Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chinese Fuse Lit



A Hong Kong demonstration back in quieter days.

Something is happening in Hong Kong which may be more important than we yet realize. For the last week, there have been massive street protests demanding democracy.

Let's be frank. It is not really possible for the Chinese government to grant Hong Kong full democracy, any more than it would have been for the British in their day. To grant a colony full democracy is to grant it independence. The mother regime, in this case not itself a democracy, must retain some say, or it simply loses Hong Kong. Yet the protestors say this is unacceptable.

So what is going to happen? Every day the Hong Kong protests continue, there is a risk that they will spill over into mainland China. We saw how quickly social media can make this kind of thing happen, in the recent “Arab Spring.” Then things could get quickly beyond the Chinese government's ability to control.

It looks as if they have no choice but to crack down hard on the Hong Kong demonstrations if they continue. But if they do, it would make Tiananmen Square look trivial by comparison: this would be in full view of the world, and it would change the nature of Hong Kong suddenly and dramatically.

One way or another, I will not be surprised if all hell breaks loose.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Gospel of Prosperity



With God, all things are possible.

Everybody knows that the Gospel of Prosperity is heresy, right? God does not promise us material success in this life if we are good Christians. Just the reverse, on the evidence of the Bible: it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, blessed are the poor, God and Mammon, and all that.

I point this out because so few people seem really to believe it.

But it just stands to reason. If doing the right thing were always in our material interest, there would be no moral value in doing the right thing. There is no morality in simply pursuing our self-interest.

Accordingly, for morality to be even possible, it must be the case that doing the right thing fairly often goes against our own interests.

Yes, there is the matter of heaven or hell after death. But that is a necessary hypothesis from the existence of God and of his absolute justice. It does not factor in strongly here because, by the nature of the afterlife, it is behind a curtain. We cannot be sure of either reward or punishment. We are therefore free to do good or do evil, not for reward or to avoid punishment, but because the good is the good.

Please note that this is not an argument to hang or tax the rich. You do that, and you are simply showing you are no better morally than they are, while lacking any talents they might have.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Brief History of Feminism


Slutwalk, NYC, 2011.
A friend has asked for a brief sketch of the history of feminism. Definitely a worthwhile topic.

The original idea of feminism was to get lots of sex. A “liberated woman,” or “women’s liberation,” originally meant women who did lots of casual bedsurfing. This meaning persists in, for example, feminist objections to Arab women wearing the hijab, or to "slut shaming." This, predictably, made ”feminism” really popular among many young men as well as young women. It was the bait that got feminism past the front door. Women were to get jobs outside the home primarily so they could have sex with whomever they pleased, instead of being “kept” by one partner. Free love and all that. Kids were to be dealt with by “the pill.” “The pill” would change everything.

Part of the justification for more sex for everyone came conveniently from the civil rights movement, happening at the same time. The argument was that abstaining from sex outside of marriage involved a “double standard”: it was socially acceptable for men to have lots of sex, but not for women. (It was, at least, at that moment, in the days of the “Playboy philosophy.”) Based on this, women could claim that they were “discriminated against,” just as the blacks were in the US South. Besides, wasn’t keeping the sexes apart “segregation,” just like keeping blacks and whites apart in the South? Wasn’t that what Brown vs. Board of Education was all about? Free love was a human right!

The analogy with the civil rights movement gave feminism a lot of undeserved prestige by association. It made it socially difficult to oppose it, even if one did not really see the similarity between poor Southern blacks and suburban housewives. Given that any different treatment of blacks and whites had been ruled by the US Supreme Court to be discrimination, feminists held that any different treatment of men and women was also proof of discrimination, and proof that women were oppressed. Holding doors open for women was oppression. Calling them “ladies” was oppression. Just as it became heresy to claim that there was any difference between blacks and whites other than their skin colour, it was heresy to claim that there was any difference between men and women other than the shape of their genitals. Men and women are not different: if they were raised and treated the same way, they would think and act the same.

This was patently ridiculous to anyone who has ever lived on a farm, let alone studied biology. But the claim persists, for example, in the annoying use of the term “gender.” “Gender” is properly a grammatical term. Applied to humans, it involves the assertion that any differences between man and women are purely arbitrary and socially constructed, as gender is in grammar.

A lot of men, and probably also a lot of women, failed to resist feminism at this point precisely because (on top of the promise of sex without responsibility) it was so obviously nuts. I remember back in the day asking a professor why on earth everyone was letting the feminists get away with such crazy, obviously false claims. His response was, “it’s a matter of giving them enough rope to hang themselves.” After all, women would pretty soon find out that being treated in the same way as men was not a fun idea. Would they really be happy with unisex washrooms, no laws against rape, no laws requiring child support, no alimony? Would they be happy being drafted in wars to be shot? Did they really want the responsibility of breadwinning? Did they want to yield their seats on the bus? Did they want affirmative action in the prison population?

Surely not.

And, on the other hand, if they did, why on earth not let them have it?

Of course, they did not. By the early eighties, feminism, seeing the impending cliff clearly enough, had actually denied this foundational premise. “Difference feminism” was born. Now, men and women were indeed quite different. It was therefore quite proper to treat them differently--no, it was required. Women were “ladies” again. They had the right to a seat again. They had a right to maternity leave. The workplace had to be modified to suit them. Child support must be retained and reinforced. Instead of dropping laws against rape, we needed stronger laws against rape. We needed special laws against domestic violence, and so on and on. The essential premise now was that women and men were different, but in a specific way: women were, in all ways, better than men. Men are more violent than women; women are more sensible than men; women are more intelligent than men; women are more nurturing then men; men cause wars; men will not ask for help when they need it; and so forth. Equality was no longer any sort of goal: women's interests were the goal. If it seemed to be to women’s benefit, then equality with men was obligatory. If, on the other hand, equality was not to women’s benefit—in prison populations for example, or child custody—then equality was not tobe considered.

Why did nobody blow the whistle at this point? Because by this point, feminism had become dominant, and had instituted a reign of “political correctness.” Nobody like my old professor now dared to challenge its assumptions, because to do so might easily mean the loss of a job, or a career, or even prison time.

That is not quite where we are now. After some years of this, some brave women, who because they were women and claimed they were themselves "feminists" were relatively safe from persecution or prosecution, eventually came forward to point out that feminism no longer had any rational justification for its claims. Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia are two names worth mentioning. After some years of their writings, it is becoming less risky to speak out against feminism, and change may at last come.

It has all followed a course typical of totalitarian movements generally. Which is what it was, and is. "The personal is political," as the feminists used to say.

Notice that, in flipping to “difference feminism,” feminism lost the theoretical basis for claiming that there was discrimination against women in the first place. If men and women are indeed different, then the mere fact that they are treated differently, in our or any other culture, does not prove oppression. It may instead be a symbiotic relationship: women get their meal paid for, say; men get to choose the restaurant. Without this claim of sexual sameness, to make out a case for the oppression of women, you need to demonstrate that, when everything is taken together, men do better in life than women. That case has never been made. It is a pretty tough one to make, but on measures of claimed happiness or life expectancy, the two most obvious measures of “life success,” the truth is that women do consistently better than men--in most or all cultures.

Another matter on which feminism has completely reversed itself is the mechanism by which supposed “patriarchy” has come to be. This has always been a fundamental flaw in the feminist case: if men have been able to consistently dominate and oppress women more or less throughout history, in more or less all cultures, how on earth did they pull it off, given that there are always a roughly equal number of men and women? Of course, for feminists, one obvious answer, that this simply demonstrates that men are indeed superior to women, has to be ruled out of court. So what possibilities are left?

The original explanation feminism offered was that it was about “male bonding.” You may remember “male bonding.” Lionel Tiger and others argued that men had a historical advantage because they had learned to work together in groups; they were better organized. This is why feminism tried so hard to bust up any all-male organizations: the service clubs, the military, the priesthood, all-male schools, and so forth. Yet, in defiance of any concept of equality, at the same time, they founded all sorts of Women-only organizations.

"Female Muslims: the Tsar took your rights away." Soviet propaganda poster, 1920s.
But this explanation was rejected by the “difference feminists”: for good reason. In the end, if men and women were identical, it made no sense that men should always and everywhere be able to pull off better organization. Fifty percent of the time, the opposite should have occurred.

At the same  time, if men and women are different, the supposed phenomenon of "male bonding" would seem to necessarily mean that men were better at cooperating, at working together, than women. Among other things, that would be an argument for them to retain the executive jobs, wouldn’t it?

 This was unacceptable. Just the reverse must be true: according to “difference feminists,” men are too competitive, whereas women are much better at nurturing others and working in groups.

So how the devil, if they did, did men manage to dominate women throughout history? Theoretically, based on the original feminist theory, this greater tendency to cooperate should have meant that women have been dominating men throughout history.

The answer of difference feminism, to the extent that they have an answer, seems to be that men are more violent, aggressive, and greedy than women. Men have beaten women into submission.

Unfortunately, this still makes no sense. Why shouldn't women in their more efficient groups ever or anywhere have been able to restrain these violent men all working more or less alone? It speaks of incompetence, at best.

Such inherent contradictions are why, in the eighties, feminism moved fast to shut down all dissent. You don’t do that if you believe you have the stronger argument. The tone has become more and more shrill as feminists have become more and more aware that their position makes no sense.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Three Steps to a Stable Middle East


Although Americans are back in the skies over Iraq and Syria, Barack Obama is obviously profoundly reluctant to commit land forces to the Middle East. Americans have had enough of war for now.

Very well, if the US does not want to be involved, there are other ways of quieting the region and eliminating terrorist breeding grounds. What we need is a system of mandates like those of the old League of Nations, giving designated countries a limited right and responsibility to keep peace and order in a given jurisdiction.

1. Give Egypt a UN mandate over Libya.

Egypt has 82 million people and an armed forces that did rather well in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Libya is only 7 million. They sought to unite as recently as the 1970s. The Egyptian Army ought to be up to the task.

2. Give Turkey a UN mandate over Syria.

Syria used to be part of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey has a large, modern armed forces and is in the mood for prestige these days. Giving them free rein in Syria could be a quid pro quo for keeping them out of Iraq while arming the Kurds there.

3. Give the GCC and Jordan a UN mandate over Iraq.

The King of Iraq, now deposed, was a member of the same Hashemite royal family as the King of Jordan. Monarchies work best in the Arab Middle East. They also work best in countries that are ethnically divided, like Iraq. The GCC is among other things a union of Arab monarchies. They are obvious backers for a reinstatement of the Iraqi royal family. It is also to their advantage to restore Iraq as a friendly buffer against their traditional enemy, Iran.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Errors about Christianity





Not Jesus Christ

One of the most common misunderstandings of Christianity is that it demands belief without reason—“blind faith.” This is “fideism.” For Catholics, it is heresy.

Martin Luther is to blame for this. He wrote, among other things, that “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.” Please don’t ask me to defend him on this. Martin Luther is not the final authority for Christianity. Not even most Protestants agree with him on this.

Pope Pius X, in order to stamp out this “modernist” heresy, required all clergy to affirm that “God... can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason... his existence can be demonstrated...” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God.” No “faith,” in the sense of a belief in something in the absence of reason or evidence, is required of Catholics. If you in fact believe in anything without reason or evidence, you are a heretic. “Faith in God” means trust in God, not the mere conviction that he exists.

Related to this first misunderstanding is the odd assumption by many that there is no proof of God’s existence. Some will even go so far as to say there is “no evidence” for God. As a matter of plain fact, there are dozens of well-known philosophical proofs of God’s existence. Some of them are given in brief here. Over the history of Western philosophy, there is probably nothing else demonstrated with more certainty than the existence of God--including the existence of the physical world, or the existence of you.

The next common misunderstanding of Christianity is that it holds that all non-Christians (or all non-members of each given denomination) will go to hell. Apparently some Southern Baptists do believe this—I believe the idea comes from Calvin. I leave it to them to defend their claim. For Catholics, however, if you believe whatever you believe sincerely, and you have made every effort to seek the truth, you cannot be faulted. Of course, there is a heavy presupposition that this will lead you to Catholicism. Given that Catholicism is truth, and truth is readily accessible to human reason, it is a strange thing to be sincerely seeking the truth and not to arrive at it. This is referred to as “invincible ignorance.”

The next common misunderstanding is that Christians worship a different God than Muslims. God is, according to the Oxford dictionary “the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.” By definition, there cannot be more than one supreme being. Webster’s has: “the perfect and all-powerful spirit or being that is worshipped … as the one who created and rules the universe.” There can be, by definition, only one perfect, all-powerful being. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God is unique; there is only one God: The Christian faith confesses that God is one in nature, substance, and essence.” Therefore, there can be no question of choosing God A over God B to be your God; the notion is nonsensical. God is by definition unique. The most that might be said is that Muslims and Christians have a somewhat different understanding of God.

Michelangelo's idea of God the Father.

The next common misunderstanding is that Christians worship a “sky father.” Lord knows where this came from: perhaps from Freud. It is true that God is sometimes depicted, as in the creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, as an old man in a cloud. But one visit to a Catholic Church would prove that this is not the most common representation of the divine. That would be the image of Jesus, a youngish Jewish man. This is the way in which God chose to reveal himself to us, in the incarnation. The two other standard depictions, as the Father and as the Holy Spirit, are a good deal less common. In the case of God the Father, of course, the clouds are purely metaphoric; no Christian believes he lives in the sky, any more than they believe he is their literal father.

The next common misunderstanding is that Christians think that sin is all about sex. This is pure projection on the part of pagans. No, Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden was not sex. No, the Immaculate Conception does not mean being born without sex.

One wonders how so many can get the teachings of Christianity so wrong. It is hard to believe it is not deliberate misrepresentation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Scotland Ends the American Revolution


I did not expect yesterday's Scottish vote to go for independence. But it was hard not to feel that the English deserved that result. It would have only been the last domino in a process begun over 200 years ago, a truly epic example of historical obstinacy: the English refusal to accept the idea of federation. Which is to say, I fear, the English refusal to accept that other men are the equals of Englishmen.

Had England accepted a federal parliament in the early 1770s, the United States would still be run from London. The cry of “no taxation without representation” could never have been raised. And, when the Americans immediately formed a federation among themselves, can anyone doubt that this was the model for what they had sought within the empire?

Yet that same obvious mistake was made, again and again, with every one of England's colonies. As a democracy herself, she could not deny democracy to her colonies. The hypocrisy was too plain. Yet self-government without federation was necessarily and automatically independence.

And so all the colonies slipped their moorings, even though many of them, certainly including Canada and the West Indies, never really wanted independence, and would have always preferred federation. Throughout the nineteenth century, Ireland could have been satisfied with Home Rule; in the end, England essentially rejected any ties whatsoever rather than allow this. Why? Surely only because it would have implied Irish equality with the English.

To make the whole thing more pathetic, almost as soon as England had gotten itself rid of the last of its colonies, it accepted federation within Europe, as part of the EU. Having thrown away the chance to be the center of a world federation, it then, finding itself weak alone, agreed to be on the periphery of a smaller regional federation. And they still had to live through the humiliation of the Scottish vote. Has there ever been worse folly?

It is probably now far too late to rescue what was lost. On the other hand, the promises made to Scotland during the current referendum campaign finally, 250 years later, offer the foundations for a British federal system. One essential ingredient, now at last proposed, is for England to have its own separate parliament—involving the crucial acknowledgement that England is one among equals.

One can wistfully imagine that, with this federation of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland constitutionally established, and with Britain's more or less inevitable exit from the European Community, it might yet be possible for a larger federation to be built, involving some of the rest of the “Anglosphere”/Commonwealth. It would be to everyone's benefit: free trade and the free movement of peoples, not to mention a military force capable of keeping some order in the world.

Here are the populations of the “Commonwealth Realms”--the nations which have preserved the allegiance to the British monarchy. This is a reasonable indication of their closeness to the mother country.

England: 53 million
Wales: 3 million
Scotland: 5 million
Northern Ireland: 2 Million
Canada: 35 million
Australia: 23 million
New Zealand: 5 million
Jamaica: 3 million
West Indies: 1 million
Papua New Guinea: 7 million
Oceania: 1 million

So here we might theoretically form a new federation of 138 million people, more than twice Britain's current size, including two of the world's ten largest economies. Even if the capital did not end up being in London, this would certainly increase the prestige of English-speaking culture.

Other reasonable candidates for joining:

USA: 314 million
Ireland: 5 million
Philippines: 98 million
Singapore: 5 million
Puerto Rico: 4 million
Guyana: 1 million
Trinidad: 1 million

We now have a possible federation of 566 million. Certainly the world's most powerful nation for some time to come. Although of a certainty the centre of balance would shift to America.

That might, on the other hand, be good for the English soul. It is only English intransigence that has prevented it from being the reality for the past two hundred years.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Did Darwin Destroy Western Civilization?



Western civ has been acting suicidal for some time. It is vital to figure out why this is so, so it can be stopped. As of a few years ago, I thought I knew: it was the sense of futility brought on by the mass dyings of the First World War.

But in this centenary year, the First World War has been getting more attention, and I realize now I was wrong. The First World War, first, was not futile: Kaiser Willie's Germany was well on the way to Nazism already. And, second, the sense of civilizational death began before the war. Not just in Germany's racist notions, but in the arts: Marinetti's nihilist/fascist Futurist Manifesto appeared in 1909; Stravinsky's modernist Rites of Spring was first performed in 1913; Picasso had gone all cubist by 1907. The trauma that felled Europe must have come before the war. Virginia Woolf apparently felt it already in December 1910.

A facinating article in The New Criterion argues that it came with the aesthetic sensibility that gave us kitsch. Nazism, for example, was all kitsch; and kitsch is immoral art. Sounds right. Kitsch is not just aesthetically, but morally offensive: kitsch is art that lies. It denies the realities of the world in favour of an escapist vision that seems more pleasant: puppies with big velvet eyes, sad-faced clowns, smoke from happy chimneys, trees full of pink and blue flowers. This is, not coincidentally, the people's lot as presented by any totalitarian state.

Kitsch also denies real emotion in favour of sentimentality. And, as Carl Jung once said, awkwardly but accurately, sentimentality is a superstructure concealing brutality. Sentimentality masks a lack of real emotion. Hitler was great with animals and children.

And where did kitsch come from? Seems obvious: the movement called “aestheticism” at the turn of the century. This movement, originally in the high arts, wanted to divorce art from any other considerations: “art for art's sake.” So art had nothing to do with either morality or reality. Or real emotions.

By the way, that sounds a lot like New Age, doesn't it? It also sounds like most "religious" art, sadly: the plaster saints without a blemish.

Could all the horrible consequences of the 20th century, the slow and horrible suicide of Western civiloization, really have come from an artistic movement?

I think it could, and maybe it did. Art is that important.

But where did aestheticism in turn come from? Where did the urge come from to turn away from the real world, shut down our real emotions, and ignore morality? I think the timing fits: it was Darwin. Just as Darwin was the obvious and direct progenitor of the German Imperial/Nazi race theories. Darwin's view of the world was and still is too horrible to look at directly; yet people accepted it in their hearts as true. It is a world of devour or be devoured, where everything else is random.

Unfortunate for us all if Darwin was right.

In the meantime, for all our sakes, we need to reconnect religion with art, and art with religion.

The Ultimate Band



Here’s the exercise: I’m putting together the ideal band in heaven. That means members can be past their prime or dead. It naturally tends to reflect my own personal tastes; your results may differ.

At lead guitar, I want Mark Knopfler. I grant that Eric Clapton is a better guitarist, and so is Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix though is essentially a solo performer; he is too big for a band. And Clapton belongs in the blues, and the rest of this band does not end up pulling in that direction. Knopfler is ideal because he does not take over; he is laid back in his style. He also has a truly wonderful voice, and great songwriting talent.

At rhythm guitar, I want Willie Nelson. With due respect, anyone competent can play rhythm guitar, but Willie Nelson’s voice is unique. He’s good at harmony and backup, so he works well in a band. He’s good enough on guitar to do a second lead if the song calls for it.

At bass, I put Stephen Stills. Paul McCartney is a better bassist and a better vocalist, but he does not really fit here because his songwriting style does not mesh with the rest of the group. It is too pop flavoured, and this group ends up looking kind of country. I really like Stills’ sense of funkiness, which is the essential trait for a bassist. He brings the added advantage of a good voice for harmonies and the talents of a multi-instrumentalist. Having a multi-instrumentalist keeps things from getting stale.

At drums, I want Levon Helm. The main thing in a drummer, I think, is someone who is not going to showboat. That’s not what drumming is for. So anyone competent will do. But Helm also brings a great country voice, and the talents of another multi-instrumentalist.

At keyboards, I want Norah Jones. I want her mostly for her unique voice, but it is also great to have keyboards, the most versatile of all instruments, and it gives her something to do when she is not lead vocalist. Norah’s voice goes particularly well with Willie Nelson’s; the inflection is quite similar. They are the two best country voices around, in my opinion.

I want Alison Krauss on violin. I strongly believe in having the sound of a violin, the most expressive of all instruments, and Alison Krauss’s voice is perfect for the high, pure feminine sounds, I hope contrasting well with Jones’s lower register.

What this band still lacks is a vocal belter in the lower register; everybody here has a laid back quality. In country, there is definitely something missing if you cannot cover the lower register strongly. We need someone who can also play an instrument, because with so many great voices, any pure vocalist is liable to find himself underemployed. Johnny Cash comes to mind; but I have a better idea. I think Johnny is a solo act. Too much personality. I propose, as lead singer and third guitar, the great Stan Rogers. We know he is great as a choral singer. He also brings, of course, magnificent songwriting talent.