Monday, April 29, 2019

Real Caring Requires Thinking More than Feeling


Caring looks different sometimes from what we immediately think it should look like. That will be true when we look at many issues, for example:

·         Economic inequity
·         Borders
·         Gender dysphoria
·         Healthcare
·         Affirmative action
There’s a way of looking at these and other issues that is the quick gut version of caring. And then there’s a way of looking at the same things, with a little further thinking, to see whether the quick gut version will really help. Because, if it doesn’t, then real caring requires something else.

This concept came up in a couple of things I was listening to this weekend—Jordan Peterson debates, again. In a debate with Slavoj Zizek, titled “Happiness: Capitalism vs. Communism," Jordan Peterson (on the side of capitalism) says this:
Jordan Peterson in "Happiness" debate
screenshot from here


If you’re actually concerned that the poorest people in the world rise above their starvation levels, then all the evidence suggests that the best way to do that is to implement something approximating the free market economy.
In other words, all that stuff about fairness, or getting rid of inequality, because you care about the poor—that doesn’t work. He provides data:

The one thing you can say about capitalism is that, although it produces inequality, which it absolutely does, it also produces wealth—and all the other systems don’t. They just produce inequality.
So, here’s a few free market stats: From 1800 to 2017 income growth, adjusted for inflation, grew by 40 times for production workers and 16 times for unskilled labor, while GDP rose by a factor of about .5 from 1 AD to 1800. So, from 1 AD to 1800 AD it was like nothing. Flat. And then, all of a sudden, in the last 217 years there’s been this unbelievably upward movement of wealth.
And it doesn’t only characterize the tiny percentage of people at the top, who, admittedly, do have most of the wealth…. [The absolutely poor at the bottom are] getting richer faster now than they ever have in the history of the world.
And we’re eradicating poverty in countries that have adopted moderate free market policies at a rate that’s unparalleled. So, here’s an example. One of the UN millennial goals was to reduce the absolute rate of poverty in the world by 50% between 2000 and 2015. And they defined that as $1.90 a day. Pretty low, you know. But you have to start somewhere. We hit that at 2012, three years ahead of schedule.
And you might be cynical about that and say, well, it’s kind of an arbitrary number. But the curves are exactly the same at $3.80 cents a day and $7.60 a day. Not as many people have hit that, but the rate of increase towards that is the same. The bloody UN thinks that we’ll be out of poverty, defined by $1.90 a day, by the year 2030. It’s unparalleled.
Do you really care about getting the poor out of poverty? Because we know how to do that: free markets.

In a different debate—this one was a Jordan Peterson/Sam Harris debate in Dublin, moderated by Douglas Murray, which I reviewed via a response by commentator Chris Kohls on his Mr. Reagan podcast. The debate was on the efficacy (or harm) of religion, but Harris failed to engage on that. So there was a diversion to other themes, which includes our main theme for today:

There’s just as much error on the side of empathy as there is on the side of too little empathy. And that’s a hard thing for everyone to learn, because empathy feels so good. Like, if you feel mercy towards a suffering child, that is kind of an indication that you’re an ethical person. But that’s not the basis for complex and sophisticated foreign policy.
from left, Jordan Peterson, Douglas Murray, Sam Harris
in the Dublin debate, as reviewed by Mr. Reagan podcast
screenshot from here

Jordan Peterson was talking about borders, which I’ve heard him talk about elsewhere. But this is an excellent way of thinking about them, so I’ll share this version:

Borders exclude and privilege those within the borders. Yes. OK, now let’s take that seriously. Now, part of the seriousness is, poor innocent children are hurt at borders. That happens all the time. OK, the question is, are you willing to give up the borders?
Now let’s think about what borders are. Your skin is a border. And you’re prejudiced in protection of your skin. For example, you won’t just sleep with anyone; you reserve the right to keep that border intact. Right? And to be choosy about the manner in which it’s broached. You likely have a bedroom; it probably has walls. You have clothing. You have a house. You have a town. You have a state. You have a country. And those are all borders. It’s borders within borders within borders within borders. And you need those borders, because otherwise you will die. So we could not be too hypocritical about the damn borders. We don’t know how to organize fragile things without putting boundaries around them.
You see that in Genesis, right? As soon as people realize that—I’m sneaking in a little religion here, in case you didn’t notice—as soon as people realize, they become self-conscious. They wake up and realize their vulnerability. The first thing they do is manufacture a border between them and the world. And we need borders between us and the world.
 And we pay a bloody price for borders. And I say those words very carefully. We pay a bloody price for borders, and it’s often in the price of other people’s blood.
And so, then, the question might be, well, how should you conduct yourself ethically in a world where other people are paying in blood for your borders? And the answer that I’ve been trying to communicate to people is, get your damn house in order. Bear as much responsibility as you can. Act as effectively as you can as an individual in the world. Because then you can justify your privilege. You can justify your luck and your good fortune. And maybe, within the confines of your border, you can be more productive and useful than you would be in the absence of borders altogether.
You do what you can where you can. You don’t say, “I want to feel good about that poor suffering child at the border, so I’m going to insist that the whole country gives up that border.” Meanwhile, who cares what happens to the property owner right there at the border, or anyone else who is harmed by the lack of a border? And, for that matter, what does getting rid of the border do to help the poor suffering child there? It’s not a certainty that getting rid of the border would even help her.

We don’t really have room today to cover all the other issues on that list. But we can briefly cover a couple of them.

Gender Dysphoria

It might make you feel good to say, “I care about that poor person who was born a male but thinks he/she is a female.” OK, but it isn’t self-evident that the best treatment is to get the whole world to support that person in their self-deception. No matter how elaborate the costume—which could include hormones and surgery—the body will still be a male body, with male DNA in every cell. What could have been a reproductively fertile body could be rendered permanently infertile. Isn’t it worth considering whether there is another, maybe better, solution? Especially since outcomes for those who have transitioned are not very positive (suicide as high or higher, body dysphoria continues), and since many have overcome the dysphoria without transitioning, and many who have transitioned have regretted taking that drastic step.

It may be that the best way to care for that individual is to actually care for them individually, and get them the support and treatment that will do them the most good. That very well might include mental health therapy to deal with the gender dysphoria or confusion first. Certainly waiting would be a better way to deal with children—the majority of whom are likely to outgrow the problem by adulthood.

Affirmative Action

It might make you feel good to care about a student from a minority group that suffered discrimination in the past. But it isn’t self-evident that the best solution is to give that student special treatment, in college admissions, for example.

It might be that a black student scores relatively well on exams, showing he would do well in just about any state school, but would be well below the mainstream or even the bottom of students at an Ivy League school. Do you help that student by putting him in an environment where he’s not likely to thrive? High dropout rates among blacks given affirmative action shows it’s not a kindness. They’re also like to choose an easier major, avoiding STEM fields, where they would have done well enough to follow a good career path, if they’d gone to a good-enough college instead.

Malcolm Gladwell tells a story in David and Goliath, that illustrates this. A young woman black woman excelled in science and math in high school. She chose to attend Ivy League Brown, instead of University of Maryland. But it turned out to be overly competitive, and she struggled, coming to believe she was stupid and incapable, because she was comparing herself to even smarter students, and ended up giving up her lifelong science dream for an easier field.

Gladwell then says this about affirmative action:

Affirmative action is practiced most aggressively in law schools, where black students are routinely offered positions in schools one tier higher than they would otherwise be able to attend. The result? According to the law professor Richard Sander, more than half of all African-American law students in the United States—51.6 percent—are in the bottom 10 percent of their law school class and almost three-quarters fall in the bottom 20 percent. After reading about how hard it is to get a science degree if you’re at the bottom of your class, you’ll probably agree that those statistics are terrifying.[i]
Derryck Green, of Project 21, talks about the results of affirmative action in a recent PragerU video; the segment is from about 1:40 to 3:50, but you can watch the whole five-minute video below.

To summarize, we all need to take a clearer look at caring. Stop killing with kindness. Doing something  that looks like caring in order to make yourself feel good about how virtuous you are is called virtue signaling. Instead, try stepping back from the immediate emotion, and thinking through the specific case, or the full range of possible consequences. And then do a rationally kind act. And do that act yourself—instead of pushing, or even requiring, others to do it.




[i] Gladwell, Malcolm, David and Goliath, p. 91. The statistics he references are from Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Believing

Andrew Klavan
profile pic from Facebook

Earlier today I was checking Andrew Klavan’s Facebook to see if he had a new podcast. He had laryngitis last week, and he hasn’t posted a podcast this week, so I imagine he’s taking some needed time to get better. But he did post a piece he had written for City Journal. It’s long, and thought-provoking, and along the lines of things I’d been thinking about at a more general level. So I’m going to cover some of his points today, along with my own, about believing.

I’ve noticed that there are a couple of types—probably a spectrum, but we’ll settle on types to simplify—of people’s attitudes toward belief. Some are open to possibilities, and willing to believe quickly, or at least experiment to see if an idea posited to them bears fruit if acted as if true. Some people are more resistant to belief, being more concerned about being misled. They’d rather be wrong while missing out on truth than wrong by foolishly believing untruths.

It seems to me to be a choice, but it might be an innate tendency, or a way of thinking encouraged by individual life experience and surrounding milieu. Nature or nurture. Or a combination. I find myself easily willing to believe enough to see if an idea bears fruit. I am more willing to seek truth that way than I am concerned about avoiding being misled. It puts me on Andrew Klavan’s side of that divide.

The point of Andrew Klavan’s essay, as he puts it, is that:

the modern intellectual’s difficulty in believing is largely an effect created by the overwhelming dominance of the Enlightenment Narrative, and that narrative is simplistic and incomplete.
I agree with him. But his is a more academic point—I don’t mean simple easy to understand; I mean more appealing to academics who have all studied a certain set of thinkers. I am, rather, just looking at the basic ability to believe. Why is believing hard?

Klavan’s piece begins with several examples of people who see clearly that Western civilization is based on the fruits of living Judeo-Christian values. Science isn’t a break from that; it is an outcome. He shows several thinkers, and their writings, many of which seem to show the value of Christianity—yet they remain unbelievers.

There is Michel Houellebecq, and his 2015 novel Submission, which Klavan says exemplifies what he’s trying to say. This book, he says, shows,

They believe that Europe has lost the will to live and that the loss is linked to a loss of faith in Christianity. But while they yearn to see the West revived—and while they may even support Christianity as a social good or a metaphorical vehicle for truth—they cannot themselves believe.
Then there is Marcello Pera, whose 2008 book Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians seems to spell out the need for our religion. Pera writes,

The West today is undergoing a profound moral and spiritual crisis, due to a loss of faith in its own worth, exacerbated by the apostasy of Christianity now rife within Western culture.
And he continues,

Without faith in the equality, dignity, liberty, and responsibility of all men—that is to say, without a religion of man as the son and image of God—liberalism cannot defend the fundamental and universal rights of human beings or hope that human beings can coexist in a liberal society. Basic human rights must be seen as a gift of God . . . and hence pre-political and non-negotiable.
Yet neither Houellebecq’s character (and probably himself personally) nor Pera is willing—or able—to believe in God. That’s why Pera doesn’t name his book Why We Should Be Christians; we should just call ourselves by that name, in case it helps.

Klavan’s next example is Douglas Murray, who wrote The Strange Death of Europe in 2017. Murray says, “Unless the non-religious are able to work with, rather than against, the source from which their culture came, it is hard to see any way through.” And adds, “After all, though people may try, it is unlikely that anyone is going to be able to invent an entirely new set of beliefs.”

True. Klavan adds, “But Murray, too, is a nonbeliever, as he told me explicitly during a conversation on my podcast. Again, he knows that faith is needed, but he cannot believe.”

Next on the list is Jordan Peterson, one of my favorite thinkers. But Klavan is right about him; unlike the other examples, he is “religious,” but he refuses to answer a direct question on belief in God. As Peterson says, “I act as if God exists,” as Pera suggests, and lets the listener decide for himself what that might mean, because Peterson resists being put in a box.

Klavan calls him out on that:

If I must decide for myself, I think that Peterson is a Jungian. Beneath his abstruse verbiage, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung essentially reimagined spirituality as an emanation of the deepest truths of human experience. “We cannot tell,” he wrote, “whether God and the unconscious are two different entities.” In practice, this means that the Jungian god is ultimately a metaphor, a means of externalizing our collective unconscious and its “archetype of wholeness.” No amount of evasive verbalization can disguise the weakness of a metaphorical god. He is the signifier of human meaning as opposed to a living objective Presence who is the source of that meaning.

Jordan Peterson (left), Bret Weinstein, Sam Harris debate
screenshot from here

Last summer, when Jordan Peterson debated Sam Harris on whether religion was good or bad for society, I saw Peterson as the clear winner. But I was still quite dissatisfied. And it was because of this reason that Klavan points out—and so did Harris: if it comes down to God being just a metaphor, and you know you’re tricking yourself into acting on the metaphor, then you have to be really skilled at lying to yourself. Why go through those mental gymnastics?

A metaphorical God is not enough. Better than refusing to believe in a God who defines goodness at all, but only barely. A straightforward actual belief in a real person God is simply more reasonable.

There’s an interesting part of Klavan’s article where he addresses the idea of creating a fictional God. And, because he is a fiction writer and a true believer in God, he offers some valuable insight here:

Good fiction does not create phenomena; it describes them. Like all art, fiction is a language for communicating a type of reality that can’t be communicated in any other way: the interplay of human consciousness with itself and the world. That experience can be delusional, as when we hear voices, mistake infatuation for love, or convince ourselves that slavery is moral. But the very fact that it can be delusional points to the fact that it can be healthy and accurate as well. When it is healthy, the “common imagination of human beings” can be regarded as an organ of perception, like the eye. Fiction merely describes the world of morality and meaning that that organ perceives.
Salt, image from here
I suggest reading that in the full context. But I’d like to address the rationality of belief. There are many things we know are true because we experience them, and yet they’re hard to explain. The taste of salt is a common example. We know it. We try to describe it. But words fail. The best way to convey saltiness is to give someone salt and say, “Here, taste this.”


I know love when I feel it; I have experience with it. But it isn’t a tangible, measurable, describable thing—although poets have been trying for centuries. We help someone else understand more by offering experience than by offering explanations. A meaningful embrace or verbal expression of love, combined with time and more experience—that may lead someone to understand it. But it doesn’t guarantee understanding. Some people resist.

The grandkids, about 5 years ago,
among the ways I've experienced love
You might say love is a spiritual thing—that you need to experience spiritually. With both mind and heart. It’s not just a set of neurons firing in our meat computer. It’s something that leads people to risk their lives for someone else. It can have physical effects on a body—and so can lack of it. But it’s something that transcends the mind.

Love is a good starting place for understanding things spiritually.

There are many things we can and do experience spiritually that are hard to convey to someone spiritually resistant.

For me such experiences are frequent. I’ve tried recording them, so I can be aware and remember better. [Those of you who are of my faith will understand when I call this additional journal my “small plates.”] There’s often a physical sensation along with the spiritual experience. Other people I talk with who share my beliefs seem to know what I’m talking about, because they have similar experiences.

But people who don’t experience these things dismiss our experiences as though they are simply our imagination. And all we can say is, “Here, taste this.” But they won’t. They even say they can’t.

There’s a concept in literature called suspension of disbelief. You use it whenever you read a novel or watch a movie. You know you are being told a story—that real life isn’t happening in front of you. These are portrayals. And yet you can feel strong emotions about the characters and what they’re going through. In fact, that’s why you put yourself through it—to get involved in someone else’s story. In hopes of understanding your own story better, no doubt. But the story, if it’s worthwhile, brings you something literally true, because you let go of the knowledge that the story isn’t true in a literal sense.

So you know how to do that. You’re experienced at it when you know something isn’t real, and yet something real comes of it. I suggest suspension of disbelief for something that may be beyond your experience but just might be real.

Concerning the resistance, Andrew Klavan says,

By assuming that the spiritual realm is a fantasy, they irrationally dismiss our experience of it. Our brains perceive the smell of coffee, yet no one argues that coffee isn’t real. But when the same brain perceives the immaterial—morality, the self, or God—it is presumed to be spinning fantasies. Coming from those who worship reason, this is lousy reasoning.
How do we reason together when a major way of understanding is off the table? What I experience, and the billions of others who have similar experiences—things they know spiritually—are told our experiences don’t count because some “rational” person says they don’t, I need a better “reason” than, “that’s just how humans were evolved; they just need to imagine things like a spirit.” Why? Why would that happen by accidental genetic mutation? Without purpose? And if there is a purpose—even if the purpose is that we will as humans thrive better if we choose to live moral lives among one another—why would the “rational” reason be random chance rather than divine plan? A literal Creator is both simpler and more reasonable than belief in disordered but happily random chance.

It is more rational to believe than not. It’s better to live in a world that appears to be designed for us, with all that we need for life and abundance. It’s better to live in a world that follows an orderly nature than one that is simply random. Morality comes from that recognition of order.

Klavan says,

Every aspect of language is physical: the brain sparks, the tongue speaks, the air is stirred, the ear hears. But the idea expressed by that language has no physical existence whatsoever. It simply is. And whether the idea is “two plus two equal four” or “I love you” or “slavery is wrong,” it is true or false, regardless of whether we perceive the truth or falsehood of it.
In other words, there’s a reality that exists whether we recognize it or not. In order to choose the good, or find the truth, we need some standard of what that is. I am much more willing to trust a source that says He is my Father in Heaven who loves me, His child, and whose voice I hear and feel and recognize spiritually, than I am to trust a source that says he’s too rational to be believe what I have experienced.

Belief starts with a "desire to believe," which is pretty much a suspension of disbelief. Then we act as if we believe—we exercise faith. That's where Jordan Peterson seems to be. 

But then we get experience—much of it spiritual—that tells us whether what we believe is true. At some point we're beyond suspending disbelief and into actual belief. And maybe into knowledge based on experience.

Klavan refers to Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, who doesn’t believe a world of moral meaning exists. That’s all myth. I love how Klavan explains this:

For example, he refers to women as sapiens “possessing wombs” and declares that only “the myths of her society assign her unique feminine roles,” such as raising children. No one who has ever met a woman outside the planet Vulcan can imagine this to be the actual case. Harari himself speaks quite tenderly of the maternal feelings of sheep. What myths have the rams been telling the ewes?
And then, there’s this thing about human rights—which truth tells us only exist if they come from God. Harari say, “They are not a biological reality. Biologically speaking, humans don’t have rights.”

That’s worrisome, even if Harari doesn’t have ill intent. Because, as happens when someone realizes how complex the world is, if it depends all on us humans, then what? Klavan says,

Harari has argued that increasing information may require increasing centralization of power, the old progressive canard that the world has become too complex for individual freedom and must now be run by experts. This sort of thing makes one suspicious that Harari and other reason-worshiping thinkers are living justifications for Marcello Pera’s fears that freedom cannot defend itself without specifically Judeo-Christian faith.
We have liberty in this country, because we had thinkers who devoutly followed the Judeo-Christian principles that naturally lead to civilization. Those true things remain true whether one believes or not. But we only get to enjoy the fruits of them when a critical mass of people live their lives in intentionally good ways—because they are believers.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Too Much Savagery


Too much savagery in our world! The most shocking recent example was the coordinated bombings of Christians celebrating Easter in Sri Lanka Sunday. The death toll is approaching 300 by today, with hundreds more injured.  

Aftermath of bombing in Sri Lanka church on Easter Sunday
image found here

This was carried out by National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), an Islamist jihadi group in Sri Lanka. No surprise. Much of the most violent savagery in the world today fits in that demographic. They go by such names as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, and supporting organizations such as Hamas, CAIR, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Those of us who have Muslim friends realize that this is not a standard Muslim way of thinking, but an extremist corruption, valuing power, hate, and death, having nothing to do with civilizing religious principles. They are vicious, as other power-mongering political movements before them. (Looking at you, communism, socialism, authoritarian dictatorships, mob rule.) It is a Muslim problem, however, to separate and distinguish the savage from the civilized.

When tragic attacks like this happen—and isn’t it shocking that we can even say “attacks like this,” because we experience them somewhat routinely?—we turn our attention there, instead of to the smaller savage events. They cause terror, as intended. 

It may be that attending to the smaller events will do something toward preventing the larger ones, or at least making us aware enough to predict and avoid them.

Back in 2013 I listed what we see in a society that is sinking into savagery. This list is something of smaller events, but still feel devastating to individuals who are affected:
The Social Sphere of the Spherical Model


·         Families break up or fail to form. Children are unwanted, avoided, and even abandoned by one or both parents. Promiscuity is commonplace and accepted as normal, even honored as a preferred lifestyle.
         People fail to worship God, ranging from indifference, simply not attending religious services, to not choosing a religion, to declaring antipathy and disdain toward religious people.
         People fail to live in peace with one another. Nations fight other nations or threaten war. Factions separate from other factions and refuse to tolerate differences in belief. Tribes separate from other tribes and put loyalty to ethnic connection above loyalty to God or righteous behaviors.
         Poverty increases and becomes more difficult to rise above; society is more permanently stratified. Corrupt business practices abound, with neither workers nor hirers keeping their part of agreements. Producing wealth and preserving it both become increasingly difficult. Takers willingly confiscate from producers, discouraging production—which decreases innovation and invention, curtailing technological progress. People seek to get what they can for themselves and leave helping the poor to others.
         Art, literature, and music deteriorate, with lack of form along with dissonance and ugliness being praised in place of truth, beauty, form, and function.
         Pressure against civilizing principles grows stronger. Religion is removed from public discourse. Parental rights are diminished. Controlling entities take over choices about raising and educating children. Choices about food, health care, media, work, use of income, and other basic freedoms are also usurped by controlling entities.
         Trust fails. Children are encouraged to distrust parents and report on them. And neighbors are encouraged to distrust and report on their neighbors. People will have reason to distrust law enforcement, which will be inadequate for their protection. And people will be deprived of means to protect themselves.
         Laws become arbitrary, favoring cronies, ignoring basic justice and fairness. Eventually this includes arbitrary violations of life, liberty, and property based on the interests of the controlling entities.
I don’t have a scale on which to quantify these. But several are measurably worse than when I wrote them. Here are more than a few examples from recent news:

·         Medical students in Africa outraged over U.S.based org enticing them to become abortionists,” Life Site News, by Doug Mainwaring, April 13, 2019. 
·         Colorado Sex Ed Bill Would Force Kids to Learn LGBT Ideology, Ban Talk of Abstinence” and would specifically prohibit religious, moral, and ethical perspectives on sex from being discussed in the classroom, The Daily Signal, by Stephanie Curry, April 17, 2019.
·         Teenage Girl Births And Kills Infant, Dumps Body With Help Of Father,” The Daily Wire, by Frank Camp, April 13, 2019. 
·         Court orders Christian to pay $55,000 to trans politician for calling him ‘biological male,’” Life Site News, by Lianne Laurence, March 28, 2019. 
·         The totalitarian state snubs concerned families, imposes seXXX ed agenda,” Orange County Register, by Rebecca Friedrichs, April 7, 2019. 
·         Second Child Sex Offender Unmasked at Drag Queen Story Time, Houston Activists Say,” PJ Media, by Tyler O’Neil, April 5, 2019. 
·         Abortion is destroying Spain’s future, new study finds,” Life Site News, by Martin M. Barillas, April 2, 2019. 
·         ‘Doctor’ Advises Threatening Suicide To Get Transgender Treatments For Kids,” The Federalist, by Jeremiah Keenan, April 1, 2019. 
·         Childbirth and marriage are “just a pain” in Korea: South Korea's birth rate drops below 1.0,” Mercatornet, by Shannon Roberts, March 29, 2019. 
·         Belgium Euthanizes Over 1,000 Patients EveryYear Without Their Consent,” LifeNews.com, by Alex Schadenberg, March 14, 2019. 
·         Deadly Silence: The Unreported Persecution of Christians,” video program So What You’re Saying Is, Damian Thompson is interviewed by Peter Whittle, April 21, 2019. 
·         “‘We can’t prove sex with children does them harm’ says deranged liberal scumbag,” The Israel Wire blog, by April 2, 2019. 
·         Bangladeshi student burned to death by fellow students for reporting sexual harassment by head teacher,” Fox News, by Hollie McKay, April 18, 2019. 
Not all news is bad, however. Just to instill hope, here are a couple of stories of people standing up against the savagery, at least somewhat successfully:

·         Major Sex-Ed Bill Stopped In Washington State Thanks to the Efforts of Concerned Parents,” Activist Mommy blog, April 15, 2019. 

·         At School, a Test of Wills over Privacy,” Family Research Council, Tony Perkins’ Washington Update, April 16, 2019. 


I don’t know all that will happen in the near a not too distant future. What I do know is that, in the end, good wins out over evil. Evil is making a mad and desperate attempt to ruin the future, but that won’t happen. God is in control. Standing up against savagery will be worth it.



Thursday, April 18, 2019

He Lives


We’re in a week celebrating the most significant event in the history of our world—the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

For something that big, we ought to take a little time to retell the story, and to do what we can to remember.

I’ve been checking in with some online resources provided by my Church, going through the Holy Week story. There is a lot of written information, as well as videos, going through each day. Too much to do more than just sample here. But I’ll share some of the videos. Some are portrayals of the events; others are descriptions and information. Most are brief, under five minutes.


Palm Sunday

Portrayal video “The Lord's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem”:






Explanation video of the “Triumphal Entry”:





Monday through Wednesday

Monday through Wednesday include the cleansing of the temple, as well as the teaching of several parables, and answering questions of those who were trying to trap him. I won’t cover all of these; there are many. But the portrayal of the Cleansing of the Temple and the explanation of some of the symbolism is worth seeing.

·         Portrayal video “Jesus Cleanses the Temple
·         Explanation video “Leaven and the Cleansing of the Temple” 


Thursday

There’s a lot that happens on this day: preparations and then the Last Supper, the suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal, the trial.

·         Portrayal video “The Last Supper
·         Explanation video “The Last Supper and the Passover Feast
·         Portrayal video “The Savior Suffers in Gethsemane,” covering also the betrayal, healing the centurion’s ear, and the arrest: 
This next video, “Gethsemane,” explains some of the meaning of the name Gethsemane, and the symbolism that the Savior fulfilled. Did you know Gethsemane means “olive press”? And that the first press of the olives is a dark reddish brown appearing much like blood?




Good Friday

The illegal trials happen during the night. But the trial before Pilate, the choice to let Barabbas go free and to crucify Jesus were done early morning, before the crucifixion on Golgotha.

·         Portrayal video “Jesus Is Condemned before Pilate
·         Explanation video “His Blood Be Upon Us” 
·         Explanation video “What Was the Crucifixion Like” 

Saturday

Saturday was a painful day for all who loved Jesus. It appeared that all hope had died. They hadn’t understood that He had told them He would die and rise again. And their only experience in the world was that death was permanent. As this explanation video points out, their agony on this day allows them to understand full joy once they encountered the resurrected Savior.

·         Explanation video “Day of Agony

Sunday

Early in the morning, the women went to the tomb, carrying spices to anoint the body. They found the stone rolled away from the opening and guards gone. Angels tried to explain to them, but they hardly understood. They went and told the disciples, who mostly didn’t believe them, but Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves, finding the tomb empty. Puzzled, and not understanding, they went back home.

Mary Magdalene waited at the tomb. When a person approached, whom she assumed must be the gardener, she asked if he had taken the body. But then Jesus spoke her name.

So, it is Mary who is the first we have record of who saw the risen Lord. Then He appears to all the remaining apostles except Thomas. Later He comes again and Thomas sees Him, and feels the prints in His hands, and can thereafter testify that their Lord and Savior lives. Shortly after, He appears to others on the road to Emmaus.

·         Portrayal video “Jesus Is Resurrected” 
·         Portrayal video “Blessed Are They That Have Not Seen and Yet Have Believed
·         Portrayal video “Christ Appears on the Road to Emmaus” 
He appears to them later, on the shore near their fishing boat, and then calls them to the mission He has for them going forward. He spends 40 days with them, teaching them, before rising again into heaven.

Stephen, just prior to being stoned to death, saw Him (Acts 7:55). Ananias saw Him (Acts 9:10) and was directed to go take care of Paul, who had been a persecutor of the saints. Paul later saw Him (Acts 18:9; Acts 23:11). He was seen by more than 500 people (I Corinthians 15:6).

In addition, in my faith, we believe He later appeared to the people on this continent and taught them for three days, seen probably by about 2500 people (3 Nephi 17:25).

Two or three witnesses should suffice. It is hard for me to imagine thousands of people who thereafter lived with the purpose of promoting truth and goodness to have colluded together to lie about the Savior’s resurrection. Their testimonies and their lives testify that He lives.

His life was real—as clearly established historically as ancient historical person. The details of His life fulfill the hundreds of prophecies from all the Old Testament prophets. If we use simplest, most logical conclusion, it is not that He is an invention; it is that, indeed, He lives.

During the weekend, we’re going to do an Easter egg hunt with grandchildren and have a Sunday feast. I made chocolate eggs, and we’re going to decorate cookies and eggs. Many of those things seem frivolous, but underneath it all, we’re celebrating new life, and joy, and love.

So we will use this time to remember, He lives.

Monday, April 15, 2019

What Walls Are For

"Good fences make good neighbors" as Robert Frost said in his famous poem "Mending Wall."

A year or so ago, we and our neighbors had to rebuild the fence between our yards, because their dogs, who were knocking down loose boards and finding their way into our yard, weren't very good neighbors. They even barked at us for daring to come out our back door and "invade" our own backyard. The new, stronger fence means dog disputes are over.


The Great Wall of China was built as a series of fortifications, eventually linked together, to ward off invaders. It didn’t always work, but it made invasion much harder.

Mr. Spherical Model took this photo
of the Great Wall of China in 2013


Jerusalem's ancient city walls are still standing. 

Old City Wall, Jerusalem
image from here


A friend took a trip to Carcassonne, France, last year and put photos online. It turns out the place looks just like the game, where you build roads and city walls to get points. 

Carcassonne, France (a friend's photo)

Why are those walls there? To safeguard the people and things inside.

There are ancient cities in the American Midwest, built by people sometimes referred to as mound builders. If I understand their strategy, they built walled cities, using earth to heighten the wall. There would be access from the inside, and lookouts. The entrance would be a narrow maze-like opening, so any invaders could be easily picked off from above, making it very difficult to get an invading army inside.

Something similar is described in the Book of Mormon, during times of ongoing war. They built up fortifications around their cities, digging ditches and mounding up the earth. And then adding timbers with sharp pickets above. And they built towers from which they could shoot arrows or throw rocks. And they had a single, heavily guarded entrance. (See Alma 49-50.) These fortifications were highly discouraging to invaders.

Moroni's fortified city
illustration from here

Early frontier forts, built entirely from wood and timbers, would have looked similar and accomplished some of the same purpose.

Think of every castle you’ve seen a photo of or drawing of one invented for a book. Walls used for fortification—to protect people and property—are so common that fictional world builders would hardly consider an ancient place without them.

model of city wall from Lord of the Rings, image from here

There’s a Jordan Peterson lecture clip, recently posted, although I’m pretty sure the lecture was given several years ago, in which he talks about why we have walls. The fundamental problem we’re trying to solve is chaos. The world is too complex for us to handle all of it at the same time. So we build walls to make our world smaller—to make it so that we are only dealing with a particular part of the world at a time. Something manageable. That's why walls were built around ancient cities:

If you didn’t put walls around them, then other people would come in and steal everything and kill you. And so, having some walls was a good idea—the same as having walls in your house is a good idea. Walls between your rooms are a good idea. Borders between categories are a good idea.
So, part of the way you simplify the world is by building walls around your space, because then a whole bunch of things can’t come in, so you don’t even have to think about them. It’s not conceptual; it’s practical.
We have walls around cities. We have walls to keep people out of our homes. We have walls within our homes, to deal with only part of the purposes of a home at a time, or to deal with only the people we want to at a time.

And when we are ready to handle more of the outside, we invite people in—temporarily, as visitors. This brings us new information from the outside, in doses sized for us to handle.

At a national level, we have borders—sometimes in the form of walls or fences, with guarded openings to screen who is allowed to enter. This makes it so that the whole world doesn’t enter at once, causing our nation to be indistinguishable from, say, the open ocean, or the world at large.

Do we, as a country, have the right to decide who comes in? Yes, if the country is a thing, and we are the people governing that thing.

Then, what is a country, or a nation? Historically, nations have been the more or less natural boundaries within which the people share a language, culture, and ethnicity. The first nation to be formed based on something other than these things is the United States of America, which was founded on an the idea that all people are created by God as equal—as opposed to some born with the right to rule and some born with the obligation to serve the high born. And we have a written constitution to limit government to its role of the protecting life, liberty, and property of the citizens of the nation.

That means that nationalism is different in America than in other countries. It doesn’t mean anything ethnocentric. It doesn’t mean anything related to a genealogical tree. National pride in America is about pride in the idea. 

Nationalism in Germany during WWII, by comparison, was about pride in nation, but only insofar as that meant people of a particular genetics and culture. Others, even though citizens of that nation, were excluded from the benefits of nationhood.

In America, we have pride of place, and pride in our various regional cultures as well as pride in our national culture. But it’s not an ethnic thing; it’s all connected to the idea of America.

And while we have reason to be proud of that idea we’re based on, we don’t exclude other nations from adopting the same idea. In fact, the world is a better place today, with more peace and prosperity, because America has shared the idea of self-government tied to principles of limited government.

Dr. Peterson talks briefly about the connection between temperamental traits and political leanings. There are the five main personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Those on the “liberal” side (which requires some definition, because I don’t think we can any longer use the word to mean Democrat, for example, when socialist is a better descriptor), which tends to be high in openness and low in conscientiousness. Meanwhile, conservatives (again, maybe needing some definition, because it may depend on what’s being conserved) tend to be low in openness but high in conscientiousness.

I’m determined to take his online test someday, because I’m curious to understand myself better. But my guess is that I’m very high in conscientiousness, but also moderately high in openness. I’m very conservative politically, but I don’t use words that box me in where I don’t fit. Thus, the Spherical Model.

Anyway, we need both openness and walls. America is great because it has both. But we can’t keep both if some of us tear down the figurative and physical walls and “fundamentally transform” it into something that does not have that important idea that has been our sure foundation. As Dennis Prager says, “You can’t love something that you want to fundamentally transform.”

Those who want to transform America are attempting to do it by tearing down walls—both the idea walls of the Constitution, and the physical barriers of an orderly border that allows us to let in only those who honor our Constitutional liberties—people we have always gladly welcomed.

You wouldn’t let someone into your house who didn’t value you or your property. If such a person grows up in your home, then, beyond your obligations to take care of such a person up to adulthood, you wouldn’t tolerate them creating chaos in your home. You would set up boundaries. Walls, if you will. To safeguard the people and things in your home.

We need to be intentional about doing that at a national level as well. To safeguard the people and things inside.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Suppression of the Opposition

Do we know what fascism looks like? Because we're seeing it.


We have some educating to do.

You’ve probably seen some of those interviews where a guy with a microphone and a camera goes on a college campus, or on the street, and asks basic questions, and hardly anyone knows the answer. Like this one on free speech. And this one on “How Well Do Americans Know Their Presidents?”

The Berlin Wall fell in 1991, marking essentially the end of the Cold War with its existential threat. Everyone born that year turns 28 this year. Let’s add five years to that and say anyone 33 or younger was born too late to be personally aware of the existence of the Iron Curtain.

I remember the first time I saw the movie Gandhi, in 1982. I was out of college, recently married (we saw it together). And I was stunned that I’d never heard his story before. What was wrong with my history courses? It’s because world history always started way way back in time, and worked its way forward. And the closer to the present day, the more likely the school year would end before we got to the material. We were lucky to get as far as World War II.

I was interested in history, and good at remembering things, but I knew nothing about some major world events. So I had to educate myself as an adult. (Homeschooling helped.) But for students who aren’t interested, and also happen to have schools fail to provide the material, are in a state of ignorance we shouldn’t be surprised at.

So, for the sake of education, today we’ll cover some -isms.



According to my favorite nearly 40-year-old dictionary, totalitarian has two definitions:

1.    Designating, of, or characteristic of a government or state in which one political party or group maintains complete control under a dictatorship and bans all others.
2.    Completely authoritarian, autocratic, dictatorial, etc.
As a noun, it’s a person who favors such a government or state. And totalitarianism is the noun form, or name for such a government.


In the same dictionary, fascism has three definitions:

1.    The doctrines, methods, or movement of the Fascisti [elsewhere defined as an Italian political organization under Mussolini from 1922-1943].
2.    A system of government characterized by rigid one-party dictatorship, forcible suppression of opposition, private economic enterprise under centralized governmental control, belligerent nationalism, racism, and militarism, etc.; first instituted in Italy in 1922.
3.    A political movement based on such policies, or fascist behavior. See also Nazi.
To be thorough, the definition of Nazi is “designating, of, or characteristic of the German fascist political party (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), founded in 1919 and abolished in 1945; under Hitler it seized control of Germany in 1933, systematically eliminated opposition, and put into effect its program of nationalism, racism, rearmament, aggression, etc.” A Nazi can also be a support of this or any similar party; fascist.

Will Witt (right), screenshot from here
One of those on-the-street videos by Will Witt’s asks the question, “What does holocaust mean?” And a surprising number didn’t have a clue. There are holocaust museums (a very good one here in Houston, another in Washington, DC). It’s a word synonymous with genocide. And even though more individuals were killed under Soviet communism and other socialist regimes, we as a world are pretty aware of the six million Jews killed in fascist Germany’s holocaust during WWII.

The world has said “Never again!” But if young people don’t know what this is, then they’re susceptible to the same forces that allowed it to happen before.

I’d like to focus on the behaviors of totalitarianism, and its synonym fascism, rather than on the “government” aspect of the definition, which is certainly related—but we know that politics is downstream from culture.

So I’d like to look at the “forcible suppression of opposition,” which leads to “authoritarian, autocratic, dictatorial”—essentially tyrannical governments.

A person who is in favor of—or actively pursues—forcible suppression of opposition is fascist.

A person who seeks to control the behavioral freedoms, the economic freedoms, and even the social thoughts of others, to stamp out opposing viewpoints it totalitarian. Such people, in power, seek to destroy opposition, doing away with a second party, or even a second choice. Elections in such regimes are a joke: “Do you vote for the supreme leader? Yes or No? Only Yes votes are counted.”

It’s possible that people who have grown up in a milieu of freedom might not realize what their forcible suppression of opposition inevitably leads to. So maybe we’ll hold off calling them totalitarian until they have some statist power. But they are nevertheless fascist.
It’s time for some examples, in no particular order (unless I go back and edit).


Strange Planet
Strange Planet birthday

There’s a four-panel cartoon, called Strange Planet, of aliens doing normal human things and describing them in absolutely literal ways, which turns out to be pretty hilarious. These have been showing up on my Facebook feed often, and I enjoy them a lot. Many young people have been enjoying them, but, as they say, #canceled. The online magazine Nylon, which I had never heard of, let out the news that, Nathan Pyle, the writer of this funny and non-controversial comic, is pro-life—and therefore no one should ever share or even look at his funny comics again! 

For those of us conservatives who have tolerated Hollywood for all these decades of ridicule, we think never enjoying a comic strip again because the creator has gone so far as to support his girlfriend for attending a pro-life rally (but hasn’t publicly ever even talked about pro-life issues) is narcissistically intolerant. And any person who not only boycotts based on such a small disagreement but insists on spreading the word so that all others within their influence will also boycott—that is fascist.


Chick-fil-A

As I mentioned recently, the San Antonio city council refused to allow Chick-fil-A to have a concession in the airport, supposedly because of the bigoted homophobic beliefs of the company owners. Added to that, Buffalo, NY,airport was about to get a Chick-fil-A, but after complaints from a city councilman, reversed their permission.   

Have those owners, or the company, spoken out against homosexuals or refused to serve them delicious chicken sandwiches and amazing lemonade? No. They are avowed Christians—like 70% of the US population—and therefore one can extract from this information that they believe marriage is between a man and a woman (as has been the belief of all humanity for all the millennia of history up until about five minutes ago). And therefore they should not be allowed to do business? That’s fascist.

Attacks on Chick-fil-A have been going on for quite a while. Fortunately they produce a very good product at a better-than-practically-anyone efficiency, and non-fascists tend to appreciate that and support them even more.


Oculus

Blake J. Harris, author of History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality, was on Glenn Beck radio recently. He told the story of Palmer Luckey, the teenager who started a virtual reality company, which was acquired by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. It looked like things were going great for the young man when word got out somehow, shortly before the 2016 election, that he was a Trump supporter. Zuckerberg stepped in personally and insisted that Luckey sign a declaration that he was not a Trump supporter, but was instead voting for the Libertarian candidate, which was not true. Despite giving in and signing, he was then put on leave for six weeks—with people being told he had asked for this personal time. Then he learned, during a conference call at the end of that imposed vacation, that he had asked for another six weeks off—which of course he hadn’t even considered. Shortly after that he was let go, severed from his creation. Because he liked Trump’s free-market ideas.

Author, Harris, was a fan of Facebook and Zuckerberg going in, which is probably why he had such great access to all the players, and watched what happened first hand. The book is about more than the maltreatment of Luckey; it’s about the rise of virtual reality. But that episode is part of the tech world. And it’s definitely fascistic.

I’m a Facebook user, although rarely political online. But most weeks I have political friends who announce that they’re back on after being put in Facebook jail for a day or a week, or have had materials deleted. As far as I can verify, none of these has been for profanity, lewd conduct or language, inciting violence, or anything you might want Facebook to protect you from; they have been for political content that Facebook deems unacceptable.

Meanwhile, Facebook friends who have Zuckerberg’s political leanings spew uncalculable amounts of lying trash (my words, but I think this is a somewhat expert opinion) without so much as a warning.

“Forcible suppression of opposition” is what’s going on. That’s the definition of fascist.


Human Rights Tribunal in Canada

This headline is from Vancouver, British Columbia: “Court orders Christian to pay $55,000 to trans politician for calling him ‘biological male.’” 

The Human Rights Tribunal ruled that it’s unlawful discrimination not to accept transgender people as the gender they claim to be. Also, “there’s no room for any public debate in the matter.”
Bill Whatcott had dispersed flyers that referred to NDP candidate Ronan “Morgane” Oger as a biological male. His defense, which was not allowed to be presented, was proof of Oger’s biology, but the judge ruled “the ‘truth’ of the statements in the flyer is not a defense.”

The flyer compared Oger to another man, Walt Heyer, who had gender dysphoria, had undergone hormone and surgical transformation to “become” a woman, but eventually realized that was a lie and transitioned back, now again identifying as a man. Making this comparison cost Whatcott $35,000 for injury to the “dignity, feelings and self-respect” of the man presenting himself as a woman, and also $20,000 for alleged improper conduct (not sure from the story what this entailed).

Truth is not a defense? There is no room for public debate? I’d call that forcible suppression of opposition: fascism.


Artificial Intelligence Ethics Council

Here’s another from this week: “Google Cancels AI Ethics Council after Employees Demand Removal of Conservative Heritage President Kay Coles James.” It’s worth noting that, in the group identity politics of the opposition, James checks a lot of boxes; she’s a black woman of a certain age. But being conservative—which is about beliefs and ideas rather than surface details—is unacceptable at Google. She opposes transgender activism—not people with gender dysphoria, but the imposition of the transgender agenda on society. That means the controllers of the largest and most used search engine, controlling our access to information, is about the forcible suppression of opposition; Google is fascist. 


Yale Law School Blacklists Christian Firms

Yale Law School has decided not to do business with any Christian law firms. Also, Senator Ted Cruz has announced an investigation into discrimination at the Yale Law School, which receives federal funding and is therefore prohibited from this sort of discrimination. According to Cruz, “Public news reports indicate that Yale Law School has recently adopted a transparently discriminatory policy: namely, that Yale will no longer provide any stipends or loan repayments for students serving in organizations professing traditional Christian views or adhering to traditional sexual ethics."

Not long ago, there was loud protest about VP Pence’s wife getting a part-time art teacher position at a Christian school, purportedly because this school went out of its way to exclude gays or transgenders. In actuality, the school simply asked for an affirmation of belief in the millennia-old definition of marriage and that sex should only be between married husband and wife. That was considered radically offensive?

If all Christians are to be ousted from the public square, and refused employment, or education, or any of the normal opportunities of society, that leaves far above half the population in unemployed status, dependent on government, meaning the non-Christian (or possibly non-religious) remainder would be required to support those they have disenfranchised. You can see why the labeling of such outcasts as subhuman for the sake of taking their lives with impunity has been the path taken by fascist dictators historically.

The stories of fascist suppression of the opposition are ubiquitous. And they are one-sided. Let’s look at the Spherical Model to see why.

Freedom of people, markets, and ideas is a northern hemisphere (on the model) characteristic. Control of people, markets, and ideas is a southern hemisphere (on the model) characteristic. You don’t find people who strive for freedom, prosperity, and civilization—the northern hemisphere—trying to suppress ideas, because you can’t be northern hemisphere and do that. So all the suppression is done by those who favor control over others, or tyranny.

If you think you have an example of conservative suppression of discourse, you’re wrong. Freedom of speech is an element of the north. If a religious person is suppressing truth—or the legitimate expression of what one thinks is truth—that so-called religious person is acting in a controlling manner, using coercion rather than persuasion. It’s not possible to conserve civilization with coercion. They are incompatible.

So you’re not seeing any religion stuffed down anyone’s throats unless it’s done by people trying to wield power over others. Tyrants. Or fascists. By the way, secularism is a religion, and it is being stuffed down the throats of non-secularists by fascists.

Let’s be clear about definitions, so we can identify exactly why fascist suppression of opposition is so wrong. Then we can see clearly why we need to stand up against it. Now, on our watch.