Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How the Democrats Became Secularist

Deal Hudson interviews Mark Stricherz about his new book Why the Democrats are Blue:

MS: The short answer is that ideological activists controlled the nomination process: They, rather than big city and state leaders -- who have a larger constituency -- were choosing the nominee. It used to be, in the old boss system, that the bosses wanted to pick a nominee based on his ability to win.

The activists were looking for a nominee who could win, sure. But they also had ideological preferences. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the folks who were true believers tended to be feminists and anti-war types. It was a totally different constituency from the old Democratic Party of Catholics, blacks, union members, etc.

DH: Were the old party bosses that were replaced by these activists Catholic? Is this the ethnic Catholic group that was replaced?

MS: Yes, they were almost all Catholic. It's shocking today to look back at some of the old newspapers of the time, but in 1968 the chairman of the DNC, John Bailey; the chairman of the platform committee, Hale Boggs from Louisiana; the chairman of the credentials committee, Richard Hughes from New Jersey; the kingmaker at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Richard Dailey, were all Roman Catholics. And that had been true since 1948, when Catholics took over the machinery. They were in charge; Southerners had played a large role in party affairs before 1948, but the party from 1948 to 1968 was controlled by white Catholics, especially Irish Catholics.

I wonder if the Democrats look on the old Catholic dominance in the same way they look at the old Southern dominance of the party. "Sure," they might say, "we lost a bunch of close-minded bigots, but now we can go down to a principled defeat in our presidential campaigns!"

Of course there are plenty of Catholics in the Democratic leadership, but they are particularly domesticated and servile on the issues that would conflict with the party ideologues. I hope Stricherz' book will provide a how-to guide to reverse the Democrats' decline into the party of the obscene Amanda Marcotte.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Army Anthropologists Mainstreaming Pederasty?

Now I'm sympathetic to the WWII US Army Iraq Guide's advice for soldiers not to make moral reforms part of their job:
Differences? Sure there are differences. Difference of costume, Difference of food. Differences of manner and custom and religious belief. Different attitudes towards women. Differences galore.

What of it? You aren’t going to Iraq to change the Iraqis. We are fighting this war to preserve the principle of “live and let live.” Maybe that sounded like a lot of words to you at home. Now you have a chance to prove it to yourself and others. If you can, it’s going to be a better world to live in for all of us.

But then there's this essay from the NY Times about anthropologists assisting the US Army in Afghanistan:
Nevertheless the military voices on the show had their winning moments, sounding like old-fashioned relativists, whose basic mission in life was to counter ethnocentrism and disarm those possessed by a strident sense of group superiority. Ms. McFate stressed her success at getting American soldiers to stop making moral judgments about a local Afghan cultural practice in which older men go off with younger boys on “love Thursdays” and do some “hanky-panky.” “Stop imposing your values on others,” was the message for the American soldiers. She was way beyond “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and I found it heartwarming.
Richard A. Schweder, A True Culture War

Out of all the differences between Afghan culture and American ethics, Schweder just had to highlight this reprehensible practice for his NY Times readers' approval. Even if soldiers' moral judgments were interfering with their mission, stopping such judgment is a violation of sound ethics. There are appropriate ways of keeping one's disgust private, and I'm sure many soldiers are quite capable of doing so. I pray the writer is overstating what looks like indoctrination of our soldiery.

Schweder invokes stupid relativist slogans. He calls the nonjudgemental acceptance of pederasty "Heartwarming." He speaks in an ironic tone of "Love Thursdays" and "hanky-panky." This is degenerate camp at its worst.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Examining the "Catholic Ghetto"

One hears all the time that American Catholics were stuck in an introverted ghetto until they grew up and joined the larger culture. It's a common self-aggrandizing story told by more than a few baby boomers.

Note how this essay explodes that liberation story with the gunpowder of multi-culturalism.

The history of the ghetto image in Catholic usage tells much about the changes of mood in Catholic life during the past quarter century. When apologists for Catholic behavior and critics of the encircling WASP cultures wanted to reinforce and legitimate Catholic group-bonding, they accented the ways in which ghetto life was imposed on minorities. This Ellis did only briefly, when he said that the “aloof and unfriendly” American intellectual climate had discouraged Catholics, led them to slacken their efforts, and prompted this “minority to withdraw into itself and to assume the attitude of defenders of a besieged fortress.”

At other times during the domestic aggiornamento that followed the Second Vatican Council, however, a self-deprecating, indeed sometimes almost masochistic view of the tradition prevailed. Then the ghetto was seen not as imposed from without but self-imposed from within. Angry James Colaianni typically wrote that “Ghettoism suffocates. It is just another jail man builds for himself to keep from becoming free.” Some such critics were romantic about the surrounding glories of the secular city, naive in their neglect of the role of intimate community in human life, and scornful of ancestors whose ways they could never understand or emulate.


My thesis is that while Catholicism often did nurture ghetto existence, it was by no means unique in its relative isolation from a putative Protestant-secular world which I shall henceforth call "The Culture." Surrounding the Catholic version were so many other religious, national, and ideological ghettos that they cast the Catholic ghetto in a less distinctive light. Their presence forces us to reconsider whether the The Culture was not in many ways a larger and more expansive ghetto itself.


Historians of intergroup relations who have concentrated on the anti-Semitism of some Populists or Henry Adams, or on the anti-Catholicism of the nativist American Protective Association at the turn of the century, do have virulent and potent topics on their hands. But they often miss the dynamics of ghetto existence. One sees more vitriol and hears more vituperation, for example, in conflicts between Catholic Americanists and anti-Americanists, Ukrainian Uniates and Ukrainian Orthodox, Czech Catholics and Czech freethinkers, Catholic traditionalists and Catholic modernists, within their ghettos, than between any and all of them, say, the American Protective Association. Sociologist Georg Simmel seems to have been right, at least in the American historical instance; “People who have many common features often do one another worse or ‘worser’ wrong then complete strangers do.”
Martin E. Marty, Locations: At Home in the Ghettos

I was surprised to discover the noted scholar of American religion Martin Marty was the essay's author. It was his 1981 presidential address to the American Catholic Historical Association.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sponsored by the Raphael Hythloday Foundation for Imaginary Think Tanks

It is easy to ignore the silly self-important descriptions think tanks and activist groups use to name themselves. It is almost as easy to make up hilarious names for such creations.

I got on a roll and couldn't stop, so I offer my inventions below:

Samuel Johnson Center for a Cant-free Future

Scientists for Unethical Research

Foundation for an Opportunistic Punditry

Students for a Reactionary Tomorrow

The William O. Douglas Center for Emanated Penumbras

Office of Convenient Statistics

Coalition of Subtle Panderers

People for a Progressive Yesterday

The Evelyn Waugh Foundation for Nostalgic Bitching

Students for Transient Enthusiasms

The Irresponsible Policy Foundation

Future Senior Citizens of America

Center for Incoherent Studies

Citizens for Improvident Government

Librarians for a Surreal Future

The Office of Abnormal Development

Center for Satirical Studies

Citizens Ignorant of Logic

Federation for Comical Legislation

Alliance for the Advancement of Minor Idiocies

The Institute for Poorly-worded Phrases

Taxpayers for Improvident Government

Students for an Unspecified Cause

Citizens for Bipartisan Sleaze

Technologists for Automated Folly

Dentists Against Saccharine Appeals

Academics for Regrettable Policy

Americans United for Random Emoting

The Department of Sensual Bureaucracy

Students for Faddish Posturing

The Office of Indescribable Horror

Center for Unlikely Legislation

Federation of Labored Analogies

Union of Phantastickal Accountants

The Center for Useless Distinctions

Americans for Aromatic Sewage

Foundation for Casual Diplomacy

Alliance for Shiny Objects

Coalition for Dubious Honors

The Bureau of Predictable Appearances

Students for Diversity in Failure

Office of Snide Dismissals

The Center for Centralized Mismanagement

Foundation for Anachronistic Analysis

Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

Nicolosi on the Hero, Nicolosi on Bella

Barb Nicolosi makes a nice examination of heroism in story, film, and real life and the qualities of the hero. Though it is only in note form, her advice seems more practical and substantive than what I've seen of Joseph Campbell's writings.

Here's a sample:
Things that are not heroic:

To have an illness. To be a victim. To have a bad hand dealt to you. HEROISM is in still serving others with an illness or bad thing.

To survive your own iniquity. (In the Bill Clinton sense. I heard a lady on TV say that she admired Clinton because he was "a survivor." Well, by that standard, you could admire roaches.)

It isn’t heroic to have a great talent or skill. To be able to run fast or sing well.

Nicolosi, a professional screenwriter, also isn't impressed by Bella, the new movie some pro-lifers are rallying around. I worry Nicolosi's standards can be too artistic and elite-oriented. Surely there is a craft to making popular mediocrities. I suspect the aspiring artist must first know mediocrity before he can know excellence.

Then again, I haven't seen the movie and don't plan to. When the film's own publicity highlights the fact it is made by "first-time filmmakers," I'm not inspired to open my wallet.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Charles Taylor Gets a Blog

A new academic blog called The Immanent Frame is dedicated to Charles Taylor's and others' interpretations of secularism.

On the shelves for only a handful of weeks, Charles Taylor's A Secular Age is already receiving at least some of the attention it well deserves. The book has been reviewed in the pages of The Economist and The Wall Street Journal, and two short excerpts were recently published in Commonweal. Taylor's massive tome--it's just shy of 880 pages long--was even held aloft and glossed earlier this month by a young denizen of youtube.

Although it won't be supporting video, The Immanent Frame--a new SSRC blog on secularism, religion, and the public sphere--will provide a venue for sustained dialogue and critical exchange on the work of Charles Taylor and other scholars of "the secular." And we're kicking things off with a series of posts on Taylor's big book.

(via James Poulos)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Nadir of the Jack Bauer Mentality

By way of Mark Shea, a story of a man suspected of terrorism for possessing an airline pilot radio in his hotel room.

...the investigator said his family would go through hell in Egypt, where they torture people like Saddam Hussein. Higazy then realized he had a choice: he could continue denying the radio was his and his family suffers ungodly torture in Egypt or he confesses and his family is spared. Of course, by confessing, Higazy's life is worth garbage at that point, but ... well, that's why coerced confessions are outlawed in the United States.

So Higazy "confesses" and he's processed by the criminal justice system. His future is quite bleak. Meanwhile, an airline pilot later shows up at the hotel and asks for his radio back. This is like something out of the movies. The radio belonged to the pilot, not Higazy, and Higazy was free to go, the victim of horrible timing. Higazi was innocent! He next sued the hotel and the FBI agent for coercing his confession. The bottom line in the Court of Appeals: Higazy has a case and may recover damages for this injustice.

The legal documents were apparently withdrawn from the internet for redaction.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Historical Fiction, with Space Aliens

After reading the reviews at Curt Jester and Darwin Catholic, I picked up a copy of Michael Flynn's novel Eifelheim. It's the first science fiction I've read in years, and better than I expected.

The premise is simple: space aliens make first contact with Earth after shipwrecking near a remote German village. In the fourteenth century.

Flynn depicts with talent the political, religious, and intellectual ferment of the times. The main character is an intellectual parish priest named Father Dietrich. He is in hiding, having been a member of the fraticelli, the radical and violent Franciscan sect that strived for the abolition of property. Educated at the University of Paris, he is well-attuned to the philosophical thought that became foundational for the natural sciences.

Enter the extraterrestrials.

The Krenken are an insect-like race the German villagers compare to grasshoppers. Shipwrecked after some unrevealed technical malfunction in their ship, their appearance provokes fears they are demonic visitors. Father Dietrich, though as confused as anyone else, uses a bit of scholastic logic to deduce they are in fact natural creatures comparable to the dog-headed men and headless anthropoids reputed to live in the antipodes. In a wry inversion of sci-fi standbys, the limitations of medieval knowledge of the world provide grounds for acceptance instead of mob violence. It recalls the irony of Miller's A Canticle for Liebowitz, in which monks become the only custodians of scientific knowledge after a nuclear catastrophe incites anti-intellectual obscurantism.

Michael Flynn shows an immense capacity for intellectual sympathy through his priest character's attempts to fit advanced scientific knowledge into the categories familiar to him. Flynn makes the medieval mind come alive, while suggesting the strangeness of our own times. The aliens strain to make their knowledge intelligible as Father Dietrich suggests Latinate or Greek neologisms to describe concepts well-familiar to the modern reader. Scientific concepts we take for granted, like protein, bacteria, and gravity, take on a marvelous appearance when seen through the eyes of an intelligent man living in a less advanced age. The priest's arguments with the aliens are amusing in their defense of fourteenth-century cosmology, but too honest and sophisticated to disdain.

While considerably hindered in scientific argument, Father Dietrich actually wins some of the religious disputes. His Christian faith, though explained through a poorly translating computer, gains a few adherents among the stranded aliens. The society of the Krenken is never elucidated, but it seems to be a hierarchical culture based on violent strength and a brutally Darwinian survival of the fittest. The lowest-ranked Krenken find Christian love and self-sacrifice convincing. Despite its alienness, Christianity provides them a welcome relief from their overbearing superiors.

Of course Michael Flynn must take poetic liberties with history. For the most part, they work to the good. However, he makes a few stumbles. At one point he references the ad orientem orientation of the Christian liturgy as a new phenomenon replacing the versus populum, which certainly doesn't correspond to what liturgical history I know. Further, he presents William of Ockham as a proponent of a proto-Lockean revolutionary natural rights theory that I don't think came into its own until the sixteenth century. Though some anachronisms are necessary to such a work, these two instances in particular bothered me.

Flynn's work is in many ways a defense of the medieval against contemporary caricatures. Most of the time this defense is well-done and subtle. I think it superior to Umberto Eco's In the Name of the Rose, which rested on the comical premise that a monk would hate laughter and comedy.

However, one crude apologetic for the Inquisition struck me as crude and not particularly relevant to its context.(It took place in one of the "present day" scenes that occasionally interrupts the historical fiction. In these scenes an historian seeks the reason Eifelheim remained abandoned through the centuries. As other reviewers note, these scenes don't gel well with the rest of the work.)

I have previously noted Michael Flynn's depiction of the excitement of scientific discovery in his fictionalized account of medieval science. If Eifelheim's imaginative sympathy and historical awareness are now typical of science fiction, I will have to look twice at the genre novels I happen upon.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

William James' Religion

Tolstoy’s conversion account appealed to James on many levels, not least because churches and clergy played no role in it. Though James sometimes self-identified with Protestant Christianity, that label was accurate only in the narrowest cultural sense. Theologically, he was as heterodox as he was unsystematic—he theorized, for example, that there might be multiple deities. But if he was at most a marginal Christian, James was enthusiastically a Protestant. In Varieties, he pointedly reduced religion to its minimalist essence. “As I now ask you arbitrarily to take it,” he wrote, religion “shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” This was unmediated Protestantism in its purest, most unfettered form.
Theo Anderson, One Hundred Years of Pragmatism

One can't help but wonder how much the Jamesian approach to religion has influenced First Amendment jurisprudence. Out of respect for Protestantism(respect I didn't even know I had), I must protest Anderson's characterization of Protestantism in terms of its most individualistic liberal form. It's not always that bad.

Nevertheless, Anderson's essay is an excellent complement to my current read, Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, a history of the American pragmatists with a talent for depicting the zeitgeist of late nineteenth-century New England.

Note that Anderson also intimates in James the beginnings of so-called therapeutic deism:
James’s writings contain glimmerings of the spirituality industry that would burgeon in the later 20th century. He posited other realms of consciousness and higher energies as agents of human “empowerment,” themes that have become ubiquitous among self-help authors. James likely would have deplored much of this genre, yet it is in some ways a logical outgrowth of his emphasis on the pragmatic consequences of faith. The ecumenism of the ­self-­help genre is also quintessentially Jamesian: Spirituality is presented as an unmediated relationship between the individual and the divine. Institutions only get in the ­way.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Internet Kills

"During a dark time in her life, a troubled girl wandered into a room filled with people who were eager to love and support her, to validate and accept her, and to encourage her to kill herself."

Jeff Harrell's story of Suzanne Gonzales makes me want to set off a worldwide technology-killing EMP. Despairing of her life but mistrustful of her loved ones, she took her suicidal obsessions to a dingy corner of the internet where their power could only be magnified. The demonic advice on display in that Usenet group is more chilling than any mere horror novel.


Jeff Harrell is reporting the progress of the Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act at Suzy's Law, which will make it a crime to encourage someone to commit suicide over the internet. I doubt that the law can survive First Amendment scrutiny, but it has obvious consequences for euthanasia and so-called assisted suicide activism.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Steve Sailer on Divisions of Intellect and Class

A big problem for modern class warriors like Pat Buchanan on the right or Jim Hightower on the left is that over the years the number of blue collar workers with the verbal talent needed to articulate their class interests has plummeted. Where'd the smart ones go? To college and then into white-collar jobs. In the past, unions and other working class institutions had leaders and spokesmen who were both highly intelligent and authentically representative of the rank and file.
How to help the left half of the bell curve

This same kind of brain drain is evident in regional migrations. The smart kids move to the big cities and local leadership becomes ever more stultified.

Sailer's essay scores some other points. When human equality of capacity is presumed as a matter of fact, the moral imperative to use one's special talents for the good of the less fortunate becomes obscured. Everybody's equal, so people who aren't successful must have some culpable personal failing that kept them from success.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

My New Favorite News Agency

Though many bloggers hope to parlay their writing into a paid position, I never considered myself one of them. But thanks to the fortuitous recommendation of a certain Kevin Knight, I am now a part-time staff writer at the Catholic News Agency.

Here's the lead to one of my reports, this one discussing Archbishop Burke's analysis of the worthy reception of Communion:
In an essay certain to have an impact on American politics, Archbishop Raymond Burke of the Archdiocese of St. Louis has criticized lax attitudes concerning the reception of the Holy Eucharist. His words continue a long-standing debate about whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should receive communion.

The archbishop's full paper is here.

It feels so very good to be working again after nearly four years of disability. Though my health is still not optimal, and probably never will be again, I think I can now aspire to forge a career in something or other. Journalism seems as likely a field as any other, and I am most thankful for this opportunity.