Sunday, December 27, 2015
Many out there in the blogosphere would be astonished to see me writing this review. In some circles, after all, I’m now known mainly as an incorrigible homophobe and “bigot” (see post and comments here). My gay friends, familiar with my writing and thinking, are amused by the shrill labels I get online. Myself I’m less amused, but not surprised. The young American left, with its current LGBTQwerty fetish, with its discovery of “microaggressions” and “safe spaces”, has gone completely off the rails. Everyone who isn’t a nitwit can see what’s happening. And they are disgusted.
But here I’m going to write this review of a very gay novel, a supremely gay novel, because it’s also a damn good novel. And honestly, I’ve nothing against gays. My choice of academic study, back in the 1980s and 90s, was determined by two gay writers: Arthur Rimbaud and Max Jacob. It was also during those years of study that I set out on the road that later led to my conversion to Catholicism. Go figure.
The novel in question, The Mystery Religions of Gladovia, is by Bradley Winterton. An expat in Asia like myself, Winterton has worked over the years as a book and classical music reviewer in Taiwan and elsewhere. He’s reviewed my own books (for example here and here) and for a decade now I’ve been prodding him to take up literary writing. He’s finally done it.
But one shouldn’t think I’m writing this review to return Bradley any favors or claim some credit for the genesis of his book. No, I’m writing it because The Mystery Religions of Gladovia, out just a few months ago, is an impressive piece of work.
It’s the tale of two gay British men and their respective social circles, first in Europe, then later in a fictional South American nation named Gladovia. Matthew, who starts the narrative as a love-smitten teen in an English boys’ school, and “Lily” (an ironic nickname) who starts as a brutal young headmaster at the same school, switch off narrating their respective journeys to Gladovia, a developing nation of citizens with a lust for life and parkfuls of eager and silky-skinned young men. Winterton’s cast of characters comes to include European and other expats, as well as a variety of ethnicities of locals, many of whom follow a pagan mystery religion which makes an appearance early in the novel in the form of a Sybil, and which later comes to play a major role in Matthew and Lily’s awakening.
The book’s opening chapters established a sense in me that Winterton is here strategically compressing historical time. Although according to chronology the narrative begins somewhere in the 1990s, there’s a timelessness in Winterton’s early pages, evoking an English school environment that seems not so much 1990s as simply 20th century. Older readers might be reminded of Another Country and the other handful of boys’ school films to come out of Britain since. And it works. Without sinking into cliche, Winterton balances this background against his main opening theme: the pain of falling in love for the first time as a gay youth.
It is through the love-smitten schoolboy Matthew’s eyes that we get our first glimpse of the school’s brutal headmaster Lily, and learn something about his deftness with the cane. Matthew, showering with the other boys, glimpses the bright welts on the bottom of one of his schoolmates who’d recently been punished by Lily. He begins to suspect the world around him is not what it seems.
There will be many more sexually charged showers, and many more welts too. One reviewer in Asia has called Winterton’s novel a gay Fifty Shades of Gray. Though I consider the comparison an insult to the serious writerly craft of Gladovia, BDSM is indeed one of the novel's main themes.
Becoming an adult, Matthew goes off to life in Holland. We also soon learn in great detail how Lily, deeply closeted in his school community, must take junkets to Europe to satisfy his desire. Winterton’s prose, whether on nature and geography or on the customs of gay men in different locales, is always smooth and fast, light of touch and precise.
In fact it’s this masterful style, along with the writer’s knack for suspense and structure, that is among this novel’s main pleasures. At the risk of turning off some American readers, I really should point out: Winterton is a thoroughly British writer, continuing a long tradition of literary prose. There’s absolutely nothing of Hemingway here. Winterton’s classic style is part of what establishes the feeling of timelessness in this book. What’s compelling about it, to me at least, is that it almost never sinks to stuffiness or the excessive wordiness of many of the classics. The writer has pulled off a great balancing act in this respect: his writing echoes the classic without the baggage that burdens many classics for 21st century readers.
Some might see a flaw in the fact that Matthew’s and Lily’s narrative voices aren’t distinct enough. I find some distinction, but not as much as might be necessary to give these two men markedly different voices. Still, it’s only the younger man, Matthew, who is eventually narrating sexual encounters bout for bout. These narrations occasionally edge on the pornographic without quite stepping over the line. Gladovia is an erotic novel, but not what often passes for “erotic fiction”.
Much of the book concerns the rules of the hunt: the nearly daily routine of Gladovian men and the book’s assorted foreigners in the capital city’s gay pickup spot, a spacious wooded park called the Royal Gardens. For the heterosexual reader, like myself, the dynamics of this routine reveals much about a certain sort of gay life. As do the two narrators’ musings on what it is that sets gay men apart from straight society--musings that often dwell on their marginality and oppression, but also on the advantages of being gay.
As for oppression, I neglected to mention that Headmaster Lily only ended up in Gladovia because he was forced to flee England. He’d been caught in a sting operation trying to engage in sex in a public restroom and given a citation to appear in court. Knowing that his career was henceforth ruined, regardless of how the case was judged, Lily contemplates suicide, but then decides to acquire a fake passport, drain his bank account, and flee Britain. It turns out to be the smartest thing he’d ever done.
Indeed Gladovia is something of a gaytopia, and both Lily and Matthew begin to lead the lives of erotic variety and adventure they were, as the book implies, created for. I won’t go into how the Gladovian religion relates to this, but will only say that the pilgrimage and ritual that occupy book’s latter pages are stunningly narrated, while the doctrinal end, the supposed mystery that the hierophant gives the seekers, is not all that impressive. At least not to me. But then I’m Catholic.
How does this book look through the lens of my Catholicism? At various times the characters engage in thoughts on the Church that are embarrassingly shallow. Lily, having seated himself in a Gladovian church during Mass, muses that Western science has basically disproven Christianity: “Science has long ago consigned all this talk of miracles and blood sacrifices to the rubbish heap.” The idea that the universe had a creator or that something of this creator can be known from the Bible? It’s all been disproven by science.
Of course this is nonsense. Science can only be said to have “disproven” Christian revelation if one reads biblical texts as if they’d been written as science treatises. Of course they were not; Winterton knows they were not; he has in fact very positively reviewed one of my own books which included an essay where I lay out the stakes of this widespread modern misconception of what biblical writers were up to.
I wouldn’t carp on this except that, once having dissed Christianity as a religion consigned to the dustbin of history by science, Winterton finishes his book by presenting the supposed power and truth of a different religion, the pagan religion of the Gladovians, which, somehow, amazingly, retains its mythic truth regardless of what science might have to say. In fact Winterton’s characters do not hold the ritualized paganism and nature worship of the Gladovians to the same standard they hold Christianity. The exotic foreign religion is powerful and deep, whereas Western religion is outdated nonsense. It’s a classic double standard, in the well-worn mode of Western romanticization of the foreign other. For after all, any empiricist of the dumb New Atheist sort could easily look at the Gladovian rites and priestly teachings and answer flatly: “All of this is mumming and nonsense. Science shows that all these actions and supposedly profound words are nothing but primitive mumbo jumbo.”
I don’t think pagan religions or Christianity (or any of the world’s religions for that matter) are mumming and nonsense. Rather, religion and its myths and rites is one of the key matrixes from which existential truths may reach us. Myths are not, as many modern people understand the term, stories that are lies. Rather they are stories that give narrative form to our deepest human sense of what we might be here for. This is true whether one believes in miracles or not.
But perhaps my presentation of Winterton’s approach to Christianity vs. paganism is a bit too schematic. He might argue, reasonably, that his characters’ response to religion is not so clearly polarized as I imply. Further that he never intended Lily to be a spokesperson for his own thinking on Christianity and how it relates to the paganism that finally plays such an important role in the book.
I could write more on Winterton’s suspenseful scenes of sexual servitude and mastery, the interesting struggle in some of the characters between love and pure physical pleasure (the hunt), but I will not. I haven’t read much gay writing to which I could compare this book, and as for my experience of BDSM literature, it’s largely limited to Sade’s work and Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs--i.e., I know the writers that gave us our words sadism and masochism, but not much of the later literature.
The SM theme is first brought in via Matthew, whose experience of being caned sets him into near transports. It’s deepened through the introduction of an Italian devotee of the BDSM cult. This latter character gets to narrate a handful of the books pages, his English a bit too heavily peppered with Italian phrases to be quite convincing. The novelist should have cut down this tic a bit. The SM theme culminates in a group scene involving Matthew, Lily, the Italian fellow and one other, the drama enhanced by the fact that Lily, the ex-headmaster, doesn’t know Matthew had once been a student under his tutelage.
What do Lily and Matthew’s lives in Gladovia tell us about the meaning of life itself? This is not an idle question, since ultimate meanings are often explicitly on the characters’ minds. In the view of both these men, the goal of life is the pursuit of beauty, youth and sexual pleasure. My question here would be: Doesn’t a steady diet of erotic adventure make one jaded? I would certainly guess so.
Winterton himself is a highly educated aesthete and bon vivant and is doing his best here to present both the pluses and disappointments of such a life. As a Catholic, I think beauty, youth and pleasure play crucial roles in human experience. But a life given entirely over to their pursuit is not exactly what I’d call a good life. And we are created, in my view, not to pursue fuck after fuck, but to pursue the good life, in other words: virtue. Virtue might include beauty (many great artists have been examples of virtue through their contributions to humanity) but it usually is not just that. In our contemporary world, with its mayhem and war and grinding poverty, with the machinery of capitalism run amok across the planet, virtue should also include engagement: activism, struggle against the dehumanization wrought by the system, acts of selfless love for concrete people in their trials and suffering. I’m afraid sex as presented in this novel risks being merely a form of self-centered consumption, which is bound to happen if sex is understood mainly as fulfillment of an itch. And if self-fulfillment is seen as getting as much sex and as much variety of sex as one can get.
If I decided to write this review, regardless of my thinking on the “consumer” ethics that drives so many of its chapters, it’s because Winterton’s book is so well written. It is not, after all, just a trashy romp through fuck after fuck. Rather, it seems to be an honest presentation of the struggles, moral and otherwise, of pursuing such a life. And yes, there’s no small sacrifice in writing a serious novel.
Near the end of Gladovia Matthew returns to England, heads to the idyllic Lake District made so famous by Wordsworth, and begins to feel lonely when a message arrives that someone is coming to visit him. Matthew isn’t quite sure who sent the message. I had my own ideas about who it would turn out to be, but was wrong. I won’t be a spoiler and reveal who it is. In any case, the book’s ending is a happy one, though a bit too happy I’d say. As in highly improbable.
But because I was wrong on my guess as to Matthew’s mystery visitor, I had to face the fact that one of the key utterances of the Gladovian hierophant would never be revealed in the book’s pages. Thus an additional shade of meaning is added to the mystery in Winterton’s title.
Is this the writer copping out, keeping the fateful words secret because, quite simply, he couldn’t compose them? Perhaps. It would be no small feat to write these words.
It sometimes happens that a novel appears, gets a few scattered notices in the press, then disappears. Were Winterton’s novel to be read by the right readers, get written up in the right places, I think it would be a hit. It could even make the author some money, which is rare for books that aren’t hyped by publishers. Gladovia was a pleasure to read, even for me, and I’m a bigoted homophobe. And a Neanderthal. And not a writer, but just a troll.
But I’ll spare you my thinking on gay politics these recent years and the authoritarian excesses of the LGBT movement. And on how they and I get along. For background you might go here if curious.
The Mystery Religions of Gladovia is now only available as an ebook. I think this is unfortunate, that a print version should be made available. But perhaps one is in the works, or will be soon.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
with “mainstream” Democrats.
[Update 10/21/16: A lot has happened since I posted this piece. A hell of a lot. And all of it has only confirmed my basic position. I will be voting for neither of the major party candidates. --E.M.]
I’ve voted Democrat in every election I could since becoming an adult--now thirty-plus years worth of Democratic votes. Still, I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. As an American Catholic on the democratic left, it's clear to me Hillary will not work for the things I believe in, and will in fact work for many things I don’t.
To anyone paying attention, certain unavoidable truths have hit home in recent years. As follows: Mainstream Democrats never actually fight on issues where they risk conflict with Wall Street or the corporate boardrooms. Obama, on whom so many hopes were pinned, including my own, was a depressing enough example of this. The Democratic Party represents a politics I can no longer support.
Since the Bill Clinton administration, Americans have lived in a one-party state. At present, the only substantive differences between our Democrats and Republicans, the only issues where they dare stand strongly for or against a policy, are when the outcome doesn't matter to the corporate elites now pushing our country, and our planet, into the ground.
Thus Democrats can be for Planned Parenthood, Republicans against it, because at the end of the day the 1% doesn't care if you're a mother of two or have had three abortions. The 1% doesn’t care because it doesn’t affect their bottom line. Likewise with gay marriage. Wall Street can continue its smoke-and-mirror games with our economy regardless of how marriage is redefined.
If you’ve been watching, like me, you’ll have noticed that these sex and reproduction issues are the only ones where mainstream Democrats actually take a strong stand, or indeed any stand.
Frankie Boyle in the Guardian put it perfectly. Assuming the Democrats will nominate Hillary:
The reality of what [Americans are] voting on in this election is something nobody dare express. They’re voting on the exact speed of the drift toward a future of armies run by corporations corralling permanently traveling communities of cooks, cleaners and sex workers, as they underbid each other outside the entrances to gated communities to ensure they’re the ones let inside to service the fortunate.By playing out sex and reproduction issues, Democrats somehow manage to bill themselves as "progressive", as “securing our future”. The American public, now childishly enamored of anything related to sexual rights, takes the bait. The public falls for what I’ve previously called the Progressive Corporate Agenda.
Meanwhile Republicans play the other side of this same small spectrum of issues, and get away with portraying themselves as "conservative" or "standing for tradition".
Looked at through the lens of left and right political theory, our Democrats aren't "left" or "progressive" in any meaningful sense and our Republicans aren't "conservative" or "traditional". They both abet the continued corporate takeover of our democracy and they're both big government parties, each handing out the bulk of their welfare checks to Wall Street and the corporations. It’s a bait-and-shift scam, and those who continue to call it "democracy" can only do so because they refuse to step back and look at the bigger picture.
And so we've finally come to live, as I’ve said, under One Ruling Party, with the difference that our ruling party, unlike China’s, dresses up in two different colored jerseys so as to play out the same rigged game every few years. It’s bread and circuses, now without the bread.
Hillary Clinton is a circus candidate. Of course “everyone should like her”, as she said in the last debate. Everyone likes circuses, no?
I for one will no longer give the Democratic Party a pass on this fake leftism. I'm Catholic, politically on the left, an old school left, and hardly enthusiastic about the party’s current obsessive priorities. In years past, regardless of my differences on certain issues, I've stood with the Democrats because real democracy and social justice matter to me. As a Catholic, I’ve been able to put Democrats' mistaken support for abortion aside because I counted on the party to bring substantive progress in other areas: protection of jobs, sane conduct of war and peace, solid public education, a fairer playing field. Our current president’s performance (the ever-expanding surveillance state, the TPP, now this) has brought a turning point in my thinking. No more mainstream Democrats for me. No. For me, it's Bernie or bust.
Come what may, I won't be voting for Hillary. I am on the left, she is a right-wing, pro-corporate candidate who can be counted on to stand up for abortion, an ever-growing LGBT dogmatism, the corporate elite, and precious little else. There’s nothing in it for me, as I support neither abortion so-called “rights”, nor the growing arrogance of gay activists’ witch hunts against any who dissent from their ever more stringent orthodoxies. (BTW: Though I’d always stood on the side of gay and lesbian rights, going back to the 1980s, I believe America’s new “marriage equality” agenda needs to provide space and dignity for those in dissent. Rather than reasonable constitutional legal protections, however, people of faith now face ostracism, crippling legal suits, the destruction of careers. This is wrong; it is un-American. Marriage is not a reality that has been “decided” by the Supreme Court, which has no mandate to decide any such thing. No, marriage at present is contested. As a committed pluralist, I believe both sides in this contest deserve space to live in conformity with their beliefs. That is not however what is happening, by any stretch of the imagination. Whether law suits, ruined careers, attacks directed at religious charities and schools--it is all due to a new gaythoritarianism that grows more arrogant with each passing season. My earlier support for the LGBT movement has waned to near zero. Once bullied, they have become the biggest bullies on the block. To assert that LGBT activists have no right to dictate the whole culture’s marriage beliefs, education policy re: gender, etc.--this is not “homophobia”, it is merely life in a pluralistic culture.)
Yes, Sanders is with Clinton on these gender and reproduction issues. But it seems clear to me that Sanders, in distinction to Clinton, might very well deliver in terms of the fight against corporate control of our republic. And for this, and for the key importance it has in relation to safeguarding our planet, I will give him my support.
I am on the left, in the way that Pope Francis, the leader of my Church, is on the left. I see the West’s real challenges in the growing economic inequality we face, the reckless militarism, the ongoing corporate-sponsored degradation of our environment. Hillary has nothing to offer on any of these fronts, regardless of what she might claim on the campaign trail. In any instance where some initiative conflicts with what corporate boards want, it is clear which policy she will support. Look only at her cheerleading for the TPP and one sees what she is. She and her corporate masters do not deserve the support of any committed person on the left. If Sanders does not win the nomination, I will either write in his name on the ballot or vote for a third party candidate. I’ve pledged to do so, and will keep my pledge.
Unless Democratic candidates fight for our collapsing middle and working class, unless they fight for actual democracy, they deserve to lose. The 2016 election is an opportunity to send a pointed and nastily barbed message to the Democratic establishment. We Americans are not requesting that our elected officials finally start working for us; we are demanding it. Politicians who think they get a pass just because they shine rainbow lights on the White House do not deserve the support of the left.
And yes, even if the GOP nominates Trump, even if they nominate Kim Jong-un, I will stick to my pledge. That, after all, is the meaning of pledge. Hillary Clinton will not get this American's vote.
Monday, December 7, 2015
To forestall any misunderstandings I ought to begin by acknowledging that I fully respect Richard Dawkins’ right to speak his mind. That such a mind has spoken, and at such length, can only be seen as a boon to the scientific community. With Dawkins, after all, we finally have incontrovertible proof that zombies can speak.
Of course we already knew, starting mid-1980s, that zombies could tie a tie. But the added proof Dawkins has provided of linguistic competence raises the zombie debate to a whole new level. And now many other zombies (as demonstrated by “lively” discussions now splattered over the Internet) are themselves entering the lists in greater and greater numbers.
Though recent studies correlate high-functioning autism with atheism, in the case of the New Atheists I think the diagnosis isn’t apt. No, with this latter crowd it seems clear we are dealing with full-on zombism.
Whether Dawkins and these other newly vocal zombies are what is called philosophical zombies or whether they are rather the traditional flesh-eating zombies is not a question I can determine here. Personally I incline toward the theory that finds in them elements of both. In any case, it is not the type of zombie that concerns me, but rather their sudden ascent to language.
What does it mean?
We are still at a loss to answer this question. My current interests not so much in their recent acquisition of speech, but more in what they actually say when they do speak. Or when they write. Because Dawkins has also proven that zombies can write human-like prose.
From the start, when they first began talking back in 2004, I noticed that New Atheist zombies were liable to toss out all manner of interesting material, if only we paid them closer attention. It’s this striking oddness of their pronouncements, floundering there at the edge of human language, that’s kept me following their “work”. That they self-identify as atheists is secondary for me. Because in their pronouncements, it’s not so much the atheist element that stands out, but the zombie element. Non-zombie atheists have been around for centuries, and one might at any time have a beer with them. But with Dawkins? Could one have a beer with Dawkins?
Others have remarked on this too; with Dawkins and his fellows there’s a certain zombie panache that both attracts attention, if only for the curiosity of the phenomenon, but finally horrifies. There's a manic and mechanical flippancy that can't be ignored.
For instance, Dawkins last year opined that we in the non-zombie community would do well if we aborted infants with Down syndrome. The remark was worthy of note for a number of reasons. First, it demonstrated a nascent zombie “desire” to play some kind of directive role in human affairs. Why? That zombies would even presume to give us advice on social issues is striking in itself, almost as if my electric range were to start telling me how it wants the French toast made.
But I hope I am not misunderstood. Regardless of the politically lame and often horrific things Dawkins and other New Atheist zombies say, I believe we must continue allow them the right to say on. If only to keep an eye on them. Further (because many have already started to think along these lines) even if we did have prenatal tests that could determine a child would be born with a mind like Richard Dawkins’, I would not be among those in favor of aborting it. Why not? Well, for one, the tests might be inaccurate. It’s happened before. Ethically speaking, the possibility of error more or less ties our hands. Myself, at least for now, I would rather let a hundred babbling zombies live than abort one healthy baby by mistake.
Perhaps some will see my position as extreme.
To what degree a person suffering from Dawkins syndrome is a human person like the rest of us is still hotly debated, but again, I think we should err on the cautious side. Zombies like Dawkins do have rights. Though I grant that their work does tangible harm to the larger culture, we must keep in mind that their innate idiocy has so far managed to undermine the influence they might otherwise have. Their own speech clearly proves their inhumanity to anyone with ears to hear. Rather than outright censorship, then, I think it sufficient for now if we simply keep an eye on them, all the while adamantly resisting their crazed efforts to change us.
Yes, some fear we may be on the brink of a Zombie Apocalypse. I think this fear is premature. Given the limited number of actual zombies out there (a few thousand perhaps) added to the aforesaid stupidity of their discourse, I highly doubt a Zombie Apocalypse is imminent. So far most people are smart enough not to be swayed by the shabby rhetoric zombies deploy. We must hope this continues.
There are so many sad questions raised by Dawkins syndrome. Why it broke out so suddenly and with such virulence in the first decade of this century no one knows. We still don’t really understand the etiology of New Atheist zombism. More research is needed, and needed swiftly. Once we’ve got a clearer understanding of what is turning these men (it is mostly men) into zombies, we can begin work to decrease incidence of zombism in coming generations.
A careful study of the early years of the most prominent New Atheist zombies might provide helpful clues. With Dawkins himself, some have speculated that an accident at the time of birth or in youth may be to blame. Did perinatal asphyxia perhaps shut down the parts of his brain capable of spiritual intelligence? Or did he maybe, as a child, drink a bottle of laundry detergent, thinking it was soda?
Dawkins and Sam Harris are very possibly walking/talking evidence of the need for better child-proof packaging. It’s a tragedy really, for everyone. On the one hand, the whole English-speaking world suffers from their drooly pronouncements, their frantic construction of straw men; on the other, they themselves suffer from their inability to comprehend the human minds around them.
I often wonder what it’s like to live inside such brains, where all the neural activity is located in the mechanical and calculative sectors.
Oh, and the moneymaking sectors. The “Dawkins Circle”, after all, which Dawkins himself launched some years ago, is certainly proof that zombies can make a quick buck. There is a clear cult-like hierarchy to the organization, carefully designed to lure others who may have drunk laundry detergent. And the price exacted from sycophants each time they try to move up a level--it's repugnant really, but has so far proved surprisingly successful in English-speaking countries. Which makes one wonder: What is in our drinking water?
So how does the sycophant proceed once he's joined the Dawkins Circle?
Consider: For $1,000 a year you enter the first level, what is called the “Reason Circle”, which allows you discounts on cult merchandise and the chance to meet “personalities” from the Richard Dawkins foundation; but not Dawkins himself.
For $2,500 a year, the price of joining the “Science Circle”, you get a chance to actually attend an event where the Alpha Zombie will speak; but you won’t necessarily meet him.
Then come the “Darwin Circle” at $5,000 a year and the “Fifth Horseman Circle” at $10,000 a year. Those who have attained to the Fifth Horseman Circle will get to sit at a table with . . . Richard Dawkins Foundation Executive Director Robyn Blumner.
It's mind-boggling almost.
In fact if you want to get close enough to the center of this Zombie Circle Jerk to actually kiss the Ring of Reason, you’ll have to come up with a staggering $100,000 a year. That’s the entrance fee for what is called “The Magic of Reality Circle”, which I take to be the very rectal center of the organization. For your $100,000 cheque, you’ll get a "private breakfast or lunch" with Dawkins himself.
Don’t ask about dinner. Dinner is a different price scale entirely.
This is all as ingenious as it is zombiesque. Can one imagine non-zombie scientists like Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein creating such an organization? Or any of the prominent Western scientists who are also Christians?
Yes, it’s sad what can happen to otherwise normal humans when they fall under the spell of the Dawkins. Or at least it’s sad what can happen to those with money. Because look--the lower classes (even the middle classes!) are not meant to attain Reason in this particular cult. And really: Why in God's name would anyone pay such money to sit by and maybe, just maybe, talk with a tie-wearing zombie?
I can talk with my coffee grinder any time for free. Like a zombie, my coffee grinder is entirely lacking in spiritual intelligence. I don’t much see the need to spend my hard-earned money on the Dawkins model. But others, perhaps because of the water, beg to differ.
As a zombie is a human-like creature adept at simulating humans but lacking consciousness, so New Atheism is a religion-like phenomenon adept at simulating human meaning but lacking soul. With the Dawkins Circle, Richard Dawkins is using a religion-like hierarchy to soak money, in sometimes substantial sums, from deluded admirers who want to say they sat next to him. Founding this little cult does demonstrate business acumen, as I've indicated. But money is, here, largely a matter of the merely calculative. What do zombies need money for anyway? Dawkins’ success in building this cult doesn’t do anything to controvert the sad reality of his zombie state. He and Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett with them, have brains in which all the eggs are in one basket--the calculative. And the three of them together, along with a few frothy others, are swiftly on their way to becoming one huge, messy Omelet--an insipid, spreading, tasteless Omelet that those of us with human brains had best keep a close watch on. Because if these zombies aren't using their financial power for human means, what in the end will they use this power for?
A crucial part of our close watch must be the constant work of keeping zombies and their repellent ideas away from Christian children. And Jewish children. And Muslim children. And Hindu children. This task is especially difficult because the young are so susceptible to the lure of virtual or mechanical things, as anyone knows who sees how quickly children take to computer games. We must remember that the relation zombie discourse holds to human language is similar to that which computer-generated images hold to the real world. In short, it is seductive but deceptive; it is empty. New Atheist zombies clearly recognize that enticing our children into alignment with them is their surest route to dominating us. It's a perilous mix of factors we face here. We must not let them succeed.
It is my thesis that the arrogant and eggy certainties of the zombie mind are aimed specifically at engulfing our more flexible and receptive human minds--especially those of our children: Christian children, Hindu children, Shinto children, Shia children. To defeat this threat, we must point out the irreality of zombie discourse at every turn.
As I’ve already mentioned Dawkins, Harris and Dennett, I should probably say something about Christopher Hitchens, the so-called Second Horseman of the Arsepocalypse. Hitchens passed away three years ago. Though there's still some debate on the question, I personally believe Hitchens was not in fact a zombie, though he did exhibit increasing zombielike symptoms in later years. Hitchens attributed his esophageal cancer to a life of drinking and smoking, but I suspect a different culprit: the existential pressure wearing him down as the zombie part of his psyche struggled to push out the remaining human elements.
Which raises a frightening question: Is zombism perhaps infectious? Did Hitchens maybe contract his condition from the wrong drinking buddies? God forbid. And yes, I mean the real God.
To conclude, I believe we must continue, at least for a time, to allow the New Atheist zombies to speak and write as they will. But even as we do so, we must be wise enough to see the serious threat their discourse poses, and we must take every single utterance they produce with a big grain of salt.
Like I do, when my refrigerator tries to tell me what juice to buy.
“Thanks for the advice, Siri,” I say, “but you can’t taste the juice, so why get involved?”
And Siri shuts up. Unlike our New Atheists, she at least knows when she’s out of her league.
Which is why I prefer dealing with the simpler mechanical devices. They may say impertinent things now and then, but at least they’re not likely to go and start their own fake religion. I mean--Can you imagine a vacuum cleaner trying to tell us our place in the universe? Before the rise of the New Atheism, I couldn't imagine such a thing. Now I can.
This and 42 other important public service announcements can be found in my new book Idiocy, Ltd.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
That we were form’d . . . say’st thou?
. . . strange point and new!
Doctrine which we would know whence learnt: who saw
When this creation was? remember’st thou
Thy making, while the Maker gave thee being?
We know no time when we were not as now;
Know none before us, self-begot, self-rais’d.
--Satan in Paradise Lost, V, 853, 855–60
Though politically on the left, in recent years I’ve had to engage more in “culture war” issues, and my stance, being Catholic, is more aligned with the right. Thus America's neat polarization into a unified "liberal" camp and a unified "conservative" camp often puts me at cross-purposes. Given the odd and historically contingent way our camps are constituted, I can agree with neither side, which results in a political loneliness that prods me to think and argue at the level of philosophical differences. The arguments are necessary, because when such differences aren't plumbed, no actual communication takes place.
At least for myself this constant digging at the root brings some deeper perspective. During the Obama years especially, certain insights about what drives our American polarization have become almost second nature to me. My main frustration is that it's now nearly impossible to communicate these insights to liberal friends; the resultant feeling of separation, that I'm speaking a different language from nearly everyone, grows worse by the year.
How to get across what I see in our endless talking past each other--that’s the challenge. A challenge I fail time and again.
Writing on our liberal order back in the 1990s, Stanley Fish put his finger on the crux of what divides religious from secular Americans. He underlined just the kind of problems that nag me to no end every time I discuss the culture with friends, foes and that ever growing group: frenemies.
Fish, a literary critic and law professor, begins by contrasting the distinct ways of reasoning followed by Satan and Adam in Milton’s masterpiece Paradise Lost. This contrast is then taken as a lens through which to clarify our ongoing American scuffles. A fine lens it proves to be, and Fish’s article, appearing in the journal First Things, is compelling reading for anyone who wants to grasp some of the maddening paradoxes inherent in our “pluralist” culture.
Milton’s Satan, a self-conscious being unable to remember how he was created, concludes that he must have created himself or somehow arisen from his own being. As Fish rightly points out, Satan’s initial conclusion on this point colors all his subsequent reasoning: “The habit of identifying the limits of reality with the limits of his own horizons defines Satan--it makes him what he is and is everywhere on display.” To figure forth such a character, Milton had to be keenly aware of the stakes of seeing oneself as a self-made being. For Fish, and I would heartily agree, we Americans have largely lost such awareness.
Adam’s path, which is Milton’s own, is radically different. Adam, coming to awareness as a self-conscious being in a world governed by complex laws, and like Satan unable to remember his own creation, concludes that there must be a Creator. Adam’s goal as a conscious being is to know and connect with that Creator. His is a path, an epistemology, that the modern liberal mind can no longer so much as grasp in its implications. Fish:
I make the point [about Adam’s way] strongly because it is so alien to the modern liberal-enlightenment picture of cognitive activity in which the mind is conceived of as a calculating and assessing machine that is open to all thoughts and closed to none. In this [modern liberal] picture the mind is in an important sense not yet settled; and indeed settling, in the form of a fixed commitment to an idea or a value, is a sign of cognitive and moral infirmity. Milton’s view is exactly the reverse: In the absence of a fixed commitment--of a first premise that cannot be the object of thought because it is the enabling condition of thought--cognitive activity cannot get started.
Two philosophical points might be made about Adam and Satan’s distinct paths: first is that they begin with equally valid starting perceptions, equally rational reactions to the fact of self-consciousness in a universe; second is that they are both built entirely on initial gestures: for both Satan and Adam, the first step is a leap of faith, but it sets the course of all reasoning that is to follow.
Satan’s faith corresponds more closely to the secular liberal vision of human consciousness--that it arose from impersonal forces in a universe with no Creator. Adam’s faith corresponds to the religious perception: that there is a consciousness undergirding both ourselves and the universe.
But if both liberal and religious epistemology depend on an initial act of faith, and are thus similar in a way, the universes that come to be constructed on these different grounds will be radically different. What's more, those who hold to the path of Adam rather than the path of Satan will hold radically different elements of the universe as significant when it comes to constructing a system of values. And again this is a matter of the initial gesture. For both sides “evidence comes into view (or doesn’t) in the light of [that] first premise or ‘essential axiom’ that cannot itself be put to the test because the protocols of testing are established by its pre-assumed authority.” That is key: the authority in each case is a pre-assumed one. Once Satan’s initial assumption has been made as to his ultimate origin, his criteria for what will subsequently count as evidence in any given case is set. Likewise for Adam.
Fish’s point that these two approaches to truth are equally "faith-based" is no longer grasped in liberal culture. In my view, the widespread failure to grasp this basic epistemological insight is at the root of the endless miscommunication between secular and religious. For people of faith like myself, such miscommunication is often maddening, because, no matter how one tries to explain, the secular liberal sitting across the table just doesn't get it. But besides the fact of constantly talking past each other, there's another more menacing element in play. This widespread liberal inability to think to the depth of first premises results in a dangerous false assumption: namely, that their secular liberal viewpoint is somehow “neutral”.
I call it dangerous for various reasons. First, secular minds, unable to see the act of faith on which their worldview rests, are prone to assume that science and “reason” will always bring progress. Thus if we just let science and reason “run their natural course” (whatever that might mean) humanity will continue to grow more truly human. Amazingly, given the horrors of the 20th century, contemporary liberals still don’t see that this is little more than a shopworn 18th century ideology, a delusional misconstrual of the role of science. It seems their “postmodern” sophistication still hasn’t managed to unseat their deeper Enlightenment fundamentalism.
Second, secular liberals assume that those who argue against their conclusions are “scientifically illiterate”, an assumption that has led them to draw ideologically narrow borders around science itself. How so? Anxious that science is being offended against, they've upgraded its status to that of a "pure" and "universal" method, forgetting that it is in essence a philosophically grounded approach to acquiring only certain kinds of knowledge. Of course, when liberal thinkers accuse the religious of being scientifically illiterate, the accusation is sometimes true, but very often it is not. Educated religious people daily witness liberals tendentiously using scientific facts to draw ethical conclusions that don't necessarily follow from those facts. It's not the science that is at issue, but the way that science is used by liberals as a sort of exculpatory imprimatur.
The deep truth in all this is as follows: American liberals have become philosophically illiterate. Our secular liberals are people who can’t see that their own basic principles are not in fact grounded in the science they assume grounds everything. Their whole case rests on various leaps of faith no more rational or scientific than that of Adam in Milton's epic. Their worldview is a religion like other religions, except that they can't see that it is a religion. That they can't see its faith-based elements allows them to impose it with ever more authoritarian zeal. (In April, Yuval Levin argued persuasively that the liberal mainstream is in fact behaving as if it were the official national religion--and thus directly violating our Constitution's establishment clause.)
The danger this liberal blindness represents for a pluralistic culture is clear. If the faith of the secular liberal is that science and “open debate” will naturally lead to progress, what the smart religious observer sees is that this is not science, but merely scientism. And what Stanley Fish sees, and brilliantly underlines, is that the "open debate" the liberal order allows is usually rigged from the start.
But I've written too much here. I intended this post as an invitation to read Fish’s trenchant analysis. Aside from laying out the liberal hypocrisies I always have trouble getting my many frenemies to recognize, the article serves as a case study of how these hypocrisies affect even those who try to fight them. Indeed Fish shows that many who seek to defend religious insights still cannot think outside the box secular liberalism has put them in. As has been widely commented, the "liberal" vision, especially since the start of this new century, is growing ever more authoritarian in its basic gestures.
If you care, whether from a secular or religious point of view, about the deep gash running down the center of America, about why this gash never manages to heal, this article offers some solid answers.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
I was sitting atop a cement traffic pylon near a busy intersection here in Taipei. It was just before class and I was smoking one of my mini-cigars before going in to teach. I had my umbrella leaning against the pylon--not a very good umbrella, the handle kept coming off and I needed to get a new one when I had the chance.
A well-dressed 60-something woman came by with her little caramel-colored dog on a pink leash. The dog was sniffing the base of the pylon and I was thinking: “This obasan is NOT going to let her dog piss on the pylon while I’m sitting on it.”
I was wrong of course. The dog started pissing, and the stream of piss was just missing my umbrella. I didn’t look at the woman, but kept my eye on the dog to let her know I saw how rude she was being.
And the dog, no more than a foot tall, just kept up its pissing. The piss flowed voluminously, almost amazing for such a small dog, until a broad puddle had formed just under me.
Then the woman went her way.
As I stood up to go, not a minute later, my leg hit the umbrella and it fell flat into the puddle. Oh, well. I decided just to leave it there.
I crossed the street and went into a little bakery to get something small to eat. I hadn’t had time for dinner. As I came out, there was the woman circling back with her dog. She looked at my umbrella lying in the piss, then looked round her a few times to see if I was still nearby, then reached down carefully to pick up the umbrella. She’d decided to take it!
Pulling a few sheets of tissue from her high-end, oversized purse, she began to wipe the piss off the umbrella. I watched her from the shade of the awning across the street. When she was done wiping off the piss, she continued on her way, heading home with her dog and my umbrella.
But she carried the umbrella by its handle. And the handle came off in her hand, the umbrella itself dropping to the ground.
Surprised, she glanced round her again, to see if anyone was watching, then looked down at the umbrella at her feet. Finally, in a gesture of frustration, she tossed the handle down next to it. She continued walking home.
Saturday, October 10, 2015
Even as a puppy her husky was averse to meat. It would beg for bits of salad at the dinner table. Her guests thought this amusing, but she warned them: “This isn’t something to laugh about.”
Later her husky would only eat grass. She hardly needed to mow the lawn.
She decided her husky wasn’t a husky, but a cow. Even two zoologists from the university agreed: “It’s a cow.” And the husky himself barked proudly: “Cow!”
Some pointed out that her cow couldn’t produce milk, so couldn’t actually be a cow. They pointed to the sleek gray fur, the pointy ears, the canine shape.
Then the Supreme Court weighed in: “It shall be called a cow.”
The husky was so happy at the news that he barked all night for a week.
What's more, three of four academic studies now suggest he can in fact produce milk.
The community brings the dog salad three times a day. After months of this treatment, he’s gotten pickier. He demands romaine lettuce, only organic.
The kids in the geometry class I teach wondered why they weren’t allowed to draw four-sided triangles.
“Because a triangle has three sides,” I said. “That’s the meaning of the word triangle.”
“That’s just ideology talking,” Susan said.
By the next week they were all drawing rectangles and saying: “See? Triangle! Triangle!”
In the teacher’s lounge I talked to the principal about this odd class.
“You shouldn’t call them odd,” he said. “Four-sided figures also have a right to be triangles.”
I continued to teach the class my way, Euclid and all, doing my best to get them through the theorems, which wasn’t easy without triangles.
Some parents complained.
Then the Supreme Court weighed in: “A triangle is a three- or four-sided figure.”
"I told you to be careful on this," the principal said.
They didn't renew my contract.
She’s a strict vegetarian who loves a good bratwurst. I pointed out to her--she was grilling on the patio--that bratwursts were made from meat.
“It’s right there on the label,” I said. “Look!”
I should have kept my mouth shut. First the threatening phone calls, the snubs from neighbors. Now her vegan friends have started picketing my place of work.
Eight of my Facebook friends have unfriended me.
“Just ‘cuz you’re not vegetarian yourself doesn’t mean you have a right to hate them!” one messaged in explanation.
Friday, October 2, 2015
What can we learn from the American left’s apoplectic reaction to Pope Francis' meeting Kim Davis?
Perhaps nothing; the reaction is entirely predictable. By turns disillusioned, gasping in disbelief, screaming “I TOLD you so!”--the progressive left is now more or less united in writing off Francis as a loser and a bigot and not someone any respectable person could support.
As for those few liberals who still remain sympathetic to Francis--“even after he met with her”--Charles P. Pierce aptly caught their mood in Esquire:
This is, obviously, the dumbest thing this Pope ever has done. It undermines everything he accomplished on his visit here. It undermines his pastoral message, and it diminishes his stature by involving him in a petty American political dispute.
Pierce sees the meeting with Davis as the end of the Pope’s honeymoon with liberal America. Note his particularly obtuse suggestion that it is all so sad--because the Davis case, after all, is just “a petty American political dispute.”
There’s the rub right there, the crux of liberals' odd misreading of Francis. The assumption that gay marriage is “just, like, so obvious”; that of course a man as progressive as Francis must see this; that any individual, such as Davis, who’d risk legal repercussions for refusing to go along with the gay agenda is just being “petty”.
I myself don’t think Davis has conducted her conscientious objection very wisely. But I do think she counts as a conscientious objector. And from the Pope’s words during his visit it’s pretty clear (pace Pierce) he doesn’t consider struggles over religious liberty, or individuals with the guts to wage them, at all “petty”. In any case, I don't think the Davis meeting was or is important on the Pope's visit agenda. It is one short encounter among many.
Still, after the news hit, I stopped by at the “progressive left” DailyKos community to see which way the wind was blowing. As if I couldn't guess. It was the usual righteous fury one sees in that crowd whenever anyone disagrees with one of the Holy Gender Tenets.
The meeting with Davis proved that Francis was obviously, as one person put it, “just another misguided, anti-gay bigot who pretends to be loving and compassionate”. Another instructed as follows: “Add poison to an otherwise nutritious soup, and all of it is poisoned.” A third waxed poetic: “All I can say now is, hypocrisy, thy name is Francis!” And on it went.
Yes, there were some mentions of the good that Francis had done on climate change, but in general the mood was: Bigot. Hypocrite. Fool. Fake.
Francis’ radicalism on so many issues supposedly so dear to this American left would no longer influence the Kos majority. No, if you don't dance to the LGBT movement's every new tune, you don’t get a pass with this crowd.
I commented as follows:
Listen to you all. “I’ve no more use for this Pope." "This Pope is slimy." Etc., etc.
At present Pope Francis is probably the world's most consequent voice calling for serious action on global warming. He's a trenchant critic of unfettered capitalism and outspoken supporter of the dignity of workers and of unions--to the point that he sets the Fox crowd and the Limbaughs into shivers of rage.
But the fact that his thinking (as is very likely the case) doesn't line up with yours on same-sex marriage means you've all suddenly "no use" for his stance or voice.
"No use" for Francis' stance on climate change? For his stance on free-market madness? For his stance on militarism?
Again you show that sad old trait of yours. Any figure who doesn't check all the same boxes you've come to check in your own historically specific cultural setting, any person who doesn't see eye to eye with American progressive liberals on EVERYTHING, especially those things related to sex or gender, is necessarily "slimy" or of "no use".
What kind of mature politics is that? It is cultural imperialism is what it is.
You think the Pope is being hypocritical?
The Pope's remark "Who am I to judge?" came at the end of the following statement spoken of a gay or lesbian person: "If someone is trying to live a holy life and seeking God, who am I to judge him?"
Why would progressives assume that the whole first part of that sentence was irrelevant to the Pope's meaning and why would they read into the last five words something like: "Though I'm the leader of the Catholic Church, I'm utterly against its teachings on sexual ethics."
It is very likely Pope Francis does not consider same-sex marriage to be marriage. It is very likely that when he refers to "attacks on the family", he is thinking in part of things like the Obergefell decision. (For the record, during his tenure in Argentina he did express support for something like civil unions for non-heterosexual couples. Which makes him more liberal than most in his church.)
So assuming that Francis does not acknowledge same-sex marriage, and recognizing the importance of religious liberty and the right of conscientious objection in his vision (how many of you, by the way, believe in conscientious objection? or perhaps you only believe in it when the objector agrees with you on all sex/gender/marriage-related issues?)--assuming this, why would it be hypocrisy on his part to meet with Kim Davis? Has she advocated jailing gays and lesbians? Has she picketed funerals with "God Hates Fags" signs? No, she has taken the one step of refusing to allow her name on licenses for same-sex marriages. As a purely negative action, a refusal to act, it's actually a pretty classic conscientious objection stance: "I won't bow to or sign my name to or perform such-and-such an action required by," etc., etc.
So I would think, in Francis' book, Davis' case would count as a valid instance conscientious objection. How not?
Yes, I also have some doubts that the story is legit. But if Francis did in fact meet with her, it wouldn't shock me--as it seems to have shocked so many of you. Is it because so many of you can't imagine there exist people who might agree with you on A, B, and C, but not on D? Is it because that's just too much of a stretch for your "progressive left" cultural imagination?
As myself a Catholic on the left, I admire Francis all the more for the way he screws up the expectations of both the American left and right. And it isn't any wonder. American left and right are both growing to be about equally bigoted and deranged.
I knew I’d mostly be attacked for this comment, and I was. After all: Who was I, “a Catholic”, to be calling anyone a bigot? How “ironic”. Etc.
But what does all this reveal about the current American left? I’d have to put it bluntly: They’re not so much left-wing in any traditional sense as they are obsessed with sexual identity politics. In my comment I mention the need to check “all” the boxes they do, A to Z. But of the boxes one must check to be heard in this crowd, that marked "LGBTQ, etc." is by far the most important. How has it come to this?
A pathological Gay Fundamentalism has taken over the American left. And of course, since we’re dealing here with a fundamentalism, it is no longer by any means enough to respect LGBT people or defend their rights. No, one must agree to recognize the validity of every new right they might demand. One must, first of all, acknowledge that "gay marriage" is an obvious right; that a household centered on a gay or lesbian couple is a perfectly healthy environment for raising children; and that those who refuse to recognize such marriages or the wisdom of gay parenting deserve to have their careers destroyed and be sued out of house and home. But in addition to walking and talking the new marriage orthodoxy, cobbled together just last Tuesday, one must also express delight in LGBT people’s vanguard role in other central social arenas. Because, don’t you know, it is LGBT people who are leading the charge to reform our schools, to police our speech, to correct our outmoded ideas of sex and gender. For who is it if not gays and lesbians who’ve taught us that great and eternal human truth, namely: Male and female sexuality have no inherent relation to male and female biology. Where have we learned this important truth if not from the our new authorities on sexuality, our LGBT brothers and sisters? Yes, thanks to gays and lesbians, now everyone can--and should!--bend any such supposed relations between biology and sexuality as much out of shape as possible. For only then will the "patriarchal ideology" that made these false relations be broken. Only then will one be free to be "oneself"! Which is . . . whatever one demands oneself to be.
Disagree with these fundamental truths and you are a “bigot”. And in this crowd, a bigot is the worst thing you can be.
On the left myself in many things, I cry bullshit to all this. I’m sickened by the cultural demagoguery that has hijacked our political life. These Gay Fundamentalists have been the main attraction for more than a decade now, and they think they own the place. They must be stopped, but with the youth almost entirely under their sway, and with the few sane adults in the room cowed into silence, how is this to be done?
The basic truths are clear. But is anything accomplished by simply stating basic truths in a culture that’s given up on the idea that the universe and humanity even have truth?
Trying to communicate with these people, one finally has the exasperated feeling one might get trying to explain to an especially dumb geometry class that they can’t draw four-sided triangles, even if they wanted to.
And so, yes: Boys will be boys and girls will be girls. That exceptions exist does not mean this paradigm is somehow wrong; it means only that these exceptions aren’t part of the norm to which the vast majority fit. And sorry, but that's just the definition of norm.
A just society gives space to and doesn’t persecute the exceptions. A sick society fetishizes the exceptions and uses them to destroy the norm. A sick society lets the exceptions remake the whole culture in their own image.
This is what is happening in our society now; our public spaces, our speech codes, our education system. Gay Pride has morphed into Gay Arrogance. The media and fashion industry cheer in perverse glee at the newness of it all, if only because “newness” is the very definition of media and fashion. And the American public, or at least those who take their cues from media and fashion, don’t want to feel left behind.
Thus a new Gay Fundamentalism is given carte blanche to impose its agenda on our schools, our legal system, all central institutions. Anyone who dares oppose this agenda will be fined, run out of business, jailed. The new gay commissars know what is right, they are watching, and woe to you if you don't bow to their wisdom.
We must have the courage to call out this fundamentalism. If we don't, it will not stop until it has ferreted out every pocket of sanity. You think things are ugly now? They will only get uglier. And so: We must dissent loudly and clearly. We must begin by calling this movement what it is--an illiberal gay fundamentalism, a gaythoritarianism that has abrogated to itself rights it doesn't have. We must use labels like these, and we must make them stick.
Anne Widdecombe got it precisely right in this 2012 speech:
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Just watched the recent short clip of Bill Nye the "Science Guy” lecturing people on why they should support abortion rights. Nye shows, yet again, the amazingly shoddy ethical understanding these “science guys” often have. It's almost embarrassing to listen to him. (I’m not going to link the video. Go find it on Google yourself if you like.)
Nye argues that we shouldn’t insist an individual’s humanity begins at conception because, consider, many fertilized eggs don’t attach to the wall of the womb and thus don’t survive anyway. Nye apparently thinks this fact of human reproduction carries ethical weight. His point seems to be: “See, if these fertilized eggs die, why not just give ourselves the right to kill those other fertilized eggs that do in fact attach to the womb and begin to develop?”
The "Science Guy's" easygoing demeanor in this clip shouldn’t obscure the obvious: His ethical logic here is appalling.
That many fertilized eggs don’t attach to the womb is merely an accident of nature. It does not carry ethical weight of any kind and cannot direct us at all in assessing the ethical status of abortion.
One can see Nye’s logic in all its glory if one merely applies it to a test case.
Suppose there is a mountain village in Guatemala that suffers a landslide which kills 85 of its 102 inhabitants. Earth tremors triggered the landslide, burying most of the village in the predawn hours. The traumatized survivors wait for rescue.
That landslide, like Nye’s point about fertilized eggs that don’t attach to the womb, is an accident of nature. That 85 of the villagers didn’t survive tells us nothing about the value of the survivors or how we must treat them.
How would Nye’s “humane” thinking apply in this landslide case?
In fact, according to Nye’s brilliant ethical sense, we might give ourselves the right to go in and kill those survivors rather than rescue them. After all, they 1) could easily have been among the victims and 2) it will be difficult to rescue and care for them.
At the end of the day, Nye might argue, we should “leave it up to the rescuers” to decide, because, after all, it’s their country.
If you think this kind of ethical logic deserves respect, well, you’re living in the right century. Welcome to the “scientific” understanding of ethics.
Nye’s ethics is not ethics at all, but merely a smartish guy talking out of his bow tie, if not out of some lower area of his person. This is the problem with so many science types when they attempt to speak on ethical issues. They don’t recognize that ethics is a branch of philosophy that requires serious questioning of premises and logical implications. They think they can just make it up as they go along, which is to say: They are no more qualified to speak on such issues than any old drunk on the street.
Bill Nye: Proving again that “science guys” have precisely nothing to tell you about what is right or wrong.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Imagine the year is 2035. And imagine that in most American cities one can find branches of a new national organization called Planned Retirement.
Planned Retirement has many defenders, and many detractors.
The organization’s policies are progressive. With help from the federal government, they provide low cost housing, food and limited medical care to people over 65. When a resident has reached the ripe age of 77, the organization sends a doctor to the resident’s room with the medical equipment needed to crush the resident’s head, thus ending his or her life. Any salvageable organs are sold to research institutes, and residents’ bodies are buried in landfills.
Many Americans, especially Christians, are strongly opposed to Planned Retirement’s practices. They argue that killing the elderly in this way is a form of murder and that the difficulty of caring for elderly people is no excuse to end their lives. They also argue that mass burial in unmarked graves and the marketing of the dead’s organs as “research material” is an obvious ruse to avoid facing the painful truth--namely, that each of these elders was a unique human being with the inalienable right to life.
In Congress there is a new effort to defund the organization because of its snuff policies. But liberals are up in arms in support of Planned Retirement. They want to focus the debate on the health care and housing Planned Retirement offers elderly people, thus diverting the public's attention from the issue that led to the push to defund, namely: Planned Retirement's practice of terminating human lives.
And so: “This is just another attack on elderly health care!” the liberals scream.
Besides being an obvious attempt to change the subject, there's a second element of dishonesty in this cry. Liberals actually mean to imply that those seeking to defund Planned Retirement are somehow motivated by a disrespect for elderly people. Which is interesting, to say the least.
But consider another detail of Planned Retirement policy: If the family of an elder resident chooses to terminate Mom or Dad or Grandma or Grandpa’s life before the age of 77, they can provide written consent for such termination.
The reasons people give for wanting their parents’ termination are various: “We don’t have time to visit her any more.” “We have a right to live our lives as we choose!” “The fees to keep Mom there are too much for my budget.”
In a widely shared rant in defense of Planned Retirement, liberal senator Elizabeth Warrick argues: “How can we dare interfere with these families when they are making what is probably the single most difficult decision of their lives? How can we dare?”
Senator Warrick seems think that the moral difficulty individuals might face in deciding to kill their parents or grandparents should carry more weight than the lives of those whose heads are to be crushed.
Again: Interesting argument.
If in the current American debate about defunding Planned Parenthood you’ve found yourself arguing that “This is an attack on women’s health care!” or “Abortions only account for 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services!” or “It’s a difficult decision! We shouldn’t presume to judge!”--well, congratulations: To me, as a Catholic, you sound precisely like those future liberals above arguing in support of “Planned Retirement”. Your arguments ring equally hollow are are equally beside the point.
The fact is that Christians and others are not opposed to Planned Parenthood because of some vague lurking misogyny. No, they are opposed to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers because of one obvious truth: Just like the unfortunate elders in the above future scenario, the unborn are each unique human beings.
This is not merely Christian teaching, or some religious teaching, it is a scientifically demonstrable fact. Each unborn person has an integral human body and unique human DNA. As such, she or he is a unique human person and deserves the defense of the law, regardless of whether or not she or he has a name.
In terms of the ethics involved, my above dystopian tale of “Planned Retirement” offers a precise parallel to what the real organization Planned Parenthood is doing right now. Planned Parenthood serves the “health” of young mothers and their children in the same way that my fictional Planned Retirement serves the “health” of the elderly and their families. In both organizations, when people are judged to be inconvenient, they are snuffed.
Because of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, we already live in a dystopia. Defunding is the least they deserve.
What kind of wool is it, of what thickness, do American liberals have to keep pulling over their eyes to avoid seeing this? It must be morally exhausting to have to defend, for decades on end, such an Orwellian vision of humanity. Women's "health care"?
Last year Planned Parenthood ended the lives of an estimated 165,000 women, tossing their broken bodies, or at least those parts that couldn’t be sold, into the trash bin.
American liberals really don't get it. That wool must be damn thick.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
to school claiming it was an "invention"?
When I first heard the story, I thought it was sad, but also somewhat inevitable: a Muslim teen got arrested for bringing a bomb-like device to his school. But now I'm starting to wonder if we all haven't been had. Consider the details.
Indeed, Ahmed Mohamed’s "clock invention" story is looking more and more like a clock and bull story. It turns out the invention, in any case, was no such thing. It was just a disassembled digital clock from the 1980s, with the parts oddly rearranged in a pencil box. A smart teen would never claim this was an “invention”, though a 5-year-old might. You could do the same thing by taking any old digital clock apart and splaying out the pieces in a box. But why would you ever do that?
Likely answer: Because there's a digital readout on the device, just like there is on many Hollywood bombs.
Yes, it is definitely possible that Ahmed very well knew what this object looked like and that what he was up to was not showing off an “invention” to his teacher so much as bringing something to school that looked like a bomb. I'm not saying he did this to cause a bomb scare. Rather: Knowing teenage boys, such an object would look "cool" and get them attention.
But though I wouldn't claim this teen brought his device to school to cause a bomb scare, that doesn't mean the possibility shouldn't be considered. Indeed, some are beginning to suspect that the whole event might have been designed to cause just the reaction it did, a kind of set-up to “prove” that Muslims are discriminated against. This interpretation, in my view, gains more ground as a possibility when one considers Ahmed's family situation. The boy's father is an anti-Islamophobia activist. There's nothing wrong with that, and this might all just be coincidence, but note how quick this family was to stage press conferences, etc., after the event happened.
Honestly, as more details emerge, the more our president looks like a moron for inviting this kid to the White House. In my view, the "clock invention" story is totally bogus. The best interpretation one can put on this event is that Ahmed was pulling a gag with something he knew looked like a bomb. If that is true, the arrest and subsequent public attention were not expected, but came as an unintended result. But in fact, if the father was at all "in on" Ahmed's little project, I think there's a strong possibility liberal America has been had hook, line and sinker in its rush to stage Ahmed as a "young scientist" victimized because of his background. We'll likely never know.
Sunday, September 6, 2015
Do you believe in religious liberty and freedom of conscience? Do you believe American law is obliged to protect citizens’ religious liberty?
A test case: Let’s say there’s a Muslim-owned print shop in Illinois and a man comes in wanting to print 500 copies of a pamphlet he wrote. Rashid, the owner of the shop, sees that the pamphlet attacks Islam as a false religion and specifically attacks Muhammad as a false prophet. The shop owner refuses to print the pamphlet, saying it is blasphemous.
“Get your pamphlet printed somewhere else!” Rashid says. “It’s against my religion and my conscience to take part in spreading such blasphemy.”
Do you support Rashid’s right to refuse to print that pamphlet? I do. Were our laws to force him to print it, I’d consider it an offense against his dignity and an offense against our American idea of religious liberty.
Would you say Rashid is unjustly discriminating against the man who wrote the pamphlet? Though I strongly believe in freedom of speech, I wouldn’t consider this a case of unjust discrimination. Rashid isn’t saying the man has no right to print his pamphlet, only that he, as a Muslim, refuses to take part in such printing.
Last week a Christian woman in Kentucky went to jail because she refused to take part in licensing same-sex marriages. I’m not personally a fan of Kim Davis’ way of making her stand, but I do believe strongly that our law should allow some route for people such as Ms. Davis to recuse themselves from taking part in gay marriages. That she ended up in jail is an offense against religious liberty.
Though same-sex marriage has great support at present in many Western countries, the fact remains that there are tens of millions of citizens who firmly believe such marriages are an offense against God’s law. One can work to convince these believers they are wrong to think as they do, but one cannot simply discount their convictions, which are clearly grounded in long-standing religious traditions.
In Kim Davis’ mind, her taking part in legitimating same-sex marriages would be a form of blasphemy--hardly different from Rashid’s printing of anti-Muslim pamphlets. You can think Kim Davis is being petty or silly or even bigoted for believing such blasphemy is real, but that is the thing about religious liberty: It’s not up to you to decide what is and isn’t valid in her religion.
If you support Rashid’s right not to print those pamphlets, you should likewise support laws defending the rights of religious bakers, caterers and even county clerks in their refusal to take part in legitimating or providing work toward the celebration of same-sex marriages.
Really, the two cases, that of Rashid and that of the Christian marriage traditionalist, are almost precisely similar. But for some reason, in our current cultural climate, it's become impossible for otherwise intelligent people to see this.
Why is it so difficult for people to see that religious liberty is being offended against when bakers and florists get run out of business or when county clerks are not given a legal route to recuse themselves from taking part in gay marriage?
Too many liberals, weighing in on this issue, show no sense of balance. There's a rising liberal fundamentalism, which, if its proponents had any historical sense, they'd recognize as a contradiction in terms.
Were a customer to come into that hypothetical Muslim print shop asking to print menus or pamphlets on zoology, and were Rashid to proclaim “Get out of here! I don’t serve atheist Jews!”--that would be a case of illegal discrimination. And the customer would be right to take Rashid to court. Likewise were a restaurant owner to refuse to serve a gay customer simply for being gay, we would be talking about real and harmful discrimination. But Rashid, and the Christian bakers too, have the right to refuse to take part in things they consider blasphemy. It's as simple as that.
American liberals are committing egregious mistakes in the way they're trying to integrate same-sex marriage into the culture. What we need are sane and balanced RFRA laws. We need them now.
(Personal note: As a Catholic with great respect for my Church's teachings, but also with an active and critical intelligence, I would not define myself as "opposed to" gay marriage. At the same time, however, I am definitely not a fan of the absolutist tactics of the marriage equality movement, which is now cheerleading one witch hunt after another. I remain engaged in the theological debate over the issue and see routes for changing doctrine, and I'll pursue these routes in dialogue with fellow Catholics. But simultaneously, the sight of so many liberal friends eager to betray fundamental liberal principles is depressing to say the least.
As a strong pluralist, I would insist that America is failing here. There is room for everyone under the tent, and our law should be protecting both sides in this important debate. Because, regardless of the Obergefell decision, the debate is far from over.)
Saturday, August 15, 2015
It's a small class, but in it Ryan, about fourteen, is the class clown. And somehow we got on the subject of him and cherubs. Since Ryan has a penchant for all things cute and roundish, it wasn't too out of line. But then it also came about that we were discussing the word torso, as it appears in Dan Brown's recent novel Inferno, which we're reading in this class, a class of five Taiwanese teens who meet every Saturday to discuss novels. And that day it was cherubs and Ryan and torsos. When we'd been talking and reading for an hour and a half, and I had only thirty minutes left with them, I did what I often do: I gave them a quick in-class assignment. They were to write something, anything, on the theme of "Ryan and the Cherub". Results follow.
Ryan and the Cherub
by Johnny Jiang (江寧)
Once upon a time there was an old man named Ryan. He was an ugly person, so that nobody wanted to marry him and even no boss wanted to hire him.
One day, a little cherub flew through the street by Ryan's house and saw him crying because no one was there to remind him to turn off the gas stove and so he burned his dinner.
The cherub was so kind and felt so sorry for Ryan that he decided to help him find a good wife.
Next morning, when Ryan went to the market, the cherub followed him, planning to wait for a young lady to stand in front of him.
Poor Ryan, even if old grandma saw him she would jump up from her wheelchair and run away!
No young woman stood anywhere near him.
Finally, in one shop, a clerk came up to Ryan and told him to leave the store because he was standing and talking to himself.
The cherub thought this was his only chance to find a woman for Ryan, so he quickly pulled out his arrow and shot the unlucky clerk.
Ryan screamed and ran out of the shop. The clerk also screamed and fell to the ground.
The cherub realized that he had taken the wrong arrow: it was a real one. The cherub was shocked and embarrassed and flew away up into the clouds.
What a poor clerk!
Ryan and the Cherub Avengers
by Anthony Huang (黃聖翔)
High in the clouds, a troupe of cherubs circled together, examining a mangled and gruesome object. One of them held it in his outstretched hands.
"This must be one of us," he said. "But where is the torso?"
"Who would dare do this?" another said. "We must find the killer! We must avenge our brother!"
And so it was that the Cherub Avengers came to be: Ironrub, Greenrub, Captainrub, Thunderub, and Eaglerub. They each had their special weapons with which they would exact their terrible vengeance.
They traveled the world, seeking the enemy who had dared kill one of their holy brotherhood.
One day, searching through Xin Yi Road in the city of Taipei, they came upon a strange boy eating curry ice cream in front of a building with a sign that read "ZEI: Costco of Torsos!"
They came down and surrounded the boy.
"Excuse me," Captainrub said. "What does this sign mean?"
"It means go @#&*#% yourself, angel boy," the boy replied.
The cherubs found this to be a rude reply. They sent Eaglerub into the building to find out the truth.
Suddenly the strange boy leered, shouted "Torsos!" and grabbing Captainrub by the wings he twisted him around and cut off his head.
"It is you!" the other cherubs cried out, and so the combat began.
Ironrub slipped into his iron suit and shot love missiles from his springloaded fists; Greenrub became a giant Cherish and tried to attack the boy with his green love punch; Thunderub flew forward to smash the boy with his love hammer.
But the boy squirmed out of the way of each of these attacks, and spitting curses and foul curry, he drove the cherubs into a startled retreat.
As the cherubs tried to regroup, Eaglerub flew out from the building, crying: "Hey! This kid has got some wonderful torsos in there! I want to buy some!"
But nobody paid him any attention.
"Alright then!" Eaglerub said. "I'll pick some myself!" And he flew back into the building.
The battle continued, curry and love arrows and hammering. The boy roared out: "I'm Ryan, Curry King and merchant of cherub torsos! You will never defeat me!"
The three cherubs fought like heroes, but none could harm Ryan.
Finally, in the heat of battle, the Curry King opened his huge mouth, baring his foul curried teeth, and began to suck violently. The screaming cherubs could not bat their wings fast enough, they were sucked into his mouth. Ryan chewed them and spat their limbs and torsos onto the sidewalk next to him.
At this moment Eaglerub exited the building with a large white shopping bag. He saw the scene on the sidewalk.
"Uh oh," he said, and shot straight up into the sky.
And that is the story of the rise and fall of the Cherub Avengers, the stupidest Hollywood movie of the year.
Ryan, Ryanair and the Cherub
Once upon a time, there was an unnamed man called Ryan. He was a pilot working for Ryanair.
One day, as he was flying an old Boeing 787 to Costco, a terrorist with a bazooka began shooting passengers from his seat. So Ryan locked the door of the cockpit and continued listening to music.
Suddenly, a cute cherub appeared outside the cockpit window, 25,000 meters above the ground, and magically entering the plane, he went back and shot the terrorist with an arrow.
The terrorist died immediately.
“Nooooo!” cried the cherub. “He was supposed to fall in love! With me!”
Ryan was finally getting angry. All this was too much for one flight. He left the cockpit and went back into the cabin. First he yelled at the cherub, then he broke his little bow and arrows; finally he began to beat the cherub’s round head, hands, legs and wings. Even the passengers, the ones who hadn’t been killed by the terrorist, thought this treatment was excessive.
But what none of them knew was that the terrorist had also planted a bomb on the plane. It exploded, blowing off the back half of the cabin.
Ryan grabbed what remained of the cherub and struggled to the cockpit. As the broken front half of the plane spiraled to the ground, he got on his emergency parachute and jumped.
And that’s how Ryan lost his job at Ryanair. But it’s also how he got his first cherub torso.
The Psychopath and the Cherub (after Dan Brown’s Inferno)
by Claire Fan-Chiang (范姜詠欣)
“Ow!” yelped Ryan as the arrow struck his forehead. He looked up to locate his attacker.
Oh, he had never seen such a handsome young boy in his life! Blonde curls that shone and flickered in the evening light, the clearest eyes whose colors seemed to be changing like a kaleidoscope, skin pale yet beautiful as alabaster, and a smile more radiant than the golden sun itself.
Ryan leapt up, pinning the cherub down and accidentally squashing his wings against the floor of Florence’s famed Palazzo Vecchio. Ryan’s parents were on the other side of the great Renaissance hall from him, studying Vasari’s huge mural The Battle of Marciano. They’d taken their son to Italy with them to learn about European culture.
As Ryan held the wounded cherub pinned to the floor, the museum guards struggling to pull him off, a low humming filled his head, the murmur of many voices, then the thunder of soldiers’ footsteps, and a high scream sharp enough to rent The Apotheosis of Cosimo I in two.
But it didn’t matter; for all that Ryan knew was that the cherub looked delicious.
Half an hour later Ryan was seated, handcuffed, in the back of a black van. Next to him was Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey and the handsome soldier gripping her left calf. The streets of Florence flew past through the van windows. But that didn’t matter either. All Ryan remembered was the cherub’s face and that delicious taste that left a tang of iron inside his mouth.
A flash of blonde wove through the crowds of summer tourists. It was Sienna Brooks, running madly down the stone pavement along the river, tears splashing down her cheeks.
Sienna had never felt so betrayed by anybody, her mind was blank--an emptiness caused by the shock she’d just suffered. She stopped. A gentle wind touched her cheek. She screamed a venomous curse over the olive green water of the Arno.
Up in the palazzo’s massive garret, Vayentha and Langdon were sitting on the viewing platform. She was listening to Langdon talk about his Mickey Mouse watch. Vayentha didn’t catch every word Langdon said, but it didn’t matter. All she could think of was how beautiful Langdon seemed at that moment.
If only this could last forever!
The cherub stared up at the rent canvas, mouth agape, full of hatred for the garish ceiling of the Hall of the Five-Hundred. Warm liquid oozed from his broken body; nothing the medics did seemed to stanch the flow. A buzz echoed in his brain; his mind was in chaos now, memories flashed by, fleeting images of wings and clouds and lovely limbs. A tear slid down his cheek. How stupid he was to attack a trained assassin! If he had not, he would not have been shot; and if he hadn’t been shot, he would not have fallen, hitting the psychopath with his second arrow. How had that boy leapt so high? How had he not swerved from his grasp? Had he only swerved in time, he would not have been pinned to the stone floor and the crazed Asian boy would not have gnawed into his flesh as he did, a fatal wound.
His vision swam before his eyes, his consciousness slipping away. Finally darkness took him in its soft embrace.
Six months later, a shop opened its doors near the old Taipei Sogo. The space had formerly been a tapas restaurant, neither very small nor very large. The new shop owner had installed an imposing wooden door; through cramped, yellow-tinted windows the merchandise could barely be made out along the dimly lit interior.
You pushed through the heavy door, curious to verify if what you had seen could be true. You heard the heavy click of the automatic lock snap shut behind you as the door swung closed. And then, stepping forward, the mad leer of the patron, his familiar crazed and gleeful cackle: “Welcome back.”
Suddenly, from behind, a cloth was pressed against your face as a strong arm seized you round your chest. A heavy medicinal smell filled your nostrils and stung your panicked eyes. In your last instants of consciousness, you realized that the shop, the dim lighting, the tinted windows, the sign--“Cherub Torsos”--it was all a trap to draw you in.
But now there was no turning back.