Friday, June 28, 2002

Church and State

Two recent decisions by the courts have put the topic of religion in public life in front of the nation.

One was the decision by the US Supreme Court to allow for the public funding of vouchers for use in religious schools. This has been criticized by the left on the usual seperation of church and state grounds.

It has been so long since the intelligensia looked at this question with anything like common sense that it seems radical to return to the basics. The framers of the constitution, however, were not trying to ban all religious activity of any kind by the government when they wrote the first amendment. They were attempting to make sure that no one Christian denomination would be able to gain hegemony and vote itself the official state religion. There was never any question but that the US would remain a Christian nation with all that entailed.

The total banishment of religion from government activities is a much more recent development that stems from the leftist tendencies of jurists of the early '60's rather than anything that the framers of the constitution said. Thus, it is fitting that we are moving in a corrective direction, back toward a more commonsense approach to these issues.

The other issue is the action by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that banned the use of the Pledge of Allegience in schools because it contains the words "under God." This ruling is interesting because it shows the logical result of extending the reasoning behind the ban on prayer in school, which is that no government entity can promote the utterance of any religious words whatsoever. This is consistent with the court's previous reasoning. The reaction of the Congress, the President, and the people is such that it reveals that this line of reasoning was wrong from the beginning, and we are finally going to be forced to deal with that error.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Prosperity of the '90's Turns into Scandal

This is paraphrased from an article by Jonah Golberg.

Now that we have a Republican president the news media is suspicious of big business again. This last happened back in the 80's when Reagan and G.H.W. Bush were in office. They know that republicans are out to cheat everyone, so the people were bound to get screwed in the market. The 80's was declared the decade of greed, and people went to jail over junk bonds and such stuff.

Then came the decade of even greater greed, the 90's, and the problems at Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing et al., developed into multi-billion dollar problems of rampant mismanagment, cheating, and greed. However, nobody noticed because we had a Democratic president in office, and the news media knew that the little guy would get a fair shake in the market. This is because they knew that Clinton cared about them and would never allow anyone to cheat them. The greed of the 80's transformed into the prosperity of the '90's.

Now that we have a Republican president again, the media is back after businessmen, and low and behold, all these problems crop up, which the media tries very hard to blame on Bush even though they grew up during Clinton's terms and the Democrats were in the thick of them. The prosperity of the '90's has transformed into the scandal of the new millenium.

The truth of the matter is that in the 80's, the 90's, and now businesses continue to act like businesses have always acted.

Why Does the Left Support the Palestinians?

Why does the left support the Palestinians?

When you think about it, it doesn't make sense.

As Dennis Prager writes: The left speaks about its passion for democracy ("power to the people"). Yet it is Israel that is a fully functioning democracy, as opposed to all of its Arab and Muslim enemies. Yasser Arafat is precisely the self-aggrandizing, corrupt dictator-type that the left claims to hold in contempt.

The left claims to have particular concern for women's rights. Yet it is Israel that has as highly developed a feminist movement as that of any Western country. It is Israel that conscripted women into its armed forces before almost any Western country. At the same time, the state of women's rights among Israel's Muslim enemies is perhaps the lowest in the world.

The left's greatest current preoccupation is with gay rights. Yet it is Israel that has annual gay pride days, while Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries arrest homosexuals.

It is Israel that has an independent and highly liberal judiciary. It is Israel that has a leftist press. It is Israel that has been governed more by leftist, even socialist, parties than by rightist ones. Israel's enemies have none of this.

So what's up with this?

The answer is simple: The left consists of elite, educated people out of power who want to be in power. Leftist politics is a rationale for their taking of power. The left really doesn't care about the people, about democracy, women's rights, tolerence of gays, independent judiciaries, or anything else they claim to hold dear. Those issues get thrown aside whenever it suits their purpose. The left only cares about power and the overthrow of anything in their way, specifically the Western democracies and capitalism, which Israel represents in the middle east.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Where Are All the Men?

A Washington Post article today:

At colleges and universities across the United States, the proportion of bachelor's degrees awarded to women reached a post-war high this year at an estimated 57 percent. The gender gap is even greater among Hispanics -- only 40 percent of that ethnic group's college graduates are male -- and African Americans, who are now seeing two women earn bachelor's degrees for every man.

So, according to the Washington Post, who are the victims here?

Answer: the women, because they are going to have a hard time finding educated husbands. (This aspect of the situation was mentioned three or four times in this article!)

Who are the villians? Answer: the men, because they are lazy and don't want to achieve.

Academics claim to want to study the issue, but they are never going to come up with the real answer. No one wants to consider some of the most important possible causes of the imbalance. Some of the more problematic possiblities include:

  • That the American K through 12 public school environment, highly feminized and implacably hostile to the ways of boys, who are drugged and shunted to special ed and alternative programs in very high numbers, is so toxic to boys that all many of them want to do when they get out of high school is get away from the academics.
  • That college is increasingly a poor value for those who simply want to get prepared to make a living, college is to some extent becoming a warehouse for young people who haven't decided what they want to do with their lives.
  • That affirmative action and other programs inappropriatly favor women, who have not been in the minority in colleges for 30 years.
  • That changes in society have left young men with no direction or purpose in life.

The trend, which began in the mid-1980s, has sparked concern among everyone from business leaders to demographers, who applaud the growing academic success of women but maintain that the lopsided graduation rate may foretell significant problems.

"This is new. We have thrown the gender switch," said Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of "The War Against Boys." "What does it mean in the long run that we have females who are significantly more literate, significantly more educated than their male counterparts? It is likely to create a lot of social problems. This does not bode well for anyone."

Monday, June 24, 2002

More On the Skeptical Environmentalist

Here is an extensive review of Lomborg's claims at Andrew Sullivan's book page.

Reasons Dumb People Think that Global Warming is Real


Reason #1: Two or more guys in white coats say it is.

Reason #2: It's really hot sometimes.

Reason #3: Dairy Queen "Blizzard" seems to melt a lot faster than "back in the day."

Reason #4: All the movies say so.

Reason #5: Sometimes, when it's really hot, you feel like maybe you can't take it, man.

Reason #6: The New York Times says it's getting
hotter, and they only have, like, 1,500 corrections a week.

Reason #7: These same eggheads were wrong about global
cooling back in the 1970's, so we must be right this time!

Reason #8: Tim Robbins did a special on Lifetime.

Reason #9: People are bad, you know?

Reason #10: Big corporations make it hot so they can sell more air conditioners.

Reason #11: Man, like, it hardly snowed at all last winter.

Reason #12: Dude, like, open the window! Everybody's wearing sandals.

Reason #13: Republicans are in power!

Saturday, June 22, 2002

The Aluminum Foil Hat Left

Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky have been joined by members of their favorite nationality, the French, in being deeply suspicious of the events of September 11th. The French have gone one better, in fact, insisting that all of the events of that day were a right wing conspiracy.

It is a measure, I suppose, of just how badly the reality of the terror attacks hurt the leftist agenda that some on the left have taken on such an extreme posture of denial. One strains to remember any event that so completely shut the American left up in the weeks following September 11th, for example. And even now those members of the left who speak up against the Bush administration do so from well out on the margin, and they know it. Most of the major statements against US policy vis-a-vis the War on Terror have been made from the safety of Great Britain.

But none sink so deeply into denial and fantasy than the French, which suggests that none on the left are so ambivalent about their own agenda. Indeed, the French leftist program is on the way to becoming the most recent example of the failure of leftist ideology, having rendered the French economy stagnant and unable to compete in Europe much less the rest of the world with impossibly high taxes and restrictions on worker productivity. The right has been gaining politically in France and is currently sizing up opportunities for reforming the French economy by rolling back such leftist initiatives as the 35 hour work week. Perhaps it's a good time for those members of the doctrinaire left who can't face reality to go somewhere and play Dungeons and Dragons for the rest of the year.

Or they could just spend the summer reading and debating books that advocate crazy conspiracy theories. Either way, they take themselves out of the flow of real world affairs. The best thing for them and France, really.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Managed Care is Dead

Hang the black crepe, warm up the hearse. Managed care, HMO style health insurance, is dead.

It has been killed by progressive litigation and laws that destroy the ability of insurance companies to limit their liability.

The latest ruling from the Supreme Court places no practical limit on the treatments for which patients can demand reimbursement. Regardless of the agreement with the HMO, a patient can go to an outside board of experts for an opinion and then get treated by an outside physician, then demand that the HMO pay up.

This makes HMO care no different from traditional health insurance, and the costs of insurance through HMO's are skyrocketing as a result, over 50% in one year for much of Texas, for example.

This will markedly increase the numbers of people who will have to go without insurance, and it brings closer the day when the whole health care financial system breaks down.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Watergate Retrospective

Another set of Watergate retrospectives appeared in several different publications this week, such as Time Magazine and the Washington Post.

They've been doing retrospectives on Watergate every week since it all started. Lefties in the establishment media keep wheeling it out and waving it around like a talisman. They are especially fond of remembering it when Democrat fortunes are down, like nowdays.

They do the same with JFK. They don't like to remember what JFK actually said or remember his platform because that contradicts their current one, (especially the one about not asking what your country can do for you) but they do like to remember the glory days of the Democrat party.

Not Team Players

Almost all of the pundits in the land believe the country owes Coleen Rowley, FBI whistleblower, a debt of gratitude for bringing the country's attention to the inadequacies of the FBI's organization. In fact, what she did was dash off a totally ordinary and unoriginal screed of a memo, full of cheap shots at her superiors, that could have applied to any large governmental organization. She compounded the treachery of this memo with subreption, putting the blame for her problems on the FBI's hierarchy when the problem really was in the limitations forced on the FBI by politics and the law, particularly with respect to racial profiling, and in her own inablity to make a case for the warrent she wanted.

What got her ticked off was that she was fully in favor of tossing aside the civil rights of a subject of her investigation by getting a search warrent to examine his records simply because he was a Muslim. Her superiors were uncomfortable with that approach, and this is what "impeded her investigation."

The news media made her out to be some kind of heroine for facing up to her superiors. The irony of it is that if she had been successful, and the actions of her subject had been interdicted, then it would have been the news media trashing the FBI for racial bias as they did with the Wen Ho Lee investigation.

Rowley's revelations are of no real value beyond the leverage they give politicians and pundits who want to scapegoat the FBI. What she has done will only give the people in the FBI responsible for protecting the rest of us headaches. It will not increase our security or improve the function of the FBI. The hoopla over her revelations will die down and she will get what she deserves; she will sink in the obscurity and pointlessness of a career emptied of any real responsiblity.

Some women pundits have actually written that this sort of back stabbing is due to women's superior moral and ethical constitution. Anita Hill, of all people, was one of these. She wrote an article in the New York Times praising Rowley and other women who have shaken up organizations by turning on them. As more women get on the inside and high up in such organizations there will be more "revelations" in the future, Hill wrote. We'd hope they won't be revelations of the sort that Hill made in her fight with Clarence Thomas, fabricated and designed to damage and punish.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Not a Hate Crime?

The story appeared in the New York Times.

Were the colors reversed and the attacker white, 1) this story would be getting national coverage 2) it would be referred to as a hate crime in newspaper reports 3) hate crime charges would be filed and 4) nobody would be going out of their way to make excuses for the attacker like the New York Times has done.

Armed with three pistols, a 31-inch sword and kerosene, a gunman unleashed a furious swirl of violence on an East Village street early yesterday, shooting three people and holding patrons of a crowded wine bar hostage before being shot and wounded by police officers who stormed in, the authorities said.

The gunman was identified as Steven Johnson, 34, a black man who has AIDS and who, the police said, told investigators he was bent on killing as many white people as he could.

The NYT followed up today with a story that details several excuses for Johnson's behavior, including the fact that his wife died, he was on drugs, he had AIDS himself, and he was depressed.

Law enforcement officials said drugs appeared to play a part in the explosion of violence. "He is a lifetime drug abuser and criminal for 20 years," one official said, adding that Mr. Johnson's arrest record dates back to 1982.

Mr. Johnson was once a sought-after barber in Williamsburg. But Luis Marrero, a barbershop owner, said that in recent years he refused to hire Mr. Johnson because he appeared to have been using crack.

In addition to dealing with the death of his girlfriend, the mother of his 10-year-old son, in March, Mr. Johnson has AIDS and may have learned this only recently, the authorities said. But no one could account for the rampage the police said he took part in, or for the comments witnesses reported him making, that he wanted to kill as many white people as he could. Half a dozen people who have known him over the past 20 years said that as far as they knew, Mr. Johnson, who is black, had not expressed anger toward whites.

Monday, June 17, 2002

USA Beats Mexico 2 to 0 in World Cup Soccer

Why is the USA obsessed with American football while the rest of the world loves soccer? The short answer is that American football started in America, and that's where it has grown up. That it has grown up here is the only reason its many disadvantages are tolerated.

American football is an expensive game costing hundreds of dollars per player in equipment. Therefore it will never be taken up by scholastic leagues outside the USA. Players will never be inculcated in American football from their young years outside the USA. Only in the USA is it seen as manditory that football be played at the high school and undergraduate levels. Only in the USA will the expense of suiting up players for football be paid out of school budgets, and only in the USA will the risk to players be tolerated.

Soccer only requires a ball and an open field with minimal improvements. No other special equipment is needed even for tournament play. The contrast is obvious.

The same appeal will eventually take hold in the USA. American football is becoming too expensive for most smaller schools to support, and at the college level it can be maintained only at the expense of other men's sports due to Title IX constraints. Soccer is spreading gradually in the USA and will supplant American football for many venues eventually.

Saturday, June 15, 2002

Modern Sex: Liberation and its Discontents

a book by Myron Magnet

The 1960s sexual revolution made a big promise: if we just let go of our
inhibitions, we'll be happy and fulfilled. Yet sexual liberation has made
us no happier and, if anything, less fulfilled. Why?

...Sex today is increasingly mechanical and without commitment -- a
department of plumbing, hygiene, or athletics rather than a private
sphere for the creation of human meaning. The result: legions of unhappy
adults and confused teenagers deprived of their innocence, on their way
not to maturity but to disillusionment. As the reports in Modern Sex tell
us, the beginning of wisdom lies often in realizing that what we are
doing is not working, so that instead of doing more of the same we should
be doing less. These beautifully written essays on subjects ranging from
the TV show Sex and the City to teen sex to the eclipse of the manly
ideal to the benefits of marriage add up to the deepest, most informative
appraisal we have of how and why the sexual revolution has failed and how
we might begin to reconstruct the relations between the sexes in ways
that reconcile freedom with humanity.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

The Skeptical Environmentalist

Bjorn Lomborg's book, the Skeptical Environmentalist, has provoked a cry of outrage from the environmental establishment. E.O. Wilson referred to Lomborg as a "parasite" and his thesis as a "scam." The editor of the Scientific American cried hysterically that science has to "defend itself" against Lomborg.

One would think that the logical response to such a book, which challenges most of the pronouncements made by the environmental community, would be to produce a well reasoned and detailed critique that shows what Lomborg said in the book and exactly why he was wrong. However, one can read reviews of the book written by its most well known and well respected environmentalist opponents including reviews written for Scientific American and Grist Magazine all day, and I must say that it will all be a disappointment. Not a single one adequately addresses Lomborg's book. Many of these reviews are nothing but ad hominem attacks, full of sneering and distain, and the rest pick a few statements out of the book to criticize apparently hoping that will discredit the rest of the book. It is exactly the sort of response that you would expect from a bunch of charlatans who had been found out. Perhaps the environmental movement is a fraud, as Lomborg suggests.

Meanwhile, Lomborg has done his critics the courtesy of responding in a serious fashion to their critiques. There are also the comments he left on his website.

I would challenge the green nabobs to go through Lomborg's assertions seriatum and say whether they are correct or not, and if they are incorrect exactly why they are incorrect. If Lomborg is really mistaken, as they all insist, then this will be a simple matter. If not, then they ought to own up to the fact. I would say to them, put up or shut up.

Is the Catholic Church Dying?

Andrew Sullivan writes about the difficulties of the American Catholic Church. He believes that the Church should travel further down the road of appeasement of secular interests, especially with regard to sex, in order to save itself. Others would argue that appeasement is the beginning of the problem.

One poster on put it very well:

An article like this really makes me despair. Sullivan is one of the most level-headed, intelligent writers around, but he's hopeless when it comes to sex and religion. He's chippy, resentful and self-pitying, and if he's the best the homosexual community has to offer, then they're hopeless as priest material, and I don't believe in the existence of these wonderful, wonderful, gay priests he's always singing about. He really thinks that straights have it easy in the Church - he really thinks that! He thinks that homosexuals have to follow unfair rules that nobody else has to; that everyone else can have four bare legs in a bed anytime they want, but homosexuals alone have to hear the nasty word "No." He thinks that every rule about sex the Church has is unfair and mean. Except for the one about raping children - somehow he can agree with that one, though he doesn't explain why. He's just hopeless.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Doctors Dump Medicare

In a recent story in National Review Online, Robert Moffett details the flight of doctors from the Medicare program. Excessive, hopelessly complex regulations, excessive punative enforcement of complex billing codes, inadequate and delayed payments are the main reasons. Reimbursements have declined by 15% even as regulations have become more complicated and doctor's other expenses have rocketed higher. Doctors can no longer afford a loss leader.

Monday, June 10, 2002


The word "homophobic" originally referred not to hatred or fear of homosexuals per se but to fear of unconscious homosexual desires in oneself. This fear, that springs from horror at and denial of the attraction that men with unconscious homosexual tendencies have for other men, often produces an over compensation in the form of exaggerated or even violent rejection of other homosexuals.

Rejection of homosexuality in oneself stems from the deepest of natural human imperatives, which is the need to procreate. Every single one of a living person's direct ancestors was successful at producing successful children. The weight of millions of years of evolution tells us that we are failures if we don't have a successful heterosexual union. This biological imperative controls our thoughts, actions, and emotions in ways that we can only dimly know. The rejection of homosexuality in oneself, which threatens to interfere with personal heterosexual productivity and success, is deep seated in human nature.

In other words, in homophobia one is not dealing with simple prejudice. One is dealing with the deepest and most intractable mysteries of human nature. One is dealing with deep seated psychological drives that stem from immutable biological imperatives. A campaign to gain general acceptance for homosexuality in society is likely to be about as successful as holding the tides back from the beach with a bailing bucket.

Everyone has the right to try to overcome human nature and live their life as the see fit as long as they don't hurt others, but the more gay activists shove their agenda in people's faces the more severe and violent will be the backlash. There is no way to reason with people about this. There is no way to get them to accept it. Through social pressure you might be able to get them to shut up for a time, but rejection of homosexuality will always resurface with more force at some point.

Gay activists need to ask themselves why they have the need to shove their agenda in the face of people who will never accept it.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

Why It Is Impossible to Predict Whether or Not Global Warming Will Occur

The idea behind the theory of global warming is simple. It is that the earth receives a certain amount of energy from the sun. When a beam of sunlight hits the earth, several things can happen. It can be absorbed by clouds, the air, or the ground and sea, or it can be reflected by any of those three and return to space. If it is absorbed, then the energy is converted to heat. In order for the earth's surface to stay constant (on the average) the same amount of energy absorbed and converted to heat must be radiated back into space. The amount of absorbed heat energy radiated into space depends on the average temperature of the surface of the earth. The higher the temperature, the more energy radiated. If anything causes the fraction of energy absorbed from the sun to increase, then the earth's temperature must increase until absorbed energy re-radiated into space equals energy gained from the sun.

Global warming advocates believe that an increase in gasses in the atmosphere that can absorb light or infrared radiation and convert them to heat will increase the total amount of energy absorbed by the earth. Less energy will be reflected and more will be absorbed, and this will result in an increase in the earth's surface temperature.

Most of the information published by global warming advocates lists the gasses responsible for energy absorption by the atmosphere, but they always leave water vapor off of the list. This is confusing because water vapor contributes a huge amount to the overall absorption of energy by the atmosphere from the sun. Moreover, the water vapor content of the air varies tremendously depending on the temperature, the proximity of bodies of water, the turbulence and mixing of the air, the altitude, and a number of other factors. If graphs listing the greenhouse gas effect of the various greenhouse gasses included the contribution of water vapor, and information concerning the variability of water vapor content was included in these graphs, then it would be immediately intuitively obvious to anyone that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are a drop in the bucket compared to water vapor. It would be obvious that efforts to predict global temperatures by looking only at carbon dioxide concentrations while ignoring water vapor are ridiculous.

Even more problematic is the contribution of clouds. Clouds receive a large percentage of the radiation from the sun. Some of it is sent back to space, some of it is absorbed, some of it is sent to the ground. Moreover, some of the energy radiated from the ground to the air is caught by clouds and then sent back to the earth, a tremendously important effect that can determine whether the temperature on a single night is ten degrees higher or lower in any give location on the earth, an effect that is two orders of magnitude larger than anything that carbon dioxide could produce. Any model that attempts to predict global temperatures into the future will have to be able to first predict how prevalent clouds will be, what altitude they will form, what conditions will accompany their formation, how much air mixing there will be, what kind of clouds they will be, how much precipitation will be associated with them. There is no model proposed that even comes close to doing any of this.

Predictions about global warming might be possible if one could assume that water vapor and clouds remained more or less constant, on the average, while, say, carbon dioxide increased. But nothing could be further from the truth. Any of the proposed effects of global warming will affect water vapor and clouds tremendously and in ways that cannot be predicted.

Therefore, predictions of future climate change are not yet possible.

Coloring the News

In a recent book by the above title, Matthew McGowan, describes the reasons why and the ways in which the mainstream news media slants the news to the left. The book is remarkable for the fact that it is written by one who considers himself to be a liberal.

A generation of leftists has been forced to retreat to the safety of academe by the failure of their ideas in the real world. From there, they have mounted a reactionary response to the dynamism of global capitalism, free markets, and democracy. They use their control of the curriculum and of dialogue on college campuses to promulgate their message and effect their programs. No where has this been more influential than in the liberal arts.

The result is that when journalism students talk about "changing the world" they are not talking about getting the necessary facts and information to an interested, curious and concerned electorate so that the problems facing society can be effectively engaged through the democratic process. They are talking about how they, the well educated elite, are going to manipulate the (in their view) brutish, ignorant, racist and sexist American masses into doing what they think should be done.

But the American people have become wise to and have gotten enough of this approach, and increasingly they have turned to alternatives to the mainstream news media. Most notably this has included the internet and, on TV, cable news channels such as Fox News. Subsequently, mainstream TV, newspapers, and magazines have steadily lost their audience, but they would apparently rather go out of business than change their ways. So addictive is the self righteousness of identifying oneself as the elite that it cannot be easily put aside.

The result is that their competition has captured a beach head in the media market, and mainstream news outlets have forever lost their hegemony they once had over news coverage. From here on out the interested audience can quickly flip from the mainstream account of the news to an alternative account. Facts left out or tilted by the mainstream in the service of one leftist agenda or another are quickly uncovered by the alternative news services.

Thus, conservative opinions and viewpoints have gained an increasing audience and increasing respectibility.

It is one more way in which the left has been wrong. Wrong about the people, wrong about human nature, wrong about the import of their own actions.

Friday, June 07, 2002

Global Warming: CO2 Atmospheric Concentrations

As one person told me, "A 31% increase in CO2 concentration is a real measurable result. So you can "pooh, pooh" the science behind global warming, but the calculations are real."

The measurements of CO2 are real. If by calculations you mean the computer modeling done to predict future climate, that could not be more unreal.

It is rather striking that there has been a 31% increase in CO2, which is real and can be measured, yet there has been no measurable increase in global temperatures outside of the normal slight increase in temperature that has been going on for hundreds of years.

Kind of makes you think that the idea that increasing CO2 will increase the earth's temperature has already been proven false.

How can this be true? Well, CO2 is not that big in terms of contributing to the overall greenhouse effect. A 31% increase in heat trapping due to CO2 may be a drop in the bucket compared to natural fluctuations in other gasses. The most important gas in terms of heat energy trapping is water vapor, and we don't have a model that even begins to be consistent in estimating atmosphereic fluctuations in that. Then there is the effect of clouds, which form due to conditions that can only be described as largely chaotic and therefore unpredictable to a large degree. Most of the modelers already acknowledge that it is the effect of clouds and water on heat trapping that spoil their efforts to predict temperatures.

Add to that the effects of stuff we can't even begin to guess about, like oceanic circulation and sinking of dissolved CO2 in the water, and we really don't know which way global temperatures will go.

Kuhn, Marx, Gouldner, and MacIntyre

The Conflict Between Secular and Religious Morality,

Between Science and Religion

What is even more striking about Gouldner is the way in which his work shows that Thomas Kuhn's ideas have taken over philosophical thinking.

You remember Thomas Kuhn, of course, as the fellow most responsible for the current tendency to use the word "paradigm" to describe everything from a point of view to contemporary styles in women's clothing. Kuhn originally used the word variously to describe a scientific world view or a set of scientific methods. Kuhn showed that scientists have a tendency to adhere to their favorite theories and methods even in the face of "anomalous" facts that tend to dispute those theories. The burden of anomalies, as he puts it, may become too great, and the scientific paradigm has to be dumped in favor of another, better, paradigm. Kuhn called this process of changing paradigms a "scientific revolution." What other philosophers have done is apply Kuhn's concepts to other disciplines.

With Kuhn, Gouldner can think of Marxist theory as another paradigm and looks for exceptions or anomalies to that paradigm. According to Gouldner, considering the "anomalous" facts might have led to alternative possible theories or paradigms for Marx. Gouldner explores some of these alternatives, including a variation he called "Nightmare Marxism," literally the Marxism of Marx's darkest dreams.

Even from the beginning, it seems, there were plenty of facts relevent to Marx's ideas that Marx himself could not explain and chose to ignore. We know that he chose to ignore those problematic facts because of what appears concerning them in his notes and his letters to Engels. For example, Marx chose to ignore the fact that in Asian economies of Marx's time the State was a class interest, which is to say that the mandarins and bureaucrats of the state ran the economy for their own benefit to the detrimit of other classes. This was a serious problem for Marx because his theory was that the state was a superstructure that operates for the ruling classes, and once the ruling classes are deposed, according to Marx, the state would wither away. However, this clearly was not happening in Asia, and, sure enough, did not happen in the Soviet Union. Rather, the state in the Soviet Union became a class interest, and when the old Russian ruling clase was removed the state remained and consolidated it's position for 70 years until the whole economy collapsed under the weight of it. Members of the apparat drove around in limosines, shopped as special stores, and attended special clinics while the ordinary soviet man stood in lines for bread and vodka. And so it has happened in all of the leftist utopias.

One can therefore very handily dissect Marx and just about every other over-serious intellectual tradition with Kuhn's method.

Another fellow by the name of Alasdair MacIntyre, for example, has done the very same in his criticism of liberal modernity, i.e., secular humanism. MacIntyer started his intellectual life as a Marxist and then became a Catholic, these two phases of his life being linked by this critical project.

MacIntyre uses the term "traditions" to describe global Kuhnian paradigms of thought or world views such as modernity and then looks for the anomolies that subvert those traditions. The most important in the case of modernity is that modernity itself is based on traditional beliefs that can't be arrived at through reason alone. When one realizes that modernity is based by necessity on irrational traditions, then modernity itself is seen as irrational at its root. And, in fact, all traditions have to some extent an unavoidable irrational basis.

This is not just a technical problem for liberal modernity. It goes to the very heart of why the coherency of liberal modernity is breaking down over the issue of human values and morality. It was irrational to suppose that a truely rational system of thought could be created out of thin air, unsupported and unaffected by non-rational traditions. It is, in other words, the irrational basis of liberal modernity that leads to its later problems.

The most obvious problem is that secular humanism has not been able to come up with a replacement for religious morality. For example, modern thinkers can't even come up with a good reason for condemning the Nazis because it has not been possible to develop a system of values using the methods of logic and reason that says way the Nazis should not have done what they did. This is a very serious problem for modernity because it is where modernity makes a hugh break with an important aspect of the human condition. In a sense, the modernist goal of developing a system of thought based only on rationality was flawed from the start by it's pretended reliance on pure reason.

We are getting a little too close to cultural relativism. And, in fact, some leftists revel in the incoherence of modern philosophical thought, thinking the freedom of chaos grand. However, we've always known that there are some intellectual traditions that are closer to the truth than others, and this hasn't changed. It is simply that liberal modernism can no longer support the idea that it is somehow unique in that it is the only truly rational discipline that can always trump other traditions. While some leftists might try to use Kuhn to free themselves from all restraints, most people see distasteful nihilism in that leftist project. While the issue of taste would be irrelevant to modern rationality it is quite relevant if we are talking about the modern tradition of rationality. And so MacIntyre lets concerns about values back into the philosophical discussion. MacIntyre uses Kuhn's ideas to show that there is still plenty of room at the table for Judeo-Christian traditions of morality, and modernity is far from ever being able to condemn religious traditions to philosophical irrelevance.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

Pro-Market Socialism

Alvin Gouldner is a not-very-well-known Marxist scholar who applied the Marxist dialectic to Marxism itself.

The Marxist dialectic is the method Marx proposed to dissect competing ideologies and uncover the hidden self-interests of their proponents. This is the way that Marxists approach their criticisms of capitalism, always looking, for example, for the ways in which the proponents of capitalism benefit from it to the deteriment of other citizens. Gouldner essentially applied the same sort of criticism to Marxism and its supporters.

One of the conclusions possible from Gouldner's exercise is that Marx was wrong in thinking that the propertied classes would be trashed by history for becoming an impediment to productivity. The alternative conclusion possible from Marx's own scientific method is that private property is necessary for human progress. There is plenty in Marx's own writings to support this conclusion, and it is only with a mighty effort and some questionable logic that Marx reaches the "correct" conclusion on that subject.

Although you will hardly ever catch a member of the doctrinaire left writing about it, it has been no secret that centralized economies have not done well in the last 100 years, and this has led a few socialists to consider pro-market forms of socialism. Gouldner offers that there is actually a rationale within Marxism that justifies this approach.

Of course, the idea of pro-market socialism is anathema to most of the left. After all, the whole point of Marxist socialism is that Marx's father and all those other bourgeoisie capitalists are scientifically condemned by history to inevitably get what's coming to them. Admitting that private property is good or necessary is too much of a capitulation for any good leftist to suffer.

However, it may be time for the left to think in terms of reform of rather than overthrow of market economies as their goal. They may possibly be beginning to arrive at this conclusion as a matter of necessity since even catastrophies like the Enron debacle have not stirred many people to seriously question market economies.

Harvard and the ROTC

Harvard's president recently spoke at an ROTC function on campus, the first time this has happened since the Vietnam War.

In his speech, President Summers emphasized the importance of service to the nation:

You know, we venerate at this university--as we should--openness, debate, the free expression of ideas, as central to what we are all about and what we should be. But we must also respect and admire moral clarity when it is required as in the preservation of our national security and the defense of our country. All of us admire those many graduates of this university who have served in our country's armed forces. They deserve our respect and our admiration, never more than at this present moment in our country's history.

Perhaps the pendulum has begun to swing back at last in the Ivy League.

Sociobiology and the Left

A history of the left's argument with sociobiology appears here.

The opposition to sociobiology peaked in the '70's but has tailed off considerably since then. The essence of the left's difficulty with sociobiology can be summed up in one paragraph from a denouncement of EO Wilson's work that was published in the New York Times review of books:

Sociobiological ideas, they wrote,

"tend to provide a genetic justification of the status quo and of existing privileges for certain groups according to class, race, or sex. Historically, powerful countries or ruling groups within them have drawn support for the maintenance or extension of their power from these products of the scientific community. . . Such theories provided an important basis for the enactment of sterilization laws and restrictive immigration laws by the United States between 1910 and 1930 and also for the eugenics policies which led to the establishment of gas chambers in Nazi Germany."

The left was able to keep sociobiology out of some campuses for a while, but it soon became difficult to oppose ideas that seemed to arise out of common sense and for which there was so much data. In addition, sociobiologists were careful not to over-generalize their ideas into political theories that formented too much opposition.

Racial Gaps in Test Scores

The Seattle Times reports that Seattle school districts have adopted special programs to close the gap in achievement between certain racial minorities and other racial groups like whites. Proposals include, "the district should continue recruiting an ethnically diverse work force," " Students suffering from racial disparities should receive academic and social support districtwide," and "Stereotyping and other biases" should be eliminated in identifying students for special education and highly capable programs." Since the program openly calls for special support for students of certain races it is hard to see how "stereotyping and other biases" can be avoided in identifying students for special education and advanced placement. Of course, what this means in practice is that no benefits from the program should accrue to whites no matter what the need in terms of academic underperformance.

Japanese Anime

Japanese anime has become increasingly popular in the US, and conventions for fans are even more numerous than Star Trek conventions.

I was recently able to attend such a convention in Dallas. It might be more politic at my age for me to say that I was dragged there by my kids, but the truth is that I went willingly since I've been a fan of anime for some time.

I find anime to be refreshingly free of the political correctness, cant, and propaganda that plagues American cartoons and animation. Anime films can be surprisingly violent and may show explicit sexual material or other material deemed inapproprate in America even where the plot is clearly aimed at children. For example, anime often depicts characters who smoke or drink while American films have banned these subjects even in films for mature audiences. Some anime films take on religious themes that American film makers wouldn't dare touch, dealing for example with Christian beliefs in a way that is sometimes respectful and sometimes not.

Alien Nine is a good example of the contradictions of the genre. On its surface it is an adventure film about Japanese schoolgirls. At a deeper level it is a story that addresses some of the more difficult themes of a child's coming of age.

Unfortunately, the story is not complete. It might be in line with Japanese story telling for it to trail off, as it does, without a definite conclusion, but the series as it is now leaves the western audience wanting more. The DVD is not available for sale in the US, and the copy I viewed was subtitled in English by otaku (amateur anime enthusiasts.) Nevertheless, it is worth the effort to find a copy. It may become commercially available in the US later this year, although there is no point in looking for it on Amercian TV.

At the outset of the story Yuri is distressed at being forced into the role of being one of the three Alien Countermeasures Officers for her elementary school. At this point in the future alien animals from space drop from the sky at random, and Alien Countermeasures Officers, students from the school such as Yuri, are assigned to capture or otherwise neutralize aliens that intrude on the school.

Having a small girl assigned to what proves to be a terrifyingly dangerous job is obviously nonsense, and I believe that this role is symbolic for something else, i.e., contingency, the whole of the limitations forced on Yuri, and on all of us, by our biological natures.

In a couple of ways the story reveals its Japanese nature at this point. First, although Yuri is obviously distressed, even in tears, about the difficulty of her duties, there is no question of her quitting them. Her parents do not jump in to relieve her from the school's decision to assign her this task, and Yuri never seems to think to take the matter to her parents. Second, her friend's reaction to Yuri's distress is telling in the same way. They know that Yuri will serve as asked, and they gamely do what they can to help her get along. Nevertheless, Yuri's instinct is to reject this fate and to fear it, a reaction that is understandable but that she must learn to overcome.

As an Alien Countermeasures Officer Yuri must bond with the bourgo, an alien creature that acts as her ally. The bourgo looks like a flat frog with large eyes and wings. Yuri must wear the creature on her head, which the alien covers like a helmet, and the bourgo from this vantage protects her from the other aliens. The bourgo can speak but reacts automatically to her emotions, reflexively killing any alien that frightens her too much.

It is an interesting bit of symbolism. Since the bourgo is carried by Yuri like a hat, the creature becomes a part of Yuri. We find in the course of the story that the bourgo is the most fearsome and powerful alien of all, capable of killing any other alien with its dozens of prehensile steel tenticles that spring out at any sign of danger from another space alien. Thus, with the bourgo Yuri becomes transformed into a powerful being, from a little girl who sobs uncontrollably in fear at any sign of danger to a person who's emotions can kill.

In her introduction to the bourgo Yuri finds it to be harmless in appearance, but it opens its mouth to reveal its cavernous fleshy interior and its long, prehensile tounge. The bourgo sneezes, blowing mucous all over her, and she is agast -- a reasonable reaction to such a horror. Yuri is repulsed by the slime and flesh of nature alien to her, but it is a nature to which she she is bound and which she has no choice but to embrace.

The important adults in the story, Yuri's teacher and the school principal, prove to be enigmatic and powerful creatures with bourgo-like features who appear to control the odd events to which Yuri and her friends are exposed. One wonders if it is Yuri's fate to take the bourgo's powers into herself in the way these mature adults appear to have done. What in fact is the nature of these strange adult creatures? What did they go through to become what they are?

As the story develops further Yuri gradually learns to adjust to her role in life. Naturally, her biggest threat comes from boys with mindless, lolling grins who have hostile aliens on their heads. In the case of boys, the aliens control them and the aliens are inexplicably drawn to attack Yuri, or perhaps to attack the bourgo that she carries. This elemental portrait of boys caught in the throes of puberty's hormonal urges is rather striking for its lack of sympathy, but it might be accurate from the perspecitive of Japanese girls caught up in their own confusing biological tides. It is the boy's penultimate massed attack that provokes Yuri's most extreme fear and extreme response that with her bourgo makes for a very violent and difficult scene. Yuri is unhurt in the attack, but her development is interrupted for a time when her bourgo is killed.

Later, Yuri dreams that her classmates have all become transformed into bourgos themselves.

"We are all aliens. Our bodies change as we grow older, and we become aliens," her classmates sing in her dream.

The scene changes and Yuri is naked up to her waist in a pool of water made a brilliant red by the reflected light of the setting sun. She awakens from the dream sobbing, her three friends looking on in concerned confusion. She is the oldest of the four girls and the first to face this aspect of her natural, biological self.