Monday, December 30, 2002
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
"If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race," returned the Ghost, "will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust."
-- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
JIMMY CARTER: KING OF THE IDIOTARIANS?
The final round of voting is on over at Little Green Footballs for the worthy recipient of the first annual Robert Fisk Idiotarian of the Year Award, and it looks like it will be a win for Jimmy Carter. I had already cast my vote for the Peanut Man before coming across it, but if I needed any convincing of Carter's true worthiness, this article by Jay Nordlinger lays out the case for him in all its fulsome splendor...
BATTLEGROUND GOD REVISITED
Some time ago I mentioned the online philosophical game Battleground God, which tries to test the rational consistency of your views about God. When I first played it, I had some criticisms of the authors' assumptions and positions, but didn't have time to blog about it then. It seems Minute Particulars had some similar thoughts that he has blogged about. While by no means hostile to theism, the game does make some typical erroneous assumptions about its usual tenets. The two that Minute Particulars discusses deal with God's ability to do "impossible things" and God as the basis of an objective morality.
In addition to these two, one of the questions I had a particular problem with is this one (followed by the response to answering "True"):
True or False: People who die of horrible, painful diseases need to die in such a way for some higher purpose.
True: You've just bitten a bullet!
Many people cannot accept what you have just accepted; namely, that a loving God - a God who possesses great power and insight - has created the world in such a way that people need to suffer horribly for some higher purpose. There is no logical contradiction in your position, but some would argue that it is obscene. Could you really look someone dying of a horrible flesh-eating disease in the eye, and tell them that their suffering is for the greater good of themselves or the world?
To begin with, my immediate response was to scratch my head over why this question was included in the first place. It's not the groundwork for or a lead-in to a later question, and the response even admits "there is no logical contradiction in [this] position" when revealing such contradictions is the very purpose of the game! My hunch is that this was included more to give the authors a chance to speak up about an idea they dislike than anything else. Whatever the case, this is a very superficial treatment of the topic of suffering and God's purposes. There is a difference between needing to die for a higher purpose and some greater good being produced out of that suffering and death -- the latter does not imply that the suffering itself is good, whereas the former easily can. Conceiving the question in the game's way also neglects considering what the higher purpose might be, and how the suffering involved is related to it. For instance, is this idea as objectionable in the case of someone dying a horrible death in order to save the lives of others? And finally, which is really the more "obscene" position: seeing one's suffering as utterly meaningless and pointless, or instead as something which in some way might lead to a greater good?
All this said, the game is quite worthwhile, and great food for thought.
FAVORITE BLOGS UPDATED
I have now revised and reorganized my Favorite Blogs list at left. I realized it's a bit too long to order according to my interest level and most of the blogs are too general to divide into categories, so I have simply arranged them alphabetically. New additions are the prodigious PejmanPundit and The Leibman Theory, the blog of "Politically Conservative Art Student" and comic book aficionado Max Leibman. Check them out!
Saturday, December 28, 2002
WHY EUROPE HATES US, PART III
Nicely rounding out the picture of European anti-Americanism as residual Marxism (discussed previously here and here) is an article in the latest issue of Policy Review by Lee Harris entitled The Intellectual Origins of America-Bashing. Harris outlines Marx's hypothesis that capitalism will inevitably lead to the "immiserization" of the working class and how, as quite to the contrary the lot of the working-class has steadily and dramatically improved, this hypothesis has proved false and needed revision in order to save Marxism. Coming to the rescue was Paul Baran, who recast the class struggle as a battle between the West and the Third World:
...what Baran has done is to globalize the traditional doctrine of immiserization so that, instead of applying to the workers of the advanced capitalist countries, it now came to apply to the entire population of those countries that have not achieved advanced capitalism: It was the rest of the world that was being impoverished by capitalism, not the workers of the advanced countries.
Since America is the unquestionable central power in the advanced capitalist world, it is inevitably the prime target of criticism and hatred for those leftists who, knowingly or not, buy into the Baran-Wallerstein thesis of what could be called "nationalized" class struggle. But as Harris argues, targeting America in this way is ultimately self-destructive for Leftism, and in fact an abandoning of Marx's own approach to political analysis and planning:
The left, if it is not to condemn itself to become a fantasy ideology, must reconcile itself not only with the reality of America, but with its dialectical necessity — America is the sine qua non of any future progress that mankind can make, no matter what direction that progress may take. The belief that mankind’s progress, by any conceivable standard of measurement recognized by Karl Marx, could be achieved through the destruction or even decline of American power is a dangerous delusion.
THE FRODO SEMINAR
Following the path blazed by the Jesus Seminar, Mark Shea now deconstructs and historicizes The Lord of the Rings. Yet another "timeless" "classic" shown to be nothing more than a naked grab for ideological hegemony... tsk, tsk!
I'm back in the Blogosphere again, and hope all of you had a Merry Christmas (or at least an Above-Average Wednesday) while I was gone. Blogging should be a little more frequent here now...
Thursday, December 19, 2002
VARENIUS STARRING IN "NO TIME FOR BLOGGERS"
Sorry folks, but I still don't have much time for the blog. In the meantime, though, here are some interesting links:
Skewering a Stupid White
Fisking the Tranzies: USS Clueless clears out an especially deluded nest of 'em.
Battleground God: Game testing the rational consistency of your views about God. An equal opportunity thought-provoker.
Saddam and al-Quaeda: An exploration of the link between them and how our intelligence agencies have tried to downplay it.
Three Cheers for Christmas: James Lileks unloads both barrels on some Canuck Scrooges. Comes with a complementary Marxist Yuletide carol:
Lenin the bald-head Marxist
Friday, December 13, 2002
BUSH'S "ASTONISHING" SECURITY VISION
An excellent analysis of the Bush Administration's "National Security Strategy" document by Joshua Muravchik appears in the latest issue of Commentary. Contrary to the Administration's detractors, the strategy outlined in the document is thoughtful, grounded, and nuanced, and one easily defended from the criticisms leveled at it. Muravchik goes so far as to argue that the strategy shares the best elements of the Wilsonian vision of U.S. foreign policy. Required reading.
It's All About the Ooiiiillll, ca. 1947
The most startling thing in the article for me is in a brief discussion of the opposition President Truman faced over his policy of containment against the USSR. Just look at these comments -- change the players and they could have been said today!
Truman’s request for aid to Greece and Turkey was denounced by one prominent Senator as “a new American imperialism,” aimed at securing “oil for the American monopolies.” The columnist Walter Lippmann warned that by failing to work through the newly established UN, Truman had “cut a hole in the charter which it would be very difficult to repair.”
But the next line is the kicker:
It was only because such voices were spurned that the world was eventually delivered from the shadow of Soviet tyranny.
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
LATEST MARXIST FOLLIES
A Book Cora Weiss Needs to Read
Revelations about the connections between today's various peace activist groups and Communist organizations just keep coming. First it was that the driving forces behind ANSWER and Not in Our Name are the Workers World Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party. Now it turns out that a suite of other peace organizations are led by millionaire heiress and "Red Diaper Baby" Cora Weiss and/or funded by her family's Samuel Rubin Foundation. And anti-war activists wonder why Middle America isn't getting behind them...
In the same issue of FrontPage is a review by Thomas Sowell of a book Cora Weiss badly needs to read: Joshua Muravchik's Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism. I've heard great acclaim for this broad history of socialism and plan to read it soon.
Monday, December 09, 2002
Exhausted by the unexpected theological confusion sola scriptura has wrought? Looking for a way to keep your bearings while the Spirit moves your biblical interpretations first one way, then another? Now help has arrived! From the makers of the "Choose-Your-Own Adventure" children's book series comes Create Your Own Protestant Catechism.
Thursday, December 05, 2002
VARENIUS, THEN AND NOW
The "Constrained vs. Unconstrained" discussions below got me to thinking about how my views have changed over the years. If I compare what I believe now to my views when I was, say, 18 and first voting (about 10 years ago) I see a 180 degree turnaround on issue after issue. Here's a sampling:
Now: The Nature Conservancy
Then: Bad. Should be severely limited to reduce violent crime and the deaths of innocents.
Now: Good. A necessary Constitutional right and a proven reducer of crime.
One World Government
Then: Great idea! The dream of worldwide peace would finally be realized.
Now: Horrifically bad idea. The government would necessarily be fiercely totalitarian, and with no external power to contest it, would be spectacularly corrupt and abusive to boot.
Then: Moral relativist. Whatever works for you. Who am I to make a moral judgment?
Now: Moral absolutist. Absolute moral truths exist and apply to everyone, even if we do not accept them.
Then: Agnostic. Religion is a bunch of silly old myths we are better off without.
Now: Catholic Christian. Religion is the only solid base for a robust morality and a true humanism, and the greatest enricher of culture and civilization.
America or Europe?
Then: Europe. They are far more sophisticated, knowledgeable, and wise than we boorish Americans.
Now: America. Our system of government is the best in the world, and our country brings out a dynamism in its people that keeps us ascending while Europe continues its downward spiral of socialist government, cultural nihilism, and demographic collapse.
Israel or Palestinians?
Then: Palestinians. They are the innocent oppressed victims of imperialist Israeli rule.
Now: Israel. In the last decade Israel has been restrained toward and willing to generously compromise with the Palestinians, who have returned the favor with violence and have made clear their intent to destroy the Israeli state.
Then: Good. Patients should be allowed to end their suffering.
Now: Bad. The elderly and disabled would increasingly be pressured to kill themselves, and alternatives such as hospices and adequate pain control would be supported even less than they already are.
Governmental Planning & Control of Society
Then: Good idea. Put the experts in charge.
Now: Bad idea. The "experts" usually aren't, and that kind of power will inevitably be abused.
Then: Wrong 95% of the time.
Now: Always regrettable, but frequently necessary given our violent world.
What strikes me more than the dramatic change of positions, however, is how my views have become more complex and thoughtful. The "Then" views were much more shallow -- more the result of naivete than careful reflection about the nature of things. I certainly don't think I "have all the answers" now, but at least what I hold true now has been derived from serious thought, which definitely could not be said then.
WHY EUROPE HATES US, REDUX
Echoing the idea of the source of European anti-Americanism being residual Marxist sentiment (as argued in the article I pointed out in this Latest Marxist Follies entry of mine) Collin May at Innocents Abroad gives his thoughts on Europhobes and Anti-Americans. I actually find his take on this more interesting than the earlier piece.
Wednesday, December 04, 2002
CONSTRAINED VS UNCONSTRAINED IDEOLOGIES, PART II
As I mentioned while heading out the door last week, Glenn Frazier responded to my post regarding his thoughts on Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions. In answer to my observation that Sowell's Constrained/Unconstrained division of ideologies seems to have its limits, especially with libertarianism, Glenn posts an extended excerpt from Sowell's book on the issue.
Sowell is quite aware that not every ideology fits neatly into his system, and in fact points out libertarianism as one instance of this.The intellectual traditions upon which libertarianism draws share much in common with one another, yet also have their individual nuances which lead some into the Constrained camp and others into the Unconstrained camp, resulting in conflicting elements in the end result. Sowell concludes that "These conflicting elements in libertarianism are very revealing as to the difference made by small shifts of assumptions," which I think is an insight that also goes far in explaining why seemingly contradictory ideas confront us in a wide variety of ideologies.
Glenn also notes in passing that his, my, and Sowell's thoughts in this area overlap and converge nicely, and in the comments section says that looking into these topics has helped him understand both his own political views and opposing ones better. I've been noticing the same with myself on both counts. Especially since reading Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France  I better understand the interconnections between underlying, essential worldviews and differences in a broad spectrum of areas, ranging from politics and morality to literature and the arts. It has also helped me better understand the basis for my own conservative views and strengthened my conviction that they are right, and increased my awareness of both basic convergence and divergence between them and other ideas as well.
Glenn Frazier, My Blogfather
While I'm talking about Glenn, I might as well take the opportunity to
 Yeah, yeah, I know, you are all sick of me constantly blabbing about that book! :-)
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
Sexton: I think the whole world's gone mad.
Death: Uh-uh. It's always like this. You probably just don't get out enough.
-- Neil Gaiman, The Sandman
Monday, December 02, 2002
LATEST MARXIST FOLLIES
CUNY Honors Commie
This Dec. 8, the City University of New York's John Calandra Italian-American Institute will be hosting a celebration of Vito Marcantonio, a New York Congressman during the '30s and '40s of whom U.S. Communist Party leader Earl Browder once boasted, "He was our spokesman in Congress." Although Marcantonio was never an actual card-carrying member of the Party, historian Harvey Klehr states that no other congressman "so consistently defended and articulated Communist positions" and that "The Communists had no better friend in Congress." Summing up Marcantonio's career after his death in 1954, liberal anti-Communist Jimmy Wechsler saw him as "another dramatic example of the proposition that there can be no honorable alliance between American progressivism and Communist totalitarianism; and that men who seek to preserve such a tie must ultimately become broken captives, losing their own identities as they compromise the principles of justice and freedom which originally inspired them."