What’s Wrong with the World

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October 2010 Archives

October 2, 2010

They Thought This was Funny

If this portrayal of "environmentalists" as sociopathic monsters had been created by right-wingers, I'd get the joke. I'd think it was a pretty tasteless joke, but at least I'd get it:

But no! It's leading "environmentalists" themselves who, it seems, find it amusing to imagine killing, in their blood, anybody who doubts or dissents from their agenda.

The spirit of Lenin, and Stalin, and Mao, is alive and well, and hanging out amongst these deeply scary people.

October 3, 2010

Sunday Guessing Game: The Animus of Reductionism

The reader's challenge is to tell me who wrote the following. The rules are simple and 3 in number:
1. No internet searches or research
2. Of any kind.
3. Period.

You either know already or are able to divine the answer. Or not:

G. K. Chesterton remarked that the murderer is the supreme spendthrift, wasting in a moment what he cannot re-create in a life-time. The freedom confusedly derived from the divorce of facts from values is like that: the abortionist destroys a thing he is incapable of reproducing, the skeptic breaks a tradition he could never have begotten. Most of the recently constituted freedoms we now enjoy - or pretend to enjoy - are not the measured liberties of human beings who understand their own nature and limits, but unmeasured irresponsibilities with immeasurable consequences. They are freedoms to renounce. We have begun to declare our independence of our own actions and choices, a declaration that militates against all those accumulated habits summed up in the word 'character.'

Continue reading "Sunday Guessing Game: The Animus of Reductionism" »

Do angels have passions?

Over at my personal blog I put up a post for Michaelmas. The ensuing discussion with esteemed colleague Bill Luse happened to bring up the question, "Do angels have feelings?" which morphed into, "Do angels have passions?" Obviously, the two questions are related.

My opinion is, "Probably not." Bill is inclined to disagree with me.

You can see my comments apropos of C.S. Lewis, angels, differences of natural kinds, and male and female humans in the comments thread.

I'm sure that W4 readers will have plenty of historical perspective to bring to the question.

October 4, 2010


Suicide rate spikes for middle aged white men without college degrees:

WASHINGTON - Suicide rates for middle-aged people are edging up - particularly for white men without college degrees, U.S. researchers said Monday.

Middle-aged people usually have a relatively low risk for suicide, but baby boomers are bucking this trend, according to sociologists Julie Phillips of Rutgers University and Ellen Idler of Emory University.

"If these trends continue, they are cause for concern," they wrote in the journal Public Health Reports.

The period they studied preceded the most recent economic crisis, but the researchers suggested poor health and a bad economy may be driving the increase.

The suicide rate for men age 40 to 49 was 21.8 per 100,000 in 1979 and had risen to 25 per 100,000 by 2005. For men 50 to 59, it was 23.9 in 1979, fell to 20.4 per 100,000 in 1999 and rose again to nearly 23.8 in 2005.

For women it was much lower - 7.8 per 100,000 in 2005 for women age 40 to 49.

As other studies have shown, unmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times as likely to commit suicide as married middle-aged men.

The usury crisis continues


The periphery of Europe continues to exhibit the frightening features of ongoing financial crisis. There is a race between Ireland and Greece to gain the shameful distinction of the first eurozone country forced by circumstances to plead for relief from the bailout fund established in the spring.

Take a gander at these numbers:

Total foreign bank exposure to Ireland’s economy is $844bn, or five times the value of Ireland’s GDP or economic output. Of that, German and UK banks are Ireland’s biggest creditors, with €206bn and €224bn of exposure respectively. To put it another way, German and British banks on their own have each extended credit to Ireland greater than Irish GDP. Which doesn’t sound altogether prudent, does it?

The cost of state rescue of reckless Irish banks may reach €50, putting Ireland’s budget deficit above 30%, which is simply staggering, and quadrupling its national debt from five years ago. According to most reports, the Irish political class insists on making good on the debts its banks (some now nationalized, others half-nationalized) owe to foreign investors. The distinction between bank debt and sovereign debt is vanishing: another indicator of the drift toward plutocracy. Both America and the EU have fixed their policy against any further major bank failures, which in practice means that bondholders will be made whole by taxpayers.

The press of necessity increasingly constrains state spending. Numerous European countries present budget deficits far in excess of what EU rules allow. They’ll have to cut spending and raise revenue. Similar pressure is evident here in America, though in our case from a popular discontent that few expected at all and none at this level of intensity. But it is far from obvious that austerity — spending cuts and revenue-raising taxes — is wise policy. Governments that cut domestic welfare spending and raise taxes in order to service debts held by foreigners are governments looking right into the teeth of considerable political risk. What about the creditors to these imprudent banks; should they not feel the pain as well? What property right inheres in a bond issued by a bank that by rights should be gone from this earth?

Of course the dangers natural to defaults (which would certainly spread the pain to bondholders) are not trivial: a country that stiffs its foreign creditors better hope its domestic sources of capital can pick up the slack when the foreigners say “no thanks” to the next bond issue. In the case of Ireland, so far it appears that the dependence on foreign credit outweighs the fear of internal discontent. A Financial Times report speaks of a “stubborn” Irish “pledge to honour virtually all bank debts.”

The primary characteristic of most Western political economies right now is uncertainty. There has been a worldwide collapse of final demand. Much of it is due to the retrenchment of the American consumer. The common response to a shortage of final demand is the attempt to import it from other countries. Quite a few nations, beginning with Germany and Japan, have achieved prosperity by importing American demand (that is, by exporting products for sale in America). No one can say for sure if the American consumer will return with demand sufficient to maintain that model of globalization. If not, it will mark the end of an age and the dawning of a much more straitened and bitter one. The attempts to import foreign demand, now lacking the beneficence of American backing, will take on a more acquisitive quality; the world will return to something approximating the mercantilism of old.

Such is my expectation, anyway. Beyond that I can only say that we live in interesting times indeed.

October 5, 2010

Cthulhu shows several tentacles

A gloriously and justly angry post at Redstate by Lori Ziganto says almost all that I could think of to say and much that I probably couldn't about the vile comments of author Virginia Ironside apropos of smothering disabled children and about abortion as a kindness to the disabled and the unwanted.

Lori's post really leaves me almost nothing to add. Here are just a tiny number of additional reflections.

The alleviation of suffering is like Eros. As Denis de Rougemont once said about the latter, so it is with the former: When it is made a god, it becomes a devil. Here the horror of suffering means that Ironside proudly announces that she would be the first to smother a suffering disabled child of her own with a pillow. Wesley J. Smith presciently pointed out that our obsession with preventing all suffering is making us crazy, and he pointed to infanticide as one result.

I note also (my attention directed by Smith) a bit of unintended dark humor in the Guardian's defense of Ironside's odious comments: The Guardian has the gall to say that opponents of abortion and euthansia "silence [their] opponents in an underhand way by accusing them of hostility towards the disabled." Yes, we're so underhanded that we point out when people openly advocate killing the disabled, including born infants! Gosh, how underhanded can we get? No hostility there, folks, move along.

There is something increasingly dark and sick about Britain. It's not as though I am the first to say this, but something is seriously wrong in the Sceptred Isle. This is just one not-so-small manifestation.

Update: The title of this entry should be credited to Scott W. of Romish Graffiti, who uses almost this exact title from time to time. I stole it from him.

Steve Talbott's genomic dynamite

In the current issue of The New Atlantis, the brilliant polymath Steve Talbott supplies a blockbuster essay, one in a promised series on “The Revolution in Biology.”

For schoolchildren of the last couple generations, it would be difficult to overstate the influence of the science of genetics. Biology teachers and students around the world were positively giddy with enthusiasm generated by the possibilities of DNA sequencing and the mapping of the human genome. There was a strong expectation that this process, once complete, would grant us intricate knowledge of the source code of the human machine, thus providing a truly scientific answer to the ancient question, “what is man?” By digging deeply enough, we would discover that life emerges out of the inanimate.

The fervor spread rapidly into popular culture. The number of times a film or television show or late-night comic has portentously referenced the discovery that the human being and the chimpanzee share 98 or 99 percent of their DNA, is truly immense. The factoid became a kind of catchphrase by which to denigrate the uniqueness of human life.

Mr. Talbott (whose 2007 book Devices of the Soul I reviewed here) in this excellent if very demanding essay basically takes dynamite to the whole thing. Not being a biologist by any stretch of the imagination, I can only hope to give the barest outline of what the essay contains. In bald summary, in contains the adumbration of a wholesale revision of 30 years of genetic science, a stinging rebuke of grandiose expectations that accompanied it, and above all a reproach of the reductionist presuppositions that undergirded these expectations.

Continue reading "Steve Talbott's genomic dynamite" »

October 6, 2010

I, Heretic

I have hoisted the following from comments, since it touches upon issues worth discussing in their own right. The awkward opening is a reference to an ongoing discussion about offering encouragement to unwed mothers to adopt out.

Neither is this principally about economics, from my perspective; I do not believe that the ethical and the politico-economic can be segregated, or even disaggregated so that discrete questions can be addressed without messiness. The ethical and the economic are inextricably bound together; they provide context for one another, and implicate one another in countless ways. It is not necessarily invidious, and quite possibly highly ethical, to encourage unwed mothers to surrender children for adoption; in the context of many elements of American political economy, which have decimated the opportunities of the working classes, not to mention many of the bugaboos of the political right - no minimum wages, benefitless jobs, no entitlement to even a public minimum level of health care, and so forth - that encouragement seems rather different in character to me. That context bids the poor and working classes to fend for themselves in a globalized, deregulated, deunionized, unsupported labour market, earning wages determined by a "natural market rate", to perhaps hope for a little charity, if some rich persons should condescend to them, and thereby undermines the material basis of family formation. Then, this cultural context, partly real, partly hypothesized, bids them not to do anything irresponsible by forming families; this is not primarily a question of marriage, but rather a question of finances: they can marry or sire bastards, and in either case, they don't really have the resources to sustain a family. The living wage, or any semblance thereof, has been repudiated as a socialist construct. We've had those arguments here; they're tedious, and I have no desire to revisit them. Hence, my reference to early political economists, like Steuert and Bentham, who sought to render to dispossessed peasantry more "suitable" for employment by Whiggish capitalists, and conceived of various punitive, disciplinary expedients towards this end; this is the context of which I speak, the analogy I draw between early industrial capitalism and the present: the lower orders are largely stripped of their means of remunerative provisioning within the system; they become pauperized and manifest various cultural dysfunctions; then, "enlightened" carceral policies are imposed to "reform" them, to make them amenable to the conditions imposed upon them. Is encouragement of adopting out one of these carceral policies? No. I'm not making that argument. But encouraging adopting out will be perceived in a definite way by the lower classes, as a statement that they are not entitled to much of anything from society, and aren't really entitled to have children, either. At least, they shouldn't have them. As I argued above, the economic incentives of such a situation are perverse, and militate against longer-term thinking; it is difficult to survive, married or not, and so men become reckless in pursuing the Main Chance, often criminal, and women opt to fulfill the biological imperative early. Apart from the ethical context, which I find dubious, we're warring against human biology. And when we fight biology, we will almost always lose. Biology will trump the ethics, as it already has, and it will trump the economics, unless the privation becomes catastrophic.

Continue reading "I, Heretic" »

Interview now available on Common Sense Atheism

Luke Muehlhauser of Common Sense Atheism interviewed me in August on a nexus of issues surrounding the evidence for Christianity, philosophy of religion, and the concept of "Christian philosophy." It was a long and enjoyable interview, and it is now up here at his web site.

I appreciated Luke's way of conducting the interview--we focused on the evidence and the issues and had an interesting discussion. It appears that one of his commentators is annoyed that Luke did not choose to make the interview a discussion of a set of completely different topics instead--specifically, my allegedly odious and Hitlerian political views, which should have been aggressively challenged. I suspect that Luke M. and I would both agree that the interview was far more worthwhile as it was than it would have been if he had done that.

That commentator refers to me as "fast-talking," obviously meaning this in a pejorative and at least partly metaphorical sense that includes the notions of being slippery and untrustworthy. Having just listened to the interview, I must own the soft impeachment in the literal sense only: For most of the conversation, I talked much too fast. I was trying to fit in a great deal of material, but I certainly should have slowed down. For whatever reason, too, I sometimes seem to have had a much more raspy voice than my usual one. I apparently got a good drink of water somewhere along the line and therefore sound better as things go on. (I mention this partly because of animadversions I have read against Sarah Palin's allegedly unbearable voice.)

The interview seems to me to have been a good opportunity to see what an atheist and a Christian, both analytic philosophy types, can do with a conversation on these subjects. It's about an hour and seventeen minutes long, but you can download it and listen to it in pieces. I hope my readers will enjoy it.

October 8, 2010

Music Video of the Month

The Derb, in his September Diary, quotes James Huneker's famous remark concerning Chopin's "Winter Wind" Etude, Op. 25 No. 11: "Small-souled men, no matter how agile their fingers, should not attempt it." He follows up, at The Corner, by linking to a perfectly competent performance by some Asian babe.

What he doesn't know is that Sviatoslav Richter owned this piece:

That said, I do like Yeol Eum Son's (i.e., the Asian babe's) moving gesture at the very end of her video (explained by Derbyshire), and her highest rated comment:

"Was Chopin even HUMAN?!"

God, man, and classical theism


Could the God of the philosophers possibly be the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? A follow-up to my recent post on classical theism.

October 9, 2010

Mutual support and circularity

In the interview with Luke Muehlhauser, linked below, we got briefly into the subject of mutual support vis a vis the existence of God and miracles like the resurrection. The question, related to a debate my husband and I have had with Alvin Plantinga, arose (though not in so many words): Isn't the existence of God a premise for belief in any miracle, in which case isn't it circular to say that a miracle increases the probability of the existence of God?

I feel that I wasn't as clear as I could have been in responding to this question, so I'd like to say a little more about the issue of mutual support. Here is the technical paper that addresses this subject, but here I want to try to do this non-technically as much as possible.

Most of us are inclined to reason about things in the following way: Use only propositions for which you have lots and lots of support. Base your predictions on what these propositions really lead you to believe, and go from there.

So, for example, a man whose wife always makes him a chocolate cake for his birthday is most concerned with the question of whether, this year, his wife will continue the tradition. He takes his wife's existence for granted, because it's overwhelmingly supported. He also doesn't worry about whether he's hallucinating all his past apparent memories of chocolate cakes over the years. His only concern is whether she will be too busy this year, and he reasons forward, using what is strongly supported already, to make a prediction about this year's birthday. He may, for example, justifiably conclude that he will get a chocolate cake this year.

In this context, it seems sort of pointless and trivial to argue after the fact that the smell of chocolate cake he notices when he comes home on his birthday is evidence for his wife's existence. No one is worrying about that, and so no one thinks twice about the fact that the evidence runs in that direction.

But if you stop to think about it, it's true: The direct sensory evidence of the baking chocolate cake is evidence that Someone exists who made the cake, especially since he has been gone all day and knows he didn't do it.

Continue reading "Mutual support and circularity" »

October 11, 2010

Just Like Social Democracy Blues

The meanderings of public discussion here at What’s Wrong with the World have recently turned on disputes over a pair of phrases — Social Darwinism and Social Democracy — that, though similar in appearance, in meaning exhibit a basic antagonism. It’s natural enough that they would be opponents in public disputation.

Now then, let us consider a Social Democrat who feels he has his opponent dead to rights. He’s been arguing with the Social Darwinists for a long time and by golly he’s nailed ‘em.

The next question is, Is he concern with persuasion? He can sit in judgment of his adversary, quietly enjoying the pleasures of smugly self-confidence; Lord knows we all fall into that vice sometimes. It may be the most common sin of the polemist. But let’s stipulate that our Social Democrat, being an earnest and good-willed man, is sincerely concerned with the art of persuading by reasoned discourse.

Continue reading "Just Like Social Democracy Blues" »

October 12, 2010

New SEP miracles article

Readers interested in the philosophy of religion may like to take a look at a new article--"Miracles", by Timothy McGrew, at the on-line Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which went "live" yesterday.

The article will be an excellent resource for students and researchers. It surveys a huge range of topics and material, including various types of arguments for miracles, various types of arguments against miracles, and responses that can be and have been given to both. It combines contemporary technical tools with a huge range of historical knowledge. Researchers will find references for further study both to the recent literature and to the rich, but too often neglected, literature on miracles from past centuries.

Naturally, my readers will be inclined to take what I say about it with something of a grain of salt as I am married to the author, but the article is (in my opinion) both highly professional and scrupulously even-handed, exactly as a general encyclopedia article should be. But don't take my word for it; see for yourself, and pass the link along.

A Golden Oldie, Just for Al...

...who writes: "The growth in public and private health care spending is a function of our fractured, totally irrational system. We aren't going to get a handle on the growth in health care spending until we do what every other industrialized nation has done and create a national system. HCR is a start and you all's contribution has largely been to pass on lies about the effort..."

Trouble is, Al, HCR is not a "start" on anything of the kind, and I have not passed on any "lies" about the effort, and when I explained my position on all this stuff, you (and Maximos) simply ignored me.

So, in the immortal words of Barney the Dinosaur, "let's do it again!"


Continue reading "A Golden Oldie, Just for Al..." »

La Stupenda, R.I.P.

Dame Joan Sutherland was a vocal athlete who, at her best, rivalled her great predecessors Luisa Tetrazzini and Amelita Galli-Curci (and, for all we know, their great predecessors Giuditta Pasta, Adelina Patti, &c). In the coloratura repertoire, she was "la prima donna assoluta" of her age.

I think we owe her some remembrance, here, at a website that celebrates the culture heritage of the West.

Here she sings a familiar tune:

October 13, 2010

Very informal fallacies

Some widely committed fallacies your logic teacher forgot to tell you about.

October 14, 2010

Choice devours itself--contractually forced abortion in the U.S.?

Here is a story that contained some statements that surprised me.

But before I start talking about the statements that surprised me, I want to emphasize something for my readers from the left: The things that I find outrageous in this story are being reported by people who do not think they are outrageous. In fact, the one I think the most outrageous is a claim being made by a Canadian who thinks that the U.S. does things "better" in this respect than Canada. So let's please not have any nonsense about conservative "lies," conservative "hysteria," and conservatives who uncritically pass on other conservatives' "lies" and "hysteria."

Okay, moving on:

A Canadian treating doctor reports, keeping names confidential, that he has had a couple and a surrogate mother involved in a dispute in which the couple wanted the surrogate mother to abort the child because it was suspected of the capital crime of having Down Syndrome. The surrogate at first refused. The surrogacy contract evidently specified that under these circumstances the biological parents (the "commissioning" couple) would have no responsibility for the child. So in the end, the surrogate aborted the child because of her own "family responsibilities." In other words, as I take it, she hadn't bargained for getting saddled with raising a handicapped child who wasn't biologically her own, in addition to her own children, so she gave in to the pressure and had the child aborted.

There is, however, some question as to whether such a contract (a "contract" on a child found to be handicapped) would actually have been enforceable in Canada. In other words, the biological parents might have had to take responsibility for the child regardless of what the contract said. But the surrogate decided not to push it.

In response to the possibility that the contract would have been unenforceable in Canada, we get this mature and penetrating bit of ethical commentary from one Sally Rhoads (emphasis added):

Sally Rhoads, of Surrogacy in Canada Online, said decisions pertaining to the future of a defective fetus should be made at the outset. Furthermore, she argued for the protection of the commissioning couple. 'The baby that's being carried is their baby. It's usually their genetic offspring', she said. 'Why should the intended parents be forced to raise a child they didn't want? It's not fair'. Ms Rhoads points to the United States where, in some states, the commissioning couple can sue the surrogate to recover costs if the surrogate continues with a pregnancy against the couple's wishes.

You got that? Supposedly, according to Ms. Rhoads, America is more enlightened than Canada, because in some states in America the biological parents who have contracted to rent a womb can sue to get back money they've already paid out if they change their minds and want the child aborted. I suppose if the carrying mother has already recklessly spent the money on anything like food, clothing, or prenatal care, she's out of luck, plus having a little baby of her own on the way. Charming, no?

I've tried to confirm this statement about the U.S. I found this site on surrogacy law in the U.S., but I could find nowhere in the links where the site addressed this particular issue, having (shall we say) other legal priorities. However, I should point out that as far as I can tell even the many states that have no express law on surrogacy on the books could easily elect to treat surrogacy as merely a branch of contract law, in which case such heinous contracts as Ms. Rhoads loves might indeed be enforceable. Obviously, it's going to be very difficult to follow up on her remarks without further specifics on the states she has in mind out of all the fifty and on the case law or statutory law she has in mind.

On the assumption that Rhoads is right about at least some states, this seems to me to be a loophole that pro-life lawmakers in the states should get on to right away. Not being a lawyer, I don't know how simple it would be to fix, but here's a suggestion for starters:

No contract shall be enforceable within this state if said contract requires any person to agree to the termination of a pregnancy or contains any contractual forfeiture, penalty, or provision for recovery of costs in consideration of a refusal to terminate a pregnancy.

Meanwhile, I'll only add: So much for being pro-choice, Ms. Rhoads. I wonder how often she has said she's in favor of a woman's right to control her own body.

HT: Secondhand Smoke

October 16, 2010

Short notices

In the current issue of Houston Baptist University’s The City, your humble scribe contributes to a “Discourse on Bob Dylan & America,” along with several writers of renown including Frank Beckwith, formerly of What’s Wrong with the World.

But if, per impossible Bob Dylan doesn’t interest you, there is much that will in this publication. My friend Hunter Baker of Union University in Jackson, TN, has just started an eclectic back-of-the-book column modeled on the style of the great Richard John Neuhaus. There are several other essays on art and literature, plus extensive discussion of political economy and statesmanship.

Best part about, subscription is free.

Speaking of RJN, his old journal First Things has come out with something interesting as the centerpiece of its November issue: a ranking of US colleges, but with a strong emphasis on matters of the spirit as well.

Country music and the value of the elderly

Perhaps it is unfair to pick on England. But it so happens that when I began to think recently of the most appalling statements I can remember that have been made about the elderly and the disabled, I thought immediately of statements made by Englishmen. There is Martin Amis, advocating suicide booths for the elderly on every corner, Baroness Warnock telling us that those with dementia have a duty to die, and most recently Virginia Smother-your-child-with-a-pillow Ironside.

And just as it may be coincidence that all of these horrific statements about the death of those who are a "burden" and "unwanted" come from the UK (I'm sure equally bad things have been said by Americans), it may also be coincidence that the country song I just heard tonight is an American product. In which case, I suppose it is unfair of me to point that out.

But on either side of the Atlantic, the answer, and the only answer, to the culture of death is love. There's a lot of that in this song.

"Ellsworth," sung here by Gospel singer Jason Crabb. Lyrics here.

Continue reading "Country music and the value of the elderly" »

October 17, 2010

Classical theism, atheism, and the Godfather trilogy


You’ve got the history of philosophy: Ancient, medieval, modern. Then you’ve got the Godfather Trilogy: Part I, Part II, Part III. Explore the startling parallels, and their relevance to the dispute between atheism and theism.

October 19, 2010

Law’s “evil-god challenge”


Is the existence of a supremely malevolent god really no less likely than the existence of the supremely good God of classical theism? A response to atheist philosopher Stephen Law.

St. Thomas More, call your office

Silence is dishonesty. Or something like that.

Washington State adopted an assisted suicide law that included an opt-out clause for institutions. Now, though, it turns out that at least one pro-suicide blogger isn't happy that opt-out really means opt-out.

As Wesley J. Smith reports, an assisted suicide advocate at a blog called Slog [warning: weird ads in the sidebar of this blog which my ad-blocker did not catch] is all hot under the collar because a Catholic hospice in Whatcomb County, WA, is not giving people in the hospice "information" about assisted suicide. They even have the chutzpah (I know this will shock you) to refrain from linking visitors to their web site to the Hemlock Society so that the suicidally inclined can pursue their "options" more efficiently. The nerve!

The hospice organization has told its staff that they may not advise hospice patients and their families about how to obtain assisted suicide even if they are asked. They must remain silent. The hospice now includes a paragraph on its web site and in information given to patients acknowledging the existence of legal assisted suicide in Washington State and suggesting that those who are interested refer to the County Medical Association, the WA State Dept. of Health, or the Washington State Hospital Association, providing contact information for each of these. But they don't (as already mentioned) include "Compassion and Choice," aka Hemlock.

One woman whose husband recently died at the hospice is upset because no one suggested assisted suicide to him as an option. Shocking! Evidently it was under pressure from her that the new paragraph was inserted into the hospice's information, but they will go no farther. The widow literally says it was "criminal" of them not to talk to her and her husband about assisted suicide.

The dumb blogger literally says this about the hospice's policy:

Answering a patient's question truthfully would be equivalent to participating in the act, and thus a violation of Catholic moral theology. Huh. Perhaps there's some subtlety in the New Testament I just don't get, but I was always led to believe that honesty is supposed to be a Christian virtue.

Yep. Refusing to hand out information about assisted suicide is "dishonest." Well. So much for remaining silent. Guess that's not an option anymore.

This would all just be sounding off from one blogger, but that's not really all it is. After all, the widow's own complaints had some effect on the hospice. (In my opinion they should not even have gone as far as they did. The widow calls the new paragraph "baby steps.") Assisted suicide advocates are very unhappy about the opt-out provision and want it rolled back, perhaps to a requirement to advise and refer for assisted suicide--an option expressly suggested by Compassion and Choices regarding the Washington State situation.

Complaints about difficulty finding doctors to cooperate with assisted suicide in Washington State are not new. And Hemlock says that you are a member of the "medical right" (isn't that a neat phrase) if you oppose advise-and-refer for their services. They are hardly hiding where they are going.

Meanwhile, kudos to all hospice organizations that don't participate--at all--in assisted suicide. Keep up the silence.

October 21, 2010

Ideas Have Consequences

Okay, friends, raise your hand if you've ever read Shirley Jackson's disturbing short story "The Lottery."

Thank you.

Here is a fascinating story about one literature teacher's experience over the decades in teaching the story. Apologies to those of you to whom this is old news, but it was new to me:

Reflecting on Jackson’s piece, Archbishop Chaput cited professor Kay Haugaard’s analysis on how young people in academia in decades past would react passionately to the tale with intense classroom debate and discussion.

“She said that in the early 1970s, students who read the story voiced shock and indignation,” Archbishop Chaput noted. “The tale led to vivid conversations on big topics – the meaning of sacrifice and tradition; the dangers of group-think and blind allegiance to leaders; the demands of conscience and the consequences of cowardice.”

“Sometime in the mid-1990s, however, reactions began to change,” he said.

“Haugaard described one classroom discussion that – to me – was more disturbing than the story itself. The students had nothing to say except that the story bored them. So Haugaard asked them what they thought about the villagers ritually sacrificing one of their own for the sake of the harvest.”

“One student, speaking in quite rational tones, argued that many cultures have traditions of human sacrifice,” the archbishop continued. “Another said that the stoning might have been part of ‘a religion of long standing,’ and therefore acceptable and understandable.”

Another student brought up the idea of “multicultural sensitivity,” saying she learned in school that if “it’s a part of a person’s culture, we are taught not to judge.”

Back when I was fighting postmodernism with a claymore and any other weapon I could lay hands on in graduate school (which is to say, just before the time Haugaard noticed the change in student responses), I remember making the following prophecy: When all the nonsense about "signifiers" and "text" has been forgotten, what will remain as the legacy of postmodernism will be garden variety cultural relativism.

I'll take my prophet's cap now. On the other hand, never mind. Prophets sometimes come to an unpleasant end.

HT for the article: Jeff Singer

October 23, 2010

Pay us for harassing you

By this time, many of my readers have already seen the story about a woman in Michigan who faces civil rights charges for advertising on a church bulletin board for a Christian roommate to share her own home. The state is pursuing the charge, but evidently the claim is that it's contrary to federal law for her to do this, and the state is enforcing federal law. In this article, the PR director with the Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights seemed unsure as to whether what the woman did was against the law. He seems pretty sure by the time we get to this article. A complaint is actually being pursued against her by the state. (But if you think this can't happen elsewhere, let me stress that the claim is that this is a violation of federal law.)

Now, since I have at least one reader who will tell me, no matter what outrage I report, that there's nothing really bad going on here (either it didn't happen, or it's been misunderstood, or nothing will really come of it, or...or...or), let me be blunt: Either this woman's ad on a church bulletin board is illegal or it isn't. If it's illegal, that's incredibly outrageous, and things are worse than most of us thought they were. (Who would have believed that sticking a notice up on a church bulletin board subjected that notice to all the "anti-discrimination" provisions of the Federal Fair Housing Act? Better watch out next time you pass the word along via your local home school newsletter or e-mail list.) If it isn't illegal, what is going on is still outrageous, because this woman is being harassed by this complaint at all and because the state agency didn't simply laugh it off and tell the bullies and busybodies at the non-profit Fair Housing Center to go fly a kite and to apologize profusely to their victim on the way to the kite field. That a citizen in the United States should have to defend herself (and get a lawyer to help her defend herself) against legal action by a government department for such a perfectly legitimate and innocent act is outrageous, and that is happening, so something outrageous is happening, period.

This story says that "the state" wants the woman to reimburse the non-profit $300 for investigating her. A different story I read last night (which I can't now find) merely said that it is the non-profit that wants that. Who knows which it is or whether the poor victim's "punishment" will include the $300 to the organization. Imagine being the kind of person that this Nancy Haynes is: "You engaged in a perfectly innocent action that I get my knickers in a knot over. Somebody at your church spied on you and told us about it. We're not an arm of the state at all, but we specialize in sticking our noses into such aspects of other people's normal lives, so we spent some time investigating you and preparing to get you harassed by the government for this action that you, all unsuspecting, engaged in--attempting to get yourself a Christian roommate. Therefore, you should pay us for the time we took to do that."

That kind of person is sickening to think of--a kind of gigantic, caricatured horror of a Woman Involved in Public Matters. Imagine the local gossip and trouble-maker of past years, elevated into (in her own eyes) a glorious servant of the public weal, employed by a non-profit organization, who spends her life going around making people's lives a burden to them and then having the chutzpah to demand that her victims pay her for doing so. I won't say that anyone is beyond the reach of redemption, but I'm inclined to say that some murderers are nearer to the kingdom than self-congratulatory, normal-people-hating, left-wing totalitarians like Nancy Haynes.

October 24, 2010

Sunday Guessing Game: The Savages We Are

Who wrote the following? (The usual rules apply: you've never heard of a search engine, and there are no books on your shelves.)

Miss Vera Brittain's pamphlet, Seed of Chaos, is an eloquent attack on indiscriminate or ‘obliteration’ bombing. ‘Owing to the R.A.F. raids,’ she says, ‘thousands of helpless and innocent people in German, Italian and German-occupied cities are being subjected to agonizing forms of death and injury comparable to the worst tortures of the Middle Ages.’ Various well-known opponents of bombing, such as General Franco and Major-General Fuller, are brought out in support of this. Miss Brittain is not, however, taking the pacifist standpoint. She is willing and anxious to win the war, apparently. She merely wishes us to stick to ‘legitimate’ methods of war and abandon civilian bombing, which she fears will blacken our reputation in the eyes of posterity. Her pamphlet is issued by the Bombing Restriction Committee, which has issued others with similar titles.

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October 25, 2010

Fragment on Oakeshott

Professor Michael Oakeshott made a durable constructive contribution to Burkean political philosophy with his concept of “the pursuit of intimations.” It appears in his essay “Political Education” (which was appended to many versions of his Rationalism in Politics) which is an exemplar of his discursive yet inimitable style:

Politics is the activity of attending to the general arrangements of a collection of people who, in respect of their common recognition of a manner of attending to its arrangements, compose a single community. To suppose a collection of people without recognized traditions of behavior, or one which enjoyed arrangements which intimated no direction for change and needed no attention, is to suppose a people incapable of politics. This activity, then, springs neither from instant desires, nor from general principles, but from the existing traditions of behavior themselves. And the form it takes, because it can take no other, is the amendment of existing arrangements by exploring and pursuing what is intimated in them. The arrangements which constitute a society capable of political activity, whether they are customs or institutions or laws or diplomatic decisions, are at once coherent and incoherent; they compose a pattern and at the same time they intimate a sympathy of what does not fully appear. Political activity is the exploration of that sympathy; and consequently, relevant political reasoning will be the convincing exposure of a sympathy, present but not yet followed up, and the convincing demonstration that now is the appropriate moment for recognizing it.

That is superb; demanding but superb. Like so much of his best writing, Oakeshott teases out with great care a “middle way” feature of human life: in this case the singularly human world of politics. Oakeshott may come off as a moderate in all things — though fortunately not one bereft of warmth, a failing so common today’s humorless pedants — but in fact he was a great and forceful critic of modernity, precisely because he worked with such skill to examine aspects of reality that the harsh ideologies of the modern age have obscured.

In this he is clearly an inheritor and expounder of the Burkean tradition. His interests include preserving the communication between man’s animal nature and his angelic nature: between the earthy, embodied life of a creature of flesh and blood, and the life of wisdom of the philosopher, whose mind is ever in the realm of ideals and dreams; between poet and statesman, teacher and businessman. All good and patriotic men want to do right by their country and her people. But they find themselves hemmed in by circumstances, checked by accidents of history; and presented with opportunities that only emerge out of the particular character of their countrymen. A realism is imposed on man, and thus politics “springs neither from instant desires, nor from general principles.”

The definition even works for evil men, those conniving at fraud and imposition, or sedition and mayhem, or in any case generally treating politics as nothing more than a means to the acquisition of their desire. Still the brute facts of their political circumstances check them. The effective demagogue will discover straight away the avenues of approach by which he might manipulate a people. Aristotle reminds us that what makes a sophist is not his capacity but his moral purpose; happily, there are a lot of incapable sophists out there. The students of the ancient philosophers to this day emphasize the proper assessment of moral purpose in the art of rhetoric. Another great critic of modernity, Richard Weaver, was one such student. For Weaver so much of the orator’s vocation was the discovery of facts about the people to whom he is speaking; so that he might thus appeal to them more effectively. Noble rhetoric works to raise men to more just conduct, to truer feeling and deeper knowledge; base rhetoric works to debase them.

But both the sophist and patriotic orator pursuing justice alike labor under the sovereignty of the unyielding facts about a people, the particular facts of a certain particular people, which are expressed in traditions, habits, prescriptions, memories, etc.

October 26, 2010

God, obligation, and the Euthyphro dilemma


Why God has no obligations to us, why this does not entail that He could will anything but what is good for us, and how this is related to the famous (but false) Euthyphro dilemma. A follow-up to my recent post on Stephen Law.

October 27, 2010

Pay no attention to that starving infant behind the curtain

Wesley J. Smith reports, with his characteristic restraint, on an article coming out of Canada on how long it takes to starve a newborn infant to death. Evidently when infants in Canadian hospitals are doomed to die in this way, the doctors are discovering that it can take close on a month for them to die. Moreover, they become severely, visibly emaciated, which causes distress (darn it!) to their parents. What to do?

"A critical factor for counseling is to anticipate the kind of suffering that comes with witnessing the emaciation. It isn’t something people can prepare themselves for.” Autopsies are often encouraged in such neonatal palliative care cases to help both parents and medical staff gain a better understanding of the reasons for the death, said Dr. Siden. Parents should be warned that the report will document the technical cause of death as “starvation” — a loaded word for all concerned. It is important that parents separate this word from any notion of suffering, he said.

Yet a little later, Siden indicates that he isn't really sure that the children aren't suffering (emphasis added):

“All of the children we’ve cared for have been in a very quiet, low metabolic state — not an agitated state — with no overt signs of hunger behavior. Whether they are neurologically capable of hunger behavior is another question, and I don’t know the answer. That’s why I am trying to understand better what they are going through, because I don’t want them to suffer,” Dr. Siden explained.

The answer, apparently, is more "study." So that they can reassure parents that the starving infants aren't suffering. I'm sure that will solve everything.

It appears that one thing Siden doesn't have any qualms about is whether it is ethical to starve infants to death because they are neurologically disabled.

In the comment thread I asked whether the children were all being starved to death only with parental approval. Smith thinks that at least in these cases, reported in the story, there is parental approval for the starvation. In one sense, that doesn't make matters any better, but if parents can object effectively, that does put another layer of protection between babies and this particular fate. That protection, however, is somewhat tenuous. Canada does have futile care cases, as this situation demonstrates, and since artificially administered nutrition and hydration are regarded as a "treatment" like any other treatment, there is no reason in principle why doctors in Canada could not go to court for authorization to starve an infant to death against his parents' wishes.

The futile care aspect of this is probably not presently going on in the U.S., but infants in the U.S. certainly can be legally starved and dehydrated to death with parental consent. There was even a strange case in Ohio some years ago in which the state wanted to get custody of a child so that they could remove him from all life support, including ANH, and subsequently charge his father with his death, since he was a victim of abuse. I do not have links ready to hand on that case, but I believe that in the end he was transferred to custody of another relative and died without having his nutrition and hydration withdrawn.

October 29, 2010

It's the Great Pumpkin, Dr. Plantinga

This coming Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, and if I were a really creative Christian blogger, I would think of something to blog about that.

But as it is, the Great Idea that has occurred to me for a short post (inspired by the fact that Sunday is also All Hallows' Eve) is simply to link to this old article of mine on Reformed epistemology. It's nearly eight years old now (originally presented at a conference in 2003) and has never been published nor submitted for publication, but that just means that it's easy to link without having to worry about copyright and journals. (Insert grumps here about how paper publishing buries philosophical ideas.)

I discuss inter alia the "Great Pumpkin" objection to Reformed epistemology--the objection that there is no principled way for the Reformed epistemologist to tell Linus that he is irrational to believe in the Great Pumpkin. That discussion begins on p. 9.

Fragment on Jihad and Total War

Looking over the modern world and all its proliferating works, one may note a strange fact: even when a cliché is easily recognized as such, the recognition only rarely issues in a vigilance against the lazy thinking behind the cliché. Men will chuckle at the folly indicated by the cliché, and then race off in unthinking confidence, impelled by that very thinking.

Modern men will say, with solemn faces, that generals are always “fighting the last war,” precisely as they go about thinking with ironclad consistency about fighting the last war. Now the “last war” for almost all modern men is what has been called Total War: democratic army arrayed against democratic army, nation in arms against nation, whole societies mobilized and on the march in a clash to the bitter end, as in the war that still bulks biggest in our minds, the Second World War.

But our war today is not total war, it is not democratic war, it is not even, for the most part, a war of army against army; and my informed guess is that we may never again see a total war of that sort. Our enemy certainly does not think in terms of Western Total War, and it is high time that we heeded our own cliché and started thinking about the war we’re in.

The plain pulverizing fact is that our war is religious war. It matters not one lick how much our modern mind recoils from this; it matters not one lick that Liberalism barely even has the vocabulary to talk about it, and will react with blind fury against most anyone who does want to talk about it. Nor, indeed, does it matter how fervently we might wish things were otherwise: the simple fact is that when an organized force of cunning men is making religious war against you, you are in a religious war. The impetus of our enemy lies not in his skill at arms, nor even in his anger at us, but in the details of his doctrine. He fights because he believes divine instruction compels it.

Total war hurls whole armies of galvanized nations against each other in horrifying calamities. Ours is not that sort of war. We are not likely to see great clashes of uniformed men, much less whole societies organized by command economy to wartime fervor. Our war lacks that kind of centralized organization, or at least it lacks that on the part of the aggressor side of the war, which must always be the side with the initiative.

But there is a secondary characteristic of our war that is very much unlike the sort of war that our age still recalls most vividly as the last war. Our war is one of skirmish and symbolism. Because the doctrine is permanent, the discharge of the duty it enjoins is undertaken languidly. If you are inspired, or more likely embittered — sure, go ahead learn your purity at war. Adventurism and conquest, sheer self-interest, is blessed by way of the romance of throwing off the infidel oppression. The mercenary is empowered. As a result the aggressor is opportunistic, uncoordinated, and predatory. He combines patience and pragmatism with anarchic decentralization.

He also thinks according to a far longer time horizon than any total war can contemplate. His mind is more historically grounded, and (for example) he thinks it a fact of no small significance that, absent some intervening event of great consequence, Europe will be, in a couple generations, more Muslim than Christian. The 21st century American has little history that he cares much about; the 21st century Jihadist has abundant history that he cares about, even unto death and mayhem.

From all this it follows that any analysis of the Jihad that takes its bearings from Total War of the 20th century is mistaken from the get-go.

October 30, 2010

The catastrophic spider


Immanuel Kant, this great destroyer in the realm of thought, exceeded Maximilian Robespierre in terrorism.

Heinrich Heine, Concerning the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany

Kant… This catastrophic spider…

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Taken as a whole, the Kantian influence on modern Christianity is so deep and pervasive that I believe in makes sense to speak of three great periods of Christian theology, each associated with a dominant philosopher. (1) The first period is the Platonic or Neoplatonic Christianity of the early church fathers; (2) The second is the Aristotelian Christianity of medieval or Scholastic theology; (3) and the third is the Kantian Christianity of the modern age …

As I see it, the validity of the new synthesis depends entirely on one issue: the ability to control Kant, to keep ‘Kant-in-a-box,’ as it were. For pure Kantianism is incompatible with Christianity… [I]f a Kantian conception of autonomy prevails, then God has become the servant of modern humanism and the synthesis is invalid.

Robert P. Kraynak, Christian Faith and Modern Democracy

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