Friday, April 30, 2010

The Triumph of Emotion Over Reason

"Part of our difficulty in the Christian world of late Western modernity has been that the mind, the faculty of thought and reasoning, has become detached.  As happens if you have a detatched retina in your eye, when your thinking becomes detached you stop seeing things clearly.  "Thought" and "reason" seem to have been placed to one side, in a private world reserved for "intellectuals" and "academics."  (Note, for example, the way in which sports commentators use the word "academic" to mean "irrelevant," as in "from now on the result of this race is academic.")  Furthermore, we often speak of our thoughts as if they were feelings: in a meeting, to be polite, we might say, "I feel that's wrong."  Similarly, perhaps without always realizing it (which itself is a sign of the same problem!), we sometimes allow feelings to ovveride thoughts: "I feel very strongly that we should do this" can carry more rhetorical weight than "I think we should do that," since nobody wants to hurt our feelings.  As a natural next step, we allow feelings to replace thought processes altogether, so that what looks outwardly like a reasoned discussion is actually an exchange of unreasoned emotions, in which all participants claim the high moral ground because when they say, "I feel strongly we should do this," they are telling the truth: they do feel strongly, so they will hurt and "rejected" if people don't agree with them.  Thus reasoned discourse is abandoned in favor of the politics of the playground.

On the day I was drafting this chapter someone wrote to the newspaper I read to express a view about "assisted suicide"--that is, euthanasia.  "That is how I feel about it," he said after stating his opinion,  "and I know a lot of other people feel strongly the same way."  I don't doubt it was true.  But his feelings were irrelevant to the questions of whether the proposal was right or wrong.  Lots of people feel very strongly that we should bomb our enemies, that we should execute serious criminals and castrate rapists, that we should abolish income taxes and let the fittest survive.  Lots of other people feel very strongly that we should do none of these things.  An exchange of feelings may tell us where the pressure points are likely to come, but it won't tell us what is the right thing to do.

Unless a person can give reasons, there is, literally, no reason why anyone else should take that person seriously.  But without reasons, all we are left with is emotional blackmail.  We sometimes call it "moral blackmail," but it has nothing to do with morals, only with the implied juvenile threat of having a tantrum unless everyone else gives in.  As a result, the making of moral decisions has been downgraded to the weighin of quasi-moral feelings and thence into a squadgy morass where, yes, the present age has quietly but firmly squeezed us back into its own shape.  It is as though the new age had not dawned.  That is precisely the point."

N.T. Wright After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, page 155-156

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Apostle Paul and Jet Lag

"The goal, he insists, is already given in Christ.  That's why, from one point of view, the day has already dawned, while from another it's still on the way.  Paul, innocent of the modern phenomenon of jet lag, nevertheless expresses something similar here.  He is like someone taking off just as dawn is breaking and flying rapidly westward, catching up with the end of the night and arriving in the new country in time to experience dawn all over again.  His body and mind know its already daytime, while the world around him is still waiting for the dawn to break.  That is the picture of the Christian, living in the new day of God's kingdom--a kingdom launched by Jesus--while the rest of the world is still turning over in bed.  Paul's vision of Christian virtue, centered here as elsewhere on faith, hope, and love, is all about developing the habits of the daytime heart in a world still full of darkness."

N.T. Wright After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, page 137

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Sanity From a Former President

This is utterly shocking to me, and my nearly twenty-year animus against Bill Clinton is already waning because of this four minute video.  It is actually a sane, insightful analysis of what is wrong with Wall Street and our government.  I realize four minutes of sanity from former President Bill Clinton is miniscule in comparison to his lifetime of being a slickster.  But still, this is good stuff, and I recommend watching it.



Here's a link to the whole video, for those interested.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Food as Metaphor

I realize we're late to the bandwagon on this, but my wife and I finally watched Food, Inc. this past weekend.  For those that haven't heard of it, it is a very trendy movie and is being used by the clean food movement to steer consumers from corporate food to local and organic food.

I've read many books on food in the past year and found little new information in Food, Inc. that I hadn't read prior to the film.  The film is at best an introduction to the topic, or for those that don't want to take time to actually read about food.

The gist of the movie is that with the advent of fast food--particularly McDonald's, our food chain has become highly corporatized with an emphasis on profit over quality.  There are those that will try to make too much of the film, arguing for a diet consisting of entirely organic, local food.  But the reality is that much of what has happened in the past fifty years is good, and necessary to support our population.  The producers of Food, Inc. lay the blame for America's food system largely upon the government, which does little to regulate the industry. The film culminates in an appeal for greater government regulation, but more importantly for consumers to vote with their fork, as they say, "You vote three times a day."

America is in a cultural decline—something I've written about extensively in relation to government, but I believe the nation's food crisis is directly related to the decline of American culture. I do not believe that the growth of the fast food industry is coincidental to the decline of our culture. I don't argue that fast-food has led to cultural decline, but that cultural decline has led to fast-food.

 In a way, the story of humanity is one of counterfeiting. Adam and Eve desired a counterfeit God, yet discovered not only the vacuity of the counterfeit, but the idolatry at the heart of it.
 Deism, Unitarianism, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, and liberal Protestantism delivered a counterfeit gospel. In 1913, the U.S. Treasury began printing counterfeit dollars as a result of the Federal Reserve Act. Film and television brought artifice to the masses. Food has undergone a similar metamorphosis. With the rise of industrial agriculture, our food became counterfeit, having once been packed with flavor and nutrition.

 God endowed man with a desire and ability for dominion over creation. We see this all around us in works of art and marvels of engineering. Yet as a result of the fall, man's labors were cursed with futility and toil. The dominion impulse contends at every juncture with the curse of the fall. To complicate matters, man's impulse to dominion is also skewed toward the usurpation of God's ultimate dominion. We see this in the environmental degradation that results from various technologies, wars, the idolatrous nation-state, and so on.

In other words, men have long tried to make something out of nothing, to make lead into gold, or in the language of our age, to "create markets," without regards to consequences. Kings would "clip" gold or silver coins, debase the coinage by replacing small amounts of gold with copper and silver with tin. Others would use false scales. Farmers and merchants have probably been diluting milk with water as long as people have consumed milk. So we should not be at all surprised that in an age of funny money, government entitlement, artificial entertainment, and faux-intellectualism that our food is not what we're told it is.

 The film Food, Inc. explains at length the contrast between the image food corporations project and advertise and the reality of it. Food labels use words like "fresh," "natural," and "farm" as well as pastoral images of wheat fields, cows in pasture, and foods in whole form which are otherwise unrecognizable inside the package. The food industry projects an image of wholeness and health when the actual ingredients consist of unpronounceable chemicals that owe their creation to professionally trained chemists working in laboratories.
But we can all easily avoid most foods with such ingredients because of product labeling. It is the whole foods themselves that are more difficult to discern. 

A good Chef can certainly tell the difference between a good egg and a bad one—but the average consumer will usually have to trust the product marketing to believe one egg is superior to another. The inputs for an egg may vary dramatically, yet both are labeled "egg." One hen may never see the light of day and eat meat and bone byproducts along with its corn mash. Another may be raised in the sun, eating grubs, worms, bugs, and grains. Common sense tells you one will be healthier than the other.

 Scientists have been able to confirm what our common sense tells us. Differences between the average egg at the grocery store and those that are laid by hens raised naturally are dramatic. Hens given access to pasture and outdoors have one third less cholesterol, one quarter less saturated fat, two-thirds more vitamin A, two-times as much omega-3 fatty acid, seven times more beta-carotene, and three to six times more vitamin D than those eggs from hens living in indoor confinement. To the average, uninformed consumer, the pastured egg is a "rip-off." But to those that want a wholesome egg, the more expensive pastured egg is the "better buy."

There are similar patterns in most every other food. There are reasons that small, family farms are not able to compete against agri-business, and it is not simply a matter of scale. Family farms following traditional practices that simply cost more than industrial farms that cut corners, saving money on the front end, but ultimately deliver an inferior product under the same name.

 The film also exposes the government subsidies behind agri-business which help manage their costs. This is a strength in the film, and a weakness in our society. I firmly believe that we get what we deserve. So if we accept agri-business subsidies as a valid use of taxpayer money, we deserve the inferior egg.

Counterfeit eggs are produced because there is market demand for counterfeit eggs. One may argue that the counterfeiters have created the market, but the market is still to blame for accepting the counterfeit product and not demanding the genuine egg. We accept the counterfeit egg because we've accepted the legitimacy of counterfeiting. We would rather pay less for the counterfeit egg so we can indulge ourselves in other pleasures. We're willing to allow our government to plunder the other half of the tax base so we can have a cheaper egg through farm subsidies, tax breaks, and incentives. These spiritual compromises are only acceptable to the spiritually compromised. 

 This is not to say that it is sinful to buy or eat counterfeit eggs. Saint Paul would take exception to such logic. Again, what is at issue is societal decay and idolatry. The counterfeit eggs are the symptom, not the cause. No matters of eternal consequence will be resolved if we all ate better eggs. Being concerned about the food we eat is a good thing in proper proportion, but the important principle is submission to Christ in all things.
The answer to our food crisis is repentance and faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This may seem like a non sequitor, but I firmly believe that the food crisis facing our nation is directly related to spiritual corruption. Once we submit all of life to the Lordship of Christ, our food crisis will merely be history.

Films like Food, Inc. make the egg the primary principle, ignoring Christ altogether.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Consumer Spending

CNBC has an interesting article on consumer spending and its relationship with mortgage defaults:

Lender Processings Services has released a report stating, "The total number of non-current first-lien mortgages and REO properties is now more than 7.9 million loans."  This number is also still increasing.  CNBC speculates that this money is being spent--just no longer on mortgages. 

The article quotes another website which showed how one family is spending their mortgage payment at "a tanning salon, nail spa, liquor stores, DirecTV bill with premium charges, and $1,700.00 in retail purchases from The Gap, Old Navy, Home Depot, Sears, etc."

Anecdotally, I see this whenever I go shopping (rarely) or out to eat (more frequently).  People are still spending a great deal of money.  I often marvel when I go to a mall at how full it is.  I wonder, "And this is a recession..."  This makes sense though, if people are no longer paying on their mortgage--they are instead paying for entertainment, fashion, and luxury.

This is an interesting phenomenon, and if this is widespread, has serious consequences for our nation's financial future. 







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Monday, April 12, 2010

Magic in Literature, Part II

Many weeks ago I linked to a video conversation between Doug and Nate Wilson concerning magic.  It was an excellent discussion, but I believe the second video is even better:



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Friday, April 09, 2010

C.S. Lewis on Government


The Independent Institute's blog, The Beacon, has a great quote from C.S. Lewis worth sharing.  The quote comes from Lewis' book God in the Dock, which I have yet to read, but as I say, "have added to the list."


The excerpts are taken from The Beacon (a blog worth following):

Two wars necessitated vast curtailments of liberty, and we have grown, though grumblingly, accustomed to our chains. The increasing complexity and precariousness of our economic life have forced Government to take over many spheres of activity once left to choice or chance. Our intellectuals have surrendered first to the slave-philosophy of Hegel, then to Marx, finally to the linguistic analysts. . . . The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good—anyway, to do something to us or to make us something. Hence the new name 'leaders' for those who were once 'rulers'. We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which whole lives are their business.
I write 'they' because it seems childish not to recognize that actual government is and always must be oligarchical. Our effective masters must be more than one and fewer than all. But the oligarchs begin to regard us in a new way. . . .

I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has 'the freeborn mind'. But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticise its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; that's the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone's schoolmaster and employer? Admittedly, when man was untamed, such liberty belonged only to the few. I know. Hence the horrible suspicion that our only choice is between societies with few freemen and societies with none.

Again, the new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge. If we are to be mothered, mother must know best. This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists, till in the end the politicians proper become merely the scientists' puppets. Technocracy is the form to which a planned society must tend. Now I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man's opinion no added value. Let the doctor tell me I shall die unless I do so-and-so; but whether life is worth having on those terms is no more a question for him than for any other man.

Thirdly, I do not like the pretensions of Government—the grounds on which it demands my obedience—to be pitched too high. I don't like the medicine-man's magical pretensions nor the Bourbon's Divine Right. This is not solely because I disbelieve in magic and in Bossuet's Politique. [Jacques Benigne Bossuet, Politique tiree des propres paroles de L'Ecriture-Sainte (Paris, 1709).] I believe in God, but I detest theocracy. For every Government consists of mere men and is, strictly viewed, a makeshift; if it adds to its commands 'Thus saith the Lord', it lies, and lies dangerously.

On just the same ground I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in. In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. They 'cash in'. It has been magic, it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science. Perhaps the real scientists may not think much of the tyrants' 'science'—they didn't think much of Hitler's racial theories or Stalin's biology. But they can be muzzled. . . .
A hungry man thinks about food, not freedom. We must give full weight to the claim that nothing but science, and science globally applied, and therefore unprecedented Government controls, can produce full bellies and medical care for the whole human race: nothing, in short, but a world Welfare State. It is a full admission of these truths which impresses upon me the extreme peril of humanity at present.

We have on the one hand a desperate need; hunger, sickness, and the dread of war. We have, on the other, the conception of something that might meet it: omnicompetent global technocracy. Are not these the ideal opportunity for enslavement? This is how it has entered before; a desperate need (real or apparent) in the one party, a power (real or apparent) to relieve it, in the other. In the ancient world individuals have sold themselves as slaves, in order to eat. So in society. Here is a witch-doctor who can save us from the sorcerers—a war-lord who can save us from the barbarians—a Church that can save us from Hell. Give them what they ask, give ourselves to them bound and blindfold, if only they will! Perhaps the terrible bargain will be made again. We cannot blame men for making it. We can hardly wish them not to. Yet we can hardly bear that they should.

The question about progress has become the question whether we can discover any way of submitting to the worldwide paternalism of a technocracy without losing all personal privacy and independence. Is there any possibility of getting the super Welfare State's honey and avoiding the sting?
Let us make no mistake about the sting. The Swedish sadness is only a foretaste. To live his life in his own way, to call his house his castle, to enjoy the fruits of his own labour, to educate his children as his conscience directs, to save for their prosperity after his death—these are wishes deeply ingrained in civilised man. Their realization is almost as necessary to our virtues as to our happiness. From their total frustration disastrous results both moral and psychological might follow.

All this threatens us even if the form of society which our needs point to should prove an unparalleled success. But is that certain? What assurance have we that our masters will or can keep the promise which induced us to sell ourselves? Let us not be deceived by phrases about 'Man taking charge of his own destiny'. All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of the others. They will be simply men; none perfect; some greedy, cruel and dishonest. The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be. Have we discovered some new reason why, this time, power should not corrupt as it has done before?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Speechless

I've long believe Congress is full of idiots, but I never anticipated this sort of idiocy.  Be careful to note this congressman's fears concerning the island of Guam.

HT:  ABC



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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Forgetting God

I have become fascinated by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn while reading his novel November 1916.  I've commented earlier about the work, and included a quotation from it.  I have been trying to find copies of the last two novels in the Red Wheel series, but it seems they have not yet been translated into English.

While on Solzhenitsyn's Wikipedia page I found this quote that speaks to the simplicity of the human condition.

"Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened."

Edward E. Ericson, Jr., "Solzhenitsyn – Voice from the Gulag," Eternity, October 1985, pp. 23, 24.

Solzhenitsyn's reflections contrast nicely with those of Aldous Huxley:

"It's a little embarrassing to have spent one's entire life pondering the human situation and find oneself in the end with nothing more profound to say than to try to be a little nicer."

Where Huxley came up empty and embarrassed, Solzhenitsyn found the simple truth that without God we are bound to perdition both now and in the world to come.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Baseball!

Today is opening day, as any baseball fan knows.  I am fortunate enough to be able to have tickets for the second home game this season and look forward to going with my brother.  I'm looking forward to my first outdoor baseball experience since my honeymoon, when Naomi and I were able to watch the Red Sox host the Reds in June 2005.

This next outdoor game will also feature the Red Sox, but this time, of course, in the newly opened Target Field.  The Star Tribune has some great material about the new field, which I am confident any Twins fan will enjoy. 

Interactive Guide

Video Tour

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History and Food

 Here's an interesting video about a food historian who makes food based on recipes from hundreds of years ago.  On the menu in this video is bear meat and pancakes.  Check it out:


History Tastes Like Bear Meat In Brooklyn from Brooklyn Ink on Vimeo.


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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Prophetic Literature

Many years ago I purchased a used paperback version of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novel August 1914.  I only read it last year, and enjoyed it and decided to continue reading the series, which consists of August 1914, November 1916, March 1917, and April 1917.  The books concern the fall of Tsarist Russia and the rise of communism.

August 1914 dealt with the first months of World War I, where Russia military obsolescence was exposed by the Germans, who routed the Russian army in the invasion of East Prussia.

November 1916 begins at the front in Romania, but then moves to the home front where Russia is on the brink of collapse.  It is fascinating to see Solzhenitsyn's perspective on a civilization that has turned on itself.  Russia has obviously turned from its Christian roots.  Evidence of moral decay is rampant, the Tsar ineffective, self-indulgent, and inflexible.  His palace has been scandalized by Rasputin and is in constant conflict with democratic movements within his empire.

The people are held hostage by rampant inflation which leads to mass paranoia concerning war profiteers, cost controls, famine, increased bureaucracy leading to terrible corruption and waste.  There are food shortages and capital controls.  There are rumors of revolution, conspiracy, and espionage.

The book is remarkably relevant to modern America.  As I read, I see a society further advanced in decay than our own, but clearly the paths are the same.  I read an article about pornography this morning that further demonstrates the societal decay surrounding us.  We often lose perspective on our own era.  I quoted Ken Myers recently as saying, "we fail to understand the significance of our own situation."  He meant this personally, but the principle may also be extended to the general.  The mundane things of life are so easily dismissed as insignificant, but the widespread availability of pornography, which may be consumed anonymously is a new development in history.  This may appear mundane, but it is a remarkable, and tragic moment in the history of man.

The rise of the homosexual movement is something we've been watching for half a century now.  Many of us, including those born after 1970 have been raised into the era of the gay rights movement.  This too may seem commonplace, or even a mere nuisance.  But this too is a significant moment in history.  It is further evidence of the moral confusion and rampant wickedness found in modern society.  Ours is a culture that has abandoned God--just as pre-revolutionary Russia.  What comes next is not ours to know, but just like Russia in 1916, we deserve whatever we get.  Let us pray for mercy, repentance, and faith!

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The Social Costs of Inflation

I've written many posts on inflation and hyperinflation, but perhaps none of them offer the psychological insight Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn offers in his novel November 1916:

"The soaring cost of living isn't just a matter of high prices--it goes with a particular state of mind, a universal dread.  If things are worse today than yesterday, what will they be like tomorrow?  It's a peculiar feeling of despairing defenseless that comes over you whenever you buy something in the market.  Unmanageable prices throttle you.  Invisible people, enormously rich already, are concealing goods somewhere nearby, behind that stone wall perhaps, and choking every last kopeck out of you!  Outraged, you imagine that these profiteers, these sharks, are encouraged by the government and have the police in their pay.  What other explanation can any ordinary person find for the government's failure to curb these highway robbers?  It's impossible to believe that there's no food to be had in Russia, Russia always has plenty, so why is there none in the shops?  Obviously they're concealing it to fleece the customer.  This and nothing else is what people most resent about the government."

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn November 1916, page 172


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