Friday, August 26, 2005

Is Nothing Sacred? The Right Tackles ID

One of the reasons why I despise conservatives is that they take good ideas and mercilessly destroy them. This is the case, as I have argued, with sensible restrictions on abortion rights, and it's recently become the case with the theory of "intelligent design." It pains me that the way that most Americans have come to be acquainted with this theory is through the work of that great scientist, President Bush. Like an icepick it pains me. Before the Bush administration ruined it for everyone, Intelligent Design was a theory advanced by scientists (not Christians!) such as Paul Davies and Roger Penrose, as a deep reflection on the nature of the universe and the purpose and possibility of scientific inquiry. The science of intelligent design, which I cannot emphasize strongly enough is real science, focuses on questions such as the probability of this exact universe coming into existence among all possible universes, the origin and meaning of the laws of physics, the nature of time and eternity, and whether the universe was meant to create and sustain life. Such science is simply the rebirth of classical metaphysics, rejuvenated by the 20th century discoveries of relativity and quantum mechanics and the concomitant displacement of the Newtonian universe. As Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle before him argued, the science of metaphysics is by no means the crass "God in the gaps" trick which Bush and his fellow morons have made it out to be. The created goodness of the world as Aquinas would have it, or its purposiveness according to Aristotle, is not a "first order" phenomenon, i.e., not an explanation for how rocks fall from bridges or how species adapt to fit their environments. Those phenomena can only be explained through observation which leads to an understanding of causes. Rather, metaphysics is a "big picture" science, the science of first (and last) things, which throws everything into the light in which science may discover it. It is trust in the coherence and reliability and essential goodness of things - the trust that the universe was in some sense "expecting us" and that we should feel at home here - that makes science possible, because it keeps questions open. The sense of wonder at the beauty of things is what shapes the scientists' mind, informs his or her methods, enriches that thinker's soul. So that primal awe is the fuel of scientific inquiry - it is the flame which must be kept burning. Intelligent Design theory represents the very best hope for the nascent dialogue between science and religion - which I believe must urgently take place if the western tradition is going to survive. Yet just when this olive branch between science and religion has been extended, along comes the ghoulish specter of the religious right, attempting to prove that everything bad ever said about religion is really true. Now President Bush, with his inimicable style, has probably ruined the science and religion moment for a long, long time. He has at least done incalculable damage to it with his disgusting, reactionary politics and bastard prejudices. Where science and religion are concerned, the right can only gaze on stupidly, not comprehending either one.

Totally Confused About Iraq

I'm reiterating my thesis that Iraq is the new War of 1812. Nothing about it makes sense to me. It doesn't remind me of any other war. I can't figure out who is fighting and why. Somebody remind me again why are we fighting on the side of the radical Islamists? At least in the Cold War we knew enough to fight the communists. Whereas in Iraq we invaded a country that had nothing to do with "the terrorists" and then went ahead and joined forces with the only group that had any sympathy for them. Similarly, nothing about the political process has made any sense either, starting with the first of the arbitrary deadlines, the phony "transfer of sovereignty." The Bush administration just does not even seem to understand the concept of a political process. It seems to believe that the mere formality of a political process will suffice to create stability, even if that process is imposed from without by an occupying power and enforced through arbitrary deadlines. This makes no sense. No meaningful political process can take place without first negotiating a cease-fire. Then a framework for resolution can be agreed upon, and eventually a power-sharing arrangement can be negotiated. Only then, when trust has been reasonably established between the parties, can a permanent constitution be written and democratically ratified. Of course the Bush administration sees everything through the lens of its own blinkered ideology. It is characteristic of the administration to think in terms of incompatible idealisms - for instance, to insist that the "terrorists" are masters of evil who can only be dealt with by brute force, and at the same time to impose a chimerical psuedo-democratic process, apropos of nothing. It is surely a contradiction to wage a brutal, nihlistic war in a foreign country while at the same time wax utopian about the perfect democratic state which is supposed to descend from whole cloth as if from the clouds. It's this type of thinking which has prevented the Bush administration from actually understanding the conflict in Iraq, let alone telling the truth about it to the American people.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

America Under Siege: The Gay Terrorist Threat

Last year Rick Santorum implored Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage on the grounds that only a fully heterosexualized country will be fully equipped to defend itself from terrorists. "Isn’t that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?" he stated at the time. Now a shocking new CIA report reveals the rationale behind his words: cells of gay terrorists, poised to strike at the heart of straight America. It has long been suspected that Osama bin Laden, who spends an inordinate amount of time hanging around with other men in the desert and has always come across as kind of effeminate on video, is a closeted homosexual. Yet what the CIA report reveals for the first time is the existence of a virtual army of gay terrorists waiting at bin Laden's command. Nor were these killers foreigners recruited and trained elsewhere. Rather, many of them are American citizens - young men who became disillusioned with straight society and then were radicalized at gay nightclubs and gyms in San Francisco and other hotbeds of radical homosexuality. The gay terrorist menace is an urgent threat to the safety and security of the straight country we all know and love. No straight American, in these perilous times, can afford to ignore the gay neighbor who is quite likely a suicide bomber and at the very least drives a Prius and always smells like patchouli. With your help and under the manful guidance of Overlord Bush we can defeat these suspiciously happy-clappy assasins and take back this country for straight folk everywhere.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Liberal Media At It Again

Won't the liberal media ever leave President Bush alone? Yesterday it was the Salt Lake City Tribune's turn to pile on, calling the mission to bring democracy to Iraq a "fool's errand." What's next? The Denver Post?

George W. Bush, America's Greatest Cycling President

Following the conclusion of his recent bicycle ride with Lance Armstrong, President Bush finally confirmed the rumors which had been swirling for months: he will compete in the 2006 Tour de France. "This is it," the President announced to an eager crowd of reporters. "This is why I became President: to lead the Discovery Channel team to sweet victory next year in Paris." While some in the media questioned the propriety of a sitting president chewing up the Grosse Pierre astride the eye-catching Superfahrrad, the President defended his decision. "Even though I'm President, I have the right to a balanced life," he stated. "And that means riding my bike wherever and whenever the hell I feel like it." Presidential scholars debated what the President's ultimate cycling legacy would be. "There's no question in my mind that Bush is the greatest cycling President in history," said historian Douglas Thornton. "I mean, Harding competed in a few minor events but nothing compared to what Bush has done." Other scholars weren't so sure. "Back in 1895 Grover Cleveland completed a six week circuit of the Chesapeake Bay - and that was back before bicycles even had seats. To beat that, Bush will have to at least place in the Tour de France," said Karen Roberts of Harvard. "That's simply not true," Thornton protested. "Bush has logged more miles on that bike than he has on the First Lady. To faithfully ride your bike while scores of American service men and women are being killed and wounded every day in a losing war - well, that takes real dedication."

Name Change

I will heretofore be referring to the Bush administration policy in Iraq as the Coulter Doctrine after its founder, the great political thinker, mover, shaker, and wit - the Hannah Arendt of our time! - Ann Coulter herself.

Pat Robertson: Vigilante, Dick-Head

I received a request for a comment on the recent fatwa against Hugh Chavez. My response is that no comment is necessary. Leftist leaders take note: Pat Robertson is out to kill you.

Fetal Pain Study

Interesting study in the news today about fetal pain. The study concluded that fetuses probably don't feel pain until the seventh month. If the results of this study prove to be accurate (according to the article some researchers are disputing them) then this is ammunition for defenders of the objective arguments for abortion rights.

Republican Wrecking Ball

The future of globalization on its present course doesn't favor the United States. That's a fact. Yet the outcome of globalization is by no means determined and there are specific actions which the government could be taking to give our children and grand-children a fighting chance. A reasonable government, even a reasonably conservative one, could have taken a multi-pronged approach to globalization of investing in education (especially science,) increasing conservation and energy independence, reducing the deficit, and shoring up Medicare and Social Security. Even partially meeting these goals would have given Americans a buffer during the difficult period of adjusting to new global realities which lies ahead. Unfortunately for future generations, the President during the crucial years of 2000-2008 was George W. Bush, a man so blindingly incompetent, so numbingly corrupt, and so unimaginably powerful that he single-handedly brought America from prosperity to the brink of economic and fiscal disaster within the span of eight years. Historians will find it difficult to exaggerate the depth of the damage inflicted by the Bush administration. This government has effectively taken a wrecking ball to the political and economic infrastructure of this country, no surprise since it was only the traditions of American democracy and prosperity which stood in the way of the right-wing takeover they craved.

Instead of acting to solve America's problems, the Bush administration and its allies saw those problems as an opportunity to effectively plunder the nation's resources. It hasn't been a government so much as a looting spree. Everyone has gotten a share at the trough - politicians, journalists, lobbyists, corporate executives, defense contractors. No one low enough to betray their country has been left out. In the last five years they have cleanly stolen a good chunk of America's future - the one that our grandparents, parents, and ourselves worked quite hard to secure. Which one hurts the most? The wholesale liquidation of natural resources such as the nation's air, water, and forests? The tax cuts which have imposed serfdom on the next generation? The boondoggle of a trillion dollar missile defense system which is not even claimed to actually work? Or could it be the utterly pointless war which has now killed and maimed tens of thousands in Iraq and elsewhere? From my very rudimentary knowledge of history, let me offer a word of advice to George W. Bush: every empire in history has sunk under the weight of pointless, unpopular, bankrupting wars. It's the worst thing a nation can possibly do to itself. It is suicide. The nine billion dollars which disappeared in Iraq could just as effectively have been burned to keep the homeless warm. That's my hard work, and everyone else's, and it's never coming back. That's my future that's just been stolen by the most craven, morally bankrupt, utterly godless gang of thieves this continent has ever seen in power.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Descartes' Error

If philosophy has often been a history of brilliant misunderstandings, Descartes' contribution is one of the most impressive in western thought. On the one hand, Descartes' emphasis on cognition (i.e. computation) as a kind of universal authority led to a revolution in applied science; on the other hand, his formulation of reason as unbounded thought fractured the human person into the competing modes of mind and body, the legacy of which still weighs heavily on western philosophy to this day.

The mind/body problem as Descartes framed it is a defensive maneuver made necessary by his radical break with the medieval Aristotelian tradition. That tradition as interpreted through the lens of scholasticism had paid a great deal of respect to the innate qualities of objects through which they are made available to be known and loved by rational minds. From Descartes’ skeptical vantage point, however, he regarded the presence of such qualities within the objective world as highly doubtful. In contrast, he proposed a sharp distinction between appearance and reality. Reality apparently consists of an “every-day” world of objects, each containing certain properties, yet in truth these appearances are mere phenomenal projections resulting, almost by accident, from interactions taking place at an invisible level. No essential properties reside in objects themselves, because objects themselves do not actually exist in the way that we commonly assume them to do. The difference between Descartes’ position and that of his forebears is similar to the difference between a camera and a painter. A camera “captures” the phenomenal world, but it is a mere imprint, and not an actual representation of the objects which appear in the photograph. Descartes believed (and to a certain extent was proved right) that dissolving the theoretical properties which were believed to give objects their true identity would open the floodgates of science, in the sense that a material world consisting of purely commensurable energies would be infinitely open to manipulation and exploration. Yet, this enticing candidate for the emerging discipline of materialist science created an obvious problem. If matter is indeed reducible to a barely factual existence, then what becomes of mind – the cornerstone of the western tradition? Taken to its logical conclusion, Descartes’ argument appears to undermine everything keeping western philosophers off the ledge: the faculty of reason, supposedly the foundation of morality and just government, the uniqueness of the human species, and most importantly, the only good argument for free will. It appears that Descartes has gained science only at the cost of the freedom and rationality of humanity – which is to say, he has found and lost science in the same breath. This conclusion was intolerable for Descartes, and so he theorized an escape. The Aristotelian tradition which Descartes rejected had regarded reason as the perfected relation between human beings and the natural world which results from experience. Descartes, in contrast, located the principle of rationality entirely outside of the material world, i.e. within the theoretical entity of pure mind. This move enabled Descartes to preserve a canon of traditional beliefs which would have been otherwise threatened by the punishing logic of materalism. The entity of pure mind by means of which human beings are able to reason is everything the material world is not: infinite, eternal, immutable, authoritative, impartial, beyond dispute. By virtue of this faculty, human minds are free though bodies are not.

Of the many difficulties encountered by this theory, the most significant (and most interesting) is the mind/body problem. Is it not the case that all supposedly lofty, infinite thoughts are in fact generated by humble, material brains? Where is the consistency in skeptically disposing of individual essences only to relocate them in the mind? The fact that Descartes' arguments for the existence of God, which are the foundation of his philosophy, are generally regarded as reactionary defense mechanisms points to the possibility that Descartes did not wish to accept the reductio ad absurdum of his own conclusions. Descartes never was able to explain the way in which immaterial mind interacted with the material brain. Unwilling to abandon the material world to its own devices, he attempted to save it by splitting reality into dueling essences dominated by the wholly abstract, isolated and bizarrely self-sufficient faculty of pure mind. In fact, Descartes' formulation of the mind/body problem is one of the great errors in western philosophy.

To solve the problem takes a leap of two kinds of faith. The first is faith in the integrity of the natural world as an interlocking, multi-level system which makes sense at each stage in the process, yet progressively makes more and more sense as the process unfolds (spatially and temporally.) This means that the "every-day" world of human experience is a legitimate, though by no means exhaustive, sample of reality. This is not a blind leap, but more like an education. The second leap is simply the inverse of the first. If the natural world is taken as intrinsically coherent, then there is no need to "save" reason by inventing a theoretical entity called mind. Rather, rationality can be seen as simply the culmination of material processes, the transcendent point at which such natural principles as survival, organization, adaptability, and reaction become the uniquely human faculties of wonder, delight, empathy, and creativity. Aristotle's comparison between the web-spinning capacity of a spider and that of a weaver demonstrates the way in which awareness and understanding deepen purposes already found in nature. Civilization is not an ideal, abstract essence held apart from nature but is rather always grounded in natural processes moving towards fulfillment. Mind and body are interpenetrating modes of being, always in process, each in some sense the ideal form of the other. Contra Descartes, there is no shame in this. Nor is there shame in accepting the imperfections which permeate both mind and body. The philosophic life is a pathway through the world, not out of it. That should be good enough for anyone.

The Constitution Breached by False Religion

I find a lot of affinities between the Constitution and the Bible, both of which express great suspicion for concentrated power and warn stridently against authoritarian governments founded on abusive religious practices. In fact, if there is one message which could be distilled from the entire Bible, it would probably be that most religion, most of the time, is a mortal threat to the freedom and welfare of humanity. So grave is this threat that the Bible declares it intolerable, and emphatically states that there can be no justice and no peace as long as false religion is allowed to take root. Now, the history of monotheism follows from that partially conflicted message, and no one can defend it in its entirety. But the gist of it is quite clear and is strongly echoed (with serious and consequential distortions) by the liberal movements of the 18th century, including the cause of American independence and the adoption of the Constitution. The founders saw no greater threat than that posed by the abuse of power under the cover of religious authority. The Constitution is simply a bulwark against such a government ever coming to power in the United States, which would potentially spell disaster for American freedom, pluralism, and independence. It had never happened here until the disputed election of 2000. The situation we are faced with today, courtesy of the Bush administration, is everything that the Constitution was designed to prevent. It is a government dominated by partisan issues of loyalty and ideology, with a ruling ethos of fundamentalist beliefs, market-driven economics, and militant adventurism abroad. It is soaked in an acid bath of corruption which has eroded all semblance of checks and balances. The judiciary and small pockets of Congress barely retain their independence but they are virtually ignored by the decision-makers in anything that counts. The economy is built on a breathlessly unsustainable model of foreign borrowing, national deficits, and consumer debt. And at every level, every abuse is justified with reference to the religiousness of the ruling party, which is considered to be beyond dispute. Just as the Bible condemns and just as the framers forewarned, state religion and political corruption have merged into a single amorphous entity whose claim to power is its own infallibility. It is a monstrous state of affairs which, if left unchecked, will be the beginning of a painful, permanent change in the American character and way of life.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Moral Majority

It is one of the conveniences of being a Republican that whatever you do is by definition considered moral. After all, everyone knows that the Republican party is the moral majority, so this makes living life as a Republican pretty sweet. You can do whatever you want, and that's just ok. If Tom DeLay wants to jet all over the world on all-expense paid trips by lobbyists, that is a moral thing to do. If Rush Limbaugh wants to snort OxyContin to deal with the excruciating pain of his third divorce, that too is very moral. Sometimes moral people have to do what might seem like immoral things, like revealing the identity of CIA agents to punish political enemies, as Karl Rove has recently done. But in the big picture, that's really moral. So is consorting with Islamist terrorists, as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has been known to do on occasion. For that matter, if the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is to be believed, one of the more moral things you can do for your country is to torture and sexually abuse prisoners of war in Iraq and elsewhere. And of course, as Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe has stated, the most moral action of all is to invade another country under false pretenses, causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths. That is just the kind of thing that a highly moral person - if they're a Republican! - is likely to do. So, there is a fair amount of lee-way in what can be considered moral when it is the Grand Old Party doing the talking. The important thing to remember is that Republicans are always moral because it is the Republicans who get to say what morality is. And that right comes to them from their close personal relationship with God. As the President recently said, God told him to strike back at al-Qaeda, and so he did, and God told him to invade Iraq, so he did. That's getting it straight from the horse's mouth, that is. That's where morality comes from, when you're a Republican.

Stupidity Redefined in Iraq

The Iraq war has to be one of the most pointless wars in recent history. Perhaps the closest parallel in American history is the war of 1812, in which the United States declared war on Britain over a blockade controversy which had already been resolved. The nations fought pointlessly for two years, including such lowlights of U.S. history as a failed attempt to invade Canada and the humiliating sack of Washington D.C. by the British. Similarly, the Iraq war has been waged over a non-existent threat (when we found out there were no WMD, shouldn't we have just declared victory and gone home?) and against a Sunni insurgency which on the surface would seem to be of no relevance to any U.S. strategic or political goals whatsoever. Why are we fighting this random Iraqi tribe? Two reasons are given, neither of which makes sense. The first is that we must defeat the insurgents before we can leave Iraq. Wait a second. The insurgents claim that their only goal is to get us to leave Iraq. Why don't we just end the war by leaving now? Why is it important that we "defeat" the insurgents before we do what they want us to do? The second reason is that the Sunni insurgents are fighting to maintain political and economic control of Iraq against their more numerous Shiite and Kurdish rivals. But why should we side with the Shiites? It is a purely arbitrary fact that the majoritarian government we're trying to establish in Iraq would favor the Shiites - hence, their relative cooperation with the American-sponsored political process, and the Sunni's militant rejection of it. But America has nothing to gain by aiding the Sunnis, which would only increase Iranian influence in Iraq. If anything, from a purely strategic perspective we should have backed the secular Baath party against its more radically Islamist opponents. There simply aren't any compelling political or military reasons for us to be fighting this war, any more then there would be if we had decided to invade Kyrgzstan, inflame political and ethnic tensions, and then pick a random side to fight on. The positive side of this is that there is no real reason why we cannot begin withdrawing from Iraq today. The conflicts now existing would be far better addressed by a United Nations peacekeeping force, or even by Iraqis themselves who would be free to have an honest war for their country's future untainted by charges of imperialism. Since there was never a real mission for the U.S. in Iraq, nothing will be compromised by our departure.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Where is the Anti-War Movement Anyway?

Is there something missing from the liberal agenda this year, or is it just me? Now I remember - it's the anti-war movement. Unless I'm missing something, there hasn't been a single national protest, not in New York, D.C., San Francisco, anywhere. Are liberals still in hiding after last year's defeat? The fact that it's taken an aggrieved mother with no political expertise just to get liberals even talking about an anti-war movement says a great deal about how far we have to go. Why hadn't anyone thought about staking out Bush's ranch before? The fact is that over 60% of Americans are now on record as opposing the war. A true anti-war movement, like the one that briefly blossomed before this disaster began back in '03, would draw from a profoundly diverse cross-current of Americans, impossible to marginalize (not that the Bush administration wouldn't try.) There may be no better time for liberals to mobilize, and this may be our last opportunity before a draft goes into effect and the war escalates next year.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Stopping Baby Terrorists

I've just learned that there are a number of babies on the government's no-fly list due to suspected terrorist connections. Intelligence experts have long suspected that the terrorist threat from babies has been understated, yet it's only now that the government is finally getting serious about the problem. Now we all need to do our part to prevent radical jihadist babies from opening up a can of terrorist whoop-ass on our beloved America.

Along the same lines, there are a number of Democratic members of Congress who are also on this list. Apparently Ted Kennedy was recently kept off of a plane because he has the same name as a suspected terrorist. Pardon my skepticism, but really? There's a terrorist out there named TED KENNEDY?

Cindy Sheehan and the Logic of Capitalism

Does Cindy Sheehan have the right to a private audience with the President? I'll venture yes and no, and I'll explain both. On the one hand I don't think that Sheehan is technically within her rights to make such a demand of the President. After all, in a Republic we aren't governed directly by the sovereign head of state. If Cindy Sheehan really has a problem with the Iraq war then she can write to her congressional representatives about it like everyone else. She can vote for the presidential nominee of a different party next time. If she wants to speak up about her differences, she has that right as well. Taking her demand literally, I don't think that a government could function effectively if every citizen had the right to expect redress from the head of state in the same way that they could expect it from their next door neighbor (does Sheehan have the right to sue the President for her son's death?)

Yet, that rather wooden analysis completely ignores what makes her protest so powerful. What Sheehan is really getting at is something a lot deeper, a kind of deep injustice at the heart of capitalism. It's the same truth that Michael Moore latched onto in Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine. It is a kind of quixotic quest to locate the agent responsible for an injustice in a system whose very design is to endlessly defer responsibility. George W. Bush was raised in this system, it is his very life-blood. He understands its nuances, its hidden egresses, its subtleties. He is a master sophist of the first rank. The fact that he has become a two-term President without ever having to accept responsibility for a single fault in either his private or public life is an extraordinary achievement, unrivalled by any politician of his generation. He has never met his equal. Cindy Sheehan knows this, and she knows that the closer she is to Bush, the closer she is to the cause of her son's death. She can't prove that, but it is paradoxically her very powerlessness - the irony she is generating by her act of protest, which gives her a fighting chance. For once nobody can claim that Bush is the underdog. He's not the loveable sad sack being unfairly pummelled by Al Gore or John Kerry. Rather, he looks like what he is: the most powerful man in the world ignoring the righteous anger of an aggrieved mother. Bush can shovel brush, ride his bike, and fish for bass furiously, trying every trick in the book to regain his image as the loveable bumpkin who's just too humble and naive to criticize. And he can do it all while hiding behind his professional army of right-wing smear artists. But Cindy Sheehan thinks she has the man in charge right in her sights, and she wants an answer.

Which brings me to this past week's gospel reading. Yes, it's true that the Canaanite woman really doesn't have a right to demand from Jesus what she wants. Jesus is technically correct that his mission was the renewal of religious life in the occupied villages of Palestine. Yet, the Canaanite woman saw something deeper than that, and recognized that in her powerlessness and her desperation that she had become powerful: she had a claim on Jesus that not even he knew he had. And when she pointed that out to him, he admitted it. Bush once said that Jesus is his favorite philosopher. If that's true, he has an obligation and an opportunity to do the same.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Best In Show

Matthew 15:21-28

I had never found much to like in this text before – why would Jesus first refuse to help, then insult, this Canaanite woman? – but I think I started to see something in it today. What’s important is the relationship, unique in the Gospels, between this Gentile woman and Jesus at his most Jewish. Because when he dismisses her, she challenges him, and he responds. This is the only time in the Gospels that a dialogue opponent of Jesus’ gets the last word, gets him to change his mind. So there is a powerful opposition taking place between as it were the orthodox synagogue and the Gentiles who demand a place at God’s table. Note the Old Testament and Epistle parallels: Isaiah prophecies of a time when foreigners will worship alongside Israelites in the temple, and St. Paul describes God’s mysterious plan in first electing Israel to be the chosen people and then imprisoning them in temporary disobedience to give the Gentiles an opportunity to enter into the covenant. It’s clear from these texts that the relationship between Jew and Gentile in God’s plan of salvation is from a human perspective uncertain. Did God choose to establish the covenant with Israel only as a preparatory measure? From a Christian perspective, what does it mean for God’s covenant with Israel to remain unbroken? In the exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, whose perspective has priority? The woman doesn’t correct Jesus’ harsh insult, rather, she finds a deeper meaning in it (no easy task when one is being insulted!) If the Gentiles are dogs rather than children, our place at the table must rely on grace rather than birth-right, humility rather than privilege. On the one hand, Jesus’ rebuke stings as it must to all who by birth fall outside of the community of God’s chosen people. Yet in his finally comforting words – "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish," all of those born outside of the covenant, strangers and aliens to God by birth, may take heart.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A Pre-9/11 Mindset?

Whenever anyone threatens to break the spell of Bush-ism, as John Edwards and Michael Moore did in 2004, the Bush administration accuses that person of possessing a "pre-9/11 mindset." This is supposed to mean that the individual in question is still foolishly living in the democratic past, before the apocalypse of 9/11 eclipsed the quaint notion of a limited government, accountable to the people, and transformed the United States into the perfectly authoritarian state towards which it had always been striving. In this way the slogan implies the historical inevitability of the new authoritarian regime, and the rise of a new America founded on the principle of unalloyed militarism.

As I argued in my last post, however, the vast majority of the American people and the Bush administration have long differed over the true meaning of 9/11, which brought out the best instincts in most Americans and the absolute worst in the President. Then what might be the true meaning of a "pre-9/11 mindset" if we stick to the mainstream interpretation of 9/11? Consider the following alternative vision of the year 2005:

A pre-9/11 mindset is one which fails to recognize the great call to civic duty which 9/11 issued. In the pre-9/11 world, Americans were foolishly divided over insignificant controversies, distracted by the trashy ephemera of popular culture, insufficiently attentive to world affairs, and alienated from their own political institutions by apathy and ignorance. But 9/11, as they say, changed everything. No longer could Americans afford to allow our most cherished institutions to decay from neglect and misuse. 9/11 demanded the revival of democratic participation in this country. For politicians, 9/11 was a wake-up call to put aside partisan politics and join in the great task of protecting and revitalizing the nation. The corporate agenda which had dominated Washington since time out of mind was put aside in favor of a sincere focus on the public good. The government put aside its focus on regressive tax cuts and instead focused on fiscal discipline. Public works projects sprang up, donations of time and money increased, and the nation was suffused with a spirit of bi-partisan cooperation and self-sacrifice which no one had even thought possible just a few short years before. Of course, there were a few who maintained a "pre-9/11 mindset," lobbying against the regulation of businesses vital to national security, pushing for continued spending on obsolete big-ticket weapons systems rather than improved intelligence and border security, and defiantly continuing to drive the gas-guzzling SUV's which 9/11 had rendered archaic, but these were few and far between. Overwhelmingly, most Americans accepted the lessons of 9/11 and the ways in which that day awoke America from its slumber and changed this nation for the good.

Friday, August 12, 2005

9/11: The American Dream Deferred

The subject of the evils of the Bush administration will occupy historians for generations to come. How a criminal racket came to occupy the White House and project its power over the nation and the world in precisely the ways that the Constitution was designed to prevent is indeed an intriguing tale. Is there a crux to this story, one which gets at the essence of the Bush administration's ruthless subversion of democracy, its astonishing abuses of power, its frightening control over the corporate media-state? Let me suggest that if there is one, it centers on 9/11. Because 9/11 is really at the heart of the American experience of the past four years. I believe that the recession ("recovery") which has now lengthened into a period of prolonged economic stagnation is the direct result of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Of course, as I argued earlier on this site, so is the popularity of Paris Hilton, as is every other sign of cultural and spiritual decay which now forms our common lot in life. Everyone who lived through 9/11 knows how traumatic it was. I for one regularly had feelings of dread, terror, and impending doom for a full year after the attacks, when the next attack seemed imminent. And while those feelings have mostly faded for me personally, I believe that as a nation we have yet to come to grips with 9/11 and its implications for the future of our national life - that confused, post-9/11 slogan "everything has changed." We have yet to define as a nation what has changed, what hasn't, and how we can best live with the changes. The significance of 9/11 is felt as some kind of epochal trauma ("Ground Zero,") some generational event, but what is it? Instead of comprehending and then rationally and humanely responding to that trauma, we have sunk into a post 9/11 malaise, now dragging out over four years, in which the cultural and spiritual foundations of the country have sagged beneath the weight of displaced grief and anxiety. As anyone who reads the tea-leaves of popular culture knows, America is just not itself these days. This is where the Bush administration comes in. It has been the central task of the Bush administration ever since the President addressed Congress in the days afterwards to interpret America's experience of 9/11 back to us. This is what the Bush administration has said: "You feel a sense of unimaginable grief and rage. You feel helpless, confused, and lost. You want revenge, but you are unable to attain it. Only an absolute authority can conquer absolute evil. You must surrender your freedom in order to be protected by this authority. If you refuse to surrender, you'll be destroyed." If this message in any way reflected the actual American experience of 9/11, then one would have to accept the Bush administration's narrative that the nation as a whole has given its blessing to the new imperial government, and that any resistance to that government must acknowledge its marginality. But it doesn't. In fact the Bush administration's interpretation of 9/11 is its greatest achievement and its biggest lie - a lie which is at the heart of all of its other lies, including the rationale for invading Iraq. I believe that the general confusion with which the average American now regards the post-democratic political process - for instance, the confusion about gay marriage during the 2004 elections - is the distance between the Bush administration's interpretation of 9/11 and our own experience of it. What most Americans actually felt was a sense of communal rebirth never before experienced in many of our lifetimes. The overwhelming instinct was to regard the attacks as an opportunity and indeed a calling to revive the spirit of democracy in this country - a call to a renewed sense of citizenship and public responsibility. Most Americans wanted more than anything to respond to the attacks with charity, self-sacrifice, and national purpose - the spirit which animated the nation during WWII. That desire certainly had a component of assertiveness to it - almost all Americans supported the initial operations in Afghanistan, recognizing the need to find the terrorists and bring them to justice. But it wasn't a blind lust for revenge. It was surprisingly sober - it was a genuinely realistic acknowledgment of the reality and temporal power of evil and the response which a moral and convicted people must make to it. In other words, most Americans felt in the wake of 9/11 the advent of a truly righteous struggle which would unite the country and heal its damaged democratic institutions. In that spirit, America looked to the President for leadership. And Bush told Americans to go shopping. That disappointment has been as damaging and lasting for Americans as the attacks were. Americans from all walks of life showed up with a willingness and desire to serve that had not been seen in this country in fifty years and were told that our efforts were unwanted and unneeded. George W. Bush's utter failure to understand the significance of 9/11 was an obscenity. His instinctive retreat to militarism and consumerism so completely missed the point - this had nothing to do with materialism! This had nothing to do with war! This had to do with community! - missed everything good that America was trying to tell Bush about itself and instead landed on everything bad, that it constitutes a failure of historic proportions. Bush is a simple-minded man, a virtually undeveloped ego-state, with a bastardized understanding of the value of human life and the meaning of this country. Faced with America at its most heroic and most generous, Bush simply could not understand what was happening. A revival of democracy happening at his doorstep was the last thing in the world he wanted to deal with. He and his co-conspirators have spent the last four years shoving it under the rug, skillfully manipulating every seam in the national fabric to prolong a culture war which desperately wanted to die on 9/11. Thus it is not so much American grief that has gone unmourned (we've done plenty of that) as it is a genuinely selfless love of country, a desire for service, a willingness to sacrifice, which has been turned away and turned against ourselves.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Food For Thought for the Homophobes

It occurred to me the other day that if it's true that 10% of the world's population is gay, and that's a uniform statistic, then the following is true:

There have been approximately four gay American Presidents.
There are about 25 gay members of the baseball Hall of Fame.
There were about ten gay Pilgrims on the Mayflower.
There was at least one gay signer of the Constitution.
There were about 4,500 gay soldiers killed at Gettysburg.
About 40,000 gay Americans lost their lives in World War II.
Gay Americans contributed about a trillion dollars to the American economy in 2004.
About 300 gay people were killed in New York on September 11, 2001.

Got the point? Gay history is 10% of American history. 10% of all the apples in a slice of pie, 10% of the stars in the flag, 10% of U.S. GDP, 10% of the poets, writers, singers, athletes, scientists, scholars, politicians, nobodies, celebrities, bums, tycoons, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons in America, all gay. Get rid of that 10%, and this country becomes 10% less interesting, less wealthy, less powerful, less colorful, less itself.

The Constructive Role of Homosexuality in Society

There's an important balance in any healthy society between innovation and stability. For instance, it's long been noted that respectable social institutions usually derive from cultural movements once considered radical. I'm interested in the mechanism by which this takes place, particularly because it illuminates the critical role played in society by race, gender, and sexuality. One theory I find plausible is that cultural innovation tends to happen on the margins, indeed as a creative response to marginalization. This theory makes a lot of sense out of black history, for instance (take the classic example of jazz.) Does it apply to gay history as well? Consider the tendency of gay communities in contemporary society to gather in urban neighborhoods long abandoned by middle class whites. The gay community almost seems to be functioning in this capacity as a "middle term," mediating between the otherwise mutally hostile camps of marginalized, yet creatively potent ethnic enclaves and the culturally stagnant consuming classes of the suburbs. If this is at all accurate (and I recognize that it's a simplification at best - the suburbs aren't uniformly white, for instance) then it might speak to the constructive role played by gender and racial "overlap" in a healthy society. Another way to phrase the question might be, is homosexuality a driving force of "trendiness," urban renewal, and other forms of cultural creativity, and if so, what is behind this? It could be that insofar as gay culture is an eclectic borrowing of identities (some traditional, some radical) that gender difference is a key mechanism by which society staves off cultural stagnation, integrating sub-cultures otherwise separated by class and race and recovering artifacts from the past as resources for the present.

On Race Relations in Boston

I’ve heard that Boston is still one of the most segregated cities in the country, and I can believe it. I notice all the time on the T there are these miniature ghettos that just spring up spontaneously on the back of the train, where a bunch of black kids get on and suddenly all the white people flee to the front, like blackness might be contagious. Sometimes all it takes is one black kid to set this in motion. The other day there was one black teenager sitting on the back of the T, positively exuding a very pure kind of retro 1970’s style blackness as he sat there sprawled over about four seats, even bouncing a basketball to drive the point home, and just his presence alone was enough to create the ghetto effect. There wasn’t a white person within twenty feet of him – they were standing up at the front of the T rather than sit down anywhere near this kid. In fact it finally took one Rosa Parks-like white person sitting herself down somewhere in the vicinity to re-gentrify the back of the T. You could see this critical mass of whiteness building up and finally overpowering the blackness of the ghetto kid, making the back of the T safe for whites again.

What's the Problem with Michael Jackson?

This just proves once and for all that a white man can get away with anything in this country. Seriously, don’t you think the verdict would have been different if Jackson was still black?

Remember that famous photograph taken back when the O.J. verdict was announced, and all of the black people in the picture looked happy and the white people looked pissed off? Well, there was a similar photograph taken after the Jackson verdict, only everyone in the picture just looked confused. The blacks didn’t know if they should stand up and cheer or start shooting, and the whites didn’t know who to blame, the white trash mom or the creepy ex-black. So Jackson has done his part to improve race relations in this country, or at least confuse the hell out of racists everywhere.

Which reminds me, it’s a good thing that Jackson finally sought treatment for his blackness. I know that his family and friends had been saying it for years – Michael, something’s not right, you have to get help, etc. etc. And thank God that he finally listened and he’s now a recovering black. He’s been non-black now for ten years running. Congratulations, Michael.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Spirituality in the Workplace, Part I

Is northwest Arkansas the new hub of business and global commerce, as a recent MSNBC article reports? And if so, what’s going on? Welcome to the 21st century, in which the weird convergence of religious fundamentalism and globalization has become the most important socio-cultural event of our lifetimes. The article is about the “faith and work” movement, which is basically a mushrooming reciprocity between the American sub-cultures of church and business. Churches have adopted the corporate model of targeted marketing and strategic growth, while businesses have openly proclaimed themselves as Christian-friendly, or Christ-centered, etc., both to their customers and to their employees. The theological rationale is, depending on how you look at it, either a hymn to post-modern pluralism or a parody of it (which in the age of Bush are virtually indistinguishable anyway,) focusing on the need for spiritual authenticity in all aspects of life and on the right of self-expression and solidarity which Christians share on an equal basis with every other cultural and religious sub-group in the global (post-democratic) market-place. For my money, a close look at this reasoning reveals both an indispensable insight into the spiritual dimensions of globalization, and an oversight based on a misunderstanding of the relationship between science (broadly construed) and religion. Both are highly significant. The insight ought to be shared with all Christians as a calling and an opportunity. The oversight should lead to a focused debate between the new breed of market-based, non-denominational evangelicals on the one hand and the traditional mainline and Catholic polities on the other.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


It strikes me that some potential readers may feel dismayed at my advocacy of a recognizably pro-life position on abortion rights when they have been promised progressive politics. If I have a base among my two readers yet I can throw some red meat at it later but for now I don't see any contradiction between the two positions. I identify myself as progressive in the same spirit (with due respect) that Chesterton called himself a liberal. He also named St. Thomas (and Jesus, and Dickens) among history's greatest liberals. I think that Chesterton and I both mean that to be progressive, or liberal, is to be dedicated to the goodness and potential of the human species - that the created order is really good, and human beings are really good with the potential to get even better. This stands in distinct opposition to the false liberalism of Hobbes, for instance, for whom no real progress is possible. I believe that true rationality, i.e. the love of the true, the good, and the beautiful is the transcendent goal of human history (albeit always only partial and known as fully through its absence as its presence.)

It is this perspective which prevents me from accepting the reductionist and nihilistic logic of "choice" as it is applied to abortion rights. I have never understood how the phrase "a woman's right to choose..." can be abbreviated. To choose what? Fries with that? Choice is not an intrinsic good, and freedom doesn't occur in a vacuum. It may be the case that fetuses never feel or experience anything, but if so, I believe that is strongly relevant to the matter of abortion. This puts me on the wrong side of abortion rights advocates, who believe that it makes no difference one way or another.

What this shows is that on the position of abortion, science and Christian ethics converge. Both compel me to recognize the potential claim that another (even a theoretical other, such as a member of a future generation) makes on my freedom. I can't dispose of this obligation, and I can't ignore it - I'm already bound by it as soon as I recognize it. Science makes that other present to me and won't let me go until I acknowlege its legitimate authority. There's no freedom without relation, and no such thing as progress for one individual alone.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Ultrasound and the Scourge of Objectivity

I found this article to be quite fascinating and instructive for all of the ways in which it tries to avoid the critical challenges that the issue of abortion might be seen to present. I take Carr's jargon-burdened point to be something like, the pregnant body is inherently destabilized (and destabilizing, she would surely add,) therefore no one can reliably assign categories to it like public or private, subjective vs. objective. She's saying something like "a fetus can be both wave and particle," if you get what I mean. I agree with her to a large extent which is the problem I have been trying to work through with my analysis of the dual subjectivity of the pregnant woman and her fetus and the critical process of discerning whether bearing that subjectivity is something that a woman can possibly bring herself to do without doing violence to herself. That's the role that a pregnant woman plays in determining the course of her pregnancy, and there is no substitute for it, and no one can do it for her. Pregnancy really is that personal, and that profound.

But then we get to the whole business about the ultrasound, and that's where Carr's argument goes into screaming reactionary mode. Carr makes clear that she feels her rights being threatened by the very concept of the ultrasound, but none of her reasons stand up. She accuses the ultrasound of being a patriarchal plot, a surveillance tool of the modern state, a bourgeois invention hearkening back to Freud and the days of hysterics - she basically throws the post-modern book at the ultrasound, hoping something will stick. But nothing does. I would wager that almost all ultrasound technicians are women and that most pregnant women enjoy the experience. There's no patriarchal plot taking place. Nobody has ever been forced to take an ultrasound, and the results aren't public. There's no surveillance either. And there's nothing condescending about it towards women's emotional states either. The Freud thing doesn't make sense.

In fact it's obvious that the whole reason why Carr doesn't like the ultrasound is because of the notion of scientific objectivity which it introduces into pregnancy. To avoid the very possibility that science, rather than a pregnant woman's subjective choice, might have something to say about the morality of terminating a pregnancy, Carr has to rehearse a reactionary post-modern screed against science itself - now it's science that's the bourgeois, patriarchal plot. There's nowhere to go in this argument but backwards, as reactionary reasoning always must go. Carr throws around post-modern phraseology like an English professor on speed in order to get out of the argument alive but in the end she just tails off, exhausted. She's left staring at that screen, and Foucault can't do a damn thing to help her.

Where does that leave the discussion of abortion rights? Carr's argument proves, through its ineffectiveness, that there is an objective component to the debate which science is coming perilously closer to proving. The construction of personhood is partly subjective, but not entirely so. A newborn infant doesn't come from nowhere (like the stork) and a pregnant woman doesn't will its body into being. In the near future when fetal surgery, or genetic therapy, becomes common-place, it will be harder and harder to deny that there is a threshold to the origins of personhood which begins at some point during those now-mysterious nine months. As Carr rightly recognizes, the ultrasound is the beginning of the end of the purely subjective argument for abortion rights.