Awright, Which One a You Mugs Moiduhed duh Inglish Language?

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Who’s responsible for the things that go wrong with our language?

Individuals, surely — and sometimes just lazy individuals, people who can’t be bothered to listen and learn, people who say “I was laying on the bed” without ever noticing that lie and lay are different verbs.

Often the culprits are individuals acting in social or occupational groups. About 25 years ago, some waiters on the west coast thought it was cute to ask their customers, “Are you still workin’ on that?” when they wanted to know whether the customers had finished their meals. Still workin’ on that is an ugly expression, and it’s actually bad for business, because it implies that eating restaurant food is work. But soon after it started, I traveled to Connecticut to visit my friends Muriel Hall and Mary Jane Hodges, and when we went out to dinner I told them that “workin’ on that” was abroad in the West and would soon infest their own neighborhood. They couldn’t believe that such a thing could happen: “No, you’re kidding!” Yet within a few months it hit them, and everyone else. It’s still with us.

Just as bad money drives out good, false language drives out real language.

A couple of years ago, the same occupational group started using grab to mean everything that an employee does for a customer. “I’d like some coffee, please.” “OK, I’ll grab it for you.” “What happened to my order of lox?” “Sorry; I’ll grab it.” “The restroom has no toilet paper.” “Hold on; I’ll grab you some.” Now this ugly expression, too, is everywhere.

Why? Catchphrases of this sort are self-subverting attempts to say something “different” in circumstances in which the same kind of thing has to be said over and over, every day — attempts made without the realization that if you keep saying that different phrase, you will produce an even drearier sameness. This goes double for the repulsive jargon of the electronics business, from input to meme and all the rest of it. Just as bad money drives out good, false language drives out real language. That’s why people undergoing a spiritual crisis can think of nothing more poignant to say than, “I’m just trying to process my emotions.”

Major collections of culpable individuals are corporations, advertising agencies, pop psychologists, romance writers, and self-help quacks (aka “inspirational authors”). A TV ad for Cancer Treatment Centers of America combines the bad attitudes of all five. “Cancer treatment is more than our mission,” it claims. “It’s our passion.” Mission? These days, everybody’s got a mission statement. Even the garbage company pretends that it’s Father Serra. And that isn’t enough. The mission has to be carried on with passion. But look. If I get cancer — again! — I won’t be looking for treatment that happens to leak out of somebody’s passion; I’ll be looking for treatment that’s guided by cold reason. “It’s our passion” . . . Why not go the distance? Why not say, “It’s our insanity”?

There are sins of omission and sins of commission, and the state is guilty of both.

The capitalist system allows people to compete by the quality of their language. Retailers of vital services can attract customers by offering clear information, dispassionately conveyed. Restaurants can get an edge on their competitors by hiring staff who speak decent English, and many of the better restaurants do. Corporations sometimes compete in similar ways; see the Progressive Insurance satire of passion. If businesses don’t watch their language, and customers don’t care, it’s their own fault.

Yet the strongest, most pervasive, and most repulsive influence on modern language is the modern state — political power in its many branches: the schools and colleges, funded overwhelmingly by government; the professional associations, licensed and inspected by government; the mainstream, heritage, and soi-disant respectable media, propaganda agencies of government; and the omnipresent advocacy (i.e., pressure) groups, constant campaigners for government money and influence.

There are sins of omission and sins of commission, and the state is guilty of both. Why do the public schools exist if it isn’t to teach people, at some point in their 13 years of “education,” that there’s something wrong with saying “Sally laid on the couch”? Or to show them why they’re right to be mildly sickened by “You still workin’ on that?” (Recently I heard an even more disgusting version: “You still pickin’ at that?”) But government isn’t merely letting bad language happen; it isn’t merely teaching tolerance for bogus words. It’s creating bad language, constantly and massively.

I’m not just thinking about the language of tax codes and applications for building permits. I’m thinking about the countless words and phrases by which the state infiltrates its blunt, reductive mentality into our way of life. Where do you think the plague of impact came from? You know the word I mean, the verb that has annihilated influence, shape, guide, determine, control, damage, devastate, and all the shades of meaning these options represent, and left nothing but an image of violent collision — impact! Tell me you were impacted, and I won’t know whether you had a dental problem, enjoyed a book, or lost your home in an earthquake. The government started this, when it started issuing “studies” and edicts (more the latter than the former) about the impact of “processes” on “communities,” about how the planet has been, is, or may conceivably be impacted by its climate, and about every other kind of impact a million busy bureaucrats can invent. The evil locution spread. Now, in the dim religious light of the psychiatrist’s inner office, a voice is heard: “How were you impacted by your wife’s eating habits?”

Tell me you were "impacted," and I won’t know whether you had a dental problem, enjoyed a book, or lost your home in an earthquake.

During the month of December, local and national radio informed me that numerous faith leaders were getting themselves arrested in protests at the Mexican border with San Diego, where I live. Their protest involved President Trump’s border policies — that much was clear, although its rationale was never developed, or even hinted at. (The reason, I suppose, is the assumption, cultivated by Democratic Party leaders, that all anti-Trump activity is the same, in a world in which there are but two entities: Trump and The People.) But what does faith leaders mean?

My working assumption about all religious attempts to impact politics is that the true meaning of faith leaders is “busybodies.” This was clearly not the intended meaning, but the words themselves refuse to tell us what that is. So let’s go at it in another way. Why would someone say faith leaders when any other phrase was available?

The answer is this. In the first decade of the 21st century, religious officials who involved themselves in politics were called by the media ministers or preachers, usually preceded by the adjective rightwing. Leftwing religious activity was ordinarily not identified as “religious.” Religious activists might be concerned citizens or community leaders, but never, never leftwing preachers. (The tradition holds for talk-show hosts, who are always rightwing, never leftwing.) This was language as new as it was misleading. Martin Luther King was always, in the media, a minister or preacher; had he been called a faith leader it would have implied something spooky and cultlike, or something righteous in a distant, transmontane way. But times changed, and the media decided that separation of church and state meant that only rightwing dominies had wandered into politics — a tribute to the media’s ignorance about such little things, unimportant in American history, as the African-American churches.

Why would someone say "faith leaders" when any other phrase was available?

Then came the election of Barack Obama, who appealed continually to religious sentiment; and later there appeared the come-to-Jesus moments of Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and so on, who discovered that all of Donald Trump’s policies were not only anti-American but anti-religious and specifically anti-Christian. Much talk of the Sermon on the Mount, the Good Samaritan, and “suffer the little children.” But the problem was that according to the modern liberals’ own ideas (and in this case, not such bad ideas), religion should not be involved in politics.

A way was found to deal with this. Political figures began referring to religion as faith (a word that would surprise a Hindu or a Buddhist, but why bother to find out about other people’s faiths?) and preachers as leaders. From the politicians the glad phrase faith leaders passed directly, and without digestive process, into the copy of newspapers and radio and TV stations.

Of course, it isn’t used for rightwing “faith leaders.” These remain rightwing preachers, rightwing rabbis, and radical imams — when mentioned. No matter: to whomever it is applied, the phrase remains as meaningless, yet as suggestive, as it was originally meant to be. The fact that a Unitarian minister, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Reform rabbi stage a political demonstration doesn’t mean that they are leaders of anything, much less of a faith. Listening to the news, however, you would think they were Maimonides or St. Augustine — or Martin Luther King, to whom the august title of Faith Leader would have seemed just pompous nonsense.

It wasn’t just a disaster, you understand, but a catastrophic one.

Pompous, and obscurantist. But if you want transparency — an expression that achieved some popularity when it was used by anti-government protestors demanding that a few of the state’s inexhaustible horde of secrets be revealed, but was soon coopted by such intensely secretive politicians as President Obama, who smugly asserted that his administration was the most transparent in history — if you want transparency, I say, and you want the thing instead of the word, you will find it in the relationship between state and media, which is as clear as any bell. What the state says, the media say, and vice versa. They’re the same, and you can see right through them, in more ways than one. When you do, you can also see, quite transparently revealed, what some call the deep state.

Here’s a parenthesis that I think is necessary. There are two types of conspiracy hunters. The first believe credulously in political conspiracies. The second try to discredit their political opponents as credulous believers in conspiracies. To all these hunters I say: I do not believe that John F. Kennedy was slain by the CIA or Big Oil or anyone except Lee Harvey Oswald. I do not believe that the Illuminati rule the world, or even exist. I don’t even believe in the International Communist Conspiracy. I do believe that people cooperate with one another, often without advertising the fact that they do, and that this tendency is particularly notable among people who have not been elected but are nevertheless accustomed to holding state power. These are the people who deserve to be called “the deep state.” Am I being transparent enough about my views?

Now, if you have trouble seeing through the media to the state, and the state to the deep state, you can hear the tightness of their relationship in the pompous yet just-plain-dumb language that they all use. On December 19, CBS radio, agitating against Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, reported an “anonymous administration official” fulminating against the move as “catastrophically disastrous.” It wasn’t just a disaster, you understand, but a catastrophic one. Does the word overkill come up in classes at the Columbia School of Journalism, or are they all about advocating for social justice? And speaking of credulity, why is special credence to be paid to someone because he or she is (A) hysterical, (B) semi-literate, (C) a government official who (D) wants to operate in secret? Members of the deep state aren’t shy about expressing themselves; they glory in their power and prestige — but they do want to escape the consequence of being bounced out on the street.

Catastrophically disastrous, while dumb, is not an expression that somebody stayed up all night to invent. But what about this item from CNN (December 20):

Shaken, saddened, scared: Washington erupts over Mattis resignation

Can’t you just see the news staff, huddled around a computer screen, trying to get the alliteration right?

The idea, of course, was to issue a clarion call, suggestive of . . . I don’t know what. A nuclear explosion in Cincinnati? The return of the Black Death? The Day of the Triffids? Here, as usual, the tone of the open media is the same as that of the deep state. Catastrophically disastrous, I’d like you to meet mass eruption. Oh, you’ve met before. I thought so.

How childish this is! No matter what you think about General Mattis (or Syria, for that matter, except that I, for one, would like us to get out of there), the picture of a sad and shaken city erupting, and doing so over somebody’s resignation, could be created only by people who think that words are nothing but emotional pricks and goads, and if you use enough of them on your audience, you can steer them in any way you want.

That’s not a particularly bright idea. But I recall that R.W. Bradford, the founder of this journal, used to refer to the “dumber principle” — the idea, common among people who have bought something at an inflated price and are now trying to unload it on someone else, that “there is always somebody dumber than you are.” In this light, consider the recent protective action of the American media on behalf of the government of France. On December 10, Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, responded to violent demonstrations against a (highly regressive) fuel tax by declaring that his government was ready to make any gesture of appeasement (geste d’apaisement) that might restore unity; i.e., make the mobs go away. Le Maire’s geste was a transparent display of the modern state’s contempt for the people. Let ’em eat gestures.

Here, as usual, the tone of the open media is the same as that of the deep state.

At this, strangely, there was no populist revulsion among the American media. Reportage about the French affair was lackluster, uninterested. Could that have been because the public’s object of disgust was a tax imposed to save the environment?

Things are normally that way, in Europe and America — the ruling class gets hypochondria, and the working class gets pneumonia. Name one public figure who has, in the name of the environment, climate change, sustainability, or simple economy, taken even one trip fewer in a private jet. Yet these are the people who never met a tax or regulation they didn’t like. There is always the question: What are they thinking? Are they just that rude? Or are they just that dumb? And they may be both. If you want a combination of rude and dumb, you can hardly do better than an account of French politics published by the Chicago Tribune on December 8.

The Trib, at least, could not be accused of ignoring the French demonstrations; it reported them in a 30-paragraph article (bylined to the Associated Press). In paragraph 13 there is a vague reference to “a gas tax hike” and “eroding living standards.” (Al Gore did predict erosion, didn’t he?) Yet only in the final paragraph is their cause stated clearly — in a quotation from, of all people, President Trump: “People do not want to pay large sums of money . . . in order to maybe protect the environment."

Perfectly true, but the betting is that you won’t read that far. To get there you have to resist the anesthetic administered in paragraph 24, which invokes the usual anonymous authorities: “Many economists and scientists say higher fuel taxes are essential to save the planet from worsening climate change, but that stance hasn't defused the anger among France's working class.” (So saying something is now a stance?)

Things are normally that way, in Europe and America — the ruling class gets hypochondria, and the working class gets pneumonia.

You also have to get past the mysterious paragraph 12, which mentions “the financial disconnect that infuriates many of the protesters.” Aha! Now we know! These people are infuriated by a disconnect. I feel the same, whenever my computer goes down, and I need to find the plug. But how did so many Frenchies get unplugged? Maybe paragraph 21 will help us. It describes another, “environmental” demonstration that appears to have featured some of the same character actors: “A scattering of yellow vests [these are things that French law requires you to carry in your car, in case your fashion sense is insufficient to meet an emergency], as well as women, children and retirees, were among the 17,000 people marching to demand action against climate change. One sign read ‘No climate justice without fiscal and social justice.’"

Make sense of that, will you! Here are people demanding action against climate change. So they’re enraged environmentalists, eh? That’s what the article says. But the people seem to be saying — sorry, one of their signs is saying; it’s so easy to take one sign as representative, isn’t it? — that they want other kinds of “justice” first. So are they upset about climate change, or not? Well, if they aren’t, they ought to be. The economists and scientists say so. In fact, the economists and scientists demand that they (that is, the people) pay higher taxes. But somehow, this demand has not defused the people’s anger. Why not? Ah! (Gallic shrug) — who knows?

Is the Tribune’s mess of a story intentional — a way of boring and confusing readers until they give up on the matter? Or is it merely a predictable result of the uncertain hold on literacy so often noticeable among the controlling class? In any case, it’s transparent. It presents a true picture of the modern state and its organs of propaganda.

I’ll hand you some of my own propaganda. Here it is. You can have a flourishing language or you can have a flourishing state. You cannot have both; you need to decide. And if you’re too lazy, dumb, or silly to decide, you’ve already made your decision, and it’s obvious what you’ll get. It’s what you’ve got right now.




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A Visit to Noah’s Ark

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The tourist season is almost over, but I’m making plans. I’m also thinking about last year’s acts of tourism. I’m remembering the sunny day in September when I visited Noah’s Ark.

The Ark is the central feature of a sort-of-theme-park called Ark Encounter, in Grant County, Kentucky. It’s a wooden structure — possibly the largest wooden structure on earth — built to the dimensions prescribed in the sixth chapter of Genesis. There aren’t any live animals inside (at least I can’t remember any); they’re in the zoo next door. But there are full-scale models of animals in various kinds of enclosures. There are also models of Noah and his family, going about their lives on the Ark: caring for the animals, fixing meals for themselves, relaxing in their comfortable onboard cabins. Ramps lead from level to level, where one finds “scientific” exhibits, restrooms, and two theaters with continuous showings of movies. In the first theater, Noah is interviewed by a skeptical antediluvian reporter and explains how and why you would build an ark. In the second theater, a 21st-century ark advocate is interviewed by a reporter who is (I think) played by the same actress who played the ancient one. She also is skeptical and needs to be converted to the idea that the biblical account is literally true. I assume the conversion happens, although I left before the movie was over. Her snarky postmodern attitude was less congenial to me than the religious credulity of the rest of the Ark.

But “credulity” isn’t exactly the right word. For me, a charming aspect of the place was the scores of exhibits providing ingenious answers both to obvious questions and to questions that, I’m embarrassed to say, had never occurred to me.

  • How did all those animals fit into the Ark? Well, they didn’t represent species; they represented “kinds,” which are fewer and are capable of developing (not evolving) into more than one species.
  • How did all those really big animals fit inside? Well, Noah probably took the young, small ones. I hadn’t thought of that.
  • How could you carry food to all those animals? You could use lots of pulleys and dumbwaiters.
  • How could you remove all the dung from those animals? You could use lots of pulleys and dumbwaiters.
  • How could a family of eight take care of thousands of animals? It’s not too hard, when you figure how much work a normal man or woman can do in X number of hours . . . .

The continuous display of cleverness delighted me. It went a long way toward illustrating Chesterton’s observation that the last thing a crazy person has left is his logic. But the builders of the Ark aren’t crazy; their ideas are just naïve and innocuous, and the Ark lets you see how far naiveté and innocuousness can get you in America, and how much charm you can gather along the way.

The reporter's snarky postmodern attitude was less congenial to me than the religious credulity of the rest of the Ark.

The Arkists optimistically predicted that they would be visited by 2.4 million people during their first full season, which was 2017. When I visited, they’d gotten only about 1.5 million, maybe, and it was late in the season. I was concerned that their great enterprise might have a short life, despite a (to me) very regrettable but somewhat shaky subsidy from a neighboring town. But there’s a wall inside the Ark that shows the names of people who have contributed various amounts for its construction, and it’s a very long wall. The Ark came to rest within easy driving distance of Louisville, Lexington, Dayton, and Cincinnati, and that’s a church belt. Visitors to the Ark whom I saw were very “diverse” — whites, blacks, Asians, beards, bikers, families of nine. The only solo visitor was me. So the audience is large, and just when I was thinking that a lot more people could be packed into the Ark, I went to the restaurant outside, and there were hundreds more of them in there. More than in the Ark itself. They may not be museumgoers, but they are sure as hell good eaters.

I hope they eat their way to heaven. Their idea of Christianity isn’t mine, but their spirit of voluntarism enchants me. You want to build a giant ark? You want to make it pay? I’m with you — see if you can. And this is an American thing; you can’t imagine it happening in France. Maybe I’ll visit again this year.

The visitors may not be museumgoers, but they are sure as hell good eaters.

My pilgrimage to the Ark last year began with a visit to my ancestral homeland, a county in Southern Illinois where my family has lived since 1816. I myself have never lived there; my parents left before I was born. But I’m related to all the old families, and I like to see what’s going on. In the early 1890s my father’s father built a house on the main street of one of the county’s little towns. That house passed out of the family a few years ago, after the death of my beloved aunt, the last of my grandparents’ eight children. Next to her house are (going south on Main Street) two other big old houses and then the Methodist church, where my grandparents taught Sunday school. The church seems to be doing all right, despite its fluctuating congregation, but much of the rest of Main Street has been torn down, hideously altered, or left derelict. The town’s population has been declining since 1910, and the working population has been declining still more disastrously. The old families, who were poor, by the world’s standards (my grandparents never owned a car), are being replaced by people on welfare, many of whom have no standards. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s true. If you want to see used up sofas stashed in the yard, I can show you where to go.

Whenever I visit, I brace ourselves for some more sad social and architectural news, especially about those two houses next to my grandparents’ place. They’ve been empty for years, and before that they were subjected to destructive attempts to “modernize.” If you’re brave enough to step onto the sagging wooden porches and look in the windows, what you see is broken glass, naked lath, once-friendly rooms returning to a state of unfriendly nature.

Their idea of Christianity isn’t mine, but their spirit of voluntarism enchants me. You want to build a giant ark? You want to make it pay? I’m with you — see if you can.

But this time, I saw a truck out back, and a man walking toward me: “Can I help you?” I explained myself, we shook hands, and I learned that this man was there to help the houses. A 50ish gentleman from an even smaller town about ten miles up the road, he had purchased both properties from the bank (or some other entity on which possession had devolved), because he liked them and wanted to restore them. More important, he had the skills to restore them. He had learned those skills decades ago, when the local high school actually taught students how to do things. It offered courses — excellent courses — in all the construction trades. Every year, students built a house from scratch, and sold it. If anybody can do something for old family homes, a graduate of those courses can do it.

I don’t know whether this man will succeed. I don’t know whether the Ark Encounter will succeed. Both seem romantic and quixotic to me. Nothing could be more different from America’s Towers of Tech or its Mordor of urban “housing” than these vernacular architectural enterprises. They are the creations of individuals, not of the state or the lackeys of the state.

I live in coastal California, and I’m often surprised to discover that no one here ever goes to the Midwest, the real Midwest, or any portion of California that isn’t built of concrete and steel. I know I could say something similar about the travel habits of people from New York or Boston or Washington, or even Chicago. But the Midwest I’m thinking about has nothing to do with physical geography. It has to do with the geography of the mind. There are places in the mind where everything that is done has to be done by some enormous, statelike thing. And there are places in the mind where individual people still do things, because they want to. Those places I call America.




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Christmas Spirits, Bad and Good

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People have been arguing on television about the Richardson Light Show — a vast, daft display of Christmas kitsch that adorns, and surrounds, and spills out beyond, the home of Carol and Hayden Richardson in Madison, Mississippi. The show has been happening for years and is now gargantuan. The Richardsons’ description speaks for itself:

Our display started approximately 17 years ago as a small residential display. Each year the display has continued to grow as we add new items. As we are currently planning and preparing for the 2017 display, we expect to have over 250 inflatables, over 100,000 LED lights, hundreds of lighted wireframe characters and messages, a 23 foot animated tree, and much more! Our lights are synchronized to music with the help of a computer program called Light-O-Rama and the music is broadcasted by radio on the station 99.9 FM. Live appearances by Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty the Snowman are very common during the show. We look forward to seeing you this Christmas season.

As you would expect, neighbors have been complaining (but when don’t they?) about the crowds that the thing attracts; cops have been concerned (but when aren’t they?) about traffic problems; and spokespersons for religious liberty have been arguing (but when wouldn’t they?) that Christmas is under attack. People of common sense are urging the Richardsons and their neighbors to just get along, which they have had plenty of chances to do, yet have notably failed to do.

The Richardsons have a pretty large property, but with the aid of Google Maps I calculate that the three houses nearest to the display are only 150, 150, and 250 feet away.

It’s morally irrelevant, though amusing, to note that the Richardsons regard their annual event as a witness to Christ, despite the fact that the vast majority of decorations appear to be pop-culture crap having nothing to do with religion; and that neighbors claim the Richardsons are actually trying to profit from their display.

People of common sense are urging the Richardsons and their neighbors to just get along, which they have had plenty of chances to do, yet have notably failed to do.

But now the city council has gotten involved, and has sided with the Richardsons. I don’t know whether that’s because they value the show as a tourist attraction for their little town (population 25,000) or because most of the people who live there are Christians.

I don’t know, and I don’t care. I like Christmas; I like Christianity; I like profits; I don’t especially like cops; and I positively dislike “neighbors” and city councils. I do endorse the libertarian idea that if you aren’t trying to get your way through force or fraud, nobody should interfere with you. In other words, live and let live.

Nevertheless. . . I don’t think the nonaggression principle — a good idea — will solve all problems of property relations, any more than I think the idea that lying is wrong will solve all problems of communication. If a friend asks for my assessment of her children — “Aren’t they CUTE?! Don’t you think they’re CUTE?!” — I will dutifully and cheerfully lie to her.

I wonder if there’s a strictly libertarian way to keep your neighbors from blinding you with their Christmas lights and deafening you with the crowds they invite to see them.

So I’m in a quandary. I don’t know how to figure this — maybe some of Liberty’s readers can tell me how — but I wonder if there’s a strictly libertarian way to keep your neighbors from blinding you with their Christmas lights and deafening you with the crowds they invite to see them. I mean, after you’ve tried to be nice to them, and it didn’t work.

To this question, anarchists need not reply. I know their answer: in an anarchist society you wouldn’t buy into a community until you fully understood and agreed to the contract that specified your rights, and that would take care of everything. If your neighbor puts up an enormous, obnoxious Christmas display, just click on your contract and scroll down to Item 379, the one covering all issues that may conceivably arise from holiday entertainments and decorations. That will settle the issue. Fine. Next time I want to buy property in an anarchist society, I’ll make sure to read the fine print, and I’m sure that others will do so too, and abide by it.

Besides anarchists, people who need not reply include all men and women who kindly suggest, like the pro-Christmas Show people on Fox News, “Let’s just get along and negotiate this stuff.” The problem is what you do when people who aren’t so kind refuse to negotiate. That happens, you know.

This leaves readers who are neither kind nor anarchistic, and I will be happy to entertain their suggestions. But until I hear some plausibly high-principled way out of this difficulty, I’m going to act on instinct. If something like the Richardson Light Show starts manifesting itself next door to me, I’m calling the cops and demanding that they get rid of the public nuisance.




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The Movement to Deify Hillary Clinton

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It’s clear that President Trump has the kind of following that will never go away. No matter what he does, no matter how often or how sharply he confounds his supporters’ expectations, crowds turn out to cheer him, and opinion polls point upward. He is the kind of leader whom crowds follow because he expresses their basic sense of the soundness of their own no-matter-what conceptions.

But what of Hillary Clinton? It could be argued, with great plausibility, that if there were no Hillary Clinton, there would be no Donald Trump. Although people often say that she “stands for nothing, only herself,” that self means a lot to a lot of the people who voted against her. To them she epitomizes the smug, entitled, mendacious, dictatorial, “I don’t mind giving your money away” managerial elite who disgusted enough people who voted for Barack Obama that they voted for Donald Trump the next time.

Nevertheless, Clinton has hardcore followers, and is likely to keep them. Some evidence for this is provided by the sales of her book. By mid-September, even after the pre-released passages and her own public appearances had made it an embarrassment for liberals and a laughingstock for conservatives, the book was said to have sold 300,000 copies. Statistics like this are almost always exaggerated, so let’s call it 200,000. Of that number, 100,000 represent the type of people who bought the memoirs of Ford or Nixon or any of the rest of them — people who had no intention of reading the thing but were planning to give it as a Christmas present to Aunt Bertha, who is suspected of having voted for the author. But that leaves 100,000, which is very good, even for a book that was instantly marked down by 30%. One hundred thousand is more people than there are Scientologists, and you know how much trouble they can cause.

Although people often say that Clinton “stands for nothing, only herself,” that self means a lot to a lot of the people who voted against her.

I won’t psychologize about Clinton supporters; I have no interest in their psychology, per se. But I have some interest in the means by which political cults can be kept alive.

In the old days, monarchs who were tossed out of office could keep being addressed as Your Majesty if they could scrape together enough money to maintain themselves as the target of romantic illusions. For a hundred years after its removal from the thrones of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, the main branch of the Stuart dynasty hung out in France, which subsidized the court of the “rightful king.” The Stuarts continued to attract the allegiance of people who, as Talleyrand was supposed to have said about the Bourbon dynasty, had learned nothing and forgotten nothing: “Ils n'ont rien appris, ni rien oublié.” And if someone wanted evidence of their claim to legitimacy, there it was, flowing in their veins — just look! They had royal blood; they were royal. They were who they were.

Hillary Clinton is now questioning the legitimacy of Trump’s election. But what does her government-in-exile present as evidence for her own legitimacy?

The answer is twofold.

1. Transparent falsehoods. Joe Scarborough, once MSNBC’s only fair-and-balanced talking head, now says that Hillary was done in by a hostile press: "I think the fake news media,” led by the New York Times, “was pretty damn hostile toward Hillary Clinton throughout most of the campaign." For proof, go to her followers: “Hillary Clinton supporters can tell you how many stories were done on [her email scandal]." The hostility consisted of reporting on the scandal; this should never have been done.

Like the Old Testament God, whose name was I Am That I Am, she simply exists as the rightful president.

It’s an odd position for a journalist to take, and few other people have taken it. As reported by The Hill, “A Suffolk University/USA Today poll released one week before the 2016 election showed that just 7.9 percent of 1,000 registered likely voters polled believed the media was rooting for Donald Trump to win, while 75.9 percent answered Clinton.” Transparent falsehoods tend to have small audiences. But this is a sample of the multitude of lies that Hillary and her fans keep telling themselves, as they excuse her failure to be elected, or assert that she actually won (but was counted out by Russian hackers, etc.). The multitude of excuses suggests that none of them works or is really important; they are all just impromptu rationalizations for . . .

2. A central claim. The claim is that Hillary Is What She Is, and that is enough. In fact, it’s plenty. Like the Old Testament God, whose name was I Am That I Am, and the existential situations expressed by the popular expression It Is What It Is, she simply exists as the rightful president. She is eternally, pristinely, incontrovertibly presidential, presidential by definition, presidential by a logic that excludes all questions and qualifications.

Here’s an example of the claim. It comes from a website, Verrit, which was founded by one of Hillary’s people, obviously with her blessing. The site is designed to refute the lies and confirm the truth — about her, and about the fallen world that ignorantly, stupidly, and insanely rejected her. Headlines: “Untold Damage from the G.O.P.’s Theft of a Supreme Court Seat”; “1.2 Trillion Gallons of Untreated Waste Dumped in U.S. Water Each Year”; “Republicans Determined to Strip Health Care from Millions”; “Despite Attacks, Hillary Clinton and Her Voters Refuse to Be Silenced”; “Study: Mainstream Media Acted as Trump’s Mouthpiece, Clinton’s Foe.”

It’s difficult to navigate around this site; you’re fortunate if you land on something that interests you. The item that interested me is headlined “Every Major Media Narrative About 2016 Is Demonstrably False.”

FAKE:Hillary Clinton was a “flawed” candidate.

FACT:Hillary Clinton is the first woman in history to become the presidential nominee of a major party. Would anyone characterize that as a “flaw?” Singling out Hillary Clinton as “flawed” when all humans are flawed has a decidedly sexist tinge. There is nothing particularly flawed about working a lifetime to become one of the most accomplished women in political history.

Furthermore, the incessant “flawed’ narrative is wrong on its face. Hillary Clinton’s approval rating after she left the State Department was a stunning 69% in a WSJ poll. She entered the 2016 race in a very strong position and was immediately met with a character assassination campaign unseen in U.S. politics. This Gallup chart illustrates the effect of the systematic demonization of Clinton . . .

There follows a chart showing Clinton’s popularity bouncing around since 1992, and declining about 20 points, starting with 2015. That’s it; that’s the evidence. Must have been the media, right? Couldn’t have been Hillary Clinton herself, because . . . she was Hillary Clinton, otherwise known as “the first woman in history to become the presidential nominee of a major party.” You can’t deny that, can you? No. Is that a flaw? No. So she is unflawed — by definition.

It’s just frosting on the cake that Clinton spent a lifetime working to become “one of the most accomplished women in political history,” but this also is mysticism. Like other mystical sayings, it means either less or more than it appears to mean. It could apply, not just to Hillary, but to that strange woman who keeps turning up at PTA meetings with her 19-Point Program for School Progress. She’s probably spent her whole life trying to be “one of the most accomplished” — so why isn’t she above reproach? Why isn’t she just as good as Bill Clinton’s wife?

That’s not where you’re supposed to go. You’re supposed to see that we’re talking about Hillary Clinton, and nobody else but Hillary Clinton — a unique person who is uniquely accomplished and therefore uniquely without flaw. This, for most minds, would be an idea susceptible to debate, but for a few hardcore worshipers it’s a dogma that requires nothing but assertion.

Must have been the media, right? Couldn’t have been Hillary Clinton herself, because she was Hillary Clinton.

So, the cult has been launched; the priests are assembling; the idol is in position; the ceremonies will go on for a while. For how long?

Until the money runs out. And it’s not likely to run out soon.

America is strewn with the wrecks of religious cults that continue despite a general collapse of confidence. There is still a House of David, in some form; there is still a Scientology; and, more to the present point, there is still an I Am Movement. You may not have heard of all of these survivals, but that’s just because they no longer have money. The Clintons have tons of money, and they can employ as many priests as they are willing to open their wallets to. Hillary will try it again in 2020, and after her rebuff, and the Disney-produced funeral for Bill, she will anoint her offspring to continue the line of unflawed politicians. Every failed attempt will be regarded as yet more proof of the reality of those forces of darkness that ever wage war upon God and her elect.

She Is What She Is.




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Vicars of Christ Say the Darnedest Things

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Pope Francis recently remarked that the US, among other countries, has a
"distorted vision of the world."




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A Novel Attracting Attention

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Blythe is the debut novel by John Kramer. Because it has received considerable praise and interest from readers across the philosophical spectrum, but especially among libertarians, Liberty’s entertainment editor, Jo Ann Skousen, interviewed Kramer about story’s themes and popularity. Set in a nondescript village in an undisclosed time period, it begins with the strange disappearance and reappearance of several local residents wracked by a strange disease and marked by a strange branding. When the story’s title character, Blythe, is led into an underworld kingdom that proves to be the source of the disease, she must find a way to survive while her love interest, Aaron, must find a way to rescue her.

* * *

JAS: Blythe is set in a timeless and nameless world that is familiar in its human relationships and topography, yet unfamiliar in its lack of technology and its Dantean underworld located just outside the city. It could take place in the past, or in a postapocalyptic future. What were you trying to accomplish with your setting and character conflicts?

JK: It was a challenge to write Blythe in a way that was timeless; as you correctly point out, the story could be taking place today or it could have taken place 600 years ago or it could take place in the future. The only temporal reference is to Dante. But for that, Blythe is truly a timeless tale and that was important to me because its themes are timeless: good vs. evil, self-determination vs. captivity and oppression, and the ideas and ideals of faith, freedom, and forgiveness. Readers are used to being told stories with concrete facts — with recognizable places, set in a specific time and with detailed descriptions of the characters. Blythe is purposefully light on all of that, and once the readers figure out that they have the control to create this world and these characters in their own minds, it is empowering for them. I remember watching a video of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” for the first time, back in the 1980s. I was so disappointed by the casting of John the bartender and other characters. They were nothing like the characters my mind had conjured. Outside of what I considered characteristically essential observations, many of the details in Blythe will be created by the reader.

Blythe's themes are timeless: good vs. evil, self-determination vs. captivity and oppression, and the ideas and ideals of faith, freedom, and forgiveness.

JAS: Your title character, Blythe, is an artist who uses her own blood in her work. Art has a specific healing and protective power in the story. You’re a painter as well. Is Blythe the character with whom you most identify?

JK: I admire Blythe and her growth throughout this story. Even in her true-to-life frailties, she manages to hold herself to a high standard. But there are other characters I identify much more closely with, most specifically Augustus. Throughout this story, Augustus never speaks; he acts. And he always acts in a way that helps his good friend Aaron. That’s my kind of person. He was modeled on Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, who in the entire Bible never speaks a word. He just does the right thing to look out for those he loves even when it seems like a fool’s errand. And Joseph’s actions, like those of Augustus, are essential to the story’s outcome.

JAS: For me, the best part of the book is the thought-provoking aphorisms containing libertarian ideas — sentences such as “Every manmade disaster begins when one man thinks for another. However benevolent they begin, the ultimate outcome is tyranny” and “Take liberties you shouldn’t and you’ll find your liberties are taken from you.” It reminds me of reading Emerson’s journals, which he relied on frequently as a source for his essays. What is the source of the quotable passages in your book, and how did you use them in creating the story? Did you collect them first and build the story around them, or did they rise of their own volition out of the story-writing process? Which are your personal favorites?

The need to act to stop injustice has been a driving force in my life from as early as the age of three

JK: Emerson has a special place in my life. I lost my father when I was two, and my Uncle Joe, who was a surrogate father, urged me time and again to read Emerson’s essay on “Compensation.” When I finally had the maturity to read it, it hit home, both in the sweep of its message and in its unique and memorable turns of phrase. I’ve since read all Emerson’s essays four times or more and I hope to never stop reading them over the course of my life. Both Emerson and Benjamin Franklin inspired me to create unique, true, carefully crafted, and memorable turns of phrase throughout Blythe. Nearly all of the quotes and all of the poems are my own creations. The quote that most closely reflects my aspirations and actions is the one I used as Blythe’s one-line prologue: “One of mankind’s greatest sins is inaction in the face of injustice.” The need to act to stop injustice has been a driving force in my life from as early as the age of three. I’m grateful to have worked over the past 25 years at an organization that allows me to turn that insight into action on behalf of individuals whose rights are being violated by the government. I can’t think of a better way to earn an honest living.

JAS: Blythe has been described as a story that defies genre. It focuses more on its themes of love, faith, forgiveness, and redemption than on traditional story tropes. Your protagonist, Blythe, is strong, willful, talented, and independent. Her love interest, Aaron, is also strong, loyal, and likeable. Through a series of choices — some hers, some Aaron’s — Blythe ends up inside a dark and despotic place where she and a growing number of villagers are imprisoned, perhaps forever. Blythe doesn’t seem to belong there by the rules of traditional forgiveness and redemption tales — unlike Edmund, for example, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she hasn’t deliberately chosen an evil path, hasn’t harmed anyone, and in fact she does whatever is possible to avoid harming others. In terms of your story trope, why is Blythe confined to this prison, and why does she need forgiveness and redemption? Why isn’t Aaron held equally responsible for his actions leading to her capture? You mention betrayal in the story; who has betrayed whom?

JK: I concluded a poem many years ago with the lines, “We are bound to make mistakes, but it’s what we do from there that can bring us back to God, and the life He wants to share.” We all make mistakes. We all sometimes take the wrong path even though we know better. Like Blythe, we can even have the self-awareness to point this out to ourselves as we are doing it, but we sometimes still continue to move in exactly the wrong direction, often at the urging of people we know we should not trust. That is what Blythe experiences. And following someone in such a way never leads to a good or happy place or experience. We should trust our instincts. Once Blythe is drawn into that other world, she not only has to figure out how to survive but how to preserve the better angels of her nature. When she enters, she is a broken person inside, but this new and threatening place acts as a crucible of sorts, purifying her, and — even as it works to destroy her — helping to make her good and whole. We are all individually responsible for what we do, and Blythe is not immune to that fact. So Blythe escalates Aaron’s betrayal, and, in that twist, she is betrayed by her rival, who herself is betrayed to an even greater extent. The lesson here is that when we ratchet up what we know is wrong, it only makes our lives and our worlds a worse place to be in. By recognizing and living up to the power of forgiveness, we can improve not only our own lives, but the world around us.

We all make mistakes. We all sometimes take the wrong path even though we know better.

JAS: You subtly suggest that evil is contagious, or at least that it loves company, when those who want to leave their imprisonment and return temporarily to the outside world must bring someone back with them or else suffer an agonizing, torturous death. Eventually whole communities succumb to the underworld. Is this a metaphor for social and political philosophies that seem to spread like a virus from person to person? Or is it a demonstration of the destructive power of peer pressure? Or am I reading something into this that wasn’t intentional?

JK: So many forces in this world are contagious: evil inspires more evil, but courage, love, and forgiveness can and should also be contagious; it merely requires an individual to stop, even in the midst of harm, and say, “No. I won’t continue or expand this harmful cycle. I am going to be the one to change this trend.” I grew up in a home with a lot of joy, but there was also a lot of hair-trigger violence. I knew it was wrong even as I was seeing it happen, and I vowed to myself that it would not happen in a home I would make my own someday. Each member of my family would feel safe in our home. My nephew, who stayed with us for a summer, described our home as “relentlessly positive.” I like that humorous description. It is what I’ve worked to build. We are free to pursue destructive paths, but all we’re left with when we’re done is destruction. On the other hand, one can decide to be a positive force. Others are looking for those examples, especially in our world today. And when one person stands and defends the defenseless, others are inspired to join, or do their own positive variation on the theme. Misery loves company, but so does joy. What you read was certainly a purposeful choice on my part with this story.

JAS: Is it significant that most of the early victims who succumb to the plague you describe are young men? Your description of the mysterious pustules that cover their bodies, the phlegmy cough, the wasting away, and the incurable nature of the disease reminded me immediately of the 1980s, when young men began wasting away and dying from an inexplicable and incurable form of pneumonia that eventually became diagnosed as the final symptom of AIDS. Eventually the connection between the kingdom and AIDS becomes explicit in your story. What is your point with this part of the story, and how does it fit with the underlying theme of choice and accountability, love, faith, forgiveness, and redemption? Did you mean to imply that sex outside of marriage is inherently evil and needs to be punished? Do you agree with the 1980s statement made by several orthodox Christian leaders that AIDS was a punishment from God? Why is HIV at the center of this Dantean world?

When one person stands and defends the defenseless, others are inspired to join, or do their own positive variation on the theme.

JK: You caught a commonality that has slipped by a lot of readers, certainly on the first time they read Blythe. In the early days of the AIDS crisis, its victims were largely limited to young gay men — social outcasts who operated outside of society’s mainstream. It wasn’t until AIDS crossed the gender line that suddenly the vast majority of people and especially the media started to take notice. Blythe follows this same turn of events. Complicit in this during the AIDS crisis, and in my novel, were those in authority who saw what was transpiring, but who said nothing publicly and did nothing officially because they didn’t agree with the life choices of those individuals. It was not, however, their place to pass such judgments, and they did so with disastrous effects across entire swaths of our world. In art, as in life, such errors in judgment must be paid for, which indeed is the case for one of the authority figures in this story who allows this plague to rise and take hold. For a time, it makes his life easier, but he pays very personally and in many different ways he could never have anticipated.

And just as AIDS doesn’t kill its victims, but weakens their resistance to other illnesses that take their lives, those in the kingdom who are going to die are sent away to die elsewhere, typically in what were once their homes.

To be clear, because some have asked me: I do not believe HIV is a punishment for sinful choices. (One ancillary character suggests that, but the more central and more persuasive character refutes that belief.) Ending up in the underground kingdom may happen as a consequence of the choices characters make or others make for them, but I do not see it as a punishment for the choice. To me there is a difference between a consequence and a punishment; the latter implies God’s judgment, and I don’t believe God would will that on His own creations; the other team would. As you once put it in an exchange with me, natural consequences are not divine punishments; God doesn’t make bad things happen, but He allows natural consequences to occur.

Just as AIDS doesn’t kill its victims, but weakens their resistance to other illnesses that take their lives, those in the kingdom who are going to die are sent away to die elsewhere.

JAS: The separate world of captivity you created for Blythe and the others is unusual in that the inhabitants are able to see and speak with their loved ones on the outside. I was reminded of Eurydice, alive and aware even after death, while Orpheus pleads with the gods to free her from the underworld. Blythe isn’t scary like a horror story and it doesn’t have the tension of a spy thriller or the panic I imagine of hell. In fact, this kingdom you create seems more like a leper colony than a prison. What was your intent in allowing this kind of ongoing communication between the villagers and those held captives in that kingdom?

JK: The structure of the kingdom and of this story is based on HIV/AIDS, and how it operates and how it spread throughout our society. So, in this sense, those who are infected with HIV are, by necessity, separated in many ways physically from those they love. They can be present and communicate with each other, but there is that separation, which provided some of the more poignant moments involving Blythe and Aaron — calling out and responding to each other across that vast separation that could only be crossed if Aaron forfeited his future — a line Blythe would never allow him to cross.

JAS: I noticed many traditional Christian morals and values within your story. Do you consider this book to be a Christian allegory?

There are many libertarian Christians out there who feel like they need to apologize for living in both camps. We need to stop apologizing.

JK: Blythe is a Christian libertarian work of literary fiction and yet it has been rewarding to hear from agnostic and atheistic readers who are inspired by Blythe for its focus on human freedom and self-determination.

One reader recently came up to me at a conference and said with a great deal of excitement: “This is the book I’ve been looking for! I’ve never understood why you couldn’t have both faith and reason. That’s what I’ve felt in my own heart — I can be led by both.”

I couldn’t have agreed with her more. There are many libertarian Christians out there who feel like they need to apologize for living in both camps. We — and I’m speaking as one of those people — need to stop apologizing. Both philosophies, when properly practiced, should reinforce the dignity of each person, when they act as free and responsible individuals.

We can and should be driven by reason. We should use the good sense that God gave us. Our reason should be nurtured and cultivated, and within our lives we must discern if what our faith leaders are saying and doing conforms with our personal knowledge of God and what he wants for us and our world.

And we should likewise nurture and cultivate our spiritual life. I’ve seen so many genuinely miraculous things in my life — here in the physical world — that cannot be explained by reason alone; they can only be explained with faith and trust in a Higher Being who loves us.

That combination of reason and faith — continually considered in such a way that it drives you to demonstrate love for those around you, hope for the future, and an ever improving and freer world — that should be the end result. This, I believe, is what God wants for us. As one character said, “Too much reason limits man to the physical world and blinds his imagination to the greater things that may be. But too much faith blinds him from curing the human suffering in this world. Men with too much faith accept suffering; they expect it and even seek it out.”


Editor's Note: Interview on "Blythe," by John E. Kramer. Freedom Forge Press, 2017, 420 pages.



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Expiring Minds Don’t Want to Know

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I fear for many of my friends. I fear for my country. Because of many of my friends, I fear for my country.

Earlier this summer, I attended a pool party hosted by the local chapter of a gay and lesbian Catholic organization. Though a precious few of us are libertarians or conservatives, it shouldn’t be hard to guess the political sentiments of the rest. And sentiments they are. I’ve come to believe that they amount to little more.

Prior to the Era of Trump, these people talked about politics only slightly more often than anyone else. Since this past November, they’ve been obsessed with the president. Specifically, they’re obsessed with the notion of deposing him from power.

In their minds, Vice-President Mike Pence has morphed from a homophobic zealot into a genial and benevolent soul, sort of an amiable dunce.

How are they going to accomplish this? Though the details are fuzzy, it has something to do with the Russians. They’ll find some other reason when the Russian thing poops out — as it eventually and mercifully will. And after that, there will be another, and then another. Their logic about each reason will be as murky as it was about the one before.

Reason itself is now considered, by the enlightened souls who have taken it upon themselves to enlighten my friends, to be Western and Judeo-Christian, white-skinned and patriarchal. Therefore it has been banished from Left World. I’m not sure what’s supposed to replace it. But if the leftists I know give any indication, what they say scares the hell out of me.

In the minds of my “progressive” pool party friends, Vice-President Mike Pence has morphed from a homophobic zealot into a genial and benevolent soul, sort of an amiable dunce in the tradition of their cartoon-character Reagan (rehabilitated from villainy when it suits them), who will be a “responsible caretaker president” in a time of new political peace. Which, of course, they’re currently convinced the nation will enjoy, once the Evil Donald has been driven from the White House. It’s what they are evidently being told by those who tell them what to think. When I told them what I thought would really happen, they reacted as if I were as unfabulous as the Wicked Witch of the West, swooping down on herbroom to snatch Toto.

Because of my pesky and apparently incurable habit of thinking without seeking permission, I became a heretic.

What I said was that Trump is not going to be impeached. But that if he were, the Republicans would probably not permit another Democrat president to finish a term for some time to come. And that in the meantime, the leftist puppeteers and their puppetettes would quickly turn from seeing President Pence as a harmless caretaker into damning him as the Devil. He’d almost certainly give them a lot more to be outraged about than Trump ever would.

How soon they forget that the same Mike Pence advocated taking money from research on HIV/AIDS and using it, instead, “to provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” That he defended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by calling it “a successful compromise” and warned that permitting gays to serve in the military without hiding their orientation would “advance some liberal domestic social agenda.” That he declared, “There’s no question [that] to mainstream homosexuality within active duty military would have an impact on unit cohesion.” And that he imagines Disney engaged in a dark plot to corrupt the tender flower of American womanhood, having once said, of the movie Mulan, he suspected “that some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat and they just might be right.”

Do my friends even realize the next step to which they’re being led by their lords and masters? The goal, of course, is not merely to get rid of Trump. By whatever means necessary — no matter how illegal or unconstitutional — they want to control the government of this country and the lives of its people. This means that however benign the Left’s leaders may sound about the vice-president at the moment, they will not ultimately let him stand in their way.

Whatever must it feel like, to be told exactly what to think and not to be permitted to think anything else, on peril of excommunication from the Church of Progressive Feelgood? I don’t know; because of my pesky and apparently incurable habit of thinking without seeking permission, I became a heretic. I was a libertarian even before I knew what a libertarian was. I left the Left for many reasons, but perhaps the main one was that being led around like a sheep is little better than a walking death. The greater distance I place between myself and my former political comrades, the more horrifying their mentality becomes to me.

Would they want to live in a country where the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another was no longer possible?

Another friend of mine, an 80-something Hillary Clinton Democrat, recently remarked of Trump that “we need to get him out of there.” Once upon a time, simply to avoid an argument, I would have let that slide. But I’ve gotten so tired of listening to all the mean-girls-in-the-cafeteria sniping that I asked her for an explanation. She spluttered a little, then changed the subject.

I don’t think she knew why she thought “we” needed to get President Trump “out of there.” She just knew that she was supposed to think it. And she was perfectly comfortable saying so, because she assumed I knew that I’m supposed to think it, too.

Do the leftist demigods’ obedient little do-bees even realize what life in this country will be like if our electoral system is destroyed by nonsense like this? Would they want to live in a country where the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another was no longer possible? There’s a lot about our political life that I dislike. That doesn’t mean I want to see the United States turned into a Third World hellhole.

Our political environment is beginning to resemble one of those horror movies in which an evil entity possesses people, transforms them into zombies, and programs their terminated brains so they’ll destroy the country. That may sound hyperbolic, but I’m no longer sure that isn’t really what’s happening. As the undead rise out of the cornfields wielding scythes, they aren’t even allowed to suffer a stray idea. If there are any other ideas, expiring minds don’t want to know about them.

It simply isn’t natural for a huge population of human beings to have such uniform opinions. When their views are truly their own, unanimity is impossible. Even if they were all inspired to random acts of kindness and goodwill toward all, their uniformity would still be creepy, although it might make the world a nicer place. If they were all possessed by the spirit of self-reliance and fiscal responsibility, they could save the country. But the ideas they share are almost all abysmally stupid and destructive. It’s hard to understand how even a few of them could come up with such foolishness by their own best mental efforts.

There’s a lot about our political life that I dislike. That doesn’t mean I want to see the United States turned into a Third World hellhole.

There is no way to turn this idiotic tide by dint of any collective counteraction. As big a job as it is, it must be tackled by a great many of us as individuals. It won’t be pleasant, because we’ll need to be the skunks at an endless number of garden parties. But I’m beginning to find that it isn’t as difficult as I feared. I keep making an infernal, contrary nuisance of myself, but I haven’t lost a friend yet.

What I do, in polite conversation, is the equivalent of waving a hand in front of their faces, snapping my fingers, shining a flashlight in their eyes (or ears) and saying — as encouragingly as I can — “I know you’re in there somewhere.” I tell them they’re too smart to believe the things they say. Instead of calling them idiots, I say that the people telling them such rot are mendacious hucksters who think (quite wrongly!) that their audience must be idiots. A surprising amount of the time, this works at waking them up,at least for a fewminutes.

They live in such a bubble that many of them honestly don’t know there’s any other way to think, but friends don’t let friends become zombies. Every expiring mind is worth saving. As they’re probably sure former Vice President Dan Quayle once said, “A mind is a terrible thing to lose.”




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Immunity from “Fear” — and Criticism

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The Canadian parliament is currently discussing Motion 103. This motion, if passed, would require the government torecognize the need to “quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

The motion was placed by a Pakistani-Canadian Liberal MP, Iqra Khalid, who immigrated to Canada in 1998.

A troubling fact is that Islamic societies tend to become less liberal as they become more democratic.

Liberals and the media have been shouting that this is not a bill and will not convert into a law. It is a simple non-binding gesture of goodwill, and in their views there is nothing to worry about.

But is there not?

There is no known Islamic country that is liberal. In almost all of these societies, women and non-Muslims have a rather low status. And if the countries enjoy economic prosperity, it is generally limited to empathy-lacking elites and exists not because of value created by their people, but because of exports of natural resources. Even Turkey and Malaysia, which have so far been relatively moderate, have taken a turn towards fanaticism.

Is it inappropriate to explore, regardless of accusations of Islamaphobia that are bound to come, if there is something inherent in Islamic societies that makes their backwardness entrenched?

A troubling fact is that Islamic societies tend to become less liberal as they become more democratic. Many complain about lack of liberties, particularly of women, in the US-supported dictatorial regime in Saudi Arabia, but those who understand the area better would claim that were it to become democratic, the remaining liberties would vanish. Women would be completely locked in.

No one in Pakistan — the tyrants, the democratic rulers, or the rest of the society — appears to know what “liberty” means.

Pakistan — where Iqra Khalid was born — is an interesting case study. It keeps vacillating from military dictatorship to democracy. When they have dictatorship, women come out in droves to fight for “freedom and democracy.” When they get democracy, women get locked back in.

Failing to understand causality, the Pakistanis keep the cycle going. None of them — the tyrants, the democratic rulers, or the rest of the society — appears to know what “liberty” means. They are forever looking for something external to solve their material and, very much, their internal miseries. My rare Pakistani friends who do not like religious totalitarianism must stay completely silent, or risk being killed. They cannot expose their views even to their own family. They are not allowed to question anything whatsoever about Islam.

What distinguishes Canada from Pakistan is precisely this: freedom of speech. Iqra Khalid wants Canadians to stop questioning if there is anything wrong about Islam. Maybe there isn’t, but if I am inviting someone to come to my home permanently I see no reason not to find out whether he is bringing a biological, or in this case a cultural, virus. Khalid of course does not conceive of the idea that anything could have gone wrong with Islam. She wants to brand Canadians who question it as “Islamophobic.”

Perhaps she should reflect on why her family immigrated to Canada. So eager is she to find problems among Canadians that one may ask whether she finds no problem in her own background or culture. She herself might ask why those in Pakistan who disagree with Islam are not allowed to speak up. She might ask why people in the West are increasingly scared to discuss Islam. She might ask why it is virtually impossible to find a Muslim — including herself — who publicly considers Islam to be anything but perfect.

She evidently believes that controlling freedom of speech in Canada is a mere tweaking at the fringes, to somehow improve that country. She fails to see that the fringe of free speech is really the center of what keeps Canada from becoming a mirror image of what she left behind. She fails to see the danger that, if she gets her way, she herself may eventually be forced into a veil and packed back into her house. And it is clear that neither she nor other supporters of the Motion would entertain the question of why, if Islamic culture is really so invulnerable to criticism, they do not wish to live in an Islamic country.




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Out of the Silence

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Jesuit missionaries arrived in Japan during the mid-16th century, and Christianity initially flourished, with over 100,000 converts. But as the church’s influence over the people grew, the civil government resisted, banning Jesuit missionaries in 1587 and outlawing Christianity completely in 1620 (ironically the same year when oppressed Christian pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock). Many Japanese converts abandoned the church, while others went underground and practiced their religion secretly. Many of those were tortured and killed.

Silence is set against this backdrop of silent, secret worship. When church leaders hear that a beloved priest, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), has recanted his testimony and converted to Buddhism, two of his protégés, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) refuse to believe the rumor of his apostasy and resolve to travel to Japan in search of their mentor.

In Japan Rodrigues and Garupe discover a community of secret Christians who greet them with joy and beg them to stay. The priests hide in a mountain hut during the day and perform furtive ordinances of baptism, communion, and confession at night. The literal darkness of these scenes contributes to the spiritual darkness of the film. Despite being about sacrifices made on behalf of faith, it is utterly without light or hope.

Many Japanese converts abandoned the church, while others went underground and practiced their religion secretly. Many of those were tortured and killed.

We see people anxious to make confession and priests willing to absolve them, but we see no actual change in their moral character resulting from their Christian experience; in fact, the only consistency about one person is his continual backsliding and serial confession for the same treacherous sin. We see villagers eager to receive Father Rodrigues’ humbly crafted crosses and the beads he shares by disassembling his own rosary, but no visible improvement in their lives. We see torture and brutality, but we see no evidence of what motivates faith. We hear no homilies or scripture stories to promote conversion or stave off apostasy. We see people willing to die for their religion, but no apparent reason to live for it. Even Father Rodrigues, who has sacrificed everything for his faith, begins to question the Silence he hears from God. When Father Ferreira turns to teaching medicine and astronomy instead of Christianity, he sighs, “It’s fulfilling to finally be of use in this country.”

In short, what we don’t see in this film about religion is any real experience of religion. Despite the serenity of the gorgeous landscapes and the sincerity of the acting, there is a vast spiritual emptiness in this film that purports to be about unwavering faith. The torture feels gratuitous and the sacrifice of these souls unnecessary. No good comes from their torture and deaths. No one lives because they die. Their resistance to the ban against Christianity begins to feel more like arrogance than submission to God. When Rodrigues devoutly refuses to step on a tile image of Christ, even though his parishioners will be tortured until he does, the Japanese Inquisitor (Issei Ogata) scoffs, “The price for your glory is their suffering!”

Rodrigues’ anguish for the people is palpable, but is his stand truly noble? Christ died so that others could live. He endured immeasurable suffering at Gethsemane, and withstood mockery and humiliation from his tormentors, with patience and forgiveness. Would he really be so terribly offended if a priest stepped on his picture in order to save a community of faithful Christians? Or would he be glad that Rodrigues gave up his pride in his own spiritual strength, in order to protect them? Making a false statement with fingers crossed was designed exactly for this kind of moment. The Inquisitor doesn’t even care whether the recantation is sincere. He urges, “You don’t have to believe it. Just do it.” So do it, I thought, and let these poor Christian villagers go free.

We see torture and brutality, but we see no evidence of what motivates faith.

Rodrigues’ resistance demonstrates, ironically, a lack of faith in the mercy and love of Christ. Peter himself denied knowing Jesus in the hours before the crucifixion (an event alluded to in the movie with the crowing of a rooster at a significant moment), but Jesus did not condemn Peter for it. In fact, the false denial might have been the reason that Peter remained alive and free. Days later, Jesus met him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and called him with the words, “Feed my sheep.” Peter then served as the leader of the church until his death. Sometimes the expedient choice is the correct one, especially in the face of tyrants.

In Silence, Andrew Garfield is fully committed to his character. He imbues Father Rodrigues with pitiable angst and heartache. I have no criticism to bring against his acting skills, or those of Adam Driver (who lost 50 pounds for his role) or the others in the fine cast. I also admire the cinematography skills of Rodrigo Prieto, whose work on this film has been nominated for an Oscar. But they couldn’t rise above the misguided script.

Let’s compare the spiritual emptiness ofSilence with the noble richness of Hacksaw Ridge, another film in which Andrew Garfield portrays a Christian driven by spiritual commitment, in this case to perform herculean deeds. In Hacksaw Ridge, his character risks his life for something grand and important, something well worth the sacrifice.

Desmond Doss was the first conscientious objector to serve as a medic at the battlefront. He didn’t carry a gun, but he saved the lives of at least 50 Marines at the battle for Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa. Witnesses put the number at closer to 100; in awarding him the Congressional Medal of Honor, officials set it at 75. The movie about that terrible battle is inspiring, brutalizing, and sometimes overwhelming in its alternating beauty and horror.

Sometimes the expedient choice is the correct one, especially in the face of tyrants.

Act I offers a slice of Blue Ridge Americana, filmed in bright airy daylight that contrasts with the dark, smoky scenes of Act II, during the battle. That first act opens on young Desmond (Darcy Bryce) and his brother Hal (Roman Guerriero) racing through the sunny woods and up the face of a cliff. We meet Desmond’s parents and his rural community, and we see his sweetly innocent courtship with the angelic Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), a courtship that includes a romantic climb to the top of the mountain. We get it — despite his slight build, Desmond has spent a lifetime building endurance and strength.

Two events lead to Desmond’s decision never to take up arms. First, he nearly kills his brother with a brick in a boyhood tussle. Second, his drunken, abusive father nearly kills his mother with a gun, and Desmond nearly uses that gun to protect her from him. Shaken by the strength of his own anger, he vows never to touch a gun again. Nevertheless, he is determined to serve in the military. And with good reason — he sees how “survivor guilt” has affected his father.

Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving), Desmond’s father, is a veteran of World War I. He fought bravely and was decorated twice. But he was overcome by the guilt of returning alive, while most of his buddies returned in a box. He returned from the war safe, but not sound. His sullenness, his drinking, and his wife-beating are a direct result of his guilt and the senseless deaths of his friends. Tom argues eloquently about the futility of war, and for a libertarian viewer, his lines are some of the best in the film. Nevertheless, Desmond joins up. “I had to enlist,” he tells Dorothy on the day he proposes to her. “I can’t stay here while all of them go fight for me.”

At boot camp Desmond encounters a different argument, this one favoring war. “We fight to defend our rights, and to protect our women and children,” Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) tells him, and Desmond agrees. One could argue the relative merits of leaving those women and children at home while traveling thousands of miles across the sea to defend them, but at least Howell argues for defense rather than expansion and plunder. When Desmond adamantly refuses to pick up a gun, even for target practice, Howell tries to have him sent home. Again, his reasoning is sound. “A unit is no stronger than its weakest member,” Howell says, and a member who can’t or won’t defend himself seems as weak as they come. Protecting a conscientious objector in the fray of battle could become a deadly distraction. In a situation that recalls the central conflict in A Few Good Men, Howell and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) do their best to get rid of Doss. The derision, the beatings, and even a court martial serve only to strengthen him for what lies ahead.

Tom argues eloquently about the futility of war, and for a libertarian viewer, his lines are some of the best in the film.

Knowing director Mel Gibson’s penchant for gruesome realism, I braced myself for the battle scenes. In the first few moments of the climactic battle, as the soldiers scale the ridge and move forward toward the enemy, the remains of the previous day’s battle reminded me of the set dressing at Universal Horror Nights: dismembered guts and body parts strew the ground, but they seem rubbery and painted. I relax. I can handle this. Then the actual battle explodes, and holy moly, does it become gruesome! One soldier picks up the torso of a dead man, blood dripping from where the legs used to be, and uses it as a shield while he runs forward, shooting into the oncoming lines. I learned what eyelids are made for and used them judiciously for the next half hour. But the screaming and explosions of war are inescapable (and their realism led to Oscar nominations for both sound and sound editing).

The brutality of these scenes is graphic but not gratuitous, as it prepares us to understand more fully what Desmond Doss experienced that night. Surrounded by gunfire, grenades, and flamethrowers, he scrambles through the carnage to find the wounded, administer field dressings and morphine, and drag people to safety. Even when the rest of the regiment is ordered to withdraw to safety while it regroups, Doss remains behind until at least 75 wounded men have been rescued. At one point he looks to the sky and cries out, “What do you want of me? I can’t hear you!” I thought of Father Rodrigues’ discouraged prayer in Silence. But on Hacksaw Ridge, there is no such silence. The answer screams from the field: “Help me!” Doss gets to work. Throughout the night, as he searches and hauls, and dodges the enemy whom he refuses to kill, this mantra carries him through the exhausting night: “Please, Lord, help me get one more! Help me get one more . . . one more . . . just one more.”

Seeing Hacksaw Ridge the first time, I was moved to tears by the humble courage and determination of the heroic protagonist. Seeing it the second time, I was impressed even more by the subtle ways Gibson used Act I to foreshadow Act II, especially the scenes in which Doss is running and climbing cliffs with his brother and later with Dorothy. The sunlit grandeur of his childhood climbs belies the dark forbidding face of Hacksaw Ridge. His closing scenes are equally artistic and evocative. Gibson is not well liked in Hollywood because of his drunken rant during a traffic stop a decade ago and because of his conservative political views, so I was shocked — pleasantly — when the Academy voters recognized the quality of the filmmaking and the heroism of the story and nominated Hacksaw Ridge for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. For me, in a year when the competition is tight and every single Best Picture nominee is, in my opinion, worthy of the grand prize, Hacksaw Ridge is the best film of the year.


Editor's Note: Review of "Silence," directed by Martin Scorsese. EFO Films, 2016, 161 minutes; and "Hacksaw Ridge," directed by Mel Gibson. Cross Creek Pictures, 2016, 139 minutes.



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The Bible’s Standard of Liberty

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As the Constitutional Convention drew to a close, newly minted Americans waited anxiously outside Independence Hall to see what kind of government would emerge. Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia approached Benjamin Franklin and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin responded forcefully, “A republic — if you can keep it.”

“If you can keep it.” There’s the rub. We’ve managed to maintain our republic for 240 years, but it seems to be standing on the brink of a new kind of monarchy, tainted with overbearing mandates and burdened with no compunctions about invasions of individual liberty. It has ever been thus. The lure of power, pomp, and largess has always stood in the shadows of monarchy, ready to trade a false promise of security and ease for hard-won liberty.

The Bible provides one of the most concise and accurate warnings ever written about the corrupting power of monarchy. In just nine short verses, the first book of Samuel describes what happens when a king comes to power. I’ve thought about those verses a good deal during the Fourth of July, and indeed throughout this election season.

We’ve managed to maintain our republic for 240 years, but it seems to be standing on the brink of a new kind of monarchy.

Here’s the biblical narrative: after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, the Israelites finally crossed the Jordan River into the land that had been promised to their tribal founder, Abraham. In the wilderness they had been given Ten Commandments — coincidentally, the same number as the Constitution’s Bill of Rights — and these rules, like the Bill of Rights and Magna Carta after it, protected life, liberty, and property. Moses set up a system of judges to hear and adjudicate complaints, and Joshua continued the judicial system after Moses died. It worked for a while. But soon the Israelites started looking around at the kingdoms that surrounded them. They were drawn to the regality of it, the pomp and pride.

The crisis began when Samuel was judge in Israel but his sons were found unfit to succeed him. They had “turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.” But instead of simply replacing the corrupt judges with honest ones, as had happened a generation earlier when Judge Eli’s sons proved unfit, the people said to Samuel, “make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” They wanted to be like everyone else.

As a prophet, Samuel consulted with God, and God warned them about the consequences of having a king. The regime of the judges had been decentralized, and more concerned with fairness and simple means of self-protection than with power or glory. Monarchy, as God explained through Samuel, is a much more costly affair.

First, he said, the king “will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.” In other words, he will conscript an army.

Soon the Israelites started looking around at the kingdoms that surrounded them. They were drawn to the regality of it, the pomp and pride.

Next, “he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties, and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of chariots.” I’m not sure whether we would call this bureaucracy, fascism, or slavery, but forced labor by any other name is still as bleak.

Then “he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.” Ever an equal-opportunity enslaver, the king will conscript the daughters too — not unlike our own Senate, which recently voted to require women as well as men to register for the draft in the interest of “fairness to women.”

In addition, the king “will take the tenth of your seed [an income tax] and of your menservants, and your maidservants, and … your asses … and sheep [a wealth tax].”

And here’s the kicker about consequences: God concludes by saying, “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:10–18).

Notice the reason God gave for leaving the people to suffer when they inevitably cry out for help: “the king which ye shall have chosen.” God respects choice, and he insists on accountability. Why do bad things happen? Because so many people make bad choices.

It is interesting that the warning did no good. “Nay, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations [a kind of globalism],” the people said. The fact that ideas and choices have consequences is unpleasant to consider. Much easier to follow one’s desires and find someone to help them — or to blame — later.

From that moment Saul viewed David as a threat and usurper, and vowed to kill him. One of the costs of centralized power is the grim desire to get and keep it.

If a king was what they wanted, God was willing to help Samuel select a good man for the job. Saul was a humble man who responded to the call by saying, “Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? And my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin?” (1 Samuel 9:21). On the day of his coronation Saul was found “hiding among the stuff,” so overwhelmed was he by the thought of becoming king.

Nevertheless, as Lord Acton observed, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” As king, Saul became reckless, paranoid, and churlish. God selected another young man to become Saul’s successor — David, the youngest son of the shepherd Jesse. After David volunteered to face the giant Philistine Goliath, and killed him, the Israelites shouted, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands!” From that moment Saul viewed David as a threat and usurper, and vowed to kill him. One of the costs of centralized power is the grim desire to get and keep it.

When Saul died in battle, David became king, and it happened to him too, just as God had predicted; soon the once-humble shepherd boy began to change. He conscripted armies and demanded food and supplies. When a “churlish” local landowner, Nabal, refused to give his army food and wine, David flew into a rage and threatened to kill all of Nabal’s servants and their families. Only the quick thinking of Abigail, Nabal’s wife, prevented the slaughter as she reminded David of how such a vile act would affect his reputation as king. Abigail’s wise argument brought David to his senses, and he thanked her. “Blessed be thy advice . . . which hast kept me from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand” (I Samuel 25).

But David’s humility was short-lived. Soon he was standing on his palace balcony, filled with lust as he watched a woman, Bathsheba. With the power given to a king, he sent for her, slept with her, and when she became pregnant arranged for her husband Uriah’s death by sending him to the battlefront and ordering his captain to leave him unprotected. This is what happens, often, when a man gets unchecked power; his sense of entitlement overpowers his sense of rightness. David would struggle for the rest of his life with the demands of war, and civil war with people who craved his power. He also struggled, often unsuccessfully, with his own impulses. Power did not corrupt David absolutely, however, and he tried to escape its withering grasp.

As we celebrate the 240th year of our nation’s independence, we have reason to be proud. The founders began a process of separation from monarchy that would provide an example for other nations around the world. Our constitution became a model for other nations that would throw off the power of monarchy and turn monarchs into figureheads. The founders were not able to make all wrongs right — there were other civil rights still to be won. But they blazed a trail to freedom that others would follow in their own time.

When bad choices are made, the continued existence of choice provides a path back.

Yet we must ever be vigilant against the corruption of power. The description of monarchy provided in 1 Samuel 8:10–18 is still timely today, and it can describe presidents and dictators as well as kings. Indeed, many of us would be delighted if our income and wealth taxes stood only at the biblical 10%!

But there is another feature of those verses in 1 Samuel that should be emphasized. They picture God granting the people a choice. He warns of the natural consequences of certain actions, but then allows us to choose which path we will take. When bad choices are made, the continued existence of choice provides a path back. Let us hope that we, too, can find a path back to the liberties vouchsafed by our founding documents, as well as the respect for the rights of others encompassed within the Ten Commandments.




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