Modern, First World problems

From a commercial I’ve seen many times on TV lately:

[A young woman in a job interview, with regard to her problem-solving skills:] “I got through high school without a car, a phone, or a computer.”

I too got through high school without any of those things. In all likelihood, the grey-haired man interviewing her also lacked a phone and a computer in high school. The same could be said of virtually everyone born in the United States before 1970 or so (not even mentioning those from countries less fortunate).

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Expertise and fallacy

The knowledge possessed by a medical doctor is fine as far as it goes, but is not much good without the ability to draw valid inferences. This is why you need to be involved in your own healthcare and not just do whatever the doctors say. Sometimes they don’t listen to you or hear what you have to say, and other times they draw conclusions that aren’t warranted, or fail to draw ones that are.

It’s a good illustration of why proponents of liberal education say that a non-expert in a particular field can judge the findings of experts if he is educated in the liberal arts, because he is capable of detecting invalid inferences; and also why being educated in a scientific or technical field exclusively is an incomplete education. And why we should not trust experts to rule society merely on the ground of their expertise in a narrow field of knowledge.

Why I don’t watch the news

I have been abstaining from watching any news coverage (except as related to college football — go Trojans!) for several months now. I don’t know if this is the right thing for everyone, but I find that my life is better this way. I worry less and am less angry.

I read once that there’s a problem with news in the modern world, which is that it makes you concerned with statewide, nationwide and even worldwide issues, in the same way that people used to concern themselves with neighborhood problems or village problems. In other words, at one time the widest exposure one had to news was to local news, and this was news that one would have had a natural and personal interest in: A neighbor who was harmed or suffering in some way would naturally call forth our concern and willingness to help in a direct and personal manner.

We might also hear news from neighboring villages through gossip from those who had gone visiting or had business there. That kind of news could hold some interest, and we might feel some obligation to be concerned and obliged to help, but less so than we would towards our immediate neighbors; on the assumption that the neighbors of that locale would be helping, and would request additional assistance from us if needed. (I’m more or less making up these scenarios in an effort to convey the idea of the article I read, of which I can no longer identify the author or title.)

More rarely we might hear news of more distant towns or villages, since the more distant the location, the more seldom would we encounter travelers from that area; and even less would we feel any obligation to feel personally concerned or obliged to help.

But in our time, it seems like we hear news from more distant locations faster than local news. When you turn on the TV or radio, or go on the internet, it’s world or national news that immediately grabs your attention, whether political news or some major catastrophe in a distant state or nation; whereas you must go hunting for news that specifically relates to your own town or neighborhood (unless some major news, such as a natural or manmade disaster, happens to be occurring where you are).

As a result, we may feel obliged to help people we’ve neither met nor previously heard of, on almost a daily basis — at least the more sensitive or scrupulous among us. A hurricane in Louisiana, a mass shooting in Virginia, a proposed law in Washington, not to mention a famine in Africa or a tidal wave in Japan, all make calls upon us to help, to send money, to pray, to sign a petition or write our congressman — to be concerned. Have you no sympathy for the less fortunate? Are you not praying for this or that group of people, for the President, for our troops, for the Pope? Won’t you send money? After all, for the price of a cup of coffee …

(As an illustration, while writing this I received an email with the subject line, “ALERT: Save California!!” Alas, I’m only a man ….)

But we’re not equipped to deal with this level of disaster, all the time. In the old days our actual neighbors might have required our help once in a while — once in a great while for major catastrophes or illnesses, but most of the time for routine tasks. Someone might be chronically ill or aged, so we might work a weekly visit into our schedule, taking turns with others to get the person’s cows milked, clothes washed, or what have you. But not every day a hurricane, an explosion, a mass killing, crying out for our sympathy and assistance. We might worry about local politics, like who would be on the town council and how that might affect when the new schoolhouse gets built. But we wouldn’t have been expected to deal mentally and emotionally with major, society-wide issues like systemic and institutional racism, the effect of Federal Reserve Board policy on interest rates on the national economy, foreign policy towards Russia and North Korea, and so forth.

The idea of a republic is to elect people whose job it is to handle these things for us, leaving us free to handle the day-to-day tasks of living our lives. If we must spend all our free time monitoring the issues to make sure our representatives are doing what we want, then aren’t we basically doing their job for them, figuring out what should be done and demanding that they do it?

But the point is that most of us were not made to process the massive amounts of information, and still less the massive doses of catastrophe and disaster, and political concerns with national and global implications, which present themselves to us daily via the mass media. We’re naturally equipped to deal with what concerns us locally: Our families primarily, and then our neighbors, with only an occasional and relatively vague awareness of people and events in distant places. Some people may feel a need or an interest in keeping up with national and worldwide affairs, and that may be fine as a hobby. But I think we should recognize that we only have so much intellectual and emotional capacity, and not try to take it all in and process it as if it concerns us personally. It doesn’t, because it can’t.

“LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” Ps. 131:1.

Assorted quotes

It was the girls’ state championship track meet in Connecticut. A Cromwell High School freshman who calls himself Andraya Yearwood and “identifies” as female sped to victory in the 100- and 200-meter races. The 2016 winner, Sarah Hall, now a junior, came in second. She had this to say to reporters after being vanquished by a male runner that the State of Connecticut calls a female runner: “I can’t really say what I want to say, but there’s not much I can do about it.” Her succinct words capture the depth of the perversion that transgender ideology will impose upon us all. We will have to accommodate ourselves to lies, knowing that truthful words will be punished.

R.R. Reno, “The Public Square,” First Things magazine, August/September 2017, p. 67.

We need to get our heads on straight about all this. Political correctness and campus protests are not threats to elite institutions and their promise to the young that they guarantee success. The radical ideologies are part of a choreographed dance. “Unlike the campus protestors of the 1960s, today’s student activists are not expressing countercultural views. They are expressing the exact views of the culture in which they find themselves (a reason that administrators prove so ready to accede to their demands). If you want to find the counterculture on today’s elite college campuses, you need to look for the conservative students.”

R.R. Reno, “The Public Square,” First Things magazine, August/September 2017, p. 68 (quoting William Deresiewicz).

Part of that imperial arrogance in our own day, I believe, is the insistence that we, the empire, the West, America, or wherever, are in a position to tell the societies that we are already exploiting in a thousand different ways that they should alter their deep-rooted moralities to accommodate our newly invented ones. There is something worryingly imperial about the practice itself and about the insistence on everybody else endorsing it. It is often said that the poor want justice while the rich want peace. We now have a situation where two-thirds of the world wants debt relief and one-third wants sex.

N.T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013 (Minneapolis:Fortress Press, 2013) (H/T to The Millennial Star).

A headline I thought I’d never see

From the Washington Post, no less:

Black-clad antifa members attack peaceful right-wing demonstrators in Berkeley

In case it’s not clear, the reason I’m surprised is that a mainstream media organization that isn’t Fox News is clearly stating, in a headline, that the left was the aggressor while the right-wingers were “peaceful.” I would have expected them to either ignore it or somehow portray it as the right-wingers bringing it on themselves, especially in the wake of Charlottesville.

A small sign that the world isn’t completely insane quite yet. Or am I too cynical?

Why do conservatives conserve?

An online acquaintance recommended that I read the book “The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin” by Corey Robin. This is a book of previously published essays, with an introduction in which the author introduces his thesis. The thesis, basically, is that conservatism/reactionism/rightism (he uses the terms synonymously) is an ongoing effort to stamp out any attempt by the lower orders of society to improve their lot. (Also they’re violent and racist.)

I just finished the (39-page) Introduction of the book, before the essays start. I’m trying to keep an open mind, but find myself calling foul or BS on every other page.

First, his attempt to define the right as the side which always tries to beat down the lower orders, seems like a tautology. Rightists try to beat down the lower orders; those that beat down the lower orders may be identified as rightists. If you define it that way, then any time you see this happening in history you can attribute it to the right. But what if there is an instance where the left does it? Or is that possibility defined out of existence?

Shouldn’t you first define an ideology, and then talk about what its adherents have or have not done historically? That way we can identify the subjects first, and observe how they act afterwards; and not define them by how they act — those who do good on the left and those who do bad on the right.

For example he speaks of the abolition movement as a movement of the left, and the resistance to it as a movement of the right; apparently based on the definition of the right as that which tries to suppress the efforts of the lower orders to better themselves. But the abolitionists were mainly Christians and Republicans. Aren’t modern rightists also mainly Christians and Republicans?

If I’m called a conservative at the present time because I want to conserve certain things, or return them to how they were, that’s fair enough. But I may not be aligned ideologically with someone who wanted to conserve things 150 years ago. Possibly someone who agrees with my worldview would want to change things at one time, and conserve things at another. Shouldn’t our purported ideological affinity depend more on the kinds of things I/they want(ed) to conserve, rather than the desire to conserve per se?

People often say, “But Christians and Republicans weren’t conservatives back then,” as if they had mysteriously switched roles with modern atheists and Democrats. Well, maybe that’s because slavery wasn’t something that they wanted to conserve! If you brought them in a time machine to the present day, do you suppose the Christians of 1860 would be conservative or liberal with regard to the question of, say, gay marriage?

Is it mysterious that devout Christians of today, and devout Christians of 150 years ago, would agree in opposing both slavery and gay marriage? I for one would have expected that, since the motivating factor in both cases is the Christian faith, which remains essentially the same.

Up to now I haven’t had a problem with the labels “conservative” and “liberal” to describe political leanings or identities in the present context. But I’m realizing that it does present problems when trying to tie together people from one era to those of another, based solely on their tendency to want to progress or conserve. It’s often remarked by modern conservatives that “progress” is meaningless unless you have a fixed standard by which to judge whether or not you’re progressing. Simply moving “forward” can be neither good nor bad in itself; it’s only good if you’re moving towards something good. But how is “good” to be defined? To define it as “that which progresses” is to reason in a circle.

Well, the same applies to the word “conservative”. It can’t be a virtue to conserve per se. Whether to conserve or progress must be judged by some standard. That standard is the better criteria by which to group the people of one age with those of another. I happen to be conservative today because I consider some of the values that are being discarded by my society, to be worthy of conservation. It doesn’t follow that I would have considered slavery as being worthy of conservation. I conserve (at the present time) for the sake of what I consider good, in accordance with my faith and not just for the sake of conserving; certainly not for the sake of preventing the “lower orders” from bettering themselves!

The Myth of Liberalism

“The desire-based polity, that is, the polity whose philosophical and legal norms are said to reside in the primacy of individual desires, must in its own logic, … be based on a voluntarist concept of law that has no other justification but what those in power choose. Aristotle had long ago explained that democracies based on ‘liberty’ for its own sake and not for a purpose must end in tyranny.”

James V. Schall, S.J., Review of The Myth of Liberalism, The Imaginative Conservative blog, June 3, 2017. (H/T to Junior Ganymede.)