Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Privilege of the Grave- and The Voting Booth

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Mark Twain wrote The Privilege of the Grave at the age of 69- the same age I am now. I survived a bout with cancer this past spring so I know a bit about having thoughts of the grave. It was Twain's opinion, while a man is living he does not really have free speech. Then he qualifies it, “The living man is not really without this privilege—strictly speaking—but as he possesses it merely as an empty formality, and knows better than to make use of it…,” That essay was only published recently (in 2008) having been put aside out of a reticence that Twain clearly but coyly described in the last few lines of the essay itself. “I have just finished an article of this kind,” Twain wrote, “and it satisfies me entirely. It does my weather-beaten soul good to read it, and admire the trouble it would make for me and the family. I will leave it behind, and utter it from the grave. There is free speech there, and no harm to the family.”

I would like to commend this delicious essay to my readers at this, the threshold of the 2018 midterm elections because Twain secreted a timely message in this essay. That message is hidden in plain sight within this long neglected masterwork. He wrote these words five years before his own death and they lay dormant for 103 years. Now ten years after that, I have discovered a plea he embedded in it- to try to save us from making a terrible mistake.

Let me explain. He sheepishly admits that thirty years before the Civil War, he and most other Americans actually accepted the existence of slavery. It was, “… not because we wanted to, for we did not, but we wanted to be in the swim. It is plainly a law of nature, and we obeyed it.” “In the swim,” (today we might say, “to be mainstream”) he explained, is the main motive for party and ideological identification.  According to Twain, “The average citizen is not a student of party doctrines…after all the fuss and all the talk, not one of those doctrines has been conclusively proven to be the right one and the best.” 

In Twain’s time political feelings were personal and ambient. The only media were newspapers, flyers and the occasional speech. These days, we have television, radio and social media all of which leverage “the mainstream” into a flood tide. In place of Twain’s neighbors, co-workers and townspeople, we are beset by the almost unanimous howling, bleating  and self aggrandizement of preening Mass Media Personalities. They are the avatars of the elite establishment. They are telling you what to think and feel and how to think and feel it 24/7. They mean to make you understand that if you do not do it precisely as they say, you are NOT IN THE SWIM!

This is why the loudest most persistent cries in public and private life are anti-Trump. The constant battering our president takes from luminaries like Don Lemon, Morning Joe and Rachel Madow are as prejudicial as they are unfounded in facts. Its mostly name-calling and hysteria. Then there are the rage filled mobs of “liberals” who publicly harass and intimidate anyone connected to Mr Trump. A reasonable person would accept Twain’s approach: “…oftenest we suppress an unpopular opinion because we cannot afford the bitter cost of putting it forth. None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned.” 

Hated and shunned! When did it happen that the hard working people in fly-over country became so out of “The Swim” as to be objects of hate? When did it become smart to shun religious principals? The workers, the business people, the taxpayers- when did liberal elitists and media nabobs become so smart that they can tell us what to think? I don’t like it and I don’t accept it.

But then, what hope does Mark Twain offer? What secret message has he left us?
Here it is: “When a man has joined a party, he is likely to stay in it. If he change his opinion—his feeling, I mean, his sentiment—he is likely to stay, anyway; his friends are of that party, and he will keep his altered sentiment to himself, and talk the privately discarded one. On those terms he can exercise his American privilege of free speech, but not on any others. These unfortunates are in both parties, but in what proportions we cannot guess. Therefore we never know which party was really in the majority at an election.

That’s it! That’s why the polls were all wrong in 2016. It's also why we now have the best economy in decades and we down here in the hoi polloi have the feeling that things have gotten better than we could ever have expected if we had listened to the smart people in Washington and New York. We have remembered that we can vote against “The Swim” and that free speech is not just for the grave it is also the privilege of the vote! Please, let's show them again. Show them that the “Blue Wave” was just their wishful thinking- just like “Ready for Hillary”- whistling past the graveyard, if you will. Get up on Tuesday and express yourself!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Denunciation- the Deadliest Activism

The Kavanaugh Family Being Harassed 

If the Senate Democrats succeed in defeating the Kanvanaugh nomination with these women’s foggy, ephemeral and unspecific “memories”, we will have entered a new stage in the decline of American civilization. Let’s be clear; these are not, as they have often been referred to,  “accusations”. They are mere denunciations, put forward by politicians who are pandering to “activists”.

Denunciation is what happens when an accusation is saved or fabricated and timed in order to damage an individual and/or process and achieve a personal or political goal regardless of the truth or validity of the facts. Denunciations have been associated with the most infamous and cruel movements and regimes in human history. They were a mainstay of repression and terror in the Spanish Inquisition, The Salem Witch Trials, The Third Reich, The Stalinist Purges, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and ISIS’s Islamic Republic. A denunciation, if it is not identified, debunked and punished as such, can destroy in an instant the lives, dignity and livelihoods of everyone the touch.We are seeing that now in the Kavanaugh nomination. 

From the opening of the hearings, when the “activists” in the gallery erupted in coordination with the obstructions and whining of Booker, Harris et al to the dismay and terror of the Kavanaugh family and their daughters, to the cynically timed and orchestrated introductions of the denouncers, one thing is clear. There seems to be no depth of shame the extreme left will not sink to and no craven pandering to their emotions below which the Democrat partisans will not lower themselves. 

But the timing, negotiation tactics and invincible callousness of the Democrat Senators have not just attempted to destroy a fine man and his family. It has also projected two women, who, by their own admissions, are confused and unsure of what they are alleging, into a moral and legal crucible they did not understand at the outset. They will pay the price for allowing themselves to be used in this way but there is a greater concern. The denunciation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, tapping into the already super-heated witch hunt atmosphere created by the Me Too phenomenon, has opened the door that leads directly, if not quickly or inevitably, to the Gulag Archipelago, Auschwitz, and the killing fields.

I close with a quote from Solzhenitsyn’s master work, The Gulag Archipelago . If you substitute the word “abuser” or the old made up term “male chauvinist” for the Soviet term “podkulachnik” you will get the idea:

“…in every village there were people who in one way or another had personally gotten in the way of the local activists. This was the perfect time to settle accounts with them of jealousy, envy, insult. A new word was needed for all these new victims as a class—and it was born. By this time it had no "social" or "economic" content whatsoever, but it had a marvelous sound: podkulachnik — "a person aiding the kulaks." In other words, I consider you an accomplice of the enemy. And that finishes you! The most tattered landless laborer in the countryside could quite easily be labeled a podkulachnik."

And yes, they were called “activists” by Solzhenitsyn. Think about it before you proclaim, “I believe the denouncer!”

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Renewing the Faith of the Founders

Clarence Thomas, in a rare interview, asked the question “What binds us as a nation?” It is the perfect question of our time. We seem to be increasingly hard pressed to find enough in common to call it a national purpose; I don’t like the word identity anymore for the connection it makes to identity politics. 

In my last article, I began to make the case that at the inception of our national movement we predicated our understanding of our “rights” as something with which- in Jefferson’s formulation- we were “endowed by our Creator“: only God can save us.  I ended with a paragraph that I called “my best shot at a sales pitch for a revival of faith”. I have made two key refinements to that paragraph and now it reads this way:

“Here is my best shot at a sales pitch for a revival of a nonsectarian “public” faith: Religious exclusivists*, agnostics and atheists are at a far higher risk of being a “glass is half empty” person. Having a belief in a loving Creator/God gives you a much better chance to be a “glass is half full kind of person”. Having a personal relationship with that loving and transcendent God is the portal to becoming a “cup runneth over” being.”

Of course, I am aware that this seems a very old fashioned, maybe even an anodyne statement, but allow me to explain why it is actually a very challenging and “anti-postmodern” idea.

Post modernism, and by that, I mean the fashionable progressive notion that there is no truth- only alternative narratives- that the quest for truth is a futility. This leads to a susceptibility to the emotional attractions of socialism and the idea that human nature can be changed. Its been tried many times and the outcome is always bad and usually a horror. Fitting actual people to a progressive socialist system has never been done without some form of bullying, repression, “political orientation”, “re-education” and terror. Progressivism is the modern utopian delusion, the poisonous fruit of the postmodern tree.

The most poignant thing about postmodernism is its very human attempt to understand and, in a way, control the pain that ambiguity causes in all people. Take for instance the gender fluidity craze that is sucking so much of the oxygen out of the halls of academia recently. When adolescent humans who have not solidified their social, intellectual and sexual identities are allowed, even encouraged, to pretend that they know who they are and what they want, free (or, rather, bereft) of moral guidance or ethical compass, they do not choose with freedom, and they act out their stress. Gender fluidity and the welter of nonsensical pronouns and ground rules are nothing more than attempts to adapt to and control the anxiety over a natural source of ambiguity by exaggerating that ambiguity all out of proportion with reality - making it a political cause rather than a personal issue.

Post modernism is a betrayal of our truest selves. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has written. “We should challenge the relativism that tells us there is no right or wrong, when every instinct of our mind knows it is not so and is a mere excuse to allow us to indulge in what we believe we can get away with. A world without values quickly becomes a world without value.” Rabbi Sacks, a great intellect and an even greater soul, has put his finger directly on the turning point of our age. 

Implied in Rabbi Sack’s statement above is that there is a source of truth and value. From the earliest days of the last century, the time when postmodernism was gathering a following in the intellectual cafes and salons, comes this epigram (erroneously) attributed to G.K. Chesterton: “When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.” Anything, can be, for just a few examples, that your biology does not determine your sex; that you can call yourself anti-fascist while employing all the street tactics of fascist thugs; that your beliefs and feelings are “science-based” while you don’t actually know how the things you believe in work; and that you are an intellectual while you ignore, denounce and shut-down anyone you disagree with. Does believing in God correct the susceptibility to error?

It can. God and creation are beyond our understanding. It is arrogant and self-important to think that we could understand the universe and life completely enough to avoid the stress and cognitive dissonance of knowing certain things that are true and constantly observing other things that feel like contradictions but are also true. The “Progressive” postmodern solution is not to believe in a divine creation and to shun and ridicule the belief in order and truth. Only if you believe in God does it become clear that our poor human instruments can only understand so much, and that if you have the idea in your mind that there is a creator, a purpose and a “whole truth” out there, you can stop trying to explain everything and let “God take care” of the ambiguity you perceive. This is a source of inner peace and strength and it keeps us from struggling against reality.

But, we are humans and limited in capacity to understand God so there are almost as many ideas about God as there are people. We certainly do not all believe in the same God. In one way, it seems as though it should be an easy thing. After all, a cynic would surely ask, “If it is true that there is only one God, doesn’t that mean that everyone who believes in God must be thinking of the only one?”. So, how is it that the seemingly simple task of making sure that everyone believes in the same God is the dream behind every tyrant, every torturer and every conqueror that has ever lived? They all wanted so desperately for every person under their rule to be under their control - all the way down to the way they think and dream about God. That is the genius of the founding fathers of the U.S.A.! America is exceptional from its birth precisely because it is the first country to be founded on the idea that those inalienable human rights are granted to us by God and not subject to rescission by anyone.

For those who believe in God as the creator, our moral calling and ethical responsibilities spring from our belief that we are “created in the image of God.” For Jefferson et al, liberty comes from the same source and thus cannot be taken away by any king or ruler.

We are blessed to be the inheritors of a great constitution and an even greater Declaration of Independence. On one hand, The Constitution never mentions God at all and is clear about the separation of church and state- specifying freedom OF religion (not, as it is often misinterpreted, freedom FROM religion). On the other hand, The Declaration is equally clear about a very particular kind of deity as the basis of all the policy that is set forth in the Constitution and the laws. Anthony J. Minna has given us a wonderful description of how that deity is framed”

“The genius of the Declaration is the inclusive way the divine is given expression. The appellations of God are generic. Adherents of traditional theistic sects can read the words “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” and “Supreme Judge,” and understand them to mean the god they worship. The claims made on numerous Christian websites attest to this. Yet opponents of dogma read those same words and see an embracive, non-sectarian concept of divinity. This is no small testimony to the wisdom and foresight of the Founding Fathers. All Americans could support the Revolution and independence. All can regard their rights as unalienable, their liberty as inviolable.”(link)

This was how the compass bearing was set on the ship of the newly founded state. The country that has navigated by that bearing has become the most prosperous and most egalitarian in history. There have been boom and bust cycles and there have been moral failings, but the preponderance of the record leaves this verdict without dispute: America still is, “the last best hope of earth.” Every citizen can be a stakeholder in this country but we need to protect our values and the best way to do that is to find our way back to that divine compromise set forth in The Declaration.

What it boils down to, in my view, is that it makes you a better, freer and happier person if you believe in (and worship) God in your own way. It makes a nation better and happier if all have agreed to seek a true understanding of and trust in God and to share what is knowable, while keeping a deep reverence for what is un-shared and unknowable.