing any President can do to help you succeed in life is get out of the way. Government has gotten so big and so intrusive, especially under this president, that people who run businesses are afraid to hire. The number of regulations impinging on economic freedom in this country has exploded.

Did you know under the president’s new health law, employers pay a fine for not providing “adequate” employee health insurance? The fine is $2,000 per employee each year. That’s huge! But it’s just one rule. There are hundreds if not thousands more rules like it. Taken together, these rules dramatically increase the cost of hiring new workers. They’re a vice on job creators.

That’s number one. Number two is big government also increases the cost of products you buy every day. Let’s face it, what good is a job if it can’t pay for necessities like food or gas or rent? These things are more expensive today because of the government getting between producers and consumers. Every level of production is regulated by government. The pages of regulations oil refiners, farmers, truckers...that everyone must comply with would reach floor to ceiling. Those regulations come with costs that are passed on to you. That means higher prices at the pump. That means higher prices at the grocery store.

As president, I’ll do away with unnecessary regulations. I’ll restore the proper limits on government to protect your economic freedom. I’ll give you a better chance to determine your own success.

If Romney said that, or anything like it, he would have sewn up the election right then. What did he really say? He droned on about government making it easier for students to afford college (which is actually the main driver of skyrocketing tuition costs). Then he assured Jeremy three separate times he knows how to get the economy moving again.

On its face, Romney’s answer was actually worse than Obama’s. Then again, everything Obama says belies his record. So, despite himself, Romney may have earned a draw in the exchange. But overall he failed to make the case for limited government.


Cross-posted at the Red Pill Report.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Redistribution of marriage

Four states, including my home state for 5 years, Maryland, will vote on the definition of marriage this November. Little do voters in those states know that marriage, like property, has already been redefined. The law is only now catching up to the change.

Property used to be a natural right, bestowed by God. No government that refused to preserve it was legitimate. Property was acquired through skill, hard work, and good fortune. It was understood “from the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results,” as James Madison wrote. Unequal distribution of property was inevitable in a free society.

Not anymore. Now property is a legal right, bestowed by government. Government specifies minimum permissible accumulations of property and maximum permissible accumulations of property, which it taxes to subsidize the former. The limits on accumulations of property are arbitrary and change on the whims of politicians and bureaucrats.

Unlike property, marriage was not a natural right. It was the fulfillment of God’s purpose for the two sexes. Marriage was the divine union between a man and a woman that reconciled them to their specific sexual needs. It channeled their wayward energies into creation and sustenance of new life.

Now marriage is society’s recognition of individuals’ mutual loving and caring, irrespective of gender. As Girgis, George, and Anderson write, “it is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partners find agreeable.” (“Both”? Monogamist bigotry!) It comes with various legal protections and financial advantages.

Under the new definition of marriage, government specifies the minimum requirements for marriage and what still counts as legitimate discrimination (age, number, blood relation). The limits on expanding marriage are arbitrary and change on the whims of politicians and bureaucrats.

Like the redistribution of property, the redistribution of marriage purports to create greater equality. When we reach full equality, no one will be excluded. No one will be right or wrong. With nothing separating us, we will evolve past mere human-ness and coalesce into a single, God-like consciousness.

It’s a fantasy, an anthropocentric pipe dream, devoid of knowledge of human nature and our past. We have its failure to look forward to.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bloodless nullity

We’ve come a long way from E pluribus unum (Out of many, one). America’s fracturing into a powder keg of victimhood identities makes serious debate and reconciliation on divisive issues all but impossible. Five minutes’ back-and-forth on abortion, for example, barely allows enough time for one side to air out its time-tested smears and the other side to sheepishly assert its pro-life principles without upsetting the “aggrieved” group.

Indeed, many of the views we hold in public are formulated on the expectation that we don’t have to talk about them for very long before moving on to the next topic. But I find the longer you talk about something, the more impatient you become with the farce you’re participating in. Your façade breaks, and you start being really honest. In the rare instances this happens, the big picture overshadows the debaters’ nuances and mannerisms. To those listening attentively and with an open mind, the truth is revealed.

It works. Too often it’s not given a chance to work. We tie ourselves up in causes and take umbrage at dissent. We are members of a group, and everyone else is “them.”

The strife and suffering resulting from this part of human nature creates a backlash, a strong desire to eliminate all subjectivity, all forms of temporal association. Once these barriers are removed, might then we all unite under shared universal principles? Might then we have no differences to fight about?

Theoretically, yes. But this reduces the civil society—the vast, complex interaction of individuals—to a bloodless nullity. Where the community recedes from providing people’s needs, the government steps in—a government whose overreach against which isolated, disassociated people, lacking that buffer, have no defense.

Such a government, operating ostensibly under shared universal principles, will mold citizens, such as they are, to what Rousseau called the “general will,” which the all-knowing state divines. Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky writes:

[The Soviet regime] set out to destroy all associations, all circles that might support a person’s identity and system of values—nation, family, religion—leaving only those controlled by the state. They knew that as long as people had their own ties to each other, they could develop relationships outside state control that could form a basis of resistance. So they set out to cut off each person from every possible attachment. The individual would then stand alone against the awesome power of the state.

Abstention from particular, subjective identity in favor of shared universal principles is naive. It assumes paradise might be reached by the application of our collective reason, which has limits of its own.

The stuff of life is not hidden in universals, but in particulars. One need not sacrifice identity for enlightenment.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Identity in victimhood

What inflames people to fear the truth? Over the past couple of years, I’ve been called a racist, a misogynist, a homophobe, and an Islamophobe. I’m well past getting my feelings hurt, but I get depressed when people ignore me with a self-approving conscience.

The bigotry charge is liberals’ last refuge, as Charles Krauthammer notes. But all liberals are doing is saying what so many like-minded people are thinking. To an extent, we all share an urge to slander that I believe borders on social pathology.

That social pathology is a combination of group identity and presumed victimhood. Those who associate with a group, believing themselves to be unfairly disadvantaged by a corrupt system, cry foul (and worse) when someone belonging to a relatively advantaged group reinforces the rules of said system.

Over the course of history, no group or individual has been spared some measure of grief. That is not necessarily the fault of the system. To the extent that it is, the fault is not necessarily created by another group.

For example, it is not men’s fault that women bear the full burden of childbearing. Yet many women, bonded by their genetic burden, hold this against men. Whenever a man asserts his right to that unborn child, integral to his stake in the future, they cry “misogyny” and “reproductive rights.”

We see versions of this play out daily in our grievance-obsessed culture. We accommodate it because it strikes a chord with our flawed individual natures. Much of what we suffer we are born into: this earth, this status, this body, etc. The challenge to us is to exercise our reason and good will to overcome it.

The flip side to aggressive group identity is what Natan Sharansky calls “post-identity.” More on that next time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Odds and ends 10/12/2012

Diversity of skin color is preferred. Diversity of opinion is rejected. The new boss really is the same as the old boss!

Gallaudet chief diversity officer placed on leave after signing Md. anti-gay marriage petition

I signed that petition. The Washington Blade published my name, too. I thank God I escaped that gulag when I did.


Mark Steyn has experience running afoul of political correctness run amok. He was charged with hate speech in Canada for criticizing Islam. He writes:

I don’t want the state to have a “mandate” to “educate” the citizenry about their thought-crimes. Even if I did not object on principle, one thing I’ve learned during this five-year campaign is that the statist hacks Canada’s official opposition is so eager to empower are, almost to a man, woman and pre-op transsexual, either too stupid or bullying to be entrusted with the task.


Elizabeth Scalia over at Patheos sums up socialism:

With socialism, excellence is always set aside for shared mediocrity. The idea appears to be that since it’s hard to achieve excellence for everyone, it simply should not be attempted; everyone should be satisfied with something lesser.

...

Embrace the sameness, even if it sucks, at least it’s “fair”, right? We all struggle together!

I’ll say it again: fairness is an illusion and it is only possible when its definition becomes perverted; socialism only works when it is voluntarily undertaken from below, not ordered from above.


Daniel Greenfield sums up the sexual revolution:

The latest achievements in sexual freedom all involve getting other people to pay for it, whether it’s birth control entitlements or gay marriage entitlements. The agenda isn’t the freedom to do what you please, but the power to make other people affirm your sexual decisions and then pay for them.


Marcia Pally writes a heady piece over at Religion and Ethics about, to put it bluntly, the separation of church and state. The following is one of several compelling excerpts:

Hobbes is a melder of separability and situatedness, not because he imposes the leviathan sovereign on his hermeneutically separate person, but because his ideal state depends on citizens possessing traditional western virtues—self-knowledge, justice, gratitude, modesty, equity, and mercy—so that they are able to control fear and appetite. These traditional values are to be fostered through education and what we might call socialization by civil society and governmental institutions—that is, these values rely on situatedness.

John Locke, in spite of his individualist contractarianism, holds that similar virtues are necessary to live under the conditions of liberty. His include religious toleration, liberality, justice, courage, civility, industry, truthfulness and the submission of passion to reason, which must be nurtured by societal institutions—first in the family, and should the father die, the state must step in.


Public Discourse published two dynamite articles this week on a similar vein, the tension between the government and the civil society. First, “The Conservative’s Right Mind: A Reply to David Brooks” by Nathan Schlueter:

[David] Brooks’s theory of an economic hyperindividualist coup of the GOP is based on a superficial view of conservatism, and does more to reinforce leftist stereotypes than to show the Republican Party a way forward.

In the first place, Brooks completely ignores the current context of Republican anti-government rhetoric. He denounces Republican “hyperindividualism,” but pays no attention to the Democratic alternative, “subsidized hyperindividualism.” It is not enough that the Sandra Flukes of America have access through the market to cheap contraception and abortion on-demand. Other Americans must be compelled against their consciences to pay for these services. It is not enough for one of the oldest religious charity organizations in the United States to provide adoption services for the neediest children; it must place children with same-sex couples or lose its license. It is not enough for a religious charity to assist almost 3,000 victims of sex-trafficking; it must also promote abortion, or lose its funding.

One would hardly call this a “harmonious nestling” of the associations of civil society beneath government. Not many conservatives deny that government should offer a “subtle hand,” as Brooks puts it, where needed. But most conservatives know the difference between a “subtle hand” and a sledgehammer. Commerce does not always have pretty results, but these pale in comparison to the Kulturkampf that the Democratic Party has been waging against religious institutions in America.

It is no accident that the Obama administration has also overseen the largest expansion of the administrative welfare state since the New Deal. The leadership of the Democratic Party is animated by a progressive ideology that pits centralized government power and radical individualism against the primary social institutions of civil society: families, churches, charitable organizations, and businesses.

Second, “Political Justice: Equality of Opportunity not Sameness of Opportunity” by David Azerrad:

we are dealing with two incompatible concepts that are nevertheless lumped together under one rubric. Simply put, while conservatives stand for the traditional understanding of equality of opportunity, liberals have subtly redefined the term to mean sameness of opportunity.

Traditionally, equality of opportunity has meant the absence of legal impediments to getting ahead in life. Using Abraham Lincoln’s “race of life” analogy, it means that the same rules apply to all of the runners and that all lanes have the same man-made obstacles. It is about government getting out of the way and stepping in only if one of the other runners tries to overtake you by cheating.

Sameness of opportunity, by contrast, requires that all should have exactly the same opportunities in life. It demands that the disadvantaged be given more opportunities (usually through government programs) and that the privileged or naturally gifted be denied certain opportunities (though this is rarely emphasized in public). After all, opportunities are not bestowed equally upon all. Some are born to wealthy and well-connected parents. Others are born into working-class families of modest means. What was once thought to be a part of life is now seen as an injustice that ought to be remedied.

The same could be said of the extra opportunities afforded to the very good-looking, those with high IQs, the athletically gifted, or those who just happen to come of age during an economic boom. In fact, the more you think about all the ways in which we are different and how many opportunities grow out of the vagaries of life, the idea that all should have the same opportunities sounds ludicrous.

...

Justice demands that we uphold the rule of law, secure the rights of all, and oppose any legal barriers to advancement. It does not demand that we ensure that everyone be given all they need to fulfill all their dreams. As a political community, we are obliged to tear down artificial barriers to opportunity and are morally bound to provide a minimum safety net, but we are under no categorical imperative to ensure that all reach their maximum potential.


As promised, two articles from First Things editor R.R. Reno. “Does the EU Have a Future?”

The Greeks are not laughing these days. On the contrary, they are rioting. The reason is simple: the social contract in Greece is being ripped up and a new one is about to be imposed by a consortium of international financial institutions coordinated by EU bureaucrats, the same ones who said, in effect, “Entrust your future to us, and you will be comfortable and secure.”

Policy experts and economic managers can avoid—or at least soften—economic difficulties. But to more reliably fulfill their promises they need more resources, greater authority, and wider reach. Thus the basic dynamic of the last twenty years in Europe: a transfer of sovereignty—especially economic sovereignty—to international experts.

In “The End of Social Democracy,” Reno gives credit for post-war social stability to social democracy, which subsidizes the middle class. The “economic reality” he cites in the first paragraph is that globalization has made economically irrelevant old Midwest cities that peaked in the middle of the 20th century. While adapting would have been difficult then, it will be even harder now.

The simple fact is that the goal of social democracy—stability in and through policies designed to create and protect middle class life—has for a long time insulated most citizens in Western nations from economic reality.

The most obvious example is globalization. New York is full of very wealthy men and women who work in finance, media, and other new economy jobs. They are exquisitely sensitive to the opportunities presented by globalization. Dearborn, Michigan? Youngstown, Ohio? Decades of policies that are too multifaceted and interlocking to admit of analysis much less summary have been deployed by well-meaning politicians and economic experts to protect them from exactly the market signals that make hedge fund managers rich.

I could give countless other examples, and they point to the same conclusion. The success of social democracy—it really has secured a high degree of social stability organized around middle class life—comes at a price that we are about to pay. After decades of protection the vital center of social democracy is now ill equipped to deal with economic pressures that we are faced with.


Victor Davis Hansen reviews the October 3rd debate and the post-debate:

While losing debaters often can postfacto snipe about the slickness of their successful opponent, I can’t remember a disappointed loser replaying and reconfiguring the debate over the next few days on the campaign trail, in the weird fashion Obama has been offering teleprompted counter-arguments that he could never muster on his own during the actual faceoff. The classic blowhard, after all, is the loud blusterer, who always retells his own arguments and run-ins from the perspective of his own genius, thereby offering the embarrassing proof that he regrets just how poorly he was outfoxed and outargued without a script.


Philip Jenkins writes on how political correctness in Great Britain has destroyed religious freedom:

Coptic believer Nadia Eweida was startled at the blatant discrimination she encountered in her job at the national airline. While Muslim women around her freely wore headscarves to fulfill their religious obligation, she was forbidden to wear a cross openly while working. Even Jews and Sikhs received more consideration: the policy was directed solely and explicitly towards Christians. When Nadia complained, political authorities and news media were grossly unsympathetic.

We might wonder why Nadia did not simply give up the unequal struggle, and move to a country like Great Britain, where Christianity is not just tolerated but which actually has an established national church. Why would she continue to tolerate the systematic injustice of an aggressive Islamist regime...

Oh wait, my mistake. Is my face red!

It turns out that although Nadia Eweida really is a Coptic Christian, she was living in England at the time, rather than Egypt, and that her job was with British Airways, at Heathrow. It was her British employers who concluded that public expressions of Christianity were unacceptable, in a land where the Queen is head of state, and the Supreme Governor of the Church by law established.

Jenkins wrote a book called Laying Down the Sword that, from reading this review, I can tell I wouldn’t enjoy.


Thomas Sowell reviews the October 3rd debate. I love this line:

Like so many people who have been beaten in a verbal encounter, and who can think of clever things to say the next day, after it is all over, President Obama, after his clear loss in his debate with Mitt Romney, called Governor Romney a “phony.”

“Jerk store,” anyone?

Then there’s this bit of exposition on Obama’s divisive rabble-rousing:

Departing from his prepared remarks, he mentioned the Stafford Act, which requires communities receiving federal disaster relief to contribute 10 percent as much as the federal government does.

Senator Obama, as he was then, pointed out that this requirement was waived in the case of New York and Florida because the people there were considered to be “part of the American family.” But the people in New Orleans – predominantly black – “they don’t care about as much,” according to Barack Obama.

If you want to know what community organizers do, this is it – rub people’s emotions raw to hype their resentments. And this was Barack Obama in his old community organizer role, a role that should have warned those who thought that he was someone who would bring us together, when he was all too well practiced in the arts of polarizing us apart.


John Bolton reviews Escape from North Korea, by Melanie Kirkpatrick. The gist of the review is to remind readers of the concentration camp conditions North Koreans live in, and the trials defecting to another country entails. But I found this tidbit the most compelling:

Because free states increasingly balked at facilitating this coercive system, the South successfully pushed through Congress “fugitive-slave laws,” our first national law-enforcement system. In a telling inversion of the conventional wisdom, the South sought increased federal power in Washington, while the North resisted. Congress enacted the first fugitive-slave law in 1793, and an even harsher one as part of the Compromise of 1850. Many historians believe that the South’s strident insistence on strictly enforcing the fugitive-slave laws, and the Underground Railroad’s resulting expansion and success, were critical factors in igniting abolitionist sentiment in free states, thereby ultimately triggering southern secession and the Civil War.


James D. Hornfischer reviews Into the Fire, a war memoir by Dakota Meyer:

Born in Columbia, Ky., in 1988, Mr. Meyer wasn’t bred for martial glory. An indifferent student, mostly interested in football, he enlisted in the Marines in 2006. A tour in Iraq ended when he nearly lost his right hand to a poisonous spider. Having qualified as a sniper, Mr. Meyer found the shortest path back to the fighting by volunteering to serve on an embedded training team in Afghanistan. He deployed to Kunar in 2009, operating amid the network of dirt roads and donkey trails leading into Pakistan. He was thrust into the brutal daily grind of counterinsurgency (COIN) and nation building. “The general idea was to make friends with the villagers, provide them security, give out project money, and build relationships with the local officials,” Mr. Meyer writes in “Into the Fire,” his terse and plain-spoken memoir. Looking to make soldiers out of Afghans who were as likely to be found smoking hashish and bootlegging stolen fuel as learning to clean their rifles, Mr. Meyer grew frustrated. As a shooter on a COIN team, one of just four infantrymen in the unit, he was never quite clear what he was there to do.


These excerpts from Fortress Israel by Patrick Tyler betray a lack of context:

By 1987, [Jacob] Peri quickly came to the conclusion that the intifada was not the work of the PLO; it was a spontaneous outburst, though words seemed insufficient in Peri’s view to describe the origins of the rebellion in Palestinian society.

“You have to understand that since 1967 a whole generation of Palestinians was raised, educated, suppressed, arrested-you name it-by Israel,” he told me. “There was a tone of despair, lack of hope, anger at having no way out, no direction-and it just burst out.”

Perhaps the rioters would be freer if they abandoned their ideology of death and hate. The Palestinians’ instinct for Jew-hatred and total war justifies generations of so-called “suppression” (i.e., self-defense).

The assassination of Abu Jihad was the kind of martial display that created a sensation, especially in Israel, where amazing feats by special forces always energized public opinion as if they were the Olympics. The tabloids were full of details about how it happened: Abu Jihad appeared at the top of a staircase wielding a pistol but went down in a hail of bullets. His corpse showed sixty gunshot wounds. The assassination triggered intensified rioting in Gaza and the West Bank where the IDF moved in to quell the violence begotten by its own violence and killed dozens of young Palestinians.

I have no sympathy for people who riot violently to commemorate the assassination of a murderer. Likewise I have no problem satisfying a people’s death wish if they make it a choice between their lives and mine.


An interesting article on the evolutionary origins of monogamy over at Cosmos:

As [Sergey Gavrilets] shows in his model, the transition to a largely monogamous society can happen if females actively choose their mates and subordinate males offer food or paternal care to gain their affection.

“The general approach in game theory is to assume that individuals are equal” and everybody can become an alpha male. In reality, weaker males may need to employ alternative strategies to be able to reproduce.

Gavrilets’ model also explicitly considers the possibility that females become faithful to males.

“My logic was that once males start provisioning, they are motivated to find females who would be faithful to them. So males would impose selection for faithfulness on females. Simultaneously females are always interested to hook up with males who are better providers,” he said. “That creates a coevolutionary process where both provisioning and faithfulness increase in parallel.”

Gavrilets’ argument is compelling, although I am ambivalent about God’s absence in this evolutionary explanation. I suppose we could evolve again, or devolve, given enough time, abandoning what we now understand to be distinctly human. Extinction would be the ultimate testament to our collective sin.

Commenting on the paper, Jacobus Boomsma, director of the Centre for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark stresses the importance of monogamy for human evolution. “Pair-bonding is crucial for making males invest in offspring and was a key mating system innovation after our early ancestors split off from a sister clade that was likely as promiscuous as chimpanzees are today.”


Investor’s Business Daily sticks a fork in the War on Poverty:

Consider that almost a half-century ago, President Johnson thought he could eradicate American poverty by declaring a war on it. Despite the effort, the poor stubbornly remain with us. The poverty rate is at 15.1% and climbing, says the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner, while in 1964, when the war started, it was “around 19% and falling rapidly.”

Since Johnson’s initiative, Tanner says Washington has “spent roughly $12 trillion fighting poverty, and state and local governments added another $3 trillion,” a total that is close to the size of today’s domestic economy. “Yet the poverty rate never fell below 10.5%,” says Tanner, “and is now at the highest level in nearly a decade.”


Sue Shellenbarger at the Wall Street Journal calls attention to college debt and delayed adulthood. Jodi Romine—”I’m just looking for some way to manage my finances”—sounds like the dislocated single I talked about in “Economic Bomb Shelter.”

High school’s Class of 2012 is getting ready for college, with students in their late teens and early 20s facing one of the biggest financial decisions they will ever make.

Total U.S. student-loan debt outstanding topped $1 trillion last year, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and it continues to rise as current students borrow more and past students fall behind on payments. Moody’s Investors Service says borrowers with private student loans are defaulting or falling behind on payments at twice prerecession rates.

...

The implications last a lifetime. A recent survey by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys says members are seeing a big increase in people whose student loans are forcing them to delay major purchases or starting families.


Walter Williams is more aggressive in his assessment of the college scam.

Richard Vedder – professor of economics at Ohio University, adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of The Center for College Affordability & Productivity, or CCAP – in his article “Ditch ... the College-for-All Crusade,” published on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog, “Innovations” (6/7/2012), points out that the “U.S. Labor Department says the majority of new American jobs over the next decade do not need a college degree. We have a six-digit number of college-educated janitors in the U.S.” Another CCAP essay by Vedder and his colleagues, titled “From Wall Street to Wal-Mart,” reports that there are “one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees.” More than one-third of currently working college graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree, such as flight attendants, taxi drivers and salesmen. Was college attendance a wise use of these students’ time and the resources of their parents and taxpayers?

No.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (2011), report on their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at 24 institutions. Forty-five percent of these students demonstrated no significant improvement in a range of skills – including critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing – during their first two years of college.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Things we want

If in comparing myself to you I find you have more, I may feel envy.

Most people, I believe, struggle with envy. We all lack something, and it’s natural to want it and envy those who have it. For some people, it’s someone’s hot girlfriend. For others, it’s athletic ability. For still some others, it’s wealth.

Dennis Prager calls this the Missing Tile Syndrome. No matter how many reasons we have to be happy, we focus on the few reasons we have to be unhappy (i.e., our eyes are drawn to that missing tile).

Properly sublimated, envy can be a blessing. It can motivate us to make positive changes. “By paying more attention to these people, we might learn to emulate some of the strategies that yielded their advantages,” writes John Tierney, citing a joint TCU-UT study on envy.

On the other hand, envy can be a curse, in two ways. It can make us feel inadequate and unworthy of people’s appreciation, friendship, and love. In response, we might withdraw from society. Also, sometimes we channel envy into resentment. We see the people who have the things we lack as coming by them unfairly. Not only does this resentment lend emotional drive to redistributionist politics, it inhibits our ability to get to know people better, and to learn that they, too, have missing tiles, inner demons they struggle with.

There is no cure for envy, only ways to curb it. The reminder that everyone, no matter how outwardly successful, has shortcomings in and of itself provides some solace. This is more difficult than it used to be, as the media constantly bombards us with seductive images depicting the lives we think we ought to have. But those images aren’t real. The real people behind those fantasies lead complicated, troubled lives. Who imagined Tony Scott, award-nominated filmmaker, an expert in crafting seductive images, would kill himself?

Following Jesus’ exhortation to “be perfect” (i.e., always work to better oneself) has an ameliorating effect as well. I’ve always been struck by the “happy warrior” mentality of strong Christian believers. That they are so completely over themselves is, to me, plenty evidence of God’s grace. The things we want are usually just that: things. By turning our focus to being better friends, coworkers, children, neighbors, etc., those things fade into the background. And then something remarkable happens: When you least expect it, what you’ve wanted all your life gives itself to you.

Here are some other sources on envy: “The Origins of Envy,” by Max Borders (also the source of the block quote); and “Life’s Enough: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others,” by Leo Babauta.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Impossible peace

I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the President has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations.

So said Mitt Romney in a foreign policy speech given at the Virginia Military Institute on October 8. This level of naïveté gives me little hope that Romney fully understands or will admit the reality of the challenge to Middle East peace.

It could be argued it is precisely Palestinian democracy that prevents peace with Israel. Raised on a steady diet of state propaganda and “liberationist” Islam, Palestinians are instinctively anti-Semitic. In 2006, they elevated Hamas into power, which regularly fires rockets into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. The second party, the more “moderate” Fatah, based in the West Bank, is less overt in its disdain for Israel in encouraging easily radicalized young men to violent riots and suicide bombings. Both parties call for the end of the Jewish state in their charters.

Neighboring Egypt’s authoritarian rulers maintained peace with Israel for over 30 years. Only recently, since the so-called “Arab Spring” and subsequent democratic reforms, has Egypt’s posture towards Israel (as well as native Coptic Christians) changed for the worse.

When given the chance to decide their destinies, Arab Muslims tend to choose war with Israel. For negotiations to have a chance of success, both sides have to want peace. The Palestinians treat negotiations as a subterfuge. Their real intention is to extract territorial concessions from Israel until it is too stretched militarily to defend itself.

“Islam reformed is Islam no longer,” said Lord Cromer. Barring a miraculous reformation, there is ultimately only one solution: a one-state solution. Israel has the firepower to obliterate Hamas and its civilian support structure. But its Muslim neighbors as well as Turkey and genocidally ambitious Iran would retaliate in the name of their lost “brothers.” That their brothers are murderers and death cultists matters little. Solidarity against the Jewish swine overrides everything. To no other standard do they hold themselves accountable.

It would be a bloodbath the tiny country of 8 million people couldn’t survive.

Hence the stalemate. The question remaining is: Why continue the farce of negotiations? The Palestinians love negotiations because they are great propaganda: They cloud the reality and, if the Palestinians don’t get concessions, they come off as victims of the bully Israel.

What’s our excuse? That one I haven’t figured out yet. Perhaps we prefer the illusion of peace than the reality of its impossibility.

For more, read Spencer Ackerman’s piece, “With Foreign Policy Speech, Romney Runs for Obama’s Second Term.”

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sex and consequences

“Free contraceptives reduce abortions, unintended pregnancies. Full stop,” Ezra Klein’s article declares. The tacit implication is pro-lifers should support free contraceptives, since it leads to fewer abortions.

Klein can be forgiven for missing the point entirely. The wonky author of the Wonk Blog by definition has no “ideological” core. He lives on facts, studies, and data alone. He is, at best, a libertarian pragmatist, at worst an amoral hedonist.

For pro-lifers, fewer abortions is not an end in and of itself. If it were, you would hear some pro-lifers propose abolishing consensual sex entirely and reproducing via the test tube method. But no pro-lifer wants this.

Why not? Because pro-lifers’ end game is to restore to America’s sexually retrograde culture the sublimity of the sex act. The advent of “inconsequential” sex has replaced responsibility in lovemaking with hedonic pleasure. Divorcing sex from the cycle of procreation removes the natural incentives for men and women to commit to each other as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.

Before the Supreme Court invented the right of would-be mothers to murder the unborn, relatively few children were born out of wedlock. Today that number equals half the children born in the United States each year.

As Klein points out, even the most expensive contraceptive doesn’t work all the time. Despite our best efforts to mute our own biology, the business of making babies, albeit fatherless and unwanted, carries on.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fear of the truth

In a sense, we are a “nation of cowards,” as Attorney General Eric Holder put it. But our cowardice extends beyond race (although race is foremost because it proxies as class for the Left). It extends to every subject tainted by our current politics. From the minimum wage to women serving on submarines. From the two-state “solution” to religious symbols on public buildings. Anyone who dares speak a word challenging the conventional wisdom is smeared with one or more myriad epithets and pushed to the margins of society.

Case in point: Arkansas State Rep. Jon Hubbard, who had the gall to write frankly about race:

The institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise. The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.

By no means is this a defense of slavery. But the PC mob jumped on “blessing in disguise,” implying without providing context or further evidence that Hubbard had revealed his true racist colors.

Case in point: Todd Akin, for saying this about pregnancy resulting from rape:

It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.

Insensitive to rape victims? Hardly. God’s honest truth about rape’s physical trauma on women and likelihood of early miscarriage? Definitely.

As for “legitimate rape,” even well-paid liar Eugene Robinson understood what Akin meant: forcible rape, as opposed to consensual sex that is later called rape.

Case in point: Christine O’Donnell, for pointing out in a senatorial debate that the words “separation of church and state” don’t exist in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. The law students in attendance booed and jeered her. The joke was on them. ABC News couldn’t help reporting:

The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But it does not specifically state that there should be a “separation of church and state” as has been popularly construed.

Knee-jerk reactionaries infer O’Donnell must support theocracy, which is absurd. As author of the universe, God has a proper role in government, which “separation of church and state” precludes.

I could fill reams of paper with more examples, but you get the point. What are these fears of the truth a symptom of, that they provoke such heated backlash? Why are so many of us such “cowards” when it comes to confronting the facts honestly?

Our fear of the truth stems from our desire to author our own existence, to not bow to the tyranny of nature. Truth is self-evident. If you let it, it will reveal itself. That confrontation is more painful for some than others. As Pascal said, “[Man] conceives a mortal hatred against that truth which blames him and convinces him of his faults.”

A regime can suppress the truth if it is energetic enough. It must saturate society and be ever on offense against those who would spread the truth. The regime must be totalitarian. Anything left in its natural state for too long will become a testament to the truth, exposing the humanist project’s failures.

And fail the project will. The regime will grant itself more power to correct its mistakes, but that will fail, also. A return to a state of nature is inevitable. As the regime unwinds and reality crashes on top of us like a tsunami hitting the shore, we will suffer the horrible consequences of hubris.

Don’t fret too much, for there’s a silver lining. When the tyranny lifts off our eyes, when the artifice and lies are dead, we will finally see the truth, clearer than ever before and than it ever will be.