Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The dangers of being part of the non-mainstream Right

No doubt, if you identify yourself as politically conservative in the United States, the majority of your acquaintances who also identify themselves as conservatives are more or less mainstream. They are, hopefully, socially conservative on issues like abortion. They tend to have a very strong admiration for documents like the Declaration of Independence. Sometimes they are bound and determined to co-opt iconic figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., for their conservative causes. They may be reflexively pro-military, which makes it a little difficult to criticize even the extreme left-wing aspects of the military without triggering a defensive reaction. They are extremely sensitive on the issue of race. They are foreign policy hawks. And they may have at least somewhat of a tendency to make excuses for the Republican Party, even when the GOP lets them down. (Though in my opinion the GOP has pushed its luck even with the mainstream about as far as it can or even farther and is starting to lose them.) They know that Barack Obama is a disaster and can usually tell you why in some detail, though the details may vary a bit.

The whole package deal is a great deal better than dealing with leftists, and if one had the opportunity to choose, say, a child-in-law (son-in-law or daughter-in-law), one would if one is wise far, far rather have a mainstream conservative than almost any other option.

Be that as it may, there are often areas of disagreement and even friction between those on the mainstream Right and those of us, among whom I include myself, who aren't quite in the mainstream Right. In fact, we are often to the right of the mainstream Right. The issue of race makes a pretty good example: One is always debating internally about whether to come out and say, "You know, MLK wasn't really a good role model. We shouldn't idolize him so much." Even a statement like, "Black culture in America is too often dysfunctional, and this, far more than any residual white racism, is the major cause of current disparities to the disadvantage of blacks in the country" can be explosive. It's likely, at a minimum, to make many of one's mainstream conservative friends or family uneasy.

I've found that saying that the military isn't a good career decision for a Christian and/or conservative young man can provoke quite an angry reaction.

Then there's feminism. Quite a number of social conservatives have made their peace with feminism. They're too busy telling us that Susan B. Anthony was pro-life (which appears to be true) and that feminism has been "hijacked" since the 1960's by "radicals" (which in my opinion is false) to have any really negative things to say about feminism. Sarah Palin, after all, was a proud member of Feminists for Life. Which doesn't mean that I would never have voted for her under any circumstancess, but for an Eagle Forum type like me it was a little bit of a let-down.

You get the picture.

However. I've come to realize that anyone who is Right but not mainstream Right, especially if proud to be to the right of the mainstream Right, faces some unique dangers in that position, and it seems like not such a bad idea for us to admit them outright and be on guard against them.

So here's some unsolicited advice. Prologue: Let me just say right now that if you take violent exception to this advice, please never mind. Quite frankly, if you get that upset, you are probably beyond being able to profit from it. Just go somewhere else and fume quietly or whatever, but don't try to post vitriol on this thread, because it won't be published. My intended audience here is an extremely narrow one, as is so often the case: It is those inclined to "hang with" some sort of non-mainstream Right, either in person or on the Internet, but still able to see the way back to the mainstream and still able to feel a little uncomfortable about where they might end up if not careful. To you, and here I include myself, I would suggest that we watch out for the following:

--The addiction to shocking for the sake of shocking. Yes, I know, it's kind of fun to say or to read someone else saying, "Women aren't on average as analytical as men" or "Racial profiling isn't always wrong." Nor am I saying that those are false statements. But beware the little thrill you get (you know that you do get it) from seeing or envisaging the look of shock on others' faces when you say it. That is addictive. And the further you go, the more often you seek that thrill of shocking, the more likely you are to say things that are overstated or false. (Compare, "The police should be able to stop blacks on the street just for being black, and that would be good because it would reduce crime" and "Women are dumber than men." Both of which are false.)

--Also, as you seek that thrill of shocking, you are in danger of falling in with extremists who are out first to shock you and then to transform you into talking and thinking like they do. Real extremists. Kooks, in fact. Beware of this. Not everyone that sayeth, "Feminism is bad" or "The word 'racism' is overused" is a good candidate for a bosom Internet companion, much less a mentor. Great surging seas of utter nut-ballery surround the small island which is the non-kooky but non-mainstream Right. If you don't end up finding that your "new friends" are silly and borderline seditious hyper-authoritarian monarchists (whose handle initials are MM), you may find that they are misogynists, anti-semites, eugenicists, or outright racists with no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Or some combination of the above. Or worse. Friends, including Internet friends, influence friends. Be careful with whom you hang out, even electronically. If you feel uncomfortable in some company, get out. Don't tell yourself that it's just the residual effects of political correctness making you feel strange. Stop going to those sites and commenting and interacting at them.

--The miserable "satisfactions" of gloom and despair. Despair is a sin. Those of us who think that things are worse than other conservatives think they are are in great danger of committing this sin. If you find yourself constantly, unremittingly talking about negative things, just stop for a while. Talk about something else. Talk about and think about something beautiful, good, true and of good report. Especially avoid the deeply dark and bitter.

--Which brings me to...bitterness. Bitterness is somewhat different from despair. Among other things, bitterness is likely to be directed at those nearest to you ideologically who don't happen to be just exactly where you are. When some mainstream conservative says something like, "Hmm, I really think there's something awfully extreme about the homosexual agenda," resist the urge to sneer, "No, duh! Where have you been all this time, Sherlock? Have you been living in a cave?" Bitterness is rife in the non-mainstream Right. I will let you think of your own examples. Sometimes it verges on hatred for those (deemed traitors) who don't happen to have all the same hobby horses that the bitter person has or even who hasn't ridden all those hobby horses for as long as the bitter person.

--Coarse language. Maintain high standards in your writing and speaking. This, of course, is related to the love of shocking but is a special aspect of its own. The idea sometimes seems to be that there's just too much darned niceness in the world, that we need to send a wakeup call, and that throwing around coarse language is a good way to do that. Well, it isn't. Remember that if we aren't for something instead of just being against everything, we have lost our hold on a good raison d'etre. And if you have a high and positive raison d'etre (for your blog or your organization, for example), you won't need foul language to promote it.

--Coming around and just agreeing with the Left. For example, if you think that marriage was severely compromised long ago by no-fault divorce (which is certainly true) you will be likely to come under influences that tell you not to bother to oppose homosexual "marriage," because now, who cares? (See above on despair and bitterness.) If you think that "the game is rigged" and our entire political system is lost in corruption through a conglomeration of big business and big government (which has some plausibility to it, though overstated), you might, if you keep talking, come to start sounding like a member of Occupy Wall Street. That should bother you.

--A yen for destruction. If you want it all just to come tumbling down because "they," unspecified, "deserve it," or because you hope for Something Better to rise out of the ashes if only the present corrupt structure can all be brought tumbling down, if you even find yourself thinking this for a moment, something is wrong. Conservatism is not about destruction. Conservatism is about preserving, loving, and maintaining what is good and valuable. But more than that. The lust for destruction is just plain bad. When you find yourself loving destruction, you aren't just being a bad conservative. You're risking becoming a bad person. Don't listen to those voices.

--Distancing yourself every which-way, including interpersonally, from those "embarrassing" and allegedly "shallow" mainstream conservatives. You can't afford it. This world is lonely enough for, say, pro-lifers. Don't isolate yourself further because some pro-lifers don't seem to you to have a deep and nuanced enough understanding of, I dunno, the American Founding. (Many other examples could be given.) Enjoy cordial friendships with other social conservatives and acknowledge mutual goals. You might find yourself humbled, too. If this advice seems prima facie at odds with the advice above about not hanging out with nuts, well, such is the difference between wing-nuts and mainstream conservative people who maybe don't happen to dot every i of your personal alternative-right agenda or set of (alleged) special insights. One group is actually less dangerous than the other to your immortal soul, not to mention your sanity and your normal human relationships. Guess which is which?

I'm sure I could dream up more to say on this topic, but that will do for the moment. This is actually a serious matter for people, real people, in certain tiny little corners of the Internet. I'm quite serious when I say that I'm speaking to myself inter alia.

Perhaps what a lot of this has to do with is hubris. Being part of a tiny embattled clique is a very tempting self-image for some of us, but by that same token it can be a very dangerous one--the idea that we alone have the gnosis, that we alone have seen through what all these others who think they are conservatives are still trapped in.

Let's not go there. Let's stop and think instead.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Criticisms of "capitalism"--in search of a contrast class

A persistent problem that I see in criticisms of "capitalism" is the unclarity in the use of that term, which in turn seems to be a result of the absence of a clear contrast class.

Let's take, for example, a criticism to the effect that "Capitalism over-values efficiency to the detriment of other important goods."

What does it mean? I ask this question in all seriousness, because the more I think about it, the more sure I am that I don't know.

What, precisely--and I do mean precisely, is this "capitalism" being personified in the criticism? Capitalism as opposed to what?

Here are some possible meanings:

The criticism could mean that people nowadays who tout the free market or laissez-faire economics (such as myself, for example) are more prone than the general public, or are more prone than those who advocate a more heavily regulated economy, to over-value efficiency to the detriment of other important goods. This interpretation at least gives the criticism a meaning, but it makes it very hard to decide that it is true without begging the question on particular matters of policy. After all, the person who brings the criticism presumably disagrees with someone like me on whether and how this or that business should be regulated. One can guess that he would characterize our disagreement by saying that I overvalue efficiency to the detriment of other important goods. But in that case, we might as well just debate the particular policy issues where we disagree. The generalization that involves personifying an entity called "capitalism" really adds nothing to the discussion.

Another point, if we give this interpretation, is that we social conservatives ought to agree among ourselves that some of the most egregious examples of valuing what is said to be efficiency at the expense of other important goods come not from the advocates of the free market but, emphatically to the contrary, from the advocates of central planning. Here I am thinking particularly of the area of health care. Who is it that speaks blithely of "our" healthcare dollars and tells us that "we" need to spend them more "efficiently" and "rationally" and therefore need to rid ourselves of the elderly and dependent? Answer honestly: It isn't the American Enterprise Institute, the Action Institute, or the Mackinac Institute. And it certainly isn't individuals cheering for the free market like Lydia McGrew. No, it's those who are panting and yearning to centralize the entire healthcare industry so that panels of "experts" can impose their ideas of "efficiency" on all the rest of us by getting rid of the "life unworthy of life." It's the free marketers who think that such plans are utterly disastrous, for a whole slew of reasons.

No doubt other examples could be given. For that matter, even the use of eminent domain to force people to sell their land for the building of an electric dam in the name of efficiency is going to meet with a somewhat ambivalent response from someone with libertarian sympathies like myself. We happy moderns, cheering the movement of progress, may be all in favor of electric dams, but those of us who get queasy about government power are not exactly excited about forced purchase for the sake of bringing them into existence.

Let's try another interpretation of the criticism. One could take the criticism to refer to industrialism and to mean that people in industrial societies are likely to overvalue efficiency more than people in pre-industrial societies. I doubt that this is true, but it's at least meaningful. However, it then has little or nothing to do with free market economics. For Communist countries have been highly industrialized, while some tribe still working with stone knives and bear skins can and often probably does have a highly unregulated and laissez-faire economic approach.

Another interpretation might be the claim that people living in countries with more unregulated economies tend to over-value efficiency and that more regulation seems to produce a greater ability to value other things. It would be difficult to say what evidence someone might bring to bolster such a claim, but it certainly seems disconfirmed by the history of America itself. As we look at the past 150 years of American history, we see the loss of social capital and the growth of cold-heartedness along with ever-increasing government regulation of business, a level of regulation that makes it harder and harder even to start a business.

Nor am I saying that this coldness of heart and failure to value intangible goods is caused by the government regulation of business. That's not the point one way or another. The point is that there really doesn't seem to be any good evidence that increasingly poking and prodding the money-making goose that lays the golden egg has the beneficial effect of somehow making people value the intangible finer things of life.

I hope that this short series of examples will show how very difficult it is to pin down attempted criticisms of a shadowy entity known as "capitalism." In my opinion it's salutary for would-be critics to discipline themselves by trying to think of a contrast class, to ditch the personification of "capitalism," and to ask themselves exactly what they really mean, followed by asking themselves what concrete evidence they have for the now-clarified claim.

A few further points: Sage indicates that perhaps fans of the free market are uncomfortable with the question, "How much economic efficiency is too much?" To tell the truth, I'm simply baffled by the question. What does it mean? Efficiency in what area? "Too much" in what sense? And so forth.

I would say that in general, it seems to be extremely elusive to decide that some process is "too efficient." For example, is driving a car "too efficient"? Would it be better if cars were banned and if everyone were forced to use horses instead? Obviously, that's an extreme example, but it illustrates the baffling nature of the question.

In such elusive areas, it seems to make the most sense to allow individuals to decide for themselves to a very great extent how much efficiency they want.This cuts both ways; it also amounts to a defense of the person who prefers to be inefficient relative to some currently available technology. For example, if someone wants to do without e-mail, more power to him! I have no ambitions to force him to use e-mail! But on the other hand, I don't think the agrarian should have ambitions to try to chivy me not to use e-mail or a cell phone or what-not.

An important point is that I shouldn't assume that I know better than anyone else "how much efficiency is too much" in every area or even many areas. This isn't false modesty. Sometimes I do think I know better than others. But in a nebulous area like this, it behooves us to take a lighter-handed approach. If indeed society works better, as Sage hypothesizes, with a certain amount of what will look to some people like inefficiency, then perhaps we should count on other people to recognize that as well. In that case, the free market system will take that into account.

"Inefficient" (the scare quotes are deliberate, as it isn't clear that they are always really inefficient) ways of doing things can easily be catered to by the market when there are people who want them. We already see this in many hobby areas, with everything from scrap-booking to micro-brewery to growing "heritage grains" (not to mention far more important things like home schooling) made possible by the prosperity and leisure time which are the gifts of free enterprise itself.

All of this seems to me to be counterevidence to one final possible interpretation of the above criticism--namely, that a materially prosperous people (as opposed to a poorer people or country) values efficiency of production too much, to the detriment of other intangible goods.

Comments on this post have been closed at What's Wrong With the World and redirected to this cross-posting at Extra Thoughts. This is for a very specific reason, and here, without being angry in any way, I would like to address a specific W4 commentator: Nice Marmot, I'm sure you mean well, but you are positively the worst offender recently at W4 in the area of bringing criticisms of something you call "capitalism" (or sometimes "corporate capitalism") without specifying your meaning. At times I really think perhaps you are not capable of being more specific, but it tends to get frustrating and can waste time. You also have a tendency to criticize advocates of free market economics like myself of things we have expressly disavowed, which is also frustrating and time wasting. By no means am I saying that I will not approve your comments here at Extra Thoughts, where full moderation is enabled. I may do so. But I think the discussion will be more profitable if the discipline I've enjoined in this post is enforced--that is to say, if you have to do more than make generalizations and repeat yourself, and if you have to define your terms and specify a contrast class. It's an excellent exercise and I think often could force those who are used to talking to people who agree with them and used to dealing in sweeping generalizations to recognize, if only in the privacy of their own minds, that they really do not have a very clear idea of what they are saying and what their criticism amounts to. Sweeping history of ideas that deals in lofty generalizing terms, not to mention psychoanalysis of those who disagree with one, can be addictive.

I would like to challenge the critics of the free market to go cold turkey.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The nest

On Friday night, there was a storm. It's big local news, though not likely to show up on the news of the world at large. Lots of trees down.

It started out as just an ordinary thunderstorm. Then the wind began rising, blowing rain so hard against the windows that it sounded like sleet. The wind got louder and louder, and suddenly there was a giant "Crack," and it seemed like something had hit the roof.

I still don't know for sure what the loud crack was, but my best guess is that it was the tree limb that came down from the maple in the back. Then again, it could have been the entire maple that was uprooted and came down on the street in the side yard. Or it could just possibly have had something to do with the giant blue spruce (see here for a mention of that spruce) across the street that narrowly missed the neighbors' house (their bedroom window right in the front) and was deposited precisely along the side. Probably did in the garage next door to them, but at least nobody was hurt.

But probably, the loud cracking noise was the limb that came down.

There's been a pair of robins with a nest in that tree. I don't think we've seen any of their babies, though a fledgling was found around the front of the house, probably from a different nest. A month or so ago, back in the days when it was cool outside, Youngest Daughter and I sat outside and watched this robin foraging for nest-building materials. Somehow a piece of clear plastic, rather tougher than the usual plastic wrap, had gotten left on the lawn, and he was determined to have that. I still don't know why he was having trouble with it. Maybe it was slippery, but eventually he flew off with it, up into the branches. That branch. The one that came down. I hope all the young robins were fledged. I found no egg fragments or dead nestlings, so I have hopes. But when cleaning up the mess, I did find the nest, in several pieces. Hardened mud making up part of it, woven superstructure. And a piece of familiar-looking plastic carefully included.

He was back, though, last evening. Surveying the territory. The rest of that tree survived. Just the one high branch gone. It looks a little lopsided but will grow back. I think he has plans for a new nest.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Interesting article in the most recent Human Life Review

I was just going through the most recent Human Life Review, a physical copy, to see if I would be keeping this physical issue. (I try not to let physical journals accumulate if the desired contents can be found on-line.) I found this article, "The Problem of Infertility in Africa," to be the only one I wanted to keep a record of, and this post is here chiefly for my own convenience, so I'll be able to find the link again.

I don't have many profound words about the article, but it is a window into a different world. In this world, people are literally obsessed by infertility, to the point that the author says that Gospel music (!) in Africa must always be addressing the issue of infertility, yet actual (ethical) medical treatments for and prevention of infertility, based on scientific fact, are rarely discussed. One of the most eyebrow-raising sentences: " Since popular media already pay much attention to infertility, perhaps they could be persuaded to include medical facts in their coverage."

Well, er, yes. One would think so. But evidently witchcraft or some Pentecostal-witchcraft hybrid is a more popular way to treat fertility.

In this world, women sometimes approach the nuns who run an adoption agency wearing pillows in the hopes that they can adopt a baby and pretend to have given birth. Husbands who don't wish to divorce their wives or to practice polygamy feel nearly forced by cultural pressures to do so if the couple suffers from infertility, since the wife is invariably blamed and the husband told that he has a duty to marry a woman who can give him a child.

Meanwhile, STD's are rife and are the major cause of infertility, both male and female, but apparently the common man does not connect the dots and apply the obvious remedy. Be monogamous. Don't genitally mutilate your daughters, as that can cause infertility. Don't marry off girls when they are so young that sex and childbirth will harm them and make them infertile. Stuff like that.

A dark continent indeed. It's good for pro-lifers and cultural conservatives to know what goes on in cultures widely, even wildly, different from our own, and I recommend this article for this purpose.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A few thoughts on the G.Z. and T.M. case

Yes, you'll gather that I'm sufficiently a coward to use initials so as not to attract search bots and worse than search bots, as the comments I'm going to put here are not going to be palatable to the sort of people who tend to threaten violence if you disagree with them.

Now that G.Z. has been acquitted by a jury of any crime and is merely still in danger of a) political and lawless pursuit by a Javert-like federal government bent on tasting "white hispanic" blood, b) outright murder, c) inability to get a job, ever, d) personal civil trial by the relatives of T. M., I'm going to offer a few comments on the case.

First of all, this case should never, never have been brought to trial at all, given that it was only political intervention that prevented it from all being over when the police didn't arrest G.Z. in the first place and when the local prosecutor considered that there wasn't a case, a point well made here and here. Second, since that is the case, the real injustice here has been done to G.Z., a point that some people even sorta kinda on the right do not seem to appreciate.

It occurs to me that G. Z. was one of those Obama supporters and men of the left who still believed that leftism is compatible with law and order, that the law is the same for everybody, and that we all agree that crime should be stopped. My deepest sympathies go out to him for what must be a rude awakening, though I have no idea if he has even yet connected those dots. No, committed leftism is not compatible with law and order, if keeping law and order means that the "wrong kind of people" get punished or arrested "too often."

I remember twenty-odd years ago bursting into the office of one of my conservative mentors at Vanderbilt and fulminating about an article I had been reading that day in a magazine. (This was before the Internet.) The article was complaining that the police in one city were arresting "too many" people of a certain race and saying that this had to stop. I was simply aghast at how blatant it was. It didn't actually present any evidence or documentation nor even bother to say that the police were stopping or arresting people of this race who were innocent. It wasn't even clear that the article was assuming that. It was a straight matter of bean counting: Thou shalt not arrest or stop more than x number of people of this race or thou shalt be in trouble, period. If that means that crime must go unprevented or unpunished, so be it. "So what does this mean, a daily bag limit?" I spluttered. That got a wry smile.

As with academic standards and hiring standards, so here: If standards of behavior mean that "too many" of x mascot group (women, minorities, whatever) are burdened or arrested, then the standards must be changed, or must be changed for them. We can't have disparate impact even if eliminating disparate impact means allowing anarchy to prevail.

G.Z. has had that illustrated to him the hard, the very hard, way.

Below are the comments I posted on Facebook about this matter after reading some comments by a "moderate" friend. The "moderate" friend had said that he accepts the verdict in the trial and that there doesn't appear to have been enough evidence to convict and does appear to have been some evidence that T.M. was the aggressor but that this is a time when we need to talk about the reality of racial profiling, what it's like to be black in America, etc. He said that G.Z. placed T.M. in a group of "them" who "always get away" and that this grouping and categorizing of black people is what we need to be talking about now. Another friend echoed him and approvingly linked this stupid article, saying that we white people in the evangelical church need to be "listening" to our black brethren about their experience. Here was my response:

For those who are saying in the wake of the Z. verdict that, even though there wasn't enough evidence to convict Z. of a crime, he was committing “racial profiling,” about which we should all take this opportunity to beat our breasts, I have a questoin: Must we all engage in reverse racial profiling? Reverse racial profiling is when you deliberately ignore suspicious behavior and self-presentation if engaged in by a person of a mascot racial group. Hence, even if M. was walking or dressing or behaving in a way that looked like he was high (which he may have been) and which was suspicious, Z. was obligated to pretend that this wasn't the case, because M. was black. Is that it? If not, then how the heck do you know that Z's suspicions were not based on self-presentation and behavior? Is it not jumping to conclusions (which is itself what is supposed to be wrong about “profiling”) for you to assume that Z. was guilty of wrong-thought in suspecting M. of being up to no good? Think twice. I refuse to use this as an opportunity to bang the “white guilt” drum. That's uncalled for, and even if you are a moderate in the way you do it, it plays into exactly the sort of hysteria that has put an innocent man through an unjustified ordeal and may yet cost him his life. Stop and think about that for a minute before you keep talking about the “evils of profiling.”
Unfortunately, there is more than one kind of race baiting. There's the extreme kind that calls for Z's blood and says that his acquittal was a victory for racism. But even just saying that this is a great chance to talk about the evils of racial profiling is a form of race baiting. It has the unsavory implication that maybe Z. has deserved at least what he has gone through thus far for engaging (so it asserts) in the evil thought of "racial profiling." And it contributes in its small way to keeping alive the flame of hatred against him for that wrong-thought, as well as downplaying or even ignoring the injustice that has been done to him. The only people who can be victims of injustice, apparently, are the mascot groups, and the rest of us must be kept ever mindful of that fact so that we can feel the right amount of guilt for being "privileged."

The "moderate" wannabes who engage in this kind of race baiting never for a moment think about the new climate of opinion that they are contributing to, nor about its victims. They don't seem too worried about anti-white racism, about innocent victims of that sort of hatred, about the under-reporting of those crimes, and about the way that constantly feeding the left-wing racial narrative (which they, in their small way, are doing) perpetuates and permits violence and interracial hatred from the alleged "victim" groups by confirming them in their "victim" status and giving them a sense of excuse.

That is reckless and foolish. It is a failure to recognize reality and to deal with it. And that is all the more ironic, since these are the kind of people who usually worry their heads a great deal about societal attitudes and "what we as Christians are encouraging," etc.

I hope that G.Z. and his family are protected and also, if I may say so, that they don't keep supporting President Barack Obama, who intervened so irresponsibly in this case and cared nothing about the effect of his intervention on an innocent man. There are plenty of things that this case tells us, and they do indeed have to do with "the privileged." But those words, as it turns out, don't mean what the liberals and the evangelical racial breast-beaters think they do.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The glorious liberty of the children of God

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it....He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:18-25, 32)
There's definitely something to be said for an upbringing in which you are made to memorize a lot of Scripture. Yesterday I had the phrase "the glorious liberty of the children of God" rattling around in my head, and I was sure it was from Romans 8, as indeed turns out to be the case. It was exceedingly worthwhile to look it up and read the entire passage. The passage goes on, too, with "If God be for us, who can be against us?" and "I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities...shall be able to separate us from the love of God." The whole chapter is well worth committing to memory.

But about that "glorious liberty of the children of God." What does it mean? In context, it certainly looks like it means the new heaven and the new earth and our own redeemed bodies. The restoration of all things. Jesus said, "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5), and that is what St. Paul is teaching about here. In, to be sure, somewhat general and non-specific terms, but as best we can understand it, it means that there will be an entirely new creation after the end of this world, a creation in which there will be no sorrow or pain but which will not be disembodied, which will involve all the beauty and grandeur of physical Nature, purged of its horrors and dangers.

We don't know what this will be like. Will there be germs, while we are simply resistant to them? If there are dogs, cats, and horses, will they have puppies, kittens, and foals, and how will the animal population problem work if they do? Where will our food come from, and how will we acquire it without the "sweat of our brow"? Bugs certainly have their place in the present ecosystem, but a new earth containing ticks, mosquitoes, and chiggers sounds a bit problematic, so how is that going to work? We have no idea of the answer to any of these questions.

So, yes, the promise of a new Nature, a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, is left somewhat vague. But it is impossible to read Paul's words about the whole creation waiting in expectation without feeling a thrill of excitement. Paul even hints that in some sense the redemption and recreation of the whole world is bound up with us. The world is waiting for men to be redeemed, which will in some sense allow or bring about the redemption of the whole earth through the "glorious liberty of the children of God."

Then there is verse 32. It is all too easy when one is trying to submit oneself to the will of God to take such a verse about "freely giving us all things" in an entirely spiritual sense. Yes, yes, one says, along with the death of Jesus Christ God the Father gives us Himself, gives us the promise of the beatific vision, gives us spiritual growth and spiritual riches. That's all it means. But I'm not so sure of that. In fact, though it doesn't come immediately on the heels of the verses about the whole creation waiting for redemption, it now seems to me that verse 32 is about the redemption of the body and of the creation. God will with Jesus Christ give us all things--new bodies that never grow old or ill, freedom from pain and death, the end of sorrow, and the beauty we have loved in this world, translated into a new key.

In fact, perhaps the distinction between spiritual riches and recreated earthly riches is a little artificial, and perhaps we would see it to be wholly artificial if we were sufficiently spiritually insightful. Paul can be read here as teaching a kind of mystical spiritual truth--that the redemption of our souls and the redemption of our bodies and the redemption of the world are all bound up together at the root. "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Romans 8:30). Glorified? Doesn't that have something to do with the "glorious liberty" and the "redemption of the body" he was talking about a few verses before? I think it does.

Perhaps it's a kind of spiritual mathematical equation: If we understood everything, we would understand why the whole of Nature was skewed and damaged by the Fall of Satan and the Fall of Man. Then we would also understand why it simply follows that when the Church Triumphant is gathered together in the presence of our Lord, when this present human history of mingled sorrow, misery, beauty, and grandeur comes to an end, when the glorification of human nature is completed, creation itself will "come right" and be recreated, so that what comes after is the best of all, though we can glimpse it now only through a glass darkly.
I announce to you what is guessed at in all the phenomena of your world. You see the corn of wheat shrivel and break open and die, but you expect a crop. I tell you of the Springtime of which all springtimes speak. I tell you of the world for which this world groans and toward which it strains. I tell you that beyond the awful borders imposed by time and space and contingency, there lies what you seek. I announce to you life instead of mere existence, freedom instead of frustration, justice instead of compensation. For I announce to you redemption. Behold I make all things new. Behold I do what cannot be done. I restore the years that the locusts and worms have eaten. I restore the years which you have drooped away upon your crutches and in your wheel-chair. I restore the symphonies and operas which your deaf ears have never heard, and the snowy massif your blind eyes have never seen, and the freedom lost to you through plunder, and the identity lost to you because of calumny and the failure of justice; and I restore the good which your own foolish mistakes have cheated you of. And I bring you to the Love of which all other loves speak, the Love which is joy and beauty, and which you have sought in a thousand streets and for which you have wept and clawed your pillow.
Thomas Howard, Christ the Tiger, pp. 158-9.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Force and Fraud refuted

I just recently ran into someone on Facebook trying the line that the only laws that can be justified are those against force and fraud. I suppose everybody on the conservative side of the spectrum has to go through a die-hard, card-carrying libertarian period in their lives, during which they agonize over the question, "How can the state rightly stop a man from cutting off his own arm with a chain saw, as long as he doesn't hurt anybody else? Think! Think! No, I just can't justify such a prohibition." I, too, have had such debates. (Though I wish to have it known that I was always on the anti-chainsaw side. I could never go quite that far.)

As time goes on, it seems to me that the restriction of just laws to those against force and fraud is so obviously incorrect that I find it more and more difficult to know why it is so attractive. Here are just a few knock-down counterexamples. (Note that I say "knock-down." My point is that I'm not going to put into this list laws against pornography and prostitution, because those are of course points at issue between the die-hard libertarian and the social conservative. I'm going to pick other examples.)

It is obviously legitimate for some level of government to be able to stop/prohibit...

--keeping large dead animal carcasses all over your property, attracting vermin.
--dumping your garbage in the local public park to save on your garbage bills.
--having sex in public.
--walking around entirely nude in public.
--getting dead drunk or high and leaving your two-year-old to look after himself all day.
--deliberately cutting off your own arm with a chainsaw. (I know, I gave that one already, but I thought I'd put it into the list for good measure.)
--buying and selling infants.

Now, that's just for starters. I'm sure readers can add to the list. The point is that none of these involve either force or fraud, yet any person with a modicum of sense knows that to have laws against them or to allow the police to jump in and stop them (e.g., to confiscate the chainsaw) is not government overreach.

So why do people, it seems especially young people, adopt the slogan about force and fraud?

I can think of a few reasons.

1) Sensible small-government conservatives realize that notions like "the common good" and "indirect harm" have been vastly over-used by big-government leftists. There is a temptation to overreact, and the slogan about having laws only against force and fraud sounds in some way like a principled way to cut off all those big bureaucracies and excessive regulations at the knee. (Though come to think of it, why is it so principled? I mean, force and fraud are still moral categories. It's not as though we've somehow gotten away from morals by restricting laws to those against force and fraud. If getting away from morals is supposed to be a good thing, for some reason. What is the argument that places those moral categories into such a special position? Is it just supposed to be evident to the natural light?)

2) Related to #1, it is actually true that in many cases, laws that are not against force and fraud deserve additional scrutiny and prudential questions. Is it really going to be worth the intrusion into people's lives to have this law? This is true even before we get to ridiculous things like telling businesses how far away from the wall they have to have their toilets. Seatbelt laws are a good example. They are by no means knock-down laws. Are we really sure that it's worth it to have such laws? Doesn't it give you a bit of pause when your state gov. starts setting up "click-it or ticket" zones in which they videocam on-coming drivers and, if it appears visually that they aren't wearing a seatbelt, stop them and give them a ticket? It's perfectly legitimate to be in a sense libertarian sympathetic. I would be entirely open to an argument that, for all the lives they save, seatbelt laws aren't worth the loss of liberty and the feeling of giving the police state another stick with which to beat a dog. And so on for innumerable regulations. A phrase like "the common good" is not irrelevant, but it isn't a talisman either. It doesn't excuse just anything.

3) Finally, I think this "force and fraud" stuff gets brought up by fake libertarians who are actually leftists, and then conscientious conservatives feel stymied by it if they haven't answered it decisively already in their own minds. A liberal who accepts a kajillion business, environmental, and animal rights laws, and would even want to see more, a liberal who endorses Obamacare, of all things, will nonetheless start talking like a pious libertarian the moment one starts discussing a law against, say, prostitution or pornography. "It's a free contract." "It isn't violence against anybody." This, from a man who doubtless supports all manner of restrictions on free, non-violent contracts, is a bit thick, and the liberal should be called on the hypocrisy. Like this: "Do you support minimum wage laws? But isn't one freely entering into a contract to work for less than minimum wage? Do you support unions? But isn't that an intrusion into the right of a non-union worker to make a free contract with the employer? Do you support laws against pollution? But releasing x amount of smoke into the air is non-violent." And  so on and so forth. Instead, there are some conservatives who will feel that they have somehow been "caught forcing their morals" on other people, momentarily forgetting all the ways in which the interlocutor wants to "force his morals" on you. (Try asking him if he supports non-discrimination laws. Talk about forcing morals!)

The fact of the matter is that it is impossible to build a workable society with only laws against force and fraud. They're a good place to start, but they aren't going to do it on their own. Others have written about this much more eloquently than I. I think that Jennifer Roback Morse is a good example of a person who comes from a somewhat libertarian background but also sees the limits thereof, especially when it comes to issues regarding children and custody. Every good conservative should have a little libertarian inside him. But that's not the place to stop.