It isn’t social justice if it’s antisocial

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St. Elizabeth.jpgSocial justice should not, by definition, encourage or enable antisocial behavior. So if you’re advocating something that breaks down the family, like promiscuity or quickie divorce, it isn’t social justice. If you’re advocating something like open borders that threatens to destabilize a relatively stable nation while leaving unstable nations to remain upended, it isn’t social justice. Even if you’re advocating something that makes homelessness more comfortable without actually putting people in homes, it really isn’t social justice.

Society is built on common bonds. At the heart of every healthy society are healthy families, and typically not just the nuclear kind but the extended family that becomes its own sort of quasi-governmental unit providing upbringing and culture and connection. These families cluster to make up communities and those communities cluster to make up nations.

Diversity, by definition, cannot be the basis of a community. To claim that differences can be what hold us together is simply a contradiction. Every community has differences, because everybody is different from the next guy, but what makes it a community is what’s held in common.

That doesn’t mean there can’t, in theory at least, be a multicultural community. It simply means that a multicultural community has to hold something in common. A piece of land isn’t enough. I suspect most people from the former Yugoslavia also would tell you that a socialist government micromanaging society also isn’t enough. It’s got to be some sort of cultural bond (cultural bonds that popular culture can’t provide because popular culture isn’t culture). What few examples of successful multicultural nations that I’m aware of seem to look very different from the left-wing utopia currently being pursued in North America and Europe. They tend to incorporate fewer cultures, those cultures tend to have regional affinities in common, and they tend to exist within strict boundaries that leftists would consider segregation or ghetto and with ingrained differences that only harden over time.

Social justice has become an abused phrase that is more likely to mean the opposite of social justice. Multiculturalism is only one example. Homelessness might be another.

We say that society owes something to the homeless, but rarely are we allowed to say the homeless owe something to society. If we can make a law that says you must have health insurance then certainly we can make a law that says you must have someplace to live. If you can’t manage it on your own, with help from your family, friends or some benevolent institution willing to take you on, then you’re causing a social problem. At this point, why can’t the burdened society take a look at your situation and prescribe a remedy? If you’re an addict, mandatory rehab. If you’re mentally ill, mandatory treatment. If that doesn’t do the trick, a mandatory roof over your head, maybe something similar to the old poor farms.

Now at this point, I imagine the more rational of social justice advocates (if they haven’t fainted or clicked away) will point out that a society that causes its own social problems needs to look at root causes of things like homelessness, and not just blame the victim. They’re right, but the process for looking at root causes has long since been hijacked in America, and rare is the social problem that we’re capable of really parsing.

I fall into the camp that believes corporate America and big-government America are more or less synonyms, and there’s really no escaping it. Republicans think they just need to free up corporate America from government intervention and things will flourish. Democrats think they just need to regulate corporations into oblivion and societal glee will ensue. Neither of these things will happen, and neither of them will work, because capitalism is what funds socialism and socialism is what covers up capitalism’s inadequacies.

Social justice, in any real sense, must be social. And that means connections like family and community, old-fashioned things that leftists fought long and hard to undermine and conservatives have only paid lip service to.

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Western Treasure: the book

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Gutenberg.jpgEurope is the land of books. It is a first century invention of the Roman Empire that never really stopped inspiring invention in the West.

The great advance was one of practicality. Great writing existed before the book, but it was kept on tablets or scrolls. Books were more compact and more mobile.

That compactness naturally led to advances beyond practicality. The writing of books became a profession, an avocation, maybe even an obsession for Westerners. Western literature embraces the gamut of writing, from the levity of histories and philosophies to the whimsy of comedies and satires. There is literature wherever there is civilization, but nothing rivals the corpus of work published in the West.

The first century invention by Roman pagans came just after the dawn of Christianity, and it was Christians who really embraced the invention. By the Middle Ages, the book had emerged as one of Christian Europe’s greatest artistic mediums, alongside stained glass and statuary. But it wasn’t just the art, it was the words. The book didn’t make poetry and literature possible; it made the flourishing of poetry and literature possible.

Then there came Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press. This again was a revolution of practicality rather than a revolution of ideas. It made the book easier to mass produce. The book had been a handcrafted thing prior to 1452, a thing to chain to walls and stick in locked vaults, not to hide the information within but to protect and preserve it. Protestants love to reimagine history as if their movement caused things that happened simultaneously (or even not so simultaneously), and the printing press is no exception. However, Gutenberg was a Catholic, and his invention was of a different century. What’s more, the first book printed on his printing press was a Catholic Bible (complete with the so-called apocrypha). And he wasn’t even burned at the stake for it (imagine that!).

In fact, the printing press is evidence of how continuity and invention could exist side-by-side in traditional Christian culture prior to Protestantism. Before Gutenberg, the most popular books in Europe were Catholic prayer books. After Gutenberg, the most popular books in Europe were Catholic prayer books. There were just more of them now, they were less expensive, and more accessible to more people.

Gutenberg wasn’t the last inventor inspired by the book. In the late twentieth century, there came the e-book, thanks to people like Michael Hart, Judy Malloy, and Steve Jobs.

So the book remains relevant two thousand years after its invention, while it’s younger and noisier cousin the newspaper sinks into irrelevancy. This could be providence rather than the disaster journalists want it to be. Social media and blogs (mea culpa) aren’t replacements for newspapers when it comes to reporting of facts, but books are not only a replacement, they’re an improvement.

If there’s one bit of advice for traditionalists, and anyone wanting to know about anything in the world, it would be: read good books. Books are in-depth rather than breezy. Books are researched and scrutinized and questioned before they’re published. Books are personal rather than ideological, even when the author has an ideology. Not everything in a book is true, but you’ll spot what is true (and what’s probably false) more readily in a book than you will anything so shallow as a newspaper article or a Facebook post.

At their best, books are an exchange akin to a conversation. The author writes only half the book. The reader, bringing with him all his own experiences and perceptions and interpretations, supplies the other half.

When was your country born: 1776 or 1968?

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1776.jpgWe’re all Americans, so why can’t we all just get along? Maybe it’s because the word American has come to mean at least a couple of different things.

There’s the America of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and then there’s the America of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Electric Ladyland, and Martin Luther King.

peace.jpgBoth are seen, depending on which kind of American you are, as the birth of a nation, one the independence of 13 British colonies from Great Britain and the embarking of a Manifest Destiny in the New World, the other the independence of youth and minorities from any political or cultural conventions that had gone before them as they built a global society.

Some on the left will claim a continuity from 1776 to 1968, pointing out that the Founding Fathers were revolutionaries who tore down as much of the old order as they were able in the 18th century, that they understood they were starting something that would eventually blossom into something like 1968.

Some on the right will claim a continuity for 1776 with 1607 (the first permanent British settlement in America), pointing out that the American Revolution sought independence from the British crown but otherwise perpetuated a British society in the New World. After all, the presidency was, in its original conception, something of an elected monarch with a limited term, American jurisprudence was largely a continuation of British legal thought, and the new nation wasn’t really a democracy, limiting the vote to property holders and allowing them only to vote for their Congressmen when it came to national matters (not to mention that when slavery was considered as a problem to solve, the solution wasn’t just emancipation, but emancipation and relocation back to the African homeland).

By the time 1860 came around, the meaning of 1776 had become convoluted enough that two sides could both claim they were acting in the spirit of 1776. The South saw secession as the same assertion the Founding Fathers had made when they split from Britain. The North saw war as justified to keep the Manifest Destiny of the American experiment on track.

These are more than history lessons. They are a continuing divide. American democracy is perpetual conflict, and perpetual conflict will inevitably waffle between argument and fistfight (and gunfight) over the course of its life. Violence and war have been a constant throughout American history.

Looking for continuity only feeds my cynicism. There’s always money. Amid all the cultural shifts and conflicts in American history, it seems that our common thread is greed.

“The chief business of the American people is business,” Calvin Coolidge said.

He said it without the cynicism that we often have in our voice when we repeat it. He said some other things in that same speech that we should remember, but typically don’t.

“Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence …. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it.”

And,

“There always have been, probably always will be, some who will feel that their own temporary interest may be furthered by betraying the interest of others.”

This is a good lesson for the left as much as it is for the right. How often has the argument for open borders been that it will benefit the nation’s economy, with the expectation that such an argument decides the matter once and for all and wanting something as Pollyanna as cultural cohesion and continuity (even if there were an economic cost) is a form of insanity? And how often has the left been willing to betray the interest of others for their own temporary interests, by advocating for pornography and drugs, for example, knowing they’ll gain the approval of those most given to their basest instincts?

Both 1776 and 1968 are in the past. That makes them a reality we must deal with, because everything we are now comes from our past. However, neither of these moments carve our future in stone. Traditionalism doesn’t mean slavish adherence to the past. It means holding on to things that always matter, like God, family, and community. Inasmuch as 1776 (or 1968) have anything positive to say on those matters, then they’re worth listening to. But traditional cultures predate both these pivotal years, and free us to think more broadly about what a good future could look like for us.

The meaning of words

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Spencerian handwriting.jpgThe meaning of language has changed because the purpose of language has changed.

The original purpose was to convey what we think and feel. In other words, good communication was communication that clearly conveyed what you think and feel. The purpose of language today is to make someone else do or think or feel something, which means good communication has changed into communication that persuades, or even manipulates.

Rhetoric, the art of persuasive discourse, is an ancient study, but it was never meant to become the exclusive mode of communication. Nor was it ever the most respected. The healthy disdain we once had for it remains evident in the dismissive phrase, “That’s just rhetoric,” which we still use to wave away an argument we don’t like.

Now marketing, media, and politics have helped create a culture where rhetoric is the only form of communication. It’s not just what you’re hearing in commercials or out of the mouths of newsmen and politicians. It’s you. Every interaction with coworkers, strangers, and friends has turned into a calculated attempt to elicit a particular response or project the right image of yourself.

What would happen if people said what they really thought or felt? Probably hurt feelings, lost jobs, even violence in the streets. What happens if we keep communicating in the calculated, manipulative, and dishonest way Western civilization currently demands? Isolation, psychosis, depression, collapse.

Honest talk is possible and even necessary. It doesn’t have to be screamed, because it isn’t trying to win. It’s just trying to be said, because it’s true. It isn’t an excuse to be mean, but it isn’t responsible for every offense taken, if it’s honest without being intentionally inflammatory (which would be just another form of rhetoric).

Wade in with fear and trembling, but wade in. Change the purpose of language and give honest talk a try.

The real divide

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battle of the amazons.jpgCharlottesville is supposed to be about race. Certainly the guys carrying Nazi and Confederate flags thought it was about race, and so did the counter protesters, many of whom, I suspect, think the act of being white is, in and of itself, racist. They’ve waited, and baited, any conservative (and therefore “racist”) demonstration hoping for an outrage, because there’s no indignation like self-righteous indignation.

They finally got their outrage, but the problem is both perpetrator and victim are white. So the outrage of Charlottesville ends up working better as a symbol of divisions that have nothing to do with race.

There’s man against woman. There’s the blue-collar security guard against the white-collar paralegal. There’s the right wing particularist against the left wing globalist.

First, man against woman. I’m not the first to say this, but it’s worth repeating that the division that exists between men and women is a more damaging divide than that of race simply because men and women need each other for a society to last more than one generation. Within a decade of bringing racial segregation to an end, America waged the battle of the sexes, thus introducing an even more odious divide to society. So by 2017, you have the archetypes of the brooding male on one hand, isolated and disconnected and ready to burst out in anger, and you have the shrieking female on the other, plugged into any bleeding heart movement to justify her finger wagging, the more far-flung the movement the better.

Then there’s the blue collar and white collar. This is nothing new, but the degree to which liberals–whose political party was built in so many ways by unions–are anxious to sneer at the white working class is particularly infuriating, especially when they’re so ready to lift up workers of other stripes. The fact is, liberals, your hispanic carpenter probably has more in common ideologically with your white electrician than with you. The assumption of the left seems to be that they have the power, and will always have the power, to keep working class people of color in their pocket, no matter how reactionary those workers are on social issues. (I sometimes think multiculturalism is a plot by white women to take over the world–I’m only half joking.)

Finally, the particularist and the globalist. To be sure there are true racists–people who hate people of other colors–but there also are a lot of people who look at the world and realize identity, including the identity of heritage and ethnicity and race, is a real part of who they are and something to be nurtured rather than denied. And some of those people are white. The problem with white supremacy is the supremacy part, not the white part (and being proud of your heritage isn’t supremacy).

Alongside the contrasts are two similarities that might also be relevant. In the case of both perpetrator and victim at Charlottesville, the father was an absent figure, and also in both cases, so were children. Perhaps both the people involved would have benefited from a father who could have said, “You’re not going into that mess” or from having their own children to give them a compelling reason for staying home that day.

These two white people whose lives fatally clashed in Charlottesville are a study in contrast, but not racial contrast. Symbolically (and it’s worth bearing in mind that the symbolic value is of little real consequence–the tragedy of the actual event is a personal one for their families) they represent a deep divide in white America, just not the one everyone is talking about.

Europe Abroad: Acadians

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Acadians.jpgFrench families began settling along the Bay of Fundy during the 1600s. Their colony was Acadia, an expanse of land distinct from New France in what is now Canada’s maritime provinces and the U.S. state of Maine. They farmed and hunted and fished and trapped and lived a life we generally today would consider most un-French. They got along well with the local Micmac tribe and resisted British attempts at takeover. Continue reading

The optional messiah

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Tower-Of-Babel-By-Bruegel.jpgMuch of modern advancement is about the undoing of human discomfort, and because undoing discomfort is good, the Church supports it. But every good has to be balanced, and every claim of good ought to be tested.

From a Christian standpoint, secularism even at its best is a sacrilege. Its great justification seems to be that it has ended the punishments of Eden and Babel, on its own terms rather than God’s.

At Eden, God multiplied the sorrow of women and increased their subservience to men: “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” He multiplied men’s sorrows as well: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” In the modern world, women have drugs to make delivery pain-free (better yet, they have drugs to keep them from ever getting pregnant) and feminism to keep men out of their hair, and men have fast food plus machines and gadgets to assure they never have to break a sweat.

At Babel, God confounded the language of the people because they were building a tower to heaven. When the world’s people are one, He said, “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” Mankind unrestrained is good, right? Yeah, right. Oddly enough, the secularists working for a new globalism decry the sins of unrestrained mankind most loudly while simultaneously screeching loudest that mankind should become even more unrestrained (selectively decry and screech, of course).

Suffering is the great quandary for those who believe in a loving God. It’s what has made contemporary Christians willing to get in bed with secularism even at the cost of their faith. It has made them willing to dispense with Jesus in order to get with it and get on the side that brought us pharmaceuticals and open borders and civil rights.

Jesus two thousand years ago already offered his own solution. He made it retroactive by descending into the limbo of the fathers. He extended it into the future with the Eucharist and his promise that “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” But his solution is a delayed solution—eternal salvation—and getting there requires death, not only the real thing but death to sin in the meantime. Ick.

Here’s what we ought to keep in mind about suffering:

1) God didn’t make suffering, we did. It’s not just a punishment for what we’ve done, it’s a way to keep us from persisting in what we’re doing wrong. And it’s temporary, which, mathematically speaking, is less than eternity and therefore not all that important. Do you remember the pain you had when you had your tonsils removed? Big bad pain, big bad discomfort. Two weeks when swallowing saliva is almost as painful as swallowing steak, which means adding extreme hunger to your extreme pain. Okay, now that those two weeks are over, how often do you even think about it? That’s what I thought.

2) Suffering demonstrates the enormity of our sins. If you think human suffering is awful, then you should recognize just how awful human sin is. The fact is, modern man does a much better job of recognizing the magnitude of suffering than he does the magnitude of sin. We simply aren’t that easily scandalized by sin, even as we lament its ill effects.

3) The enormity of our temporary suffering is insignificant when seen next to the grace of God we receive in this life and the future joy he has in store for us in eternity. If suffering should remind us of the enormity of sin, then it also should remind is of the even greater enormity of grace and joy.

But most of this is joy postponed. It can’t compete with instant gratification, at least not for now. So the Church gets with the times, which are all about instant gratification. As a result, the Church tries to convert souls through the very opposite of what converted souls in the past. In the early Church, people became Christian because of miracles and because of the love Christians showed for one another in their communities. Today, miracles are an embarrassment to the clergy, and once you become a member of their communities, you become little more than “time, talent, and treasure.” In place of miracles and community, the clergy make recourse to marketing and social work. Where preaching and teaching ought to focus on communicating what Christians believe as clearly and truthfully as possible, they focus instead on making it palatable, hedging and even omitting on the hard sayings. Where good works ought to nourish soul as much as body, they focus instead on social work projects that offer continual analgesics instead of healing.

Lots of good Christians go along with it even when they feel squeamish about it. Help for the poor is good, so how do you oppose social work? Unity is good so how to do you oppose open borders. But when Jesus healed, he seemed more concerned that their sins were forgiven. And when God saw unity without Him, he worried. He offered instead a unity built around Himself, a unity that ultimately would be created by separating the sheep and goats. He saw no need to annihilate the family or nations. Instead he called them to follow Him and His way, lifting up natural ideas of community to something supernatural and pleasing to Him.

Europe Abroad: patchwork quilts

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quilt.JPGCulture is more democratic than democracy and longer lasting than even the land. People are born into ways of living. They incorporate those lifestyles into their lives. They gently nudge things in new directions and they ruthlessly resist unwanted change.

In this manner, cultures that are thousands of years old remain capable of creating new things while simultaneously maintaining continuity. When the British arrived in the New World, Western civilization already had achieved its greatness. What more could these new Americans contribute to it? They came here not to get away from their culture; they carried it with them like so much luggage. They wanted opportunity, land in particular, or at least a better job. But in the course of seeking better opportunities, they did contribute to their culture. Take, for example, the patchwork quilt.

The patchwork quilt was a way for settlers to make full use of scraps of fabric they had left over. But what these settlers accomplished reveals a number of good things about early America. The patchwork quilt blends creativity with practicality. And it blends domesticity with community, as epitomized by the quilting bee. The women who created these works of art were the virtuous woman of Proverbs, worth far above rubies: “She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.”

Patchwork quilts are an example of Western civilization’s taste for craftsmanship and capacity for ingenuity. They are a relic of the West’s focus on hearth and home and evidence that women here once were feminine without being weak or weak-minded. They were strong and virtuous women, not only because they willingly worked with their hands, but because they willingly worked for their families and for their communities.

What inequality really is

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puzzle.jpegWe are raised on the dogma of equality, indoctrinated into it even, so it’s difficult to doubt it without being shamed by the corollary that inequality is the world’s greatest evil. But the opposite of equality isn’t inequality, at least not in the ruthless sense in which we tend to see it. The opposite of equality is complementarity.

Complementarity is the idea that the differences in people work together to form a whole, one that is far more complete than any individual could ever be.

The most important of these complementarities is that of male and female. Only when men and women, in their most basic differences, “complement” each other does a society get its next generation and its only hope of continuation. Once men and women insist they have no differences, they begin to step away from each other.

In Western culture, that stepping away resulted at first with increased divorce and illegitimacy in the middle of the 20th century, a change that still brought about a new generation, but one even less able to understand the complementarity of marriage and family.

Those flaws would only continue to degenerate until fewer and fewer were bothering to get married, fewer and fewer were bothering to have children, fewer and fewer were bothering to have sex (especially the sort of sex all humanity has in the past defined as sex—the procreative kind).

Complementarity doesn’t end there. A society is made of many members with many skills. If you don’t appreciate the value of garbage men, look at where garbage men have been on strike. Garbage men do have value, and the laborer is worthy of his reward. If you don’t appreciate management, look at how little garbage collecting garbage men would do if there weren’t a foreman keeping up with them.

Equality means looking at society through the lens of class conflict. That isn’t how people, including the people who were supposed to benefit from a classless society, used to look at the world. Human history isn’t a history of the working class and women insisting they’ve been excluded or persecuted. Just as common, more common really, has been the society where the working class reveres its king, and if not reveres, then at least considers his rule legitimate and necessary. Just as common has been the woman who stands by her man.

Complementarity does not mean putting authority in the hands of the few. It means dispersing authority to where it belongs. I’m no king and never should be a king. But I am a husband and father, and I should have the authority that rightfully belongs to a husband and father. I’m also a worker, and I should have authority over that which my work rightfully places me.

That doesn’t make me an island. I’m not equal, and therefore, I am not alone.

This might be what’s missing from your life

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neuchatel.gravitas.jpgThere’s so much for Western man to recover. His culture, his heritage, his courage, his artistry, his faith, even, at this point, his land. One thing he’ll need to recover first is this: gravitas.

Gravitas is that Roman ideal of seriousness and purpose. It was, in ancient Rome, considered a virtue particular to men. It isn’t about severity so much as it is against frivolity. That isn’t to say gravitas is opposed to happiness. Like so many things we want, happiness is found most readily when it’s not being pursued as a goal. Those who live life recognizing the purpose of what they do usually are the ones who end up happiest about their lives. They recognize the meaning of their work, even if it’s something the world considers menial. They dedicate themselves to their family, their friends, their neighbors, and to God, and see the connection between how they live and the well-being of those relationships.

Mike Royko, who served as America’s curmudgeon writing columns from the 1960s through the 1990s for Chicago newspapers and syndication, almost touched on gravitas in a March 17, 1987 column on pessimism. A noted non-smiler himself, he was pleased to learn of a study that found students with a gloomier disposition were more likely to recognize their own culpability for bad grades, whereas the optimists pushed blame to someone else (like a bad teacher). The study, for him, had far-flung ramifications:

“Try looking at the pictures of the happy show biz people who are always being shown in People magazine attending parties. Of course, they look happy. Between the hooch and the powder they’re snorting, they don’t know which of their ends is up. Contrast their facial expressions with those you see in the morning on commuter trains, buses, or behind the wheels of cars. These people know exactly where they are and where they are going. They are going to work.”

Okay, that’s not quite gravitas, but it’s a start. Unfortunately, commuters are more likely to be wearing defeat on their faces than gravitas. However, if they could see not only the seriousness of their situations, but also the purpose of their work, then they could move themselves from desperation to gravitas. Maybe the work is really purposeful, and not just drudgery. After all, businesses don’t generally pay you for wasted effort. Even if the work isn’t especially meaningful, maybe there’s a reason for doing it anyway, like supporting your family or paying your way through school so you can move onto something that is meaningful.

Pundits, politicians, and journalists have mastered feigned gravitas, but gravitas isn’t at all the same thing as hand-wringing and posturing either. It is the sense that what you do has purpose and is worth taking seriously, worth doing well.

I’ll say it again: culture is more important than politics. That means that what you’re doing, how you’re living, is more important than what’s being discussed and decided on Wall Street and Capitol Hill. People and how they live determine what a society is, and while Congressmen and CEOs have power, they don’t have absolute power. It’s time to get serious about something, so put down that phone, turn off that video game, and wipe that smile off your face.