Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dissociation as addiction

I watched a movie over the weekend called Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis. The movie itself is bad, a classic case of a good idea marred by poor writing and direction. But the premise is worth exploring.

In the not-so-distant future, technological advancement in the West enables people to engage their world through humanoid machines, which they control remotely from home. “Surrogacy,” as it’s called in the movie, is the ultimate realization of vicarious living. Imagine never having to leave your house to go to work or do chores. Imagine, despite your age and/or physical limitations, the “face” you show to the world is flawless, unmarred by physical and emotional scars. Imagine being removed from the immediate consequences of your actions: By controlling your surrogate from home, you can yell at your boss, pinch a girl’s butt, or leapfrog cars in traffic at no risk to your real person.

The hero Greer’s wife refuses to leave her room, preferring to interact with her husband via the medium of her sumptuous surrogate while her health and body deteriorate. No doubt the surrogate satisfies the husband in ways she can’t, but Greer knows the difference. He cannot love a machine, no matter how human it looks. Without affection sex is merely orgasm, achievable easily enough on his own.

This dissociation of husband and wife will signal the final victory of technology and media over human interaction. I knew there was a good reason why people walking to class listening to their iPods and talking on their cell phones bothered me in college. It’s gotten worse with Blue Tooth and smart phones. These are implements of self-absorption, insulation to buffer inputs from the user’s surroundings. The surrogate impedes all input. Each machine is a nuclear individual operating autonomously, imbued with the distant user’s substitute reality. Cooperation among the machines is prudential; community is sterilized.

It’s not hard to see how most people would become hopelessly addicted to surrogacy. After all, don’t most of us who are perfectly capable of going to the bank prefer to do our banking online? What started as convenience morphs into reliance and dependence. We may say we’re better than that, but our denials sound like those of the alcoholic sitting at the bar drinking lemonade. Eventually temptation wins.

Inadequacy, real and imagined, is the fuel of addiction. Deprived of his surrogate, walking down the street reminds Greer just how inadequate he is. Surrounded by perfect human bodies—beautiful, strong, driven by unknowable forces—he can’t escape the feeling he is an ant walking among giants. He could survive in this world, just as his wife could survive outside her room, but why try?

It’s difficult to maintain discipline in a world that rewards immediate gratification. The best way to avert succumbing to temptation is to stay away from it altogether. In the movie, a pseudoreligious sect rises, reminiscent of the Luddites, who in the 1800s destroyed automated looms because they priced skilled textile workers out of the market. They form secluded enclaves to preserve their way of life, unaided by surrogates.

Can you blame them? I can’t. The basic assumption of technology in our modern era is that life is a burden. For many, at this point, material needs are infinitesimal. Spiritual needs are greater.

Ross Douthat of the New York Times reflects on a world in which technology has alleviated the material needs of life and created a rift in the civil society:

The decline of work carries social costs as well as an economic price tag. Even a grinding job tends to be an important source of social capital, providing everyday structure for people who live alone, a place to meet friends and kindle romances for people who lack other forms of community, a path away from crime and prison for young men, an example to children and a source of self-respect for parents.

Here the decline in work-force participation is of a piece with the broader turn away from community in America — from family breakdown and declining churchgoing to the retreat into the virtual forms of sport and sex and friendship. Like many of these trends, it poses a much greater threat to social mobility than to absolute prosperity.

Whereas his focus is on workforce participation, the same point can be made about commitment of life and body to the world of real people and real work.

I’m open to your thoughts. What do you think?

Cross-posted at the Red Pill Report.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Odds and ends 2/24/2013

“By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than the flies of a summer.” –Edmund Burke

James V. Schall writes chillingly of the “disorder in the souls of so many” in the Catholic World Report:

Undoing what has now been done to family law and the understanding of marriage now involves the deeper issue of habits of disorder in the souls of so many of the population. While it is possible to rid ourselves of bad principles and habits, it is monumentally difficult, even if we want to. But for the most part, as a people, we do not want to. This election was, by most standards, an approval of the direction of the government, an assurance that it was on the right—that is, popular—path that rejects the central premises of reason about moral life.

The larger matter, if it is larger, is the central government has succeeded in positioning itself as the chief dispenser, not only of jobs, health, and well-being, but also of what is moral and right. Government has established a claim and an agenda that would make all real moral, economic, and political understanding and activity dependent on itself. The country has radically changed its soul from one that insisted the main actors are individuals and their voluntary organizations to one that holds the ungrounded government responsible for all the major (and minor) issues.

In this new capacity the government conceives itself as being subject to nothing—not to the Constitution, amendments, reason, or natural law. It will not be put quite this way, but that is the effect. This is what we elected.

Remember Obamacare? James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal does:

If the law is impracticable to implement, or if it gives too much discretion to executive-branch agencies like the IRS or the HHS, these problems could have been anticipated if lawmakers had not been so anxious to ram the bill through. Any single Democrat who was a member of the Senate in December 2009—including Baucus, Cantwell, Nelson and Wyden—could have single-handedly halted the process simply by joining the 40 Republicans in declining to approve a vote on the floor. Instead, every last one of them yielded to political pressure and voted “yes.”

“Democrats are getting nervous and consequently are trying to put some distance between themselves and the ACA,” [Walter Russell] Mead observes, using the abbreviated formal styling of ObamaCare as the Affordable Care Act. “We don’t blame them for trying, but it may be a futile effort. For better or worse, their fates are now tied to that of Obamacare.”

Indeed there isn’t much point in blaming them for trying. But they deserve the blame for imposing this monstrosity on the country. To quote Bill Nelson: “I want somebody to be accountable for this, and if it was a mistake, for somebody to own up to it.”

Joel Kotkin and Harry Siegel, writing in the Daily Beast, present a grim picture of Japan’s low fertility rate.

In some places in Japan, particularly in the countryside, there are already too few working adults remaining to take care of the elderly, and kodokushi, or “lonely death,” among the aged, the unmarried, and the childless, is on the rise. Long a model of frugality, the demographically declining nation now has by far the high-income world’s highest rate of public indebtedness as spending on the elderly has shot past what the state can extract from its remaining productive workers. Last month, the nation’s new finance minister, Taro Aso, outright said that the elderly should be given grace to “hurry up and die.” This situation will not be made better by a desexualized younger Japanese generation: one in three young men ages 16 to 19 express “no interest” in sex—and that may be a good thing, given that 60 percent of young women of the same age share their indifference.

If I had to assign blame for roughly half of Japanese 16-19 year-olds’ disinterest in sex, I would blame it on immersion in a constantly endorphin-drenched technological society over-fixated on career and pleasure.

Not only is sex dead, but love is dead, Kelly O’Connell declares.

Our culture is mortally ill and will die unless we reverse course on this essential issue. In a variety of instances we can see how the very notion of love itself has fled from an increasingly materialistic, over-sexualized and spiritually apostate land. For example, traditional concepts of marriage are replaced by cohabitation, hookup dating, pornography, and endless tales of misbegotten trysts—like the army of young and attractive female teachers seducing students, which hits the papers on a weekly basis.

All of this reveals a sad and alarming absence of real love. Again, consider how materialism, technology-mania, and pop-psychology have overwhelmed America’s traditional concern with friends, family and care for strangers. Further, ponder how a lack of understanding of God’s love—whether miss-delivered from the pulpit via various heretical sermons, or in private Christian lives and their pagan practices—has caused a catastrophe for America.

The only circumstance in which I would permit abortion is if it is an either/or proposition, as in the baby’s life endangers the mother’s life. But, when that is the case, usually the baby is developed enough to survive outside the womb. Mary Elizabeth Williams differs (hat tip Albert Mohler):

All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

One might extend this argument to infants. They, too, are not autonomous, as they depend on their parents for basic bodily functions; therefore, they are disposable based on her judgment of “what is right of her circumstances.” Sickening.

Mohler weighs in on the Boy Scouts’ dilemma. He begins by quoting 1 Kings 18:21:

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go on limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

There is no refusing to pick sides on the permissibility of sexual perversion. You either become the tool of culture, concerned with what is cool and in fashion, or you teach boys to be gentlemen. There is no between (re: “Herem”).

The indispensable R.R. Reno on “diversity”:

For someone like me who worked in academia for twenty years it’s a familiar way of talking. “Diversity” is one of what Richard Weaver called “god terms.” It’s a word like “inclusion” and “empowerment” that’s meant to conjure an unquestionable good that puts an end to questions and criticism. Nobody can be against diversity.

As Weaver observed, what god terms refer to remains vague. What counts as diversity? As a young faculty member I asked about the diversity requirement in the curriculum. “Would a class on St. Augustine work?” I asked, “He wasn’t a white European.” I was being disingenuous. I knew that diversity has a political meaning associated with what used to be called the New Left. The word conjures the countless cultural, moral, and legal changes necessary to break down the old social consensus to make way for a new one.

Diversity can be a strength if it gives you adaptability in meeting a challenge. But the endgame must not be in dispute. I fear what “diversity” means is multiculturalism, a plurality of views, incompatible with each other, on what is good and righteous.

Reno continues:

More than thirty years ago Evangelical Christians woke up as a political force in America. They transformed the Republican Party into a vehicle for their cultural agenda, which wasn’t to restore the old consensus (though that’s what liberals often said to imply that they were racists) but to fight against its wholesale replacement by a new consensus that is indifferent to important moral truths.

When I saw this article cross-posted at Michael Berry’s website, I thought it was satire, the kind of thing Berry is known for in KTRH land. Then I realized it was a real article. Elation never so quickly turned to sadness. Excerpt:

The [Massachusetts] Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has decided that transgender students will be allowed to use the restrooms of the gender with which they identify, and the same goes for playing on sports teams. This is a huge victory for advocates of transgender rights, as well as for common sense.


I concur with the directives. The thing is, as a rather gender non-conforming lesbian, I know what it is like to be accosted in a restroom because of people questioning my gender. It isn’t fun, and, further, it is humiliating. Not allowing people to use the restrooms with which they are comfortable creates a world of trouble for all involved. This is a great move, and I’d also suggest gender neutral facilities as the next directive in this legislation to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to accommodate genderqueer [sic?] and gender non-conforming students.

S/he writes later: “Anatomy need not come into play here.” Of course not. We are the gender we imagine ourselves to be! Parents in Massachusetts must be thrilled.

If belly putters really gave professional golfers an advantage over the competition, why wouldn’t every professional golfer use a belly putter? Rick Reiley does not ask. The answer is too inconvenient to his premise that belly putters are like steroids.

Let me ask you: If you could serve in tennis knowing the toss would be at the same spot every time, wouldn’t you? If you could shoot at a target range with the pistol bolted down, how much easier would it be? If a tailback could start on track blocks, wouldn’t he?

Belly putters do not anchor to a fixed object. They anchor to the golfer. So, as with the short putter, it’s still up to the golfer to maintain a steady posture. That’s the challenge of putting, and it hasn’t been subverted by the belly putter.

The libertarian dilemma is playing out in Colorado as a result of marijuana legalization:

Public use also prompted a dispute that wasn’t resolved Tuesday. Jackson and others wanted to ban marijuana use on publicly visible patios, porches and backyard. Marijuana activists chafed.

“So I can drink a beer on my porch? But I can’t smoke a joint?” asked marijuana advocate Christian Sederberg.

State Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, said lawmakers would hesitate to regulate something legal people do on private property. What about backyard grills that send the smell of hamburgers into the nose of a neighbor who’s vegetarian?, she asked.

“I don’t know how far we want to go telling people what they can’t do on their own porches,” she said.

Colorado law now does not distinguish marijuana from tobacco or beer. Respect for parents’ raising children, especially teenage children, will not be a legitimate reason to restrict people from smoking marijuana publicly. The stigma of marijuana usage will fade. For aspiring parents, Colorado just became a less desirable place to live.

Eileen Norcross writes an interesting article on sin taxes in the American Spectator. I am against sin taxes, especially when they are proposed in conjunction with the legalization of some markets like gambling and marijuana. When I lived in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, I voted against a ballot measure authorizing slot machines and table games, simply because the firefighters and the teachers bashed me over the head with apocalyptic messaging. Apparently, if we didn’t legalize and tax gambling, schools were going to crumble, and fires were going to burn out of control. I saw through the ruse, and frankly I didn’t like the idea of a casino going up in my neighborhood, which was transient and poor enough. The ballot measure passed anyway.

Mary Sanchez shills for the president’s preschool proposal in the Kansas City Star:

For decades, experts in early-childhood education have argued that a relatively direct way to improve school achievement is to enroll all children in preschool.

A more “direct way to improve school achievement” is having an intact family and involved parents. The problem with public education is not a lack of preschool. It’s a lack of accountability.

National Review’s Rich Lowry notes the existing federal preschool program, Head Start, has been weighed, measured, and found wanting:

The HHS study concluded: “There were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts...in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children.”

In other words, paraphrasing the president, “we know this program does not work.” One would have thought that an elaborate, state-of-the-art study of Head Start would have merited mention in a speech advocating expansion of Head Start–like programs.

Michelle Malkin writes on the uneducation of America’s youth (re: “Inventory”):

Common Core was enabled by Obama’s federal stimulus law and his Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” gimmickry. The administration bribed cash-starved states into adopting unseen instructional standards as a condition of winning billions of dollars in grants. Even states that lost their bids for Race to the Top money were required to commit to a dumbed-down and amorphous curricular “alignment.”

In practice, Common Core’s dubious “college- and career”-ready standards undermine local control of education, usurp state autonomy over curricular materials, and foist untested, mediocre and incoherent pedagogical theories on America’s schoolchildren.

The president also proposed hiking the federal minimum wage to 9 dollars per hour. Over at RealClearPolitics, James Dorn necessarily explains why that’s a bad idea:

Labor economist Douglas K. Adie, in an important study of “Teen-Age Unemployment and Real Federal Minimum Wages” (Journal of Political Economy, 1973), found that a 10 percent increase in the federal real minimum wage increases the unemployment rate for teens by 3.62 percent. That effect is greater in the long run as employers change their production methods to save on the higher-priced labor, and is more pronounced for minorities.

If Congress increased the minimum wage to $9 an hour, a 24 percent rise in the price of unskilled labor, and indexed it, one could predict with a high degree of confidence that the unemployment rate for teens, especially minorities, would rise—unless there were offsetting forces to increase the demand for low-skilled workers.

The way to create jobs and increase one’s real wage rate is not to increase the minimum wage, but to increase one’s productivity.

Joseph Sunde blogs at the Acton Institute:

If the great secret of capitalism is its power to leverage and channel the human spirit toward more transcendent ends, the great irony of progressivism is its propensity to take on the image of its own materialistic critiques.

As we continue to see Christian business leaders refusing to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s Golden Image—choosing economic martyrdom over secularist conformity—the more this administration’s limited, debased, and deterministic view of man and society will reveal itself. Through it all, even as the furnace grows hotter and hotter, Christians should remember that a fourth man stands close by, offering peace and protection according to a different system altogether.

Matt Welch of Reason spreads the gospel at CNN about the president’s State of the Union. The first paragraph contains a familiar point:

As exasperated appeals for an obstructionist Congress to get off its duff, the exhortations provided emotional catnip for Democrats. For the rest of us, however, they were sobering reminders of what governing liberalism has deteriorated into: content-free calls to take action for action’s sake.

Consumers of national governance are within their rights to ask just what we’ve gotten in return for ballooning the cost of the stuff since 2000. The answer may lie in not just what the president said, but what he has assumed we’ve already forgotten.

“Let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years,” said the president, who promised a “Recovery Through Retrofit” three years ago. “The American people deserve a tax code that...lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America,” said the man who before he took office vowed to, uh, give “tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United States.”

That “aging infrastructure badly in need of repair”? Well, what happened to the $50 billion from the stimulus package dedicated to precisely that task, or the $50 billion plan 18 months later? Making college “more affordable”? That has been the motivation for continuous ratcheting of government involvement in higher education, which has – surprise! – coincided with a several-decade increase in tuition costs and student loan debt.

Matt Purple writes a terrific article in the American Spectator on government giving the wrong answers to the problems facing today and technocrats:

An intellectual pipeline exists in Washington, with economists and think tanks conjuring up ideas, wonks and journalists discussing them, and legislators passing the final results. It pays the bills for a lot of people, but it’s also very out of place. Politicians like to think of themselves as addressing the challenges of their time. But the challenge at the moment, inherent in our massive debt, is to do the one thing that Washington big thinkers can’t fathom: stop.


Just like the “experts” who fiddled with lending standards to increase home ownership, or the technocrats who inflated an education bubble by gobbling up the student loan industry, or the Wall Street whiz kids who thought they could eliminate risk, Obama and company will continue to believe they can think their way through this crisis. All they need are the smart people; virtuosos and eggheads capable of managing an entire economy without producing any unintended consequences.

Weakest comeback ever?

“A lot of these Texans that come here, they don’t go back. I mean, who would want to spend summers there in 110-degree heat inside some kind of fossil fuel air conditioner? Not a smart way to go.” –California Governor Jerry Brown

Fossil fuel air conditioners?! The horror!

Josh Hamilton burns bridges.

I’m no Rangers fan, but I followed Hamilton’s career with Texas because of his remarkable comeback from drug addiction and his powerful witness to the saving grace of Christ. His comments here really call into question his character.

Two quick notes about this article on Taylor Swift in the Huffington Post:

1. Why is she, at 23, dating 18 year-old boys? It’s as if her early career success has frozen her in a 17 year-old emotional state.

2. She should be ashamed for publicly ridiculing her ex. If it were me, I would dress her down. Harry Styles wisely holds back, probably because a man can’t win in the public square against a darling like Swift.

You can’t make this up: “Academic takes swipe at David Attenborough wildlife documentaries for ignoring gay animals” (hat tip David Mills [no relation]).

Dr Mills who carried out the study said: ‘The central role in documentary stories of pairing, mating and raising offspring commonly rests on assumptions of heterosexuality within the animal kingdom.’

Dr Mills says this perception is created by the documentaries despite evidence that show animals have ‘complex and changeable forms of sexual activity, with heterosexuality only one of many possible options.’

Darrin Grinder writes an interesting article in the Huffington Post on George Washington’s faith:

If being a Christian means that one goes to a Christian Church fairly regularly, supports that church monetarily, believes in an Old Testament deity that acts in the world but whose relationship is far from personal, then Washington was a Christian. He was reared in the Church of England (later the Episcopal Church), attended services regularly, and there is no shortage of Washington’s statements regarding the role of religion in civil life, in the destiny of America, and in the affairs of the world. But many of today’s Christians would argue that a Christian is one who “accepts Jesus as a personal savior,” and for that there is absolutely no evidence in Washington’s life. In fact, there are few instances of Washington’s having said the name “Jesus” in any of his public or private writings or speeches.

My sister became a Christian, coincidentally Episcopal, in her mid-teens. I’ve never heard her discuss her conversion or testify to the saving grace of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In fact, she avoids God talk generally. But I see her character and her works, and I have no doubt she’s a Christian. Many people are just uncomfortable talking about that part of their lives.

Robert Royal writes an intriguing piece on popular dismissal of religious teachings in the Catholic Thing:

Despite all the talk of tolerance and openness in our society, Catholic teachings people find neuralgic get simply excluded in one of two ways. Some are stigmatized as sheer irrationality – e.g., “homophobia” is just mental illness or ingrained prejudice. We don’t yet have the “psychiatric” wards and re-education camps of the older totalitarians. But give it time. Blessed are you if the human resources department has not already scheduled you for sensitivity training to deal with your “issues.”

The other way these “issues” get treated is to classify them as mere “policies” as if the next pope or one down the line can simply change Catholic teaching to suit whatever happens to be the dominant mood. Then everyone can go home happy – and undisturbed.

“To hand over the moral law to man’s subjective opinion, which changes with the times, instead of anchoring it in the holy will of the eternal God and his commandments, is to open wide every door to the forces of destruction. The resulting dereliction of the eternal principles of an objective morality, which educates conscience and ennobles every department and organization of life, is a sin against the destiny of a nation, a sin whose bitter fruit will poison future generations.” –Pius XI

David Paul Deavel writes an excellent piece on Ash Wednesday in the Catholic World Report. He bores down to the main draw of religion: affirmation of his wrongs, and the means to transcend them.

Ash Wednesday would probably be the most popular holy day of obligation if it were a holy day of obligation. As it is, no canonical penalties for absence drive Catholics to attend. But attend they do in droves. Why do they come? They come for what might be called the “bad news of the Gospel.”

The ashes and the words of imposition are their own stark sermon. They grab us by the jowl just as we sometimes do to children who will not look at us for fear of hearing what we say. “From dust you were made; to dust you shall return.” We have what Walker Percy called “the thanatos syndrome,” a strange taste for death and destruction, with a corresponding insensibility to the God who is life itself. This taste and its corresponding tastelessness we call sin. We are dying. The task of the Ash Wednesday preacher is two-fold: 1) repeat out loud the diagnosis written in ash on my forehead and 2) ask the corresponding question—are you willing to undergo the treatment you started at your baptism?


Tell me I’m not good enough. Tell me I’m dying. Tell me the treatment is disturbing and drastic, that it will take up all of my time. Tell me I’ll have to give up lots of things I like and take up other things I hate. Tell me it’s worth it.

What a terrific point, but—I am suspicious of faith originating from weakness. I do not want to approach Jesus on the cross and say in so many words, “I’m a hopeless wreck. You’re my last hope. Please save me.” I want to come to Christ from a position of relative strength—that is, aware of my shortcomings and confident in God’s wisdom and the path He has readied for me to follow.

Four years ago, David Mills of First Things wrote of human desire and giving up on Lent:

Our eldest, then about two years old, one day announced “I want...” but did not finish the sentence. My wife and I waited for her to tell us what she wanted — to be picked up and rocked? a cup of milk? her stuffed bear? — but again she said only “I want” and let her voice trail off. She said it a third time, still sounding equally unsure about what she wanted. And then, with a look of enlightenment on her face, said in a loud, firm voice, “I want!

There, I thought, was the fallen human condition expressed. We are creatures of ravenous, indiscriminate desire. We want this and we want that, but most of all, We Want.

Hence the value of Lent, which begins today, and of an old discipline that seems, even among Catholics, to be now somewhat neglected: the traditional discipline of giving things up for Lent. Bookish people being as fallen as anyone else, we might take a brief break from the pressing issues and interesting intellectual questions to reflect on the value of this discipline. Giving things up for Lent has, in my experience, two obvious benefits.

The first is that you very quickly find out how much a hold the world has on you. This is a lesson to which the Christian will give intellectual assent, but few of us really see what it means. We like to think of ourselves being happy to give up anything for the Lord just like that, with a snap of our fingers, even our lives, but most of us find it hard to give up something that really doesn’t matter. You dream of standing up to the lions in the coliseum, and find yourself snapping at the waitress because the restaurant is out of your favorite dessert.

Freedom from guns? Sure. Why not? Same as freedom from religion.

The Los Angeles Times ran a remarkable story on a men’s support group in a housing project. Quotable:

Project Fatherhood became part of the fabric of Jordan Downs. As the Wednesdays piled up, the men grew comfortable talking about their problems. They “were carrying deep troubles, questions and fears about being dads,” Leap says. “Problem was, they didn’t have many examples of good fathering, so they were coming up with answers from scratch.”

In searching for the above article, I found another L.A. Times article, this one printed in 1996, about a national movement among divorced and absentee fathers to reconnect with their children. This quote from family historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead struck me: “Men can’t be fathers unless the mothers of their children allow it.”

This is a distillation of George Gilder’s wisdom immersion text, Men and Marriage. Excerpt:

Although his relationship to specific children can give him a sense of futurity resembling the woman’s, it always must come through her body and her choices. The child can never be his unless a woman allows him to claim it with her...He can have a child only if she acknowledges his paternity; her child is inexorably hers. His position must be maintained by continuous performance, sexual and worldly, with the woman the judge.

William J. Meisler writes on the welfare state and manhood in the American Thinker:

The purpose and result of the welfare state is to remove both the element of risk in life and the reward that comes to those willing to take that risk. For the welfare state to accomplish its purpose, everyone must be brought down to a level of single sameness as much as possible, submerging the individual to the group, and no one must be allowed to strive to achieve more for himself than is beneficial to the whole group. In the welfare state, there is no place for individual nobility, heroism, courage, or virtue. Since risk, reward, courage, and virtue are essential to manliness, it follows that the presence of such virtue in the male population is a major impediment to the establishment of the welfare state.

Since manliness is the primary obstacle to the establishment of the welfare state, the obvious solution for the statist is to disparage manliness and make men more like women, which is exactly what our educational system and popular culture, both in the hands of the left, have been busy doing: shaming traditional male behavior in young boys, drugging the boys who are allegedly hyperactive, promoting gun control, and encouraging men to show their “feminine side” – while at the same time insisting that women can do anything men can do and encouraging women to mimic male patterns of behavior, including promiscuity, to the point that now women are to be deployed in combat. Even dodgeball and bullying are threats to the socialist enterprise; both must be suppressed. Better, the progressives think, to encourage state-sponsored false self-esteem or “it takes a village”-type thinking. What better way to discourage individual virtue?

The welfare state is nothing less than an assault on manly virtue. It is no accident that in the welfare-dependent family, the position of father is obsolete. Government entitlement programs simply apply that concept more broadly throughout society.

“Oppose all efforts to denude the nation of its founding justification, that is God-given, unalienable, natural rights that the government can neither confer on the individual nor deny to him. The statist seeks the authority to do both, which explains his contempt for, or misuse of, faith. Moreover, faith provides the moral order that ties one generation to the next, without which the civil society cannot survive.” –Mark Levin

“A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken homes, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure — that is not only to be expected, it is very near to inevitable.” –Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Wendell Talley writes about our obscene culture at Daniel Horowitz’ Madison Blog:

One type of obscenity — the $15M payoff to Meg Whitman for her role in guiding Hewlett-Packard with all the grace and skill found in the Hindenburg landing — I have discussed before.

The other type is just as retch-inducing but more accepted. It is commanded by the notorious division of our aristocratic class (Gaga, Kardashian, Sheen, et al.) With all of the subtlety of a streaker at a funeral this class of elite has used every available media tool to amplify behavior that fifty years ago was considered boorish, at best, and perverted in the main. The danger posed by these jokers lies in their softening the view of destructive character traits that will kill, pauperize or imprison an average person. The unchecked aggression celebrated by rappers — from gunplay to womanizing — is the bane of ghettoes coast to coast. Using a sex tape as a CV worked for Kim Kardashian but the mentality that uses such a ploy is a flaw every sensible father would want rooted out of his daughter. As Gertrude Himmelfarb has written, the wealthy can long sustain a lifestyle that would ruin a poor man within a week.

I’m no prude. I understand people have always done what the culture warriors impotently rail against. The difference is that in the 50s when Ingrid Bergman had an affair with Roberto Rossellini she was hectored from the public eye for five years. Today we would have seen vivid evidence of the Bergman-Rossellini tryst. The former can be reactionary and merciless in its extremes but it sets a useful boundary. The latter is viewed as more liberal and enlightened but it obliterates needed social custom.

This is where conservatives part ways with our Libertarian friends. No society marinated in slime can remain free. A debauched people is not a people capable of self-government. They will eventually demand and deserve a tyrant.

Andrew Durand at Acculturated comments on the hypersexualized Super Bowl halftime show and commercials:

I am not thoroughly convinced of some of your arguments particularly about whose responsibility it is for eliciting sexual thoughts in men. Very easily the comparison to Islamic oppression of women is brought up when women are asked to “cover up”. This is an extreme example, and is of course wrong. There is a time when attitudes toward “female beauty” become fearful which is damaging, but there are men who are asking for modesty because they want respect. Respect for the very fact that they too struggle with sexual urges, and physically dominating and sexual images make that struggle difficult for even the most “civilized” men–i.e., Augustine.

With some exceptions, physically sexual desire is the urge men deal with. Again with some exceptions, women deal with emotional sexual urges. For a man to exploit this, by gaining the trust of a woman for his own gains, physically or socially, would be disrespectful, and even abusive, to women. The argument that women must control these urges in order for them to be “civilized” is neglecting very real problems. In both cases, deception is employed. Women “deceive” men with their physically suggestive beauty, and men deceive with emotionally suggestive security.

Bill Croke mopes about the decline of America in the American Spectator. Excerpt:

The schools are an administrative and intellectual wreck, and kids not knowing how to even dress themselves is a good metaphor for their current state. Those students, especially those of college age, are subject to that ironclad liberal orthodoxy of cultural Marxism commonly called political correctness, with resulting hate speech codes, the gist of which is that the kids are taught to despise America’s institutions, civic traditions, and the very constitutional sinews of free speech and opinion. Anyway, the latter is a moot point: because they learn so little history, soon their ignorance of the important aspects of the American experience will be total. College campuses are hideous islands of totalitarianism on a national landscape that is more and more reflecting their toxic example.

John M. Smoot discusses 5 drawbacks to anonymous sperm donation in Public Discourse:

Second, selling sperm corrupts our society’s concept of fatherhood. Humans should care for their children. It has always been considered a tragedy when they fail to do so. Our society already suffers from an absentee father crisis. What message does it send to children when men so obviously don’t care when, where, or to whom their children are born? The boom in the sperm sale business will damage children’s perception of what it means to be a man and a father. As anthropologist Margaret Mead has written, “the supreme task of any society is to teach its men to be good fathers.”

Third, the sperm sale industry deliberately creates fatherless children. Thanks to better treatments for male infertility, fewer heterosexual couples are purchasing commercial sperm. Instead, the buyers are primarily single heterosexual women and lesbian couples. Single heterosexual women who want marriage and children are giving up on men swamped by a culture antithetical to male maturity. An excess of recreational sex, pornography, and video games has fostered male self-absorption.

I refuse to donate sperm for money. If you want my gametes, you’ll have to get them the old-fashioned way.

William Deresiewicz dissects what is essentially political correctness in the American Scholar:

The baby boomers have become the Establishment; their morality has become the mainstream; and the sensibility of ’60s art has become the upper middle brow, the house style of the upper middle class. Irony is taken for granted. Formal innovation is expected. A mixture of aesthetic registers is de rigueur. Ridicule is aimed at what’s left of the cultural enemy. Nothing shocks, and nothing is intended to shock. Beneath the gestures of transgression there exists a moral consensus that is every bit as unexamined, as immobile, and as self-congratulatory as that which girded the ruling class the Bobos displaced. Somehow, the rebels of half a century ago have grown up to become the new Victorians. There’s a right way now to eat, vote, laugh, think.

Which means it really shouldn’t be that difficult to make an avant-garde. Here are some of the pieties that it might undertake to profane. That people are basically good. That freedom is the chief ingredient of happiness. That we control our fates. That society is slowly getting better. That we are more virtuous than those who came before us. That the universe coheres in a mystical whole. That it all works out in the end. In short, the whole gospel of self-improvement, progressive politics, ethical hygiene, and pantheistic spirituality. The upper middle brow is as committed to the happy ending as is Hollywood. Tragedy is inadmissible: the recognition that loss is loss and cannot be recuperated, that most people’s lives end in failure and emptiness, that the world is never going to be a happy place, that the universe doesn’t love us.

I appreciated this comment from “secretcognition”:

How about some of the blatantly obvious sacred cows of the bobos, which Bill is probably too scared to point out: that all cultures are equal and should be respected, that rape isn’t about sex, that men and women aren’t fundamentally different both physically and mentally, and that maybe ceding economic control to the government sometimes causes corruption and waste? In other words, a more serious and well-intentioned dialog with the conservatives.

If you really, truly want to offend the bobos, it doesn’t take much; I like to do it by pointing out that not all cultures should be respected equally because I don’t like prison camps in North Korea or female circumcision in Africa. Or that I am very grateful to have been born in a western country where I can freely speak my mind without facing the possibility of prison, torture, or worse. Of course, these things make the bobos of Manhattan very uncomfortable, which is why I don’t have too many friends.

At First Things, Russel D. Moore reviews Benedict XVI’s papacy. I only quibble with scrubbing “illegal alien” from the language.

Benedict has countered the sexual revolution with an Augustinian view of the meaning of human personhood. A human person, he has reminded the world, is not a machine. We are not merely collections of nerve endings that spark with sensation when rubbed together. Instead a human person is directed toward a one-flesh union, which is personal and spiritual. Destroying the ecology of marriage and family isn’t simply about tearing down old “moralities,” he has reminded us, but about a revolt against the web of nature in which human beings thrive.

And Benedict has stood against the nihilism that defines human worth in terms of power and usefulness. He has constantly spoken for those whose lives are seen as a burden to society: the baby with Down syndrome, the woman with advanced Alzheimer’s, the child starving in the desert, the prisoner being tortured. These lives aren’t things, he has said, but images of God, and for them we will give an account. When society wants to dehumanize with language: “embryo,” “fetus,” “anchor baby,” “illegal alien,” “collateral damage,” and so on, Benedict has stood firmly to point to the human faces the world is seeking to wipe away.

In 2009, George Gilder introduced his book, The Israel Test (re: “Chuck Hagel’s aggressive neutrality”):

The prime issue is not a global war of civilizations between the West and Islam or a split between Arabs and Jews. These conflicts are real and salient, but they obscure the deeper moral and ideological war. The real issue is between the rule of law and the rule of leveler egalitarianism, between creative excellence and covetous “fairness,” between admiration of achievement versus envy and resentment of it.

Israel defines a line of demarcation. On one side, marshaled at the United Nations and in universities around the globe, are those who see capitalism as a zero-sum game in which success comes at the expense of the poor and the environment: every gain for one party comes at the cost of another. On the other side are those who see the genius and the good fortune of some as a source of wealth and opportunity for all.

The Israel test can be summarized by a few questions: What is your attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth or in other accomplishment? Do you aspire to their excellence, or do you seethe at it?

“We are especially referring to what is called the natural law, written by the Creator’s hand on the tablet of the heart and which reason, not blinded by sin or passion, can easily read. It is in the light of the commands of this natural law, that all positive law, whoever be the lawgiver, can be gauged in its moral content, and hence, in the authority it wields over conscience. Human laws in flagrant contradiction with the natural law are vitiated with a taint which no force, no power can mend.” –Pius XI

Last, but not least, Rod Dreher reflects on a critique of natural law argument in First Things by David Bentley Hart. First, Hart:

The truth is that we cannot talk intelligibly about natural law if we have not all first agreed upon what nature is and accepted in advance that there really is a necessary bond between what is and what should be. Nor can that bond be understood in naturalistic terms. Even if it were clearly demonstrable that for the majority of persons the happiest life is also the most wholesome, and that most of us find spiritual and corporeal contentment by observing a certain “natural” ethical mean—still, the daringly disenchanted moralist might ask: “What do we owe to nature?”

To his mind, after all, the good may not be contentment or even justice, but the extension of the pathos of the will, as Nietzsche would put it: the poetic labor of the will to power, the overcoming of the limits of the merely human, the justification of the purely fortuitous phenomenon of the world through its transformation into a supreme aesthetic event. What if he should choose to believe (and are not all values elective values for the secular moralist?) that the most exalted object of the will is the Übermensch, that natural prodigy or fortunate accident that now must become the end to which human culture consciously aspires?

Denounce him, if you wish, for the perversity of his convictions. Still, after all hypothetical imperatives have been adduced, and all appeals to the general good have been made, nothing would logically oblige him to alter his ideas. Only the total spiritual conversion of his vision of reality could truly change his thinking.

Dreher surmises:

If you don’t believe there is any cosmic order undergirding the visible world, and if you don’t believe that you are obliged to harmonize your own behavior with that unseen order (the Tao, you might say), then why should you bind yourself to moral precepts you find disagreeable or uncongenial? The most human act could be not to yield to nature, but to defy nature. Why shouldn’t you?


As long as the will remains unconverted, and unwilling to consider conversion, reason is mostly powerless to change things, except insofar as the claims of reason are consonant with their metaphysical dream — that intuitive feeling about the immanent nature of reality. In our time and place, this metaphysical dream is no longer truly Christian, though it is obviously informed by Christian ideals and sentiments. This will fade, and is fading. This is the problem religious and social conservatives face, or, as it were, fail to face.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Republicanus selfimmolatus

Democrats care about Republicans’ electoral welfare. Really they do. Nothing would please Democrats more than parity with their stated enemy, than equal footing with the party that opposes everything they stand for. If only Republicans weren’t perceived as being so angry, so rigid, so uncool, so...conservative, they would win elections.

There is a pitiful instinct among some Republicans to adopt this contrived narrative to ingratiate themselves to the liberal mainstream. We can’t be the party of the rich, bemoans Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to Politico. Why not? Rich liberals like Warren Buffet and Michael Moore don’t seem to hurt Democrats’ reputation. Then again, they do support liberal causes. Having the right politics, you see, trumps being rich. That’s what Republicans are missing: rich liberals.

It’s okay if we distance ourselves from Rush Limbaugh, trills atheist Gothamite Sarah Elizabeth Cupp to the New York Times. This of course would be predicated on Limbaugh actually being wrong, like when he called Sandra Fluke a slut. Nothing shouts sexual virtue quite like asking taxpayers to subsidize your rutting.

Is evolving past shaming wantonness and class warfare towards shaming ourselves really going to help conservatism? Or is it just a prescription for Republican second-class status in a socialist secularistocracy?

That being said, I don’t agree with everything I read and hear from conservatives. However, I don’t exploit those disagreements and stab my allies in the back in a futile effort to prove to liberals I’m not that guy. The goal is to move them to your side, not move yourself to theirs. As Jeffrey Lord of the American Spectator put it:

Not that conservatives can’t legitimately disagree with Rush or any other prominent conservative on issue X. An understanding of the past means, as I use it here, that one should not be so intellectually impoverished enough as to not know that how you disagree—and most importantly in today’s world, where you do it—is critical. Because the other side is not looking for a debate—they are looking to destroy. Ronald Reagan and Lee Atwater yesterday, Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or Mark Levin or Fox News or Sarah Palin today or, inevitably, a Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Laughing to the grave

From a writer’s perspective, this article in the New Yorker might just be the most depressing thing ever:

Let’s get real: writing is not a “fucking great” job. It does not attract happy people, nor does it make its unhappy practitioners any less unhappy. God knows this is a well-documented phenomenon—and one that [Elizabeth] Gilbert herself talks about. For writers who have found neither inner peace nor boatloads of cash, and certainly not both at once, for those just trying to get health insurance and scrape together some hope for the future, it feels somewhat inaccurate to hear the writing life described as having “everything to recommend it over real work.” And if telling stories is, as she puts it, “marvelously pointless”—a description that her own earnest readers would certainly deny—why does it matter whether or not a young writer is encouraged to keep at it? Go be a professional snowboarder—that’s also marvelously pointless, and the parties are better.

I’m trying to agree with Gilbert when she celebrates writing for the way it allows you “get to live within the realm of your own mind.” But I know plenty of writers for whom living in their own mind is a far from pleasant experience. Writers are very often miserable people: some thrive on unhappiness, others don’t. But few are immune from feelings of deep and avid dissatisfaction. We write because we are constantly discontented with almost everything, and need to use words to rearrange it, all of it, and set the record straight.

I’ve often wondered at how being unhappy or upset inspires my best work. Sometimes listening to sad music will put me in the mood to write. My angst comes through in my writing, and I’m embarrassed to show some of my best work to friends and loved ones because I’m afraid they’ll see deeper into me than they care to look and get the wrong idea of who I really am.

Is it a compliment to Daniel Greenfield that no other writer more often makes me want to kill myself? Seriously, is it a compliment?

Marriage rates have dropped sharply. Not only is divorce more commonplace, but many couples aren’t even bothering to marry at all. And many of those who do marry don’t bother having children. Childfree is the new Zero Population Growth, not on behalf of the planet, but on behalf of the self. Modern society has made the price of children extremely expensive and many couples have found it easier to end the family with their own deaths.

The future of the West has been aborted or never conceived. It has been broken up, divorced and never married.

The state gave its citizens the impression that it could fulfill all the functions of a family far better than the real thing. Its appeal was the power of bigness, the stability of a system too big to fail and rooms full of experts working night and day to improve on the fallible family. With its vast industrial social services bureaucracy, the state would be able to provide a more stable social safety net, save everyone money on health care, educate their children, care for their elders, perpetuate their values, protect their income, safeguard their way of life and usher in a bright new future.

Unfortunately not only can’t the state do any of these things better than the family, but it can’t do them at all without the family. And the family has collapsed, falling apart into disassociated lonely individuals, looking for their father and mother, their children and their future, in the great soulless body of the state.

I hit all the same notes here, here, and here.

As writers, Greenfield and I often use the same playbook. My blog style probably resembles his more than any other essayist I read on a regular basis. I’m a sucker for worrying about the existential crises that face the most well-off people in the history of the world. If I had to summarize the theme of my writing style in one word, it would be “decline.” We had it all, and we blew it.

There’s something to be said in favor of Mark Steyn, who is a truly brilliant writer in how he lightly and lyrically tracks the trajectory of Western civilization’s collapse. He effuses the personality of someone happily resigned to his fate, an endearingly cranky armchair philosopher you wouldn’t mind sharing a bomb shelter with while the world tears itself apart above you.

On an emotional level, I suspect Steyn’s positive attitude is a benefit of professional success insulating him from the impending doom and gloom he writes about regularly. But the truth is he has always been this jovial, and it has been integral to his success, not a product of it. People don’t want to cry their way to the grave; they want to laugh.

Greenfield and I—if I may lump myself with him—take ourselves more seriously than Steyn. Maybe it’s a reflection of our dour personalities or dissatisfaction with life. Maybe we’re less sure of what we stand for, so we oversell our premises with apocalyptic imagery. Maybe the source of our creativity is the siege-like mentality of working behind enemy lines, like counter-countercultural insurgents. This last I believe strikes closest to the truth.

For the benefit of readers and myself, I am going to be more upbeat about the future. Because in fact I do look forward to the future, which has never felt closer. I am finally at home here in Texas. I look forward to achieving recognition for my work, to falling in love, to getting married, to becoming a father, and to strengthening my bonds with Christ and my community.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Holocaust of heritage

A hysterical sports columnist condemns Tim Tebow for planning to appear at a Dallas Baptist church, as if a relatively weak association to “controversial” pastor Robert Jeffress is equivalent to clinking wine glasses with Adolf Eichmann. Let’s review the litany of the pastor’s crimes. Jeffress claimed AIDS spreads via gay men having sex. Doesn’t it? He claimed Jews who don’t accept Jesus as Lord and Savior are not saved. They’re not. He claimed Islam promotes pedophilia. It does: Mohammed, the model for Muslim men, married a 6-year-old.

An anti-Christian media and entertainment establishment taking the time to police speech by religious figures is hypocrisy. If there’s anything they like better than slandering us as stupid, backwards, and bigoted to increase their cultural cachet, it’s exacerbating theological divisions to weaken inter-faith fellowship.

The sewage of pop culture, reeking of the elites’ unfounded biases, keeps many people from seeking answers where they are most likely to find them: in God. Is it any wonder the default attitude of a child raised in such a culture is secular?

Let’s assemble a hate crimes tribunal for Jeffress. And while we’re at it, let’s charge Tebow with aiding and abetting. I see where society is headed, the terms of the final battle. I wait for the day to come. The anticipation is killing me.

There is simply no tolerance for traditional moral discernment or cognition under the emerging regime. All presumptions of inequality, based on an understanding of what choices make for better outcomes in the natural and moral order over man, will be criminalized. The freedoms of association and religious worship will fall to the idol of hate speech. The views that built a civilization will be laid to rest one by one, a holocaust of heritage.

The gay mafia gets behind a Sullivan, Indiana, high school student’s petition demanding gay couples be allowed to march in the prom parade. Unwilling to adapt to the destructive sexual mores that define the era, some in the town push back with a proposal for a separate “straight” prom.

“We are conservative around here. That’s just the way of this town,” said one local. Sorry, modernity says you’re a bigot. Ask the authority on these matters, professional libeler Dan Savage: “There’s no way to stop the haters at Sullivan High School from holding an independent prom for the special bigoted kids.”

This is what holds court now in public discourse. At this point, “God bless America” has an ironic tone.

UPDATE (2/22):

Tebow canceled his scheduled appearance at the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is a big win for political correctness. The most beloved Christian public figure in America has allowed the secular media to dictate what tenets of Christian faith it is permissible to be even mildly associated with. Robert Jeffress spoke eloquently after the news broke:

We have been mischaracterized and misquoted as being a hate-spewing church. For us to simply say that Jesus Christ offers salvation to anyone who believes in him, and that sex should be between a man and woman and marriage, that that should be considered hate speech, I don’t understand that. It really shows you not that the Word of God has changed, but society has changed.

Friday, February 15, 2013

We are worthy

If the world is made up of haves and have-nots, the logical question is: Who deserves more and who deserves less? The answers to these questions affront our sense of justice. Many good and worthy people suffer wants that cruel and dishonest people can’t imagine. In this fallen world, virtue is not rewarded so much as value.

This question of “deserving” can tie us in knots and leave us envious and resentful. A better question to ask is: What have I earned? This removes fickle luck from the equation. Earnings are transfers from one person to another. It begins with a want. It can be a 10-ounce prime rib, a piano lesson, a drawing of a proposed building, or a love so strong that it hurts. The infinite uniqueness of individuals’ desires cannot be understated.

Then, along comes someone who fills that need, who may be uniquely suited to fill that need, and who wants something for himself. What he asks for and receives is, by nature of the transfer, more valuable to him than what he parted with. We, looking askance, judging on our own standards, see little value in what he gives, but much value in what he receives. He doesn’t deserve that, we seethe bitterly. Maybe not, but he earned it.

He himself may think he doesn’t deserve it. He feels guilt for his success, especially if there’s a large gap between the value he provides and the value he receives. He refuses to stand up for himself. He may stand accused of various things by the envious and resentful, but he absolves himself by ascribing it to people like him, but not to himself.

This is liberal guilt. Nurtured to excess by a culture unchecked by Godly humility, it can lead to a self-destructive apocalypse fetish.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Race rules

The fact of the matter is cop-killer Chris Dorner is a murdering lunatic. His cult-like following consists exclusively of OWS anarchists and “black power” racists, the type Rob Parker was speaking to when he hinted Robert Griffin III wasn’t black enough. These mayhem rationalizers are the children of grievance mongering and entitlement. As Dennis Prager says: “Nothing leads to murder and other evils more than a sense of victimization.”

What lily-white observers need to remember, when criticizing “team Dorner,” is to oppose with equal ferocity Hitler and Timothy McVeigh acolytes. Can’t we condemn all the crazies at once, instead of isolating groups here and there? So one argument goes. If McVeigh had a white supremacist cult following stirring up trouble somewhere, I might.

This is a rhetorical ploy to protect the core of “black” identity, rooted in failure and anger, that wields so much political power. Those who conspicuously remain silent—like during the L.A. riots, like during the O.J. Simpson verdict—like the 90 percent of nonviolent Muslims, give protective cover to the violent 10 percent. They are the shaft thrusting the tip of the spear.

The fact of the matter is most Hispanics are liberal. As liberals, they prefer government patronage to personal responsibility. Bless Marco Rubio’s heart for trying, but his State of the Union dual English/Spanish response will be remembered as the day English finally fell as America’s common language. This event was a long time coming, given our inability to assimilate recent Latin-American immigrants (legal and illegal) to American society except the welfare state.

I fear the ideas expressed in English that fail to convince liberal Hispanics of the truth of their lives and the human condition won’t sell any better in Spanish. Language is the tongue’s filter of the mind. To borrow from Prager again, there is no Spanish equivalent of “earn.” The closest Spanish word is ganar, or “to win.” In Spanish you do not “earn” a living; you “win” a living. To at least some English speakers, welfare payments are not earned. But to Spanish speakers, welfare payments are won, the same as income from a job is won. The difference between “earn” and “win” doesn’t exist in Spanish speakers minds.

As such, subtitles and translations aren’t enough to reach them. There’s more to “speaking their language” than actually speaking their language. You have to hold their hand and humble yourself to help relieve them of their liberal close-mindedness. I’ve seen this fail too many times with so-called moderates, centrists, and independents to be convinced it will work in this case. We’ve sacrificed too many principles on the altar of “winning,” without winning. We should lead liberals of all stripes to the waters of conservatism, but we shouldn’t muddy those waters when they refuse to drink.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Odds and ends 2/9/2013

Mark Judge gets us started with sound advice for writers:

Every summer I teach a journalism course at a university in Washington, D.C. The first rule I always tell students is: when writing, get to the point quickly. When I was starting out as a journalist many years ago an editor at the Washington Post told me the same thing. If you haven’t gotten to the point by the third paragraph, he said, it’s over.

Or as James Wolcott once put it: “Avoid preamble – flip the on switch in the first sentence. Find a focal point for your nervous energy, assume a forward offensive stance, and drive to the finish line, even if it’s only a five-hundred word slot: no matter how short the piece there has to be a sense of momentum and travel, rather than just allotted space being texted in.”

There’s a flipside to this argument. The tallest roller coaster in the world wouldn’t be much of a ride if it was only 30 seconds long. When you’re expositing a grandiose idea or trying to persuade someone, it’s wise to give the reader time to marinate in your writing as you lead them where you want. I am more comfortable forcing my readers to slow down in the richness of my writing than giving them more sentences and paragraphs to wade through.

Daren Jonescu writes a chilling article in the American Thinker on solitary man’s helplessness in negotiating his freedoms with an all-powerful state:

Someday, federal officers are going to visit the home of a man who owns a so-called “assault-style weapon.” He has a family and a job. He pays his taxes. He has no criminal record. Not even a parking ticket. He purchased his gun legally. He uses it for target shooting. He thinks of it as an investment in the protection of his family and his nation, and his personal stand for constitutional liberty.

The federal officers are going to tell him that his weapon has been banned, that the deadline has passed for him to turn it in at the local police station, and that he must turn it over immediately. He is going to refuse, on the reasonable principle that a man is not obliged to obey a law that fundamentally violates his constitutionally protected rights. The officers, who will have been trained to regard such “resisters” as hostile and as mentally unstable, will call in for back-up and then give this law-abiding patriot an ultimatum: produce your banned weapon peacefully at once, or be taken into custody on charges of illegal possession of a firearm, and possibly subjected to psychiatric assessment.

If this man gives in and hands the officers his weapon, he will feel for the rest of his life that he has been broken – that when push came to shove, he did not have the courage to stand up for his children’s future. This, in short, is how the federal officials who sent the officers to his door want him to feel, and how they want everyone to feel: weak, ineffectual, emasculated, and submissive. It is how they want you to feel when federal agents molest your wife at the airport, and photograph your pubescent daughter in a naked scanner. It is how they want you to feel about your “private” health records being permanently on file with a half dozen federal agencies, to be opened at their discretion. It is how they want you to feel about the thousand bank-breaking regulations you are obliged to comb through and comply with in the names of “sustainability,” “social justice,” “anti-discrimination,” and a dozen other fronts in the war on self-governance.

These indignities are meant to ease you through the process of acceptance, of acquiescence, of relinquishing all pretences of inviolable principle in the name of getting along.

What a terrifying prospect for anyone. I am not as fearful of what the agents would do as I am of being labeled an outlaw and rejected from society on which I depend.

Steven Goddard, known for blogging about the climate, links to a 1938 article about the disarming of German Jews. He says ironically: “During the years following the 1938 gun ban in Germany, the crime rate among Jews dropped to almost zero.” So Hitler did disarm the people before he exterminated them.

Playwright, screenwriter, former liberal David Mamet writes a memorable article for the Daily Beast on gun control and government. It is such a ranging, thoughtful presentation of political wisdom that I could quote it end to end, but I can’t. So here are some excerpts:

Karl Marx summed up Communism as “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” This is a good, pithy saying, which, in practice, has succeeded in bringing, upon those under its sway, misery, poverty, rape, torture, slavery, and death.

For the saying implies but does not name the effective agency of its supposed utopia. The agency is called “The State,” and the motto, fleshed out, for the benefit of the easily confused must read “The State will take from each according to his ability: the State will give to each according to his needs.” “Needs and abilities” are, of course, subjective. So the operative statement may be reduced to “the State shall take, the State shall give.


As rules by the Government are one-size-fits-all, any governmental determination of an individual’s abilities must be based on a bureaucratic assessment of the lowest possible denominator. The government, for example, has determined that black people (somehow) have fewer abilities than white people, and, so, must be given certain preferences. Anyone acquainted with both black and white people knows this assessment is not only absurd but monstrous. And yet it is the law.


Healthy government, as that based upon our Constitution, is strife. It awakens anxiety, passion, fervor, and, indeed, hatred and chicanery, both in pursuit of private gain and of public good. Those who promise to relieve us of the burden through their personal or ideological excellence, those who claim to hold the Magic Beans, are simply confidence men. Their emergence is inevitable, and our individual opposition to and rejection of them, as they emerge, must be blunt and sure; if they are arrogant, willful, duplicitous, or simply wrong, they must be replaced, else they will consolidate power, and use the treasury to buy votes, and deprive us of our liberties.


Why not then, for the love of God, have an armed presence in the schools? It could be done at the cost of a pistol (several hundred dollars), and a few hours of training (that’s all the security guards get). Why not offer teachers, administrators, custodians, a small extra stipend for completing a firearms-safety course and carrying a concealed weapon to school? The arguments to the contrary escape me.

Why do I specify concealed carry? As if the weapons are concealed, any potential malefactor must assume that anyone on the premises he means to disrupt may be armed—a deterrent of even attempted violence.

I recently discovered Daniel Horowitz, who writes an excellent blog at the Madison Project. Read him on women in combat:

Presumably, you can only champion “women’s issues” if you believe women are indeed special and unique from men. Yet, they seek to jettison any difference between the genders, most notably, by encouraging women to act like men. They relentlessly promote women in gender-bender activities in an effort to make women indistinguishable from men. But at the same time, they hypocritically shed the super-woman image by demanding special standards, “protections” and legislation for women.

Republicans might feel safe avoiding these “uncomfortable” issues, but they need to understand that we will never become a fiscally conservative society with decedent cultural values. No degree of fiscal policy can ever heal the cultural illness that is being foisted upon us from the radical left. And if we continue to allow Obama to unilaterally fight a culture war, all of these issues will become moot.

Read Horowitz on the deficit:

CBO projects the gross federal debt to rise to $26.1 trillion by 2023, just under $10 trillion more than it is today. However, this fails to tell the full story. CBO is projecting revenues to climb to 19% of GDP, even as they predict lethargic economic growth and high unemployment for the foreseeable future. This is all the result of their ridiculous practice of statically scoring every dollar of a tax increase as a dollar more earned by the Treasury. To that end, they are projecting more revenue as a result of the Obama tax hikes.

This is why it’s important to focus on the spending figures in the report. The projected cost of the federal government during the 10-year budget period from 2014-2023 is $47.2 trillion. Spending will rise every year for every program (except for defense during the first few years), topping out at $5.94 trillion in annual spending in 2023. That’s a rate of growth of about 6.7% per year, trouncing the growth of the private sector.

The Congressional Budget Office is a glorified calculator. They crunch the numbers they’re given. The corruption is in the calculator operator.

Stephen Crowder light-heartedly gives 5 reasons why men should marry. No. 4:

You won’t be such a pathetic sloth – Married people are more productive. Married men in particular, have higher employment rates, work longer hours and receive better wages. It’s time to stop wading through puddles of your own filth as you reach for the hotpockets and have a dame whip you into shape.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds of USA Today returns to the theme of limited government. He begins with a quote from sci-fi writer Jerry Pournelle.

“We have always known that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. It’s worse now, because capture of government is so much more important than it once was. There was a time when there was enough freedom that it hardly mattered which brand of crooks ran government. That has not been true for a long time – not during most of your lifetimes, and for much of mine – and it will probably never be true again.”


There are two possible ways to address this problem. One is to elect people that everyone trusts. The problem with that is that there aren’t any politicians that everyone trusts – and, alas, if there were, the odds are good that such trust would turn out to be misplaced.

The other option is to place less power within the political sphere. The less power the government has, the less incentive for corruption, and the less that can go wrong when the government misbehaves.

I made this point to a coworker 1½ years ago, when he asked me what I thought about all the “polarization.” I told him (I paraphrase): “So much depends now on the government. People don’t control their lives anymore. There’s no ‘agreeing to disagree’ when it comes to big government exercising power over you.”

At Public Discourse, Jennifer Roback Morse waxes on the degradation of women and the gender Marxists’ dangerous delusion of the perfectibility of man:

Contraception with abortion as a backup delivers women to men for their use. Separating sex from conception removes constraints and responsibilities from men, and invites them to use women as objects. This is just as Paul VI predicted in Humanae Vitae, back in 1968.


The simple honest-to-goodness truth is that men and women are different. Giving birth to a child highlights the differences between men and women. Men and women do not become parents in the same way. Men and women feel differently about parenthood, and do parenthood differently. Motherhood has a different impact on women than fatherhood has on men.

These differences, generated by our bodies, in how we experience parenthood are among the most basic facts about our species. But, in the minds of Stop Patriarchy, these very differences between men and women are themselves injustices.

We can see now why this type of leftist is always so angry. It is impossible for them to achieve their objectives. They are always frustrated. We can see now, also, why they are never satisfied, no matter how many benefits they obtain for women, no matter how revolutionary the changes they obtain.


Stop Patriarchy’s ultimate problem is not really with capitalism or even with violence. Their problem is with the human body. They resent the fact that the human body comes in two different but complementary types, male and female. They are angry that childbearing impacts men and women differently. They resent every social structure and every human feeling that depends on the male-female differentiation. They cannot forgive women like me, who embrace femininity rather than neuter themselves at their urging.

This is why it is correct to identify them as revolutionaries. They are in revolt against the embodied nature of the human person. They hate sexual differentiation, maleness and femaleness.

Don’t they know we’re enslaved to our nature?

Peter Heck at the American Thinker tears into the ubiquity of softcore porn. The Super Bowl halftime show is his starting point:

You can issue the standard, “If you don’t like it, you can turn off your TV” comment. And while that’s true (I personally chose to leave the room with my girls while my wife continued to watch the male peep show), honesty requires us to acknowledge that Beyonce is but one performer in this unending assault of cultural decadence. Apart from living in a cave, you can’t avoid it. Shoot, even the Amish get bombarded with it when they go through the grocery store check-out aisle peppered with soft core pornographic magazine covers and headlines screaming out who the latest Bachelorette banged on national television.

And does all this depravity have an effect? You bet it does. Contrary to what the cultural elites will tell you, the proliferation of pornography in our country is not a celebration of free speech. And the peddling of adult entertainment to the masses is not entertainment, nor is it anything remotely close to being “adult.” It’s a surrender to the most infantile and juvenile lusts and urges of our depraved nature.

I feel the same way about the GoDaddy.com Super Bowl commercial, featuring a prolonged onscreen kiss between Bar Rafaeli and some dude. I had already previewed the commercial on the Internet, and I didn’t care to see it again live. Watching it the first time, all I could think about was having mind-blowing sex with Bar Rafaeli. As someone who strives to see people for who they are—not as moving objects in the world—instances like this are a relapse.

By the way, the comment thread on Heck’s article is a treat.

Tom Trinko writes of the modern totalitarian state:

When government was less ubiquitous, the generic Christian morality, essentially the Ten Commandments, that served as the genetic blueprint for the Constitution, rarely caused many problems; after all, how many people think murder is okay? Basically the DNA of the Constitution did not specify in great detail how one was to live or what one should endorse; Catholics, Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, Jews, and pretty much anyone else could live with the Constitution without feeling oppressed.

The new liberal Church of America is very specific in what it demands in many areas. Those specifics are often in conflict with the moral beliefs of huge numbers of Americans. The HHS mandate is demonstrating that American liberals support the same sort of oppression based on an official government moral code, i.e. religion, as the many Americans who fled from England to America suffered.

But if the government can define what is right and wrong and punish those who disagree, there is no reason that the government couldn’t institute a law limiting the number of children a family could have in order to combat climate change. All that would be required would be the government saying so.

President Obama is going to destroy the Republicans by splitting the Republican base on “social” issues. The fact of the matter is the Republican base is already split between libertarians/supporters of limited government and values voters (aka Christians). The former group will have to decide whether they want to join in the fight against Obama’s diktats on abortion, marriage, women in combat, etc. Fighting these things in our culture is like fighting gravity. They fear—justifiably—the social issues wing of the Republican Party is holding back the liberty agenda. The latter group fears—justifiably—a secularistocracy.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has done a good job of splitting the Conservative Party by conceding the culture war.

In line with these observations, R.R. Reno examines the cultural trends that will lead to Christian dhimmitude:

For the most part this group [religious “nones”] resents the historic prominence and influence of religion in the public square. The Democratic Party is their political vehicle. Thus we’re seeing sustained efforts to redefine and narrow the meaning of religious liberty. This runs from theorists in the law schools (e.g., Brian Leiter, Micah Schwartzman), to legal activists, to government bureaucrats.

In our favor is a parallel trend toward libertarianism and the general view that we ought to let people do pretty much what they want. This is the “don’t tread on me” sentiment that tends to be solicitous toward claims of conscience and against political correctness. This is a dangerous ally, however, since it’s the “different strokes for different folks” sentiment that also supports gay marriage and sexual liberation in general. This libertarian sensibility may support tolerance, but it won’t encourage support for religion. On the contrary, the moralism one finds in all forms of traditional religion will be seen as a threat to our culture of expansive personal freedom.

Reno expands on this in a later article on the Boy Scouts:

Postmodern progressivism focuses on lifestyle liberation. It’s much closer to libertarianism than socialism. This view is gaining ground. I fear a future of hyper-individualism: everybody making claims to the right to satisfy their desires as we all scramble to get ahead in a competitive free market economy.

In case you missed it, the Boy Scouts are considering a partial cave to the gay mafia. Matthew J. Franck predicts a cascade of capitulation to follow. He cites the Neuhaus Law: “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” More:

With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps.

Mark Tooley at the American Spectator summarizes the Boy Scouts’ dilemma:

Politically correct corporations threatening the Boy Scouts could cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. But the churches and other religious groups that sponsor or provide most of the Scouts’ membership are mostly traditionalist. Their withdrawal or at least ambivalence about the Scouts could set the Scouts on a permanent downward spiral.

Scouting arose in the Edwardian era, informed by muscular Christianity, which merged manly and Christian virtues, emphasizing service, self-denial, discipline and chastity. These old school virtues, especially chastity, are considered odd in the current postmodern era of radical autonomy and self-actualization. By surrendering, the Boy Scouts will purchase some temporary corporate and media support. But they likely will ultimately lose many who actually care the most about Scouting, not only churches, but also future youth who will be bored by politically correct banality.

Peter Berger writes on the secular war on religion in the American Interest. Note the comparison to Communist and Islamist countries at the end.

In all these cases the authorities accused of violating the plaintiffs’ rights operate with a definition of religion as a private matter to be kept out of public space. There is here a general issue of government overreach, as clearly illustrated by the (still unresolved) attempt by the Obama administration to force Catholic institutions to provide contraception coverage in their employees’ health plans. Beyond that, though, there is a very ideological view of the place of religion in society. In other words, religion is to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in private. The attorney for the Judeo-Christian side in the aforementioned American case had it quite right when he compared the treatment of his client’s religion with measures of disease control. This is not an attitude one would expect to find in a Western democracy. It is curiously reminiscent of policies toward religion in Communist countries and toward non-Muslims under Islamic rule.

At Patheos, Sarah Ngu writes about the difficulty of overcoming nihilism:

The standard apologetics training that I’ve received dictates that the proper response to relativism is to demonstrate how it is self-contradictory. The classic move is to “relativize the relativizer,” showing how the statement about truth’s relativity can be turned on itself and exposed as just another relative, truth-claim. If all truths are relative, so is the truth that all truths are relative. The hope is that the relativist would exclaim, “Wow, I’ve been leading an inconsistent worldview all along! Please show me the way.”

The problem with this response is that it assumes people today actually care about having an airtight, logically consistent worldview. It’s always been true that people’s identities and desires often trump worldview consistency, but it’s especially true today, when postmodernism has heightened the stakes of identity claims and eroded our faith in grand intellectual meta-narratives.

You can’t reason with such people. Their worldview, if you could call it that, is a subjugation of the world to their ends. The only limits to their will to power are external. As Thucydides wrote: “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

Jill Filipovic, whom I rhetorically raped a few weeks ago, ironically asks: “What does it say about society that websites where angry men shame their ex-lovers are thriving?”

Answer: It says men are treating women as the objects your sexual revolution reduced them to.

Here’s a an amusing headline: “More housework, less sex for married men: study.”

Men’s sexual attractiveness decreases when you strip them of their sexual capital. A man coming home from a hard day’s work is sexier than a man waiting for his wife to come home to eat dinner.

In a barnburner article at Public Discourse, Patrick Fagan taps into the difference between married men and single men. In a nutshell, this difference consists of stability and trustworthiness. As a George Gilder devotee, I already knew this, but it’s nice to see a good idea get airtime elsewhere.

Employers know the difference between a hardworking, honest, cheerful young employee and one who lacks these qualities, and choose accordingly. Human resource departments are well aware of the differences between the work ethics of young single men and married men with children. They see the different rates of absenteeism (especially before or after weekends), who is on time to work, and who is accident-prone.

Stockbrokers and life-insurance salesmen know where strength lies too: Their biggest markets are married couples, though Wall Street has yet to figure out the macro-economic implications.

Of course. Men’s adventurous spirit and hunger for variety makes him unreliable. Lacking discipline, he is vulnerable to whim and flights of fancy. That is, until he “settles down” and makes the long-term commitments to wife and children. These new responsibilities focus his attention and harness his energy. No more debauched nights with the boys, no more binges in sin. He has a family now and he stays with his family. Such a man can be trusted out in the world.

Boys are capable of much more evil—and, conversely, good—than girls. Lee Habeeb (via Peter Ferrara) tells God’s honest truth about the importance of fathers to boys:

About 20,000 people live in my hometown of Oxford, Miss., and there are probably twice as many guns. Folks own handguns, shotguns, rifles, and all kinds of weapons I’ve never even heard of. But I can’t remember the last murder story in the local paper.

That’s because my town has lots of guns, but lots of fathers, too.

Chicago doesn’t have a gun problem; it has a father problem.

Gun control isn’t the problem on Chicago’s streets; self-control is.

When young men don’t have fathers, they don’t learn to control their masculine impulses. They don’t have fathers to teach them how to channel their masculine impulses in productive ways.

When young men don’t have fathers, those men will seek out masculine love — masculine acceptance — where they can find it. Often, they find it in gangs.

My eyes welled up when I read this piece by Anthony Esolen in Public Discourse. Roughly half of it is a first-person rebuke of upper-class elites who destroy poor people’s lives with do-gooder policies. It is a tour de force. Kudos to you if you spot the dig at Title IX.

If you could compel the boy, seething with resentment and contempt, to occupy a desk in a dreary schoolroom, you cannot compel him to learn. To try is a distant, “technological” response to a human problem. It is a way to pretend to generosity, while keeping those who suffer from your heedlessness far from your sight and smell.


The Boy Scouts retain the commonsense notion that it is not wise to bring boys into close quarters with men who are sexually attracted to boys, regardless of whether they act on those attractions. They retain the commonsense notion that if it were widely known that such men were scoutmasters, the boys would check out. They retain the commonsense notion that boys need fathers, who will teach them to be good men, ready to be fathers of their own families.


“You loved your vice more than you loved me. You could afford your vices, but I could not. Your vices made your lives, as you thought, more exciting. I did not have your cushion of wealth, so the same vices destroyed me.

“I was lonely, and you bought me a whore. My sisters were lonely, and you made them into whores.

“I needed the Church, desperately, because when a man is poor, he must face his helplessness every day. But the Church would restrain you, so, at every chance you had, you derided religious faith, and thus you snatched from me my most loyal friend.

“I had no job, and you overtaxed the man who might have given me one. Then you gave the job to someone on the other side of the world, or you winked while men left their families thousands of miles away, crossing the border to work at low wages, and you yourselves hired them, and ducked the taxes that you yourselves established. In this way you managed to do mayhem to two families at once.


“I needed a coach, to keep me in line during the difficult years, but you cut my teams and rosters. You called it ‘fairness’ to my sisters, and hugged yourselves for your enlightenment.

“I used to have a YMCA, but you turned it into a day-care center for people like you.

“I needed a father to show me how to love women, and you gave me porn.

“I once had virtue, the poor man’s heritage, but you trained me in vice...”

Two months ago, Michael Sean Winters drilled Michigan Republicans for passing right-to-work:

Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature slammed through so-called, and misnamed, “right-to-work” laws yesterday and Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed them into law. Michigan, home of the United Auto Workers, scene of the Flint sit-down strike in the 1930’s, became the twenty-fourth state in the Union to adopt these flawed laws.

This is a defeat for social justice of enormous significance. Workers in states with “right-to-work” laws make about $1,500 less than workers in states that respect union rights. (And, it is more than a little ironic that the Michigan-native who lost the election, lost in part because of his comments about 47% of Americans being moochers, while “right-to-work” laws actually create a new class of moochers, those who benefit from a union’s representation but don’t want to pay for that service.) Proponents of the laws have been saying all weekend that the measures will make Michigan “more competitive.” Well, how is that? Because if companies can pay their workers less in Michigan, they are more likely to invest in Michigan. There is some truth in that, but it is not a moral truth. The challenge should be to raise wages for workers in states that pay less, not engage in a race-to-the-bottom in which Bangladesh will always win.

The “race to the bottom” is a fact of life. Economic history testifies to the advantage of producers providing the best value for the best price. But third-world countries like Bangladesh don’t “always win” this race. Toyota could have built a Tundra factory anywhere in the world, but they chose San Antonio. Why? Because we have the resources, the workforce, and the economic freedom that Toyota wanted. Wages may be marginally higher in unionized states with higher taxes and higher costs of living, but their unemployment is higher despite losing people to the nonunionized South. That’s more failed statism than “social justice.”

Peter Ferrara dishes out some economic reality at Forbes:

In the fourth quarter of 2012, 5 years after the recession started, the economy was contracting again, with negative growth. One more quarter of that, and we will be back in recession, with the Fed already laying the groundwork for worse after that. The supposedly progressive Obama is leading us back into an historical reenactment of the 1930s.

Yet, while the economy has not been growing, government spending has been booming. Federal spending has increased by 41% over the last 5 years, with total government spending at all levels increasing by nearly 27%, to an all-time high of $6.2 trillion. The Democrat party controlled press told us the economy contracted in the fourth quarter because of government spending cuts. But there have been no government spending cuts. The government in the fourth quarter was spending more than ever before in world history.

Commentary held a symposium on the future of conservatism, featuring 53 leading writers. My favorites:

R.R. Reno:

More than 100 years ago, industrialization ripped up the old small town social contract in America and ushered in a new form of social solidarity that eventually stabilized around the suburban middle class in the postwar decades. Today globalization is eroding that basis for social unity. The middle class is declining. Some exit up and into the hyper-competitive and richly rewarding occupations prized in a postindustrial economy. Others slide down into the ranks of the perpetually underemployed, becoming more and more dependent on government subsidies to hold on to middle-class life.

At the same time, since the 1960s we’ve experienced a cultural revolution. It has undermined the broad middle-class consensus. Round-the-clock irony and cynicism make old-fashioned values like working hard, paying your debts, and keeping your word seem, well, old-fashioned and even foolish. Marriage, children, fidelity? Maybe, but maybe not. All told, it’s not just harder for high school-educated young men and women in Muscatine, Iowa, to make a good living; it’s also hard for them to see how to live well. Today, the middle of the middle has a difficult time answering a fundamental question, perhaps the fundamental question for any society: How are we to become responsible, respectable adults?

Conservatism needs to speak to this disorientation, which is the defining political and social challenge of our time.

That’s not going to happen if we make free markets into an ideology. In its essence, modern conservatism involves working within inherited forms of solidarity, which in our context have become intertwined with the modern welfare state. To make abstract pronouncements excoriating the “47 percent” reflects a counterrevolutionary mentality, one that rejects the historical experience of solidarity over the last century. Nothing could be further from a genuine conservatism.

Conservatism will also fail if we punt on morality and culture. Unless we reinforce and support clear norms for adulthood–marriage, family, work, community involvement, patriotic loyalty–then the disoriented middle of the middle, no matter how economically self-sufficient, will become increasingly dependent on bureaucratic and therapeutic support and guidance, which means more government.

Charlotte Allen:

Romney ran a campaign that focused strictly (and admirably) on job creation and lower taxes, touching on social issues only minimally. That gained him little among 18- to 29-year-olds, who might have fretted over their dismal post-college job prospects, but fretted more over a barrage of Obama ads asserting that the GOP wanted to take away their contraceptives and, hence, their sexual fun. Sixty percent of them voted to reelect President Obama. The lesson: Downplaying social issues wins no respect among the young, whose time horizons are distressingly short-term.

Same goes for Hispanics. As National Review editor Rich Lowry has pointed out, the Reagan-era amnesty for 3 million illegals in 1986 resulted in a Latino electorate that voted even less Republican in the presidential election of 1988 than it had in 1984, when Ronald Reagan was reelected by a landslide but got only 37 percent of the Latino vote. As for Hispanics’ supposed “natural”–that is, family-oriented and religious–conservatism, more than half of Latino births these days are to unwed mothers. Although most Hispanics are nominally Catholic, with an additional smattering of evangelicals, about 80 percent of them practice no religion whatsoever. I write this with sorrow, because I’m half-Hispanic myself. Sadly, Hispanics, like blacks and even the relatively prosperous Asians, vote as an ethnic bloc steered by anti-white resentment and desire for big-government patronage.

My second point is that conservatism isn’t only a matter of appealing to economic self-interest or expressing irritation with heavy-handed and heavily taxing government. It is a mind-set, typically embodied in a way of life, that values tradition and traditional beliefs alongside self-reliance and personal responsibility. It is not surprising, then, that many political conservatives are also religious conservatives: evangelicals, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, traditionalist Catholics. Social issues are important to those groups because of the high value they place on traditional marriage and traditional family structures. It is naive to think, then, that diluting conservatism will somehow make it more appealing to those who don’t share the conservative mind-set.

Nicholas Eberstadt:

The “clear and present danger” for the United States today is domestic, not foreign. It is seen in the confluence of three major trends that are subverting what was once un-mockingly known as the American way of life.

The first of these trends is the collapse of the nation’s family structure. According to preliminary figures, almost 41 percent of American babies were born out of wedlock in 2011–twice the figure of just 30 years earlier. (For those whom the Census Bureau terms “non-Hispanic whites,” the 2011 ratio was 29 percent–higher than for African Americans back when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his famous report on the crisis of the black family in the 1960s.) By 2010, a child was more likely to grow up in a broken home in America than in practically any other Western society, including the Scandinavian ones.

Second is America’s gradual, but increasingly rapid, retirement from religion. Between 1972 and 2008, according to a Pew Research Center study, the share of American adults with no religious affiliation whatsoever rose from 7 percent in 1972 to 18 percent in 2010–but jumped between 2007 and 2012 from just over 15 percent to almost 20 percent. Of America’s Millennials, our youngest adults, born between 1981 and 1994, nearly one-third say they have no religion. So it is that America, long the conspicuous holdout against the great tide of Western secularization, now appears to be following Europe into a faithless wilderness.

Third is our citizenry’s steady slide into financial dependence on the government–a development intensified by the Great Recession, but in fact predating it by many decades. By spring 2011, according to the Census Bureau, just over 35 percent of Americans lived in homes receiving one or more “means tested” public benefit. Never before have so many healthy, able-bodied, and relatively well-to-do Americans plead “poverty” for the purpose of handouts from Uncle Sam.

These powerful, deeply entwined trends are progressively degrading both our people and our polity. They promise our descendants a country that is weak, beneath a government that is strong: one where the independence, civic vibrancy, and economic freedom we take for granted today are only memories. It is not too much to suggest that, on our current course, an ignominious end to American exceptionalism could even be within sight.

Jonah Goldberg:

What allows the Democrats to seem more libertarian isn’t just cultural marketing, but a widespread acceptance of the idea that positive liberty is more important than negative liberty. The former, an idea near to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s heart, is that you can’t be free unless the state gives you the material aid necessary to enjoy life to its fullest. This was the point of his “economic bill of rights.” Negative liberty, an idea dear to the Founders, defines freedom as independence from government intrusion and meddling.

Conservatives have been very successful at arguing separately against positive liberty and against cultural libertinism, but the merger of the two presents new challenges, particularly given the attitudes of young people who seem to believe that you should be free to use birth control (true), but that you’re not free unless someone else pays for it.

Mark Steyn:

The first responsibility of conservatives between now and 2016 is to have an adult conversation with the citizenry–the one that Mitt Romney chose to eschew in favor of vague jobs promises punctuated by bold assertions that “I believe in America.” So what? What matters is whether reality still believes in America.

And, when reality strikes, will Americans turn to conservatism? The evidence from November is not reassuring. Romney dusted off the old surefire winner–”Ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?”–and took it to read: “The economy’s dead. Vote Mitt.” A decisive chunk of lower-middle-class America agreed with him on the first part, and acted on its logic: “You’re right. So I’m voting for the party of endlessly extended unemployment insurance, universal food stamps, and increased Social Security disability enrollment.” If 1.7 percent growth is the new normal, this constituency will metastasize. As his post-mortem observations to donors confirmed, Romney’s leaked “47 percent” aside is indicative of the way he thinks, and not a small thing. Indeed, it’s a betrayal of core conservative morality: from “Teach a man to fish” to “There’s no point even bothering to try to teach 47 percent to fish.” I was born a subject of Her Canadian Majesty and, even in a parliamentary system, it would not be regarded as healthy for the Queen’s Prime Minister to think like this. In a republic in which the head of government is also head of state, it’s simply unbecoming. The next guy has to be running as president of all Americans, even the deadbeats.

The execrable Michael Tomasky libels conservatives:

Republicans, whatever they might say publicly, won’t actually try to win more black votes. Why? Because the positions the party would have to embrace to win black votes are abhorrent to the GOP base. Which, you may have noticed, is kind of racist. Now, people like me—pundits of the respectable class—aren’t supposed to talk that way. We’re supposed to cooperate in the fiction that the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln and underneath it all yearns to reawaken the great Jack Kemp tradition.

All that is a bunch of rot, I’m afraid, and the rank and file’s racism is just a plain fact...No, this doesn’t mean every conservative is a racist. But it does mean that if you find yourself at a table with five conservatives and try to break the ice with a watermelon joke, you’re very likely to get somewhere between two and three laughs.

What, liberals don’t laugh at racial stereotypes?

In closing, Daniel Greenfield hits on the issue of softening conservativism to become more mainstream:

The last election has brought on essays bemoaning the conservative disconnect from popular culture and the need to somehow reconnect with it. The means of this reconnection are hardly ever stated, though there is the implication that conservatives would need to “evolve” on certain social issues in the hopes that its economic viewpoint will be taken seriously by a population whose social way of life doom it to be dependent on government support.

Convincing them to shape up their lives is contingent on them sharing the view that government dependence is bad.