What’s Wrong with the World

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July 2011 Archives

July 1, 2011

I believe in equality (sort of)

(I have a feeling I'm going to regret this...)

In the discussion in my previous entry the question arose (raised by our own esteemed Zippy) whether the present evils of society (evils from a conservative perspective) are traceable to certain notions present in the American founding such as equality and freedom. Zippy states his position quite clearly, here:

Lets suppose I made the following statement:

"Freedom and equal rights are just heuristic rules of thumb that help people get along without fighting. As rules of thumb they rank about where platitudes like 'be nice to strangers' ranks, and should never be allowed to interfere with important decisions. They are not important founding principles of our country. When more important matters come up, they need to be set aside."

A right-liberal is someone who finds it difficult to agree with that proposition. He doesn't have to find it impossible: just difficult enough that his own orientation, discourse, and decisions in practice assign freedom and equal rights the priority of governing principle rather than heuristic.


If people don't want more liberalism - this can be viewed as a simple observation, not a prescription - they need to explicitly reject liberalism's status as the default principle of appeal in politics. That is, they need to eschew appeals to freedom and equal rights to resolve political issues, and treat such appeals by others as illegitimate: not as wrong interpretations of what freedom and equal rights "really mean": different kinds of liberals agree with each other that freedom and equal rights are supreme political principles, and disagree with each other over the implications. That simply perpetuates the problem: we've established what we are, and are merely haggling over the price.

If someone really wants to see Zippy, Jeff Singer, Tony (now our blog colleague), Jeff Culbreath, and others go at it hammer and tongs on the thesis that these problems stem from the principles of the founding (and if you're really a glutton for punishment), you can read the lengthy discussion from about a year ago beginning approximately here. To my mind one of the more interesting attempts to pin the blame on the Founders was made by Jeff Culbreath rather late in that thread. Jeff C. attributed to the more "Jacobin" founders an extremely strong thesis to the effect that "maximizing liberty is an unqualified good." I comment a bit on that thesis (mostly leaving aside the question of its historical plausibility) and on an attempt to relate such a principle to abortion (which was the topic on hand at that point in the thread) here.

Now, in this post I'd like to talk a bit about equality. The question is this: Should we say that there is no notion of "equal rights" that can or should be thought of as an important principle?

Continue reading "I believe in equality (sort of)" »

July 4, 2011

A blessed July 4th

Back in January I put up this post, called "The Testing Time is Coming." Not only does the post still seem good to me, upon looking back, but the title seems appropriate, and now more than ever.

One of the most chilling pieces of (non-violent) video I have ever seen was the clip of William Pryor asking Roy Moore, "Will you continue to acknowledge God if you resume your duties as a judge?" (That's a slight paraphrase.) The "acknowledgement" in question merely involved having a large monument of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, ruled unconstitutional by a federal court. And the saddest part of it was that Pryor was a man of good will and himself, as I understand, a Christian.

Here is "Under God" by the Booth brothers:

July 5, 2011

Two more interviews on the historicity of Scripture

From the last couple of months, here are two more links to interviews with Tim McGrew on evidence for the historicity of Scripture.

This one, from early May, discusses Bart Ehrman a bit, along with a number of other topics listed at the link.

This one is from later in May, and the hosts asked for a variety of information, from incidental confirmations of the historicity of the New Testament to questions about Biblical languages.

I want to emphasize that if you have listened to Tim's other talks and interviews (see info. here, and here), while you will hear some overlapping information, each of the interviews has something in it that is unique, so they're all well worth listening to.

July 6, 2011

Don't Count Your Chickens

When it comes to blatant leftist power moves to thwart any vestigial resistance to cultural degeneracy, apparently you can never be too cynical. In this post, Jeff Culbreath and the rest of us sensible folk here at W4 celebrated Catholic University of America's sensible decision to re-institute single-sex dormitories.

Now, via SpeakUp University blog, I learn that some lawyer is threatening to sue CUA if it does so for allegedly violating the District of Columbia's non-discrimination laws barring discrimination in housing on the basis of sex.


So, two questions (at least): First, have local laws banning housing discrimination on the basis of sex ever before been taken to require any university to have co-ed dorms? Second, is there not a religious exemption that CUA could use even if so? Mind you, a religious exemption should not be necessary. Secular universities all used to have single-sex dorms and certainly should be allowed to do so even now. Maybe some of them still do.

Hopefully this is just some crack-pot lawyer who won't get anywhere. But I'm not counting my chickens quite yet. Guess they just couldn't allow even the smallest blow to be struck against Fornication 101.

July 8, 2011

The Tyranny of Determinism

The Atlanta school district cheating scandal. What is one to say about it? Well, I could say a lot, some of it no doubt sufficiently offensive. Let me try this: What we have here are a bunch of teachers organized, sometimes by threats and sometimes willingly, into a vast cheating network. Their goal is to take advantage of the do-gooders who have set up achievement goals for children and tied to those goals at least accolades for the leaders of the district and, presumably, state and/or federal education money. The do-gooders, in turn, are well-meaning and motivated by the assumption that if only you provide enough carrot or stick to the teachers, they can make the children really succeed and really learn. Instead, the teachers cheated.

The elephant in the room is the racial aspect to all of this. So let me mention that elephant in the following way: Suppose for the sake of the argument that there are no biologically innate differences, even at a statistical level, between blacks and whites. Suppose that all differences in achievement can be put down to environment, or perhaps it would be more enlightening to call it culture. What follows? Does it follow that if only we get hold of the children and get them into Head-Start early, flog and bribe their teachers with achievement test goals, and otherwise engage in manic levels of activity, we can make those children actually learn and do well on tests of knowledge? Actually, it doesn't. Does it follow that people whose children do better educationally and who happen to be white should feel guilty over the underachievement of children in Atlanta public schools? No, it doesn't. Does it follow that educators in normally low-scoring districts are to be trusted not to cheat if provided with incentives? Certainly, it doesn't. Therefore, even from an assumption of complete innate biological sameness across races, it does not follow that No Child Left Behind and similar and related plots and plans to Do Something, pour money in, put the pressure on, somehow, somehow, Do Something about children in these schools, are good policy. At all.

And all of this has something to do with human freedom. It is human freedom that creates inner city culture. It is human freedom by means of which parents choose to neglect their children, to give them drug dealers for heroes, to teach them that lying is fine, that "the system" is their enemy, and that they are entitled to whatever they can get. It is human freedom that gives us fatherless children. It is human freedom that allows children to taunt one another for learning, to make school hell, to make it impossible for other children to learn.

And it is human freedom that translates the criminal culture to the ostensibly respectable class of educators and turns the Atlanta education establishment into a thugocracy.

If we really believe in human freedom, we won't believe that we have to Do Something about every mess in the world. Will we feel sorry for the children? Yes. Some of them might well have done much better in an entirely different culture, raised by entirely different parents, surrounded by entirely different classmates. But it would be impossible to provide that and in most cases wrong even to attempt to provide that.

If we believe in human freedom, we will be released from the tyranny of determinism and released from the compulsion to go around doing well-intentioned but often, if not usually, disastrous things to try to ameliorate all societal problems, close all gaps, and make all outcomes turn out roughly the same.

July 10, 2011

I want my apology

Last year, I suggested some doubts about the new direction of Focus on the Family.

At the beginning of this month, Christianity Today published this somewhat nauseating piece on how Focus is moving to the left and how neat that is. Okay, they didn't put it that way, but that's what it amounted to. See, in the past, Focus had these nasty, divisive "Christmas Wars" videos suggesting that Christians consider favoring businesses that use the phrase "Merry Christmas." (Actually, the videos are charming. I've enjoyed them very much. Here's my favorite.) But this year, oh, joy, the new Rising Voice division of Focus (it is aimed at young people and "focuses" on this unlikely trio of issues: sex trafficking, poverty, and the environment) encouraged constituents to "consider organic or eco-friendly clothing and fair-trade products." Ain't that sweet?

One section of the CT article is called "Not your mother's focus." Ick. Well, thanks, in that case. I think I won't donate.

But that's not actually the story I have to tell. Among the other evidences of Focus's new and (from CT's fairly evident perspective) improved priorities, the article instanced the fact that Focus is trying to "highlight" the work of Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, "a company that donates shoes to an impoverished child for every pair sold." The article also stated that Focus "is working to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa." The young head of Rising Voice (she reports directly to new president Daly) calls this "slow strides."

It turns out that the "highlighting" of Mycoskie's work took the form of bringing him to speak at a Focus event on the topic of "faith in action." Trouble is, Mycoskie (whether he claims to be a Christian or not) is evidently such a flaming liberal on subjects such as abortion and homosexuality that he was embarrassed when his left-wing buddies criticized him for speaking at Focus. Ms. Magazine was particularly displeased and started a petition. Accordingly, Mycoskie has apologized for having spoken at Focus's event, reaffirmed his liberal credentials, and insisted that Focus is not a TOMS "giving partner," and if one may make a prediction, never will be, because TOMS will have nothing to do with them.

So, my question is this: Since Ms. and her friends got their apology from Mycoskie, where's my apology from Focus? Let's look at this clearly: In its pathetic eagerness to add left-approved issues to its slate, Focus invited a person to speak whose beliefs are clearly at odds with what it allegedly stands for on moral matters, a person so committed to the contrary view that he claims he wouldn't even have spoken at the event had he known Focus's official positions, a person, in other words, who scorns not only Focus but me and all that I stand for, many of Focus's supporters and what they stand for, all that James Dobson stood for, and all that Focus fought to defend for decades.

But Focus didn't care. They thought, like Rick Warren with Barack Obama, that it was praise-worthy, perhaps even imperative, to make common ground with self-avowed enemies in the culture wars, to "come together" on matters like helping the poor, etc., etc.

As far as I can tell, Focus still doesn't get it. The left is displeased with Mycoskie. The left has such contempt for Focus and for its still-official moral views that it regards Mycoskie as having lowered himself by associating with them. Focus's desire to ally itself with Mycoskie thus put it in the position of humble petitioner, seeking to make "slow strides" and garner the approval of the "socially conscious" left. But Focus will very likely continue to make such attempts. As a matter of fact, the blog article on the subject seems to imply that the important thing to be bothered about here is the hyper-ness of the left in twisting Mycosckie's arm for an apology. How unreasonable! Why, Focus should be able to join in an apolitical campaign with TOMS and Mycoskie. How divisive of the left!

Well, no: How stupid of the New Right not to know that the left will brook no dissent, that it despises them and all their works until and unless they bow to the beast, and that they are merely shouting to the world, "We don't really think all that culture war stuff is that important anymore!" which gets them brownie points only with Christianity Today and its ilk. And who wants brownie points with them?

The decline of Focus is truly sad. Sure wish they'd go back to being "your mother's Focus."

HT: Letitia Wong

July 11, 2011

Apricot season

One of my fondest boyhood memories is riding my bicycle down a country road to buy apricots from a u-pick orchard for my grandmother to make apricot cobbler. 97% of the apricots in the United States are grown in California, and I'm proud to say that I've planted at least fifty of those apricot trees myself. Although this hasn't been the best season for apricots - bees were scarce during the bloom - we've already been treated to my wife's delicious apricot crisp, apricot jam, and apricot smoothies. She has a dozen or more jars of apricots sitting on the counter waiting to set for future enjoyment. As for what's left on the trees now, they are suffering from a variety of ailments including a peculiar disease that is rotting them quickly. Having neglected to spray last winter, nature is having her way with what is already a small crop.

The origin of the proverb "to plant a tree, to have a son, to write a book" - three things every man should do before he dies - is disputed. It has long been claimed by the Spanish and Portuguese, but sometimes the Spanish add "fight a bull". The dictum is also reportedly found in the Talmud. Russell Kirk was known to be almost obsessed with planting trees, finding significance in the fact that men plant trees out of faith in the future, and from generosity toward one's progeny. So it is also with children and books, things we leave behind for the enjoyment and advantage (let us hope) of future generations. Men have motives beyond generosity, to be sure, including an ineradicable desire not to be forgotten among the living once they have passed from this earth. The motive seems selfish, at first blush, but I think it natural and completely healthy if kept in perspective - a shadow of man's God-implanted thirst for immortality. Furthermore, the planting of trees provides an opportunity for the rest of us to remember the dead as we should. We are fortunate to live in a place where many of our neighbors can tell you precisely who planted which of the century-old trees on their inherited property.

Ah, the sound of gravel under the tires. Mrs. C. just drove up with a van full of strangers' children who will be staying with us all week while attending a classical music academy. I should go out to meet them. She's also brought me dinner, God bless her. And then we will say our prayers and maybe I'll read a book, if the house is quiet enough. With the new job I must get to bed on time these days, which robs me of my best hours for writing serious blog posts. I have nothing profound (or even coherent) to say tonight, but if you happen to eat a California apricot this summer, think of me.

July 14, 2011

Downtown blues

Chico is a university town of about 90K population, an island of "big city" in a sea of farms, ranches, and small rural communities. Like Austin, Ashland, and Kalamazoo. While visiting last night I decided to take a little walk downtown. Downtown Chico is now officially a foreign country. Drugged-up loons and angry, vacant faces haunt every corner, determined to make the place unfit for civilized company. The explosive growth of bodily desecration among young people, in the form of tattoos and body piercings, is worse than I've ever seen or imagined it could be. As if mere indecency were not shocking enough. Seedy tattoo and piercing shops, with their freakish clientele and vulgar advertising, are moving in while legitimate businesses move out. In fact they are almost the only small businesses prospering and multiplying. I wanted to stop by a nice cafe I remembered from a couple of years ago, but found a busy "magic store" in its place full of the tools of the occult. And why do such places always have the same demonic smell? Do they all burn the same incense from hell? We can no longer support a Catholic bookstore in this city, but the "magic store" is booming.

Disappointed, I decided to take refuge in a used bookstore. What I found there only confirmed the trend I have been observing for the last 25 years: quality books are disappearing and being replaced by a deluge of New Age, occult, quasi-pornographic, and vaguely "spiritual" offerings. I stayed a while, browsing the local history section, listening unwillingly to a Cat Stevens album from that awful decade that never ends. The whole depressing experience reminded me of the Waterloo moment I once had in the university bookstore at Stanford: a spontaneous realization the vast majority of published books are trash. Fit for roasting marshmallows, at best, or maybe hot dogs if written by philosophers. They say that the proliferation of wicked and senseless books, and the marginalization of the good and true, is the price we have to pay for a "free" society. But that's too high a price to pay if you ask me. We don't know what freedom is anymore. Freedom is not losing your downtown to an infestation of demons. The joke is on us.

Continue reading "Downtown blues" »

July 15, 2011

It's not easy being green

As I've already discussed here and here (alerted by Wesley J. Smith), some on the left have a bit of a romance going with China's one-child policy. It's green, you see. We humans are so bad for the environment that one can sort of understand the communists' desire to use admittedly somewhat draconian measures to reduce our numbers.

From Steven W. Mosher comes information showing just how hard it is being green--hard, that is, on the women at the bottom of the food chain whose "illegal" children are forcibly aborted and, if born, seized by government officials. The section of his testimony called "Child Abduction, Child Trafficking, and the One-Child Policy" (pp. 8ff) discusses the abduction and trafficking angle (which was new to me):

In Lipu county, another UNFPA Model Birth Control County, located in northern Guangxi province, we were told by...village officials that “At the present time, if you don’t pay the fine, they come and abduct the baby you just gave birth to and give it to someone else."

This practice of child abduction has recently been confirmed by the Chinese government. According to a report in the Caixin Century magazine, authorities in the southern Chinese Province of Hunan have begun investigating a report that population control officials had seized at least 16 babies born in violation of strict family planning rules, sent them to state-run rphanages, and then sold them abroad for adoption. “Before 1997, they usually punished us by tearing down our houses for breaching the one-child policy, but after 2000 they began to confiscate our children,” the magazine quoted villager Yuan Chaoren as saying.

The children, reportedly from Longhui county near Hunan province’s Shaoyang city, had been abducted by who accused their parents of breaching the one-child policy or illegally adopting children. The local family planning office then sent the children to local orphanages, which listed them as being available for adoption, the report said, adding the office could get 1,000 renminbi or more for each child. The orphanages in turn receive $3,000 to $5,000 for each child adopted overseas, money that is paid by the adoptive parents. The magazine reported that at least one migrant worker said she had found her daughter had been adopted abroad and was now living in the United States.

It is worth noting that these two reports come from the same general area of China and occurred in neighboring provinces. Lipu county, where we heard about the practice of abducting and selling “illegal” children, is located in northern Guangxi province not far from the Hunan border, while Shaoyang is located near the southern border of Hunan not far from the Guangxi border.

Local officials deny any involvement in child trafficking. But it is well known that the so-called “job responsibility system” requires them to rigorously enforce the one-child policy, and that their success (or failure) in this area will determine future promotions (or demotions). Abducting and selling an “illegal” baby or child would not only enable an official to eliminate a potential black mark on his record, it would allow him to make a profit at the same time. In this way the one-child policy, through its system of perverse and inhumane rewards and unishment, encourages officials to violate the fundamental right of parents to decide for themselves the number and spacing of their children.

Continue reading "It's not easy being green" »

The Cultural Contradictions of Multiculturalism

Gay men have pioneered the reclamation of some big chunks of urban America, systematically replacing seemingly hopeless squalor with nicely restored old buildings, complete with exposed brick walls, track lighting, abolutely fabulous interior decorating, etc., not to mention streets so safe that you can totter back and forth between the bars of your choice at 2 or 3 in the morning without worrying too much about getting beaten up or robbed.

While teaching at the University of Chicago and living in "Boystown" back in the '90's, I got to see this transformation up close. And I think that it was, on the whole, a good thing.

But the black flash-mob phenomenon has now hit Boystown:

Continue reading "The Cultural Contradictions of Multiculturalism" »

July 17, 2011

David Brooks's ignorant, bigoted mish-mash

Via Wesley J. Smith we learn of this article by Dudley Clendinen, a former Times correspondent, who has ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's disease). He is planning his own suicide (unless he happens to die of pneumonia first). But Smith is actually writing about this highly approving load of utterly confused malarky from Times columnist David Brooks on end-of-life issues and on how we can save money by magically making people with Alzheimer's Disease conveniently disappear. Here's how this goes:

If you want to, I'll let you read Clendinen's column for yourself, instead of quoting it. Clendinen is pretty unequivocal: He's planning his suicide. He says he's found a calm and peaceful way (not shooting himself, which he contemplates at the beginning of the column) if it should be "necessary," before he gets to a point he considers too undignified.

Or you can just take my word for it on that point.

Then we come to Brooks. The bottom line is that Brooks doesn't know what he's talking about. He's picked up a few phrases, dreamt up a few more, and mish-mashed them together. He can't even hear himself, realize how illogical and uninformed he is, or face the implications of what he's saying, much less realize how offensive his language about the disabled is. Yet he thinks he's being profound about life and death and a helpful little amateur economist at the same time. A twofer.

Or maybe not.

Continue reading "David Brooks's ignorant, bigoted mish-mash" »

Human Intimacy

My bishop recently released a pastoral letter
on pornography, “Bought With A Price”, and it is really good, take a look at it. I want to focus on one aspect of his thought: the user of pornography generally does so in a desire for intimacy, and is harming himself because the “intimacy” promised by pornography is fake, false, fraudulent.

Some assert the position that acting sexually, in general, and the use of pornography, in particular, meets the most basic of human needs. This position posits that pornography can provide a modicum of human satisfaction and comfort for those who find intimacy in marriage impossible or at least unavailable. Examples are cited of spouses separated by distance, single men and women not yet able to marry, husbands and wives suddenly deprived of marital intimacy owing to age or illness. In each of these cases, the attainment of some level of human (i.e., sexual) satisfaction, even if inferior to true marital intimacy, is offered as a temporary relief to a person longing for human contact.

This view presupposes that sexual activity alone, or the viewing of others in sexual activity, is somehow of the same nature as true human intimacy. In fact, the intimacy longed for by all persons is the antithesis of the exploitative and dehumanizing experience of the use of pornographic images. Rather than providing comfort or satisfaction, the use of pornography inevitably leads not only to repeated unsatisfying experiences, but demands an escalation of stimulation. Each escalation and each experience demeans and desensitizes the viewer to the beauty and nobility of the human person.

Continue reading "Human Intimacy" »

July 19, 2011

The killing wards

From commentator Mark in the thread below comes a link to this incredibly disturbing story of death in hospice.

The story is utterly believable: The kindly relative who signs the order to move his uncle into hospice after being confronted with the uncle's advance directive. The relative's eventual realization that "including nutrition and hydration" on the advance directive is taken to mean all nutrition and hydration, even when the patient can eat by mouth. The unnecessary medication with morphine of patients who are not in pain--automatically, just because they are in hospice. And eventually, the tyrannical nurses and doctors who stop the Filipino orderlies from "sneaking" food to patients who must die. The final scene, where the relative listens to a nurse rant about the importance of advance directives while watching over her shoulder as an orderly, seeing the nurse not watching, sneaks into another room to feed a patient, caps it off. The author says that at that moment he chose his side.

I find notable in the story the fact that everyone involved assumes that somehow these patients, including the uncle, had chosen to die in this way by signing advance directives. No distinction is even attempted between artificial nutrition and hydration and feeding by mouth. That distinction didn't last long! And here we were all told that the reason people were starved and dehydrated to death was because "tubes" are "treatment." Welcome to the brave new world. These are patients who can eat by mouth, but the assumption is that they must be starved and dehydrated to death anyway. Even when the uncle wakes for a moment and says his first and nearly only two words, "Help me!" the nurse's instant response is to give more morphine, and that's all. (The uncle says, "No, no," the last words he gets a chance to speak, as the nurse gives the morphine.)

We should not respond to such stories with automatic expressions of faith in hospice. I don't know how widespread these practices are. In this hospice, what it amounted to was that when the doctors and nurses got iron control over the orderlies, killing the patients (by dehydration and morphine) was universal. The orderlies represent the concept many people have of hospice--of natural death at its own pace. The doctors and nurses represented a more powerful technocratic reality. At how many places is this true? I don't know. At how many places is it worse, without even the orderlies sneaking applesauce to the patients? I don't now.

And if what was done here was illegal, I can only say that no one knew that it was. Indeed, the magic of the advance directives was taken to make this sort of death legally at least permitted, if not mandatory. It was the orderlies who were perceived, by everyone involved, as the rule-breakers. There was no faintest question of anyone's prosecuting anyone; indeed, I believe no prosecutor would ever take up such a legal tar-baby of a case. The doctors have the power to enforce n.p.o. orders if they please, even for patients perfectly capable of swallowing, and who is to stop them or tell them they are killing their patients? They will claim that food by mouth is inappropriate in their medical judgement, and they will wave an advance directive at you, even if it is obvious that the patient who signed the directive didn't realize that this was what he would be taken to be agreeing to.

If you have a relative who wants to die in hospice, if you might someday have such a relative, or if someone will someday suggest it to you, you need to read this story and do all that you can to make sure that this doesn't happen to you or to someone you love. Speaking for myself, this has made me reluctant ever to agree to enter hospice anywhere. The stakes are simply too high.

July 21, 2011

Privacy is not a setting

Full disclosure: I do have a Facebook account. But if you aren't already one of my Facebook friends, and if you aren't a personal friend, at this point you might as well not bother sending me a friend request, because I'm rationing my acceptances severely. In fact, I don't know if I'll continue on Facebook over the long term, so it might be counterproductive to accept more friends.

There are so many things one could say about problems with Facebook that one could write a very long post on the subject. Covering all of them won't be my goal here. The spam issue alone has nearly driven me to shut down my account; I know how to be careful about what I click on, but some of my friends do not, and this causes things to show up on my newsfeed that I never want to be even that close to.

One of the chief reasons why you should, in my opinion, discourage your friends and especially your children from having accounts with Facebook (or Twitter, etc.) is because of the erosion of a sense of privacy.

People who grew up in the pre-Facebook era have a natural, I'm inclined to say a God-given, sense of privacy. Simply put, you don't want everyone or just anyone in the world to know everything about you. "Sharing" is not an end in itself, and the idea of sharing all the details of your personal life and your deepest thoughts with total strangers causes warning signals to go off. This is healthy. This is a normal part of the sense of self-protection. At the most basic prudential level, the human desire to preserve privacy protects one from attackers, stalkers, and identity thieves. At the professional level, a sense of privacy can prevent young people from leaving a pixel-trail that prospective employers can read containing photos of themselves and all their thoughts and religious, political, and professional opinions from their youth upwards. But beyond the obvious (or to some, disconcertingly not-so-obvious) practical benefits, there are psychological and interpersonal benefits of a sense of privacy as well.

Continue reading "Privacy is not a setting" »

July 23, 2011

Creating a family identity

Next to religion, the most important element of any cultural renewal in the West is going to be the restoration of marriage and family, and by extension a renewal of family identity. Most Americans today suffer from the absence of a positive identity as members of an extended family with a familial sense of mission and place in the world. On an individual basis, this condition is simply one among many possible handicaps that can be compensated for in a variety of ways. As a societal problem, however, it creates a situation in which dangerous substitutes threaten to extinguish what's left of familial health and happiness in the nation.

I'd like to address the following to young married couples just starting out. You should make it your mission to create a strong family identity. Here are what I perceive to be the essentials:

The Faith. The family should be united in its Christian faith. Denominationally mixed marriages should be strongly discouraged. Children should be instructed in the faith of their parents from the cradle onward, taken to church, and taught to memorize the prayers and songs of their tradition. The idea that children should be allowed to "choose" their own beliefs during their formative years, as though their Christian parents had nothing to teach them, is not only a recipe for lifelong confusion and unhappiness but an inexcusable dereliction of duty on the part of parents. Paradoxically, we know from the teaching of Our Lord that keeping the faith might even break up the family: "And as a man's enemies shall be they of his own household." - Matt 10:36. There is no unity or identity worth having at the expense of God's truth. But when you place faith before family, more often than not, God preserves your family too.

Build on what you have. Insofar as possible, without compromising your children's faith and character (or your own sanity), maintain relationships with existing relatives and friends, carry on family traditions, and preserve historical memories. Visit the graves of departed ancestors. Learn, teach, and transmit your family's story. This may not be realistic for everyone, but if a healthy degree of family continuity can be maintained, it will be a great source of emotional comfort and stability for your children.

Tradition. Chances are, if you are a Gen-Xer or younger, few traditions have been handed down to you. In the popular literature of family life, it is often suggested that families "invent" their own "traditions", but this advice contains the seed of its own demise. Traditions are not invented, they are received. A certain action or ritual only becomes a tradition after surviving at least a few generations. The idea of inventing a tradition usually involves a conscious decision to reject a tradition that might otherwise be received with humility.

And yet, few if any traditions have been given to you. What is to be done? First, it is laudable and not at all inauthentic to pass over a generation or two for the purpose of reviving the worthy traditions of your ancestors. These traditions may not have been handed down to you, but they belong to you anyway as a rightful inheritance. When in conflict, the ancestral traditions of one or the other parent should prevail, and preference should be given to those traditions most congenial to the heritage of one's community. Second, if at all possible, you should associate with a community of families who do possess family traditions, so that by long association you will adopt these traditions as your own - or more accurately, the traditions will adopt you. Finally, the wisdom of the Catholic Church is such that every Catholic has access to beautiful traditions that are specific to his own nation, region and culture: these should be adopted and passed on to one's children with the greatest reverence and love.

"What you have as heritage, take now as task, and thus you will make it your own." - Goethe

Character and charism. Every family has its own unique destiny and raison d'tere. Some families produce an abundance of hard-working, reliable, blue-collar households; others lean toward scholarly pursuits; others are heavily entrepreneurial; others have a strong military tradition; and still others tend toward public service. There is, of course, variety within these identities, and the family charism is not meant to suppress individual gifts that depart from it. But in general a family's charism should be nurtured, cultivated, encouraged and loved, and in most cases the individual will flourish in this context.

Rebuilding the extended family. In a previous entry, it was noted that contraception deprives individuals of the benefits of extended families. So the first step in rebuilding the extended family is to have lots of children. Young couples should also note that the modern idea of every individual family member "following his dream", going off somewhere and starting over, has been disastrous as a social trend. Let it be granted that relocating away from relatives can be necessary and right in certain cases, but what has to change is this idea that children be raised to go out "make it on their own" in the world in some radically independent way, without regard for the advantages of close proximity to extended family.

The occasion for this post is my reading of a speech given by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira on family heredity and tradition, part of which I have reproduced below the fold:

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Christendom Review noted at First Thoughts

On behalf of the contributors of What's Wrong With the World and the editors of The Christendom Review, I wish to thank David Mills of First Thoughts for his recommendation of The Christendom Review. Our own contributor Bill Luse is associate editor of CR, and it is well worth reading.

If you happen to be a new reader of What's Wrong With the World, be sure to check out the archives of The Christendom Review: A Journal of the Philosophia Perennis.

July 24, 2011

Political Authority and its Legitimacy

I was recently engaged in a debate on political legitimacy, so I decided to look up the sorts of things people have published about where and how political legitimacy is present. I came across the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, with a lengthy summary of some 20 or so treatments of the topic, everyone from Hobbes and Locke to Weber, Bentham and Rawls. I was frustrated at the insistence on turning the topic into quasi-technical language, that made it difficult for anyone but a true poli sci type to follow the points in real detail. So I refuse to follow that path.

In general, there are either 2 or three levels of recognizable status for political capacity to rule: raw power is the condition in which a person gives orders and they are carried out. Many times this power resides in people who have a right to be giving orders, but in some cases it is not: a mafioso don gives orders (both to his minions, and to people he has successfully cowed) and his orders are followed. I don’t call this political power, because the organization is too small to call a polity, but it illustrates the principle. When a colonel in the army “takes over” and starts giving orders in Libya, at the first he may have nothing more than raw power, but it is political power, because virtually the whole state follows his orders, once he has consolidated his power (note, we don’t say, “consolidated his authority”).

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July 25, 2011

Massacre in Norway

The condemnation of a madman's treachery and butchery on Oslo will ring down from every church in Christendom. The wickedness on Friday is unfathomable. Accounts differ, but if the attacker claims (as some news outlets report) to be a follower of Christ, this is only a testament to the bottomless capacity of man for self-deception. Likewise with the derangement that leads a man who estimates himself a defender of the West to become a terrorist against the West. In truth he is an apostate of the most craven and despicable sort, an enemy of Christ and of the West motivated by every spring of wayward passion which Jesus Christ condemns; and his name will rot in infamy.

For the victims and survivors we can only pray that the Lord God will extend his mercy and comfort: the true fruits of the spirit of Christ.

And we can pray for justice. Norwegian law does not compass the penalty that this crime deserves, but God is on his throne in Heaven, and vengeance is the Lord's.

July 27, 2011

The Consent Idol

Personally, I find all the lawyerly attempts to rescue the idea that government authority is illegitimate unless it derives from consent rather precious.

First, it is the very nature of legitimate authority that the commands it issues are legitimate independent of the consent of those commanded. A command with morally binding authority isn't a call for volunteers. If we want to draw on how God has modeled the nature of authority, we can look to the fact that the ten commandments aren't ten suggestions. And the fact that the Israelites wanted a king (and God gave them what they wanted, good and hard) doesn't imply that governance under the Judges was illegitimate. (The incident may say something about the prudence of republican subsidiarity, or what today we might call federalism, though).

Second, however one wants to construe this incoherent principle (incoherent principles can be construed pretty much any way you want, which is part of why they find their way into the basis of legal arguments so often: if you can keep the incoherence from being obvious, you can make an argument for anything you like) -- however one wants to construe this incoherent principle, if (for example) the reign of St. Louis IX was "government by the consent of the governed" every bit as much as modern liberal regimes are, then the principle is vacuous.

Why such a vacuous principle should give the warm fuzzies to right-liberals is a bit of a mystery to me. Perhaps they feel that our own Republic must be illegitimate if this foundational Jeffersonian idea - the (incoherent) idea that government powers are unjust to the extent they do not derive from consent - is wrong. I have no idea why that should be the case, unless their notion of legitimate authority is that a present-day authority cannot be just unless the nation's founders were right about everything in their political theory.

So anyway, modern Catholic consent-idolaters can pick their poison: either your principle is so vacuous that it entails no constraints which are not already encompassed by the fact that government's just powers derive from the common good, or all those previous illiberal governments acknowledged as legitimate by saints and even run by saints were illegitimate.

With apologies to the Lost Boys, that's one thing I never could stomach about the Internet: all the damn lawyers.

July 28, 2011

You can consent to whatever you want, as long as you get it right

Let me put this in different words:

It is possible for the ruler to oppose the common good, in which case he is a tyrant.

It is possible for the masses to oppose the common good, in which case they are a wicked and rebellious people.

In neither case does consent determine the legitimacy of government authority. The ruler either conforms his will to the good, or he is in the wrong. The masses either conform their will to the good, or they are in the wrong.

Folks may have all sorts of theories about necessary conditions of the legitimacy of government authority. But one thing we know can't be a necessary condition of the legitimacy of government authority is "consent of the governed." We know that because sometimes the masses of people are in the wrong.

Masses of people up in arms against their government may well be a sometime empirical indicator of tyranny. (It may also be an indicator of a corrupt and stubborn people; or both, for that matter). But that doesn't make "consent of the governed" into a necessary condition for the legitimacy of government authority.

Was Flipper smarter?

Everyone knows that dolphins are very smart animals. So it's probably an insult to dolphins to refer to a politician who flip-flops when he realizes that he has made a tactical error as "Flipper."

So it is with Gov. Perry, whose stunningly stupid remarks about homosexual "marriage" have required him to flip-flop rather spectactularly.

Now, please, don't misunderstand this as an attempt to get involved with the 2012 election early. I despise the increasingly lengthy campaign-before-the-campaign. I have to admit that I probably wouldn't be noticing what silly things Perry is saying about the 10th amendment if he weren't a plausible GOP 2012 candidate. However, the real reason I'm blogging about it is that, as regular readers of W4 know, the 10th amendment, enumerated powers, and limited federal government are all concepts dear to my heart, and I hate to see them misused by ignorant people who have no idea what they are talking about, especially if this misuse is done by someone influential enough that he might confuse my fellow conservatives.


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July 29, 2011

Pictures, Words, and All That

For those who aren't familiar, this played endlessly on television when I was a kid.

Fragment on Decline

There is often in Conservative circles a peculiar discussion, not to say a quarrel, surrounding the idea of decline. This is the idea that as a nation or civilization we are making progress, not in enlightenment and prosperity, but in debasement and penury. Or it is the idea that our will to survive is spent, issuing in ennui and despair. Or it is merely the rational estimate of measurable psychology: time to short-sell US credit. And can I do it sight-unseen?

(As an aside, a very interesting question would be, Who are major sellers of CDS on American debt right now? Or, put another way, more whimsically, What if Apple, right now carrying essentially no debt, were to issue 30-year bonds? What extraordinary demand for this security there would be! Maybe high grade corporate paper could replace Treasury debt as the price signal.)

Anyway, decline. Well, many times the Conservative movement has appeared to relish its prediction of decline; and been accordingly pilloried for its embrace of despair. This is the common accusation against Conservatism, that it is full of despair and nostalgia.

But the rational estimate has changed. Changed drastically.

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July 31, 2011

Sunday Thought: Mere Physics

I watched my wife take a fall the other day, Sunday, I believe it was. We had just returned from Home Goods and she was helping me carry a new bathroom vanity with a heavy marble top up the back steps. At one point before we got to the steps, I asked her if she needed to put it down and rest. "No. Let's just do this." As she mounted that last step into the kitchen, I saw her begin to sag and somehow knew she wouldn't recover from it. I knew it from the helpless surprise on her face. It's amazing how much was packed into it: that helplessness, a flash of fear, a quizzical disbelief, amazement, and a desperation born of the physical exertion required to fight off the inevitable. Mind and body battle even when one of them knows the battle is lost. Then she fell heavily onto her back, the vanity resting on her legs.

And there was nothing I could do to help her.

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No theory is better than bad theory

One of the common tropes in arguing over virtually any subject is the notion that if we don't have an alternative theory of our own to the one proposed, we have no grounds to criticize a particular theory. So for example if we don't have a naturalist alternative to the current prevailing Darwinian theory of origins (whatever it is today), that means we are in no position to criticize that theory. And if we don't have an alternative comprehensive theory of how the legitimacy of government authority develops, that means we have to accept that it develops under some theory in which it derives from consent.

But this is just obviously not true. We know that the legitimacy of government authority does not derive from consent, even though we may not have some comprehensive theory of how concrete instances of legitimate authority develop. We know this because the good is something to which we are obligated to conform our wills, and not vice versa. What is good does not derive from what we will.

Does this explain how legitimate government authority develops in the concrete? No, no more than a criticism of the weakness of random mutation and natural selection explains how a world filled with nothing but prokaryotes became a world filled with mammals.

But it isn't necessary to present some alternative theory in order to know that a particular theory or class of theories must be wrong. Often the best theory we have is no theory at all.

On being ladies and gentlemen in complimenting our spouses

In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer marriage ceremony, the husband says, "With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

It has recently come to my attention that it is now common in Christian circles for men to refer to their wives, in public, as "smokin' hot." Similarly, I understand that Christian women consider it acceptable to refer to men, including their husbands, as "hot."

My beloved brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Of the comments at the above-linked post, one was particularly perspicacious: (For some reason, I can't find a permalink for an individual comment.)

Commentator Mark Elam said,

I bet that you didn’t find any men describing their daughters as “Smokin Hot” on their Facebook page. Why not, because the term is racy, suggestive and degrading.

Come on guys, fess-up! Lyn, when you can find a man honest enough to say the truth -“she is very sexy to me” and not try to say that “Smokin Hot” means you complete me with your spiritual character… then you will find an honest guy.

So why wouldn’t we say the truth about it? Because men have been conditioned to see women as sexual objects created to meet our sexual desires… and to admit that means that I have been contaminated by the sexualized culture around me and seduced into believing that it is normal to talk about women, and even our wives as my sex object. We know better when confronted, but our heart condemns us.

Sexual impurity is a big problem with the men and many women in our society. It has its grip on our souls and effects our minds, attitudes, words and actions. Let’s be honest enough to admit that we have a sin infestation problem and then work toward a spiritual solution.

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