Posts Tagged unconstrained
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 »
Over 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 »
In light of my recent posts on the inadequacy of fair trade (1, 2, 3 & 4), I thought this recent debate on the topic was well worth sharing. The discussion includes AEI’s Claude Barfield, World Fair Trade Organization’s Paul Myers, and Henderson State University’s Victor Claar.
Watch it here:
Barfield provides a good historical backdrop, but Claar, whose comments begin at 33 minutes, provides a strong and thorough critique of fair trade’s failures in both fairness and economic results.
Some of my favorite lines from Claar, in no particular order:
- “The fairest trade of all is trade that is genuinely free—free from political logrolling by politicians desperate for votes, free from opportunistic lobbying by industries like U.S. sugar and cotton, and free from the harm to the global poor that well-intentioned rich Northerners like us can sometimes bring.”
- “When the price of something is low–like coffee, or sugar, or cotton–market forces normally direct people to make less of it and move onto something else. But fair trade interferes with the signal that prices ordinarily provide; Fair Trade can never serve as a sustainable long-term development strategy because it will never make people significantly richer than they are today.”
- “Putting at least some faith in markets to be a powerful force for change in the lives of the poor does not amount to abdicating our concern for the poor–instead opting to cavalierly put our hope in little more than faeries and magic dust. Just as we trust gravity to keeps us all affixed securely to the ground, and just as the principles of particle physics assure you that the chair you are sitting in right now will not let you slip through its seat to the floor, markets work invisibly, but in ways that we understand reasonably well…The laws of physics are part of God’s providence; so are the laws of economics. And we fail miserably in our obligations to our Creator when we ignore the fundamental truths of economics in our efforts to aid the poor—even if our efforts flow from the very best intentions.”
One other item of note is how little argumentation Myers delivers in his primary remarks, throughout which he manages to disregard economic efficiency (because the poor benefit from waste?), downplay petty old “freedom” (because the poor prefer enslavement?) and elevate “rules and regulations” (because the problem is obviously too much access to markets?)—all without providing a substantive argument for how price manipulation benefits the poor and how price accuracy (is there a better word?) hurts them. He provides plenty of anecdotes about how the poor need jobs and affordable goods (is this news?), but provides no cohesive argument for why fair trade fulfills these needs and free trade perpetuates them.
I’m guessing this lapse was largely unintentional, and that, aptly representing Thomas Sowell’s “unconstrained vision,” Myers simply assumes that the (supposed) morality of fair trade is self-evident—that those who oppose it must simply value economic efficiency over the interests of the poor (and, to be fair, some do). Thus, fluffy anecdotes and pious platitudes about the struggles of the poor suffice for a moral indictment of free trade. Unfortunately, most free traders believe what they believe precisely because they think it benefits the poor. Myers should start his argument there (when he gets around to making one).
If these assumptions about Myers’ vacuous, emotion-driven remarks are true, then Claar’s later emphasis of Matthew 22:37 is even more relevant than intended.
How do we truly love our neighbor if we are aiming only to elevate our own personal, abstract notions of fairness without checking them against reason or results? How do we truly love the Lord our God if we rely only on our “hearts” and “souls” and not also on our minds? Further, as I’ve indicated elsewhere (1, 2, 3), what does it say about our “hearts” and “souls” if they are detached from an intentionally holistic love of God that looks beyond earthly emotions and assumptions?
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 »
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 »