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Truth and Perspective

I haven’t the time or spare mental space to dig through to a conclusion, here, but I’ve felt vaguely like pointing to two items in my daily reading, and it just occurred to me that they’re thematically related.

The first is a review by Father Robert Barron of “Stephen Hawking’s God-Haunted Movie.”  Hawkings, you likely know, is a bit of a poster child for modern science, as well as modern atheism.  Writes Barron:

Two suppositions were required for the sciences to flourish, and they are both theological in nature, namely, that the world is not divine and that nature is marked, through and through, by intelligibility. As long as the natural world is worshipped as sacred-as it was in many ancient cultures — it cannot become the subject of analysis, investigation, and experimentation. And unless one has confidence that the world one seeks to analyze and investigate has an intelligible structure, one will never bother with the exercise. Now both of these convictions are corollaries of the more fundamental doctrine of creation. If the world has been created by God, then it is not divine, but it is indeed marked, in every nook and cranny, by the intelligence of the Creator who made it.

What comes first to mind is how modern progressives pervert both of these “suppositions” in a way that makes them feel as if they are “on the side of science” while belittling science to its political utility.  In their way, for one, environmentalists have, indeed, made the natural world into a sacred place.  In a sense, with the elimination of the divine altogether, they’ve re-elevated the natural world to the highest position.

And from the promoters of identity politics, we get the notion that there is no right answer to reality.  How you feel about the world is how the world is.

That brings us to the second item, Tom Maguire’s take-down of Charles Blow (via Instapundit). It turns out that First Lady Michelle Obama once told an anecdote about a short woman’s asking her to get something from a high shelf in a Target store, not realizing who she was.  “It felt so good,” said Michelle.

But now that we’re in the world of “hands up, don’t shoot,” Mrs. Obama appears to be repurposing the anecdote as one of racial prejudice.  Apparently ignorant of her prior use of the story, Blow takes up the feeling:

But that is, in part, what racial discussions come down to: feelings. These feelings are, of course, informed by facts, experiences, conditioning and culture, but the feelings are what linger, questions of motive and malice hanging in the air like the stench of rotting meat, knotting the stomach and chilling the skin.

One can easily imagine Blow next arguing that it doesn’t matter whether Michelle changed her story, because, having reconsidered it, her feelings have changed.

To Father Barron’s point, science could never survive in a world in which there is only chaos.  When personal feelings can change facts and bring into being unprovable theories about how the world operates, there is only superstition.

Integrity and Moral Compass

A recent essay by Jonah Goldberg, in National Review, notes how the popular culture’s understanding of integrity has shifted from heroes in this mold:

Through virtually the entire history of Western civilization, heroes had the right-end-of-the-spectrum version of integrity. They did good out of a desire to do good — and that good was directed by some external ideal. Sure, it wasn’t always, strictly speaking, a Biblical definition of good. You can’t blame Odysseus or Achilles for not following a book that hadn’t been published yet. But however “good” was defined, it existed in some sort of Platonic realm outside of the protagonist’s own id. (Or ego? Or superego? Or super-duper id? I can never keep that stuff straight.) The hero clung to a definition of “good” that was outside himself, and therefore something he had to reach for.

Goldberg argues that we’ve now inverted the idea of integrity to the point on the spectrum that used to be considered its lowest form: internal consistency based on some self-directed principle.  That’s more of a structural integrity; a building may not collapse because its parts fit together well, but we once prioritized the aesthetics and purpose of the building.  There once was an architectural integrity that married sound building principles with aesthetics that matched the surroundings, with a harmony of form and purpose and a moral component to that purpose.

These days, Jonah goes on, everybody from cable-TV’s dark protagonists to cartoons’ moral lodestars teaches the lesson that morality comes from within:

The truth is, it’s hard to find a children’s cartoon or movie that doesn’t tell kids that they need to look inside themselves for moral guidance. Indeed, there’s a riot of Rousseauian claptrap out there that says children are born with rightly ordered consciences. And why not? As Mr. Rogers told us, “You are the most important person in the whole wide world and you hardly even know you.” Hillary Clinton is even worse. In her book It Takes a Village, she claims that some of the best theologians she’s ever met have been five-year-olds …

Like many of the socio-cultural truisms that guide us, these days, this notion has some foundation in old-school Christianity.  But as philosophy, they’re simply downward slopes that help us get a little farther on the fumes left in the moral tank that Jesus filled up a couple millennia ago.

Yes, conscience is divinely inspired and sacrosanct, and we must listen for it inside ourselves.  But there are many other voices in there, from the base animal instinct that is the residue of our formation, to the whispers of outright evil.  Our task is to determine which of them aligns with the direction of good that can be understood through reason, as honed and instructed by our long heritage of experience translated into traditions.

A moral compass is like a regular compass.  On its own, it doesn’t offer much instruction about how to read the thing, let alone what destination we ought to use it to reach.

Dr. Flanigan to Talk at Portsmouth Institute Saturday

Long-time readers will know that I used to write, every year, from the Portsmouth Institute conference on the grounds of the Portsmouth Abbey school in late June.  It was always one of the highlights of my year, and for some reason, the institute took a hiatus.

Well, it’s back, and extending its activities through the year.  In fact, this Saturday, Dr. Tim Flanigan will be talking about his missionary adventure in Liberia, rebuilding medical infrastructure in Africa.  The talk, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. is titled “Faith and Fear in the Ebola Crisis: Two Months Volunteering in Liberia.”

The event is free and open to the public, but the institute is requesting that people RSVP.

Dawson Doesn’t Get the Annex of Conservatism and Minorities

While preparing to disengage from the Internet Friday evening, I came across a statement from soon-to-be-former State Senator and unsuccessful Republican candidate for attorney general Dawson Hodgson that merits response.  From Ian Donnis’s weekly must-read TGIF post for the week:

Hodgson and fellow Republican Catherine Taylor got swamped in Rhode Island’s cities. So it’s not surprising to hear Hodgson call for the RI GOP to do a better job in courting Latino and black voters, particularly in Providence. “That’s the future of this [Republican] Party if we want to be competitive in the urban landscape,” Hodgson said on this week’s RIPR Bonus Q+A. “I think there are a lot of principles that cross over and that are very generationally appealing: freedom, the ability to control your own destiny and make your way in life and be given a fair shot by your government. That’s what being a Republican means to me. I think that’s a winning message in Providence if you can get people to listen to it.”

This makes me wonder if Hodgson has actually spent much time interacting with urban members of minority communities that already do or might nearly align with Republicans.  As I’ve pointed out before (on this site and on TV), while he and his fellow white, male, suburban Republican state senators were taking a bow for being the only full Republican caucus in the country to back same-sex marriage, black urban Senator Harold Metts (D, Providence) was standing against the wave as the voice of traditional values and a choir of presumably urban Latinos were singing for the traditionalist cause outside the Senate chambers.

The implications of this fact are larger than could be explained as a few old-school folks among the urban minorities who just haven’t gotten the “right side of history” message, yet.

Disadvantaged communities can see the brand of freedom espoused by relatively wealthy whites who profess to be “fiscally conservative, but socially liberal,” as a license to take away all supports from those who need them most.  Paring back government funding and programs that offer direct support for urban communities, while at the same time taking a sledgehammer to the social supports that help communities and families survive and thrive without government assistance, can sound like a promise of having freedom to drown.

Liberal Republicans shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that the things they like about liberal Democrats are the same things that urban minorities like about liberal Democrats.  The bottom line is that — because of their values or because of the crass requirements of their bases — Republicans will never be able to outbid Democrats for the affections of disadvantaged groups; they have to offer an alternative.  Fortunately, the alternative available to them is both more moral and more powerful and sustainable.

If Not on the Ballot, Where?

Jim Vincent, of the Providence NAACP, quotes the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity in a recent Providence Journal op-ed.  (Naturally, he fails to name his source, because progressive activists aren’t about public debate, they’re about confusing public debate for political reasons.)

Supporters have also suggested that a Constitutional Convention would be a good opportunity to “resolve some thorny cultural issues — one way or another.” Cultural issues have no place on the ballot.

He’s referring to a line, way toward the end of this analysis from the Center, in a section about ways in which Rhode Islanders might use a constitutional convention to “take issues off the table” of the General Assembly, where they come up regularly to distract the public and distort the legislative process.  Most of the points have to do with the operation of government, but here’s the final bullet point:

Resolve some thorny cultural issues — one way or another — though the mechanism that most clearly represents the will of the people

Look, cultural issues have to be resolved.  When the government begins dabbling in them (which it inevitably will do if we let it become as large and invasive as it has become), lines must be drawn by somebody concerning the appropriate scope and, if government is going to take a side, which side it will take.  To people with Vincent’s political philosophy, it’s not a question of whether cultural issues should be resolved within government, but how government should assert authority and make decisions.

In March, Vincent told Bob Plain, of RI Future, that “he will lobby legislative leaders this session to pass a bill that would tax and regulate rather than criminalize pot.”

In other words, the “thorny cultural issues” — which are at the core of defining our society and directing its course for generations — “have no place on the ballot” because he wants them decided in back rooms by insiders and special interests.  He doesn’t trust the people — black, white, male, female, gay, straight, liberal, conservative — to come to the right decisions, so it’s imperative that their betters — the elite power brokers who’ve manipulated their way into positions of influence — control the system to tell the people what to do and who to be.

What They Do, Not What They Say

I’ve long argued that the liberal elites of today would have been the reactionaries seeking to perpetuate social structures that helped them keep their place in prior eras.  Views on particular issues are highly related to a person’s immediate context.  In contrast, the prioritization of self-interest and the degree of concern about and respect for others seems like it speaks more to the essence of a person.

So, it isn’t surprising to come across an post like one in The American Interest titled “Puritanical Elites Limit Their Kids’ Use of Tech They Create“:

These parents are, of course, more successful in protecting their children from the harmful side-effects of technology overuse than lower class parents working two jobs are. This is a classically American phenomenon in some ways: We don’t really hide the important stuff, we just don’t make it easy to find. In this way, the successful upper middle class just quietly teaches their kids not to listen to all the hedonistic crap pumped out into the culture. Ross Douthat has chronicled this phenomenon well: the well-off preach social libertinism but are conservative in their private lives. Whether they are exporters of technology or ideology, the elites are able to profit by encouraging one set of behaviors while they teach their children another.

The elite — or, if you prefer, the people who have benefited from advantages in life — should help the disadvantaged to improve their own lots.  That doesn’t mean passing laws to forbid things that the upper-crust types don’t like.  It does mean encouraging behavior that they know to be beneficial.  It also means making sure that public policy doesn’t favor self-destructive behaviors over healthy ones (welfare and marriage being two examples).

In the not-too-distant past, the more-primitive state of transportation, among other technologies, helped minimize this effect.  The upper crust still lived within walking distance from everybody else; they attended the same churches; they shopped at many of the same stores for necessities.

It’s definitely one of the great unsolved (because ignored) puzzles of recent history how a society can benefit from the mobility and cornucopia of choices that technology and prosperity have produced while maintaining a sense of community that encourages healthy behavior.  A good start would be to discard the harmful ethos that conflates permissiveness with compassion and a lack of guidance with freedom.

What Came First, the Apathy or the Corruption?

Which is the dominant characteristic of the Rhode Island electorate: apathy or corruption?

As I’ve pondered Urbanophile Aaron Renn’s suggestion that the Ocean State’s problem is that its people are corrupted, this shade of a difference has calcified as my main agreement.  Writes Renn:

The fact that Cianci is considered a viable candidate for mayor despite being notoriously corrupt shows something that tends to happen in communities where corruption is the norm. Namely that the people themselves become corrupted in the process.

I’d argue the specific point.  It hasn’t seemed to me that Rhode Islanders are eager to support somebody who’s “notoriously corrupt,” but rather that we’re so discouraged by the available alternatives that corruption is reduced to just one variable to consider, not a disqualifier.  What’s worse: corruption, complete managerial inexperience, or ideological naiveté?  When one ideal goes up against another, the balance ceases to be a matter of principle, but a practical question.

Buddy Cianci has proven content with personal excesses; is that really worse than a leader who’ll leave the city in ruins and/or one who’ll seek to transform our representative democracy into a socialistic patronage scheme?  (N.B. — The three categories/possibilities aren’t intended to align with particular candidates in this race, but to be general characterizations of the Rhode Island political scene.)

Of course, we can’t argue that some of the electorate is corrupted in Rhode Island, but is it so many as to characterize the whole?  Or is it more the case that a characteristic apathy allows the corrupt to define Rhode Island politics and governance?  On first expression, it might not seem to make all that much of a difference.

But it makes a world of difference for the solution and the ability to hope.

If Rhode Islanders are corrupted, then the only chance for the state is if it exports the corrupt and imports people who’ll go about insisting on clean, straightforward government.  The people who hold the levers of power in the state aren’t about to let that happen.  In fact, stopping such trends may be the reason (or a reason) that we hear so much talk about the importance of jobs and investment in our state, but so little willingness to take anything but fully controlled half steps.

On the other hand, if the apathetic and ignorant are still the majority, then they can be awoken and educated.  It’s still a long shot, but it’s possible.

Fung’s Pro-Life Endorsement

Being a conservative or traditionalist in New England means being attacked for zealotry if you’re uncompromising and attacked for hypocrisy (or something) when you think strategically.  Such is the case with GoLocalProv’s page-leading primary-day swipe at Rhode Island Right to Life.  (If nothing else, the article illustrates why campaign finance laws should make no distinction between official media and mere pamphleteers when it comes to unconstitutional restrictions of free speech during election time.)

Critics are questioning why a Rhode Island pro-life group is endorsing candidates who a pro-choice — including Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung.

Fung, who has been on the record saying he is an abortion-rights advocate, was endorsed by the group Rhode Island Right to Life, who also endorsed 13 other candidates for statewide and General Assembly seats

The evidence of Fung as an “advocate” is apparently his statement that he’s pro-choice during a recent debate.  Right to Life’s explanation for its endorsement suggests the term might be a bit strong when applied to Fung:

The mailer, which calls Fung the “Pro-Life Choice,” says that Fung “opposes using your taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion-on-demand, opposes late-term abortion, and supports our efforts to make pro-life options available through HealthSource RI.”

I have no insights into the endorsement or Fung’s positions beyond what’s reported, but having gone through the exercise of endorsing candidates in the past, I know it can be a difficult call. In this case, I wouldn’t even call it difficult.

Imagine you’re involved with a single-issue group, and you’re faced with a field of six candidates.  One of them supports every near-term, plausible legislative goal that you have but says that he would be on the other side if your state somehow became the unlikely battleground of a rebellion against an opposing and activist federal government.  All of the other candidates would range from passive support of your opposition in every particular to active advocacy of the opposition’s most extreme positions.

Should it be a scandal if you endorse the first candidate?