Thursday, September 30, 2010

Don't Just Cut the Budget!

“If America was better educated before we established a Department of Education than it has been since, why do we continue to have such a department? Reducing agencies’ budgets is unserious. If a job should be done and the agency is doing it, why cut? But if it is not, why not abolish?” The Ruling Class, p. 83
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Arbiters of Wealth and Poverty

“By taxing and parceling out more than a third of what American’s produce, through regulations that reach deep into American life, our Ruling Class is making itself the arbiter of wealth and poverty. While the economic value of anything depends on sellers and buyers agreeing on that value as civil equals in the absence of force, modern government is about nothing if not tampering with civic equality. By endowing some in society with the power to force others to sell cheaper than they would like to, and forcing others yet to buy at higher prices—or even to buy in the first place—modern government makes valuable some things that are not, and devalues others that are. Whatever else government may be, it is inherently a factory of privilege and inequality. Thus, if you are not among the favored guests at the table where officials make detailed lists of who is to receive what at whose expense, you are on the menu. Eventually, pretending forcibly that valueless things have value dilutes the currency’s value for all. But that matters not at all to those at the table.” The Ruling Class, p. 29
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Colonization of the Human Mind

"…representational technologies have colonized our minds. That may be the simplest, deepest way to characterize the whole history of representation. To the extent that our thoughts no longer wander along on their own, stocked only with materials drawn from direct experience, to the extent that they follow flows of representation instead—to just that extent we don’t think our own thoughts. Literally.

There should be no need to reiterate the extent of that extent. And yet, by virtue of a by now familiar dialectic of mediation, the colonization of minds by representation resulted in more self-conscious and autonomous selves."  Mediated, p. 196-197

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Democracy and Secularism

I haven't linked to a Doug Wilson post in a while, so it is time for me to bring him back.  This post is worth reading.

"One of the basic decisions confronting the secularists is whether they give priority to secularism, which is a result, or to democracy, which is a method. Democracy might wind up with a government that is not secular in the slightest, and a secular dictataor might insist on a secular state despite the majority of his citizens wanting it to be some other way. Secularism and democracy are not synonyms.
If they were foundationally democrats, secularists ought not to mind, after 500 years, if an overwhelmingly Christian populace voted in the blue laws again, where ordinary commerce ceased on the Lord's Day. But if they are foundationally secularist, it doesn't matter to them if that is what a society-at-large wants to do. He is still against it. But why?"

Read the whole thing.

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“'Like' still connotes the inadequacy of language in principle and it still operates in a competitive social field, but now—thanks to the queens of middle school—it is performatively integrated with conventions of that media. Adeptly employed (and only the queens can do it just right), “like” acts as a kind of quotation mark in conversations that no longer work discursively, but work more like TV commercials or movie trailers. The word introduces a tiny performance rather than a description, a “clip” displaying a message in highly condensed gestural and intonational form. It all depends on the way language is coupled with the ongoing flicker of imitative visuals, as in this girl’s report or an encounter with an ex-friend:

“She was, like, ‘I’m so happy for you…?” but she didn’t know that, like, I already knew what she said to him….? So I just played it, like, we are the sync sisters…? Because I wanted her to find out later that she, like, had this booger hanging out of her nose the whole time…?”

Each “like” is followed by a fleeting pose, held for just an instant—the whole performance is a string of “takes”—and the ends of key phrases curl up into questions, seeking audience indications that the visuals have been received: a silent and subliminal call-and-response sort of thing, and woe betide the clunky wannabe who can’t follow the nuances, who can’t improvise a version of her own, and make it seem effortless and natural when her turn comes. Among such girls, the interrogatory incantation takes on a tentative tone, a tone that reaches perpetually for reassurance and permission to go on.

Painful to behold.

Life is one long improve, and only the method[-acting]-ready thrive. You gotta keep it real, but you got be good at it too.” Mediated, p. 84-85

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jesus at Lazarus's Tomb

“To me, what Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus sets the world on fire; it becomes a great shout into the morass of the twentieth century. Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus. The One who claims to be God stood before the tomb, and the Greek language makes it very plain that he had two emotions. The first was tears for Lazarus; but the second emotion was blinding anger. He was furious; and he could be furious at the evil of death without being furious with himself as God. This is tremendous in the context of the twentieth century. When I look at evil—the abnormal cruelty which is not the thing as God made it—my reaction should be the same. I am able not only to cry for the evil, but I can be angry at the evil—as long as I am careful that egoism does not enter into my reaction. I have a basis to fight the thing which is abnormal to what God has made.” He Is There and He Is Not Silent, p. 32
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Time Plus Chance?

“Beginning with the impersonal, everything including man, must be explained in terms of the impersonal plus time plus chance. Do not let anyone divert your mind at this point. There are no other factors in the formula, because there are no other factors that exist. If we begin with an impersonal, we cannot then have some form of teleological concept. No one has ever demonstrated how time plus chance, beginning with an impersonal, can produce the needed complexity of the universe, let alone the personality of man. No one has given us a clue to this.” He Is There and He Is Not Silent, p. 9
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Existence and Nothing

“We are considering existence, the fact that something is there. Remember Jean Paul Sartre’s statement that the basic philosophic question is that something is there rather than that nothing is there. The first basic answer is that everything that exists has come out of absolutely nothing. In other words, you begin with nothing. Now, to hold this view, it must be absolutely nothing. It must be what I call nothing nothing. It cannot be nothing something or something nothing. If one is going to accept this answer, it must be nothing nothing, which means that there must be no energy, no mass, no motion, and no personality.

My description of nothing nothing runs like this. Suppose we had a very black blackboard which had never been used. On this blackboard we drew a circle and inside that circle there was everything that was—and there was nothing within the circle. Then we erase the circle. This is nothing nothing. You must not let anybody say that he is giving an answer beginning with nothing and then really begin with something: energy, mass, motion, or personality. That would be something, and something is not nothing.

The truth is I have never heard this argument sustained, for it is unthinkable that all that now is has come out of utter nothing. But theoretically, that is the first possible answer.” He Is There and He Is Not Silent, p.7-8

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Philosophy and Religion

“…philosophy and religion deal with the same basic questions. Christians, and especially evangelical Christians, have tended to forget this. Philosophy and religion do not deal with different questions, though they give different answers and in different terms. The basic questions of both philosophy and religion (and I mean religion here in the wide sense, including Christianity) are the questions of being—that is, what exists; man and his dilemma—that is, morals; and of how man knows. Philosophy deals with these points, but so does religion, including evangelical, orthodox Christianity.” He is There and He is Not Silent, p. 3-4

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Diversity at the Cost of Liberty

"Again, history teaches that multiethnic states are held together either by an authoritarian regime or a dominant ethnocultural core, or they are at risk of disintegration in ethnic conflict.

The Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, artificial nations all, disintegrated when the dictatorship collapsed.

In democracies it is an ethnocultural core that holds the country together. England created a United Kingdom of English, Scots, Welsh, and Irish, with England predominant. Now that Britain is no longer great, the core nations have begun to pull apart, to seek their old independence, as the English have begun to abandon the land they grew up in." Patrick Buchanan, Day or Reckoning pages 184-185

Diversity is Weakness

"Is diversity a strength? In the ideology of modernity, yes. But history teaches otherwise. For how can racial diversity be a strength when racial diversity was behind the bloodiest war in U.S. history and has been the most polarizing issue among us ever since?" Patrick Buchanan, Day or Reckoning page 183

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Democracy is Not Enough

"Democracy is not enough. Democracy is but a wineskin into which may be poured wine or poison. As T.S. Eliot warned, democracy does not contain within itself the requisites for a good or moral society.

The term "democracy," as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces you dislike—it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God), you should pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin.

John Adams expressed a similar sentitment: "Our Constitution was written for a religious and virtuous people; it will serve no other."

Burke anticipated Eliot when he wrote to his constituents in Bristol: "Believe me, it is a great truth, that there never was, for any long time… a mean, sluggish, careless people that ever had a good government of any kind." It is not the system that determines the character of a country, but the character of a people that determines the kind of country it will be. On reading of Sunni insurgents, Shia militias, and Al Qaeda suicide bombers, one recalls Burke's words:

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites… Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

The character of Islamic peoples, formed by their history, beliefs, and faith, has, for centuries, called authoritarians to power. If we dethrone their tyrants, dismantle their states, and disband their armies, when we depart, the character of the people will recreate the institutions we have torn down. Human beings are not clean sheets of paper on which idealistic Wilsonian Man can write his blueprints for a democratic society." Patrick Buchanan, Day or Reckoning, pages 104-105

Ideology as Idolatry

"Ideology is modernity's golden calf. Ideology is our substitute for religious faith. Ideology, wrote Russell Kirk, is "a dogmatic political theory which is an endeavor to substitute secular goals and doctrines for religious goals and doctrines.

The term has come to mean a set of cohesive beliefs about man, society, and the world that gives meaning and purpose to men's lives, directing their actions in the public realm. "Ideology is a guiding vision of future social action," said scholar Michael Novak, for whom the vision was of the worldwide triumph of "democratic capitalism."

Ideologies are created by men of words to explain the world to come, in which their vision will guide society and they will carry the lamps, lead the way, and enjoy the prestige and power of the priestly class to be displaced. For deracinated intellectuals, ideology holds and irresistible attraction, for it both offers a coherent and compelling explanation of how the world works—and satisfies the lust for power. As Raymond Aron wrote in "Opium of the Intellectuals," "When the intellectual feels no longer attached either to the community or the religion of his forbears, he looks to progressive ideology to fill the vacuum."

Dr. Kirk spent his career as a man of letters fighting "the curse of ideological infatuation." In "The Drug of Ideology," he defined what ideology was, and what it was not:

"Ideology" does not mean political theory or principle, even though many journalists and some professors commonly employ the term in that sense. Ideology really means political fanaticism—and, more precisely, the belief that this world of ours can be converted into a Terrestrial Paradise through the operation of positive law and positive planning." Patrick Buchanan, Day or Reckoning pages 55-56

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Death Penalty in a Post-Christian Society

"…in a post-Christian society, the idea of a death penalty is quite abhorrent. A man's greatest possession is not his soul, which does not exist, but his life, which is all he has. In that case the very idea of execution is quite intolerable, even if the alternative is—as it turned out to be–a grave increase in armed crime and the gradual arming of the police force."

The argument between Christianity and liberalism had been quietly lost during the First World War, and particularly in the mud-pits of Passchendaele and the Somme, when men from the educated classes had seen so much death and so little mercy that they had come to hate killing of any sort, and had ceased for ever to believe in the certainties of the world before 1914. In the lingering afterglow of Christian belief, the old guard had been able to preserve some remnants of punishment and retribution. But in general the ruling elite could not justify such cruelties to themselves, and had come to despise the masses for clinging to their belief in the power of the noose. " Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, P. 272

The New Pagans

"Nakedness, explicit portrayals of the sex act, liberal use of swear-words, 'frank' and 'non-judgemental' depictions of drug-taking, homosexuality and prostitution were at first tentative, but quickly became so commonplace that they ceased to count as news. Only a few years before, wondering foreigners such as George Mikes had recounted the repression and restraint of the British, laughing that while other men had mistresses, the British had hot-water bottles, while their wives sheltered from the cold in nightgowns made of tweed. Now the entire country seemed to be obsessed with staring at naked female chests, swearing and making dirty jokes. Like the pagans of old, unaffected by climate, the British were now dancing around a giant phallus. Unlike the pagans theirs was a sterile phallus, disarmed by condoms and pills—the first heathen sexual cult to be based around sterility than fertility." Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, P. 219

The Sentimentalized Pseudo-Event

Our culture is so utterly devoid of meaning and purpose that the pseudo-event has reached primary status.  Ponder for a moment of what events the media deems 'newsworthy.'  Who was eliminated from American Idol, interviews with the winner of Survivor, Paris Hilton being kicked out of Japan, etc., etc.  But the pseudo-event is taken to a new level of importance when it is reincarnated as a remembrance of the pseudo-event.  Here is an example:

Now, I enjoy baseball, and even count myself as a Boston Red Sox fan.  However, professional baseball itself is a pseudo-event, or at least a platform upon which the pseudo-event is enacted.  Morally speaking, the pseudo-event is neutral, as Wiki-pedia states that a family portrait is an example of a pseudo-event.  However, the celebrations, indulgences, and yes, idolatry that surround the pseudo-event are not morally neutral.

The existence of a film that recounts the pseudo-event of a professional baseball playoff series from a mere six years ago is evidence of the utter triviality of that which our culture celebrates.  The sentimentalized pseudo-event is a nihilistic force that attempts to create meaning where there is none, and distract from things of real meaning.  Allowing oneself to participate in such things can lead only to moral atrophy. 

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Humor as Assault

"The new, 'iconoclastic' humour changed the way that the British, especially the middle class, thought about themselves. But people who use the word 'iconoclastic' in a casual, almost approving fashion have little idea of the damage that image-smashers can do, not least because the vandalism, once started, is very hard to stop. It destroyed the national unity created by wartime, and made it impossible for people in serious public life to speak as they had always done, dress as they had always done, and take the sort of holiday the liked. Comedy killed the upper-class accent, the tweed jacket and the grouse moor. It made an entire class too ridiculous to rule. See and hear film or sound recordings of them now, after the laughter has done its work, and you cannot believe that such people took themselves seriously, let alone that they once peacefully governed much of the world and defeated the 'efficient' and 'modern' might of the German Reich." Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, P. 158-159

They Don’t Make ‘em Like They Used To

"Thomas Cranmer and the great translators also consciously built their books to last, just as the architects of church buildings had done, and continued to do. They believed that some ideas lay outside normal time and could therefore be expressed in a way that defied passing fashion. This belief survived until the late twentieth century, the first era in history which consciously preferred the temporary to the lasting, the modish to the classical. It affected many other things apart from language: Christopher Wren's church buildings are quite unlike his other architecture, though obviously by the same hand. Cardinal John Henry Newman's prayers and poetry are written in a style quite unlike his prose, and so on." Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, P. 109

Monday, September 20, 2010

Education is a Conservative Activity

"Proper education is a fundamentally conservative activity, based on the assumption that a body of knowledge exists, is in the hands of the adult and educated, and can be passed on in measurable ways, by disciplined learning reinforced with authority. Since the Left in Britain have never reconciled themselves to authority—monarchical, aristocratic, religious, traditional and ancient, their attitude towards the inherited education system remains instinctively, automatically revolutionary. Only once they consider their social revolution to be complete will they reimpose the necessary order and discipline, something which happens in all post-revolutionary societies once the new masters are firmly in power and the subversive morality and ethos of the revolutionary period become a threat to the new order, just as they were a danger to the old one. Britain's ruined education system is in many ways the victim of a long and unfinished civil war, and will not be left in peace until one side or the other triumphs for good." Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, P. 71-72

Immigration and Multiculturalism

"There is no doubt that the arrival of a large number of immigrants from former imperial colonies has helped to confuse the teaching of history. Yet there is no reason why it should have made us so coy. The West Indian immigrants who arrived first were in many cases more British than the British, having been taught the history and poetry of Britain in highly traditional schools modeled on the old British system. The other new arrivals, though less aware of Anglo-Saxon culture, came here very much of their own free will, partly because of a British obligation to take them in and partly because—in the case of the East African Asians—they rightly expected fairer treatment from Britian than they were receiving under Jomo Kenyatta or Idi Amin. A confident nation, whose teachers believed in their own country, would have seen history as a chance to make the new arrivals more fully British. Instead, apologetically and shamefacedly, those teachers saw our history as an embarrassment. Even though the immigrants had actually come here to share in British traditions formed over centuries of experience, leading to growing wisdom and tolerance, it was assumed that they would find the study of those traditions offensive or racist. And thus was born the idea of multicultural education, yet another excuse to denigrate the nation-state, apologize for the Empire and abolish the lore of the British tribe. Itcould have not come at a worse time.

The serious decline in standards which resulted from the abolition of grammar schools, the watering down of examinations to help cover up this decline, the growing power of individual teachers over what was to be examined, all helped to destroy the traditional history syllabus. Alternative sources of information, particularly the powerful new form of the TV documentary, began to popularize views of the recent past which had previously been held only by a radical minority. Any of these things by itself would have shaken the foundations of traditional history. All together, and combined with the rush to apologize to our new multicultural citizens, they demolished an entire discipline in a matter of years. In an incredibly short time, we have been turned into a nation without heroes, without pride in our past or knowledge of either our past triumphs or our past follies and disasters. We are like an amnesia patient, waking up in the hospital ward, with both past and future great blank spaces stretching behind and before us, doomed to repeat mistakes we do not even know we have already made." Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, P. 61-63

Friday, September 17, 2010

Born Yesterday

"Most of us were born yesterday, to all intents and purposes. The lore of our tribe, the stories of our ancestors, the memories which our parents held in common, have simply ceased to be. Thirty of forty years ago, we might all have known the stories of Alfred and the cakes, of Canute and the waves, of Caractacus and Boadicea, Hereward the Wake and Thomas a Becket. The titles of the parables—the Sower, the Prodigal Son, the Talents—would have instantly conjured up a picture in the rich colours of a stained-glass window. Phrases such as 'all sorts and conditions of men' and 'when two or three are gathered together', 'the fatted calf' and 'he passed by on the other side' would have meant the same thing to everyone who heard them. Now these things are as meaningless to millions as the forgotten myths of Greece.
We drive past ancient churches, Victorian town halls, abandoned grammar schools and guano spattered statues, quite unaware of the forces that brought them into being, the struggles they commemorate or the sort of people who built them. " Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, p 44

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Decline by Details or How to Revolutionize a Culture by Baby Steps

"One of the great blows to stability has been the change in family life, from the first appearance of the teenager in the late 1930s, to Edmund Leach's disturbing Reith lectures of 1967, which blamed the traditional family for most of society's problems. There has been a transformation in the way in which people arrange and furnish their houses, the sort of food they eat and where and how they eat it. Cheap pre-cooked fast food, the freezer and the microwave, have practically ended the formal meal around the table, and allowed family members to remain in front of the television or at the computer keyboard without needing to interrupt their activities. The spread of central heating and double glazing has allowed even close-knit families to avoid each other's company in well-warmed houses, rather than huddling round a single hearth forced into unwanted companionship, and so compelled to adapt to each other's foibles and become more social, less selfish beings.

Clothes have also undergone a complete change, in styles and materials, even in purpose, for children as well as adults, while hairstyles for both sexes express the alteration in the balance of power between men and women, parents and children. Children no longer dress as children, but as miniature adults, with their own scaled down adult fashions, underlining the truth that they actually owe more loyalty to their peers than to their parents. The alteration has even changed the streetscape leading to the disappearance of hats and the decline of coats, the rise of the trainer and the near-disappearance of the leather shoe. Uniforms, too, serve a much less layered, deferential society, and a more violent and unsupervised one. Policemen have tossed aside their formal, restrained tunics and their helmets, and now waddle about, hung with weaponry and radios, in militaristic pullovers and flat caps. Thanks to the years of terrorism, servicemen and women long ago gave up appearing on the streets in uniform, and there are now so few of them anyway that a planned change in the rules is unlikely to have much effect…

Other physical changes have propelled and exaggerated these new ways of thinking. The atomization of society by new types of housing has broken up the old sense of belonging. The crazed over-use of private cars and the triumph of the supermarket over the personal service grocery have kept us from meeting our fellow-creatures as effectively as any strict regime prison, and often reduced us to the level of objects rolling along someone else's production line. Greater than all these things is television, which has replaced individual imagination with images provided and selected by others, but also, and perhaps more importantly, destroyed the old forms of social sanction, a fear of the neighbor's opinion of the even greater fear of upsetting the family. Television provided new judges of our behavior, who were wittier, cleverer and more open-minded than anyone we knew in person. It also transformed child-rearing and narrowed the horizons of childhood itself.

Once, programmes for children had some reference to the outside world, to the old traditions of story-telling. Now, programme-makers devise Teletubbies who are living televisions, with little screens in their stomachs, a simple reflection of the fact that children learn to live their lives through the screen.

Closely linked to this takeover of our brains by TV studios has been the rebuilding of our towns, cities and villages. Life in isolated boxes, next to neighbours with whom we have nothing in common except a postcode, has pushed people into the arms of the new electronic culture. With the deportation of people from crowded city centres to remote estates, the whole shape of our urban life has been altered. Streets are wider, roads straighter, a highly literate cityscape of ornate shopsigns and wordy advertisements has given way to a post-literate one of pictograms, posters and logos. Detail has vanished, replaced by sweeping (and windswept) prospects. Smelly but characteristic features of town life, such as breweries and cattlemarkets, have been uprooted, as have most small urban industries, so that few of us can see any connection between what we consume and its real origins in the field, farmyard or slaughterhouse. Specifically local or specifically British styles of architecture have given way to the international blandness of concrete and glass, fresh air to air conditioning, actually needless in our temperate climate but forced on us by the strange style of buildings which we have chosen. The universal conscription of women into paid work has emptied the suburbs, rich and poor, so that streets, parks, and gardens are depopulated during the day. Distances between home and work, home and school, and extended families have grown far greater.

Lonely and self-reliant, much of our social life concentrated in the workplace rather than the home, we have become a people dependent on television for stimulation of social contact in our leisured hours. Yet few seem to realize the power of a medium which stole into our lives while we were not paying attention. Early television was nothing like the modern force which has now displaced all other forms of culture and entertainment. Its effect on the imagination has been the motor of the new morality and the new conformism." Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, P. 5-9

Western Civilization's Disease

"It was not long after the end of the Great War that farseeing observers predicted the likelihood of another and it became plain that western civilization had brought itself into a condition from which full recovery was unlikely. The devastation, both material and moral, had gone so deep that it turned the creative energies from their course, first into frivolity, and then into the channel of self-destruction." Jacque Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, P. 712

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No Regard For Prophets

"Fair warning had been given to all thinking people in the West by an English journalist named Normal Angell. In 1909 he had written a pamphlet entitled Europe's Optical Illusion. His thesis was simple: modern war between great powers means a dead loss for both victor and vanquished. The pamphlet attracted wide attention, which led to Angell to expand it into a fully documented work retitled The Great Illusion—A Study of the Relation of Military Power in Nations to Their Economic and Social Advantage. In it he quoted the words of leaders on all sides who entertained the great illusion. He showed that the existing ways of international finance put the wealth of one nation at the mercy of another. Hostilities would ensure their common loss. Colonies were no asset but a subsidized expense; annexing them or some part of a defeated country, or occupying it to levy tribute was yet more wasteful. Besides, the cost of an up-to-date war would be ruinous. All the resources of all the participants would be drained dry. No nation and no individual would benefit from victory. A large-scale war in 20C Europe would be suicide disguised as self-interest.

The argument was so clear, temperate, and convincing that all who gave their minds to it believed it. But it is one thing to believe that one's previous idea is wrong and another to act on the newly revealed right. Habit, social pressures, a streak of fatalism conspire to keep action in the groove already dug. The Great Illusion was not heeded by enacted." P 705-706

The Machine, Mental Illness, and Drugs

"The machine—railroad, motor, bicycle, plane, motion picture—lured the senses into a new addiction: speed. Trains could now run at 100 miles an hour. But speed in an enclosed space quickly loses its thrill. The car, then mostly an open affair, makes the wind jet passing the ears give a sense of heroic recklessness. In 1901 the poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt wrote in his diary: "Going at 15 miles an hour. It is certainly an exhilarating experience." He would have been even more exhilarated nine years later had he crossed the Channel in the cockpit of Bleriot's airplane—or he could have taken up the new sport of hang gliding from hilltops.

Offsetting these cheerful doings was the increase in mental illness and the spreading use of drugs. Something in industrial civilization seemed to be too much for the steadily alert mind to bear. In a long essay, Civilization, Its Cause and Cure, Edward Carpenter gave a clear account of the affliction and specified remedy a simple PRIMITIVISM. At the Paris hospital La Salpetriere, Charcot and Janet dealt with a stream of patients suffering from hysteria, the name that covered depression, anxiety, causeless excitement, motor disturbances, and "simulated diseases"—those that have not discoverable basis in the body. Some few of the troubled had multiple personalities. On hears an echo of the strange fact in Stevenson's tale about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

An increasing recourse to drugs suggested a like maladjustment. Addiction, mainly in the upper classes, was viewed with sympathy. It was not a criminal offense to buy or sell morphine. Freud for a time prescribed cocaine to some of his excitable patients, and we know that Sherlock Holmes, when he was bored, injected himself with a 7 percent solution. Soon after their accession, the tsar and tsarina in St. Petersburg were taking a mixture of marijuana and hyoscine by way of relief from official cares. More thoroughgoing, a man named Aleistair Crowley preached the joys of the drug experience combined with black magic. Thus the late Timothy Leary was not the first in line. Nor have acolytes disappeared: a new edition of Crowley's Magick appeared in 1997." Jacque Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, P. 628-629

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Irony of Democracy

"After the age-long struggle for the vote, democratic countries show an extraordinary attitude toward it: they boast of their form of government and express nothing but contempt for politicians—the men and women they have themselves chosen. Worse, of those who have the vote, fewer than half use it. Lastly, exerting influence on the people's representatives, "lobbies" re-create on a large scale the former role of organized interests." Jacque Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, p. 536

Monday, September 13, 2010

America’s Secular Foundation

Conservatives like to argue that the United States was founded on Christian principles by Christian men. I'm not so sure. The men might have been Christian, but the principles were largely secular, according to Jacque Barzun's understanding of John Locke.

"Locke's reasoning… is entirely secular, a telling point when Reason had come to seem more solid than Revelation. There are references to God in Locke's two treatises, but they are pro forma. Again, it seems stronger to base a reasoning on Nature than on faith when advanced opinion is enthralled by the study of Nature. But the starting point is as shaky in the one case as the other: the picture of wild men, accustomed to grabbing each other's food, shelter, and women, spontaneously getting together to make a contract, is as fanciful as the providential descent of authority from Adam to James II.
For Locke and the English who bargained with the new King, William III, the terms of the social contact were the 13 provisions of the Declaration of Rights. But Locke wanted his essay to be theory, higher ground than local needs, good for all place and times. The universal rights came down to three: life, liberty, and property. This last is based on the notion that when a man has "mixed his labor" with some material thing, he has made the product his unconditionally. As for the authority that shall enforce these rights, it cannot be Hobbes's absolute ruler. Power unlimited is too likely to establish a tyranny, as divine monarchs had not done but attempted to do. Locke vests sovereignty in the people. Since they cannot conveniently exercise it, they choose representatives. Of these, some make the law, others are appointed to execute it." Jacques Barzun – From Dawn to Decadence, page 363

Man’s Desire for Autonomy and the Irrelevancy of God

"Encyclopedia—"the circle of teachings"—may be taken as the emblem of the 18C. Like the Renaissance, the age was confident that the new knowledge, the fullness of knowledge, was in its grasp and was a means of EMANCIPATION. Confidence came from the visible progress in scientific thought. Science was the application of reason to all questions, no matter what tradition might have handed down. Everything will ultimately be known and "encircled." The goal of exploring nature and mind and broadcasting results was to make Man everywhere of one mind, rational, and humane. Language, nation, mores, and religion and its universal morals and with French as the international medium of the educated, it would be a world peopled with—or at least managed by—philosophes.
Before its realization a good many things had to be got out of the way, the principal one being Christianity—not its ethics of love and brotherhood, but its supernatural history, theology, and church. The Bible must be shown to be a set of fables invented by ignorance or designing people. This was not exactly the purpose of Father Richard Simon, an Oratorian monk of the preceding century, who wrote a Critical History of the Old Testament disputing Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch. But he led the way in what is known as the higher criticism of Scripture, the ANALYSIS of its meaning and truth, and not just of the purity of the text. About the same time in Holland, the excommunicated Jew Spinoza, a quiet thinker, went much farther in his interpretation. He had elaborated a philosophy deeply marked by natural science, which was incompatible with a literal belief in the Bible. For Spinoza, God was in all things and all things were alive with His power. Though impersonal and impassive, He deserved man's "intellectual love." This faith was part of an ethics and metaphysics that Spinoza demonstrated geometrically, by more than a hundred propositions deduced in strict order from a few definitions and axioms. The Bible, when closely read, appeared to be a compilation by anonymous scribes and full of contradictions. The moral teachings were admirable, the historical parts uncertain, and the stories allegorical.
Spinoza was highly regarded by the handful of 17C philosophers and scientists whom he corresponded with. He published little; he lived very modestly as an artisan and declined a chair at Heidelberg. But from a distance he seemed just another freethinker and atheist, thought not harmful. Like Simon he had no immediate following. So far, the higher criticism was underground preparation. But shortly a work appeared that exploded the mine and breached the fortress. Its author was Pierre Bayle, also a refugee in Holland. He produced a massive dictionary labeled "historical and critical." By comparing, juxtaposing, questioning, and describing ironically the familiar parts of the Christian revelation, he left the reader skeptical as himself—or outraged by the blasphemy.
To avoid censorship Bayle wrote short entries that merely defined the subject: the doctrine was in the appended notes, long and in small print, that encouraged the censor to skip. The Century of Light was thus inaugurated, but also divided. When we regard the philosophes and their Encyclopedie as triumphing easily, we are influenced by the now prevailing assent to their views, which helped to make our secular world. But the opposition they met was not crushed; it revived in the 19C and is increasingly vehement today. Its target, the "Enlightenment," is not reason or light but the 18C idea and use of it.
Bayle's Dictionary was a work that would attract mainly intellectuals. One is not surprised that Jefferson owned it in five folio volumes. But it took Voltaire to carry its message to the ordinary educated reader, the well-to-do bourgeois, the men and women in high society, and the mixed group in the salons. His message was simple: the Book of Genesis is not wrong on one point: God did create the universe, but nobody knows how, and He set it going according to rules—the laws of science—with which He has no reason to interfere. This is Deism, the religion of reasonable men. Therefore drop the ritual, the prayers and candles—and the fears. At the same time open your eyes to the imposture practiced on you by the church for its sole beneficiaries, the priests and monks, bishops, and popes…
…"Religion as such is not attacked; it is redefined into simplicity. One may well be overawed by the Great Architect and His handiwork—and there an end. All peoples have this same feeling about the Creator, for Man, like Nature, is fundamentally the same the world over. Good morals are untouched; they too are universal. With this underlying unity about ultimate things, there should be no causes for conflict, no religious wars, no crusades, heretics, conversions, inquisitions, burnings at the stake, and massacres." Jacques Barzun – From Dawn to Decadence, page 359-361

We Live in a Police State

We obviously live in a police state. The only two conceivable reasons for people to not recognize this is they are oblivious to their surroundings or they accept it as a normal state of affairs.  Watch this video of a man being tasered at the Minnesota State Fair.

The City Pages quotes the State Fair Chief of Police as stating that the man punched a police officer in the face, which to any who watch the video can plainly see this is untrue. Physical violence was initiated by the police, not the shirtless man.

It is an important fact that victims of taser assaults by the police are NEVER charged with a crime preceding the police initiating force against the victim. Notice that the man was charged only with "felony assault of a police officer."

What had he done to provoke the wrath of the police? Evidently he had "was undressing and yelling obscenities." Only in a police state would such behavior result in the potentially fatal, and incredibly painful use of a taser.

Only in a police state would bystanders be completely unsympathetic to the victim and merely watch as voyeurs, while others cheer on the police and say, "that's awesome."

The police are no longer a force for good, for peace; but rather, are the state's enforcers against those that reject the autonomous authority of the state.

The state has claimed autonomous authority and will accept no breach upon its claims. Thus, any individual that asserts his God-given right of self-defense against aggression from the agents of the state will receive the wrath of the state.

God help us all. Taser victims have more in common with the average citizen than any of us care to realize. I fear for myself and my family, as the police are all too willing to use such violence for any act of belligerence or self-defense against the tyranny of the police state.

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Rethinking the Middle Ages

"The name Middle Ages is a modern usage. It was hardly known until the late 17C. The wish to set off that era from antiquity on one side and from modernity on the other probably expressed pride—men of science and free-thinkers generally wanted to separate themselves from the "centuries of ignorance." Soon the 18C made that consciousness of superiority explicit and convinced posterity that "Gothic" art, scholastic thought, and pious behavior were barbarisms incarnate. The residue of that conviction is the use of "medieval" in journalism and common talk to condemn anything felt as outdated and crude. Everybody knows that the Middle Ages were brutal, brutish, and superstitious in every way.
The truth is that during the 1,000 years before 1500 a new civilization grew from beginnings that were uncommonly difficult. The breakup of the Roman empire in the 5C had left a few towns and many isolated settlements to fend for themselves against outer anarchy. But the Middle Ages, as the plural indicates, were several ages. Their varied achievements include creating institutions, reforming others (more than once), and—according to some—showing the world two renaissances before the one that has monopolized the name. The latest view is that instead of two such flowerings, there was only one great one, from 1050 to 1250. Much earlier, it is true, the intellectual and political activity during the time of Charlemagne in the 8th and early 9C had been remarkable. But this burst of genius was limited to his court, and then swamped by a fresh wave of Germanic invaders—Franks, Vandals, and Goths of all stripes; while from the south Arabs and Berbers, lumped under the name Saracens, attacked and though repulsed were not eliminated.
While the occidental populations were being re-formed out of these elements, monks in Ireland worked to preserve the treasures of high culture by copying manuscripts and compiling books. St. Patrick and his followers did more than rid the island of snakes. On the Continent, from the latter half of the 9C to the middle of the 11C, practical life or death concerns were paramount and the period may be called dark if it gives anybody pleasure. Later, its application is absurd. Far from scared or gloomy, the mood portrayed in much of the popular literature of the Middle Ages is jollity; continual danger can lift the spirits and energize action. Even during the worst times strong traditions endured. Neither the Roman code nor the canon (church) law faded away, and the Germanic invaders brought a type of custom law that some later thinkers have credited with the idea of individual freedom.
The use of descriptive terms in speaking of the medieval era is always a delicate task. Within any one period, any one region or town, there was great diversity in language, law, government, and other components of culture. As Agubard wrote to Ludwig the Pious in the 9C: "One frequently sees conversing together persons no two of whom are governed by the same law." The situation resembles that of ancient Greece; it is the modern habit to say "Greek drama," when "Athenian" would be the proper word, while other city-states should be named in describing some one work of architecture or history or lyric poetry.
Accordingly, though the term Feudalism springs to mind when the word medieval is uttered, it is best forgotten unless one wants to study the period in detail. In its place, one should put the idea of loyalty between man and man, the strong feeling backed by an oath that bound a vassal to his lord for military service and other aid. This bond was the practical means of defense against threats to life and sustenance from whatever quarter they might come. Vassalage did not necessarily imply a fief, that is the possession of land by the vassal, but it did imply the moral force that held society together. It underlies the familiar stories and traditions, from King Arthur's Round Table to Wagner's operas." Jacques Barzun – From Dawn to Decadence, page 224-226

Friday, September 10, 2010

Modern Philosophy is a Rival to Christianity

"Good Christian Humanists were moral beings of the conventional sort, but their trained minds wanted something more: a metaphysics that would reformulate or at least parallel in classical terms the Catholic theology. Most of them found it in Plato. He had taught that human beings are in a cave with their backs to the entrance and looking at the inner wall, which reflects dimly the reality outside. Interpreted, this means that the senses give an imperfect copy of the eternal forms of Being. These are the proper object of human attention. By steady effort, the individual can raise his sight from the love of earthly things to the love of eternal beauty, which consists of those pure forms. Such is the Platonist's grace and salvation." Jacques Barzun – From Dawn to Decadence, page 55