Adding to the Enemies List

Regular Guy Paul illustrates how thinking within the framework of a culture war narrative can lead one to perceive as enemies those of differing views, even views differing on the best means of pursing a shared cultural objective. For Paul, the enemy in the culture war includes those pro-life Catholics who supported President-Elect Obama. He seems to have abandoned all hope of persuading them, placing the act of persuasion in the past. Now they rank among those to be defeated.

In a post he prefaced as a smackdown, Paul prepares for the advent of an Obama administration, for rule by the enemy, by proclaiming that pro-life supporters of Obama are in fact unfaithful traitors, turncoats, cowards, and abortion-promoting liars. Paul goes so far as to deny the truth of their claims of being pro-life, saying moreover, “I also find completely incredible any and every claim that they might have ever been sincerely pro-life.” They are to him as “pro-abortion liberals and tax collectors.”

Logically, a Catholic can be both pro-life and supportive of Barack Obama. The latter doesn’t preclude the former. Within the logic of the culture war narrative, however, the conclusion that those pro-lifers who supported Obama aren’t really pro-life makes sense. In this context, Obama is the enemy, the chief enemy, and in Paul’s telling the worst enemy yet. Those who give aid to the enemy during a war would be traitors to the cause, and would therefore be enemies to the cause. In the culture war fought over the issue of abortion, the cause is life, and so any and all enemies of the cause are enemies of life. The culture war narrative reduces the meaning of “pro-life” to a meaning within the context of the paradigm. In this context, pro-life means fighting against the enemies of life. A pro-lifer couldn’t possibly join or aid the enemy and remain pro-life. Such a person would by definition become anti-life.

Fortunately for the pro-life objectives, being pro-life means more than fighting against the enemies of life in a figurative war. Paul is unfortunately making people supportive of the unborn into enemies when, if the last election is any indication, what Paul’s cause needs is more friends.

Tortured Heroics

According to William Kristol, torturing in good faith in the war on terror makes one deserving of the Medal of Freedom. Sullivan is right to note the Orwellian character of Kristol’s association of torture with freedom, but Kristol has joined torture not only to freedom, but also to heroism. The medal, the nation’s “highest civilian award,” recognizes “exceptional meritorious service.” So the editor of The Weekly Standard sees torture not as a regrettable but tolerable evil, nor even as a morally appropriate means of fighting terrorists, but as exceptional meritorious service. He has placed one of the most heinous evils at the level of those all too rare acts of heroic virtue.

A Nominal Idea

A friend of mine is thinking of starting a blog called Nominalism in which the tags mean nothing.

Beanie Babies vs. Puppets

Being a parent has taught me that I have never grown up, or at least never lost the desire to play. My toddler son has quite a few stuffed animals, with which he’ll occasionally play, although the few that are his favorites function more as consoling friends. His dad, who spent his teenage years immersed in role playing games, has imagined a world and myth for these toy animals. This has made playing with my son a little more interesting. I’ve divided the animals into different races or peoples: Beanie Babies, Puppets, Teddy Bears, Giants, and Summoned Guardians.

Beanie Babies, my son will learn in time, are good at both standard attacks and magic, but they are smaller and so they must rely on their skills to survive. The puppets, slaves to a controlling hand, are the Orc-like villains who threaten the generally good beanies. Two puppets in particular are dreadfully powerful magicians; one, the panda, “leads” the puppets, while the other, a white rabbit, seems bent on his own, unknown devilish designs. The Teddy Bears are fiercely strong, but can’t use magic. The Giants and Guardians play their respective fantasy roles.

You might worry that this set-up gets very violent and that I am corrupting my son with mindless destruction and cruelty toward animals. Be not concerned, however, for despite my best efforts to corrupt the youth, this is what my wife comes home to: me, sitting in the living room, making beanie babies act out Matrix moves; my son, sitting elsewhere in the room, not at all mindful of his dad, intent on building Lego towers.

Asking the Impossible

If one has any kind of public life, then it really isn’t possible for him to keep his religion entirely private. Even if all his acts of worship take place in isolation and the worshiper makes no mention of his religious beliefs to others in the public square, his religion imbues his language – and therefore his perceptions and thoughts – with religious symbols, images, categories, frameworks, preferences, and so forth. He sees the world as categorized and ordered in ways informed and mediated by religious language. The worshiper perceives the world and thinks about the world religiously. His perceptions and thoughts affect his actions within the world, especially when those actions are reactions to his thoughts and perceptions.

Given that religion has such an effect upon thinking and action, the call to keep religion a private affair in the public square asks for the impossible. Even under oppressive circumstances, religion would continue to inform society through the language of the secretly religious. Simply by speaking, believers would publicize religion through symbols, metaphors, little myths, subtle preferences, religiously tinged categories, and faith-based structures of being.

A New Journey Begins

This blog is now published at I intend to keep the current title permanently, so you can safely update your blogroll with the new name and web address.

A quick note on the new title: the central or at least most underlying topic on which I’ve posted has been the mediating effects of language on our understanding of others and of the world. I have argued for a particular way of interpreting that I have called a hermeneutic of hospitality – an interpretive approach that welcomes the other as always being more than our ideas of who and what the other is.

Total meaning and the fullness of truth remain beyond us and ahead of us, at least in this life, and so the processes of understanding meaning and knowing truth remain for us incomplete journeys. The roads go ever on and on. I say roads and not road because while we may all be seeking the same destination, we each journey as a unique person uniquely situated in time and place. Moreover, each of us, because of our personal uniqueness all that that implies, adds something of ourselves to the roads upon which we each travel.

A Lesson for the Rest of Us

Joe Carter at The Confabulum quotes a theologian friend of his on what it is that poets do that makes them invaluable. In short, the poets are "especially skilled at naming the just barely nameable." The poets describe what escapes our powers of description. Why are the poets able to do this? My take: the poets know that if they are going to describe, then they have to create.

A Moment of Pride and Joy

Few things make my child happier than his showing mom and dad his handiwork, even when one of us has guided the little guy through the process. This morning my son and I worked together on a project while my wife attended to her project of making French toast. I held his hands in mine, sat behind him, and offered guidance as he worked to produce something he could be proud of. At that age, of course, children are proud of their work regardless of its quantity and quality. The little accomplishments can provide them with great enjoyments. Following my son's efforts, he stood up to view the finished product, which, it turned out, was no small accomplishment. With a huge smile on his face, he showed me and mom what he had done. I smiled as well, knowing that my son had learned that I too was a good poop coach.

Toward Persuasion

Henry Karlson has written an open letter to President-Elect Barack Obama asking him to engage Americans in dialogue over critical, divisive issues. Personally, I think the president would do a great service to the country by leading us in a hospitable discussion about those contentious issues that currently have us engaged in figurative wars.

Department of Redundant City Slogans

It's probably a good thing that I was not at the particular city council meeting where this nice-sounding motto was chosen. I would have proved quite the killjoy.

More, Please

Whit Stillman's three films Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco rank high in my top twenty favorite movies. I hope he writes and directs more soon. Intelligent and often intellectual dialogue drives his films, as you can see and hear from these short clips from Metropolitan, his first film:

I'm a Man with a Plan

I'm pondering the risks involved in using my po-mo metaphysical superpowers to transform myself into a bank so as to avail myself to bailout funds. Changing my identity from the construct "human being" to the construct "financial institution" would require some dabbling in the dark arts of deconstruction, but I think I can pull it off with minimal permanent existential damage. I would need lobbyists, though. That's the tricky part. Since I'm going to the dark side anyway by acting against the natural order, I may as well go the distance, become a super-villain, gather vile minions to service my evil designs, and send them to D.C. to do my bidding. Now all I need is a cool super-villain name. Pondering...

Wrong Exemplar

Andrew Sullivan writes that this election campaign has been a testament to the limits of postmodernism. Like any human artifact, postmodernism has its limits. As one who takes personally any and all criticisms of postmodernism, that’s not easy for me to say, but I admit it. Here, however, I think Sullivan is wrong, both about postmodernism in general and who he thinks the postmodern candidate was in particular. He asserts:
The post-modern candidate was Palin: a hologram of cultural resentments, crafted to win votes through image, propaganda and untruth. And yet we saw right through it. Fact mattered in the end, didn't it? And truthiness finally lost.
Putting aside the accuracy of his depiction of Governor Palin, she was not a postmodern candidate. A postmodern candidate would have intentionally exposed, deconstructed, and reconstructed the fictions, narratives, and language games at play in the campaigns. He would have critiqued the media, but for not being inquisitive enough and relying too much on grand narratives. Such a candidate might have playfully winked at us, but would have done so in reference to diffĂ©rance and to what lies beyond what is said. And let’s face it: educated in twentieth century French continental philosophy, he would probably have been an elitist.

Palin said she wanted to talk straight to the American people so that they could really know her, but a postmodern candidate would have reminded everyone that they don’t really know him and that all talk conceals what it reveals. Palin wanted to present herself to the people unmediated by the media, but a postmodern candidate would have found such unmediated presence quite impossible.

Now I will say that a postmodern candidate would put severe limits on a campaign. Having such a candidate on the ticket would be like putting the jester, still openly critical of those in power, in the place of the king. From him, negative ads would abound, aimed at his own follies, faults, and failings as much as anyone else’s.

Now that would be going rogue.

Get Thee a Divorce

National Director of Priests for Life, Fr. Frank Pavone, offered words of encouragement and warning to the pro-life movement following the election of Barack Obama, which Pavone called one of the biggest mistakes the American people have made in our nation's entire history. Taking Obama's rise to power seriously is prudent, but Pavone risks his credibility on Obama living up to his superlative-heavy description. If President Obama proves more of a moderate on the life issues, fewer people will take Pavone's warnings seriously the next time an ardent supporter of abortion rights takes the reins of the presidency.

Pavone sees Obama's election as opening a new chapter in the pro-life movement's story. This perception of the pro-life movement's narrative identity could indicate that the dominant narrative in Pavone's understanding of the pro-life movement is the narrative of party politics. This narrative views Obama not only as a new antagonist on the scene, but also as the basis for framing the pro-life movement's self-understanding. In this reading, the pro-life movement derives its significance in terms of who holds power in our political system. It weds itself and its meaning to the pendulum swings of partisan politics.

I counsel a divorce, not from political action in general, but from the pro-life movement's identity-producing marriage with party politics. The pro-life movement, in order to succeed in the long run, must unite itself not with political parties, but with more permanent things such as personal dignity and justice. Its alliances with political figures should be shaky at best, never so firm that political friends or enemies denote the meaning of the movement. New chapters in its story should open and close with grander events than any politician's election.

To Be Ruled by Rules or Rulers?

No longer holding the power of the presidency, conservatives will have to decide how to fashion and form their political persuasion in the next chapter of our nation's history of power. Personally, I'd like to see conservatism return to its Burkean roots with branches leaning towards postmodernism. Whatever grounding and orientation it takes, conservatism will ultimately prove a force for good in our society only if it reclaims its defense of the rule of law.

The current administration has corrupted the good name of conservatism with its unapologetic embrace of fiscal irresponsibility, mounting national debt, the warfare state, and the secretive consolidation of executive power. Perhaps worst of all, it has undermined the rule of law though its perverse abuses in the Office of Legal Council and its dismissal of the laws of men and the laws of God in the name of keeping us safe. Those who undermine the rule of law cannot credibly champion particular just laws. They destroy the foundation on which they build. Those who subvert the rule of law make their particular laws impotent because they supplant themselves as rulers in place of rules. They act above the law, subject to their own volition, and in doing so, dismantle the basis of a just society.

Why I Will Never Write a Voter Guide

Obama's victory last night occurred in response to the past eight years of the Bush Administration. The pendulum has swung. The man to whom many looked to further their causes has helped usher in another man very much opposed to those causes. This is not to say that, for example, social conservatives should have supported Gore or Kerry. It is to say that we do not know what will happen when we put anyone in power. Voting never involves certainty. Those we reasonably believe will further our causes may end up making a real mess of things, and in the long run, make things worse. Comforting, eh?