Category Archives: Politics

Grand Old Introspection

Donald-Trump-Caricature

 

So Trump it is, then. The dismissive chuckling at the prospect of a Trump nomination emanating from the Nate Silvers and Jennifer Rubins of the world, among scores of others, has trailed off into the animated din of those attempting to appraise the strange and–some would say–unfortunate state of political affairs we presently find ourselves in. There does, after all, come a point at which genuflection to fact is the only reasonable course for even the most prescient. While registering my sympathies with the conservative among us–those who are at present engaged in collective hand-wringing over Trump’s bizarrely consistent successes–I here wish to consider what follows from the apparent fact that Trump’s (stated) values and policies are not as asynchronous with the majority of the Republican voting base as initially supposed. That is to say, if Trump has merely set sail atop a previously latent political undercurrent, in addition to supplying more than a little of his own hot wind, then the problem of Trump’s nomination is more sinister, for it is no fluke.

Conservatives, then, must contend with the reality that, to the shame of the Republican party, a candidate of Trump’s caliber–or anti-caliber, as it were–has by popular demand been given a realistic shot at assuming the highest office in the nation. Yes, that same gentleman and scholar who remarked that “You know, it really doesn’t matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass” (Esquire, 1991), boasted about his phallic proportions in a presidential debate, pretended to be his own publicist, and defended the notion of lethal attacks on terrorist’s families is seeking to be, among other things, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the United States. Were it not actually the case, this could easily be the beginning of a good joke. Though I have in past elections grown accustomed to being underwhelmed by the results of the Republican primaries, never before have I been so disinclined to associate myself with the Party. One cannot help but imagine a White House emblazoned–perhaps literally in Trump’s case–with a large, gilded “T”–the perfect realization of what had previously been but a Leftist caricature of the GOP. Unfortunately in Trump’s case, however, no caricature is needed; or, rather, he supplies the necessary material himself. Thus, the GOP can no longer pretend that large swathes of its voting base are not as susceptible to cheap populist rhetoric as their progressive peers.

Though these forces have lain dormant for some time–or have at least been politically outmatched–the bloviating businessman’s puerility has apparently been sufficient to induce their emergence en masse from beneath the feelings of disenfranchisement that have heretofore characterized their apathetic relationship to Republican primaries (c.f., Politico). If an unabashedly fluid opportunist like Trump can best unabashed constitutional conservatives, such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the GOP has no choice but to perform its own autopsy with respect to conservatism. Indeed, Trump’s rise has merely confirmed the lingering suspicions of many that a capital “R” following one’s name cannot reasonably be assumed to indicate one’s solidarity with conservatism.

Though, like many of the best medicines, it terrorizes the tongue, I consider this latter effect to be among the positives of Trump’s electoral success. Trump, though a danger to conservatism, may catalyze a schism–and hence a purification–of the GOP, wherein the conservative wheat is separated from the non-conservative chaff. So long as they are all largely in one place, whether the chaff is blown in or blown out makes little difference.

The criticisms elucidated here should not be taken to indicate a tacit preference for Trump’s chief rival to the throne–the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton; for I am here taking her odious duplicity for granted. Indeed, her history of casuistry is an equine corpse I shall leave for others to beat. Despite this, the common assertion that one must vote for Trump in order to avoid the inevitable calamity of an H.R.C. presidency is a difficult sell on at least two counts. First, because it is not at all clear that the erratic Trump is preferable to a largely predictable, if thoroughly duplicitous, Clinton. The claim that Trump is the solution to the disastrous presidency of Barack Obama, or that he is clearly preferable to Clinton (though he may be) is a tiresome one; namely, because it is naïve. From a conservative point of view, declarations of this kind are akin to the insistence that hemlock is clearly preferable to strychnine if taken with a bit of lemon. (This assumes, of course, that virtue–or, at least, a love of its pursuit–ought to be highly prized in a candidate.) However damaging Clinton’s proposed policies may be, we at least know, by and large, what they are; neither we nor Trump know what he will actually do as President, promises of “walls” and “deals” notwithstanding. Though a case can in certain contexts be made for tactical votes (i.e., votes intended primarily to keep a worse candidate from winning), there must be principled limits to such reasoning–limits which, in my opinion, Trump has far exceeded. (For instance, the candidate being voted for must not have vices which match or exceed the severity of those exhibited by his opponent. But I shall leave this aside.)

Second, insofar as the Trump-or-Hillary-ers began making their case long before Trump was the inevitable nominee, they showed themselves to be disingenuous as to their reasons, this lack of candor following from the apparent implication that, rather incredibly, there was not a single candidate among the very large initial field preferable to Trump. By almost any standard, such a notion is, to borrow Aquinas’ line, “repugnant to the intellect.” (That is, unless one’s standard for endorsement is, like Dr. Carson’s, the likelihood of being given a position in a candidate’s future administration.) Whatever the merits for such an argument now (that Trump is the inevitable nominee), it was thoroughly meritless then, and hence difficult to take seriously, especially since many of its purveyors are responsible for forcing the rest of us into this awkward predicament. As the Indian proverb goes: once you have cut off a person’s nose, there is no point giving them a rose to smell. As exemplary practitioners of this exercise in non sequitur, I have in mind such counterfeits as Sarah Palin and Dr. Carson, whose glowing endorsements of Trump are (to me) sufficient to justify their dismissal from any future conservative round-tables.

Assuming, as I am, that a Trump presidency is likely to be inimical to the values maintained by constitutional conservatives, we see exemplified in Trump’s current political success a potential continuation from the election of President Obama of what may be called the paradox of freedom; namely, that a free people is only truly free insofar as they are able to choose that which undermines their freedom. This point is given lucid treatment in Os Guinness’ A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, the thesis of which is that freedom rests on three mutually-dependent legs: “Freedom requires virtue, which in turn requires faith of some sort, which in turn requires freedom. Only so can a free people remain ‘free always.’” If, as I suspect, Dr. Guinness has highlighted a profound insight, what are we to make of a voting public that, when pressed on the importance of virtue or faith in a leader, expends only what little effort it takes to raise its shoulders an inch or two? Though I hesitate to suggest what might be reasonably inferred of a nation of over three-hundred million that pits a Hillary Clinton against a Donald Trump as the two best candidates to don that venerable mantle wrought by the likes of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, Christian Smith, in his 2009 book Lost In Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, does not, summarizing what he takes to be the deeply rooted afflictions in American culture, of which the success of a candidate like Trump is now ostensibly a symptom (see The American Conservative):

In short, if our sociological analysis in this book is correct, the problem is not simply that youth are bad students or that adults are poor teachers. It is that American culture itself seems to be depleted of some important cultural resources that it would pass on to youth if it had them — and yet not just for “moral” but also for identifiable institutional reasons, as repeatedly noted above. In which case, not only emerging adulthood, but American culture itself also has a dark side is well.

This analysis strikes me as apropos. For good or for ill, we do indeed get the leaders we deserve. Dylan’s poetic, if technically trivial, observation in 1964 was that “the times they are a-changin.’” Given that a real-life parody like Trump can even come close to attaining the presidency, I say: “changin’ indeed.” If the real problem is not merely a rogue candidate, but rather a culture throughout which vice and ignorance have metastasized, the work we have before us is great, but not impossible. It is the wearyingly slow but vital work of grassroots evangelism, both political and spiritual. For such ailments, there are no quick fixes, no obvious panaceas for which we might campaign or lobby; nor is there some candidate whose election would constitute a remedy, for the malady is pandemic. In view of the vitriol associated with this election cycle, however, I would not be the least surprised to discover an intimate, if indirect, connection between the beginning of a shift in the current paradigm and a widespread loving of one’s neighbor as oneself.

Cecile the Lioness


No, not “Cecil”—that unfortunate feline whose death is the recent cause of a global (but undoubtedly faddish) uproar. Cecile, as in Mrs. Cecile Richards—the no less unfortunate president of Planned Parenthood.

This coincidental lexical similarity between the names of two major figures in separate, but heavily reported, current events is in this case more than a mere curiosity, for the apposition serves to illustrate a regrettable reality: a contemporary milieu which—if I may—doesn’t know its head from its ass, morally speaking. Though it is easy to over-generalize in such discussions, there is at least a prima facie truth to the morbidity lurking behind the apparent comedy currently unfolding in the media over the death of Cecil the lion. What is comedic is not the lion’s death, but the resulting overreaction (e.g., here and here); what is morbid is the relative quiet of those same incensed individuals with regard to recent footage (here & here) leaked from discussions with those in the upper echelons of Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, which at least appears to show them nonchalantly haggling over the price of aborted fetal body parts. Whether Planned Parenthood is guilty of such allegations is irrelevant to my point; for if they are even possibly guilty, then the case is worthy of our full attention. In any case, if abortion is in most instances but a particular brand of unjustifiable homicide—as it is in my view—then this latest scandal only renders more egregious the moral aberrations which comprise Planned Parenthood’s standard (and advertised) operating procedure. As aptly remarked by Brit Hume, these latest revelations have “parted the veil of antiseptic tidiness” behind which Planned Parenthood has couched its gruesome operation. But the real problem is not the sale of fetal body parts; it is that there are such parts to sell.

That a large segment of the population exhausts itself in paroxysmal fits over the killing of a large, if impressive, cat, yet barely manages to produce a stifled yawn over the killing (and possible sale) of human babies is nothing less than appalling. Jimmy Kimmel, while quite concerned to defend Cecil, has apparently not seen fit to devote any portion of his show to rousing the moral sensibilities of his audience with regard to the cavalier execution of underdeveloped children. Perhaps among his audience there are few such sensibilities left to rouse. I have no special distaste for Mr. Kimmel; I mention him as but one among a large swath of the population whose attitudes appear to confirm Francis Schaffer’s observation that what was unthinkable a short time ago has not only become thinkable, but commonplace.

Likewise, National Geographic, despite being a longtime advocate for the oppressed around the world, aired a regal portrait of male lion “in memory of Cecil” on its Instagram account, complete with an impassioned plea to stop the hunting of endangered animals—an entreaty any true conservationist could easily endorse. But when synchronically juxtaposed with the chorus of crickets surrounding the ongoing scandal at Planned Parenthood, signing a petition to “save the lions” is worse than hollow; it is evidence of a severe disorder among our moral priorities. If “lions are people, too,” perhaps it is time to remind ourselves of what ought to be a trivial truth: that “people are people, too.” To call this epidemic of moral confusion “unfortunate” insofar as it concerns the murder and mutilation of our young is an understatement on the order of calling Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel “nice.”

It is in this vein that I have referred to Mrs. Richards as “unfortunate”: anyone who has convinced herself that an institution offering to screen you for cancer with the left hand and to crush your unborn child into pieces with the right is an important instrument in facilitating the common good is morally debased. Such a person is not to be hated, but pitied. I have no doubts that Planned Parenthood does provide services which are of benefit to various communities. Indeed, Mrs. Richards does not hesitate to remind us of this fact in an article—rife with euphemism of Orwellian proportions—that she penned for The Washington Post, lest we should undergo amnesia amidst all this malicious hullabaloo brought on by “the extremists.” Clearly, however, if abortion is the unjustified killing of a human being—and that is the issue—then there is no other healthcare “service” one may provide such that abortion is rendered morally justifiable. A single abortion is not made acceptable by performing a million successful STD screenings. Even including abortion under the “healthcare” umbrella is a sort of sick joke; for it does little for the health or the care of those aborted.

I wish to make one other point, and that is to register an observation regarding Mrs. Richard’s pejorative use of the term “extremists.” So long as they are willing to put forth an argument, two individuals might civilly disagree over the question of whether unborn humans possess an intrinsic right to life. But if the matter is epistemically unsettled (i.e., we do not know whether unborn humans possess an intrinsic right to life), then it is at least epistemically possible that unborn humans possess a right to life. If it is possible that unborn humans possess a right to life, then it is possible that killing them results in a moral transgression (i.e., it is possible that abortion is murder). In such a case, far from being an “extremist,” the person who maintains that unborn humans possess a right to life chooses the “safe” option; for if he is himself uncertain whether unborn humans possess a right to life, it is clearly preferable in the abstract to choose the option which is least likely to result in a moral transgression.

Moreover, if it is the deceptive methods used to obtain the footage in question that Mrs. Richards considers the criterion of “extremism,” I demur yet again. On the contrary, if a person believes that it is even possible that a moral transgression is taking place in the case of abortion, this is exactly the kind of activity in which he should engage. He should expose the practice for what it is. We laud (and ought to laud) the undercover operations of those involved in liberating women from the sex trade. Likewise, the person who sees abortion as a crime against human individuals has no recourse but to appeal to the moral sensibilities of his peers (if any remain) and to the Almighty. Even if we disagree with the conclusion of such a person, surely we must applaud his motives. Indeed, if an “extremist” is simply a committed abolitionist—someone whose actions reflect a serious commitment to ending the practice of feeding our children to the proverbial lions (or lionesses, as the case may be)—then I count myself among their number.

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Racist Anti-Racism

Photo Credit: CNN.com

In our day, it is not only people that are categorized according to race, but ideas. If recent history is any indication, even my attempt to broach the subject of the double-standards common in discussions on racism will be met with (at least) skepticism by some who consider my pigmentation inherently disqualifying. After all, how might a white man understand the plight of blacks (1) who feel ostracized on account of their race? The answer is simple: racism is an ideology, which means it cannot be the prerogative of any particular race, and therefore does not operate in only one direction .

That the U.S. has been guilty of pervasive official discrimination against blacks in the past is an incontrovertible fact, and it is praiseworthy that those unjust legal biases have rightly been eradicated. However, though there still exist fringe groups that openly profess racial prejudice (e.g., the Klu Klux Klan), the kind and scope of persecution alleged to occur against the black community today is, I aver, not of the KKK brand. (Nobody attributes any credence to anything issuing forth from the obtuse mouths of the Klan members, anyway.) I submit that it is not the prevalence of melanin in a person’s skin alone that fosters a tendency to form possibly unjust preconceptions, but that in conjunction with the perpetuation of what is called the “black community” or “black culture” (2). Discrimination against blacks, when is does actually occur, is rarely an aversion to the color of their skin, but often the result of a distaste for the substance of what is understood to be the associated subculture. This is not really racism, but a sort of anti-culturalism. Just what constitutes “black culture,” I do not presume to know; I know only that it is the subject of volumes of literature and consistent media attention, and that if the term were meaningless, it could hardly receive the press it now enjoys.

Even granting that there does exist such a thing as black culture, it is, of course, not technically correct or appropriate for the average person (3) to presuppose of any other with very dark skin their membership within that culture. This is true of any kind of stereotype one might be inclined to attribute to some race. However, recognition of the fact that black culture is the recipient of much positive advertising in the media—particularly from prominent rap and hip hop artists and television (e.g., BET)—ought to diminish the swiftness with which blacks fire allegations of discrimination. Were I to don a tee-shirt emblazoned with only the word “Cornell,” a person might be forgiven for falsely assuming that I actually attended there.

Examples of the deliberate effort to cultivate this cultural distinction are numerous. There are nationally recognized organizations that specifically promote a kind of racial distinction: Miss Black USA, Ebony Magazine, Black Enterprise, and the—dare I say infamous—National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Likewise, at my own undergraduate alma mater, there were at least two black interest groups: the Society of Black Engineers and The Society of Distinguished Black Women. That such groups exist simultaneously with loud efforts to end discrimination makes it difficult to avoid the sense that there is a glaring double-standard. I can vividly imagine the kind of vitriol I would inevitably receive, the innumerable accusations of hatred and prejudice, had I tried to start a parallel group in which I only exchanged the word “black” for “white.”

Though making racial distinctions is not necessarily wrong—after all, there are niche groups for almost everything—it is at least exceedingly counterproductive to the stated aims of such groups as the NAACP. If the ultimate goal is really a pervasive social “color blindness,” it is difficult to see how having a sort of “black pride” is in any way helpful. Such a sentiment is understandable in the context of the 1970s, when America was still plagued by the lingering prevalence of an anti-black milieu, but the circumstances now hardly resemble that unfortunate state of affairs. Having a black president was at that time unfeasible; now, the first black president is well into his second term. Whatever its current manifestations, racism against blacks is hardly what it once was.

The kind of rhetoric bandied about by the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons of this country would seem to lead one to the opposite conclusion: that racism in America is still as prevalent as ever. Given the great improvements in the understanding of equality that have been made in the public consciousness, one tires of the impassioned speeches that predictably attempt to channel the moral indignation of the honorable Martin Luther King, Jr. The compelling desire to be needed, to spearhead a fight against an injustice which on a grand scale no longer exists, has the unfortunate effect of creating the very problem that needs solving—the purveyance of racism, albeit in the opposite direction. This achieves in effect a sort of counter-racism. Some blacks have even gone so far as to suggest that it is impossible for them to be racist. This is quite simply because racism is in their minds a one-sided endeavor in which they are the sole victims.

The most prominent example of this divisiveness is witnessed in the circumstances surrounding the ongoing trial of George Zimmerman regarding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. In large part, many people (blacks in particular) instantly accused George Zimmerman of having committed a racially motivated crime, well before the full facts of the case had been made public, and have since artificially manufactured the case as a civil rights issue. For many blacks (though certainly not all), Zimmerman is guilty and will remain so in their eyes even if he is acquitted. In a continual barrage of callow extortion taking place in the sophisticated realm of Twitter, Mr. Zimmerman has received numerous open death threats from some blacks claiming to be willing to take justice into their own hands—hardly an effective way to win acceptance in the public eye. If respect and acceptance is truly the goal of the black community, the volatile outrage that Trayvon Martin’s death ignited therein is achieving exactly the opposite effect, and it must therefore be condemned.

Further evidence that the purveyors of black culture are ideologically entrenched can be found in the strained—and, frankly, outrageous—lengths to which some writers have gone to defend Rachel Jeantel’s abysmal testimony in Mr. Zimmerman’s trial. Not only was Ms. Jeantel found to have lied on several occasions (at least once while under oath), her openly disrespectful attitude is hardly becoming. Her genuine ignorance and incivility can certainly be forgiven, but they cannot be respected. In an article titled, “Why Black People Understand Rachel Jeantel,” author Christina Coleman begins, “If ever I thought myself objective and unbiased, the George Zimmerman trial is definitely not that moment.” (I suppose we must thank Ms. Coleman for saving us the trouble of detecting her bias by having to read the entire article.) She goes on:

“But maybe the reason white people don’t understand Rachel Jeantel has something more to do with white privilege then [sic], what they would call, Rachel’s capricious nature. / Let’s for one second try to understand why Rachel is “angry” (read emotional), “hood” (read blunt), and “unintelligent” (read multilingual).”

That Ms. Coleman categorically attributes Ms. Jeantel’s faults to “white privilege” and understands the word “unintelligent” to be synonymous with “multilingual” is, I think, telling. The straw-grasping in an attempt to defend any member of the black community, no matter the apparent transgression, is precisely the best way to undermine any sympathies people may feel towards blacks. If I may be so bold, engaging in constructive criticism or condemnation when it is warranted would perhaps constitute a more effective PR campaign than hurried attempts to wave away any and every apparent vice.

Racism, if it is to go the way of smallpox and Dodos, must be attacked wherever it is manifested. There is no one who may by virtue of their race consider themselves immune to even subtle prejudice or, worse, justified in engaging in open racial hostility. If America is to enjoy the richness that may be had as a result of being a true melting pot, no subculture may consider itself above pointed self-criticism; for by fancying himself invulnerable a man chinks his own armor.

 Notes: 

(1) I use the term “black” in distinction to African American, since it is possible to be an American with very dark skin and yet not necessarily be of African decent, as is the case with Belizeans.

(2) It must be noted that, wherever they find their origin, these terms have been adopted and perpetuated proudly by certain demographics within the black community.

(3) A case for racial profiling for purposes of security, as in an airport, can in my opinion be made on the grounds of valid statistics. The success of Israeli security, for example, is in no small part due to the fact that they unapologetically employ profiling techniques.

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Private Milk and Social Vinegar

Photo credit: biography.com

Photo credit: biography.com

According to the sort of wisdom one gleans from overhearing people at social gatherings and coffee shops, as with milk and vinegar one ought never to mix religion and politics. The degree to which this is true depends heavily on what is meant by the word “mix”; for theocracies have certainly in most cases been of the most tyrannical variety, tending as they do to place a divine impetus behind any and every moral atrocity. C.S. Lewis observed that “theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us” (The Weight of Glory). Indeed, history makes a truly damning case against any system of governance that grants tremendous power to broken and afflicted men – which is to say all men.

It is, however, a great error to suppose that, as Mr. Hitchens bitterly put it, it is religion that poisons everything. This is an increasingly popular sentiment, and its refrain echoes down the halls of the university and is reverberated by young atheists before they have scarcely learned how to spell “Nietzsche.”

But even if Mr. Hitchens were correct, then surely none of us, not even the ostensibly impervious Mr. Hitchens himself, is exempt; for whatever ill effects we may be forced by circumstance to endure at the hands of others – as in a theocrac­y – the greater and necessarily more potent dose of poison is the one self-administered. Philosophy – for that is what a religion is, after all – cannot be escaped. If a person believes anything, he believes in a religion. As any parent will attest, this religion is from the earliest moments of childhood one of Self. It is only later that some children learn clever nomenclature by which to declare in exalted tones their religion of Self as being one of utilitarianism or humanism or collectivism – all various philosophical rearrangements of social self-service.

Contrary to what one might initially be inclined to suppose on the basis of the terminology, there is no atheistic utilitarianism, no atheistic system of ethics, that is not at its very core selfish. Materialism has the very unpleasant consequence of making selfish even the motivations for altruism. The opening line of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 essay, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, reads, “The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody” (emphasis mine). Wilde’s honesty is exceedingly rare in such circles. Any notions of selflessness espoused by a materialist cannot be anything but farcical; and any materialist who is not a hedonist must be a very foolish materialist indeed, for he has been duped into thinking that there is some “greater good” that exists outside himself, beyond his short life, and for which he ought to sacrifice. Reflecting on his eventual abandonment of Leftist ideals in the conclusion to his memoir, Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens writes:

I suspect that the hardest thing for the idealist to surrender is the teleological, or the sense that there is some feasible, lovelier future that can be brought nearer by exertions in the present, and for which “sacrifices” are justified. With some part of myself, I still “feel,” but no longer really think, that humanity would be the poorer without this fantastically potent illusion. “A map of the world that did not show Utopia,” said Oscar Wilde, “would not be worth consulting.” I used to adore that phrase, but now reflect more upon the shipwrecks and prison island to which the quest has led. (p. 420)

The only kind of sacrifice that a materialist can consistently endorse is the kind that has some prospect of benefit in the here and now. Any notions of the “greater good” or objective progress, political or otherwise, necessarily assume the existence of a kind of transcendence that can only reside in the supernatural. Thus, the professing materialist who fiercely defends selflessness as a virtue is not really a materialist at all.

It cannot be called clever – cute, perhaps­­ – the way in which some atheists claim in bouts of counterproductive conceit to only “lack belief” in God, rather than believing positively that God does not exist. Nevermind that this places them squarely on par with rocks, cats, and every other thing incapable of thought or rationality. Theists, on this view, are literally the only exception to that which may be called “atheist.” Yet how mendacious it would be of theists to espouse a lack of belief in atheism rather than to assume the burden of proof that necessarily accompanies every positive claim! Atheists ought not to get a pass in fancying themselves devoid of religion simply because they have defined religion in such a way as to exclude themselves. They are like the politician who fancies himself above politics by referring to himself as an “independent.” The person who considers himself a strictly objective observer simply because he ascribes to a form of philosophical materialism exhibits a very crass sort of disingenuousness, as if because of his rejection of the supernatural his actions (and therefore his politics) do not arise as a direct result of his deeply held beliefs.

The person who thinks it possible to separate religious conviction from political influence shows that he understands neither religion nor politics. One’s religion necessarily touches everything, or else it touches nothing, and therefore cannot be said to be a religion in any meaningful sense of the word. A professing Muslim, for example, who neither prays, nor exercises charity, nor fasts, nor makes the hajj is as good a Muslim as any atheist, and indeed–if he were honest with himself–might very well be one. He is like the atheist who acts selflessly.

Acting on the basis of religious conviction does not necessarily imply a coercive governmental system (i.e. theocracy). A person is not only able to exercise his convictions without becoming onerous, he truly has no choice in the matter. He can choose not to oppress those with whom he disagrees, but he cannot choose to act apart from his convictions. Claims that any influence of religious conviction upon politics is oppressive (or preventable) cannot be regarded seriously. A person claiming to act in denial of his personal philosophy only serves to clarify just what is his true philosophy. A politician claiming, for instance, to value the lives of unborn children, yet who endorses legislation to the contrary by way of appeals to a Jeffersonian “wall of separation,” only shows that his true beliefs (and therefore his religion­) afford a higher value to personal “liberty” – a truly vulgar use of the word in this context – than to the preservation of life. We may well argue the degree to which one’s beliefs ought to take shape in public policy – a distinction similar to that between applied ethics and morality – but it is not my intent to do so here; only to suggest that a complete detachment is impossible.

Thus, conceptions of politics that envision policy derived apart from one’s fundamental beliefs are illusory. In justification for such a notion, however, one often hears atheists make monopoloid claims upon “reason” as being their sole guide. These atheists exhibit a fundamentalism worse than even the most legalistic Christian; for at least the Christian realizes he has a religion. This sort of atheist is so religious, so blindly devoted to reason, that he is not even aware of it. (Nevermind that, despite Kant’s impressive efforts, virtue seems not to be explained–at the very least not without great difficulty–by the proposal that it is grounded in rational principle.)

But a person need not be aware of his own religion in order to exercise it, for it is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks (Mt. 12:34). Everyone lives his life by what he believes, consciously or not, to be true; that is his religion, and no amount of semantic squirming or disdain for the word is capable of severing the necessary dependence of his actions (and votes) upon it.

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Language and the Progressive

orwell1-01

If it is true that government is at best a necessary evil, then the state ought to be regarded with a wary eye and, likewise, any political party or philosophy that seeks to elevate the state to a position of esteem. And yet, rather than with suspicion, the Progressive confers upon the state a role of immense honor and importance, attributing to it almost salvific powers by which he hopes society’s ills might be cured. Like the Israelites, who pleaded with God to give them a king that they might be “like all the nations”, the Left receives with open arms the ever-encroaching intrusions of the state. But God did not give the Israelites a king as a blessing, but, granting their incessant pleas, as a curse upon their foolishness; and for which they suffered immensely. The state, on the Progressive view, is not merely the reluctant by-product of flawed men, but almost a philanthropic entity all its own – it is not a government but The Government. “Once abolish the God,” wrote Chesterton, “and the state becomes the God.” Indeed, rather than consider some transcendent Authority, acknowledging with humility the inevitable tendency of all men towards a very real moral corruption in positions of power, the Progressive will in nearly every instance exhaust himself in defense of the state, often to the point of absurdity. Take, for example, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’ likening of the President’s recent divisive inaugural address to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; or, worse, the ease with which the President’s extraordinarily massive and irresponsible spending has been consistently overlooked and explained away, the blame often being placed on the shoulders of his predecessor. Such examples are innumerable and can be obtained fresh from any cursory viewing of the evening news.

Desiring to make his political and moral infractions more palatable to those forced to abide by his decrees, and effectively providing for his would-be defenders a more plausible ground by which to make their case, a politician need only become an expert in Orwellian doublespeak. (The chicken-and-egg question of whether excellent doublespeakers tend to become politicians or vice versa is a sociological question I shall not attempt to untangle.) So long as the language is appropriately tailored to circumvent the conscience, placing the appropriate emphasis on the absolute necessity of a piece of legislation to secure safety or health or prosperity or some other such collective good, there is no absurd or immoral policy which cannot be foist upon the citizenry. For example, it is very easy to sell such a concept as infanticide ­– one need only call an unborn child by a different name ­– a “fetus” – and proponents of the practice “Pro-Choice”; for who would dare oppose a person’s freedom to choose? Convincing a person to surrender his arms is equally as simple – gun-control need only be referred to matter-of-factly as “reducing gun violence”; for who would dare voice opposition to such a proposition? Forcibly taking a man’s money in order to give it to another need only be called “charity”; for surely none of us wishes to be thought miserly? The very term “Progressive” is itself exemplary of an attempt to rebrand old ideas.

Insofar as it concerns the passage of legislation or the attempt to persuade large groups to adopt some particular idea, the master of rhetoric need not be a master of anything else. Though the term “progressive” would seem on its face to suggest otherwise, this is not a new phenomenon. As Plato aptly observed, “In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. When we are ill… we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one.” The use of language as propaganda is by no means solely a Leftist tactic, but one used by anyone seeking to circumvent the trouble of engaging with detractors. It is the Left, however, that has operated primarily and consistently by a very astute method of language co-option; and it is quite clear that if one is able to demonize his opponents, shaming them into silence, one need not go through the troublesome task of addressing and refuting arguments. Expressing dissent on matters of Progressive policy involving the legalization of gay marriage, entitlement programs, gun-control, and global warming (now, more flexibly, “climate change”) is tantamount to labeling oneself a hateful, miserly, cruel, uncaring, ignorant, “unbelievably stupid” (thank you, Mr. Morgan), child-hating, bigot. It is, unfortunately, a tactic as effective as it is fallacious.

The reason for this apparent tactical difference that seems generally to occur between Conservatives and Progressives is due simply to the fact that the advancement of Progressive goals requires the sale of a host of ideas that often defy reason or conscience (or the Constitution). For example, inclusion among the American Progressive ranks evidently requires that one promote state-funded infanticide, high taxes, federally-controlled (mandated) healthcare, and other such programs which could not be advanced or maintained without the prodigious use of smoke and mirrors to obfuscate from the public eye their many unpleasant aspects.

But the difference between Conservatives and Progressives can perhaps be observed most simply in how each regards the people – those under the domain of the state. Conservatives regard people in an optimistic light, generally believing that people are trustworthy, well-intentioned, astute, ingenious, and capable. The Conservative case for a small central government is erected upon the notion that people ought to possess the freedom to choose what is best for themselves, that the securing of liberty is morally and practically superior to any system that involves reaching into every corner of a man’s life and pocketbook. In stark contrast, rather than as a group of individuals, Progressives tend to view people as a collective mass that requires controlling, herding, restricting, whose hands need and ought to be held at every opportunity. The common man has value, but only when considered as a part of the collective whole. Liberty, on the Progressive view, is only the smattering of crumbs left over after the state has gobbled up the many freedoms it deems necessary to sufficiently control what it regards to be a largely ignorant and volatile populace. Rather than a transcendent principle to be secured, Progressive “liberty” is instead condescendingly granted by the state; rights are demoted to privileges.

The rhetorician has reached the height of his craft when he finds it effortless to say certain words and alter their arrangement and context slightly such that he means something quite different from the way in which they are normally understood. It is precisely an understanding of this keen ability that will explain how President Obama can do everything in his limited power to effectively neuter the Second Amendment, while simultaneously proclaiming his affirmation of it; how he can use words like “together” and “collective” and at the same time, under a façade of unity, deliberately slight swathes of those by whom he is employed. In Progressive hands it is only the language of the Constitution that remains – its meaning and intent is reversed, or at least severely disfigured; and it is by way of such semantic disfigurement, as well as ceaseless appeals to emotion, that Progressives seek to convince us of the state’s beneficence and efficacy, implying that we ought to put our trust in an elite few, bowing low to kiss the rings on the state’s compassionate hand.

It is not self-evident truths that must be couched in the vagueness of language, but only those ideas in which lurks something foul. A people may be led happily to their destruction so long as they are capable of taking the state at its word; but a simple question, uttered firmly and persistently, would undoubtedly be the undoing of the Progressive movement: “What do you mean by that?”

On Women in the Infantry

Credit: npr.org

Credit: npr.org

Given the current zeitgeist, that all-consuming vigilance by the Politically Correct for any perceived infractions of equality, the fact that women are now being considered for the infantry should come as no real surprise. Though current social and political trends have already laid a firm groundwork for such an effort (e.g. the recent repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy), it is nonetheless remarkable.

The Marine Corps recently asked the female lieutenants of a graduating class from The Basic School for volunteers to attend the Infantry Officer Course. Of the eighty eligible females, two stepped forward and were promptly admitted into the extremely rigorous course. The first lasted a single day; the second was dropped for medical reasons after about two weeks.

I have met one of these two brave women, and of the soundness of her motivations and determination I have no doubts; neither do I doubt her capability as a leader. Indeed, her willingness to even step into such an environment is worthy of admiration; for it is no secret that men in the infantry are largely hostile to the notion of women joining their ranks. It is not like stepping into a den of lions; it is like stepping into a den filled with men who kill lions for a living.

But this hostility is not unfounded, and I would count myself among the detractors from this new attempt at inclusiveness. There are reasons in principle against it, but having served in the infantry, I have also witnessed firsthand some practical reasons why the admission of women into the infantry is in my estimation unquestionably foolish.

The first is perhaps the most obvious–that of sexual attraction–which involves more broadly the issue of unit cohesion. This could be more generally be called the sexual dynamic. On my first deployment (Iraq, 2007-08), while stationed with about a dozen or so male Marines at a small Entry Control Point (ECP), teams of female Marines (Female Engagement Teams or “Lionesses”) were brought daily to our outpost to aid in searching the Iraqi women who passed through the checkpoint. For obvious reasons, men are not generally permitted to search Muslim women. The Lionesses’ ability to conduct the job assigned to them and the degree of their work ethic were, as is the case with Marines generally, very high.

However, I began to observe Marines, primarily those in the higher echelons of the pecking order present at the ECP, who were otherwise very professional, begin to act like utter fools in a very primitive and obvious attempt to impress the only American women they had seen in months. The constant attempts to woo female Marines were so blatant as to be almost unbelievable. In one particularly puerile case, a team leader deliberately threw a bottle on the ground within sight of some of the female Marines sitting at an outdoor table and ordered one of his subordinates to pick it up, presumably to demonstrate his qualifications as the alpha male.

While one might be tempted to dismiss this debacle as being only a personal immaturity on the part of certain Marines–which is certainly true, to a degree–the point is that these antics were simply the unrestrained result of an unavoidable biological attraction. As has been the case since the beginning of time, men and women are attracted to the opposite sex; and no amount of training, classes, protocols, nor professionalism can ever hope to change this fact. One may certainly be able to behave professionally in spite of a sexual attraction, but one cannot change the propensity to attraction; and it is the energies that must be expended to exercise such discipline that are potentially problematic, given the nature of the combat environment. To use a vulgar and admittedly imperfect analogy: one may train a dog not to eat a treat, but one cannot without great difficulty (and harmful consequences, besides) train a dog not to want a treat. Any readers tempted to complain that I have just equated men or women with either “dogs” or “treats” have missed the point entirely.

In speaking of the sexual dynamic, one need not think only of the explicitly sexual kind of behavior. Even if treated well, men and women naturally treat each other differently. It is important to note in stark contrast to the shrillest voices of the feminist movement that “differently” is not synonymous with “badly”. Men are naturally disposed to be protectors–specifically, protectors of women–just as women are naturally disposed to be protectors of children. In this regard, the presence of women on the battlefield inevitably produces an unhelpful dynamic, since men rightly experience a strong desire to protect women from harm. Thus, this predisposition would potentially result in a male Marine treating a female Marine differently than his male counterparts in the heat of combat for her sake; and in combat, one is rarely aided by additional variables.

This dynamic is especially aggravated in the types of environments inherent to the job of infantryman, where one is often forced to live in close quarters with very little personal space (if any) and at great length. This is a difficult environment in which to operate, and is only made more so by the introduction of the sexual dynamic. For example, when men living in such circumstances inevitably become irritated with one another, the most effective and efficient solution is sometimes the physical one; namely, a solid blow to the face. Two Marines may engage in a heated argument, come to blows, then in five minutes’ time resume their friendship, or at least a working relationship. Such bouts are infrequent and rarely personal. This is a relational dynamic unique to warrior cultures, one that has always struck me as both amusing and profound. Introducing women into this brutish but effective system is to beset it with unnecessary complication. A male Marine would not wish to strike his female counterpart, even in extreme anger; but he would wish that she were male so that he might. Interpersonal conflict resolution among infantrymen is usually of the more diplomatic sort, but women are (and ought to be) exempt from the possibility of this violent avenue of conflict resolution. Moreover, I seriously doubt any women seeking to join the infantry would even wish to be admitted into the full range of barbaric practices that come with the territory. Responding to a female interlocutor’s question, “Do you believe in the comradeship between the sexes?”, G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Madam, if I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade, you would turn me out of the house.” I think he was quite right: the notion that women can or would want to be in every way like “one of the guys” is unrealistic and absurd.

It is clear that there is no more physically demanding job in the military than the job of the infantry; it is equally as clear that women are, generally, physically weaker than men. This objective biological difference is precisely why the standards for men and women sometimes differ in the military. In the Marine Corps, for instance, women are required to perform flexed arm hangs in lieu of pull-ups for the Physical Fitness Test, quite simply because they are easier. Further, even given these lower standards, the rate of attrition for females in Marine Corps schools, such as Officer Candidate School and The Basic School, is drastically higher than that of males. As Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio cites in her article, “Get Over It! We Are Not All Created Equal”:

“At OCS the attrition rate for female candidates in 2011 was historically low at 40 percent, while the male candidates attrite at a much lower rate of 16 percent. Of candidates who were dropped from training because they were injured or not physically qualified, females were breaking at a much higher rate than males, 14 percent versus 4 percent. The same trends were seen at TBS in 2011; the attrition rate for females was 13 percent versus 5 percent for males, and 5 percent of females were found not physically qualified compared with 1 percent of males.”

This is a consistent trend due to the unalterable biological differences between males and females, and it should be unsurprising to those without presuppositional biases to the contrary.

While it is true that there are some women who are quite capable of doing twenty pull-ups without breaking a sweat, perhaps even some capable of making it through a course like the IOC, some of these biological differences are unchangeable and yet significant. For example, the male skeleton is bigger, which provides an inherent advantage, since larger bones are generally stronger. Stronger bones are less apt to break. Males also experience muscle atrophy at a lower rate than females. In her aforementioned article, Captain Petronio attacks the inclusion of women in the infantry on the basis of physical longevity, citing from experience her observation that her male counterparts experienced physical deterioration at a slower rate than she in prolonged adverse circumstances. Naturally, in combat, physical strength and durability are factors of grave importance.

For exactly the same reasons that males and females in the military currently have segregated quarters and bathroom facilities, reasons as obvious as they are practical, women in the infantry would necessarily require additional amenities. It is in every way proper for women to have separate facilities, but in combat environments this is not always feasible. It is, however, a burden; and with women present, a necessary one.

I will forgo the list of potential physical ailments which befall women alone in the field, but suffice it to say the list is long–longer, I might add, than those which afflict men. Similarly, hygiene is a much more complicated endeavor for women. This is a significant logistical problem insofar as it concerns the need for certain types of additional medication and time to recover from medical problems that would otherwise be absent from a fighting unit.

There is also the issue of capture. Though rare, the matter must at least be considered. Despite the many horrible forms of torture an enemy fighter might be inclined to inflict upon a male prisoner, rape is rarely one of them; yet it is perhaps the most devastating, and history has proven it to be one of the first inclinations of depraved men possessing female prisoners. There are already circumstances in which female troops have been vulnerable to capture, even times in which they were captured (e.g. Jessica Lynch); but just what is to be gained by increasing their exposure and risk? I certainly do not think this matter alone is enough to prevent women from joining the infantry; it is but a small part of the cumulative case.

The central argument of the case for female infantry is that we ought not discriminate on the basis of gender. This is because gender is alleged to be an irrelevant factor concerning the infantry occupation. I hope I have given enough reason to suggest the naïvité of this view to those who do not already oppose it on the basis of common sense, but it remains to be pointed out that the military discriminates on the basis of unalterable factors all the time. For instance, pilots for certain aircraft cannot be taller than a specific height, due to the small size of the cockpit; yet, strangely, one does not hear of lawsuits calling for more accommodating cockpits. Absurd as this would be (though it would be on par in stupidity with a profusion of other actual lawsuits), a cockpit is a thing much more easily altered than the nature of ground warfare itself, which is exactly what would require changing in order to make the inclusion of women in the infantry a good idea.

Given that the presence of women among the ranks of the infantry potentially poses significant difficulties, it is quite relevant to consider just what role a woman might fill that cannot be fulfilled (in many cases more successfully) by a man. This suggestion will undoubtedly be unpopular, but unpopularity is a poor gauge of soundness. Women are indistinguishable from men in their ability to lead, solve complex problems, and, perhaps, even kill. It is not on these grounds that I express dissent, but on the basis of those that cannot be overcome by any amount of willpower or training; namely, those intrinsic to sex and biology.

Since there is no shortage of capable men for the job and no intrinsic female qualities beneficial to the infantry occupation that do not also come paired with serious detriments, one must wonder just what practical military benefit the United States seeks to achieve by seeking to include women among the ranks? America is a country of principles, but it is also a country that has historically been practical. To act solely on principle (especially on erroneous principles), is to act foolishly, particularly when it concerns delicate matters of life and death. Combat is intensely practical. It cares nothing for principles. It is a deadly dance of practical gamesmanship that the man acting on principle is certain to lose. Carl von Clausewitz noted–correctly, I think–that “war is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst” (1). Indeed, it is kind and good to open the door for a woman, but it is something less than kind if on the other side is a battlefield.

Evidence of the pervasive perversion of equality in our day is that this essay shall be taken by some to mean that I think men and women are unequal. This is untrue. Men and women are equal, but not the same. Equality has to do with intrinsic value, whereas I am here concerned with practical differences. Thus, the fact that men are generally more suited than women for the unpleasant rigors and brutalities of warfare does not mean that men are better than women. It means that men and women are each better suited for different kinds of occupations. Given the nature of the job in question, one involving life and death and sometimes in the most adverse circumstances conceivable, these differences are not to be dismissed lightly on the basis of philosophical principles of political correctness alone, without compelling practical reasons in support.

The ACLU, being an organization devoted solely to principle, has recently filed a lawsuit seeking to remove all gender-based restrictions on combat occupations. While well-meaning, the ACLU’s attempts will certainly be thought laughably naïve by nearly all infantrymen who have experienced significant time in the field. Perhaps as a test case the NFL ought to welcome all willing female players onto its teams and into its locker rooms. I should be quite surprised if a single season were not enough to cure the participants of any previously ambitious desire to “hang with the boys”, or, likewise, to join the infantry. The woman who claims to want equal treatment with her male infantry counterparts not only will fail to receive it, but is ignorant of what she is asking. The front lines of the battlefield are devoid of women for many of the same reasons the football fields are: virtually no women have any desire to participate, and the ones that do are unqualified to play against men. If the idea of integrating women into the NFL is ridiculous (and it is), integrating women into the infantry can only be more absurd. Any women who readily acknowledge the difficulties their presence would create in the infantry, yet persist in seeking admittance on the basis of principle are disgracefully selfish–they do not have in mind the best interest of the country, but the attainment of their own personal goals.

The rejection of gender roles, or even gender differences, is the central tenet of the contemporary hard-line feminist, who either cannot accept the idea that men and women generally possess significant and objective differences, or, in the most extreme cases, thinks that women are inherently of greater value than men. To the former, I suggest a cursory reading of Gray’s Anatomy; to the latter, a hug.

But not all women seeking to join the infantry would call themselves feminists in either of these two senses. Some are simply patriots up for a challenge. As to their offer, I say, respectfully, “thank you, but no.”

Notes:

1.) Von Clausewitz, Carl. On War. Book 1, Chapter 1. 1832.

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The Regression of Progressivism: Chasing Ephemeral Carrot Sticks

If among the political factions into which America has carved itself there is one point of agreement, it is that one ought to seek progress above all else. I am well aware that it is precisely the differing opinions about just what the word “progress” means that form the party lines, but it is nonetheless the one truly common interest. It is for this reason that we must suspiciously regard any political sect that seeks to absorb the word “progress” into its title, as if this were not also the goal of every one of its competitors. It is as good as a sports team calling itself “The Winners” or adherents to secular philosophy, “Brights”; it is at best presumptuous, and at worst compensation for some real deficit.

Progress of any sort, if we are to avoid talking nonsense, is impossible if there is not some understood End towards which we are advancing. Practically, such an End may be arbitrary, and even a cursory historical survey will reveal that men have never found themselves at a loss in contriving plenteous and contradictory goals for which they are willing to sacrifice themselves (or, more likely, everything and everyone but themselves). Napoleon sought to attain land above all else; the Nazis sought to attain racial purity above all else; the American Revolutionaries sought to attain liberty above all else; and it is against these sort of Ends that every other action within a particular paradigm is weighed.

As it concerns progressivism, we must ask: just what does it regard as its supreme goal? Doubtless, in asking a hundred different progressives one is likely to get at least two-hundred different answers, but we may at least look at the cause as it has manifested itself thus far. One may take its regard for human life, for example; for “progressivism” is in this case really only a moral regression. It is a morbid fact that progressives cheerfully offer up the lives of children on the altar of “personal liberty”. It is made worse by the fact that they think they have done something truly revolutionary in human history, and all, quite ironically and reprehensibly, in the name of moral and political “progress”. The Canaanites were sacrificing their children to the Baals long before even the Greeks decided (very progressively) to leave theirs to die in the elements simply for convenience’s sake. Having more sophisticated instruments for such tasks only serves to advance one thing: efficiency; and it is the combination of moral depravity and efficiency that has birthed such monstrosities as Auschwitz. If societal efficiency is itself the goal, as it is with bees and ants and any other swarming creature, the progressive movement is very dangerous indeed; for there is no barbarity too great so long as it is committed in the name of the colony. There is not one vice which cannot be made more efficient through either science or politics.

On the subject of economics, the progressive is rather unsure how he feels about the matter. Though he feels strongly that he wants money (and as much of it as possible), he knows just as strongly that people who actually do possess a lot of money should not have it, or at least not as much. He seeks to raise taxes, but only on those who have more money than himself. He maintains that one ought always to act charitably towards the impoverished, but only when coerced by the state. He believes that the government exists to provide him with a job, and, if it fails, to pay him anyway. If there is something he cannot have, neither should anyone else; after all, it is only fair. Thus, progressivism is really just a kind of socialism masquerading under a different guise.

If liberalism was the correction of tyranny, progressivism is its vast overcorrection.

It might be suggested that not everyone desires political progress (in the case of anarchists and the politically apathetic, for example); but the anarchist merely regards the dissolution of the state as the height of political progress; that is his goal. It is his carrot on a stick, so-to-speak. As to the politically apathetic, I am fairly certain there are really no such persons, at least in an absolute sense. There would be none so unreasonable as to greet the Gestapo with a shrug of the shoulders and invite them in for tea; apathy meets its limit precisely when the state’s encroachment becomes impossible to ignore. It is then when apathy undergoes a fierce metamorphosis: it is changed in an instant from a grub into the fiery butterfly of revolutionary fervor. One who asserts his political apathy is like the Pompeiian who claims indifference to volcanoes: Either he will wake one morning to find his indifference suddenly buried under a heap of ash, or he will not wake at all.

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Postmodern Baby Strollers

Having previously swallowed the bitter pill of modernism, contemporary society, apparently having found lacking satisfaction in the acceptance of false truths, has given up the trouble of assessing propositions and seen fit to dispense with the idea of truth altogether. The embrace of the postmodern paradigm, properly understood as it pertains to the alleged relativity of truth, is an act as impossible as erecting a house without a foundation; but considerations of consistency have not seemed to bother its adherents or in any way slowed its societal advance.

The contemporary postmodern is at every turn plagued by contradiction. He regards tolerance as the highest virtue, though he grants himself a special exemption insofar as it concerns his treatment of the exclusivists. He will argue until he is blue in the face that, since there is no truth, arguing is pointless. He knows absolutely that we can know absolutely nothing. He repudiates morality on the basis of his own moral law. In the same breath he praises science and spurns the metaphysics on which science necessarily relies. He is worse than a pot calling a kettle black; he is a pot denouncing the very idea of cooking ware.

Postmodernism has in politics come under the auspicious title of “Progressivism”, and its spindly fingers have left almost nothing untouched; and whatever it has touched, it has turned squarely on its head. I mean, of course, that supreme guiding principle of American and European politics: political correctness. For instance, in thinking that by tolerating everything they are elevating the virtue of fairness, postmoderns have got it exactly backwards; for fairness is necessarily based on the assumption of justice, and justice must have some Standard. Though it knows nothing, postmodernism knows, at least, that words like “Standard”, “absolute”, and “universal” are only deserving of contempt. Thus, there is hardly any exception for which the postmodern or progressive is not perfectly happy to make a new rule. Nevermind that swimming is enjoyable, we must do away with it to prevent drowning. Nevermind that cake is delicious, it must be forbidden lest children become obese. Nevermind that young boys have always pretended to shoot each other, they must be suspended lest they become murderers.

I once saw a warning on a baby stroller that said “REMOVE BABY BEFORE FOLDING”. While I appreciated the manufacturer’s willingness to provide assistance to what must certainly be the most modest of intelligences, I wondered that it did not also say “DO NOT LEAVE BABY UNATTENDED IN AIRPORTS, STREETS, BARS, BEAR CAVES, ABORTION CLINICS, OR VOLCANOS, ETC”. But, more likely, the manufacturer was not trying to be helpful at all but was only taking precautionary measures against a potential lawsuit. A society in which a person can fold their own baby into a stroller and not only attempt to sue the manufacturer of the stroller, but win, has certainly not got long left.

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Tactical Voting

Concerning the election of individuals to public office, there often arises a situation in which voters are presented with a certain kind of moral dilemma; namely, a dilemma in which there are at least three potential candidates: one whom one really wishes to win, one who is undesirable, and a third, much better than candidate number two but not as strong as the first, who is more likely to actually win. Should one vote for the candidate he thinks is best, at the risk of splitting the vote and causing a total loss; or should one compromise on certain issues and vote instead for a partial, but more certain victory? This dilemma forms the basic premise for game shows in which contestants are forced to choose between taking the quick cash or risking everything in order to potentially win much more. Insofar as it concerns elections the question is a valid one.

The man wishing to vote on principle would assert that, for the sake of one’s conscience, one ought to vote for the very best candidate; but perhaps such a response is too hasty. In the case that projections of the potential winner are truly uncertain, the decision is simple. However, if one votes for the best candidate knowing that the vote is likely to be wasted, is it truly the higher good? If it turns out that the worst candidate wins because of a split vote, is not at least some degree of regret merited? One might ask Ross Perot’s former supporters. Or, consider the man who, having grown disillusioned with the reigning political parties in a two-party system, and knowing his vote for a preferred independent candidate would be wasted, chooses to fold his arms rather than dignify the status quo by casting a vote for less than his druthers. He is like the child who, having been denied cake, chooses on principle to forgo his dinner. The point is made but the hunger remains.

It should be noted that a person’s refusal to vote is not the same thing as opting out of electoral influence. On the contrary, a person must necessarily influence a given election; for in every election the non-voters play as much a part, if indirect, in influencing the outcome as the voters themselves. Inaction is just as susceptible to blowback as action. My decision not to drink anything has symptomatic consequences distinct from my decision to drink only whiskey, but it has consequences nonetheless. In this case, inaction is but a vote in a different guise. Regardless of one’s intentions, it is in practice a vote for the candidate with the advantage.

Regrettable as it is, effective politics cannot be conducted without a shrewd understanding of political tactics. (Regrettable because pure motivations and sound doctrine are almost never enough to achieve victory in today’s political climate). By ‘tactics’ I do not necessarily mean unethical political maneuvers, but all those of which a keen grasp will aid a politician in achieving his goals. This is why candidates undertaking a campaign often have large staffs, replete with advisors, analysts, and various other experts, in order that they may take the steps that will best enhance their chances of winning. Though the nature of contemporary politics and campaigning seems in many ways to encourage the use of contrived efforts to manipulate voters, it is not necessary to do so – at least, not in an unethical way – and it is a reality we must accept. Given this state of affairs, responsible citizens must often make difficult electoral choices in light of the knowledge available to them regarding the political atmosphere.

I do not buy the contemporary libertarian line that says both major parties are entirely but distinctly broken. But even if I did, it would not alter the fact that someone will lead this country come November. If we must have a flawed leader (and we must), we had better choose the flaws with which we are willing to live. Let us not sink proudly to our deaths beneath the banner of “principle”.

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On the Nature of Rights

In speaking with advocates of some social or political cause, often one need not wait very long before the central justification of it is unearthed: “Well, it’s our right, of course” – a phrase which is not uncommonly uttered in such a way as is intended to make the inquiring party seem at least a little foolish for not having recognized this apparent fact at the outset. There seems to be a tendency to appropriate the term “right” too capriciously, however, apparently in view of its practical evangelistic value in lending to a cause some moral import, yet often in the absence of consideration of what the term actually means. We are told, for example, that access to marijuana is a social right; that socialized healthcare is a human right; that abortion-on-demand is a woman’s right; and, in every case, we are told these things with the implication that anyone who infringes upon these principles is guilty of some real moral infraction. If such infractions are indeed possible, then it is clearly of value to attempt to understand just what is a right. It it the aim of this essay to investigate some considerations relevant to this endeavor.

Rights can be understood, generally, in two ways: natural (what one might appropriately call “moral”) and civil. A civil right is a protection granted by a government or state, in which the state is understood to be the highest authority to which one can appeal in the case of transgression; that is, it is a protection codified in law, applicable to citizens of a particular state, but which is not necessarily considered to be applicable universally (1). For instance, a land owner might appeal to the law in seeking to prosecute those trespassing illegally on his property. In this case it is his civil right, granted by relevant state law, to prevent unwanted persons from stepping onto his property (it is only “his” property by civil right, also; as opposed to being his by virtue of some transcendent claim to ownership). His appeal may be upheld in court, or it may be struck down. If it is struck down, the land owner may challenge the ruling; but in the case of what he deems an unjustified rejection, he cannot possibly hope to hold the government accountable solely on the basis of his civil rights alone, but must appeal to some transcendent Principle. The Principle to which he appeals may, practically, be a rational ideal with respect to some particular end (i.e. self-interest or some other purpose which may be either empirical or subjective), but to be “transcendent” is to refer to its universal applicability to rational beings with respect to some real ontological ground. (2)

If, in this case, such a Principle exists at all (the example is purely hypothetical), it must be understood to be a natural right. Such a right is “natural” in that it is intrinsic to every rational being (person), so that, while a state may recognize it by inscribing it into law, no state has the power either to create or to annihilate it. This is precisely what was meant by the writers of the American Declaration of Independence in describing certain rights as being “inalienable.”

In contrast to civil rights, natural rights are not law, but Law; that is, they are metaphysical and in every way as immutable, universal, and eternal as the laws of logic. They differ, however, in that they possess the component of duty, since, if such rights exist, every person is inescapably bound by a moral necessity to uphold them. (3)

Moral values are conceptual subdivisions of the Moral Law in its totality. A natural right is a moral value stated in the form of a protection. For example, justice, aside from considerations of its administration in particular cases, is universally regarded as a moral value (4). One might frame it this way: “It is always morally good to treat other persons at least according their deserts.” (I say “at least” to leave room for the values of mercy and grace.) Stated as a right, it might read thus: “It is every person’s moral obligation to act justly with respect to other persons”; that is, every person is protected (in principle, not in actual circumstances) from injustice by a transcendent Moral Law. Every natural right is framed in such a way as to make it a protection against transgression of some moral value.

But how can natural rights be understood to exist? The answer is, I believe, tied to one of the most fundamental questions of philosophy: whether or not God exists (5). “God” is here understood to mean the greatest conceivable being. If God exists, then he exists necessarily, by virtue of his own nature, in every possible world.

While one might appeal to something like platonic forms as an explanation of natural rights, it is my view that God serves as at least a plausible, if not necessary, ground for the Moral Law and, therefore, rights; for a Moral Law necessarily implies Consequence; that is, either reward or punishment for compliance or transgression respectively; and Consequence cannot be understood without respect to some Law-Giver (or else some brute platonic principle). Those incredulous of such a claim need only consider the nature of moral values in order to realize this fact. For instance, to use our previous example, justice is conceptually meaningful only in the context of persons. Imagine a state of affairs in which no rational beings exist. Where, then, is justice? Can inanimate objects be either just or unjust? What would it even mean to assert that justice exists as an entity in the absence of rationality? An attempt to describe the nature of justice without the context of rational beings, so far as I can tell, is incoherent; and if there is any conceivable state of affairs in which justice does not exist as a transcendent moral value, it, like any other moral value, is clearly not metaphysically necessary in and of its own nature. However, if one does affirm justice as being a transcendent moral value (i.e. part of the Moral Law), then in the absence of a philosophical presupposition to the contrary, one must regard some Person as at least plausibly being its ontological ground.

In a state of affairs in which no Moral Law exists (we will call this a materialistic universe), it is difficult to comprehend how there can be real universal moral indictments of any person whatever; for the existence of natural rights is the necessary fundamental justification for indicting individuals or states in any case where they are perceived to have transgressed the Moral Law (e.g. the Nazis) (6). The question, then, is whether it is possible, or even coherent, for a Moral Law to exist in a materialistic universe.

In such a state of affairs, there is only one place for the materialist to turn in seeking justification for natural rights: reason. Given that the principles of metaphysics we refer to as the Laws of Logic are understood to exist necessarily, it is the only realm which contains any potential for establishing a foundation for natural rights. This was Kant’s endeavor, to establish morality firmly on the basis of reason alone, such that one should “act only according to that maxim whereby [one] can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law” (7). This was Kant’s “categorical imperative.”

However, reason is itself morally neutral and can be used to justify ends that are morally contradictory. G.K. Chesterton, in his book, Orthodoxy, described this potential contradiction in the context of madness:

“The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense, satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed especially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. . . . If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators, which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. . . . Nevertheless, he is wrong. . . . Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable mark of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction. The lunatics’ theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason” (8).

Kant said that rational beings must be viewed as ends in themselves, and not merely as means to an end; but on what basis are we to suppose that, if empirical or pragmatic concerns are to be discounted, there is any such moral obligation to view rational beings in such a way? If I do indeed view other rational beings as ends in themselves and act accordingly, by what Principle have I done anything of real moral worth? In order to differentiate between Good and Evil, there must exist some Standard. This Standard is the Moral Law.

Empirical and pragmatic concerns must necessarily be discounted as possible ontological foundations for natural rights; for they are inherently arbitrary (or, at least, not metaphysically objective); and reason, as we have seen, fails to provide adequate justification for real moral obligation, since it is morally neutral and therefore incapable of Consequence.

Thus, if God does not exist, it is impossible to assert any meaningful appeal to some right or “higher” ideal than that which is given by the state, or that which is otherwise a convention. Indeed, in a materialistic universe, there is no ideal, whether moral or otherwise, which can be understood apart from, or above, convention; for in every case would the conception of morality owe its existence to a cause or an end that is not metaphysically necessary (i.e. it could have been otherwise). Yet, any natural right to which one may make a meaningful appeal is inextricably tied to an ontological ground which is metaphysically necessary (e.g. God). For example, given materialism, a belief that rape is morally good cannot be disputed except by appeal to civil law, pragmatism (i.e. it hinders some subjective goal, such as human “well-being”), or outright opinion, each of which is inherently arbitrary. An appeal to apparently universal tendencies or beliefs supposedly invested in humans by natural selection might form the basis for an appeal to objectivity, but not necessity, and certainly not Goodness; for evolution could potentially have invested humans with moral beliefs in direct contradiction to those we currently possess.

Natural rights, then, are only reasonably grounded in God. To summarize, the argument may be formulated thus:

1.) God is the only explanation for the Moral Law

2.) Natural rights only exist if there is a Moral Law

3.) Natural rights exist.

4.) Therefore, God exists.

Now, given that rights are always stated in the form of a protection against moral transgression, how might an appeal to, say, universal healthcare as a natural right be formulated? (We must assume that such appeals are made on the basis of natural, rather than civil rights in the effort to achieve legal change, since it is impossible to appeal to civil rights which do not yet exist.)

1.) Persons possess a natural right to live.

2.) One’s health is directly related to one’s ability to live.

3.) Therefore, every person is morally obligated to contribute to every other person’s health. (This is, presumably, the guiding principle of proponents of universal healthcare, though it is clearly impossible for practical reasons to contribute to literally every person’s health.)

One need not consider this argument long before hitting upon several significant problems (though, perhaps the argument could be better formulated). First, to claim moral obligation with respect to something as unquestionably vague as another person’s “health” is quite a slippery slope indeed; for one could quite easily make a case for how just about anything could contribute to some facet of a person’s health. Second, given that contributing to another person’s health would require some positive action on my part; namely, providing financial support, it makes itself out to be not a protection from transgression, but a veritable enslavement. That is to say, one is alleged to have violated the Moral Law by not actively contributing to another person’s health. One might illustrate the insanity of such reasoning by any number of examples.

For instance, if we grant that the right to life is indeed a natural right, one can easily make a case for a right to self-defense. In the American Constitution, this right is recognized in the form of the 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms) (9). However, an extrapolation analogous to that used to justify universal healthcare would suggest that other people are morally obligated to in some way contribute to my ability to defend myself; namely, by providing, or paying for, effective armament of some sort. Citing the police force or the military as such a contribution would be incorrect; for they do not and cannot cover every situation in which I would require self-defense as thoroughly as universal healthcare would, at least theoretically, regarding my health. For example, if I have a natural right to life, I have a natural right to defend myself in any situation in which my life is being threatened without just provocation. The police cannot possibly hope to protect me in every such situation or even in the majority of such scenarios. However, universal healthcare is supposed to apply to any and every situation in which my health requires attention, even to those aspects of “health” as remote as contraception. Therefore, in order to bridge the gap between the potential protection of my life by the police and the much more likely case that my self-defense will depend on some means directly available to me (e.g. firearm, tazer, knife, etc), one is forced to admit (if consistency is to be valued) that the public is under moral obligation to in some way contribute to my ability to defend myself. In other words, one has broken the Moral Law if they do not either pay for my armament or provide it directly. Also, in view of the specific provisions of the recent Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which levies a tax upon those refusing to purchase the government’s flavor of healthcare, should one be taxed, according to our previous example, for not contributing to every citizen’s personal armament? This is manifest nonsense; yet it is but the consistent application of the arguments implied by the movement to achieve universal healthcare.

Clearly, the example of the appeal to universal healthcare as a natural right, if I have accurately described it, is absurd and in no way such a right as they are generally understood to exist. The common trend of exchanging the word “privilege” for “right” owes its explanation, in my opinion, both to a genuine ignorance as to the very meaning of the word “right” (and how it differs from “privilege”), and to a recognition of the fact that one is only likely to get what one wants by use of the latter. The use of the term in the context of healthcare is but one example of its unscrupulous appropriation.

Thus, we have seen some general considerations, at least, of the nature of rights, though I have only but scratched the surface of the subject. In view of the frequency with which appeals to rights of any sort are made, we would do well to inquire of those from whom such appeals originate as to just what is meant. Indeed, in doing so we shall in some cases find that the word “right” is but one of many terms bandied about thoughtlessly for the purpose of personal or political gain. However, for those interested in truth and honesty and consistency, a more careful approach is warranted.

Notes:

1.) A civil law may be a natural right, by virtue of having been officially recognized (but not created) by the state, but in such a case the duty to uphold the law must necessarily find its ontological ground in something that transcends the state (i.e. the Moral Law).

2.) An “ontological ground” is that to which any thing, whether physical or metaphysical, owes its existence by virtue of an explanation of its being; that is, its foundation in reality.

3.) That is morally necessary which must be affirmed by the will (the disposition of the will is formed prior to, or at least simultaneous with action) or else incur fault in transgressing some real Moral Law to which all persons are beholden. There can be no such moral necessity, or duty, if there is no Moral Law, but only subjective inclination, the formation of which is shaped by arbitrary (not universally binding) criteria (e.g. a person may regard cruelty to children as evil, but in the absence of a Moral Law, his belief is as arbitrary as the cause of his belief, which may owe its being to genetics, social convention, or some pragmatic end).

4.) I would maintain that justice is universally regarded as a moral value because it is, in reality, a moral value; and not simply the product of an evolutionary or social mechanism (a convention).

5.) Leibniz declared the most fundamental question of philosophy to be: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” However, if God exists at all, he exists necessarily, such that it is literally meaningless to ask “why” God exists. Therefore, to ask whether or not God exists is, in effect, but to put forth another formulation Leibniz’s question.

6.) Curiously, (though not, in my view, surprisingly), even those that decry the existence of the Moral Law appeal to it, in many cases simultaneously with their denunciation and without the slightest hesitation.

7.) Kant, Immanuel; translated by James W. Ellington [1785] (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed., Hackett. pp. 30.

8.) Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, Norwood, MA: Pumpion, 1908.

9.) It is worth noting that there is no such Constitutional Amendment regarding universal healthcare.

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