My opinion at this moment is that all of this is somewhat bizarre. The provocative tweet, the generative cause of all of this, is not coherent! Read it. It really does not make sense! How can you actually blame someone, excoriate someone, E. Musk, for tweeting approval of something which is not quite coherent? [One might fault him for tweeting carelessly–because he did not pay attention enough to note that whatever the tweet-intent was, expression of such intended idea (healthy idea or bad idea) was very vague at best…]
Here is the original tweet:
Jewish commun[i]ties have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.
I’m deeply disinterested in giving the tiniest shit now about western Jewish populations coming to the disturbing realization that those hordes of minorities that support flooding their country don’t exactly like them too much.
You want truth said to your face, there it is.
Two main sentences. The word “Jewish” is used twice, and with negative animus of some sort, but the first complaint is very, very general, and then the second is quite confused: apparently the “hordes of minorities” don’t like the “Jewish populations.” And the author of the the tweet doesn’t care, presumably because those who support the flooding of their own country (Jewish populations, we assume…) shouldn’t expect that they are above criticism…
But at best we can dig out from these incoherent words a sentiment very poorly articulated, not an “antisemitic conspiracy theory.” The subtitle of Rosenberg’s mini-article states that Mr. Musk “affirmed the deadliest anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in recent American history.” Mr. Rosenberg goes on to label the initial tweeter here a “small time white-nationalist” and the wealthy Mr. Musk a white nationalist ideologue.
Well. Excuse me! This offends my Dutch ancestry. The Dutch are known for their tolerance. The Netherlands for many years in early-modern Europe was the only place where one could get a controversial book published… But this deceit; this lie as to what took place here as maintained by our American Media directly offends my sensibilities. I wanted to find out what was behind the accusations and now have done so…
If this tweeter was, as claimed, intentionally alluding to the wild theory that the Jews have been promoting dilution of whites in the USA via easy immigration, well, such an allusion within this second sentence is extremely, extremely tenuous. I cannot see such a connection; such a theory. Am I missing something here? Has this theory become widespread and thus dangerous?
I do not use Twitter/X at all, or post on Facebook, or read the Atlantic. And neither can I believe that Elon Musk was “affirming” such a strange conspiracy theory. The theory itself is idiotic simply because most American-Jewish citizens can/will pass as white. Elon Musk is not stupid. I am not stupid either… But this dogma is now promulgated by our major media. Guilty for affirmation of an anti-Jewish theory. And the big Kahuna has confirmed the plausibility of such a claim, the White House phrasing pointing to Musk’s affirmative counter-tweet as “repeat(ing) the hideous lie”[!]…etc. And thus for those many Americans incapable of thinking for themselves, incapable of deciphering the causative tweet itself, or incapable of arriving at independent personal judgement with regard to this tweet-Scandal, the only option is to accept the big media definition of what took place here as being Mr. Musk’s “endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory.” (from today’s NY Times)
Rather, I would claim that this tweeter gives vaguely articulated complaint about two things: negativity towards whites, and then, excessive immigration. And as well, this tweeter seems to find some connecting link between these two. Else why does one follow the other, and both sentences employ the word “Jewish.” Unless– the whole of this two sentence tweet (taken at face value) is actually generally incoherent.
But I tend to agree with both of the vague tweet complaints expressed. Regarding immigration, open borders may be a “nice” idea, but such is also subversive when there are Immigration Laws on the books and these are not actively enforced by the Executive. (Is the culture of fresh immigrants actually superior to the culture of American rednecks and conservatives?) The Democratic Party has certainly been pushing such a no-border inclusivity, but in this tweet itself, how is this supposed to connect with Jews?
Second, with regard to white disrespect, the major Media such as the Atlantic do freely use white or white nationalist as derogatory terms, with no further felt-need to qualify, but any slightly negative aspersion directed at “Jews” will meet will harsh condemnation. As Elon explained afterwards, and I believe such, he yet has a bone to pick with the Jewish ADL organization. (This likely was partial psychological motive for his careless approval tweet.) But Mr. Rosenberg and most of the Media, I am willing to wager, consider the ADL to be immaculate; incapable of malice or subterfuge or excess. And how can one find fault with an organization whose purpose is to protect a minority from defamation.
(And I myself admit I have no acquaintance at all with the ADL, except for an incident within the last year which left me with a bad aftertaste: An NBA player tweeted approval of an anti-Jewish video/documentary, and for this he was threatened with expulsion from his job unless he officially apologized for and retracted his opinion… Yes, the ADL may certainly label a video as being anti-Jewish and untruthful, but should they be policing NBA players in this manner. No).
Mr. Rosenberg denigrates and mocks the possibility here, that Mr. Musk could have genuine gripe with the Jewish-protective ADL: Quoting Mr. R about Mr. M.: “–as though being anti-Semitic toward one group of Jews is somehow less objectionable. (It’s not.)” But excuse me Sir. This exactly IS the point. You point out earlier, quite appropriately, that there are many sorts of (American) Jews. But then you kow-tow before the ADL as if it is sacrosanct. You deny the very possibility that the ADL might have been unfair or excessive towards Mr. Musk in the past. Anything negative directed towards one small Jewish organization can only be full-blown antisemitism!
You also mention the previous conservative and religious Jewish tweeter who puts up a video about a father telling his son not to go along with the (I admit very terrible) Nazi malice, and then saying: “You got something you want to say? Why dont you say it to our faces.”
My own take on this challenge is not necessarily very important, but if readers will allow, it seems to me that at this time when the Jewish people in Israel and here in the USA are put upon by the atrocities of the Hamas Palestinians, there is release of some anti-Jewish attitude in the non-Jewish population. But I would claim, as Dutch attitude, that open complaint is preferable to repression. That is, I don’t believe that it is actually allowed to anyone is the USA to (constructively) criticize “the Jews” or a particular Jewish organization or “Jewish attitudes” or the influence of smart (and liberal) individual Jews (as Jews). And I admit that hypothetically, if everyone were to express publicly whatever complaint or prejudice they hold against a Jewish minority population, 88% at least of such would be bogus. But are you willing to hear the valid 2-3% of complaints. Would it not be much better to get silly ideas out in the open, such as this notion that the Jews are actively trying to dilute the white population? Get the nonsense out in the open so that it can be exposed as being nonsense? Rather than repressing such…
But my problem tonight is not with the Jews but with the Media. I claim that this tweet does not reliably express any sort of dangerous antisemitic dilution-conspiracy theory, and therefore to try to blame someone for approving of such a tweet is simply a lie. And a frame-up. Shame on you.
Replace Jewish groups with the word US Media in the two sentences and this whole mess starts to make more coherent sense–as prediction. Dialectical hatred, a strange phrase, now suggests what has since happened: In positive disguise, and claiming to protect American society from evil ideas and the horror of antisemitism, the Media engages is branding, and subterfuge (mis-constrewing the Tweet facts and their significance or lack thereof) so as to harm someone who is not towing the Party line…
The NY Times reporters will say that they are only reporting on the various companies that have become hesitant to advertise on X, but this is not correct. The NY Times is engaged in lying by labeling this recent event as “endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory.” Is it me who is unable to read between the tweet lines and get the true gist of this tweet or is it the NY Times that is here and quite deliberately prevaricating? I request that the American public decide, after they have carefully perused the tweet in question.
Mr. Rosenberg at the Atlantic, whom I will guess to be of Jewish ancestry, is not a racial bigot. But along with numerous other Media persons, he has shown himself this week to be an economic and political bigot. You, all, are quite unable to countenance differing views, and so you consider that it is quite acceptable to smear such a person by claiming that he believes a silly anti-Jewish “conspiracy theory” such as this. Do you really believe your own nonsense here?
[If Musk does come forward and say that he believes this theory, then it is I who am wrong. Else I question your motives. Mr. Musk , it seems to me, made a rash approval tweet, and thus you now have opportunity to frame him… It is awkward for Musk to claim now what he does or does not approve of, because he did in fact (rashly it may be) tweet a hearty approval.]
So for you at the Atlantic Magazine, I give you one month to get your shit together. Show some responsibility, some honesty. Else I cancel my trial subscription.
pk Nov. 19, 2023
In the chapter which follows, and which I hope you will peruse carefully, dear reader, I attempt to show why I am a better interpreter of Nietzsche that any other, why I agree with him in essential emphasis, and finally, where specifically I differ fundamentally in positive solution. But as reader it is you who must be the one to make the determination as to whether I have or have not justified the claim to have become now myself, the UberNietzsche.
A philosophy major myself, and someone who hopes to read more Kant, Hegel, or Schopenhauer as I have free time available (because I do take seriously the duty to continue to improve myself philosophically), I must admit that I have not read through Nietzsche’s five or six primary works till now, till recent months. Nietzsche is irregular, piecemeal, abrupt. He proceeds via fragmentary aesthetic or psychological observations. The larger wisdom he seeks he is able only to delineate via a fictitious philosophical character, Zarathustra.
He has read both Emerson and Matthew Arnold (Culture and Anarchy) and is going in the same direction as both of these (it seems to me) in recommending individual experience and a Greek sort of virtue to combat Christian Philistinism… but while our best American intellectual, Emerson, can advocate for experiential and individual re-start, Nietzsche as German cannot. Rather, all of Western European civilizational continuity is at issue. This becomes specifically a German culture problem, and includes that yet prevalent culture or ethos brought about by another solitary and earlier German, Martin Luther. This is the burden Nietzsche must or will choose to bear as would-be philosopher. European civilization is in decline (as I agree) and providing a cure, this is a task which only philosophers/philosophy can provide (–and here I also agree).
But it is only too easy to kill the messenger. Thus while Nietzsche certainly toys with morality and with Christianity, and incessantly makes efforts to “debunk” both, in my opinion, he does not really believe that Western man can survive without both of these. I would like to offer my own metaphor which suggests his minimal concern–(though I hate that word, concern, as much a he likely might also): He has Western Christianity by the ankle and will not let go. This demonstrates that he has a concern for genuine religion. Not then, to do away with the Christian religion, but to overthrow or to somehow bypass what he considers to be its extreme and pervasive conventionalism and ineptitude. As I myself would put this, Western Christianity in both forms (Protestant and Catholic) must not presume that it is without responsibility within this present major crisis simply because it is religion. It must be held to account. The Christian religion, certainly, must also do what it can to help…
God is Dead. Nietzsche may have originated this phrase. But if God has died recently then He must have been alive previously. What killed Him? A general and modern self-awareness, I would suggest; specifically, the “modern” as concept as established in the popular imagination as a result of Modern Science. Any modern historical self-awareness certainly must includes Science. We are all modern now, and have Science. This is included in our social identity. But science cannot and never will be able to relate to God factually, as natural fact! God cannot be either fact nor entity within a science-knowledge worldview. Because we like science, it is we who have not merely displaced God but gotten rid of Him. Science is the culprit then. If we must in fact respect Science then God is dead.
What is wrong here? My alternative framing (as Christian and science-lover) is as follows: Modern-science is an apt phrase because while science is ancient, as in Aristotle’s biology, astronomy, Euclid, etc., what has come about with Newton is such a pervasive phenomenon that is deserves a particular designation and identifier; modern-science. Modern science is a unique phenomenon. But I myself do not truck with the assumption that we who live now alongside this new and modern phenomenon are fundamentally different in awareness, fundamentally different as human beings. We yet all (fundamentally) I believe, belong to the Axial Age (beginning around 500 BCE) and its enlightenment. Therefore I suggest to fellow-Christians that the Augustinian Two Cities worldview which places Church at the center of history, this worldview needs to be retired. It is disrespectful to city. Luke-Acts offers a fully “modern” view of history within which Christianity can reside. Christians as citizens can look to the good of whatever society or city they happen to reside within….
Thus there are two faulty history worldviews contributing to this problem. A science inspired “modernism” which denigrates earlier and ordinary human history in deference to the modern moment, and then a traditionalist Western (Augustinian) religious perspective which requires Church to be at the center of history.
I have found thus far no better interpreter of Nietzsche than myself simply because no one seems to recognize, as I do, that Nietzsche wishes to target (constructively) BOTH Western Christianity AND modern Science, (science as knowledge and enterprise). There must arise a new wisdom, new wineskins, to contain both!
Here is how I might try to imaginatively describe a serious crisis, the same crisis which Nietzsche was worried about: There are two very young and petulant children each demanding attention. I am right. No, I am right. We might further regard this as a knowledge competition or quarrel: I have the more important knowledge. No, I do. The one child is science and the other is traditional Western Christianity-in two versions. And within this crisis situation the only hope for improvement, the only adult available, is Philosophy. Only Philosophy can say: No, I am the adult here. When you demand attention only for your own knowledge, this proves that you are still a child, still immature. Until you two each come to respect the knowledge of the other as well–until then, we will have an ongoing disciplinary problem…
This then is a task set for philosophy, but not at all easy to negotiate successfully.
Here is an extended quotation from Book V of the Gay Science to prove that Nietzsche cannot be taken to be merely modern, as in, get rid of religion and put all hope in science:
But you will have gathered what I am getting at, namely, that it is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests - that even we knowers of today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by the thousand-year old faith, the Christian faith which was also Plato's faith, that God is truth; that truth is divine . . . But what if this were to become more and more difficult to believe….
'Science' as prejudice.
So, too, it is with the faith with which so many materialistic natural scientists rest content: the faith in a world that is supposed to have its equivalent and measure in human thought, in human valuations - a 'world of truth' that can be grasped entirely with the help of our four-cornered little human reason - What? Do we really want to demote existence in this way to an exercise in arithmetic and an indoor diversion for mathematicians? Above all, one shouldn't want to strip it of its ambiguous character: that, gentlemen, is what good taste demands - above all, the taste of reverence for everything that lies beyond your horizon! That the only rightful interpretation of the world should be one to which you have a right; one by which one can do research and go on scientifically in your sense of the term (you really mean mechanistically? ) - one that permits counting, calculating, weighing, seeing, grasping, and nothing else - that is a crudity and naivete, assuming it is not a mental illness, an idiocy.
But an essentially mechanistic world would be an essentially meaningless world! Suppose one judged the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas…
Next, here is a quotation from the same book which is meant to be an encouragement to other philosophers to take up the important task of philosophy. This fifth book was added after Nietzsche finished writing Thus Spake Zarathustra. Perhaps he was in an optimistic mood. He describes with prescience it seems to me our modern themes of a hundred years later, all of which the true philosopher will avoid, but then his only description of the genuine philosopher is that these thinkers should be ready for “danger, war and adventure.” Nice, but not really very helpful.
We who are homeless.
…it is to them in particular that I commend my secret wisdom and gaya scienza.
We 'conserve' nothing; neither do we want to return to any past; we are by no means 'liberal'; we are not working for 'progress'; we don't need to plug our ears to the marketplace's sirens of the future: what they sing - 'equal rights', 'free society', 'no more masters and no servants' - has no allure for us. We hold it absolutely undesirable that a realm of justice and concord should be established on earth (because it would certainly be the realm of the most profound levelling down to mediocrity and chinoiserie); we are delighted by all who love, as we do, danger, war, and adventure;…
I am hesitant to recommend that anyone at all read Nietzsche. Except perhaps the genuine philosopher (or else perhaps the person who denies the reality of Western civilizational crisis). This because, while I myself might wade through the messy swamp here, paragraph by paragraph–as long as I have faith that this author is in live pursuit of something, do I really want to recommend that non-philosophical persons come here only to observe a philosopher flailing around continuously with so little positive result? But then one must also recognize that philosophy is often like this. An ongoing search. And it should be worthwhile to the reader in the longer run as long as this author does have a firm and proper grasp of one of the Important Questions. To see the question clearly may be more important than specific answers achieved.
Analogously, with Nietzsche’s treatment of morality or conventional Christianity, anyone who does not take into account the possibility that he is (or at least believes that he is) in active pursuit–will easily take him too seriously and too literally. He consistently avoids the straightforward and flat academic mode. His insults often seem only crude and vicious.
For example, he writes a whole book which purportedly will get behind morality, will expose the whole business of morality. The Jews first created slave morality, resentment, etc.
Well, I consider that the issue here is very real, but would suggest the word “conventional.” Morals and beliefs become too conventional, and therefore unhealthy. But has that word, unhealthy, scared you enough that you will now take my point seriously and as a metaphysical criticism? No. Or, Old people tend to become cranky and stuck in their ways. Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism are all old religions. Maybe they in fact have become just a little bit cranky, rigidified as religion. No big deal, you say. Old people nowadays have television, etc. Old people today may have become more mellow and less grumpy than old people used to be. But then, that very attitude, your moral complacency, is exactly the moral problem which I am trying to point out to you.
It seems to me that Nietzsche will use as much shock-rhetoric as he dares –(short of thoroughly alienating the reader) in order to TRY to obtain a better or more sophisticated moral awareness. But then, I also ask philosophically, Who believes that such an improved level of morality-awareness is even possible?
When Yahweh speaks directly to the people assembled at Sinai he begins with ten Commandments. Thus God also believes that simple and straightforward morality is important. But on closer inspection, is instruction about respect, Sabbath rest, coveting as psychological desire, are these morality plain and simple. No. The ten are sometimes the Ten Words, suggesting that it is OK for us to think more generally about what they mean.
Certainly there will be some morality, some simple statement of belief, some authority, and some groupish-regard in religion. But must these same four elements be what is absolutely most important in religion? Along with Friedrich whose great grandfather was Protestant bishop, and whose grandfathers and father were Protestant clergy, I say No. Too much moralism can be deleterious. Let’s try and see whether or not we can get a better handle on this very real issue, even if the caretakers of religion as well as most religious people will be upset with conventional-morality-examination efforts.
Allow me to give a personal anecdote. Writing my commentary on the Gospel of Luke, I notice that Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan is found only in Luke. I gave this pericope an anti-religious/legal-moralism interpretation in my commentary. This may seem a little strained or abstract, that Jesus might wish to make such a point, but then perhaps it is your very own moralism which precludes you from imagining that Jesus would teach via parable-story that moralism is not good! Your Jesus is too moralistic to give an anti-moralistic teaching!
A good and religious lawyer approaches Jesus. When the “do unto your neighbor” law is mentioned then this person asks: “Who is my neighbor.” (Is this not a meaningless or pseudo question, I suggest…Most likely someone looking for an extra pat on the back…)
But Jesus begins his story by saying, by chance, a man was walking down the highway. Chance here goes against the legalism/moralism of this man’s religion. This is what this religious rule-follower needs to see. That religion, properly considered, is MORE than following rules. The priest and Levite pass by and the third-class Samaritan helps the victim on the highway. Go and do LIKEWISE.
But moralism is just plain too much fun, I expect, for most religious people. Helping people, caring for people. This is what Jesus wishes to emphasize. Moralism apparently covers many sins, even stealing the Good Samaritan from a neighboring gospel. Thus my ethical distinction, which I yet believe is what this parable of Jesus intends to “teach,” does not stand a chance. It will be washed away by the flood of unrestrained moralism so very prevalent in those three (old) religions mentioned above.
Is there any religion which is more moralistic (or more popular) than Roman Catholicism. Unification of doctrine and moral teaching. In its concern for “justice,” I have no doubt that there is plausibility for this unification within such a religious mode/emphasis. But why must one double down on such “moralism” as had happened a decade before Genealogy of Morals with declaration of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility; when seated in authority, the pope cannot be wrong about faith or morality. The Catholic might say that it is only by reason of institutional office that one human being can be infallible. But then, what about the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles which events put an end to the kingdoms and to the nation, as such, of Israel. Is there not a major theological lesson here; Were these not “institutions?”
As honest Lutherans follow Luther in removing the book of James from the NT, so shouldn’t honest Jews remove Deuteronomy from the Pentateuch? –Because to recognize that there is philosophical and teleological teaching here would mean that one looses one’s control over Law. And loosing one’s control over law means loosing one’s control over religion. And what good is the Jew without religion…?
Though there have been few bloody sacrifices performed in Europe since destruction of the second Jerusalem temple, the Protestant religion, in my view, is priestly. The one who controls the meaning of sacrifice also must be the one in control of the priesthood. This characterization might shock many Protestants, but it seems to me as theologian that Protestant adherents are much more at home in Mark than in Paul or Luke. And in this book, certainly, Nietzsche is tracking the priestly scent. “Priests” and their malicious resentments have concocted some especially potent forms of religious-moralism, like compassion, self-abdication, etc. Nietzsche obviously has, of himself, become resentful of “priestly” power via the popularity of these words, but what I would interject to say at this point is that it seems to me that Protestantism (and the USA) are actually at this moment yet prominent in the world, and therefore should be much more aware of how their promoted virtues/virtue-words are, or are no longer, a good influence upon the surrounding secular culture. That is, I like very much Chesterton’s characterization of secular virtues as being “the old Christian virtues gone mad.”
Here is a mild criticism of priestly machination from Treatise Three:
"I suffer: someone must be to blame for this" - thus thinks every diseased sheep. But its shepherd, the ascetic priest, says to it: " Right you are, my sheep! someone must be to blame for it: but you yourself are this someone, you alone are to blame-you alone are to blame for yourself!" . . .
Lest the non-religious person feel left out at this point in the discussion of religious moralism, I came across a short section from Gay Science–which I also like.
Metaphysics is still needed by some, [pk note here; presumably by the philosopher] but so is that impetuous demand for certainty that today discharges itself in scientific-positivistic form among great masses - the demand that one wants by all means something to be firm (while owing to the fervour of this demand one treats the demonstration of this certainty more lightly and negligently):[pk note; i.e., neglecting the philosophical] this is still the demand for foothold, support - in short, the instinct of weakness that, to be sure, does not create sundry religions, forms of metaphysics, and convictions but does - preserve them. Indeed, around all these positivistic systems hover the fumes of a certain pessimistic gloom…
Yes, metaphysics here may also indirectly reference the small set of beliefs as found in a Protestant catechism. Protestants are dependent upon their little catechisms. But in this paragraph it is all “positivistic systems” and the masses (presumably both educated and uneducated) of the scientific-positivistic (science believers of any kind…) who evidence an “impetuous demand for certainty” which is certainly dangerous and inadequate. I myself might prefer to describe this as a doubling down on stupidity (stupidity, because there is inadequate support for this particular belief…)–on the part of the science-friendly.
A personal testimony may be in order. Having grown up within a Protestant orbit, the view from the inside is that non-religious people are missing something, something valuable. Religion. But religious beliefs also somewhat cramp one’s thinking; –how do these ideas fit with other ideas I am also committed to already? So with me there was also always the assumption that non-religious people were, maybe, a little bit more sensible about ordinary sorts of beliefs–than religious people who have additional commitments. Till recently. In recent American social debate I have been shocked and surprised by the blatant stupidity of my science/college-educated fellow-citizens. Such persons (I initially presume) have chosen (social science friendly) beliefs, and have then chosen to be dogmatic as well about such beliefs. They are aping the psychology of the other side. They are adopting a religious-dogmatic mode.
But now perhaps I need to re-phrase. I see that Dr. N– may be correct. This disease does not care whether a person is religious or not. It directly attacks and disturbs the faith organ itself, an organ which all human beings must necessarily possess. And as my own independent research and analysis can corroborate, the only palliative available here is application of philosophy. Is it then (!) actually possible that the faith organ of the non-religious is underdeveloped, and therefore more susceptible to this socially-communicable disease.
Germany at this moment was a very lively place. University students were excited to discuss back and forth the ideas of Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer. (Has there ever been any such large-scale excitement about anything at all in the humanities in American academia…?) Wagner and others in music, etc. But a certain analysis which I tend to agree with, would say that it was the very success of Chemistry research at the German universities at this time that leads eventually to the pollution and long-term subversion of the humanities (and social sciences) at American universities. The history, language or literature professor, everyone, comes to believe that they also must do research, must ape the group-scholarly piece-meal methodology of Chemistry.
This was not a conspiracy on the part of physicists and chemists that all should kowtow to them when they pass on the sidewalk, nor that these departments should be put in charge of the university itself, but this must have been a weakness, a philosophical atrophy of some sort among the PhD class, which leads them all to think that they can become just like those two hard and very successful sciences. With the result that a hundred years later few American university departments are not debilitated by political ideology, social-science activism, statistical methodology, and various other simpleminded nonsense.
I don’t see this as having been a “science bug” but rather as a philosophy-reduction disease (modern or not) which is also very efficient and malignant. After spreading through the population at large, where will it find other ready and healthy victims? At those universities where there were (and no longer are) collections of people yet unaffected by philosophical atrophy.
As I would phrase it then, not only unhealthy and moralistic Christianity, but equally, science and academic conventionalism perpetuate the present crisis. They stifle the necessary philosophical intelligence. Notice in this partial sentence (from Gay Science) which intends to describe the fresh new philosopher of the future… how faith is treated:
…the spirit takes leave of all faith and every wish for certainty, practised as it is in maintaining itself on light ropes…
At the beginning of the Zarathustra fable-narrative, here is the first incident described: Zarathustra comes down from his mountainside cave, down to a village where people are watching a high-wire performer. Suddenly a clown appears also on the wire behind the performer, does a summersault, and lands on the wire in front of this performer. The performer falls off the wire and dies. The villagers leave, and Zarathustra carries the dead man off on his back and towards the woods to later give him proper burial. (It is not mentioned whether this is a pragmatic clown, a dogmatic clown, or the ordinary everyday skeptical-clown, but results would be the same.) Under present-day circumstances, anyone with aims to become an amateur philosopher, (to think philosophically), must first recognize how dangerous this is…
So far then I agree with the efforts of Nietzsche: as social and civilizational critic, and then also in the requirement that there must be philosophical solution, meaning, philosophy as wisdom or world-view. And then perhaps about the “religion problem” and concern for religion. As philosophical theologian myself and author of a five volume Theological Bible Commentary series, I feel I have no need for anyone to remind me of how difficult and dangerous this is, to hope to convince the dogmatic-religious person or reader that better ideas are available.
We both then look for a new and humanistic “religion,” but he despises democracy, does not directly advocate individualism, and is looking for a nobility-ethic. Familiar with the New Testament, he inverts or twists every single phrase or parable therein, as if looking for non-religious (–non conventional) wisdom behind each and every stone.
Conversely, I believe that we need more social-democracy, and above all, the prophetic and individual Christian theology, and given a Greek-like respect for the excellent, we need no nobility-morality. I also believe that aesthetics, health, ascetic curb, and humanism are already to be found in the source documents of Christianity. In all of this I consider that Mr. N– has very little in positive result to offer in comparison. I have progressed beyond. Reading my books should be of more actual serious and positive help than wading through Nietzsche’s rhetoric.
Here is how Zarathustra ends: There has been a “famous” dinner in his cave with the half dozen wise individuals whom he has met on the road and invited over. The next morning, early, he steps outside the cave, is surrounded by birds and then a warm and fuzzy lion. His lion now; his third animal. An enlightenment has taken place…
Do I strive for happiness? I strive for my work! Well then! The lion has come, my children are near, Zarathustra has become ripe, my hour is come: This is my morning, my day is begun: up now, up, you great noontide!” — Thus spake Zarathustra and left his cave, glowing and strong, like a morning sun that comes out of dark mountains.
And, on an initial reading, I do find this convincing as depiction of psychological enlightenment which the author may also have experienced. And if we meet this fictional Zarathustra on the road we might talk with him and obtain some benefit.
And as well, I find the earlier meeting with the old pope simultaneously profound and very strange–as literary depiction. Zarathustra has been bumping into these various wise characters and inviting each one back up to his cave… a direct allusion to Jesus in John’s Gospel saying that he must return to heaven so that private or secret rooms may be prepared there for his disciples. Popes are usually old when elected, and then there is added responsibility for so many millions of persons, and now comes the further anxiety that God has been done away with. What is an old pope to do now that he is without a job, unemployed–but grovel in the melancholy of such (individual) plight! The two engage in some blasphemous and friendly conversation (ex. God was not a very good ceramicist…) and then Zarathustra demonstrates that he is yet a caring person by inviting the beleaguered modern pope up to his cave, where his two animals, the eagle and the snake, will offer a friendly welcome and show him to a room.
[Might the USA make arrangements that would allow the Vatican to be moved to Miami so that the pope will be better able to look after various sorts of development in countries nearby…]
I might guess, only guess, that Nietzsche is trying to pawn off as original the reimagined contours of a Johananine Christianity which he has “found” while walking in his favorite village high in the Swiss Alps. A non-human-historic, a cosmic, a nobler Christianity.
But my own depiction of an improved Christianity would have this advantage, that it is not fictional:
The Babylonian-Persian exile is theologically significant. There can be no direct return to Israel as center of all history. Such localism will be present in the future only as being part of historical tradition, part of one’s past. Cyrus demonstrates that he is the uber-emperor by not requiring that all societies under his supervision consider the benefits of adopting Persian values, rather, he commands that the cultures of all conquered peoples be re-established. But perhaps there was something devious in such generosity. The Jews returning from Persian exile do return with a gift of sorts, which they have since passed on to Christianity.
The Zoroastrian worldview (loosely speaking) is the same as the orthodox Christian belief of the present. There is a good and creator God, but also a lesser supernatural being actively promoting “evil.” There will also be a cosmic battle with resolution in favor of the Good Side… as well as resolution for human beings, judgement, and a subsequent new world.
The theological difficulty here is that these Persian religious views were not put into writing until 300 CE. Zarathustra, the prophet who initially presented such views somewhere in ancient Iran, may have lived as early as Moses and the Exodus. Good scholars do not like to rely on historical speculation which travels so distant from the literal and printed text which they have in front of them. But perhaps we must leave the “scholars” to their own problems. The general outline of what I have just described is generally accurate. And these beliefs will then later be re-iterated by Jesus and other NT writers. Wisdom from the East. (Can wisdom, or religion for that matter, be owned by anyone..?)
Here are the three civilizational benefits I see to a philosophical-prophetic Zoroastrian-Christianity:
I. The Christian as prophet has less responsibility. While the Old Testament prophets were hard pressed to imagine what might happen in the future, Christians believe that the main event has already taken place. The prophetic Christian at present needs only try to understand what is best for this present moment in civilizational history (and within that overlying cosmic context, and with clearer information about final arrangements and who will be in charge of the final transition). To work for the benefit of the city or civilization in which they happen to be resident rather than trying to assist the formation of one worldwide community or one singular set off values…
II. It seems to me that Western Man is obsessed with the importance of the human will. Recognizing a cosmic struggle of good and evil, this makes the individual will less significant. –Though it is still certainly important for each individual which side they align themself with…
III. With an increasing numbers of intelligent philosophical-prophetic Christians, non-religious persons may be impressed enough that they also wish to develop the philosophical virtue. Gradually it becomes more obvious within the society at large that Science, science alone, cannot really function as world-view. Democratic citizens are able to direct the social benefits of science, technology, and “economic science” using criteria and and sane values NOT directly derived from Science itself. Humankind, intelligent and in control rather than humankind subservient to simpleminded ideas-or the schemes of powerful individuals, or media moguls, or herd instinct. The (individual) will to power realized rather than Darwin’s survival of the species.
Nietzsche’s employment of Zarathustra does seem to me to be astute, but Nietzsche fails to recognize that the term “prophet” is in reality a valid and Christian theological term. And so we all (–at least in the West) remain in a dark and dangerous place…
Desire for change, of itself, cannot be what is most important in this activism. Some of the tribe will wish to stay here and others wish to try to find a better location. Some politicians will always be available to appeal to those who are less advantaged because other politicians have already promised to maintain the wealth and status of others community members.
The Reformation was a major revolt, and Europe has had social justice movements previously. But more important as motive in Western activism it seems to me is the prophetic element which should be present in any Christian faith. But as I have written in my few various Bible-book commentaries, while I consider the prophetic to be fundamental, this must be strictly an individual-prophetic Christianity. Not group; nor political. Activism is certainly popular within liberal types of Christianity and is framed as desire to see justice prevail in society (via political activism as needed), but I see this as religion, and too much politics diluting religion perhaps. Liberal Christians are often supporters then of political causes, but this does not make the cause religious. The activism is still political. Conservative Christians also are able to find support within Christianity for a more activist political engagement when the need for such political support seems to them to be dire.
And should we not maintain a clear distinction between the aggrieved and those who join a subsequent and more political cause? Martin Luther King was very clear about the requirement that things must remain non-violent. This courage as demonstrated is what persuaded persons at a distance. Not the number of demonstrators nor the cause as idea. When courageous and aggrieved citizens are additionally beaten or attacked, this galvanizes fellow-citizen feeling. There is a wrong here being perpetuated on fellow citizens.
Ari Herman in “Give Us the Ballot” describes this civil rights and voting history. The small town of Selma, Alabama had a bigoted white sheriff, and was chosen as origin for a seventy-five mile march to the capital, Montgomery. The outside public was shocked by violent tv footage. LBJ was shocked as well, but being in charge of the Democratic Party he also saw opportunity. He asked his lawyers to draw up a Voting Rights Act.
After the Civil War it had been Republicans from the north who were do-gooders. For a decade they started schools for Blacks, got many Blacks registered, and many Blacks were actually elected to local office. But when nerve and political influence diminished, they gave up.
More than a hundred years later and after passage of the Voting Rights Act, 1965, there was a second decade of do-gooders from the North, Reconstruction II, this time initiated by the Democratic Party. Many people were sent from Washington DC and the Justice Department headquarters located there to enroll Blacks in the South and to watch over election activities. And results again were impressive.
No more “tests or devices” allowed; no poll tax or literacy test… (though it seems appropriate to me that persons naturalized as national citizen of the USA should as well be given minimal instruction in how the American government is organized). But white intimidation and some very serious abuses in the South, these were directly attacked by means of law, the VRA, during the ten years after 1965. Success.
I. Thus the move from genuine complaint to political correction via law and law enforcement, this seems to be exemplary. The Civil Rights legislation of the sixties is seen by many as having been a very great success, and sets a standard for later activism. As Socialist China is always reforming, or so they claim, so the Democratic Party has found a new gig: activism always– or at least till all major social fairness issues have been taken care of… But my first major point will be different, and to the effect that politicization necessarily dilutes the wholistic nature of a genuine “cause.”
After all, the historical facts are that the Democratic Party had been the party of the white abusers, the party of the status quo in the South. LBJ was one of those good old boys, until this great moral-political switcheroo. Democrats turn on a dime as led by LBJ and become social crusaders, political activists for the downtrodden black minority and for all other minorities.
After Reconstruction-I, the Republican Party had also found for themselves a new political gig; Capitalism. Citizen freedom means economic opportunity. In the first fifty years after the Civil War, most of the petitions for redress of injustice as brought under the Fourteenth Amendment were business lawsuits, not complaint about class-oppression caused by unjust State action. Those three Civil War Amendments to the US Constitution, 13, 14, 15, were written so as to declare and protect (in a general way) what was fair with regard to slaves now become citizens, not to protect business type interests, nor to establish any or all individual-freedom claims–(as it has used repeatedly in the last fifty years to support social activist causes of Democrats.)
Republicans care about law and order and about a larger economic slice for all, while Democrats care about all minorities and all persons receiving unfair treatment in this society. But do they really?
Point number one is that political activism in big causes is dangerous because it is self deceiving. It is political merely, but leads to proponents claiming too much, expecting too much of law and government as means to fix or to improve society. Racial equality laws have been on the books for a hundred and sixty years now, first enforced then abused by Republicans, then beginning in the Sixties, enforced successfully by Democrats against malicious Southern behavior, but most recently turned (apparently) against the rest of the country. The Confederacy as such is long gone, but Democratic anger at residual racism seems to have turned around now upon non-Southern society as if to continue the Confederate aim of destroying Northern society, not via weaponry but via law, via use of the Civil War Amendments.
Can a legal approach actually work in the case of Black and White relations; Can activism of a political and legal sort actually change society for the better? Overt and malicious racism against Blacks has diminished, yes, but a larger historical view shows that this kind of activism has not been very successful, actually, towards improving the American existential situation with regard to Blacks or Whites. The fight is ongoing. Join us. But I say, let us please recognize that Law has inherent limitations. But activists, understandably, once they have seen some success, are loth to admit what I see as inadequacy.
II. When the Shelby decision came out in 2013 I wanted to understand what all the fuss was about, and I read the complete decision, including Justice Ginsberg’s dissent. (I suggest reading the first ten pages of the decision and the last few pages of her dissent at the end..) I blogged about why I directly disagreed with her stance. It is not a proper task of law to extirpate prejudice from the human heart, I suggested; Her approach to law seems deficient in a serious manner, I implied. She makes fun of a phrase in the decision: the “equal sovereignty principle.” We have been paddling the behind of these naughty states for forty years (seems to me to be her approach) and the procedure has been working. Another forty or sixty years or longer may be required to complete the job…
My second characterization then of political activism in the American context will be controversial and provocative. I offer as evidence Justice Ginsburg’s explanation of her opinion in the Shelby dissent, and also offer your thinking as evidence–you–probably many smart readers–who are primed to defend her and her activist tendency because you think just as she does. And I say that this is a bad thing. Political activism, it seems to me as general observation, tends to seriously distort one’s view (your view) of law. Is law primarily a means, an instrument. A tool with which to fix society or to improve society. Yes, we may update laws and add new laws, but I submit that this activist attitude denigrates what must remain the more basic theoretical purpose of Law. Law structures and sets norms and describes rights and punishable wrongs–for all. It must not become an instrument by which one presumably more enlightened portion of society seeks to force upon another portion of society an improved set of ideas or attitudes; better culture.
Though difficult to define in essence, we have in fact (and in Constitutional text) a Federal system which splits sovereignty between fifty sovereign states and one national government. Certain tasks belong to the Federal Government, but apart from such, the Feds ought to stay out of the way of the States as the States go about their own proper tasks. The Constitution describes the states as having responsibility for running/tabulating elections. A uniform nationally supervised approach might make more sense to you or to me, but that is not the system which we have.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (–raise your hand if you know what is included)–may as well be called An Emergency and Temporary Mechanism imposed upon certain misbehaving states in order to stop serious voting-access abuses. This Mechanism places the Federal Attorney General as manager of voting in “problem” voting districts. Preclearance means that no voting regulations may change in such previously misbehaving states or districts until the AG signs off on each proposed change. Does mail in balloting, does no Sunday voting, does computerized voting unfairly disadvantage certain minorities. Again, this Federal supervision might make sense to you or me, but this is not the normal constitutional arrangement. It is obviously a Federal imposition upon certain states and districts. Naughty students are collected into one classroom and must remain there for ten years. Only then may they ask to bail out.
If you, for ten years, scold you children: You children are naughty, naughty, naughty…at the close of this period I expect a child will decide that their best option here is deliberately to decide to be a naughty person. Shelby gutted this mechanism of Federal preclearance forty years after Congress repeatedly re-authorized a mechanism which was originally set to terminate five years after 1965. As I blogged in agreement in 2013–if States are yet deliberate offenders (after fifteen years perhaps) then Congress must put more teeth into it, must punish such explicit offenders. And I remain convinced that Congress must certainly adjust and re-write the procedures and approach here. To keep in place such an imposition upon ordinary Federalism for forty years is absolutely unacceptable. This fish must be gutted and cooked. Or perhaps some sticky stars or ribbons placed on the Law. This law is retired with honors, for its faithful service to the nation.
As I would explain the Civil War Amendments, Congress is given authority to set extraordinary devices in place (and to impose upon the States) only in emergency, only when there is serious State denial of justice. Governors are given emergency powers. But when the emergency is over the governor must not keep those emergency powers in force.
The Civil War Amendments are in my opinion superlaws which may be brought to bear upon the states because bad state behavior as possibility was foreseen by legislators immediately after the Civil War. Each of these three amendments end with a statement allowing the Congress (in emergency and as necessity) to add further laws or procedures so as to enforce correction upon state misbehavior. A superlaw is dangerous because it is more powerful than ordinary law. Dangerous both to those targeted and dangerous because it may corrupt those given this extra power. But a superlaw, of course, may also be more effective toward some purpose.
I do not intend that the word “superlaw” should become terminology, but I do say that the concept here, if also rhetorically presented–is accurate. Every American legal scholar should agree. States have sovereignty of some sort, and all Americans have state citizenships. And the Civil War Amendments are different as law because they allow an extraordinary action of the national entity upon the state entity. But is there no action in the other direction? These Amendments are historical addition to the Constitution. But so are the Bill of Rights a historical addition. If the Bill of Rights do directly limit the Federal Government and thereby allow for the delineation of national citizen right, and if this delineation may then be applied as norm against the States, I would call this a “minimal” definition of citizen right.
If your employer allows, you may dye your hair pale green. If you live in certain states you will be punished for using marijuana. Some states prohibit hanging anything from the front windshield mirror of your car. States already give fifty differing definitions to what shall be applied as legal justice. Do States not have an action over against Federal imposition, that is, an interest in seeking to define a specific and State culture, a fuller definition of freedom perhaps than is specified in Federal Law, a way of life, as long as this does not infringe upon the minimal justice contours of the Federal Government definition found in the Bill of Rights?
Is there a Diversity interest within the Constitution? Or, Why did the Founders decide upon a Federal system with thirteen colonies become States? Common sense would suggest that it is the States and not the one Federal Government that must be given responsibility for upholding and sustaining this Diversity interest. Is this the United State of America…or what? Is there a Diversity Interest inherent in Federalism which must be passed on to the States so as to allow them to assert a “right” not to be harmed by the careless use of superlaws such as the Civil War Amendments and/or the VRA?
Political activism, interest in improving the society by means of law/government, is going to find it much easier to do such from above, via national norm or law. To try to get fifty legislatures to change state law will be much more difficult. Thus there is a strong tendency among activism-inclined intellectuals to neglect, deny, or directly argue against state sovereignty or states rights. States themselves, as well as deference to the superlaw situation, both of these make activism cumbersome. I would guess that many activist-inclined lawyers know better, but choose to prefer to see otherwise. Prefer that the States might just go away…. These then have been examples of the danger that social activism may seriously distort one’s theoretical view of Law. Point II.
III. Next I see the danger that a political cause may quite easily become absolute and religious-like. The religious pharisee makes the nasty mistake of believing: I am right, and no questioning shall be allowed of me or of my ideal. As example of this I refer to a book about the voting rights cause written by a Democratic partisan, Carol Anderson, “One Person, No Vote.” As I read chapter one I am disturbed by the incidents described: people maliciously trying to deny other people opportunity to vote. But as I read chapter two I am upset with Ms. Anderson. The chapter topic is voter ID, but it is as if Confederate malice has been directly transferred to Republicans. The Supreme Court allows the Indiana voter ID law to stand. It does not believe that Indiana is suppressing its minorities via such a requirement. But no, the author seems to believe, there must be evil behind such a legal requirement. No other explanation is possible. Thus voting has become a vague and superlative (religious-like) ideal, and only I am qualified to determine what that virtue is; What is fair play and what isn’t.
I myself consider voter ID to be sensible whether or not there has been widespread fraud. If Alabama has 100,000 voters without ID then I suggest we talk to these voters, try to persuade about the worth of voting, remind them that Thoreau was a good citizen though he preferred not to go along with some parts of the system, require that the State have easy and accessible means for its citizens to get such an ID, etc.
But this book finds evil everywhere, with little sensible recognition that voting is a physical procedure, not an abstract value. And lacking recognition as well that law is often a clumsy and inappropriate instrument via which to secure fairness. Voting is a means to citizenship, not a definition of citizenship, I would answer. What democracy asks of its citizens is careful, intelligent and considerate voting. To make voting alone and of itself into an absolute or ultimate value is to distort democracy.
Every ten years, after census results come out, many states must adjust voting-district lines. But the Supreme Court seems to admit that beyond compact, contiguous, shared interests, there is no difinitive criterion available by which to achieve fairness and avoid political machination. I would suggest City as legal entity be added here as norm and value in this context. (States ought to delegate more powers to larger cities. I also believe that it should be easier to justify eminent domain in a populous area because benefit to more citizens is immediate… Or, cities should be able to retain some control over people who have moved to the periphery of a city center, etc.) But any such city-recognition in law, though it may be appropriate to a more mature approach, would add a rats-net of complications. The point being that there is no simple legal framework in existence for drawing of voting-district lines.
Michigan has adopted a random citizen commission approach to drawing voter districts. This seems a good step forward. But I notice that the new district in which I am now located is shaped like a dumbbell, with Muskegon as the light half. The two connected blobs are Muskegon, forty thousand people, and Grand Rapids, more that two hundred thousand. Is this creative re-districting? Muskegon already has big city problems; or, Grand Rapids is being offered as example of big city success…. (Shouldn’t each be allowed to develop their own civic identity…?)
Alabama presents a strange and sad legal tangle. With 30% now Black and 70% White and persons habitually comparing their own skin color with candidate skin color when casting votes, and with seven districts, and blacks packed/segregated/concentrated into two districts, there might be created in this state two majority-black districts, allowing two of seven congress persons from Alabama to be Black. (Blacks do make up 2/7ths of the population). This is what a recent Supreme Court decision was about, Allen v. Milligan. The Federal District Court now has been given a green light. Two black majority districts will soon be created via federal redraw. Though artificial, some might see this as appropriate. (The southern of the two districts will have only slight Black majority.) Given that this is where voting rights originally became a modern cause, I am not so much bothered by this. But then, I am also not at present a white resent of Alabama. This artificial race-based activity by the Federal Court might accurately be described as an effort to get rid of racial discrimination in voting via application of reverse racial discrimination! And this is happening ten years after Shelby has gutted the main mechanism of the VRA of 1965–the delinquency classroom presided over by the Department of Justice. (See Justice Thomas’ dissent here. It is clearly written and well argued if one has some familiarity with the VRA and Shelby. As Justice Thomas mentions, he was against the first Federal redraw of Alabama district lines 29 years before–because he considers that suchlike legal approaches to redress racial bias are not helpful–as law.)
Thirty years before this, the same Federal court (since the Alabama legislature had been procrastinating) created by fiat a singe Black majority district for Alabama, shaped like a mangled salamander with tail pointing up. At the tip of the tail is Birmingham, with large Black population, then black belt areas south and west, then over to the east to pick up more Blacks in Montgomery. I am guessing that the tail cannot be wider because that would dilute the district with White voters.
Should a majority party, since it has won the recent election, allow the other party to win the next election? That would be nice. Some sort of random line drawing mechanism applied to Alabama might lead to no blacks being elected. And is it not the case that the racial dimension (which law is most concerned with) is exacerbated or made less tractable by the fact that Blacks tend heavily to vote Democratic! Certainly, Democrats have helped Blacks since the sixties, and there are promises to continue to help, but prior to the sixties Democrats were the party of a white status quo. Politicians care about this and care about that, but likely care most about re-election into office. Else how will they be able to do anything, or be able to say that they have been doing something beneficial for everybody.
This is point IV. Social activism as seen in the voting-rights-for-minorities cause in America, can eliminate serious wrong, as it has, but judged on its own terms as an effort to change or improve society, social activism as such is disappointing. It doesn’t work very well. ( I myself would rather see more effort put into educating minorities as well as majority citizens into a smarter citizenship. I want to see some minority persons, smart, sincerely wanting to vote, being blocked, then demonstrating! Would this not overturn any artificial local barriers to voting?)
But social activism on a large scale and with multiple causes has certainly become a very popular fad in America. Academia and the major media are all in. Big business does not want to be left out of the parade. And here is where another serious danger shows up it seems to me, even for well educated persons:
V. Mendacity. Not the naked lie but dissimulation. Once I am convinced of the rightness of my cause, the cause presented to me, this political-legal cause, propagation becomes my primary objective. Propagation becomes more important than intellectual probity. In basketball, to lift the pivot foot is walking, an infraction. Where is such a pivot foot, the tie to some standard outside of a cause or collection of causes for educated individuals now in the media or in academia? Where are the referees? Everyone is free to dance to the tune of political activism. Everyone it seems has been drinking the same Kool-Aid(TM). The larger media and academia have been thoroughly politicized and as a result gradually have become corrupt. Most educated people now quite sincerely believe that this activism Kool-Aid flavor is the best tasting beverage in the whole world. For your benefit, well-educated reader, I will try, now, to pop your self constructed bubble; but I despair. I expect that Maya will quickly return, re-form, and envelop us all.
As I mentioned, I read the Shelby decision when it came out in 2013, and was convinced by Chief Justice Roberts’ explanation and argument. I believe that I grasped the salient elements here. He doesn’t use superlaw terminology but unprecedented authority and extraordinary and unprecedented features. He describes success, forty years, and the possibility or need for Congress to re-evaluate and re-shape such special or “emergency” (as I call it) legislation. Else this fish must to be gutted. (Congressional inaction and incompetence is in fact the culprit here. Only congress can update a special emergency law when it needs to be updated. This special Act the VRA, is a baby of Congress, and Congress must take care of it.)
The lawyers who drafted the 1965 Voting Act recognized what no one since seems to be able or willing or inclined to admit. The so-called Act, the strongest portion of which is a Federal mechanism, is/was an irregular sort of mechanism, never envisioned as being a long term resident in the law code books. Because–it is a Federal imposition upon the States. Allowed by the Fifteenth Amendment, but irregular. “Extraordinary.” Can’t you see this? Do you actually wish to enshrine an extraordinary and now gutted and rotting fish!
Having just spent an hour reading via the web some of the news articles from 2013 when Shelby came out, I found none that even recognized at that time the basic points which Justice Roberts offers and which I claim to understand as well. Why? This is our media. It should be able to recognize and explain what is offered as primary cause for the gutting. Is it ordinary stupidity on the part of media, is it legal-sophistication phobia, or is it a Kool-Aid induced stupidity and mendacity?
As I mentioned, I read the Shelby decision, and having recently read the Shelby decision I have distinct memory of reading what I thought to be a NY Times article which made striking use of the term “gutted.” (Was it Adam Liptak? Has there been a metaphor retraction on the part of the NY Times..? Please help with this research. Who first used the term gutted in connection with Shelby, a metaphor then repeatedly used by others in the media?) But I was struck, and bothered by the term. But why exactly bothered? I had just read the decision and was convinced myself by the legal explanation given in the first fifteen pages. I recognize that the term gutted is accurate in a literal sense. The decision does in fact disable a powerful mechanism within the Act and send it back for rewriting by the Congress. But the term is also a lie, mendacious as I now describe this.
Let’s engage in some psychologizing of Mr. Liptak or whomever it was who first applied the gutting metaphor.
A. A felicitous bivalent metaphor. Lawyers will recognize its precision and accuracy. This Act is temporal of necessity and another lawyer/judge has now euthanized it. While for “the faithful,” a banner. Shelby, (now that this metaphor has become so popular in the media), may as well be subtitled: “The Decision which Gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” [Can there be temporary law…law that should be temporary. Yes. Really!]
B. Legal stupidity. Liptak does not understand the points which Roberts makes, about States and unprecedented/(“emergency.”) But Mr. Liptak’s article does include this sentence: “Critics of Section 5 say it is a unique federal intrusion on state sovereignty and a badge of shame for the affected jurisdictions that is no longer justified.” Notice the words unique and state. These are WHY I myself was and am convinced of the need to gut. Here they are understood but shoved to the background. Mr. Liptak is not legally stupid. He understands this WHY.
C. Mendacious Condescension. (And this would be my preferred explanation). Because the writer whomever it was is already very convinced of the greater cause, he has no felt need to explain about the temporary, the States or the unprecedented. Some readers of the Times and most ordinary newspaper readers will not understand what is going on but this is OK. All that matters is that the cause should prevail. Not a deliberate lie here but a dissimilatory lie. We know; and they (all of you) don’t need to know.
D. A combination of the above: Mr Liptak or some other journalist was under time pressure. He stumbled upon a metaphor and included it. He did not really mean to deceive anyone, nor intend that other less intelligent persons would pick up on his metaphor and subsequently use it as an ideological wedge.
Does truth in law matter? Why such a silly phrase as question?
I understand political spin, or the difficulty of explaining a complex legal situation. But I allow neither of these as excuse here. Use the gutted metaphor, fine–(it is a sharp metaphor)–but ONLY if you ALSO explain the proffered WHY as being a plausible legal justification as given by the majority justices. You need not agree with their WHY but you must recognize some legal plausibility in the WHY offered in Shelby. Else you lie.
Gutted. You are hiding behind a metaphor with clear intent to deceive, clear intent to never explain, and clear intent to perpetrate public misunderstanding for as long as it takes. Gutted is accurate and is literally true, but gutted is partial and deceptive because a larger and more complete (and more truthful) explanation is willfully and deliberately refused…
The major media have all been lying during the decade since Shelby. (Someone killed our pet project). Else, show me one media article of the last decade which gives honest consideration to the Shelby WHY. Honest description of what is involved in this legal situation. This has been an example of how social activism can lead to outcomes which are dangerous; here, mendacity in the media when the media wish to become social activists also.
Or is the explanation offered by the majority justices in Shelby bogus and without significant legal plausibility. With evil intent they wish only to harm and derail this great Cause just when and just because the cause is Democratic and has become popular.
Finally, before offering what I believe to be a better alternative to social activism, is there not any benefit at all to social activism?
There is minor benefit to social activism. Social activist are able to walk slightly above the ground, on a microscopic layer of air. They are each surrounded by a bubble, though this bubble is not visible. It is a happy bubble, because whether committed to one or to many political causes, to one or more pseudo-religious causes, the social activist can be happy in the thought that day by day, and in many ways, they are helping to make the world a better place.
And what is the alternative?
This is very simple to describe, but full meaning and attention must be given to each of the words here: An individual and comprehensive democratic citizenship. Democratic as in social, as in pre-political, as in Emerson, Whitman, Ghandi. Individual as in only one person; no party, no group cause nor group ideology. Citizenship as in Aristotle’s Politics; a natural and city-based identity not given by Government. And comprehensive as in philosophy and free speech and democratic intellectual responsibility.
When writing a chapter on the Pastoral Epistles in my book about the Apostle Paul [Notes toward a modern Theology of Paul/ Kindle sales] I became convinced that the apostle here was describing a quietistic ideal. This might seem bizarre to Western Christian readers who imagine a busy Paul and an active Paul as example for other Christians. Christianity is active. But I believe there is a profound truth here. We as Americans claim to be in a democracy but run around like busy and mindless ants. Ants are regimented and stupid. Is this democracy? Rather, begin with an essential quietism, and with the freedom, wholistic perspective and sanity that only comes with an individual quietism. If this is achieved, then action can be added–but only if it does not mean that one gives up this foundation.
I believe that in the longer term it is only genuine religion that can displace bad/inadequate religion. But I don’t believe such hope applies to pseudo-religion. The new pseudo-religion of social activism may seem to US Democrats to hold promise of being able to dislodge that older and very well entrenched pseudo-religion of the other US party: a rationalistic, government-stay-out, dogmatic Free Market capitalism.
But both of these chosen ideological groupisms as political plan for an American social future seem to me to be seriously lacking; more disease than panacea. Because these have no respect at all for the INDIVIDUAL.
Let us hope that Americans and others similarly situated are able to avoid the miserable future of being bounced back and forth and back again between two political diseases…
Is the United States of today a Banana Republic because someone before, during, or after they hold office–is seemingly (and somewhat regularly) careless about going outside of legal (or social-etiquette ) lines..., or is the United States a Banana Republic today because a significant if not fairly large number of people have a somewhat faulty notion of law–that law may as well be used directly vis a vis society so as to get rid of nonconforming ideas, naughtiness, carelessness, presumption…. Is Trump naughty, that is, or are Merrick Garland et al being naughty by implementing the legal prosecution of someone who is an (undesirable) official candidate for upcoming national election.
Now that all secret documents are (presumably) back in safe storage, why prosecute? No one is above the law. Exposing Trump’s “carelessness” here would scold him publicly and warn against such behavior in the future, but why is criminal liability appropriate. To deny any possibility of illicit political motive here is also to put oneself above the law.
Divulging national secrets gives the enemy an easy means to harm us. But too many secrets also makes it much easier for governments to oppress and/or bamboozle a democratic populace and thus remain in power.
Assange apparently is being charged under the Espionage Act not with divulging secret documents but as an Australian “asking” in some manner for secret US documents. Snowden claims that he divulged secret US surveillance programs as a good citizen of the US, letting citizens know about the excesses occasionally being perpetrated by our own government. Chelsea Manning was pardoned after only seven years by President Obama after a massive leak of secret documents–but not, I hope, influenced by the possibility that his gender transform was taken to be some sort of “conversion,” nor because it might seem difficult to assign legal responsibility to someone who has gone through a gender transform. What am I missing here? Where is the proportionality? Is the law primarily about image…
The FBI, CIA, Justice Department, President, etc. are each sitting on a large amount of information about ALL of us, most of which information could be used to shame and/or to prosecute… Therefore, these entities must always be “fair and honest.” This is my phrase. (Am I naive here?) Not unaware of political forces, but above specific and political motive. They must serve the whole, and not any actual party. In the near future, the country may veer this way or that under differing political control, but all of these employees stay with the whole. Except the President. The President does steer. The president may represent the whole and at the same time continue leading a partial party…
In this current documents-lawsuit situation, Trump is no longer our designated leader, but is not exactly a private citizen either. He has some right, we can presume, to get his presidential documents ready to hand over to the National Archives so as to be included in a Trump presidential Library. Secrecy is a government task, not a citizen task, but here–made more awkward because this citizen was previously president, and still has some jurisdiction over non-secret presidential documents. Lack of cooperation, then–with efforts to get secret documents back into safe keeping? But to criminalize this as legal obstruction or legal misrepresentation and lying… Is this not heavy-handed?
I presume that there is a Nixon Presidential Library in existence. Nixon resigned in disgrace because the public could not stomach criminal use of presidential power for the sake of political gain. Trying to steal secrets of the other political party does not seem to me to be such a bad objective. But the break-in was criminal.
Here, the government is also involved at the highest level–the Justice Department and FBI. But the motive is pure. Law and order. The documents perhaps are already safe, but let’s make a criminal example of someone who was negligent and obstructionist with regard to top secret documents and their content. If Trump is disgraced publicly, if his presidential library is a makeshift bodega down by the seashore containing an exhibit of the boxes in the ballroom with one box spilled on the floor–using the original documents and newspapers (along with facsimile top-secret files as replacement)–this is not our immediate intent. Trump had one term, and was not able to obtain another… because of his own (now proven) criminal negligence with respect to secret documents..
[Nixon broke the law, clearly, instructing his henchmen to break in–with political gain as objective. But to use the justice System itself (!) with political objective of discrediting or disabling an unwanted political rival, this is what I/we ask about here. This USING of a SYSTEM would be a much more terrible abuse, I claim, than criminal break-in. ]
A banana republic is an immature republic in which the Army or the Judicial System, it is assumed by the general citizenry, belong to one individual–to the present leader. But such poor citizens don’t quite realize that this is not actually a democratic republic. We chuckle.
Where, you might ask, is the Democratic Party leader using the Judicial System. But the general Democratic attitude is, it would seem to me: Diminish and discredit this loose cannon, this naughty and reckless person, Trump, and throw a few lawsuits at him. Maybe that will do the trick, or at least slow him down. Think. Doesn’t this already betray your authoritarianism?
If I am running for local office and some dirt comes out on my opponent, or better, my opponent is indicted for a crime, I am certainly fortunate. But till now it would seem to me, we (we Americans) don’t USE lawsuits as explicit and obvious political means. As hypothetical here, if this individual Trump, having lost, says that he is finished with politics, I say, go ahead, bring your lawsuits. But waiting for two years and until he has declared as candidate, this smells fishy to me. A fishy-banana smell is not an American smell. There is actually no need for direct party-leader command. The ideological troops are well indoctrinated (as with communist cadres). They know what to do and where the enemy is situated.
But let’s look forward to an upcoming indictment. Trump bullying a state election manager. If this were between two lawyers of the same political party this would be an in joke. I need so many votes to win… I’ll see what I can do. (But not funny to outsiders.) And Trump is not a lawyer. And the mafia-like bullying seems to me pointless as well as intimidating, and does trouble me personally. Are the Republicans (with Trump) a party of personalistic fascist bullies? But the Democratic party certainly is equally capable of ideological fascism. I remember a moment in recent American history when Hillary Clinton was considering moderating her stance on abortion. But the Democratic Party establishment quickly put the kebosh to such moderation. How do I know this to be historical fact, you ask. I was there; I saw it happen in the media.
The “faulty notion of law” which I cite in my initial paragraph above–this is a serious critique. It is not a trivial problem. But strangely, perhaps, Americans are not interested in Law. A law-sophisticated society, which I can envision imaginatively, might have a lot of fun arguing out in the public media the legal details of the active present cases impinging upon Mr. Trump. It would be entertaining, and serious also, for such a people. But Americans (who will claim that they honor Law more than anyone else) are averse to law detail or law theory. Virtue for Americans is in NOT going into legal details but merely being a law abiding citizen; and for some this means concrete law (–R) and for some this means abstract law (–D), but in either case, Law, in and of itself, is not interesting as topic of inquiry, as practical topic of investigation.
This is unfortunate, and sad. Why are Americans averse to a more theoretical grasp of Law. (Perhaps it is a result of that Protestant mantra, that we have gotten beyond law.) But anyone who believe in Law as foundation for a democratic republic ought not to be uninterested in delving with avid as well as with philosophical interest into this now very contemporaneous topic…
Which of the following do you worship or rely upon in extremis–that is, rely upon as ultimately most important: Economics as activity, the Political as law-system, the Political as convention-system, Religion as established-system, Science as knowledge, or, (your own achieved and individual) philosophical understanding. We all, from East or West, wish to benefit, of course, from the Economic, but I myself would advocate the philosophical as most important in this list. What I mean is NOT that there is only one philosophical truth, but that thinking, philosophical effort, (and philosophical result; better ideas…) is ultimately (or should be–) Master in all human affairs. Ultimately, this is more important for humankind, even, than religion, politics, science.
Next, we might notice that certain Western individuals worship a certain economic theory, (–with or without what these persons believe to be an associated Christian-belief foundation). In recent blogging I was quite strict. I said that the claim that the Great Recession of recent memory was only a management failure–I said that this was evil. Pragmatic thinking is evil if and when it is offered as excuse for not thinking. “The present dogma is fine. This dogma is immune from fundamental examination.”
Again, I was born after the Great War, but Oppenheimer, who helped to develop and test the nuclear bomb, referred to Hindu scripture after seeing the first explosion above a tiny Pacific island: something to the effect of, I am become Death; I am now the Destroyer. I expect that few physicists or few of the general public subsequently converted to Hinduism as result of his religious insight, but perhaps more should have! The new potential for human destructive power does not fit within usual and assumed views of good and evil. New religious perspective, Hindu, Zoroastrian… is needed at this historical juncture. Perspective, likely, which religion only can provide.
The Manhattan Project to build a bomb was a government project. The Americans were worried that the Germans, already technically and scientifically advanced, now bezerk with Nazi ideology, might build a bomb first. So is the Political to be our best hope for safety and security?
But what intelligent Westerners do not comprehend as demonstrated by their knee-jerk reactions to Russia or China, is that there is NOT ONLY ONE valid attitude toward the Political. As result of centuries of (Christian) religious tutelage, Westerners come to assume a sort of religion v. government, or government-as-instrumental perspective on this fundamental situation. Political as law. But the Chinese, it seems to me, have what might be called a more humanistic (Confucian) faith in government. This may seem (and may also be in fact) authoritarian, but is still predicated on the assumption that government must benefit its populace. Else it becomes illegitimate. What can be more pragmatic, or more noble as government objective than the aim of bringing a billion people up to middle-wealth status, as is the explicit and number one purpose of the Communist-socialist government of China? Politics as “conventional” ideal apart from instrumental law.
But from the list above, if you choose either of the two Political options as ultimate, are you not a Sadducee? Jesus in the New Testament, representing religion, rejects this option. The Jewish Sadducee hoped, perhaps, that personal rejection of consideration for a spiritual realm and attention only to the political would enable him/her to more effectively benefit society via political machination–and thus be saved himself/herself in the end because of such public service. Not politics for the enjoyment of power but pure Politics for the sake of social benefit.
Are all Chinese Sadducees? The Sadducee decides to remain absolutely agnostic–like Confucius may seem to be–about religion. (But Heaven, and the mysterious and great Dao, are also in the background for Confucius, though not for Marx nor for Lenin.)
In the West, meanwhile, Sadducees have also been increasing in number and have become much more vocal. Perhaps emboldened by the success of Science.
Whether as reaction against the “traditional” normalcy of Western (Christian) religion, or because being religious adds nothing to one’s status as scientist or science-lover, more and more people in the West decide that religion as such has no valid role nor importance.
What does all of this this have to do with the main issue, the possible lab leak of a dangerous virus. Well, if you wish to get my perspective, this all will also be important towards explaining my exact perspective…
(I leave aside the topic of germ warfare research. I assume all of the Great Powers of the moment, China, USA, Russia, all do engage in such… But the Wuhan Lab was primarily engaged in Scientific study of viruses for the sake of scientific benefit to all humanity; a Science objective.)
There is a first and important question here about Truth. I am as intellectual devoted to Truth. Western Science has been inspired and motivated certainly, by Truth. But does China, or does Chinese culture, value Truth, or value it but in a lesser degree?
But has Western Science as institutional establishment largely forsaken Truth, quite recently, for the sake of technical, pragmatic, or political aims. China perhaps is more honest: We value Science for its benefits. But the West has become dishonest and self-deceived perhaps in denying that Science as institution-based enterprise might ever become sullied or corrupt via lesser motives that that pure and higher value of Truth.
(I took on this topic recently when I complained that Nature magazine itself would not come clean on the reluctance of Medical “Science” to talk about aerosol contagion. Why is Science in the Western conception sacrosanct?! Has it become a priestly religion which must not be spoken against–as institution.)
Is this not what happened at the beginning of the pandemic. The top virologists got together via the internet and decided that a China lab leak theory should best be quashed. Let the pandemic proceed without added complication. And maybe this was a good call.
Except that I also consider that these same science experts are seriously deficient in basic social and political common-sense. Truth, as it seems to me, is in fact a higher value, as such, than political governance, but this does not give scientific expertise the capacity/political-sense nor the authority to govern. On behalf of world harmony or world science-cooperation we shall choose this mode of proceeding. We have become the managers here.
From a philosophical perspective, which I myself believe to be the Master perspective, there are serious problems with such presumption. As I imagined somewhat accurately at the beginning of the pandemic, I insisted that governments be allowed to manage the larger situation in various ways. And I consider that facts in the last two years have corroborated my attitude. Good or bad, the various governments of various nations have taken different approaches, depending upon their own social values. But has “science” learned this, the necessary role of the political, or learned anything else about medical overreach or institutional corruption via the experience of the last two years. (We appreciate the all important manufacture of vaccines…) But I don’t believe that Science has learned anything. Gain of function experimentation has resumed, has it not? Back to work. Who needs to think (philosophically).
Money and encouragement and suggested projects came from Europe and the USA to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, from big brother to little brother, to help the little brother to become more Truth-responsible as well as to get on board with the Science aim of public service to the World. But if Western Science is half-blind and quite unaware of its own incompetence and limitations, as I believe, then this paternalistic assistance is a little bit like the blind leading the blind. No wonder that the US would prefer to (temporarily) shield China from any blame, even if, in other areas we seem to be nasty rivals! We are hoping that they will come around eventually, to our enlightened Scientific worldview. (And they are wondering what this is all about…) Have we entered the Age of Scientocracy?
Obviously I believe that Science cannot of itself be ultimate, though it does deserve greater respect than it has received to this point.
And thus the final alternative to be disposed of, and perhaps also THE major culprit is this exploration of possibilities: established Christian–Religion.
The US Department of Defense with the coordination of a certain individual, a scientific individual and also a “fixer” of some sort, wishes to subsidize the Wuhan Lab if it will do gain of function (within species…) experimentation. What is going on here?
Scientists do have common sense. Bats are mammals. Bat viri can become dangerous for humans, as with SARS. So we wish to understand bat viri. So lets not only collect and sequence the DNA of bat viri, lets try to make them more functional if possible, functional here meaning more dangerous to the most important species, our own species, human beings.
Where is the societal approval? Why is religion not given an advisory seat at the table?
Left up to the common sense of ambitious and worldly scientists, gain of function work by a foreign lab might seem a sensible option. They promise to share their results with us.
But if religion were still recognized for its inherent validity it might add caution to common sense. We are not just studying rocks or frogs. This is a dangerous activity, as all are aware–even previous to the results of the last two years.
If the (Christian) religion, in my opinion, were not so obsessed with the pre-eminence of its own knowledge claims, it might arrive at a more sensible rapprochement with the knowledge claims of Science. In this case it would not have excluded itself from a seat at the table, and the opportunity to add some cosmic common sense to the one-sided common sense of other supposed Masters. So by its own overreach, religion is culpable in a Science situation such as this because it refuses to come to terms with the modern world.
Religion would gain a necessary influence by recognizing that it is no longer in charge of all “knowledge.” Philosophy ought always to recognize the place or validity of religion, but then religion must reciprocate and allow for philosophy. And philosophy chairs the discussion.
I hope that you are convinced…
So we imagine that whether present in an earlier bat virus collected by the Wuhan Institute, or manufactured by experimentation on some other virus, a new entity exists which is better able to get into human cells via a certain protein and the furin cleavage site–and cause serious problems for human organisms.
What follows is all fiction, but an insect, not necessarily a fly, gets into the freezer, picks up some material, and soon after gets out of the freezer. Perhaps it warms its feet on something that just came out of the microwave at lunchtime. Or else a technician, male or female, carrying a tray of petri dishes, picks their nose before noticing and duly recording that one of the dishes shows significant bio-genetic activity.
Going home for the night and soon to become sick, this individual transports the new biological code out of the Laboratory. Once out of the confines of the Laboratory, it will be impossible to re-confine it to any Laboratory. It becomes airborne and contagious.
Chinese-style lockdown has proven scientifically one new thing at least; that complete community lockdown can eradicate a virus of this sort. But this procedure is germane only at the earliest moments of suspicion: “Could this be a new and dangerous virus?”
Scientific desire to understand viri and how to deal with the danger to human kind of dangerous viri MAY have initiated an essentially artificial and pointless War against the human species that has to this point in time resulted in ten to twenty million deaths.
Are we ready for the religious consequences of such a possibility, the need to allow that human beings plus scientific knowledge are in fact so competent. And more importantly (and in my opinion only, of course–) Are we able to give philosophical understanding its proper authority–so as to put these other too-often overreaching realms–Politics, Religion, Science, within their proper and limited place.
I am not a fee-marketeer. The great recession and the Covid bailouts demonstrate to anyone paying attention that Capitalist dogma is not sufficient. It helps to have a paternalistic, i.e., socialistic government available in such situations. And as well, most of the Democratic causes of the moment I find to be misguided, utopian and/or dangerous.
What is the conscientious American citizen to do? If I say that I am independent of the two present political parties, in the hyper-political situation at present this only leaves me victim of both sides, each demanding that I join their army. Therefore today, February 15, 2023, I announce the establishment of a new political party. A party whose aims and principles I am able to support. The P3PS, or P3 Party, Party the Third, Party of Sanity and common sense.
My idea is to establish the basic and abiding contours of such a Party, and try to come up with a workable name, and leave it to others to continue, to do the dirty work of politicking, getting elected, governing. Quite seriously, I care most about the principles and ideas of such a new party, but maybe also, unless I am just playing here with words, I must be willing myself to actually be elected (–to some government position of relative importance…) And, although I am now in the age bracket of the retired, I am also willing to serve.
[For example, why do US States, other than NY State, refuse to disperse governing authority to cities and towns within the state..? This is an issue for State legislators to examine. Is it that States don’t trust smaller entities, even big cities, or is it that smaller entities are uninterested, or else are not competent? Would cities and towns, given more control, become power crazy, come unhinged..? But isn’t localized control and social cooperation exactly what is most helpful for something such as pandemic control?]
The name and identity I wish for this new party is that it be a Party of Sanity and Common Sense. This, seriously, as alternative to the two popular ideologies driving the present parties. IF, a big if, an anti-ideological Party begins to gain traction, begins to have followers, then of course we expect the blue and red parties to adjust politically; cooperate in order to minimize Party 3, or obfuscate their own ideological foundations. But I do not into any near future see the two American parties adjusting for the better their ideological allegiances. Do you?
The new party must be smart, meaning intellectual, and sensible. But not ideological. Able to use and support whatever idea it finds worthwhile, but always ideologically-de-fanged. As simple idea only. And must have the self-discipline to avoid over-simplification and overly-simplistic slogans! (Is the American public ready for such? Would it not be a welcome change?) Real situations, after all, are always complex.
[As quick aside, neither Economic Science nor modern (Social) Science theory can, in my opinion, provide such intelligence. The aim is not to build an Economic society, nor to build a new society from scratch, but to build upon the society we already have–as with J.S. Mill. Mill believed in achieving sensible arrangements for “economic distribution,” and also certainly believed that Liberty is based upon shared values which are taught the young during their years in school. But the adult, having completed such enculturation, ought not be target of government (nor social) propaganda and coercion. Let individuals enjoy their adult social life… Neither red nor blue party believe in such generous liberty… Both prefer the immature citizen. Easier to propagandize.]
And as very important proviso, the P3PS party must not be pragmatic. By this I mean that sensible ideas are all-important and should be foundation for all government policies and laws. Not an instrumental or technological pragmatism. We already have a collection of shared values. What are these? Just give me a description of how the native-English-speaking countries are different from Japan, Russia, or Polynesia. Commercialism and a blighted liberalism are eroding these values, but they are still present. But these values derive from and are maintained by educators, not via political ideology. P3PS must thus support education and arts rather than a stupid pragmatism; must have a larger conception of democracy, and thus will tend to reduce over-politicization of society and tend to reduce governmental overreach. Must have a sane appraisal of the limits of healthy government even while it tries to get its own people elected! Not easy!
But what is the alternative? More of the same, and being crammed into one of two ideological boxes; two regimented armies. We need another box. A more comfortable box. A Party of sanity and common sense and straightforward intelligence.
And not just because there are quite a few here where I am living at present–but I would propose the squirrel as logo-animal for a new political party. Squirrels are very quick and intelligent. They take consideration for the future by stashing acorns. They are not afraid of heights, of the intellectual effort needed to think somewhat abstract topics through to a sane conclusion. And they adapt to new technology, not afraid of using power-lines as a transportation shortcut rather that being mastered themselves by the newest communication infrastructure. And most tellingly, they distrust people. At present, all Americans are either blue or red. Were squirrels friendlier before elections and political parties, during the Colonial period? But at present, even in busy residential areas, squirrels seem to recognize that there is something wrong with the American two-party system. They don’t trust either Democrats or Republicans.
The orange squirrel along with the donkey and elephant would change all of this. Orange is a stronger color that blue or red. If the squirrel party ever becomes normalized we may add yellow tassels to the flag.
Is having two parties only, is this simple and smart, or is it harmful, as at present when both parties seem trapped and ideological? In sports, one team must win. But in politics, if both teams are losers, it is the larger public, the passive audience, that will suffer most. Politics is not really a game.
pkragt Feb. 2023
Why not relax and enjoy my retirement. I am not sure why. Is this my calling, my identity? To be like Plato’s horsefly and live always in danger of the horses’s tail? I hope not. But I do wish to offer myself as model citizen–but only because I have what I see as an improved, a better idea of citizenship. My valuable insight most recently achieved is that many of our big social problems are “caused” by our own commonly accepted and employed ideas. Seemingly ordinary ideas constrain and limit and oppress because they are inadequate and are not working…
Some persons hope to be able to deal with racism by way of a factually accessible incident such as this. I consider that a more fundamental effort is needed. Many of our social problems remain and fester because we are too lazy to “take on”–that is to reexamine, criticize, to improve upon our own ideas/values, such as “citizenship.”
Try to imagine this–a person who says, I now have positive feelings towards this law and justice system and the persons in it. I was doing some bad things. Officers P and Q arrested me, Judge R sentenced me. Warden S and guards T and U, they took care of me. I am now out of prison but cannot deny I have positive regard looking back at those persons and that system, because while in that system I had a (moral) conversion. I am now a better man.
Certainly this will be the very rare occurrence, but my suggestion at the moment, my improved suggestion, is that all citizens should have similar (if minimal) positive regard for their own system. Because this is my system. As citizen I own it and am responsible for it. Owning it, I will be free to criticize and agitate if it is abusive or thick with racism, or negligent and not doing its job.
On one side there are people with a knee-jerk law-and-order loyalty, as if to claim that by supporting law I presume government is good, and assert hereby with my loyalty that I also am a virtuous person. On the other side many persons view such knee-jerk loyalty as base. They assume themselves to be in possession of a higher apprehension of what is involved in social-justice, and tend to side with the criminal or arrestee. Compassion is more important than confinement. This system and its lackeys are guilty until proven innocent.
I am in neither camp. Because I have a third notion of citizenship, I am asking for something which may seem almost trivial but which I believe to be extremely important and valuable. A third and better idea of what citizenship is. I as citizen own this system. [This is idea #1] It is my/our local law enforcement system. No one else can or will take ultimate responsibility for it.
Looking back at news articles about Ferguson, a black and a poorer section of Saint Louis, MO, the fact of a largely white police force for a black community does seem to me, now, significant. Do we need to have police that generally correspond to the race of a community? Yes.[idea #2]
Also, what people are consistently missing in petty crime incidents that become lethal, is that the community [#3] in which these occur also needs to come out on the right side. Again, not knee-jerk, but not AWOL either.
Black kids brazenly lift a two dollar pack of cigarillos as they leave the local Seven-Eleven store. The clerk calls for the police and gives a description. A single officer sees two black kids walking in the middle of the road and stops to intervene, parking his vehicle so as to partially block this community thoroughfare. The petty-theft perpetrator leans into the police vehicle and according to police testimony throws in some cigarillos.
Whose neighborhood is this? If the community is healthy, the norm would be stated or expected: Yes, it is petty theft, but we don’t approve. But if the black community has given up on expecting to deter petty crime, then the “success” of police activity against petty crime is dubious. If a community is not on the same side and/or working with the enforcement system, how will petty crime be minimized. But how friendly will a community be if all the officers are white and pulling in a healthy paycheck…
In such a situation a dutiful white officer arrests someone for minor infraction and this racial difference easily becomes symbolic. Symbolic rather than realistic. An “outside” system is pressing upon this already disadvantaged community. Systemic racism.
The young man reaches in to stop the officer from pulling out his gun to initiate arrest of someone for theft of 2$, etc.
No one deserves to die for petty theft but no community or person wishes to be subject to repeated petty criminality either. This situation was not simple as such, as I have tried to show by adding to discussion the essential importance of the community to this incident, but people prefer simplification to the point of dangerous oversimplification. [important idea #4]
This Ferguson community, I assume ( and I am distant in space and time…) was already frustrated and the seeming-symbolic death of a black youth triggers unrest and rioting. The national media adds fuel because fire and rioting make for interesting video. Social justice warriors join in… But shouldn’t one be much more careful before assuming that a lethal use of force incident is appropriate cause for social-justice crusade? [very important idea #5] Though the facts look racist, shouldn’t the first question be, excessive or not? (But when is lethal force not excessive…?)
The legal dust has now settled and we can say the Aubrey was a victim of racism. This was and is a case appropriately made into a cause and suitable for social-justice crusade. But George Floyd? A visual-oppression meme, a striking and simplified image, made our close attention to this case inevitable. And many persons, including myself, are left after his death with a positive impression of him. He was certainly trying to overcome the forces that kept him down or kept him trapped. But this is after he dies. Where were you or I to help him before he died, or to help those one million Americans who have died of drugs in the last ten years. I believe that there is serious danger of hypocrisy here. [#6] We love our martyr, George Floyd. Or do we love ourselves for an imagined growth in our own pseudo-virtue and sympathy? If sympathy and racial understanding does not eventuate in behavior change, if we do not tend do anything now for people similarly put upon, distressed–has any national benefit or inner improvement occurred?
But how can any lethal use-of-force event NOT be excessive, some might ask. My own opinion, after extensive consideration, is that there are two or three “problems” in the police use-of-lethal-force scenario which actually have no “solution,” that is, problems which must always remain problematic. [#7]
One: There is no avoiding a forced arrest. In all countries around the world, arrest means physical restraint. This cannot be a pleasant experience nor is it a dignified situation for the arrestee. But false arrest, if this happens, might mean a court case and money coming back to the arrestee.
And as well, when the arrestee resists, all 50 states will have laws which describe an escalating set of liability levels. If I run away on foot this is only a misdemeanor; if I use a car or a weapon, this becomes felony resisting-arrest. (Only in Scandinavia is there no need to arrest people. Once given an official notice of arrest, everyone knows that they must shows up the next day at the police office to turn themself in…)
The taming of Wild West outlaws and bringing them into civilization, usually with use of revolvers; this is an American myth, and a good myth. We enjoy action movies which are a dangerous chase, sometimes the protagonist fleeing bad officials, and much property being destroyed in the process–shall we be squeamish now about a real physical tussle and forced arrest?
Two: I believe there is no good and obvious solution to policing the police. All lethal use-of-force events should be looked at carefully and thoroughly. But who shall do this and how? I don’t believe it would be fitting to bring all officers to trial, though that might seem to make sense. Trial for crime is a psychological ordeal. And I consider that police are best able judge police. But the county prosecutor and the police are always in the same business.
In Ferguson they had what seems a good system. Twelve citizens look at the incident and decide whether a police officer should be charged with criminal liability. With nine required to decide and with nine white and three black citizens in this instance, they decided not to charge the officer in the Ferguson lethal-arrest event. Was this racist or not. I don’t know. But it does seem like a reasonable system if one is hoping to avoid law-enforcement bias.
My opinion is that if the AMA were able to effectively and strictly get rid of bad-apple doctors there would be no need for all of the huge malpractice insurance fees now delivered regularly to lawyers and insurance companies. Or, who shall adequately police the clergy?
Three: It seems that there should be some method or option available short of lethal-force, especially for arrest for lesser crimes. But if you have any sound solution here let us hear what it is.
Imagine that one of our less populous states decides to get rid of guns for police. A couple of officer have a couple of guns in the safe for use with dangerous criminals. Ordinary officers need to be good at wrestling, then. Sending two or three officers to each arrest will be expensive. Allowing a suspect to run off makes building a case more difficult. (In England they use billy clubs still, as I take it. Would you favor this? But is this not brutal. How or where do they hit people in order to subdue? And technically speaking, once a weapon is introduced on either side, this is no longer a wrestling match. The arrestee is obviously in an adversarial situation and not just fleeing on foot. The person being arrested, if he/she is able, can overcome the officer and then grab their taser or their gun or their billy club.) Persons who are fast and agile will rack up a series of misdemeanor resisting-arrest charges, and will continue with their minor crimes. At this point do you condone a more dangerous use of force?
If you have a solution for the above three “problems” you might be deserving of a Nobel prize…
More than twenty years ago I moved to Seattle to live in a sparsely populated area of the downtown. A few years later there occurred a lethal-policing incident which I chose at the time to blog about because I was familiar with the intersection, and familiar by sight with the Native American street person. The video from within the police car shows this person walking across the crosswalk while holding a piece of wood and carving with a small knife. The officer jumps out of the police car. Drop the knife, drop the knife. Boom.
I blogged “against” the officer and said this was excessive because the city of Seattle had an ordinance that a knife of xx length was not allowed in public, but this knife was under that limit. The Seattle police officer should have known this. I felt that I had stuck my neck out, but Seattle, which you must understand is a very progressive city and not at all Pro-police, was not with me, the humble blogger! It took a long time for people to become somewhat vocal… But at the present moment and after other incidents have been publicized, social norms in the other direction are operative. In mild mannered Grand Rapids even the clergy are not worried about a rush to judgement.
The national media are salivating: will we have a pagan sacrifice… The public, myself included, enjoys watching a real-life video and weighing in with an evaluation. Loyoya was a black economically-disadvantaged arrestee and Schurr a white police officer. There is social momentum which draws in many individuals. This must be racially motivated and excessive and must be liable to criminal trial. As the public statement of 70 clergy persons states:
The death of Patrick Lyoya has devastated families – […] It has also devastated every person who watched the video of Patrick’s death and understood that blackness itself is considered a threat. Too often it is, itself, a death sentence. [… continuing]
It is anger that comes from admitting that we have created, accepted, perpetuated a system that trains an officer to discern that his best choice in that moment was to reach for his gun and pull the trigger.
But I think that it is this pack of seventy false prophets who have here gone off half cocked!
I saw the early video once, and a composite video once only since beginning to follow this news in the last two weeks. I am willing to go on the web-record as saying that I don’t believe that this is a good case to be made into social-justice cause. I do not see racism here. I do not consider that it was necessarily egregious or excessive. From looking at the video, my amateur but also informed opinion is that trial was not absolutely necessary. But the present social milieu would demand it. And perhaps, even if this general mood goes opposite to my sensibilities, such may not be so terrible. Centuries ago in various Christian European nations, criminals were tortured or executed as public spectacle. What exactly did this accomplish? What exactly was the intent? I am not sure. But at least people had a longer lunch break perhaps.
You, group of clergy, make claim to effect that “every person who watched the video of Patrick’s death and understood that blackness itself is considered a threat.” I absolutely disagree. A majority of viewers may agree with you opinion of guilt and racism, but how many of your own full group refuse this conclusion? If this is actually a uniform conclusion how could this happen? This can only be hypocrisy. All seventy? Are you, all of you, racism-inclined; you over-identify with the black skinned individual.
You are of course free to make whatever statements you wish, as long as I am also allowed, free of retribution, to describe honestly how I saw the video and how I see your opinions here.
By assuming racism are you not exacerbating and enflaming racism; race-baiting. Why do you not allow my system and your county judicial system to operate normally without this sort of vehement rhetoric as added pressure. You have in effect publicly condemned by this statement both the system as well as the individual officer on duty. Do not deny this. This is not just a general statement: We hope or wait for higher justice.
To be fair, this statement was early, while waiting to see whether the officer would be charged. You wished the officer to be charged. But in Seattle my opinion was also offered before the county prosecutor had decided. I was one prophetic sort of individual giving an individual opinion. But you are a clergy group making a group statement. 70 distinguished ladies and gentlemen, a non-clerical group displaying such an opinion, this would seem to me rhetorical and demanding, but not presumptuous. But yours is explicitly a clergy group, and as such I consider that you have gone off the clerical tracks here in you activism. You have gone from activism level one to level two, direct criticism. Level three would be politicized religion. Level four purely political. Level five a non religious social activism. and Level three quarters the raw hurt of people who may not be careful about what they are against but who have reason to be disgruntled.
(The reader can see the statement as well as description of past activities on the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors web site: https://www.grpastors.org/blog/archives/04-2022 )
I would like to set up the remainder of this blog as a sort of address, or informative sermon–as if I am addressing you all, all seventy in one lecture hall or church! If you stay till the end, there will be a scripture text and a short but worthwhile sermon. Let us begin.
Looking through this list of names, I guess that a majority may be white, and I notice that a lot of names may be Dutch, and many churches listed are Reformed or Christian Reformed. I am of Dutch ancestry, born in Holland Michigan and went to the (Dutch) Reformed college and two years to the seminary there in Holland. My father was a practical-activist evangelical Reformed Church minister and missionary. One day he was angry and this left me with a vivid impression. He had been helping someone who was up for trial. He must have had conversation with the judge and or lawyers and was hoping for a more lenient sentence. Was the judge merciless or was my father too personal. Maybe both. But years later I have two conclusions. The first is simply that these are like oil and water, Priestly religion and the ordinary activity of the judicial system. And the second is that I now have an improved conceptual and theological understanding by which I can better include these two. I have now a better theology and conceptual understanding, better because it is better for the present moment and is better able to conceptually include both of these sides. And this is very important. It is our inadequate ideas which oppress us..
I see from your web site that your group was founded to bring black and white pastors together. You have for five years been very engaged with the GR police department, inviting them to talk to you, praying for them, giving suggestions–some of which they may have implemented. You are invited to visit the court system and to ride with police on patrol, etc. The motive here seems unimpeachable, commendable. But on second consideration I might ask, what exactly are you doing? Is this degree of interest in police activity not a little bit strange?
Is this perhaps a debased and decrepit Calvinistic impulse. Yes. Decrepit because it has been five hundred years. Luther and Calvin were active and were wholistic in their recognition of the necessary importance of culture. Luther’s translation of the Bible from the original languages into German became a classic. He wrote music, compiled a hymnal. Bach wrote too many religious cantatas.
Calvin was classical humanist scholar and trained in law before he was on fire for a new Protestant mode of Christianity. He was not an official in the Geneva government but required that religion mesh with government to yield a small scale cultural ideal: the small and democratic city with all citizens having a Christian worldview. This was a potent ideal through to 1620. But what has happened in the city of Grand Rapids. The larger culture conception is long gone though you as clergy maintain a pragmatic help-the-city impulse…!
Debased in my opinion because of the evil pragmatic turn which Protestantism has taken. The simple gospel formula works. With a formula, what need is there to think? But Luther was Doctor of Theology and similarly was too easily dismissed by Cajetan. Rome already had its formula and was not interested in new theological interpretation.
This is a very serious indictment which I state but is also personal with me. I look at the pictures you have of your meetups and, though not clergy myself, imagine myself present. I am sure that I would be very uncomfortable. Why. Simply because I would wish to interact philosophically and on the level of ideas. I was a philosophy major in college. I went to various meetups in Seattle but stayed only with the philosophy meetup. Few Christians, but open and responsible debate of ideas. But there is none of this, I can guarantee, in your meetups. You wish to help people. You have absolutely no interest in ideas as such.
I will mention the shock I had when I got a C on my first exegesis paper at Western Seminary. I went in to talk to the professor but got nowhere. I was nervous. He referred to the commentaries. I tried to point out that “The word became flesh and tabernacled among us and we beheld his glory…” was not just about incarnation. Now I would say: The first and second words are both great and profound mystery, but isn’t John more interested in the second of these? The third word, glory, will be seen more explicitly in the tabernacling among men, in the second word, rather than in become-flesh, the incarnation as concept. Isn’t this John’s emphasis in the sentence as a whole? I don’t remember whether he gave me a B– or not, I don’t think so… So my gripe now is not with one professor. My gripe is with the Protestant religion as a whole. You wish to fix the racism in the policing system. I find a much more serious systemic corruption in Academia, in the National Media, and yes, in the Protestant religion. You all don’t dare to deal honestly and philosophically with ideas.
I notice that at one of your clergy meetups you asked someone to come and talk about white flight and the history of black schools in Grand Rapids. Why does this happen in all of our cities. Money moves out of the inner city, leaving only the Blacks, the Italians and the Polish. Why? If we can find a small city in America where rich and poor live side by side we need to send in the sociologists. What is their secret?
But what gets me angry is gentrification. I am lay theologian, artist and social critic. Artist types or genuine intellectuals are willing to take a lesser level of income because they love something else more. Is it city, or the complexity and wholeness of city? But once the genuine city plant grows at some particular locale, what happens? Rich people want to move closer. So more expensive apartments and infrastructure will follow and certainly kill off the healthy city-plant. It become too expensive for the people who love and do most to grow City–to stay.
It is standard economic argument to demonstrate how bad rent control is, or how bad it is to be in favor of the taking of private property for public use. Money and speculation must reign supreme and the ideal of city, the concept of city, must recede of course before these deities. No wonder we are confused about how to help American cities. We are captive within our own ideas.
I have written four e-published theological commentaries. When writing about Hebrews chapter 11, I was afraid. I am about to directly contradict and call out one of the big names in Protestant scholarship. I believe it was C. K Barrett whose commentary on Hebrews denied that there was any Christian theological meaning here. The patriarchs were looking for a city. Did those patriarchs actually know (whatever the city would have meant to them exactly…) that City, city as image, was something worthy of theological consideration and hope. Yes. But Protestantism denies this possibility. I am not arguing against small town religion. I am saying that city religion is also in the Bible. Have you not read Jeremiah, Lamentations, Luke, Baruch? There, Jerusalem as female personage welcomes back her children from exile. Post exilic Faith, I would say was small-city centric, democratic, etc.
Why is capitalism as theory so rationalistic and absolutist. Have you, caretakers of Protestant doctrine made a friendly alliance, holy or unholy, with this doctrine. Has this alliance now become harmful, socially oppressive?
Region must have core beliefs and also must be dogmatic in tone because it is about belief. Once we are convinced, we hold on to that truth with a certain dogmatic attitude. But is all of religious faith-belief absolutely fixed. No. City Christianity is possible. Papal religion is suggested in Matthew.
I consider that the best sermons identifying where systemic evil and sin exist–this honor must go to Bernie Sanders. His text is factual. Though he man not have answers, he knows where the systemic sin is located. Our economy does work for the populace as a whole. And the unhappy news for those waiting in line to vote would be that your vote does not matter. Neither party is serious, let us be honest, neither party is inclined to address intellectually this systemic problem within any near future. One party denies that there can be any systemic problem. Our capitalism is OK and will benefit everyone. The other party claims that it is concerned but is distracted by every crazy thing coming down the pike. Very outspoken, but very fearful of being seen as going against capitalism as American convention.
I believe we have the economic intelligence to produce some helpful advice here, meaning, how exactly must we make ADJUSTMENT of our capitalism, but all such intelligent persons are owned. They are too busy making money to think independently.
Ben Bernanke recently got a Nobel prize for helping with theory of how financial institutions can get back on their feet. Mr. Ben is on the record as saying that the recent crisis which hurt so many people economically was a management lapse. I am on the web-record as saying the Mr. Ben and his anti-philosophical conclusion is evil. There is no theoretical matter which must be addressed he suggests. Really!? Capitalism-theory is holy and perfect and complete. Managers slipped up. Then should we fire the managers? Who was the big manager of the financial system?! Mr. Ben would say that the Fed is not really about warning or regulating should excess speculative debt begin to build up within American society. The system will take care of itself. But is this not intellectual hypocrisy of the worst sort. Managers (like me, Ben) are, yes, responsible for management lapse, but not really responsible because the system will take care of itself. We slipped up, ok, and we don’t need to think about this any more !
I saw recently, was it in Economist Magazine, the complaint, again, that the US government should have saved Lehman Brothers. But follow this argument: It does not matter whether Lehman Brothers was “guilty” or not of any speculative excess. Capitalist theory requires that companies that fail be allow to fail. The government must not intrude in the market. This is holy ground. Stay out. But then how can you, Freemarketeer, say this publicly about Lehman, or believe it privately in your heart? For government to reach out and save a particular company would be a Socialist action–on your own theoretical terms. Thus you are either a blatant hypocrite and an open Socialist, or you are a closet hypocrite and closet socialist. Beware. Anyone who expresses or holds this same sentiment about Lehman must be Socialist.
As I have argued previously about Bernie Madoff: The ordinary citizen might imagine they would like to beat the system; run a ponzi scheme and get away with it. But the ordinary citizen knows that a ponzi scheme is illegal, wrong. So the question which every single person must give answer to, is, will you or will you not condemn Mr. Madoff from the heart? If you cannot, then isn’t your supposed support for capitalism-as-system hypocritical. Capitalism for you is not a value which one will suffer and pay to defend. It only means, I will try to get mine and you can try to get yours. This is not a theory or value worth defending.
Are we as general public being subject to an intellectual ponzi scheme perpetrated by the true believers in Capitalism. We are not being allowed to examine this dogma–theoretically, philosophically. While Mr. Madoff was on the board of directors of one of the stock exchanges…
I find a better conceptualization to be quite straightforward: There is no existing economy which can exist without the support or structuring of its government. Every economy requires a government. Therefore, this theoretical capitalist claim to economic independence and non-interference is nonsense. Without laws to allow corporations, regulate contract, create a currency, regulate imports an exports and tariffs and internal commerce and roads, etc. there is no economy as single live entity.
And an economy such as the US economy as a whole is a single entity because states cannot set up tariffs, state currency, etc. So who is most responsible for the way our single economy is structured? It is the Federal Congress. And this difficult job must be one of their most important tasks, and a job which only they can perform. States can tax and spend that revenue, but only Congressmen decide on the rules which shall structure the US economy.
I apologize if I have gone off subject. It is time for a scripture text and sermon.
While working on my book on the Theology of Paul (–yes this is ambitious–) I wanted to look again at who Mark was. I want to disentangle Paul from Mark. Who was Mark and where was he coming from?
Some consider that the gospel author mentions himself as the youth who runs away naked at the arrest of Jesus. So a month ago, before I took any notice of local news about Loyoya-Schurr, I reread all four gospels at this point. This is todays text.
And the differences are interesting. Matthew is most like what we think of as a political-force arrest. Jesus is King and subject to no earthly authority. But Jesus tells his disciples to sheath their swords. He must drink this cup and so to worldly authority.
Luke is very different. Jesus confronts the perversity of Judas before he has opportunity to hug Jesus. Would you betray the son of man with a kiss? Luke is the only gospel that mentions Jesus healing the severed ear, but Luke was a doctor. And Luke seems to consider that it is sufficient condemnation for Jesus to say, This is your time, night. You are people of darkness. And Luke only mentions that disciples draw their swords and ask whether they should fight back against arrest. Jesus does not directly answer them.
John has the crowd come with two types of lighting implement, lantern and torches. Jesus almost seems to jump out at them. Whom do you seek. The persons approaching fall back literally, on the ground. Jesus is the light of the world. And Jesus allows them to arrest him if they will allow his flock of disciples to go free.
But what might be happening in Mark? I have a far-fetched interpretation to offer here but of course you must be the judge. John says that it is Peter’s sword which cuts off the ear, and says that the high priest’s servant was named Malchus. Malchus is not so different from the Greek Markus.
Is the servant of the high priest an under age apprentice of priestly lineage, learning how the office is run, someday later to become priest and maybe eventually, high priest!? Could the young mentined in Mark be the same person as Malchus.
At Mark 14:50ff: And leaving him (Jesus) all fled (presumably the eleven disciples.) Then, And a certain young man is/was following him (presumably Jesus) clothed in a linen garment over his nakedness (without underclothes?) and they grasp (present tense) him (the youth) and he, leaving the garment, fled naked.
Did this certain young man who is/was “following him,” Jesus, join the eleven and Jesus after the last supper? The disciples flee first but he remains because they have hold of his garment. This would be to upstage the eleven. Or is this pericope about the conversion of Mark/Malchus, in effect leaving the physical arrest of Jesus to the background! He is under age. He comes with the arrest party but is already “following” Jesus. In the confusion and melee his ear is cut off and then healed. He comes with the Jewish high priest but flees with the true high priest, following, literally, the disciples. Like them he is afraid and confused. Is Mark modestly hinting that he is here describing his own moment of conversion?!!
A second and final sermon point is less far fetched, more substantial, but will yet require some persuasion. It depends on a word, the Greek ληστης, LHSTHS. I assume that almost all English translations will use the English word robber. In the three synoptics Jesus asks, (to paraphrase), Why have you come to arrest at night. Am I a robber? The meaning then would be close to criminal. The robber takes something, and by force, from someone else. The robber meaning used here would include the notion of force, as in arrest, but there exists no specific presumption that Jesus was either thief or robber. He has not stolen anything.
The Greek word actually seems originally to mean pirate and/or outlaw, a bandit. The pirate, outlaw and bandit are literally outside of any law, outside the norms of any society. I find this a more complete and appropriate meaning. Jesus asks, am I an outlaw or pirate that you arrest me in this way. The opposite of outlaw, the meaning that this would imply, would be–citizen. Am I not a law abiding and morality-respecting person within this community or society? Citizen as word correlates now with the modern state, but this basic concept would be normative in any sort of society. Am I not an upstanding member of this society? How dare you treat me as if I am second class citizen on not even a citizen, an outlaw?
Why does this sound to you or to the English language translators to be less than adequate? Is being a mere citizen inadequate. Jesus was spiritual teacher and Savior. We must keep him on a pedestal. But Jesus insisted that he not be put on a pedestal. He chose to walk at our level.
Luther was emboldened by the mere phrase, “priesthood of all believers.” Protestantism is democratic in the religious dimension. All souls are of equivalent dignity. But is Protestantism afraid of a complete political democracy?
Am I not a citizen? Does this not have a democratic and a religious resonance, both?
John seems to give great weight to the statement of the Jewish high priest: It is best that one die for the whole people. Good religion or bad, Jesus seems to submit to this destiny and in his person creates the genuine religion. But in Luke I don’t consider that it is to much or too little to say that Jesus establishes the true new humanity, the true (and democratic) citizenship. Our citizenship is local and limited, but his now, universal.
This same country began, centuries earlier, with vague talk of freedom and democracy, but over a very long span of time these ideas had lost much of their specific meaning. And thus in order to provide the word freedom with more excitement, party X decided to redefine freedom–as being economic freedom.
There was an old temple complex in the capital city, a temple building itself and a walkway just inside the outer walls–which walls ran all around. People had been accustomed to use this area to walk and talk, or to walk alone and meditate, as in a Medieval cloister. But party X decided they would build a shopping arcade in this area, an open-air mall. There was vague memory of a rule that business ought not be allowed in the temple precincts, but this new central shopping area was very nicely designed and became very popular. And party X gained in prestige as well.
Party Y at this juncture did not believe that they could directly challenge the popularity of the new economic definition of freedom, (and perhaps did not really care so much about old religious or legal rules), but they were certainly miffed because they could not, for their own part, come up with a more exciting alternative to freedom than such a nice-looking outdoor marketplace.
They decided to rent the second level of the shopping arcade. They first put in a five star hotel for the benefit of women soon to be having an abortion. Abortion is not a pleasant experience but at least these few individuals would feel more comfortable…
People who evade the border police demonstrate a certain ingenuity, and ingenuity is certainly valuable to business managers. So they built a game center with free trinkets and miscellaneous prizes just for the benefit of any such illegal immigrants.
Then plans were put in motion for a textbook publishing house. Believing that cappuccino-colored skin is the best–since it includes both foamy milk-white and just the right amount of dark brown chocolate color–(but not enough to make it as muddy like mocha), they made sure that this theory of skin color was included in their inexpensive textbooks, and hoped that this theory might be inculcated in as many elementary-age children as possible.
And perhaps to scare off the other party and thus get them to abandon the temple area (reasons here are not clear…) they further built a sex change clinic on the second level. Freedom meaning being able to change gender, or perhaps it means having no gender. At very least this enterprise would provide honest work for a limited number of surgeons, endocrinologists, and psychologists.
But what party Y wanted most of all was for the populace at large to become Science aficionados. If enough people become Science aficionados then universal truth, decency and toleration would spread over all the world, and it would be possible to get rid of ALL governments once and for all. And this certainly was impressive as a new vision of freedom. But for EVERYONE to reach this level of enlightenment, each and every individual would need to learn Science while in school. After extensive public discussion on the practicality of this policy, it was decided that this was simply not feasible–because as most will agree, Calculus is too difficult.
Party Y had certain lawyers who became adept at detecting human rights embedded in the Law, thus expanding the scope of human freedom. This was quite exciting both for the pioneers digging in this goldmine, as well as for the partisans of party Y. Discovery of new freedoms! But this same procedure soon became addictive, addictive like nicotine. The addict does not wish to stop. Is it the nicotine rush or is it the feeling of relaxation that becomes the desideratum? (I hope that you are able to grasp my metaphor..)
How did both parties, X and Y, become so thoroughly confused? Having made bad decisions in the past, the easier option for parties as for persons is not to re-assess but to continue pushing forward. In the far distant past “democracy” must have once meant something, it may have actually been a more important word than freedom! But now it had only a pragmatic meaning: vote either for X, or else vote for Y. Perhaps it had been acceptable in earlier times, but at this later date thinking was no longer encouraged. Only choose between one of two parties. And unfortunately, most of the populace had come to believe that the only things in the world–were things.
The temple area was overcrowded from its daily pedestrian traffic and suggestion was made that the temple walls could be greatly enlarged. A much larger area would help to relieve this problem, and perhaps there was hope that with more space available the factious two parties could co-exist, agree to disagree.
The central temple building itself, already in ruins, could be removed to make one large public square, or, someone suggested, condoned off as a historical site and tickets sold to tourists so as to produce an income stream. And then a significant sum was spent on engineering plans for a suspension walkway to be constructed on the OUTSIDE of the enlarged perimeter walls. But such a walkway would need to be wide enough to accommodate joggers and persons walking at different speeds. The idea was abandoned.
What happens next in this strange country?
This description of party X, party Y, and country Z, has in fact been an advertisement, and somewhat enhanced and fictionalized–in order incite the reader’s interest in a more detailed historical account. But the reader/viewer must be warned that history proper is messy, complicated and less interesting than media entertainment or fiction. And unpleasant. And also is not free. If you are able to go along with the above stipulations and would like to receive a more detailed history of country Z, then you will need to subscribe:
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After success in various small cities, Paul is opposed by jealous and non-believing Jews, and also threatened at Lystra by pagan locals who initially, after a miracle is performed, worship Paul and Silas as gods come down to earth, but then later stone Paul, leaving him for dead–apparently hoping to get rid of what had caused them embarrassment via exposure of their primitive and overly superstitious religious devotion.
Here already in the middle of the Acts account, it seems to me that Luke identifies a cultural or social envy/jealousy as cause of opposition. That is, Jewish opposition is not primarily a doctrinal opposition nor a traditionalist controversy–as Paul’s own initial opposition to Christianity may have been. That is, Paul (perhaps) had been opposed to this innovation, the new Christian Way, because of an extreme zeal for maintenance of and protection of Jewish Tradition. Paul himself states that he had been “ignorant,” and thus might obtain forgiveness. It was a dispute over principle. But as Luke describes the unrelenting Jewish opposition in Acts, this seems to me to be motivated not just by frustration over synagogue members being poached by a rival religion, but anger at the suggestion that there perhaps was in existence a better culture, a superior way of life than that being practiced at the moment by these Diaspora Jews. (It is Diaspora Jews who earlier bring Stephen up on charges, and it will be Diaspora Jews who later rile up the Jerusalem crowds and grab Paul and begin beating him, thus bringing about Paul’s protective “arrest” by the Roman soldiers stationed in Jerusalem.)
It seems to me that according to Luke’s theology, Christianity may be characterized as a citizenship and/or a culture, and as this new alternative culture becomes more common and pervasive in the Mediterranean world, as it gradually becomes better established, this itself provokes malicious reaction, culture-envy. People begin to persecute a new culture if and when they fear that their own culture, in comparison, does not measure up.
I have been describing Luke’s worldview as can be picked up by reading theologically between the lines of his historical narrative, but in his first Thessalonian letter (and probably the earliest writing in the NT Scripture) the apostle Paul’s worldview is very similar: (I Thes 2:14-16)
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.
ὑμεῖς γὰρ μιμηταὶ ἐγενήθητε, ἀδελφοί, τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν τοῦ θεοῦ τῶν οὐσῶν ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ ἐν χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὅτι τὰ αὐτὰ ἐπάθετε καὶ ὑμεῖς ὑπὸ τῶν ἰδίων συμφυλετῶν, καθὼς καὶ αὐτοὶ ὑπὸ τῶν Ἰουδαίων, τῶν καὶ τὸν κύριον ἀποκτεινάντων Ἰησοῦν καὶ τοὺς προφήτας καὶ ἡμᾶς ἐκδιωξάντων καὶ θεῷ μὴ ἀρεσκόντων καὶ πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις ἐναντίων, κωλυόντων ἡμᾶς τοῖς ἔθνεσιν λαλῆσαι ἵνα σωθῶσιν, εἰς τὸ ἀναπληρῶσαι αὐτῶν τὰς ἁμαρτίας πάντοτε· ἔφθασεν δὲ ἐπ’ αὐτοὺς ἡ ὀργὴ εἰς τέλος.
Modern commentaries have no idea what to do with this. It sounds racist to the modern ear. But the modern Western ear, it may be, is deaf to culture and convention while overly obsessed with law. How does it happen that new believers in Thessalonica come to imitate the Christian groups existing in Judea? By a sort of natural-spiritual birth into democratic-imperial citizenship. This would be my explanation. It happens naturally, naturally-spiritually, and without prodding of authority, or imposition of structure or scheme. And I would guess that, as well, this is a motive for these first two letters to the Thessalonians. Phenomenological evidence for democratic Christianity. Look what just happened! Paul says. You were there to witness what happened as well as I. Was this or was this not a democratic happening!
Paul and his companions had been beaten and jailed in Philippi, miraculously released, the jailor gives them a meal, they demand that the authorities apologize officially, they still must leave the city, etc. Still in shock from all of this, when they begin talking to the Thessalonians we can imagine that they are just glad to be alive. They are not “officials” bringing a message or imposing a schematic structure…There was no authority-polity scheme in the background. Their appeal was strictly personal. Paul seems to wish to say that they as leaders were childlike, and treated the new Thessalonians converts like a nurse holding a baby to keep it warm. Please read I Thes 2:1-12. There was no ulterior motivation, nor authority structure presupposed here. The people in Thessalonica saw that Paul’s imitation of Jesus was genuine and they imitated Paul and were converted, transformed, by Paul’s vision. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, Paul states at I Thes 1:6.
This low-key emphasis is congruent with the theological emphasis in Luke’s gospel. If Matthew can show in his Sermon on the Mount teaching-compilation that Jesus fulfills the Sinai lawgiving in the OT by repeating some of the awe and authority of Sinai, Luke may as well be allowed to demonstrate how Jesus’ Address on the Plain (“Blessed are you among my disciples who are poor…”) fulfills the second OT giving of the law in Deuteronomy, in a humanistic and democratic manner.
Jesus, initially and individually, as humanistic prophet, fulfills what it means to live in the kingdom of God; he demonstrates how to enter into this democratic-imperial Divine regime. As narrated in the book of Acts, the earliest Christians, inspired by and imitating the example of Jesus’ citizenship, were refused permission to use the Jerusalem temple via Stephen’s martyrdom. Then (presumably) after fleeing to nearby Judea, these new-life citizens also provoke envy or dislike from other Judean fellow citizen-residents. Then, this same thing happens far away on the Greek peninsula. A small group of new believers must leave the synagogue there and are persecuted by both Jews and non-Jews in that far away locale–simply because the excitement of this new culture/life/citizenship was disturbing to their immediate neighbors. This new Life provoked envy.
That is, Christianity is, by Divine intent, a fulfillment of the culture-ideal sketched out in Deuteronomy by Moses. Thus, Jews who reject this are opposing a newly revealed and Divinely approved culture. And because the culture of Jesus is humane, persons who oppose this culture are malicious in an anti-humanistic manner. As Paul states in a brief sentence, πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις ἐναντίων, the malicious opposition of these persons evidences an anti-human sentiment, literally, they are against all of mankind. In-humane.
All human beings naturally desire and appreciate a better culture, a better way of life. But wherever this new way of life spreads, Paul states, it is meeting this same sort of envious opposition, not only a very intense opposition from non-believing Jews, but also persecution from neighboring non-Jews as well. (–I take the final phrase about destruction already having come upon such people, I take this to be an angry expression/prediction on Paul’s part: People who oppose positive life-culture deserve whatever calamities befalls them.) This is the same motive which had led to the death of Jesus.
In this first letter addressed to a local church Paul does mention the “instruction”which he had left with the believers at Thessalonica as being important, but the stronger emphasis which I note here (which I take literally also) is the word θεοδίδακτοί, taught of God, I Thes 4:9. You are directly God-taught , not merely instructed by us as three exemplary leaders or as authoritative source of all doctrine. You individually were inspired by an offer to freely enter the democratic-imperial Kingdom, you did so, and have now become famous for your citizenship. You are taught of God directly to love the brother-citizens not just in your own city, but in the rest of the peninsula, in the rest of the world.
Paul does not in fact use any citizenship terminology in the Thessalonians correspondence, this citizenship paraphrase is mine. But I am suggesting that Paul’s view of the Christian religion is fully congruent with Luke’s theological worldview. As I have explained in my e-published commentary on Luke-Acts, for Luke, religion would always exists at universal/temple/(apostle) level AND at synagogue/local group level AND at the level of the solitary family or individual-prophetic believer.
How should we read that seventh word in the first sentence of both of these letters? Does that word, when it was written at this juncture in history in the middle of the first century CE and a hundred years prior to agreement on an official Christian canon, does this word really contain no citizenship meanings?!
Why is it so difficult to convince the intelligent Western (Christian) reader that there is a pure and wholesome democratic meaning and sentiment present in the source documents of Christianity?
Paul says the Thessalonians were taught about brotherly love (brotherly citizenship) directly by God. Then later, in one sentence in this letter:
Ἐρωτῶμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, εἰδέναι τοὺς κοπιῶντας ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ προϊσταμένους ὑμῶν ἐν κυρίῳ καὶ νουθετοῦντας ὑμᾶς 13 καὶ ἡγεῖσθαι αὐτοὺς ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ διὰ τὸ ἔργον αὐτῶν.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (I Thes 5:12 ESV)
That is, I read this as Paul pointing out in a simple and indirect manner a certain democratic phenomenology: first you were inspired by a (democratic) commonality, then later and within a very short length of time there were also some persons placed in leadership status/role among you. Give these persons also a little extra love, simply because they are doing extra work. (Don’t exclude them from the real group just because they are leaders.) But the commonality we must admit is foundational and prior.
As Luke describes this in Acts at the close of the prophet-project, Paul returns to the various local groups of believers and gives his own approval to certain new leadership-persons by laying his hands on these persons. Did Paul or did the Thessalonians select the Thessalonian leaders. Does it matter? What the modern Christian reader has difficulty admitting, is the fact that polity and leadership seems strictly (in these two instances at least) to be a secondary thought. Paul begins with the democratic. Protestant English translations which I have looked at all water down the love at this point, because they cannot believe that Paul actually means, as the Greek says–although your leaders were added subsequently, secondarily in effect, do not neglect them. Show them commonality-feeling, love, also. The commonality comes first, before polity, authority, structuring!
We all are aware of what has happened to this word, the Greek word ἐκκλησίᾳ. It originally meant (democratic) assembly of city-state citizens, town-hall assembly. But as some juncture in history this word morphs into a purely religious-technical term, Church. (The word is employed often, for example, in the LXX in Deut, but this proves my point also. Moses is there addressing the whole assembled people in the TransJordan in citizen mode; He is exhorting citizenship rather than giving a religious address, a sermon.) And because, following the Western mode of distinguishing these realms religion is considered to be more important than the political, therefore, once religion has taken over this word for its own purposes, lesser democratic-political meanings shall no longer allowed for this word, church. [But democracy is Social, I insist, not political…]
In an earlier chapter I said that this word had been “stolen.” Was my rhetoric smarter than I knew at that time? Was this theft an actual crime of some sort which continues to have repercussions into the present. The goddess Athena was protector of the Athenians. This word and this image must have been near and dear to her heart: an association of actively thinking democratic citizens meeting together to engage in democratic business. Are contemporary Western intellectuals yet cursed by Athena and therefore unable to properly conceptualize democracy–as a direct consequence of the theft, twenty centuries ago, of this Greek word! Certainly Western intellectuals remain unrepentant. They will not admit any fault, and refuse to return the word. Going to Church-assembly, this now means an activity that only religious people can engage in…
I do believe (as I have often before complained) that there actually is a severe malady here, a bizarre social psychopathology. The West offers itself as protector and promoter of Democracy but has difficulty conceptualizing a genuine (social) democracy, and further, is not capable of understanding how a wholesome conception of democracy (if once achieved) might be applied in a more limited fashion, to voting politics, for example, or even to religion(!).
I present myself as being a reliable social critic, but this does not require that I myself am an ideal democratic citizen. But this doesn’t keep me from my insistence that there exists a serious intellectual block here. Western intellectuals are stunted, stupefied. (My focus is, as should be clear, only only with the realm of ideas.) Does theft of the Greek word ekklesia (citizen assembly), does overemphasis on the word Church, does defining the Christian religion primarily via this one word church (ekklesia)–has a resulting Churchianity actually stultified Western apprehension of better meanings which ought to be available within Democracy as value?
I believe that both democracy and authority are equally inherent to and valid within the human condition. That all persons are basically of a certain worth, this is undeniable. But in most situations, as we might imagine now for example, after destruction of war or natural disaster, the person who says that we need to organize, we need someone in charge–this need for organizational authority will seem to be the more immediate or pressing exigency of the two. Though authority and democratic sentiment are both normal and natural within the human situation, authority is often the more immediate and more pressing necessity.
And thus I believe that while both Luke and the apostle Paul recognize the natural tendency of people to look for, to rely on organizational authority also within religion–I consider that both of these authors favor a fundamental democracy within religion. Thus if we must talk also about polity in religion, as we usually must, sooner or later, these two authors should be described as favoring a “democratic polity.”
In writing his history of the earliest decades of the Christian religion, describing the new Christian religious movement as phenomenon within larger history (–not in writing Church history–) Luke therefore must also remain fair. Democracy may be his interest, but he knows that the natural tendency as well as the interest of many others will be to fix upon some specific mode of authority and organization for the sake of this new and growing Christian religion. Therefore he must be fair to describe a significant amount of as-yet-undecided polity-ambiguity as existing, in actual fact, in those earliest years.
For example, the twelve are selected by Jesus as a certified layer of historical witnesses, but once these twelve die there will exist no such eye-witness-apostles. What gives birth to later apostles? How do James (the younger brother of Jesus) and then Saul become apostles? Why write an Acts of the Apostles which includes only Peter, Philip, James, Saul. And as well, Peter is sometimes a good leader but sometimes not, as when Peter must be taught to accept the pagan centurion Cornelius as convert to Christianity. Thus Luke must leave various polity possibilities open because at this time these actually are yet in early stages of formation.
The church begins in the Acts account with just over a hundred disciples plus the twelve, these all happy to use the Jerusalem temple. But what comes next after Stephen is stoned to death and Christians have no more temple available to them?
Again, Antioch is clearly described by Luke as being beyond any explicit political-style jurisdiction by the presumptive leadership at the headquarters in Jerusalem. As Luke describes this, the council letter is taken from Jerusalem to Antioch by prophets, and prophets have at best a local authority. Next, one of these letter carriers, Silas, is taken along by Paul and is one of three authors who address the Thessalonian church via another letter. Thus, Paul’s first two letters, soon after the council letter, can be regarded as continuation of the advisory Jerusalem council letter which had been addressed as clarification, not law, to the regions northwest of Jerusalem. Later on, Peter himself decides to write a letter of his own and to use this same Silas to deliver his letter. Different religious-polity preferences are still in play…
I use the word culture-letter in my chapter title because it seems to me that Paul is here consciously choosing an authority mode towards local churches, and that mode is NOT jurisdictional nor doctrinal. It is specifically personal, we may note, but also asserts some sort of authority. Paul will not yet in these first two letters label himself second-generation-democratic-prophetic apostle, but he does assert some sort of authority. What kind of authority can this be?
εἰ δέ τις οὐχ ὑπακούει τῷ λόγῳ ἡμῶν διὰ τῆς ἐπιστολῆς, τοῦτον σημειοῦσθε μὴ συναναμίγνυσθαι αὐτῷ, ἵνα ἐντραπῇ
Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. (IIThes 3:14 NRSV)
“Mingle but do not mix” with such a one, this might be my paraphrase of τοῦτον σημειοῦσθε μὴ συναναμίγνυσθαι αὐτῷ. Thus Paul it seems to me is asserting what I wish to call a cultural authority rather than a doctrinal or jurisdictional authority. But can there be such a thing as cultural authority in religion? Could this be the authority mode chosen here by Paul as being proper to the “democratic” apostle.
I do believe that Paul in these letters is quite aware of religion-polity as background issue. (Can the genuine democrat, religious or non-religious, go for long without such a nuisance, go for long without external persons/forces hoping for more authority, hoping to take over, raising the authority topic.) But how or where does Paul present his polity preferences as answer to this topic as issue?
Both letters mention the un-ordered person, the ἀτάκτος person. Some few persons may in fact have been so excited by their new religious life they may have given up their jobs, stopped working. But Paul also points to the fact that Paul and Silas had worked to earn a living while at Thessalonica. Even as religious workers they did not transcend this curse from Genesis which is part of the human condition: humans must work in order to survive. Christianity does not change this exigency.
Thus I consider that Paul is mentioning the ἀτάκτος person in both letters in order to show that Paul himself is well enough aware of a philosophical topic here within the context of democratic religion, and that his own democratic preferences must also provide answer to order as topic. How shall the democratic religious group be ordered? If this is a democratic empire which we have joined and we are now citizens (a member of this small local group might ask) what exactly are we supposed to be doing?
And to this I believe Paul does give an answer (again encapsulated it seems to me in a single word in both letters) but I am afraid that Paul’s answer will not satisfy many readers: Quiet. Buddhist-quiet. At I Thes 4:12 there is a strange but also perhaps very powerful phrase: φιλοτιμεῖσθαι ἡσυχάζειν, aspire to honor and love the quiet life would be my non-professional paraphrase, and then from II Thes 3:11-12, certain persons are…
not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (ESV)
The word quietly in this last sentence may not seem like a religious term, nor seem important enough to be thematic, but I believe that it is both of these. That is, Paul and Luke place the religious life not in contradistinction to the political or secular realms, but to the economic. The economic is whatever we need to do to survive, to be able to eat and stay warm. Quiet is that alternative realm which religion offers. Quiet here is not an adverb. It is a way of life, it is culture of a religious kind.
Quiet-citizenship does not compete with the political-governmental but is actually larger than the political-social realm; It comprehends the political-social. It competes in importance, competes for living space, rather, with another major realm, the economic. Thus both religious citizenship and the ordinary social-political citizenship exist in one realm which then is in contradistinction to another realm, the Economic.
Thus I do believe that to read Paul as if he is a pragmatic churchman is quite inadequate, false. If Paul views the Christian religion as a “universal” sort of citizenship rather than as membership in one of various local churches, then this universal viewpoint is fundamental. As (democratic) apostle Paul has an official role within religion and works within and for religion. But the Christian religion must be universal, and it is the Apostolic level or the temple level (I would claim) which ensures this universality. At Romans 15:16 Paul describes his activity as follows:
εἰς τὸ εἶναί με λειτουργὸν χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ εἰς τὰ ἔθνη ἱερουργοῦντα τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ
to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God
Here, priestly work is specifically religious, obviously, but I am able to read Paul’s “gospel” as not specifically religious. The gospel for Paul is metaphysical good news. It is the true factuality of Jesus coming from God to live in the world, etc. This is historical reality, historical claim, not religion… It is within the context of this larger and universal situation, Jesus having entered the world, this news, that Paul works at a local level, works for local churches.
This is an early letter of Paul but a late chapter in my book, a book which aims to interpret Paul. I have postponed a difficult topic. As most will recognize, religious “polity” is a very contentious and involved topic. But as I read between the lines in the Thessalonian letters I find that this topic, polity or structure in religion, also exists as backdrop for Paul. Paul could not avoid this topic. But if, as I claim, Paul is offering a complete version of his democratic polity via the two Thessalonians letters, why does he not just say so explicitly: this is the polity…? He presents only, rather than defines, I would say, because what he is about, what he aims for, what is most important in his view is not polity, authority arrangements or structure, but life, culture. He writes to encourage and grow culture, not obedient regimentation as such.
What then is the “democratic (religious) polity” of Luke and Paul as this is presented in these two earliest letters? It involves three things: a mature person to guide, an inspired democratic local group of believers, quiet individual Citizenship in a larger Divine kingdom. But for the reader looking for structure or authority, this answer likely will seem inadequate.
The polity topic cannot avoid influencing other notions regarding church, authority and doctrine, etc., or for example the issue of individual versus group. I, for one, believe it is futile to argue against groupism and for more emphasis on the religious-democratic individual believer. Individuals necessarily and normally always have the group and the social as some sort of complement. And as complement, I believe, to subjective prophetic Christian religion of the individual–will be a temple, something objective. Democratic Christian religion must have its temple. While this might seem a strange claim to assert, I believe that both Luke and Paul would agree. Perhaps talking about the idea of temple is a better way to approach the polity topic.
At one of the two harbors of Corinth, Cenchreae, Luke describes Paul cutting his hair according to some sort of vow, and then when Paul returns to Jerusalem he is convinced there by certain Jewish Christians to pay for others who are entering into a vow, and to join them and sacrifice at the Jerusalem temple, etc., (Acts 21:20-25). What is motivating Paul here?
My guess is that these Jewish Christians are saying that they will allow that circumcision is not expected of any non-Jews worldwide, that the council letter has a universal validity, but for the Jew who is Christian, we ourselves and you Paul, do you really find nothing further of positive value within the Mosaic law tradition? (Not anything binding or required, but anything of positive benefit.) A vow is made with regard to something external, and larger in value than one’s self, is it not. Does Paul still value the Jerusalem temple as objective psychological correlative of higher values…
A vow would be individual religion, level three, and the temple towards which a vow is made, level one. The local church, level two, is not involved here. The Jews living in Jerusalem had shown that the Christian populace are no longer welcome at the Jewish temple, but Paul is an apostle. Does being a Christian apostle give Paul some sort of special right (or responsibility)? When Paul is dragged by an angry mob out of the temple precincts Luke says that the doors were closed. Is this phrase theological?
Both temple and Christian apostle, I would insist, must be universal. Both Moses (in Deuteronomy) and Solomon the temple-builder and temple-keeper see a temple building as universal-imperial, for all peoples. Solomon prays that his temple complex might be a House of Prayer for all peoples. Solomon here seems to be ahead of his times in such spiritualization of religion. Religion does not depend upon physical props. But if this–Solomon’s brand new temple, is primarily or essentially for prayer–why is a temple even necessary?
So at that moment when the temple doors are shut against Paul, Paul can no longer depend upon these Jerusalem buildings (which he had earlier been acquainted with) to crystalize and re-present the best values or ideals of his religion, and he as apostle must now take personal responsibility for this necessary task, re-presentation and/or maintenance of the highest values. (And as I would claim, what seems to me most essential within higher values would be universality.)
I am reminded of Moses in the Exodus narrative (pls. see Ex 32-34 as single story…) who, after the golden calf apostasy, must, in his person, become the personal means accepted by Yahweh in order to salvage the ongoing religion project. Is it the work of the democratic apostle to try to salvage the democratic Solomonic Temple, to build or maintain this first level of religion, an objective and external temple as external re-presentation of values and ideals! Yes. A task for democratic Christian prophets and apostles both.
Luke as doctor, official portraitist of the Virgin Mary, as Christian historian, gospel writer and theologian, was not apostle but prophet, ordinary Levite. As self-dedicated prophet and non-priestly Levite, (and not an ordinary prophet as would be all ordinary Christian believers) Luke makes his various contributions to a Solomonic temple. But Paul as Christian prophet and apostle has an official status which is more specifically religious. Paul is a priestly Levite, a prophet become apostle. Luke it seems to me contributes unofficially, but the apostle is an official within Paul’s democratic religious polity as I have tried to describe this. He works within local groups, churches, but also must work to maintain the complete set of values and beliefs at a universal level…
All people within a normal or healthy community/society will develop and operate according to a particular culture, a set of norms. And I expect there is also a natural impetus to have good and important values objectively stated or made visible. Not as law but as art and literature. But this then becomes a specific culture of this one particular people. Christianity is a universal religion; it cannot be a specific culture, can it.
But Deuteronomy and the Gospel of Luke offer principles or touchstones, I would say, that do exactly this. They describe the contours of a specific culture which has Divine approval.
But is a Christian temple necessary? I have heard with my own ears numerous Protestants state that “temple” is abolished, the concept has no place in spiritual religion. Jesus was both priest and victim. Although for many centuries a first and second temple would have stood at the center, so to speak, of OT religion, Christianity is a more spiritual religion and needs no such temple.
But just prior to the thematic climax of Mark’s Gospel which is a face to face confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish high priest in chapter fourteen, there are charges made by false and conflicting witnesses that Jesus had the following: I will destroy this temple and I will build another which is not of human construction. But both of these claims must be false according to Mark. Jesus himself does not destroy the Jerusalem temple, and Jesus does not plan to build another non-physical temple as replacement. Why does Mark include these two false statements? Might believers for their own benefit or aid build a Christian temple? Is this topic of later “temple” deliberately left open by Mark’s text here?
Is temple only about sacrifice? In Leviticus Moses receives all of the detailed instructions about various sacrifice and about sacrifice to sanctify the altar, vestments, etc., receives all of this instruction while within the holy of holies and standing before the mercy seat, the solid gold cover of the ark. There is both altar for sacrifice, and ark. Manufacture of a guided ark is the very first item which Moses is given instruction about when he arrives at the top of Mount Sinai.
Chronicles clearly separates ark and altar (theologically I would insist) and there are Levites and priests serving at both locations prior to ark and altar being brought back together within the newly constructed temple of Solomon. Temple, it should be obvious, is not just for the sake of priestly sacrifice.
How does Paul as (democratic sort of) apostle contribute to a temple. Intellectually, I would say. Just as a temple is temporal, ephemeral in fact because all physical things disintegrate, so the intellectual as such is effort to grasp existentially the Truth at the present moment, and need not claim to be doctrinal, truth-statement that can be recorded on paper for the sake of all later generations. If Paul values culture over doctrine or tradition, then he wishes Christians to think and not merely to acquiesce to something spoon fed to them… The non-Christian who reads Paul’s letters will conclude that this is Paul’s defining personal quality: he was a determined intellectual. He values intellectual effort.
Looking at modern eastern or western Christianity from this point of view, I see a broad desert. There is no such Pauline activity, and sad to say, there is little encouragement of such. No one sees the necessity or benefit of apologetics. According to my standards this is proof that there exists no Pauline Christianity in the modern world. Paul is recognized as having been a wonderful intellectual and theologian, but no one seeks to imitate him…
I would like to revive the word apologetic, and constructively enlarge its English meanings as follows. Paul believes in culture-apologetic, not doctrine. Apologetic can explain religious values and ideas to a non-Christian audience, but it also is essential for enabling Christians to live in the world in relation to ideas and values of the moment which are (of course) non-Christian. It is a constant effort to enlighten those who aim to follow a Christian life in the world. But it is not sequestered, it is universal. Non-Christians also can read and examine Paul’s culture-apologetic addressed to believers. Paul believes strongly in the value of interpretation of OT writings, and he recognizes a possibility also that his own writings may be included in a later NT cannon. But he himself does not believe in doctrinal definition as such, as if one simplified set of statement for teaching or confession is ideal. He believes and models an active and intellectual activity which seeks to understand the place of the Christian in a democratic present. Not order within a doctrinal framework but life within a culture-apologetic temple.
The worldview of the prophetic Christian believer, I would say, is framed by two happenings, both of which involve Jesus: Jesus Christ coming into the world and living in Palestine, dying, being raised with a new body, etc., and then Jesus coming again at the close of the age to battle Evil and usher in a new heaven and earth. This is not doctrine but worldview. Religion within such a prophetic perspective is not just personal belief-choice, nor just about human history as such, but is cosmic, and also involves Evil entities also present in a cosmic history.
I believe that Jewish religion was prodded by Persian Zoroastrianism during the Exile to think about supra-natural entities (Satan, angels, demons) involved in a larger battle of good versus evil, about the end times, cosmic battle, judgement, a new world, eternal life… Jesus teaches or mentions all of these things as if they are already accepted elements within Jewish belief. These beliefs build (we might say–) upon Jewish belief that Yahweh is Creator, Yahweh is active as Judge, and it must be God, not human effort, that will finally bring about victory in any larger arena… Christian thinking therefore does not need to be eschatologized according to a recent scholarly fad, it only needs to recognize that a prophetic religion, prophetic belief, is not doctrinally frozen, and more important, recognize that Christianity is a prophetic religion.
And thus I suggest here a reason for Paul’s strange mention in the second letter of the “man of lawlessness,” a human embodiment of supernatural evil which can be expected to appear upon the human scene but only as evil becomes very prominent or emboldened late in the end times of the present Age. In his first letter Paul does claims a personal importance for himself as mature democratic culture-authority, as (democratic) apostle. But this personal importance is bounded by three things: the past and future personal appearances of Jesus, who is of course personal norm, and the personal appearance of the supernaturally possessed man of lawlessness. This is the dangerous over-personalization (of religion) to be watchfully avoided. Within this context, the religious-authority claims of a singular and prophetic-democratic apostle are not excessive. The Christian-prophetic believer lives within such a limited-human-scope worldview, in which anything of cosmic significance shall ultimately be a result of Divine rather than human action or initiative.
Thus most of Paul’s letters should be seen to be culture-apologetic exhortation, offering and exhorting to a vision of a Christian temple which is universal, not local. This temple may be in part physically embodied within a particular society, in fact, but at minimum this temple is constructed of ideas and values appropriate to the present moment, the present world. Only if one first sees this temple can one then live in it, as living in the Father’s House–as Jesus tells his parents that he must be about his Father’s business since he, Jesus is most at home here. The Jerusalem temple was for the young Jesus his Father’s House, and a place where he could discuss ideas with others of similar inclination.
I used the number on the reservation email which you sent me to call the hotel clerk once I arrived at Shanghai, Pudong airport. She said there was no reservation. Why the mix up? Hotels gave you the wrong number, you put down the wrong number, or else someone has access to my iCloud email. After some phone conversation in Chinese we were able to connect via WeChat app. I managed to send her a copy of the email. She sent a shuttle bus. The driver, an old man, asked if I wanted to go to the Joy Star Hotel. I said no, pointing to the other name in Chinese and English on the side of the van: Shanghai Deco. I ended up at Joy Star where I talked to the same clerk another forty minutes or so.
(Was there something fishy about this old man as driver. As everyone in China is aware, only the members of the Politburo or persons given explicit permission by the Politburo are allowed to work beyond 60 years old, work for pay that is. Perhaps he was related to the hotel owner and so he has been driving this shuttle bus for the last ten years in return for a room at the hotel. But I am nearing seventy myself and there is no way that this person was younger than I, unless of course he has aged badly, prematurely.)
I could not cancel the original reservation nor could I obtain any assistance via chat on the Travelocity app. After what seemed an hour, I agreed to pay 30$=200 yuan additional and stay at Joy Star, expecting I might still get partial refund from the original paid reservation, which had been about 70$. (I have tried via Travelocity app to explain the problem, but have not heard back from you yet.)
This hotel was not bad, thought the hallways as well as the night outside were very hot and muggy. If Shanghai is always like this at 8pm, then muggy is not the appropriate term. Muggy implies temporary, implies that sometimes it is not muggy. But the complimentary teabags at the hotel were great, and I would like to know where I might buy a mug for myself, large and stylish:
The Han Chinese, it seems, invented both tea, and the (small-capacity) ceramic tea cup without handle. Westerners prefer larger mugs with handle, but few mugs with handle, appropriately enough, end up in art museums…
If, as someone has said, the Chinese of mainland China, each and every one, are middle management or hoping to become middle management–(that is, they do what they are told and are also relatively well paid)–then people from Shanghai seem different, at least on this one Saturday as I went out in the neighborhood to look for a place to eat. Everyone it seemed, was out doing something. I remember the small bike repair shop still open for business, the water running across the sidewalk from a leak in the blue plastic wading pools with fresh clams(?). Were people being obverse! (There had been a couple Covid cases nearby and people advised to be careful… But Chinese are very seldom if ever adverse.) Were they just enjoying the humid weather? Was this a party mood? I could not determine with any further precision what motivated the energy.
But if the people of the Shanghai area do believe in “party democracy,” a democracy for the weekend, is this adequate? I for one, don’t believe so–because as Americans of the present moment, red and blue, are well aware, democracy is an arduous task which must be undertaken every day of the regular workweek. It is a daily task, an ongoing job, a job with no vacation…
I myself don’t feel old, or see myself as being old, but since I am now receiving Social Security payments, technically I cannot deny that I am in that category. I have no opinion about whether you, high school age youth, are smarter or less smart than previous HS students. But I do consider that certain things have changed in society in the last forty years or so, and some of this makes your situation more dangerous. Technology advances ever onwards and the US economy is still strong, but while internet speed and social media are exciting, I expect you also have begun to notice that fast communication can increase superficiality. I write to promote the opposite. You need to begin developing the ability to evaluate and apply common sense to whatever you meet. I really do believe that this is what is most important of all. Else in a few years, you will turn out to be just as incompetent (as citizens) as the present collection of American adults. American adults at the present moment, in my direct opinion, are not doing very well. Few are able to think well about social issues. Few care to work at such a basic skill. Most are captured by the present two-Party stupidities: Democrat/Republican.
I refuse to worship free-market Capitalism; I believe it needs to be constantly re-evaluated and adjusted so as to fit American society. I disagree with a fair number of the standard Democratic party causes; and the Democratic party has adopted a semi-religious attitude recently which does not allow members to disagree even with one Liberal dogma, let alone three or four…! I refuse to give up my common sense in order to fit into either party’s extremism. (And with regard to the Christian religion as well, the dogmatism of most religious people bothers me more and more as I get older… Healthy religion does not give up belief, but certainly ought not to become stuck on simpleminded and only-traditional belief. ) I am comfortable with this independence of intelligence which I have now achieved. But I also understand that Democratic and Republican Parties (and ongoing Christian religious authorities) will not appreciate my attitude here. Few groups really appreciate independent thinking, whether that thinking is of good quality or not. As a result, even though I might not fit in so well, I consider myself to be an exemplary American citizen. A model citizen. I have thought carefully about various social issues and improved my understanding of all of these over the decades. Is this not what is most important IF Democracy is to actually work–as many smart citizens as possible?
It is not “correct answers” (as in this or that dogma) that will save or unify the USA and allow us to avoid what I view as the danger of American Civilization actually going down the tubes and into serious decline, it is intelligence, it is better thinking. You, all, youth of America, if you begin now, evaluating and thinking, avoid simplistic ideas, keep on improving in individual common sense at work on social topics and conceptions, then in a few more years you might turn out to be a better grade of citizenry. Present day citizens are mostly trapped, it seems to me, in simpleminded conceptions, and dragged around by rhetoric, by slogans. Too lazy to think, they allow other people to think for them…, to tell them what the correct answers are, how to feel, how to over-simplify.
A quick example: Immigration policy. Two hundred years ago the US had lots of land and few people. Come on over (and assimilate) and become a resident here. Then limits were placed on Asian immigration because it was felt that Asians would not properly assimilate. Then a quota system was made law: Since present-day population is x percent Eastern European, x percent of this year’s immigrants can be Eastern European. But now, new (pragmatic) policy objectives and new laws are badly needed. Senators and representative are the only ones who can do this. But because of party dogma, common sense thinking, thinking about what would benefit the country as a whole over the next twenty years, this thinking is impossible. We have no border control, millions of illegals, no sensible path to citizenship, no pragmatic overall policy objective. On side wants no borders, the other side hopes that border control of itself will solve American identity issues. What ongoing stupidity from both sides! The politicians here do not want sensible independent thinking, they only wish the public to fit in with their dogmatic proclivities. And the binary media comply. There is no independent media any longer, no media that does not propagandize for one or the other political party. Modern media are all politicized, unfortunately. Because they are lackeys of two simpleminded and dogmatic political parties, almost all media content is also simpleminded.
I give two examples from the past. (Not that the news media situation in my time, years ago, was wonderful, but it was slightly better than it has become at present.) Example one is Sixty Minutes, an old program still running but effectively dead. Thirty years ago this CBS TV program might have presented a penetrating expose of an industry, a situation, and afterwards, state or federal laws might actually be considered as remedy. That is, many, many years ago, this program was occasionally “prophetic” in an effective mode. CBS as news institution actually took a stance on some issue or other. But already–as I remember this fifteen years ago now–this character was, in my assessment, largely gone. (And today there is little left but spin…)
I remember a segment soon after the Bernie Madoff conviction which bothered me because it was a puff piece, a human interest piece. The man has a nice family! Poor family. I wrote a few sentences at that time on my internet blog.
The man in question here does have a very pleasing and likable appearance, and seems to have had a nice family, but this individual perpetrated the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. I recognize that we all secretly might like to beat the system, the economic arrangements, and get away with it. This person almost did. And psychologically his deceptions make sense: If he doesn’t hire family members who want to work, if he does not take a seat on the NYSE board of directors, if he does not, being Jewish himself, accept the traduciary responsibility of investing the funds of Jewish charities–Well, people might suspect that he is doing something illegal. This all makes psychological sense. This individual is difficult not to like.
But one’s own character and intelligence must enter at this point and point out as well that three or four or five such Bernies, uncaught, could destroy our whole beloved Capitalist system, or at least deprive many, many people of their fair wages in this society. If you cannot see that Bernie must be condemned, then your pro-Capitalism belief is not belief but only selfish attitude; Capitalism means each person actually has opportunity to grab whatever they can. Capitalism is not a value which must be upheld and maintained against evil forces. So Sixty Minutes, fifteen years ago, did a puff piece on this economic criminal and hypocrite–who has since died in jail. Do you see the media-character issue here? The need for institutional character, else news is just someone attempting to propagandize for someone or something, else news become entertainment.
A second example, also from long ago, is Time magazine. Begun by Mr. Luce and with him as editor, in my HS years and for quite a few years after that, Time was a helpful means to arrive at perspective on the whole world–simply because–I would say, simply because it was intelligent. With slight (Republican) editorial leaning, its writers and reporters were each allowed to express an individual and intelligent perspective on the world. This enables the reader to go on to evaluate and develop the reader’s own thinking. No longer. Time magazine, in comparison with its former self and as published today seems to me to be little more than garbage and spin. (And if the magazine sues me for slander, I will try to prove these statements in court…)
So, because the larger media are no longer helpful at all, but all have become partisan, this makes the situation somewhat more bothersome for you–all–as HS age persons. You MUST learn to evaluate and use your own common sense constantly in developing a more accurate view of the world. You must do this work for yourself. No one in the media is available to help you. The media is no longer objectively and intelligently reliable. You had better learn how to more carefully evaluate for yourself your sources of information and opinion.
But we have only just begun. I am headed for some deeper and more difficult subjects. I hope you are ready.
The Supreme Court has heard arguments–and sometime soon may reduce the scope of Roe versus Wade. Liberal and conservative leaning states are already preparing to make abortion easier or more burdensome. What does all of this mean? How shall we avoid simpleminded ideas on this topic. As single male at present, abortion does not have immediate bearing on my life. But I have followed this issue, literally, from High School, class of ’73, and onwards through my more recent efforts to read various Supreme Court decisions, etc. I believe I have now arrived at a somewhat sophisticated and accurate picture of various things involved, but that this required fifty years–this is bad. Why did this take so long? (If you as HS student are able to follow and understand the philosophical points in the long discussion which follows about law, federalism, etc., and I hope that you work at it–well, you may become intellectually mature at an early age. Save yourselves forty years of hard work by doing the hard thinking now… I hope so.)
I was a Liberal Arts philosophy major. I remember a good government class with good text books, but at that moment in time I was more interested in other subjects. So for a decade and more even after college, as I recognize this now, I was intellectually duped. I followed the “thinking” of the public at large (and perhaps of the Justices themselves…) in presuming that the whole nation must go one way or the other on this controversial matter; allow or not allow. Solution to this controversial issue of abortion MUST be available (hiding) within our National constitution and/or in our understanding of basic rights. We just need to find the answer. It is already there somewhere.
But why was I so ignorant about States and State law? Why was I so stupid as to be assuming that all laws are national laws? We have a dual sovereignty system. Fifty state law codes mean that most crimes are the business of State police and state laws and state enforcement systems. The FBI is not available to enforce littering laws or mask wearing. There are no nationwide laws about littering. Why not leave it up to fifty states as to how they choose to regulate abortion? Why must all–why must the whole country, agree to go one way or the other? (There was a generalized legal stupidity-consensus which I shared. And a very similar legal stupidity still plagues the majority of the American populace. This legal-stupidity says: There is one perfect answer here, and once we have that law/principle, all in this great nation must accept it this same one principle.)
Yes, it would be nicer if everyone agrees on everything, but are we not, as political Democracy, agreed, that on many things it is OK not to agree? Yes, there must be a few fundamental values which we must hold as most important, and so all citizens should agree upon those few values, but is the right to an easy and quick abortion on the part of females citizens–is this one of the fundamental foundation-values. That women are equal citizens–this is fundamental.
What most people remain willfully blind to, is the fact that we already have a federalism system that tends to allow and encourage social diversity. In certain areas, states remain sovereign, and our National government is not really allowed to tell them what to do. But this federalism idea is a tricky business. Single sovereignty is a much easier idea, and most media coverage from the educated national media will presume, falsely, that we have a single sovereignty system. National media wants to lead a national audience; they favor federal sovereignty and denigrate the other kinds: The tenth amendment states that things not given into the authority of the Federal gov. are retained by states and people (locally). We are proud of our respect for Law, and proud of operating according to a system of law, but display a fundamental stupidity at the point of recognizing what our own law, our Constitution has in fact set up as being our own system. If dual sovereignty is not a good idea, then we need to get rid of it by changing our Constitution. (Or is psychological confusion about fundamentals, is this a good thing!) If we decide to get rid of the states by subserving them into a unitary governmental system then we will be called the United State of America! Is this a good plan?
I hear that some counties in Texas don’t allow sale of alcohol while others might encourage sale… The larger picture might seem a strange patchwork. So, having led the world for some decades now into “progressive” territory on women’s abortion rights, would a state by state patchwork mean that America has become regressive..? But the salient element here, the more important point to notice, is that Americans are “idealistic” (in a strange way) about freedom-laws, while almost all of the rest of the world is less purely idealistic and more practical. That is, after the Roe decision in the USA, many other nations have also allowed abortion, but they do not implement this in absolute terms, as if this were some absolute natural right of the female citizen. Most have much tighter time limits than the USA at present. If you want an abortion, get it right away or it will no longer be allowed. Americans wish, inappropriately I believe, to force this into a purely rights-based conceptualization, rather than treat it as permission.
Elsewhere I have blogged that a Democracy needs to try to give equal respect to male and female citizens, but this should not mean minimizing nor getting rid of natural or ordinary gender differences…Different democracies will choose different gender-related laws… Thus, the question is, Is some sort of absolute-right-to-abortion, and insisting upon such, is this a good way of insuring “respect” for the female half of the citizenry? Ostensibly no, because while permission might be very, very helpful to women, (and lack of permission sets up months of physical servitude, and years of “responsibility servitude” after birth of a child–)–actually having an abortion certainly should not be included in defining what a female is (!), nor need right-to-abort become a basic mode of honoring anyone as female citizen. Abortion is always a sad/negative thing rather than inherently a good thing. Thus having “liberty” or permission or availability of the abortion option may be very important to women, but it is best not to make it a “right” which is directly associated with how we see or states what defines woman/female, or female citizen.
So my personal opinion on the topic of abortion I consider to be full of common sense, but I can find almost no one who shares this “sensible” middle ground, and this because, I would say, most people have different (and less mature) notions of law. I want to explain for your benefit–the HS age person who is still reading… what my (better) ideas about law are, and perhaps get you even to agree with some of these ideas. I believe that ideas which Americans have about law are actually very, very important. But thinking, and your own thinking–this is what is most important. Not whether you imitate my ideas. And I also don’t really care so much about abortion as “issue.” It is a hot issue that exposes the ideas people have already about law and government and society… We want to examine ideas.
Medical-type technique has made abortion much more available/accessible in the last hundred years, and it is no longer feasible, practical, for any country, even for religious reason, to strictly prohibit abortion. If a sovereign country is going to permit abortion, the next logical step here is that it must choose written-law limits and guidelines, from loose to strict. In this country, the USA, states can and will decide how and where to encourage (make it very easy and accessible) or discourage, via their laws. There is, as with most things, a national set of abortion laws/regulations. As to my own state of residence, Michigan, I am fine with state law tracking (generally following) the attitudes of the majority of the population of the state. At present I would guess that most would favor allowing the procedure but with this or that restriction. So far this is a kind of common sense. This if fine with me. So where is the problem?
The problem is that most Americans lack common sense when it comes to law; they jump to either an idealistic or moralistic absolutism. As you know, there are two two extremist camps on the two sides because both have abandoned the middle ground of common sense. That is, one side makes abortion a moral issue which they wish state law to prohibit for all within the state, while the other side makes abortion into a fundamental citizen rights issue rather than a liberty/permission issue only for female citizens of the local state. Because this is a fundamental rights issue, all in the nation must go along with the freedom idea involved here. Both sides are quite wrong, in my opinion, in their approach to law.
But to leave this argument and move on to something else, though still talking about this abortion issue, there is a problem even more important problem which I notice here and wish for you to look at, more important even than lack of common sense when thinking about law. This larger problem is the recognition, which few Americans (very, very unfortunately) seem capable of achieving–is that with this topic of abortion as well as with numerous other presently controversial topics… “social convention” is more important, more necessary actually, than written law.
Imagine with me two communities. In one, the laws make abortion very easy, but most people in this community are not favorable to females having abortions. They look down on the practice and express some disapproval in their ordinary conversations with other people. Another community has very strict laws hoping to make (local) abortion difficult, but most of the people in this community see little to object to in women having an abortion. They minimize any moral issue, and express such opinions within their community as well. I hope that you can agree with me that what is most “important” in this picture of the two different communities, is the attitudes of the people, not law. People have opinions, this is normal, and also tend to like it when neighbors share such opinions, and so they will talk, and try to persuade neighbors to agree with their own views. This is almost what defines a community. (A community may in fact be too “conventional,” too tight about its shared views, but that is a separate issue.) For an ordinary, limited and local community to develop convention, that is, to develop conventional consensus about certain values and topics, this is always to be encouraged because it is healthy. (An internet community or business-professional-work community; these strike me as being a lesser sort of community. Not quite a real community. But this again is a separate topic…)
I believe that in a democratic nation, there are many, many social issues where issues need to be worked out in this way, via convention, via actual LOCAL argumentation. So in our hypothetical image of the two communities, this is already a healthy democratic situation. Do you see this? We have two healthy communities. The law doesn’t matter!!
But this is not how Americans think. They will tend to try to force the law to change in order to fit their own views, and then they will try to use the law also against other communities also in order to get ALL communities to correspond to the views in their own little community. Everyone must think the same… But to attempt to bring about agreement and community consensus by means of law–this is authoritarian and inappropriate. It is legalistic, and legalistic is bad. Americans have bad ideas about law.
In different phrasing, some things need to be criminalized, made legal or illegal via written law codes, but other issues should not be fixed via written law. In my opinion, abortion is in the second category. (Ideally), we should continue to argue back and forth about such controversial matters, but as Americans we should not be hoping to make something that is controversial less controversial, we should not be hoping to achieve larger consensus via a forced written law or judicial declaration. Abortion is one of many “issues” which must remain unsolved–because democratic citizens in fact continue to have different opinions.
Instead of such healthy emphasis on the necessary role of convention, MOST Americans fall into a very dangerous and stupid legalism at the juncture: They want and they expect that everything can be settled by some sort of “law.” Find a law or principle here relating to the abortion topic and then force every single American to fall in line; to accept this “law.” I feel very lonely here in the middle here with my view that this is one of the many issues which actually should NOT to be given over to written law or judges (for final determination…) but left open for ongoing community discussion. Is everyone else in America, except me, infected with this (vision distorting) disease of legalism?! Please make every effort in the future, as you move beyond the safety of school, to avoid this prevalent disease. But it won’t be easy.
Let’s move on to an area which requires even more profound levels of legal understanding, a combined understanding of law, convention and Constitution: the Fourteenth Amendment. In the USA we have three lawyers per hundred people as well as almost one lawyer for every two inmates, but sad to say, most lawyers most likely cannot and will not be able to understand what I am about to try to explain about the Fourteenth Amendment and law. But you might be able to understand what is happening here. I hope so.
For most lawyers, law is a job, a way to make money. And a few lawyers (or political officials) may hope to benefit the world by making new laws, just as landscapers benefit our environment by cutting the grass and planting trees. But all of these people are still working within the system. I want, rather, to try to give you another (and larger) perspective on law.
You are not there yet, but right now you are hoping later in life to get a full time job within the system, the economic system. You might even be hoping to be able to “work” the system to get ahead, make a lot of money, even help a few people. But there exists a more basic democratic perspective on law: You are responsible for the whole system. As democratic citizen, you may and you should look at the whole system and ask how things might be better for the sake of everyone. If you have some good ideas to benefit everyone, implementing your new ideas will probably require changing laws to change the social system. But your ideas had better be well thought out; very good ideas. Few lawyers have time for such loose and general thinking. They want to be paid for working with laws. But since you are in high school you are not yet a cog in the economic machinery. It is very possible that you may have the ability to see the larger law-and-society picture BETTER than lawyers who are busy working within the system…
Amendments 13, 14, and 15 were included in our Constitution after the Civil War was won by the Northern side. The South was not allowed to form a separate nation, nor allowed to continue with its slave-economy arrangements. But before the rebel states could be allowed back in, they had to agree to the “principles” found in these three amendments. The thirteenth abolished slavery as economic and property arrangement, the fifteenth declares that all, including the slaves now become normal citizens–have a right to vote. So far, this is easy enough and fair enough (in my opinion). But what about the Fourteenth? I insist that this one cannot be understood as to its essential meaning without bringing in the topic of social “convention” as social reality. Convention and Law, in the real world, out there…, are sometimes complimentary. And as in the abortion discussion above, convention may actually be most important here also. Do we force everyone to agree about abortion, or do we admit that law cannot decide this. We must leave matters such as this to the people, to discuss among amongst themselves: Convention. We need to ask the same sort of question about the 14th amendment. What is law able to accomplish within society. What are the limits to what law can cause.
Quite obviously, the intent of the 14th is to come up with a constitutional law-requirement that prevents societies in the South from going back to pre-war norms. Southern communities are at this very moment after the Civil War, being forced to come up with new social norms and ways. But until newer norms are well established, it is easier to go back to those old norms.
Laws are and usually should be written as generally as possible, especially Constitutional Law, but this is a specific problem. Disrupted societies of the South. You must change. You cannot go back to previous habits. Suddenly, that earlier economy and that earlier kind of society is “illegal.” But can law make social “convention” illegal!?
Slave-economy and Civil War; this was not a minor disruption. Plantation owners loose their property; a slave-based economic system must transition to another type of economy; social attitudes and norms will need to develop and adjust to include the many uneducated and impoverished ex-slaves now present in local society. Southerners need give up hope of keeping a separate and superior SLAVERY-BASED culture. How can law help in all of these areas. It cannot. After ten years of a forced management in the South, Reconstruction, the US Congress gave up. Southern states are readmitted and are free to do what they wish, and Blacks on their own to fend for themselves, try to get an education, etc.
The 14th amendment is a strange sort of super-law in that it is addressed directly to states, all states. No state shall deprive state citizens of due process, or protection of state law. Before the Civil War, some Americans considered state citizenship more essential than national citizenship. Now, the 14th notes that there are two citizenships, and no state may treat any of its state citizens unfairly, because, it is implied, there is now also a (second and other) citizenship, a minimal set of federal rights, which belongs to all national citizens. The 14th does not further define these national citizenship rights, other than to specify what would be unfair in delivering state justice via the state laws and judicial system. Thus a paternalistic super-law. We, your National constitution and Congress, are going to be watching you, each individual State. If you are not fair in the operations of your laws or judicial system, we have authorization, hereby, to step in and correct this kind of a situation. (In effect, If you do not give African-American ex-slaves equal justice, we have authority to “fix” your state arrangements.)
Modern rhetoric likes to use the word “systemic.” I don’t like this word. Perhaps in my view the word says too much, or too little. But on my suggested interpretation of the 14th as law, this is where the emphasis needs to be placed. The 14th doesn’t declare new rights, nor protect individuals specifically, but protects against a state system of arrangements gone seriously bad, seriously failing to have fair laws, or failing, through an ongoing bias, to give justice to a certain group of its own state citizens. Should this happen, a remedy is not specified other than that Congress can make further specific laws and regulations in order to “fix” this serious problem.
But my interpretation relies on recognition of the difficulties and also the importance of convention within any local society. At this moment in history, local and ordinary Southern conventions must in point of fact change. And written law is not an instrument for bring about particular change in conventions. But (perhaps) law can identify if or when (now-prohibited) or bad convention seriously distorts a system of justice. One might say that the 14th is more about bad convention than about individual rights. Congress sets itself up as bad convention within state-legal-systems doctor…
This paternalistic supervision DOES somewhat change the federalism situation by giving the federal entity this supervision over the states. And such a super-law makes abuse easier. But to avoid this, I claim that it is important to emphasize that this situation only goes into effect when any state becomes involved in serious bias… Apart from serious and egregious bias, the federal entity must stay out of State business… It is still remains a federal system after all composed of many states plus one national entity, each and every one having separate sovereignties.
The problem is that the words super-law, paternalistic supervision, or egregious are not used in the text of the Constitutional amendment. Can the highest law of the land have an embedded super-law? It can (in my opinion) if one understands how important both convention and law are to a healthy local society. But most lawyers and judges are not going to be interested in such a larger (citizens?) social perspective. They will prefer to reduce everything to written law. Leave out this silly talk about convention, which word doesn’t make much sense to most Americans anyways, whether they are legally trained or not, and the 14th looks like ordinary constitutional law… [Lets find some economic or individual rights supported here by the Constitution, and make some money…]
The 14th Amendment is a sort of scar, made necessary by an earlier compromise. You know the slavery history but this would be my version of the history: The king of England gave colony charters and specified governors for these settlements on the east coast of North America. The colonies also had some local self governance, and when the thirteen colonies decided they wanted to get together and become independent of the King, some southern colonies already had a hundred-year history of buying and using slaves on their tobacco and cotton plantations. Democracy at this moment did not exist in Europe, and so this same effort, the intent to create a new republican democracy, this remains historically most important. France, burdened with aristocratic and regal tradition, would soon follow the American lead into Democracy. But motivated by rivalry with Europe, or not, the founding fathers compromised on the issue of slavery. Yes, for anyone who wants to present democratic credentials, this is a compromise that goes to the core of what democracy means. If all citizens are equal as human beings, then what about those workers in your slave-economy, are they not contributing to your country. Should they not be treated as citizens also?
Is Democracy idea, is it Constitution and voting, or is it a group of smart people? The conceptualization problem for Americans comes with the need to admit and to specify ideal versus practical. How does one implement an ideal? I would suggest that the democratic ideal was intact and was implemented in Philadelphia by the founding fathers, but in the economic realm there was significant compromise. Jefferson, who articulated our common ideals, owned slaves, and recognized that down the line there must come a social reckoning with this “economic” dishonesty. (Europe eventually will notice the Democratic and economic successes of the United States, but European countries are probably more “impressed” with the experiment in France than interested in emulating the United States…) But southern states, achieving some economic success by way of slave labor, developed local cultures: a handful of plantation owners could sit on their front porch and sip their lemonade… Until it became impossible for the rest of the states to tolerate slave-economy as being a good idea, economic or not.
Mostly white skinned soldiers died to prevent the country from splitting into two; plantation owners were deprived of their expensive properties without compensation; slaves were set free and left to wander the streets… The constitution, amended, gave legal assurance that former slaves were legally equal to any other citizens. Former slaves are given guarantee of voting right and of equal justice vis a vis State and national governments. And we might ask, would it have been better just to say this explicitly rather then in general legal language: Freed slaves are now equal citizens in all ways.
But more is needed than definition, more than ideal. None of these freed slaves had ordinary education. How can you function as full citizen of a democracy unless you are educated. This would take another twenty years. And how can you expect local (Southern) communities to develop changed culture and consensus in one week. It doesn’t work that way. And how can the North assume that Unity as idea and of itself creates diversity, as if words or concepts can be made into some sort of magic-wand so that one can just say the magic word (or pass a law…) to make things happen in society: “Diversity.” How silly.
If what I have been trying to emphasize in this letter is correct, then the “detour” of last forty years, for example–, the Roe versus Wade decision and now reversal, this social “detour” happened because smart Americans have been stupid about those most important and difficult ideas: law, constitution and democracy, rights, the Fourteenth. The question is not, what is the right answer here, the question is whether you, the future citizens of America, can do better in the thinking department. Else the country will continue squabbling with its inadequate and too-simple ideas, as it does at present.
The Congress which passed the three amendment after the Civil War, in my opinion, got the law as such, correct. But law, in my opinion, is often unable to do more than set out ideal or definitional “guarantee.” Law cannot of itself create a new society. (Can you see this now.) Only people who understand the limits of law, understand the importance of “convention” and discussion, only people who care enough about the whole system to have good ideas, only citizens capable of non-political thinking can make a better democratic society–which is sorely needed at present. Perhaps only those who are already living the truth can see the truth; Only those willing to live without dogmatic-correct ideas can see where the better ideas are hiding…
You, now still in high school, you can make the effort to improve your grasp of ideas such as law, rights. You can read Supreme Court decisions and see how much you are able to understand. You can avoid inflammatory and simpleminded media nonsense. You can develop your own views more carefully. Or you can take the easier road and latch on to the first slogan or simplification that comes your direction–and end up confused and disappointed. I hope you choose the more difficult route, and Good luck.
(May 4, 2022)
What is wrong with Science? Why does a major science organization such as this, WHO, have such difficulty with basic honesty? My diagnosis would be that WHO is confused because Science and its supporters at large are confused, and this in a very fundamental and dangerous and pervasive manner–as to what science itself is, and how it exists in the world. I offer this initial (free, online) psychopathology counseling session for the sake of my scientific friends, recognizing though, that superficial diagnosis is not equivalent to treatment. Bad ideas are likely more recalcitrant than pathogens… Replacing bad ideas with better ideas is always a long and arduous and sometimes costly process. (Persons who have little respect for science will avoid all of the issues highlighted here, but these persons, we can presume, might be operating with a different set of intellectual problems…)
Loosely stated, science people are operating with a bad set of ideas because they fail to give due recognition to institutions, to technology, to political governance, and thus seriously misunderstand Science itself!
(1) Most recently I blogged about eradication via lockdown. I offered this as new insight. Is this not common sense, now, for humanity? A new and more dangerous virus might be stopped and eradicated via total lockdowns at an early stage…
But I did not realize that WHO was officially against lockdown of any sort for the sake of ongoing containment! (And I guess that this opinion would be the same for an initial emergency containment.)
No wonder then, that WHO is confused. They are against containment–the most obvious means of combatting a dangerous virus! No wonder they offer such horrible, horrible advice about NOT inhibiting air travel! I can only conclude that these are medical experts whose view of the world has become a tunnel vision limited by this same medical expertise. On their web site they note that air travel limitation can give a nation time to get ready, ready to apply the standard (medical) procedures of testing, tracing, stocking supplies, medical treatment. But as I have complained previously, this airline advice as clearly stated principle, this demonstrates to me that WHO has serious inability to conceptualize the larger reality of an actual pandemic.
(2) I jump to an allied but very specific conceptual problem. Here, quite obviously to me at least, thinking on the part of the smart people remains confused, and I may be of some assistance. HHT. Early on I blogged about this. It seems to me now, that this concept of human to human transmission is a concept necessarily in limbo. Who does the phrase belong to? My helpful suggestion here would be that what needs to be noticed is emergency. In an emergency context we do not need ordinary language nor science language, but something in between…
Hospitals ought to be a sort of castle in which doctors are in charge, and treat their patients one by one. Administrators also are needed to manage this busy situation. So far, there is no larger social-entity which must be taken into account. But an epidemic is a spreading disease, spreading in society. This is a different disease-beast. And doctors are best positioned to be the first to notice, monitor, identify, warn about dangerous contagious pathogens. Hospitals with their many sick people already will have policies and procedures to guard against infection within the hospital itself. But epidemic-watch goes beyond hospital management. It is a different kind of responsibility, a very different task. This difference which I am arguing for is exactly a conceptual difference… Reject this conceptual distinction and you shall remain confused.
Who decides when a new pathogen has become dangerous as well as contagious? Is there an HHT moment? As I look at the Covid-19 timeline of two years ago, it seems that early-warning technology was working. On the 9th of January, 2020, WHO, the local hospital, China’s National Health System are all aware that there are 59 cases of something new. But it is not until Jan 21 that a Chinese doctors declares HHT, and at this point WHO has still not declared an emergency according to its own health definitions. Two days later, with thirteen additional deaths, China puts a major city under complete lockdown. On January 31, with the disease having been identified in more than six countries, WHO declares a global health emergency.
That is, and with the benefit of historical hindsight of course, WHO’s declaration seems to me to be completely worthless, the HHT declaration painfully slow, and the lockdown reaction very smart and sensible. The conceptual point to be noted is that there is a significant span of time in which HHT medical-science certification has not arrived, but common sense can see that this certification is very, if not very, very likely coming. The virus has been sequenced already in the lab, and tests for it may already be available, and its effects look somewhat serious… But medicine is science, and so awaits stricter confirmation.
There clearly are overlapping jurisdictions here. Can you see this? Once epidemic is declared, this obviously becomes social-political rather than hospital administration. Doctors remain with the sick people. They don’t go out in society giving instructions to close the roads, trains, or the airport. And in this pre-certification limbo-emergency, what I want from hospital administrators or medical professionals is simple honesty: It looks bad to me but we are still testing and studying it. That is, no one, in point of fact, can properly own the terminology; No one actually has authority to declare the existence of a new epidemic, except perhaps the first certified death. This one person becomes hero for humanity, because this person looses the battle but allows us to see that this may very well be a dangerous foe.
Recognition of the reality of this limbo would allow political actors to jump the gun, to begin various forms of lockdown or movement control. If the authorities are wrong, if they over-react, this still seems to me a better tactic than waiting for the science, following the science. And at this juncture in the argument, the incompetence of WHO and its conceptualizations is glaring and obvious. WHO does not seem to me to understand the notion of containment–via “lockdown.” Unless you first establish clearly and conceptually the parameters within which a new pandemic might feasibly be stopped, or if you say for example, that a virus of R3 or higher cannot be stopped, when it actually can be stopped, then you are operating as advocate for the devil. I am reminded of the doctrine of original sin. Without sin, religion goes out of business, and without virus spread, WHO looses its medical-leadership role.
My suggestion is that in the emergency-limbo period of a week or two, that medical professionals be allowed to speak as human beings: We don’t have our medical-science results yet, but this is how I see it. If you (government, community) wish to impose early controls, that is your business…
Thus, based on recent experience with Covid, we imagine and recognize a better situation: In a future energy of this sort, no one is allowed to own this terminology. In this all-important early moment of uncertainty, it may be best (for all) that we be able to follow a partial common sense rather than settled science. Impose a few bothersome controls, just in case.
(3) I am shocked by the the extent to which educated Americans display their (semi-religious) faith in science in relation to masks. Living here at a university in China, students receive the occasional text message about masks. But in China there is no presumption that mask advice has any connection with science per se. But in the USA, it appears to me that all of the science-educated people consider that if and only if Science says so, they are willing to go along with regulations/requirements. (While the other half in the USA believe in some sort of generalized rule-of-law, and bristle at all mention of science. )
In the unlikely event that I myself were elected as your governor, or as local official with corresponding authority, I would appeal as follows: I always listen to the science advice but make my own decisions as to what makes sense for this community. Mask wearing is a cooperative effort; obviously the intent is to slow the spread of disease. My administration will give advice, but sometimes also implement enforceable rules. We may enforce (mask-wearing) cooperation. But I believe that it is better to emphasize a forced democratic cooperation rather than to talk about imperial mandates or about science as being some sort of necessary authority with regard to masks.
Thus, I would ask people to submit to my short-term judgements. But perhaps I am missing something. Do Americans believe that elected officials can or should exercise their individual (short-term) judgement! Perhaps not.
But the widespread pathology in the USA, as I see it, is that the smart people, many smart people, are not sensible. This is demonstrated by the mere fact that they believe that mask wearing can and ought to be governed by “science.” Where is the science here? Advice based on science, but advice, not science… Perhaps some day we will have such science, technological understanding of spread which will assist a technology of mask-wearing rules: When this is greater than 2.4 then masks are required here… But this day has not yet come. The science-reliant people cannot even agree on what the aerosol/droplet distinction means, cannot admit more generally that R numbers are actually very speculative–Almost tend to depend on the day of the week…
In my opinion, mask wearing, was, is, most likely always and forever shall be a common sense recommendation rather than a matter of Science or science authority.
(4) As described in the Nature article and its quoted phrase about both sides talking past each other, it seems to me that on the droplet issue, Medicine (as establishment–) has already doubled down on its anti-aerosol stance. (See this report: nap.edu/25958)
What is the psychopathology here. It seems to me to be a selfish and ingrown institutionalism, along with the inconvenience of having to correct or adjust something during a public health crisis. Medical experts at this point apparently require medical experiments with real virus particles and with real patients/victims. Anything less would not be medical SCIENCE.
The old 5 micron cut-off point is medical science that needs update, but there may be good reason for medical science to wish to have a cut-off point. It could help to explain differing degrees of contagion. Bacteria are heavy; Virions are smaller and lighter. Et cetera. This distinction itself, which medical seems to have originally created for its own purposes–on the basis of a physical size cut-off–is of itself, not so important.
People at large already know that this Covid-19 business is #### contagious. But we, the less scientific, would still be appreciative if those better informed people in the medical industry were to actually corroborate our vague assumptions rather than hiding behind words. Honesty about contagion is perhaps what matters, rather than droplet or aerosol. Are real scientists not supposed to employ the word “very”? Tenth grade students all around the world might be asked to make a guess (though this survey would be expensive) as to the airborne versus droplet percentages. I myself would guess that if medical science ever achieves for itself a medical-science experimental result here, the high school guess will be close.
Is medicine science. Though this may come as a shock to many, I don’t believe that it is. Approximately 73% technology, 3-5% profit taking, 20% science (physiology and disease description), and 1% personal art on the part of a doctor. All begins from hard science, but medical practice does not aim to know, intellectually. It rather has the practical objective of helping the sick individual. Applying various methods for the sake of achieving some specific result–such is a technology. And I am well aware that few persons seem to hold to this mental distinction between knowledge and practice, but I would claim that this is likely major contributor to your confusion, your bad and inadequate ideas within the larger and important realm of science.
I myself don’t consider, either, the social sciences to be science (of a deterministic sort…). They do what they can do with concepts and statistics, and similarly, much of medical evidence is statistical. Statistical because the reality studied is too complex. Statistical is the best approach available, yet seriously deficient, in my view, as authorizing a science identity. Are scheduling apps scientific?
Though molecular biology is on the move, the human body is still too complex for medicine to offer better than best practices. These medical studies, these test results, this patient history and age and attitude; The doctor makes a practical assessment. Medical studies and normalized medical procedure is, in my opinion, yet practical technology–do this for best result, rather than science as knowledge: there exists only one complete and perfect recommendation. (Chinese AI is hoping to automate most of this…)
What do I know. But as suggested example, cytokine storm is a dangerous situation with some Covid patients. The immune system overreacts. I myself would guess there may be seven or eight significant causes. Science is even now working on the question. But Traditional Chinese medicine is a medical methodology that is trusted in China. It aims to balance different systems and organs of the human body as basic objective. I would guess that TCM might be able to help during a virus infection to moderate the body’s own anti-viral efforts. And western medicine as technology has no anti-viral technology to speak of. Why not try TCM? Why not employ this technology?
Actually, I don’t care very much whether or not western doctors try TCM. What I wand is for them to try out a new idea, just for a few seconds. 73%. Is it possible that the practice of medicine is not the practice of science but practice of something else? Is Medicine a science-based something..?
Science has been so successful that everyone would like to identify as supporter and practitioner–of pure science. The assumption of all science loving people is that science is true. It is singular. Technologies are neither. Thus Medicine tends to mis-characterized itself as being fundamental Science–even though it is not. Rather, I myself believe that medicine is a science informed and technology assisted institution for helping people. And has been very successful. But in claiming too much, in claiming that it is science and only science, it does great damage to its own enterprise.
(5) The Nature article is quite long and includes quotes from numerous scientists. Some are mildly critical of WHO as organization, others are fully supportive. The freelance reporter who compiled the article is not expected to give evaluation or judgement. Nature magazine presents science papers. It cannot sully itself by taking a specific stand with regard to political reform or evaluation of a Science Organization, WHO. And none of these scientists quoted, probably earning more than the reporter, are freelance scientists. Each work for a science organization or school. They need to be careful how they phrase their opinions so that they do not cause controversy or difficulty for their employer. I also must be careful. I am retired and will not be looking for a science job, but I may benefit from further medical/hospital care in the near future. Why is it left up to me to critique what is happening here, to try to “fix” this situation?
The serious conceptual malady here is that half of you as science people believe that science is pure and therefore exists in a non-institutional fairy-land, and the other half demonstrate a knee-jerk defense of WHO just because this is an institution–a science institution! Science institutions can do no wrong, and science can never be institutionally-trapped. This is simpleminded in the extreme. You want a pure and holy international science advisory organization, wouldn’t that be nice, and so you have created the same–in your imagination! And when there “seems” to be a problem, you write a feature article in Nature magazine asking for outside advice.
I have read through the eighty page independent advisory panel report on how WHO has handled the Covid-19 pandemic to this point, “Covid-19: Make it the last pandemic,” and it was an easy read; eighty pages of lightly flavored pabulum. Someone has found a new word, precautionary. It sounds harmless but could it be malicious?
In the official after-analysis of the Great Recession a similar conceptual enlightenment occurred: systemic risk. Before the financial crisis, if you had asked me what was wrong with Capitalism or Finance, I would have required the words rationalistic and systemic in my explanation, as in, the problem here is a deep and rationalistic excess-systemic mode of thinking. But now the phrase “systemic risk” is embedded in the US Law Code. Authorities are emboldened and authorized to identify and treat systemic risk agents should there be another financial crisis of some magnitude.
Is this not like gathering round, giving a new name to a disease, burning incense, and hoping that this new and enlightened terminology will take care of the disease. That is, does the concept of systemic risk allow government authorities to better manage the big financial entities in the future, or does it, like original-sin doctrine, provide future excuse. This problem is natural to finance; We will never get rid of it… Is this advance or compromise?
Will a precautionary enlightenment do the trick. Will it reform WHO and allow it to do a better job with regard to another new epidemic? Or else do we use the word sinister–Calling the incapacity of WHO to conceptualize containment a virtue, wrapping this disease up in wrapping paper, burning incense, and then suggesting that this pseudo-gift, this mere word precautionary, will suffice to save us in the future!!
Thank you for reading.
The Covid virus is very contagious but also not so deadly. Less than 3% die. Within a month or so either the virus kills the person, or the immune system of the person is able to get rid of the virus. Thus, stopping all movement of people for a month can stop transmission and lead to eventual extinction within a region. The earlier SARS virus, for example, remains extinct.
Epidemiologists tend to see their job as a science job. They like their magic numbers which predict contagion, and enjoy, I expect, the prestige which this seems to give them. But there is another magic factor which ought to be included as Exhibit A in future Epidemiology textbooks (–though this is more strictly speaking a political-social factor than a scientific factor). And this is the possibility of local eradication via strict and complete lock-down (with the assistance of social workers…) China achieved eradication in a population of a billion people within a couple months after the initial outbreak in Wuhan–via various and extensive political efforts. We all know this history. This is now scientific fact. Subsequent to this local eradication on a large scale, the problem for China was that of preventing people from bringing the virus back into the country!
This is what common sense has taught me from the experience of the last two years. Lockdown can eradicate. This is a new magic-factor which must be balanced over against those magic R numbers of the experts. LOCAL eradication in a large population has proven scientifically that UNIVERSAL eradication is feasible–IF a dangerous virus is found early enough.
My only interest today is in this common-sense but strictly logical conclusion about the possibility of complete and universal eradication. (I am not interested in debate about local methods for epidemic control, nor debate about whether lockdown can work in control of the spread of ideas…!)
For the sake of virus eradication in the future I, for one, am willing TEMPORARILY to submit to authoritarian and strict lockdown. And suggest this as ethical principle for others to adopt also. If a new and dangerous virus has spread only to a few countries, and if, as well, people and leaders in those countries understand this eradication logic and are ready to make immediate effort, then the world might be spared another pandemic.
I am talking about strict and complete lockdown during a short-term emergency, for the sake, strictly speaking, of world-wide eradication. The constitutions of many states, provinces, nations already allow for exercise of emergency powers by an executive. But once the facts are such that quarantine and complete eradication are no longer universally possible, then emergency eradication-logic no longer holds. Then we return to where we are today, with nations each implementing their own prevention and amelioration policies…
Why is my suggested eradication-logic so important? Because it sets better parameters for how we approach any new and developing epidemic/pandemic. It makes clear what is most important. Unless we recognize what is most important, we are not thinking clearly.
Epidemiological scientists might wish to control the political-social machinery, but they do not have this control. Government officials who do control the social machinery may be too much occupied with public opinion or legal issues: what is allowed. But there is a single question which is more fundamental than the interest of either set of experts, and this question can be understood by everyone via common-sense logic: For the benefit of all in the world, can this dangerous (new, hypothetical) virus be stopped, contained, eradicated out of existence? Can strict lockdown be employed immediately in order to eradicate it? Is this not the first question?
I am an individual citizen. Government officials clearly will be much more worried about any possibility of social panic than I. But what I see happening in the very latest news is frustrating and very, very worrisome to me as private citizen. (US citizen residing at present in China.)
The feelings of South Africa, the hurt feelings of its peoples and government officials and science researchers, these feelings are become more important than the reality at hand! The reality is that travel bans, limitations, regulations are the most obvious means of controlling a very contagious social disease problem/emergency. (Look at the China case. Air travel quarantine is their most important line of defense each and every day.) The harm done temporarily to air travel bans against this or against a few other countries, this certainly is minimal when compared with the possibility of long term and very, very much greater harm. WHO officials have learned nothing it appears from my earlier blogs. How sad.
The rhetoric of apartheid has been used. I use the rhetoric of evil. I absolve WHO of harm in the initial Covid outbreak and spread. I will be first in line to charge WHO “experts” with criminal negligence before an International Criminal Court or similar tribunal of world justice IF–(of course this is a very large and yet unknown IF) but IF this world situation becomes appreciably worse and as a direct consequence of WHO website advice on air travel and the acquiescence of nations following it.
Pathological paternalism might be the phrase. I blogged at the very beginning of the Covid crisis about the sane recognition that different nations, their political authorities–will in fact adopt different approaches. And this I offer again as sanity and recommended emphasis, and even comfort at the present moment.
There may exist a small number of people who find comfort in the “idea” that the nations of the world remain amicable with one another in a crisis such as this. I find this to be illusory and evil comfort. I want my local government to be working on the problem. I don’t really care that the feelings of some nations might be hurt in the short term. If some nations in point of fact may avoid exacerbation, then why the %$& shouldn’t they be allowed to try to do so via travel limitations. This is an anti-democratic management-ism. And dangerous.
When fools do not learn after an error is pointed out, this is to be expected, but when otherwise smart or purportedly well intentioned people do not learn, this is evil, is it not? Yes, quite likely the omicron variant (and thank-you to scientists in SA for having identified it ..) is already spread to various places. But this scientific logic of inevitability I for one, completely reject, and strongly recommend that leaders of various nations ought also flatly reject. Air travel ban or stoppage may in fact help your country to avoid degradation of you national condition. Do not listen to bad UN advice! At this moment, do whatever you yourself consider might benefit your own nation.
From the WHO website and posted Nov. 30:
It is expected that the Omicron variant will be detected in an increasing number of countries as national authorities step up their surveillance and sequencing activities.
Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods. In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.
Since I have blogged at some length about this before, I now beg WHO a second time: Get out of the airline management business! This is none of your business. Your pseudo-science and pseudo-politics at this point is deleterious. It cannot help. It can actually do great harm…
Turning to the dangers of social panic and social unrest I might suggest at this point that some of the same, some feeling of (social) panic is appropriate and healthy and ought not be avoided. I call it disappointment. If nations do face a significant degree of disappointment via news in the next few weeks, then this should be faced directly, acknowledged. Not managed away. Before people can be rallied again to re-regiment and re-discipline themselves they need accurate facts and assessment, and disappointment.
But returning to my original felling, since I carry one of those familiar (to me at least–) darkblue covered passports, my immediate interest in how other nations proceed, what other nations do about a changing public health situation– this is minimal. Basically, I am only interested in the USA (and China.)
But I offer some free and more general and sane advice for any other democratic citizens of the world:
1. Different nations have different government arrangements and different national culture and custom and so, of course, will choose different approaches to a changing and dangerous virus situation.
2. Asians prefer custom and Westerners value law, but successful local effort anywhere in the world must combine both. World cooperation matters very little. Science is merely science. All national efforts and national rhetoric must be fairly limited. What matters, rather, is that LOCAL citizens go along with LOCAL government management efforts. I am not advocating for a docile citizen acquiescence. Maybe the opposite. In the mode of that folk song, I will go along with my government “but not guarantee which way.” That is, local democratic citizen cooperation means “help” one way or another way–(against) with implementing local epidemic control rules and schemata. If, for example, a community goes through four of five (local) officials before it finds a good fit this would be beneficial all around. Those four or five persons have each gained some experience in local government. Just as there is no one perfect and right mode of national policy here, so there is not one correct mode of local democratic “cooperation.”
3. If omicron is a significant setback then I suggest that strategy for the next stage, (after more than a year of social disruption, austerity, national management efforts, after this year of limited success), a next stage may demand a shift to more local democracy AND strict or stricter lockdown. China’s top down authoritarian approach along with the democratic element (if we call it that..) of Communist party members implementing the local and democratic extra work of distributing food and supplies to large numbers of quarantined persons–this has worked for China–to this point at least. Genuine political Democracies in Europe would need to match such cooperation (and stricter movement control) on a local level. This will be difficult.
And even more difficult in the USA, where states are large entities, too large. States need to delegate temporary authority to localities and cities in such a worst case scenario as I am here imagining. If the virus situation gets worse, states might resort to state border monitoring and control. (!) A website to request entry to the state, then only those vehicles with permission are allowed in by the highway patrol. Europeans and especially Americans dislike limitations placed on their free movement. But the mindless new omicron virus likes to travel quickly as well. Banding together as democratic and local community may be the best and most effective mode of fighting virus movement, virus spread, virus devastation and harm. Local communities and local nations thus must be encouraged, not discouraged (!) from making such-like local efforts. And certainly, the China case must demonstrate that movement control and regulation imposed upon persons, this, if unpleasant, (and with local “support” provided)–can do the job.
Canadians invented this game but Americans improved the game by cutting the bootom out of the bushel basket and later substituted a net. Canadians improved the game again by moving the basket ten feet away from the wall...
For zillions of years earth has alternated between inhospitably cold and hot, but now within the hundred years within which humankind has industrialized we are afraid that a rising and perhaps mankind-induced blip, –a minor increase in temperature, may throw the earth system into catastrophic excess… Shouldn’t we allow things a little more time to settle out before we forswear those standard fuels that industrialization is built upon?
Photovoltaic technology is coming along, and lithium batteries, but why is nuclear off the table–now that we have learned something from a few nuclear plant meltdowns? If we forswear fossil fuels, what, please be practical, can replace these? If we force the issue now, will needed technology magically appear?
As social critic, I am proud of myself for having seen some of this coming, for having gone out of my way to read Al Gore’s first book, Earth in the Balance, and for having posted on the web (maybe on AOL..) my “book report.” And going through Earth in the Balance again this week I can say that my initial sense, the disagreement I had then, is now, a quarter century later, very much the same as my issue with the present-day “fix climate change” project: it is contaminated with politics; it is too political. This may be just heavy rhetoric you say, my attempt to draw attention to something which I only consider to be important and label as excess politics, but if Al Gore hopes to save the planet by leading a climate-change movement, I too hope to benefit the world at large by directing and assisting people towards better, clearer thinking. Politician; social critic. We both spent time in seminary. Al Gore has friends at the UN and with the Nobel committee; I don’t. Al Gore has successfully activated a large number of people to rally round the climate change issue, and I, I am challenged by an interesting but not so enjoyable task: to explain what problems/issues I detect in this same project.
In Part III of EB, where the author states that he is finally turning from earth science, economics, religion, etc. to politics per se, Senator Gore asks: What does it mean to make the effort to save the global environment the central organizing principle of our civilization? And later:… the establishment of a single shared goal as the organizing principle for every institution in society… (I am not trying to prooftext, to hold someone to old phrasing, but trying to get at the ideas and their implications…) He then goes on in detail to set out plans and guidelines for governments to implement regarding population control, energy technology sharing, education, and and activation for this major Plan to “save the planet” from human excess and aggression. He compares it to the Marshal Plan with which the United States and Britain funded the immediate economic recovery of the European countries devastated by WWII.
I have various comments. First, the book is political throughout. This author cannot himself (in my opinion at least–) be other than an activist looking for political result even if he claims to be a more ordinary (non-political) intellectual in certain sections. “We must act now on the basis of what we know.” Rather, I myself am an intellectual “activist” only very indirectly. I certainly hope to affect how people think but I have no intention of adjusting or organizing institutions as such.
Second, this is certainly a grand and (strictly) political objective which is being honestly articulated in Part III. (And I myself was–momentarily–moved this time when reading about this hope for an environmental revival of American political ideals..) The world has seen the value of capitalism and democracy. Now we need a new political ideal through which to claim leadership in the world! What is wrong, after all, with working with all nations of the world in order to save the planet?
Well, somewhere down on the list such an objective is fine, in my opinion, but not as prime, central political objective. The Marshall Plan in effect, meant donated money over a short time period. Fighting to avoid the proported dangers of imminent climate disruption by cutting back on the world’s burning of fossil fuels–this is speculative, outlandish, and a moving target. Proponents might suggest that the ideal is all that really matters. At least we get the various nations moving in a good direction. But is this even a proper “political” objective? Politics is about protecting, and about arranging institutions and laws to benefit those within a society. This ideal, thoughtful consideration for the natural world, yes, can be added. But can concern for a balanced world ENVIRONMENT be a primary and specific political aim? Doesn’t the word environment itself (as concept) tend to denigrate what it intends to honor? The natural world, specifically the earth, is better (in my opinion) considered/described as the necessary home and milieu of humankind. It is not just environment. Do we really need environmental science or political cause before we can see this and/or recognize this? If so then this failure is better addressed by education, values and culture, not via someone’s political project.
The expectation would be that an activated political ideal–as value–will bring about change in thinking and attitudes, get nations to cooperate, make all aware of environmental issues. But if government can in fact achieve all such culture modification then this is religion, art, education–is it not? Not government. The cart is in front. Governments don’t create culture, they enable or endure or support or allow it to spread and extend. Is this not, then, political overreach, political over-conceptualization. (As I diagnose in a previous blog, it does seem to me that as influenced by the OT book of Samuel, etc., the West is at present neurotically hyper-political…!) If our culture lacks respect for the natural world which is our ordinary home, then this must be supplied by arts, culture, religion, not via politics or modern science. People need to “appreciate” science itself, biology or earth science and geology as a humanity. Why not!
I have little to complain about whenever specific environmental programs are discussed in this or similar books. We need to improve the natural gas pipelines so they do not leak. We wish to bring poor countries up to a good standard of living so that this might meliorate population increase. Regularly monitor climate conditions around whole world, etc.
Living in Seattle without owning a car, I went on scrambles (via carpooling) in the mountains with the Mountaineers, and then got interested in the naturalist hikes on which plants and wildflowers are identified by common rather than scientific names. I became an assistant leader on short local naturalist hikes within Seattle. I myself have no inclination to start a lumbering or mining business. I support maintenance of pristine wilderness areas. But my pro-nature beliefs were different from the all-in American (politicized) Environmentalism of the moment. I set myself the intellectual task of thinking this matter through further, and believe that at the result of such efforts I achieved an enlightened breakthrough: environmental issues are always local and always specific. That is, Alaskan residents should have more say than I in deciding when, where, and what economic development shall occur. It is always a local matter which is up for decision, this area of land, what shall be allowed, etc. New National Park or not; these or those restrictions.
Air and water contamination, these may seem to be non-local and thus contradict my achieved intellectual insight, but I would argue that they do not. Air and water contamination-and-quality issues, this simply moves the need to decide how to regulate–to larger entities…city, county, state, nation. These are still “local” entities; they must decide how much, when, where; specific choices. And since air and water need no passport to travel the globe, the worldwide local-deciders are yet individual nations. This globe is local to each and all. (As C.S. Lewis speculated about the Medieval mindset; They saw earth as a specific/particular creature.) But single creature or not, the Earth is not a universal goal or ideal or concept. Thus environmental decisions are (Are they not?) always and philosophically speaking, local choices.
Foreign Policy for any (local) modern nation includes import and export rules, international communication rules, and environmental choices/decisions/laws. Overfishing, air and water pollution, these will affect “us” (sooner or later) as well as others out there beyond our borders. A connected and industrialized world requires significant attention in each of these area, in addition to military security, but do environmental issues require a new mode of decision making? Not if, according to my insight, they are always local.
Prior to modern interconnectedness, nations were careless and reckless. Environmentalism educates as to why carelessness must be avoided. But can the words sustainability, green, carbon-neutral, etc. really provide standards for a society as well as for building construction codes? I have always liked green parks. And I insist that the more important sustainability of a society is its culture, arts, ideas and values, governance. And yes, economic sustainability, not destroying one’s own natural-world arrangements which allow for continuing economic production, this is important also. Sustainability may serve as a concept to moderate and counter economic logic, economic externalities, but seriously, why not ban use of that economic term “externalities,” or else fine persons for use of this same world? Why accede, in the first, place to economic hyper-logic. Anything that does not make money or cannot be priced with money is strictly incidental? Are you reacting, only, to bad economics?
But as the author of this one early book, Earth in Balance, candidly admits in Part III, there must be one super-topic, one ribbon to wrap up all of the other environmental issues into one package. And this super-topic, it is now clear, is–global climate warming as crisis.
About this ribbon-issue there can now be no equivocation, no questions asked. This is dogma. But is this merely (Democratic) dogma to fight (Republican market) dogma? But if so then this is somewhat dishonest and I (for one) expect thus, that it will not work. An astute effort by a politician to jump over the economic blockade and gain higher ground? Do liberals hope to break and/or humble the economic powers-that-be in this manner; put a clamp on the whole operation, get them where it will hurt the most… fossil fuel consumption?
I recently finished a blog chapter in which I called modern Western free-market economics dogma, said that we were living in an economic age, and tried to philosophically point out fundamental problems with this “science” so that intelligent American citizens might begin to intelligently fix and adjust our capitalism. Does the climate change Cause hope to avoid direct intellectual confrontation with free market theory. ( As my own efforts demonstrate, I myself believe, truth to dogma is the only way possible to rein in Capitalism…) Are climate change activists trying/hoping to avoid the tough intellectual effort necessary? It seems to me accurate to describe Mr. Gore as capitalist-nice; it is not his style to confront the Freemarketeers directly.
In another of my blog chapters available here on my web site I claimed to be able to intellectually accept both Evolution and Divine Creation. And I stated that I believe that Biological evolution provides an inadequate basis for a healthy modern humanism. Humanism must depend upon more than science. But what does this have to do with environmentalism? Well, it seems to me that here lies the primary appeal of this cause: it is a science-associated humanism. Environmental science indicates where the problems are and this activates a new humanism, our recognition that we must care for the earth. What can be wrong with this as a modern humanism?
Only that it is flimsy, incomplete. A healthy humanism, in my opinion, what our traditional humanism should have been, should never have allowed the natural world to be demeaned or denigrated to such an extent via comparative overemphasis on the human-social world. And thus, cannot modern science improve and revive our culture values at this point? Yes, but such must actually be quite inadequate–in my opinion.
This Cause asks the world and its individual nations to self-limit, to voluntarily restrain their libido-energy, their fossil fuel usage. This kind of needed “restraint” is of the sort that religions traditionally advocate. Al Gore is a religious person but numerous other partisans here may not see any place for “religion” and its more ultimate values. But is “saving the planet” not flimsy and unworkable also, as Religion…?
But should we not do something rather than nothing? We, the world, are faced with a cosmic issue here. An existential crisis. But life is always an existential crisis, and such cosmic activism suggests to me a modernized Pascal’s Wager (though I do not like the original…): if We are to limit our industrialization just because global warming may take off suddenly, shouldn’t we also require everyone in the world to engage in at least a minimal amount of religious effort, prayer, sacrifice, whatever, just in case there is (as some religions advocate) an afterlife..?
Mr. Gore may believe that I have been unfair to him, characterizing his (excessively political) cause in this way. He would say that he wants to activate people to become active democratic citizens. As such, these persons must first become convinced of the value and worth of this “cause,” the importance of environment, our earth under assault, and then take steps go get their various governments to begin steps to implement this or that… This is a standard democratic appeal…
Since I am not just arguing for the status quo, it behooves me to explain how I suggest a better humanism, a better democratic world, a better connection between the nations than his, Al Gore’s great “save the planet from the excesses of human aggression ” Cause.
And first, I believe I have a non-mechanical and better and broader view of what Democracy can and should be. As I have blogged previously about this, a purer democracy begins social and tries to stay out of the political as much as possible. My ideal here I believe to actually be more pressing, more important. And let me illustrate with a negative example:
I notice that Korea went successfully for a long time without regulation and was able to avoid Covid. Social norms of some sort were obviously operative. Australia recently had extensive lockdowns but with a significant percentage vaccinated they have changed focus. China began with its large initial outbreak but subsequently (scientifically) proved that an air-tight lockdown involving millions of people for two months CAN actually eradicate a virus such as this.
So far I have not said anything controversial, but should I continue, for example, by chastising the US media for recent stories exaggerating the occasional outbreaks in China–when cases in each of fifty states are still so high, this would not go well with the US Media. But I am still only stating plain facts, discussing the situation, not pro or anti USA. I set out to describe the Covid situation in various countries and their different manners of counterattack. I know that propaganda flying between the US and China is presently intense, but I wish to be fair and objective. If I were presently living in the USA it would be best that I not even raise such a point…
I “predicted” at the beginning of this crisis that various countries, various governing arrangements and various cultures would have different ways of facing the crisis. How obvious! And yet I dare you now to show me now, anyone anywhere in the world able to write up an informed, intelligent, non-patriotic and non-scientific evaluative narrative of what has been happening in various countries. Just the long-term news with some capable evaluation and even fair blame, including recognition that we, the world, are still in the middle of a crisis. (Science cannot tell us what will be happening next.) You cannot produce such, I am quite sure. And my point would be that this situation is very unhealthy. Nowhere in the world is there what I would call free and intelligent and universal/world-ranging discussion of the present crisis. We have numbers every day only, accounting.
The West, where free speech and open discussion is explicit value, the West no longer protects free thought and discussion from unfair attack, harassment, vilification… Other countries likely do not expect, reward or allow independent intellectual expression. So this is my initial “ideal” for world democracy of a better sort. Not that all citizens are able to discuss, but that a small number of intellectually active-capable-correctible persons exist in the larger cities at least. Do you believe that this is this an impossible goal or else do you believe that this already exists. If you believe there are already many such capable and informed and balanced intellects, then show me what I ask for. Who can provide balanced perspective at the present moment in this ongoing narrative? Fair, intelligent, universal news.
In the context of discussing climate-change as crisis, environmentalism as humanism, my suggested route for a better, more complete, viable humanism may also seem strange: recognition that Western civilization in fact has a fourth source which is “Asian,” Persian. One of the things which the Israelites did learn (if inadequately) as a result of the Babylonian Exile, would be a cosmic consideration of the end of the world. Judaism already has a God who initiates, creates the world, and there are a few strange verses in Genesis about the sons of God and the daughters of men. Jewish writes post-exile began to ask about evil in a cosmic context …
Zoroastrianism as religion has a Creator God, a less powerful negative spiritual being, a good created world, and a final battle and transformation in which the Good Deity will usher in a new heaven and earth. This scenario is familiar to Islam and Christianity. It is unfamiliar to modern natural science, but if there is some degree of philosophical plausibility that the natural world has a Creator Deity responsible for its existence, is there at least some minimal philosophical plausibility that the same Deity who is responsible for initiating this project, the present universe, would not at some later time wrap-up the cosmic project? Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament scripture can see no apparent (philosophical) meaning to human life. But after the Babylonian exile, Judaism began talking about a life after death, cosmic judgement, a supra-natural agent disturbing humanity and its choices, etc.
With regard to the possibility of impending climate catastrophe on planet earth, the point would be that human beings are secondary characters in a Zoroastrian apocalypse scenario. Supranatural beings clash while human effort comes only in choosing and staying on the right side…
A pandemic may possess apocalyptic danger, it could wipe out all human life. And nuclear power understood as technology could do the same, as might harmful “toxins,” and climate change were it to happen suddenly could also be catastrophic for the human species. But what the modern science and technology enterprise needs most at this point, it seems to me, is PERSPECTIVE within which to make decisions. And religion, (or an analogous source of more ultimate values) I expect, is thus not optional. Climate science posits a possible apocalyptic scenario, but only the importation of ultimate-type values from outside of the science context, only this can provide the larger perspective within which to make apt choices.
Perhaps I can summarize in personal terms. My own version of Zoroastrian-prophetic-democratic Christianity includes respect for philosophy and for modern natural science, democratic individualism, Christian values AND a belief, already as prophetic apprehension that the universe may end in religious-type consternation–before a better Nature, a better heaven and earth are to arrive. Within such a context, within such a many sided humanism, the climate-change Cause almost seems to me to be something of a wild goose chase. Yes, more respect for our natural world and remain alert to the effects of human recklessness, and yes, take steps now to minimize CO2 emissions–as possible. But there are other things also.
But isn’t this great Cause a good way to get the world working together on something? My suggestion for the nations of the world and how they should best relate will again refer to Persia and to Samuel P. Huntington. I believe we need an empire of cities. Those few intelligent and creative people which I hope can exist in a few larger cities, these are united not by science but by a universal (ie. worldwide and Greek) humanism which values intellect and art, (and religion), etc. These persons are actively concerned about a world milieu and its self-understanding, but also, each are rooted within their own local civilization and local national culture. Huntington asks for a world of nations which values one’s own civilization but also is cognizant of other civilizations with different religion, set of social values, arts history… which sometimes, obviously disagree, clash. The word empire may be used here because culture and civilization for themselves are more to be aimed at than national integrity.
The Greeks were impressed with some of the imperial values of the Persian empire, and it is hard to imagine such, but the Persian ideal seems to have been to allow multiple “civilizations” to exist within their larger jurisdiction. They allow enclosed nations to re-establish, and on their own to initiate their own chosen social laws, culture and religion, analogous to my vision of a non-political empire of the cities of the world, united not by business connections but by intelligence and art, a fair and balanced awareness of the contemporary world–within which humanism then, moderns science is part (but relatively) a quite limited part.
I hope that participants at COP26 have themselves a good conference; that government leaders have some well deserved vacation time; that people become more aware of the environment as our natural home, but I also believe that my ideals in the longer term are the more valuable, worthwhile.
Thirteen Easy Answers to the World’s Most Difficult Questions
Chapter VII. What is Economics?
click here to view PDF, 25 pages
In Chapter II I explained my notion that while the knowledge (and ensuing technology) of modern Physics, Chemistry and Biology has greatly changed our knowledge (of the natural world) and greatly changed our lives, the Social sciences (and what they claim about society and human beings, etc.) –these claims deserve no more respect than the claims of historians, classicists, artists, religionists. That is, philosophy is still in charge here, not philosophy as expertise but philosophy in a traditional sense: Each person must think for themselves. All of the various and important questions about human beings and society, laws and morality and education and norms must be discussed and settled by public discussion rather than social science. (Even religious-authority claims must be presented philosophically.) And this opinion may not sit well with science-loving Western intellectuals, but maybe I can soften this just a little as follows.
I believe that the standard certification for “higher education,” the BA, should best become a five (or five and a half) year requirement. The updated standard should require language, calculus physics, genetics and basic statistics, classics and some classics from the other half of the world, history of all civilizations, fine-arts activity/appreciation/history. Both hard science and hard literature, both one’s own classics and other people’s classics. Science majors would need to learn some religion and political philosophy; education majors would need to learn calculus and chemistry and digital technology. This better BAd that is BA-double could be phased in over time…) But lacking such a more stringent certification can we really expect the conscientious citizen be ready for intelligent public discussion of various social issues as they arise?
In my third chapter I discussed my attempt to understand and to “believe” simultaneously biological evolution and Divine creation, suggesting also that the quality of one’s intelligence is proportional to the scale of the complexity which one tries to embrace. Most biologists and most religionists it seems, choose the easier path of staying within their own disciplines, thus minimizing their philosophical labors.
Critique of our Western religions, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, begun in Chapter IV, will continue in the present chapter. It may seem strange to say so, but I consider that significant blame for present confusion in the West about democracy and economics, is caused by our bad (that is, inadequate) Western religions.
And in Chapter V, I discussed the Western obsession with politics. This present chapter wishes to put politics within a larger worldview. But Westerners should understand that they are not the only people fascinated with politics. Confucian China for example, historically had a very humanistic and central focus given to politics, and Socialism/communism/government-planning also keeps numerous political officials busy today with intended egalitarian focus on the people as motive force in history, etc.
So to begin, I believe that modern man came into existence in the axial age, that is, with Plato and Aristotle, Moses, Confucian ethics and Taoist metaphysics, Hindu and Buddhist spirituality. Philosophical-humanistic self awareness aided by written language, history, knowledge, philosophical consideration given to the various “realms” of economic life, governments, religion, social life and culture. Philosophical consideration is what recognizes and arranges these different realms, and what has in fact made the recent decades or century different–is the primacy now given to/taken by the economic realm. We live in an economic age. This is the most important step towards a better worldview: recognize which realm is today the all-encompassing realm.
This may seem a trivial point but I don’t believe that it is. Everyone is familiar with the so-called Industrial Revolution and seems to wish to benefit from its continuation, but economic historians are hard pressed to describe what exactly created such a Revolution. I would tend to suggest that it may be little more than a realm-importance adjustment. Eking out a living has always been necessary, but nowadays the commercial and economic is considered/viewed by most people as being primary, fundamental, most comprehensive of realms. This Revolution may be just a widely-chosen change of perspective.
Economics now affects, frames or slants all other social questions. Governments for long had their easy prominence, but now have been subsumed perhaps; Even they must now serve, must make attempts to provide, must promote industrialization and other beneficial economic developments.
This is not necessarily the first time in history that the economic has had such primacy. I like to imagine ancient Babylon with its large collections of baked-clay accounting records as having been a peaceful, boring, Economic society. In Christianity, the book of Revelation describes terrible beasts and other evil powers which much be overcome before a new and better universe is ushered in, but the more compelling image for me is in chapter 18: Babylon is fallen. Babylon, that great commercial world-city is fallen in one day. This image of commercial life as evil and in opposition to the good and heavenly city, this negative image of economic globalization I must admit is very convincing/appealing(?) to me. World commercial government is not your friend! Even if the merchants may enjoy it, this cannot last!
But along with modern shift to the economic, there is another strange movement which also seems to be here to stay: Democracy as ideal or norm of some kind! First only in France and the newly formed USA and in a few small areas of Switzerland circa 1800. Then a few more countries in Europe decide to try democracy. Now it is everyone in the world claims to have a democracy or else wishes to have a democracy (apart from a few sheikdoms, kingdoms). How did this happen? Why?
Is this Gimme Democracy? People are not asking for self governance but are demanding en mass that governments must help them obtain the benefits of industry, technology. Demanding that governments must serve the people economically–this is not quite democracy. Pseudo-democracy maybe.
But I believe that many people today also think of democracy as being an idea whose time has come–finally. At least it does seems compatible with, suitable to a primacy given to the economic realm.
During the Hellenistic age those Greeks made an effort to spread more widely their very successful city-scale democracy. And in Christianity I find that Deuteronomy, Chronicles, Luke-Acts and Paul have been proponents of democracy. And Mencius, and Buddhist monks, and the Mandate of heaven, etc. It seems to me that the golden rule, the moral principle which all sensible people recognize–is democratic. Democracy as simple idea that all persons have a common basic worth, this idea is natural and perennial. But while popular, are you able to point out anyone nowadays able to offer anything more than a simplistic and mechanical notion of what democracy is as socio-political norm? Is this or is this not a strange and increasingly desperate failing in the modern world, this inability to even describe democracy/democracies.
Since the economic realm is become largest, is most important, where does this leave genuine democracy as envisioned, for example, by the founding American patriots (though compromised by their allowing already-quite-well-established slave economies of member colonies to continue)…
American democracy has certainly gone off track if it believes that economic freedom is adequate substitute for (genuine) democratic freedom. I phrase my private view in this way: As American citizen I believe in democracy and remain loyal to democracy, but I don’t feel at all that this requires me to support capitalism as such.
To fellow Americans who seem unashamed (in private or in public–) of worshiping the free market, I would make this argument: Human beings and animals need food and shelter. The free market economy is certainly very effective at encouraging production of cheap food and cheap goods. But the most important items in a society, religion, fine arts, education, health-care, entertainment etc.–in provisioning a society with these things the free market mechanism is inadequate and/or dangerous. Jesus tossed the commercial people out of the temple. No fine artist is primarily motivated by money but rather by love or desire for something else; else there will be no art. Education certainly ought not to be slave of econometric criteria. Etc.
American capitalism at present (in my view) does not need wholesale conversion into socialism but needs adjustment, intelligent adjustment in the financial sector… But neither those who deny the Reality of socialism nor those who employ Socialism as threat-alternative, neither of these parties as being caught up within their respective ideologies, can be trusted to come up with any helpful intelligence with regard to political reform of our American economic arrangements.
Thus America, which began as a great and noble democratic project, democracy as freedom and civic virtue, has perhaps ended up on a side track, democratic freedom as freedom to become an entrepreneur and make money; economic freedom. Such a mistake seems to me obvious enough, easy enough to point out as mistake. But is there not a more fundamental Western confusion and consternation regarding democracy?
Europe is Western also, even before the USA, and is it or is it not the case that Europe is still hung-up, stuck, stunted by controversy–right and left–over the French Revolution? Various lefty groups intensely agitate to continue and complete the Revolution, that is, the larger promise of democratic hopes as first exemplified in only one nation, France, while people on the right, understandably enough, do not wish to have to suffer through unrelenting change and agitation. Might it help at this juncture to obtain a clearer and more specific description of the democratic goal? What exactly ought this now-democratic nation be working towards as social improvement? And notice please, what I am suggesting is democracy as social description, specific social awareness, not political detail nor implementation, not vague demand for equalization of status/wealth.
For example, Koreans and Japanese are known workaholics. Do they enjoy this? Not very much. With the help of their artists/intellectuals, if enough people in these societies imagine a shift from excessive work to time spent in nature-appreciation/art-appreciation, could these democracies not achieve over a few years such an improved society for themselves? Apart from any government or politics. And if the Koreans and Japanese can do this, then why not Europeans?
Is democracy not yet felt to be legitimate, not yet trusted explicitly in European nations? Because I myself at present have what I consider to be a democratic-prophetic Christian theology (–though I do not present this in any detail here in this chapter…) but because I have such an alternative and more democratic vision of Christianity, it does seem to me to be appropriate to critique Western Christianity, to claim that some of the excess and bloodiness of the French Revolution is in fact attributable to the Roman Catholic Church–a very important European institution of the time which should have known better, could have, should have explained previously, should have at least allowed intellectually that democracy is/was or might be OK.
France had gotten rid of its Protestant minority after someone left a threatening note in the king’s bedroom, and thus their choice was either Roman religion or nothing. When an initial push for constitutional monarchy did not work, the choice of Frenchmen was to reject both first and second estates so that the ordinary people, the third estate, might be freed of their oppressive burdens, might try democracy.
Reading through some of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France I note that he only once or twice employs the word “democracy.” Yes, it may not yet have been a common word, but then, this situation as is being reflected upon is obviously a revolution which comes to wish to define itself in democratic terms. The would-be patriots wish to establish a democracy. But as with the Roman Church, Burke’s attitude here must be that because democracy is not quite valid or legitimate, not mentioning the word democracy, this shall contribute to a denigration of any such imagined or intended reality. Voltaire turns his back on Rome, but does not Roman-Christian theology for centuries and centuries turn its back on democracy?
Since I myself tend to be conservative socially, I like Burke’s conservative attitudes and defense of “prejudice” for example, but because I have a quite positive (and now theological) view of democracy, I find Burke’s Reflections to be somewhat intellectually dishonest. How much blame (we might ask the reader at this point–) does Western religion deserve for ongoing present-day confusion about what democracy might be, should be?
But turning back to the topic of economics, should a certain degree of blame for even more pressing modern-day “issues” with regard to capitalism and its direction and implementation–is this not something that Protestantism needs to be held to account for–for failing to address? Is Protestantism responsible for continuing modern-day confusion about economics, economic theory? (What a strange suggestion..)
Capitalism has been spectacular in its successes. And I find plausibility in Weber’s argument that Protestant values are congenial to capitalist free-enterprise economies. This must have been foreseen in Adam Smith’s vision also, of economic motive unshackled from nation-state mercantilism. As Protestant, Smith must have believed and implicitly understood that Protestant virtues could (partially–) tame the greed of unleashed economic ambition. But of course now, after decades of success, we have our large factories, free markets and busy productive economies enjoyed by everyone, but the problem of human greed has not yet been addressed nor solved. If an unleashed economic greed has gotten too powerful for national/social good, who is available to help address this situation theoretically.
If it was Protestant virtues which allowed capitalism and industrialization to get going, to gain momentum, then it is not surprising that those who saw the benefits of capitalism and wished it ongoing success might also come to defend it in a narrow and partisan manner. But the issue here is much more fundamental, and asks that we address Capitalism as Theory, as science-like set of Beliefs. Is Protestantism to be blamed because Protestantism also has Beliefs! Not for its beliefs, no, but yes indirectly, for its rationalistic reliance on a set of beliefs that cannot be examined, cannot be considered wrong. To the present moment, Capitalism, the theory of Capitalism, presents itself as a self-subsisting and mutually-reinforcing system/collection of beliefs which describe the only possible manner in which economies can operate. Absolute scientific truth.
I am living in China but not doing business in China. I do not know how the government here manages both a large free-market sector as well as public companies plus ultimate socialist control over the economy. Call it socialism or don’t call it socialism, the ongoing economy is yet some sort of large fact. But in the latest textbooks on economics I wager, the majority of Western economists will deny that “socialism” can even exist. The Chinese situation, that is obviously some sort of anomaly. There cannot be any valid theoretical alternative to pure capitalism. (But to such claims of pure capitalism I would tend to say that all nations, in default certainly, in emergency, are Socialist.) As I have tried to argue elsewhere, the notion of a self-subsisting economy without political “support” is nonsense.
That is, an overly rationalistic capitalism as theory, an economic theory which becomes so rationalistic and self-absorbed that it treats politics/government as subsidiary and insignificant, this excessively rationalistic attitude dialectically creates another bad/partial alternative economic theory. When free-marketeers continue to claim not only that capitalism is the best but that it is the only possible type of economics, is it not human nature to say: I don’t want that. Give me an alternative.
Marxism is a reaction to the successes and the attendant problems of early capitalist industrialization. Marx was a German-Jewish atheist able to observe at first hand the bad factory conditions in England (which the English government was quite slow to address via new worker-protection laws). He wanted to find a fundamental alternative to the preference that governments such as England seemed to be giving to persons who already had wealth and capital. (And after the French Revolution, democratic notions of justice were becoming more popular; Everyone deserves a piece of this new economic pie. And perhaps this communal ideal cannot be denied as social Ideal at least, no matter what one’s legal approach to private property.)
But Marx was not the shallow idealist. He recognized–implicitly at least–the reality and necessity of governments. Better economic arrangements would come about only via political change. How exactly? He doesn’t say. He falls back on theory. Historical class struggle; it will just happen when enough people see the need for an alternative… So he also closes his eyes, one might suggest, to political exigency, insisting only that the worker (rather than the entrepreneur) must/will be given theoretical importance.
Adam Smith clearly is much more up-front and realistic, one must notice, in describing how government and economy interconnect. A third of his long book, it seems to me, is given to discussion of taxation and tariffs , etc. But subsequent to Adam Smith, political-economy, sadly, soon becomes economic-science, “science” based on a detached and rationalistic theory of property rights, economy as autonomous machine not to be interfered with by government or anyone else, etc. Mill (roughly contemporary with Marx) still seeks and finds a sane balance between the various roles of democratic society, government, and capitalist economy. But after Mill, Capitalist theory is no longer sane or balanced in its rationalistic refusal of fundamental recognition for the necessary place of government vis a vis economy.
Chinese intellectuals looking for ideas after the collapse of the Qing Dynasty must have decided that any versions of Western Capitalism as advertised at that time, with their accompanying Western values and accoutrements, would not suit China as well as the recent alternative, Marxism plus Leninism. The appeal of Marxism-Leninism, I would guess, was as Alternative to what had become an overly-rationalistic and exclusivistic and ideological–theory of Capitalism. The exclusivity claim brings an alternative theory and an alternative set of arrangements and practices into existence!
Democracy is a political term. Free market capitalism is an economic phrase/theory. Socialism is a term which spans political and economic, describing a controlling relation between economy and government. But the term socialism, much vilified by all capitalists, has within it a degree of truth which cannot be denied: All governments always necessarily manage economic arrangements within their societies. Thus rather than fight about mere words, the more sane description would be to notice that all governments are in charge, and in extremity such as the Covid crisis, all governments become socialistic in order to keep their economies from total collapse. In ordinary times, some governments by intent and by legal arrangement give more freedom to economic enterprise than do other governments. Just as there are in fact different democratic arrangements, so there are different economic arrangements that may be chosen. But technically speaking, and if capitalism can “exist” as a “sector” within socialist arrangements just as it exists under freer arrangements–the popular capitalism-v-socialism contrast is mental obfuscation of the facts on the ground. Free market capitalists don’t like controls certainly, but do they recognize that no society can operate without controls?
There is, I would insist, a third element beside democracy and the economic which must become operative in the modern-day worldview, an element that allows the other two to work properly but an element that is even more misunderstood and put-upon and abused than those other two. And that element would be the individual. The Aristotelian citizen; the prophetic-democratic Christian; the responsible and active citizen without whom democracy cannot actually work. Not the pseudo-Gimme citizen.
We recognize that power can abuse (as in governments) and that wealth can abuse (as in the top 5% having an ongoing unfair advantage) but few people seem to believe that democratic clamor can be abusive and destructive of healthy democratic life. J. S. Mill in his book On Liberty recognized that governments and majorities can oppress minorities, but his hope was that minorities and majorities of the people not be able to oppress individuals. But few people at present even grasp what this might mean. But if democracy is desirable, then shouldn’t the individual also be respected, honored as such. But in recent decades the trend is all in the other direction. Our two Western religions preach against individuals and offer only the church as essential group; Christianity becomes group membership. In Confucian societies the Confucian gentleman-scholar is an ideal, but as you can guess, most of the social rhetoric in Confucian societies will be groupie, rather than suggesting that the strong individual might be a valuable asset.
Does Science care about the individual, promote the individual? I myself might not be able to pick a lemming out of a lineup of rodents, but science describes for us how lemmings behave, and from my observation of the way scientists behave (as in recent voting) I would describe this behavior as being very conventional, lemming-like.
The Aristotelian citizen is the unique and many-dimensional and thriving human being who is able to attend a gathering of the ecclesia, a town hall meeting, and make a positive/worthwhile contribution to democratic process. Not to obtain some benefit, not to serve nor enact some sort of duty, but simply because this is what it means to be most active and fulfilled as a human being. Democracy in this sense is not, I repeat, procedural or legal or mechanical or political; It is social. And natural.
And I have written elsewhere of how I find this prophetic-citizenship in Christian Scripture. Luke describes the Apostle Paul as delivering very high quality legal-political speeches in his own defense before top government officials; Luke describes the early Christian leaders when brought to trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin as saying that they, having seen certain things happen, they cannot but speak freely about them, that is, cannot but be freely speaking democratic citizens rather than docile Jews. And Luke implies late in Acts that the smaller ecclesia of Christian believers within a certain city are in reality the better citizens as compared to the riled up citizenry in the public ecclesia, in the amphitheater.
If I am correct about economics, and if democracy is the chosen means, then can democracy tame economics? Do we trust the socialist-democratic government with good intentions, trust capitalism running free to benefit everyone, trust twitter mobs to choose among the best of two not so desirable economic promise-platforms and say that this is the best that we can do.
Do we settle for pseudo-Democracy, Gimme-democracy? Why not accept cheap democracy. At least we get internet plus economic goods! Bread and circuses. But bread and circuses is not democracy, is not even a compromised democracy. It is treating people as if they are animals to be fed and visually stimulated. Well fed animals. Thus, only something that transcends the economic, such as virtue-democracy, religion, culture-as-such can function as counter to economic forces. To accept bread and circuses, to accept debased/compromised democracy is to fall back into the old political machinations and power games that satisfied pre-democratic peoples. Only good religion gets rid of bad religion; only genuine democracy avoids pseudo-democracy, well fed animals.
Moses becomes a democrat in his old age apparently as a result of all the authority conflicts which he must deal with at Sinai and during the desert travels. In Deuteronomy he encourages a new generation to build a new culture/society that will be better than that of Egypt. And the secret ingredient in this polity, I would suggest, is the Levites as democratic elite, unofficial elite. The Levites live in the cities but depend on social charity/tithe/good-will for their sustenance. These Levites would be the individual scribes and artists that enable a democracy to work; to avoid mob factionalism and economic capture; to show the way to the building of a healthy civilization. (These Levites must have been a collection of early Individuals.) The genealogies in Chronicles begin with Adam and do not end with king or nobility, but with the ordinary Levites who return after exile to become doorkeepers in the re-built temple.)
But Moses warns that if this society does not keep to the guidelines in the Law this society will be cursed. One of these curses is that the Israelites will be taken back to Egypt in boats.
Jeremiah is the prophet who presides over the demise of the Israelite project and cries over destruction of the capital city. This civilization is infected by serious institutional rot and must be abandoned. The invading army gives Jeremiah permission to travel freely because Jeremiah has been encouraging Israelites to give up on their failing civilization, accept its demise, surrender to the invaders, start over later… Some other few Israelites are allowed to remain in the land but decide to revolt, then bolt for Egypt. Jeremiah apparently decides to travel along with this “ship of fools” (my phrase) on their way back to seek refuge in Egypt-where they end up enslaved.
People nowadays wish for economic benefit but don’t care so much for the complications of active citizenship. But compared with Monarchy or Theocracy one might/should expect that Democracy will be both messier and more difficult! The difficult part in modern-day democracy has to do with the economic; Getting out of the economic; Transcending the economic.
The anti-economic phrasing of Luke’s Gospel is very strict: Blessed are you of my disciples who are poor. Paraphrased, You who are in fact impoverished, you have an experience similar to what it takes to be my spiritual follower–within a society that seems only to value money.
The philosophical individual, the prophetic-democratic Christian, the cultured individual; such solitary individuals are best able (individually at least) to get out of the Economic. But for democracy at large to work these few individuals must assist numerous others citizens in being able to choose non-economic things, to seek and to build a social-democratic society that deliberately and consciously aims for higher things, things higher than the commercial and vendible.
Many will decide to try to game the economic system, and this may work in the short run. Many will compromise with democracy and then find it to be unpleasant that all of the people whom they are living among are gamers and compromisers. But if I am correct in my analysis, all in the long-long run must come to terms with philosophy and the importance of the individual.
Pk Feb 2021
[This will be a long and involved blog with examples given of the misuse of big/abstract words such as socialism, nationalism by educated persons who ought to “know” better. ( If you grow weary of reading you might look at my latest and shorter blog about the Theology of John on my religion, that is, my Nicodemus page.)]
But I start with an unpleasant metaphor. In a number of places around the world scientists/technicians have been testing sewage to detect the Covid virus and then estimate the number of people infected. How they get one minute virus particle in a large mass of sewage to interact with other organic molecules… this is quite amazing. But this larger mass I suggest is the excessive rhetoric in the media/information/opinion pipeline, while 0.03% and/or would correspond the logic content. Rhetoric is not a bad thing but there must be, in my opinion, some sort of balance with logic, with interest in truth. Jordan Peterson has a rule about being precise always in one’s speech. But in the media-information establishment there is it seems no more intent towards logic or truth, there exists only what I would term a conventional intent; an intent to promote, an intent to clone conventional opinion. (Conventionalism is one of those Realities which don’t compute anymore for most Westerners because most, no matter how well educated, would deny that Western societies might in fact be overly conventional!)
My first example is from immediate news: The head of the WHO, of the UN and of the EU, persons who ought to be among the brighter persons in the room, these each recently dropped an apparently new-coined phrase “vaccine nationalism” into the media stream. What is this supposed to mean? I myself find this phrase to be not just bad and unwholesome rhetoric, but–there is no other word appropriate here–stupid. And I will try to prove my case in two parts, beginning with attention to world-reality, facts about the present Covid situation.
This rhetoric suggests that rich nations are presently and by intention hogging the vaccine supplies. This therefore is a very bad thing which is happening right now, and serious enough to be condemned unequivocally, without qualification.
We do know by definition that the rich nations have more money, and know from the news that these same nations have been initiating inoculation programs. These are facts. But half of the world’s population scattered around most of the 200 counties of the world also know another fact: The world’s riches countries at present are the most affected, the hardest hit, have the larger percentages of Covid infections! USA, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal etc., are not doing very well by comparison with all of those poorer nations of the world. (Am I being impolite to describe this situation. I hope not.) But since this is so in the larger world, the rich nations of the world are not greedy, we ought to be clear, but desperate, and should be. They are presently being overwhelmed with sick citizens.
So what can be the point of rhetoric at this moment to point out the naughty selfishness of these naughty rich countries? I don’t understand. If and when the rich countries are at 80% vaccination levels and poor countries are at 7%, then I may agree with such rhetoric. But this rhetoric does not fit present reality. It obfuscates reality. (Nowadays, going public to side with the poor and disadvantaged produces an almost autonomic applause…)
Canada has purchased more vaccine than it needs. There are only three explanations possible: Canadians are selfish and naughty people, or they have employed some purchasing agents who do/do not know how to negotiate, or they are planning to resell their extra vaccine to the poor nations at a profit. What I am saying is that any short term crisis as may be created by this rhetoric is quite bogus. It doesn’t correspond to reality; this rhetoric deliberately confuses public apprehension of what is actually happening in the world.
The even more serious issue with use of the phrase “vaccine nationalism” is the way in which these three ostensibly educated persons jump upon an already put-upon and half dead word and try to kill it. Nationalism BAD it must be. Else what does the phrase mean? Anyone who surmises that nationalism could be good. Ha ha. You are wrong. –And in fact I must admit that this is the sad and dangerous world in which we live. The word nationalism probably cannot be resuscitated.
We have at present a world which passably operates as composed of 200+ nations. But nationalism, a word which one might expect would be a theoretical attempt to describe some of the most salient constituents of a nation, this word has been vilified and certified as a bad, derogatory term by academics! Empire is a word which I myself believe needs to be revived as having possible positive and cultural possibilities, as in the sentence Some empires are beneficent while others are bad… but a significant majority of Westerners (and Chinese in fact..) display a negative reaction to the word which is both theoretical and visceral! Or cities, those dumb urban landscapes, how long must American cities suffer from bad press and from stray riots? As long, certainly, as no one experiences any sort of positive vibes when they hear the word “city.” Or states. This is obviously how the USA is structured as a country, but American intellectuals do not seem to either believe nor desire a flowering of state diversity, state cultures! With all of these important “political” words vilified or denigrated, is it any wonder that people at large might be moving from stupid to stupider.
Is anything being offered via this rhetoric as a (better) alternative than nationalism. Does the word universalism excite you? Do we bow simply down to the EU and the UN and beg the leadership there to please, please, take over the world. We want world government and want no more nations. We want science, economic wellbeing and vaccine for everyone, that’s all.
And perhaps if WHO issues a formal mea culpa for the following two items I also might allow them to exist in our future more perfect and more universal world.
I have been living in Northeast China for more than a year, and when the epidemic hit I went at that time to the WHO website and was shocked out of my *%*%*% mind by the advice which I read there about not using facemasks.
I do not believe that facemark policy is science. This is common sense. Photographs from 1918 show people wearing cloth face coverings, though they had no actual knowledge of tiny virus particles. So the WHO advice which I read a year ago I still find to be stupid beyond all possible comprehension. What possible train of thought could possibly lead to advice given to the world at large: Do not wear masks. (Militaries with their guns and personnel depend on logistics. WHO has no business giving logistical advice to any individual countries. Its prime responsibility must be to present principles/rules. Wear a mask or else do not.)
And secondly–a pet peeve of mine which is not going to go away easily. Air travel. Is the WHO entrusted with managing the world’s air travel even during a serious pandemic. No. WHO is a health advisory and health administration entity. But I can well imagine, once one gets a taste of world circum-spanning power–it may be difficult to let go.
I appeal to middle high school students. Raise your hands if you agree with the following argument:
WHO sent doctors and experts to investigate the SARS outbreak in western China. A few of these same persons died of the disease, but also spread the disease unwittingly when they travelled by airplane to talk with colleagues in HK, Singapore, Toronto, (Korea) etc. The investigators spread the disease themselves via air travel, but after this virus was stopped and went extinct (after some few hundred people died) WHO maintained on its website the policy/recommendation that during a pandemic international air travel ought NOT to be curtailed. Nations still need to be friends; even during a pandemic they still will be needing to send supplies (and experts I suppose) back and forth between countries.
I do not blame WHO for the Covid pandemic and its harm to many people. No one at all could have for-seen the present situation. But I will blame WHO for harm to peoples of the world should WHO not change its policies and should there be a pandemic in future decades caused by a virus similar to Covid.
SARS was less contagious but more deadly than Covid. But I ask middle high school students to hypothesize a virus more contagious than SARS and less than Covid. (Its mortality rate might be similar to Covid.) The objective is to stop spread completely and wait for this virus to go extinct. Can this be achieved for our hypothetical IBT (in-between) virus?
It certainly must be possible, because SARS was very contagious and yet was contained. But we admit also that if IBT is almost as contagious as Covid it may spread so quickly that even the best of human efforts will not stop it from spreading to the whole world. But why would anyone suggest that we not try!
Why would we not wish to isolate any countries that had the earliest few cases of IBT by cutting off immediately all movement of people via air travel out of those countries, and then hope that lock-down efforts within those countries might–after some few weeks or months, eradicate the virus–as China has proven is possible with Covid.
Is the logic convincing or not? An IBT may be stopped with both lockdown and avoidance of air travel. And if possible, why would the world not try? Covid is more contagious than IBT. After this bad experience with Covid, the world now know better what works and what doesn’t work very well. We might in the future possibly be able to lock-down and contain a virus that is more contagious than Covid. But certainly not without stopping air travel.
I am certain that the airline industry would prefer to suffer a dozen short-term local stoppages (until experts determine that there is no dangerous contagious agent present) rather than suffer the consequences of another pandemic similar to this one. And as to nations remaining on friendly terms and maintaining trade in medical or other essentials, well, I am sure that the nations of the world can work such out matters amongst themselves. That is, if WHO wishes to suggest, or wishes to act as a liaison or even to administratively assist miscellaneous nations during a pandemic, that is certainly commendable. But advice that air travel not be curtailed, this smells to me like a power grab, well intended advice maybe, but advice which is actually harmful and stupid.
There is no science to beat this logic. Lockdown works. Stopping infected people from moving to other places, this works. And in the modern world, traveling by airplane is (was) a very popular form of long distance travel, and preferred by 98% of all viri surveyed.
How then did China manage to make lockdown work? Did they have a generous supply of smart epidemiologists. No. Once they recognized the seriousness of the situation, danger, contagion, how many people were already likely infected, they implemented a strict local lockdown and subsequent lockdown of the whole country of millions of people–for what seemed like two months.
But why do I need to be the one to explain what happened? I had personal acquaintance of not being allowed out of the school without written permission, of having to report my temperature twice a day. But I am not a reporter, not a social scientist or epidemiologist, and my information sources are in fact quite limited. Where are the smart media people with a BA who can explain what I am about to explain to this internet audience? Is it un-cool perhaps to talk about such things, to talk about how or why one country might be doing better than another? But if so then this makes my point about stupidity. Much of the news today is still taken up still with Covid, but where is there any intelligent coverage which is non-conventional, which goes beyond repeating daily numbers, complaining about politics…
Many decades ago in the early years of Chinese Communism, Chinese were tied to the approval of a workplace official before they would be allowed to move, buy a radio, get married, change jobs, etc. This type of very local control and management is long gone, but with Covid lockdown, (extreme lockdown being a commonsense political decision, not a science driven decision, it must be–) the government quickly re-implemented very localized management. Some analysts might describe this as authoritarianism but I believe a more accurate description would be re-implemetation of very localized management during an emergency.
A relatively small housing area would monitor in and out traffic, have volunteers to get food supplies for everyone, check up on old people, etc.
It seems quite obvious to me that this very localized management is what makes the difference between an effective lockdown regime and the leaky and partial regimes as implemented not just in the USA but in most of the once great nations of Europe. These freedom loving democracies simply do not have the block by block local officials nor local control as possibility towards strict and extreme lockdown.
The peoples of all nations do certainly have the possibility of local community-scale consensus and cooperation. Apart from management by local officials or via very detailed emergency-made regulations, consensus coordination is the other means to maintain efficient local lockdown, but sadly, European and especially American communities don’t seem to grasp the importance of convention. (Please see the first chapter of my book available here on my website… 13 easy answers…)
Both Korea and Japan have gone for long periods of time, successfully, by relying not on local officials nor legal regulation but conventional agreement. People in South Korea apparently know how to cooperate by staying away from that place, being careful now about personal protection, etc. But even this social coordination has been show to have its limits more recently in avoiding this virus.
But why then cannot we talk more intelligently about these various countries and their methods as I have tried to do. My answer would be that the (Western, that is) media torrent is not interested in reality and truth but only in cloning cell cultures, in building up herd numbers, in misconstruing virtue as being proud of being part of a larger and larger mob (majority) which may in fact be becoming stupider and stupider.
I have not been able in the time available to give adequate discussion of the great abuses being suffered by the English words “socialism” or “nationalism,” but if you are interested in the second of these I suggest the short book by Harvard history professor Jill Lepore: This America, The Case for the Nation. (She considers nationalism to be a bad thing…)
I give the first paragraph..
This little book undertakes three outsized tasks, things that haven’t been done much lately, things that seemed to me in need of doing. It explains the origins of nations. It offers a brief history of American nationalism. And it makes the case for the nation, and for the enduring importance of the United States and of American civic ideals, by arguing against nationalism, and for liberalism
pk, February 8, 2021
As I remember the January news here in China, for almost a week the description was that there was no “human to human transmission.” This (as some of us now realize) is a technical phrase, is medical-scientific technology. But my first point (1) of many to follow, is that if/when this phrase is used in the future people should expect the opposite. The phrase means that science has not yet confirmed the HHT. But it is quite likely that serious contagion already does in fact exists–else why would the news media be bringing attention to this situation! Once a disease is proven to have HHT, then we can say that in fact, it is very contagious…
WHO is an international health organization, not a science-knowledge-producing enterprise. I will be criticizing WHO because they provide such an easy target as representing medical-scientific beliefs. Thus I will be criticizing their science rather than the organization itself. So I wish WHO the best in helping minimize other types of disease around the world. But ideally speaking (though this is not in fact feasible, not in fact possible) WHO might hypothetically take upon itself a very important epidemic-related role as first responder. Large nations already have their national teams ready to quickly investigate possible new and dangerous contagious diseases. But nations are also self-interested. Recent hindsight shows that China in fact was quick and effective in protecting its own population, its own region. But ideally speaking (2), a team of brave WHO epidemic investigators ready and waiting to jet off to any epidemic-suspected location in the world, and given prior permission by all such nations to enter and travel as they wish–this could be faster. And speed seems most important when containing initial spread. But even if a nation is willing to sign away some of its sovereignty on paper in this way, most nations, in crisis, would probably not give such a WHO epidemic team free and easy access… In crisis, nations will wish to maintain strict control over a developing problem…
During the earlier Sars epidemic it was doctors and medical experts trying to help, who were directly and indirectly responsible for spreading Sars to other countries–via air travel. But subsequent to Sars, WHO put in place recommendations that in case of a pandemic, nations ought not to limit international air travel! This is issue (3). Presumably because they themselves were trying to follow such recommendations, China officially complained when other nations cut off air travel with China early in the Covid pandemic. But to any sensible person the stupidity of such a WHO policy should be obvious. Just as lockdown (as we now realize) is an extreme but obvious way of trying to prevent local spread, so cessation of air travel is an extreme but obvious way of trying to prevent long-distance spread. (And we might hypothesize–all in hindsight of course, that had other nations earlier quarantined-off China via air travel limitations, international spread would have been significantly slowed.)
Obviously if one cannot control borders one cannot begin to manage spread. (States in the USA may need to try to implement stricter state border control, and I believe there is a Supreme Court case legally supporting such during an epidemic…) So I see no possible excuse for this bad and dangerous “medical-scientific” advice as laid down by WHO. Closing borders to ordinary traffic is now and will still be in any near future an obvious and appropriate (national) reaction. Not sufficient, but certainly natural. If a nation subsequently wishs to maintain communication, special aid shipments, inbound-flight quarantine procedures, well, that is their business. But such a naive WHO recommendation seems to me, now, to be in fact a serious misapprehension of reality, misunderstanding of how nations function. And the culprit responsible for this poor thinking? This must be incorrect/inappropriate epidemic-related medical-science. WHO is a health advisory agency.
I move on to another item in established medical science which continues to bother me, to irritate and inflame my common sense, and that would be the aerosol-droplet distinction, (5). More than two months ago I was on the verge of blogging about this subject but reminded myself that I actually have minimal science experience and no medical training, and so convinced myself not to blog; Don’t say anything. Am I a Medical Einstein that I can come up with thought experiments which shall then help to advance medical science!
But a recent newspaper article along with engineering experiments/studies by Linsey Marr, engineering professor, forces me to publicly apologize for this earlier reticence. My common sense may, after all, be able to lead many, many medical experts onwards to better conclusions! Marr’s article mentions that she is still trying to track down the source of the five micron cutoff point and the source of the medical-scientific categorization: droplets, aerosol. And this was exactly the source of my original anger and frustration two months ago. This distinction still seems plain wrong to me, both contrived and false! But who am I to question established science.
So I dare to claim now in this blog that this distinction is bogus; is bad science. And I ask and wonder as well why there are so many smart scientific persons out there traveling merrily along without raising further questions about this same medical-science categorization, aerosol v. droplets.
My original suggestion would have involved a large warehouse, collecting quantities of dry and harmless animal/plant viri, and then with various airflow patterns, finding if these things had landed on the various landing platforms, etc. A physics experiment–almost a high school physics project; though I do realize also that collecting and then identifying these extremely tiny particles, the individual virus, might not be as easy as I might wish/hope… But where is the science, the basic physics that might support (or refute) this fundamental medical droplet-aerosol assumption?
I had read about the two-hour choir practice in Washington State where most of the members became sick. This is anecdote, one incident, I remind myself at that time, but this should at least get people to start to question the droplet dogma. And now I notice that professor Marr has also done a post-choir scientific study which concludes that there was aerosol transmission during the choir practice! My common sense is corroborated! But then I realize that this is not going to change anything… Ms. Marr’s medical expertise is probably at the same level as mine: non-existent. Her “science” here is not likely to upset, dent, trouble the well established Medical science establishment until they, the Medical science establishment are themselves ready to be upset, troubled.
Why is this assumed and accepted medical categorization so important? Well, because it is implicated immediately in how we each, planners, ordinary citizens, business persons…IMAGINE this disease and its communicability. We either imagine a disease particle sitting on a droplet of water and then falling safely to the ground, or else imagine it as a more dangerous dust-like particle able to easily travel longer and further. Dust storms traverse the world, don’t they?
My unkind suspicion is that there may be some management motivation behind this medical distinction. (Don’t scare the medical personnel or they may go on strike.) Medical workers cope with contagion danger on a daily basis, and using standardized procedures. They know now to use stricter procedures with Covid-19. But this droplet distinction presents itself to us as being general science, not health management. The public at large require an accurate science.
Science is about being accurate, isn’t it. Let us imagine that it turns out after a few years that significant aerosol contagion by this virus is proven. Will there be any blame to be apportioned out? Medical workers will still be busy about their jobs either way. But by giving the non-medical public an inadequate image of the dangers of contagion, the science here, yes, would/will in fact be culpable, guilty. Mischaracterizing a present danger; science-belief-caused negligence. Can one sue all of medical science as Establishment? Probably not.
If you are a science loving person and bothered by complaint (5) then you will be even more troubled by (6): Epidemiology (or at least that portion which we are now most interested in, spread of disease…) can never and will never, in my opinion, be a hard science; it is and will always be wishy-washy science. Or, to be polite, all science is not the same. And this particular scientific effort, since it aims to study the spread of disease within a society, must share the indeterminacy of sociology. People choose this or that; and because society includes so many ideas, institutions, habits, groups, etc., there can never be deterministic (hard) laws in sociology, nor in this portion of epidemiology.
Most people do have a suspicion that the magic numbers which epidemiologists search for to describe speed of social spread in a community or health danger/mortality, that these numbers can never be exact. Or if exact, these numbers cannot exactly be all-important, broadly explanatory. Soccer stadium, bar with good ventilation, city streets with stagnant noontime air, people always talking during meals or not; there are too many variables it should be obvious, to allow for a deterministic type model of how a disease can/will pass through and infect the individuals in any one community. I don’t begrudge the efforts made and I myself will take seriously the careful and scientific conclusions, but it is obvious, isn’t it, that this is a different kind of science than calculating the trajectory of a physical object thrown in the air, a baseball, which can be done very exactly and give the same result every time.
In my opinion epidemiologists at this juncture should admit, up front, that what they seek to provide during a crisis such as this is a “best estimate.” Careful and scientifically developed but only a social estimate. Such an admission of the limitation here, that this is not very exact, this seems obvious to me, but I also realize that most scientists will reject this. They will wish to say that all science is the same. Science is science. But it isn’t.
With the Spanish flu epidemic a century ago we had no idea what was happening. But now we do have some serious scientific knowledge. We know how viruses operate, what they are. We use electrons to give pictures of things as small as a virus, and can almost number the atoms that compose the RNA or DNA of this new and troublesome Covid virus. We have a very sophisticated grasp of some of the mechanisms the human immune system uses and so can take various approaches to the technology of building vaccines that might help the human body get prepared for this virus, etc. And for all of this hard biological science and consequent biological engineering we as public also promise to be appreciative. But I will still insist that we must admit/ recognize that much of what is offered by epidemiology can never have this same sort of determinism or exactitude.
Why is it so difficult to admit and recognize this differing quality as present in different “sciences.”
There is an even more obvious reason why epidemiology cannot offer us much in the way of scientific help in a pandemic such as the present: Science is unable to predict ahead of time what a new beast, a new disease agent, will be like. Until the NEW beast has been up and running for a while there is no way for science to anticipate such…
Thus on the social side of a contagious disease–science (in my opinion) can give guidelines, models, scenarios but not much more. That is, there is no separate science for socially managing a contagious disease. Management must always be the responsibility of political entities. Social medicine can advise but government must choose how to implement.
What is the CDC doing at present. Shouldn’t they be busy giving daily advice and directives which are then eagerly anticipated and used by governors and more local officials–as these officials each see fit to use or adapt the advice. Local officials will know their communities and thus have some sense of how to apply the advice, guidelines. In this, governors must depend on a sort of artistic sensibility. A little more here, a little less there. This is what makes art. Not fixed directives. There is never a direct line, in my opinion, from social-medical science to implementation.
Why do Americans at large, who are certainly practical, seem unable to grasp this break, the distinction which I have just described between science and practice? Is it ordinary stupidity, or is this because of a deliberate media obfuscation of the issue, or it be because most of the educated persons in the national media do not believe either, that such a break exists. Are such educated media people seriously hoping for scientocracy; do they believe that science can supply singular, exact and specific directives in a pandemic situation such as this?
Look at the differing (and mostly successful) approaches of China, South Korea and Japan. Which is more scientific?
But to continue (7) with the subject of media incompetence and obfuscation. If–as I believe is the case–what is most important right now is state by state management efforts, then states need to be allowed to do their separate things. We all know that people in office or running for office will never stop trying to spin things politically. The people responsible for actively managing this epidemic are these same political officials or candidates.
(And additional local officials as well, in my opinion, should be delegated more authority to control/manage, allowed this local opportunity by governors and state legislatures. Legislation to allow short term regulations, etc.) This temporary and targeted epidemic legislation should be able to pass constitutional challenge. And states can do such, I believe. They are smart enough.
But what worries me is federalism and the national media. Should states begin to do their own things the national media will not allow but will subvert, obfuscate, because, I expect, national media do not really believe in federalism. Fifty separate states, fifty law codes and law enforcements systems, fifty approaches to localized problem solving. Against this national media certainly have a national bias, a tendency to look for solutions at that level, to blame at that level, to try to encourage nation-wide movements, etc.
Every few weeks it seems some otherwise intelligent person writes an article suggesting that we get rid of the electoral college system, implement popular vote. But this is radical and simpleminded. We already have a good system which is called federalism and which should allow state diversity of culture, state by state diversity of virus management, etc. Some people actually do not understand about the senators and the representatives, why California has the same number of senators as North Dakota. But we who already understand the state concept need to help these people by explaining it to them. Why we are called the USA. Why we vote by states and not as one massive populace.
But do people in the national media really believe in the existence of separate states. I myself must admit that I tend to a national rather than state perspective, but if we are in a crisis now which now requires local management then for us, Americans, that means state and local management needs to be given respect. The feds cannot do this task of micromanaging no matter whether the Executive is blue or red.
One might suggest that a national reporter exclusively on the topic of one state, that this must be boring to anyone not living in that state. But is this necessarily so. What seems obviously boring to me is national reporters grinding the same old political axe, spinning each and every topic the same way. Why not take the epidemic situation as a race to see which state wins the long-race with the best methods (not policies).
We have the recent example of three populous states opening “early” and suffering setback for that decision. California, Texas, Alabama? Avant-garde scientific planning, economic priority, states-rights machoism. Which of these ideologies were thus proven to be most valuable as ideologies. None of the above. The only thing proven is that all three jumped the gun with regard to their own local conditions. But the race continues… And as well, it may be a long race. There are no pre-set guidelines here folks. Not much science to fall back on. This is called local management. Governors and below. Get used to it. And I am hoping here to “have your back” by getting/keeping national media tendencies/assumptions off of your back.
Thirteen Easy Answers to the World’s Most Difficult Questions
Chapter V. What has gone wrong with (Western/American) Politics? Re-reading Plato’s Republic a year or so ago and trying to analyze its ideas, I find that today I am yet very favorably disposed towards one of my attempts at explanation: Plato considers that philosophy is all-important because it provides a common territory in which the realms of religion and politics inter-relate, inter-connect. If this role for philosophy is allowed then this establishes a particular sort of adjustment and delineation between these two prominent realms; this philosophical meeting-ground between the two then actually will help to structure a worldview. And as historical-fact, Plato’s suggested meeting-ground was accepted, and this has become the foundation of a sound and successful Western European solution… If my explanation here is accurate, appropriate, then perhaps diagnosis of the modern political problem would be that both religion and politics have abandoned this meeting ground, have retreated into their respective anti-philosophical ruts, have rejected Plato’s synthesis. The medicine or treatment needed then is fairly straightforward: more and genuine philosophy from all sides! How difficult could this be!
The Babylon of long ago left many cuneiform records of commercial transactions, but who cares now to know that so-and-so lent out to so-and-so so many baskets of grain. Today, any middle-school student is probably quite aware that our present-day world is again becoming increasingly commercialized: market oriented economies, industrialization, new technologies. And we each, it seems, are willing enough to commit our time and lives to this economic system because this system promises an ever improving material benefit. (I myself remain wary of the economic as such, and do not welcome a future Babylon, one all-encompassing world government catering to economic agents while promising to indirectly benefit ordinary people.) But along with this obvious growing prevalence of the economic realm, there is another modern fad, and a fad that I expect is not temporary: the popularity of democracy as idea.
Perhaps with an increasing prominence given to the economic the populace at large simple want more; they clamor for more. Governments then need to heed such demands. Politicians want to be seen as helpers of the people. Soon everyone wishes to be a democrat… But whatever the correlation, the expansion of the economic realm as well as the popularity of “democratic” notions are major modern phenomenon. Most adolescents, young people, will concur…
The first point which I wish to make in this chapter on modern politics will be to the effect that democracy is essential, that democracy can save us–but also that few persons genuinely believe this or actually understand what democracy means. Democracy can save us, but this can occur only if we understand what democracy is. Ancillary to this need to re-understand democracy, my opinion is that democracy itself will be co-opted, ingested, taken over by both economic forces or political-ideological forces unless it receives religious “support.” Democracy, of itself, cannot stand up to growing economic forces.
My second major point in this chapter will look in the direction of religion, Western Christianity. It seems to me fair enough to say that Christian religion in both of its western forms, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism (–in the famous words of a movie): Can’t handle it, Can’t handle the truth, Can’t handle, that is, the Truth of Democracy.
Specifically, I have become increasingly convinced that there has developed in the West an obsession with politics–obsession here meaning excessive, unhealthy, dangerous and harmful over-attention. And more significantly (though this may also seem bizarre as a claim…) that this obsession may be traced back almost three thousand years to a priestly-prophetic Old Testament theologian! The author of Samuel-Kings has been very successful, but that long run of many, many centuries of success may have finally run its course. Exclusivistic and one-sided interpretation of Old Testament scripture thus has produced, it seems to me, the present-day Western political exhaustion, bankruptcy. And the cure for this one-sidedness is quite obvious also. It is to be reminded (as in the previous chapter on Religion)–that Christian Scripture itself is not one-dimensional, one-sided.
(As an aside, I offer a quick interpretative alternative right now: Deuteronomy is the democratic vision of Moses which does not coincide with the theological emphasis of that other OT theologian just mentioned, and first and second Chronicles provide an alternative–and democratic-friendly–alternative version of Israelite history.)
But if I correctly identify an unhealthy Western obsession with politics, an obsession which has its origins in Old Testament theology and religion, there is still some real difficulty in explaining how this religious-originated sensibility has come also, as it seems it has–to influence recent Western politics which is largely non-religious. Has this religious obsession, this disease, jumped (–I don’t know how else to explain it–) over from religion itself, over to the realm of politics? Modern Western Liberalism does seem to me at times to be almost rabid, to have (strangely) chosen to take on a religious-ideological posture. Is such a posture intended as a counter or match to what seems to be an intractable religion-originated dogmatism. Are the non-religious persons who are of a kindly and liberal temperament simply fed up with religious claims, and thus intent on copying the dogmatism of the other side? Or is science assumed to provide enough of a foundation for creation of a new science-based moralism in imitation of Old Testament moralism? I don’t know. Or does culture hang on, hang around, unless replaced by culture that is fundamentally better, more appealing, something stronger–as culture? This is the explanation I prefer. But in any case, I consider that we must do a better job of understanding our own culture-influences, understanding the sources of deep-rooted present-day political attitudes and notions. And in my chapter here on politics, thus, I will be spending a lot of time with exegesis–i.e., interpretation of (Christian) scripture.
But first of all then, we must try to better apprehend a single word, democracy. If we understand this word correctly, this word may yet save us. But Americans answer: We already have this thing, we already understand it…
If a reader sees no point to my discussing Law and Convention in Chapter One, (these being separate but both essential for a healthy society) then this same reader will be blind to my point here. I will be advocating here the absolute necessity of a convention-side-meaning for the word democracy. Though we as Americans don’t have the long history of China, we do have at present the longest running democratic nation-state in the world. But this is to look upon democracy as mechanism: voting, arrangement of offices, law-making, free press and speech to allow a proxy-discussion in the media of “issues.” This is the Law side of what democracy means.
The founding fathers did an excellent job with structure/law/arrangement, and if asked they would have said that they each hope that with such good structure, the American people must in the near future also develop a mature spirit–the corresponding attitudes and notions appropriate to a democratic society. But I am saying that this development is not so easy, and that this development has not actually happened in the USA. We are in fact seriously deficient in awareness/understanding of democracy as Convention. Voting once every two or four years, being bombarded with opinion-propaganda with regard to social-political issues as substitute for genuine philosophical discussion, everyone in the United States (it seems) trying to control and modify the laws so as to force that other half of the country to conform to one’s own preferences–This is not democracy. Or, if you wish to call this democracy, this is a sick and legalistic and very superficial sort of democracy.
Why must we now better comprehend what democracy essentially means? We all say that we like democracy. We all regularly tend to operate with a very limited and metaphysically shallow notion of democracy, a merely mechanical and political notion. And we engage in no serious efforts individually to better comprehend this central notion. How is this not an unhealthy hypocrisy! An ongoing and self-deceiving hypocrisy with regard to a significant portion of Reality. This cannot be healthy for anyone anywhere in the modern world.
People complaining and moaning, or else people organizing and protesting and demanding things of the government or of the society at large. This is not democracy. This is people complaining and demanding, as might occur, as well, in any other country. Democracies do tend to be more lenient towards such popular expression, but at best, people demanding redress for some issue–this is a feature only, implementation of the mechanism, and operation of democracy, and not the spirit, the meaning of democracy which is what I am searching for…
I will be attempting here various ways to give the word democracy a greater aura, a more comprehensive and virtuous meaning, and all of this may seem very loose talk. But I believe that this task itself is non-negotiable. We either arrive at improved meanings for the word democracy or else the outcomes will be bad.
And so as a first (and only slightly) rhetorical attempt I would claim that democracy is too important to involve itself with politics–politics here meaning government as objective entity/institution, offices, getting people elected, representation, lawmaking. All such business is not democracy. Democracy, I would insist, is essentially a social thing; it is an awareness of the primacy of community and society vis a vis government and/or political activity. Without an abiding sense of this primacy the spirit of democracy is lost. Therefore, as I suggest, a genuine/pure democracy should best stay completely out of politics, should not sully or taint itself with such demeaning and life-constricting activities…
Do Americans really believe in democracy, not as mechanism I mean, but in essence, as something more than mechanism? Let me suggest criteria for testing this. First, Do you believe that democratic citizenship necessitates individual citizen responsibility? Or is citizenship in a democracy only about getting the government, the system, to (selfishly) provide you with things…? I myself consider that proper respect for the inherent meaning of the word democracy must suggest that the the people as individuals are ultimately responsible–for everything! How can elected government officials be to blame when you, citizen, put them there. The system, the various and miscellaneous institutions of society are such, also, because you as various individual citizens over the years have created these same institutions. Instead of talking about institutional or governmental fault, (racism, sexism, etc.,) a comprehensive and improved notion of democracy would return ALL responsibility to individual citizens. You made it, you live in it. Democracy means that we the people always are responsible for making this society what this society is, what it has become, what it will become in the near future. No one else is responsible! It is all about you, the people. And if you don’t really accept this larger view of democracy, then in my opinion, you are not really a democrat. You are a hanger-on; hoping to continue to benefit from democratic structures but not recognizing the responsibility-meaning of the genuine citizen. A fan of democracy.
A second if also more difficult criterion is found in J.S. Mill’s notion of maturity. Recently all of the nations of the world have made great strides in increasing primary education, reducing illiteracy, and in encouraging higher education, the four-year college degree. There are of course economic motives here since the smart worker can be more productive. But the prime motive must be citizenship. The educated citizen will make for a better citizen than the uneducated citizen. But then, why continue to believe fervently in nanny-government? Mill did not believe in nanny-government, believe that there must be a continuous moral training of citizens after citizens have grown to become adults, but a large majority of Americans, I hazard, do believe that nanny-government is both normal and necessary. Do such people, I ask, deserve to be allowed to call themselves democrats since they are expecting, requiring the US government and its laws and operations, etc., to impose a continuous moral-social supervision over the citizenry at large?
Many religious Americans who prefer a version of nanny-religion also will tend to believe in nanny-democracy, but many non-Christian and very well educated Americans in their political attitudes also believe firmly in nanny-democracy! But is this not an authoritarian rather than a democratic sentiment? If you do not believe in the mature and educated citizen as norm, if you do not believe in Mill’s norm, are you not hankering for a more authoritarian form of government…? If you are hoping to shape and control the culture of this society, your society, by means of government and law, are you not by this very specific desire playing false with democracy. You are depending and hoping upon government! But as individual citizen in a democratic-society both society and government already belong to you, immediately. To consider government and government-made-laws as your best or only or favored mode of affecting and influencing society, this is already to have fallen out of genuine democratic belief. This is a totalitarian impulse, a totalitarian or religious mentality! Pseudo-democracy. Leaving to one side then, all such fans and pseudo-democrats, will there be any authentic democrats to be found anywhere in all of the USA?
And I do not believe that worship of the Free Market, nor re-interpretation of freedom in economic terms, that this is legitimate substitute for democratic virtue. As I have argued previously, as US citizen I am loyal to a specific nation-state and to democracy. I have make no such pledges to capitalism as theory. The Wealth of Nations was published in 1776, too late to significantly influence our founding fathers. If capitalism looks good, we as citizens can keep it, but we can just as easily decide as a majority of citizens to modify or adjust capitalism to better suit our society. It is our economy after all, and we (as intelligent and economically astute) citizens can do with capitalism as we wish. And accept the results. Free-market Capitalism as ideology ought not to issue directives to a healthy democratic society!
I have come up with one analogy or metaphor to help specify the convention-meaning which we need to get hold of in the word democracy, but as you will see, this is a simplistic metaphor. But there is something uniquely American about the public library as this has developed in our country. Other cultures don’t seem think along these lines. A public library seems to Americans to be a sensible, good, and even necessary thing. It is a common good. It belongs to each of us. We do not (and ought not) argue over its architectural style or location. Those who work there are friendly to all citizen-patrons, and book acquisitions are not lopsided nor biased in this or that direction. This is democracy. We don’t have to do anything; we don’t have to get excited about anything. We belong to it, it belongs to each individually. This is what democracy means.
And perhaps with this simplistic image I have managed to slip in another quality which I am looking for: a simple or basic humanism. (At least as a book lover…) I am positively disposed to the open and free library because of what those easily accessible books in the library contain. Art, ideas, knowledge, culture. Certainly in the Greek meanings of the word democracy, support for such things is a natural and necessary inclusion to the aura surrounding the word democracy. And the Greeks of course, very early, 500 BCE, where the first human beings to (–very successfully as it turned out–) explore what taking Democratic excellence as a central societal value might produce.
(I have a theological preference for Luke’s New Testament Gospel, but connecting up with earlier discussion of the economic, I consider that Luke’s attitude to both government and economic activity is positive. These are inherently good things, not inherently bad or evil. But these are things which need to kept in their proper place by something which is in fact more important…, and this would be the democratic. Luke’s version of Christianity gives an even more positive role to democracy than either the political as such or the economic, but democracy, obviously, in the larger meaning of that word.)
But moving on to obsession with politics, the second of my two points. Around 1600, a Mr. Filmer writes a book titled Patriarchia. Somewhat later, when John Locke writes about political theory, he spends a great amount of his initial efforts in refuting, one after another, the claims and assumptions of Mr. Filmer. Filmer relies on the Christian scripture to argue that patriarchy is the God-given source of all human authority and human government. Adam was the first patriarch and given authority by God. The Sinai-given commandment to honor father and mother also supports this, for example. But to this Locke asks, what happened to the mother’s authority. And I myself would note in reply to Filmer that a more sensible interpretation here would be that children must obey, but the obedience per se of adult children is not commanded by the commandment to honor one’s parents. Mr. Filmer’s scriptural interpretation is forced and narrow. And Locke will break out of this by talking about a state of nature, a philosophical construct.
Men have a God-given ability to reason which makes them capable judges even prior to the existence of governments or the formation of a common society. Locke says that in this state of nature the right thinking individual can (in effect) act as judge and executioner against another individual who has committed serious wrong against humankind, against someone else! (We ourselves would call this vigilanteism.) Many decades later the Deist Jefferson and other of our founding fathers felt brave enough to construct anew a strictly democratic-republican governmental framework. This at a time when all of civilized Europe was still in thrall to kings, dukes and other potentates.
To continue, I think it is safe to say that today, most religious ( i.e., Christian) believers still hold to what I will label a very simpleminded sensibility or prejudice, that is, that authority of itself has an immediate affinity with good religion. And yes, one must admit that God does out-rank us, we being mere creatures, God being beyond time, omnipotent… And a fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and many other good things. But I myself would wish to argue that as far as human life is concerned, while authority is in fact an exigency–(something which can hardly be avoided)–a fundamental democratic sensibility/awareness is also something which is universal, natural, perennial, and thus also un-deniable. Denying such a minimal humanistic-democratic sentiment, the recognition that we are all equally human–denying democracy its minimal natural due, do we not lessen, demean ourselves?
The strongest, smartest or tallest person may seem the nature-designated leader, but maybe not. We ourselves might take this choice upon ourselves. Or, can the reader imagine an actual patriarch, or a tribal council, say, in one case being very authoritarian and in another case being very democratically inclined. I can.
So if authority is admitted metaphysically to be a practical exigency in human affairs, so also should we acknowledge that there is also an inalienable humane and democratic sensibility natural to the human condition. This minimal notion of democracy is not any less essential or fundamental than the notion of authority.
Does God have any political preferences?–we may ask as theological question. (I conduct these arguments as a believer arguing from within the Christian religion…) And the correct theological answer here must be, No. Politics and the formation of governmental-organizations is something which human beings do. God does not engage in politics and has no specific preference, for example, for human kingship, though that quite familiar phrase, divine right of kings, seems to suggest and imply otherwise. God does cares about his, God’s own governance, but not about those forms of government which are human constructs and human choices. And thus there is no reason theoretically/theologically why God might not exert his governance as well if not better through a democracy as through kingship.
Let’s look more carefully at the Biblical account. Moses was a leader and a prophet, not someone with any political or governmental office or status. The existence in the canon of the book of Judges strongly suggests to me two very important theological ideas. One, that anarchy, no-government, is of itself not unacceptable. Perhaps not so convenient, but not wrong. When there was social need in Israel, a hero would feel the need, rise up, and lead this anarchic society to fend off an impending evil. And idea two, that there is no Divine political schedule operative at this juncture. The arrival of kinship in Israel is not like the arrival of revelation at Sinai. God would have, we might suggest, planned the one while simply allowing the second. The stories of the early kings and their personal failures are certainly used theologically by the author of the Samuel-Kings history to teach theologically about what is looked for in an ideal individual as ruler. But kingship of itself, kingship as human political arrangement, this need not be taken as inherent, essential to this theological teaching. The theology in Samuel-Kings, I would say, is about the ideal human leader and his character and piety, not about kingship as form of governance.
If Samuel himself was the primary author of this History, then it is helpful to remember that Samuel himself was originally an outsider. After the golden calf debacle at Sinai the Levite tribe (which helps to restore sanity vigilante-style by massacring a significant number of their idolatrous brethren)–this tribe is eventually given a special role as helpers and protectors, and the few Levites who are direct descendants from Aaron, only these are to be the priests. But as the Samuel-Kings history begins, the priesthood of Eli is corrupt and must be reformed. Samuel, not a descendant of Aaron, is the outsider who initially is the agent of reform for the institution of the priesthood in Israel. Then, as priestly-prophetic authority, this outsider, Samuel, presides over (as we might carefully phrase it) the transition in Israel from no king, to kingship.
The people declare they want a king to help them fight the Philistines. Samuel says that Yahweh is hurt by this request. It means that the people no longer wish Yahweh as primary king. But following Divine guidance Samuel the prophet-priest chooses Saul, anoints Saul as first king, but then also deposes Saul (I Sam 13:5-14) when Saul takes it upon himself to offer sacrifice before going out to battle–because Samuel is late to arrive, etc. Sacrifice is a priestly prerogative, and Samuel immediately declares that Saul has been rejected from being king. This is Samuel’s immediate judgement, and must be Yahweh’s judgement as well since Samuel speaks for Yahweh. And so David, the youngest of many brothers, a ordinary shepherd boy, is next chosen and anointed to be future king via Samuel’s activities.
I-II Samuel as history narrative is composed of numerous very personalistic stories and incidents involving Samuel the priest and the first two Kings, Saul, David. (Please read some of this if you are unfamiliar with these stories.) Saul is selected but then Saul goes bad as person, as king; he is disobedient. David is chosen to be the next king, but David cannot harm Saul because Saul is still the Lord’s anointed. David plays music to calm Saul because Saul is depressed. Saul in a fit almost kills David with his spear, etc.
This history (as all other Old Testament history) is fundamentally religious and theological. Yahweh is directly active within such history. But in Samuel-Kings it is the establishment of the political that would be the ostensible topic; It is about the kings. But how can an inherently religious history explain the political realm?
It almost seems as if Samuel-Kings may wish to describe king David’s adultery and assassination of the husband of Bathsheba as (mere) secular fault. David’s ideal character or status seems to remain intact. The subsequent disasters which befall David’s family and reign, such as problems with his son Absolom, these are presented naturalistically. These are natural results of human failure, not Divine punishments. As if the author can momentarily shift out of a moralistic priestly-prophetic viewpoint into a non religious point of view. But that perspective which very obviously pervades this Samuel-Kings narrative of the kings of Israel is one of religious and moralistic judgment. All of these individuals are inadequate as kings, more or less impious and immoral.
This religious-moral oversight of the political is the constant and unrelenting tone of Samuel-Kings. As a good example I offer I Sam 28:3-20. Samuel has died at this point, and Saul is old, but engaging himself in an activity which is quite illegitimate, he is asking spiritual guidance from foreign, alien spiritual mediums. So as final contradiction of Saul, Samuel himself re-appears as a ghost at this alien-conducted seance to condemn Saul one last time: You, wayward king Saul, cannot avoid being punished (–nor avoid apparently the authority of Samuel, priest.)
This then is the dynamic which I believe has been so influential for centuries and centuries subsequent to the actual events in the lives of David or Saul. The religious-prophetic hereby claims a sort of moralistic authority or supervision over the political. From such a perspective the political can never measure up. According to this history, almost all the kings of Israel and Judah are crowded to the very bad side of the spectrum. Mannassah’s terrible evil and impiety is balanced on the good side only by the piety of king David (and a couple of other kings) whose virtue as kings was imperfect but perhaps OK. The message is that society as a whole needs, requires, must find a pious and virtuous individual like David, and even better. Only with such an ideal king/Christ is the nation saved.
But one might ask theologically… After Jesus as Christ is considered to have physically and historically fulfilled this theological expectation of the Samuel-Kings theologian (and after Jesus has left the human scene for Heaven…)–why return to this Old Testament perspective; why not consider the possibility of other ways of conceptualizing the relationship between the religious and the political?
Politics of course is still a reality. Christians must live now in various nations/regions each with their own political arrangements. But if the basic requirements, demands of Samuel have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus, why must European kings centuries later try to measure up to this very old priestly-prophetic criticism of Samuel. Is no other (Christian and theoretical) approach to the political possible?
And my best guess would be that the stories themselves, personalistic and moral, these continue to fascinate, and so carry forward the ancient priestly viewpoint, critique. How might the imperial-democratic glory and gold of Solomon and his temple and temple dedication ceremony as cultural-synthetic historical highpoint (as depicted in the Chronicles history), how can this compete with the personalistic-piety emphasis (and the fascination with political power, and evil) of Samuel-Kings! (Except, of course, that as in the modern age, as democracy is increasingly honored or sought, the democratic qualities of Deuteronomy and Chronicles and Jeremiah may come gradually to be seen as viable interpretative alternative.)
After centuries of Christian history in the West, the “two swords” becomes an accurate symbol of the religious-political relation. The Papacy wields the more important and more powerful of the two, since spiritual matters are ultimately more important than temporal maters and mere force. This attitude is quite clearly in line with Samuel’s assertion of priestly supervision over the kings of Israel. An international Roman Catholic Church still takes as its normal and day-to-day role the task of teaching the nations and regularly warning or cajoling the political leaders of any or all nations of the world.
Post-reformation, there is a quite small radical element that considered human government to be so corrupt that Christians must separate themselves from and avoid as far as possible associating with human government. But the majority of protestants continue along the lines set down by Samuel. They maintain a dependence on secular governments while claiming moral supervision over politics. With Protestantism, one might even say that Samuel’s influence becomes even stronger. Not emphasizing kings, internationalism and institutions, but still very much about priestly-religious importance. As lawyer, Calvin’s Calvinism asks of Christians a politically responsible and an active political interest/involvement (which I myself believe to be healthy religion) and via Puritanism, this attitude has been very influential in forming American cultural attitudes. Though Puritanism is long gone, this influence ought not to be denied. As within a more modern secular Western political liberalism, this “prophetic” emphasis has, it seems only grown. The prophetic side of the priestly-prophetic authority-claims of Samuel are still strong in Western attitudes and assumptions about politics. (Because I believe the prophetic to be strictly an individual thing, I tend to call this kind of emphasis pseudo-prophetic.)
I hope that the ordinary reader, Protestant or not, historically-versed or not, can sense that there is truth to my claim that the West has been and still is influenced by the attitudes and theology of Samuel. Explanation of how a more recent and secular (non-religion based) political liberalism is yet under Samuel’s direct influence, this is not so simple or obvious. But is it not helpful to consider my historical explanation? That today, for good or ill, this ghost of Samuel still does preside over both religious and non-religiously minded Western political thinking and attitudes.
I myself would wish to remain with Mill, a non-Christian, as being the last in a line of genuine Western political liberals. But I hope that conservatives or liberals who are looking for something new may be able to find that–that in coming years the old political dogs of the West, sooner rather than later, might be able to learn some new tricks.
Chapter IV. Religion: Given that someone has a genuine interest in religion, what are criteria by which to distinguish good/bad religion, healthy/unhealthy religion, adult/nanny religion? There is a sort of in-house joke or fable known to many Christian/Buddhist/Moslem religious leaders which goes as follows: God, noticing that humanity is having a difficult time, decides to deliver some valuable special revelation/enlightenment to certain persons. So this and that person is given this valuable gift. But then almost immediately, the Devil comes along and whispers into the ear of each of these recipients: Let me help you organize that.
This fable might then continue… God, noting that this has not worked so well, decides: Let us give humankind some more specific content which can be put into human language. Those human religious leaders will certainly recognize the fact that Divine thoughts are superior to human language, and recognize that there can be no one easy simplification of Divine truth. Thus they will be more reticent about making grandiose claims. But of course, as we are well aware, this approach did not work either. There exist today various Buddhist groups and various collections of Buddhist scriptures; only one Islamic scripture studied regularly by Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi followers who do not get along very well with each other, and one basic collection of Christian scripture but four subsequent major types of Christian religion: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, a large range of Protestant groups, and Anglican plus others…with each and every one of these Christian groups claiming to have the one and only correct and appropriate interpretation of scripture. What more can We do, God asks, when religious leaders each claim that their own interpretations of Scripture are the only interpretation possible? We are able to offer no further assistance. These human beings must be left to (self-destructively) fight it out among themselves…
This second paragraph is my somewhat awkward addition to the original joke, and provides the theme of this chapter. In effect, if bad religion is to be avoided, religious leadership must recognize that what they present as being genuine religion must necessarily always be lesser than that more complete and complex content included in the sources of their own avowed religions. Jesus says something about the very dots and strokes of the Old Testament scripture being eternal. But given a written scripture, the next step will always be interpretation. Human religion is thus always limited by human interpretation… God promises no perfect religion!
I myself believe that religion is a very important human business, and in this chapter I write about what can go wrong with religion–not to encourage readers to denigrate or dismiss religion, but rather because I hope that religions might self-correct, might fix, (must fix) some of their endemic faults. And thus I welcome a wide range of readers. The reader who already tends to denigrate all religion may find some new basis here for complaint against religion. This cannot be avoided. (Religious persons, I am told, sometimes infiltrate Atheist chat rooms on the internet.) To any religious officials/clergy who are reading, I promise to try to spread fairly my critique, to insult any and all of the various religious traditions…so please continue reading. To the reader with existing religious belief I say, do not become entangled in the examples or details here, since my objective is not specific doctrines but a better, healthier attitude towards religious belief. To the reader new to religion but interested in religion, my theme will be: Do not be afraid of religion. And to other readers who may have minimal interest in religion, to this disinterested reader I state that my aim is to take a disinterested and philosophical (rather than polemical) approach to religion in this chapter. My own humanism may be significantly influenced by my Christian religious beliefs, but not to such a degree that my humanism cannot stand apart from religion and critique, for example, what is wrong with my own religion, Christianity.
Little research has gone into preparation for this chapter since I have been researching this subject all of my life. I have always had positive regard as well as have always had specific problems with the religion in which I was raised as Protestant missionary-preacher’s kid, as seminary student, as Episcopalian or Eastern Orthodox, as reader of patristics (in English), as exegete who has now published (on Kindle) four theological commentaries on Christian Scripture offering my differing notions about what would be an important set of themes within Christian belief. Perhaps like (I am told) the person who becomes a doctor because of some felt physical anomaly or physical issue, I also may have some personal and underlying religious issue, some religious problem, which has kept me involved and engaged directly with religion. But in either case, doctor or religionist, the proof will be in the results.
Since I believe that I am able to offer here criteria by which to determine good from bad religion, it may also be that I have secondary objectives, that is, that I am hoping of myself to offer something new and better in religion, in Christianity. And this is the case. As in my e-book commentaries mentioned above, I do wish to promote a Christianity that is democratic, prophetic, somewhat more humanistic. Christianity as a non-parasitic virus which spreads naturally and knows no borders; Christianity as a citizenship by means of which Christians adapt as good and natural citizens within whatever social circumstances they find themselves. But this present book, claiming to provide answers to difficult questions, is philosophical, and here I will be arguing only for the possibility of such a better kind of religion.
In summary, the criteria which I have come up with for distinguishing heathy and unhealthy religion are three: Essentials. Limited Interpretation, Continuing Interpretation. (–The last two being about interpretation of religious Scripture, interpretation of religious sources, and might be paraphrased: the need for recognition of limits to religious knowledge, and the necessity of ongoing efforts to improve religious knowledge via continuous interpretation.)
1. But the first of these three seems to me to be quite obvious and quite straightforward–though there also exists a very strong tendency on the part of many religious leaders to deny this obvious point. There are in fact a small number of essential beliefs required by each and any religion. Lacking one of these, Christianity for example, is not Christianity. Persons are catechized in these few basic beliefs, and accepting these, they may become Christian believers. Of course, what happens post conversion is also important. This new believer must be taken care of by religious leaders, must be given further and additional and ongoing assistance, teaching, benefit from interaction with other believers, etc., But for the most part, all Christian traditions accept the validity of a baptism performed in another Christian tradition; they do not ask that someone who changes allegiance from one Christian tradition to another should be re-baptised. Thus in theory, each major Christian group recognizes the validity of those other Christian groups, and recognizes the reality of a core of essential Christian beliefs.
But in practice religious seem quite regularly to deny this, to deny that one ought to maintain this important distinction between essentials, and secondary beliefs and practices. In practice, clergy will usually insist that one must buy the whole package. There is no stripped down basic model available. One must order the video camera automatic parking assist, the heated steering wheel, the GPS option, the super fuel-efficient electronic carboration system.
Yes, ongoing religious care is a pragmatic and existential necessity, but then, also, if there are essentials, well, there are essentials. Other elements must logically be less essential as compared to the essentials. If religious leaders plead at this point that a pragmatic, pastoral necessity supersedes this distinction, well, I can only deny that this is the case. A religion that refuses to maintain the distinction between essentials and secondary beliefs and practices is in my opinion, ipso facto, cult like, suspect. To say that everything in religion is equally important and equally necessary is to engage in a type of salesmanship which is, as should be apparent to all lay customers, suspect, disingenuous, dishonest! Beware. You are dealing with a shifty salesman.
2. Is any religion something given once-for-all, unchanging and almost absolute, a traditional art-object or heirloom and thus something which can be inherited, something to be reverently cherished? No. Christianity arrives at this present juncture via centuries of history; it certainly does not originate with me. But thinking that Christianity is merely a Traditional Religion suggests to me the dangerous notion of formula. Religion can be encapsulated in formula, material formula. Rather, each generation of believers, I would wish to insist, must re-think and re-appropriate this faith. The sources of a religion, yes, these may well be a once-for-all given, but the meanings and meaningful forms of the religion must be re-achieved regularly, continuously. Though Emerson gave up on Christianity, he seems to me to understand religion better than many Christians do: “Faith makes us and not we it, and faith makes its own forms.” The prophetic is in my view more important and more fundamental than the traditional, and Christianity is a prophetic religion.
But a majority of religious believers and an even larger percentage of religious leaders will probably disagree with what I have just said. It is a very common (and quite clearly a too simplistic) notion that religion must (somehow) be complete, fixed, perfect. But is this not to confuse the objective/goal with the means. What is Religion? Religion must be that unusual and unique enterprise of getting individual human beings connected with God. God is complete, fixed, perfect, without fault–perhaps–but human beings helping other human beings find God, how can such an enterprise be perfect. Religion may be true, accurate, reliable, without being, of itself, perfect.
I am allowing that the sources of any religion may themselves be perfect, and certainly adequate to good and healthy religion. But interpretation of those written scriptures is always necessary, and interpretation is always a human activity, and therefore an activity which may be done better or worse. There can be no perfect interpretative synthesis. God provides the perfect source we may say, but not the perfect system of religion… But few will agree with such a notion of Limited Interpretation.
To try to make my case here against strong headwinds, I will make use of two interesting cases, cases of what I will call misguided canonization, mis-appropriate conferral of sainthood. And so the first story will begin with Solzhenitsyn, who was an army officer at the end of WWII when he made a passing and disparaging reference to Stalin, and as a result was sent off into Siberian exile. There he returned to the Orthodox faith, and began documenting the excesses of the Soviet gulag as writer, and as critic of Soviet communism. After living for only a few months in the West, rather than praising the West for its freedoms, in a Harvard graduation address he gave a prescient critique of our emergent American political-correctness. After the fall of Soviet communism he returned to his beloved Russia and its Orthodox religion and became something of a minor celebrity and hero, spending his last years writing about the years just prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, trying to understand how Russia could have fallen into such a terrible (political) mess. And also criticizing the Orthodox church’s canonization (or honoring as passion-bearer) of the last Russian czar, Nicholas II. This last czar may have been quite devout and devoted to his family, yes, but his primary obligation was political–to deal with the many problems then besetting Russia. In this he was certainly incompetent, and thus should not have been honored as having been a saintly man.
So for me, Solzhenitsyn himself is a saintly man because of his prophetic courage, and I easily go along with his judgement here about Nicholas II. But the larger matter here, and something which strangely, I find Solzhenitsyn to be missing, is the culpability of Orthodoxy itself. As armchair historian and theologian, I have no difficulty giving my opinion: In Russia, church and state are in a sort of symbiosis; they help each other. This is a valid Christianity, valid system. If Russia is floundering in the 1800s, trying to find its way politically under a very authoritarian political system, where at this critical juncture is Orthodox theology, Orthodox understanding; where is the intelligent religion required of each new generation of Christians? Solzhenitsyn seems to believe in a once-for-all perfect Orthodox religion! He does not consider that Orthodoxy must promote a better existential political awareness, suggest political guidance. He himself is an intellectual, but does not identify the intellectual incompetence of Russian Orthodoxy! Only return to pure Orthodoxy and in addition a healthy Russian nationalism! To a native Calvinist like myself this political-quietism as Christian viewpoint is difficult to fathom.
But I take this critique further. Orthodoxy must have deceived the astute Solzhenitsyn with its false religious claims that the Orthodox religion does not need to “change.” In my view, Orthodoxy’s over-reliance on Tradition as basic principle is quite dangerous, and must often result in an inadequate respect for the prophetic. Is this not what Paul of Tarsus admits as being the cause of his own great mistake, his initial rejection of Jesus and his persecution of the followers of Jesus. In his letter to the Galatians he admits that his mistake was a zeal for traditional religion, zeal for the religion of his fathers. Paul’s conversion, it must be, was from tradition-religion to a better sort of (non-tradition-based) Christianity.
My second case concerns John Henry Newman, an Anglican, a great scholar of patristics and early Christianity, someone living within the milieu of industrialization and the fast developing modern sciences, but someone who felt a particular need for greater certitude in religion. His quest leads him to Roman Catholicism where he becomes a cardinal, and after his death, declaration that he is Catholic saint.
In his often profound book on the development of Christian doctrine, he argues that there is an original deposit of revealed truth with Jesus and with NT Scripture, but subsequently, there is also need for a continuing Divine and providential determiner/decider of what is to be the correct interpretation of that original content. There will arise varying, differing opinions about what the Church should teach or believe, various possible suggested developments. The papacy seems quite well placed, he believes, as answer to this ongoing historical problem.
So, I myself also believe with Newman that there is an original deposit of revelation, Jesus and the New Testament writings. But of course, these writings themselves are already various individual interpreters of the significance of Jesus, interpreters whose writings we ourselves understand only via our continuing interpretative efforts. So there is a strange lacunae, a strange shallowness here in Newman’s thought it seems to me. He presumes a Church (and a teaching church) as a sort of once-for-all given. Just as Solzhenitsyn loved his Orthodoxy, so Newman, with his extensive historical grasp and expertise, strangely cannot envision anything other than a Western-Catholic-type Church as being genuine Christianity! But why, I ask, may not this original deposit develop into various valid forms of Christianity? Where does this promise, this expectation of religion as being one perfect and certain thing–where does this come from? Is this not a false expectation.
I have already said that I find Orthodoxy to be valid. I find Rome to be valid in its own way also. As a young Protestant I remember the moment when I was “convicted” by reading Newman’s sentence to the effect of saying… whatever history says about (fifteen centuries of Western history) “the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.” And thus I do believe that all Protestants should come to own (as I do) this somewhat strange 1500 year history as their very own… But being a Protestant and thus quite familiar with Pauline writings (which are not really so extensive) it is quite easy to turn Newman’s point around a full 180 degrees. Whatever one wishes to make of those early years of Christianity as depicted in the Pauline letters, this early Christianity as depicted is not the Christianity of later Rome. This Apostle Paul apparently had a very minimal interest in what will become the authoritarian and institutional formalism of later Western Christianity. So if the New Testament is primary and original source, while later writers and traditions are secondary–as those must be it seems to me, the problem is still a problem of interpretation. How well does your interpretation fit (ALL of) the original Scripture sources (as well as, if possible, other sources). Is it as good as my interpretation.
If I have my facts correct here, Newman was told that the Papacy was considering establishing as dogma the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, and he was worried… until told that this would only apply to “faith and morals.” So, during Newman’s lifetime the Catholic Church does declare this doctrine as dogma, an idea which Newman had suggested as being quite plausible; appeasement perhaps to those who desire more religious certainty: The Pope can make no (ex cathedra) doctrinal mistake, ever.
In browsing the NT a few months ago, and this is a true story, I came across those few verses which are vaguely familiar to most Christians:
(Jesus, addressing the crowd:) Call no man rabbi, because for you there is only one teacher, and you are all brothers. Nor must you call anyone on earth father, since for you there is only one Father who is in heaven. And do not call anyone Instructor, for your instructor is the Christ.
Jesus here addresses the crowd, and after this will rattle off horrendous denunciations of the hypocrisy of contemporary Jewish leaders, scribes, pharisees. The obvious theological context for such denunciation is that Jesus expects and wishes his disciples to replace these faulty religious officials, but to do so his disciples must come up to certain high religious standards. Among these are the three principles given in the verses above. These are not suggested rules given to the disciples, they are principles given directly to the church as populous crowd: do not ever accept this type of presumptive claim to the existence of an official religious father, teacher, instructor.
I don’t know when the Catholic notion of Magisterium first came into prominence, and would guess offhand, early Middle Ages, but both Magisterium/(official teaching authority) and now Infallibility seem to me (as I re-read these verses in Matthew a few months ago) to directly run counter to the first and third “principles.”
Or, how might the Roman church walk back centuries of practice should it wish to more accurately keep the principle given in the second verse:
“Father.” (The priest glancing up and immediately intoning reflexively..)”Call no man on earth Father.” “What hours will the church be open next week?”
Matthew (in my opinion) does give definite support to a Roman type church and a Roman type Christianity since Matthew is about training leaders, is interested in authority, mentions eunuchs for the kingdom, the important of “teaching,” the one lost sheep out of a hundred parable being (in my interpretation) warning to future church leadership: you had better not loose even one of the sheep entrusted to you, etc. So as long as they, the Roman religious leadership, are able to avoid the more extreme sorts of religious hypocrisy, should we or should we not give them a pass on the three principles enunciated in the three verses above?
But Matthew is one only of four gospels. From a neglected gospel, Luke, I (quickly here) take up an even more controversial topic. Protestants give little attention to Mary the mother of Jesus. There are brief references in the New Testament to (–what must be younger) brothers of Jesus, or to James, brother of our Lord, who briefly, surprisingly seems to be given leadership of the Jerusalem church. But it is only Luke who tells the story of Mary; Luke who as historian may have spoken to Mary directly in conducting his research. And I would claim that in Luke’s intended theological emphasis, Mary, though female, is presented as ordinary-person example of (a democratic) Christian faith. Mary will need to figure things out, but she is willing to go along with some very unusual happenings.
So the angel says: Blessed are you among women…
And this has been used as prayer by generation after generation of Catholic believers; and the Orthodox in their liturgies regularly give Mary the honorific title, God-bearer, Theotokos. Rome, further, has made Mary doctrinal representative-symbol of the (lay) Church. But as I have mentioned, the only actual literary description which we have of Mary, this belongs to Luke’s gospel, and Luke wishes to hold up for our emulation a very plain, in fact poor, ordinary but somehow also very pious person. Is this, Luke’s Mary, possible also. If I myself am in fact able (with personal qualification) to benefit from both Roman and Orthodox devotion to Mary, can Christians in those traditions go along with devotion to a more democratic Mary, who may in fact have had other children later, and who, we can safely imagine, was troubled or confused for a significant number of years, but who is described by Luke as later being among the Christian believers at Pentecost?
My optimistic hunch is that most Christians in the pew, most ordinary (lay) believers may well be able to accept such variation, such plurality, (the pragmatic recognition of other versions of Christianity…) but Christian clergy are not ready for such relativism. Most religious leaders will insist–as being practical but absolute necessity: I can only teach one version of Christianity, this version, my version. We must all agree together what it is that we are going to teach. This is the one tradition which we all here represent as religious authorities and pastors.
But to continue on the topic of Mary. The doctrine of the bodily assumption of Mary to heaven was declared as infallible doctrine just before I was born. (Thank you, Wikipedia.) There is controversy over whether Mary 1. Did not die, 2. Died and body only was assumed to Heaven soon after, or 3. Died and then resurrected on the third day and was assumed to Heaven.
You know me already to be a fairly tolerant and native Protestant, and thus I might condone all of the above pieties, though would add immediately that the NT suggests that Jesus expected his apostles themselves to actually perform miracles, not just to certify as miracle legends that arise centuries after the death of Mary.
But in my commentary on the NT book of Hebrews, I suggest a possible theological reason for the assumption into heaven of Enoch as mentioned in Genesis. Sartre may be a die-hard existentialist, but a Biblical existentialism would not wish to see death per se, as necessarily accompanying the hardships and deprivations of the human condition. Then after Enoch, there is the assumption into heaven of Elijah by angelic chariots of fire. This must have a more definite theological significance: After a lifetime of running from Ahab and Jezebel and the priests of Baal, Elijah is given a few moments of respect. Bodily assumption to Heaven without passing through death is God-given certification of this person as being an exemplary, archetypal prophet.
So an assumption of Mary the mother of Jesus as is regularly celebrated in both Orthodox and Roman traditions, this must have significance also, theological meaning, although it is legendary rather than scriptural. What does such honor mean. Who is being honored?
I appreciate Jung as psychologist, though Jung was not Christian. ( Jung was placed by the Papacy on its list of forbidden ideas/authors; Protect the innocent.) But Jung was excited by the Roman dogma of the assumption of Mary because it would, he felt, help to redress an imbalance in the modern Western psyche, a sort of denigration of the feminine principle.
Is Mary honored, in effect, as representative of laity, the lay church, lay subordination and docility? Is Mary symbol and mystical means for Divine contemplation by human beings? Or–is there some connection with the OT assumption to heaven of Elijah? Is Mary among the prophets?
With the help of religious paintings we can imagine the scene. Mary is shocked by the presence of this Angel and the news delivered. She responds with the help of some Psalms she must have been familiar with:
He has shown strength with his arm. /He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart./He has put down princes from their thrones./And has exalted the lowly./He has filled the hungry with good things./He has sent the rich away empty…
My question is not whether or not Mary should be honored, my question is whether Mary was a theologian. Does Mary grasp enough of what is happening here that she is able to articulate a coherent if impromptu theological statement: This is democracy… Or does she only express grateful emotions?
Is not the assumption of Mary, a pious legend given approval by both Western and Eastern Orthodox traditions already in 451 CE–might this be a latent Jungian psychological recognition that with systematic and organizational consolidation taking in place in Christianity, essential elements may already have been neglected, that is, both the prophetic and democratic dimensions?
What is the point of this discussion of Mary. Only to show that there can be no one and final interpretation. In matters of secondary importance such as this, I believe that the faithful populace at large are able and willing to tolerate some variety, but I don’t believe that those religious leaders who are keepers of the various Christian traditions are in fact able to “tolerate” such variety.
And what is the point of the discussion about Solzhenitsyn and Newman. To show that religious caretakers are only too eager to promote and certify as good what I believe are unhealthy expectations about the perfectibility of religion. I believe that Limited Interpretation is a theoretical and technical point that must be maintained, must be accepted.
What is going on here. Is religion corrupt? Not necessarily, though there seems to be a significant and persistent inclination to make excessive claims. My best effort towards explaining this (unhealthy) tendency would be to talk about kung fu. A kung fu master can teach only one (or perhaps two or three..) types of kung fu. There simply is not enough time, humanly speaking, to become adept at, and to conscientiously practice more than this. Analogously, the religious shepherd has a serious responsibility, with serious negative consequences if this is done badly. The religious shepherd cannot be a solitary guru, nor be eclectic (spanning more than one tradition) but should best practice within one tradition. This limitation to one tradition makes the shepherd more trustworthy.
The kung fu teacher speaking to his students will likely praise his own style of kung fu. This style is the best, is the most effective, and is comprehensive–if only you practice it thoroughly. You don’t need anything else. Both student and teacher may well “believe” this, though both may still “know” that other kung fu schools may have some fairly good kung fu also…
But an ambitious student might ask: What about those techniques used by that other style of kung fu; aren’t those effective? In this situation the kung fu teacher must engage in a bit of dishonest promotion just to avoid circularity: If that other type of kung fu is better, master, why are you teaching this one?
On this kung fu analogy then, because religion is a discipline, a training, one needs to cut the shepherds some slack. This is certainly a weighty responsibility, and if religion is what it claims to be, the stakes here are very high. A little exaggeration in advertising may be unavoidable. And as to those other traditions, well–your shepherd will say–just forget about it. Practice this…
In copying down the verses from Matthew from a few paragraphs previously, I notice that just prior to the verses about rabbi, father, instructor, Jesus says to the crowd (and I paraphrase):
Listen to the (present-day) religious leaders and what they teach since they sit in the seat of Moses, but do not do as they do. … They speak but they don’t perform …
Is there any way to make interpretative sense of this? How does one believe in the truthfulness of the doctrine of someone whose life/actions don’t correspond to what they teach? The usual advice is that we should not listen to anyone whose actions betray their words. But I have a suggested interpretation here. While religious didacts may be one dimensional in their views, the lay audience is in fact (actually) more virtuous because they are not limited to one set of ideas, one system of taught doctrine. In telling the crowd to listen to what the religious teachers teach but not to rely on what they practice, perhaps Jesus is suggesting a concession to simple-minded teaching; a concession to one-dimensional doctrine. Pity the religious teachers because they must stick to one interpretative synthesis! You ordinary folk can still learn from such a one-dimensional presentation, even though you need not be one-dimensional in your own thinking!
Can this actually work as an interpretation? But those one-dimensional teachers will likely be lonely, and so will wish the laity to join them in such one-dimensionality. And many laypersons will be groupies rather than multi-dimensionally thinking individuals, and will feel most comfortable joining the one-dimensional crowd. And so an unhealthy expectation that religion must be simple, one-dimensional, fixed once-for-all, this immature desire (unfortunately) becomes prevalent, comes to be taken as normal…
Is the teaching specifically of religious doctrine then, a unique but “messed up” type of teaching? Doctrine must be one-dimensional, but you can still learn from it. This would be a strange conclusion.
But it remains a fact that religious leaders are loath to admit–ever–that they represent only one tradition, one possible version of Scriptural interpretation. Kung fu is a discipline, they will argue, but religion is about truth. (Notice how they now want to switch back from practical to theoretical.) But is this truth in essentials, or in non-essentials, we ask in reply.
Motives which I or anyone else might have for support of my own religious tradition are all to human (both on the good side and the bad side): desire to make my tradition as systematic and as extensive as possible, desire for success with a large numbers of adherents, desire (for the sake of pragmatic-promotion) to claim that more certainty is present in the non-essentials than ought to be claimed, desire to sustain and maintain this tradition through time by promoting the idea that it is fixed, complete, pure and perfect, etc.
This is a strange situation. We admit philosophically that religion is important; We admit that shepherds for very good reasons will be limited to practice and transmission of one tradition; We admit that religious officials claim to teach the truth. (If, philosophically speaking, all religions are false, if no religion has any truth, then we are all existentially in a very bad place. Where else do we look for possible answers about God, human destiny. Do-it-yourself religion is not likely to be reliable.) A religion will (naturally) claim to have truths about God, human destiny, etc., and will officially teach such truths, else how can it offer itself as being a religion? But must each and every version, each and every tradition, claim exclusive rights to define what is true and helpful, claim that they have and will always have the only genuine religious package!
My conclusion after all of this discussion is that religions do seem to have an endemic fault, a strong tendency to unhealthy emphasis. Genuine acceptance of 1. Essentials, and 2. Limited Interpretation, would go far towards averting this endemic shortcoming, but there is little interest among religious caretakers in consistently applying these principles. But this does not necessarily mean that religion is fundamentally faulty, corrupt, because of this tendency. It only means that religion has a very strong tendency to make exaggerated claims.
Religion is a unique, strange and dangerous business/service; individuals here are claiming to help other individuals re-connect with (a personal) God. But the serious customer should be forewarned about excessive and grandiose claims that will likely be made: Don’t believe such claims. Just let them pass you by…
And to the person with genuine interest in religion, this tendency in religion should not keep you away. You may be exactly that sensible and innocent person which religion needs in order to help to restore it, religion, to a better balance at this point!
3. But religions also seems to have a very, very difficult time with principle number three, the necessity for an ongoing intellectual task, continuing philosophical-theological interpretation. Yes, there may exist a written scriptural repository of all relevant truth, and yes, human nature may remain largely unchanged, but in my opinion religion must be about helping persons now, within present-day exigencies. As the world in which we live changes, interpretations should quite naturally be sought so as to help us, the faithful, at present. Therefore intelligent Christians must regularly and constantly engage in this enterprise, else the religion must become stagnant, moribund. It may seem strange to demand that this thing, religion, must progress, change, but this is not a change in essentials, it is only a change in how essentials and non-essentials are applied intellectually in relation to the ideas, the idols, the living conditions of the present moment. Why is this so strange or difficult as requirement? Certainly, religion ought to be more like a live (social) organism than a product. We can go to a museum to enjoy the art of earlier centuries, we can also fall back on tradition in religion, but if there is no significant present-day art coming into existence, if there is no helpful new theological interpretative adjustment, well, this is an unhealthy situation.
Protestantism arrived with a bang. Within sixty years is was a great success. Apparently, large numbers of Europeans were well enough indoctrinated into the basic truths of Christianity that they could see the validity of the interpretation which was being offered by these early Protestants. (And Rome, it seems to me, has never yet accepted the basic validity of the Protestant version of Christianity…And visa versa of course. Eastern Orthodoxy tends to see both of those as being still in a sort of psychologically dysfunctional contest, both denying, for example, the reality of the mystical…)
But I promised to try to be fair and balanced, to spread the blame around evenly. This third section must aim to understand why Protestantism, having been born via interpretative revolution, spends its next four hundred years regurgitating only, and consolidating the interpretations of Luther and Calvin rather than taking seriously the need for an ongoing and continuing interpretation. And one reason for neglect of ongoing intellectual work is an all too human circumstance: success. Now that Apple Computer has had great success with its products, will it become another IBM? Protestants had what seemed to be a simple formula which was working very well. So, consolidate. But interpretation as consolidation easily becomes bad, defensive, self-serving rather than philosophical and ongoing.
Protestants would not have had much success without the Apostle Paul, but it seems to me now that by turning Paul into a source of doctrine, and at the same moment refusing to try to understand the two higher gifts which Paul embodied and which he recommends to all: apostle, prophet, Protestants miss what may be most important in Paul. Paul was not a teacher and pastor I would say, rhetorically, rather, he was (as should be obvious to anyone reading his letters…) a living model for what I am advocating here as number three, continuous interpretation. He writes to not-so-highly educated Christians, but he is always delivering to such persons theological principle derived from his own theological interpretation of Scripture. He is intellectually engaged with all of the things which impinge on Christian faith and his main desire was to give this intellectual and apologetic assistance to individual Christians. Not to build churches so much as to have others directly imitate him, Paul, in this zeal–for a prophetic rather than a doctrinally based Christianity.
Again, it seems to me that Paul did not have only one gospel but many versions and adaptations of the same. Protestants follow Mark’s gospel and a simple kerugma, gospel sketch, and then regularly over-simplify. This is certainly unhealthy. For example, propitiatory sacrifice is important. The cross is important. A presumably quite worldly-minded Roman soldier is so shocked by the death of Jesus that he proclaims what both Jew and worldly-minded have difficulty saying: This person was Son of God. So sacrifice is an important theme in Mark. But at what seems to me to be a climactic point in the narrative–does not Mark as author subsume this to another context which has no possible priestly or sacrificial context, with his introduction of the phrase, Give his life as ransom for many? (Subsume–meaning that there remain two themes that cannot be fused, simplified, with one being more important than the other.) A desire to simplify must not become excuse for failure to engage in continuing interpretation.
But there is an even more serious problem here. The belief that simple formula is possible in religion. Formula may have been feasible in the heat of a battle for survival versus a prevalent and imperial Roman Christianity, but formula does not make for good long-term religion. Paul uses the Greek word for justification quite often, but most of Paul’s potential customers are located around the Mediterranean where Roman governance and Roman notions of law/justice are becoming increasingly important within that contemporary milieu. Paul also talks about economic forgiveness of an IOU, or reconciliation, etc., as these notions suit his purposes. But if one is stuck on formula, stuck on interpretation that only reinforces traditional formula, obviously one will not benefit from other interpretations which might be of more benefit to present-day faith.
From three verses in Matthew Catholics may have their formula about Peter and the keys, but Protestants tend to favor a single phrase only (!) as formula, an obscure phrase from Exodus: priesthood of all believers. This phrase might seem to combine into one consolidated conception both democratic and priestly meanings. But I would insist that this is theological confusion, an illegitimate over-simplification. But is simplification so bad? Yes, simplification can be very bad if bad interpretation is involved. Bad interpretation allows one of fixate on whatever one would prefer to see, and prevent what I am asking for: new interpretation, continuing interpretation.
But let me try a Protestant-leaning interpretation of Peter and the keys:
Jesus asks the disciples, Who do people say that I am?; Who do you say that I am?
Peter says, You are the Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus says: Blessed are you Simon because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you. You will be (called/named) Rocky and on this rock I will build my assembly (of believers, or my church)… And I give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven…
What does Jesus envision here as to future organization or governance with regard to his later followers? This must be the basic question. Is Peter simply and in fact the rock on which one entity, one church will be built, and is there only one set of keys given exclusively to Peter which perhaps he may then pass along–to the next, what, governmental head? But if so, this is a very quick and sketchy transfer/establishment of authority or authority-structure. And minimizes the confession.
Perhaps rather, Peter here and historically makes the first explicit confession/essential statement of Christian belief. And on this initial and exemplary confession as example the later collection(s) of believers will be built. It is not so much Peter who is important as the fact that he has been enlightened by God, as all later members of the Christian church must also be enlightened, converted by God.
Any definitive group will require the right to determine members; keys. Heaven will respect such later group determinations as made by certified, believing Christians.
And the implication as well must be: If you Peter want to be a leader, go ahead, since you have identified the one essential element, the essential membership confession.
But I will build my assembly-church. You will only administer it…
So, a looser, non-specific interpretation may be possible along such lines, but then why the pun on rock, petra(feminine noun) and Peter’s Greek name, Petros. Why does Jesus insert a pun between (and connecting) enlightened confession and a foundation of some kind to be built upon? Whether this is direct or more indirect talk about confession, group authority or leadership, these are important issues. Why not keep the pun out of this?
My suggested interpretation will be that Jesus wishes to introduce complexity. That neither of the above simplifications is good. That complexity is good and necessary–because the realities here remain complex. (I am not wandering off track; I am arguing that only by avoiding simplification in interpretation can we get better and more helpful present-day interpretation..)
My suggestion would be that Jesus is deliberately alluding to (and extending maybe) a very important Old Testament pun, play on words which ought to be familiar to all in the Jewish or Christian traditions; 2Samuel 7:1-17 and 1Chronicles 17:1-27. King David is considering whether to begin building a temple building. Yahweh’s message is delivered to him by a prophet: You David will not build it, but, Yahweh himself will, in effect, build two “houses,” temple and royal dynasty. And with both of these houses, another person, Solomon, will actually have more immediate association than you, David. Present here is the issue of institution/establishment within religion. Both the individual character of a king and the institutions of temple-with-dynasty are important dimensions/versions of OT religion. The OT scripture includes two parallel histories, one interested in the temple, the other most interested in the character of individual kings; Chronicles, Samuel-Kings. Both are important. And so while Jesus would fulfill both sides of the OT pun about “house,” Jesus’ followers will still live in a multi-faceted world. Like Yahweh’s pun on house, Jesus’ pun on rock-as-foundation must indicate a complexity which must be accepted, cannot be simplified, on this topic of establishment/institution of religion. This is my suggestion.
Any religious tradition , then, which prefers to oversimplify, which avoids complexity, which avoids the difficulties of continuing interpretation, which avoids the task of philosophical-intellectual engagement with ideas outside of religion is not dead–but dormant. And so for the person with an interest in religion, be on the lookout for better quality, for religion that is not stale. If you find such, this will be religion that is intellectually alive because it takes seriously this necessity of Continuing Interpretation. Contemporary fads, issues, topics, causes are not interpretation. Interpretation is trying to find in an original Scripture whatever might contribute towards improved understanding.
Copyright 2020 pkragt
Chapter III. Biology: Which is true, evolution or creation? Alice was impressed with the Queen’s boast that she could sometimes believe six impossible things before breakfast. Interpreters will point out that Wonderland is a dream world, and such feats are much harder to achieve in the real world… In this chapter I will attempt a difficult feat, that is, to demonstrate that it is possible for someone (myself) to believe in both evolution and creation at the same time. This will involve me in an intellectual effort in which I may or may not be successful (the reader must decide,) but successful or not, this is exactly the sort of difficult thing with which intellectuals tend to occupy themselves. I make this attempt, it must be, because I am an intellectual. I aim high. And to that degree to which I may be successful, my secondary agenda here–(since this is a chapter about Biology)–will be to critique biologists. Why are you, biologists, so anti-philosophical! (So before taking up this intellectual feat, I spend some time with this rhetorical critique.)
Most biology texts which I have come across will include a short and invariably poorly written treatment of creationism and/or intelligent design as being unfairly opposed to that genuine science which is biological evolution. But is it really so hard (I ask the biologist, rhetorically) to distinguish science proper from philosophical notions from religious belief? It really shouldn’t be. I myself, for example, believe in the Christian notion of Divine creation but I don’t wish to be labeled a “creationist.” Creationists themselves don’t bother me. Creationists must be those people who harass biologists exactly because they feel defensive about having their religious beliefs attacked by advocates of evolution. Are you biologists doing this? Are you attacking the religious beliefs of creationists? Are you claiming that Divine creation is actually impossible, or are you merely claiming that evolution-science describes a development of life that arises only from material sources. In order to answer this last question you need to be honest with yourselves as persons, and then write a better textbook paragraph about what is involved in this creationist situation: Religion and science base their respective claims to knowledge on different things… Biological evolution suggests but does not ultimately prove (or does it actually philosophically prove…?) that life has only material cause… Intelligent Design is at best be a research program… And philosophy is that other helpful discipline which students will need to turn to help them better distinguish between, science, traditional or religious beliefs, etc…
According to my own terminology (which I also suggest for more general usage), a fundamentalist Christianity is a (fairly common and) anti-intellectual mode of religious belief: I have my given beliefs and I don’t really consider it necessary or even desirable to immediately engage with other intellectual realms such as biological science. As for myself, I consider this to be a serious fault in any religion, and plan at least one chapter within which to address bad religion, unhealthy religion, nanny religion. But my rhetorical question in this third chapter is for those on the other side, the biological scientists: Do you or do you not tend to engage in a similar “retreat to biology” when you are threatened or perplexed, rather than actively engaging with the intellectual world at large on philosophical and (optionally–) religious grounds. It seems to me that Einstein, for example, had little difficulty in being able to keep his humanism and/or his ideas about God separate from his specific physics.
I am told that certain Buddhists who think philosophically about their religion are attracted to the indeterminacy of quantum physics. It seems congruent with their religious beliefs! Similarly, Big Bang physics actually feels comfortable to persons who believe in a Divine creation. Science-theory therefore doesn’t prove or disprove this or that religious belief, but sometimes the science and the religious ideas are comfortable together and sometimes less so. And while physicists may or may not believe in God, most cosmologists I would observe, are well enough aware that they are operating at the limits of philosophically mysterious concepts, that is, time, matter and energy, the whole of the material universe coming into being… They will feel free to philosophize about these big concepts, mysticize about them if they wish, and then return to trying to achieve some scientific results. And should cosmologists in a near future come up with a major adjustment to Big Bang theory which incorporates dark mater or dark energy (just as relativity and quantum mechanics were major tweaks to Newtonian determinism…) these same physicists will certainly enjoy working on such a new/modified physics. (Various persons who believe in a Divine creation of the universe might be less happy to see significant adjustments to the Big Bang theory.)
Why is it all so different in biology, or with evolution as a science-theory? One reason it seems to me, is that evolution is such a big, big, big, theory within biology as science. Evolution imaginatively, developmentally, theoretically, historically and programatically unifies all living things (as well as biologists themselves, apparently…) into one whole, such that it seems demeaning to talk about evolution as being a mere theory, mere hypothesis, mere generalization. Evolution is actually, I admit, supported in many and various ways, not least by the DNA which is common to all living organisms, the random mutation of which would be implicated in the mechanism of biological evolution. Or, for example, as present-day research continues and as the intricacies of how genes operate to manage molecular production within cells, as this comes to be better understood, this also will tend to support evolution as theory. But (…and I speak as non-scientist…) why are evolutionary biologists so hesitant to admit that there is still controversy, that there are still loose ends to be tied up with regard to the basic mechanism of speciation itself. And/or, one may ask, why the need for a defensive rhetoric, as when Ernst Mayr, obviously a thoroughly complete biological-expert, states in his book “What Evolution Is,” that evolution is not theory but fact. Factual perhaps would make for a more grammatical sentence, as in: Evolution is factually true. But please, if biological evolution is science, it is still and always will be a (well supported, well established) theory rather that a fact as such. (Unless fact has a different meant in biology…) To use the word fact in this manner is to imitate those bigoted or dogmatic creationists…
I answer my own rhetorical question about why biologists tend to be less philosophical than physicists as follows: This reticence on the part of biologists must be because, while physics and cosmology also connect with certain great mysteries (time, mater, the beginning of the universe), biology makes contact with even more ultimate and more important mysteries than either physics or chemistry: What is life, What is man, What is society; What are human beings?
Man is an animal, perhaps an unusual animal, but still the product of chance induced biological process. We are scientists, we are biologists, and we are the only scientific experts who can explain this fundamental and animal dimension of man. If there is to be any modern-day science-dependent humanism, well, it must start here. Only we as biologists have the right to give this initial (if minimal and) basic definition of man. And thus it strikes me, someone whose humanism would be based elsewhere, (in religion/philosophy/history)–it strikes me that biologists are sitting on their good luck. In this age of science they have the goods, they maintain effective control over this minimal definition of what human beings are, and they don’t seem to feel that they need to philosophically develop or defend anything.
It happens that I don’t travel much in English speaking intellectual circles, and so don’t have opportunity to ask people about their fundamental beliefs, but my guess is that the great majority of modern Western intellectuals will espouse a certain degree of humanistic belief, and if asked to point out where this is based, where it begins, they will point to the theory/doctrine/notion of evolution. For many of these same persons, I would guess, giving intellectual allegiance to Evolution implicitly functions to clear away outmoded religious or traditional solutions–in favor of science, in favor of (they believe, what must be) better beliefs about man and about society and about the world. Beliefs which accede a foundational priority to science. But the problem here, as I see it, (and few may believe me) is that just as in chapter two I argued that the social sciences are not really sciences, so here I would claim that a biological foundation to humanism, man as animal product of naturalistic evolutionary process–this sort of flimsy and nebulous foundation, is completely inadequate as basis or foundation for a sound and democratic modern humanism.
It seems to me that beginning with this animal-like philosophical foundation one might next throw on, add to the basket almost anything else–and still call this mess humanism. But this is bad thinking, bad philosophy. An arbitrary humanism must be both dishonest and dangerous… But enough with this preliminary rhetorical discussion and on with the main task of trying to believe both creation and evolution; and I begin with analysis of the first three chapters of Genesis.
A theological-philosophical description of a Divine creation of our material universe would say that God is an unseen and all powerful being who at some moment causes our familiar material universe to come into being… This might makes it sound as if the idea of Divine creation is something which can be grasped within a simple and easy image… But how is creation ever a simple or an easy idea? An unseen being, a moment in eternity, things appearing where previously there was nothing. All of these are beyond our ordinary human capacities of imagination and comprehension. My first point would be, then, that creation is a very abstract happening; creation ought not to be though of as being an easy, simple, literalize-able notion or doctrine. Anyone who explains these Genesis accounts in a way that is too simplistic is certainly missing a majority of the intended meaning.
As quick example, the first sentence begins (When) God created the heaven and the earth… And then various things happen on the seven days which make up this chapter. But why, for example, does an all powerful God need to rest on day seven? I would suggest that better than seeing this chapter as informational documentary for human consumption–it may be a story-narrative about God himself, thus implying/suggesting not that God was actually tired, but that the meanings of creation ultimately remain with him, with God. Not working on the Sabbath would allow human beings opportunity to get back in touch with creation as well as with the purposes that remain hidden within the creator.
And a similar but important point about overly-literalistic days: Yes, there are seven days here, but there is also the repeated phrase: it was evening and it was morning–this phrase suggesting to me that we ought not just to be counting. Better would be to think of these as periods of time. (The sun and moon are not created until the fourth day, after all). I would argue that Christian scripture-writers when talking about the beginning times (as here) or the end times/ages, are thinking about quality. These are times, time-periods that are beyond our ordinary and everyday grasp since they approach…what–eternity, and therefore what is most theologically important is their differing quality. The named persons in the early chapters of Genesis who live six hundred years, would be human beings–but these human beings are living in a different kind of time; time must have had a different feel for them.
Within day-period one God first says: Let there be light. Then separates light from dark. Then creates a heaven/firmament between the waters on day two. Then dry land, and “Let the earth sprout vegetation…” (Some of these are fruit trees, and so there will be no way of meshing the order of creation here with Darwinian evolution, where bacteria and fish come first and angiosperm plants later.) On the fifth day: Let the waters swarm… and let birds fly above…“ On the sixth day God says: Let the earth bring forth living creatures. And on the sixth day also man is created. Man does not get a separate day. But man is planned, the text says, in the image of God, whatever this may mean: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Man is told to multiply and is to have dominion over other animals and “all the earth,” but on day five the fish and sea creatures are similarly told to multiply, etc., while on day four the moon is created to have “dominion” over the night. I don’t have time to check whether the Hebrew word here is the same as dominion given to man, but you may get the main idea here, which is that these seven days offer no simple, straightforward, literalistic meanings. Both the waters and the earth are to bring forth living things, but God is also said simply to have created these living things. And in the following two chapters which is a narrative of the first human couple eating the forbidden fruit and causing some sort of serious moral-existential catastrophe for mankind, this story begins with re-telling of the creation of man, land animals, and birds (!) out of dust, as if God is now a human ceramicist. Then this more anthropomorphic God breathes onto the first man to quicken him, this God is apparently able to walk and talk with the first couple in this idyllic garden, forms Eve out of a rib taken from the first man, etc. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil which is central to this story–Has anyone explained this yet! I very much doubt it. I would guess that Western traditions will moralize this, as if to mean an awareness of moral action. But good, evil, as Nietzche may have complained, these are certainly more than morality! (When I have more time for some theological research I may take up this question myself.) But the point here is similar to the point above–the theological or cosmological meanings are not simple and are not neat and tidy. Rather, one might complain that there are too many partially understood (mysterious..) theological meanings included in these texts!
The “people of the book,” Christians, Muslims, Jewish believers, will doctrinally simplify all of this to three statements: 1. An all powerful God brought our universe into existence. 2. This God also created or is responsible for the coming into existence of all living creatures. 3. Man also is one of these created living beings, but man also has some sort of unique place/purpose/connection vis a vis this creator God.
And this last doctrine, is this so strange? Religious texts, it must be, are made for the benefit or use of human beings. But can I, can anyone believe these three doctrines and also believe that Darwinian biological evolution is a true account of the origin of life on this planet?
Well, number one is easy, a no-brainer. The Big Bang makes this easy because it envisions a beginning to time, matter, energy; the material universe comes out of a pre-physics Nothing. It describes a beginning of the universe which has abstract similarities to theological creation.
The second and third doctrines will be more difficult to make compatible intellectually with the beginnings as described by evolution because biology explains all lifeforms on earth as developing from one initial living cell, and all of this taking place over some two to three billion years. And–what causes the first living cell as well as the subsequent variety of organisms will be purely material (chemistry, physics-type) causes, plus chance. Chance mutations in DNA. If I offer a Creator God who already knows how physical and chemical laws work, who begins the process and then lets material causes take over, this can’t work, because this has God second-guessing chance mutations. Chance must be chance. Chance must be respected. (But I also recall that many creation myths do give chance a role. And on the first day in Genesis, after God creates heaven and earth, the initial situation is described as formless, with darkness over the face of the waters such that chaos seems to be given initial recognition in Genesis.)
In writing my commentary on Luke-Acts a few years ago (available as a Kindle ebook) I claimed that the throwing of lots by the eleven apostles in attempting to find a replacement for Judas (who had committed suicide..), that this employment of chance was theological. That is, (and I am serious here), this detail indicates that these religious pioneers and religious leaders recognized that they could be very sincere, they could fervently pray that God the Father might help them, they might narrow down the candidate list, but throwing lots indicated their (theological) belief that this was beyond their power to control. In other words, it was beyond their comprehension and control. Having been chosen by Jesus, and having carefully prayed for divine help, how could God the Father NOT influence the dice so that the best candidate was selected. But NO! The meaning here (I claim) is that they accept chance (!) and therefore cannot presume that in this instance God the Father will produce a result in accord with human intentions or wishes. Theologically, they cannot know how God the Father is affected, and so can never know whether they were in fact significant contributors to an important event. God perhaps chooses the less desirable candidate here because these eleven were already inclined in a wrong direction, etc.
Chance theologically also provides a similar curb to presumption in the OT book of Joshua. As a priestly sort of army the Israelites secure the boundaries of the land promised centuries before to Abraham, and then there is a ceremony of some sort in which lots, dice, are thrown to determine which areas will be allocated to which tribes. And this same inheritance-via-lot procedure is in Christianity. The saints don’t have a direct hold on any one part of heaven, but will be given their individual inheritances only through chance, only as the result of random turnout.
Thus I do take chance seriously, as well as theologically, but must ask at this point, what does chance mean to you, (biologist) and the purveyor of a chance-induced origin to life. That is, is your notion of chance, like mine, self limiting, I can’t understand this…, or does your notion of chance require/compel a non-Theistic context. How metaphysical is this notion of chance biological (mutation). This would be a philosophical question. Does chance mutation preclude the existence of God?
In studying up on the topic of evolution I searched for recommended books, and Richard Dawkins’ Blind Watchmaker was well recommended, and so I bought a Kindle copy. And I do think that the author’s basic approach in this book is persuasive and convincing. Darwinian evolution does allow the atheist who is awed by biological complexity to be intellectually fulfilled. Fulfillment here refers to the so-called Argument from Design. Where does all of this surprising complexity come from? It comes as the result of an almost miraculous process of chance mutation plus natural selection. This has produced the complexity. And though improbable, this is what we have; this is were we are. We grasp both this great process of evolution as being surprising and improbable because based on strictly natural, physical causes, and also grasp a bit of our own humanistic situation: we are animals, but animals who appreciate, who are aware of this majestic process.
I myself would see the Argument from Design as an existential argument rather that a strictly verbal or logical argument. Persons who don’t get out into nature, who don’t experience nature, who don’t attend in a disinterested manner to nature, these will not be convinced. (Do farmers or fishermen find this argument compelling?) But I do find it quite compelling or persuasive as arguing that somewhere, somehow beyond my experience of these various interesting and convoluted nature-phenomena there plausibly is a Deity. And though I can in some degree share Mr. Dawkin’s enraptured vision of chance explaining natural complexity according to Darwinian process, I myself still may still feel some continuing pull from this argument just because it is an existential argument. The argument is not removed, not disposed of, it doesn’t go away if evolution-theory partially satisfies it–does it? It seems to me that Mr. Dawkins steals the design argument from the theologians (and why not–they don’t own it) and finds it (partially–at least) fulfilled through Darwinian evolution: chance, chemical laws, environment working together to build up some very complex organisms. And Mr. Dawkins himself does, head on, tackle certain philosophical topics in this book. But the technical and philosophical question I must pose for him here is, whether or not biology and its central conception of evolution allows or does not allow that there may still exist a Deity beyond; beyond chance… If I will allow that chance must limit, must cloud my apprehension of a theological sort of notion, that is, that my notion of Divine creation of animal life must also include/allow for an awareness of biological and evolutionary chance… is Biology itself similarly limited by chance: Animal life is not fully explained by chance plus Darwinian evolution; animal life is still and shall always remain something of a mystery? The question seems to be, who gets to to define/control chance? –But if neither biology nor religion are allowed to control chance, then doesn’t this leave God as possible arbiter of chance, as well as hypothetical, at least, originator of all life…
I find that what I am up against is simple-mindedness–on both sides. Both sides want to simplify, and both sides also want to have the last (and only word) on the issue. But question number three, the creation of man, is this really as contentious as it seems! Both sides, it seems to me now, are approaching this topic, the first man, from opposite sides, but does either approach actually have a definitive and comprehensive right to claim to truly or exclusively define what this entity, man, is?
Biology describes a primate evolution: chimpanzees and gorillas with long arms, then bipedal hominids coming out of the trees and using fire or brain-smarts to ward of the lions and jackals, then many years later, Neanderthals with a much larger brain and stone tools but little further progress for 50,000 years, then (40,000 BCE) early (Cro-magnon type) humans (!) with slightly smaller brains but cave paintings, rituals. When does pre-man become man? Biology must work on this question, but it also seem obvious and clear to me that once pre-man becomes man then biology can no longer talk authoritatively or exclusively about this same entity. I (along with most ordinary persons on the street…) believe that while man is an animal, man is also somehow significantly more (philosophically-speaking) than other animals. If I claim that man has this or has that certain quality or ability which animals do not, well, biologists will reject my supra-animal-claim. Biologists will never allow me to add anything to man the animal. Evolution produces only animals, only organisms, and there can come into existence no “special” animals. But this very prohibition must, in fact, operate both ways. To talk about human beings either comprehensively or philosophically (I myself would claim) we must leave biology-land. And leave science as well–if we aim to be comprehensive. In my view, the sciences exist among the humanities.
At the juncture where pre-man becomes man, it seems to me that we slip out of biology. Biology can describe man’s animal ancestry, and in part aim to describe this transition itself, and describe the first human beings, but with its partial grasp of these first humans, this is where biology ends, where biology looses its jurisdiction.
On the other side, Genesis recognizes a commonality between land animals, birds and human beings in that each are formed by the creator-God from dust. But Genesis, it becomes clear, is not interested in pre-man as hypothetical possibility, but only in subsequent prospects for this unique entity, man. The second account in Genesis briefly describes man as an entity in close connection with God, walking with Him in the garden, but after this brief time, man is the entity who will require religion and remediation to get back to the possibility of that original positive religious status. Genesis, (no surprise here since it is a religious text), claims that man is an entity capable of religion, of connection with an all powerful God, and the first man actually existed momentarily in a quite idyllic religious situation, in the Garden of Eden, but the first couple themselves ruined this situation. So far, this primary interest and emphasis is religious.
Adam naming the animals, well, this correlates quite well, doesn’t it, with what science tends to say about the importance human language. And the image and likeness of God, well, this is a phrase only, a phrase which has metaphysical possibilities certainly, but lacking context–a phrase which is more philosophically suggestive than reliable as specifying specific content, specific conceptual definition as to what this entity man is. (In Christian belief, Jesus is God and man, and an image (quite literally in this case) of God the Father. But still an image. An image is not easily convertible into a series of propositions but remains an image. Thus what does it mean exactly, that Jesus is image of the Father?) As well, God is said to form from dust the birds, land animals and man, but breathes only into man. Without further context being given, this detail here is also inadequate it seems to me, to form the textual basis for significant claims about how man might metaphysically surpass the birds and other animals. At best, it is tenuously suggestive…
But how can this metaphysical story-incident in which man looses a momentary idyllic status and becomes aware of his problematic situation and his need for remedial religion–how can such an occurrence be considered to be historical (!) in the ordinary meanings of that term, history. Maybe I have already lost a few of my readers who are afraid that I am now about to argue for a short-earth-history. I am not. But I am going to argue for short (5000 year, or so..) “modern” history. That is, I do believe (philosophically) that a historical consciousness is one of the traits which essentially defines what man is. And this consciousness receives a serious boost with the introduction of written languages only a few thousand years ago. History does begin with written language which gives us the ability to re-enter the milieu of other peoples via what they have written down.
So we imagine Moses, trained in the sophisticated written language, culture and multiple-priesthood religious-views of Egypt, but inspired to put into writing the oral legends and beliefs of his own Hebrew ancestors–as Genesis. That first chapter is the beginning/generation of all things in the universe at large as imagined in seven eras of time. The remaining chapters of Genesis are a history of man which begin with one first man. With his genealogical listings, X begat Y who begat Z…, Moses, who already lives in times of Middle-Eastern written history–is claiming to be able to go back to one initial and historic man. And while we may well suspect that he has fudged these lineages, he has left out quite a few of the human links somewhere, still his theological claim would be based on a history-claim. The claim is that all humans do begin from one man/couple and after this first couple there exists a subsequent and historical continuity of human generations. All men are the same because they exist in one human history with one human ancestor.
But what kind of history is selected for historical narration in Genesis? The expulsion of the first couple from Eden as well as almost all later events have moral-religious significance. And we must allow that if this is really history, this is murky history. We cannot easily empathize with an earliest age of human “history” in which humans live six hundred years. These are supposedly human beings also with human consciousness of human history, but their kind of history is not our kind of history.
The history of prophetic religion is described in Genesis as beginning with Abraham, who is told to leave the commercial civilization of Mesopotamia and its accounting-language and live in a new and sparsely populated area, where, generations later, a better and a godly civilization will be encouraged to flourish. These patriarchs must have lived in a somewhat idyllic (pre-modern) historical mode in which written language, at best, was rudimentary, maybe only for written contracts… Moses writes down these important historical accounts via oral transmission. And being himself involved in the events of Exodus and Sinai, etc., Moses writes down (in some written script) the Exodus history, the laws of Leviticus, and the exhortations of Deuteronomy with their interest in a better civilization to come. (At least this would be the authorship claim made within the Pentateuch itself.)
But with the Genesis genealogies, the claim would be that Moses can reach back through an increasingly murky human past and make contact with one initial set of human beings! What an audacious claim! But then, if the all important transition from pre-human to human occurred during Cro-magnon times for example, this must involve more generations than Moses lists, but still (only) 40,000 years ago. Not long compared with the 3,500,000,000 years which biologists claim that they are able to surmount in order to make definite contact with one solitary and singlar first living cell. There is only one, there can only be (according to this theory…) one tree of life which has led up to recent hominids… Can both of these outrageous claims be true–at the same time? Evolution describes the “history” of life up to and including the transition to man, and then Moses takes over. I think that I’ve solved it Toto.
Just as thinking Christians of the 1800’s are shocked by the sudden appearance of an intellectual competitor to the doctrine of creation where before there had been few serious competitors, so it seems to me that science needs to take seriously my (philosophical, not religious) claim and contention that human history, ordinary short-term written-type history, is more fundamental to who we are as human beings, more foundational for humanism, than can be a science history. Science history is an addition to ordinary human history-consciousness and not the other way around. This because science history is one dimensional, while humane history is variegated, of many possible dimensions, qualities.
Science history is magnificent in its range. The first milliseconds of time have a sequence of particles/energy coming into this then that configuration. Later, stellar evolution takes millions and billions of years. Supernova explosions provide the necessary carbon atoms. Sun and earth coalesce after another trillion seconds. Plate tectonics on earth move the continents around through the oceans. And complex lifeforms develop through the life, death and recycling of the carbon atoms of trillions of generations of these same organisms and animals. The five thousand years of added human history are less than a millionth of the total seconds of this vast and larger “history” as now described for our appreciation by physicists and biologists. But while many modern men who are accustomed to scheduling their time by the second might consider the second-based unidimensional modern science mode to be superior, to be more fundamental and inclusively larger, I would insist that it must be the other way around. Science-time is a stunning addition as a mode of history awareness, but yet a one-dimensional addition. More fundamental to modern democratic and philosophical humanism, I insist, must be ordinary and qualitative short-term 5000 year human history awareness. Captain Cook “discovering” the Australian continent, that is, is more immediate to who we are, than either the oral history of many generations of Aboriginal peoples, or the untold generations of animal mutations needed to fit the niches of the Australian biosphere with marsupials. Man must certainly loose some closeness to nature when gaining other benefits from written language, but that is where we are.
So my preference for a single cause which causes the transition from humanoid to human would be the art consciousness which first appears 40,000 years ago. There was one first Adam here, we may be sure, who went into a dark cave with some prepared materials, and in the dark felt the cave walls, and then from an imagined memory externalizes that specific inner image from earlier in the day by drawing an animal on the wall. When the lights are turned on, lit, man is born out of this new procedure of artistic externalization. Once this first human person (seriously) has helped a few others to understand art, once there exist a small nexus of art-aware persons, then language of the human sort may develop. Not just sounds signifying specific things, but words freely put together to follow the composition/construction of imagined image.
And so who can deny that art might today still be an important mode of “knowledge” by means of which human beings see what human beings are. Arts and literature depict for consumption an image of the good and bad that human beings are capable of. And along with science (of course) but more importantly, philosophy and history, (and maybe religion also), these help us understand and define what man is, what society might be, what a modern democratic humanism should be.
Thirteen Easy Answers to the World’s Most Difficult Questions
Chapter II. What are the social sciences? It seems to me that the most significant phenomenon of the the last three hundred years of human history has been the growth of natural science, that is, physics, chemistry, modern biology. Not the industrial revolution, not colonialism or globalization, not two world wars. When Galileo and Newton integrated physical notions into mathematical expression they started something big. Our understanding in 2019 of how the natural world works is stunning in extent and exactitude. Everything made from a hundred atoms; protons and neutrons each composed of three much, much smaller items called quarks which operate according to their own set of rules and forces; definite mathematical scenarios for stellar evolution over billions of years; all lifeforms making use of cells, DNA; the electromagnetic forces that bring about chemical change between molecules understood, the shapes of protein molecules, etc.
I also wish to claim philosophically (–and leaving any necessary argumentation itself for some other time–) that what most fundamentally characterizes this new modern science as means to knowledge is an essential connection/association with mathematics. Science itself–as meaning a human effort to carefully examine and explain the natural world–this we should admit is pre-modern. Aristotle was a capable biologist. There were a handful of quite competent ancient astronomers examining and describing the motions of the stars and planets. Or, also, Euclidian geometry was thought of as being a kind of science–science here meaning an achieved and systematic collection of truths. But of course, only in the last few hundred years have really come to understand, very amazing… what the natural world is made of and how it works! As reward for such far ranging and extensive success, modern natural science now deserves primary ownership of (and primary rights to define) that word “science.” But while I allow physicists and chemists first claim on the word science, I do not allow them exclusive rights to the word knowledge. There may be, there are in fact many kinds of knowledge…
As a recent and noble human enterprise then, this natural-science-business has brought humankind a certain kind of definite knowledge, knowledge which is exact, extensive, usable, but which (we must also note for purposes of this chapter) is also primarily a knowledge of the natural world, not knowledge of human beings as such nor of their social life as human beings. And a point should be made immediately, and made in general terms, and a point which can hardly be denied at all, is that human beings need “knowledge” for daily functioning. (I hope I do not stretch the word knowledge too. Words should not be elastic.) But human beings must operate daily according to ideas, values, choices…, and most of these are in regard to society itself or other persons, etc. This sort of “social knowledge” is a necessity for ordinary human life. Our achieved knowledge of the natural world (thanks to the achievements of recent physicists, chemists, biologists…) certainly helps us to obtain better food, necessities, products, but the more immediate need, existentially speaking, is yet for some degree of social “knowlege.” In ordinary life people need and wish not just to be able to get along, not just to have or be given opinions, but also, as far as is possible, to know what human beings are, to know what is true, to know how to choose truer values.
Two points can may be added here, though these are secondary to the main theme. Firstly, since I side with the pheneticists rather than the cladists in modern biology, I consider that natural science itself does not have one and only one (mathematical) method of attack. Math is not necessary to the process of describing and classifying the various species that exist out there, plants, spiders, bacteria. Looking, recording, comparing is all that is needed. And secondly, technology (as I myself would wish to to strictly define this term, and I realize that this hard line distinction in no longer very popular–but then, could this unpopularity itself be contributing to why we have the recent “post truth” phrase…) –technology is a use of knowledge for the sake of making. Technology itself doesn’t aim to know, but aims to make or to do. Technology gives us airplanes, radio, non-stick pans. (Technological-knowledge as phrase then, is something of a misnomer.) But though technology is not scientific knowledge of itself, for any man or woman on the street, technology (appropriately enough) tends to certify the validity of modern (natural) science as knowledge. If we did not have some sort of actual “knowledge” supporting all of this, how could be come up with radar, the internet, aluminum cans.
But to return to the main theme, as the ongoing successes of Physics and Chemistry become obvious, what is a more natural reaction than to hope that natural-science methods as applied to human beings and to human society can, should, (must) yield quite certain results, certain knowledge. Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, Economics, Anthropology hope to present themselves (if not yet, then very soon..) as sciences, comparable to those other quite successful sciences–physics, chemistry, modern biology. But my answer with regard to this chapter’s topic question will be pessimistic: By any fair and phenomenological consideration of what has been happening in the social sciences in the last century or two, these efforts have had very minimal success; very little “social” knowledge has been achieved. Therefore it may be time to suggest that these social sciences are not really sciences. Efforts to imitate as closely as possible the methods of natural science have not worked, are not working, will not work in the future.
The modern scientifically inclined intellectual will find my attitude rude, and I admit that I am somewhat vague and rhetorical in dismissing the social “sciences” with such language, but then I would answer that my mode of approach in this chapter has been phenomenological; I set all of this all up as a question of knowledge. And I ask again: What of significance have the social sciences contributed to our store of (generally agreed upon…) social knowledge?
The modern-day scientific materialist–such a person might be characterized as being someone who likely will believe, quite strictly speaking, that there is only the one kind of “knowledge,” the kind of knowlege exemplified by the natural sciences. And this person wil believe as well that it must be only a matter of time before all phenomenon, including human beings and their societies will/should ultimately be explainable in genetic, causal, cognitive-science terms. But can we really wait around for cognitive science, social biology and evolution, or selfish-economics to explain what human beings are and what society actually is?
My own view as alternative to this science-knowledge-only view will begin with just a bit of philosophical humanism. ( Can a person philosophize after all, asking for example what modern science is as phenomenon, unless they already possess minimal humanistic self-regard?) But I myself would allow and agree that the natural sciences give us quite certain knowledge, but would go on to note that these sciences themselves are quite properly and correctly speaking, humanities, that is, the result of human efforts and human capabilities. And to continue, mathematics, for example, which we note as being necessary–if also ancillary–to natural science, is another such human enterprise, another area of liberal studies, another one of the humanities. Is mathematics is a kind of human “knowledge?” Is history?
Common sense might prefer to say that math is not strictly speaking, knowledge, but few persons will dare to say that history is not human knowledge, nor deny that history is an important sort of human “knowledge.” We need history-knowledge in order to be better aware of who we are as individuals and societies.
Historians might employ carbon-14 dating, and may use computers to help collect and analyze their statistics, but I would like to insist that history as enterprise is not at all essentially, inherently scientific. History does not rely on the methods of the natural sciences, thus, though history may be an important kind of human “knowledge,” history is not at all essentially scientific.
If this sounds too anti-intellectual, history being non-scientific, then this larger issue must involve that adjective, scientific. The great successes of physics, chemistry and recently, biology, this is the source of our problem! Everyone wants to be labeled as being scientific also, else they will be left behind, else they will be second class or third class. Every academic discipline, every learning endeavor it seems, hopes to advertise itself as being scientific. Historians provides us with a certain kind of non-scientific knowledge. OK. But a majority of historians in a review of their history writing might still enjoy being referred to as being scientific. The man in the street, using his daily to-do list, might like to think of himself as being scientific. What is wrong with this pervasive desire for the label “scientific?”
Well, I believe that this scramble to be lauded for being scientific has distorted and polluted and seriously harmed many academic disciplines. To the extent that this is true, this must be a serious issue. Let me offer a very quick example: Why do higher academic degrees in the humanities require “research?” This fad likely came in as a result of German teaching methodology and the successes, a century ago, of German chemistry. If humanities departments don’t engage in “research” then other and more scientific departments will be looking down their noses at the humanities. Humanities departments were/are in mortal terror of an adjective! But being provably research-scientific, this will function as a talisman it must be, to protect them from the feared possibility of being labeled, Please No, un-scientific.
But returning to the theme of this chapter, and with regard to the social sciences, I am not at all disposed to tell social scientists how to do their work, what methodologies they may or may not use. But as far as I am allowed any philosophical credibility or authority, what I am going to do is to strongly suggest that they need to be more explicit about what methods they choose to use, and why. Is it not fairly obvious to most persons, after all, that the methods of hard-science, (experiment, value-free objectivity, mathematical approaches, peer review/collaboration, etc.) that these methods may actually work well enough in certain fields and with certain subjects but not at all in other areas?
Some such awareness about method seems to me to be present (to a limited degree at least) in ethnology. Ethnology is conducted by an anthropologist living for a significant amount of time among a tribe or group of people and observing; living in that culture but remaining unobtrusive. It is obvious to me, and to anthropologists I presume, that this cannot be scientific method in any strict sense. Not mathematical, not experimental, not quite value free…) But this is still well regarded as an appropriate method in this case, and why not? The proof must be in the results. If someone complains that this is too soft to be real science I would side with the objectives of the anthropologists by saying that it may not be scientific (in a strict sense), but seems to me to be a suitable way of learning about particular cultures.
Or, sociology wishes to study societies and to generalize about any/all societies. Societies are composed of persons operating by means of ideas, attitudes, feelings, habits, rules. People create institutions, do science, study sociology. All of the concepts just listed–these concepts are somewhat fluid, are they not? Can sociology, for example, ever give us the last word on what social institutions actually are. Well, it can try, and we can look at its results, and they may be quite interesting. I myself appreciate some of what Weber says about bureaucracy, authority, charisma, and I can critique such ideas in relation to what I am more interested in thinking about, about religious authority. But neither my thinking-results nor Weber’s sociology need try nor need claim to be scientific in the strict sense of that word.
It seems obvious to me that for a majority of the terms which the social sciences make use of–the specific meanings of each of these terms will usually be very closely involved with the meanings given to other terms. Our achieved everyday knowledge of society and persons is not compartmentalized but interconnected. But economists insist on their own (private) definition of rationality: greed. And anthropologists not surprisingly claim to be superior arbiters of what the word culture must mean. In reading an anthropology book recently, (Social and Cultural Anthropology:A Very Short Introduction, Just and Monaghan) the author states in a subsection titled: Cultural Relativism: “If, as we believe, the content of culture is the product of the arbitrary, historical experience of a people, then what we are as social beings is also an arbitrary, historical product.”[Note the word arbitrary…and ask oneself whether one must destroy the validity of history in order to establish cultural objectivity…] But at the close of this section the author concludes: “…we note with Clifford Geertz that the crimes committed in the name of cultural relativism pale in comparison to those committed in the name of cultural and national chauvinism, or for that matter, almost any other ‘ism.’” [Note that here that the author in effect claims to be a great moral interpreter of history, such that the admitted wrong that cultural relativism inflicts on present-day societies, this is justifiable because of the political benefits, the corrections given to cultural chauvinists.] This I must say is bad science and also bad excuse by anyone’s standards, but then, if one’s business is to understand culture and one also refuses to give up the word scientific–and baggage (strict objectivity…) which clings to that adjective, what else can one do?
Let me answer with the following common-sense argument: If Anthropology is not about being a proponent of any particular culture, neither ought it to subvert what culture is nor denigrate how healthy cultures function by suggesting or implying that culture is relative! Linguistics is listed as a branch of Anthropology. We all must come to learn a first language (and a first culture, I woud add) else we cannot be human. But is there anything wrong with attachment, positive attachment to one’s first language or culture. Yes, the mature person ought to learn about other cultures and this should temper their favoritism. But this same mature attitude is a product of broad education, of the humane education achieved by some, not a general truth provided to us by anthropologists. By denying the presence of their own inherent values, by presuming to be able to apply some sort of value-free objectivity to their study of culture, this sort of pseudo-scientific viewpoint willfully muddies the waters.
Or, with regard to compartmentalizing the social/human, perhaps there is nothing wrong with concentrating on just psychology or just sociology, but (to pose an example) are one particular person’s psychological feelings of guilt, are such feelings legal, social, personal, religious or bodily in origin. How can the psychologist know without asking the person, the subject. And will this subject, the person himself/herself clearly or accurately know how to distinguish their own feelings? Is this same person’s self “knowledge” given via psychological science, or more likely, cobbled together from many other (non-science) sources?
In trying to develop an argument I have stayed clear of various complications along the way: economics as special case, medical technology, quantum physics and knowledge/explanation, man as product of biological evolution, etc. Some of these may come up in subsequent chapters. Here I re-iterate my main point that a clear line should best be maintained between the natural sciences and everything else. And I recommend that intelligent persons regularly should not just be careful–but leary towards use of the adjective “scientific.” Why? I guess this would be because I consider almost all social/human topics to remain open-ended, available for public debate and discussion. This perennial lack of perfectly certain and perfectly exact knowledge about mankind and society is a healthy and normal situation. If psychology and sociology are sciences, then this suggests an explicit claim that they possess (or will soon have) exact knowledge. Since both Marxist and Capitalist economics claim to be scientific, again, here the word scientific tends to introduce both explicit and implicit claims to some kind of authority. And it is hard to argue directly against authority…
The irony in this discussion is that although most people at large, many social scientists, and myself also, hardly take the time or effort to work through the math and to arrive at a more mature understanding of astronomy, biochemistry, everyone still desires to receive the blessing of science, the approbation of being sufficiently “scientific.”
Science itself is actually not so popular. We don’t need to tamp down too much enthusiasm when significant scientific discoveries are reported in Nature magazine and people stay home for three days to party. Physicists and chemists do not demand that we evidence obsequious etiquette towards them when we meet them. Rather, they tend to get less respect than they deserve. But everyone wants to grab some of the glory–wants to latch on to the authority of the modern (natural) sciences.
Imagine a circle of persons ready to openly debate a social topic. Present are anthropologist, psychologist, Protestant minister, historian of ideas, western civilization professor, chemist, philosopher. The social “scientists” tonight may be wary of the claims to authority that might emanate from the religious or traditional-civilization members present, and may expect that the chemist will go along with their views since she is also a scientist. But the chemist, who happens to be a humanist in foundational beliefs, might not agree at all with the opinions of the social scientists. She has developed her own opinions. If any the others are in awe of the expertise and authority of philosopher and/or the historian, well, this would be unusual. But the most likely scenario in this modern forum, I expect, will be that the social scientists present will explicitly and/or implicitly claim to have an edge in this debate, and the audience will probably go along with this presumption. This is a debate on a social topic, after all, and we are living in an age of science. But I would like that edge to be taken away. All participants begin as equals. No deference ought to be given to implied or explicit claims to authority that might emanate from these few social “scientists” present. They should be required to convince by whatever they present in facts, studies, knowledge, that their opinions are worthwhile, just as others must convince in the same way…without resort to direct claim or suggestion of authority.
Pk December, 2019
Thirteen Easy Answers to the World’s Most Difficult Questions
Question 1: What is Convention/Social-Culture, and how important, in fact, is it? Answer: I believe that it is equally valid, equally possible for the miscellaneous societies and/or nations of the world to rely either upon law or upon convention as their primary mode of self structuring and self-identification. Confucian-type societies, for example, often seem to be able to operate with minimal importance given to law as such, and Western (Rome-influenced) societies seem most often to wish to operate by giving primary importance to constitutional and written law while at the same moment, perhaps, giving quite minimal attention to the operation of convention/custom/culture within that same society.
On a small and democratic scale the Ancient Greek city-states actually did not separate these two, law and social convention, but in the modern context it seems obvious that societies are unable to achieve that unusual balance of those Ancient Greeks–we today necessarily choose to identify with one or the other side of this spectrum. Both law and convention being, of course, means by which to organize and/or structure a society.
But the next point would be this: Both of these different “entities,” both law and social convention, are necessary and important if a society is to be healthy. One alone is not sufficient. This would be my truth-claim, not an imposed definition. This is, I insist, how the world actually works. Yes, a society may have the very best constitutional and statutory and administrative law in place, but if that society’s everyday social culture is not alive and operative (independently of law) then such a society will likely, it seems to me, become sick. And conversely (though I consider myself less qualified to evaluate Confucian or traditional-type societies)–but even should such a convention-based society have great and worthwhile traditional-customary culture and values, if that second social entity, law, if this item is seriously denigrated, if this thing is not allowed its separate and natural life, then this Confucian-type society likely becomes solipsistic, unable to self-correct, narcissistic(?), etc. (Along these lines, a Confucian-type society might best allow fundamental Daoist type natural law to exist as secondary social entity, rather than Western-type law as law codification…)
But since I address myself to English and primarily Western readers, I place myself within that other situation, that is, societies proud of their law-arrangements. And from within this context I insist that law is not enough. Convention is not just a nice idea. Rather, the healthy existence of social convention is also very important even though a choice has already been made to consider law as primary, as being most important within this society. Without a healthy and live and separately-independent social-convention realm in operation, even a good-law society must become dangerously unhealthy.
Please do not take the terminology too seriously. Westerners tend to consider that the term “law” has quite clear and obvious meanings. Law means explicitly stated (likely, written) social standards, and these laws also having a governmental source or governmental authority. The term convention seems to Westerners ears less clear and obvious in its meanings, though I believe, loosely speaking, that everyone can recognize and identify what social convention is.
By convention I myself wish to indicate social standards or norms not explicitly stated by governments but made by numerous persons in collusion, many persons working together, norms that are the result of general social agreement. In any society or community, people will converse, argue, and after numerous interactions it becomes apparent that there is agreement on some things, little or no agreement on other topics, etc. Conventions would be those numerous miscellaneous items which a majority of people actually agree upon, at this moment. Convention, loosely speaking, is what prevails by the numbers. From accepted norms of etiquette to prevalent attitudes towards exactly what is meant by “hard work” or “family” as (national) values, these are conventions.
But convention also tends to be most natural to smaller communities, I would suggest, rather than natural to a large nation as large whole. Thus, two small, healthy nearby communities may have some conventions they agree about and others which they don’t share.
If may attempt to describe custom or convention seems too vague, too indefinite, well, I might wish to argue that this is what convention is like. It exists loosely and in constant agitation and movement within local societies/communities. If any entity or small group of persons are able to assert effective control or management over a society’s social convention, then this must be an unhealthy/abnormal situation…
In this chapter I am addressing a Western audience that likely does not question the primary importance of law, but probably does not really believe that convention within society is actually very important. I will try to make my case for the importance of convention–but on a very broad scale–by relating Convention to three major topics: (I) The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, (II) Rousseau’s book The Social Contract, (III) Mill’s essay On Liberty. These three topics above are chosen in order to demonstrate how a Western tendency to value law and to denigrate social convention (–as being of less than secondary value, as such) has in fact resulted in serious Western misunderstandings and serious Western problems.
But I expect that for the person who is already inclined to prefer simplification, to prefer only an overly rationalistic simplicity, my far-ranging and theoretically ambitions efforts here will have little positive benefit. For such persons, I am afraid, the opinion will still be, yes, convention is “nice,” but the other, law, is all that really, really matters. But as time goes on for me, such a petulant demand for the availability of a (too) rationalistic and simpleminded retreat– is something which I now tend to view as being pernicious. How can this be, how can the desire to acquire a more rationalistic simplicity be so harmful?
To begin then, with topic (I), the Fourteenth Amendment. What is the social context here? I believe that this part of our American Constitution has been badly abused as an immediate effect of would-be legal interpreters failing to recognize that what is most essential here is in fact a Social-Convention situation!
The Civil War is over and as a consequence, any and all previous slaves and/or blacks exist as equal citizens. Slavery was well integrated into local economic and social cultures; now local cultures must change, must somehow re-form sans slavery. This, it seems clear to me, is a Convention issue. How shall communities develop “new” local cultures?
And it also seems to me quite correct to insist that law as such, can actually accomplish very little in this same situation. This is basically a job for Convention, new conventions, not a job for Law. (But the simple-minded will wish only to see a Law problem here…)
I believe that the persons who wrote and passed the Fourteenth Amendment were appropriately quite astute in their awareness of the quite strict limitations of law as means to effectuate any desired re-building of healthy (local) convention. Thus, on my interpretation, the Fourteenth gives the Federal government the paternalistic role of protector of the process of justice within the individual states. If blacks, for example, are individually wronged, and then systematically denied redress by the operations of a local state judicial system, the Federal government threatens to step immediately into such a State’s ordinary judicial business in order to manage and fix that justice-delivery system…
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Each American is resident and citizen of one or another State, but after the Civil War another uniform National citizenship also exists for each and every American. But the Fourteenth also does not, it would seem, intend to further specifically define or describe what might be essential for such a National citizenship. The last phrase here, “equal protection of the laws” –this has its most immediate meaning not as some sort of intended declaration of Equality as new (National) standard, but simply as saying that the laws of this particular state, (State laws, that is) should benefit, should be enforced for the sake of, all state citizens equivalently. Persons “within a state’s jurisdiction” would ordinarily be the state’s own local citizens.
There is now a uniform national citizenship for all Americans. The fourteenth prohibits any newly formed state laws which might essentially compromise such national citizenship, and then also claims that the Federal government will step in protect state citizens where a local judicial system is egregiously functioning in a biased and unequal manner towards its own citizens.
Why has Black/White race harmony been slow in coming within the United States. Is this not in part at least because people are looking in the wrong place: looking to law, rather than custom? Either expecting that good laws will be sufficient of themselves, else expecting that law can be made into an instrument by which to root out bad customary attitudes, thus leaving only good attitudes and good Custom behind…!
But on to section (II) and the topic of Convention in relation to Rousseau’s Social Contract. Before democracy comes to the American colonies, and while almost all European nations are kingdoms, empires, dukedoms, etc., Rousseau grew up in the small and democratically managed city-state of Geneva. He later becomes a social celebrity, a writer and artist/critic, and towards the end of his life takes on an ambitious project: a theoretical justification of Democracy as being potentially appropriate for present-day European societies. But for this book, The Social Contract, for such a theoretical attempt, he is quite regularly vilified and condemned–at least among the modern-day and conservative English speaking democrats whom I also tend to read most often. Why?
He is totalitarian, anti-religious. He initiates a sort of abstract and ideological political discourse that has developed into the (non-pragmatic) extremes of modern day Marxism and/or European Liberalism. But all of these charges seem to me to be very wrong and unjust. English speaking persons may be allowed to be a bit smug. Henry VIII and his imperial notions “took care of” the religious issue England at an earlier moment in history. England itself moved gradually towards democracy. And I of course still prefer the democracy of the American founders to Rousseau’s social democracy. But at this present moment in history, when all the world, it seems, has become democratic–thought no one also seems competent to explain what democracy essentially is… isn’t Rousseau correct. I myself agree with him when he says (theoretically speaking) that democracy is more essentially about the people, about the social, than it is about government, voting, representation, public discussion, etc. Democracy after all, really must mean that the people as social entity are (both in fact and in theory) sovereign. Anything less is compromise.
Rousseau spends a few too many pages late in his book respectfully explaining how the old Roman Empire operated. Obviously he does place himself within the European-Roman tradition. But his emphasis will be on the social, on social convention as binding entity, on society as being essential to democracy, rather than emphasizing “law” or representation or governmental-structuring as such. This presently needed and quite fundamental emphasis, this must be why he is so badly misunderstood still today, reviled by intelligent interpreters who ought to know better. It must be that an exclusive law-emphasis blinds them to the importance of the social–to the (secondary) importance of “convention.”
Rousseau is also routinely blamed for the anti-Roman-Catholic animus of the French Revolution. And there may be historical continuities here; I myself do not know this history. But theoretically speaking, this anti-religious imputation also strikes me as being unfair, even malicious. Let’s take a look at the religion and state issue….
Rousseau himself seems somewhat opportunistically to have slid in his own allegiances from Protestant to Roman Catholic and back again, but then, this was the real situation in the world: traveling around Europe at that time there were in existence two and only two kinds of nation-state, Catholic, Protestant. He dedicates his book about democracy to his home town, Geneva, but Geneva will, after the book’s publication, condemn him as being a traitor and heretic–because of one chapter in which he expressing certain church-state opinions.
A late chapter in The Social Contract envisions a social role for Civil Religion, Civil Religion being in effect, a sort of state-sponsored and minimalistic Deism. Rousseau recommends that his new type of genuine democracy could chose to have such a minimal Civil Religion. But containing on through and up till the present day, because (it must be–) that Deism stinks so terribly, most modern political commentators, religious or not, quickly will dismiss offhand such a theoretical suggestion. But then, is it not largely accurate to say that the American church-state solution, non-establishment, is in effect quite similar to this suggested Civil Religion?
A sort of theoretical dishonesty with regard to religion seems to me to be operative here and continues through to the present day: The protestant or catholic commentator will each wish, ultimately, that their individual religious preferences prevail within society, while the agnostically inclined modern thinker will be fervently hoping that all religions will fade away, allowing agnosticism only to be prevalent within this society. No-one genuinely believes in the Western liberal ideal! But it seems to me that the West’s best and present solution to the Church/State issue is in fact return to honest consideration of (multi-religion) Deism!
But beyond a theoretical emphasis on the social, how does Rousseau connect directly with Convention? At that moment in history, Europe is seeing the beginnings of what will become modern natural science. Europe develops some sophisticated music, visual art, literature. France has elaborate ritual and custom which derive from its two upper estates, the king’s court and aristocracy, and traditional prerogatives of a Roman Catholic clergy. When an essay contest asks for an essay praising the high point to which European civilization has arrived, Rousseau recognizes that he can chose the opposite, can write about how false and artificial and overly-conventionalized a Law-respecting Europe has become! For writing such an expose, and in spite of his own personality, Rousseau is hailed as writer-celebrity. Unhealthy and excessive convention is now recognized as being a burden to society. A return to respect for the natural will cut through some of this… but better would be a respect for the promise of genuine and fundamental democracy…
I suggest that this is Rousseau’s primary motive as author, the attempt to better understand and to give better social opportunity for a more healthy development of “convention” within a society which already has fundamental respect for “law.” And his theory of democracy as well, the social contract which brings a democracy into existence, this also is an appropriate effort to give “convention” its due. Democracy is not just a matter of Law.
(III) But what does Mill’s long essay, On Liberty (1859) have to do with convention? Well, I would insist that a sound interpretation of this important short book must take seriously what Mill himself indicates as motive for him to attempt a fundamental and new approach to liberty as Western value, and that motive, it seems clear enough to me, is what he describes as being the ever increasing encroachments of societal pressure towards social conformity, unhealthy social Convention. Mill somewhere actually takes a couple of paragraphs to congratulate Rousseau because, some hundred years or so previously, Rousseau had appropriately shocked European society into recognizing the excessive conventionalism and artificiality of European civilization at that time. But now, with democracy itself in the West having become more ordinary and respectable, Mill very clearly delineates his surprising opening theme. He worries that in democratic (!) type societies, the up and coming problem in Europe will be democratically inclined populaces attempting through social convention (not via law or government…) to control and to limit the liberties of other persons within those societies. Mill is worried about Convention, about unhealthy and liberty-restricting societal convention in democracies!
Yes, Mill does (on a quick reading) seem to claim that he has come upon a “principle,” this being the singular notion that unless a citizen is harming others, he/she should be allowed to do as he/she might wish… But is such a principle–even should this principle be made effective (somehow) via “law” –is such a procedure able to solve this problem of social encroachment on liberty. I would suggest that legal solution is not at all possible, and Mill himself seems to recognize this fact in certain phrases where he suggests a convention-based solution: Unless a strong barrier of moral conviction…can be raised against (social) encroachment, he says, (i.e. unless society in general recognizes the importance of live-and-let-live AND unless it agrees to maintain as a social norm–as an ongoing social convention–such a “principle”) there is minimal hope for avoiding the social threat to individual liberties. At least this would be my best interpretation of Mill, and perhaps an attempt to slightly improve upon Mill without modifying what he says.
I would thus paraphrase Mill by saying that the only real solution to the social encroachment issue is that this same society must develop and maintain convention-embodied principles which expect all citizens to respect the separate lives of other citizens. Only strong and generally accepted and genuinely held social convention in favor of individual liberty of life and opinion, only the existence of such societal conventions will allow individuals to safely flourish in any free society. (Law of itself can provide no ultimate solutions…)
Mill obviously believes that a healthy and normal social convention may well be combative and judgmental, though he also makes use of the word disinterested. Thus, I may say things against opinions or behaviors I am not in agreement with, I may choose not to associate with people whose way of life I disapprove of, but I must keep this “conflict” within the realm of polite social interaction. And perhaps more importantly, I may not attempt to legislate so as to establish/enforce such (personally-favored) opinions upon the community at large. Within Mill’s healthy society, people may be “justly punished by opinion, (meaning the spoken disapproval of certain other individuals…) though not by law…”
In the contemporary American milieu where everyone seems to wish to produce, if possible, a uniformity of national life via law and/or bully-opinion, Mill’s approach must seem strangely backwards. And even more out of tune may be Mill’s fundamental liberal ideal: Mill presupposes a nation of mature citizens. All adults citizens must be mature! After the completion of eighteen years of schooling each one must stand on their own two feet and take full responsibility for themselves!
I myself would guess that few modern-day intellectuals are true believers in such a mature society as normal. I expect rather that when it comes down to it, most modern and intelligent people believe that a nanny-state, nanny-religion, nanny-culture-control–realistically speaking these will always be necessary. The ordinary situation is that most people in any society will need constant direction, supervision. Mature and intelligent individuals who can be trusted to be responsible will always be few, rare–not common, normal.
But if this is so, if Mill’s ideal is not feasible, then this leaves a major problem: Who selects the nannies? Who selects the values that will be imposed by the nannies?
Mill’s social theory has two stages. During a citizen’s immaturity the society can and does impose an inculcation of values, though among such values will be free inquiry and unhindered questioning of all values. Then at maturity Mill’s society, it seems, requires that society stop imposing values. Rather, society itself is now expected to develop mature conventions, to develop a mature (extra-legal) social culture which will tend to encourage and allow individuals to each do their own thing. Thus it would seem that the easier part is having laws, values, and inculcating those values. The difficult part is the expectation that social convention, a social culture, this must independently come about, as well as the expectation that society must actually have normal expectations of individual maturity!
Because I consider On Liberty to be the best statement of what Western Liberalism means, I myself also interpret any sort of nanny-government (or nanny-religion) as being less theoretically mature, perhaps less than fully democratic. If this is the best available statement of what Western liberalism means, then this cannot be watered down. And if mature individuals are too few, this ideal cannot function.
Again and most importantly, convention must not be confused with law. These are to remain separately operating entities in the modern society. Innumerable nannies sermonizing and haranguing and repeating the word diversity can never promote social diversity. By definition, a nanny does not believe in diversity; A nanny can only pass along one nanny’s view of the world. A tutor is needed to exemplify and to model what adult respect for diversity must actually mean. The proof can only be found in the adult situation: do the mature citizens of a society actually allow differing opinions and ways of life to exist, or not? Do they respect, hire, associate with such persons even while actively, regularly socially disagreeing with them?
copyright pkragt 2019
Those born into an already existing national-entity are “natural” citizens. (The country-nation, though this is itself a human construct of some sort, presumes its own naturalness…) Then, those born elsewhere may be “naturalized” if they, ordinarily, swear some sort of allegiance to their new homeland. (But… by allowing though not promoting the possibility of dual citizenship, does US legal theory not somewhat relativize citizenship–as identity..?) But quite obviously, this transition from alien to citizen raises questions about national/group identity; questions about culture. Nations (it seems to me at least) as well as tribes or empires… are not just formal arrangements. They need to own a specific and particular identity, a culture of some kind. Alien allegiance to–as well as some degree of eventual assimilation to a new “culture” is ordinarily expected for naturalization.
But in a nation such as the USA, if ongoing culture-discussion which is healthy and democratic is neither feasible nor available as an option, then political symbolism and posturing become an inadequate substitute… The attempt to control national identity via control of politics or law alone… will not really work, will it?
In my reading this week through some of an eyewitness account of the second Opium War as written by a British military personage, Viscount Wolseley (Narrative of the war with China in 1860..) I come across a different approach to identity and culture. The Arrow incident which provokes the British to begin this second war seems of dubious justification… But having arrived with their ships at the coast near Tianjin, the British demand for a right to have diplomatic residents in Beijing, this does not seem exorbitant. The sinicized Manchu emperor asks his competent general to simply delay the barbarian advance. Wolseley surmises that this is duplicitous. This capable general, it seems, has not been given genuine authority to negotiate peace terms with Britain. When the British begin to advance towards Beijing the emperor flees from his summer residence to the nearby mountains. Supposedly the written advice of most of his subordinates had asked the emperor not to go on this “hunting trip” but to stay in the capital. Thus when the French and British arrive at Beijing they loot part of the city, but decide to vent their frustration on the emperor’s “summer palace” by burning it to the ground–after looting its valuables. (War should be about killing… not looting). But the point to be made here is that there is similarity with the recent immigration debates…
Once you allow alien emissaries, representatives of foreign governments, to have any sort of privileged residence and status, how do you prevent a subsequent invasion, and dilution of your culture. Under duress, the emperor had agreed to a 1858 treaty permitting foreign embassies in Beijing, but then seems to renege on this arrangement. After winning military control of Beijing the foreigners obtain an updated 1860 treaty which additionally stipulates that ordinary foreigners (British at least…) also be allowed free access to travel through all of China… Thus this second Opium war was also about culture and identity!
Any self-respecting culture will attempt to protect itself from external dilution, but as well, any culture/nation which refuses the clash of external competition does not seem quite worthy of our respect. And thus for any national entity, this culture and identity issue must be progressive and ongoing and unavoidable.
The United States is no exception. In its first hundred years, perhaps with clear prevailing social-values and land available, immigration was not a significant issue. Ellis Island would have processed the Europeans, rejecting a small number of undesirables, and local entities would have naturalized them. And when Chinamen were shipped in, some with indentured servitude contracts, in order to build the railway and help in panning for gold, Americans on the west coast complained. Asiatics would not assimilate. Asian immigration was prohibited by Federal law.
For a period of time, immigration quotas were based on US census percentages, which may have seemed a brilliant idea at the time but may not seem as compelling in the present milieu. To maintain the present American identity which is x% Scandinavian, Scandinavians will constitute x% of the total number of immigrants allowed this year.
In a recent article in the Atlantic, David Frum describes how the immigration numbers in the 1900’s did not pose much of an American national issue–until recent decades, when the “system” has become overwhelmed with Mexican and, most recently, central American illegal immigrants. He also notes that with more people lifted out of poverty, and with enough money now to travel, the world’s migrant-poor as opportunity-seekers are only bound to increase. If possible, these opportunity seekers will come to the United States. But he seems to share Hillary Clinton’s pragmatism even though he has himself been a long time advocate for immigration reform. But the pragmatic tact would be that Liberals must deal with this issue because those bad nationalists and populists are using this issue to promote their bad politics, not rather as part of a necessary and ongoing democratic identity debate. Apparently this must be because liberals already have the identity thing figured out–no need for debate.
This same liberal attitude or presumption was quite obvious in the nationwide ruckus that occurred as Arizona readied to passed a law (in 2010) to deal with increasing numbers of persons coming in illegally over their souther border. Obama’s attorney general managed to have much of the Arizona legislation nullified by the Supreme Court, but Justice Scalia at the time has an interesting and somewhat compelling dissent to Arizona v. US Government. Scalia argues that the Constitution gives the Federal government sovereignty over naturalization (ie, over what defines a single national citizenship) but not over migration. States throughout the earliest years presumed that they still had sovereignty over whom they would allow in. Scalia’s approach then, would have allowed states to take different approaches to enforcement against illegal immigration, strict or lenient. But as he admits, the Supreme Court has in recent times turned over all enforcement authority to the Federal government. But as he complains also, if the Federal government is negligent in its job, what can Arizona do?
The present day situation (which the media seem intent only to obfuscate) is that it actually is the job of the president and his attorney general, exclusively, to enforce immigration requirements, to make immigration regulations work. If failure is due to lack of funding, then they need more funds. Else, if the present system of laws and regulations needs to be fixed and updated according to present-day priorities (as seems to me obviously to be the case…), then this will be exclusively the responsibility of legislators, Congress persons, who very likely we can imagine lack the cahones required for such a difficult democratic task, even should they acknowledge that this remains in fact their task. The immigration enforcement system has identity implications, but is immigration an issue to be played for its national identity implications, or a pressing legislative responsibility which needs to be taken up as practical (democratic) legislative task?
I am in favor of our being nice to aliens of all kinds, and this in fact is how the present system actually works. Just as we have a separate judicial system for military persons, so there is a special federal system of courts and procedures just to make sure that we treat illegal aliens gently. This nice treatment already is one aspect of our chosen self-identity, and so far at least, I agree with it. But if the system is overloaded, lacking clear objective, not functioning well as seems to be the case since we have some eleven million people in the country who should not be in the country… and some of these here for twenty years already, then the system obviously needs overhaul and re-purposing. But who is ready for some needed re-conceptualizing?
Sanctuary has become a term used to promote the side that wants to be nice to illegal immigrants. California perhaps tried criminalizing the illegal immigrant applying for work (rather than criminalizing the employer of such a worker–as is now the national law…) but since that was not successful, now the the whole state itself is declared to be a sanctuary state!
I have written a commentary on Deuteronomy (available on Kindle) in which, if I may engage in some self congratulation, I have an unusual and I believe helpful (theological) interpretation of OT sanctuary legislation. The earlier legislation in Numbers obviously is to preclude a primitive or tribal sort of next-of-kin vengeance against the person who commits unintended homicide. There needs to be a city for this person to run to, for safety. But then in Deuteronomy my contention is that this same rule is by Moses interpreted politically to suggest the basis for a new social polity in the land across the Jordan, that is, not just countryside, not just city, but both together and of equal significance constitute the new and desired (democratic) polity for the new society. Thus to use the notion of sanctuary as is being done at present to suggest that cities are more caring and thus superior–this exactly perverts the important (and democratic) balance which Moses is looking for. But was Moses really a democrat?
But is someone who seriously suggest that we ought to have no border control system at all, presumably nationalizing anyone and everyone who is able to transport themselves to this country, is this person a democrat, or rather an religious ideologue of some sort. And so at this juncture I would like to suggest a workable criterion for discerning who is and who is not the genuine democrat. I have tried in the above paragraphs to elucidate some of the dimensions that need to be considered when reforming our immigration apparatus, and towards civil discussion about US identity. But as is obvious to anyone who has read thus far, there is an inherent complexity in these issues which no ideology can simplify. Protestants and Roman Catholics are quite content with their belief systems, and have been for some five hundred years now. Perhaps “ideology” is less of a harmful thing in religion. But my suggested criterion for democracy is this: the democratic claim of anyone who uses ideology to remove complexity should be denied. Real democrats don’t use ideology to simplify real-world issues!
Of course successful politicians make use of simplified slogans. And on this one issue my own “political” leaning may be toward one side, but what I am about here is not politics. What I am about here is reasonable debate, a truly democratic skill. In Mr. Frum’s Atlantic article he demonstrates that he knows what good argument is, because he demonstrates good and non-ideological and many-sided argument in much of this long article. This proves that some Liberals are quite capable of engaging in careful argument. But is Mr. Frum’s overall and fundamentally political appeal in this article not somewhat strange? Please Liberals, you need to pay some attention to this issue, else those with a fascist mindset will make irresponsible use of this immigration issue! As if Liberals en mass need to be called back from ideological happy-land, a religious-like refuge, an ideological comfort zone which they would rather not leave. A vague internationalist dream of no borders and no nations…
China has for many years been engaged in “opening up;” Western liberals are confused about identity and culture, but precluded by ideology from acknowledging such confusion; and I, in my efforts to provide such helpful analysis––am underpaid.
I am certain that much more–and much more modern city-planning science and technology has gone into preparation for the new Xiong’an city/area. But I still have reservations with regard to my expectations for the full success, shall we call it, of the Xiong’an enterprise after say, fifty years. Why? Because I consider that reliance on wholesale planning misses something too easily, this being the fact that cities are (in my opinion of course)–organic. That is, any good city, any city which people genuinely enjoy, is good just because of various organic connections, connections not really directly amenable to planning. To either minimize, or to fail to work with this vital organic reality on an ongoing basis must be recipe for partiality…
In the United States, anyone who cares about city-planning and city improvement will acknowledge that the major impediment there is the value placed upon individual/private property rights. The rights of the one property owner will almost always trump the right of the conscientious civic planner who wishes to bring benefit to numerous individuals- to the city. Strip-mall-development is rule and norm, and the results are almost always a mess. Buy a property and do what you want with it, and your neighbors will do the same. NBA teams, for example, are owned; they belong only metaphorically to those numerous local patrons who pay for the tickets to watch them play. Or, a city such as Seattle cannot even set sensible regulations for internet cable companies who do business within this city. The American city of itself does not exist as a significant value in the United States, it must be, as reflected in shared political values or existing laws. Individual property is king.
I myself am not drawn to the “social” ideal of socialism, but overly individualistic capitalists ought to be able to recognize also, that excess quite easily instigates alternative thinking… Why is it that we only value individual rights; Shouldn’t we make larger social benefit just as important as individual benefit..? Socialism becomes an alternative approach because of excess…
My topic is cities, not government. The Greek democracy of long ago was, of course, very city-centric. But the irony of gentrification in contemporary American big cities makes my point well enough: If a particular city is able to develop a lively mix which includes cultural elements and occupations, as well as business, residences, etc., then people with better than average means from outside will want to move to this city, will drive up residential prices in the city’s desirable neighborhoods, and thus, sooner or later, will effectively destroy the life of the city–by driving out the craft or culture elements who must be subsisting at a lesser income level. Perhaps you will say that I am overly worried here about a minor “problem,” the plight of a few artist-types. But I would claim that this situation is not a “problem” but is the paradigmatic symptom, rather, of serious social deficiency–inability to accurately value and/or adequately conceptualize the city and its worth.
Do socialist societies do a better job of valuing cities as such? Is Shenzhen a great success? For businessmen wishing to arrange new projects it has certainly become a Mecca of sorts, and increasingly for technology and science perhaps. But does it have lasting appeal for other residents? A city composed only of only military, only students, only business, only artists must be a dreary place, compared to a city with a more generous mix. The traditional Chinese city was divided into halves for official imperial offices and residences, with ordinary businesses and marketplace in the other half. But did the two halves mix?
I have an extravagant suggestion for the new Xiong’an city and environs. A portion of the existing farms/villages should be cordoned off and continuously maintained as a sort of museum, museum of what the area once was before the big city grew up. (But such a museum-preserve must remain in the middle of the big and new buildings, and not relegated to a peripheral location.) Such a preserve or museum of old Xiong’an would make the clear the point to any person aware of its existence, that here at least there is a vital and organic connection and continuity noted and expected.
If the Chinese countryside at large has “history,” as it does, then how is it possible that a city built in that countryside should lack organic history? Perhaps cities do seem artificial, less than natural. Any city encloses numerous institutions, numerous man-made structures, numerous modern networks and facilities… But in my point of view, while institutions may help or not–what is most essential to City is not institutions, but live-organic culture of some kind.
Planners for their part can enable, promote, prevent, but cannot produce this live product. My suggested Xiong’an museum-preserve (–or something similar) would serve to make this point symbolically: city planners are limited. They cannot do it all; They can only plan; Various others will actualize or not… (In other words, planners themselves hereby recognize the limits of their abilities, the limits of planning, the fact that city-plans may not even be able to contain what is most essential…)
If they plan the city, will the city come?
A comparison of social beliefs in the US and China:
Every country has a certain number of important and popular (social) beliefs. Every day one can hear these mentioned in newspaper, magazine or on television.
Americans place a high priority on freedom. There is the phrase: Live free or die, which means, give me freedom or let me die. I myself think (and I am an American) that this word, freedom,(effectively) and at the same time represents many other values such as law, democracy, other moral values. But strictly speaking, the word itself does not contain such meanings. And without money, ability or opportunity, freedom will have its limits. Without available money or free time you cannot go skiing for example. But Americans like this word very much because they consider that this word presents what would be a particularly American value.
It seems that the Chinese use filial-piety, this word, to represent as well various other social values. (Thus for persons in these two countries, freedom/filial-piety cannot ever be excessive…) With the word filial-piety Chinese immediately associate traditional culture, custom, as well as other moral values. But strictly speaking, filial-piety as term only has regard to the family. How can it include such meanings? But Chinese will consider that this word does explain what is particular to the Chinese character.
(Christian belief might also claim that filial-piety is important, since Jesus regularly demonstrated publicly a filial-piety to his Father in heaven, but as in the historical TaiPing Revolt, bad TaiPing doctrine in this area can lead to serious issues…)
Both of these countries value hard work. Any degree of success, small or otherwise, must be attributable to hard work.
Americans like Democracy. Every four years the people are allowed to change some of their government officials. Modern China prefers Socialism. Chinese can join a very large Party, which Party then influences government policies.
The societies of both countries also greatly value equality, though what they mean by this is not quite the same. The Communist Party maintains a strong egalitarian emphasis; there is to be no social aristocracy. But in order to allow for economic development, some few persons will be allowed to amass more wealth than others. The American emphasis is on equal opportunity. But here also, it is not really possible to prevent those who already have wealth form having slightly better opportunities.
In the discussion up to this point, the two societies may use different words but the social situation does seem quite similar. If you work hard you will be able to earn money, buy foodstuffs, rent a home, rest and watch television. But how does this differ from the condition of caged animals at the zoo. Such animals do not need to work, but more importantly, they will not understand what television is all about. Animals do not have a culture.
I believe that both China and the USA do have their modern-contemporary cultures, but also consider that neither live-culture as existing at present is very good/worthwhile as such. Movies and television programs exemplify this modern and live culture. In both countries one often hears advocates asking for more diversity. But with such large populations, why doesn’t a healthy diversity already exist? I myself would want to say that this is because each country’s modern-culture is inadequate, lacking. To create or to promote new cultural expression is not easy. Conformity is much easier…
Chinese education tends only to emphasize traditional culture without emphasis on creative arts or upon understanding as such. American education seems to emphasize such things perhaps, but positive results are lacking. Liveliness along with a lack of regard for tradition, this means that after school in the USA, the individual who might wish to work as a culture promoter and creator cannot really find a job. Remuneration is strictly for the popular and the entertaining, the commercial, not for actual“culture.”
Within both of these countries, science, technology, and the economic are well developed. And these do come first. But technology, for example, is no substitute for live-culture. Technology must be a way of doing things, making things; contemporary-culture, rather, must contain many and various social values. Technology has its benefits. But a healthy contemporary culture also has benefits which are hard to quantify.
Thus, every society uses words to express what are its most important values. But often this language may be imprecise, even vague. So perhaps the best way of observing what the genuine values of a society are would be to notice how many people there are, and how much money is being spent strictly on new art, that is, on fine-art objects.