Thursday, April 24, 2014

Trigger Trippers

Lately we've been hearing a lot about concern over "trigger words," particularly in universities and other large institutions where the perpetually aggrieved and hypersensitive tend to congregate. Frankly, I couldn't care less about such self-victimized fainting flowers. Their complaints tend to trigger me, in a fashion they would be unlikely to enjoy. And yes, like most persons who vent their opinions on public policy subjects onto the Net, I encounter them here as well. They receive a response calibrated to discourage their return to Liberty's Torch.

But "trigger trippers," generally, are a matter of interest to me for a different reason: the effort we in the Right have to exert to avoid being provoked by the things that punch our buttons. A few items from that list:

  • Being told we lack "compassion;"
  • Being accused of miscellaneous venalities and hypocrisies;
  • Having our motives impugned for daring to disagree with the Left;
  • Having some leftist accuse us of the very conduct he himself has displayed.

It's been a postulate of conservatives' public posture that we should behave like gentlemen, remaining perfectly civil and courteous, even when our opponents are at their worst. I've begun to think that that's no longer desirable...indeed, if it ever was.

Just yesterday, the Dishonorable Harry Reid, who must surely be in terror of his imminent descent to Minority Leader status, vented in a most exercising way over the Bundy Backdown:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says “something is going to happen” to get Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy to stop letting his cattle graze on federal land.

“It’s obvious that you can’t just walk away from this. And we can speculate all we want to speculate to what’s going to happen next,” Reid told KSNV-TV. “But I don’t think it’s going to be tomorrow that something is going to happen, but something will happen. We are a nation of laws, not of men and women.”

Reid called militias staying at Bundy’s Bunkerville ranch “domestic violent terrorist-wannabes.”

It's already been revealed that Reid's son expects to profit personally from the elimination of the Bundy ranch, which is bad enough. As for "domestic terrorist wannabes," well, you have to expect that sort of rhetoric from a Democrat who's having a public tantrum. But that "nation of laws" business is the Ace kicker

  • The Bureau of Land Management has attempted to eliminate the Bundys' longstanding prescriptive grazing rights by simple fiat, not by law;
  • The BLM is about to do the same thing to 90,000 acres of privately owned land that abuts the Texas-Oklahoma border;
  • There is no provision in the Constitution authorizing the federal government to own land for an arbitrary purpose, and none for the protection of a supposedly endangered species.

Quite a lot of conservatives' triggers are being tripped as we speak -- and it's well that it should be so. Reid has attempted to put a "nation of laws" veneer over a plainly unlawful act. That it's in his character to do so -- this is a thoroughly duplicitous man, deeply steeped in the philosophy of might-makes-right -- does not reduce the offense it does to our sensibilities.

Should the GOP retake the Senate this coming November, perhaps his party will administer a suitable chastisement to Dingy Harry...but it won't be for his lies, his slanders, or his venalities; it will be for having lost. And that's a trigger-tripper of another sort.

The Supreme Court's recent McClatchy decision, a cheering thing for those of us opposed to racial preferences, evoked an angry dissent from "wise Latina woman" Sonia Sotomayor. In her 58-page shriek of dismay she claimed that to end racial discrimination we must discriminate by race, though her phrasing was nowhere near that compact. But the most striking thing about the dissent wasn't its illogic or its plain self-interested pleading; it was the hysteria that screamed from every sentence.

Sotomayor is the Left's most highly placed Hispanic. She was put where she is to perpetuate racial and ethnic preferences, among other things. Her rant may be viewed in that light as an expression of the general alarm on the Left, which has fought successfully for preferential treatment of its mascot-groups up to now and regards those efforts as essential to "keeping them on the plantation." McClatchy endangers those preferences, thus endangering the Democrats' grip on voting blocs it must retain to remain a major party.

Clearly, the 6-2 majority that confirmed Michigan voters' privilege of amending their state constitution triggered Sotomayor. Equally clearly, Sotomayor's hysterics have triggered us in the Right...mostly to laughter, as this beneficiary of preferential treatment reveals, decision after decision, how little she cares about the law or the Constitution.

And now, Gentle Reader, allow me to trip your triggers:

Every word Senator Paul said in that video is absolutely, verifiably accurate. He has not distorted the smallest thing. But if you go to Breitbart and survey the comments, you'll find that many of the commenters are furious with him for daring to state verifiable facts that appear to cast a shadow over the Reagan legacy.

Of course, the context matters:

  • Reagan prioritized the restoration of the military above all else, believing that a rapid increase in the defense budget was the best way to overcome the threat from the Soviets;
  • The Reagan era mushrooming of federal tax revenues, made possible by improvements in the tax code and the suppression of the growth of the regulatory burden, gave Congress's appetite for spending a huge boost -- and had the special interests slavering for their piece of the pie as well;
  • In the Administration's internal debates over federal spending, the advocates of reductions lost to those who derided their preferred policy as "root canal politics" that would cost the GOP its dominance, and succeeded in persuading Reagan that the unchained American economy could "outgrow" the federal deficit;
  • Democrats on Capitol Hill, who controlled the House of Representatives throughout the Reagan Administration, succeeded at holding the Administration's desires for defense budget increases hostage to massive increases in spending on social programs and the general expansion of the federal bureaucracy.

As Thomas Sowell has noted, there's no amount of money Congress cannot overspend -- and Congress spent every dollar it took in and quite a few more. Every extra dollar Congress received in federal revenues, which nearly doubled from 1981 through 1989 -- was "overspent" by about $1.30. Reagan's few vetoes did little to stem the tide of red ink. The period was, inter alia, a perfect demonstration of the old maxim that the only way to get the King to spend less is to give him less money.

There's no avoiding the conclusion that Reagan was partly responsible for the deficit explosion, at least in that he regarded increasing the defense budget as too important to permit the Democrats in the House to impede it, and in accepting the advice of the preponderance of his counselors about avoiding "root canal politics." But such is the reverence and affection conservatives feel for the Gipper that many are simply unwilling to hear it.

Trigger upon trigger upon trigger....It seems we're all hypersensitive about something. Worse, the somethings have been multiplying like toadstools. Everyone is offended; everyone has outrage to vent. Shrunken is the remnant that prefers to discuss law or policy dispassionately, from a Constitutional perspective, with proper regard for the lessons history teaches us about political economy and political power.

There might not be much to be done about it. Yet I cannot help recalling what Robert A. Heinlein noted in Stranger In A Strange Land: that obsession with the news is the single largest driver of neurosis and unhappiness known to Man. His character Jubal Harshaw called it "wallowing in the troubles of billions of strangers," and he may have been more right than even Heinlein knew. It might be the supreme irony of our time that the general tendency is to inject ever more such troubles into our consciousness with every passing day, as the relentless politicization of anything and everything drives toward its foreseeable conclusion.

And with that, Gentle Reader, I think I'll lie down quietly with a cool cloth on my forehead until the steam has ceased to pour from my ears.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pyongyang on the Thames.

If one reads some UK socio-history, one can empathize totally with the plight of the downtrodden through the centuries, and here I am thinking of the battles of such as The Tolpuddle martyrs, the reform act and the chartists, all of it makes for fascinating reading but......when I read of these notable events - I thought - interesting but nonetheless history, 'we live in much more enlightened times' went the comforting reverie.

Often, no, actually all the time now I lie awake - from storm ridden dreams, a nightmare coalesces and like some grotesque incubus it is now made flesh....

How far have we travelled, not far, not far at all. Because once very mistakenly I always believed in the unchallengeable, redoubtable sovereignty and freedom of our legislature and the supreme equity of British common law statute as the bulwark which would defend the rights of all free men who lived within the borders of this nation.

I have now reached the conclusion that all of last paragraph is delusional hogwash on my part, the ratchet, the laws that bind - holds us tight and that the vice is harder than steel.

I read the above piece [blog post] written by you Ms. Synon and I posit, it matters not who is installed in the 'hotseats' of power in the EU - there is not a snowballs' chance in hell of the British being allowed any freedom, rights or indeed challenge to the authority of our 'blessed leaders' and they may as well inhabit Pyongyang - so similar and distant are they.

The EU Parliament is frilly panties burlesque, even with Barosso gone, fret ye not because another inanely grinning muppet will sit in his place and the ship just glides imperiously on and on. Evidently, the course and the charts are already set and read - for, behind the scenes the script has been written and there is nothing democracy and any sort of democratic process - can do about it.

The leviathan that is known as, Empire of Brussels will not be halted and it will be forever, unless................

It will rain war on Europe.

Comment by Ravenscar on "Brussels' New Top Dogs and 'The United Nations Without The Sex.’” By M.E. Synon, Breitbart, 4/22/14.

A fundamentally stupid man.

Then came Obama, who brought it [the leftist garbage] all back to life again.

All of it -- the dream of a green economy, the dream of universal pacifism, of a degraded and defeated United States, of a middle class subservient to its intellectual betters, of a universal nanny state, of the conviction that the leftist delusion is intertwined with the basic nature of reality itself. It became once more possible to believe in the coming socialist dawn that had motivated leftists since 1917.

This is the secret of Obama’s appeal, and the explanation of the long-pondered mystery of what he’s really up to, what his actual goal is. The truth is, there is no goal. Or rather, the goal, the plan, involves simply lighting up all those bereft and chilly bubbles abiding in major urban areas, college towns, and fringes along each coast. That is the ultimate goal, and there is nothing coherent or comprehensible beyond it. A fundamentally stupid man, one who time and again has demonstrated complete lack of understanding of the world as it exists, Obama is as enrapt with illusion as his followers.

Obama is Bursting the Left's Bubbles." By J.R. Dunn, American Thinker, 4/23/14.

Way of life.

Leftism is a hyperbubble in and of itself, consisting of nearly as many sub-bubbles as there are leftists (it has long been understood that leftism is essentially the politicization of petty personal grievances). Living in leftist bubbles -- whether feminist, racial, academic, communist, or what have you -- amounts to a way of life for millions of Americans.
"Obama is Bursting the Left's Bubbles." By J.R. Dunn, American Thinker, 4/23/14.

From The Junk Drawer

Yes, it's another "assorted" post. Apologies, Gentle Reader. I'm literally gasping for breath here, so please allow me another of these semi-cop-outs.

1. Piketty.

No, that's not some new fad...well, except maybe on the Left. It's the name of a young French economist who's decided to rewrite Marx's Capital and equip it with the hot new rationale: Inequality!

We're already hearing quite a lot about "income inequality" from the Democrats. As they're desperate to deflect attention from Obama Regime policies, especially ObamaCare, this is understandable. However, their praise of Piketty's book is likely to backfire on them as word about what the Frenchman espouses spreads among the public. Piketty's aim is to prevent wealth, especially inherited wealth. As decent Americans aspire to becoming wealthy, Piketty's advocacy of confiscatory inheritance and wealth taxes and 80% income taxes will not sit well with them.

2. Old Authoritarianism in a New Bottle.

The Left never seems to learn any new tricks. The esteemed Andrew Bolt gives us an example of their penchant for recycling old ideas:

Neil Ormerod, Professor of Theology at the Australian Catholic University, demands an end to free speech:
Free speech for racist bigots, free speech for climate denialists. Where will it end?… There is a value in free speech to promote reasoned discussion and deliberation. And then there is obdurate and at times wilful ignorance ...

Fine, Professor. Then let’s also end the free speech of those who peddle obdurate and wilfully ignorant claims that the first woman was created from the rib of the first man.

Professor, do you understand how many people would deny your own right to speak under the standards you set for others?

Does anyone out there remember Herbert Marcuse's "Repressive Tolerance," or am I alone in the world?

3. Keynes Must Be Whirling In His Grave.

The esteemed Tyler Durden has seen fit to give the Obamunists "knightmares:"

"Janet, we have a problem," is the resoundingly loud message from the latest Gallup poll of Americans preference (and relative enjoyment) of "saving" vs. "spending". It seems, despite all the hoop-la and exuberance about an 'economic recovery' that is pent-up due to weather but about to break out to escape velocity, the majority of Americans continue to enjoy saving money more than spending it, by 62% to 34%. The 2014 saving-spending gap is the one of the widest since Gallup began tracking Americans' preferences in 2001. How long before a discussion of negative rates re-appears as the rich and powerful Oz-ians contemplate the latest effort to 'change' people's mass psychology...

Inasmuch as the whole left-liberal approach to economics is based on encouraging consumption rather than production, that has to be frightening to the Obama Regime. It's especially telling that credit, by virtue of Federal Reserve policy, has never been cheaper...yet borrowing remains stalled at nadir-of-the-Great-Recession levels.

I doubt they'll learn. Too much "sunk intellectual capital" would have to be jettisoned.

4. Benghazi.

Say, remember when Senator Rand Paul suggested that the Benghazi affair might have something to do with covert arms shipments into Syria, and was widely ridiculed for it? Remember Hilary Clinton's dismissive response to his inquiry?

Well, the Senator might have been better informed than we thought:

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)....

....A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)

Please read the whole article. It's an example of something we see far too little of these days: investigative journalism.

(Applause to Sara Noble for the reference.)

5. Is the BLM Feeling Its Oats...

...or is it just spoiling for a fresh fight in the aftermath of the Bundy Backdown?

After Breitbart Texas reported on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) intent to seize 90,000 acres belonging to Texas landholders along the Texas/Oklahoma line, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott questioned the BLM’s authority to take such action.

“I am about ready,” General Abbott told Breitbart Texas, “to go to the Red River and raise a ‘Come and Take It’ flag to tell the feds to stay out of Texas.”

Gen. Abbott sent a strongly-worded letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze, asking for answers to a series of questions related to the potential land grab....

  1. Please delineate with specificity each of the steps for the RMP/EIS process for property along the Red River.
  2. Please describe the procedural due process the BLM will afford to Texans whose property may be claimed by the federal government.
  3. Please confirm whether the BLM agrees that, from 1923 until the ratification of the Red River Boundary Compact, the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma was the gradient line of the south bank of the Red River. To the extent the BLM does not agree, please provide legal analysis supporting the BLM’s position.
  4. Please confirm whether the BLM still considers Congress’ ratification of the Red River Boundary Compact as determinative of its interest in land along the Red River? To the extent the BLM does not agree, please provide legal analysis supporting the BLM’s new position.
  5. Please delineate with specificity the amount of Texas territory that would be impacted by the BLM’s decision to claim this private land as the property of the federal government.

“The letter today,” Abbott explained, “is the first shot in the legal process. We expect answers from them and based upon their answers we will decide what legal action to take.”

“What Barack Obama’s BLM is doing,” Abbott continued, “is so out of bounds and so offensive that we should have quick and successful legal action if they dare attempt to tread on Texas land and take it from private property owners in this state.”

Of this, I can only say: Bravo for Texas and its Attorney-General! It's high time someone challenged Washington's claim to the power to seize land at its whim, whether for "national monuments," "wildlife refuges," or any other unConstitutional purpose. Texas is the perfect place to force a federal stand-down.

And that's all the news for today, Gentle Reader. Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Worst Social Fascist... the one who indignantly refuses the label.

First, allow me to be maximally explicit about my terms. A fascist is one who deems the State to have no limit to its authority and no limit to what it may do to its subjects in the application of its authority. In theory, a fascist State would have the authority, if not the de facto ability, to regulate your breathing and elimination, and to punish you for a violation by executing you. The implication of such an unbounded State is that individuals possess no rights whatsoever.

A social fascist is a fascist whose rationale for his fascism is "the greater good of society." Such persons speak incessantly of chimeras such as "social justice." He might be sincere in his belief that an omnipotent State can achieve that undefined goal, or it might be a veneer, a cosmetic representation intended to disguise his true priorities. Either way, he'll maintain to his dying breath (and may that happy moment come sooner than later) that the eggs he's broken or proposes to break are for the greater good of the omelet.

Thus, we have a creature who, whatever his protests to the contrary:

  • Denies that individuals have rights but maintains that "society" does;
  • Deems the State the sole arbiter of all things, including what rights "society" possesses;
  • Accepts that some can, should, and must wield absolute and unbounded power over others for "the greater good of society;"
  • Refuses to define any of the end states he claims to seek, nor will he posit delivery dates his policies will meet for delivering them.

You have your template, Gentle Reader. How many of the members of our contemporary political class would you say are good fits to it?

Anyone with the patience required to read Liberty's Torch will undoubtedly remember that, during the 2008 presidential campaign, when an interviewer pressed Barack Obama about whether he would raise the capital gains tax even if it were proved to reduce federal revenues, Obama unhesitatingly replied that he would do so "as a matter of fairness."

That statement should have shocked the entire nation into maximum alertness. Sadly, it garnered less attention, and far less outrage, than it deserved. Of course, there were pseudo-Americans, utterly consumed by envy of the better-off, who thought the idea a splendid one. But decent Americans who heard the statement mostly shrugged it off, whether because they failed to grasp its implications or because they were confident that such an attitude would come to nothing in practice.

What concept of "fairness" in taxation would be consistent with a practice that would make both the federal government and the taxed individual worse off? Only one imbued with antipathy toward wealth -- and to a degree that would embrace a reduction of the federal government's resources for meeting its bills. That's irrational by any standard. The suggestion waved a huge red flag over Obama's candidacy... sadly, a red flag that an insufficient number of decent Americans took seriously.

As for those who greeted the idea with approbation...well, envy will do that to you. They prattle about "social justice" without deigning to elaborate on how a purely destructive practice could meet any standard of justice. (The esteemed Jonah Goldberg does a terrific demolition of "social justice" in this brief YouTube video.) But it's merely distracting twaddle intended to deflect examination of their real priority. As Helmut Schoeck has noted, envious Smith thinks that breaking his neighbor Jones's leg would enable Smith to walk better.

How many such pseudo-Americans are there? Perhaps more than we'd like to think. After all, Obama is in his second term as we speak.

The Obamunist Ascension has emboldened others of similar sentiment. Matt Yglesias, long a prominent presence in the SinistroSphere, recently added his brain splinter to the subject. Read the whole thing if you can; it's about as bald a case for the deliberate, tax-code-engineered destruction of wealth in service to an abstract notion of "social justice" as you'll encounter anywhere. Familiarity with the social-fascists' approach to such propositions is important if we're to have a hope of defeating them.

Yglesias does decorate his screed with a few de rigueur "practical" offerings: assertions that "sin taxes" reduce the "sinful" practices, and carbon taxes would reduce pollution (unproven). But his core priority, the one that trumps all else, is never concealed:

  • "in an era of surging inequality..."
  • "endlessly growing inequality can have a cancerous effect on our democracy..."
  • "it would help break the doom loop of oligarchy..."

Inasmuch as all Yglesias's claims for beneficial effects from confiscatory taxation -- e.g., in terms of employment, the compensation of workers, and additional resources for "the poor" -- are unsubstantiated by historical evidence, the question this social-fascist should be compelled to face is "What if your suppositions about such a policy leading to "the greater good" were to be proved incorrect? Would you then renounce the policy, cry mea culpa for the damage you'd caused, and concede that your claim to expertise was arrogant at best?"

Don't expect Yglesias to answer that question directly. Indeed, don't expect him to be required to face it. He would never agree to be interviewed by a Bret Baier, a John Stossel, a Megyn Kelly, or any other interviewer who might pose such a question. Social-fascists dislike to have their pretensions spotlighted in such clarity; it reveals them all too clearly for what they are.

At the deeper level of justice in public policy, Yglesias and his fellow travelers operate from premises utterly divorced from the foundations of Western thought. Their prattle about "social justice" is nothing but froth and gas. They cannot define it and will not suffer to try. The key word in their lexicon, inequality, speaks of a natural attribute of men that cannot be effectuated without killing us all. Those who are aware of it have practiced evasion of the subject to the heights of the rhetorical art.

But this is of a piece with the social-fascist mentality. Once you have chosen "everything for the State; nothing outside the State" as your touchstone, all else is merely jockeying for position. Friedrich Hayek, in The Road To Serfdom, shows us where that would lead us -- where it will lead us, unless a sufficiency of Americans should rise against it in the little time we have left before it becomes impossible to reverse.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Work And Love: A Kinda-Sorta Rumination

First, to all my Christian readers: Happy Easter! In these times of widespread suspicion and distrust, isn't it good to know that some promises really are kept (i.e., "He is risen, just as he said.")? Though as Pope Benedict XVI has told us, faith is inseparable from doubt, the Resurrection allows us to wait in hope, if not (damn it all) in Hope.

Second, to all my Eastern European readers: Happy Dyngus Day! Enjoy yourselves thoroughly. But do be careful with the pussy willow branches. Those things can smart.

And third, to all you constipated anti-capitalist types slavering over your annual opportunity to go all sanctimonious on the rest of us tomorrow, you can stuff that where the moon don't shine. I'll be celebrating "Earth Day" by enjoying the fruits of my labors, including a spacious single-family home, a Mercedes-Benz S550, a 65" HDTV and matching home theater system, a magnificent hot tub, my five-computer network, my Kindle HD Fire 8.9", and my B&N NOOK -- all of which you jackasses would deny me in the name of your rocks-and-moss-worshipping gospel of "environmentalism." I hope my more sensible fellow citizens will do the same, or close to it.

Ah, that feels better. Now, where was I?

An emotionally healthy person is one with the capacity for work and love. -- Origin unknown

If memory serves, I first encountered that statement in Joyce Rebeta-Burditt's marvelous novel Triplets. It immediately struck me as a breakthrough in the understanding of mental health: a cutting-through-the-underbrush insight that, if generally understood, would put the entire psychiatry industry out of business. The core perception is one of the existential basics. It provides a simple and satisfying answer to a question that our plague of pseudo-intellectuals asks as if it were the bane of human existence: "Why are we here?"

Why are we here? Why are we here? Why are we here?? Glory be to God, people! Where else could we be?

Living men live in Time. Time is inseparable from matter and energy. Without matter and energy, there would be no causes and effects to take place in time. Without time, the fundamental characteristics of matter and energy could not exist.

Time is the locus of dynamism. It makes change possible, whether for good or for ill. Thus, it's indispensable to learning and growth.

If we accept ourselves for what we are -- temporal creatures that must exercise reason and conscience to survive and flourish -- then we must accept where we are: the spatiotemporal universe into which we're born and from which we must ultimately depart.

Of course, the combination of "what we are" with "where we are" carries some implications, too.

Metaphysical absolutes give a lot of people emotional indigestion. The notions of "social construction of reality," the "Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis," and the like have penetrated a lot of minds to their detriment. The postulate that reality is independent of our perceptions and opinions trumps a lot of relativist and deconstructionist nonsense that, if accepted, could raise its promoters to total power.

The realities of human nature, our needs and desires, and the choices that flow from them are as absolute as any other metaphysical fact. Two above all confine us beyond all hope of escape:

  • We must work to live and flourish;
  • We need to love and be loved.

He who rejects either or both of those facts is insane in the most fundamental sense: he denies the reality in which he must live. He who exhorts you to doubt or deny them is emphatically not your friend.

That's not to say that work and love are unmixed blessings. Work is tiring, can be frustrating, and all too often goes unappreciated. We often come to appreciate its pleasures only when we renounce it -- or, as prison inmates sometimes discover, when we're deprived of it. As for love, it lacks guarantees, is frequently unrequited, and can cause the lover to sacrifice his preferences to the needs and desires of his beloved. The proposition that "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" is rather painful to swallow, though it's no less true for that.

Yet this is the nature of life under the veil of Time. We only escape it at our deaths, and few of us, regardless of our respective faiths, are eager to confront that eventuality.

The weariness and frustrations of work, and the sorrows and sacrifices that attend love, can blind us to our need for them. Think of all the stories you've heard about retirees who, deprived of any meaningful effort with which to occupy themselves, have wasted away in astonishingly short periods of time. Think of all the tales of love unappreciated and unreturned, and the horrific crimes that have been committed by persons abused by those they love. Yet few of us get all the way through our lives without personally experiencing some pain from our work and our lives. That, too, is part of our natures.

The Gospels tell us of a life lived for work that could return no benefit to the Worker, powered by an all-encompassing love that never faltered. What greater work could there possibly be than the redemption of the entire race of Man? What greater love could exist than a love that accepts unmerited death by torture to prove the sincerity of the Lover's message? And what simpler message could He possibly have brought us:

"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, and your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." [The Gospel According To Matthew, 22:37-40]

The Resurrection has more than one meaning. In Jesus's time as a man among men, He illustrated the heights to which work and love can raise us. These things were not necessary to Him -- God has no needs, after all -- yet He embraced them unhesitatingly, sacrificing all the satisfactions available to ordinary men to fulfill them and the New Covenant founded upon them.

It is not for us to do all that He did, but in this as in so many other things, we can learn from His example.

May God bless and keep you all.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Promise Kept

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

[The Gospel According to Matthew, 28:1-10]

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Faith And The Vigil

One of the things a thoroughly scientific outlook is good for -- and please don't assume that it's good for much else; take it from one who knows it from the inside -- is separating fact from implication, conjecture, opinion, desire, and everything else that is not fact.

A fact is something anyone with the requisite senses can perceive for himself. Some facts are easier to perceive than others; some pertain to events difficult or impossible to reproduce; and some are passionately wished away by those to whose agendas such facts are unfriendly. Those things cannot turn a fact into a non-fact. Of a fact, we can always say one of two things:

  1. It exists.
  2. It happened.

Of that last, it is important to note that the reportage of an event does not confer upon the event unassailable factual status. Reporters have been wrong many times. Some reporters are malicious. Perhaps worst of all, some will lie --ever heard the phrase "noble lies?" -- for a Cause to which they're committed. That last phenomenon has inflicted untold suffering on persons beyond counting.

Ultimately, unless you observe it yourself, its status as a fact is provisional. Even then you can be mistaken; we often see what we want to see, rather than what's really before us.

There are persons who've seized upon the fallibility of our senses to assert that we have no business talking about facts -- that "all is theory" and must forever remain so. I'm sure you can see where that leads. Be wary of it. Solipsism is a nasty malady. The cure is not pleasant.

The human mind cannot operate without the assumption that there is an underlying reality to what we perceive, however limited our perceptions may be. Human society cannot endure without the assumption that, over time at least, accurate reportage of those things we cannot perceive directly will overcome inaccurate or willfully deceitful reportage. Human happiness cannot be attained without the conviction that one possesses or can acquire all the facts relevant to the maintenance of one's values...whether that conviction is true or false.

Many centuries ago, four men, separated from one another by some years, composed four separate accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Scholars of classical history agree that only one of those men could possibly have witnessed any of Jesus's deeds or travails. Some scholars contend that there are other accounts that could and should be added to the "canonical Gospels," but they quarrel among themselves (and with the Church) about which ones, and why.

The Gospels are reportage. They are not facts per se; their coverage of the Ministry, Passion, and Resurrection of Jesus may or may not be accurate. They agree on all the most salient details, but consensus does not confirm accuracy, though it can amplify confidence.

Similarly, the reportage of the deeds of the Apostles, of their several deaths, and of the other saints who lived and died before us does not qualify what it narrates as facts. One may have great confidence in the honor and accuracy of the reporters, but unless one has directly perceived an event, confidence is all he can have. Certainty is denied him.

That's the nature of faith -- in anything.

Far too many persons of the present day confuse skepticism -- a valuable attribute, if properly disciplined -- with a scientific outlook. A common skeptical rejoinder to a claim of fact is "So you saw it with your own eyes?" That's a worthy thrust. We see very few of the things we believe with our own eyes, yet our confidence in them often shades into a certainty we should not allow ourselves. Thus it is with faith -- and the skeptic must be as aware of it as the believer.

Whenever anyone asks me about my Christianity "How can you believe such an obvious fantasy?" I must restrain myself from replying "Were you there? Can you assure me from your own witness that it's not true?" That tends to rock the skeptical objector. He must confront his own assumptions if he wants to continue. Few persons are willing to do that; it involves a variety of humility that's become uncommon. But the exception who's willing to do so will sometimes continue with "Well, why do you believe it?"

That's one of the most important questions ever asked about any faith. Tragically, many Christians don't know how to answer it properly.

I believe it because:

  • It cannot be disproved;
  • It is incomparably beautiful;
  • It is perfectly compatible with human nature and the requirements for a flourishing society.

And that's all anyone needs to know about a Christian's faith.

Today is Holy Saturday, the day of Vigil for Christians worldwide. Jesus told His Apostles that He would "lie three days in the earth" before returning to them. Over those three days they could do nothing but wait and watch. It was a dread-filled vigil, for the mob that the Sanhedrin had aroused against Jesus was still active. Had it found them, they might not have survived the encounter. So they confined themselves to the "upper room" in which Jesus had held the Last Supper. Some did not leave that room until the resurrected Savior came to them.

The Apostles did not know that Jesus would be resurrected; they merely believed it. They knew that prior claimants to the title of Messiah had made similar claims that were not fulfilled. So they waited.

We who believe that Jesus was resurrected, irrefutably confirming His status as the Son of God, do not know it for a fact. We have the reportage of the event. We have the reportage of subsequent events consistent with the Resurrection. We have the reportage of the subsequent lives of the Apostles, in particular the executions of those who preferred to die horribly rather than recant their faith. We have the reportage of many other saints, throughout the centuries, through whom miracles were performed and who gladly surrendered their lives rather than renounce Christ.

We have confidence in those things. But we have not certainty. Certainty for living men is forever confined to those few who saw the resurrected Christ before His Ascension. We who come after them must wait.

And that is a blessing we seldom appreciate, for it makes our faith possible:

    Well met yet again, Father Altomare.
    —Nag? What news of the Realm?
    All is well. If you were wondering, Tiran is not among us. It appears that you banished him to some other plane.
    —But you don’t know where or how?
    We know quite well how, Father. As do you.
    —Nag, you might have a hard time understanding this, but when...whatever happened, I wasn’t really myself.
    It is quite comprehensible, Father. You were temporarily possessed by a greatly superior power. You are not the first to experience such a possession. You are unlikely to be the last.
    —You sensed it, then?
    Of course.
    —But what was it?
    We do not know. It bore a striking resemblance to an event far back in your history, when a comparable power illuminated the group that had witnessed the Ascension.
    —The Pentecost. The investiture of the Apostles with the gift of tongues, in service to Christ’s Great Commission.
    —Then it’s all true!
    We do not know.
    —WHAT? But you said—
    We are limited beings, Father. Our limits are not yours, but they bind us just as tightly. No more than any human are we capable of verifying a claim to omnipotence or omniscience. Surely we are neither of those things.
    For eons, we believed that our Brother Evoy, who dreams greatly, had created your world. The events of the past two millennia have left us unsure. Evoy himself has concluded that, while he may have contributed to the specific laws of your universe, he was not the true cause of its coming to be.
    We observed the life, ministry, Passion and Resurrection of Christ just as we observed your own, more recent adventure. It was plain that he was of an order superior both to Mankind and to the Brothers of the Realm. His passing rewrote laws of Creation so fundamental that we had never previously suspected their existence. We believe that it was his power that you invoked to expel Tiran from Creation. It was a match for the forces he commanded in every observable way. We cannot prove it...but we believe it.

    —That’s faith, isn’t it?
    Indeed. Be grateful.
    —Hm? How so?
    Your psyches are built to require it. An emotionally healthy man with no faith is the rarest of creatures.
    Do you begin to see, Father Altomare?
    —I see that all my life, all my passion for my faith, and all my thought and study and efforts at explaining it to myself and others, has been but a beginning. A beginning that will last until God calls me back to him.
    Your philosophers have said that the journey is what matters, have they not?
    —Indeed they have, and it is so. Nag...Areth, Brother of the Realm of Essences, we are at last truly well met.
    How so, Father?
    —As brothers in faith.
    A most appropriate brotherhood for two such as we. Be well, Father Raymond Altomare, vicar of Christ. May the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind hold you close, guide your heart and hand, and guard you from every harm.
    —And you, Areth.
    It is to be hoped.

[From Shadow Of A Sword]

May God bless and keep you all. I'll see you again on Monday.

Friday, April 18, 2014

For Good Friday: The Ruthlessness Dynamic

"When force is made the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket." [Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged]

Once you accept that politicians put the acquisition and retention of power above all other considerations, including the moral and ethical constraints you and I regard as absolute, it becomes possible to believe just about anything about them.

Did Richard Nixon knowingly dispatch the "plumbers" to burgle the offices of the Democratic National Committee, to engineer his 1972 landslide? Unclear, but it's not implausible.

Did the Clintons have Vince Foster murdered to prevent him from blowing the whistle on one or another of their many abuses? Unclear, but it's not implausible.

Did someone in the Obama Administration threaten Lois Lerner with death should she "spill the beans" about the IRS's targeting of conservative groups to Darrell Issa's Oversight Committee? Unclear, but it's not implausible.

Knowing, by reason of the evolutionary dynamic of politics, that our contemporary power-seeker is utterly unscrupulous, we are therefore unable to trust him. This is a great part of the core problem of politics in the present day. It is therefore imperative in the highest degree that we should grasp the mechanism that facilitates such ruthlessness in men -- the impulse or emotion that looses the chains of conscience and makes of a man a moral solipsist, ever ready to reduce other men to mere means to his ends.

There is no need in human life so great as that men should trust one another and should trust their government, should believe in promises, and should keep promises in order that future promises may be believed in and in order that confident cooperation may be possible. Good faith -- personal, national, and international -- is the first prerequisite of decent living, of the steady going on of industry, of governmental financial strength, and of international peace. -- Benjamin M. Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare: A Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914 -- 1946

I wrote some time ago about how we've squandered the trust that once made America the greatest nation in history:

In a discussion of the big AGW scandal issuing from the Hadley CRU leak, one participant expressed bewilderment, averring that:
...a hoax on this scale would require the collusion of a whole lot of people…

Not so, in the traditional sense of "collusion." Scientists, just like the rest of humanity, respond to incentives and penalties. The warmistas in the scientific community were drawn there by a variety of incentives.

Some were undoubtedly sincere, certain that with enough evidence they could validate the greenhouse-gas thesis and willing to explain away "inconvenient data" with the usual dismissals of the true believer.

Some were loyal Hessians, willing to go wherever their idols and masters might point them.

Some were "following the money," as ever greater amounts of money poured from government coffers and the treasuries of left-leaning foundations to support the promulgation of the anthropogenic-global-warming thesis.

Some were merely publicity hounds, who would ride any wagon that appeared to have the media's attention.

Some were flogged into sullen support of AGW, fearful that refraining would cause them to be stripped of their funding and relegated to the outer darkness.

No doubt there are other light of the fraud the Hadley CRU documents have revealed, none of them in any way connected to the core doctrines of science.

What matters is the fraud itself. Some thousands of "scientists" were moved to abandon science as it's been practiced for centuries by motives that, if they're to be summed up in one word, could only be called evil. Yes, tens of millions of persons worldwide cheered them on, but that's hardly an exculpation.

We have created -- and institutionalized -- incentives for fraud and penalties for honesty and candor. Not just for men of science; for virtually every trade and walk of life. For many men, the touchstone of ethical judgment is no longer "Is it right?" It's "Can I get away with it?"

We have destroyed the bedrock of freedom: our ability to trust.

How does such destruction come about? How does it begin?

It strikes me as near to certain that, in keeping with the old maxim that "the fish rots from the head," the rot in our formerly trusting and trustworthy culture began at the top: with our political class.

A polity which elevates its officials to authority by a democratic process -- i.e., by majority vote in a popular election -- is always theoretically vulnerable to demagoguery. However, demagoguery only works if the populace can be numbed to ethical constraints. Thomas Babington Macaulay captured the essence of it more than a century ago:

The day will come when a multitude of people will choose the legislature. Is it possible to doubt what sort of a legislature will be chosen? On the one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for rights, strict observance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalism and usury and asking why anyone should be permitted to drink champagne and to ride in a carriage while thousands of honest people are in want of necessaries. Which of the candidates is likely to be preferred by a workman? When Society has entered on this downward progress, either civilization or liberty must perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand, or your Republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire in the fifth, with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals who ravaged Rome came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your country, by your own institutions. [Thomas Babington Macaulay]

It is critical at this juncture to note that a demagogue is impotent without a large and willing audience. If those to whom he appeals are unwilling to accept his slanders and follow out their implications, he will achieve nothing. As in the Macaulay passage above, the demagogue must strive to elicit malicious envy from the crowd. That is, he must persuade them by non-rational means that the superior material condition of some entitles those less well off to hate them and, ultimately, to dispossess them.

A charismatic personality with sufficient eloquence can pull a crowd toward such a conclusion. It helps if the crowd is poorly educated, out of touch with relevant history, and generally indisposed to reason. It helps even more if the crowd has not been inculcated with Christian precepts concerning justice and love of neighbor. And it starts with the demagogue's willingness, out of an unchecked desire for unchecked power, to exploit human weakness and ignorance for his own gain.

Except for the most deteriorated societies, tottering upon the edge of the abyss, such a demagogue will know something that the crowd must not: that the policies he urges upon them will cost them more than they could ever gain by it. He must despise the very people he seeks to sway.

Hatred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful—horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate. [C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters]
Fear always springs from ignorance! -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

He who can make a man fear can induce him to hate. To make a man fear, one must detach his rational faculty -- his reason and his learning capacity -- from his appreciation of his present state. Thus, he becomes incapable of reasoning out how he got to where he is and how he can get to somewhere better. The next step, of course, is to get him to adopt a devil-thesis, in which his miseries and unmet desires are someone else's doing.

Assembling people into crowds is a great assistance to this process, for a crowd can smother an individual's willingness to disagree, to diverge from what "everyone knows," or to assert a moral premise that would deflect the crowd from its chosen course:

There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations doubts, and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgement. -- Eric Hoffer

A crowd demanded that a murderer's life be spared and Christ be crucified.

We of Hell see the connecting link, which is Hatred. [C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters]
Easier to get people to hate than to get them to love. [Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress]
Power, like the diamond, dazzles the beholder, and also the wearer; it dignifies meanness; it magnifies littleness; to what is contemptible, it gives authority; to what is low, exaltation. -- Charles Colton
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." -- The Gospel According To John, 8:32

The traditional American education included a great deal of factual American history. Anyone who absorbed that history and accepted it as correct could hardly avoid loving this country and desiring its preservation. But learning takes effort; ignorance does not. A kind of Newton's First Law of the human intellect suggests that the demagogue will strive to prevent young persons from learning, especially about the principles upon which the United States was founded, and will succeed more easily than the would-be educator. A populace maintained in such ignorance is the most fertile ground for demagogic appeals.

But one cannot desire that others be maintained in ignorance without despising them. This, too, is intrinsic to the ruthless dynamic of power-seeking. For how could one possibly desire the rule of others without despising them, demoting them to a lower moral and intellectual plane? Such an attitude must be concealed, of course, but it will be present in any demagogue. Indeed, it will dominate his whole psyche.

The implication for disarming a demagogue should be clear.

At first I was undecided about writing something for today, it being Good Friday, but the most recent political events, both domestic and international, impelled me beyond my resistance. Awareness of the terrible power of hatred, and its inseparability from the desire for power over others, simply overwhelmed me as I thought about what Christians worldwide commemorate today: the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind.

Jesus preached a New Covenant of stunning simplicity:

"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, and your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." [The Gospel According To Matthew, 22:37-40]
Now a man came up to him and said, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?" He said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." "Which ones?" he asked. Jesus replied, "You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself." [Matthew, 19:16-19.]

Whether one accepts or rejects Jesus's divine status, a decent man can find little to quarrel with in the above. Our consciences say the very same things to us, when we trouble to listen to them. But once we accept them, it is mandatory that we accept their political implications, which far too many Americans have proved unwilling to do.

The Commandments Jesus articulated are the liberating truths. Indeed, without them, liberty and justice are impossible. It is the ultimate demonstration of their importance that Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin feared them so greatly -- and that Jesus went unresisting to death by torture, as have many of His followers down the ages, to seal them with His divine authority.

One must hate them to dismiss them.
But one cannot hate His Commandments without also hating Him.
Such hatred is undergirded by fear: the fear that His preachments will thwart the hater's drive for power.
Thus, the power-seeker must detach those he seeks to corrupt from Him.
The vileness of contemporary politics follows.

May God bless and keep you all.