Venting about the virus. Aug.1, 2020

(What follows will be a somewhat extensive blog (ten pages..) raising miscellaneous points, some minor, some major, and a few points about which I am still angry. I happen to be an American citizen now residing in north China, and my intended audience would be American. I recently wrote and posted, at no cost, book-chapters critiquing both bad religion and bad politics–and the unpleasant politicizing of our present virus situation is certainly prevalent and ongoing–but here I avoid complaining about politics and will turn my frustration and anger against science, medical-science, and the national media.)

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.

(end)pk


Provisional book title:

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.

END

pk 2020


Provisional book title:
Thirteen Easy Answers to the World’s Most Difficult Questions

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.

END

Copyright 2020 pkragt


Provisional book title:
Thirteen Easy Answers to the World’s Most Difficult Questions

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.

End.

Paul Kragt

2020/March



(March 1, 2020) As a US citizen and a student presently living in China, I notice with some relief that virus-epidemic-news attention is shifting away from China to other countries. (China is still in partial-crisis mode.) But my mood is not enjoyment at the difficulties of persons far away, nor a wish to declare which countries and which policies are superior... (Is there any one perfect government. No. Is there any one perfect scheme for handling a unique and developing problem such as this. No.) Rather, as a sort of citizen of the world I guess, I feel (momentary) respect and positive solidarity with various individual governments who are presently trying to do something! As one person I can do very little. Powerful governments, local or national, are quite limited also in their abilities... But any government that is making efforts... I am in favor of that effort!
One can note also that until there is a significant problem within a country, that government cannot really enact anything, do anything. But once sufficient difficulty exists, whatever it chooses to enact will correspond to that country's already prioritized values. A government will (quite obviously) try to do the best that it can according to its own particular outlook and values...
And one might note also, that while local and national governments have their limits, there exists no other available entity to manage something such as this contagious disease situation: not science itself, not international cooperation, not any other international organization...
pkragt

Provisional Book Title:

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.

END

Pk December, 2019


Provisional Book Title:

Thirteen Easy Answers to the World’s Most Difficult Questions

Chapter One:

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?

END

copyright pkragt 2019


Discuss: In the democratic context, everything is potentially but not immediately "political" –(using the stricter government-political sense of that word, political).
Discuss: Active Artists and Intellectuals will be a distinct as well as an essential social element within any healthy Democracy.

Private notes written towards achievement of a greater clarity and sanity in the American illegal-immigrant debate…

Alien is the legal terminology which would simply and accurately describe the non-citizen status. Those without citizenship here are aliens. By comparison, the term immigrant, for purposes of ordinary discussion, is often confusing. Are tourists immigrants; are students or workers on visa–are these immigrants; are the many who have overstayed visas immigrants; are foreign-born but naturalized citizens immigrants; are those those who have shown that they want to remain here by having successfully avoided initial or subsequent interdiction by the federal immigration police–are these not also immigrants? NNYYY. Thus all of this discussion is confused by employment of this ordinary word immigrant. Naturalization would be a more appropriate locus for discussion.

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.

pkragt April/2019


Thoughts on the new planned Chinese city/area of Xiong’an. (Connected by fast rail transport and fact communication, the new city, along with Beijing and Tianjin, will in the future form a mega-city, offloading some of the present-day congestion of those other two cities.)

I notice from Wikipedia information about Brasilia that the idea had been around for a hundred years or so that it would be a good idea to found a city inland, separate from the crowed costal cities of Brazil. Then after a competition, etc., this new national capital was implemented with prominence given to new government buildings and related official buildings. Now existing as a large city many times larger than originally envisioned, I get the impression (and admit that this is only impression, and opinion as such…) that the city-planning as such, was only partially successful. Some aspects of Brasilia do not work so well. But then of course, what large city does not have numerous issues and problems to solve on an ongoing basis?

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?


IDEOLOGY QUIZ: What is the dialectical product of wisdom and stupidity?
Answer: Wide-spread mediocrity
ALERT:All citizens will take their tracking device ON THEIR PERSON at all times...
There is no Christmas holiday in China and no month-long Spring Festival in the West. I present here an uncorrected Christmas week school assignment along with English paraphrase:
美国和中国的信仰:相比
每个国家有些重要和流行的信仰。每一天可以看见这些信仰在报纸、杂志、电视。
美国人很尊重自由。有个俗语:Live free or die. 意思是,给我自由或者我可以死。我自己想(我是美国人)这个词,自由,也代表很多别的价值观念,比如法律、民主、别的道德、等。但是这个概念自己没有怎么多意思。你没有钱,没有能力,没有机会你的自由得有限。你的钱不够,你没有空, 你不可以去滑雪。但是美国人很喜欢这个词,这个观念,因为他们想可以说这是美国特别的价值。
看起来,中国人喜欢用孝,这个词,代表别的社会价值观念。(所以孝和自由都不可以过度。)中国人说孝,就要联想传统惯例,别的流行道德观念等。但是严格来说,孝, 这个词,只有家里的范围。怎么样要包含别的意思?但是中国人说这个观念可以解释中国的特别性格。
(基督教可以说笑是最重要,因为耶稣通常也很孝对他天上的父亲,但是历史上的太平国家表示那样坏太平的想法也可以引起很多问题)。
这两个国家都尊重努力,hard work。你 的成功是大是少,由于是你以前使用努力。
美国人喜欢民主。美一个四年时间他们被允许换一些政府的官员。现代中国人喜欢社会主义。他们可以参加一个最大的党,党就要影响政府的政策。
这两个国家的社会也很尊重平等,但是看法一点不一样。中国的共产党的最强的理想是平均。现代社会没有贵族人。但是因为要允许经济发达,也允许些公民可以找比较多钱,财产。在美国,平等机会,equal opportunity, 是最重要。也在美国,已经有钱的人-这不可以阻止-他们得要一点更好的机会。
谈论到这里,两个社会的常用词不一样,但是看起来,社会的情况差不多一样。那你努力工作就可以赚钱买食品,租房子,休息看电视。但这根动物园的动物有什么差异?动物不要工作也不了解电视是什么。它们没有文化。
我想这两个国家都有现代文化,但是这现代文化都不太好。电影和电视节目是两个现代文化的例子。在这两个国家常常可以听人促进要更多多样性。人口很大。为什么健康样的多样性已经不存在?我自己想要说这是因为社会上的现代文化不充分。创作或者解释新的文化的表示不容易。遵循比较容易。
中国的教育只重视旧的文化;不重视新的创作品,新的了解。美国的教育相反有这样重视但是没什么结果。活力很大但是从传统文化不学到,所以学校以后,要保持现代文化的人不可以赚钱。只可以赚钱做流行的娱乐。但是这流行娱乐不是跟保持文化一致。
在这两个国家内面,科学,技术,经济已经发达。这些是第一。但是技术,比如,不可以代替现代文化。技术是个办法做什么,制作什么;文化但是包括社会不同种类的价值观念。技术有好处。保持健康的现代文化也有不易量测的好处。
所以,每一个社会用词表示他们的重要价值,但是经常这语言不准切,大概是一点含糊。或许,更好办法视察社会的真正价值是看多少人用钱买什么样的崭新艺术品。

 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.
2018/December


In times of culture decline, times of minimal new creative art, the critic might be busy though not well paid.
In times of healthy cultural increase and new art, the critic might receive renumeration, but only after all the artists are paid.

Protestants Abroad
How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America
David A. Hollinger

(This is not a book review but a blog-reaction to reading a portion of this book. The book was suggested to my by my sister, who like me, is also a missionary kid).
My original reaction was that this is a strange book. Obviously a competent historian who can marshal a great amount of factual information. He is interested in intellectual history of the USA. Protestantism was influential after WWII, as was a Jewish-American cosmopolitanism. But the assumed direct continuity with modern-day American liberalism, this I find very strange as assumption. I also happen to be a person interested in the history of ideas…
I can see some difference between what he calls the mainline v. fundamentalist missionary groups, and he considers the social gospel group to have produced most of the outstanding post-war Americans… This is likely accurate. He describes Pearl Buck as being shunned when she got too excited about progressive social-gospel missionary statements. But Pearl Buck was a novelist/artist, and not necessarily an intellectual–though entitled to her opinions of course.
In an early chapter he describes the interaction between three famous MK’s : Luce, Buck, and Hersey. Hersey, I guess was a military kid and a novelist. Luce was very influential, and one-of-a-kind. This chapter describing three individuals with differing opinions about the USA and the world, this contributes nothing, it seems to me, towards explaining development of subsequent American social ideas. But supposedly these three people fit into his overarching objective of showing gradual development, progress positive, towards the (superior, present-day) liberal world-view. I see only three intelligent people.
As an actual Protestant MK(missionary kid), I can corroborate his historical research indicating that such individuals are drawn not to become missionaries themselves, but to benefit the world at large via work in the humanities rather than business, law, science…
Mr. Hollinger writes a book about MKs, and wishes to present the MK experience as preliminary to the modernistic “multicultural” conception, but he seems to have overlooked one essential factoid: for the majority of MKs, multiculturalism is not a pleasant and/or simplistic conceptual ideal but an ongoing existential challenge/problem in some degree–(unless, of course, such an MK has given up on their religious faith). In the spectrum of MKs I myself may not be representative… But all Protestant MKs–I believe that I can categorically state–are faced with a challenge, which is, how to make sense of original culture, second culture(s), and also (!) religion as force in the world… For a few MKs who give up on religion, this might simplify to a multi cultural matter. But even for the non-fundamentalist MKs, the religious dimension remains… Though, I am afraid for Mr. Hollinger, this intellectual dimension is no longer a matter to be taken into account. Religion has morphed into, what, a modern secular creed? That is, contradicting the subtitle of Mr. Hollinger’s book, MKs, by and large, are not true-believers in multiculturalism, nor did they contribute (in any direct way it would seem to me) to this modern and quite secular ideal.
The Roman Catholic church has been around for a while. It unified and gave conceptual orientation to the various nationalities of Europe. I expect that two books of minimal interest, might be written about how the medieval church contributed, first to the expansionist colonialism of the European nations and corresponding evils, or second, contributed to the good-will attempt towards globalism and economic well-being of all nations. The Catholic church in its internationalist theology is preliminary cause of this, of that. But as some of Mr. Hollinger’s history writing itself shows, while theological controversy is important, nothing can be so simple. Multiculturalism as modern ideal of some sort, is not a direct descendant of Protestantism…
Mr. H. is not heavy handed about this theme; it operates more as providing an organizational framework for the history, rather than as an argued theme. But it is just that I still find it inappropriate, un-connected as such with the motives and motivations of the characters described. Multiculturalism as term certainly has a certain fascination for many contemporary intellectuals. But the characters in this history living some decades earlier would have much less often, used this word multicultural, in ordinary conversation. In his introductory chapter the historian describes his characters as proto-multiculturalists. But is this not condescending! The implication would be to this effect: We (many modern intellectuals) have arrived now; then, decades ago, there was no one quite worthy of such (implied) world-awareness! We have now grasped the truth of that word. Thanks for preparing the way for us…
Is it fair to critic and dismiss Mr. Hollinger’s theme (and scholarship) when I have not carefully read most of this book? Objectively speaking, no… but subjectively speaking I must protest that he has missed something which is absolutely fundamental for his proported subject. What is he missing…?
At present I am in fact an (ex-)protestant MK living abroad (in China), and thus for me, “multiculturalism” actually does exist. Many cultures do in fact exist… But inherent in this awareness is the fact that no one culture is all encompassing. The better culture does surpass the others… But the other cultures may change and become better than the one that was best… Mr. H. notes that the Jewish cosmopolitans were influenced by Europe, while the Protestants who returned to the USA had been influenced by Asia. But one entity which ordinary Asians will not belittle, I would guess, is the reality of ordinary culture(s). Multiculturalism as slogan presents a law, a rule, but does it not belittle culture itself?
“All cultures are equally important, and I am in favor of all of them.” Does the person who believes that this is a healthy attitude, does this person actually respect (actual and existing and ordinary) culture(s)? Is there not some hypocrisy involved here…
If I am correct to claim that there is no direct descent of this beloved term from either Protestantism or Catholicism, from whence then does “multiculturalism” and its attractiveness for the Western (Liberal) derive? (I admit, up front, that I do not like the term…)
I must attempt some armchair and off-the-cuff analysis of what has become a very important word/idea. And begin with my strongest critique.
The word strikes me as functioning as semi-religious ideal, norm even, even while those who rely most on the concept usually do not consider religion as being intellectually significant as phenomenon. (Is the connection with Protestant missions…imitative?)
Evangelicals were out to spread their religion to all the world. They tended to be provincial in their attitudes and/or theology and were not really so much interested in cultures as such. But they had a universal objective.
Multiculturalism as vague set of beliefs believes it has something better. It insists upon respect for all cultures, though not too much; and asks people to join a universal faith–by believing in this simple ideal: modern (western) relativism (with science, technology, etc.) is sufficient basis for a new world-wide humanism. The social sciences–how can they favor one culture over another, except to suggest that the weaker cultures are equally important… This vague term works because it is universalistic and offends no one, that is, it fits in with expectations about science, social sciences…
Except that it usurps, it would seem to me, religious territory. Religions also claim to have a right to define values for a society. I am not bothered by the implied humanism here but by the explicit secularism, the pervasive rejection of religion. And/or the assumption, it would seem, that religion has been superseded, is left behind…
Religions in various ways may not respect or support culture (in relation to that religion itself) but religions, it seems to me, are not really so simpleminded as this about culture. Anyone who tries to spread a religion will need to be quite aware of real cultures. But the (modern, liberal and western) multicultural ideal seems to me to demand a simplemindedness, a simplistic hope in science and social science, etc., as well as require, effectively, a belief in the (relative) insignificance of both religion as well as specific cultures…
That is, law and culture, science, government, religion issues do not admit of simplistic solution. If the solution is too simple, as it seems with the multiculturalism idealism, something essential has probably been put aside.. pk Sept/2018

Translation of a speech, and comments

Xi JinPing gave a speech about the role of the Fine Arts and Literature within Chinese Society at a symposium, September, 2014. For the sake of English readers, for the sake of my own practice with Chinese, and because I am myself interested in ideas about the role of arts in society, I here provide a quick and loose translation of maybe one third of the speech. (Portions which I have not taken the time to translated are shown by marks of ellipsis, ...). I will include a few of my own comments also, afterwards.
Today, this collection of distinguished persons, young and old together, some already with distinction and prestige, venerable artists, and others new to the limelight and up-and-coming, some whom we are already familiar with and some whom we see for the first time; Greetings to everyone.
The arts and literature enterprise is an important enterprise for both party and people, the arts and literature battlefront is an important battlefront for both party and people. For a long while (and to the present) many arts and literature workers have devoted themselves to literature and artistic creation, performance, study, promotion, in various realms plowing and weeding industriously, serving the people, obtaining notable successes, producing significant contributions. By the efforts of many, a hundred flowers (now) bloom in the national culture garden, and there have been many great achievements, flourishing developments, lively prospects. I use this opportunity to extend thanks to all of the nation's literature and arts workers, and give cordial best wishes.
Prior to the convening of this forum, I considered that with such an opportunity it is important to give hearing to everyone's ideas and suggestions, it is important that everyone analyze the present situation, exchange views, and discuss our nation's plans for a development and flourishing of arts and literature. Just now, a few individuals (here) gave good thoughts, evaluations to stimulate us. In what follows I myself will offer five questions as topic for general discussion.
The first question: For the rejuvenation and flourishing of the Chinese people, why do we place such great importance on art and artistic work?
(We agree that) his needs to come first... and this has been basis of the dream...historically...
Culture is the main force toward a people's subsistence and development. Whenever human society makes an advance, whenever human civilization rises, this is a historic success. The Chinese people already have five thousand and more years of cultural history, and previous to very recent times China was always among the world's strongest of nations in the world. These millennia of developments have not been easy sailing, but rather, many problems and difficulties were encountered, though we endured and have come through, and one reason for this being the particular training and development of generation after generation of children–training in a broad and profound Chinese culture, such that they might overcome difficulties by means of the renewal and sustenance (provided by) such bold (cultural) spirit.
Jasper's... Axial Age when ancient Greece, China, India... engendered great thinkers... whose ideas still affect our life today....Through the ages, the Chinese people have had a place, an influence, not by way of militarism or expansionism, but relying on the strength and attraction of culture. Our ancestors recognized the sensibleness of "those far away...(being impressed by) a developed culture... Explaining the Chinese people's gift, uniqueness, or essence (in such a manner) so as to win a following, this is a most important approach of the cultured and educated person.
Both history and the present indicate that the world's civilization is a creation of each and every nation and people. Wherever I look, I am amazed with the products of culture of other nations and peoples. I will mention a few....
Both history and the present prove that the Chinese people have great culture-creating strengths. ...
Without a flourishing of Chinese culture there will be no rejuvenation of the Chinese people. Such ... requires great strength and spirit. Lacking the attractive power of an (actually) advanced culture, there cannot result the full wealth of ... a people's spirit, there cannot result the progressive growth of a people's essential strength, and any one nation or people will not come to tower over all of those other trees of the forest.
Literature and art are the bugle call for the advancement of an age, and best represent an age's presence and appearance, as well as best attract to an age's prevailing mood. According to the saying: "Litrature modifies and infects things..." In the European Renaissance...
Just prior to the Qin, our country experienced a time of a hundred competing schools of thought, resulting in...great success and prosperity. At the beginning of the 20th Century the New Culture movement (was)...an engine which liberated the thought of a whole people.
Recognizing that in such a great enterprise, the function of literature and art cannot be replaced (by anything else), arts workers (exist in a) very promising situation. The numerous arts and literature workers (thus) should recognize the position and working-function of the arts, should recognize and take up (upon themselves) such historic commitment and responsibility. LuXin said, To transform the inner world of one's countrymen, the best means is art and literature. To raise the flag of consciousness, establish the pillar of awareness, to build a garden of awareness, these all cannot be done lacking arts and literature. Our writers and artists must become visionaries of the prevailing mood of the age, forerunners, promoters, (equipped with presence), integrity, temperate productions, ...practicality,...the age's need for advance, and make apparent the beauty of faith, the beauty of the lofty, carry onward the Chinese spirit, solidify Chinese resolve, encouraging the whole country, its peoples and population with a spirit of vigor and anticipation towards the future.
The second question: (How, with clear conscience) to create out of this age, excellent works.
("Essays take time while songs and poems are made from things...") The final measure of an age is found in the weight of its artistic and literary productions. In promoting artistic flourishing and development, the most fundamental item is to create (being unashamed of, honest to...) our people. (Less than this aim is to seek...) excitement, the gaudy, superficial praise, and not being able to genuinely enter the essential world of the people, not really touching mankind's soul, not drawing a (genuine) empathetic response. Artists ought to remember that creativity is their own central duty, that creative products form the basis of their established place in society, and quietly and attentively approach, and regularly seek to improve their artistic works, so as to present the best of meals to a (waiting) public.
Fine art works reflect upon a nation, and is evidence of a people's cultural strength and level. To attract, guide, or enlighten, works must be good... Thus, excellent works (are a priority...)...
Since reform and opening up, our country has welcomed a new spring of creativity, with development of universally appreciated artistic productions. But at the same time it cannot be denied as one side of the creativity (enterprise) there exist various shortcomings, (...) plagiarizing and imitation, stereotyping, mechanized manufacturing, fast food style consumption. In some works there is a making-fun of excellent things, twisting of classics, subversion of history, denigration of the masses or of heroes, confusion of right and wrong, not distinguishing good from bad, treating the ugly as beautiful, coloring outside the lines so as to overemphasize the sordid aspects of a society, lustfulness, stubborn appeal to the vulgar, bad taste, treating... production as a ready source of money, stimulation... of the senses as if with drugs, some writing recklessly, carelessly and with strain, and so manufacturing garbage; some seek extravagance, packaging, ostentation, exaggeration, separation from the crowd and from reality. With these as warning, artists must not loose their way amongst the huge waves of a commercial economy, must not deviate because of the questioning... of others, else art will loose its life-vigor.
Having been to some discussions with artists, and having asked what is the pre-eminent problem faced, they repeatedly mention this notion: impetuousness. And others feel that wherever a work cannot be burnished like metal, wherever it cannot be converted to value ... or RMB, it must be of no worth and thus not worth their time. This attitude can not only mislead creative activities, but cause base works to be widely accepted, bringing in the counterfeit and expelling the genuine. The history of literature and fine arts would demonstrate that a greed for easy result and success must kill the goose which can lay the golden egg. ... The vulgar is not (really) the popular, simple passion does not equate to hope, simpleminded entertainment is not the same as more sensitive enjoyment. (Genuine) art and literature must win over mankind's approval, while showiness will not do it, opportunism will not do it, fishing for fame or for compliments will not do it, speculating upon oneself will not cut it, (a flowery chair of mutual compliments) will not work.
The essence of a fine work is to be found in the depth of its idea, (in its more excellent ) manufacture. ...It is just because of such untiring seeking and untiring effort at improvement that a fine work of art is forged....
The Internet and new media have changed the (shape and situation) of arts and literature, hastening the arrival of a new batch of artistic genres, and bringing profound change to the idea and practice of the (traditional) arts. Digitized characters, picturized books, reading via network, etc., brings... a revolution. We should adapt, take hold... adjust...
The third issue: How to persevere (in providing) the people's central creative direction.
Socialist art, (from previous discussion) is the people's art.
The people are history's creators, and witnesses to history, both performers as well as songwriters in the historical drama. Art and literature ought to reflect well the aspirations of the people, persist in service to the people, and thus serve socialism's basic orientation. ...
First, the people need art. The people have many needs. ... increase society's material wealth. ... with that increasing... must take hold of culture building, to increase society's essential cultural wealth. Material need is first, and food to eat most important, ... But ... the greatest difference between the animal kingdom and mankind is that (such) an essential cultural life always exists for man.
Along with raising the standard of living is included as well... the need for quality of art product... Literature, drama, movies, television, dance, visual arts, calligraphy...must also improve.
Secondly, the arts need the people. ... leaving the people, the arts turn in to an endless swamp, ... a soul-less shell. Lenin said: Art belongs to the people. ... It must combine with the sentiments, thoughts and intents of the people to so as to lift them. ...Whether it can express the emotions of the people...
People are not some abstract token, but are this and that individual, with flesh and blood and feelings, with loves and hates, dreams, and with struggle and conflict within. Do not (then, as artist) substitute your self for genuinely being affected by the people, but modestly learn from people, from life, and draw nourishment from their practical and varied life, accumulating ... and harmoniously building... Eulogize the struggle of human life, carve the most appealing characters, fix steadfastly people's aspiration and desire for the better life...
The present world is an open world, and the arts need to compete in an international market, and without this competition are without vitality. For example... foreign movies... not defeating local production but stimulating...
The fifth issue: How to strengthen and improve the leadership role of the party towards the work of artists and writers.
The fundamental aim of the party is with full heart and intent to serve the people, and the fundamental aim of artists and writers is to create for the sake of the people...
We must give importance and practical support to the work of artistic and literary criticism. Artistic criticism is a mirror for artistic creativity, a dose of medicine, an incentive to work, promotes fine work, improves aesthetic discussion, and is a force towards shaping prevailing fashion. What artistic criticism needs is criticism, not cheap praise, fawning or flattery, not fitting western theory to our discussions, nor following simplistic market standards in order to obtain aesthetic standards, but taking artistic product as fully equivalent to commercial product, and believing that the financial reward for such (art criticism) should correspond to the quality of such criticism.
The more truth is discussed the clearer it becomes. (But at the the present moment there exists little...) real criticism, much praise and self praise, flattery and self flattery, spin... this is not artistic criticism.... Not all gold is pure, no single individual will be perfect, under heaven where is to be found the perfectly complete and beautiful thing? Good medicine tastes bitter, while truth may hurt. But where there is genuine criticism then our artistic production may (actually) improve. Artistic criticism thus must praise as well a deprecate, must drive out the bad in order to make way for the good. As LuXun says, critics must gouge out the bad spots from the apple...
(For the critic) mutual friendships must... never become excuse to defer or lower the head to anyone, thus not daring to criticize. Writers and artists should dare to face up to criticism of the faults in their works, ... being glad to receive criticism. Making use of Marxist... ancient Chinese... and western aesthetic critical theory, such critics should burnish the "sharp instrument" of criticism, and use well this steering wheel which (belongs to) artistic criticism. Benefiting from history, the people, and from experience and appreciation of art works (the critic) must–with regard to essential quality in art, dare to seek the truth from facts, and toward (any) poorer art work, phenomenon, or trend of thought, dare to (give the critic's own statement and position) about... big issues of right and wrong, truth. The arts critic should promote and preach, and thus build up a healthy atmosphere/ambience for the arts and literature via critical speech.
Comrades and fellow workers. "When we notice the east wind and a display of fresh colors we can know that it is springtime." The Party's central committee places great hope in artists and writers and their work. I hope that the arts and literature battlefront with its many working comrades will not let down the call of this age nor let down the expectations of the people, but will (go on to) create more and better works of fine art so as to push forward a flourishing of culture, contributing to the strength of the socialist culture of this (our) country. [END]

My miscellaneous comments begin here:

While reading this, I, as westerner and artist (part-time artist at least) am able to minimize strong reference to party, government, socialism,etc., and find much that I am amenable to. A western or American gov. official would never presume such extensive interest in the arts, the art enterprise being its own separate thing. But here in China such an interest is considered appropriate; government takes under its care the health of the literary and fine arts enterprise. And so, along this same line, I want to focus my comment on what I most agreed with in President Xi Jinping's talk, the very last section which described the importance of criticism.
Sometimes in this speech Xi seems to me to understand the psychology of the artist and the art critic almost too well. Is he taking these ideas from some other source other than an achieved personal awareness? But towards the end of an already long speech, to give such attention to a new subject, to art criticism, this can only be because Xi does consider criticism to be as important as I myself do... Else he easily could have left it out of his speech, sparing his audience.
To take a brief detour at this point, I remember more than ten years ago in the US when newspapers used the excuse of shrinking revenues to lay off, one after another, all of their paid movie critics, critics whom I followed and whose work and position I coveted and hoped for. But after a mere decade it now seems quite clear to me that there is in fact no substitute for written art criticism (supported by institutions such as newspapers, magazines.) The US critical landscape seems to me to be in terrible shape, with websites and aggregators which cannot effectively replace the editorial character (of an institution.) The liberal mantra is that newspapers exist by and for "objectivity." I would argue here that objectivity is a value which must rely on character; that newspapers displayed their character by employment of editorial critics with good judgement. That a newspaper without demonstrable critical character is likely not worthy of respect, no matter how much they claim possession of the objectivity virtue. (Prove to me first that you have a view of the world, and then I may allow your claims about objectivity in news...)
President Xi expresses in the speech an interest in seeing Chinese-made movies which will also compete (as art product...) internationally. China now has the movie infrastructure: the money, skills, audience–and perhaps even a few rare artist individuals (though about this I remain skeptical) who can direct a new movie while maintaining artistic edge... But toward achievement of an intended artistic result, a healthy critical landscape as well–this is an element which is not optional, it would seems to me, because such an atmosphere will be necessary to keep art-efforts honest, that is, genuine and artistic. To adjust the metaphor, the intelligence of good criticism I might claim, produces a good atmosphere which is then conducive to the growth of art product. But the critical landscape here in China (for movies, say) seems to me to be as inadequate as it has become in the USA. In both places, most people lack any interest in discussing or thinking carefully about art product...movies, TV content.
Americans most often might dismiss such discussion by saying that one person's view is as good as another's. Please don't become too animated about your opinions, your critical views... In China, ordinary citizens might believe that only the experts can provide the better or correct critical explanation. But the criticism we need, it seems to me, is not correct, but better, and is always accessible to ordinary intelligence.
With socialism, the party will be supporting both creation of art, and also art criticism, this important and necessary talk/discussion about art products. In Xi's speech, his fifth question asks how the party may better foster art production, and art criticism. And while I myself don't consider genuine art to be something which can be coerced, prodded–art criticism is inherently much easier. Anyone can talk, discuss at some level...
So is it fair at this point to ask how well the Party in China has or has not been promoting, recently, such talk about art, such important criticism? Is this not a Party responsibility, just as newspapers in the USA previously were responsible for weekly movie criticism. This does seem to be the final and (as I also believe...) important point stressed in the President's speech. If there exists inadequate art-critical discussion in China, then the Party has been negligent! More, and a better quality of art discussion should be more effectively encouraged.
Of course this must be talk about art itself, the novel or movie itself. Much recent western art intends, it would seem, and some Chinese fictional literature addresses indirectly, (I am told)–more specifically "political" subject matter. But I consider this (political element in some artworks) incidental. Art, for the artist and the committed art critic, is more important than politics... And languishes when critics of qualification are lacking.
pk Feb. 2018

My own thoughts and opinions about computers and coding in the school curriculum–as promoted recently in comments and efforts by Apple CEO Tim Cook, and others…

First of all, and somewhat off the main subject here, Mr. Cook (as I note from various news blurbs) has recently made various comments to the effect that coding as second language skill is equally as valuable as gaining (second language) skill in French, Spanish, etc. This may be somewhat sloppy marketing rhetoric, but such talk is also somewhat dangerous, it seems to me, with respect to an “ideal” which is already under assault. The (Western) ideal here, and one which I agree with, would emphasize that one cannot be a well educated person unless one is able to get beyond the confines of one’s own first language–and one’s own first culture… To put it bluntly, the minimally educated citizen of a nation does not need second language skill, but anyone who claims to be “well educated” does need to make serious efforts toward understanding other cultures and nations–and a good indicator of this intent would be a minimal amount of second language skill. A (liberal arts type) college degree, in my opinion, should require knowledge of mathematical-science, of history, arts, and also some second-language. Computer coding cannot fit this requirement because coding is not really a language. Science and technology are not a universal language, and neither is learning how to speak to computers to tell them what to do–neither can any of these languages become a universal language. (Unless computers do take over…)

Should elementary students use Apple’s Swift Playgrounds. Of course. Or play dodgeball or watch educational videos… My interest here is only in the higher-education context…and the careless implication that coding as “language” can actually substitute for efforts at gaining a second language and second culture…

But should high school students learn digital technology and/or programming as part of a standard curriculum? Here Mr. Cook and I may have more congruent views, though I consider that certain distinctions are quite necessary if and when these subjects are to be promoted as standard educational fare. (Mr. Cook and many other CEOs recently sent a letter to the US Congress suggesting the need for more computer education.)

I still appreciate the auto-mechanics class which I took in junior high school, and recommend that the same still be required for all students, but especially for those students like myself, who were/are already on an academic track. Why. Well, because ours is still an automotive nation, an automotive civilization. Learning how a gasoline engine works and seeing and handling the actual parts of an engine ought to be ordinary knowledge. And any high school students at present who don’t plan on the sciences or engineering should also be required to take a class in computer-mechanics. (I myself have a BA, an AA in computer technology, and have taught high school for a few years, including computer science classes.) The world is becoming digitized, and ordinary citizens ought to understand what that means; the technology involved here–what digital encoding is and how microprocessors work–this is really not much more difficult than understanding transmission and differential, distributor, camshaft, carburetor.

So high school students (and not before) certainly could and should have one class explaining digital technology and how computers work. And this should include binary arithmetic, voltage levels, storage technology, and microprocessor instructions; a fundamental approach. But what about computer programming?

Here I would only recommend programming as an elective, as possible substitute for Euclidian Geometry. That is, any high school programming class ought to predominately train such students via logical exercise. There is a strict logic needed to get syntax correct in programming, but more important, there is exact logic needed to plan and put into misc. steps a pathway for the computer to successfully implement some particular task or result.

I remember, though this was a while ago, the difficulties of Geometry class, but also the rare moments when a line of reasoning is apprehended, allowing me to put together a proof about parallel lines and angles. Euclidian logic I believe, is the same logic as the logic needed for ordinary argument in ordinary language. Euclidian Geometry in the Western curriculum has been a way to get students to recognize what logic is, and then presumably to carry over the use of sound logic into ordinary language and ordinary rhetoric.

The logic necessary for successful computer programming is of itself fun, but much of the fun of programming probably also comes from the simple enjoyment of making things, making something. Here is a result, a new program which actually does something. A mental (technological) creation. But I also had a junior-high class in woodworking, in which class I did enjoy making things on a lathe. Learning at that time to use power tools for woodworking was not easy, but was fun–because of the things made. This type of woodworking class or something similarly manual I would now recommend for academically inclined high school students, rather than the intellectual products of a computer programming class. College students will have further opportunity to produce intellectual product: reports, essays…

As hobby for high school students then, computer programming may be exciting, but unless it can be taught quite strictly and with limited focus, as, in effect, an alternative to Euclidian logic, I find less convincing the effort to make computer programming a standard high school subject or a standardized skill. As secondary and useful skill many university departments will, of course, require their students to learn some programming. But this will be programming strictly for what it can do, not programming appreciated for the purely logical efforts or exercise involved.

So Mr. Cook is welcome (in addressing an educational audience) to promote computers and coding, but I hope that my distinctions and efforts here might also be useful. That is, I consider that getting high school students to appreciate and employ good logic (in ordinary life) is more important than getting them interested in programming so that they might later transition to a rewarding job in the computer industry. Programming can be interesting, fun. And is there anyone who does not enjoy the excitement and the newest products of digital technology? But because society is so quickly becoming computerized and digitized, what is most needed presently (it seems to me) is persons who are able to sensibly evaluate computer technology as one among many competing values, rather that more workers–the engineers or technicians–to keep the computerization moving forward unabated…
pk(1/2018)


Have a very non-political Christmas!(2017/12/23)


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Book Review: (aprox. 12 pages)

The Shifts and the Shocks, Martin Wolf, 2014

The End of Alchemy, Mervyn King, 2016

The authors here are two well respected experts within the financial sector who after almost a decade of reflection generously offer their quite genuine and exciting and impassioned accounts of the Great Recession of 2008–and now their assessments and much needed economic advice. And though I actually might get up on a political band-wagon in support of almost any one of their various economic “policy suggestions,” I remain very disappointed with their economics, their economic theory, economic thought. This is what I wanted, this was promised, this I did not find.

From S and S:

“What we’ve learned-and still have to lean-from the Financial Crisis,” subtitle.

“It asks how these disturbing events will-and should-change the way we think about economics.” Preface pg.xv

“The economics establishment failed.” pg. 2

“Chapter Six… will take up the search for better economic ideas.” pg.5

From the first chapter of E of A:

“This book looks at the big questions…”

“The crisis was a failure of a system, and the ideas that underpinned it, not of individual policy-makers or bankers…”

“Why have money and banking, the alchemists of a market economy, turned into its Achilles heel?” “The purpose of this book is to answer that question.”

“Today the world economy remains in a depressed state.”

“…new ideas will be needed”

“This book is about economic ideas.”

But economic ideas-as in new and improved economic thought, is, it seems to me, sadly lacking. Mr. King suggests a fundamental and original new policy: the central bank as pawnbroker. Good. Lets implement it! I expect and hope such major restructuring may be beneficial… He also gives a very fundamental critique of the basic activity involved in ordinary banking: taking short term deposits and lending long. But beyond this Mr. King has little theory to present.

Mr. Wolf ranges far and wide in his very interesting and compelling evaluations, and he will also suggest some quite radical changes: Reducing bank leverage to 10:1, pg. 256. Never bail out the shareholders. Or, the Chicago plan for separating the core payment system from risk taking finance. (-This is also very favorably viewed by Mr. King.) But he continues with “Today nobody has the nerve to try such a radical scheme.” pg.350 It would be “wonderful” Mr. Wolf says, if smaller countries were to try such a Chicago-type experiment. To which my response is: “If you consider this same plan to be good and workable economic theory then please explain how and why this is so-to your lay but educated readers. Leave the political calculations for others. You may be accurate in your political cynicism, but you, after all, are the economists. Your job is to give us the theory, a better economic framework. To the best of your economic understanding, and now, how should finance be (legally) structured so as to operate more safely within a capitalist economy?

Mr. King studied economics at Cambridge and was an economics professor for some few years afterwards. Mr. Wolf studied at Oxford prior to many years of direct engagement with economic ideas and theory as financial-industry journalist. Perhaps my quarrel should be with these schools rather than with these two individuals-for not having given the two an adequate theoretical-philosophical education, and as well, for giving them an inadequate education on the humanistic side-as evidenced for example by Mr. King’s rhetorical employment of alchemy as theme-word.

I am serious about this… We have chemistry now; alchemy is certainly passe. But were those ancient alchemists either pretending or lying? Rather, they essentially must have been seriously (-if also secretively) trying to obtain an understanding of how things work. They wanted to obtain first an understanding, a method. Then they could make gold in the workshop in the basement…

Isaac Newton explored the alchemical cave and found it a dead end, but fortunately for us he survived to traverse successfully certain other dangerous and previously unexplored tunnels of the mind. Without alchemical empathy or an alchemical impulse wouldn’t Mr. Newton have given up too soon. For the artistically inclined certainly, the word alchemy tends somewhat immediately to suggest a positive effort, a positive intent at least to create something, something new. Alchemy then, the ability to think outside the conventional economic-theoretical box is exactly what these two authors lack. Mr. King expects/desires “an end to alchemy” within the financial sector. Those actually within the industry will not be worried by such threats. Those outside the financial industry with a minimal understanding of how finance works will not need any convincing to the effect that persons in finance might sometimes be engaged in devious or deceptive practices.

I must admit that I myself do not consider Economics to be a “real” science, not in the value-free way in which most might require a “science” to be. But as citizen and amateur economist who faults two prominent financial experts for lack of theory, perhaps I should try to present some theoretical argument of my own.

Economics is a social “science” but the master “science” (following Aristotle) for persons in a democracy would be political “science.” Because we operate as a society according to ideas, we also want the best collection of ideas possible for directing our (US) government and our (US) economy. From disinterested and theoretical “sciences” we have chosen and then implemented what we hope are good “theories:” a US constitution with branches of government, citizen rights, laws about financial persons and financial contract, etc. We like democracy and we like capitalism. But according to this scheme it is important to notice that the political is prior to, is more fundamental/essential than the economic. We were in fact a republic-democracy before we embraced Adam-Smith-type capitalism. As US citizen I myself am loyal to the US as democracy; I am not required to make any personal pledge to capitalism as such. And thus when US-style capitalism disrupts rather than promotes the progress of wealth on an international scale as happened ten years ago, I want to understand what went wrong-with the ideas, the theory. And once given a convincingly better theory of how the financial sector should be (legally) situated within the American capitalist economy, then I will agitate for my democratic representatives to change the legal arrangements in the USA accordingly. Democratic citizenship motivates my request for “theory.” Significant change to economic arrangements, a legal and regulatory restructuring of some kind, this will certainly require politics for its implementation. But ideas must come first here, not the political packaging. Does this sound too idealistic; improved understanding plus citizenship leads to improved social arrangements via healthy political process?

Niall Ferguson (The Ascent of Money, published just at the beginning of the crisis in 2008) suggests that we wait for a Darwinian mechanism to sort out the good economic species from the bad! Finance has proliferated in recent decades with it’s new instruments, new products and services, new ways of making money… but only the valid and worthwhile economic species will survive this shakeout! No need to worry!

Most in the industry itself, I will hazard a guess, are hoping that their recalcitrant pragmatism will finally turn out well. It’s just finance after all, not capitalism itself. Just get the bus back up on the highway and rolling again… and after some ten years now things are actually looking better. Maybe the pragmatists are right. Capitalism will heal itself given a little more time.

Within the economics profession itself, the so-called new orthodoxy looks to most to be almost the same as the old orthodoxy. Mr. Wolf has a chapter entitled Orthodoxy Overthrown. But this is faulty metaphor. A wrestler thrown may loose this fight but come back to fight again, bruised and stronger. Economic theory is not a wrestler. A theory in the physical sciences once shown to be wrong by experimental facts becomes an exciting challenge. This means that new theory will be needed. The old is faulty. But in economics little has changed in the last decade. Textbooks are more interesting because they can recount the recent crisis in the chapter introduction, but the content is the same. This of course is not just bad science, but will be bad for the industry.

Both authors here are very clear in their opinion that not enough has been done to reform the system. Both believe that another serious (financial) crisis looms. Mr. Wolf’s last chapter is titled Conclusion: Fire Next Time, which phrase is from a spiritual:

God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water but fire next time.

Mr. Wolf in his last chapter also states: Thus, the insouciant position-that we should largely let the pre-crisis way of running the world economy and the financial system continue-is grotesquely dangerous. p. 349

This is good, but this is yet rhetoric without theory. Is providing a better foundation for a better economic theory up to me, your amateur economic blogger, since professors and experts have not yet provided anything better. I have offered so far a philosophical point which insists that the political is more fundamental than the economic. All economies must exist within states and thus the political necessarily supports, establishes, structures, protects its dependent economy.

I am not arguing for any kind of socialism. Ultimately the people themselves choose what shall become their economic arrangements, capitalist or otherwise. But capitalism as theory, no matter how rational or self-sufficient it may claim to be, does not set the terms. Politics remains the master science because it encompasses the economic. Citizens need to be intelligent enough to democratically choose whatever kind of capitalism they wish, and then direct their representatives to structure the laws so as to implement that same kind of economy.

Mr. Wolf talks a great deal about the “fragility” of the financial sector, but is this anything more than rhetoric? Finance is like a painted, gilded, ceramic Renaissance putti, which we must protect from mechanical shock. Now I understand! But if we could actually get some theoretical consensus here on fragility then getting financial re-structuring passed would be straightforward.

On page 125 Mr. Wolf is giving a quick overview of recent decades of Western economic growth and discussing loosened regulations:

“Once the general shift towards trust in markets over governments occurred, the rise of the liberal financial market was inevitable… If governments are not to allocate resources, markets must do so. The logic is impeccable.”

But your cursory logic here, Mr. Wolf, is atrocious. One or the other only: government or market, one of these two, must have ultimate authority or control over resources, over the economy. But how and why do “we” regulate utilities like electricity or internet cable, or why do governments build highways and roads rather than leave these to private endeavor. Such mixed situations are common and ordinary, and these same situations certainly are also economic decisions as such. Adam Smith (in my thousand page Modern Library edition) spends almost half of those thousand pages discussing taxation, government policy, etc. How much tax, why, what sort of government support for the monetary system, etc. And such questions today are still ordinary and necessary economic questions, questions which happen to include government itself as economic agent/entity. But apparently what was once Political Economy has become for modern-day free-Marketeers some sort of logical-game. Your rationalistic and self-contained economic system is able to levitate, like Peter Pan. Politics/governments exist for you only to protect this game and its game-players from outside interference. And obviously if you believe in this kind of capitalism you will not allow (at theoretic level) my single point that economic thinking (as was the case with Adam Smith) must still regularly and ordinarily recognize its political-socio context/dependence.

Let me press my argument here against these two authors, well intentioned and generous financial experts, even if the economics that I involve myself in may prove to be over my head. (I shall be critiquing the inadequacy of their theoretical presentation more than critiquing their economics as such.)

In the crisis of 2007 the American and British financial machinery seized up, and thus there remains a dire need to fixed finance within these two countries. Both authors agree that this remains the primary issue. But both also give significant causal weight to international “imbalances.” Whether as savings glut or investment dearth, there was too much money floating around outside, internationally, and this also, they add, was primary cause/factor in the collapse of 2007.

But if you know what I mean by psychological projection, how is this not projection; how is this not economists refusing to own up, blaming someone else? Sudden money flows did “cause” the recent Asian or South American financial crises, and then this global imbalance was the gradual tsunami that took out our system.

But this strikes me as extremely vague and also disingenuous. You as economists have not fixed our own theoretical and local problems. We of course (US and Britain) cannot immediately control what the world does, but we can at least try to fix our own machineries. My deal with you (author-economists) at this point is that once you have done that, offered a theory for construction of a better machinery, then I will listen to your ideas about international economic activities. But till then I cannot quite believe that you are competent to talk about how the world economy works.

Most economists will admit the point I am about to make, though few will choose these words: There really is no international “economy.” Lacking control of currency, flow of products, people, money in and out, without rules for property and contract enforced, there can exist no actual and operative economy. Nation-states are the modern entities that control their various (internal) economies as they see fit. But since there is no one to look after or to enforce a world-wide economy, there technically exists no world “economy.” There are miscellaneous connections between nations and their (internal) economies, trade and flows between, but no easy extrapolation can or should be made from nations to world…

Certainly, in countries all around the world people will state that they like the notion of free and unhindered world trading, communication, travel. We have all seen some of the benefits of world trade or easy communication and we are in favor of more. And economists build upon this simpleminded hope with simplistic (economic) images. If capitalist-theory is able to self-levitate, the theoretical justification for capitalist international economics is even more tenuous. The standard proof, the Einstinian thought experiment which supposedly establishes the validity/reality of the international economy as such, argues that even countries that are not so good at producing a certain product will benefit if they join the game. All who join must benefit. It can be proven. So what can be the problem.

The problem of course is the juvenile thinking. Where is the means or mechanism to support or maintain such an entity, the international economy, other than the cooperative efforts of numerous other nations, nations which themselves have more immediately pressing things to attend to-one of those more important things being, of course, the health of their own “local” economy?

As superpower and leader of the free world, and as promoter and propagator of capitalism, we (the US) have been promoting something which is valuable, and have understandably been friendliest with those who also like capitalism, etc. And perhaps if all of the nations of the world were to convert to our preferences, then the next step might not be an impossibility-a single world-wide government-alliance with one (prosperous for all) world economy.

(But if such a world economy and corresponding world governance is going to have an exclusively commercial culture-as with Babylon of old-then you may count me out. I do not wait for it.)

The topic here, and the problem, is vague and un-substantiatable notions of world economy. And English speaking persons may be uniquely susceptible to this problem because of their positive regard for the logic of capitalism. Many believe that capitalist economic ideas work with the rigor of math and logic. Capitalism thus almost works on its own, like a living organism. And then the same logic will automatically insure that it works on a larger scale, on a world-wide scale! The world economy is just the ordinary and familiar local working of capitalism but on a larger scale. And if this is so, then the political stuff just needs to get out of the way and let the economic organism grow naturally.

Mr. Wolf and Mr. Soros lived under repressive Eastern European regimes and now conflate perhaps hopes for political liberty with economic liberalization. Their conflation can almost be excused. They hope that pushing world economic freedoms, promoting world economy, will in the same instance encourage political liberties within the various nations involved.

Business persons, no surprise, will often be fervent proponents of liberal trade arrangements and world economy because this means opportunity for their business.

But multinationals, these are businesses, but we also consider them to be legal-person-citizens-assuming that their citizenship can be pinned down to one nation-state. As citizen-persons the multinationals are not just selfish. They benefit everyone. And I do like some of “our” multinationals: Intel, Apple, Boeing. But the economic and also legal situation here is quite murky, is it not? Multinationals are obviously operating in some sort of vague sphere, early inhabitants of the nebulous world-economy.

Since I have been a long-time Apple user and Apple promoter, I will employ here some of Chairman Cook’s recent comments to support my case about simplistic, juvenile thinking re: world-wide economic relations. Mr. Cook and Mr. Wolf are certainly both very savvy about how things work internationally. They both want more free international trade, etc. But I have said that I do not trust the international economic thinking of Mr. Wolf, a journalist. Now I will explain why the attitudes or ideas of Mr. Cook about the “international economy” also seem to me quite inadequate.

Petulant means the complaining of a child who doesn’t have adequate awareness of all that is involved with adult responsibilities, and this is how a few of Chairman Cooks’ statements strike me. As representative/spokesperson for a US legal-person, a business corporation, Mr. Cook can actually complain about whatever he wishes: the weather, the quality of tacos, even the actions of this or that politician or government official. (And I side with Apple on the encryption business… against the gorilla on the other side, the US government; FBI.) But ordinarily he will comment on things which might directly harm the business he represents as CEO. From his letter about the immigration ban, or more correctly speaking (I take it…) the travel ban of half a year ago:

“Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive…”

“Apple believes deeply in the importance of immigration…”

“Our employees represent the finest talent in the world, and our team hails from every corner of the globe.”

Excellent. And if I am a US citizen living in a small American town I might hope as much for my small town, since I myself have lived a third of my own life overseas and I also like international diversity. I hope we have some internationals in this small town, people who have come from other countries and have recently become US citizens. It would certainly be more interesting.

People go through immigration at the airport not just to eventually become citizens but also to work short-term, but in either case I don’t begrudge Apple’s being in favor of access to an international workforce, US immigrant-citizen or other-nation-citizen. But why the petulance! I have no right to demand that my town get more immigrants, better immigrants, just to suit me. You are looking for business talent. I am looking for a better local mix. Why do you presume that you have some sort of right to complain here.

You will probably say that such executive actions by a president are too political, or are un-American, etc. But I choose this example because my topic is economics and you are leader of an very important business entity. I don’t care what kind of soft drink you prefer.

But to answer for you (if I may guess at other items which may be behind your strongly felt attitude here…), among such items may be, firstly, a certain (overly vague) hope/notion of world-economy, and secondly, the fact that Apple is a good corporate citizen and does in fact “benefit” many people in the USA and elsewhere. But let me try to show that the second of these is not a valid justification.

Maybe I am an artist and wish to make a movie which will require access to a hundred locations around the world. I will take minimum wage for myself but will be donating this movie to the whole world- (and I hereby guarantee a movie of real quality-not iPhone quality). As Apple has benefited people in general, this project will, I am quite sure, bring positive benefit to people-hypothetically even more than Apple ever has… I also would like various governments to improve their infrastructure to allow me better access to certain remote but very scenic locales, provide my crew with all necessities, travel, free movement between nations. Will you join our artist-network which is agitating politically for international opportunity-status for all artists. It sounds like you are heading in our direction. We are trying to build a better intra-national world. Our ideal is superior to yours because we are working at minimum wage.

If this second explanation fails, then that leaves only the first: you are upset because the travel ban conflicts with your (vague) notion/ideal of world economy.

Apple as paradigm of a new international corporate citizenship! This, I admit, is a compelling image. (Not just a selfish American corporation.) But also quite false, deceptive-because in reality there is no such international economy, or more accurately, there is no one to whom you can make demands that they structure and maintain and uphold such an economy. The world-economy at best is a very contingent and ad hoc entity, not a “real” economy. One cannot presume upon its continued existence. You cannot really demand the the US gov. make it, a world economy, available to you… You can only ask, or beg.

The world consists now of almost three hundred nation-states, and yes, borders, laws, regulations are a nuisance, but to actually consider these entities as being of secondary importance, to fail to give them their due, is to entertain vague and adolescent notions/ideals. Americans are susceptible to over-ideal notions of world-capitalism since we pride ourselves on our own (US) capitalism. And still are world leader. But we are not the first in either of these. England brought property rights and free trade to the world, while thinking of their mission (more realistically perhaps than we…) as being a (benign) imperialism. But in either case, world economy will not happen out of a simple calculation of national economic logic-that is, nation-states all permanently joining hands together to form a world economy because they see, each one, that this will be in their self interest.

This demotion of political realities to secondary importance is clear as crystal in the EU experiment, is it not. The EU project is not vague international thinking (which Americans may be prone to) but vague localist thinking. There never was an end game here, a desire for an E-Empire. (I take most of my information here from the two authors.) Both authors think hard about the EU (since they are both from England) and conclude that they see no possible mechanism as desirable now and going forward. European thinkers deliberately put political realities on the side burner because they were so hot for economic benefit. They built for themselves a comfortable box with free economic movements, but as issues of sovereignty or national difference arise, there is no methodology available to fix these. And the costs of dissolution would take back much of the economic benefit which has been obtained. Perhaps we will call this short term calculation rather than juvenile idealism. But the mistake is similar. Europeans obviously want the benefits of an open and intra-national capitalism just like everyone else. And Mr. Wolf still hopes for a healthy EU, he but says that the EU has become a conundrum, a logic puzzle with no solution.

Within the US context with which I identify, I find the real danger, the real evil to be located not so much in vague or misguided images/ideals as in a person, yes, the attitude of one such as then Fed Chairman Bernanke, who stated in a speech during the crisis itself that there was no need for theoretical adjustment, only need for better management. I was very upset after hearing his speech ten years ago (since I was quite closely following economic news via websites such as NakedCapitalism, etc.) and have been able to locate that speech again. Perhaps as Philosophy major I do tend to take anti-theoretical talk too personally, but then again, maybe I actually am the more profound economic thinker here and Mr. Bernanke actually is the evil bureaucrat. You be the judge:

On the Implications of the Financial Crisis… Sept. 24, 2010

Almost universally, economists failed to predict the nature, timing, or severity of the crisis;

Although economists have much to learn from this crisis, as I will discuss, I think that calls for a radical reworking of the field go too far. In particular, it seems to me that current critiques of economics sometimes conflate three overlapping yet separate enterprises, which, for the purposes of my remarks today, I will call economic science, economic engineering, and economic management.

With that taxonomy in hand, I would argue that the recent financial crisis was more a failure of economic engineering and economic management than of what I have called economic science.

I cannot read this again without regurgitating a bit of my original anger and frustration. (I may be an economic amateur but that I have been actively following economic news and economic analysis since the crisis of 2007… this should count for something.) So my theoretical proclivity which may strike readers as strange, my request that Mr. Wolf and Mr. King must be more theoretical in their books, this has its opposite here.

Mr. B. (Harvard and MIT and Princeton), great economist and great economic scholar, presides over the recent crisis from his perch at the US Fed. And after the worst of the crisis begins to abate, he insists that we think of this as a management failure! Which audacity and presumption proves to me that Mr. B’s science is b.s., plain and simple, because it refuses obvious facts. The recent Great Recession is and will remain some kind of fact that all ordinary persons, economically astute or not, can identify. I think that the patient blog reader is required at this point to make a choice; I don’t think that it is possible for both of us to be correct.

Within the context of talk about American economic issues then, I believe that Mr. Bernanke presents something quite dangerous: An ideologue or dogmatist whose capitalistic economic theory is so complete and perfect that it seems that fact cannot disturb it! So I warn here that citizens ought never actually to be cowed by, ought never to be in awe of any such pretensions to science or expertise. He claims managerial and technical expertise in support of his anti-theoretical stance. Common sense can see better.

But in the present American context, summer 2017, can we actually implement any of the suggestions of these two books. This is why these two authors took the effort to write. They would like to convince a general public that certain things need to be done.

Though history would say that the United States has never had three live political parties, I myself do not see any other way out of the black-and-white back and forth of present-day Republican and Democratic bickering. This is my first political opinion.

Then, getting tough on any business sector such as the financial sector, which would be on the agenda here, was once normal fare for the Democrats. But President Bill Clinton, triangulating, signed the Gramm-Leach Act of 1999 which got rid of Glass-Steagall, thus positioning the Democrats on a path parallel to the Marketeers (and other less extreme supporters of the Market). If the Democrats cannot stomach regulation, if they must now present themselves as being friends to an absolutely un-hampered market, then who will be ready to pass reforms-other than a sane and sensible Third Party (tm) which will tell the public that sensible regulation is always in season, always necessary.

Finally, the American attitude towards financial speculation is (strangely) very permissive. In ordinary use the word, it seems, has no negative connotations. Fine. But why may we not use this word more generally… We are all speculators. The person who decides not to go to college but begin work directly speculates that hard work and ordinary pay will be satisfactory to their desires in the long term. The person who takes the time to learn a special skill, web page design, speculates that this will bring long-term payoff. The artist who puts all of his/her best time and energies into trying to become good within a particular artistic media is also speculating that what they produce may be valuable product, and if so, bring financial renumeration. The intellectual speculates by believing that it is not only the practical life that is worthwhile. The athletic individual may speculate that with hard work they can become one of a small number of paid athletes. The point is not that some may not be successful, the point is that speculation is of many kinds. Speculation with money is good. Speculating with one’s time, efforts, energies is also good. The word belongs not just to economics but to ordinary language as well.

Thank you for reading.

Paul K. (Aug. 2017)


US Politics:

"It's the culture stupid."
When during the previous four years--movies, television, books, poetry, etc., do not satisfy the public, when the quality is lacking, then there will be a change of political administration...


Media:This website is a reliable source of news, though not updated very often..

Politics: When you only offer two choices...
Why not a (light-turqoise-green!) Middle Party; Promising the best of either but without the excess of the red or the blue? Then if the electoral college vote is less than 270, legislators would need to work together constructively to select the president. Of course there will be turqoise-party legislators also. Election maps will be more complex and colorful, and politics would be less two-sided. (If necessary, the American flag might be re-designed with red, blue, and medium-orange-yellow/gold/irridescent-turquoise stripes.)


Why an additional amendment to the US Constitution on the subject of religion is both necessary and beneficial.

Neither the recent French difficulty with Muslim burkas on the beach nor earlier German worries about Scientology as subversive pseudo-religion–neither of these as controversy make much sense to Americans. We obviously have our own and quite different approach to controversy about the place of religion(s) in society. And different than Britain, which yet has an established Protestant national church, and which lacks also the rather extreme freedoms of speech and of press (and peaceful assembly) which are included in the First Amendment to the American Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;…”

To begin with a quick and easy argument using the words just quoted from the first amendment, nowadays we tend to think of “free speech” as being individual while we tend to read “free press” as being institutional, as with a magazine or newspaper. Thus even within this constitutional enumeration of freedoms (I might argue) the Constitution itself already recognizes that religion is not merely a personal thing, not merely a sort of private preference, just because the Constitution mixes both individual and institutional type freedoms somewhat haphazardly within this one listing. The over-simplistic notion, that religion is private while citizenship is public, this may make some sense in France but it does not work at all in the American context. Our constitution protects and thus seemingly also encourages as being of some sort of social and not just individual value, a “free exercise” of religion by American citizens.

My argument today is that we MUST make more explicit via additional constitutional language, via a new amendment, how Americans define this same “free exercise of religion.” But you ask, why now; why the dire emergency? But just as the French, it seems, must in the very near future solve their burka problem–by discerning how the burka jives or does jive with French culture or French values–so there are numerous hot and religiously-tinged controversies on the American plate. The French here seem strongly affected by religious symbolism, culture, clothing. I submit that the American disposition is much more towards clarification of written constitutional principle. Though Americans may not care to speak publicly about abstract principle, once words have been inserted in That Document, then such words or phrases function as a commonly-agreed-upon working-principle. By clarifying (more explicitly in constitutional language) the “place” of religion in American democracy, civic discourse is allowed to become freer, healthier, and untinged by “religious” supposition, innuendo.

So I am suggesting here that the U.S. constitution can and should more explicitly recognize the existence of religion as a sort of realm (–my preferred explanatory term) within the larger national society. That the U.S. government may value and promote education, the education realm–this has never been a problem. Education does benefit the state in producing competent future citizens, but education also has its own independent existence. It cannot be subsumed to state purposes; it remains its own thing or else it is ruined. It seeks well-rounded persons and not just political or economic cogs. It chooses democratically and at a local level (I guess) its local curriculums, including the values it teaches, the persons who will teach the values, etc. It includes both private and public schools…

Medicine is another sui generis realm which cannot be subsumed to economic or political control else it is distorted. I favor the US government valuing health proactively and as a positive, humane value, rather than only spending for the remedial health of its citizens, that is, spending on jogging facilities and not just hospitals, but I also do not want the US government to go very far here in defining health as positive value–just because health as humanistic value involves psychological, spiritual, lifestyle… A minimal and humane valuation of health is OK, but I don’t want government getting very specific about what is best psychologically or spiritually…

I might also wish for government to value and even promote the fine arts in America, but perhaps in this case with greater weight on the first term, value. I don’t want a democratic government selecting or paying for too much art, lest art become corrupted by following such money or official honor. (But neither do I wish government to allow the airwaves to be exclusively controlled by commercial motive…)

And analogously, I believe that a democratic government should be able to explicitly state that religion is a value, that it has societal worth, and even in somewhat indirect and/or general manner “support” religions, plural, without this violating the well established American principle that the American government shall never establish in the United States any one religion, Christian or otherwise. For example…”Recognizing with reverent regard the value which its citizens may give to the practice of their varied (and healthy) religions, Congress shall make no laws…etc.”

But such a vague constitutional declaration as I am suggesting may seem to many readers almost silly. And doesn’t this violate the wall of separation! I will be attacked from two directions. Many (–the intellectuals) will demand that “religion” even in general, ought not to be promoted by a modern-day American government. Many others (–the Christians) will say that adding constitutional respect for all religions must be a watering down of (implicit) respect for the practice of Christianity which is (or at least ought already to be) present and prevalent as religion within the modern American republic. So I must now somehow convince both of these dis-inclined and quite different constituencies that my proposal is in fact a very good idea.

To begin then (and with the more difficult argument which I am directing towards American intellectuals) many if not most of the founding fathers of the Republic were Deists. Fortunately perhaps, there existed no one dominant brand of Christianity in the Colonies. The Deist compromise, then, bad smelling as it may have seemed to many at the time, involved: (1) a very rudimentary recognition of the possibility of a naturally apprehended Deity-Creator, (2) a definite demarcation of religious practice as being something that government must respect, and (3) and most significantly of course, the rejection in principle of any future attempt at official establishment of any religion in the United States of America. Though European or Western civilization has since become much more secular, that is, non-religious and/or indifferent to religion, this does not mean that the so-called secular state with “wall” between it and religion–that this simplistic notion now summarizes our American consensus. Rather (in my opinion at least) the Deist compromise still stands… and at present should as well be made more explicit, and even extended a little bit further to explicitly include, in the plural, religions. This seems to me quite consistent with our American beginnings.

But the Deistic compromise which these individuals offered and which all the American citizenry at the time agreed to was (and yet remains) the basic American approach to the government v. religion controversy. The Deist professes a very minimal creed; a Creator God perhaps. But these same Deists did not accept as valid or binding for themselves the traditional Christian authorities of church or scripture, and thus most other ordinary Christians would have denigrated or dismissed such Deist “religion” as inadequate, less than Christian. But both historians as well less-well-educated present day patriots will likely agree that as things turned out–these Deists usually in fact were the better citizens. They at least found a workable principle which everyone could agree to: non-establishment; prohibit in principle official choice of any one practice of religion.

Even to the present day and decades after the last of those Deists have disappeared, negative meanings still tend to attach themselves very easily to this word. We (whether religious or not) actually would rather avoid the word completely, as if Deist beliefs are somehow strange, lacking, just because they were neither fully religious nor fully free of religious superstition and irrationality. They were in-between. But as a very quick argument here: Why is a Deistic sort of agnosticism not more respected by either religionists or modern scientifically inclined (atheistic) intellectuals? We live in a secular age people will say. But does this mean that there can only exist two types of persons, either secular or else non-secular/religious and and with no other category possible? Why do we define ourselves with the help of this word, secular? What does it even mean? Is secularism kick-back against a Protestantism that tends to relegate the political to a secondary status, a secondary sphere? Society is composed of two spheres: Previously the religious was more important but now the secular sphere is more important! Or is secularism the modern alternative to a very, very old Catholic European common culture, Christendom, with a very minimal scientific humanism now providing the basis for a new (and non-religious) definition of man and society? Deism at least seems to have been honestly respectful of–(while at the same time also somewhat agnostic towards)–both early-modern science and old religion. Wouldn’t a little bit of Deistic agnosticism be an improvement today for both sides!

I am surprised to find (and thank-you, Wikipedia) how recent the English words secular and agnostic actually are. Mr. George Holyoake in 1842, in our fellow-republic of England, spent six months in jail for blasphemy. Some time after getting out he coined the word secularism as descriptive of what he himself wished to publicly promote. He described secularism as being an alternative to state religion, but secularism, he said, is not intended as a term which includes any antipathy or antagonism towards religion. And quite soon after this, once a new word, agnostic, came to his attention, Holyoake said that he wished to describe himself as being an agnostic rather than an atheist. (The word agnostic had just been coined by the biologist Huxley, who requested that his new word have meanings associated with science, as in…science involves agnosticism, because science is always progressing.) Today we do not follow the intentions of either of these word-coiners: Agnostic is a friendlier word than atheist perhaps, but has lost its intended scientific associations. And the word secular, as in the phrase–modern “secular state,” has (it seems to me) become a quite problematic term, a word that seems to explain but often actually tends to obfuscate. Secular has come to mean not just a simple absence of religion (as in a national culture without an established official religion) but a more definite non-religions or religion-free zone of some sort or other. (Thus for Protestants, the secular is bad because it lacks religious faith. But for secularists, the secular is good and healthy and normal. Finally, the secularist might say, we have a (nice, modern) secular society where we are not bothered or coerced by this or that religion.

Thus while the word secular may have given George H. some mental clarification and perhaps even psychological refuge within what he found to be an oppressive social milieu, the word of itself explains nothing, it solves nothing. Britain has since changed some laws (though still has it’s national church) but today it is the minority Christians who may be feeling oppressed within a majority non-religious British populace. If so, then for these oppressed individuals to say that they are feeling anti-secular, or for these persons to advocate “anti-secularism” as social movement or corrective–this cannot improve their existential distress. It is not a comprehensive solution. As with the word separation, the word secular is (it seems quite clear to me…) a word only–and not a principle–though within the American context I am afraid that many intellectuals will assume otherwise, and thus find no problem with their holding a simplistic theory of the “separation” of church/religion and state. Religion must be kept out (–of political and social discussion) and perhaps sooner or later (the secularist hopes) religion might even go away, disappear. This is what separation or secularism have come to mean.

My point here is a theoretical point: that such a pragmatic hope is inadequate as theory, and dangerous as proported theoretical answer to the religion v government issue. As long as there are societies which include both religious persons and governments, this issue does not go away. To characterize the modern age as being secular does not change the Reality that there are yet now, and shall be in the future, two different sorts of things here: religion and government.

Who does not recognize that governments deal with important present-day realities, while religions (true or not) deal with important things which they claim involve realities that go beyond, transcend the everyday? These two will always be at odds with each other. The modern use of the word secular may seem to imply that secular modern governments, if only they avoid religion, have thereby largely solved the religion/government problem. But this is simplistic and faulty thinking. The religion/government problem is never fully “solved” such that the original issue no longer exists as existential problem.

Let me make a retreat at this point in my argument, which retreat should allow me to return even stronger. I am insisting that secularism is not an adequate theoretical position. But politics, someone might point out, is actually much more practical than theoretical. Modern (realist) political thinkers might argue that a secular approach to the state has been very helpful. After Westphalia, national governments must concentrate on other things, and must refuse to continue via politics the Protestant/Catholic religious conflicts instigated at the Reformation. Over the centuries, this political working-agreement has helped to develop the norms for the modern nation-state, and today Western leaders would like non-European nations to follow these same (secular-state) ideals as being successful and appropriate international norms.

And perhaps there are some very good norms here with the modern nation-state: respect for democracy, maybe some capitalist business and trade, self determination, and limited direct promotion of religion by the nation-state. But the mere word secular does not include all of these other things.

But isn’t an awareness the primary value of secularism, of government staying out of religion, is this not a very important modern achievement? Doesn’t this one word, secular, sum up the essential ideal of the modern nation-state? No, there are other characteristics more important than the pragmatic avoidance of religion. But since governments have done wrong in the name of religion, don’t they need to be warned away from such? Yes perhaps, but the massive harm done to peoples in the last century or two have been caused equally by governments espousing or supporting religion and by governments not identifying with any religion.

Technically speaking, the United States is more secular than the many European nations which often still maintain various manners of official religious establishment. But again, when the population is polled about religion, the US comes out as less secular than those European nations. I have just employed the word secular but in a practical or descriptive manner. And I still wish to insist that political science theorists should be wary of a theoretical reliance on the term.

But isn’t the simple notion of the “secular state” a modern achievement, a modern awareness? We now understand better what state and religion actually are… No. I expect that the old Babylonian king/emperor was already well enough aware of the actual difference between enacting religious prayer or sacrifice at the ziggurat and other more routine governmental activities. With his co-operation, the two were integrated in that one Babylonian system, and yet the two remained two. While theocratic in state mythology, most of this Babylonian leader’s time would have been given to managing the operations of the agricultural and commercial sectors of society–a political job. The Babylonian system may have “used” religion in a certain way, but this merging of the two was their approach to the religion v state issue. It is not inherently illegitimate if religion is quite closely associated with the political. Russia or China today, for example, may have a more co-operative or coordinative approach than the less intimate establishment or non-establishment notion operative in the West. But a theoretical stance must be taken by each society. As I myself imagine this ancient Babylonian king/emperor, he himself was quite aware that religion, government, military, business… were each distinctly different things.

If it is assumed to be an actual solution to the church/state issue, the word secular is a dangerous over-simplification. I mention an issue in the news: Turkey considers re-introducing capital punishment. But Turkey also has interests in joining the European Union which prohibits its countries (presumably on the basis of a humanistic ethic) from imposing the death penalty. Recent popes have come out also, as asking all countries not to use the death penalty. (Keeping a prisoner confined for decades is more humane.) But previously the Catholic church had taught that this was a specific prerogative of civil government; they wield the civil sword. Turkey also, as Muslim nation, is attempting to follow a “secularist” mode of government. All of this, it seems to me, directly involves the religion/government topic. But until I, or until you are clearer about what our own chosen American solution actually is, we had best not even try to evaluate or advise with regard to the European or Turkish situations. We need to remove the log in our own eye first.

Centuries ago, when Catholic Christian nations were employing the death penalty for some relatively minor offenses, why did the Catholic church not try ameliorate this situation? I might well argue with the pope about religion and politics and he might well read my argument and write something in reply. But I doubt that I could hope for such a discussion with the present administrators of the European Union–though I may be unduly pessimistic here. But I would guess that they (and I will call them secularists) would not see any need for constructive argument about capital punishment. If utmost valuation of human life is a religious value then religion is out of bounds for them as topic. If a supremely high valuation on human life is simply a humane sort of principle to be agreed upon by everyone, then also, discussion ought not to be necessary. Because the secularist does not (in practical terms at least) recognize the existence of one of the realms here, the religious entity, civic debate may be precluded as effectively as when a religious authority gives dogmatic declaration…

Frankly, I myself am somewhat confused by the pope’s position, but at least I can argue with him. But I have little hope of constructive political dialog with the EU administrators, because in effect they will deny that there is anything to discuss. (Candidly speaking, I don’t know much about the EU, and am only grabbing an example from the news…)

But the official EU position, I take it, is that local nations will each deal with religious matters. The EU, because it is a secular sort of governance arrangement, expects that it may completely bypass the religion/state issue. And my point with all of this is just to say that the secularist assumption does not work. All governments must select up front an approach of some kind to religion v government. Will it be this way or that way… Ultimate and religious-like values can be introduced into political discussion from any direction, not just from religious persons intent on promoting religion. The secularist fails to see that such ultimate values are not really any different than religion-derived values. The religion and politics boundary, if denied, becomes porous on the non-specifically-religious side. Even the non-religious persons needs to acknowledge (and respect) the existence of the religion entity within a society.

But enough about the word secular. I still need to direct my second argument for a new American amendment to the Christian patriots, and discuss the famous wall-of-separation phrase.

From a person on the religious side then, from the Christian perspective, here are some of the approaches that Christians have taken towards states or governments. Indifference, avoidance (as when religion is illegal or persecuted), antipathy (as the believer might hope that a corrupt society may make the life of the small religious community more appealing), Lutheran establishment, national establishment, Calvinistic interest in local governance, separatist emphasis on individual conscience, Orthodox support, Roman institutionalism, Quaker pacifism. Under threat of arrest Christians met in the catacombs; when given the opportunity, they encouraged the Roman government to give preference and exclusivity to the Christian religion such that all other religions then became illicit…

What is most surprising though, is that individual Christians continue to deny such obvious diversity and will insist, rather, that their own brand of Christianity is the only valid and genuine item. Different actual practices or versions of Christianity tend, of course, to each prefer quite different approaches to the religion/state frontier. The Puritans did not deny the validity of the protestant Anglican church, but they were dis-satisfied with it, and so left for the New World. In turn, some like Roger Williams who was a Salem minister for a while, became dissatisfied with Puritan social and ecclesial regulations. He had written a book pleading for separation of religion and state; for the state not enforcing uniformity in mere religious opinion or belief. He considered the Anglican church corrupt and he decided later to become a Baptist–rejecting infant baptism. He managed to obtain a royal charter for the colony of Rhode Island which stipulated that Williams would be governor for life. In his book of 1644 he refers to the hedge, or the wall of separation which Christians must maintain (for the sake of the religious community) between the wilderness of the world (and civil governments outside…) and the garden of the church. This was his Separatist approach to Christianity and the State.

A century and a half later, Baptist ministers in Connecticut write a letter to the third American president, Jefferson, and the president writes back. (These can be found on the web; Danbury Baptists) They offer some flattering praise. Then they complain about state laws which they feel disadvantage them while favoring other religious groups, groups who probably helped to get such regulations enacted as local law. They mention individual conscience as being something that government must not interfere with. They seem to suggest that Jefferson might yet make this, individual conscience, an inalienable civic principle…. But their specific interest or primary request is not clearly presented. They recognize that he is an executive now, no longer a legislator who makes law. They hope that with the President’s assistance, “hierarchy and tyranny be destroyed from the earth,” (hierarchy presumably meaning priestly/religious rule, and tyranny being oppressive civil government.) But if Jefferson is to favor an end to all civil authority they he would need to step down from being president… They close with a Christian prayer: “may the Lord… bring you at last to his heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ…”

So this is the context for a letter Jefferson writes in reply, which letter includes the wall-of-separation phrase. What does it all mean. Was the phrase in common circulation already from Roger Williams, and familiar to both the Baptists and the president? Or familiar to neither. In either case, the earlier use was only about protecting the garden of the church from external intrusion by political/civic entanglement. And the Danbury Baptists as well are most worried about their own religious communities being intruded upon by local state laws.

They are very polite but their specific Christian prayer, that he, the president, might some day become a Christian (and not just a Deist–) this might be somewhat awkward if the president could not reply in kind. A claim to religion is after all and in ordinary circumstances, a claim to a sort of civic virtue. But being a Deist in fact he need not be put off. He prays in return that both sides be blessed by “the common Father and Creator of man.”

This may be only momentary etiquette after all, but in asking what Jefferson’s phrase about the wall means, or what it means today, it is helpful to remember that a wall operates to inhibit traffic in two directions. It may be helpful to ask, who is using this phrase, and which side of the wall are they on. (Being a Deist as well as a government executive, Jefferson himself cannot have been so immediately or specifically interested in traffic from government towards church. He cares about citizens who are imposed upon in their religion, but we ought at least hypothetically to empathize with him as well. As government official he hopes that a wall will stop untoward intrusion by various religiously motivated persons; traffic in the other direction.)

The Baptists are actually complaining about other Christians who had gotten their state government to make regulations which as state regulations then disadvantage the Baptists. But this does not prevent these Baptists from attempting themselves via this letter to perhaps influence the government in their own favor!

Jefferson’s answer references the “reverence” which he himself feels towards the democratic process. Not he, but the people themselves had recently implemented the free exercise and non-establishment principles at the national level. This should be sufficient protection he implies. This should provide a “wall of separation” such that you as Connecticut Baptists don’t need to worry about excessive intrusion into your religious practice. These recently fixed national principles should eventually work themselves out at the local level as well.

But Democracy is what Jefferson says he reveres almost religiously. This is the higher principle he claims. The wall of separation phrase which he inserts I prefer to read as practical. Such an actual wall even now in existence, built by the people when they passed the First Amendment, should prevent regular traffic in either direction. At best it seems to me this wall of separation may be a practical criterion: If regular traffic is occurring here, this indicates that the wall is not fulfilling its practical purpose. Thus I cannot quite read the phrase as enunciating any new meaning as to how the two sides, religion, government, should be distinguished or related. It is not an explanatory principle nor intended as such. Their somewhat confusing request must give Jefferson some reason to ask whether he and these Baptists are on exactly the same page with respect to political suppositions or ideas. This is not the time for a civics lecture, nor might any such a lecture be condensed into a three word phrase. The wall metaphor is meant to reassure, I would say, and to provide an ongoing practical criterion for the future. If you observe regular traffic here, something is wrong.

Because in 1791, some 250 years after the Reformation, Christians could not agree on any one version of Christianity, and because another 250 years later, in 2016, they still do not agree, and because there is little prospect for Christian consensus being achieved within another 250 years, the Deist compromise with its official reverence for and/or official governmental acknowledgement of a very minimal Theistic content, with its advocacy of free exercise for all (well-behaved) religions, and with, of course, its basic policy of strict non-establishment, this remains the most sensible American modus operandi.

PK October, 2016


General blogging about the Fourteenth Amendment and related topics: (Feb15, 2016)

Three additions, amendments, were made to the US Constitution after the Civil War by the congress then in session. The 13th abolished slavery in the country, the 15th declares that opportunity to vote cannot be withheld from any of the slaves now become citizens, and the 14th describes a singular national citizenship to go along with continued citizenships which Americans would still have within their individual states. The 14th then goes on to attempt to protect the privileges of this large collection of national-citizens from any encroachments that might be made by the states. I myself would describe the 14th Amendment as protective and remedial in its primary objectives.

It is true that the 14th also has ideal (or substantive if you wish...) content. It defines explicitly a national citizenship which is given a certain (general ?) preference over state citizenship. Each American is described as having two citizenships with the national citizenship being at least literally, the larger. And certainly, because the original founding of the Republic included within its language the terrible compromise with slavery as institution, the Fourteenth corrects that original mistake and so describes the uncorrupt and democratic ideal of one equal citizenship status for all. The Fourteenth Amendment itself does thus fix the original constitution because the original constitution of the United States had allowed for the existence of the inequality of slavery as institution. But the Fourteenth itself does not seem to attempt in any manner to add to nor to redefine the already existing (if previously compromised) ideal, the normal privileges or rights possessed by (national) citizens. These have been already legally defined in the earliest amendments to the constitution, etc.

But beyond clearly specifying a single category of national citizenship for all, what does the 14th do as law?

The societies and economies of the Confederate states were in disruption, chaos, confusion. Slaveowners lose their properties, slaves are free to travel where they wish, to do what they wish, to find jobs where possible... State governments were not ultimately re-established till they had agreed to accept and abide by the newly passed Fourteenth Amendment.

Loosely speaking, the Fourteenth does quite obviously give a paternalistic, supervisory role to the Federal government vis a vi State governments. But let's look more carefully at the three clauses, beginning with the first:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. (1)No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;

That is, this amendment first describes a national citizenship and then in a first clause, the states are explicitly precluded from making any laws which might infringe upon this (general) and national citizenship. Clauses two and three are the controversial ones-which in the legal opinion of the last fifty years have become a sort of super- or mini-Constitution embedded within the larger constitution:

(2) nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;

(3) nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

That the entity commanded or addressed here are individual States, this is obvious. The American constitution somewhat analogously had previously declared certain self-limiting requirements upon the Federal Government itself:

(The Federal) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; etc, etc.

But here it is the states which must not make any law abridging the (general) privileges of national citizens... But then more is included; the due process clause, the equal protection clause. Why these two clauses?

My contention is that these two clauses have been quite seriously misunderstood. The question is not how judges might like to use them. I admit that the Fourteenth does in a way complete or fix a serious fault within the original American Constitution. But I insist here that these two clauses need to be noted as having a primary meaning which is in fact practical, prohibitive. If a state unfairly deprives... or if a state does not protect according to existing state laws... then the Federal government is hereby authorized to take action against this state for such serious violation of fundamental or basic justice towards that one who is not just state citizen but also national citizen. I paraphrase here in my own words but I expect that most legal and historical scholars would agree with my loose summary. In effect, these two clauses are more of a threat or a prohibition than being the delineation of an ideal-delineation, that is, of what equality or citizenship actually might mean...

The Fourteenth Amendment text also ends with a practical/administrative specification:

The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

After in this manner authorizing itself to make further special ad hoc (temporary) laws to bring about the objectives of the amendment, the US congress did just that; it passed reconstruction laws which gave some financial assistance to the freedmen and freed women, it encouraged registration and initial voting by blacks, it effectively prosecuted the terror and murders perpetrated by persons of the KuKluxKlan who were intent on preventing social change which they did not favor. But my emphasis here is that these two clauses should be read as having a primary practical-judicial meaning. that is, states failing or willfully refusing to provide to individuals due process (with emphasis on process within the state judicial apparatus), and failing, willfully or not to give the protection of law, that is, willfully (withholding the protection) of state law to those who may recently have been criminally victimized, threatened, killed. Due process means unhindered process in obtaining relief... while equal protection, this phrase actually should first bring to mind the meaning of a state making efforts towards rectifying, investigating, prosecuting, bringing to justice the perpetrator for the sake of any victim of serious crime, not just favored victims. Protection for all, not equality in the abstract.

I claim the clauses are essentially or primarily protective and remedial. If any states do evidence gross bias and gross injustice within the operations of their legal/judicial systems, then the US congress may institute exceptional (temporary) methods to fix this problem within that particular state.

No doubt such interference by Congress and the federal executive would be messy, unusual, controversial, temporary, paternalistic, but this is (it seems to me) still a primary meaning of the amendment today. And obviously such heavy-handed activity must be provoked by serious and significant injustice.

The strictly legal-textual analysis of whether any particular state law does fundamental injustice to a certain group of its citizens, this is covered in the first clause. The Supreme Court certainly can order the removal of such maliciously-unequal state laws from a state law code. But this is easy. The man on the street should be able to decide whether a particular law is biased in such a manner. The messy problem, the substantial powers of the amendment I might say, comes with the second and third clauses.

In my opinion then, the primary purpose of the Fourteenth is to prevent and prohibit major aberrations, major injustice within the state judicial systems; it is not intended to be a statement of idealized equality by use of which any laws, state or federal, can be tested for their equality quotient. But I must also admit up front that it is fairly easy to read the Fourteenth is this way, to read it in the abstract, to read it primarily as statement of ideal principle.

American patriotism and identity is also bound with our emphasis on written law, our constitutionalism. But this special quality, this emphasis on law as written, can also become a fault–and stupidity perhaps–if it causes us to deny the reality of convention, if it causes us to deny that culture is actually more conventional than legal. Let me explain.

No society exists without convention. Written law we might say structures and supports convention and/or social culture, but written law but does not create culture or convention. People rather create these immediately. Convention and culture always include many more things, many details and items not described, stated explicitly in the written law code for that society.

The problem confronting the Radical Republicans who wrote the Fourteenth Amendment was a law-and-convention issue, not just a law-as-idea issue. Slave-culture must go away and be replaced by different cultures, different social conventions. This cannot happen within a week, even a month. Nor can it be done by the Feds from (in effect) "outside." Nor-and here comes a problem-can it be done by law. Law can provide a framework in which a more equal society has opportunity to grow, but law of itself cannot create that local culture, those local conventions.

Reconstruction is a poor choice in words because it suggests that all that is needed in the former Confederate states is taking the bricks from the rubble and putting the building back together. Buildings are easy to construct while cultures are not.

At this point in the discussion I would like to suggest that the word prejudice may be an appropriate and healthy and normal word when we are talking about cultures. I am biased in favor of the culture in which I was brought up in, that culture which is most familiar to me. This is normal and healthy. I can also learn and adapt and personally include aspects of other cultures, etc... So far this is loose talk. But the difficult intellectual point for Americans comes next: people often wish to control culture by way of law. And perhaps this desire is somewhat natural also. But more importantly, if culture/convention is recognized for what it is, then it should be recognized also that there are quite strict limits as to how far law can be employed in this–as an effective means towards controlling/creating culture.

Other societies may honor social convention to the point of denigrating explicitly written law. But whether as a result of too much Roman, Jewish, or Protestant input, Americans tend to denigrate the reality and the necessity of social convention in contradistinction to written law. (The citizens of ancient Greece would never have fallen into such a dichotomy-understanding that law as such within a community is always both written and conventional.)

It does seem to me that the framers of this amendment understood things clearly and fairly and that they did get their wording correct. That is, they did not expect to nor attempt to legislate culture/convention, as if to require states to have a specific culture/convention (–or even to have super-equal laws). They specifically wanted to prevent the use of (southern) state judicial systems, state law being used again again in those southern states to help to support or re-establish a disallowed racially-unequal culture. They crafted the law (on my interpretation) to prevent powerful groups from systematic use of local law to assist in re-imposing culture. But using law agains law is a dicey maneuver. If the Radical Republicans did get the wording correct and if the earliest decade of federally imposed/assisted reconstruction (such as the KKK Act) was OK, later interpreters of this law have not done so well. It is a sad and sorry observation to make, but in its later history, this law itself has been used to attempt to do the very thing which it had hoped to prohibit, to prohibit powerful social groups from using law to impose culture. (And this, I would insist, because of a failure to admit the simple distinctions about culture/convention which I have just made.)

In his book "The Fourteenth Amendment and the States" C.W. Collins (writing in 1912) describes in detail the law cases which had come up in the previous forty-some years. He notices that very few were about race and very few involved the southern states. Rather, most appeals to the Fourteenth Amendment seem to have been made to support what I myself will call the new American Market religion. Many of these were business-type cases asking the court to declare that a certain law was unfair. As quick example from page 91 I note the following case: a Denver citizen disagreed with the city's tax assessment and was not given a hearing. The US Supreme Court agreed with him: his due process rights under the 14th had been violated, Justices Fuller and Holmes dissenting.

I may be missing something here. I am not a lawyer but I can at least read for myself the texts of the Fourteenth Amendment. Is this what the amendment is for–to authorize the high court to review and correct even (relatively minor) errors in the operation of all of the low courts?

In one of Mr. Collins' chapter summaries:

For practical purposes this principle of intervention may be stated in the following words: No State can make or enforce any laws which shall upon proper proceedings be deemed unreasonable by a majority of the Supreme Court of the United States. This involves the interpretation in each case of the terms "due process of law" and "equal protection of the laws." The rule of reason alone governs. What are fair profits, what are excessive taxes, what are proper health laws, what is confiscation and what discrimination, -these are questions which cannot be answered in the abstract nor can they be adequately defined by precedents. If it becomes incumbent on the Supreme Court of the United States to pass judgment on them it must consider the reasonableness of each concrete case.

In my own words, Mr. Collins complains because in 1912 the justices were assuming that the Fourteenth gives them direct authority to decide commercial/business questions (!) using only their own notions of reasonableness: After cogitating on the subject for awhile the justices are able to say... The Fourteenth allows states to regulate business in this manner but not that.

I have blogged previously to the effect that the Commerce Clause does give the Federal Government authority to maintain/regulate one national economy. States separately are not allowed to set up local economies by imposing state tariffs at their borders. And quite a few persons today might wish to suggest that the Fourteenth and its description of national citizenship gives the Federal entity (in effect at least)-authority to describe/regulate a singular culture, one national culture.

And of course this is true in part. To describe in words what the privileges of national citizenship is, this is to describe certain important American cultural values, to actually describe a minimal and very important culture. But at this point I would wish to insist that this generalized image of (American) culture is somewhat unusual, even unnatural, un-sustainable. Culture is ordinarily and organically local I would say. True, today we tend to have only one national culture rather than significant regional or local cultures. But even while I am a Northerner, I have come more and more to see that a state as culture-entity is necessary, desirable, not optional within our arrangements. Just as failure to recognize the reality of convention in distinction to written law is essential, so the possible role of state law as describing the contours of a more local culture in distinction to the one national culture–this is also necessary.

And the Fourteenth maintains this possibility by recognizing that Americans, thought obtaining some of their identity by identification with the larger national citizenship, remain citizens individually of states, actively civic in these numerous local societies. If, as I believe, law codes do give minimal definition to a corresponding society, then the mere existence of fifty state governments and fifty state codes does give minimal definition to fifty different cultures. The potential that fifty flowers could bloom, this must be allowed.

An individual state then potentially may achieve a superior/better notion of liberty than that minimum which is delineated in the privileges of national citizenship, and such a state may implement some dimensions of that unique culture, that liberty, within its state laws. The only stipulation being that this state must not operate a system fundamentally unfair, fundamentally contrary to national citizenship norms, fundamentally inferior in its justice given to local citizens-(not in its absolute equality given to them).

States' Diversity might be the phrase for such a desirable situation; But how many Americans consider local cultures to be important enough… Most seem to want only one thing: to control the national culture entire by either adjusting, fixing, or using national law. Appealing to the Constitution of the United States in support of their injured ideas.. And economic conservatives as well as social liberals have in fact been very successful at using the 14th amendment to the US Constitution (with the active collusion of the Supreme Court) in exactly this manner.

But if the prohibitive and thus limited aims of the Fourteenth are recognized, admitted, then the supremes will recuse themselves from considering any but very serious systematic threats to national citizenship prerogatives. They do in point of fact control the (minimal) definition of a national citizenship and have the right to determine egregious state encroachments upon that general definition, but at the same time if they do not recognize the limits here, they themselves easily become guilty of imposing their preferred version of culture upon the states! Such activity, using the laws and legal system to favor any prevalent culture, this specifically is what the amendment gives Congress (and Supreme Court indirectly) authority to monitor as being undesirable.

Mr. Curtiss' suggestion in 1912 is that the Supreme Court justices be required to unanimously agree on Fourteenth Amendment challenges. And perhaps his suggestion would have been helpful if enacted, but as many may know, the last fifty years have created volume after volume of collected legal cases, a mass of judicial activity all purportedly required by and based upon rigorous analysis of those two clauses: due process jurisprudence, and equal protection jurisprudence. This accumulation itself is now become a large (bad) judicial culture/convention which like any culture will tend to resist change even as it begs reformation-by return to an original and better interpretation.

I have attempted to explain why I believe the third clause of the fourteenth has been significantly misinterpreted. Simplistically stated, the primary emphasis in the phrase needs to return the word protection, as in the practical workings of a state judicial system. Recent judicial analysis prefers to engage in somewhat abstract meditations on what equality itself as idea must mean. Does any particular law disadvantage any particular group? What state objectives are being served in the law, etc?

But after all of the discussion above, can you read the phrase "equal protection" differently?


Blogging about the Tamir Rice case

(12/2015) My immediate judgement upon seeing the gazebo in the park video remains as substantially the same judgement now, today, and subsequent to some recent internet research and deep thought over the last few days, that judgement originally being that the officers ought to be fired–although they are not (quite) liable for any sort of (felony) crime. Apologies to persons immediately involved in this case (including the officers Loehmann and Garmback) if my discussion sometimes is flippant, but I want to offer my own version-my own scenario as to what actually happened and in a manner that I hope will be both interesting and appealing. And then I hope that readers will stay around for the less interesting but more important discussion which follows…What to do.

I note first that simply explaining and then justifying to myself my own ideas and opinion here has become a difficult exercise–much like removing layers from an onion. I feel I must first play the Hindu and cut through layers of illusion and false belief which have built up around this issue (of excess police force) before being able to identify the genuine topic. Race, for example, seems to me a seriously harmful diversion from the appropriate topic, though of course blacks are in fact disproportionately harmed by Police excess. And open carry, which I find to be an important, necessary and descriptive phrase, is avoided as phrase and topic not only by the media but by everyone. But surely if open carry is actually the legal reality in Ohio as legal context, then who are you or I to have our feelings offended by seeing a video of a large twelve-year-old (in another state) playing openly with his gun. It must be the job of the local residents to implement a gun-in-public etiquette which corresponds with their local (legal) realities–not according to our vague feelings at a distance.

Brandishing would mean moving a gun so as to intentionally intimidate, show off towards others, intentionally threaten. Tamir feels proud of his realistic looking toy, but he is playing by himself, not publicly;-not brandishing nor showing it off to others. He does occasionally aim off in the distance as if pointing at something but this is not brandishing. Were he in the middle of downtown or in a large used car lot it would be more difficult to claim that he is aiming disinterestedly. But this is a small natural park. When someone does once walk past, Tamir seems to point directly at the ground or put his gun away. He recognizes some sort of public gun-etiquette perhaps.

Unlike NY or California, there is no Ohio law against replica guns. There is actually no law against open cary of real guns for owners of real guns, and Tamir probably knows this fact, though like most other citizens in Cleveland and elsewhere he has very limited apprehensions of further legal or practical implications which might follow from the open carry legal situation. (Openly carrying in open holster (or in hand even I assume) is not a crime in Ohio as long as this is your gun and you can produce a title which proves ownership).

And is Tamir not at the right place for play, even though his private game may be suspect or a poor choice as game. This is an empty park adjacent to a community center where anyone can come for the volleyball, public swimming. It looks like he wastes twenty minutes or more here, walking around, sitting down as if to nap for a few minutes. At one point he flicks a piece of snow onto the sidewalk, goes over and looks down at the snow, then puts his foot on the small clump of snow. He is wasting time but this is what parks are for, and with consideration the city/county has provided seating for people who wish to waste some time: picnic benches and a gazebo type structure over the tables.

Some will say that children should never play with guns, but I would say that some children must play imaginatively with guns else society will never have capable soldiers or law officers. (Perhaps all young children should be required to play with guns just the once–to assist each one in deciding for themselves whether they might ever want to become a soldier or an officer!) An adult playing imaginatively with a gun might well be cause for alarm, or a child playing with a real gun because this child will lack an adult sense of responsibility. (But when police occasionally employ excessive force and then engage in full-scale defensive stonewall in order to avoid admitting minor fault, is this not playing with guns also, using guns and then not accepting full responsibility for results?)

If the man seen initially sitting at the gazebo, or the two or three people walking off in the distance see Tamir’s gun and are bothered, well, as long as it is not pointed at someone, their worries I would describe as excessive. Many might feel that a gun being waved around in any city park is especially bad, objectionable. I agree of course if there are other people present. Moving a gun around threatens such nearby people (with emphasis on nearby) because the toy gun or real gun is being brandished. But both gun haters and gun lovers should be able to enjoy parks as well as enjoy some degree of solitude that may be available there. Bringing a gun into a courtroom, a church, a private business, school precincts–these are already given special treatment in the law codes. This is regarded as intimidation of courtroom proceedings, sacrilege, trespass on private property, disruption of the educational environment for young children, etc.

I am assuming there is no specific prohibition of guns for Cleveland city parks, though many in the city or on the city council might wish to add such law/rule now that the possibility has been mentioned. But I am not in favor of adding parks as another category to the existing list given above simply because there are too many kinds of parks and too many sorts of communities. Communities need to be free to self-define, but not by making such kinds of laws. Such a gun-in-the-park law would become, it seems to me, symbolic and circular in function, rather than effective as law; a pawn move merely in the culture-and-convention battle between gun lovers and gun haters.

It may be that in Cleveland such a city or county ordinance would be effectively over-ruled by state open carry norms. Perhaps open carry norms themselves have not been adequately specified in law. Perhaps attempts by a state legislature to regulate guns will be over-ruled by the Second Amendment. But then the correct step to take is to ask for change to the US Constitution, and to specify exactly what sort of change. Or to coordinate local law-making with the state. A complete removal for example of any constitutional Federal norm (i.e., removing the second amendment rather than modifying it) might then allow states to individually and variously regulate as they so choose. So discussion here easily becomes somewhat technical and legal. Talking about careful if appropriate legal change in democratic discussion is very difficult to do. Even the written media seldom make the attempt to responsibly discuss specific law. Much easier (and more enjoyable to most perhaps) is to use moralistic or confused/bombastic rhetoric: the problem is guns, police in general, racism…And then the real problem which I believe to be legal, is hidden, denied, insoluble. Since I believe that the significant issues here are legal, people must begin to dare to talk about specific and actual laws, else there obviously can be no progress possible with legal problems…

But to return to the facts; Someone calls in to say that a person is displaying a gun, though this may be actually a juvenile and may be a toy gun. Who actually reports this we do not know. (Isn’t this concerned citizen a part of what has become a larger story?) But this report sets up an imaginatively created crisis which the police are only too ready to act upon, even (I will claim) to use as pretext. If the populace is confused about gun law, one side overly sensitive, another heavy on pro gun rhetoric, another side ready to blame any and all use of force by law enforcers, then the police also will be operating within this social confusion, this hypocrisy. And if they, the police, take advantage of this social hypocrisy to their own advantage this should not surprise anyone.

When a possible threat is reported, police in this and most cases like it will go into emergency investigative mode, which means that police feel that they can use force to investigate the reported threat, to commander citizens who may be suspects; to attack the problem aggressively even while investigating, checking. And in a real crisis we wish of course for such quick response and investigation, but not without circumspection.

In this case of Tamir at the Cudell Recreation Center park there is no actual danger. It is a toy gun which must be harmless; no brandishing, i.e., no specific threatening behaviors vis-a-vi other persons have been or will be identified in this instance by other citizens or by the police themselves as they arrive. But the police are in motion and empowered to use force (investigatively at least) in a possibly dire situation.

I make my guess from looking at the fuzzy images that Tamir, sitting at the picnic table, may notice the police car way in the distance, may put his gun away and then start walking in the other direction as if to avoid problematic confrontation. (We are claiming he has done nothing wrong and does not feel guilty about anything, nor should he.) Then he would quickly decide not to run away but courageously to confront the difficulties approaching. He may guess or have suspicions as to why the police are fast approaching but technically and actually he has nothing to hide. Owning a gun in Ohio and having it visible even in a city park is not illegal, much less owning or displaying a replica gun. And there is no person in the vicinity being disturbed or threatened.

If the police officers themselves from quite a distance visually detect the gun on the table or before it is put away, their better option is not to try to get the jump on this suspect because he, the suspect is would seem has already seen them. They should stay on the sidewalk/road and position the car between this suspect and the center. Then separately perhaps, not next to each other, both approach the solitary suspect in the gazebo. Rather, they decide to mount an assault on the gazebo. They drive onto the grass and snow with such speed that they come within a few feet of Tamnir who is walking forward to meet them… and intending to convey (we will say) that he has nothing to hide. If (as police are trained to give) there were commands given from within the speeding car to this suspect to show his hands or put hands up, well, such directives seem to me to be overly aggressive. The officers have not personally “accosted” the suspect. They are approaching at speed, attacking with their vehicle. They are using force to investigate. But any suspect must be given time to respond after being personally accosted and commanded. I must give my preferences to the six-sided gazebo.

Tamar is slowly exiting the gazebo and the picnic tables, but his presumption must still be that this is a park. Upstanding citizens presume that they will not be assaulted aggressively in a park. At a busy intersection or bus stop with others standing around, OK. But not alone in a gazebo in a park with absolutely no-one else in the immediate vicinity.

Tamir’s parents had both been beneficiary/arrestee of law enforcement by police officers. Domestic violence type situations must be very difficult, dangerous, and trying for police officers. But here no crime nor specific threat against a person has been substantiated. Officers are investigating a possible danger to people. They see a gun perhaps but certainly see no one else nearby who would be threatened by suspect’s gun. And they must know this is a community center, which to me means that they should be more and not less circumspect, more careful and methodical in their investigation. They should be careful here to promote community-civic interaction (if possible) rather than disrupting it. They are reckless. Instead they evidence worse etiquette than Tamir and will drive onto the grass at accelerated speed and then slide to an abrupt and forced stop on the grass and the snow, in effect sliding beyond the gazebo.

Ohio seems to have a negligent homicide law in which negligence means that perpetrator was initially committing a misdemeanor and then inadvertently causes the death. Were officers here not committing a traffic misdemeanor of some kind? But of course the argument goes around in a circle. They were doing their job, investigating, in performance of which they are allowed, expected to be able to employ force, to use their car to approach quickly. They are presumably allowed, justified in attacking a possible breach of public peace and security with use of this police automobile.

All students (seriously this time…) probably should be taught and practiced in the routine of responding to commands of police officers to put their hands up, get down on the ground, keep you hand out… If such quick compliance is important, as it is to our police officers, then the public at large shouldn’t be bothered by the inconvenience of learning such a simple convention. That concealed weapons are what police are most troubled by is obvious by way in most states have laws requiring permits for concealed carry of weapons.

But it is mostly in the hands… Tamir cannot be drawing his gun in order to shoot because he himself knows he has no real ammunition. Does he not know that drawing in this particular circumstance, in the presence of fast-advancing officials is very dangerous to say the least? If he has decided to bravely or even somewhat aggressively face the fast approaching official investigation, does he not have a right, as I believe he does, of presuming that some degree of sanctity or respect will (should) be shown for his own position; in a gazebo in a public park and not recently having been the cause of any immediate disturbances?

I prefer to think that he was still daydreaming, still in reverie whether it was creative reverie or not. And if so, then he drew as we all would like to draw a gun if we have a real one–reflexively and with natural ease, probably without deliberate decision. To protect himself from aggressive advance. But if still in creative reverie as I might like to imagine or believe, then Tamir might have become a writer or actor rather than someone who uses a gun as part of their job. In any case and in final effect, he falls into the officer’s hands. They know very well the rules about hands and partially concealed objects which look like guns…

And so my first point will be about state laws, about lack of sophistication in state laws. All states recognize that police cannot be held to the same standard of judgement when evaluating use of force against other citizens. Their job involves and requires a differently justified force. So why is it expected that their excesses, if or when they do on occasion occur, can be brought within the normal standards of judgement used for the general population. Since police use of force is a special type of thing, state laws must exist which are specifically for police, laws defining gross enforcement negligence and perhaps a more serious enforcement recklessness/willfulness. I am not suggesting lines here but I am asking why states believe that they do not need to specify a few such special lines for persons who employ force in their job and on behalf of the state. Americans may not like the word sophistication, but this would be a needed sophistication which fundamentally already exists in the state code. Police are already treated differently and should be.

My second suggestion is quite a bit more difficult to appropriately implement and frankly, not likely to come to pass. But it seems to me that the basic public complaint around similar events has to do with policing the police, and not in extreme and glaring examples but on a regular basis. Tamir’s situation or case would fall under this more regular and ordinary category. He is not victim of racism or malicious machoism, but “victim” of a certain degree, I myself would say, of police negligence and carelessness–if not recklessness. But if this is so in fact, who officially makes such a judicial determination and what sorts of penalty short of criminal penalty are appropriate.

I believe that there should be a judicially supervised structure independent of the police department which would review such events and “suggest” remedy. Soldiers know that they cannot shoot indiscriminately even within the extreme crisis of war. If they carelessly and willfully shoot non-combatants they can face serious penalty in a special military court according to special military rules. Why is an official advisory court for review of miscellaneous uses of force by police officers, why is this not feasible, necessary.

A large hospital ought to have a “quality control” board reviewing the quality of health care which is being given. If doctors, patients or parsimonious administrators are causing serious problem, such a board ought to have the skill and authority to bring about improvement: warn, fire, disbar a bad doctor, counsel patients directly, allow doctors a specific vote on specific costs… Such a hospital board has to be professional and independent, meaning that it may have to discipline in turn doctors, patients or accountants. It must not be captured by one of these partial interest groups.

So a local police-review court would have two citizen activists, two retired officers, a judge and a lawyer. The board or court evaluates minor and of course all major use-of-force incidents and they can make recommendations to the police department, to the community, to the city government, to the county attorney general. They can also publicly release some of the information about the police cases studied by them. And of course this system under the purview of the court system, should be afforded primary prestige/prerogative in such reviews. If they suggest a certain sort of occupational penalty for officers, the chief should not resist such attempts. But for a majority of the cases covered the recommendation would not suggest criminal inditement, but rather some sort of penalty, fine, reprimand, suggestion…

Setting up such entities within a state and having them operate professionally and as a benefit to the local community will be very difficult certainly, but the results could be exactly what people seem to demand: community and civil cooperation, community policing.

To clarify, this entity is local because policing and police problems are local, but it needs to be put in place by the state and under supervision of the state judicial system. And it somehow needs to be more than advisory…The Feds even now are "working with" the Cleveland Police Department to consider certain improvements, and we all wish them the best in such an enterprise, but this remains an extraneous solution. There ought to be a local system already in place...

My personal contention (though quite likely not exactly on the mark…) has been that medical malpractice would not have become such a major problem had the AMA been more assiduous in getting rid of their own bad apples, bad doctors. If there had been adequate self-policing the litigation balloon would not have been able to take off. Trying to reduce the incidence of medical malpractice by way of outrageous payouts through the court system–this is not a good system. A reliable method of professional self-policing is much preferable…

Americans may be leery of boards with power, even citizen boards given adjudication authority. But someone has to judge locally and then take responsibility for doing so. What we have here is an avoidance of local judicial responsibility.

Instead, as we see today from recent local news "coverage," in most problematic cases of use-of-force killings the police themselves (and the city) go into defensive paralysis mode, waiting for civil or federal court cases to clear after a couple of years. The public and the media hype up the need for felony grand jury indictment, as if such would really solve anything, change anything significantly… There may be an ad hoc committee appointed by the mayor. But this is not a healthy system for dealing with the regular and necessary review of what (hopefully) is a relatively small number of use-of-deadly-force cases. A judicial board as I have imagined would be much better, but it would need to be given priority. It would request all the information, would expeditiously and professionally review, suggest the city offer so much in compensation, suggest the officers be penalized like so, suggest the police department do such, suggest the community fix such… Then if people are still not satisfied, they can additionally try the civil or federal litigation routes.


I pledge allegiance to the constitution of the United States of America, and to the Republic created thereby...


A new version of the school exercise anthem; Ganzhou, PRC:(mp3) [2015/6]


Blogging about the AIG lawsuit…(Oct. 2014)

Presumably because IF the US sharply restricted the use of credit default derivatives other nations, London, HK?, would take over the profits from this same business–so there is practical reason not to seriously call into question these financial instruments, these financial contracts which are most explicitly insurance for bondholders…
But my problems with Credit Default Swaps are theoretical and philosophical, not merely practical. Derivatives contracts are the very reason why AIG was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2008. Their own lawyers wrote these contracts, and then when the company credit rating was downgraded, their own contracts required that they must have further collateral funds on hand. This is a huge company… and this is before there was any need for the company to actually pay out on the credit insurance that they had sold. If the government had allowed the crisis to proceed and if AIG had stayed on its own feet a while longer (with cash from China, etc.) then AIG would have blown up twenty times over once the first few of these many CDS contracts came up for payout after the bankruptcy of various other companies had taken place… The culprit, certainly for AIG, was their foray into credit insurance, CDS contracts. The rest of their insurance business may have been quite reputable, profitable, safe.
But surrounding this lawsuit there is no discussion at all of whether or not there may be theoretical issue taken with the CDS as financial contract! The ex-AIG director (and his investment fund..) are suing the government and claiming major damages because this major insurance company was treated as lackey and as conduit for monies… Perhaps AIG did have a life-threatening liquidity crisis, yes, but it was the major banks, the investment banks, the mortgage companies, who were in dire need of longer-term as well as emergency intervention. Unfair.
On the CDS topic, I expect as well that Bernanke, Paulson and Geithner will find little theoretical issue to be taken with credit insurance, but this to me evidences a lack of legal-philosophical grasp on each of their parts… Obviously, and first of all, other sorts of insurance in the United States have been quite closely regulated right up through to the present. Companies selling insurance must maintain a pool of money, and persons who do not have a direct interest cannot buy insurance… else I could go around and speculate–by buying insurance on old buildings which I think and hope might soon burn down, or collapse in the next storm. But apparently financiers are above such mundane and simplistic guidelines. CDS contracts had/have (even after Dodd-Frank, I take it...) no such regulations for seller or buyer.
But the more significant complaint which I present is that this type of insurance imposes a new and additional and unnecessary layer of sophistication on the US system of commercial contract, and it seems to me, quite simply put, that this layer has not been legislated. I question whether (without explicit new law–) such contracts are appropriate; valid. That is, it seems fairly clear to me that to accept insurance on bond lending as normative and legally enforceable contract, changes the economic game in a quite significant and fundamental manner. (This is a claim about economic theory, a philosophical sort of claim...)
I of course broadly assume also (since this is democratic-style thinking…) that it is by somewhat explicit social consent that commercial contract has whatever legal validity and force that it may actually enjoy. There are laws, yes, but these laws are not just rules which must be obeyed as such, but they are in existence as US laws quite explicitly because the people at large approve of their existence as system. Ordinary laws of purchase, rent, bonds, stock are publicly accepted and have been functioning as such in the United States for many decades. But insurance on bond default is a contractual concoction which was not in existence until 1995… Thus I take it as open question whether we (we the people) wish to add this to commercial law–or not. That a majority of economists, in or out of government, cannot (or else wish not.. to) see this as something which may be questioned (at least theoretically) is in my opinion, foolish. As I say, these sorts of contract are quite recent, and unless one is a quite-simple-minded pragmatist, they are also a different sort of commercial law. The operative phrase here would be “managing risk”–contractually.
Perhaps by default this question has already been decided in favor of credit derivatives: Of course (many will say) financial risk can be managed by free and arbitrary choice of the private parties involved in such economic interaction; Of course we can’t let others nations beat us out in the finance game… But if this is so, then it seems to me, philosophically and economically speaking, that an added degree of control has been acceded to the financiers, to those who manage money. The society is now and into the future, locked-in to an acceptance of this legal-economic sophistication, and this in effect by default, by the public’s not questioning at this point in history whether or not to regulate, and how…
AIG–they were only trying to get in on some of the gains to be made, as were all of the U.S citizens who bought that second house or that larger house than they could reasonably afford. If the financiers can speculate and yet get thrown their lifeline just in time, why can’t AIG or the individual home owner hope to profit from the economic euphoria as well? Shouldn’t socialism benefit everyone–not just the capitalists at the top.
Mr. Greenberg winning such a bizarre lawsuit would, in my opinion, demonstrate nothing legally, nor prove anything significant except, perhaps, that the American public (though augmented yearly with large numbers of new business graduates..) is still incapable of thinking more than superficially about their own economy; about what it can possibly be, what it should be, about what kinds of laws and regulations are needed to make it that way. That this lawsuit has gone so far can be taken as proof itself that inadequate legal and economic-theoretical competence is widespread.
AIG believes that CDS contracts are not its problem; the government, in crisis mode, finds these contracts to be fully valid and enforceable, and buys out the AIG contracts at 100% as means of giving other major (and even foreign) economic players short term liquidity; and of course the large financial institutions will continue to make use of any or all similar sorts of contract, by transaction of each of which they may earn a small fee.
One American political party sees no wrongdoing as possible on the part of enterprising agents, while the other does not have the courage to implement a better analysis. If only the American public might wake up and find a third political party which could explain in clear and simple terms what needs to be done…

Education:

If the five-year modern BAS (or else, BSA) degree ever became common, the usual four-year BA or BS degree would seem streamlined and less comprehensive... Discuss.

About the Dragon Boat Festival (PRC)

Qu Yuan (屈原) who lived in the Chu District (楚) around 300 BCE,was for a while advisor to the king, but was victim of political intrigue. Returning to his home region he applied himself to writing and compiling poetry, including composition of a personalistic poem: "On Encountering Difficulty" (离骚)。 In personal distress over a lack of political and poetic appreciation he ended his life in the local river. Since those early times a yearly festival is kept to commemorate such bravery. From the villagers who threw clumped rice into the river to keep the fish away from his body has come the custom of eating zongzi. From the villagers who rushed out in their boats to try to save the poet has come the tradition of dragon-boat races. The crew of the boat which comes in first in the race will each benefit from a year of good fortune-perhaps more than a year if they also read some Qu Yuan poetry.


Perhaps the British plan is long term..
1. opium
2. Free Trade
3. Jesus


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Trends

The West becomes communist, the East Greek, the Russians complain, The Middle East waits to see how it will all turn out..


Third Party USA!

Is it now a good time for formation of a third American political party?-(Not that I myself wish to be directly implicated or involved might this happen in some way...) But if it were do-able, such a (progressive) party should define itself (in minimal terms at the least) by its strict rejection of two ideologies: laissez faire economics, and the modern narrow and knee-jerk conventions of liberalism... Freed of such ideologies, a progressive party could choose its separate principles and then pragmatically try to bring about the same. But how does this anti-ideology-stance work itself out...

Example One:

South Korea and Japan I presume (and with smaller land areas-) have already provisioned their people with high quality and economical internet access. But what sort of political approach to this same issue might we take in the USA? A progressive party would insist first of all, and most importantly, that this is exactly the kind of issue which is germane within a public and political discussion-if not also appropriate for ultimate political decision and legal implementation. A P. party would not necessarily itself take any position either way-beyond insisting that this is a vital and public and political issue. It may be the case that now is not a good time in the USA for the addition of sensible regulation affecting the way in which the US cable industry operates... because the technology may be changing.., etc, or else because the public interest here may not be so compelling... But a progressive politician would not allow ideologies to preclude appropriate discussion of this matter. And should the party's decision be that some "regulation" is a good and appropriate idea, then it will marshall its legal resources to support sensible legal regulation for public benefit.
Someone who chooses to go into the arena of chemical manufacturing must expect that there will be some legal regulation as to how dangerous chemicals are to be handled-for the sake of larger public benefit. And as well, someone who is an entrepreneur in the area of providing internet, TV infrastructure... may assume that there might at some point be regulation of this business-because it is at once similar to a utility-monopoly, and as well because "information" has some (if less direct) bearing on exercise of democratic citizenship. Neither economic ideology nor liberal-ideal-ideology ought to be allowed to effectively obfuscate such discussions. The progressive will be the only sane and principled participant in such conversations... the only sensible advocate...

Example Two:

To be appalled by the use of chemical weapons is hopefully not just a Western-liberal sentiment or value. But the question for the moment in regards to Syria would be whether or not this sentiment is appropriately also specifically political. Other Western-liberal nations find strong political rationale in this situation... for intervention. But isn't there available a more sane American democratic-progressive political mode of approach which would insist that though this value/sentiment is one which is included in our collection of core civilizational values, it is not at all necessarily one (by some sort of ideal logic) which we must enforce (as political/police power) within the larger world. For the American context then, the problem-causing-ideology in this second example is not economic but intellectual-ideal. There seems to exist only one set of (knee-jerk) ideals. Liberalism as ideology.
Loosely speaking, the alternative here must be a more thoroughgoing notion of what democratic must actually mean: local, not mere voting, states-rights..., non-uniformism, as well as non-ideological. In this Syria example, the offered ideal is so attentuated-so distant from the ordinary American citizen, that one wonders how it can be made to motivate... With myself as example of dem-prog political thinking I would like here to insist that this very distinction is necessary and important: Our revulsion at chemical warfare as this has occurred recently in Syria is not political as such. It is, though, an affront to our (non-political) sensibilities. Western governments may engage in propaganda short of military action...
I myself may not have formed an opinion for or against intervention. But my assessment might still be valid: chemical atrocity should best not be offered as an ultimate or primary reason for intervention-lest we position ourselves as crusaders of some archaic sort. This recent atrocity is another fact/element added to other facts within a complex situation. Other recent facts, for example, are the US failure to implement a successful fix for Iraq as evidenced by daily sectarian atrocities in that country; or the World Wars of the last century as facts as well, being wars which may have been largely fought fairly, but which destroyed millions of lives. I am not competent to evaluate except superficially such military-political matters as Syria.., but this does not mean that my desire to think independently of American two-party conventions might not have validity; I might be right to insist that falling into an ideological response/rationale to this Syrian example-is not a good idea. This is not to say that crusading is necessarily bad, but rather that if we are going to go on crusade we had best be very clear and self-aware as to what those all-important values would be. Ideologies are not worth fighting for. This is the point a progressive American politician might wish to make.
pkragt(Aug. 31, 2013)

News:US Supreme Court pulls its own DOMA.. Not so helpful... (6/26/2013)

RE the Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act

This civil rights act of 1965 strictly prohibits attempts to create voting laws so as to inhibit minority groups from actively or effectively voting. But the VRA also set up at that time an ongoing system of paternalistic supervision. The Federal Attorney General must pass off on any changes made to local voting laws within suspect areas-areas which had then very serious patterns of such bad lawmaking behavior...
And the Voting Rights Law has been effective in preventing preventing egregious attempts to use voting laws in order to keep minorities from voting. But after 40 plus years, this has also become long-term therapy. Should the patients, the six states still covered, whether they are completely cured of discrimination or whether not quite cured-should they be released from this special program? Along with the court majority I say yes, and further, if serious mis-behavior occurs in the near future then it will be up to Congress to write other statutes (and/or programs with teeth...) to treat those continuing cases of bad-lawriting at the local level.
But Justice Ginsberg in dissent finds no time frame operative here. Since (apparently) there is discrimination still in the hearts of certain (Southern) individuals of prejudice, it is appropriate to keep the therapy going and for as long as it takes. In the recent renewal of the act and its supervisory system Congress states that second generation discrimination, such as re-drawing of election boundaries to disadvantage minorities, is still a pressing issue. Gains have been made against bad practices but these gains are not yet complete, and regression must not be allowed. Thus the supervisory program should continue for 25 more years much as it was originally set up by Congress back in 1965.
But while the recent Congress may be avoiding hard work or even scapegoating... it seems to me that what Justice Ginsberg is doing in her judicial dissent may be fighting an un-winnable /impossible battle; that is, wishing to eradicate prejudice (voting discrimination as mere motive...) solely via law. Many many psychologists bussed in to these problem areas might have some succes but I really can't see that a statutory program such as this will finally eradicate; get at the root.
It may be that we just haven't gone quite deep enough. At the justice says in her dissent: "...the VRA is grounded in Congress’ recognition of the “variety and persistence” of measures designed to impair minority voting rights..." When you make laws to stop certain things-well, people (of a bad disposition) just try and find other means or methods.
But it seems to me that some things also are just not amenable to judicial fix, to legal fix. I am not here wishing to minimize what may be a serious and continuing problem. But it seems to me that while discrimination as action might be subject to law, discrimination as attitude is not. To fail to recognize this sort of a distinction can as well (theoretically) cause serious problems...
pk 6/2013

Thoughts about NSA and beyond: (6/2013)

The solution to Islamic-World problems for the USA is as it was before the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) was created- reciprocal understanding between large portions of their respective populations, that is, religious understanding. Other European countries may not actually have such an option. They may not be able to say: A large proportion of our people are religious (and not extremist) and we respect you-and your religious belief and practice as well (-if it is moderate and not extremist). Unfortunately, the United States itself seems to be shrinking at its own (religiously) moderate middle while growing at the liberal and fundamentalist extremes.

Hypothetically, siphoning off a small portion of the DHS budget into a Get-out-of-the-homeland-and-meet-other-religious-people-Department could have significant long term benefits! Such a department would fund (at some detriment to the CO2 burden...) a program to regularly fly US clergy persons to meet their counterparts in the Islamic world, and visa-versa. These would meet, hug, and have coffee, tea, snacks, etc. They (over there) would see that we do not wish to put down their religion, while we might recognize that Christianity is a prophetic religion just as Islam claims to be. Next we might tell them about our own Western wars of religion and/or the Western failure to find a single solution to the government-and-religion issue. We both return with more understanding (of a religious kind).

The NSA approach by comparison is relatively superficial and indirect: collect many, many little bits of information and hope to identify patterns which might indicate incipient, potential problems; dangerous/problematic persons of interest. While the proposed religious-exchange program might run into constitutional problems because of its religious basis-NSA data-mining also, it seems, crosses legal lines-if it becomes a warrantless search for information.

Duly authorized aircraft may take pictures when flying overhead, but with internet communications the convention and presumption has been that these communications are not available to public/general view. Even if a benevolent government (such as our own) wishes to collect information directly from the communication networks they are first legally required to specify what they are trying to find and why-rather than mining indiscriminately. Even as technology makes such mining much easier or cheaper a clear legal-philosophical distinction/line remains.

It is not just that mining as method seems excessive-but that collection itself is only half of this equation. It takes intelligence, human intelligence ultimately-to see pattern as well as to evaluate which patterns might be significant. Hopefully the NSA has employed many capable persons who are able to sift raw data and find genuine security issues. But even if we allow and trust such an information gathering framework now, will there not be other pragmatic Americans of the near future with other ideas for what sorts of patterns might be culled from these data archives? Who, in other words, is going to be watching the analyzers? Should such an expensive NSA framework be only for security? What about science uses?

Gandhi says somewhere that religious people should get along with each other, but that they should also freely use the scriptures of other religions to call out other religious people for the hypocrisies which they see. That is, You claim these words as scripture but you are not following your own scripture. It seems to me that civil-war-like atrocities in the Middle East have become so common or so extreme that they cannot be justified any longer as being religiously motivated. These are strictly political. But on the home-front as well, the inability, for example, of American politicians or American media to talk sensibly (at all) about religion or about issues connected to religion must mean that discussion and politics remain merely secular (or else fundamentalist); The religion of most, of the majority, must actually have little genuine linkage with American life.

pk/Ganzhou, PRC

Concluding blog-and regarding DOMA before the Supreme Court.

I have been trying to provide as antidote to a common preoccupation with Equality the alternative notion of a Liberty which would be able to live with actual difference rather that seek or presume a national and social uniformity. And in the first Supreme Court case regarding Proposition 8, and somewhat irreverently, I might advise that the highest court ought to apply/incorporate the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal government itself as governmental entity. That Amendment was added in order to give the Federal entity oversight over the lawmaking of individual States, but the narrow and technical mode of approach it has regularized in Federal jurisprudence has itself, in my opinion, become presumptuous. It has not yet been decided whether fair or equal within the marriage context must mean dual gender or one gender... The Federal court rejection of populist but democratic activity on this issue by the people of California does seem to me to present a serious matter for adjudication. Lest the Feds be guilty of an ongoing hypocrisy, the court should limit this sort of usage of the Fourteenth Amendment.

DOMA as legal issue seems to me to be very different. But the difficulty here is that the public at large seems unable to understand a distinction which I would wish to make. I don't find the DOMA statutes objectionable IF one is able to separate out the bare content from its (inavoidable) symbolism, and from the (political) hypocrisy operative here as well..

But abuse of Fourteenth Amendment principle seems to me at least partly to blame for the Act itself. Sans DOMA, once one state has re-defined marriage, there must arise numerous Federal court cases asking under the Fourteenth or under "full faith and credit" that the Federal entity require other states to the accept the definitions of the first.. At minimum, DOMA would set the rules of discussion/argument/competition for the States...

The DOMA statutes state that states do not have to accept the one-gender marriage definitions of other States; and then, Section 3, that the ordinary and two gender language of Federal laws may not be legally re-interpreted as being gender non-specific. So DOMA is defensive as such within such limited aims.

But most apparently because this is too complex for Joe Citizen to understand, this Federal/State situation, as well as the "symbolic" role of the Federal entity in this situation-is obfuscated. The Press make no attempt to educate nor to insist upon such distinctions. They spin. They see no entertainment opportunities...

But I insist that sometimes the Feds must be a sort of 51st entity. Here, they must for quite practical reasons take a position on how their ideal of a uniform treatment of the states will work itself out in regard to the the rules and regulations of the Armed Forces, federal income tax, etc.. This same stance of the Feds is determined (chosen) by Congressional legislators, and often, as here I believe, is inavoidable. Thus, the Feds must also take, in effect, a working position on this controversial issue of the ultimate appropriateness of gay marriage itself. And because the Federal government is one comprehensive entity versus 50, the federal stance must become somewhat "symbolic."

As well, this 51st entity does take (and ought to have) an interest in marriage, even if it doesn't itself make defining definitions here. And elected National politicians must as well declare themselves here-which is where, no surprise, the political hypocrisy enters... We're all supporters of marriage..

In a recent opinion piece former President Clinton admits that he put his pen to the DOMA statutes because he saw that a movement for a national constitutional amendment specifying two-gender marriage was yet politically do-able. Now that such is not politically feasible, he admits to some (political) hypocrisy and we all admire his astuteness at that earlier moment in history... But most recently it is President Obama who finds the content of DOMA so objectionable that he can barely enforce the statutes. He finds them very objectionable, and also discriminatory, as does President Clinton. He asks the highest court now (to do the dirty work which politicians prefer to avoid if at all possible)-Please, declare DOMA Unconstitutional!

I would guess that the public at large can understand what is happening here, and are able to accommodate as well such h---y of a political sort (and certainly coming from both directions)... Why then do we assume that the public at large are incapable of understanding the State/Federal situation with regard to this issue? And here, to answer my own rhetorical question, I would suggest that all sides are attempting to recruit rather than to educate or to persuade. This is not healthy.

The strongest argument in favor of a same-sex definition of marriage would be that with divorce laws, and with easy divorce and re-marriage laws, marriage has already been greatly debased, watered-down. If re-married persons can claim the full social honors of "marriage" then why shouldn't homosexuals obtain some such honor as well... But this argument from diminishment is not often seriously presented.

The West is also in love with its peculiar honoring of Romantic love. This semi-religious obsession was born during the European Middle Ages in an intense but playful contra-distinction to the strictly defined and universally enforced monogamy of the Roman Catholic Church. Since we don't become obsessed in this same manner with pets or job, this shows that there is a natural (marriage) basis of some sort in fact prompting persons in love (including same-sex persons) to marry. But then, the promptings of married persons who fall in love with others... does this mean that divorce and re-marriage is the natural and right thing also-for such already-married individuals?

Since (post-Lawrence) moral opining is largely precluded from legal and increasingly, from public debate, how may one argue against same-gender marriage-honor? Or, how might an exclusive and dual-gender marriage justify itself with regard to state interests? And here I stop to ask, where does this rationalistic silliness come from?

My suggestion here (even if somewhat rhetorical) may be more controversial than the gay-marriage issue itself: PC correctness is not so different really than the Western religious (i.e. Christian and denominational) approach to truth. That is;

Join us. We do have all of the answers. Others are actually quite wrong, but for pragmatic and ordinary reasons we require only that you accept our system of beliefs and live within our system... We are not going to argue ideas but only seek to gain adherents. We do care about everyone; and within our little rationalistic system we have an explanation for everything!

pk 4/4/2013

Gay Marriage at the Supreme Court

I have been reading court decisions and blogging on gay marriage and other legal topics for at least ten years, so before this one issue goes away as the media has been predicting recently, I need to blog at least one more time..

The Massachusetts situation of 2003 is not so different from the circumstances more recently in California. Liberally inclined majorities in court and legislature wish to change, modernize marriage definitions and the people have difficulty getting a say in what is going on. Because of continuing shenanigans by the Massachusetts legislature, I guess that the Massachusetts populace never did get their vote. But Californians with their simple-majority-constitution-amending-petition system did get a vote with Prop. 8 and did favor it by 51%. The question for the Supreme Court is whether two (enlightened but very rationalistic and narrow minded...) Federal Courts may remove the results of Prop. 8 from the California constitution on the basis a rarified, abstract and technical interpretation (see President Obama's brief) of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Are the ideas of Federal Judges when at work upon the precise meanings of the Fourteenth Amendment more powerful than the words in a state constitution? Are there three branches of government, or are there four?

Chief Justice Margaret Marshall writes in the 2003 Massachusetts opinion which required the legislature to re-write their marriage laws...

"We begin by considering the nature of civil marriage itself. Simply put, the government creates civil marriage...a wholly secular institution, etc."

I suggest first of all that this sort of phrasing in such circumstances is grossly inadequate. In other words, whatever marriage is (-and who after all will define it definitively...) it is certainly not simply put the creation of a state. It must be a more primitive sort of thing which pre-exists states. I expect that some of the people who came over on the ships must have been married even before the State of Massachusetts had gotten itself up and running! There is obviously something very social about marriage which requires/demands social certification and legal definition, but this necessity it seems to me does not define marriage nor give the state prerogative to make of it whatever it may. The marriage license is necessary, but few people go around showing off their license as if it was something special. Rather, newlyweds might feel that they themselves are re-creating and re-defining marriage as institution, just as Judges and legislators might also be excited with their legal achievements. This couple will soon enough meet other couples, daily realities... but where might public officials encounter their reality principle..?

I was at first quite upset when reading quickly through the reasoning in the president's brief and his repetition of the narrow (and in my opinion certainly very faulty) technical talk of the two Federal Courts about strict scrutiny, rational basis, etc. Gays are a special tribe who must not be treated as a minority. Because (--and apparently not purely technical argument here---) the California Supreme Court declared at one point in the history of this California tussle that gays must be allowed to marry, therefore the petition drive which was a reaction to this declaration is per etium factum, unconstitutional, and invalid. It sounded to me so very anti-democratic. Until I realized that belief (a sort of enlightenment of some kind) was motive, and not malice towards petition writers. Judges, the president as well, and apparently numerous others believe that they have arrived at a more enlightened grasp of the notion of equality...

But what is the Fourteenth Amendment all about. Let's take another run at it; shall we. My paraphrase of Section 1 would be: No State shall make any law..abridging...(then existent) citizen (liberties), nor deprive ... without due process of law, nor deny the equal (that is equitable) protection of law... That is, and quite simply put, I cannot put the emphasis in my reading upon some abstract notion of equality within the last clause, but must insist that its pragmatic meaning must be prominent if not primary. The danger to be precluded by this last of three phrases is that a State might choose by its willful negligence not to bring the benefits/protection of existing law to certain of its member-citizens. This should not after all be such a strange or surprising possibility; we are all acquainted with the (image at least) of the local sheriff who is too much the law in person because he claims to have authority to enforce or prosecute as he wishes. What about the AG office or the Justice Department more recently which fails to make good-faith efforts on behalf of the executive to "defend" existing laws in court..

Because quite obviously the Fourteenth Amendment was born out of some fairly extreme exigency if not also some fairly precise conditions, these I would suggest must have given it a pragmatic or else specific direction, tendency... Southern states at the moment were not in existence as states but only as Federal protectorates till they acceded to sign on to the Fourteenth, till they agreed to its conditions. It is (though Americans might hate to admit this or to allow the phrasing..) a super-law, at least a paternalistic law in some degree. No State may... It clearly declared a universal Federal citizenship as simple remedy to previous difficulty... but quite obviously also did not attempt to further delineate the liberties of such a general US citizen. Nor did it expect that its words would be used exactly for such purpose. Its clauses are preventative according to the above explanation. It was trying to prevent re-imposition or re-introduction of a culture to the extent that a Federal constitution my be able to do such... The immediate and real concern was (southern) States doing things via law making, law process, law enforcement or negligence of law enforcement-so as to restore aspects of a past slavery-oriented culture/society. One cannot legislate culture, but one can legislate directly about lawmaking, etc.

Convention is supported by law. Convention can be unhealthy, as well as lacking-(which would be bad) but it can also be healthy. Do Americans have no notion of what convention is or awareness of how it operates or why it is necessary? Is this a blind spot for a nation which too much believes in its Laws? Is this because the proclivity towards rationalistic excess on the part of both modern-Liberal and contemporary-Protestant sides is mutually reinforcing? Can law (plus Constitution of course) solve everything? Allow me to try to describe "convention" as well as explain why the Fourteenth Amendment cannot be understood unless it is understood as being aimed (indirectly) at Convention.

After the Roe decision and as a young person I remember coming to two conclusions about what I guessed was happening in US society at the time. When abortion went from criminal everywhere to suddenly OK, and when large numbers of abortions supposedly ensued soon after, it struck me that this was a rationalistic problem; black or white with nothing in between. I see it now as a convention problem: there did not exist any healthy convention within US society which might discourage or ameliorate abortion as action, behavior. The point is not that abortion is morally wrong, but the point is that it is not exactly good either. Only convention can make this point. A healthy convention operative in society might allow but also discourage...

The second notion was this-that what must have led to the passing of the decision was a felt need for uniformity. We as a whole society, by some sort of social principle, were required to all go one way or else go the other. I was not then cognizant of the fact that states individually might theoretically decide such things separately. I simply ascertained, (and seriously, was I or wasn't I right in this?-) that this unity principle was believed to be quite necessary within the reasoning of the Court-else the nation would fall apart.

Knowing now the legal issues somewhat better I still like my psychological explanation of Roe. I see the moral-majority mentality very much alive and well in the United States on both conservative and liberal sides. But is there really no option other than such an effort at control of society and its conventions via control of laws (or their interpretation)?

Mill in his essay On Liberty also believes that some few are, will be, more enlightened that others. His vision of social liberty, Western Liberalism as it could be, is defined for the mature citizen and not merely each and every citizen. The individual's liberty is threatened in a popular democracy not only by governments but by social impositions, bad conventions, envy. He gives a convincing description of individual human fulfillment, maturity, diversity. But the essay is also clear (on my reading of it...) that written law cannot bring about such a free society within which individuals are able to live differently. Social liberty is a conventional construct, it is quite strictly a social achievement which requires that a majority of people (there is that word again-) agree to a live by the convention of allowing difference, recognizing the neighbor as a different and maybe more enlightened person than oneself. (And no rationalistic shortcuts here by all agreeing to the same words or laws about such: tolerance, prejudice, discrimination, diversity). But the conundrum which Mill articulates also is that those who seek advancement or security primarily by a sort of conformity with others (and thus are likely less mature) are those who will see little benefit in a society which operates according to Mill's desired social-liberty convention.

If I could believe that gay and non-gay States would lead to a USA in which there were a healthier talk about conventions and values and if it might mean elimination of that uniformity-majority notion/assumption then I could go for it. A nation disjoint at state lines but conjoined by conventional contention and conflict has appeal as an image of the future because such couldn't exist unless it actually were more pluralistic and had healthy conventions in place holding it together. But instead I fear that the one side at present still hopes somehow to make Mill's liberty into actual law, while the other side cannot yet trust the individualism which is Mill's ideal. But until Mill rules, I see no easy eventuality.

pk 3/27/2013


Jesuits take a special vow of obedience to their pope. Since Mr. Bergoglio, cardinal but now Pope Francis, took such a personal vow-must he follow the advice of Benedict, now retired, (should he happen to receive such advice) or was the previous vow, in effect-a vow of obedience to the Papacy rather than more strictly to the pope as person? Can we obtain legal/judicial determination or explanation here?


Will a new pope continue Benedict XVI's overture to people of the prophetic religion, Islam? Will a new pope remain on good terms with the liberal Western media? Will a new pope relativize teaching on the Papacy itself, resulting in better relations with other Christian Churches?


A Fundamentalist is someone who insists that the Ten Commandments were written upon one stone tablet even while the Bible specifically mentions two..


Variation on Cranham tune/Four verses of "In the Bleak Midwinter.."(mp3 download)


Anthem and Variations for the 2012 Olympics (mp3 4Mb)©pk


Thoughts after the third day of Supreme Court hearings on the Health Care law:

If I were director of a non-profit hospital would I not find it offensive to repeatedly hear everything in this debate as being only about "market this, market that..."

It's obvious to me that the anti-trust-law motive is not at all reducible to one mantra-word, the word competition. And just as obviously to me the issue with this health care legislation is found by paying attention to a word such as comprehensive, and not by talking on and on about markets. I don't believe that from the perspectives of the legal bench there can really be any such thing as an economic expert; every legal mind must remain at best the common sense economist needing to be convinced.

The commerce clause of the constitution, in very existential and very actual terms, created our one national economy-giving it no further definition. Later legislative choices regarding corporations, contract, etc, effectively shape the specifics of the presently functioning economy. But to the degree that that one economy must still be maintained as a practical and ongoing matter, this is a national task and not a state responsibility.

Americans may be afraid of talk which makes use of words such as comprehensive (not because like the ancient Greeks they are wary of the supra-human or the infinite... but more likely) because they are afraid of abandoning the confines of a familiar Pragmatism. But at present everyone must be aware that what many feel necessary is (or may be) a comprehensive approach, a comprehensive framework, a comprehensive or single system. The question which must not be put into words is, Is it within Congress's powers to set up such an exclusive or single system? (By exclusive or single system I don't mean here anything more than.. comprehensive.)

I would try argue in the affirmative, but certainly not by using terms such as commerce or market, because it seems to me that to talk at such a level must result in our seriously misconstruing this issue. What do these words have do to with health care after all.

As a quick detour from my main argument, I would insist, for example, that the repeated use of the word "insurance" as a stand-in for "health care plan" is almost bizarre in its ability to confuse. Does insurance actually make sense in the health care context? A mixed product, whole life insurance, sells better at present than the essential term-life insurance policy. Comprehensive auto coverage is regularly sold as an addition to state required minimum liability and/or collision coverage. The seller's motive in this is understandable. But if the catastrophic meaning in insurance is no longer primary then the word becomes, it seems to me, just a loose stand-in for "service provider" or other loose and vague notions of some kind.

Was it thought necessary to frame this law in terms of insurance just because Insurers will remain major agents in the expected arrangements? If so, why not re-label all such Insurers as being providers, intermediary providers. This would make a lot of sense to me. I want health care, not insurance. How intermediaries are arranged in a health-care-provision system, regulated... this I find a very clear and workable question at least.

[And literalistically speaking, if or when everyone finally has "health insurance" then this must mean that there can exist no more existential risk to anyone from catastrophic bills or the unavailability of serious care when needed. Where there is no longer risk then there can no longer be "insurance" against risk. All may not be able to afford treatments at a spa on the Black Sea, but that would be an extra, not insurance... If insurance is to mean extras, or if it means protecting my money from minor depletions only, then this must be someone's confused terminology which is being foisted upon us. Are sellers setting the terms of this debate? For institutional Insurers there will still be a type of "insurance" situation because their profit will depend on what happens with their enrolled clients. But to regularly use the word "insurance" in this manner must finally destroy an otherwise healthy English word as well as seriously obfuscating what is being talked about; insurance here is more specifically someone's carefully made list of basic minimally covered medical expenses...]

But to return to the main argument, and an over-literal apprehension of another word, commerce. The lower court decision (Florida v. US gov/11th Circuit Court of Appeals) does what most others courts on the subject probably have been doing also, and that is to discuss the so called commerce clause as meaning a quite literal flow of items, such as via truck via interstate highway. Look at that flow if you want to see the commerce. But just as "relations" connect people within some larger context, so commerce always may be conceptualized as including those individuals at either end. It is not just the relation between that has significance. But the Florida court's reasoning is incapable of this, as exemplified for example by my lifting from it just a phrase: "The question before us is whether Congress may regulate individuals outside the stream of commerce..." Not only is commerce not broadly conceptualized, but a large-scale (health) law is reduced, it must be here, to it's detail-what the law means for legal purposes is only to be taken from its literal economic effects, economic goods in literal movement between states... Another sentence: Thus, the Act contains no language “which might limit its reach to a discrete set of [activities] that additionally have an explicit connection with or effect on interstate commerce.” This new health law will have huge economic consequences, but the court wants any qualifying law to explain how it will limit itself to a definably "discrete set of activities" within the (economic) flow of interstate commerce.

Buying medical supplies is economic, but since medical supplies can have only one purpose it would seem, why should billing, receiving and the movement of those supplies be more important (conceptually) than the larger health context/nexus in which they can have only one actual aim, that is, delivery to the one patient at the one end of the health care-economy flow. Is this "point of consumption" (using a commerce-clause jurisprudential phrase)-is such a point clearly reducible to "economic consumption?" Is the literally economic dimension all that really matters within the context of the constitution as law-and its objectives?

If congress may regulate to maintain our one national economy following upon what seem to me to be the implied directives of that commerce clause, it may as well regulate also to prevent this same economy from engaging in economic encroachments upon areas of (significant) public welfare. Doesn't the recent decision against home-grown marijuana fit here... a use of the commerce clause to justify regulation of one item for the sake, purportedly, of general public health! (But there cannot be much of (literal) economic significance, of (literal) commercial traffic, if this activity is only at the household scale.. ) The social welfare purpose was obviously paramount here...

In assessing constitutionality I recognize that the court deals with a law as written, and not just the possibility of whether a comprehensive law establishing one health care game for all participants could be constitutional, but if I have accurately explained some of the theory, then any law, such as this one, would need to work in the same sort of argument-framework as I have outlined.

pk 3/30

Three arguments that broad-scale Health Care legislation is compatible with US Constitutional principles:

I. The Inc. Argument (as in Incorporation)... and surprisingly this might be the strongest argument of the three:

Before health care legislation was passed I thought it important to begin with an attempt at a more comprehensive definition of health. But for present purposes (deciding whether large scale legislation is acceptable-) a minimal definition of health is used. Minimal health care is easy to define and describe. It is always one individual seeking help with some physical problem, and this help usually requires medical experts, buildings perhaps, special ingredients, other technical machinery. This minimal objective is in actual fact quite straightforward. It is not preventative, psychological, cosmetic, nor include a Viagra prescription. It may be difficult to draw limits with regard to technological possibilities and thus further costs, but the thing itself is very obvious.

Next, in the provision of this assistance, if only individuals were serving or contracting with patients here, or if there existed only partnerships where individuals might go into business together to provide such things to individual patients... the argument would not fly. But health care is not feasible within present social circumstances apart from the existence of profit and non-profit corporations, which entities are each one of them separate individuals, true, but not natural individuals, not primitive citizen-individuals. This then is not just an observation; it is offered as legal, metaphysical, existential point.

Next I add the point that not only is health care clearly describable as a certain type of social something, but that it is also something sui generis, like education.

The state then may not actually withhold citizenship rights to its native newborns but the states obviously and certainly may (and I am speaking on a theoretical and hypothetical level) choose to withhold or qualify its grant (gift) of citizenship to corporations. It is entirely within a state's prerogative to define and delimit the social existence of such-like incorporated entities.

If the argument makes enough sense to this point, then the state, according to such common-sense argument, may as well regulate those particular corporations which are immediately active in providing/selling health care to citizens, in accordance with a unitary-social-welfare objective- minimally defined health care provided its individual (and voting) citizens.

It seems to me that this could be exactly where the rubber actually does meet the road in this larger matter, not just economically, but legally. If health is a unique sort of thing which need not (that is, ought not) be given over to the jurisdiction of market forces then the state (as well) as arbiter of corporate existence may delineate (in other words regulate) the existence and activities of such health-providing entities.

II. Umpire

For a government to set up a single large-scale health care framework is undeniably to take upon itself a degree of paternalistic management, but doing such, the government need not in addition directly manage or administer activities of the system in detail. The players in this same game are non-profits, for profits, and government itself (already with Medicare, Medicaid, FDA...), and government additionally becomes umpire for this mixed game. But is this constitutional?

It could be better noticed (again on a common-sense level...) that the Commerce Clause is economic in purpose, that is, in its quite pragmatic enforcement of the existence of a single rather than multiple economies. To create one's own money and to impose import/export taxes at one's borders would be the most effective means one might employ in order to separate off one's own economy from surrounding economies. But the commerce clause insists on one nationally administered (economic) system. And analogously, (and if you accept that the health business/industry is clearly definable-strictly speaking- as neither business nor industry merely), then the hypothetical possibility of one national umpire requiring everyone to play in the same game... is as rational on pragmatic grounds as must have been the motivation behind the commerce clause; the need for one entire or whole system rather than multiple systems.

III. The Argument from Default

If the colonies had agreed ahead of time that they would permanently cap their import/export taxes at a certain level, and agreed on exchange rates, etc., maybe the commerce clause wouldn't have been necessary. But they didn't, and neither have modern economists (in the country) come up with any plausibly theoretical suggestions for adjusting the economic activities of these three different sorts of institutional players in the health care provision business. Less, there have been no such efforts at all.

To imagine that market competition alone can implement all ongoing choices in such an industry, and for the sake of larger social benefit, while medical science and technology and adjunct business entities as well are proliferating at an increasing rate as they recently are-this is almost as silly as to suggest centralized planning for the whole system. Business (and economists in its employ-?) has shown itself un-interested or incompetent towards envisioning a system which includes other players/factors/realities.

Thus, I consider that dire necessity operates as its own argument; better in my opinion the danger from malicious or misguided administrators and technocrats than the dangers of implosion and failure resulting from unchecked economic forces (misguided economic expansion, technological-marketing-huxterism from this side, mere profit-driven exploitation). For example, the FDA it seems to me has done a poor job in recent years not because of an inadequate testing of drugs which later had unstated effects, but simply for allowing the pharmacological industry to acquire to itself too much prestige within this realm; the Realm of health as social good and not just sale-able product. This might not actually be within the FDA's job description. But most people must agree with the assertion that if the FDA did not exist at all, the possibility of some such societal exploitation in this area of medical ingredients would certainly be much more serious, dire.

Legally, maybe this is a very simplistic argument according to the need for a general public welfare oversight for all patients- (not for the sake of indigent patients who now have Medicaid). Maybe I am not afraid of faulty product as much as business and technology combining to sell false hope. A manager in place could lessen that possibility by limiting monetary incentive...

RE: Mortgage settlement with large banks/A copy of my e-letter sent on 2/13/2012 to the Washington State Attorney General's office:

Dear Sir;

I would like to express my disapproval with the pending settlement. I am a renter, and not an expert in mortgage finance, but I have been a regular reader of the blog Naked Capitalism... ever since the financial crisis of a few years ago. The criticism which I read there of this major recent effort is quite technical and also quite convincing. These bloggers are people who work in this industry, and understand how the mortgage business has gotten into difficulties...

My own simplified take on the larger issue is that investigations must be carried out. It is not sufficient to give forclosed-upon persons $1-2K in liu of fraud which might have occurred when moving a secured home loan from one owner to another. If chain of title must be carefully recorded then chain of home-loan must be carefully recorded also, and unbroken. This quite technically I expect is the original law even if it may be inconvenient to the speed of modern commerce.

For AGs to let major players off the hook without first investigating and proving what was done recently, and how serious that may have been... this is not acceptable.

Individual homebuyers do not have the resources to build such cases, as you must realize.

The Federal government also has a major cheerleading interest in sweeping problems aside to get home buying and selling busy again. So for States to allow such a major effort to conclude without results and findings is just not helpful by any significant criterion of success which I can see..

That is, if there have been significant numbers of "improper" foreclosures by loan holders against home buyers/owners, then AGs should now explain (and expose) just how this occurred - else the same must too easily repeat itself in future activities of the mortgage finance industry.

Mortgage laws were written to favor retail, rather than wholesalers...

Thank you and
sincerely,

Paul Kragt
(Seattle, WA)

Marriage laws and common sense: a hot topic.

It is obvious to anyone who can think in general and commonsense terms that what motivates a petition type drive such as that of Proposition 8 in California, is (or was) exactly the wish to maintain a certain status quo. This certainly could be a worthwhile interest. The living arrangements and social customs and institutions as these exist and as they are valued in some positive way by the populace, are worth preserving, and thus we have armies and police forces to help towards that preservation.

That is to say, and very simply, that such petition drives show at least that the people do not wish a small number of legislators, nor a smaller number of judges, to be responsible for quite literally (as they see it, and appropriately so in this case it seems to me...) changing social policy, changing social customs or institutions. If there is going to be any modification of the basic rules of the game, they, some larger and vague collection of individuals, wish to be responsible for and to have the right and authority to make such (controversial even, sorts of ..) changes by popular voting mechanisms.

So for the Federal Circuit judges to begin arguing as in this recent dismissal of the Prop 8 petition, that there is in this court's view no possible social interest that could be served by a Prop 8 type petition, well this betrays to me, as did Judge Walker's opinion, a definite superficiality, incompetence. And I do understand some of the technical and legal reasoning given here, but this cannot exactly excuse such...

Of course I allow myself to become a little upset here-with a specific court judgement which I may not care for, but as I blogged some few years ago, it is not quite courts or judgements that I am upset with. As I mentioned in that blog, while I was a seminary student at a moderately conservative denominational seminary (Western/RCA), there had been a couple of previous and more general votes on changing the rules/customs (as you wish) to allow females as well as males to become clergypersons-but voting had not yet been in favor of the change. Since this matter was clearly somewhat contentious, and since apparently the leadership saw which way the winds were blowing, they decided at that same moment in history and via administrative and judicial decision, and without further generally representative vote, to simply declare change: Females may be clergypersons; this is what those rules, those denominational rules on the denominational books, actually mean.

So I view this as a more general problem, and not at all a religiously motivated opinion on my part. If we are now to be like the French, and are to value ongoing societal norms as in some manner definitive then we have given up Lockean republicanism. We are more accurately (closet) Russeauvians. But such a characterization is not accurate with regard to our historic past... which includes necessarily better regard for a past tradition of ideas, concepts. If social notions and concepts change, as they will, this does not mean that jurisprudent thinking must follow along subserviently, in those recently made tracks..

There is some chicken and egg business going on here, no doubt, with the courts responsible perhaps for maintaining and augmenting this confusion because they deny this problem...by going to one side or the other as may be convenient.(?) If there is a sovereignty issue here (as it seems to me there may very well be) then the court ought to admit such clearly and explicitly. Perhaps as a matter of everyday factuality, legislative and legal change to fundamental law has more reach in this republic than mere popular petition (within those states at least which do allow laws and constitutional change to be made via popular petition). Perhaps this is how our Republic was designed.

If not, and on the other side, one of the valid uses of petition writing and law making must be to fix notions, definitions, and ideas. The two circuit judges recount here (pages 7,8) the history of attempts in California as well as with the national Defense of Marriage act to fix more specifically those (traditional, as they agree) meanings and definitions. They recount how the California Supreme Court admits that same-sex marriage would be a new right of sorts, but refer to the phrase "fundamental rights, once recognized, cannot be..." This same state supreme court decision was quite broad and new in stating that family rights cannot be withheld from same-sex families... even if this new statement of right may be somewhat new.

Additional efforts on both sides followed: Prop 8 was next framed with an intent of changing a state constitution's text and not merely state statute. But the court next ruled that Prop 8, if passed, would not make meaningless some of the substantial rights given/established by the Cal. Supreme Court's previous and recent decision, etc. The Federal Court cases most recently are bound (technically speaking...) by the California Supreme Court, other CA courts, CA statutes, CA constitution in deciding for California plaintiffs whether their state may at this present moment in history be infringing on the rights of such (pro gay plaintiff) citizens, who also happen to be Federal citizens. Is then the California State law, Constitution, or court decision become law, (as well as California Supreme Court decision on the subject)–does any of this offend against basic individual rights, so as to contravene the Fourteenth Amendment which was passed after the Civil War, intending to prevent states from creating laws which were unfair, oppressive (-is the word I would include). Or, is it exactly the larger populace and their citizen rights, (that is, traditionalist California citizens) who are being oppressed in some manner, exactly, by the State laws which would now describe marriage differently than such laws defined marriage previously.

Who gets to decide meanings? Who gets to declare what equality shall denote. Which comes first... the prudence of governors or the preference of a populace... with respect to what is or isn't a fair custom, institution?

A previous Federal decision for California plaintiffs insisted there must be compelling state interest or rational basis for confining the notion of marriage to different-sex persons-else the 14th of our Federal Constitution must show/instruct that such a definition is an oppressive definition of marriage. And this latest Circuit decision affirms that Judge Vaughn was correct in such reasoning... One might then ask for the meaning and purpose of the 14th to be clarified.

Was that amendment instituted so as to support in the future such assertions of generalized Equality (making future-regarding judges proponents of an increasingly popular but not yet majority notion such as same-sex marriage). Or does the 14th Amendment in fact understand and embody a much more sensible notion of conventional change, positive change in social convention. Were the national framers of the 14th Amendment after the Civil War not actually quite cognizant of this very same sort of law v. social convention conflict, and did they not craft the amendment specifically with the possibility of such conflict in mind? A century and a half ago it could have become specifically applicable to (Southern) lawmakers wishing to restore a more familiar culture; today it may as well be applicable to lawmakers wishing to bring about a future culture congruent with lawmaker's idealized egalitarian notions of social betterment.

Lawmakers, of course, are always wishing to legislate towards a better future culture; but in a democracy there needs to be some general support for, or check on such attempts also. To appeal to the 14th Amendment as if this might solve anything, seems to me to refuse to notice the chicken-egg situation as it exists also at a Federal level.

Should the courts be adjusting meanings in order to follow trends in popular opinion. Should those who either favor or dis-favor a certain kind of marriage law be required to pass a national constitutional amendment in support of either. Does each state separately get to make such definitions? Could hypothetically the states operate well with differing abortion laws and with differing definitions of marriage? Does allowing females to become Protestant ministers not change the ground-rules of the denominational religion towards a more prophetic and democratic conception of the organization, and does re-stating/redefining marriage conceptions not change some rather basic ground rules of a society also... Should there be an amended constitution making Federal Judges liable to, shall we say, a 2/3 national recall vote. Or is allowing (by default) unelected judges to solve such social differences a pragmatic approach to avoiding the additional contention and conflict which would distract social efforts away from economic production?

pk2/8/12

Feb 2/2012. blogging...

For a society to entrust the formation of its culture only to the chaos of the marketplace must be to allow/accept a certain degree of disappointment in results. It seems obvious enough to me–for one–that fine arts and education, to give only two examples, can never thrive as market driven product merely. Or maybe an egalitarian society simply is less interesting than a class society, i.e., Downton Abbey during the present TV season.

As well, to entrust marriage (primal institution, or whatever it is...) to the chaos of a gender nondistinctivity (and this for future generations also...) must be to accept diminished expectations, to allow up front that there may be a degree of disappointment in the results.

It is not that order itself merely might build any better city, but neither can dissolution of sclerotic, hardened convention, of itself, ever accomplish such a task. Instead, such an achievement is somehow essentially creative, existential; That is, neither order nor the rebel-subversive mode are at all capable of making historical and actual–a better city. [Unless there is (ultimately?) a certain quality of mad genius to be found in the American trust in both market chaos as well as social chaos.]

Washington State Democratic legislators in their wisdom consider now that the local society is best served by an indefinite-gender sort of marriage-institution. Democrats, far away in the greater Washington, decide a few years past, that certain economic regulations of the market are necessary subsequent to the economic "crisis,"–but not too strict-lest the business-inclined populace become upset–thus demonstrating, to me at least, that they (the national Democrats) either lacked faith in their own understanding of how the economy should/does work, or else, (and this would be worse) lacked the courage of their own convictions.

What is actually lacking in all of this political wrangling is any genuine acknowledgement of the existence of another marketplace, a marketplace of ideas. Should not politicians (as well as others such as business managers/owners) hie themselves to this marketplace in order to assess value, and then, subsequently, buy–if and when they find ideas of superior value?

The pragmatist may be immune to ideological excess; but this same Joe/Jane–pragmatist must be limited, hypothetically at least, by the inadequacies of those very ideas which they do hold.

Further comment on the recent Supreme Court Opinion: HOSANNA-TABOR... [Previous comments are below]

To re-instate a “minister” of some sort by court order does seem directly to go against a religious group’s self-determination of who will be its own ministers. But is it not possible for the civil court, having accepted a case as having some plausible grounds, to order that the “minister” and organization first engage in good faith negotiations, that they complete this stage as far as possible? Would such an order be an unacceptable imposition on the organization? If so, then this seems to me to result in a jurisdictional situation involving two and only two entities–the religious “court” and the state court. And then the would-be plaintiff, actually both citizen and believer, seems to lack standing or right in either of these tribunals.

But if the term minister may be used by both organization and court, then the individual certainly may own that term as well. The teacher’s “call” is not exactly a call to employment, it must be, but call to a higher service. If it is a higher call, how can plaintiff be asked (at a distance) by her organization to simply resign it, when they themselves previously confirmed it? Doesn’t the ministerial terminology imply that such an individual is operating with respect to a third and higher tribunal, and imply as well that if such an issue is to be decided on largely religious terms via civil court, then the religious liberty of the individual is as important if not more important than the religious liberty considerations of the group-as group?

By this recent decision, the civil court now must defer to the religious institution in problematic cases such as this one-in which plaintiff is both an elementary school teacher, and a “minister.” The Supreme Court decides in this instance that this individual is in fact a “minister,” and holds that:

The purpose of the [ministerial] exception is not to safeguard a church's decision to fire a minister only when it is made for a religious reason. The exception instead ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church's alone.

[To me, the words authority and faithful are the significant words to note in the sentence just given.] The court enlarges the exception to cover not just tenets of the faith, but adds some idea of authority over the faithful.

In his concurrence opinion Justice Alito takes a slightly different approach, which he himself describes as functional. Functional considerations can and must be used to decide what the word minister may mean with regard to allowing the ministerial exception, that is, allowing the entity/institution to select its own ministers/office-holders.

I wish to try to argue against both authority and/or function as approaches to the religious entity...

Because I believe that education and medicine are both, for example, sui generis, and distinct realms for which the state ought not give up its public welfare interests, I would expect that religious schools and religious hospitals must also continue to present line-drawing problems for the courts, and thus, likely, no simpler rule is available to cover such difficulties...

But my approach would be along these lines:

We the people; this is rhetoric but must not be dismissed as rhetoric. That is, popular sovereignty is stated, if only theoretically, as principle. One might be pedantic and say that there was in fact in 1787 no such amorphous people existing apart from specific colonial authorities, offices, etc. Each colony already had its offices, voting procedures, a small number of delegates arrived, a few writers, etc. And yet We the people as phrase takes no consideration of structure, office, authority, but asserts that such a vague democratic mass can be originator of what results.

Analogously, as existential reality (I would insist–and most might agree..) no group or association can exist long without leadership, authority, structure of some sort. Religious associations also must come to rely as well on authority and ordering. Religious groups may themselves claim different sorts of authority and structure, but it would seem that a democratic notion is an acceptable place to begin when conceptualizing for legal purposes such entities also within the American republic.

Is a religious entity to be defined most prominently then in terms of its authority, or in terms of a functional prerogative to define and install its own ministers? No; religion should be conceptualized democratically if possible.

The Lutheran doctrine of Christian internal dispute resolution thus still seems very inappropriate to me as religious reason allowed to this group for their firing of plaintiff. (I am referring again to Justice Alito’s argument..) The Apostle Paul first writes (see I Corinthians 6) to say that he has already decided at a distance-about a notorious sexual case of some kind. But in coming to explain, next, some sort of principle, he insists there should be capable persons within the association who are able to resolve disputes-and to resolve these well. If Christians will judge angels, as he says, they should be able to come up among themselves with the expertise to decide internal personal problems. Else, it is better that you (plural) suffer wrong, that you allow yourselves (plural) to be deprived, rather than relying on the civil courts. But Mr. Alito does not consider that this as doctrinal issue given by the group in their defense-may be pretext? Is it because the group is presumed to be incapable of being disloyal to the individual minister; only the individual minister could be disloyal..?

But beginning with a democratic conception of associations, the presumption will fall the other way. I can read this Biblical passage as being democratic; can the blog reader do so as well? The Apostle and letter writer certainly has his religious office or authority of some sort, but I do not read this rhetoric as being an application of nor delegation of authority. One may read authority into the persuasion, perhaps, but rather, I prefer to note only an actual and democratic principle being enunciated. The addressees should already have adequate democratic authority as democratic association to resolve such matters on their own.

Continuing then, and arguing technically, if any group is to request the ministerial exception in civil court of law, must they not first demonstrate–along quite democratic lines–that the minister, the individual in question, has in fact already been included in relevant group determinations as full or equal participant. Should the democratic association presumption be operative on first approach to the problem? This religious group might then argue further that they don’t believe in democracy, that they have an authoritarian structure of offices within which such a minister may be dismissed at will just like the ordinary economic employee, and then the court may decide whether to believe as accurate the religious entity’s description of its preferred polity and offices. If it does, then the religious entity can do what it wishes with its own ministers. But can such an entity claim that such an individual is in fact, and not just in terminology, a minister, without demonstrating some degree of solicitude towards that individual as proof of the same claim?

The function does not define the entity, it seems to me, but the association as it delineates itself, declares what different functions it will be presenting.. Thus Justice Alito’s functional approach seems to me to consider only the group and its choices and effectively to neglect consideration of the individual. But the reason (whatever that may be) for association would be more fundamental to any association than the manner of ordering.

pk1/17/2012

Discussion of the recent Supreme Court Opinion: HOSANNA-TABOR EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH AND SCHOOL v. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION et al.,

I find myself in agreement with the Appellate Court’s opinion, and thus in disagreement with the majority opinion of the Supreme Court. This case should have been remanded for trial on the facts. Whether subsequently any result greatly favoring the plaintiff, a religious-school teacher, would have resulted, is another question.

As private citizen and expressing an opinion, I certainly do not wish any small religious school to be subject to exorbitant payments just because they might have violated some federal law regarding disabled employees; but in my opinion this particular case remains essentially and primarily an education and employment issue rather than a religious issue.

Thus I also find Justice Alito’s written concurrence to be specious.

Justice Alito argues first, part A, that Cheryl Perich the elementary school teacher, is in fact a minister under the “ministerial exemption.” Then he argues , part B, and quoting...

Hosanna-Tabor [the school] discharged respondent because she threatened to file suit against the church in a civil court. This threat contravened the Lutheran doctrine that disputes among Christians should be resolved internally without resort to the civil court system and all the legal wrangling it entails. In Hosanna- Tabor's view, respondent's disregard for this doctrine compromised her religious function, disqualifying her from serving effectively as a voice for the church's faith.

Judge Alito here asserts that the plaintiff may be fired because she threatened to sue her school via civil courts. Such an attitude or belief, being as such against Lutheran doctrine, she could appropriately then be fired for strictly religious (!?) reason.

This same doctrine is probably derived from I Corinthians (is it, or II Cor) where the apostle Paul advises that Christians ought not to resort to civil means to resolve (internal, local) Christian disputes. Such would be a diminishment. Christians should remain a superior society of a certain sort. The religious principle enunciated here, and the ideal, is that they solve internally their own particular disputes. And I expect that this same approach might be some sort of ideal also, for many other non-governmental associations, religions, groups, as well.

But from my reading of the facts in this case (which I allow here also to be certainly inadequate and incomplete...)–there does not seem to have been any initiative or any determined attempt on the part of the church/school-entity to activate such an “internal dispute resolution.” It seems rather that, in absentia, the school/church decided to ask the disabled teacher to resign, to resign her commission/call, and in effect, her “right” to be a religious teacher. This female teacher had spent considerable effort in order to become a “minister” according to the terms of this Lutheran system, as well as having obtained her qualification as a primary school teacher. But they (the church/school) did not in fact in this instance go to her personally in order to discuss with her–her impediment, her recent disability, but decided that they would offer her monetary compensation–if she was willing to resign from her religious call/commission. This offer at a distance–it must be obvious to all–is not an appropriate mode of “internal dispute resolution.” Even if this may have been (objectively speaking) a reasonable offer (–and I admit also to being ignorant as to whether resignation means–only from this job, or from the list of possible Lutheran teachers, or from future jobs...) –but if this offer which asks for her resignation is the doctrinal basis on which she is to to be condemned, that is, denied a civil hearing, then this in certainly, in my opinion, inappropriate. That is, if this Church claims that she herself did not believe in internal dispute resolution while they, the Church themselves, did not actually make any effort to initiate or perform such, then they are hypocrites, not she...

If this matter is most significantly (as it seems to me quite strictly speaking) an employment matter, then an employer must provide better reason than this. If, hypothetically, my pink slip from headquarters is in the mail, and if my lead-supervisor preemptively informs me that I have been fired, and if I express certain insubordinate statements at this same moment towards my employer, is this in itself reason for termination? Certainly not. Such “threats” are an appropriate expression of how I feel about my immediate situation. Just so, Justice Alito’s contention in his concurrence that this teacher’s “threat” to go to civil court was–as such and in itself–religious and also doctrinal cause for her dismissal, seems to me analogously specious.

If the technical order and details of the teacher’s firing do retain significance, then a trial court must decide this...

Justice Alito describes in his part A that he can well enough determine legally what “minister” (a religious term at that) would mean with regard to this particular legal controversy; But why can he then not also as judiciary determine in part B where there may be a boundary-line between employment (of educators–as employees) and religion–as–such?

Chief Justice Roberts, in enunciating the decision of the court, declares that:

Any suggestion that Hosanna-Tabor's asserted religious reason for firing Perich was pretextual [that is, just an excuse] misses the point of the ministerial exception. The purpose of the exception is not to safeguard a church's decision to fire a minister only when it is made for a religious reason. The exception instead ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church's alone.

And a few lines earlier he states:

An order reinstating Perich as a called teacher would have plainly violated the Church's freedom under the Religion Clauses to select its own ministers.

But in my opinion, the religious (and educational) prerogatives of an individual are given short shrift here, vis a vi consideration which is being here given to the more abstract, it must be–––religious freedom of “church” as institution. As simplistic advocates of religious freedom have previously enunciated, the primary locus of religious freedom is the individual. That is, the religious efforts and the religious freedom of the individual plaintiff would need to be given credence here also, even vis a vi that of the religious institution. This plaintiff has religious rights. She certainly exerted significant efforts, it seems, towards becoming a ‘called’ and qualified religious teacher. Should she be arbitrarily dismissed in these circumstances? Ought not the religious institution recognize in principle, and if it does not conflict with their own values, the value of giving consideration to the disabled employee..?

The second and third grade pupils whom this teacher ministers to are not exactly a church, and therefore the ministerial exemption is not necessarily applicable. Church-assembly, school, hospital–these each may be religious institutions/corporations. But while common sense would suggest that the government not interfere at all with the first, there is a differing degree of public-welfare interest in the later two. Education it seems to me cannot be placed within the exclusive jurisdiction of either religion or the state. Medicine, or the not-for-profit hospital, (and the way medicine ideally should be organized, it would seem) should not be able to claim the strictest religious exclusion either merely because it is managed by religious persons-just because it is in fact a hospital, not a church-assembly.

If the broad outlines of the ADA provoke such bizarre controversy, might the law itself be the culprit? Why did George H. W. Bush sign the same... Because it was a good idea?

Should the courts then be in the business of teaching (private) religious organizations a lesson about how to treat disabled employees via the superior wisdom en-coded in ADA legislation? Perhaps. Or should legislators admit that good ideas might better remain as suggestion/incentive... rather than law.

When equally as many persons consider “fire at will” policy to be enlightened–as view (vague and over-reaching !) federal employment discrimination rules/laws to be enlightened, then the ordinary citizen must surmise that there is a certain schizophrenia operative here. In other words; When the ordinary employer may fire at will, does it really make sense that employers must in the same instance also be very careful lest they discriminate.. in their hiring and firing!!?

pk ©1/2012

More comment on the proposed internet piracy bills pending... (12/15/11)

The Attorney General of the USA already has authorization and means to go after any local internet site warehousing or selling copyright infringing or dangerous product. These bills are misleading because they are not properly labeled. They target the foreign site which is using the internet for criminal purpose. Further, the law is quite simple and straightforward. It allows the Attorney General to select one or more foreign sites to be placed on a blacklist; incommunicado. Since our Attorney General is not exactly welcome in other countries, it is US companies which will then be prohibited from handling money transactions, handling advertising, and perhaps prohibited as well from “listing” such offending sites. At a minimum, the phone book companies who operate DNS servers may be required to de-list such offenders and put up a web page stating that the AG does not allow access-if not also filter as well to prevent such addresses (or content) from going through.

Misc. points can be made:

-The provision which prohibits software which bypasses the normal DNS procedure–is Draconian.

-Prohibition of streaming should be part of copyright laws... and not attached to this bill...

-Determination of dangerous product being sold from overseas via the internet is very broad and problematic...

-Is the blacklist to be made public..?

-I expect that most individual artists in film and music as well as most individual programmers, are not clamoring for such regulation. They might be in favor of a bill requiring that companies pay them 50% of gross (as the NBA athletes seem to have obtained recently) but this bill aims to fix a leaky distribution side which primarily and most immediately benefits corporations. The existential solution would be to incentivize the creative side, the creative individuals, and not impose such a broad regulatory censorship structure just to deal with a rogue entity such as the Pirate Bay in Sweden. Sweden itself has tried to follow America’s lead in maintaining the rights of free speech. Come to think of it–they probably consider American movies to fall within the category of free speech. (We tend to think of US movies as being entertainment only...) But this bill sets a poor precedent; It asks us to set a poor example internationally. (Italy it seems[?] has voluntary DNS blacklisting, mostly of pornographic sites.) But if pornography production and purchase abides by international copyright norm, this bill has no complaint with such...

The internet is international and this must cause certain difficulties for individual nation-states. But to limit our own freedoms just to blacklist/ostracize a few foreign sites which are trafficking with American citizens... is not a very sensible approach to such problems.

Re: An article about psychiatry and drugs

The NY Review of Books [archives] , Marcia Angell, The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why? (June 23, 2011)

If pragmatism is all that counts here, and if placebos are proven to be almost as effective as anti-depression drugs, shouldn't doctors, patients, be doing a lot more experimentation... with strange diets, sports, arts activity, temporary visits to Siberian resorts, because some of these may be provably better than placebo pills also! Can we implement placebo-treatments..? Should milder drugs be more accessible for those who wish to self-treat? Should each citizen receive a customized assortment of pills each morning, (placebo and real) assured that such a mixture is the best possible way to assure health for the day..? Should patients who are not Pragmatists avoid psychologists who are also MDs?

SOPA/Internet Privacy Bills

For some technical information see this paper; but this seems to me a top-heavy and top-down approach to blocking internet addresses–which as such cannot be a very helpful or longer-term way of dealing with problem sites or illegal sites. DNS servers are the public phone books, and the bill would allow the US Gov. to to require phone-book publishers to de-list certain names...

Athletics and Academics and Penn State

Having no immediate concern with the university or the persons involved, the recent scandal-news from the Penn State football program provides me rather with impetus to talk about an issue which I am concerned about, higher education v. college athletics. But a little Wikipedia research in this instance surprises me with some significant ironies.

Penn State is not like other X-State schools because it is Ivy League. But this term itself, it seems, is more of a sports term, as in league, than a phrase with academic meanings, as in venerable brick and ivy surrounded classrooms. The schools within the Ivy (Intercollegiate-Sports) League itself are mostly pre-Revolutionary, but the league itself as well as general use of the phrase, is post WWII.

Penn State had its origins with some concerned citizens in the city of Philadelphia, including Benjamin Franklin. Franklin himself is enigmatically celebrated for his scientific status as well as for his workingman’s ethic, for his French appeal as well as for his simplicity. (Did Mr. Paterno as star-coach claim, or else was he being expected to represent similarly impossible opposites?) (Does Penn State present as public persona the working class student’s aspirations within an elite academic group, or does it present itself as an elite academy towards other more ordinary schools?)

In the early years most of the the Ivy League schools did each take their turns as football powerhouses. But more recently the Ivy League chooses not to join in the national championship rounds. (Is this a marketing decision? Having fixed via a common phrase or within the public’s simplistic notions-their ivy credentials, league athletics are less appropriate now as means to school promotion?)

My own opinion is that the general public is too much in thrall to claimed, proported, presumed academic status (as in the phrase ivy league) and at the same time the general public is also self-hypnotized as to the significance of athletic prowess at this undergraduate level, during these four or five years set aside for higher learning. (Where is the interest in comparing, noting, academic achievement..?) The first of these is a more serious acquiescence in stupidity, an ill-informed opinion that levels of academic ability cannot really be evaluated, ranked; the second of these is merely the behavior of the fan.

Fans will mix their own Kool-Aid(tm) and then consume it. Joe alumnus at a football game would ideally take some few minutes to meditate on the fact that even though he was given a diploma from school A, a majority of those graduates from school B may in reality be better educated that he is. They likely recently have been more involved as well in maintaining and improving those individual levels of education than he, Joe alumnus, has been. Watching his A team win, Joe can feel good for a while about his own school as well as about his own academic attainments–almost as if this score proves the superior academic quality of school A and a quality in which he now shares...

But an actual difficulty arises if/when the school administration drinks the Kool-Aid offered to it by the public at large, by the alumni. That this has been happening is shown by the easy excuses now given for outrageous coaching salaries; Marketing excuses. Coaches that make money deserve money. (Why are there no great professor-stars, such that students and alumni become upset if the administration mistreats or dishonors these? Don’t fine professors add much more to the effective education of students as well as to the true status of schools than any athletic coach..?)

If the college athletic program is essentially to be justified by its money-making, then can it continue to re-present a university, which must place academic aims to the fore. Fans will enjoy symbolic wins, but after a certain degree of attenuation has been reached, this funded program, this expensive team with its hard-working student-athletes, this same program must necessarily come to lack proportionate and vital connection with its academic home base. It becomes a marketing subsidiary, more of a business and PR entity than of direct benefit to any group of students.

The physical doesn’t just complement the academic, but ideally completes it. The all-around person would be academically and physically talented, etc. But with Universities, the academic properly speaking must be given a priority. At least such is my opinion. Success in college athletics may be the gravy, but the meat and potatoes are the academic offerings. If a University administration is working too hard on providing gravy, then it is likely also that they are maintaining their students on an unhealthy diet. Too much gravy.

Or perhaps the manner in which I wish to use the word academic is too idealistic. Maybe the academic is passe. Universities are technical training institutes supplying individuals to business... with some general learning thrown in. But if we are so cynical, why be so offended by the abuse to youngsters–except that the thwarting of the opportunity of a youngster specifically to learn, to be properly educated, to grow, has serious consequences. Sexual abuse is bad because it may cause educational impairment.

From a short clip in which the accused coach was speaking, it seemed to me that this coach views himself as a nurturing and educative type of person–for young boys... which apart from education v. sports, raises the further issue of gender. How is socialization of boys different from socialization of girls? Are sports more conducive to the boy’s education? (But Athena, patroness of Athens, is depicted as intelligent as well as an athletic warrior..)

A women’s rugby team does exist at Penn State but of course this team is not of significant public or symbolic use at present to the University. But if a University were to become known and widely followed primarily as a powerhouse of women’s basketball, for example, and if similar facts began to come out, would there be less (or else an equal tendency) to protect status, to make excuse v. the primarily academic objectives of such a hypothetical institution. How helpful are sports in the girl’s education? ... which must remain a question for those individuals who claim to know about male/female socialization.

pk11/17

Legal quiz for today:

Is enacting the condition of a street person or homeless person (using tent and sleeping bags) an expression of free speech?

How does the person who is in fact homeless enact such a demonstration of free speech? If a city has vagrancy ordinances, can't any who might be arrested claim that they are also engaging in free speech?

May one pay another to engage in free speech demonstration on their behalf? If not, why is special interest lobbying of legislators allowed, while the more general and popular and un-paid lobbying for general redress is not allowed?

Does a civic entity have minimal responsibility to provide place or locale for possible larger-scale petition...

Is protest official only after obtaining a permit... or official if/when NBC, etc., decide to cover it...or official (i.e. historical) once it disrupts or disturbs the ordinary activities of ordinary citizens...

Madoff family interviews on 60 Minutes [10/29]

The kid who steals a car without further plan, or who puts a brick through a business window–may not admit the same, but knows something wrong was done here. The white–collar embezzler seems to lack this immediate conscience. Money is more abstract than property. And there obviously also remains a certain (false) glamor about perpetrating a ponzi arrangement even if one is caught. The ponzi schemer "beat the system" for a while at least, which is something most of us might like to imagine being able to accomplish also. (Why don't we rush to interview the minor-property-vandal who gets in trouble with the law, curious as to what this one individual's life is in fact all about...) But the white–colar criminal subverts the whole system (in both monetary and systemic terms) perhaps significantly, perhaps making advancement more difficult for many others. Minor property damage perpetrated by the juvenile is minor property damage–unless the juvenile gets away with it and does some additional minor property damage later. But we ourselves remain the ones who must work within the system as it exists now–post major white-collar criminality. A bad investment manager such as Bernie must in some manner also taint the investment industry itself, taint (to some small degree) the basic credibility of American business, just as bad cops necessarily taint (in the short term at least) the repute-ablity of a police department. The Madoff "story" is not essentially a story in the personal dimension.., is it?

Technical blogging: The Web and Web Standards

(thoughts and observations, 9/2011)

Let me start with something insignificant, color names. It was at MIT I guess, as they were building the graphical X system for Unix, that a collection of about a hundred colors was “standardized.” Some of these names were silly, none claim to be scientific in any way, but I think the motivation was sound; accessibility, popularization. Darkseagreen is not very dark or very green actually, but is more fun than the hex rbg which it defines. [These hundred colors can be seen on the Wikipedia page, web colors.] This same set of color names are actually supported by the latest browser engines, they are included in the SVG standards also, but they are not often made use of in actual web pages. Why?

The source of most web pages is an unreadable mess, un-punctuated even by the occasional color name. The web has become pervasive, web browsing is common, and so writing for the web, creating html pages–this should be a fairly ordinary skill, at least for the college trained. But hand-coding an html page is still a complete hack. And for this the standards people must (at least technically speaking–) be held responsible. They haven’t even had as their objective, it seems–making html page-creation popular, accessible.

My second point would suggest that rationalistic thinking is partially to blame. That is, one can only plan, rationally, so far ahead into the future. Technology itself, as well as other decisions taken, must also shake and change the landscape in which one is operating. Improved hardware now makes video and audio delivery feasible for a majority of browser users, so it is of course appropriate that these items should now be included in newer html standards. But such was not a rationally-driven but rather a pragmatically-driven development. Standards planners may need to learn short-term thinking... And page-viewers accept that viewing may not be exactly uniform...

The early move to separate presentation from content shows (perhaps) a similar rationalistic inclination. (I do recognize that there are/were numerous forces, factors needing to be balanced, assuage... and I certainly do not prefer commercial forces..) But to continue, while it was certainly a great idea as such to separate out styling or presentation into css, in those earlier standards (and now, some ten years later with html5) inadequate attention is/was given to the structure side! We are told to begin with structure, but div, p, header– these are inadequate for structuring anything, and the section, aside, article, added with the latest html5 standards seem to me inadequate also. Why not provide us with twenty (forty) structure tags with loose logical interconnections... toc, chapter, section, p, credits, for the bookish document; spacer, left-side, main-content, logo, ad-box, frill-box, for the magazine layout; and then new element tags for the media-type layout?? I do know enough about parsing to claim that adding color-name capability to a browser engine is probably quite trivial. Twenty structure tags; structure frameworks within which there may be some functional overlap among tag-elements, is this so difficult to imagine or to implement..? Standards define various arrangements possible among structure tag-elements; Engines add css and then render such allowable arrangements...

As the web began there was of course no way to see where it was going. But now its general success and its contours are much more obvious. One rational (html) framework for all may not be appropriate any longer. Why not (for example) three modes: text mode, graphical (that is, present-day mode), and media mode?

The web “page” with links, which was the great initial concept, this paradigm will remain fundamental, but what might need to be given up is the expectation that presentation can be (always) controlled. This last idea may be unpalatable (or is it just our assumption that this is so...) to the commercial forces which now pay most of the bills and thus predominately control what may happen to the web, but there are certainly other interests, the academic, the popular, the progressive... that also should have influence..

Text mode as I envision it would allow the user to quickly set their text viewing and font choices, etc., and images and media and extraneous links could remain strictly secondary, and contingent to the device used. I mouse over a tiny graphic or links symbol or info symbol to get the extras. On a small device I don’t need to have the stuff on the side... But the content provider will not be expecting a uniform pretty-layout-experience on the part of their content consumers. Improved academic-type source citation should also be built in, but the emphasis would remain with the simple viewing of text (or computer code).

The graphical or artsy mode, the animated magazine layout -this will not be phased out in any foreseeable future. But even here (and my technical expertise may be inadequate here, or maybe not...) it seems to me that standards-makers have not tried to pragmatically adjust to hardware and software capabilities. If a flow of text (and text tags) with inserted images was the original paradigm, now everything is driven by an impossible dream, a quest for standardized graphical positioning. You can’t just have your magazine page or your PR front or storefront... where elements are are going to be jumbled, imprecisely placed, slide around, be different for different customers. Oh no.

But isn’t this positioning goal technically almost feasible now as addition to html 4? Couldn’t html standards incorporate an improved absolute-plus-relative positioning mode rather than (i.e., in addition to) the traditional flow-type rendering? Within such a new approach should further be added programmable switches which depend not on pre-defined concepts (hand-held, monitor, braille) but more prosaically–size, capacity. The iphone4 has a small viewing area but almost the same number of available pixels as web pages on computer monitors of ten years ago, making it perfect now for viewing those old less-graphics-heavy web pages! A pragmatic criterion would determine which page is to be delivered, standard or compact version, not a pre-existing conceptual scheme..

My question would be whether such a better and sane and even ordinary-person-accessible positioning language is feasible and practical now. Could standards-planners, if they were to begin this month, not work with the engine-makers to come up with a better positioning sub-language which would be simpler as well as precise enough to meet present-day presentation expectations?

The third mode as envisioned by this amateur (and something which may be technically made possible because of html5) will coordinate page-creation with javascript–not to give the viewer a standardized (magazine-type) page, but instead a customized container-page built with media compartments. The user again largely decides how this media will be displayed just as the user in the text-reader mode decides how his/her page of text content will appear on his/her screen...

When that majority of web viewers who are using a pre-IE9 browser switch to IE9, then HTML5 (I guess) will have officially arrived. By then also perhaps web-page software (including editors) will fully support html5, and at such a future moment my efforts to implement the modern skill of hand-coding an html web site in up-to-date html...will be do-able.