Reagan Was Wrong

More terrifying than someone from the government here to help is someone from the government here to defeat evil.

Telling Headline Choice

Whenever I've checked my Yahoo email these past couple of days, I have scanned as usual the news headlines Yahoo lists underneath the "New Messages" link. The listed headlines cover about what you'd expect, but maybe not the in way that you'd expect it.

What does it say about our media, or Yahoo.com at least, that what looks to me as Yahoo's most repeated headline concerning the convention speech of Barack Obama says nothing about the content of the speech, but merely indicates how many people watched it? The article itself is no better. Heck, it doesn't even bother mentioning the title of the speech! Now of course every article from the AP about the speech need not tell all, but this is the story about the DNC convention that Yahoo lists over and over again.

I feel so informed.

Palin in the Office of Cheney

Radical Catholic Mom provides what I’ve found to be the most helpful commentary on McCain’s selection of Governor Sarah Palin for his Vice President. Based on what little I know of her story, I’m generally pleased with the pick, although I’ve still no intention to support McCain, or his chief rival. As Joseph Sobran would say, I don’t endorse the Executive branch in its present form, so endorsing candidates for it seems rather pointless.

Palin will be soon required to take policy positions on a host of issues, some of which she may not have thought much about until now. I’m particularly curious to see where she’ll stand on matters of foreign policy, national defense, healthcare, and, perhaps most fundamental, the little matter of executive power in these United States. The question could be put this way: what will Palin make of the office held these past years by one Dick Cheney?

Tradeoffs of Prioritizing

Wisdom from Blackadder: "Politics is not only about policy, it is also about priorities. Legislative time is limited, and even where a President does have the votes in Congress to get his various proposals passed, he may be forced to choose which of his plans to focus on, and which to take up later, if at all."

I would add that there are tradeoffs as a function of prioritizing one issue over another. By prioritizing one issue over another, I place other important issues on the back burner or off the stove altogether. There's nothing immoral about this itself; it's a function of living in time. Nevertheless, in prioritizing an issue I may not be able to give another issue the attention it objectively deserves. In that there is not a moral evil, but we might loosely speak of a lack of a good that ought to be there.

The tradeoffs should be taken seriously as we discern for whom to vote, even if the issue prioritized is of greater importance than some or all of the others. When we prioritize, we choose to tolerate an inattention to other deserving issues.

A serious question we must ask ourselves as voters: does there ever come a point in which the "evils" we choose to allow in our prioritizing ever become intolerable? For example, how much inattention to other issues or to social evils are we willing to tolerate to see Roe v. Wade overturned?

A Reason I Don't Support McCain

Calumny such as this. I'm no fan of Senator Obama's foreign policy - his interventionist philosophy is one reason I don't support him - but critiques of his foreign policy statements should critique what he actual said. Deceptive narratives abound in politics, but this one is particularly vile.

Hegemony or Survival?

Mother Jones posts an interactive map of the worldwide US military presence since 1950.

Pacifism, Rights, and Duties

A quarrel has erupted at Mark Shea’s place over the precise meaning of pacifism. Mark takes the position, which I also hold, that there’s room for both pacifism and just war theory in Catholic moral thought. Not all of his readers agree, though.

Among the topics under discussion in the combox are paragraphs 2265 and 2306 from the Catechism. They read as follows:
Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death.
The first paragraph speaks of the duty of legitimate defense for those who are responsible for the lives of others and the right to use arms in that defense. The second speaks of those who may renounce violence and bloodshed provided they do so without harming the rights of others. Is there an inconsistency between these two ideas? I would say no.

The first paragraph notes the duty of defense, and in that duty, the right to use arms, but not the duty to use arms. Defense is not limited to the use of weapons. Certainly war is not the only potential form of legitimate defense. The Church at Vatican II called upon the international community to work towards the outlawing of war. Surely the Church doesn’t think we can ever rid the world of threats to life, country, and civilization? In calling for the abolition of war, the Church does not call for the abolition of all means of defense. In a world where war is outlawed by international consent, threats will remain, and so will legitimate defenses against such threats. What will comprise such legitimate defenses will need to be considered by greater minds than mine.

Elitists of Nobility

Echoing a column by Taki Theodoracopulos, Nathan of Nathancontramundi asks, “What is wrong with being an elitist?” I’d say it depends on the basis for rising to the elite class. If virtue carries our public servants to high ranks, so much the better for them and for those they serve. In that case I’m all for the elites. Hey, my favorite literary character is Aragorn, so what does that tell you?

I dearly wish we could structure our society so that the virtuous lead, but I'm not sure that's possible. I think that’s what Edmund Burke had in mind in his defenses of aristocracy. He hoped the aristocrats – educated in virtue, manners, tradition and custom – could teach by example. “We are the makers of manners, Kate,” said Shakespeare’s King Henry V, expressing basically the same idea.

Chesterton, who was no fan of Burke (he called him a fine rhetorician who rarely faced realities), scoffed at the idea of morally superior aristocracy. “Generally speaking the aristocracy does not preserve good or bad tradition; it does not preserve anything but game,” he wrote in What’s Wrong with the World. Chesterton looked to the mob for customs. He saw the “elitists” as snobs, particularly as they often proudly claimed their own moral superiority.

Phenomenologist and sociologist Max Scheler, however, described the noble person who is not proud, yet has a kind of knowledge of his nobility. In his book Ressentiment, he writes:
The “noble person” has a completely naïve and non-reflective awareness of his own value and of his fullness of being, an obscure conviction which enriches every conscious moment of his existence, as if were autonomously rooted in the universe. This should not be mistaken for “pride.” Quite on the contrary, pride results from an experienced diminution of the “naïve” self-confidence. It is a way of “holding on” to one’s value, of seizing and “preserving” it deliberately. The noble man’s naïve self-confidence, which is as natural to him as tension is to the muscles, permits him to calmly assimilate the merits of others in all the fullness of their substance and configuration. He never “grudges” them their merits. On the contrary: he rejoices in their virtues and feels that they make the world more worthy of love.
So, know any presidential candidates like that?

Present, Thrust, Parry, Etc

In response to Barack Obama announcing Joseph Biden as his running mate, Catholic forces in the blogosphere quickly gathered together to form Catholics Against Joe Biden. The bivouac of bloggers, which includes Jay Anderson and Darwin Catholic, aims “to provide ongoing analysis and commentary on the positions of Senator Biden at variance with clear and authoritative Catholic moral teaching." They hope that "together we will move Senator Biden and other ‘pro-choice Catholics’ of both parties to self-examination and greater obedience to the teachings of Christ and His Church.” According to the blog's stated purpose, the contributors are not really against Biden, but rather, given his status as a Catholic Vice Presidential candidate, against his invariance with Catholic teaching, particularly on abortion.



James Poulos of The Postmodern Conservative believes that Biden is an almost perfect VP choice for Barack Obama because Biden meets the three main criteria Poulos wants out of a Vice President:
(1) The ability to appear in public 24 hours a day, uttering incessant and high-profile attacks on the opposition, without overshadowing the Presidential candidate.

(2) The ability to shape the office of the Vice Presidency, post-Cheney, into something more than useless but less than monstrous.

(3) The ability to square dispositionally with the Presidential candidate without disappearing into his aura or echoing his every instinct.


Meanwhile, M.Z. Forrest, after noting both Biden’s and Obama’s interventionist philosophy of foreign policy, argues that Biden’s pro-choice position should be understood as a tepid opposition to abortion in conflict with “his insistence that privacy should provide an umbrella for performing abortions.” Forrest thinks that Biden’s minimal agreement with the pro-life position can advance the pro-life cause, at least better than if that agreement were not present, but he worries that threats of the denial of communion might erode that amount of agreement.



Catholic columnist Joseph Sobran had this to say about Senator Biden after the Democratic candidates had their first televised debate:
Let me put it this way. The U.S. presidency is a fantastically powerful office; nobody should hold it, because in its present form it should not even exist. But if we are doomed to have a president, the only Democrat who doesn’t frighten me is Joseph R. Biden Jr.

If I’m wrong about him, I’m wildly wrong and I’m very sorry. He’ll be put to the test soon enough.

But our merciful Lord, who brings good out of evil itself, has glorious surprises in store for us. Surely some of the greatest of them will come from people we always thought were our enemies.

It's My Sidewalk

The school year clearly started today. What tipped me off initially wasn’t the traffic around the schools, but the mothers on their morning walks crowding my sidewalks. Normally, I may have to swerve around a few pedestrians while bicycling, but today a crowd of no less than six leisurely ladies forced me off the sidewalk and onto the grass, where I stayed through many bumps, rocks, and weeds. I’d think that having biked all summer through sticky triple-digit temperatures would grant me an unofficial but authoritative right of way on the sidewalks. But apparently the word hasn’t gotten around.

DFW Catholic

Friends of mine from church have launched a Catholic website covering local, diocesan, US, and world news and interests. They’re thinking big, planning to launch websites in 29 markets over the next five years. Their initial website focuses on news and events relevant to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The site is DFWCatholic.org. Check it out.

Speaking of diocesan news and publications, the Diocese of Dallas has named David Sedeño the new editor for the Texas Catholic. See the story here.

Ricoeur on the Hope for Unity

"The ultimate unity which Scripture calls "recapitulation of all things in Christ" is not a term immanent to our history; primarily, it signifies that history is still open, that the multiple is still in debate. Next, it signified that the unity of the charity of Christ is already the hidden meaning of the multiple and that this unity will be manifested on the Last Day. It is therefore in hope that all things are one, that all truths are in the unique Truth. This is sufficient to enable us to bear patiently with the rifts of modern culture and, among them, the conflicts between science and faith."

- Paul Ricoeur, from "Note on the Wish and Endeavor for Unity" in History and Truth, 1955, translated by Charles A. Kelbley, 1965.

Beyond Consensus

Here's the link to the latest post on my philosophy blog, in which I look briefly at whether consensus legitimizes knowledge, and tie together (in a loose knot) the thoughts of conservative columnist Joseph Sobran and postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard.

Constructing a Rejection

I'm not the only blogger these days posting on postmodernism and absolute truth. Dr. Bob of The Doctor Is In has an August 16th post up on what he sees as the anti-absolutism at the heart of postmodernism.

Dr. Bob doesn't share my fondness for postmodernism; for him it's a philosophy of fools. In rejecting absolutes, postmodernists, according to Dr. Bob, are left with self-determined and self-contradictory relativism. "I find it interesting that most every argument rejecting absolutes contains within its very language and structure, not to mention its premises, a framework of absolute assertions," he writes.

Dr. Bob offered a more precise and extensive definition of postmodernism in a September 2005 post about what is meant by the expression, "speaking truth to power." He writes:

…the postmodernist view rejects all such absolutes, replacing them with "narratives" which are predicated and derived solely from language and culture, rather than any deity or transcendent supernatural being.
In this definition Dr. Bob associates postmodernism with the notion that "truth" has no known origination from God but only from the linguistic and cultural narratives composed by man. In this definition of postmodernism, God - if there is a God - has nothing to say pertaining to truth. Truth is merely the product of human beings, which for Dr. Bob is to say that there is no truth - a proposition he sees as false and self-contradictory.

Missing from Dr. Bob's explanation of postmodernism in these posts is any explanatory reference the particular works or words of postmodernists. He may be correct about some who don the pomo mantle (it's a broad and vague label), but he doesn't support his definition with concrete examples. Postmodernism is what he says it is. He has constructed a narrative about the meaning of postmodernism, but one that does not, for example, tell of the expressed positive interest many postmodern philosophers have for religion and theology.

He continues:
For the postmodernist, institutions such as religion, or the influences of law, morality or ethics, are merely expressions of the group in power exerting their control. Such vehicles serve as a means of enslavement, oppression, and victimization. The "narrative"–or story–of the powerful uses the tool of language to imprison thought. Hence, the postmodernist's task is to "deconstruct"–to uncover in the words and actions of such centers of authority their underlying oppression and will to power–which to their mind is always present.
Even if the will to power is always present to the mind of postmodernists (Derrida might chime in here on the notion that something is "present" to the mind), that doesn't necessitate that the institutions mentioned by Dr. Bob are merely expressions of the group in power exerting their control. Even the deconstructionist Derrida praised institutions as more than that! For him the motivation for deconstruction is justice.

This statement on where one finds the dreaded postmodernists has me really wondering what postmodernists Dr. Bob has in mind:

Postmodernism can be found among members of all political and professional persuasions, but it is most at home in the fertile soil of academic liberalism, the media, and the socialist left. The reasons for this are doubtless varied, but likely include a fondness for Marxism and socialism, a holdover mistrust of authority engendered during Vietnam and Watergate, and a libertine approach toward personal freedom engendered in part by the sexual revolution, birth control, and the drug culture.
A fondness for Marxism? I won't rule out the possibility of a postmodern Marxist philosophy (which would have to be post-Marxist), but Marxism itself offers just the sort of meta-narrative (class warfare) that postmodernism is so darn incredulous towards!

If postmodernism means the rejection of truth beyond that which is produced by our narratives, then Dr. Bob's definition of postmodernism would correspond to what postmodernism actually is, and he'd be right to reject it. Excluded from his definition, though, are the many postmodernists who think there is something beyond our historical/cultural narratives, beyond human language, beyond the consensus of the group (another potential meta-narrative).

H/T: Josephson

History and Absolute Truth

Catholics commonly speak of absolute truth, truth that is one, eternal, that doesn’t change with time, place, language, or culture. Pope Benedict XVI called the idea that there is no absolute truth a crisis. In his encyclical letter Veritatis Spendor, Pope John Paul II wrote, “In the depths of his heart there always remains a yearning for absolute truth and a thirst to attain full knowledge of it. This is eloquently proved by man's tireless search for knowledge in all fields.”

To deny absolute truth is to succumb to the “dictatorship of relativism,” to be thrown into tempest of competing “truths” in which the human person pulled in multiple directions without a moment’s rest. The postmodern condition could be defined as one in which knowledge has to be legitimated without recourse to Absolute Truth understood as the complete union of truths into one Truth within history. In the postmodern condition, truth is fragmented and divided. The “tireless search for knowledge in all fields” brings one not to the One, but to the many. And these many cannot be made into one. The absolute as One lies beyond our grasp.

Does this postmodern condition condemn us to relativism? I would say no, for reasons I’ve explored elsewhere. For purposes of this post, I want to consider how the thought of Paul Ricoeur on the unity of truth can be applied to this question of the postmodern condition. Ricoeur was not what I’d call a postmodernist; the thought of his to which I refer in this post preceded the work of Lyotard. However, we can look to others besides the postmodernists for how to respond to the postmodern condition.

In the essay “Truth and Falsehood,” which appears in his 1955 book History and Truth, Paul Ricoeur writes:
Our wish is that truth be the singular, not only in its formal definition but also in the works of truth. We would like for there to be a total meaning which would be as the meaningful form totalizing all our cultural activities.
Changing the wording a little, we might say that what Ricoeur writes of here is the desire for absolute truth, the wish that all our cultural pursuits would lead us ultimately to one truth, a singular truth that encompasses and totalizes all truths that the works of man pursue. Ricoeur’s words here resemble the words of the late Pope quoted above.

Ricoeur sees the unity of truth as an authentic goal, but also as a fault. The fault, Ricoeur says, is found in the violence that emerges from realizing the unity too early. The wish for unity can lead those in authority to be overcome by “the passions of power” from which they command others, often with coercion, to think in the authorized way. S.I. Hayakawa notes that the word “absolute” refers philosophically to the totality of power, suggesting final and conclusive authority. The philosopher who tells us how we must think may be harmless enough, but when the politician enforces that singular way of thinking, we’re in for a world of pain, slavery, and death.

If the unity of truth is a goal that cannot be realized in history, when is it realized? To answer this question, Ricoeur places himself in a Christian perspective:

What, then, is the unity of truth for the Christian? It is an eschatological representation, the representation of the “last day.” The “recapitulation of all things in Christ,” in the words of the Epistle to the Colossians, signifies both that unity will be “manifested at the last day” and that unity is not to be found in history. In the meantime, we do not know what it means that there is a mathematical truth and the Truth which is Someone. At the very most we sometimes perceive a few invaluable, congruent adumbrations which are as the “pledges of the Spirit” beyond all this violent synthesis and all the cultural dissociations of clerical unity.

Thus the idea of an “integral humanism,” in which all the various levels of truth would be harmoniously situated, is an illusion. The ultimate meaning of man’s perilous adventures and the values which they unfold is condemned to remain ambiguous: time remains the time of debate, discernment, and patience.

Is Salvation History a Metanarrative?

Jean-François Lyotard characterized postmodernism as incredulity toward metanarratives - totalizing frameworks of knowledge. The label "postmodern papist" thus seems a contradiction, for it signifies my incredulity toward metanarratives, yet my belief in a grand narrative called salvation history. How do I reconcile these two terms?

To my mind, one knows salvation history in a way akin to how one knows anything: through experience mediated by subjectivity, particularly language (which has, among other things, a productive function).[i] No one knows exhaustively how it is that God relates to man, although we may know truths of that relationship. No one knows anything exactly as it is in itself, free of any subjectivity, but that doesn’t mean there is no correspondence between our ideas and the things themselves.

As a postmodernist, I oppose not the idea that there an ultimate narrative such as salvation history, but rather the attempt to raise a subjective human experience or expression of that ultimate narrative to the level of the ultimate narrative itself, a level well beyond the grasp of man. When we speak of salvation history, we speak of a mystery irreducible to all the dogmas, doctrines, and theologies we’ve used to explain that mystery. No human linguistic framework can contain it.

In other words, as a Catholic, my "incredulity toward metanarratives" is directed toward the subjective and mediated understandings of salvation history (truth) presented as salvation history itself, or reducing “The Way, The Truth, and the Light” - which refers to a Person - to totalizing series of propositions. The Word cannot be encapsulated by our words.

[i] See On Constructing Reality: A Sketch

The Undiscovered Country

It is beyond my foresight and my wisdom to say whether McCain or Obama will prove worse for this country or for the world. In terms of particular issues I could venture a reasonable analysis of who’d make a worse president, but even on this ground I would trudge with care. I simply do not know what the future will bring. Any declarations I make wouldn’t be rooted in certain knowledge, but rather concluded after clouded foresight, and therefore could turn out to have little relevance to reality. A major event could occur that consumes every ounce of their energy and every moment they have to give. Come November, I’ll have to vote while looking ahead with obscured vision into the unknown and undiscovered country.

Two Views on the American Cause

"In a world without America, the strong do as they will, and the weak suffer as they must."

[...]

"In reality, to the extent globalism worked, it followed from three unspoken assumptions: First, the U.S. economy would keep importing goods from abroad to drive international economic growth. Second, the U.S. military would keep the sea-lanes open, and trade and travel protected. After the past destruction of fascism and global communism, the Americans, as global sheriff, would continue to deal with the occasional menace like a Moammar Gaddafi, Slobodan Milosevic, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il, or the Taliban. Third, America would ignore ankle-biting allies and remain engaged with the world — like a good, nurturing mom who at times must put up with the petulance of dependent teenagers. But there have been a number of indications recently that globalization may soon lose its American parent, who is tiring, both materially and psychologically."

- Victor Davis Hanson, from "Brave Old World"


"From month to month, many things are done under the sun that Americas, as a nation, tend to think wrong; but the Republic of the United States, not caring to become a Don Quixote among nations, generally does not try to set other nations in the path of righteousness. Great states, like private persons, must seek out their own salvation. As a world power, then, we are not a self-righteous nation; or, at worst, we try not to be.

Simply because an unjust act is committed in the affairs of nations, we are not obliged to try to set matters right; if we tried anything of the sort, we should become international busybodies, and should be disliked as all busybodies are disliked. It is only when our great national interests or the sources of modern civilization are threatened that we feel justified in using our national power to enforce the rules of international law."

- Russell Kirk, from The American Cause

Making the Necessary Beautiful



Charity - William Bouguereau

The APA, Abortion, and Mental Health

Yesterday, a task force of the American Psychological Association released a report on the effects of abortion on mental health. Its conclusions:
The task force found that some studies indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion, and some may experience "clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety." However, the task force found "no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors."

The report noted that other co-occurring risk factors, including poverty, prior exposure to violence, a history of emotional problems, a history of drug or alcohol use, and prior unwanted births predispose women to experience both unwanted pregnancies and mental health problems after a pregnancy, irrespective of how the pregnancy is resolved. Failures to control for these co-occurring risk factors, the task force noted, may lead to reports of associations between abortion history and mental health problems that are misleading.

The report noted that women have abortions for many different reasons and within different personal, social, economic and cultural circumstances, all of which could affect a woman's mental state following abortion. "Consequently," the task force wrote, "global statements about the psychological impact of abortion can be misleading."
According to the APA press release, the task force reached its conclusions "after evaluating all of the empirical studies published in English in peer-reviewed journals since 1989 that compared the mental health of women who had an induced abortion to comparison groups of women, or that examined factors that predict mental health among women who have had an elective abortion in the United States."

Given the object of its evaluations, the report is far from conclusive on whether or not abortion causes mental health problems for women who've had an abortion. Nevertheless, its findings shouldn't be easily dismissed. My guess is that this report will be regularly referred to by advocates of abortion rights; the members of the pro-life movement would do well to respond to the report seriously and scientifically.

Tragic Faith in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

As the credits roll concluding Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, the sad and longing melody of Felicia Day's Penny plays quietly; then, after only a few measures, the impending march of Dr. Horrible rises to accompany and quickly consume her musical theme.

"Well now your world is mine," Dr. Horrible had sung following Penny's tragic and unintended death, a death for which both he and the "hero" Captain Hammer bore responsibility. Penny had been a part of all that Dr. Horrible ever wanted, but her death provided him with passage to what he most desired: induction into the Evil League of Evil. He took it, singing, ironically and with repressed emotion, "And I won't feel a thing."

Among the three leads in the internet series by Joss Whedon, Penny turns out to be the only "good" character. She thinks of others before herself, is kind and caring, is hopeful for "some kind of harmony on the rise" despite feeling lost and lonely, and is a devoted advocate for the homeless. Her serious fault is a misplaced faith in the other lead characters, the self-absorbed superhero who transforms into a wailing wimp on a therapy couch after experiencing physical pain for the first time in his life, and the morally-conflicted but leaning-towards-evil evil-scientist wannabe, Dr. Horrible, known to her as her laundry-mat buddy, Billy.

In Part II, Penny and Billy are engaged in a quiet conversation while the laundry tumbles around them, and Penny begins to reassure him that everything happens for a reason. Billy stops her midway, asking her not to say that everything happens for a reason. No, Penny revises, everything just happens.

Tragically, what happens to Penny happens because of those in whom she has faith. Even as she lies dying from wounds caused by Dr. Horrible's malfunctioning Death Ray (broken, then fired by Captain Hammer), she consoles Dr. Horrible/Billy with her last words, "Captain Hammer will save us." Hammer, injured by the death ray and in pain for the first time, is long gone, having fled the scene in frantic search for someone maternal. Dr. Horrible looks obviously shocked and sad, but, echoing a song from Part I, he sees his plan through. Penny pays the price for his victory.

Key questions raised in this silly but morally serious tale:

In the end, will Dr. Horrible feel a thing? Was Penny's faith in his friendship entirely unfounded?

A World Without Faces

Such is the blogosphere.

According to the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, the face discloses a trace of infinite transcendence, a surplus of meaning, to use a phrase of Paul Ricoeur, that overflows our knowledge and all categories of being. Franciscan sister and scholar Ilia Delio calls the face an “epiphany of God.” Revealed in the face is a revelation that I know but do not know the other into whose face I gaze.

Ever have the experience of looking into the face of one you know well only to have a sudden realization that here before you is someone whose full identity escapes even your deepest ideas formed in closeness or intimacy? I have. In my experience, it is as if the fullness of the person’s uniqueness, incommunicability, and being flows out of the face and speaks to me, saying that all my ideas of this person are ultimately inadequate and incapable of containing the meaning of this person.

The face serves as a reminder in our modes of communication that those to whom we speak and listen are more than what we think they are. If we heed the reminder, we may be prone to respond with respect and hospitality, and perhaps even awe at the known unknown other before us. Alas, not all modes of communication provide a vision of the face.

The blogosphere proves a particularly dangerous realm, for we see only words, except perhaps an image, and we hear no voice. The faces of hosts and guests are conspicuously absent. We discuss and debate controversial topics in a setting marked by anonymity and the opportunity for immediate (often knee-jerk) response. The person is concealed behind words, and all too often, we allow ourselves to become trapped in the words and blind to the person behind them. Unable to see the face of one another, we see less of the other’s personhood, and thus the temptation to demean the other as a position, an idea, a narrative, or a label is increased. Words become weapons, standing in for famine, sword, and fire.

We have to work harder in the territory of the blogosphere to write in a spirit of hospitality, to recognize that the people we’re writing about are more than what we know or think we know – and always will be.

A Remedy for Education

One of mine, anyway, its expression here inspired by this post by Darwin Catholic on education and American progress.

We would come a long way toward reforming education if we rediscovered what I take to be fundamental aims of education: the formation of virtue and vocation.

By virtue I mean the habitual dispensation toward the good, and we can further distinguish virtue into the intellectual virtues, the moral virtues, and the physical virtues. By vocation I mean the exercise of the particular talents and gifts we have in light of our particular strengths and weaknesses. By formation of virtue I grow to be what a human being should be; by the formation of vocation I grow to be who I should be.

Instruction in the intellectual virtues teaches us to think accurately. The study of reading, writing, and arithmetic form our minds to use words and mathematical symbols with accuracy, clarity, and precision. I agree that these subjects make up the basics, for they set the stage, the foundational framework, through which the mind seeks to know truth. The study of literature, music, art, history, science, economics, and so forth teach the mind to think literarily, musically, artistically, historically, scientifically, economically, etc, building on the basic framework.

Instruction in the moral virtues teaches us to act morally, respond appropriately to what is good and to what it evil. The development of the will, the formation of conscience, and the teaching of how to love would also fall in this category. I would also include the formation of appropriate affections and their proper ordering. T.S. Eliot wrote the prayer in Ash Wednesday, “Teach us to care and not to care; teach us to sit still.”

The habit of sitting still brings us to the instruction in the physical virtues. Here we train our bodies to grow stronger, faster, healthier, more vital, and more in our control. Included in the physical virtues might be the instruction on good eating and drinking and on the enjoyment of pleasure, the study of dancing, sailing, digging, gardening, fencing, and the mortification of the flesh.

One of the marks of modern education is the goal of making education easy. Unfortunately, we don’t grow in virtue by complete easy tasks. Considering how children individually learn is one thing, and fits with my idea of vocation, but robbing a curriculum of its challenges is another thing, and dangerous.

Human beings are not spreadsheets or machines, but our educational system largely treats us as such. If rather they treated people as people, both in light of human nature and personal vocation, I think we’d progress a great deal in reforming education. Families have a natural sense to do this, but as Darwin notes, the family has been put on the sidelines in the game. Time for them to take the field.

Goldberg Blasts the PoMos

“Philosophy is easy when you know nothing about it, isn't it?”
That’s Andrew Sullivan’s pithy response to this column by Jonah Goldberg name-calling Senator Obama a postmodernist. A postmodernist? Them’s fightin’ words!

Goldberg writes this fiction:
An explosive fad in the 1980s, postmodernism was and is an enormous intellectual hustle in which left-wing intellectuals take crowbars and pick axes to anything having to do with the civilizational Mount Rushmore of Dead White European Males.

Goldberg repeats the oft-repeated narrative that postmodernism is all about destroying tradition and truth. Never mind that postmodernism’s chief devil, the vile Derrida, spoke of his love, respect, and intention to be true to Plato, to whom the “civilizational Mount Rushmore of Dead White European Males” is but a footnote.

Ah, but what leading postmodernists actually say means little to Goldberg, who’s content to lump all the ”PoMos” together as “left-wing” “dishonest” speakers of “highfalutin buzzwords” and equate them with “PC brigades.”

Well, he’s got me pegged.

UPDATE

Daniel Larison responds to the Goldberg column. Worth reading, as always.

Alleged Forgery

Ron Suskind is causing quite a stir. Politico reports:
A new book by the author Ron Suskind claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a back-dated, handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein.

Suskind writes in “The Way of the World,” to be published Tuesday, that the alleged forgery – adamantly denied by the White House – was designed to portray a false link between Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda as a justification for the Iraq war.
I've tended to shy away from the "Bush lied; people died" rhetoric, as I've nothing to go on in saying that the president didn't believe Hussein posed a WMD threat. When it came to WMDs, he and key members of his administration claimed certainty where there was doubt, and in that way were deceptive. Of course, the "we don't torture" line was a blatant lie. If Suskind is correct, his findings give legitimacy to the "Bush lied; people died" proposition. We'll see (maybe) if Suskind proves a truth-teller or a slanderous fiction writer, and if he is truthful, whether anything is done about it beyond the solitary measures of Dennis Kucinich.

The Joker: The Dark Side of Deconstruction

Heath Ledger's Joker is something of a deconstructionist, albeit a fiendish one, his villainy characterized by placing people in situations that expose the fragility of their plans, self-knowledge, and especially their systems of morality. The Joker takes pleasure in getting people to break their own rules, act against their constructed ideas of themselves, and betray their principles. He calls himself an agent of chaos; Dante would call him a sower of discord.

Whereas the playful father of deconstruction, Jacques Derrida, turned social constructs topsy-turvy so as to open them to a little thing called justice, the playful Joker is motivated by chaos itself, pleasure from inducing panic, and perhaps a twisted sense of fairness. He holds tryouts for his "team" by spontaneously placing a weapon among three candidates. Late in the film, he gives passengers on two ferries the opportunity to live if only they choose to blow up the other ferry. He threatens to destroy one hospital in a city of many unless someone in the city murders a person who clearly doesn't deserve death. He actualizes the dilemma posed by Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor.

The Joker says of himself: "I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do if I caught one. I just do things. I'm a wrench in the gears. I hate plans." Of course, some of the most intricate plans in the story are his; the Joker betrays even his own rules concerning how he should operate.

In other interpretations of The Dark Knight:

Nick Milne reviews. Henry Karlson examines the film in light of the ideas of Joseph de Maistre. Morning's Minion expresses his concern over Batman's consequentialism.

So Now What?

I tried emphasizing quality over quantity in my life, but found I wasn’t good at it.

Lars and the Real Girl


Our city library finally got in stock DVDs released in 2008, allowing the wife and I to view a number of films having a toddler prevented us from seeing on the big screen. We've enjoyed the ones we've watched so far: The Savages, Sweeney Todd, and Lars and the Real Girl. Atonement and Across the Universe await a viewing. Others are not yet available.

Of the three we've seen, Lars was our favorite. A very funny, sweet, heart-caressing film that touched even this cynical, stone-hearted hater of anything resembling "sentimental tacky crap" - to use an expression from High Fidelity.

Barbara Nicolosi's review makes pretty much the same points I would.