Category Archives: Culture views

The Essence of the Thing

“Set aside all the muddle of your fears and desires, your resentment, your self-opinion, your politics, whatever. Look at that child. That was you, that was me.” Dr. Anthony Esolen, “Let the Beautiful Creature Live.”

1965LC 0430.jpg

18 -week-old fetus shown inside amniotic sac. from cover of LIFE Magazine, 4-30-1965.

I’ve been busy writing letters to the editors of various local newspapers about the outcry over the first draft of the Dobbs decision written by Justice Samuel Alito after the leak caused such a trembling in the fabric of social media. I was struck once again by how rarely we discuss the central question of the abortion debate. Yes, Roe was bad law, badly written, and yes, of course, the “exercise in raw judicial power[i]” was “egregiously wrong from the start — Its reasoning was exceptionally weak,”[ii] The wrongness of Roe has long been acknowledged by jurists on all sides. The dubious decision was a flimsy structure on which to support the far-reaching judicial mandates that usurped every state’s authority to limit abortion. “Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped…..may prove unstable.”[iii]  However, irrespective of legal debates over constitutional issues, we still don’t talk much about the pivot point of all this.

To wit: what grows inside a woman’s womb when she is pregnant? Simple question. Is it a tumor? A parasite?  Is it something alien and malevolent to be eradicated at will by the host? I ask that question in all sincerity of anyone who advocates for abortion as a “right.” What is it we will permit to be torn asunder and ripped out?

Science tells us it is one thing and no other: a tiny, living, dependent human being. All the debate about heartbeat, viability, and when the fetus experiences pain are only points on a preordained continuum. An embryo is not part of someone’s body, but a separate body from her mother, genetically distinct, and not an unwelcome appendage. She will grow by absorbing food through her umbilical, learning early to like some kinds of food her mother ingests better than others. Without further outside prompting, she will begin to develop her senses, to see light even inside the womb, to hear voices and respond and bond to them as well as to other sounds. She will be startled and frightened by sudden sounds and soothed by music, especially Bach or Mozart.[iv]

A continuum from conception to death, which if uninterrupted by disease or violence, will develop her inherent capabilities uniquely implanted in her genes that were formed in an instant at conception. Her hair and eye color, her organs, fingers and toes, her brain and heart, her capacity for learning already hard wired. She will develop those capabilities to whatever degree her education, nurture, and those who care for her support. She will mature and experience a complex human life with a brief arduous journey down the birth canal from the uterus to the open air just one more milestone along the way.

No one yet to my satisfaction has explained the justification and moral argument that grants the larger, stronger human being the ‘right’ to take the life of the smaller, weaker human being because the big person is mobile and has power, and the little one is trapped and has no power. Exactly why should killing a human being become lawful because the victim is in an unprotected category of tiny persons and declared expendable? Because it’s inconvenient or embarrassing or too expensive or too difficult to keep them around?  Because they were condemned with often wrong prenatal test diagnoses? [v]

In California[vi], there is now a bill to ‘decriminalize’ ending a baby’s life either through neglect or violence or “unknown causes” during the first thirty days after birth. As horrifying as that sounds, it is no different ethically than abortion. A baby in the first month is breathing on her own but still utterly dependent day to day for her life on her parents or guardians. No protector, no nurture – no survival.

Peter Singer, the Princeton bioethicist known for his pro-abortion and animal rights work (one of the founders of PETA), for years has asserted that infanticide should be allowed until full self-awareness, which he defined as up to three years post birth. He has stated that the life of an adult pig should enjoy greater protections than an immature human being before they are fully self-aware. Whatever you think about his moral stance, you can’t fault his consistency. He is perfectly logical in his arguments. Preborn or post born, all the same kid. #MeStillMe.

me-still-meNo sophistry, no rhetoric, no emotional, political, jaded language about rosaries and ovaries, theocracy or state power or keep your hands off my uterus or any of the shopworn slogans, just this: Why does the big person get to kill the little person solely because the big person wants or even needs to do so?  As a right?

Dr. Anthony Esolen this week published an essay entitled, “Let the Beautiful Creature Live.”[vii] A long quote of a couple of paragraphs is germane. He writes a lot more elegantly than I ever could hope to do, so I will end here and not sully the loveliness of his prose, prose which reads like poetry without an unnecessary word and missing not one that is needed[viii].

“Still, there are pictures of unborn children in the womb. As early as eight weeks in, you are looking at a being that is obviously human, with arms and legs, toes and fingers, a head, a face, and eyes. A little later on, he will be sucking the thumb, practicing in the womb what will soon be his sole means of nourishment. The child is strange and familiar at once. Set aside all the muddle of your fears and desires, your resentment, your self-opinion, your politics, whatever. Look at that child. That was you, that was me.

Nothing else that we know of is like him. He possesses, in latency, the developing powers of a mind capax universi: capable of apprehending a universe of existent things. He possesses, in latency, the soul capable of grasping itself; of conceiving objects not bounded by matter; of reflecting his Creator by the works of his hands, his heart, and his imagination; of promising itself in duty; and handing itself over in love. Surely, we have here infinite riches in a little room. And he is our brother.”[ix]

[i] Justice Byron White in dissent from Roe v Wade, 1973

[ii] Justice Samuel Alito in first draft majority opinion in Dobbs v Jackson Health, 2022

[iii] Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a speech at New York University referencing the weakness of Roe v Wade, 1992

[iv] Baby soothed and brain development in the womb enhanced by classical music, especially Mozart.

[v] Some prenatal tests for genetic diseases have up to 90% false positive results. Many are over 80% false positive. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/01/upshot/pregnancy-birth-genetic-testing.html

[vi] In 2019 Rhode Island joined California, New York, and a few other states in allowing abortion up to birth for undefined reasons other than the mother’s health. Health being defined as encompassing emotional, financial, or physical without reference to the severity of the risk. No other European country has such lax laws. Rhode Island, California, and New York join Russia, China, and North Korea as one of the riskiest places on earth for preborn babies. Not august company.

[vii] Let the Beautiful Creature Live, Crisis Magazine Dr. Anthony Esolen formerly taught at Providence College, and is now a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College in New Hampshire. One of the most respected social commentators around. Has spoken at over fifty colleges.

[viii] Note please Dr. Esolen references latency, not potential life. Inherent and to be developed in the nature of the baby. Latent is from the Latin meaning “hidden.” Unlike “potential” which might imply contingency or just possibility, “latent” is fully present, just not yet visible.

[ix] Me-Still Me picture credit from LiveAction website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture views

Uncontrolled

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Nuke LaLooch (played by Tim Robbins) in Ron Shelton’s screenplay for “Bull Durham”

Snowy Owl at Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge Lee Kensinger

Snowy owl at Hamden Slough   National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota by Lee Kensinger.

 Kim Crocker, a volunteer at the Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge   near us, reported a tale that reminded me of the rule of fang and   claw, talon, and blood. After an absence last year of any   overwintering snowy owl at the refuge, this year we have two   visitors, neither of them yet fully mature, but hardy enough to make   the trek from the tundra. Snowy owls can live nine years in the wild and up to twenty-eight in captivity. Fully grown, they have a wingspan of close to five feet: beautiful, formidable hunters, and relentless predators.[i]

Mr. Crocker told me the ranger observed a Cooper’s hawk make a quick kill, probably a vole or field mouse. Raptors drive their long rear talons into their prey with great force from a dive, wrap their front talons securely around their food and begin to eat, often before their victim is dead. This hawk should have been more situationally aware when he grabbed his lunch. Almost as soon as he attacked, he was in turn struck by a snowy, and the predator became the prey with the added benefit of a vole for dessert. Full grown snowy owls have been observed at the refuge taking a full-grown Bufflehead, Eider or Surf Scoter[ii] right out of the surf and carrying them back to a shoreline rock for a leisurely meal.

Sometimes unforeseen trouble can drop on us with the swiftness of a raptor from the sky.  One of the most disconcerting aspects of the last two years of COVID world was the vivid notice that we are not in control. And never have been. This is a valuable lesson.

Oh, we pretend like three-year-olds that if the Bogeyman comes out of the closet or from under the bed we can pull the covers over our head, cuddle our teddy bear, and be protected – that we can be in control, but at three o’clock in the morning on a sleepless night, we know that “the best laid plans o mice and men gang aft agley.”  [iii] Now as adults our Bogeyman occasionally comes out from under the bed, and there is not a damn thing we can do about it when he shows up. We must learn to cope with him and muddle along.

Thus, we are not to be grieved that we don’t control even the most important potentialities of our lives: our health, our safety, or how long we will live on this planet.

“Give up the thought that you have control. You don’t. The best you can do is adapt, anticipate, be flexible, sense the environment and respond.”  Frances Arnold, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Cal Tech

Our futile attempts at overcontrolling our lives, especially through government and politics, bring us division, frustration, distrust, anger, aggression, and ultimately despair. Our technological successes have deluded us into believing that all things eventually will be brought under our control.  “The sociocultural formation of modernity turns out to be, in a way, doubly calibrated for the strategy of making the world controllable. We are structurally compelled (from without) and culturally driven (from within) to turn the world into a point of aggression. It appears to us as something to be known, exploited, attained, appropriated, mastered, and controlled. And often this is not just about bringing things – segments of the world – within reach, but about making them faster, easier, cheaper, more efficient, less resistant, more reliably controllable.”[iv]

Illusory control, then, in the end, is an obsession with self-gratification, for individuals and identity groups. For politicians and social media mavens. For the legions of media chattering heads who so want to reshape the culture in their image. All of this is in a context of a couple of generations of the un-enculturated who have been formed not by tradition or objective standards, but by a faith in self-fulfillment that is largely self-defined by individuals and identity groups. The self-definition is rooted not in classic precepts of freedom, but in the post-modern concept of license. We build precariously on a sandy and shifting foundation of false and malicious hope: we can be anything we want to be and behave any way we choose, most especially regarding sexuality, if we don’t infringe too badly on the other person’s fancy.

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell, ‘1984’

How do we find ourselves so confounded and unmoored? We want to control, but we cannot possibly.

Sachuest Snowy Owl checking out the menu

Sachuest Snowy checking out the menu

We want to redefine our nature, but we cannot possibly. Far too large a topic for this modest post, but we can look at a corner of it. Cultures to persist and offer stable platforms for human flourishing must formally welcome adolescents into adulthood, must train, must recognize what is essential to its existence and never lose sight of forming the next generation in the principles upon which the culture rests.  This instilling of the culture must include objective truths within which the next generation can conform with certainty and find their own context. This has been the case for humans so long as there have been humans.

Our culture neglected this basic principle, and to paraphrase Chesterton, when we cease to believe in something true, it is not that we believe in nothing, but that we will believe in anything. Such is our current state. One of the worst consequences of this is the neglected initiation of young men, prolonged adolescence into their thirties and beyond, and the enduring irresponsibility of too many young men, men without fathers, and men without passages of initiation.[v] These transitions are necessary not just to our culture, but to any culture, and we lost the thread in the latter part of the last century.

“Anchises’ son had halted, pondering on so much, and stood in pity for the souls’ hard lot.” Virgil, Book Six, the Aeneid

Richard Rohr researched this unhappy phenomenon in depth, investigated its roots and consequences in his book “Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation.”   [vi] He discovered that male initiation is significant even in other species like elephants. [vii] The lack of fathers and the lack of proper initiation into manhood has devastated our society in easily foreseen ways. Rohr theorizes that rites of initiation existed in all societies and are necessary still, albeit in different forms. To help boys transition into men and inculcate in them the responsibilities of maturity in the tribe, the rites typically had five common factors, sometimes involving scarification or survival alone in the wilderness. It was always necessary that they learn these lessons, and although it is still necessary to learn for us, modernity teaches in many ways just the opposite from these:[viii]

  • Life is hard.
  • You are not important.
  • Your life is not about you.
  • You are not in control.
  • You are going to die.

We grow wise when we understand that our lives are not ours alone, nor are we in control. We grow wise as Augustine did when we realize that to love and be loved is the fundamental longing of the human heart. We grow wise when we comprehend that the evil that seems all around us is not an adolescent comic book “Dark Side” force or a creature or a thing at all, but a lack, a privation, a missed chance.  Just as dark is not a form of its own, but a lack of the good of light, and coldness is not a thing unto itself, but a privation of warmth, so too hatred, bitterness, loneliness, violence, fear, and existential disappointment are all an absence of Love. And it is for many a self-inflicted deprivation.

“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.” Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

So, we must go out with joy to look for light where it can be found and delight in it. I was greatly heartened a couple of weeks ago when we walked another of our favorite local trails in Norman Bird Sanctuary. Along the way, we met a young earnest couple who were volunteering the afternoon of their day off cleaning out one small plot of Japanese knotweed, an aggressive invasive species that will crowd out native plants that provide food and shelter for the many birds and other wildlife that live there. They spent hours cutting and bagging the stems and dry foliage of the noxious pest. They took their time with laughter and good fellowship as they went, cutting and handling carefully so as not to disturb and scatter the seeds that will spread the weed. They cheerfully told us they will return another day to dig out the roots. No broad- spectrum damaging herbicides, just laborious, painstaking work.

The plot was about fifteen feet square. Out of 253 acres of the sanctuary. Why spend so much time, attention, and energy on such a tiny fraction of the land? A modest, difficult bit of work against such a bitter foe of the indigenous flora and fauna that we all enjoy and cherish is worth doing. Even if it does not solve the whole problem or change the micro ecosystem permanently, it changes us. If one understands that we’re not able to control every difficult challenge that comes along, that our life is about something greater than ourselves, and that we must do what we can, where and when we can, to improve, however humbly, our situation, this is a truth worth knowing.

 The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.    “Dust of Snow” Robert Frost  

[i] Photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife site. Snowy owl at Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota by Lee Kensinger.

[ii] https://www.newportthisweek.com/articles/sea-ducks-return-to-sachuest-point/

[iii] Gratuitous sidebar: Perhaps the most pernicious and dangerous assumption of the whole progressive project is the illusion that we are in control, and that human progress is linear and headed to an inevitable Omega point of perfection. If only we allow the elite technocrats that we anoint to take control, all will be well irrespective of all evidence so far to the contrary.

[iv] The Uncontrollability of the World, Harmut Rosa, Medford, MA: Polity, 2020

[v] “What is the single condition of a boy’s life that correlates most strongly with whether he will turn criminal? Not income, not by a long shot. It is whether he grew up in the same home with his father. Our prisons are full to bursting with fatherless boys who never became the men and fathers that God meant them to be. The collapse of the black family has been most catastrophic, and what is the result? What anyone not befuddled with feminist ideology would have predicted, from simple observation of nature and from the universal testimony of human cultures. One out of every three black men between the ages of twenty and thirty will spend time in prison. If we blame that on racism, then we had better explain why, in the days when blacks could not ride on certain seats in the bus and could not even play major league baseball, nowhere near as many of their men were in prison. Family, first and last—the family is where you learn of God and man, good and evil, courtesy, diligence, honor, chastity, self-restraint, and true courage. Give me poverty and the family as strong as iron and in one generation in America my family will be poor no longer. That is not speculation or boasting. It is the experience of millions of immigrants who came to the United States with nothing in their pockets, but with a great fund of moral capital; with faith in God, and firm loyalty to the family.”Anthony Esolen, “Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture”

[vi] Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr, Crossroads, 2004

[vii] Elephants need fathers too. Rohr told of a true story about rogue young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa. They were about fifty orphans immigrated into the park to reestablish the herd and without fathers to train them. An 8’ tall creature with tusks can inflict serious damage. Which they did. Killed over fifty rhinos. The debate among the rangers was whether to euthanize the young thugs, castrate them, which would calm them down, or bring in some help. The adolescent elephants (between twelve and twenty) were in a perpetual state of “musth,” a constant flooding of reproductive hormones. This is normally tamped down by mature bull elephants in the herd that whack them around a bit and tell them to calm down. Knowing they cannot yet compete with a full-grown papa elephant, they do calm down and stop dribbling, spraying everything in sight, and acting out aggressively, which is rough on the rhinos. The rangers shipped in six mature bull elephants and within a day, the adolescents dropped out of musth, and not a single additional rhino was killed.

https://www.bbcearth.com/news/teenage-elephants-need-a-father-figure   https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg15120390-300-orphan-elephants-go-on-the-rampage/

[viii] Summary outline of Rohr’s book.

2 Comments

Filed under Culture views, Sachuest Point and other wonders

Well Scripted Redux

“The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

science vs politicsJournalists are not the only group wittingly or unwittingly conditioning our thinking. Nor are they the only group that believes they have a corner on virtue and where the world should be headed. A recent article in the MIT Press Reader, “Why Science Can’t Settle Political Disputes”[i] documented how politicians line up to use science as a bludgeon to convince others of the rightness of their cause. Whose science and how it should be interpreted is the issue and a valid one.

However, the article fails to develop adequately a more insidious calamity with current politics and science. In his Farewell Address,[ii] President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned in 1960 about the danger of collusion in a “military-industrial complex.” What is less well known in the same address is this warning: “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” A vast topic by itself, but for this post, ideology drives not only research priorities, but tweaking results to conform to an established orthodoxy is another example of the effects of hidden indoctrination of progressive ideology. Those results that are favored from climate change to so called gender fluidity get funded for more grants and more money for researchers along with the opportunity for career reputation and advancement. One of the consequences is the crisis of repeatability in scientific experimentation. A close second is the “good ol’ boys club” degradation of the “peer reviewed” imprimatur of scientific research.

Neither have history and the law escaped with unfettered liberty from the fishbowl in which we swim, murky from indoctrination and utilitarian ethics. The ideologue justifies any means necessary to gain victory. A leaked 1973 memo during the Roe v Wade no holds barred grudge match is illustrative. A significant amicus brief was submitted and hammered into the heads of the justices: a false narrative first put together by lawyer Cyrus Means.

The Roe team claimed that a long history exists of abortion tolerance in state’s law prior to 1850. That the reality was precisely the opposite did not discourage the attorneys from creating the propaganda and hammering it home. Attorney Roy Lucas drafted the review used to lay a major piece of the theoretical constitutional background for the decision by the lead attorney, Sarah Weddington. Lucas received a memo from one of his assistants, law student David Tunderman. He acknowledged that the historical narrative was false but thought the use of it fully justified in service of the end they all wanted. Supreme Court Justice Blackmun in the final decision cited the Means bogus narrative in support of the Roe decision.

Rarely has the cynical utilitarian ethics of the zealot been on such clear display.[iii] “David Tunderman wrote that Means’ ‘conclusions sometimes strain credulity’ but nonetheless concluded that ‘where the important thing is to win the case no matter how, however, I suppose I agree with Means’ technique: begin with a scholarly attempt at historical research; if it doesn’t work, fudge it as necessary; write a piece so long that others will read only your introduction and conclusion; then keep citing it until courts begin picking it up. This preserves the guise of impartial scholarship while advancing the proper ideological goals.’”

 So it is written, so it shall be.

“The sad truth about humanity…is that people believe what they’re told. Maybe not the first time, but by the hundredth time, the craziest of ideas just becomes a given.” Neal Shusterman, ”Unwholly”

How did this bizarre detachment befall us: the collapse of even the ideal of objective truth? The desired end is what matters; how we get there is up to the spreaders of the narrative necessary to achieve the end. Some of the answers lie in the higher education institutions over the last fifty years or so. The students then become the teachers and administrators in most of our schools, in universities certainly, and increasingly now in high schools and elementary schools with the orthodoxy enforced by the teacher’s unions.

We will look at a few examples, but we are awash in them.[iv]  What is most troubling is that administrators, politicians, and teachers’ unions are determined to keep the extent and content of the conditioning out of the reach of “meddling” parents. Much of the disputed content is contained in two general areas: race and gender, both mainstays of the progressive agenda. As former Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia said recently in support of teachers’ unions, which are under fire in Virginia, “Parents should not be telling schools what to teach their kids.”[v]  It is no surprise his campaign to try and retake the governor’s mansion received $25,000 in campaign contributions from the teacher’s union.

There is so much of this that it’s difficult to comprehend the damage, so this will provide some a few summary descriptions with footnoted links that you can follow until either your attention span or your spirit runs dry. There are many more with just a cursory search. The point of this blog post is general awareness of the agenda parents are facing today deciding where their children are educated. The response of the progressive ideologue, whether in the media or the education bureaucracy is to deny that these things are being taught. They are lying. As in the Roe memo, it is not the truth that holds sway, but only that the orthodoxy prevails. [vi] What we all have lost was lamented by Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteenth century. “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

It’s gone away in yesterday

Now I find myself on the mountainside

Where the rivers change direction

Across the Great Divide.” Nancy Griffith, “Across the Great Divide”[vii]

 

Right here in Rhode Island, we have a teacher’s union suing a school committee and a parent to keep the content of the curriculum secret after she filed multiple requests to simply view what her child was being taught, especially regarding critical race theory and gender identity.[viii]

In Fairfax County and Loudon County Virginia, the battle has been well and truly joined. Attempts of parents to challenge the curriculum or to just find out what it contains have been greeted by derision and condescension. Who are parents to question what is being taught to their kids? Sample books were found in even elementary school libraries that taught among other things how to perform oral and anal sex and depicted adult/child sex in a positive light.[ix]One father whose daughter was sexually assaulted by a fourteen-year-old, skirt wearing boy professing as a girl in the school restroom cried out to the school department in protest. He was arrested, cuffed, and hauled off.[x]

The most alarming story began with the national teachers’ unions sending a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that parents who question school curricula to the school boards be investigated as domestic terrorists. He has sent the FBI around to monitor the situation. After the uproar from the parents ensued, the union rescinded its letter, but former Supreme Court nominee Garland still deploys the unfettered power of the Department of Justice to investigate parents who question what their children are exposed to.[xi]  Garland was not dissuaded by the disclosure that his son-in-law owns a company, Panorama, that conducts personally invasive student surveys and produces training programs to further the progressive race agenda and lands multimillion dollar contracts as consultants for school departments[xii]. Now the AG gets to sic the FBI on parents who may take issue with that agenda.

Honest evaluation does not shrink from the truth of our situation: the decades long first phase of the Culture Wars was lost to conservative or even middle of the road citizens. The strategic high ground was secured by the progressive front: academia, schools, journalists, and social media, even the military and the power of the state. So, what is next? What is left is a type of guerilla resistance and holding essential enclaves. Not exactly the Benedict Option, but something akin to it. And never giving up the fight.

Remember the Hilary Clinton book, “It Takes a Village?” The progressive principle is to get to the kids as young as possible. The state and its troops in the schools are better stewards than parents of the next generation. Isolate children from their parents for six or seven hours a day and prohibit the unenlightened parents who don’t buy into the progressive project from hampering the infusion of the new mindset. It is the lock and the key.

Our hope is that perhaps “woke” cuts two ways. The rising counteractions of parents who are increasingly awakened to the violation of their first responsibilities as teachers of their own kids is a drama unfolding daily. There are signs that the silent middle is rowing out of the doldrums and preparing to set sail. Terry McAuliffe lost his bid to retake the governor’s mansion last week. The decisive factor in the election was the extraordinarily high turnout of parents with kids in school.

 The stakes could not be higher.

 “Another little portion of the human heritage has been quietly taken from them before they were old enough to understand.” C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

[i] Why Science Can’t Fix Politics, MIT Press Reader

[ii] President Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the nation.

[iii] From “Wrong Then, Wrong Now: The Fake Abortion History of Roe v Wade,” Justin Dyer, Public Discourse, 9/29/21

[iv] See “Huxley Predicted the Future of Education”, John Miltimore, Intellectual Takeout, 2017. I also borrowed his illustration for the first post in this two-part series, “Well Scripted.”

[v] Terry McAuliffe tells parents to shut up and sit down; let the school department and teachers’ unions indoctrinate children to their agenda.

[vi] What educators teach and what they admit to teaching in some cases are very different.

[vii] Sadly, Nancy Griffith passed away earlier this year. Her songwriting was greatly respected by many of the more well-known names in country and folk music.  Across the Great Divide.

[viii] Teacher’s union declares that what is being taught to the kids in South Kingston, RI is not the business of the parents.

[ix] These books were pulled after they were disclosed in the meeting by a parent. That they were there in the first place is shocking.

[x] Lots of stories on this one with a quick search. Here’s one.

[xi] The Department of Justice sends its FBI attack dogs after parents seeing information on or challenging curriculum.

[xii] Merrick’s family cashes in on the curriculum agenda and “retraining” teachers and students.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture views, Politics and government

Pardon Gray

“What’s in a name? a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Fashion in naming our children is whimsical and changes often. Reusing names from family history is a perennial favorite. When I was young, saints were in vogue and still maintain a small, but avid, following. In the sixties and seventies, there was a wave of inventiveness. I knew children named Morning Star, Apple (the record company, not the tree or fruit), Oak and multiple lovely little girls named Meadow, then a Brook and an Autumn, both wonderful kids. I read recently that some of the old “virtue” or traditional spiritual based names were making a small comeback like Faith, Grace, Charity and Joy, but the old Puritan virtue names remain infrequent: I have met very few folks named Chastity, Prudence, Patience, Temperance, Honesty, or Humility, all of which were common in years past. Last week, I found a new one: Pardon Gray.

Looking for new walking trails to explore, we discovered the Pardon Gray Preserve in nearby South Tiverton.[i] Pardon Gray, his wife Mary and several of their children are buried on the property in the old family plot thirty or forty feet square and encompassed by a rough stone wall. Part of the original Pocasset Purchase from Plymouth in 1676[ii], the 230-acre property abuts the 550-acre Weetamoo Open Space trails; it is a lovely mix of open fields, century old stone walls and rolling hills covered partly with a once common, but now greatly diminished Coastal Oak Holly forest. The Pocasset people fished and hunted this environment near the Sakonnet River for centuries. During the Revolutionary War, Colonel Pardon Gray’s farm supplied much of the food for the 11,000 strong garrison of the Continental Army in nearby Fort Barton that was defending the mainland from the sizable British stronghold on Aquidneck Island. The Gray family is still well established in South Tiverton and adjacent Little Compton. The Gray Country Store remains open and Gray’s Ice Cream at Tiverton Four Corners is still the best for twenty miles around.

Other than his supply of the troops and namesake of the preserve, Pardon himself is not known to me. His name, however, has magnificent potential. “Pardon” connotes a forgiving spirit, a harmonious disposition, and a willingness to let go of grudges and forgo anger, righteous or otherwise. I do not know if Colonel Gray had such a kind and gentle spirit.  I suspect when it came to the Redcoats in Newport, perhaps not. But his name is wonderful.

“Your true name has the secret power to call you.” Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

Are we living in a time burdened with a radical lack of pardoning, of forgiveness? Has holding grudges, especially cultural, moral, political, or ideological grudges, become a badge of honor? We label those with whom we disagree as Commies or Nazis or demonic. Compromise is not possible when our debate is with evil itself.

Reasons for the un-sorry situation in which we find ourselves are complicated and have been sculpted over centuries. To oversimplify, which is all we can do in a short blog post, our political opinions and ideologic worldview have become not just what we believe, but how we identify ourselves. Such disagreements are not something that we should avoid with friends and family at Thanksgiving to keep the turkey peace; they are something we defend to the death because they define us. Disagreement is no longer merely uncomfortable, it is deadly, for such dissent from our personal orthodoxy is an attack on our being- an assault that negates not just what we believe to be true, it negates who we are. Those are hard to forgive and impossible to forget.

In Dr. Carl Trueman’s new book, “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,”[iii] the post-modern age is revealed as the age of “therapeutic” man. As some reviews have stated, this book is a “mountain top” experience not for the faint of heart that helps us to comprehend the centuries of philosophical evolution that has created an environment in which we are so deeply embedded that we accept without question that this is how things are. We have made slow and inexorable decisions as a culture to abandon objective truth and shared standards which we must learn and a reality to which we must conform so that we understand our existence and evaluate our place in it. More than moral relativism, the basis for agreement or rational debate has been left behind, and in its place a confusion of jumbled and conflicting subjective ‘values’ based on our emotions. We no longer discover truth and how we relate to it; we create our own: our own self drama that we star in, direct, write, and perform such that the drama is what we have become.

Dr. Trueman wrote, “The triumph of the therapeutic represents the advent of the expressive individual as the normative type of human being and of the relativizing of all meaning and truth to personal taste.” We are self-defined and judge ourselves and others by subjective criteria. In place of agreed upon objective principles to which we all generally agree, the foundations of our beliefs and how we see our world has shifted, a tectonic adjustment beneath our feet that is unacknowledged and ill understood.

We could use an intervention from Colonel Gray, an old insight that Pardon and forgiveness is more than polite discourse, it is a prerequisite for mutual respect as human beings and the first necessary step towards healing our ills.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” St. Teresa of Calcutta

[i] Pardon Gray Preserve

[ii]  From the Sakonnet Historical: Before Europeans arrived, the Pocasset people fished and farmed along the eastern shore of the Sakonnet River in what is now Tiverton. Forests, swamps, and streams provided fresh water, game, wood products, berries, and winter shelter. In 1651, Richard Morris of nearby Portsmouth purchased the Nannaquaket peninsula from its native inhabitants. There is no evidence of Morris settling here, so he may have used the peninsula to grow crops and graze animals. In 1659, Morris’ claim was recognized as legitimate by Plymouth Colony, which at that time included the Tiverton area as part of its holdings.

Strapped for cash by King Phillip’s War (1675 – 1676), Plymouth sold a tract of this land in 1679 for £1100 to the Proprietors of Pocasset. The “First Division” of the Pocasset Purchase created thirty large lots, with the northernmost edge close to the present-day Fall River-Tiverton border and the southern boundary at the Tiverton-Little Compton line.

Edward Gray (1667 – 1726) held nine shares along the southern boundary of this purchase. The 237-acre tract now known as Pardon Gray Preserve passed to Edward’s grandson, Pardon Gray (1737 – 1814), who farmed the property. During the Revolutionary War, Pardon Gray became a Colonel in the Rhode Island militia, and he was placed in charge of the local commissary, which he ran from his home. Colonel Gray supplied 11,000 militia and Continental troops stationed at Fort Barton prior to the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778. Marquis de Lafayette briefly used a house nearby as his headquarters.

[iii] The Rise and Triumph of Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism and The Road to Sexual Revolution. Dr. Carl Trueman, Crossway, Wheaton, IL. 2020

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture views

Turtles All The Way Down

From this Quora question: In a Joe Rogan podcast, mathematician Eric Weinstein stated that the basis of all math is founded upon a few assumptions that cannot be proven. Can someone explain this to me?   One good answer from a frequent Quora poster, Andy Lund: [i]

…… Now suppose you have the number 1 and I give you another number 1, what number do you have? There is no number 1 in the physical universe. There is 1 goldfish, there is 1 oak tree, there is 1 cloud, but there is not just a plain number 1. You cannot just collect some numbers and count how many you have the way you can collect baseball cards. But we know 1+1=2. How do you prove it?

The Greek mathematician Euclid said that any two points can be connected by a line segment. How do you prove such a statement? There are no points in the universe, and no line segments either, only things that approximate points and segments. In fact, Euclid did not even tell us what a point of a line segment is, he just assumes we know what he is talking about. This kind of statement is called an axiom. It is just something that is assumed to be true because it makes sense. It is so basic that there is nothing from which it can be proven……

These assumptions are so basic that they cannot be proven, yet they are the basis for all Euclidean geometry (stuff you can draw on an infinitely large piece of paper). Try it yourself, try to prove any one of Euclid’s axioms. You cannot even show that a circle exists, it doesn’t in any real sense as everything in the real world breaks down at microscopic or subatomic levels. So how can you prove something so basic as any of Euclid’s axioms?

Math is like a tower; each new level is built on the ones below. At the bottom of the tower is the foundation, but what is that built on? It is nothing more than assumptions. Math ain’t turtles all the way down. [ii]  Quora

Hawking’s Equation

Math is the basis for most of modern science from physics to chemistry to the sophisticated statistical analysis of economics, sociology and even psychology. The foundation of the technological marvels of computer science, GPS navigation, the internet, CGI movies, everything that has so emphatically and irreversibly transformed our daily lives, is some complex mathematics.

Once we get past arithmetic, trigonometry, algebra, and basic geometry, maybe a smattering of calculus, the set of people that understands or can explain the math gets a little thin. There may be a few folks (I am not one of them) reading this who can explain and understand the depths of quantum physics or the seemingly simple “Hawking’s equation” that Stephen Hawking derived and put on his tombstone. Hawking’s most important discovery, it calculates entropy or the amount of disorder in a black hole system and changes everything apparently in understanding how the universe changes over time. Who knew? I know what pi means, that’s worth something, right?

All of it below where the turtles live is axiomatic – assumptions — are givens that we understand or intuit as true. Yet we moderns trust these turtles and more and more base our lives on what has been contrived from them. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Just writing this post relies on a laptop that relies on some math quite a few turtles down. And yet have we left something behind in our blind trust that technology and science alone will lead us eventually to the promised land of human perfection? Does this complex tapestry of science, as beautiful and elegant as it may be, contain all the truth we need?  That we will need?

“(T)he good news is that you can rearrange any subject to learn most of it very, very quickly. The bad news is that it will feel terrible because you will be told that you are doing the wrong thing and dooming yourself to a life of mediocrity as a jack of many trades, master of none – but in fact, the problem is that the jack of one trade is the connector of none.”  Eric R. Weinstein

In his essay, “Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?” Leo Tolstoy writes of the slow, incremental process by which the character Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” decided to kill the old woman. “That question was decided….  When he was doing nothing and was only thinking, when only his consciousness was active: and in that consciousness tiny, tiny alterations were taking place…. Tiny, tiny alterations—-but on them depend the most immense and terrible consequences…and boundless results of unimaginable importance may follow from the most minute alterations occurring in the domain of consciousness.” [iii]

After a few centuries of deeply embedded ideas compiled from Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Hume, and many others, the tiny, tiny alterations accruing in the minds of all of us have changed us. The water in our goldfish bowl has come to be understood as all there is.  What was not that long ago discussed solely in late night sessions in the upper reaches of academia and in sophomore dorm rooms has trickled down to the commonplace axioms of post-modern humanity. We do not acknowledge that a constriction of mind has taken place, but we now operate with the unspoken assumption that only the material world we can see, touch, observe with sophisticated instruments and describe with the language of science matters in any real sense. Is the scientific method the sole crucible in which we can grind away until all is made clear?

Let us imagine that the beauty of metaphor, poetry, art, philosophy, and yes, even theology, also may contain another, a greater, more edifying, and elevated deeper truth. Let us imagine that to acquiesce in our gradually learned self-imprisonment, we have disdained the marvels to be discovered in other disciplines of our mind. In restricting our vision to only that of the science department, let me suggest that our lifelong education has become too purse-mouthed, pinched, squint eyed, and parsimonious – a stingy worldview that constricts and restricts our understanding.

“For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald was writing of the first Dutch explorers who landed on Manhattan Island, but in his most quoted passage, he was calling all of us to much more than an historical reflection. He was calling us to contemplate our “capacity for wonder.” In this most perplexing winter of 2020/2021, such reflection would be very fruitful for any of us: an ‘aesthetic contemplation’ and a conversation most needed.

We correctly take advantage every day of the giant construct that math and science has raised above the foundation of axioms and self-evident assumptions, but other axioms and their attendant beliefs have been left behind. If we are honest in our ‘aesthetic contemplation,’ other self-evident axioms answer other deeper questions most of us fear to ask because the answers will change our lives and change us.

What is the basis for the intelligibility of the universe that undergirds every aspect of science and math and the insatiable human need to know and understand? Why is the universe intelligible and possessed of an order that allows investigation and not a hot chaotic mess or a void? Why is there something rather than nothing? Below all the turtles where regress finds its base, does there exist an Axiom, an Intelligence and Will beyond our tiny imaginings? An “Ipsum esse subsistens?[iv]

What is basis for beauty and its resonance in the human spirit? All the way down below harmony, color, tone, balance, and perspective, does there exist Beauty itself that can be known?

Intelligibility and Beauty ain’t turtles all the way down.

And we know it.

“As to that which I am ignorant of concerning myself, I remain ignorant of it until my darkness shall be made as the noonday in Your sight.” The Confessions of St. Augustine

[i] https://www.quora.com/In-a-recent-Joe-Rogan-podcast-mathematician-Eric-Weinstein-stated-that-the-basis-of-all-math-is-founded-upon-a-few-assumptions-that-cannot-be-proven-Can-someone-explain-this-to-me

[ii]Turtles all the way down” is an expression of the problem of infinite regress. The saying alludes to the mythological idea of a World Turtle that supports the flat earth on its back. It suggests that this turtle rests on the back of an even larger turtle, which itself is part of a column of increasingly large world turtles that continues indefinitely (i.e., “turtles all the way down”) .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down

[iii] Thanks to the piece “Tolstoy’s Prosaic Wisdom” by Gary Saul Morson in the Winter Edition 2020 of “Evangelization & Culture, The Journal of the Word on Fire Institute.”

[iv] Ipsum Esse Subsistens is a phrase popularized by Thomas Aquinas, that means the subsistent act of to-be itself. https://ipsumessesubsistens.com/

3 Comments

Filed under Culture views

Transcendent

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Michelangelo Buonarroti

On Pentecost Sunday in May of 1972, Laszlo Toth, a Hungarian-born Australian geologist, attacked with a hammer and seriously damaged Michelangelo’s marble Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City[i]. He was never charged with a crime, but in a pretrial hearing he was found mentally incompetent. Sentenced to two years in an Italian mental institution out of “One Flew Out of a Cuckoo’s Nest,[ii] he underwent twelve electro-shock treatments, was eventually released, and immediately was deported back to Australia where he faded into obscurity. The Pieta had one exquisite eyelid and the nose of the Blessed Virgin smashed off, her right hand broken to pieces and her left arm and hand smashed and knocked off. A painstaking restoration that took eight months ensued with over a hundred pieces, including many tiny chips carefully collected at the site. Some pieces stolen by tourists at the scene were never recovered and had to be reconstructed.

Why such a massive endeavor of many skilled artists and art historians to fix a busted-up statue[iii] that a madman took a geologist’s hammer to? In just one aspect of the effort, to perfectly match the stone, like a graft in a careful reconstruction of a damaged human being, a small block was removed from her back to reconstruct her nose from the exact mold made of the statue before the attack. Donations from around the world funded the rescue project[iv].

Michelangelo only signed this one sculpture in his life and told others the large block of marble he located after a long search in Tuscan Carrera quarries was the single most perfect piece of stone he had ever found. He began an almost two-year project with a broad chisel and chipped away large pieces of marble. Slowly, carefully with exquisite attention to the least detail, he refined his work to tiny careful strokes with small tools and polishing until, as he once said, only the piece in his vision that had been potential in the stone from the beginning was revealed. From the folds of her garment, the veins in the dead Christ’s arm, the realism of her eyes and suffering of her soul, the Pietà is unique in skill, conception, and accomplishment. Considered by many the most important sculpture of the Italian Renaissance, this marvel merged the classical ideal of beauty with the astonishing naturalism and skill that made his art priceless and irreplaceable. This fortuitous marriage of the natural beauty of marble and genius is unique. No effort at restoration could be too diligent.[v]

“One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.” Economist and Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling

Why would the anger and insanity[vi] of an extremely bright troubled man express itself in such radical iconoclasm with a mad passion to destroy beauty? Perhaps that can never be answered either in our current batch of angry iconoclasts or ever. Beauty evokes the transcendent, and beauty is objective in the hearts of human beings. There are subjective modes and varying ideas of what exactly is beautiful, but Beauty itself resonates whether in nature, sculpture, painting, music, or the eyes of our beloved.

“Transcendent” derives from the Latin meaning “climbing over.” From what, we ask? To where, we wonder?  I read recently that we mistake heaven as “somewhere” else, and the more accurate insight is “somehow” else. Not a different place, but a different manner of being entirely outside of time or space.

In a time long ago when Michelangelo, Dante, and Shakespeare roamed the earth, the “transcendentals” were three: the Good, the True and the Beautiful. All were aspects of the nature of God to those who understood themselves to be creatures fashioned in Love. Now we understand ourselves to be lucky sentient conglomerations of organized protoplasm and beneath that random collections of molecules, atoms, quarks, quantum variations and energy fields. Accidentally sentient. Protoplasm organized by Whom, we dare not speak.

As to the True, that has disappeared into a pit of radical skepticism. “There is your truth and my truth and who knows?” The Good has melted away into the miasma of the “dictatorship of relativism.”[vii] “Who are you to tell me how to pursue what I desire, etc.” But Beauty still holds its own, and desecrating beauty still offends some deep aspect of our humanity. And Beauty draws us to God.

Bishop Robert Barron describes this far better in a passage from his newest book, “Renewing Our Hope,”[viii] which I advise you to buy immediately and explore in depth:

”Following Dietrich von Hildebrand, we should say that the truly beautiful is an objective value, to be sharply distinguished from what is merely subjectively satisfying.[ix]  This means that the beautiful does not merely entertain; rather it invades, chooses and changes the one to whom it deigns to appear. It is not absorbed into subjectivity; it re-arranges and re-directs subjectivity, sending it on a trajectory toward the open sea of the Beautiful itself.”

 Well before the war that defined him, Winston Churchill wrote an essay in which he imagined a future where mankind had secured a life of great pleasure, wealth, and convenience. But, Churchill wondered, would that be sufficient for happiness?

Learning to infuse our souls with the reality of the transcendentals Beauty, Goodness and Truth and their Author is the basis for our final happiness.

“What did they know more than we know about the answers to the simple questions which man has asked since the earliest dawn of reason—‘Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Whither are we going?’ No material progress, even though it takes shapes we cannot now conceive, or however it may expand the faculties of man, can bring comfort to his soul.” Winston Churchill, 1931

[i] https://youtu.be/QmngGZmkPKI

[ii] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/332613.One_Flew_Over_the_Cuckoo_s_Nest

[iii] http://www.italianrenaissance.org/michelangelos-pieta/

[iv] Reuters article on the damage and the restoration.

[v] Controversy surrounded the restoration. Some maintained the marks of violence should be left unrepaired to signify the violence of the times. Others said restoration should leave lines and signs of repair for authenticity, but finally due to the uniqueness and precious nature of the work, the decision was to make the restoration as flawless as possible.

[vi] While striking twelve blows with his hammer, Toth alternatively screamed he was Jesus Christ and Michelangelo.

[vii] Phrase from Benedict XVI. “In recent years I find myself noting, how the more relativism becomes the generally accepted way of thinking, the more it tends toward intolerance. Political correctness … seeks to establish the domain of a single way of thinking and speaking. Its relativism creates the illusion that it has reached greater heights than the loftiest philosophical achievements of the past. It presents itself as the only way to think and speak — if, that is, one wishes to stay in fashion. … I think it is vital that we oppose this imposition of a new pseudo-enlightenment, which threatens freedom of thought as well as freedom of religion.” Without Roots, Joseph Ratzinger, New York, Basic Books, 2006

[viii] Renewing Our Hope, Robert Barron, Washington, DC, The Catholic University of America Press, 2020, https://bishopbarronbooks.com/renewing-our-hope

[ix]  Christian Ethics, Dietrich von Hildebrand, New York, David McKay Company, Inc., 1953

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture views, Faith and Reason

Magnanimous

“There is nothing like looking if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

In two of my favorite Oscar winning Peter O’Toole movies he played the same historical figure, Henry II of England. In the first, “Becket,” the young Henry eventually has his former close friend St. Thomas Becket, played by Richard Burton, murdered in the cathedral. Both O’Toole and Burton were nominated for Best Actor for the film. In the second, “Lion in Winter,” late in life, Henry bickers bitterly and poignantly with his exiled wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wonderfully portrayed by Katherine Hepburn; they spar brilliantly over succession among the sons Richard the Lionhearted, Jeffrey and John. John, of course, eventually becomes king after the death of Richard and is the villain of the Robin Hood legends. Battles, conspiracies, crusades, and palace intrigue follow all of them all their lives.

King John, devious, adulterous and with a vindictive pettiness that alienated the nobles of the land was forced by the barons to sign the Magna Carta (the Great Charter), a foundational document of the Western world. The king for the first time acknowledges that a king too is subject to the law and that his subjects have rights, including a trial by jury and the beginnings of what evolved into a representative parliamentary form of governance.

“Be afraid only of thoughtlessness and pusillanimity.”  St. Pope John Paul to thousands of young people in Krakow, Poland, June 1979

The word “magnanimous” is a combination of the same Latin root from the Magna Carta, “magnus” or great and “animus,” meaning soul or mind. “Animus” also gives us animated and animal (self-locomotive as opposed to a vegetable). Magnanimous is ‘great souled’ and has come to connote generous and forgiving. A thesaurus gives us noble, benevolent, and altruistic.

“Pusillanimous” is similarly derived from the Latin root “animus,” but the preceding root “pusill” comes from the Latin meaning “very small,” so the combination produces “small minded” or “tiny souled.” Today it has come to mean “lacking determination” or “lacking courage.”  The same thesaurus suggests spineless or cowardly.

Since human beings are uniquely in possession of souls, it matters whether ours are great or tiny. Inextricable from our bodies, we are not ghosts imprisoned in machines. Souls are without material existence, and their fusion with material bodies causes no end of complication and sin, original and actual. Our bodies crave food, comfort, pleasure, protection and retain a controlling drive to propagate other bodies a lot like our own. Our long-suffering souls contend with our material cravings all our short mortal lives seeking wholeness and holiness. Our bodies consist of the same elements that comprise the rest of the universe, forged in the stars and spewed out in vast volume every millisecond of the thirteen billion years of known time. We are spirit and material: stardust and soul.

Pusillanimity and tiny souls seem to govern our public discourse and especially in media, social or otherwise. Whether the ‘cancel culture’ or COVID controversies or environmental crises or proper governance or religion or even what is good for us to eat, our predilection for unreflective rote, rancorous and repetitive talking points in lieu of thoughtful discourse in pursuit of an objective understanding of our perilous situation is disheartening and portends no good outcome.

We have a desperate want for some more great souls: some new beginning with the magnanimous, starting with our own tiny souls and then among our leaders on all sides.

Our ephemeral and ever-changing challenges flood in from every streaming stimuli and seem daunting enough, but that ain’t the half of it. Some recent articles suggest we have more pressing long-term challenges that make COVID, destroying and denying history, neo-Nazi white supremacy, neo-Marxist Black Lives Matter, and defunding police seem like easily resolved minor troubles and soon to be footnotes.

 

“As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began,

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,

And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire…” Rudyard Kipling

 

 To quote the great philosopher Ian Malcolm in the movie “Jurassic Park”: Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think whether they should. Indeed, “should” or “ought” appear to have lost their cache altogether. Moral relativism and a narrow material view of our existence without metaphysics have the podium and the gavel and no inclination to give them up.

One article on Science.com laid waste to the soothing idea that CRISPR technology gene tinkering with human embryos was the work of a single rogue Chinese scientist a couple of years ago. And he conveniently disappeared as inconvenient people tend to do in the People’s Republic. Read CRISPR Gene Editing Prompts Chaos in DNA of Human Embryos about recent experiments on human embryos at the Francis Crick Institute, Columbia University and the Oregon Health and Science Institute. The researchers were concerned that although the experimenters were able to successfully ‘fix’ some troubling genes, there was significant disruption and damage to adjacent gene pairs that were unpredictable in their impact. Maybe future tinkering will make us better at it and avoid the troubling unintended collateral damage? They were careful to point out that there was care and concern that the embryos should not be allowed to develop further into larger specimens of human beings, so destroying them after the experiments was essential. Of course, the underlying assumption that experimenting on undeveloped human beings and destroying them was not particularly morally problematic. We have been destroying human embryos routinely for forty years and calling it woman’s healthcare.

In another article[i] and website[ii], the progressive future of humankind was proposed to offer a way forward to a new perfected kind of human being: immortal, always healthy, more brilliant, and stronger. Perfecting CRISPR was only part of the solution; a hybrid human being with some experiments already underway for embedding chips providing us with ready-made super memories crammed full of immediate access to all manner of useful information. Combined with corrected genes helping to make the vexing protoplasm portion of the mix more perfect, we will create a progressive vision of human perfectibility and utopian society. We have tried this many times with murderous results, but we will get it right this time[iii].  Our future children will have just cause to sue parents who do not optimize their genes when they had the chance in the Petrie dishes prior to implantation.

[iv]“Brave New World” is an anodyne fairy tale compared to this. Tilt back the recliner, make some popcorn, pour a cold beer and watch “Jurassic Park” or “Young Frankenstein” for some laughs.  Maybe listen to Ian Malcolm again.

Or pray for a return of a magnanimous, courageous, and determined moral leadership.

“Look not in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with your hand on the helm! Turn not your back to the compass…” Herman Melville, Moby Dick

[i] Give “Covid-19 Is Accelerating Human Transformation—Let’s Not Waste It: The Neobiological Revolution is here. Now’s the time to put lessons from the Digital Revolution to use.” a quick read.

[ii] The futurist idealists have a perfected super race in mind for us. I think we may have seen this before, perhaps in mid twentieth century Germany. Browse this site or buy the book if you want and see what they have in store for us: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species.

[iii] The overly familiar line about not forgetting history because we will be doomed to repeat it is often misattributed to Winston Churchill. It originated with the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana in “The Life of Reason, Volume 1.” In context, Santayana cautions us that retention of learning is necessary, as is “plasticity” to use that learning to adapt to new situations. When we are young, the tendency is to radical intemperate change without considering the wisdom of the past. And when we are old, the tendency is to hold on too rigidly and not be open to self-criticism, reflection, and necessary beneficial change. The ideal is mature adulthood with a balance of both he states.

Churchill was less optimistic that we learned our lessons. In a 1936 speech to the House of Commons, he warns of the coming cataclysm: When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Culture views

Truth Over Facts

“We choose truth over facts!”  from a former Vice President Joe Biden campaign speech[i]

Mistakenly believed to be one of Joe Biden’s frequent verbal gaffes, his talking point is instructive and defines the reality of political life across the ideological spectrum: the narrative is all encompassing. The truth is what we say it is, and the facts be damned. Facts, particularly statistics, [ii]are leavened, kneaded, baked, and circulated to influence the social media mob and especially voters to push us to get off our recliners and out of our summer hammocks. Confusion thrives: what has suffered most is universal credibility. We do not believe much of what we see and hear. We strive to discern what to believe out of the onslaught of data and information that hits our screens and speakers every day. But more often, we filter what we read and hear through our “mythscape,” our accepted narrative, retain what fits it and reject what does not. We give that filtering a serious sounding name: “confirmation bias,” but attribute it as a shortcoming of others and never one of our own.

A project manager with two large apartment construction contracts going once emailed me[iii] on a Friday afternoon after an exceptionally outrageous week, “Would someone please throw a tent over this circus?” It stuck immediately as the motto of our group, and it seems to me suits our current situation.

“Would someone please throw a tent over this circus!”

George Weigel in his excellent 2018 book, “Fragility of Order,” comments on the historian Christopher Clark’s study of the origins of the First World War that in so many ways was not only the first act of the bloodiest century  of human history, but like all good plays, was what spawned so much of  what followed. “Christopher Clark usefully reminds us that, in seeking to understand how such a cataclysm could have begun, we must reckon with the fact that all the key actors in our story filtered the world through narratives that were built from pieces of experience glued together with fears, projections, and interests masquerading as maxims.” When we filter our new experience through our “mythscape,” we merely render social media debate farcical. However, when our leaders will not (or lack the ability to) put in the hard work, study, and introspection necessary to understand complex reality and then offer us their banal wisdom as predictable regurgitation of their narrative, disasters inevitably follow.

”Order, it has become clear, is a very fragile thing; and order is especially vulnerable under the cultural conditions of a postmodern world unsure about its grasp on the truth of anything.” George Weigel from the introduction to “The Fragility of Order.” Ignatius Press, 2018

We tend to hold our beliefs as binary: One predominant narrative without exception or the other. Is it not possible that reasoned arguments could be made, listening could be our first response, and the purpose of discussion is to put aside our embedded presuppositions and work mutually to discover some objective truth about these matters? Every issue seems to bleed over into rote political diatribes and expands quickly into all the contending issues.  We start out talking about racial injustice and within a sentence or two we are citing the talking points of Trumpism or anti-Trumpism, transgender pronouns and abortion. As an exercise, sticking to one subject means examining some of the assumptions of both common narratives regarding one complex emotional issue.    

The current frenzied muddle of destroyed statues, looted stores, brutally slain arrested men, sincere non-violent protestors, and pandering politicians wearing Ghanaian Kente ceremonial cloths is just the most recent version, albeit a poignant and troublesome one. Because it has become a circus, does not mean we just can wait it out until the next headline grabbing tragedy pushes it below the fold of the front page.

One narrative’s axiom is that the police are hunting and shooting black men, so the cops should be defunded and gutted with the money being redistributed to social programs. A common statistic cited is that a black man is 2.5 times more likely to be shot by a cop than a white one. Is that a valid reading of the numbers? On first look, black men comprise 6% of the population and are consistently year after year 23% to 25% of those killed by police while being arrested,[iv] so that makes sense. On a second look, black men account for 53% of the murder arrests in a year and 52% of robberies. [v]Most of those crimes are black on black. An in-depth Harvard Economics study in 2018 by Roland Fryer, found no evidence of racial trends in those killed by police once arrest statistics were factored in.[vi]

Perhaps what needs to be looked at is how the poverty and desperation and alienation of black men account for such a high percentage of violent crime. A major contributing factor is that over 72% of black children are raised in single family homes, up from 21% in 1960. [vii]While children in single family homes are up across all demographics, in black families, it is a catastrophic rise. Another study found that for every 10% increase in the rate of single parent households, there is a 17% rise in crime rates. Study after study shows the best environment for children regarding educational and career success as well as lower incarceration rates and almost all other indices is a household with both a father and a mother. Not even close. A single mother is five times more likely to wind up below the poverty line than one with a spouse.

As we redistribute funds from police services to social programs, we must try to anticipate the unintended consequences of those programs.[viii] After Lyndon Johnson’s poverty and welfare programs became institutionalized with their “no man in the house” rule as a qualifier to  receive aid, the single-family rate among the poor in general and especially in black families soared.   Great care must be taken in designing salvation from the government, and most of all with programs that have a hidden agenda to secure votes.[ix]

Surveys also show most law-abiding black citizens with high violent crime rates in their neighborhoods do not want to see a lowered police presence.[x] When terrorists with semi-automatic weapons start killing dozens in night clubs in Miami or country concerts in Las Vegas or someone is cruising our streets murdering our neighbors in drive-by shootings, do we really want the best option to be sending in the community organizers?

“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” –- Helen Keller  

 Now fairness demands an examination of one of the alternative narrative’s truisms: that there is no evidence of systemic racism and unjustified excessive police force employed against minorities.  The same Harvard study that finds no racial trends in those killed by police shows remarkable racial tendencies in the use of force, excessive or otherwise, during confrontations with police. So, shootings, no correlation, which is not surprising when we realize that those decisions are made in fractions of a second as a response to a perceived threat. But there is a full 50% increased chance of force being used by police against minorities than against white suspects. Is this due to minorities offering resistance or seeking confrontation? The study found that among those who remain compliant during police interactions, there is a 21% greater risk of force being used against minorities. Black men are not being unreasonable when they are wary about any interaction with police.  Whether that is evidence of rogue cops that are not culled from the troop due to over-protective unions or timid supervisors or whether it is evidence of systemic racism is not addressed by the study, but the statistics are clear.

When we consider that some of the most egregious recent examples of deaths of black men caused by police are not shootings, but arrests gone bad, the propensity for police using force with minorities gives us great cause for concern. George Floyd was killed when a cop knelt on his neck and throttled his breathing for eight and a half minutes. Eric Garner died in a police choke hold in NYC in 2014. Nor are white men exempt from excessive force. Joseph Hutchinson was killed when a Dallas County sheriff’s deputy knelt on his neck, cutting off his breath after he acted erratically in a police station. The rules need to change on proper use of force in every department and police officers with disciplinary actions against them for excessive force need to find another job or go to jail. Some things are one and out.

For those of us sheltered from the black experience, several recent articles call out an inherent bias built into our assumptions if we are not black, no matter how innocent we judge ourselves to be of it. A black Catholic priest tells of being in a grocery store in his ‘civvies’ without his collar and being followed around by security, and that this was not a unique experience for him. A black off duty policeman out of uniform tells of being pulled over by other police several times when he was driving through a white neighborhood and breaking no traffic laws.

The most moving was an enlightening article explaining what is meant by white privilege by a professional young black writer chronicling  her experiences growing up and in school at UCLA and Harvard.[xi] She relates in detail the incidents that are most illustrative, then ends each with a quote to tie them together. Below are a few of those quotes. I cannot do the article’s detail justice; please take the time to read it. White privilege was something I told myself was exaggerated. I was wrong.

  • if you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it,” you have white privilege.
  • if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, you have white privilege.
  • if you’ve never had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.

A personal anecdote causes me no small embarrassment. Recently I was waiting at a busy discount gas outlet. The lines were long. Two ahead of me was a sparkling luxury car worth five times more than any auto I have ever owned. The line was held up as the fueling of the sedan was taking a long time, and I was growing increasingly impatient. I could not see the person pumping gas. When it was full, the owner moved to return the hose to the pump, and the driver was a younger black guy.  I was resentful of the wait and of the luxury car owner. Was my first thought that he was a partner in a law firm or managed a portion of a hedge fund or owned a real estate development company or was a cardiac surgeon? No. My first thought was wondering if he played for the Patriots or the Red Sox, and if I recognized him. My assumption was not what it may have been had he been a young white guy holding up the line.

I congratulate myself that I’ve never worn a white sheet and pointy hat; I’ve never knowingly discriminated against anyone in the workplace or socially because of race; I’ve demonstrated for civil rights: I am superior to those that do espouse such ignorant and mean spirited beliefs, right? But am I free of innate prejudice buried deep? I think not. I have more listening to do. A lot more listening to do.

“Gradually it was disclosed to me the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. . . . And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.” Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn


[i] Jolting Joe and his Freudian slip.

[ii] Mark Twain: “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.”

[iii] For younger readers, emailing was what we did last century instead of texting or posting pictures on Instagram.

[iv] See Washington Post comprehensive compilation of all police caused deaths. I put the listing into a spreadsheet to make it easier to analyze with a Pivot Table.  Every name, every weapon they carried, if any, how they died and their race. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/

[v] Here is a link to the FBI tracking of crime rates for various offenses by race. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2018/crime-in-the-u.s.-2018/topic-pages/tables/table-43 Consistent percentages within a narrow range since 2015. The latest complete one is 2018, which I also put into a spreadsheet to do some analysis. I’ll email those downloaded spreadsheets with the totals to  anyone who  wants them.

[vi] Here is the abstract from the Harvard study: This paper explores racial differences in police use of force. On nonlethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than 50 percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities. On the most extreme use of force—officer-involved shootings—we find no racial differences either in the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. We argue that the patterns in the data are consistent with a model in which police officers are utility maximizers, a fraction of whom have a preference for discrimination, who incur relatively high expected costs of officer-involved shootings.

The full report can be found easily on line in PDF form at this link: https://www.nber.org/papers/w24238

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African-American_family_structure

[viii] When Rita was working as a student nurse at the old inner city Boston City Hospital, the head nurse on her floor with thirty years’ experience was discussing the new Johnson Aid to  Families with Dependent Children war on poverty welfare program with its ‘no man in the house’ restriction on which families could collect. She presciently told Rita that it would be the ruination of the black family. Truer words, etc.

[ix] https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/lbj-voting-democratic/

[x] https://www.wsj.com/articles/america-has-a-silent-black-majority-11592348214

[xi] https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2017/09/08/my-white-friend-asked-me-on-facebook-to-explain-white-privilege-i-decided-to-be-honest/

5 Comments

Filed under Culture views, Faith and Reason

Pharming for Profit Part Three

“First you make people believe they have a problem, and then you sell them the solution. That’s how advertising works. Every snake oil salesman knows that.” Oliver Markus Malloy, Bad Choices Make Good Stories – Finding Happiness in Los Angeles[i]

In 1951 Margaret Sanger had a dream and met her willing partner Dr. Gregory Pincus. They solicited funding from some of the biggest foundations in the world by riding the perfect wave driven by three powerful winds: the large group of  post WWII women in the workforce who wanted to pursue careers, the feverish concern of an  influential lobby about population growth and eugenics [ii](to rid the world of less than perfect people and undesirable breeders – minorities and the disabled). The Rockefellers, Ford Foundation, Shell Oil and others signed on; Sanger and Pincus had the money to build their wagon.

Fortunately for the entrepreneurial Pincus, the Federal Drug Administration of the late fifties was an underfunded paper tiger.[iii] When Pincus had his prototype, they needed some testing. One of their enabling funders, Katharine McCormick, International Harvester heiress, wrote to Sanger at the time that they needed a “cage of ovulating females to experiment with.” Sanger wrote back that they had their cage amongst the poorest of the poor in Puerto Rico: uninformed and exploited guinea pigs for a dangerous drug. They tested their new wonder drug on 132 unsuspecting women in Puerto Rico in 1956 who were not told they were part of a test, just that this magic would help them to not have children.  Five of these women died and were buried hastily without an autopsy. As a result of their very limited testing they got their miracle pill Enovid a quick approval just before the thalidomide controversy erupted. A drug that has grown to millions of users and billions in sales that is taken by some daily for decades and may take 8 to 12 years for side effects to show up was tested for twelve months on 132 subjects with negative results ignored or minimized to the regulators. With millions of users currently taking the Pill, more than 132 die each year from blood clot induced stroke and heart attacks

By the time the many years of the Nelson hearings in the Senate started in 1967 that exposed the dangers of the Pill, the suppression of evidence, smearing attacks on those presenting it and a tsunami of cultural influences from the so called Sexual Revolution made arresting the growth of its use impossible. But wait, of course, the modern pill has a lower content of the synthetic estrogen that affects almost every biological system in the human body, right? True enough, and Bayer the manufacturer of the most widely used versions of the Pill, Yaz and Yazmin, has settled over 18,000 lawsuits for over $2 billion for blood clotting incidents for Yaz, some of them fatal.[iv]

“This is the first time in medicine’s history the drug industry has placed at our disposal a powerful, disease-producing chemical for use in the healthy rather than the sick.” Dr. Herbert Ratner, Senate “Nelson Pill Hearings,” 1970

Big Pharma’s spin machine has never been more effective than in covering their trail (and posterior anatomy) concerning the dangers of the Pill. Their political and media allies, the deep pockets of Planned Parenthood and their bedfellows in the medical profession (who have a vested interest in their own backsides) all work in harmony to keep this under many wraps.  This is far too limited a venue for any comprehensive expose of the proven health risks, so I recommend if you have interest (are a women or love a woman who may be taking this stuff) that you read investigative reporter Mike Gaskins’ excellent book published last year, “In The Name of The Pill.”[v] If you have interest in the cultural impact of the Pill, a brilliant resource was written by Mary Eberstadt[vi], “Adam and Eve after the Pill.”

Since estrogen is a powerful hormone that affects virtually very function and system in the body, it is not a surprise that a wide variety of potential side effects exist. Many of them are debilitating or life threatening.  A brief bullet point list may give you pause based on many studies published in Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet and other prestigious medical publications:

  • Estrogen based oral contraceptives are listed as a Group 1 (definite) carcinogen by the World Health Organization.[vii] Especially breast cancer.
  • Known in many studies to:[viii]
    • Increase the risk of thrombosis (blood clots that cause strokes, heart attacks and death).
    • Higher risk of diabetes and arterial sclerosis.
    • Higher risk of lupus and other autoimmune diseases.
    • Increased migraines.
    • Increased risk of genetic damage.
    • Risk of permanent infertility. The lining of the uterus ages at almost twice the rate of non-pill users and changes occur in the cervix as well. Not to count the sterilizing effects of STD’s, which unsurprisingly have exploded since the advent of the Pill.
    • Increased risk of multiple sclerosis.
    • Increased risk of Crohn’s disease.
    • Higher incidence of depression along with a decrease in libido and a higher suicide rate.

This toxicity is handed out to single women, teenagers, married women and anybody who walks through the door to maintain career paths, limit or prevent childbearing and even to treat premenstrual cramping and acne. The Pill is prescribed to kids with or without notice to or the agreement of parents because as a sacrament of progressive ideology, they can be prescribed without telling or even over the objection of parents. Some parents, of course, fear an unplanned pregnancy that could short circuit their aspiring scholar’s career path and seek these chemicals for their children. How many are aware of the risks?  However, a teenager can get this stuff almost as readily as they get a package of Skittles at the pharmacy.

Possibly the best is yet to come and has already shown its effects on the water supply. Millions of women taking the Pill urinate into wastewater, and the minuteness of the passed through unmetabolized estrogen molecules bypasses filters in older treatment plants and gets into the aquifer, streams and rivers. Fish fertility[ix] and human male sperm count has been drastically altered as a result of higher levels of synthetic estrogen in our water. One study showed human male sperm count has dropped by half since 1973 and the wide use of the pill. Synthetic estrogen as found in the pill has been shown to make profound biological changes at levels 50 to 100 times less than natural estrogen. These are extraordinarily powerful chemicals.

Please before I get angry emails and comments, I invite you to do your own research, get the documents from the Nelson hearings, or read some books on the subject. The perfect multiple partnership of the profits of drug companies, the medical professionals who receive perks from big pharma and keep their patients contented with magic pills, the ideology of woman’s rights and even the environmental advocates of population control all conspire against the real health of women. And men.

“You cannot long knock any natural system out of balance without doing some harm – whether it shows up immediately or years later. Furthermore, many of these pill-caused metabolic disturbances are progressive. The longer a woman stays on the pill, the more her laboratory tests are altered.” From Barbara Seamans – Nelson hearings.

[i] Picture is from the Cincinnati Opera’s production of Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore,” (Potion of love) Wild West interpretation.

[ii] Read older posts from this blog, Maggie 1 and Maggie 2 about Margaret Sanger. Or read Angela Frank’s terrific biography of the “hero of Planned Parenthood”: Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy

[iii] This changed in the early sixties when the thalidomide disaster that swept Europe and to a much lesser degree in the United States precipitated a vastly more robust agency. Only the heroics of Dr. Frances Kelsey at the old FDA prevented the American approval of the morning sickness prevention drug that caused thousands of birth defects and babies without arms and legs. She was slandered repeatedly by the drug industry and their political allies for refusing to sign off on thalidomide.

[iv] See: https://www.drugwatch.com/yaz/settlements/

[v] In The Name of The Pill, 2019, Mike Gaskins

[vi] Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, Mary Eberstadt, Ignatius Press, 2012

[vii] https://althealthworks.com/13353/26-carcinogens-according-to-the-world-health-organization-you-need-to-know-aboutyelena/

[viii] Aware of Mark Twain’s precautionary remark that “there are lies, damn lies and statistics,” I’ll point out the typical defense of the spin masters. While those with concerns will state accurately that the risk for clot induced stroke and heart attack is doubled in women taking the Pill, defenders will state that double the risk really means increasing the incidence from 1 in 10,000 to 2-4 per 10,000, which is also true. How do we interpret such radically opposed presentation of the same facts? How about this? With thirteen million Pill users just in the U.S. that tiny increase in risk translates to an additional 3,900 women a year stricken. 3,900 mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters and sisters. Acceptable risk? Sure, no medication is without risk they’ll tell us. Unless, perhaps, you know and love one of them.

[ix] One USGS survey in the Shenandoah found 20% of male fish growing eggs in their testes and much evidence with the feminization of the male and a radical male and female imbalance, threatening to wipe out whole species in some local environs.

4 Comments

Filed under Culture views

Privacy

“If you read someone else’s diary, you get what you deserve.”  David Sedaris

At the end of the year, the good folks at Alphabet kindly shared my Google history for 2019 with me, and Google Maps sent me the link to every place I had been.[i] In detail. I drill down and follow a walk around the wildlife refuge or a ride to Dummer’s Beach Campground in Maine practically minute by minute with every stop, lingering moment or digression along the way. The good folks at Amazon Kindle showed me how to access my reading history on any of their devices or apps. Page turns, how long I typically hung out on a page or a paragraph, what caught my attention or sent me off on a related search; the words I looked up, and those I didn’t. Google let me know every place I had been while sitting in my home and touring the web. They obligingly tell me exactly how to delete my browsing or reading or traveling history, so I will not be able to find it. Reassuring as that may seem to me, they will have not lost the trail. Our ubiquitous Smart TVs, wired homes, food processors, refrigerators, autos, Alexa genies, Facebook likes and dislikes help accrue our unique data trail that is dogged as if with trained bloodhounds which pick up scents in parts per million with exponentially more sensitive noses than mere human ones. The tracker hounds scour the hints with their autodidact algorithms, digging, digging, sniffing, finding.

The so helpful convenience of an always on phone gathers it all: should we want directions, or an elusive half remembered factoid, or something to eat; they will store every scrap, then load it all up into massive redundant servers in remote locations, protected like nuclear waste sites waiting for inevitable leaks. Along with everyone else’s trails: your movements, internet searches, left or right clicks, intentional or not, where you spent extra time, what you read, what branches of knowledge or information you explored, products you bought or considered, texts and emails saved and deleted, hopes, dreams, fantasies, curiosities. Everything. Every moment. Wherever you were or hoped to be. How many times do we need to mention something in a personal email or click over briefly to a link in futile hope of secrecy, then be inundated for days with related ads or invitations before we grasp this?  

What was once reserved for an omniscient Being, now is in megabytes and relentlessly analyzed, mined, sold and exploited for gain by a constantly evolving, learning, metastasizing artificial intelligence with almost limitless resources. Omniscience as merchandise. All to benefit us, to convenience us, to keep us in the loop, to “customize our experience.”

Privacy is myth if you are or ever have been connected. And who hasn’t?  The horse has fled as if from a fire, the barn door is not just open but missing – gone, a void.

“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.” Louis Brandeis (dissent in Olmstead vs U.S., 1928)

But what is privacy exactly? Everyone has their own translation. Privacy can mean freedom from restraint, license to do what we want to do free from scrutiny. Privacy has been construed in a wide range: from polite decorum and merely keeping private conversations closed off from the eager ears of gossips to graphic and addictive pornography accessible to young people or even to subverting the law such as those that once attempted to regulate abortion.[ii]

While we hold privacy dear and most dear for ourselves, we take hidden pleasure in the exposure of the titillating shame of others, especially disgraced heroes or enemies. Think Jeffrey Epstein. Few of us are truly unburdened from schadenfreude[iii]. Privacy as a shield to do what is shameful or privacy ripped away as a weapon to destroy another person’s reputation. Clearly the privacy we all desire is not always welcome when contemplating the juicy embarrassment of another.

Is the cloak of privacy or its loss a simple thing? Perhaps not. Can conscience be muted with privacy indulged too long? Perhaps so. We need to take great care in the shadows.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice. (She was so much surprised, that for the moment, she quite forgot how to speak English).”               Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass


[i] No doubt at the behest of Alphabet’s army of lawyers to cover their backsides of liability for selling oceans of data collected on their customers for large profits. It is possible to shut off such tracking, but how can one ever truly determine that? There are many articles on this. Here’s just one: https://www.businessinsider.com/what-does-google-know-about-me-search-history-delete-2019-10

[ii] In the much debated Roe V Wade decision and its successors that prohibited any state law restricting abortion for any reason or no reason, the basis of the decision was a ‘right to privacy’ not found explicitly in the Constitution, but relying mostly on prior decisions such as Griswold V State of Connecticut.  In Griswold, Justice Douglas “discovered” (some would say created out of whole cloth) a right to privacy based on ‘penumbras’ (from the Latin paene umbra, meaning “almost a shadow”) and ‘emanations’ of other explicitly delineated constitutional rights. A reliance on such a dubious contrivance, previously undiscovered in 176 years of jurisprudence, allows almost anything. Judicial activism in service of an ideology at its most blatant.

[iii] Schadenfreude is the terrific German word for taking joy from the suffering of our enemies.

2 Comments

Filed under Culture views