What’s Wrong with the World

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April 2014 Archives

April 2, 2014

We do not own ourselves

The world is always wanting in concise, vivid restatements of tradition and conservatism. Jason Jones and John Zmirak have attended to that want with this essay: “Self-Ownership Kills Babies.” Beginning with some rather choice quotations, these two have your attention. It is rewarded with this most excellent and elegant summation:

Private property and its protection from arbitrary confiscation or control are implications of human dignity—because property is at its heart the fruit of our labors, which ought to be free. In that sense, we do own ourselves. But let’s ask a few pointed questions about what that ownership really means, how far it extends, and in what ways that ownership is conditioned by what we have ourselves received.

It is clear that no human being is really “self-made.” We are born to parents, without whose care we would quickly die. Human beings are dependent for longer than any other creature on the constant protection of parents. Nor, once we reach adulthood, can most human beings survive alone. We are physically and emotionally dependent on cooperation with others. Our very consciousness is constituted and formed into fullness through the mediation of language—of words and grammatical structures that we learn from others, who have themselves inherited them from the dead. Likewise, we are the beneficiaries of the hard work done by our ancestors in establishing an orderly society that protects individual rights, and creates the infrastructure for education and technology. Think of the immense advantages in lifespan, opportunity, health, and wealth that a modern American or European enjoys over a persecuted Nuba tribesman or a Brazilian living in a favela; can any of us rightly take credit for these? No, these are gifts that we have been given, and without them we would not have the knowledge, skills, freedom or physical safety that make possible our efforts at creating wealth. Two people with similar talents and comparable work ethics will fare very differently, if one of them is born on New York’s Upper East Side, and the other in an aboriginal community in Australia. The discrepancy between the opportunities offered to these two people ought to show us the measure of how much we owe to others, how little of the selves that we have become for which we can take sole credit.

We do not give birth to our bodies, nor create ourselves. We take a vast array of inherited gifts and opportunities and do our best to steward and make good use of them. Given that fact, our ownership of our labor and our wealth is not complete and absolute. That ownership is conditioned by what we owe to others who came before us. For that reason, adults are expected to care for their aged parents. But even more than paying back the care and opportunities we have received, we are expected to pay them forward, to offer the next generation the best chance to thrive in its own right. This debt is more than a moral truth; it is a fact of mammal biology, of a race whose young are born from the bodies of parents, not hatched from abandoned eggs and left to fend for themselves.

In light of these social, biological, and moral realities, we can see that we do not own ourselves outright, free of any liens or claims. By virtue of everything we have that sets apart from a stranded sailor alone on a desert island, we in fact owe a great deal to our parents (which might need to paid forward to our children), and significant debts to the society that shaped us, kept us safe, and made it possible for us to thrive. We owe the most to those who are closest to us, to our parents and our children, and to our direct benefactors. We owe a little less to those in our local community, and proportionately less to total strangers who are faraway fellow citizens. Our debt is least to people who live in distant countries with whom we interact little except to buy the fruits of their labor. However, we still owe them something, a debt that may seem to materialists as intangible or meaningless—but which in times of crisis can mean the difference between life and death, peace and war, coexistence or repression and terrorism. We owe every human being by virtue of his membership in the human family respect for his intrinsic dignity. We owe even distant strangers the recognition that they are different from machines, that their equal humanity is not affected by differences of wealth, race, or religion. We owe them the debt imposed by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If it is ever hard to accept and internalize this truth, here is a helpful mental exercise: When you look at some desperate refugee on television, waving an emaciated hand to keep the flies away from his eyes, do not compare him to yourself as you live now—in relative comfort and safety. Remember instead that you and he were once just alike, tiny fetuses nestled inside another person, utterly dependent on her protection and goodwill, completely incapable of making any efforts on your own behalf. At that point you were exactly the same, completely equal. Then think of all the things that must have happened in his life, and yours, to land you in such very different places—and how few of them depended on your decisions, how little you really did to end up so much better off than this refugee. That is the cold, unvarnished truth, and it isn’t a comfortable one. That is why we work so hard to hide it from ourselves.

April 4, 2014

It was satire five minutes ago...

...now it has come to pass:

The key moment of the Brendan Eich-out-at-Mozilla story comes in this interview with his long-time business partner Mitchell Baker. Upon learning that Eich gave $1,000 of his own money to the campaign for Proposition 8, Baker says:

“That was shocking to me, because I never saw any kind of behavior or attitude from him that was not in line with Mozilla’s values of inclusiveness,” she said, noting that there was a long and public community process about what to do about it in which Eich, then CTO, participated. “But I overestimated that experience.”

Here’s why this is important: Baker is saying that she never saw Eich acting badly, or exhibiting uncharitable or uncivil behavior. So the problem isn’t with how he comported himself. It’s with what he thought.

That bit of analysis comes from the always perceptive writer Jonathan Last over at his blog.

What's so scary about this whole incident is that I was writing a satire about this idea (i.e. that someone's thoughts about so-called same-sex "marriage" would be unacceptable to our liberal overlords) just a couple of months ago. Not so funny anymore. Mozilla has always been at war with Eastasia -- don't you think otherwise!

April 6, 2014

Justice and Doing Good

Much of the talk around here is about justice. Not surprising, a lot of what is wrong in this vale of tears is injustice. What has me scratching my head is that not only do liberals not seem to get that you don’t pursue justice in order to get some other thing, justice is itself that thing we pursue for its own sake, at least in part (it does not encompass the entire common good), but also some conservatives seem to not get it either.

Here is what I am seeing: people are asking whether punishing evil-doers is good, and if so, why. In the course of this, they seem to consider the notion that not all punishing is for purposes of remediation/rehabilitation, nor for deterrence of others, nor for simple restraint of the evil-doer himself (and thus safety for others). And then they go on to ask, of the remaining important purpose – retribution - what good does THAT serve.

And my response is, roughly: … ! … ?

Continue reading "Justice and Doing Good" »

April 9, 2014

Code words: Comfort care

Via Wesley J. Smith comes a story that you need to hear, because knowledge is power. In this case it may be a power that will save the life of someone you love. Put this phrase in your mind. Note it down:

Comfort care

It doesn't mean what you think it means. (See also "palliative care," which means the same thing.)

In Texas, Terry Mace was only 43 years old when he went into cardiac arrest and fell at his home. He and his wife had been estranged for five years, but that didn't prevent her from showing up and ordering, on March 22, that his nutrition and hydration be removed. (Mace was evidently unconscious and unable to eat and drink on his own.) Mace's parents went to court promptly, and the court blocked her decisions (March 24) and granted guardianship to Mace's father on March 27. Victory! Well, not quite.

On March 29, the hospital (a Catholic hospital, by the way) got "permission" (scare quotes deliberate) from Mace's now-guardian family to put him on comfort care. They neglected to tell them that this meant the removal of the food and water that the family had just gone to court to have reinstated! (Ya' think that might have been a relevant thing to mention in a case where nutrition and hydration was obviously what the family wanted?)

Continue reading "Code words: Comfort care" »

Just Like Free Speech Blues Revisited


Now and then it is good to restate things of importance. The conservative view on Free Speech is an important thing, so here is my bald and hasty recapitulation of it.

As a generality conservatives are, by temperament, inclined to tolerate wide and eccentric opinion. Human variety perplexes or amuses them, but it does not alarm and agitate them. The censorious cast of mind is really quite rare among normal American conservatives. Only people who don’t really know any normal American conservatives can suppose otherwise. Conservatives are temperamentally tolerant in their approach to dispute and argumentation, especially once a rapport of professional or civil respect is established.

Put the other way, and much more polemically, the loudmouth inquisitors are preponderantly liberal or leftist.

A glimpse of conservative indulgence of dissent can be seen in the utter incapacity of the Right in America ever to achieve a working orthodoxy of political action. Not a few influential and brilliant conservatives refuse to vote in national elections at all, for instance. But Voting Conservatives are perfectly content to let Non-Voters speak their full mind, and vice versa.

Meanwhile liberals fly off in paroxysms of inquisitional tyranny every couple days. Social media has really accelerated these distempers, often to hilarious effect. Stephen Colbert was dragged toward the tweet-guillotine, and more conservatives came to his defense than liberals; who can satirize such marvelous irony?

But conservatives never imagine that their temperament might constitute a binding political principle. Orthodoxy does not emerge out of personality trait. Conservatives thus always do allow that, off at the end, necessity may include the suppression of dissent. Every sedition law, they do not suppose a reckless plunge into evil. Some such laws may be necessary and wise. So conservatives acknowledge and affirm that Free Speech cannot be absolute or universal.

It is possible to structure a formidable argument to the effect that American conservatives are too damned tolerant of too many damned things. Some might say the Non-Voters should shut their yappers until they can put their sovereignty where they mouth is. Others would have done forever with the Distributists, Agrarians and Crunchies. Interventionists and Noninterventionists are constantly at each others’ throats.

But it is part of my own loyalty to Conservatism that, in the end, most folks come around to tolerating even their most fearsome opponents in debate. Free Speech and Toleration, rightly understood, are principles worth fighting for, as comrades in arms against this betrayal by the Left.

April 12, 2014

Philosophy of time post

I have been working quite a bit recently on the philosophy of time, writing an article on God and time. I had some extra material that didn't quite fit into that article. If you want to engage in a little philosophy geekery, with perhaps a dash of philosophy of religion geekery, feel free to head on over to this (long) post at Extra Thoughts on the drawbacks of the position known as presentism.

Commenting is fine either here or there.

April 15, 2014

CO Democrats try to lock the door

Worried by the possibility that, God forbid, the people or the representatives might pass some law or other that would restrict either abortion or contraception and sexuality "information" (note the connection to schools' sex education programs), Colorado Democrats have proposed an extraordinarily broadly worded law attempting to outlaw prospectively any changes in these controversial areas in a direction they don't like. See here, here, here, and here.

They claim that the law would make no retrospective changes, such as being used to block the enforcement of the parental notification law, but nothing in the law's wording says that it has no retrospective consequences. On the contrary, it very easily could be interpreted so as to have such consequences.

In any event, the legislative scene on such issues is always in flux. The bill's sponsors have said openly that they wish to block the later passage of ultrasound laws such as have been passed in other states. Colorado has no waiting period for abortion. Its parental notification law doesn't say anything about parental consent. Or what about laws requiring that live-born infants be transported to a hospital? Then there's the matter of "sexuality information." If Colorado wanted to strengthen parental ability to prevent their children from being given (let's admit it) heavily sexualized, not to say vile, materials in the schools, or to require parents to give permission before their children receive birth control, this bill would block that. The bill's language quite pointedly says that "every individual" has a "right" to make all personal decisions about reproduction, which would prima facie apply to minors as well.

What we see again here is the extraordinary insecurity of leftists. On all their hot-button issues, they can never leave anything to be decided by the ordinary processes of legislative debate. They always have to put extra locks on. Roe v. Wade is a good example of such a lock, but now even that isn't enough. Pro-lifers are finding ways to do a little protecting of the unborn around the edges of Roe, at the state level. We can't have that, now! Time for more locks.

I don't think that this bill will pass, but it is instructive concerning the radicalism of the evil we face.

Fiscally Insane

Now, that title above is not mine. I borrowed it from a self-named "Christian Economist" because I thought the title fit the article perfectly - much better than he knew. Alex Binder wrote on monetary policy, a couple years ago, here.

Let's jump right into the insanity:

The government can simply print more money to pay any debts it has promised to anyone...[snip]...And all of it would be needless because we are not USERs of our own currency, we are ISSUERS.

Almost too ironic for words is this passage:

They are the monopoly issuer of the U.S. dollar and can thus pay any debts denominated in U.S. dollars. In this way we are not like Greece.

No, we are NOT like Greece. If Alex gets his way, we are like the Weimar Republic of 1923. But who's counting? Not other countries, apparently.

And then there's this little counterintuitive nugget:

The only way to reduce the deficit is to grow the economy by increasing the deficit now and letting it decrease later.

Continue reading "Fiscally Insane" »

April 17, 2014

Good Friday, 2014


Alone thou goest forth, O Lord,
in sacrifice to die;
is this thy sorrow naught to us
who pass unheeding by?

Our sins, not thine, thou bearest, Lord;
make us thy sorrow feel,
till through our pity and our shame
love answers love's appeal.

This is earth's darkest hour,
but thou dost light and life restore;
then let all praise be given thee
who livest evermore!

Give us compassion for thee, Lord,
that, as we share this hour,
thy cross may bring us to thy joy
and resurrection power.

Peter Abelard, trans. Bland Tucker


II Jesus is given his cross

He gives himself again with all his gifts
And now we give him something in return.
He gave the earth that bears, the air that lifts,
Water to cleanse and cool, fire to burn,
And from these elements he forged the iron,
From strands of life he wove the growing wood,
He made the stones that pave the roads of Zion
He saw it all and saw that it is good.
We took his iron to edge an axe’s blade,
We took the axe and laid it to the tree,
We made a cross of all that he has made,
And laid it on the one who made us free.
Now he receives again and lifts on high
The gifts he gave and we have turned awry.

III Jesus falls the first time

He made the stones that pave the roads of Zion
And well he knows the path we make him tread
He met the devil as a roaring lion
And still refused to turn these stones to bread,
Choosing instead, as Love will always choose,
This darker path into the heart of pain.
And now he falls upon the stones that bruise
The flesh, that break and scrape the tender skin.
He and the earth he made were never closer,
Divinity and dust come face to face.
We flinch back from his via dolorosa,
He sets his face like flint and takes our place,
Staggers beneath the black weight of us all
And falls with us that he might break our fall.

Malcolm Guite, from Sounding the Seasons: Poetry for the Christian Year.

Continue reading "Good Friday, 2014" »

April 19, 2014

Easter, 2014


Go ye forth, His Saints, to meet Him!
Go with lamps in every hand!
From the sepulchre He riseth:
Ready for the Bridegroom stand:
And the Pascha of salvation
Hail, with His triumphant band.

From Ode V of the Golden Canon of St. John Demascene

Against the dull calumnies of the modern scholar, his mind woven about with clichés as it were with the chains of Mephistopheles; against the hoary heresies, which even in their dotage blow vainly upon their trumpets in an endlessly repeated refrain; against the tumults of Men, and the proud legions of Revolution in their mighty thousands; against all these stands the central Fact of the Christian religion: the empty tomb.

The fountain of what the Christian man calls joy is this single instant in the river of time. On this bitter point is balanced the whole hope of his civilization. What the Christian man calls his faith rests on the real intersection of myth and history, and that is why he is both more mythological and more philosophical in his orientation than either the pagan seer or the Marxian historian. His form of worship was a liberation, justified by his knowledge of this singular Fact, which even in the glory of the rites is recounted through the most un-poetical recitation of historical witness.

Thus the empty tomb is not only a Fact of history, but a mythical Sign of the door left open to us which, if we but follow Christ, will lead us out from this present darkness to light and life eternal. Not since the flight of the Israelites from Egypt was so great a hope given such sweet and simple sustenance.

May that hope light you home and give you joy during this time of triumph and of exaltation. A Happy Easter season to all!

April 21, 2014

Choice Devours Itself: Belgian doctors give themselves permission to murder [Updated]

The Belgian critical care association recently put out a paper justifying non-voluntary euthanasia. I have so far been able to see only quotes from the paper. (If some reader has access and wants to get me the whole paper, e-mail me and let me know.) But it's not unclear. It's a straightforward recommendation for administering lethal injection without explicit patient request.

This is really a case of opening the barn door long after the horse has gotten out. Belgium has been carrying out such non-voluntary lethal injections for years. The critical care doctors are evidently just recommending some ex post facto legal cleanup.

Continue reading "Choice Devours Itself: Belgian doctors give themselves permission to murder [Updated]" »

April 22, 2014

"I ran my first mile here"


An American named Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon yesterday. Remember that name, even if you cannot pronounce it. He was the first American to win in 31 years. He is older than I am, and I am no young man.

Mr. Keflezighi, having crossed himself before the Lord, broke the finish-line tape and pointed to the heavens; nearby which one year ago Jihadists, pointing to hell, sowed treacherous mayhem.

Americans still afflicted by that burn of indignation and fury, which warming every patriot’s heart, attends to those memories of the Marathon Bombing in Boston one year ago; may confess to a secret desire that Mr. Keflezighi might have chosen a different and very particular hand gesture.

His family fled persecution for their religion. They came to America, which still upholds religious liberty, though for how long we cannot say. He grew up in San Diego and ran track for UCLA. He won the New York Marathon in 2009, and a silver medal in Athens Olympics.

He is a brother in Christ, and a fellow American. He’s done us all proud.

April 24, 2014

A moment of good news: SCOTUS upholds the MCRI

I have little profound to say about this, especially since I haven't yet had time to read the opinions, but it appears that Anthony Kennedy's federalist persona was in the ascendancy the other day when SCOTUS ruled that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (passed by those "foolish masses" of democratic voters back in 2006) is indeed constitutional. That this should even have been in question gives one just a glimpse into the mad, mad world of what passes for constitutional jurisprudence in this country. See my discussion from two years ago of the "reasoning" that lay behind considering it unconstitutional.

Continue reading "A moment of good news: SCOTUS upholds the MCRI" »

April 25, 2014

How to handle converts

I have been pondering lately the following dilemma for Christian witness: On the one hand, when evangelizing or talking to inquirers about Christianity, we want to focus on a fairly circumscribed set of teachings that absolutely must be believed for one to be a Christian at all--mere Christianity, if you will. On the other hand, we don't want to give the impression that other Christian doctrines, such as Scripture's moral teachings on homosexuality or Scripture's teachings about the differences between men and women, are literally optional and unimportant.

If someone insists on arguing about homosexuality when inquiring about Christianity, it's perfectly legitimate to tell him, "Yes, the Scriptures do have teachings on that subject that are at odds with popular contemporary beliefs. But for the moment, let's stick to basics: Is Jesus God? Did he die for our sins and rise again? If those things are true, much else will follow, including some things that are nowadays politically incorrect, but since you are coming to me to discuss the truth of the theological claims of Christianity, let's discuss that subject first."

This sensible and moderate approach is far different from telling the person, "Oh, none of that is essential. I know lots of gay Christians," which gives the impression that there is no Christian position on the subject.

Continue reading "How to handle converts" »

April 27, 2014

The Zero Sum Game--again and again and again

In this post I blogged approximately a year ago about some proposed Minnesota "anti-bullying" legislation that was neither more nor less than the imposition of the normalization of homosexuality across Minnesota schools, including any private schools that accept public money. Apparently the legislation was temporarily defeated but is coming back again and may pass this time. It appears that the attempt to include private schools may have been scrapped for the moment, but not for want of trying, and I'm sure that idea will return as well.

Katherine Kersten at First Things blog has many hair-raising details of such so-called anti-bullying programs.

One that struck me this time was this:

In addition, the regulations proposed by the task force would require schools to police “cyberbullying,” including comments a student writes on his Facebook page.

We already know that teachers can face repercussions for what they write on their Facebook pages, if they have any of their students as Facebook "friends." But see what this means: What this would mean is that any student who posted allegedly "offensive" comments about homosexual behavior or any aspect of the homosexual agenda on his private Facebook page--say, as a status update or any comment at all--could, if caught and reported, be brought up on charges of "cyberbullying" by his public school, even though the comments were made entirely outside of the context of school.

Anyone who does not see that this is attempted student indoctrination and intimidation at a very detailed and invasive level is willfully blind. It represents a frightening attempt to monitor all student expression of ideas in all circumstances, including to friends outside of school, and to squelch all expression of wrongthought.

I frankly expect this type of program eventually to pass in Minnesota, and I doubt that Minnesota schools will be the last. Get your kids out of public schools now. And maybe get them out of private schools as well, if the schools are going to participate in any such programs.

John Paul the Great

The final pope of the 20th century is canonized today in Rome. There can be no doubt that he is and will long be called “the great” by Catholics all over the world. Here are some of his accomplishments in a reign of 26 years:

He wrote 13 encyclicals, and dozens of apostolic exhortations, constitutions, and motu proprios.

He gave 877 weekly catechetical audiences, in which (among many other things) he highlighted a new body of explanation on marital love – the “theology of the body.”

He visited 117 countries and had over 650 official audiences with countries’ top leaders.

He helped bring down the Soviet empire, without war.

He painted the clearest and blackest picture of the abortion / euthanasia culture, successfully naming it the “culture of death.”

He popularized youthful vigor in pursuit of evangelization within and without the Church, refuting the claim that the Church is for old fogeys.

Now, that’s what he did during his pontificate. What about before that? During WWII Karol Wojtyla worked and participated in underground scholarly activities, including plays. He worked at stone masonry and a chemical plant to prevent being deported, and in 1942 entered seminary studies clandestinely. He was ordained a priest in 1946, studied in Rome for licentiate in theology and then a Ph.D. in philosophy. He was a parish priest, a chaplain for university students, then a professor, and eventually ordained a bishop. In 1964 he was appointed archbishop of Krakow. During all of this time he learned the art of fighting Nazism and Communism without invoking direct and total confrontation that would force the authorities into outright suppression, prison, and (likely) death (except for one brief event with a mass-arrest). Though he famously pushed the issue when he re-visited Poland as Pope.

Why was he canonized? During his life, and continuing through his pontificate, JPII lived a life of prophetic witness to the Gospel. He refused to back down from threats either against his person or his faith. He humbly proclaimed God’s love for the littlest of us as well as the greatest. He bore his trials and crosses with great patience and good cheer. Few of us are called to bear such large, public troubles, but all of us can bear our own personal difficulties with the same graciousness. No greater thing can be said of him or of any Christian than this: for love he embraced the Cross of Christ and passed the test.