Arimathea
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Philosophy
All wisdom begins in wonder, and this delight kindles a desire for truth that leads us on a quest for the really real -- the source of being itself. Hence, the philosophical impulse, albeit often manifested in atheistic and irreverent stumblings in the dark of human ignorance, begins and ultimately ends in theology -- communicating and communing with our origin and goal. We men are rational animals who seek to know. We are agents of truth who want correct answers to questions that we must ask. From the noblest objects of contemplation to the seemingly insignificant everyday trivialities of life, we attempt to unravel perplexing knots. Limited, blind, and distracted, we nevertheless struggle for wisdom. This is our lot, and it is also our glory.
Thursday, March 31, A.D. 2016
Perverse Pedagogy

Last month, I offered several articles from Salvo Magazine that dealt with contemporary ailing academic life in “The Mod Quad.” Today, I present a selection of Salvo‘s articles about earlier education. I recommend them, especially “Daycare Denial” and “School Deform.” They both cover disturbing developments in our quite troubled times. From “Daycare Denial: Inconvenient Truths about Childcare Subvert the Very Best Intentions” by Marcia Segelstein:

When Saubier and her fellow daycare workers learned that a new child would soon be coming, “we braced ourselves for the tormented cries of a confused child who would soon be spending his or her days with us.” She stresses that crying in daycare is not limited to the child’s first few days. “Children are continually crying in daycare,” she writes, “because there is often no one available to pick them up when they fall, wipe their noses when they have a cold, kindly show them that hitting and biting is wrong, or tenderly change their diapers.”

I found one of Saubier’s stories especially poignant:

One winter, while on the playground, I passed by a group of two-year-olds. One was stumbling around in the cold, crying, and I put out my arms to him to see if he wanted to be held. Not knowing me at all, he still came to me and I stood there holding him a bit. He put his head on my shoulder and I regretted having to put him down. Soon there were three others at my feet asking to be picked up. I remember thinking that it was really pathetic that these little ones were begging to be held by someone they did not know. I held each one quickly before returning my attention back to the infants in my care.

. . . Parents, experts, and even politicians often defend and promote daycare with the claim that it helps children learn how to socialize. But based on her firsthand experiences, Saubier has a different take on the kind of socializing daycare cultivates. “Socializing in daycare fosters aggressive behavior simply because children are forced to go into survival mode once deposited among so many other children who are at a self-centered, ‘me’ stage developmentally,” she writes.

From “School Deform: How Common Core Promotes Cultural Engineering by Killing the Imagination” by Robin Phillips:

The architects of Common Core have spoken candidly about what they see as the goal of education, and it is not education at all, but training. What they want from the next generation is not better people but better workers, and Common Core offers the environmental conditioning for producing them.

This differs greatly from traditional classical education. America’s founders understood that a healthy democracy requires that citizens learn to think critically, to ask questions, and to develop well-ordered faculties of reason and imagination. Citizens who were inculcated in the ways of sound thinking would be able to preserve the riches of our cultural heritage. This was the same vision articulated by Plato, who argued in The Republic that the highest goal of all education is knowledge of the Good.

By contrast, when the architects of Common Core tried to describe the goal of education, they were unable to articulate anything higher than “college and career readiness” and “21st century literacy” for a “global economy.” To them, students are little more than units pegged for a future workforce whose productivity will keep America competitive with emerging economies like China and India. As Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins warned on the Catholic Vote website, Common Core “is a workforce-development scheme that treats the individual as human capital, to be shepherded where needed in aid of a centralized, corporatist economy. Schools are factories where children are trained, and the teachers are their supervisors.”

Please read both articles in their entirety. It disgusts me to see such complacency toward this new inhuman educational regime, especially by educators whose very vocations are compromised and degraded by efforts like Common Core. How is it that teachers, administrators, politicians, and parents, from the Left and the “Right,” have allowed this to happen? Either they actively support the killing of the mind, which I find horrific but possible, given the Zeitgeist, or they just don’t care. For one reason why they might not care, see “On Compulsory Mis-education: Teaching the Young to Despise Their Heritage” by Cameron Wybrow. How sad of a society we have become.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 31, Anno Domini 2016
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Tuesday, March 29, A.D. 2016
ETI in the Sky

Today marks the third anniversary of Lawrence Auster’s untimely death—very sad. I miss reading his View from the Right, and I frequently wonder how Auster would comment on the passing scene. May his memory be eternal.

In honor of Mr. Auster, who frequently wrote about quirky, interesting side topics, I present a suitably out of this world article from Salvo, “ETI in the Sky: What the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life Means for Us.” The article’s author Hugh Ross surveys the disappointing results in the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life—disappointing, that is, to those of us who had hoped or expected to find some trace of non-human civilization “out there.”

Perhaps, pessimism is unwarranted; Ross’ conclusions are based on assumptions that may not be justified. I don’t know; I’ll defer to the scientists in their judgment. Yet, I do question how we can confidently expect alien life and civilization to follow our own model. Isn’t it conceivable that the conditions for intelligent life elsewhere need not be the same as the conditions for such on earth? Furthermore, one of Ross’ points is based on the idea that an advanced alien civilization would harness local solar (stellar?) power in a particular way. Cosmic-sized cultural imposition of a decidedly Baconian-Cartesian flavor, no? So, I remain agnostic on the issue, though Ross’ article did make me a bit sad. For all the splendors of our world, it is disappointing to consider the universe so limited in its manifestations of life.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, March 29, Anno Domini 2016
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Thursday, March 24, A.D. 2016
Mark Christensen on Moving Past Liberalism

Mark Christensen has an interesting article on Social Matter: “The State Reborn: Abandoning a Liberal Mythology.” Christensen reviews Italian fascist criticism of liberal political theory. From the essay:

The conclusion is simple: the nature of the state is that sovereignty is conserved. Due to its role as the central sovereign power, the state – or rather, the people who make it up – must develop a common set of normative values in order to operate. Because the state cannot brook opposition to its legitimacy to rule, it must therefore promote and inculcate these values in the population. Liberalism’s distinguishing feature – that it imposes no common good on its citizens – is revealed as a sham. Secularism is not neutrality; it is how the state defends the faith of Social Progress against its more mystical competitors.

As Kristor and others like to say, there is always an established religion. Contemporary Westerners, however, appear unaware of their own devotion to their tribe’s sacred idols.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 24, Anno Domini 2016
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Wednesday, March 16, A.D. 2016
Horowitz on the Mob

David Horowitz provides sage counsel for Republicans concerning the election: “How Not to Fight Our Enemies.” I would like to believe that it is common sense and common decency that one ought not to indulge bullies, ne’er-do-wells, and the mob. Alas, the American media and political establishment have proven otherwise. We live in an age of wicked lies and unbelievable stupidity.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, March 16, Anno Domini 2016
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Tuesday, March 15, A.D. 2016
Prolife per Bonald

I recommend Bonald’s article on the Roman Catholic prolife scene: “I’m not pro-life; I’m anti-abortion.” It is characteristically sensible. Bonald raises a great point for those Seamless Garment types:

. . . No one complains that environmentalist organizations don’t devote any of their attention to making health care affordable, or that the National Rifle Association has no plan to end homelessness, or that the Anti-defamation League isn’t doing anything to fight pornography. There are a lot of ills in the world. Doesn’t it make sense that we allow a division of labor, with multiple organizations to tackle different issues, each one drawing the support of those who–for whatever reason–feel particularly passionate about a particular issue? If someone decides to spend his life introducing lower-class kids to Shakespeare, or something like that, would we reproach him for not also having a scheme for world peace? Why, then, are we so hostile to someone wanting to devote his attention to what he believes is mass murder? In any case, it’s not true that anti-abortion activists qua individuals have no interest in other issues. The question is whether anti-abortion organizations qua organizations should have such interests. I say the answer is no.

Demanding pro-life organizations take on a raft of other issues would surely compromise their main purpose. It unnecessarily divides people who agree on abortion but disagree on other issues. What’s my plan for eliminating the scourge of unsupported unwed mothers? Shotgun weddings. Should I demand the folks at The Distributist Review get on board with this before we work together against abortion? Only if I don’t really care much about abortion. More importantly, the original purpose of restricting abortion would quickly get sidelined by the other issues. If we can’t criminalize abortion until all expectant mothers have the support they need, then criminalizing abortion has stopped being a genuine policy position and become an eschatological hope. Even if we decide to pursue both ends in parallel, abortion would quickly be dropped, because organizations would start admitting members who don’t take the “pro-life” position on abortion but make up for it by being “pro-life” on many other issues.

Amen.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, March 15, Anno Domini 2016
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Tuesday, March 8, A.D. 2016
Mahoney on the Healthy Boundaries of Democracy

Daniel J. Mahoney has an insightful essay in the Intercollegiate Review: “The Healthy Boundaries of Democracy.” A selection:

“Progressive” thought is defined by the view that liberty and equality are unproblematic, and that the great task before democratic peoples is to maximize them, to make the world ever more “democratic” and egalitarian. The solution to the problems of democracy is said to be more democracy, as the philosopher John Dewey famously proclaimed at the beginning of the twentieth century. True democracy must move to the left, becoming ever more inclusive, tolerant, egalitarian, and relativistic. To realize the democratic ideal, we must reject antiquated truths and insist on extreme equality and unlimited personal choice (think “the right to choose” or the self-reinvention central to “gender theory”). In this view there is no such thing as loving democracy (or liberty and equality) too much.

What could possibly be wrong with such an uncompromising commitment to the “democratic” ideal? To begin with, progressivism (and extreme libertarianism) forgets the goods, habits, and traditions that make a free society cohere. Elsewhere I have called them the “conservative foundations of the liberal order.” These goods—healthy family life, a moral code rooted in religion and natural law, prudent and far-seeing statesmanship, the rule of law, a respect for legitimate institutions, love of truth—were largely taken for granted by the Founders of the American republic. As the philosopher Michael Polyani put it in the 1960s, the best of the liberal tradition, including the American Founding, presupposed an “authoritative traditional framework” that could protect, nourish, and inform “the new self-determination of man.” Liberalism, properly understood, presupposes the continuity of civilization. It undermines itself if it demands “liberation” from all moral restraints.

At its best, liberalism must include a self-consciously conservative dimension. Rational self-mastery and the freedom to choose, goods cherished by liberals and conservatives alike, do not mean that individuals are radically independent, that they are completely sovereign over themselves and the world. Progressivism is that crucial moment when liberalism succumbs to an ethic of absolute autonomy, when it liberates human beings from an order of nature or justice above the human will. It is that moment when liberalism subverts itself by negating the goods that truly allow it to flourish.

I considered myself a classical liberal as a teenager, but I began to reject the Anglo-American liberal tradition during my first month at college. While I value certain aspects of liberalism, I cannot see how one may have the tempered liberalism that Anglosphere “conservatives” frequently champion as the best political arrangement. Liberal regimes appear to unfold according to their basic principles, which esteem human equality and liberty and deny the existence and/or the intelligibility of the (natural) human good. Because such principles conflict with reality, liberal regimes are inherently unstable. So, the mixed regimes of nineteenth century Britain and America that the English speaking Right holds up as exemplars of strong societies were not balanced, constitutional orders but rather a stage of social decay with many admirable but fleeting qualities. History appears to confirm this insight of political theory in that there has always been a significant presence of radicals in the modern English speaking world. Consider the Unitarians of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the multitude of sects and communes in the nineteenth century, the rhetoric and ideals put forth by abolitionists and suffragettes—indeed, there is nothing new under the Daily Kos sun. The glaring exception appears to be “homosexual ‘marriage,’” as I cannot find any precedent for it before the last century. Yet, the revolutionaries have been attacking traditional Christian marriage since the misnamed Enlightenment. In every way, it seems that the wackydoodle fringes just have to wait for the larger society to “catch up” with their progressive stance. Indeed, their positions are progressive—because their features characterize a more advanced stage in liberal evolution. Leftists mistake this particular evolution for the general advance of human civilization (the existence of which I seriously doubt), but they are correct in judging the “correct side” of liberal history.

Thus, I doubt that conservatives can salvage liberalism or its pantheon, including the chief among its gods, democracy. Abandon the trap; reject the bait—hook, line, and sinker. Let us rather orient ourselves according to what sage men call perennial wisdom and swim in the currents of the ages.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, March 8, Anno Domini 2016
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Thursday, March 3, A.D. 2016
The God Confusion

R.J. Snell has a brief but important article in the Intercollegiate Review about the nature of God and how that theological issue has affected the West: “The God Confusion: An Ancient Dispute in the Modern Heart.” I have addressed the same point several times on this site, starting with “Square Circle.” The rational order of the universe reflects God rather than constrains him. Nature is not a threat to omnipotence but a manifestation of such.

I should note that I have since softened my stance about the square circle; I am no longer sure that God could not make a square circle. This change has nothing to do with theology—I still affirm the same theological point. Rather, it has to do with the limits of human understanding. From our perspective, it is clear that a square cannot be a circle—and vice versa. Yet, it seems possible that there could be some possible coherence of the shapes at another level of understanding. I do not wish to indulge postmodern attacks on our knowledge; fie, fie, fie upon such a suggestion! However, as I have noted before, the flatland principle seems quite reasonable to me, given the general myopia and widespread ignorance of mankind. Imagine how geometry might appear to a two dimensional perspective. Several Euclidean rules would strike a two dimensional mind as ridiculous, and we see a similar relationship between hyperbolic geometry and the Euclidean tradition. It seems obvious that the distinct natures of the square and the circle rule out a square circle, but, contra my post from seven years ago, we do not comprehensively and exhaustively understand geometry. Intellectual humility does not necessarily lead to po-mo misology—or even to its more respectable Kantian precursors.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 3, Anno Domini 2016
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Wednesday, March 2, A.D. 2016
Samuel Francis Criticizes the Hometeam

Radix Journal has posted a Chronicles article by Samuel Francis from A.D. 1998, “Into the Dustbin.” Francis laments the incessant infighting of the Right and attempts to find the origin of its dysfunction. He concludes that the Right is by definition the losing side of history—championed by losers. I am not convinced by his argument. “Reaction” or counterrevolution has had quite a few “successful” periods, though the leftward trajectory of the modern era is obvious enough. The strength of the essay is Francis’ recognition of the importance of conserving a concrete social order:

In the United States, prior to the 1930s, it was not so [that the Right was a band of dysfunctional losers]. The Right back then was the organized political expression of a dominant social and political class, a class that sported at its top families like the DuPonts and at its bottom such happy warriors as Sinclair Lewis’ George Babbitt and his friends. It was a class that dictated the tastes and manners of the day, was determined to keep immigrants out of the country, maintain the Constitution and the Free Enterprise System, put America First, preserve the white, Christian, Republican character of the nation, and crush the Bolsheviks and labor agitators wherever you could find them. As a ruling class, it was an amalgam of the Old Stock Protestant Establishment and the plutocracy that rose to national power after the Civil War. However poorly defined its ideas and however vapidly expressed its ethic, it was nevertheless a real class that really had something to conserve, and it generally knew that it could not conserve it unless it also conserved the social and cultural fabric through which it exercised social power.

In the Great Depression and New Deal, this bourgeois ruling class was effectively dislodged from social and political power. Its top ranks, if they survived at all, soon allied with the emerging managerial elites in state and corporation, and its bottom ranks, stripped of any real prospect of preserving or restoring the social order in which they had played a significant part, simply drifted. It was mainly those middle and bottom ranks of the old bourgeois elite that for the next forty years would effectively define “conservatism” and the Right as they were known to the generation between Herbert Hoover and Barry Goldwater. Unable to articulate its own ideas and values very effectively, it welcomed ideological allies in journalism and the academy that could express them, but the journalists and the academics were not for the most part of the same class or culture. Hence, the “conservatism” they defined displayed all the symptoms of rootless intellectualism and attracted all the odd and awkward personality types that could not fit anywhere else and would not fit with each other.

Once “conservatism” is decoupled from the social order and the social class that it naturally represents, it becomes simply one more ideological ghetto, angrily hunting down and kicking out those who deviate from its sectarian commandments and every now and then hurling a few mudballs at whoever passes by, and the kinds of personality it tends to attract are precisely those that are unable to work together for any serious purpose. It ceases to defend authentic tradition because authentic tradition has ceased to exist in a coherent form, and what it defends is “traditionalism.” It ceases to defend authentic liberty because the rooted liberty that once pertained in the defunct social order is no longer meaningful, and what it defends is “libertarianism.” It ceases to defend the people, culture, and institutions of the old order because they too have ceased to exist coherently as a fabric or have been conscripted into the new order, and what it defends is simply a pallid ghost of what was once a living civilization.

Wise words there, but the essay does not explore the vulnerability of that social order. Why did it crumble so swiftly? Was it inherently weak or contradictory, or was the fall of Old America an unhappy accident of history? Such questions are for those loser-ish intellectuals to answer, I suppose.

In surveying the past, we find that some societies disappeared through internal or external destruction, while others transformed so completely as to become something different. They all, however, came and went. One could thus argue that any previous civilization was a failure because it ceased to exist, but that is misleading because it does not provide useful distinctions between, say, the Roman polity (even given its significant evolution) and the Third Reich. One could argue that the former endured, in one way or another, for over two thousand years while the second barely made it to its second decade. Human political achievements are frail and, it seems, universally mortal. Yet, some have greater success—in temporal endurance, in human flourishing, in influence—than others. So, political study should be able to analyze the advantages and arrangements of regimes in order to distill some general political principles. With such knowledge, we might be better prepared to evaluate history’s winners and losers—and to chart future paths while keeping in mind that any planned venture depends, to some extent, on fortune. But that’s the sort of thing that a loser would say.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, March 2, Anno Domini 2016
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