Saturday, August 31, 2013

Kalb Speaks: How liberals are sterilizing our culture

I fly a lot and one of the things that surprises me is that, when you are waiting to board at the gate, there are certain people who get preferential treatment.

If you are an Executive Platinum member or Premier Access member or a member of Delta's SkyMiles program or U.S. Airways Silver Preferred, American Airlines AAdvantage Elite, or any number of other such programs, you get, in some airports, to go through an accelerated security check and in almost all cases, you get preferred boarding privileges.

And not only is this preferential treatment given, but it doesn't seem to bother anybody. And that is actually what surprises me even more. After all, we're all supposed to be equal now, right?

Imagine, for example, if, say, males received such preferred privileges over females. Or if Christians received them over Muslims. Or, heaven forfend, if married couples got preferred treatment over single people. There would be immediate and vocal outrage.

Why is it that preferential treatment based on wealth (which is what frequent flyers and business travelers have that others don't) is considered acceptable and other kinds of preferential treatment are not?

James Kalb answers this question in his new book Against [Inclusiveness]: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It. He explained what I see at the airport in the first two paragraphs of the book:
Liberals pick and choose their discriminations. Financial, bureaucratic, and academic distinctions are acceptable, while natural and traditional ones are not. You can choose a Yale man over a Harvard man--the schools are a bit different, so their products may differ--but not a Yale man over a Yale woman. Engineers can earn more than janitors, and Chinese-Americans than the Scoth-Irish, but if schools discipline blacks more than whites, that is a gap that must be closed. 
The idea, it seems, is that there is something odd and irrelevant about distinctions such as sex, family, kinship, culture, and religion that makes it wrong for them to have material consequences, unless the consequences disrupt the effect of such distinctions in general. People seem to think the principle is obvious, so it is never explained, but the idea seems to be that the informal social hierarchies and the traditional patterns of conduct and belief that related to them have no legitimate functions. We should, it appears, carry on our lives exclusively through relationships that are either strictly private and idiosyncratic or contractual and bureaucratic.
Kalb has the great gift of making sense out of the seemingly senseless. In The Tyranny of Liberalism and in this new book, he roots to the root liberal assumptions that govern their beliefs and behavior. He is a cultural anthropologist, a Margaret Mead--only with liberals instead of Samoans. Oh, and unlike Mead, he's actually right about the subjects he studies.

Read more here.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Democrats led the passage of civil rights legislation in 1963? Really?

If you want to see how a liberal can magically transform history into his own ideological image, check out this Los Angeles Times article on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington by civil rights leaders in the 60s. Complaining about the fact that all the speakers were Democrats, the three writers of the story went on to state:
The absence of even a gesture of bipartisanship was a reminder of the enduring political legacy of the civil rights battles. Since Democrats led the passage of civil rights legislation that marchers pushed for in 1963, Republicans have struggled to recover with black voters, leaving a stark racial divide in American politics. [Emphasis added]
Huh? Democrats "led the passage of civil rights legislation in 1963"? Really?

Not that Republicans have a spotless record on racial issues, but, as I mentioned here, the percentage of Democrats in both the U. S. House and Senate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was far lower than that of Republicans--and the same was true of the Civil Rights Act of 1963.

Oh, and then there is that whole messy thing about George Wallace and Strom Thurmond.

But that was all so long ago and not relevant now. I mean, Robert C. Byrd, former Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops of a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan--and who filibustered the 1963 Act, served as the Democrats leader in the U.S. Senate until ... uh ...

... 2010.

HT: Newsbusters

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is STEM dumbing us down?

Now that we're experiencing a new spasm of education reform zeal it's probably useful to begin asking some basic questions about the kinds of reforms we are being told will bring about a new heaven and a new earth. One of the proffered vehicles for our educational salvation is a renewed emphasis on science and technology. Merely by implementing "STEM" education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), we are given to believe, will usher in a new educational age.

Not so fast.

Among many other interesting and informative comments in Stanley Fish's new post at his blog at the New York Times, "The Two Cultures of Education Reform," a review of two books on education--two-time Harvard president Derek Bok's Higher Education in America and William Bowen's Higher Education in a Digital Age--is this one:
Not only has the twin emphasis on quantitative methodology and vocational instruction failed to achieve genuine educational breakthroughs; but it has apparently had deleterious effects. The more the focus has been on disciplines where computational skills are central, the greater the erosion of the skills we refer to as “critical thinking” (another phrase I abhor, but one impossible completely to eschew these days): a “longitudinal study of twenty-four thousand undergraduates revealed that majoring in engineering was associated with declines in writing ability, cultural awareness, and political and civil participation.” And the “surprising finding” of another study “was that the writing of seniors who majored in science had actually deteriorated over the four years of college.” There’s something those would-be engineers and scientists aren’t getting; we might call it training in serious thought, another of those “intangibles” that escape the net of numerical assessment.
These quotes, we should note, come from people (Bok and Bowen, in this case) who are advocating quantitative methods of education.

So where is the evidence that "evidence-based" education will improve our schools? If anything should have quantitative evidence in its favor its the quantitative education reforms.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ed Feser hits Bottom

Joseph Bottum, that is.

Bottum, former editor of the conservative First Things, came out in a rambling and logically incoherent Commmonweal essay a few days ago in favor of same-sex marriage, causing a firestorm of criticism and comment.

I've been waiting for the proponents of same-sex marriage to repudiate Bottum's support on account of his arguments being too embarrassingly bad even for them. But, alas, apparently I overestimated their logical standards. They will apparently tolerate even Bottum's logic.

One of the best of the responses to Bottum's article is by Catholic philosopher Edward Feser:
Though Bottum’s conclusion is entirely un-Catholic, un-conservative, and contrary to natural law, what is most remarkable is just how very thoroughly he still accepts the substance of the Catholic, conservative, and natural law positions on this issue. To be sure, when you see that he starts the article with some personal remarks about his bluegrass-playin’ gay friend Jim, your eyes cannot help but swivel back in their sockets. You expect at first that it’s going to be yet another of those ghastly conversion stories, long on celebration and short on cerebration, that have become a staple of the “strange new respect” literature. “Yes, fellow right-wingers, I too once opposed gay marriage -- until a long heart-to-heart over lattes with my central-casting gay [son, dentist, fellow bluegrass aficionado] convinced me that deep down we’re all just folks.” The conservative as the dad in Heathers.  
Yet that isn’t quite how it goes. For one thing, by the end of the piece, Jim comes across not as a patient dispenser of homespun, tolerant wisdom, but as a thoroughly repulsive ideologue -- humorless, paranoid, intellectually dishonest, seething with hatred, and even totalitarian in his desire juridically to force the Catholic Church to take on board his pseudo-moral prejudices. For another, Bottum never quite affirms “same-sex marriage” as per se a good thing -- though he does make a half-hearted attempt to see the empty glass as half-full -- but mainly as a fait accompli he thinks it is counterproductive to oppose anymore.
Read the rest here.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tolerance Police bag another dissenter

Diversity Enforcement forces continue on their cultural campaign to eliminate all dissent on sexuality issues. Officials at Dartmouth College, angered by the appointment of an African bishop to head the the school's William Jewett Tucker Foundation, which seeks "to educate Dartmouth students 'for lives of purpose and ethical leadership, rooted in service, spirituality and social justice'."

They left out the part about intolerance for people who disagree with them, which is a central part of Diversity ideology.

Bishop James Tengatenga of Malawi, the bishop purged from the post, is an official with the Anglican Church of Africa, which believes homosexual practice is a sin. He might have discriminated against gays (although there was no evidence presented that he ever had) and that was enough reason to discriminate against him.

Fight fire with fire.

Dartmouth junior Andrew Longhi expressed the inclusive sentiment of Dartmouth by saying that "selecting a 'social conservative' to this post baffles me."

No doubt.

Ironically, Bishop Tengatenga now professes to have "evolved" on the issue of homosexuality. Undoubtedly his change of views was purely voluntary and unaffected by the intolerance toward traditional morality in the secular developed world.

But a Thoughtcrime is a Thoughtcrime and so he was sacked and Dartmouth is that much more uniform in its cultural views.

Let us all repeat the Party slogan:


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Defenders of state science standards explain why they ignore plants and animals

Debate on Kentucky's science standards on KET

The link for the debate on Kentucky's science standards last night on KET's "Kentucky Tonight" is now up. Notice that every time you point out something important missing from the science standards the answer always seems to be that it is because we want local school districts to have the freedom to do things the way they want.

Wouldn't the best way to give local school districts freedom be to not have any state standards at all? In any cae, the guests were:
  • State Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, chair of the Senate Education Committee
  • State Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, chair of the House Education Committee
  • Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky
  • Blaine Ferrell, chair of the committee on legislation for the Kentucky Academy of Science.
You can see the video here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

My appearance on KET's "Kentucky Tonight" tonight on Next Generation Science Standards

I was on KET's "Kentucky Tonight" program tonight discussing the state's science standards, which are modeled on the Next Generation Science Standards. The link for info on the show is here. It will air again on Wednesday at 2:00 a.m., 1:00 CT if you want to DVR it. The video will also be posted in a day or two. I'll post with that link.

You've got to watch the stone silence that greeted the question I asked with about 10 seconds left in the program. It made my point better than anything they could have said.

Thomas Nagel says more things that will make the champions of Scientism mad

Thomas Nagel's book Mind and Cosmos has to have been one of the most hated books of recent years--hated, that is, by those who get red-faced every time someone challenges the dominant Religion of Science. Nagel, one of the great philosophers of the 20th century (and the first part of the 21st) takes the time, in the Times (NY) to restate his simple argument. I don't agree with his final conclusion, but his demarcation of the issues is mostly correct:
This is a brief statement of positions defended more fully in my book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, which was published by Oxford University Press last year. Since then the book has attracted a good deal of critical attention, which is not surprising, given the entrenchment of the world view that it attacks. It seemed useful to offer a short summary of the central argument ...
Read the rest here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Does Common Core lower the standards for some states?

The Common Core Standards, just the most recent attempt by the public schools to look like they are improving things when they're really not, are facing an increasingly hostile public. Here's Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass at the Hechinger Report:
The bloom is surely off the rose of Common Core, the new English and math standards pushed by Washington, D.C. education trade organizations and the Obama administration. In the last few months, a number of states have paused or de-funded implementation of the standards; others have pulled out of the consortia developing tests tied to them. In a recent Boston Globe op-ed marking the 20th anniversary of the Massachusetts education reform law that triggered dramatic improvements in the performance of Bay State students, Tom Birmingham, one of the law’s principal authors, wrote: “the political vectors will all tend to push the new standards to a race to the middle … In implementing the Common Core, there will be natural pressure to set the national standards at levels that are realistically achievable by students in all states. This marks a retreat from Massachusetts’ current high standards.” 
...  Most high-performing states also had rigorous standards prior to Common Core. For them, the new standards represent a significant step down from the academic rigor that was the foundation of their success. 
Compared to Massachusetts’ previous standards, Common Core reduces the amount of classic literature, poetry and drama taught in English classes by 60 percent. Goodbye Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and Edith Wharton.
Read the rest here.

HT: The American Conservative.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Our priest, Father Noel Zamora, is one of the best (perhaps, the best) homilists I have ever heard. Today's Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was great even by his standards:
Rapunzel has her long golden hair, Snow her white skin and name. Aurora is a beauty both awake and asleep. Yet, none of them can compare with Mary, the woman clothed with the sun, whose feet are shod with the moon, whose head is crowned with stars (cf. Rev. 12:1). She alone is blessed among women; her alone all generations call blessed (cf. Lk. 1:42, 48). 
She was not imprisoned in a tower by a wicked witch. She ate no poisoned apple nor pricked her finger on a spindle. Yet, Mary was not spared from sorrow and distress. A seven headed horned dragon threatened to devour her Son when she gave birth (cf. Rev. 12:3, 4). A people she called her own plotted to kill that Son, the Christ, by nailing Him on the cross ...
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thomas' appearance on "Character Matters"

My son Thomas (who is also my sometime co-blogger) appeared recently on "Character Matters," a local cable show in Lexington, KY. The subject was "justice." Here is the link:

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Is a word count "text analysis"?

Richard Day castigates me in his comment for taking a swipe at him for not recanting on the charge he passed along on his blog post that I was dealing with the wrong document when I criticized the state's science standards when, in fact, the person he quoted with approval was looking at the wrong one.

Richard said, "Why did my name get brought back into this? We already settled this." I looked back at some of the previous comments on Vital Remnants and I see that he sort of/kind of back-tracked on this matter and I should probably just take it as a retraction, although I never did see anything on his blog, where he published it, correcting it. So, oh well, we'll just call it even.

In addition, as to his comment that the Department of Education's Statement of Consideration did in fact, contrary to my previous post, address my argument, he's right. I read through it and either missed it or forgot I saw it when I wrote the post. My bad. I'll take responsibility for it. I don't know how I missed it.

However, the Department says does not offer any argument in response to what I said. As Richard himself quotes from the report:
The agency has determined that comments asserting a heavy weighting toward climate science, to the exclusion of other disciplines, are not supported by a careful examination of the standards themselves.

So where did I go wrong? They don't say. They just make an assertion that it ain't so. Anyone can do that. Where is the counter-argument? I realize that they may not be required by law (I'll have to check) for offering one, but, in any case, they don't.

I have asked at least once (maybe twice) for someone to falsify my figures or come up with some other analysis which would render them incorrect. So far, nothing--from Richard or anyone else.

Richard says:
I responded to Cothran’s argument. I objected to his drawing such definitive conclusions on the scant evidence produced by a simple word search methodology. But Cothran carried on the debate by defending his method, claiming that I was wrong to have questioned - what he had now switched to calling - a “text analysis.” 
The only problem is that Cothran had not done a “text analysis.” He did a word count.
If he had done a text analysis - which is much more involved research technique and produces much higher quality information, I would have likely had nothing to say about it. 
After objecting to my posting a claim made by another author, Cothran finally conceded that his method was not sufficient for the conclusions he drew, writing, “I fully admit it's not "definitive." I admit the possibility that I could be wrong.” 
"Cothran finally conceded"? This makes it sound like I was holding out on him. If Richard will look back, he will see that I readily said not only that my analysis was not "definitive," but that I had never said it was. Richard makes it sound like I had said it was and reluctantly admitted it wasn't. This is simply a mischaracterization of the facts.

"Definitive" has the sense of being "better than all others" or "final or conclusive." Richard implied that I had said (or implied) that, but I never did and I pointed that out. He needs to drop the pretense, unless he can demonstrate that that's what I said.

And let's address this issue of "text analysis."

Richard says I didn't do a "text analysis"; I did a word count. Okay, first, I should probably explain to Richard that words are, in fact, text. And that analysis is the process of, if I may quote the dictionary (which has authority in most places, although I am uncertain if departments of education are one them) "a process of studying or examining something in detail in order to understand it or explain it." So maybe he would like to explain to me, given the common usage of words, how a word count is not text analysis.

I was using the term "word count" generically, of course. However, I am willing to concede that Richard may have some specialized technique in mind the rules for which I have violated. If so, he should say what it is. To simply keep repeating the expression "text analysis" as if this is a universally agreed-upon technique to analyze documents is getting a little tiresome.

In fact, I took the trouble to do a little investigation on the Internet concerning "text analysis." If you Google the term, you find several interesting things:
  1. There seems to be no one commonly agreed-upon or universally recognized technique for text analysis. In fact, many of the discussions of text analysis discuss the wide disagreement as to what the term means.
  2. The term "text analysis" is frequently used synonymously with "content analysis," which, according to most of the definitions, would fit more closely with what I was doing.
  3. Most definitions of both "text analysis" and "content analysis" would clearly include word counts or analysis of word frequency.
  4. Both "text analysis" and "content analysis," but particularly content analysis, frequently and explicitly employ word counting or analyses of word frequency as at least part of their methodology.
Now Richard clearly believes word counts and text analysis are two entirely different things ("Cothran had not done a 'text analysis.' He did a word count.") The problem is that this just doesn't seem to be the view among most of those who are discussing text analysis (or content analysis).

So maybe Richard would like to enlighten us on this one-and-only true method of text analysis he's trying to hold me accountable to and explain why his definition would seem to differ with the many others one can find easily on an Internet search.

Finally, Richard took offense and told me to go soak my head. This was the most sensible thing he's said so far.

This is what I like about Richard: If you hit him, he hits you right back. You gotta respect that. He fights like a man.

Oops, there I go again.

I'm sure that saying that will offend his Politically Correct sensibilities and he will prescribe some supplementary treatment in addition to the head soaking. But I am so refreshed by his candor that I am even now filling the bucket and awaiting whatever additional prescriptions he might suggest, which I will follow enthusiastically.

It could only help.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The wrong way to sell the Church's position on homosexuality

It seems ironic that in one and the same article, Aaron Taylor applauds a piece of communication despite the fact that it was widely misrepresented and then turns right around and counsels Christians not to use certain kinds of communication precisely because they will be misrepresented

Taylor offers advice on how the Church can more effectively articulate its position on homosexuality, the chief of which is to abandon language that uses expressions like "intrinsically disordered." Such language, which Pope Francis avoided in his Rio comments (which were grossly distorted by the secular world), lends itself to being grossly distorted by the secular world.

In fact, the media reaction to the Pope's comments, comments with which Taylor begins his remarks, offers a lesson exactly the opposite to that which Taylor gives us.

But in addition to the inherent inconsistency of Taylor's article, this kind of perspective (a perspective which seems be one part creative theology and five parts public relations) is a dangerous stance from which to offer advice to the Church. Obviously the Church has to take account of how its message is received, which it does every time it issues a pronouncement in a language other than Latin. But crafting the message should never compromise its content.

It is easy for the kind of advice offered by Taylor to lapse into a kind of consequentialism that would inevitably result in the Church acting in ways that misrepresent its position--and worse.

In addition, it is not clear to me that because Aquinas says in one place that the act of sex outside of marriage is “intrinsically disordered” that he therefore believes that homosexual proclivity is itself not intrinsically disordered in a way that heterosexual fornication is not.

In fact, Aquinas draws a distinction in Question 154 of the Second Part of the Summa Theologica between some lustful vices, which are natural but not in accord with right reason, and other acts (e.g., masturbation, bestiality, homosexuality, and unnatural sexual relations between heterosexuals), which are not only not in accord with right reason, but which are, in addition, unnatural.

Both fornication and homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” but the latter are, in addition, according to Thomas, unnatural. This is, of course, backed up by the words of Paul in Romans, where he calls homosexual acts sin “against nature.”

I realize the subject here is whether we should use the term “intrinsically disordered,” but appealing to Thomas will only make things worse, since, in addition to being intrinsically disordered, Thomas would have us also calling them “unnatural,” a term not exactly designed to fix the PR problem Taylor is so concerned to fix.

And so it is hard to fathom, in a discussion in which Aquinas is apparently considered authoritative, how Taylor can say, “the real moral absolute for Catholics in the domain of sex is the one against non-procreative acts, regardless of either the gender or the sexual orientation of the participants.” There really are no other particular (or “real”) moral distinctions the Church draws?

I suggest Taylor spend a little more time in the Summa, where numerous other important distinctions are drawn. It would cure him of this misconception fairly quickly.

Then there is the discussion of the advantages of using expressions such as “exceptionless moral norms” and “moral absolutes,” which takes us from John Stuart Mill (who lurks behind the first part of Taylor's post) to Kant (who seems to haunt the second part).

Taylor thinks the Kantian approach will do the PR trick, which, whatever the advantages he thinks it has (which are questionable), have the additional disadvantage of distorting the traditional moral teaching of the Church. Traditionally, the Church's ethical teaching has been neither consequentialist (as would be the result of the PR emphasis) nor deontological (which his language of “moral absolutes” would promote).

The Church’s main ethical tradition is that of virtue ethics, which is founded on the idea (derived both Aristotle and Aquinas, as well as the Apostle Paul) that certain things are natural and unnatural—which is why it can speak an ethical language with terms like “intrinsic.” This is the tradition which Taylor would have us abandon.

I sympathize with Taylor's motivations and I’m sure there are better ways to present the truths of the Church than many are now doing. But the fact is that as long as the Church opposes homosexuality in any way, shape, or form, any statement by the Church or its members is going to be ill-received by the “gay community”-- a group of people with which, as a group, Taylor seems to be so concerned that the Church have good relations.

There may be a way to do things differently when it comes to a public dialogue on homosexuality, but abandoning the traditional moral categories the Church has used for centuries is not the way to do it. And if we're going to lose the public battle on this issue, which looks likely, we might as well do it with our moral theology intact, so that, in a better time, when the "gay community" will have been swept away by history, the Church can speak it anew.

KY education officials respond to my criticism of science standards with obfuscation

The Kentucky Department of Education has released its Statement of Consideration on the Kentucky's science standards. Once again, the defenders of the standards are obfuscating the issue.

I had argued in an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader that there was an inordinate emphasis on climate science in the standards. As objective documentation of this I cataloged the number of words devoted to different topics in the standards and found climate science to dwarf any other single issue, and that, in fact, it dwarfed numerous other scientific issues when these issues were combined.

I made no comment about whether global warming was real or man-made. What was the response? The response was to argue that global warming was real and man-made.

Yo. Any intelligent life out there?

In other words, the defenders of the standards either can't make a basic distinction between these two issues, or they are intentionally confusing the issue. In other words, either we have people who are incapable of thinking very well in charge of the state's education standards, or we have people who are putting politics in front of science in charge of them.

In either case, it is hard to have confidence in this process with a dialogue like this.

In fact, no one has yet responded to my argument, so busy are they responding to arguments I never made. I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that the reason is that they can't.

The response of Daniel Phelps, President of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, in the Herald-Leader was plagued by a serious confusion about the difference between scientific issues and policy issues. But more to the present point, he employs the red herring defense too: he spends his time arguing about whether global warming is real rather than whether we need to be spending time on that one issue when there are so many others needed to education children in science.

Joseph Straley, the Provost's Distinguished Service Professor in physics and astronomy at the University of Kentucky, also responded to my article. He may be an example of distinction, but is unable, apparently to make one. He too tries to make this into a debate over global warming, when, in fact, it has nothing to do with whether the earth is warming or not.

It's as if someone said, "I think we're giving too much space to the topic of magnetism" and someone said, in response, "I disagree. I believe there are things that there are certain materials that attract or repel each other."

It's at this point you just have conclude that these people just don't have any fruit at the bottom of their scientific yogurt.

Then there is Richard Day, who responded by questioning my method of determining the emphasis in the standards, which employed the revolutionary technique of a) actually reading the document and b) counting the actual number of words having to do with certain issues. Day questioned this technique. I'm sure he had an alternative one consonant with the level of intellectual rigor that predominates in departments of education these days, possibly crystal healing or biofeedback or polarity therapy or perhaps some equally scientific fixture of the pop psychology that seems to predominate in his profession.

But he never offered an alternative method, so it's hard to tell.

He also repeated a false charge that I was looking at the wrong document and, as far as I can tell, never offered a correction.

This is the level of discourse we are having to contend with here--and all from people who champion rigorous thinking.

It's a shame.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Thousand Faces of Christ: On the latest revisionist Jesus

Several years ago I was reading a book of quotations and came across a quote from Jesus, the attribution read, "Jesus, (if you can believe Luke)." Just for fun, I looked up a quote by Socrates. In that case the attribution simply read, "Socrates." It didn't say "Socrates (if you can believe Plato)."

The problem, of course, is that the historical standard employed by critics of the Bible is completely different from the standard they employ with any other book. When it comes to the gospel accounts, we all of a sudden want to abandon the criteria by which we judge the historicity of every other text in favor of a standard we don't apply to anything else.

In other words, the problem is not that the Biblical documents don't meet up to the regular documentary criteria (they do that just fine). The problem is that we want to judge them by a higher standard than anything else.

We see this just about every Easter, when Time Magazine or Newsweek (when there was one) features a cover article on "the historical Jesus" or "the real Jesus" or "Who was Jesus?" or "Who was the real historical Jesus" or countless other iterations of the same theme.

And what better way to determine whether Jesus existed than to go out and interview people who don't believe he did? Or those who think he did, but have their own pet theory about who he was--and whose theories pretty much contradict each other?

But scholars who think he did and think he was pretty much like the historical documents say he was sit by their university office phones like the old Maytag repairman: They never get a call.

Now there is a book out which does pretty much the same thing, this one by Islamic scholar Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Russ Douthat also takes note of the fact that Aslan's theory (and approach) is not exactly unprecedented:
The fact that Aslan’s take on Jesus is not original doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. But it has the same problem that bedevils most of his competitors in the “real Jesus” industry. In the quest to make Jesus more comprehensible, it makes Christianity’s origins more mysterious. 
Part of the lure of the New Testament is the complexity of its central character — the mix of gentleness and zeal, strident moralism and extraordinary compassion, the down-to-earth and the supernatural. 
Most “real Jesus” efforts, though, assume that these complexities are accretions, to be whittled away to reach the historical core. Thus instead of a Jesus who contains multitudes, we get Jesus the nationalist or Jesus the apocalyptic prophet or Jesus the sage or Jesus the philosopher and so on down the list. 
There’s enough gospel material to make any of these portraits credible. But they also tend to be rather, well, boring, and to raise the question of how a pedestrian figure — one zealot among many, one mystic in a Mediterranean full of them — inspired a global faith.
It's so much easier to tame Christianity than deal with what it actually says.

But there is a better response to the constant stream of multitudinous and inconsistent Christs we are always being told existed instead of the one presented by the actual evidence (the New Testament) and it comes from G. K. Chesterton:
Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation (as has been already admitted) would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. Outrageously tall men might feel him to be short. Very short men might feel him to be tall. Old bucks who are growing stout might consider him insufficiently filled out; old beaux who were growing thin might feel that he expanded beyond the narrow lines of elegance. Perhaps Swedes (who have pale hair like tow) called him a dark man, while negroes considered him distinctly blonde. Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the centre. Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane and all its critics that are mad—in various ways.
Which sort of goes back to something Hillaire Belloc once said: "Truth is one and error multiple."

Monday, August 05, 2013

Safety Will Kill Us in the End: Are are protecting ourselves to death?

I have never come right out and said that I think the very survival of the human race is threatened by psychology. So there. I said it. Roving bands of psychotherapists, grief counselors, and radio shrinks are wandering the cultural landscape, destroying everything in their path.

No one is supposed be upset about anything. Ever. And it's causing massive amounts of anxiety.

And it's not only the psychologists but the entire medical establishment, as well as the new safety bureaucracy which sees it as its job to make sure than no one ever does anything dangerous. It will kill us in the end.

Diet drinks. Seat belts. Skim milk. OSHA. Safety goggles. Consumer protection warnings.  Hospitals. Brakes on cars.

Am I the only one who has hurt myself trying to open a child-resistant safety cap?

We are becoming too kind, too considerate, too caring, too safe, too protective. And unless it stops, we're all doomed.

And I am not alone in my apolcalyptic view of the situation. Here is a new in Psychology Today talking about the problem of over-involved parents who are apparently becoming the enemy of childhood:
Maybe it's the cyclist in the park, trim under his sleek metallic blue helmet, cruising along the dirt path... at three miles an hour. On his tricycle. 
Or perhaps it's today's playground, all-rubber-cushioned surface where kids used to skin their knees. And... wait a minute... those aren't little kids playing. Their mommies—and especially their daddies—are in there with them, coplaying or play-by-play coaching. Few take it half-easy on the perimeter benches, as parents used to do, letting the kids figure things out for themselves. 
Then there are the sanitizing gels, with which over a third of parents now send their kids to school, according to a recent survey. Presumably, parents now worry that school bathrooms are not good enough for their children.
"Coplay"? Isn't that a rock group? We can't even talk about the problem without engaging in nonsense.

The doctors and psychiatrists and safety experts are so determined to stop people from doing anything that might result in people inadvertently killing themselves that they are in the process of creating a completely boring existence here on earth. So boring that people will want to kill themselves.


Survival of the Fittest is supposed to be good for us as a species. So says Darwin, says Herbert Spencer. And even some modern psychologists are starting to question the Brave New World:
Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history. "Kids need to feel badly sometimes," says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. "We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope."
In fact, people are already becoming so fed up with the people who are trying to protect them from themselves that they are doing things like "Extreme Sports." Hang-gliding from active volcanoes, bungie jumping from suspension bridges, wingsuit flying from high altitudes, and going to Mexico. These are all activities in which people go some place where they are safe from the safety officials and do dangerous things for the exclusive purpose of doing something unsafe. This is how desperate we have become.

This has never before been seen in history. The Egyptians did not hang glide off of the pyramids. The Babylonians did not bungie jump off the ziggurats. And the Romans did not jump out of airplanes for fun (Of course, this is largely because they didn't have them). And if they had they would at least have had the self-respect not to wear protective headgear and knee pads.

Pre-modern people did not have Extreme Sports. They had extreme farming and extreme hunting. People never did extreme sports in ancient times because they got to do dangerous things all day long. And they were a lot better off for it.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Morality of the Gaps: Ariel Castro appeals to science in saying he's not to blame

Ariel Castro was sentenced today to 1,000 years in prison without parole. He insists he did nothing wrong and blamed his crimes on "sex addiction." This is a classic case of the psycho-sophistical blame shifting that goes on in a society that gives easy credence to every scientistic pronouncement.

Castro can point to numerous radio and television shrinks (and seemingly most of the more conventional practitioners of this modern art) to justify his claim that, because he suffers from a psychological disease, he cannot be blamed--and should not be punished--for holding three women as virtual sexual slaves in his house for over ten years and forcing the death of the unborn child of one of the women.

"I'm not a monster," he said. "I'm sick."

Let's just remember what people like Dr. Phil said when Arnold Schwarzenegger was found to have had fling with the maid (and what others said about Tiger Woods when it was revealed that his skills at cavorting rivaled his golf abilities): He was suffering, he said on CNN one night, from "sex addition." When questioned as to whether this excused him from blame, Dr. Phil adamantly denied it did. But he was just talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Either it is a disease or it isn't. If it is, then the actions resulting from it are not voluntary, since diseases are not voluntary, and are therefore immune from blame or punishment. If it is not, then he cannot be excused. The Dr. Phil's of the world want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to cast themselves as scientists with the specialist's ability to divine the causes behind things, but also want to be able to deny the clear implication of they say because it would not be well-received from a public that had better be kept in the dark about the real implications of these beliefs.

Surely there are other, better-qualified people the media could consult when these kinds of issues come up.

I'm thinking of witch doctors here.

Once again, we have to go back to the common sense psychology of Aristotle to make sense of the tendency of people like Ariel Castro to shift blame to something or someone else.

Let's review for a minute. In his Rhetoric, Aristotle identifies the seven reasons people do things. Four of them are voluntary and three of them are involuntary:

With a little help from their psychologist friends, people like Castro try to move their actions from the left side of this chart (where they are responsible for their actions) to the right side (where they are not). This is what goes on with the legal insanity defense and, on the broader culture front, in the claim that homosexuality is somehow inborn. In both these cases, the actions of individual are cast as being outside the realm of moral judgment.

Human actions traditionally considered culpable are not moral conditions to be repented of; they are medical conditions to be cured.

In fact, all human behavior, we are led to believe, can be explained scientifically--if only we had adequate technical knowledge at our disposal. And the scientific explanation, being a scientific explanation, will of necessity exclude any moral cause, since a moral cause is necessarily non-scientific.

And the thing is, it is not just Arnold Schwarzenegger's dalliances or Tiger Woods bimbo eruptions that such people would explain away, but every human action. The goal of scientism is to eliminate the idea of voluntary action altogether. Scientific materialism, if it is consistent, cannot consider any action as voluntary. It must necessarily believe that every action is involuntary because it is caused exclusively by prior physical causes.

Religious believers are castigated by their atheist critics for believing in a "God of the gaps"--a God who serves in the role of stopgap explanation for any phenomenon that doesn't yet have a scientific explanation. But more and more unexplained phenomena are explained every day so that, if we follow the trajectory of the success of scientific explanation we can project a time in which we will have no need of God as an explanation for anything since everything will have a non-divine explanation.

The psychological explanations now proffered for the behavior of people like Ariel Castro are part of a larger movement to eliminate morality as an explanatory force altogether. It is a "Morality of the gaps" that involves the belief in actions that are caused by human wills outside the control of physical forces that will one day be explained by psychology.

This is why the logical positivists of the early and mid-20th century wanted to classify morality under psychology: because they considered it to have no independent explanatory existence.

In other words, Ariel Castro is no worse than the rest of us and the rest of us are no better than Arial Castro.

And if you don't like to hear that, don't blame me. Remember, I'm not responsible form my actions either.