Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why aren't liberals advising us to have a monarchy too?

For as long as I remember, liberals have pointed to the Scandinavians as the models of what Americans should want to be like when they grow up. I can't remember them pointing to the Norwegians, but surely I must have missed it. And I don't recall the Finns being held up for our admiration.

But how many times have we had the Swedish placed before us as the paragons of civilization? How many times have we been confronted by some liberal, brandishing his Volvo, who, beads of sweat forming on his brow, worked himself up into a lather trying to convince us that the greatest aspiration of an American is to be a good Swede?

The Swedish allow same-sex marriage, ergo we should allow same sex marriage. Sweden hands out free syringes and clean needles to drug addicts, therefore we should hand them out too. Swedish government is socialist, ergo, we should install socialism too. The Swedish don't spank their children, therefore we shouldn't spank ours either.

We hear similar admonitions about Canada, which is not a Scandinavian country. But that is only an accident of geography. It might as well be.

The Dutch too loom large in the liberal's political pantheon. And when I saw in the news that the Dutch Queen Beatrix was abdicating and handing over the monarchy to her son, the new King Willem-Alexander, I thought to myself, "The Dutch have a monarchy?"

I guess I have not been paying much attention to Holland, which accounts for the fact that I was simply unaware of this. It is a lesson in what can happen to a country if you don't keep your eye on it.

According to news stories, not only does Holland have a monarchy, but it is extremely popular among the Dutch. Approximately three-quarters are in support of it. There is some opposition to the monarchy. The investiture today of the new King was expected to be greeted with a sea of orange, the royal family's official color. But opponents of the monarchy were being told that they were to show their color by wearing white clothes and hanging white sheets.

I'm hoping that Swedes are less anxious than Americans when they hear the terms "hanging" and "white sheets" in the same sentence.

And if you check around, you find out very quickly that all the countries we are supposed to be like--all the countries that are progressive and forward looking--have constitutional monarchies. Both Sweden and Holland have one. Even Canada, which persists in maintaining it is not Scandinavian, recognizes Queen Elizabeth as its sovereign.

So I'm wondering: If the liberals think we're all supposed to aspire to be Swedes, then why have they kept this little morsel of Swedish and Dutch culture from us? Where are the lectures on why we should install a monarchy? Why haven't they paused between courses of Swedish meatballs and pickled gherkin to inform us of the virtues of having a King? Why have they simply sped by in their Saabs without stopping to sell us on the salutary benefits of having a royal family all our own?

It's not like the liberals never saw a monarchy they liked. Just listen in some time as they reminisce, dreamy-eyed, about the Kennedy administration. Ah, Camelot!

Come to think of it, I have met many Canadians, but don't remember every hearing one waxing loyal over the Queen either. Then again, these are people who won't even admit they are really Scandinavians. So it's not like we could trust them anyway.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Let the Nonsense Begin: Dawkins and Krauss hit the atheist crusade circuit

If your pomposity detector has been displaying high readings, there's a good reason:

Now that a movie is coming out starring the two ("The Unbelievers") we are apparently going to see a lot more of Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, two atheist scientists on a mission to rid the world of religion.

Someone be sure to check the pulse of this movement in, oh, about 50 years when churches will still be standing and Dawkins and Krauss (and their movement) won't.

One of the more brazenly pompous claims they apparently make in the movie (at least they're making it as they make the rounds promoting it) is that one of the roles of science is "to get rid of myth and superstition." But as Thomist philosopher James Chastek points out, science is neither necessary nor sufficient to eliminate a myth--nor did science, as a matter of historical fact, as many scientific fundamentalists seem to think, play any necessary historical part in destroying myths.

Here's Chastek, responding to similar claim to that of Dawkins and Krauss:
But given that “destroying a creation myth” means “showing that the myth is not true”, why does one need a science to do this? We don’t need sciences to know that myths are, well, myths. Or is the claim that no one recognized that (the relevant) creation accounts were myths until science told us so? But then the claim is just false: we didn’t need the sciences to know that creation accounts are mythical. Millions of people could recognize creation myths as such before any of the modern sciences.
And ultimately, people like Dawkins and Krauss are not really opposed to myths, but propagators of a new one:
Is “science” the only thing that is allowed to satisfy the intellect now and give us an account of the way the world is? Quite the opposite seems to be the case – far from wanting to do away with myth it seems we’re more interested in advancing a scientific mythology. Science in the popular imagination is idealized (science cannot explain everything or solve all our problems now, but just give it time!); and only its successes are seen as integral to it (i.e. vaccinations, space travel, and computers are seen as the direct and proper work of science while Hiroshima, Tuskegee, Mustard gas, scientific eugenics and sterilization programs, Josef Mengele, climate change, industrial pollution, etc. are never seen as the necessary products of “science”). IOW, this is obviously not a scientific view of science but one that makes it into an exalted, inerrant messiah that will set everything right if we only give it our total devotion. Ultimately, it’s not that we want to destroy creation myths with science but that we want to replace an ancient creation myth with a modern one.
I'll be watching Dawkins and Krauss for amusement, but reading Chastek for actual, you know, wisdom. Read the rest here.

NEWSFLASH: Religion causes violence

In interviews promoting their new movie "The Unbelievers," scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss assert that religious faith causes violence.

This made me think of all the violent things that religion has invented, such as the rack, the pillory, the strappado, waterboarding, the machine gun, grenades, mortors, bazookas, napalm, cluster bombs, torpedoes, carpet bombing, nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, drones ...

Oh, shoot. Hang on ... Whoops. Sorry. These things were all the products of science.


Friday, April 26, 2013

What are the Boy Scouts for? Anthony Esolen on what a boy is

It is a commentary on the intellectual condition of our modern culture that the smarter you purport to be, the less you are able to tell the difference between boys and girls.

The Boy Scouts recent announcement that they are abandoning their policy against admitting open homosexuals as Scouts. Fortunately, most local Scout leaders understand what they are for, but their leaders, like those in many other cultural conservative institutions, are largely worthless when it comes to standing up for anything. Apparently Boy Scout leaders mistook the admonition "Quit yourselves like men" for "Quit like men." Now that they've taken a giant leap toward becoming (as Anthony Esolen remarks) the "Unisex Scouts," it is becoming very much less clear exactly what their justification is.

Here's Esolen, pointing out obvious things that pretty much everyone knows to be true, but which we all now have to pretend are not true because the gods of Tolerance and Diversity must be propitiated with cant and justified with sophistry:
I see a boy: ... vir futurus, a going-to-be man. Meaning: He will join other men, brothers fighting to attain or defend the common good. Greater meaning: He is made for a self-giving that is categorically impossible among his male friends. He is made for a woman. It is the orientation of his body, in its sexual form. It is the orientation of his masculine being, developing in a natural and healthy way. 
None of this should be controversial, no more than claiming that the noonday sky is blue. Should someone protest, “It isn’t so! I saw it green once, when a tornado was coming,” we’d look askance, and wonder whether he had lost the capacity for normal communication. A boy is not a girl. A boy grows up to be a man. A man marries a woman, for love and for a family: That goal is stamped upon his body. Even savages without a doctorate in philosophy can figure it out.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Classical Charter Schools: The coming counter-revolution in education

If you want to see an educational revolution, visit Phoenix, Arizona.

I just got back from a trip to Phoenix to attend a conference put on by the Great Hearts charter schools. Great Hearts is a system of sixteen classical charter schools in Arizona, which is now beginning to open schools in Texas as well, and, eventually, several other states.

While the public school establishment is shifting the chairs on the deck of their slowly sinking ship, Great Hearts is going back to what education really was about in the first place: passing on a culture.

Instead of textbooks, they're teaching the great books. Instead of indoctrinating students in all the absurd orthodoxies of our time, they're teaching them how to think. Instead of having teachers who are well-trained in amateur psychology but know little about the best that has been thought and said, they hire people who actually, you know, know stuff.

Four of the top ten high schools in the state are Great Hearts academies. There are about 5,500 students now being educated at these schools. About 11,000 children are on their waiting list. They eventually want to be educating 100,000 students.

One of their emphases is character education. As one of the school officials put it, "Our character program is the school itself." Of course, they're also learning virtue from the books they read--which are largely made up of classic works.

The Great Hearts academies are the schools the public education establishment doesn't want you to know about.

How little it takes to spook conservative leaders on the marriage issue

As more and more conservative leaders propose the idea of fighting under the standard of a white flag on cultural issues, it is instructive for those who still think it worthwhile to conserve something to remind themselves of just how novel is the idea of same-sex marriage.

In his review of Michael Klarman's From the Closet to the Altar, Christopher Caldwell gives us a brief timeline (partly based on the book he is reviewing):
The American Civil Liberties Union was not interested in defending gay rights at all in 1957, when it called homosexuals "socially heretical or deviant." Its position had changed by 1973, but when the Homosexual Rights Committee of the ACLU's Southern California Branch made a list of six long-term priorities that year, marriage was not on it. In 1983, gay leaders had an opportunity to grill Democratic presidential candidates Walter Mondale and John Glenn about issues they cared about. They didn't mention marriage at all. Even in 1991, when the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force asked its membership to rank civil-rights issues in order of importance, marriage did not make an appearance.  
A growing number of gays in long-term relationships, however, were chafing at practical problems. Some objected to paying taxes on inherited property that married couples would not. (This difficulty is at the core of U.S. v. Windsor, one of the cases that will come before the Supreme Court this spring.) Gays also faced red tape in getting hospital visitation rights. Both problems were made more galling and poignant by the toll of AIDS in the late 1980s and early '90s. When gays began to sue, they discovered that judges looked more indulgently on their demands than the general public did. That changed everything. In 1993, a Hawaiian court opined that limiting marriage to men and women was a bias, and the state's Supreme Court backed them up in 1996. By then, gay rights lobbies were beginning to recruit couples for court challenges. In 1999, Vermont's Supreme Court ordered the legislature to come up with a plan to give gays marriage rights. Hence the first "civil unions" bill in 2000. And there was another factor abetting these marriage suits: bold administrators had begun assigning adoptive children to gay couples. So cases were now arising in which the question before the court was whether it were better that a gay couple raising a child be married or unmarried.
Twenty years—as opposed to the entire history of Western civilization (or any other civilization for that matter). That's how historically novel is the impetus required to spook those who have set themselves up as spokesman for the cause of conservatism into abandoning their stations on the cultural battlements and trampling their own troops in their headlong flight for political safety.

If this were a literal war, these people would be summarily hung.

Caldwell points out the irony of casting the gay marriage effort as somehow akin to the civil rights movement:
Civil rights movements arise to defend the downtrodden. But never since the Progressive Era has there been a social movement as elite-driven as the one for gay marriage. No issue divides the country more squarely by class. Opponents of California's anti-marriage Proposition 8 have come to include virtually all of Hollywood, Apple, Google, Amazon, and the White House.
Hollywood. Apple. Google. Amazon. Not exactly a bunch of people you run into on the bread line. In fact, the elite aspect of the whole movement is hard to miss.

And it isn't exactly like those wanting to redefine marriage have faced anything like the opposition faced by civil rights demonstrators. Blacks had to contend with Birmingham police wielding fire hoses.  The only fire hoses now are those being gotten ready to disperse the peaceful crowd of people (still quite substantial) which doesn't care much for the new Diversity regime.

And it wasn't just fire hoses. In the civil rights march from Selma to Birmingham, it was billy clubs and tear gas. Discrimination, sometimes violent, was a daily reality for Blacks. For gays it is little more than a pose. They are celebrated by our cultural institutions, not opposed.

In any case, Caldwell's review is a good read. See the rest here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Planned Parenthood removes blinders on PA abortion doctor

Not that we expect them to keep them off.

Planned Parenthood is apparently concerned that a Philadelphia abortion doctor may give baby-killing a bad name. Here's Michelle Malkin on the group's new-found concern over Kermit Gosnell:
Planned Parenthood now says it’s “appalled” by the Philadelphia house of horrors run by accused serial baby-killer and pregnant-mom murderer Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Bull. The appalling inaction of the nation’s largest abortion provider, along with countless other clinics and “pro-choice” groups in the know, speaks far louder than their belatedly self-serving words.
Read more here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Žižek's leftist tribute to Thatcher

The always interesting Slavoj Žižek, writing in the New Stateman about Margaret Thatcher, whose funeral was last week:
In the last pages of his monumental Second World War, Winston Churchill ponders on the enigma of a military decision: after the specialists (economic and military analysts, psychologists, meteorologists) propose their analysis, somebody must assume the simple and for that very reason most difficult act of transposing this complex multitude into a simple "Yes" or "No". We shall attack, we continue to wait... This gesture, which can never be fully grounded in reasons, is that of a Master. It is for the experts to present the situation in its complexity, and it is for the Master to simplify it into a point of decision.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Keep Abortion Legal (Even when it's not safe)

Remember the bad old days when abortion was illegal and back alley abortions killed thousands of women every year? You do? That's strange, since it isn't really true. But what about back alley abortionists who have practiced since abortion was made legal in Roe v. Wade?

Right now a trial is in progress on whether Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortionist, committed first degree murder of seven babies who were born alive and were killed by Gosnell ("ensuring fetal demise," he calls it). But you wouldn't know it if you had only the traditional news media to rely on.

Patients ignored. Workers uncertified. Flea-infested cats roaming the clinic defecating on the floor.Walls spattered with urine. Corroded vacuum tubes used for abortions--and for resuscitation. Blood spattered floors. Botched surgeries. Patients being infected with STDs from abortion procedures.

State health officials knew about some of these as far back as 1979, and repeated complaints were made, but nothing was ever done. Where were the people like those at Planned Parenthood who talk about keeping abortion safe and legal? They were nowhere to be seen.

They guy isn't even an OB/GYN. But he plied his grisly trade for three decades in West Philadelphia, where, according to some of his own employees, 40 percent of his abortions were performed on women over 24 weeks pregnant, as health officials looked the other way. Now that a trial is exposing just how inhuman his practices were, it is now the media's turn to avert its gaze.

Abortion being a secular sacrament, it's not hard to understand why this would be. 

Here's Kirsten Powers at the Daily Beast on the media blackout of Gosnell's atrocities:
I can only think of a handful of times in my eight years as a Fox News contributor that I’ve discussed abortion. The people who obsessively cover it and anything vaguely related to it are those in the mainstream media and in the left-wing media, which is why their silence on this is so remarkable. Mollie Hemingway did yeoman’s work chronicling how faithfully The Washington Post’s health reporter, who covered Todd Aiken, the Susan G. Komen controversy, and the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller, didn’t write a single story on the Gosnell trial. No abortion regulation is too small for the mainstream media to cover; no stupid comment about abortion by any Republican goes unnoticed. So her disinterest in this trial is inexplicable.
But while the left has alternately attacked the right for its alleged lack of interest and for paying too much of the “wrong sort” of attention, I haven’t heard a lot about the near silence from the feminist organizations that lecture us endlessly about how they stand for women’s health. I find the claims now that feminists were deeply upset about poor minority women being abused and killed along with their babies a little tough to believe. A search for “Gosnell” on NOW's website yielded only two hits, both from 2011. Search for “Gosnell” on the League of Women Voters website and you will find nothing. The same search on the NARAL and Planned Parenthood sites returned the same number of hits: zero.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Atheism: A faith in need of enlightenment

Atheist biologist Jerry Coyne is upset by recent poll results showing basically no significant change in the attitude of Americans toward the theory of Darwinian evolution since 1982. Nearly half of Americans still believe in young earth creationism. About two-thirds of the rest believe in some form of theistic evolution.

How can this be in an enlightened country? he asks. In fact, how can it be an enlightened country if it does not accept Darwinian evolution?

People like Coyne really believe that you just can't be an intelligent person and reject their atheistic form of biological development. And yet here we are, in the world's most technologically advanced country the world has ever seen. And we still reject it.

Rudolf Bultmann once articulated what the Coyne's of the world believe: "It is impossible," he said, "to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles."

Only one problem. We do use these things. We do avail ourselves of these advances. And we still believe, in large part, in this world of spirits and miracles.

Now people like Coyne are fond of saying that a scientific statement is a statement that is empirically falsifiable. Well now, here we've got one. Bultmann's statement can easily be falsified. In fact, it has been falsified over and over and over again. The survey that Coyne points to is only the most recent instance of this.

But they go on believing it anyway. Is this what enlightened people do?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

State commision charged with protecting religious freedom opposed religious freedom bill

Gee, I wish I had my own government agency to push my political agenda for me.

The Kentucky Human Rights Commission was on of the groups that sent letters to Gov. Beshear asking him to veto HB 279 the Religious Freedom Act.

Now let's think about this for a minute. This is a government commission whose stated purpose is to enforce the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. Now the Kentucky Civil Rights Act covers pretty much all the things the Federal Civil Rights Act covers. Here's what it says it's for:
To safeguard all individuals within the state from discrimination because of familial status, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age forty (40) and over, or because of the person's status as a qualified individual with a disability as defined in KRS 344.010 and KRS 344.030.
Notice what it includes: religion. Part of the Human Rights Commission's purpose, in other words, is to protect against religious discrimination. But instead of doing this, they used their taxpayer-derived resources to fight a bill that would help protect against religious discrimination!

In the most egregious recent case of religious discrimination in Kentucky, the Human Rights Commission was either asleep at the switch or just simply not interested in getting involved. It involved Martin Gaskell, who sued the University of Kentucky for denying him a job because, as the e-mail of one UK professor put it, he was a "potential evangelical." As a result, Gaskell filed a religious discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

He never heard back.

Apparently the Commission was just too busy doing what the Kentucky Civil Rights Act gives them absolutely no authority to do: engage in gay rights activism. The Kentucky Civil Rights Act does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. There have been proposed laws to change this, but so far the State Legislature has chosen not to pass them.

Your taxpayer dollars--at play.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The real reason the educational elites are against teaching formal grammar

The following article will appear in the upcoming spring issue of The Classical Teacher, of which I am editor:

In Leo Tolstoy’s great Christian novel Anna Karenina, an after-dinner conversation turns to the subject of which European civilization is more developed—the English, the French, or the German. Karenin, Anna’s husband, argues that that civilization is most influential which is the most “truly educated.” However, the argumentative Pestsov, another guest, asks Karenin, “But what should we consider to be the signs of ‘true education’?”

It is 1870, or thereabouts, and the phenomenon of “modern education” has only just dawned on the consciousness of the class of people that tend to populate Tolstoy’s novels—the ruling aristocratic upper class.

“I see no clear proofs that a classical education should be preferred to a modern education,” says Pestsov. He argues that a purely scientific education [modern education] has just as great an “educational and mind-developing influence” as a classical one.

“I can’t quite agree with you,” answers Karenin:
It seems to me that we must admit that the process of studying the forms of a language has in itself a beneficial effect on spiritual development. Besides it is impossible to deny that the influence of the classics is in the highest degree a moral one, whereas unfortunately with instruction in natural science are connected those dangerous and false teachings which are the bane of the present times.

At this, another dinner guest, Koznyshev, intervenes. The question of what “true education” is would be a difficult question, he suggests, “had there not been on the side of classical education that advantage which you [Karenin] have just mentioned: the moral advantage, … the anti-nihilistic influence.”

The “anti-nihilistic influence.” What does this mean? In what way is classical education’s emphasis on grammar spiritual and moral? In what way is it “anti-nihilistic”?

When Karenin refers to “studying the forms of language,” he is clearly referring to grammar. Grammar is the formal study of language. What is interesting is that some eighteen years later, the philosopher whose name is associated most closely with nihilism, the atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, adds his own spin on this conversation about this formal aspect of language.

“I am afraid we have not gotten rid of God,” says the great nihilist philosopher, “because we still have faith in grammar.”

In other words, even the modern era’s most prominent atheist, like the Christian characters in Tolstoy’s after-dinner conversation, recognized that the very foundations of grammar were spiritual and moral, and that, if grammar is anti-nihilistic by nature, then the rejection of it is inherently nihilistic.

Why should this be?

Nietzsche makes his remark about grammar in the context of his indictment of Western philosophy in general. He believed that Western philosophers since Socrates had been taken captive by what he calls the “prejudice of reason”—the idea that there is an objective and rational metaphysical order that underlies reality. It was the idea that underlay the traditional belief that things in this world had meaning and purpose and that we ignored this order at our cultural peril.

“Where God clings to our culture,” says literary critic, George Steiner, summarizing Nietzsche’s point, “he is a phantom of grammar, a fossil embedded in the childhood of rational speech.” Our faith in grammar is the shadow of belief still cast on language by a dead God. And Nietzsche, who famously declared that God was dead, believed that we must destroy "even God’s shadow."

Nietzsche wasn't against grammar per se; he was against it because of what belief in grammar implied. It implied, he thought, that there was a rational order behind it—a rational order that was appealed to in Christianity. John’s Gospel identifies this order with God himself: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The word used for “Word” by John in this passage is the Greek word Logos, a term replete with philosophical implications, among the chief of which is the rational order underlying reality.

What Nietzsche was most fundamentally against was not grammar itself; what he was against was the Logos.

The Western view of language does indeed betray this prejudice. It is the assumption that behind our speech and our writing is an underlying order, an order that, being universal, is the foundation and operative principle of every human language—the assumption that the universe at bottom is fundamentally rational because it was authored—and is ruled—by a rational God.

“[A]ny coherent understanding of what language is and how language performs,” says Steiner, “… any coherent account of the capacity of human speech to communicate meaning and feeling is, in the final analysis, underwritten by the assumption of God’s presence.”

Nietzsche saw that the intellectuals of his time (the late nineteenth century), while they rejected the Christian God in their rhetoric, clung to the underlying linguistic assumptions of theism. The continuing confidence in grammar, he believed, was symptomatic of the failure of modern thinkers to take their atheistic notions to their logical conclusion.

In other words, if atheist intellectuals were consistent, they would not only reject God, but the grammar that assumes his existence.

But Nietzsche’s ideological descendants have been much more faithful to their master.  As Alan Bloom pointed out in his book The Closing of the American Mind, the origins of the postmodern regime that  now jealously rule our educational establishment are fundamentally Nietzschean. The hostility to the teaching of grammar is a consequence of this. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) as well as almost every university department of education are, officially or unofficially, opposed to the formal teaching of grammar.

Many of our educational elites cannot tell you precisely why they have such a dim view of what used to be a fundamental part of learning. They will cite various bogus studies, and appeal to questionable “research.” They may even believe the evidence they cite. But their ideology is fundamentally nihilistic.

There are Nietzschean underpinnings to their anti-grammar ideology that most of them don’t even know they have.

Nietzsche, the atheist, is in fundamental agreement with the Christian aristocrats at Tolstoy’s dinner party on the underlying assumptions of grammar.  The difference between the two is that, while Nietzsche’s atheism drives him ineluctably away from a belief in grammar, Karenin and Koznyshev believe in God, and therefore they cling to grammar all the more, realizing that it is the working out of that belief in language.

Monday, April 01, 2013

The death twitches of the sexual revolution

Anthony Esolen, on what the feminists have made of romance:
... So it’s come to this: Even lust now is gray and dispirited. The girls celebrate Valentine’s Day by putting on a series of vulgar and angry skits, to instruct the boys in how rotten they are, and the boys, most of whom have no particular desire to treat girls badly, roll their eyes and go along with it, or file it away with all the other petty resentments of our lonely contemporary existence.  
Of course, there isn’t a feminist on my campus who will admit to these young women that if they really want to be protected from violence, they should marry a decent man and stay married to him, because such married women are less likely than any other group of Americans to be the victims of a felony.  
Nor will they call for a return to chivalry, because that would imply an exchange of gifts, from man to woman and woman to man; and gifts are incompatible with the squint-eyed reckoning of those who see all human relationships in terms of dominance ...

Read the rest here.