Monday, September 30, 2013

The Great Disaffection

Glenn Reynolds, our beloved InstaPundit, has delineated one aspect of the ongoing IRS scandals that will have grave and protracted consequences:

So last week, while most of the country was talking about football or fears of a government shutdown, Rasmussen released a poll that should worry everyone -- but especially incumbent Democrats in Congress. According to Rasmussen's survey, most Americans think the IRS broke the law by targeting Tea Party groups for harassment, but few expect it to be punished. Fifty-three percent think the IRS broke the law by targeting the Tea Party and other conservative groups like the voter-integrity outfit True The Vote; only 24% disagreed. But only 17% think it is even somewhat likely that anyone will be charged, while 74% think that criminal charges are unlikely.

So a majority of Americans think that government officials who exercise an important trust broke the law, but only a very small number think anything will be done to punish them.

Many in the Right will regard this as dog-bites-man stuff, yesterday's news at best. It is not:

Believing that government officials break the law is one thing; believing that they face no consequences when they're caught and it becomes public is another. Not only is this a sort of "broken windows" signal to other bureaucrats -- hey, you can break the law and get away with it -- but it's particularly damaging where the IRS is concerned.

America's tax system, despite the feared IRS audit, is fundamentally based on voluntary compliance. If everyone starts cheating, there aren't enough IRS agents to make a dent. Beyond taxes, that's true regarding compliance with the law in general. Moral legitimacy is what makes honest people obey the law even when they can get away with breaking it. Undermine that and you get a country like, say, Italy, where tax evasion is a national sport.

The effect goes well beyond taxation, of course. Law can only be seen in one of two ways:

  • As the codification of what all decent persons know to be right and just;
  • As an instrument by which the nation's masters can oppress and plunder the rest of us.

When the former conviction prevails among the ordinary persons of a nation, there is order, social harmony, and very little crime. The average man understands the law to be only a somewhat more formally worded version of the moral and ethical principles he learned at his mother's knee. He would accept it as a given, something that needs no continuing attention.

When the latter conviction prevails, things are much different. What order there might be exists despite the law. Ordinary persons regard it as morally and ethically repugnant, and violate it whenever it suits them to do so. Their sole disincentive to violation is the probability of being caught and the severity of the consequences. Some among them seek to use the law as an instrument for their own gain at the expense of others...and not all of these are lawyers.

Frederic Bastiat pinned this more than 160 years ago:

Men naturally rebel against the injustice of which they are victims. Thus, when plunder is organized by law for the profit of those who make the law, all the plundered classes try somehow to enter—by peaceful or revolutionary means—into the making of laws. According to their degree of enlightenment, these plundered classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they attempt to attain political power: Either they may wish to stop lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.

None of the aspects of human nature that propel this progression have changed since then.

It's been some time since Typical Decent Person John Q. Public was more likely than not to say that law in America is merely a formal codification of right and wrong as he understands it. Mr. Public isn't that naive. He can see what goes on in Washington, in the state capitals, and (to the extent that it gets any publicity at all) in county and municipal legislative bodies. It appalls him. But he's had no power to alter it much since the New Deal years.

Mr. Public, and an ever swelling number of his relatives, neighbors, and friends, are disaffected from the legal and political structures of these United States. They reject all claims that law and law enforcement have anything to do with justice. The disaffection has progressed so far that police interactions with private citizens that were once deemed routine and unthreatening are viewed as potentially oppressive, to be video-recorded "just in case." The police don't like it much, but whether it chafes the honest ones or the dishonest ones more severely is hard to say.

Disaffection is followed by disaffiliation: the withdrawal of allegiance, whether express or implied. Shortly after that, we'll find ourselves in Isaac Asimov's decaying Galactic Empire:

"The fall of Trantor," said Seldon, "cannot be stopped by any conceivable effort. It can be hastened easily, however. The tale of my interrupted trial will spread through the Galaxy. Frustration of my plans to lighten the disaster will convince people that the future holds no promise to them. Already they recall the lives of their grandfathers with envy. They will see that political revolutions and trade stagnations will increase. The feeling will pervade the Galaxy that only what a man can grasp for himself at that moment will be of any account. Ambitious men will not wait and unscrupulous men will not hang back. By their every action they will hasten the decay of the worlds. Have me killed and Trantor will fall not within three centuries but within fifty years and you, yourself, within a single year." [Isaac Asimov, Foundation, emphasis added.]

Gives you a big warm-fuzzy feeling, doesn't it?

Allow me to recur once more to Frederic Bastiat:

No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them.

The divergence of law from fundamental moral and ethical principles has gone a long way already. It doesn't have much further to go. The final push could well come from IRS malfeasance.

What Lois Lerner and her willing collaborators did was clearly and flagrantly illegal. They used the pretense of legal authority to hobble one side of an electoral contest. The evidence is beyond dispute, as is the law that pertains to such machinations. With the rise of the general conviction that no one in government will suffer a just punishment for having helped Barack Hussein Obama to steal his second term of office, we come to the edge of the abyss: the point at which the courts, long trusted to apply impersonal standards of justice to public servants and private citizens alike, will be relegated to the moral void along with the law itself.

Are you ready for the vigilance committees, Gentle Reader?

Too Good Not To Steal Dept.

I'm a second-generation thief on this one, which Gerard found at Matt Walsh's blog:

SHUTDOWN THE GOVERNMENT?! BUT HOW WOULD WE EAT OR BREATHE?! This is a warning to Ted Cruz and all his ilk: If the government stops operating for even one day — chaos and cannibalism will reign in the streets. Mark my words. Yeah, a government shutdown would only impact “non-essential” federal government functions. And, yeah, some might even argue that the government should only be doing the essential things in the first place. But that will be of little solace when you’re bleeding on the ground, being eaten alive by the starving masses. I can scarcely imagine the horror. If non-essential government agencies and departments are forced to close for a short period of time, that means we’ll have to find a way to go without the Administration on Aging, and the Japan-United States Friendship Commission, and the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. WHERE WILL I GET MY TRANSPORTATION STATISTICS?! You’re playing with fire, conservatives. Civilization is bound together by the strong, steady hand of bureaucracy. If you loosen its grasp, you risk plunging us all into a dark, perilous land of individual responsibility and liberty. Our Founders fought and died to rescue us from such a fate, and I’ll be damned if I sit here and let you undo their efforts.

Feeling that itch to take the musket down from the mantel yet, Gentle Reader? But seriously, if you want to survive the shutdown, be sure to drink your morning Tang:

America's Space Shuttle crews do!

(Shamelessly stolen from Maetenloch at Ace of Spades HQ.)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Isolation, Anonymity, And Acceptance: A Sunday Rumination

The Internet is a marvelous thing, a facilitation of interpersonal communication unprecedented in its power and scope. We can connect near-effortlessly with persons of every land and clime, exchange all manner of information and ideas with them, and return whenever we wish to the total isolation and anonymity of our homes. We need sacrifice none of our comforts or conveniences. We need not extend ourselves in any objective or enduring way.

Well, yes, there are some good things about it, too.

Sociologist Robert Nisbet fretted that the impersonal mechanisms we use to deal with one another, most particularly our markets, might be "too efficient for life on a human scale." When I first encountered that sentiment, I dismissed it in the fashion of the Omniscient Youth: He who knows everything he wants to know, and disdains leavening by actual experience of the world. No doubt you've encountered one or two such. They seem to be everywhere, these days.

Yet Professor Nisbet had an important point. Our impersonal mechanisms are ubiquitous and undemanding. They ask little to nothing of their users, except (in some cases) for a monthly service fee. We come to them as individuals and retreat from them the same way...usually, unchanged.

As one who has become, late in life, a writer of fiction and a student of Mankind generally, that thought disturbs me more greatly than I can say. Yet I, a natural isolate, have found myself caught in the toils of the very mechanisms it describes.

Granted that too much personal involvement with others can be worse than none at all. Privacy, independent thought, and independent action are all important. Though the thought can be chilling, each of us must stand before God alone. More, each of us is required to acknowledge that fact. There's no admission to the afterlife without facing one's Particular Judgment. To imagine that we can wipe our crimes from the record by collectivizing them -- effectively laying the onus off onto others' shoulders -- is to abandon the core premise of Christianity, and therefore to deny Christ Himself.

But we are not in this world to stand alone. Indeed, we cannot. The perfect isolate, the "lone wolf," sooner or later finds that he has rejected not merely his fellows but all of Mankind's wisdom and norms. Isolation leads to anonymity -- the loss of one's relative or social identity -- and thence to anomie: the condition in which all the regulatory influences of immersion in a larger society have vanished.

So what's an isolate by preference, acutely uncomfortable when surrounded by strangers, to do?

The isolate's central problem is his reluctance to accept others as others: as persons of differing preferences, powers, and peculiarities. No two human beings are completely different, of course. Yet the tendency toward isolation invariably emphasizes differences above commonalities, with accompanying fear or distaste. For some, it's a matter of differences in convictions; for others, it's a disdain for others' habits and eccentricities; for still others, it's all about style. Any of these can rise to eclipse the useful commonalities one might discover in a random acquaintance, were one willing and able to overlook the divergences.

Surely some differences are unbridgeable or practically so. Moral differences -- Smith perceiving Jones as evil -- are of that sort. So are some kinds of allergies, physical or intellectual. But these are marginal cases, applicable to a small fraction of the encounters we experience.

But to accept the other is to commit to the proposition that there's enough commonality there to make tolerance possible, and perhaps intimacy at a later time. What makes that proposition, and the costs one will incur by acting on it, a good bet?

You already know the answer, don't you, Gentle Reader?

Strangely yet consistently, the people with whom I interact regularly are isolates as well. At work, play, or home, those in my proximity all prefer to keep to themselves, just as I do. Some of us are perceptibly unhappy and unhealthy; others appear to function perfectly well. The reasons demand elucidation.

For my part, I maintain emotional equilibrium through work -- specifically, my fiction -- and faith -- my faith in God, in the New Covenant of Christ, and in the indispensable Catholic premise that He does not make junk. A man can convert himself to living wreckage, but no man starts out that way. Even those who've embraced dissolution and depravity can be rescued, if they're willing to allow it. Salvation has been offered to every man who lives; we need only humble ourselves sufficiently to accept it.

The point of my writing, in large measure, is the promulgation of that postulate, especially to those who've deemed themselves either too good or too bad to accept others. My best audience, for whom I can do the most, is they who are as isolated as I, whether by preference or by happenstance. That's why everything I write concerns itself with freedom, or Christianity, or love, or most often some combination of the three.

When I write, I shed my anonymity.
When I'm read, I'm no longer alone.

Have a snippet from Freedom's Fury, the novel that will cap off the Spooner Federation saga:

    Ernie pocketed the list of required lab instruments and went to the docking hatch to depart. Althea turned to Claire Albermayer and said, “I like to suit up and go outside to watch arrivals and departures. It’s pretty safe. Care to join me?”
    Albermayer’s brow furrowed momentarily. She nodded, and the two of them made their way through the surface tunnel to the sally port.
    Outside, when their feet were planted on the surface of the Relic, Althea murmured, “Put an arm around me.”
    Albermayer hesitated, then complied. Althea snaked her right arm around the bioengineer’s waist and pulled her as closely against her side as she could manage without deforming the life-support tubules that ran the length of their pressure suits.
    They watched in silence as Freedom’s Promise uncoupled itself from the docking port, pushed itself to a safe distance from the Relic with its directional jets, and ignited its space drive. Their eyes tracked the violet plume of the spaceplane’s anaerobic engine as it dwindled and vanished from sight.
    Albermayer made to release Althea and return to the sally port. Althea tightened her grip minutely, and the bioengineer thought better of it. They remained on the outer surface, gazing down at the blue-green glory of Hope, for several minutes more.
    “I miss home,” Althea said.
    “How long have you been away?” Albermayer replied.
    “Too long. All told, about ten years, with interruptions.”
    “I don’t think I could bear that.”
    Althea smiled faintly. “I had work to do that had to be done here.” And elsewhere. “Work no one else could possibly do. I’m sure you know how strong a compulsion that can be. You’re a worker bee too.”
    Albermayer nodded.
    She’s not an ice queen after all.
    I’ve put the future of Mankind in her hands. I have to know who she is. What she loves. What she’d die to protect.
    “May I ask a personal question, Claire?”
    “Go ahead.”
    “Do you have someone special?”
    The bioengineer looked at her quizzically. “No. Why do you ask?”
    “Just curious. How long has it been?”
    “ know. Since there was someone special.”
    Albermayer was slow to reply.
    “There’s never been anyone like that for me, Althea.”
    “What? Are you serious?”
    Albermayer nodded.
    “But you’ were in school with my grandfather Armand!”
    “Yes, I was.”
    “And you’ve never had a lover?”
    Another long pause.
    “I have no sex drive, Althea.” The words were drier than the dust between the stars. “I never have. I could never see the point of an intimate involvement, so I never formed one. I severely doubt one would have lasted.” Albermayer’s slight smile spoke of an isolation beyond Althea’s ken. She squeezed Althea gently, making the pumps in Althea’s suit whine. “This is the closest I’ve been to another person in more than a century.”
    “Dear God.”
    Albermayer cocked an eyebrow. “You’re a believer?”
    Althea nodded. “You’re not?”
    Albermayer shook her head.
    “There’s something missing from me, Althea. At least, my parents thought so. I hear other people talk about their emotional attachments—I hear the passion in your voice when you speak of your husband, and in Nora’s when she talks of hers—and it’s like a glimpse into the mind of an alien species. I’ve never felt anything like that for anyone.
    “I’ve been courted a few times. My suitors couldn’t decide what to make of my non-responsiveness. For my part, I never grasped their interest, what attracted them to me sufficiently to justify their efforts. I was always made slightly uncomfortable by that sort of attention, as if I were being told that something was expected of me that I simply couldn’t deliver.”
     “What about...your parents?”
    Albermayer shook her head again. “I appreciated their contributions to my welfare and upbringing. I always have and always will. But it’s not the sort of filial affection and attachment others experience. At least, it doesn’t sound like it when I hear them speak of their families.
    “Your grandmother approached me, long ago, with one of her little books. She said reading it could benefit me immeasurably, so I did. Some of the stories were interesting, but I couldn’t see the point in most of them. Especially the long one near the middle, about the itinerant preacher who let his enemies execute him.” Albermayer frowned. “You really believe that those things actually happened?”
    “Well,” Althea temporized, “let’s say I’m working on it.”
    The bioengineer shook her head again. “I couldn’t accept it. It was just too counter-intuitive.”
    Althea started to reply, clamped her lips together.
    She has no one and wants no one. I’m crazy-mad in love with Martin and addicted to my home and kin, but I deliberately separated myself from all of them for three years. Which of us is the alien?
    “I must say, though,” Albermayer said, surprising her, “this is rather pleasant.”
    “You mean our holding each other?”
    “Yes. I’m sure you only had my safety in mind, though.”
    I’m not.
    “If we were absolutely positive that the nanites are gone from my system,” Althea said, “I could show you something much nicer.”
    Claire Albermayer’s smile turned warm and knowing.
    “I know what you mean, Althea. I’ve been there and done that, as they say. I remember it clearly. It isn’t necessary to do it again.”
    Althea colored and looked away.
    Maybe it is, babe. For more reasons than you know.
    “Should we go back inside?” Albermayer said.
    “Yeah,” Althea husked. “Let’s do that.”

Althea Morelon is the highest child of her race, gifted from birth with unique powers of body and mind to which no other human being has ever come near. She could well have become a complete isolate, disdainful of others for their inferiority and resolved to make her way entirely alone. She did not. She consciously loves and accepts love. Her life is rich in love and its fulfillments, as you'll already know if you've read Freedom's Scion.. I designed her that way.

Yet I did not expect the scene above to emerge from my fingers. It shocked me both while and after I wrote it. I knew Claire full well, of course; I designed her, too. But I did not realize until she had done it that Althea would see in Claire an isolate to be rescued from isolation, for Claire's own good and the good of all that lives and will live.

Don't misconstrue: it was a good shock. In the scene above, all of Althea's drives and passions came clear to me, her creator, at last. It was then that I knew I'd designed a hero worthy to succeed her grandfather Armand, to deliver many millions from the most abysmal sort of bondage, and to thwart the forces that would attempt to transform her into something she would hate. (You'll have to wait for the completed novel to get the rest of that story.)

Ultimately, Althea is why I write: to provide others with heroes. Paragons. Figures worthy of admiration and emulation. In doing so, I connect with my readers. I provide them with what they want and need. In showing them a superlative figure who chooses to serve others with her gifts rather than remain aloof from them, I break my own isolation, at least for a little while, and offer them the chance to break theirs -- to unite with me, however briefly and vicariously, through a common love.

Yet the ultimate Hero is not of my creation. In Him, we who believe are united even while remaining distinct. We constitute the Mystical Body of Christ -- and in that Body there is acceptance by, of, and for all.

Something has called to us all of our days
Whispering of glory and glorious ways
Someone has reached from an infinite space
Found in our hearts the most secretive place
Planted a vision though not clearly seen
For mankind is fallen, mankind is fallen
Mankind is fallen

There is a yearning in every heart
Reminding us all who we were from the start
Destined for more than our earthly estate
Heaven may beckon though we're doomed to wait
And so we may search for what truth we can find
For mankind is fallen

There is a dragon as real as can be
Conquered mankind with the fruit of the tree
And he sees the truth of who we're meant to be

Searching for someone that calls from above
A hero to follow, who worthy of love
Has risen from death and then rolled back the stone
Holds high the sword and then urges us on
To put down the dragon we've served all along
For mankind is fallen

[Schendel and Babb / Glass Hammer, "Heroes and Dragons," from the album Lex Rex]

Even a lifelong isolate can persuade himself to accept others, if he has the assurance that those others are already one with him in the Mystical Body of Christ. For that sort of oneness preserves our unique identities as well: the sort of seeming paradox that only God could resolve. Indeed, He sent His Son to travel, preach, suffer, and die among us as only a hero would -- and then to rise from the dead in a pellucid demonstration of His Authority, to demonstrate and resolve it.

Therein is found an isolate's ultimate relief from existential anonymity, and from the rejection of existence that proceeds from it.

May God bless and keep you all.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Judgments and Natures: A Non-Political Discourse

As one aspect of my involvement in indie fiction, I write a large number of reviews and critiques. When I first set out on this path, I had to struggle against my impulse to measure others' approaches to plotting, characterization, narration, and style against my own approaches and preferences. It was difficult then, and it remains difficult today. That's the downside of strong opinions and tastes.

Over time, I realized that critical or evaluative judgment of any sort requires a particular orientation. Before he sets out to comment on some specific work of a man's hands, the would-be judge must be sure he has the correct standard clearly and firmly in mind. That is: One can only judge a thing rightfully if one is aware of the nature of that thing, and applies the standard proper to that nature.

You mustn't judge erotica by a standard appropriate to a psychological novel. You mustn't judge a wallpaper design by a standard appropriate to a Rembrandt. You mustn't judge a book by a standard appropriate to a doorstop...well, most books, anyway. Each of these things should be measured against the criteria pertinent to its nature: the sort of thing it is. Thus, the critical process must proceed as follows:

  • Determining the nature of the thing to be judged;
  • Locating the appropriate standard;
  • Comparing the thing to that standard and noting both excellences and incongruities;
  • Evaluating the thing on the aggregate of those observations.

That probably sounds obvious to some Gentle Readers, but I will pause here (yet again) to note that the Latin roots of obvious mean overlooked. In any event, it only became crystal-clear to me after I'd sat through quite a number of dog shows.

The observation applies with equal intensity to the judgment of persons, singly or in aggregate.

Jane had gone into the garden to think. She accepted what the Director had said, yet it seemed to her nonsensical. His comparison between Mark's love and God's (since apparently there was a God) struck her nascent spirituality as indecent and irreverent. "Religion" ought to mean a realm in which her haunting female fear of being treated as a thing, an object of barter and desire and possession, would be set permanently at rest and what she called her "true self" would soar upwards and expand in some freer and purer world. For still she thought that "Religion" was a kind of exhalation or a cloud of incense, something steaming up from specially gifted souls toward a receptive Heaven. Then, quite sharply, it occurred to her that the Director never talked about Religion; nor did the Dimbles nor Camilla. They talked about God. They had no picture in their minds of some mist steaming upward: rather of strong, skillful hands thrust down to make, and mend, and perhaps even to destroy. Supposing one were a thing after all -- a thing designed and invented by Someone Else and valued for qualities quite different from what one had decided to regard as one's true self? Supposing all those peoples who, from her bachelor uncles down to Mark and Mother Dimble, had infuriatingly found her sweet and fresh when she wanted them to find her also interesting and important, had all along been simply right and perceived the sort of thing she was? Supposing Maleldil on this subject agreed with them and not with her? For one moment she had a ridiculous and scorching vision of a world in which God Himself would never understand, never take her with full seriousness. Then, at one particular corner of the gooseberry patch, the change came.

What awaited her there was serious to the degree of sorrow and beyond. There was no form nor sound. The mould under the bushes, the moss on the path, and the little brick border, were not visibly changed. But they were changed. A boundary had been crossed. She had come into a world, or into a Person, or into the presence of a Person. Something expectant, patient, inexorable, met her with no veil of protection between. In the closeness of that contact she perceived that the Director's words had been entirely misleading. This demand which now pressed upon her was not, even by analogy, like any other demand. It was the origin of all right demands and contained them. In its light you could understand them, but from them you could know nothing of it. There was nothing, and never had been anything, like this. And now there was nothing except this. Yet also, everything had always been like this; only by being like this had anything existed. In this height and depth and breadth the little idea she had of herself which she had hitherto called me dropped down and vanished, unfluttering, into bottomless distance, like a bird in a space without air. The name me was the name of a being whose existence she had never suspected, a being that did not yet fully exist but which was demanded. It was a person (not the person she had thought), yet also a thing, a made thing, made to please Another and in Him to please all others, a thing being made at this very moment, without its choice, in a shape it had never dreamed of. And the making went on amidst a kind of splendor or sorrow or both, whereof she could not tell if it was in the moulding hands or in the kneaded lump. [C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength]

Julian O'Dea has set out upon a path so rarely trodden these last few decades that one comes upon it with a sense of shock. Specifically, he and a guest poster who goes by the cognomen of Content Woman have attempted to argue for the following closely intertwined propositions:

  • That women are innately inferior to men;
  • That a woman must admit this to have a happy and fulfilling life;
  • That it's proper for a woman to submit herself, humbly and willingly, to her man;
  • That no other relation between the sexes is conducive to the happiness of either, or to social harmony.

Female Gentle Readers of Liberty's Torch are likely to be caught between astonishment and outrage that anyone should dare to advance such propositions in this day and age. That alone marks O'Dea as unusually courageous, whether you agree with him or not. However, what most important about O'Dea's contentions is the way he has founded them: as evaluations of women (and men) that proceed from his overall assessment of their nature: the what of the human female, as distinct from the who of any specific woman.

The most concise summary of the matter comes from Content Woman:

Egalitarians try to make the sexes equal and interchangeable while often taking great pains to explain that this doesn’t mean they are the same; but this fails to recognise the inherent inequalities between men and women. Even the complementarity argument fails eventually since it is easily subverted and subsumed into the egalitarian “equal but different” rhetoric. Equal value in the eyes of God becomes an argument for equal “rights” on Earth, and that is clearly not what God meant when He created woman as a helpmeet for man. Woman was created for man; man was not created for woman.

For normal women, it is hard to imagine being sexually attracted to an inferior person, so it is women who try to be equal to men thinking that will make us more appealing to them. In the gospel of Oprah, we are commanded to become the man we want, as if that will attract that man, as if a man wants a piss poor imitation of himself. Of course, this is a lie, and man does not want a bad facsimile of himself. Women don’t seem too happy with this arrangement either, given all the divorces they file and happy pills they take, and the simple reason for this is that a woman does not want an equal, but a superior. Her heart knows that she is inferior and that she is designed to be that way but she won’t just relax and accept that her place is to serve a man in return for his care and protection.

The evidence is manifest in all sorts of ways, but most obviously in our physical bodies. A man’s genitalia are external, made to act upon a woman. A woman’s genitalia are internal, yielding, and made to receive. To think that this doesn’t matter in the bigger picture is ludicrous. Our sexuality is central to who we are, otherwise why would we even be having any discussions of this nature to begin with?

Content Woman's argument is utterly independent of any particular identity. She doesn't trifle with irrelevancies. She goes directly to the natures of the sexes and how they compare to one another. Given that there are billions of women and billions of men, individual exceptions to any statement comparing the sexes' natures will surely exist.

Herein lies the rub: nearly every woman in Western Civilization will immediately assert, regardless of her inability to refute the argument from nature, that she is any man's equal and will submit to none. Even a woman who would agree with Content Woman's thesis would all but certainly qualify it by asserting that she, personally, is an exception.

Apparently we have an easier time with such arguments and comparisons when they don't demand anything from us personally.

"When a dog pisses on a fire hydrant, he's not committing vandalism, he's just being a dog." -- Tom Clancy.

There are more categories applicable to human beings than just the genders: Leaders versus Followers versus Independents; Thinkers versus Doers versus Critics; Prudent versus Impulsive versus Insane; and so forth. Some of these approach the stature of natures, in that he who fits one of them often finds it difficult to the point of impossibility to break out of it.

If a category presents us with bounds near to impermeable, the path of wisdom is to regard it as a sub-nature of our broader human nature, and therefore something we might be best advised to work with rather than to struggle against. This proceeds from an essential premise -- indeed, the essential premise, the premise of Essence:

We are "of our natures."
Our natures are not "of us."

That being the case, our natures are an integral part of the explanation for all else about us. More, they constrain what we may individually become. And though such a constraint will sometimes feel confining, it is also liberating: It frees one from the need to measure up to any standard other than the one his nature has already applied.

Feel the freedom your nature provides as well as its limitations.

Pearls of expression – XXXVI.

ObamaCare is something new in American life: the creation of a massive bureaucracy charged with downsizing you — to a world of fewer doctors, higher premiums, lousier care, more debt, fewer jobs, smaller houses, smaller cars, smaller, fewer, less; a world where worse is the new normal.
"Are Western Nations 'Rich Enough To Be Stupid?' ." By Mark Steyn, Investor's Business Daily, 9/28/13.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Quickies: The Audacity Of...Greed?

Just a moment ago, a brief exchange with an old friend unaccountably put me in mind of Barack Hussein Obama's ghostwritten campaign book The Audacity Of Hope. Leaving aside that the title of that unreadable tome was lifted directly from a sermon by America-hating racialist pastor Jeremiah Wright, there's this as well:

What, exactly, were Obama's followers supposed to hope, audaciously or otherwise, for?

From everything we've seen to date, if it isn't great crashing waves and torrents of yummy stuff involuntarily paid for by the people who didn't vote for him, I can't think what it might be. Can you?

Yet the Left calls us "greedy." It is to laugh...hollowly, and with one hand on a gun.

Quickies: The Establishment Has To Get Its Digs In

In this morning's "Morning Jolt," Jim Geraghty's daily email from the hallowed halls of National Review Online, we find the following:

Is Obamacare Doomed to Collapse No Matter What Congress Does?

Either everything we're hearing about Obamacare from the people implementing it is wrong, or it's going to be an unmanageable disaster. We may someday look back and think Ted Cruz and his like-minded Republicans worked tooth and nail to save Democrats from one of their biggest policy mistakes in decades.

If Geraghty really thinks letting the Democrats' "big legislative accomplishment" fail out in front of God and everybody -- presumedly so the Republicans will reap an electoral benefit -- is more important than deflecting the "train wreck" (Max Baucus) that's about to collide with millions of American households, his priorities diverge rather sharply from mine.

Political advantage isn't everything, Establishmentarian friends. There's also right, justice, and the well-being of America and Americans.

A Quick Reminder

What the Left fears, it attacks:

ABC: Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson joined ABC News for a web interview after his appearance on the “This Week” roundtable on Sunday, answering viewer questions about his time as governor, his experience meeting with the Taliban, and his thoughts on Korean ruler Kim Jong-Un. When asked about Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Richardson expressed his distaste for the senator.

“I’m not a fan. I know [Ted Cruz is] sort of the Republican latest flavor. He’s articulate. He seems to be charismatic, but I don’t like his politics. I think he introduces a measure of incivility in the political process. Insulting people is not the way to go. But I guess he’s a force in the Republican political system, but I’m not a fan.”

ABC News: Do you think he represents most Hispanics with his politics?

“No, no. He’s anti-immigration. Almost every Hispanic in the country wants to see immigration reform. No, I don’t think he should be defined as a Hispanic. He’s a politician from Texas. A conservative state. And I respect Texas’ choice. But what I don’t like is… when you try to get things done, it’s okay to be strong and state your views, your ideology. But I’ve seen him demean the office, be rude to other senators, not be part of, I think, the civility that is really needed in Washington.”

...and its attacks are always intended to set us against one another – "us" being interpreted as "whoever might see this guy as appealing for any reason."

Note also the reflexive return to the theme of "civility," by which the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party means "Sit down and shut up, youngster; you don't get to have initiatives or opinions of your own yet." Apparently the United States Senate has an Eleventh Commandment the rest of us haven't been apprised of: Thou shalt not rock the Leadership's boat. How strange that Richardson, the unsuccessful former governor of New Mexico who was disqualified for Secretary of Commerce because of credible allegations of corruption, should have learned about it.

We're going to see lots more of both the above motifs -- and from here on out to 2016, the Republican "Leadership" will be part of the chorus. Keep on rockin', Senator Cruz.

Quotidian Brilliance Dept.

This one is from Phil at Random Nuclear Strikes:

Succinct and perfect.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Cruz Filibuster: Aftermath

I hadn't intended to write about anything today -- my schedule for the day looks like slavery reimagined with computers and fluorescent lighting -- but this exceptional article by Michael Walsh simply compels me to add my two cents:

In the decades to come, historians may well look back on the partisan passage of Obamacare during President Obama’s first term and its disastrous implementation in the second as a Pyrrhic victory, the beginning of the end of the Progressive project to “fundamentally transform” the United States of America. Whether Senator Ted Cruz ultimately succeeds in his quest to defund Obamacare this time, his electrifying quasi-filibuster yesterday and today nevertheless marks a turning point in modern American political history — the day when conservatives turned their back on the collaborationist Republican Party and finally fought back.

It’s been a long time coming.

Walsh clarifies what he means by "the collaborationist Republican Party" by citing this scrofulous screed by McCain 2008 advisor Steve Schmidt:

Former John McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt says he has “deep regret” for helping to create a “freak show” wing of the Republican Party when he had a hand in bringing former McCain running mate Sarah Palin to the national stage.

Schmidt said Monday on MSNBC’s “Hardball” it’s time for the GOP to stand up to the “asininity” embodied by Palin and others.

“For the last couple of years, we’ve had this wing of the party running roughshod over the rest of the party. Tossing out terms like RINO saying we’re going to purge, you know, the moderates out of the party,” Schmidt said. “We’ve lost five U.S. Senate seats over the last two election cycles. And fundamentally we need Republicans, whether they’re running for president, whether they’re in the leadership of the Congress, to stand up against a lot of this asininity.”

To which Walsh's rejoinder:

Well, one man’s asininity is another man’s principles, but principles are something the PBFP [Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party -- FWP] doesn’t much understand. The only principle that counts to them is maintenance of office; long ago they realized there’s no percentage in bucking the system. Far better (for Republicans) to pretend to be “conservative” during election season — especially in the Senate — only to return to “Senate comity” once safely past the shoals of the electorate. In the winter, they’re Buddhists, in the summer they’re nudists, to quote the late Joe Gould. beyond my powers to improve upon.

That having been said, I must inject a note of caution -- realistic rather than pessimistic caution, I think -- about Cruz's prospects, and the prospects for a Constitutional revival, in the foreseeable future.

Yes, Virginia, there is a "Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party," to which a large fraction of Republicans in high office belong. And yes, the maintenance of their power, prestige, and perquisites is its members' top priority...if, indeed, they have any other priorities. This is in perfect conformance with the dynamic of political power:

In a system of unconstrained government,
Power will flow preponderantly to men who worship Power,
And who prize nothing above it.

Reread Friedrich Hayek's The Road To Serfdom, particularly the chapter titled "Why The Worst Get On Top," before you disagree.

One corollary of this dynamic is that The System -- i.e., the gaggle of insiders who constitute the ruling elite -- will be self-defending. (I almost slipped and wrote "self-cleansing," but realized in time that such a system should not be referred to as "clean" even in a technical sense.) It will have mechanisms for:

  1. Identifying enemies to its premises, priorities, and structures;
  2. Barring them at the gates;
  3. Expunging any who slip past its filters before they can do it objective damage.

However, those defenses aren't guaranteed to operate instantaneously or infallibly. They must be triggered by the perception of a credible threat; the forces they command must be marshaled and mobilized; and they must be set loose upon their target with unambiguous orders to "terminate with extreme prejudice."

This will be the case with any system that desires uncontested control of some valuable thing...and to power-mongers, nothing is more valuable than power.

Ted Cruz slipped past the first two of the PBFP's defenses. At first, he probably looked to them like an asset: an articulate, charismatic Texan of Hispanic descent who willingly aligned with the GOP. They were willing to see him rise a certain distance without hindrance. As fellow politicians, they gave him the benefit of "professional courtesy:" They assumed he was completely insincere, and could be trusted to "fall in line" with the leadership's priorities.

Their alarms didn't sound until Cruz became a viable candidate for the United States Senate.

The Republican side of the PBFP became uneasy as Cruz made plain the distance between himself and his opponent for the nomination, Lieutenant-governor David Dewhurst. Dewhurst was much more to PBFP tastes. Though Cruz won the state party's nod, the national party's support of him was tepid at best. It wouldn't be quite right to say Cruz won his seat despite the national party, but it's defensible to say he could easily have done it without them.

And so there he sits, in the United States Senate...and mirabile dictu, it develops that he really does believe everything he said on the campaign trail. He's the "real deal:" a passionate Constitutionalist conservative, willing to fight anyone on any topic, including PBFP Republicans.

Because Cruz strode into action briskly from his very first days in the Senate chamber, he's managed to make a mark even more dramatic than that of his colleague Rand Paul, whom the PBFP disdains in equal degree. Therefore, we may expect the third element of the PBFP's defenses to begin its barrage immediately. Indeed, we have the behavior of the Dishonorable John McCain (R, Himself and Only Himself) to indicate the direction in which matters will proceed from here:

(Reuters) - Senator John McCain lashed out at fellow Republican Ted Cruz on Wednesday over a Nazi appeasement comparison he made during his all-night, anti-Obamacare marathon on the U.S. Senate floor....

"I resoundingly reject" Cruz's comments, said McCain, a senior Republican and former presidential candidate.

"I think it's wrong and I think it's a disservice to those who stood up and shouted at the top of their lungs that we cannot appease and that we must act," he said.

He said the remarks were a disservice to those, including his father and grandfather, who fought in World War Two.

McCain also objected to the suggestion that Republicans who do not support Cruz's strategy were not fighting hard enough against the law, which most Republicans oppose.

A number of other commentators have already read the writing on the wall. The consensus is that "Cruz had better watch his back." I concur; the PBFP is shaken by his independence from their "leadership," understands at last that he will say and do as he thinks best regardless of contrary "advice," and will surely do what it can to destroy him before he can endanger their hegemony again.

The "politics of personal destruction" is about to come into play. Expect Cruz to receive the sort of examination that was awarded to Sarah Palin after she gained the GOP's vice-presidential nomination in 2008. Expect it to be just as vigorous, just as unsparing, and just as willing to distort and deceive. Whether Cruz will manage to stand firm against those gales, we shall soon see.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Flamboyance And Endurance

Yes, this is about the Cruz filibuster.

"We don't have the votes!"

Yes, you do. You're not willing to use them, for fear of an adverse reaction from the Main Stream Media, which already hate you and will never feel any other way.

"The only solution is an electoral takeover of the Senate!"

If you believe that -- and it might be so -- please tell us all: How does Senator Cruz's drive to defund Obamacare do anything but improve the prospects for it?

"He's burnishing his image for a presidential run!"

Supposing that to be the case: So what? Would you prefer a spineless marshmallow like Lindsey Graham for your presidential front-runner? Or perhaps you were hoping to renominate John McCain? Why not, after all? He'll only be 80 in November 2016, and no more self-absorbed than he is today...probably.

"But...but...but...the public will blame us for shutting down the government!"

The public would praise you for shutting down the government to abort this monstrosity. Or do you have access to a poll more recent and more reliable than the latest ones from Gallup, Rasmussen, et alii?

The Establishmentarians can't make this case to save their lives. That stands to reason, of course: their psyches are dominated by a vast and irrational fear of the New York Times. Staying on its not-quite-so-bad side, and putting down the Upstart from Texas who's making them all look like Gumby after an hour in a hot tub, seem to be all that matters to them.

By the standards of the GOP Establishment, Ted Cruz is excessively flamboyant. (Granted that they don't like Rand Paul or Mike Lee much better.) He's a "newcomer," with "no sense for his place," who "doesn't appreciate how things work around here." Great God in heaven, to hear some of them talk, you'd think they were peers in the House of Lords.

But Ted Cruz is only doing what he promised the people of Texas he would do, should they raise him to the United States Senate. They did, and he's following through.

Yes, Cruz is flamboyant. He takes every opportunity to press his case. He never shies back from a stand because others disapprove, including others in his party. He's happy to get the attention of a crowd or the media. Whether the crowd is three or three thousand, whether the media is a local shopping circular or the Washington Post, makes no difference to him. He exploits every such opportunity with a passion that will soon be trademarked under his name.

Yet the Establishmentarians dislike him intensely and passionately want to see him sit down and shut up. If they could find a way to remove him by force or fraud, they would use it without delay. But why?

It's fairly simple. Cruz is showing them up. He's behaving like a man with principles, a man who stands by his given word. He's displaying the courage of his convictions. He's showing the nation how a genuine Republican should use the prestige and power of a Senatorial seat. The go-along-to-get-along types, who've been secure in their assumption that their constituents wouldn't vote them out as long as they could credibly claim that "the other side is worse," are pissed because he's making them look like what they are: political prostitutes devoid of sincere convictions, whose party platform is a sham and whose promises are worthless.

Ted Cruz is demonstrating how a public official who really loves America behaves.

The Establishmentarians don't merely dislike Cruz. They fear what he stands for and what he's bidding to become: a standard to which the electorate might hold all Republicans in federal office, regardless of their seniority.

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." Say what, Mr. Yeats? Just now, it seems to be the other way around.

I'm no partisan. Been there, done that, and the T-shirt has a lot of ragged holes in it. I know what I believe, and what I value. That's enough. I judge an aspirant to office by that standard, rather than according to the letter in parenthesis after his name.

I'm willing to argue for my positions, and I'm willing to confront the evidence and reasoning of my opponents. Except for fundamental moral and ethical principles, my mind can be changed. But on one thing I'm an absolutist: I will not be fooled twice. A politician who says one thing and does another will never receive another vote from me.

So far, Ted Cruz is exactly what I want to see in a federal official. I salute him. I pray for his success in his current endeavor. Should he decide to run for the presidency, he'll have my support...always assuming he doesn't acquire the "flexibility" the GOP's "leadership" appears to value above conviction and courage.

The question that remains is whether he has staying power. Will he continue to fight the good fight even when the odds are seriously adverse? Will he face down his detractors in the media without flinching? Will he maintain his stances even in the face of rejection by the Establishmentarians and the national Republican Party? Or will his time in the Senate wear him down, render him biddable?

Unfortunately, many flamboyant men lack endurance. Yet endurance is the one quality most necessary to a Constitutionalist determined to see the Constitution obeyed by the government that owes its existence to it. There are too few of them, and the outcries against them are too loud and prolonged for most of them to bear.

Republicans have disappointed me far too often. Ted Cruz has me hoping. I'm not looking forward to being disappointed again.

We shall see.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Localism, Centralism, And Otherism

One useful measure of how free you are is what percentage of the decisions that compel or constrain you is made by you. That will vary according to what you care about, what you care to do, and what you prefer to avoid, so it's of no use as a general assessment of a society's level of freedom. However, as a personal metric, it's pretty good.

It also functions in another way: It makes you contemplate what aspects of your life you care about enough to want the decisions to rest in your hands. In that knowledge lies a powerful explanation for your level of "civic engagement," whatever it might be.

Strange though it seems, there are persons who actively want to be slaves. That is, they want to cede all decision-making authority and responsibility to someone else, whether that's a single person they know and trust, or an indeterminate number of faceless others near and far. One who has zero personal authority over his own actions is a slave by definition. If there's any compensation for that status, it would be that the slave cannot justly be held responsible for his condition or his deeds. All the same, the typical American would recoil from the idea in horror.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are persons to whom the cession of any authority whatsoever is repugnant: the sort of man one would call "a law unto himself." This is beyond anarchism as classically understood, for even an anarchist will concede that there are some actions that are absolutely wrong, and thus beyond anyone's power to sanction. As Herbert Spencer put it in The Proper Sphere of Government:

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 the law are not in harmony with this intrinsic right and wrong, the law itself is criminal.

Between those stops lies the domain of decisions over delegation -- the sphere in which we ponder whether the rules that bind us shall be made near or far.

One of the characteristics of a federal system that contrasts with a national system is localism: locales, however defined, possess a degree of local sovereignty. That sovereignty is usually delimited in charter documents such as the Constitution of the United States. But in such a system, localism must imply a complementary centralism: a sphere of decisions to be made at the national level, which cannot be contravened by local authorities. Were it otherwise, there would be no reason for the national government to exist at all.

Freedom-loving Americans have historically preferred to keep most decisions about "public matters" -- the rei publicae that justify the founding of a Republic -- at the local level. The Constitution reflects that preference in its enumeration of the legislative powers of Congress and in the Tenth Amendment. Indeed, for many years, state governments were inhibited against legislation that would restrict the autonomy of county and city governments, even in some instances where state legislators could make a good case that the authority over some subject properly rested with them rather than with the counties. "Public works" projects that might have better been organized at the state level were sometimes left to the cooperation of a gaggle of county governments, occasionally with laughable results. The prevalent assumption was that the citizens could best trust those nearest to them, known to them personally...and personally exposed to the citizens' wrath should they overstep their proper bounds.

Certain trends of the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries weakened that assumption without disproving it:

  • Moral crusades (e.g., temperance, Christian Socialism) that went national;
  • The integration of the nation's communication and transportation systems;
  • The rise of "public education" in response to mass immigration;
  • The move away from hard money to Federal Reserve notes;
  • The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments;
  • The two World Wars.

(Urbanization also contributed, in that it accustomed city dwellers to the idea that certain facilities and utilities simply must be monopolies...and the wholly illogical conclusion that such monopolies should be politically controlled.)

As the preferential assumption for localism over centralism declined in power, the sphere of subjects and decisions made by the federal government expanded. To anyone acquainted with the dynamic of power-seeking, this will come as no surprise. Nor will the prevalent mechanism used to advance that progression -- gradualism -- be a revelation to those acquainted with the history of these United States.

The families of political belief differ sharply on the values of localism and centralism. Left-liberals are centralist about nearly everything. Paternalist conservatives are localist about economic matters, but generally centralist about moral concerns. Libertarians, libertarian-conservatives, and "classical liberals" prefer localism about all subjects that don't impact individual rights, state and interstate highways, or the national border -- with the understanding that to these folks, "localism" will often mean individualism: the uncoerced, unconstrained action of each individual of recognized decision-making capacity. These predilections are the frames that capture American political the extent that anyone remains willing to debate anything these days.

Yet there remains a third orientation, in some ways a development from centralism, that points in a direction only the most slavish of slaves would relish: otherism, the desire to reach a state in which all decisions are made by entities or agencies completely outside one's reach, and therefore immune to any attempt at correction. C. S. Lewis captured the idea in That Hideous Strength, when he revealed to his antihero Mark Studdock that the N.I.C.E. was under the direction of unhuman, even anti-human powers, and that that was what their devotees found most appealing.

There are no otherists quite that demented in the world today. However, some persons are sidling toward it: for example, those who claim that, because America "affects everything," therefore everyone in the world should have a vote in American elections...a say in American foreign American domestic policy. Indeed, recently some English moron opined that America's "gun slaughters" demand an "intervention" by the "world community," no doubt to repeal the Second Amendment. Call it globalism.

There is no hard and fast barrier that will keep the passionate left-liberal from succumbing to the globalist variety of otherism. As the left-liberal does not believe in individuals per se, he does not believe in individuals' rights. Therefore, when pressed to defend any particular example of local or national decision making, he cannot produce a logically coherent justification for it.

When I squint at the recent plague of centralism America has endured -- ObamaCare, Common Core, the "bailouts," the takeover of education finance, the effective nationalization of the American banking system -- I find myself wondering just how far the Left's ambitions reach. And I find I can no more "localize" their ambitions than they could defend the notion of a rightfully independent and sovereign United States of America.

Be afraid.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Quickies: A Change In Style, Not Substance

When your opposition changes the subject, you know you have him on the defensive. When your opposition changes his lexicon, he's almost certainly trying to disguise his true intentions from those upon whom he'd like to inflict them.

"Gun Control" has apparently lost popularity since the Washington Navy Yard shooting. More, the Left seems to have realized this. But they're not going to back away from that critical component of their plan to subjugate Americans. No, never! So now, they're speaking of gun reform:

A review of media coverage by the Media Research Center shows that "gun reform" as opposed to "gun control" is fast becoming the media's go-to descriptive for gun control issues.

MRC's Kristine Marsh writes:

The term 'gun reform' was mentioned just 25 times in print in three top newspapers--The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post--from 1986- April 14, 2012. From April to December 2012, the term did not make an appearance at all until the Newtown tragedy December 14. After that, the three papers have aggressively used the term at a rate faster than ever before. In just the past eight months since Newtown, these three papers have used 'gun reform' 23 times, nearly as many times as they had used it in the 26 years prior.

Marsh found that the new terminology is showing up all across the media. Not just the newspapers but MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNBC have all been using the term with increasing frequency.

And it is not just the media. Anti-gun advocacy groups are also admitting that the term "gun control" has gained a negative connotation and they feel the need to change their rhetoric.

"Moms Demand Action publicly admitted to The Washington Post in February that it would not use the term 'gun control' anymore and preferred to use phrases like 'common-sense gun regulations' or 'common-sense reforms' instead," Marsh says.

Even President Obama is using the new term, Marsh found.

I'm sorry, Gentle Reader. I just can't help it. This demands an article in the style of The Onion:

Deranged Gun Rampages Through Shopping Mall

Bushmaster AR-15, a Military-Style Assault Rifle wielding a helpless homeless man, went on a killing spree through the Acme Mall late yesterday, killing 17 shoppers and wounding 23 others. It was stopped by an off-duty master sergeant who threatened it with kitchen police duty. Upon hearing that it was about to be compelled to work with the effeminate Cuisinarts and despised KitchenAids, it turned on itself.

"It's heartbreaking," the gun's mother, a retired howitzer prominent in local affairs, wept as she was interviewed by a local television station. "He was doing so well. He attended his mandatory gun-reform classes without complaint, and spoke often about what he learned there. At home he was the perfect son. We thought he'd adjusted completely to civilian life!" Her husband, a Sherman tank, declined to talk to our reporters.

A representative from the local FBI field office called to the scene stated unequivocally that it was not an act of terrorism.

And how has your Monday been going, Gentle Reader?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sex! The Sequel: On Making The Best Of Things...Including Yourself

If you've read the post just below, you're already aware that my approach to things of faith and the spirit is resolutely anti-authoritarian...with the exception of the One True Authority, of course. Yet one cannot dispute that there are clear, direct, imperative implications from the Commandments, which don't really go beyond the Commandments in an objective sense. The recognition and acceptance of both halves of this dichotomy is what makes it possible for me to be a sincere Catholic and an enthusiastic promulgator of the Christian faith.

"What's this?" I hear you cry. "This post was supposed to be about sex, wasn't it?" Well, yes. But by now you should know better than to expect me to tackle a juicy subject like that head on. The flank attack is my specialty, after all.

I'm as anti-authoritarian about relations between the sexes, and the positions of the sexes in society, as I am about everything else. I accept no "thou shalts" or "thou shalt nots" from any authority but God. I insist on reasoning everything out -- but with a caveat: Practical Reason, as C. S. Lewis put it, must begin with the laws of Nature and make proper use of the available evidence. More, its conclusions must be put to the test and survive their practical applications.

Much of the strife and malaise that afflicts American society derives from the willful dismissal of those provisos by feminist activists who want to resculpt relations between the sexes according to a wholly artificial vision that conflicts sharply and irremediably with metaphysical reality -- that is, with what Nature has given us.

Those activists have put incredible effort into persuading Americans in particular:

  • That traditional family structures somehow oppress women;
  • That men who subscribe to those structures are authoritarian brutes;
  • That women can take up men's traditional roles to their advantage;
  • That men can and should be compelled to subordinate themselves to women's preferences;
  • That a woman who prefers a traditional marriage and marital role is a "gender traitor."

If you're unacquainted with that system of thought, and have never been subjected to a haranguing from that perspective, welcome to our planet! We hope for friendly and peaceful relations with your planet, too. But I digress. The nadir of this lunacy was provided by Simone de Beauvoir:

"No woman should be authorized to stay at home and raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one." -- Interview with Simone de Beauvoir, "Sex, Society, and the Female Dilemma," Saturday Review, June 14, 1975, p.18

Hm. So "oppressed women" are not to choose freely what life path to adopt, because too many would choose the "wrong one?" That doesn't sound like liberation to me; it sounds like a change of oppressors -- and not from a harsh master to a gentle one.

De Beauvoir is not alone in her inanities. There are contemporary feminists who tout the same line of nonsense. Hearken to feminist evangelist Linda Hirshman:

Half the wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated females in the country stay home with their babies rather than work in the market economy. When in September The New York Times featured an article exploring a piece of this story, “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood,” the blogosphere went ballistic, countering with anecdotes and sarcasm. Slate’s Jack Shafer accused the Times of “weasel-words” and of publishing the same story -- essentially, “The Opt-Out Revolution” -- every few years, and, recently, every few weeks. (A month after the flap, the Times’ only female columnist, Maureen Dowd, invoked the elite-college article in her contribution to the Times’ running soap, “What’s a Modern Girl to Do?” about how women must forgo feminism even to get laid.) The colleges article provoked such fury that the Times had to post an explanation of the then–student journalist’s methodology on its Web site.

There’s only one problem: There is important truth in the dropout story. Even though it appeared in The New York Times. ...

The census numbers for all working mothers leveled off around 1990 and have fallen modestly since 1998. In interviews, women with enough money to quit work say they are “choosing” to opt out. Their words conceal a crucial reality: the belief that women are responsible for child-rearing and homemaking was largely untouched by decades of workplace feminism. Add to this the good evidence that the upper-class workplace has become more demanding and then mix in the successful conservative cultural campaign to reinforce traditional gender roles and you’ve got a perfect recipe for feminism’s stall....

What better sample, I thought, than the brilliantly educated and accomplished brides of the “Sunday Styles,” circa 1996? At marriage, they included a vice president of client communication, a gastroenterologist, a lawyer, an editor, and a marketing executive. In 2003 and 2004, I tracked them down and called them. I interviewed about 80 percent of the 41 women who announced their weddings over three Sundays in 1996. Around 40 years old, college graduates with careers: Who was more likely than they to be reaping feminism’s promise of opportunity? Imagine my shock when I found almost all the brides from the first Sunday at home with their children. Statistical anomaly? Nope. Same result for the next Sunday. And the one after that.

Ninety percent of the brides I found had had babies. Of the 30 with babies, five were still working full time. Twenty-five, or 85 percent, were not working full time. Of those not working full time, 10 were working part time but often a long way from their prior career paths. And half the married women with children were not working at all.

And there is more. In 2000, Harvard Business School professor Myra Hart surveyed the women of the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991 and found that only 38 percent of female Harvard MBAs were working full time. A 2004 survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy of 2,443 women with a graduate degree or very prestigious bachelor’s degree revealed that 43 percent of those women with children had taken a time out, primarily for family reasons. Richard Posner, federal appeals-court judge and occasional University of Chicago adjunct professor, reports that “the [Times] article confirms -- what everyone associated with such institutions [elite law schools] has long known: that a vastly higher percentage of female than of male students will drop out of the workforce to take care of their children.”

How many anecdotes to become data? The 2000 census showed a decline in the percentage of mothers of infants working full time, part time, or seeking employment. Starting at 31 percent in 1976, the percentage had gone up almost every year to 1992, hit a high of 58.7 percent in 1998, and then began to drop -- to 55.2 percent in 2000, to 54.6 percent in 2002, to 53.7 percent in 2003. Statistics just released showed further decline to 52.9 percent in 2004. Even the percentage of working mothers with children who were not infants declined between 2000 and 2003, from 62.8 percent to 59.8 percent.

No, you're not imagining the tone of disapproval in the above. Miss Hirshman definitely takes the Simone de Beauvoir attitude toward free choice: women who choose to be homemakers and mothers are choosing wrongly. By their free choices -- by opting for traditional women's roles rather than some alternative in the market economy -- they're helping to derail feminism. And the advance of feminism, we must remember, is what really counts, not the happiness of women or the well-being of their children.

Hirshman considers McElroy / Sommers feminism -- choice feminism -- to be a wrong turning:

Conservatives contend that the dropouts prove that feminism “failed” because it was too radical, because women didn’t want what feminism had to offer. In fact, if half or more of feminism’s heirs (85 percent of the women in my Times sample), are not working seriously, it’s because feminism wasn’t radical enough: It changed the workplace but it didn’t change men, and, more importantly, it didn’t fundamentally change how women related to men.

This is without foundation, but let's proceed to Hirshman's prescription for curing this terrible malady of women opting for homemaker-motherhood over careerism:

Women who want to have sex and children with men as well as good work in interesting jobs where they may occasionally wield real social power need guidance, and they need it early. Step one is simply to begin talking about flourishing. In so doing, feminism will be returning to its early, judgmental roots. This may anger some, but it should sound the alarm before the next generation winds up in the same situation. Next, feminists will have to start offering young women not choices and not utopian dreams but solutions they can enact on their own. Prying women out of their traditional roles is not going to be easy. It will require rules -- rules like those in the widely derided book The Rules, which was never about dating but about behavior modification.

There are three rules: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry.

Clearly, Hirshman doesn't think homemaking and motherhood qualify as "good work" that deserves to be taken seriously. By "unequal resources" she must mean unequal earning power, since young marrieds almost always go to the altar with equal resources-in-hand: $0.00.

Most of the remainder of Hirshman's article is vapid and predictable, but her conclusion re-emphasizes her priorities:

The privileged brides of the Times -- and their husbands -- seem happy. Why do we care what they do? After all, most people aren’t rich and white and heterosexual, and they couldn’t quit working if they wanted to.

We care because what they do is bad for them, is certainly bad for society, and is widely imitated, even by people who never get their weddings in the Times. This last is called the “regime effect,” and it means that even if women don’t quit their jobs for their families, they think they should and feel guilty about not doing it. That regime effect created the mystique around The Feminine Mystique, too.

As for society, elites supply the labor for the decision-making classes -- the senators, the newspaper editors, the research scientists, the entrepreneurs, the policy-makers, and the policy wonks. If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, the rulers will make mistakes that benefit males, whether from ignorance or from indifference. Media surveys reveal that if only one member of a television show’s creative staff is female, the percentage of women on-screen goes up from 36 percent to 42 percent. A world of 84-percent male lawyers and 84-percent female assistants is a different place than one with women in positions of social authority. Think of a big American city with an 86-percent white police force. If role models don’t matter, why care about Sandra Day O’Connor? Even if the falloff from peak numbers is small, the leveling off of women in power is a loss of hope for more change. Will there never again be more than one woman on the Supreme Court?

Worse, the behavior tarnishes every female with the knowledge that she is almost never going to be a ruler. Princeton President Shirley Tilghman described the elite colleges’ self-image perfectly when she told her freshmen last year that they would be the nation’s leaders, and she clearly did not have trophy wives in mind. Why should society spend resources educating women with only a 50-percent return rate on their stated goals? The American Conservative Union carried a column in 2004 recommending that employers stay away from such women or risk going out of business. Good psychological data show that the more women are treated with respect, the more ambition they have. And vice versa. The opt-out revolution is really a downward spiral.

So Hirshman demands that the top spot in every woman's decision-making process should go to whether or not her choices will position her to become a "ruler" -- i.e., one who wields authority over others. Her own happiness should stand no better than second in the lists; after all, the future of feminism is at stake!

Finally, these choices are bad for women individually. A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world. Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives.

Authoritarianism in the raw: "You have a duty to hew to this standard as I've expressed it, girlie, so no backtalk! Get out there and do your best to become a ruler!"

I don't need to tell you how I feel about such blather, do I, Gentle Reader?

One of the classical false dichotomies is the choice restricted to two contrasting authorities and their dictates. He who only gets to choose between masters remains a slave. No virtue inheres in submission to anyone's authority...unless the choice of going one's own way is open as well.

Over the years I've observed the human carnival, I've noticed all the following:

  • The overwhelming preponderance of happy American women are married and have adopted a traditional wife / mother / homemaker style of life.
  • The strongest and least stressed marriages are those in which "traditional" male and female roles obtain.
  • The unhappiest women are found among the careerists who have completely renounced marriage and motherhood in favor of work for wages.
  • Many unhappily married women, though perhaps not a majority thereof, are unhappy specifically about having to work for wages.
  • Far too many men of a "conservative" bent take the above prescriptively: that is, as a command that the only proper place for a woman is in a traditional married woman's role.

It doesn't matter that the path to happiness for most women seems to be that of marriage and traditional wifely and motherly pursuits. Indeed, it wouldn't matter if one could "prove" that that's the only path to female happiness. No good can come from either the de Beauvoirean / Hirshmanesque command to women to "get out there and prepare to become a ruler" or the authoritarian-paternalistic command to "stick to your kids, your home, and your kitchen." There must be free choice.

Some women would best relate to life, men, and society by adopting a traditional "wifestyle;" others, upon whom God has bestowed other gifts and insights, would do best to follow another path. If our experiences since the inception of the "Women's Lib" movement are at all indicative, there are more women of the first sort than of the second, perhaps far more. That doesn't confer authority over such decisions upon anyone.

If freedom means anything, it means the right to pursue happiness according to your own notions and priorities, whether you have two X chromosomes or only one.

Some women will choose "rightly" for themselves, and will become enduringly happy.
Some women will choose "wrongly" for themselves, and will become enduringly unhappy.
Neither group acquires the authority to dictate to other women, nor to their daughters or nieces.
Neither does any man.
All anyone can do for others is to provide an example -- hopefully, a good example of a life well lived.

All else is folly.

There's only one more point to make: about bargains and the promises they imply.

One cannot rightfully be saddled with a responsibility against one's will. That's especially true as it pertains to practical matters within a marriage. However, a responsibility once accepted cannot rightfully be abrogated without making provisions for its acceptance by others -- willing others. He who accepts the role of family provider is, in the usual case, stuck with it; he cannot lay it down with a clean conscience. Similarly, she who accepts the responsibilities of homemaker and mother cannot morally walk away from them without first seeing to it that someone else willingly picks them up. This is especially significant when the subject is the care and nurturance of minor children.

These things must be agreed to before responsibilities of either sort are accepted. Some decisions, such as the decision to produce children, are irreversible.

It's best for a man and a woman contemplating marriage to hash all of this out beforehand. What standard of living are the spouses-to-be anticipating? Do they expect the same one, or markedly different ones? In what sort of environment will they live? Who wants children? Who's willing to accept the responsibility for their care and upbringing? Who's willing to settle for an apartment? Whose heart is set upon a detached house with all the responsibilities that implies? Those are the biggest topics that, if not settled willingly and amicably before marriage, can become life-destroying bones of contention afterward.

There's no escape from life's major decisions. No one can make them for anyone else...nor can anyone "delegate" them to some reliable authority in full confidence of the results.

The title of this tirade -- "On Making The Best Of Things...Including Yourself" -- might be a little too subtle for some readers. There are two "parts" to the "thing" that is you:

  • What you are -- i.e., your nature as a human being of one or the other sex;
  • Who you are -- i.e., the individuality you've acquired from your path through life.

Each of these provides opportunities and constraints. Neither is absolutely binding; neither can be utterly dismissed. Along all the paths one might take through life, the quintessential asset is accurate self-knowledge, of both your "what" and your "who." Happiness is all but impossible to obtain without it.

To young Miss Smith, who's pondering what course to take: the "traditional" roles of wife, mother and homemaker, or the "modern" approach of careerism and ascent through the business world. Do you know yourself? Well enough to make promises to others and be confident that you'll keep them?

If not, you'd better get started on it PDQ. Life is short.

Ultra Vires: Quandaries For Catholics And Conservatives

[The following essay, which first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason in April 2003, is being reposted by special request. Having reviewed it, I find it germane to many of the conflicts within both the Church and the American conservative movement at this time. -- FWP]

April 21, 2003

In its unique way, the Catholic Church, to which I adhere, represents the greatest of the conflicts in American conservative politics today. Conversely, the conservative experience in America, especially as informed by its legal attitudes toward personal virtue, is a near-perfect mirror for a special malady that afflicts the Church in our time.

Michele Catalano recently bemoaned a common complaint: Catholic Guilt, a major legacy of much misguided indoctrination applied to young and defenseless Catholics, mainly in parochial schools. Stripped of its subtleties, Catholic Guilt is what comes of the inculcation of the notion that one is supposed to suffer in this world to earn one's place in the next. Suffering here is meant to include not merely pain, fatigue, and discomfort, but also the renunciation, voluntary or otherwise, of the pleasures offered us by the world.

Contrast this idea with another, presented here by the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, through his devil-protagonist Screwtape:

He [God] has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least -- sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it's any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side. [from The Screwtape Letters, of course]

To your Curmudgeon, the truth of Lewis's view seems self-evident. The opposing view, from which Catholic Guilt germinates, was enough to distance me from the Church for a long time. Moreover, a review of the Gospels reveals that Christ Himself demanded none of the renunciations and self-abnegations at the heart of Catholic Guilt.

The number of Catholics who have left the Church for this reason is incalculable. Not many return.

But even a lapsed Catholic, determined to remove the Church entirely from his life, can find himself afflicted with Catholic Guilt. A growth whose roots strike that deeply into one's early childhood can be hard to expunge.

Guilt as a tool of control has obvious attractions. Once nurtured, it functions automatically. An external authority aware of its contours can use it for a wide variety of purposes. In that regard, it's more potent and flexible than either the sense of right and wrong or the assumption of personal obligations.

Ayn Rand had one of her most loathsome villains soliloquize about the control possibilities inherent in guilt in a truly piercing fashion:

"Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against -- then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can be neither observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted -- and you create a nation of law-breakers -- and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with." [from Atlas Shrugged]

Because guilt is a perpetual negative presence in the mind, it can also engender negative consequences. One always attempts to escape from a sense of guilt. When guilt attaches to a specific act, one can atone and win absolution, at least in theory. When the guilt is formless and free-floating -- the unarticulated conviction that to allow oneself to feel pleasure or to live for one's own purposes is inherently wrong and marks one as unworthy of eternal life -- no escape is possible, except into the abandonment of the institution inflicting the guilt, or psychosis.

Given its most important practical effect -- driving genuinely good people away from the Church to God knows where -- Catholic Guilt must be regarded as a disaster: for the Catholic Church; for Christianity, of which Catholicism is the largest sect; and for those who would otherwise have remained in the fold to partake of all the truly positive and life-enhancing things the Church has to offer.

But enough about that. Let's move to a topic of wider interest: conservative guilt, an underappreciated and largely undiscussed brake on the growth of American conservatism today.

About a year ago, a gentleman named Will Wilkinson wrote the following about "lifestyle-conservatives" (with particular application to their attitudes toward recreational sex) as cited by Professor Glenn Reynolds, the much-beloved InstaPundit:

What people are interested in is a sense of identity. If a party grates against our sense of the kind of person we'd like to be, then we don't want anything to do with it.

So, if the the alternative to being an uptight, sanctimonious, moralistic asshole is to be a Democrat, then we'll want to be Democrats -- even if we do end up getting shafted by Taxman. And I think that's the way a whole lot of folks in my demo (BoBo Gen-X) see it. To large swaths of the public mind, choosing to put a gargoyle like John Ashcroft in charge of norm enforcement is like choosing to put Michael Moore in charge of the Fed.

This, and Professor Reynolds's response, germinated a Curmudgeonly reflection on conservative identity-politics (not the most frequently discussed topic on the political Right), and some tentative conclusions about the sociodynamics of American conservatism. Those conclusions have become broader and stronger since that article -- and they center on guilt.

To be brief, an awful lot of easygoing conservative types, who see nothing wrong with various kinds of pleasurable self-indulgence as long as they don't produce harms or costs for uninvolved others, mouth a coercive-moralistic line so that they'll be approved and accepted by the most rigid, humorless bluenoses in the conservative community. They feel themselves to be unworthy to some degree, because they're insincere about their allegiance to such crusades as the War On Drugs, the condemnation of recreational sex and sex-for-hire, and other traditional strictures on the pleasures of the world and the flesh.

It's possible that this is the worst retardant influence on conservative politics in our time. It certainly costs us the interest of most young Americans, who want neither to be deprived of life's pleasures nor to be seen trying to deprive their contemporaries of them. And it is entirely a cultural phenomenon.

It's laudable to exalt the virtues of work, of dedication, of the striving for excellence in oneself and one's creations. This is a feature of America's "enterprise culture," the living filament that lights her commercial republic and makes its achievements the envy of the world. But there is no necessary connection between that set of attitudes and the notion that one must renounce the pleasures of life, even if indulgence subtracts from the time available for productive enterprise, worship, or what-have-you.

Yet lifestyle-conservatives, especially the religiously inclined, would like the two threads to be inextricably intertwined. They treat their anti-hedonic preferences as the heart of the conservative worldview. And a great many conservatives who are far less puritanically oriented pay them lip service.

The reasons are guilt and the desire for acceptance, a perfect mirror to the phenomenon of Catholic Guilt. The major difference between them is that Catholic Guilt is nurtured in young children by terrifying authority figures, while conservative guilt is an adult phenomenon kept vital by the supercilious disdain of lifestyle-conservatives.

Combating conservative guilt is as important for achieving a rational, majority conservatism -- a conservatism that, pace Lord Acton, regards liberty as the highest political end, and intrudes upon it no more than necessary to maintain public order -- as combating Catholic Guilt is for maintaining the vitality of the Church.

There are no miracle cures for unfounded guilt. The sufferer must satisfy himself that there's no fundamental requirement that he carry that burden. The best that can be done for him is to point him at primary sources:

  • For the Catholic, the Gospels;
  • For the conservative, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

Primary sources are important because they are grants of authority. Christ's teachings as set forth in the Gospels are the source and foundation of all Christian belief. A cleric that overlays them with his own preferences or ambitions, going beyond what Christ proclaimed as the obligations of the seeker after eternal life, betrays His mission among men and sins grievously against the innocent soul. Similarly, the Declaration and Constitution are the foundations of the American Republic. The lifestyle-conservative who seeks to efface the philosophy of the Declaration, or to usurp more power than was granted by the Constitution, traduces our whole experiment in freedom. Both of these are clear cases of ultra vires, the unjustified usurpation of power beyond that which was legitimately granted, the form treason most often takes within the corridors of power.

If the guilt-ridden Catholic or conservative can be brought to that realization, then, as with Winston Smith's "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four," all else follows.

From that point forward, the matter is in his hands.