Friday, October 5, 2012

Odds and ends 10/5/2012

“When’s the last time that you stood up and spoke out for increasing gay rights?” asked Republican presidential debate moderator Andy Hiller. I would have answered,

First of all, it’s not up to elected officials to “increase” rights. Rights are defined by a higher law than our own. Our laws get their legitimacy for this higher law. Secondly, if you mean same-sex marriage, let’s ask ourselves what marriage is, or is supposed to be: Since before Moses’ time, marriage has been a procreative union between man and woman. Marriage is the natural answer to men’s and women’s complementary natures and the needs of stable, productive society. Thirdly, the right to marry someone of the same sex is prohibited to everyone equally. Those people who would presumably benefit most from same-sex marriage, “gays” and “lesbians,” are not the monolithic group liberals make them out to be. Many have been married to the opposite sex and had children. An infinite number of factors besides gender define sexual attraction and behavior.

Anthony Esolen writes an illuminating piece on selfishness and narcissism in Public Discourse, that calls to mind “Big Mother.”

I say that people who swear to do as they like cannot be led. I do not say that they cannot be imposed upon. They will not be free citizens. They may well be underlings in a tyranny. That is the case in Huxley’s Brave New World. In that novel, a vast system of eugenics, early and continual indoctrination, and totalitarian control rests upon the foundation of hedonism. The people, according to their grade of intelligence, which here replaces social rank and is quite inflexible, receive the “benefit” of consequence-free sexual liaisons and doses of soma, the drug that induces a vapid state of careless good feeling—rather like that produced by television, as Neil Postman pointed out.

People under the influence of soma cannot think, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t express their “beliefs.” Here we come to the crux of the matter. If we encourage people to turn away from what is objectively true and good, to cherish instead their beliefs, whatever those may happen to be, we are teaching them not to think at all. We can do so most effectively by adopting the means of the old Greek sophists. That is, we can, in our massive indoctrination chambers, teach young people to subject traditional beliefs, whether patriotic or cultural or religious, to criticism, usually quite superficial and smug, the better to dispense with them. This we will call “thinking,” but it should rather be called “unthinking,” the energetic avoidance of the issue of truth. Then, when the mental landscape is cleared of all the old organic incrustations—all of its genuine life—it hardly matters what the individual will build there in its stead. It won’t be much. It will be more or less what those who control the means of indoctrination say it will be—though “control” may be too strong a word to apply to people who are themselves the objects of the same indoctrination.

I see the Lariat editorial board walked into the breastfeeding mafia buzzsaw. My favorite libels in the letters to the editor printed in the October 5, 2012 edition are “misogynistic” and “un-Christian.” What scorn one receives for suggesting breastfeeding moms be discreet about showing their breasts in public.

The editor’s note defensively points out “the author of the editorial in question is a woman,” an implicit acknowledgement that some of the manufactured outrage is misdirected misandry. They will have an answer for that: she is “not a real woman.”

Thank God for Colonel Allen West. He exhorts conservative, God-fearing women to fight hard for their men against the she-devils of the Left:

The women in our campaign printed up T-shirts to say “Women for West.” That’s what we need you to do. We need you to come in and lock shields, and strengthen up the men who are going to the fight for you. To let these other women know on the other side — these Planned Parenthood women, the Code Pink women, and all of these women that have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness — to let them know that we are not going to have our men become subservient. That’s what we need you to do. Because if you don’t, then the debt will continue to grow...deficits will continue to grow.

William Sullivan, writing on “How Obama misunderstands freedom and how he failed it”, summarizes beautifully:

Obama contends that a “government by the people” holds the key to peace in the Middle East, but never once does he consider that the “people” inhabiting much of the Islamic world may desire something other than the freedoms we cherish. He suffers from the multiculturalists’ ailment and “believes” that all cultures share some sort of moral relativism – that cultures are equally good and desire the same ends for humanity. But our concept of “freedom” is uniquely good, and despite our president’s delusions, it is not “universal” among cultures. “Freedom” is but one ideological path to govern. “Submission” is another, and one that has been far more prevalently applied throughout world history, particularly in the Islamic world.

Sullivan is a good writer and a clear thinker. Here he discusses the Todd Akin fiasco and how it revealed conservative cannibalism and weakness:

Disarmed by an uncomfortable series of questions, Akin cited “legitimate rape” when he clearly meant to reference “forcible rape,” a legally viable distinction referring to the violent, physical act of rape that one commonly thinks of when the word “rape” is uttered. This is different than, say, statutory rape, in which a twenty year old might engage in consensual sex with a sixteen year old, which is why a legal distinction exists between the two. Akin’s purpose was to convey that in situations of forcible rape when a woman is in peril, the stress can cause female reproductive functions to be compromised.


Conservatives seem helpless to convey that fact, and have chosen to cannibalize one of their own- not because he is as extreme as the left says he is, but because the left says he’s as extreme as they want him to be portrayed, and conservatives lack the means to direct the conversation otherwise.

Here Sullivan recaps the “government is god” theme at the DNC:

This week, with the unveiling of their DNC video, Democrats gave Americans this message again in the clearest terms imaginable. Not only can you not do it without the government, and not only has the government already helped you even if you think it hasn’t, but “the government is the only thing we all belong to.”

“Belong.” This implies possession. There is no ambiguity here. The Democratic message is that “we the people” are possessions of the government, and are beholden to see to its success as a collective machine.

There is nothing—I repeat, nothing—that is more antithetical to American values than this gross assumption of ownership by a government. Our founders believed, above all things, that we “belong” to our Creator alone, who has granted us inalienable individual rights, and that a government’s only reasonable function is to protect those rights. Among these is the fundamental right to individual property ownership, a concept which cannot exist in a social contract that includes our servitude to a government that can take away one’s property, absent his consent, for the purpose of providing that property to someone else. Our freedom, our birthright—established by God, nurtured by America’s founders, and protected by brave men and women—will cease to exist.

Here Sullivan really shines as he tackles same-sex marriage:

Conservatives are generally called upon to embrace a federal mandate that same-sex marriage be accepted unquestionably. To do any less, the left argues, denies homosexuals their humanity. But being “married” is nothing more than a cultural term. The choice to spin the argument to be about homosexuals’ “humanity” is little more than the creation of a straw man, meant to deter focus from the deeper societal and legal implications that surround the issue.


The institution of matrimony, insofar as its application in America, is a Judeo-Christian concept. As such, the vast majority – 80%, in fact – of marriages still take place in “churches or synagogues.” If we set the precedent that same-sex marriage must be uniformly accepted, then what is to stop the federal government from dictating that a church must – disregarding its own doctrine and values – marry such individuals? Citing the establishment clause of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” it should go without saying that the federal government has no constitutional right to legislate either in favor of, or against, “same-sex marriage” legality, as it enters the realm of religious practice...

Thirdly, as a cultural point, there is a larger societal issue as to the re-defining of the institution of the family. To argue that men and women are not inherently different as to what they offer in that family institution, particularly at emotional and developmental levels, is silly and disingenuous. For evidence of how this can negatively impact society, look no farther than the breakdown of the family unit that fatherless households have created in the black community, as young black males seek to compensate for the lack of a father figure by embracing the example of hip-hop icons, cultural influences, and often unsavory community elements. The left’s assumption seems to break down to its age-old, and constantly invalidated, belief that the collective “village” – society, cultural mediums, social programs, schools, etc. – can replace the more traditional family upbringing that Americans have always held dear.

Reading the Score breaks down the debate between Bill Maher and Dinesh D’Souza:

Bill Maher’s fiercely loyal audience have given him real confidence, even when he should be embarrassed. They patiently wait for him to give cues on when to laugh, and then act as if all of his points are brilliant. They’ve built up his ego so much that when Maher faced off against Dinesh D’Souza, Maher didn’t seem to realize just how outmatched he was. While Maher controlled the crowd, D’Souza destroyed him on logic.

It really is a marvel to witness. Every time D’Souza was allowed to speak he completely refuted Maher’s points. D’Souza didn’t seem even slightly threatened by Maher’s trite points.

I thought the same thing of D’Souza’s performance in a debate with Peter Singer (of Princeton) on the existence of God (at Princeton).

David B. Hart has “A Modest Proposal” on the limits of free speech:

To me, the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church barbarians was merely an illustration of a number of obvious facts about modern culture, and further evidence that between a regime of abstract liberties and a culture of real freedoms there is not only a distinction, but often an inevitable antagonism. Before all else, the decision stands out as yet another poignant reminder of what a degrading exercise in reductio ad absurdum constitutional law frequently is these days.

No competent historian of American jurisprudence could believe for an instant that the authors of the Constitution of the United States ever envisaged an age in which enumerated liberties would be mistaken as writs of absolute license. The guarantee of free speech was certainly never intended as a shelter for any abuse whatsoever of the liberty it granted; it certainly was not meant to protect behaviors other than the unhindered expression of political or philosophical opinion; and it certainly was not meant to prevent the application of decent public prudence in determining what is or is not an intrinsically offensive manner of expressing that opinion.

Matthew J. Franck reviews the arguments for and against same-sex marriage in Debating Same-Sex Marriage, by John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher:

The reason marriage exists in the first place is not to satisfy the longings of any two (or more) persons for social recognition of their desire to care for one another for the long haul, or to make anyone feel better about his place in society. The reason marriage exists is because (in the briefest version of her argument), “sex makes babies, society needs babies, children need mothers and fathers.” These are, [Gallagher] rightly notes, social problems for which marriage is the institutional solution. Our private relationships are generally none of the state’s proper business. But society’s manifest need to regulate procreation and the responsibility for children elevates marriage-and the legitimate family relations that flow from it-from the plane of private law to the plane of public law. As the family of mother, father, and children is more basic and natural than the state, so marriage, as the relationship that founds the family, needs and deserves all the status the state can bestow upon it.

R.R. Reno’s “Marriage, Morality, and Culture” is the single best essay I’ve read on the catastrophe called the sexual revolution. It deserves a place in everyone’s reading list.

A traditional culture constrains and limits desire, especially the volatile complexities of sexual desire. The reasoning behind the drive toward same-sex marriage reverses the direction of authority. Our secular elite culture believes that desires—as long as they do not directly harm others—should command and shape culture. We should be able to make of marriage what we wish.

Result: the emerging postmodern Empire of Desire. In the past, the instruments of political power (e.g., the right to privacy) have been used to tear down official forms of limitation and censure so that desires can find their satisfactions. The soft power of culture has followed the same path. Our present and widespread social censure of moral censure inculcates and reinforces a non-judgmental ethos. Now we are embarking on a much more aggressive program. Everybody should have access to the cultural symbols of affirmation. Everybody has a right to feel normal.

Here’s another gem from Reno, this time in defense of Rick Santorum’s call for increasing the child tax credit. The emphasis in the third paragraph is his.

By supposing that families “just happen,” the editors of the Wall Street Journal show themselves to be as naïve about social capital as liberals are about financial capital. No, families don’t just happen, as we are discovering in the demographic decline in some countries in Europe, a decline that would characterize American society were our culture not renewed by immigrants who have yet to turn marriage and children into lifestyle choices. When incentives for women to work and disincentives for men to marry constellate with rising costs for the care and education of children, to which are added all sorts of changed social attitudes toward child-bearing and parenting, you’ll get what any good economic theorist would predict, which is fewer children.

But there’s the rub. When the editors of the Wall Street Journal say that a tax credit designed to encourage and support men and women who have children “merely rewards taxpayers who have children over those who don’t,” they are saying, in effect, that there is no important difference between having and not having children, at least no difference that our society should care about. Get people to save, work and invest? Yes, government should definitely have policies to encourage that behavior. But marry and have children? No, those are just private decisions that government has no business encouraging. Let the invisible hand of the social free marketplace decide!

It is at this point that I see a fundamental agreement between free market libertarians and postmodern relativists. I can’t speak for Rick Santorum, but by my way of thinking human beings are ordered toward natural ends, work and productive economic cooperation being among them. But we’re also made to mate.

Unlike the acorn that grows into a tree without cultivation and encouragement, human beings don’t just do what they are naturally ordered to do. Or more accurately, we don’t automatically do it well and in a way that brings us the satisfaction that comes with living in accord with our natural propensities. We require cultivation, which is to say culture, which is to say “social policies.”

Reno is editor of First Things and a brilliant writer. The next two installments of “Odds and ends” will feature two articles by Reno apiece.

Bruce Thornton reviews David Horowitz’s Radicals:

The connecting what Horowitz calls the “utopian delusion” that is the ideal of “every believer in universal progress” and the “fantasy of a redeemed future.” But when this ideal ignores the non-negotiable, tragic limits of human action and character, it sparks a “destructive passion” that “becomes a desire to annihilate whatever stands in the way of the beautiful idea.” Radicals thus expands further on themes that have run consistently through Horowitz’s books, like Destructive Generation and Left Illusions, to discover “what prompts people to believe in world-encompassing and world-transforming myths” and “to explore the tragic consequences of the attempts to act on them.”

Another contrary viewpoint on Dinesh D’Souza’s book Roots of Obama’s Rage and documentary 2016, courtesy of Jack Cashill via American Spectator.

I won’t quote the review at length because the relevant passage is too long. Cashill argues that Obama Jr.’s mother was not close to Obama Sr., that they did not live together for long, and that the mother was capable on her own of feeding Obama Jr. her own brand of Leftism, not the father’s anti-colonialism.

This will only get worse as the gay mafia forces full recognition of their lifestyle on the rest of us.

The New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by the state’s Civil Rights Commission that a Christian photographer who refused to take pictures of a gay couple’s commitment ceremony violated the state’s discrimination law.

“Elane Photography may not discriminate in its commercial activities against protected classes as the basis for expressing its religious freedom,” Judge Tim Garcia wrote in a 45-page ruling.

Homosexuals do not qualify as a suspect class in the legal sense. A suspect class must have an immutable trait that identifies them apart from others, like skin color or gender. Sexual “orientation” or behavior is not an immutable trait. It is polymorphous, circumstantial, and unique to every person.

By the way, Elane Photography had to pony up $7,000 in fines.

Chris W. Bell writes in “A Straw Man is Beating Republicans”:

A popular straw man technique going today is to simply state that “[t]he Republican response to pleas to help the poor is to say you’re on your own.” It is incredibly effective. That way, anyone who opposes any social spending has an animus against the poor. It redirects the argument from whether the policy is a good idea to one about how we can ever have a fair society if conservatives are around.

It’s easy for the progressives to feel like elitists, because in their minds their opponents are some of the most heartless bastards ever to walk the earth. After all, if the progressive’s claims are correct, then conservatives hate blacks, the elderly, the poor, the environment, kids, women, the middle class, and most woodland creatures.

The straw man also works great in response to voter identification laws that require voters to show photo ID. The proponents of such laws are classified as racists who want to disenfranchise blacks – and it’s easy to impugn blatant racists. The predictable liberal response includes “Romney’s support for voter suppression laws disrespects the group’s [i.e., the NAACP’s] entire legacy.” Here they go again: if you are in favor of requiring voter ID, you favor it because it denies the vote to the poor. But since ID is required to apply for food stamps, does that mean liberals are in favor of starving the poor, blacks included? Turnabout is fair play.

Again I return to a critique of Hannah Rosin’s The End of Men. Peter Blair at Public Discourse writes:

The reality inhabited by the vast majority of women not at the top of the corporate ladder is characterized by single motherhood, poverty, and exhaustion. At one point, Rosin cites a study showing that “more than half of births to American women under thirty occurred outside marriage” in 2009. She then explains the dangers of this “new normal”: “Many of these single mothers are struggling financially; the most successful are working and going to school and hustling to feed the children, and then falling asleep in the elevator of the community college.” They live, as she notes earlier, in regions “rife with ‘civic dysfunction,’ where … marriage rates are plummeting and one out of every three children is born to one of the area’s many single mothers, who by default are left to stitch things together by working at Walmart or in service jobs around town.” How can this analysis possibly fit with her overall belief in female success?

Rosin simply glosses over these sad facts by revealing her philosophical loyalties with admirable concision: “Still,” she writes, “they [women] are in charge.” They may be impoverished and exhausted, but today’s single mothers are rising in the world because they are “in charge.” Without a spouse, they control all the finances and make all the decisions.

In Rosin’s worldview, then, power, self-sufficiency, and independence are the central features of the good life, the metrics by which success is judged. Today’s women, she notes, just want to be “‘a hundred percent selfish’” and reach “individual self-fulfillment.” They don’t want to get married because they don’t want “‘anyone else to influence what [they] do after [they] graduate.’”

Ayn Rand, anyone?

Since freedom understood as autonomy, a “freedom of indifference,” is the greatest good in Rosin’s eyes, it should not surprise us that her argument presupposes an ambiguous attitude toward marriage, and portrays gender relations as a perpetual battle.

Since relationships enhance our freedom only by first constraining it, today’s independent women are choosing to forgo them and compete as single individuals for a larger share of the economic pie. For Rosin, the provider gets to set the terms of cooperation, so women must out-compete men as providers in order to gain “freedom.” Men and women are locked into a zero-sum power game, and if one is winning, the other must be losing. Rosin’s power paradigm and her commitment to a freedom of indifference prevents her from understanding that the sexes need each other, that we are cooperators and not competitors, and that a loss for one sex is a loss for the other one as well. Rosin is finally unable to see male-female relationships as organic unions of service and sacrifice, unions that make us better people precisely by the demands they place on us.

Blair then finds the heart of the sexual revolution’s failure: its flat rejection of human nature.

The simple fact is that men and women, generally speaking, still want long-term romantic relationships with each other. But if the hook-up culture is infantilizing and de-socializing the same men that women will one day have to date or marry, we should be worried for women too. If men are being destroyed by the hook-up and party culture, women are losing out on the possibility of fulfilling marriages to mature men. To take just one of many examples, Kay Hymowitz’s recent book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys expresses women’s deep frustration with a generation of immature and directionless men.

Ryan T. Anderson, editor of Public Discourse, reviews Free Market Fairness by John Tomasi over at the Weekly Standard:

Offering a quick history of the classical liberal and libertarian traditions, Tomasi shows their concern with protecting property rights and economic liberties, but he also highlights texts from John Locke, Adam Smith, and James Madison—as well as Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Nozick—that show a concern for how the poor would fare within a market regime. Though Hayek wrote The Mirage of Social Justice, and claimed that social justice “does not belong to the category of error but to that of nonsense, like the term ‘a moral stone,’” Tomasi shows how he and the others nevertheless had an incipient awareness that regimes could be legitimate only if the poor did well.

Tomasi wants those on the right to see that this implicit commitment to the welfare of the poor needs to be made explicit, and that it requires giving up the absolute claims that libertarians frequently make about self-ownership and property rights. Instead, they should speak of self-authorship, and understand economic freedoms as similar to other liberal freedoms: basic but not absolute. Drawing comparisons with freedom of speech and religion, Tomasi argues that rights protect important goods by creating spheres of liberty, but they have to be compatible with each other and with a stable political regime.

The demands of social justice require that, while respecting basic liberties, institutions should be structured so that any resulting inequalities redound to the betterment of the least well-off. He concludes that market societies, particularly with constitutional guarantees of minimum income, basic education, and health care, have proven to generate the greatest personal wealth over time for all people, including the poor.

Paul Johnson’s son reviews his father’s book, A History of the Jews, 25 years after publication.

Friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers, Jews and Gentiles alike, often come up to me to pay tribute to my father. This is less surprising if one has read the book, which concludes with a rousing affirmation of a story that has often been treated as an endless catalogue of persecution and suffering:

“Jewish history teaches, if anything can, that there is a purpose to human existence and that we are not just born to live and die like beasts. In continuing to give meaning to creation, the Jews will take comfort from the injunction, thrice repeated, in the noble first chapter of the Book of Joshua: ‘Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.’”

The need for Jews to take courage in the face of peril has certainly not diminished in the last 25 years. As Paul Johnson wrote, “The Jews have been great truth-tellers, and that is one reason they have been so much hated.”

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