True, There Never Was a Golden Age, but….

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Small town Arizona

I enjoy looking through the books other faculty require as reading at the university where I teach–it gives me a sense of the focus of their classes and the gist of the material taught in a particular class. One day I found a book on the 1950s, arguing that it was not a “golden age” for family life, and that families had severe problems then as they do now. My first response was to say to myself, “No kidding.” Only a fool would think that the 1950s or any other decade was some kind of “Golden Age” that bypassed human frailties. Marriages had problems in the 1950s, some spouses were abused as well as some children, and some families were dysfunctional. However, apart from these obvious facts, and apart from useful advances in technology and medicine since the 1950s, it does appear that, despite its flaws, that decade was the last true “Era of Good Feeling” in the United States. It was also the last decade in which a generally Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic was dominant in American thought, even among most Roman Catholics and Jews. Although divorce was sometimes necessary in extreme circumstances of physical and/or emotional abuse or serial adultery, in most cases divorce was frowned upon. Although the Hollywood set would get abortions as well as others, abortion was recognized as a grave moral evil. Only a small minority disagreed. Premarital sex occurred, of course, and the hypocritical aspects of 1950s sexual mores are well known, but at least there was an ideal that the wedding night would be a special beginning of  a new life between two people that is sealed by their first act of sexual intercourse. More extended families existed, especially in the South, the Midwest, and (as is still the case today) in the Italian-American community. Although people moved, outside of the military or of upper business management, extensive moving was rare. The new suburbs, for a time, retained the notion of a “neighorhood” with cookouts and regular visits between neighbors. Small town life, though declining, still flourished in many parts of the country. Alcoholism was a problem, as was always the case, but extensive use of hard drugs such as heroin was rare outside some inner city neighborhoods. There was a growing problem with juvenile crime, but most teenaged social life was tame by today’s “standards.” Although conformity was sometimes taken to an extreme, there was a strong sense that the older generation felt a responsibility to rear a virtuous younger generation. Perhaps the “greatest generation” did not understand the degree to which easy access to material things would create the spoiled and self-serving whiners of the mid-1960s onward, but most tried to rear their children with high moral values. My parents told me that at least in the 1950s a person knew whom he could trust. Today, they said, it is difficult to trust anyone.

The “Great Society” and the destruction of underclass society which arose through their dependency on federal aid, was in the future. The vast majority of children, white and black, were born in stable two-parent homes. A strong work ethic permeated most of American society.

This is not to say that the 1950s did not have deep flaws–struggles over race and the threat of nuclear war, for example. However, I would have rather lived in that kind of culture rather than the upside down world of 2012, in which people “call evil good and good evil” and Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” took place, though not in the direction of the Homeric virtues as Nietzsche desired. Christian culture is rapidly declining in influence, with a new breed of young secularists coming into view who, as Rush Limbaugh (who is right on this point) notes are both desirous of a government “nanny state” to take care of their physical needs while at the same time desiring that the government let them “do their thing” regarding gay marriage, abortion, and other “choices” they deem “personal.” The rapidity of the decline in American character since the 1950s has been astounding. In my own lifetime the world has turned upside down, to the delight of the anti-Christian left and to the chagrin of the few traditionalists standing against the plague of barbarism overwhelming the country.

No generation is unfallen. Yet most members of the 1950s generation would admit when they did wrong. They might do bad things anyway, but they understood them to be morally wrong. Today people strut immoral activity without believing it to be immoral. Academia has been part of the fuel for the fire of relativism, but it is, ironically, an absolutist relativism that denies traditionalists their right to express their views. The universities have become cesspools of relativism, Marxism, and a stifling politically correct orthodoxy. At least in the 1950s, faculty had academic freedom to express their views. Traditional conservatives may have been a small minority, but they were not censored. The university was generally a place of open discussion of ideas rather than the cesspool of radical orthodoxy it has become now.

It is too late to go back–the United States as I knew it as a child is dying. The sense of anomie I and other traditionalists feel has driven some to emigrate from the country and others to retreat to enclaves of like-minded people. In the 1950s I would have felt at home. Even in the 1980s there seemed to be hope for the future. Now I feel like a stranger in a strange land, and I am sure many other people do as well. There are times I want to go back to my grandparents’ house where my parents lived with my sister and I from 1965-1969 and enjoy the simplicity of it all before the madness of the 1960s froze into place in the 1970s. It may be a good thing for Christians, for it forces us to focus on God as the only One who is eternal, the only One who does not change. Going back to the past is pointless–traditionalists have lost the culture. We can trust in God, try to live good moral lives and be good examples to others, be active in church, and enjoy visits with like-minded people without isolating ourselves from the larger society. We know that God will triumph in the end, but until then, we wait “with earnest expectation” for Christ to come.

 

Ideology as Platonism

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English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I was responding to a Facebook post regarding same-sex marriage. As usual, I was irenic, I presented the classic natural law arguments against that practice, and since the person to whom I was responding was Christian, I presented the arguments from Holy Scripture and from Catholic tradition. Instead of engaging in a reasonable discussion over an important societal issue, my respondent (who is homosexual) proceeded to say I was demeaning her, that made her feel less than a person, that she despised people like me. In other words, she resorted to an abusive ad hominem attack instead of rationally responding to my arguments.

The homosexual rights movement is one of many ideologies that came out of the 1960s and early 1970s. Feminism is another and womanism still another. All these ideologies shared a Marxist interpretation of reality in which the group advocates represented was the oppressed and society at large was the oppressor. Recently, homosexual advocates have begun labeling those who disagree with their lifestyle “haters.” Now this is a characteristic of an ideology–no matter how much compassion I show for homosexuals who are “advocates” (note that not all homosexuals agree with their “representatives”), I am, by definition, labeled as a “hater.” It does not matter that I do not hate homosexuals–the ideology accepts the following syllogism:

All persons who believe that homosexual activity is morally wrong are haters.

This person holds that homosexual activity is morally wrong.

Therefore, this person is a hater.

Given my respondent’s ideology, she had no other way to respond.

All ideologies are Platonic in the sense that they propose overarching visions of reality and apply them from at top-down perspective. That is, like rationalism in general, they do not look to sense experience for justification. The only justification is in terms of the axioms of their system, which are taken to be self-evident. Thus if one axiom says that “Anyone who believes that homosexuality is morally wrong hates homosexuals,” then that axiom applies by definition to all people in that class and cannot be questioned. As is the case with Plato’s transcendent Forms, Descartes’ Cogito, or Leibniz’s monads, reality is forced into the mold of theory instead of the theory being checked by reality.

Some versions (not all) of feminism function the same way. If, by definition, all classic literary works reflect male dominance, then scholars needing publications for tenure can search through texts for code words and sentences that reflect such male domination. In the case of Marxist ideology concerning the economic system, those who are in the bourgeois are, by definition, exploiting the proletariat. Mr. Obama’s use of class warfare recognizes the power of such a position (even though he has been more of a Chinese-style “state capitalist” than a dogmatic Communist). Envy is a powerful emotion, and if it can be justified by definition, then government should “make the rich pay their fair share” (whatever that might be).

Platonic political philosophy supports a top-down view of government–the same government is best for all people–the rule of philosopher kings (and queens). Such a position is held by Neoconservative and social democratic ideologues who desire to “spread democracy to the entire world.” The geography, history, and culture of a particular state is ignored in a naive attempt to mold the state into the pattern preferred by the Neocons or social democratic hawks.

Ideology has a convenient way of resorting to ad hominem arguments when its basic principles are attacked. After all, if they are self-evident, the person who does not recognize them is, at the very least, ignorant–and possibly reprobate as well. This position cuts the ground from under rational discussion of important societal issues and dangerously divides people into hostile groups. Ideology is, as Nietzsche recognized, a form of the “will to power,” and in a society only filled with ideologues the fundamental ethic becomes “might makes right.” This is a prescription for societal chaos. If people feel forced into a corner because of ideological labeling, and rational discussion is out of the question, what is left but assertion of raw physical force?

Aristotle recognized, in theory at least, that understanding the world requires a bottom-up approach. While all observation is “theory laden,” this does not abrogate the fact that knowledge of reality arises from the senses. Thus, unlike Plato, Aristotle placed forms in things, and held that states should follow the system that best suits their history and culture.

As Alasdair MacIntyre recognized, the only way for communities with different values can rationally discuss issues is by having the person in one community “put himself in the shoes” of someone in another community to understand that community’s values. Once that occurs (and it must be a mutual process), then rational discussion can take place. Agreement may not be reached, but there should remain a feeling of mutual respect.

Russell Kirk famously said that conservatism is not an ideology, meaning that the form that conservatism takes in a particular state will depend on the history and culture of that state. Conserving key societal values is not a matter of imposing them, Platonic-Formlike, from above–most likely one will only come up with one’s own a priori values to apply to everyone. Rather, conservatism should have a deep respect for the way things are in the actual world. There may be need for change, but this is done slowly and with appropriate concern for the history of a people.

God forbid that American society melt into a soup of competing ideologies. The end of the United States as we currently know it (what’s left of it, at least) will most likely result.

Students Cheating and American Subjectivism

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Ethics class

Ethics class (Photo credit: aditza121)

Students cheating in school is not a new thing, but it has become an epidemic in recent years. The Internet has made cheating easier, with thousands of term papers students buy and pass off as their own work. Cell phones are now used by students to get answers from their classmates or to look them up on a website. What is most surprising is how many students see no moral problem with cheating. Sometimes irate parents will visit a high school principle or college dean and complain that their child did not cheat, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against the student. Is it any surprise that there are so many scandals in business and in government? Children are emulating the values of their parents, who reflect the terrible trend in American culture to want something for nothing.

The rampant relativism to which students are exposed on television, by celebrities, by the media, in the K-12 school system, and in colleges and universities makes it easy for students to become subjectivists on ethics. “Whatever floats your boat” or “Whatever I think is right is right for me and whatever you think is right for you” becomes the mantra of many students today. The most dogmatic relativists are as closed-minded as any religious fundamentalist. The fact that they become angry and try to cut a professor off when he argues against subjectivism reveals that they only want their views to be heard. Apparently the position held by the professor and by other students that everyone, including the professor, has the right to speak his mind has not sunk into these students.

I am at a loss to determine how to get beyond the impasse of relativistic propaganda in society. When the United States accepted a traditional Judeo-Christian ethic, as it did from the Second Great Awakening in the late eighteenth century through around 1963, one could argue from a common morality held by the vast majority of Americans. With the decline of Christianity and the proliferation of different religions and cultures, one could try to find common values between them–and between deeply devout people of all major religions much commonality in moral beliefs is present. Radical secularism, agnosticism, and atheism can try to develop a non-relativistic deontological or utilitarian system, but other secularists who desire to do what they want without restraint could say, “Okay, there’s a common morality needed for the good of society, but I don’t care about the good of society. There’s no God to stop me from being a self-centered ass. So that’s what I’ll be.” Without transcendent meaning, how strong is the force of the “ought” in ethics (I am borrowing this point from George Mavrodes). Students may intellectually believe in some kind of deity, but the secular relativism they have been taught from kindergarten onward has already sunk into their psyche. This fact, along with the inherent immaturity and selfishness of youth, make for a combination that will inevitably result in rampant cheating. I have had students of all grades brag to me about how they successfully cheated in school. It is a matter of pride to them. It is a matter of shame to American society that its cultural rot since 1964 has destroyed any notion of transcendent meaning (beyond trying to find it through pleasure), has promoted self-centeredness, has promoted “success” by any means necessary, and has lied to people by telling them they should be proud of their accomplishments even if they did not earn them. With churches catering to the relativist, postmodern young person without trying to correct their relativism, all that results is high recidivism and young people who leave church with the same twisted values they previously had accepted. Without a large-scale religious revival, which I do not see coming in the United States, growing irreligiosity will cause societal destruction in the U.S.–Europe had enough residual tradition to withstand falling into chaos when Europeans gave up on Christianity, but how long will that last? I expect more cheating in the future by students. Some will get caught, most will not care unless they are caught (and even then for selfish reasons), and the shred of integrity left in the American educational system will be threatened.

Traditional Moral Positions and the Public Square

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Freedom of Speech (painting)

Freedom of Speech (painting) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Canada, it is a crime to publicly assert that practicing homosexuality is a sin. In my ethics class, students regularly write on their essays that being a virgin until marriage is “prudish,” and they do not take seriously the traditional view that couples should refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage. In many academic settings, those who believe abortion to be morally wrong are silenced, to the point that the University Faculty for Life presents an option to its members to hide their membership in the organization so that their colleagues do not find out. The notion that there is objective right and wrong is excluded from most public schools, and moral relativism is taught as the gospel truth (and teaching it as such is, of course a contradiction).

It is true that freedom of speech does not, as the old saw goes, give anyone the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Surely being morally opposed to abortion or to practicing homosexuality or to premarital sex is not the equivalent to shouting “Fire!” Yet such opinions are being increasingly excluded from the public square, in academic institutions first, and then in the wider society.

I believe in academic freedom. If a student or faculty member wishes to defend the moral rightness of premarital sex, of practicing homosexuality, or of abortion, that student or faculty member should be allowed to have a say in the university square. But academic freedom also implies that those with the opposite views on these issues should be allowed to make their case. I am a conservative, but if a liberal student makes a strong case for his position, he will get a good grade on his test and will not be punished for his views. The situation should be the same for a conservative student who makes a good defense of his position in a class with a liberal professor. To give them credit, some liberal professors do give their students such academic freedom and believe in such for their colleagues. There is a subset of professors, however, who want to silence conservative voices, especially on controversial moral issues. Such violation of freedom of speech has taken place in some institutions of higher education, to the point that a professor in one school who presented a natural law argument against homosexual practice (and did not even claim to agree with the argument) was fired–until a court awarded him his job back. The problem is that he should not have lost his job in the first place. What is going on is that hostile rhetoric against moral conservatives is repeated so much that people begin to believe it (“they are haters,” “these people are filled with anger,” etc.). I have never understood why holding moral action A to be wrong implies hating the person who performs moral action A. I wish I could say that such an ignorant position prevails only in academia, but it is present in broader society. More and more the elites in academia, the media, and in Hollywood, are attempting to exclude traditional moral discourse from legitimate discussion and to push their views onto society as a whole. It may be just a matter of time before the United States goes the direction that Canada has gone (depending on election results, court appointees, etc.) and makes illegal conservative moral discourse on abortion and on sexual ethics. I wonder who the real narrow minded people are, the real bigots, the real haters. I would venture a guess that most of them are not moral conservatives.

Americans’ Failure to Grow Up

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Greuze, Jean-Baptiste - The Spoiled Child - lo...

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A seventy-year-old man spouts off moral relativism like a college sophomore. A forty-year-old woman throws a temper tantrum at a store. Young people demand pay and benefits but are unwilling to do the job for which they were hired. Marriages break up under the strains of self-centeredness of one or both partners, a self-centeredness that is so extreme that it rivals that of a six-year-old. Teenagers demand, and permissive parents allow, them near total freedom to engage in destructive behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse as well as sexual promiscuity.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has produced multiple generations of spoiled, lazy children who grow up to become spoiled, lazy adults. One reason that it is unlikely that federal spending will not be controlled is adults’ lust for government handouts and benefits. The baby boomers and their successors are so self-centered that they do not care what happens to their children or grandchildren. All that matters is “me, me, me, now, now, now.” Is it any surprise when these selfish people reach old age that their children, reared in the image of their parents, cart their parents off to a nursing home and have little to do with them? Is it a surprise when schools cannot discipline unruly children because their parents threaten to sue the school if such discipline takes place? Even though there remain millions of people in the United States who have not bowed down their knees to the Ba’al of self-centeredness, enough people are self-centered that the country has been severely damaged, perhaps irreparably, by their irresponsiblity. The steel and auto industries, caring only about profits in the present, did not spend money to upgrade their facilities, and either went under or outsourced much of their work forces to other countries.

Probably the worst product of self-centeredness is moral relativism, a denial of any objective moral values above the individual self, or in the case of a less radical relativism, above the level of the culture. Moral relativism poisons a society, making it unable to make basic moral distinctions once taken for granted. A woman gets pregnant and murders her child through abortion–she wants the joy of sex (as does the man) without the responsibility. A man desires to have sex with a man; instead of making the effort to refocus his sexual desires on women, he fulfills his immediate desire and claims that it is normal and morally right. A couple want to spice up their sex lives and get involved in swinging, “threesomes,” and orgies. A Wall Street banker justifies misusing others money by his view that morality should suit him, not others. Egoism is the brother of relativism, especially subjectivism, for people who locate moral standards only in the individual self will only be concerned for their supposed self interest. I have seen how the poison of subjective moral relativism has reduced some students to blithering idiots in any discussion of morality–“well, this is just my opinion;” “there’s no real right or wrong answer here,” “morality depends on what you think it is, but somebody else might think something different, and that’s okay, too.” Such ignorance should be called out for what it is: spoiled children wanting to be promiscuous or get drunk or do other unethical activities without anyone “judging” them for their behavior. The problem with the United States is not only economic; it is moral and spiritual. Unless the main problems can be solved the economy will, in the long run, fail. Community will fail if people only follow their individual standards and seek only their own self-interest. The end state of the current course of American’s spoiled adults will be anarchy, Hobbes‘ state of nature, in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A dictator may restore order, but without any transcendent vision above the will to power this will only be a short-term “solution” to the problem of people who believe themselves to be atomistic individuals. Once John Locke’s vision of government was secularized, the inevitable logic of his atomistic view of people led to mass relativism, mass egoism, and extended childhood. There is always hope that people will see the emptiness of a life based only on a child-like self-assertion and that people will return to a mature view in which they are responsible for themselves and for other people dependent on them,  and in which they base their values on something that transcends their own selfish desires. If that does not happen, then God help the United States of America.

Denying Manicheanism Does not Mean Denying the Reality of Evil

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Clarence S. Darrow

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Some people are evil. They are not totally evil, for anything totally evil would not exist–Manicheanism, the view that evil is an equal and opposite reality to good, is flawed. To accept that evil is real does not imply that evil is positive; it remains an absence of good. Yet evil is a real lack (and here I’m focusing on moral evil) that results in murders, theft, broken promises, manipulation for one’s own selfish ends, and the list goes on. Some psychologists, sociologists, and social workers deny that evil is real in any sense, and deny that there are predominately evil in the world. Yet I have found that if I question the deniers in detail, they almost always have met one person so twisted that they had to admit that person was evil.

The United States is often Manichean in its view of evil, particularly in holding that America is good and America’s enemies are totally evil. But that does not mean that when President Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” that he was wrong. It was predominately evil. To say that the Soviet system was predominately evil is not to say that it was totally evil, nor does it claim that the Soviet leaders were totally evil–even Stalin, by sharing in existence, was “metaphysically good,” even though he was morally twisted and predominately evil. He was not subhuman or a demon; he was a very bad human being.

However a person’s background influences him, this does not excuse him from moral responsibility–one way to dehumanize people is to say that they are totally determined by their background, since denying them free will to make moral decisions denies them a fundamental human capacity. Loeb and Leopold‘s background (wealthy, pampered) did not force them to murder Bobby Franks, despite Clarence Darrow‘s dehumanizing denial of Loeb and Leopold’s moral freedom. They had the free will to decide whether or not to murder Bobby Franks, and their action was twisted and evil. Although it may be difficult for someone in a violent urban area to make the right decisions, the person remains responsible for the moral choices he makes. To deny him moral choice is to deny him humanity. Liberal social reformers who say that instead of making evil moral choices that a person is determined by his environment are the true dehumanizers. Traditionalists may need to admit the importance of social background in corrupting character, but at least they recognize the humanity of people from violent and poverty stricken neighborhoods.  Neither does a rough rural upbringing make bad choices inevitable.

Some people are simply “meaner than hell.” A sociologist may claim that this “evil theory” is naive, but I would say that the sociologist has a twisted and flawed view of human nature. Some people have made so many bad choices that they have ruined their characters, and others have no conscience. With psychopaths, it seems that the only goodness in them is metaphysical goodness, that they exist, and as products of God’s continuing creation, they are good insofar as they exist. But  morally they seem to be utterly twisted to the point of having very little if any moral goodness left. We don’t have to go to the usual examples of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or child murderers and serial killers to know that some people with whom we are in contact are evil. Some people love to create strife–they encourage friends to turn on each other, split and destroy organizations such as churches and clubs, and split up families–all for a kind of evil and selfish spite and glee. Their hearts are rotten; as Solzhenitsyn said, “The battle of good and evil is fought within each human heart.”

That means that as fallen creatures, we all have the capacity for evil. Any of us can start on a slippery slope that leads down the road to evil. So we should watch our own spiteful and selfish thoughts (for selfishness and pride are the ultimate roots of evil) and try to follow Jesus’ advice to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” We should never be complacent in fighting the darkness of pride in our own hearts so that we may overcome temptations to evil acts and develop into virtuous human beings.

Creative Writers and Anti-Christianity

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No cross

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I attended two excellent writing workshops today and learned a great deal. However, one thing that disturbs me deeply about the vast majority of the creative writers I have met is their utter hatred and disdain for traditional Christianity and traditional morality. They do not even respect traditionalist positions (such as those defended in the “Manhattan Declaration“) positions and assume that anyone with intelligence and “compassion” would automatically agree with them (at this evening’s meeting the writers’ position was in favor of same-sex marriage but it could just as well be any other practice opposed by traditional Christians). They demonize those who disagree with them as being “haters.” Now I do not hate those with whom I disagree, nor do I hate a person who performs actions that are morally wrong–we are all sinners, after all, and I sin too often and too deeply in my own life. But most of the artistic community HATES any traditional moral position, especially if it concerns sexual ethics. Realizing that some writers and artists are exceptions, why do most writers and other artists hate traditional Christianity so much? Should a traditional Christian even try to do such creative work, even if it is not preachy and “shows” rather than “tells” given such hostility by almost all his or her cohorts in writing?

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