I want a new drug

14 01 2014

I need a new conservative.

I’ve been reading Rod Dreher for years. He’s a “crunchy con”—localist, traditionalist, religious—and I’ve enjoyed him in about equal measure as he’s pissed me off.

Now, however, he just pisses me off (I’ll spare you the litany of why and how), so if I am not to retreat inside my leftist-commie-hippie-Brooklyn bubble, I need some fresh meat new columnist who with ideas and a viewpoint worth taking seriously.

Reihan Salam is probably worth a look, and maybe I’ll start reading First Things again. I already read Tyler Cowen regularly for the market-libertarian view (although I think Alex Tabarrok is an idiot), and stroll through Christianity Today a couple of times a week. I should probably add Front Porch Republic more regularly to the mix (tho’ those guys never use 10 words when 100 are available), and maybe there’s someone or two on Patheos who can expand my eyeballs.

What of conservative women who aren’t a) mere culture warriors or b) shills for the Republicans? Hm, anyone on Secular Right who’s particularly good?

I’m serious about all of this. I’m a leftist for all kinds of reasons, not least of which is that I think it’s the correct approach for understanding the world, but it ain’t the perfect approach, and I am liable to miss all kinds of things if I hold only to this view. I also don’t want to fall into mere warrior mode, and miss the fact that those who are conservative may also be funny and profound and share a taste in whisky, sci-fi, and assorted bad habits.

I had that with Dreher. I’ll keep reading him, as well as the other folks at American Conservative, but I am just. . . tired.

I need a new conservative.





God sometimes you just don’t come through

2 12 2013

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

So says Rod Dreher:

Turmarion says:

With each passing day, we come closer to Cardinal George’s prophecy being fulfilled. — RD

You mean that bishops will be imprisoned or executed? Do you really think that?

[NFR: Imprisoned, yes, I really believe that. -- RD]

Dreher has long expressed concern about life in a “post-Christian culture”—defined as one in which the organizing principles of his version of Christianity (traditional, orthodox) are no long the central organizing principles of society—but this is the first time I can recall him stating so explicitly his belief that Christians will be hunted by the government.

Makes sense, in its own nonsensical way: If one believes that Christians must remain in charge in order not to be persecuted, then when they are no longer in charge, they will of course be put to the cross. So to speak.

I have my doubts about whether we in the US do, in fact, live in a post-Christian culture, or whether Europeans, with many fewer believers, are post-Christian, either. To put it another way, we are post-Christian in the way we are post-modern: not at all.

That’s another argument for another time, however. I want instead to focus on the profound bad faith of Dreher’s statement. I don’t doubt that he does, truly, believe this, but the statement itself betrays a cynicism about government, society, and human beings which sets off even my bitter little heart.

To repeat: Christians must be in charge or be persecuted. Let us consider what is contained in such a Manichaean axiom:

  1. Christians must be in charge, always.
  2. Non-Christians cannot be trusted not to persecute Christians.
  3. The only persecution which matters is that of Christians.

Most excellent, that belief, that people who do not share you views have it in for you.

We, the heretics and infidels and apostates and agnostics and atheists and Morally Therapeutic Deists (a favorite Trojan horse of Dreher’s) must by the very fact that we are not Certifiable Christians want to imprison the faithful, and are only prevented from doing so by the (benevolent) power of Christianity.

Once that power fades, we, the heretofore-necessarily-second-classed, shall be unleashed to lay waste to the land.

The persecution complex runs strong in American mythos—Puritans, anyone?—as is what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics“; the belief that bishops will be soon be hauled off to jail is simply another brick in the great wall of reaction.

Still pisses me off, though, that I am to trust, but cannot be trusted.





It’s another round in the losing fight, pt III

6 09 2013

Rounding out the reconsideration:

3. It’s not unfair when you lose. Yes, if the game is rigged or there are payoffs or some other kinds of undermining going on, that’s unfair. But loss in and of itself is not unfair, in sport, argument, or politics.

And loss in these areas is just loss, rarely anything more. It’s not evidence of conspiracy, of the evil of your fellow humans, or of the breakdown of civilization. It is not The End.

“Win some, lose some” (or, for the more ursine-inclined among you, “sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you”) is the point, here.

4. It’s only unfair to use your rules against you if the rules were unfair to begin with. Kinda a mouthful, I know, but it pretty much gets to the point: If you’re fine with the rules when you were winning, it’s gonna be tough to garner sympathy for THE INJUSTICE OF IT ALL!!! when you’re losing.

Relatedly, if it were fine for you to write the rules when you were in charge, then it’s just sour grapes to bitch about other people writing rules when they’re in charge.

5. That you lost or are unpopular doesn’t mean you’re oppressed. If you live in a political culture of strict majority-rule losing can lead to repression, but neither the politics nor the culture of the US is strict majority-rule. Almost no political win or loss is final (cf. “win-some-bears-get-you”), and even in those cases where the culture seems to have shifted decisively, as with same-sex marriage, those on the losing side can continue to fight as long as they have fight in them.

It’s true that those who oppose civil recognition and the normalization of same-sex relationships will likely have their arguments dismissed by those who already think such relationships normal, and may be called bigots and homophobes. Those opponents might feel they can no longer bring up their views at work or in public, and worry that there may come a time when they have to choose between their principles and their jobs or a friendship. Going along to get along can, in fact, feel pretty damned oppressive.

But here’s where #4 comes in. If it’s terrible that you no longer feel you can voice opinions which you once offered freely, was it terrible that those who disagreed with you felt they couldn’t voice their opinions? And if it’s terrible now, why wasn’t it terrible then? And why isn’t it terrible for other unpopular opinions? And, to sharpen the point, if you lose your job or a promotion because you hold political views contrary to those of your boss, is the problem the contrary views or an at-will employment system which does not protect political minorities?

I do have some sympathy for those who feel they can’t speak up, precisely because there have been times I’ve kept my mouth shut rather than make trouble. You don’t want to be That chick or have to explain why you would even consider holding the views you do over and over and over again. If you are out of step, it is easy to feel stepped on.

So, yes, JS Mill had a point about social conformity: it often is oppressive! To live among others is to conform, which means there’s no way to escape such oppression.

But that there are consequences for nonconformity doesn’t always mean one must conform: If you can, in fact, live with those consequences, then perhaps you are not oppressed—or, at least, not helplessly oppressed.

I, for example, don’t care much about money, and I live in a culture—and in a city, especially!—which prizes financial gain. That I haven’t sought to maximize my wealth marks me as a kind of loser, and when I visit family and friends who own houses and don’t make shelves out of wine boxes I think Jeez, I am doing life wrong.

Still, most of the time I am able to live with the consequences of my choices and priorities. It’s a pain in the ass that I have to think about money as much as I do, and think that if I made just a wee bit more I could happily minimize my cash anxieties, but I’ve managed to cobble together a life of which I at least have a shot of making sense.

Am I oppressed? I don’t think so. Out of step in some important ways, yes, but as long as I am able to step out, to live my own absurd life, well, I can live with that.

~~~

And yes, there will be a caveats-to-the-caveats post.





Don’t want to be a richer man, pt II

29 08 2013

Back to unpacking that hastily stuffed post:

2. Losing status is not an injustice. It’s not fun, and it may feel unfair, but the loss of status in and of itself is not unfair.

Status can be earned or unearned, related to deeds, to relationships, to kinship, something taken or something granted. It almost certainly is culturally dependent—what earns you status in one culture may earn you contempt in another—and, depending upon that culture, may be related to justice or not. In cultures in which people think they deserve their status, they are likely more likely to believe that changes in the culture which lead to changes (loss) in status are unfair.

This could be seen as the aims of the civil rights movement in the US were absorbed into society and instantiated in governmental and corporate policy. As a result, those who had formerly only to compete with one another for position were instead forced to compete with those who had been kept out of the game.

To switch up the metaphor: white men could no longer count on always being first in line for jobs, promotions, college admissions, and sundry other social goods. They lost status.

That they did so, however, was not unjust. American society was formed out of the ungainly mess of egalitarianism, white supremacy, patriarchy, justice, toleration, conformity, segregation, integration, settlement, escapism, hard work, and luck, and as the polity shifted away from over supremacism in terms of both race and sex, the sense of “who was best (for the position, say)” shifted.

The liberationist in me would say Not damned nearly enough, but I do recognize the shift has occurred, and in a direction which has benefitted me and, I would argue, society as a whole: I think it is better to live in a society in which the placement of one’s reproductive organs  does not determine one’s prospects in that society, or where  people”will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.”

(I know that’s an overused phrase and not even his best one, but on the 50th anniversary of the speech, it seemed apropos.)

Now, I admit that I’m overloading “status” somewhat, leaving “justice” untouched. No, I don’t think justice exists outside of culture, but one of the enduring fictions of American culture is that, supremacism notwithstanding, justice bears some relationship to deeds, and that everyone deserves a fair shot at a decent life. The definition of justice didn’t change so much as did the “everyone” who deserved the fair shot: the pool of who were to be considered in matters of justice got a whole lot more crowded.

With the expansion of “everyone” to include almost every citizen, the status which had accrued to white male citizens simply for being white male citizens was necessarily lessened—not because status was taken away in an absolute sense, but, because it was granted to so many other people, meant relatively less.

To bring in yet another analogy: it’s not that white men got kicked out of the pool but that they had to share it. And yeah, if you’re used to having the joint to yourself, having to share it is a loss.

But it is not unjust.





As they try to change their worlds, pt I

25 08 2013

I may have been a bit brusque in stating “nobody cares about you”.

I did add the qualifier that “nobody” means “those who don’t know you”, but even with that dilution, it was too strong a statement: there are people who do genuinely care about strangers, and that there may exist a widespread (if minimal) sympathy amongst the members of our species suggests that, yes, many of us do care—however minimally—about one another.

The real problem with that statement, however, was that it bundled together too many dynamics, not all of which go together. So, to haul out that nifty word-tool of my grad school years, let’s unpack those bundled dynamics, shall we?

1. Changes are not conspiracies. I’d guessed that “the fear of incipient repression could be found among any group which sees its superior status threatened”—that is, that changes in society which are meant to benefit an out-group can be seen by some in the in-group as primarily an attack on the in-group. Thus, those in favor of queer rights and same-sex marriage are seen as less interested in preserving themselves than in destroying others.

I read the blogs at The American Conservative (Rod Dreher regularly and others semi-regularly) and pop over to Christianity Today a couple of times a week, and it is common for some bloggers and commenters alike to see legal and cultural changes as either harbingers of complete societal collapse and/or portents of a future in which all “true” Christians are targeted for oppression; some see the extension of anti-discrimination laws (e.g., no business may refuse to serve a same-sex couple simply because they are gay) or the enforcement of laws of general applicability (e.g., secular businesses run by religious people are not exempt from the contraception provisions of the Affordable Care Act) as evidence of anti-Christian oppression today.

Someone like me sees changes in the structure of the law and shifts in cultural perceptions of minorities (of whatever sort) as part of a by-no-means-straightforward amalgam of overt and organized political action, artistic presentations, elite intellectual debates, media representations, everyday experiences, and, of course, material conditions and economic forces. As such, while changes can have intensely personal meanings, they are not personal per se, but are instead changes in the rules which affect everyone.

Consider the 1965 Supreme Court ruling, Griswold v. Connecticut, which overturned a state law prohibiting contraceptive use for married couple. State attacks on contraception went back decades, although by the time the pill was developed (in the 1950s), contraception was not only legal but embraced in many states. Griswold (and later, Eisenstadt v. Baird), simply toppled an opposition which had long since dwindled. Contraceptive use became the norm.

Were Griswold and Eisenstadt an attack on Catholicism? Anti-Catholic sentiment, however much it had dwindled since the 19th century, was still prevalent in this country, and that the Catholic Church was officially against contraception was known; to strike down bans on contraception could be seen as evidence of contempt for Catholicism—as, indeed some have seen and continue to see it today.

The Court rulings, however, depended upon a (still-contested) finding of a right to privacy in the Constitution. There was nothing which required the Church to change its own doctrine; these cases simply took away a series of state-sponsored supports* for that doctrine. The Church would be free to inveigh against barrier and chemical  methods of birth control, but they could no longer rely on state law to help them to enforce their opposition.

(*That a state happened to have anti-contraception laws didn’t mean that they passed them to support Catholicism; regardless of intent, however, they had the effect of doing so.)

Due to these rulings as well as to other cultural changes, the Church clearly lost, not only authority but also status. Catholics were not prevented from believing that artificial birth control was bad nor were they required to use it, but their anti-contraceptive position was taken to apply only to Catholics themselves (and not all of them accepted the official position) and was otherwise accorded no greater weight than any other position on the matter. The ground shifted, and in a way which put Catholics authorities on the same level as any other authority: they no longer had special status.

To those who lose such status, the loss is almost certainly personally felt, but that one feels it personally does not mean it was meant personally. The ground underneath everyone’s feet shifted, not just those officials and members of the Catholic Church. and that the Church was unhappy with the quake does not mean the quake was directed at them.

~~~

There’s more than this, of course, but let’s take it slow: haste did me in, last time.





On the tv and the media

29 06 2013

I’m no good at personal confrontation.

I know, I know, y’all are thinking But absurdbeats, you can be such a bitch!  And it’s true! I can be! But as comfortable as I am tearing into an argument, I am no good at tearing into a person—so much so that I cringe at witnessing a person getting chewed out.

That said, my discomfort transformed into awe over the course of this video:

Maybe because this guy wasn’t some poor schmoe but a CEO, maybe because Congresswoman Duckworth was so righteous, maybe because he was so. goddamned. shameless, but I actually enjoyed this, uh, little exchange.

Commenters on other sites have pointed out that the problem may lie less with Mr. Owie-I-Turned-My-Ankle-Once than with a system that allows him to claim a veteran’s disability for an injury sustained in prep school, and I don’t disagree.

But: a shitty system does not excuse shitty behavior.

Systems matter. The ancients pointed out that the type of society in which one lives affects one’s behavior, and over the millenia thinkers have exhausted a lotta brain cells trying to figure out how, exactly, culture may shore up or degrade virtue. Aristotle wondered whether one could be good in a bad polis, Diogenes wandered about searching for that one honest man, and today those of very different political persuasions bewail the corruption of our culture and the doom which awaits us all.

So, okay, culture matters.

But so, too, does conscience. I don’t know the exact relationship between culture and conscience, what resources any one individual needs to reflect on this relationship, nor what one needs to choose conscience over an interest which culture may promote, but I doubt that conscience is always and everywhere collapsible into culture.

There’s something called ‘virtue ethics‘ which focuses on conscience and character. I am dubious of its efficacy on its own—it’s too easy to slide from virtue as a goal to virtue as an excuse—but as part of a comprehensive set of standards, it’s can help to check oneself. If you want to think of yourself as a good person, then you need to consider what are the actions of a good person, and how do my actions compare.

This is where the whole conscience-culture nexus gets tangled (as least for us epistemological nihilists): If culture decides what is ‘good’, and I want to be ‘good’, then how can I go against culture?

That’s a tough one, and in its abstract form I can only offer multiple, partial answers.

The case of Mr. Owie-Ankle, happily, is not so abstract, and thus more amenable to judgement.

Braulio Castillo clearly cares about goodness. He’s a man who contributes to charity and gives back to his community.  Given that he publicizes these good works, one can safely say that Castillo has at least thought about what is good.

As such, it is telling that he both highlights his “military service” and obscures the details by which he came to claim veteran’s disability based on that “service”. On his company’s website it is noted that he

attended the United States Military Academy (West Point) Preparatory School. Braulio was honorably discharged from the United States Army and received a service connected, disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs for his active duty service as an enlisted soldier in the US Army.

Did you catch that? He attended not West Point, but West Point Prep, doesn’t detail the injury (injured his foot in an exercise), and calls his time spent at that prep school “active duty service as an enlisted soldier in the US Army.”

It was not.

If he thought that he did nothing wrong in claiming a 30-percent disability for an injury sustained prior to an active college-football career, then why not publicize the details?

It’s entirely possible that he thinks that doing good here makes good whatever he does there (another skew in virtue ethics), so why bother with such petty matters as, um, fudging the facts?

It is also entirely possible that he may have been suffering from a malady Upton Sinclair identified long ago: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”  And perhaps he could point to the particular business culture in which he operated—in which not understanding something is SOP—and say B-b-b-but everyone’s doing it! and claim that if his acts aren’t, y’know, good-good, they are at least par for the course.

(Of that last possibility, I would be unshocked.)

But that he called himself an “enlisted soldier in the US Navy Army” on “active duty service” when he was neither tells me he knew he was fucking with the facts, and was fucking with those facts for money.

That’s not good, Mr. Castillo, not good at all. You richly deserved that shredding.

And because of that, I richly enjoyed that dessert.





Give me the gun

21 12 2012

Christ, is it even worth posting this?

I’m tired and crabby and have grading and have to get up early to work the second job tomorrow and do I really want to write—more to the point, do you really want to read what I write—about guns?

What the hell.

My views about guns haven’t much shifted from where I landed a decade or so ago: I’m not crazy about them, don’t hate them, and if I lived out in the boonies I’d have a shotgun, if only to scare off any big critters trying to get at my little critters. And the next time I go back to Wisconsin I’d like to try trap shooting or target shooting with my hunting-rifle-owning brother and brother-in-law.

So, guns: dangerous tools, useful in some circumstances, nothing more.

Except, of course, culturally they are so much more: Totems of freedom, penis-substitutes, toys for the uncivilized, power, markers of Real Americans, manly, gangster, and on and on and on.

That’s a big part of the problem, that instead of treating guns as dangerous tools, we polemicize them into ontological signifiers: To be or not to be, with guns.

Actually, that’s wrong: Most of us probably don’t polemicize them into ontological signifiers; most of us probably seem them as dangerous tools which it is okay to own and use in a properly regulated fashion. Go on and on about guns and you’ll be given the side-eye, but if you hunt or like to target shoot at the range, well, okay. And if you won’t buy your kid a Nerf gun because you think it promotes aggression, you might get an eye-roll, but, well, okay.

Honestly, I’m closer to the gun-control folks than the NRA (no kidding. . . ), but if you want to collect an armory in your basement in preparation for the apocalypse, well, it’s your dime.

There are a few steps you should have to follow, however: Every single person who owns a gun should have a background check, and perhaps should be licensed. Every single gun you own should be registered, and any gun you own which is not registered should be confiscated and you should pay a huge-ass fine for not registering it.

At the time of registration, you should have to take it to a licensed instructor and demonstrate that you know how to load, unload, fire, lock, and safely store the gun. And maybe when you fire the gun, the bullet should be collected and entered into one of the those nifty CSI-type databases.

(And for those, like me, concerned about civil liberties: Make the registration system dual key, i.e., the registrant is assigned a number, and that number is entered into the gun-owning database. In order to access the name behind the number, a search warrant would be required.)

If you sell your gun, you must file a transfer form with the gun registry. The new owner would then be required to file a preliminary registration application before the actual gun could be transferred. A background check would be performed in the interim, and once it comes back clean, the gun may be transferred, at which point the new owner would be required to complete the registration process. A reasonable fee—one which would cover the costs of the registry and the registration process—would be required.

If you sell your gun or give it away and don’t file a transfer form, if you lose it or it’s stole and you don’t inform the police, you would be open to large, large fines, and holds on any future firearms registration. If you are convicted of crimes which, if turned up in a background check would prevent you from owning a gun [for whatever period of time], you either have to surrender your guns to a licensed dealer for the duration of the n0-gun period, or you have to sell them. You’ll retain the right to petition the court for restoration of your gun rights, although further restrictions may be attached to them.

And tough laws for any crimes committed with guns? Yep, as well as laws for negligence, brandishing, and general stupidity. (For the latter I prefer those huge-ass fines, largely because I think we already lock up too many people, but short jail, as opposed to prison, terms might be warranted.)

States and localities will retain the right to impose further restrictions on ownership, and while I think concealed-carry laws are a menace, I don’t know that there’s any constitutional way for the federal government to override them.

The feds can and should ban certain types of weapons—as they already do with automatic weapons—as well as certain types of bullets. They might also retain the right to impose stricter licensing requirements for various types of weaponry.

Oh, and ban large-capacity magazines—anything over 10 bullets.

Others have mentioned insurance requirements for gun-owners, which some states might wish to implement or at least allow insurers to ask before offering home or life-insurance. Let the insurers add their own (reasonable) licensing requirements. Tax the shit out of bullets.

[Edited to add: And that law Congress passed awhile ago shielding gun manufacturers from lawsuits? Repeal it.]

The upshot of all of this: Recognize the existence of the [current interpretation of the] Second Amendment which allows for both gun ownership and gun regulation, and go from there. Recognize in law the difference between a bolt-action hunting rifle and a semi-automatic handgun or rifle, and recognize in culture the line between use of guns for one’s own enjoyment and that based on anti-social contempt.

It’s not enough, of course, to stop the gun violence in both our streets and our homes, nor is it enough to stop suicides or, maddeningly and sadly, periodic massacres. I think we’d all be better off if there were fewer guns—especially handguns—in this country, and I’m offended by arguments that we can’t live with one another without guns.

But I also believe if things are to get better—if we’re to kill fewer of us—we need to start where we are, and where we are is in a gun-laden and gun-positive place. We need to start treating guns as dangerous tools, and maybe, just maybe, down the line that’s all they’ll be.

Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll want fewer of them.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,298 other followers