Bellwethers Everywhere: The Celebritarian Revolution

Apologies, Gentle Reader. This is a crucial topic about which I’ve written extensively in the past. Therefore, this post will be partly a reprint of material that previously appeared at Eternity Road, and partly a handful of new observations about the bellwether / celebritarian phenomenon in this year of Our Lord 2013.


1. Beautiful Bellwethers.

[This piece first appeared at Eternity Road in March of 2006.]

One of Harlan Ellison’s better short stories, “The Face Of Helene Bournouw,” focused on a (seeming) woman of unexampled physical beauty, who by the exploitation of that beauty deliberately led various culturally influential persons to their destruction. The conclusion of the story revealed that Helene Bournouw was actually a golem designed and built by a race of demons, whose intention was to induce Mankind to commit suicide. It was a striking fictional illustration of a point that had also been made by C. S. Lewis in “Screwtape Proposes A Toast:” many, many people will follow a bellwether wherever it might lead them, even unto death and into Hell.

The Bellwether Effect has become one of the strongest influences on popular opinion in our time. It’s not possible to tell whether it’s reached its maximum. Yet the emergence of bellwethers, and how they rise to command their legions of followers, are under-addressed phenomena, even today.


Your Curmudgeon’s first duty is to be clear about his subject matter. A commentator who puts forth a rational analysis — even an incorrect one, or one whose conclusions might seem inflammatory — is not a bellwether. Bellwethers do not persuade by reason; they attract their followers by their allure. The follower does not follow the bellwether because he’s said to himself, “This person is knowledgeable and smart, and his conclusions and proposals make good sense.” Rather, he follows due to the attractions of the bellwether’s glamor, charm, popularity, wealth, or some other characteristic unrelated to facts or reason.

A bellwether’s attractions operate below the rational level of our minds. He does not offer analysis; he seduces his followers into eschewing analysis.

Thus, in keeping with the oft-heard and multiply attributed observation that you cannot reason a man out of something he did not reason himself into, the Bellwether Effect is absolutely proof against rational counteraction. Detaching a follower from his chosen bellwether requires other tools, when it’s possible at all.


The Bellwether Effect is made possible solely by mass one-way communications and entertainment media. It was born of the modern Celebrity Culture, and will be coterminous with it.

The Celebrity Culture was born when it became possible for us to “invite singers and movie stars into our living rooms,” by the graces of television. Television in the Fifties emphasized pre-existent forms of entertainment; the model for “new” programs was vaudeville, as illustrated by The Ed Sullivan Show, Amateur Hour, and similar offerings. Nevertheless, broadcasters were short enough of material that they had to rebroadcast movies to fill in their many unoccupied hours. Thus, television multiplied the effective audience a movie and its stars could reach. This relatively cheap diversion that was accessible to most Americans and required nothing of them but a few cents’ worth of electricity, allowed many an entertainer to reach a large multiple of the audience he would have commanded otherwise.

The emergence of made-for-television dramas and comedies pyramided on top of the already established foundations of the celebrity culture. That is, it merely added “small screen” celebrities to those of the “big screen” and the stage. The later explosion of televised sports and other concatenated effects extended but didn’t change the underlying model. Television was the mechanism by which people became famous, even beloved, for attainments that had previously been ranked alongside more ordinary trades.


The sort of person who becomes famous through television will almost always be an entertainer. The sort of person who makes his living as an entertainer is emotion-oriented, unlikely to be gifted with large rational powers. Thus, many of our most conspicuous bellwethers follow bellwethers of their own: gurus and cultists, some of whom actively court the attentions of media celebrities. These, though less well known, wield enormous influence over us through the intermediation of their more famous disciples.

The Church of Scientology has been much in the news because of its participation in the Bellwether Effect. Prominent Scientologists are almost exclusively from the entertainment world; indeed, your Curmudgeon cannot name an exception. Yet so great is their sway that thousands of ordinary, un-famous Americans have been seduced into investigating Scientology on that basis alone. Fortunately for the country, the church’s doctrines are so bizarre, and its demands on its adherents so extreme, that few sane, stable persons succumb to its pitch.

Emotion-oriented persons are unlikely to analyze what they’ve been told. Rather, they’ll normally gauge how it makes them feel, and accept it or reject it accordingly. If it “feels right,” they’ll be unabashed about promulgating it. Other emotion-oriented persons will accept it from them. Thus, one who wants to have a large impact on popular opinion can do so by crafting an emotionally seductive message and first infecting a cadre of entertainers as his bellwether-lieutenants. The multiplier provided by their mass-media exposure, and the large number of persons susceptible to their allure, will almost always reward the remote, unseen bellwether-guru handsomely.

Interestingly, on those occasions when the bellwether-guru presents himself to the cameras and the microphones, he usually experiences a sharp fall-off in his influence. He’s insufficiently attractive to do what his entertainer-lieutenants do for him, and often quite zany enough to turn off many of those he might have seduced had he remained in the shadows. This suggests a possible counter to the Bellwether Effect to which we shall return presently.


Emotion is quicker-acting than reason; it is also much shorter in range. Thus, the emotion-oriented person is seldom concerned with the more distant effects of his actions, or the courses he recommends to others. It made him feel good when he said or did it; the rest is for the janitors and the maintenance crew.

We observe this aspect of the Bellwether Effect repeatedly when entertainers hold forth on economic matters. Time and again, we’ve heard entertainers recommend statist and quasi-statist redistribution schemes that would utterly destroy all the conditions required for productive effort. Even the seeming charitableness of one such as Bono, lead singer of U2, is fundamentally destructive, as decades of experience with international “aid” to Africa has shown. But to grasp before they’re implemented how these things would work out requires that one set aside the warm glow anticipated from their proposed charities and think through the effects those nostrums would have on human incentives. That dampens the glow, which makes it unpalatable to the emotion-oriented bellwether.

There’s little doubt that most such persons really do mean well, but there’s just as little doubt that most of them lack both the rational resources and the inclination to work out the consequences of their actions. Those that possess the necessary knowledge and intelligence are usually uninterested in using them. When more rational, better informed persons dare to challenge them, their usual response is emotional: “You don’t care about the poor / the downtrodden / the oppressed / the victims of racism, sexism, ageism, etc.” Whether the riposte is merely tactical or sincerely meant, it averts the unpleasantness that would come from confronting their rational shortcomings, and the damage they could do (and often have already done) by the exploitation of their allure.


Combatting the Bellwether Effect is one of the imperative tasks of rational persons of our time. The problem is stiff: rational persons prefer to work with reason, to which those susceptible to the Bellwether Effect are generally numb. Our opportunities lie in our ability to reason out the opportunities for and applicability of emotional counteraction.

To be sure, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Thus, if it’s possible to ward a friend or loved one against the Bellwether Effect ab initio, it’s always the best course. Raising rational, sensible children, determined to be well informed and to follow the dictates of sound logic, is a primary duty for this reason among others.

But not everyone within one’s orbit can be shielded in this fashion. In dealing with those who are susceptible to the Bellwether Effect, one must accept that what’s done is done. The emotion-oriented person is seldom re-educable, even when it would be right and proper to try. He must be approached on the same level as did his chosen bellwether: his emotional reactions to what he’s been told and shown.

Excepting some short-term effects, the consequences of bad policy are always bad. Those consequences are the rational man’s tools for dealing with the emotion-oriented: he must start from the emotional impact of the consequences and work backward.

Does emotion-oriented Smith favor massively increased “foreign aid” to Africa? Rational Jones must work backward from the consequences of the aid to date: the empowerment of dictators, the slaughter and oppression of subject minorities, and the intensification of poverty and misery throughout the Dark Continent. The consequences provide the emotional spearhead; if they penetrate Smith’s preconceptions, and if he can be led to associate them with the “aid,” Jones has a chance of swaying him.

Does Smith favor a cessation of the American liberation efforts in the Middle East? Jones must work backward from the consequences of other American withdrawals from similarly plagued trouble spots: Iran in 1979, Vietnam in 1973, China in 1948-49. The horrors that followed might lead Smith to question his stance; if so, and if Jones can show that American engagement on behalf of oppressed and threatened peoples doesn’t have even worse consequences, Smith might be won over.

Does Smith favor the institution of a Canadian-style nationalized health care system? Jones must work backward from the consequences of those systems already in place: the long delays in obtaining needed treatment, the political favoritism involved in the dispensation of such treatment, and the decline in the quality of care available to all. The notion that persons who would have been capable of buying a high-quality hip replacement in a week must wait two to three years for a replacement of questionable soundness might jar Smith out of his groove.

But your Curmudgeon’s focus is not entirely on persuading others to abandon bad policy prescriptions; it’s more on the importance of the mechanism by which they attached to those prescriptions: the Bellwether Effect. The follower is emotionally attached, not merely to the policy prescription, but to the bellwether who urged it on him. This attachment is seldom easily severed; indeed, it’s questionable whether one should attempt to do so.

If Smith is firmly attached to bellwether Davis, rather than attempting to weaken or destroy that attachment, Jones might prefer to suggest limiting its scope. Glamor, popularity, etc. are assets applicable to particular, limited purposes; they are inapplicable to politics and economics. Perhaps after he’s reversed himself on a few specific issues, Smith can be led to see that. Perhaps the ultimate source of Davis’s preachments can be dragged out from under his rock and held up to the light; few can withstand such scrutiny. But above all, it’s vital that Jones never attack Davis’s sincerity; if Smith is to reach the conclusion that Davis is insincere, he must do so himself.


There’s nothing inherently wrong with an interest in celebrities, as vapid as they usually are. It’s a bit disturbing that so many Americans, particularly young people, revere them as demigods, yet can’t be bothered to learn the names of their local legislators or stay abreast of political developments. But this malady doesn’t require completely re-engineering the mindsets of millions; it only requires that we broaden their focus.

When Dan Quayle suggested that Candace Bergen’s “Murphy Brown” character was hardly the typical pattern for an unwed mother, he was engaging the Celebrity Culture frontally, and received a vicious collective rebuff for it. His experience indicates the power of that culture, its willingness to offer bellwethers to the country, and its displeasure at being depicted as a negative force. Quayle was absolutely right, but he gained no ground for responsible parenthood or role-modeling; indeed, he might have lost some.

Perhaps the effort properly belongs to those of us who have the assets the bellwethers don’t possess: the advantages of proximity and the solidity of real life. After all, Murphy Brown didn’t really have to raise a baby. Sharon Stone doesn’t have to negotiate with the terrorist-insurgents in Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Bono doesn’t have to cope with the consequences of the well-meant money river drowning Africa, whose volume he’s worked to increase. None of these celebrities makes house calls to push his point of view.

Gentle Reader, don’t suggest it to them, would you please?


2. The Celebritarian Revolution.

It’s one thing for a political movement to enlist celebrities as bellwether-spokesmen. It’s quite another to put them forward as candidates for high office.

It started quite a while ago, of course. Nor is the phenomenon of celebrities-as-public-officials entirely noxious; after all, we did have Ronald Reagan. But it says something about our political discourse that’s quite unpleasant.

It’s never been perfectly clear what the qualifications for public office should be, apart from the age / residence / citizenship requirements stated in the Constitution. Obviously there’s quite a lot of disagreement on the subject, or we wouldn’t have empty-headed pseudo-feminist twit Ashley Judd plausibly bidding for a Senate seat, or the vicious and ignorant Al Franken actually occupying one.

As I noted in the essay above, this sort of development arises entirely from one-way mass communications. The celebrities of the entertainment world are pushed upon us by the mass media. (These days, persons with even less plausible claims to our time and attention get a great deal of it; anyone familiar with the Real Housewives phenomenon will immediately concur.) When a well-known celebrity manages to identify himself with some political cause du jour, he acquires an “entering wedge” into the political sphere. Should he, or his handlers and promoters, decide that that would be a profitable direction to purse, he’s likely to address other political subjects, such that his fans think of him ever more as a political figure. Over time, that can build him a spurious resume as a political thinker — spurious because the typical celebrity does about as much actual thinking as a kumquat.

But what matters in the sequel isn’t the amount of hard thought or study the celebrity puts into his political stances; it’s his personal attractions, the extent of his media exposure, and the size and responsiveness of his fan base. These things, entirely divorced from what stances he promotes or how he reached and rationalizes them, are occasionally sufficient to put him into public office.

The master strategists of the Democrat Party are aware of this. They’ve gone out hunting for media figures to promote as candidates for high office, and have pushed them as if their screen credits / Billboard ratings / batting averages should be qualifications enough for anything. And a substantial fraction of Americans who lean leftward are buying into it.

(Yes, batting averages count too. Consider how frequently prominent athletes, including quite a few who’ve never previously spoken about politics in public, are solicited for their political views by interviewers. That’s bad enough; what’s worse are the many who respond to such questions in full seriousness, instead of modestly changing the subject.)

In a sense, Barack Hussein Obama is the icon of the Celebritarian Revolution. After all, he had no resume when he ascended to the United States Senate, and he had damned little more when he was elected president. His most important personal assets are dark skin, moderately good looks, and a winning way of reading from a teleprompter. In a rational society, that would make him a waiting-list candidate for a sportscaster’s position; in the United States of 2013, it’s put him in the Oval Office.

Al Franken already sits in the Senate. If Mitch McConnell and the Kentucky GOP aren’t careful, Ashley Judd might soon join him there. And remember that success evokes emulation: every time a celebrity attains a public office, it persuades other celebrities to attempt the same. Some of them will succeed.

If the prospect of a majority-Celebritarian political elite doesn’t frighten you half out of your corn flakes, Gentle Reader, check your pulse: you may have died and not noticed. But then, if the awareness that the finger on the Big Red Button belongs to Nobel Peace Prize honoree Barack Hussein Obama hasn’t already scared you translucent, you might just be a celebrity yourself.

A Maxim, The Law, and The State of The Nation

It might well be that the greatest blessing to have recently descended upon these United States is l’affaire Gregory: the exculpation, by prosecutorial discretion alone, of pseudo-journalist and tendentious Washington twit David Gregory for openly and flagrantly breaking a D.C. law that’s been used to incarcerate other, entirely blameless persons. That little development has made it painfully, undeniably clear that the rule of law as it’s generally understood — i.e., that the law is above all persons and makes no exceptions for an “elite,” however conceived or defined — no longer applies in our nation.

But that doesn’t capture the full, horrific absurdity of the thing. Hearken to David French’s assessment:

Of course prosecuting Mr. Gregory would have been sad and — on many levels — absurd, but so is the law under which he would have been prosecuted. In fact, if absurdity were a defense to prosecutions or other adverse legal actions, an enormous swathe of our regulatory state would be swept away.

Can we even speak of the rule of law as a meaningful concept when we combine an explosive regulatory state with near-absolute prosecutorial discretion? As many others have noted, the regulatory state makes ever-more conduct — even benign conduct — unlawful, while absolute discretion grants the prosecutor the right of the King’s pardon. Overlay that legal reality with a stark red/blue divide, and the situation is ripe for the most base forms of political and personal favoritism.

French has pinned one of the most egregious, inexcusable features of our current regime:

The great majority of the “rules” that are imposed on Americans with the force of law are not “laws” in the proper sense.

They’re “regulations.”
Rules composed by unelected bureaucrats.
Bureaucrats whose names we’re forbidden to learn.
Many of whom are issued firearms and wear them daily.
Whose jobs are protected by Civil Service rules any union would envy.

I’ve searched the Constitution of the United States from end to end and back again, and in only two places does it use the word “regulate:” the Coinage Clause and the Interstate Commerce Clause. That word has given birth to millions of “regulations” with the force of law, by the imposition of which nameless, faceless persons — persons against whom private citizens have no recourse — can enforce draconian penalties on defenseless Americans for conduct that harms no man even in its most extended implications.

Either this is absolutely indefensible or I woke up in the wrong universe this morning.


But wait: there’s more! The luxuriance of these unlegislated laws “passed” by unelected un-legislators is compounded to an infinite degree by a circumstance for which few of us spare even an occasional thought: It doesn’t matter whether we know anything at all about those “laws.” At neither the state nor the federal level is any effort is made to inform the private citizenry about their issuance. Even so, we’re considered bound by them, subject to their force, and exposed to punishment for violating them.

Oftentimes, we only learn about some such “law” at the moment we violate it. A fortunate few discover their vulnerability “just in the nick of time:” by asking permission to develop a recently purchased plot of land, for example. Never mind that the notion that an American must obsequiously ask permission, like a serf in a feudal realm, to do something that harms no one with an item of his own, honorably acquired property is itself execrable, a clear violation of the natural law of property and the rights pertaining to it. That’s merely insult added to injury: a deadly insult atop the mortal injury to the concept of individuals’ rights.

In this connection, there’s an old maxim that serves our masters in good stead:

Ignorance Of The Law
Is No Excuse

I have no idea how old that maxim is. It originated long before America. Probably it was coined in Europe, when Europe could still be non-sardonically called Christendom. It didn’t hang in the air, unsupported and self-justifying. It arose from a fundamental understanding of the proper role of the law: an understanding we of the Twenty-First Century have largely forgotten, but might, in the aftermath of l’affaire Gregory and the indefensible responses of politicos to the Newtown atrocity, at last succeed in recovering.


I asked one of the members of Parliament whether a majority of the House could legitimize murder. He said no. I asked him whether it could sanctify robbery. He thought not. But I could not make him see that if murder and robbery are intrinsically wrong, and not to be made right by the decisions of statesmen, then similarly all actions must be either right or wrong, apart from the authority of the law; and that if the right and wrong of the law are not in harmony with this intrinsic right and wrong, the law itself is criminal. [Herbert Spencer, The Proper Sphere Of Government]

Nevertheless, in the inexplicable universal votings and debatings of these Ages, an idea or rather a dumb presumption to the contrary has gone idly abroad, and at this day, over extensive tracts of the world, poor human beings are to be found, whose practical belief it is that if we “vote” this or that, so this or that will thenceforth be. Practically men have come to imagine that the Laws of this Universe, like the laws of constitutional countries, are decided by voting. It is an idle fancy. The Laws of this Universe, of which if the Laws of England are not an exact transcript, they should passionately study to become such, are fixed by the everlasting congruity of things, and are not fixable or changeable by voting! [Author unknown, cited by Herbert Spencer in The Proper Sphere Of Government]

Herbert Spencer was at one time the most popular writer in the English-speaking world. His uniquely lucid and eloquent expositions upon natural law, the moral-ethical bounds of legislated law, and the overall proper demesne of the State enlightened and uplifted millions of readers — so much so that in his dissent in Lochner v. New York, Associate Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes felt compelled to write that “[t]he Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.” (So much for persons who look to Holmes as a champion of freedom.) As we can see from the two citations above, Spencer was unbending on the principle that legislated law that goes beyond the bounds of the natural law is unjust and pointless.

But Spencer was a man of Victorian England, a Christian nation that promulgated a standard of personal conduct and social propriety that became a model for Western Civilization. Yes. that standard was frequently violated by those with the wherewithal to get away with it; nevertheless, no one dared to claim that the standard itself was wrong, or pointless, because some persons chose not to observe it. Even the worst of Victorian sinners insisted upon the sincere inculcation of that standard in the education of his children.

Victorian England was the leading light of European Christendom. Those were the decades when England was the policeman of the oceans and the banker to the world — when an Englishman’s promise was generally deemed as trustworthy as any statement made on Earth.

The courts of Victorian England were world-renowned for probity and justice. No Victorian was permitted to claim that the law ought not to apply to him by virtue of his station, or because he was unaware of it. But the Victorians knew what Spencer had articulated to the rest of the world: to be just, a legislated law must conform to the natural law.

If legislated law conforms straitly to the natural law, then it follows that ignorance of the law really is no excuse: because any adult can deduce the law’s requirements from basic moral principles every Christian child is expected to learn by heart:

  • Thou shalt not murder.
  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  • Thou shalt not covet.

Murder, as Spencer has told us, is not wrong because it’s against the law; it’s against the law because it’s wrong, and not all the peregrinations of rhetoric can make it right. But equally, property rights are not rights because the law concedes them; the law must concede them because they’re written into the laws of the universe as expressed in the nature of Man. No degree of demosthenic expostulation can justify theft, fraud, or any other interference in a man’s peaceful use of his honestly acquired property — including such interferences as politicians are disposed to commit.


No man of our time can know the law to its full extent. Even lawyers disclaim such acquaintance with the law, which is why they specialize, often quite narrowly, in this or that aspect of the law and the practices it demands. Nor are the demands and constraints of the law, or the profusion of regulations imposed upon us with the force of law, deducible from basic moral principles as the Victorians knew them.

How, then, can it be just to penalize a man for not being aware that if his backyard is damp three days out of three hundred sixty-five, it’s a federally protected “wetland” with which he is forbidden to interfere? To punish him for not knowing that a raccoon is a legally protected “fur-bearing animal” that he may not kill even at hazard to his family? Or to incarcerate him for bringing a rifle or an ammunition magazine into some state where the laws forbid anyone but its myrmidons to possess those items?

How is the innocent ignorance of a law — a brutal, unfounded, exception-riddled, discretionarily-applied “law” made by persons who will pay no costs for its effects upon the unaware and innocent others — not a perfect excuse?


Ironies, as usual, abound. In appreciation of the predictable political responses to the Newtown atrocity, Americans have gone on an armament-buying spree…yet Barack Hussein Obama claims the NRA is to blame for exciting fear. Though they all know full well that no so-called assault rifle fired even one round at Newtown, power-mongering politicians have nevertheless descended with their full fury on such weapons — defined according to cosmetic rather than functional characteristics! — in an effort to demonize them and vilify those of us who own them. And though David Gregory was fully aware of the laws of the District of Columbia — indeed, he and his producers had asked the D.C. police to exempt him from prosecution for using one as a TV prop, and had been refused! — he went willfully ahead and violated them anyway, and will receive no penalty for doing so, though D.C. has wielded those laws against utterly innocent others who’ve been bankrupted, imprisoned, or both.

Perhaps Obama is correct.
Perhaps America isn’t a Christian nation.
A Christian nation would rise in righteous wrath against a regime that dared perpetrate such injustices.
Indeed, it would have done so long before this.
And it may do so yet.

Pray.

For The Feast Of The Epiphany

[The following piece first appeared at Eternity Road on January 6, 2008. — FWP]


The ancient creed called Zoroastrianism predated the birth of Christ by about a millennium. Its founder, Zoroaster, laid down a small set of doctrines:

  • There is one universal and transcendental God, Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated creator and to whom all worship is ultimately directed.
  • Ahura Mazda’s creation — evident as asha, truth and order — is the antithesis of chaos, evident as druj, falsehood and disorder. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict.
  • Active participation in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep the chaos at bay. This active participation is a central element in Zoroaster’s concept of free will, and Zoroastrianism rejects all forms of monasticism.
  • Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail, at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end. In the final renovation, all of creation — even the souls of the dead that were initially banished to “darkness” — will be reunited in Ahura Mazda.
  • In Zoroastrian tradition, the malevolent is represented by Angra Mainyu, the “Destructive Principle”, while the benevolent is represented through Ahura Mazda’s Spenta Mainyu, the instrument or “Bounteous Principle” of the act of creation. It is through Spenta Mainyu that Ahura Mazda is immanent in humankind, and through which the Creator interacts with the world. According to Zoroastrian cosmology, in articulating the Ahuna Vairya formula, Ahura Mazda made His ultimate triumph evident to Angra Mainyu.
  • As expressions and aspects of Creation, Ahura Mazda emanated seven “sparks”, the Amesha Spentas, “Bounteous Immortals” that are each the hypostasis and representative of one aspect of that Creation. These Amesha Spenta are in turn assisted by a league of lesser principles, the Yazatas, each “Worthy of Worship” and each again a hypostasis of a moral or physical aspect of creation.

I find nothing objectionable in the above, except that only God, by whatever name He might be known, is worthy of worship; the most a lesser being is entitled to is veneration. But the word “worship” has had many meanings and subtleties over the years, so I’m inclined to let it pass. More important than Zoroastrianism’s harmless mythos is its ethos, which Zoroaster himself encapsulated in a unique and memorable command:

Speak truth and shoot the arrow straight.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of other pre-Christian creeds, Zoroastrianism was — and is — rational, humane, and life-loving rather than life-denying. It emphasized human free will, moral choice, and the need to defend truth and order against lies and chaos. These attributes made it the dominant religion of classical Persia and environs, though Zoroastrians’ numbers are far reduced today.

(No, I haven’t converted to Zoroastrianism. You can all relax.)

In the Western world, the Zoroastrians were the first practitioners of the pseudo-science we call astrology. They reposed a fair amount of confidence in it, for the creed had had its own prophets, beginning with Zoroaster himself, and among the prophecies were several tied to events foretold to happen in the night sky. The Zoroastrians therefore took great interest in the stars, and made careful records of occurrences therein, for comparison to the utterances of their prophets.

One of those prophecies involved the birth of God in mortal flesh.

The Magi of the Incarnation story were three esteemed nobles of Persia, wealthy in gold, wisdom, and the admiration of their societies. In contrast to the pattern prevalent among the nobilities of later times, these three, whose names have come down to us as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, were deeply religious men whose involvement in the investigation of the Zoroastrian prophecies was sincere. When they spied the famous “star in the east” — quite possibly a nova in Draco now known to have occurred at about that time — they resolved to follow its trail, to find the divine infant and pay him homage.

I shan’t retell the whole of the story. It’s accessible to anyone reading this site, in both secular and liturgical versions. The most salient aspect of the story is that these three exalted nobles — kings, in the most common accounts — of a faraway land came to pay homage and present tokens of vassalage to a newborn infant.

Of course! What else would be appropriate, before a King of Kings?

***

I will pause here to draw an important distinction: “King of Kings” is not the same as “Emperor.” “Emperor” is a title appropriate only to a conqueror; that’s more or less what it means. Atop that, an emperor is not necessarily concerned with justice, whereas a king, of whatever altitude, is obliged to make it the center of his life:

    The saber gleamed in the muted light. I’d spent a lot of time and effort sharpening and polishing it.
     It was a plain weapon, not one you’d expect to see in the hand of a king. There was only the barest tracing on the faintly curved blade. The guard bell was a plain steel basket, without ornamentation. The hilt was a seven inch length of oak, darkened with age but firm to the touch. There was only a hint of a pommel, a slight swell of the hilt at its very end.
     “What is this?”
     “A sword. Your sword.”
     A hint of alarm compressed his eyes. “What do you expect me to do with it?”
     I shrugged. “Whatever you think appropriate. But a king should have a sword. By the way,” I said, “it was first worn by Louis the Ninth of France when he was the Dauphin, though he set it aside for a useless jeweled monstrosity when he ascended the throne.”
     Time braked to a stop as confusion spun his thoughts.
     “I don’t know how to use it,” he murmured.
     “Easily fixed. I do.”
     “But why, Malcolm?”
     I stepped back, turned a little away from those pleading eyes.
     “Like it or not, you’re a king. You don’t know what that means yet. You haven’t a sense for the scope of it. But you must learn. Your life, and the lives of many others, will turn on how well you learn it.” I paused and gathered my forces. “What is a king, Louis?”
     He stood there with the sword dangling from his hand. “A ruler. A leader. A warlord.”
     “More. All of that, but more. The sword is an ancient symbol for justice. Back when the function of nobility was better understood, a king never sat his throne without his sword to hand. If he was to treat with the envoy of another king, it would be at his side. If he was to dispense justice, it would be across his knees. Why do you suppose that was, Louis?”
     He stood silent for a few seconds.
     “Symbolic of the force at his command, I guess.”
     I shook my head gently.
     “Not just symbolic. A true king, whose throne belonged to him by more than the right of inheritance, led his own troops and slew malefactors by his own hand. The sword was a reminder of the privilege of wielding force, but it was there to be used as well.”
     His hands clenched and unclenched in time to his thoughts. I knew what they had to be.
     “The age of kings is far behind us, Malcolm.”
     “It never ended. Men worthy of the role became too few to maintain the institution.”
     “And I’m…worthy?”
     If he wasn’t, then no worthy man had ever lived, but I couldn’t tell him that.
     “There’s a gulf running through the world, Louis. On one side are the commoners, the little men who bear tools, tend their gardens, and keep the world running. On the other are the nobles, who see far and dare much, and sometimes risk all they have, that the realm be preserved and the commoner continue undisturbed in his portion. There’s no shortage of either, except for the highest of the nobles, the men of unbreakable will and moral vision, for whom justice is a commitment deeper than life itself.”
     His face had begun to twitch. He’d heard all he could stand to hear, and perhaps more. I decided to cap the pressure.
     “Kings have refused their crowns many times, Louis. You might do as much, though it would sadden me to see it. But you could break that sword over your knee, change your name, and run ten thousand miles to hide where no one could know you, and it wouldn’t lessen what you are and were born to be.” I gestured at the sword. “Keep it near you.”

[From Chosen One.]

Note further: a mortal king cannot and does not define justice; he dispenses justice, according to principles drawn from a higher authority. The King of Kings, from whom the privilege and obligation to mete justice flows, is the definer. In the matter of Law, all lesser kings are His vassals.

The Magi conceded this explicitly with their gift of gold.

***

The pre-Christian era knew few, if any, rulers who claimed their jurisdiction solely on basis of might. Nearly all were approved and anointed by a priesthood. In that anointment lay their claim to be dispensers of true justice, for God would not allow a mortal to mete justice that departs from His Law. Let’s leave aside the divergence between theory and practice for the moment; it was the logical connection between Divine Law and human-modulated justice that mattered to the people of those times.

But the King of Kings would need no clerical approval. Indeed, He would be the Priest of Priests: the Authority lesser priests would invoke in anointing lesser kings.

The Magi conceded this explicitly with their gift of frankincense.

***

We of the Twenty-First Century are largely unaware of the obligations which lay upon the kings of old. They were not, until the waning years of monarchy, sedentary creatures whose lives were a round of indulgences and propitiations. They were expected not merely to judge and pass sentence, but also to lead the armies of the realm when war was upon it. The king was expected to put himself at risk before any of his subjects. Among the reasons was this one: the loss of the king in battle was traditionally grounds for surrender, after which the enemy was forbidden by age-old custom to strike further blows.

The king, in this conception, was both the leader of his legions and a sacrifice for the safety of his subjects, should the need arise. He was expected to embrace the role wholeheartedly, and to lead from the front in full recognition of the worst of the possibilities. Not to do so was an admission that he was unfit for his throne:

    “We have talked,” he said, “about all the strategies known to man for dealing with an armed enemy. We have talked about every aspect of deadly conflict. Every moment of every discussion we’ve had to date has been backlit by the consciousness of objectives and costs: attaining the one and constraining the other. And one of the first things we talked about was the importance of insuring that you don’t overpay for what you seek.”
     She kept silent and listened.
     “What if you can’t, Christine? What if your objective can’t be bought at an acceptable price?”
     She pressed her lips together, then said, “You abandon it.”
     He smirked. “It’s hard even to say it, I know. But reality is sometimes insensitive to a general’s desires. On those occasions, you must learn how to walk away. And that, my dear, is an art form of its own.”
     He straightened up. “Combat occurs within an envelope of conditions. A general doesn’t control all those conditions. If he did, he’d never have to fight. Sometimes, those conditions are so stiff that he’s compelled to fight whether he thinks it wise, or not.”
     “What conditions can do that to you?”
     His mouth quirked. “Yes, what conditions indeed?”
     Oops. Here we go again. “Weather could do it.”
     “How?”
     “By cutting off your lines of retreat in the face of an invasion.”
     “Good. Another.”
     “Economics. Once the economy of your country’s been militarized, it runs at a net loss, so you might be forced to fight from an inferior position because you’re running out of resources.”
     “Excellent. One more.”
     She thought hard. “Superior generalship on the other side?”
     He clucked in disapproval. “Does the opponent ever want you to fight?”
     “No, sorry. Let me think.”
     He waited.
     Conditions. Conditions you can’t control. Conditions that…control you.
     “Politics. The political leadership won’t accept retreat or surrender until you’ve been so badly mangled that it’s obvious even to an idiot.”
     The man Louis Redmond had named the greatest warrior in history began to shudder. It took him some time to quell.
     “It’s the general’s worst nightmare,” he whispered. “Kings used to lead their own armies. They used to lead the cavalry’s charge. For a king to send an army to war and remain behind to warm his throne was simply not done. Those that tried it lost their thrones, and some lost their heads — to their own people. It was a useful check on political and military rashness.
     “It hasn’t been that way for a long time. Today armies go into the field exclusively at the orders of politicians who remain at home. And politicians are bred to believe that reality is entirely plastic to their wills.”

[From On Broken Wings.]

But the King of Kings, intrinsically above all other authorities, would obviously be aware of this obligation. More, His sacrifice of Himself must perforce be for the salvation of the whole of the world — indeed, the whole of the universe and every sentient creature in it. Nothing less could possibly justify it.

The Magi conceded this explicitly with their gift of myrrh.

***

Today, Christians celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, called the Theophany by some eastern Christian sects, when the Magi prostrated themselves before the Christ Child and made their gifts of vassalage to him. A vassal is a noble sworn to fealty to a higher authority: a higher-ranking noble or a king. The obligations of the vassal are to enforce justice as promulgated by the vassal’s liege, and to support and defend the liege’s realm by force of arms as required. To the King of Kings, God made flesh in the miracle of the Incarnation, every temporal authority is properly a vassal, obliged to mete justice in accordance with the natural law and to defend the Liege’s realm — men of good will, wherever they may be — against all enemies, whenever the need might arise. To do less is to be unworthy of a temporal throne, palace, official office, or seat in a legislature…to be unworthy of Him.

He took on the burdens of the flesh to confirm God’s love for Man and to open the gates of salvation. He went to Calvary in testament to the authenticity of His Authority. The Magi knew, and in their pledge of fealty to Him, made plain that He had come not merely to succor Israel, but for the liberation of all Mankind.

May God bless and keep you all.

The New Lunatics

[The following two pieces first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason, on September 8, 2003 and February 26, 2004, respectively. — FWP]

Come on, guys and dolls. It’s all getting to be a bit much.

Is it only a Curmudgeon Emeritus’s privilege to note — and comment on — lunacies parading naked-faced in the street? Why haven’t ordinary, self-respecting folks taken a few swings at the gaudier irrationalities of our time?

The House Of Representatives has passed a bill allocating $10 million for a small-scale voucher program for students in Washington, D.C. This program will provide about 1300 vouchers to students endangered by the city’s ineffective, lawless government-run schools. As it’s nominally a federal program, it could be a bellwether for the entire country, according to whether or not it achieves its goals. But Eleanor Holmes Norton, Representative for the District of Columbia, that famous advocate For The ChildrenTM, is dead set against it. She’s been urging the Democratic contingent in the Senate to filibuster it.

This despicable woman leagued with the equally despicable Children’s Defense Fund head Marian Wright Edelman to spread the lie that a dollar spent to provide day care services to toddlers would avert $3.38 in spending on welfare and crime prevention later on. When pressed on the matter, Edelman admitted that there was no hard data to back up the claim, that she’d pulled the number out of the air — because she needed a lever with which to pry additional social spending out of Congress.

(By the way, her highest-profile champion during that campaign was former United States Senator and current presidential aspirant Carol Moseley Braun. Hm. Three black women, all froth-at-the-mouth social-welfare fascists with room-temperature IQs, and all go by three names like the scions of Yankee-patrician families who’ve blown through their money and have to live on the cachet of their lineage. More than coincidence? Your Curmudgeon reports; you decide.)

Soon-to-be-disgraced-former-Governor of California Gray Davis, struggling pitifully to avert recall against a huge tide of hostile sentiment and a horde of contenders — one of whom is his Lieutenant-Governor, unrepentant racialist and Chicano separatist Cruz Bustamante — has derided front-runner Arnold Schwarzenegger in public for his accent. He opined that one of the qualifications for gubernatorial status was the ability to “pronounce the name of the state.”

Of course, a man who can give away $40 billion on power futures when his state budget is already in the red hasn’t got terrific credentials for good sense, but really! Is there anything less appetizing than such a display of contempt for a man of foreign birth? Is it conceivable that a man smart enough to be elected Governor of the largest and most ethnically diverse state in the Union twice could fail to know it?

United States Senator John Kerry (D, Viet Nam) has been stumping the country claiming that, when he voted on the authorization of the use of force against the Saddam Hussein regime in 2002, he didn’t know what he was voting for. Kerry, too, wants to be elevated to the presidency. In this he follows in the footsteps of Senator Edward Kennedy (D, Kennedy), who, when asked before the national media why he wanted to be president, couldn’t think of an answer.

Here we have a slew of good reasons never to contend for public office. Would you really want to be lumped in with these clowns?

But let’s not spend all our time on politics. The cavortings of private citizens deserve a little air time, too.

Fox News has an article on hazardous body modifications that are now becoming fashionable. Some of these, such as tattooing, have been au courant for a few years now, though the recent fad for facial tattoos a la Mike Tyson is fairly new. Others, such as toe-shortening surgery to allow women to wear radically short-toed, pointy shoes, are quite fresh, and very disturbing.

Psychologists have long recognized an affliction called body dysmorphia. Its sufferers come to hate their bodies for not conforming to some abstract ideal, or for other reasons which, so as not to give offense to the certifiably insane proponents and self-despising seekers of sex-reassignment surgery, your Curmudgeon will pass over in silence. The body dysmorphic is seized by a compulsion to alter himself that goes beyond simple attention to cleanliness, fitness, and grooming. In the most severe cases, the condition eventually becomes as lethal as Von Munchausen’s Syndrome.

(Yes, yes, it’s impossible to draw a hard-and-fast border that would separate “trivial” body modifications such as ear piercing from incomprehensibilities such as having one’s lower ribs removed to improve one’s figure. On which side of the boundary would tongue piercing fall? Your Curmudgeon considers that evidence of badly distorted judgment at best, but in this he knows he’s in the minority. Still, just because we must admit to the existence of a gray zone doesn’t mean that the gray zone is infinitely wide.)

Where are the friends and relations of body dysmorphics as they sail into the straits of insanity? Surely they have some. Are these people completely incapable of restraining their disturbed friends and family members by force of opinion? Are they unwilling to urge the sufferers toward mental therapy, the proper course for anyone who comes to hate his body — his very self? Is this a new venue for destructive nonjudgmentalism?

There’s a word that must immediately return to circulation. It must be deployed widely, without hesitation or compromise. The word is mutilation.

Some kinds of cosmetic surgery are thinkable — possibly only because they’ve become so commonplace — but in many cases, he who allows a knife to cut his flesh for non-health reasons is mutilating himself. Though it’s his right, it marks him as a person whose mental balance is seriously out of plumb. His judgment of literally anything ought to be closely questioned.

As for tattooing, ask yourself this: Would you be willing to commit to having the image to be drawn on your flesh hang on every wall of your home for the rest of your life? If not, why are you willing to wear it on your body for the same period?

Let’s get back to common sense.


The Curmudgeon is out getting his teeth filed down to points, so Fran will write the column today.

In all seriousness, the subject of today’s rant has me too charged up to manage the Curmudgeon’s involute, gently satirical style. I am filled with anger and fear, and the only way I know to dissipate them is to write about the occasions of them.

A young colleague came by my office yesterday, wearing a peculiar expression, a blend of triumph and physical discomfort. Before I could even say hello, she’d turned about and yanked up her blouse to show me a tattoo: a large, garish tattoo of a winged snake that covered about half of her back.

I’m not often put at a loss for words, but what do you say to such a thing?

She looked back over her shoulder at me and said, “I got it Monday. What do you think?”

Before I proceed with this narration, I must mention that the young woman in question is genuinely young — she’s twenty-four — is single, and is aware that I’m an old mossback that has very conservative views on just about everything. We’re “hall friendly”; we smile and say hello in passing. We don’t dislike one another, but neither of us would normally seek the other as discretionary company. Yet here she was, baring her body to me to show me something she had good reason to suppose I wouldn’t approve. All of that occurred to me as I groped for a response.

What came out was, “They know what causes that, now.”

She giggled, mercifully covered herself, turned to me and said, “I knew you’d hate it.”

“Then why did you come and show it to me?”

Another giggle, but no reply. There was no need for a reply, really; she’d thrust her fresh mutilation in my face because she knew I’d disapprove of it.

“Tell me,” I said. “Did it hurt?”

She nodded. “It still does. You should have heard me screaming at the tattoo shop.”

“And that didn’t…suggest anything to you?”

She shrugged. There was a challenging pride to her expression, as if she were daring me to disapprove more explicitly.

I decided not to disappoint her.

“So,” I said, “you put yourself through a painful procedure that involves prolonged suffering and the risk of a serious infection, to engrave a piece of second-rate art — something you probably couldn’t bear to have on your bedroom wall — on your own flesh, probably for the rest of your life.” Her eyes went wide and her mouth dropped open. “If you become intimate with a man and he’s repulsed by it, there’ll be nothing you can do. If your skin loosens or the inks start to fade, it will look even more revolting than it does now. If you ever decide to remove it, you’ll have to undergo surgery and still more pain. You’ll never have your original skin texture back no matter what you do. Have you considered seeking professional help?”

She gasped and ran from the room.

***

My anger comes from the recognition that the lunatics are no longer under proper restraint. My fear is because, even if they’re not running the asylum yet, their time is fast approaching.

Mental disease and its indicators are the subject of a great many discussions. Not all of them are polite. Still, surely one of the contra-indications of sanity would be the predilection for damaging oneself. We consider those who slash their own flesh, or burn themselves deliberately, to be diseased individuals, persons in need of supervision by the more responsible.

But few are willing to say anything of substance about the craze for self-mutilation via tattoos and piercings. To cut into a healthy body, to destroy healthy tissue for no good reason, is mutilation. To replace intact flesh with bad indelible artwork or metal rings or prongs is a sign of mental disturbance.

If we look more widely, we can find a large number of related pathologies — related in the sense that they court pain, suffering, and long-lasting damage for no good reason — abroad and waxing as we speak. “Bug chasers” who actively seek to contract the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. S&M aficionadoes who engage in practices so vile that I can’t even bear to write about them. Women who deliberately get pregnant because they want to have abortions. Perfectly ordinary people, who look, dress and talk just like you and me, who repeatedly vote Democrat. Let’s say nothing about still more extreme practices. I know they exist, but I’m trying to hold my dinner down.

The mind reels. It more than reels; it withdraws in horror and disgust.

Yet nothing is more appalling, nor more puzzling, than the way the devotees of these madnesses parade them before those of us whose sanity is still firmly glued in place, expecting to shock us, then castigating us for being shocked.

What is the message? What is the meaning of this tide of folly?

Are they saying, “We are not like you, and here’s the proof” — ?

Are they saying, “Look what you made me do” — ?

Are they saying, “We hate ourselves, and we have no other way to express it than self-destruction” — ?

What can we possibly say in response? What obligations do we, the sane, possess toward these others who rend and scar themselves in ways even the flagellants of medieval times would have condemned as pointless and evil?

***

No doubt someone out there is thinking, “There he goes again, assuming you can define normality.” No doubt someone out there is wondering how I’d defend the socially accepted “mutilations” of earlobe piercing and circumcision. And both of you can sit down and shut up. Earlobe piercing is a “gray zone” item — silly, but not really harmful — and circumcision serves a medical function, though not everyone agrees on the necessity. And not only can you define normality, it’s been done for us by Nature herself.

Savages in many lands have done exactly the same sorts of things our “civilized” lunatics are doing to themselves today. Note how poorly those primitive peoples have fared these last few centuries. It hasn’t always been because the Europeans developed machine guns.

The ascent from savagery begins when a people realizes that things happen for a reason, and with time, careful observation and hard thought, those reasons can be explored and systematized into bodies of knowledge. Savage peoples that learned how their savage practices crippled them, and rejected those practices, rose to join the world community of the civilized; those that did not sank into irrelevance, or extinction.

To abuse one’s own body carries consequences. Some fraction of self-abusers will die from it. More will suffer some lesser loss, perhaps of mobility, resistance to disease, or articulation of speech. Others will merely become objects of ridicule to the more sensible, who will disdain to procreate with them. Inbreeding among self-mutilators produces a declining line of descent; stupidity and self-destructiveness reinforced will almost always “improve” on their progenitors.

Granted that some mutilations, such as tattooing, are safer than they once were. At least, they’re safer than the ritual scarifications of primitive Africa. What’s the point? Why do this to yourself? Who are you speaking to and what are you trying to say? Must the argument be engraved on your flesh?

What was my young colleague’s point, that she was so eager to make to me?

If you disapprove of how I replied to her, what ought I to have done instead?

***

I dislike this feeling of incomprehension, of helplessness. I greatly fear that some switch has flipped in the minds of many, neutering their rational faculties, particularly their ability to look forward into their own futures. I fear even more that it’s a growing trend.

Demographically, the self-mutilation craze is firmly tied to the young, and appears to be waxing among them. We older folks are far less willing to court their resentment or scorn by reproving them than any of our predecessors were. Whether that’s because of lack of courage or lack of inclination, it cannot be good.

Still, there remain the questions: What can we do? What ought we to do?

Don’t speak of laws. No law against voluntary self-mutilation could possibly pass Fourth Amendment muster. Besides, one doesn’t control an outbreak of irrationality by force of law; the drinking craze of the early Eighteenth Century and the drug craze of the Twentieth have demonstrated that perfectly well.

Is it possible that there’s no constructive response? Must we simply write off those that fall prey to this ugly trend, and hope that their bad example persuades others to follow a more wholesome, self-respecting course?

I have no answers. I have anger and fear, and a single recommendation that I’d like to shout from the rooftops in a voice of thunder.

Guard your sons and daughters. Love them, but don’t indulge them. Monitor their activities and their associations. Restrain their destructive flights of fancy, should they have any. Be candid about your disapprovals, and give the clearest, simplest reasons you possibly can. Don’t think you have to bend to the latest fads, simply because they are the latest fads and every other parent in the neighborhood has surrendered to them. You are your child’s source for the wisdom of the race, as it was conveyed to you by your parents. If you fail him, to whom will he turn? Don’t succumb to the desire to have your child regard you as a friend. You were not put on Earth to be his friend. He was not given into your care for that purpose.

And pray for fortitude and resolve.

Principles And Politics

A couple of days ago, Democrat pollster Pat Caddell, who has become a fairly frequent guest on various Fox News programs, decided to offer Republicans and conservatives his advice on how to get things turned around:

As Breitbart.com readers know, I have been extremely critical of the current Democratic Party, which I see as having fallen far from the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. Indeed, on a few occasions, I have even been willing to work against my party on certain selected issues….

I am a Democrat who thinks that the Democratic Party has lost its way. Badly. But again, if Republicans can’t heal themselves, the Democrats, warts and all, will continue to win. And yet if the Democrats stay as they are, the country will continue to decline.

But what substantive recommendations does Caddell offer?

[1972] was the year that my candidate, George McGovern, won just 37 percent of the vote against Richard Nixon. So McGovern lost. Yet he assembled a new vote-coalition–of the young, of minorities, of environmentalists and other activists, of post-industrial knowledge workers.

The McGovern Coalition was too small, of course, to win in 1972. But if we fast-forward 40 years to 2012, we can see that the same group gave Obama almost 51 percent of the vote. In other words, a 14-point improvement. Those 14 points spell the difference between a landslide defeat for Democrats then and a comfortable victory for Democrats today.

So how did the McGovern Coalition lose in 1972 but win in 2012? What was the difference, then and now? The difference, of course, is demography.

Demography, eh? That sounds to me like a prescription for pandering to identity groups. Are we about to read yet another claim that the GOP must alter its position on this or that issue to regain the majority?

Apparently not…or at least, not yet:

So let’s fight for an America that asks us for our values and our ideals–not for our price. And if we do fight for that better America–the one that persists brightly in our imagination, even amidst the dreary present-day–then I am confident that we can achieve that better America.

That’s all Caddell has to say in what he styles the opening segment of a series.

It’s to be expected that a pollster and Democrat operative would be more focused on winning elections than on making policy. It’s to be expected that he’d look for the reasons for electoral defeats in the distribution of support among identifiable groups. It’s to be expected that he’d make such distributions and their impact the meat of his commentary in a political forum.

But what of it? What are such a focus, and the analysis that follows from it, worth in terms of principles that should guide the policy makers and executives of our nation? The point of the electoral process is to put men into such positions, is it not? Does any sort of coherent vision of the policies and enforcement approaches appropriate to a free society emerge from an electoral / demographic approach?

Put a bit more bluntly: Why does anyone care which party holds the White House or the majorities in Congress? Why should anyone care?

Give that a moment’s thought.


Politics is the pursuit of power over others, nominally by non-violent means. Why would free men — men who want to be free and who think of themselves as free — prefer one group of power-seekers over another? Why would they want anyone to have power over them? Freedom is the antithesis of political power.

The usual response is that even the most freedom-minded man will agree to tolerate a certain amount of political power — a certain amount of government — as a “necessary evil.” A military to defend the country and protect its overseas interests; a penal code to enumerate offenses no one will be allowed to get away with; a judiciary to oversee prosecutions and civil disputes: these, if kept passive and prevented from expanding to elephantine dimensions, would be tolerable as “labor-saving devices.” They obviate private armies and private justice, which most persons are inclined to distrust.

The Constitution of the United States expresses precisely this understanding: This far you may go, and no further. It does so in plain, unambiguous language that virtually all politicians, regardless of party affiliation, prefer to ignore.

But the Constitution is a series of words on parchment. How could it possibly be more authoritative than other writings, many of them by men of great wisdom and compassion, that differ radically from its prescriptions and proscriptions?

The answer is principle.


A principle is a rule that divides some subset of the universe of human actions into two non-overlapping zones. On one side are those actions that are acceptable regardless of anyone’s preferences; on the other are those actions which cannot and must not be tolerated. The usual shorthand for this partition is right and wrong.

The marriage of the principle to the applicable subset of actions is critical. Few principles have unbounded, universal applicability. (The Ten Commandments do, but I’m unable to think of any others.) What principles are applicable to law and power is the question at the center of our contemporary political discourse — a discourse in which politicians are disinclined to involve themselves, for fear of losing votes.

Few politicians, whatever lip service they give to the Constitution, are happy to be constrained by it. This is because by its very existence the Constitution expresses a small set of rules which together constitute the principle of republican government:

  1. There must be a Supreme Law;
  2. It must be easy to refer to and to comprehend;
  3. All other law must conform to it.

Compare that to the principle of democratic / majoritarian government:

  1. A majority can make and enforce whatever laws it wishes at any time.

…and to the principle of authoritarian government:

  1. What the Fuhrer decrees shall be the whole of the law.

The typical politician who owes his office to a democratic process, and who wants to remain in that office for as long as possible, will chafe under the constraints of the Constitution. He’ll seek ways to circumvent it in matters that permit him to pander to his constituency. If pressed, he’ll make excuses:

  • “This is something the Founding Fathers didn’t foresee.”
  • “The amendment process takes too long and doesn’t always work.”
  • “The crisis is far too urgent; we have to act now, regardless of Constitutional constraints.”

Those are the most popular excuses. No doubt there are others.

The republican principle, of which the Constitution is the American expression, is the only protection Americans have from tyranny, whether majoritarian or autocratic. What freedom we still retain is ours because our politicians haven’t yet worked up the collective courage to defy the Constitution in certain particulars. However, they get closer to discarding it completely with every passing day.


I’m massively uninterested in partisan politics. It exists; I must admit to that. Now and then it functions to retard some specific encroachment on freedom, or to remove some revealed scoundrel from office. But given the convergence of the two major parties around a principle-free, only-winning-counts ethic, I question whether there’s any value remaining in either one.

It’s true that the Republican Party platform expresses vaguely Constitutional ideas, and a general regard for the aims of that document, if not for its explicit constraints. But given that the platform is only of interest during its biennial conventions — that GOP politicians raised to office are under no obligation to conform to its dictates — why should I care that a particular contender for office is a Republican?

When one such as Pat Caddell deigns to tell us how to “do better,” I immediately ask, “But what are your principles?” Don’t talk to me about demographics. Voting blocs tell me nothing I want to know. Don’t talk to me about “problems” and “solutions.” Those things are purely subjective; one man’s “problem” is another’s golden opportunity. Don’t talk to me about “what works.” Such cogitations routinely omit consideration of costs and second-order effects. Worse, they require that you implicitly accept premises — in particular, premises about the standards by which the outcome will be judged — that are seldom articulated in full clarity.

If you won’t make an unambiguous statement of your principles, I’m changing the channel.


Inasmuch as the entire political class of the United States has rejected the republican principle, I can no longer find a reason to support any particular gaggle of them over the rest. Perhaps Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is an exception, but I can think of no others. Presidential politics is notably principle-free. The Democrats have nominated only one principled man for the presidency: Grover Cleveland. The GOP hasn’t nominated a principled candidate for the presidency even once in its entire history.

When I published a novel about a fictional presidential candidate who swore to abide by the Constitution as written, I brought the house down:

    Sumner emerged from Portland’s City Hall at exactly noon, as Louise Farrell had advised him. He strode to the lectern at the top of the steps, looked out over the throng before him, and staggered backward.
    The broad thoroughfare that ran past City Hall was packed with human bodies, in both directions for as far as the eye could see. He could not begin to estimate the numbers. It had to be a six-figure throng at least…and perhaps rather far up that range.
    “Dear God,” he breathed. His expostulation was barely loud enough for the lectern microphone to catch, but nevertheless it was relayed through a battery of speakers to the crowd below.
    “No,” someone near the forward barricades shouted. “He was just the opening act!”
    Sumner laughed helplessly, and the crowd cheered. They filled the air of their city with a din no celebration had approached since its founding.
    Sumner righted himself and returned to the lectern. Christine hung back half a pace, as if unwilling to split the immense crowd’s attention.
    “How many of you are there? Never mind, I don’t expect you to count your own noses. But are you here because you’re hoping a superhero has come to free you from bondage, or are you here for me?”
    The cheers redoubled. They might have gone on indefinitely had he not raised a hand in acknowledgement.
    “You know,” he said, “I’ve been giving one speech, over and over, with only the tiniest embellishments as I go from city to city. Your fellow citizens at my other campaign stops have all liked it, and it’s tempting to give it here, on the rule of not messing with what’s already worked. But I can’t get over the sheer number of you. I’m having a really hard time believing that you’re here to see and hear from me. Who am I, after all?”
    A voice near to the base of the steps immediately began the chant from Albuquerque. The crowd picked it up at once.
    “Sumner! Sumner! Sumner! Sumner! Sumner!…”
    He let it continue for a few seconds before he raised his hand again. The crowd immediately fell silent.
    “Maybe you should hold that for later. You might not want to cheer that cheer after I’ve told you what I’m about to tell you. It won’t be my usual speech.”
    He panned the crowd left to right and back again.
    “America is in bad shape.
    “Washington and the state capitals have spent us broke. Our credit is gone, our commerce is uncertain, our jobs are shaky–if we have jobs–and our confidence in the future is at an all-time low. Those of us who have children fear that we’ve had it better than they ever will. Those who don’t have children worry about aging alone in solitude and squalor, with no one to care for us as we grow feeble, or hold our hands at the end.
    “In large part, we’ve collaborated in it. We demanded freebies that we hoped someone else would pay for. We should have known better. Some of us did. But what we got suggests that far too many of us let our wishes do our thinking. So we voted for executives and representatives who were happy to encourage us to do so.
    “We should have known the bill would come due. Maybe we did. Maybe we just hoped we’d be safely and cozily dead before the time came to pay for our sins. But this sort of game can only have one ending: someone has to get stuck with the Queen of Spades. Turns out it will be us: the generation of voters you represent, to whom I have to make the bleakest campaign pitch in all of American history.
    “I’m going to tell you what I told a reporter in New Orleans,” he said. “You might have heard it already. It’s been made into a campaign commercial. All the same, I want you to hear it again, from my lips: I’m not here to kiss babies, to eat your signature dish, whatever it is, or to lie to you about my undying love of the Trail Blazers. I’m here to persuade you of two things: that a return to strict Constitutional fidelity is the only way out of our mess, and that if you’ll put me in the White House, I will see to that for you. If you want a candidate who’ll pander to your local pride, the other parties will happily supply you with as many as you can swallow.
    “You’ve been pandered to for decades, for more than a century. The panderers were experts. They knew exactly what to tell you to take your eye off what they really wanted to do. They promised you free stuff, free cash, freedom from care, and you chose to believe it. They told you that other people would solve your problems for you, even your completely local problems, and you chose to believe it. They told you to relax, kick back, let the good times roll, that the future could take care of itself, and you chose to believe it. And here you are. Your occupations are unstable, your savings are nil, your streets are unsafe, your futures are bleak, your profligacy has left your children neck-deep in debt, and your trust in government is down to zero. That was the price for disdaining uncomfortable truths in favor of oily smiles, unfulfillable promises, and comforting lies. You can still have all the smarmy deceits, if you choose. But you won’t get them from me.
    “I can’t promise you a miracle. I can’t promise a swift or painless return to security and abundance. In the words of a great Englishman who had to lead his own country through a terrible crisis, I can promise you nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat…hopefully, really light on the blood.
    “Other candidates for the presidency have campaigned as if the office itself would make them omnipotent. That they would acquire absolute and unbounded powers, powers that would enable them to cure all of America’s ills from sea to shining sea by the wave of a hand. By now you should know better. I think, by your presence here, I can safely assume that you do. But I want you to hear it from me.
    “I will not lie to you. You ought to be suspicious of such a promise. You’ve been given more than enough reason. Other candidates for high office have made that promise and have gone on to lie through their teeth, to say anything and everything they thought might win them a few more votes. So I’m nailing my pledge down by making the harshest, least pleasant campaign promises any candidate has ever made.
    “If you elect me president, I will put an end to every federal activity not explicitly authorized by the Constitution of the United States. I will shut down as much of the federal government as that requires, consistent with my duties as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and chief enforcer of federal law.
    “This crowd is large enough that some of you probably work for the federal government. Nearly five million Americans do. Be sure you’re willing to take the risk that your job might not be really essential before you go into the booth and pull the lever next to my name.
    “If I can swing enough of Congress behind me, I will put an end to federal borrowing. I will put an end to the reign of unelected regulators. And whether Congress likes it or not, I will insist that the Tenth Amendment—the one that says that the powers not delegated to the United States are reserved to the states or the people—be observed strictly and explicitly.
    “You should think about that. Some of you will need new ways to earn a living. Some of you will lose subsidies or programs that have helped you to pay your way through life. All I can promise you in return is that from that point forward, you will know what federal law demands of you, and you won’t be expected to read the United States Code to know it. But that’s where my promises to you end.
    “It will be your job to discipline your state and local governments. They’ve raped you in their turn, often by conning you with the same lies and empty promises you’ve heard from politicians at the federal level. But unless they violate a constitutional restriction on their powers, I can’t help you with that.”
    He pointed a finger into the mass of the crowd. “You must call them to account. You must hold them liable. And some of you must put down the tools of your trades, possibly trades you love and have practiced for many years, and go on campaign, as I have done, to replace them.” He paused, gathered all his forces, and leaned close over the microphone. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

Mark Butterworth’s “Tales of New America” series is eliciting a comparable reaction, for similar reasons. Those are our recommendations for how “we can do better.” Nodding to demographics — to pandering for votes — is not among them.


Though I yearn for principle in politics, I know it won’t be returning any time soon. Too large a fraction of the country is addicted to government in one way or another. The fraction of the economy Washington controls, directly or indirectly, is staggering. And as I said above, our politicians are principle-averse…and almost unbearable to listen to.

But that doesn’t make me any more interested in placating identity groups, or buying off “stakeholders” in the Omnipotent State, or listening to the vermiculations of a Pat Caddell about “an America that can imagine itself.” I’d rather just clean my guns one more time.

The New Segregationists

[In recognition of this incredible story, and of Mark Steyn’s unflinching penetration of America’s ongoing suicide-through-uncontrolled-immigration, I present the following two pieces, which were first posted at Eternity Road on April 22, 2007 and April 24, 2007, respectively. — FWP]


Fran here. This is an angry column on an ugly subject. If you have any vestiges of political correctness left in you, I can guarantee that you won’t like it. Won’t like it? You’ll be appalled. You’ll wonder what’s come over me, one of the Web’s premier voices of sweet reason. Over the days to come you’ll await some sort of retraction or apology. You’ll be disappointed.

You have been warned.

***

Natural laws cannot be repealed. Congress and other legislators will attempt it now and then, but even to delay their operation for a bit is like trying to sweep back the tide; ultimately, you’re sorry you tried.

One of the natural laws, which should be so obvious as not to require saying, is that word gets around. Something that people in general would want to know is something they will know, eventually. If you assist them in learning it, you will earn their gratitude. If you retard their edification, then when they’ve finally learned it, if they learn that you were responsible for denying them the data they need, you will reap the whirlwind.

I’m a news hound. I read several news sources every day, plus dozens of blogs and commentators’ sites. I do my best to be as well informed as I can possibly be — and I assure you, my best is very good.

Atop that, I’m a thinker. My education was in mathematics and physics, and I labor as an engineer. I’m not afraid to look for patterns or to draw conclusions from them. I’m also not afraid to be proved wrong; I remain open to counter-evidence for all my convictions, and I acknowledge it when it happens by.

But even a powerful and inquisitive mind is incapable of reaching useful conclusions when the data he needs is denied him. When those responsible are the very organs of dissemination that he relies upon for such information — that claim to hold the unearthing and transmission of important news to be a sacred trust — he can be incited to an unparalleled rage.

That rage has been growing in me for some years now, courtesy of our beloved Old Media.

The print and broadcast media have been socked with a lot of criticism in recent years for their habit of framing the stories they report strictly in “politically correct” terms. They’ve deserved almost all of it. Admittedly, some stories don’t need any framing to appear to support left-liberal pieties, but one gets no special credit for doing what one ought to do, particularly when it’s compatible with one’s own desires. It’s the departures from ethical journalism that get our attention, which is as it should be.

Those who defend the leftist media usually reply to our objections to their slanted coverage with irrelevancies. Some of those replies are partisan: “You conservatives don’t want to hear anything that contradicts your beliefs.” Some of them are exculpatory: “Well, they have to choose some way to frame the story, and why shouldn’t it be the way they prefer?” And some of them are tu quoque minimizations: “If you controlled the media, you’d be doing the same thing, except in service to your point of view!”

Painful as it is to admit, there’s a grain of truth in all these replies. Not a large grain, mind you: when a man has presented himself as a servant of truth and its dissemination, there’s no perfect excuse for doing otherwise. But still, one must admit that some conservatives are as willing to spin and distort as anyone in the Old Media, if it will serve their purposes.

What I profoundly hope a conservative journalist would never stoop to is the complete suppression of a newsworthy event because it contradicts his preferences.

***

Despite my voracity about current events, this item escaped me completely until this very morning:

In January of 2007, 21 year-old Channon Christian and her boyfriend, 23 year-old Christopher Newsom, were the victims of a horrific crime in Knoxville, Tennessee. During what appears to have started as a carjacking, the criminals decided to abduct the two and set in motion a disturbing series of events.

The suspects allegedly tortured and raped the young woman for several days before killing her. The young man’s life ended sooner but his treatment was no less brutal.

The amount of savagery that took place in this case is of such magnitude that bloggers and their readers are asking, “Where’s the national media?” What happened to these two young people is right up there with Jeff Dahmer’s deeds on the list of wicked things that people have done to each other.

Now, carjackings are nothing new. Rapes and murders are also fairly frequent. But the brutality of this particular crime appears to have probed new heights of savage inhumanity:

“It apparently started with a carjacking,” said Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Rich Knighten. “They did some really nasty things to this lady.”

Subsequently Newsom’s badly burned and mutilated body was found in a rail yard. It turns out the five assailants did some “really nasty things” to Christopher Newsom before they killed him. Authorities know that he was raped, his penis cut off, and beaten before being set on fire and shot several times. It is believed they forced his girlfriend, Channon Christian, to watch.

Reports state that Channon Christian, was beaten and gang-raped in many ways for four days by all five assailants, including an eighteen year-old female named Vanessa Coleman. They also took turns urinating on her. Then they cut off her breasts and put a chlorine-based cleaning product in her mouth, ostensibly to eradicate any DNA evidence, then murdered her and left her body in a garbage can inside a house once occupied by two of the assailants.

What kind of subhuman could do such a thing to a defenseless human being, you ask? Who could regard another person as meat to be abused and tortured for the sheer pleasure of it? Who could bear to go on living after having participated in such a deed, even to the extent of witnessing it?

Apparently, these persons could:

***

I have said it before, and I’ll say it whenever anyone asks, whether in public or in private: I am a racist. That is, I am persuaded that as statistical aggregates, the conventionally recognized races differ in ways that can be contextually significant. So any mealy-mouthed leftists in the audience who think they can cow me by calling me a racist already have my reply: Damned right I am!

Despite the differences among the races, Americans are expected to make a wholehearted attempt to treat one another as individuals, to be judged on our individual merits. This is a vitally necessary enterprise. It’s the only way we can share this country in something approximating peace (i.e., “a state of tension that falls short of overt armed conflict”). The sole alternative is a process of racial cleansing after which the United States would be peopled exclusively by whites.

Don’t kid yourselves. Were American whites ever to conclude that inter-racial peace is impossible, within two years there wouldn’t be a black man left alive and free anywhere in this country. We’re a numerical majority. We control the preponderance of the land, the wealth, and most important, the weapons. Our targets would wear their affiliation in their flesh. It hasn’t happened — and please God, may it never happen — because we still believe, despite many disappointments, that inter-racial amity is achievable. Preserving that conviction is the one and only hope American blacks have for their futures, and for those of their children.

What would undermine that conviction?

  1. Clear and convincing evidence that American blacks are irremediably violently hostile toward whites, or:
  2. A groundswell of conviction that such evidence exists, but that our news organs have conspired to deny it to us.

The first condition has not been met. The second condition is being advanced by the Old Media themselves.

Word gets around. Something as atrocious as the rape-torture-murders of Christian and Newsom cannot forever be kept from the light of day. People talk: policemen, forensic investigators, neighbors, reporters, reporters’ clerical assistants, cleanup specialists, garbagemen, the families of the victims, their neighbors, and their neighbors’ kids. There’s simply no hope that the story won’t sooner or later be told. When it is told, after a long interval of silence, people will naturally ask one another, “Why haven’t we heard anything about this before now?” They will suspect conspiracy.

It’s easy to suspect conspiracies, and difficult to disprove them. Conspirators are secretive by nature, seeking always to conceal or disguise their identities and deeds. Successful conspirators are well prepared to deflect the blame for their crimes onto wholly innocent others. With this as the model, one who begins to suspect that he’s being deceived has a long, hard road to travel to disabuse himself of the notion.

Journalists who downplay or conceal inter-racial crimes out of the mistaken notion that they’re helping to avert further hostility are either deluded or hopelessly stupid. By furthering the conviction among private citizens that we’re being lied to, they advance the concomitant conviction that “the other,” about whose deeds we’re being denied full and accurate reports, really is someone to be feared…someone to be located and destroyed, or cast out of our midst, for our own safety’s sake.

Thus, whatever their conscious motives and intentions, politically correct journalists who spike stories about horrific crimes by black perpetrators are the new segregationists. It is their decisions about which stories should be emphasized and which ones must be buried that will persuade white Americans that their black neighbors cannot be trusted and must be expelled from the body politic.

***

I told you at the outset that this would be an angry column. I’m furious. I want the scalp of every journalist or editor who knew of the Knoxville atrocity but decided to pass over it in silence, but thought that Don Imus’s “nappy headed hos” comment or the satirical “Caucasian Achievement Award” offered by College Republicans at the University of Rhode Island should get front-page prominence and column-inches. These persons, whether through their we-know-best arrogance or through simple cluelessness, are undermining the foundations for inter-racial peace. It is not clear whether the damage they’ve done is reparable.

Pray.


Fran here. As you might imagine, the hate mail I’ve received over the previous column on this topic has been both copious and vitriolic. None of it was terribly original, and none of it addressed the essay’s central point. This affirms my conviction that Eternity Road’s hate mailers are divided between those who can’t (or won’t) read and those who can’t (or won’t) think. Well, I suppose that’s what you get when you draw the attention of a crowd that venerates a bilious ignoramus who writes for an up-market Manhattan shopping circular.

But the show must go on, and the subject is not yet exhausted, so buckle yourselves in securely, Gentle Readers, ’cause you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

***

If human beings are at all predictable as a category, it is in this: we seek more of that which feels good and strive to avoid that which feels bad. We share this trait with the lesser orders, though humans are sometimes capable of overriding their instinctual behavior by the conscious application of will.

Our pleasure-tropism / pain-aversion is the basis for conditioning through reward and punishment. As I wrote in this essay, consistently responding to good behavior with rewards and to bad behavior with punishment is essential to child-rearing. Failure to do so results in uncivilized young adults who frequently reap worse consequences from their misdeeds than they ever imagined. Those consequences are the logical parallel to the disciplining of an unruly child. In keeping with the 1-10-100 Rule, because the fault was permitted to linger past the “design” (childhood) and “implementation” (early adolescence) phases and into the “deployment” (late adolescence and adulthood) phase, the cost of correction is orders of magnitude higher than a slap on the backside. Sometimes it involves the execution of the offender.

Even persons who favor unbending penal justice and staunchly support the death penalty for the most heinous crimes aren’t happy about the necessity. We’d prefer that no one ever be incarcerated or executed. But we’re not Pollyannas; we recognize reality and its implications. As long as there are miscreants who assert, by their deeds, the right to steal, defraud, kidnap, abuse, torture, and murder, there will be a need for retributive justice of appropriate harshness. To shortchange that need is to fail our responsibilities toward ourselves and our descendants.

Yet there are schools of “thought” — yes, those are “sneer quotes” — to the effect that punishment is socially unnecessary, that it’s merely the expression of our primitive need for vengeance, that any miscreant could be curbed and brought into harmony with society simply by showing him the full consequences of his deeds. The most egregious such scholia inform us that society, not the miscreant himself, is to blame for all misdeeds, however incomprehensibly heinous. One such “thinker” was Ramsey Clark, Attorney-General of the United States under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Another was David Bazelon, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for many years. Many others have risen to positions less visible but almost as influential.

The punishment-is-awful and society-is-to-blame notions of such persons have molded our laws, our jurisprudence, and our social conduct to a remarkable extent, such that the first impulse of many a jurist is to theorize about “root causes” and “social abuses” that would exculpate the criminal. The consequence has been a great weakening of the most important disincentive for barbarity among persons so inclined.

***

The removal of punishment as a deterrent to crime and antisocial public behavior would be bad enough if it were absolutely uniform. But it is not, and the situation is accordingly far worse.

When a society makes special provisions for a particular class of persons, such that those persons have a good expectation of not suffering for illegal or antisocial behavior, it has committed the worst imaginable injustice against the persons in that class who honor their society’s laws and norms: it has equalized the legal, social, and moral positions of good citizens and thugs. Thus, if ninety percent of such a class is law-abiding and decorous while ten percent is violent, dishonest, or disruptive, the latter category will come to overshadow the former in the perceptions of persons outside the class — not because ten percent is a majority, but because that anti-social subgroup is identified with the class’s special set of privileges.

A class is defined by its legal and social privileges. The aristocrats of medieval times were not distinguished by their lineages or their deeds, but by the things they were allowed to do, without penalty, that commoners were not. There is reason to believe that the majority of medieval aristocrats were fairly responsible stewards of their lands and of public order within them. That does not justify the creation of a class of men who could wield high, middle, and low justice over others, but who would normally escape all consequences for deeds for which a commoner would be severely punished.

The American response to the failings of traditional aristocracies was the Rule of Law: the fundamental principle that the law must treat all men impartially, regardless of their identities or station in life. The old shorthand for this principle was “blind justice,” meaning that the law must not see one’s person, only one’s deeds. In a society that respects the Rule of Law, a king would stand in the same dock as a trash-hauler, were the two accused of the same offense. All that would matter would be the evidence for their guilt or innocence.

In the absence of a scrupulously observed Rule of Law, classes with differing degrees of privilege will emerge. The flourishing of the members of each class will be influenced, often heavily, by the class’s privileges and how effectively they can be exploited. Men being what we are, we will be moved to use those privileges in our own interest, both against competitors within our class and against other classes.

Success breeds emulation. If there are advantages to be had from the ruthless exploitation of a class privilege, over time more and more members of the class will be drawn into doing so. Thus, the coloration given to the class by its privileges will become stronger and more inclusive over time.

This is not an unbounded progression; as in all other things, a tendency toward equilibrium will ultimately assert itself. However, the mechanisms by which equilibrium is restored are always unpleasant. The deterrents that curb full exploitation of a class privilege, if any exist at all, will be applied by other classes, whether through the law, other social institutions, or “informally.” “Informally” usually means lynching: the application of extra-judicial, often unmerited punishment to members of one class by members of another. In the usual case, the lynchers come from a more numerous class than the lynchees, though there are occasional exceptions.

Lynching, if it goes unpunished, is itself a class privilege. There are satisfactions in it that are incomprehensible to moral men who live in ordinary times. As with other activities with innate satisfactions, the popularity of the practice will grow over time. A mob that’s tasted the blood of one aristocrat is seldom satisfied with just that one sip.

Lynching writ large is genocide.

***

Because of our unjustly tender consciences about the practice of slavery on these shores some 140 years ago, we have awarded a sheaf of legal and social privileges to those who resemble the slaves of yore in the color of their skin. It’s not obvious to everyone what those privileges are:

  • Disruptive, destructive, and anti-social behavior by blacks in public and semi-public settings is tolerated far more readily than if it were by whites;
  • Inflammatory rhetoric is accepted from black public figures that would never be tolerated from whites;
  • Laws concerning several aspects of government action, notably procurement and subcontracting, are written to favor protected minorities, notably blacks;
  • Blacks routinely receive preferential treatment from educational institutions;
  • Blacks are accorded legally preferred status in hiring and firing decisions;
  • Black lawbreakers’ claims of racial discrimination are treated excessively credulously;
  • Journalists routinely soft-pedal stories of black-on-white crime, yet are merciless about the far less frequent instances of white-on-black crime.

The justifications offered for these privileges are well known. The rationales for not punishing those who violate the written laws have impressive names: “moral equivalence” and “cultural relativism” are the best known. The former attempts to match the past crimes of slaveholders with the current crimes of black thugs, and somehow cancel one against the other. The latter proposes that thug culture “has its own validity,” and that no one outside it may stand in judgment over it. Regardless of the intentions of those who make such claims, the consequences of their actions in the minds of many white Americans is to associate all black Americans, regardless of their behavior, with the privileges awarded to the class.

The monstrousness of this phenomenon can hardly be overstated. Yet there’s little to be done about the principal social effect: a generalized distrust of blacks by whites, proportional to the privileges themselves. Forty years ago, when the process was at its inception, American whites were anxious to cultivate the good will of blacks, whom they felt, with justice, had received a raw deal even after the end of slavery. Today that sentiment is failing, entirely due to left-liberals’ ratification of black privileges, thug culture, and black “leaders'” rampant hostility toward whites.

***

If there’s a central irony here, it would be this: despite everything, the great majority of American blacks are devout Christians who strive with all their might and main to live according to their faith. If you’re a white Christian, used to the tenor of the religious services that white Christians normally attend, you’d be blown away by the fervor of a service at a Southern Baptist or Church of God in Christ meeting. There’s no hypocrisy there: these folks are passionate Christians who really mean it, in all particulars.

How much greater an injustice could we do than to group these good and gentle people with the thugs who exploit black class privileges to the hilt, cynically and ruthlessly, to the detriment of all of American society? But the thugs and grievance-mongers have their race’s microphone; it’s they from whom and about whom we hear. There’s no redress for it except that the privileges themselves should be withdrawn, leaving blacks and whites equals before the law and the opinions of their fellow men. Yet that is the exact opposite of the stance of American left-liberals.

In the realm of political discourse, it’s even worse. Highly intelligent and eloquent black conservatives, unanimous in their condemnation of preferential treatment and softened standards for blacks, are routinely belittled by American left-liberals and the black grievance-mongers and racial-identity hustlers left-liberals prize. Brilliant black scholars, public servants, and commentators such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Clarence Thomas, Janice Rogers Brown, Ward Connerly, Larry Elder, Hermain Cain, and others are derided, even demonized, by persons whose only objective claim to anyone’s attention is the record of their sins. Ordinary blacks are told not to listen to the “Uncle Toms,” to treat them as “inauthentic” and traitors to their race. When wildly popular entertainer Bill Cosby ratified much of the conservative prescription before an NAACP audience, high officials of that retrograde organization, including one who had characterized American conservatives as akin to the Taliban, rushed to distance themselves from Cosby’s statements and suggest that he didn’t really mean them. The Old Media collaborated in their flight from objectivity and hard sense.

The American left-liberal would rather salve his guilty conscience, at ruinous expense to the society in which he lives, than admit that his good intentions are nudging American race relations toward the brink of catastrophe.

***

To segregate is to separate, whether physically or conceptually. American left-liberals, deeply if unconsciously infected with Marxian notions, ever eager to see their society as a set of classes in combat with one another for political, economic, and social attainment, have reanimated the injustices of the era of slavery by making blacks once again a class with a special status. Blacks’ legal status during the era of slavery was below that of whites, while today the reverse is true, but the overriding factor, to which both groups react despite the best will in the world, is the difference itself. That difference has brought about a widening division between American whites and blacks, whose mutual distrust is making them increasingly suspicious of one another, and increasingly unable to share communities, schools, or political subdivisions in neighborly ease.

The American left-liberal is the new segregationist.

“We The People,” Who?

[The following essay was first posted at Eternity Road on June 19, 2007. In light of the furious debates over current immigration-reform proposals, it struck me as pertinent for a repost — FWP]


In mid-2004, there was born a Website which proposed to hold an international plebiscite on the upcoming American elections. The thesis was that since what the United States does “affects” the entire world — yes, those are “sneer quotes” — then the world should have as much say in the selection of American officialdom as the American citizens do. Say what you will about the “logic” behind such a proposition, we must grant its audacity at the very least.

That campaign season also featured a letter-writing campaign by British glitterati, including rabid anti-theist Richard Dawkins and hack novelist David Cornwell (a.k.a. “John LeCarre”), to voters in selected American “swing states.” The writers urged their American targets to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry — say, did you know he served in Vietnam? Imagine that! — on the grounds that President Bush was “stupid,” a “bully,” a “theocrat,” was “universally hated,” was waging “an illegal war,” or any possible combination thereof. And with that, your Curmudgeon’s sneer-quote key has breathed its last, at least for today.

The supranationalist assumptions behind these phenomena are easily destroyed. Yes, America has great influence in the world; we Americans, a mere 5% of the population of the world, generate more than 30% of its wealth and wield armed forces that could defeat all the other nations of the world in concert. But that’s not because of our government, but because of the governments of all the other nations of the world. Our government, despite its many flaws and violations of its Constitutional contract, doesn’t exercise the kind of power over American enterprise that other governments do over the productive efforts of their subjects. America’s magnificent military is the consequence of the wealth that flows from our largely free economy and relatively restrained welfare system. Heavily regulated and bureaucratized economies, which must also carry the burden of much larger welfare states, can’t afford worthwhile militaries, which is why ours is so frequently called upon to deal with tyrants and terrors.

(Nota Bene: A citizen is one who retains his individual sovereignty despite his allegiance to a particular polity. His distinguishing characteristic is his right to keep and bear arms. A subject is one who has no individual sovereignty, having surrendered all ultimate decision-making power to the State. His lack of a right to keep and bear arms, which renders him defenseless against incursions on any of his other rights, is the most prominent giveaway. The United States has citizens; most of the rest of the nations of the world have subjects. Food for thought.)

But we can’t expect to defeat supranationalism — broadly, the premise that nation-states are inimical to the general good and should be done away with — with mere logic. The supranationalist is adroit. He argues from his good intentions. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a say in everything that affects him in any way? And since every slightest thing that anyone does, anywhere in the world, affects all of us in some way, however small, doesn’t that imply that democracy should be unbounded by these Westphalian fossils we call nation-states?

Well, if you buy the premise, you buy the conclusion. But the premise is itself unsound. Indeed, it’s about as risible as the arguments made for slavery, with which it has a great deal in common. And Eternity Road readers are unlikely to accept supranationalism anyway, so what’s the big deal?

The big deal is this: whenever a government compromises its nation’s integrity for the sake of another nation, or the subjects of another nation, it’s acting from the supranationalist premise. In so doing, it degrades the interests of its own people, implicitly or explicitly to favor other peoples. It ceases to act as its citizens’ delegated agent, and assumes the prerogatives of their owner, who may dispose of their rights and prerogatives as it pleases, without their consent.

Two particularly egregious cases of this are in motion today.

In the Middle East, the Palestinian irredentists of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are engaged in a particularly bloody civil war. Their quarrel with one another is purely over power. Neither side deserves the support of a decent man; both are committed to the ultimate destruction of Israel. If Israel’s statesmen regarded themselves as the servants of Israel rather than its masters, they would seize this opportunity to perfect the quarantine of the Palestinian zones. They would cease all quasi-diplomatic intercourse with the Palestinians “for the duration,” a period of convenient elasticity. They certainly wouldn’t look for guidance to the supranational United Nations or European Union, both of which have displayed uncompromising hostility toward Israel for many years. But the Olmert government is behaving in precisely the opposite way, attempting to conciliate and buttress Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction in the hope that it will prevail and reach a peace accord with Israel in the aftermath. This is like taking sides in a knife fight between murderers; the only decent course is to root for both sides to lose.

Here in the West, we have the spectacle of a majority of our Congressmen and Senators, and our president himself, bowing to the demands of our neighbor to the south that we not fortify our mutual border. Legislation from 2006 mandates a border fence, but there’s been little funding provided for it and little to no work on it. The disproportionate participation of illegal aliens in felony crimes is widely known, yet there’ve been scant efforts to impede the movement or employment of illegal aliens already in our land. The infamous immigration reform bill gestating in Congress even offers a cheap amnesty to the estimated 12 million illegals to whom we’re already hosts, conciliating them above 290 million born and naturalized citizens to whom our government is supposedly subordinate.

One can suspect corruption and venality, of course. No doubt they play some part in both cases. But the arguments used to rationalize the objectionable postures are almost explicitly supranationalist. It’s the people that matter, not the borders. And anyway, think of the kids.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Borders matter because people matter. Borders are important because there must be a limit on every man’s responsibilities for others, and on every nation’s, too. Every political system binds its citizens in a web of mutual responsibility. Not for everything, but for the really big things commonly delegated to government: the defense of the realm, the maintenance of order in the streets, a common, generally comprehended legal system, and above all the protection of individuals’ rights to life, liberty, and honestly acquired property. Israel granted the Palestinians autonomy within their zones, or, as Eric Frank Russell once put it, “the right to go to Hell in their own fashion.” Now that they’ve chosen their course, they should be allowed to follow it to its conclusion, out of respect not only for their right to do so, but the right of Israelis not to be involved in it. Likewise, America did not agree to shelter or employ the whole world. If our borders were better secured, not only would our streets be safer, but Mexicans’ interest in reforming their own polity would be greatly increased.

Don’t say any of that to a supranationalist, though. He’ll accuse you of being hard-hearted, a jingoist, possibly a racist. He’ll call you an ingrate for spurning the innumerable contributions of undocumented Americans to our great nation, though if these contributions go beyond cheap lawn care and abundant convenience-store clerks, your Curmudgeon has yet to discover it. He’ll stride away filled with moral superiority and reinforced in his conviction that we grubby conservatives have nothing of substance to say, and must be re-educated or destroyed.

Be not afraid to reject the supranationalist premise. Be very afraid of what might follow in supranationalism’s train. Its advocates are mobilized as never before. Their agenda goes well beyond what’s currently under discussion. We shall see.

Dark Gods Part 2: The War On Truth

[This essay is a companion to the previous “Dark Gods” piece. It originally appeared at Eternity Road on January 23, 2006. — FWP]

I often come to the end of a typical Eternity Road essay thinking that there’s more to say on the subject, but that I’ve already tried my audience’s patience to the limit. Probably a lot of opinion writers feel the same. We’re well stuffed with words, every one of which screams for release, and the opportunities to vent them are seldom as copious as we’d like.

You’re probably a bit bemused by the above, since the essay to which the title refers was a 5500-word monstrosity that took most of your day to digest. How much more could anyone have to say after a tirade of such length?

Judge for yourself.


As you’re aware, I have “sidelines” in a number of fields. One of those is strategic and tactical planning. Few persons take up that study, for any number of reasons. Yet its relevance to current conditions can hardly be doubted. Indeed, it’s wider than most persons would suspect.

Probably the most important breakthrough in military science this past century was the Germans’ strategic / tactical revolution, which they put to its fullest use in World War I. Prior to the Bismarck / Von Schlieffen era of the German General Staff, it was customary to hurl one’s main force directly at the main force of the enemy, in a simple trial of strength against strength. If there was a theory behind this practice, it would be that victory requires the defeat of the enemy’s main force; therefore, to direct one’s attention to anything else is counterproductive.

What this line of thought neglected to consider is that an armed force is a complex vector quantity. It has many components, and at any given time is aimed in a particular direction.

German strategic thinkers who arrived at this insight sculpted strike plans that emphasized pitting strength against weakness. First, they reasoned, one must penetrate the enemy force; second, one must locate the essential supports for that force which are easiest to destroy or disperse; finally, one can “mop up” the nominally stronger elements from behind, as they will be unable to maintain themselves after their arteries have been severed. This gave rise to the Schlieffen Plan, which very nearly won World War I in its first six weeks, and to infiltration tactics by which the German Army held off the combined British, French, and American Armies for more than four years.

Among today’s military thinkers, this progression is an “of course” matter. That makes it easy to underestimate the impact it had when introduced on the fields of Belgium and France in 1916. It also underplays the significance such strategy can have in political and ideological combat.


In the ideological clashes of today, the attention of the greater mass of Americans is focused on secondary matters. Arguments over national defense, tax rates, social policy directions, regulatory structures, and so forth continue to rage, but with less prospect of being satisfactorily settled than ever before…because a critical pinion for all argument of any sort has been undermined near to collapse.

The pinion of which I speak is the concept of objective truth.

It’s hard for most people to grasp that objective truth is a conception, rather than something self-evident. Yet furious philosophical battles have been fought over it. The negative side has never conceded defeat. They’ve advanced reason after reason to doubt the existence of objective reality. As each one is destroyed, they shift to another. In a sense, their proposition is its own strongest weapon, for they respond rather frequently to even the most obvious points by saying, “No, that’s your truth” — an implicit claim that it’s the not the observation but the observer’s willingness to accept it that really matters.

John Q. Public has heard little of this, of course; it’s mostly fought in the ivory towers, and in the publications that cater to professional intellectuals. All the same, it matters to him more than he’s able to appreciate.

Truth is an evaluation: a judgment that some proposition corresponds to objective reality sufficiently for men to rely upon it. The weakening of the concept of truth cuts an opening through which baldly counterfactual propositions can be thrust into serious discourse. Smith might say that proposition X is disprovable, or that it contradicts common observations of the world; Jones counters that X suits him fine, for he has dismissed the disprovers as “partisan” and prefers his own observations to those of Smith. Unless the two agree on standards for relevant evidence, pertinent reasoning, and common verification — in other words, standards for what can be accepted as sufficiently true — their argument over X will never end.

An interest group that has “put its back against the wall” as regards its central interest, and is unwilling to concede the battle regardless of the evidence and logic raised against its claims, will obfuscate, attack the motives of its opponents, and attempt to misdirect their attention with irrelevancies. When all of these have failed, its last-ditch defense is to attack the concept of truth. Once that has been undermined, the group can’t be defeated. It can stay on the ideological battlefield indefinitely, preserving the possibility of victory through attrition or fatigue among its opponents.


An argument that cannot be settled, but which has engaged substantial passions, is an impediment to moving on to other issues. This is a peripheral but significant consideration in the threats to the concept of truth. By sustaining a battle that would have been over long ago had assertions of truth or falsity been taken seriously, a group may prevent other matters of equal or greater importance from being addressed. A typical contemporary case is that over corruption-by-lobbyist in Congress.

Let it be said at once that there is no defense for a public official who accepts a lobbyist’s quid in exchange for a malfeasance quo. Such men belong in prison, not in Congress; once isolated and their guilt proved, that’s the only acceptable destination for them. But Arthur Herzog has noted that political corruption is a constant force over most of American history, made possible by human nature and the existence of opportunities to sell power at a profit; therefore, the only reasonable expectation is that, absent some extraordinary measure to wipe out all such opportunities, corrupt legislators successfully rooted out will be replaced by…other corrupt legislators.

In other words, if we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll continue to get what we’ve always gotten: political venality and systemic deceit. If we create anti-corruption superstructures to keep watch on the other operations of government, we’ll merely cause the corruption-minded to change targets: they will seek positions within those new bureaucracies.

Certain political forces want that argument to be kept out of play. They prefer to thunder about corruption, to urge ever more energetic pursuit of the corrupt, and ever more stringent laws “against” it. If we go by their deeds, their primary interest is in the creation of ever more laws and the prosecution of ever more corrupt individuals. But luxuriant law is the source of corruption: every new law creates new opportunities for politicians to sell their influence to willing buyers. Only a condition of public austerity, in which government is small and the laws are few and easily understood, is capable of resisting men of weak conscience.

The very forces that rail most stridently against corruption are also those most ardent for the indefinite multiplication of the laws and the unlimited expansion of the State. Therefore, they reject Herzog’s self-evident truth and assert that, despite all the evidence of history, officials can be found on whom the incentives to venality presented by a multi-trillion-dollar government with millions of laws and regulations will not operate. To save the Omnipotent State, angels will govern us.


The rejection of the concept of truth is evident in many venues. Here are a few that come easily to mind.

1: From Mike Adams’s reply to an angry feminist assailant:

When I asked another feminist to debate me on abortion she said that she didn’t discuss such personal topics publicly. But then I read her biography. After talking about losing her virginity (including details about how she cleaned the blood off the couch afterwards) she dedicated countless pages to the issue of abortion and how a “lack of choice” adversely affects young women. After reading on, I realized why she didn’t tell me the truth. She revealed that she was a postmodernist who didn’t like to use the word “truth.”

The next time I got into an argument with a feminist – over whether a female student who lied about a rape to get out of a test should be expelled – I understood the postmodern feminist position better. Feminists just can’t help but lie because there really is no such thing as the truth.

Since so many feminists cannot tell the truth – because it doesn’t even really exist – I simply cannot take them seriously.

I would quibble with Professor Adams only in one particular: I would say that his unnamed feminist debating partner, and her “sisters” among gender-war feminists, don’t disbelieve in truth; rather, they seek to undermine the concept in service to their agenda. Once their agenda had been achieved, they’d want it treated as true beyond all question.

2: From John Leo’s meditations on the James Frey revelations:

Of course Oprah took the side of veracity-challenged author James Frey, author of “A Million Little Pieces. She is in the feelings business, and you don’t succeed in her line of work by favoring facts over deeply felt but untrue stories. The tears that she and her staffers shed while reading Frey’s largely concocted tale of crime and addiction made the book important to her. When Frey appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live, Oprah made things worse by phoning in to say, “the underlying message of redemption in James Frey’s memoir still resonates with me.” Apparently this meant that she was so moved by the book that she doesn’t care that it contains many untruths. Resonance makes lying defensible….

Certainly our culture is awash in lies-politicians, professors, reporters, columnists, scientists, etc., so much so that numbness has set in. ” Emotional truth” seems to take advantage of this numbness over a culture saturated in lies. If you can’t believe the literal truth any more, why not trust your own emotional response to stories?

Press coverage of hurricane Katrina was loaded with stories and claims that turned out to be wildly untrue. But the emotions stirred by TV’s often fanciful coverage were powerful and the most emotional of the media stars-Brian Williams and Anderson Cooper-strongly advanced their careers. If emotional impact keeps advancing at the price of truth, we will all be in trouble.

3: A few years ago, Guatemalan “author” Rigoberta Menchu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, largely on the strength of her “autobiography” I, Rigoberta Menchu. That fanciful volume told a harrowing story, in which its protagonist was apparently subjected to every sort of hazard and privation, and subsequently involved herself with “social reform” groups that had Communist backing. Of course, Menchu laid the blame for the strife and want in her life, and by extension the lives of thousands upon thousands of other Latin American peasants, on capitalism and American imperialism.

There was one problem with the book: a not-particularly-strenuous investigation proved that every single factual assertion in it was a lie. (A concise summary of the facts of Menchu’s life can be read here.) This was apparently not enough to invalidate Menchu’s “autobiography” as a valid claim to the Nobel Prize, even in the eyes of investigator David Stoll, who unearthed her fabrications. By his lights, and apparently by those of the Nobel Committee, the Menchu story was an “authentic” chronicle of Central American peasant life even if all its factual details were false-to-fact.

4: Few subjects have excited as much acrimony as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This deadly disease, whose fatality rate is approximately 100%, has given rise to some of the most venomous political rhetoric of our time. Most of that rhetoric has focused on AIDS’s link to male homosexual sodomy.

The facts are incontrovertible: nearly 80% of AIDS sufferers are male homosexuals. Most of the rest are users of intravenous drugs. This is because the transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) requires blood contact: it must enter the bloodstream of the victim to be infected within a few seconds of its emission by its host. Moreover, a substantial “charge” of the virus is required. As HIV is powerfully concentrated in semen, semen-to-blood contact is an ideal way for it to spread. Such contact is most commonly a consequence of anal intercourse.

America’s homosexual lobby would have none of it. Sensing that AIDS would receive little political attention if it were regarded as a “gay disease,” homosexual advocacy groups bent enormous efforts to convincing the general public that “we are all at risk of AIDS.” They denounced anyone who differed with their assertions as a hater of homosexuals who would look with favor upon their extinction. Special-interest dynamics, with the backing of the nationwide Old Media, helped them to carry the day: AIDS research receives a large multiple of the funding that goes to several other deadly diseases, even though those other diseases kill many more Americans each year. The truth of the matter — that AIDS is a disease whose victims nearly all collaborate in its acquisition by their behavior — was not allowed to interfere.

5: Islamic advocacy groups, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, have maintained a constant barrage upon the media, ceaselessly repeating that:

  1. Islam does not condone terrorism;
  2. There is not and can never be a valid identification of any act of terrorism with Islam;
  3. They owe no one a response for terrorist actions committed by Muslims under an Islamic rationale;
  4. Violence against “enemies of Islam” isn’t terrorism anyway;
  5. Islam is under heavy attack by various forces, principally the U.S. and “the Jews,” and is entitled to defend itself by any means necessary;
  6. American actions to overthrow Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan’s Taliban constitute making war on Islam, regardless of all other considerations.

For a variety of reasons, a number of non-Islamic groups have decided to echo these fallacious, mutually contradictory claims, more or less unmodified. Most such groups are far less concerned with Islam than with doing damage to the United States and the current executive administration. None of the proponents have attempted to substantiate any of their calumnies; they merely shout them at the top of their lungs, at every opportunity.


Many have asked how counterfactual claims such as the above could be accepted by anyone with access to the facts. Unfortunately, there’s only a single answer: one can only accept them by first dismissing the importance of truth. But if truth has no importance, does it exist at all? More to the point: if truth exists and is determinable, doesn’t it trump all other considerations by its very nature?

It takes only a moment’s consideration to realize that the existence of truth — not as a personal preference, but as an accurate perception of an objective reality — is incompatible with the use of falsehoods in any sort of contest. The macroscopic universe is governed by strict rules of cause and effect. If the context is sufficiently well known, and the appropriate causes are introduced in the appropriate way, their effects can be foretold. But all of this is predicated on the availability of reliable, observer-independent knowledge: truth.

So for those fighting to advance faulty causes in the face of counter-evidence sufficient to invalidate them, truth simply has to go.


I should mention here that I hold to an unusual thesis: unprovable, but compelling all the same. I believe that if a man concedes even one assertion as an absolute fact independent of all opinion, it will ultimately force him to concede the absolute and objective character of all of existence. (I have discovered a truly remarkable proof of this thesis, but, unfortunately, the pixels at this site are too small to contain it.) If this is true, then the hostility toward the entire concept of objective truth of those who must deny some truths to make room for their positions stands explained.

Innumerable other adventures in thought can be begun from this point, but they’re best saved for future essays.


Those still fighting the good fight for American ideals of individual liberty, individual responsibility, limited government, objective standards of justice, and so on are largely unequipped to cope with adversaries that reject the very idea of truth. This is a species of projection: Smith, being rational and decent, cannot believe that Jones really means it when he dismisses the notion of truth. Surely he’s speaking metaphorically, though how a metaphor could survive severed from any truth that might give it relevance is open to question. The suggestion that Jones cannot be reasoned with is simply too radical to be contemplated; it must be laid aside until all other possibilities have been exhausted, which somehow never occurs. Even when the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher, and Jones’s disaffiliation from all concepts of objective truth couldn’t possibly be clearer, Smith will tend to give him the benefit of the doubt.

During the Cold War, many a commentator exhorted us to look for “common ground” with the Soviets. Soviet socialism, they claimed, was on a far better footing than the ideologues of free-market economics were willing to admit. Soviet subjects, they averred, were far better off than the lurid tales of endless queues, secret police, and gulags represented; possibly even better off than Americans in some respects. The Soviet military, in any event, was far too formidable a force for us to risk unsettleing the rulers of that state. Surely, these voices of moderation and tolerance said repeatedly, there’s a way we can manage to “do business,” such that we can coexist without either side having to surrender its peculiar political and economic structures. Far fewer were the voices that cried that totalitarians, who claim the right to wield absolute and unconditional authority over others, who invade and subjugate neighboring countries merely to secure their resources and the Soviet Union’s borders, simply cannot be trusted. Those voices were ignored for several decades, despite the steadily mounting evidence for their contentions, until the coming of Ronald Reagan and the end of detente diplomacy.

Even in the aftermath of Reagan’s stunning defeat of the Soviet Union, those who claimed we had to learn to get along with the Communists never abandoned their position. Instead, they switched to an alternate set of “underlying causes.” Despite nearly two decades’ accumulated evidence that the Reaganite strategy really was what undid the Soviet state, socialism’s apologists still refuse to accept it. But having lost the argument on the merits of objective fact, all they can do is denigrate the facts themselves. To preserve their overall position, the truth of the matter must be obscured. When they confront an adequately well informed person who can present those objective facts, their usual response is to shout him down, or denounce him as a closed-minded partisan.

Yet it remains the most common reaction among decent men to assume that such behavior is merely a regrettable spike, a sign of frustration over the failure of a “noble experiment.” Surely it has no other significance. The possibility that the shouter / slanderer might have determined to win at any cost, regardless of what violence must be done to objective truth and honorable discourse among men, is seldom contemplated.

There’s a whole education in that phenomenon alone.

Persons interested in a fuller treatment of this subject should read The Flight From Truth, by Jean-Francois Revel, one of Europe’s most forthright and clearest-headed polemicists.

Damage

[This essay first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason, on August 13, 2004. I chose to reprint it today in light of the unusual degree of attention Mark Butterworth’s post A Distasteful Subject has been getting. As usual when sexual mores and conduct are the topics, I expect disagreement – but given the facts, I don’t expect to be refuted — FWP]

0. Foreword / Warning

I intend to tackle a contentious topic today. I expect that what I’m about to say will provoke a great deal of passionate disagreement, even though I can’t see how there could be an honest argument about it. Even Palace readers who normally find themselves in agreement with me might be offended by much of what they read here — not because it’s factually incorrect, but because of the subject matter and the amount of acrimony that surrounds it.

The subject is male homosexuality, its objective characteristics, its current position in the national psyche, and the consequences of the historically recent changes in our attitudes toward it. The trigger for the essay was the resignation of New Jersey Governor James McGreevey yesterday, and the discussion swirling around it.


1. The McGreevey Announcement.

When Governor McGreevey announced his resignation yesterday, he simultaneously declared himself to be homosexual and an adulterer. His wife and two children were with him as he delivered his statement, which implies that in some sense or another he had their “support” in his decision. Yet it’s plain from his statements that his decades as a married man were lived in a sham, and that his
wife — the second of two — could not expect him to return to normal marital conditions of heterosexuality and fidelity, even if she wanted it.

Why did she choose to give him any support?

Not knowing Mrs. McGreevey or anything about her, it would be unfair for me to speculate. But many a wife in her position would feel an obligation to stand by her husband, not from loyalty to the marital bond he had sundered, but from the inculcated sense that homosexuals are somehow oppressed persons, not responsible for their condition, and are owed an unusual degree of acceptance and support for those two reasons, as a matter of right.

Later we will explore the legal and political usefulness of McGreevey’s declaration in his particular circumstances. For the moment, it’s enough to note that any woman in Mrs. McGreevey’s position would be under a certain pressure to present an appearance of support for her husband, despite the callousness he’d shown her and her children by betraying them in this particular way.


2. Changes From Political Pressure.

Until about fifty years ago, homosexual behavior was absolutely illegal almost everywhere in the world. That had been the case throughout recorded history. It’s never been a pleasant subject with heterosexuals. In particular, the practices of male homosexuals — anal intercouse, sometimes called buggery — have revulsed countless generations, whether the reasons were analytical, visceral, or religious.

The contrast between those earlier attitudes and today’s posture of aseptic deference toward the “gay lifestyle” is almost too great to comprehend. What was once a felony offense is now a protected practice. Indeed, to be a homosexual is to have an array of special legal recourses to various occurrences — “discriminations” — that heterosexuals cannot use.

The change speaks eloquently of the tremendous persistence and efficacy of homosexual political activists. Despite a number of developments which, objectively, would have been expected to increase heterosexuals’ revulsion toward them, they’ve achieved a superior, even a dominant position in American society. They exert exceptional influence in entertainment,
communications, the arts, fashion, and other areas of enterprise. They also wield a heavy cudgel against anyone who dares to criticize them in any way, despite the pronounced gracelessness their leading lights show toward heterosexuals, their sensitivities, and their concerns.


3. Medical Considerations.

Yet what are the specific consequences of male homosexual sodomy?

Probably the least arguable consequences are the medical ones. Homosexuals suffer from an array of ailments which heterosexuals are largely spared. The most publicized one, AIDS, remains an incurable fatal disease that can be managed to some degree with drugs, but which will eventually claim every sufferer’s life. Others range from a propensity toward hepatitis to bowel infections, dangerously delicate hemorrhoids, and anal incontinence.

The result of homosexuals’ vulnerability to these maladies is a shortened average lifespan. The average age at death of those whose obituaries appear in homosexual periodicals with significant circulations is age 48 — a twenty-six year deficit in comparison to the average male heterosexual. (In evaluating this statistic, one must remember that these data might not represent homosexuals in
general.) Of course, conditions other than purely medical ones undoubtedly affect that statistic, but there can be little doubt that disease plays a large part.


4. Psychological Considerations.

Several psychologists and psychiatrists of my acquaintance report an over-representation of male homosexuals among their patients. It would appear that homosexuals are far more frequently clinically depressed than heterosexuals. Suicide statistics controlled for sexual orientation are hard to get, but there are indicators that homosexuals are more prone to death by suicide than
heterosexuals as well.

Why should this be, given the acceptance homosexuals have attained from society at large, and their relative success in various well remunerated and respected fields of endeavor?

Part of the answer might be low self-regard. Homosexuals appear to deal badly with the knowledge that they’re outside the norm, can’t reproduce naturally, and are prone to so many unusual ills. This is part of the reason for much outrageous homosexual camping and flaunting — flamboyant dress and mannerisms, and unusual speech patterns — which are forms of overcompensation for the sense of deviance. It also helps to explain the scorn and insult many homosexuals heap upon “breeders,” a frequently used term for heterosexuals.

This makes for a stunning irony when juxtaposed to homosexual activists’ loud, strident demands to be accepted as “normal,” but that’s a subject for another essay.


5. Identity And Bonding.

Though homosexuals routinely claim that they were “born that way” — i.e., had no choice about being homosexual — few would allow that, had they been given a choice, they would have preferred to be heterosexual. The statement would draw charges of “disloyalty” or “self-hatred.” More, the suggestion that at least some homosexuals can have their orientations reversed through therapy is universally met with denunciation, and is routinely categorized as “hate speech.”

Matters grow still more bizarre when we include the peripheral behavior that’s prevalent among male homosexuals, but at least in theory ought to have nothing to do with sexual orientation or bonding. A substantial fraction of avowed homosexuals are obsessed with sex, with sexual promiscuity, and with sexual performance (consider the prevalent use of amyl nitrite “poppers” to boost orgasmic intensity). Bondage, sadomasochism, fisting and scatophilia correlate very strongly with homosexuality. All these things increase the risks associated with the homosexual orientation, and the revulsion felt toward them by heterosexuals.

Yet despite all this, homosexual activists promote the idea that homosexuality is an allegiance like unto an allegiance of nationality, deserving of loyalty beyond such attachments as conventional nationality or political alignment. They’ve demanded that we all accept that “gay is good.”

But it is not good, at least if we judge by the medical and psychological consequences of homosexuality.


6. The Marriage Debate.

At this time, there’s probably no more contentious issue in popular political discourse than that of same-sex marriage. The fury of the debate over it seems only to grow greater with each argument advanced, whether for or against…though, given the psychological milieu delineated above, perhaps that ought not to surprise us.

Marriage is the fundamental building block of any civilization. Society is not made up principally of individuals, but of families. The evidence for this proposition is all around us, yet its very ubiquity has somehow caused it to be ignored.

(A quick tangent: Here we see another of the reasons homosexuals are inherently marginal players in the social game. Homosexuality makes it extremely difficult to participate in the extension of one’s family’s forward influence, entirely because of reproductive considerations. The family tree tends not to extend through a homosexual node. The heterosexual lines always show more dynamism and forward extension. But this is properly the subject of a separate essay.)

The marriage contract is in no way relevant to homosexual relationships, which are formed by presumedly economic equals, involve no possibility of conception, and therefore appear to present no areas for contract enforcement. None of the natural motivators for the marital contract apply to same-sex couples. Despite that, homosexuals are agitating for access to the institution of marriage as if everything about their political movement depended on it. (Perhaps that’s really the case; we’ll get there shortly.)

Stanley Kurtz and others have gathered evidence to the effect that the legitimization of same-sex marriage does great harm to the institution among heterosexuals. In particular, it correlates strongly with a large increase in illegitimacies. Kurtz’s thesis is that same-sex marriage is the final severance between marriage and reproduction; it gives rise to the conviction that child-bearing and child-rearing are entirely irrelevant to marriage. As a result, births out of wedlock, with all the instabilities that pertain thereto,
have surged in those countries that have extended marital recognition to same-sex couples. The domestic stability and overall well-being of children has been substantially degraded as a result.

But why do homosexuals want the legal status of marriage? The question is no sooner asked than answered. If society really is assembled from families rather than from individuals, marital recognition for homosexuals would imply full participation of homosexual couples in society, both in its perpetuation and its general enterprise. But don’t expect to find those considerations among the arguments of same-sex marriage activists. Their arguments are all about “choosing your family” and access to irrelevancies such as hospital visiting privileges. Not one ever addresses the question of what marriage was really designed for, or why historically recent changes in family planning technology, family law, and social norms have caused it to
weaken.

If admission of homosexual couples to marital status would have the consequences Kurtz proposes, we should take a long hard look at the matter before watering down the definition of marriage to admit homosexuals…but this is not generally happening.


7. Cowardice.

Cowardice is the most important single factor in all public discussions of homosexuality. Otherwise fearless people have been intimidated out of giving their sincere opinions of homosexual behavior, its risks, and the costs it imposes on its practitioners. Heterosexuals have been inhibited against expressing their disgust over gay bathhouses, leather bars, fisting, bug chasing, and homosexual sadomasochism. They even fear to say that they find homosexuals threatening to their children, despite the mountains of evidence that homosexuals (NAMBLA, “Butterfly Kisses”) actively try to draw the young into their world. This, despite the infinite
opprobrium heaped upon heterosexual exploitation of children!

The engine of this fear for the private citizen is disapproval, cloaked in liberal political correctness. For the public citizen or politician, it’s the fear of homosexual activists, inarguably the most vicious of all politically active communities.

Yet, despite the frequently heard public pieties and the general reluctance to criticize homosexual behavior for its objective hazards, no heterosexual parent would sincerely be glad to hear his 18 year old son announce that he was homosexual. The hypocrisy is near to smothering.


8. A Gathering Storm.

To return to the McGreevey episode, we have here a public figure, who has risen to high office, who will soon face serious charges of graft motivated by sexual nepotism and sexual blackmail. McGreevey’s lover, Golan Cipel, used his personal relationship with the New Jersey Governor to attain a state position worth $110,000 per year in salary, plus numerous perquisites. It’s been rumored that Cipel is about to introduce a sexual harassment suit against McGreevey, as well.

Despite all this, McGreevey chose to emphasize his sexual confusions as the reasons for his resignation from public office. Why?

The most plausible reason is exactly the same as the reason for Mrs. McGreevey’s show of support for her husband: homosexuality has been granted so thick a blanket of protection from dispassionate analysis and criticism that it might even serve to shield McGreevey from the corruption and sexual nepotism charges he appears certain to face.

We live at a time when a dangerous deviance associated with several other dangerous deviances has become a putative shield against charges of corruption. If that doesn’t scare you, quite likely nothing ever will.


9. Conclusions.

Homosexual behavior ought not to be illegal; nothing that involves only competent adults who’ve given their informed consent is a fit subject for the law. But this does not preclude a sober attitude toward the easily observed consequences of male homosexual behavior. It certainly does not preclude an attempt to protect one’s children from the negatives that accompany homosexuality.

No aspect of sexual freedom — broadly speaking, the separation of Bedroom and State — need bear on the desirability of speaking frankly about what homosexuality means to its practitioners in practical terms.

Homosexual activists’ success at putting the medical, psychological and social outcroppings of their practices beyond all discussion, and their assault on marriage, the fundamental familial institution from which civilization draws the greater part of its stability, suggest that our overall unwillingness to confront them about their claims has been at great cost to society — a cost that will become greater the longer their claims go unchallenged.

If the McGreevey matter bears on all of this in a substantial way, it’s as an exclamation point: a stark depiction of how absurd our cognitive avoidance of the subject has become, when a high public figure can use a dangerous deviance as a partial shield against being found culpable for malfeasance. Bill Clinton’s heterosexual affairs were no barrier to his retaining the Oval Office; Barney Frank’s scandalous affair — with a younger man who was running a house of prostitution out of Frank’s Massachusetts home — didn’t bar him from office. Clearly, neither adultery nor buggery disqualify a man from high office, at least in the eyes of one major party. Therefore, what we have before us is the most shameless, most cynical use of sexual politics in American history — sex as protection from legal liability — and Governor McGreevey and his sexual compatriots expect that we will let him get away with it.

Dark Gods

[This essay originally appeared at Eternity Road on January 4, 2006. Given the chaos of the moment, and the overwhelming significance of the election almost upon us, I felt it appropriate to repost it here.]

Fran here. In pondering the huge list of things I had in mind for this piece, which started life as a modest tangent from Mark Steyn’s “It’s The Demography, Stupid!” tour de force, I realized that there were issues even deeper than the ones Steyn has addressed. Those issues are prior and superior to all what’s-the-problem and what-then-must-we-do inquiries, as important as those other things are. They’re the things I most want to talk about, today and every day.

In a way, Steyn’s focus is broader than mine, for he concerns himself with the whole of the developed world. My concern is for America. In another way, Steyn’s focus is narrower than mine, for he concerns himself with visible threats to our present age. My concern is with the prospects for freedom and justice down the centuries to come.


1. Us And Them.

Political conflict is collective conflict. It obliges us to think in terms of opposed camps, facing one another over a more-or-less clearly defined line of conflict. Our entire approach to politics is founded on this attitude; indeed, it’s impossible to talk about political matters in a political framework without it.

But the attitude has certain unexamined assumptions built into it:

  1. Each camp is essentially unified on those matters that constitute the field of battle.
  2. Those contentious matters are important enough to regard the other camp as the enemy, whose defeat eclipses all other political considerations.
  3. Compromise, even if it were possible, would be immoral and therefore unacceptable, or sufficiently less desirable than victory to make battle obligatory.

This makes political conflict sound a lot like war. As long as the assumptions go unchallenged, they compel us to hurl ourselves at the foe, and to accept no final outcome but definitive victory or undeniable defeat. But politics is not war; the shots fired are rhetorical, not metallic; no one dies from the contest itself; and no combatant ever accepts that he has been defeated for good. What does this do to the relations among men who opt for political engagement? In particular, what does it do to relations between a member of Us and a member of Them?

The answer depends critically on the ideological differences between Us and Them:

  1. Do we differ about about ultimate aims?
  2. Do we differ about the means to be used to achieve our aims?
  3. Do we differ about moral constraints?
  4. Do we differ about priorities?

Each of these gives rise to a different kind of conflict.


2. Meet The New Boss…Same As The Old Boss.

American political malaise at this time is rooted in a pathology of priorities. The Republicans have power; the Democrats want it back. Eleven years ago, the parties exchanged those positions, in the sort of electoral reversal to which a democratic republic is prone. Such reversals had happened before, of course. But I must note, sadly, that as our nation has aged, those reversals have had a steadily diminishing effect on public policy. Yet there are few substantive reasons to prefer one to the other.

At this time, prominent Democrats condemn the Bush Administration at every opportunity…for doing more or less what those Democrats would do in the Administration’s place. The public wouldn’t permit anything greatly different, given the events of the past five years. The anti-terror campaign might be conducted somewhat differently, but it would be there, and probably about as serious as it is today. There’d be a perceptible difference in the philosophies of the men nominated to the federal bench. The Old Media would be far more supportive of a Democratic administration. We’d be hearing a lot more about how it’s all “for the children.” But federal spending would be pretty much what it is, the alphabet agencies would behave pretty much as they have, and so on. In terms of day-to-day domestic governance and international dealing, the cone of popular preference that confines Washington’s actions would make no greater allowances for Democrats than it does for Republicans.

These are not words of exculpation or praise. Our public officials should be able to do what’s right rather than what’s politically palatable and expedient. They should be able to tell us the uncomfortable truths we always refuse to hear. They should be able to refuse us when we demand that which is not rightfully ours, or that which would bring the Republic crashing down around our ears. But they are above us only in the power they wield; as men, they are an accurate representation of us — in particular, of the weaknesses to which we of the year of Our Lord 2006 are prone.

Steyn’s essay skewers those weaknesses with irresistible power:

…in the typical election campaign in your advanced industrial democracy, the political platforms of at least one party in the United States and pretty much all parties in the rest of the west are largely about what one would call the secondary impulses of society—government health care, government day care (which Canada’s thinking of introducing), government paternity leave (which Britain’s just introduced). We’ve prioritized the secondary impulse over the primary ones: national defense, family, faith, and, most basic of all, reproductive activity—“Go forth and multiply,” because if you don’t you won’t be able to afford all those secondary-impulse issues, like cradle-to-grave welfare….

The commanding heights of the culture have behaved disgracefully for the last several decades. But, if it were just a problem with the elites, it wouldn’t be that serious: the mob could rise up and hang ’em from lampposts—a scenario that’s not unlikely in certain Continental countries. But the problem now goes way beyond the ruling establishment. The annexation by government of most of the key responsibilities of life—child-raising, taking care of your elderly parents—has profoundly changed the relationship between the citizen and the state. At some point—I would say socialized health care is a good marker—you cross a line, and it’s very hard then to persuade a citizenry enjoying that much government largesse to cross back.

So why do the parties so furiously rage together?

The answer is unpleasant, but unavoidable. Their difference is a difference over priorities. The Democrats’ top priority is power for the Democrats, and the Republicans’ top priority is power for the Republicans. This diagnosis applies to just about every public official from either party, at least to some degree. Even President Bush, of whom I’ve often spoken admiringly, has from time to time conceded the priority of GOP power, for example when he threw his support behind Arlen Specter over the more reliably conservative Pat Toomey.

Ultimately, we are the reason for all of it. We’ve become demanding, petulant, querulous. We want our freebies and we want them now. Our descent into political venality has persuaded the best of men, the men of unshakable convictions, immaculate morality, and stainless honor, to remain out of the field. Those who’ve flowed into the vacuum are, to be kind, not the best of men. But they know how to pander to us.


3. iPod Opinions.

The great Mark Twain once had a character say, “You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.” Twain had accurately gauged the priority of individual interest over the common good in the minds of men. Alexander Hamilton put it somewhat less colorfully but no less accurately when he said: “Power over a man’s subsistence is power over his will.” But subsistence is no longer much of an issue in American society; luxury is.

Many will take issue with the following statement:

There is no one within the borders of the United States today who involuntarily lacks food, clothing, shelter, or health care.

Nevertheless, it is true. Unless you’re a mountaineer at the top of Mount McKinley, these things are conveniently within your reach. If you lack the price, there are others — many, many others — who will purchase them for you, out of the goodness of their hearts. You can be separated from the necessities of life only by ignorance or willful intransigence.

What’s that you say? The cuisine at the soup kitchens might not be to your taste? The clothes at the thrift center might be less than stylish? The shelter might be home to persons who snore? Ah, then what you want is not sustenance but your choice of sustenance. You want it your way. My sympathies, though fervent, are limited. Free gifts are given at the discretion of the giver, not the recipient. This is as it must be.

Having said that, I recognize that the demands persist. Millions of voices clamor for “free” this or “universal” that, meaning “I want someone else to pay for it.” That’s at the heart of calls for “socialized” anything, as conservatives and libertarians are aware. By traditional standards of right and wrong, the willingness to join in such calls indicates a moral deficit. But in an age of moral relativism, how does one refute such calls? Particularly when the relativism is so far reaching that it proclaims resistance to the demands to be the true crime?

Reflect for a moment on how far we’ve come. Two centuries ago, men who could not pay their obligations were imprisoned for it; today, innumerable agencies, public and private, rush into the gap to support them and theirs in something approaching luxury. The children of welfare families sport designer sneakers, gold chains, and the latest iPods. Their freedom from care doesn’t prevent their parents, and their parents’ political mouthpieces, from demanding ever more: “affordable” housing titled to them, unlimited free health care, unlimited free broadband Internet access, guaranteed access to college regardless of demonstrated academic merit, and so on…all at someone else’s expense.

How could we doubt that the beneficiaries of such largesse would enthusiastically support the system that had pampered them? How could we doubt that they would demand its extension to the uttermost limits of human greed? How could we doubt that they would castigate in the harshest of terms those who opposed their demands?

I’m not talking solely about the objects of public assistance, either. An awful lot of folks live rather luxuriously at public expense while nominally “employed.” Mostly they languish in government sinecures, from which they can only be removed by death or an offense so egregious that a century ago they’d have been hanged for it, possibly without the luxury of a trial.

As Robert A. Heinlein put it, the Makers — we who keep the nation running by actual productive effort — are being swarmed under by the Takers and the Fakers. These latter groups show no sign that they’re learning either gratitude or moderation. Where’s the percentage in that, after all? Why change a winning strategy, when strident-if-baseless demands have worked so well so far?

Were barbarians to batter down America’s gates, would they take up arms and fight for her, or would they demand that the Makers do it for them?

Take a good close look at them. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re the enemies of civilization; indeed, the enemies of Man himself. Then take a good close look in the nearest mirror and assure yourself that you’re not one of them. Promise yourself that you’ll never become one of them.

They don’t examine themselves as you have done. They don’t dare. They would see the face of a god upon whose visage they dare not look.


4. Cthulhu’s Cadre.

It’s true that some of the types mentioned above operate from a cerebral vacuum — that they lack the capacity to understand what they’re doing to the nation at whose teats they nurse. But others understand full well. Theirs is a mentality and morality qualitatively indistinguishable from that of the criminal. They differ only in their unwillingness to soil their own hands with gunpowder or blood.

The criminal, unless he’s consciously consumed by the desire to destroy, is moved by avarice. He wants; therefore he takes. Ayn Rand correctly diagnosed this as a short-range mentality. For he who does not produce must perforce consume. Therefore, if observed categorically, their approach to life dooms all men to ultimate starvation, and the end of Man himself.

Tragically, this is the logical conclusion of a certain kind of individualism.

Eternity Road readers know me as a champion of individualism as a philosophy of rights, by which governments are properly constrained. But there are other kinds. There’s the individualism that sees only oneself as real; this is called solipsism. There’s the individualism that sees others solely as means to one’s own ends; this is called sociopathy. And there’s the individualism that blends solipsism and sociopathy with the dark pleasures of destruction. This has no name. Perhaps it’s too fearsome to be allowed one.

The most memorable fictions of the immortal Howard Phillips Lovecraft were founded on a mythos of “elder gods:” entities of immense power, that knew no moral constraints and delighted in destruction. The most vividly depicted of these was Cthulhu, whose aim was literally to consume all that lives, if possible with the connivance and cooperation of men.

Cthulhu possessed human acolytes who strove to persuade others that true freedom is most manifest in the act of murder: the deliberate consumption of another’s life. By that standard, to kill was the highest of all individual actions, the deed most true to the vision of oneself as unique in existence. If Cthulhu had a gospel, it would have been exactly that of the Thuggee:

“And now, my brothers, rise and kill. Kill for the love of killing! Kill for the love of Kali! Kill, kill, KILL!

To Cthulhu’s acolytes, killing was merely the supreme act of consumption. Qualitatively, there is nothing to separate them from those among us who demand that all they desire be provided to them at others’ expense.


5. The Armies Of Allah.

There’s a dark god in motion in our world other than him of the maw that can never be filled.

Hearken to one of the few questionable snippets of the Steyn essay:

I’m a conservative — I’m not entirely on board with the Islamist program when it comes to beheading sodomites and so on, but I agree Britney Spears dresses like a slut: I’m with Mullah Omar on that one.

There are two problems with this assertion:

  1. Britney Spears does not dress like a slut; sluts dress like Britney Spears.
  2. Mullah Omar would behead Britney Spears. Mark Steyn would merely scold her, and perhaps send her to her room to change.

A common reaction, even among nominally tolerant persons, to “excesses” in individual behavior is to exclaim “there ought to be a law” or “if I were king,” et sequelae. Indeed, there are some manifestations of disdain for others’ sensibilities that are sufficiently offensive or dangerous that laws curbing them in public places are justifiable, though that slope has always been coated with a thick layer of Vaseline. (Public intoxication nearly always eventuates in harm to someone, if only the street cleaners; public fornication frightens the Buicks.) But the vast majority of “there ought to be a law” ejaculations should be answered by “no, you ought to learn to keep your nose out of others’ business.” Unfortunately, in this era there are far too many of the former and far too few of the latter.

The most visible representatives of the former camp are the followers of Allah.

Allah stands at the extreme opposite end of the theo-ideological spectrum from Cthulhu. He demands utter submission and absolute obedience in all things; he offers no freedom and punishes the slightest deviation from His decrees with an eternity of torment. Worse, he demands that his followers enforce his decrees in this world as well, with the full and humorless power of a totalitarian State.

Worst, our tendency to think with our wishes instead of our heads leads many to believe that Allah’s sort of world is the only alternative to Cthulhu’s.

This dichotomy seldom becomes conscious in the minds of those who hew to it. The typical there-ought-to-be-a-law type simply assumes that law and (temporal) punishment are just and effective ways of promoting what he likes and curbing what he dislikes. Though the impulse has been banished from Christian churches, it was once found there. In its most extreme manifestation, it produced the Calvinist “Christian police state” of seventeenth-century Switzerland, in which religious dictates and secular law were unified. And obviously, the mindset is still virulently alive in the Islamic world.

Life under a regime of such rigidity is joyless; it’s hardly worth living at all. Even Islam’s public figures have admitted this. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said on more than one occasion that “There is no room for play in Islam. Islam is deadly serious…about everything.” The lesson, unfortunately, tends to be lost on those inclined to enforce their preferences upon others at gunpoint.


6. The Last Battle.

It’s possible that you, Gentle Reader, have been asking yourself, “What on Earth does all this drivel have to do with Steyn’s points about cultural confidence and demographic decline?” I grant that you’d have some reason. Bear with me.

Classical conceptions of the culmination of history — these are usually called eschatologies — involve an outright battle between the forces of good and those of evil, with the loser cast down forever and the winner taking title to all that exists. The Christian eschatology is called Armageddon. The Norse called their eschatology Ragnarok. The Germans call theirs Gotterdammerung. The Hindus call theirs the death of Brahma. In their most important particulars, they’re very similar. The most important one is this: the good side is clearly good, and the bad side is clearly bad.

None of these is a good fit to a struggle for the world between Cthulhu and Allah. Whichever were to win, the rest of us would lose. The world would either be destroyed, or would be locked into the most confining totalitarianism imaginable. If these are the sides that will duke it out on the Last Day, there’ll be no one a good man could root for.

The most popular ideologies in the world today are the Western ideology of moral and cultural relativism — Cthulhu’s — and the Eastern ideology of utter submission to a totalitarian god — Allah’s. The former delights in the self-destruction of the world by the incitement of the worst impulses of Man. The latter demands Man’s increase, but under conditions so confining and unpleasant that death would be preferable. At present, the former has access to more temporal tools, but the speed at which the latter is multiplying suggests that it won’t be long before its numbers allow it to swarm over all barricades erected against it. But in any case, if the West should continue its descent into moral and cultural relativism, it will disarm itself precisely as Islam rises to strike it dead.


7. The Search For An Alternative.

Cthulhu and Allah are not real; they are fantasies. They’re the icons of evil best suited to the purposes of this essay. They serve the same function Darth Vader serves in the Star Wars movies: they transform the antagonist from an ideology to a person, they give the hero someone specific to battle, and they give the audience someone specific to fear and hate.

Reflect on that mechanism for a moment. So much of contemporary politics is oriented toward hating some iconic figure on “the other side!” So little energy goes into addressing the explanations for political difference! Can’t we see here the schematic for political misdirection? If we’re busy reviling some artificial devil-figure, like Winston Smith during the Two Minutes’ Hate in 1984, how much time or energy will we have left for serious thought about the supposedly serious differences between the major parties? How likely is it that we’ll give sober consideration to any of the contentions of “the other side?” How easily will we be marshaled into supporting men whose only attraction of any sort is that “they’re our sons-a-bitches” rather than “theirs” — ?

How likely is it that we’ll fail to see the blade of our true enemies swinging for our heads?

The ideologies I’ve associated with Cthulhu and Allah are neither effective defenses against any threat nor practical approaches to living well; they’re guides to self-immolation. Yet their devotees press us from all sides. Where are we to find protection from either or both?

The question is non-trivial. The unthinking reaction to relativism is rigidity, which leads straight to Allah’s camp. The unthinking reaction to totalitarianism is anarchy, which leads to the maw of Cthulhu. Clearly, we must find a middle way.

Fortunately, there is a middle way. It doesn’t involve compulsory breeding. It doesn’t involve compulsory worship. It doesn’t involve collectivization of any sort, whether in the name of political correctness or State-enforced virtue. It rejects demonization of the advocates of “the other side” as counterproductive.

We followed that way for about a century and a half. It derives, as Steyn put it, from “eighteenth-century British subjects who took English ideas a little further than the mother country was willing to go.”


8. The New Olympus.

Combat is never a agreeable prospect. Even ideological combat, conducted entirely with words and ideas, has an unpleasant edge. For a good man to take up arms in the conflict that rages today will require as much courage as it ever did. Our enemies, though many of their number strive to wear a friendly face, are implacable.

Europe is probably lost. Russia is probably lost. Japan may be lost. Steyn’s fertility rate figures are compelling indicators of a deep disease, and one does not resuscitate a dying culture by exhorting it to breed for the sake of its nonexistent progeny. But that approach would wag the dog by its tail in any case. The low levels of fertility that characterize the developed world, including the United States, are not a primary but a resultant. Large families characterize a milieu where physical labor is the principal source of wealth — where one needs eight or ten children to work the family farm. As capitalism and technology advance, labor ceases to be the dominant factor in economic gain. Children slowly cease to be a source of labor and a form of retirement security, and become more of a luxury good. Low birth rates mostly indicate that a people has become rich enough not to exploit its children’s labor. In America’s case, due to our outstanding productivity, that’s easily tolerable. In other lands, hagridden by much more developed, much more rapacious welfare states, it foretells the triumph of the Takers over the Makers, and the demise of both.

We cannot save the future by appealing to the future good. We can only mobilize the present for its own priorities. The adjustment of American priorities away from secondary impulses toward matters of immediate survival and the defense of the ideals that sustain American civilization is the problem to be solved.

But how may we do this, when the atomization of society appears all but complete? Riches, whether earned or merely received, cause the typical man to turn his attentions inward. His impulse is to leave others to their own troubles, and to see even the darkness creeping toward him and his own as someone else’s responsibility to dispel. He resists the notion that there are some causes to whose defense his own contribution is indispensable.

The influence historically most effective at raising a man fron his knees — or his back — is a vision of himself as a model of courage in a noble cause: a hero.

Heroes stand foursquare for justice. They don’t linger over their comforts when the alarums sound. They don’t quail before opposition, however formidable it looks. And they don’t accept any outcome but victory.

Self-respecting, other-respecting individualism — American individualism — is a hero’s creed. The American individualist takes on himself the responsibility for his own well-being. He swears to raise his hand against no other man, save only in defense of himself and his own. And he pledges himself to the defense of those ideals against all enemies, foreign or domestic. They who uphold such a regime are the highest and best representatives of our kind; others emulate them as automatically as flowers turn their faces toward the Sun.

For nearly two centuries, America was seen as Olympus come to Earth: the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. For a century it was a nation of heroes, envied by all the other peoples of the world, upon which they automatically called in their darkest hours. That’s an image of ourselves that should rouse all but the terminally comatose from their torpor.

The present generation of Americans may be only half-salvageable. Cravenness is dispelled only under unforeseen trial. Miseducation is harder to overcome than ignorance. The forces that call for surrender to the intolerable, that march under the banner of relativism and accommodation, are mighty. From their perches in academe and the media, they’ve done gruesome damage to the history and self-regard of our nation. But that’s no reason to despair. It’s certainly no reason not to raise our own banners and march.

We must put away venality and rediscover our just pride.

We must proclaim a gospel of responsible individual liberty, and hold strictly to it.

We must demand absolute fidelity to promises from our public officials.

We must purge our laws, our language, and our thoughts of much nonsense that entangles them.

We must cease to grant any respect to the demands of the Fakers and Takers; they must be recognized once more as parasites and objects of charity.

We must learn to discriminate between the unconscious and the conscious followers of Cthulhu and Allah. The former must be either enlightened or neutralized; the latter must be defeated by any means expedient. In no case may they be accommodated.

These are the weapons with which we can defeat Cthulhu, Allah, and the seemingly irresistible tides of demography, and reclaim our heroism.

There will be costs. We will sometimes be compelled to do terrible things. We will sometimes have to harden our hearts in unprecedented ways. Who could deny that a rigidly enforced quarantine of the Islamic world would exclude from our company many who deserve better? Who could deny that confronting and contradicting the apostles of relativism will occasion some nasty scenes? Who could deny that the disassembly of the welfare state and its replacement with an ethic of private, voluntary community will cause rough times for some who objectively deserve better? No ideological transition has ever been free of casualties or pain. Shall we insist that, until we find a way that keeps us safe and sated, and brings us all we desire at no cost, we will refuse to move at all?

The revolutionaries of our Founding Era knew what they believed. Their passion for it inspired them to reject British rule, though it might cost “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” They set out on a course never before taken in human history. Despite several missteps, they preserved their ideals intact. They never doubted that they were worth fighting for.

A man who knows what he’s fighting for, and is wholeheartedly proud of himself and it, will do what he must to preserve it. There is no other path, unless one surrenders to Cthulhu or Allah.


9. Specifics.

I’ve proclaimed the necessity of an ideological revolution. The essentials to any revolution, including an ideological one, are education, communications, and weaponry.

Education is obvious. Our young are being miseducated as we speak. We must snatch their minds back from those who would infuse them with the relativistic, nonjudgmental creed and introduce them to the principles of the Founding. Equally as urgent, we must induce them to acquire strength and skill, the only sound foundation for pride. A man who can catch and cook his own dinner is unlikely to bow before any other man, nor will he accede to self-immolation at the behest of any god.

Communications is equally obvious. Americans who see the necessities outlined here must be able to find one another, pool information, exchange ideas, and offer mutual support. When we are isolated, we’re easy targets: easy to silence and safe to ignore. When we know we’re not alone, that there are others willing and able to support us, we have the strength of ten.

Weaponry is fundamental, yet its full impact is almost always overlooked. It’s been said that the Second Amendment is the sole guarantor of the First, and truly. But what’s less apparent is that an armed and confident man is a model for other men. He draws admiration for much the same reason as does an articulate, educated man: he can do things others can’t. Therefore, be armed, and be conspicuously armed. Shoot often. Make it a family activity. Invite your friends and neighbors to join you, and to bring their children, too. When the opportunity arises, add to the simple pleasures of sport shooting a measure of history: stories of the great men of arms, whose valor brought them honor, and their nations victory.

American birth rates are at replacement rates, true. If our numbers are not to increase, our strength and our confidence will have to suffice. But if history is any guide, they will.


10. Concluding Thoughts.

To one who cherishes freedom and hopes for the destruction of its enemies, Steyn’s case that those enemies are outbreeding us appears ominous:

Since the President unveiled the so-called Bush Doctrine — the plan to promote liberty throughout the Arab world — innumerable “progressives” have routinely asserted that there’s no evidence Muslims want liberty and, indeed, Islam is incompatible with democracy. If that’s true, it’s a problem not for the Middle East today but for Europe the day after tomorrow. According to a poll taken in 2004, over 60 percent of British Muslims want to live under sharia — in the United Kingdom. If a population “at odds with the modern world” is the fastest-breeding group on the planet — if there are more Muslim nations, more fundamentalist Muslims within those nations, more and more Muslims within non-Muslim nations, and more and more Muslims represented in more and more transnational institutions — how safe a bet is the survival of the “modern world”?

…but this is a double-edged blade. The Islamic world is characterized by deficiencies so severe that on its own it could never approach the stature of the Western world. Intellectually, it’s on the edge of retardation; thanks to the constraints of Islam, it knows almost no innovation of any sort. Muslims compelled to live with one another, deprived of infusions of Western capital and ideas, always turn on one another as the Palestinians have done. This is natural among persons who abjure reason and promote a pseudo-religion of totalitarianism in its place.

Imagine the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims under conditions of strict geographic quarantine, compelled to make it on their own or not make it at all. Is it possible to imagine that without the opportunity to steal our aircraft and our weapons to use against us, that they would be any kind of threat?

As for the promulgators of relativism and American self-abasement: these are even less to be feared. Were they not granted unearned support by public institutions and foundations with more money than sense, and unearned respect for ideas they cannot defend in open debate, they would shrivel to nothing. Do they denounce you as a dangerous reactionary? Laugh. Do they raise campaigns of calumny against you as an enemy of the common weal? Trust your neighbors to know you better than that. There’s nothing less potent than the derision of those in whom nothing wholesome resides.

To the dark gods who seek to drag us to their altars, whether to be chained there lifelong or to be sacrificed upon them, let us oppose the God of Light, Who set us free in time and gave us our power of reason, our sense for right and wrong, and our urge to community. Let us think as He would have us think: clearly, soberly, and without fear.

Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man. — Bertrand Russell

Shamans

[The following essay first appeared at Eternity Road on September 29, 2006. Inasmuch as the Left’s principal remaining weapon in the current campaign is their attempt to cause the Right to self-censor with charges of “racism” and such, it feels quite relevant to the moment. Decide for yourself, as always.]

Fran here. Those who know me personally are aware that, when goosed right, I can spin a skein of profanities that would make a longshoreman blush. It’s in the genes; Dad was a Navy veteran, and both the skill and the proclivity have “bred true.” Those who know me only through Eternity Road might find this surprising, as I neither use nor permit profanity here.

Under normal circumstances.

The essay you’ve begun features what we may euphemistically call “rough language,” and plenty of it. Oh my, yes. As rough as it gets, friends. I’m not kidding, and I’m not being coy or facetious about it, either. After the recent fracas over Virginia Senator George Allen’s alleged use of the word “nigger” thirty years ago, I started pondering the whole subject of linguistic taboos and their uses. I’ve come to some rather ugly conclusions, which, unfortunately, will require the use of some ugly words.

I repeat: I AM NOT KIDDING. The language will be ugly because the topic is ugly. The topic is ugly because ugly persons have been doing ugly things, in service to ugly objectives and ideals. Pace Ayn Rand, the ugliness won’t go away simply because we refuse to speak of it — especially if we accept the new shamans’ assertions of linguistic privilege.

To give you every chance to back away cleanly, I’m going to waste a few pixels on a blank barrier. If, rather than surfing away to some more genteel URL, you choose to press the Page Down key and read on, it will be entirely your decision.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED


Ah, here we are at last. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, linguistic taboos.

Among primitive tribes, a taboo was a mystical prohibition against a word or deed thought to anger the gods. The definition, rationalization, and enforcement of taboos were the province of the tribe’s shamans, to whom the propitiation of the gods was entrusted. Oftentimes, if a primitive society caught one of its members violating a taboo, its shamans would immediately offer him as a sacrifice to the gods, in the hope of averting an explosion of divine wrath.

In our modern lexicon, a taboo is a legally or socially enforced prohibition against speaking openly of certain things: usually, particular topics considered offensive by a politically privileged group. (Note the adverb “openly.” Many a taboo honored scrupulously in conduct open to general scrutiny is violated freely among intimates.) Today’s shamans, the definers and enforcers of taboos, are those politically privileged groups, often in collaboration with non-members who feel some sympathy with their aims or complaints.

What are the taboos du jour? I’m sure you can name a few:

  • Differences between the sexes, particularly with regard to specific mental competences and the capacity for aggression or initiative;
  • Differences between the races, particularly with regard to general intelligence, proclivity for violent, illegal, or antisocial behavior, and family feeling;
  • The origins, nature, and consequences of homosexuality, particularly with regard to its potential mutability, its association with certain diseases, and its tendency to “proselytize” to the unformed young.
  • The inheritability of general intelligence, and the extent to which post-natal factors can elicit it, stunt it, or compensate for genetic factors.
  • The objective nature of limitations incurred because of handicaps, birth defects, and other irreparable physical conditions.

These are the premier taboo subjects of our day. Indeed, the taboos that cover them are so strong that even to mention that one has an interest in one of these subjects is to draw glares of disapproval and mutterings about one’s character and good sense.

Charles Murray, one of the titans of sociology in our time, said in an interview with Jason de Parle of the New York Times that when Richard Herrnstein approached him about collaborating in an investigation of the inheritability of general intelligence, he got the immediate feeling of having been invited to violate a taboo. (Notably, the article de Parle wrote about Murray was titled “The Most Dangerous Conservative In America.” Good old Times, always willing to let us decide things for ourselves.) The resulting book, The Bell Curve, was a marvel of careful scholarship and restrained reasoning…yet for daring to assert in public that a significant fraction of human intelligence is determined by genetic factors, the two were vilified roundly by every politically correct commentator in America. Indeed, quite a few un-PC persons disposed to agree with Herrnstein and Murray expressed a wistful regret that they’d kept their study and their conclusions to themselves.

Clearly, challenging a taboo is not something to be done lightly. Even here in America, it can have consequences that can be socially, occupationally, or politically devastating. Though no group has yet succeeded in winning a legal ban on what it considers offensive speech, efforts by several groups to suppress statements they find repugnant are unstinting.


One must ask why some subjects are tabooed. The answer is simple, but enormously daunting: to speak of it is to invite inquiry, which threatens the perquisites of the group behind the taboo. Since the American system enshrines freedom of speech as a sacred principle, we can see why taboos must be enforced by social means. Yet the operation of taboos has served to elevate the groups that promulgate them to a position of legal and political advantage over the rest of us, even though equality of all before the law, and a willful blindness toward group membership, are also fundamentals of the American creed.

The mechanism is equally simple: Smith, a member of a taboo-owning group, can always accuse an adversary — Jones, for instance — of violating the taboo out of the public eye. If the taboo-owning group has already been conceded some special status as a victim, and if it’s willing to exploit that status with adequate vigor, it will frequently be conceded guilty-until-proven-innocent powers of accusation. Jones is burdened with having to prove that he never said what Smith has accused him of saying — and it’s well established that one cannot prove a negative of this sort.

This is why accusations about the use of racial, sexual, or other taboo epithets have such force. Even if completely unsubstantiated, they can ruin Jones for life. Persons who fear to be tarred with the taboo-breaker brush will draw away from him reflexively. No one wants to be put in the position of having to prove that he never said this or that, nor did he ever allow a taboo statement to pass unchastized, no matter how simon-pure his motives, how spotless his character, and how well-attested his general benevolence might be.

The damage is done upon the instant a group is accorded enduring victim status, and the privilege of defining taboos. It’s a trump card that can be played over and over again, until society finally rears up on its hind legs and smashes the edifice of guilt built from it. Unfortunately, when that sort of house of cards collapses, it crushes quite a few lives beneath it.


Before we proceed, allow me to state a few things very, very plainly.

  1. I am a Caucasian of Irish and Italian descent, whose parents were immigrants from those lands.
  2. My loyalties are to my family and the United States of America. I would defend either or both to the death. Apart from a mortgage and a car loan, I owe nothing else to anyone.
  3. What matters most to me about others is their character: their willingness to respect the rights of others and to discharge their proper responsibilities, without whining about any of it.
  4. I believe that there is an American culture, and that it is infinitely superior to all the other cultures of the world, past or present. More, I believe that Americans are the finest people in the world — that no other land produces anything remotely comparable to our general standard of decency, justice, generosity, or good humor.
  5. I believe that the races, as conventionally defined, differ in various ways. The importance of those differences is topical and contextual.
  6. I believe that the sexes differ in various ways. As with racial differences, the importance of those differences is topical and contextual.
  7. I believe that homosexual sodomy is self-destructive, but that, at least in certain cases, sexual orientation can be changed.
  8. I believe that there is such a thing as general intelligence, that it is at least partly inherited, and that it varies widely.
  9. I believe that the handicapped should receive our sympathy and compassion as individuals to other individuals, but that they are not entitled to more as a matter of right.
  10. I believe that laws that mandate preferred treatment for the members of any group, however defined, are both unConstitutional and destructive.
  11. I hold these convictions not because anyone else holds them, but because the evidence of my senses and my own powers of reasoning have led me to them.

According to the major taboos of our time, this makes me a racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic chauvinist abuser of the physically challenged. By copping to all this, I’ve violated all the major, politically correct taboos of our time: about race, gender, sexual orientation, the handicapped, and multiculturalism. Needless to say, the enforcers of those taboos would like to see me boiled in oil.

They can dip their outrage in beaten eggs, roll it in crushed walnuts, and shove it up their asses.


Perhaps the second-greatest crime to spring from preferential treatment for “victim” groups is this: it’s a powerful inducement to members of those groups to see themselves not as individuals, but as instances of the group first and foremost, perhaps even exclusively. Thus, many young black men who could achieve substantially on their own merits are seduced into victimist beliefs about the hostility and power of “the man,” and slide into permanent attitudes of envy, frustration, and resentment. Many young women quite capable of happiness and fulfillment, whether as careerists or as homemakers, are seduced into victimist beliefs about “glass ceilings” and “patriarchal oppression,” surrender their innocence and delight in the dance of the sexes, and live forever in a blend of resentment and fear. Many handicapped persons take to feeling they’re “owed;” many homosexuals take to feeling they’re “hated;” and so on throughout the universe of victim-status groups.

But the essence of Man is that each of us is individual and unique. We are individually motivated; individually pleased or displeased; individually able or unable; and individually responsible for our decisions and deeds. I cannot believe that anyone with the mental horsepower required by self-awareness is wholly unconscious of that. Yet many persons, apparently prizing group affiliation and its privileges more highly than self-respect, adopt total immersion in a group, and the renunciation of the privileges and responsibilities of individuality, as their modus vivendi.

My contempt for such persons is boundless. I was about to say that the English language lacks words adequate to express it, but in fact it doesn’t. Bide a while and you’ll see.

Nor is it only persons of inferior intelligence or abilities that sink to such depths. No one could accuse race-hustlers such as Cornell West or Jesse Jackson of stupidity. These are men of demonstrable talent. Yet they’ve given themselves to a racialist agenda. Similarly, no one could accuse Andrea Dworkin or Catharine MacKinnon of inferior ability. One might quarrel with the uses to which they put their gifts, but the power of them is easily sensed. Yet they’ve given themselves to a gender-war agenda. In doing so, these persons have persuaded lesser souls, of lesser powers, to follow them and their agenda. And so it goes, among homosexuals…the handicapped…the “homeless”…and similarly with every category of humanity that has striven to be seen as victimized by anyone or any thing in any way.


The essence of the taboo in American society is linguistic: not to speak the forbidden thought or attitude. So one such as I, who holds many taboo beliefs, is supposed to remain silent about them all. That would reduce me to prayers, requests to pass the condiments, and the occasional statement of approbation for the New York Rangers. Needless to say, I’ve chosen to express myself rather more broadly than that.

But even those of us who defy the taboos ideologically are expected to obey their constraints on our vocabulary. Certain words are forbidden to us with a firmness that hints at a mouthful of soap to come.

Some of those words have an ugly cast. But equally ugly words have passed into common parlance:

  • shit
  • fuck
  • motherfucker
  • cocksucker
  • frig

…and no doubt, our language being a constantly evolving and expanding thing, there are new vulgarities related to sex acts, body parts, elimination, and the like that I haven’t yet learned.

The difference between those common vulgarities and the taboo words claimed by the victim-status groups is this: each of the taboo words is used freely within an owner-group that strives to deny it to outsiders with the force of the taboo:

  • Victimist blacks often call one another “nigger,” often as an expression of fellowship or approbation. Indeed, a rap act of some notoriety named itself Niggers With Attitude, apparently without embarrassment.
  • Homosexuals feel no constraint about calling one another “queers,” “dykes,” “queens,” or “faggots,” even if the rest of us are not licensed to do so. Indeed, one of its activist groups is named “Queer Nation.”
  • Women who ascribe to a particular shade of feminism make free and frequent reference to their “cunts,” which is a hangin’ offense for any possessor of a Y chromosome. A professor of Women’s Studies at a relatively well-known university has been known to discourse on “cuntal dialectics.”

It’s one of my beliefs that, just as to every thing there is a season, to every word there is a proper application. This holds with special force for those words that have acquired their meaning through vulgarization. Perhaps the above uses, unconsciously self-damning as they are, have proved my point. The persons who employ them in such fashion deserve no better.


I could go on, but I believe the point has been made. The shamans of contemporary linguistic taboos have adopted nigger, faggot, cunt, and the other forbidden words as passwords, emblems of group membership — and membership, as American Express has been at pains to remind us, has its privileges. No one outside the shamans’ circle is permitted to speak the password; it’s an arrogation of a jealously guarded status. He who dares must be cut down, ground into the dust, and forbidden ever to speak at all, to any effect, in any context. For as in all systems of nymic magic, the word is deemed congruent with the thing: the taboo words are at the root of the shamans’ power. Failure to enforce the taboo would risk the loss of the group’s privileges and immunities, laboriously amassed over the decades of exploitation of others’ guilt.

Every circle of shamans must have a private language. Better that it be secret, but private above all. The taboo words and their use are all that distinguish the privileged from the hoi polloi. They must be guarded to the death.

“The Good Ship NEWF”

[This essay first appeared at Eternity Road, on July 1, 2006. I claim that one cannot have a defensible position on either abortion or cloning until he has satisfactorily answered the questions here.]

Who are you? I mean, really? And how do you know?

That phrase “identity theft:” what does it mean? Is the thief really stealing his victim’s identity? Perhaps one could assert that in a small number of cases — Jack Nicholson’s old movie The Passenger comes to mind — but far more often, he’s stealing some group of the rights or privileges associated with that identity, isn’t he? He doesn’t want to be you; he simply wants to be able to do a few of the things you’re entitled to do.

But let’s get back to basics. Who are you? How do you know? And how do others know you for who you claim to be?

Most of us, thank God, never have to grapple with the question to any serious degree. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a serious question. Just ask Jeff Medcalf.

The question is hard to answer even when applied to inanimate objects. For example, let’s imagine that I own a sailboat — I don’t, having no interest in water recreations — and that I’ve named it the NEWF, after my late, beloved, exceedingly moist Newfoundland Bruno. The good ship NEWF can be viewed:

  • Holistically, as a unitary entity with a clearly designed-in function and an associated identity, or:
  • Reductionistically, as an assemblage of anonymous (I hope) wooden, steel, rope, and canvas parts.

When its function as a sailboat is being exercised, its holistic, functional identity is clearly the one of immediate interest. Yet if I were to shipwreck myself upon some lonely island — perhaps Staten, with its forbidding landfills, or Fire, with its natives’…disturbing fleshly practices — NEWF’s reductionistic characteristics would come to the fore, as I made use of its planks for firewood and its sails for blankets. Many would claim that in that second case, there no longer is a good ship NEWF, merely a pile of useful, unnamed items.

Here’s the ultimate poser about identity: Imagine that, in the quite ordinary course of maintenance, I were to remove one of NEWF’s deck planks and replace it with another — but instead of discarding the removed plank, I laid it aside. Imagine further that, over the years, I pulled up and replaced (but did not discard) still more planks, until a decade hence, I had replaced every component built into the original boat with an identical substitute. Would it still be the good ship NEWF?

I’ll take you a step further: Imagine that I’d saved all the replaced components, and out of sheer philosophical whimsy built a boat from them that was identical to the original. The replaced components, torn one by one from the original structure, have now been reassembled into…the original structure! But…but…the “original” — the one that now contains no component built into the NEWF at its moment of christening — is sitting over there, at that dock! Which one is the good ship NEWF?

In practical terms, the problem is unimportant, as anyone who were to do such a thing would swiftly be certified and packed off to some pleasant institution with soft walls. But metaphysically, it spotlights the nature of identity as men understand it.

The undefined abstraction we call identity is inseparable from continuity.

The boat with “all new” components would have been continuously the NEWF, in service as the NEWF gives service, from the moment of its christening to the moment of the question, regardless of how many of its parts had been replaced. Its identity as a holistically, functionally viewed item was never interrupted. The components torn from it had no identity of their own; their “participation” in the NEWF’s identity was strictly as “supporting cast.” Their removal could not undermine the NEWF’s “NEWFness,” any more than the receipt of a transplanted kidney from Smith could lessen Jones’s identity as Jones.

So who are you? Don’t you owe your identity as yourself to having been continuously “in residence” in your body and mind from the moment of your birth? How much of that assemblage could be replaced without undermining your claim to your identity? What about the possibility of an “interruption in service?” That is, if you were to die tomorrow, and some time later were revived exactly as you are today, would you still be legitimately the person you are today? Would the length of the interruption matter to the argument? And what about the regular, refreshing interruptions of consciousness we call sleep?

For the really strong of stomach: were you who you are today — in essence, not in acquired capabilities nor extrinsic possessions — before you were released from your mother’s womb? If so, what intervening events or changes, had they occurred, would have negated your fetus’s claim to be you? If not, why not?

Discuss!

A Cabal Of Its Enemies

[The following essay was first posted at the Palace Of Reason on September 2, 2003. I consider it a useful adjunct to the ongoing series on the nature and behavior of systems of all kinds.]

Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics:

  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
  3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently, on the Web and elsewhere, about the State Department’s well known tendency to impede the implementation of Bush Administration policies as they touch on the Israeli / Palestinian conflagration, the Muslim Middle East generally, and the ongoing crisis in North Korea. Some have speculated that Secretary of State Colin Powell, though a retired soldier, is more comfortable with appeasement than with confrontation. Others have opined that the institutional tendencies of the State Department are simply more geared to talk, the polite fictions of diplomacy, and the consequent compromises, than to face-offs from which one side or the other must back down.

Professor Conquest, as noted above, had a simpler take on it. Historically, his capsule seems to hold true, at least for “mature” bureaucracies in which structural and personnel changes have dampened to “holding” levels. But questions of no little importance remain: Why should the incentives that govern America’s State Department perennially produce results that better suit the interests of America’s enemies than those of her people — regardless of the ideological alignment of the executive administration or the majorities in Congress? What is the nature of the mechanism? Can it be exclusively the incentives produced by civil service tenure rules and governmental inertia? Why should those things work against us, rather than for us?

It’s a life study. One of the master intellects of the past century, the great Cyril Northcote Parkinson, made such matters his special field. Despite his penetration, he left the work unfinished. But your Curmudgeon is here to pick up where that mighty mind left off.


Parkinson promulgated a number of laws of bureaucracy that serve to explain a huge percentage of its characteristics. They’ve exhibited remarkable predictive power within their domain. The first of these is the best known:

Parkinson’s First Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

Parkinson inferred this effect from two central principles governing the behavior of bureaucrats:

  1. Officials want to multiply subordinates, not rivals.
  2. Officials make work for one another.

Like most generalizations, these are not always true…but the incentives that apply specifically to tax-funded government bureaucracies make them true much more often than not. They make a striking contrast with the almost exactly opposite behavior observable in private enterprise.

In his wonderfully humorous book of business advice Further Up The Organization, former Avis CEO Robert Townsend advises the young manager to try to eliminate his own job. “No one ever got fired for telling his supervisor, ‘They do it better without me than with me. What should I do now?'”, writes Townsend, and in the world of free enterprise, he’s right. Profit-seeking enterprises prize that kind of effectiveness. It is not so in government.

Government work is never done. In part, that’s because, in the grand scale, the problems addressed by governments are eternal problems, to be solved only by the Last Judgment. But in greater part, it’s because solving problems even on the small scale is antithetical to the personal well being of bureaucrats. Charles Peters, editor of the Washington Monthly, noted this in his book How Washington Really Works. He observed that it is the least effective organs within government that invariably receive the largest increases in funding and staffing. The lesson is seldom lost on the young bureaucrat with a hankering to move up.

That young bureaucrat will profit from deliberate ineffectiveness to the extent that he can get himself viewed as an asset by his superiors and a non-threat by his peers. His superiors want him to produce justifications for the enlargement of their domains. His peers simply ask that he not tread on their provinces.

To justify enlarging his sub-pyramid of the bureaucracy, a manager must represent his efforts as vital and his resources as inadequate. This can put peers in a bureaucracy into conflict with one another, but the budgetary constraints on the bureaucracy as a whole will often give way even if every sub-bureaucracy within it demands more people and funds simultaneously, provided only that Congress can be made to see the alternatives as unacceptably worse.

How does one engineer the required perceptions? By a combination of techniques, the most effective being the partial suppression of information, both about the nature of the problems one addresses and one’s labors to solve them.

Contrary to what intuition might say, a fully informed superior is usually an unhappy man. Even if things are going swimmingly in his organization, if he knows exactly what’s being done at the detail level, he’ll always see things he disapproves — because he once did those jobs himself, and will invariably contrast his subordinates’ methods unfavorably with his own. The temptation to micro-manage is amplified by the possession of those details. His subordinates will know this, of course, and so will suppress any details below the level required for a broad-brush status report. This is an example of Robert Anton Wilson’s “Snafu Principle” in action.

So the portrait of a bureaucracy’s operations, as it emerges from the nether depths at which specific tasks are addressed, becomes ever vaguer and less detailed as it approaches presentation to “outsiders”: the president, Congress, and the general public. In a sense, the “outsiders” are lucky to get any accurate information at all. If it could get away with it, a bureaucracy’s status report to its external control authorities would say nothing but: “You need us desperately, and we’re working as hard as we can, but we need more people and money. Send them soonest.”


Another of Mankind’s master intellects, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, has approached bureaucratic inefficiency from the standpoint of the incentives that govern the use of resources, particularly money. He presented the following matrix of spending decisions:

The Benefit Will Accrue To Me The Benefit Will Accrue To Others
The Cost Will Be Borne By Me
I
II
The Cost Will Be Borne By Others
III
IV

This is the incentives matrix each of us faces any time he has to make a spending decision.

In Type I and II situations, the spender is spending his own money, and so has strong incentives to control cost. In Type I situations, where the spender will be purchasing some benefit for himself, he will attempt to maximize the quality of the thing purchased. In Type II situations, where the benefit will go to someone else, the quality of the thing purchased declines in importance, and is sometimes sloughed entirely.

In Type III and IV situations, which embrace all government spending, the spender is spending someone else’s money, and so has little or no incentive to control costs. In Type III situations, where the spender is buying something for himself, he’ll attempt to maximize the benefit. In Type IV situations, where the spender is buying something for someone else, there are no compelling reasons to control either cost or quality.

Most bureaucratic resource allocation falls into Type IV.

But Friedman’s insight ought to be a starting point, not a stopping point, for the understanding of bureaucratic spending decisions. A bureaucrat will learn, given time, how to “spend on others” in such a fashion that the primary benefit flows to himself, particularly as regards the perception outside his domain that what he’s doing is critically important and must not be interfered with. It’s no accident that every department of the United States federal government runs a public-relations office, something that would be incomprehensible if each department did its work economically and effectively, and were viewed thus by the general public.

In the case of our State Department, it is the bureaucrats’ desire that we see their operations as critically important to the nation’s interests, as America’s relations with other governments affect them. Central to the maintenance of this image is the related perception that, unless the State Department is allowed free rein and generous resources, America will be perennially, ruinously at war.


It’s one of the present day’s largest ironies that our Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the most celebrated soldiers of recent memory. The State Department and the Defense Department are bureaucratic peers and therefore rivals. Each strives to minimize the importance of the other.

Von Clausewitz and others have termed war “a continuation of politics by other means,” but when viewed from the perspective of the State Department official, war is the declaration that his organization has failed of its purpose. He sees it as bad public relations for his entire function. Thus, even when the nation’s interests would be overwhelmingly better served by war than by the continuation of diplomacy, the State Department man will prefer diplomacy. It’s in his demesne, and enhances his prestige by enhancing the prestige of his trade.

It’s not too much to say that averting war regardless of its desirability or justifiability is near the top of every State Department functionary’s list of priorities. In this pursuit, the State Department will often find itself opposing even peacetime operations of the military designed to improve its effectiveness, such as the acquisition of new weapons or the enlargement of its ranks. Tom Clancy provided a fictional example of this in his novel The Cardinal Of The Kremlin. The State Department set its face against the perfection of an American anti-missile defense, in no small measure because it would reduce the desirability of arms-control treaties with the Soviet Union.

In the real world, we often find the State Department opposing military decisions, for example about troop deployments or weapons development, specifically out of fear of the reactions of other governments. Objectively, if those decisions made the United States stronger and safer at an acceptable cost, it would be madness to oppose them. But to a State Department loyalist, who has no control over the instruments of force wielded by the Defense Department and whose primary goal is to avert war at all costs, what matters most is the reactions of those other States. If they make unpleasant noises or military adjustments of their own, the State Department man instinctively assesses the risks of war as increasing. Other governments know this, and exploit it.

Not every new State Department employee enters his responsibilities with all these attitudes already in place, of course. But over time, the department’s institutional incentives and outlook will filter out those who fail to adopt the dominant view in Foggy Bottom: War always means failure — for the State Department.


There is a final set of considerations, the least agreeable of the major ones, that must be addressed before we conclude. They relate to the worldview that forms among diplomats and their supporting staffs as a result of their professional circumstances.

The diplomat lives among foreigners. His usual society is, therefore, not aligned with the supposed point of his job: the maintenance and advancement of his country’s national interests. Given this, it would take a will of iron to resist the tendency to draw closer to the representatives of other nations, with whom he must work closely over the span of decades, even at the cost of distancing himself from his fellow citizens. He will unconsciously edge toward the attitudes and convictions of those who form his usual environment. This will affect everyone who makes dealing with foreigners his life’s work; there is no obvious countermeasure for it.

Even more important, a professional diplomatic corps, organizationally separate from its control authorities, is a target of opportunity for the governments of other countries. Inducing America’s diplomats and support staffs to see their own welfare as more aligned with pleasing other governments than with representing America’s interests is a primary objective of foreign powers. They have many kinds of inducement at their disposal.

This is not to suggest that every ambassador, every consular official, and every State Department employee must be constantly scrutinized for indications of treason. However, it would be foolish to deny that foreign powers, who have a large measure of control over how pleasant America’s representatives to them find their work, can thereby influence the mindset and responses of those representatives in all manner of venues. Obviously, that influence is unlikely to be in America’s favor.


Inner Conclusions:

This survey of influences on the State Department and the incentives that affect its personnel appears very bleak. Unfortunately, its implications are strongly confirmed by experience. We’ve seen our State Department embrace the interests of America’s adversaries far too often to wish the matter away.

Everything discussed here touches on motivation at the institutional level. Such motivations arise from the large-scale characteristics of the institutions and the surroundings in which they operate. They cannot be undone by changes in personnel, even the most massive, except over the very short term.

Can anything be done for the long term?

Possibly, but more likely not. The conditions discussed here arise from the nature of the institutions discussed: the State Department and the government milieu generally. They cannot be changed without changing the nature of those institutions in radical ways — and the institutions could be counted upon to resist externally imposed changes with all the powers at their disposal.

A new Secretary of State would find himself thwarted in any attempt to reform his department, absent powers so sweeping that Congress would be exceedingly unlikely to entrust them to a presidential appointee. After all, those who labor in those institutions would easily persuade themselves that they knew better how things should be than any boss imposed upon them from outside their sphere. They would be “conservative about what they know best,” naturally inclined to reject the suggestion that their worldview was in serious error. In the end, the Secretary would almost certainly accept the appearance of change in place of the real thing. Following the incentives that apply to his position in the bureaucracy, he would present it to the nation as a triumph. As Arthur Herzog has noted, “Change is hard, and difficulty makes people impatient.”


Outer Conclusions:

In reflecting on the totality of the thing, your Curmudgeon finds himself struck by Parkinson’s final Law, the last of his intellectual gifts to Mankind:

Law Of The Vacuum: Action expands to fill the void created by human failure.

Action takes many forms. In the world of geopolitics, the most perceptible form is the military kind: the exchange of fire as governments attempt to impose their wills upon one another. War is the ultimate negative-sum game. Even the victor is worse off after a war than before it. This is not to say that war must always be avoided; sometimes all the alternatives are worse. But war becomes ever more necessary to a nation whose professional representatives to foreign powers cannot bring themselves to do the job for which they were hired — to champion their country’s interests plainly, confidently, and fearlessly. To embrace any other agenda than that, whether out of habit, institutional inertia, or the promotion of personal or sectarian priorities above national ones, is to embrace failure itself, and thereby to create a vacuum into which bullets, bombs, and troops will rush.

Verbum sat sapienti.

Disparates

[This essay first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason, on December 17, 2003. Inasmuch as the Democrats have recently been promulgating the notion that the Republicans are conducting a “war on women,” with specific reference to abortion and birth control, it strikes me as especially pertinent today.]

In response to this Curmudgeonly tirade, reader Noah commented as follows:

When the right declaims a new gun control law, and argues that it’s the first step along the left’s quest to completely disarm the people, everyone laughs. But it’s true.

When the left declaims a new abortion control law, arguing that it’s the first step towards a complete ban on abortion, or birth control, or indeed the complete nationalization of the bedroom, everyone laughs. But mightn’t it be true?

The proponents of each kind of law see them as “common sense”, while the opponents see them as utter lunacy, the first step on a slippery slope to open tyranny.

The truth is that there *are* Republicans who would like to see everything but marital/missionary outlawed, just as there are Democrats (and others) who won’t rest until every privately owned firearm has been melted down. Take a survey of how many states criminalize sodomy, oral sex, adultery, even fornication and cohabitation (best of all prostitution, 49 states last I checked).

I’m not saying I agree with this woman’s ramblings, or advancing a position one way or the other on the partial-birth abortion ban. What I am trying to say is that it would be folly to dismiss her comments as standard leftist trash without sifting them for kernels of truth.

Well, your Curmudgeon isn’t about to defend laws that criminalize private acts that involve only consenting adults. But in drawing his parallels, Noah has provided a striking case study in disparates, and in how their juxtaposition can becloud political thought.


The history of sexual regulation by law goes back to the earliest years of European-derived human presence on this continent. Nearly all of the first groups to arrive here were inspired by the New World’s opportunity for them to practice their religions without being persecuted for it. Ironically, nearly all of them looked forward to the opportunity to enforce their religious beliefs with the power of the State. It wasn’t freedom they sought, but the dominant position in a realm of their own — if you like, the opportunity to indulge in religious oppression in favor of their own beliefs.

Institutions of religion have always been hostile to sex. Sex is the earthiest of all earthly pleasures. Prior to the Industrial Revolution and what it brought in its train, it was one of the very few pleasures available to everyone. Any institution that wanted men to focus on the next world, rather than this one, would naturally frown on something so temporal, so universal, and so powerful.

Regional political power in the colonial era was usually united with some dominant religious sect, all the way into the early 19th Century. Of the original thirteen colonies, only one, Rhode Island, had no established church and no dictates in its founding charter derived from the doctrines of a particular faith. The clerical potentates of the colonies were quite as hostile to sex as any of their European predecessors had been — and here, they had the opportunity to stamp the laws with their own preferences.

Alongside that, until quite recently there were substantial extra-legal risks involved in sexual indulgence. So the typical commoner had, not just the law and the admonitions of his local clerics to inhibit him, but also the possibility of rotting away from syphilis or conceiving children that would be his responsibility to feed and nurture. Marriage as it has been traditionally practiced originated to mitigate these risks. Long before religious hierarchies incorporated marriage into their theologies, it was well established as a force for social stability and the norming of sexual conduct.

Then came penicillin and the Pill. Advances in medical technology reduced the risks of sexual adventurism by orders of magnitude. Though new risks, such as herpes and AIDS, have arisen in the most recent years, these can also be held down by judicious choice of partners and attention to obvious signs of danger. With the rise of an ethic of privacy, made possible by the economic advance of the country, the laws against non-marital and non-reproductive sex, which had always been largely unenforceable, fell into neglect. What remained to inhibit us were the dictates of our consciences and the thunderings from the pulpits, neither of which has proved much of a barrier in practice.

Sex laws passed in the 18th and 19th centuries, driven by religious belief and protected from being laughed aside by forces entirely outside the law, dropped into the Slough of Irrelevance after 1960. Except for freak cases such as Lawrence v. Texas, which made news because they were freak cases, sexual regulation by law is dead in America — and that is entirely as it should be.

Your Curmudgeon will allow that there are a very few Americans who’d like to bring back the whole legal regime, in full force. But they are a trivial rump, who will receive no respectful hearing short of an Islamic takeover. They are ignored by conservatives who appreciate individual rights and the supreme importance of laws that can be evenhandedly and uniformly enforced without violating those rights.


Compare the regulation of sex with the regulation of abortion, and a forest of differences springs up at once.

Sex, apart from rape and molestation, involves only consenting adults, presumed to be competent to make their own decisions and choose their own risks. That there are risks, even between partners who know one another well, cannot be denied, but a competent adult is expected to familiarize himself with them beforehand, make the appropriate mitigations, and shoulder the consequences should the dice not fall his way. Only one possible outcome of a consensual sex act necessarily involves a third party: conception.

The germination of a new life brings a new character onto the stage, one who was not allowed to read the script beforehand and is powerless to affect its ending. There is no question that he is a distinguishable presence; his DNA signature, his abilities, and his vulnerabilities differ radically from those of his parents.

The competent actors might not want him there. Indeed, they might have taken stringent precautions against his creation and were simply the “victims of bad luck.” But there he is. The question before us is no longer about sex; it’s about the rights of that third character, and what responsibilities the first two have toward him.

If the developing embryo is rightless tissue, morally no weightier than a tumor, then excising it and discarding it are morally neutral deeds. Surely a woman has the right to control her own body if in doing so she injures no one else’s rights, just as she has the right to swing her arms freely if no one else’s nose is in the way.

But if the presence in the womb is a human being with the same right to life as his mother, then to abort him — to kill him — is murder. It can only be justified in a “lifeboat scenario,” where either the mother or the baby must inevitably die, regardless of anything that might be done by any involved party. The mother’s prior intentions, and her disinclination to be a mother, are just as irrelevant as they would be once the baby has been born.

There are intermediate positions. Some argue that, until the baby is capable of living on his own, without support from the mother’s body or some technological substitute, he cannot be held to possess rights, for no man has a right to the coerced support of another. Others argue that, even if all abortions are murder in principle, nevertheless, respect for the right of privacy requires that we not criminalize abortions before a certain point in gestation, as to do so would either require massive invasions of privacy, or would open the door to selective prosecution at some district attorney’s sole discretion.

Let all of that pass. The central fact is that abortion has nothing to do with sex. The crux of the abortion debate is when the developing baby’s right to life begins, and what can be done to protect it without incurring unacceptable costs.


If abortion has nothing to do with sex, then the debate over the legal status of abortion need have nothing to do with the legal status of sex.

Are there pro-lifers who seek the re-criminalization of abortion because they hope that it will inhibit sexual license? Yes, indubitably. But that particular motivation is not part of the political / legal debate. Indeed, your Curmudgeon cannot name even one person, public figure or private party, who’s ever expressed that motive. He would regard such a position as unworthy and insincere, as would every other pro-lifer he knows. If the baby’s right to life and the legal protection thereof are not the issues under discussion, there is nothing to discuss. We have had enough of laws against this because it “leads to” that.

It is illuminating to note that, while laws that regulate sexual conduct have had a controversial aspect for nearly two centuries, laws concerning abortion have only been actively discussed for about forty years — that is, roughly since the development of oral contraception. Prior to that, the near-universal conviction was that abortion was absolutely wrong at any stage of gestation. If a man impregnated an unmarried woman, he was under an absolute obligation to do the right thing and marry her. If he would not do so and could not be compelled, the woman would simply have to bear the child, contriving as much privacy for her illegitimate birth as she could, and then arrange for the baby to be adopted.

The shift in attitudes arose because, once high-quality contraception that didn’t interfere with sexual pleasure was available, sexual indulgence was inhibited solely by the possibility of contraceptive failure or negligence in contraceptive use. If only abortion could be legalized, even the remotest possibility of having to endure the shame of illegitimacy could be averted. The fear of the illicit abortionist, nicely dramatized in the movie Dirty Dancing, would cease to confine sexual appetites.

Herein lies the seed of the prevailing obfuscations. The crux of the abortion issue has never been sex, but interest in the thing has been driven from the first by sexual desire. All Palace readers will know the history, from the critical 1973 Supreme Court decision to the present day.


Some day, another topic will relieve abortion of its “most contentious” title, because it will engage a desire even more powerful than the sex drive: the desire to live. The topic will be human cloning.

Imagine that it becomes possible for a human to reproduce himself parthenogenetically — that is, without a contribution of DNA from another party — and therefore to replicate his body perfectly. Human bodies are usually equipped with human brains and minds. The brain is the only portion of such a clone that would not be medically useful to its progenitor.

The clone would be a perfect source for every sort of transplant. If the law were to treat clones as having no rights of their own, they could and would be disassembled at will, to extend or improve the lives of those whose DNA signature they share. Imagine how strongly men will desire that such a resource be available to them.

But if we omit the possibility of artificially induced brain death, such a clone would be human, in all relevant ways indistinguishable from any other. If he is acknowledged as such, to treat him as an organ farm for another person, denied an acknowledged right to life, would be clearly wrong: murder for medical reasons, under color of law.

The abortion controversy prefigures the cloning debate in its core issues, but will be a pale shadow of it in intensity.

So your Curmudgeon will ask: If the development of the clone were to involve a human womb, would the debate be about sex?

The rest, as they say, is an exercise for the reader.

The Desiccated Remains

[This essay first appeared at Eternity Road, on January 23, 2009. It strikes me as extremely pertinent to the machinations of the Left today.]

***

The list of well known writers on liberty includes some names that don’t belong there, such as John Stuart Mill, and omits some names that should appear at its head, such as the late Dr. Clarence Carson. Dr. Carson’s several books are gems, each and every one, glittering with knowledge, insight, and eloquence, but even among libertarians and conservatives, they’re little known and less employed. Yet no one, not even the great Ayn Rand, has contributed more to the elucidation and articulation of Americanism.

In your Curmudgeon’s opinion, Dr. Carson’s strongest statements on freedom and American principles are to be found in his book The American Tradition. Concerning liberals’ thesis that freedom is adequately defined by freedom of speech plus the electoral mechanism, Dr. Carson declaimed as follows:

[W]e are told that there is no need to fear the concentration of power in government so long as that power is checked by the electoral process. We are urged to believe that so long as we can express our disagreement in words, we have our full rights to disagree. Now both freedom of speech and the electoral process are important to liberty, but alone they are only the desiccated remains of liberty. However vigorously we may argue against foreign aid, our substance is still drained away in never-to-be-repaid loans. Quite often, there is not even a candidate to vote for who holds views remotely like my own. To vent one’s spleen against the graduated income tax may be healthy for the psyche, but one must still yield up his freedom of choice as to how his money will be spent when he pays it to the government. The voice of electors in government is not even proportioned to the tax contribution of individuals; thus, those who contribute more lose rather than gain by the “democratic process.” A majority of voters may decide that property cannot be used in such and such ways, but the liberty of the individual is diminished just as much as in that regard as if a dictator had decreed it. Those who believe in the redistribution of wealth should be free to redistribute their own, but they are undoubtedly limiting the freedom of others when they vote to redistribute theirs.

Effective disagreement means not doing what one does not want to do as well as saying what he wants to say. What is from one angle the welfare state is from another the compulsory state. Let me submit a bill of particulars. Children are forced to go to school. Americans are forced to pay taxes to support foreign aid, forced to support the Peace Corps, forced to make loans to the United Nations, forced to contribute to the building of hospitals, forced to serve in the armed forces. Employers are forced to submit to arbitration with labor leaders. Laborers are forced to accept the majority decision. Employers are forced to pay minimum wages, or go out of business. But it is not even certain that they will be permitted by the courts to go out of business. Railroads are forced to charge established rates and to continue services which may have become uneconomical. Many Americans are forced to pay Social Security. Farmers are forced to operate according to the restrictions voted by a majority of those involved. The list could be extended, but surely the point has been made.

(The above comes from an essay titled “To Agree To Disagree,” which your Curmudgeon regards as the capstone of Dr. Carson’s book.)

Now, a regular reader of Eternity Road will already be familiar with the long train of abuses and usurpations Dr. Carson enumerates above. And of course, liberals still stoutly maintain that the object is a more perfect Union, and not a design to reduce us under absolute Despotism. But the most trustworthy indicators of evil intent are the suppression of dissent and the invalidation of mechanisms for redress: the “desiccated remains” of which Dr. Carson wrote. And so your Curmudgeon must ask: Just how are freedom of expression and the electoral process faring in the Land of the Formerly Free?

First, freedom of expression:

  • The McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act has partly abrogated the right to free expression around election time.
  • Given the new Administration and the enlarged Democrat majorities on Capitol Hill, we stand in immediate danger of the revival of the Fairness Doctrine, which is aimed at quenching conservative talk radio.
  • The use of tax law to silence conservative and libertarian opinion is growing, especially as regards voluntary associations such as churches and charitable groups.
  • Several liberal luminaries, among them both Cass Sunstein and Hillary Clinton, have argued for the censorship of the World Wide Web.
  • Lawsuits attempting to silence a commentator who has merely stated established facts or accurately quoted an adversarial opponent are rife, and are usually allowed to go forward by the courts.
  • Conservative public officials are continuously derided, assailed, and slandered, both by the Mainstream Media and by activist groups.
  • Lectures and presentations by libertarian and conservative figures are heckled, massively protested, and often terminally disrupted by liberal activists. The speakers who dare to appear at such events are at continuous risk of physical assault.

The legal impediments to free expression are bad enough. When one adds the “chilling effect” of the extra-legal mechanisms used to silence pro-freedom views, the pile reaches an alarming height.

Now for the electoral process:

  • Laws which explicitly regulate ballot access are ignored by the courts when they conduce to the disadvantage of the Democrats, but are wielded rigorously, and often on specious grounds, against Republicans and pro-freedom minor parties.
  • Democrat candidates and their media allies have been allowed extraordinary latitude at opening the sealed records of their opponents’ divorces, child-custody disputes, and commercial actions.
  • The media treat all allegations of impropriety against Republicans and conservatives as front page news, but hesitate to report on much worse, and much better substantiated, allegations against Democrats and liberals.
  • Boards of Election routinely operate to the advantage of the Democrat in a contested race. Election fraud is rampant, but only allegations of fraud by Republicans are treated seriously. The investigation of even flagrant abuses by Democrats is perfunctory at best.
  • Democrat Administrations have facilitated the acquisition of voting power by un-naturalized immigrants, including illegal immigrants.
  • Lawsuits challenging the validity of a vote tally are used as an entering wedge by which to enable further vote fraud.
  • When a closely disputed election turns out, after a recount, to have been won by the Republican, if the Democrat has already been seated, no action is taken in redress.

To borrow Dr. Carson’s phrasing, these lists could be extended, but surely the point has been made.

***

None of this is news to any honest observer of our political scene. Nor would your Curmudgeon have bothered to recapitulate it but for one vital aspect of our predicament.

Left-wing figures, these past few years, have repeated ad nauseam that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” It’s been observed in practice that they reserve that evaluation for dissent from the Left, but deny it to dissent from the Right, but that, too, is only to be expected. What we must address here is the practical significance of the progressive suppression of conservatives’ mechanisms for dissenting — freedom of expression and the ballot box — and how these things coordinate with other aspects of the liberal hegemony.

In Thomas Sowell’s two landmark books A Conflict of Visions and The Vision of the Anointed, he notes that liberal defenders of liberal policies, including even the most abject of liberal policy failures, are prone to defending them as “here to stay” — basically a conservative’s argument. Rhetorically, the tactic has some force, but far more significant is what it tells us about the liberal moral-emotional gestalt.

To say that some public policy must not be changed is to say that it is right and necessary: right meaning “not a violation of the rights of the unconsenting,” and necessary meaning “the costs, however measured, of dismantling it would be unacceptable.” But to shout down those who disagree, or to manipulate elections to deny conservatives their fairly earned victories, is by liberals’ own standards a denial of others’ rights. Not only is this hypocrisy — “we’ll respect your right to disagree as long as you refrain from using it” — it’s a revelation of liberals’ deep convictions about both rightness and practicality:

Liberal Conviction #1: Only liberals have rights.
Liberal Conviction #2: What advances the liberal vision is good regardless of its practical effects.

As Dr. Sowell notes early in The Vision of the Anointed, liberals operate under the assumption that they are morally superior to non-liberals, entirely because of their liberalism: a “vision of differential rectitude.” Moral mandates are always absolute; therefore, he who is morally enlightened beyond his opponent cannot allow the opponent to win. Thus, any mechanism for dissent from liberal nostrums must be perverted and distorted until it cannot be used effectively against the liberal cadre and its programs. That’s right and necessary — as right and necessary as liberalism itself.

Dr. Carson’s perception of the “compulsory state” has been fastened upon us for some time. It’s produced loss after loss: in freedom, in prosperity, in human dignity, and in national and international harmony. But it is emotionally vital to the liberal psyche that no critical examination of its failings be allowed, especially in those areas where the objective evidence has become conclusive and irrefutable. Setbacks to liberal policies must be attributed to conservatives’ perverse opposition; defeats of liberal candidates must be railed against as thefts. The vision of liberals’ differential rectitude must be defended.

***

Over the next four years, the “desiccated remains” of Americans’ traditional freedom will come under ever more intense assault. This is guaranteed by liberals’ assumption of their moral superiority and the steadily accumulating evidence against the beneficence and benevolence of liberal policies. Conservatives and libertarians must expect harsher and harsher attempts, both within and without the law, to silence them and to defraud them of victories at the polls. Violence will be involved more and more often as liberals’ failures mount.

There’s no Last Graf. Short of a pro-freedom revolution, your Curmudgeon has no solutions to offer; besides, most historical revolutions have produced worse tyrannies than the regimes they toppled. To be on the Right is to prefer freedom and privacy to power, public engagement, and the clamors thereof. We stand at a natural disadvantage against those whose lives are completely wound around making others live and behave as liberals think they should.

Hard times are upon us. Remain vigilant, and keep your powder dry.

Giantism

(The following first appeared at the old Palace of Reason, in 1997.)


Part One: The Comedians.

Is Bigness to be distrusted? Well, yes, but not because of any difference of motives between the people who staff and run big organizations and the people who staff and run small ones. It’s more a combination of two other effects, cited by two great American thinkers:

Scott Adams: “People are idiots.” (The Dilbert Principle, from The Dilbert Principle)
Robert Anton Wilson: “A man with a loaded gun will never be told something that might cause him to pull the trigger.” (The Snafu Principle, from Illuminatus!)

The Adams observation isn’t really a denigration of human intelligence, as such. Properly set in its context, it highlights the tiny stock of competence and understanding each of us has, in comparison to the giant fund of knowledge that undergirds human existence — a condensation of Leonard Read’s famous “I, Pencil” essay, if you will. The Wilson observation is a simple statement of intuitively obvious fact, a survival property that helps to keep us alive.

Large organizations are inherently hierarchical, with authority, scope, and the assumption of expanding competence rising as one ascends the pyramid. If an organization does not possess this property, then it cannot proceed toward a
coherent set of goals. If it cannot proceed toward a coherent set of goals, then it is not in any functional sense a unitary organization.

When you test this property of large organizations against the Dilbert and Snafu dicta, you find some glaring weaknesses in the whole notion of large organizations:

  • The number of people who have a stake in deceiving or under-informing the people on top is such that the folks in the mahogany-paneled offices haven’t got a prayer of knowing what’s going on below them,
  • Even if they knew it all down to the last detail, the mahogany-office guys would have to be considerably smarter than Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein rolled together to understand and direct what’s going on below them.

I’ve been in the business world since 1968, and have passed through a variety of companies large and small. From my own experience, I can attest that no organization with more than four levels of management (group leader, director, vice-president, CEO) can operate as intended by its “guiding hands” as much as half the time. Even with a millennial genius as CEO, the incentive his underlings have to withhold information that might make him frown at them will prevent him from having more than 50% effective control. The situation deteriorates geometrically with each added layer of management.

Since it has been established empirically that no one can effectively manage the activities of more than ten people “below” him, this limits the size of a more-or-less efficient organization with coherent objectives to no more
than 10,000 participants. In practice, even organizations of 2000 or 3000 people seldom function as intended.

Giantism in the private sector is only possible because of giantism in the public sector — and so we move to Part Two.

Part Two: The Incubator.

So: Large organizations have inherent deficiencies that conduce toward a generalized condition of incoherence and failure. Why, then, is the world’s commerce completely dominated by two or three thousand giant corporations?

Simply, because governments systematically tilt the field in their favor.

Ignore the propaganda about “monopoly” and “antitrust.” Nothing favors Big Business like Big Government. The occasional forays against specific targets in the private sector — mostly, companies that have been slow to bend the knee when the State commanded it — are mere flea bites, compared to the many ways the legal environment has been biased toward giant businesses.

Complex tax and regulatory law is one example. The larger a company is, the smaller the percentage of its expenses that will go to its overhead functions, in particular legal counsel and accounting. (For all that accounts payable and receivable are important functions, their complexity and cost pales in comparison to that of tax accounting.)

Liability is another example, and an increasingly important one. With all the ways in which suits against the providers of goods and services have been encouraged in the past thirty years, the fraction of a typical company’s
expenses that go to legal representation, tort insurance, and payoffs has swollen to Brobdingnagian size. (A tiny example: Dr. Ron Paul, Congressman from Texas and former Libertarian Party presidential candidate, told me that the cost of his malpractice insurance in his last year as a practicing obstetrician came to more than a quarter of his annual revenue.)

Finally, but far from least, there’s this: When governments seize and spend 45% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, businesses that sell to governments are going to get really, really rich. And governments, for sociological and organizational reasons I’ll delve into some other time, prefer to do business with the largest of corporations.

I can assure you that none of this is theory. As an engineer and project manager of more than three decades’ experience, who worked in the defense sector for fourteen years, I had the chance to observe it all at unpleasantly close range.

There’s no need for me to go into the pernicious effects corporate giantism has on consumers and the economy at large; anyone who’s progressed past the stage of counting on his fingers can see that larger companies will always mean fewer of them, with a corresponding decrease in competitive incentives and accountability to the consumer. I suggest that those who are interested in the economic progression of the U.S. look at the history of the thing, and try to correlate the swelling of the biggest players with the many statist trends of the 20th Century. I did. It opened my eyes.

Egos The Size Of Cathedrals

Perhaps, given yesterday’s events, I should stay away from politics for awhile. At any rate, today’s topic is non-political.

***

“These people, it’s no mystery where they come from. You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire. You build egos the size of cathedrals. Fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse. Grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar-green gold-plated fantasies until every human becomes an aspiring emperor, becomes his own god. Where can you go from there?” — “John Milton,” from the movie The Devil’s Advocate

I’ve received some plaintive email recently, specifically inquiring why I haven’t been posting anything about matters of faith and the spirit, as I semi-regularly did at Eternity Road. The “Sunday Ruminations” there were apparently a more popular feature than I’d thought. In perfect honesty, I didn’t write them because I felt they’d be popular; I wrote them because I needed to do so. Their primary audience was myself.

(Hey, just because you don’t write hortatory essays to yourself doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the practice.)

Of course, not everyone was pleased with those pieces. Some readers were actually offended by them. I remember, from back when I started the process, one note of particular import, from an old friend who thought he knew me better than he really did. Boiled down to essentials, it said: How can you, Fran, possessor of a genius-plus IQ and a string of intellectual achievements the length of your arm, possibly believe in this completely implausible religious crap?

I wish I’d saved that email. It was a perfect demonstration of the difference between self-awareness and egotism. If its author had possessed more self-awareness, he would have penetrated to the fallacy behind it without any need for assistance. But all things in their proper course.

***

I’ve loved the “John Milton” quote at the top of this essay ever since I first heard it. It perfectly captures the malady that paralyzes millions of minds: those who preen themselves about being “too smart” to allow that there might be a God, that there might be actual historical truth to the New Testament, and that gratitude to God for the gift of life is a sensible and appropriate emotion. I had a brushing encounter with one such person in the pages of Eternity Road. Here’s what I wrote:

There are some smart folks in the Blogosphere, but intelligence is no substitute for either perspective or judgment, and no one is uniformly knowledgeable about all things. Nope, not even your Curmudgeon.

Hearken to Eric Raymond, supposedly a smart fellow, as he goes wildly wrong about a subject on which he’s badly misinformed:

“Surely, at worst,” they will argue, “only some kinds of faith are toxic; conveniently for us, the wrong kinds.” Harris neatly scotches that argument by quoting the Book of Deuteronomy. There is no doubt that Christian scripture tells its adherents to kill those who turn away from faith, even members of their own families. There is no doubt that Christians have behaved that way in the past; there is no doubt that Christianity only refrains from this now because most Christians have agreed to ignore inconveniently harsh passages from the Bible; and, given that the fastest-growing Christian denominations profess Biblical literalism, there is every reason to suspect that agreement is fragile and temporary. [Emphasis added by your Curmudgeon.]

This is slanderously incorrect. The Book of Deuteronomy is Old Testament, and has no relevance to the Christian New Covenant; the same applies to the bloody commands of the Book of Leviticus. The New Testament contains not one exhortation of the sort Raymond claims to exist there. More, the Founder of Christianity explicitly told His followers to love their enemies, and to do good to their persecutors. So what’s going on here?

The charitable assumption is that Raymond hasn’t read the New Testament, and in making his claim has relied solely on the statements of others as hostile to Christianity as he is. The uncharitable assumption…well, your Curmudgeon, being a Christian, is loath to make it.

And here’s what Eric S. Raymond, to whom the above refers, commented in reply:

Sorry to burst your bubble, Curmudgeon, but Harris also cites New Testament authority for the proposition that Christians are required to kill unbelievers and apostates. Gospel of John, I think; I’d report the chapter and verse Harris quotes, but I lent my copy of “The End of Faith” to a friend yesterday….

The harder you cling to your ignorance now, the stupider you’re going to look when I get my copy of “The End Of Faith” back and drop the correct cite on you.

Clue: you already look pretty stupid. I mean nothing personal in that remark, religious faith has made idiots out of better men than either of us. That’s Sam Harris’s point.

Ta ta for now. Think I’ll call my buddy Scratch and tell him I need that book back pronto…

I have no idea where Mr. Raymond got the notion that a secondary source such as Sam Harris’s The End Of Faith, itself extremely tendentious and filled with false interpretations and equivalences, constitutes evidence of anything. But one who possesses “an ego the size of a cathedral” isn’t likely to be sufficiently self-aware — or self-critical — to take note of such a thing. Nor has Mr. Raymond grown in self-awareness in the years since that exchange:

You say “natural rights flow from our Creator”?

Oh, good. Now you’ve made my liberty dependent on widespread acceptance of religious belief, which is to say delusional insanity that fails to be recognized as such only out of historical habit.

You are not doing the cause of liberty any favors with this maneuver.

Eric S. Raymond’s principal notoriety seems to arise from an essay he wrote, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” that extols the virtues of open-source software. I know of nothing else he’s done or achieved. Whatever the case, he obviously thinks himself “too smart” for religious belief…or for allowing others to maintain their “delusional” religious beliefs without whacking them across the chops for it.

Pure egotism, and a corresponding deficit in self-awareness.

***

Incidentally, this essay isn’t about religion, faith, atheism, or any immediate consequence of any of them. It’s about the prerequisites for being and living as a decent human being.

Foremost among the most persistent aspects of human consciousness is its centrality. That is: each of us, by nature, sees himself as the center of reality. Needless to say, that’s a personal perspective, which cannot be maintained as an objective fact, especially in the face of someone else’s assertion that he stands at the center of reality. All the same, each of us sits at the focal point of his own universe. All roads lead to us, and from us as well. Breaking free of that perspective and seeing things from someone else’s viewpoint, one of the mileposts in the attainment of maturity, is quite difficult. Ask any teenager.

Now, no one would want to spend every waking moment of his life seeing things from someone else’s viewpoint. However, the ability to do so at need is critical to living successfully in society. By successfully, I mean living happily, in a reasonable degree of contentment, and at peace with those around us. For he who cannot or will not see from the viewpoint of another will be continuously susceptible to some of the very worst faults a man can have:

  • He will be militant about his opinions and priorities, and will see others as deficient — stupid, deluded, insane, or evil — for not sharing them.
  • He will be tempted to meddle in others’ affairs “for their own good”…sometimes coercively, always destructively.
  • He will be vulnerable to flights of envy, the most corrosive of emotions.

The swollen-ego behavior of such a person renders his society uncongenial to humbler and more tolerant persons. He will find himself a victim of “Gresham’s Law of Human Relationships:” Bad company drives out good company when the two are valued equally. Presently, the only persons willing to associate with him will be those with equally swollen egos, who have all the same opinions and priorities and are equally militant about them. This is a recipe for intellectual and emotional stasis, not to mention quite a bit of strife.

I speak from personal experience.

***

If there’s anything about which I am perfectly certain, it’s human limitations.

We are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” to be sure, but we are not omniscient nor omnipotent. No matter how far we advance science and technology, there will always be things we do not know, and things we cannot do. Indeed, the heart of the scientific outlook, as Jonathan Rauch once put it, is that there are no final answers and no unquestionable authorities.

(That banging you hear in the distance is Epictetus demanding to be let in. The old coot has been screaming himself hoarse at me about the hazards of being certain about uncertainty. Apparently he made a similar mistake back when, and hates to see it repeated.)

A proper appreciation of our limitations is critical to human advancement. In particular, we must accept that, no matter how lofty an intellectual achievement appears at the time, it is forever capable of being surpassed. Imagine for a moment that in 1905 Albert Einstein, at that time merely a twenty-six-year-old postal worker, had assumed that classical mechanics should be deemed unquestionable — that his notions about relativity were inappropriate, given the disdain for such fantasies among older, respected physicists with chairs at prestigious universities. Would he have continued on to his even more consequential discoveries in thermodynamics and quantum physics?

So also with opinions about anything, including propositions for which there can never be irrefutable proof or disproof: the demesne of religion. Inasmuch as the overwhelming majority of Mankind, past and present, holds to some religious beliefs, getting along in society demands that one be amiable about differences of opinion in such matters. Pressing one’s own opinions on others as irrefutable, and insisting that their failure to accept them is proof of some intellectual or emotional deficiency, is not recommended.

***

Steven Goldberg, a terrific writer on a very contentious subject — the biologically determined characteristics of the two sexes of Man, and why men prevail over women in certain domains — was once asked by a lecture hall audience whether he would consider seriously any finding of evidence that contradicts his thesis. His response was immediate and positive; indeed, he called it the first obligation of an honest man of science to confront and evaluate evidence that contradicts his beliefs, and to do it at once.

Goldberg’s statement was the epitome of genuine intellectual honesty. Unfortunately, the sentiment is not universal; many, perhaps most of us take it ill when we must confront evidence that we’ve been wrong. We take it as a diminution of self: an act of vandalism against the cathedrals of our egos.

Yet the grand partition remains as it was:

  1. Propositions which can be definitively proved: Mathematics.
  2. Propositions that can be disproved but not proved: Science.
  3. Propositions that can neither be proved nor disproved: Religion.

For best happiness and widest social acceptance, it’s best to confine one’s certainties, and one’s militancy about them, to statements in Category 1. All else is subject to change without notice…and having written and reviewed these sentiments, perhaps they have some application to politics, after all.

The Stupid-Or-Evil Trilogy

Once in a great while, someone who’s emitted as much political blather as I will find that something he wrote long ago has become pertinent once again. We confront exactly that phenomenon today. Under which flimsy rationale I hereby present, as they first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason:

The Stupid-Or-Evil Trilogy

1. Stupid Or Evil?

January 6, 2004

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, one of the larger West Coast dailies, has printed a guest editorial by one Neal Starkman that promises to stir a lot of mud into the national political discourse. In this remarkably bilious and self-exalting piece, Mr. Starkman opines that the reason for President Bush’s generally high popularity is that Americans are stupid:

It’s not merely that some people are insufficiently intelligent to grasp the nuances of foreign policy, of constitutional law, of macroeconomics or of the variegated interplay of humans and the environment. These aren’t the people I’m referring to. The people I’m referring to cannot understand the phenomenon of cause and effect. They’re perplexed by issues comprising more than two sides. They don’t have the wherewithal to expand the sources of their information. And above all — far above all — they don’t think.

Well, it’s a step up from evil, which is left-liberals’ other explanation for conservative sympathies. But your Curmudgeon, who hasn’t encountered a liberal capable of resisting the temptation to demonize, psychologize, or denigrate conservatives in twenty years, finds it more than merely amusing.

Argument about anything is premised upon the supremacy of facts and logic, measured against a common, honorable standard of evaluation. Whether a fact is brought into play by Albert Einstein or the village idiot is supposed to make no difference. If it is verifiable and relevant, it must be admitted on an equal plane with all other facts. Whether a skein of implication is proposed by Mother Teresa or Satan, honor requires that we ignore its provenance and judge it according to its logical soundness and predictive accuracy.

Starkman, who obviously dislikes President Bush’s policies, though he never says which ones or why, would prefer that we invert that scheme and place the identities, or more precisely the allegiances, of arguers above the objective merits of their arguments. If you approve of Bush Administration policies, then by Starkman’s rubric you cannot possibly have an honorable, rationally defensible reason for doing so. You must be either stupid or evil.

What does Neal Starkman make of George Will and William F. Buckley? Of Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams? Of Frank Gaffney and Victor Davis Hanson? Surely he wouldn’t call them stupid. Indeed, if we judge by the diatribe linked above, they could give him cards and spades and still beat him hollow in any contest of intellect, erudition, or eloquence. So they must be evil.

Your Curmudgeon, himself no intellectual slouch, must be evil too. Sigh. How late in life we learn these things.

Were they judged solely on their immediate soundness, Starkman’s contentions could simply be dismissed. But let’s not be hasty. If this is to be the new left-liberal paradigm for countering the arguments of conservatives — and clearly, the Post-Intelligencer thinks it worthy of consideration at the least — it has powerful implications for the immediate future, and possibly for the longer term too.

For quite some time, left-liberals have preened themselves for their moral superiority — what Thomas Sowell calls their “vision of differential rectitude” — to those who disagree with them. On the strength of that assumed superiority, they have deemed themselves exempt from the requirements for courteous persuasion, for demonstrable results, even for candid presentation of their intentions to us benighted ones. Instead, they’ve used political power of several forms to impose their preferences on the country, have retroactively revised their goals when they failed to meet the ones they originally stated, and have increasingly turned to stealth to get their way. They have disdained to stand to account for any failure, be it practical or moral. They have shielded those of their own who’ve demonstrably exploited political privilege for personal gain, though they’ve condemned the ordinary self-interest of private citizens and have done all they could to thwart it.

Today, the consequences of the highest-profile left-liberal policies have become too obvious to conceal. The tide of sentiment against them has propelled their opponents to political dominance. But increasingly often, left-liberals disdain to argue or explain. Instead, in Starkman’s fashion, they dismiss their opponents as either stupid or evil.

How many arguments would you expect to win with tactics like those? How many converts to your convictions would you reap, if you started every pitch by castigating your targets?

Though your Curmudgeon disbelieves in left-liberal doctrines, he believes strongly that they should be argued for — that men of wit and knowledge should undertake to defend them with all the logic and evidence they can muster. This is important precisely because they are opposed to the ideas of freedom, the free market, inviolable individual rights to life and property, and a system of justice founded on objective law, objective evidence, and unbending rules of procedure. We must know how to defend these things logically. If we’re never required to do that, we will forget why they’re important, and will fail to do them justice when they’re attacked by force or guile.

There is this as well: the Starkman paradigm, which accuses conservatives of sealing themselves off from facts and theses that contradict their beliefs, whether by intention or incapacity, actually puts left-liberals in far greater danger of that pitfall. It is not possible to dismiss one’s opponents as either stupid or evil, yet still grapple with their contentions in full sincerity. If we on the Right are correct and the left-liberals are wrong — it doesn’t matter about what — the left-liberals will never learn it.

It’s far better to have intelligent, well-informed opponents than stupid or ignorant ones. You have a chance of learning something from the former, and they have a chance of learning something from you. It’s far better to have opponents you respect, who respect you in equal measure, than contemptible ones who express only contempt for you. Respect is a prerequisite for every constructive form of human interaction. If not given, it cannot be returned.

2. Stupid Or Evil Redux

March 2, 2004

Your Curmudgeon’s charitable impulses — yes, yes, we all know that’s a contradiction in terms — are forever struggling against two other sets: the desire to accept what he sees at its face value, and the inclination to laugh at it. Regard the words of Neil Levy, a professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne:

Most people believe that we have a duty to gather evidence on both sides of central moral and political controversies, in order to fulfill our epistemic responsibilities and come to hold justified cognitive attitudes on these matters. I argue, on the contrary, that to the extent to which these controversies require special expertise, we have no such duty. We are far more likely to worsen than to improve our epistemic situation by becoming better informed on these questions. I suggest we do better to embrace the views of experts who are also morally wise. I argue that this is likely to lead to more accurate beliefs about these political and moral controversies; in any case, it will avoid the incoherence and irrationality which are the likely consequence of open-minded evidence gathering.

If you’re having trouble believing that a man who sports a Ph.D. could say such a thing, you’re not alone. But there’s worse in the kettle. Regard the following, from Cornell University professor of philosophy Benjamin Hellie:

But left- and right-wing sources are not symmetrical. The goal of the right wing is to perpetuate and worsen a system in which a small number of people control obscene quantities of wealth and power at the expense of the vast majority, whereas the goal of the left wing is to distribute wealth and power more broadly. For short, the goal of the right wing is perpetuating and increasing injustice, whereas the goal of the left wing is increasing justice.

People do not like injustice. The knowledge that injustice is being done to others offends their sense of morality; the knowledge that injustice is being done to them makes them angry and resentful. Both these emotions contribute to a desire to use the political system in order to counter injustice. So it is very helpful for the right wing to achieve its goal if the existence of injustice, and the unjust effects of the policies it endorses, can be concealed.

Providing this concealment is the role of right-wing political writers. Thus, a priori, given that injustice exists and that right-wing policies are unjust, you might expect the ample use of lies, misdirection, and sophistry from these guys. (In fact, my intimate knowledge with right-wing political writing provides ample evidence that what you might expect is exactly what you get.)

By contrast, the role of left-wing political writers is to cause people to believe that there is injustice, and that right-wing policies make it worse. Given, once again, that both these points are true, all that left wing political writers need to do is report the truth.

Your Curmudgeon doesn’t normally deride the sincerely felt opinions of others. There’s no shame in differing with others, and no shame in having been wrong, provided one is willing to accept the verdict of reality once it’s delivered. However, these two gentlemen ought to hope that no one else ever reads the above statements. For what, after all, do their arguments amount to?

“You Can Trust Me,
Because I Never Lie,
And I’m Always Right.”

(Thank you, Firesign Theater, for anticipating this need.)

Hellie’s statement goes even further, in that it ascribes evil intentions to those who disagree with this self-elevated moral and political expert. Hellie counsels his readers to assume evil motives among rightist commentators. Clearly, the man isn’t concerned about making converts to his views.

In his earlier essay on this subject, your Curmudgeon wrote that leftist doctrines ought to be argued for, and that it’s in our interests that they be represented capably. But leftists of all varieties are gradually abandoning the field of argument. The two citations presented above would have been extreme outliers two or three decades ago; today, they exemplify the rhetorical preferences of the highest-profile representatives of leftist thought.

Perhaps this is the necessary consequence of Sowell’s “vision of differential rectitude.” Leftists have assumed their moral standing to be significantly above that of others. Over the century past, they’ve had to confront an avalanche of evidence that their prescriptions are less than effective; indeed, that they’re utterly unwholesome, toxic to human life and happiness. Were they not to wall the evidence irretrievably out of bounds — were they not to dismiss all arguments against their notions presumptively, as the whisperings of Satan — the earthquakes that have toppled their political edifices would topple them from their moral pedestals as well.

So they demand to have their intellectual and moral superiority deemed unchallengeable. They exhort us to subordinate our moral and political opinions to the “experts” — care to guess who those are? — and to dismiss counter-evidence and counter-argument with prejudice. They seek to sweep their opponents from the field by disqualifying us morally, before battle can be joined.

Perhaps the height of irony is Hellie’s conclusion that “all that left wing political writers need to do is report the truth.” Clearly, if that were so, his demonization of us as conscious agents of injustice would be unnecessary, as would the campaigns of calumny the Left is conducting against anyone to the right of John Kerry.

From the standpoint of the freedom advocate, no development in political discourse could be more promising. Statements such as Levy’s and Hellie’s should receive all the publicity conservatives and libertarians can get them. They are self-damning.

Intelligent leftists who aren’t quite that full of themselves should note the tremors beneath their feet. It isn’t we of the Right who are causing them; it’s their nominal comrades and fellow-travelers, who are so desperate to win the field, and so appalled by the rising wave of evidence and sentiment against them, that they’ve taken to shouting moral denunciations against those who differ with them. Were they to gain power, re-education camps for us benighted ones would probably be Public Policy Priority One.

One final thought: the Levy / Hellie species of leftist is the sort that one can never persuade of anything. To such a mind, we are not respectable participants in an intellectual debate about politics, morals, and society; we are the enemy, precisely because we differ with him. Effort devoted to convincing him of anything is effort wasted. Worse, it can leave the freedom advocate weary, disheartened, and wondering why he bothers, a net loss for all concerned.


Your Curmudgeon extends his thanks to Hei Lun of Begging To Differ for the reference to the Levy article, and to Micha Ghertner of Catallarchy for the Hellie citation.

3. Stupid Or Evil: Judgment Day

May 2, 2004

Your Curmudgeon has written before — indeed, he’s done so twice — about the proclivity of the political Left for classifying its opponents as “stupid or evil.” He who possesses a mature self-regard, leavened with enough humility to allow that he could still be wrong, tends to bridle at such statements, especially when the objective evidence speaks otherwise. But the main point here is not the accuracy nor the completeness of the partition; it’s about the natural tendency of those convinced of their correctness to categorize their adversaries rather than to stick to the subject at hand.

Your Curmudgeon has a personal interest in this matter, having been intimately involved in politics for many years and in many ways. He’s seen this tendency at close range on many occasions. Indeed, he’s surrendered to it now and again himself.

Why can’t we “stick to the subject at hand?” Why are we so inclined to diagnose our opponents, rather than simply conceding their right to be wrong? Wouldn’t the latter approach go better with the concession that, as unlikely as it might seem, we might be the ones in error?

The matter comes to mind today because of two recent posts, the first by psychologist Pat Santy:

In a world where the Democratic Party leadership was anchored to reality, the debate with Republicans would be how to fight the war on terror better; and the American public would not be constantly subjected to the constant whining–by Kerry and others of his gormless ilk– about how we shouldn’t have gone to Iraq in the first place. Or the increasingly petulant demands to simply cut and run because everything is not going perfectly.

The proponents of doom and gloom in the reality-based community insist that it is Bush who is in denial (or people like me), even as they twist and turn every major victory in the war into more evidence in their own minds that we are losing. Instead of national rejoicing at the death of one of the enemy’s leaders; as we recommit ourselves to the fight, we instead witness the spectacle of Democrats pushing for surrender.

My patience with this kind of political denial, and the concomitant paranoid delusional system promulgated by the left, ended on 9/11. Their political insanity has become a threat that no rational person can afford to ignore because they put not only themselves in danger, but everyone else in this country.

Mark Alger, a Curmudgeonly favorite, provided this rejoinder:

…Pat’s diagnosis of the Left as mentally infirm is — in my not-so-very-humble opinion — itself a species of denial which refuses to impute evil motives to evil acts. We are unwilling to credit that the opposition could simply be a bad person — or civility demands that we not say so in polite company. So we try to explain away their illogic, their perfidy, their constant attacking the hull of the Lifeboat of the Nation with an auger as some kind of mental disease and accept that the evil they do as an unfortunate by-product of what — face it — isn’t really their fault.

And, nice and smart as Pat is, I have to call b******t.

We have to face facts, here, people. The Left knows exactly what it’s doing. The long-established — scorn quotes — “progressive” program for humanity has been carefully lain decades ago, its effects and by-products not only well known, but clear desiderata. Socialism isn’t an accidental byproduct of good — albeit mistaken — intentions, people; it’s the end of a long, patient, deliberate march toward exactly that goal.

There is truth in both these observations…but not the whole truth.


All human characteristics exist in a distribution. Only those that unite us as a species are anywhere near to uniformly distributed. Those that distinguish us as individuals are a different subject.

Though many traits factor into one’s relations with others, the ones most pertinent to political discourse are:

  • Percipience,
  • Intelligence,
  • Knowledge,
  • Humility.

In fact, those traits are the ones that will most strongly color one’s relations with others on any subject where men can disagree. For man of good will Smith — remember Smith? — to hold opinions with justifiable confidence, he must first perceive the world around him with some degree of accuracy. He must form applicable generalizations about how it works, and compare the predictions of his theses to the verdicts of history. Assuming his predictions are satisfied, he can vent on the subject with a moderate assurance. But he must remember always that a truly exhaustive verification of any theory is inherently impossible — that no matter how many confirmations his idea might gather, there could still be a contradiction lurking in the shadows that will bring his whole edifice crashing down around him.

When Smith confronts Jones, a dissenter to his concept, those four traits will be reinvoked:

  • “Has Jones accurately perceived the data? Is it possible that he has, but that I haven’t?”
  • “Has Jones penetrated to an implication of my idea that I failed to see? Is it possible that testing that implication might provide the counterexample that would prove me wrong?”
  • “Does Jones know more about this than I? Is he aware of a prior case where this idea was weighed in the scales of reality and found wanting?”
  • “Am I truly open to the possibility that I’ve erred, or have I made my concept into an article of faith?”

Now, in the first three of the above assessments, Smith may legitimately entertain the possibility that Jones is perceptually, intellectually, or educationally deficient. Let’s imagine that Smith does reach one of the above conclusions. What can he do about it?

  • He can present Jones with his own perceptions of the world, and invite Jones to “look where he’s pointing,” in the hope that Jones will then see what Smith has seen.
  • He can attempt to lead Jones down the trails of implication that he’s followed but Jones hasn’t.
  • He can direct Jones’s attention to sources of data on the subject with which Jones is unfamiliar.
  • He can abandon the dispute as not worth pursuing: “You have a right to your opinion.”
  • He can diagnose a flaw in Jones that has rendered him incapable of learning the facts as they really are, reasoning from them to the truth, or conceding that he’s maintained a wrong position.

Allow your Curmudgeon to be clear on one critical point: there are many flawed persons in the world. Some are quite clearly evil, insane, or irremediably mentally deficient. But not all persons who disagree with Smith will deserve to be adjudged thus. A man of good will with an adequate store of humility will refrain from reaching such a verdict until it’s beyond all reasonable doubt.


Political movements are internally heterodynamic. Different persons commit themselves to the same movement for different reasons. For some, it’s an intellectual thing: the concepts strike them as important and sound. For others, it’s an emotional response to the plight of others. For yet a third group, it’s their psyches’ cry to involve themselves in something, somehow. And for a fourth group, it’s the desire to gain and wield power.

The liberty movement, with which your Curmudgeon was once overtly involved and the majority of whose ideals he still shares, is not an exception. The power struggles at the pinnacle of such organizations as the Libertarian Party would seem completely familiar to a visitor from a more conventional group such as the Democrats or the Republicans. But wandering through the ranks, one can easily find representatives of the other three motivational clusters: those intellectually excited by the ideas of individual freedom; those whose hearts ache for all the oppressed of the world; and those who desperately need to be involved in something, lest their lives lack all “meaning.” These orientations and their intensities are distributed non-uniformly throughout the human species, a condition likely to persist until the Second Coming.

Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek, in his book The Road To Serfdom, observed in a striking chapter titled “Why The Worst Get On Top” that the drive for power, and the subordination of all other priorities to it, is a critical advantage in the quest for organizational altitude and the authority over others that accompanies it. Leo Tolstoy phrased the matter even more succinctly:

In order to obtain and hold power, a man must love it. Thus the effort to get it is not likely to be coupled with goodness, but with the opposite qualities of pride, cunning, and cruelty.

Thus, we may expect to find evil men — those interested solely in power over others — disproportionately represented near the pinnacle of a political movement, where strategies are formulated, tactics are dictated, and the fruits of victory are carved up for distribution. But by inescapable implication, we will find evil men to be under-represented among the rank and file. Those well separated from the pinnacle, however wrong we might think them, are more likely to be moved by some “wholesome” (according to their lights) desire.

Yes, some will be certifiable — but how many? Aren’t genuinely delusional persons fairly rare in the common run of Man? While they might concentrate to a greater degree in extreme movements, ought we not to exercise restraint about such a diagnosis, as long as they exhibit the fundamental survival traits that constitute basic self-sufficiency?


This subject is inexhaustible. It touches on sanity, epistemology, virtue, and matters of good and evil, all of which are conceptual candle flames to this Curmudgeonly moth. But one must end an essay somewhere, and the time is drawing near when your Curmudgeon must mount his Cub Cadet 1022 and attack the Vietnam simulation his lawn has become.

Enlightened self-interest would dictate that one strive to look as far ahead for the consequences of one’s actions as his intellect and knowledge will permit. Indeed, one of the great faults of the Left has been an unwillingness to peer forward thus. But we of the Right are just as susceptible to the temptation, and in no direction more hazardously than this: we are becoming all too prone to demonizing our opponents wholesale, as they have done to us for lo! these many moons.

Your Curmudgeon is no angel made flesh. He’s done it too.

Let us concede that among our adversaries there are evil, delusional, and mentally and educationally deficient persons. But let us also concede that the great majority are not of those stripes, that we have among us a scattering just as flawed, and that the political discourse would best be served by assuming benevolence and competence in our debating partners as long as humanly possible. After all, to adjudge others as flawed beyond repair is, among other things, a self-exculpation for failing to carry the day. That alone ought to make us suspicious of our own motives for doing it.

Lay not that flattering unction to your soul, that not your trespass but my ruling speaks. — Hamlet, Act III, scene iv.

The Helix

[Inasmuch as I just recently had a most striking reminder of the power of prayer, it seems appropriate that I reprise the following article, which first appeared at Eternity Road on April 2, 2006.]


C. S. Lewis has proposed that the human tastes for constancy and novelty are best conjoined — that they are intended to be mingled in a particular way:

The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, The Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty, yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before. [From the Screwtape Letters]

The above strikes me as Divine inspiration speaking through the mouth of a man. Yet there is another element for our consideration, which Lewis’s passage does not address. A cycle may have change built into it in more than one way. The one Lewis illuminates is only the most obvious. Another, subtler mechanism for cyclic change is built into all of us at a level beneath anything we can control, for which reason it’s often overlooked. Indeed, from time to time it’s been the fashion to deny it.


The Christian world is swiftly moving through the Lenten season, one of the four major demarcations of the Christian liturgical year. Each of those seasons has a pervading theme, which Christians are exhorted to ponder as the season progresses. The themes never change. The liturgical year, based on the events of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, is itself a constant. The shifts from one season to the next are as regular as the stars in their courses.

That regularity and constancy of theme has caused some to scoff at the meaninglessness of such a formalism. Of course, there are many who scoff at all formalism as empty and pointless. A thing that does not change, they contend, cannot possibly imbed meaning or value for an intelligent person. By such an argument, Christian rituals would be complete wastes of time.

To which this writer would reply with his First Carbohydrate Aphorism:

“Keep thine eye upon the doughnut, lest thou pass all unawares through the hole.”

Yes, Christian rituals are highly constant in form and theme. Yes, they repeat with extreme regularity in time. But one ought to look carefully at such things before running off at the mouth. In particular, one ought to exhibit a trace of humility about one’s outside-observer’s position:

“If I, an outsider, am correct in thinking that what I observe is pointless, does it not imply that the persons who voluntarily participate in it must necessarily be idiots? Were I to find non-idiots among them and (gasp!) ask what sustenance they draw from these endlessly repeated forms, what might they say?”

This question apparently does not occur to many of those who deride the Church.


Formalisms and rituals have several known effects upon the mind. They’re calming, promote peace and order among their participants, and provide a form of psychic refreshment unavailable from informal activities. We seem to realize that unconsciously; much of life consists of regularities practiced for no other reason than regularity itself. Ask yourself: wouldn’t it make more sense to eat when hungry and sleep when sleepy, rather than to set to these things at particular times of day? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to work when charged with energy and to cease when exhausted or demotivated than to set out for the workplace at a set time each morning and to leave it at a set time each evening?

Nevertheless, we formalize and regularize those things, not merely because our intercourse with others benefits from the imposition of order, but because they structure our days in a beneficent fashion that assists us in maintaining our composure. We know, broadly, what to expect. We know what will be expected of us, and therefore, upon what conditions we’ll be able to say we’re done with our current tasks and may move on to what comes next. The regularity of our days reassures and soothes us.

Social psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively on “the flow experience:” the mode of consciousness in which men experience their greatest inner harmony, productivity, and satisfaction. The majority of such experiences exhibit a great regularity: they’re repetitions of deeds done many times, that will be repeated many times more in days to come. Yet how could one call them empty or pointless, when they clearly create satisfaction, peace, and even joy in their practitioners? Even the least productive ritual that induces such things would seem completely self-justifying, unless satisfaction, peace, and joy are themselves ruled out of the evaluation.

Nor are we finished. For though the forms might be invariant, the practitioners are not. He who looks at a ritual and dismisses it for its changelessness neglects to consider its critical element, which cannot be insulated from change and is the ultimate point of the whole affair: the participant himself.


A formalism with spiritual content has the twin benefits of reminding the participant of its themes and stimulating him to ponder their relevance to his own life. In this sense, the form simultaneously channels the participant’s thoughts while it frees him to apply the theme creatively to his personal circumstances. Not only in engineering is form a source of liberation.

This is particularly true as regards Christian observances. My two favorites, the Mass and the Rosary, are heavily stylized in practice, yet uniquely stimulating and liberating when approached with an open mind and an accepting heart.

The Mass varies little from week to week. The order of the sub-ceremonies remains the same, the prayers themselves vary little, and of course at the center of it all is the Miracle of Transubstantiation, the recreation for contemporary worshippers of the event, two thousand years ago, when the Son of God, in offering Himself as a Sacrifice for the benefit of Man, sealed God’s New Covenant with the world for all the time that remains.

The Rosary is even more constant. The prayers themselves never vary; one prayer is repeated ten times per decade and fifty times per day. The twenty Mysteries, through which one rotates over the course of the week, are also unchanging. Many devotees of the Rosary pray it at exactly the same time, in exactly the same place, every day of their lives, further reinforcing the regularities of the event.

But they who give themselves fully to these celebrations of love and worship grow with each repetition. Indeed, the repetition itself, even if indulged tentatively and in a spirit of doubt, will draw the participant ever deeper into the spiritual themes imbedded in each prayer. It takes an actual effort of resistance, and a strong one at that, to deny oneself the lightening of heart and enlargement of soul they confer.

In other words, prayer changes him who prays; the prayer itself stays constant.

In reviewing the above, it strikes me that I might be accused of having made ritual prayer sound like a panacea. Nothing could be further from my intent. Life offers each of us many problems, both temporal and spiritual. One cannot solve them all through prayer; it would be arrogant to imagine that one could.

But given the many aspects of the life journey that try one’s soul to its stops, that leave the traveler exhausted and desperate for surcease, isn’t it marvelous that a balm as soothing and costless as ritual prayer is available to us?


The cycles of ritual do change somewhat over time. The Mass I love is not the same Mass I celebrated as a boy. It’s even further distant from the Mass celebrated by the Christians of the earliest centuries after Christ. The Rosary, though its major elements are what they’ve always been, has been altered over the years to include new opening and closing prayers. Pope John Paul II himself decreed that the original fifteen Mysteries — the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious pentads — should be expanded to accommodate an additional pentad: the Luminous Mysteries, which commemorate the five major mileposts in Christ’s time of ministry. Other Christian ceremonies have also been altered in gentle, nondestructive ways, always with an eye to strengthening their binding to the themes they express, and deepening their spiritual effects upon those who partake of them.

And Christians who partake of them grow thereby. The cycle of Christian rituals and observances is only flat and unchanging when viewed two-dimensionally, as a set of practices that stand apart from those who practice them. For Christian worship is not two-dimensional, but three: a rising helix of souls striving, through their forms and the meditation they elicit, to an ever better understanding of God’s Will, and an ever greater appreciation of His Love.


May God bless and keep you all.

The Food Chain

We who believe often speak of the need to “grow in faith.” I’ve never been certain exactly what that means. But as time has passed, my own faith has become ever more important to me: not as a comfort against the certainty of bodily death, and not as some sort of confirmation of my own superiority, but rather as a unifying set of premises that allow the universe, and human life within it, to make sense.

This is critical for one overriding reason: the incoherence of every other religion Man has ever practiced with the observable laws of Nature in action around us.

Today being Corpus Christi Sunday — a holy day celebrated much more enthusiastically and demonstrably in Latin countries than in us of the AngloSphere — allow me to reprise an old favorite from Eternity Road.


The most fundamental of all relations among living things is the food relation. For any two species, which one can eat the other, either in theory or in practice, determines just about everything else about their interactions.

This might seem a little fuzzy in certain cases. Beyond question, a dog can kill and eat a man. The same is true for the Portuguese Man O’ War. But how often does it happen? Yet there are millions of people in various parts of the world for whom dog or jellyfish is a regular part of their diets. (You can stop shuddering now.) In the usual case, Man is considered the eater and these other species the eaten.

Thus, a brief exploration of the food chain.

Man has been an eater for a lot longer than he’s been a builder of civilizations. His career as a hunter has established him as the world champion at that contest. His development of systematic agriculture demonstrated that his hegemony extends equally well to the plant kingdom. By all measures, he’s at the pinnacle of the food chain. He eats whatever he wishes, and only in the rarest of cases does any other species eat him.

The centrality of food relations to Earth’s biosystem is so obvious that we’re all but unaware of it. Two of the more significant but less frequently pondered manifestations of the thing can be found in our nightmares and our rites of worship and propitiation.

Almost as soon as men began to compose tales for one another’s entertainment, they invented creatures with power to hunt, kill, and eat human beings. Vampires, ghouls, and werewolves are items of fantasy, traditional terrors that have been invoked in horror tales for many centuries. Yet what is it that makes them so terrifying? Not that they can kill men, for far lesser creatures can do that, if they get the breaks. No, their ability to frighten comes from their greater-than-human hunting ability, and their view of men as food.

There’s nothing that terrifies like the prospect of being eaten. Men have gone into battle against other men under conditions that virtually guaranteed their deaths, yet they’ve often gone willingly, sometimes even eagerly. They still do. But no man can face the prospect of becoming an entree for a greater creature without quaking in fear.

Mess with a man’s assumptions about the food chain and you upend his whole concept of himself as a man.

On the other side, there are human practices with relation to their concepts of divinity. Divinities — gods — are by definition superior to men. Yet their participation in the life of Man is not categorically predatory, even in those creeds which place evil gods on an equal par with good ones, and see the history of the world as a struggle between equally matched forces of light and darkness in which humans are less than pawns. In our attempts to win the favor of the gods, and on occasion to avert their wrath, men have traditionally offered sacrifices to them. Those sacrifices have almost always been food.

Contemplate the nature of ritual sacrifice for a moment. What’s offered to the god being propitiated is something valuable to men: creatures men had to hunt or cultivate, whose substance could nourish and sustain human life. Yet it is deliberately removed from the human economy, usually by burning, in the attempt to convey to the god the sense that we acknowledge his superiority to us. By denying themselves the consumption of the offered food and instead offering it to the god, the sacrificers make plain that they submit themselves to him. Metaphorically, the sacrificed items are substitutes for human bodies: pleadings that the shamans and their congregants not be eaten.

The Biblical story of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Abraham’s readiness to obey, is terrifying and exalting for that reason. On the one hand, the God of the Old Testament was not perceived even by His Chosen People, of whom Abraham was the progenitor, as being so intrinsically kindly disposed toward Man that He would never, ever demand such a sacrifice. Moreover, His power was such that there was no question that He could enforce His will in such a matter, and much worse besides. On the other hand, God intervened at the last instant to prevent the sacrifice, having established to His satisfaction that Abraham submitted entirely to His will. Thus, the pact between God and the children of Abraham — the Jewish people — was sealed as one of guidance and beneficence from above in exchange for worship and obedience from below. God did not intend to eat His people.

***

Clearly, the food relation is a superiority / inferiority relation. He who eats is the stronger, who can have his will in all things. He who is eaten is the weaker, who must prostrate himself before the other in the hope of benevolence or mercy.

Men, the highest of the creatures of this world, do not eat one another, except in the most extraordinary circumstances. Those micro-societies that have practiced cannibalism have extinguished themselves thereby — there are some very nasty diseases, with fatality rates approaching 100%, that arise from cannibalism — or have been humbled and re-educated by more civilized, more insightful peoples. We have attained enough insight into moral matters, and most particularly into the fundamental equality of rights all men should enjoy, to regard cannibalism with appropriate horror.

But we still tell, and shudder over, stories of powerful, inhuman creatures that hunger for human flesh and blood. Vampire legends make up a healthy fraction of our fantastic literature. When we figure in the werewolf, the ghoul, and the occasional extraterrestrial who regards us as haute cuisine, we’ve covered the overwhelming majority of our scare stories. That’s how fundamental the food relation is to our view of our place in the natural world.

There aren’t many religious sects in the modern world that still practice the old form of ritual sacrifice, in which a food item — usually an animal — is offered up to a god in hopes of winning his favor or pardon. The devotees of Santeria do it, now and then, as do the practitioners of voudoun. But these are meager survivals of old, animistic-pagan creeds. Their adherents are few and will probably never be many.

However, a form of sacrifice still characterizes the most important religious rite in the world. Its devotees number in the billions. They partake of this sacrifice at every opportunity; to them, it is the highest a living man can rise in communion with God. And most curiously of all, it is a bidirectional sacrifice, the only such ever celebrated in all the eons of Man.

I speak, of course, of the Miracle of Transubstantiation in the Christian Eucharist.

In the days of Christ, the ritual sacrifice of food animals at the Temple in Jerusalem was still the preeminent religious rite in the classical world. The Hebrews regarded those sacrifices as God’s due for extending His protection over them as His Chosen People. Indeed, according to the Book of Exodus, such sacrifices were ordained by God Himself, as He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. The Jews of that time considered them the only truly complete act of religious devotion.

Christ upended their world by inverting the food chain. No more would they give up their sustenance in propitiation of the divine will. Henceforward, it would be the other way around: the Son of God would be the Sacrifice, and His people would partake.

From the Gospel According To John:

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” [John 6:48-58]

The rite of the Eucharist, in commemoration of the Last Supper, offers bread and wine to God and prays that they might be found acceptable. In response to this humble offering, and in fulfillment of Christ’s promise, through the celebrant-priest He works the Transubstantiation, which allows the form of the bread and wine to remain as they are, but converts their substance into the body and blood of Christ. At each Mass, a traditional sacrifice of food to God is met with a renewal of the offering of Christ’s body and blood to the world, for the remission of sin and as a perpetual grant of His grace to all who will accept it.

No other creed has anything to compare with the Eucharist. Nor could any conceivable rite, however elaborately crusted with mystery or symbolism, approach the stunning power of God Himself, in the Person of His Son, offering Himself as food to lowly Man.

He could eat us all. Instead He offers Himself as food, that we may remember His Sacrifice for us, and draw as close to Him as mortal creatures can get while still in this world.

Today is the Sunday ordained for the celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Sacrifice beyond all others, that no offering by mortal men could ever equal. The proof that the food chain is not God’s manacle about our hands. The unanswerable refutation of those who insist that a malevolent power bestrides the universe. The ironclad guarantee that we are not to be eaten, but to be fed.


And may God bless and keep you all.

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