Sunday, November 18, 2012

Odds and ends 11/18/2012

If there was an upside to the contraception mandate issued by HHS Secretary/nominal Catholic Kathleen Sebelius, it was that it brought clarity to the secular humanist worldview. At the time, analyses of that worldview were stark and eloquent. Examples are legion, but here are two:

Obama’s Milton Wolf defines freedom at the Washington Times:

Liberals say that man is not free until he is free from want and so the government must guarantee his comforts - everything from housing to health care, cell phones to sustenance. But this notion inherently contradicts itself. For the government to provide for all wants, or even just the important ones – and our leaders know the difference – they must plunder the property of other would-be free Americans. Worse yet, by attaching strings to every giveaway, they plunder the liberty of those on whom they lavish their largess. This notion of freedom destroys freedom. So a better definition must exist.

Freedom is man’s power to exercise his own faculties as he chooses as long as he prohibits no other man from doing the same. Law exists to ensure that no man takes another man’s life – other than in self-defense – or deprives him of his liberty or property.

Peter Wehner writes about “Barack Obama’s Theory of Government” over at Commentary:

[Obama] would trade off greater prosperity in all classes and income brackets in order to narrow the gap in income inequality, which he considers to be a moral offense.

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Obama wants government to weaken, and eventually replace, civil society, create greater dependency, and expand the state’s reach into every nook and cranny of life, including into the internal life of the church.


Mitt Romney understands why he lost the presidential election. Obama bought the electorate’s support by expanding the base of people on the government dole.


James V. Schall writes in the Catholic Thing on our postmodern concept of rights:

If freedom is the pursuit of whatever we want, which was, for Aristotle, the formal element of a “democratic” form of government, we soon discover that we want everything.

We insist that we have a “right” to everything. By looking at what is owed to us, we become oblivious to what we need to do to provide for ourselves. We understand the common good as a distributive justice in which the state provides everything for us.


George Neumayr looks at disgraced America and the modern Republican Party:

“It is dying but it laughs,” said the Romans of their collapsing empire. The chortling of the Bill Mahers last week deserves a similar line. The smugness seems to grow in proportion to America’s problems and pathologies. Their assertions about Obama’s socialism stimulating the economy or gay marriage strengthening the family are on the same level as their claim that pot is good for public health.

Desperate to win in a declining culture, prominent Republicans have already called for a more “modern” party. It only took a couple of days for them to embrace the wisdom of the Democrats and call for a relaxed abortion stance among other “evolutions.” But why stop there? If the purpose of politics is not to win on sound principles (so that problems can actually be solved when you do win) but to win through pandering, the Republicans should discard their whole platform. After all, fiscal conservatism didn’t fare very well either. America could then move forward even faster toward destruction, with two liberal parties of varying degrees, jostling with each other in a competition to see who can deliver bread and circuses to the mob to greater cheers.


Paula Broadwell is cute, but she’s no ditz. She has a mature view of human sexuality:

Writing in the Boston Globe in 2009 [Broadwell] tackled the issue of fraternisation between the sexes on the front line, ‘Human sexuality will always present a challenge to organisational discipline. In isolated outposts [it] could create a situation where issues of sex impede an organization’s survival skills’.

Rather presciently she concluded, ‘Banning sex is futile and impossible; the best approach is to set rules regarding fraternization, maintain awareness of relationships within the command, and strictly and fairly discipline transgressors.’


Peter Hannaford draws an analogy between California Governor Jerry Brown and Dr. Kevorkian:

The patient had a terminal illness. The medical term for it is “gross fiscal irresponsibility.” If not treated, it leads to total collapse of all systems. Having ignored the symptoms, California is now in the late stages.

The pending collapse of a once great state is so painfully obvious, it makes the election of Democratic supermajorities in both state houses all the more infuriating.


Reuters analyzes the bankruptcy of San Bernadino, California:

San Bernardino succumbed to a vicious circle of self-interests among city workers, local politicians and state pension overseers.

Little by little, over many years, the salaries and retirement benefits of San Bernardino’s city workers — and especially its police and firemen — grew richer and richer, even as the city lost its major employers and gradually got poorer and poorer.

Unions poured money into city council elections, and the city council poured money into union pay and pensions. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers), which manages pension plans for San Bernardino and many other cities, encouraged ever-sweeter benefits. Investment bankers sold clever bond deals to pay for them. Meanwhile, state law made it impossible to raise local property taxes and difficult to boost any other kind.


The Orange County Register editorializes on the futility of welfare spending:

The United States spent $61,000-plus last year supporting welfare programs for each household in poverty, according to U.S. Census, Office of Management and Budget and Congressional Research Services data.

If the money had been handed directly to those families, they would have arrived in the middle class, their poverty eradicated, at least until they spent the money. Instead, hundreds of billions of dollars were passed through costly, inefficient and, apparently, ineffective government channels.


Boy genius Michael W. Hannon writes in Public Discourse on the fallacy most same-sex marriage backers make:

Despite their very laudable subjective motives, [Ted] Olson and [David] Boies have completely overlooked the central question in this debate: What is marriage? Since they haven’t asked or tried to answer this pivotal question about the reality of marriage, but have instead based their arguments purely on political terms of equality and fairness, they have mischaracterized the entire dispute as a battle of discriminators against the discriminated. Misunderstanding the debate’s true point of contention has led them unintentionally but fatally to beg the question in all of their arguments.

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Olson, Boies, and their allies have systematically confused a debate about metaphysical possibility with one about political permissibility. They are arguing that our government ought to let same-sex couples marry, and they are convinced that their opponents are arguing over the same point, just on the other side of the issue.

But that is a gross mischaracterization of the disagreement. For our position is not that the government should refuse to let such couples marry, but rather that the government is utterly impotent with regard to this question. Our response to same-sex couples desirous of marriage is not “You may not,” but rather, “You cannot.” We do not seek to bar anyone from marriage; we just believe marriage is a union that is necessarily and by its very nature heterosexual. Maybe we are right, or maybe Olson and Boies are. But regardless, the question to be settled in this debate is not whether to bring a latent potency into actuality, but whether there is in fact any potency present in the first place.

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Granted, in the most generic sense, distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex couples is indeed a discriminating act. But in that broadest sense, all distinctions are discriminating, and no party to this debate is so foolish as to believe that we should abolish all distinction-making.


Sticking with the subject of marriage, Peter Lawler writes at Big Think:

The Christian view of marriage and the family doesn’t negate the merely natural and political purposes of marriage. Marriage is for propagation of the species—a natural function that we share with the other animals. Marriage is also for perpetuating political order; it has the civil function of producing citizens. But Christians put this natural good and this political good in their proper places by denying that they have a theological foundation. Serving the species and serving one’s country are not the highest purposes of marriage, and so marriage, and children, too, can’t be understood to exist for the species or the country. We aren’t in fact made in the image of the God as merely natural—in the sense of biological—or political beings.

True theology, as St. Augustine says, is personal—and so not civil or natural. And so the high or sacramental purpose of marriage is for the uniting of persons for the procreation of persons—beings who can know and love each other and God. The institution that corresponds to our personal purposes is the church. That means, of course, the authority of the state is limited by both the family and the church, and the education of children is to be more than for being citizens.


Gene Fant rants at First Things:

New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has decided that they must outlaw food donations to the poor because the materials cannot be assessed for falling within the guidelines for salt and fat. Apparently he has misread Luke 11:11 in the King James, “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?” I have read that stones can fill hungry bellies with a false sense of satiety, and I suppose that stones are the ultimate in low-salt / low-fat material, at least as long as they aren’t halite. Unfortunately, stones are not very nutritious. Neither is the gift of nothing, like the Marie Antoinette-ish admonition, “They have no bread? Let them eat arugula with low-fat dressing!”

This, then, is where we are. We now not only say, “You can’t serve the poor because of your religious beliefs,” we even tell the poor, “You can’t be served because of our secular beliefs.” And it’s the radical secular fundamentalists who are the new Taliban, destroying religious artwork and, apparently, turning into soup kitchen Nazis. This makes perfect sense, after all, because we now live in an era where “up” is “down,” “hot” is “cold,” and “right” is “wrong.” Too bad “hunger” can’t become “satiety” through the mere wave of a bureaucratic hand.


Rodney Howsare offers food for thought on the matter of church and state:

The [social contract] is Rousseau’s attempt to retrieve Hobbes (for whom he had significant respect) without the authoritarianism. Rousseau’s “state of nature” is much less nasty than Hobbes’, but equally requires some version of society. Even if the human person is most himself and freest when least encumbered with social, traditional, religious or familial ties, society is a necessary evil which protects as much as possible the freedom of the individual without being much of a threat to it. That society is the social contract, which is designed to express the will of the people.

Like most modern thinkers, Rousseau has an enormous amount of confidence in the ability of the “moral law within” (to quote another Rousseauian philosopher) to point each of us in the right direction. Indeed, the natural law is indistinguishable in his thought from private, individual conscience. And conscience is no longer rooted in something “above” the individual, which therefore needs to be formed by a healthy and traditional community; conscience is a perfectly functioning tool residing already intact in the heart of every individual.

This leads to Rousseau’s understanding of civil religion. If the social contract is the structure of his thought, civil religion provides its soul. This civil religion is intimately connected to conscience, insofar as it contains very few commands and only one restriction: against intolerance.

Because conscience is present in every individual and corresponds so nicely to the contents of civil religion (i.e., Deism), the role of organized religion (read, the Catholic Church) is thought to be not only unnecessary for but also the enemy of Democratic society. Why? Because it divides people’s allegiances between two kingdoms, and provides an institutionally robust alternative to the state.


Peter Ferrara at the American Spectator lays out some economic facts:

Obama says that his tax increases would not affect 97% of all small businesses. But that top 3% of small businesses earn 91% of all small business income, and employ 54% of the total private sector U.S. workforce.

In 2009, the top 1% paid over 22% of all federal taxes...while earning 13% of the income...In addition, in 2009 the top 20% paid nearly 70% of all federal taxes, while earning 50% of the income. The middle 20% of income earners, again the true middle class, paid 9% of federal taxes, which was about two-thirds of their share of income at 15%.

Over the last 45 years, every time the capital gains tax has been raised, capital gains revenues have declined rather than increased.

If envy didn’t override truth in postmodern America, these facts might mean something.


Jeremy Egerer, editor of American Clarity, writes:

We see that business has an advantage over charity, but that it must be kept within certain bounds. We see that in a market economy, the iron-hearted customer guides all commerce, and so the foundational principle of business must be entirely different from that of charity. We see that business is not heartless, but rather the ribcage which holds the heart; that two philosophies, almost like the yin and the yang, converge in a dance of humanity, the paradox upon which civilizations are built.

What, then, shall we do with our lives? Produce within the Law, and when needs have been met, and the masses empowered with goods, and justice brought to the poor and the rich alike, then we rest our checkbooks and ledgers and return home, and give as we are called.


William J. Haun presents the limited-government case against same-sex marriage:

A limited government can remain limited only when citizens take responsibility for the consequences of their choices. The less people take responsibility, Benjamin Franklin observed, the more they need government. The same is true with marriage. Marriage as traditionally understood ensures that a man and a woman channel their attraction for one another into a stable, committed relationship that gives any children they have the best developmental benefit: a mom and a dad.

In the absence of an independent institution that holds men and women accountable for their relationship’s public effect—the having and raising of children—government must make greater expenditures to fight crime, improve the education system, enforce child support requirements, aid abandoned single mothers, and provide general social services.

To be sure, the increasing severance of marriage from procreation—not same-sex marriage—caused these problems. Same-sex marriage, however, represents a further break. Marriage’s purpose as the only institution that unites children with their mother and father disappears if a union for which that purpose is inherently irrelevant is also considered a marriage. The marital union is distinct in this regard.

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A society where marriage is divorced from its procreative purpose within a stable union is a society that neuters its ability to prevent predatory men from impregnating women and abandoning them and to ensure that men take responsibility for their offspring. And it denies the child an incontrovertible social benefit: a present mother and father.

In such an alternative society—where marriage is divorced from procreation—the government steps in to look after children and relationships. And why not? If same-sex advocates view government validation of relationships as the means to achieve their social legitimacy, why not also look to government to solve the social failings of relationships?


C. John McCloskey, in “The Recent Unpleasantness,” goes full post-apocalyptic in his assessment of an America that reelects Barack Obama:

In fact, the U.S. is no longer a Christian country. Our nation is in a spiraling decline, and the cause is neither politics nor economics but moral breakdown.

For the first time in human history the greatest health problem is obesity—read gluttony. Millions of men and even (believe it or not) women are addicted to pornography, and our birthrate is at its lowest in history. Cohabitation before marriage and multiple divorces are not unusual. Out-of-wedlock births are at an all-time high. And the holocaust of unborn babies by the millions continues.

Our country is morally as well as fiscally broke. Of course, these signs of decline are all interconnected. This is not the time to go into how all this came about, but to my mind the individual states have become too dependent on our central government for matters that should fall in their own purview, clearly and seriously violating and abusing the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.


Lee Habeeb writes in National Review:

The desire to scrub Ole Miss of any possible remnants of racism projects not only a lack of confidence about the future of the university, but a lack of trust in the present. And it represents a false hope of perfecting human nature.


Last, but not least, I just finished reading Coming Apart by Charles Murray, an analysis of America’s social breakdown along class lines. Hallmarks of the social breakdown in America’s lower class since the 1960s include falling rates of marriage, church attendance, and employment. It’s chockfull of wisdom.

Of course sexual mores would be profoundly changed when, for the first time in human history, women had a convenient and reliable way to ensure that they could have sex without getting pregnant, even on the spur of the moment and with no cooperation from the man. (p. 10)

[Francis Grund:] “The American Constitution is remarkable for its simplicity; but it can only suffice a people habitually correct in their actions.” (p.127)

[James Madison:] “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.” (p. 129)

The importance of honesty in making a limited government work is self-evident—nothing short of a police state will force people to refrain from crime if they are predisposed otherwise. (p. 132)

[Francis Grund:] “I consider the domestic virtue of the Americans as their principal source of all their other qualities. It acts as a promoter of industry, as a stimulus to enterprise, and as the most powerful restrainer on public vice. It reduces life to its simplest elements, and makes happiness less dependent on precarious circumstances.” (p. 137)

[James Madison:] “The belief in a God All Powerful, wise, and good, is so essential to the moral order of the World and to the happiness of man, that arguments before which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources.” (p. 139)

The belief that being a good American involved behaving in certain kinds of ways, and that the nation itself relied upon a certain kind of people in order to succeed, had begun to fade and has not revived. It came to be tacitly assumed that the American system itself would work under any circumstances as long as we got the laws right. (p. 142)

[Bronislaw Malinowski:] “No child should be brought into the world without a man—and one man at that—assuming the role of sociological father, that is, guardian and proector, the male link between the child and the rest of the community.” (p. 160)

George Gilder predicted it even earlier, in Sexual Suicide, through a more inflammatory argument: Unmarried males arriving at adulthood are barbarians who are then civilized by women through marriage. The inflammatory part was that Gilder saw disaster looming as women stopped performing this function, a position derided as the worst kind of parochial sexism. But, put in less vivid language, the argument is neither implausible nor inflammatory: The responsibilities of marriage induce young men to settle down, focus, and get to work. (p. 181)

Prime-age men are much more than three times as likely to be out of the labor force if they are unmarried, and this was true through the entire half century from 1960 to 2010. (p. 182)

Kensington was still inordinately proud of its community, much to the exasperation of the social service establishment. “Kensingtonians are psychologically unable to face up to their social, cultural, and economic deprivation,” said one Philadelphia social services administrator. “Pride prevents them from taking advantage of social services. For them to accept these services might be to admit they’re not all they claim to be.” (p. 212)

Another group consists of men who making a living and women who are not single mothers, but who are disconnected from the matrix of community life. You probably recognize the type: They have friends, but purely for social purposes—friends good for going out and having a good time, not ones who are good for helping out in tough times. They live in the neighborhood, but are not of it. They don’t get involved in anything. (p. 229)

The role of marriage—specifically, marriage with children—is obvious. Some large proportion of the webs of engagement in an ordinary community are spun because of the environment that parents are trying to foster for their children. (p. 245)

One point of view (which I do not share) argues that the hallmark of high social capital—neighbors helping neighbors cope with their problems—is inferior to a system that meets human needs through government programs, because only the government can provide help without the moral judgmentalism associated with charity. (p. 252)

Longitudinal evidence reveals that people don’t get happier as they from a modest income to affluence, (p. 265)

People need self-respect, but self-respect must be earned—it cannot be self-respect if it’s not earned—and the only way to earn anything is to achieve it in the face of the possibility of failing. (p. 281)

The purpose of life is to while away the time between birth and death and pleasantly as possible, and the purpose of government is to make it as easy as possible to while away the time as pleasantly as possible—the Europe syndrome. (p. 284)

The hollow elite is as dysfunctional in its way as the new lower class is in its way. Personally and as families, its members are successful. But they have abdicated their responsibility to set and promulgate standards. (p. 294)

The founders believed that certain aspects of human nature were immutable and that they tightly constrain what is politically and culturally possible. Madison’s observation in The Federalist, no. 51, “that “if men were angels, no government would be necessary,” is famous, but the preceding two sentences get more directly to the point: “It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” (p. 297) Age-old human wisdom has understood that a life well lives required engagement with those around us. (p. 306)

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