“I’m fiscally conservative, but socially liberal”

March 5, 2014

Dennis Prager provides a thoughtful response to the popular “either/or” fallacy about fiscal vs. social conservatism.

One frequently hears this political self-identification: “I’m socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.” Or, “If the Republicans weren’t conservative on so many social issues, I would vote Republican.” Or, “It’s too bad the Christian Right dominates the Republican Party. I would vote for the Republicans on fiscal issues, but I can’t stand the religious right.”

The same sentiment holds among many inside the Republican Party. Most secular conservatives and the libertarian wing of the party agree: Let’s jettison all this social stuff — most prominently opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, and this unnecessary commitment to religion — and just stand for small government and personal liberty.

To many people these positions sound reasonable, even persuasive. They shouldn’t.

Like Prager, I’m firmly in the “both/and” conservative camp. I usually describe myself as a conservative, no hyphenated qualifier needed. If pressed for clarification, I’ll explain that I am a Constitutional conservative. Which to me is a polite way of saying I am not “‘fiscally conservative’ but socially liberal,” i.e., libertarian.

I used to be libertarian, and as the prelude to an insult goes, some of my best friends are libertarians.

As a libertarian, I understood that my ideas traced back to a tradition known as classical liberalism, which represented what I considered the best of Enlightenment Age thought. It irritated me that the term “liberal” was hijacked by early 20th century Marxists after the destructive fruits of their poisonous ideology discredited the previous labels they deployed to hide their stripes: “socialist,” “Fabian socialist,” and “progressive.” Plus ca change, after destroying the “Liberal” brand, they recycled the “progressive” label, which thanks to Obama has finally passed its sell-by date. Perhaps Leftists will start calling themselves as “conservatives” going forward. That would not be entirely fraudulent. After all, since 2008, “progressives” have done more to enhance the conservative brand than conservatives have.

I still agree with libertarians on economic and monetary policy. Mises and Hayek were not just right, but prophetically and spectacularly so. Where I part company with my “fiscal conservative’ but social liberal” friends is on first principles, specifically: On liberty.

As a libertarian, I read hundreds of books and articles espousing libertarian views on myriad social and political issues. Curiously, even though our worldview was centered on maximizing freedom, I don’t remember reading any books or articles that discussed the meaning of freedom. My libertarian friends and I simply assumed the meaning of  freedom was self-evident. Had someone asked me then what I meant by freedom, my bafflement would have made it clear that the worldview I espoused was not as sound as I believed.

I often ask young libertarians  what they mean by freedom. Typically, they give one of two responses: 1) a variation of “freedom means allowing people to do what they want.” Sometimes they’ll include John Stuart Mills’ qualifier: … as long as you do not harm anyone else… or interfere with another’s lawful exercise of freedom. Or 2) a confused expression reminiscent of an actor who has forgotten his lines, in stark contrast to their breezy answers on specific issues.

The concept of freedom as the ability to do what I want more closely resembles a Nike slogan than a definition of freedom. Freedom to do as we please is self-refuting. We often desire things that are downright destructive to ourselves and others, such as addictions that enslave us or selfish acts that rob us and others of our inherent dignity as human beings. Our modern notion of freedom to do as we please would been astonished great thinkers in the classical tradition like Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. They understood that authentic freedom means the ability to do as we ought, not as we please. The former presupposes an understanding of human nature that we no longer understand or reject in our desire for unlimited freedom.

John Milton understood the difference between authentic freedom and its modern counterfeit:

But this is got by casting pearls to hogs,
That bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,
And still revolt when Truth would set them free.
License they mean when they cry Liberty;
For who loves that must first be wise and good.

Consider an aspiring pianist. A classically-trained pianist typically spends many years practicing scales and exercises and learning to sight-read music. Years of hard work and practice enable her to play the masterworks of the great composers. Paradoxically, the time and effort needed to master the instrument repays the student’s investment with the freedom to perform and the potential to create music of their own. By contrast, a small child pounding on a toy piano who refuses to take music lessons can create noise with the instrument, but no music. Which one is more free?

Mills’ qualifying principle doesn’t solve the problem. Unfortunately, differences of opinion arise regarding when my freedom causes harm or encroaches upon another’s freedom. Unless you live alone on an otherwise deserted island, doing as you please will invariably interfere with other persons doing what they want. And unless what you want to do conforms to what you ought to do (or you live on a deserted island), invariably your selfish acts will hurt others in some fashion.

Anyone who thinks that you can have smaller government — the central issue for libertarians and other fiscal conservatives — without Judeo-Christian religions and their God-based values neither understands the Founders nor human nature very well.

The entire American experiment in smaller government — and even in secular government — was based on Americans individually being actively religious. The Founders — unlike the European men of the Enlightenment then and the left today — understood that people are not basically good. That is a defining belief of Judaism as well as of Christianity. Therefore the great majority of people need moral religion and belief in accountability to a morally judging God to be good. In other words, you will either have the big God of Judaism and Christianity or the big state of the left.

Social conservatives know that they need fiscal conservatives. They know that the bigger the state, the smaller the God. They know that proponents of the ever-larger state want their own gods — like Mother Earth — to replace the Bible’s God. Fiscal conservatives need to understand that they need social conservatives. They need them philosophically, for reasons explained above. And they need them politically. There will never be enough Americans who are fiscally but not socially conservative to win a national election. Sorry.

I agree with this except for the last paragraph. I don’t think Prager really means it when he says conservatives “know that the bigger the state, the smaller the God.” I’m sure he doesn’t believe God is diminished by even the severest totalitarian dictatorships. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” etc. I’m sure we agree that the bigger the state, the greater the threat to freedom of religion. To paraphrase Chesterton, see 20th Century, History of.

He is correct that there aren’t enough Americans who are fiscally but not socially conservative to win elections. However, Prager goes on to suggest that social conservatives understand they need fiscal conservatives, whereas fiscal conservatives do not understand they need social conservatives. My fiscally but not socially conservative friends would claim the opposite, and they don’t have to look too far back for proof. In 2012, by most estimates, approximately 3 million conservatives stayed home rather than vote for Mitt Romney, either because of his Mormon faith or because he “wasn’t conservative enough.” Either way, this was insane. Unfortunately, I suspect that if a more conservative Republican had won the nomination, a similar percentage of fiscal conservative social liberal moderates likely would have stayed home too.

There’s a reason we’re called the Stupid Party. We keep finding ways to let the Evil Party win.


No Exit

March 3, 2014

What happens if you sign up for Obamacare and then decide to switch to another policy?

Obamacare: You Can Get In, But Can You Get Out?

“Andrew Robinson was looking forward to getting health insurance through the Affordable Care Act,” explained reporter Lori Brown. “He has a small publishing business and works part time, so he hasn’t had coverage. In early January, he signed up for a plan that cost nearly $300 a month. About a half hour later, he and his wife realized they could barely afford that. They quickly found a less expensive plan through Humana — for $116 a month.”

The only surprise here is that an affordable plan is still available after Obamacare. The endless bureaucratic red tape Robinson goes through trying to switch plans is a feature of the system.

More than six weeks later, after spending 50 to 60 hours on the phone, his policy is still not canceled. And he is still waiting for the payment Florida Blue withdrew from his account to be refunded. …

According to Florida Blue, the company can’t cancel Robinson’s insurance until it receives notification from the Federal insurance marketplace that he has, in fact, obtained other insurance to take its place.

And that brings up another enforcement feature of Obamacare that, so far, has been overshadowed by the hoopla over the Internal Revenue Service’s expanded powers: The Federal health care marketplace itself can act as an Obamacare enforcer, tethering people who voluntarily approached the exchange for coverage to their initial decision for a very long time — no matter whether they later wish to exercise their own free will to drop coverage outright, or simply find a better deal somewhere else.

Welcome to the Hotel California.


Lord of the World

June 13, 2013

I recently reread Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson’s prophetic novel Lord of the World, written in 1906. Tell me if this sounds familiar.

*****MAJOR SPOILER ALERT***** The following synopsis gives away most of the principal story line, up to but not including, the last sentence.

Benson’s novel takes place around the mid-late 20th century. The future technology Benson describes is similarly prophetic or wildly off-the-mark as the futuristic fiction of H.G. Welles or Jules Verne.  Millions live in crowded cities under artificial light. Air travel via mechanical “volors” capable of traveling 150 mph is commonplace. Military weapons are predictably far more powerful than anything existing in Benson’s time, with military use of air travel to deliver powerful explosives capable of destroying modern cities a reality. Advances in technology provide greater conveniences and benefits to the citizenry, but also greater disasters when technology fails.

None of this is remarkable in itself. Where Benson’s novel surpasses other similar efforts is in its depiction of the spirit of the age, the cultural and spiritual zeitgeist of a world that has not just lost its faith, but is growing in hostility towards the faith even as the latter diminishes in power and influence. In Lord of the World, a progressive secular humanitarianism has produced a relatively modernized but sterile existence. Euthanasia is the norm for dealing with illnesses and diseases in old age. If anything, Benson’s vision of what Pope John Paul II described as a culture of death falls short of the grisly reality of abortion on demand, partial birth abortion and infanticide. His imagination could foresee the rise of a greater villain than even Hitler, but not everyday monsters like Kermit Gosnell and Planned Parenthood.

Consistent with Benson’s ecclesiology, what little remains of the faith in the novel is decidedly Catholic. (Benson was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his conversion a few years after his father’s death stunned the Anglican community.) The Protestant churches and even Islam have become increasingly irrelevant as they incorporate more and more of the humanist spirit of the age.

Into this post-Christian milieu, from out of nowhere appears a charismatic young political figure who captures the public imagination. His background is a mystery, rising from obscurity to sudden fame and rapidly expanding political power on the basis of his spellbinding oratory, although in fact his speeches consist mostly of banal platitudes.

His name is Julian Felsenburgh and he is the anti-Christ.

“But who is Felsenburgh?” put in a young priest…
“He’s a mystery,” said another priest, Father Blackmore…
“I met an American senator,” put in Percy, “three days ago, who told me that even there they know nothing of him, except his extraordinary eloquence. He only appeared last year, and seems to have carried everything before him by quite unusual methods…”

Felsenburgh soon forms a de facto one world government with himself at the head. (Benson’s novel depicts a world  divided into three separate camps, federalisms of former sovereign States resembling the European Union, comprised of Europe, Asia and America, all of which ask Felsenburgh to rule over them. One ‘king’ to rule them all, one ‘king’ to find them, one ‘king’ to bring them all and in the darkness bind/blind them. 

The charismatic Felsenburgh preaches a message of universal tolerance, whose logic inevitably leads to persecution of the “ancient superstition.” As Felsenburgh’s power grows, he assumes several familiar titles for himself: Lord (and Savior) of the World, Messiah, Son of Man, even Incarnate God… because Man created God in his image and Felsenburgh was both the archetype and supreme example of Man-made-God!

In no less than nine places—Damascus, Irkutsk, Constantinople, Calcutta, Benares, Nanking, among them—he was hailed as Messiah by a Mohammedan mob. Finally, in America, where this extraordinary figure has arisen, all speak well of him. He has been guilty of none of those crimes—there is not one that convicts him of sin—those crimes of the Yellow Press, of corruption, of commerical or political bullying which have so stained the past of all those old politicians who made the sister continent what she has become. Mr. Felsenburgh has not even formed a party. He, and not his underlings, have conquered.

Eventually, all traditional religious worship is abolished, to be replaced by obligatory services to worship Man, which Felsenburgh represents in perfect glory. A a Catholic plot to blow up a cathedral where the first compulsory new service is to be held is uncovered. The event establishes a pretext for Felsenburgh’s brutal and vicious persecutions to begin in earnest. In retaliation, Felsenburgh leads a fleet of 200 military volors to destroy Rome, killing the Pope and all the Cardinals, who were present in the holy city to attend a council to decide what should be the Church’s response to the threat of Felsenburgh. One of the new Cardinals, the former Father Percy Franklin who we meet early on, a young man with white hair who bears a striking resemblance to Felsenburgh, escapes the destruction, having left in haste for England in a futile attempt to stop the bomb plot.

At the end, all that remains of the church founded by Christ is a ragtag band of twelve in hiding somewhere in a desert near Nazareth where the faith originated. One of the twelve betrays the remant church’s location to Felsenburgh. And Felsenburgh leads his forces—the largest, most powerful military force ever assembled—to destroy them.

…He was coming now, swifter than ever, the hier of temporal ages and the Exile of eternity, the final piteous Prince of rebels, the creature against God, blinder than the sun which paled and the earth that shook; and as He came, passing even then through the last material stage to the thinness of a spirit-fabric, the floating circle swirled behind Him, tossing like phantom birds in the wake of a phantom ship… He was coming, and the earth, rent once again in its allegiance, shrank and reeled in the agony of divided homage.

He was coming—and already the shadow swept off the plain and vanished, and the pale netted wings were rising to the cheek; and the great bell clanged, and the long sweet chord rang out—not more than whispers heard across the pealing storm of everlasting praise…

Against Felsenburgh and his Hellish hosts racing to obliterate the remnant of Christ’s Church, the last pontiff and his tatterdemalion followers celebrate Mass for the last time.

I must admit I didn’t quite get the ending the first time I read it. The words of the Mass, juxtaposed against the final assault of Felsenburgh’s vast army—Word versus Flesh—are quoted in Latin, of which I know just a few phrases. Re-reading the novel again after many years, I thought of several different ways Msgr. Benson could have chosen to end the book, none of which approach the beauty and glory of his simple and fitting last line.

There’s much more to Lord of the World than the parts I’ve spoiled. And at only 206 pages and much better IMO than Stephen King’s The Stand, it’s well worth checking out.


An Unapologetic Apology

June 6, 2013

Mike Adams delivers an “apology” (sort of) to his Mormon/LDS readers.

Several LDS readers requested an apology after Adams took a gratuitous swipe at their church in a previous column, titled “The Judgment of Future Generations”, which dealt with same sex marriage.

Here’s the paragraph they found upsetting:

People often try to call something a marriage when it isn’t. Calling a union between two men or between two women a marriage doesn’t make it one. It’s like embedding the name “Jesus Christ” in the official title of the LDS church and thinking that makes Mormonism somehow Christian. Call a square a triangle if you like but it’s still a square. Your hardheadedness won’t make it become a triangle. It will only make you appear obtuse (emphasis added).

My immediate reaction upon reading this was to cringe the way an American traveller abroad cringes when witnessing another American behaving in stereotypically boorish “ugly American” fashion. I was nonplussed to understand why Adams chose to take a calculated cheap shot at Mormons, especially when arguing about an issue on which the people he insults are more likely to agree with him than those who share the faith he claims to represent.

First, it wasn’t necessary to insult anyone to make his point. Adams could have quoted Lincoln instead, “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? The answer is four, because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” That would make the same point more effectively, without losing friends and alienating people on purpose. Now, after being asked to apologize, he quadruples down on the ridicule and Mormon-baiting.

As my friends and colleagues know, I find it easy enough to lose friends and alienate people unintentionally. Adams seems to enjoy going out of his way to attack staunch allies in the culture wars on purpose. He’s already written a three-part series of columns on Mormonism, which upset his LDS readers. Having done my own homework on Latter Day Saints history and teachings, I find myself uncomfortably in agreement with Adams about the truth claims of Mormonism. BUt I also find myself almost wishing that I did not agree with him. I’m embarrassed by his uncharitable behavior toward others, Christians or not. And even more embarrassed that he calls himself a Christian and them non-Christians while behaving so uncharitably toward them.

Writing in the middle of the 1st century AD, St. Peter still has the best approach to effective apologetics: “Always be prepared to make a defense [of the faith] to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.” When I began studying the faith seriously, I took these words to heart and tried to learn everything I could about my faith. But I failed to heed the rest of St. Peter’s advice: “… yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” As a popular saying attributed to various authors says: “in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.” I still have a long way to go with respect to the last one, but at least I recognize that I fall short of the mark. This is a lesson that Dr. Adams seems to delight in never having bothered to learn.

Predictably, most of the comments on the original Townhall piece quickly descended into ugly Mormon-baiting. On a positive note I suppose, at long last we may have found an issue where the Tolerant™ Left and the More-Christian-Than-Thou Right can agree. Whether it’s celebrating The Book of Mormon (the Musical) or Dr. Adams callbacks to Joseph Smith’s prophetic spot-on 1830s Bill Clinton impression, Mormons, because they tend not to fight back, are safe targets for ridicule and abuse.

But at least the South Park creators of The Book of Mormon musical are minimally consistent, devoting approximately 0.1% of their ridicule at Islam and the prophet Muhammad. Instead of asking Adams to apologize, I’d like Morman critics on both sides of the political spectrum to give equal time to insulting Islam.

After all, if a religion that abandoned polygamy a century ago deserves ridicule, why should a religion that still practices polygamy today (and seeks to impose a worldwide Caliphate under Sharia law where women are enslaved, homosexuals executed, and rape victims stoned to death) deserve so much more respect?

Rhetorical question. We already know the answer.


Pygmies vs. Prophets

December 31, 2012

“Now, people when I say that people look at me and say, ‘What are you talking about, Joe? You’re telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?’ The answer is yes, that’s what I’m telling you.”
—Joe Biden

“There is no practice more dangerous than of borrowing money; for when money can be had in this way, repayment is seldom thought of in time, the interest becomes a loss, exertions to raise it by dent of industry cease, it comes easy and is spent freely and many things are indulged in that would never be thought of if to be purchased by the sweat of the brow.”
—George Washington

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“In my opinion, it’s not that the decision to have a child or have an abortion is ever not complicated; rather, it is as morally complex (and often conflicted) a decision as any. It’s never simple.”
—John Irving, My Movie Business: A Memoir, Knopf, 1999

“Moral issues are always terribly complex—for someone without principles.”
—G. K. Chesterton

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“One of the great clichés of the last few months was that September 11 changed everything. I never believed that. … I predict in the years ahead Enron, not September 11, will come to be seen as the greater turning point in U.S. society.”
—Paul Krugman, Op-Ed column, January 29, 2002

“An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head.”
—Eric Hoffer


Pissant in a jar of urine

December 8, 2012

Earlier this week, I caught part of the segment on Glenn Beck’s radio show on his Obama Pee Pee eBay auction. In case you missed it, Beck created an Obama in Pee Pee “artwork” to tweak the Left and expose their hypocrisy regarding artistic license and freedom of speech. He auctioned it on eBay (all proceeds going to charity), but eBay pulled it before it ended.

Obama-Pee-eBay-page

By sheer coincidence, a friend tipped me to this provocatively titled blog piece from Bob Duggan: Is Glenn Beck’s Obama in Pee Pee the Last Shot Fired of the ‘80s and ‘90s Culture Wars? Glenn predicted the left would fail to see the point he was trying to make. Duggan does not disappoint.

Here’s Duggan’s opening salvo:

The sight of a grown man trying to stuff a bobbing plastic doll into a jar of what he claims to be his own urine is a sad thing, but when that man is right-wing commentator Glenn Beck making a strange comment about freedom of speech combined with a hateful symbolic act against the President, it’s not surprising. Beck tweely titles his artwork Obama in Pee Pee (shown above), but let’s call it what it is—Piss Obama, a 35-years-too-late reply (sic) to Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, one of the landmark works of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s “culture wars” pitting conservatives versus liberals in the battle for artistic expression. Beck hopes to piss off liberals with this act, but what he might have actually achieved is firing the last shot (squirt?) of the culture wars, proving perhaps once and for all that those cruel days are over.

Actually, I think the sight of a grown man dressed up like a character from a Pepe Le Pew cartoon trying to stuff a bobbing plastic doll that looks like Barack Obama impersonating Buddy Christ from Kevin Smith’s Dogma into a jar of what Glenn explicitly said was not his own urine is extremely funny. But the sight of a grown man who completely misses the point of Beck’s satire, gleans hidden messages in Beck’s urine, befuddles himself trying to expose Beck’s diabolical motives, reacts pretty much as Glenn predicted… and somehow thinks Beck comes off as the fool in the exchange—now that’s hilarious.

Glenn-Beck-tries-art-dips-Obama-toy-in-jar-of-fake-urine-VIDEO

I  knew I was in for a hard slog midway through Duggan’s first sentence:

“… when that man is right-wing commentator Glenn Beck making a strange comment about freedom of speech combined with a hateful symbolic act against the President…”

Everybody knows who Beck is. Labeling him a “right-wing commentator” is just a lazy ploy to poison the well. And rather than explain why Beck made “… a strange comment about freedom of speech,” Duggan simply tells us what to think. Ten points from Slytherin.

Characterizing the Obama Pee Pee auction as “a hateful symbolic act against the President” is lazy and dishonest. How does Duggan know Beck’s motives are hateful? As Thomas Sowell explains: “It is amazing how many people think that they can answer an argument by attributing bad motives to those who disagree with them. Using this kind of reasoning, you can believe or not believe anything about anything, without having to bother to deal with facts or logic.” However, attributing bad motives is a useful Alinsky tactic to put opponents on the defensive.

Now a non-expert might say, “C’mon, the guy put a figure of the President in urine. Of course it’s hateful.” True. Someone who knows nothing about modern art could make that assumption. But Duggan’s expertise disqualifies him from such misunderstanding. Duggan knows Beck’s satire was in response to artwork depicting Obama as messiah; he discusses it in his second paragraph. But he suggests that Beck is only now responding to Serrano’s 1987 display to paint Beck as out of touch. (Presumably Duggan meant to say a 25-years–too-late reply: 2012-1987=25. Math)

But so what if Beck’s auction was in response to Serrano’s Piss Christ; how is that “too late?” Since when do responses to art have a “sell by” date? Serrano’s “art” doesn’t have an expiration date. Duggan’s description of his blog refutes his own point:

In this image-drenched world, the line between the visual arts and society is less distinct than ever before. The artists of today speak not only to present times but also engage in dialogue with the artists of the past, who both haunt us and challenge us to rise above the mundane. Picture This stands at the crossroads of the present, past, and future in art, taking a good look around at the landscape and what it means to us. In doing so, it aims to provide a roadmap for those interested in how looking at art leads to thinking about life (emphasis added).

Should art criticism of Rembrandt be characterized as a “350-years-too-late reply” to Rembrandt?

This sentence is a doozy:

“Beck hopes to piss off liberals with this act, but what he might have actually achieved is firing the last shot (squirt?) of the culture wars, proving perhaps once and for all that those cruel days are over.”

Does Duggan really think Beck’s eBay auction represents the Appomattox of the culture wars? Actually, he does. His oh-so-clever takeaway compares Beck to a Japanese soldier fighting decades after WWII ended, bringing his “35-years-too-late response” comment full circle. He probably thinks it’s a clever metaphor; actually it’s just a forced simile.

Bizarrely, Duggan finds a comical Obama doll in Pee Pee to be a hateful symbol, but thinks Serrano’s display of a crucifix—which for Christians represents the Lord of the universe—isn’t about religion at all. Huh?

In his rambling monologue, Beck calls forth the ghost not only of Serrano’s Piss Christ, but also that of Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary, perhaps the most controversial work of the mid-1990s. Beck missed only Robert Mapplethorpe to complete the set. But that omission is especially telling. Piss Christ (like Piss Obama as a response to The Truth) isn’t about religion; it’s about oppression and suffering—specifically the oppression and suffering of the LGBT community in America, both then and now. Serrano chose the medium of bodily fluid at a time when bodily fluids were synonymous with the death sentence of AIDS. Piss Christ wasn’t an attack on religion or religious imagery but rather a modern use of that imagery to depict a new type of suffering and appeal for a new type of understanding and acceptance. Mapplethorpe may have photographed homosexual life in the 80s, but Serrano photographed its spirit.

Good grief. Beck’s omission of Mapplethorpe’s sick photographs is “especially telling?” Beck didn’t mention Ansel Adams’ photographs or opine on the merits of the Designated Hitter Rule either. What pray tell is “especially telling” about this omission? I thought Chris Matthews was the Grandmaster of dog whistle detection, but Duggan can hear dog whistles in what Beck doesn’t say.

I believe that Beck’s stunt comes not in response to The Truth but rather to the truth of the last election about public opinion regarding homosexuality and, most significantly, same-sex marriage. Linda Hirshman’s Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution (How a Despised Minority Pushed Back, Beat Death, Found Love, and Changed America for Everyone) argues that the American LGBT movement’s reached a tipping point of public acceptance, literally a victory not just for them, but for all people of any type of difference. The days of “culture wars” pitting American against American based on our differences rather than uniting us on our common values and dreams are over (I hope).

I won’t go so far as to accuse Beck of timing his stunt to blunt the impact of Saturday’s Day Without Art marking the passing of so many LGBT artists over the years. Beck’s statement rambled in so many directions that a clear message is hard to untangle, but the dog whistle of recalling Piss Christ and the “culture wars” of the past clearly tries to sound the classic anti-gay alarm signal. Like Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who fought on for three decades after World War II ended, Beck’s fighting a war long over. Call it Obama in Pee Pee or Piss Obama, Beck’s odd foray into the art world serves only to remind us of a time and a mindset best remembered in its passing.

How generous of Duggan not to go so far as to accuse Beck of timing his stunt to blunt the impact of an LGBT day of remembrance. In the same spirit, I won’t go so far as to accuse Duggan of timing his article to blunt the impact of Advent, Hannukah and Pearl Harbor. And I’ll give him props for the mileage (and dog whistles) he gets from attributing bad motives to people he disagrees with. First Beck was being hateful to the President. Now we learn that he was actually gay bashing via secret signals that 99.9% of his followers missed. (Hmm, maybe there’s something to those rumors about Larry Sinclair, the “Down-Low Club” at Rev. Wright’s church, the “wedding ring” Obama wore at Harvard, Reggie Love, Kal Penn, “Frank,” composite “girlfriends,” and how he throws a baseball. Excellent investigative work, Bob!)

The only apparent good news for Duggan is that the culture wars are relics of the distant past (he seems confused about who were/are the aggressors), and that Beck is the last combatant for the losing side. For an obsolescent pantomime villain, Beck sure draws a lot of hostile ammo. As Andrew Breitbart said, “if you aren’t drawing enemy fire, it’s because you’re not over the target.”

Personally I have no idea why Serrano put a crucifix in a jar of urine. Why did van Gogh cut off his ear? But unless Serrano was totally clueless, he had to know that millions would find his work blasphemous.

Yesterday I read about a Swedish artist with a German surname who uses ashes of incinerated Holocaust victims as the medium for his drawings. Perhaps this chap would say he intended no disrespect to the victims’ families, but “chose the medium of [dead Jewish remains to highlight] the suffering and oppression of the [neo-Nazi] community” and “appeal for a new type of understanding and acceptance.” Thankfully, most of us reject such sophistry and find his so-called art reprehensible and obscene. By what criteria does Duggan distinguish hateful Holocaust and Obama-in-Pee-Pee art from legitimate Jesus-in-urine art? Once universally-recognized lines of decency are crossed, lines are blurred, redrawn and erased again and again until as Dostoyevsky famously predicted, “everything is permitted.”

If Beck’s Obama in Pee Pee parody is hateful toward the President, then it follows a fortiori that Serrano’s display was hateful toward Christianity. It’s hard to see how one can rationally believe otherwise. However for Duggan, an image of Obama in fake urine is hateful, but an image of the Son of God in the real thing is perfectly fine. Even if Duggan was consistent, that still wouldn’t make his belief about Beck reasonable. He fails to consider the more likely explanation that Beck was mocking any or all of the following: Serrano, D’Antuono and/or Obama idolatry generally. Context matters. D’Antuono’s work and the Obama idolatry that inspired it provide the context to understand Beck’s parody. But Beck’s stunt remains an insoluble riddle for someone like Duggan who thinks the last election was about… (wait for it) … “public opinion about homosexuality and … same sex marriage.”

Single-issue voters find it hard to understand those who don’t share their singular focus. This may explain why Duggan never quite manages to understand Glenn’s point. It isn’t terribly complicated. Glenn sought to expose the hypocrisy of the Left re: “controversial” shock art. By creating an obviously satirical work of art that offends liberals, Beck reveals the Left’s feigned fidelity to artistic integrity and freedom of speech as a sham.

If you want to celebrate blasphemous and sacrilegious images, fine, knock yourself out. But don’t pretend you’re taking a principled stand by labeling literal excrement “art.” And please no more double-standards re: free speech. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech to offensive speech from all sides, including critics of the offensive speech liberals deem sacrosanct. But the Orwellian Left wants it both ways. They want blanket protection for obscenity they label “art”, and attempt to censor opposing viewpoints they label “censorship,” “racist” or “offensive.” Their real principle is “free speech for themselves, but not for others.”

Their hypocritical façade is exposed when a controversial work offends them. When normal people are offended by Piss Christ or Mapplethorpe’s graphic photos, the Left is ecstatic. But if a truly counter-cultural artist insults one of the Left’s sacred cows—or the “Religion of Peace” that stones women and executes homosexuals (somebody please explain that to me)—then the Tolerance mask slips, revealing their true Totalitarian face.

Putting a crucifix in urine or smearing feces on Christian iconography isn’t art; it’s defecating on art. An infant’s soiled diaper isn’t art no matter how closely the diaper stains resemble the work of Jackson Pollock. Piss Christ, smearing elephant dung on an icon of Madonna, etc. are to real art what the heckler’s veto is to free speech.

******

In fairness, I shouldn’t knock Piss Christ because it inspired what might have been my greatest artistic triumph. During Serrano’s fifteen minutes of fame, I told my friends the following story. I tried to keep a straight face, but I suspect they knew I was being facetious. My so-called artist career could have gone like this:

I told my friends that I had submitted a mason jar filled solely with my own urine to the GuggenheimMuseum, only to see my beautiful work of art rejected. For whatever reason, those pretentious white museum curators ignored the challenges I overcame to produce my masterwork. First, I had to consume more beer than the Surgeon General or State Trooper sobriety tests recommend—but alas we must suffer for our art. Second, much of my “work” never made it to the canvas, as my inebriated state impaired not only my driving ability, but also my usual pinpoint accuracy.

I took small comfort in knowing that my work’s rejection had nothing to do with its artistic value. Critics conceded that it showed tremendous originality and potential. They appreciated how the amber hues I produced—derived from a carefully nuanced mix of dark and light brews—refracted different kinds of light. No, the power-brokers of the art world decreed that—for reasons having nothing to do with art—my precious sola urine jar would never be displayed alongside similar masterpieces by giants named Mapplethorpe, Ofili, Pollock and Serrano.

They rightly feared that my sans cross “pee pee” would offend atheists.

****

Here in this image-drenched world, the line between a doll in a jar of Pee Pee and a crucifix in a 25-year-old jar of urine may be less distinct than ever before, but hypocrisy, double standards and incoherence are on full display.


Was blind but now I see

December 5, 2012

Grisly criminal acts are as old as humanity, but this story encapsulates the greatest evil of our time.

The title sums it up: “Woman forced to remarry the husband who threw acid in her face after she divorced him for being unfaithful.”

This woman’s horrific scars serve as a cruel and permanent reminder of the moment her husband of 18 years flung acid into her face.

Nurbanu had divorced her unfaithful and violent spouse after catching him with another woman.

Eight days later, she was cooking at home in Bangladesh when he pulled up on a motorbike and doused her with acid, leaving her blind and disfigured.

The 36-year-old now has to endure living with her former spouse again after his mother forced her to sign an affidavit to have him released from prison following the attack.

Horrific and sickening.

Monira Rahman, CEO of the Acid Survivors’ Foundation (ASF) in Bangladesh, has worked with the victims of acid and petrol attacks in the country for the past 14 years.

In a blog for the Huffington Post, she said the majority of the girls and women she had worked with had suffered at the hands of men who viewed them as ‘commodities’, and ‘believed they were justified in disfiguring them and violating their rights’.

That there is even a need in this world for an NGO like Acid Survivors’ Foundation is heart-wrenching alone. Tragically, Nurbanu’s suffering is far too typical in certain parts of the world. Wikipedia even has an article on acid throwing.

Ms Rahman said the number of acid attacks in Bangladesh has fallen thanks to the efforts of the government, the charity, donors and international development organisations to address the problem, but added that there was much more work to do.

There were 111 acid attacks in Bangladesh in 2011, compared to 500 in 2002.

I guess an 80% decline in acid attacks represents some small objective measure of “progress” in this barbaric part of the world. I am less optimistic when reading stories like this about our civilised allies’ willingness to confront intrinsic evil when they are no longer sure that evil exists.

But Ms Rahman said ‘gender-based’ violence like acid attacks could only be completely eradicated when women in Bangladesh enjoy equal rights.

‘Only by empowering women and ensuring equality we will have a society which has zero tolerance for violence against women,’ she wrote.

I don’t doubt Ms. Rahman’s sincerity. I admire her efforts to help victims like Nurbanu. The world would be a much better place if there were more people like her. But after spending 14 years helping victims of these evil attacks, her only explanations and solutions are framed in naive abstractions. What concrete steps does Ms. Rahman suggest Nurbanu take that will “empower” her and “ensure her equality”? My recommendations would include the brand names Glock or Smith & Wesson, but I seriously doubt Ms. Rahman had something similar in mind. It is unclear she has anything else in mind beyond vague, abstract platitudes in the face of very real and tangible evil.

Kerry McDermott, the author of this UK Daily Mail piece, is no more insighful. McDermott’s article includes an informative sidebar titled “The Battle To Rid Bangladesh of Acid Attacks.” Apparently the attackers throw nitric or sulphuric acid at the victim’s face or genitals, causing excruciating pain, permanent disfigurement and scarring. Many victims like Nurbanu suffer permanent blindness. To add indignity to their injuries, they are often ostracized by their families and neighbors, as if the evils perpetrated upon them were somehow their fault.

McDermott’s sidebar idicates that “Common motives behind the violent attacks include land or financial disputes, marital quarrels, and bitterness over spurned advances.”

Completely missing the point. I’m fairly sure that land and financial disputes, marital spats and scorned lovers are as common in the UK as in the US. But I have not heard about a similar epidemic of acid attacks on women in either country.

Two words immmediately came to mind as I was reading this article. The first, which I’ve bandied about a lot, was “evil.” The second, which I was initially hesitant to mention, begins with the letter I and ends in slam. Curiously neither of these word found its way into the Daily Mail article or sidebar, appearing only in the unwashed masses’ comments.

All too often I find myself returning to this great quote from George Orwell: “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” All too often these days I find that restating the obvious can get us into hot water. Then I remembered another useful quote from G.K. Chesterton: “I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.”

Since the earliest days of sailing, mariners would cast sounding lines to measure the ocean’s depths. I fear we have arrived at a depth beyond the reach of any sounding line, where avoidance of the obvious has become the overriding duty of highly educated but foolish men.

Is it really so difficult to connect the dots?

From the Wikipedia article:

These attacks are most common in Cambodia, Afganistan, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other nearby countries. Globally, at least 1500 people in 20 countries are attacked in this way yearly, 80% of whom are female and somewhere between 40% and 70% under 18 years of age.

In Afghanistan in November 2008, extremists subjected schoolgirls to acid attacks for attending school. Attacks or threats of attacks on women who failed to wear hijab or were otherwise “immodestly dressed” have been reported.

In 2006 a group in Gaza calling itself “Just Swords of Islam” claimed to have thrown acid at a young woman who was dressed “immodestly,” and warned other women to wear the hijab.

According to New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof, acid attacks are at an all time high in Pakistan and increasing every year. The Pakistani attacks he describes are typically the work of husbands against their wives who have “dishonored them.”

Do these sound like random disconnected events or are they part of a pattern?

Interestingly, the outlier country in this otherwise related group reported somewhat different motives for these attacks: “In Cambodia, it was reported that these attacks were mostly carried out by wives against their husbands’ lovers.” It doesn’t surprise me that this happens in Cambodia; it surprises me that it doesn’t happen on Jerry Springer.

I shared the above with my good friend Luis at Boiling Frogs. He pointed out that the Cambodian attacks illustrate what happens when societies begin to empower women as Ms. Rahman advocates. Some of the liberated women become the attackers, using their newly-acquired power against … other women. In fairness, the Cambodians apparently missed the “zero tolerance for violence against women” component of Ms. Rahman’s formula for societal advancement.

Mark Steyn has written fondly of a time when Britons reacted quite differently to quaint indigenous customs involving brutality toward women. In a 2002 piece titled “Multiculturalists are the real racists,” Steyn writes:

Once upon a time we knew what to do. A British district officer, coming upon a scene of suttee, was told by the locals that in Hindu culture it was the custom to cremate a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. He replied that in British culture it was the custom to hang chaps who did that sort of thing. There are many great things about India — curry, pyjamas, sitars, software engineers — but suttee was not one of them. What a pity we’re no longer capable of being “judgmental” and “discriminating.” We’re told the old-school imperialists were racists, that they thought of the wogs as inferior. But, if so, they at least considered them capable of improvement. The multiculturalists are just as racist. The only difference is that they think the wogs can never reform: Good heavens, you can’t expect a Muslim in Norway not to go about raping the womenfolk! Much better just to get used to it.

Of course the local Hindu lads were deeply offended by the British officer’s judgmental attitude. By what authority did he interfere with their religious customs? The British officer conceded the locals’ point, but noted that his countrymen had their own custom as well. The locals were free to build their funeral pyre and the British would build their gallows alongside it. The locals could follow their custom and the British would follow theirs. Both culture’s customs would receive equal treatment. Isn’t that what multiculturalists want?

Apparently not. The widow’s life was spared.

How we view this outcome depends on one’s perspective. From Steyn’s and my admittedly imperialist, racist, troglodyte point-of-view, a widow’s life was spared. For multiculturalists who believe that interactions between persons and competing cultures are ultimately power struggles and that no criterion exists to judge between competing customs, the outcome simply goes to show how the dominant British culture imposed its custom upon the Hindu’s weaker (but equally valid) custom. From the widow’s perspective—well, her point-of-view was never part of the discussion.

Steyn concludes:

As one is always obliged to explain when tiptoeing around this territory, I’m not a racist, only a culturist. I believe Western culture — rule of law, universal suffrage, etc. — is preferable to Arab culture: that’s why there are millions of Muslims in Scandinavia, and four Scandinavians in Syria. Follow the traffic. I support immigration, but with assimilation. Without it, like a Hindu widow, we’re slowly climbing on the funeral pyre of our lost empires. You see it in European foreign policy already: they’re scared of their mysterious, swelling, unstoppable Muslim populations.

They’re still tiptoeing around the elephant in the room, fearful of damaging the fragile self-esteem of 7th century savages, whose sole innovative use 21st century technology they could never invent, consists in finding creative ways to inflict mayhem and murder on innocent victims. Their mindset is not unlike that of the late Ugandan dictator and practitioner of cannibalism, Idi Amin. As historian Paul Johnson recounts in his brilliant history of the 20th century Modern Times, Amin owned a state-of-the-art refrigerator/freezer, which he used to preserve uneaten human leftovers for midnight snacks presumably. Hey, just because Islamist fanatics are often murderous psychopaths doesn’t mean they aren’t sensitive.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on McDermott. If he was writing for the New York Times, the article might not have been published to avoid offending members of the Religion of PeaceTM. (Actually, the excerpt from the Wikipedia article I quoted referenced a New York Times article by Nicholas Kristoff. But when I clicked on the Times’ link, all I got was “Page Not Found” error message.)

Perhaps when Ms. Sandra Fluke is selected as Time’s next Person of the Year, she might consider a visit to Bangladesh and other places where acid attacks on women take place. I’m sure that Nurbanu would be inspired to meet America’s most courageous voice in the Republicans’ War on WomenTM. In fact, I can’t think of anything that could empower women more than a shout out from Ms. Fluke. She could bring these poor women free contraceptives and help them see (figuratively speaking) how fortunate they are not to live in a country where true evil—people who oppose paying for free contraceptives—exists.

The irony is that even though Nurbanu was literally blinded by her husband’s blind sadistic hate, victims like her can still see truth more clearly than sanctimonious liberal frauds who wilfully blind themselves by their own delusions.

H/t to my friend Symeon who first introduced me to the idea of sounding lines as metaphor.


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