Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Odds and ends 1/8/2014

Pat Buchanan reacts to marijuana legalization in Colorado and the state of Washington:

There will be more potheads and more high-school dropouts and more automobile accidents involving marijuana, John. But no doubt there is a real trend in this country, a deeply libertarian trend. On the left, it favors same-sex marriage, gambling, even prostitution. Legalization of all of these things, which used to be considered vices and because of the revenue involved and because of the belief that individuals should have autonomy. And on the right, there is libertarianism as well. Everybody has to have his AR-15 rifle and its 30-round clip. But this is the sentiment in the country, I think, sort of the decline of the community and the rise of the idea of the autonomous and privileged self.

He can be forgiven for trying to present “both sides” of the libertarian coin. There is but one side, and it embraces marijuana legalization, same-sex marriage, gambling, prostitution, atheist “nativity” scenes, and generally a naked, relativist public square. The right to bear arms is not a factor in the “decline of the community.”

Why do smart, educated people favor marijuana legalization, marriage redefinitionism, and sundry socially liberal policies? I have my theory, Ed Hamilton has his:

Roughly speaking, about 90% of the population of an industrialized economy has a problem with boredom and lack of ambition with respect to education and the workplace. They move through an academic experience that revolves around learning things they don’t care about, taught in ways they don’t enjoy. Then they spend a lifetime at a job that feels tedious and revolves heavily around surviving until weekends and holidays. Feeling motivated about that life is difficult. The apparently return on investing extra time and energy in school or work appears low. The temptation is strong to disengage entirely and depend on support from relatives, friends, and the government.

A small minority of people, the other 10%, are highly driven and don’t really understand lack of motivation. They operate in high-powered environments where everyone else is pushing constantly for self-improvement and feels a powerful urge to compete. These people perceive an enormously high need to invest time and energy beyond the minimum required for a school project or job. Most of these people are upper-class, or at least from academically privileged backgrounds.


Most of these driven, type-A personalities would benefit heavily from being able to relax and avoid burn-out. If they experiment with drugs that function as source of stress relief (and pot does that better than anything else!), they see their experiences as overwhelmingly positive. They project those positive experiences externally on the general population, to the extent that they are in urban population centers which have little contact with “ordinary” Americans (those who feel their lives offer little prospect for advancement or self-improvement).

So, like children out of wedlock, this becomes another example of how something that works well for elites can simultaneously become a disaster for the underclass. Middle/lower-class employees in America need the energy and drive to show up at miserable jobs and work long hours for meager wages. That’s something you get from caffeine or nicotine, not from THC. If they mellow themselves out, they become the proverbial pot-smoking ex-roommate on the couch who never holds the same job for more than a couple months, due to apathy and disinterest. So successful members of the working-class are disproportionately not pot-users, and perceive unsuccessful pot-smoking members of their circle of friends and family leeching off them. This is a totally different set of immediate social references than those urban elites ever get to experience.

This helps understand why, in How I Met Your Mother, the upper-middle-class kids of upper-middle-class Ted Mosby don’t blink when Mosby tells them of his dissolute womanizing and pot-smoking, but nearly jump out of their skins when he admits he and his friends used to smoke a cigarette once in a while.

Cigarettes are bad for you. Getting high and having sex with strangers, that’s liberty!

Sadly, Bill Buckley’s journal endorses marijuana legalization:

The legalization of marijuana in Colorado — and the push for its legalization elsewhere — is a sign that Americans still recognize some limitations on the reach of the state and its stable of nannies-in-arms.

This is license, not liberty. The nannies in Colorado, like Nurse Ratched at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, have decided the best way to control the rabble is not to micromanage their choices, but to lobotomize them.

Read more on liberty as license here and here.

At the Daily Beast, James Poulos reflects on the public’s desire for a dictator:

Without common sense, “sound morality,” and “a reverence for the constitution and its laws,” Lincoln concluded, our debased mentality would throw us at the feet of a master.

But Lincoln was outdone in his lectern psychology by Thomas Hobbes, whose masterwork Leviathan made, cover to cover, the best case ever for why human nature demanded for us one awesomely powerful overlord. Despite Hobbes’s towering erudition, his thesis is simple enough: Our equality is so fundamental that we will fight to the death in the grip of envy over even the slightest advantage in security and status. Some especially well-bred people among us might be noble enough in spirit and possessions to abstain from this temptation. But they cannot keep a society together—and, indeed, their towering pride is the ultimate obstacle to the rule of the Leviathan that can.

And there we are, hundreds upon hundreds of years after Hobbes told us so. As Tocqueville put it during Lincoln’s time, we Americans like liberty, but we love equality. We want to feel a pride bigger than even the most privileged aristocrat’s, and we want relief from the gnawing envy that has us always casting that side-eye at our neighbors.

Michelle Obama said as much in 2008 on the campaign trail:

Barack Obama is the only person in this who understands that, that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls.

George Weigel contrasts Hobbes and Edmund Burke:

In a Hobbesian world, the only actors of consequence are the state and the individual. In a Burkean world, the institutions of civil society—family, religious congregation, voluntary association, business, trade union and so forth—“mediate” between the individual and the state, and the just state takes care to provide an appropriate legal framework in which those civil-society institutions can flourish.

In a Hobbesian world, the state—“Leviathan,” in the title of Hobbes’s most famous and influential work—monopolizes power for the sake of protecting individuals from the vicissitudes of a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In a Burkean world, civil society provides a thick layer of mediation—protection, if you will—that cushions the interactions between individuals and life’s challenges.

A Hobbesian world is a world of contracts and legal relationships, period. A Burkean world is a world in which there are both contracts—the rule of law—and covenants: those more subtly textured human associations (beginning with marriage) by which men and women form bonds of affection, allegiance, and mutual responsibility.

Beware the will of the people, writes Michael Todd:

The most absolute authority, wrote Rousseau, “is that which penetrates into a man’s inmost being and concerns itself no less with his will than with his actions.” The truth of that observation is in no way lessened by the fact that for Rousseau genuinely legitimate government, government based upon the general will, should so penetrate.

It’s a point worth repeating, over and over, that the scarier and more likely form of tyranny that takes us is the one we choose ourselves and freely enforce on each other.

Radical feminists declare themselves God.

A topless protester with the notorious feminist group FEMEN disrupted Christmas Eve Mass in Cologne, Germany, jumping on top of the altar with the words “I am God” scrawled across her torso.


In a bizarre and disjointed post on their website about the incident, FEMEN wrote: “Europe, wake up, you have to be an idiot to take seriously these sermons parody inquisitors (sic). Everything smells of rot should be buried immediately (sic)! Long live woman (sic)! Long live the science (sic)! MY PUSSY MY RULES! I AM GOD!”

Of course, there’s nothing radical about putting your will or your identity in sin before all others. It’s animal instinct.

Pursuant to the theme of nihilism, this review of Batman Begins by Thomas Hibbs, the Honors College dean at Baylor University, my alma mater, is pertinent. Excerpts:

The buildings from which Batman overlooks the city are like cathedrals stripped of all their symbolism except that provided by the menacing bat. That Batman-style justice is the best we can do in such a context is made clear in a terrific scene where Batman seizes and interrogates a criminal. To convince Batman that he’s telling him the truth, the criminal screams, “I swear to God.” Batman gets right in his face and angrily demands, “Swear to me.”


Nietzschean themes run through the film. Bruce Wayne aspires to make himself extraordinary by becoming more than a man and by shattering the conventional distinction between the legal and the illegal; hence, his time among the criminals performing illegal acts without ever becoming one of them. He also strives to transform himself into pure performance. He gives a radical twist to what might otherwise seem a mere platitude in the film, “It’s not what you are underneath but what you do that defines you.” But Batman is not finally an amoralist; he resists, rather than welcomes, nihilism. He aims to defend and inspire those ordinary citizens whom the League of Shadows, in fine Nietzschean fashion, deems useless and expendable.

Kevin D. Williamson writes on why President Obama fails with men, accidentally channeling George Gilder and his disciple, me:

The experience of joblessness is, I think, particularly despair-inducing for men. It isn’t that unemployment is not stressful for women as well — it surely is, especially for women who bear the burden of economic responsibility for their households. But there is entangled in that issue something more than simple financial well-being for men. To be a provider, for oneself and one’s family, to do something useful and to earn, is deeply connected to many men’s sense of self-respect, to their identity as men.


For those men who have experienced extended unemployment, the memory is often a vivid and painful one. And even those who haven’t can detect the scent of economic fear in the air. Suicide is an extreme reaction, of course, but you don’t have to be an economic weatherman to know which way the financial winds are blowing. Women experiencing economic vulnerability tend toward welfare-statism, with SNAP and Medicaid and all of the rest of it acting in loco mariti. Men experiencing economic vulnerability, or who have reason to think they may experience it in the future, seem to move in the opposite direction: President Obama lost white men without college degrees by 31 points last time around.

It may be the case that men see Barack Obama as a kind of romantic competitor — not the man himself, but the vision of government he stands for. The more the state steps into the role of provider, the less men have to offer in that capacity. This is especially true of men with modest earnings potential. I doubt that very many of those non-college-educated, working-class white men follow the careers of Hanna Rosin or Maureen Dowd, but the message — “MEN ARE OBSOLETE” — infiltrates the culture at large. President Obama is the messenger, and an agent of the Rosin-Dowd worldview: His vision of the good life is universal kindergarten and universal graduate school, a coddling welfare state, etc., and a gimlet eye cast upon much of what used to be thought of as man’s work: drilling for gas, timbering, mining.

“The entire concept of ‘big government’ is a socialistic one that depends entirely on the idea that centralizing decision-making will inevitably lead to better societal outcomes. The fact that this is much more often false than it is true never even slows down those who benefit materially from the structure from shamelessly attempting to push it on everyone.” –Vox

Freedom produces inequality, Pat Buchanan writes. More:

A good society will take care of its poor. But envy that others have more, and coveting the goods of the more successful, used to constitute two of the seven capital sins in the Baltimore Catechism.

At Howard University in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared, “We seek not just ... equality as a right ... but equality as a fact and equality as a result.”

Yet the only way to make people who are unequal in talents equal in rewards is to use governmental power to dispossess some and favor others.

In the ongoing discussion of Pope Francis, Larry Chapp contributes this at Ethika Politika:

His words “who am I to judge?” are words designed to give hope to those on the margins who do define themselves by their sins, and who do feel that they are unredeemable. There are such people. Indeed, their numbers are legion. I teach many of them as do many of you. Over the years I have had many a student in my office, sobbing in tears at what they take to be their completely unlovable identity. And many of these encounters have been with young Gay men. As I said to Howsare today in his office, think of the young Gay male who is trying to follow God and the Church, but who sometimes fails and succumbs to temptation. As we all have experienced after we commit a habitual sin we have been trying to overcome we feel like dung and we feel outside of grace and it often makes us despair and full of despondent resignation.

We are born to sin. That is the truth. But through Him all things are possible.

Erick Erickson writes:

I’m largely in agreement with Anglican theologian N.T. Wright’s view of what happens to people who run away from God. In essence, they lose their humanity. They are only brought back with love and the Gospel.

This shouldn’t be controversial. It’s actually a 2000 year old theological concept. The nutshell explanation is that if God’s purpose is as Creator and we are created in His image, when we turn from Him and actively push Him away from us, we no longer reflect him and, therefore, no longer are really human, since humanity reflects its Creator.

People who run away from God do not “seek the Lord with good will.” They refuse to admit the fact of sin and their need to be made whole with God. They spite God and live for themselves, by themselves, enforcing their will where they can, foresaking the eternal inheritance at the end of their time on earth. That limited time becomes an end unto itself, to spend in perversity and pleasure.

Joel Osteen needs a little push to admit the reality of sin.

“When you put your trust in Him, even when you have difficult times, you can rise higher. You can excel, you can be leaders. It’s an empowering message, not one that pushes people down.”


“There’s enough pushing people down in life already,” he added. “When they come to my church, or our meetings, I want them to be lifted up. I want them to know that God’s good, that they can move forward, that they can break an addiction, that they can become who God’s created them to be.”

“Rise higher.” “Lifted up.” From what, exactly? Is this the gospel of self-help or the gospel of Jesus Christ?

He suggested that although he might touch on doctrine in his messages, he believes an emphasis on doctrine may be what is contributing to low attendance at other churches. “These days, people want to know, ‘If I come to church, how’s it going to help me to live my life?’” he added.

It’s not going to help you live your life. It’s going to help you live the life God envisions for you. Early on in my Bible study, I struggled mightily with giving up control of my life, with giving up the image of my future and handing it over to God. It’s the hardest part, but the most important part, of accepting God’s grace.

The flatterer does eventually admit to Katie Couric that homosexuality is sin, but he doesn’t want to “harp on one group.” He makes the same mistake as the gay mafia: He identifies the sinners with their sin.

If anyone’s been demonized in the Duck Dynasty fiasco, it’s Phil Robertson, not the sinners who define themselves by their sins. The normally affable Mark Steyn has had enough of the gay mafia, and he resents civility police who would have him fend them off with one hand tied behind his back. He takes the gloves off here:

GLAAD has had some success with this strategy, prevailing upon, for example, the Hollywood director Brett Ratner to submit to GLAAD re-education camp until he had eaten sufficient gay crow to be formally rehabilitated with a GLAAD “Ally” award.

It is a matter of some regret to me that my own editor at this publication does not regard this sort of thing as creepy and repellent rather than part of the vibrant tapestry of what he calls an “awakening to a greater civility”. I’m not inclined to euphemize intimidation and bullying as a lively exchange of ideas – “the use of speech to criticize other speech”, as Mr Steorts absurdly dignifies it. So do excuse me if I skip to the men’s room during his patronizing disquisition on the distinction between “state coercion” and “cultural coercion”. I’m well aware of that, thank you. In the early days of my free-speech battles in Canada, my friend Ezra Levant used a particular word to me: “de-normalize”. Our enemies didn’t particularly care whether they won in court. Whatever the verdict, they’d succeed in “de-normalizing” us — that’s to say, putting us beyond the pale of polite society and mainstream culture. “De-normalizing” is the business GLAAD and the other enforcers are in. You’ll recall Paula Deen’s accuser eventually lost in court — but the verdict came too late for Ms Deen’s book deal, and TV show, and endorsement contracts.

Up north, Ezra and I decided that, if they were going to “de-normalize” us, we’d “de-normalize” them. So we pushed back, and got the entire racket discredited and, eventually, the law repealed. It’s rough stuff, and exhausting.


I am sorry my editor at NR does not grasp the stakes. Indeed, he seems inclined to “normalize” what GLAAD is doing. But, if he truly finds my “derogatory language” offensive, I’d rather he just indefinitely suspend me than twist himself into a soggy pretzel of ambivalent inertia trying to avoid the central point — that a society where lives are ruined over an aside because some identity-group don decides it must be so is ugly and profoundly illiberal. As to his kind but belated and conditional pledge to join me on the barricades, I had enough of that level of passionate support up in Canada to know that, when the call to arms comes, there will always be some “derogatory” or “puerile” expression that it will be more important to tut over. So thanks for the offer, but I don’t think you’d be much use, would you?

Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute has written a book called Defending the Free Market. The first chapter is available for free and it is an invigorating read. Every theme he touches on should be familiar to readers of this blog. Excerpts:

Have Europeans lost hope and are therefore losing the desire to have children? Or has raising children simply become too much of a bother for a culture increasingly interested in the pleasures of the moment? In either case, the consequences are heavy. All the talk of a pension plan crisis in Europe masks what is really a moral crisis: Europe is growing sterile, and the bonds that link one generation to the next have been weakened by a nanny state that has taken over many tasks previously filled by parents caring for their children and children caring for their aging parents. The result is an aging population who, in many cases, are alienated from their children. In such a context, who will willingly produce the multitude of goods and services the European elderly will require to enjoy the many idle years they hope for? All of the financial sleight of hand in the world will not remove the problem of fewer and fewer workers being asked to produce goods and services for a growing number of retirees—whom the workers may have little personal connection with or affection for.


Too many of us have lost hope. We may expect to have fun tomorrow or over the upcoming weekend. But a more richly imagined hope—one whereby we project and pledge ourselves to a future characterized by human flourishing for ourselves and future generations, for our communities and the nation—this, I suggest, has been eroded over the past fifty years and replaced with a vision of ourselves as without a destiny and calling, without a worthy purpose.

The problem isn’t just a numbers game, and it can’t be solved by simply tweaking this or that budget line, or wringing a little waste out of the system here or there. What threatens to bring freedom to an end is that we have forgotten the end of freedom, in the other sense—its aim or purpose.

The confusion is all around us. Liberty is confused with license, cronyism with capitalism, mere schooling with education, Social Security with genuine intergenerational solidarity, and real social responsibility with taking money from one group and giving it to another—and never mind the cultural devastation wrought upon the recipients by this Orwellian form of “welfare.” We have come to believe that the government bureaucrat is a Good Samaritan.

All too many confuse a market economy with consumerism, seeing a buy-buy-buy mentality as the outcome and goal of economic liberty. But consumerism is the muddled idea that only in having more can we be more. Rather than the Cartesian formulation, “cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefore I am”), some have come to believe that shopping is the proof of existence: “consumo ergo sum.” Consumerism is wrong not because material things are wrong. Consumerism is wrong because it worships what is beneath us.

Far from a synonym for capitalism, consumerism makes capitalism impossible over the long term, since it makes capital formation all but impossible. A consumer culture isn’t a saving culture, isn’t a thrift culture. It’s too fixated on buying the next toy to ever delay gratification, to ever save and invest for the future. The point is elementary: you can’t have sustainable capitalism without capital; you can’t have capital without savings; and you can’t save if you’re running around spending everything you’ve just earned. But the confusion has grown so deep that many people today do not have the ears to hear it. Indeed, the policies of our nation’s central bank seem to reinforce this habit by driving down interest rates to near zero and thereby denying people a material reward—in the form of interest on their banked savings—for foregoing consumption.


When the Judeo-Christian worldview is replaced by a vaguely formed and only partially acknowledged philosophical materialism, then all that matters is what we can get for ourselves today. What is lost is a sense of history as a meaningful and linear thing, as something moving toward a great consummation. When a person loses that, when a whole people loses that, when the institutions that serve to organize and govern a people lose that, the loss is severe and reverberating.

Murray Rothbard, after sampling Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” critiques equality:

The horror we all instinctively feel at these stories is the intuitive recognition that men are not uniform, that the species, mankind, is uniquely characterized by a high degree of variety, diversity, differentiation — in short, inequality. An egalitarian society can only hope to achieve its goals by totalitarian methods of coercion; and, even here, we all believe and hope the human spirit of individual man will rise up and thwart any such attempts to achieve an ant-heap world. In short, the portrayal of an egalitarian society is horror fiction because, when the implications of such a world are fully spelled out, we recognize that such a world and such attempts are profoundly antihuman; being antihuman in the deepest sense, the egalitarian goal is, therefore, evil and any attempts in the direction of such a goal must be considered evil as well.

Jonah Goldberg nails the paradigm:

[Thomas] Paine saw the individual as the irreducible unit of society, and the state as the guarantor not just of liberty but of personal empowerment. He held that with the right application of scientific principles, an egalitarian utopia could be achieved. It would simply require tearing down the prejudices, customs, and habits of the old order, just as the French revolutionaries were doing. Paine eventually saw few distinctions between legal and cultural impediments to liberty, which is why he came to denounce Christianity as “repugnant to reason.”

For [Edmund] Burke, no man is an island. We are born into families and communities, and it is these and other institutions that give our lives meaning. Society is a complex and mysterious ecosystem, and no set of experts or “sophisters ... and calculators” can impose scientific perfection on it. Any attempt to do so would threaten to destroy all that makes life meaningful. A reformer and proponent of progress, Burke nonetheless believed that progress must be accomplished gradually, not in one fell swoop of a social engineer’s pen.

Perhaps Levin’s most telling insight is that all of Burke’s metaphors about government are about space, while Paine’s are about movement. The Burkean believes government is there to give all of the institutions of society room to thrive and discover what is good through trial and error. The Paineian sees progress as a society-wide movement, led by government, with no safe harbors from the Cause. This is why Paine was one of the earliest advocates of a welfare state — funded by a massive inheritance tax — that would intervene to empower every individual.

President Obama’s second inaugural was a thoroughly Paineian document. In his telling, America is made up of individuals and a government with nary anything in between. And because “no single person” can do the things that need to be done, “we must do these things together, as one nation,” leaving no room for the diverse institutions of civil society.

The debate over homosexuality and gay marriage is part of a much larger debate that includes everything from Obamacare — particularly its hostility to religious exemptions — to school vouchers, federalism, and the “wars” on women, Christmas, trans fats, and inequality.

My love languages are Physical Touch and Quality Time. On the latter, Athol Kay writes:

Stop trying to spend Quality Time together, and start Sharing Tasks.

There’s plenty of basic everyday tasks that have more than enough space to share the load together. The most obvious one is the whole cooking dinner –> eating dinner –> cleaning up routine. While you’re both in the kitchen together, there’s plenty of time to (1) Talk About Your Day, (2) Help Out Around The House, (3) Spend Quality Time Together, (4) be Cocky and Funny and (5) avoid a charge of sexual harassment through sheer hotness.

Seriously, that’s all it is. Quality Time = Shared Tasks.

Make the kids lunches together in the morning. Split the Saturday morning cleaning together. Go grocery shopping together. Anything works if that’s her love language.

In closing, Rod Dreher reflects on Scott Stossel’s anxiety and his own creativity:

If all my anxiety were removed, my own “peripatetic and curious sensibility” would evaporate.

Mine, too.

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