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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The heart of the matter

Towards the end of a recent Ian Tuttle column on NRO about the Chattanooga shooter he writes:
What induces a person to shoot up a military recruiting center in middle America is surely a complex of factors. But the same network of politicians and media who absurdly attributed Dylann Roof’s murder to the presence of a flag on state property 120 miles away — that is, to the deep and abiding menace of structural racism, “interpersonal and structural . . . current and historical . . . explicit and implicit . . . articulated and silent,” in Charles Blow’s perfectly nebulous formulation — are hesitant to blame terrorism on any “structure” or “institution” not amenable to a stimulus package.
He concludes:
 The hold of religion is deep, and does not acquiesce to jobs programs or tax credits. Until our leaders acknowledge that squarely, we’ll continue to blame earned income for the problems of Islam — and continue to be surprised that we’re in the crosshairs.
Ed Driscoll has an interesting post on the hold of religion that includes the following:
Nietzsche killed God in 1883, but man is hardwired to believe in something. Which explains why much of the 20th century was a search for alternate religions: The State, environmentalism, feminism, hallucinogenic drugs, and virtually all other aspects of the left take on religious aspects as they become more and more radical. But then, as Tom Wolfe wrote in “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening,” “It is entirely possible that in the long run historians will regard the entire New Left experience as not so much a political as a religious episode wrapped in semi military gear and guerrilla talk.”

All keen observations, but the penultimate paragraph really caught my attention:
 But, as the literary critic Irving Babbitt observed in his 1924 book Democracy and Leadership: “When studied with any degree of thoroughness, the economic problem will be found to run into the political problem, the political problem in the philosophical problem, and the philosophical problem itself to be almost indissolubly bound up at last with the religious problem.” Talk about lack of jobs, if you like — or rampant inflation, unaffordable housing, &c. — but eventually you have to go deeper. Marx was wrong. Men are not explained solely by their economic circumstances.
(emphasis mine)

An economics without consideration of people is not real world economics.  Studying the matter with enough depth and breadth in a "if you give a mouse a cookie" manner, purely material explanations are clearly insufficient.  My own intellectual experience is in accord with that of Irving Babbitt.

Returning to the hold of religion and non-material explanations of the world,  Law Professor David Skeel has written a book,  True Paradox.  He makes a case for what religion offers  people:
Skeel’s work is both philosophically weighty and engagingly brief. The essence of his case for Christianity (or at least monotheism) is that humans seem inexorably drawn to normative ideas about truth, beauty, and justice, all of which are better explained by a created order than by random materialistic chaos. As a lawyer, he especially notes how people – reformers, activists, and politicians – seem unable to get away from normative ideas of justice, and seek to implement just systems. Paradoxically (one of a number of paradoxes he notes), we have a strong sense of justice and yet seem unable to manifest and or even approximate justice in most societies. This speaks to our innate notions of morality and fairness, yet highlights our inability to overcome the debilitating effects of sin and the Fall.
 Skeel’s apologetics do perform a service for Christians, of course, as I walked away with greater assurance that my faith really is philosophically satisfying in the face of the toughest questions. But I hope, as Skeel (an elder at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church) hopes, that non-Christians will read this book, too. If they don’t find certainty, those with eyes to see and ears to hear will at least realize that Christianity has coherent, powerful answers to many of humanity’s enduring conundrums.

Another reviewer concludes:
“True Paradox” is written by a Christian in defense of Christianity, but most nonbelieving readers will not find it off-putting. Mr. Skeel expresses great respect for those with whom he disagrees—a good deal more respect, in fact, than some prominent materialists have accorded their believing interlocutors. Which may be precisely what this subject needs.

But it really depends upon whether or not one is willing to study matters with the intent of improved understanding or merely to support already held beliefs.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

It's not a matter of "if"

The reality based community claims to know what's best for all of us.

For instance, gun free zones:

Clearly a brilliant, totally genius idea, that works every time.

Except, of course, for when it doesn't.

As things stand, it is only a matter of "when" until we get to host our own entry into the ISISholes' pantheon of atrocities.

Of course, there's no need for things to stand as they are.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Emphasis added, obviously. Our reality based overlords are fond of torturing the second amendment, subjecting it to astonishing contortions ignoring both context and grammar. It's amazing how they can detect emanations, thereby finding the Constitution mandates murders of convenience and gay marriage, yet refuse to acknowledge that which is staring them in the face.

But one clear threat we face from the Religion of Death is also one that we can counter by noting that introductory clause. Pres Obama could, through a completely legal executive order, direct that the entire US will be "shall issue" for the concealed carry of handguns to those who complete a DOD approved program of weapons training.

And then eliminate the fantastical notion that gun free zones are anything other than places to herd victims.

Of course, as a progressive, Pres Obama would never entertain the notion. He'd far rather Americans be defenseless in their own country.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Quite the paradox

Over at Instapundit Ed Driscoll concludes a post by referring to Chesterton's fence:
"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” ... (It continues)
It reminds me of another observation by "he who shall not be named":
First, there is the question of how our knowledge really does arise.  Most knowledge - and I confess it took me some time to recognize this - is obtained not from immediate experience or observation, but in the continuous process of sifting a learnt tradition, which requires individual recognition and following of moral traditions that are not justifiable in terms of the canons of traditional theories of rationality. The tradition is the product of a process of selection from among irrational, or, rather, `unjustified' beliefs which, without anyone's knowing or intending it, assisted the proliferation of those who followed them (with no necessary relationship to the reasons - as for example religious reasons - for which they were followed). The process of selection that shaped customs and morality could take account of more factual circumstances than individuals could perceive, and in consequence tradition is in some respects superior to, or `wiser' than, human reason (see chapter one above). This decisive insight is one that only a very critical rationalist could recognize.

Such very critical rationalists are exceedingly rare.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015


I was happy to hear that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of "same-sex marriage" in Obergefell v. Hodges. Not because I think same-sex marriage is a good idea. Not because I think there should be any sort of right at all to same-sex marriage. Not even because I will ever consider those of the same sex to be married (the word "marriage" has a specific meaning to me and it does not, nor will it ever, apply to non-heterosexual couples in my mind, and nothing the government does will ever change that).

Instead, I was happy because by itself, it's a non-issue. There aren't very many gay people (or people of the more than 50 other genders) and, based on every place same-sex marriage has been legal, very few of them actually want to get married. There almost certainly won't be an explosion of same-sex marriages so I figured that now that the whining gays have rammed their agenda down the throats of those of us who think the whole concept is absurd, maybe they'd STFU already.

Of course, nothing is ever easy. I see that religious conservative groups are mobilizing to turn this into a war. This is beyond foolish, in my opinion, not necessarily because they're wrong, but because there will be so few gay marriages that fighting it directly is going to be wildly counterproductive. If one must fight it, being subversive is a much easier and more effective way. For example, if you're a priest and don't want to do gay marriages, just don't show up and say you were sick with a last minute stomach flu. If you're a baker who's bothered by the profit potential of baking gay wedding cakes, deliver ugly cakes inconveniently late. There are plenty of other churches and bakers who will be perfectly happy to cater to same-sex couples and those couples will quickly learn to avoid your church or your bakery and go elsewhere.

I assumed that the Supremes would simply use the Equal Protection Clause and state that sexual orientation would be a new class that would have equal protection in order to arrive at their ruling. What could be simpler, more straightforward and more logical than that?

My assumption was wrong and now I'm dismayed beyond belief. Instead of using the Equal Protection Clause, the Supremes decided to create a right to dignity, kinda outta thin air (well, maybe thick air given that some prior cases sorta pointed this way, but still...).

I think that there are some serious problems with the concept of a right to dignity. For one, it's totally subjective, especially when needing to create priorities when there are conflicting dignities. For example, is it more or less of an indignity to be required to serve someone you consider to be reprehensible or to be refused service by someone?

For another, some people get themselves into states from which there simply is no dignified escape. Consider a drug addled homeless person in a soup line. Not much dignity there no matter how you slice it. Even if the food was delivered in a nice environment with servers in tuxedos, there would still be the core indignity of being so incompetent you need a handout to survive. Indeed, it could easily be argued that there's more dignity in starving than in accepting the handout and that soup kitchens should be shut down.

And how does this new right to dignity compare to other rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If dignity trumps freedom of religion, then clearly priests will have to perform same-sex marriages (though, as I noted above, nothing will prevent them from performing them very poorly). If dignity trumps freedom of speech, then everything I've written in this post (and in many others) will be illegal in the not too distant future; there's no dignity in debate.

Each of these questions, and many more, will have to be answered and will cause endless litigation, haranguing, and fighting and my bet is that it will further undermine the already thinning fabric tenuously holding our society and civilization together. Bummer!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

On this 4th of July

Myron Magnet on NRO:

What kind of nation did the Founders aim to create?

Men, not vast, impersonal forces — economic, technological, class struggle, what have you — make history, and they make it out of the ideals that they cherish in their hearts and the ideas they have in their minds. So what were the ideas and ideals that drove the Founding Fathers to take up arms and fashion a new kind of government, one formed by reflection and choice, as Alexander Hamilton said,
rather than by accident and force?

The worldview out of which America was born centered on three revolutionary ideas, of which the most powerful was a thirst for liberty. For the Founders, liberty was not some vague abstraction. They understood it concretely, as people do who have a keen knowledge of its opposite. They understood it in the same way as Eastern Europeans who have lived under Communist tyranny, for instance, or Jews who escaped the Holocaust.

 The Founders believed that the purpose of government was to protect life, liberty, and property from what they called the depravity of human nature — from man’s innate capacity to do the kinds of violence that slave-owners, to take just one example, did every day. But government, they recognized, is a double-edged sword.
 Even the democratic republic the Founders created had to be run by imperfect men, and thus even it could turn into what Richard Henry Lee called an elective despotism. So the second great Founding idea is this: The mere fact that you elect representatives to govern you is no sure-fire guarantee of liberty. Or, as Madison saw it in Federalist No. 10: Taxation with representation can be tyranny.

Washington was even more explicit about this, the third of the great Founding ideas: A democratic republic requires a special kind of culture, one that nurtures self-reliance and a love of liberty. Constitutions are all very well, the Founders often observed, but they are only “parchment barriers,” easily breached if demagogues subvert the “spirit and letter” of the document. They can do this dramatically, in one revolutionary putsch, or they can inflict a death by a thousand cuts, gradually persuading citizens that the Constitution doesn’t mean what it says but should be interpreted to mean something different, or even something opposite.

The ultimate safeguard against such usurpation is the vitality of America’s culture of liberty.

 The Founders well understood, as John Adams reminisced in 1818, that it was a change in the “principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections” of Americans that had sparked the Revolution. They considered that new culture of freedom that had arisen among them in the decades before Lexington and Concord, along with the new Constitution they created, to be the most precious inheritance they bequeathed to future generations of their fellow citizens. That vision offers us an instructive standard by which to gauge the present.

 Also, from David Goldman aka/Spengler (h/t Dinocrat):

Biblical Israel was America’s inspiration. Its successor, the State of Israel, yet may be America’s salvation, though usually the issue is put the other way around. America’s founders, to be sure, saw in their “new nation, conceived in liberty” a new Israel, and Lincoln dubbed Americans an “almost chosen people.” We long since put the notion of national election on the back shelf along with other memorabilia of the Revolution and Civil War. But Israel’s founding and fight for survival strike a chord in our national character that reminds of us what we were and still should be.

The notion of “national election,” to be sure, has scant purchase in a world where every identity group claims the right to the equality of its own narrative.
 All men are created equal, but not all nations. There are two nations and only two nations in the world that are “chosen,” because their inhabitants became citizens by choice rather than happenstance: the United States of America and the State of Israel. Every other nation in the world defines itself by common territory and heritage.
 This biblical vision of a free people assembled by choice that chooses God rather than a human monarch as its sovereign makes sense of the now-unimaginable courage of the American revolutionaries. They risked their lives, property, and social status because of their profound belief that the European political model was so prone to failure that an entirely different kind of polity was worth the risk of their lives and property. After the Napoleonic Wars and the two World Wars of the 20th century, it is hard to fault their judgment. What would the world be today if the United States were not there to sort out the ghastly mess that the Europeans made?

One does not have to view Israel’s accomplishments through a theological mirror to understand what the Jewish State tells us about statecraft. Freedom does not arise from the mere presence of democratic institutions, as we learned in Iraq, or from bursts of popular enthusiasm, as we learned in the Arab Spring, or from participation in elections, as we learned when Hamas swept the 2006 West Bank elections. It depends on the radical commitment to the premise that a higher power than human caprice is the ultimate arbiter in civic life. It requires willingness to take existential risk. That is the Jewish principle in politics, the civil content of the Sinai covenant, and the basis for the American Founding. To the extent we have forgotten this, the people who stood at Mount Sinai still are there to remind us. If we reject this reminder, we will un-choose ourselves as Americans.
 Just an important reminder.  I would advise any young person to be very careful not to squander such an inheritance.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Free Banking

With the Greek banking fiasco continuing, I think this is a good time to reintroduce the concept of completely unregulated banking, usually known as "free banking." The following excerpts are from the post Why free-banking (I've added emphasis here and there).
The need for and convenience of a central bank are usually taken for granted. To say that a central bank is a good institution and, therefore, needed, is not enough. Unfortunately, the assumption that central banks are necessary seems to weigh more heavily than the facts that suggest otherwise. [...]

Historical records, however, show that free banking outperforms central banks in most, if not all, of the cases.
Let's reiterate what free banking is:
A free banking regime is such where the market for money and banking is free of specific regulation (save, of course, illegal activities such as the violation of third party property rights.) Let me be clear. The absence of a central bank is not equivalent to free banking.  The absence of regulation is equivalent to free banking.
It's likely you're either completely unfamiliar or not particularly well-versed on the topic of free banking. However, there are more successful examples of free banking than you might guess and there are reasons they've worked well:
The literature on free banking is vast. Let me just give a brief description and comment on a couple of illustrative historical cases. First, under free banking, each bank is free to issue their own convertible banknotes. Convertible to what? To whatever functions as base money in the economy. Historically, this has been gold, but this does not need to be the case. It could be, like Selgin describes in his Theory of Free Banking, that the Federal Reserve shuts down the FOMC and that the USD becomes the base money to which private convertible banknotes are convertible. ... 
Second, because all banknotes are convertible to the same base money, there is no multiplicity of units of account. Under this regime, there should be no fear of confusion about the multiplicity of prices. If today you travel to Hong Kong, Ireland, or Scotland, you’ll see a strong presence of private money in circulation, but you won’t see multiplicity of units of account. ...
Third, the stability of the system comes from banks competing with each other for deposits and therefore for base money. ... Free banking shows a remarkably good performance...
Is free banking a viable possibility going forward? In the United States, I doubt it, but just considering how the concept works and its past successes give us the opportunity to incrementally improve the current system in order to avoid future problems such as Greece and Detroit:
If one looks at historical facts, rather than just let be guided by pre-conceived ideas, the need and superiority of central banking next to alternative monetary regimes is thrown into serious doubt. Surely, free banking is long gone and gold, which was used as base money under these cases, is not money anymore.
Why then look at free banking? I can mention at least two reasons: (1) To do away with the almost ideological position that a central bank is needed. This position, or assumption, needs to be questioned rather than taken as fact if we want to come up with innovative alternatives to our monetary regime. (2) Even if the old free banking system based on gold standard is not feasible, it certainly helps us to come up with reform that can improve the status-quo.
And improving the status-quo of a highly regulated world wide banking system with frequent failures would be a very good thing.