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Friday, August 15, 2014

A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE: Israel and Gaza

"Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."
-Abraham Lincoln

Every so often, violence explodes in the Middle East, particularly around Israel.  The very existence of the nation seems a magnet for anger and violence, and while every single president of the US since Nixon has tried to find a solution, they've all failed miserably.
The most recent spate of violence has dragged up all the same tired old arguments, with people picking sides and accusing the other of lying and staging news events.  Ancient animosities against certain ethnic groups are growing again, and people are dying.
It wouldn't be that hard to go through the actual events and weed out the core of what's going on and why, nor to find where the problems lie, but there's another aspect to this I want to consider.  How should Christians respond to these events?
Some instantly and without thought leap to the side of Israel.  For many in America, this is an easy call because of their theology: Israel is God's chosen people and the final battleground when Christ returns.  For others it is a matter of being sympathetic toward Jews as a sort of kinship: we share a Testament and thousands of years of religious history.  And for still others, the memories of the horrors in WW2 make them tend to side with Jews against anyone.
Meanwhile, others instantly and without thought leap to the side of the palestinians*.  For many this is a political issue, siding with the oppressed other and what they perceive as the underdog.  For others, it is a question of what they get from news and friends, and who seems to be the bad guy as they get information from popular media.  For still others, they see the Israeli response to palestinian actions excessive or extreme; lacking in 'proportionality.'
As Christians, our first and central concern in anything should be what glorifies God.  We cannot let anything, no matter how compelling or emotionally powerful, eclipse that central truth.  This is often to work out in the modern world, but at the very least it means that we should respond in love, humility, and truth.
Simply put, that means when presented with some event or story, we should first be humble toward whoever brings this to us, not dismissive and arrogant.  We should be loving, so that we are first concerned about the people involved and the cost in lives and family, whatever group they happen to belong to.  And we should be concerned with the truth both in our statements and in what we learn.
All war brings with it lies, distortions, rumors, misinformation, and propaganda.
Its easy to find examples of how these lies and propaganda are spread, and the more media-savvy and less scrupulous a side, the more willing they are to use it.  Christians should be more interested in finding the truth and ignoring lies than having their personal preferences confirmed or politics supported.  If Israel lies about the purpose of a tunnel, then we as Christians should recognize that and consider it.  If palestinians lie about where they are launching rockets from, then Christians should recognize that and consider it.
The key here as in all things is to be not motivated by what we wish to be or are inclined to believe to be true, but what is actually true.  And further to not choose sides out of some sense of team playing or what is gained politically, but to be on God's side, always.  Sometimes that will mean sympathy for one side of a conflict, sometimes it will mean the other.
And always our prayer should be for peace and an end to war and hostility.  Christians should always favor peace whenever possible and it is within our power. As the Bible says, there is a time for war, but we should be known as peacemakers and lovers of peace first and foremost - reluctant to fight, not eager.
Our prayers should be for the families on both sides, for the survivors of those killed in the conflict, for the leadership of both sides to seek peace and do right rather than what best serves them.  We should do what we can to aid people in need, and show Christ's love wherever there is suffering and want.
And we should always be first to recognize that all humanity, whatever group they are in, however they behave, are made in the image of God, so that their lives are sacred, and their souls may yet be saved to eternal glory.
Sometimes it seems like the whole world is burning, and that we live in the worst possible times.  Many times in the past people have felt this way - imagine what went through the heads of people in WW2, during the Napoleonic wars, during invasions by Genghis Khan, the black plague, and the fall of the Roman Empire.  All of these were times of horrendous catastrophe and calamity.
Is the world coming to an end?  Some day, in God's time, and for His glory.  Until then we have a duty to do what is right and obey Him to his glory where we are and when we are.  Christ's return should catch us doing His will and showing love, not squabbling and cheering for death.
*You may note I never capitalize "palestinians" even though spellcheck angrily scribbles red under it.  That's because the title presumes an ethnic, national identity, which they do not share.  There isn't and never was a nation of "palestine" only a region.  There is no ethnic group of "palestinians" because they were nomadic over a very large area, and many are simply there because they were dumped there from countries such as Syria to get rid of them.  My lack of capitalization is a protest against trying to craft a fictional, mythical history for these people, not out of disrespect for them individually.

This is part of the Christian Response series.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

NOT MOMENTOUS

"Are you hungry for more liberty?"

For a long time now I've been confident that libertarianism, or at least its basic concepts, were the future of American politics.  That the blend of fiscal restraint and personal liberty was popular and appreciated by most Americans, and the party that embraced that would be the one that had the most success.
Others seem to be coming to this conclusion as well.  Recently in the New York Times, Robert Draper wondered if the "Libertarian Moment" has arrived:
Libertarians, who long have relished their role as acerbic sideline critics of American political theater, now find themselves and their movement thrust into the middle of it. For decades their ideas have had serious backing financially (most prominently by the Koch brothers, one of whom, David H., ran as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian Party ticket), intellectually (by way of policy shops like the Cato Institute and C.E.I.) and in the media (through platforms like Reason and, as of last year, “The Independents”). But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side.
And despite an avalanche of bad publicity, figures such as Koch Brothers, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz are fairly well regarded except by the hard left in America.  People admired Ted Cruz for his filibuster because that's how most Americans envision a Senator should behave.  Agree or not with what he was trying to do, Americans like a legislator who personally puts it all on the line and actually fights for what they believe in, even at personal cost.
But I have changed my mind.  There is and will be no libertarian moment.  Americans aren't embracing the movement and its ideals.  Sure it kind of looks like maybe the country is in some ways, but looks are deceiving.
I figured this out recently in a discussion on Facebook with a leftist.  I posted something by Megan McArdle and noted she leans left (she voted for Obama, is a big homosexual marriage supporter, etc).
 The guy immediately rejected my statement and what she said because she was, as he put it, a Libertarian and hence "hard right."  He went on to use words like "extremist" to describe her super right wing leanings.
I noted that libertarians are typically conservative on spending and economics, but leftist on social issues.  He rejected this as well, stating that while they claimed to be on the left on social issues, they want to cut the government and therefore cannot be leftist.  For him, and I suspect most on the left, the litmus test is not what you believe or the issues you hold, but the size of government you believe in.
And that's when the little bell went off in my head.  Its true that most Americans want less spending and lower taxes.  That's almost universally supported to one degree or another by Americans.  Every single American you ask will list areas they think the government should spend more on, and most believe taxes should not be raised and perhaps should be trimmed in some areas at least.
Its also true that many if not most Americans tend to lean somewhat left on many social issues such as drug legalization, abortion, homosexual marriage, etc.  If you ask the average American how much the government should be involved in their private life, almost all will say "as little as possible" or "not at all."
But what they mean by that and want is not the same as what Libertarians want and mean.  Ultimately, the basic philosophy of libertarianism is "I can do it better than government" and for far too many Americans, their basic philosophy is "government can do it better than me."  Libertarians are throwbacks to a previous century, a hundred years or more ago when Americans were best known for being "can-do" and seeing problems as opportunities.  When the well ran dry, Americans started looking for ways to get water somewhere else, not begging the federal government for aid and airlifts of water.
This comes up over and over; ask any given American if politicians are any good, and every single one says "they're awful, you can't trust them, they lie all the time, they're corrupt" and so on.  But if you ask them about their politician, well suddenly they find reasons why they aren't so bad.  Its why congress can have an approval rating of less than 10% but incumbents keep winning reelection.
Cuts to spending tend to be along the same lines.  People want spending cut, but they always list spending other than what they benefit from.  Everybody wants the spending in other districts and states cut, but not their own.  People call for stupid junk like shrimp on treadmill studies to be cut, but Libertarians want things like the department of education and the federal reserve to be cut.
The two sort of sound like they are meeting up, but in reality, they're parallel trains.  They both head roughly in the same direction but never match tracks.  What Libertarians want and what Americans want sound similar, but when it comes down to actual policy, they diverge significantly.
Which means that libertarian candidates can get great sound bites and initial support from voters, but when it comes down to the long campaign and voting, Americans become disenchanted with the candidates.  Talking about cutting the massive size of government down to size appeals to most Americans, but when you get to specifics suddenly they become less appealing.
So we get a situation like now, where Libertarianism seems hip and attractive to young people because they sound like they're singing the same song.  But those same young people are the most likely to appeal to government rather than themselves for any solution, and cutting any of that will drive them away.
So yes, Libertarian and American political interests do intersect in some areas: legalizing some drugs, getting the government out of the size of soda cups, etc. But they are like lines drawn on two sheets of stacked glass: from a certain perspective they seem to meet up, but they're still quite a ways apart.
There is no Libertarian moment on the horizon, not until the culture shifts dramatically.
*PS for extra laughs and an astonishing display of political ignorance, check out this story at Talking Points Memo about how Libertarianism's popularity is all an evil scheme by - get this - the Christian Right.

Monday, August 11, 2014

SITTING ON THE SHORE

I'd say I told you so, but at this point, what difference does it make?

There is an old saying attributed to Sun Tzu “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”  The principle of this is that a patient man will eventually see justice and their foes dealt with, even if they cannot do so personally.
And I've noticed often, and commented often, that the internet is the same way: if you wait long enough you see the truth drift by on the net.  Things you suspected or knew to be true but did not have official confirmation or proof of eventually will show up.
This being the internet, naturally, you can always go find someone who supports any idea you have no matter how demented it is.  But that's not what I mean.  If you wait, you will eventually see your foes agree with what you've said, like when years ago, the New York Times ran a piece confirming that trickle down economics works.  It wasn't what they meant to do but Motoko Rich wrote:
The economic recovery has been helped in large part by the spending of the most affluent. Now, even the rich appear to be tightening their belts.

Late last year, the highest-income households started spending more confidently, while other consumers held back. But their confidence has since ebbed, according to retail sales reports and some economic analysis.
Like most on the left, they don't even have a clue what trickle down really means other than "its bad" so it probably never occurred that they just confirmed the economic fact of this concept.  As I noted in a Washington Examiner piece, the AP did the same thing.
So sitting by the river, watching the internet flow by, along comes a few stories.
First was Donna Brazile, reliably leftist and Democratic Party cheerleader, admitting years after the fact quietly that, um, Bush was good when it came to Hurricane Katrina.
George W. Bush was good as his word. He visited the Gulf states 17 times; went 13 times to New Orleans. Laura Bush made 24 trips. Bush saw that $126 billion in aid was sent to the Gulf's residents, as some members of his own party in Congress balked.

Bush put a special emphasis on rebuilding schools and universities. He didn't forget African-Americans: Bush provided $400 million to the historically black colleges, now integrated, that remain a pride, and magnet for African-American students. Laura Bush, a librarian, saw to it that thousands of books ruined by the floods were replaced. To this day, there are many local libraries with tributes devoted to her efforts.
She also points out how hard President Bush tried for civility and decency despite the unrestrained, filthy, screaming hatred spewed at him constantly.  Bush did a good job, the federal government acted swiftly as they were able with a massive outpouring of assistance that was handled with nearly overwhelming incompetence and seemingly deliberate obstinance by the Louisiana and New Orleans government, and the press went out of their way to make it seem like Bush was a horrific racist monster.  And people bought it hook, line, and sinker.
Another story is a bit smaller in scope is yet another admission by a former New York Times person that yes, the paper is a mouthpiece for the left, a deliberately slanted leftist organ.  This kind of thing slips out when the paper is defending its self for something (like firing the first female publisher, who was apparently a bit of a crazy).  The last time it was an ombudsman writing "well yes, we're biased to the left" flat out.  But ask a leftist and they'll laugh at you for bringing it up, declaring you a crazy right winger who sees bias everywhere.
A bit older is this bit of history that sort of got swept under the rug.  Jarrett Stepman and Inez Feltscher write at Breitbart:
George Fitzhugh, a Virginia planter and pro-slavery intellectual, went even farther than Hughes in his attack on free society and capitalism. Although Fitzhugh denounced the radicalism of communists and socialists, he agreed that capitalist society was “diseased.” Fitzhugh defended Southern slavery as the economic model of the future and declared that “slavery is a form, and the very best form, of socialism.” In fact, he believed nineteen out of twenty people, both white and black, should be slaves.

“A Southern farm is the beau ideal of communism,” Fitzhugh said. “There is no rivalry, no competition to get employment among slaves, as among free laborers… Wealth is more equally distributed than at the North, where a few millionaires own most of the property of the country.”

Fitzhugh said in Sociology for the South: Or the Failure of a Free Society:

The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them.
Yes, he just argued that slavery is the ideal of socialism.  Why?  Because 'you didn't build that.'  Because he believed that everything belongs to the collective, through the state.  So that everything should be done for people and taken care of for people, not given them to do with what they wish.  Slavery is just jobs for room and board, working but not owning anything.  What is freedom compared to having everything given to you by a benevolent owner, according to the socialist idea?  Its a pretty consistent, cogent argument from that perspective, but one the left wants to forget.

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Friday, August 08, 2014

THE DEATH OF BEAUTY

"Why is modern art so very, very, very bad?  One would almost think these things are being made bad on purpose."

As an illustrator, the state of modern art does not affect me particularly.  When someone wants an illustration done, they don't turn to Kadinsky or Picasso, they turn to someone who can actually portray something accurately and effectively.  The fact that my stuff would never be hung in an art gallery is of no particular concern to me.
But the concept of beauty and art is dear to me not only as an illustrator but as a human being.  The three absolutes of ancient thought were truth, goodness, and beauty.  There was no subjective thought for the Greeks and the other ancient philosophers when it came to these concepts.  They were written in stone.
For these thinkers, the idea of "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" was accurate as far as it went, but it was not absolutely true.  People do perceive beauty differently, and what is pleasing to one person might not be to another.  But that doesn't make actual beauty subjective.
I've written about Truth several times and Goodness several times in extended essays, and I've long toyed with the idea of finishing the triad with at least one major essay on Beauty, but have not gotten there.  The problem isn't the concepts, its just the hook: trying to find something current and compelling for readers to hang it on and make the point more current and significant.
I think most everyone knows about the trash (sometimes, literally trash) that is put in art galleries and sold for gigantic sums.  From elephant dung to jars of urine to urinals and more, what is presented as art is a travesty and has been for some time now.  Why is that?  Why must art be so awful?
A few articles have come out lately examining this question because we're past wondering if its really art to wondering why anyone would even consider it to be.  John C Wright at EveryJoe examined this recently and examined it more closely at his own site. His conclusion is that art is, like much fiction, a casualty of leftist philosophy and politics.  In How We've Been Robbed of Beauty by the Left, he argues without stating it outright that art is a casualty of relativism.
Relativism argues that nothing is absolute, it is all subjective - that is, it is all a matter of one's perspective.  You cannot say something is true absolutely, you can only say its true... to you.  You cannot say something is absolutely wrong, you can only say you consider it wrong.  You cannot say something is truly beautiful, only that you think it is beautiful. For the relativist, its all a matter of what each individual believes, not based on anything certain and absolute.
Thus, beauty as an absolute is unacceptable in relativist philosophy.  Wright says:
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then anything, anything at all, can be declared to be beautiful merely by the artist. Like God creating light from nothing by the power of His word, the artist creates beauty not by any genius nor craftsmanship, but by his naked fiat. It is beautiful not because he actually created anything, but only because he says so.

By this logic, a urinal is beautiful, a light going off and on, a decapitated cow’s head covered in blood, flies and maggots, a glass of water on a shelf, a crucifix dunked in urine, a can of excrement, or an unmade bed. The argument given by the Left is that your inability to see the beauty in these things is due to your limitations, your untrained soul, your dullness. The argument merely ignores the fact that training the tastes to be dull, philistine and coarse is the opposite of training the tastes to be sensitive to beauty.
Thus, he argues, that beauty is either absolute, or it becomes meaningless.  If there is no certainty or standard to strive for in beauty, then it leave us only to ourselves and our basest desires.
The Left hates this argument, because if beauty is not merely in the eye of the beholder, then beauty tells us what is a truth, a real truth, a truth from a world beyond the world of petty propaganda, a beauty beyond the world of pornography. The Left hates this argument, because if beauty is not merely in the eye of the beholder, then beauty is meant to be served, not used for your selfish pleasures. Beauty humbles the proud, for it shows them something beyond themselves and their appetites. And the left hates that.
Wright goes on in The Logic of Illogic to extend this to writing and other areas.  He complains that as John Scalzi has written about, the science fiction community is being kidnapped by the PC left and awards are being handed out not for well crafted sci fi but for emotionally compelling stories that promote a leftist worldview:
Here is this year’s Nebula award winning short story If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love which, at the time of this writing, is also on the short ballot for the Hugo.

It a less that a thousand words long, and I suppose there must be some merit to it aside from the quaint technique of opening each paragraph with a subjective form of the ending of the prior paragraph, which I call the IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE technique.

The situation passively described (in present tense first person stream-of-consciousness) is that of bigoted white southerners at a poolhall, on the eve of a wedding, beat the heroine’s fiancee, a palaeontologist, into a coma from which he may never wake; and as she stands in grief at his hospital bedside, she fantasizes that if he had been a dinosaur, he could have killed them instead. And she would turn into a flower.

I have no enmity against this story. Unlike what some of its critics claim, it is not terrible. Unlike what its fans claim, it is not great, or even very good. It is sweetly sentimental, melancholy, and shows some craftsmanship. It does not, alas, have any characters, merely lazy stereotypes: a bride, generic white bigots, a victim.
But his main point is that the left has a sort of uniformity in how it approaches everything and that system destroys real creativity and beauty, leaving only acceptable, correct political statements of the sort totalitarian governments require.

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