Editor’s Note: For years now Walter Hudson has been a perpetual inspiration and a joy to edit. His articles, lists, blog posts, and now podcasts dance across the fault lines of politics, culture, and religion with an always encouraging sense of optimism and clarity. See this compilation today here of his most recent podcasts: Ready For An Argument? 15 of Walter Hudson’s Fightin’ Words Podcasts Not To Miss. Also follow him on Twitter here. For more of of his work check out this collection of PJ Lifestyle’s Top 50 List Articles of 2013, which includes several more Hudson hits. This selection of 10 articles here showcases some of Walter’s most popular and engaging pieces. Please consider adding Walter to your list of #ReadEverythingTheyWrite writers. He’s been on mine for some time now…
– Dave Swindle
1. March 2, 2012:
2. May 9, 2013:
3. April 18, 2013:
4. July 17, 2012:
5. July 6, 2013:
6. July 13, 2013:
7. January 29, 2013:
8. January 31, 2012
9. September 2, 2013:
10. March 7, 2013:
1. March 2, 2012:
American Immaturity: How We Grow Up After We Grow Old
This trend threatens the integrity of our entire society.
At the age of thirty-five, the author of such literary classics as I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and Assholes Finish First has had something of an epiphany regarding the licentious lifestyle which informed his New York Times-bestselling tomes. As the years have worn on and life taken its toll, Tucker Max has conceded that copious sex and booze do not lead to happiness. Forbes’ Michael Ellsberg explains:
… this most public of “I-don’t-wanna-grow-up” males is in fact now in the midst of a serious, intentional and devoted period of cleaning up and growing up.
He is changing his ways of the past, and—gasp!—becoming a mature adult male, one is who seeking a committed, long-term relationship, leading to marriage, with an intelligent, substantive, accomplished woman.
The full account of Tucker’s rite of passage from reckless detachment to sober insight is well worth the read. What it speaks to, perhaps unintentionally, is the very nature of maturity.
The word “mature” is defined as “complete in natural growth or development,” also “fully developed in mind and body.” Left undefined is the standard for development.
Without here delving into the full philosophical proof, let us accept for the sake of argument that human maturity is the capacity to deal rationally with the facts of reality and to act to sustain your life and pursue long-term happiness. Consider, the reason children remain in the care of parents until they reach adulthood is because they lack the knowledge and experience to act rationally in pursuit of their own lives. Otherwise, they would have no need of parenting.
An animal is mature at a certain age, having developed to the point where its instincts and physical abilities are sufficient for it to act according to its nature without the aid of its mother. Human beings are different. We alone must utilize reason in order to survive.
By this standard, it is apparent to the casual observer that maturity is a rare trait among men and women. Physical development is completely disconnected from the ability to deal rationally with the facts of reality. Indeed, many make it into middle and advanced age without maturing in this sense. Some go their entire lives without truly growing up.
Particularly in the developed world where we enjoy life far removed from the pressures of subsistence, one can entertain many forms of neurosis without dying as a result. Consider that American children once aspired to adulthood, not as a means to some impractical fantasy, but as an end in itself. Dr. Michael Platt describes how that changed in the 20th century:
There were no “teenagers” before World War II. Ask those still living who raised their children before then. Or spend a rainy Saturday in the basement of your library, comparing old Life magazines from before the War and after.
Instead of Teenagers, there were Youths. Youths were young people who wanted to become adults. However confused, wayward, or silly they acted, however many mistakes they made, they looked to the future. They knew that adult life was different than a child’s life. They planned to grow up, leave childhood behind, and become adults. They were aware that life is more than youth.
The Teenager has no such horizon. Beyond the “Teeny” world there is no adult life, no past with heroes, no future with goals.
Platt’s rant on teenage culture, written in the 1990s, would likely expand today to account for college students and twenty-somethings who live as though adulthood were repugnant and youth ought last forever. Tucker Max was a conquering nomad king among such postponed adults. He tells Forbes:
I was a ridiculous narcissist in my twenties. It’s not even that I didn’t care about other people. It’s way beyond that. I just didn’t even understand that other people even existed or mattered. I do not believe I was a true NPD [narcissistic personality disorder] in the clinical sense. But, dude, I was close.
While Tucker’s narcissism in his twenties is not in doubt, the greater problem was plainly an inability or refusal to acknowledge the facts of reality. In his own words, he “did not understand that other people even existed or mattered.” He saw them. He engaged them. He hurt and used them. Yet, on some fundamental level, he could not acknowledge that they were real.
This inability to accept reality as such went beyond his social behavior to affect how he treated himself. It doesn’t take much to conclude that five to six nights per week of binge drinking punctuated by careless sexual encounters with random partners has negative long-term consequences. Tucker now has the insight to acknowledge the profound sense of self-loathing which informed his lifestyle, surely a mirror image of the pursuit of happiness.
So, what pulled him out of it? What causes anyone to mature? The answer is rational choice. Human maturity is volitional. It has to be pursued and embraced. Tucker relates:
It would be the easiest thing ever to keep living that life, to go out and get drunk and sleep with random women. It’s so much easier than it was five or ten years ago! I have money now and people know who I am. I could travel the world. It would be so easy for me.
But I don’t like doing that stuff anymore. It is possible to go out drinking and partying in a healthy way I think—but the way I did it was ultimately self destructive, and so emotionally bankrupt in a lot of ways. I was having fun doing it for a time, and I’m glad I did it. But it was no longer rewarding to me, because I realized I was surrounded by so much misery and pain. Once you start to see this, then you see it everywhere. It was like, “Wow, I can’t be in this bar scene and this drinking culture without being around a bunch of miserable people.”
Scarlett, Tucker’s current girlfriend, felt guided by him toward a similar revelation. Like him, the facts of reality confronted her, forcing a choice between acknowledging her life, or continuing on a wayward course of fantasy. Tucker says of Scarlett:
She was miserable. Have [you] ever meet someone who always puts on a good front but you can tell they’re miserable? That used to be her. She was like a flight attendant with that fake smile—but it wasn’t just her job, it was her whole life. All I did was hold a mirror to her. At first she tried to argue. But then she came back: “How did you know?”
… She was definitely the type that wanted to know everything at that point. Some people will go the other way. They’ll double down on their lie. But she didn’t want to live a lie anymore.
She wanted to live in the light of truth. That’s the threshold of maturity. That is the moment when we come into our own.
It is bad enough when an individual refuses to mature. Consider the consequences of an entire nation intent on fantasy. Mark Steyn highlights the fact that President Obama’s currently proposed budget places the national debt on track to reach 900% of GDP by 2075. Are there any grown-ups among us prepared to deal with this reality?
The capacity of Americans to mature will determine whether or not we pull out of our cultural and economic nosedive and restore a republic governed by just laws which protect individual rights. It is the choice and capacity to acknowledge the requirements of life, to concede such axioms as “money doesn’t grow on trees,” which enable mature adults to act productively in pursuit of their own happiness. Absent that, misery is inevitable.
More from Helen Smith: Are We All Tucker Max Now?
2. May 9, 2013:
Walter Hudson’s Guide For Making Peace Between Christians and Objectivists
All 4 parts of the A Reason For Faith series compiled:
5 Common Accusations Leveled at Christianity
Objectivst philosopher Andrew Bernstein debates Judeo-Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza. Click here to start at the beginning of the series on page 4.
Christianity on Trial
Objectivist philosopher Andrew Bernstein accused Christianity of rejecting reason in his recent debate with apologist Dinesh D’Souza. Click here to jump to part 2 of the series on page 5.
6 Fatal Misconceptions
As a dialogue begins between advocates of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy and professing Christians, it’s vitally important to clarify terms. Click here to to jump to part 3 of the series on page 6.
Onward Christian Egoist
Adherents of Ayn Rand and followers of Jesus Christ must set aside differences to secure individual rights. Click here to jump to the conclusion of the series on page 7.
5 Common Accusations Leveled at Christianity
Depending upon whom you ask, Christianity either withers under constant assault from a secular humanist conspiracy or flourishes as a virulent social tumor threatening intellectual and moral progress. This Friday, two leading intellectuals will take up the question of whether Christianity is “Good or Bad for Mankind.” Prolific writer, scholar, and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza will trade arguments with professor of philosophy Dr. Andrew Bernstein. The debate will take place on February 8th at the University of Texas – Austin’s Hogg Auditorium beginning at 7pm CST, sponsored by The Objective Standard and the UT Objectivism Society. It will also be broadcast live over an internet stream.
This intellectual confrontation “is guaranteed to set a new standard on the subject” according to The Objective Standard. That promise will be fulfilled. The arguments offered will differ from previous high-profile debates regarding Christian morality. While atheists whom D’Souza has engaged before have come from a position of skepticism or secular moral relativism, Bernstein’s body of work previews a fresh approach.
Bernstein will channel Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism, which not only rejects the Christian worldview, but emphatically indicts Christianity as a profound moral evil. While that may sound familiar and evoke recollections of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or the like, Bernstein’s argument will differ in that it will not merely cite alleged evils perpetrated in the name of Christianity but drill down to the root of what makes a thing good and assert that Christianity is the opposite.
Readers who have followed my recent work at PJ Media may have noticed two things. First, that I frequently evoke the work of Ayn Rand in support of my moral and political views. Second, that I am a professing Christian eager to contend for the faith. These two aspects of my person no doubt meet with frustration, confusion, or condemnation from both Christian and Objectivist readers who perceive their respective worldviews as irreconcilable. I dare to contend that, while there are certainly profound differences in these worldviews, they are not as wholly irreconcilable as either contingent thinks.
Let’s preview some of the arguments sure to be made in Austin. Next week, we’ll respond to these points along with any others which arise and consider just how incompatible Christianity and Objectivism truly are. Here are 5 accusations sure to be leveled against Christianity by Andrew Bernstein in his debate with Dinesh D’Souza.
5) Neither God Nor Scripture Reveals Knowledge
The root from which a philosophy springs is its epistemology, the answer to how we know anything at all. The Christian worldview requires an epistemology which allows for revelation from a supernatural source. Scripture is said to be inspired by God, meaning it embodies more than the rantings of a desert nomad. Christians believe that God speaks to us through scripture, imparting a portion of his unbound knowledge for the benefit of mankind.
Objectivism, as the name suggests, regards the notion of revelation as a rejection of reality. The only way to know something according to Ayn Rand is to perceive it with your senses or deduce it from facts of reality established through observation and reason. This root idea regarding the source of knowledge informs all of Rand’s conclusions in the other branches of philosophy, metaphysics, ethics, and politics.
Christians entertaining Bernstein’s challenge to D’Souza should understand that faith and reason are defined as opposites in Objectivism. To accept an idea on faith is to concede that it defies reason, that it cannot be supported by the facts of reality, and that it carries no true moral authority.
Epistemology proves an irreconcilable difference between Christianity and Objectivism. Nevertheless, D’Souza will not need to argue epistemology in order to push back against the assertion that Christianity is a profound moral evil. We’ll explore why next week.
4) The Supernatural Does Not Exist
It follows that, if reality consists only of that which can be perceived with the senses, God or any other supernatural being is not real. Rand’s epistemology informs a metaphysics which regards the universe as simply that which exists, not a creation, but a “metaphysically given.” In the vernacular, it is what it is. Rand’s intellectual heir, Leonard Peikoff, elaborates in The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series:
The universe is the total of that which exists—not merely the earth or the stars or the galaxies, but everything. Obviously then there can be no such thing as the “cause” of the universe. . . .
Is the universe then unlimited in size? No. Everything which exists is finite, including the universe. What then, you ask, is outside the universe, if it is finite? This question is invalid. The phrase “outside the universe” has no referent. The universe is everything. “Outside the universe” stands for “that which is where everything isn’t.” There is no such place. There isn’t even nothing “out there”: there is no “out there.”
This view of the universe places God in an untenable position. If He exists, then he is part of the universe and therefore not God by definition. So, logically, we are meant to conclude He does not exist. As with the question of epistemology, D’Souza may be tempted to get bogged down in arguing this point. However, his time will be better spent focused elsewhere.
3) Original Sin Falsely Indicts Man
We approach an area worth debate when we reflect upon the nature of man. Christianity indicts man as fallen from an original perfection in the image of God. We call this state and its subsequent behaviors sin.
The concept of sin is unceremoniously rejected by a metaphysics which denies the existence of any god we need to live up to. Rand regarded man as a noble being whose productive activity in pursuit of happiness is objectively virtuous. In fact, a Christian may find no title more abrasive among those authored by Rand than The Virtue of Selfishness which she introduces thus:
In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.
Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests.
This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.
Rand’s appropriation of selfishness lays the groundwork from which we can not only reconcile certain aspects of Christianity and Objectivism, but actually understand Christ better. Let that be a tease for next week’s review of the debate.
2) Christianity Proves Immoral
Rand’s ideal man, characterized in her magnum opus Atlas Shrugs, lives by a selfish creed:
I swear — by my life and my love of it — that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
This oath summarizes the practical application of Rand’s objectivist philosophy. Man is a moral end unto himself, and not a means to the ends of others. Rational action proves to be the chief requirement of human life, so men must be free to act upon their own judgment and not be bound by the brute force of others. Furthermore, objective morality calls for men to act in their rational self-interest and not sacrifice their values.
This concept is ripe with potential confusion. The word “sacrifice” has a positive connotation in our culture and is often used to denote any deferment, denial, or donation which either benefits another person or contributes to a long-term investment. For instance, if a college student stays in on a Friday night in order to study for a big test on Monday, it may be said they are “sacrificing” their night out. More profoundly, if a parent gives their life in the process of saving their child’s or a solider throws himself on a grenade to save his squad, we call it a “sacrifice.” Rand bristled at such misnomers:
Concern for the welfare of those one loves is a rational part of one’s selfish interests. If a man who is passionately in love with his wife spends a fortune to cure her of a dangerous illness, it would be absurd to claim that he does it as a “sacrifice” for her sake, not his own, and that it makes no difference to him, personally and selfishly, whether she lives or dies.
Any action that a man undertakes for the benefit of those he loves is not a sacrifice if, in the hierarchy of his values, in the total context of the choices open to him, it achieves that which is of greatest personal (and rational) importance to him. In the above example, his wife’s survival is of greater value to the husband than anything else that his money could buy, it is of greatest importance to his own happiness and, therefore, his action is not a sacrifice.
True sacrifice involves the trade of a greater value for a lesser one or nothing at all. When our politicians ask us to sacrifice, this is generally what they mean, not charity which serves a purpose the giver judges worthy, but giving for the sake of giving.
Thus Objectivism views Christianity as immoral since it appears to uplift sacrifice. God commanding Abraham to kill his son Isaac is frequently cited as an example of Judeo-Christian immorality, particularly egregious because no rational basis for the action is perceived. The episode serves as a test of faith, which Objectivism decries as a rejection of reason.
1) Church History Chronicles Death and Tyranny
Objectivists see the Christian affinity for sacrifice as enabling two thousand years of tyranny, slavery, and murder. From the Spanish Inquisition through the Crusades past the chattel slavery of the early American south right through the modern drive toward a global socialism, objectivists like Bernstein see the blood-soaked hands of the Church. As offensive as this may be to Christians, especially conservatives who regard themselves as champions of liberty, a certain degree of introspection remains appropriate.
Accepting that there exists some distance between the Church as a varied history of ecclesiastical institutions and biblical Christianity as a way of life, we must certainly recognize that atrocity has been justified in the name of Christ or by an appeal to alleged Christian principles. An examination of whether objective evils have been truly Christian or merely associated with Christ will have to wait for our review of the debate. Suffice it to say that objectivists and other critics of Christianity are understandably put off by Bible verses taken outside of context, and can hardly be blamed when the same error has been made by professing Christians over the centuries resulting in the atrocities cited.
Going into the debate this week, let us be content to establish that the Christian concept of sacrifice has been leveraged to promote a culture of altruism, which stands opposite the egoism which Rand argued to be man’s proper moral orientation. Again, we must combat connotation and understand that altruism is not merely caring for others and egoism is not merely caring for self. In Rand’s view, altruism is irrationally living for others at the expense of self, and egoism is living intentionally in service of rational long-term self-interest. State imposed redistribution of wealth or charity motivated by unearned guilt is altruistic. Caring for loved ones or charity in service of one’s values is not.
The preceding serves as a primer for this week’s debate between Andrew Bernstein and Dinesh D’Souza entitled “Christianity: Good or Bad for Mankind.” Next week, we will review the points raised throughout the debate and begin an ongoing introspective, both critiquing Christendom and defending Christianity. We will do so by viewing Rand’s moral discoveries through the lens of the Bible. What will emerge is a Christian virtue of selfishness, what Pastor John Piper controversially calls Christian hedonism.
Next, Part 2: A Reason for Faith: Christianity on Trial
A Reason for Faith: Christianity on Trial
Christianity is profoundly bad. So argued philosophy professor Dr. Andrew Bernstein in a recent debate sponsored by The Objective Standard and the University of Texas Objectivism Society. Countering Bernstein was Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza. They discussed whether Christianity is “good or bad for mankind.”
They spent a majority of their time debating more fundamental philosophical questions. What is the nature of reality? Does God exist? What is the proper source of morality? While many attendees commenting during the livestream chat saw these questions as diversions from the advertised topic, they were actually the crux of the matter. In order to discern whether Christianity is good or bad for mankind, “good” must first be defined.
Bernstein primarily accused Christianity of being irrational. To be irrational is to be immoral according to Objectivism, a philosophy advocated by Bernstein and best articulated by Ayn Rand in her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. As Rand saw it, a proper morality arises only from the application of reason. Rand saw any assertion of faith as a rejection of reason. By parsing through Bernstein’s points, we examine not only whether Christianity is a fool’s errand, but whether faith of any kind is profoundly bad.
We begin at the foundation by first asking what we know and how we know it. Those questions are answered in the branch of philosophy known as epistemology. Objectivism holds that reason is the only means toward acquiring knowledge. In her essay Philosophy: Who Needs It? Rand argues:
Reason is the faculty which… identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic—and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.
Objectivist author William R. Thomas explains further:
The basis of our knowledge is the awareness we have through our physical senses. We see reality, hear it, taste it, smell it, feel it through touch. As babies, we discover the world through our senses. As our mental abilities develop, we become able to recall memories and we can form images in our minds.
Strict adherence to this means of acquiring knowledge precludes entertaining the supernatural. Like all religion, Christianity is a faith-based belief system which Objectivism rejects as nonsense.
How may Christians answer this view of knowledge? If the object of philosophy is to understand reality and access the whole truth of existence, then objectivist epistemology has an obvious limitation. Surely, applying logic to our perceptions is a solid method for discerning what is true. However, the amount of truth we can know through that process is capped by our perception.
How does a man born blind conceptualize the color red? He lacks the sensory ability necessary to perceive color. He thus has no perception to apply logic to. He may accept on the authority of others that something called “red” exists. However, to him individually, the concept will only ever be what Rand called a “floating abstraction.” From Objectivism Wiki:
The fallacy of the “floating abstraction” is Ayn Rand’s term for concepts detached from existents, concepts that a person takes over from other men without knowing what specific units the concepts denote.
As we consider our hypothetical blind man, we recognize that a strict application of objectivist epistemology leaves him unable to claim that he knows there is a color red. Yet the color exists, not just as a concept but as a metaphysical reality. So we may conclude that reality, or that which exists, is not limited to that which can be perceived.
D’Souza made this point in his debate with Bernstein, noting that a person of the 5th century B.C. could only be aware of a fraction of the stars that we know of today. Our perception has been expanded by technology, increasing our range of knowledge. Yet all the stars exist whether we perceive them or not.
In fairness, Objectivism does not deny the existence of the unknown. It merely claims that knowing occurs through a rational process of applying logic to perception. Since the supernatural cannot be perceived, it cannot be known to exist. However, Objectivism does not stop at an agnostic skepticism. It claims to prove through logic that there is no god or supernatural realm of any kind. Bernstein spent the bulk of his speaking time on this point, offering up two fascinating arguments.
The first centered around the relationship between existence and consciousness. Bernstein reminded the UT audience that “existence exists,” which is the Aristotelian law of identity. A thing is what it is. He next evoked the law of causality, which says that a thing acts according to what it is. A glass of water behaves as a glass of water, and not as sulfuric acid. Bernstein then pointed out that consciousness is the faculty which perceives existence, and therefore is dependent upon existing. On the other hand, existence is independent of consciousness. A rock exists without knowing it.
Bernstein asserted that Christianity violates this basic principle known as the primacy of existence. Christianity starts with an all-knowing consciousness without existence, he claimed, pointing out that consciousness cannot create anything. “What does God create the universe from?” he asked. “If you start with nothing, you end with nothing? There is no God. There is no creation. The universe is eternal.”
This final statement, that the universe is eternal, has particular relevance to the discussion because it highlights a slim point of agreement. Eternity is real. There exists an infinite past and an infinite future. What distinguishes the concept of eternity in both worldviews is that which is thought of as eternal. Christianity sees eternity as a characteristic of the supernatural realm while Objectivism sees it as a characteristic of a “metaphysically given” universe. As Bernstein put it, the universe is not the product of creation or chance but of causal laws based in the nature of reality. Water behaves as water, not because it was designed that way, but simply because it is that way.
Here we bump up against the epistemological wall Objectivism builds around itself. While the concept of eternity is induced from our observation of cause and effect, Objectivism defaults to the only inductive conclusion it can make — that the universe is somehow eternal — because it is incapable of reaching beyond what a thing is to address how it got that way. Like a rat in a maze, we are meant to content ourselves with having cheese, and not question from whence it came. D’Souza put it another way. “Faith goes where evidence [and therefore Objectivism] can’t reach.”
In truth, Bernstein’s characterization of Christianity as violating the primacy of existence is a strawman. The Christian worldview does not regard God as a consciousness independent of existence. The Christian God has always existed and always will exist. His is the eternity which Objectivism ascribes to the universe. What’s more, the primacy of existence goes further to suggest that God does exists than to prove He does not.
There is another primacy to consider, the primacy of consciousness over information. It takes a mind to conceive of language. We behold language in every aspect of our world, from the biological blueprints of DNA to the mathematical precision of physics. To regard the vast amount of information contained in a pair of microscopic cells, adequate to direct the formation of a new human being, as nothing more than a “metaphysically given” is to regard the Library of Alexandria as a curious bit of rubble. As the ongoing Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) will attest, information from an alien source is a sure sign of an alien consciousness. Just as archeology properly regards an ancient text as evidence of an ancient people, the language written within us is evidence of a consciousness which conceived it.
To this point Bernstein would argue that we must account for who designed the Designer. That question proceeds from a false premise, that everything has a cause. In truth, only effects have causes. The First Cause is eternal. In any case, it seems odd for Bernstein to assert that the universe is eternal while insisting a creator god would require a cause.
Bernstein’s second fascinating argument was an answer to Pascal’s Wager. As readers may recall, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal posited that it was safer to bet that God exists than to assume He does not, because the eternal consequences of guessing wrong are infinitely disproportionate.
Bernstein argued that, if God exists, he clearly designed the world to accommodate a rational being. So God would appreciate those who use their rational minds to promote human life on earth. After all, if God designed reason, would he not expect us to use it? Bernstein posited that those who use faith to suppress reason are thus guilty of terrible sin and ought to burn in hell. Therefore, it is safer to wager on rational atheism, knowing that God would reward it if He existed.
Bernstein earns points for creativity. Indeed, despite the insincerity of the notion, his insight that God designed a world in which we live by taking rational action in support of our life and happiness is correct. That point will become a pillar upon which we build a bridge between Christianity and Objectivism in future articles. For the time being, suffice it to say the Author of Reason is hardly irrational.
What does all this have to do with morality? As it turns out, the existence or non-existence of God and the true nature of reality have everything to do with how we distinguish right from wrong. If there is a supernatural realm, its reality provides context within which our decisions are made. Likewise, if there is nothing beyond our objective universe, it stands alone as the context for our choices.
Consider the morality which Objectivism presents. In a context where this life on Earth is all there is, the standard of moral value is that life. We must be alive to conceive of and pursue values, and the values we obtain and keep serve to perpetuate and enhance our life. This is the objective good. Rand’s ideal man demonstrates virtue by acting upon his own judgment in pursuit of rationally conceived values which serve his life and long-term happiness.
Bernstein regards Christianity as antithetical to such objective morality, and thus profoundly bad for mankind. It’s easy to see why. First, there is the essence of Christianity as a faith-based worldview. Actions taken on faith cannot by definition be rationally conceived. Bernstein views Christianity as “subordinating reason to faith,” denying what is objectively true in favor of a fantasy. (This is untrue, but the refutation will have to be the subject of a later article.) Confined to an individual, such faith is distasteful to objectivists, but tolerable insomuch as it does not encroach upon the rights of others. Bernstein points out that Christians do not confine their faith to their own lives and use it as a basis for dictating how others should live.
On this point, Bernstein is unfortunately correct. Too many professing Christians, perhaps an overwhelming majority, believe their faith to be a sovereign consideration in civil law. For most of the past two thousand years, some form of “Christian” theocracy has reigned in some part of the world. However, the history of such institutions is more accurately called Christendom, and stands properly differentiated from biblical Christianity. While Christendom is guilty of the many atrocities frequently cited by critics – the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the burning of heretics and pagans at the stake, etc. – Christianity does not support them.
Consider the exchange between Roman Governor Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ which took place shortly before the crucifixion. From John 18:33-38:
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”
Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
Here Pilate contends with the same question debated by Bernstein and D’Souza. What is truth? While Pilate was certainly no objectivist, the worldview he brought to this exchange was limited to the objective universe. When he asks if Jesus is the king of the Jews, he is concerned with a claim to civil authority. Christ clarifies that his kingdom is not of this world. He emphasizes that if his kingdom were of this world, his disciples would have fought to protect him from those seeking his death.
Indeed, the Jews of Christ’s time were expecting a messiah to liberate them from Roman occupation and take up a crown in Jerusalem. Jesus’ own disciples, even those closest to him counted as apostles, expected an earthly reign. They were devastated when Christ was instead crucified. To their minds, their movement was ended. It was only upon Christ’s resurrection that they began to comprehend a kingdom not of this world, and it emboldened them to preach of that kingdom even in the face of persecution and death.
One need not be a Christian or believe in the historicity of the Gospel to perceive that true Christianity — as exemplified by the biblical Christ — does not advocate earthly tyranny. The Great Commission of Christianity was not to conduct the Spanish Inquisition, or engage in the Crusades, or burn heretics at the stake. Rather Christ instructed in Matthew 28:19-20:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Consent lies at the heart of the Christian life, consent to an offer of salvation through grace, and consent to obey God’s commandments. It is impossible to spread Christianity by the sword. To the extent men have tried, they have succeeded only in compelling false conversion and distorting what Christianity is.
Acknowledging the primacy of consent in the Christian life prepares us for the discovery that a world governed by objectivist principles is not only fully compatible with Christian living but as ideal an environment as possible this side of glory. We’ll explore how these seemingly irreconcilable worldviews may coexist in peace as we continue our review of the debate between Andrew Bernstein and Dinesh D’Souza in future articles.
Next in Part 3: A Reason For Faith: 6 Fatal Misconceptions
A Reason for Faith: 6 Fatal Misconceptions
The title of the talk, “Capitalism: The Only Moral Social System,” was irresistible to a newborn activist bred from the Tea Party. As a lifelong conservative, I had always felt as though capitalism was morally superior to any alternative, but had not encountered a claim as bold as this. The speaker was Craig Biddle, editor of The Objective Standard. His thesis was not that capitalism was the best social system, or the most efficient, or the most tolerable among acceptable choices. His claim was that capitalism is the one true good, the only way to go, and that any other system proves profoundly bad.
Biddle’s argument was compelling, built upon observation of reality and application of reason. He took us through the mind’s eye to a far-flung island where we were marooned alone without a single piece of technology. He asked us how such a castaway would survive. What would have to be done? Through what means would it be done? What could prevent it?
In order to survive and thrive, human beings must act rationally to obtain and keep values. A castaway requires food, shelter, sanitation, recreation, and a means to escape or attract rescue. To obtain these things, the castaway cannot rely upon instinct like an animal. Rather, he must apply his mind to the task at hand. He must discern what can be safely eaten, how to fashion tools, how to construct shelter, how to trap and kill animals, how to effectively use the raw materials around him to affect his survival. Ultimately, the only thing which could prevent the castaway from doing these things, aside from his willingness and ability, is brute force from another human being.
Therein lies the objectivist ethic. What human beings need in order to survive and thrive is not provision, but the liberty to act upon their own judgment. Put another way, liberty is life. To deprive a man of his liberty is to deprive him of his life, to drain or contain him. Therefore, the recognition and protection of individual rights are essential.
Hearing this for the first time, I felt as though I had found the Holy Grail of conservative apology. While natural law evoked a Creator which secular leftists could simply deny, this objectivist argument stood firmly upon reason and the uncontestable facts of reality. How is it that this was not being echoed across conservative media, I asked myself. Then I got my answer.
Biddle concluded his talk by turning a critical eye toward faith, religion, and Christianity in particular. He argued that Christianity promotes altruism, which is the opposite of the egoism required for human survival. A castaway employs egoism, living for himself, seeking that which perpetuates and improves his life. An altruist lives for others – for the poor, for the tribe, for the state, for God. The path of altruistic sacrifice leads to destruction, Biddle argued. With that, he lost me. As a Christian, I was not about to renounce my faith in support of a compelling political argument.
It was roughly a year from that first exposure to objectivist philosophy that I was confronted with it again, this time in a breakout session at the Tea Party Patriots American Policy Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. Yaron Brook, president and executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, offered a presentation on how morality informs the cultural battles in our political discourse. Like Biddle, he laid out the case for the objectivist ethic. Unlike Biddle, he avoided the topic of religion. That was until I rained on the parade by asking him about God during the Q & A. Forced to disclose his atheism, he lost most of his audience.
After his talk, I approached Brook and told him that I thought the arguments he and other objectivists were making in support of individual rights were fantastic, but doomed to obscurity so long as they were tied to criticism of religion. When you come after Jesus, you turn off a huge segment of your audience. Brook shrugged and unapologetically declared that, as an atheist, reconciling faith with reason was not his job. It is up to the Christian to examine their faith and determine whether it makes any logical sense.
That exchange stuck with me and motivated a study of Objectivism and a review of Christian apologetics. What I found was, far more often than not, Christian critics of Ayn Rand do not understand what Objectivism really is. Likewise, far more often than not, Objectivist critics of Christianity do not discern between what professing Christians have said or done and what the Bible actually teaches. Here are 6 fatal misconceptions which prevent an essential dialogue.
6) Selfishness Is Bad
In our culture, selfishness gets a bum rap. We hurl the word in spite, and receive it defensively. We have been taught from a young age that the fundamental difference between heroes and villains is that the former live for others while the latter think only of themselves.
In her non-fiction follow-up to Atlas Shrugged provocatively titled The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand reclaimed the word to advocate egoism. She explained:
The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal,” which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.
In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.
Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests.
Rand expounded upon the importance of applying reason to the question of what is in one’s own interest:
There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level (see “The Objectivist Ethics”).
An example frequently touted by advocates of Objectivism is the graft of Bernie Madoff. His crimes are conventionally thought of as selfish, since he sought profit by victimizing others. However, a rational assessment of Madoff’s scheme concludes that it was not in his rational long-term self-interest. Look at his life today. Where is he? What is his reputation? Who loves him? On what can he rest any sense of pride? His crimes were not in service of a rational ego.
Even so, an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs who has stolen nothing from anyone is nonetheless regarded as selfish for not being as charitable as Bill Gates. Yet Jobs’ pursuit of his rational long-term self-interest provided a higher quality of life for billions of people living today and yet unborn. While Gates’ pursuit of his own interest has also benefited billions of people, his willingness to give his money away has earned him far more accolades.
Selfishness, concern with one’s one interests, is the well-spring of life on Earth. If we never acted selfishly, if we never concerned ourselves with our own interests, we would surely die.
5) Being Selfish Precludes Charity, Kindness, and Love
Christians tend toward disgust when first encountering Ayn Rand’s description of selfishness as virtue, perceiving concern with one’s own values as disregard for everyone else. Commentator Tom Hoefling responds typically:
According to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, the firefighters who went up the stairs of the World Trade Center on 9-11-2001 were fools. The men who rushed the cockpit on Flight 93 to stop the plane from being crashed into the Capitol or the White House were idiots. The soldier who gives his life for his buddies or for his country is to be scorned for his ignorance of Ayn Rand’s immoral “morality.”
An objectivist friend of mine, a fellow Tea Party traveler, recently bid farewell to her only son as he shipped out to become a Marine. She does not think her son a fool.
Rational egoism does not produce a short-sighted self-centeredness which ignores all context. On the contrary, true selfishness recognizes the value of relationships and takes joy in rational giving. The sentiment that giving is better than receiving recognizes the selfish gain which occurs through gifting. Why else would we watch our loved ones open presents on Christmas morning? If it was just for them and did nothing for us, what would be the point?
Firefighters do not run into burning buildings in order to die. They run into burning buildings in order to more fully live. Soldiers do not enlist to die for their country. They enlist to live free. No one throws their body on top of a live grenade because they seek to die for their friends. They do it to protect those whom they value.
The use of the word “sacrifice” in our language distorts the true motivation behind service. It is not a sacrifice for a parent to divert time from other interests to invest in raising their child. It is not a sacrifice for a police officer to run toward gunfire in an effort to restore the peace. It is not a sacrifice for a husband to spend his life savings on a desperate effort to cure his sick wife. These actions, commonly thought of as sacrifices, are actually winning value trades. Raising your child is worth more than indulging a hobby. A chance at curing your spouse is worth more than money. Neutralizing a threat to the public is worth risking grave injury or death, because life can only be truly lived if free from brute tyranny.
4) Atheism Leads Inexorably to Communism or Fascism
In his recent debate with objectivist advocate Dr. Andrew Bernstein on the question of whether Christianity is “good or bad for mankind,” Dinesh D’Souza fell back upon a tried but not so true equivocation. If Christians are to share responsibility for the historical atrocities of Christendom, D’Souza argued atheists must share responsibility for the historical atrocities of atheistic regimes. It was atheism which enabled the rise of communism and fascism, he claimed, casting objectivists like Ayn Rand alongside tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.
D’Souza proves half right. Not all Christians, nor Christianity itself, can be blamed for the crimes of Christendom. As an objectivist, Bernstein ought to appreciate the fallacy of guilt by association. However, it hardly serves D’Souza to point out that fallacy only to turn around and use it against objectivists. Atheism is not the distinguishing characteristic between capitalism and communism. Capitalism distinguishes itself through its recognition of individual rights.
Ayn Rand was born in Russia and raised in the Soviet Union. She despised the statists in her midst and was thrilled at the chance to immigrate to America. There was likely no greater critic of communism in her day. She put native-born American intellectuals to shame as she decried the tyranny from which she had escaped, even as her American critics admired it. Rand was way ahead of the curve when it came to recognizing the threat posed by the Soviets and their sympathizers in the West. To equate her philosophy with communism or fascism is to admit utter ignorance of what she advocated.
Rand’s philosophical accomplishment is so earth-shattering and counter-intuitive that it has yet to be widely perceived. Prior to Rand, natural law or the notion of God-given rights was the only alternative to the statist claims of the Left. This perceived dichotomy informs the view that Judeo-Christian values square off against atheism in a contest between liberty and tyranny. Rand tipped the scales of that battle by proving the dichotomy false. She demonstrated through reason that liberty is — objectively — the only moral condition for man. She proved that men are not properly regarded as the means to the ends of others, that they own their own life, and that they must be free to pursue their own happiness. Though an atheist, Rand bolstered the audacious claims of the Declaration of Independence by solidifying them in the facts of reality.
If objectivists “took over the world,” Christians would enjoy unprecedented religious freedom. Though atheistic, Objectivism could never result in the tyranny of communism or fascism.
3) Christianity Suppresses Reason
Having considered three crucial misconceptions of Objectivism, let us now turn to misconceptions of Christianity. We should note that objectivists generally know how their philosophy is misunderstood. Christians, on the other hand, frequently contribute to misconceptions of their faith because many are sadly unsure why they believe what they believe. For that reason, these last points may be as enlightening to professing Christians as they are intended to be for non-believers.
I cringe whenever I hear Christians concede that reason is antithetical to Christianity. The sufficiency of scripture stands among the central doctrines of biblical Christianity. So some professing Christians attest that any appeal to reason somehow rejects sola scriptura. To be frank, this is nonsense. Holding to the sufficiency of scripture limits the scope of supernatural revelation, not the scope of human knowledge. The Bible does not tell us how to grow crops or build homes or fashion automobiles or generate electricity. With apologies to the Amish, utilizing technology is not an extra-biblical conceit. To violate the sola scriptura doctrine, a Christian must turn to an extra-biblical source for supernatural revelation. Reason is not a means toward supernatural revelation. So the Christian need not reject reason as an idol.
While it is true that Christendom — the history of human institutions professing ecclesiastical authority in the name of Christ — has suppressed reason by persecuting heretics and resisting science, biblical Christianity advocates individual conscience (Romans 14) and freedom of thought. It is actually unbiblical to suppress reason.
Furthermore, an entire branch of Christian ministry known as “discernment” specializes in applying reason to determine whether emergent teaching from professing Christian pastors and authors is consistent with scripture. If it were true that you could believe anything under Christian premises, as Andrew Bernstein asserted in his debate with Dinesh D’Souza, then discernment would be an exercise in futility.
The difference between Christians and objectivists is not that the latter apply reason while the former reject it. The difference is the epistemological context in which each operate. While objectivists maintain that human knowledge is limited to the observable, Christians accept evidence of divine revelation. Contrary to Bernstein’s characterization, believing in biblical revelation does not open a Pandora’s Box of unlimited fantasy. Christians do not believe a burning bush can speak. They believe an all-powerful God can speak through any means He chooses to employ. Christians do not believe that the dead can come back to life. They believe that God can resurrect that which He created in the first place. Christian doctrine is logical in the context of Christian epistemology.
2) Christianity Is Altruistic
To achieve understanding, we must define our terms. We have considered how selfishness is defined in mainstream culture, as opposed to how Ayn Rand defined it. We touched upon a similar distinction regarding sacrifice. While giving your life for something you value more — like the life of your child — makes rational sense, giving it for something you do not value is a true sacrifice.
Altruism must also be defined, as it stands opposite the egoism Rand advocated. Like sacrifice, altruism holds a sacred place in our cultural discourse. Yet, as we explored while considering the true meaning of selfishness, many of the acts we regard as altruistic are profoundly self-serving. While we think of our armed forces as serving the country, they actually serve their own vital interest — a free nation in which to live in peace and pursue happiness. While those of us who have not served benefit immensely from the actions of those who have, imagine the conceit required to assume any given solider weathered his or her duty with you personally in mind. It’s a fair bet they think of their own life, of their friends and family.
Objectivism defines altruism as living for others at the expense of your own interests. Think of depriving your child of desperately needed medicine in order to give it to a stranger, or taking your life savings to pay for the care of someone else’s sick spouse while neglecting your own.
Objectivists like Andrew Bernstein accuse Christianity of advocating such altruism. They point to the teachings of Jesus Christ, such as those regarding the care of the poor, and the atoning death of Christ on behalf of sinners as examples. Yet, again, we must consider context in order to understand what the Bible actually teaches. Christ’s death on the cross was not a sacrifice in the objectivist sense, but a willing trade of his earthly life for something He valued more — the eternal lives of human beings he loves. Like a parent giving their life to save their children, Christ served his own interest.
Likewise, what may appear to be an altruistic Christian lifestyle is actually self-serving. Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis has generated controversy with his concept of Christian hedonism. What may sound like an oxymoron makes sense once explained. Piper demonstrates from scripture that “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.” In other words, the purpose of life is to achieve eternal satisfaction. It’s a cosmic win-win where obedience results in complete fulfillment, much in the same way a child heeding his father’s warning to stay out of a busy street results in safety. God knows what we need. We need Him. When we surrender to that, we are fulfilled. It is entirely about Him, but nonetheless serves our interests. It’s an arrangement Ayn Rand might have appreciated, where a self-existent God created men to glorify himself.
1) Christianity Condones Theocracy
In his debate with Dinesh D’Souza, Andrew Bernstein claimed that whenever Christianity has been the dominant philosophy in a culture, theocracy has followed. He chronicled the well-known history of the church and its incestuous relationship with the state.
While the history of the church cannot be denied, it is hardly fair to single out Christianity when the vast majority of human history is a chronicle of irrational tyranny. Classical liberalism based in Enlightenment reasoning is the brief experimental exception.
Biblical Christianity does not prescribe an earthly theocracy. As explored previously, Jesus claimed a kingdom not of this world. First-century Christians did not seek civil authority to force their worldview upon their neighbors. The apostle Paul instructed the Roman congregation to submit to earthly authorities when it would not compromise their faith. Christian politics can be summed up simply – Christ is King no matter who is president. The minutiae of human government may remain the realm of human reason without offering threat to the Kingdom of God.
We must pause here to acknowledge that many professing Christians believe otherwise, subscribing to various forms of dominion theology spanning the ideological spectrum from Jim Wallis’s Sojourners on the Left to the Seven Mountain Mandate on the Right. However, the authority for what is Christian remains Jesus Christ and his Word revealed in scripture. Such efforts toward a kind of theocracy are not advocated in the Bible. Rather, Christ commissioned his followers to “make disciples of all the nations.” Far from promising earthly dominion this side of glory, our Lord warned that true Christians would be scattered amidst a sea of pretenders. Matthew 17:13-23:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Therefore, judge Christianity not by the actions of any who claim to be Christian, but by the doctrine found in scripture. By that standard, non-believers need not fear a Christian theocracy, and can be assured that true Christians will stand alongside them in condemnation of any attempt to impose tyranny.
Having given much consideration to the content of the recent debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Andrew Bernstein, and having knocked down some major barriers to understanding, we will wrap up next week with a vision of how Christians and objectivists can ally politically despite their fundamentally different worldviews.
Part 4, the Conclusion: A Reason for Faith: Onward Christian Egoist
A Reason for Faith: Onward Christian Egoist
When Abraham Lincoln needed to rally the nation toward unity, he referenced Matthew 12:25:
But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand…”
That principle proves timeless. Divide and conquer remains an effective tactic. Perhaps that informs the many writers on the Left who have strived to drive a wedge between followers of Jesus Christ and adherents to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
Consider Boston University professor of religion Stephen Prothero, who once wrote that “marrying Ayn Rand to Jesus Christ is like trying to interest Lady Gaga in Donny Osmond.” He cautioned Republican readers against conflating them:
Rand’s trinity is “I me mine.” Christianity’s is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So take your pick. Or say no to both. It’s a free country. Just don’t tell me you are both a card-carrying Objectivist and a Bible-believing Christian. Even Rand knew that just wasn’t possible.
Truthfully, one cannot be both a Christian and an Objectivist. As covered throughout this series, Objectivist epistemology does not allow for any acknowledgement of the supernatural. However, one can be a Christian and recognize many of the objective truths which Ayn Rand articulated. After all, Christians do not deny objective reality. We merely recognize an eternal context. Worldviews need not align to overlap.
Prothero employs the typical objection to any alliance between Christians and objectivists:
Real conservatism is also about sacrifice, as is authentic Christianity. President Kennedy was liberal in many ways, but, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” was classic conservatism. Rand, however, will brook no such sacrifice. Serve yourself, she tells us, and save yourself as well. There is no higher good than individual self-satisfaction.
Here, both Christianity and Objectivism are misrepresented. True, Rand deplored Kennedy’s classic inaugural exhortation, perceiving it to subordinate the individual to the collective (although it could be argued Kennedy intended the opposite). However, she never presented “individual self-satisfaction” as the standard of value. One can be fully satisfied in any given moment without serving their rational long-term self-interest.
As considered in this series, Rand’s standard of value was life. She recognized that each individual either acts in service of his own life, survives by feeding on the life of his neighbor, or withers and dies. Regardless of whatever method Professor Prothero uses to discern “authentic Christianity,” the apostle Paul made it clear that individuals are responsible for their own lives. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10:
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
That apostolic rule is conveniently forgotten by a religious Left which seeks to cast Christ as a socialist. The Bible has very little to say about civil government, its focus being an emphatic invitation to the kingdom of God. It certainly does not call for Christians to initiate force and pass it off as charity.
Sacrifice is the wedge used by the Left to drive Christians and Objectivists apart. Prothero demonstrates the tactic, presenting Rand’s aversion to sacrifice as fundamentally anti-Christian. It hardly fosters understanding when Objectivists echo this sentiment. Objectivists and Christians are not necessarily talking about the same thing, despite using the same word. As previously explored, much of what the mainstream Judeo-Christian culture considers sacrifice qualifies as rational self-interest in Objectivism. Our armed forces serve to maintain a free world in which they intend to live and pursue happiness. They do not seek to die for someone else. Yet their service is commonly regarded as sacrifice. Regardless of such semantics, both Christians and Objectivists value action taken in service of life.
Despite adhering to fundamentally different worldviews, Christians and Objectivists can find common ground on the primacy of the individual in public policy. Consider Ayn Rand’s vision for government:
A society that robs an individual of the product of his effort, or enslaves him, or attempts to limit the freedom of his mind, or compels him to act against his own rational judgment-a society that sets up a conflict between its edicts and the requirements of man’s nature—is not, strictly speaking, a society, but a mob held together by institutionalized gang-rule. Such a society destroys all the values of human coexistence, has no possible justification and represents, not a source of benefits, but the deadliest threat to man’s survival. Life on a desert island is safer than and incomparably preferable to existence in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany.
If men are to live together in a peaceful, productive, rational society and deal with one another to mutual benefit, they must accept the basic social principle without which no moral or civilized society is possible: the principle of individual rights.
To recognize individual rights means to recognize and accept the conditions required by man’s nature for his proper survival.
Man’s rights can be violated only by the use of physical force. It is only by means of physical force that one man can deprive another of his life, or enslave him, or rob him, or prevent him from pursuing his own goals, or compel him to act against his own rational judgment.
The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.
What part of that conflicts with Christianity? On virtually every issue facing the nation today, Objectivists may conceivably stand alongside Christians in common cause. Though opposed to religion, the Objectivist’s affirmation of conscience guarantees religious freedom. At Tea Party rallies across the country, signs asking “Who is John Galt?” were held alongside others reading “God only asks for 10%.” While differing greatly on philosophical particulars, each contingent seeks limited government tasked with upholding individual rights.
There are some prominent areas of irreconcilable disagreement, such as the issue of abortion. As Prothero eagerly highlights, Ayn Rand claimed the unborn have no rights to recognize. Nevertheless, such differences stand out as exceptions among shared goals. Also noteworthy, the disagreement over abortion pivots on the interpretation of individual rights rather than recognition of those rights.
Bottom line: the Left has much to lose from a coalition between Christians and Objectivists. An alliance of secular and religious activists in support of individual rights would stabilize one of the major fault lines commonly exploited to disrupt Republican unity.
That said, we would be remiss without acknowledging professing Christian theocrats who have as much to lose from a mainstreaming of Objectivist principles as the Left does. If you expect government to compel Christian living, to punish sin and subsidize faith, then you prove as statist as any leftist. Recall that the progressive era in the late 19th and early 20th centuries birthed the nationwide prohibition of alcohol, advocated primarily by Christian moralists. In so doing, those Christians broke from their forebears who sought no such control over individual lives, yet were just as religious.
It is one thing to preach the reality of sin, and quite another to claim an earthly authority to codify religious judgments into civil law. While the often abused phrase “separation of church and state” is found nowhere in the Constitution, the guarantee of religious freedom requires compartmentalizing civil and ecclesiastical authority. Religion cannot properly be the basis for civil law.
Whether we believe our nature is God-given or merely “a metaphysical given,” our rights are derived from that nature. We shall either recognize and protect them, or sanction their violation. As God knew from eternity past, the endowment of rights enables sin. If He, in his infinite wisdom, cannot be properly credited with sin for enabling it through creation, surely we cannot be properly credited with sin for enabling it through legislation. God made us free and has dealt with our sin in his way on his timetable. It is not for us to feebly add to his finished work through state-enforced legalism. God’s got sin covered. When dealing with each other here on Earth, let reason prevail.
3. April 18, 2013:
The Anti-Gospel of Bioshock Infinite
Both Right and Left get off easy in Irrational Games’ digital polemic against God.
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Spoiler Warning: Bioshock Infinite cannot be properly analyzed without revealing the details of its plot. If you plan to play it, or haven’t finished it, consider whether you wish to read further.
This may seem an odd way to start an analysis of a video game. But bear with me.
I was not always a Christian. There was a period of my life during which I searched for truth, trying to discern medicine from snake oil. One of the most compelling observations which led to the development of my Christian faith was the unique economy of sin presented in the Bible.
While many people believe that human beings are inherently good, an honest assessment of one’s own thoughts, along with cursory observation of even the youngest child, reveals that human beings are actually quite wicked. Not only are we bad, we like ourselves that way. Indeed, the notion that we are inherently good lowers the moral bar to the status quo, as if this life lived this way with all its horrors and violations were some kind of ideal.
Christianity stands unique among worldviews in not only acknowledging our congenital moral defect, but also in explaining how we contracted it while offering a cure. Other faiths tend to regard sin as some form of moral debit which can be offset by good deeds. Becoming a Christian requires acknowledging that the debt accrued through sin can never be paid by the sinner. Instead, the believer trusts in the atoning death of Christ, pointing to Him as the settler of accounts. Such faith proves difficult, both because we tend to deny our own wickedness and because we prefer to think we can overcome deficiencies on our own.
Surprisingly, this economy of sin proves quite relevant to an analysis of Irrational Games’ hot new shooter set in the skies above 1912 America, Bioshock Infinite. Redemption runs as a prominent theme throughout the experience, presented in various forms which tend to prove false. Protagonist Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton man and player avatar, seeks the seemingly simple redemption of a financial debt to a dangerous creditor. Antagonist Zachary Comstock, head prophet of a xenophobic cult, offers his followers redemption from “the Sodom below” within the floating city of Columbia. Daisy Fitzroy, leader of the leftist Vox Populi, offers her followers redemption from the tyranny of Comstock through militant revolution. Player companion and surprisingly able damsel Elizabeth begins as an innocent who comes to realize her own peculiar need for a second chance.
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Prior to its release, commentators on the Right including this author anticipated that Bioshock Infinite would attack conservative and libertarian ideals by using Comstock and his cult of Founders as a caricature of the Tea Party. That presumption was founded in part upon the abuse of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy perpetrated in the original Bioshock, which was also developed by Irrational Games. However, while the early hours of gameplay in Infinite do little to assuage that concern, the full game proves to be less about politics than about how we deal with our own evil.
Bioshock Infinite begins boldly and ramps up a steep narrative curve. As DeWitt, the player arrives at a small island lighthouse intent upon retrieving a girl named Elizabeth from her confinement in the floating city of Columbia. She is to be delivered to unknown benefactors willing to wipe away DeWitt’s large debt. Within moments, the player rockets from the top of the lighthouse to the sprawling city in the sky. Once there, it becomes immediately clear that the society housed in this unique metropolis adheres to a cultish religion steeped in a mythological view of America’s founding fathers and absolute devotion to “prophet” Zachary Comstock.
An early scene portrays white-robed worshipers in fervent prayer to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. These founding fathers are revered as saints and ascribed attributes of divinity. It’s difficult not to imagine this as how many leftists perceive the Tea Party, as a cult of fanatic founder worshipers who confuse the Constitution with scripture. One friendly character encountered while fleeing Columbia’s fascistic troops encourages this comparison when he exclaims, “Hey, it’s okay! I’m not like the rest. I’m a progressive.”
Many other experiences encountered throughout the game’s early hours encourage the impression that Irrational Games has an axe to grind. In the hall of a secret society from which Columbia’s leaders emerge groomed, a memorial to John Wilkes Booth holds prominence. Elsewhere, Confederate President Jefferson Davis appears canonized in portrait opposite a demonized Abraham Lincoln. The latter is portrayed with devilish red horns and a pointy tail. Racism and xenophobia intermingle indiscriminately with the trappings of American patriotism. As the leftist Vox Populi rebels are introduced, complete with their red communist decor, they seem immediately sympathetic in light of Columbia’s tendency to publicly stone interracial couples.
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One of the most compelling experiences of propaganda in the game proves to be the encounters with Motorized Patriots, heavy-hitting robotic soldiers cloaked in colonial uniforms and American flags. These highly dangerous enemies bear the visages of Washington, Jefferson, or Franklin while reciting excerpts from founding documents intermingled with invented jingoistic rhetoric. There’s something about being attacked by the mechanical specter of George Washington as it chants “we hold these truths to be self-evident” which triggers a Pavlovian revulsion, as if the intent were to train players to fear the Declaration of Independence.
Were the game to continue this way through to its conclusion, it would prove conservative critics correct. However, much changes once the player meets and liberates Elizabeth. Right away, she reveals her aptitude for ripping open “tears” between dimensions of spacetime. This incredible ability not only makes her useful in combat, as she is able to bring in supplies, cover, and allies from other dimensions. It also proves to be the narrative crux of the game’s story.
The player’s journey with Elizabeth leads into a series of alternate dimensions where the balance of power between Comstock’s Founders and Fitzroy’s Vox Populi shifts dramatically. As the leftist militants take control of the city, their methods and motivations prove as heinous and indefensible as Comstock’s. The commies are not the good guys after all. Instead, the game’s developers seem intent to denounce extremism in all its forms.
As the tale approaches its climax, the primary objective for the player and Elizabeth becomes the death of Comstock, who emerges as the lynchpin holding the interdimensional chaos together. No matter which dimension the player inhabits, Comstock proves to be the catalyst for the horrors rocking Columbia.
It’s how that objective resolves, how Comstock is finally defeated in every possible dimension, which explains both why the game has the word “infinite” in the title and how the developers imagine sin might be truly redeemed. Unfortunately, there is no way to discuss it without revealing the game’s ending. So here is your final spoiler warning.
In the final moments of the game, it is revealed that the player — Booker DeWitt — is also Zachary Comstock. Throughout an infinite number of dimensions where alternate choices were made, Zachary Comstock is the assumed identity of the born-again Booker DeWitt. The nexus upon which everything pivots is DeWitt’s choice to become baptized, ostensibly as a Christian, and wash away his past including regret for his role in the bloody Battle of Wounded Knee. The player is a version of DeWitt which rejected baptism, believing it inadequate to resolve his sins, and who instead chose to bear his guilt amid a resolute atheism. Comstock is a version of DeWitt who accepted baptism and went on to become the megalomaniacal tyrant of Columbia.
[jwplayer config=”pjm_lifestyle” mediaid=”38936″]
These two versions of the same man can co-exist thanks to the handy dimension-tearing technology which Elizabeth embodies. She is revealed to be DeWitt’s long-lost daughter, procured by Comstock through interdimensional travel because he could not father offspring of his own. It’s all very confusing, reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Inception. However, the important thing is not to understand how any of it makes scientific sense, only how it makes narrative sense.
The redemption imagined by Irrational Games is both secular and scientific. DeWitt undoes the infinite chaos wrought by Comstock by returning to the moment of baptism and drowning himself with the aid of Elizabeth. By denying any possibility of DeWitt’s second birth as Comstock, DeWitt prevents Columbia from ever manifesting and Elizabeth from ever existing in her given form.
While leaving you scratching your head and rummaging through loose ends, Bioshock Infinite clearly preaches a secular scientific gospel. Sure, the redemption presented requires the ability to manipulate spacetime, but that’s a lot more palatable and feasible to some people than trusting in the atoning death of Jesus Christ. That seems to be the game’s bottom line, as articulated by DeWitt as he runs in panic from the baptismal pool.
You think a dunk in the river’s gonna change the things I’ve done?
That says it all. That’s the game’s message to the player. The idea that sin can be erased by faith is the folly which festers into Columbia. By contrast, DeWitt’s final redemption is to deny second birth not only to himself but every infinite version of himself in every infinite dimension. The drowning baptism which DeWitt finally chooses washes away any seed of faith, a rejection of God so final that it transcends the barriers of space and time. In this way, Bioshock Infinite preaches an anti-gospel.
“Are you afraid of God?” Elizabeth asks DeWitt.
“No,” he replies. “But I’m afraid of you.”
So it seems that the game is both better than its critics feared, and worse. It does not wholly eviscerate the Right, or enshrine the Left. It does, however, eviscerate God while attempting to enshrine man as his own redeemer. Rather than a full-throated attack upon American ideals, the game serves as a complex fantasy prescribing an abandonment of faith. Ironic though it may seem, Ayn Rand might have approved.
4. July 17, 2012:
Eight Ways Blacks Perpetuate Racism and the Only Way to Thwart It
Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock are among the offenders.
It shouldn’t matter that I, an author with the audacity to select such a title, am black. The arguments presented should stand or fall on their objective merit. Nevertheless, I declare my racial identity at the outset to defuse any prejudice readers may bring regarding the motivation behind this piece. Indeed, it is in part because I am black that the following must be said.
All things considered, blacks and the civil rights culture surrounding them are the most open and prolific purveyors of racism in America. This is an ironic travesty which spits upon the graves of history’s abolitionists and offends all who are committed to a dream of equality under the law and goodwill among men.
Surely, such a claim is provocative. Unfortunately, it is also demonstrable.
In a recent interview with National Public Radio host Michel Martin, the Oscar-winning black actor Morgan Freeman made the odd declaration that President Barack Obama is not America’s first black president. NPR reports:
“First thing that always pops into my head regarding our president is that all of the people who are setting up this barrier for him … they just conveniently forget that Barack had a mama, and she was white — very white American, Kansas, middle of America,” Freeman said. “There was no argument about who he is or what he is. America’s first black president hasn’t arisen yet. He’s not America’s first black president — he’s America’s first mixed-race president.”
This is a new take on Obama’s racial identity from Freeman, who has previously cited Obama’s blackness as the chief motivation behind political opposition from both Republicans in Congress and the Tea Party movement. From an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan:
… Morgan asked the actor, “Has Obama helped the process of eradicating racism or has it, in a strange way, made it worse?”
“Made it worse. Made it worse,” Freeman replied. “The tea partiers who are controlling the Republican party … their stated policy, publicly stated, is to do whatever it takes to see to it that Obama only serves one term. What underlines that? Screw the country. We’re going to do whatever we can to get this black man out of here.”
Apparently, Obama is black enough to trigger baseless charges of racism, but not black enough to qualify as the first black president. If that makes your brain hurt, you might be rational.
Freeman’s comments are not anomalies. He channels long-held, broadly accepted ideas regarding what it means to be black, the relevance of race, and the claim of blacks upon the rest of society. These ideas are horrifically racist, yet uniquely tolerated.
The tolerance of racist ideas openly expressed by blacks and the larger civil rights establishment is informed by sloppy thinking regarding both race and the role of government in society. True reconciliation requires confronting these ideas with reason. Here are eight ways in which blacks are perpetuating racism, and the one true way to effectively thwart it.
8 ) Seeking Racial “Purity”
Individuals or groups who seek racial “purity” are properly condemned as bigots — if they are white. Non-whites are routinely given a pass, and in some cases encouraged to “preserve their culture” through sexual segregation.
Morgan Freeman laments President Obama’s “white mama” and cites her as evidence that Obama is not truly black. This raises a few questions, the first of which is: what is “black”?
At the very least, by Freeman’s standard, having a white mother disqualifies one from being black. (That counts me out, too.) But not all blacks are equally so. Freeman himself is relatively light-skinned, certainly on a global spectrum. Many native Africans are far darker than Freeman, closer to ebony than brown. Indeed, the American black is invariably of mixed race, distinct from African cousins by breeding with whites over hundreds of years. Of course, the same can be said of any race over a long enough period of time. American whites are commonly a melting pot of Norwegian, Swede, German, Irish, Latin, Russian, and any of a dozen others.
That speaks to a critical truth. Race is a social construct of little objective value beyond efficiently communicating an amalgam of physical descriptors. President Obama is black, not because both parents were so, but because his physical characteristics are categorized as such in our thought and language. Beyond that, race means nothing. The notion of racial “purity” is inherently irrational, because race itself is subjective.
Why then should we distinguish Obama as the first black president, or argue over whether he is black enough to qualify as such? What rational value does such a distinction have? What is Freeman getting at?
Given the political context, it seems likely that Freeman desires a president whose blackness more dramatically informs public policy. Of course, a president so oriented would necessarily disenfranchise everyone else. And that’s the idea.
7 ) Cultural Segregation
Perhaps the most objective metric supporting the claim that blacks prolifically purvey racism is the astounding number of organizations which openly segregate. There are names we have all come to know, from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to Black Entertainment Television. And there are many others which are lesser known. Consider this list from one of many similar ones available on the web:
- American Association of Blacks in Energy
- The Association of Black Psychologists
- The Executive Leadership Council
- Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
- National Association of Black Accountants
- National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators, and Developers
- National Association of Black Journalists
- National Black Business Council
- National Black Chamber of Commerce
- National Black MBA Association
- National Black Nurses Association
- National Council of Negro Women
- National Coalition of 100 Black Women
- National Medical Association
- National Newspaper Publishers Association
- National Urban League
- National Society of Black Engineers
- Organization of Black Designers
- United Negro College Fund
- 100 Black Men of America
Surely, blacks are not the only demographic group which chooses to associate together, and there is certainly nothing wrong with free association. The problem is the double standard. Substitute white for black in any of the above and you would have theatrical public outcry and claims of civil rights violations.
Segregation of blacks by whites is widely regarded as one of the banes of the civil rights movement. Yet segregation is widely tolerated when blacks choose to engage in it. Such an obvious double standard fuels racial animosity rather than soothing it. If the goal of the civil rights movement was and remains equality and inclusion, how does such prolific segregation advance that?
6 ) Collective Responsibility
Comedian Chris Rock took this past Fourth of July as an opportunity to pimp antiquated racial hatreds. He tweeted:
Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks (sic)
Rock, of course, leads a life of distinguished privilege among the entertainment industry’s brightest stars. He has never lived in chains as the property of another human being. Nor has anyone he knows. Nor has any American in several generations. That the philosophical bias of emancipation was enshrined in the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 is as elusive to Chris Rock as the fact that the men who signed it were not made free by the stroke of a pen. Ideas proceed actions, and the process of crafting government which regards all men as equal under the law continues even today.
Nevertheless, Rock feels justified feigning indigence at a crime to which neither he nor any person alive was a party. How is that possible? He subscribes to and relies upon an irrational sense of collective responsibility.
He is black. The slaves were black. So he is as a slave.
There exist whites. Slave masters were white. So whites are as slave masters.
It’s an elementary logical fallacy which is nonetheless amplified by academics and entertainers alike. It has become a kind of racial gospel, quite literally in the case of black liberation theology. Popular culture is replete with black commentators, preachers, authors, and celebrities testifying to the injustice of slavery as if it happened to them personally and continues to this day.
This offends on two fronts. First, a son is not responsible for the sins of his father. Second, though overt slavery has been long abolished in America, there remain rampant intrusions upon fundamental liberties to varying degrees throughout the world. It is stunningly disingenuous to wring hands over distant history while at best saying nothing about and at worst advocating the many encroachments upon individual rights commonplace today.
In a piece examining black author Touré and the objects of prescribed “spiritual liberation,” PJM associate editor David Swindle asks:
What are his primary liberation concerns in the chapter he titles “Keep It Real is a Prison”? Liberating the black children trapped in inner city schools mismanaged by Democrats and teacher union bureaucrats? Liberating the law-abiding, black families struggling to keep out of the crossfire amidst the the astronomical rate of black-on-black violence? What about liberating the untold numbers of African blacks oppressed by dictators and Islamists? How about all the black women around the world today living as victims of female genital mutilation? What about the black women victimized by gang rape in the Congo?
No tweets on any of that from Chris Rock.
5 ) Masquerading Vengeance as Justice
You can’t have justice without equal treatment under the law. Yet many policy prescriptions and attitudes relating to race explicitly call for the preferential treatment of minorities.
Perhaps the most egregious example is affirmative action. Rather than apply the same standard to all candidates for a given opportunity, affirmative action lowers or eliminates standards for favored groups. This is insulting to all parties concerned, making experience and qualifications inferior to irrelevant political considerations. It is by definition an injustice. Yet is is tolerated and even mandated. Why?
Building on the notion of collective responsibility, affirmative action is sold as social justice. The sins of white fathers deprived black sons of opportunity, it is argued. So white sons must cede their place to blacks. This is not justice in any objective sense. It is an irrational vengeance exacted upon the innocent on behalf of the un-wronged. It is at best a punishment of the son for the sins of his father, and never connected to a demonstrable wrong. What are the odds that a given white person’s ancestor committed a crime against a given black person’s ancestor? To the black racist, it doesn’t matter, because white guilt is collective, as is black entitlement.
Another common way in which vengeance is masqueraded as justice is the rationalization of specific black crime as justified by generalized white crime. Blacks celebrated as O.J. Simpson was acquitted, not because they believed he was innocent, but because he put one over on the Man. Consider this 2007 admission from the blogger of The Black Factor:
For more than a decade, O.J. Simpson has been the Negro that got away. To put it into historical context, O.J. Simpson is the ni**er Whites couldn’t lynch at noon. O.J. was one of the few Black people, who could afford to play the legal system the way Whites have longed played the legal system (Claus Van Bulow, anyone?). And, right or wrong, he walked free. And, many Whites got all beside themselves. As a result, Blacks have been listening to Whites play the crying game every since (sic).
Note no concern for justice. O.J. was a black man getting back at whites for the collective injustices of the past. The object of such a sentiment isn’t to obtain equal treatment under the law, but to turn the tables of history and subject whites to injustice as revenge.
4 ) Loose Accusations of Racism
Race is one of several factors which inform an observer’s subjective judgment, and is not particularly special. What a person wears, how they talk, their posture and demeanor — all have an effect upon what an observer presumes about them. This is particularly true when the observer has to make a quick judgment in an impromptu encounter.
The ability to make snap judgments about another is an integral part of our survival instinct and ought not be blunted by political correctness or cited as evidence of racism. Prejudice, or pre-judgment, is something we rationally inculcate in our children at a very young age. We teach them to beware of strangers. How a person looks is one of the first and most effective means by which we determine them to be strange.
In this sense prejudice is both innate to all persons and appropriate in many contexts. If a woman taking a turn down an alley suppresses her prejudice regarding a gang of motley young men, she risks much unnecessarily.
Prejudice is not inherently racist, and loose accusations of racism based on isolated perceptions of prejudice are premature. Words have meaning, and we have different words to describe distinct concepts. Prejudice, bigotry, and racism are not interchangeable. While prejudice can be innocent and even reasonable in certain contexts, bigotry is the irrational maintenance of a prejudice in light of evidence to the contrary. Bigotry can be informed by a multitude of factors, of which race is only one. Racism is what we call bigotry informed by race.
These distinctions are important in any intellectually honest discussion of race relations. When prejudice, bigotry, and racism are used interchangeably, it is evidence that the discussion is not honest.
3 ) Fighting Irrationality with Irrationality
The consensus that racism is bad does not seem to be informed by a consensus as to why. For many, it seems that racism is simply out of fashion, rather than an objective wrong.
Bigotry offends reason. Sustaining a prejudice about an individual in light of evidence to the contrary does not make sense. It is a rejection of reality, and that is what makes it offensive. Attempts by hand-wringing “progressives” to combat racism with equally irrational assertions compound the offense.
A recent example is the so-called Unfair Campaign, an initiative out of Duluth which was until recently supported by the University of Minnesota. The mission of the Unfair Campaign is to “to raise awareness about white privilege in our community.”
The notion of “white privilege,” as articulated by the Unfair Campaign, is itself a racist sentiment. To assume that all whites have an inherent leg up on the rest of society is as irrational as assuming all blacks are somehow inferior. Indeed, the sentiments are one and the same, a point raised in this response featuring yours truly.
The University of Minnesota has since quietly removed its support of the Unfair Campaign.
2 ) Treating Whites as Hostiles Rather Than Traders
All of the above fosters racism because it perpetuates irrationalism in the culture. At worst, irrationalism becomes institutionalized through public policy, wielding government’s monopoly on force toward subjective and therefore unjust ends. As the populace perceives such injustice, animosity is created where it may not otherwise exist, and accelerated where it might otherwise be benign.
The underlying principle is applicable beyond race relations. Under a condition of liberty, where each individual is protected against the initiation of force by another, trust is engendered and people deal peaceably with one another in trade, offering value for value. When strangers meet in the market, they begin with a greeting.
Conversely, when strangers meet in the wild, they begin with a threat or warning. Why? Because they are not otherwise protected from the initiation of force. Suspicion and hostility is fostered whenever public policy treats people unjustly, such as when one race is granted preferential treatment over another. It doesn’t matter whether it’s whites being treated preferentially under Jim Crow, or blacks being treated preferentially under affirmative action, the injustice and resulting cultural degradation are the same.
1 ) Lifting Civil Rights Above Inalienable Rights
The term “civil rights” has become sacrosanct in the political discourse. It has become interchangeable with “correct” and a rhetorical bludgeon with which to bloody opponents of “social justice.” To call something “a civil rights issue” is to end the argument. Health care. Marriage. Education. Jobs. All have been evoked as civil rights. In so doing, proponents of a new affirmative action hope to paint their opposition as bigots, because popular sentiment holds that only a bigot would oppose a civil right.
This is another corruption of the language, most egregious because of its effect upon public policy and the way in which force is applied in people’s lives. Not all civil rights are good. In fact, when they are crafted in opposition to the inalienable rights recognized in the Declaration and protected by the Constitution, they are downright evil.
Civil rights are legal grants from the state which can be wholly arbitrary. The inalienable rights of the individual are objectively derived and exist independent of the state. Good civil rights support inalienable rights. For instance, voting is a civil right which compliments the inalienable rights of the voter. Bad civil rights oppose inalienable rights. Granting a civil right to health care or any other provision places a burden upon producers to supply their wares without trade, something which used to be called robbery.
Because the civil rights movement of the 1960s was in opposition to institutionalized racism, civil rights have since been associated with decency and justice in the public discourse. That association has been abused to promote all manner of wrong. The potential exists to make a civil right out of anything. In fact, the claim of a slave owner over his “property” in a state with legal slavery would be a civil right. A hammer might be used to bash in someone’s head as readily as it may pound a nail. Likewise, civil rights may be crafted for ill as readily as for good.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a world where people were treated equally under the law, and judged by one another according to the content of their character. Such a world requires the condition of liberty, where people may only deal with each other in trade, not by force. Absent the fear and distrust which manifest in a system of political favoritism, people are incentivized to deal with each other respectfully. Free association can never deprive anyone of anything. Force can, however, and therefore ought to be removed from human relationships. That’s what proper government does. True concern for racial equality can only manifest in a vigorous defense of individual rights. Those who mindlessly seek civil rights in opposition to objectively derived individual rights seek tyranny, not equality, and deserve to be regarded as the agitators they are.
5. July 6, 2013:
The Red Placebo: Confessions of a Former Conspiracy Dabbler
Often portrayed as heroic and haphazardly correct, conspiracists dangerously deny objective reality.
The Matrix may have inspired an entire generation of conspiracists. We sometimes forget the impact of a particular moment in our popular culture. The success of The Matrix was that no one saw it coming. Though the concept of virtual reality and computer simulations had long been weaved throughout science fiction, the Wachowski brothers’ uniquely plausible presentation captured the mainstream imagination.
The allure of the red pill, of knowing a terrible truth and boasting an esoteric righteousness from the knowing, haunted many moviegoers long after the credits rolled. The film’s imagery and lexicon went on to permeate the various truther movements which gained popularity in the following decade.
Often portrayed as heroic, innocent, kooky, or haphazardly correct, conspiracists are actually dangerous. After all, what we accept to be accurate knowledge informs both our actions and our emotional responses. By refusing to accept plain facts and insisting upon indulging unsubstantiated fantasy, conspiracists in effect become willful psychotics, consciously rejecting reality.
Let us consider a few examples of how conspiracists stumble through our popular culture.
In Roland Emmerich’s disaster porn 2012, Woody Harrelson’s pirate radio conpiracist Charlie Frost proves himself prophetic. Operating out of a cluttered trailer in Yellowstone National Park, Frost accurately predicts the end of the world better than the combined scientific-industrial complex of the G20 nations. Presented as unkempt, disorganized, and somewhat repulsive, Frost nonetheless enjoys validation as his wacky theory tying solar activity to the Mayan calendar manifests in global tectonic catastrophe.
In John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic They Live, professional wrestler turned actor “Rowdy” Roddy Piper plays a drifter who comes across a pair of sunglasses which enables him to discern subliminal messages on billboards, signs, television screens, and magazines. The spectacles even let him see the many hideous aliens in his midst who have disguised themselves as humans. The film shares the tone of the earlier television miniseries V, which portrayed a fascist invasion of reptilian aliens who at first appear to be friendly and human-like. In both stories, the notion of the rebellious few who see the truth while others comply like mindless sheep — “sheeple” in truther lingo — becomes well established.
That notion plays out in real life through the proselytization of David Icke, who on the conspiracist spectrum serves as mainline heroin compared to Alex Jones’ gateway trutherism. Icke claims that world affairs proceed under the malevolent control of a race of hybrids created by combining humans with alien reptilian DNA. Icke and his followers offer “proof” in the form of video stills of high-profile politicians and media personalities whose eyes briefly appear to be reptilian slits when the interlacing of two frames creates video artifacts. It would be laughable if not for the fact that people actually believe it.
Take Alice Walker for example. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple — which was adapted to film by none other than Steven Spielberg and launched the careers of both Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey — stands enthralled by the conspiratorial revelations of Icke. She writes in her blog:
Earlier I wrote that David Icke reminded me of Malcolm X. I was thinking especially of Malcolm’s fearlessness. A fearlessness that made him seem cold, actually, though we know he wasn’t really. All that love of us that kept driving him to improve our lot; often into quite the wrong direction, but I need not go into that. What I was remembering was how he called our oppressors “blue eyed devils.” Now who could that have been? Well, we see them here in David Icke’s book as the descendants of the reptilian race that landed on our sweet planet the moment they could get a glimpse of it through the mist that used to cover it (before there was a moon). No kidding. Deep breath! Yes, before there was a moon! (Oh, I love the moon; can I keep it? Please?). Anyway, there they came, these space beings (we’re space beings too, of course, not to forget that). But they looked…. different than us. And they were.
Like I said, psychotic. Walker’s fixation upon the moon springs from a belief propagated by Icke that the natural satellite is actually an artificial creation of the alien reptilians which bombards us with a signal to control our minds. Indeed, that’s no moon. It’s a space station!
Such notions are bolstered in popular culture by conspiracy narratives like those found throughout The X-Files franchise which popularized the phrase “the truth is out there,” which is to say it’s not right here in front of you. You can’t trust what you see. You can’t trust any of your senses. You certainly can’t trust any claim of authority.
Sometimes the conspiracist mindset lurks subtly in the background of our entertainment. Such was the case in the 1996 Michael Bey actioner The Rock, starring Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, and Ed Harris among an array of recognizable character actors portraying the seizure of Alcatraz as a base for launching an attack on San Francisco. Connery’s long-imprisoned British spy earned his sentence by stealing and hiding a microfilm record documenting many conspiratorial secrets, such as what really happened at Roswell in 1947 and who killed JFK.
Then we have films which play with our perception and encourage us to doubt the integrity of reality. Total Recall uses the specter of manufactured memories to keep its protagonist and the audience guessing as to who is who and what is what. Jurassic Park actor Sam Neill stars in two such films, In the Mouth of Madness and the supremely terrifying Event Horizon. Coming full circle, we can include The Matrix which rests its entire premise on the notion of a false reality. We should note that the simulated reality of The Matrix is presented as our own. Déjà vu, a phenomenon we have all experienced, is explained as a glitch in the computer simulation. The tendency of various animal meats to taste like chicken is attributed to a lack of imagination by the machines who created the Matrix. We are meant to doubt, not some fictional reality, but our own.
Perhaps the influence of such narratives contributed to my own exploration of the conspiracist community. After the election of 2004, finding myself disillusioned by how Republican-controlled government was falling short of the ideals I had heard on talk radio since coming of age during the Clinton years, I allowed myself to entertain any explanation as to why Bush and Congress were not governing like conservatives.
Enter Alex Jones, with his seemingly plausible claim that the Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same coin, fronts for a globalist conspiracy to erect a New World Order. Look! We have video of Bush 41 telling Congress about it. Look! We sneaked into the Bohemian Grove and took creepy footage of a strange ceremony. Look! That hole in the Pentagon wasn’t shaped like an airplane… as if aluminum leaves a cartoon silhouette in reinforced concrete.
After many months veraciously taking in everything Prison Planet had to offer, watching Jones’ entire catalog of documentary-style films, and following his organization’s “alternative news” and even having a couple of my personal blog entries cross-posted on his site, I eventually began to tire of the shtick. There were a number of things which contributed to my rejection of the conspiracist mindset.
First, as I began to get more involved in political activism and came to know people in positions of real power, their bumbling humanity undercut any sense that they might be part of a massive globalist conspiracy. That observation added credence to the idea that vast, complex conspiracies like those posited by 9/11 truthers, who more often than not don’t even agree with each other, would require far more covert cooperation among innumerable co-conspirators than is remotely feasible.
I also found it suspect that Jones and his ilk never presented practical solutions, even within the context of their unique worldview. If anything, they seemed to employ the very fear-mongering tactics they accused others of using. To listen to Jones on a regular basis is to live on the edge of a knife, in constant anticipation of tomorrow’s martial law, complete with door-to-door gun confiscation and cattle cars delivering patriots to concentration camps.
The cliché proves true: even a broken clock is right twice a day. There have been times when Jones has been right about particular aspects of a story. However, the context of wild conspiracy theories creates a “boy who cried wolf” effect which actually encourages people to dismiss observations of legitimate concern. For instance, the gun confiscation which occurred as part of the government response to Hurricane Katrina deserved scrutiny. Yet, reporting on it alongside tales of HAARP weather control and hidden FEMA camps only discouraged mainstream coverage.
Further undermining Jones’ credibility was his conduct when engaging with those who disagreed with him. Upon first encountering him, I dismissed his confrontational style as a personality quirk. Eventually, I realized it was actually essential to the conspiratorial mindset.
Chest-thumping rage channeled into an “info war” fought with rambling factoid carpet bombs created the illusion of a researched and righteous indignation. In truth, Jones was merely changing the subject so frequently as to keep his opponents off-balance. Another big tell was the speed at which he and his organization would jump to conclusions. When something like the Boston Marathon bombing occurs, Jones reliably takes to social media within the hour positing with incredible confidence a conspiratorial context, employing an obvious confirmation bias. Information which appears to confirm what he wants to believe is immediately credible. Information which does not confirm what he wants to believe, or conflicts, is just as immediately dismissed as part of the conspiracy.
Therein lies the reason why conspiracists are genuinely dangerous. Just as it would be ill-advised to drive while blindfolded or fly an airplane in whiteout conditions without instruments, proceeding through life in denial of the facts at hand leads inexorably to harm. Genuine threats to life, liberty, and property exist in the real world and deserve an informed response. Conflating those with imagined or unproven threats diverts attention from where it ought to be focused. More fundamentally, the goal of a properly whittled down government limited to its single rightful purpose of protecting individual rights, if achieved, would inherently defang any malevolent conspiracy. So why not focus on achieving that rather than converting people to believe “the truth” regarding a particular incident?
In my experience, the conspiratorial mindset presents the believer with an excuse for inactivity. Sure, the Alex Joneses of the world happily trot around the globe chasing Bilderbergers, shoving cameras in people’s faces, and ranting in bullhorns. But that’s not activism. It doesn’t accomplish anything. It doesn’t affect public policy or otherwise secure individual rights. On the contrary, it drives an addictive sense of perpetual revolution where believers stand ever ready to shoot back, yet won’t bother to participate in the political process and effect real change. It’s so much easier to sit holed up in your bomb shelter, cleaning your arsenal for the day the Man comes to take it, than to roll up your sleeves and commit to the humble and often tedious work of politics. One of those options has the virtue of seeding real change. The other proves self-indulgent.
6. July 13, 2013:
Folly of the Jedi
For a thousand generations, the Jedi knights seeded moral confusion in the Old Republic.
Love them or hate them, the Star Wars prequels prove by comparison why the original trilogy boasts such universal appeal. We love Luke, Han, Leia, and their ragtag band of rebels because they act from a profound moral conviction. They pursue liberty at any cost, and defy tyranny with admirable resolve. The prequel heroes, by contrast, spend a lot of time wringing their hands.
Over the course of the saga, Skywalker and son operate as essentially the same character presented in different contexts. Despite enjoying the collective instruction of the entire Jedi Order, Anakin falls to the Dark Side. Conversely, his son Luke adheres to the Light despite coming of age in dark times.
Upon due consideration, the prequels reveal that the Jedi Order was the true phantom menace. They took an innocent child with earnest moral impulses and turned him into a deeply conflicted, morally confused time bomb ill-equipped to deal with reality. Surely, the Sith were evil. However, despite an alleged moral dichotomy, so were the Jedi. Our recognition of their error makes it difficult to regard them as heroes and thus care about their plight. In the end, the teachings of the Jedi led directly to Anakin’s fall and the galaxy’s plunge into darkness. Perhaps that’s a large part of the reason we don’t care for their story that much.
The Jedi of the Old Republic operate from a disturbing moral ambivalence, fully personified in Grand Master Yoda and reflected to lesser degrees in the rest of the Council and their knights. At the close of Attack of the Clones, after reluctantly deploying the titular army to counter a clear and present separatist threat, Yoda rebukes Obi-Wan for regarding the outcome as victory.
Victory? Victory, you say? Master Obi-Wan, not victory. The shroud of the Dark Side has fallen. Begun the Clone War has.
Therein lies one of the distinguishing characteristics of the prequel trilogy, an aversion to war among its heroes. From Queen Amidala’s initial refusal to “condone an action that will lead us to war,” to Yoda’s above noted refusal to acknowledge a moral mandate to destroy aggressors, the prequel protagonists spend most of their time trying to weasel out of conflict – and thus exasperate it.
Anakin stands out as a refreshing exception. He hungers to punish evil, to destroy threats to peace and justice. With his master nearby but unconscious during their final confrontation with separatist leader and known Sith lord Count Dooku, Anakin gains the upper hand but hesitates before eliminating the threat. His conflict can be compared to that facing real-life coalition forces engaging terrorists and insurgents on the battlefield. More than one critic objected to the killing of Osama bin Laden. From Spiegel:
A vice president of German parliament, Katrin Göring-Eckhardt, told the daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung: “As a Christian, I can only say that it is not a reason to celebrate, when someone is killed in a targeted way.” Göring-Eckhardt, a member of the Greens, said bin Laden should have been arrested and put on trial.
That’s precisely what Anakin claims he should have done with Dooku. However, the sentiment comes across forced, motivated by a sense of religious duty rather than rational judgment.
That struggle between code and judgment resolves in the other direction when he walks in on Jedi master Mace Windu’s confrontation with the evil mastermind Darth Sidious. As council members go, Windu tends most hawkish. Initially intent upon arresting Sidious, Windu reacts to the increasingly evident threat by choosing — as Anakin did with Dooku – to abandon the Jedi code and destroy the Sith. Likely motivated in part by a sense of guilt for his previous deviation from the code, Anakin intervenes on Sidious’ behalf, arguing that the Sith lord should face trial.
In that moment, Anakin finds himself hopelessly adrift in a sea of moral confusion. He lacks a sound moral reference, something solid to grab a hold of, and gets swept out beyond any hope of return. While the sin is his own, his upbringing in the care of the Jedi Order cannot be dismissed as inconsequential.
It all comes back to attachment. Throughout the prequels, we hear the Jedi warning against attachment. Anakin must leave his mother, abandoning her to slavery and ultimately to death. Anakin must let go of his anger, no matter whether it proves justified. Anakin must refrain from romantic love, because passion apparently cannot be controlled. Anakin must refrain from mourning the dead, and instead serenely accept their passing.
It’s worth noting that these prohibitions are never placed in any rational context. Yoda merely asserts as self-evident fact that:
Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
Thus attachment must be avoided to stave off any fear of loss. But what sense does that make?
If death need not be feared, why fight at all? What value is there in peace and justice if not to preserve life? And if we seek to preserve life, are we not expressing an attachment to it?
Anakin’s confusion and moral conflict arise from the friction generated between this contrived prohibition on attachment and his natural hunger to live! He wants to enjoy life. He wants to be with those he loves. He wants to live with them in peace, and protect them from harm. These are rational values which the Jedi irrationally condemn as a path to the Dark Side.
And so Anakin’s masters set the stage for the Revenge of the Sith. Unable to dislodge Anakin’s sense of duty to the Jedi Order, Darth Sidious shifts tactics, dangling a promise of esoteric knowledge which could preserve Anakin’s chief value – his wife Padme. It may at first seem that the Jedi prohibition on attachment is thus validated. However, Anakin’s real problem is not his attachment to his wife so much as a religious code which runs contrary to that rationally conceived value. It is only because he has been taught that attachment is wrong that he wanders haphazardly into the embrace of the Sith.
Indeed, when you go back and view the original trilogy within the context of the prequels, the saga becomes an affirmation of rationally conceived familial attachment, and thus a damnation of the Old Republic’s Jedi. Think of it. A New Hope is literally born of the forbidden love between Anakin and his bride. Despite the best conspiratorial efforts of the remaining Jedi – Yoda and Obi-Wan – the familial relationships between Luke, Leia, and Anakin come to light and dictate each character’s behavior.
Recall that Yoda and Obi-Wan never change their tune. The latter outright lies — or tells the truth “from a certain point of view” — to keep Luke from developing an familial attachment to Vader. The former continues to encourage Luke to let go of attachments. As much as the original trilogy introduces Yoda and Obi-Wan as wise old wizards with a master plan, in the end, their effort turns on its head. Their plan to train Luke like any other Jedi and send him to destroy Vader and his emperor falls flat. Luke does not defeat Vader through serene detachment, but by channeling a righteous rage in defense of his sister. Following suit, the good in Anakin reemerges from the vestige of Darth Vader when drawn out by paternal attachment to Luke.
All episodes considered, the saga presents a twist ending. The Jedi were wrong. The Force could only be brought into balance by the very attachments their order rejected.
7. January 29, 2013:
Five Ideas You Need to Rise From Poverty to the Middle Class
Getting ahead requires leaving some things behind.
It was like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy emerges from the grey remains of her dislocated home into an exotic world of color. That was how I felt at twelve years of age upon my arrival in Minnesota.
Home up to that point had been the dank flat malaise of inner-ring suburban Detroit. In many ways, the Motor City evoked Dorothy’s Kansas. Everything was built on the grid system, many right angles, old houses of stone and brick. It was tangibly dull, colors muted by wear and grime. Winters were especially bleak. An amalgam of overcast, endless concrete and dirt-ridden snow drowned the world in grey. By comparison, the big skies and rolling hills of the Mississippi valley seemed a storybook paradise.
That first trip to Minnesota was made in order to spend time with my father. He had been maintaining an apartment in the Twin Cities while starting a new position with Northwest Airlines. We were to scout out potential homes in anticipation of transplanting the rest of the family, my mother and two sisters. It was perhaps the most visceral manifestation of upward mobility in our family’s history, chasing opportunity across the country.
It was the culmination of my father’s economic journey, which had its beginnings in poverty. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about my father’s childhood aside from the scraps I’ve managed to glean from remarks thrown here and there. I know enough, however, to understand that my father’s rise to the middle class beat the odds — which were stacked against him from the start.
Many years later, I continue to benefit from the choices Dad made. Now the father of my own young family, I stand atop his shoulders looking to grab the next rung. From that position, I realize that some of the essential concepts my father applied are still relevant to me today. As I seek to renew the momentum my father achieved, I reflect upon where he began and how he got to where he did. There are valuable lessons there.
First, it’s important to understand the goal. When we consider the quest for upward mobility, what is our measure of success? In a 2011 piece for Time magazine, assistant managing editor Rana Foroohar makes a crucial distinction:
You can argue about what kind of mobility really matters. Many conservatives, for example, would be inclined to focus on absolute mobility, which means the extent to which people are better off than their parents were at the same age. That’s a measure that focuses mostly on how much economic growth has occurred, and by that measure, the U.S. does fine. Two-thirds of 40-year-old Americans live in households with larger incomes, adjusted for inflation, than their parents had at the same age (though the gains are smaller than they were in the previous generation).
But just as we don’t feel grateful to have indoor plumbing or multichannel digital cable television, we don’t necessarily feel grateful that we earn more than our parents did. That’s because we don’t peg ourselves to our parents; we peg ourselves to the Joneses. Behavioral economics tells us that our sense of well-being is tied not to the past but to how we are doing compared with our peers. Relative mobility matters. By that standard, we aren’t doing very well at all. Having the right parents increases your chances of ending up middle to upper middle class by a factor of three or four.
It’s a mistake to take for granted the notion that “relative mobility matters” without asking why. As we consider some ideas for rising from poverty to the middle class, it will become apparent that improving our individual quality of life is a superior consideration to how our wealth compares with that of others.
Authors who advocate government action in order to address income inequality and upward mobility are fond of their statistics. An example from Foroohar:
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project has found that if you were born in 1970 in the bottom one-fifth of the socioeconomic spectrum in the U.S., you had only about a 17% chance of making it into the upper two-fifths.
Such figures are meant to inform a social diagnostic which too often prescribes more subsidy of the poor. However, that prescription takes a dim view of the human condition and fails to account for how 17% of children born in 1970 beat the odds and rose from the bottom one-fifth of the spectrum to the upper two-fifths. It wasn’t chance, as the figure cited out of context suggests. It wasn’t the mechanical effect of flipping society’s bureaucratic levers. There is no magic formula of government action which propels people from one class to another.
The key to upward mobility, to improving the quality of life, is the acceptance and application of certain ideas. At first glance, they may seem overly simplistic or blatantly obvious. Yet so few actually implement them that it is worth our time to review them. To that end, here are 5 ideas you need in order to rise from poverty to the middle class.
5) Understand Value and How to Create It
In spite of the descending order, these ideas are presented from the most foundational. If readers do not understand value and how to create it, the rest of this list will do them little good.
Let’s be honest. Upward mobility is a euphemism for making more money. There is no shame in that, and we shouldn’t gloss it over. Contrary to the cliché, money can buy happiness. While maintenance of long-term happiness requires more than money, try staying happy without it.
Consider why money is essential to happiness. All living things act to stay alive and improve life’s quality, to survive and thrive. That which we act to obtain and keep is the essence of value. Plants value sunlight, minerals, carbon dioxide, and water. They act, albeit slowly, to obtain those values. Animals likewise seek after the necessities and comforts of life. Man, the rational animal, is unique in his ability to transcend instinct and conceive of new values which did not previously exist. A sharper, lighter spear; a stronger, tighter basket; a way to harness fire or travel over water — such inventions and innovations are values which build upon one another to enable a quality of life theretofore unimaginable.
Since none of us are born innately aware of how to produce the many conceived values enhancing our lives, we come to benefit from them through trade. Can’t make a spear to save your life, but crank out gathering baskets by the dozen? You’ve got a trade. Money is our medium of exchange, something easily portable and generally expected to hold its value. In short, money is the stand-in for any conceivable value we may obtain through trade.
Understanding this helps us dispense with the sophomoric notion that money is the root of all evil, or that we ought to shy away from accumulating it or apologize for having it. It is through the production of value that we “make money.” Dad was right when he said it doesn’t grow on trees. Nevertheless, it can grow if properly cultivated. By identifying what value we are adept at creating, we position ourselves to take the first step toward rising from poverty, earning an income.
Granted, if you are poor, it may be that the value you are capable of producing does not command much in the market. Even so, the most menial of productive tasks can be the seed from which upward mobility springs, provided you embrace the rest of our presented ideas.
4) Untether from Your Class
The tidbits I picked up about my father’s childhood were usually overheard during my parents’ arguments. A recurring theme of their marital discord was my father’s tendency to provide monetarily for his brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. It frustrated my mother to see him dispense handouts from his earned and limited income to subsidize the irresponsible behavior of extended family members.
I was too young to understand the dynamic at the time. In retrospect, I believe my father was acting upon a sense of guilt endemic of the class into which he was born. Rather than celebrate my father’s upward mobility or congratulate him on his earned success, his family resented him and regarded him with a “who do you think you are” attitude. Accepting this unearned guilt as somehow legitimate, my father regularly paid penance for his success by sacrificing to our extended family.
It demonstrated a limitation in my father’s ability to untether from his class, to disregard the expectations, traditions, assumptions, and dictates of family, friends, and neighbors. That’s not to say my father did not transcend cultural limitations. Indeed, the success he met with could not have been possible otherwise.
Had he listened to his family while growing up, he would have believed himself as inferior as he was treated. As a black man raised in the civil rights era, he also could have believed himself a victim of society. Although he never completely shook these influences, he did overcome them through sheer force of stubborn, persistent will.
His rise was nothing glamorous. He started fueling airplanes for Butler Aviation, a company eventually acquired by Republic Airlines which was in turn acquired by Northwest. He earned his way into a position as a stock clerk and, seeing that he required education to advance further, began taking night school courses to become an airplane mechanic. For two years, I never saw him. He went to school in the evening, worked overnight, and slept during the day. The effort bore him an opportunity to move to Northwest’s main hub in Minneapolis, where he earned far more than before.
Such steady, long-term self-improvement made my father an anomaly among his family and class. The New York Times’ Jason DeParle notes the stagnation typical of poverty:
Even by measures of relative mobility, Middle America remains fluid. About 36 percent of Americans raised in the middle fifth move up as adults, while 23 percent stay on the same rung and 41 percent move down, according to Pew research. The “stickiness” appears at the top and bottom, as affluent families transmit their advantages and poor families stay trapped.
Such stickiness is best explained by the ideas which are transmitted from one generation to the next. If you think someone is keeping you down, it becomes an excuse to stay there. More insidious is the policing of class which takes place among peers. A starving artist is respected until he makes it big, then he’s demeaned as a sellout. Much of the hatred directed at Sarah Palin was no doubt fueled by the animosity of women in her demographic range who resented the aspiration to high office while raising a family and looking good doing it. There is an unwritten rule, “Thou shalt not make the rest of us look bad.” Those who transcend their class always break that rule. If you seek upward mobility, you must be comfortable being persecuted for it.
3) Live Within Your Means
My mother never had any money. She was always “a little short.” She regularly overdrew her checking account. It got to the point where she developed a peculiar relationship with her bank’s managers. They knew her on a first name basis, knew she was pretty harmless if frustratingly intractable, and frequently forgave her fees out of pity.
Mom had this trick she’d play every month — her little gamble. She received a fixed income from Social Security disability and was always flat broke several days before her next deposit arrived. She knew that if she wrote out a check to the grocery store, or any other business, that it could take as long as three days to clear her account. So she would routinely start spending her money three days before it was in the bank. Then she’d keep spending until it was gone.
Needless to say, having such a poor financial role model coupled with a complete lack of economic education through public school set me up for some pretty horrific decisions as an adult. I remember receiving my first paycheck from my first job and thinking only of what I could immediately go out and buy with that amount of money. That was bad enough. The catalyst for true disaster was applying the same attitude toward credit.
While most of my class was heading off to college, I went straight into the workforce and got an apartment with a co-worker who was no more responsible than I. We were both moving out of our parents’ homes and focused primarily on what kind of social opportunities that freedom presented. When pre-approved credit offers started pouring it — as they tend to when you’re young and dumb — I saw it as free money. Why wait to furnish our new bachelor pad? Why wait for a dream home-theater setup? Why say no to the best stuff now? I have no greater regret than those early financial decisions, the consequences of which haunt me to this day.
I remember the moment I first realized how ridiculous consumer credit could be. I had purchased a computer on credit several years prior and had mindlessly sent in my minimum payments month after month. One day, about the time the computer became obsolete, it occurred to me that I should be pretty close to paying it off. When my next statement arrived, I took the highly unusual step of looking at it and discovered that I had indeed paid an amount far surpassing the original principal… and still owed an amount equal to the original principal. I was shocked! How was such a thing possible? How could I still owe when I had already paid more than the original purchase was worth? It seemed somehow unfair that I could owe so much, after having paid so much, and all for something I could no longer use.
This was the manner of my economic education — the school of ignorant screw-ups. Had I known at the start of my adulthood what I know now, I could have positioned myself to be much better off.
Unable to change the past, I now focus upon the present and the future. I resolve to not only live within my means, but to put my savings to work through investment and teach my sons the financial lessons which no one bothered to teach me.
A 2009 study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project indicates that the choice to save improves the odds of generational prosperity:
Children of low-saving (i.e., below median), low-income parents are significantly less likely to be upwardly mobile than children of high-saving, low-income parents.
Seventy-one percent of children born to high-saving, low-income parents move up from the bottom income quartile over a generation, compared to only 50 percent of children of low-saving, low-income parents.
It should go without saying. Yet it doesn’t. Live within your means.
2) Live Intentionally
This one is increasingly difficult in our modern world. Distractions and time wasters lurk as close as your smartphone and summon with the persistence of an always-on internet connection. Hours can disappear, utterly wasted, if we fail to keep time in check.
On any given day, I commonly forget why I logged into Facebook. Maybe it was to check the status of an event. Maybe it was to continue a conversation. Maybe it was to post a link or upload a photo. Whatever the original intent, random notifications, tailored ads, or pop-up chats frequently derail my train of thought. What? An hour has gone by? How did that happen? Regardless, I’m never getting it back.
On the spectrum of sexy, “time management” falls somewhere between estate planning and bed pans. Yet the ability and willingness to effectively direct our attention can have a profound effect upon our physical, mental, and financial well-being.
We commonly say that we are busy, that we do not have time, or that there aren’t enough hours in the day. However, we more likely have plenty of time that we choose to prioritize in habitual ways. While there is certainly nothing wrong with routine, an occasional evaluation of how our time is spent and why is extremely healthy.
Without intention, without an agenda for the day, time can easily sift through our fingers as we drift aimlessly down a path of least resistance. Such days are sometimes necessary, and take on the intentional purpose of rest and relaxation. However, life should not be an endless string of such days. Proverbs 10:4 puts it simply:
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
Laziness might be defined by a lack of intention, living life by luck and lottery. Most of us have a respectable work ethic in certain contexts. We do our job while on the clock. We take care of our children. We maintain our home. Yet, too often that ethic goes unapplied to the overall direction of our life. We plug away, living from check to check, enjoying feast and riding out famine, waiting for our proverbial ship to come in. Foroohar identifies the problem:
The mythology of the American Dream has made it difficult to start a serious conversation about how to create more opportunity in our society, since many of us still believe that our mobility is the result of our elbow grease and nothing more.
The author goes on to make a case for government activism. However, spending tax dollars to subsidize poverty will not end it. Elbow grease commands respect. However, it must be the right work for the right purpose managed in the right way. Hard work applied to an unproductive process is an unconscionable waste.
It is not enough to pat ourselves on the back for a particular job well done. We have to make sure the fruit of our labor is managed toward a larger goal. Otherwise, we can expect perpetual check to check living.
1) Seek Advice from Successful People
It’s not enough to untether from your class. If you want to grab the next rung, you need to acquire the habits of successful people. If you are poor, or at any point less than where you would like to be, this means accepting the uncomfortable truth that your friends, family, and neighbors are probably not the people you want to take advice from. After all, if they had insight into the secrets of success, they wouldn’t be your socioeconomic peers.
Does that mean you have to crash country clubs and rub elbows with big investors and CEOs? By all means, if you can acquire a rich friend willing to mentor you, do so. Otherwise, start reading books.
Read books. Do not just read blog posts and articles. One of the first things I’ll often do before stumbling into a debate with someone is ask, “So what books most inform your views on this subject?” If they admit to not being well-read — and they usually do — then you win the debate by default.
There’s a reason why people write books. Certain ideas and arguments require a volume to properly convey. This is especially true when introducing new concepts like those which separate wealth creators from wealth consumers.
Public education does not convey essential economic concepts such as what value is and how to create it. Nor does it effectively teach how money works or how to best manage it. Instead, public education is mandated from the top down to mold “world citizens” who will be pliantly managed from cradle to grave.
I remember graduating from high school and spending the next few years experiencing a nagging sense of abandonment. For 18 years, between the structure of home, the structure of religion, and the structure of public education, I had been told where to go and what to do without ever being trained how to think. Graduation was a kind of banishment into an unexplained wild. Taking the educational scraps you are given is not enough. Truly valuable learning must be sought.
My reading list includes the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, What I Didn’t Learn in School But Wish I Had by Jamie McIntyre, and The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. Each address the attitudes and mindsets which separate the wealthy from everyone else. In their own way, these books are like having a rich friend willing to mentor you. Best of all, books are cheap. You can even benefit from them for free if you visit a library.
When advocates of government activism bemoan the rarity of upward mobility, they are informed by a distaste for income inequality. They regard the fact that some people earn more money than others as evidence of some undefined corruption in the system.
In truth, upward mobility is unusual because it requires breaking from the familiar. From poverty to the middle class, one must learn how to make money. From the middle class to abundant wealth, one must learn to manage money. In either case, moving up requires the initiative to seek skills and develop habits uncommon to one’s class. Put another way, in a free market, poverty is a choice. So too is success.
8. January 31, 2012
Hunkered Between Santorum and Paul Lies Peace Through Total War
Imagine discovering that your police force, funded through local taxes, has begun diverting patrols to a neighboring town instead of protecting your own. Most people would be up in arms, and rightfully so.
A similar impulse informs Ron Paul’s foreign policy. He claims our military is off adventuring outside its jurisdiction. It is a message which appeals to a loyal base of supporters who believe that America’s military ought to respond to direct threats against American lives, rather than police the rest of the world.
There is a legitimate argument for refocusing our military, but not as Ron Paul and many of his supporters articulate it. Paul imagines a world where there are no credible threats, and thus nothing worth responding to. He imagines that the Constitution of the United States is binding over the lot of man, regardless of whether they are citizens or foreign enemy combatants. Worst of all, he imagines no cultural distinction motivating the behavior of regimes like Iran’s:
I don’t know of anybody who can militarily threaten [Israel]. They have 300 nuclear weapons. Nobody’s gonna touch them…
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a multitude of imams and Islamist fanatics disagree. They don’t value life as Western civilization does. Indeed, they embrace death as a path to salvation. In their hands, a single nuclear weapon is a far greater threat to human life than the 300 held by a nation like Israel, which hopes never to use them.
Paul’s inability to make such an essential distinction has kept his support from rising above a particular ceiling. Yet, what support he has remains impressively stable, indicating that he speaks to some chord within many voters.
Opposite Paul stands Rick Santorum, a candidate who has struck an entirely different chord. Santorum is a proud neoconservative interventionist who believes America has a unique place in the world which endows it with an esoteric duty to spread democracy and freedom. The Hill reports,
Listening to Rick Santorum, one imagines he would lead America to more war, very quickly. Santorum speaks loudly, carries a big stick and speaks with a trigger-happy enthusiasm common to neoconservatives. The winds of war blow from Santorum’s lips with an almost casual air of breathless excitement that virtually guarantees more war if Santorum is elected president.
Listening to Ron Paul, by contrast, there is an isolationism that worries almost all leading national-security strategists, from conventional liberals to conventional conservatives. While Santorum gives the impression he would jump to war quickly, Paul gives the impression he would never wage war under any circumstance.
Both of these candidates miss the mark for the same reason. Both maintain flawed concepts of sovereignty.
Santorum is a theocratic collectivist who subordinates the individual to an undefined “common good.” In this way, he is fundamentally anti-liberty:
Particularly in the area of sexual freedom and personal issues, this is the mantra of the left. Which is, “I have a right to do what I want to do.” And that is not the kind of freedom that our Founders envisioned, and it is not the kind of freedom that makes up a society that is devoted…to the common good. …The definition of liberty as our Founders understood it, was freedom with responsibility. Responsibility to who? To themselves? No. It was a responsibility to others. It was responsibility to your family, but not just your family. It was a responsibility to your neighbors and to your country.
This alleged responsibility to others is the root of all political evil, the same irrational claim which motivates prescriptions like welfare, progressive taxation, and government-run healthcare. Indeed, Santorum’s record reflects a brand of “big government conservatism” which is distinguished from the Left only by its definition of the common good. Santorum does not object to social engineering as such, only that which conflicts with his vision for society.
This translates to a foreign policy which is a “calling” or “duty” to spread democracy and freedom around the globe. In Santorum’s view, we are not responsible for our own defense for our own sake, but to others for some subjective common good. We are thus obligated to sacrifice blood and treasure in perpetuity, an inappropriate use of our resources applied to an impossible goal. Men must assert their freedom. It cannot be handed to them by American troops.
Ron Paul has a relatively good grasp of individual sovereignty, but overlooks how it manifests as national sovereignty. The vast majority of Americans celebrated when special forces struck a safe house in Pakistan last year to eliminate Osama bin Laden. Ron Paul criticized the operation citing Pakistan’s national sovereignty. What he failed to recognize was that a nation-state may only command respect if it upholds the rights of its citizens and does not encroach upon its neighbors. Pakistani sovereignty was negated by harboring the mastermind of attacks upon the United States. If a nation can claim sovereignty without regard to its actions, we could never rightfully respond to a threat. Anyone with borders would be free to do as they pleased — an absurd notion.
There is a correct foundation upon which foreign policy should be built. It is not so much a middle-ground between Santorum and Paul as an entirely different perspective from either.
The sole purpose of government is the protection of individual rights. We constitute the state in order to protect us from harm, coercion, and fraud. In a just world, that is all government would do. Such a government’s foreign policy would secure free trade and eliminate threats. It would not take on responsibility for the peoples of the world. Other nations can constitute their own governments to secure their own freedom. If they do not, the consequences are theirs to bare, not ours.
This is neither isolationist, as Paul is often accused of being, nor non-interventionist, as he claims to be. Implementing this style of foreign policy would not cut us off from the rest of the world or prevent us from responding to threats. On the contrary, it would open us to profit from trade with non-threatening nations, and free us to fully engage those who would do us harm.
As it has been thus far executed, the War on Terror cannot be won. Its social and political objectives are beyond our control. We cannot bring civility to the uncivilized, dispense freedom as if it were ours to give, or hasten in tribal hearts and mystic minds the principles and values discovered over centuries of Western Enlightenment. It is neither our duty nor our place. Our duty is protect ourselves, and that means eliminating threats.
Elimination is not education. It does not rebuild. It does not tip-toe around civilians or yield to human shields. It is total war. It is utter destruction. It is the kind of war which hasn’t been fought by the West since World War II, and which the United Nations was crafted to prevent.
Nevertheless, it is the only effective way to deal with genuine threats. When we provide our enemies a list of things we will not do, the best we can hope for is perpetual stalemate, an ongoing containment, counter-insurgency, and fruitless negotiation. Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein wrote in The Objective Standard:
The right to self-defense rests on the idea that individuals have a moral prerogative to act on their own judgment for their own sake… that a nation against which force is initiated has a right to kill whomever and to destroy whatever in the aggressor nation [that] is necessary to achieve victory. The neoconservatives… reject all-out war in favor of self-sacrificial means of combat that inhibit, or even render impossible, the defeat of our enemies. They advocate crippling rules of engagement that place the lives of civilians in enemy territory above the lives of American soldiers—and, by rendering victory impossible, above the lives of all Americans.
We all know Hiroshima and Nagasaki would never have been bombed by today’s politicians. The neoconservative foreign policy of Rick Santorum would have fed Americans into a grinder in pursuit of “winning hearts and minds.” The naive non-interventionism of Ron Paul would have blamed America for provoking Pearl Harbor. Only an objective, rational, and muscular foreign policy which proceeds from the individual rights of American citizens would justify destroying “whomever and … whatever… to achieve victory,” eliminating current threats and effectively deterring future ones. If the people of the world are to learn the value of freedom, let their first lesson be the price of threatening ours.
9. September 2, 2013:
6 Ways Activists Sabotage Their Cause
It takes more than rabble to change the world.
The phenomenon occurs among activists on the Left and the Right. Regardless of their ideological perspective or particular cause, amateur activists sabotage their own effort at every turn. Whether due to ignorance of processes or – more likely – stubborn defiance of reality, citizen activists focus too much on grinding their axe and not enough on achieving a goal.
Three recent examples warrant consideration. First, in Maine, a group of libertarian Republicans including a National Committeeman authored an open letter to the state party secretary tendering their resignation from the GOP following a rules fight which didn’t go their way at a meeting of the RNC. Dave Nalle, former national chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus, an organization working within the party to steer it toward greater advocacy of individual rights, called the mass exodus a “betrayal” in a public Facebook post:
After years of working to gain those positions of influence and as a key component of a liberty coalition which controls the state party, they have thrown everything away because of losing one battle over the rules with the RNC leadership.
Did they go into this thinking it was going to be easy to change the Republican Party? I respect their efforts and commitment up to this point, but what they have done puts liberty movement control of their state party in jeopardy and hands additional victories to the malefactors who run the national party. It weakens the movement nationwide and sets a terrible example for others.
In Minnesota, the Occupy movement has splintered as Occupy MN announced that it was cutting ties with a spin-off organization called Occupy Homes MN on account of the latter becoming “commercialized” and “profitable.” City Pages reports on the schism, citing a public statement from Occupy MN:
Many of us helped create, volunteered with and were arrested with Occupy Homes, until unethical tactics serving the goal of evolution into a profitable Non-Governmental Organization achieved dominance.
Last but not least, activists made a stink following an incident at the Republican Party booth at the Minnesota State Fair. Volunteers arrived to work a shift at the booth wearing campaign t-shirts supporting a libertarian challenger to Congressman John Kline. The state party chair, fulfilling his fiduciary responsibility to protect the party brand, required the volunteers to turn their shirts inside-out while representing the party in an official capacity. The move sparked a firestorm of protest from liberty activists within the party. A former candidate for the state chair position rallied support on Facebook by noting:
Neither Kline nor Mr. [David] Gerson [the challenger] is endorsed for the 2014 race to keep MN CD 2 in GOP hands.
Apparently, political parties have no vested interest in promoting their elected officials or protecting their brand by not associating it with non-endorsed challengers. So goes the protesters’ argument.
Each of these examples and many more which could be cited indicate an activist mindset which I refer to as anti-activism. Like a gerbil running on its wheel, anti-activists expend tremendous energy toward getting nowhere. That becomes problematic for more thoughtful activists who focus on affecting public policy rather than protest for its own sake. Let’s consider 6 ways activists sabotage their cause.
6) Guarding Fiefdoms
I began my activism within the Tea Party in 2009. I contributed to an effort to build a national publication of citizen journalists coordinated by Tea Party Patriots. My editor put me in touch with the then state coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, who we will call Mona.
Mona suggested we meet for dinner. I figured the meeting would be dense with information and planning, a detailed briefing regarding Tea Party groups in Minnesota, their level of organization, legislative priorities, issue advocacy, things of that nature.
What I got instead was two hours of griping about everything from the perceived encroachments of the Republican Party to the eccentricities of other activists throughout the state. Nothing resembling a plan was presented. My role as a journalist wasn’t even addressed. Instead, the machinations of Mona’s rivals within and outside the movement were related in conspiratorial detail.
Mona’s primary concern was protecting her position within the nascent movement, rather than effectively promoting its cause. Maintaining control over who used the name “Tea Party” and to what effect was her highest priority.
As a result, Mona actually worked against the formation of Tea Party groups in the state. When I found that no group existed in my area, I took it upon myself to start one. When Mona got wind of it, I received a call which was borderline threatening, warning me not to host Republican candidates or otherwise form associations with those she disapproved of. Had I the experience then that I have now, I’d have told her in no uncertain terms where she could stow her directives. She thought herself the big fish in a then small Tea Party pond, but was eventually humbled and forced to resign.
Unfortunately, the politics of personality remains a nagging hindrance to the movement in our state and beyond. People want to control the Tea Party brand, to take credit for achievements not their own, to prevent the success of any initiative which does not originate with them, and so on. Of course, none of that helps fulfill the movement mission of affecting public policy consistent with the principles of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets.
5) Attacking Efforts Without Offering Alternatives
Mona had a mantra which all who knew her heard frequently.
Don’t effort bash!
Ostensibly, this meant that you should either support an effort or try something else, not criticize from the sidelines. Indeed, were that sentiment universally applied, activism would be much happier and more productive.
As it turns out, Mona held a double standard. After her resignation from Tea Party Patriots, a group of local coordinators came together to fill the void and steer the movement in a more productive direction. Mona, striking from the depths of increasing obscurity and irrelevance, threatened us with a lawsuit over use of the name “Minnesota Tea Party Patriots,” which she had registered with the state. Pointing out that her obstruction did nothing to advance the cause had little effect upon her resolve. She just wanted to watch the movement burn.
Likewise today, efforts to transition the Tea Party from a protest organization into an effective political entity are met with criticism from naysayers offering no ideas of their own. Old aversions to political action like endorsement and contribution are being re-evaluated. The value of perennial rallies and routine meetings which preach to the choir to little effect has been called into question. Be that as it may, deviating from established Tea Party culture, trying something outside the box in which the movement has confined itself, invites derision even from those offering no viable alternative.
4) Defying the Legislative Process
The Tea Party and the broader coalition of activists on the Right have earned a reputation as cheapskates, eager to applaud but slow to volunteer or donate. Candidates and other political organizers are welcome to speak and receive ample pledges of thoughts and prayers. But precious little tangible support emerges.
A detailed study of this behavior would be enlightening. Perhaps Tea Partiers generally have nothing to spare. Those showing up to rallies and meetings seem to be of mostly modest means, despite media characterization to the contrary. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if the real reason for a lack of tangible support is a sense that it must first be earned. I base that speculation on several anecdotal experiences where activists represent their individual support as something sacred and holy, guarding it like a Victorian maid might her virginity. Supporting a candidate without thoroughly vetting their every thought and deed to ensure absolute compliance with an ideological litmus test risks dishonor and subsequent seppuku. Those libertarian Republicans who resigned in Maine characterized the move as “a principled preservation of our individual integrity,” as if their political support were some promise ring hurled at a cheating boyfriend rather than a tool for affecting public policy.
A cycle of ineffectiveness thus begins, where activists refuse to support good candidates, holding out for an unknown or unviable ideal, then harbor unreasonable expectations of the awful government their intransigence enabled. Consider the current effort to defund Obamacare. Tea Partiers, libertarians, and conservatives seem largely united in their expectation that Congress defy political reality and threaten a government shutdown in a last-ditch effort to stop implementation of the new healthcare law. Anyone who questions the wisdom of that course is immediately derided as a squishy moderate sellout. But where were all these activists when Mitt Romney was running for president on the promise to end Obamacare? Many had their arms crossed and their lips pressed, refusing to work to elect him because he was less then their ideal. As it turns out, you can’t withhold support from viable if imperfect candidates, then insist your agenda be implemented without the necessary political power.
Another way this irrational intransigence plays out is in the inflated stakes of individual campaigns. No example proves more instructive than the effort to elect Ron Paul as president. From the behavior and rhetoric of many supporters, you would think that electing Paul would empower him to eliminate statism in all its forms with the wave of a pocket Constitution. That, of course, is ridiculous.
Were Paul president today, he couldn’t achieve a fraction of the agenda he campaigned on with a Senate controlled by Democrats and a House led largely by moderate Republicans. Despite President Barack Obama’s actions to the contrary, that office is not a monarchy. A libertarian president would necessarily require a libertarian Congress, and that in turn requires a cultural sea change which has not yet occurred. No amount of righteous indignation is going to force it. Expecting legislative outcomes wholly out of sync with electoral outcomes proves silly and denies the responsibility of the activist to build the coalitions necessary to change minds, then offices, and finally the law.
3) Defying the Two-Party System
Let us turn to a more detailed analysis of our libertarian friends in Maine, who resigned their positions within the Republican Party in protest of several perceived deficiencies. The straw which broke their collective back was the tabling of an amendment offered at the August meeting of the RNC to neuter controversial rule changes which were enacted during the 2012 National Convention in Tampa. The new rules centralize authority over the appointment and seating of delegates and severely cripple the ability of grassroots activists to defy a presumptive nominee and thus ruin the pretty, televised coronation party leadership prefers. No doubt exists among proponents of grassroots party control that the Tampa rules ought to be repealed or replaced. That said, what does the exodus of party officers who hold that view accomplish?
Consider the concluding declaration in the Maine activists’ letter of resignation:
Therefore, for the above-stated reasons, we can no longer allow ourselves to be called nor enrolled as Republicans; we can no longer associate ourselves with a political party that goes out of its way to continually restrict our freedoms and liberties as well as reaching deeper and deeper into our wallets.
We instead choose the path that focuses on ways to help our fellow Mainers outside of party politics.
Some of us may be town officers or board members.
Some of us may leave all options on the table with regards to running for higher office as Independents.
Some of us may be small farmers and gardeners who desire to help feed their communities.
Others may simply want to just get part of their life back, catching up and spending more time with friends and neighbors.
The critical failure which informs this move manifests from activists’ perception of the party as a servant which ought to work on their behalf, rather than a vehicle which must be actively steered in a desired direction. You can’t change the course of a vehicle by bailing out of it.
As an activist both within and alongside the Republican Party, I hear all the time how the two-party system is “rigged,” or how both major parties are two sides of the same coin and there exists no meaningful reason to support either. Of course, any rigging occurs by those in control, who secure their positions through a system of caucus and convention elections. So if you really want to see the parties change, you have to change them. So long as good people sit around waiting for the a political party to “learn their lesson,” reform their ways, and come crawling on hands and knees begging for grassroots support, nothing will change.
No one has ever “learned their lesson” from an activist resigning in protest, a voter staying at home, or a ballot cast for a third party. The concept ignores political reality and smacks of a narcissistic valuation of one’s political worth. “Oh, you resigned?! Well then, let me completely realign my entire worldview in order to get you back,” said no party officer or elected official ever.
It would have been far more effective for Maine’s libertarian Republicans to author a letter wherein they committed to recruiting like-minded citizens into the party structure. Those in power only respect others with power. Libertarians must build high-value coalitions whose support is worth earning. Abandoning the party to walk the Earth and grow carrots changes nothing.
2) Rejecting Organization as an Elitist, Hierarchal Affront to Democracy
There was a time in Minnesota, after the resignation of Mona from her state coordinator position with Tea Party Patriots, when several local coordinators got together to plan a Tea Party state convention. We met two or three times a week for weeks on end with no structure, leadership, or emergent direction. Lots of good ideas were thrown around, but decisions were never made because we had no process for making them aside from unanimous consensus.
Eventually, some of us realized that organization of something as grandiose as a state convention needed to be tabled until we could first agree upon an organizational structure. North Star Tea Party Patriots was born, a coalition of local groups which we hoped would speak with one voice and move with one purpose when appropriate.
I remember my realization, as I first considered Robert’s Rules of Order while drafting the organization’s constitution, that we were like cavemen reinventing the wheel. As then inexperienced citizen activists, our rebellious Tea Party impulses informed an aversion to structure and organization. Yet, as we meet and attempted to accomplish something, we learned through doing that any corporate effort requires structure and organization.
Alas, our coalition suffered from the same vulnerability which undid the Articles of Confederation. Fear of centralized control had so dominated our founding that our coalition emerged too weak to be of any practical use. On the one hand, our organization was berated by activists for not doing anything. On the other, any attempt to rally action was decried as tyranny.
In many ways, the schism befalling Occupy MN reminds me of those days. Only I imagine the troubles prove worse within Occupy, since that movement fundamentally rejects the means through which value is created and the processes through which goals are accomplished. City Pages reports of the movement:
Dissent between the two groups [Occupy MN and Occupy Homes MN], ostensibly part of the same nationwide protest movement, first heated up over the summer, when OHMN hosted a national conference in Minneapolis and limited the number of “delegates” who could attend. The group argued that the attendance cap was necessary to facilitate a productive discussion; certain members of Occupy MN, however, saw the move as antithetical to a movement founded on transparency.
Sounds familiar. “Transparency,” “fairness,” “democracy” — such words are euphemisms when used by certain activists which actually mean bullying and disorder. What too many activists refuse to acknowledge is that any deliberative process depends upon the consent of all parties concerned. As an individual, my time is valuable. I get to exercise my freedom of association to determine whether I want to spend my time listening to an endless procession of soap box speeches covering a variety of pet issues I may or may not care about. While I can’t speak directly for Occupy Homes MN, I imagine their desire to limit the number of delegates to their conference was informed by that impulse. Indeed, productivity necessarily requires some limitation upon deliberation. Such limitations are agreed upon by any deliberative body, and consented to whenever an individual chooses to participate. If you want to start your own group that’s all about listening to you talk about what you care about, go ahead. Good luck attracting attendance.
1) Refusing to Dirty the Cause with Money
On this final point, the Occupy movement faces inherent challenges. Among the chief complaints driving a wedge between Occupy MN and Occupy Homes MN is the former’s objection to the latter’s fundraising and provision of stipends to staff. From City Pages:
The stipend for OHMN organizers is “just enough to support people’s basic needs,” [Nick] Espinosa [one of six stipended OHMN activists] says. “I live at home. This isn’t a way for me to make money off the movement, but it’s a way for me to sustain my basic needs while committing 60 to 80 hours a week to this work.”
“It’s important for us to build a stable financial base that doesn’t rely on corporate donors or institutions,” Espinosa continues. “We do share that critique that funding sources often have the potential to co-opt movements, but we believe the way to combat that is to have a member-led and member-funded organization.”
In this way, Espinosa finds himself in the awkward position of defending the fundamental principle his movement otherwise defies. Production generates value which deserves compensation. For Espinosa to commit 60 to 80 hours a week toward campaigning against value, he has to be compensated for his effort so he can provide for himself.
Comical though it may be to witness such cognitive dissonance within the Occupy movement, similar obstacles plague the Tea Party and many citizen activist organizations. For some reason, people tend to think of volunteering as morally superior to earning a paycheck. Yet, for someone to consistently fulfill a role at professional quality, they simply must be paid for their time. Political work generates real value which can only be sustained with compensation.
The gauntlet of political activism tests its champions with sobering reality. Operations require money. Efforts require organization. The passage of legislation requires majorities. Constructive criticism requires viable alternatives. Movements thrive on causes, not self-indulgent personalities. The humble work required to truly get something accomplished requires acknowledgement of value, the recognition of how individual rights apply within corporate bodies, and respect of others when votes don’t go your way. We call the threading of that needle professionalism. Too few citizen activists exhibit it, which undermines an untold number of efforts to better the world in which we live.
10. March 7, 2013:
5 Tips for Coming Out as a Black Conservative
It’s like leaving a cult.
My conservatism caught me by surprise.
While raised in the peculiar isolation of Jehovah’s Witnesses by a white mother and a black father, politics was as elusive as birthday celebrations and gifts on Christmas morning (prohibited by JW theology). In elementary school, as other children would cover their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I stood silent with my hands at my side. Participation in the political system of men was a betrayal of the kingdom of God, or so I had been taught. I therefore had little frame of reference for, or interest in, the political discourse.
I thus came into middle school ripe for indoctrination. My first impression of the major political parties was imprinted by a social studies teacher who explained as a matter of fact that Republicans were the party of the rich and powerful while Democrats were the party of the little guy. That settled it. Lacking in wealth and power as I was, if I was ever to be political, I was clearly to be a Democrat. Thus guided, I dutifully cast my ballot in the mock election of 1992 for the well-coifed champion of we little people – Bill Clinton.
In the years that followed, something happened which my teachers did not intend. I enrolled in my state’s postsecondary enrollment options program, and came to spend half the day at a local community college. My schedule was such that I drove between my high school and the college right when a certain talk radio personality took to the air. In a way, listening to Rush Limbaugh proved a form of youthful rebellion. My curiosity was aroused by leftist characterizations of the man as a bigoted hate-monger. Surely, listening to the rantings of a modern-day Klansman would prove entertaining.
You can fill in the rest of the story. What Limbaugh had to say on those daily drives to college proved more enlightening than what I was offered in class. I was not converted so much as matched with the ideology I implicitly held.
As I came of age politically, the reality of being a black conservative was no more isolating than being a Jehovah’s Witness. I had grown used to being a minority within a minority, the odd guy out, and having to routinely explain myself to others. While I eventually dropped the religion, I maintained its contentment with abnormality. As a result, I did not endure quite the same trials which many other black conservatives do when they reveal their values to a community enthralled by liberation theology.
Nevertheless, life as a black conservative has granted me insight into the plight facing those who stand up for what they believe in. Here are 5 tips for coming out as a black conservative.
5) Realize That “Conservatives” Are the Modern Radicals
Everything your teachers taught you about the political spectrum is wrong. I use the term “conservative” out of necessity, as a shorthand to convey generally which side of the given spectrum I am on. However, in truth, we on the political Right find ourselves less conservative and more radical each day. By that I mean we seek change from the status quo to a new paradigm. Indeed, those commonly thought of as liberal are the real conservatives by a strict definition, striving to maintain and expand establishments of coercion and cronyism. Thus so many among the rank-and-file have been disillusioned by President Barack Obama’s failure to deliver on “hope” and “change,” because he really stands for much more of the same.
“Conservative” and “liberal” are always relative terms. The founding fathers were liberal in the classic sense, though their ideology is today thought reactionary. They dramatically elevated their new nation from underneath a centuries-long rule of men to a newly conceived rule of law. Once that vision was established, the effort to maintain it could be called conservative. However, as the “center” of the political discourse has moved further to the statist Left over the past century, we have abandoned the rule of law for a repackaged rule of men. That leaves those on the Right, we who seek limited government constituted to protect the rights of individuals, as radicals amidst a sea of leftist reactionaries seeking to drag us back to the dark age.
This is important for you to realize as you come out of the political closet and reveal your values, because you will be cast as a self-hating negro who seeks the comfort of the master’s house. Fellow blacks will call you reactionary, even as they snuggle at the feet of Democratic patrons begging for rations.
4) Find Contentment in Abnormality
If you are going to come out as a black conservative, you must find peace as a minority of one. In his article “The Loneliness of a Black Conservative,” Shelby Steele artfully conveys the plight awaiting you:
The problem for the black conservative is more his separation from the authority of his racial group than from the actual group. He stands outside a group authority so sharply defined and monolithic that it routinely delivers more than 90 percent of the black vote to whatever Democrat runs for president. The black conservative may console himself with the idea that he is on the side of truth, but even truth is cold comfort against group authority (which very often has no special regard for truth). White supremacy focused white America’s group authority for three centuries before truth could even begin to catch up. Group authority is just as likely to be an expression of collective ignorance as of truth; but it is always, in a given era, more powerful than truth.
All of this is made worse by the fact that black Americans have been a despised minority surrounded by indifference and open hatred. An individual’s failure of group love is a far greater infraction among blacks because it virtually allies that individual with the enemy all around. An Uncle Tom is someone whose failure to love his own people makes him an accessory to their oppression. So group love (in one form or another) is a preoccupation in black life because of the protective function it serves, because we want to use the matter of love as a weapon of shame and thus as an enforcer of conformity. Love adds the seriousness and risk to nonconformity.
Read the whole piece. Steele describes how the rod of shame is used with great success to herd blacks into a prescribed mold. In coming out of your political closet, you are defying that mold and inviting discipline. There is no getting around it. It must be endured. The ostracizing Steele recounts serves as a modern fire hose turned upon advocates of liberty.
3) Cultivate an Unassailable Self-Esteem
As you might imagine, the shaming of black conservatives knows no bounds. Prepare to have your very blackness called into question. Your detractors will reveal race to be more a system of belief than a physical description. Prepare for accusations of bigotry, as irrational as such claims may prove. Prepare to have your credentials ignored, your intelligence mocked, and your accomplishments dismissed. Prepare to lose friends, opportunities, and respect.
As Steele notes, “truth is cold comfort.” Nevertheless, take what solace you can from the fact that your chosen values are rational. Personal attacks are so prevalent from the Left because, in the end, ad hominem is all they have. Their arguments fail objective analysis, leaving ridicule and marginalization as the only available weapons. However, as a weapon, ridicule is uniquely flawed in that its victim must consent to the assault. Don’t provide that consent. An adult does not flinch from the insults of a child, but rebukes immaturity with authority. You’ll find children come in all ages.
Realize that ridicule is at root an expression of insecurity, an eruption of vitriol from a caldron of cognitive dissonance. Pity your attackers. They walk away from your encounter as impotent as they came, refusing the insight you graciously offer. Is this arrogance on your part? Not at all. Arrogance is pride unearned. You are right, and you objectively know it. The arrogance is theirs.
2) “Cheat Out” Your Arguments
In a theatrical play on a common proscenium stage, actors must conscientiously present themselves to the audience, standing at an angle to each other which would be awkward and unnatural in real life. This is called cheating out, and reigns as perhaps the most common note given to student and amateur performers. Even though actors engage each other in dialogue as though no one else were watching, cheating out acknowledges those seated beyond the invisible fourth wall as the true intended audience.
So it is in our political discourse. It proves sadly true that the vast majority of opponents you engage in argument will never be converted to your position. Accepting this futility removes “winning the argument” as a reasonable goal. Instead, tussles with those among the Left serve one of two purposes. Private discussions act as reconnaissance, revealing what your opponent believes and why he believes it. In public debates, whether formal or impromptu, the intent is to convince onlookers.
Some time ago, I was invited to speak about the Tea Party to a public audience at a college campus known for its leftist bias. There was an outburst and walkout during my presentation. The subsequent question-and-answer session exposed me to profoundly hostile criticism. I endured, none the worse for wear. Afterward, I was tepidly approached by a young man who confessed in hushed tones that he appreciated what I had to say. His sentiment was delivered with all the caution one might expect from a resistance courier working through an enemy occupation. He was my audience that day, the until then unknown purpose of my visit. You never know who you may be connecting with.
1) Keep Thinking Independently
Were my complete philosophy to be splayed before everyone I know, were it to be translated into a platform, it is unlikely anyone would fully support it. Social conservatives would flinch from my distinction between sin and crime. Libertarians might object to my stance on foreign policy. Surely, my objectivist friends would scoff at my Christian faith. I don’t fit into a convenient category. In fact, I’ve spent a great deal of time defining my own.
When you come out of the closet as a black conservative and thus abandon your group identity, you may be tempted to find another to replace it. Human beings legitimately crave companionship. However, a sense of belonging attained by compromising principle is false and unfulfilling.
Independent thinking got you here. Independent thinking will keep you going. Group identity, or more specifically the group authority Shelby Steele writes about, degenerates into herd instinct in the unthinking. Individual rights can only be effectively defended by those who have rejected any claim upon their life. You do not belong to anyone. Your life is yours. Your mind is yours. Direct it intentionally. Choose what you believe and know why you believe it. Never let someone else, anyone else, tell you what you must think or do. By all means, consider trusted advice, but take responsibility for your decisions once made.
A new generation of black activists must reclaim the civil rights movement and pursue true equality under the law. To do so, they will need to confront the cultural monolith of black entitlement. The large victories in this culture war will be preceded by hundreds and thousands of quiet coups by individuals like you. It may sometimes seem a lonely path. However, in stepping from conformity’s warmth and comfort, you will stand in good company alongside history’s abolitionists and legitimate civil rights leaders. When the tomes of history are written, such deviants grace its pages.