Monday, September 24, 2018

Another great illustrator

A Tackle (1909)
J.C. Leyendecker (March 23, 1874 – July 25, 1951) was a German-American illustrator. He is considered to be one of the preeminent American illustrators of the early 20th century. He is best known for his poster, book and advertising illustrations, the trade character known as The Arrow Collar Man, and his numerous covers for The Saturday Evening Post. Between 1896 and 1950, Leyendecker painted more than 400 magazine covers. During the Golden Age of American Illustration, for The Saturday Evening Post alone, J. C. Leyendecker produced 322 covers, as well as many advertisement illustrations for its interior pages. ....
 J.C. Leyendecker - Wikipedia

Saying grace

One of my favorite Norman Rockwell illustrations: "Saying Grace," from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, November 24, 1951.


Culpable ignorance

Alan Jacobs, wrote a few years ago "Against Stupidity," which begins:
I have been thinking a lot about stupidity lately, largely, I suppose, because I spend a good deal of time online. I define stupidity as “remediable but unremedied ignorance,” and few human traits are more evident to a reader of your average website. It is relatively easy to discover that Barack Obama is not a Muslim; that the government of Israel was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks; that the Christian God does not hate [gays]; that your average everyday evangelical Christian is not simply itching for his chance to take over the government and impose theocratic law upon a nation of vile unbelieving reprobates. Yet people who could remedy their ignorance on these and many other matters consistently fail to do so. This is curious and significant.

Now, many people who hold wrong—even bizarrely wrong—views are not stupid. We do not all possess the means to remedy our ignorance. Throughout the world there are people who are badly educated, who have been taught many untrue things by the only authorities they know, and who have little or no opportunity to check up on those supposed facts. But a great many are culpably ignorant, who, because they do not take the trouble to investigate their beliefs and assess their accuracy, are also (according to my definition) stupid. .... [more]
Things have not improved.

Lunatic, liar, or Lord?

Paul Kengor, author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life, writes here about a recently discovered letter from Reagan to his father-in-law who was nearing death. It was hand-written on White House stationary. Kengor writes that "Reagan scholars estimate that our nation’s 40th president may have written more letters than any president since Thomas Jefferson." Reagan was concerned about his father-in-law's atheism. Kengor also quotes from another of Reagan's personal letters:
.... On March 1, 1978, Reagan sent a similar epistle to a Methodist minister from Shell Beach, California who was having doubts about the divinity of Christ (a rather odd predicament for a pastor). This liberal minister accused Reagan of a “limited Sunday school level theology,” and Reagan responded — characteristically — not with vitriol but grace:
Perhaps it is true that Jesus never used the word “Messiah” with regard to himself (although I’m not sure that he didn’t) but in John 1, 10 and 14 he identifies himself pretty definitely and more than once.

Is there really any ambiguity in his words: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me?”… In John 10 he says, “I am in the Father and the Father in me.” And he makes reference to being with God, “before the world was,” and sitting on the “right hand of God.”…

These and other statements he made about himself, foreclose in my opinion, any question as to his divinity. It doesn’t seem to me that he gave us any choice; either he was what he said he was or he was the world’s greatest liar. It is impossible for me to believe a liar or charlatan could have had the effect on mankind that he has had for 2000 years. We could ask, would even the greatest of liars carry his lie through the crucifixion, when a simple confession would have saved him?… Did he allow us the choice you say that you and others have made, to believe in his teachings but reject his statements about his own identity?
It seems obvious that the President had read C.S. Lewis.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"I will leave my father’s house and come unto Thee"

Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations, #92:
It is an inestimable joy that I was raised out of nothing to see and enjoy this glorious world: It is a Sacred Gift whereby the children of men are made my treasures, but O Thou who art fairer than the children of men, how great and unconceivable is the joy of Thy love! That I who was lately raised out of the dust, have so great a Friend, that I who in this life am born to mean things according to the world should be called to inherit such glorious things in the way of heaven: Such a Lord, so great a Lover, such heavenly mysteries, such doings and such sufferings, with all the benefit and pleasure of them in Thy intelligible kingdom: it amazeth me, it transporteth and ravisheth me. I will leave my father’s house and come unto Thee; for Thou art my Lord, and I will worship Thee, That all ages should appear so visibly before me, and all Thy ways be so lively, powerful, and present with me, that the land of Canaan should be so near; and all the joys in heaven and earth be so sweet to comfort me! This, O Lord, declareth Thy wisdom, and sheweth Thy power. But O the riches of thine infinite goodness in making my Soul an interminable Temple, out of which nothing can be, from which nothing is removed, to which nothing is afar off; but all things immediately near, in a real, true, and lively manner. O the glory of that endless life, that can at once extend to all Eternity! Had the Cross been twenty millions of ages further, it had still been equally near, nor is it possible to remove it, for it is with all distances in my understanding, and though it be removed many thousand millions of ages more is as clearly seen and apprehended. This soul for which Thou diedst, I desire to know more perfectly, O my Saviour, that I may praise Thee for it, and believe it worthy, in its nature, to be an object of Thy love; though unworthy by reason of sin: and that I may use it in Thy service, and keep it pure to Thy glory.
Thomas Traherne (1636 or 1637 – 27 September, 1674) was an English poet, clergyman, theologian, and religious writer. The intense, scholarly spirituality in his writings has led to his being commemorated by some parts of the Anglican Communion on 10 October (the anniversary of his burial in 1674) or on September 27.

The work for which Traherne is best known today is the Centuries of Meditations, a collection of short paragraphs in which he reflects on Christian life and ministry, philosophy, happiness, desire and childhood. This was first published in 1908 after having been rediscovered in manuscript ten years earlier. ....

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Ray Bradbury

.... “Life is short, misery sure, mortality certain,” Bradbury wrote in 1973. “But on the way, in your work, why not carry these two inflated pig bladders labeled Zest and Gusto.” ....

.... "A lot of lousy novels come from people who want to do good. The do-gooder novel. The ecological novel. And if you tell me you’re doing a novel or a film about how a woodsman spares a tree, I’m not going to go see it.” Much as Willa Cather had once tried to explain her art as art not as politics, Bradbury too rejected the idea that a good author writes with an intended purpose. Instead, he has an idea, something precious and magical, and he follows it, plays with it, nurtures it, and pursue its essence. In the end, good art will reveal a truth, but not always the truth an author originally desired to convey. ....

.... Siding with Alexis de Tocqueville, Bradbury feared that true oppression in the United States would be a soft despotism, with the culture being run by progressive busy bodies, moralizing and oppressing with a myriad of rules and acceptable attitudes. Fahrenheit 451, thus, anticipated political correctness almost three full decades before it became a deadly and nascent issue in the late 1980s. ....

Friday, September 21, 2018

Eric Ambler

Today CrimeReads posts an appreciation of Eric Ambler, the "Father of the Modern Thriller."
.... Ambler’s heroes, especially in his brilliant run of between-wars novels published between 1936 and 1940, are very unexceptional sorts, the quintessence of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. They are often engineers or journalists or writers who stumble unexpectedly into danger through a combination of bad judgment and bad luck, and then have no choice but to try to dig themselves out of it on their own, because no one is likely to help them. They are often solidly middle class, raised in a world of black-and-white certainties that they discover has been completely obliterated by an infinite variety of grays.

Ambler’s villains live in that gray. They are criminals, con men, governments, corporations, spies, revolutionaries, and corrupt officials of every kind. They don’t come around rubbing their hands in glee at their dastardly master plans. They are realists. They have made their own calculations about what it takes to succeed and are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. If those acts are considered reprehensible by others, well, that’s not their problem. ....
For instance,
Journey into Fear (1940)
“He looked round the cabin, accepting his presence in it as he had accepted so many other absurdities since he had returned to his hotel in Pera the night before. The acceptance was unquestioning. He felt only as if he had lost something valuable. In fact, he had lost nothing of any value but a sliver of skin and cartilage from the back of his right hand. All that had happened to him was that he had discovered the fear of death.”
An engineer we know only as Graham has just been nearly killed in his hotel room in Istanbul. He works for a large British munitions company and is in Turkey to help with the rapid rearming of the Turkish fleet. He thinks he must have interrupted a thief, but a Turkish official (Colonel Haki, making a cameo return!) bluntly disabuses him of that notion. The naval authorities of Germany, Italy, and Russia know perfectly well why Graham is there, and will do anything to keep that rearmament from happening. When Graham demurs that this all seems too melodramatic—“This is real life, not the cinema”—Haki explodes (“Melodrama! Proof! Real life! The cinema!”), informs Graham that they’ve already intercepted one other plot against him, and that a third is likely to succeed: “Do you understand now, Mr. Graham? Has your excellent brain grasped what I have been trying to say?”

Haki won’t let him return to London by train (“You would be dead before you reached Belgrade”), and puts him secretly on a small cargo boat to Genoa, from where he can easily get to the French frontier and then on home.

Things aren’t that simple, of course. Also on board that boat are a pair of Nazi assassins, a Turkish secret agent, and a Spanish courtesan and her pimp, among others. Some of them are there to kill him, some to keep him from getting killed, and some…are surprises. Much to his own astonishment, Graham turns out to be a bit of a surprise, too.
The film of "Journey Into Fear in 1942 starred Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton" and can be viewed online here.

There is much more at CrimeReads.

Eric Ambler: A Crime Reader's Guide to the Classics | CrimeReads

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Epitaph

YE say we sleep;
But nay, we wake;
Life was that strange and chequered dream
Only for waking’s sake.
                           Walter de la Mare

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"The opiate of the people"

From Commentary, "Among the Disbelievers":
It’s tedious to encounter a “new atheist” intoning arguments against faith that were shopworn in Voltaire’s day. Sooner or later, he will bring up the Spanish Inquisition. To a Russian specialist like me, that example of undeniable religious cruelty is not especially impressive. In its 300-year history in Spain, Portugal, and the New World, the Spanish Inquisition killed a few thousand, perhaps even a few tens of thousands, while in the atheist Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, that was the average toll every week or two. ....

Statements by Bolshevik leaders, Soviet instructions for youth, and the testimony of memoirs all affirm that atheism is essential to Communism. The Bolsheviks intended to create a whole new type of human being, and the first criterion for “the new Soviet person” was that he or she would be an atheist and a materialist. Communism could not be achieved otherwise, any more than one could create a prosperous capitalist society populated by dedicated Franciscan friars.

Bolshevik ethics began and ended with atheism. Only someone who rejected all religious or quasi-religious morals could be a Bolshevik because, as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and countless other Bolshevik leaders insisted, success for the Party was the only standard of right and wrong. The bourgeoisie falsely claim that Bolsheviks have no ethics, Lenin explained in a 1920 speech. No, he said; what Bolsheviks rejected was an ethical framework based on God’s commandments or anything resembling them, such as abstract principles, timeless values, universal human rights, or any tenet of philosophical idealism. .... All such notions, Lenin declared, are “based on extra human and extra class concepts” and so are simply religion in disguise. “That is why we say that to us there is no such thing as a morality that stands outside human society,” he said. “That is a fraud. To us morality is subordinated to the interests of the proletariat’s class struggle.” That meant the Communist Party. Aron Solts, who was known as “the conscience of the Party,” explained: “We...can say openly and frankly: yes, we hold in prison those who interfere with the establishment of our order, and we do not stop before other such actions because we do not believe in the existence of abstractly unethical actions.” ....

For a true atheist, to acknowledge any moral standard “outside human society”—which means outside the Party—was anathema. As the Bolshevist Nikolai Bukharin explained: “From the point of view of ideal absolutes and empty phraseology one can attack Soviet ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘hierarchy’ as much as one wishes. But such a point of view is itself empty, abstract, and meaningless. The only possible approach in this regard is the historical one which bases the criteria of rationality on the specific historical circumstances”—that is, on what the Party wants to do at any given moment.

.... Violent means were to be preferred. Everyone knew that to hesitate, even for a moment, was to reveal quasi-theological morality. The way to prove one’s atheism, then, was to be as ruthless as possible. Mercy, kindness, compassion: These were all anti-Bolshevik emotions. .... (more)

"...An obedient hen-pecked husband...."


Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky, but, sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.

At the foot of these fairy mountains, the voyager may have descried the light smoke curling up from a village, whose shingle-roofs gleam among the trees, just where the blue tints of the upland melt away into the fresh green of the nearer landscape. It is a little village of great antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists, in the early times of the province, just about the beginning of the government of the good Peter Stuyvesant, (may he rest in peace!) and there were some of the houses of the original settlers standing within a few years, built of small yellow bricks brought from Holland, having latticed windows and gable fronts, surmounted with weather-cocks.

In that same village, and in one of these very houses (which, to tell the precise truth, was sadly time-worn and weather-beaten), there lived many years since, while the country was yet a province of Great Britain, a simple good-natured fellow of the name of Rip Van Winkle. He was a descendant of the Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous days of Peter Stuyvesant, and accompanied him to the siege of Fort Christina. He inherited, however, but little of the martial character of his ancestors. I have observed that he was a simple good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor, and an obedient hen-pecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstance might be owing that meekness of spirit which gained him such universal popularity; for those men are most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline of shrews at home. Their tempers, doubtless, are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation; and a curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering. A termagant wife may, therefore, in some respects, be considered a tolerable blessing; and if so, Rip Van Winkle was thrice blessed. ....(the story)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Buchan, again

I haven't read The Free Fishers (1934) for some time but I have it and will read it again. It is one of Buchan's historical novels, this one set in Scotland and England during the Napoleonic Wars. From a member of The John Buchan Society:
I re-read The Free Fishers a few weeks ago, the first time for many years. From the moment I rejoined Mr Anthony Lammas, 'whose long legs had been covering ground at the rate of five miles an hour', I was bowled along, as always, by Buchan's master story-telling and pace. One savoured the way the author, in a few swift sentences, conjured up the essence of the minor characters along the way: Lammas' landlady, Mrs Babbie McKelvie, with her early call 'It's chappit five, Professor. Ye'll mind ye maun be on the road by seven'; Duncan Dott, the town-clerk of the ancient and royal burgh of Waucht, an 'honourable but laborious' office; and John Cherrybrook with 'that indescribable rakishness of gait, that wise cock of the head, and that parsimony of speech which marks all those whose work is with horses'. Sir Turnour Wyse, the gallant tornado; the fiendish Justin Cranmer and his endangered wife; Miss Kirsty Evanlade, 'the best dowered lass in the kingdom of Fife'; and, of course the shadowy Free Fishers of the Forth, the secret brotherhood among the sea-folk, to the young 'Nanty' Lammas 'the supreme authority of his world, far more potent than the King in London', all contribute to the weal of the story. Read it! It's a rattling good tale, set during the Napoleonic Wars, with a strong narrative drive; a study of evil and good, which is rarely black and white; where landscape and 'a sense of place' reinforces the plot; and which has the ability of enabling the reader to escape into a cloak-and-dagger world of intrigue, spying and danger.

"For the nonce"

Via Anecdotal Evidence, Robert Louis Stevenson on the value of works of fiction:
They repeat, they rearrange, they clarify the lessons of life; they disengage us from ourselves, they constrain us to the acquaintance of others; and they show us the web of experience, not as we can see it for ourselves, but with a singular change—that monstrous, consuming ego of ours being, for the nonce, struck out. To be so, they must be reasonably true to the human comedy; and any work that is so serves the turn of instruction.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Foolish reform

One of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotations:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.
(The Thing, 1929)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Safetyism

"Is Safetyism Destroying a Generation?" asks a reviewer of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s new book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Haidt recently told an interviewer that he dislikes the title of the book and that the subtitle more accurately describes what it is about.
Haidt and Lukianoff focus on the unintended consequences of safetyism – the idea that people are weak and should be protected, rather than exposed, to challenges. Safety culture has the best of intentions: protect kids from danger. It began with a focus on physical safety – removing sharp objects and choke hazards, requiring child seats, and not letting children walk home alone. Safety, however, has experienced substantial concept creep. It now includes emotional safety, that is, not being exposed ideas that could cause psychological distress. Taken together, the focus on physical and mental safety makes young people weaker.

Humans are what author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls ‘antifragile’. We ‘benefit from shocks; [humans] thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty’. ....

Antifragility applies to emotional health as well. When you guard children against every possible risk – do not let them outside to play or walk home alone – they exaggerate the fear of such situations and fail to develop resilience and coping skills. Stresses are necessary to learn, adapt and grow. Without movement, our muscles and joints grow weak. Without varied life experiences, our minds do not know how to cope with day-to-day stressors. Measures designed to protect children and students are backfiring. Fragility is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think certain ideas are dangerous, or are encouraged to do so by trigger warnings and safe spaces, you will be more anxious in the long run. Intellectual safety not only makes free and open debate impossible, it setting up a generation for more anxiety and depression.

Haidt and Lukianoff use an array of data that shows a shocking increase in American youth anxiety, depression, and suicide in the last five years, but particularly for young women. By 2016, one out of every five American girls met the criteria for having experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year – an increase of almost two-thirds over five years. There has also been an increase in male suicide by one-third, and female suicide has doubled since the early 2000s, reaching the highest recorded since 1981.....

Safety culture undermines the entire purpose of a higher education. Universities exist to challenge students, to expand their worldview and develop their critical thinking. This is done by hearing and responding to ideas that make us feel uncomfortable. Efforts to censor speakers because they make some people feel ‘unsafe’ prevents the necessary process of argument and counter-argument in the pursuit of finding the truth. .... [more]

Monday, September 10, 2018

Captain Blood

CrimeReads provides "A Mystery Lover's Guide to Pirate Novels" noting that pirates were, of course, criminals. Treasure Island is first on the list along with others I've read, but there are several I haven't and will consider. Captain Blood I read at a young age. The librarian reported that to my father and I was prohibited from checking it out whereupon I read it sitting at a table in the library. They stopped trying to control what I read.
This entry is a bit different from those mentioned above, as the former primarily feature characters who chose lives of crime. Sabatini’s protagonist Peter Blood does not aspire to be a criminal at all. When we meet him, Blood has traded his life of soldiering and sailing for that of a country physician. After tending to a couple of fellows wounded while fighting on behalf of the Monmouth Rebellion, however, Blood is found guilty of treason and sentenced to penal servitude in the Caribbean. His eventual escape from that fate leads him to a life of piracy and swashbuckling. He becomes the “scourge of the high seas,” but he always manages to adhere to his own code of ethics and honor.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

"If thou but suffer God to guide thee"

One of the hymns we sang this morning:



If thou but suffer God to guide thee
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days.
Who trust in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move.
Only be still and wait His leisure
In cheerful hope, with heart content
To take whate'er thy Father’s pleasure
And all deserving love hath sent,
Nor doubt our inmost wants are known
To Him who chose us for His own.
Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving,
So do thine own part faithfully,
And trust His Word: though undeserving,
Thou yet shalt find it true for thee.
God never yet forsook at need
The soul that trusted Him indeed.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Screwtape

Veronica Baugh has been reading The Screwtape Letters:
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is quite possibly one of the scariest books I’ve ever read.

Not that it’s at all “scary” in the typical sense of the word. In fact, although the collection of letters is written as though it were authored by a demon named Screwtape, it also happens to be sarcastic, ironic, insightful, and even a little funny. What makes it scary is that it revealed to me countless personal faults that I didn’t even know were there.

After reading it several times, I’m now pretty convinced that I serve as the humanoid embodiment of sewer sludge.

You too can experience this amazing feeling -- just read the book!

Or just read these three bullet-points from the first chapter (in which the demon, Screwtape, details for his fellow-tempters how to ruin a man’s family life). .... [read on]

Thursday, September 6, 2018

"I’ll Praise—"

An Isaac Watts (1674–1748) hymn based on Psalm 146, I’ll Praise My Maker:
[John] Wesley gave out this hymn just before preaching for the last time in City Road Chapel, Tuesday evening, February 22, 1791. The following Monday afternoon, though very ill, he amazed the friends at his bedside by singing the hymn throughout in a strong voice. The next night, his biographer, Tyermann, tells us, he tried scores of times to repeat the hymn, but could only say "I’ll praise—I’ll praise—." And with praise for his Maker on his lips and in his heart he passed to that life where "immortality endures."

I’ll praise my maker with my breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
My days of praise shall ne’er be past
While life and thought and being last,
Or immortality endures.
The Lord has eyes to give the blind;
The Lord supports the sinking mind;
He sends the laboring conscience peace;
He helps the stranger in distress,
The widow, and the fatherless,
And grants the prisoner sweet release.
Why should I make a man my trust?
Princes must die and turn to dust;
Vain is the help of flesh and blood:
Their breath departs, their pomp and power,      
And thoughts all vanish in an hour,
Nor can they make their promise good.
He loves His saints, He knows them well,
But turns the wicked down to hell;
Thy God, O Zion, ever reigns:
Let every tongue, let every age,
In this exalted work engage;
Praise Him in everlasting strains.
Happy the man whose hopes rely
On Israel’s God: He made the sky,
And earth, and seas, with all their train:
His truth for ever stands secure;
He saves th’oppressed, He feeds the poor,
And none shall find His promise vain.
I’ll praise Him while He lends me breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
While life and thought and being last,
Or immortality endures.

I’ll Praise My Maker

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Freedom

From The Economist, "Three post-war liberals strove to establish the meaning of freedom." The three are Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls and Robert Nozick.
.... Isaiah Berlin identified the crucial fault line in liberal thought in Oxford in 1958. There are supporters of “negative” liberty, best defined as freedom not to be interfered with. Negative liberties ensure that no person can seize his neighbour’s property by force or that there are no legal restrictions on speech. Then there are backers of “positive” liberty, which empowers individuals to pursue fulfilling, autonomous lives—even when doing so requires interference. Positive liberty might arise when the state educates its citizens. It might even lead the government to ban harmful products, such as usurious loans (for what truly free individual would choose them?). ....

Under positive liberty the state is justified in helping people overcome their internal, mental vices. That lets government decide what people really want, regardless of what they say. It can then force this on them in the name of freedom. Fascists and communists usually claim to have found a greater truth, an answer to all ethical questions, which reveals itself to those who are sufficiently adept. Who, then, needs individual choice? The risk of a perversion of liberty is especially great, Berlin argued, if the revealed truth belongs to a group identity, like a class or religion or race.

To reject positive liberty is not to reject all government, but to acknowledge that trade-offs exist between desirable things. What, for example, of the argument that redistributing money to the poor in effect increases their freedom to act? Liberty must not be confused with “the conditions of its exercise”, Berlin replied. “Liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.” Goals are many and contradictory and no government can infallibly pick among them. That is why people must be free to make their own choices about what constitutes good living. ....

Monday, September 3, 2018

Blood sport

When Lionel Shriver writes "Millennials aren’t taking offence. They’re hunting for victims" she is writing about that which she—having experienced it—feels rather strongly:
.... What is the real emotional experience of pouncing on minor infractions of rules right-on activists seem to be making up as they go along, and which only proliferate and grow more exacting the more cravenly the rest of us obey the last ones? .... Nothing short of exhilaration. Crusaders relish locating another paper dragon to slay. In the guise of suffering and woundedness, the overriding emotion in call-out culture is a sensation of triumph.

Radiating rapidly from campuses into the larger polity, the noble defence of an infinitely multiplying list of ‘marginalised groups’ is a predatory movement. Prowling the cultural veldt for givers of ‘offence’ is a blood sport, and its pleasures are those of hunting: spotting your prey, stalking, going in for the kill. Any source of umbrage thus presents an exulting opportunity to score a trophy, stuff it, and hang it on your (Facebook) wall. Mainstream institutions straining to be with-it give credence to this pretence of injury and vulnerability, when no one’s feelings actually have been hurt. ....

Despite youth’s reputed belief in the importance of being earnest, the whole ID politics movement is emotionally disingenuous. When during that Evergreen foofaraw a rabid convocation of students cowed the college president into lowering his arms at the podium because they found his hand gestures ‘threatening’, those students didn’t feel jeopardised; they were dominating and emasculating a man supposedly in authority. The students cowering in ‘safe spaces’ don’t feel endangered; they’re claiming territory. In protecting the faux-helpless from noxious opinions via no-platforming, they’re exercising power. The experience of exercising power isn’t scary, except on the receiving end; it’s supremely gratifying. These people aren’t frightened. They want you to be frightened of them. And we’re not talking ‘microaggression’. PC police often prefer macroaggression, the kind that can get people sacked. ....