Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

01/23/2012 (10:05 am)

The Roar

At last, a political commentator who gets it right.

“The Roar” refers to the response to Newt Gingrich’s refusal to accept John King’s recitation of his ex-wife’s accusation in the national debate in South Carolina last Thursday, and to the mood among conservatives that that represents. It explains why Gingrich is doing so well at this point. C. Edmund Wright, a national columnist and real estate mogul, explains in the American Thinker today why Gingrich won — and why the political class missed the fact that he was going to.

The math is clear. While negative ads can be effective if run in huge numbers — as in Iowa — what the voters are craving in the debates and on the stump is someone who can look liberals squarely in the eye and tell them why we are right and they are wrong. The American conservative base has had to put up with being called stupid, racist, greedy and unfair for decades by not only the Democrats but the vast majority of the media. The pent up frustration of these decades is magnified by the fact that George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain would not or perhaps could not confront this.

In fact, rare is the Republican candidate at any level who refuses to put up with this and fights back. When they do, they become sensations. Even Chris Christie and Donald Trump — neither one a real conservative — earned the love of the Republican base by simply deigning to fight back. Marco Rubio and Allen West are far more popular and well known than they have any right to be simply because they refuse to accept the argument on liberals’ terms. They fight. They elicit the roar…

The roar is passion. The roar is intensity. The roar is pent up frustration. The roar, put another way, is the national mood of conservatives. It is a roar that will demand a fighter. It will demand that those who want our votes must not cower in the face of the liberal template. If fact, it is a roar that demands that we do not accept any liberal templates.

Wright gets this exactly right. We’ve all been watching the ominous advance of Progressivism eating Western Civilization for our adult lives. We’re hoping to find a champion that can make their sound bites sound like the inchoate nonsense that they are, in spite of the complicity of the press with them. It doesn’t really matter who does it; when strong men and women face down the Progressives effectively, good sense wins, and sanity returns to government. Rudy Guiliani’s New York, Chris Christie’s New Jersey, Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana, and Scott Walker’s Wisconsin stand as examples. Anybody who does it well deserves some credibility.

The fact is that conservatives are not “stupid, racist, greedy and unfair.” We’re thoughtful, compassionate, ordinate in our desires, and stand for truth and liberty. It is Progressives who have lost their minds, who represent the worst of seething hatred, avarice, envy, lust, arrogance, self-righteousness, and dishonesty, while pretending to stand for the opposite. The contrast between the Tea Party and #Occupy demonstrates this amply. We’re looking for public champions to say so credibly.

It’s really a shame that Rudy Giuliani did not know how to make this sort of thing his staple when he was running; as Mayor of New York, he was the King of the Roar. Chris Christie’s got it. Paul Ryan’s got it. And Newt’s got it. It might be enough to win the nomination, and the election after that. Conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by 2 to 1.

At least it will be an entertaining and satisfying election season.

07/04/2011 (11:03 am)

The Assumption of Governmental Holiness

A Christian friend on an Internet-based public discussion board made the following statement in passing. It illustrates a very common, modern mindset that needs very badly to be addressed.

The history since Christ’s first advent shows that many nations of the world have moved closer to what seems to be a Christian ethic while others still remain behind and the world, represented by the UN, judges the nations accordingly.

The partial truth of this masks a less obvious but far more dangerous error. I’ll call the error the “Assumption of Governmental Holiness.” Modern thought is trending in the direction of this error, and it may be the death of many of us.

I saw the same error in a different form on a blog by a very effective writer named Seth Godin. His blog article discussed the unethical representation of sunblock in modern advertising, observing that 95% of the harmful solar rays are not affected at all by the SPF level of these products. (They do, however, prevent painful sunburn, for which reason they’re still useful products.) After explaining, he piously declared this:

How can consumers look at this example and not believe that the regulation of marketing claims is the only way to insulate consumers from short-term selfish marketers in search of market share, marketers who will shade the truth, even if it kills some customers?

Meet the Assumption of Governmental Holiness. Seth somehow misses the fact, discussed openly in his own blog post, that both sunblock and advertising are already regulated. Worse: he actually states the reason, unwittingly, why regulation cannot work:

New regulations were recently announced, though it’s not surprising that many think the regs were watered down as a result of lobbying.

The truth is, millions, and possibly billions, of dollars have been wasted on regulation that had no impact, and millions more have been wasted on lobbying to ensure that that’s the case. But lobbying only works when the government is involved. Lobbying did not prevent me from learning about the scam. I learned about it by reading Seth’s blog. Seth’s freely-provided blog did more to protect me from being scammed than any regulation, or a billion regulations, ever could.

That, Seth Godin, is how a consumer can look at this example and not believe that regulation is the only answer.

How did Seth miss the answer? Somewhere in his unexamined assumptions is this one, utterly false notion:

The government represents pure good, or at the very least represents the best we have to offer.

No other presupposition could lead logically from “false advertising happens” to “regulation is the only answer.” But the error is obvious when we drag it out into the open. The government does not represent our best; it represents political power brokers, people who want control. We’re closer to the truth if we presuppose their corruption. They can only represent our best if they are tightly, closely monitored by ourselves, and if their power to control is severely limited. The less we count on government to enforce decency, and the more we count on ourselves directly to do it, the better.

Moreover, Seth’s blog demonstrates that while regulation does not work, there is something that does. The proper corrective to “false advertising happens” is “somebody needs to broadcast the truth.”

With that in mind, let’s revisit the quotation that introduced this thread, and see where the Assumption of Governmental Holiness leads us wrong.

Separate the statement into two parts. Part I:

…many nations of the world have moved close to … a Christian ethic while others remain behind…

This is partly true. The historically Christian nations of the West have had an enormous influence on both conduct and productivity throughout the world, and some of that influence comes from a godly source. There was no notion of individual rights, for example, before the Christian West produced it. The notion that one human being ought not to traffic in the flesh of another is another example. The near-universal disapproval of child labor is a third.

Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that because a notion has its origin in Christ, that every modern mention of that notion is equally Christian. Take individual rights, for example. In ordinary, human, pendulum fashion, many wicked humans abandoned the old way of domination based on heredity or station, and swung way past Christ’s standard into a sort of egalitarian hell in which every evil thing is allowed and no moral absolutes are acknowledged. They’ve even gone farther than that, using individual rights to ennoble and venerate women leaving their families to pursue “dreams,” and women murdering their children to protect “their rights.” These are just two of a myriad of ways that the godly idea of individual rights has been made extremely unholy. The other godly notions that Christ introduced to the world have not fared better, and have been likewise distorted and overshot.

Wherein lies the error of the Part II of the sentence we’re analyzing:

…the world, represented by the UN, judges the nations accordingly.

Even if it were the case that the UN actually represents the world — it does not — the real, egregious error here is the unstated but controlling supposition that the UN represents the Christian ethic he mentioned in the first part of the sentence, and not the backwardness. He makes the Assumption of Governmental Holiness. The UN has no Christian sanction. Even if the current enactment of the UN were the ideal, it would represent only the current position of the error pendulum.

Worse, the current UN does not come within 3 light years of enacting that ideal, nor can it. It does not represent good; it does not even represent the best of humanity. The UN represents the interests of the corrupt power-brokers who have usurped the power of leadership in their nations.

As such, the UN represents, not the Christ-influenced progress of the world, but the fulfillment of the rebellion Nimrod began way back at Babel, and which the Psalmist describes in opposition to God’s Messiah:

1 “Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.

To assert, without stating it or even really thinking it clearly, that the UN represents the Christianized ethics of the world, is as wrong as wrong can be, and arguably endorses antichrist.

We need also to understand that the Assumption of Governmental Holiness, itself, arises from an even more insidious assumption: the Assumption of Personal Godhood. Ultimately, those who assert the holiness of the government invariably do so by assuming that the government represents ME. The deeper, more evil assertion is that the individual knows what is good for others so well that he or she has earned the right to control their decisions.

We may make ourselves unwelcome, but the Assumption of Governmental Holiness is the central error of the current era, and we need to confront it and dispute it whenever we hear it. But beware the even deeper Assumption of Personal Godhood that is always lurking nearby. And that one actually has a formal name: meet the sin of Pride.

06/27/2011 (2:26 pm)

Posing As Christians

A member in a private, Christian facebook group recently had to be asked to leave because (s)he was touting an agenda in the group and would not let it rest. A stir arose when somebody suggested that perhaps (s)he was a deliberate plant from an activist group.

It turned out that (s)he was not, but in response to that possibility one of the members of the group posted this fascinating testimony, which I submit for your instruction today, edited to hide the identity of the author:

Posing as Christians

Some members have alluded to the notion that people might infiltrate [Christian] groups with the intention of furthering their agenda. While this may sound a bit conspiratorial, I want to acknowledge that it is true, that it is very common, and that I have been paid to do this– in the past, that is; not now.

Before I was saved, I worked for [organization’s name redacted to protect the identity of the author.] I worked as a writer and as a(n) [official title redacted]. I routinely assumed false identities in order to introduce some radical agenda to a group. Staff writers had accounts at all the major newspapers’ sites and at various blogs and forums. We would pose as members of the “group” to legitimize our authority. I would pretend to be black, pretend to be a woman, pretend to be an immigrant, or pretend to be a Christian–whatever suited the cause.

My wife, formerly a [topic redacted] activist, did the same thing.

My point is, it’s not just “trolls” who do this sort of thing: it’s a concerted effort made by multi-million dollar a year organizations. They particularly want to infiltrate “conservative” groups and slowly introduce their agenda. The more people who profess to be Christians and, for instance, advocate for “gay rights”, the more tolerable the stance becomes. The position gravitates from “unthinkable heresy” to “well, we disagree, but we’re still brothers in Christ” to “acceptance”. It really is that simple, and frankly it works. We need to be cautious of this, and we really need to consider the motives of people introducing foreign ideas, as well as the impact merely tolerating those ideas will have on the future of our group. “Tolerance” is what they rely on.

My $0.02, from someone who’s been on the other side.

We all knew that they were there. Enough of them have been exposed for us to realize that there exists a concerted effort to deceive. But it is useful occasionally to revisit the evidence that we are not imagining this; the effort is real, and the damage is real.

This is why there is no point in dialogue with Progressives as Progressives. They do not believe the laws of decent behavior apply to them. They will lie without compunction to take you in. They will pretend to be interested in dialogue, but they are not. What they are interested in is winning by getting you to treat them politely. You will give ground; they will not. So long as the politeness continues, the culture will move in their direction.

The culture will never move back in the other direction until you identify them for who they are, call them the liars that they are, and take a firm stand on what you know to be the truth. Progressives must be confronted and called out.

Private, personal relationships are a different matter. There is no way to win them to Christ without engaging them personally. However, one must not let them use the relationship as a springboard into activism.

06/23/2011 (8:40 am)

Righteous Indignation

What follows is 33 minutes plus change of crucial cultural history. This is an interview of Andrew Breitbart, founder of Big Government, Big Hollywood, Big Journalism, Big Peace, Breitbart.com, Breitbart.tv, and (I didn’t know this) co-founder of Huffington Post. Conducted by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institute, it features Breitbart’s new book, Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World!

Breitbart understands the times. More than anybody, his organizations constitute front-line battalions in the ongoing American civil war, a war for the soul of America being fought through public communications media. Breitbart is one who clearly recognizes that we are at war, and correspondingly confronts Progressivism with the truth at every opportunity.

I recommend this interview as a half-hour well spent. Enjoy.

Now, if only we can get somebody to construct Big Education, to take on the monopoly that Progressives hold over the education of America’s children…

Hat tip for this content goes to Power Line Blog, that long-tenured gem of thoughtful conservatism featuring Scott Johnson, John Hinderaker, and now Steven Hayward (Paul Mirengoff left in January of this year after his employer complained about a politically-incorrect post.) I hope you’re still reading them, they’re still among the best.

06/08/2011 (12:28 pm)

Hypocrisy: a Checklist

Hi, all. I’m not blogging much these days, but I came across this pithy listing of some of the more hypocritical positions taken by Democrats, and thought it was worth preserving. All of us who think about issues from the conservative side notice these instances of sheer, indefensible hypocrisy from the left — it’s practically the hallmark of their movement — but have become so used to them, because there are so many and they come so regularly, that we tend to forget. Consequently, it’s useful to list them from time to time, to remember who it is that we’re dealing with.

The list came as a comment by a reader who calls himself Voltaire on National Review’s The Corner in response to an article about why Rep. Weiner’s unseemly Twitter behavior matters. Simply put, Weiner is the face of the new Democratic party: smug, aggressive, petulant, bullying, making the surface appearance of moral rectitude and intellectual precision. Underneath, he is a sewer, and unable even to control his own life. This is the evil we confront in the United States: fools who genuinely believe they should control our lives, but can’t even control their own.

Take it away, Voltaire:

OK, let’s deal with the idiotic “…but you hypocrites on the right.”

You want hypocrisy? Fine, try this for size:

1 – Five years ago: Guantanamo was the biggest stain in our national conscience, and had to be closed. Now: Guantanamo? What Guantanamo?

2 – Five years ago: The Patriot Act was the worst usurpation of power by an out-of-control administration, and the frightening ushering of an Orwellian society. Now: Hey, pass me that cool remote pen so I can sign an extension of the Patriot Act from overseas.

3 – Five years ago: 5% unemployment and $2 a gallon gasoline were the proof that the incompetent Bush administration had gotten us in “the worst recession after the great depression.” Now: 9.1% unemployment and $4 a gallon gasoline… trust us, we know what we are doing.

4 – Five years ago: Cindy Sheehan was paraded on every major news show as the conscience of an America that had been dragged into imperialistic conflicts by a war criminal masquerading as a President. Now: Cindy who?

5 – Five years ago: The Iraq war was the worst power grab by a President who bypassed congress to invade a foreign nation so he could line the pockets of Halliburton. Now: Lybia… we went into it because… we didn’t ask congress because… we are backing one side of a civil war because… Hey, who needs reasons when it’s the cool, liberal guy who does all this?

6 – Five years ago: Targeted drone assassinations were the proof we needed that we had a mindless cowboy in the White House, who shot first and asked questions later. Now: Hey, let’s have more!

7 – Five years ago: Partisanship was declared to be the worst form of needless bickering, and we were promised a new age of adult debate and civil discourse. Now: “Punish your enemy”–“Moats and alligators”–“Push grandma off a cliff”–“Let Down syndrome babies scavenge off the streets…”

8 – Rep. Giffords is shot by a mentally-incompetent lunatic: Sarah Palin and her over-the-top rhetoric pushed him to it, and we have to hear about that for weeks. Dec. 12, 2008: Sarah Palin’s church is doused in gasoline and set aflame–with women and children inside. Shhhh… don’t tell anyone…

I could go on and add another 20 points to the list, just off the top of my head. Feminists and Liberal philanderers. Black “civil rights leaders” (I love the expression) and their attempt to destroy anyone who wonders off the Democratic plantation.

Look: you want your guys to win at all costs? Fine. You like gutter-level snipers, smear merchants and attack dogs, as long as they get you the result you want? Fine. But at least, spare us the hypocrisy of the hypocrisy charge.

Remember: if a leftist makes any argument based on morality, principle, law, or justice, they don’t really believe that principle, moral, etc.; they’re just using it for the moment, and will violate it without a thought when it gets in their way. To the left, morals and principles are like beer bottles in a bar-room brawl; when it’s useful, hit someone with it, but then discard it because it’s not really good for anything else. They believe in power to themselves, and in nothing else, because they hold the delusion that they are Right™ and therefore above common morality.

02/18/2011 (10:17 am)


Not that this is the first evidence we have that the left’s outrage concerning uncivil language in the public square was completely disingenuous, or even the strongest, but…

The demonstrations in Wisconsin over relatively sensible cuts in union budgets has the leftists there showing their true faces. It does not take much to do this, as the viciousness of progressives lies very shallowly below the surface; their civility is a thin veneer covering seething masses of bile and ill will. Their progressive dreams are bankrupting the Western world, and the least suggestion that they should be made to live, not within their means, but within perhaps an order of magnitude over their means, evokes screeching like that from a cranky toddler.

The Republican party of Wisconsin put together a montage juxtaposing the faux outrage of the political left over harsh rhetoric with the reality of how they protest even the mild, sensible cuts required by Wisconsin’s fiscal nightmare — a nightmare brought on by the delusions of progressives. Watch (1:34):

The biggest of the Big Lies from the leftists in that montage comes from Bill Maher, who, with straight but bloated face, spoke precisely the opposite of the truth. Nobody on the right talks about how much fun it would be to kill our opponents. Virtually all of that sort of talk comes from the left. It can be found daily on the Daily Kos, Huffington Post, and the Democratic Underground. It can be found at any demonstration against any Republican politician; nobody has to manufacture instances, the way progressives have tried to do to discredit Tea Party activists. It can be found in the still-present flood of Internet references to “Bushitler,” the still-common references to Dick Cheney as Hitler or the devil, the cartoons and comments about Sarah Palin… And notice how progressives always, always take their demonstrations to the politician’s home, terrorizing his family and disturbing private neighborhoods.

By the same token, all the vicious, black-hating talk I’ve heard in the last 30 years has come from the left as well, as well as all the vicious, woman-hating talk, the vicious, Hispanic-hating talk, and the vicious, Jew-hating talk. They haven’t banished those things; they’ve just reserved them for conservative blacks, women, Hispanics, and Jews. Through one side of their mouths, they call conservatives racist and insist that we intend to drag women back into the kitchen, but through the other side of their mouths, they tell minority groups “You’re still subject to all the hatred you always used to face — unless you serve our political interests.”

Theirs is not the politics of civil public discourse, but rather the politics of personal destruction. They have given themselves over to evil.

And by the way: if this is how they respond to relatively modest budget cuts, what are they going to do when somebody actually starts to cut the budget down to the place it truly needs to be?

11/24/2010 (8:40 am)

A Letter to Elizabeth Wurtzel

Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote yet another “we hate Sarah Palin” piece for the Atlantic today. You’d think they’d get tired of the repetition. This one basically says “She’s hot, and that’s the whole story.” So, in the spirit of the “How To Talk To Progressives” post from a couple of days ago, I wrote a letter and posted it on the Atlantic. Here’s what it says:

Ms Wurtzel,

You should consider just how many liberals of all stripes have reacted with the same, visceral revulsion since Sarah Palin stepped onto the national stage — and start asking some hard questions regarding why that is.

Sarah Palin was a successful, popular governor of a state that appreciated the honesty, candor, and good sense with which she managed their precious natural resources. Those are good things. So why the hate?

Yes, I understand that you’ve gone into overtime finding specious reasons to discount all that. Yes, I gather that you now think of her in very negative terms. We all saw how much labor you folks on the left put into constructing a Punch Me Palin mock-up with which to ridicule and discredit her achievements.

But, why did you do it? And don’t pretend it’s because of the Punch Me mock-up; you constructed that after you decided you needed to destroy her.

Tell the truth, now: there’s something deeply offensive to liberals about a wholesome, good-looking, non-feminist woman who loves her husband, loves her family, and succeeds — without kowtowing to your social agenda. She’s not a member of your intellectual elite. She’s not supposed to be able to do well. She proves that your entire concept of what the world needs is hollow, that you’ve got it wrong, that one does not need to renounce long-standing virtues to produce good in the world.

In fact, what she proves is the opposite — that one succeeds when one devotes oneself to developing what used to be called “virtue,” and that it was always a fool’s task to attempt to construct a new version of right and wrong. She proves what fakes you are.

And that’s why you hate her so much. Because, at the root of it all, you recognize that what the liberal social agenda produces is genuinely evil human beings, and you’re one of them.

That’s gotta hurt. I get it. But the correct response is not to destroy Sarah Palin, it’s to recover your lost virtue. Perhaps you should try that next. Just a suggestion.

Phil Weingart

I’m not on the “Draft Sarah for 2012” bandwagon. I personally hope she doesn’t win the nomination, in fact. My vanity prefers someone more erudite. But I recognize that as vanity; I don’t pretend that it’s a virtue to be embarrassed about somebody who’s honest, capable, and trustworthy. And I’m just sick of the snippy, petty, faux intellectual dismissal of the woman. She’s a better human being than any of her critics. At the judgment, Sarah Palin will stand over the Elizabeth Wurtzels of the world and declare their unfitness for the rewards of heaven.

Until that happens, Sarah, I’ve got your 6. Not that you seem to need it…

04/27/2010 (5:33 pm)

What Is Marriage? The Birch Tree Challenge Redux

birch-this one smallerIt was almost a month ago that I launched the Birch Tree Challenge, and the discussion is still raging. It was a simple, tongue-in-cheek jibe at the main arguments raised by gay marriage advocates, implying that the same arguments could be applied to advocating marriage between a human and literally anything for which a person might feel affection. Objectors succeeded at pointing out that additional barriers exist when we step outside of marriage to humans — like finding legal avenues to make it possible to form contracts with plants. The main point, though, was to note that the very concept of gay “marriage” does violence to a universal human institution, and attempts to redefine “marriage”; worse, that it attempts to redefine marriage for no reason other than that somebody wants it to be so. So I pretended to want just as badly to wed my birch. Why should I not also be permitted to alter the meanings of words at my whim?

The central question here is what marriage is at its core. That’s what I’m doing here today: attempting to establish exactly what marriage is. It’s not easy.

One of my commenters, a philosophy professor called Joe H., posted what he considered to be a philosopher’s test for the core of a practice. Sadly, he posted this after I had turned my attention elsewhere, so it was never addressed soundly. Here’s some of what he said:

Philosophers spend most of their time distinguishing between the core or essential concepts informing a complex concept, and those concepts that, although they may have an enduring connection to the complex concept, and play an important role in the majority of concrete examples of a complex concept, are, nonetheless, nonessential.

One way they do this is by considering which of the informing concepts can be abandoned while still preserving the basic idea. Of the informing concepts I listed above, I’m confident you’ll agree that the existence of love, a license, procreation, male authority, and/or monogamy, although all intimately related to the concept of western marriage, are not essential to the concept. A marriage can exist without their presence.

The question is whether the limiting concept “opposite sex partners” can be abandoned without losing the basic idea of marriage. The answer to that question is, surprisingly, “yes…” This is proven by the fact that we can, and do, recognize that some same sex couples are married -while others are not.

What Joe actually accomplishes in his “test” is to make human institutions subject to modern public relations campaigns: if any activist can make a phrase common enough in peoples’ minds that they’re no longer shocked by the sheer inconsistency and stupidity of it, then naturally that phrase must be part of the core concept. I hope I don’t have to explain at length why that’s intellectually unacceptable, which it plainly is.

The reaction of the contemporary, advertising-saturated Western mind to the phrase “gay marriage” is hardly a sound test for the core human practice of marriage. I don’t mean to denigrate philosophy as a practice, nor the West as a culture, but marriage is a human practice that occurs in every civilization, so the core of it should be defined by anthropologists and sociologists, not contemporary Western philosophers, and it should be based on a comparison of all human occurrances of marriage, not just what sounds congruent in Western ears.

So, I set myself to find a good, comprehensive anthropological survey of marriage practices around the globe throughout history. I don’t think I’ve found it yet, though I think Kingsley Davis’ 1985 opus Contemporary Marriage: Comparative Perspectives on a Changing Institution may come close to what I want. I did not have time to hunt down Davis’s book — I’ll get to it eventually — though I did find an enlightening article in the 2001 Louisiana Law Review by Maggie Gallagher that was based in part on Davis’ definition, which I will quote below.

Before that, though, I did a survey in my own mind of literature that depicts marriage through history and around the globe. I thought about the Islamic model shown in Moolaade’, film by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, in which a dominant male subjugated multiple wives by sex, beating, and genital mutilation. I thought about Tevye and Golde and their many daughters, the couple on which the musical Fiddler on the Roof was based; Tevye trying to preserve traditional control over his children while his daughters ran off and married for love. I thought about the Bible’s Jacob providing labor for his bride’s family for 14 years (a practice that was apparently mirrored in ancient Japan as well,) and how his wives competed with each other for his affection by producing children as rapidly as possible. I thought about Mary Renault’s heavily-researched recreation of ancient Greece (titles include The Bull From the Sea, The Mask of Apollo, The Praise Singer, and several others), in which ordinary families stuck to a nuclear model while the upper crust diverted themselves with heteiras (courtesans) and lovers and ignored their nuclear families — which families nonetheless held absolute rights to both property and surname. I thought about the Bengali marriage in the film The Namesake, where a traditional Indian family attempted to raise their children and preserve their culture in America.

DoYouLoveMeThe thing that leapt out at me as I thought about all these different practices was the children. Joe was absolutely wrong when he asserted with confidence that procreation is not central to marriage. We may be able to envision marriages without children, but the practice around the world is clearly about creating a social and legal environment where children are produced and trained. To say that the existence of couples who marry but don’t reproduce means that reproduction is not central to marriage, is as sensible as saying that the existence of people who collect, restore, and show historical automobiles means that automobiles are not about transportation. Historically, a childless couple was a curse, like an automobile that wouldn’t run. The modern, deliberately childless couple is an historical aberration. Tellingly, the appearance of the cultural acceptance of childless marriages corresponds perfectly to nations where the birth rate has fallen below replacement level.

Marriage is about much more than just reproduction, though; it’s about the passage of property by inheritance, and about passing along cultural norms and history. Marriages in most cultures provide the legal structure within which family property is preserved, and by which family fortunes are enhanced and strengthened. Marriages in most cultures create the environment where the passing of cultural traditions to children takes place, or at least where the authority for doing so remains centered. Marriage, at its core, is about perpetuating species and culture.

Moreover, marriage is about the legal recognition and endorsement of the means of perpetuating species and culture. In every complex culture where it appears, marriage is endorsed and officially recognized by the ruling legal authority; Joe was also absolutely wrong when he voiced his confidence that a license was not part of the core concept of marriage. Gay advocates actually conform to this view when they insist that the state must formally recognize gay unions as “marriage” — otherwise, they would be content with gay unions without formal legal recognition.

Gallagher, cited above, condenses the anthropological picture this way:

But what every known human society calls marriage shares certain basic, recognizable features, including most especially the privileges accorded to the reproductive couple in order to protect both the interests of children and the interests of the society. As Kingsley Davis sums up the anthropological impulse of marriage: “The unique trait of what is commonly called marriage is social recognition and approval . . . of a couple’s engaging in sexual intercourse and bearing and rearing offspring.”

Marriage is everywhere the word we use to describe a publicly acknowledged and supported sexual union between a man and woman which creates rights and obligations between the couple and any children the union may produce. Marriage as a public tie obligates not only fathers, but fathers’ kin to recognize the children of this union. In every society, marriage is the sexual union where childbearing and raising is not only tolerated but applauded and encouraged. Marriage is the way in which every society attempts to channel the erotic energies of men and women into a relatively narrow but highly fruitful channel…

While marriage systems differ, marriage across societies is a public sexual union that creates kinship obligations and sharing of resources between men, women, and the children their sexual union may produce.

She also notes that historically, marriage is normative. That is, each culture’s law surrounding marriage not only protects the ability of the culture to reproduce itself, but declares to the culture at large what is the appropriate and expected behavior of its members.

Above all, normal marriage is normative. Marriage is not primarily a way of expressing approval for infinite variety of human affectional or sexual ties; it consists, by definition, of isolating and preferring certain types of unions over others. By socially defining and supporting a particular kind of sexual union, the society defines for its young what the preferred relationship is and what purposes it serves.

The last point is important. Not all love relationships deserve the legal preference called “marriage,” nor do all sexual relationships. It’s the ones that perpetuate the species and the culture in a manner that benefits society at large that deserve that preference. Other relationships may produce children, may train children, may celebrate love and personal commitment, but not all such relationships are called “marriages.” The legal imprimatur “marriage” says to the culture, “This is the vehicle we prefer for reproducing ourselves, and for the passing of culture and property to future generations.” It involves a clear statement of social approval.

By noting that marriage is normative, we recognize that marriage is not a universal human right; on the contrary, it is a near-universal human obligation. Individuals may choose not to marry, or may choose to engage in social relationships that do not reproduce; but a general, social approval remains for those who actively engage in reproducing the species and the culture, and that approval appears in all cultures as the legal endorsement of marriage. Those who choose not to marry, or who choose to marry but not to reproduce, step outside the primary cycle of life, and adopt practices that do not deserve full societal recognition. We Americans approve of individual liberty, and will not punish those who freely choose such practices; but neither ought we reward them. Marriage is something special.

Honesty requires that I add a personal note: I’m taking a self-deprecating position here. You see, both Shelly and I reproduced in previous marriages, and then chose (separately) to divorce our reproductive spouses, and later (together) to marry each other. Furthermore, we chose deliberately for our new union to be childless; I underwent a vasectomy. So my current “marriage” is one that actually violates the norm I’m advocating here. A public blog is not the place for me to defend my choice to divorce the mother of my children, nor to defend Shelly’s choice to divorce the father of hers, but I will say this much: Jewish jurisprudence would recognize both our reasons as legitimate, though modern evangelical Christian opinion may not. I would be willing to accept lower legal status than that of reproducing couples, if the culture decides to adopt such a legal structure; but that’s cheap martyrdom, since I’m certain the American culture will not so decide.

So there we have it. Marriage is a normative cultural expression for channeling sexual drives into reproduction, creating a legal and social construct in which humans reproduce their culture and their species and pass along their property. It always involves legal recognition, and it always involves opposite genders. What gays do with each other may be loving, may be sexual, may be legal, but it is not marriage. That’s not a moral or religious assessment, but a human, sociological one.

03/14/2010 (9:53 pm)

Blurring Humans With Machines

The video below is an interesting little talk by digital media artist, game design specialist, and professor Peggy Weil (Adjunct Professor of Interactive Media at USC) about how the line is blurring between humans and machines — or so claims Ms. Weil. The jumping-off point for the discussion is a web-based game called Mr. Mind which challenges you, the visitor, to prove to Mr. Mind that you are actually human. Ms. Weil claims it has never been done, but I suspect deep bias. The video embed they provided runs 10 minutes, but the full talk is just over 18 minutes, and you can reach it by clicking “Watch Full Program” that will appear in the lower right corner of the video frame once you click it. Once there, you’ll get a brief commercial message over which I have no control, sorry.

Ms. Weil gives herself away at a few points in the talk, but then I Googled “Mr. Mind prove you are human” and found this description of Web Development Fund (sponsors of the Mr. Mind site discussed in the video), with this telling quotation:

“I am convinced that computers are an emergent, evolving form,” argues Peggy Weil, co-director of the project, “but I don’t want to tell people what to think. This is a personal and emotional realization.”

Methinks Prof. Weil has been taking Battlestar Galactica reruns a mite too seriously. The thing to notice is that Ms. Weil admits no valid intellectual criteria. Her basis for calling computers an emergent, evolving form (she stops short of saying life form) is “a personal and emotional realization.” But she does not want to tell you what to think; she prefers to confront you with a rigged game that fools you into believing what she believes.

I wouldn’t trust someone who prefers manipulation over verbal persuasion any farther than I could throw a Sumo wrestler. But I don’t want to tell you what to think.[/sarc]

What’s going on here is a hard-core progressive engaging, unconsciously as usual, in the core exercise of progressivism: rebutting core Christian concepts, using their favorite tool, faux intellectualism. The concept on the chopping block tonight is the notion that humans are the crown of creation, a unique species formed “in the image of God” and commissioned with a unique purpose. The assault comes in the form of obfuscating the definition of “human,” again a favorite of progressives but one usually found in discussions of legalized abortion.

My assessment that Ms. Weil is a progressive arises first from her brief excursion into politics, basically a 30-second-long listing beginning around 5:30 of the recent global events that confront us with a need to redefine what we mean by “human.” It’s a whirlwind tour of the progressives’ “favorite horrors” list. The high point is her 2-word sneer noting “the euphemistic” phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” All of this really has nothing to do with her talk, but that’s the point; progressives cannot help themselves, they have a reflex that turns every event political whether it applies or not. And besides, we have the piquant fruitiness of the words from the quote block, above.

Of course, the very premise of her talk, that modern events require a redefinition of what “human” means, is logically absurd. Her basis for saying this seems to be that visitors to her cute little Mr. Mind game resort to banal self-perceptions like “I can tie a knot in a cherry stem with my tongue” when faced with the artificial frustration of trying to convince a rigged computer script that they are human. If the problem is that the average web junkie has an impoverished self-perception, the cure is to improve modern education. It’s frankly simple to define “human,” especially in the wake of the Genome Project. One begins by defining oneself as a life form, using standard biological criteria: “I respire, I consume nutrients, I breed, I ambulate, I am composed of complex systems of adjoined cells with common DNA functioning cooperatively, therefore I am a complex life form.” Then you establish which type of life form by DNA analysis: “My DNA is human, therefore I am the life form that is called ‘human.'” End of proof. How hard was that?

Having said that, I have to acknowledge the more central question, which is “What is it about humanity that makes humans unique?” My thinking has been focused more on matters of human liberty, but I’m about 97% sure that the exercise here turns out to be the same as the exercise there. The object of Western philosophers has been to provide a basis for the core believe that does not require us to say “God said,” because we hate being dependent on God. The exercise is going to fail here as it has there. There will be found no sound way to define human meaning apart from “God cares,” just as there is no sound reason for human liberty that does not begin with “God declared us free.” Ultimately, all meaning for our existence derives from God’s character, and all characteristics of the well-lived life likewise derive from God’s character. We are here because He loves us, and philosophy is an exercise in guaranteed frustration until we acknowledge it.

I was not able to get the Mr. Mind web site to respond (http://www.mrmind. com) so I don’t know whether it’s actually a fair game or not, but I’m guessing it’s not truly a fair program.

I’m curious about the part of the video where she says that humans conversing with code that mimics human reactions cannot help but anthropomorphize the code, but always impute emotions and reactions. She calls this a “delusion.” I wonder how deeply she and her associates have thought through the necessary implications of linguistic and emotional speech patterns. We have no experience of communicating with anything not human, so of necessity all our linguistic and emotional forms attach to communication with humans. I don’t think it’s even linguistically possible to communicate with a machine without appearing to anthropomorphize it. Our language is so deeply tied to our emotions and reactions that it’s probably likewise impossible to communicate with a machine without feeling the feelings that we feel when we’re talking to a person. That does not mean we’re actually deluded, it just means our forms of communication do not permit such distinctions.

My guess is that they allowed this fact to convince them that all subjects actually confuse the machine with a person. I guess further that they are glad to be thus convinced, as it supports their own preferred delusion, that the uniqueness of humanity is at an end. I guess finally that they have not adequately considered the nature of the proof they’re using. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but I don’t think so.

All that said, I do find the foray into machine intelligence and human self-perception fascinating, and I’m sure most people do as well. I just wish the professors engaged in it would not simultaneously engage in hellish enterprises like trying to demolish the core concept of human uniqueness. We do need to keep our core mission as a species in mind as we develop more and more powerful machines, and we do well to pay attention to our instincts.

02/05/2010 (9:46 am)

It's a Religious War

avatarnoblesavagesOne of my readers posted several reviews of Avatar in response to my posting RedLetterMedia’s slasher review yesterday (thanks, dullhammer), and one of them struck me as crucial to the cultural debate. In it, Jonah Goldberg finally, finally articulates something that I knew but could not prove — that at its core, what we incorrectly call “liberalism” in America is actually anti-Christianity. The culture war is a religious war.

The central thesis of Goldberg’s review was the starkly religious tone of the culturally-normal “noble savage” message of the film:

…the most relevant point was raised by John Podhoretz in the Weekly Standard. Cameron wrote “Avatar,” says Podhoretz, “not to be controversial, but quite the opposite: He was making something he thought would be most pleasing to the greatest number of people.”

What would have been controversial is if — somehow — Cameron had made a movie in which the good guys accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts.

Of course, that sounds outlandish and absurd, but that’s the point, isn’t it? We live in an age in which it’s the norm to speak glowingly of spirituality but derisively of traditional religion. If the Na’Vi were Roman Catholics, there would be boycotts and protests. Make the oversized Smurfs Rousseauian noble savages and everyone nods along, save for a few cranky right-wingers.

I’m certainly one of those cranky right-wingers, though I probably enjoyed the movie as cinematic escapism as much as the next guy.

But what I find interesting about the film is how what is “pleasing to the most people” is so unapologetically religious.

He then proceeds, unfortunately, to base his opinion on a recent book by one Nicholas Wade entitled The Faith Instinct, in which the author posits that human beings are hard-wired to believe religiously, because believing confers real survival value to a social group that natural selection preserves. I find Wade’s thesis half-right, but silly and insulting. Yes, religion is universal human behavior, and yes, it confers survival value, but approaching religion as a purely sociological thing implies that it’s not truly important, merely a social characteristic of the animal. Furthermore, it seems singularly unlikely that real survival value might be conferred by an imaginary belief; if religion does confer survival value (and it clearly does,) that would suggest that its core assertions conform better than atheism’s to the universe that is. Reviews of the book over at Amazon.com confirm that it’s mostly cultural socio-babble not really rooted in any sort of genuine research.

However, Wade’s half-baked explanation is peripheral to Goldberg’s core argument. The point is that the core of the culture war is a centuries-long wrestling match between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Martin Luther. This explains the clearly religious nature of so much of what leftists say as well as their stubborn refusal to allow facts to sway their preconceptions; they behave like True Believers because they are True Believers. It also explains why it is that so many leftist initiatives seem aimed at the heart of some core, Christian concept, like the modern effort to unmake the nuclear family, to regard human beings as something far less than the Crown of Creation, to make Caucasian, Christian Europe into The Devil, or to selectively sequester Christianity from the public square.

This point sits at the core of Goldberg’s interesting book, Liberal Fascism. It’s not the greatest book ever written, but it does lay out the religious roots and branches of American progressivism pretty clearly. Liberal Fascism actually accomplishes what I had hoped that Ann Coulter’s Godless would do — explore the religion of progressivism. I recommend the book, not as a means of calling leftists Hitlerian (Goldberg becomes almost tiresome in the book in his repeated efforts to prevent people from doing this,) but as a means to understanding how modern liberalism is the direct descendant of religious social meddling like Prohibition. His history is robust and sound.

It’s true that many conservatives are not religious, and that some liberals are. That’s incidental; the ideas that lie at the root of both conservatism and liberalism are religious ideas, whether the current adherents recognize them or not. Modern conservatism represents the historical stream of Protestant thought. Modern progressivism represents the historical stream of Rousseauian thought, which is why we’re still watching films touting the myth of the Noble Savage.

It’s also true that Rousseau and his stepchildren mostly don’t believe in God, and many of them would insist that that means they’re not religious, but rather anti-religious. That’s like saying that when they say it’s sunny outside, they’re not talking about the weather, but about the absence of weather. Progressives hold deeply-felt presumptions about the nature of the universe in a dogmatic manner, and those notions inform their reasoning in systematic ways regarding how humans should live. If it waddles like religion, and quacks like religion, it’s religion.

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