Saturday, July 31, 2010

Thomas Molnar escapes utopianism. RIP.

Political thinker and historian Thomas Molnar passed away earlier this month. Those of us who have read through past issues of the Intercollegiate Review and related periodicals often enjoyed his deeply intellectual essays on philosophy, tradition, and modern society.

John Zmirak offers his appreciation at ISI, while Andrew Cusack pens his own tribute to Molnar.

Cusack writes: "Molnar and his work have become sadly neglected for the very reasons he detailed in his major work: the overwhelming triumph of ideology over the intellectual sphere."

His work Utopia: The Perennial Heresy decried utopianism's "nightmarish re-shaping of life":

It is a serious mistake to think that utopian literature is nothing more dangerous than scaling the heights of lyricism, for the cold fact is that there lurks behind each passage a terrifyingly inhuman situation in which naked force is combined with the most subtle indoctrination techniques. In such cases, utopia is revealed not as "a place which is not," but as a place of desolation and death.

The utopian "poses as a seer when he speaks confidently of the radical change which will restore mankind to its true dignity and of the future which will be incommensurable with the past." This is in fact a denial of true human freedom, treating progress as an inevitable mechanism.

It also ignores the tragedy that change is "not only gain but loss as well."

As one might guess, Molnar was a particular critic of the evolutionary dreamer Teilard De Chardin.

Cusack offers a choice quote from Molnar, late in life:

Around 1960 the power of the media was not yet what it is today... Hardly anybody suspected then that the media would soon become more than a new Ceasar, indeed a demiurge creating its own world, the events therein, the prefabricated comments, countercomments—and silence. … The more I saw of universities and campuses, publishers and journals, newspapers and television, the creation of public opinion, of policies and their outcome, the less I believed in the existence of the freedom of expression where this really mattered for the intellectual/professional establishment. For the time being, I saw more of it in Europe, anyway, than in America: over there, institutions still stood guard over certain freedoms and the conflict of ideas was genuine; over here the democratic consensus swept aside those who objected, and banalized their arguments. The difference became minimal in the course of decades.

Knowing that the state of man is disunity in a fallen world, Molnar knew that merely human efforts to restore this unity are doomed to failure, tyranny, or both. The deadening of public debate is part of this sham progress towards an empty ideal.

Let us pray that Molnar, a devout Catholic, will enjoy the true unity and freedom of the Beatific Vision.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The crazed author cackles...

A laugh break from the depressing topic below:

via Summa Minutiae

Friday, July 09, 2010

When the N.Y. Times called indifference to child sex abuse ‘heartwarming’…

The Easter-time controversies over Pope Benedict XVI's handling of sex abuse flamed out quicker than expected. The New York Times' attacks on the Pope quieted down following reports of exculpatory information in its primary sources, criticism concerning poor and inaccurate reporting, and the revelation that some key documents used in fact originated with a lawyer intending to sue the Vatican.[1]

Of course, these contrary reports lacked the prominence of the original Times stories. The damage to the papacy had been done. High-ranking prelates now have a credible example of an unfounded, sensationalist media attack. The cynical bishop will use the attack as an empty excuse for inaction; the na├»ve will explain the details of the attack without benefit to an unknowing public outraged by reporters’ half-truths.

Now the Times has tried to renew the controversy with another story from Laurie Goodstein, followed by a Thursday editorial.[2]

Religion journalist Mollie Hemingway of, herself a Lutheran, has critically examined the latest report and declared it to be "a hit piece." Other critics were also harsh.

As usual, the Times has posed as a moral authority and, like the Church it criticizes, it is slow to acknowledge its mistakes and errors.

But even as the Times appoints itself papal adviser and advocates a worldwide "zero tolerance policy" for the Catholic Church, it is useful to remember that the newspaper is selective in its attention and can show gruesome moral flexibility where the sexual abuse of children is concerned.

Take the October 27, 2007 Times op-ed "A True Culture War" by University of Chicago anthropology professor Richard Schweder.[3]

There, he recounts anthropologist Montgomery McFate’s efforts to help the U.S. military understand the cultures of Afghanistan. Citing an NPR news show story, Schweder adds:

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. [my emphasis]

Prof. Schweder’s nauseating, flippant attitude should not distract from the very real threats facing young boys in Afghanistan.

In June 2008 allegations began surfacing that Afghan security forces were sexually abusing young boys at Canadian bases in Afghanistan. Soldiers and chaplains told military commanders of the incidents.

According to the Ottawa Citizen’s Sept. 21, 2009 story “Sex abuse and silence exposed,”[4] in 2008 Brig. General J.C. Collin, commander of Land Force Central Area, “passed on to the senior army leadership the concerns raised by military police who said they had been told by their commanders not to interfere in incidents in which Afghan forces were having sex with children.”

One reputed witness is former Cpl. Travis Schouten. According to the Toronto Star:

He says he was told by an Afghan translator about "Man Sex Thursday," a weekly routine in which Afghan soldiers, police and translators sexually abused young boys. Schouten is overwhelmed by guilt for not having intervened when he heard what he believes were the cries of boys being sexually assaulted, sounds he says were corroborated when he later saw a young boy, barely alive, with signs of rape trauma.[5]

The trauma was such that (this is not for the squeamish) the boy’s bowels had fallen out of his body. Cpl. Schouten himself suffers from post-traumatic stress.

“We allow rampant abuse of young boys at the hands of what is supposed to be their finest police officers and army officers, then what does that say?” the soldier told the Ottawa Citizen in 2009. [6]

That report continues, saying Defence Department records show military police were upset about such incidents but were told not to interfere. Army officers’ 2007 discussions of the issue had as their main concern that “the media would somehow find out.”

Another soldier told Canwest News Service that soldiers were informed the practice involved “consenting Afghans,” no one was raped, and the children involved were “given small gifts or money in return for sex.” Perhaps academic anthropology explained it all away.

For his part, Schouten rightly doubts the ability of six- to eleven-year-olds to consent. One of his translators apparently told Schouten how he enjoys the violent practice and also uses a knife on the youths.

Schouten’s words are a rebuke to Prof. Schweder:

“The Canadian Forces wants people to think it’s a cultural thing, that everyone is doing it, because it takes the onus of responsibility off them to stop it.”

“I do feel people should be held accountable and people should know this is what is going on over there,” he told the Ottawa Citizen.

And the New York Times’ response to these claims of cover-ups? A search on “Schouten” reveals no results. The Canadian charges are not on its radar.

In 2002 the Times did inform us that although the “puritanical” Taliban “tried hard to erase pedophilia… now that the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is gone, some people here are indulging in it once again.” [7]

The Times reporter interviewed 19-year-old Ahmed Fareed, who at the age of 12 was taken into a pedophiliac relationship with a 22-year-old. The piece concludes:

…he insisted that he does not regret being lured into a relationship by his older friend. When asked if he would do the same to a young boy, Mr. Fareed said, yes.

''I'm looking for one now,'' he said with a smile.

At least this Times writer had enough sense to recognize pedophilia as a “curse.” But what of his responsibility to report a professed child predator?

Both journalists and the military forces in Afghanistan have arguments for silence and a “don’t look, don’t tell” policy.

A journalist might say that reporting these likely criminals to authorities would compromise his special need for sources by making others less willing to speak to journalists. Informing could subject his pedophiliac source to harsh, even fatal punishment.

A military officer might say soldiers have a larger mission to run and it is not their role to intervene on an issue that could alienate allies.

But here we hear echoes of the bishop who did not report a priest to the authorities because of the special paternal relationship between him and the priest, or because of fears the priest couldn’t handle prison, or because of fears the publicity could adversely affect the Church’s mission.

And what of our love for zero tolerance policies? There is always something for which we, the fallen ones, will excuse or ignore crimes against children, whether we are clergymen, reporters or soldiers.

But at least let’s not declare to be “heartwarming” the intense corruption of our Afghan allies’ culture or the relativism of certain professors who write for the New York Times.

Twitter: @kevinjjones, @MZHemingway

[1] Phil Blosser's special blog on the 2010 sex abuse reportage is a useful resource.

[2] Church Office Failed to Act on Abuse Scandal and The Pope's Duty.

[3] A True Culture War.
Also note that the big controversy among anthropologists was not how to handle sexual abuse of children in the field, but whether cooperation with the U.S. military violates their professional standards.

[4] Sex abuse and silence exposed

[5] Post-traumatic stress disorder's hidden scars

[6] Former Canadian soldier speaks out against 'disgusting' child rape in Afghanistan

[7] An open secret: warlords and pedophilia.
Sympathy for the Taliban is hard for any American. But knowing of the wretches who practice these foul customs makes the Taliban’s reputed tyranny somewhat more understandable.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Elena Kagan thought ACOG statement turned out 'a ton' better than expected

The billowing controversy over Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's consultation with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has prompted several reactions. Some see the problem as so severe that it will sink her nomination: political appointees have no business advising a supposedly non-partisan scientific fraternity on their true positions.

Jonathan H. Adler at the Volokh Conspiracy offers several defenses of Kagan, noting that she served the role of an advocate and was supposed to coach experts to say what was most useful to her employer, the Clinton White House. This interpretation sees ACOG's acceptance of Kagan's words, and not Kagan's alleged sock puppetry, as the most damning deed in this matter.

The nominee is in the unenviable position of defending actions 13 years after the fact. As EWTN News reports, she could not recall whether the memo in question resulted from discussions with ACOG.

According to EWTN News, Kagan doubted her ability to alter the ACOG statement at the Senate confirmation hearings. She stated “there was no way I could have or would have intervened.” She attributed the goal of the document to be a statement "consistent with the views we knew they had."

In light of Kagan's expressed lack of confidence, EWTN News reports a noteworthy fact:

In January 1997 Kagan sent a final version of the ACOG statement to Bruce Reed, assistant to the president for domestic policy. A copy provided in the "Bruce Reed Collection - Elena Kagan" section of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum shows Kagan's handwritten note to Reed about the document.

"It turned out a ton better than expected," she wrote, adding "I'll let you know in person what happened."

In another twist, Bruce Reed, her apparent superior in the Clinton administration, is now the CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). He even co-authored a book with present White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Considering this reported "in person" meeting, Reed should be just the man to consult to learn what really happened. Kagan's optimistic scrawl suggests she had more influence on ACOG than she remembers or says.

We'll see whether this story continues to develop.

(Disclosure: EWTN News is my part-time employer.)

Rebutting the is-ought 'problem' in five steps

Among the many philosophical puzzles that can captivate the aspiring thinker is the supposed is-ought problem. Originating with writers like Hume, it criticizes the supposed fallacy that one cannot derive an "ought" of moral obligation from a descriptive "is."

Obviously there is truth to this. Just because I am a blogger doesn't mean I ought to be one.

But some internet denizens have seized upon the problem and cite it with prodigality.

There are many responses to them, like the explanation of duty or teleological goal as inherent to existence. For such critics, it seems the is-ought makes a hard philosophical distinction out of a mere verbal distinction.

I am no longer in a position to judge most of these arguments, if I ever was. Yet I do appreciate a comedic rebuttal like that put forward by Deogolwulf.

In a long comment thread, he dismisses the purported problem as "a poor figment of an eighteenth-century philosopher's mind."

I. There is an is-ought gap.
II. A rational animal ought to accept what is.
III. I am a rational animal.
IV. I ought to accept that there is an is-ought gap.
V. Oh dear.

Because the is-ought problem is fundamentally an ethical one, it cannot be kept on the logical plane alone. By considering the personal obligation (and telos) of a rational creature, Deogowulf brings philosophy away from the mind games of the blackboard and the e-mail signature and back into life where it belongs.