Thursday, December 31, 2009

Eat More Pandas

I have come to hate pandas. I have never actually seen a panda, but I still hate them. My panda hatred arose when I first began to reflect seriously on the “sacredness of creation.” I suspect most people, particularly soft-hearted people, associate the rare great panda with creation more than they associate the human diaper-rash-ridden bottom with creation. A shame really. Of course, diaper-rash-ridden bottoms are far from extinct and the sacred great pandas, are quite close. That should make someone feel at least some affection for pandas, but for me it does not. I do not like kiwis either, but for aesthetic Freudian reasons, they are oddly shaped fuzzy somewhat disturbing looking sour green berries that simply do not belong in American cuisine. But enough about kiwis. The panda, which I also hate, is the logo for, the World Wildlife Fund, and the World Wildlife Fund was the brainchild of British eugenicist Sir Julian Huxley. Eugenicists believe, in the words of Randy Newman “[some] people got no reason to live…” According to a recent article in the Economist, “Fewer Feet, Smaller Footprint” eugenics is making a bit of a comeback with respect to global --woo–ooo-ooo—WARMING. The upshot of the Economist article is “Fewer people would mean lower greenhouse-gas emissions.”

This means, according to the eco-elites represented in the article, if we are to genuinely appreciate the sacredness of say bush meat (poached African wildlife sold as meat to poor African humans) the best solution is to sterilize the bush men (that really means sterilize the women). To love the sacred panda then, we have no choice but sacrifice the far less sacred human ovary, but only the ovaries of the poor humans, or the ovaries of the eco-enlightened willing to make this sacrifice… until they figure out how completely crazy that sacrifice really is. The eco-enlightened feel deeply, that if nature is to have rights, a few humans will just have to lose their rights, a few million poor ones that is. This is also an idea much celebrated by Margaret Sanger, the pseudo-feminist whose eugenic wisdom gave birth to Planned Parenthood, and provided insights to the some of the less savory eugenicists of the 1930’s and 40’s.

So just in case someone might want to ignore, the hegemonic “dialogue” about the sacredness non-human creation that the eco-elites are having with themselves, and maybe actually create a sacred human child, it is important to understand the actual biological limitations of human fertility. In other words, if you figure out how crazy the eco-elite are a little too late, well, ship’s sailed. Unlike men who can remain stupid vastly longer than women because our biological ability to have children is vastly longer than that of women, women have a rather shorter number of years to mature out of naïve eco-elite ideology. If a woman wants a few children of her own, a woman has to grow up quicker than a man. Really. So here are the numbers according to Dr. Steven T. Dodge of California North Bay Fertility Medical Associates:

“A woman's fertility declines steadily after reaching peak levels between ages 18 and 25. From then to age 35 the average woman's fertility drops by about one half and thereafter declines more rapidly. By age 40 the average fertility rate is 15% of that found at age 25. The down slope continues until it reaches very low levels (1% or less per month chance of pregnancy) at age 44 and beyond.”

Saturday, August 08, 2009


The Dems are actually over thinking this. We are simply tired of being lied to. What we are seeing at these town hall meetings is a national emotional outburst: Global warming is turning out to be a devious way to steal from our families with politically driven semi-science that is more hype than reality; TARP went to the very crooks who stole our retirement; Big Pharma is gouging us at every turn and the big O made a backroom deal to make sure they can keep doing it; Psycho-babblers tell us we are all mentally ill and need to be gouged by Pig Pharma whenever we are justifiably despairing; Doctors have become gate keepers rather than doctors. We are told by predatory health dealers we need all sorts of measures and we have no way to find out if we really do. We are feeling poorer than ever and profoundly betrayed, cheated and lied to by smug politicians at every turn, and now O-land wants to jack up our taxes to stick it to us a little further with health care promises that sound just like more lies. Why should we trust O when he and his do nothing to make it possible for us to comparison shop between scamming docs and hospitals and insurers. Seems pretty clear a health monopoly is on the horizon, and of course only for the poor, just like the monopoly of public school non-education. Oh and to complain about any of this makes us Nazis. Of course Americans are outraged at these town hall meetings and privately buying guns and ammo at record rates, forget a revolution people just want to be able to shoot back a little when these well-coiffed monsters with whispery voices and winks come for our homes and kids.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Conserve Man

At the core of every conservative intellectual is the terror and awe of the horrendous lessons humanity has learned throughout our history. We understand that the little wisdom humankind has gained so expensively after so many thousands of years of mass murder, tyranny, slavery, brutality, ignorance, cruelty, stupidity, starvation and error ought not to be thrown out for each new revolutionary notion of social justice. The fool’s hope de novo guarantees only one more round of tyrannical oppression by wicked old cynics. In the words of Edmund Burke, “People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.”

Unlike the dewy liberal, the conservative intellectual knows revolutions inexorably kill more than they save. We remember that Stalin always follows Marx, and fascism always follows the fasces. The individual is not better lost in the collective, nor is the state strengthened by destroying the individual. That is the Jacobin seduction; it is the ancient wickedness grinning mendaciously behind each new revolution. And it always precedes its own unique Reign of Terror. They will love me and I will become a rhinoceros. There is nothing charitable about enforced charity, nothing; never, not even “service learning” is charitable when it is mandated.

“…the socialists, working on the poor man's envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property…. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community. For, every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own. This is one of the chief points of distinction between man and the animal creation, for the brute has no power of self direction.” Rerum Novarum [Of New Things], Pope Leo XIII, 1891.

For the new green liberal that essential distinction between man and beast has vanished. And animal has assuredly not thereby been elevated to the level of man, but rather man has been reduced to the state of an animal. The image of catastrophe suffered last week by our closest Vermont friends comes to mind. Their farm caught fire and burned to the ground, and all their sheep and their new-born lambs, at first safe in the open field, became terrified by the flames and smoke and ran –undeterrable-- driven by inflexible instinct and habit, back into their burning barn to die needlessly each and every one. For sheep it is always today, always new, no lessons are ever learned from their ancestors.

“Falsehood is a perennial spring.” Edmund Burke

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Obamapalooza Woodstock

Feels like déjà vu all over again: Obamapalooza-stock

“What a strange strange trip it’s been.” Truckin’, by The Grateful Dead, came out less than a year after our “world-changing” peace and love rock festival ended. Reality crashed the party. Our fantasy Osley acid dropping, organic granola commune groovin’, hairy-arm-pitted rancid-patchouli oiled, bare-assed mud sliding free lovin’ peace festival, Woodstock, was over.

Our Woodstock summer of love was more like your summer of lovin’ Obama than you even know. Obamapalooza: Lollapalooza 2008 in hand with summer free music for Obama. Dudes, this was your summer of Hope and Ecstasy. But, the morning after, when the great anonymous hook up is over, the E has worn off, your jaw is sore, the Kush is gone, and everyone has showered, the world is a very different place. So let me be the first to say it: Rise and shine, dudes, its morning! Putin is smiling, jobs are vanishing, oil is rising, Afghanistan is igniting, Iran is going nuclear, the draft is coming, the poor will not be getting richer, nor will the rich be sharing power, Barack will not pay your mortgage nor pay your salary, and last night when you were getting wasted, playing beer pong, the plans for the military bases in Iraq were all drawn up. We’re headed for a “Hot, Flat and Crowded” future, and there is not a groovy hopeful thing Obamapalooza or the Pumas or the McCainiacs or even Governor Fertility herself could have done to stop it. Sweet Mary Jane is just old Mexican hemp now.

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same
Livin' on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine,
All a friend can say is "Ain't it a shame?"

Woodstock ran from August 15-17 1969. I turned 15 on the first day and hitch-hiked there. We too all fell in love with our new revolutionary, world. We too were raging against the “machine.” Stoned, optimistic and sexually excited we were chillin’ while the angry music wailed. Pot smoke and incense filled our hearts, minds and souls. We honestly believed reefer, love and pissed off rock and roll (Janice and Jimi hadn’t yet drowned in their own vomit) we would bring love to the whole world. It would just take constant intense revolutionary music, committed demonstrations, lots and lots of chanting, free love, good drugs and daisies, COOL. “One two three four what are we waiting for, don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.” Only the stupid rednecks went to Nam. “Hell No we won’t go!” We were too smart to be conned by the Man. So did the summers of love and hope and chanting college stoners win?

Not quite. Because when all is said and done, Baudrillard is right in a way he hadn’t wanted: Reality really IS a bitch. And relativist academics and media confusion cannot post-modernize real reality away. So you go girls and boys. RATM away. Go Rage against your mommies. Believe your little clutch of tattooed wimpy white boys with their big amps and big mouths. “Here is something you can’t understand, how I could just kill a man!” Yes dear. Now read Call of the Wild. Study your algebra. Clean your rooms, and, not like I’m telling you what to do or anything, but maybe spend just a little less time with the internet porn. You’ll feel better. “They rally around the family with a pocket full of shells.” That’s very nice honey bunny. Are those jingle or periwinkle shells?

The Dead saw it all a year later. Woodstock had been a fraud, a false promise, a momentary respite in facing reality. The Cambodian invasion, the Kent State Massacre, the My Lai Massacre, Pol Pot’s killing fields, and Jonestown Kool-Aid all still came. Our Woodstock, like your Obamapalooza, was a false salvation from an imagined enemy. Just like your Bush has the power of weather, hurricanes, tsunamis and the sun itself, our Nixon had the power of hate, love, war and evil itself. So yes, with that sort of power, God must be a Republican.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Darned Wife!

SNL Palin and Hillary

Well well, so it has come to this, the fatal wound to Identity Politics: A skit on SNL, the .300 magnum round that brings it down, that chipmunk of an idea in the body of a grizzly. Identity politics has led to a competent candidate with vast experience, to be beaten decisively by not just one but by TWO Gender/Race appropriate candidates who, together, have only a hint of a hair of a smidgen of her experience. Well it serves Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi right. It really does. So Identity Politickers, what do you think now? Palin IS a woman, but even I can recognize Hillary is the authentic statesman, whereas Obama is just a fine idea, and Palin just fine.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Palin and the Opiate of the Academics

American malaise is by far our most dangerous enemy at the moment. Our economy is tanking as much from lowered consumer optimism as it is from the housing crunch. Our success in Iraq is discounted meaningless. Our ability to transform our position in the world is hampered by pathological incessant apologetics which only embolden Putin and Ahmedinejad. And the source of much of this national malaise is our continued adherence to the opiate of the academics: our resignation to helplessness, depression and relativism. That dark threesome is downright deadly. Identity politics (gender and race trump reason) is the offspring of this opiate and McCain's pick of Palin blows identity politics off the picnic bench like the milkweed fluff it really is. I, like many of Palin's supporters, disagree with most of her personal social opinions, from abortion to evolution, but she has made it possible for Americans to be proud to be Americans, without feeling politically INcorrect. To embrace life, with all its heartwrenching dangers and embarrassing flaws is to embrace opitimism. McCain gets this, Obama doesn't.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Palin Power

Palin-Power is far more important than many seem to perceive. Our fascination with Palin is tantamount to the beginning of the transformation of American culture, from an identity of victimhood to an identity of moral efficacy melded with courage. Palin VP is more than Sarah Palin. A vote for Palin VP is a vote to end the apologizing for being American, for loving our children and our spouses, for our military strength and for our genuine deep pride in our Declaration of Independence and our ensuing Constitution, and the mega-powerful economy that all this bore. Americans are done with the opiate of the academics: post-modern relativism, haughty cynicism and pervasive trembling fear to embrace at least a few absolute truths. Palin is equivalent to saying "Out" with the moral cowards and "In" with the risk of making a few transcultural moral decisions. That is why so many in academe, and the shoddy journalists educated in their ideologically laden "Schools of Communication," hate Palin. She holds up a mirror to their academic cowardice and their perpetual moral prevarication.

Palin's Teeth our Teeth

Prior to the Palin pick, there were a number of factors turning our nation around from our paralysis of cynicism, but we were trapped in the mode of political correctness, the opiate of the academics. We simply needed a catalyst, a tipping point, to allow us to change course from the pessimism of the Mental Illness Party aka the Democrats, and embrace the optimism of autonomy and moral agency once promised by the Republican Party. Palin is that point. She has become tipping point Palin. And she need not have a vast understanding of international policy to accomplish this. The fact is no president or vice president need remember the names of all the various ideological schema, nor the actual number of legs on a centipede for that matter. True leaders look to the experts in the field, folks like Krauthammer or Fukuyama or Rice. True leaders are not mediocre wonks, they hire top wonks. The power of Palin is not her ability to recall information, but her confidence and understanding that in the end America has both the wisdom and the strength to turn it around. She may not be the expert on the Caucasus or even the moving target of "Bush doctrine," but she certainly knows she can find American experts. To quote Safire, an expert in his own field, "the nattering nabobs of negativity" have created the impedimentary crust of our present crepitating leaders. That is why they hate her so: Palin holds the hammer that will crush them, like the sidling crabs they are. And that lipstick-smeared old whore, the NYT, is justifiably frightened of this powerhouse that is moving upon a once great newspaper become now only an old gray witch. America is done with apologetics we are ready to live again. Sarah barracuda, Palin the pit bull, has given us the teeth to bite back. Oh taste and see.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Hillary v Britney v Obama

Crying for Comic Relief

No matter what the political interpretation, in comparison to a Greek play “Britney” is more likely a tragedy, “Hillary” more likely a comedy. Britney is a world-class performing athlete whose arrogance regarding her demonstrable and extraordinary dancing and singing abilities, her culture altering beauty and her unparalleled physical appeal has laid her low. Her will is Promethean, even if her judgment is not. And the consequences of her pride, melded with her stubbornness, will continue to spiral her into inevitable destruction. Driven by apparent divine insanity, what ancient Greeks called ATE, she has destroyed, to the limits of her Herculean strength, her children and her family and herself. If Britney were to die no one would be surprised and very few would laugh. Oedipus in a leather thong -- or not. Though she has cried, Britney has never publicly cried the helpless tears of pathos. And that is likely because she knows exactly what will happen if she ever does. She will be mocked beyond her wildest self-destructive fears. Were Britney to cry publicly the tears of “Oh my I try so hard to be good.” then certainly we would laugh at her. Then the inevitability of her horrible end would become comic rather than tragic. When the buffoon is hit by a rubber chicken we laugh. But Britney’s public tears have been tears of fury in league with action. She may be mad but she is no buffoon. “Kill those ***** reporters!” The pretentious tears of a petty tyrant are most always a bit comedic when followed by just deserts. But the tears of the great, even the great in perverse action, facing inevitable doom are more likely horrifying. Character and arrogance, followed by external retribution is tragedy.

Now Hillary, on the other hand, if she loses the primary to Obama, after her well mannered and entirely appropriate tear, that, I’m afraid, will simply be funny. All of her detractors will gloat over the irony. See? There they go again (echoing the words of Regan) -- a family tradition, the continuation of the ambiguity of “is.” (“President Clinton, is it true you had sexual relations in the Oval office with Miss Lewinsky?” “Well, investigator Starr, it all depends on the meaning of “is.” After all what is sex?”) Is a welling eye the same as crying? Did she cry or not? Once again, it all depends on the meaning of “is.” Though the sin repeats, the Clintons’ is certainly not the house of Atreus. The self-convinced slipping loose a strategic tear of self pity mixed with the arrogant expectation of deserved political victory, delivered to an audience of her Birkenstock baby boomer peers cheering her on -- that is comedy in the making. Yes, Hill we can cry on cue too. Yes, Hill you are one of us. Oh how authentic in your inauthenticity, oh how refreshing, how exhilarating that you will cry for us, for US. Oh we LOVE you for crying for us! But if Hillary’s strategic tear is followed by the reality of an Obama victory the rest of the world will roar at the comedy of it. Hillary’s ocular moment will then become grand vaudevillian buffoonery. Overtly crying for personal gain is unambiguously comic relief: Charlie Chaplin ringing buckets of self pitying tears from his hat. No Hillary, you don’t deserve to win, you just think you do. Of course, if she does win, well then the tear was unalloyed brilliance. In the words of another William, “So much depends on a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside white chickens.” So much depends on the meaning of “is.”

Monday, March 05, 2007

Google University on YouTube at Starbucks in Barnes and Nobles

A Product Proposal

Dear Google,

I am the Director of the Philosophy Program at a one of the many little colleges recently retro-fitted to become a university in Western PA. After 18 years of steadily teaching at a reputable little college, with the magic of our new university stature I suddenly found myself applying for, and receiving, tenure. My job and income are now secure. Gee, what an improvement for student-learning outcomes. So let me put my new tenure to use and see if it works.

It is clear to me that post-secondary (College and University) undergraduate education both costs too much and the general quality is far from as good as it should be in light of the extortionate price students and their parents are forced to pay. According to the Pew Foundation funded American Institutes for Research 2006 study, “The National Survey of America’s College Students,” one half of four-year college graduates will not be able to articulate what I have so far written, much less grasp the basic argument of any article written in the Chronicle of Higher Education or, for that matter, any speech critical of post-secondary education delivered by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings herself. This means the majority of American college graduates are unable to figure out exactly how they, and their families, may have been gouged by their Alma Maters.

According to the Pew-funded study :

• More than 75 percent of students at 2-year colleges and more than 50 percent of students at 4-year colleges do not score at the proficient level of literacy. This means that they lack the skills to perform complex literacy tasks, such as comparing credit card offers with different interest rates or summarizing the arguments of newspaper editorials.

• Students in 2- and 4-year colleges have the greatest difficulty with quantitative literacy: approximately 30 percent of students in 2-year institutions and nearly 20 percent of students in 4-year institutions have only Basic quantitative literacy. Basic skills are those necessary to compare ticket prices or calculate the cost of a sandwich and a salad from a menu.

If this study is accurate, and anecdotal evidence of graduating seniors certainly suggests it is, there is no just reason for any student to pay $100,000 (more than the cost of most homes in Western PA) for a four-year degree. Most disturbing, however, is the implication when looking at the power of compound interest: If the $100,000 spent on college were invested in a mutual fund instead, it would be worth vastly more than the $1 million dollar increase in lifetime earning power a college education is alleged to be worth. If the money spent on a college education were invested in TIAA-CREF, where university employees invest their own retirement funds, by the time the student reached the age of retirement in 40 years that $100,000, at 10% per year, would be worth $4,525,925.56 -- in 50 years $11,739,085.29. Instead, what now happens is parents simply lose a hefty portion of their own retirement while footing the bill for their kids’ vastly over-priced college degrees. In a word, despite college propaganda to the contrary, at current rates, a four year degree at a typical college or university dramatically decreases a family’s overall lifetime wealth rather than increasing it.

Consequently, it makes sense that for-profit institutions like Google, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles or even Starbucks, begin to consider applying for university accreditation, and offering degrees of their own. Clearly, well-run for-profits like yours are vastly more economically efficient than any non-profit college or university. And your efficiency is a consequence of following the basic economic principle that an informed consumer will always purchase the best value for the least money. I, like most parents, would happily send my children to Google University if I knew they would learn more there than at a higher priced university. And unlike non-profits where there is little incentive to quantify results for comparison shopping, profit-making institutions thrive on promoting their quantifiable successes. The best are quick to demonstrate why they are the best and thereby sell more.

So, Google is ideally positioned to dominate the post-secondary education market, and do it without hiring a single tenured professor. Though once tenure protected the academic freedom of innovative faculty, tenure now only ensures the homogeneity of thought of those tenured. Tenure has itself now become an impediment to the novel ideas it was originally designed to protect. Google could escape the tenure trap by not hiring any faculty at all. Instead of hiring the faculty themselves, institutions like Google could simply purchase a vast library of taped, high quality, lectures given by academic super stars or other top performing teachers who are willing to sell series of their lectures (perhaps even receiving residuals if they really rock!). These professors would operate as free agents in a digital world of Professors Without Boarders. As Jeffrey Toobin reports in New Yorker Magazine, Google has already started the process of digitizing all books published, and certainly that would include all filmed academic lectures.

As a consequence, I would like to develop a trial philosophy class that will be offered on YouTube -- perhaps start with Philosophy and Theater or Introduction to Philosophy. My long term goal, however, is to develop, for lack of a better term, a Google University on YouTube Philosophy Major. My students at the brick and mortar university campus where I teach would be required to watch the lectures on YouTube and then submit papers in class. But all the class material would be available to the entire YouTube audience, and any institution that might want to use this class as part of their own curriculum would be free to. Yes, a free college class on YouTube, that’s my initial plan.

If successful, perhaps other free-agent professors will follow, and once a sufficient number of competently taught, enjoyable, entertaining, college courses are provided for free, this could begin to break the de facto price fixing of the American post-secondary education cartel in league with their accrediting institutions. With the aid of Margaret Spellings, this college cartel has finally become vulnerable to the demands of the market place. Parents may soon finally compare educational products based on quantifiable outcomes, and buy a degree based on highest quality for lowest price. Google can easily deliver what the non-profits have so far refused to: the best education at the best price. Institutions, without the requisite faculty, like Google, Amazon or any various libraries and book stores, certainly could easily provide competently taught, college credit quality, courses on platforms like YouTube.

Google’s purchase of YouTube, combined with the demands of out-priced parents and the pressure of the US Department of Education that post-secondary education finally provide quantifiable results -- all coming together within in the last six months -- shouts loud that the time for Professors Without Borders has arrived. I know for a fact that there are many many highly educated, highly competent, PhD, University and College faculty willing to work as free-agent professors for advanced education. I also know by hiring free-agent professors, Google would be capable of offering vastly more enjoyable, higher quality and less expensive college degrees than are currently available at other colleges and universities existing on line or in brick and mortar. With large enough numbers of students and high enough quality of professors’ lectures and the stellar name of Google to kick this off, the era of the ten dollar, accredited, 3-credit, college class is here. This after all is the real payoff of the computer age. Over a few tens of years those rare monster computers have now been reduced to a wallet-sized commonplace, the same should be so for the four-year degree, and Google can do it, Google should do it: a Harvard-quality undergraduate education on an ipod, while sipping espresso.

It is entirely conceivable that libraries, book stores and coffee houses could offer degrees of their own using the lectures purchased and digitized by Google. Grading could easily be out-sourced inexpensively, done by professional graders in Bangalore or Beijing. After all, as Thomas Friedman made clear, the world really is flatter than we like to imagine. (Where do you think H&R Block sends overflow tax forms, Kansas? Not really.) Outsourcing grading to third party graders in Asia, would have the additional benefit of helping to eliminate grade inflation, since graders would have no professional incentive to please students with padded grades in order to keep their jobs.

"Google University on YouTube at Starbucks in Barnes and Nobles," would not only reduce the cost of education to students, the competition between professors to produce the best lectures would create vastly superior lectures, and the competition between for-profit institutions in order to attract students would produce vastly better outcomes for students, and therefore would even help American corporations, like Google itself, who need highly competent employees.

Please call me or write me or email me if you would like to discuss this further, or if you think I might be of help. If I keep writing things like this, the tenure thing may not really be as bullet proof as I am hoping; so I may soon REALLY need that job.

Sincerely Yours,
Associate Professor Carmine
(Free Agent Philosophy Professor; Professor Without Borders)
Associate Professor of Philosophy

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Thank God For Radical Islam!

I know this is wrong on so many levels I cannot even begin to count them, but yes, as a Post Post-Modern Baby Boomer American philosopher, fed up with the lisping sighing prattle of delicate liberals and equally nauseated by the strident delusions of hell-fire Buchananites and his perpetually pissed off puritanical brethren all waiting to gloat when the rapture comes, I am oddly glad we are being forced to awaken from our cushy American delusions. Screw the rapture and screw the abortionists. This is tectonic. Fantasies about Wal-Mart, the glass ceiling, flat tax and gay pride, are not really much of a problem when you take a slightly broader view. Radical Islam has been pounding at the door for awhile, and we all really should have awakened from our dogmatic slumbers. Ladies and Gentlemen, Disney Land, and Harvard, will now be closing. Please return to the starry heavens above and the moral law within. This is the time for authentic philosophers and theologians to put down their otiose academic games and take gainful employment saving Western rights-based democracies. Liberals and Conservatives need not apply; you can keep on dreaming of social workers and heaven.

Yes, the radical Islamists really do want to kill us, and the moderate Muslims, much like the Catholics, think our consumer culture is perverse which is why neither opposes too forcefully the violent Islamists, so long as they only blow up the icons, residents and proselytizers of the Protestant consumer cultures of America and Europe. And all our fulsome hand wringing and progressive sensibilities will not help us a jot until we actually decide who we are, morally that is. Yes, the big armies of the centuries have finally come out again; it’s the Imams vs. the Popes. The Muslims and the Catholics, who together speak for nearly 4 billion people (more people than ten USA’s), are now getting ready to go head to head again. And this time it is not at all about terrorists killing consumerists. The Muslims, it seems, have also been killing Catholics as Catholics. And these guys each know exactly who they are. They each really have moral clarity, and have had moral clarity for around one-thousand-five-hundred years. We spoiled puritanical Americans are merely their arrogant children; we are the small fry in the big one that is coming. After all, there is not much a few smart bombs or other fancy military toys can do to change the minds of the waves of billions and billions people who are intent on overthrowing Western Culture as their protesting children have recently conceived it. We Americans may have the best guns in the battle but they have the divisions that count. The blunt reality is we really are not the dominant world power we imagine ourselves to be. Their divisions are fully composed of self-guided smart bombs, billions of humans guided by God in heaven above and crystal clear morality within. Our little bombs are only guided by littler satellites. And our nukes have no clear targets. All we really have is Madonna, Fifty Cent and Viacom.

So yes, this certainly is a world war, and do not delude yourself for even a second, this is a world war like no other, this world war is the “World Moral War,” the war for moral clarity on earth. The Pope’s divisions beat the communist military handily, but it is not so clear they will beat the Muslim divisions so easily. And the side with the toughest morality will win this war. And we in the land of complaining Protestants, Busch Gardens and imminent rapture have not got much of a horse in this race, yet. As a consequence, I fear that unless America is willing to define the moral core of liberal democracies we whiners of the Mayflower will be entering a time that will be known as the twilight of liberal democracies. Hume is speaking my fellow philosophers. Muttering in your academic beds, prostrating yourselves for professorship will only leave your children dead. Philosophy is again relevant; the question is whether we philosophers are up to our duty to define a moral order of liberal democracy that can protect us in the moral wars ahead. Be sure, the frame of “warfare” is infinitely more apt than the politically correct frame of “nurturing families” sticky with cotton candy at the amusement park. There is no cotton candy in Mogadishu.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Shaping Abortion in America

Moral Shape, Rights and Abortion: There is No Universal Moral Code

Is the morality of abortion based on a universal moral code? Could any question be more cliché than that? With forests already reduced to paper, and gigawatts of power already spent driving computer screens on this question, it seems little new can possibly be said. Nevertheless, during a recent conversation with Phil Jackson we decided to approach this question from two very separate perspectives with the hope of saying something interesting, if not discovering something new about the nature of morality itself. I will argue the moral significance of any killing be it the killing of a helpless fetus or the killing of an armed terrorist depends upon a moral decision made within the context of a coherent moral system that can only occur within language. These linguistic moral systems are “semiotic moral gestalts.” They are constructions of language that people use to make their decisions about what is right and what is wrong behavior. I use the word “gestalt” because these language systems give shape to our moral reasoning, and they are dynamic structures: they can change into new shapes for moral decision making.

Morality from this perspective, therefore, is dependent not on any material action itself but rather on the meaning of that material action within the context of a coherent moral language. There is no absolute moral code other than the fact that people always depend on moral codes to make their moral decision. In a word, whether or not killing a fetus is morally justified is dependent on language first and action next. Moral culpability is dependent on reasoning and reasoning is dependent on words, as is clear even in the Biblical passage “In the beginning was the Word [Logos] and the Word [Logos] was with God and the Word [Logos] was God.” (John 1:1) As God here speaks the very universe into metaphysical existence, we alone speak human morality into human existence. Mortal humans must write the moral codes. Mortal humans must determine the shape of their moral gestalts using words alone. We may, and many certainly do, look to holy books like the Bible or the Koran to guide us, but in the end we must choose to embrace our moral gestalt so constructed. Even the fundamentalist must choose to structure his moral world by using various biblical passages and ignoring others if he hopes to have a fully coherent moral order. So, those of us who look to God to do the unavoidable human chore of creating moral gestalts betray both God and man.

Killing is death. That is a metaphysical fact. Determining whether or when that killing is immoral or morally justifiable is a dizzying, inescapable and wholly human duty. God does not lay morality at our feet, we must create it. Morality is not a discovery; it is simply one more trembling invention of imperfect humans. Determining good and bad behavior requires us to use words and logic – Logos -- to create moral reasoning systems the best we can. So, no; there is not a universal moral code. There is not any quadratic moral equation from which to derive good behavior with algebraic certainty. There is no mathematical moral certainty. There are only strong moral codes that withstand the pressures we place upon them, and dangerously weak moral codes that crumble beneath those who depend on them for guidance, law and life itself. Human survival depends on moral codes as surely as we need food and shelter. The moral codes of a people allow those people to function as a unified yet dynamic human community. No moral code, no community. No community, no life. Most troubling for us however, is that no moral code is so sturdy that it does not require vigilance to keep it in place. There is no moral code entirely impervious to sedition, subversion, infection and terror. There is no moral code that cannot be undermined by moral invasion or antagonistic moral jihad. As buildings crumble, so too do semiotic moral gestalts. Wars waged against people’s moral codes are no less destructive to those people than wars of bullets, bombs and beheadings. In fact, at present I worry more about the moral terrorism waged against us by radical Islam than about the death of my self or my countrymen. The death of a man does not destroy a nation, but the destruction of a nation’s moral order, even without the death of a single soul, may easily annihilate a nation, regardless of how mighty.

This is the crux of my argument: We are responsible for creating our moralities, and we too are responsible for protecting them. There is no divinely ordained universal moral order, no God’s code of right and wrong. And that is why when our nation was being built, so too was our national moral order being designed. The shape of American morality, our rights-based semiotic moral gestalt, was born alongside our nation itself. Both are mortal, both are vulnerable.

The immorality of abortion then is not divinely ordained, nor is it a universal moral fact. All morality is dependent on many individual wills choosing similarly, or in harmony, in the face of uncertainty and confusion. So, although killing a fetus is not an absolute evil in the way that it is an absolute truth that all triangles have three sides; the extraordinary liberality of abortion in America is certainly subversive to our cultural morality. Yes, when our culture embraces death with such ease this is evidence that our moral foundation is being undermined. It illustrates our perverse growing national tendency to trump life with pleasure. It points to our growing disdain for family in favor of communalism, perhaps even communism. These are dangers that surely ought to be resisted. But to outlaw abortion, I’m afraid, would be similarly subversive.

To make abortion universally illegal would run afoul of the same moral principles that would make a state mandated religion subversive, or the outlawing of guns subversive. The very natural rights developed to give us maximum individual liberty are the natural rights that led inexorably to legalized abortion. So, legalized abortion is entirely consistent with our moral gestalt. What is subversive, as we will see, is the notion that killing a fetus is an entitlement for those who desire it. Abortion is not, nor could it be, an entitlement within the American moral gestalt that also allows legalized abortion.

Natural rights morality is the supreme example of a human-made moral gestalt. It arose for the first time during the Enlightenment. However, simply because the Enlightenment philosophers and the framers of the United States Constitution used the language of God, does not demonstrate that these much-cherished, foundational, inalienable, human rights, really are God-given natural rights! Natural rights are the invention of people and perhaps the most beautiful intellectual edifice ever devised by man, but they are certainly not the Tablets of Moses. Man gives man the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty and Estates.

So let’s now look at how abortion fits in our natural rights moral gestalt. If we accept the notion of inalienable natural rights then we must simultaneously recognize that these rights are not entitlements. After all my right to Life, Liberty and Estates means I get to keep them, and I do not have to give them to others, who through misfortune or mere sloth need some of my life, liberty or estates. My life is mine, and the liberty that my life provides me allows me to accumulate private property. All that I have issues from my personal industry. You may be starving or dying, but that does not allow you to make a claim against my rights any more than I could make a claim against your rights. This is not to suggest we ought not to care for the less fortunate, but we ought to do so either from a generous heart, or enlightened self-interest, but certainly not because of mere government coercion.

The job of government, within this moral gestalt, is to protect our individual rights from intruders and thieves both outside and inside our borders. The role of government is to maximize our individual liberty, not the redistribution of anyone’s liberty or life or property. Such coerced charity by the government is tantamount to theft. Now that does not mean coerced giving to the needy is never justified, but that justification depends upon whether or not those coerced into giving are themselves helped by their giving. The coerced feeding of the poor, educating of the ignorant, caring for the indigent can only be justified when it is done to protect those whose liberty and industry was transformed into that property taxed. My taxes paid must help me; my taxes paid are paid indirectly to myself, for they are paid to protect my liberty. Yes, my taxes mean I work at least one full day a week for others, but if by so doing my taxes protect my own liberty, my government may reasonably force me to pay taxes for the support of others. Well fed, well educated and healthy people are less likely to harm myself and my family. From this perspective, the notion of an entitlement is a misnomer. Others are not entitled to take my rights from me through mandatory taxation; rather I am required to maximize my liberty by helping those who would otherwise harm me and educate those who would otherwise give little to the advancement of my goals as a member of my moral community. To be forced to subsidize the public education of another’s child is arguably a direct benefit to me. This point is crucial to Locke’s Second Treatise.

Granted I have left out many aspects of our rights based liberal democratic morality, from military requirements to enforcement of contracts to protection from economic exploitation and so forth, but essential to a rights based democratic moral gestalt is that the primary duty of the government is to protect the individual liberty that issues from individual life. The government protects our right to pursue happiness as we please so long as our pursuit does not infringe on the liberty or life of another. However, our government is under no duty to protect us from the unfairness of nature, unless that protection is a protection for all. If I am walking down the street and unexpectedly it begins to pour, the government is not obligated to provide me with an umbrella. I can of course be taxed to support a nationalized insurance program if I vote for it. Insurance is an odd case where one freely pays in with the clear wish that he may lose all he puts in. For by losing one wins, and by winning one must lose when it comes to purchasing insurance. Although I hope never to collect on my health, home or auto insurance, I freely buy these hoping that at worse I will only subsidize someone else’s misfortune and not my own. A nationalized health insurance program or other social service programs would be justifiable only if those forced to pay into these programs do so in order to help themselves, even if they never received a dime back. Those forced to pay, must also have agreed upon that enforcement through the democratic process. Within the semiotic moral gestalt of a rights-based democracy, we choose the laws that bind us.

Legal abortions, as well as armed madmen, are both, perhaps the unintended, but entirely consistent consequences of our rights-based democratic moral gestalt. Let me use a variation of an analogy used by Judith Jarvis Thompson to make the point. If it is a hot day and I leave the front door of my house open to cool it off, and I then go upstairs to take a nap, if an intruder has moved in during my nap I have the right to evict him even though I was a fool for leaving open my door. After all it is my house and no one has the right to move into my house without my explicit permission to serve as a contract. In other words, if I have not entered into some variety of a contract with this interloper he has no claim against my right to my property and my liberty. Out he goes. And, if he will not leave of his own volition, I can call the police to evict him. And even if he dies during that eviction his unfortunate death is not my moral responsibility.

Now, imagine again, I leave my door open and this time someone moves in during my nap, and he has attached himself to my piano with an odd variety of explosive collar that cannot be removed for nine month. If I, or anyone else, remove the collar prior to nine months in order to evict him the collar will explode, blow his head off, and make a terrible mess of my living room in the process. So, do I have the right to evict him? To do so will certainly mean he will be killed, and my home will be damaged, even if only slightly. This is analogous to an abortion. The fetus must die and the mother may be harmed. If only I had not listened to my natural inclination to be cooled off when I was so hot none of this would have happened. If only I had not been such a fool. But I did, and I was, and now he is attached to my piano. Can I evict him now? Well the answer is certainly yes, based on my natural rights: yes I can evict him even though he will die. Too bad, so sad, oh what a mess. His death and my suffering are both unintended consequence of my enforcement of my inalienable rights to liberty and property. My intent was never to kill him, but merely to have my home back to myself.

Those who would argue my stupidity would in some fashion require I leave him attached to my piano for nine months, would be stuck with the position of saying stupid people lose their rights to liberty and property. Remember, I did not ask him to come in; so I have no contractual obligation to him once he has. But no one, who embraces a rights-based moral gestalt, would accept that. If my car is stolen because I leave it running while I amble into the convenience store that remains grand theft auto despite the fact that I am simultaneously a grand fool.

In conclusion, even horrid or foolish behavior that leads to unwanted pregnancy does not eliminate the rights of the woman who is acting horridly or foolishly. Of course, the argument could be made that sex is in some fashion a tacit contract with the potential fetus, but this would make little sense, since the very essence of a contract is that all contractors have knowingly entered into that contract, and neither a potential fetus nor the guardian of a potential fetus applies here. There is simply no one to contract with prior to conception. Now, we could simply eliminate the rights of reckless women and men and force them to bare all their children so conceived. But now we would be forced out of consistency to eliminate the rights of all foolish door owners in favor of industrious thieves. Appealing door, bad lock; he broke in, his property now. This is precisely the problem we face with abortion. It is not whether or not there is a universal moral code that makes abortion immoral, rather it is a matter of what moral code one is absolutely committed to. What moral semiotic gestalt shapes your moral world? That is the bigger question.

Nevertheless, as a sort of post script, this argument also makes it clear why the bizarre notion that a woman is entitled to an abortion if she wants it is simply inane. No one is entitled to make a claim against anyone if they have not entered into some mutual contractual agreement. Personally, if you get pregnant through legal sexual activity, and you did not want to, I hope you, yourself, have made the appropriate arrangements to take care of this. I certainly do not want my tax money wasted subsidizing debauchery when it could be vastly better spent, vastly more in my interest, creating successful non-union public education. Remember, your pursuit of happiness is never on my dime, nor mine on yours. At least that is what we who hold absolutely to the moral code of natural rights would say.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Appeasing Fascists: Mussolini's or Muslim's

Islamist fascism and Mussolini’s fascism are more alike than most expect.

“The fascist conception of life is a religious one, in which man is viewed in his immanent relation to a higher law, endowed with an objective will transcending the individual and raising him to conscious membership in a spiritual society. Those who perceive nothing beyond opportunistic considerations in the religious policy of the fascist regime fail to realize that fascism is not only a system of government but also above all a system of thought.” Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism

“Fascism sees in the world not only those superficial material aspects in which man appears as an individual, standing by himself, self centered, subject to natural law which instinctively urges him toward a life of selfish momentary pleasure; it sees not only the individual but the nation and the country; individual and generations bound together by a moral law, with common traditions and a mission which, suppressing the instinct for life closed in a brief circle of pleasure, builds up a higher life, founded on duty, a life free from the limitations of time and space, in which the individual by self-sacrifice, the renunciation of self interest, by death itself can achieve that purely spiritual existence in which his value as a man consists.” Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism

"The conception is therefore a spiritual one, arising from [a] general reaction of the century against … flaccid materialistic positivism….” Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism

“The State, as conceived of and as created by fascism, is a spiritual and moral fact in itself, since its political, juridical, and economic organization of the nation is a concrete thing: and such an organization must be in its origins and development a manifestation of the spirit.” Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism

Fascism, among other things, entails a state transformed into a religion conjoined with a commitment to the utter abnegation of the individual, and particularly the individual will. The fascist is never an individual, but always a connected tentacle of some Holy-yet-earthly State, and infused with that State’s generalized yearning to annihilate all those individual heretics in opposition to the religiosity of that State. All who are not tethered to that fascist State must therefore either die or soon become tethered.

Jews, Conservative Christians and free market, individualistic, Americans, however, are not easily tethered to the state itself as God. We believe in individual autonomy rather than divine coercion. We, or at least we who have not been gulled into the despair of the Reductionist Liberals -- for whom all morality, beauty and even divinity are merely manifestations of social and psychological determinism– we conservatives are optimists. And we still embrace Liberal Democracy, which is to say we conservatives still believe in a free will. We who remain the unabashed enemies of fascism continue to believe in real choice, the choice of good and the choice of sin. We embrace the will rather than hate it. And that is what today’s fascists despise about Liberal Democracies, what they despise about you and me: we conservative members of Liberal Democracies embrace free will and thus we embrace creativity materialized via free enterprise.

Today’s fascists on the other hand, who, this time around also happen to be Arab Islamists rather than German or Italian Christians, hate the will. They reject the individual’s ability to create the beautiful and the craven. For the fascist the will of the State is identical to the will of the individual. And today’s Islamist fascists, like their fascist forefathers would be more than pleased to convert us to their State will or kill us in order to crush our individual free will, the human essence we in Liberal Democracies still hold so dear.

So the fascist state is not merely fundamentalist. Though fundamentalism may be a necessary condition for fascism, fundamentalism is certainly not a sufficient condition for fascism. Many who are fundamentalists are neither fascist nor dangerous nor even particularly frightening. Fundamentalist Christians, for example, believe the rest of us wrong, but they also believe we could choose to be right, if only we would. Born again Christians hold free will so dear, in fact, they even hold themselves individually responsible for their own birth. So, coerced submission to God is utterly rejected by fundamentalist Christians. Coerced love of God is equally rejected by fundamentalist Jews, and likely even by most fundamentalist Muslims.

“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things.” [Al-Qur’an 2:256]

Yet more important, coerced submission, like coerced love, is utterly antithetical to Liberal Democracies including the theistic people, agnostic people and even atheistic people, thriving within Liberal Democracies.

Fascism, on the other hand, is herd morality opposed to individual liberty. All is coercion. All is submission: love, morality, obedience, religion and death. And the genocide of those heretical peoples, like the Jews, who refuse to be coerced, the destruction of those horrid people, like the Jews, who in any way admire the creativity of individual will is an absolute good for fascists. The fascist must crush the individual will and all who stand for the freedom of the individual will. For those who are opposed to the coerced religion of this fascist state, the Islamic fascist State, are those who also oppose the spirit of the Islamic fascist’s holiest of holies: the mystical melding of Man and God into the State.

Those who are opposed to this fascist world view, however, those who embrace individual freedoms including, if not especially, the freedom of speech and the freedom of the marketplace of ideas and things must oppose this.

So I agree with how conservatives frame this war. We are at war with Islamist fascists. But we are not at war with Muslim fundamentalists. This is rather a war between Liberal Democracies and a new oppressive variety of fascism. We are in a war to protect the freedom of the individual will from the coercion of the state. This is a war to allow each of us within all the families of Liberal Democracy to pursue the maximum creativity of our individual wills and let the fruits of our creativity whither or grow freely in the marketplace of ideas and things. This truly is the war of Liberal Democracy against the infinite despair of fascist theocratic reductionism. This is a war that brooks no appeasement by the despairing.

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Democratic Party is the Mental Illness Party

Though the cliché is that the Democrats need some big ideas, that they “need to stand for something”. This is actually false. The Democratic Party clearly does stand for something: they stand for the meek notion that psychotherapy and social psychology ought to be the engines behind all public policies. Arthur Brooks even appeals to psychologists to diagnose Republicans as once humorless whiney children. In a word, the Democratic Party has become the party of therapeutic intervention, whereas the Republican Party has become the party of moral and political philosophy. And in light of the Democratic Party’s recent history of political failure, if they genuinely want to change the course of American politics and maybe even win a few elections they probably ought to reject the false gods of psychology, psychotherapy, and all other permutations of such un-testable ultra-soft sciences. Freud, after all, is dead, and DSM diagnoses by committee are absurd by any measure.

Certainly liberal democracies, in the Jeffersonian and Lockean sense, tend to be skeptical of fundamentalist religious doctrines, but liberal democracies nevertheless run contrary to the Democrats’ psychological and sociological notions of accidental sin. To sin, in a true liberal democracy, requires the intent to sin. Republicans sin, plenty. Democrats never do. To sin requires a lapse of reason and a sense of individual honor diminished. Not so for the Democratic Party. For Democrats sin is impossible, there is only mental illness and social despair.

America however is a liberal democracy, and Americans like to be honored for their freely chosen actions. We relish our ability to sin or not to sin, on purpose. We cherish our individual ability to change, even to revolt, if need be. We hold dear that our personal development of character is our individual responsibility and, more importantly, we take pride in our character so developed. We like the notion that we each must make ourselves into the people we will become. Americans, members of a liberal democracy as described by Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man,thrive on their pursuit of Platonic thumos.

Thumos is generally translated as “spiritedness” or the passion of one’s heart for just honor. But it is clearly meant by Plato as the intermediary component of our distinctly human psyche, between animal appetite and human reason. The human psyche loves with progressive sophistication: we love first with our stomachs, then with our hearts and ultimately with our reason. Thumos is that amalgam of reasonably directed passion for personal recognition that drives the guardians of Plato’s Republic to want to fulfill their civic function precisely, honorably. Thumos then seems best understood as one’s personal desire for honor and glory in good accomplishments. There is no mystery that the recognition one receives for a job well done, the social recognition that brings about justifiable pride of accomplishment appeals to our sense of thumos.

We want to succeed. As Fukuyama points out, we “struggle for recognition.” We yearn to be honored for our success. And we actively pursue the glory of a success that is earned. Yet, as Plato describes, the truly just individual recognizes that reason must guide thumos, and thumos must in turn guide appetite. Thumos is then the goal of appetitive desire, and yet thumos without the guidance of reason would be but tyrannical. No just soul wants mere glory; for the love for glory is but a transitory instrument for winning justifiable honor from those whose reason we truly respect. In the end we love the Good beyond even the chest satiated with thumos. The Democratic Party, however, has abandoned this spirited pursuit of honor, thumos. Whereas, at root the American psyche is Platonic, the Democratic Party’s psyche is a Freudian inversion.

Democrats have placed appetite ahead of reason and conceived of reason as a pleading child before a cold patriarchal judge envisioned as some variety of super-ego-induced conscience. So, one must resign oneself to be a Democrat. One must resign one’s self to discontent within civilization. For the Democrats there are imagined giants in our souls like the imagined Anakim (Deut 1:28) that scared Moses into the desert for yet 40 more years. Psychological determinism cannot be beaten; there is no Promised Land of liberty for today’s Democrats, only sighing and recrimination and never ending sacrifice to sociological determinism. To be a Democrat, as they conceive of themselves, requires resignation to the plight of having a socially induced, socially-designed, insurmountable psychology. We are individually helpless. Each of us is but the outcome of the consequences of the forces of history and politics upon our frail bodies and minds. The Democratic Party is the party of Fukuyama’s “Last Man,” that pathetic, shameless, pride less, genderless “person”. These are the “men without chests” (p.11) for whom resolving their socially induced mental illnesses are the only telos (function) left for their forlorn psyches. That is why sadness haunts Democrats so. Their sadness is their last delight.

Reason, for the Democrat, has been reduced to a little ego navigating between the giants of Superego and Id. Their religion of social psychology thus undermines both authentic individual thumos and thereby individual moral character as well. For the Democrat there is no just pursuit of honor, no true thumos, merely a punitive psychosocial conscience and the requisite symptoms their quasi-scientists call ”ego defenses,” neuroses and mental illnesses. And so long as the Democratic Party continues their faithful embrace of their religion of psychology and the concomitant rejection of individual autonomy and individual pride that comes with autonomy, the Democratic Party will remain a party resigned to mental illness over moral autonomy.

On the other hand, so long as Republicans refrain from descending into the social science quagmire and remain true to the big ideas of political and ethical philosophy -- the perennial big ideas of the West -- Republicans will, over time, continue to defeat the psychological ideologies of the Democrats. The ideas of philosophers like Plato, Locke, and Mill are timeless and pertinent. The trendy ideas of psychologists like Freud, Skinner and neophyte Gilligan have all become laughable anachronisms in but decades or less after their arrival.

The psychological despair of the Democratic Party became palpable for me in October 1991 during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Even as a pro-choice Democrat, I agreed with soon to be Justice Thomas that the Democrats were using Anita Hill as the rope for their “high-tech lynching.” During those hearings the Democratic Party had become something terrifying. This was not the party of individual freedom, as I had supposed. This was the party of paternalism. The Democratic Party had become the Mental Illness Party. They had given up reasoned morality in favor of deception on behalf of mental health. Anita Hill had allowed herself to be convinced that her mental health had been harmed by her brief time working with Clarence Thomas. Her bizarre pubic-hair-on-the-Coke-can story is akin to the sort of unverifiable recovered-memory hogwash psychotherapists regularly evoke and have often used to destroy the lives of innocent men and women.

During the Clarence Thomas hearings it became clear the Democrats had replaced reasoned argument with a dangerous new attachment to the paternalism of psychotherapy. Psychotherapists easily justify both lying and coercion when they deem lying and coercion in the patient’s best interest. For the Democratic Party, Americans had become psychiatric patients. Moral intentionality had been usurped by mental illness. This was not merely a strategy for the Democrats: they bought it. To make their case during the Clarence Thomas hearings, Democrats brought a seething, mentally anguished, downright bizarre Anita Hill to testify. The Republicans brought legal scholars. At that point I became a Republican.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Oh Well, Boys Will be Girls

Essential Problems of Boys and Girls

The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men by Christina Hoff Sommers uncovers, again, the intentional misuse of statistics by gender feminists like Carol Gilligan.

The problem with gender and sexual essentialisms is not whether or not there are essential differences between men and women, males and females. Certainly there are. The problem is the politics of determining the relative social value of these essential differences between the sexes. The problem is whether or not essential biological differences lead to essential differences between woman-people and man-people that lead to some people being presumed essentially better than others.

If there are essential differences, the erroneous presumption made by gender feminists is that individual woman-people must be better at some things than individual man-people and vice versa. If essential differences between man-people and woman-people do exist then change is impossible for individuals, since the differences between woman-people and man-people are essential, like oxygen is essential to water and chlorine is essential to salt. And for the majority of human history essentialism has, in fact, been used to relegate individual women to a diminished social status. So gender feminists have every reason to be paranoid about essentialisms that may diminish women's social value. It is better to misrepresent essentialism, to the detriment of innocent boys, than take the risk of being intellectually honest.

The problem of gender feminists' misrepresentation of essentialism is also one of degree. They wildly exaggerate essential differences. If woman-people are essentially different than man-people, the reality is that these differences are relatively minor and only show up statistically. The entire lunacy of the essentialism debate, as alluded to by Christina Hoff Sommers', The War Against Boys, hinges on an intentional misrepresentation of individuals as identical with the groups into which individuals are categorized. Certainly the gender categories of “man” and “woman” include many individuals who fit into these categories by definition alone. We need merely think of the difficulty of categorizing trans-gendered people to see how tenuous the man-people and woman-people categories can become.

According to anthropologist Lionel Tiger, as quoted by Sommers, “Biology is not destiny, but it is a good statistical probability.” (89) As a consequence the exaggerated essentialisms of Carol Gilligan and Sigmund Freud are more likely influenced by politics of power and gender dominance than scientifically responsible observations and statistics. For Gilligan, women are caring and men are not. For Freud, men’s fear of castration and women’s lack of that fear make men more morally astute. For both Gilligan and Freud the fanciful unobservable superego, as formed through the unique psycho-sexual development of boys and girls, is the essential cause of boys’ or girls’ moral superiority over the other. For Gilligan, boys have cooties; for Freud, girls do.

The essentialisms of socio-biologist E.O. Wilson and once-Harvard-president Lawrence Summers, on the other hand, are statistical essences discovered by finding small patterns of variation between woman-people and man-people, culled from vast numbers of unique individuals, some of whom likely did not fit neatly into either category. Statistically speaking, testosterone laden individuals pursue advanced engineering degrees more frequently than estrogen laden individuals, and estrogen laden individuals pursue PhD’s in literature more often than testosterone laden individuals do. But clearly there are many men and women in both fields. Men never get pregnant. Women do. But many men make great stay at home mothers and many women do not. Statistically however, women mostly mother and men mostly do not.

So, though morphology is not destiny, male morphology certainly does provide an additional, and obvious, modicum of comfort when micturating in the woods. But that miniscule Freudian reality is not really enough to drive the gender-feminist pedagogy of Carol Gilliganians. To protect girls from the imagined horrors of masculinity, according to Sommers, paranoid gender feminists are intentionally mis-educating boys to become girls in all ways possible. Oh well, boys will be girls.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Betrayal in the Humanities Requires Student Bill of Rights

I have been a philosophy professor for about 27 years. In a nutshell David Horowitz is right. We absolutely do need a Student Bill of Rights to ensure not just academic freedom but reasonable discourse in general. As things are, with the ever-growing strength of Relativist Studies and all its permutations, the steady march forward of scientifically dubious Psychologies, and the leftist propaganda implicit in Service Learning curricula, PC hokum now tends to squelch logic and reasonable discourse on just about any day in the hallowed halls of the Humanities, in particular, and throughout the University in general. The more interesting question, though, is how this came to be.

My sense is it occurred when Humanities professors -- Philosophy, Literature and History in particular -- abdicated their professional responsibility to teach and analyze great works on their own terms and began instead to yearn for the prestige they imagined to exist in the Social Sciences. Suddenly we in the Humanities wanted to be scientists too, albeit pseudo-scientists, but scientists nonetheless. After Marx, Nietzsche and Freud had proclaimed that philosophy is praxis, God is dead, and morality is merely sublimation, we foolishly lost our way. After World War II, up until the advent of the PC revolution of the 1970’s, the discipline of Philosophy, for example, had been reduced in most American universities to the analytic logic chopping of moral arguments, existential/phenomenological bewilderment and the spinning of Aristotelian metaphysical arguments for theologians in a godless world. All real social advancement appeared to be happening in the Sciences, even the limping Social Sciences.

These were times of despair for the Humanities: “Why couldn’t we be scientists like the Psychologists and Sociologists?” we wondered. Then from the Social Sciences came structuralism which allowed us in the Humanities to analyze all books in the context of linguistic structures rather than in terms of what they actually said. But better was on the horizon. As if by magic, our final salvation arrived in the form of post-Freudian/post-structuralist/post-modernism. All books were now magically transformed into “texts” and all texts were meta-texts. Beyond all odds, we now believed we had been deigned “scientists”. The world had become our oyster. Old Humanities had entered the game again and become a new branch of Science: SUBJECTIVIST Science. And we had some serious science work to do. In our newly deigned scientific minds, Humanities departments would root out all those silent social diseases. We would cure academia of the heartbreak of Phallo-logo-centrist, patriarchal, post-colonial, marginalizing oppressive LATE CAPITALISM. Oh yes, now that we in the Humanities were scientists too (even if only in our own minds), by golly, we were going to change some things. And we did.

We teamed up with the Social Sciences and together became the self-officiated doctors and subjectivist scientists of social disorder. The 70’s, 80’s and 90’s had become heady times in the rebirth of Humanities. Anything could be science so long as we said it was. Since Knowledge itself was now defined as a cultural artifact, we believed we could even reject objective science itself in the name of our subjectivist scientific demonstrations of the oppressiveness of objective science to marginalized peoples and underrepresented genders. Now we in the Humanities, with the mercenary aid we had received from Psychology the limping sister of Biology, could define and then enforce standards of mental and social health by our own dialogical methods. Even more important, with the patina of Psychology we then began to enforce those standards through the strength of the designation of Humanities as a sort of cultural “science.” Now, in the Humanities, we too could diagnose social disease and discover new truths about poverty and gender. As self-designated post-modern scientists we in the Humanities could now find and define oppressed people any way we chose.

No longer would we even have to read mere books. Oh no, not nearly science-y enough for us, now that we joined forces with the Social Sciences. We would now deconstruct “texts” with our new found voice. And as we worked our way into administrative positions we soon would be able to dominate the very means of truth determination in the University. We would soon even try to use our special subjective post-modern science to squelch objective science. After all now we subjectivist scientists were the only scientists who had this new specialized ability to diagnose any text, every text, any thought, every thought with some variety of mental/social illness.
We in the Humanities had deified and begun to shamelessly worship the Social Sciences. As a consequence Humanities professors gave up reading and struggling with great books in order to gasp the ideas actually written within them. Now actual grasping content and engaging in pointed reasonable arguments about meaning and morality could be replaced by academic shunning, drive-by psychoanalysis and the shrill ad hominem invective of paltry Humanities faculty striving to keep their newfound spot in their newly developed PC illusion of a social science.
Once all books had been replaced by “texts,” we too could imagine we were in the scientific business of textual analysis rather than our authentic professions of reading, writing and arguing about new ideas based on a strong appreciation of our heritage. We in the Humanities had silently given up the free exchange of ideas in order to protect our new fantasy that we had the same sorts of inflexible truths we mistakenly imagined the real scientists to have. But unlike real science where every hypothesis and every theory is only true insofar as it is as of yet unfalsified, we in the Humanities became intellectual fascists. Our absolute adherence to our favored ideologies was beyond mere objective truth. Our favored ideologies were subjectively true. Coercive dialogue had replaced honest dialectic. Disagreement was anathema. We now felt the truth, we loved the truth and no argument could convince us otherwise. “Truth” in the Humanities had become the allegiance to the group, and was determined by the group to which our allegiance was bound. The Humanities, as it attempted to transform itself into a species of Social Science, had become no less than an extremist religion. And like every extremist religion the Humanities became oppressive, dangerous and utterly self deceived. Rather than pointing out the incoherent confusion that oozes from the social sciences, or attacking the Social Sciences for their paltry presumptions, we in the Humanities allied ourselves with the Social Sciences. In so doing we betrayed our students and our genuine professions. We in the Humanities are, if nothing else, the guardians of our culture, and when we became to be the PC hit squad for the Social Scientists we betrayed the 4,000 years of Western culture entrusted to us.

Still, I remain an optimist. The inexorable pitiless hand of real economic forces guarantees a change is on the horizon for the foppish presumptions of the PC Humanitarians. That one real Social Science will pay us our just deserts. PC will disappear once the students who have to pay about $200,000 for a four-year degree begin to choose not to pay the salaries of the PC black shirts by rejecting notoriously PC institutions in favor of intellectually honest colleges and universities. When the PC pushers got their degrees they could work a summer job to pay for it. Not that many of them did. But they easily could have. Not so now. My students know this, and they become less and less patient with PC hokum when they look at their astronomical debt and realize that as they listen hour after hour about phallologocentrism, post-colonialism, victim feminism, and the patriarchy that this enlightened discourse is costing them around... at 120 credits or 40 classes for a BA degree, with about 36 actual teacher-contact hours per course per semester… oh $2.31 per minute!

I am certain PC Colleges and Universities across the nation are soon to get a real-life lesson in economics and it won't be altogether Marxist. $2.31 per minute for PC bullying is a bit more than the pathetic students the PC professors have deemed mentally/socially ill are going to pay. Either we in our fields stop the PC nonsense on our own, or Humanities departments will simply disappear as those students who actually suffer to pay for our armchair indulgences as well as our homes simply stop buying our product.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What are you? Some Kind of Atheist?!

Yes I am some kind of an atheist. I am a skeptic. I simply do not hear the seductive songs of any gods these days. I have become wonderfully deaf to the myriad siren voices of our pop-pantheon: Neo-Marxism, Political Correctitude-ism, Gender Feminism, DSMIV-ism, even Neo-Conservatism. I also no longer hear the grand deep baritone of that big old daddy God: the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

I am that kind of atheist who found that where ever there is God-talk there are people with power lording that power over others they either pity or disdain. When I hear God-talk I tend to hear more clearly these others, the unloved ones. And there are always the others. They are the outsiders and the uninvited. When I hear God-talk I hear those who just don’t get it -- I hear the other-minded, the other-sided the other-others. I hear the bad people, the demonized people. I hear those who either must be helped with this god, or must be crushed with this god’s blessings. That is the kind of atheist I am. I don’t hear the call of these gods. I really am one of those men who just don’t get it. Anita Hill and N.O.W. I just don’t get it one little bit, but I certainly do understand it.

Atheism is often misrepresented as a faith in the non-existence of God. That is not the sort of atheism I embrace. It is not a faith, and I am not a faithful atheist. Rather, I am an atheist who accepts that, as a human being, I have unavoidable and periodic mystical experiences of the infinitude of the universe and a periodic awesome feeling that I, as a smidgen among smidgens, somehow fit within this awesome infinitude. I am, I know, going to be all right regardless of how it all goes, including my own death and the death of all that I love. I also know and accept that all I love will, in time, be lost.

This is mysticism, yes, but it is not evidence that there is some entity named "God." For my mystical experience is an internal emotion. And there is no evidence that my internal emotion correlates to anything externally real at all. The point is, "God" is a name that only names human desires, human confusion, and human hopefulness. "God" simply does not name anything beyond us humans. But does this mean we know all there is? Of course not. Does this mean our brains, grand as they seem to us, can grasp that which is beyond our grasp? Not at all, that is a contradiction.

Still, God-talk remains people talk. So my atheism simply means God-talk is empty talk, and what is, is, and if what is, is something one might actually name, it is beyond us, and it certainly would not answer to “God”. Nothing about what is can be reasonably said. What does “God” mean? Nothing. Who does God name? No one. That is atheism.

So, when we feel the mystical nudge of spirituality, that feeling gives us no evidence that "God" refers to anything we can say anything about. “God” refers only to our own personal hopefulness and justifies a concomitant desire to claim a divine right over others who call their personal hopefulness by the innumerable names within their own God-talk: Jesus, Mohammed, Zeus, Yahweh, Om, Isis, Zagreus, Agdistus, Heroin, Money, Atheism.

It is important to note, however, that I reject agnosticism. I know that I know God names nothing and no one. No evidence can be produced that might suddenly force me to believe in God. God does not exist, and 2+2 will never equal 27. I am certain I know God is not the name of the ineffable apophatic mystery, nor is it Ayatollah Khomeini, Pat Robertson, Robert Spitzer, L. Ron Hubbard, Freud, Marx, or even Kim Gandy. People invent God; God does not invent people. The rest is unspeakable.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Long Live South Park

L. Ron Hubbard is Dead, Long Live South Park

Scientology vs. Psychotherapy is truly one of US pop culture’s most delicious ironies. Stealing a phrase from Mark Russell referring to Democrats and Republicans, this really is a case of the “Brain Washed leading the Brain Dead.” In Politics however it is hard to determine who is which. In the war of these two dominant US pop religions, Scientology and Psychotherapy, it is clear that the, uh well, perhaps it is not too clear which is which here either. Both could be as easily the brain dead or the brain washed and likely each is both. Clearly the brain disorders of scientology and psychotherapy are equally pseudo-scientific responses to the death of God that has been troubling the West since Nietzsche made that proclamation just prior to the twentieth century.

The death of God in the West is an historical fact. But it is not at all a statement about the existence of God. Whether or not God exists is a mystery beyond human certainty. But the death of God is a factual certainty about Western Culture. By the beginning of the twentieth century God was nowhere to be found in any advanced thought outside of theology and to a lesser degree philosophy. God is nowhere a part of any legitimate science. Simultaneously the beginning of the twentieth century marks a period of genocide like nothing the West could ever have imagined. This is exactly why Nietzsche’s proclamation was so trenchant.

Nietzsche warned us that the death of God was the beginning of a period of nihilism that would sweep across Europe. And it did just that: From the mass killing of the Armenian genocide through the horrors of Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot, no less than 100 million human beings had been systematically annihilated in the name of the post-god religions. Our twenty-first century lunatic ululating murderers seem pretty tame by the standards of the twentieth century. Of course the twenty-first century is young, and Islamo-fascism is just beginning to build momentum so who knows. Maybe Wahabist stupidity may turn out to be the genocidal equal of Marxism or Nazism. When God is dead perhaps not actually anything is possible but wholesale genocide seems certain.

Nevertheless, I find sheer pleasure in the conflict between psychobabble and Thetan babble. Both scientology and psychotherapy, like communism and for that matter PC feminism, are post-god religions. Thetans Thetans everywhere and not a drop of sense. Thychotherapy and Thientology. Yes it is the new Yahweh Superego vs. the new evil Prophet Xenu. But lest one thinks this comparison specious, merely remember both varieties of babble refer to the influence of past lives on present lives. Freud and his followers in numerous works ground the Oedipus complex in the pre-historic Primal Scene. Yes indeedy when man was young, according to Freud et al, the sons got together murdered and ate the Primal Father in order to have primal Mom and her daughters. And this remains the source of our difficult object relations around Mommy and Daddy. As Freud writes in The Ego and the Id we inherit past unconscious memories. In L. Ronny land there is the Xenu incident and various other horrible events from our past, the memory of which we genetically inherit, and for all but the most enlightened Thetans, like all but the most enlightened psycho-therapized, these memories remain submerged in, yet again, the Scientologist’s version of the UNCONSCIOUS. Ooo ooo ooo, ghostly weirdness everywhere.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Don't Trust a Baby Boomer

On the Retirement of the First Baby Boomers: Gotcha

When I was sixteen and back from Woodstock I was told never to trust anyone over thirty. We were the Love Generation and they were just too uptight. The Man was about war and death we were – hey man, don’t let that go out—about Love.

That was a mistake. Sure, my parents’ generation yelled at us and spanked us, before my generation defined that as abuse and outlawed it. My parents’ generation also drank highballs too often and smoked cigarettes too much. But even drunk and pre-cancerous they gave us real guidance, real love and real protection from the Nazi’s, the fascists, the Stalinists, the Maoists, and THE BOMB.

Anyone under 30 today, however, who is foolish enough to trust anyone of my Love generation is simply a fool. And that is not a mistake, embarrassing as that may be for me to say. Never trust a Baby Boomer. Really, never do.

We moralizing Baby Boomers have primarily given the generation entrusted to us the joy of victim politics and an enormous price tag for it too. We Boomers standardized divorce, fatherless families, Ritalin, atheism, extortionately priced higher education, inadequate public education, government programs and the pornography net. We Boomers traded traditional religions for armies of social workers, legions of psycho-babblers and innumerable platoons of professionally outraged quasi-militants of all stripes and varieties. But God (who we know does not exist!) knows we Boomers are far from done. We are now working assiduously hard to make sure our kids --YOU-- foot the bill for our Social Security while we make absolutely sure you are not allowed to save for your own social security. Ask AARP their position on allowing Social Security savings plans for you whippersnappers. “No the youth simply are not enlightened enough to save effectively without government aid.”

Perhaps most perfidious, however, we lovey dovey Boomers even gutted the word “love” itself of sacredness. We spent your inheritance moaning endlessly to our therapists about how our parents never told us they “loved” us, until we inevitably reduced “I love you” to a synonym for “Hi,” consequently emptying that once only whispered word of any profound meaning at all. My dad never told me he loved me, and yet I never ever doubted that he did. Had he ever felt forced to say it I would have known his or my own death was immanent.

If you imagine I am overstating things let me describe my academic past, and then tell me if you children of Boomers could have had the luxury I had: When I was an undergraduate I easily earned enough to pay for my college by working a summer job, as a laborer. Could you? When I went to get my Masters Degree, I sold firewood for one year and thereby made enough to complete my second degree, debt free. And you? PhD? Free! Sure, I ran up some college debt. My trips to Italy and Greece and my car and my computer were more expensive than I could afford out of my own money. Could you do this? No, you cannot.

There is no reason for College to cost so much other than the fact that my generation has now begun gouging your generation. And why not? Our parents are dead, and now we only have our kids to carry the burden while we continue to moralize and continue to play the victim on your dime, that is, on your exorbitant school debt.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Pseudo-Religions and Good Religions

1. Tolerance Is Not Relativism

The simple unspoken reality is that all religions are not equally good. Some, in fact, are downright bad. The problem we have as Americans, however, is that our fundamental attachment to tolerance makes it very difficult for us to say so. It pains us to say “You are wrong. This religion is bad.” Ouch! As is always the case our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness.

As a consequence, we typically confuse our absolute adherence to tolerance with relativism. But tolerance is diametrically opposed to relativism. American Tolerance is, thankfully, an inflexible absolutism regarding a single value: The conflict of ideas allows for the advancement of knowledge. And this in fact is the actual crux of our First Amendment. The State favors no religion which means all religions retain equal status only insofar as all, both good and bad, are allowed to enter into the arena of competing religious beliefs and ideas.

The relativist on the other hand presumes that all religions and all ideas are equally good. For the relativist there is no conflict. There is not arena of competing ideas. For the relativist contradiction is rejected. True and false, good and bad are identical. A genuine relativist, for example, would have to say the morality of the wife-burners of rural India is just as good a morality as any other morality. Not so the advocate of tolerance. For the advocate of tolerance that perverse morality would be allowed entry into the arena of ideas, but the utter intolerance of wife burning would lead swiftly to its rejection.

The principle of tolerance is not at all relativism because it allows us to say, “Your religion is wrong, perhaps even bad, but my absolute adherence to tolerance means I will not try to squelch your bad religion. I will however write and speak openly that it is wrong.” We who adhere to tolerance as an absolute value are of the reasonable view, I think, that all people are morally required to tolerate what each of us considers the foolishness of others because each of us requires others tolerate what they may consider our own foolishness. We are also required to argue vigorously against those with whom we disagree. This is an absolute principle, not at all relativistic, and a good absolute principle.

A fool tolerated, however, remains a fool despite our tolerance of his, or our own, foolishness. The only thing the adherent of absolute tolerance cannot tolerate, and must not tolerate, is intolerance, for intolerance is a rejection of our one absolute value: One Must be Tolerant. It is this strict adherence to tolerance that John Stuart Mill had in mind in his essay On Liberty. The marketplace of ideas certainly does not hold all ideas in equal esteem despite the freedom all should have to express them. In fact some ideas are just plain awful, despite the moral requirement that those who hold these awful ideas retain their right to express them.

In a word, we have an absolute right to have bad religions and say stupid things, but it is immoral for us not to allow others their right to have bad religions and say stupid things. So lots of bad religions and stupid things abound in America, and our tolerance of this makes none of it less bad or less stupid.

Paradoxically, our national adherence to the absolute value of tolerance is ultimately what gave rise to the now utterly intolerant PC culture that lurks with its iron fist throughout academia. Political correctness that began with an astute insight that the language of the dominant culture can oppress the speech of those marginalized by the dominant culture, has itself now become a weapon to marginalize and silence any who oppose them. As a consequence the contemporary PC culture of Academe rigidly refuses to tolerate any opposition to its own favored PC parochialisms. I however, intend here to attack this academic parochialism along with numerous others, by simply arguing that some religions are bad, some ideas are bad and yes some people are bad too, and no, they are not all Conservatives or George W. Bush, or even Republicans. Yes, we should tolerate bad religions and their religious ideas to the degree that they tolerate us who hold tolerance dear, but bad religions remain, nevertheless, bad. Third wave Feminism and its PC zealots are clearly members of a bad, downright exclusionary, religion.

The problem of course is by what criterion can a religion, be it P.C.ism or radical Islamism, be judged a bad religion? Certainly a radically exclusionary religion is not a tolerant religion, but neither is a radically tolerant religion necessarily a good religion. A pseudo-religion like scientology is open to any who want to pay to join. On the other hand very exclusionary religions like Orthodox Judaism and Catholicism are for all intents and purposes closed religions; yet, I intend to argue they are good religions. So there must be more than merely whether a religion is open to new members that determines its strength as an authentic religion.

For example, suicidal religions such as the Halle-Bopp-black-Nike wearing castrati of California, the Kool Aid drinking Christians of Jonestown and the Branch Davidians in Waco are clearly examples of pseudo-religions, as are some of our other contemporary extremist Christian, Jewish, Islamist, PC, or Right Wing religions. Bearers of bad fruit all.

2. Spirituality Is No Determinant of Religious Goodness

My late father, a World War II veteran who landed in Normandy, always responded to my religious skepticism with a nod and the simple retort: “Everyone prays like hell once the shooting starts.” With this I entirely agree. Sometimes, however he would resort to the old cliché: “There are no atheists in a fox hole.” With this, however, I am entirely unconvinced. The first statement about prayer refers to the near unavoidable spirituality, perhaps even mystical awakening people seem to experience when their lives become utterly terrifying. I have no doubt that many an agnostic is reborn a Christian with dirty drawers under an artillery bombardment. Nevertheless I am equally certain that it is not at all the case that every act of felt prayer or mystical awakening is an acceptance of God, Christian or otherwise. As Kierkegaard might have said, the infinite act of subjective will that initiates one’s leap of faith is no objective evidence of the existence of an objective god. The subjective experience of mystical enlightenment is an inner transformative experience not at all necessarily dependent on God. The sudden startling awareness of some variety of Grace may as well be experienced by the atheist as by the theist, by the Christian as by the Peyote Eater, by the Radical Islamist Terrorist as by the Buddhist Monk.

It is essential to recognize therefore, that likely all pseudo-religions and certainly all authentic religions are systems that help heighten the subjective experience of spirituality among their members. Mystics of all cults and religions experience some variety of this apparently mystical grace. All experience some subjective inexplicable sense of world inclusion and enlightenment. But certainly it is not the case that all cults and religions must accept a god. Buddhism, a religion that can legitimately be considered atheistic in that it entirely lacks any personal deity, is, nevertheless an extraordinarily spiritual religion. So, too, are the God-fearing pseudo-religions of radically hateful cults of killers. These are the theistic religions of death and self-sacrifice, whose rituals glorify suicide and murder and in so doing heighten the subjective experience of spirituality within its members by demanding vengeance and hatred as avenues of mystical enlightenment.

Spirituality then is the necessary condition of all religions, but certainly is not a sufficient condition of religious authenticity. As pointed out by Harvard neurobiologist Dean Hamer in The God Gene (2004), in the height of the 1960’s many an atheist found LSD and other drugs an avenue for decidedly spiritual experiences. Spirituality can as likely be experienced by the hunter facing his prey in nature as by the eco-extremist working ardently to frustrate that very same hunt. Walking in the woods with a camera or a rifle, entering a cathedral or a desert, fasting or gorging, practicing asceticism or bacchanalia, speaking in tongues or killing infidels, the sacred is uniquely personal in its spiritual connection with the individual who feels it. The spiritual experience is also utterly distinct from the acceptance or non acceptance, existence or non existence, of God.

The spiritual experience that a religion provides is not therefore to be confused with the authenticity of the religion that evokes that particular spiritual experience. Any religion that requires fasting, isolation, meditation, intense prayer or a myriad of other possible behaviors can evoke the experience of the spiritual. Man, as Hamer demonstrates, is likely genetically programmed, made, to be spiritual, but man is certainly not made to know definitively the name or even the existence of the ineffable mystery we each yearn to know more clearly and hope to grasp through mystical spirituality.

The mystical, spiritual, sense is certainly not then to be confused with the existence of God absolute. God is defined by each religion, and is not therefore extra-religious. God is a decidedly theological entity, and is accordingly described quite differently by different theological systems, and worshiped quite differently with the rituals demanded by different religions. I say this to make clear that I am not at all pretending to argue either on behalf of or against the existence of God. Spirituality may be heightened by any variety of religions or even no religion at all. Spirituality may be experienced by those of any variety of faiths in God or by those who adhere to bald faced atheism. Spirituality is a statement of human experience, perhaps merely an experience caused by human brain chemistry, and thus not at all evidence for or opposed to the existence of an extra-human God.

Spirituality therefore, provides no measure whatsoever of whether a religion is a good religion or a bad religion. All religions, from the most murderous to the most loving, from the bleakest pseudo-religion to the grandest authentic religion, all religions function to heighten the individual’s subjective experience of spirituality.

3. A Theological Criterion for Religious Adequacy

So, without spirituality to provide sufficient evidence of religious adequacy, the problem facing us in an age marked by the ideological bookends of religious terrorism on one extreme and religious relativism on the other, is how to determine when a religion has abandoned a coherent logos, and descended instead into the belligerent unreasonableness of a rigid extremism . How can we distinguish between a perversity of faith and an adequate religion? How do we distinguish between the religious pretenders and authentic religions? Though religious perversities are clearly spiritually charged faiths this by no means demonstrates that they are adequate or good religions. They are instead the pseudo-religions and junk ideologies of our age, just as various non-testable ad hoc assemblages of presumption are the pseudo-sciences of our age.

In past ages these religions pretenders also carried enormous sway over vast numbers of people. The great mystery religions, from the cults of Attis to Isis that were pervasive throughout Rome are ideal examples of pseudo-religions. These mystical, faithful cults survived for a time but their own incoherencies ultimately lead to their demise when they faced competing religions of greater theological coherency. Greek mythology itself also succumbed to very much the same sorts of incoherencies found in the Mystery Religions with the advent of philosophers like Plato, Pythagoras and Xenophanes, who demonstrated the contradictions and incoherencies inherent within these myths. In particular these philosophers demonstrated that no perfect god would or could metamorphose from a perfect form to imperfect form; no perfect god could demand the imperfection of Dionysian bacchanalia when the truths of number endure eternally; no perfect god would have the face of a horse if its worshippers were horses. My contention then is theological coherence is ultimately the factor that allows us to distinguish between religion and its pretenders.

Theology at its core is none other than the objective logical rigor of philosophy applied to the subjective spiritual experience of faith. Indeed the history of theology generally refers to the application of reason to Judeo-Christian-Muslim faiths, but reason is equally applicable to others faiths as well. We need not presume, then, that theology as it was originally defined by Christian philosophers from Augustine to Aquinas is the only legitimate definition possible. For the sake of the argument that follows we will expand the meaning of theology more broadly to the application of reason to any religious system of faith or spirituality. In fact, every religious system that demands some set of rituals for the sake of evoking faith or spirituality can be evaluated in terms of its inner theological coherence. The total human being is endowed with both gifts simultaneously: the gift of spirituality and the gift of reason. Any adequate religion, therefore, would seem required to have both faith and reason.

If one accepts the twin requirements of faith and reason as essential for any authentic religion then the analogy between pseudo-science and pseudo-religion becomes stronger. A pseudo-science is marked by its foundation on a set of arbitrary ad hoc presumptions that are entirely untestable, and yet accepted with axiomatic certainty. So it is not whether a pseudo-science can provide answers to questions about the empirical world that makes it a pseudo-science, it is the absolute inability of a pseudo-science to test its fundamental premises despite the answers it provides for empirical questions that makes it a pseudo-science. Analogously, pseudo-religions are marked by an incoherent set of ad hoc spiritual presumptions. For example where pseudo-religions depend on mindless subjective faith, authentic religions use reason to demonstrate the coherence of their religious principles. Neither an unreasonable pseudo-scientific presumption that the Bermuda Triangle just must be the work of extra-terrestrials nor the mindless pseudo-religious presumption that faith alone requires the murder of infidels is sufficient evidence for those quasi-axioms. Real scientific hypotheses can be found false and real religious principles can be found incoherent. In fact herein is the strength of the great religions. Once Catholicism, for example, determined Limbo was inconsistent with its fundamental principles of sin’s dependence on will, Limbo was rejected. The religion of Catholicism had to recognize a theological error, and they did recognize it, and they changed their religion to reflect their theological advancements. Not so with the pseudo-religion of Jonestown. Their theological incoherencies led to a mass suicide/murder. There was no way for theology to inform religion for the followers of Jim Jones’s pseudo-religion.

As astrology, psychoanalysis and creationism are pseudo-sciences, so too are scientology, new-age-eco-feminism and Heaven’s Gate pseudo-religions. But pop-religions have no corner on the pseudo-religion market. The great Western religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism have each spun off superb examples of extraordinarily obtuse pseudo-religions, and so too have the great American political ideologies of liberalism and conservatism spun off equally obtuse pseudo-religions. It is clear that many shaking shrieking Democrats and Republicans experience raw spirituality during their own party’s political revivals.

So how do we make the evaluation between good and bad religions, between authentic and inauthentic religions? In a word, it is a matter of asking if reason in the form of theology can inform one’s religion. If one’s religious practices are impervious to a coherent theology also embraced by that religion, or if one’s ritualistic spiritual practices are utterly devoid of theology, then one is a member of a pseudo-religion. Extremist Islam is by this standard quite clearly a pseudo-religion. Radical Islamism is a theologically vacuous wasteland of psychosis and fear, nothing at all like the noble religion from which it devolved. In the Middle Ages authentic Islam was home of some of the most sophisticated theologians in the history of human civilization. Avicenna and Averroes represented the pinnacle of rational theology which was ultimately transformed into the rational mysticism of Mullah Sadra in the 17th century. These brilliant Islamist theologians epitomized the work of all theologians by using reason, logos, to understand and analyze the god, Theos, of their faith. And for authentic Christians and Muslims alike that god is The God of Abraham. But eventually the intellectual sophistication, the logos, of many Islamic religious sects was superseded by anti-intellectual literalism that inevitably led to the extraordinarily rigid and perverse religious bellicosities that now under gird those perverse Islamic extremisms, pseudo-religions, that encourage suicide in the pursuit of unimaginable sexual rewards in a dubious after life.

In light of the relationship that exists between an authentic religion and theology I propose a three-part test to determine whether a religion is a pseudo-religion or an authentic religion. What follows is the promised test for religious adequacy:

1. Any religion lacking a guiding coherent theology is a pseudo-religion.
2. Any religion entirely self referential is pseudo-religion.
3. Any religion whose only fruit is adherence to itself is pseudo-religion.

In a word, the sundry “gods” of literalist extremists, be they Christians, Muslims, Feminists or Gun Owners is not God, but at best a perverse idolatry that praises fanciful mythologized characterizations of the Mystery that is the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. The idolater worships the symbol over the symbolized. The idolater adheres to ungrounded moralities that crush the tenuous voice of reason, reason, one of the two true gifts unique to of the human species: fide et ratio, faith and reason.

Literalist anti-theological religions are ideally illustrated by the radical Islamism of the Ayatollahs who issue fatwa’s against fellow Muslims, like Salman Rushdie, who refused to embrace the incoherent, fundamentally insipid, literalisms of far too many contemporary Muslims. Of course these same sorts of intentionally anti-theological literalisms can be found in our major American religions, political parties and academic institutions. We need merely remember Pat Robertson’s recent appeal to the wrath of his malignant idol to crush the people of Dover, Pennsylvania for replacing their creationist school board. We need merely remember the myriad examples of the intentional misuse of statistics by extremist third-wave feminists to promote their favored political aspirations in the name of their inflexible pseudo-religion. Each of these is also an example of a pseudo-religion that refers only to its own rituals to verify the “reasonableness” of its own rituals. “I am right because I am right.” These pseudo-religions are radically circular, utterly non-informative. They demand adherence, and in adherence the reward is spiritual experience. But if the only reward for strict adherence is the mystical experience of spiritual salvation, that same reward can be had vastly more easily with dopamine and serotonin pills. With regard to the third principle, what indeed is the fruit of the contemporary cult of third-wave feminism other than proselytizing for the recruitment of converts to this pseudo-religion of helplessness and vindictiveness? What indeed is the fruit of radical Islam other than the recruitment of more suicidal followers? And what indeed is the fruit of the hell-paranoid literalist Christian other than raising money to perpetuate their pathological fear of hell ad infinitum?

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “Why study theology?” That’s an easy question. “Why NOT study theology?” That’s the hard one. By extension, why use reason? That’s the easy one. To borrow from Kant, reason without spirituality is empty and spirituality without reason is blind. I, however, fear the murderous cruelty of blind passion far more than the boring blandness of empty reason. Yet brought together, faith and reason, brings genuine solace to the authentic human hunger for authentic religions.