Monday, December 22, 2008

Holidays vs Holy Days

Every year we hear the same thing. Christians lamenting the fact that Christ is being left out of Christmas, and even secular people complaining that Christmas has become too commercial. In thinking about this, I've concluded that the problem they are trying to solve is that Christmas is a celebration. It is no longer a holy day, it is a holiday.

Think about it. Holy days should not be celebrated, they should be observed. There is a total contradiction between the notion of celebrating and being holy. Holy men do not party. They don't revel. Not Christian holy men, anyway. Maybe the old pagan ones. To be truly holy in the Christian sense, one's focus must be towards Heaven, and away from all worldly things. Gifts, decorations, and feasts are decidedly worldly. So the reason Christmas has become worldly is because it has become a celebration, a holiday rather than a holy day.

How can we undo that?

The first thing we have to stop is all this gift giving. Giving would be okay, except with so many people giving, there's waaaay too much getting going on: the children, who become selfish little monsters talking about all the presents they're going to get; the merchants who balance up the year's accounts with Christmas sales; and even the adults with their Amazon wish lists. The whole thing is driven by that filthy, evil thing called money. If we can stop the gift giving, the popularity of Christmas would plummet--I mean the celebrating would plummet, not the popularity. It would still be popular. Like Lent.

But before we can achieve that level of purity, we have to get rid of some other things too. We need to stop decking the halls with boughs of holly, putting up mistletoe, and decorating that "Christmas" tree. Those are just leftovers from old pagan celebrations and are not really in keeping with the true meaning of Christmas. They're like those rabbits and eggs at Easter--but that's another post.

That just leaves the Christmas feast. That notorious exercise in gluttony: "Praise the Lord and pass the gravy." Is this a way to observe the birth of a man who commanded us to give our money to the poor and follow him? I would suggest giving our hams to the poor, but that would just start up that whole giving and getting thing again. We don't want the poor to become greedy, or enrich the pig-farmers. Nope, let's play it safe and just give the whole thing up. Have a piece of toast and a glass of water.

All these reforms will really help us get back to the true Christian spirit of Christmas, but I can't help but feel like there's something missing. It could end up being just like any other day, or, if people go to church, then just like any other Sunday. It requires something special to mark it.

Now the Romans, they knew how to keep their holy days. They certainly kept Saturn in the Saturnalia. He was the god famous for swallowing his children as they were born so that they couldn't rise up against him. His wife finally tricked him, feeding him a rock in a blanket so that she could hide Jupiter away on the island of Crete. When Jupiter grew up, he went back home in disguise, gave his father an emetic, and caused him to vomit up all those children. To mark that holy event, the Romans would eat a baby's weight of food, drink a bunch of alcohol, and then stick their finger down their throat and throw it all up. Christians need something like that for Christmas. Not that exact same ritual, of course, which is already reserved for Thanksgiving, but something more Christ-like.

My suggestion would be to remember the holiest of Christian holies--the crucifixion of Jesus--by being crucified. Now, I know that some people already do this for Easter. But many people also do it in a metaphorical way at Christmas, so this would make the connection much stronger for them. As a special thing for Christmas, we could even get the kids involved. We're going to have to do away with those nativity plays, which send a not-so-subtle message about the fun of gift getting, so we can replace them with little crucifixion rituals for the kids.

By universally adopting all these reforms, I believe we can end, once and for all, the greed and crass commercialism that mar the observance of Christmas. We can achieve the day when people no longer wish one another a "merry" Christmas, but a Christmas full of humility, self-abnegation, and martyrdom. Amen.

PS. For those with deficient sarcasm detectors, the above post was written with tongue firmly in cheek.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ben Stein's Nutty

"Bueller.... Bueller..."

That's my image of Ben Stein: slightly boring, self-deprecating, staid conservative. I don't know who this religious nut is. Science leads to killing people? And God leads to this very glorious place. Well.

Stein has generated good responses here and here, and Derbyshire has a longer article here on Stein's promotion of ID in Expelled. I really don't have anything to add to what they've said, although I did leave a number of comments at ChicagoBoyz (second link in paragraph).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bush Gets Angry

This is a good video. I've been very critical of Bush, but this is why I voted for him twice. At his core, he is a good man. He is infected up to his ears with pragmatism, and wouldn't know a principle if it bit him in the ass (which has happened several times during his presidency), but he has been persistent in waging war on our enemies. There are so many ways that he could have done a better job, but I have to give him full credit for not giving in when things have been difficult. He has always looked for the way forward, and I hope that he has found it in Gen. Petraeus.

(H/T Protein Wisdom)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fascism in America

I'm still reading Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. One of the themes he keeps coming back to is the emphasis that fascism places on action, as opposed to deliberation and analysis.
The fascist state of mind can best be described as "Enough talk, more action!"
Close the books, get out of the library, get moving. Take action! What kind of
action? Direct action! Social action! Mass action! Revolutionary action! Action,
action, action. (p.170)

This emphasis on action arose out of their philosophical pragmatism. Fascism had no settled doctrine other than to do whatever works. Fascists claimed to stand outside the struggle between Left and Right, offering a "Third Way" that would not cling to ideological preconceptions, but would take whatever course was best for the country as a whole.
Mussolini was seen as moving beyond the "tired categories of left and right."
Similarly--like certain modern liberals--he promised what he called a "Third
Way" that was neither left nor right. He just wanted to get things done. (p.50)

So today I happened to click on the website for the McCain campaign for the first time, and was greeted with the headline: "It's Time For Action."

Clicking over to get the details on his economic plan, a video promises that, "As president, John McCain will take the best ideas from both parties to spur innovation, invest in people, and create jobs."

One attribute of fascism that Goldberg doesn't emphasize, but which Ayn Rand analyzed in detail in her speech, "The Fascist New Frontier," is its incessant calls for sacrifice. Not sacrifice as a means of attaining some greater value, but as a kind of ennobling asceticism.
Under both systems [communist and fascist], sacrifice is invoked as a magic,
omnipotent solution in any crisis--and the "public good" is the altar on which
victims are immolated. But there are stylistic differences of emphasis. The
socialist-communist axis keeps promising to achieve abundance, material comfort
and security for its victims, in some indeterminate future. The fascist-Nazi
axis scorns material comfort and security, and keeps extolling some
undefined sort of spiritual duty, service and conquest. The socialist-communist
axis offers its victims an alleged social ideal. The fascist-Nazi axis offers
nothing but loose talk about some unspecified form of racial or national "greatness."

Clicking on a link at the main page of the website indicated by the text, "A Cause Greater Than Your Own Self Interest," takes one to a page containing the following quote:
I am running for President of the United States because I believe in the
greatness of this nation as a beacon of goodwill throughout the world. My
friends, each and every one of us has a duty to serve a cause greater than our
own self-interest.

To be clear, I agree with Goldberg's thesis that the Left is essentially fascist. I don't think that McCain is any more fascist than Obama or Clinton, and in a lot of ways is probably better. I take it as a given that I could go to either of their websites and pull up plenty of horror quotes that would support Goldberg's claim regarding modern liberals. My point is just that we're being offered fascism on both sides. It is what Goldberg calls "smiley-face fascism," rather than the "gas-oven" fascism of Hitler, but it is most certainly fascism.

The value of Goldberg's book is that he makes it very clear that whatever is not classical liberalism in American politics is fascism. What he doesn't seem to realize is just how dead classical liberalism is on the right. There is a chapter at the end called "The Temptation of Conservatism," which I presume will discuss some of these issues, but given the way he talks about conservatism, he appears to believe that it is the same thing as classical liberalism. I don't think that's been true for a long time.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nazis? What Nazis?

I'm reading Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism right now, and I found this little tidbit just rich, rich, rich in irony.

U.S. Congressional candidate Tony Zirkle is facing criticism from one of
his primary opponents, and a host of people on the Internet, for speaking at an
event over the weekend that celebrated Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

Zirkle confirmed to The News-Dispatch on Monday he spoke Sunday in
Chicago at a meeting of the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party, whose symbol is
a swastika.

When asked if he was a Nazi or sympathized with Nazis or white
supremacists, Zirkle replied he didn’t know enough about the group to either
favor it or oppose it. “This is just a great opportunity for me to witness,” he
said, referring to his message and his Christian belief.

He also told WIMS radio in Michigan City that he didn’t believe the
event he attended included people necessarily of the Nazi mindset, pointing out
the name isn’t Nazi, but Nationalist Socialist Workers Party.

Why ironic, you ask? Well, Goldberg's thesis is that modern day progressives are part of a fascist tradition that goes back to the Progressive Era. I agree with that completely, but I've detected a bit of a blind spot when it comes to modern conservatives. And right on time, poof! Here we have a conservative who can go to a meeting of the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party, and get all warm and fuzzy with them never realizing (?) that they are a bunch of Neo-Nazis. Does that indicate perhaps a proximity of feeling and ideology between him and his hosts? I'm gonna say it does.

It's an extreme example, but having argued with numerous conservatives online, I've noticed a strain of reasoning that has a great deal in common with how progressives, both old and new, argue--and by extension, given Goldberg's thesis, shows a definite fascist streak.

And what sort of moron can make a career in politics without knowing that the Nazis were the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party? Perhaps he can find work at the Post Office. They have uniforms...

(H/T Instapundit)

UPDATE: He's not just a moron, he's a racist moron. LGF has a photo of him making his speech standing at a table in a room festooned with swastikas in front of a big painting of Hitler. I was so stunned, I couldn't believe it was really him. I thought maybe it was just a generic photo of a Nazi meeting. Nope. I found the group's website in the original article linked by LGF, and I was able to find video of his speech. I watched just enough to see that he was speaking to them as someone "concerned about the white race" and concerned about Jewish sexual exploitation of white women. This should be a career ending move. If the Republican party doesn't kick him out on his ear, I will burn my registration card and go register as an Independent.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Exploit the Earth Day!!!

Well, I didn't get out and exploit the Earth today. I just sat inside with the AC kicking and the computer running... oh, wait...

My wife sent me an email earlier about how she was marking the day:
On this beautiful "Earth" day, I pause to celebrate:
  • The lovely new seal and paint job my office parking lot received today -
    it's shiny!
  • The completion of the widening of the truck route from 1 lane to 3,
    saving me anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes each way on my commute. It's
    shiny too!
You know, fresh black top really looks nice.

Even nicer are the cars zipping past my office window with room to spare
instead of being backed up for a mile in each direction!

Sounds lovely. I can't wait to see it myself.

Hope everyone had a happy Exploit the Earth day!!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Exploit the Earth Day!!

In lieu of joining the Back to the Jurassic movement tomorrow, some people have proposed using the day to celebrate the exploitation of the Earth, an activity without which we would all die. Therefore, I'm looking for suggestions on ways to celebrate Exploit the Earth Day. Please leave ideas in the comments.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cause and Effect

I received the following from a friend of mine in an email, and asked his permission to post it here. I think it is relevant to my previous post. Rather than place it in block quotes and having it show up even narrower than it already is (someone want to tell me how to expand my text frame?), I'm going to paste it between the asterisks.


By Steven Brockerman, MS

This short video is interesting from the perspective of causality. The first perspective is explicit. In the video, we see and hear Al Gore's (dramatic: darkened stage; high tech graphing; uses of vibrant colors; etc.) presentation regarding CO2 causing "global warming"; then, in far less dramatic settings, we hear the experts' response, namely that Gore is reversing causality: It is warming that is causing increases in CO2, not the other way around.

(Mind you, it is my position that whether the Earth is warming or cooling depends on where you start your timeline--in the latter part of the 19th Century (then, yes, the globe has warmed since then by about 1 degree C) or in the middle of the 20th Century (then, no, the globe has not warmed since then; indeed, it has cooled by approximately .1 degree C, even if you factor in the summer of 1998. If you take note of the temperature scale shown by the climatologists, you'll note the drop in temperatures that occurs beginning around that time, the 1940s.))

The other perspective is implicit--and I suspect a point of debate among Objectivists. It was a point I made and continue to make, although I suspect I am in the minority.

First, recall my post on HBL in which I recount a story told me by my father. I noted it as an example of mass scale epistemological corruption. It involved a neighborhood in which most of the people believed they were seeing a miracle, which came in the form of a silhouette resembling (the typical version of) the Virgin Mary on the exterior wall of the local Catholic church. As time past, the crowds grew larger and the priests inside the rectory next to the church grew alarmed. So they placed shrouds over crucifixes that had long handles (used in processions) and walked in front of the shadow to demonstrate to everyone that it was the result, not of a any miracle, but of a streetlight shining through some tree branches. Nothing, though, could convince the growing crowd that this was not the work of some divine agency. Eventually, the priests asked the city (of Camden, NJ) to extinguish the streetlight; after a suitable period, the city sent a crew out to trim back the tree's branches.

An example, of course, of how the emotionalism of faith corrupts epistemology.

The question that arises from this (in my mind) is: How does the belief in faith—the faith in faith itself—become so ensconced in people's epistemology that, despite all the facts to the contrary, they refuse to relinquish it? How does one aggressively ignore one's mind, which is precisely what one must first do, when one is young—in one's teens—before one becomes corrupted and starts lying to oneself? My answer is: Because one long ago--from 4 to 10—accepted the morality of self-sacrifice. Faith in a supernatural entity that embodies and preaches self-sacrifice re-enforces that morality, rather than leads to it.

In short, just as CO2 isn't the cause but the effect of warming temps, ethics is the cause, not the effect, of a corrupt epistemology. And that is the reason that one will always fail—whether priests proving a miracle is merely a street light cast shadow or scientists proving that global warming is a hoax—when presenting facts to minds whose ethics have corrupted their epistemology. It's not the corrupted epistemology—faith in God nor even the faith in faith—that leads one to believe in self-sacrifice. The cause is the acceptance of the sacrifice morality itself. That, in effect, stunts the person's epistemological growth, which remains at the emotional level. That, too, is why such emotion driven presentations like Gore's succeed so well to those sorts of minds in the face of counter arguments that are impeccably reasoned but less dramatic.

Facing such a mind, the only recourse for the rational—in terms of persuasion—is to attack that mind's morality head on. To aggressively assault, with facts and with reasoned argument, that person's ethics. Even then, if the person is over the age of, say, 25, I think there's very little chance of success. There really isn't a mind there; only a bundle of reactionary emotionalism (and, later, well constructed rationalizations and evasions), which is all that essentially constitutes the person’s epistemology.

Many Objectivists will certainly disagree, of course, citing the fact that metaphysics and epistemology precede and are the foundation for ethics. I submit that such a view is rationalistic, substituting the flow chart, if you will, of philosophy for the beginning state of a child's mind, which is not a rationally driven state but an emotionally driven one. (Parents will, I think, bear me out on that.) A child reacts first; only as time goes by does a child learn how to act—to take control of his mind (and his emotions), using his gradually learned skills of reasoning to (implicitly—explicitly comes later) form his metaphysics and epistemology. But morality—wanting to be (to feel) good and not (feel) bad—precedes that. Yes, there is a bare bones basic metaphysics & epistemology there; but the force of morality is far greater because, at this point in a child's development, the force of his feelings is greater.

In conclusion, the force that morality possesses over Man supersedes, at first, the (implicit) conclusions of his mind's metaphysics & epistemology. So much so that he will arrange (as he ages) his conclusions to fit his notion of morality. (Incidentally, this is, in my opinion, prima facie evidence of the goodness of Man's nature.) By the time the toddler has reached his teens, that morality is the bedrock upon which he has (custom) built his metaphysics and epistemology.

As addendum—as inductive proof—I ask you all to do a thought experiment; or, rather, to introspect backward to that time in your life when you were between the ages of, say, 4 and 10. During that time, did you take seriously the notion of self-sacrifice? Were you bombarded by adults, your parents most of all, with admonitions that being a good boy meant you had to sacrifice yourself to others? How about in school?

As I recall, I was not exposed to that kind of thinking at all, not even in Catholic school. Oh, sure, within the liturgy of the Catholic mass, yes; but that was a) in Latin and b) so far above my head--and so far removed from day-to-day efforts (and rules) to be a "good boy"--that it had little or no effect. (I recall telling my mother that if I had been there when they tried to crucify Christ, I'd have mowed them all down with a machine gun.) More important, as I recall, was that I be mannerly (as in table manners) and polite, respectful of adults, not get into fights (the closest I came to being exposed to self-sacrificing--"Just walk away, Steven") and to watch my mouth--talking too much; cursing; etc.

So I put it to you: We will never win the global warming debate—nor any other debate—no matter how many facts we trot out until we win the fundamental debate: Egoism is moral—self-sacrifice is evil. Until, as the scientists in this video have done, we recognize the proper order of causality—not in a formal schematic of philosophy on paper but in a schematic reflecting the functioning of a child's mind.

If we do, we will have, like those scientists, correctly identified the proper causal order between ethics and epistemology: A corrupt epistemology does not cause men to accept the morality of self-sacrifice. Rather, the morality of self-sacrifice results in them accepting a corrupt epistemology.


I agree with this. One could say that self-sacrifice serves as a proto-epistemology. It is the habit of not pursuing a first-hand knowledge of truth in order to avoid conflict with others.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Moral Case for Capitalism

In the comments at PW, Ric Locke does a good job of making the practical case for capitalism, but I again find myself wishing that conservatives would focus on the moral case for capitalism. I wonder how far abolitionists would have gotten by arguing against slavery on the grounds that it is inefficient? Probably as far as conservatives have gotten in reestablishing a capitalist system.

Every year we move further and further away from capitalism and freedom. Why? It's not because the case for socialism is so compelling, it's because the argument from efficiency is so weak. People care about morality first, and practicality second. It doesn't matter if we all starve under a socialist system, we will all starve together in a magnificent act of self-sacrifice. So long as people believe that self-sacrifice is the moral ideal, they will continue voting for the system that enshrines it in law; and if it leads to our collective self-destruction, so be it. It wouldn't be self-sacrifice if it didn't.

Ric accuses socialists of demonizing the rich, but the reason they can do that successfully is because accumulating wealth is a selfish act. There is no way to accept the premise that self-sacrice is the standard of morality without accepting the conclusion that rich people are evil. By that moral standard, anyone who refuses to hand over his surplus earnings to those less fortunate is immoral, and the greater the surplus, the greater the immorality. That standard of virtue must be completely rejected in order to make the moral case for capitalism.

How can conservatives do that, though, if they remain committed to Christianity? How can they do it when even a conservative who claims to be non-religious remains committed to the ethical framework of Christianity? I don't see it happening.

And so we'll continue to drift towards totalitarian socialism with the conservatives occasionally complaining about inefficiencies yet consistently voting for ever-increasing levels of sacrifice for the good of all.

UPDATE: I missed this earlier article in the Wall Street Journal Online edition. I love the way the author attempts a six-degrees-of-separation style jump from Ayn Rand to Bill Clinton via Walt Whitman. You see, Rand wrote about selfishness, and Walt Whitman wrote a poem called "Song of Myself," and Bill Clinton used to hand out Leaves of Grass to impressionable young females. ("Hey, little girl... want a book of poetry?") So obviously Rand would have admired Clinton.

Is this what passes for reasoning at the WSJ? Was she too chicken to attempt a connection with Hitler or Stalin? Or does she consider Clinton worse?

The entire article is just one long smear, including all the obligatory references to cultish followers, Gordon Gekko's greed speech in Wall Street, and moral absolutism. (I love the way that Rand gets pinned with the amoralism of Gekko, while also being accused of moral absolutism. Which is it?) I knew what I was in for at the beginning, though, when she referred to Rand's writings as "individualist screeds." Hurrah for objectivity in the media.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Taranto Responds...

James Taranto responded today to my email criticizing his comment about Ayn Rand in yesterday's Best of the Web Today. He quotes my email in full, and after quoting another critical response from this blog, he responds to both of us as follows:

We must admit, we're surprised. Aren't Ayn Rand admirers usually known for their
jolly sense of humor?

That's his total response, which is very typical of Taranto. Any time he encounters a question for which he has no ready answer, he resorts to snark and sophistry. Still, I would have expected more sophistry and less snark if he were going to bother to respond at all. Does he really expect his readers to be as dismissive of Rand as he is?

Why the lack of substance in his reply? Is it because he hasn't read Rand, and he's embarrassed to admit it? Perhaps he only knows her as someone who defended the morality selfishness, and he has no idea what she meant by it, or what she said about it. It could be that his use of her name in his column was merely intended as a humorous reference to the uninformed stereotype in his head, and he does not know how to respond to criticism other than to try to laugh it off. We could then ask what do James Taranto and Barack Obama have in common?

Another possibility is that he knows full well what Ayn Rand believed, and he knows his misrepresentation would be obvious to anyone who has read her. Conservatives have a history of misrepresenting Rand's views that goes all the way back to the book review of Atlas Shrugged that appeared in National Review. It's something they have in common with leftist academics. It serves two purposes: 1) it gives their followers an excuse not to read the books in the first place; and 2) it gives their followers cover to dismiss Rand's views out of hand if they do happen to read her. They don't have to engage with her arguments, because they have a ready-to-wear defense against her. They can read through her writings in a fog, and repeat the mantras they were taught:

"She was a fascist."
"She was an atheist."
"She preached selfishness."
"Her admirers are humorless cultists."

Well, a sneer isn't an argument, and in this case it is just a confession of intellectual impotence.

In spite of those sneers, Rand's writings continue to sell. Her ideas continue to spread. New books are being published expounding on her ethical theory (see here, here, and here). Atlas Shrugged is being read in college classrooms around the country. University philosophy departments are opening up to her ideas. The political outlook may not be all that bright right now, but I'm looking forward to the day when we can all have a jolly old laugh at Mr. Taranto's expense.

A Letter to James Taranto

I sent the following as an email to James Taranto in response to this.

Mr Taranto,

In your Best of the Web column of April 13, you made the following statement:

Underlying this criticism is a curious normative premise: that the nonaffluent
ought to prioritize their material interests over moral and cultural concerns.
"Workers of the world, unite!" meets "The Virtue of Selfishness."

Either you have never read Ayn Rand's "The Virtue of Selfishness," or you are a liar*. Her philosophy is grounded in the principle that a man's survival qua man is the moral purpose of his life. In her view, the virtues of rationality, productiveness, honesty, integrity, etc, are the means by which we achieve happiness and success over the course of our lives. She never advocated sacrificing those virtues for any chimerical short term gain. It is very true that she disagreed with conservatives on issues such as abortion, but she did so on moral grounds.

As for her view of free markets, unlike conservatives who base their support for capitalism on pragmatic grounds and on the view that man is too evil to live in a socialist utopia, Ayn Rand advocated capitalism because it is the only moral system. It is the only system that requires men to deal with each other by reason instead of force. It is the only system that acknowledges a man's right to pursue his well being and achieve his own happiness. If you honestly don't know that, then you need to read what she wrote. If you do know it, then you have acted immorally, betraying your own self-interest by misrepresenting her in an attempt to subject her ideas to ridicule.

*Note: At the last minute I decided to replace "lying sack of shit" with "liar." It wasn't as viscerally satisfying, but it was probably the better choice.