November 25, 2015

By grace alone

As a child I felt the power that imbued all things
(I did not know your name
                but felt your breath in the March wind
Smelled and saw and knew you in the rotation of the seasons
In the crisp light of the stars
                and in eerie light of fireflies
In the clatter of dry leaves
                and in the cool
                                                silence of the snow
In all things
Illuminating to me in the magical intensity of sundown
High cloud spread across heaven
                and insect singing down below
All alive
From the moon
                to the smallest young green leaf
                (When was it that I lost you
                and forgot?

When was it I that I lost that light within me
Trading it for a mixture
                of intractable hungers
                and withered
                                shrunken facts?
                (When I began to think myself the center of the universe
                                and ceased to breathe?
                                (When I became an island
                                                in a cold sea far from home)

Into that darkness I have gone unknowingly and quietly
With the approval of my peers
(but I have gone nonetheless)
Little by little
                in the way that all things freeze in your absence
                                (I have lived the long decades as a fitful corpse
                                lost in my dark thoughts
                                gnawed by demons seen and unseen
                                                (I have moved restlessly
                                                and stood still restlessly
                                eaten and slept and dreamed restlessly

A thoughtless animal on the fringes of a thoughtless herd
                (As they have groaned
                I have groaned

                As they have feared and shivered and despised
                I too have feared
                                and shivered
                                                and despised
I have been as nothing
                as a hungry mole among the roots of giant trees
                consuming the days I could not see
                and as certainly consumed by them

For this is the fallen world in all of its spectacle
The world of art
The world of haughty institutions
                (Dead are the minds that murder with ideas and words
                Dead are the tongues that lust for recognition
                                Here the murderer
                                and there the murder’s handiwork
                                                Here the liar
                                                and there the lie

                                We call it social progress
                                                (It is death)

                                We call it wisdom
                                                (It is death)

Here the years have rotted
There the days
                thrown onto the age-old heap of vanities and hatreds
Have you not been with me all along
Following in silence like my shadow
                (When in fact you are the Man
                and I the shadow
                                You are the light
                                and I the darkness
                                                I the illusion
                                                and you the truth

Have I not called out to you from the very bottom of my fears
(in the worst of my moments
                with the most abject of prayers

                only to be lifted up on unseen hands
                                which I then
                                                in turn

Blown in to this corner of a disinterested world
My heart still beating desperately
                wanting to live
Superficially sufficient
                but a nervous
                                hollow shell
                Here you have bought and paid for my remains
                                stood me up
                                                on wavering legs
                                                with a flickering new sight
                                dimly seeing what I have always seen
                                                and never seen
                                                (what I have long despised

                                                                and always loved)

How can I ask for anything at all of my accord?
                (I bend as a willow in the wind
                You beat me with storms
                                and suffuse me with light

                I am enough as I am
                                in all my weakness
                (I have asked enough
                for I am no more than dust

Are you not the eye that sees into my inmost self?
Am I not as you have made me
All that is wretched and all that is good
All that strives
                and all that fears?
(Do not the seasons spin around me
                day in
                                and day out
                While I watch and feel and breathe

                My heart open
                My debts
                                made good

Do I not praise you as all dust must praise the rain
(From its nature
                from its smallness
                                as a child
                reaches up impossibly toward the sky

November 6, 2015

How can God condemn good people?

Two friends of mine have, quite independently, made the same argument against a strict scriptural understanding of Christianity. Both asked essentially this:
How can a loving, merciful God condemn non-believing but good people to eternal torment in hell?
To begin with, the question itself contains two assumptions that are worth noting. First, it assumes that scripture actually says that God condemns non-believers of all sorts to everlasting punishment. A great deal of effort has been put into humanizing scripture with new interpretations, but we will put that problem aside. I believe scripture does support quite widespread condemnation, and if a person confidently believed that scripture says otherwise that person really wouldn’t be worried about this issue in the first place.
The second and more revealing assumption the question makes is that there is a standard of goodness over and above God’s purposes, to which we can fairly expect God to conform. In other words, the question takes for granted that it is our notions of goodness and justice that the universe really should obey, and that God should be a sort of divine executive authority, whose purpose is to manipulate the universe so that it conforms to our ideals. Whether God exists or not, that is obviously not the universe we’re living in. Is cancer just by human standards? Are earthquakes?  More to the point, any interpretation of the Holy scriptures that involves actually reading them will show that it is not God who is here to serve our purposes – but we who are here to serve God’s. To even ask the question is more than to overlook some minor aspect of Christianity – it is to admit to an utter ignorance of who and what the scripture says God is. Atheists have long smugly assumed that man invented God, and to the extent that men have been willing to reinterpret (or abridge) the Holy scriptures to justify their own desires the atheists have been quite right. An average Christian of a hundred years ago would probably not have doubted the fate that waits for non-believers after death – but then their ultimate religious authority was the scriptures themselves. Our current standard is all too often the popular culture. Sadly, this is even frequently true of those who have authority over churches. Where, in scripture, does it say that the duty of God is to follow the standards of the secular society?
The God of the Bible is not without mercy – but he is not a grand entitlement administrator in the sky. He has expectations of us. Christ himself was quite straightforward about the conditions of salvation:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:16-18
In other words, we are saved by our faith that Jesus Christ suffered death in our place. He rose again that we might also rise. When we begin to think that Hindus and atheists, who lack this faith, might also go to heaven so long as they are “good people,” we only show ourselves to be either ignorant of scripture – or willing to twist it into whatever platitudes happen to suit our feelings.
God the father’s ultimate purposes are not easy to comprehend (they are perhaps not comprehensible at all) but he is not without consistency. Throughout the Old Testament he shows himself quite willing to condemn whole nations of non-believers in the course of his plans. To “save the world” does not appear, in God’s eyes, to necessarily mean saving the majority of the individuals. Nor does God’s position toward those who fall short of his purposes alter fundamentally in the New Testament:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14
The salvation offered by Christ is not a giveaway to all but the most repugnant. If almost everyone, including non-believers, were to be saved then what would be the point of even teaching the Gospel?  What difference would it make?  While our sins were indeed paid for by Christ’s suffering, this gift of forgiveness and eternal life is received only through faith in Him.  Any other interpretation renders the text incoherent.

No one likes to think of good people being condemned, especially the people that we know and love. But we don’t get to vote on God’s purposes or his judgements. Those that we recognize as “good” people are usually those who are friendly to us or to whom we have some personal attachment. To be “good” in God’s eyes is to strive to obey his commandments – including the commandment which acknowledges his sovereignty. If the scriptures are understood courageously and honestly, God must be recognized an awesome and terrible being – a jealous God, wrathful on the one hand, but merciful and gracious on the other:

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
Psalm 103:8-14

But one must note here – the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” He is merciful to those who believe.

While on Earth, there is much that we can do to help the non-believer. We are not, for the most part, called to be the instruments of God’s wrath. Scripture exhorts us to love our neighbor – repentant and unrepentant alike. That, and loving God, are the tasks set firmly and plainly before us in the Holy scriptures. Who are we to second guess God’s judgements?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Some thoughts about Barack Obama’s faith

Donald Trump’s recent refusal to slap down a questioner’s statement that Obama is a Muslim seems to have kicked that wasp’s nest yet again.  Though Trump himself appears to be sting-proof, the incident is still interesting because it highlights the ongoing uncertainty over Obama’s true beliefs.  While none of us can see into the man’s heart (and we will assume, for sake of argument, that Obama has such an organ) we can make reasonable assumptions based on his behavior.  When you take that look, it really does appear that most people have gotten it wrong.
Let’s begin with the question “Is Barack Obama a Muslim?”  It is true that his father and grandfather were Muslims, that he went to a Muslim school as a child, and that he shows some obvious Muslim sympathies.  Plenty of people in the Muslim world believe Obama is a Muslim, based on the reasons I’ve just outlined.  There is a difference, though, between being a Muslim and being a Muslim sympathizer.  While I don’t have very much praise to offer for Islam, one must acknowledge that it’s a rigorous religion with a clearly defined doctrine.  The word “Muslim” itself means “one who submits (to Allah)”.  If I were listing the attributes of our 44th president, the phrase “one who submits (to Allah)” would not appear anywhere on the list.  He may bow pathetically in front of foreign leaders, but there is little indication he “submits” to anything in a religious sense.  Muslims are required to declare their faith, and claiming to be a Christian infidel for political expedience is something serious Muslims seldom do.  The requirement to pray, on your knees, five times a day is not a duty real Muslims shrug off lightly either.  Can anyone honestly imagine Obama getting reverently down on his knees to worship anything – other than an awkwardly placed mirror?  Muslims are strictly opposed to intoxicants of any kind.  This does not sound like the religion for a man who talks casually about using marijuana and cocaine.  Muslims are not even supposed to smoke, but Obama certainly does.  Religious doctrines, right or wrong, produces a certain kind of man.  Bin Laden, for all his genocidal fanaticism, has to be given credit for the qualities of patience and bodily discipline.  Whatever Barack Obama might imagine about himself, he just doesn’t pass muster as a Muslim – at least not in a religious sense.
Obama’s claim to Christianity falls apart for similar reasons.  What is there that is Christian about him?  He does not refer to his supposed Christian faith except when it’s politically useful.  He criticizes Christians at almost every opportunity, displaying not only a contempt for the faith, but a spectacular sense of egotism that is out of character with the faith.  I grant that his election to two terms does seem like a terrible miracle, but he was elected president – he was not anointed a new Christ.  It is not for him to lecture real Christians about the shortcomings of their religion, and if he were a Christian he would know that.  Those who look to Obama for either salvation or moral guidance would be better off praying to the tooth fairy.  Of course, the claim that he’s the Antichrist is entirely laughable too.  For one thing, why would the puppet of Satan, whose evil powers are beyond estimation, need to resort to such a clumsy apparatus as a teleprompter?  I’m not here to play the devil’s advocate – but let’s give the devil his due!  Of all the possible emissaries in the world, he could find no better servant than Barack Hussein Obama?  The 20th century produced many more likely candidates for the job of Antichrist – none of them so petulant and disengaged.
The best evidence that Obama is not a Christian really isn’t his obvious lack of piety, but the fact that most people on the atheist left take it for granted that he’s an atheist like themselves.  When he is accused of being Muslim they will shout indignantly that Obama has declared himself a Christian – but they protest with a wink and a nod.  Anyone can see that Obama joined reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ primarily to convince the local voters that a Harvard-educated lawyer from Hawaii was, somehow, a real black man.  And Wright, in any case, doesn’t add much to anybody’s Christian credentials.  He’s not a “love thy neighbor” sort of pastor.  He’s the sort of pastor a liberal anti-traditionalist might well find entertaining – on those Sundays when the weather is either a little too wet or windy for golf.

While Obama isn’t disciplined enough to be a Muslim, or sincere enough to be a Christian, he doesn’t seem to quite pass muster as an atheist either.  Atheists believe there is no god.  They believe we are all the products of nature, and that there is nothing divine, or mystical, or truly special about any of us.  Obama writes and speaks with an air of destiny any hardheaded atheist ought to find disturbing.  He may not believe in American exceptionalism, but he clearly believes in his own exceptionalism.  I’m not just being vicious to the president here.  I am being vicious – but I’m not just being vicious.  There is a point at which vanity becomes more than an unpleasant personal trait, and crosses into the realm of a pathology.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a recognized form of mental illness, and Barack Obama embodies every one of its symptoms:

1.                   An exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
2.                   Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3.                   Believes he is "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
4.                   Requires excessive admiration.
5.                   Has a sense of entitlement.
6.                   Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends.
7.                   Lacks empathy.
8.                  Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him.
9.                   Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes.
                - Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV , American Psychiatric Association
It is only necessary, by the way, to show five out of the nine symptoms.
While there has never been a clinical diagnosis of the president, for obvious reasons, let’s not be blind.  Even some liberal journalists have pointed out that our president seems disappointed with the world – as though the world were failing him, rather than him failing to cope successfully with it.  All presidents have hefty egos, but this is something more than simply ego.  Barack Obama’s favoritism toward Muslims has nothing to do with actual religious beliefs – of which he may well be incapable.  His fondness for Islam is nothing more than a mystical preoccupation with his own personal heritage.  His lukewarm Christianity is a mere expedience.  Even his atheism is no more than the casual adoption of the formless, open-ended pseudo-religion of his benefactors.  His true god is, and probably always will be, himself.

September 24, 2015

Indecency by administrative decree

Originally Published by American Thinker

Once upon a time, in a small town in Ohio, there was a little girl who was very confused.  She decided she was a boy one day, and later she used the boy’s bathroom in her local public school.  You must forgive me for the fairytale beginning, but we have departed from the adult world of reason and standards, so this way of beginning is now as good as any other.  “Oh my ears and whiskers!” said the large white rabbit of a school superintendent, “what will we do!?”  What indeed.  Just a few decades ago the answer would have been an easy one.  A mental health professional would have been summoned.  The troubled girl would have been sat down and asked many questions very quietly and nicely.  Her unfortunate mental state being diagnosed, she would have been ushered off to treatment.  A social worker, perhaps, would have had an earnest conversation with the girl’s parents.  In short, society would have conspired to return the child to a state of normalcy.  Normalcy.  You know.  Try hard – it is still just possible to remember.  Now, of course, things are different:
“Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation.  Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.”     – US Dept of Education, 4-29-2014
The large white rabbit of a school superintendent can actually do very little.  Basically, he can quiver at the awesome might of the Federal government – a small pretty bureaucrat laid prostrate before his deity.  In my little town he caved almost at once.  The girl... er, BOY... can use whatever restroom she... er, HE... sees fit to.  Gender identity is now a holy of holies.  If a child draws a picture of a gun you can expel the little deviant from school, but if she – or he – or it – declares a different gender than anatomy would indicate we are now obligated to pretend the child is making an adult decision.  Really.  Scout’s honor – I would not lie to you.
Instead of the angels of normalcy, my town got a bevy of gay and lesbian activists from GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network) to usher our backward hearts into this brave new liberal world.  Their love and kindness surpasseth all understanding.  Personally, I would have preferred a Mongol horde.  If one is going to have one’s civilization crushed, it is better to have it crushed by enemies one can respect – rather than by a self-appointed committee of flaccid, weepy, crusaders of the rainbow flag.  But here I only show my ignorance, and my need for thorough liberal re-education.  A lobotomy, in other words.
My town stands transfixed.  A few parents protest at the expense of the hapless rabbit – who doesn’t have the power to act or the fortitude to do much if he did.  Some parents buy home schooling books.  Most just look the other way and pretend that this peculiarity will be a one-off, and everything will soon get back to normal.  But of course it won’t.  In addition to title IX, there are title VII (employment) cases in the works.  In the eyes of the Federal bureaucracy, the genders are not only equal – but a matter of personal choice.  You are what you say you are.  If you insist that a six-foot-four, hairy-chested man with all the genitalia God gave him is, in fact, a male – you’re a bigot.  The left sneer at conservatives who are uncomfortable with Darwinian evolution – and yet they have declared the recognition of the most basic fact of biology a crime.  The only question left in Wonderland is – what’s next?
I don’t have kids in school and, for the record, I don’t have any special dislike for homosexuals.  I consider them people with a form of mental illness – but it is neither charitable nor very pleasant to despise the sick. I do not like, however, to have my culture flattened to accommodate a small minority’s disease. What is most infuriating about the whole process is that the vast majority of us have been pushed into this social experiment without so much as a whisper of consent.  No one asked us at the local, state, or even national level.  Our legislators did not vote on this.  It was not even imposed on us by black-robed justices whose names, at least, we know.  The new regulation was signed into existence by some nameless uber-liberal in the Dept of Ed – and we have no more say about it than a laboratory rat in a cage.  We are seen as merely nameless members of the ignorant herd.  People in the flyover country, to be remade in someone else’s image.

September 9, 2015

It’s not about equality anymore

Unlike some other social issues, the matter of racial inequality is one in which the optimum situation can be easily understood – assuming that equality is the actual goal.

Imagine a continuum, a simple scale from left to right – or right to left if that is your preference.  The scale represents the legal and social status of members of one race relative to members of another.  We will call our two imaginary races K and G.  At one end of the spectrum (it does not matter which end) K has total ascendancy.  At the K-ascendant end, members of race G are not considered human.  They have no rights recognized by the K-dominated society.  Moving toward the center, members of race G gradually acquire human recognition and rights, while remaining still at least somewhat legally and socially inferior to members of race K.  By socially inferior, I mean unashamedly recognized as inferior by the social standards that dominate the society – by the media, common sentiment, and popular custom.  Arriving at the center, we reach a point of essential legal and social equality.  Allowing for the peculiar biases of individuals in both directions, the midpoint is that place at which race alone ceases to be either an advantage or a disadvantage to an individual.  For all intents and purposes, the distinction between members of race K and race G ceases to exist.  To use Martin Luther King’s eloquent formulation, it is the point at which individuals are “not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  We have arrived at the optimum situation – again, assuming we take for granted that the ideal condition really is racial equality.  But there is, of course, the opposite side to this continuum.  Beyond the center point, race G begins to dominate legally and socially, while race K assumes more and more the inferior position.  Finally, at the other extreme end of the spectrum, members of race K are not considered human beings, and have no rights members of race G feel compelled to recognize.  The symmetry of our abstract continuum is perfect.

It should be obvious that advocating a position at any point on the continuum, other than the midpoint, entails recognizing race as a relevant characteristic for the benefit of one side or the other.  After all, one cannot discriminate, however slightly, without at least recognizing the criterion one intends to use as the basis for discrimination.  Note, too, that the arrival of society at the midpoint, at King’s ideal, is not a guarantor that individual members of the two races will be equal in every respect.  Nor is it a guarantor that the two groups considered as collectives will be equal in every respect.  Arrival at the midpoint only confirms that, everything else being equal, individual members of the two races will be treated more-or-less alike.  The society may well discriminate, justly or unjustly, between people for other reasons.  In a color-blind society, an ax murderer of race K and an ax murder of race G will be about equally unloved, while talented and charismatic liars of both races will be free to aspire to public office.

Honest people can have rational debates about whether Dr. King’s ideal was ever reached, or even approximated, in American society.  President Obama correctly pointed out, with something a bit less than King’s beautiful language, that “It’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public.”  While this is true, it’s not just a matter of raising anecdotal incidents of personal offense either.  My own (admittedly non-conclusive) experience is that the remaining legal obstacles faced by black Americans were overthrown in my infancy, and the social barriers against them were steadily withering until about 2009.  Since the 1960s, however, a small but influential group of activists have crossed the midpoint of the continuum and kept going.

The first overreach of the midpoint came in the form of certain affirmative action policies, which offered preferential treatment to some black citizens on the justification that, as a group, blacks were (and undeniably still are) considerably poorer than whites and are under-represented in many professions.  A policy designed to elevate a race must recognize race as a criterion for discrimination.  This simply cannot be otherwise.  So much for not judging people by the color of their skin.  Moreover, affirmative action takes one out of the realm of individual merit, in which we evaluate each person by his or her own unique worth, and leaves us with the dangerous habit of framing justice in terms of the interaction between groups.  The problem with imagining justice that way is that it pretends that racial groups are homogeneous monoliths with collective feelings – each individual sharing in all the joys and sufferings of his or her particular race.  This idea does not hold up to scrutiny.  White investment bankers share no mystical common bonds with white Appalachian coal miners.  Their racial similarity is irrelevant.  If you are poor and white, the spectacular success of other white people really doesn’t make your star shine any brighter.  Likewise, if you are successful and black, you are not really dragged into the abyss by the millions of other black people living in poverty.  We’ve had plenty of black officials, both elected and appointed, at all levels of government.  There are black millionaires and billionaires.  Despite these facts, affirmative action policies ensure that two individuals of different races who happen to be economically equal will often not be entirely equal in the eyes of the government – which is to say, they will not be equal before the law.  Whether such policies are put in place with explicitly racist intentions or not, they inevitably have the effect of enshrining a form of racism in the concealing neutrality of statistics.  Whichever side of the midpoint one is on, a racist policy remains a racist policy.

I am not arguing for a moment that the generational poverty rampant among black Americans is irrelevant or illusory.  I have lived on the fringes of enough ghettos to know otherwise.  Rather, I am arguing that poverty and other problems common among black Americans cannot accurately be attributed to white prejudice as a matter of course.  To name one popular example, the incidence of out-of-wedlock births (a circumstance that reliably correlates to a child’s likelihood of ending up in poverty) has increased among blacks from less than 20% in 1950 to over 70% now.  Over the same period, the legal and social sources of discrimination have not gotten worse – but substantially diminished.  Moreover, regardless of what the legal and social trends have been, it is hard to imagine a causal connection between racism and out-of-wedlock births.  The same can be said of the prevalence of crime in urban black communities.  How exactly could racism on the part of whites foster black-on-black violence?  And why, if racism is the cause, didn’t it foster violence to a much higher degree during the era of Jim Crow?  If the incidence of black poverty is ever going to be reduced, it is essential that we make a serious search for its genuine causes.  A knee-jerk response of compensating for the imagined effects of racism with even more truly racist policies in the opposite direction effectively precludes that search.

Another argument has emerged in the last couple of decades that pushes us even further from Dr. King’s high ideal.  This is the idea of cumulative inherited responsibility.  This has been expressed in both the demand for slavery reparations (taken quite seriously by many politicians and academics) and in the more general rhetorical references to 300 (or 500) years of slavery, black oppression, etc.  Where many affirmative action policies moved the concept of justice out of the realm of individuals and into the realm of collectives, this historical attack moves justice even beyond the realm of groups of living persons and into the realm of the collectivized dead.  By the terms of slavery reparations, white persons not even descendant from slave holders – indeed not even descendant from people living in America when slavery was practiced – would be taxed to reward people who have never, themselves, been enslaved.  It takes a vivid imagination to put this idea into the same sentence with the word “justice”.  To the best of my knowledge, there really is no way to compensate the dead.  No amount of new suffering will make them feel any better.  Nor is there much hope for reconciliation in a world where one may still make claims on one’s great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandparents’ grievances – great though those grievances may have been.  Of course, cumulative inherited responsibility is not a new idea.  It has served as the justification for wars and atrocities throughout recorded history.  It is the eternal battle of “us” and “them.”  It is an obscene idea to introduce under the banner of social progress.

A typical argument in favor of reparations is that, while living black Americans were never slaves themselves, they continue to suffer from the lasting social consequences of that institution.  This is true in some collectivized sense, but we have passed the point at which merely having dark skin creates an insurmountable barrier.  To say that President Obama hasn’t lived up to his full potential due to the historical existence of slavery would be absurd.  What greater position could he have aspired to had the man not held him down?  No doubt someone, somewhere, has looked down on him for something – but who among us, of any race, hasn’t suffered some humiliation?  Most of us would be better off if our ancestors had not been peasants.  We might be richer if we had been born to different parents, or been born in different places, or had better teachers, or been luckier in any of a million other ways.  It is irrational to imagine that kind of inequality will ever be eliminated – at any time, in any country, or under any form of government.

The reason we, as a society, lost interest in King’s ideal is that equality itself is a lofty but difficult goal.  Most human beings pursue their own self interests, or sometimes the interest of groups that they identify with.  To pursue King’s goal, one cannot think of oneself as a black American or a white American.  To give that up requires both a high level of trust and the ability to surrender a part of one’s identity.  Beyond that, having built a political apparatus to achieve legal equality, it would have been quite difficult not to turn it loose on other tasks – especially when the political will to use it as a weapon was loud and ever-present.  Historically, most revolutions start with grand ideas, end up in corrupt and cynical policies, and die in an eventual backlash.  The grand ideas are dead; the cynical policies are here; backlash is coming.

September 3, 2015

The logic of elitism

Originally Published by American Thinker

The things that ordinary citizens do politically tend to revolve around the idea of winning elections.  In real terms, we vote, assist in campaigns, and donate money to get people who will represent our will into office.  When we seek to educate other people politically, it is usually with the unspoken intent that they will see things – and vote – our way.  Even when we sign petitions or protest we are, in effect, threatening our representatives with electoral consequences.  The efficacy of all of this, unfortunately, depends on the democratic institutions of our Republic functioning as designed.

While the framers of the US Constitution didn’t give much forethought to the development of political parties, a political party need not be anathema to our Constitution so long as it abides by what one might call the representative model.  A representative party is one in which elected officials carry out some close approximation of the desires of the people they claim to represent.  The party serves to aggregate the most articulate individuals from a group of people who share some common interests.  Those individuals may be innovative to some degree, but they should not drag their constituents in directions that they would not naturally go.  Representative are just that – representatives.  They are not, in principle, the public’s masters.  While the framers did set up a system that allowed considerable scope for the talents of individual office holders, such people were either directly elected by the people or appointed by legislators who were, in turn, subject to elections.  Thus, in principle, all decisions made by government were made with the consent of the governed.  Of course, the system never quite lived up to this ideal, but as long as the public understood and jealously guarded the broad outlines of the framers’ intent, at least a majority of the people enjoyed some meaningful state of control over the nation’s course.  As long as the system itself was seen as sacred, there were limits to the amount of mischief any narrow elite could accomplish.

The representative model is now defunct, destroyed in somewhat different ways by the two political parties.  We will start with the inappropriately named Democrats.

The Democratic party of today is not a representative party, but a top-down political machine organized around a reformulation of traditional socialist ideology.  They are not a party of the popular will, but a party of a particular set of ideas.  The people who adapt these ideas to current needs are not the Democratic base, but a small group of intellectuals drawn almost exclusively from a handful of elite universities.  Trusting the public will is a laughable proposition for academics, who consider themselves a superior breed – like the philosopher kings of Plato’s Republic.  They may adapt their rhetoric as required for the sake of harvesting votes from the lowly herd, but the core concept of public sovereignty was dropped from leftist thought long ago – about the time it passed from the hard hands of embittered revolutionaries into the soft hands of tenured professors.  At a practical rather than an ideal level, socialism has never has been particularly democratic.  The socialist state has always been the instrument of one or another narrow group of planners, not answerable to the public’s will.

Moreover, the actual Democratic Party of today is actually a degenerate socialist party, often mixing crony capitalist practice uncomfortably with socialist rhetoric.  Obama’s speeches, and perhaps his self image, aren’t all that different from Fidel Castro’s – but he does have a far wealthier circle of friends.  While incompatible ideologically, socialism and crony capitalism do share in common the centralization of real power – so perhaps they are not all that different in actual practice.  Neither bodes well for what little political sovereignty you and I still have.

The Republican party, as embodied in its establishment core – people like Karl Rove and Reince Priebus – is a different sort of animal from its dingy, pseudo-leftist counterpart, but not really a more attractive or more encouraging one.  It has become painfully obvious in the last few election cycles that the Republican establishment despises its conservative base.  Most of us have grown tired of watching the GOP bluster and promise to stop Obamacare, executive amnesty, etc. – only to fold for no apparent reason after a few weeks or months, vowing “this isn’t over!” once again.  The truth is that it was over before it started.  At the risk of being called a racist, the Republican Party seems to function more-or-less like the nameless team that plays against the Harlem Globetrotters.  They provide the illusion of a contest to events that have been carefully choreographed in advance.  Their current strategy, assuming for the sake of argument that they are even interested in electoral success, appears to be to trade their traditional base for those lost souls in the political center – those people who only engaged in politics by tottering into a voting booth once every four years.  Perhaps such chronically distracted souls will be charmed by uncle Jeb’s endearing smile – but that hardly seems to capture the notion of a government of, by, and for the people.  New Republican voters ought to take note of how dismissive the party has been toward the old ones.  Most Republican politicians, in short, have come to represent no one but themselves.

If the core principle of representative democracy is not restored soon, by whatever methods are required, all of the awareness-raising efforts of forums like this one will count for nothing.  When our government becomes powerful enough to ignore the public, it becomes something fundamentally different from what it was.  When the law is made up on the fly, the very concept of the law is rendered meaningless.  No amount of outrage, or satisfyingly rational arguments, will let us vote our way out of an oligarchy.

June 29, 2015

Notes on the death of my father

Most of us live as though our lives were permanent.  They are not.  We are really only here for a brief stay, which we can extend only a little by our actions.  Our stay is subject to cancellation at any time.  The door opens and we are born.  The sun shines warmly on our faces.  We stand in the light, or in the shadow.  We make the most, or the least, of our stay here – but either way the final day approaches, quietly, unseen.  The door closes behind us and is locked forever by disinterested hands.
When I was a child my father answered almost every question I could ask.  He seemed to know everything that anybody could know.  I owe him much.  He taught me how to think, how to question, and how to listen.  He was as steady and predictable as the sun.  Five days a week he worked, and many evenings.  Saturdays, and sometimes Sundays, he spent with the family.  Sometimes we went to a shopping mall.  Sometimes we went to a museum.  And such was the routine – more-or-less, week in, week out.  Year after year.  When you’re young, of course, the days are long and rich; the seasons are epochs; the years – eternities.  But time deceives us.  To the child, life is a long, slow, circus parade – mixing the familiar with the new, the comfortable with the terrifying.  But always, father held fast to his comfortable routine.  If my life was a parade, it was he who beat the quiet cadence.  He was not a great man as the world saw him, but he was an intelligent and purposeful one.  Kind but distant.  Patient but dark.  But the calendar pages turned.  I grew up – and he grew old.  Aging is the most predictable of all surprises.
What am I now but a fleeting disturbance on the surface of events that aren’t worth mentioning?  A human being – scratching out words as the current of days and relevance erases them.  Anonymous, one lost among lost millions, all plodding unthinkingly, inevitably, toward our own final moments – all alone, amid the days, the small talk, and the innumerable obligations – all infinitely, unspeakably alone.  Dust we are indeed.  We rise from nothing and return to nothing.
My father ebbs from the world I know.  He lies in an unfamiliar nursing home bed, pestered by well-intentioned nurses who do not grasp his sense of humor.  He is a curious wreck on an empty beach.  The seagulls do not know what to make of him.  He has grown tired of the sea and will not be moved again.  He shuns his food.  Little by little, the unforgiving logic of starvation breaks down his flesh.  The forms of the bones are made visible under the muscle.  The skull looks out from under his face.  To lift an arm is a kind of work now – his working life long done.  His words chase after his thoughts but don’t always catch them.  He dies in front of me, slowly, visit by visit, as though he were unraveling his days one sentence at a time.  I try, when I remember to, to avoid self-pity and pay attention – even as the conversation slowly loses its coherence.  When I ask, not for an answer, but simply for the reassurance of a response.
I now have my own answers to almost every question I could ask.  Almost.  But almost no one asks me questions.  I live alternately in light and shadow – but I fear the dark.  The current of days and relevance erases my footsteps also – as rapidly as I make them.  Yet I must learn to walk with grace regardless, even if no one in the universe sees.  Especially – if no one sees.
Even the circus parade has a beginning and an end.  It begins with a clown.  And it ends with a clown.  It is crass.  It is beautiful.  It is what you make it, one illusion to the next.
The eyes ease open.  His last lights have retreated there.  Where the mouth fails, breathing out almost silent words that smell of gathering decay, his eyes still peer at me from the bottom of their wells.  They still say much.  They ask much – all of it beyond my means.  How does one answer the enormous question put so eloquently by those eyes?  The old skin pulls them closed, for now, though they remain alive and questioning – underneath.  The breath rises and falls, not by will, but by mere habit.  How can I merely promise to return tomorrow when I know that his tomorrows are in short supply?  And yet I promise, merely.  The clock ticks off the seconds and the days.
What he may experience in my absence I don’t know.  Does the room grow dim?  Is it suffused with light?  Do stars swirl above him like the sky in Van Gogh’s painting?  The wreck lies on the beach in the moonlight.  The sand and sea wear holes in its paint; rust spreads stealthily across the skin and the bones of the broken hull.  Nature takes apart what man has made – wave by wave, and day by day.  When I am visible to him, do I pass overhead, as steady and predictable as the son?  Or am I a ghost from another world?  His memory still grasps at me with the strength of desperation.  His hand grips mine with unexpected strength.  Does he not know that I too am helpless?  I have nothing to say, except – “I’ll be back.”  Pushed about by the tide – he rots uncomfortably and sleeps.
I make the long drive to and from the home.  Day after day.  The green corn, dark under the rain – the sky, a suffocating blanket of grey cloud.  The cadence of the windshield wipers, hypnotic, coaxing me towards sleep.  But I cannot sleep.  The parade is not yet done.
Today his words are gone.  He thrashes like a fish left in a tide pool.  Restless, no more in contact with the world – and yet stubbornly, wretchedly still in it – until the medication pulls him under, down, down, down, leaving only the breath behind – a sigh more like the wind than like the psyche of a man.
I might as well be a ghost.  I sit in the darkened room.  I wait for awhile, then, like the tides of breath, I go.
Human beings are not the best of creatures, but it is not for want of trying.  We stand before the insults of nature, clothed mainly in lies – defiant in the face of unthinkable infinities, shaking and scared beneath the skin.  Life and death are impersonal – that is really what is frightening about them.  There is no wrath to be placated in heaven – nor is there any pity there to answer our appeals.  The grand machinery of the cosmos holds us fast in our appointed places and appointed times.  The wheel turns – beautifully and horribly.  We live.  We die.
Amid the glare of pain and the haze of opiate comfort, he has stumbled upon a word perched by itself in a gentle patch of sunlight.  He reaches down to pick it up with trembling fingers, pinching the wings together carefully to protect their powdery surfaces.  Having made his capture he looks skyward, waiting for someone to release the word to.  Anyone.  Anyone.  A face looms out of the fog.  The astonished word flutters upward – but he does not know what it means anymore.
“Yes!”  “Yes!”  His dry voice tries to shout.  The nurse looks at me for an answer, but I know nothing.  A skyrocket has leapt expectantly upward, only to arc to earth again – a dud.  The eyes close quietly, alone – infinitely, unspeakably alone.  In such a moment the entire universe seems to weep – but only seems.  In truth, it doesn’t notice.  A breath or two, and this also is forgotten.
The tan face of the nurse now hovers above him like the moon.  The strength of its pull draws from his dry lips a dry smile.  The smile is reflected.  The moon tells sweet and pretty lies.  Whether or not he knows that they are lies – I cannot tell.  If he believes – who am I to correct him, and for what purpose?
Even the eyes grow dull near the end.  They look at nothing.  Unearthly guttural sounds exit the aperture that was once his mouth.  He is, himself, like a portal into another world.  I speak to him, but largely for the benefit of the hospice nurse.  And yet I do not know for sure.  Is he there – or has he gone?  If he has gone – where is he?  The only things I say now are “I am here” and “I’ll be back.”  I tick like the clock on the wall, saying little more than it does.  All is calm, apart from the quiet agony of the minutes going by.  I am pulled back by the world to return another day.
In my absence, the last moment comes.  The door closes.  I miss the actual event by 20 minutes, speeding to get there, the last clown running after the parade – useless, but inevitable.  The first clown comes with a raucous laugh, the final one – brings solemn pathos.  Nighttime.  Darkness.  The crickets chirp.  My brother-in-law and a nurse I haven’t seen say the appropriate things to me and one another.  The last remnants of the wreck lies still, eyes closed, without a man inside.  Disinterested dark hands wash the empty vessel clean.
Most of us live as though our lives were permanent.  They are not.

March 17, 2015

Who the hell is Chelsea Manning?

Originally Published by American Thinker

Recently, a friend sent me an article he was furious about.  The title was: Homone treatment approved for Chelsea Manning.  The innocent question that popped into my head was: “Who the hell is Chelsea Manning?”  Chelsea, it turns out, is none other than Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst who turned over classified information to WikiLeaks in 2010.  Well – at least I think that Chelsea is just Bradley in a stupid-looking wig; others apparently hold some different views.  The article’s title pretty well summarized the rest of the pathetic story.  A more apt title would have been: US Army caves to the awesome power of political correctness – again.  I am not sure how this particular bit of early 21st century surrealism had, up to that point, escaped my attention.  I’m not sure, either, what the grocery store tabloids have to print these days – not when there is “real” news like this.  Predictably, my friend was incensed that taxpayers’ money was being used to fund Manning’s desire to be female, and I entirely sympathize with his outrage.  However, what struck me about the story was not the federal funding aspect, but the fact that the AP reporter was happy to call Manning “she”.  I think I know what “she” means – though I have come to have serious doubts about the very concept of “news”.  Sadly, the majority of web stories I have subsequently skimmed are happy to call Manning “she”.  Bradley Manning has not had surgery to change his sex – so the message here is that you are “she” if you just say so.

If gay marriage was one concession that many of us were not willing to accept, the Manning story is something even more disturbing – an assault on objective standards of reality.  If one can reassign one’s gender just on one’s own say so, then the whole gay marriage thing is pretty much moot anyway.  One partner could just swap out genders for the ceremony.  DOMA be damned.  In short, if Manning is a female in the eyes of liberal society, then for them the whole concept of gender has effectively ceased to have consistent meaning.  That’s a step beyond the short term gay and lesbian agenda into a state of social incoherence.

Manning is a hero to the left, first because he thumbed his nose at the Army and second because he has transformed himself into one of the left’s favorite things – a victim.  That is really the key.  I have long suspected that a fair proportion of homosexuals and “transgender” creatures of various kinds are just a product of the status modern liberalism accords to victims.  When the educational system indoctrinates children to believe that every evil in the world has heterosexual white men as its cause – and that being a victim of such evil absolves one of all sin – it is hardly surprising that quite a few young white men want to identify with some other group.  Try as they may, playing all the gangsta rap ever produced will still never make a white boy black.  However, if one’s gender identity is in any way weak, becoming gay, bisexual, or “transgender” is a way for any ordinary white suburbanite to attain the coveted status of victim.  The liberal culture helps at every turn, providing heroes and role models for the chronically confused.  As if by magic, what was once an unfortunate individual defect becomes not only normal – but laudable and off limits to critique.  I identify myself as a narrow-minded pig even for framing gender identity in these terms.  An unsophisticated conservative knuckle-dragger.

When this plague of gender incoherence creeps into the lives of ordinary people, it’s a serious concern.  When it creeps into the military it becomes a national crisis.  Who the hell is Chelsea Manning?  Chelsea Manning doesn’t exist.  Bradley Manning is a dangerous piece of neurotic flotsam, the product of a world in which having definite standards about anything is considered backward and “judgmental”.  Bradley is dangerous precisely because the rot of political correctness has spread deeply enough into the US Army that they deem it more important to be sensitive to one individual’s neurosis than to consider the needs of the Army as a whole.  A military institution, more than any other, relies on strict internal standards to maintain cohesion under the violent and chaotic conditions of war.  The most comforting thing that any soldier has is the knowledge that fellow soldiers are predictable – bound to definite standards of behavior.  People like Manning, who is ambivalent not only about his own body but also about the institution he swore to serve, weaken that foothold of predictability that the binds the Army together.  Standards matter.  Incoherence and ambiguity never help you in a war.