Thursday, August 6, 2009

Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), the follow-up

Here it is, a little more than an month since the Pope published the encyclical, and FPR has 6 articles up and at least one nearly on point article not specifically addressing the encyclical. As usual, the most direct approach is that of John Medaille in this post and in this post. In the second, and earlier, post, John makes this curious statement, "Those who have little concern for the baby, at whatever stage, will have, for example, little real concern for the environment, whatever they may claim." This is in reference to the Pope's concern for life from conception to death as stated in the encyclical.

I can't really get behind John's statement, and not simply because I disagree with him. The facts on the ground are against him. The leading environmental activists of this nation, in point of fact the true conservatives if we take the word at face value, are liberal almost to a man or woman, and presumabley mostly pro-choice. Personally, I believe this confusion comes about because John, along with the Pople, discounts completely the woman's life. Once she is pregnant, then the she no longer is an autonomous creation, but rather one subservient to the potential human being she carries. With few exceptions, if men were held to the same standard by biology, I suspect their beliefs would undergo a radical change. :)

Patrick Deneen, in this post makes a very interesting statement, one with which I concur, "It’s to be wondered whether American Catholics and fellow-travelers will overcome their cognitive dissonance to consider the continuity of the pro-life, pro-nature (”environment”) position." I don't take this as primarily aimed at pro-choicers, but rather at the pro-lifers who refuse to see the environment as their problem. Sure, he quibles about partisans a few sentences later, but I think his heart is in the right place.

In an interesting aricle for FPR, Kirkpatrick Sale riffs off the Pope, without any credits, either!, and talks about Buddha and the 8-fold path as it relates to economics:

All in all, this encyclical has not made the splash at FPR for which I'd hoped.

Oh well.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth)

Pope Benedict's new encyclical. I'll be interested to hear what the good folks at FPR have to say, as it appears that much of the Pope's direction is at least somewhat opposite to that of the good folks.

The encyclical can be found here: caritas-in-veritate.

A discussion at Firedoglake can be found here: benedicts-challenging-words-to-congress-and-the-world-aid-the-poor.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fiscal Scolds and Universal Coverage

How is it that social conservatives can argue for our universal obligations to unborn children, at whatever stage of development, and then in the next breath argue against universal health coverage? What, being born ends our obligation to our fellow human being?

I don't think so.

care-reform/ and comments for background.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Exceptionalism and Localism

Great essay at FPR by Kenneth McIntyre - Exceptionalism and Localism. So good, in fact, I stole his title. :)

When I get to the end, this end, "In this view, there is no claim that local self-government will necessarily be virtuous or that it should be allowed carte blanche, but merely that the diffusion of power will lessen the possibility of governmental tyranny." after having read this (paragraph above) , "Though I have a great deal of sympathy for the republican defense of self-government, I think that the second argument for local autonomy is even stronger." I get a certain sense of cognitive dissonance. Social conservatives talk about obligations for individuals but autonomy for communities. Frankly, I don't get why communities of individuals should get autonomy if the individuals themselves do not.

In truth, what it points out is the confusion in the minds of many about just who has autonomy. I do, you do, she does, he does. Every other kind of autonomy is built upon that understanding, an understanding social conservatives seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge.


Hypocrites? No, I don't think so.

Susan McWilliams put up an interesting post at FPR, So: Are We Hypocrites?. The point of hte post is to address the question of hypocrisy with respect to be all about local and community while simultaneously putting your thoughts out on an internet blog.

The answer is, no, Susan, you are not. The world of ideas is much larger than any physical community. You are not building online friendships (thought friendships may develop) you are putting your ideas out there and then defending them (sort of >:). It is no different the reviewing a peer's publications. You do more good at FPR that you could do without FPR.

Which is kind of Utilitarian, if you think about it. :)


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Now Katherine Has Done It!!!!

Katherine, in this post, Workaday Morals at FPR, has gone and sent me 'round the bend once again.

She opens with a standard opening, and Lord knows, I shouldn't get sucked in, but I do, I just can't help it.

"Those of us foolish enough to call ourselves “conservative” are forced to admit that culturally and politically at least we live amidst less and less worth conserving. We can and should continue to mind our own business, and tackle daily life as cheerfully as possible, but some days one wants to take up the fight for the reformation of this bloated and addled culture of ours. Where to find a cudgel?"

Just who do you want to cudgel, Kate? Just who are you to think you have all the solutions? It's not like the past, even the past you so want to recreate, wasn't a hard luck time for most people. Basically, it SUCKED for all but a fortunate few.

There was NEVER a freaking land of milk and honey. Why Kate and her fellow travelers don't get that is beyond me. As hard as it is to believe, Kate, we are in the best of times for the most of the people. More children live to adulthood, more adults have more opportunity than ever before - opportunity to be conservatives, or liberals, or Christians or whatever. And it's all a CHOICE.

Could things be better? Good gravy, YES!!!!! Whining about how the past is past and oh so much better (which it wasn't) is not helping. Helping is doing exactly what you say you should do - being particular in YOUR life. I know you want to save all the babies in Bangladesh, and a little money goes a long wayto help so send some over there, but for most of us, doing the best we can to be good neighbors, coworkers, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters, children and parents - that is the good that we can do.

So go do it! Nobody's stopping you!! Hell, we'll all cheer you on!!!!

FPR Social Conservatives (not all of them) - always looking backward into the historical mists and missing what's happening right now. Sheesh.


Friday, June 12, 2009


Somewhere on Up Turned I got accused of being a utilitarian. Not being sure of all the historical ramifications of agreeing or disagreeing, I ignored the statement. Having had a chance to refresh my memory, I have to completely agree with whoever said it.

Not that we agree on the meaning of utilitarian - in context, I believe the author of that accusation meant that I exist somewhere in the hedonist/moral relativist spectrum. What I mean is something entirely different.

What I mean is that I treat each person as equal in value to me. That can be seen a relativistic, but I kind of assume that I have too high an opinion of myself, so if anything, I err on the side of too much value. :)

I also mean that "pleasure" in the JS Mill sense is not simply, or even mostly, pleasure in the senses, but pleasure in doing right, in caring about others, in being a true friend.

Autonomy, caring about others, explicity arguing for the good of all - yeah, I can get behind the utilitarian smear.

It's kind of funny, but everything social conservatives argue for is implicitly utilitarian - everybody would be better off if only they would do things the socon way!!!! But of course, everyone would not be better off. Just the socons - for a while, until things came tumbling down around their ears, 'cause, you know, that's already happened once or twice?


Monday, June 8, 2009

James, James, James

James put up a post congratulating FPR on being both a great place to essay and one so open to discussion.

In his essay, which I mostly like, he disses internet blogs as, I don't know, too common or something. Certainly there are lots of kinds of blogs, and crap blogs are as likely to be found as good ones, but FPR is just another blog. I love the essay approach, but James, let's be honest - most of you all could say what you had to say in one fifth of the time and space it takes you on FPR. What I am saying here is that you like the sound of your own words. Man up!

As for commenters - well, I love them. Even when they just agree with the poster.

Oh well. :)


Friday, June 5, 2009

A Bioethics Rooted In Love

John, at Upturned Earth, pointed me to this essay, Toward a Bioethics of Love by Helen Rittelmeyer at Doublethink Online.

I think this is a valuable discussion. Social conservatives struggle with the whole autonomy thing. I don't know if it's because they can't refute it without resorting to God, or because they believe that God already answered the question and there is no autonomy. Perhaps if they choose the root for bioethics, maybe we can find a way to a common ground that respects the beliefs of each kind of person.

Here is what I had to say:

I think you misstate Autonomy. Autonomy comes to us from ancient Greek: αυτονόμος autonomos, from auto “self” + nomos, “law”: one who gives oneself his/her own law. In modern use in ethics and philosophy, this means self-determination in the context of moral choices. In medicine, for example, this often takes the form of “informed consent” - the autonomous individual chooses for his- or herself. So when you say, “They think so because they believe people are fundamentally autonomous—a strange fiction.” And you are correct, except that you, too, hold some strange fiction that inter-dependence somehow compromises autonomy. It doesn’t. Autonomy is about choice in the context of constraints, external or internal. A person with certain specific disabilities is less self-sufficient than a more or less normally functioning human being, but his or autonomy is not thereby lessened.

In your 91% are included several genetic malformations other than DS. Among them is Anencephaly, a truly horrific malformation where there is essentially no head above the eyes and no brain much above the stem. Babies who survive birth live for hours only. This does not obviate your point about 15% so much as provide a footnote - there may in fact be lives so short and horrific that to not terminate the pregnancy is to insure unimaginable suffering of the parents and the baby.

Science has no vision of the world at all. Some, or even most, practitioners of science do. That vision is as multifaceted as the human beings that hold it. Undoubtedly some human beings, scientists included, envision a perpetually comfortable and easy world. Others hope to reduce disease, or improve the environment, or find some measure of peace for the mentally ill. You have created a straw man, a scientist that may or may not exist for real, but one that surely does NOT hold the view of many, or even most, scientists.

Finally, you have presented no rationale for exchanging love for autonomy as a basis for bioethics. Explain to me how that would work on an informed consent form. Explain to me how an individual making a moral choice could sublet that choice to another, even if love was at the heart of the relationship. Who bears responsibility for the action that follows the moral choice?

As a sketch, this is more of a thin straw. I wouldn’t care that it so were it not that so many conservatives seek just such a straw to which they can cling in their efforts to shut their ears to ethics discussions rooted in autonomy.

There may be such a thing as a bioethics rooted in love. I encourage you to sketch out your thoughts more fully, so that discussion can continue.

I hope she pursues her sketch further. This kind of discussion can only help.


Update - it seems I am not welcome at Doublethink, either. Another post deleted. Such is life!

'Nuther update - Doublethink put the post back. That's thinking twice? Also, read comments for my response (not the only one, just the last one) to John at UE.

FPR and the Environment

Patrick Deneen's essay at FPR, Against the Environment is a perfect example of why I wish I could post there - I'd like to be able to tell him how much I appreciate his essay, and how much I agree with him.

Alas, such is not to be. :)

We simply cannot continue to live the consumptive lives we now have. That does not mean that we must be poorer - we are so poor now in all that matters, poorer would be hard to achieve - but rather that we find our riches in simpler ways. How much we love one and other is not a function of how far we drive in a day in our efforts to find rewarding work, for example. The challenge of the future will be to provide access to rewarding work, and a rewarding life, without requiring so much energy be used, without a need for so many things in our lives.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Atheists Can't Last Long

James Matthew Wilson put up an essay on Burkean Conservatives. Very interesting reading. However, the following quote from Burke, "We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long." seems to me to whistling past the grave yard. More and more Westerners, American and European alike, claim no religious affiliation. That doesn't mean they are largely atheists, but in fact atheist is the fasted growing self categorization.

And then James says this: "The apparent sovereignty of government in the face of “natural rights” breaks down when confronted with the supernatural sovereignty of the Creator. Or rather, human society is not merely patterned on the natural world, it is informed by its function to bring men to perfection, to aid them in becoming suitable for eternal life. At the heart of Burke’s politics is an eschatology-one that refuses to follow the path of the Revolutionaries and become immanent."

The supernatural sovereignty of the Creator? How many ways can I disagree with him? Even so, I wish the last bit of that quote were true, given how little the first part is. If James weren't seeking to immamentize the eschaton, he would leave the rest of us alone and quit insisting that souls exist, that ensoulment is meaningful, if only we would believe like him. He is free to believe as he chooses, as we are free to accept the consequences of whatever we choose, however little James might think of our choices.

Which I most fervently don't. Believe like James Matthew Wilson, that is.

I can't imagine about whom James is talking here, "If we hear someone deprecating something we deeply love as mere sentiment, we may often fail to provide a convincingly rational riposte, but we may well (depending on the circumstances) be right to punch him in the mouth." :)


PS and update - James Matthew Wilson, I know damn well you see me. >:)

Freedom and Liberty

Lew Daly, a guest contributor at FPR, has posted at FPR an essay on Liberty or Freedom? It is not exactly on point with respect to my earlier statement, "I keep waiting for someone at FPR to tell me what they mean by freedom," but it's at least in the ballpark.

Lew provides some etymology for both words and says this: "Our Bill of Rights is the world’s greatest monument of negative individual liberty. But our Christian heritage bears the imprint of the deeper idea that true liberty—freedom—derives from connectedness, not separation."

So true liberty is freedom, which is connectedness not separation. In at least one sense, this statement accords will with my own beliefs - to be truly free is to do only that which you must do.

In the end, Lew's essay is not helpful in defining what freedoms or liberties are being lost in the current social order. Perhaps it is the sense of connectedness, but Patrick in comments concludes that because freedom, severed from the political, has been corrupted with individualist overtones, the word is rendered into meaningless noise. So we are back where we began - what freedoms are being lost?

Patrick says something else interesting in his comment; "... the Greek idea of freedom - that its opposite is the condition of slavery, which is not only or merely the condition of being a slave, but most profoundly the condition of being subject to forces over which you have no control." Patrick goes on to modify this statment to mean control of appetites, but I wonder if his original, very broad, statement doesn't present his true belief, that free men are in control. If so, what an odd and telling confession.

Patrick, in case you are confused, you are not in control of anything but your choices. Everything else is out of your hands.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Freedom Is Nothing Left to Lose

Freedom. We load up that word with so much meaning, most of it unspoken. I keep waiting for someone at FPR to tell me what they mean by freedom. So far, no one has taken up the challenge. Maybe they don't even know there IS a challenge!!!!

Probably, but maybe not. :)

Carlos Casteneda, that putative charlatan, said at least one profound thing - when you are totally free, you do only what you must do. You must eat, breathe, urinate, defecate and eventually die. Beyond that, what must you do?

I think that is the challenge that faces all of us. What must we do? Nothing is an acceptable answer. Who will enforce anything else? God? Jesus said "believe in me", so if you believe in the God of Jesus, that much you must do, but beyond that? Nothing.

But, must... what a strange word. It's meaning is freighted with culture and family and desire and authority. A grab bag of everything in the world. There are many things we must not do, but few ways to know what we must do.

I think we are always free. We do exactly what we choose to do and nothing else. Our choices are always constrained by consequences, but the choice itself is free. Viktor Frankl, in a concentration camp, decided he could be free, that no one could take that away from him. That in truth, he couldn't even give it up.

In the end, this is what Viktor had to say about what we must do, "I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge." Whatever that is, that is where freedom lies - in doing what you must do, and nothing else.

Not that it isn't a hard path to follow.


... Because Terrorism Should Not Pay

John, at Upturned Earth responds to a post by Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings wherein Hilzoy suggests ways in which the outcome of Scott Roeder's murder of Dr. Tiller does not compromise women's access to appropriate health care, including therapeutic late term abortions. i will leave you to read both posts, but this is how I responded to John at his site:

John, you reference two comparable kinds of violence, that then proceed to reference completely incomparable kinds of remedies.

a) Hilzoy says dilation and extraction (IDX) should not be outlawed because it may be the safest method to protect the mother’s health and life. How is your remedy, repeal ALL restriction requiring humane treatment of animals, comparable?

b) Hilzoy says if you are going to be an Ob/Gyn, someone who specializes in womens reproductive health, you need to be trained in late-term abortion techniques, Why? Because sometimes the fetus dies, and sometimes the mother’s life is at risk. She does not say that a specialist in women’s reproductive health MUST provide abortions. Clearly, her implication is that if the mother’s life is at risk and an emergency is underway, even specialists who oppose abortion must be able to act to save the mother. Your comparison refers to non-specialists with no obvious connection to life-saving techniques or services.

c) Hilzoy again speaks to hospitals providing women’s reproductive health services and the requirement that they be able to act to save a woman’s life. She suggests that religious objections would except if the fetus is dead. You suggest research that in not and won’t be emergency in nature is comparable to that of doctor faced with the death of the woman if he or she doesn’t act.

These are entirely unobjectionable changes to current law, ones that put the life of the mother on parity with the life of the fetus while respecting the idea of viability. I understand you do not accept viability as the standard by which abortion should be judged, but it is the law as it is written.

There are many institutions that do animal research. There is now, what, one doctor in the entire nation who will perform therapeutic late term abortions? This is a question of women’s health, John, and your post is extremely cavalier.


and John's response:

These are entirely unobjectionable changes to current law …

Umm … no they’re not. They are deeply, deeply radical changes that run directly counter to many Americans’ convictions about conscience protection and the dignity of human life. It’s one thing to defend them on the merits, and quite another to propose them as a brazenly political measure to “make it clear that terrorism doesn’t work

and my response:

John, in what way are they radical changes from existing law? Emergency rooms are required to handle emergencies. Doctors address threats to the life and wellbeing of women. That is the basic thrust of all of Hilzoy’s piece. What part of her remedies are radical changes? Hilzoy does not require those who object to abortions to perform them - she requires that those who call themselves specialists in women’s health be able to act, when necessary, to protect the health of a woman in their care.

You object to her framing, not to her ideas? You would subjugate women’s health to your distaste for the way Hilzoy characterizes her remedies?

Anti-abortionists use “murder” freely, but Hilzoy suggests eminently sensible, legal and appropriate remedies to actually provide for women’s health, using the phrase “make it clear that terrorism doesn’t work” and suddenly women’s health isn’t important?

Answer me this, if you will: if the mother’s life is in immediate and significant danger (and you may describe immediate and significant however you wish) is it okay to perform IDX , or any other abortion technique you might find less objectionable, in order to save her life?


If John answers, we'll see what he says.


John answered:

What part of her remedies are radical changes?

Umm … the parts that suggest passing a congressional mandate requiring that all hospitals be ready to provide, and all medical professionals instructed in to perform, late-term abortions, not just in cases where the mother’s life is at stake, but also in those in which it is the child’s or the mother’s health that is the issue.

You object to her framing, not to her ideas? You would subjugate women’s health to your distaste for the way Hilzoy characterizes her remedies?

You’re missing the point - badly. The entire point of hilzoy’s post is to suggest those policies as a way to show that “terrorism doesn’t work”. And I responded by showing up that illogic for what it was. My objection to the policies is rooted in a conviction that people shouldn’t be allowed - much less required - to kill other human beings on grounds as flimsy as these.

… if the mother’s life is in immediate and significant danger (and you may describe immediate and significant however you wish) is it okay to perform IDX , or any other abortion technique you might find less objectionable, in order to save her life?


And here is my response:

Passing a mandate that hospitals be able to be hospitals, that specialists in women's health be able to care for women appropriately? Hilzoy goes on to say "There should be religious exemptions, but they should not extend to the treatment of women whose fetus has already died." I think Hilzoy answered your second objection rather pointedly. As for the training, she says this, "Require training in late-term abortion techniques for Ob/Gyn certification. Note that these techniques are also used when the fetus has already died." She doesn't say all providers must provide abortions, she says all providers of women's health must be trained, specifically for cases when the fetus has died and there are no religious objections to be made. Let's talk about the health and quality of life issue. I think that troubles you deeply, that we currently allow such choices to be made up to some point in time. Lets think of another example of where we make such a distinction, but it doesn't seem to create the same tensions in our society. Conjoined twins. Today, we almost always (always? I don't know) work to separate conjoined twins. We do this knowing that the twins, if they remain conjoined, could live long and perhaps even fruitful lives. The choices made in separating conjoined twins sometimes involves the death of one of the twins. Often, we even know which twin will die. Nonetheless, we allow the parents to make a choice involving the death of an already born human being, in order to improve the health and quality of life of the surviving twin. It is the same language, John, the same choice, the same outcomes. Why is making a choice based upon probable health and wellbeing okay in the conjoined twins case and not in the abortion case? If we are consistent in our beliefs, I don't believe we can see a difference. I am glad we agree on your final point. However, just who should perform the necessary late term therapeutic abortion? Someone who only knows c-sections, or someone who knows less invasive techniques, even though that person will not perform abortions under any other circumstance? Jake

More in comments to this post.



Mark at FPR speaks of Corporate Capitalism and the Loss of Virtue. I believe that Mark speaks of a genuine problem, but it is the implications of this passage that I find interesting:

"Because of the asymmetry between profits and virtue, a regulatory bureaucracy is erected to make up the difference. Regulations become a substitute for virtue. Of course, as regulations increasingly pressure corporate executives, they will naturally find themselves focusing on the bureaucratic minutia of the regulations rather than on the self-imposed moral probity that virtue requires. Regulations, then, can have the unintended effect of distracting from the cultivation and practice of virtue."

In a sense, this is the argument that I have heard religious believers make against atheists - that without an authority setting the rules and providing punishment for disobedience, people will not seek virtue. I am not saying that Mark holds this position - I don't know if he does or doesn't.

In no small part, it is the definition of virtue that is at issue with corporations. As Mark notes, virtue as defined by Friedman is as follows:

“... there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud."

I take Friedman's "social responsibility" to be the equivalent of Mark's virtue. Looked at in that way, most corporations are nearly perfectly virtuous. The complication, of course, comes about in those evil externalities; polution, harmful labor practices, etc.

Any roads, I would be interested in Mark's take on question of atheism and the role of an authority figure.


Respect for the Beliefs of Others

The beliefs of others. What does this phrase mean? It certainly includes religious beliefs, but what about atheists and agnostics, who have a functioning system of beliefs but no religious beliefs? Religious belief is often defined as belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny. Clearly, atheists and agnostics do have religious beliefs. Just as clearly, they have beliefs about the world, about ethics, and about justice and equity that constitute a system of beliefs.

Most of my life I have considered respect for the beliefs of others as a rule I must follow. As honestly and as completely as I am able, I maintain, in both speech and action, respect for the beliefs of others, religious or systematic. Too many things in this universe remain unknown and unknowable.

This morning I had a moment of clarity strike me - that others should respect my beliefs as well.

Admittedly, that will be a hard row to hoe, because my personal beliefs are not sustained and illuminated by thousands of years of written words. Even so, I follow no cult that might be offensive to mainstream religions, I respect the idea of belief as sustaining for all human beings, and I respect the beliefs of others and do not seek to change their beliefs, at least where those beliefs do not act in the real world in opposition to my beliefs.

Abortion is a such real world opposition. I do not believe that a blastocyst of less than 100 cells is a human being in anything but potential. I do not believe that a woman's autonomy must be sacrificed for the good of that clump of cells.

Now, in the spirit of our common respect for each other's beliefs, I ask that those whose beliefs run counter to mine respect my beliefs and refrain from calling abortion murder. I make this request not as an individual, although that should be sufficient, but as an informal, unappointed representative of the many, many citizens of this nation who share with me these specific beliefs about abortion.

Our nation is a nation of laws. Until such a time as our laws make abortion illegal, and may that day never come, I ask that all of us refrain from referring to abortion as murder.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Patrick Deneen on Gay Marriage

Patrick, talking about gay marriage at FPR says this, "American marriage - and relationships in general - are increasingly defined above all by the imperatives of individualism, and thereby subject to the demand that any particular relationship is contribute to an individual’s personal development and satisfaction. If not, then it is subject to fundamental redefinition."

He states things exactly correctly, and gets the main point completely wrong. Committed marriage is an ongoing act of personal development, not as a goal, but as a product. People give up on it not because they don't get enough development but because the personal development required to make a true marriage is actually quite hard. Many marriages that stay together do so even though the partners have not grown, and the marriage is not functional in any meaningful sense. Is this a desired outcome? I don't see it.

Marriage is hard work. Good work, but hard. Patrick, we are inevitably and irrevocably individuals with the the unassailable authority to choose. Limiting that choice by ramping up consequences for choices of which you disapprove is no more than whipping the deckhands until morale improves. It ain't gonna work.

Marriage is not about children, or at least not only about children. It is about two people (or more? though as hard as it is for two people, more seems all but impossible) making a life together. Marriage in this country has not been about children for a long, long time. Intentionally childless marriages are not new. Gay marrriage is no more than recognizing that we are beings inhabiting a specific body, where context is set by the body but the choices are made by the being.

Patrick goes on, "Marriage is a condition in which individuality is subsumed to the larger considerations, demands, and obligations of culture and commonweal. At the most basic level, we sacrifice our autonomy on behalf of the good of a “unit” now defined as a couple, not two individuals." Again, he missed the point. Individuality is not subsumed by marriage. Individuality is inalienable, or unfixable, depending on your POV. Partners bring their individuality to the marriage, and then in a long process of give and take, of mistakes and forgiveness, learn how to be a human being whose self defined circle of "me" includes other people, and choices are not made for the good of a single individual but for the good of whoever is included in that circle.

Patrick simply can't get it that we are inescapably individuals, that every act is a choice; that our individuality is inalienable and must be accommodated, not assumed away. Until he gets that much, his prescriptions for a better future for all of us will remain infeasible, or worse, counter productive. Which is a bad, as at least the FPR folks are talking about and working toward a future that is radically different, and fundamentally more human, from that we currently experience.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Rights, Autonomy and Abortion

Daniel Larison at Eunomia says something totally interesting in an otherwise tangentiall related topic. He says, "It is rather like using the language of rights and autonomy to oppose abortion. At first, it seems like the smart move, because it speaks to people in a language they will readily understand, but by buying into the assumptions of one’s opponents the debate’s outcome is fixed before it even starts."

I find this statement immensely interesting. If I take him right, he acknowledges that the idea of rights and autonomy is opposed to the position he holds, along with many other conservatives. His statement is an admission that if the question is framed as one of rights and autonomy, anti-abortionists cannot support their position.

So, if it isn’t a matter of rights and autonomy, then what is it that undergirds their position with respect to abortion? They can no longer use the death of the fetus as an argument, because that goes directly back to the rights of the woman as an autonomous being. So just what authority to conservatives can turn to support their position?

I can imagine that one source is someone's interpretation of the will of God. And it would have to be a more or less modern interpretation, because the bible is all but bereft of references to abortion incidents - and what there is, is in the old testament. Not the best source for modern life.

I asked Daniel to amplify his remarks. We'll see what happens. He is articulate, passionate, and mostly logical. If he answers, it will be thoughtful and eloquent.

Truthfully, though, I expect no answer.


Update - Daniel did respond, and I am grateful. Here is what he said, "This whole discourse of competing rights is what lead to the creation of abortion rights in the first place. As I understand it, abortion is wrong because it violates the dignity of the human person, desecrates the image of God and ignores the obligations we have to the weak and defenseless. It also sunders in the most violent way the obligations of parents to their children; it is a kind of impiety directed toward children. In the end, competing rights claims are competitions over power, and unborn children can never effectively contest for that power because they are dependent and helpless. The very dependency that serves as the basis for denying the child the rights of a full person is the thing that obliges us to protect that child. In my view, it is ultimately far more effective and much more true to think of this question in these terms. I have not encountered many pro-lifers who share that view as of yet, but I will keep working on it."

As I said, thoughtful, articulate, eloquent, passionate and mostly logical.

I don't agree that dependency grants the fetus rights superior to the woman's. In the end, Daniel's response comes down to this, "... abortion is wrong because it violates the dignity of the human person, desecrates the image of God and ignores the obligations we have to the weak and defenseless."

Abortion violates the dignity of the fetus. What about violating the rights of the mother? Is dignity more important than rights and autonomy? How do we even compare such things?

Abortion desecrates the image of God. So does murdering Tiller. Christians of all stripes (which is not to say all Christians, or even many) are glad he was murdered. I guess it's a numbers thing. That makes it kind of for sale, doesn't it? I'll trade you one Tiller for a few thousand dead babies.

We have many obligations to the weak and defenseless, most of which we conveniently find ways to ignore. We do not have the right to take away a woman's autonomy to expunge our guilt. Whatever guilt is to be borne, is hers and hers alone. A woman is an independent and soverign being - we don't get to decide for her. Application of the laws of this nation constrain choices by consequences, but current law says there are no legal consequences for choosing abortion.

I am okay with Daniel stating that God says abortion is bad. God didn't tell me that. Who is to say who is right? Until we get proof recognizable to all that God says a blastocyst a few hours old is a human being whose rights supercede that of the mother, I remain pro-Choice.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Just a quick note.

This post, barbarians, at Obsidian Wings, illustrates why, of all the people I read on the tubz, Hilzoy is the person I most admire, and would most likely emulate, were I capable of such a thing. Her writing is a mixture of common sense, erudition, compassion, and complete honesty, alloyed with a sense of her own imperfection and a terrific way with words.


Update - not to mention this post and the one following.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Caleb did it to me again

In this this post, Community, at FPR, Caleb Stegall once again totally raises my ire. He speaks of the lost America of small towns and tight knit communities, and bemoans the destructive ways of modernity. His paean to conservative values completely misses the point that those communities were largely white, Christian patriarchies that limited the freedom of expression for all dissenting povs. Women lacked the right to vote, Catholics weren't welcome, except where THEY dominated the patriarchy, and black people were first slaves and then little better than agrarian servants.

FPR posters have argued in the past that diversity is anathema to community. I both agree and disagree. It is anathema to their vision of community, where everybody looks like them, thinks like them, goes to church like them, and more importantly, where they and their conservative followers hold the reins of power. It is NOT anathema to communities of which individuals choose to be a part. If Caleb wants to live in a community of like minded individuals, then that's great, I hope he finds one. But to insist, repeatedly and at length, that only HIS vision (and that of Berry) is meaningful is little more than an act of hubris.

Those old communities fell apart exactly because they did not serve the bulk of the participants in that community. Had they done so, they would still exist.

It's in the individual choosing, Caleb. That is where the power lies, and that can't be taken away simply because you, or any other conservative or liberal or fascist or communist or socialist, think you have the magic pony that will bring about the perfect setting for all of humanity.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Green Monkeys! Thing1 and Thing2!

DKos has the following article Green glowing marmosets!!! Jellyfish dna planted in a primate!!! How cool is that?

I wonder if this isn't the beginning of immamentizing the eschaton? I mean, think about it, marmosets are primates, human beings are primates, we could have green glowing humans - Hulk! - and we could have many other kinds of human being. We could perfect humanity and bring about heaven on earth!!!

Is a human being carrying dna from another species still a human being? What if, just as a thought experiment, we created two lines of human beings, one that swam in the oceans and one that flew in the sky. Given their inherent morphology, interspecies procreation is no longer possible. Are both lines still human? What does it mean to be human?

I think they are human. I think that tent is big enough for all us conscious creatures, whether or not our germ cells are compatible.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Pope Signs Up for Ad Revenue

It seems the Vatican radio station has decided to sell ads to generate revenue. I wonder how that will play at FPR, where consumerism is an evil second only to abortion (I made that part up - it just sounds too good to waste!).

I, like many on FPR, believe that credit driven consumerism, fueled by psychologically s(l)ick ads is part of the reason that so many communities aren't really communities at all. Being as FPRrs are mostly Catholic and all, it seems like there should be a perfect storm brewing.

Apparently the Pope himself (or his delegated alternate) will review the ads closely. I wonder just what metrics they will use to decide between good ads and bad ads? somethings are obvious - condoms, for example, probably won't make the good list. But what about, say, dish soap? Or furniture stores?

I wonder if they do research to see who their audience is?

Further, I wonder if we will hear anything else about the Vatican radio station?


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Don’t EVEN THINK ABOUT Immamentizing the Eschaton!!!!

Michael Federici has this essay, The 100 Years vs. The 100 Days Standard, up at FPR. In it, Michael mentions two interesting concepts, gnostic impatience (gi), seeking to immamentize the eschaton, or bring about heaven on earth, and metastatic faith (mf), seeking to change reality through faith. In comments, RJ Snell refers to Voegelin, apparently referring to the content of the essay itself. Interesting stuff.

The essay itself primarily deals with the title; the idea that the first 100 days is important is an example of both gi and mf. Michael argues that 100 years is a better determinant than 100 days. I agree. The problem, as I see it, is that very few of us have 100 years to work on things. Michaels first big conjecture is, "…the use of a one-hundred years standard might indicate a movement toward a new realism in American politics that marks the end of big government and the romantic humanitarianism that is its animating force." Wow! Romantic humanitarianism! It takes a little extra credit reading to understand that the phrase is a reference to Empire, as well as to Rousseau and the Noble Savage – the idea that mankind can be improved. I kind of agree with Michael - we're not likely to see any improvement in mankind, probably ever. Nor should we.

Perhaps the most grand observation in the essay is this, "Evil, imperfection, and injustice are not tolerated to any degree." Implication being two-fold; that toleration of the bad trifecta is itself a good, and that seeking to minimize the trifecta is bad. Perhaps my dyspeptic view of this statement lies in the choice of the word "tolerance", when what Michael may mean is the expectation that the trifecta can be eliminated is too ingrained into our modern culture. I don't know that I agree with him, but I certainly can better understand his point, were his "tolerance" to be defined as I suggest.

Michael goes on to argue for FPR's most dearly held belief, that if we just went back to "community" as the basis of culture, all would be better. I think that might be another example of gi and mf. :)

The essay is somewhat confusing in its presentation. OTOH, this is the net, not a scholarly journal, so some slack is permitted.

If I have one observation to make, it is this – if we had all FPR's grandest ideas AND a magic pony, we could immamentize the eschaton!!!! The point being, how do we obtain the benefits of big gov while simultaneously abandoning it? That is the magic pony, the mf and gi in the FPR mythos. Not to mention another kind of romantic humanitarianism.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Larison and the GOP

I think Daniel's "point" is that Republicans are not conservatives, that real conservatives are actually a rare breed, but after that I get confused. If the unthinking (non-ideological in Daniel speak) Republicans are drifting away from the party, as Daniel suggests, then that means that only the ideologically aware remain with the party - which kind of begs the question; if the aware remain with the party, then the party is THEIRS, in all its perfidy and destructiveness. I think Daniel agrees when he says, "they will have to start acting like conservatives, rather than simply calling themselves that." My guess is that most of the ideological conservatives are not at all similar to Daniel, and it is his blind spot in action, not theirs. The party is exactly what most ideologically aware "conservatives" want it to be.

I interpret Daniel as saying that the GOP is the lesser of two evils. After these past 8 years, I have no idea how he can support that position, if that is what he believes. His writing doesn't support it. In my reading of the kind of conservative sites Daniel represents, I find many worthy ideas. I also find the kind of libertarian bigotry to which both Alan and MZ refer. But more than anything else, it is abortion that I believe keeps true conservatives like Daniel from fleeing the GOP. I am sorry for that, sorry that I can't accept their reasoning, sorry that they can't see that taking away a woman's choice is as wrong as locking her up in Gitmo with no rights and no evidence of any wrongdoing. I think as long as conservatives feel they must stick to an anti-abortion platform they will remain outside the discussion of what is right and good for America and for the world, because that discussion is happening in circles from which the GOP has excluded itself. Daniel's best hope, and that of his fellow travelers, is that those who disagree with him on abortion will none the less carry some of his water into those forums where real discussion can occur.

There is some chance of that, no? I mean, look who reads Daniel and FPR - self styled liberals (me, for example) who find much of what Daniel says to be no more than the simple truth.


Friday, May 22, 2009

My Little Piece of Place

The honeysuckle is in bloom, the oaks are so green it almost hurts the eyes, the sky so blue it goes on forever. There are flowers in the meadow and birds in the trees.

I can't imagine that it gets any better than this.

Love made this place. Friends, children, grandchildren, parents, sibs, nephews, nieces, cousins - this place is for all of them, and they know it


Polistra In Oz

Polistra, a regular commenter at FPR and proprietor of has the following post: In it, Polistra make the following observation, "most Americans think it's fine to use any methods necessary to get important information from an actual enemy." I don't actually think this is true. It certainly isn't in line with our legal system or the constitution.

I think that Polistra inveighs against torturing people who don't know anything. I am not sure how we know who knows and who doesn't, but I am encouraged at even that much humanity. He also claims that most of what I might term torture is not quite so uncomfortable as a visit to the dentist. I wonder how he incorporates Mancow's recent change of heart with respect to waterboarding? Apparently Mancow held the same belief as does Polistra, but having tested his resolve, has changed his mind. Maybe we should ask Polistra to test his resolve?

Finally, maybe Polistra should follow the lead of FPR and open his blog to comments. Or maybe the reading on HIS blog the comments of those who disagree with him is just torture? (Not that FPR didn't ask me to not post – but at least they asked, and at least they have comments still turned on).


Are All Gitmo Detainees Terrorists?

I remain confused by right wing commenters in general. We know that many, if not most, Gitmo detainees were not terrorists, or at least not anti-American terrorists. Why do so many conservative commenters continue to speak and act as if ALL Gitmo detainees are in fact terrorists, or even simply enemy combatants? It just isn't true – or wasn't true. It might well be the case that after years of abusive incarceration that all Gitmo detainees are in fact, if not in action, anti-American terrorists. It would be very hard to blame them for holding on to their anger and taking it out someplace, sometime.

I don't see the FPR columnists, or Larison, or Schwenkler making such statements (they may have and I just missed them) but everywhere I read, if Gitmo comes up, some commenter repeats the lie that everyone ever there was a terrorist, the worst of the worst.

It just ain't so.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is Obama Short Sheeting Us?

JL Wall, standing in for John Schwenkler at Upturned Earth, puts up the following post.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?

And I gotta say, I wonder. I wonder if after it's all said and done, Obama isn't just a smoother and more intelligent Bush. Only time will tell, and then, of course, it will be way, way too late.


It’s the Phreedom One, Mark

Mark Mitchell at FPR posted another essay on we are all losing freedom left and right.

GPS, Security, and Freedom

Again, Mark, where is the definition of the freedom we are losing? He's in a car, free to travel to New York, perfectly free to not fly to New York, driving on socialized roads, and he's considering the loss of freedom associated with a GPS Nav system?

Mark says, and I quote "But this leads us to a question: is meaningful and robust freedom compatible with a world rendered secure by our technical cleverness? Does a completely secure world have any space for meaningful freedom? In a world of absolute security, or the impression thereof, would we even miss the freedom that has been lost?" Mark, I say this leads us to a question: what is meaningful and robust freedom? Is there now or will there ever be a completely secure world? How would we miss freedom we haven't even bothered to identify?

I like Mark's writing, but this essay poses questions without setting context. It is like asking someone without electricity if they watch a big screen tv – it just doesn't mean anything. The only possible answer is not, and that answer is not meaningful. How do I know if we've possibly lost freedom when I don't understand to what freedom(s) he refers?

I've asked this question of Mark already, but so far he has not chosen to answer. He may yet.

Clearly, Mark is talking about all the things a society does to increase the security of the individual's life and property. The question he asks is, does an increase in security provided by the state result in a decrease in freedom? Put that way, both security and freedom need some defining. We need a defining moment from Mark – what, in his mind, is being gained and what is being lost?


Promiscuous Communities

Jason, at FPR, posted a lighthearted essay about his belief that the word community is abused when anything other than Mayberry, RFD, is intended.

On The Promiscuous Use of "Community"

I don't agree. Natch. More to the point, Jason's idea of community can all too easily become a prison rather than a place of abiding peace and getting-over-it-all. I think of "To Kill A Mocking Bird", a great story about a small town and it's destructive prejudices. Small town and bigotry are all but synonymous in the American canon. Perhaps that is because bigotry makes for good stories. It is also true, as Jefferson observed, rogues rise to the top. In small towns, there are fewer checks on rogues, particularly rogues aligned with the primary political power. Put Dick Cheney in Mockingbird and Atticus would have ended up in jail as an enemy combatant.

Community, in Jason's meaning of the word, has much to offer us all. It may as well be made of unobtanium in practical terms. Which leaves us with creating, or synthesizing, communities where we can.


Why Read Conservatives?

The answer is simple, really. I agree with most of the liberal sites I read. I dislike making "You go!" comments. So if I want to speak about something, I have to disagree with something said, and that disagreement is far easier to find when I read conservative sites.

Not that it is always easy. Daniel on Eunomia, FPR – the people who can actually write often say things with which I completely agree. It's shocking , I tell you, shocking!

What liberals do I like to read? Two come to mind, Hilzoy on Obsidian Wings (and Washington Monthly) and Digby on Hullaballoo. I think I enjoy them so much because they speak mostly to the logic of a situation. In different ways - Digby to the political, Hilzoy to the philosophical and ethical. Not that both don't speak to both – it's more of an approach difference.

What political bloggers do I like to read? Scott Horton at No Comment and Glenn Greenwald on Salon. Scott sticks mostly to a few stories, but his take on the stories is great reading. Glenn tackles hypocrisy like a rabid pit bull. Scott is easy to read, Glenn much less so. Not because the writing is not as good, but because so much of what he addresses is totally enraging. We are governed by venal men and women, and that hard truth as served up by Glenn is hard to stomach on a continuing basis.

What political sites do I like? Talking Points Memo, Think Progress and Firedoglake. Great liberal sites.

Really, if you want something to argue about, read a conservative site. But read a good one.


Don’t We All Doubt?

Daniel Larison, speaking on his blog, Eunomia, about Obama at Notre Dame, spoke about faith and the role of doubt.

I don't agree with Daniel (no surprise there) but as it is essentially a religious first principles argument, I really had no dog in the fight. However, Kent had several cogent comments refuting Daniel's main point that when Obama said "It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us" he spoke about doubt in God.

Kent's point was that Obama spoke about what God had planned for us in our lives, not about whether or not God commanded us to believe in God. Daniel purposely took this approach to argue that Obama pulled a theological dodge regarding what fair-minded people might believe. In fact, Obama spoke of service. Kent spoke of service. Daniel doubled down on his earlier intentional misreading in this comment.

I don't actually care about the doubt part – it's the doubling down on a dumb statement that I find interesting. How does a poster know when to just shut up and take his lumps, or better yet, acknowledge that either his point was poorly made or just plain wrong? It is very tempting to go for the BS and maintain the sanctity of one's written word, but it rarely works.

Best just to admit to human frailty, and try to do better next time. Of course, as a Catholic conservative, that's got to be a hard thing to do. Daniel put his position out there pretty clearly "Everyone is stricken with doubt at times, but it has to be understood that doubt, like an illness, is something from which one may suffer but which is something that needs to be remedied rather than perpetuated or celebrated." The only way to eliminate doubt about the unknowable, and sometimes even the knowable, is to allow a lie into the center of your life, the lie that you actually know anything with absolute certainty. Not a recipe for healthy living.

The only man I have ever known who might, on some level, be a saint was a committed Church of God Christian. Yet on his deathbed at 102, as I listened to him speak, he knew doubt. He didn't voice his doubt directly, but it was an unsubtle doubt even so.

Daniel, along with all the rest of us, has not yet achieved godhood. He is allowed some doubt.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Republicans qua Conservative

Conservative - 1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.

Does this appellation apply to the Republican Party? Nope. Not really. Just don't see it. Republicans as big business, yes. Republicans as other even less acceptable labels, yes. But conservative? Laughable.

So what happens when social conservatives begin to realize (finally) that Republicans are not fellow travelers? What do they call it when you try to hold two contradictory thoughts as true? Cognitive dissonance? I think I see lots of dissonance in what I read from self-described conservatives – mostly social conservatives. And I truly get it – in principle they voted for aggressive war, torture, spendthrift polices, the police state - none of which were on their agenda, and in return got exactly two Supreme Court justices who may or may not revisit Roe v Wade. They achieved nothing else of lasting import. I can sympathize with their feelings of betrayal and abandonment.

Not that I approve of almost any part of the social conservative agenda. Purity balls, abstinence only – actually, if you took sex and it's consequences out of the picture, I might approve of at least some of the agenda. Not the authoritarian part. The communitarian, distributist parts, perhaps.

So where do they go now? Libertarianism is out – too much choice. Democrats, whether or not they are the ONLY possible counterweight to the Republicans, are out because of abortion. I don't know what a social conservative is to do. There is talk of simply staying out of politics. There is some precedence in the Bible for that tack. But abortion remains a sticking point – you really can't accuse 2/3s of the nation of being at best an accessory to infanticide without simultaneously putting them, or you, beyond the pale.

I'd say this is a time for appropriate doubt in the faithful, but too many seem to have a pipeline to God on the issue of when a human being is actually present in the flesh. I guess such certainty is a good thing, but unfortunately for them, and for all of us, that certainty doesn't appear to be communicable.

FPR at least hints at the problem – every now and then I read about a social conservative who has become a disaffected Republican, adrift in the political sea with no landing in sight. It can't be fun.



What Should We Do, What SHOULD We Do?

Patrick Deneen has put up a great essay on FPR.

Once again, I am struck by how much I have in common with most of the truly conservative parts of our culture. If we could resolve the abortion issue, and I don't think that to be likely anytime soon, then I suspect we would often find ourselves joined in a common cause. The label of liberal or conservative is pretty artificial. It wouldn't take much to make them the same.

If there is an underlying problem, maybe's it the authoritarian bent of most conservatives as compared to the individualist bent of most liberals. In specific instances the desired outcomes of liberals and conservatives might be only superficially similar – and this is a fear of mine, that I would agree on some specific outcome only to find that what the conservatives wanted was not choosing but rather requiring.

I don't think that many conservatives get the fact that requiring people to do certain things, to act in certain ways, only engenders resistance. People just want different things, even if what they appear to want is something harmful.

Nonetheless, Patrick's essay gives me hope that maybe in some things there is a growing consensus across the cultural divide that things as they are is not good place to be.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Blog FU

Caleb Stegall posted the last essay at FPR upon which I commented. He says he is contemptuous of people who hold my positions on many issues, tho he did respond directly to comments on earlier essays. He goes on to say that short of threats of physical violence, he doesn't think FPR should limit discussion (my take on his words). I commented agreeing with Caleb.

FPR removed my comment, shut off comments on that essay, then Caleb posted a weasely update decrying tolerance. Imagine that, a conservative decrying tolerance. Like that's never happened before. :)

FPR, thy name is Echo Chamber.


Science and Spirit

DW Sabin posted a beautiful essay on FPR He points no particular fingers, makes no specific recommendations; he simply wishes for a rapprochement between science and spirit.

The difficulty, however, is similar to the idea of post partisanship - if one side won't admit to things-as-they-are (otherwise known as reality), then rapprochement is not possible. When science (by which I mean a large majority of men and women educated and knowledgeable in a particular field of research) says that climate change is driven by human activity and the spirit says no it isn't, rapprochement is not on the table.

I don't know how to solve this problem; only that it is a problem that will not go away until religious conservatives (the spirit in this case) concede expertise to science. So far, it ain't happenin'.


Sunday, May 17, 2009


A constant refrain on FPR is the idea that socialism inevitably leads to a loss of phreedom. Phrankly, I don't get it.  I look at other industrialized nations that can be considered socialist (although there are no "socialist" nations in the strictest sense of the word) and I see nations whose people seem to be quite free - as free as us Americans, or maybe more so.

I am sure that some of the issue is one of definition. What does freedom mean in their minds? In mine? Freedom, it seems to me, is freedom from something.  Here is what Merriam Webster online says:

"1: the quality or state of being free: as a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another"

Absence of coercion in choice, liberation from the power of another. 

After 9/11, liberals often quoted Franklin, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." For the most part, liberals were speaking to specific actions taken by the Bush administration under the authority the Patriot Act. Things like indefinite detention of "enemy combatants", when many of the detainees at Abu Graib or Gitmo or Baghram or all the black sites the CIA denied but shut down later under pressure were neither enemies nor combatants - then. 

When conservatives use the phrase, they seem to be discussing a trade of economic security for freedom.  Freedom from what is an open question, but it appears to largely be freedom from failure. Not failure in the business sense, but failure in the sense of being unable to feed your family.

Now I don't know exactly what they mean, and I haven't read enough conservative screeds to claim any general insight into conservative thinking, but it appears to me that when socialism provides a general limit to the failure a family might have to suffer, conservatives find this problematic. Particularly as their taxes obviously go to support the system providing for that limit. What appears to be a lack of freedom for conservatives can be read as freedom from taxation. They simply don't want to be taxed. I don't know if that means freedom from roads, and airports, and medical research, and primary and secondary education - oh wait, for many conservatives, it DOES mean freedom from taxation for primary and secondary education!! They want to choose who gets that education, that there should be no mandate for education financed with their taxes.

It's as if education for all is a drag on the economy that supports them. The reverse is the case, or so I believe. Education is a source of economic strength for a nation, not a drag.

Anyway, the freedom that conservatives apparently fear losing is simply freedom from paying taxes they don't want to pay. Everyone is more free - more free to try different careers, different businesses, the arts, poorly paid but highly needed occupations (think teachers in low income areas). It is true that social programs do require taxes. It is also true that we here in the US are taxed at a much lower rate than, for example, socialized EU nations.  2008 total gov tax and non-tax receipts for the EU were approx 44.9% of GDP.  The US was approx 33.3% of GDP. But wait!!!! What about health care, something covered by EU nations but mostly not covered by the US? It is included in the EU receipts, but not US receipts. How much, as a % of GDP do US citizens pay? Total health care spending, which does include about 30% of all US citizens, in 2007 is almost 17% of GDP vs 10% for other similar industrialized nations.  So if 1/3 of the spending is already included, then we can say that including healthcare, the US spends about 44% of GDP - almost identical to the EU. When you consider what we spend on wars, we could either get a lot better, or spend a lot less if we eschewed empire.  As it is we spent about $7900 per person in 2007 on health care.  Approximately twice the EU rate. 

The subject was freedom, and yes, I've wandered. No, I am not sorry.

We don't have a shortage of freedom here in America. Mostly we have a shortage of affordable health care. Universal health care could actually cost us much less than what we have now. The most expensive system in the world, a miserable ranking of our overall health sytem, and 40+ million uninsured.

Yeah, that's freedom we can all understand. The freedom to fail. We got that down now.


The Excommunication

My comments on this post,, are what lead to my excommunication from the Porch. Abortion is such a ticklish issue. I guess I knew that making too much noise might lead the proprietors to decide that the Porch was more enjoyable without me. You can't actually read my comments on this essay as they were deleted.

Excommunicated is probably not the right word, but it conveys the right feeling, I think. I held a heretical position, argued for it forcibly, and would not recant. Of course, not being Catholic, or even Christian, it isn't actually that far a fall.

In essence, James put up a picture of his future son. I said the picture didn't so much speak to humanity as it did to a certain great apishness. It was all down hill from there.  James started it in his essay, calling all abortionists murderers. A strong word, dontcha think?

I have 8 arguments I employ in conversations with anti-abortionists. Here they are, in no particular order,:

1) The invader argument

2) The clump of cells and the cloning argument

3) The natural evil argument

4) The freezer argument

5) The equal application of the law argument

6) The Brother O Brother Where Art Thou argument

7) The seat of being argument

8) The woman is a free being argument

Following are synopses of each argument.

1) A woman's body is home to her being. Just as in her physical home, she is free to invite and uninvite. Once uninvited, the guest must leave. If the guest does not leave, the woman is free to call the state and ask them to forceably remove the guest. If the guest refuses to leave, and in fact attempts to change status from uninvited guest to home invader, the woman may kill the invader in self defense without legal repercussions associated with murder. A unwanted pregnancy is the equivalent of an armed home invasion.

2) All pregnancies begin with the creation of a clump of cells. At around 70 to 100 cells, the clump is known as a blastocyst.  At this level of undifferentiation, the clump of cells is readily compared to any other human clump of cells. Such as skin cells being grown for a graft, or the stem cell lines obtained from embryonic tissues. Science is at the stage where, if not now, then soon, human beings will be cloned from somatic cells - skin cells, for example. There is no creation by God or chance, just human tinkering with mammalian reproduction. Did man create the being that is the clone? No. Man created the possibility for that being. If any clump of cells can be the source for cloning a being (simply the physical part - everything else comes later), must we treat all our discarded bits and pieces as beings, and be considered murderers for discarding them if we no longer need or what those particular clumps of cells? No. They are simply clumps of cells.  Like algae. Alive, but not a human being.

3) Anti-abortionists have created the near perfect dodge - if something bad happens to this clump of cells, a spontaneous abortion for example, that is Natural Evil and God's will and there is nothing to be done about it and no conclusions to be drawn. So the 20% of all fertilizations, the 5% of all implantations, and the 1% (all numbers are approximate) of postimplantation pregnancies that fail are simply God's will.  I ask myself, is not polio God's will? Before we had a vaccine there was little to be done to prevent polio, but now we have vaccines, and suddenly, it is no longer a Natural Evil to be harmed by polio, it is a completely avoidable evil. In the same vein, we haven't looked at all the reasons for those losses in the process of creating a human being - and this is the dodge.  By not looking at them, we prevent ourselves from having to do something about them, and therefore we (we anti-abortionists) can maintain the fiction of Natural Evil. I say, if the anti-abortionists were really all about blastocysts being human, they would seek to make the chance of blastocyst death much smaller.  They don't seek that reduction, ergo that don't actually care.

4) What about all those fertilized eggs laying around in little freezers in fertility clinics? Definitely alive, if in suspended animation, definitely capable of becoming a human being, given the chance. Why do the anti-abortionists not insist those eggs be given a chance? Or, at the very least, try to shut down the fertility clinics? Most fertilized eggs are destroyed. On purpose. Isn't  that murder in the eyes of the anti-abortinist? Where is the outcry? It isn't there. They don't care. Apparently only some human beings in the clump of cells stage of life are worth worrying about. Like, those already inside a woman.

5) Anyone ever heard an anti-abortionist call for the death penalty, or even life in prison, to be applied to their daughters should they have an abortion? Neither have I. 'Nuff said.

6) Think of it this way. Two brothers, Cain and Abel.  Abel's last kidney is failing rapidly.  If Cain donates a kidney, Abel lives.  If Cain doesn't, Abel dies.  Does Cain have a choice? Is he a murderer if chooses to keep both his kidneys? We might think much less of him,  but his kidneys are his.  The parallel to a woman and an embryo is all too obvious. Let the anti-abortionists seek to pass laws that penalize not donating the kidney as murder, and they will be at leas consistent, if still wrong.

7) The clump of cells that will one day, perhaps, be a human being is best compared to the code and tools to build the body of a human being. The code is the dna, and the tools the processes the code enables.  Of course a womb is required to enable the processes, but we can imagine that it does not have to be a human womb, simply a womb constructed to meet the dictates of the code in the cells. A code and a process do not a human being make - what they make is a construct, as seat for a being to occupy. The being comes fairly late in the process.  It is entirely possible that the actual being doesn't occupy that seat until well after birth. In any case, the seat for a human being requires a functional brain, and that doesn't happen until very late in the pregnancy. The law does not consider it murder to turn off the life support for a being that has irreparble brain damage.  The seat of being has been destroyed and no being remains in residence. At the very least, there is no being resident in the early stages of development.

8) And finally, the only argument actually required.  The body and the womb it contains is the woman's body. She chooses who she allows in, and who and what she does not. The rights of the embryo do not supercede the rights of the woman, irrespective of whether the embryo is a human being, or not, and irrespective of whether or not the woman's choice dooms the embryo.

I said some or all of these things on the thread on FPR. I think I have stated them as concisely as possible here (or nearly so). Feel free to argue with me.


The Why of Things

FPR (Front Porch Republic, is an interesting place, full of bright, inventive and wordy people convincing each other that, one and all, they are the best thing to come to the internet since sliced bread.

And, in a way, you can't blame them for trying. They are part of an increasingly small minority that believes you must double down on what's not working to win the culture wars. Whatever the subject, abortion, sex, community, Austrians and Distributists, they are part of the cultural fringe of American life. Albeit an educated fringe.

And that is why they, as a group, are interesting. Individually they would be boring and pretentious (not all of them, and none of them all the time), but as a group they are like a petrie dish, an experiment which we can all observe. There is much to be learned from people who can actually write. If nothing else, what lies at the heart of their beliefs is worth understanding.

We are all human. All of us have failed the test of godhood already, so I don't cast stones, I simply think on their words and follow the logic.

Should you be reading here, welcome. Should you not be reading here, you are still welcome. :)