Posts Tagged constrained

Why Being “Pro-Choice” on Abortion and “Anti-Choice” on Light Bulbs is a Consistent Position

Reason.tv recently interviewed some folks at the Democratic National Convention, aiming to draw out inconsistencies in the political left’s oft-pronounced “pro-choice” stance.

Watch it here:

Now, if one’s overarching philosophy and political ideology boils down to choice, choice, and more choice—as it certainly does for many of the folks at Reason.tv—being “pro-choice” on abortion and “anti-choice” on light bulbs is a glaring inconsistency. Yet I would hope that the the rest of us are working from different premises and aligning our beliefs to different ultimate standards. Life is, as they say, about so much more.

So what gives?

Why do many progressives believe women should have the “freedom” to kill their own children and homosexuals should have the power to redefine natural institutions, but they don’t believe Plump Little Jimmy should be able to choose between a 16 oz. or 32 oz. soft drink, or Catholic Lucy should be able to choose between a private school and a public one?

Why do many conservatives believe in free choice in education and healthcare, but they’re not so loosey-goosey on opening the flood-gates on infanticide, “family” redefinition, or drug legalization?

There are plenty of ways to explain the disconnect, but one fundamental conflict, as Thomas Sowell thoroughly illuminates in his book, A Conflict of Visions: A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, boils down to how we view the nature of man—“not simply his existing practices,” Sowell writes, “but his ultimate potential and ultimate limitations.” Here, we find that as a matter of discerning worldviews, it’s far less helpful to talk about “choice” than it is to talk about our underlying philosophies of life. Here, we find the beginnings of the premises from which we should launch our critiques of any diverging “inconsistencies.”

How do we view the human person? Is he imperfect yet capable of redemption, or, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau put it, is he “born free” but “everywhere in chains”?

How do we view the project of improving mankind? Is it a process of constraining our basest passions and relying on Burkean “prudence,” or must we blindly trust in and submit to what William Godwin called “the magnanimous sentiment of our natures”?

Through what Sowell calls the unconstrained vision (what we might label today as “progressive”), the human person is a Rousseauean blossom, whose (seeming) faults are ultimately tied to imperfections in the systems that surround him rather than fundamental, universal imperfections in the human person himself. Knowing the “right path” and the “right thing to do” is the easy part. It’s overcoming all those pesky institutions that’s tricky (e.g. “Marxism works. It just hasn’t been implemented properly.”). Perfectibility is achievable (the rise of the oceans will begin to slow) if only the right captains are at the helm. Once they’re there, we need only follow the guidance of the Enlightened—buy the “good” light bulbs, drive the “good” car, go to the “good” school—and we shall further the “magnanimous sentiment of our natures” that has thus far been prohibited by systemic oppression. Fundamental to this view, Sowell writes, “is the conviction that foolish or immoral choices explain the evils of the world—and that wiser or more moral and humane social policies are the solution.”

For the unconstrained, it’s not about trade-offs or complicated analyses of history, political theory, moral philosophy and the nature of man himself. It’s about “solutions” (“Forward!”). The “good” is a given, and thus, once the wise old sages have subsequently “freed” our benevolent human nature toward collective salvation, everything the State hasn’t already delivered is ours for the taking. Follow the leader, build the tower, and give way to the “general will,” but outside of the carefully constructed Collective Mission, what you do and who you destroy is as noble as your properly pampered noble-savage self.

Now, like most dichotomies, not everyone fits neatly into place—Sowell certainly doesn’t claim as much, pointing specifically to Marx—and even those who fit the category can launch from this framework in a variety of ways and in varying degrees. But one need only look at the DNC, where the freedom to butcher “inconvenient” infants gets Read the rest of this entry »

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Liberation Theology and Marx in the Mainstream

Jeremiah Wright, liberation theologyOver at the New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer is worried about a renewed “liberation-theology scare” in the upcoming election (HT), wherein folks are once again forced to contemplate whether race-injected Marxism is a good idea.

According to Oppenheimer, any critiques of President Obama’s (former?) connections to black liberation theology—nay, any critiques of black liberation theology itself—are much ado about nothing:

While Mr. [Jeremiah] Wright has said his ministry is inspired by James H. Cone, the author of “Black Theology & Black Power,” the founding text of black liberation theology, Dr. Cone’s 1969 book is far subtler than any one sermon, no matter the preacher. Contrary to the simplifications of the past four years, liberation theology, which has become hugely influential, teaches not hate, nor anti-Americanism, but a renewed focus on the poor and the suffering, as embodied by Jesus.

“Liberation theology, at its most simple, is the Sunday school Jesus who healed the sick or took care of the poor people,” said Shannon Craigo-Snell, a theologian at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Kentucky. “It’s what your Sunday school teacher taught you if you grew up in a church. It isn’t something people should be afraid of, unless they’re invested in poor people not getting fed or sick people not getting healed.”

…In the words of Dr. Craigo-Snell and Dr. Cone, it sounds obvious: Jesus identified with the oppressed, not the oppressor. But Dr. Cone notes that many theologians have ignored poverty or subordinated it to other concerns. After the Social Gospel of the very early 20th century passed, the poor largely slipped from the agenda of Christian theology.

I’ve written on this subject several times (e.g. here and here) and have already thoroughly outlined my misgivings with a Jesus whose primary mission is to offer political salvation from earthbound tyrants. What I find striking in Oppenheimer’s analysis is his attitude that liberation theology’s Marxist orientation should be shrugged off as uncontroversial, plain-Jane, pro-poor do-gooderism.

First, he attempts to dispense with what he thinks to be the actually controversial stuff, i.e. claims that black liberation theology is “ethnocentric.”

His evidence that it’s not:

As a category, liberation theology, which often draws heavily on Marxist analysis, is not ethnocentric. It has been taken up by oppressed groups including third world peoples, Latinos, Asians and other American ethnic minorities…Since [Gustavo Gutiérrez's] and Dr. Cone’s books, lesbian, gay and other queer theologians have developed a liberation theology of sexuality. Black women propound what they call womanist theology, and Latina women have taken up “mujerista” theology, for the Spanish word for “womanist.”

When folks critique folks like Rev. Wright, they are not talking about generic, “category” liberation theology. They are talking about black liberation theology, and there’s a tiny little thing that distinguishes black liberation theology from Read the rest of this entry »

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Milton Friedman on Greed: Where In the World Do You Find These Angels?

This classic Milton Friedman interview has now been seen by many on the Web, but since it deals with topics commonly discussed on this blog I thought I’d post it for your weekend enjoyment.

Watch the video here:




Donahue’s first question is this:

Did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism, and whether greed is a good idea to run on?

Friedman responds with this:

Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? …The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus.

Friedman goes on to point out a few of these achievements (e.g. Einstein’s theory of relativity, Henry Ford’s automobile), and emphasizes that Read the rest of this entry »

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The New Science of Morality: A Secular Argument for Cultural Competition

Last week, I came across an interesting talk by psychologist Jonathan Haidt called “The New Science of Morality” (via Arnold Kling).

Haidt is well known for his research on the evolution of morality through cultural and political lenses (he has authored two books on the subject), and he provides a good introduction to his views in this discussion.

You can watch the video here:

If you’re not in the mood to watch all 28 minutes, Haidt’s basic view on cultural formation is this:

I just briefly want to say, I think it’s also crucial, as long as you’re going to be a nativist and say, “oh, you know, evolution, it’s innate,” you also have to be a constructivist. I’m all in favor of reductionism, as long as it’s paired with emergentism. You’ve got to be able to go down to the low level, but then also up to the level of institutions and cultural traditions and, you know, all kinds of local factors.

Unlike this blog, Haidt believes in biological evolution, and likewise he takes a purely secular approach to discussing cultural evolution. However, his perspective is well worth considering, particularly because his conclusion points to Read the rest of this entry »

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John D. Rockefeller: Lover of Money or Enterprise?

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

When people talk about John D. Rockefeller they all seem to say something different. Some talk about Rockefeller the innovative entrepreneur, some talk about Rockefeller the back-dealing monopolist, and some talk about Rockefeller the charitable do-gooder.

From being derided as the devil of modern industry to being hailed as the saint of modern philanthropy, Rockefeller always was, and still remains, a controversial figure.

It’s no surprise then that Ron Chernow’s biography of the man (aptly titled Titan) paints a picture no less diverse. Chernow takes us chronologically from Rockefeller’s backwater beginnings to his astounding rise to wealth, focusing all the while on what made the man tick.

Sounds all too familiar, right? A man with humble beginnings overcomes all odds to become a happy and successful family man. But what is so unique about Rockefeller is the extent to which he did not change despite his rapid rise to fame. Certainly he evolved in many regards, but as a father, as a husband, as a worker, and as a tither, we see the same moral framework from beginning to end.

That’s right. There is no “Bathsheba moment” of weakness, no interlude of repentant exile, and no climactic epiphany that “money doesn’t buy happiness.” In a way, what is most boring about Rockefeller’s life is also what is so fascinating about it.

Some people believe that money can change you, but for Rockefeller, the key to success was not letting that happen.

John D. Rockefeller at age 18.

Rockefeller’s childhood was not a dainty one. His father, William A. Rockefeller, was known around town as “Wild Bill” for being a notorious liar, thief, and scam artist. He was also a womanizer and a bigamist. When Rockefeller was eighteen, Wild Bill permanently ditched the family for his other wife under the pretense of cross-country “business.” Before leaving, he told the young Rockefeller, “I shall be away and must rely on your judgment.”

Whether his father knew it or not (and Chernow thinks he did), Rockefeller’s judgment could definitely be trusted, and from that day forward, young John flourished as the new “paterfamilias” of his mother’s home. This triggered similar success in the business world, as Rockefeller worked hard to fill the gaps his father left. Chernow calls it an “exquisite” irony that Bill “turned his back on his family just as his eldest son began to amass the largest fortune in history.”

Plainly put, Rockefeller was not intimidated by crummy circumstances; he was inspired by them. Life was about opportunities, not disadvantages.

As the story goes on, plenty of Read the rest of this entry »

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Kingdoms of Heaven and Earth: An Introduction

Jesus said that the kingdoms of this world will pass away. Plenty already have. The Egyptians. The Greeks. The Romans. The Soviets. The Americans? A quick survey of human history will tell you that earthly systems have a way of crumbling.

But there are those who reject such inevitability and believe that human systems (and humanity) can be perfected — that with the right knowledge, the right motivations, the right textbooks, the right policies, and the right leaders, evil can be eradicated. For them, the failures of history are failures of planning, not failures of people. “We are all inherently good,” they will say. “Evil, in all of its forms, must simply be prevented.” And thus, if there is no natural inclination to evil, certainly we can avoid it with the right foresight. All we need to do is come up with the right plan.

But for those of us who believe in the Fall of Man and sole redemption through the cross, Jesus’ words are an obvious truth and humanity’s question becomes one not of perfecting human societies (an impossibility on this earth), but of maximizing human potential. In this worldview, life is not about reaching a well-planned utopia of absolute security, but about pursuing a life of choice and risk that yields absolute liberty. Unlike the utopian’s dream, this pursuit is defined by engaging the risk, not avoiding it. It is defined by stepping out in faith, by beating the earthly odds, and even by paying the consequences. In this pursuit, responsibility and accountability are the reward, not just some means to a static end.

We often find ourselves caught somewhere in between.

We want to step out and trust in God, but we don’t want the vulnerability that comes with it. We want to let go of our earthly scheming and latch on to God’s vision, but when push comes to shove we dilute it down to something that’s comfortable or understandable. Even when it comes to the “big” things God has called us to — saving the Lost, healing the sick, feeding the poor — we are ready and willing to heed the call but prone to forget or abandon the mission.

Yet wherever we stand, we can see evil all around us. Sometimes it angers us, often it unsettles us, and almost always it effects us. So, understandably, we want to come up with a solution and we want to institutionalize it. We want to pull together as a community and come up with a plan. But when it comes to the evil itself on a personal level, we don’t want to deal with it. We want to ignore it, excuse it, or even rationalize it. We want to blame Read the rest of this entry »

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