Friday, April 21, 2017

NYT: Trump Stole the Left’s License to BS

I must apologize — I thought I’d written my last political commentary. But when I read Casey William’s April 17 New York Times think piece, “Has Trump Stolen Philosophy’s Critical Tools?”, my first impression was, “This is either very subtle satire or the most blatant exposition of cognitive dissonance ever.” The problem: Williams desperately wants to call Pres. Donald Trump a liar.

We’re used to this pattern by now: The president dresses up useful lies as “alternative facts” and decries uncomfortable realities as “fake news.” Stoking conservative passion and liberal fury, Trump stirs up confusion about the veracity of settled knowledge and, through sheer assertion, elevates belief to the status of truth.

Trump’s playbook should be familiar to any student of critical theory and philosophy. It often feels like Trump has stolen our ideas and weaponized them.

However, the very critical tools upon which the academic left has become dependent for intellectual life-support forbids appealing to objective reality to back the claim that Trump lies. After all, if there is such a thing as an objective reality, we can’t know it for certain. The left has their facts, and Trump has his. Under postmodern critique, pace Daniel P. Moynihan,[*] the right to one’s own opinion is the right to one’s own facts.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

La Civiltà Cattolica and the “Spirit of the Age”

Rev. Antonio Spadaro, SJ. (Photo: Magyar Kurír.)
Brace yourselves. Once again, someone in the Vatican has challenged Church doctrine in a way that implicates Pope Francis, on an issue about which he has already spoken — women’s ordination to the priesthood. (Surprise, surprise, the culprit is a Jesuit.) Arguably, the last pope to have total control over his staff was St. Gregory the Great. Certainly, it’s dubious whether any pope since Pius XII has had a curia and bureaucracy that were all striving to the same end. But even the most doughty of papal defenders must occasionally find himself irritated by Francis’ seeming unwillingness to ride herd on the Vatican administration.

This is Where We Came In …

On Tuesday, February 7, Sandro Magister reported on an article published in the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, written by Fr. Giancarlo Pani, SJ. Titled “La Donna e il Diacono,” Magister claims that in the article, “Fr. Pani calmly rips to shreds the ‘last clear word’ — meaning the flat no — that John Paul II spoke against women’s priesthood.”

Yawn, you say; haven’t we seen this movie before, during the reigns of Benedict XVI and St. John Paul himself? Ah, says Magister, but this is different! You see, the Holy See inspects and authorizes every line it publishes! Plus, the editor is none other than papal confidant Fr. Antonio Spadaro, and Fr. Pani is not only a deputy editor but his closest colleague!

And Francis is the first “not to limit himself to what is already known, but wants to delve into a complex and relevant field, so that it may be the Spirit who guides the Church,” concludes La Civiltà Cattolica, evidently with the pope’s imprimatur.

The first rule in dealing with news from the Vatican: Not everybody in the Vatican is on the same page. In fact, going off-script is almost an intramural sport. Most bureaucracies have functionaries whose agendas differ from the person supposedly in charge of the mess. The Vatican differs only in that the subversion is more rampant and sometimes more blatant. Since Pius XII, the popes have as often had to work against the bureaucracy as with it. Nobody should assume that anybody in the Holy See does anything unusual with the full knowledge of the Pope, or even with the minimum knowledge of the next person up the food chain.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Chittister Challenge 2: Supply, Demand, and the “Culture of Life”

On Saturday, January 28, Joe Heschmeyer published an essay, “Seven Answers to the ‘Pro-Lifers are just Pro-Birth’ Argument,” in his blog Shameless Popery. The essay offers rebuttals to a meme featuring the quote from Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, that I wrote of a couple of years ago. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Joe, who is a student at the Pontifical American College in Vatican City (and, I believe, should be coming up on his transitional diaconate this year). I earnestly commend the essay to your attention; it’s very well balanced in its treatment of the argument.

Supply and Demand

However, Joe’s essay did prompt me to do a little more drilling on the subject, to embrace a little more of the political context in which the argument arises. The recent elections brought to the surface a long-standing tension between two different camps within the pro-life movement, camps which I will for brevity’s sake call the supply-side and demand-side branches. While the meme Joe dissects arose in a pro-abortion context, the quote has also had currency among demand-side pro-lifers.

The supply-side pro-life camp, which we could also call the first-wave movement, is mostly concerned with the legality of abortion and euthanasia, along with some related issues such as assisted suicide, cloning, IVF, and contraception. Politically, they tend to be older and more conservative or right-wing libertarian. As Joe rightly points out, conservatives are more likely to donate time and money to support charitable causes than are liberals, so it’s not like they’re stingy. However, precisely because their politics are more conservative, their view of the scope of “pro-life” is, for want of a more charitable word, narrower. They highly resist the importation of other issues, such as Syrian refugees or undocumented immigrants, into the pro-life purview and refuse the creation of government intervention programs. Because their concern is mostly with the legal and political mechanisms permitting the “death industry” to exist, one can say they seek to shut off the supply.

By contrast, the demand-side camp or second-wave movement tends to be younger, as well as more moderate to liberal in their politics though less willing to affiliate with either party or identify with either ideology. The demand-siders recognize that economic and social issues often drive the choice for death; by addressing those issues, they seek to reduce the demand. For this reason, they’re more likely to support government intervention and more willing to pay the taxes required to support the efforts. The pro-life movement as a whole is concerned with what Vice-President Mike Pence called “[society’s] most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn.” The second-wave movement, influenced by the consistent life ethic articulated most notably by Cdl. Joseph Bernardin and in St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, extends its recognition of vulnerability to immigrants, refugees, the homeless, and other socially marginalized people.[*]

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Absurdity of “Values-Free” Economics

Image source: marketoracle.co.uk.
While reading John C. Médaille’s Toward a Truly Free Market: A Distributist Perspective on the Role of Government, Taxes, Healthcare, Deficits, and More (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2010), I couldn’t help thinking of Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s admission three years ago that “economists actually know very, very little, and that a lot of what we thought we knew [prior to the last recession] turned out to be wrong.” Yet the defenders of what Gobry calls “the Washington consensus” still talk and think as though their economic dicta were enshrouded in papal infallibility. Toward a Truly Free Market helped me to realize that the economists were wrong because the entire discipline is not (and never could be) “values-free”; the very notion is inherently absurd. And the values enshrined in modern economic theory not only blind economists to impending market failures but make them inevitable.

What is Distributism?

Distributism holds that a community’s economic health is better secured when the ownership of capital — the means of production, including everything from office ball-point pens to factories, especially land — is spread out (distributed) widely among the population. It champions smaller, more localized businesses, especially cooperatives and employee-owned corporations, and considers globalism and the huge multinational conglomerates positive evils.

Distributism is not, however, a form of socialism. It rejects state ownership of property and demands a reordering of government power to prioritize the community over the nation. Nor does distributism necessarily require a forced redistribution of capital by the government, though Médaille doesn’t rule it out (see pp. 243-245).

Monday, November 21, 2016

About Those Participation Trophies …

Dear Cody,

I’ve seen the message you left for “People Older Than Me” on behalf of “People Younger Than Me”, which has had over 331,000 views at this writing [11/19/16]. For the benefit of everyone else, let me repeat it:

Dear People Older Than Me:

Shut up about the f**king participation trophies. We didn’t ask for them. We didn’t want them. We didn’t cherish them and polish them while thinking about what special, gifted children we are. They were annoying clutter on our shelves that we had to throw out in secret so we wouldn’t hurt YOUR feelings. And if we knew back then that you were gonna bring it up every time you disagreed with someone under 40 for the rest of f**king time, we would have told you where to shove that cheap plastic statue.

Sincerely,
People Younger Than Me

Mass Immaturity

Cody, I’m sure you’re sick of the references to the participation trophies. As a friend of mine pointed out, only the really little kids just starting Little League got participation trophies. Eventually, they went out with the ball tee, and you had to learn to play to win just as you had to learn how to hit a pitch. Which is to say, you had to learn to risk losing just as you learned to risk getting hit by a pitch. Participating is a minimum requirement; getting a trophy for it is like receiving an award for putting on your pants.

Just to show I get the larger point, I’m sure you’re also tired of the sneering references to “safe spaces” and trigger warnings and being called “delicate snowflakes”. I suppose it’s also our fault that many people of your generation come to adulthood ill-equipped, lacking confidence, self-esteem, and the normal skills to cope with adversity, unprepared to accept the risks that are part of life in an unsafe world. And if your cohort has shown some rotten behavior as a result of the recent election, I must admit many adults haven’t shown mature behavior either before or after the election.

But in case you missed it, Cody, that was the real point of the “participation trophy” reference — not that your cohort thinks of themselves as special, gifted people, but rather that they throw temper tantrums or break out in noisy tears like spoiled, entitled brats at the least sign of opposition. You’re angry, sad, or afraid? So what; it’s still unacceptable. When you have these episodes of mass immaturity, that’s when we start talking about participation trophies. We don’t simply disagree with you; we find your manner of disagreement absurd and contemptible. No one has to take you seriously just because you do.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Trump’s Plan: “Make America an Oligarchy”

I published Friday’s post a couple days later than I wanted to because my home Internet connection was down. In that post, I reflected on the degree to which elite arrogance had led to Donald Trump’s astonishing victory. But for anyone who thought voting for Trump was a vote for reform, I have news for you: We’re about to enshrine an oligarchy in power, where they can finish the wrecking of the American economic base. And We the People made it happen.

The Triumph of Neoliberalism

While liberals were wrecking windows and cars in a heartwarming display of love and inclusiveness, wearing safety pins for solidarity (because they don’t need them to hold their diapers together), and boomers and Gen-Xers were displaying their contrasting maturity and level-headedness by abusing Hispanics and committing hate crimes, the President-elect was putting a team together of the very people he promised to kick out of Washington to help him plan out the pillaging of the American economy and environment on behalf of the 1%. Speaking of promises, Trump is thinking of keeping some of Obamacare in place — most likely, the parts that keep your rates jacked up, while disposing of those parts that impose costs on the rich.

While you all were fretting over whether Trump would turn SCOTUS to the far right or Hillary would turn it to the far left, whether Christians would be herded into re-education camps or undocumenteds into deportation camps, whether we’d build a wall between us and Mexico or tear down the walls between “gendered” bathrooms, you missed the elements of Trump’s platform which signaled that he really is as much a member of the Establishment as Clinton … and that he really doesn’t empathize with the lower classes. All Trump’s race-baiting, rabble-rousing rhetoric was to distract you from the least appealing feature of his platform — his tax plan.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, it’s by no means unfair or unreasonable for those who own 89% of the nation’s assets and 95% of our financial wealth to pay 2/3rds or more of the government’s expenses. Those who rape — er, reap — more of the benefit of the laws should pay more for the establishment which guarantees those benefits. But Trump’s tax plan ignores all that. As Paul Waldman explains, “Trump’s tax plan would give 47 percent of its benefits to the richest one percent of taxpayers. Paul Ryan’s tax plan is even purer — it gives 76 percent of its cuts to the richest one percent in its first year, and by 2025 would feed 99.6 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent.” Dodd-Frank is slated to be axed, freeing the financial industry to make risky gambles with other people’s money once more. And while there won’t exactly be an “energy-regulation bonfire”, expect clean-energy initiatives to be cut.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Message to the Elite: “You’re Running the Country Wrong”

© 2016 A. F. Branco, Liberty Alliance.
As I watched ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and his crew of talking heads begin the autopsy on the election late Tuesday night, I felt some dark satisfaction. I hadn’t been the only self-appointed expert caught flat-footed by Donald Trump’s and the Republicans’ victory. Most of the elite, the Only People Whose Opinions Count, were humiliated by an over-glorified carnival huckster who (in our wise estimation) did just about everything wrong that could be done wrong and still pulled the upset of the century.

Andrew Sullivan Throws a Nutty

And the funny thing is, having been so spectacularly wrong about this election, we, the chatterati of America who have been polluting your television screens and social media feeds for months with our hive-mind wisdom, still think you should take our social forecasts seriously. Case in point: Andrew Sullivan, who threw a classic spittle-flecked nutty on the Daily Intelligencer.

This is now Trump’s America. He controls everything from here on forward. He has won this campaign in such a decisive fashion that he owes no one anything. He has destroyed the GOP and remade it in his image. He has humiliated the elites and the elite media. He has embarrassed every pollster and naysayer. He has avenged Obama. And in the coming weeks, Trump will not likely be content to bask in vindication. He will seek unforgiving revenge on those who dared to oppose him. The party apparatus will be remade in his image. The House and Senate will fail to resist anything he proposes — and those who speak up will be primaried into oblivion. The Supreme Court may well be shifted to the far right for more than a generation to come — with this massive victory, he can pick a new Supreme Court justice who will make Antonin Scalia seem like a milquetoast. He will have a docile, fawning Congress for at least four years. We will not have an administration so much as a court.

You should read it. Sullivan is so hysterical over Trump’s forthcoming fascist state that he didn’t pay attention to what he himself wrote: Trump can’t keep all his promises. In fact, we ought to be wondering which promises, if any, he really meant. For instance, his website’s policies page doesn’t have a link to pro-life policies. Various press releases had mentioned his pro-life position; but hey! those press releases are gone now. And frankly, I don’t trust the GOP to hold his feet to the fire on the matter.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Doing Wrong By the Country: The “Lesser Evil” Vote

I’m sick to death of this election. The most distressing aspect of this election cycle is that it’s revealed the extent to which American Catholics, particularly those of a conservative bent, have embraced utilitarianism. For some, it’s a half-hearted utilitarianism — “Oh, we have a lot of qualms about our candidate, but we’ll manfully swallow them to prevent The Evil Candidate from being elected” — but it’s utilitarianism nonetheless.

A Priest Endorses Utilitarianism

Nothing so forcefully illustrates this as the final paragraph of this op-ed from the Wall Street Journal by James Freeman, “Doesn’t Clinton Embarrass the Democrats?”:

Voters who wish to reject the Clintonization of America’s governing institutions have a choice on Nov. 8. They can feel good about themselves by writing in the name of a third-party candidate. Or they can do right by the country by selecting the only person who can stop the Clintons: a very flawed candidate named Donald Trump.

Not only is the argument utilitarian, it sneers at third-party/write-in voters as vain fools voting their self-images. Ad hominem much? The kicker: the paragraph had been posted on Facebook by a priest whose name I shall not mention … and who ought to know better than that.

That Freeman and the WSJ would be for Trump is no surprise. Remarking on the last debate, Freeman comments, “Mr. Trump, for his part, deviates from many Republicans on trade and immigration but has otherwise embraced a growth agenda of lower taxes and regulatory relief for an economy that sorely needs it.” In other words, Freeman and (by extension) the Journal believe the only cure for our current economic doldrums is a hair of the dog that bit us in 2007.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Christian and Pro-Life Leaders: DUMP TRUMP! (UPDATED)

Paul Combs, Tribune.org
[ADDED NOV. 9, 2016: Obviously, my crystal ball is working as well as it usually does come election time. I deserve to have the lede carved on my headstone to shame me even after death. Nevertheless, I’m still convinced Pres. Trump will eventually jilt the pro-life movement, and that the leaders of the “official” movement — especially Fr. Frank Pavone — did us no favors by hitching us onto the Trump train.]

I am no longer concerned about the prospect of Donald Trump as President of the United States. It was never a strong likelihood, despite his sense-defying victory in the Republican primaries. In fact, over the last year, The Donald has done just about everything in his power to ensure Hillary Clinton’s election save drop-kick a beagle puppy from the 58th floor of the Manhattan Trump Tower. The revelation of his “grab them by the p***y” remark simply put the final nail in the coffin. What does concern me is the failure of some visible Christian leaders, especially in the pro-life camp, to admit their error in supporting Trump.

Assessing the Damage

As of this writing [4:00pm CDT, Oct. 8], the most recent political post on the Priests for Life site is an action alert item: “Help Us Tell Tim Kaine to Stop Insulting Catholicism!” The latest news from Susan B. Anthony List is Oct. 5’s “Pence Goes on Offense to Expose Clinton-Kaine Abortion Extremism”. Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition thinks that “A ten-year-old tape of a private conversation with a talk show host ranks low on [people of faith’s] hierarchy of concerns.” And Gary Bauer of the Campaign for Working Families stated, “The ten-year-old tape of a private conversation in which Donald Trump uses grossly inappropriate language does not change the reality of the choice facing this country.”

In a sense, Bauer does hit the right nail: in reality, Trump is no worse a candidate than he was a week ago. The only difference is, Republican leaders are finally waking up to the full shambling horror, albeit too late to do anything meaningful about it. And neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein presents a better choice on religious and pro-life issues. Johnson has called religious freedom a “black hole”, while Stein has called it a code for “patriarchal domination”. If you eliminate fringe candidacies, such as the American Solidarity Party’s Michael Maturen and (sadly) the independent Joe Schriner, that leaves Christian and pro-life leaders with a Hobson’s choice: either Trump or nobody.

The choice should have been nobody.

The smart Republicans started to abandon ship even before Trump’s nomination was a done deal. Republican strategist Doug Heye called the decision to nominate Trump “a stain on the GOP’s soul,” nor is he the first. Back in August, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asked Republicans, “If you tell us such a man should be president, why should the nation ever believe anything else you say?” Just a few days earlier, Kathleen Parker of MySanAntonio.com noted, “For many Republicans, the question is: ‘Who’d want to be a member of a party that would have Donald Trump as its leader?’” As for those who are only now trying to distance themselves from this dumpster fire, the cliché “a day late and a dollar short” doesn’t begin to describe their failure of foresight.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book Review: Particles of Faith, by Stacy A. Trasancos

One challenge Christians face, particularly millennials, is the apparent challenge Science poses to articles of faith. To be brutally blunt, most of this appearance of challenge stems from the inability of believers and nonbelievers alike to respect the limits of both Science and Religion. An impoverished “progressive” education, neglecting even the most rudimentary instruction in philosophy and leading to rampant neo-philistinism, contributes heavily to the confusion. Many Catholics can benefit from a guide that clarifies those limits and defangs the “hermeneutic of conflict” which decrees the challenge. This is what Stacy A. Trasancos, Ph.D., M.A., offers us in Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 2016; $15.95).

Walking in “No-Man’s Land”

Particles of Faith is not an apologetical work. That’s to say, Dr. Trasancos doesn’t explicitly seek to make converts of atheists, but rather to steer Catholics along a path that will help them comprehend the current state of the sciences that form the “no-man’s land” between belief and unbelief. To this task, she brings an impressive array of education and experience — industrial chemist, theologian, teacher, and mother of seven.

One small complaint: every once in a while, the chemistry talk goes beyond the average layman’s comprehension despite Dr. Trasancos’ obvious attempt to simplify it. I say this as one whose last physical-science course was twenty-three years ago (for what it’s worth, it was organic chemistry, and I got a 4.0). But that’s what Google’s for, right? [Full disclosure: Stacy is not only a friend but the co-publisher and editor emeritus at Catholic Stand; she and Tito Edwards brought me on board there.]

The book is set up in three parts. Part I, “Science in the Light of Faith”, discusses the limitations of science and its necessarily transient state. Part II, “Questions in the Physical Sciences”, delves into the “Big Bang” theory, the relationship of atoms to reality, and the question of whether quantum mechanics explains free will. Part III, “Questions in the Biological Sciences”, discusses evolution from three different angles; particularly useful is the discussion of polygenism versus monogenism (that is, whether humans evolved from a single Adam-and-Eve pair or from a group of independently-evolved individuals).