Thursday, November 28, 2013
I’m fascinated by stories of the afterlife. So when I heard Dr. Eben Alexander being interviewed by Dennis Prager about his book Proof of Heaven, I paid close attention! The subtitle is “A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.” That pretty much explains the premise of the book.
This short, quick read begins with the immediate cause of his near death experience (NDE). He experienced flu-like symptoms, a splitting headache, and back pain out of the blue. After being rushed to the emergency room when a slight touch caused overwhelming pain, he slipped into a coma. The cause was determined, after much testing, to be the extremely rare bacterial meningitis caused by E. coli. With the seriousness with which he presented, his odds of dying shot up to 97% by his 6th day in the coma. His odds of full recovery were so slight as to be called a miracle by his doctor.
Because of the bacteria invading his spinal system, his brain was “bathed in pus” and inoperable in all but the most basic functions. For all intents, the parts of the brain that made him human and himself were inoperable. Therefore, his experiences cannot be explained by some kind of random firings in the brain producing strange visions. (He goes into extensive medical hypothesis for what happened and then debunks them in an appendix.)
He first passed through a very earthy level and time ceased to have meaning. He called this the earthworm view level. He moved to another level, what he called a kind of brilliant darkness filled with living sound. And although he heard no words, he was immediately filled with the thought “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.” In fact, he felt bathed in love. Soon he was able to move to an even higher level full of orbs of light and joy and more music. This is where he felt he experienced God. At some point in his journey, he realized he had a mysterious guide with him. A beautiful girl riding with him on the wings of a butterfly. Yet he felt no sense of himself either. He had no memory of earth or family or even his own identity. He was just part of and connected to the whole universe.
He began to understand things as he had never understood them before. He experienced answers to questions before they could be asked. He felt that truth was so much bigger than we on earth had ever even imagined. And this from a highly educated man.
Upon his return, he states, “To say that there is a chasm between our current scientific understanding of the universe and the truth as I saw it is a considerable understatement... The physical side of the universe is as a speck of dust compared to the invisible and spiritual part. In my past view, spiritual wasn’t a word that I would have employed during a scientific conversation. Now I believe it is a word that we cannot afford to leave out.”
Although he begins as an unbeliever, he comes back with a deep knowledge of God, whom he refers to as Om. “One of the biggest mistakes people make when they think about God is to imagine God as impersonal. Yes, God is behind the numbers, the perfection of the universe that science measures and struggles to understand. But -- again, paradoxically -- Om is ‘human’ as well -- even more human than you and I are. Om understands and sympathizes with our human situation more profoundly and personally than we can even imagine because Om knows what we have forgotten, and understands the terrible burden it is to live with amnesia of the Divine for even a moment.”
The ramifications of this statement in light of Scripture are very interesting. Hebrews says we have a High Priest who understands us. Jesus, for the brief moment He is disconnect from the Father on the cross, cries out in despair. That forsakenness is worse than the physically pain He is enduring. Yet we live disconnected from God on a daily business. Oh how much we have lost.
After 6 days in the coma, Eben’s family began to prepare for his death. They went into his room to pray once more, begging his body to kick in and restart his brain. As they looked deeply into his face, looking for any sign of recovery, he suddenly opened his eyes!
While it took a little while for him to regain his previous state, he is now fully recovered and determined to share the reality of what he experienced. He first wrote all he experienced and then began to research the phenomenon of NDEs. He wanted to document what he went through before being tainted or influenced by others’ experiences.
While sharing his story with a doctor friend, most of whom had reacted the way he would have - with skepticism, he saw a strange look pass the man’s face. Finally the friend felt free to detail his own experience with a NDE. His father, dying and in pain for years, suddenly became lucid. He began speaking to the air, but it became clear he was conversing with his long-dead mother. At this point, the friend told his dad it was O.K. It was time to go. The old man closed his eye, fell asleep, and never woke up. Up until this time, the man had no one to share this bizarre story with. Now he had found a kindred spirit.
One thing, however bothered Eben. He did not see anyone he knew on the other side. No one greeted him. No long-dead relatives welcomed him home. He attributed this to the complete loss of identity he experienced and wondered if that was what allowed him to bypass that stage.
Two years before the coma, he had contacted his biological family (he was adopted as an infant) and found he had full siblings. One had died before he had a chance to meet her. Four months after recovering from the meningitis, they finally sent him a photo of the lost sister. He realized he was looking into the face of his angelic guide! He now felt whole and that he had come full circle.
His book is a very quick read, very interesting, and very believable. Although his experience on the other side sounds quite fantastical, could it be any other way? Does it meet up exactly with our preconceived notions of heaven? Nope. But parts of his journey ring true to Scripture and serve to illuminate phrases like “caught up into the third heaven” and “being in the spirit.” We see why Paul said it was unlawful for him to describe what he saw when he experience an NDE. How could he accurately describe something that conforms to no known laws on earth? His experience was quite literally “unlawful.” Will we all experience what Dr. Alexander did? I really don’t think so, but he discovered what he needed to discover and returned to spread what he calls, the good news!
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
I’m not sure where I got the recommendation to read “The End is Near and it’s Going to be Awesome” by Kevin D. Williamson. Maybe it’s another instance of choosing a book by its cover. This one has an awesome cover! Plus the idea of America after the collapse, is a compelling one. I’m not sure there will ever be another America as we know it after a collapse, but one can wonder.
He begins with the understanding for something to evolve and change and adapt, death must occur. Business fail, scientific hypotheses fail, ideas fail, and new and better ones rise up to take their place. But he ends starkly with, “But politics does not die. Politics is the Immortal Corporation.” Therefore, is it even possible for politics to adapt and become more efficient, or does America have to die first?
No, politics cannot evolve. Certainly not in the way business have. It therefore chokes on its own contradictions. All other entities have to figure out how to get “less wrong” over time, and the imminence of their own demise is a powerful motivating factor. “The problem of politics is that it does not know how to get less wrong.... Resistance to innovation is a part of the deep structure of politics. In that, it is like any other monopoly. It never goes out of business.” It is isolated and therefore incapable of learning how to adapt. It cannot be tweaked to account for a changing world. It cannot update itself with regularity as new problems and out-of-date solutions are discovered. In fact, by its very nature, politics tends to become more wrong.
But if government is the only monopoly allowed to operate in our country, what is it a monopoly on? It is a monopoly on force. “Government is the machinery of violence, and political power is the license to operate the machinery.” All violence is not negative. Our armed forces are examples of violence used to protect us, as are police and judicial powers. But when violence is used to harm and coerce, well, we call that criminal action. Unfortunately government uses most of its monopoly on force to commit criminal acts. It coerces us through laws backed by the power of violence to force us to do what politicians deems best. In fact, he emphatically states, “What [the government] is is structurally indistinguishable from organized crime.” Pretty powerful claim!
But you might claim the government does lots of things that don’t require force. It educates, provides for the indigent, and engages in scientific research. Yet at the end of the day, government can ONLY use force to get to its objectives. Government has no resources except what it takes at the point of gun. We need to ask ourselves if violent means are the best way to get to our desired end, namely a prosperous and happy society.
So if government is only force, why do we let it get away with so much? Because we believe government has a responsibility to tell us what direction to go. Government tells us the fuels of the future, government tells us what drugs and medical procedures are to be available in the future, government tells us the best way to educate our children in the future. And we believe this is correct because we believe government can be a moralistic force for good. “The concepts of legitimacy and consent are the foundation of the moralistic view of politics, which converts government from a machine for doing things into a directorate for telling us what to do. This happens on the presumption that there is some valid, underlying moral theory behind politics, based on an ethical standard to which we all implicitly consent.” The Social Contract. The problem is that there is no broad-based, inherent morality to which we all agree. There is not one-size-fits-all definition of right and wrong. Therefore, force MUST be used to control the dissidents.
“If government does not exist to provide an ethical foundation for society, then, what is its role, if it has one?” In short, the job of government is the production of what economists call ‘public goods’” Public goods are not simply things that the public wants. They have a specific definition. They are first of all “nonexcludable” meaning that there is no practical to keep people who have not paid for it from using it. (i.e. sidewalks or the military) Public goods must also be such that when an individual uses it, the availability to another individual is not reduced. Television programming, education, and scientific research do NOT fall into these categories. They can be and are produced by the private market. That is, someone can charge for them and therefore exclude who uses them.
Two areas which consume the lion’s share of our federal budget are Social Security and health care. Neither are under the purview of what the government SHOULD be doing, and both will cause our doom. These two programs, along with education, are made worse by the intervention of government. The incentives to do them more efficiently simply are not there. They exist to serve the political establishment, not the citizens. Therefore they serve the politicians very well when it’s time to buy votes, but the sick, elderly and students, not so much.
He then goes on to detail example after example of how the free market is dealing with so many issues the government has usurped in a more efficient and more fair way. There are many, many better ways to do what our politician claim only they, with a gun in hand, can do.
He ends with this, “... as we have seen, whether the question is education, providing for health care, funding pensions, or providing for the poor, this presents us with many opportunities to make the world a much better place -- for everybody.”
I remain skeptical that America will rise like a phoenix from the ashes. I rather think we are too far gone. Americans are too uneducated and too dependent. The fact that we CAN create a much better place, and the fact that we ARE creating much better systems in some areas gives one hope. But the doing of it is another thing. Our behemoth government can put the kibosh on anything it wants, so who’s to say any of those wonderful innovations will survive the death throes of the monster?
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
I decided to read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright after hearing it recommended several times. The book traces the roots of Al-Qaeda and “the road to 9/11” so it seemed quite relevant to today and the war on terror.
The story starts in November 1948 with an Egyptian named Sayyid Qutb. He is on his way to America to study and must decide whether to fit in with the alien culture or stay true to his Islamic beliefs. Focusing on only the worst parts of American culture, Qutb became quite radicalized in his Islamic beliefs. After returning to Egypt and preaching revolution against the moderate Nasser, he was arrested, tortured and eventually killed. He was the first Islamic martyr.
The story continues with Ayman Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian born into the middle class, able to see the wealthy but never get there himself. His uncle had been a student of Qutb’s and regaled young Zawahiri with tales of the martyr and his call for purity.
After becoming a doctor, he was asked to help the Afghan refugees fleeing into Pakistan during the Afghan war in 1980. He made furtive trips into Afghanistan to witness the courage of the Afghan mujahideen personally. After returning home, he began to recruiting brave young Egyptians to join the freedom fighters to defeat the Soviet invasion. For his radical efforts, he too was arrested. But his fame grew and his message spread during his years behind bars. He worked with his fellow prisoners to create a group called al-Jihad which would purify the Muslim world.
Once he was released from the Egyptian prison, Zawahiri moved to Saudi Arabia. Here, the bin Laden family had risen to prominence in the backward, desolate country. The patriarch, Mohammed bin Laden had deep connections to the royal family and subsequently became very wealthy with construction contracts. He took full advantage of the Muslim male’s ability to marry and divorce with ease, fathering 54 children from 22 of his wives. His most famous offspring, Osama, deeply bothered by increasingly modern Saudi Arabia, would go onto a career in terror.
Before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Islamic rebels invaded the newly remodeled Grand Mosque in Mecca. While they were eventually subdued and executed, Osama was inadvertently accused of being one of the rebels. Although the connections of his father and name protected him and he proclaimed his innocence, years later, after joining the holy fighters, he would claim allegiance to those rebels.
Bin Laden and Zawahiri were both drawn to Pakistan to help the Afghan refugees and to see how they could become involved in the struggle. They began working together to recruit young, disaffected Muslim men from all around the region to join them in the fight for Afghanistan. Political and familial obligations kept them for joining the fight directly, but they worked behind the scenes raising money, weapons, and an “army.” Eventually, after engaging in crude training exercises, they tried to slip into Afghanistan and work with the mujahideen, but were ill-treated and humiliated.
The whole experience left many of them as men without a home. Their native countries did not want these radicalized males in their midst, and the Soviet-free Afghanistan did not welcome them either. They were forced to remain in the caves of Pakistan on the Afghanistan border. With nothing else to do, they began to train even more extensively and organized themselves as a new entity, al-Qaeda.
When bin Laden’s home nation of Saudi Arabia found it necessary to turn to the United States for arms and military help, bin Laden felt further humiliated. He hated America and hated that his nation partnered with the “enemy.” He found America weak and believed he and his men could strike a blow against the United States.
After a stint in Sudan, a relatively peaceful existence, failed business dealings, and the bombing of a hotel wrongfully thought to be housing American troops, bin Laden and his people realized they needed to become even more radicalized and decided even killing innocents in the name of Islam was permit able. The global terror organization was born. Knowing only America had the capability of stopping their goal of a world-wide caliphate, they turned their sights on the Great Satan. America, around 1995, was clueless.
With nowhere else to go, bin Laden traveled to the now Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. From his rudimentary abode, and with nothing but failure and humiliation behind him, he plotted war on America. “You are not unaware of the injustice, repression and aggression that have befallen Muslims through the alliance of Jews, Christians, and their agents, so much so that Muslims’ blood has become the cheapest blood and their money and wealth are plundered by the enemies,” bin Laden declared while seeking to build his army. One person attracted to the training camp was Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. His nephew had bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 and he was a wanted man. Americans remained largely unaware and uninterested in the group housed in the caves of Tora Bora.
Bin Laden did everything he could to scare up some publicity and spin even defeats and humiliations into victories. As various terrorists, trained by bin Laden, or under the influence of Zawahiri in Egypt, engaged in acts of terror, the U.S. finally began paying some attention. However, internal turf wars and ego problems kept those assigned to national security from seeing the whole picture. The bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya got their attention. America’s feeble and failed response of bombing the Pakistan training camp only elevated bin Laden’s position.
After the wildly successful bombing of the USS Cole failed to spur the U.S. into action, Al-Qaeda began to plan what KSM had dubbed his “planes operation.” The plan was to strike America’s homeland flying hijacked planes. Hints abounded but because the CIA and the FBI, with their different focuses, would not work together, the plan was not discovered. One FBI agent, John O’Neill, did his best to wake up the bureaucracy to the threat al-Qaeda represented. He finally quit on August 22, 2001, and took a job as head of security at the World Trade Center. Only a couple of weeks later, he did not make it out.
As to the importance of bin Laden, Wright states, “At a time when there were many Islamist movements, all of them concentrated on nationalist goals, it was bin Laden’s vision to create an international jihad corps. It was his leadership that held together an organization that had been bankrupted and thrown into exile. It was bin Laden’s tenacity that made him deaf to the moral quarrels that attended the murder of so many and indifferent to the repeated failures that would have destroyed most men’s dreams.” He had the ability to “enlist the imagination of the men whose lives bin Laden required.” Eventually bin Laden would be hunted down and killed by American Navy Seals. But the war with this deadly, yet pathetic bunch of malcontents, continues.
Monday, November 4, 2013
President Obama is constantly pressing for “fairness.” At least his definition of the word, which generally means take from the rich and give to the poor. O.K. So he wants to help the poor and he’s obsessed with fairness. He should read Who’s the Fairest of them All? by Stephen Moore.
He begins the book with, “The left argues that conservatives don’t care about poor people, and this is why they oppose income redistribution in tax policy, welfare payments to the poor, higher budgets for social programs, regulations like higher minimum wages, and so on. But the premise of this book is that it is equally (maybe even more) plausible to say that liberals don’t care about poor people.”
He then goes on to state with vivid clarity the myriad ways the left have hurt those they claim to care the most about. The programs and policies have led to rising poverty, higher unemployment, dismal education, and increasing fatherlessness. This from the friends of poor. With friends like these...
With charts and graphs and an array of statistics, Moore makes the case that in the most economically free nations the poor are always better off. “So in other words, if we judge society by how well it serves the poor, then free enterprise is far and away the greatest anti-poverty program known to man.”
The most fair society is the most free. By clamping down on our freedoms and attacking free-enterprise, those on the left have doomed the poor to poverty, never to rise out.
Here's a video which illustrates the principles (quite literally!)
Monday, October 28, 2013
all the books in this trilogy. They fictionalize the events foretold in Biblical prophecy, but put them in a modern, how-it-could-play-out fashion. He makes no prophecies of his own, but really makes these ancient prophecies jump to life in an all-too-realistic way. Definitely worth reading.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
I read A Patriot’s History of the Modern World by Larry Schweikart because I love history and I love to hear it told from the perspective of someone who loves America and is not trying to tear it down. It is wonderfully clarifying and honest to look at history through a patriot’s lens.
He begins by acknowledging that America is exceptional. By this he does not mean, as the phrase is often assumed to mean, that America is simply better than all others. He means we are an exception, an exception to the way nations have traditionally been run. He lists the four factors that make us the exception: 1. a heritage of common law; 2. a Christian and predominantly Protestant religious tradition; 3. a free-market economy; 4. property rights. Many nations possess some, some nations possess most of these, but only the exceptions possess all four. America is one of those exceptions. That is what makes us exceptional.
Schweikart believes it is these exceptional qualities that allowed America to catapult to the forefront of the list of successful nations. These four principles allowed us to make mistakes and recover quickly. We loosed the innovative initiative of our population and created a very resilient society. “The American abhorrence of titles and nobility, the widespread availability of property to all who had even the smallest savings, and social strata that permitted easy ascension provided the United States with moorings that European nations not only lacked, but which, by their absence, created tensions that could not be mitigated except by violence on a massive scale.” Europe got WWI and WWII precisely because they were not composed of the exceptional qualities that defined America.
The resulting carnage that sucked America in, led to an optimism that the Progressives used for their own agenda. Progressivism rejected these fundamentals building blocks and has been debilitating to American progress (ironically). “Infused with a liberal interpretation of Christianity, that redirected the individual toward helping his fellow man with materiel blessings, rather than pointing him toward the salvation of Christ, the Progressives became far more dangerous to American liberty than any previous movement.” We can see how this is such a spiritual battle. The enemy would like to replace trust in Christ with trust in government, all in the name of progress. He would replace liberty with slavery to the state and call it helping his fellow man. Progressivism has so blinded so many people with the siren call of feeling like a good person.
The proposed League of Nations was the epitome of Progressive hopes and led to the destruction of the four pillars. “Wilson and other Progressives thought they could eliminate one of the major causes of war; patriotism and nationalism... [they] believed all problems could be solved through better communication.” They saw an exceptional America as problem rather than a role model. Sounds like our current administration.
Of the post WWI Europe, Schweikart states, “...many of the newly formed states, including the German Weimar Republic, created in the mold of European programs, were unraveling. At Versailles, Wilson and others had failed to appreciate the profound nature of the missing elements in the new nations -- namely common law, free-market capitalism, and an American understanding of property rights in a Europe steeped in radical socialism and unionism.” The subsequent failure of this leftist vision led to the rise of fascism in Europe and ultimately Hitler.
Post- WWII, the world changed radically and became substantially less free. Only the US and the USSR remained as the world’s superpowers. The US had been able to harness the power of the free market, once Roosevelt dropped his anti-business crusade, and go on to win the war. Even so, as in WWI, the wrong lessons were learned in Europe.
“Whereas the First World War was popularly seen in Europe as the end of monarchies and unfettered capitalism, its replacement by social democracy had spawned communism and fascism, or socialism controlled by nationalists. Deep in World War II, this view even affected leftist academics in the United States who turned further left, following the European elites by blaming the war on capitalism, seeing Nazism as National-Capitalist, not National-Socialist. Ford, General Motors, ESSO (Exxon), and IBM were castigated for enabling Hitler’s ascent to power, whereas delusional socialism, unable to satisfy the needs of people through state planning was overlooked.” Europe abandoned the four pillars of exceptionalism and America took that opportunity to return to them.
However, the subsequent upheavals in US over civil rights and other domestic demands and theories undermined the four pillars that had made the nation great. He ends the book thus, “Behind these demands and the theories under which the United States attempted to meet them was the astounding ignorance throughout the world and even among America’s elites of what had made America great and why and how it had achieved the dominant place it occupied.”
We are at a point where we forget what makes us exceptional to our own peril. That’s the reason Schweikart wrote this book.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Since I really enjoyed The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, I was very interested in his next book, Crossroads.
Unfortunately, Crossroads is just a different version of the Shack. We still have a man who meets the tri-partite God in three actual persons and his life is changed. The biggest difference is that the mega story is not as compelling and the idea has been done before, by Young.
That being said, the parts I liked about The Shack and the parts I liked about Crossroads were the parts that brought God to us in a fresh way. He sticks to the theology we find in the Bible, but in the mouth of a character in a novel, the novelty makes the words that much more compelling.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
I am on a George Gilder kick, so I had to read his most well-known book, Wealth and Poverty. He does not disappoint. Gilder makes the MORAL argument for capitalism. He states in the very beginning, “No nation can grow and adapt to change except to the extent that it is capitalistic, except to the extent, in other words, that its productive wealth is diversely controlled and can be freely risked in new causes, flexibly applied to new purposes, steadily transformed into new shapes and systems.”
He starts with the axiom that another’s fortune is ultimately everyone’s fortune. This idea does not arise naturally in man, but his book sets out to prove it. Because capitalism depends on a mutually beneficial transaction, one cannot benefit without another benefitting as well. Therefore, the success of capitalism begins with the desire to please another. It begins with giving. A man gives his time, his sweat, his ingenuity, his resources, hoping his risk will lead to another finding the resultant product desirable and therefore, he himself will ultimately benefit as well. The man invests in the future and the unknown for future gains. The collectivist remains mired in the past and “certainty.”
The nature of wealth is largely misunderstood. Wealth is not dollars or money, but is “assets that promise a future stream of income.” Money can be and is squandered with nothing to show for it. Wealth accumulates and promises future returns. This is why, usually in America, the rich themselves do not get richer. Rather someone willing to take a risk and bet on the future will pass the already rich in wealth. This leads to the false illusion that the already rich getting richer. Rather, those with ingenuity and the ability to create wealth surpass the already rich. True wealth resides in an adaptable, compelling, and flexible mind. But a capable and innovative mind often needs money invested in his ideas. This is the role of the already rich, who can only consume so much. They invest in the up-and-comers.
The nature of poverty is also misunderstood. Gilder states, “every successful ethnic group in our history rose up by working harder than other classes, in low-paid jobs, with a vanguard of men in entrepreneurial roles. But the current poor, so it is supposed, can leapfrog drudgery by education and credentials, or be led as a group from poverty, perhaps by welfare mothers trained for government jobs. These views depict the current poor as a race so alien to the entire American experience, so radically different in motive and character from whites, that one can speak in terms of a new form of bigotry.” Although he pulls back from actually calling liberals racist, he points out that they do have a different set of rules for how they see non-whites. But the truth is, whether white or black, “the ONLY dependable route from poverty is always work, family, and faith.”
In fact, what we often perceive as racism is actually a class clash. Many upper class people are reluctant to expose their children to lower-classes and their values. Because it is values that are the only way out of poverty, it is harmful to the poor to accept and pander to them, thus assigning “them to permanent poverty.” In pursuing egalitarianism programs like welfare, we promote the very things that destroy the work ethic, family connections, and faith necessary to escape poverty. Yet, some prefer keep alive the myth of racism as an explanation for poverty in order to stay in power.
Gilder believes, “There is something, evidently, in the human mind, even when carefully honed at Oxford or the Sorbonne, that hesitates to believe in capitalism: in the enriching mysteries of inequality, the inexhaustible mines of the division of labor, the multiplying miracles of market economics, the compounding gains from trade and property. It is far easier to see the masters of these works as evil, to hunt them as witches, favored by occult powers or Faustian links.” And this is why there is a never-ending, sometimes bloody, war on wealth.
This war leads to liberal policies that hurt far more than they help. They create “moral hazard” which encourages the opposite behavior of what is desired. Unemployment insurance promotes unemployment, AFDC promotes fatherless families, Social Security discourages concern for the elderly and breaks generational links. In depriving poor families of the incentives necessary to promote wealth, we create people whose “response to this reality is that very combination of resignation and rage, escapism and violence, short horizons and promiscuous sexuality that characterizes everywhere the life of the poor.” The are not reflecting their economic conditions, but rather responding to liberal policies and incentives in a rational manner. Men in these circumstances have no reason to delay children and family until after they have faithfully gained the work ethic to support them. They have every financial incentive not to. Until we make work, family, and faith more rewarding than the dole, welfare and poverty will continue to explode.
Other pernicious idea also continue to keep lower classes from rising. We have focused too much on “discrimination” as a cause and have resorted to credentialing to combat it. Credentialing keeps competitors out of the labor market and therefore hurts the most vulnerable. We raise the minimum wage and keep huge segments of the labor market from finding a job. The high unemployment rate of young, black males bears out this truth. We task the government with “creating jobs” with make work programs that are often demoralizing and counter productive.
Often, we hear, “Tax the rich” as a way to take care of the poor. Here we see an especially negative effect. Taxing the rich will not affect their consumption. The truly rich actually consume very little of their wealth. Most invest the vast majority of it. Taxes come out of their investments, not their consumption. In fact, high taxes actually encourage consumption. After all, if the government is going to take it anyways, why not enjoy it and blow it on luxuries instead? In addition, the Laffer curve has shown that high taxes result in less monies collected overall. So the “Tax the rich” mantra is another liberal policy doing the opposite of what it purports to do.
To achieve a prosperous society, we must have a forward-looking economy of faith. “Socialist and totalitarian governments are doomed to support the past. Because creativity is unpredictable, it is also uncontrollable. If the politicians want to have central planning and command, they cannot have dynamism and life.” Creative dynamism, necessary to the health and wealth of a society, frightens those with a fear of the unknown. Risk cannot be negated in ever-changing growing economy. Government regulation agencies can only live in the past. Every new, unknown, unproven idea is discarded and unworkable when the rules of the past are applied to it. It’s why we don’t have the long-promised hovercrafts! How can that kind of innovation escape the myriad rules governing transportation?
“Liberals want wealth without the rich. Yet most real wealth originates in individual minds in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways. A successful economy depends on the proliferation of the rich, on creating a large class of risk-taking men who are willing to shun the easy channels of a comfortable life in order to create new enterprise, win huge profits, and invest them again.” Danger and uncertainty, risk, waste and inefficiency are the engines of prosperity and success. These very necessary elements to the human condition are what the liberals want to deny, suppress and plan away. They operate with jealousy and covetousness and want to take the wealth from the rich for their own purposes.
He ends with, “At any time in human history, a rational calculus of our possibilities would lead to a prediction of doom. But over the millennia, the race has flourished. It has thrived, however, chiefly on one condition, on a cluster of conditions, combining faith and freedom with risk and work. It is chiefly when we give up on chance and providence, when we attempt to calculate and control our own destinies through ever greater regulation by a demiurgic state, that disaster occurs.”
Human creativity, unleashed, and in relationship with God, promoting the Biblical values of Charity, Faith, and Hope, is the greatest resource we have to achieve true prosperity for all.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The mainstream media is biased to the left. This is not shocking or even an especially new revelation. Yet Professor Tim Groseclose of UCLA has gone even further and done an extensive, peer-reviewed and verified study proving the extent of the bias and more importantly, the effect. His book Left Turn is a must read for anyone who doubts the veracity of the claim.
The first part of the book details his credentials and methodology. He make a compelling case for his research and five years in, has yet to sustain a serious critique. His particular study gave politicians a Political Quotient, PQ, which rates them from 0 - 100 with 100 being the most liberal. They range from Jim DeMint with a 4.8 to Nancy Pelosi with a 100. Some even extend beyond in either direction. Then he rates media outlets based on how often they cite conservative or liberal think tanks for their experts and facts and gives them a Slant Quotient (SQ). In this way, the New York Times (74) can be directly compared to the liberal slant of Joe Lieberman (74.7). After surveying 20 news outlets, he found an average bias of over 58.
He compared his study to another that used a different methodology. That study compared certain phrases which tended to be used by conservatives to phrases which are associated with liberal groups. The two studies complemented and reinforced each other.
Finally, at the behest of some coworkers, he decided to try a much narrower study. He found that in the debate over the Bush tax cuts, some of the facts supported the liberal position and some the conservative. He studied news outlets for which set of facts they emphasized. Just as in the other two studies, he found a strong liberal bias.
However, he was stuck with the question of Does it matter? Does the bias actually change political behavior? He began with the opinion that it did not. He believed enough people knew their source of news carried a liberal bias and discounted it.
Yet some studies piqued his interest. One involved studying markets into which Fox News entered and comparing before and after political behavior. The study found Republicans experienced a .43 percent uptick. The other study involved dividing 600 people into two random groups and sending one The Washington Times and the other The Post. After being exposed to the liberal and conservative leaning papers, the authors found a 3.8 percent impact. Finally one study on game theory showed that even when the subject KNEW they were being manipulated, they still failed to figure out the truth and offered an opinion closer to the one desired.
These, combined with anecdotal evidence suggested that media bias did indeed have an effect. But how much? Again, after going deep into his methodology, he arrives at what he believes is a low estimate of 70%. In other words, our political opinions are guided 30% by what we would naturally believe and 70% based on the news bias.
This is HUGE. In fact, he convincingly postulates that without media bias, if Americans were left to make up their own minds, the nation would have a PQ of approximately 25! We would rate between Ron Paul (31) and Jack Kemp (20) as a nation. Unbelievable. The whole country would look like Kansas (24) or Texas (27). Republicans would add 8 - 10 points in national elections.
I can’t get into all the specifics of his methodology. Suffice it to say it is clear and convincing and frustrating. To know that our country could rise like a Phoenix and regain our exceptionalism if only people were not manipulated by the media is such a tantalizing possibility. Yet, we are manipulated. Daily.
He ends with a plea for journalists (whom he lost respect for in the course of the study) to become more like politicians (whom he gained respect for). He begs journalists to spend time in a city or area with a PQ of 25. Get to know those religious people who own guns and cry at the Star Spangled Banner. We exist. We are not the stuff of mythology and backwater hell holes. In addition, the media should discover their own personal PQs and advertise it. We know where every politician stands on the issues when they declare their positions and party affiliations. We should expect no less of those that give us the facts we need to be an informed citizenry.
Sigh. I wish. They never will. Why would they? Their carefully preserved and created mythologies would crumble and liberalism would die on the vine.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
I have been waiting for Coolidge by Amity Shlaes since I first heard she was writing it. She came to my attention when I read the definitive history of the New Deal in The Forgotten Man. She states that in researching for that book, she realized she was missing the part of the story that involved Coolidge. She has single-handedly resurrected him from a forgotten president to the highly respected place he so deserves.
She begins with this pithy synopsis of the life of Calvin Coolidge, “... to an improbable extent, the chapters of Coolidge’s life after childhood are chapters of near failure upon near failure. Coolidge almost didn’t leave the village, almost didn’t make it at college, almost didn’t get a job, almost didn’t find a wife, almost disappointed as a state senator, almost stumbled as Massachusetts governor, almost failed to win a place on the Republican presidential ticket in 1920, and almost failed in Washington once he arrived there as vice president in 1921. As president, Coolidge almost failed to win the backing of his party, almost gave into grief after the sudden death of his sixteen-year-old son, Calvin, Jr. Almost capitulated to a recalcitrant Congress and unruly foreign leaders.” But he did not fail. He succeeded by continuously heeding the call of service and delivering more than was expected.
In the same staccato style, Shlaes details Coolidge’s many successes, “Under Coolidge, the federal debt fell, Under Coolidge the top income tax rate came down by half... Under Coolidge the federal budget was always in surplus. Under Coolidge, unemployment was 5 percent or even 3 percent. Under Coolidge, Americans wired their home for electricity and bought their first cars or household appliances on credit. Under Coolidge, the economy grew strongly, even as the federal government shrank. Under Coolidge, the rates of patent applications and patents granted increased dramatically... Under Coolidge, a man from a town without a railroad station, Americans moved from the road into the air.” In short, Coolidge kept government out of the way and America blossomed economically.
Coolidge is rightfully known as Silent Cal. After leaving the small isolated village where he grew up for college, he made very little impression. His grades were mediocre, but after being rejected by every fraternity on the campus of Amherst, he came under the sway of a powerful and charismatic Professor Garmin. He made life-long friends at the college, however, and came into his own in a powerful senior speech revealing a side of Calvin his classmates had never seen. They were “impressed by the humor, quiet dignity and penetrating philosophy” he radiated. After college, he skipped law school preferring the old method of “reading law,” literally, as an intern in a law office. Once he passed the bar, even sooner than expected, he struggled as a small-time country lawyer, but was respected for his lack of fee-raising loquaciousness.
He entered his first political contest right away, following in his father’s footsteps, when he ran for a seat on the Northampton City Council. Shortly thereafter, he accomplished his final goal, to find a wife. He met Grace Goodhue, a teacher at a local school for the deaf who lived just across from him. It was thought that someone who taught the deaf, might be able to conjure Calvin to speak. Their marriage was a perfect partnership of like-minded people.
Coolidge’s political career continued to take off. He won a seat in the lower house of the state legislature in Massachusetts. He was frustrated at being away from his wife and did not enjoy the legislative process, so he next occupied the position of mayor of Northampton. The executive position suited him better. At this time, his staunchly Republican political views began to take on a flavor unique to Calvin. He began to come into his own politically and even counseled his father, a newly elected state senator, “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” Soon the mayor’s job was no longer big enough and he ran to join his father in the state senate. And, although he considered himself a progressive, he chafed when the most famous Progressive, Teddy Roosevelt, pushed for the Republican nomination over that of the incumbent Republican, Taft. In fact his third-party run led to the subsequent victory of the Democrat, Wilson.
He began to really gain the attention of the Republican party when he led a senate committee to negotiate a strike by the IWW or Wobblies as they came to be known. The Progressives had passed laws designed to help the workers, shorter hours, etc., but which then led to reduced pay. Striking in radical and violent ways to restore their lost wages, Coolidge the Progressive, had to make a choice. He saw how the Progressive policies hurt the workers, yet he saw the same workers being violent and disruptive. He had to choose sides. His law and order sense came through and he successfully negotiated an end to the strike. This success led to the eventual role as president of the state senate, which he followed by running for lieutenant governor and then governor of Massachusetts.
He gained national attention in his role of Governor when the police of Boston went out on an illegal strike. The city was paralyzed and the mayor, police commissioner and Coolidge jockeyed for position as to who was best to handle the situation. Coolidge poured over the state constitution, eventually finding the authority. In a bold move that took everyone by surprise, he neither capitulated nor compromised. He fired the striking police and made sure they could never return to work as a policeman. His bold law and order stance garnered praise from around the country. He had even upstaged Wilson who had vacillated on the strike. Some began to think of Coolidge in presidential terms. Coolidge seemed to represent the “Silent Majority” of normal, middle-of-the-road folks.
But Coolidge, with his evolving political philosophy did not feel quite ready for the Presidency. He forcefully shut down those who would push for him. Despite this, his backers worked behind the scenes at the next Republican convention to get him nominated as Vice President. He found himself second on a ticket he had not sought out, under Warren Harding. Harding, with his call for a “Return to Normalcy” resonated with Coolidge and they made a good pair. Harding helped solidify Coolidge’s changing beliefs about Progressivism when he stated, “No altered system will work a miracle. Any wild experiment will only add to the confusion. Our best assurance lies in efficient administration of our proven system.” He advocated not the Square Deal of TR nor the constant innovation of Wilson, but a return to the Old Deal.
Harding began reining in the government after the large deficits ran up in the Wilson administration with his programs and WWI. Yet he surrounded himself with crony’s and soon his administration became the subject of various scandals. When Harding died suddenly, Coolidge moved into the top spot determined to finish what Harding had started. Where Harding made moves to cut, Coolidge actually did. His first official act was to notify all departments that their budgets would have to fall. He intended to cut $300 million from the federal budget and began to meet with his budget director General Lord, at least weekly. He also met regularly with his Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, and discussed Mellon’s idea of “scientific taxation.” Mellon believed in the radical notion that high tax rates could actually bring in lower tax revenues than lower tax rates. Finally converted, Coolidge worked on both cutting spending and lowering taxes to increase revenue. But his real passion remained the cutting end of the budget. He feared large increases in revenue would result in more calls for spending and undo all his hard work. The success of his policies led to a successful run for President in his own right in 1924.
Sadly, Coolidge knew that the Roaring 20s he had helped usher in was due for a correction. Having worked with his apparent successor Herbert Hoover, Coolidge felt certain all that he had accomplished would be swept away when the inevitable downturn came. He told his Secret Service agent, “Well, they’re going to elect that superman Hoover, and he’s going to have some trouble. He’s going to have to spend money. But he won’t spend enough. Then the Democrats will come in and they’ll spend money like water. But they don’t know anything about money.” What a prescient man. He foresaw exactly what was to come and did in fact happen. Had the nation followed his lead of not interfering with the economic downturn and continued to keep spending and taxes low, who knows? We may have avoided the Great Depression altogether. Instead, Hoover began to meddle, and resorted to that old Republican standby, the tariff, thereby ushering in worldwide retaliation. FDR followed and outdid the meddlesome Hoover by orders of magnitude. We are still paying for his experimentation today.
Coolidge lived to see his prediction come true. Hoover panicked with the crash of 1929, spent more money than he should have, implemented wage and price controls, and still lost to a Democrat. Once again, Coolidge revealed his prophetic powers by believing that despite his rhetoric, Roosevelt would engage in more spending and more experimentation. The country and it’s leaders no longer held to Harding’s admonition against such things.
Coolidge died of a heart attack in 1932. The WSJ wrote, “in due time, the good fortune of the United States to have had such a man as Calvin Coolidge in just the years he filled that office will be more clearly realized than it has yet been.” Hopefully we are beginning to realize the genius of this misunderstood President. Hopefully we will soon elect another one as committed to getting our financial house in order.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
I learned so much about Progressivism from the book I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism by Charles Kesler and didn’t even realize it. I just kept referring to parts of the book and the history of Progressivism and forgot it came from here. That’s why I keep this book blog! I want to be able to remember where I read this stuff now in my head!
First, a definition: “This trust in ‘fundamental’ but never final transformations, in continual progress toward an unspecified but ever egalitarian condition of social justice and political wholeness, inspired and guided by visionary and compassionate leaders, themselves inspired and guided by history with a capital H and the entire cosmic process culminating in the growth of the State with its master class of expert administrators -- this is modern liberalism in a nutshell.”
So how did we get to this place? It starts with Woodrow Wilson, our first Progressive president. He became fascinated with Progressivism and the idea of a utopian future while in college. He saw the birth of the modern sciences and the thought that we were capable of applying scientific principles to everyday life proved a large temptation. He began to believe, that with the right leadership and run by the right experts, government could meet the all the needs of the citizens and lead to perfect self-actualization of every individual. Although this sounds creepy to our post-1984 ears, it sounded not only possible, but inevitable to Progressives like Wilson.
He based his thinking on the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. Hegel preached the idea of “the end of History.” He believed all of History was propelling mankind forward toward a time which “culminated in wisdom and true morality.” Each successive epoch of History passed on the essential truths it had gleaned which were then incorporated and improved upon in subsequent epochs. “Change” therefore is always beneficial because it is always propelling us onward towards the final destination. Moderation becomes the coward’s way out. Why not push for bigger and more radical changes? They would only get us to our destination that much faster.
Therefore, Wilson pushed the idea of a living and evolving Constitution. After all, if History was pushing us forward, why should we stayed anchored to a document written over a hundred years before his time? In fact, Wilson felt that politiciand owed it to History to, if not rule as an overlord, at least exercise strong leadership to steer History in the right direction. Little noted today, is that Wilson also believed only certain races has the requisite History behind them which enabled them to lead. Oddly enough, it was the Germanic (after all, Hegel was German) race, or whites who thought like Germans who were the best equipped in the Progressives’ minds to lead. Clearly History had left Africa and South America behind.
Even though Wilson lived to see the horrors unleashed by the 20th century, he believed these to be momentary blips in the great march forward. “He clung to his faith that the antagonisms in human nature were being overcome, that selfishness would eventually, inevitably yield to the love of justice.” He believed right would always win and if you won, you must have been right. “Deeply wrought in Progressivism, this confusion of morality with history and this blindness to human nature and natural right would haunt the subsequent waves of American liberalism.”
FDR ushered in new wave of Progressivism. He dropped the Germanic influence, and clothed the vision in solidly American religious language. He “expressed the higher ethical life to which liberalism pointed... in relatively unassuming, vaguely Protestant and vaguely Progressivism terms that could appeal to almost everyone.” He even changed the label from Progressivism to liberal so as to connect back to the founding rather than seek to disassociate from it as Wilson tried to do. FDR was a political genius at selling revolutionary Progressive ideas wrapped in mantle of traditionalism. Wilson completely rewrote the description of the Executive and FDR put it into practice claiming, “We are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.”
At the end of his long tenure in office, (he eschewed the precedent set by Washington to limit himself to two terms in office to avoid the whiff of monarchy) FDR boldly proclaimed a “Second Bill of Rights”. Once again availing himself of familiar language and insisting these new “rights” were self-evident, Roosevelt promoted the right to a “useful and remunerative job”, “adequate food and clothing”, the rights of farmers to sell and raise crops at a guaranteed profit, the right of businessmen to profit as well, the right to a home and medical care. Despite the internal contradictions and the not-quite-self-evident part of who will guarantee these rights and where do they come from, they have found their way into our language and laws today. Unlike our original Bill of Rights, these “rights” come with an extremely high price tag. They eat up the lion’s share of our Federal budget today and are toppling nations around the world.
When the liberal agenda began to crack up in the sixties, LBJ entered with a whole new wave of liberalism which he called “The Great Society.” “The Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.” Government would finally give ordinary citizen’s lives meaning. How creepy and totalitarian. But he set out to do just that. Knowing the work would never be completed, but with liberals in charge he knew we would move ever closer to heaven on earth.
Unfortunately, heaven did not materialize exactly how LBJ envisioned it. With the War on Poverty ramping up, agitation began for more and more benefits. After passing the Voting Rights Act, and officially ending the struggle for civil rights, the ante was upped to include not only equal opportunities, but equal outcomes. The cultural wars soon followed with the abolishment of prayer in schools and the legalization of abortion. Self-government became passé and poverty got worse. With the failure of The New Deal and now The Great Society to fundamentally change society and human nature for the better, liberals began to become more radical, trusting government less, but at the same time insisting on a larger and larger government to solve societies ill with no limits on where it could intrude. After all, this generation adopted the slogan, “If it feels good, do it.” They became unmoored from any philosophical underpinnings but rather resorted to their feelings as justification for more programs.
Enter Obama, channeling the three great Progressives before him, Wilson, FDR, and LBJ. Obama promised the old Progressive hope of change, and hope in change. He dangled dreams ofa bright future so close we could almost taste it, if we only had the vision and courage to dream along with him. He left nothing to refute for he promised to magically convert the obstacles into stepping stones and lead all the world into a beautiful tomorrow.
Herein lies the crisis mentioned in the subtitle. Progressivism has failed to deliver. Despite all the Progressive reforms and programs most Americans believe we are clearly on the wrong track. Most Americans look back to a time of true community and basic civility. We are farther away from the envisioned utopia than anyone can remember. Liberalism is looking old and tired and discredited. The modern welfare state is imploding. “If communism, armed with millions of troops and thousands of megatons of nuclear weapons could collapse of its own deadweight and implausibility, why not American liberalism?”
“Liberals’ confidence in being on the right, the winning side of history could crumble, perhaps has already begun to crumble. Thrust in government, which really means the State, is at all-time lows.” We may soon begin to see the danger of following the Great Leader into a never-quite-attained future utopia. Maybe.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
George Gilder may be the most brilliant man I have ever read. Even though I struggled with “Speaking of George Gilder,” which was a book quoting him, this book by him is absolutely brilliant. I may have to buy it.
Gilder has written “a revised and expanded edition of Sexual Suicide” which he wrote in 1973. The revised version of the book now titled, “Men and Marriage” was written in 1986. It may as well have been written yesterday. It’s insights are so relevant and apropos of today’s issues, I couldn’t put it down.
The preface begins with this stunning declaration, “the differences between the sexes are the single most important fact of human society. The drive to deny them -- in the name of women’s liberation, marital openness, sexual equality, erotic consumption, or homosexual romanticism -- must be one of the most quixotic crusades in the history of the species.” The rest of the book strives to support such a powerful and politically incorrect thesis.
It starts with the basics of biology. “Male sexuality remains a paramount fact of life and the chief challenge to civilized society and democratic politics.” Men, left alone, are the naked nomads Guilder previously wrote about. We deny this fact at our own peril. The essential truth is that all of civilization exists to bring male impulsivity under the subordination of the female long-term horizons. Because women bear the children and are responsible for the well-being of the child for many years thereafter, she demands that a man commit to her, take care of her, and provide for her. If he wants legitimate children of his own, he must subdue his barbarian nature and begin thinking of the long-term future. He discovers love. Love, in turn, offers depth, companionship, and loyalty.
Human civilization began as a group of hunters and gatherers. This pattern fit most naturally with males from every society. Yet it appears that women helped in the push towards a more agriculture society which better fit their biology and long-term thinking. However, this led to the central question every people group now faces, what to do with the men?
For the least civilized groups, men participated in ritual, hunting parties, or warfare to live out their masculine impetuousness. But the industrial revolution changed that and demanded men prove they could support a family based on economic worth. Men’s energy became channeled into “work, initiative, love, and responsibility for a wife and children.” Modern society therefore became highly dependent on the institution of marriage to both civilize and properly focus the male nature, to “tame the barbarians.”
Women set the parameters. “If [a man] finds work that affirms his manhood and a girl who demands that his sexuality succumb to hers, he is likely to become a valuable and constructive citizen.” If he cannot find these things, he becomes a anathema to civilized society, with a great ability to wreak havoc. However, as women enter the workforce and compete with men for jobs and money, the ability of a man to find a good job and a girl willing to marry him and bear his children diminishes greatly.
Liberation movements today have led to disaster. As women are pushed into the workforce, they often find men higher up the economic ladder to marry. Left behind are those young men just starting out. Women do not marry down. We begin to trade monogamy for serial marriages as older men succumb to the young women in their prime. Older women and younger men are left out. But even these princesses are trapped in a web of their own making. They know they too will be left behind in a few short years. They feel the weight of being used as a trophy. “The removal of restrictions on sexual activity does not bring equality and community. It brings ever more vicious sexual competition.”
We devolve from monogamy, essentially “one to a customer” to a form of polygamy. The beautiful balance of monogamy is destroyed as people are free to act on their covetousness and lusts, trading one partner for another, leaving devastated families in the wake.
Yet those left behind single young men will get their revenge. “Violence and crime join with mental illness, mild neurosis, depression, addiction, AIDS, institutionalization, poverty, unemployment, and nightmares to comprise the specialized culture of single men in America.” Finally, we see the correlation between break down of marriage and homosexuality. Homosexuality provides the ultimate male escape from the drudgery of women and family and responsibility. They are free to live hedonistic, unattached lives of impetuousness. Without the women willing to tame the men and give them long-term horizons, “civilized societies break down in to polygynous and homosexual formations, with related outbreaks of feminism and pornography.” To see what this looks like, we need only look to the ghetto where welfare and poverty programs have driven men out of the home as they become increasingly replaced by a check.
“The national elites remain largely incapable of offering programs of communal affirmation and male socialization that would in any way reduce crime, violence, and narcotic escapism, divorce, abandonment, and sexual disorder... Liberals would make the problems far worse by subsidizing them... But many conservative men are little better. Lacking the guts to rebuff the upper-class feminist ladies, they go along with most of the feminist agenda.”
We make the problem worse the more barriers we destroy between male and female roles. We have made all education coeducational despite it’s noticeable failure to produce better results. We put women in the military, despite thousands of years of received wisdom to protect women as bearers of future generations. Women displace men in the workforce creating a state of suspicion and resentment as women fight imaginary “discrimination” and demand “equal pay for comparative worth.” (who decides which jobs have “comparative worth”?)
“The provider role of men not only gives the society the benefit of a lifetime of hard work oriented toward long-term goals. It also channels and disciplines male energies and aggressions that otherwise turn against that society. By contrast, full-time work by mothers of small children comes at a serious ... cost.”
Today, we have a society run by the social scientists. Anthropologists inform us that patriarchy, religion, and private property are universal to all human societies. The rare tribes that eschew any one of these characteristics fail to thrive over time. Yet one tribe is “so abjectly retarded, or so mystically impervious to its own nature, that it simultaneously rejects and tries to abolish all three of these human characteristics -- sex role, religions, and property rights.” That would be the tribe of social scientists.
From all of this, we can conclude: “The different roles of men and women, the love that arises from them, the allegiance to one’s own family, the worship of God, the possession and improvement of property, the production of wealth, the cultivation of excellence and beauty, the competitive masculine rituals of sport and play, the emergence of loyalty to kin and community, church and country are all among the highest values of human life. Because they spring from human reality, they can be fulfilled in ordered freedom in a democratic society. Achieving economic planning, income equality, bureaucratic rationality, and sexual liberation... requires a totalitarian state.”
The Left, in trying to undo nature itself, is at heart totalitarian. Oh to live life the way God intended, adhering to healthy sex roles, worshiping something outside ourselves, and delighting in honest, value-creating labor! What a different world that would be.
Sunday, August 4, 2013
I may have to buy The Great Partnership by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I almost never buy books, but I could have highlighted this whole book.
He states, “I want, in this book, to argue that we need both religion and science; that they are compatible and more than compatible. They are the two essential perspectives that allow us to see the universe in its three-dimensional depth. The creative tension between the two is what keeps us sane, grounded in physical reality without losing our spiritual sensibility. It keeps us human and humane.”
Throughout the book he repeats his central mantra, “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.”
Part one of the book begins with, "God and the Search for Meaning". We are, definitionally, meaning-seeking animals. Only humans, above all other creatures, driven by curiosity, ask, “Why?” This curiosity leads to science and science “leads to questions unanswerable by science.” These questions lead to God. Without a creator God who stands outside the universe wishing to bring it into being for what can only be because He wanted to and for only one compelling reason, because He loves us, we cannot we find meaning. Without God existence is a cruel, meaningless joke. “The meaning of a system lies outside the system. Therefore, the meaning of the universe lies outside the universe.”
Can we prove there is a God scientifically? No. But many fundamental beliefs we hold cannot be proven. In fact, science itself rests on the faith that “God does not play dice with the universe.” For science to exist at all, it must take as a matter of faith that the laws of the universe which it seeks to unveil are unchanging and immutable.
So how do we “find God” if He does not exist in the material realm? Sacks begins with a story of a poor man in India who met another poor soul, yet something about the stranger indicated he had been in the presence of greatness. Sacks began looking for God in people in whom he had seen the imprint of God.
He came to this conclusion, “Everything I have learned about faith in a lifetime tells me that the science of creation -- cosmology -- wondrous though it is, takes second place to the sheer wonder that God could take this risk of creating a creature with the freedom to disobey him and wreck his world. There is no faith humans can have in God equal to the faith God must have had in humankind to place us here as the guardians of the vastness and splendor of the universe. We exist because of God’s faith in us. That is why I see in the faces of those I meet a trace of God’s love that lifts me to try to love a little as God loves... God lives wherever we open our eyes to his radiance, our hearts to his transforming love.”
Part 2 of his book begins, “Why It Matters”. “The absence of God, when consistently upheld and throughly examined, spells the ruin of man in the sense that it demolishes or robs of meaning every we have been used to think of as the essence of being human...” (Leszek Kolakowski) Civilizations end with a whimper and can die so slowly very few notice. But without God, they will surely die.
Sacks states five imperceptible, yet inexorable changes within society with the death of God:
- Loss of belief in human dignity and sanctity of life - people become vulnerable and alone.
- Loss of the societal covenant which believes we have a collective responsibility to each other - replaced by contract with the government as the supplier.
- Loss of morality - words like duty, obligation, honor, integrity, loyalty and trust are lost. Why do the “right” thing if there is no obvious reward?
- Loss of marriage - relationships are no longer holy and consecrated lifelong commitments.
- Loss of the possibility of a meaningful life - no calling or mission or purpose, no reason at all for my existence.
The author goes on to detail each of these five losses further in subsequent chapters.
The third part of the book deals with “Faith and its Challenges”.
The first challenge addressed is that of Darwin. Because Rabbi Sacks believes in the natural intersection of science and religion, he does not see a conflict. Rather, taking evolution as a given, he sees the beauty of a God-ordered and ordained system that led to the final destination of humans made in the image of God. He likens evolution to the free-market capitalist system. Both seemingly function in random ways with no apparent direction, yet both inexorably lead to the best possible outcome. He marvels at a God that could creates such a system.
The next challenge is the problem of evil. The only answer for why does evil exist remains human free will. Without free will, we are not human. Yet God has asked us to not only forsake evil, but to actively protest against it. Those people who have faith in God are called to live in another way that will eventually change the world. God clearly recognizes that evil exists, but challenges us to combat it.
He then asks, “Why God?” and proceeds to offer “proof” and arguments from a scientific position that argue for a belief in God.
- The improbability of the universe
- The improbability of human life
- The improbability of Jewish history
- The improbable strength of believers in God
- The improbability of happiness without God
- The improbability of the refusal of religion to die
Sacks was prompted to write this book by an advertisement stating, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The “probably” stumps him. We do not live in the probable but in the possible. He exerts, “Faith is the defeat of probability by the power of possibility.” God, Himself, defies probability and predictability. We live in an improbable world. Everything about our very existence is improbable. It’s time to stop thinking we can live in the probable and live in the possible. Without God, it is impossible to “stop worrying and enjoy... life.” Only with God does life and therefore science itself have any possible meaning at all. Without God, there is no life to enjoy.
Monday, July 29, 2013
I saw the book Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power at Costco, and true to my nature, I judged it by the cover. In addition, the author had received a Pulitzer Prize, so I was pretty sure it would be good.
What a wonderful look at one of the most dynamic of our founding fathers! He brought Thomas Jefferson to life with the theme of power running through the book.
He begins with Thomas Jefferson’s childhood and early years. His father died early in his life and left him as the “man of the house”. Therefore Thomas Jefferson had to begin exercising power early. Because of some preternatural wisdom, Jefferson sought out older men to mentor him and make connections that would introduce him into the halls of power.
Being a landed gentleman, he served in the House of Burgesses in Virginia from a young age. He therefore had a very close up view of the British government and its dealings with the colonies. So when skirmishes broke out in Boston, it was Jefferson who was called to write up our fabled Declaration of Independence.
Although a slave owner, Jefferson recognized that the institution had to die. He included this kind of language in the Declaration, only to see it removed during the revision process. He would fight his whole life in whatever pragmatic way he could to end the practice he had inherited. Unfortunately, it was a battle in which he would ultimately fail.
The first year of the Revolution saw him elected as Governor of Virginia. He used this time to go through the legal code of the state with a fine-toothed comb. He ended ancient inheritance laws designed to benefit the landed gentry. He learned to practice pragmatism, to feel out the lawmakers and push from behind the scenes legislation he deemed valuable. He knew how to use language and religious sentiments to further his causes. He pushed for freedom of Religion, arguing that for the state to prop us a particular religion only enfeebles that faith. He quoted Scripture to say that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, and therefore government support was not necessary. God did not need humans to prop Him up. His moment of ignominy occurred when he fled Richmond as it came under British attack. He would spend much of his political career living that down.
“A favored son, a brilliant student, a legislator of his state at age twenty-five, author of the Summary View at thirty-one and of the declaration of Independence at thirty-three, governor of Virginia at thirty-six… Thomas Jefferson was accustomed to public success and popular praise, to moving from strength to strength and from glory to glory.” But now his wife was dead, he was humiliated over the attacks hurled at him for abandoning Richmond, and he felt the sting of public malice. Thomas Jefferson knew the choice was between a quiet retirement, leaving his name muddied or advancing and continuing to make a mark. When he was called to serve in Paris, he jumped at the chance.
Jefferson loved his time in Paris, but never forgot that he was, first and foremost, an American. While there, he developed a life-long, although at times rocky, friendship with the Adams. He fell deeply in love with a married woman, Maria Cosway. His head and his heart battled, with no clear winner. His time spent with her was brief, but it is the one scandal that he admitted, much later in life, was true. He corresponded with her throughout his life, albeit intermittently.
During his time in Paris, his wife’s half-sister, a slave, Sally Hemings was sent to help care for Jefferson’s daughters. Interestingly, he did not request her, yet the author concludes that Sally’s resultant pregnancy was because of an affair with Jefferson. However throughout his life, there is no evidence they were sexually active. Only the timing of her pregnancies, the word of her children and rumors in country are offered as proof. Never once does Jefferson send for her, inquire of her, treat her children differently from other slaves, or acknowledge the rumors as true. In characteristic fashion, he refuses to discuss them. He was opposed to gossip and trained from an early age to manage, so it’s easy to imagine him taking the fall for another’s dalliances. In fact, although the author acknowledges the DNA linking Hemings ancestors to Jefferson, the Thomas Jefferson Society has admitted it is not clear that Thomas Jefferson was the father and there is research suggesting that the father of the Hemings children may have been Jefferson’s brother.
From the distant continent, he received word of the new Constitution. It was more than he could have hoped for. He sailed home and was offered the position of Secretary of State by the first president, George Washington.
Although he and Washington respected each other, they were never close. Partially this was because both feared two different things. Jefferson, ever the democrat, saw the lessons of the English Civil War and feared that Americans would grow frustrated with their republic and demand a king. Impolitic statements by the Federalists added to his fears. Washington, having suffered under an impotent federal government during the Revolution, feared a government that was too weak. As he knew concerning himself, he had no ambition towards monarchy. In fact, all his efforts were to avoid just such a fate for himself and when confronted with the possibility of becoming a king, he reacted with horror. Perhaps this led him to underplay Jefferson’s fears and therefore rely on the Federalist, strong-government-supporting, Hamilton.
Jefferson did not enjoy his time in New York as Secretary of State. But he did manage to make sure the Capitol was built in the south and taken out of the hands of his dreaded Federalist bankers. Even this was a pragmatic response to Hamilton’s idea of a National Bank. While Jefferson feared it, he knew as a practical matter, it would come to pass. He got the best deal he felt he could. Finally, at the end of Washington’s first term, he could take the infighting no longer and resigned.
He returned to his beloved Monticello and family. Although he ostensibly wanted to escape the drama inherent in politics, it was here he listened to the political news of the day and plotted with his compatriots Madison and Monroe. While he considered himself a farmer and retired from civil service, nevertheless, he diligently followed politics. So it came as no surprise that 4 short years later he again embroiled in national happenings. He and Adams were the forerunners for the title of 2nd President of the United States. Jefferson narrowly lost to become the 2nd Vice President of the United States.
He continued to operate according to previous power plays, smooth and polite, a warrior who chose his battles, yet conducted himself in the background. Adams sealed his political fate with the hated Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson kept a wary eye on his leader, always with fears of a return to monarchy present. When Republican Thomas Callender was prosecuted under the Sedition Act for speaking out against Adams, the Jefferson/Adams friendship suffered an almost fatal blow. Jefferson would replace John Adams in the election of 1800 as the 3rd President.
“From war making to economic life to territorial acquisition to federal spending to subpoenas and the sharing of information with Congress and the courts, Jefferson maintained or expanded the authority of the presidential office.” He operated as a hands-on president, knowing the power of the office and persuasiveness of personal attention. He interacted intimately with the legislature in order to govern in a consistent fashion with a consistent message. He is most famously known for sending Lewis and Clark to chart the Northwest Territory and the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of America. He faced scandal however when he did not fully exonerate James Callender for the sedition charge. The rumors of his dalliances with Sally Hemings would hit the front pages as a result. As President, he was forced to deal with European hostilities and unfinished business with England. While he navigated us peacefully through, the story was not over and the War of 1812 would result on Madison’s watch.
Following in Washington’s footsteps, Jefferson stepped down after two terms. He returned to his beloved Monticello, where, despite desiring a quite retirement, he very much kept up with the swirling political world. He dealt with deaths and scandals. In true Jeffersonian fashion, he solved every problem he could and lamented those he couldn’t. He knew how to make things happen and when to sweep things under the rug. He focused on his next great love, the University of Virginia. He watched as the Missouri Compromise enshrined slavery and ushered in what Jefferson called, “the knell of the Union.” He knew a geographic line would inexorably lead to civil war.
At one point, near the end of his life, Jefferson was asked to counsel a young namesake on how to live a virtuous life. He answered, “Adore God, reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be Just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss.”
What fitting words to a remarkable life.