the "ideology" of halloween

Here's a letter written to my college newspaper, dated today. It's a candid take on the relationship between feminism and morality, as well as the current atmosphere at college. It insists upon the right to dress however one damn-well pleases as being wholly consistent with feminism. In the process, it exposes many of the intellectual errors of radical-feminists. The letter follows:
I have a Women's Studies minor and a coconut bra.

This year for Halloween, I'm going as a midriff-baring hula dancer. However, I'm also going as what I've always been: a feminist.

Along with the proliferation of risqué costumes, you've probably noticed an increase in people speaking out against this clan of Playboy bunnies and short-short wearing referees. Not only are these criticisms guilty of stating the obvious, but they are also uncalled for. Given my belief in equality of gender and my interest in women's issues, you might think I'd be the first to show up downtown this year with a mission to personally demoralize all sexy kittens, naughty nurses and vixen vampires.

Having an attitude like this directly contradicts an ideology known as relative moralism. This belief system states that every individual is permitted to do whatever he or she wishes as long as it doesn't interfere with the well-being of anyone else. In keeping with this theory, unless one of the aforementioned sexy kittens physically assaults me this weekend, I have no right to remonstrate her and her fellow saucy Little Red Riding Hoods for their actions.

Last year, after a long night of Halloween festivities, I walked home from the last party of the evening at 7 a.m. It was a rainy Saturday morning, and I made the trek across campus in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit. To say that I received some judging looks is an understatement. But why? Later, when a friend of mine looked at photos of the night, she shook her head and said that I was promiscuous. Sure, I looked ridiculous by the light of the day, but both then and now I possessed healthy amount of self respect. I would never judge anyone for wearing an outfit I didn't care for, because I understand that we are not defined by the clothes we put on each morning and the costumes we wear each Halloween.

I have never chosen a Halloween costume because I felt that as a female I had nothing to offer society but my appearance. Though there might be people who feel this way, I'm sure that if you asked most girls about their decisions to be pirates with high heels, almost none of them would say, "Oh, I just felt like making myself into an object this year." Plenty of these girls, in fact, hold high G.P.A.s, respectable positions in campus organizations, and high ambitions about the future. They are also aware, however, that they are beautiful women, and they aren't afraid of being sexy and smart.

Sounds pretty feminist to me.
Why is it necessary to make this argument? Well, because other feminists disagree with her. On what grounds do these feminists disagree? Probably on the same ones I do: that some clothing makes it easier for others to think of women as objects, and that treating women as objects is wrong, really wrong, objectively wrong. Some "clothing" is not really clothing. It fosters an atmosphere of disrespect. And it degrades women and undermines their great dignity.

The catch is that the "ideology" that justifies wearing the risque costumes - moral relativism (her definition is a bit off but I'll take her to mean that morality is relative) - is the same "ideology" that justifies objectifying women. I think this proves that the "ideology" she espouses is deeply flawed, as all "ideologies" are. It also means her argument is flawed.

All this said, I'm sure the author of this letter would agree with me that objectifying women is wrong. So I think this is just a bit of confusion and the attempt of one person's conscience to rationalize their behavior.

What do you think?



"And as for death," she said, "why, Bardia there (I love Bardia) will look on it six times a day and whistle a tune as he goes to find it. We have made little use of the Fox's teaching if we're to be scared by death. And you know, Sister, he has sometimes let out that there were other Greek masters that those he follows himself; masters who have taught that death opens a door out of a little, dark room (that's all the life we have known before it) into a great, real place where the true sun shines and we shall meet-"

C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Stanford on Aristotle

The principal idea with which Aristotle begins is that there are differences of opinion about what is best for human beings, and that to profit from ethical inquiry we must resolve this disagreement. He insists that ethics is not a theoretical discipline: we are asking what the good for human beings is not simply because we want to have knowledge, but because we will be better able to achieve our good if we develop a fuller understanding of what it is to flourish. In raising this question—what is the good?—Aristotle is not looking for a list of items that are good. He assumes that such a list can be compiled rather easily; most would agree, for example, that it is good to have friends, to experience pleasure, to be healthy, to be honored, and to have such virtues as courage at least to some degree. The difficult and controversial question arises when we ask whether certain of these goods are more desirable than others. Aristotle's search for the good is a search for the highest good, and he assumes that the highest good, whatever it turns out to be, has three characteristics: it is desirable for itself, it is not desirable for the sake of some other good, and all other goods are desirable for its sake.

Aristotle thinks everyone will agree that the terms “eudaimonia” (“happiness”) and “eu zên” (“living well”) designate such an end. The Greek term “eudaimon” is composed of two parts: “eu” means “well” and “daimon” means “divinity” or “spirit.” To be eudaimon is therefore to be living in a way that is well-favored by a god. But Aristotle never calls attention to this etymology, and it seems to have little influence on his thinking. He regards “eudaimon” as a mere substitute for eu zên (“living well”). These terms play an evaluative role, and are not simply descriptions of someone's state of mind.

- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Aristotle
Oh Stanford. Aristotle thinks everyone will agree with him? That's unreasonable, so that can't be Aristotle. Aristotle would probably argue that everyone reasonable would agree with him. This, clearly, is a much more reasonable argument.

In other news, I'm very tired.


the benefit of the doubt

The following may be a bit preachy. But I think it is a worthwhile bit of practical knowledge that I know I have to work to habituate. Maybe you're in the same boat, or maybe you've already perfected the art.

Say you are having a spirited conversation about the best way to apply moral principles to public life. Further stipulate that in the course of this conversation someone say something that you do not understand, something that offends you. Perhaps it evokes deep-seated unpleasant feelings and memories. What is the proper way to respond to such a comment? I submit that you must first make sure you understand what the other person is really trying to say. Ask them to clarify. Then, after you truly understand the intention of their remark, you can properly judge whether it actually deserves the response you were initially inclined to give.

This is commonly called giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Assume that your interlocutor is arguing in good faith and did not mean to offend you. It helps to makes our conversations civil and facilitates real communication. Someone smart once said that most of what we take to be disagreements are really just confusion. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt helps to resolve that confusion so that real true disagreement, if it exists, can be brought to light.


put this on your ipod and listen to it

Peter Kreeft on The Catholic Vote. A MUST listen for Catholics. I was surprised at both the scope and the force of his argument; I originally thought he would be more reserved in his judgment of the situation. I thought wrong!


against abstractions

Wilfred McClay has an excellent piece in today's First Things. Highly recommended. Here's the intro:
We have a chronic problem in America with abstract words. We cannot do without them, since they are carriers of our highest ideals and aspirations: “justice,” “democracy,” “dignity,” “liberty.” But it is for precisely this reason that we should beware of them, and treat them as precious commodities, not to be wantonly profaned or corrupted. The use of such words—or of words such as “change” or “hope” or “promise”—play an essential role in most acts of cultural sleight of hand.

That caution is especially appropriate in a modern democratic culture, and so it is not surprising that Tocqueville had a keen awareness of it. “Men living in democratic countries, then, are apt to entertain unsettled ideas, and they require loose expressions to convey them. As they never know whether the idea they express today will be appropriate to the new position they may occupy tomorrow, they naturally acquire a liking for abstract terms.” The chief virtue of an abstraction, he observed, is that it is “like a box with a false bottom; you may put in it what ideas you please, and take them out again without being observed.”

Such words can thrill and intoxicate, even as their meaning is made to expand beyond all bounds, and inflate into something genuinely dangerous, or at any rate something different from, and perhaps even deeply antithetical to, their original meaning.

Which of course puts one in mind of the 2008 presidential election, and particularly the Democratic nominee, whose rhetoric is invariably referred to as “soaring”—a word used admiringly by people who have evidently never thought much about the word’s dictionary meaning: “a mode of flight in which height is gained by using warm air that is moving upwards.” This is likely to be true of the rhetoric of any effective democratic politician. But Barack Obama’s campaign is so high and lifted up by abstractions that older means of propulsion, a wing and a prayer, seem crawlingly terrestrial by comparison.

Closer examination discloses that there is nothing very new going on here, only a fresh exemplification of the principle Tocqueville put forward so lucidly. A case in point is Obama’s use of the word promise, a frequent visitor to his rhetoric over the years, and the dominant theme in his Democratic nomination acceptance speech, “The American Promise.”
Ok, I lied. The intro plus a lot more of the good stuff.

internet absence

I've started a new job and at present it calls almost all of my time. I intend to update on the weekends if I can. I miss all the philosophical conversations, but people need to eat.


McCain burger

This guy is awesome. All of his videos are great, more or less. Check them out:


saturday night

And now for something different. A local amusement park has a ride called the Frisbee. It was far and away the best ride I have ever been on - exactly the right amount of horrifying. It feels like jumping off of a bridge, only over and over and over again, while simultaneously spinning in circles.

The company that makes this thing says this of the ride:
- Sensational giant swing movements combined with thrilling spins
- Impressive visuals offered by the ride
- Gondola swings 90ƒ up to the horizontal position
- Moments of weightlessness possible for all passengers
- Change spinning direction of disc for added thrill
- Especially well suited for attractive decoration and theming ideas
- Passengers experience forces of up to 4gs!
- Proven technology and a very stable construction make it absolutely safe
Now I'm no amusement park enthusiast but this thing was absolutely crazy and a lot of fun. A video of one of these things in action is available here.


For those who have eyes to see

Neuhaus today:
What in the last several decades came to be called the “culture wars” runs very deep, and there is no end in sight. Nobody who cares about this constitutional order can be happy with our present circumstance. Politics is supposed to be about persuasion, deliberation, and decision-making through the process of representative democracy. It is not supposed to be warfare conducted by other means. And yet it is hard to suppress the impression that we are two nations in conflict. The alignments are not always clear-cut and there are overlappings on some issues, but the general picture is evident to all who have eyes to see.

We are two nations: one concentrated on rights and laws, the other on rights and wrongs; one radically individualistic and dedicated to the actualized self, the other communal and invoking the common good; one viewing law as the instrument of the will to power and license, the other affirming an objective moral order reflected in a Constitution to which we are obliged; one given to private satisfaction, the other to familial responsibility; one typically secular, the other typically religious; one elitist, the other populist. These strokes are admittedly broad, but the reality is all too evident in the increasingly ugly rancor that dominates and debases our public life. And, of course, for many Americans the conflicts in the culture wars run through their own hearts.

No other question cuts so close to the heart of the culture wars as the question of abortion. The abortion debate is about more than abortion. It is about the nature of human life and community. It is about whether rights are the product of human assertion or the gift of “Nature and Nature’s God.” It is about euthanasia, eugenic engineering, and the protection of the radically handicapped. But the abortion debate is most inescapably about abortion. In that debate, the Supreme Court has again and again, beginning with the Roe and Doe decisions of 1973, gambled its authority, and with it our constitutional order, by coming down on one side.
Notice how Neuhaus does not paint a picture of the culture wars within a liberal/conservative or Republican/Democrat binary framework. I point this out because no serious thinker on the right has ever said that all Republicans are good and all Democrats are bad, contrary to the opinions of some.

the consequences of '08

When Obama wins, the country really will change. If you are an Obama voter, are you really sure all of the ways it will change will be for good? A great Wall Street Journal article today spells out the consequences:
If the current polls hold, Barack Obama will win the White House on November 4 and Democrats will consolidate their Congressional majorities, probably with a filibuster-proof Senate or very close to it. Without the ability to filibuster, the Senate would become like the House, able to pass whatever the majority wants.

Though we doubt most Americans realize it, this would be one of the most profound political and ideological shifts in U.S. history. Liberals would dominate the entire government in a way they haven't since 1965, or 1933. In other words, the election would mark the restoration of the activist government that fell out of public favor in the 1970s. If the U.S. really is entering a period of unchecked left-wing ascendancy, Americans at least ought to understand what they will be getting, especially with the media cheering it all on.
They proceed to go through all the significant policy changes to come: increased taxes to support the new health care system, more regulations for the business environment, the absolute codification of abortion policy, restrictions on free speech ("Fairness doctrine") and who knows what else.

Obama is mellifluously eloquent. He has a way of answering every side of any question he's asked: he says everything that everyone could want to hear and he says it so nicely! The danger is that, because of this eloquence, no one really knows what exactly it is he is going to do as President. He stands not so much for particular policies but for a disposition, the disposition of change, which of course is subject to change itself(?). Beyond this vague and vacuous platitude, he also espouses a generally unwavering commitment to the governmental control of all aspects of our lives. Government with Obama is not limited by anything personal or private. After all, "the personal is political".

The consequences of this philosophy are two. Less freedom and with less freedom, less democracy. Democracy's difficult to sustain and tolerate anyways, seeing as how it accommodates people who disagree with you and you don't always get what you want. Change will be easier with a King.


Twelfth Night?

Now, I'm no Shakespeare scholar. In fact I'm quite the philistine, hardly being acquainted with even a small selection of his corpus. But I am working to improve my situation. This Friday me and my fiance are going to see a production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. In an attempt to prepare myself, I've read through the play. Shakespeare plays with gender roles and offers what seems to be a simple love triangle story that resolves itself in a humorous way. But other than that, I can't seem to get much out of the play. I did not notice any especially profound insights or passages that were extraordinary in greatness, but I think this is because I do not have the eyes to see such things if they are indeed there. SO that brings me to my question: Is anyone familiar with Twelfth Night? If so, could you explain the particular greatness of this play, or at least point me to someone who could?

**Turns out Harold Bloom has some very helpful essays in his work Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Mr. Bloom has informed me that the play is about the abstract and possibly arbitrary origins of love. That is, the play skewers those who would be "in love with love", rather than actually in love with a person. Light dawns over marble head!

a manly liberty, but prudent

I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty as well as any gentleman of that society, be who he will; and perhaps I have given as good proofs of my attachment to that cause, in the whole course of my public conduct. I think I envy liberty as little as they do, to any other nation. But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to any thing which relates to human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which some gentleman pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color, and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind. Abstractly speaking, government, as well as liberty, is good; yet could I, in common sense, ten years ago, have felicitated France on her enjoyment of a government (for she then had a government) without enquiry what the nature of that government was, or how it was administered? Can I now congratulate the same nation upon its freedom? Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed among the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a madman, who has escaped from the protecting restraint and the wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty? Am I to congratulate the highwayman and murderer, who has broke prison, upon the recovery of his natural rights? This would be to act over again the scene of the criminals condemned to the gallies, and their heroic deliverer, the metaphysic Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance.

When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air is plainly broke loose: but we ought to suspend our judgment until the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men upon a blessing, that they have really received one. Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver; and adulation is not of more service to the people than to kings. I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government; with public force; with the discipline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue; with morality and religion; with the solidity of property; with peace and order; with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things too; and, without them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: We ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate insulated private men; but liberty, when men act in bodies, is power; and particularly of so trying a thing as new power in new persons, of whose principles, tempers, and dispositions, they have little or no experience, and in situations where those who appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be the real movers.

- Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, pp. 5-6


humanity without limits

The enlightenment myth of infinite progress has not yet died. This assertion of mine is based largely on ancedotal evidence and the general impression I get from the cultural and political commentariat. It is commonly held that things are getting better or they will get better in the future. Peter Kreeft calls this the religion of progress; or, the belief in change for change's sake. I think it's a fair description of a common mindset of those on both the left and the right.

One reason this mindset is so pervasive is because the of the free economy. The massive creation of wealth gives us the false impression that humanity has no limits. An important part of conservatism, then, is to remind people that mankind does indeed have limits, and that the idea of a limitless humanity is a dangerous cultural poison. (I am using the word free here in a sense that means this: our economic actions are no longer under the control of some state or social organization that limits who we can do business with. They are also generally free from excessive taxation.)

Perhaps no one expresses this danger better than Wendell Berry, especially in his latest essay on this very subject. It is titled "Faustian economics: Hell Hath no limits". I think it gives a great outline of the kind of cultural changes that are going to need to occur in the coming years.

What does he recommend?
To recover from our disease of limitlessness, we will have to give up the idea that we have a right to be godlike animals, that we are potentially omniscient and omnipotent, ready to discover “the secret of the universe.” We will have to start over, with a different and much older premise: the naturalness and, for creatures of limited intelligence, the necessity, of limits. We must learn again to ask how we can make the most of what we are, what we have, what we have been given. If we always have a theoretically better substitute available from somebody or someplace else, we will never make the most of anything. It is hard to make the most of one life. If we each had two lives, we would not make much of either. Or as one of my best teachers said of people in general: “They’ll never be worth a damn as long as they’ve got two choices.”

To deal with the problems, which after all are inescapable, of living with limited intelligence in a limited world, I suggest that we may have to remove some of the emphasis we have lately placed on science and technology and have a new look at the arts. For an art does not propose to enlarge itself by limitless extension but rather to enrich itself within bounds that are accepted prior to the work.
Vague indeed, but it does give us at least a basic orientation.

It is significant to note, I think, that Mr. Berry does not offer a political plan for reorganizing society, that is, a plan that involves the use of the coercive power of the state. The essay is a call for individuals to change their lives. This type of commentary is very important I think, and its importance may be underestimated by certain libertarian-types.

Cross posted at American Catholic


the end of democracy?

What is called when unelected officials in robes make a state's laws?

Oh yeah, an oligarchy?


Catholic perspective on abortion no. 7,300,283,376

This seems to have been passed over... Bishop Robert Vasa on voting for a pro-choice candidate:
Bishop Vasa explained the notion of proportionate reasons, saying, "The conditions under which an individual may be able to vote for a pro-abortion candidate would apply only if all the candidates are equally pro-abortion."

He added: "And then you begin to screen for the other issues and make a conscientious decision to vote for this pro-abortion candidate because his positions on these other issues are more in keeping with good Catholic values." In that case, he said, "It doesn't mean that you in any way support or endorse a pro-abortion position but you take a look in that context at the lesser of two evils."

Speaking of politicians with a pro-abortion stand he said, "When we have someone who has that stand on a disqualifying issue, then the other issues, in many ways, do not matter because they are already wrong on that absolutely fundamental issue."

Only when taken to a level of insanity could a 'pro-war' candidate be considered on par with a pro-abortion candidate in the Bishop's view. "If we had a candidate in favor of a war in Iraq in which we decimate the entire population and we kill as many civilians to impose as much terror on everybody as possible to make sure . . . If that was in opposition to a pro-abortion person then I'd have a real conflict of conscience because you'd have a direct and intentional killing of innocent persons on one hand and the direct and intentional killing of persons on the other hand, said the Baker Bishop.

"But we don't have that issue with capital punishment, we don't have that issue with the war in Iraq we don't have that issue with the present Administration," he added.

publicity stunts

Crankycon on fire today. Get this guy a job at National Review, eh?.


false apology syndrome

A really interesting post from Amanda Shaw. Have you met anyone that feels very badly about things that have happened in the past, that he/she may have not been responsible for?
False Apology Syndrome is a way of judging others to avoid judging ourselves–of shrugging moral responsibility. It fosters a perpetrator–victim mentality: “For what can I do wrong to compare with the wrongs that my ancestors suffered at the hands of your ancestors? How dare you even mention it, you hypocrite!” For that matter, what could I do wrong to compare with the wrongs my ancestors committed? I must say, it’s a reassuring mode of thought.

But as Dalrymple makes sure to add, “I am, of course, sorry if you disagree.”
Strikes me as reasonable. We will do almost anything to avoid looking at ourselves honestly (myself included).

here's a complicated question, I think

Are all "oughts" obligatory? That is, when we make a judgment about a particular thing we should do, is it always obligatory? I don't think so. Policraticus said that this is a contradiction because all "ought" statements are obligatory. Maybe he's right? I wrote this in response to his claim:
I’d say all “oughts” where are knowledge is complete and authoritative are obligatory. In other cases, most especially political cases, not all oughts are absolutely obligatory because we can’t do everything at once and our knowledge is often incomplete.

For example, in the case of the dogmas of the faith, we have greater certainty and “truer” knowledge than we do in many other areas of knowledge. Our knowledge comes from Divine Authority and therefore it is more certain, and it is also totally binding because it comes from that Most Authoritative of sources.

In the case of a political opinion, our knowledge is less certain because it is not part of revelation. We have to make judgments ourselves, based upon incomplete knowledge and our own conscience. There is still an “ought” involved with the question - we are trying to answer the question “what ought we to do?” - but the answer is not so certain, therefore what we need to do is not necessarily certain, and therefore not necessarily obligatory.
I’m not sure that makes any sense but it’s an interesting question, I think. Or maybe I'm just missing something very basic.


thoughts on homeschooling

I am undecided on the question of homeschooling. But I'm very much interested in it because God willing I will be a father someday. Reading First Things today, I find an article that speaks to one mother and father's experience. They write of being more or less forced into homeschooling because of the deficiencies of the current educational fancies operating in American schools. In the process, they articulate what sounds to me like a very appealing educational philosophy:
Home education as the Millmans understand it is about offering children a level of moral and intellectual agency that a school setting cannot provide. “For us,” they write, “education means a kind of growth and development that seems to have no constituency within the school system.” Though they don’t belabor their Christian identity, the very language they use—truth, virtue, freedom—is a vocabulary too mined with a given set of values to be of use even, it increasingly seems, in private schools where egalitarian ideals and “who-are-we-to-judge-ism” are offered as a counterweight to upper-class guilt. Even to think about ideas like truth, virtue, and freedom in large terms is to step outside the institutional conversation, with its overriding concern for what can be quantified. By contrast, in homeschooling, “what matters is not getting the child to produce work but, rather, getting the child to become a fully free and actualized human being.” If homeschooling represents an assertion of the parental right to influence how a child perceives reality, in the Millmans’ view the real point of this kind of education is to develop a person with the clarity to discern what is real. Learning, then, is less about amassing a certain body of knowledge than about cultivating the habit of asking questions and seeking true answers.
This idea, that education should be both moral and oriented to the truth is not a new one. Before John Dewey's educational pragmatism really took hold in American schools, this philosophy of education being about virtue and truth was dominant. It really is unfortunate that we've replaced Aristotle with Dewey, and I think it is a good thing that homeschoolers can correct for this mistake made by the teachers of our teachers.

The only objection I have to homeschooling concerns the natural socialization that occurs in a school environment. This involves, I think, not just learning social norms from peers, but also from sources of authority that are not mommy or daddy. I think this is an essential element of education that I am not sure homeschooling can provide, at least in the same capacity and extent.

Obviously this critique is more or less effective depending on the style employed by the parents who choose to homeschool. Some homeschooling students will find themselves ever occupied with social activities and challenges. There are also a large number of homeschooling organizations that are providing the types of activities that may be difficult for homeschoolers to get involved in otherwise.

Basically I think homeschooling is not the ideal. It's something we do when we're desperate, because the education system is so bad.

Schall on political leadership

If you don't read Fr. James Schall, well, I suppose you should. I know of no greater teacher of politics and human affairs. His latest column at InsideCatholic is worth highlighting. He addresses the important subject of political leadership:
Among the classical authors, the common opinion was that a democracy would eventually choose as a ruler a tyrant who promised them what they wanted. Then he would subject them to what he wanted. The American founders understood this problem, which is why they founded a republic, not a democracy.

Plato said in his Seventh Letter: "The more I reflected upon what was happening, upon what kind of men were active in politics, and upon the state of our laws and customs, and the older I grew, the more I realized how difficult it is to manage a city's affairs rightly." It is, indeed, the most difficult of all the human occupations of this world.

Politics is about who rules and for what purpose. It is not a "science." It is dependent on character and practical wisdom. "Such wisdom is concerned not only with universals but with particulars, which become familiar from experience, but a young man has no experience, for it is length of time that gives experience." These are Aristotle's words.

What is a leader? He is a prudent man who can, in an actual city, make decisions for the temporal common good of citizens who, by their characters, are already choosing their membership in one or other of the two ultimate cities, the City of God or the City of Man.


My first post is up at American Catholic. I think it makes at least 25% sense.


American Catholic

I'm happy to announce a new commentary website titled American Catholic. As you might surmise from the title, the website will look at American politics from a Catholic perspective. I have been graciously asked to contribute some material, and I expect to cross-post my posts that deal principally with politics and Catholicism.

Stop by if you are interested in a provocative but thoughtful and civil conversation.


Cardinal Rigali and the FOCA - or, critiquing Vox Nova on respect life Sunday

Policraticus says faithful Catholics can only abstain or vote third party this November. Indeed, he suggests Catholics who vote for John McCain or Barack Obama "do not really believe some issues are non-negotiable" - quite an insult, not to mention a miraculous feat of soul-reading. Putting that aside for now...

I think he is dangerously wrong. If Catholics allow Barack Obama to be elected, his first act as President will be to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), effectively codifying Roe v. Wade in our federal law. What do the Bishops say about the FOCA?
Today, however, we face the threat of a federal bill that, if enacted, would obliterate virtually all the gains of the past 35 years and cause the abortion rate to skyrocket. The "Freedom of Choice Act" ("FOCA") has many Congressional sponsors, some of whom have pledged to act swiftly to help enact this proposed legislation when Congress reconvenes in January.

FOCA establishes abortion as a "fundamental right" throughout the nine months of pregnancy, and forbids any law or policy that could "interfere" with that right or "discriminate" against it in public funding and programs. If FOCA became law, hundreds of reasonable, widely supported, and constitutionally sound abortion regulations now in place would be invalidated. Gone would be laws providing for informed consent, and parental consent or notification in the case of minors. Laws protecting women from unsafe abortion clinics and from abortion practitioners who are not physicians would be overridden. Restrictions on partial-birth and other late-term abortions would be eliminated. FOCA would knock down laws protecting the conscience rights of nurses, doctors, and hospitals with moral objections to abortion, and force taxpayers to fund abortions throughout the United States.

We cannot allow this to happen. We cannot tolerate an even greater loss of innocent human lives. We cannot subject more women and men to the post-abortion grief and suffering that our counselors and priests encounter daily in Project Rachel programs across America.

For twenty-four years, the Catholic Church has provided free, confidential counseling to individuals seeking emotional and spiritual healing after an abortion, whether their own or a loved one's. We look forward to the day when these counseling services are no longer needed, when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law. If FOCA is enacted, however, that day may recede into the very distant future.
Oh and by the way, McCain does not and will not support the Freedom of Choice act. What can the good Cardinal be telling us, then? It cannot be that we must abstain from voting, which would certainly constitute allowing the FOCA to happen. It also cannot mean voting for Barack Obama, who will be the key proponent of this legislation. This statement cannot be read as anything but an implicit denunciation of the Democratic candidate for President.

I understand Catholics who say they cannot vote for either candidate. It is true that McCain supports a non-negotiable moral evil: embryonic stem cell research. This should give us great pause. We need to pray McCain has a change of heart. We need to call and write his campaign. We need to argue persuasively against this great evil so that he hears us and changes his mind. But democratic politics is not the same thing as moral philosophy. Catholics in a democracy are obligated, I think (as do some Bishops), to limit evil as best we can. This is something the Kansas City Bishops recently taught in a letter to their parishioners. The section on limiting grave evil is worth quoting in its entirety:
Limiting Grave Evil

In another circumstance, we may be confronted with a voting choice between two candidates who support abortion, though one may favor some limitations on it, or he or she may oppose public funding for abortion. In such cases, the appropriate judgment would be to select the candidate whose policies regarding this grave evil will do less harm. We have a responsibility to limit evil if it is not possible at the moment to eradicate it completely.

The same principle would be compelling to a conscientious voter who was confronted with two candidates who both supported same-sex unions, but one opposed abortion and destructive embryonic research while the other was permissive in these regards. The voter, who himself or herself opposed these policies, would have insufficient moral justification voting for the more permissive candidate. However, he or she might justify resorting to a write-in vote or abstaining from voting at all in this case, because of a conscientious objection.

In 2004 a group of United States Bishops, acting on behalf of the USCCB and requesting counsel about the responsibilities of Catholic politicians and voters, received a memo from the office of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, which stated: “A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

Could a Catholic in good conscience vote for a candidate who supports legalized abortion when there is a choice of another candidate who does not support abortion or any other intrinsically evil policy? Could a voter’s preference for the candidate’s positions on the pursuit of peace, economic policies benefiting the poor, support for universal health care, a more just immigration policy, etc. overcome a candidate’s support for legalized abortion? In such a case, the Catholic voter must ask and answer the question: What could possibly be a proportionate reason for the more than 45 million children killed by abortion in the past 35 years? Personally, we cannot conceive of such a proportionate reason.
This is a rewording of John Paul II's authoritative teaching in Evangelium Vitae:
In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. EV 73
It is clear that Policraticus is wrong to say that a Catholic cannot vote for John McCain or Barack Obama. In this way he is misleading Catholic voters.

We should also keep in mind that the threat of embyronic stem cell research is negligible given the recent advances made in the science. Furthermore, Obama is more enthusiastic about this type of research than is McCain.

I understand people who do not think they can vote for either candidate. Fine. But I do not think they have a good handle on the imperfect nature of democratic politics or the serious consequences of abstaining from the vote. This is the last good chance we have to make changes to our law so that it can protect innocent human life from being killed.


29 artists

For Friday, I offer this list of excellent musicians to check out
1. Nicolas Payton
2. Kurt Rosenwinkel
3. Attica! Attica!
4. Kurt Elling
5. Dinosaur Jr. (the albumn Beyond)
6. Sam Cooke
7. Foo Fighters
8. James Taylor
9. The Weakerthans
10. Criteria
11. Steely Dan
12. Thrice
13. Further Seems Forever
14. Clifford Brown
15. The Mars Volta
16. Boy Sets Fire
17. Piebald
18. Stevie Wonder
19. Zao
20. The Police
21. The Beach Boys
22. Cave In
23. Ben Folds
24. Lee Morgan
25. Earth, Wind and Fire
26. Sublime
27. Pat Metheny
28. Beck
29. Jurassic 5
Let me know what you think.


the takeaway

What a boring debate! I think the only takeaway is that Sarah Palin has not disqualified herself from the office of the Vice Presidency.

Also, it's hilarious that Joe Biden said he spends a lot of time at Home Depot.

postmodern conservative economics?

Here's an interesting take on economics in which I find my own view being expressed by someone with much more eloquence than I currently possess. This is Ivan Kenneally writing at Culture11:
What is a Postmodern Conservative view of economics? While a true postmodern conservatism is cognizant of the power of markets and the great advantages of the prosperity it generates (and the reliable incompetence of government in providing regulatory supervision), it is also aware of the limitations attendant upon the libertarian theoretical assumptions that typically underwrite free market advocacy. We’re more than solipsistic individuals with rights, reason, and interests and so a reasonable modicum of care and compassion, consistent with the individual liberty and responsibility that any free society should respect, should temper the excesses any spontaneous order will likely generate. It also recognizes that Rousseau was at least partially right in the First Discourse (yep, Rousseau) that with the benefits of great wealth and luxury come new obstacles to the cultivation of virtue. If you prefer finding common ground with Aristotle, one could say that a postmodern conservatism recognizes that wealth is the equipment of virtue but not virtue itself, and that too much equipment can sometimes prove burdensome.
Why do these intelligent individuals insist on adapting the label postmodern? It may be simply that they want to recognize the paradigm in which they live. But what about this account is postmodern? I don't see it.



Prof. William Cavanaugh via MoJ:
In this vision, the idea of social justice gets cast in an entirely new light. The standard definition of justice that comes to us from Aristotle through Aquinas is expressed in the phrase reddere suum cuique: to render to each person his or her own. Justice as pursued by the law of the state has this as its very ideal – to sort out what is mine from what is yours. In the Body of Christ, however, what is mine and what is yours is radically relativized by the participation of all in the same body. Social justice then is not about distribution among individuals in competition for scarce goods. Sorting out who deserves what is an impediment to seeing the world as God sees it, as it really is. In the Body of Christ, all belongs to God, and none claims absolute ownership of God’s abundance. Social justice is not simply a matter of benevolence, but of sharing the fate of those who suffer.

the usefulness of certain words

There are certain words that, for some people, immediately arrest all rational thought. Examples include conservative, liberal, democrat, republican, Christian, socialist, evangelical, atheist, etc. These words are invested with what I will call psychological baggage: they produce a state of mind that is dominated by emotions. These emotions affect a persons ability to reason: emotion is a more powerful influence than reason. And they affect all other terms that are used in the conversation. It becomes impossible to understand or sympathize with the other person.

The modern mind especially loves to categorize things, and persons are not exempt from this process. After the use of one of these words, the conversation is interrupted by a process of categorization – oh, so if you’re one of those people, you must think that …. And so on and on. But no matter if a definition can be agreed upon, people have preconceived notions of what these words mean and represent.

So I find it’s not best to use these types of categories in conversation unless there is a certain understanding that is already in place. The words are useful, but not if they inhibit our ability to distinguish persons from ideas.