Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sugar, Corn, and Ethanol

Justin Rohrlich has written a great article on the state of corn and ethanol production in the United States. This ties in perfectly with my recent criticisms regarding our nation's food/farm policies, crony capitalism, and government intervention in the free market.

The thesis of the article is that companies such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) have bought off the government and received great financial rewards. Rohrlich cites a Cato Institute study that determined that "At least 43% of ADM's annual profits are from products heavily subsidized or protected by the American government. Moreover, every $1 of profits earned by ADM's corn sweetener operation costs consumers $10."

This is the heart of crony capitalism--protectionist tariffs that have consequences, unintended or not. The consequences of protectionist tariffs on sugar have led to the increased usage of high fructose corn syrup and the use of corn-based ethanol. Both of these are driving factors in the continued overproduction of corn. This in turn perpetuates the cycle--again leading to the profitability of confined animal feedlots supplying poor meats to the American diet, the ubiquity of high-fructose corn syrup leading to a diabetes epidemic, while taxpayers foot the bill, largely unaware that their cheap commodities are in fact considerably more expensive then they realize.

The CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, Dwayne Andreas knows that ours is not a free market. He very clearly denied it. Rohrlich writes, "ADM's CEO, Andreas, doesn't seem to view our capitalist society through the same lens as most others. In one interview, he said, "There isn't one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians. People who are not in the Midwest do not understand that this is a socialist country."

I've been saying the same thing for a while now too.

But Rohrlich's primary interest in the article is why Brazil is able to make ethanol a viable alternative to imported oil, while America is unable to. He argues that the government's corn subsidy led to the sugar tariff, which led to more cheap corn and corn-based ethanol, which then led to the tariff on sugar cane ethanol. It is an interesting analysis.

This is clearly a great evil being perpetrated. Were market forces allowed to operate without government manipulation, our nation would be a very different place. But of course, we get what we deserve, and our government has derived its power from the consent of the governed, so again, we deserve it all, but I suspect the tide is turning.

Oh, and as further evidence for the corruption of conservative politicians, the sugar tariff was given to us by none other than Ronald Reagan. Rohrlich writes, "Perhaps this is why a statue of Ronald Reagan stands at ADM headquarters. It is a token of appreciation from one free marketeer to another for promoting what is, essentially, a socialist policy."

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Thoughts on Ellul and Romans 13

I found a good paper online on the ideas of Jacques Ellul and Rene Girard, whom I will be reading soon. The paper is entitled Violence, Anarchy and Scripture: Jacques Ellul and René Girard. I have updated my post Christians and Violence, Part III with some thoughts, and here are some more from the paper by Mattew Pattillo:

Paul does not suggest that the community of faith will or should seek to overthrow secular government, or that the Kingdom of God will either suddenly or by steady advance appear as
the inevitable progression of earthly affairs. His imagery in the letter to the Romans suggests instead the Christ-believers as a remnant, a minority whose encounter with the political order will inevitably produce results in "the way of the cross." These seven verses in Romans have become the text on secular power and the conduct of Christianity toward it, in spite of the overwhelming witness of the Biblical record against political power. It is unsettling to speculate on the sociological and psychological reasons that lead exegetes to value a few verses more highly than the vast collection of contradictory passages, and allow one brief passage to neutralize the entire thrust of the Scriptures on this matter. In light of our arguments in this essay, the traditional interpretation of the passage results from internalization of the violent order of the state and a secret reflection and validation of secular power. Christian statism is correlative to the "sacrificial reading" of the Gospels. Although they never advocate a fugitive or criminal practice toward the state, both Jesus and Paul consider the state to be neither legitimate nor divinely constituted. Paul was arrested, tried, and executed by the same court system that condemned and crucified Jesus. Their witness attests that the exigencies of secular power are to be suffered rather than sanctioned.

I don't necessarily endorse this position yet, as it fundamentally opposes the primary Christian tradition. But the argument is compelling and I have not yet found a convincing counter argument.

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Of Gardens and Cities

I have been enjoying Peter Leithart's writings at Credenda|Agenda, as you can probably tell, since I've linked to several of them recently. Here is another.

Those of you interested in my posts on Wendell Berry, Jacques Ellul, agrarianism, and so on will enjoy this article.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Edible Food-like Substances

Here is a very good video on Michael Pollan and his latest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. The video is from Nightline, and is a very good discussion and summary of Pollan's thesis concerning the modern western diet. I have the book sitting on my shelf at home, and intend to read it in the next week or so. I may post a review of it.

Michael Pollan - Nightline from Taylor Brooks on Vimeo.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Canary in the Coalshaft

Peter Leithart has written a great article on novelist Walker Percy. I commend it to you.

A choice selection:

What roused Percy’s malice most often was the ennui of modern life. In the lead essay in his collection, Message in a Bottle, he explores the paradox of men existing in perfect comfort, every need fulfilled, yet deeply unhappy, violent, and overshadowed by inexplicable malaise. How can that happen?

Trained as a medical doctor, Percy pointed an accusing finger at the scientific worldview. Science claims to explain everything, but cannot account for the peculiarities of individual life. It leaves out what is nearest and most interesting to us; it leaves out life. Pressured by scientism, we live “dyadic” lives, split between individual life and the mechanistic universe outside. We are, as the title of another essay collection has it, “lost in the cosmos.”

The worst of it, though, is that all our comforts keep us from recognizing just how desperate our situation is. Before we can be healed, we need to admit our sickness, and that required shock therapy. Percy tried to provoke a “shock of recognition” in the reader: “That’s me. I’ve felt like that. I’m not the only one.” On the surface, Percy’s novels resemble the existentialist “novels of alienation” from the mid-twentieth century. But that’s just the surface. Percy believed that “novel of alienation” was a contradiction: A novel is a communication, and if there is communication then alienation is already overcome.

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Obama the Bankster

Matt Taibbi writes in Rollingstone concerning Barack Obama's change from progressive candidate to bankster. I commend the piece to you, as it documents Obama's fealty to the looters in Wall Street over the rest of America.

While the health care bill is a monstrosity, we must not lose sight of the looting being overseen by Wall Street, the Treasury Department, and the Fed. These are just as ominous a threat as socialized medicine.

Taibbi concludes, "What's most troubling is that we don't know if Obama has changed, or if the influence of Wall Street is simply a fundamental and ineradicable element of our electoral system. What we do know is that Barack Obama pulled a bait-and-switch on us. If it were any other politician, we wouldn't be surprised. Maybe it's our fault, for thinking he was different."

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The Failure of Conservatism

Doug Wilson has posted another brilliant piece on education, but the best part of the piece is the introduction. He condemns conservatives for conserving progressive institutions--in this case, state universities. Read at least what is below, though I recommend reading the entire post:

The perennial temptation of ersatz conservatives is to tell the progressives that what they are proposing cannot possibly work, and that if implemented it will ruin us all. And then, when the progressives (so called because they are progressing toward the Abyss) succeed in driving their proposals through, conservatives line up for the next election cycle with their proposals on how to make this whole thing work. I think that the psychologists call this co-dependence.

This means, to take one example, that we ought not to trust any ostensible conservative in a post-health-care-reform election who does not promise to labor night and day to repeal (not "fix") the whole thing. To reapply Mark Twain's comment about Jane Austen, putting it to a more edifying use, conservatives need to promise that the body of this reform, now peacefully buried in the mausoleum of signed legislation, will be exhumed, and they will all beat it over the head with its own shin bone.

The reason this is necessary is that conservatives, when they are thoughtlessly shaped by precedent, are often just the preserving agent that keeps radicalism alive. Radicals always want to run headlong, and their radicalism is often preserved from utter destruction by the conservatives who tag along behind them, grumbling. Dabney put it this way:

"American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves torwards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards its, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom."

And this kind of pointed statement from our honored past can stir us up -- until we get into the current particulars. The particulars that I want to get into here have to do with the acquiesence of Christian conservatives in the radical system of higher education. We have not yet come to grips with the historical anomaly represented by Behemoth State U or Leviathan State.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ellul on Hippies

Jacques Ellul has a wonderfully insightful comment on hippies in Violence. I commend it to you.

"…there is also a pacifist idealism, and this is especially suspect. I can hardly omit mentioning the hippies in this connection. They, too, have been generous minded. There is, of course, the matter of drugs and sexual freedom, but this has not been the most important thing about the hippies. They have been opposed to society as a whole, and with good reason. They repudiate society because of its conformism, its moral emptiness, its loss of soul. They proclaim Flower Power—perhaps in opposition to Black Power, certainly in opposition to all forms of violence. They predict the end of the West—and they are at least partly right, for the only ideal the West cherishes is economic growth. Their appeal to love, their partial adoption of the thought of Krishna, their repudiation of nationalism in favor of a sense of common humanity and universal understanding, are all laudable. And their appeal to the individual experience his initiative so that he may discover what "his thing" is and help to shape a new nonmoralistic ethic suggests what true ethical Christian might be. All this is truly valid and profoundly serious, however debatable the external aspects of hippiedom may be. We ought to join in their insistence on non-violence as the absolute principle, in their condemnation of all forms of violence.

Unfortunately, all this splendid elan seems doomed from the start, because the hippies have no understanding of what their real place in society is. What I censure in them is not their vice or their contentiousness, but their complete lack of realism. (Of course, as we all know, they will say that they do not want to be realists, for to be so would mean acquiescing in the very things they reject in our rationalistic civilization.) They do not know that the reality of this society—a violent society, devoted to technology and to production—consumption—is the basis of their own existence. They are a supplement to this same society—the flower on its hat, its song, its garland, its firework display, its champagne cork. They reject and indict it—so they think. In reality, they are only the product of its luxuriousness. They cannot exist materially unless this society functions fully. For insofar as they work little or not at all, ye consume a not inconsiderable amount of goods (even if they refuse to use machines), they are an unproductive load on that society. Only a society that has reached a certain level of production and consumption can support a few of its members in idleness. The hippies are in fact a product of the luxury that a highly productive society can afford. Obviously, the hippie movement could not exist in a poorer society or in one experiencing a period of limited growth, simply because, in such societies, all the young people would be regimented and forced to work hard or perhaps they would starve to death. But if they live in a rich society, they depend in fact on the existence of those economic mechanisms, technical rigors, and open or hidden violences that form the warp of that society. Were it not for that society's morality of high returns, exploitation, competition, and "progress" (though "progress," the hippies rightly object, is a misnomer), they simply could not exist.

Yet, on the other hand, the hippies seem to be the answer to a deep need experienced by that same society. Such a society is subject to boredom. Unconsciously, it senses its own lack of youth and enjoyment. Gloomy, dull, and joyless, it thinks of itself neither as representing the utmost in good living nor as a paradise. It is always on the prowl, trying to discover what it is that is wanting. Such a society provides leisure and distractions, but these are not enough; you have to know how to use them! The members of such a society provide leisure and distractions, but these are not enough; you have to known how to use them! The members of such a society are not happy, do not feel that they are free or better than others. They need a supplement (in addition to what they have, of course!); and suddenly, there is the hippie, the perfect answer to their need. Need finds a way. The hippies introduce color, youth, pleasure. To be sure, they are a bit shocking, but a society held together by boredom is more or less proof against shock. The important point in all this is that the hippie phenomenon, far from attacking this society, meets its need, gives it what it lacked, what it must have if it is to remain what it is. For the hippies bring the complement of joy to this rationalized, producing society, and so it can go on to even better developments. The hippies mistake is that they think they are outside that society, when in fact they are its origin and its product." (pages 119-121)

Christians and Violence, Part V

Ellul elaborates upon the spiritual struggle and its means:

"We are to wage the warfare of faith, our only weapons those Paul speaks of: prayer, the Word of God, the justice of God, the zeal with which the gospel of peace endows us, the sword of the Spirit … And if we think this is easy, it is because we know nothing about life in Christ, because we are so sunk in our materialistic culture that we have quite forgotten the meaning of God's work in us, quite forgotten what we are called to in the world. For to wield Paul's weapons is certainly not to live a smug, eventless life. The fight of faith demands sacrificing one's life, success, money, time, and desires… The fight of aith is perfectly peaceable, for it is fought by applying the Lord's commandments. Humanly speaking, to fight thus is to fight nakedly and weakly, but it is precisely by fighting so that we strip bare and destroy the powers we are called to contend against. It is not by sequestering ourselves in our churches to say little prayers that we fight, but by changing human lives. And it is truly a fight—not only against our own passions and interests and desires, but against a power that can be changed only by means which are the opposite of its own. Jesus overcame the powers—of the state, the authorities, the rules, the law, etc.—not by being more powerful than they but by surrendering himself even unto death." (pages 165-166)

But this is not an easily accepted paradigm for the world. He writes, "We must note when we speak of the violence of love that this love—affirmed, proclaimed, lived attested by gentle signs—is a force that can cause great perturbation. I said above that the struggle against the powers is a secret and sometimes an invisible struggle; well, love is its visible form. Just apply the love Paul revealed to us, just try to obey the simple commandment "Thou shalt not kill," and you will create such confusion and trouble in the social body that this love becomes unacceptable." (page 167)

Ellul gives us three conditions for using spiritual violence. "First, it must reject all human means of winning a victory or registering effects." Second, "Spiritual violence and the violence of love totally exclude physical or psychological violence. Here the violence is that of the intervention of the Spirit of God." And third, "If it is true spiritual violence, it is based on earnest faith—faith in the possibility of a miracle, in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, in the coming of the Kingdom through God's action, not ours; faith in all of the promise (for the promise must not be taken apart into bits and pieces, in the manner of the theologians of revolution)." (page 171)

Ellul quotes Paul, saying,

"'Do not let yourself be overcome by evil.' This then is a fight—and not only spiritual, for Paul and the whole Bible are very realistic and see that evil is constantly incarnated. But to be overcome by evil does not mean that he who is overcome is weaker, inferior, beaten, eliminated; no, it means that he is led to play evil's game—to respond by using evil's means, to do evil. That is what it means to be overcome by evil, to respond to violence by violence. Paul bids us overcome evil with good, and this, too, is the imagery of contest. We are not to bend or yield before evil, nor to act like cowards or impotent weaklings: we are to overcome, to surmount evil, to go beyond it, to stand on a terrain that evil cannot reach, use weapons that evil cannot turn back on us, seek a victory that evil can never attain! Choosing different means, seeking another kind of victory, renouncing the marks of victory—this is the only possible way of breaking the chain of violence, of rupturing the circle of fear and hate." (page 173)

He concludes Violence by responding to an anticipated argument, "Will it be said then that the Christians are absent from the world? Curious that "presence in the world" should mean accepting the world's ways, means, objectives; should mean helping hate and evil to proliferate! Christians will be sufficiently and completely present in the world if they suffer with those who suffer, if they seek out with those sufferers the one way of salvation, if they bear witness before God and man to the consequences of injustice and the proclamation of love." (pages 174-175)

This is certainly a radical position, but is not Christianity a radical call? I am not yet wholly convinced of his position, but I find it a very persuasive and look forward to reading his critics.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christians and Violence, Part IV

Ellul chooses to say violence is a singular thing and leave no room for Christian participation in it. Yet he does contrast worldly violence against flesh and blood to "the violence of love" aimed at "the powers." He writes of this, "I remain convinced by Barth's and Cullmann's exegeses of the powers…" Without being familiar with Barth's or Cullmann's exegesis, I imagine he's identifying "the powers" as something along the lines of those in Ephesians 6, "the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

So violence against "flesh and blood" is condemned, but as he writes, "to say that Christianity forbids all violence is not entirely correct. The Old Testament tells of a great many violences, though the greatest care must be used in interpreting these passages." (page 161) He briefly addresses three situations in the Old Testament in a footnote: Deuteronomy 2 and 7, Joshua 6, and I Samuel 15. It is worth reprinting the footnote in full:

"I give three brief examples. (1) The Herem [i.e., The Ban; see Deuteronomy 2 and 7, Joshua 6, I Samuel 15]. Obviously these passages are not to be taken as mandatory laws but as descriptions of an institution connected with a certain culture, whose significance alone concerns us. This is intended to mark the strict separation between the chosen people of God, who is holy, and the people who worship false gods. The atrocious Herem is intended to keep the people from idolatry.

(2) The prophets speak against the rich, but they never incite the poor to take justice into their own hands, to use violence. The prophets always pronounce God's judgment on the rich, they speak the word against the rich, but at the same time they declare that justice is the Lord's and that trust must be placed in him.

(3) Elijah slaughters the prophets of Baal. Three points must be emphasized here. It was not as a political or military leader, but as a prophet, and only after a miracle had been performed (thus in limited situation), that Elijah did his violent deed. He was struggling against the powers, the idols, the false gods, not contending for political justice or some human good. He stood alone, not only against the state but against the people also. He was working against the current. Only later did God reveal to him that some of Israel's people had remained faithful." (page 161)

Ellul views "the material struggle" as the unending cycle of violence—recall that he argues "violence begets violence." It is the spiritual struggle that brings real change. He writes, "People generally join the material struggle out of their own volition, spontaneously. They are able to conduct these political or economic wars, and if need be they will do it by violent means. But the other war can be waged only by Christians, for they have received the revelation not only of God's love but also of the creation's profound reality. Only Christians can contend against the powers that are at the root of the problem. The state would be powerless and unimportant were it not for the something-more-than-itself that resides within it. And to contend against institutions or against the men who serve the institutions (the police, for instance) is useless. It is the heart of the problem that must be attacked. And Christians alone can do that—because the others know nothing about all this, and because only the Christians receive the power of the Holy Spirit and are required by God to do these things." (page 164)

While materialists deal in violence, trusting it to deliver justice, it is only through Christians battling against the powers that will deliver real justice and end the self-perpetual cycle of violence.

Next we'll look at the spiritual struggle more closely.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christians and Violence, Part III

While Ellul has established that Christians must reject the use of violence and not offer justification for it, he leaves much room for the unbelieving, enslaved world to use violence without condemnation—under specific circumstances. Ellul believes Christians may condone violence "when a man is in despair and sees no other way out, or (2) when a hypocritically just and peaceful situation must be exposed for what is in order to end it. But I must emphasize that in these cases, too, violence is of the "order of necessity," therefore contradictory to the Christian life, whose root is freedom." His emphasis on the use of violence as remaining "of the order of necessity" is an important one, that may too easily be dismissed. (page 133-134)

He even calls this use of violence as having its "virtues." Yet he remains firm in the conviction that "the Christian cannot participate in a movement that makes violence and men's anger a factor in its strategy; nor can he credit an ideology that promises to establish a new order through violence." (page 134) So while the Christian may condone the use of violence, with reservations, without participating in it, "the Christian can neither avoid involvement by escape into the realm of spiritual values, nor side by default with the dominating party (as he has done so often in the course of history). Necessarily, in virtue of the Lord's example, in virtue of the order of love, he is on the side of the little people, the poor. His place in the world is there—the only place the way of love leads to." He still cautions Christians, "must be on guard against creating the impression that his presence in the movement gives it a kind of moral guarantee. 'The Christians are on our side' is interpreted as 'God is on our side.'"

If Christians become entangled in violence he can "only admit humbly that he could not do otherwise, that he took the easy way and yielded to necessity and the pressures of the world. That is why the Christian, even when he permits himself to use violence in what he considers the best of causes, cannot either feel or say that he is justified; he can only confess that he is a sinner, submit to God's judgment, and hope for God's grace or forgiveness."

There is no room in Ellul's judgment for violence in the Christian life. This is an issue that may not be compromised. It is a tough, firm, and respectable position that is compelling. It also requires a different interpretation of Romans 13 than the modern church gives us. Ellul only briefly mentions Romans 13 in the beginning of the book, stating, "We shall not here take up the innumberable exegeses of Romans 13 and parallel texts. The important thing is to understand that such passages and exegeses predisposed the Christians to accept the political power as more or less valid. On the practical level, however, they saw that the state always threatened to become a persecuting state, and they saw also that it used violence against its enemies, internal or external." (page 2)

Violence is only one hundred and seventy-five pages long, so its scope is necessarily limited. So strangely, as it may seem, he does not return to the passage, nor does he discuss Genesis 9. These are two large shortcomings of the book, in my opinion, as they warrant his attention.

I meant to end the review with this part, but I will return to spiritual violence—"the violence of love" next.

Update 12/18/09: I found a paper online entitled Violence, Anarchy and Scripture: Jacques Ellul and Rene Girard, written by Matthew Pattillo, that summarizes Ellul's interpretation of Romans 13. He writes:

"Ellul agrees that the verses do come from Paul, but must be properly contextualized both within the epistle and within Paul's other writings. The discussion prior to Romans 13 concerns loving and being at peace with others, both friend and enemy. The last verse of chapter twelve (Rm 12:21), "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good," leads into the discussion of political power, which is an evil that must be endured. Paul is far from advocating revolution or violent resistance, counseling submission instead. If we owe taxes, we pay them, nothing more. We recognize that these exousia, or powers are ultimately subject to God alone, but we know, too, that as Christians we have been called to struggle against these exousia (Eph 6:12). While these powers are already defeated by Christ, for the time being we experience and admit their necessity, but never their legitimacy."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christians and Violence, Part II

Jacques Ellul's argument concerning violence is built around "the conclusion that violence is natural and normal to man and society." As he writes, those who "that what is natural is good and what is necessary is legitimate" make a "great mistake of thinking." This seems paradoxical at first, but as Ellul points out, "What Christ does for us is above all to make us free." He argues, "to have true freedom is to escape necessity or, rather, to be free to struggle against necessity."

Ellul then explains further, arguing that through the fall, "necessity becomes part of the order of nature--not of nature as God wished it to be, but of nature henceforth made for death." It is worth quoting Ellul further here. He writes:

"Necessary is definable as what man does because he cannot do otherwise. But when God reveals himself, necessity ceases to be destiny or even inevitability. In the Old Testament, man shatters the necessity of eating by fasting, the necessity of toil by keeping the Sabbath; and when he fasts or keeps the Sabbath he recovers his real freedom, because he has been found again by the God who re-established communion with him. The institution of the order of Levites likewise shatters the normal institutional order of worship, duty, provision for the future, etc. And this freedom is fully accomplished by and through Jesus Christ. For Christ, even death ceases to be a necessity: 'I give my life for my sheep; it is not taken from me, I give it.'"

"And so far as we understand that the whole of Christ's work is a work of liberation--of our liberation from sin, death, concupiscence, fatality (and from ourselves)--we shall see that violence is not simply an ethical option for us to take or leave. Either we accept the order of necessity, acquiesce in and obey it--and this has nothing at all to do with the work of God or obedience to God, however serious and compelling the reasons that move us--or else we accept the order of Christ; but then we must reject violence root and branch.

For the role of the Christian in society, in the midst of men, is to shatter fatalities and necessities. And he cannot fulfill this role by using violent means, simply because violence is of the order of necessity. To use violence is to be of the world. Every time the disciples wanted to use any kind of violence they came up against Christ's veto (the episode of the fire pouring from heaven on the cities that rejected Christ, the parable of the tares and the wheat, Peter's sword, etc.). This way of posing the problem is more radical than that implicit in the usual juxtaposition of violence and love.

But now it must be evident why we had to begin by declaring the reality of violence, explaining that it is totally of the world, and showing in what ways it is a necessity. For the Christian, if he is to oppose violence, must recognize its full dimensions and its great importance. The better we understand that violence is necessary, indispensable, inevitable, the better shall we be able to reject and oppose it. If we are free in Jesus Christ, we shall reject violence precisely because violence is necessary! We must say No to violence not inasmuch as it it is a necessity and not only because it is violence. And, mind, this means all kinds of violence: psychological manipulation, doctrinal terrorism, economic imperialism, the venomous warfare of free competition, as well as torture, guerrilla movements, police action." (pages 129-130)

I apologize for the lengthy quote, but this is the crux of Ellul's argument and is necessary for a proper understand his position regarding violence. Ellul clearly does not see violence as redemptive or serving any purpose beyond evil. Though Ellul argues there is only one kind of violence, he does make a distinction of the violence already described and "the violence of love" or "spiritual violence" as he calls it. We'll look at that next.

Christians and Violence, Part I

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Christians and Violence, Part I

Jacques Ellul presents a complex case for Christians to "struggle against violence." Throughout the book he interacts with other Christian thinkers on the nature of violence and whether or not it may be justified for the Christian to either partake in or condone violence. One has the sense throughout the book that he opposes violence, but it is not until late in the book that he establishes a clear position and argues against it.

Ellul gives a glimpse of his view half way through the book. He writes,"...violence is of the order of Necessity. I do not say violence is a necessity, but rather that a man (or a group) subject to the order of Necessity follows the given trends, be these emotional, structural, sociological, or economic. He ceases to be an independent, initiating agent; he is part of a system in which nothing has weight or meaning; and (this is important) so far as he obeys these inescapable compulsions he is no longer a moral being." (page 91)

He describes the nature of violence: "Violence is hubris, fury, madness. There are no such things as major and minor violence. Violence is a single thing, and it is always the same. In this respect, too, Jesus saw the reality. He declared that there is no difference between murdering a fellow man and being angry with him or insulting him (Matthew 5:21-22). This passage is no "evangelical counsel for the converted"; it is, purely and simply, a description of the nature of violence." (page 99)

Ellul uses the words of Jesus to demonstrate his "second law of violence"—"reciprocity." He of course refers to Matthew 26:52, "…For all who take the sword will perish by the sword." He writes, "Let me stress two points in connection with this passage. There is the insistence on "all." There is no distinction between a good and a bad use of the sword. The sheer fact of using the sword entails the result. The law of the sword is a total law. Then, Jesus is in no sense making a moral valuation or announcing a divine intervention or coming judgment; he simply describes the reality of what is happening. He states one of the laws of violence. Violence creates violence, begets and procreates violence." (page 95)

With this law of reciprocity, it is of course natural that, "...once we consent to use violence ourselves, we have to consent to adversary's using it, too. We cannot demand to receive treatment different from that we mete out. We must understand that our own violence necessarily justifies the enemy's, and we cannot object to his violence." (page 99)

"Violence begets violence--nothing else... Violence is par excellence the method of falsehood. 'We have in view admirable ends and objectives. Unfortunately, to attain them we have to use a bit of violence. But once we are the government, you will see how society develops, how the living standard rises and cultural values improve. If we revolutionaries are only allowed to use a little violence (you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs), you'll see the reign of justice, liberty, and equality.' That kind of thing is repeated again and again, and it sounds logical enough. But it is a lie. I am not making a moral judgment here, but a factual experimental judgment based on experience. Whenever a violent movement has seized power, it has made violence the law of power. The only thing that has changed is the person who exercises violence." (pages 100-101)

Next, we'll look at the foundation for his argument.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Don't Trust National Review

For many years I read National Review regularly, trusting their positions, beliefs, arguments, and judgment. The first several years of this blog will testify to this statement. However, as I have previously written, I have abandoned the conservatism of National Review and Rush Limbaugh.

I only rarely go to the National Review website, but I was recently directed there via to read an editorial regarding Ben Bernanke's reappointment. I once towed the party line on the Fed, implicitly trusting the Federal Reserve's judgment and role in monetary policy. But I have since recognized the faulty logic employed by conservatives who support the Federal Reserve's legitimacy. The Federal Reserve is not a free-market institution, but rather a governmental agency given monopoly power over money creation and lending. The notion of a central bank is repugnant to those who truly understand and articulate free-market economics.

I've written extensively concerning the role of the Federal Reserve, and anyone who takes time to understand what the Federal Reserve has done since its inception, and particularly in the last decade will recognize the Fed is the problem and could not possibly be part of the solution to this nation's problems.

Yet National Review continues to tow the statist line concerning the important role the Fed plays. It defends the bank bailout, praised Bernanke's "voice of moderation in a Washington establishment disinclined to hear it," and stresses the Fed's necessary role in preserving the dollar's preeminence. But it doesn't end there--it has the temerity to condemn Ron Paul's efforts to bring transparency to the most clandestine of government operations--the Federal Reserve.

National Review represents elitist New York and D.C. establishmentarianism at its corporatist best. National Review, despite their claims to the contrary, believes that government, not the free market knows best. This belief alone, discredits National Review's credentials as the torch bearer of freedom and capitalism.

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Raw Milk, Part IV

Early in The Untold Story of Milk, Ron Schmid recounts the history of milk in America. He does so at great length, though I'll summarize the history. Milk and its byproducts proved to be critical to the growth, health, and advancement of the United States. It became a stabilizing force in colonial America, otherwise largely bereft of the nutrition required to sustain large populations. At the time, cows were pasture fed and kept by many families—even in cities.

The growth of cities and the rise of alcohol distilleries brought cattle into confined dairies eating the leftovers of alcohol production called swill. These swill dairies were known for sick cows in unhealthy environments. Outbreaks of disease were rampant in these dairies. Up to half of the youth in cities died as a result of food pathogens found in milk and other foods. The conditions became increasingly known and rather than moving back to feeding cows on grass, pasteurization became the solution to the crisis.

Pasteurization largely solved the problems of bacteria in milk, and many called for mandatory pasteurization of milk, even for raw milk known to be produced under sanitary conditions on grass. Milk became politicized, and large dairies pushed toward homogenization, which would allow them to make a uniform glass of milk, without the cream rising to the top. The cream would then be used more profitably for ice cream. Market forces in league with government pushed ever closer to mandatory pasteurization, as we now see in most of America. Raw milk became marginalized and maligned.

As Schmid writes, "Modern, bastardized versions of these foods [raw milk, butter, and cheese] do not provide the health-building properties of the dairy foods consumed in Loetschental Valley. Homogenized, pasteurized milk from confinement animals, and butter, cheese, and yogurts made from such milk, may look the same and carry the same name, but the assumption that they are the same as milk products from the Loetschental Valley constitutes an insidious deception perpetrated on the consumer of industrialized food." (Schmid, p. 145-156)

The government holds the line that pasteurized milk products are nutritionally identical to unpasteurized milk products, but repeated studies and stories refute this belief. The politics of milk are deeply engrained in society. The belief that animal fats are responsible for the epidemic of heart disease and obesity is a lie, according to those that argue for the need to reintegrate raw milk and its byproducts into our diet. The evidence in the book is compelling. The logic of the argument is also compelling, as heart disease was largely unknown prior to the early twentieth century. (Schmid, p. 183) The obvious well known epidemic of heart disease is a new phenomenon, something that is difficult for the modern mind to comprehend. The diseases and plagues of yesteryear have been replaced with new ones. Were we to retain the benefits of better sanitation and return to more primitive diets, we may well find the fountain of youth, so to speak. We may find that we are able to live fuller, healthier lives, unplagued by the neuroses of BMI indexes, fad diets, and exercise regimens.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Quotes from Jacques Ellul's "Violence"

I began reading Jacques Ellul's book Violence today. I encountered a few quotes worth pondering.

Christians and Culture
"What troubles me is not that the opinions of Christians change, nor that their opinions are shaped by the problems of the times; on the contrary, that is good. What troubles me is that Christians conform to the trend of the moment without introducing into it anything specifically Christian. Their convictions are determined by their social milieu, not by faith in the revelation; they lack the uniqueness which ought to be the expression of that faith. Thus theologies become mechanical exercises that justify the positions adopted, and justify them on grounds that are absolutely not Christian." page 28

Ends Justify the Means?
"Here the age-old question of ends and means raises its head again. I shall deal with it later. Now I say only that the act of torturing a human being, though it be intended to advance the noblest of causes, cancels out utterly all intentions and objectives." page 29

"Dancing, fighting, experiencing religious ecstasy, working, eating a steak or owning an automobile--whatever your idea, you will find happiness in realizing it. But--for a thousand reasons I cannot go into here--it is society that expresses, constructs, and proposes conceptions of happiness; and the members of the society participate in them.

Thus in a society like ours it would never be suggested that the poor should be persuaded to seek happiness elsewhere than in consumption of goods. Every inequality of consumption is felt to be a frightful injustice, because consumption is the Number One objective of the social body. Regrettable, perhaps, but we must take things as they are. And Christians, too, accept that objective." page 37

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Raw Milk, Part III

Schmid documents eight enzymes in raw milk, their function, and how they respond to pasteurization.

Lactase – Lactase is a sugar found only in milk and "splits lactose into simple sugars galactose and glucose." Pasteurization inactivates lactase and requires the human digestive system to break down lactose, something many people are unable to do, and are called "lactose intolerant." Schmid writes that many people diagnosed as lactose intolerant can drink raw milk without ill effect because lactase helps them digest the lactose.

Galactase – This is the enzyme that "plays a vital role in the devopment of the nervous system." It too, is inactivated by pasteurization.

Lactoperoxidase – This enzyme is known to "seek out and destroy bad bacteria in milk."

Lactoferrin – This enzyme helps destroy pathogens in milk including tuberculosis and Candida albicans. It also assists in the absorption of iron. It also "strengthens the immune system and supports growth in children." It is "greatly reduced by pasteurization and destroyed by UHT [ultra] pasteurization."

Catalase – This enzyme helps protects cells and is inactivated by pasteurization.

Amylase – This enzyme helps digest starches, but is again, inactivated by pasteurization.

Lipase – This enzyme assists in the digestion of fat—particularly important in children. Pasteurization inactivates it.

Phosphatase – This enzymes role is unclear, but its presence is used as the test of the success or failure of pasteurization.

Raw milk itself, is a wonderfully healthy food, but fermentation seems to enhance the nutritional qualities of milk. Some studies have "described reports indicating that infants fed kefir, a fermented milk beverage from the Caucasus region, retained more calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and fat than infants fed regular milk. Yet another article showed why this is true: the fermentation process renders calcium and phosphorus (and perhaps other nutrients) more available for absorption." (Schmid, p. 348) In addition, "Fermented milk products also have powerful bactericidal properties." This means that bacterial pathogens are destroyed by fermented products such as yogurt.

Raw milk provides great nutritional benefits in both its natural and fermented states. But, pasteurization was introduced for valid reasons, which we'll discuss next.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Raw Milk, Part II

I previously reviewed studies on primitive Eskimo diets consisting of raw and fermented meats and fats. In direct contrast is the case study is of the Swiss of the isolated Loetschental Valley. Schmid writes that, "The completion of an eleven-mile tunnel shortly before Price's visit had made the valley easily accessible for the first time in history. The people lived as their forefathers lived." Price, again a dentist, "examined the teeth of all the children in the valley between the ages of seven and sixteen. Those still eating the primitive diet were nearly free of cavities—on the average, one tooth showing evidence of decay was found for every three children examined. All of the children had naturally straight teeth—there were no dental deformities. Many of the young adults Price examined had experienced a period of tooth decay that suddenly ceased. Of these, all had left the valley prior to this period and had spent a year or two in a more modernized part of Europe. Most had never had a decayed tooth before or since their return to their village. In fact, the teeth of many of those who had returned to the valley showed evidence of remineralization."

Superior teeth were not the only added benefit for the people of the Loetschental Valley. At the time of Price's visit to the valley, people of Switzerland were dying of tuberculosis more than any other disease. Yet in the valley, there was no evidence of TB, or any record of people having died from it "during the recorded history of the valley." (Schmid, p. 144)

Price was naturally curious about the people's diet and analyzed the foods they ate, specifically the cheese and butter. He found that they were "far higher in minerals and vitamins, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and Activator X [now believed to be Vitamin K2] than samples of commercial dairy products from the rest of Europe and North America.

The west's preference for dairy over raw and fermented meats finds a great exemplar in the Swiss of the Loetschental Valley. We like to drink milk, eat yogurt and cheese. Consuming these in their raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized forms provides many of the nutrients and enzymes missing from our modern diet. Next, I will review some of the nutrients found in these foods that we're missing.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Raw Milk, Part I

I have almost finished reading Ron Schmid's book The Untold Story of Milk: The History, Politics and Scienceof Nature's Perfect Food: Raw Milk From Pasture-Fed Cows. The story is much bigger and much more important than I'd anticipated. The foundations of the modern raw milk movement have their beginning in the dawn of the industrialization of agriculture. This is an important concept, as I will come back to frequently. The health benefits found in raw milk are not exclusive to raw milk, but are vital to the health and wellness of peoples around the globe that do not consume dairy products. Again, this is an important concept that is the thrust of the raw milk movement.

Schmid goes to great length to document the countless cultures around the world that consume, or once consumed native, non-western diets. One of the most interesting case studies are the Eskimos. The Eskimos were studied by Weston Price in the 1930s, a dentist studying the dietary effects upon teeth and facial structure. Price found the Eskimos to have "virtually no decayed teeth, and no evidence of chronic disease." (Schmid, p. 111) Schmid also writes that "the physician for the Macmillan Arctic Expedition reported… that the carnivorous Greenland Eskimos showed no tendency toward heart or kidney disease, scurvy or rickets." (Schmid, p. 111) This same physician documented the Eskimo diet consisting of "meat of whale, caribou, musk ox, Arctic hare, fox, ptarmigan, walrus, seal, polar bear, sea gulls, geese, duck, auks and fish, all often (but not always) eaten raw and fermented." (Schmid, p. 111) The typical Eskimo diet consists of twenty-percent of calories coming from protein and the other eighty-percent from fat. (Schmid, p. 115) He adds, "But he found that the Labrador Eskimos had adopted the white man's ways, overcooking their meat and eating various prepared, dried, and canned foods; they were very much subject to the aforementioned problems."

Dr. Rabinowitch, a Canadian doctor, also studied the Eskimos and their diet. He found, "There were no signs of any heart disease except an apical murmur in one case. All of the tonsils had healthy pink surfaces and no pus was found upon pressure. No case of cancer or diabetes was seen." (Schmid, P. 115)

Schmid believes the Eskimo diet demonstrates the necessity of including foods rich in enzymes from raw and fermented foods for living a long, healthy life, free from chronic disease. He argues that those cultures that do not eat dairy find the same type of enzymes and nutrients in other sources, such as the Eskimos and their raw diet. Schmid writes, "the primitive Eskimo diet of meat and fish, rich in fat-soluble vitamins and enzymes, much of it eaten in raw and fermented state, produces splendidly healthy people. These reports prove the vital nature of enzymes and fat-soluble vitamins supplied in the traditional western diet by raw whole milk, butter, cream, and cheese. Most westerners would prefer to consume their raw animal food as raw milk and raw milk products rather than raw meat and fish, and obtain their fat-soluble vitamins from butter rather than organ meats. This western food preference makes access to raw, unprocessed dairy products a necessity if we are to reverse the tide of chronic disease that has engulfed our culture." (Schmid, p. 115)

More to come…

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Cost of War

Here is a quick video explaining how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are going to cost $3 trillion dollars. One is of course, required to ask the questions, "Was it worth the cost? Could it ever be worth the cost?"

The obvious answer is, "Of course not." Yet we're increasing the bet by increasing our presence in Afghanistan. We should not be surprised that the same government that can't operate the Post Office has difficulty managing two other countries besides its own.

HT: Mish

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Glory of War

I'm nearly finished with We Who Dared Say No To War. I just read Lew Rockwell's essay "The Glories of War." You may read it online here.

Here is a brief excerpt:

"War is the devil's sacrament. It promises to bind us not with God but with the nation state. It grants not life but death. It provides not liberty but slavery. It lives not on truth but on lies, and these lies are themselves said to be worthy of defense. It exalts evil and puts down the good. It is promiscuous in encouraging an orgy of sin, not self-restraint and thought. It is irrational and bloody and vicious and appalling. And it claims to be the highest achievement of man.

It is worse than mass insanity. It is mass wallowing in evil."

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Politics and the Christian

Here's another brilliant piece by Doug Wilson on politics.

Read it.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Globate Climate Change Fraud

The University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit was recently hacked and data has leaked onto the internet demonstrating intentional data manipulation to demonstrate the validity of global climate change. Mish and The Market Ticker have done some good summary work on the topic.

This should come as no surprise, as many were already anticipating this type of fraud, but what is so amazing to me, is the collaborative effort by so many to defraud the world.

Read Mish's take on the hacked data and further musings of his here. Also read Market Ticker on it.

Mish linked to this video interview of Tim Bell, a climate change skeptic, who anticipated this kind of fraud.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

One of My Patented Rants

This was originally an email, and I've revised it slightly to fit the context of a blog entry. I decided this might be a benefit to others beyond the intended recipient. I invite criticism and questions on it.
I have been a skeptic of the organic food movement for as long as I've been aware of it, and am only now recently beginning to understand the dramatic shift that our food system has undergone in the past fifty years. My thinking on these matters is still not wholly formed, as I have not come to solid conclusions on many things yet.

But, what I am beginning to learn, that what may look crazy by the majority of people, may in fact be completely sane. Not only that, but it may also be likely that the 'sane majority' may actually be the crazy ones. I mean this quite honestly, I'm not just being cute. The older I get, the more I read, and the more I observe reality, the more apparent it becomes that what most people accept as the real world is really a construct of how those in power wish things to be. I'll grant you that this sounds conspiratorial and perhaps a bit looney, but hear me out.

Think about how companies try to get your money--our money. Think about something as simple as a cake mix. Betty Crocker wants you to buy their cake mix rather than buy flour, sugar, and whatever else separately to make a homemade cake. Stouffer's and countless other companies want you to buy prepared frozen meals rather than make your own meals. I'm not even merely picking on just food companies here. Ours is a consumerist culture where value is only derived and the GDP only goes up when money changes hands--particularly when it is recorded for tax purposes. Wall Street and Washington want America and the world to perceive the American economy as strong and robust. To accomplish this, money must be spent and recorded to be included in statistics that in turn will generate confidence in the stock market and thereby the economy as a whole.

I talked to one of my aunt's a while ago about how her family lived prior to the '60s. It is an interesting story to hear. For the longest time family farmer's like my dad's family lived by and large without cash and without municipal trash service. Family's were self-sufficient, and could barter for those things they couldn't provide for themselves. They bought few things with actual money--something that began to change in the '60s. What changed? I'm not entirely sure, but clearly the consumerist culture began to accelerate and make it increasingly difficult for families to live without money.

Society no longer rewards self-sufficiency, it in fact punishes it quite severely. Taxes and regulations continue to push it to the margins of our society because such people bring little value to what society desires--money, wealth, GDP, stock markets, and most importantly taxes. They do not serve the interests of major corporations. They have rejected the industrial and consumerist culture that wants all farms to use huge expensive machinery, that cages animals in inhumane conditions feeding them food that would kill them without antibiotic intervention.

Better health is a byproduct of the world view shift, but it is not the sole reason I've begun to push for change. This is a matter of a spiritual mandate for good stewardship of the earth, its resources, and those resources under my influence.

I believe it is immoral what the industrial farming models are doing to our land, our animals, and our bodies. I believe it is immoral that our government works in collusion with industrial agricultural companies to eliminate small farmers who take stewardship seriously and are working to provide an alternative food system. I believe it is immoral that chickens are kept in cages so crowded that they cannot sit, that their beaks are clipped so it is easier to eat corn mash, that they wallow in their own feces, that they must walk over their dead until they decompose and fall through the caged floor. I believe it is immoral that cows are fed a diet of chicken manure, cow fat, and corn--all which would kill them were vets not kept on staff with antibiotics. I believe it is immoral for pigs to be kept in small cages where they are unable to nurse from their mother and as a result would bite off the tail of the pig in front of them were the tail not cut off at birth to eliminate the issue altogether. I believe it is immoral for farmer's to not rotate their crops and give their field a rest. I believe it is immoral for farmers to so over fertilize their land that it runs off into our streams and rivers polluting them and killing animals and vegetation in its wake. I believe it is immoral for animal feedlots to turn manure into a pollutant rather than compost it and use it as fertilizer. I could probably go on and on given the time and the inclination.

I feel as though blinders have been removed from my eyes and I am only beginning to see the true state of affairs in this world. We let ourselves become blinded to that which we do not want to see. We want comfort, we want ease. We want cheap food, we want to amuse ourselves with things other than the matters of life.

I recently read a book by Wendell Berry called The Unsettling of America which I would suggest reading. It is a remarkable book with insights that few raise and even fewer contemplate. The industrialization of our nation has not been the blessing that most would have you think. Our once agrarian society was marked by community--an interconnectedness that is foreign to most Americans--particularly urban and suburban America. Husbands and wives would work together, in tandem where they lived and with their children. Industrialization fractured this once connected system. Husbands and fathers left the home for most of the day, leaving all domestic matters to the wife and mother. Children became the domain of women alone, surely leading to the feminization of men. Women became justifiably dissatisfied with their seemingly subservient and isolated role. And men became disenchanted with meaningless and unfulfilling drudgery either at the factory or the office.

I'm not yet sure what to do with this argument, as it is difficult for me to refute it. But I definitely sympathize and would like to mend it somehow. I know it wasn't a utopia before, and I don't mean to imply that it was. But life was at least whole. Families were together and wholesome food was the norm, not the exception.

Most people have lost the sense of what real life is. Real life is family working together, preparing food together, eating together, and playing together. There is no shame in any of those things, nor should one be valued over the other. There is a connectedness between all of them. If one is stressed over the other something will be lost.

We moderns want the pleasure without the work. We want the food without the preparation (and cleanup). We should not be surprised that life become dysfunctional when we neglect the work or preparation.

These are the things going through my mind right now, and you're welcome to think about them too. They are important issues that should not be easily dismissed. Don't let your biases dismiss them. Think critically and logically about them. I dismissed them for too long myself and am only beginning to open my mind to these truths. Just because our society tells you something is true, and you want to believe it is true, doesn't mean it is true. Think about how truth was abused and isolated with the Israelites. There was a mere remnant that knew and believed the truth. Think how few are Christians. Truth is not welcome to most. It should not surprise us that truth is hard to find and hard to hold fast to. Think on how the prophets were abused and rejected. Think how Jesus himself was abused and rejected. When you realize these things, you will begin to realize that much of what you believe is false--not merely about food, but about life.

I don't expect, plan, or care to force anyone to believe or do these things I say. The whole problem is that the force of society and government has been brought to bear upon truth to diminish its power. I want to see a fair fight. I want those opposed to these ideas to deal with them with intellectual and spiritual integrity.

I have decided to no longer uncritically accept things as they are. I will no longer compromise principle in favor of expediency. If there is a viable alternative to that opposed to truth and righteousness, I will endeavor to pursue it. I recognize the road will be difficult and will likely result in mocking, but this is the call of the Christian, is it not?

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We Who Dared Say No To War

I just started reading We Who Dared Say No To War, a book of American anti-war writings from 1812 to the present. The book is edited by Tom Woods and Murray Polner. I am enjoying it and have already been very impressed by two particular speeches. The first was by Alexander Campbell, in his "Address on War," given in 1848 in relation to the Mexican-American War, in which the United States gained control of disputed territory in Texas, California, and New Mexico.

The whole speech is excellent, and may be read online. Here is the thrust of his argument:

"(1) The right to take away the life of the murderer does not of itself warrant war, inasmuch as in that case none but the guilty suffer, whereas in war the innocent suffer not only with, but often without, the guilty. The guilty generally make war and the innocent suffer from its consequences.

(2) The right given to the Jews to wage war is not vouchsafed to any other nation, for they were under a theocracy, and were God's sheriff to punish nations; consequently no Christian can argue from the wars of the Jews in justification or in extenuation of the wars of Christendom. The Jews had a Divine precept and authority; no existing nation can produce such a warrant.

(3) The prophecies clearly indicate that the Messiah himself would be "the Prince of Peace," and that under his reign "wars should cease" and "nations study it no more."

(4) The gospel, as first announced by the angels, is a message which results in producing "peace on earth and good will among men."

(5) The precepts of Christianity positively inhibit war - by showing that "wars and fightings come from men's lusts" and evil passions, and by commanding Christians to "follow peace with all men."

(6) The beatitudes of Christ are not pronounced on patriots, heroes, and conquerors but on peacemakers, on whom is conferred the highest rank and title in the universe: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God."

(7) The folly of war is manifest in the following particulars: First. It can never be the criterion of justice of a proof of right. Second. It can never be a satisfactory end of the controversy. Third. Peace is always the result of negotiation, and treaties are its guaranty and pledge.

(8) The wickedness of war is demonstrated in the following particulars:

First. Those who are engaged in killing their brethren, for the most part, have no personal cause of provocation whatever.

Second. They seldom, or never, comprehend the right or the wrong of the war. They, therefore, act without the approbation of conscience.

Third. In all wars the innocent are punished with the guilty.

Fourth. They constrain the soldier to do for the state that which, were he to do it for himself, would, by the law of the state, involve forfeiture of his life.

Fifth. They are the pioneers of all other evils to society, both moral and physical. In the language of Lord Brougham, "Peace, peace, peace! I abominate war as un-Christian. I hold it the greatest of human curses. I deem it to include all others - violence, blood, rapine, fraud, everything that can deform the character, alter the nature, and debase the name of man." Or with Joseph Bonaparte, "War is but organized barbarism - an inheritance of the savage state," With Franklin I, therefore, conclude, "There never was a good war, or a bad peace."

No wonder, then, that for two or three centuries after Christ all Christians refused to bear arms. So depose Justin Martyr, Tatian, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and so forth.

In addition to all these considerations, I further say, were I not a Christian, as a political economist even, I would plead this cause. Apart from the mere claims of humanity, I would urge it on the ground of sound national policy."

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The Limits of Power - Review Part II

In Part I of my review of Andrew Bacevich's book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, I wrote, "America has become a profligate, self-serving nation, bent on bringing its power to bear upon those that will not serve its interests or appetites."

Bacevich continues his criticism of American foreign policy by arguing against the myopic morality tales often cited to cast American military power in its best light. He writes:

"From time to time, although not nearly as frequently as we like to imagine, some of the world's unfortunates managed as a consequence to escape from bondage. The Civil War did, for instance, produce emancipation. Yet to explain the conflagration of 1861-1865 as a response to the plight of enslaved African Americans is to engage at best in an immense oversimplification. Near the end of World War II, GIs did liberate the surviving inmates of Nazi death camps. Yet for those who directed the American war effort of 1941-1945, the fate of European Jews never figured as more than an afterthought.

Crediting the United States with a "great liberating tradition" distorts the past and obscures the actual motive force behind American politics and U.S. foreign policy. It transforms history into a morality tale, thereby providing rationale for dodging serious moral analysis. To insist that the liberation of others has never been more than an ancillary motive is not cynicism; it is a prerequisite of self-understanding. (pages 19-20)

He continues to expose the myth of American Exceptionalism by reviewing the methods employed to expand our borders. He writes:

"How was expansion achieved? On this point the historical record leaves no room for debate: by any means necessary. Depending on the circumstances, the United States relied on diplomacy, hard bargaining, bluster, chicanery, intimidation, or naked coercion. We infiltrated land belonging to our neighbors and then brazenly proclaimed it our own. We harassed, filibustered, and, when the situation called for it, launched full-scale invasions. We engaged in ethnic cleansing. At times, we insisted that treaties be considered sacrosanct. On other occasions, we blithely jettisoned solemn agreements that had outlived their usefulness.

As the methods employed varied, so too did the rationales offered to justify action. We touted our status as God's new Chosen People, erecting a "city upon a hill" destined to illuminate the world. We acted at the behest of providential guidance or responded to the urgings of our "manifest destiny." We declared our obligation to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ or to "uplift little brown brother." With Woodrow Wilson as our tutor, we shouldered our responsibility to "show the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty." Critics who derided these claims as bunkum--the young Abraham Lincoln during the war with Mexico, Mark Twain after the imperial adventures of 1898, Senator Robert La Follette amid "the war to end all wars:--scored points but lost the argument. Periodically revised and refurbished, American exceptionalism (which implied exceptional American prerogatives) only gained greater currency. (pages 20-21)

He summarizes later, "...the defining characteristic of U.S. foreign policy at its most successful has not been idealism, but pragmatism, frequently laced with pragmatism's first cousin, opportunism." (Page 22)

This in essence is the best of the book. He skewers presidents and their advisers throughout the book--including everyone from Kennedy through George W. Bush. He is most hard on Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes as they have been the ones most responsible for the state of affairs in Washington.

This book will surely be distasteful to conservatives who live under the illusion of American Exceptionalism, but it will also serve to disillusion those who believe that Barack Obama will bring meaningful change to Washington. In his conclusion, he anticipates Obama's victory and recognizes that no politician will be able to deliver change because:

"The real aim is to ensure continuity, to keep intact the institutions and arrangements that define present-day Washington. The veterans of past administrations who sign on as campaign advisers are not interested in curbing the bloated powers of the presidency. They want to share in exercising those powers. The retired generals and admirals who line up behind their preferred candidate don't want to dismantle the national security state. They want to preserve and, if possible, expand it. The candidates who decry the influence of money in national politics are among those most skilled at courting the well-heeled to amass millions in campaign contributions." (page 171)

So what to make of all this? Bacevich has his own ideas, and they are good, insofar as they go. But real change must occur within the people of the nation. As Bacevich even testifies, the people are as responsible for the state of affairs as the politicians are. Let us repent and change. That is the only way.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Limits of Power - Review Part I

Last week I linked to Peter Leithart's review of Andrew Bacevich's book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. I just competed the book myself, and will add a few words.

Bacevich is highly critical of contemporary America. In his introduction he writes:

"Realism in this sense implies an obligation to see the world as it actually is, not as we might like it to be. The enemy of realism is hubris, which in Niebuhr's day, and in our own, finds expression in an outsized confidence in the efficacy of American power as an instrument to reshape the global order.

Humility imposes an obligation of a different sort. It summons Americans to see themselves without blinders. The enemy of humility is sanctimony, which gives rise to the conviction that American values and beliefs are universal and that the nation itself serves providentially assigned purposes. This conviction finds expression in a determination to remake the world in what we imagine to be America's image.

In our own day, realism and humility have proven to be in short supply... Hubris and sanctimony have become the paramount expressions of American statecraft." (page 7)

Bacevich sees America as a proud, and aloof nation. We in essence are our own idol, and seek to proselytize the rest of the world. But that is not all.

"The collective capacity of our domestic political economy to satisfy those [self indulgent] appetites has not kept pace with demand. As a result, sustaining our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness at home requires increasingly that Americans look beyond our borders. Whether the issue at hand is oil, credit, or the availability of cheap consumer goods, we expect the world to accommodate the American way of life.

The resulting sense of entitlement has great implications for foreign policy. Simply put, as the American appetite for for freedom has grown, so too has our penchant for empire." (page 8)

He writes more on the profligacy of America in chapter one. He writes:

"If one were to choose a single world to characterize that identity, it would have to be more. For the majority of contemporary Americans, the essence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness centers on a relentless personal quest to acquire, to consume, to indulge, and to shed whatever constraints might interfere with those endeavors." (page 16)

"The ethic of self-gratification threatens the well-being of the United States. It does so not because Americans have lost touch with some mythical Puritan habits of hard work and self-abnegation, but because it saddles us with costly commitments abroad that we are increasingly ill-equipped to sustain while confronting us with dangers to which we have no ready response. As the prerequisites of the American way of life have grown, they have outstripped the means available to satisfy them. Americans of an earlier generation worried about bomber and missile gaps, both of which turned out to be fictitious. The present-day gap between requirements and the means available to satisfy those requirements is neither contrived nor imaginary. It is real and growing. This gap defines the crisis of American profligacy." (page 17)

So at the heart of Bacevich's criticism, America has become a profligate, self-serving nation, bent on bringing its power to bear upon those that will not serve its interests or appetites.

More to come...

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The Meaning of Capital, Part III

We've discussed the importance of capital and its development in the previous two posts--now for a look at our contemporary understanding of capital. Recall that Hernando De Soto wrote the "essential meaning of capital has been lost to history. Capital is now confused with money..." (The Mystery of Capital page 43) De Soto theorizes that this has happened "because modern business expresses the value of capital in terms of money." I agree with this thesis, though I believe that paper money has led to or at least exacerbated this confusion.

Money was once limited by the amount of silver or gold in circulation, and represented capital in a one to one ratio. But through fractional reserve banking, deficit financing, and the central bank's ability to print paper money the true capital represented by money became diluted with money which had no value, and in fact represented debt, not capital.

This co-mingling of money representing capital and money representing debt has led to great confusion over what is capital, and the notion that wealth may be generated by adding money into circulation. But as Herbert Schlossberg has written, this is a wicked impulse, as it attempts "to create value ex nihilo and imitate the creative power of God." (Idols For Destruction page 92)

Recall again De Soto, who writes, "Third World and former communist countries are infamous for inflating their economies with money--while not being able to generate much capital." Let that sink in. We are using Third World tactics to maintain our economy. What does that mean for our future? Again, reflect upon this.

America was once a great manufacturing nation, but over the past twenty years we have moved to a service economy. We have used hedonics and other gimmicks to show GDP growth all the while, our productive capacity is diminishing. The fact that our trade deficit exceeds $30 billion per month is evidence that we are living on capital. Rather than live within our means, we are have chosen to live on credit, delaying the inevitable day of reckoning when all our debts become due.

Again, I must quote Herbert Schlossberg. I've written on this quote before, and will again, as it is imperative that we take to heart this lesson:

"Consuming capital is perhaps the clearest sign that greed has come to dominate our economic life. That is the moral meaning of such phenomena as pollution and the transformation of farming into a mining operation through the depletion of the topsoil and the draining of the underground reservoirs. A decline in wealth ought to mean that consumption diminishes, but a moral failure prevents that from happening. Instead, a way is found to continue consumption at its former levels: living on capital. Thus the capital stock is raided. Roads, bridges, and buildings deteriorate, long-term borrowing finances current consumption, and the individual base falls into obsolescence. Paul McCracken of the University of Michigan calculates that the industrial capital stock is now falling instead of rising at its historic annual rate of 2.5 percent. We have hardly begun to pay for this in unemployment and reduced output. As more capital is destroyed by policies of taxation and inflation, people will remove it from uses that make it vulnerable. Saving will seem increasingly improvident, and more capital will either be consumed or placed into such unproductive forms as precious metals and collectibles. In any case, funds will not be available to build factories, schools, and barns. As the capital stock continues to be consumed, the pauperization process feeds upon itself. People persist in maintaining their standard of living through more capital consumption and currency depreciation. The system eventually collapses." (Idols For Destruction page 281-282)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Food For Thought on Energy

I've linked to the Crash Course by Chris Martenson before, so if you've watched it, this video will not be news to you. In this video, Chris looks at energy in a ten minute presentation that ought to at least give you pause.

What would happen if oil became scarce?

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The Realignment of Currencies

Nathan's Economic Edge posted some videos from a Glenn Beck show where he interviewed Damon Vickers, the Managing Director of Nine Points Capital Partners.

The interview begins around minute 7:00 in the first video. The first six minutes are not news to regular readers of this blog, feel free to skip them. The interview is remarkable, in that Vickers anticipates a realignment of global currencies. His argument, in essence is that America is unable to compete in the manufacturing sector. Countries like Bangladesh can pay their employees $0.70 or $1.00 per day--of course America cannot compete with that.

Vickers argues that "the dollar is way too high and other currencies are way too low. What you're likely to see is a realignment of currencies. Beck and Vickers continue their discussion and argue that we're "going to live closer to the standard of Mexico than you are of America.

Here are the numbers: Mexican per capita income was $14,200 compared to America at $47,000. What are the implications of such a drop in the standard of living? I'm not certain, but it is frightening to ponder what must happen for this realignment to occur. But consider if this were to happen and our nation's debts must be paid--hyperinflation becomes a not-so-unlikely scenario as our debts must then be repaid in appreciated dollars, which would devastating to the American economy. The temptation would then, of course, be to inflate away.

The first two videos are definitely worth watching, the third is not directly related to the topic, but also worth watching.

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